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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This 10-CD collection has been overlooked in recent books on Duke Ellington (Teachout, Tucker, Nicholson, Hasse). It deserves attention. Jazz critics have often asserted that Duke Ellington had two instruments—the piano and his orchestra. There was always a piano available for practicing his keyboard skills, but it was a different matter when it came to honing of his orchestral skills. Rehearsals helped, but he only got to hear the finished product one play-through at a time. A better, though expensive option arose in the late 1950s. He would rent a recording studio and record new compositions and new arrangements. This way he could “hear how it sounded” and through repeated listenings analyse the music away from the distractions of the recording studios and of rehearsals. His longtime trumpeter Clark Terry has written how important listening was to Duke: “He was very firm about us listening…listening to the totality of the music. The texture. The timbre. What each section meant to the total piece.” (Clark, p. 133)
Stan Getz, for me, is the Orpheus of jazz. I have been continually spellbound by his playing—as the wild beasts and even the trees were spellbound by the music of the mythic Orpheus. That’s 50 years of being spellbound because I bought this album when it was issued in 1967! (And the LP still sounds good.) From 1937 to 1990 Stan Getz recorded so many brilliant albums that I could list a dozen that would be worthy of being in my must-have list. However, I consider Sweet Rain to be his finest album. Recorded in 1967 when he was 40, this Verve album shows Getz at his very best, playing in a style that was to continue to the end of his career. This style had evolved from his earlier soft alto-like playing. The change came in the early 1960s when he was playing bossa nova.
John Dankworth leads his big band. With the appearance of the LP (long-playing record) in the 1950s, the idea of a unified album gradually emerged. Rather than a loose collection of songs or short pieces of music, record labels gradually moved to albums based on a unifying theme. Of course the LP was ideal for symphonies and other larger works created before the invention of the LP. Of course the LP was also a perfect vehicle for a focused collection of songs from an opera or a musical. But the format also called for original music. Jazz composers, who generally wrote with recordings in mind, began to look to the LP as a vehicle for a unified work of 30-40 minutes. Such LPs were the early so-called concept albums. One of the first was conceived by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in 1957; Such Sweet Thunder was a suite written with the LP in mind. It was original music inspired by characters in Shakespeare’s plays. Gil Evans, though not using original music, was moving in the same direction with Miles Ahead (1957) and Sketches of Spain (1960). The former album was a carefully sequenced composition designed to showcase the trumpet of Miles Davis. The latter was organized around Spanish music from Rodrigo and de Falla to folk songs. Despite these and other early jazz albums based on a single idea, the concept album wasn’t firmly established as a genre until a decade later in 1967 when The Beatles issued Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This LP was the start of a widespread trend of concept albums.
Wayne Shorter’s long and distinguished recording career can be tidily divided into four parts: 4 ½ years with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; 5½ years with Miles Davis; 15 years with Weather Report; and 10 years with his own quartet. Of course, he recorded in many other formats, notably with John Coltrane, Lee Morgan and VSOP. One of the most interesting series of recordings is the eleven LPs he made under his own name for Blue Note Records from 1964 to 1970. These LPs, dating from the end of his Blakey tenure through his Miles Davis years, are important examples of his own music, of the way he wanted to compose and solo. They show how he moved away from the hard bop style of the Blakey years and into his own very individual style.
The history of jazz generally focuses on the musicians. Rightly so, but it should also include the record producers. These often-forgotten producers ensure that the music is not lost. Eric Dolphy had forgotten them when he said, “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone in the air; you can never capture it again.” Record producers have been able to capture a music that is otherwise ephemeral, leaving posterity a rich legacy of improvised jazz. One of the most important producers was Bob Thiele (1922-1996). He started working in the recording industry as a 17-year-old and continued to the end of his life for a total of 56 years. His drive, affability and musical sensitivity enabled him to record countless great jazz musicians. We are so fortunate that we can still hear these jazz musicians today.