Lightning In A Bottle (Part Three)

6.  Billie Holiday - May 24, 1947 - Carnegie Hall This wonderful, short set comes from an early Norman Granz Jazz At the Philharmonic concert.  Apart from her immortal Columbia recordings with Teddy Wilson, Lester Young et al in the late 1930s, these are the Holiday sides I find myself turning to most often.  She does just four songs here - "You'd Better Go Now", "You're Driving Me Crazy", "There Is No Greater Love" and "I Cover the Waterfront".  Each is beautiful, but my favourite here is the first and least-known of the tunes "You'd Better...".  Jeri Southern made a celebrated recording of this torch song some years later, but this is the one for me. The timeless and graceful quality of these performances is remarkable given all the trying circumstances surrounding them.  For one, they came during the most difficult period of Holiday's life, right between her arrest for drug possession in Philadelphia and her sentencing to 366 days in the Federal Prison for Women in Alderson, West Virginia.  Furthermore, she was appearing that night at the Club 18 on 52nd St. and between sets rushed over to Carnegie Hall with her pianist Bobby Tucker to make this unadvertised guest appearance.  Luckily it was recorded and these tracks appear on the 10-CD Complete Billie Holiday on Verve 1945-59. Billie could be unpredictable and considering the conditions one might expect a more distracted or erratic performance, but all is poise and tranquil lyricism here, she rarely sounded more [...]

Lightning In A Bottle (Part Two)

3.  Don Byas and Slam Stewart - June 9, 1945 - Town Hall This one is truly incredible, a once-only, bravura performance of two up-tempo numbers by the unusual duet of tenor saxophone and bass.  Both these jazz masters were in towering form and thank goodness it was recorded. The occasion was a concert put on by one Baron Timmie Rosencrantz, an eccentric and somewhat wealthy Danish emigré who was a writer and sometime salesman for the Commodore Music Shop.  He loved the music of 52nd Street and Harlem and decided to produce a concert at Town Hall featuring some of his favourite musicians - Red Norvo and his Orchestra, Teddy Wilson's Quintet with Flip Phillips, the Gene Krupa-Charlie Vantura Trio, the Stuff Smith Trio, the Bill Coleman Quartet.  He booked the Byas-Stewart duo (not a regular working unit) mainly to provide relief when the various bands were tearing down or setting up.  Against all odds it turned out that this bare-bones pair would provide the best and most memorable music of the evening. It's one thing to put the string bass in a duo with piano or guitar, these instruments can play lines and chords, offering the music more fullness, a harmonic context and self-accompaniment.  But pairing the bass with another instrument capable of only single notes like the saxophone creates challenges and limitations for the musicians that are hard to overcome.  The music will succeed or fail based solely on how well the two play, with no safety net or margin more [...]

Lightning In A Bottle (Part One)

Jazz history is full of celebrated examples of brilliant improvisation - the 1928 Louis Armstrong-Earl Hines duet "Weather Bird", Charlie Parker's solo on "Ko-Ko", the 1939 reading of "Body and Soul" by Coleman Hawkins are obvious cases, where an artist or band sets a new standard or at least reaches rare heights.  But such evaluations are only possible because the performances themselves have been preserved and codified by virtue of having been recorded, otherwise they would be long gone and forgotten.  We take records for granted now, but just think how different the development of jazz would have been without them, if everything had to be heard in person or spread by word of mouth and great performances were lost forever the instant they ended.  Because so much of it is fleeting and not written, records are to jazz what the score is to classical music, or the printing press is to literature. Most jazz records were (and are) made in studios and given the drawbacks of that environment - an often sterile atmosphere, generally poor ambient sound, physical separation of the musicians, the 'under the microscope' pressure of microphones - it's amazing how many good jazz records have been produced under these conditions.  This is especially true considering how much of jazz is improvisation, which can draw upon sources of inspiration often missing from the studio, most importantly a live audience. The recording studio does have its advantages though, more [...]

Steve’s Tomato-Meat Sauce

Yes friends, I'm stooping to the vanity-project gesture of including a recipe here, but, what the hell, maybe something with a practical application for a change on this site is not such a bad thing. This is basically a variation on a Bolognese sauce that I've been fooling around with for years and it turned out so well last night I decided to post it here.  It's quick, easy and relatively cheap to make; the main difference from a traditional Bolognese is that I add capers and green olives for a little tang and texture and I use ground pork instead of ground beef.  Except for burgers, I've been using either ground pork or turkey in place of beef in many recipes because I find they are lighter, less greasy, have better taste and texture and take on the flavours around them more. Ingredients 1 tbsp. olive oil 1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced I lb. lean ground pork and 1 package mild Italian sausage meat 2 28-oz. tins of crushed tomatoes (I use canned Utopia Organic crushed tomatoes, from Leamington, Ontario.  They're more expensive than any other brand, but well worth it - they have great taste, colour and texture.  If you want to be a real Gustavo Gourmet, you can go to all the trouble of buying fresh Roma tomatoes - that is, if you can find any decent ones - then blanching them, letting them cool, peeling them and making a sauce from scratch with them.  But honestly, I work everyday and many nights, so more [...]