Friday, May 1, 2015

Image of the Day: Chasin' the Bird

Charlie Parker unpacking his alto saxophone in Royal Roost, New York City. Probably March, 1949.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Duke Ellington TV


Happy Birthday Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Duke Ellington's Unreleased German Recording


According to JazzTimes, Grönland Records in Germany will release a previously unissued Duke Ellington session on July 10.

Produced in 1970 by Conny Plank who is mostly known for his work with Kraftwerk and Eurythmics, the session has been recorded at Rhenus Studio in Cologne from which you can listen to a take, Afrique, here:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Art of Bob Crozier


If one looks carefully at the iconic LP artworks of the ABC Paramount's 1950s jazz series (as well as some of its non-jazz releases from the same period) two names sharing the credits continue to appear on every single cover. These two, who have created some of the most sophisticated, handsomely designed jazz cover arts in history of this music, are Alan Fontaine and Bob Crozier.

Whereas Alan Fontaine was in charge of photographing the musicians for ABC Paramount, Bob Crozier was the graphic artist and responsible for the final product. Fontaine, who also worked for the Esquire and photographed many Hollywood stars (among them Myrna Loy and Joan Crawford), could deliver a straightforward work, capturing all musicians, regardless of their style, in the same kind of docile, smiling pose. He wasn't a William Claxton or a Herman Leonard but he was good enough and more importantly, his work was jazz the beginning of the design process and not the end.

However, what really transformed the ABC Paramount cover designs was the work of Bob Crozier whose innovative, fresh, and intelligent ways of combining graphic art with photography gave a very distinctive look to the label's releases between 1955 and 1957.

Crozier joined the label as graphic artist shortly after ABC Paramount started operating in New York City. The label was releasing a catalogue as diverse as pop to jazz and children music to WWII songs. And what really gave a unified look to these diverse musical genres was their design.

Among stylistic motives in Crozier's artworks are his unique handwritten typefaces, and also a bold use of vivid colors against a backdrop of bright or white surfaces. He was isolating (photographed) figure from the background and by adding abstract elements to the composition, his design was actually complementing the existing photograph.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Pete Townshend on Wes Montgomery

The Montgomery Brothers
"In 1962, in my second year of Art College in London, I remember giving my saxophonist father some earphones to listen to the first stereo record I'd ever purchased. It was by Wes Montgomery. It was a strange feeling, sitting in the bedroom I'd shared with my little brother for six years, watching my father being transported by a decent (though lashed-together) Hi-Fi sound for the first time. It made me feel as though my father was junior to me rather than senior; I felt I was giving him something that, as we were both musicians, he should have given to me.

He listened to one whole side of the record, and took off the earphones. "What do you think?" I asked. "It's
good isn't it?" He nodded. "This guitar player is wonderful," he said first. "I knew of him, of course, but his playing here is superb." He handed me back the earphones. "It's intriguing," he added. "You can hear how the players' timing drifts apart, you are almost in the band. It's like being in the middle of the band, in fact." My father had spent his life in the middle of many bands big and small, so he knew what he was talking about.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

3 Duke Ellington Films Restored

A Bundle of Blues (1933) [all images courtesy of Cohen Film Collection]
Duke Ellington was one of the Silver Screen's favorite personalities since the sound was introduced to cinema. The Duke's life on celluloid started with 1929 Black and Tan Fantasy and continued until the last days of his life. Among a wealth of visual material left behind after Duke's passing, the early films, for their presentation of best musicians in their glory days, are most precious, but also because of their age, less satisfactory in terms of sound and image quality.

In that regard, probably the best gift one could give to the members of Ellingtonia all around the world is the restoration and re-release of three Duke Ellington films, undertaken by Cohen Film Collection in the US whose new prints look like a Rembrandt picture being cleaned and removed from elements of dust and dirt by National Gallery. Now, you can see Black and Tan Fantasy, Symphony in Black and Bundle of Blues in very good to excellent qualities.

The digital restoration of the films was carried out by Cohen Film Collection at Modern Videofilm in Los Angeles, California. Originally produced by Paramount Pictures, U.M.&M. TV Corporation acquired the rights in 1954-55 along with approximately 1,600 other shorts from Paramount catalogue. The company removed the Paramount logo card from the original 35mm nitrate negatives and replaced them with the U.M.&M. TV title card. The original opening title card is not known to exist. [pic below]

Friday, March 20, 2015

Gjon Mili: When Jazz, Film and Photography Meet


Gjon Mili [pic above] is the photographer/filmmaker whose single cinematic achievement, Jammin' the Blues, changed the history of jazz on film. By bringing authenticity and artistic vision to capturing a performance on film, Mili was probably the first filmmaker who ever thought of transposing jazz, as an art form, into cinema.

Commissioned by Warner Bros. in 1944, Mili who was left free to choose the subject of his first short, turned to Norman Granz and asked him to put together a group of jazz musicians for a film which was meant to reconstruct the feeling of jazz after hours.

Granz not only invited some of his JATP stars, but also included some of the older, non-JATP musicians such as Sid Catlett (the original plan was to have Louis Armstrong on-board). The shooting was wrapped up in four sessions and the film reached the screens in December 1944 to critical acclaim. It was even nominated for an Oscar but lost it to Who's Who in Animal Land!

the last shot of Jammin' the Blues

70 years onwards, the UCLA film archive has restored the film and it's going to be screened as a part of the programme curated by me and Jonathan Rosenbaum for Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival in Bologna.

Anyone who has seen this true gem of jazz cinema and is familiar with Mili's groundbreaking photography for Life, will immediately detect a concept practiced by Mili to perceive the filming opportunity as an extension of photographic work, studying bodies and gestures and exploring the relation between musicians and space around them -- the study of the physical energy of a performance.

The photographs that I've collected here, all taken by Mili, serve as an evidence to that argument and also demonstrate some of the most dense, telling compositions ever created in jazz photography.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Date with Dizzy (1958)


Aside from being the greatest trumpeter since Louis Armstrong, or being held high as one of the greatest composers in jazz, Dizzy Gillespie was a comedian of sorts. Alluring the audience with weird hats, funky language, and cake-walking, Dizzy was more than a musician, dominating any stage with charisma, an animated performance and a rare sense of ease.

In 1958, a filmmaker tried to capture some of these features on film, though camera's fascination with Dizz can be traced back to the 1940s and his first Soundie films. Directed by the independent American animator John Hubley, A Date With Dizzy presents Dizzy Gillespie Quintet with Sahib Shihab, Wade Legge, Nelson Boyd and Charlie Persip.

Combing comedy with animation and fragments of Dizzy's classic pieces, the story concerns a day in the studio, while in presence of an indecisive director and a nervous company representative, the band is trying to score for a couple of silly cartoon commercials such as Instant Rope Ladder and E-Z Popcorn.

The film is a sort of commercial itself, or rather commercial within commercial, but it is also a satire of how jazz was enslaved by consumerist culture when demands of the market limited this music in terms of what could be played and how that should be played. If most of great jazz performances on film suffer from interruptions and intervention with songs, A Date With Dizzy shares the same symptoms, yet intelligently makes fun of it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Cecil Payne-Ron Carter Quintet, 1998


The Cecil Payne-Ron Carter Quintet 

Eric Alexander (ts), Cecil Payne (bars), Stephen Scott (p), Ron Carter (b), Lewis Nash (d).
Jazzfestival Bern, Switzerland, May 8, 1998 

BWi (Payne)
Flyin' Fish (Payne)
Lover Man (Davis-Ramirez-Sherman)
Slide's Blues (Slide Hampton)
Cit Sac (Payne)

Monday, March 9, 2015

RIP Lew Soloff (BS&T Plays Maiden Voyage)

Lew Soloff [source]

Lew Soloff (1944-2015)

The son of a nightclub owner, Soloff was exposed to live music since early age. Later, he enrolled in Julliard and in 1968 joined one of the most exciting jazz-rock "fusion" bands of the era, Blood, Sweat & Tears. Soloff recorded and toured with BS&T for five years, before returning to jazz idiom to record (a few albums) under his name (including a wonderful Trumpet Legacy) and appear in numerous live and studio sessions with anyone from Carla Bley to Ornette Coleman. He was also a wine connoisseur.

Lew Soloff passed away in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 8, 2015 in New York City.

The recording below, Maiden Voyage (Herbie Hancock), is from a BS&T concert in Vienna's Konserthauson on July 14, 1972, featuring:

Lew Soloff - trumpet; Chuck Winfield - trumpet; Dave Bargeron - trombone & tuba; Lou Marini - woodwinds; Larry Willis - keyboards; Georg Wadenius - guitar; Steve Katz - guitar; Jim Fielder - bass; Bobby Colomby - drums.