a site by John Cobley

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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.

Count Basie's Miracle Band 1938

Account of Basie's formation of his famous 1928 band

Jo Jones: “When it comes to wealth, musical wealth, I’m the richest drummer that’s lived in 50 years, because nobody ever had what I have. Nobody ever had the pleasure of sitting up with a band night after night that had a Herschel Evans, a Lester Young, A Harry Edison, a Buck Clayton, A Dicky Wells, a Benny Morton, a Freddie Green, and a Walter Page.” Dance p. 52 When the 31-year-old Count Basie left the Moten band after the death of its leader in April,1935, he took a one-week job as substitute pianist at a small club in Kansas City called The Reno. Soon after, he was asked by the owner to take over the house band. This request initiated an amazing process over nearly 2 ½ years as Basie transformed this local house band into a full-sized band that became the equal of the Goodman and Ellington bands at the very top. That Basie, a little-known pianist from the Mid-West, was able to assemble an elite group of 15 musicians and two singers in such a short period is nothing short of miraculous.

John Hammond: Jazz-Record Producer

Shows John Hammond's Career and Significance

Some of the best musicians of the period owe their professional existence to his efforts.  Barry Ulanov Although best known for his discoveries of Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, John Hammond is also celebrated for his contributions to jazz. As a record-label executive and record producer, he produced many historically important jazz recordings, including those by Bessie Smith, Benny Goodman, Red Norvo, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Count Basie and Charlie Christian. From 1931 to 1942 he recorded on six record labels: Okeh, Columbia, Brunswick, Victor, Decca and Vocalion. Working as writer, radio host, talent spotter, advisor, promoter and record producer, he was ubiquitous on the pre-war jazz scene.

Orrin Keepnews, Jazz-Record Producer

Explanation of Keepnews' success as a jazz-record producer

“It’s supposed to proceed so that all the players have to worry about is creativity; I’m supposed to worry about everything else.”  Orrin Keepnews  Orrin Keepnews, one of the most respected record producers in jazz, worked at the forefront of his profession for more than three decades from the 1950s. On the Riverside, Milestone and Landmark labels, he recorded many of the leading musicians of his time, including McCoy Tyner, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley, Johnny Griffin, Bobby Hutcherson, Sonny Rollins, and Joe Henderson. From his many successful recordings, two stand out as jazz classics: Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners and Bill Evans’ Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard. In his book of reviews, essays and reminiscences, The View From Within, Keepnews has written what amounts to a manual for producing jazz recordings.

Charles Lloyd's Temporary Exclusion from the Jazz Canon

Critical attack on Charles Lloyd in the 1960s

“You own the music, we make it” Archie Shepp“Most jazz critics have been white Americans” Amiri Baraka Today in 2021 the critical reputation of 83-year-old jazz musician Charles Lloyd is very high—just as it was in the 1960s. But for two decades after 1970 he was first denigrated and then ignored. His low status after these two decades is clearly shown in the 1992 edition of The Penguin Guide of Jazz on CD: “Any man who discovers both Keith Jarrett and Michel Petrucciani can’t be more than half bad.” (p. 676) However in an edition ten years later the Penguin Guide had changed its tune: “For a time Lloyd was so terminally uncool it was almost embarrassing to mention his name in mixed company.” The Guide went on to explain unconvincingly that Lloyd’s repaired reputation was due to “a dark new sound.” (p. 921)

Duke Ellington in 1930: The Busiest of Years

Account of the many activities of Ellington in 1930

To describe Duke Ellington’s life in 1930 as busy would be an understatement. Riding the wave of his growing success, he was always working hard and always looking ahead. R.D. Darrell, the eminent critic of the Phonograph Monthly Review, noticed this at the time: “Ellington refuses to rest a single month on his laurels.” (Tucker, 33). In 1930 Ellington’s band recorded on 20 occasions under nine different names. It played almost every night at the Cotton Club from January 1 to June 12 and from September 14 to December 30. It had three two-week engagements on Broadway. And it travelled to Hollywood to participate in a major feature film. All this was on top of shorter engagements and numerous radio broadcasts. Duke also had to find time to write new numbers and to orchestrate current popular songs. These new additions to the band’s book meant regular rehearsals too. Even more of his time was taken up running his band, dealing with manager Irving Mill, and sometimes negotiating with organized crime. So it’s surprising that in 1930 Ellington also found the time and energy to take the first step away from his dance-band composing towards music suitable for the concert hall. This first step was a composition whose variable rhythms discouraged dancing and whose length exceeded the limits of the conventional 78rpm record.

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