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 …

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”

Back When Tattoos Cost A Nickel and Steam Was King

The historic, drought-busting nature of this year’s World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians has even my old friend Mike Maehle – not generally a sports fan – uncharacteristically interested. The last time I heard him talk about baseball was…. well, never. But, as a knowledgeable student of history he was talking about it today and we got to kidding around about how unimaginably long ago 1908 was, and how vastly different the world was when …

Stop the Insanity!

I promise to return to jazz matters soon, but first a few thoughts on the currently nutso baseball schedule……….

For years now, the major-league baseball season has been a 162-game marathon, almost twice as many games as hockey or basketball teams play. Part of the reasoning behind this is that, as baseball is (mostly) a non-contact sport, the players can weather playing so much. And fans love the almost non-stop daily flow of action throughout the spring, summer and …

The Hank Aaron of Third Base

Third baseman Adrian Beltre turned 37 this past April and is playing his nineteenth season in the big leagues. This puts him in the home stretch of his career, but he has shown no signs of slowing down whatsoever. He’s hitting .292, a few points higher than his career average, and clubbed his 25th home run the other day (his ninth season with at least that many.) He also knocked in his 89th run, so it seems likely he …

Wrap Your Troubles in Bombs

A Notice/Warning. When I first caught the writing bug about eight years ago, long before this blog site existed, I wrote a lot of pieces about baseball and circulated them by e-mail to a growing list of baseball-fan friends, many of them fellow musicians. All in all, I wrote over 100 of these and kept them archived in a file on a computer at home. I’ve decided to revisit some of the better ones, make some changes and edits

Ichiro: A Baseball Artist Reaches 3,000

At 42, Ichiro Suzuki is just a few hits shy of becoming the 30th player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone. He could get there as early as this weekend and, in his sixteenth big-league season he will become the second fastest to achieve this, behind only career hits leader Pete Rose. When he does crank out hit number 3,000, he will join Hall-of-Famers Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Paul Molitor as the only players with at least …

Taken, Given

Two important musicians – pianist Don Friedman and trumpeter Erich Traugott – died in late June. I was late in hearing about both because I was unconnected for a few days, off playing at the Rochester Jazz Festival. It’s often said that bad news comes in threes, but in this case these two losses were counteracted about a week later by some good news: major donations of jazz material to the Sound and Moving Images Library and the Clara

Jazz String Theory

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – William Shakespeare, from Hamlet.

Yesterday a friend sent me a YouTube clip of Paul Gonsalves and Chick Corea playing Corea’s signature “Windows” in 1966, with Aaron Bell on bass and Louie Bellson on drums. No, that’s not a typo………. even before listening to it, I was astonished by its mere existence. I mean, Paul Gonsalves and Chick Corea?!? They’re not a pair …

Big Papi, Not Going Gently

David Ortiz, the Buddha-like designated-hitter of the Boston Red Sox known as “Big Papi”, turned 40 last November. Shortly thereafter he announced that this season, his twentieth in the big leagues, would be his last. Ordinarily, when a star ballplayer reaches this stage their decision to retire is greeted by fans with a mixture of relief, admiration and a desire to look back misty-eyed over the satisfying achievements of a long and storied career. We think, “Whew, I’m glad

How Are These with Guacamole?

We’ve just experienced our first heatwave, that sudden annual transition from “it could be warmer” to “man, can you believe how friggin’ hot it is already!?” The last thing anyone wants to do in this heat is cook, yet we still have to eat, even if a little lighter. What’s needed is some refreshing, satisfying food that doesn’t require an oven. Salads and chilled soups like gazpacho are good, but one of the best summer snacks is guacamole, it’s …

Leicester Leaps In

I never write about soccer, or as the English call it, football. In fact, I don’t even follow it, not really. If I write about sports at all in these pages it will likely be about baseball, which isn’t really a sport, but life itself played out on a perfect diamond-shaped patch of green.

However, a piece on soccer is in order, because yesterday the Leicester City Foxes of the English Premier League achieved the most improbable and astounding …

Oopsie!

The post just issued (“Ernie Watts, Brad Goode & Stylistic Diversity”) may have seemed more rambling than usual, and much shorter, not to mention incomplete, all for good reason. I was working on the article, got distracted and clicked on the ‘publish’ button, located just below the ‘save’ button, sending it out to the airwaves accidentally, long before it was finished. It’s a good thing I don’t work in the field of geopolitics or securities trading.

For those of …

Evans Above, Happy St. Patrick’s Day

In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, embedded below is my favourite version of “Danny Boy” ever, a 1962 solo piano reading by Bill Evans. Evans was from Welsh stock on his father’s side and Russian on his mother’s, an interesting combination reflected in his playing, which was both romantic and intellectual.

I thought I knew how great a pianist Evans was until I heard this track about fifteen or twenty years after first encountering him. It made me realize …

A Kinder, Gentler Roy

My last post about Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie’s electrifying version of “Blue Moon” got me to thinking about another surprising encounter with “Little Jazz” on a record, some 25 or 30 years down the road. If there’s one sure thing to be learned about Roy from various sources – reading about him in books, listening to his records or hearing other musicians tell stories about him – it’s that he was probably the most competitive trumpeter who ever …

A Trip To the Moon with Roy & Diz

Whether you’re a young musician in training or a fan in the making, the early days of jazz discovery are heady ones, not unlike Christopher Columbus landing on the shores of the New World. There’s so much to hear for the first time, so the musical slate is blank and your ears are fresh and unspoiled, just waiting to be thrilled on a daily basis. Reading about jazz in books and magazines fuels the curiosity and helps along the …

Nothin’ Up Our Sleeves…..

The Mike Murley Trio – Murley on soprano and tenor saxophones, Reg Schwager on guitar and yours truly on bass – played a concert on the evening of February 5 at The Fourth Stage, a newish performance space at The National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It was part of the city’s newly-founded Winter Jazz Festival, which in turn is part of its annual celebration of ice and snow, “Winterlude”. Although this year, “Interlude” might be more like it, as …

Warren Vache Is Coming To Town

Jazz cornet master Warren Vaché will be appearing for three nights at The Jazz Bistro Feb.25-27, accompanied by a fine local rhythm section consisting of Mark Eisenman on piano, Terry Clarke on drums and some guy named Steve Wallace on bass.

This is a musical event not to be missed as Warren, though no stranger to local fans in recent years with regular appearances at The Toronto Jazz Festival and various Ken Page Memorial Trust events, has not played …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Auld Clang Syne – Redux

I’ve added a couple of stories to my last post, both of which came to me later amid all the NYE gig memories. One of them is about Rob McConnell and has nothing to do with NYE except that it was prompted by the joke about the pianist who knows only three tunes. The other is a cherished NYE memory of Alice Allair, one of many I have about that dear and now much-missed lady. Sorry for the late …

Auld Clang Syne

Back in the good old days when there was still an actual music business, all musicians worked New Year’s Eve. I mean everybody, except for the elite guys who didn’t want to, or have to. It didn’t even matter if you were any good or not; demand was high enough that you had some kind of a gig that night even if you weren’t ready, if only to provide a semi-warm body on a bandstand somewhere. These ‘general business’ …

Birth of the Yule

Years ago around Christmas time, I was hanging out with John Sumner and some other musicians after a gig, listening to some records and having a few tastes. We got to kidding around, combining Christmas carols with jazz tunes to form song-title puns. As I recall, “Joy Spring To the World”, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, Sing, Sing”, “Silent Night In Tunisia”, “Sippin’ At Jingle Bells”, “What Child Is This Thing Called Love?” and “O Little Rootie Tootie Town …

Paris; Vernon Duke & The Armour of Music

Other than people living in extremely remote areas untouched by media or technology – if they even exist anymore – I may have been one of the last to hear of the recent appalling attacks in Paris.

As my wife Anna would say, this is “not a good story for me”, although she learned of the tragedy even later than me, and only after I told her of it. But there was at least an understandable reason for our …

So Long, Archie

A shorter and slightly different (i.e. cleaner) version of this piece on Archie Alleyne appeared in the September issue of WholeNote magazine, v. 121 #1.

                                                                      ***

June of this year brought a rash of deaths which rocked the jazz community – locally, bassist Lenny Boyd and drummer Archie Alleyne – and internationally, jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and third-stream-composer Gunther Schuller. I wrote memorial blogs about Coleman, Schuller and Boyd, who was my bass teacher. I held back in Archie …

Guitar Hero

Guitarist Jim Hall died well over a year ago, but I’m still in a state of mourning and semi-denial about it. For ages now, Hall has been an essential part of my jazz listening on reams of classic records with other great musicians. In countless settings, he delivered so many indelible, perfect little musical moments that I can scarcely believe he’s gone. Thankfully his prolific recorded legacy lives on, meaning I can bring him into my living room whenever …

A Goose by Any Other Name

So, I’m still making like Herman Punster, playing around with baseball names and song titles. Fortunately for all though, it’s winding down. One of the challenges of doing this is negotiating the difference between how a name looks and the way it sounds. For example, a reader left one I really enjoyed – “Tiant Steps” – after John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and the ageless Cuban pitcher, Luis Tiant. It works beautifully on paper, a good visual pun, but Tiant’s …

This Swobodes Well…..

Toward the end of yesterday’s “Diamonds Are A Churl’s Best Friend” post, I confessed to not being able to dream up any song-puns using the names Ron Swoboda or Sandy Koufax, and expressed a wish that readers would help out in this regard.

Well, it didn’t take long…..A first-time commenter sent this brilliant one using Swoboda:

“You Swoboda My Head” – “You Go To My Head” A gem, a pearl, it made me swoon.

It also made me think …

The Heart Is A Lonely Bunter

Recently, a good friend who knows I like song puns sent me a list of unlikely ones involving soccer players’ names and old songs, the work of her son and a pal of his. Their puns were very witty and amusing, combining an amazing knowledge of standard tunes with multinational football names – how many people know that much about either? I follow soccer a little, but mostly during the World Cup and Euro Cup, so I was only …

A Tempest in a Turbot

You could say my last post on Jazz at the Aquarium went splat! – or maybe sprat! – and ruffled a few scales, as it were. This is because it was spread so far and wide on Facebook, which was neither my doing or my idea, but I’m okay with it. I thought I’d wait for things to settle down and for everyone – including me – to unknot their knickers before writing a follow-up on the responses to …

“Jazz” Sleeps With the Fishes – Would You Like Fries With That?

 

WARNING – READER DISCRETION ADVISED – MAY CONTAIN RANT, COARSE LANGUAGE and ILL-CONSIDERED HUMOUR 

So, the other day a friend sent me a link to the latest Toronto brainwave in generic jazz promotion, or Jazz-McMarketing, which could be summed up as, “Let’s bring so-called jazz to people who never listen to it, while making sure to present it at unimaginably stupid venues”. In this case, believe it or not, “Jazz at the Ripley’s Aquarium” on the second Friday …

Gunther Schuller

This week brought the momentous news that Gunther Schuller died of leukemia at age 89. He was most certainly one of the giants of twentieth-century American music and just as surely one of the most versatile and wide-ranging of musicians. His work from the late 1940s on as a composer of contemporary classical music alone guarantees his eminence, he’s in all the history texts on the subject and won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1994 orchestral work “Of Reminiscences …