a site by John Cobley

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Benny Carter, Further Definitions: Must-Have Jazz Album #1

Must-Have Jazz LPs series: description of Further Definitions LP and justification for selection

Impulse Records, November, 1961. Benny Carter, Phil Woods, alto sax; Coleman Hawkins, Charles Rouse, tenor sax; Dick Katz, piano;  John Collins, guitar; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Jo Jones, drums. The initial idea for this unusual but very successful album was producer Bob Thiele’s. The 39-year-old had just taken over the Impulse label, and he was looking for additions to its catalogue. He learned that California-based Benny Carter was in New York, working as Peggy Lee’s arranger, and he managed to sweet-talk Carter into doing an album with Coleman Hawkins and Jo Jones, two of his contemporaries who also happened to be in town.

Willis Conover: Music as Propaganda

Conover's VOA broadcasts during the Cold War used music to promote the USA.

The emotional power of music has been exploited throughout human history. Many traditional religious ceremonies depend on music. Today it is used in shopping malls, gyms and restaurants, at the beginning of sports events, and for advertising and film. Armies went to war with marching bands and bagpipes, and public events are started with national anthems. Even political propaganda, which is mainly verbal, has successfully exploited music. One of the best examples of music as successful propaganda can be found in the jazz broadcasts of the Voice of America (VOA) during the Cold War.  VOA was a short-wave radio station that was originally set up by the American Office of War Information for propaganda purposes during World War Two. John Houseman, more famous as a theatre producer and actor, was the first director of VOA. He established its policy and programming. At first the material was largely verbal, but Houseman’s view of propaganda soon changed: “We found ourselves using music as an instrument of propaganda.” (Terence M. Ripmaster, Willis Conover: Broadcasting Jazz to the World, p. 23) During the war, VOA began to broadcast American popular music, which was predominantly big-band jazz at that time. Such music had been banned in Axis countries.

Dinner with Mingus

Account of a 1960s dinner with Charles Mingus

This is a recollection of an encounter with one of the great jazz musicians. It shows a side of Charles Mingus’s character that goes against the common depiction of him as an angry man.  Although the dinner party took place 40 years ago, Sue Mitchell remembers it as one of the most embarrassing events of her life. In the mid-70s, she and her husband Stan Meisler were visiting New York from Mexico. Her journalist husband had contacted an old New York school-friend, Paul Ash, and he had invited them to dinner.

The Jazz Review: Why So Short-Lived?

The Jazz Review lasted only a few years. Editorial idealism was one cause of its demise.

“Most people who publish a little magazine do so with big intentions.” J.C. TLS, May 8, 2015 -One of the most interesting jazz magazines ever published has now appeared on the Internet in a PDF version. The Jazz Review (TJR) began publication in 1958 and ceased just 23 monthly issues later in 1961. Co-edited by two young but already respected jazz writers, Martin Williams and Nat Hentoff, TJR seemed likely to succeed; its serious approach was timely as younger university-trained jazz musicians were seeking artistic recognition and jazz had evolved from dance music to serious music for listening. However, TJR was soon embroiled in controversy because of its strong opinions. Musicians were particularly offended by some of its judgments, and I suspect there was some kind of unofficial jazz-musician boycott of the magazine.

Duke Ellington in London, 1933

The story of Duke Ellington's first trip to England in 1933.

When the Duke Ellington Orchestra visited London in 1958, it performed concerts in the Royal Festival Hall, perhaps England’s most prestigious venue for serious music. This privilege was in stark contrast to its first visit to London 25 years earlier in 1933, when the orchestra undertook a two-week engagement as part of a variety bill at the London Palladium. Ellington’s music for this gig was promoted as “voodoo harmonies” and “jungle rhythm.” (Spike Hughes, Daily Herald, June, 1933) On the bill with the Ellington Orchestra in 1933 were twelve other acts. They included Max Miller, a stand-up comedian famous for his risqué jokes; contortionists De Wolf, Metcalf & Ford; dancers Bailey and Derby; Bessie Dudley, a dancer known as the Snake-Hips Girl; and a group called 7 Hindustanis. Of course, the Ellington Orchestra changed a lot in those 25 years, especially with the contributions of arranger and composer Billy Strayhorn that started in 1938. The Ellington Orchestra of 1933 was nevertheless creating some innovative and proficient music that thrilled British audiences and that, seen in retrospect, was moving towards the brilliant 1938-1942 music.

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