a site by John Cobley

a coppice gate


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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.

Juan Tizol: A Classically Trained Musician in Jazz

Profile of Juan Tizol focussing on his classical training

At the age of 20, after two earlier visits, Puerto Rican Juan Tizol arrived in New York as a stowaway--to make his living as a musician. His greatest asset—he lost all his money and his valve trombone when gambling on the journey over—was his thorough training in classical music. Throughout his long career he maintained a classical approach while adapting to the jazz idiom enough to achieve great success. After long tenures with Duke Ellington, Harry James and Nelson Riddle, he left behind a rich legacy of compositions and recorded music.

Gillespie and Parker: The Birth of Bebop

Relationship between Gillespie and Parker that led to the birth of Bebop

The partnership between Dizzy Gillespie (left) and Charlie Parker (right) in the early 1940s was the key element in the birth of bebop in jazz. Ross Russell, for example, has written that they played  “an omnipotent role in the forging of the new style.” (“Bebop,” Martin Williams, ed. The Art of Jazz, p. 197) The two met in Kansas City in 1940, but their relationship didn’t develop until 1942, when they were both members of the Earl Hines big band. They had very different personalities: Gillespie was an organized and businesslike musician, with an ability to write arrangements; Parker, a heroin addict since 1937, was a disorganized and unreliable musical genius. Nevertheless, this odd couple managed to work closely together for a short period to create some of the finest music in the history of jazz.

Duke Ellington: The Coronets

I first learned about Duke Ellington’s Coronets when I came across this 10” LP in a back-street shop in Brighton, England. I must admit I bought it mainly for Ellington’s name and the unusual cover. Who were the Coronets? The musicians were not listed on the cover, but I found them on the record itself (one of them, Gonsalves, misspelt with a “z”). Also on the record was the name of the original recording label, Mercer Records, N.Y. This British version was issued by Vogue Records Ltd., 113-115 Fulham Road, London SW3. It was described as a Microgroove 33 1/3 r.p.m. and was listed as L.D.E. 035. I guessed it was from the early LP days.

Kenny Wheeler: Suite for Hard Rubber Orchestra

Review of CD of Kenny Wheeler's music

The spirit of Kenny Wheeler lives on. A new work of his has just been recorded: Suite for Hard Rubber Orchestra. Completed in 2013, not long before his death, this suite has all the richness and beauty of his earlier orchestral compositions. Although Wheeler’s trumpet and flugelhorn playing understandably lost some of its earlier power in his 70s and 80s, his creativity stayed with him till the end. This suite was commissioned by John Korsrud, founder and director of Vancouver’s Hard Rubber Orchestra. It was first performed at Simon Fraser University in 2013 and was finally recorded and issued in 2018. For the recording, Korsrud enlisted British vocalist Norma Winstone, who had worked with Wheeler for many years and whose voice became an integral part of the Wheeler orchestral sound. As well, Korsrud organized some fine soloists: Eli Bennett on tenor, Mike Herriott on trumpet, Campbell Ryga on alto, and Ron Samworth on guitar.

Whitney Balliett and 1960s Jazz Musicians

Whitney Balliett's attitude to 1960s jazz musicians in his New Yorker columns

Recently I returned to Whitney Balliett’s 700-page Collected Works to see what wrote about Chick Corea. Balliett wrote regularly for The New Yorker from 1957 to the 1990’s; his columns were widely regarded as the height of jazz criticism. What I quickly discovered was that many of the major jazz musicians who like Corea rose to prominence in the 1960s were either ignored or deftly put down by Balliett. Index entries of these musicians generally referred only to mentions; rarely was their music discussed. Balliett frequently used lists in his columns to illustrate influence of style.

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