Friday, March 30, 2012

Dexter, Freddie, Ira, Ivar, Jack, Jackie and The Connection

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

It seems that you couldn’t walk a block in the Hollywood of my “Ute” [apologies to Joe Pesci, that should be “youth”] without literally passing a movie house, a theater or a night club.

Walking a few blocks down Vine Street from Franklin, across Hollywood Blvd. and then turning left on to Sunset Blvd. would bring you past the TV production facilities of ABC, CBS and NBC. This short walk would have also brought you by Capitol Records, the Huntington Hartford Theater, Wallich’s Music City and a half-dozen watering holes all of which featured some type of Jazz.

A quick stroll west would bring you to Cahuenga Blvd and Shelly’s Manne Hole and on your way over on Selma Street from Vine you’d pass the Ivar Theater.

Although I had both walked and driven by it a number of times, I had never been inside the Ivar.  I had heard from friends that it was a small, intimate theater and a great place to watch stage plays.

That was about to change when I noticed tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s name on the marquis announcing his appearance in the West Coast version of Jack Gelber’s The Connection, a play that had premiered in New York City in July, 1959.

Dexter’s name was legendary in some West Coast Jazz circles, particularly those associated with Central Avenue [Hollywood’s contemporaneous counterpart to the early bebop scene on NYC’s 52nd Street].

I stopped at the Ivar’s box office to pick up some tickets, although I must confess to knowing absolutely nothing at the time about Jack Gelber’s play.

This was going to be my first opportunity to hear “long tall Dexter” in person which was reason enough for me to check out Jack’s play.

Shades to come of his role in the movie ‘Round Midnight, Dexter “acted” in the play along with performing the music from pianist Freddie Redd’s wonderful score with Gildo Mahonnes on piano, Bob West on bass and Lawrence Marable on drums.

Shortly thereafter I picked up the Blue Note LP The Music from the Connection: Freddie Redd Quartet with Jackie McLean [[B2-89392] with Jackie on alto sax, Freddie on piano, Michael Mattos on bass and Larry Ritchie on drums.

I had been a fan of Jackie McLean’s music for some time, but I knew hardly anything at all about Freddie Redd’s music or the details about Jack Gelber’s play and how he came to write it.

Ira Gitler’s informative and insightful insert notes to the recording gave me all the missing information.

We recently wrote to Ira and asked his permission to present on these pages his original liner notes to The Music from the Connection: Freddie Redd Quartet with Jackie McLean.

He graciously agreed to allow them to be posted to the JazzProfiles blog with the proviso that anyone also wishing to publish them in any form or fashion seek his consent before doing so.

At the conclusion of Ira’s writings, you’ll find a video tribute to Jackie Mclean which has as its audio track Theme for Sister Salvation from Freddie Redd’s score to The Connection. We will have more to say specifically about Freddie and his music in a future feature.

Like Leonard Bernstein, I came away from the play whistling this theme and I haven’t forgotten it since.

© -  Ira Gitler, copyright protected; all rights reserved. Used with the author’s permission

THE CONNECTION by Jack Gelber is a play about junkies but its implications do not stop in that particular circle. As Lionel Abel has stated in what is perhaps the most perceptive critique yet written about the play (Not Everyone Is In The Fix, Partisan Review, Winter 1960), "What adds to the play's power is that the characters are so like other people, though in such a different situation from most people."

The situation in which the four main protagonists find themselves is waiting for Cowboy (Carl Lee), the connection, to return with the heroin. These four, Solly (Jerome Raphel), Sam (John McCurry), Ernie (Garry Goodrow), and Leach (Warren Finnerty) are in attendance at the latter's pad with the bass player. One by one, the three other musicians drift in. They are also anxiously awaiting Cowboy's appearance. Also present, from time to time, in this play-within-a-play, are a fictitious playwright Jaybird (Ira Lewis), producer Jim Dunn (Leonard Hicks) and two photographers (Jamil Zakkai, Louis McKenzie), who are shooting an avant garde film of the play.

The musicians not only play their instruments during the course of the play but, as implied before, they also appear as actors. Some people have raised the question, "If they are actors, why are they using their real names?" Pianist-actor Freddie Redd, composer of the music heard in The Connection answers this simply by saying that he and the other musicians want recognition (and subsequent playing engagements) for what they are doing and that there would be no effective publicity if they were to appear as John Smith, Bill Brown, etc. Author Gelber concurs and says that having the musicians play themselves adds another element of stage reality.

When The Connection opened at The Living Theatre on July 15, 1959, it was immediately assaulted by the slings and arrows of outrageous reviewers, a group consisting, for the most part, of the summer-replacement critics on the local New York dailies. Although several of them had kind words to say about the jazz, none were explicit and one carper stated that the "cool jazz was cold" which showed his knowledge of jazz styles matched his perception as a drama critic.

A week later, the first favorable review appeared in The Village Voice. It was one of many that followed which helped save The Connection and cement its run. In it, Jerry Tallmer didn't merely praise the jazz but in lauding Gelber as the first playwright to use modern jazz "organically and dynamically", also pointed out that the music "puts a highly charged contrapuntal beat under and against all the misery and stasis and permanent crisis."

This the music does. It electrically charges both actors and audience and while it is not programmatic in a graphic sense (it undoubtedly would have failed it if had tried to be) it does represent and heighten the emotional climates from which it springs at various times during the action.

The idea to incorporate sections of jazz into The Connection was not an afterthought by Jack Gelber. It was an integral part of his entire conception before he even began the actual writing of the play. If Gelber did not know which specific musicians he wanted onstage, his original script (copyright in September 1957) shows that he knew what kind of music he wanted. In a note at the bottom of the first page it is stated, “The jazz played is in the tradition of Charlie Parker." (The Connection is published by Grove Press Inc. as an Evergreen paperback book.)

Originally Gelber had felt the musicians could improvise on standards, blues, etc., just as they would in any informal session. When the play was being cast however, he met Freddie Redd through a mutual friend. Freddie, 31 years young, is a pianist who previously has been described by this writer as "one of the most promising talents of the '50s" and "one of the warmer disciples of the Bud Powell school". During the Fifties he played with a variety of groups including Oscar Pettiford, Art Blakey, Joe Roland and Art Farmer-Gigi Gryce, all of whom recognized his talent.

After he had gotten a quartet together at Gelber's request, auditioned for him and was given the acting-playing role in The Connection, Freddie told Jack of his long frustrated wish to write the music for a theater presentation. Armed with a script and the author's sanction, he went to work. In conjunction with Gelber, he decided exactly where the music was to occur. By familiarizing himself with the play's action, he was able to accurately fashion the character and tempo of each number. What he achieved shows that his talent, both the obvious and the latent of the '50s, has come to fruition. He has supplied Gelber with a parallel of the deep, dramatic impact that Kurt Weill gave to Brecht. His playing, too, has grown into a more personal, organic whole. Powell and Monk, to a lesser degree, are still present but Freddie is expressing himself in his own terms.

The hornman he chose to blow in front of the rhythm section and act in the drama, has done a remarkable job in both assignments. Jackie McLean is an altoman certainly within the Parker tradition but by 1959 one who had matured into a strongly individual player. His full, singing, confident sound and complete control of his instrument enable him to transmit his innermost musical self with an expansive ease that is joyous to hear. It is as obvious in his last Blue Note album (Swing, Swang, Swingin' — BLP 4024) as it is here or on stage in The Connection. As an actor, Jackie was so impressive that his part has grown in size and importance since the play opened.

During the early part of the run, Redd's mates in the rhythm section were in a state of flux until Michael Mattos and Larry Ritchie arrived on the scene. Mattos has worked with Thelonious Monk, Randy Weston, Max Roach and Lester Young among others. Ritchie came out of B. B. King's band to play with Phineas Newborn and later, Sonny Rollins. Together they have given the group on stage a permanence; the fusion of many performances' playing as a unit is evident here.

The first music heard in the play is introduced by a mute character named Harry (Henry Roach) who comes into Leach's pad early in the first act with a small portable phonograph on which he plays Charlie Parker's record of Buzzy. Everyone listens religiously. When the record is over, Harry closes the case, and leaves. With this, the musicians commence to play Buzzy (not heard here) but are interrupted by Jaybird who rushes up on stage exclaiming that his play is being ruined by the junkies' lack of co-operation. After some argument, he leaves and the quartet begins to play again. This is Who Killed Cock Robin? The title was suggested by Warren Finnerty because the rhythmic figure of the melody sounds like that phrase which he, as Leach, screams in his delirium when he is close to death from an overdose later in the play. It is an up tempo number, yet extremely melodic as most of Freddie's compositions are. In the composer's words, "It is intended to plunge the music into the action of the play and to relieve the tension of the confusion which had begun to take place."

McLean and Redd solo, urged on by the rhythm section which features Larry Ritchie's dynamic drumming.

One of the devices employed by Gelber is having his main characters get up and solo like jazz musicians. Sam, a Negro vagabond junky goes on at length, promising to come out into the audience at intermission and tell some of his colorful stories if they will give him some money so that he can get high until he goes to work on a promised job. As he finishes, he lies down and asks the musicians to play. They respond with Wigglin', a medium-tempo, minor-major blues which Redd explains, "accentuates Sam's soulful plea to the audience. It is humorous and sad because we suspect that they know better."

This is effective "funk" that is not self-conscious or contrived. Jackie and Freddie are heard in moving solos; Michael Mattos has a short but effective spot before the theme returns.

The last piece in Act I is detonated by Ernie's psychopathic out-burst. Ernie is a frustrated saxophonist whose horn is in pawn. He sits around bugging everyone by blowing on his mouthpiece from time to time. In his "confession" he digs at Leach. In turn, Leach ridicules his ability and laughs at him for deluding himself into thinking he is a musician. Music Forever calms the scene and in Freddie's words, "expresses the fact that despite his delusions, Ernie is still dedicated to music."

The attractive theme is stated in 2/4 by McLean while the rhythm section plays in 4/4. Jackie's exhilarating solo at up tempo shows off his fine sense of time. He is as swift as the wind but never superficial. Freddie, whose comping is a strong spur, comes in Monkishly and then uses a fuller chordal attack to generate great excitement before going into some effective single line. The rhythm section drives with demonic fervor. This track captures all the urgency and immediacy that is communicated when you hear the group on stage. In fact, throughout the entire album the quartet has managed to capture the same intense feeling they display when they are playing the music as an integrated part of The Connection.

The mood of Act II is galvanized immediately by the presence of Cowboy who has returned with the heroin. Jackie comes out of the bathroom after having had his "fix" and the musicians play as everyone, in their turn, is ushered in the bathroom by Cowboy. The group keeps playing even when they are temporarily a trio. In this
album they are always a quartet. Since this is the happiest of moments for an addict, the name of the tune is appropriately Time To Smile. Freddie explains, "The relaxed tempo and simplicity of the melody were designed to have the audience share in the relaxing of tensions."

The solos are in the same groove; unhurried, reflective and lyrical.

In order to escape from a couple of inquisitive policemen, Cowboy had allied himself with an unwitting, aged Salvation Sister on the way back to Leach's pad. While everyone is getting high, she is pacing around, wide-eyed and bird-like. Sister Salvation, (Barbara Winchester), believes Cowboy has brought her there to save souls. She sees some of them staggering and "nodding", and upon discovering empty wine bottles in the bathroom thinks this is the reason. She launches into a sermon and Solly makes fun of her by going into a miniature history of her uniform. The music behind this is a march, heard here in Theme For Sister Salvation. When she tells them of her personal troubles, the junkies feel very bad about mocking her. This is underscored by Redd's exposition of a sadly beautiful melody in ballad tempo. Here, in the recorded version, McLean plays this theme before Freddie's solo. Then the march section is restated. The thematic material of this composition is particularly haunting. I'm told Leonard Bernstein left the theater humming it.

Jim Dunn is in a quandary. Jaybird and one of the photographers have rendered themselves useless by getting high. The chicks that Leach supposedly has invited have not appeared. Leach asks Freddie to play and the group responds with Jim Dunn's Dilemma, a swiftly-paced, minor-key theme. Redd especially captures the feeling of the disquietude in his two-handed solo.

From the time of the first fix, Leach has been intermittently griping that he is not high. Finally Cowboy gives him another packet as the quartet starts to play again. He doesn't go into the bathroom but makes all the preparations at a table right onstage. The tune O.D., or overdose, is so named because this is what Leach self-administers. Where in the play the music stops abruptly as he keels over, here the song is played to completion. McLean is again sharp, clear and declarative. Redd has another well developed solo with some fine single line improvisation.

I first saw the play the week it opened. My second viewing was in March 1960. To my amazement, I found myself injected into The Connection. As the musicians left the pad of the supposedly dying Leach, they reminded one another that "Ira Gitler is coming down to interview us for the notes."

The above is just a small part of why The Connection helps The Living Theatre justify its name. Gelber's dialogue, which still had the fresh feeling of improvisation on second hearing, is one of the big reasons. Another large one is Freddie Redd's score. Effective as it is in the play, it is still powerful when heard out of context because primarily it is good music fully capable of standing on its own.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jimmy Rowles: Sprinkling Jazz

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

“Long acknowledged as the favorite accompanist of every singer for whom he played, Rowles is an artist of consummate harmonic imagination.”
- Leonard Feather

“Jimmy Rowles is a pianist of refreshingly consistent taste and swinging invention ….”
- Nat Hentoff

“A few things about Rowles stood out from the start. He didn’t sound like anyone else; he knew more tunes than Sigmund Spaeth [a musicologist who traced the sources and origins of popular songs to their folk and classical roots] ; and he was, on occasion, droll in the way that only a grizzled hipster can be…. His own two chorus solo is of a sort no one else would attempt – a coherent montage of hammered single notes, offhanded dissonances, wandering arpeggios, abrupt bass walks, trebly rambles.”
- Gary Giddins

"Most of what I'm trying to say [about the importance of the melody] is nicely illustrated in a story about the great, unique pianist Jimmy Rowles, who knew as much about songs and harmony as anybody who ever lived. 

He was playing a piano-bass duet gig for a while and one night his regular bassist sent in a sub, who decided to try and impress the master with his knowledge of harmony by hitting him with a whole slew of super-hip bass notes and chord substitutions, playing everything but the kitchen sink. 

After a couple of tunes worth of this, and working on his second double vodka, Rowles turned to this Einstein of the bass with a glare and rasped 'I'm aware of the possibilities … let’s just play the f---ing song the way it goes and make some music, OK?'"
- Bassist Steve Wallace

The Carriage House was located at 3000 West Olive Avenue in Burbank California. This was the name of the restaurant and bar before pianist Bill Chadney bought it in the mid-1970’s and named it after himself – Chadney’s.

It was located just beyond the tip of a triangle formed by the intersection of Parish Place, Alameda and Olive Avenues.

Across Alameda Avenue and just slightly southwest of this man-made traffic nightmare are NBC’s television studios which were re-located to this site [3000 West Alameda] from their original location as part of NBC’s Radio City at the corner of Sunset & Vine in Hollywood, CA.

When these studios first came into existence around 1955, the network used them to create “live” programming for the West Coast [allowing for the time difference between Eastern and Pacific Daylight Time]. In 1962, they became NBC’s “Color City” [i.e.: color television studios] and ultimately the “home” for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, and the many television specials of comedian, Bob Hope.

It’s amazing to reflect on the fact that I saw these [now massive] facilities come into and [soon to] go out of existence during my lifetime.

One of my closest friends in high school [who’s Dad worked there as an electrician] and I would ride our bikes to NBC and literally walk around back of the buildings and into it sound stages: no security guards, no locked doors, no alarm systems.

The initial structures looked like two, corrugated aluminum airplane hangers situated in the middle of a cow pasture. They didn’t even have signs on them. It has since become an immense complex replete with not one, but two, landing pads for helicopters.

All of these Burbank television production facilities and operations are scheduled to be re-located to nearby Universal Studios as the latter consolidates its ownership of NBC.

Needless to say, with good food and grog available right across the street, The Carriage House [and later, Chadney’s] became a regular haunt of many NBC stars, executives and employees.

In its early years, pianist Jimmy Rowles often worked at The Carriage House, usually with a bassist and a drummer, but sometimes, too, as a solo pianist.

Amongst the bassists were Bob West, Red Mitchell, John Simmons, and Monty Budwig and the drummers included Larry Bunker, Nick Martinis, Frankie Capp and Donald Bailey.

The atmosphere in the step-down bar area was always very relaxed and convivial, no doubt made possible by the generous drinks served up by its bar tenders who were usually pretty well-lubricated themselves.

The martinis came with olives that were almost as big as they glasses in which they were served, the draft beer wasn’t watered down and wine-by-the-glass was served out of the bottle that it came in.

The cocktail waitresses were respectful of the music, patrons who wanted to talk sat in the back of the lounge and musicians usually made up half of the audience on any given night [although usually during the later sets on the weekends].

Jimmy held forth at the well-tuned piano without much pomp and flash. He played a lot of Duke Ellington’s music, a smattering of Monk’s and just about the greatest collection of tunes from the American Song Book that I’d ever heard. I mean, the guy knew every tune ever written [in just about every key, too].

When listening to Jimmy, I always got the impression that he sprinkled Jazz: a few notes here, the odd phrase there . Kind of like a West Coast Thelonious Monk, John Lewis, and Jaki Byard all rolled up into one.

As Jazz author, Gary Giddins, describes in one of the introductory quotations that serve as a lead-in to this piece, Jimmy’s solos are often … “a coherent montage of hammered single notes, offhanded dissonances, wandering arpeggios, abrupt bass walks, trebly rambles.”

Gary goes on to observe: “Rowles is not an aggressive or showy player; he leaves lots of space, uses dynamics sparingly, and swings softly and at an even gait. What makes him remarkable is his ear for detail (the fills that make his accompaniment so stylish are no less disarming when he uses them to decorate his own solos), his depth of feeling (he could play a melody straight and make it sound like an improvisation), and his harmonic ingenuity (he rarely attacks a chord head-on, preferring dense substitutions or oblique angles). His repertory is immense and arcane ….” [Visions of Jazz, excerpted from pages 535-536].

To paraphrase, Doug Ramsey: “Jimmy Rowles is as uninhibited, witty, and earthy a pianist as he is a storyteller. [His] music is complex, fascinating, often hilarious. Nobody knows as many obscure tunes as Jimmy.”

Here’s another take on Jimmy and the qualities he expressed through his music from vocalist and pianist, Diana Krall, who studied with him for a number of years:

“Jimmy Rowles was not flashy, but he was incredibly complex harmonically in his knowledge, which extended from popular music in general to Debussy and Ravel in particular.

The way he played and sang was very, very subtle, and the beauty of the music came through in the way he played and sang songs like Poor Butterfly, Nature Boy, or How Deep Is the Ocean. Those things sunk in while I was there, but I'm still processing that, and coming to terms with his whole artistry.

But the other thing he taught me was not to take myself too seriously, even though I took the music itself very seriously." [As told to Gene Lees, JazzLetter, Vol. 18, No.. 5, May 1999].

You got mesmerized listening to Jimmy. In his solos, he sometimes juxtaposed a variety of piano styles from ragtime and stride to the most sophisticated, modern piano chord substitutions. All of this complexity was interspersed in such a way that Jimmy constantly kept the listener guessing as to what was coming next.

You began to listened to Jimmy play piano out of fascination and a fair amount of amusement, but when you’d finished listening to him play, you shook your head in admiration at the totality of his musical expression.

Jimmy used space and pace in a very controlled manner; you could almost hear him thinking about what not to include in his solos!

Although he performed mainly as an accompanist to Jazz vocalists and in trio, duo and solo settings for most of his career, one of Jimmy’s earliest recordings under his own name was with a septet for which he and Bill Holman did the arrangements.

The recording – Weather in a Jazz Vane: The Jimmy Rowles Septet – has always been one of my favorites. Originally issued in 1958 as an Andex LP [S3007], it is also available in a digital format as VSOP #48.

On it, Jimmy is joined by Lee Katzman on trumpet, Bob Enevoldsen on valve trombone, Her Geller on also sax, Bill Holman on tenor and baritone sax and a rhythm section made up of Monty Budwig on bass and Mel Lewis on drums.

Aside from the superbly arranged and performed tunes which all have, not surprisingly, weather related titles [e.g.: The Breeze and I, Heat Wave and Some Other Spring, the album offers the additional treat of the following liner notes as written by the late drummer and club owner, Shelly Manne.

“Musicians have a way of using words in a sense totally different from their everyday usage. One of these words is "Beautiful".

Where most people use the word to describe an outward appearance that is pleasing to the eye, the musician uses it to describe the inner person.

I know of no person who deserves this description more than JIMMY ROWLES.

Musicians, familiar with his playing, have long hailed him as one of the great jazz pianists and are often dis­turbed by the lack of recognition given him. Anyone who hears him, considers his playing beautiful in any sense of the word.

Jimmy is quiet with a quick wit and large sense of humor. These things are in his playing. He is honest and unaffected. These qualities are also evident in his playing.

He is a master of understatement and every time he plays something it has meaning. His taste is uncanny and with all his subtleness he swings hard through his perfect sense of time and his intensity; and of course one very important thing: he loves to play.

There is a sort of hidden code among some rhythm section players on record dates, where the band is so spread out that we can't feel the time or hear each other too well, to follow Jimmy's foot and it will straighten everything out.

He is a walking music library. He knows more old tunes (standards and jazz originals) and more new tunes (standards and jazz originals) than any other musician I've ever known.

All the qualities of Jimmy's playing are carried over into his writing. He is wonderfully original whether he is writing arrangements on standards or compositions of his own, for large orchestras or small groups.

Jimmy was born in Spokane, Wash. August 19, 1918. He started playing piano during his freshman year at Gonzaga College.

He first became interested in jazz piano when he heard Teddy Wilson on a Benny Goodman trio record. He was so impressed that he bought as many B.G. records with Teddy on them as he could find. Needless to say Teddy was his first influence.

Jimmy says that although he loves the feel of the rhythm section, over the past years he has been more influ­enced by horn men than piano men.

In 1938, after Mr. Wilson lit the fire, Jimmy made a trip to nearby Seattle to hear Duke Ellington's band. Jimmy says "especially to hear Ben Webster." He not only got to hear him, but they became close friends, a friendship that is just as strong today. Ben encouraged and gave Jimmy confidence. I know what this meant for Jimmy because a few years later Ben did the same for me.

Jimmy went back home from Seattle with a picture of Ben under his arm. He displayed it in a place of honor in "the front room of the house."

When Jimmy finally left the Northwest in 1940 he was undecided whether to go to New York or Los Angeles. He chose L.A. because it was closer and "at least I wouldn't freeze to death down there."

After a period of unemployment and just listening to what was happening jazz-wise, he joined a group headed by Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart, known to the public at that time as "Slim & Slam." From that group he joined the small band of Lee & Lester Young. It was during this time around 1942 that I first heard Jimmy play.

All the talk among jazz musicians then was about this new piano player with Prez. Jim spent about nine months with this group.

After that he joined Benny Goodman's band, then Woody Herman. From Woody's band he went into the army. After his discharge from the service he rejoined Woody until the band broke up.

It was then that he decided to stay in L.A. and freelance, doing studio work and record dates. Jimmy was in great demand as a vocal accompanist, working with such singers as Evelyn Knight, Betty Hutton, Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee, for whom he still does a lot of work. He has also done some vocal coaching.

Jimmy started writing while he was in the army but went through a period, when he rejoined Woody, of not writing at all. Says Jimmy, "Woody's arrangement's were so good I was afraid to submit any of my work for fear it wouldn't be liked." I'm sure that if Jimmy hadn't been so modest a great many of his charts would be remembered in the list of the "Herd's" classics. Of course now, even though he is still modest, Jimmy does a good deal of writing, not only for jazz dates but vocal backgrounds and T.V. shows as well.

Duke Ellington was Jim's major inspiration in writing. He also likes the work of Gil Evans and Bill Holman with whom he shared arranging honors on this album.
I mentioned earlier Jimmy's vast repertoire of tunes old and new. On this album he chose a few beauties dat­ing back quite a ways. "Throwin" Stones At The Sun," "Too Hot For Words", and 'Some Other Spring."

This album was built around Jimmy's piano playing. His arrangements of "Throwin’ Stones", "When The Sun Comes Out", "The Breeze and I", and "Some Other Spring" emphasize his originality, especially on "The Breeze and I" where the form is unusual. Also obvious is his penchant for just writing and playing what is need­ed to make good, sound, musical sense. The scores are uncluttered, with much clarity and plenty of room for improvisation.

His humor comes to the fore on "Too Hot For Words" (note the ending). I believe this is Jimmy's first recorded vocal effort. It was spontaneous. No vocal was planned but at the date Jim decided to lean in towards the piano mike and sing. It knocked everyone out so much that they set up a separate mike and recorded his voice for posterity

I'm not going to try to analyze the playing and writing on this album. I'm doing the notes because 1 liked what I heard. The band swings freely, plays the charts with understanding, and the soloists play some outstand­ing jazz.

Bill Holman, who is responsible for this album, is an acknowledged great in jazz writing and on this record his scores go hand in hand with Jimmy's musicianship.

As for Jimmy Rowles I feel he can do no wrong.
It’s always fair weather when Jim's around.

Shelly Manne, June 5, 1959

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Silvana and Gene

The audio track for this video tribute to Italian actress Silvana Magnano is the theme to Anna, one of her most successful film roles, as played by tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons. Joining Gene are Bucky Pizzarelli on solo guitar, Kenny Burrell on rhythm guitar, Hank Jones on piano, Norman Edge on bass, Oliver Jackson on drums and percussion and Al Hayes on bongos.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Toots Thielemans: Yesterday and Today

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

“This double CD may well contain the best Toots Thielemans you NEVER heard. A stunning collection of both rare and great music, starting with his earliest recording as a soloist and ending with a memorable duet in the new millennium.”
- Jeroen de Valk

“Jean-Baptiste Frederic Isidor Thielemans was born in Brussels, April 29 1922. He never had any formal musical education but has been playing music for most of his life. Already as a three-year old, he stated in many interviews, he was playing the accordion in the bar his parents owned. He purchased a guitar and a harmonica as a teenager and taught himself to play jazz while listening to records during the occupation.”
- Jeroen de Valk

“Toots is Toots; his music is always emotionally engaging and fun to listen to.  He has a gift: he hears it, he plays it. Some of the things that come out of his harmonic just take your breath away.”
- The Editorial Staff at JazzProfiles

April 29, 2012 will mark the 90th birthday of Toots Thielemans and you can locate an earlier JazzProfiles feature on this singular Jazz harmonica player, guitarist and whistler by going here.

As part of the celebration of Toots’ forthcoming 90th birthday, Cees Schrama, has selected thirty-eight [38] tracks spanning over sixty [60] years of Thielemans’ career and is issuing them on March 27, 2012 as a two CD set entitled Toots Thielemans: Yesterday and Today [Out of the Blue T2CD2011052].

Much of the music on this double CD retrospective has been hard to find for many years; some of it has not been released before in a digital format; some of it has never been released in the United States.

The compilation is a magnificent tribute to one of the world’s great musicians, whatever the genre.

Whether you’ve been a fan of Toots’ music for years or whether you are looking for a place to begin to familiarize yourself with it, this presentation is a must for your collection.

Aside from his more notable associations over the years with George Shearing and Quincy Jones, also represented in this collection are a slew of obscurities and oddities including Toots’ performance in big band arrangements by Jack Andrews, Gary McFarland and Ralph Burns, in small groups with J.J. Johnson, Hank Jones and Herbie Hancock, in a gorgeous version of Alex North’s Love Theme from Spartacus in a duo with bassist Marc Johnson and in a beautiful solo rendering of Ellington’s Black Beauty.

Toots is Toots; his music is always emotionally engaging and fun to listen to.  He has a gift: he hears it, he plays it. Some of the things that come out of his harmonic just take your breath away.

Toots Thielemans: Yesterday and Today [Out of the Blue T2CD2011052] comes with a insert booklet that details background information about the selected recordings, biographical information about Toots’ career and a collection of photographs.

Here are some excerpts as written and compiled by the noted Jazz writer and historian Jeroen de Valk.

“Producer Cees Schrama, a personal friend, selected all these treasures, looking for recordings that follow Toots' long and impressive career and are hard or simply impossible to purchase on CD. Some of the tracks -for example the 1946 recording, initially made as a soundtrack for a cartoon - were never issued anywhere. Others - among them the tracks with George Shearing - were issued on singles and then disappeared.

Cees got assistance from two Thielemans-collectors, who provided him with a wealth of rare material: Jean-Paul Gardavoir and Wim Crama. Studio wizard Marcel Booij managed to re-master the sound of these at times primitive recordings.

The result is a fitting tribute to Toots Thielemans, who was the second European musician to develop a highly individual sound in the US-dominated jazz world. The first one was, of course, guitarist Django Reinhardt. The latter was also born in Belgium - only twelve years before Toots - and was also christened Jean-Baptiste before acquiring a stage name.

Toots started out as a Django-inspired guitarist but became instantly recognizable when he started whist­ling along with his guitar improvisations. More fame came when listeners, musicians and producers discovered he was turning the chromatic harmonica into a serious jazz instrument.

Cees - a professional pianist and organist himself - first shook hands with Toots in 1974. Toots was performing then in Tros Sesjun, a Dutch radio show that would last for over thirty years, presenting live jazz every Thursday evening. Thielemans would be headlining the show seven times. Cees, who hosted the show, heard that Thielemans had an apartment in New York; writer Arthur Miller, once Marilyn Monroe's husband, was his neighbor. But he was working more in Europe at that time, where he had a second home in Brussels.

‘Toots played with our house band featuring keyboard man Rob Franken, who would become his regular accompanist. They started the concert with There Is No Greater Love. A real dazzling virtuoso performance which made the whole band swing like mad. He built up the tension and built and built... and then, he managed to hold back for a while, allowing us to breath. I was standing there in awe and thought: “This has to be put on record.” After the concert, we had a talk and he agreed to have a selection of this concert put on LP for Polydor, the label I was working for as a record producer.’

On this track, the guitar solo is played by Joop Scholten. In all the other tracks on this twofer, not only the harmonica solos but all the guitar solos were played by Toots as well. Needless to say, this means that in some cases his contributions had to be recorded separately.

Toots had no manager at that time; he took care of all business matters himself. Cees: ‘He did so with care. He was and still is extremely reliable. He is always on time, wherever the gig may be, and always in peak form, musically. Always creative and inspired. Even now, while approaching his ninetieth birthday, he still sits up-front on the stage on a bar stool and does most of the playing himself. Usually, he won't let his sidemen stretch out too long. People buy tickets to hear him, so it's him we're going to hear. Toots has unbelievable stamina and is consistently enthusiastic about music. Music is his life. He always carries his harmonica around, wherever he is.’”

A year after his Sesjun debut, Toots came back to the show, this time with his regular band, which included Franken and the Danish bass legend Niels-Henning 0rsted Pedersen. From this concert, That Misty Red Animal (Dat Mistige Rooie Beest) survives on this compilation. It was composed for the soundtrack of Turkish Delight (Turks Fruif), one of the many, many movies from both sides of the Atlantic in which Toots' harmonica can be heard.

Cees issued a selection from both concerts on an LP, simply called Toots Thielemans Live. Another year later, in 1976, Toots did his third Sesjun concert; parts from this concert were available on the LP Toots Thielemans Live 2. ‘Both albums were highly successful in Europe, the US and Japan. But only a few tracks were put on CD in the course of the years.’ …

Initially, Toots planned to be a mathematics teacher and thus went to the Brussels University. But poor health - he suffers from asthma and had to be taken to a hospital several times - prevented him from attending the university regularly. So he decided to concentrate on music. His first influence was Django Reinhardt, then he listened to the Benny Goodman Quartet and Lester Young. A few years later, Charlie Parker came along, causing 'the change in my life'.

Toots - who borrowed his stage name from swing alto saxophonist Toots Mondello and arranger/composer/ trumpeter Toots Camarata - played with various US musicians, both in New York and in Europe, before emigrating to the US, late 1951. He joined George Shearing's band with which he toured all over the world for over six years.

Thielemans may have had a certain impact on The Beatles. In 1959, John Lennon saw Toots performing with Shearing's band a couple of times. Lennon apparently liked Toots' harmonica playing and guitar selection: a Rickenbacker. Lennon decided to purchase a similar Rickenbacker himself and also adopted the chromatic harmonica, which was used on the Beatles' early recordings.

By the time Toots left Shearing's band, he found himself in constant demand as a first-call studio musician. Producers liked his new sound, originated by whistling along with his guitar lines, and used it in commercials. His harmonica can be heard in countless film scores; Turkish Delight, The Getaway and Midnight Cowboy, to name just a few. He is also heard on recordings with popular singers such as Paul Simon, Billy Joel and Natalie Cole.

Toots, though, never forgot his jazz roots and both recorded and toured with Bill Evans, Jaco Pastorius and many, many more. He kept touring with his own jazz outfits and composed the jazz standard Bluesette. …

Toots is still working as I'm writing this, late 2011, although he limits himself to two, three gigs a week. He is brought to his concerts and record dates with a limousine, assisted by a tour manager.

Quincy Jones, the New York composer, arranger and composer who often employed Toots, once stated: ‘I can say without hesitation that Toots is one of the greatest musicians of our time. On his instrument he ranks with the best that jazz has ever produced. He goes for the heart and makes you cry. We have worked together more times than I can count and he always keeps me coming back for more.’”

As you would imagine, it was very difficult to single out one track from the comprehensive overview of Toots’ music contained in Toots Thielemans: Yesterday and Today [Out of the Blue T2CD2011052].

Ultimately, in order to page homage to both Toots and Cees Schrama, Toots long-time friend and the producer of these recordings, I selected Big Bossa, a tune written by Cees for the Polydor LP Old Friend [2925 029]. It features Toots along with Ferdinand Povel on tenor saxophone in a wonderful arrangement by Cees which he scored for a full orchestra including strings.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Steve Wallace: Why the Melody?

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

I wanted to do something to celebrate the onset of Spring, so when a knowledgeable Jazz fan and friend sent me this piece by the Canadian bassist Steve Wallace, I thought it would make a perfect blog feature to herald the arrival of the season of renewal.

The late Jazz author and critic Martin Williams authored a book entitled Where’s the Melody? for those interested in gaining a better understanding of how Jazz works. For similar reasons, the subtitle of this feature is a take-off on Martin’s title.

At the end of the biographical information about Steve, you’ll find a video tribute to Spring featuring pianist Bill Evans performing Spring is Here with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums.

© -  Steve Wallace, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“I heard a cardinal in high-fidelity just as I left my house the other morning – ‘bwordy, bwordy, bwordy’ echoing down the street. The trees being still bare, it was easy to spot him by following the song - he was up in the top of a maple about forty yards away. He shifted briefly from one branch to another and the light caught him at just the right angle, a brilliant rush of crimson, even at that distance. A morning thrill, a rarity these days, trust me. I stood listening and admiring him for a few seconds and then noticed some rustling in the big tree just overhead. Two robins were flitting about, not singing much. Just as I spotted them they flew off and again the sunlight hit them and I was treated to a flash of their rusty-orange breasts. A sure sign, I thought with a smile - spring is here.

There's a song for every occasion and this took me straight to Rodgers and Hart's great Spring Is Here - its melody began running through my head as I walked to the subway. It struck me that this song is a kind of analogy for my aging as a musician (and hopefully my growth as one) - when I was younger, I didn't have much use for it, but it's become a favorite tune in recent years. I think the difference is that I appreciate melody a lot more than I used to, understand it better.

Bassists like myself are often slow in developing a melodic sense, because the instrument doesn't often get to play melodies - being low-pitched, it's usually much more involved with rhythmic and harmonic duties, providing the floor for other people to dance on. When you're starting out, there's so much to learn and so many things to work on that it's tempting, maybe even necessary, to take some short cuts, leave some stuff out. I largely left out melody because it didn't seem all that relevant while I was busy learning the bass, the fingering positions, scales, developing intonation, a tone and endurance. Not to mention learning how to play walking bass lines, to handle different rhythmic feels at various tempos, developing a repertoire by learning and memorizing the chord changes of songs. Then there was the mental aspect of music - the theory, ear training, harmony, modes and chord scales and on and on. Who the hell had time for melody? I was too busy being a grunt in the engine rooms of bands, a sweat-hog grinding out the quarter-notes, trying to keep the tempos up and make things swing. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

Melody was for singers or the lead instruments to take care of and besides, in jazz, the melody is only played in the first and last choruses - in between came the important part, or so I thought - the improvisation, or "blowing" as we call it. I was so caught up in sound, quarter-note groove and chord changes that I almost developed a chauvinism about melody - it was for sissies, not hard swingers, and the further I stayed away from it, the more "bass-like" and functional my playing would be. I made some progress on the bass with this approach, but it never occurred to me back then that knowing and being able to play the melody of a song would make me a better improviser, or lead to lots of other useful information and technique. I also didn't realize that learning the melody would let me remember a tune much better than memorizing its changes. When I had difficulties playing a decent solo back then I rationalized it in all kinds of ways. I was tired from laying down all those quarter-notes and by the time a bass solo came around I didn't have much left - besides, bass solos are over-rated, right? If you're going to play one though, it might as well be musical and sound good, and this is where my melodic deficiencies began to show, to cost me. My ears had spent too long rumbling around in the basements of tunes, moving from root to root. My touch was powerful but not very supple or subtle.

My taste in songs back then was governed by this non-melodic outlook too. I tended to like tunes because of their interesting or logical chord changes, or if they had a strong blues element like say, Come Rain or Come Shine, or if their melodies tended to swing themselves, like As Long As I Live or I've Got the World On A String. And of course, I loved pieces by jazz composers like Ellington, Monk, Horace Silver, John Lewis and many others because they were made for blowing and swinging. Spring Is Here was an example of the kind of song I didn't like back then. First of all it was originally a ballad, meant to be played slowly (yawn) and I didn't care much for ballads unless they had interesting chords and lots of them, like Body and Soul or 'Round Midnight. Like a lot of young guys, I wanted everything to be fast, hard, dense and raging, to have a lot of energy, just as I did.

Spring seemed limp and vanilla to me. The melody was kind of static both in its rhythm and notes - the first part of each half was mainly dotted half-notes and whole-notes and the second sections were just quarter notes ascending diatonically from the third up an octave to a whole-note outside the key - I completely missed the drama and crescendo of this. The song had awkward chord changes too - its melody was so Plain-Jane that I couldn't hear any interesting ways to harmonize it. The opening phrase starts on the major seventh, goes up briefly to the tonic and resolves back down to the sixth, and this repeats. Big deal, I thought, what are you supposed to do with that? Where's the swing, the action here? I was too green to realize the diminished harmony implications of this type of melody and I seemed to have missed the class where they taught the diminished scale, one of the only really useful ones. I just couldn't get anything out of the tune at all, grimaced whenever it was called.

My opinion of Spring began to change after I heard Bill Evans play it on his great Portrait In Jazz record - hearing a genius play a song will tend to sell you on it. Bill's version is in A-flat, slow and lyrical as you'd expect but it's also really intense, there's lots of heat there. As always, he gets the piano to really sing the melody and found great chords for the song. He uses an E7 in the first bar, so the melody note G is the sharp nine of that chord, then resolves to an A-flat chord with an F on top and E-flat in the bass. This melody phrase repeats, but he keeps the chords moving downward with a Dmin7-flat5 and a D-flat7, avoiding monotony. When I first heard this, I thought my head was going to explode, it was just so brilliant. He also harmonizes every one of the ascending quarter-notes beautifully, breaking up the seeming static quality of the tune. Evans brings a lot of motion to the song even at this tempo and on a basic level that's what music is - tones moving in rhythm. I began to realize here that chord changes are defined and dictated by the melody note on top, that seemingly plain melody notes can lead to interesting chord possibilities and that none of this happens unless you pay attention to a song's melody. Really, the melody tells you what the chords mean, otherwise they're just clumps of notes.

Later, I heard recordings of Spring by singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and came to like it more from also hearing the words. They're by Lorenz Hart, who I think is in a class of his own as a lyricist. He was an unhappy, nasty, screwed-up guy but very gifted with rhyme, rhythm and wit, a poet really. I also played the song with a singer named Anne-Marie Moss, who was truly an awful bitch but could really sing slow ballads and this helped me appreciate the delicate, special mood of this song. The clincher for me though was recording it with singer John Alcorn on an album of all Rodgers and Hart songs about ten years ago. John sang it in the same key as Evans and used his chords, but did the song as a slow bossa nova, which really suits it. This type of tempo played with lots of space can be mesmerizing and when we finished the take I was soaked with sweat, barely aware of time or place. I thought to myself, ‘Jesus, Wallace, how could you have been such a dope? What a great song this is.’ Really, it's a singer's song, but many of the great ones are. The trick when playing it instrumentally is to maintain that vocal quality, as Evans did. Here are the words:

Spring is here.
Why doesn't my heart go dancing?
Spring is here.
Why isn't the waltz more entrancing?
No desire, no ambition leads me.
Maybe it's because nobody needs me.

Spring is here.
Why doesn't the breeze delight me?
Stars appear.
Why doesn't the night invite me?
Maybe it's because nobody loves me.
Spring is here, I hear.

Hart wrote some lyrics better than this, but not many, and not by much - they're just deadly and fit the melody beautifully. Beyond knowing the melody, Lester Young always insisted musicians should know the lyrics of the songs they play, even though they wouldn't be sung. He said knowing the words leads you to play the song at the right tempo, phrase it properly and breathe in the right places. Some find this ethereal but I think he's dead right - too often I've heard musicians wreck songs by playing them at the wrong tempo (usually too fast) and it's because they don't consider the words. Above all, knowing the words tells you what the song means, what it's about, which affects your approach to it, or should. At its best, playing a song is like telling a story, and it at least helps to know what the story is before you start talking or blowing your horn.

After playing the bass for several years I finally got more in touch with melody after seeking the advice of a great local musician, Don Thompson. Don does many things really well, I just hate him - plays great piano, vibes, bass, composes and arranges, you name it. In the late '70s he was playing a lot of bass and I heard him often. His left hand amazed me - his solos were really melodic and eloquent, he seemed to range all over the bass effortlessly with great articulation and pitch, it was scary. I finally worked up the nerve to ask him how he'd developed his left hand and he answered in his typically deadpan, slightly bland manner – ‘I practiced the melodies of songs in all twelve keys, really slowly, making sure I got the notes right.’

This gob smacked me, I was stunned - melodies in all twelve keys?!? The advice had come from God himself though, so I started working on it, with simple tunes like Georgia and Bye Bye Blackbird at first. It was slow going, hard work and mentally tiring, but it beat the hell out of scales and Simandl exercises and gradually I found that practicing this way improved all facets of my playing. I became freer ranging around the bass without thinking about the finger positions, letting my ear guide me, and different keys became less foreign and scary. My articulation and pitch improved, my ears opened up and I started to hear more, get more flow and ideas in soloing. Above all, I was learning about phrasing melodies, how they have contours and shapes. It began to occur to me that a song's melody is like its
DNA, contains a code of interval patterns and relationships that define it and these can be used in improvising, in hearing counter-melodies, guide tones and even in finding better bass notes in accompaniment. I was beginning to almost feel like a housebroken musician, I only went all over the carpet occasionally now. Despite this foray into the lofty, romantic, ozone layer of melody though, girls continued to give me a pretty wide berth. I guess the glamour of the jazz life was just too much for them - yeah, that must have been it.

Ironically, areas like rhythm and harmony that seemed to have nothing to do with melody also improved. My walking bass lines and time feel sounded better because the articulation, pitch and note choices were better and my understanding of harmony became sharper because I was more aware and heard better. I started to relax a little when playing, rather than trying to hammer everybody over the head with fat quarter notes all the time. Much as people mistakenly think of the mind and body as being separate, I'd thought of melody as being distinct from rhythm and harmony, but really they're all intimately connected and melody leads straight to the other two and vice versa. Don Thompson's bass playing and mine are about as dissimilar as you could imagine, so it's also ironic that the best piece of musical advice I've ever received should have come from him, and I can't thank him enough.

Drums can't really play notes, but melody has a rhythmic component and good jazz drumming is informed by melody too, believe it or not. The really good drummers I've played a lot with - Terry Clarke, John Sumner, Barry Elmes, Ted Warren - all have a strong sense of melody and form, listen well and know how the tunes go, adjusting their phrasing, sounds and textures according to the melody, its shapes and dynamics. Jerry Fuller played pretty good bass and was an excellent scat singer. He often saved my butt if I wasn't sure of a tune - he'd hum the right bass notes to me while playing the drums. He was a great musician and a prince - God, how I miss him. Jake Hanna used to travel with a miniature xylophone and the melodies to lots of songs written out - he'd practice playing them every day. This kept his ears sharp, he called it "taking his melody vitamins." He used to say the melody chorus is also a jazz chorus and unless someone plays a stupendous solo, it's often the best chorus. Andrew Miller is a friend of my son Lee, a good young drummer and we played some together as a trio before he moved back to B.C. He kept a small pad and pencil and after certain tunes he'd lean over and ask me the name of the song, then he'd write it down. I asked him about this and he said if he didn't know a tune, he wanted the title so he could find a recording of it and listen - he said he played the tune better if he knew how it went. That's it in a nutshell - even if you don't play the melody, you'll play better if you know it. From the mouths of babes.

I'll always be attracted to the more extroverted and greasy aspects of jazz, that's just hard-wired into me. But now. playing lyrical tunes with beautiful melodies is also right up there among my favorite things to do. One of the nicest compliments I've ever received was from saxophonist Mike Murley a few years ago after he'd heard me play a set or two with somebody at the Montreal Bistro. ‘Wanker’ he said, ‘you really know how to play songs.’ It made me proud to hear this, because playing songs is important to me, I think of them as the basic unit of musical civilization, the same way having people over for dinner is the basic unit of social civilization. I try to impress this on younger music students whenever I'm talking with them - by all means, work on all the technical and theoretical stuff they're shoving at you in school, but don't lose sight of the big picture, keep your eye on the prize. The prize is playing songs - at the end of the day all your skills and everything you've learned should boil down to being able to stand up in front of people, play a song and make it your own, take it somewhere, have it sing, move people, excite them, hold their attention. If you can't do that, then what is the point of playing music at all?

When I go out to play or hear jazz, I want to hear musicians listening to one another, playing together. I'm not interested in any particular style, but I want to hear some lyricism, some space, some intensity, some feeling of the blues and swing. By these last two, I don't mean I literally want the music to sound like Big Joe Turner or Benny Goodman, although that wouldn't be the worst thing. I mean I want the music to have some dirt and cry in it, to show its ass a little bit, have a dancing quality and get off the ground. There should be lots of sweat and laughter - music is hard work and serious business, but it has to be fun too - after all, you don't work music, you play music. Above all, I want to hear some songs, or at least some music that has the quality of song in it. I don't want to hear what musicians know, I want to hear them translate what they know into what they feel - feeling is all that music is, really. You can't see it or touch it, you can only hear it and feel it.

I also don't want to hear mere cleverness or virtuosity, music that's all just about harmony or rhythmic algebra. Guys trying to outplay each other, not listening or leaving any room, running a bunch of notes together in an endless dirge of tuneless, limp drivel. Take this show-off, "jazz from the neck up" back to whatever school you learned it in, boys. This may sound old and cranky, and maybe it is - I'm gettin' there. Most of what I'm trying to say is nicely illustrated in a story about the great, unique pianist Jimmy Rowles, who knew as much about songs and harmony as anybody who ever lived. He was playing a piano-bass duet gig for a while and one night his regular bassist sent in a sub, who decided to try and impress the master with his knowledge of harmony by hitting him with a whole slew of super-hip bass notes and chord substitutions, playing everything but the kitchen sink. After a couple of tunes worth of this, and working on his second double vodka, Rowles turned to this Einstein of the bass with a glare and rasped "I'm aware of the possibilities … let’s 
just play the f---ing song the way it goes and make some music, OK?"

Betty Carter pushed the boundaries of jazz singing by trying to make the voice a fully-fledged improvising instrument like the others. This led her to more and more abstraction, making sounds with her voice that weren't conventional for singers, using a huge range, and often eschewing the melody. It was daring and difficult, a challenge for her, her musicians and audience. Some liked her singing, others shrugged and asked "Aren't singers supposed to sing the melody?" She was feisty, to put it mildly, and answered this by naming one of her records "It's Not About the Melody." While I have a lot of admiration for her and any other artist who hoes a hard, lonely road by going their own way, I have to respectfully disagree - it's always about the melody, that's where the music lives. Hear it and it will set you free, like a bird.”

© -, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“STEVE WALLACE (bassist) was born on
August 16, 1956 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and is today regarded by many as the most powerful bass player that Canada has produced. He is almost certainly the most experienced, having begun working with visiting jazz greats in Toronto clubs such as Bourbon Street, Lytes, and George’s Spaghetti House while he was still in his twenties, backing some of the music’s most famous names including Clark Terry, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, George Coleman, Zoot Sims, and Pepper Adams.

He has also recorded and toured with some of the biggest names in Canadian jazz including Fraser MacPherson, Rob McConnell, Oscar Peterson, and Oliver Jones. In 1982 Steve became associated with the Concord Jazz label, touring the Soviet Union, Europe and Japan, and recording albums as a sideman with Rosemary Clooney, Ed Bickert, Mel Torme, and others.

He became bassist with Rob McConnell’s ‘The Boss Brass’ in 1983 and remained with the band for ten years. In 1985, he replaced ailing bassist George Duvivier to tour Europe, Japan, and Australia with Woody Herman's All Stars, a group that included Al Cohn, Buddy Tate, Urbie Green, John Bunch, and Jake Hanna. In more recent years Wallace again toured Europe frequently as a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio.

He has been bassist with the Barry Elmes Quintet since its formation in 1991, and a founding member of D.E.W. East (Dean, Elmes, Wallace), for whom Wallace also contributes his own new compositions. He is also a member of Rob McConnell's Tentet, the Mike Murley Trio, the David Braid Sextet, and the Sam Noto Quintet.

Steve Wallace is likely the most-heard musician in the three-decade-plus history of the “Sound of Toronto Jazz” Concert Series at the Ontario Science Centre, having played bass on no fewer than 24 individual concerts.”