Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Future Features on Jazz Profiles

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles is moving as quickly as it can to bring you more about the future features described in the sidebar and asks you to bear with us in this regard as the holidays are upon us.


Thank you for your patience.


Happy Holidays.



Monday, December 19, 2011

Bob Brookmeyer: A Musician of Humor, Honesty and Humility


© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Almost the first sounds to be heard on the classic Jazz on a Sum­mer's Day soundtrack are the mellow tones of Bob Brookmeyer's valve trombone interweaving with Jimmy Giuffre's clarinet on The Train And The River. It's a curiously formal sound, almost academic, and initially difficult to place. Valve trombone has a more clipped, drier sound than the slide variety, and Brookmeyer is probably its leading exponent, though Maynard Ferguson, Stu Williamson and Bob Enevoldsen have all made effective use of it.”
- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Getting to the core could well be the Brookmeyer credo. As a jazz soloist and writer, Bob wastes litt­le energy on unnecessary curli­cues and affected sounds for the sake of an artificial eloquence... This is a signpost of basic musi­cal honesty. At the same time, Bob is dedicated to emotion and the investigation of every nuance beneath the surface of a selection. The result of this approach is a forceful personalized trans­mission of the emotional content of the musical material to the listening audience...”
- Burt Korall, Jazz writer and critic

“I've loved Bob's compositions and arrangements and his playing since the moment I first heard his music in the '70s.  It turned my life around.  Bob became a wonderful teacher, mentor and dear friend.  And he was enormously generous to those lucky enough to be his friend.”
- Maria Schneider, Jazz composer-arranger

“Bob has added an amazing amount to Jazz. He was in the thick of the New York scene in the 50s and 60s and even hung out at "The Loft." To the average listener he probably is not that we'll known. But to me he'll remain one of those fundamental sounds [of Jazz].”
- Dr. Ken Koenig, Jazz musician

“Wherever he goes Bob's bound to make further contributions and stir up emotions with his "thinking differently.’”
- Brian Hope, Jazz Fan


“Bob studied at the Kansas City Conservatory and origi­nally played piano; he took up the valve trombone when he was twenty-three, and almost immediately became a major figure in jazz.

Most of Bob's career has been in New York, working with almost every major jazzman there, but most significantly Clark Terry, with whom he co-led a quin­tet. His association with Mulligan contin­ued, and when Mulligan formed his concert band, Brookmeyer played in it along with Zoot Sims, Bill Crow, Mel Lewis, and Clark Terry, and did a great deal of its writing. The band's haunting arrangement of Django Reinhardt's "Manoir de mes reves" is Bob's.

Bob is a classic illustration of the dictum that jazzmen tend to play pretty much as they speak, which is perhaps inevitable in music that is so extensively improvisatory. He is low-key and quietly ironic in speech, and he plays that way.”
- Gene Lees

Bob Brookmeyer was born on December 19, 1929. He died on December 16, 2011, three days before what would have been his 82nd birthday.

I will miss his magnificent musicianship, both as an instrumentalist, he played both valve trombone and piano, and as a composer-arranger.

It seems that Bob has been a part of my Jazz scene ever since I can remember. Although he replaced trumpeter Chet Baker with Gerry Mulligan’s quartet in 1953, I first heard him a few years later on the Emarcy recordings made by Gerry’s sextet.

What a group: Gerry on baritone sax, Bob on valve trombone, joined on the “front line” by trumpeter Jon Eardley and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, with bassist Bill Crow and drummer Dave Bailey cooking along in the rhythm section.

What struck me most about Bob’s playing was its humor. Lighthearted and unexpected phrases just flowed in and out of his solos and he always seemed to swing, effortlessly.

Bob had fun with the music while not taking himself too seriously. I mean, anyone who names an original composition “Jive Hoot” must certainly smile a lot.

Bob knew what he was doing musically, but he never put on any airs about it.

He had great reverence and respect for those who came before him in the Jazz tradition and he even made it a point to “revisit” some of what he referred to as Jazz “traditionalism” in a few of the earliest recordings that he made as a leader.

Another of Bob’s virtues was his honesty and his directness. You never had to guess what he was thinking on subjects that were near-and-dear to his heart. In interview after interview, reading Bob’s stated opinions was akin to being “hit” by both barrels of a shotgun loaded with the truth-according-to-Brookmeyer.

If as Louis Armstrong once said, “Jazz is Who You Are,” then you always knew where Bob stood. Musically, his playing and his compositions radiated with candor and clarity; his big band arrangements, in particular, just sparkled with lucidity and precision. I would imagine that no one performing Bob’s music was ever in doubt as to what he wanted you to play.

Nothing was implied or suggested in his writing; he told you what he wanted you to play. For better or for worse, Bob just put it out there. No wonder he remained such close friends with Gerry Mulligan throughout his life.

As described above in the introductory quotation by Gene Lees, Bob was to work with many of the Jazz greats on the West Coast Jazz scene of the 1950’s and both the New York Jazz and studio worlds of the 1960’s. He returned to California in the 1970’s primarily to work in movie and television composing and did some small group gigging at Jazz festivals and concerts in the USA and abroad throughout the 1980’s.

Upon his return to New York in the 1980’s, Bob would also become “the de facto musical director for the orchestra that Mel Lewis led following the death of Thad Jones.”

In an interview he gave to Scott Yanow, Bob said: “Before my stay in California [1968-1978], I considered myself a player first and a writer second. … In addition to Gerry Mulligan’s writing, my big band arranging was inspired by Bill Finegan, Ralph Burns, Al Cohn, Eddie Sauter, Gil Evans, Bill Holman and George Russell.”

From 1991 up until his death, Bob spent much of his time in Northern Europe exploring new approaches to composing, arranging and orchestrating for some of the resident, larger orchestras in Holland and Germany, including his own New Art Orchestra which was based primarily in Cologne, Germany.

We hope this all-too-brief remembrance will serve in some small measure as our celebration of the musical life of Bob Brookmeyer.



Friday, December 9, 2011

Bobby Troup – Stars of Jazz

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“About Bobby Troup...
He sang as though he had just half a voice. No volume, it was all about confiding. Some­times he croaked out a line, next minute he'd released a word as though he was doubtful about delivering it to the world at large. Bobby Troup never played to the gallery, never went for the big one. Yet, despite - or rather because of - such reluctance, allied to a lemon-twist quality that fell oddly on unaccustomed ears, the man from Harrisburg, PA. still qualified as Mr. Cool, the vocal equivalent of a Paul Desmond alto solo maybe. He sounded like no one else. And no one else has ever sounded like him.”

- Fred Dellar, Mojo Magazine

We wrote about composer, pianist and vocalist Bobby Troup in an earlier feature about him and Julie London which you can locate in the blog archives by going here.

Many of us first “met” Bobby in the 1950s when he hosted the Emmy award wining ABC television series, Stars of Jazz.

Can you imagine - a regular, weekly series on a major television network devoted to Jazz?

It was cool and so was Bobby.

Since it was based in Los Angeles, most of the groups that appeared on the show were associated with was then labeled the “West Coast” school of Jazz.

There are two wonderful books on this subject: Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 and Robert Gordon, Jazz West Coast, The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s.

A number of years ago, The California Institute of Jazz made available to those in attendance at its Spring 1999 4-day festival celebrating West Coast Jazz , a wonderful CD of the music from the Stars of Jazz series.


Ken Poston, the director of the institute, wrote the following in the insert booklet which accompanied the compendium:

“This anthology has been assembled exclusively for JAZZ WEST COAST II, presented by the California Institute for the Preservation of Jazz. All of the material comes from various Bobby Troup Stars of Jazz television broadcasts. Stars of Jazz debuted in the summer of 1956 on KABC, Los Angeles. It was unheard of in the mid 1950s to televise jazz on a regular basis, but because of the dedication of producer Jimmie Baker, program director Pete Robinson and host Bobby Troup the program aired for over two years. It was sponsored by Budweiser and eventually went from a local to network broadcast. The selections on this disc represent the incredible range of artists that were beamed into your living room every night.”

—Ken Poston

Incidentally, Ken’s organization, which now carries the name – The Los Angeles Jazz Institute [LAJI] – continues to sponsor semi-annual, four day festivals, as well as, one-day commemorative events. You can find out more about these programs by visiting Ken’s website.


In addition to the LAJI’s repository of goodies, Ray Avery, the late photographer and Jazz recordings maven, was allowed to photograph the Stars of Jazz.

A compilation of Ray photographs from these shows was published in 1998.

Cynthia T. Sesso, who in her own right is a major authority on Jazz photography, licenses Ray’s work along with the images of a number of other photographers who specialized in Jazz.

Cynthia has been a great friend to JazzProfiles over the years in allowing us to use photographs by her clients on these pages.

You can find out more about Cynthia and her work at her website. She may also have copies of Ray’s book about Stars of Jazz still available for sale.

Her are some excerpts from the book’s introduction regarding how Ray came to be involved with the show and Bobby Troup’s role as contained in an interview that Ray gave to Will Thornbury.

© -  Cynthia T. Sesso/CTSimages, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“…, my photography flowed naturally out of my involvement in my record store. At that time I wasn't well known as a photographer. I just happened to be there and I had an entrée because I was in the record business. Most of the small record companies knew about me because I was carrying their product in my store, they would invite me to record sessions. I was very seldom paid for a session, except if they bought some photos. …


One day a friend of mine asked if I'd seen "Stars Of Jazz" and I said I hadn't, so I checked the newspaper and found out when it was going to be on. I just went down, I think it was the second or third show, and I asked them if I could photograph it. They were very friendly and said yes, of course, just be careful and don't fall over any cords or walk in front of any cameras."

The host for all but two Stars of Jazz episodes was Bobby Troup. He embodied the essence of the show - straightforward, genuine and creative. Perhaps some of the show's viewers from outside the jazz world were pulled in through Troup's accessibility. He wore a crew cut. He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in business and had written many of the nation's favorite songs "Route 66", "Daddy", "Lemon Twist", songs that crossed over from the jazz to the popular charts. In addition to writing songs, he was also an active musician and would perform often on the show.


"Bobby was the perfect man", notes Jimmie Baker. 'There were some people who wanted to have a bigger name, but nobody else could do it. Nobody else had the appeal that Bobby had." Avery adds, "Bobby was a good musician, had written great songs and he could be a great master of ceremonies. That's a combination they couldn't find in anyone else. He spoke really well - he didn't want any of those corny jazz lines in the script, which was good. He was a really good interviewer. He made people feel so comfortable when they were there. And of course they respected him as a musician, many of the sets featured Bobby at the piano."

"All the musicians had so much faith in the presentation of "Stars of Jazz"," Troup says. "They thought it was the best jazz show they'd ever seen. Did you know the story of how "Stars of Jazz" got started? Pete Robinson, Jimmie Baker, and Bob Arbogast were all jazz buffs. I mean they really loved jazz, and there was this executive, Seligman, graduated from Harvard, Phi Beta Kappa, and they were on him constantly to let them do this jazz show. Finally just to get them out of his hair, he said 'OK, I'll give you a studio, a camera, you have to write it, you have to arrange every musician, no more than scale, and I'll give you three weeks to run the show.' The first show was Stan Getz. And they screened quite a few people and for some reason or another they picked me to be the host. I'm sure glad they did. Every night was a highlight, every night. I did the show for scale, it amounted to $60 maybe $70 a night. When we went network I got scale for network, which was more."

Avery adds, "in those days there weren't the camera men that there are today. Now you go to a concert and there's fifty people with cameras, but before, maybe half a dozen of us would show up. Consequently, the photos taken in my early period are the ones that are in demand now because not many people have them."”

Ironically, Seligman, who authorized Stars of Jazz and was very boastful of the program when it won an Emmy Award, never supported the show for a regular timeslot when it went national on ABC.

Despite the critical acclaim it received, the show was cancelled of January, 1959 due to “low ratings.” Seligman was also responsible for ordering that the tapes of the 130 episodes of Stars of Jazz be erased so that they could be reused. After all, each tape cost $400. Of course, what was recorded on them was priceless!

I guess “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad?”

Mercifully, Jimmy Baker of the show’s production team was able to save 35mm’s and 81 of the early kinescopes, all of which now reside for posterity in the UCLA Film Library.

                                                           
More of the music from the series is available on a commercial RCA CD - Bobby Troup Stars of Jazz [74321433962] - from which we’ve drawn the music for the following tribute.

In his insert notes to the recording, Pete Robinson, one of the show’s producers, wrote the following:

“It has been observed that People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones, and since Bobby Troup's particular glass house is a collective one, consisting of 17- and 24-inch television screens the country over, it is most important that his participation in the realm of jazz be exemplary. It is.

As one playing of the enclosed collection will attest, Mister Troup's qualities of tempo, intonation, taste and interpretation place him in good stead as a jazz singer of considerable merit. Nominations in the Down Beat and Playboy polls add further to his vocal status.

These fans, however, will come as no sur­prise to the initiated. Bobby's work has had more than a little exposure on records. What IS new is the extraordinary group of jazz musicians who here­with are represented in tandem with Troup. Bobby's presence as narrator of ABC-TV's "Stars of Jazz" for the past three years has found him rubbing elbows with players from every corner of jazz. (A total of 714 of them at this writing, for those who find security in statistics.)

It was, then, only a matter of time until an elite group of these jazzmen should come together with Troup for the purpose of recording. When Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Rowles became available to provide arrangements, the time was ripe.”

The audio track on the video is Bobby singing Free and Easy which he co-wrote with Henry Mancini. The trumpet solos are by Pete and Conte Candoli and Jimmy Rowles wrote the arrangement.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Paul Motian: The Drummer As Musician


© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“When all else fails, play the snare drum. That’s where you learned it all in the first place.”

- Paul Motian

Most of the drummers that I knew, didn’t like the way Paul Motian played drums with the classic Bill Evans Trio during his association with the group from 1959-1962.

The constant stop and starting in his playing drove them nuts: “Why doesn’t he just lay it down?” "What did he do, drop a stick?” “Did his drum kit run out of batteries?” “Why doesn’t he just swing?”

In retrospect, everyone has nothing but praise for the way Paul made the drums “fit in to what Evans and LaFaro were doing,” but, during its short-lived, year-and-a-half existence, such criticisms of Paul’s halting approach to drums in pianist Bill Evans’ now-classic trio were more commonplace than most Jazz fans will admit.

Paul was aware of the criticisms of his work with Bill’s trio and remained very sensitive about the entire topic whenever he was asked about it.

He was quoted as saying: “Listen to my playing on the New Conceptions album” [Bill’s first recording with Riverside Records with Teddy Kotick as the bassist]. We played the music in a straight-ahead manner and I swung my a** off on that record, but no one ever talks about that trio.”

Paul initially played in the style of the pioneering, Bebop drum masters such as Kenny Clarke, Max Roach and Art Blakey.

He played drums professionally for over 60 years. During that span of time, he moved away from the aggressive and accented-oriented playing so characteristic of modern Jazz drumming of the 1940’s and 1950’s.


In a conversation that I had with Paul in 1996 when he was appearing at the Village Vanguard in a collaborative trio with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell he said: “I essentially flattened things out and took a lot of the busyness out of my playing.”

Hoping to have it autographed, I had brought along a copy of a “Tribute to the Music of Bill Evans” CD that Paul had done a few years earlier with Joe and Bill along with bassist Marc Johnson, who was in Bill Evans last trio before his death in 1981.

The recording was produced in Germany by Stefan Winter in 1990 and when Paul saw it on my table as he was leaving the bandstand at the Vanguard, he smiled and said: “You must have one of the three copies that thing ever sold.”

After he attended to a few personal matters, he made his way back to my table and we spent some of his break together talking about music.

I mentioned that I was a drummer, too, and the conversation went in that direction, that is to say, we talked about tuning drums, muffling [or not] bass drums, getting hi hat cymbals to be at exactly the right angle so they “bite” and about ride cymbals that produce a “clicking” sound when struck by a drum stick.

We talked about stuff that no one else in the world would be interested in except another drummer.

It was a conversation. I wasn’t interviewing him, just two guys with something in common – drums – hanging out for a few minutes between sets.

Paul said: “I want to be musical when I solo and not play a bunch of drumming exercises.”

I mentioned that I heard a number of pauses in his solos.

“Exactly,” he said. And then he looked at me and said: “It’s scary to.”

When I looked confused about these remarks he continued: “Because I’m trying to be a complete musician. I’m not just keeping the tune in my head while playing drum licks over it, I’m really trying to make up melodies to express on the drums. Sometimes it’s not always easy to hear what I want to say because all that drumming stuff comes into my mind, first”

After a few minutes, Paul excused himself to greet some friends that had arrived for the next set. I gave him my business card and told him to give me a call the next time he was in San Francisco.

When I got back to my hotel room that evening, I realized that I didn’t have the CD that I’d brought along for Paul to autograph.

A few days after I returned to the Left Coast, a small package arrived at my San Francisco office.

In it was the Paul Motian/Bill Evans tribute CD and a hand-written note from Paul which said: “Enjoyed our talk. Don’t forget the pauses. Best, Paul.”

Paul died on November 22, 2011 and we wanted to remember him on these pages with some writings about his career and audio-only Very Early track from the PaulMotian/Bill Evans Tribute CD[JMT 834 445-2] with Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Bill Frisell on bass and Marc Johnson on drums.


© -  T. Bruce Wittet/JazzTimes, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Paul Motion:Has Found Thee Sweet Spot

"Give Paul Motian a break for deciding to cease touring in favor of occasional appearances in New York City. After all, the man has spent his adult life on the road, lending his cascading and earthy tones to the likes of Bill Evans, Paul Bley, George Russell, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, The Electric Bebop Band, and so many others.

Motian doesn’t keep everyday time. Although he might lunge into the standard jazz ride rhythm, he’s more apt to suggest the pulse in other ways, breaking it up between his ancient Zildjian sizzle and his drumkit. Where others might fill, he’ll let one note linger. Although he’s clearly in no hurry to fill up space, his latest ECM release, Garden Of Eden, reveals that he can solo splendidly. He’s been refining his wizardry since he took up with Bill Evans forty-five years ago. As it turns out, Motian left the famous trio for fear it was becoming a cocktail act. “I felt as if I was playing on pillows,” he quips. “It was becoming that quiet.”

In March of this year, a week before his seventy-fifth birthday, Motian appeared live with pianist Bobo Stensen, with whom he recorded Goodbye (ECM). The lights at Birdland dimmed and Paul began poking at his old Paiste 602 Dark ride, sometimes extending his arm so that he could strike north of the bell. He’d find a sweet spot and caress it. Occasionally he’d let out a wide grin. Maybe he was delighted at discovering an elusive sound. Maybe he was happy at a direction Stensen had taken. He’s not telling.

“A lot of people,” Motian complains, “ask why I do something, as if there was a lot of forethought behind it. No, man, this shit is an accident. Kenny Clarke didn’t plan on being ‘the father of bebop drums.’ It just happened because the tempo was so fast that all he could do was play accents on the bass drum!”

Motian, who rarely works with charts, relishes happy accidents. They keep him young, nimble–and edgy.”

This is the description of Paul on Bernhard Castiglioni’s www.drummerworld.com


© -  Bernhard Castiglioni/Drummerworld, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“A masterfully subtle drummer and a superb colorist, Paul Motian is also an advanced improviser and a bandleader with a taste for challenging post-bop. Born Stephen Paul Motian in Philadelphia on March 25, 1931, he grew up in Providence and began playing the drums at age 12, eventually touring New England in a swing band.

He moved to New York in 1955 and played with numerous musicians - including Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano, Coleman Hawkins, Tony Scott, and George Russell - before settling into a regular role as part of Bill Evans' most famous trio (with bassist Scott LaFaro), appearing on his classics Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby.

In 1963, Motian left Evans' group to join up with Paul Bley for a year or so, and began a long association with Keith Jarrett in 1966, appearing with the pianist's American-based quartet through 1977.

In addition, Motian freelanced for artists like Mose Allison, Charles Lloyd, Carla Bley, and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Ensemble, and turned down the chance to be John Coltrane's second drummer.

In 1972, Motian recorded his first session as a leader, Conception Vessel, for ECM; he followed in 1974 with Tribute.

He formed a regular working group in 1977 (which featured tenor Joe Lovano) and recorded several more dates for ECM, then revamped the ensemble to include guitarist Bill Frisell in 1980. Additional dates for ECM and Soul Note followed, and in 1988 Motian moved to JMT, where he recorded a long string of fine albums beginning with Monk in Motian.

During the '90s, he also led an ensemble called the Electric Bebop Band, which featured Joshua Redman. In 1998, Motian signed on with the Winter & Winter label, where he began recording another steady stream of albums, including 2000 + One in 1999, Europe in 2001, and Holiday for Strings in 2002. In 2005 Motian moved to the ECM label, releasing I Have the Room Above Her that same year, followed by Garden of Eden in 2006 and Time and Time Again in 2007.

Paul Motian died on November 22, 2011 in Manhattan.

The cause was complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone-marrow disorder.”



Saturday, December 3, 2011

Donna Lee by Charlie Parker; Damian Draghici dazzling fast on pan-flute and Eddie Daniels

This is an amazing display of virtuosity that must be seen to be believed.


As to the unusual time signature that the group segues into following the blistering statement of the theme, perhaps the following anecdote from bassist Bill Crow's Jazz Anecdotes may be appropriate:



A Greek bandleader wasn't happy when his regular drummer sent a young jazz player as a substitute on a traditional dance job. After the first set, he took the youngster aside. 


"Look, kid," he said, "forget about all that Elvin Jones stuff. Just give me a simple after-beat on two and five!" [p. 329]


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lionel Hampton: A Founding Father of the Jazz Vibraphone

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“When he joined Benny Goodman’s orchestra in 1936, Lionel Hampton’s principal instrument, the vibraphone, was relatively unknown in the jazz world as a whole.
Hampton, more than anyone, is largely responsible for taking what was a quasi-novelty sound—essentially a "souped up" xylophone with added vibrato effect— and transforming it into a mainstream jazz instrument. …

Hampton's work in the context of the Goodman combo gave the "vibes" (as it eventually came to be known) a new level of legiti­macy. Of course, Hampton's energy, inventiveness, enthusiasm, and sheer sense of swing also had much to do with this. His was a style built on abundance: long loping lines, blistering runs of sixteenth notes, baroque ornamentations, all accompanied by an undercurrent of grunting and humming from above.

Few figures of the be-bop era, with the obvious exception of Tatum (with whom the vibraphonist later jousted in a session of note-filled excesses), could squeeze more into a sixteen-bar solo than Hampton. In the battle of form versus content, the latter always won when this seminal figure was on stage.”

- Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, [p.151, paraphrased]

“Hampton’s exuberant improvising, always full of high spirits, heady emotion and finger-poppin’ excitement, marvelously complemented [pianist] Teddy Wilson’s cooler, more controlled virtuosity. Between the two of them, they suggested the full range of expressive possibilities in Benny Goodman’s own playing.”

- Ross Firestone, Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman

“The exuberance and excitement and feeling of exultation that Lionel Hampton contributes to any musical occasion with which he is associated are absolutely amazing. No other single performer in American jazz—and in American big bands, too—has so consistently and joyously incited and inspired his fellow musicians and his listening audiences. For Hamp invariably projects a wonderful, uninhibited aura of spontaneity that brightens every place in which he performs and that assures everyone within earshot that music, fast or slow, screaming or sentimental, can be a joy forever—or at least as long as Lionel happens to be playing it.…

The band that Hamp eventually led, and continued to lead for many years thereafter, was primarily a swinging one, a high-flying swinging one, com­plete with brilliant showmanship and musicianship from Hampton and a whole series of talented musicians whom he discovered and inserted into his lineups.

Hamp always surrounded himself with outstanding musicians, …. [He]had a good ear and a good eye for new talent, and the list of musi­cians he has discovered is truly an amazing one. "We've been the breeding place of some fine jazz musicians," he told me one day, as he reeled off, with obvious pride, such names as Charles Mingus, Quincy Jones, Illinois Jacquet, Lucky Thompson, Joe Newman, Ernie Royal, Cat Anderson, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer and many more, as well as singers Dinah Washington and Joe Williams.”

- George T. Simon, The Big Bands, 4th Ed.


In looking back, Lionel Hampton was there at the beginning of my Jazz “Life.”

He holds a special place in my coming-of-age in the music as he was the vibraphonist in the very first small Jazz group I ever heard.

Lionel was a member of clarinetist Benny Goodman’s quartet which also featured Teddy Wilson on piano and Gene Krupa on drums.

The irrepressible swing of this combo made an indelible mark on me and I’ve always held the music played Benny’s quartet as the standard by which to evaluate other combos.

Cohesiveness, listening closely to one another, sharing the solo spotlight but, above all, swinging with a sense of a firm rhythmic propulsion.

These are the qualities that impressed me in Benny’s quartet and its what I want to experience when I listen to other small groups.

Benny’s quartet had so much energy and enthusiasm and to my ear, the spark that ignited these qualities was Lionel Hampton.

Following his time with Benny Goodman, Lionel moved on to lead his own small groups and big bands for over 60 years.

The Jazz world also moved on and away from the style of Jazz that Hampton represented until his death in 2002.

For many of the reasons described in the following excerpts from Günter Schuller’s monumental The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz 1930-1945, Lionel became less of an artistic Jazz performer and more of a commercially successful one, especially for those fans who prefer their Jazz expressed in a more discriminating manner.

When Universal Pictures made The Benny Goodman Story in 1955, it reassembled the Goodman quartet to appear as themselves in the movie.

While they were in town for the filming of the movie,  the Jazz impresario Norman Granz had his usual excellent presence-of-mind to bring Lionel, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa together to record a album for his then recently formed Verve Records label.

I coupled some schimolies together from my newspaper delivery route savings and bought a copy which I virtually wore-out while practicing to it.

Airmail Special from this Verve album is the audio track on the video tribute to Lionel Hampton at the conclusion of this profile about one of Jazz’s Founding Fathers. Teddy, Lionel and Gene all play exceptional solos. Have a look and a listen and see what you think.


© -  Günter Schuller/Oxford University Press , copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Hampton has been one of the most successful and enduring multi-instrumentalists in jazz, obviously one of the few outstanding vibraphone solo­ists, but a drummer and (mostly two-fingered) pianist and talented singer as well. …

In any period of its history, one is tempted to apply the word unique to Lionel Hampton. Certainly no one has outrivaled Hampton in sheer exuberance, phys­ical as well as emotional. Motored by a seemingly limitless supply of energy and stamina, Hampton's playing is known the world over for its relentless physicality, unhampered technical facility (especially on vibraphone), and a seemingly im­perturbable inventiveness. Limitless outpourings of rhythmic energy being al­ways more admired in the popular arena than subtlety or refinement of thought, Hampton's image as the unremitting hard swingster has far outstripped an aware­ness of his considerable lyric and melodic talents.

To be sure, Hampton's approach to music is often unsubtle, uncritical, at times even tasteless. In truth, when he assaults his drums, brutalizes the piano keyboard in his hammered two-finger style, pounds the vibraphone into submis­sion, the perspiration quotient is high indeed, its inspiration equivalent often considerably lower. Both in his ability to generate audience frenzy and in his own susceptibility to it, Hampton foreshadowed the empty-minded hysteria of today's more outrageous rock singers. Nor is the distance between rock and Hampton's 1940s' early form of rhythm-and-blues all that great, certainly not in respect to its rhythmic, dynamic, and energy levels.

What all this unfortunately obscures is Hampton's talents as a balladeer, both as a vibraharpist and a singer, and his equally innate ability to express himself in gentler, more subtle ways.


Hampton's is a natural, uncomplicated musical talent—almost casually inven­tive—in which the sheer joy of performing, the direct unfurrowed communica­tion to an audience, is more important than any critical or intellectual assess­ment of it. He is in this sense also not a leader, the way Ellington and Lunceford, for example, were.

Stylistic identity and the creation of a recognizable individual orchestral style have never been uppermost in Hampton's thoughts, succumbing instead to a randomness of approach that accounts for much of the inconsistency of quality in both of his own playing and that of his accompanying groups, large or small. Indeed, his ambivalence in these matters caused him, when he contemplated forming a large band, to consider seriously any number of orchestral options, ranging from hot to sweet, from frantic jump to sedate dance, including the use of a large string section.

Fortunately Hampton did in the end opt for a more orthodox jazz instrumentation, one which in due course became pre-eminent as a dynamic hard-driving swinging ensemble.” [excerpted, pp. 393-394] …

“Great originality and well-conceived solos are, however, not Hampton's forte. He is not so much a creator as he is a compiler. His solos tend to consist of a series of remembered or "common practice" motives, which he infuses with his own brand of energy and strings together into a musical discourse. While this method ensures that Hampton is never at a loss for ideas, the solos tend to be based too much on patterns and repetitions, rather than development of ideas. Hampton improvisations are more apt to be a collection of riffs. This is espe­cially true in faster temps, whereas in more relaxed contexts his melodic and ornamental gifts are given freer rein. More disturbing even than the reliance on patterns, however, is Hampton's fatal compulsion for musical quotations. Un­critical audiences, of course, love these diversions, delighted to recognize some snippet from the musical public domain and enjoying the improviser's challenge of fitting it into, say, a 2-bar break, a challenge Hampton never fails to meet. The liability of these tactics, however, on a serious level is that they inevitably interrupt the musical argument, rather than extend or develop it. For all of Hampton's inordinate facility, his music-making is often indiscriminate and un­critical.

Hampton is also rarely adventurous harmonically. He may appreciate the "modern" orchestral settings provided by many of his arrangers, but he himself rarely contributes significantly in the way of harmonic/melodic explorations, being generally content to maintain a more conservative stance, well-rooted in the swing language of the thirties.” [excerpted p. 397]

Hampton is what he is, and no amount of latter-day analyzing can—or should— make him into anything else. He is, like Armstrong, one of the old school, where the entertainer role is always prominent, perhaps even primary. And like Armstrong—though certainly not on his creative level—Hampton is a dedicated artist-musician and craftsman, his flamboyance and exhibitionism not withstand­ing. And perhaps most significantly, Hampton has been the keeper of a venera­ble tradition which, though it stands apart from all recent developments in jazz, is nevertheless a respectable one and one which Hampton, given his age and stature, is well entitled to preserve.” [excerpted, p. 402]


Friday, November 25, 2011

Victor’s Vibes


© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


For many years, the late Milt Jackson, affectionately known as “Bags,” was heralded as the undisputed king of the vibraphone and most vibists accorded him their highest esteem and pointed to him as a major influence.

I, too, love his playing, especially in the context of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

But I’ve always had trouble with the notion of ranking Jazz musicians, voting for them in polls and comparing them as artists. I think it’s an absolute waste of time; a meaningless exercise.

Jazz artists work very hard to establish their own approach to the music and I would imagine that, as is the case with actors, writers and painters, they have a tendency to gravitate toward those artists whose work “speaks” to them.

What, then, are the standards that one has to meet to be rated as “better” than another artist?

As Aristotle once said: “Each of us is different with regard to those things we have in common.”

And so it is with Jazz musicians in general and, for the purpose of this feature, Jazz vibraphonists in particular. Everyone imitates and emulates while trying to establish their own voice on an instrument.

Vibes are particularly challenging to play uniquely because of the limitations inherent in how the sound is produced on them.

Bags’ influence was pervasive when it came to Jazz vibes. I’ve played the instrument a bit and I recognize the truth in this assertion because I, too, found myself playing Milt’s “licks” and “phrases.” They lay so easily on the axe. You drop you hands [mallets] on the bars and out they come.

Another reason why so many vibist sound like Bags may be because he played a lot of the same “licks” [musical expressions] or phrases over and over again.

A lot of Jazz musicians do this [some call them “resting points”], but one has to be careful with repetitive phrases because employing the same licks too often can become an excuse for not thinking [in other words, not being inventive].

The expression that is sometimes used when this happens is that the musician “mailed in” the solo.

Bags was one of the “Founding Fathers” of Bebop, he toured all over the United States and Europe with the MJQ and he made a slew of recordings with the group, with other artists as well as under his own name.

As a result, his style of vibes had a lot of exposure.

This exposure helped make Milt Jackson instantly recognizable as a major exponent of the bebop, blues-inflected style of playing Jazz vibes.

But for my money, no one has ever played the instrument more musically than Victor Feldman.


Bags’ influence is there in Victor’s style, but Victor is his own man and takes the instrument in a completely different direction than Milt.

There isn’t the repetitiveness nor for that matter the constant bebop and blues phrases, but rather, a more pianistic and imaginative approach, one that emphasizes longer inventions and a constant flow of new melodies superimposed over the chord changes.

Victor also emphasizes rhythm differently than the dotted eighth note spacing favored by Bags. As a result, Victor, begins and ends his phrases in a more angular fashion which creates more surprises in where he is going in his solos.

The starting points and pick-ups for Victors solos vary greatly because he is not just looking for places in the music to put tried-and-tested licks, he’s actually attempting to create musical ideas that he hasn’t expressed before.

Is what Victor is doing “better” than Bags? Of course not.  Is it different? Is it ever.

Fresh and adventurous. And exhilarating, too.

Jazz improvisation is the ultimate creative experience.

One doesn’t need any awards. You just can’t wait for the next time you solo so you can try soaring again.

To help give you the “flavor” of Victor Feldman’s marvelous creative powers as a Jazz vibist, we’ve stripped things down to their bare essentials with an audio-only track that I think features him at his imaginative best.

No more words; no photographs or moving images; just the music.


This track has him performing his original composition Too Blue with Rick Laird on bass and Ronnie Stephenson on drums from his triumphant 1965 return to Ronnie Scott’s Club in his hometown of London [Jazz Archives JACD-053].

It runs a little over 8 minutes. You can hear the statement of the 12-bar blues theme from 0.00-0.22 minutes and again from 0.23-0.45 minutes. Each 12-bar theme closes with a bass “tag.”

Victor and Rick hook-up for a call-and-response interlude between 0:46-1:10 minutes before Victor launches into his first improvised chorus at 1:11 minutes.

He improvises seven choruses from 1:11-4:14 minutes before bassist Rick Laird takes four choruses from 4:14-5:46 minutes.

None of Victor’s choruses contains a repeated phrase or a recognizable Milt Jackson lick [phrase].

When Victor comes-back-in [resumes playing] at 5:46 minutes following Rick’s bass solo, if you listen carefully you can hear him using two mallets in his left hand to play 4-beats-to-the-bar intervals while soloing against this with the two mallets held in his right-hand.

He even throws in the equivalent of a big band-like “shout” chorus while trading fills with drummer Ronnie Stephenson beginning at 6:56 minutes.

The closing statement of the theme can be heard at 7:19 minutes ending with an “Amen” at 8:06 minutes.

When listening to Victor Feldman play Jazz on the vibraphone, one is hearing a true innovator at work. For him, making the next improvised chorus as original and as musically satisfying as possible was always the ultimate goal. 

It’s a shame that Jazz fans are not more familiar with his work on vibes. Having heard it on a regular basis for over twenty-five years, I can attest to the fact that it was something special. The only thing that Victor Feldman ever mailed in was a letter.