Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jazz on Best Docs Ever Poll

The Sound of Jazz
The leading English film journal Sight & Sound, known for its historical polls and decennial best-of lists selected by critics and filmmakers, recently conducted a new, slightly different poll: best documentaries of all time. The editor Nick James has explained the genesis of this poll here. The final result, searchable based on those who have voted and the films that have been voted for, can be accessed on this interactive page, but in case you're just curious about the final ten, these the are the films which have made it to the top:

1. Man with a Movie Camera
2. Shoah
3. Sans soleil
4. Night and Fog
5. The Thin Blue Line
6. Chronicle of a Summer
7. Nanook of the North
8. The Gleaners and I
=9. Dont Look Back
=9. Grey Gardens

I was one of the three hundred and something critics/filmmakers who participated in the poll. My top 10 and notes on my selection can be read here, but again, to make things easier for readers of this blog, these are the films which I saw, at that particular point, as the best documentaries ever made:

1 The Sound of Jazz (Jack Smight, 1957)
2 Quince Tree of the Sun (Victor Erice, 1992)
3 Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
4 Histoire(s) du cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, 1988)
5 The House Is Black (Forugh Farrokhzad, 1962)
6 Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (Marcel Ophüls, 1988)
7 Robinson in Space (Patrick Keiller, 1997)
8 Lektionen in Finsternis (Werner Herzog, 1992)
9 P for Pelican (Parviz Kimiavi, 1972)
10 The Battle of Chile (Patricio Guzmán, 1976)

As you can see my first pick is a jazz film, made in 1957 for CBS as a live TV programme. (For further information on the film see the end of this post.) That made me curious to examine how many jazz docs have made it to the long list of the selected films. Among Top Ten, there are of course music documentaries such as Dont Look Back, but as far as jazz in concerned, these are the only jazz documentaries on the Sight & Sound poll, occasionally accompanied by short notes from voters:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Stan Getz + Oscar Peterson Trio

Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve 8251)

Stan Getz (ts), Oscar Peterson (p), Herb Ellis (g), Ray Brown (b)
Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, CA, October 10, 1957

Friday, August 29, 2014

Charlie Parker at the Royal Roost, 1949

The Royal Roost was a jazz club located at 1580 Broadway in New York City. Opened in the Spring of 1948, it was designed to stage the more experimental jazz trends of the day. Thus, the cream of "experimental jazz musicians" in town became the club regulars, among which Charlie Parker had the most remembered (and recorded) residency throughout 1948 and 1949.

Paul Bacon describes the atmosphere of the club as something of "tremendous vitality and urgency." He portrays one typical night at the Roost as following: 
"The air inside is full of crackling expectancy, chaos... Some few tables in front of the stand are empty, awaiting the important hipster crows - theater, sports, radio people - who will fill those chairs in a late-arriving flurry. Much craning of necks, more greetings. Somebody - Max Roach, in fact - come out, leans over from the bandstand and has an animated conversation with an important-looking bearded man. Looking around, one's first impressions are reinforced; this is the center of the world!"
Many live recordings from the legendary Roost performances have surfaced ever since. This collection, found on the Internet Archive, presents some of them, featuring my favorite Roost line-up of Bird with Al Haig (on piano) and Max Roach (drums).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Cecil Payne-Ron Carter Quintet: Cit Sac

Cecil Payne Dossier#4 - An ongoing series of posts on one of the giants of baritone sax

The Cecil Payne-Ron Carter Quintet

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

Cit Sac (Cecil Payne)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bird and Herd

In 1951, Charlie Parker was in trouble. He had been in trouble for long before and quite a while after that particular date, but 1951 saw a shift in the way drug scene was exposed in the press and also in the way it was handled by the FBI. Though Parker wasn't unfamiliar with the word "trouble", this time a nation-wide prosecution of celebrity drug addicts had made things tough for him. In the summer, Parker had played at Birdland with Machito, a gig which happened to be his last New York performance in nearly 15 months. Soon after, for some obscure drug charges, his "cabaret license" (license for performing music in the premises in which alcohol is served) was revoked. He was jobless.

Charlie Parker's saxophone case

His manager, trying to keep him busy, send Parker on the road, where he could still play without a license. Being on the road meant that he needed to be part of an already touring group. That's when Bird was united with Woody Herman's Big Band - the Third Herd edition.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hank Jones on Al Haig

Henry "Hank" Jones (July 31, 1918 – May 16, 2010)

Hank Jones remembers his early Bop influences after leaving the Detroit area. He put a stress on the role of Al Haig in finding his own musical voice which was not a total departure from the Teddy Wilson tradition, but it was more a modern variation of that:

"When I first got to New York, one of the first groups I heard was the Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker group. Al Haig was the pianist at the time: Now I understand that he and Bud Powell alternated with the group, as did Max Roach and Stan Levey on drums. But during the initial period when I first came to New York, Al Haig was the pianist.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Charles Mingus Quintet Meets Cat Anderson

In 1972, Charles Mingus undertook a European tour. It started in July, shortly after participating in Newport In New York Jazz Festival which put Mingus and Cat Anderson on the same stage together.

The Mingus Quintet for the first round of the European tour were Jon Faddis (tp) Charles McPherson (as) Bobby Jones (ts) John Foster (p) Charles Mingus (b) and Roy Brooks (d). They can be heard here, from a concert in the Netherlands.

The band in Nice, France, with guest star Dizzy Gillespie

After a series of concerts, which lasted until August, Jon Faddis and Charles McPherson left the band and Mingus had to form a new group for the second round of the European concerts, starting towards the end of the year in Germany, Poland and Spain. Gene Santoro (Myself when I am real: the life and music of Charles Mingus) reflects on Mingus's choices for his new quintet:

"He kept thinking about updating Harry Carney's baritone sound, the deep-toned Ellingtonian mix he'd always loved. A young baritone man recommended by Paul Jeffrey, Hamiet Bluiett, came down to the club and got the nod, along with trumpeter Joe Gardner. And Cat Anderson, Ellington's last high-note trumpeter, took a break from his intense schedule of studio work to hit the road. Bluiett doubled on clarinet, and could do the raucous, old-timey pieces Mingus always loved to play with loving parody, as living history tableaux. An avant-gardist with leanings toward blues and free form, Bluiett also felt the exuberant pull of traditional jazz from early New Orleans, like other free-jazz artists. Mingus was their avatar, overtly straddling jazz history from before Duke to after himself."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Herbie Hancock on Flexi Disc

It's as thin as a piece of paper and they call the Flexi Disc, also known as a Phonosheet or Soundsheet. According to Wikipedia it is "a phonograph record made of a thin, flexible vinyl sheet with a molded-in spiral stylus groove, and is designed to be playable on a normal phonograph turntable...It is used as a means to include sound with printed material such as magazines and music instruction books...and [it] was very popular among kids and teenagers and mass-produced by the state publisher in the Soviet government."

Found on the November 8, 1973 issue of Down Beat, Herbie Hancock Demonstrates The Rhodes Piano is a flexi disc (7") featured with the journal. A track from the disc can be heard here:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Count Basie at the Organ

I think it was John Hammond who once complained about one of the most stylish jazz pianists of all time being too shy to play piano. Of course, he was talking about Count Basie, the master of minimal (dubbed as economical) piano in the big band era. Still, I must say, comparing to Basie's organ recordings - which is the subject of this post- his piano work can be considered superabundant. Basie and organ is a beautiful but rare pairing.

Here, I'm trying to showcase his mastery at the organ from six 1952 sessions.

Before anything, I must return to some facts: Basie learned organ from Fats Waller and had a short career as the silent film accompanist. His first known recording at the organ dates back to 1939, when he accompanied Jimmy Rushing on Nobody Knows.

"Basie economized Fats' style," argues Geoff Alexander, "[he] had a sparse and 'jumping' feel to his playing, and I think influenced later organ players such as Wild Bill Davis, Milt Buckner, and Jackie Davis as much with the sound of his band as his playing."

From the early 1950s, when due to financial issues, the size of Basie orchestra drastically shrank, the small group became a favorite format. For these small group recordings, thanks to Norman Granz, Basie revisited organ almost a decade before it turned into a best-selling instrument. (In that regard think of Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff and many others who came to prominence in the 60s.)

In 1952, Basie took the organ seat on various occasions, some under his own name as leader, and with Oscar Peterson appointed as the piano man, and at least one session under Illinois Jacquet's name, when Basie was simply minding his own (glorious) business on the organ.

These sessions, at some point released by Verve as Basie at the Organ, are examples of Basie's "cool rage", if one borrows from the Jacquet's tune that Basie plays on the side B of the LP. By "cool rage" I mean, tense but flowing; conveying a wide range of emotions but always remaining in absolute control of itself.

The eleven tracks reissued on the VLP 9074 can be heard here: