Friday, July 28, 2017

Tardo Hammer "Swinging On A Star"

As we approach eight years of producing piano concerts at Portland's Classic Pianos, one of the standout evenings occurred on October 26, 2012. Tardo Hammer was in town and he mesmerized an audience of beguiled bebop believers. To my ears, Hammer is a willing disciple of Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron and Barry Harris. Said another way, it's not how many notes one plays. Rather, it's all about playing the right ones. And Tardo Hammer is a master of his craft in a trio session featuring Lee Hudson, bass and Steve Williams, drums. Here's the word on a few highlights: The CD opens with "Gone", a Gil Evans remake of a minor theme from Porgy and Bess. Two bop evergreens, "Little Willie Leaps" and "Monk's Dream", are tailor made for Tardo. The standards include some extended solo space for Hudson on the title tune "Swingin'" On A Star"; a delicate and tender "How Are Things In Glocca Morra"; and the surprise of the set, Harry Warren's old timer, "I Found A Million Dollar Baby". A gorgeous bonus here is Billy Strayhorn's rarely heard and oddly titled beauty, "A Ballad For Very Tired And Sad Lotus Eaters". Strayhorn always took a back seat to his boss, Duke Ellington. But in terms of genius they were equals. Several additional tunes complete an album that is five star real deal piano trio perfection.
Cellar Live; 2017; appx 46 min.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Kenton Alums

Some of you might take issue with this, but I'm just going to say it and let the chips fall where they may. I'm not an overwhelming wild-eyed fan of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. I own about a dozen SK albums, so it might be said that I recognize his place in jazz history. The "Kenton sound" as it became known, was bright, brassy, and orchestral. It was impeccably arranged, but to my ear it didn't always swing. Still, we must credit Kenton for possessing a great ear [?] for superb players in his orchestra. Many of them started their careers in the Kenton nest [?] and others used it as a springboard to later fame. Among them were the following: [paragraph?] Jack Sheldon, the witty trumpet player and occasional singer; Zoot Sims, bear [?] of the incessantly swinging tenor sax; Lennie Niehaus, an alto player who would move on as a leader and arranger of significance; Tenor man Bill Holman, whose arranging skills would make him one of the most in demand in that arena; Troubled trombonist Frank Rosolino, first call cat in both movie and recording studios; and Art Pepper, who despite his addictive lifestyle, would become a major [what?] [alto sax]. Other Kentonites who moved on [repetition] to prominence in their own right include Lee Konitz, alto; Stan Levey, drums; Conte Condoli, trumpet; Bob Cooper and Bill Perkins, tenor sax; and two outstanding singers, June Christy and Chris Connor. All said, that's a truckful of talent. Stan Kenton recognized it, encouraged it, and gave it to the jazz world as a great gift.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

92 Years Young: Jammin' At The Gibbs House

Maybe it's that famously clean air quality of Los Angeles. Or perhaps it's that exceptional pure water shuttled in from Colorado. Or could it be the thousands of hours on the receiving end of automobile exhaust from a lifetime spent on L.A. freeways? Whatever the reason, Terry Gibbs at 92 apparently dismisses his age in favor of playing the vibes as he always has, with swinging passion and vitality. On this most welcome CD he's joined by John Campbell, piano; son Gerry Gibbs, drums; and Mike Gurrola, bass. A couple of words specifically about John Campbell. He's simply one of the most vastly underrated pianists ever. He swings in the manner of Oscar Peterson and yet one can count his albums on one hand! Gibbs and friends give you more than your money's worth on treasures like "Indiana", "Yesterdays", "What's New", "Take The A Train", "Yardbird Suite" and lots more. So don't hesitate. Go ahead and revel in all the joyous music heard here. Terry Gibbs is 92 and still playing like a jazz monster. It must be something in the air.
Whaling City Sound; 2017; appx. 75 min.

Monday, July 17, 2017

David Among Goliaths: Freddie Green

     Slip in a Count Basie disc some time and reacquaint yourself with the drive, the power and precision of this historic band. Basie of course was a champion of the less-is-more theory. His economy of notes was deceptive. It sounded as though anyone could do it, but like Bach's two part inventions, Count's "simple" lines were anything but easy. Into this atmosphere, throw in premier soloists like Frank Foster and Frank Wess on tenor; Marshall Royal on alto; Thad Jones and Joe Newman on trumpet; and oh so many others, even if for shorter stays.

     But next to Basie himself, the quiet star of the band was guitarist Freddie Green. In this propulsive, soaring Basie machine there was the pulse: Freddie. Always there on acoustic rhythm guitar. Surrounded by all this power and, call it what it is, volume, Freddie is in the center of the fray: plink, plank, plunk. He rarely was awarded solos but he was the beating heart of the band.

     My favorite Freddie Green story goes back to about 1951. Musical styles were changing. Big bands were disappearing rapidly. Basie was forced to wave goodbye to his beautiful band and started playing clubs in a trio setting. The story is told that one night in Chicago, Basie and his trio mates were setting up on the band stand. In walked Freddie Green, guitar case in hand. Basie cared deeply about Freddie but simply could not afford him. Freddie approached the bandstand and Basie asked him, "What are you doing here?" "Well, we're playing tonight, aren't we?" answered Freddie. "Uh, yeah," said Basie. Freddie unpacked his guitar from the case and went on to play the rest of his career with his soft-hearted boss, William Basie.

     So, put on that Basie disc. But listen in particular for the acoustic rhythm guitarist. The David among Goliaths. Freddie Green. Thank you, Freddie!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Jazz Notes "Best Singers Of All Time"

Billie, Ella, Sarah, Carmen: Are they the four greatest jazz singers of all time?

In my opinion, yes. But I wouldn't choose any one of them over the other three! Let's take a look at all four:    Billie Holiday's tragic life and destructive decisions are, unfortunately, central to her music. Her suffering and that of African Americans of her era, is clearly evident in such titles as "God Bless The Child", "Strange Fruit", "My Man" and many others. Billie did not possess the pure and perfect vocal quality of the others, but she told the story of a lyric perhaps as no one, before or since. She also worked nearly exclusively in a jazz context, only bowing to vanilla, stringy arrangements very late in her short life. Her music is as timeless as can be, and as years pass it will occupy a growing importance in jazz history.    Ella Fitzgerald was blessed with an uncanny ability to scat and to fit in as another instrument in the band. To this, add her beautiful, natural vocal quality, her longevity in the business, her modesty, and her obvious love of what she did, and it's easy to understand why she was dubbed "The First Lady Of Song". Peerless on a ballad but ever swinging with partners like Oscar Peterson, Lou Levy, or Paul Smith, Ella Fitzgerald will long be remembered for how nearly perfect she really was.    Sarah Vaughan was also blessed with a heavenly vocal quality. But in addition she had a range that surpassed nearly everyone. She also was able to capture the following of both pop and jazz audiences, something the others could not accomplish. Some of her pop material suffered from syrupy strings, but Sarah was good enough to prevail even there based on talent, poise, chops and built-in brilliance. In the jazz world she worked with everyone from Charlie Parker to Sir Roland Hanna; from Duke Ellington to Jimmy Rowles; and from Count Basie to Jimmy Jones to Miles Davis. She was easily the diva among jazz singers, always "one of the guys" on the bandstand or in the studio, and if one of these four could be described as a goddess, it would be Sarah.    Carmen McRae came along a bit later than the others, hitting her stride in the fifties with some "okay" orchestral backing and some superb jazz sides, mainly with pianist Ray Bryant. She idolized Billie but never tried to sound like her. A wise decision because like Billie, Carmen delivered the meaning of a lyric as though she lived it. She was also a natural and creative scat singer, and the latter half of her career was spent in high octane jazz settings. I loved Carmen's hipness and her ability to reach new musical heights all the time. She was in many ways one of a kind. I am personally grateful for the honor of interviewing her at the 1986 Mt. Hood Festival Of Jazz.Five favorite recordings of Billie, Ella, Sarah and Carmen:BILLIE:1. The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia, 1933-44 (10 CD's)2. Rare Live Recordings 1934-59 (5 CD's) - ESP Disk 3. The Complete Commodore Recordings (2CD's)4. Songs & Conversations - Paramount5. The Complete Billie Holiday On Verve, 1945-59 (10 CD's)ELLA:1. Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie - Verve2. Ella At Duke's Place - Verve3. Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George & Ira Gershwin Songbook (3 CD's) - Verve4. Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (2 CD's) - Verve5. The Intimate Ella (originally released as Let No Man Write My Epitaph) - VerveSARAH:1. No Count Sarah - Emarcy2. Sarah Vaughan (with Clifford Brown) - Emarcy3. Count Basie & Sarah Vaughan - Roulette4. Sarah Vaughan At Mister Kelly's - Emarcy5. Sarah Vaughan & The Jimmy Rowles Quintet - MainstreamCARMEN:1. Carmen Sings Monk - Novus (RCA)2. Bittersweet - Koch Jazz3. Carmen McRae Sings Lover Man - Columbia4. Live At Sugar Hill - Time5. Carmen McRae & Ray Bryant - Complete Recordings - Gambit

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Emmet Cohen "Masters Legacy Series Volume 1"

Certainly you'll turn some heads if you can get legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb on your record. I certainly sat up and took notice. Well, pianist Emmet Cohen was able to pull off that trick on this classic piano trio album. Bassist Yasushi Nakamura completes the trio, and just to be totally accurate, alto sax man Godwin Louis guests on two selections. Pianist Cohen has a skilled and confident but yet subtle approach, and in the heart of the tradition. The tunes are very nicely varied with jazz standards like "Tin Tin Deo" and "Two Bass Hit", and surprises like Ferde Grofe's "On The Trail" and Burton Lane's showy "If This Isn't Love". The trio also puts "Flamingo" in waltz tempo and it works to perfection. A few lesser known but equally compelling tunes complete a very welcome album. The notes indicate that this CD, being "Volume 1", is first of a series well worth waiting for. Cohen is not flashy. And that's what makes him such a delight to hear.

Cellar Live; 2016; appx. 68 min.