Friday Night Jazz: Louis Armstrong
Well, given what a mad week/month this has been, and how overdue this is, its that time: Without further adieu, Satchmo:
I'm sure you've heard a Louis song or three: Hello Dolly, When the Saints, What a Wonderful World.
If that's all you know of Satchmo, you are missing out. Considering his innovations as an artist -- amazing song-writing skills, unique vocals, mastery of the Coronet and the Trumpet, especially his stratospheric solos -- these well known ditties are practically boring.
Oh, and after he forgot the lyrics on the 1927 song "Heebie Jeebies," he invented Scat singing.
He was one of the most influential musicians in jazz history, setting new standards for originality and invention.
There are a couple of ways to get to know the works of Louis Armstrong: The most basic is to grab one the Best Of discs. For those of you who want to go this way, try the The Definitive Collection.
The collector types are more inclined to go for the complete earlier years, including his various ensembles known in this box set: The Hot Fives & Sevens. (Note that Columbia version is considered a much inferior remastering: The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings).
But of all of the Louis Armstrong works out there, none are more delightful than the many duets he recorded with Ella Fitzgerald. Aside from the small fact that her voice is incomparable to any female jazz singer before or since, there is a strange and beautiful complementary combination that is so unique and incredible. I can listen to these all day long -- they are unique works of art.
You can also check out Porgy & Bess soundtrack, but that is more for fans of that show.
(NOTE: There are all manners of different variations of these, so look at the song list before buying variations of the same album.)
From a WSJ article this past summer:
"From 1925 to 1928, bandleader and trumpeter Louis Armstrong led a recording group, known as the Hot Five and Hot Seven, through nearly 90 recordings. These tracks are now considered among the most seminal, enduring and influential recordings not only in jazz but in American music and include "Big Butter and Egg Man," "Hotter Than That," "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," "Potato Head Blues," and "S.O.L. Blues." In these dozens of sides, Armstrong abandoned the traditional collective improvisation of New Orleans-style jazz and almost single-handedly transformed the music from a group art into an art form for the soloist. He left behind two- and four-bar breaks of earlier jazz in favor of entire choruses of improvisation. In the 1920s, Armstrong would, more than anyone else, take the role of soloist to new heights in American music.
Besides his technical mastery, what else set him apart? His big, beautiful tone; his rich imagination as a soloist; his perfect sense of time; his deep understanding of the blues; his projection and authority; and the force of his musical personality.
And he boasted a gift for personalizing the material he recorded, transforming it into music that is unmistakably his in sound and style and ownership. The essence of jazz -- making something new out of something old, making something personal out of something shared -- has no finer exemplar than Armstrong."
Friday Night Jazz: River: The Joni Letters
The most interesting Jazz album I have heard this year has been Herbie Hancock's tribute disc to Joni Mitchell -- River: The Joni Letters.
Mitchell's poetic folk and jazz style lends itself well to a more pure jazz interpretation, and Hancock does just that. It does the material great justice.
Considering how fabulous the disc is, it sold next to nothing before winning a Grammy for Album of the Year -- and not a whole lot more since. That's a shame, as it is a cool delight. Perhaps last year's messy and inconsistent A Tribute To Joni Mitchell is to blame... except for k.d. lang's languid version of Help Me, the rest of the album was mostly a bust.
That's a shame, because this album really deserves a chance to shine on its own. Hancock is a legendary jazz musician, keyboardist, and producer. His star-studded list of vocalists includes Corinne Bailey Rae ("River"), Norah Jones ("Court and Spark"), Tina Turner ("Edith and the Kingpin"), Luciana Souza ("Amelia"), Leonard Cohen ("The Jungle Line"), and Mitchell herself ("Tea Leaf Prophecy"). Saxophonist Wayne Shorter adds a smooth and mellow flavor throughout.
One of the highlights of the disc is River (see video below). Hancock creates a fine balance between jazz improvisation and adult pop. Listen to how he arranges this song, pulling its jazz essence to the fore, while Corinne Bailey Rae wraps her voice perfectly around this Mitchell composition.
Perfect for our Friday Night Jazz session . . .
Herbie Hancock featuring Corinne Bailey Rae - River
Friday Night Jazz: Steely Dan
Saw 'em live a few times, most recently on Wednesday night at the Beacon Theater. If you ever get a chance to see a concert in a small venue with large artists, its a very interesting experience (3rd row center doesn't hurt either).
Their music is characterized by "complex jazz-influenced structures and harmonies, literate and sometimes obscure or ambiguous lyrics, filled with dark sarcasm." They are known for their "adroit musicianship and studio perfectionism." (Wiki)
I was trying to figure out the best way to recommend material from The Dan -- which albums you must own -- but I simply cannot offer up anything better than the 4 CD box set.
Steely Dan are justly famous for their use of "chord sequences and harmonies that explore the area of musical tension between traditional pop music sounds and jazz." These 4 CDs reveal a musical dynamism that is unmatched in modern music. The lyrics are sardonic, engaging and humorous. Indeed, it is one of the greatest catalogues in the annals of pop/jazz music history. That's one reason why Steely Dan makes my short list of greatest American Rock and Roll bands. (Note that on Rolling Stone's top 500 albums, Pretzel Logic is #385 and Can't Buy a Thrill is #238.
Also of note: Citizen Steely Dan: 1972-1980 contains what may very well be the best Amazon review I have ever come across.
Your other option is to grab a few single discs. If I had to cut it down to just 3 CDs, here's how I would roll: Surely, you can pick any of the five early Dan CDs -- all are great -- but my favorite is 1975's Katy Lied ($7.97). The album saw took otherwise classic rock style songs, and arranged and played them in a jazz idiom. With Michael McDonald's background vocals, the Dan infused a smoky Soul flavor. It was complex mashup of styles that worked wonderfully.
My second disc choice has to be the great Aja, a groundbreaking 1977 CD. It was a favorite of audiophiles, stunned recording engineers, oh, and dominated FM radio for a year. Aja was even more heavily jazz-influenced than Katy Lied, and was graced with top-notch jazz musicians: Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Wayne Shorter and Chuck Rainey.
Aja won numerous awards, shot into the Top Five in the U.S. charts within three weeks of release, and was one of the first American LPs to be certified 'platinum' for sales of over 1 million albums. It was that good. Aja is #145 on Rolling Stone's top 500 albums. If I have any complaint about this slick disc, it was that the radio play was so overwhelming it became a bit played out way back when.
The third selection is Donald Fagen's solo disc, The Nightfly (a previous Friday Night Jazz selection). Even if you get the Dan box set, you have to add this CD to the mix. The WSJ called The Nightfly "one of pop music's sneakiest masterpieces" and I think that moniker fits well. The key to this is the music's timeless quality. It was retro back in 1982, and over the years, has never grown to sound tired or even of a specific era. It remains fresh, even 25 years later.
Not only did the CD win critical acclaim amongst the jazz and pop reviewers, but the disc delighted audiophiles of all stripes. You see, The Nightfly was one of the first fully digital recordings of popular music. Add to that the usual crisp, sleek production The Dan were famous for, and you have a recipe for a phenomenal recording.
Any of the above provides a rewarding aural experience. These are amongst the best music from the 1970s/80s era, and indeed of all time.
Before we jump to the videos, one little bit of trivia: Since both Becker & Fagen were avid readers of 1950's "Beat" literature, they decided to name the band "Steely Dan" after a dildo in William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" . . .
videos after the jump.
Friday Evening Jazz: Mocean Worker
This always raises a challenging musical question as to how to proceed. It's early in the morning, and I'm reading the papers (NYT & WSJ). I sometimes find it distracting to play loud music that might overpower the rugrats if it also comes with lyrics --- especially those I tend to sing along with internally (Hey Hey Mama, say the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove)
Jazz is much more appropriate for that hour of the day, but with the screaming munchkins in the background, the quiet musical moments and soft passages get punctuated by shrill shrieks. Not what you want here during mellow interludes at that hour of the morning.
Fortunately, I flipped on Mocean Worker (pronounced M'Ocean Worker) this morning.
It's kinda hard to describe exactly what genre this music is: It's definitely jazz-based, but layered and looped with various electronica and horn section instrumentation. There are elements of funk, big-band and swing. It's loud, foot-tappingly rhythmic, smooth jazz, and best of all, there are no soft passages on Cinco de Mowo. Genre wise, I would say it falls somewhere between Electronica and Jazz -- call it Nu-Jazz. The beats are inventive and the samples are creatively applied.
NPR notes that Mocean Worker is Adam Dorn (and sometimes "Mowo"), who comes with a fabled jazz pedigree. He's the son of famed record producer Joel Dorn (Roberta Flack, John Coltrane, Leon Redbone), and he grew up around the jazz and R&B discs his father produced for Atlantic Records in the '60s and '70s.
One Amazon reviewer noted: "He's out to make good-time, danceable, jazz-influenced tunes. If they act as a jazz gateway drug, all the better."
The bottom line: Its fun stuff -- enjoy!
Mocean Worker: Old Jazz Meets New Producer http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11791823
The first video is a fabulous bit if animation, to the tune of Shake Your Boogie; The second clip shows Adam doing his things on a Powerbook using Recycle.
Shake Your Boogie
Mocean Worker - Remixing the King of Rock n' Roll
Friday Night Jazz: Chet Baker II
I was searching out some of my favorite Jazz artists on YouTube, when I randomly stumbled across this video of Chet Baker. For those of you unfamiliar with Baker, he was a terrific Trumpet player who was later "discovered" as a wistful blues singer, specializing in ballads and love songs.
Chet Baker's vocal style is unmistakably unique -- my favorite description of his his voice is "at times, it seems like he's hanging onto the melody by his fingernails." He seems at times half a tone off where you might expect him to be.
There is a lovely melancholy, a gentle beauty, to the way he wraps his voice around a song. The soft, simple sentiment embodied in his lyrical approach to ballads can turn any song into a brooding lament.
There's quite a few other videos at ChetBaker.net . . .
Either of these two CDs are good places to start exploring Baker's works:
"His vocals were absolutely distinctive, sung in a high-pitched, even fragile voice seemingly drained of emotion and yet possessing an inherent charm, a detachment that might be both the antithesis of style and its definition, whether it's heard as sensitivity or indifference. The singing is a double of his trumpet playing here, spare and barely present but achieving much through nuance and suggestion. Pianist Russ Freeman is an almost constant partner, supplying deft chords and harmonic daring, amplifying Baker's ideas. Their empathy is especially evident in the beautiful instrumental "Moon Love," but it's just as significant on signature Baker songs such as "My Funny Valentine," "Let's Get Lost," and "Like Someone in Love." --Stuart Broomer
New videos after the jump
Friday Night Jazz: Gerry Mulligan II
It was a real eye opener: This clean, cool recording of lovely Latin melodies, overlaid with a delightfully dry, reedy saxophone that infused everything with a sophisticated flavor. That was Gerry Mulligan's sound.
NPR radio described Mulligan as "the most influential baritone saxophonist in jazz."
But Mulligan was more than that -- he was a commanding composer, an innovative musician, someone who pushed boundaries, yet remained accessible and enjoyable to listen to.
Mulligan's light and airy baritone saxophone was the epitome of the the "cool" jazz sound. Yet its amazing how easily he could interact with many other musical styles: Ben Webster's blustery tenor (the epitome of a "warm" sound); Monk's percussive, fractured piano rhythms and dissonant tunes; the sweet, subtle tension between Mulligan and Chet Baker.
You can pretty much grab any random Mulligan album (I put up a decent selection here) and not be disappointed. You will see scattered around a broad selection of different styles, eras, and musical cohorts.
Are you a Brubeck fan? Monk? Chet Baker? Webster? Desmond? Grab anything, sit back -- and enjoy.
Mulligan became known for his writing and arranging skills in his teens. He wrote for Johnny Warrington's radio band in 1944, and for Gene Krupa's band two years later.
Mulligan hit the big time when he became known for his work (writing, arranging, and soloing) on Miles Davis' defining album, "Birth of the Cool." Gerry's compositions for this album included "Jeru," "Godchild," and "Venus de Milo," all songs that would remain in his repertoire long after the initial success of the album had died down. (This album launched and aided several careers of important jazz figures).
Mulligan's last record came out as one of his most beautiful. Lovely tunes, clever arrangements, and understated fabulous players mark his last recording (John Scofield and Grover Washington, Jr. play on this).
Mulligan Discography (massive PDF)
Friday Evening Jazz: Marvin Gaye
Last week, while randomly channel surfing, I stumbled across a fantastic PBS documentary in the American Masters series, titled Marvin Gaye: What's Going On.
It was a terrific review of the wonderful music and troubled life of Marvin Gaye.
Those of you who are less familiar with early Soul and R&B owe it to yourself to learn a bit about Gaye, best known as an artist on the Motown record label in the 1960s and 1970s.
Gaye had a classic R&B voice -- described as "edged with grit yet tempered with sweetness." But he was much more than that: He was Motown’s renaissance man: A songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer as well.
AllMusic: "Moving from lean, powerful R&B to stylish, sophisticated soul to finally arrive at an intensely political and personal form of artistic self-expression, his work not only redefined soul music as a creative force but also expanded its impact as an agent for social change."
You can explore Gaye's work a couple of ways: The one click method is either a box set or a Best Of. For the big 4 CD box, go with The Master 1961-1984. A less exhaustive approach is Every Great Motown Hit of Marvin Gaye.
I much prefer the albums over the greatest hits, The self-produced What's Going On was a landmark effort, described as "a dramatic shift in both content and style that forever altered the face of black music." A mix of percussion, soul and jazz, it has a remarkably sophisticated and fluid sound. Reviewers have called What's Going On a conceptual masterpiece.
The long-simmering eroticism implicit in much of Gaye's work reached its boiling point with 1973's Let's Get It On, one of the most sexually charged albums ever recorded; a work of intense lust and longing, it became the most commercially successful effort of his career
Top Ten Albums
1971: What's Going On (#6 U.S.)
1973: Let's Get It On (#2 U.S.)
1973: Diana & Marvin (#5 UK)
1974: Marvin Gaye Live! (#8 U.S.)
1976: I Want You (#4 U.S.)
1977: Live at the London Palladium (#3 U.S.)
1982: Midnight Love (#7 U.S.; #10 UK)
1994: The Very Best of Marvin Gaye (#3 UK)
2000: Marvin Gaye Love Songs (#8 UK)
• NPR: A Tribute to Marvin Gaye
videos after the jump
Friday Night Jazz: Thelonious Monk
One of my all time favorites Jazz musicians is Thelonius Monk.
Our man Monk was a three way genius: As a composer, as a jazz pianist, and as an improvisationist, he was without peer, and shaped the future of Jazz. Some notable discs:
• Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane -- what more can you add to these two geniuses riffing off of each other? Simply a monst rous most own.
• Monk's Dream is a great example of Thelonious Monk in a Quartet format, with Monk at the peak of his career peak.
• Monk's Music a classsic compositions & recordings; Bold and inspired, with Coltrane, Blakey and Hawkins. Just fabulous.
• Solo Monk a man, a piano, a studio tape recorder. Brilliant.
• Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall accidentally discovered in an unmarked box by a Library of Congress engineer early 2005 (previously mentioned in our year end review).
Videos after the jump . . .
Friday Evening Jazz: Dexter Gordon
FNJ has a guest DJ tonite: BondDaddy is in the house!
Dexter Gordon is one of the greatest tenor sax players. He had a strong tone and incredible sense of melody. Some players like Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson had a slippery sense of time; their phrases speed up and slow down, moving within the rythm section's accompaniment. Not Dexter. Dex's time was rock solid, never wavering. The rythm section had to accompany his time.
His playing is incredibly melodic, easily followed by the listener. Ideas naturally morphed from one to the other, always following a logical pattern. However, he was also able to surprise listeners with a run into upper chordal extensions.
His playing provides a logical link between Parker and Coltrane. Dex used many ideas from Parker, but played them with a tone that was deep, bold and soulful. His tone provides the link to Coltrane, who also favored a deep and rich tenor tone.
Gordon swung -- and swung hard. If your feet are not tapping within 8 bars of his starting to play, you're just not listening.
Our Man in Paris: This be-bop session is a meeting between three of the most influential musicians of the forties. The rhythms crackle, the solos fly; Our Man In Paris is essential Dexter. A nice compilation of standards.
Homecoming: Live at the Village Vanguard. Dex lived in Amsterdam for about 10 years, and this was the album be made when he came back. Very cool set. Woody Shaw is on Trumpet, and the two work really well together. THis is Dexter at the very top of his game (and probably one of the top 25 live jazz albums of all time).
He also starred in the Round Midnight, probably the best jazz movie ever made
Go: Its been widely reported Gordon himself considered this his greatest achievement. Brimming with conviction and poise, Gordon's gentle-giant sax carries itself with a sort of graceful edge that is difficult to emulate. Never has anyone made the diminished scale sound so musical.
Ballads: This is a compilation of his ballads (duh), and he could play just beautifully on these. Gordon delivers his almost sleepy and smoke-filled solos with real grace. Some of the most romantic playing you will every hear.
Videos after the jump
Friday Evening Jazz: Kind of Blue
Why? Not only is Kind of Blue Davis' best-selling album, it may very well be the best-selling jazz record of any artist, of all time. Even though it was released almost 50 years ago, it still sells over 5,000 copies per week today. In addition to its commercial success, it has come to be described by many Jazz critics as the greatest jazz album of all time.
Writing in AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted: "Kind of Blue isn't merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it's an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album, a universally acknowledged standard of excellence. Why does Kind of Blue posses such a mystique? Perhaps because this music never flaunts its genius. It lures listeners in with the slow, luxurious bassline and gentle piano chords of "So What." From that moment on, the record never really changes pace -- each tune has a similar relaxed feel, as the music flows easily. Yet Kind of Blue is more than easy listening. It's the pinnacle of modal jazz -- tonality and solos build from the overall key, not chord changes, giving the music a subtly shifting quality."
The one jazz record to own even if you don't listen to jazz -- the band is extraordinary: John Coltrane, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on saxophones, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. I recently received a remastered CD of kind the album, thus retiring my scratchy hiss and pop laden vinyl version. (And another intelligent CD pricing: $7.47 at Amazon)
For those of you looking for some , check out NPR: Kind of Blue (54 minutes)
videos after the jump . . .