In 1960, Eric Dolphy told Down Beat magazine, “At home I used to play, and the birds always used to whistle with me. I would stop what I was working on and play with the birds.” This imitation of birds (who, according to Dolphy, sing in “quarter tones”) was embraced by none other than John Coltrane, who said that the addition of Dolphy — and his philosophy — to his quartet “turned [the quartet] all around.” Dolphy’s playing helped set the stage for the music Coltrane would create later.
Also critical was their friendship, which was especially important to Coltrane since he was so consumed at the time by his alcohol and heroin abuse. Quoting a Coltrane friend, John Fraim writes in his 1996 biography Spirit Catcher: The Life and Art of John Coltrane that “outside of Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy was his [Coltrane’s] only true […] Continue reading »
Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
— Charles Mingus
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Paul Chambers, the bassist on many of Miles Davis’ most important recordings — including all that Gil Evans and Miles Davis collaborated on — fulfilled, according to Stephanie Stein Crease, author of Gil Evans: Out of the Cool, “an important role in Gil’s writing. The bass provided a harmonic color base as well as a rhythmic one, a foundation for the shifting polyrhythms among the brass and woodwinds.”
Here is what Evans said about Chambers:
“There was nobody ever before or after Paul Chambers, he was such a glorious player. When he played up-tempo it was never the least bit choppy – he could hang onto the preceding note as long as possible before the next […] Continue reading »
I received a disc in the mail recently from Israeli-born guitarist Assaf Kehati called Naked, a nine song recording that includes bassist Ehud Ettun and drummer Ronen Itzik. It has grown on me to the point of not being able to remove it from my CD player (other than to carry it to my car so I can hear it while driving).
This is the New York-based guitarist’s third album, but it is my introduction to his work. The disc is anchored by the title track, which […] Continue reading »
The Five Spot Café, a club located in New York City’s Bowery neighborhood, was the site of a six month gig for the quartet of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, drummer Shadow Wilson, and bassist Wilbur Ware. This engagement — coming on the heels of Monk’s cabaret card reinstatement — marked the merging of two of the most original voices in American music, Monk and Coltrane, in a space where cheap beer and good music attracted some of the city’s most influential artists and writers. Regulars included Larry Rivers, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg.
In Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, author Robin D.G. Kelley quotes Five Spot co-owner Joe Termini remembering the impact Monk’s quartet had on his club: “Once we hired Monk, all of a sudden the place was crowded every night. And frankly, in the beginning, I just didn’t understand any of it.” […] Continue reading »
In his 1973 autobiography Music is My Mistress, Duke Ellington writes about his admiration for Lena Horne. In a footnote to Ellington’s thoughts on Horne, he wrote that he inherited the line he was known to use when telling a woman he thought she was beautiful — “You Make That Hat Look Pretty!” — from his father.
Lena Horne is such a delicate beauty. When she decided it was show business for her, before she became of age, she had to be accompanied by her mother when she came to work at the Cotton Club. From bandstands with Charlie Barnet, she went on to movies, and always with a dignity that […] Continue reading »
I can’t let Columbus Day go by without paying homage to the Chu Berry/Andy Razaf song that was a “novelty hit” for Fats Waller and the theme song of Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. Recorded and performed by countless artists from Louis Armstrong to Lawrence Welk, Jeffrey Magee, author of The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz, tells the story of the song’s origins, and how it became “another focal point of frustration to those around [Henderson].” […] Continue reading »
In an essential jazz history book Jazz, co-written by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux, the authors describe Ornette Coleman as being “universally revered as one of American music’s most original figures,” and whose influence is “beyond calculation.” In addition to his musical significance, his six albums recorded for Atlantic Records from 1959 – 1961 “generated a cultural storm, not least for album titles that continued to lay emphasis on the group’s challenging attitude, which — without once mentioning the civil rights struggle — seemed to incarnate the authority of the New Negro: The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, This is Our Music, and Free Jazz.” Those Atlantic albums are creative and emotional landmarks, and for open-minded musicians and listeners, continue to be indispensable material for measuring our respective aesthetic boundaries.
The importance of these recordings heightens the influence of their liner notes. But, which liner notes best characterize Ornette Coleman’s work on Atlantic? Focusing on the first three of the recordings, in the liner notes to the first, […] Continue reading »
I am in the early stages of reading pianist Hampton Hawes’ 1972 autobiography (written with Don Asher) Raise Up Off Me, which Gary Giddins called, in his introduction, “the first book to give an insider’s view of the most provocative and misunderstood movement in jazz — the modernism of the ’40s, bebop.” It is incredibly entertaining and a witty, lucid, and smart read.
In a paragraph representative of the book’s quality, Hawes writes about his respect for and appreciation of his instrument’s dependability:
The piano was the only sure friend I had because it was the only thing that was consistent, always made sense and responded directly to what I did. Pianos don’t ever change. Sittin’ there every day. You wanna play me, here I am. The D is still here, the A flats still here, they’re always going to be there and it don’t matter whether it’s Sunday, Ash Wednesday or the Fourth of July. Play it right and it comes […] Continue reading »
“Perhaps the hours of greatest pleasure in my life have come about as a result of the capacity of the piano to be in itself a complete expressive musical medium. In retrospect, I think that these countless hours of aloneness with music unified the directive energy of my life. At those times when I have achieved this sense of oneness while playing alone, the many technical or analytic aspects of the music happened of themselves with positive rightness which always served to remind me that to understand music most profoundly one only has to be listening well. Perhaps it is a peculiarity of mine that despite the fact that […] Continue reading »