Embraceable & Irreplaceable

As Christmas Day arrived, Bill Kirchner sent me a YouTube clip of a classic version of “Embraceable You”, recorded for Commodore on April 30, 1938 by Eddie Condon & His Windy City Seven. It was very thoughtful of him and as nice a Christmas present as any I received. Bill stumbled across it after not hearing it for years and knew I'd love it, which I did – repeated listening to its delightful four minutes made the immediate, concrete world melt away temporarily. A performance like this takes us back to a time when individuality in jazz was not only crucially important, but also more possible, if only because the field was less crowded. Furthermore, it summons up a brief interval when the darkness of the thirties in America lifted: Prohibition and the worst of the Depression were over and, while the storm clouds of war were gathering, they had not yet engulfed the world. Like Bill, I was familiar with this track and had heard it before, but not for some time and it took a while to figure out just where I knew it from. Eventually it came to me, it’s on a very aptly named CD – PEE WEE RUSSELL, JAZZ ORIGINAL, a compilation of various sessions Russell did for Commodore as a leader and sideman, which I’ve had for a while. It was the singular personnel on this track - Bobby Hackett on cornet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Russell on clarinet, Bud Freeman on tenor, Jess Stacy on piano, Condon on guitar, Artie Shapiro on bass, and George Wettling on drums – that made more [...]

Atypic-Lee

Lee Konitz will (hopefully) turn 89 this year and, as his career enters its seventh decade, all of it spent in the vanguard of the music, he has long moved past the point were there can be any doubts about his bona fides as a jazz master. One either likes his playing or one doesn't, take it or leave it. That being said, his highly personal and uncompromising approach to improvising has left Konitz open to criticism through the years on either side of the jazz median-line, from traditionalists and non-traditionalists alike. The former, those who like their jazz a little more straight-ahead and red-blooded, have called into question his intonation (a tendency to be sharp), his time (he sometimes lags behind the beat and doesn't swing aggressively enough for some) and his choice to often eschew playing the melody of the songs he uses as a basis for improvisation. A few on the other side of the fence have occasionally bemoaned Lee's decision to generally stop short of the total abstraction of free improvisation, his preference to strive for freedom of expression within the song form, with a tempo and tonality in play. Some see his retention of the song form as clinging to a musical security blanket, but I would argue the very opposite is true: by improvising so freely within a defined structure, Konitz invites the possibility of failure within finite borders and real time, in effect eliminating any safety net. Like Stravinsky, Konitz believes that improvisation needs a context more [...]

Lucky Tuesday – Appendix

I added these paragraphs about Lucky Thompson and his aptly-named "Beautiful Tuesday" to yesterday's post so it would be all of one piece. I'm offering it separately here for those who have already read the older one, to save the bother of going back to it. Shortly after this post was published, another of “The Old Farts”, Ron Gaskin, left a comment with another Tuesday track – Lucky Thompson’s “Beautiful Tuesday”, so I’ve added this commentary and clip after the fact. Thank you Ron, this really caused the other shoe to drop, this was the track that had been vaguely rolling around in the cobwebs of my memory, just out of reach. I definitely should have thought of it for several reasons: I’m a huge Lucky Thompson fan and the album that it’s from – LORD, LORD, AM I EVER GONNA KNOW? is one of my very favourites by him, it stands as a testament to his art as much as any other record he made. It was done in Paris during the spring of 1961 and eventually issued on Candid. By that point, Thompson had been living in France since 1956 and would return stateside shortly after recording this. He had used his time in Paris to great effect: mastering the soprano saxophone to add to his already formidable tenor and writing dozens of highly original compositions, it was an extremely productive period for him. Given this, I’ve never quite understood his decision to return to America, particularly the timing of it, which would eventually prove disastrous for him. Thompson more [...]

Tuesday – YouTube’s Way Smarter than Google, Eh?

In my last post (so to speak) about days-of-the-week songs, I mentioned how much trouble I had thinking of a tune for Tuesday and that Bill Kirchner came to the rescue. I also predicted that if I'd gone ahead using "Ruby Tuesday" as originally planned, various record-collector savant types would have come out of the woodwork and pointed out all sorts of jazz Tuesday tracks I should have thought of. I would have needed a big spatula to scrape the egg off my face, but oddly enough, I always have one handy. Even though I used Bill's suggestion of Chico Hamilton's "Tuesday at Two", this happened ayway, and it didn't take long. A few minutes after I hit "publish", my friend Don Brown offered two Tuesday tracks I might have used, both from 1941 - Count Basie's "Tuesday at Ten" and Teddy Wilson's "Tuesday Blues". The Basie track rang a bell because I eventually realized I have it on a CD and have heard it before. The Wilson track was news to me, because it was recorded as a Keynote Transcription. But it turns out I have that one too, on a cleverly disguised CD that doesn't even mention Keynote. Don also mentioned that Benny Goodman did a cover of "Tuesday at Ten" after Base's Columbia record became popular. Don is exactly the kind of guy I had in mind when I made my prediction about experts coming out of the woodwork. He has a huge record collection and has been going to hear live jazz since the late '40s when he was in his late teens. He kept a log book of everyone he went to more [...]

These Are….. the Days of the Week

After the extended psychodrama of the Christmas season, the calendar has clicked over to a whole new year and we're still getting used to writing 2016 instead of 2015. And many of us are back to the grind after having been off work or school for a few weeks, so we're lucky if we even know what day it is......Actually, this is a problem for me at the best of times. With all this temporal disorientation in mind, I thought it might be fun to look at jazz songs or standards with days of the weeks in their titles, just to straighten ourselves out a little. On the face of it, this seemed pretty easy. Without too much trouble or digging around I could think of tunes for every day of the week......except Tuesday, I had the devil of a time with that. Now, I know what you're thinking - what about "Ruby Tuesday", by The Rolling Stones? As an old Stones' fan, I thought of that one right away, but it doesn't exactly fit in with the rest of the song list, comprising entries by jazz titans like Earl Hines, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, among others. Stymied, I consulted the Google oracle about "songs with Tuesday in their title" and found several articles - more lists, really - devoted to this subject, which inspired some hope. Unfounded hope as it turned out - there have been all sorts of songs written about Tuesday, all of them having even less to do with jazz than "Ruby Tuesday". Tuesday was seemingly a hot topic in the pop/rock world, with various entries by more [...]