Remembering Bob Cranshaw

This year in which so many notable musicians have died continued with a rough patch lately. Leon Russell and Leonard Cohen, and in the jazz world, bassist Bob Cranshaw and more recently, Mose Allison. As pop stars, a lot has already been written about Russell and Cohen, to which I can't add much except to say that the band Leon Russell assembled on short notice for Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour is still a model of what rock 'n' roll is supposed to sound like. And that through his words and music and oddly light-handed gravitas, Leonard Cohen established a very personal definition of what it means to be existentially cool. Though not unexpected, Mose Allison's death hit me hard in a personal way because I worked a lot with him and came to know him well. I'll deal with him in a separate post, but for now I want to focus on Bob Cranshaw, who was the least famous of these men, but a giant all the same. Cranshaw was, no pun intended, the walking definition of a bassist who didn't draw attention to himself, yet even so it came as a surprise to me that several jazz insiders hadn't heard of his death until several weeks after it occurred. (He died November 2 in Manhattan from cancer, a month shy of his 84th birthday.) More than once Bill Kirchner has said that Bob Cranshaw was one of the most beloved and respected musicians in New York, and had been for years. He'd worked with virtually everybody and for decades had been tireless in his efforts with the musician's more [...]

Dimentia Internetus

Multinational Jazz Corporations For whatever reason, my friend Ted O'Reilly sent out a number of YouTube clips to the Old Farts this morning. They were a series of warm-and-fuzzy Christmas ads for a chain of UK department stores known as "John Lewis". I've included the first one here, which is quite amusing, as English ads often tend to be. The other clips were variations of it along political/satirical lines which I haven't included because I'm not sure I approve - suddenly, politics don't seem very funny to me these days. Although I've traveled in Britain extensively a number of times and like to think I'm up on its culture as much as most, I'd never heard of the John Lewis chain. Harrod's, yes. Marks & Sparks - as they call it - you betcha. Tesco's, absolutely. But as soon as I saw "John Lewis" in Ted's message, I expected someone had created some ads for a UK department store chain with soundtracks using music by the composer/pianist and musical director of the MJQ, who is a great favourite of mine. I just assumed they would have used his arrangement of "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen", also known as "England's Carol", it would be a natural. (Obviously, there's a reason Madison Avenue has not been beating a path to my door all these years.) Here's a favourite version of it by the MJQ. John Lewis is the one wearing Bermuda shorts, seemingly jotting down a grocery list: "The Queen's Fancy", "Little David's Fugue", and "The Golden Striker" are some other Lewis more [...]

Barney Kessel, Redux

After issuing my last post about the Jim Hall-Barney Kessel duo and Barney's amazing "I Took A Trip On A Train" solo offering, I got to remembering some other good stories about him I wish I had included. I've added them to the first post so that it's all of a piece, but for those who already read that one, I'm issuing them separately here. When Barney was giving his little train-salon solo concert, I had no way of knowing that I'd have the good fortune of playing with him in the near future for two fairly long stretches and would come to know him pretty well as a result. The first occasion came in the fall of 1989, when Barney joined the Oliver Jones trio for the Spanish leg of a tour that had begun in Ireland at the Cork Guinness Jazz Festival. We played both clubs and concerts and had some adventures while attuning ourselves to the "always-later" Spanish schedule - the gigs wouldn't start till about 10:30 or 11:00 and might not finish till 2:30 in the morning. On the strength of this, Barney hired me a couple of years later to do a short duo tour in Ontario, with concerts in Toronto, Sudbury, Kingston and Ottawa, followed by a week back in Toronto at The Bermuda Onion, where we were joined by Mark Eisenman on piano and John Sumner on drums. I discovered that, both as a man and a guitarist, Barney Kessel could fool you - there was often more to him than met the eye, or the ear. The paradox of Barney revolved around the contrast between the outward manifestations of more [...]

Barney Kessel: I Took A Trip On A Train

The other day, a friend sent me a remarkable YouTube clip of Jim Hall and Barney Kessel in duo, taking “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” apart. I hadn’t heard it before, or even about it. And it’s not something I would have ever searched for or even imagined, because, while their paths certainly must have crossed often enough in Los Angeles after Hall's arrival there in 1955, they’re not two guitarists one would naturally throw together. Nonetheless, it’s quite amazing how easily they dovetail and how each effects the other here. They're both in adventurous, exploratory form and right off the bat there are delicious little sparks of dissonance and clusters of bitonality. Jim sounds more outwardly virtuosic and extroverted here than usual and even throws in a sly-funny quote from “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” at one point. And along with some of the angular, dipsy-doodle shapes that only he could play, Barney’s comping is quite Jim Hall-like in places. The video quality is a bit wobbly in a "Plan 9 From Outer Space" way, and I wish there was more information given, like when and where. By the looks of Jim, I’d say late-fifties, early-sixties. (Ed. note: Since posting this, jazz history-guitar-whiz Ben Bishop has informed me that this was done at the Berlin Guitar Workshop on Nov. 5, 1967.) Here they are, fasten your seat-belts: In terms of sheer technique and versatility, Kessel was one of the most complete jazz guitarists ever. By this, I don't mean more [...]

A Halloween Story

My apologies for posting this story a few days late, but Halloween and the days leading up to it were very busy, plus there was an 'exceeded bandwidth' issue on this site which made access to it impossible, even for me. This was not as serious as it looked, and my site administrator Citizen X had it fixed within five minutes of being notified. X told me that congratulations were in order because I'd gone from "Basic" to "Gold" in the bandwidth-use department owing to a greater amount of traffic than the other sites he hosts. Fixing the problem was simply a matter of allotting my site more "juice". So thanks to all of my readers, I thought I'd forgotten to pay a bill or something. I'm old, yes, but gold? I've never earned gold in anything before, though I seem to remember winning a bronze for "Improved Posture" in Grade Three - I had nowhere to go but up. Anyway, on to the story. In October of 1987 I did a Concord-Fujitsu tour of Japan with that year's version of the Concord All-Stars, consisting of Warren Vaché on cornet, Dan Barrett on trombone, Scott Hamilton and Red Holloway on tenor saxophone (Red also played some alto), Dave McKenna on piano, Ed Bickert on guitar, Jimmie Smith on drums, and me on bass. The other bands were the Phil Woods Quintet (Woods,Tom Harrell on trumpet, Hal Galper on piano, Steve Gilmore on bass and Bill Goodwin on drums) and George Shearing in duo with Toronto bassist Neil Swainson. Ernestine Anderson - still in her prime and a delight to be more [...]