Wednesday, May 13, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 16

Billie Holiday I might have one more day of Billie accompanying me at work before the commute kicks back in. Disc 7 marks the start of the alternate takes and the air-checks. These are super valuable for anyone undertaking study of these works. When I work with these, if multiple takes available, they get plenty of attention too. It can be interesting to compare recordings from different eras too. “All of Me” was the first piece I worked on during my studies with Richard Tabnik. At the same time I was also working with the Frank Sinatra version from the 1940s. Whenever I hear them I can’t help being taken back to that space and time. It wasn’t until I picked up this set and got back home that I worked on the alternate takes of “All of Me” (and others). For many years it was a regular part, and a large focus, of my practice, but these days I’m more likely to check back in with a particular recording or two here and there. Perhaps it’s time to ramp things but up again. 

I forget how young Billie was one the first couple of discs (the recordings start in 1933, aged 18). Quite remarkable. I was pretty lucky to have stumbled upon some of these recordings early on in my exploration of jazz. I’ve been listening to many of these recordings for 25 years (some closer to 30). I haven’t tired of them yet, and I doubt I will as I still get so much from them. They’re always there to turn to when you need them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 15

Billie Holiday
It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get through the entire set before heading back to work. We’ll see I guess. In the meanwhile, disc 6 had a spin today, moving us into sessions from 1940 and 1941. Plenty of favourites here “Swing Brother Swing”, “Body and Soul”, “Laughing at Life”, “Time on My Hands”, “Practice Makes Perfect”. There was a time when I’d sing 3 versions of “Them There Eyes” back to back; Louis Armstrong’s version from 193, the Kansas City Session version with Freddie Green singing, and Billie’s version. Wild stuff and highly recommended. I’ll have to have a think about commuting music in the coming days. I’ll probably use the Dizzy stuff as a starting point. I have some piano albums I want to give some time as well (Elmo Hope, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Horace Silver).

Monday, May 11, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 14

Billie Holiday Today it was recordings featuring the larger 10 or 11 piece groups from late 1938 - early 1939. I haven’t spent as much time listening to these as I have the smaller groups. In general when it comes to jazz, I prefer the looseness of the smaller groups – and that’s true this set too. It was nice to hear a couple of soprano features by Tab Smith on “Everything Happens for the Best” and “Long Gone Blues”. Anyone with some spare time wish to collate a list of non-Bechet soprano saxophone solos pre-1950s? I should start noting them down each time I cross paths with one. I can’t remember much about the background of these sessions – who was the arranger etc. I do remember reading (somewhere) that Teddy Wilson and Billie would get together in the days before a session to select tunes. Teddy would have a big stack of sheet music and they’d run through them and make selections. This mornings listening had me imaging just how many arrangements from this era exist only on recordings. And then there are all the pieces that were never recorded. Somewhere along the line I heard that the number of surviving original Ellington charts (from any era) is shockingly low. Another project could be to create a list of recordings of stock arrangements – it would be interesting to hear different bands playing the arrangements. I’ll leave it there for today, Dizzy made a brief appearance, but I wasn’t in the mood for it today and I tuned out (sorry Diz!).

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Steve Lacy: Remains

Solo jazz saxophone On Facebook plenty of people have been posting the cover art of albums that have influenced them. Someone mentioned that the first time they heard St Germain’s Tourist was in a cafe (no surprises there.....quintessential cafe muzak of the early 2000s!). And that had me thinking.....

The best album I’ve heard playing in cafe (so far) was Steve Lacy’s Remains. I was wrapping up and about to leave, but stayed just to listen to the entire thing and purchased the album shortly after. And it remains (sorry) a favourite of mine. The cafe was Atomix. The staff were nice and the vibe was chilled out. Many blog posts were written there (and maybe some school work and job applications too), all accompanied by the consumption of tea, muffins, soup and egg sandwiches. It closed last year. It was bit of a haul to get there – about an hour walk - the added bonus was you passed Dusty Groove along the way. Well worth the walk (the bus took about the same amount of time... or longer).

For those interested, Remains is a solo album from 1991 and features one of my favourite Steve Lacy works – the Tao Cycle. The suite is a setting of selections from Witter Bynner’s 1944 translation of the Tao Te Ching – The Way of Life according to Lao Tzu.

Lacy started writing it in the late 1960s (and started recording it in the early 70s). He has recorded the entire suite a few times (with and without vocals) and would often record/perform individual movements. I think the version on Remains was the last time he recorded the song cycle in full (I need to double check that though).

Witter Bynner 
Each of the six movements sets a particular ‘chapter’ of the Tao:

“Existence” = Chapter 4
“The Way” = Chapter 47
“Bone” = Chapter 33
“Name” = Chapter 1
“The Breath” = Chapter 6
“Life on its Way” = Chapter 40

And as highly as I rate Remains, I’m not sure I’d say it’s the place to start with the Tao Cycle. If you are interested in hearing the vocal version, check out his 1979 quintet recording, The Way (on HatHut records).

I’ve been thinking about putting together a radio programme featuring various recordings from the song cycle over the years. It's very much still in the early stages of planning, but I think it could be an interesting programme.

Friday, May 08, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 11

 Billie Holiday
Dizzy Gillespie I do wish Billie would have sung two choruses (or more) a little more often (we do have the alternate takes though). It’s an awfully minor complaint. There are some great bass and drum pairings across the set. Of course there’s the classic combo of Walter Page and Jo Jones, but I’ve also been enjoying John Kirby and Cozy Cole take care of business together. I have to throw some love in the direction of Buck Clayton too. In the history books he’s a little overshadowed by others. But how about that cup mute tone? And his melodic solos and blend with Prez is top notch. While we’re on the subject, Prez plays a little clarinet on Disc 4 (“The Very Thought of You”, “I Got a Date with a Dream”) - always a treat. If you’re after more clarinet from Prez, check out the Kansas City Sessions (with Buck and the Basie rhythm section) recorded about a week apart from this session with Billie in September, 1938.

Although some of these Dizzy discs are revisits, today’s outing was a new one for me. It’s nice hearing Dizzy revisiting pieces from the 40s and setting them next to slightly more contemporary pieces of the time (1963), hence Something Old, Something New. I can’t say I’ve ever been much of a fan of James Moody. He fits in well here, and the flute is a nice touch and today I preferred it over the sax playing, but he just doesn’t do it for me. I think horn blend and intonation was bugging me. It’s not always a factor, but today it was catching a nerve. I just seemed a bit inconsistent. But as a soloist Dizzy was pretty well on form throughout and that’s why these discs are getting a spin (although it’s always nice when someone else catches your ear).

Thursday, May 07, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 10

Billie HolidayAnd I’m onto disc 3. Cloudy, cool day here and the music did pretty well to warm me up. Old favourites a-plenty... “Sun Showers”, “I’ll Get By”, “Mean to Me”, “I’ll Never Be The Same”, “Foolin’ Myself”, “Without Your Love”, “Sailboat In The Moonlight”, “Me, Myself and I”.... studies in feel, balance, weight, colour. I love the mystery.

People always mention the pairing Billie Holiday and Lester Young – and it really is one of my favourites. But I don’t hear as much about the Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday match up. Teddy’s touch is all over these sides – as a leader and sideman - and the magic would sound a lot different without him.

I’m definitely getting my fill of rhythm guitar with these discs. There’s a lot of Allan Reuss, Dick McDonough has some nice moments, and of course there’s Freddie Green. I’ve never had the chance, but I’d like to work with someone on acoustic archtop some time - I think it would be really interesting in a contemporary setting.

Roy Eldridge Dizzy GillespieThen it was onto the after Dizzy session with Roy and Diz #2 – a recording I hadn’t heard for probably 15 years, maybe more.. It’s very much in the jam-session mold with the out-and-out pyrotechnics of “Limehouse Blues”, but I prefer when they tone things down a bit on “Sometimes I’m Happy” (with Diz double timing while Roy just chills out) and “Blue Moon” (but once they pulls the mutes out they crank it up again). The ballad medley isn’t something you encounter all too often these days but back then it was pretty common on those Norman Granz dates. He needed to place it after the high wire acts for some release though! The budget reissue is definitely not the highest quality sound-wise (regardless of what the cover says!). Might be the way it was recorded but it’s pretty muddy and the rhythm section is well down in the mix. I'll survive.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 9

Dizzy Gillespie; Sonny Rollins; Sonny StittBille Holiday
More Billie Holiday on Columbia was on the menu this morning. The box set contains so many songs that you never hear these days and that in itself is refreshing. And of course there are plenty of old favourites - “Pennies from Heaven” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (also check out Pops’ version from the early 30s too - amazing phrasing). “This Year’s Kisses” was on a disc I had pretty early on as I was getting into jazz. Still a favourite. Irving Fazola’s clarinet tone on the session from September 1936 (“A Fine Romance” etc) popped out at me this morning. What was it with New Orleans and clarinetists? Is it the whole opera and the blues thing? Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, Jimmy Noone, Edmond Hall, Barney Bigard, George Lewis.... not a bad run

Yesterday I mentioned how the Billie Holiday sessions don’t feel like all-star outings. Well a bunch of the Dizzy Gillespie albums I have are along the lines of “Dizzy meets” type albums. And those jam-type sessions can fall into the trap of spectacle rather than music making (like heaps of those videos of all-star jams at festivals during the 70s). Duets is blowin’ session Diz with his rhythm section (Ray and Tommy Bryant and Charlie Persip) along with Sonny Rollins for two blues and two Sonny Stitt for two afro-cuban numbers. I think I would have preferred it the other way around. Or perhaps that’s just me favouring Rollins over Stitt. The upside with Sonny Side Up.... you get to hear both on all the tunes. And I’ll get to that one soon enough.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 8

Billie Holiday It’s funny how a lot my favourite music doesn’t get much room on the blog. Often I just don’t feel the need to write about it... or that I can’t really express what it means to me in a way that does it justice. The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933-1944 is one of my all-time favourites – a desert island pick for sure.

Some of favourite memories from my lessons with Richard and Connie is working with recordings from this box set. Her unparalleled phrasing and swing - she makes it sound effortless. Some critique her tone and range. But she worked with those supposed limitations and did things that have been seldom matched before or since.

It's not just Billie though, so many greats were assembled for these sessions - Teddy Wilson, Roy Eldridge, Freddie Green, Chu Berry, Jo Jones, Walter Page, Lester Young, John Kirby, Cozy Cole, Buck Clayton, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, Benny Goodman and so on! - yet they never fall into the trap of many “all-star” outings. 

Dizzy Gillespie
The concise nature of the records appeal to me and the endings always put a smile on my face. It’s hard to play favourites, but some standouts include “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”, “Miss Brown to You”. How about that swinging opening ensemble work on “What a Night, What a Moon, What a Boy”? Another that stood out this morning was “No Regrets” - I was digging the ensemble interplay and breaks, including the one for the opening vocal line (I think the lyric hit a personal note with me this time around).

Sometimes there’s no option but to reach for the classics, and that’s how I was feeling this morning.

Then it was onto some post-lunch Dizzy with Dizzy Gillespie at Newport. Keeping things upbeat and high energy, even if the exuberant big band isn’t my favourite setting to listen to people improvise, it’s great listening to Dizzy swinging and the band is on form. The downside to budget reissues is they don’t contain the bonus tracks, but I’ll survive. I’ve got a bunch of 1950s Dizzy to lend an ear to over the coming days.

Monday, May 04, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 4

Bebop Third StreamI forgot to publish this on Friday so I have combined Day 4 and Day 7 (sometimes the days just blend together) – plus what I was working on today didn't lend itself to listening to music.

When I put Perceptions back on the shelf last night I grabbed The Modern Jazz Society Presents A Concert of Contemporary Music. Like Perceptions, is an album purchased during a somewhat brief look at the third stream offerings of the 1950s and 60s – a curious sidebar in jazz. I’ve never been much of a fan of John Lewis. I’m not sure why, but his music has never really grabbed me and as a result I never really explored what he had to offer. I’m open to recommendations though.

I was feeling the need for something a little more high energy – Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker: Town Hall, NYC June 22 1945 – provided just that. Bird sounds so great on this gig, as does Dizzy, and it sounds like they’re having fun. It’s a great archival find, recorded not long after the Guild sessions. And aside from the opening track, “Bebop” (where they’re sorting out the levels), the sound is really good too. The M.C work of Symphony Sid is pretty corny and cringe worthy but it’s great they left him in as it adds to the vibe of the evening. It’s funny how dated the announcements sound but the music remains vital. If you ever needed an example of a drummer dropping bombs, Max Roach’s bass here is loud and clear. It’s also interesting hearing Max and then having Sid Catlett sit in with the same band. Anyway, this is such a great find and we’re lucky to have it so it got another run on Monday morning too.