Let me say this as delicately as possible: Conceptually and objectively, I understand that tastes are different. One man’s meat is another man’s poison and all that. Okay. Got it. All that said, I still don’t really understand how anyone can not like the Mills Brothers. Just listen to these guys. “(Up a) Lazy River,” above, got nine dislikes at YouTube. “Glow Worm,” below, got 20. (The songs got 483 and 1,053 likes, respectively. That somewhat restores my faith in human nature. Somewhat.)
Okay, rant over. Here is the beginning of the group’s Last.fm profile:
The Mills Brothers, sometimes billed as The Four Mills Brothers, were a U.S. jazz and pop vocal quartet.
The group was originally composed of four brothers all born in Piqua, Ohio: John Jr (1911-1936) basso and guitarist, Herbert (1912-1989) tenor, Harry (1913-1982) baritone, and Donald (1915-1999) lead tenor. Their father owned a barber’s shop, and founded a barbershop quartet called the Four Kings of Harmony. As the boys grew older, they began singing in the choir of the Cyrene African Methodist Episcopal Church and in the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Piqua. After their lessons at the Spring Street Grammar School, they would gather in front of their father’s shop on Public Square or at the corner of Greene and Main to sing and play the kazoo to passersby.
They entered an amateur contest at Piqua’s Mays Opera House, but while on stage Harry discovered he had lost his kazoo. He cupped his hands to his mouth and imitated a trumpet. The success of his imitation led to all the brothers taking on instruments to imitate and created their early signature sound. John Jr accompanied the four-part harmony first with a ukulele and then a guitar. They practised imitating orchestras they heard on the radio. John, as the bass, would imitate the tuba, Harry, a baritone, imitated the trumpet, Herbert became the second trumpet, and Donald the trombone. They entertained on the Midwest theatre circuit, at house parties, tent shows, music halls, and supper clubs throughout the area, and became well known for their close harmonies, mastery of scat singing, and their ability to imitate musical instruments with their voices. (Continue Reading…)
Here is a nice version of “(Up a) Lazy River” by Leon Redbone.
Some people say that jazz is an acquired taste. If so, an avant-garde jazz trombonist — which is what Roswell Rudd is — is an advanced acquired taste. In that context, the two videos here (The Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” above and “Going Sane” below) are accessible. “Dry Bones,” performed with Sonic Youth, is a bit higher on the need-to-acquire scale. (A very different version of which was used in Dennis Potters’ “Singing Detective”). Actually, the Rudd/Sonic Youth version is growing on me. Suffice it to say that it isn’t hummable.
There was a 78th birthday concert featuring Rudd last week in New York City. This is from a 2007 profile in The New York Times:
Mr. Rudd was a central figure in the avant-garde jazz scene of the 1960s and 70s. After a long career slump, he has re-emerged in recent years with a series of critically acclaimed collaborations with musicians from around the world. The driving forces behind his comeback, he says, have been his partner, Verna Gillis, an ethnomusicologist and music manager, and the creative energy he gets from their Kerhonkson home and the 21 acres of forest that surround it. (Continue Reading…)
Ulster Magazine profiled Rudd, who is more than a trombonist:
To supplement his income as a jazz musician, Rudd was a research associate for folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax. “I did field recordings,” he explains. “Once I started working for Alan Lomax I was analyzing music from all over the world,” says Rudd, an ethnomusicologist in his own right. “Previously it had been limited to classical European music.” (Continue Reading…)
This is the second trombonist featured at TDMB. The other — the one with the better nickname (actually, I don’t think Rudd has a nickname) is Trombone Shorty.
The remarkable ability of New Orleans to produce trumpet (and cornet) players — which began with Buddy Bolden and reached its zenith with Louis Armstrong — shows no sign of abating. One of the latest entrants is Nicholas Payton. Here is part of Payton’s Wikipedia profile:
The son of bassist and sousaphonist Walter Payton, he took up the trumpet at the age of four and by the time he was nine he was playing in the Young Tuxedo Brass Band alongside his father. Upon leaving school, he enrolled first at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and then at the University of New Orleans, where he studied with Ellis Marsalis.
After touring with Marcus Roberts and Elvin Jones in the early 90s, Payton signed a recording contract with Verve; his first album, From This Moment, appeared in 1994. In 1996 he performed on the soundtrack of the movie Kansas City, and in 1997 received a Grammy Award (Best Instrumental Solo) for his playing on the album Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton. After seven albums on Verve, Payton signed with Warner Bros. Records, releasing Sonic Trance, his first album on the new label, in 2003. Besides his recordings under his own name, Payton has also played and recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Dr. Michael White, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Doc Cheatham and Joe Henderson. (Continue Reading…)
Louis Armstrong is my favorite musician — not only for how he played, but for who he was. And, perhaps more than anyone who ever lived, Armstrong is the American story, both the good and the bad. What made him great — triumphant — wasn’t that he revolutionized American music (though that isn’t bad). It was that he came through it all smiling and happily settled down in Corona, New York.
I always am interested in what other musicians say about Armstrong. It is particularly interesting in Payton’s case, because he is one of Armstrong’s artistic grandchildren. This is what he posted on his blog four years ago in a poem entitled “On Louis Armstrong:”
Louis Armstrong’s trumpet is like the voice of God.
He’s not asking; he’s telling you.
Miles is more malleable; compassionate like Christ.
Pops is so Old Testament.
His voice dry.
His articulation crisp.
His phrasing so sharp and spot on.
He favors melodies with repetitive notes as if to drive his point home to you.
Armstrong’s is the trumpet of tough love.
I have three reactions to this. First, it is interesting that Payton mixes the emotional/subjective (“Old Testament”) with the professional’s comparison of the styles of Armstrong and Miles Davis. Secondly, Louis Armstrong and his smile certainly don’t pop into my mind when I read the Old Testament, which isn’t a lot of laughs. Finally, I don’t think Payton would mind that half of a post that is supposed to be about him ended up being a discussion of Louis Armstrong. (On a side note, Payton seems to enjoy blogging as much as playing the trumpet. He doesn’t lack strong opinions.)
Above is “Bag’s Groove” and below is “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” which was performed with The Barcelona Jazz Orchestra.
Like many people my age (and younger), my impressions of the world, for better or worse, are shaped by video. I was thoroughly convinced for years that World War II was in black and white until about the middle of 1944, when suddenly it became a full color affair. The Pacific Theater apparently was colorized first.
Likewise, my impression of France is from video. (I was sort of there there only once, and barely. I covered a trade show in Geneva, Switzerland that was so crowded that our hotel was across the border in France. We had to carry our passports to get to and from the exhibition hall.) Charles Trenet is my idea of France. You’ll know what I mean after a few bars.
The song above is “Douce France,” which starts about a minute into the video. Old jazz people used to say that somebody who “got” jazz and had sufficient skills was swinging, no matter what the tempo of the song. It is an inherent understanding of what differentiates jazz from stodgier forms of music. It’s an ethos more than a style. Anyone with any doubts that the French can swing should check out Trenet and the pianist, especially in the second half of the song. I am assuming the pianist is French.
The song below is “La Mer.” It’s fascinating: It turns out that “Beyond the Sea” — perhaps Bobby Darin’s greatest hit — is a cover of this song, at least musically. The lyrics, apparently, are completely different. Trenet’s version is a bit slower, but great.
Here is a bit of a profile of Trenet at RFI music. I am purposefully pulling out the passage about the war years, which clearly presented choices for entertainers in occupied countries:
At the start of WWII, Charles Trenet, who had become a national hero, was mobilized. He was barracked at the military base of Salon-de-Provence until he was demobilized in June 40. Then he moved back to Paris, where the cultural and night scenes were still in full swing despite the German occupation. In the French capital, he would perform at the Folies-Bergère or at the Gaieté Parisienne (two famous cabarets) in front of a public often consisting of German officers and soldiers. The collaborationist press tried to compromise his name and published that ‘Trenet’ was the anagram of ‘Netter’—a Jewish name. But the singer was able to show his family tree to the German authorities, proving he had no Jewish origin. This act of self-defense will be reproached to him long after the end of the war. Like many other artists of the time, he chose to go on entertaining the occupant rather than sacrifice his career, showing little interest in the Jewish issue—an attitude that some still regard as collaboration. What’s more, he even agreed, when asked by the German authorities, to go and sing for the French prisoners in Germany (Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier did the same). However, although he spoke perfect German, Trenet would always refuse to speak that language or to socialize with the occupant at the parties thrown after the concerts.
During the Liberation the artist did not suffer from the suspicious and accusing climate. Nevertheless he decided to move to America where he lived for a few years. It did not take long before the Americans were fond of the French singer. After a few triumphant concerts at the Bagdad in New York, Trenet became a big hit in the States and was approached by Hollywood. He met the likes of George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong and stroke up a long-lasting friendship with Charlie Chaplin. His song ‘La Mer’, which according to the legend he had composed with Leo Chauliac on a train in 1943, was recorded in 1946. It was immediately translated into English by Jack Lawrence and became ‘Beyond the sea’. It was a smashing success in the English-speaking world where it became a classic. About 4000 covers were made of ‘La Mer’ across the world. (Continue Reading…)
The 4,000 figure in the last sentence is, of course, a mistake. Trenet died in 2001 at age 88.
I am not sure why this bio of Tito Puente ended up on a site called Cengage Learning, but it did. It does the job, too:
Tito Puente is internationally recognized for his seminal contributions to Latin music as a bandleader, composer, arranger, and percussionist. Known as “El Rey,” or The King of Mambo, he has recorded an unprecedented 100 albums, published more than 400 compositions, and won four Grammy awards. “In a day when pop singers fake their way to the top and when for many artists, success is the child of hype, Puente is one of only a handful of musicians who deserve the title ‘legendary,’” Mark Holston stated in Américas.
Credited with introducing the timbal — a double tom-tom played with sticks — and the vibraphone to Afro-Cuban music, Puente also plays the trap drums, the conga drums, the claves, the piano, and occasionally, the saxophone and the clarinet. While Puente is perhaps best known for his all-time best-selling 1958 mambo album Dance Mania, his eclectic sound has continued to transcend cultural and generational boundaries. As a testament to his popularity with a younger audience, Puente has recorded with rocker Carlos Santana and has performed regularly at college concerts throughout the country. He has also appeared in several films, received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and performed on television’s The David Letterman Show. (Continue Reading…)
Here is the beginning of Puente’s Wikipedia profile:
Ernesto Antonio “Tito” Puente, (April 20, 1923 – June 1, 2000), was a Latin jazz and salsa musician and composer. The son of native Puerto Ricans, Ernest and Ercilia Puente, living in New York City’sSpanish Harlem community, Puente is often credited as “The Musical Pope,” “El Rey de los Timbales” (The King of the timbales) and “The King of Latin Music.” He is best known for dance-oriented mambo and Latin jazz compositions that helped keep his career going for 50 years. He and his music appear in many films such as The Mambo Kings and Fernando Trueba‘s Calle 54. He guest-starred on several television shows including Sesame Street, The Cosby Show and The Simpsons. (Continue Reading…)
Carmen McRae lacked the notoriety that several other female vocalists received. But she was one of the greats.
Here are two paragraphs of the very well written introduction to a McRae fan site. As a non-musician, I often find myself reacting to music, positively or negatively, without really knowing what the musician or musicians are trying to do. I like it or I don’t. This passage, particularly the second paragraph, does a nice job of explaining the strengths of three great vocalists — McRae, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald:
Eight years younger than her idol, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae was a contemporary of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Ella and Sarah were already well established by the time Carmen came onto the scene, but it wasn’t long before Carmen was considered their artistic equal, although she never achieved their wide popularity. She never had a huge hit nor did she ever receive a Grammy. But, on the other hand, she never made a bad record nor compromised her high standards.
Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan inspired awe with their vocal prowess. Ella – with her perfect pitch and unerring sense of time – could reproduce any instrumental jazz riff, and Sarah – with her multi-octave range and ultra-flexible voice – could change octave and color on a single note. Carmen, however, could bring a tear to the eye or a lump to the throat, with her reading of a lyric. That was her great talent. She combined the ability to project the emotional connotations of a song with a musical intelligence that was derived in part from her knowledge of the piano. (Continue Reading…)
The site is one of the most complete that I’ve run into since I began TDMB. Check it out. Above is “I’m Glad there is You,” which seems as if it would be a difficult song to sing. It is one of McRae’s signature songs. Below is the standard “That Old Black Magic.”
From his body language while playing to his unique, free flowing improvisations, there is nobody like Keith Jarrett.
This is from AllMusic:
Pianist, composer, and bandleader Keith Jarrett is one of the most prolific, innovative, and iconoclastic musicians to emerge from the late 20th century. As a pianist (though that is by no means the only instrument he plays) he literally changed the conversation in jazz by introducing an entirely new aesthetic regarding solo improvisation in concert. Though capable of playing in a wide variety of styles, Jarrett is deeply grounded in the jazz tradition. He has recorded nearly 80 albums as a leader in jazz and classical music. And he has won the Down Beat Critics Poll as a pianist numerous times — including consecutively between 2001 and 2008. (Continue Reading…)
Jarrett has played for years with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Gary Peacock. NPR also offers a profile of the pianist:
Whether playing solo or in an ensemble, Jarrett has always taken improvisation to its highest degree. When playing solo, he often begins with no music or preconceived notions. His top selling 1975 album, The Koln Concerts provides ample testament to Jarrett’s prowess on the piano. Incidentally, when Jarrett improvises, he really doesn’t hear the piano. (Continue Reading…)
This website describes itself as an unofficial place to find Jarrett news. Above is “Summertime” and below is “God Save the Child.”