Tag Archives: jazz

Shelly Manne

 

 

 

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.20.50Sheldon “Shelly” Manne (June 11, 1920 – September 26, 1984), was an American jazz drummer. Most frequently associated with West Coast jazz, he was known for his versatility and also played in a number of other styles, including Dixieland, swing, bebop, avant-garde jazz and fusion, as well as contributing to the musical background of hundreds of Hollywood films and television programs.

Manne’s father and uncles were drummers. In his youth he admired many of the leading swing drummers of the day, especially Jo Jones and Dave Tough. Billy Gladstone, a colleague of Manne’s father and the most admired percussionist on the New York theatrical scene, offered the teenage Shelly tips and encouragement. From that time, Manne rapidly developed his style in the clubs of 52nd Street in New York in the late 1930s and 1940s. His first professional job with a known big band was with the Bobby Byrne Orchestra in 1940. In those years, as he became known, he recorded with jazz stars like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Shavers, and Don Byas. He also worked with a number of musicians mainly associated with Duke Ellington, like Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Lawrence Brown, and Rex Stewart.

In 1943, Manne married a Rockette, Florence Butterfield (known affectionately to family and friends as “Flip”). The marriage would last 41 years, until the end of Manne’s life.

When the bebop movement began to change jazz in the 1940s, Manne loved it and adapted to the style rapidly, performing with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Around this time he also worked with rising stars like Flip Phillips, Charlie Ventura, Lennie Tristano, and Lee Konitz.

Manne rose to stardom when he became part of the working bands of Woody Herman and, especially, Stan Kenton in the late 1940s and early 1950s, winning awards and developing a following at a time when jazz was the most popular music in the United States. Joining the hard-swinging Herman outfit allowed Manne to play the bebop he loved. The controversial Kenton band, on the other hand, with its “progressive jazz,” presented obstacles, and many of the complex, overwrought arrangements made it harder to swing. But Manne appreciated the musical freedom that Kenton gave him and saw it as an opportunity to experiment along with what was still a highly innovative band. He rose to the challenge, finding new colors and rhythms, and developing his ability to provide support in a variety of musical situations.

In the early 1950s, Manne left New York and settled permanently on a ranch in an outlying part of Los Angeles, where he and his wife raised horses. From this point on, he played an important role in the West Coast school of jazz, performing on the Los Angeles jazz scene with Shorty Rogers, Hampton Hawes, Red Mitchell, Art Pepper, Russ Freeman, Frank Rosolino, Chet Baker, Leroy Vinnegar, Pete Jolly, Howard McGhee, Bob Gordon, Conte Candoli, Sonny Criss, and numerous others. Many of his recordings around this time were for Lester Koenig’s Contemporary Records, where for a period Manne had a contract as an “exclusive” artist (meaning that he could not record for other labels without permission).

Manne led a number of small groups that recorded under his name and leadership. One consisting of Manne on drums, trumpeter Joe Gordon, saxophonist Richie Kamuca, bassist Monty Budwig, and pianist Victor Feldman performed for three days in 1959 at the famous Black Hawk club in San Francisco. Their music was recorded on the spot, and four LPs were issued. Highly regarded as an innovative example of a “live” jazz recording, the Black Hawk sessions were reissued on CD in augmented form years later.

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.24.43

Manne is often associated with the once frequently criticized West Coast school of jazz. He has been considered “the quintessential” drummer in what was seen as a West Coast movement, though Manne himself did not care to be so pigeonholed. In the 1950s, much of what he did could be seen as in the West Coast style: performing in tightly arranged compositions in what was a cool style, as in his 1953 album named The West Coast Sound, for which he commissioned several original compositions. Some of West Coast jazz was experimental, avant-garde music several years before the more mainstream avant-garde playing of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman (Manne also recorded with Coleman in 1959); a good deal of Manne’s work with Jimmy Giuffre was of this kind. Critics would condemn much of this music as overly cerebral.

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.26.39

Another side of West Coast jazz that also came under critical fire was music in a lighter style, intended for popular consumption. Manne made contributions here too. Best known is the series of albums he recorded with pianist André Previn and with members of his groups, based on music from popular Broadway shows, movies, and television programs. (The first and most famous of these was the one based on My Fair Lady, recorded by Previn, Manne, and bassist Leroy Vinnegar in 1956. See My Fair Lady (Shelly Manne album).) The music—with each album devoted to a single show—was improvised in the manner of jazz, but always in a light, immediately appealing style aimed at popular taste, which did not always go over well with aficionados of “serious” jazz music — a possible reason why Manne has been frequently overlooked in accounts of major jazz drummers of the 20th century. Much of the music produced on the West Coast in those years, as Robert Gordon concedes, was in fact imitative and “lacked the fire and intensity associated with the best jazz performances.” But Gordon also points out that there is a level of musical sophistication, as well as an intensity and “swing” in the music recorded by Manne with Previn and Vinnegar (and later Red Mitchell) that is missing in the many lackluster albums of this type produced by others in that period.

West Coast jazz, however, represented only a small part of Manne’s playing. In Los Angeles and occasionally returning to New York and elsewhere, Manne recorded with musicians of all schools and styles, ranging from those of the swing era through bebop to later developments in modern jazz, including hard bop, usually seen as the antithesis to the cool jazz frequently associated with West Coast playing.

From the 78-rpm recordings of the 1940s to the LPs of the 1950s and later, to the hundreds of film soundtracks he appeared on, Manne’s recorded output was enormous and often hard to pin down. According to the jazz writer Leonard Feather, Manne’s drumming had been heard on well “over a thousand LPs”—a statement that Feather made in 1960, when Manne had not reached even the midpoint of his 45-year-long career.

An extremely selective list of those with whom Manne performed includes Benny Carter, Earl Hines, Clifford Brown, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Maynard Ferguson, Wardell Gray, Lionel Hampton, Junior Mance, Jimmy Giuffre, and Stan Getz. In the 1950s, he recorded two solid albums with Sonny RollinsWay Out West (Contemporary, 1957) received particular acclaim and helped dispel the notion that West Coast jazz was always different from jazz made on the East Coast—and, in the 1960s, two with Bill Evans. Around the same time in 1959, Manne recorded with the traditional Benny Goodman and the iconoclastic Ornette Coleman, a striking example of his versatility.

One of Manne’s most adventurous 1960s collaborations was with Jack Marshall, the guitarist and arranger celebrated for composing the theme and incidental music for The Munsters TV show in that period. Two duet albums (Sounds Unheard Of!, 1962, and Sounds!, 1966) feature Marshall on guitar, accompanied by Manne playing drums and a wide variety of percussion instruments unusual in jazz, from “Hawaiian slit bamboo sticks,” to a Chinese gong, to castanets, to piccolo Boo-Bam.

Another example of Manne’s ability to transcend the narrow borders of any particular school is the series of trio albums he recorded with guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Ray Brown as “The Poll Winners.” (They had all won numerous polls conducted by the popular publications of the day; the polls are now forgotten, but the albums endure, now reissued on CD.) Manne even dabbled in Dixieland and fusion, as well as “Third Stream” music. He participated in the revival of that jazz precursor ragtime (he appears on several albums devoted to the music of Scott Joplin), and sometimes recorded with musicians best associated with European classical music. He always, however, returned to the straight-ahead jazz he loved best.

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.31.10

In addition to Dave Tough and Jo Jones, Manne admired and learned from contemporaries like Max Roach and Kenny Clarke, and later from younger drummers like Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. Consciously or unconsciously, he borrowed a little from all of them, always searching to extend his playing into new territory.

Despite these and numerous other influences, however, Shelly Manne’s style of drumming was always his own—personal, precise, clear, and at the same time multilayered, using a very broad range of colors. Manne was often experimental, and had participated in such musically exploratory groups of the early 1950s as those of Jimmy Giuffre and Teddy Charles. Yet his playing never became overly cerebral, and he never neglected that element usually considered fundamental to all jazz: time.

Whether playing Dixieland, bebop, or avant-garde jazz, in big bands or in small groups, Manne’s self-professed goal was to make the music swing. His fellow musicians attested to his listening appreciatively to those around him and being ultra-sensitive to the needs and the nuances of the music played by the others in the band, his goal being to make them—and the music as a whole—sound better, rather than calling attention to himself with overbearing solos.

Manne refused to play in a powerhouse style, but his understated drumming was appreciated for its own strengths. In 1957, critic Nat Hentoff called Manne one of the most “musical” and “illuminatively imaginative” drummers. Composer and multi-instrumentalist Bob Cooper called him “the most imaginative drummer I’ve worked with.” In later years this kind of appreciation for what Manne could do was echoed by jazz notables like Louie Bellson, John Lewis, Ray Brown, Harry “Sweets” Edison, and numerous others who had worked with him at various times. Composer, arranger, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter was “a great admirer of his work.” “He could read anything, get any sort of effect,” said Carter, who worked closely with Manne over many decades.

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.32.49

Though he always insisted on the importance of time and “swing”, Manne’s concept of his own drumming style typically pointed to his melody-based approach. He contrasted his style with that of Max Roach: “Max plays melodically from the rhythms he plays. I play rhythms from thinking melodically.”

Manne had strong preferences in his choice of drum set. Those preferences, however, changed several times over his career. He began with Gretsch drums. In 1957, intrigued by the sound of a kind of drum made by Leedy (then owned by Slingerland), he had a line made for him that also became popular with other drummers. In the 1970s, after trying and abandoning many others for reasons of sound or maintainability, he settled on the Japanese-made Pearl Drums.

Manne was also acclaimed by singers. Jackie Cain, of the vocal team of Jackie and Roy (“Roy” being Roy Kral), claimed that she had “never heard a drummer play so beautifully behind a singer.” Jackie and Roy were only two of the many singers he played behind, recording several albums with that husband-and-wife team, with their contemporary June Christy, and with Helen Humes, originally made famous by her singing with the Count Basie orchestra.

Over decades, Manne recorded additional albums, or sometimes just sat in on drums here and there, with renowned vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Ernestine Anderson, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Blossom Dearie, and Nancy Wilson. Not all the singers Manne accompanied were even primarily jazz artists. Performers as diverse as Teresa Brewer, Leontyne Price, Tom Waits, and Barry Manilow included Manne in their recording sessions.

At first, jazz was heard in film soundtracks only as jazz bands performed in the story. Early in his career, Manne was occasionally seen and heard in the movies, for example in the 1942 film Seven Days Leave, as the drummer in the highly popular Les Brown orchestra (soon to be known as “Les Brown and His Band of Renown”).

In the 1950s, however, jazz began to be used for all or parts of film soundtracks, and Manne pioneered in these efforts, beginning with The Wild One (1953). As jazz quickly assumed a major role in the musical background of films, so did Manne assume a major role as a drummer and percussionist on those soundtracks. A notable early example was 1955’s The Man with the Golden Arm; Manne not only played drums throughout but functioned as a personal assistant to director Otto Preminger and tutored star Frank Sinatra. The Decca soundtrack LP credits him prominently for the “Drumming Sequences.”

From then on, as jazz became more prominent in the movies, Manne became the go-to percussion man in the film industry; he even appeared on screen in some minor roles. A major example is Johnny Mandel‘s jazz score for I Want to Live! in 1958.

Soon, Manne began to contribute to film music in a broader way, often combining jazz, pop, and classical music. Henry Mancini in particular found plenty of work for him; the two shared an interest in experimenting with tone colors, and Mancini came to rely on Manne to shape the percussive effects in his music. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Hatari! (1962) and The Pink Panther (1963) are only a few of Mancini’s films where Manne’s drums and special percussive effects could be heard.

Manne frequently collaborated with Mancini in television as well, such as in the series Peter Gunn (1958–1961) and Mr. Lucky (1959–1960). Although Mancini developed such a close partnership with Manne that he was using him for practically all his scores and other music at this time, the drummer still found time to perform on movie soundtracks and in TV shows with music by others, including the series Richard Diamond (music by Pete Rugolo, 1959–1960), and Checkmate (music by John Williams, 1959–1962), and the film version of Leonard Bernstein‘s West Side Story (1961).

In the late 1950s, Manne began to compose his own film scores, such as that for The Proper Time (1959), with the music also played by his own group, Shelly Manne and His Men, and issued on a Contemporary LP. In later years, Manne divided his time playing the drums on, adding special percussive effects to, and sometimes writing complete scores for both film and television. He even provided a musical setting for a recording of the Dr. Seuss children’s classic Green Eggs and Ham (1960) and later performed in and sometimes wrote music for the backgrounds of numerous animated cartoons. For example, he joined other notable jazz musicians (including Ray Brown and Jimmy Rowles) in playing Doug Goodwin‘s music for the cartoon series The Ant and the Aardvark (1969–1971). Notable examples of later scores that Manne wrote himself and also performed in are, for the movies, Young Billy Young (1969) and Trader Horn (1973), and, for television, Daktari, 1966–1969. With these and other contributions to cartoons, children’s stories, movies, television programs (and even commercials), Manne’s drumming became woven into the popular culture of several decades.

A star in Stan Kenton’s famous orchestra in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as that of Woody Herman, also in the 1940s, and winner of numerous awards, Manne slipped from public view as jazz became less central in popular music. In the 1960s and early 1970s, however, he helped keep jazz alive on the Los Angeles scene as part owner of the nightclub Shelly’s Manne-Hole on North Cahuenga Boulevard. There, the house band was Shelly Manne and His Men, which featured some of his favorite sidemen, such as Russ Freeman, Monty Budwig, Richie Kamuca, Conte Candoli, and later Frank Strozier and Mike Wofford, among many other notable West Coast jazz musicians. Also appearing was a roster of jazz stars from different eras and all regions, including Ben Webster, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Thelonious Monk, Michel Legrand, Carmen McRae, Milt Jackson, Teddy Edwards, Monty Alexander, Lenny Breau, Miles Davis, and many, many others. Stan Getz was the last to be featured (at a briefly occupied second location at Tetou’s restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard), when, late in 1973, Manne was forced to close the club for financial reasons.

From that point, Manne refocused his attention on his own drumming. It might be argued that he never played with more taste, refinement, and soulful swing than in the 1970s, when he recorded numerous albums with musicians like trumpeter Red Rodney, pianist Hank Jones, saxophonists Art Pepper and Lew Tabackin, and composer-arranger-saxophonist Oliver Nelson.

From 1974 to 1977 he joined guitarist Laurindo Almeida, saxophonist and flutist Bud Shank, and bassist Ray Brown to perform as the group The L.A. Four, which recorded four albums before Manne left the ensemble.

In the 1980s, Manne recorded with such stars as trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, saxophonist Zoot Sims, guitarists Joe Pass and Herb Ellis, and pianist John Lewis (famous as the musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet).

Meanwhile, he continued to record with various small groups of his own. Just one representative example of his work in this period is a live concert recorded at the Los Angeles club “Carmelo’s” in 1980 with pianists Bill Mays and Alan Broadbent and bassist Chuck Domanico. With their enthusiasm and spontaneity, and the sense that the audience in the intimate ambience of the club is participating in the music, these performances share the characteristics that had been celebrated more than two decades before in the better-known Black Hawk performances.

Although this phase of his career has frequently been overlooked, Manne, by this time, had greatly refined his ability to back other musicians sympathetically, yet make his own musical thoughts clearly heard.

Manne’s heavy load of Hollywood studio work sometimes shifted his attention from his mainstream jazz playing. Even in lackluster films, however, he nevertheless often succeeded in making art of what might be called hackwork. Still, for all his tireless work in the studios, Manne’s labor of love was his contribution to jazz as an American art form, to which he had dedicated himself since his youth and continued to work at almost to the last day of his life.

Manne died somewhat before the popular revival of interest in jazz had gained momentum. But in his last few years, his immense contribution to the music regained at least some local recognition, and the role Manne had played in the culture of his adopted city began to draw public appreciation. Two weeks before his sudden death of a heart attack, he was honored by the City of Los Angeles in conjunction with the Hollywood Arts Council when September 9, 1984 was declared “Shelly Manne Day.”

 

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.44.12

The Black Hawk was a San Francisco nightclub which featured live jazz performances during its period of operation from 1949 to 1963. It was located on the corner of Turk Street and Hyde Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Guido Caccienti owned the club along with Johnny and Helen Noga.

The Black Hawk’s intimate atmosphere was ideal for small jazz groups and the club was a very popular hangout. In 1959, the fees that the club was able to pay jazz acts rose from less than $300 to more than $3,000 a week. A number of musicians recorded albums at the club, including Miles Davis, Cal Tjader, Thelonious Monk, Shelly Manne and Mongo Santamaría.

Other notable musicians who appeared there include the Dave Brubeck Quartet, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Vince Guaraldi, Stan Getz, Mary Stallings, Johnny Mathis, Art Blakey, Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, Art Farmer, Gerry Mulligan, Horace Parlan and Russ Freeman. Art Tatum mainly did concert work in the last 18 months of his life; he played the Black Hawk in 1955.

Sunday afternoon sessions at the Black Hawk offered blowing time to young musicians. After a young sextet working at the Black Hawk brought Johnny Mathis in for a Sunday afternoon session, Helen Noga, co-owner of the club, decided that she wanted to manage his career. In early September 1955, Mathis gained a job singing at weekends for Ann Dee’s 440 Club. After repeated attempts, Noga convinced George Avakian, then head of Popular Music A&R at Columbia, to see him. Avakian came to the club, heard Mathis sing and sent the now famous telegram to his record company: “Have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way.”

Billie Holiday and Lester Young played their last West Coast club dates here and the Modern Jazz Quartet played its first. When Charlie Parker was supposed to be opening across town at the Say When Club, he could be found instead jamming at the Hawk. For several months each year, Brubeck, who got his real start at the Black Hawk, returned for extended series of appearances with his quartet, playing for consecutive weekends, sometimes for three months at a time.

Nick Esposito and his Sextet appeared many times at the Black Hawk during the 1950s. Esposito was known for his guitar jazz stylings. He had hit records such as “Empty Ballroom Blues”, “Penny”, “Fat Cat Boogie” and others. He always enjoyed coming home to San Francisco where he resided and the Black Hawk Nightclub.

The site of the Blackhawk is now a parking lot. Still standing is the adjacent building on Hyde Street (now housing the 222 Club) where tape recorders were set up to record the Miles Davis album.

Duke Ellington

 

Duke_Ellington_02

 

Duke Ellington influenced millions of people, around the world and at home. He gave American music its own sound for the first time. In his fifty year career, he played over 20,000 performances in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia.

Ellington’s legacy transcends boundaries and fills the world with a treasure trove of music that renews itself through every generation of fans and music-lovers. His work continues to live on, and will endure for generations to come. Winton Marsalis put it best when he said, “His music sounds like America.” Because of the unmatched artistic heights to which he soared, no one deserved the phrase “beyond category” more than Ellington, for it aptly describes his life as well. He was most certainly one of a kind, a man who led a life with universal appeal and a style that transcended countless boundaries.

Duke Ellington is best remembered for the over 3,000 songs  he composed during his lifetime. His best known titles include, “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mood Indigo,” “Solitude,” “In a Mellotone,” and “Satin Doll.” As a musician, he was most creative while on the road. It was during this time when he wrote his most famous piece, “Mood Indigo”which brought him world wide fame.

When asked what inspired him to write, Ellington replied, “My men and my race are the inspiration of my work. I try to catch the character and mood and feeling of my people.”

Duke Ellington’s popular compositions set the bar for generations of brilliant jazz, pop, theatre, and soundtrack composers to come. While these compositions guarantee his greatness, what made Duke an iconoclastic genius, and an unparalleled visionary, what has granted him immortality, are his extended suites. From 1943’s “Black, Brown and Beige,” to 1972’s “The Uwis Suite,” Duke used the suite format to give his jazz songs a far more empowering meaning, with enhanced resonance and purpose. They exalt, mythologize, and re-contextualize the African-American experience on a grand scale.

Duke Ellington was partial to giving brief verbal accounts of the moods his songs captured. Reading those accounts is like looking deep into the background of an old photo of New York, and noticing the lost and almost unaccountable details that gave the city its character during Ellington’s heyday, which began in 1927 when his band made the Cotton Club its home. ”The memory of things gone,” Ellington once said, ”is important to a jazz musician,” and the stories he sometimes told about his songs are the record of those bygone days. But what is gone returns, its pulse kicking, anytime Ellington’s music is played — the music still carries us forward today.

Unknown

Duke Ellington was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966. He was later awarded several other prizes, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, and the French Legion of Honor in 1973, the highest civilian honors in each country. He died of lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974, a month after his 75th birthday, and is buried in the Bronx, in New York City. At his funeral, attended by over 12,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Ella Fitzgerald summed up the occasion, “It’s a very sad day…A genius has passed.”

Lester Young

Lester Young
Lester Young

Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959), nicknamed “Pres” or “Prez”, was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and sometime clarinetist.

Coming to prominence while a member of Count Basie’s orchestra, Young was one of the most influential players on his instrument. In contrast to many of his hard-driving peers, Young played with a relaxed, cool tone and used sophisticated harmonies, using “a free-floating style, wheeling and diving like a gull, banking with low, funky riffs that pleased dancers and listeners alike.”

Famous for his hip, introverted style, he invented or popularized much of the hipster jargon which came to be associated with the music.

Lester Young was born in Woodville, Mississippi, and grew up in a musical family. His father, Willis Handy Young, was a respected teacher, his brother Lee Young was a drummer, and several other relatives played music professionally. His family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, when Lester was an infant and later to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Although at a very young age Young did not initially know his father, he learned that his father was a musician. Later Willis taught his son to play the trumpet, violin, and drums in addition to the saxophone.

Young played in his family’s band, known as the Young Family Band, in both the vaudeville and carnival circuits. He left the family band in 1927 at the age of 18 because he refused to tour in the Southern United States, where Jim Crow laws were in effect and racial segregation was required in public facilities.

In 1933 Young settled in Kansas City, where after playing briefly in several bands, he rose to prominence with Count Basie. His playing in the Basie band was characterized by a relaxed style which contrasted sharply with the more forceful approach of Coleman Hawkins, the dominant tenor sax player of the day.

He left the Basie band to replace Hawkins in Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. He soon left Henderson to play in the Andy Kirk band (for six months) before returning to Basie. While with Basie, Young made small-group recordings for Milt Gabler’s Commodore Records, The Kansas City Sessions. Although they were recorded in New York (in 1938, with a reunion in 1944), they are named after the group, the Kansas City Seven, and comprised Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, Basie, Young, Freddie Green, Rodney Richardson, and Jo Jones. Young played clarinet as well as tenor in these sessions. He was a master of the clarinet, and there too his style was entirely his own. As well as the Kansas City Sessions, his clarinet work from 1938–39 is documented on recordings with Basie, Billie Holiday, Basie small groups, and the organist Glenn Hardman.

After Young’s clarinet was stolen in 1939, he abandoned the instrument until about 1957. That year Norman Granz gave him one and urged him to play it (with far different results at that stage in Young’s life—see below).

Young left the Basie band in late 1940. He is rumored to have refused to play with the band on Friday, December 13 of that year for superstitious reasons, spurring his dismissal. Lester left the band around that time and subsequently led a number of small groups that often included his brother, noted drummer Lee Young, for the next couple of years; live and broadcast recordings from this period exist.

During this period Young accompanied the singer Billie Holiday in a couple of studio sessions in 1940 and 1941 and also made a small set of recordings with Nat “King” Cole (their first of several collaborations) in June 1942. His studio recordings are relatively sparse during the 1942 to 1943 period, largely due to the American Federation of Musicians’ recording ban. It was Holiday who gave Young the nickname “Pres”, short for President.

In December 1943 Lester Young returned to the Count Basie fold for a 10-month stint, cut short by his being drafted into the army during World War II.

In September 1944 Young and Jo Jones were in Los Angeles with the Basie Band when they were inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits such as the ones led by Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw, Young was assigned to the regular army where he was not allowed to play his saxophone. Based in Ft. McClellan, Alabama, Young was found with marijuana and alcohol among his possessions. He was soon court-martialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one year in a detention barracks and was dishonorably discharged in late 1945. His experience inspired his composition “D.B. Blues” (with D.B. standing for detention barracks).

Some jazz historians have argued that Young’s playing power declined in the years following his army experience, though critics such as Scott Yanow disagree with this entirely. Recordings show that his playing began to change before he was drafted. Some argue that Young’s playing had an increasingly emotional slant to it, and the post-war period featured some of his greatest renditions of ballads.

Recordings made during this and subsequent periods suggest Young was beginning to make much greater use of a plastic reed, which tended to give his playing a somewhat heavier, breathier tone (although still quite smooth compared to that of many other players). While he never abandoned the wooden reed, he used the plastic reed a significant share of the time from 1943 until the end of his life. Another cause for the thickening of his tone around this time was a change in saxophone mouthpiece from a metal Otto Link to an ebonite Brilhart. In August 1944 Young appeared alongside drummer Jo Jones, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, and fellow tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet in Gjon Mili’s short film Jammin’ the Blues.

In September 1944 Young and Jo Jones were in Los Angeles with the Basie Band when they were inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits such as the ones led by Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw, Young was assigned to the regular army where he was not allowed to play his saxophone. Based in Ft. McClellan, Alabama, Young was found with marijuana and alcohol among his possessions. He was soon court-martialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one year in a detention barracks and was dishonorably discharged in late 1945. His experience inspired his composition “D.B. Blues” (with D.B. standing for detention barracks).

Some jazz historians have argued that Young’s playing power declined in the years following his army experience, though critics such as Scott Yanow disagree with this entirely. Recordings show that his playing began to change before he was drafted. Some argue that Young’s playing had an increasingly emotional slant to it, and the post-war period featured some of his greatest renditions of ballads.

Young’s career after World War II was far more prolific and lucrative than in the pre-war years in terms of recordings made, live performances, and annual income. Young joined Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) troupe in 1946, touring regularly with them over the next 12 years. He made a significant number of studio recordings under Granz’s supervision for his Verve Records label as well, including more trio recordings with Nat King Cole. Young also recorded extensively in the late 1940s for Aladdin Records (1946-7, where he had made the Cole recordings in 1942) and for Savoy (1944, ’49 and ’50), some sessions of which included Basie on piano.

While the quality and consistency of his playing ebbed gradually in the latter half of the 1940s and into the early 1950s, he also gave some brilliant performances during this stretch. Especially noteworthy are his performances with JATP in 1946, 1949, and 1950.[citation needed] With Young at the 1949 JATP concert at Carnegie Hall were Charlie Parker and Roy Eldridge, and Young’s solo on “Lester Leaps In” at that concert is a particular standout among his performances in the latter half of his career.

While the quality and consistency of his playing ebbed gradually in the latter half of the 1940s and into the early 1950s, he also gave some brilliant performances during this stretch. Especially noteworthy are his performances with JATP in 1946, 1949, and 1950. With Young at the 1949 JATP concert at Carnegie Hall were Charlie Parker and Roy Eldridge, and Young’s solo on “Lester Leaps In” at that concert is a particular standout among his performances in the latter half of his career.

From around 1951, Young’s level of playing declined more precipitously, as he began to drink more and more heavily. His playing showed reliance on a small number of clichéd phrases and reduced creativity and originality, despite his claims that he did not want to be a “repeater pencil” (Young coined this phrase to describe the act of repeating one’s own past ideas). A comparison of his studio recordings from 1952, such as the session with pianist Oscar Peterson, and those from 1953–1954 (all available on the Verve label) also demonstrates a declining command of his instrument and sense of timing, possibly due to both mental and physical factors. Young’s playing and health went into a crisis, culminating in a November 1955 hospital admission following a nervous breakdown.

He emerged from this treatment improved. In January 1956 he recorded two Granz-produced sessions featuring pianist Teddy Wilson (who had led the Billie Holiday recordings with Young in the 1930s), trumpet player Roy Eldridge, trombonist Vic Dickenson, bassist Gene Ramey, and drummer Jo Jones – available on the Jazz Giants ’56 and Prez and Teddy albums. 1956 was a relatively good year for Lester Young, including a tour of Europe with Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet and a successful stint at Olivia’s Patio Lounge in Washington, DC.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Lester Young had sat in on Count Basie Orchestra gigs from time to time. The best-known of these is their July 1957 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, the line-up including many of Lester’s old buddies: Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, Illinois Jacquet and Jimmy Rushing. His playing was in better shape, and he produced some of the old, smooth-toned flow of the 1930s. Among other tunes he played a moving “Polkadots and Moonbeams,” which was a favorite of his at that time.

In September 1944 Young and Jo Jones were in Los Angeles with the Basie Band when they were inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits such as the ones led by Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw, Young was assigned to the regular army where he was not allowed to play his saxophone. Based in Ft. McClellan, Alabama, Young was found with marijuana and alcohol among his possessions. He was soon courtmartialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one year in a detention barracks and was dishonorably discharged in late 1945. His experience inspired his composition “D.B. Blues” (with D.B. standing for detention barracks).

Some jazz historians have argued that Young’s playing power declined in the years following his army experience, though critics such as Scott Yanow disagree with this entirely. Recordings show that his playing began to change before he was drafted. Some argue that Young’s playing had an increasingly emotional slant to it, and the post-war period featured some of his greatest renditions of ballads. Like Change My Plan; I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (1956 version); Gigantic Blues;This Year’s Kisses;You Can Depend on Me; and, I Guess I’ll Have.

On December 8, 1957, Young appeared with Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, and Gerry Mulligan in the CBS television special The Sound of Jazz, performing Holiday’s tunes “Lady Sings The Blues” and “Fine and Mellow.” It was a reunion with Holiday, with whom he had lost contact for years. She was also in decline at the end of her career, and they both gave moving performances. Young’s solo was brilliant, considered by many jazz musicians an unparalleled marvel of economy, phrasing and extraordinarily moving emotion. But Young seemed gravely ill, and was the only horn player who was seated (except during his solo) during the performance. By this time his alcoholism had cumulative effect. He was eating significantly less, drinking more and more, and suffering from liver disease and malnutrition. Young’s sharply diminished physical strength in the final two years of his life yielded some recordings with a frail tone, shortened phrases, and, on rare occasions, a difficulty in getting any sound to come out of his horn at all.

Lester Young made his final studio recordings and live performances in Paris in March 1959 with drummer Kenny Clarke at the tail end of an abbreviated European tour during which he ate next to nothing and virtually drank himself to death. He died in the early morning hours of March 15, 1959, only hours after arriving back in New York, at the age of 49. He was buried at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn. According to jazz critic Leonard Feather, who rode with Holiday in a taxi to Young’s funeral, she said after the services, “I’ll be the next one to go.” Billie Holiday died four months later at age 44.

Charles Mingus dedicated an elegy, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” for Young only a few months after his death. Wayne Shorter, then of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, composed a tribute, called “Lester Left Town.”

Young’s playing style influenced many other tenor saxophonists. Perhaps the most famous and successful of these were Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, but he also influenced many in the cool movement such as Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, and Gerry Mulligan. Paul Quinichette modeled his style so closely on Young’s that he was sometimes referred to as the “Vice Prez” (sic). Sonny Stitt began to incorporate elements from Lester Young’s approach when he made the transition to tenor saxophone. Lester Young also had a direct influence on young Charlie Parker (“Bird”), and thus the entire be-bop movement. Indeed, recordings of Parker on tenor sax are similar in style to that of Young. Lesser-known saxophonists, such as Warne Marsh, were strongly influenced by Young.

Don Byron recorded the album Ivey-Divey in gratitude for what he learned from studying Lester Young’s work, modeled after a 1946 trio date with Buddy Rich and Nat King Cole. “Ivey-Divey” was one of Lester Young’s common eccentric phrases.

Young is a major character in English writer Geoff Dyer’s 1991 fictional book about jazz, But Beautiful.

The Resurrection of Lady Lester by OyamO (Charles F. Gordon) is a play and published book depicting Young’s life, subtitled “A Poetic Mood Song Based on the Legend of Lester Young.”

In the 1986 film Round Midnight, the fictional main character Dale Turner, played by Dexter Gordon, was partly based on Young – incorporating flashback references to his army experiences, and loosely depicting his time in Paris and his return to New York just before his death.

Acid Jazz/boogaloo band the Greyboy Allstars song “Tenor Man” is a tribute to Young. On their 1999 album “Live,” saxophonist Karl Denson introduces the song by saying, “…now some folks may have told you that Lester Young is out of style, but we’re here to tell you that the Prez is happenin’ right now.” Those were literally the lyrics Rahsaan Roland Kirk wrote and sang to the melody of the Charles Mingus elegy, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”

Peter Straub’s short story collection Magic Terror (2000) contains a story called “Pork Pie Hat,” a fictionalized account of the life of Lester Young. Straub was inspired by Young’s appearance on the 1957 CBS-TV show The Sound of Jazz, which he watched repeatedly, wondering how such a genius could have ended up such a human wreck.

Lester Young is said to have popularized use of the term “cool” to mean something fashionable. Another slang term he coined was the term “bread” for money. He would ask, “How does the bread smell?” when asking how much a gig was going to pay.

What is Jazz?

original-dixieland-jazz-band-31

WHAT IS JAZZ?

by  Mel Goldgerg

While jazz is difficult to define, improvisation is one of its major elements — the creative expression and interaction between composer and performer. Improvisation developed enormously over the history of the music. In early New Orleans and Dixieland jazz, performers took turns playing the melody, while others improvised counter-melodies. During the Big Band era, the reliance turned more toward arranged music while individual soloists improvised within the arrangements. With the shift back toward small groups, the melody was stated briefly at the start and end of a piece, but the core of the performance was a series of improvisations. Unlike symphonic music, which is played without ever varying a single note, skilled jazz performers interpret music in individual ways, never playing a composition exactly the same way twice. The performer’s mood and personal experience, interactions with other musicians, or even members of the audience, may alter melodies, harmonies, or even time signatures.

The jazz genre originated at the beginning of the 20th century within the African-American communities of the southern United States. It combined European harmony and form elements with African-based music, evident in its use of blue notes, improvisation, poly-rhythms, syncopation, and swing. From its early development until the present day, jazz has also incorporated elements from popular music, especially American.

As the music developed and spread around the world, it drew on many different musical cultures, giving rise to distinctive styles, like New Orleans jazz, bebop, Afro-Cuban jazz, avant-garde jazz, Latin jazz, jazz fusion, and other ways of playing the music.

Here’s an interesting feature on two jazz greats, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane…

Jimmy Giuffre – Decades Ahead Of His Time

Here’s a fascinating series of  articles highlighting the achievements of jazz visionary Jimmy Giuffre.

albumcoverJimmyGiuffre3-1961-ECM

Visionary Jazz, October 13, 2001, by N. Dorward

This reissue doubles up two Verve albums recorded by the Jimmy Giuffre Trio, Fusion & Thesis. Both were recorded in 1961, & it’s remarkable to think of that year in jazz: consider, for instance, that Eric Dolphy & Booker Little recorded a live date for Prestige at the Five Spot in July of that year; Coltrane played the Vanguard in November, yielding Live at the Village Vanguard & Impressions; the Bill Evans trio with La Faro had recorded two albums’ worth of material in June for Riverside; Cecil Taylor recorded a large amount for Candid early in the year; Lee Konitz recorded Motion; Ornette Coleman had just rounded off his Atlantic output with the magnificent Ornette! & the lesser Ornette on Tenor. All of these recordings were to prove influential, some of them (Coltrane and Evans) extremely so; & yet despite the fact that Giuffre’s trio hardly met with equal success or acclaim, one might claim these two recordings for Verve as in their way equally influential on the course of jazz. Though Giuffre’s trio didn’t have much impact in the U.S., it met with a warmer critical reception in Europe, & its example proved highly influential on the development of jazz in Europe, especially in the creation of a free jazz (or free improvisation) that was quiet, reflective, & as considerable remove from the high-volume, “blacker” free jazz associated with the ESP & Impulse labels. ECM’s founder Manfred Eicher was a great admirer of Giuffre’s work, & it’s fitting that three decades later he should reissue these two discs, which still sound quietly visionary.

One characteristic that defines almost all the experimentation in forward-looking jazz of circa 1960 is the desire to replace the conventional idea of the “soloist” with a much greater & more democratic role for “accompanists.” Think, in particular, of emphasis on three-way dialogue in Bill Evans’ trio; or the development in Coltrane’s music of the drummer’s role, so that rather than conventional solo-and-accompaniment, Jones & Coltrane engage in furious, combative dialogue; or the nascent “harmolodics” of Coleman’s quartet. Giuffre’s trio music is very much part of this line of inquiry: both the pianist Paul Bley & the bass player Steve Swallow are forceful personalities, & the music is strikingly nonhierarchical: the divisions between “solo” and “accompaniment” are often blurred.

Of the two albums, I think the second is considerably the more engaging. (As with Bill Evans’ trio with La Faro, the music was developing so quickly that each album sounds very different from the last: neither of these albums sound much like Free Fall, the 3rd and last disc they recorded [for Columbia].) The first is a touch dry & too unvaryingly slow, mostly developing through a series of carefully paced, almost static harmonies. It’s nonetheless worth a close listen. The 2nd album, Thesis, is truly a marvel: it opens with Carla Bley’s “Ictus”, which issues with a clatter from the instruments & then breaks free, into completely open space. One thing I like about this album in particular is the pacing & dynamics: sometimes, for instance, the trio introduces a brief meditative pause before the restatement of the head after the solos. Throughout the album, Bley & Giuffre draw unconventional sounds out of their instruments: Bley works with the interior of the piano, while Giuffre sometimes produces un-pitched breath-noises from his clarinet. Swallow (only 20 years old at the time!) is commanding throughout both albums, & he’s sometimes the “lead” voice—for instance, he’s given the statement of the melody on “Goodbye” (the one standard performed here: listeners should check out Bley’s recent disc Not Two, Not One, which has a theme-less improvisation which sounds to me like it’s based on this tune). Swallow often gives the music a strong push & an air of tension exactly when one expects it to become reflective: check out, for instance, his work on “Afternoon”.

This is music that still sounds sui generis. It’s not music that grabs the listener forcefully: it’s altogether more subtle & insidious. The one album of the period it does seem related to, oddly enough, is Kind of Blue—there are a few points where Bley’s playing suggests “Blue in Green” or “Flamenco Sketches”. Like that album, 1961 is notable as a turn away from the high volume & brash pyrotechnics of contemporary hard bop, to something much more oblique & atmospheric. 1961 is a much more “difficult” album than Davis’s masterpiece, of course, and many jazz fans will find it too un-swinging, too mysterious or too far from bop & post-bop tenets (though they would be missing the fact that swing & the blues are very much present here, just much more obliquely expressed). But I’d still claim this as one of the essential postwar jazz albums. Essential listening. Fans of this album will also want to listen to the trio’s 1962 album Free Fall (which is considerably more difficult music than these two dates, stepping out into complete atonality & freedom). The group also reformed in 1989 & has recorded several new albums. I would also recommend Time Will Tell, a disc on ECM featuring Evan Parker, Paul Bley & Barre Phillips performing music that is overtly influenced by Giuffre’s work (Phillips was Swallow’s replacement in the trio); & Lee Konitz’s Rhapsody, which has one track, nearly 20 minutes long, which is a theme-less improvisation on “All the Things You Are” by Konitz, Giuffre, Bley & Gary Peacock.

Paving the Way June 12, 2003, by  Christopher Forbes

The cool movement in jazz is often considered a dead end musically. By the late ’50s the Hard Bop movement had become dominant in the jazz world, leaving once central musicians such as Jimmy Giuffre and Gerry Mulligan out of the mainstream. Then the free jazz movement erupted, partly as a reaction to the hard boppers. But Ornette, Coltrane and the like were far removed from the cerebral styling of the cool musicians, so once again, the spirit of the times seemed against them. As a result, many cool school musicians struggled in the early ’60s to find a way to accommodate these new styles, while keeping up their interests. Much of this music is forgotten now, but at least in the case of the Jimmy Giuffre 3, there is much treasure in this work.

Giuffre had been leading a drummer-less group since the mid ’50s, often featuring Jim Hall on guitar. But in 1961 he formed a new group with Paul Bley on the piano and a 19-year-old Steve Swallow on bass. They recorded the two albums on this disc for Verve, the first as Fusion and the second as Thesis. Listening to them in chronological order, you can hear the group getting progressively freer. This is chamber jazz at it’s most vital. The first album features tunes by Giuffre and by Bley’s then-wife Carla. The sound is a premonition of the ECM style that Manfred Eichter would develop in the 70s…lyrical, gently swinging at times, modal but floating in and out of tonality. The compositions themselves are strong, focusing on unusual harmonies underpinning cleverly concealed traditional song structures. Improvisation is often collective with a gentle trading of lines between Giuffre and Bley. Swallow is an even voice here. Occasionally he walks lines, but more often he improvises subtle counterpoint to the lines of the piano and clarinet. Bley is stunning. He has discovered his trademark spare dissonant harmony, and his lyricism is ecstatic. You can hear that he was an overwhelming influence on many later pianists, Keith Jarrett not the least.

Thesis is an even more far ranging album. Though the recording does have plenty of cerebral “bop” numbers, the entire approach to improvising is even freer than on the earlier disc. In many tunes, particularly the opening “Ictus,” tonality disappears altogether. Bley and Guiffre experiment on their instruments, coaxing unusual tones out of them. Even the more conventional tunes seem somehow free of preplanning. An ostinato might lead to a dark passage with unusual chords or scales through in. Dissonance is used subtly but effectively. This is not music that makes its impact through groove or energy. Its pleasures are subtle and you have to listen closely for the rewards. But this is passionate music, passionate in its understatement. Every note is pregnant with meaning.

This work has nearly been lost. Verve had no compelling reason to re-release it, as it never made a huge impact when first released, at least in the US. However, it was devoured by Europeans, not the least Manfred Eichter. It is much to the ECM guru’s credit that he brought this out again. By doing so he acknowledges his tremendous debt to these musicians. If you like your music adventurous but subtle, you should definitely get this album, and the subsequent Guiffre 3 album, Free Fall on Sony. Listened to side by side, these three recording paint a picture of three top musicians in transition to what would be their mature styles.

Delicate filigree creations – sublime & awesome January 31, 2004, by IrishGit

When Jimmy Giuffre broke away from the straightjacket of white West Coast Jazz in the mid-’fifties he went on to produce a series of albums experimenting with drummer-less trios. In fact he did a wonderful album just before this series using a quartet of reeds/trumpet/bass/drums where the drums are not used rhythmically at all (Tangents in Jazz—long unavailable except on the Mosaic 6 CD set). Giuffre had always felt uncomfortable as a straight jazz improviser—he needed the space & freedom to explore ideas & sounds as they cropped up in order to express himself fully, & found the thrust of a good rhythm section too restricting—he didn’t want to ride the beating drum—his rhythmic sense was more dynamic & extreme. This trio with Bley & Swallow is where he first really comes into his own as composer, improviser & leader. The two albums on this release (Fusion & Thesis) were the trio’s first two recordings done only a few months apart in New York 1961. Also available by this trio are the seminal Free Fall (1962) & two wonderful live albums—Emphasis & Flight—recorded in Germany late 1961 (recently released on HatArt as a double CD). The remit of the trio really was to reinvent music—to take it apart piece by piece & reconstruct it afresh, making each component vibrate with its own independence whilst relating to other components with a new delicate vitality. Each instrument is also treated as a component in this web of interactions—each played with restraint & sensitivity—leaving much space around each other (bringing to mind Cage’s aphorism—”love is the space you leave around the loved one”)—listening as attentively as creating—creative listening. Not only was this group investigating the various components of music but they were also acutely aware & sensitive to the dynamics of creating as a threesome—as a trio—in fact on the later album “Free Fall” there are duets & solo pieces as well—all sounding very different in character. The overall feel of these recordings is of intense & intelligent inquiry—the more intense it gets the quieter it becomes. The music is not really jazz—it’s as much influenced by European atonal music—especially that of Berg & Webern—as it is Armstrong or Parker—in fact in the sleeve notes to Free Fall Giuffre states “Given: the urge to enter new realms, glimpse other dimensions, reach the absolute. Given: the visions received from thinking on such things as . . . gravity, Monk, electricity, time, space, the micro-cosmos, leaves, chemistry, power, gods, white-hot heat, asteroids, love, eternity, Einstein, Rollins, Evans, the heartbeat, pain, Delius, Scherchen, Art, overtones, the prehistoric, La Violette, wife, life, voids, Berg, Bird, the universe. . . .” This may sound like pretentious youthful enthusiasm but in fact it is all clearly audible in the music (Giuffre was, after all, a mature 40 years old when he made these albums)—La Violette, by the way, was Giuffre’s composition teacher. Whilst Free Fall may be this trios best & most intense deconstruction (& final—no one would record them afterwards)—these two albums—Fusion & Thesis—are the more listenable—softer (they’ve been given a little ECM reverb unfortunately)—transition recordings that still vibrate strongly with the intelligence, generosity, courage & commitment with which they were made.

Free Fall influenced the whole European free improvisation movement enormously, whereas these recordings influenced the ECM sound just as much (hence Manfred Eicher’s insistence to pay homage by releasing them on his label). Given how important this trio was & is, then surely it’s time we had everything they ever recorded available to us—even fluffed takes.

In short this trio is, along with Evans/LaFaro/Motian, the best in jazz, & this album set is their most attractive recording—sublime & awesome.


 

Nat “King” Cole

 tumblr_m8mm3sollZ1qmw1oho1_1280

Nathaniel Adams Coles (b. March 17, 1919, d. February 15, 1965), known professionally as Nat King Cole, was an American singer and musician who first came to prominence as a leading jazz pianist. He owes most of his popular musical fame to his soft, baritone voice, which he used to perform in big band and jazz genres.

Cole was one of the first African Americans to host a television variety show, The Nat King Cole Show, and has maintained worldwide popularity since his death from lung cancer in February 1965.

Nathaniel Adams Coles was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 17, 1919. Coles had three brothers: Eddie, Ike, and Freddy, and a half-sister, Joyce Coles. Ike and Freddy would later pursue careers in music as well. When Cole was four years old, he and his family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where his father, Edward Coles, became a Baptist minister. Cole learned to play the organ from his mother, Perlina Coles, the church organist. His first performance was of “Yes! We Have No Bananas” at age four. He began formal lessons at 12, eventually learning not only jazz and gospel music, but also Western classical music, performing, as he said, “from Johann Sebastian Bach to Sergei Rachmaninoff”.

The family lived in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. Cole would sneak out of the house and hang around outside the clubs, listening to artists such as Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Jimmie Noone. He participated in Walter Dyett’s renowned music program at DuSable High School.

Inspired by the performances of Earl Hines, Cole began his performing career in the mid-1930s while still a teenager, adopting the name “Nat Cole”. His older brother, Eddie, a bass player, soon joined Cole’s band, and they made their first recording in 1936 under Eddie’s name. They also were regular performers at clubs. Cole, in fact, acquired his nickname, “King”, performing at one jazz club, a nickname presumably reinforced by the otherwise unrelated nursery rhyme about Old King Cole. He also was a pianist in a national tour of Broadway theatre legend Eubie Blake’s revue, “Shuffle Along”. When it suddenly failed in Long Beach, California, Cole decided to remain there. He would later return to Chicago in triumph to play such venues as the famed Edgewater Beach Hotel.

nat-king-cole-trio-1-jan-1947-johnny-miller-irving-ashby-nat-king-cole-metronome-getty-images-11

Cole and two other musicians formed the “King Cole Swingers” in Long Beach and played in a number of local bars before getting a gig on the Long Beach Pike for US$90 ($1,489 today) per week. The trio consisted of Cole on piano, Oscar Moore on guitar, and Wesley Prince on double bass. The trio played in Failsworth throughout the late 1930s and recorded many radio transcriptions. Cole was not only pianist but leader of the combo as well.

Radio was important to the King Cole Trio’s rise in popularity. Their first broadcast was with NBC’s Blue Network in 1938. It was followed by appearances on NBC’s Swing Soiree. In the 1940s the trio appeared on the Old Gold, Chesterfield Supper Club and Kraft Music Hall radio shows.

Legend was that Cole’s singing career did not start until a drunken barroom patron demanded that he sing “Sweet Lorraine”. Cole, in fact, has gone on record saying that the fabricated story “sounded good, so I just let it ride.” Cole frequently sang in between instrumental numbers. Noticing that people started to request more vocal numbers, he obliged. Yet the story of the insistent customer is not without some truth. There was a customer who requested a certain song one night, but it was a song that Cole did not know, so instead he sang “Sweet Lorraine”. The trio was tipped 15 cents for the performance, a nickel apiece.

During World War II, Wesley Prince left the group and Cole replaced him with Johnny Miller. Miller would later be replaced by Charlie Harris in the 1950s. The King Cole Trio signed with the fledgling Capitol Records in 1943. The group had previously recorded for Excelsior Records, owned by Otis René, and had a hit with the song “I’m Lost”, which René wrote, produced and distributed. Revenues from Cole’s record sales fueled much of Capitol Records’ success during this period. The revenue is believed to have played a significant role in financing the distinctive Capitol Records building near Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles. Completed in 1956, it was the world’s first circular office building and became known as “The House that Nat Built.”

20878265_e87378d369_z

Cole was considered a leading jazz pianist, appearing in the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts (credited on the Mercury Record label as “Shorty Nadine”—derived from his wife’s name—as he was under exclusive contract to Capitol Records at the time).[4] His revolutionary lineup of piano, guitar, and bass in the time of the big bands became a popular setup for a jazz trio. It was emulated by many musicians, among them Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, and blues pianists Charles Brown and Ray Charles. He also performed as a pianist on sessions with Lester Young, Red Callender, and Lionel Hampton.

“…I started out to become a jazz pianist; in the meantime I started singing and I sang the way I felt and that’s just the way it came out.”

Cole’s first mainstream vocal hit was his 1943 recording of one of his compositions, “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, based on a black folk tale that his father had used as a theme for a sermon. Johnny Mercer invited him to record it for his fledgling Capitol Records label. It sold over 500,000 copies, proving that folk-based material could appeal to a wide audience. Although Cole would never be considered a rocker, the song can be seen as anticipating the first rock and roll records. Indeed, Bo Diddley, who performed similar transformations of folk material, counted Cole as an influence.

In 1946, the Cole trio paid to have their own 15-minute radio program on the air. It was called, “King Cole Trio Time.” It became the first radio program sponsored by a black performing artist. During those years, the trio recorded many “transcription” recordings, which were recordings made in the radio studio for the broadcast. Later they were used for commercial records.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Cole began recording and performing pop-oriented material for mainstream audiences, in which he was often accompanied by a string orchestra. His stature as a popular icon was cemented during this period by hits such as “The Christmas Song” (Cole recorded that tune four times: on June 14, 1946, as a pure Trio recording, on August 19, 1946, with an added string section, on August 24, 1953, and in 1961 for the double album The Nat King Cole Story; this final version, recorded in stereo, is the one most often heard today), “Nature Boy” (1948), “Mona Lisa” (1950), “Too Young” (the #1 song in 1951),[7] and his signature tune “Unforgettable” (1951) (Gainer 1). While this shift to pop music led some jazz critics and fans to accuse Cole of selling out, he never totally abandoned his jazz roots; as late as 1956, for instance, he recorded an all-jazz album After Midnight. Cole had one of his last big hits in 1963, two years before his death, with the classic “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer”, which reached #6 on the Pop chart.

coleshowad

On November 5, 1956, The Nat King Cole Show debuted on NBC. The variety program was the first of its kind hosted by an African-American, which created controversy at the time. Beginning as a 15-minute pops show on Monday night, the program was expanded to a half hour in July 1957. Despite the efforts of NBC, as well as many of Cole’s industry colleagues—many of whom, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Frankie Laine, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, and Eartha Kitt, worked for industry scale (or even for no pay) in order to help the show save money—The Nat King Cole Show was ultimately done in by lack of a national sponsorship. Companies such as Rheingold Beer assumed regional sponsorship of the show, but a national sponsor never appeared.

The last episode of The Nat King Cole Show aired December 17, 1957. Cole had survived for over a year, and it was he, not NBC, who ultimately decided to pull the plug on the show. Commenting on the lack of sponsorship his show received, Cole quipped shortly after its demise, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”

Nat_King_Cole_and_Oscar_Moore,_New_York,_N.Y.,_ca._July_1946_(William_P._Gottlieb_01541)

Throughout the 1950s, Cole continued to rack up successive hits, including “Smile”, “Pretend”, “A Blossom Fell”, and “If I May”. His pop hits were collaborations with well-known arrangers and conductors of the day, including Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, and Ralph Carmichael. Riddle arranged several of Cole’s 1950s albums, including his first 10-inch long-play album, his 1953 Nat King Cole Sings For Two In Love. In 1955, his single “Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup” reached #7 on the Billboard chart. Jenkins arranged Love Is the Thing, which hit #1 on the album charts in April 1957.

images

In 1958, Cole went to Havana, Cuba to record Cole Español, an album sung entirely in Spanish. The album was so popular in Latin America, as well as in the USA, that two others of the same variety followed: A Mis Amigos (sung in Spanish and Portuguese) in 1959 and More Cole Español in 1962. A Mis Amigos contains the Venezuelan hit “Ansiedad,” whose lyrics Cole had learned while performing in Caracas in 1958. Cole learned songs in languages other than English by rote.

tumblr_lgjk99pFqU1qg1naao1_500

After the change in musical tastes during the late 1950s, Cole’s ballad singing did not sell well with younger listeners, despite a successful stab at rock n’ roll with “Send For Me” (peaked at #6 pop). Along with his contemporaries Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett, Cole found that the pop singles chart had been almost entirely taken over by youth-oriented acts. In 1960, Nat’s longtime collaborator Nelson Riddle left Capitol Records for Frank Sinatra’s newly formed Reprise Records label. Riddle and Cole recorded one final hit album, Wild Is Love, based on lyrics by Ray Rasch and Dotty Wayne. Cole later retooled the concept album into an Off-Broadway show, “I’m With You.”

Cole did manage to record some hit singles during the 1960s, including in 1961 “Let There Be Love” with George Shearing, the country-flavored hit “Ramblin’ Rose” in August 1962, “Dear Lonely Hearts”, “That Sunday, That Summer” and “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days Of Summer” (his final hit, reaching #6 pop).

Cole in the move St. Louis Blues
Cole in the move St. Louis Blues

Cole performed in many short films, sitcoms, and television shows and played W. C. Handy in the film St. Louis Blues (1958). He also appeared in The Nat King Cole Story, China Gate, and The Blue Gardenia (1953). In January 1964, Cole made one of his final television appearances on The Jack Benny Program. Cole was introduced as “the best friend a song ever had,” and sang “When I Fall in Love.” It was one of Cole’s last performances. Cat Ballou (1965), his final film, was released several months after his death.

Around the time Cole launched his singing career, he entered into Freemasonry, being raised in January 1944 in the Thomas Waller Lodge No. 49 in California, the lodge being named after fellow Prince Hall mason and jazz musician Fats Waller.

nat2

Cole’s first marriage, to Nadine Robinson, ended in 1948. On March 28, 1948 (Easter Sunday), just six days after his divorce became final, Cole married singer Maria Hawkins Ellington (although Maria had sung with Duke Ellington’s band, she was not related to Duke Ellington). The Coles were married in Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. They had five children: Natalie (born 1950) (Watts 1), who herself would go on to have a successful career as a singer; adopted daughter Carole (1944–2009, the daughter of Maria’s sister), who died of lung cancer at 64; adopted son Nat Kelly Cole (1959–1995), who died of AIDS at 36;[13] and twin daughters Casey and Timolin (born 1961).

Cole had affairs throughout his marriages. By the time he developed lung cancer, he was estranged from his wife Maria and living with actress Gunilla Hutton, best known as the second Billie Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction (1965–1966) and also notable as a regular cast member (Nurse Goodbody) on Hee Haw. But Cole was with Maria during his illness, and she stayed with him until his death. In an interview, Maria expressed no lingering resentment over his affairs. Instead, she emphasized his musical legacy and the class he exhibited in all other aspects of his life.

In August 1948, Cole purchased a house from Col. Harry Gantz, the former husband of Lois Weber, in the all-white Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The Ku Klux Klan, still active in Los Angeles well into the 1950s, responded by placing a burning cross on his front lawn. Members of the property-owners association told Cole they did not want any undesirables moving in. Cole retorted, “Neither do I. And if I see anybody undesirable coming in here, I’ll be the first to complain.”

images

Cole fought racism all his life and rarely performed in segregated venues. In 1956, he was assaulted on stage during a concert in Birmingham, Alabama, with the Ted Heath Band (while singing the song “Little Girl”), by three members of the North Alabama Citizens Council (a group led by Education of Little Tree author Asa “Forrest” Carter, himself not among the attackers), who apparently were attempting to kidnap him The three male attackers ran down the aisles of the auditorium towards Cole and his band. Although local law enforcement quickly ended the invasion of the stage, the ensuing melée toppled Cole from his piano bench and injured his back. Cole did not finish the concert and never again performed in the South. A fourth member of the group who had participated in the plot was later arrested in connection with the act. All were later tried and convicted for their roles in the crime.

In 1956, he was contracted to perform in Cuba and wanted to stay at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana, but was not allowed to because it operated a color bar. Cole honored his contract, and the concert at the Tropicana was a huge success. The following year, he returned to Cuba for another concert, singing many songs in Spanish. There is now a tribute to him in the form of a bust and a jukebox in the Hotel Nacional.

After his attack in Birmingham, Cole stated “I can’t understand it…I have not taken part in any protests. Nor have I joined an organization fighting segregation. Why should they attack me?” A native of Alabama, Cole seemed eager to assure southern whites that he would not challenge the customs and traditions of the region. A few would keep the protests going for a while, he claimed, but “I’d just like to forget about the whole thing.” Cole had no intention of altering his practice of playing to segregated audiences in the South. He did not condone the practice but was not a politician and believed “I can’t change the situation in a day.” African-American communities responded to Nat King Cole’s self-professed political indifference with an immediate, harsh, and virtually unanimous, rejection, unaffected by his revelations that he had contributed money to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and had sued several northern hotels that had hired but refused to serve him. Thurgood Marshall, chief legal counsel of the NAACP, reportedly sug­gested that since he was an Uncle Tom, Cole ought to perform with a banjo. Roy Wilkins, the executive secretary of the organization, challenged Cole in a telegram: “You have not been a crusader or engaged in an effort to change the customs or laws of the South. That respon­sibility, newspapers quote you as saying, you leave to the other guys.’ That attack upon you clearly indicates that organized bigotry makes no distinction between those who do not actively challenge racial dis­crimination and those who do. This is a fight which none of us can escape. We invite you to join us in a crusade against racism.”

Cole’s appearances before all-white audiences, the Chicago Defender charged, were “an insult to his race.” As boycotts of his records and shows were organized, the Amsterdam News claimed that “thousands of Harlem blacks who have worshiped at the shrine of singer Nat King Cole turned their backs on him this week as the noted crooner turned his back on the NAACP and said that he will continue to play to Jim Crow audiences.” To play “Uncle Nat’s” discs, wrote a commentator in The American Negro, “would be supporting his ‘trai­tor’ ideas and narrow way of thinking.” Deeply hurt by the criticism of the black press, Cole was also suit­ably chastened. Emphasizing his opposition to racial segregation “in any form,” he agreed to join other entertainers in boycotting segregated venues. He quickly and conspicuously paid $500 to become a life member of the Detroit branch of the NAACP. Until his death in 1965 Cole was an active and visible participant in the civil rights movement, playing an important role in planning the March on Washington in 1963.

Cole sang at the 1956 Republican National Convention in the Cow Palace, San Francisco, California, on August 23, 1956. There, his “singing of ‘That’s All There Is To That’ was greeted with applause.”[20] He was also present at the Democratic National Convention in 1960 to throw his support behind Senator John F. Kennedy. Cole was also among the dozens of entertainers recruited by Frank Sinatra to perform at the Kennedy Inaugural gala in 1961. Cole frequently consulted with President Kennedy (and later President Johnson) on civil rights.

images

Cole was a heavy smoker throughout his life and rarely seen without a cigarette in his hand. He was a smoker of Kool menthol cigarettes, believing that smoking up to three packs a day gave his voice its rich sound. (Cole would smoke several cigarettes in rapid succession before a recording.) After an operation for stomach ulcers in 1953, he had been advised to stop smoking but did not do so. In December 1964, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He underwent cobalt and radiation therapy and was initially given a positive prognosis. On January 25, he underwent surgery to remove his left lung. Despite medical treatments, he died on February 15, 1965, at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California.

Cole’s funeral was held on February 18 at St. James Episcopal Church on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. His remains were interred inside Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

Cole’s last album, L-O-V-E, was recorded in early December 1964—just a few days before he entered the hospital for cancer treatment—and was released just prior to his death. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard Albums chart in the spring of 1965. A “Best Of” album went gold in 1968. His 1957 recording of “When I Fall In Love” reached #4 in the UK charts in 1987.

In 1983, an archivist for EMI Electrola Records, EMI (Capitol’s parent company) Records’ subsidiary in Germany, discovered some songs Cole had recorded but that had never been released, including one in Japanese and another in Spanish (“Tu Eres Tan Amable”). Capitol released them later that year as the LP Unreleased.

In 1991, Mosaic Records released “The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio,” an 18-compact-disc set consisting of 349 songs. (This special compilation also was available as a 27-LP set.)

In the summer of 1991, Natalie Cole and her father had a hit when Natalie’s own newly-recorded voice track was mixed with her father’s 1961 rendition of “Unforgettable” into a new duet version as part of a tribute album to her father’s music. The song and album of the same name won seven Grammy awards in 1992.

Cole was inducted into both the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1990, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1997 was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

An official United States postage stamp featuring Cole’s likeness was issued in 1994.

In 2000, Cole was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the major influences on early rock and roll.

Radio Free Kaslo

Here’s a blogpost kindly shared by the folks at Radio Free Kaslo, a fun, funky Canadian radio program. I’m a fan of the show, and am happy to have given them access to my jazz collection, which apparently is going to be featured in future shows as well.

 

images

Today’s Radio Free Kaslo broadcast (Friday, April 12, 2013), features the stunning insights of marketing guru to the stars (and all-around Big Personality) Blair Enns…

95241234_640

… an interview that includes tough, probing questions (like “have you ever caught a fish in Kootenay Lake, and if so, how big?”) with Liberal candidate for the British Columbia legislature Greg Garbula…

cc-Greg-Garbula(3)

… and music from Emmy Lou Harris & Rodney Crowell’s new album…

harris-crowell-old-yellow-moon

…as well as a soulful tune from the great Billie Holiday…

billie-holliday

… the latter pulled from the extensive Jazz collection of author Jess Waid (The Mike Montego Series and the forthcoming He Blew Blue Jazz). Many thanks to Jess!

Jess

OK: sound good? Then listen in!

All that jazz… California style

dave-brubeck

When someone talks about “West Coast jazz” or “cool jazz,” they’re almost invariably referring to a style performed by jazz musicians in California (and primarily in Los Angeles) in the ’50s and early ’60s. As opposed to the hard-bop sound dominant on the East Coast during that time, the West Coast sound was a bit mellower and more lyrical, with blended harmonies and — broadly speaking — more interest in composition and arrangement than improvisation.

So starts a cool bit on National Public Radio’s website — an article called West Coast Cool: the Jazz Sound of ’50s California.

Check it out!

The lady singer at Sardi’s in Hollywood

 

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in fall. My army buddy and I were on leave before being shipped out to our next outfits. I would be heading for New Rochelle, New York, to attend the Army Information School. My friend was going elsewhere. We’d just completed three months of boot camp in Fort Ord, and had flown to L.A. from Monterey the day before.

We were wearing our “greens,” the brand new dress uniform that replaced the OD, olive-drab, dress wear and the old Ike jacket.

Every once in a while, as we strolled down Hollywood Boulevard, servicemen from other branches, seeing us, saluted as they passed by. Being courteous guys, we returned the greetings, and then laughed our asses off each time, once we were out of earshot. It was obvious that the enlisted men from the other armed forces branches were unaware of the Army’s new uniform. To them we looked like officers in our saucer-shaped hats.

As we strolled by Sardi’s, we heard cool jazz music wafting out. Neither of us were twenty-one, the legal age for consuming alcohol, but we tacitly decided to see if we could get served. We were relying on our uniforms to avoid being carded by the cocktail waitress.

Inside the dimly lit lounge, we were shown to a seat in the rear. We ordered beers. After the waitress went to fill our drink orders, we winked at each other, our faces beaming.     We had passed the test.

On the low stage a woman began singing some scat jazz. She was good, and her style had me grooving. I was already into jazz, having been hooked by Johnny Hodges’ tenor sax while attending city college a year earlier.

After our beers were served, we relaxed and settled into our seats to suck up the suds and the soulful sounds.

At one point, while the lady on the stage sang, the cocktail waitress, carrying a tray of drinks, walked right in front of the singer to serve a front row table. Since the stage was low, the waitress blocked our view.

It was apparent the singer didn’t appreciate the interruption. Her frowning expression displayed that; still, obviously a pro, she continued singing.

When the music set ended, the singer stepped off the stage and came around the room heading toward the rear. Her route took her by our four-person table.

As she passed by, I called out, “Great voice, ma’am. That wasn’t very polite of the barmaid.”

The singer paused, studied us momentarily, and smiling, stepped closer.

I quickly stood. “Please, join us,” I said, nudging my friend to get to his feet. He did.

She said, “Don’t mind if I do.” She drew up a chair and sat across from me.

The waitress immediately stopped at our table.

The singer ordered a soda water with lime, then looking at me, she asked, “So, you boys enjoying the music?”

For the rest of her twenty-minute break we chit chatted.

When she got up to go back to the stage, I scrambled to my feet. “I love your voice,” I said. I’ll be buying your albums.

She looked back. “You boys are sweet—do enjoy the show.”

To this day I will never forget my afternoon sitting with Lady Jane, the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald.