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.
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.
Broadway World had an item on Monday on a short film, Trane and Miles, that chronicles the making of Kind of Blue, which the story says is the best-selling album in jazz history. A trailer for the film is below, and there is more information at the site. Above is So What (with, according to a note a YouTube, Paul Chambers of Contrabass, Wynton Kelly on piano and Philly Joe Jones on drums).
The relationship between John Coltrane and Miles Davis is an important one in jazz history. It has been written about in many places. I don’t have the background to assess it myself, but can point to some good resources.
For instance, the blog Elsewhere featured a post by Graham Reid entitled John Coltrane and Miles Davis: Genius at Work and Playing, 1955-1961. Reid offers insight into the interesting back story on how the two hooked up. Somehow, it all worked out:
Davis – at 29 and four months the saxophonist’s senior – had rarely seen Coltrane play and, on the few occasions he had, was unimpressed. Yet, perhaps desperate as the recording date approached, he made the call. Coltrane joined Davis’ band only a month before its Columbia recording debut on October 26, 1955.
It was an occasionally volatile relationship with Coltrane twice leaving and being replaced by Rollins. Yet the music made for Columbia by the Davis-led line-ups – Round About Midnight, Milestones and, in particular, Kind of Blue – defined an intellectual style of jazz others could only attempt to emulate.
A few years ago, Ben Leubner reviewed a book entitled Clawing the Limits of Cool by Farrah Jasmine Griffin and Salim Washington at the site Critical Studies in Improvisation. As usual in these cases, the review is more about the subject than the book, per se. Leubner writes:
The trumpeter and the saxophonist complemented each other perfectly precisely because they were completely different from one another, a dynamic which Griffin and Washington explore at great length. Davis, in his life, was extroverted, intense, even violent. In his playing, though, he was cool, humble, reticent. Coltrane, in his life, was cool, humble, and reticent, while his playing was extroverted, intense, and violent, or, to use a favorite word of Coltrane critics during the late 1950s, “angry.” In a 1960 interview with Coltrane (during his last tour with Davis, a European jaunt), Swedish radio host Karl-Erik Lindgren assumes that because “the playing mirrors the personality,” Coltrane must have an angry demeanor, or at least angry thoughts on his mind. When asked if he feels angry, though, Coltrane replies calmly, “No, I don’t” (Davis). Perhaps the playing does mirror the personality, but in the sense of reversing it, not in the sense of replicating it exactly. This, at least, seems to be the case with both Davis and Coltrane during the years of their collaboration.
The third piece I found on the relationship between Coltrane and Davis is a long one at Tripod. Brian Knight covers a lot of ground, including a nice explanation of why Davis simply sounded different than other trumpeters – it’s sometimes hard to remember that he was playing the same instrument as Louis Armstrong or Red Allen:
What made Miles Davis stand out and truly becomes a jazz music icon was more than his compositions, it was his unique playing style. In comparison to other great trumpeters such as Dizzy Gillepsie, Davis mastered the lower register of the trumpet’s sounds and preferred to play at a much slower tempo which made moodier, more contemplative pieces of music. The key ingredient to creating this mood pieces was Davis’ use of the Harmon mute. Coupled with the economical use of notes and phrasings through which Davis tried not to overwhelm a composition with excessive notes, Davis created a unique playing style that would influence generations of musicians to come. In contrast, John Coltrane preferred a faster tempo and he attempted to bombard the listener with notes. As Miles Davis was economical, Coltrane used his notes like a child with a ten-dollar bill in a penny candy shop.
There are, of course, many other posts and articles about the collaboration of the two giants. These three – and the short film, which was directed by Scott Essman – are good places to start.
The long and important life of Marian McPartland ended last week on Long Island, where the British native had lived for many years. McPartland was an important pianist and long-time host of a radio jazz show on National Public Radio.
The first paragraph of the obit at The Globe and Mail summed up McPartland’s amazing feat of rising to the top of the jazz world in which she was unique because of her nationality, sex and race:
Marian McPartland was a gifted musician but an unlikely candidate for jazz stardom. She recalled in a 1998 interview for National Public Radio that shortly after she arrived in the United States from England in 1946, the influential jazz critic Leonard Feather, who himself was born in England and who began his career as a pianist, said, “Oh, she’ll never make it: She’s English, white and a woman.” (Continue Reading…)
Here is an edition of her radio show — Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz — featuring Steely Dan, which is less of a surprise the more you think about it. The first tune, Duke Ellington’s Limbo Jazz, is fabulous. The show apparently is available as an album.
Above is a trailer for The First Lady of Jazz, which nicely summarizes her special status. Below is Bix Beiderbecke’s In a Mist. McPartland’s late husband, Jimmy, played with the legendary cornetist.
Richie Cannata, who has long been associated with Billy Joel – he was his sax player through 1982 — and more recently with The Beach Boys and Bernie Williams, gave a terrific performance in a municipal concert on August 9 in Glen Cove, a small city on the north shore of Long Island.
Cannata performed with various friends and family members, including Spyro Gyra guitarist Julio Fernandez. I don’t know enough about Fernandez to say that his guitar solo on the encore number — Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love – was characteristic of him or not. But for a jazz guitarist, he sure seemed to enjoy acting like Jimmy Page for a few minutes.
Here is the beginning of Cannata’s bio at ReverbNation:
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, Richie Cannata studied classical piano and clarinet. He also plays flute and keyboards in addition to tenor, alto, soprano, and baritone sax, with tenor sax being his forte. Richie has recorded and toured with Billy Joel’s band since 1975 and still can be seen with him today. For over a decade, Richie has also been a member of The Beach Boys, playing on their recordings as well as all of the world concert tours. Richie’s talent as a performing artist doesn’t even outshine his accomplishments behind the scenes. (Continue Reading…)
Cannata’s site has more information. Above is Keep it In the Pocket and below is Chameleon.
Here is the start of The Washington Post’s obituary of George Duke:
George Duke, a Grammy-winning keyboardist who crossed musical boundaries to play with entertainers as diverse as Michael Jackson, Frank Zappa and Miles Davis and who became a successful producer of pop-oriented rhythm-and-blues records in the 1980s, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 67. (Continue Reading…)
The song above is Ivory Tattoo was performed in 1976 in Switzerland. Billy Cobham is on drums.
The list of legendary trumpet players from the New Orleans area doesn’t begin or end with Louis Armstrong. Indeed, the list essentially is endless.
Red Allen is a relatively early — and truly great — member of that group. Here is the beginning of his profile at Red Hot Jazz Archives:
Trumpet player, Henry “Red” Allen Jr. was the son of Henry Allen who was the leader of the Allen Brass Band of Algiers, Louisiana. Algiers is directly across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. As a teenager he played in his father’s band, with George Lewis, the Excelsior Band and with the Sam Morgan Band. In 1926 he left New Orleans to play with Sidney Desvigne’s Southern Syncopaters on the riverboat Island Queen which ran between St. Louis and Cincinnati. In 1927 he joined King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators while they were on tour in St. Louis. The tour didn’t go well for Oliver, and the band kind of fell to pieces in New York, but Red made his first recordings while there with Clarence Williams. Allen returned to New Orleans and played with Fats Pichon and then joined Fate Marable on the Strekfus riverboat Capitol where he would remain until 1928. After being offered a Victor recording contract and jobs by both Duke Ellington and Luis Russell, he returned to New York. (Continue Reading…)
Wikipedia points out that Allen is said to be the first to incorporate Armstrong’s revolutionary influences. The sense I get is that he was a bit unfairly obscured by Pops’ long shadow.
Above is a fabulous version of a Wild Man Blues, which seems to owe a lot to St. James Infirmary. It is interesting because of the early television treatment and host John Crosby’s comments. The show, called The Sound of Jazz, aired on CBS in 1957. It was part of a series called The Seven Lively Arts. An LP was released of the performances in the jazz segment.
Folks just interested in the music should skip to the 3:00 mark of the video.
The list of musicians, courtesy of Crosby: Allen, Rex Stewart (coronet); Pee Wee Herman (clarinet); Vic Dickenson (trombone); Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax); Nat Piece (piano); Danny Barker (guitar); Milt Hinton (bass) and Jo Jones (drums).
Below is Rosetta.
Oscar Peterson is among the greatest jazz pianists. Many consider Art Tatum — as the excerpt below suggests — to be the best, while Peterson, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and a few others are a small step away. I previously linked to this terrific interview that Dick Cavett did with Peterson.
This is from Wikipedia’s profile of Peterson:
Some of the artists who influenced Peterson’s music during the earlier type of years were Teddy Wilson, Nat “King” Cole, James P. Johnson and Art Tatum, to whom many have tried to compare Peterson in later years. One of his first exposures to Tatum’s musical talents came early in his teen years when his father played Art Tatum’s Tiger Rag for him, and Peterson was so intimidated by what he heard that he became disillusioned about his own playing, to the extent of refusing to play the piano at all for several weeks. In his own words, “Tatum scared me to death” and Peterson was “never cocky again” about his mastery at the piano. Tatum was a model for Peterson’s musicianship during the 1940s and 1950s. Tatum and Peterson eventually became good friends, although Peterson was always shy about being compared with Tatum and rarely played the piano in Tatum’s presence. (Continue Reading…)