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Jazz

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Creed Taylor: Jazz Record Producer (Part One)

His early career as record-company employee

Creed Taylor: Jazz-Record Producer Since the career of record-producer Creed Taylor has been well documented, especially in interviews by Marc Myers and Devin Leonard (jazzwax.com and Wax Poetics #34), this first of two articles will focus on how Taylor worked with four major jazz musicians during the period before he ran his own company. The second article will focus on his work when he was running his own company, CTI Records. But first a brief survey of Creed Taylor’s career. After a degree in Psychology and a two-year military stint in Korea, Creed Taylor, a professional jazz trumpet player, found his way into record producing. It was 1954, a time when the LP was blossoming. After making a reputation with Bethlehem Records, he was hired by ABC-Paramount in 1956. At first he was producing mainly non-jazz records; then ABC-Paramount gave him the chance to start a jazz label: Impulse. After recording Africa Brass with John Coltrane, he was quickly recruited by Verve Records in 1961. Taylor was with Verve for three successful years. In 1964 Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss hired him for A&M Records and thence to his own label—CTI Records—in 1966. With CTI, Taylor rode the wave of success for a decade, producing jazz blended with soul and funk and often supported by string orchestras. However, despite continuing sales successes, Taylor made a serious business mistake in setting up an ambitious distribution network. Suddenly, in 1978, he was bankrupt. Despite several new ventures in the following years, he was never able to return to successful record production.

Frank O'Hara: The Day Lady Died

Poem "The Day Lady Died" by Frank O'Hara is analysed

 Frank O’Hara: The Day Lady Died It’s 12:20 in New York a Fridaythree days after Bastille Day, yesit is 1959, and I go to a shoeshinebecause I will get off the 4:19 in Easthamptonat 7:15 and then go straight to dinnerand I don’t know the people who will feed me I walk up the muggy street beginning to sunand have a hamburger and a malted and buyan ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poetsin Ghana are doing these days                                                            I go on to the bank

Norma Winstone’s Somewhere Like Home: Must-Have Album #4

Part of a series recommending jazz albums

    Norma  Winstone’s Somewhere Called Home is not for those who think that “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” All eleven tracks are slow, sometimes almost rhythmless. Rubato is probably the best word here.  This 1987 ECM album features three English jazz musicians at the peak of their careers and at the top of their form. Vocalist Norma Winstone, the leader, had been performing for 20 years in the UK with such musicians as Joe Harriott, Mike Westbrook, Ian Carr, Michael Gibbs and Kenny Wheeler. For this album she chose a wide variety of ballads: two standards (“Tea For Two” and “Out of this World”), three compositions by contemporary British jazz musicians, two by South Americans, one by an American, one from a 1953 movie (Lili) and one by Bill Evans. All nine tracks have been carefully planned but still leave plenty of room for improvisation. Winstone herself wrote lyrics for four of the compositions.

Django and His American Friends: Must-Have Album #3

Survey of the two Django and His American Friends albums

  The music on these two LPs ranks as some of the very best jazz before World War 2. It was all recorded not in the USA but in France. Over the last five years of the 1930’s, seven of the best American jazz musicians recorded seven sessions in Paris with Romani-Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt. Most of the American musicians involved had moved to Europe to escape racism (Eddie South, Bill Coleman, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Dicky Wells). Two were on tour in Europe with the Ellington Orchestra (Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard).

The Birth of "Take the A Train"

Strayhorn's "Take the A Train," which became a huge hit, was nearly lost before it was ever recorded. Ellington's recording is analysed.

  This composition nearly didn’t get recorded. “Take the A Train,” which became a big hit, the theme tune for the Duke Ellington Orchestra and ultimately a jazz standard, remained in manuscript form and almost forgotten for two years after Billy Strayhorn composed it. Strayhorn had given Ellington the score almost immediately after it had been composed. But Ellington, despite hiring Strayhorn, did nothing with it. Not until two years later in January 1941, when a crisis in the musical world created a desperate need for new compositions, did Strayhorn resuscitate the “Take the A Train.”

Miles Davis: Recruiting the Sixties Quintet

An account of the fours years Miles Davis took to recruit for his sixties quintet

In 1960 Miles Davis was on top of the jazz world. With five brilliant albums in the previous three years (three with Gil Evans, Milestones and Kind of Blue), he was in great demand and winning many jazz polls. But life caught up with him; for the next four years he had to deal with problem after problem as he tried to recruit the right musicians for his next band.The first crisis was the departure of John Coltrane. Although this wasn’t a great surprise to him, Davis took four years to find an acceptable replacement. He tried out at least eight saxophone players (Jimmy Heath, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, Frank Strozier, George Coleman, Rocky Boyd, and Sam Rivers) before getting the right one--Wayne Shorter.

Ellingtonians Play While Duke's in Bed

Description and evaluation of Johnny Hodges' "Duke's in Bed" album

This little gem from 1956 has not received much attention over the years, but it contains some Billy Strayhorn arrangements, many fine solos, and much of interest for Ellington admirers. When Johnny Hodges rejoined the Ellington orchestra in 1955 after a 4½ year hiatus, he must have continued with Ellington’s longtime agreement that he could still record separately with members of the Orchestra. Less than a year later, Hodges was leading a group of Ellingtonians for a Columbia recording. For this recording his nonet had to fly from Chicago to New York and back during an extended Ellington Orchestra engagement at the Chicago Blue Note. This New York trip must have interfered with Duke Ellington’s engagement, but he was clearly happy to let his players go off with Hodges. He even wrote a composition (“Duke’s in Bed”) for the session.

Oliver Nelson Suites 1: Afro/American Sketches

Description and evaluation of Afro/American Sketches

When Oliver Nelson was approached by Esmond Edwards of Prestige Records to write a work for large orchestra on American and African themes, he was just 29 years old. He had finished university three years earlier and had since made five well-received albums as a saxophone soloist. But the main reason for Esmond’s proposal was the brilliance—surely the greatest arranging debut on record--of a recent septet recording, Blues & the Abstract Truth, which was both written and arranged by Nelson.

Miles Davis: The First Improvised music film Soundtrack

Miles Davis's film soundtrack for Malle's L'Ascenseur sur léchafaud

“It all happened on the spur of the moment. After about three hours it was over.” Kenny Clarke  Improvising while watching a movie was done by countless pianists and organists all over the world during the silent-film era. In 1957 Miles Davis did the same thing for Louis Malle’s L’Ascenseur sur l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), but this time his improvisations were recorded for the soundtrack. The result was a critical success and the film won the Prix Louis-Delluc. Miles Davis was an established star when he arrived in Paris at the end of November, 1957. The 31-year-old had been at the forefront of jazz for a decade and had recently recorded an important LP with Gil Evans, Miles Ahead. For his second visit to France, Davis was brought over by promoter Marcel Romano and scheduled for a concert tour and a three-week club engagement. But this changed somewhat after he was approached by Louis Malle, a young film maker, who had just completed his first major film. Malle was a jazz fan and wanted Davis to contribute a soundtrack to his film noir. Despite the fact that Malle had only a four-day deadline, Davis accepted.

The Ellington Orchestra in 1959

Coverage of the Ellington Orchestra's 1959 year

In the mid-1950s, when the Duke Ellington Orchestra regained its popularity, the Duke found it increasingly difficult to find the time and space for composing. To maintain the orchestra and to ensure its financial viability was time-consuming but essential. He needed an orchestra to work on new compositions, but the maintenance of the orchestra impeded his ability to compose. Clearly a balancing act was needed, but in 1959 his composing was adversely affected by time and effort he put into his orchestra.

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