Keynote Address, Part Two – Notes

These are notes I wanted to include in the post "Keynote Address", but felt it was long enough as it was. [1].  Alfred Lion arrived in New York in 1929, but health issues forced his return to Germany soon thereafter. He worked in South America from 1933 and would return to New York in 1938, in time to hear John Hammond's "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts of 1938 and '39, which inspired him to found his own label. His good friend Francis Wolff joined him, reportedly catching the last passenger boat to leave Germany in early 1939, before the war began. Blue Note was the most cash-strapped of the small New York independent labels, so in the early going their releases were more intermittent and modest than the others. However, slow and steady wins the race, even with jazz record labels. Due to financial problems, Keynote and HRS both folded in the late 1940s, and while Commodore did a few sporadic recordings in the '50s, it was largely done by 1947. But, Blue Note gathered momentum as a bebop label in the late-'40s and really hit its stride in the '50s and '60s as the label went on to great fame and some fortune, before it all ebbed in the early '70s. Of course the label was revived after a long gap and is now part of the Capitol/EMI imprint, surviving its founders with frequent reissues of its large back catalogue and new releases by contemporary musicians. [2]. Of these four independents, only Keynote offered the full range of traditional jazz, small group swing and more [...]

Keynote Address

The invaluable Spanish jazz-reissue company Fresh Sound Records recently entered new territory by out-doing itself with a huge 11-disc reissue called The Keynote Jazz Collection, 1941-47. With a whopping 243 titles performed by 62 different bands, it's a massive compilation of music from one of the key (no pun intended) independent New York jazz labels of those years - Keynote Records. It offers a stunning cross-section of 1940s jazz in all its various styles, during a time when the music was in a process of transition as bebop was developing. More than one commentator has said that although it's still early in the year, this is likely the jazz reissue of 2014. (Technically, it was released in 2013 - but late, in December - and word is just getting out. I missed the advance notice of this, but some jazz friends who have already received their copies informed me of it, also including a good review of the package in Jazz Weekly by George W. Harris.) I was initially reluctant to buy this set, despite glowing reports about it. This didn't have to do with the cost, which, depending on the source, is actually pretty reasonable, ranging between around $100 to $135 Canadian. My concern was that I already have quite a lot of this music, issued on CD by Japanese Mercury - single discs by Lester Young, Benny Carter, Lennie Tristano, a 4-CD set of Coleman Hawkins, as well as issues under group names such as The Keynoters and The Small Herd. My mind was changed by a review I read more [...]

Putting the Potts On

No, this is not another post about food, I swear. The title of this essay is a pun I couldn't resist, which I'll explain. There's an old expression in jazz that when a band is swinging, really cooking as it were, they "have the pots on." This certainly applies to The Jazz Soul of Porgy & Bess, a wonderful 1959 big band recording of Gershwin's folk-opera, written by the D.C.-based arranger Bill Potts. It features an all-star cast of the best jazz and studio players New York had to offer at the time, probably the richest period in that city's prolific jazz history. I first heard an LP copy of this record about twenty-five years ago and immediately bought it when it was later issued on CD. I've listened to it often with great pleasure ever since, it's the kind of record that you can listen to for your whole life. It sounds better and better each time you hear it, as you become more familiar with its many highlights and nuances and I've had it on a lot recently. Before going into more detail about the record though, some commentary on the context in which it was made and on big bands in jazz generally, for the sake of perspective.                                                                       *** As organized, regularly touring units, big bands ran into hard times in the late-40s and all but a few of them disbanded in those years. They would never again dominate jazz or American popular more [...]