Thursday, November 30, 2017

Albert Murray - "Stomping The Blues" - 40th Anniversary Edition

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


"Murray is possessed of the poet's language, the novelist's sensibility, the essayist's clarity, the jazzman's imagination, the gospel singer's depth of feeling."
—The New Yorker


"Beautifully illustrated with vivid period photos, LP covers, and broadsides of black jazz icons, Stomping the Blues represents the zenith of Murray's writing on the subject."
— Rolling Stone


"One fine lyrical history of the music. Murray demonstrates the central role of blues/jazz in American culture, telling us about the nature of our past, present and future: which of course is exactly what the blues is."
—San Francisco Review of Books


"A flamboyant, insightful examination and evocation of the sources, styles, and mythologies of blues music."
—Newsweek


Jonathan Haidt is a NYU professor of social psychology who specializes in morality and moral emotions.


On November 15th he delivered the 2017 Wriston Lecture to the Manhattan Institute under the title -  “The Age of Outrage: What It’s Doing to Our Universities and Our Country.”


Professor Haidt began his lecture by observing:


“Today’s identity politics . . . teaches the exact opposite of what we think a liberal arts education should be. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world.


By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a utilitarian or as a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or as a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.


But what do we do now? Many students are given just one lens—power. Here’s your lens, kid. Look at everything through this lens. Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people.


This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence.”


In recent years, Jazz, too, has been afflicted by the Cult of the Single Lens which preaches that Jazz was created by Black musicians and appropriated by White musicians. Some go as far as saying that Jazz as a Black Art was stolen by White impersonators.


Those who hold this viewpoint have promulgated a distorted version of the facts that was shaped by ideas that were ideological before they were musical.


But to many scholars, it is beyond dispute that white musicians have been an integral force in jazz from its earliest days. Above all, they maintain that the idea of Jazz as an exclusively black cultural preserve does not stand up to close scrutiny.


Such matters have been loudly argued, even fought over, and doubtless will continue to be hot subjects for some time to come.


More relevant is the question of the music: Does any evidence support the idea of identifiable "black" and "white" styles? Did it ever?


As Richard Sudhalter points out in his seminal Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945:


“In the early years of Jazz’s evolution, particularly in the 1920s and '30s, there were differences. They came about chiefly because musicians of different races were separated in their day-to-day and professional lives. And it was separately that black and white musicians grappled with the same problems of rhythm, harmony, melodic construction, interaction.


Some of his more extreme views may make Amiri Baraka (a.k.a. Leroi Jones) an unlikely source of valuable insight into such matters. Yet he seems right on target when he remarks, in Blues People: Negro Music in White America:


“Jazz as played by white musicians was not the same as that played by black musicians, nor was there any reason for it to be. The music of the white jazz musicians did not issue from the same cultural circumstances.”


In the context of the early years, the distinction is important. Differences in upbringing, environment, and musical training left white jazzmen (especially those who had little personal contact with black culture and its traditions) more likely to intellectualize, emphasizing matters of harmony and structure.


Performances by black ensembles, above all those of the South and Southwest, possessed, in general, a degree of rhythmic freedom, personal interaction, and often a blues feeling and melodic vocabulary rarely found in music by corresponding white bands. Again, Baraka gets it right:


“The white musicians understood the blues first as music, but seldom as an attitude, since the attitude, or world-view, the white musician was responsible to was necessarily quite a different one.”


But, along with other scholars who follow this line of reasoning, he fails to account for those many major black Jazzmen who feel, and display, little or no affinity for the blues and its "attitude." The exceptions they present, in their very numbers, are a counterargument, which cannot be explained, as Baraka tries to do, only as a matter of "Negroes trying to pretend that they had issued from [white] culture."


More likely, it seems, is an interpretation suggesting that mastery of what came to be called Jazz was not a matter of racial or genetic affinity (always a dangerous hypothesis) but of choice.”


As has been widely demonstrated in Richard Sudhalter’s Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945, Jazzmen of the pre-World War II decades, black and white, paid careful attention to each other's work, and that the degree to which such mutuality affected individuals varied immensely.


As he states: “Beginning in the 1920’s, individual musicians and ensembles made choices based on what they liked, even admired, incorporating the results in their emergent solo styles. Choice, above all, quickly became the determinant of what and how a man played, how he constructed and developed a solo, addressed the beat. In this context, as noted earlier, certain traits — tendencies and attitudes — can be identified as "white" and "black" contributions to the mix.”


One such “choice” or to revert back to Professor Haidt’s use of the term “lens” is the use of The Blues as a basis for a musician’s approach to Jazz.
[“I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.”]


And since it was first published in 1977, there has been no better description of how Jazzmen who chose The Blues as a lens through which to solve the problems of rhythm, harmony, melodic construction, and interaction needed to play Jazz at the highest levels than Albert Murray’s Stomping The Blues.


If you missed its original publication, the University of Minnesota Press is currently offering a 40th anniversary paperback edition with a new introduction by Murray-scholar, Paul Devlin.


The following from a University of Minnesota media release is very accurate concerning the tone and tenor of Murray’s landmark study of the blues and its relationship to Jazz:


In this classic work of American music writing, renowned critic Albert Murray argues beautifully and authoritatively that "the blues as such are synonymous with low spirits. Not only is its express purpose to make people feel good, which is to say in high spirits, but in the process of doing so it is actually expected to generate a disposition that is both elegantly playful and heroic in its nonchalance."


In Stomping the Blues Murray explores its history, influences, development, and meaning as only he can. More than two hundred vintage photographs capture the ambiance Murray evokes in lyrical prose. Only the sounds are missing from this lyrical, sensual tribute to the blues.”


To carry Professor Haidt’s lens analogy one step further, a reading of Albert Murray’s Stomping the Blues will certainly provide the reader with some clearer views to understand these assertions from Amiri Baraka (a.k.a. Leroi Jones) in Blues People: Negro Music in White America:


“Jazz as played by white musicians was not the same as that played by black musicians, nor was there any reason for it to be. The music of the white jazz musicians did not issue from the same cultural circumstances.”


“The white musicians understood the blues first as music, but seldom as an attitude, since the attitude, or world-view, the white musician was responsible to was necessarily quite a different one.”


It’s one thing to say The Blues, but it’s quite another to understand what is meant by it.


Since it publication 40 years ago, Stomping the Blues has been influential in a number of ways as is detailed in Paul Devlin’s new introduction to the 40th anniversary edition.


Perhaps one of the most helpful insights about what Mr. Murray means by The Blues is contained in the opening paragraph of Mr. Devlin’s Introduction:


"’For Paul, Some fundamentals.’ That is how Albert Murray inscribed my copy of Stomping the Blues. Here is one of his most fundamental points: "You don't stomp the blues like this [pounds fist on table] — you stomp the blues like this [snaps with panache on the afterbeat]." Murray used this example all the time in interviews and on panels in order to illustrate that the blues is "stomped" with elegance, not force; with technique, not power; with joie de vivre, not rage.”


Mr. Devlin’s Introduction also contains many other perceptive and penetrating observations about the book that will help the reader gain a fuller appreciation of its significance. For example, Mr. Murray tells us that:


“Blues music has always been good-time music; its function has been the exorcism of despair."


Mr. Devlin parallel’s this with the work of Andre Malraux when he explains:


“To an extent, this is an application of Andre’ Malraux's argument about the workings of the artistic process: that art, primarily, is a response to art, as explained in his book The Voices of Silence (1953), a monumental, profound, and idiosyncratic analysis of the visual arts that Murray studied for decades, and a work not unlike Stomping the Blues in several ways: poetic, written by a learned critic, yet not shackled by the conventions developed or expected by academic or journalistic critics of the form in question, slow and methodical to start, and difficult to put down once it starts swinging.


Another point Murray considered fundamental was his reorientation of how blues relates to jazz: as a matter of the level of orchestration. Indeed, he argues that the process by which pop tunes and show tunes are recomposed as jazz tunes is "precisely" the process by which the folk blues was extended, elaborated, and refined into jazz. Stomping the Blues is fundamental to his vision of existence and a lens through which to view other aspects of culture. …  It expounds a vision of and for life …  Stomping the Blues endures year after year, enthralling readers new and old while provoking debate.”


In a brief synopsis, Mr. Devlin also details the storied, earlier publication history of Stomping the Blues:


Stomping the Blues was published by McGraw-Hill in November 1976 and was celebrated with a midday "Kansas City Jam Session" in the publisher's landmark headquarters in midtown Manhattan, featuring jazz giants Mary Lou Williams, Budd Johnson, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Oliver Jackson, Bill Pemberton, and Doc Cheatham. What an auspicious beginning: an artist saluted by artists he salutes. Stomping the Blues went on to win ASCAP's Deems Taylor Award for music criticism in 1977. A British edition was published in 1978, and subsequent American editions in 1982, 1989, and 2000. In 2016 it was included in the Library of America's edition of Murray's essays and memoirs ….”


Mr. Devlin offers a broader context as well in which to appreciate the influence and effect of Stomping the Blues as its relates to other of Mr. Murray’s writings, all of which have been published by the University of Minnesota Press, when he notes that:


This edition is a result of a collaboration that began in mid-2009 when I pitched what became Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones as told to Albert Murray, to the University of Minnesota Press [2011]. Since then, working with Murray's literary executor, Lewis P. Jones in, Minnesota has published Murray Talks Music; Albert Murray on Blues and Jazz (2016), a collection of Murray's previously uncollected or unpublished interviews and writings on music (edited by me), and a new edition of Good Morning Blues; The Autobiography of Count Basie as told to Albert Murray (2016), the fourth American edition. Murray Talks Music is a valuable companion to Stomping the Blues. These four books together tell an edifying story about American music and culture in the twentieth century: jazz and the blues as thought and lived; jazz and the blues in theory and practice. Stomping the Blues is the masterpiece that led to the other three….”


In the third and final section of his Introduction, Mr. Devlin offers these comments about the reception and influence of Stomping The Blues:


Stomping the Blues was reviewed extensively. Some of the smartest and most perceptive reviews include those by Gary Giddins in New York, John Edgar Wideman in The American Poetry Review, Robert Fleming in Freedomways, Bob Blumenthal in The Boston Phoenix, Stanley Dance in Jazz Journal, and Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone. ...


Many reviewers understood and appreciated what Murray was trying to do. A few years later Nelson George argued in the Village Voice in 1982 that it should be brought back into print and it soon was. George notes, perceptively, ‘the marvel of Stomping is that Murray manages to be both analytically detached and emotionally involved—criticism's most difficult parlay.’


By the early 1980s, and perhaps beginning with the review of the British edition in the Times Literary Supplement in 1978, a certain number of white jazz critics had started misinterpreting and exaggerating the caption on page 197, in which Murray refers to white jazz musicians as being part of the "third line." Third line does not mean third rate, as several critics have claimed or implied: it simply refers to a physical position in the old New Orleans parades, which Murray then used as a metaphor for closeness to idiomatic sources. ….


Stomping the Blues was probably the first work to articulate the connection between jazz, the blues, and locomotive onomatopoeia (or at least the first to do so cogently and comprehensively). Duke Ellington had been orchestrating stylized locomotives since the 1920s and Murray had been talking with Ellington about this since at least 1951 ….


Stomping the Blues had a marked influence on the development of Jazz at Lincoln Center, which Murray cofounded (see Murray Talks Music). The Preface to the Da Capo Press edition in 2000 frames the book in terms of that influence; it is the only previous dition to have an introductory essay. The Preface was written by Rob Gibson, a performing arts executive who was the first director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in 1991, and in 2000 was its executive producer and director….As of 2000, he writes that Stomping the Blues is a ‘preeminent source’ for people working in the jazz world and that Jazz at Lincoln Center has been able to embody ‘the many ideas that define this treatise.’


Aside from its place in the intellectual foundation of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Stomping the Blues has become a standard text in history of jazz courses, is a foundational text of the discipline of jazz studies, and has been quoted, cited, and discussed in dozens of books and academic articles….


But the reason to read Stomping the Blues today is not necessarily for its influence on Jazz at Lincoln Center, or on jazz studies as a discipline, or because the blues is central to the life of a random person on the street, or can elucidate a crucial response to modernity, but because following the movement of Murray's thought is a valuable experience in itself.  Yet the content of Stomping the Blues is accurate and can be the cornerstone of
an education in twentieth-century music. …”


Mr. Devlin sums up his Introduction with the following exhortation:


“So, if you're buying this book to replace a tattered copy from a history of jazz course, or if you are completing a Murray collection, or if you are discovering Murray for the first time, may it be your discovery of the year, and may rediscoveries be like new discoveries. Happy stomping.”


Paul Devlin
Long Island, New York
April 2017


I would also urge you to read Stomping the Blues because it will afford you with, from the perspective of Professor Haidt, another “ … tool for understanding the world,” -the Jazz World, that is.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Jo Stafford/ Jo + Jazz

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Jo Stafford, died on July 16, 2008, aged 90. She not only had one of the most pure, wide-ranging voices in American popular song - adored by wartime servicemen, who dubbed her “GI Jo” - but also the ability to parody appalling, off-key vocalizing under the guises of Darlene Edwards and Cinderella G Stump.

She first came to notice as one of the Pied Pipers group which backed Frank Sinatra on his early recordings with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the late 1930s, and she made a decisive retirement in the early 1960s.

Her wartime fame might suggest an American Vera
Lynn, but admirers thought her possessed of greater range, wit and subtlety.

It was a style neither cool nor jazz, but nor was it bland; and if not exactly seething, she was certainly not merely the girl-next-door in her approach. She could always surprise.

Jo Elizabeth Stafford was born on
November 12 1917 at Coalinga, a one-horse town between San Francisco and Los Angeles, to which her father Grover Cleveland Stafford had brought the family from Gainesboro, Tennessee, in the hope of making a fortune from oil.

He managed only to find a series of mediocre jobs which were scarcely to see them through the Depression.

Among them was one at Miss Hall’s School, a private finishing-school for girls.

Jo always remembered his being allowed to bring home the school phonograph on Christmas and hear a disc of the old song Whispering Hope.

Her mother, Anne, had been an adroit performer on the five-string banjo, and the folk music of
Tennessee was to remain an influence on Jo’s voice and some of her later repertoire.

Meanwhile, at school, she spent five years in classical training, with the notion that she might become an opera singer, but she realized that it would require even more time than that, and there was a living to be earned in the meantime.

She was the third of four sisters, two of them, Pauline and Christine, being 14 and 11 years older than her. With them, she formed a singing group, such sibling ensembles being typical of the time.


The pretty Stafford Sisters were in demand. They appeared on local radio and, five nights a week, put in an hour on the folkie show The Crockett Family of
Kentucky.

By contrast, they provided the voices of madrigal singers in the 1937 Astaire-
Rogers picture A Damsel in Distress. Jo sang back-up for Alice Faye, and there was a distinct turning point in 1938 when Twentieth-Century Fox was making the film Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Various vocal groups were drafted in and were left to hang around much of the time.

Among them were two groups, The Four Esquires and (also all-male) a trio, The Rhythm Kings. With Jo, they became the eight-piece Pied Pipers.

As chance would also have it, two of The King Sisters, Yvonne and Alyce, each had a boyfriend who worked for Tommy Dorsey and were visiting LA.

These were Paul Weston and Axel Stordahl. When the Pied Pipers arrived at the party given for Weston and Stordahl, they made straight for the refrigerator and ate all the food, even the ketchup: so poor were they that they had eaten little for days.

Also typical of the time was that they thought nothing of piling into an automobile and driving across the continent to
New York when it was clear that Dorsey would audition them for his radio show.

They performed on several shows, but were then turfed-out when the English sponsor chanced to visit and was affronted by their casual attitude towards lyrics, which he thought would endanger his product.

The group subsisted for six months in the city, then realized that the game was up and headed back to the West Coast, where the men had to take other jobs.

Just when Jo got home from collecting her first welfare check, there was a message to call
Chicago and reverse the charges. It was Dorsey again. He could not accommodate eight singers, but wanted a quartet.

The Pied Pipers left for
Chicago in December 1939, just as Weston was leaving the orchestra to work with Dinah Shore and Sinatra was arriving from Harry James’s band.

Dorsey was a volatile character - everybody was sacked or resigned at some time, usually for a few hours - and his orchestra was sometimes played down by critics as a routine outfit; which was to be blind to its great charm and the way in which it was adapted to the various permutations of vocalists. The young Sinatra, for one, recognized this and - whatever the bitterness of his falling out with a mercenary
Dorsey - would always testify as much.

The first song on which the Pied Pipers appeared with him was the No 1 hit I’ll Never Smile Again. Perhaps the best-known of the songs upon which the Pied Pipers performed was Oh Look At Me Now, which also featured another Dorsey vocalist, Connie Haines. (Sinatra later re-recorded it at a slower pace, and Jo Stafford, too, revisited it in the 1950s, with male background singers.)

Whatever his other shortcomings, such as a volatile friendship with drummer Buddy Rich, Sinatra was devoted to the music. As Jo Stafford recalled, “most solo singers usually don’t fit too well into a group, but Frank never stopped working at it and, of course, as you know, he blended beautifully with us”.


She herself had an eye for a song and, self-deprecatingly, asked Dorsey whether she might have a solo with Little Man With A Candy Cigar. He not only agreed, but brought her forward on other, better songs such as Embraceable You.

The orchestra featured in a few forgettable movies, and by March 1942, Sinatra had gone solo. A few months later, the songwriter Johnny Mercer was able to fulfill his ambition of starting a record company, Capitol, on the West Coast.

Mercer was keen to get Jo Stafford, and she hungered for a return to
California. The label also featured Peggy Lee and Margaret Whiting; as songs came up, the company decided which singer was best suited to them. “It was all completely music oriented,” she recalled, “a lot of fun.”

During the decade, Jo had 38 songs in the Top Twenty, among them The Trolley Song and My Darling, My Darling - and was held in particular esteem by servicemen for whom, like Sinatra, she made numerous recordings on the V-Discs distributed only within the armed forces.

Her first No 1, in the middle of 1947, was, however, not under her own name. She had been walking across the Capitol studio when she heard the musician Country Washburn, who was working on a parody of Perry Como’s hit Temptation.

The singer had not turned up, so, there and then, Jo Stafford volunteered to sing: with her voice speeded up, the result was Tim-tayshun and the alias of Cinderella G Stump, to which the label would not at first allow her to own up. Moreover, she had done it for fun; and for scale: she refused royalties, to her agent’s dismay.

She made various radio series, and, while doing so, realized that she did not care to live in
New York. She returned to California, whence she continued to broadcast The Chesterfield Supper Club.

As well as Broadway standards, she was always keen to give time to
America’s folk heritage. She recorded albums of these songs, with strings, and also duets of devotional songs with Gordon McRae, such as the 19th-century Whispering Hope, which reached No 4 in 1949.

She made regular appearances on the Voice of America radio station (and was as much a voice during the Korean war as she had been in the Second).


When Paul Weston left for Columbia Records in the early 1950s, she followed him, and they were married in 1952, at which time she became a Catholic.

She developed theme LPs, and continued to have such hits as You Belong To Me which, though recorded only to fill up time at the end of a session, sold two million copies. Other hits were an adaptation of an old blues as Make Love To Me!, Weston’s Shrimps Boats, a version of Hank Williams’s Jambalaya, and All The Things You Are.

Columbia’s director Mitch Miller was notorious for novelty notions, most gruesomely pairing Frank Sinatra with a dog on Mama Will Bark. Jo Stafford got off relatively lightly with eight hits with Frankie Laine (among them, In the Cool, Cool of the Evening and Hey, Good Lookin’) and one with Liberace (Indiscretion). She had a show on the label’s television affiliate, CBS.

She had sold 25 million discs for the label, but with the advent of Elvis Presley in 1956, the music market changed. She now concentrated on albums, her range suggested by Jo + Jazz, Swingin’ Down Broadway, Ballad of the Blues, some discs of religious music, and a collection of Scottish tunes. At the same time, another guise presented itself.

At a
Columbia sales-convention in Florida, Weston played the piano in parody of a particularly atrocious supper-club performer, just as the session-musicians used to do if there were any time left over at the end of recordings.

The audience, including Dean Martin’s wife, Jeanne, was delighted. Jo Stafford was persuaded to produce several cringe-worthy collections with her husband, just off-key enough to be plausible, under the names Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. They acquired a cult following.

Weston then fell out with
Columbia, and the pair returned to Capitol. The summer of 1961 was spent in England, where they made a dozen shows for ATV.

By now they had two children and, little by little, Jo Stafford withdrew from the industry.

She made albums on various labels, and some more devotional sides with Gordon McRae, but would not make any night-club appearances.

She gave much time to charities for handicapped children and singers, and said that she no longer sang “for the same reason that Lana Turner is not posing in bathing-suits any more”. She resisted approaches by the Californian label
Concord.

Jo Stafford had made over 600 recordings, and she and Paul were able to claim the masters of those from
Columbia and issue them on their own Corinthian label.

Not that she was completely finished, record-wise: she not only recorded a duet of Whispering Hope with her daughter but returned to the microphone as Darlene Edwards, in 1979, for devastating takes on Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman and - bizarrely - The Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive. She made one last appearance in 1982 - on the same bill as Sinatra.

She had always replied to servicemen who wrote to her, and was an authority on the war. Weston died in 1996; Jo Stafford is survived by her children, Tim, a guitarist and record producer, and Amy, a singer.

The following video tribute to Jo features her performing Johnny Mandel’s arrangement of You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To with solo by Jimmy Rowles [piano], Ben Webster [tenor sax] and Conte Candoli [trumpet].



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Jean-Pierre- Leloir's Photos Convey Admiration" - Bill Meyer

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Here’s the last of our promised blog features on Downbeat’s 2017 gifts-of-the-season recommendations.

“Photographer Jean-Pierre Leloir (1931-2010) got his first camera from a U.S. soldier the day that Paris was liberated from Nazi occupation. That act had profound consequences for the rest of Leloir's life. He would go on to make photography his profession, first publishing his work in Jazz Hot magazine in 1951. Some of Leloir's best-known images are of French singers, such as his celebrated portrait of Georges Brassens, Leo Ferre and Jacques Brel smoking and chatting around a table.

He also captured images of rock stars, but he held jazz musicians in high esteem throughout his life. In a moment of sweet irony, when the French government made him Chevalier de L'Ordre Des Arts et des Lettres in 2010, it similarly recognized bassist Ron Carter, one of his photographic subjects, in the same ceremony.

Two jazz enthusiasts in Spain have compiled Jazz Images (Elemental Music Records; available from Amazon), a 168-page coffee-table book of Leloir's color and black-and-white photos. Gerardo Canellas runs jazz clubs in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and Buenos Aires, Argentina; Jordi Soley has collected, sold and distributed jazz records since 1980. Canellas and Soley's objective when choosing images for the book was to favor photographs of spontaneous moments that took place offstage. The result is a collection that nicely balances iconic images with intimate ones.

Among the artists depicted are Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd, Nina Simon, Thelonious Monk and Sarah Vaughan. Most of the book is devoted to photos, but there is also a preface by Ashley Kahn and brief essays by three musicians whom Leloir photographed — Quincy Jones, Michel Legrand and Martial Solal.

In his essay, Quincy Jones celebrates the power of photography to preserve and recall history. He writes, "We need to get back to our roots and remember where we came from. I am so happy to see Leloir's work published, because behind each image is a story — one that needs to be told and appreciated."

One photo of Count Basie sitting at a makeshift desk says volumes about the transience and hard work of a bandleader's life. A double image of Donald Byrd reading a newspaper on a bench with a neon-lit club behind him captures the tenuousness of a life spent creating after dark.


In his piece, Martial Solal articulates the mixture of competence and respect that enabled the photographer to gain his subjects' trust: "During that period, Leloir was one of the very few photographers interested in the musicians, and he was certainly the only one who knew us by name. His manners and behavior always seemed very professional, highly precise and meticulous, and it was apparent that he loved what he was doing and admired his chosen models."

This admiration is powerfully conveyed in Leloir's photos of John Coltrane. Some depict the smartly attired saxophonist gazing to one side, dignified and pondering. Another from the same session captures him looking intently at his horn's mouthpiece. Another sequence finds the notoriously workaholic Coltrane rehearsing in his hotel room. And in one rare image the saxophonist gives a wide-open grin, showing the teeth that never made it into official portraits. No matter how many Coltrane albums you own, you're bound to come away from that photo feeling like you've learned something new about him. Now that's art.”

—Bill Meyer

Monday, November 27, 2017

"Fans Get Lucky" [Thompson]- by Ron Hart

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Here’s another of our promised blog features on Downbeat’s 2017 gifts-of-the-season recommendations.

“Tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson (1924-2005) worked in some of the most famous jazz orchestras of the 1940s and early '50s, playing in big bands led by such swing icons as Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton and Count Basie. He was one of the first African Americans in Boyd Raeburn's legendary orchestra. Thompson often found himself on the bandstand situated in proximity to such future giants as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, Leo Parker and many more. According to jazz critics of the time, Thompson was in the same league as these extraordinary gentlemen, garnering comparisons to modern jazz pioneers such as Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young in the pages of publications like DownBeat and Esquire.

But the intriguing thing about Thompson was that he clearly didn't suffer fools gladly. His quickness to call out club owners or music industry executives who did him wrong earned him a reputation for being difficult, costing him gigs both at clubs and in the studio.

Tired of petty politics, Thompson relocated to Paris in 1956, where he would spend the remainder of the decade honing his craft in the small-band format with some of the hottest players in French jazz. He frequently collaborated with pianist Martial Solal, and he worked with a rotating combo consisting of such young Parisian lions as guitarist Jean-Pierre Sasson, bassist Benoit Quersin and drummer Gerard "Dave" Pochonet. He also shared the bandstand with fellow American expats, like trumpeter Emmett Berry, drummer Kenny Clarke and pianist Sammy Price.

Recorded in mono, the four-disc set Complete Parisian Small Group Sessions 1956-1959 - Fresh Sound Records; www.freshsoundrecords.com - documents Thompson's transition from a blacklisted freelance musician in the States to one of the most respected and in-demand leaders on the Parisian scene. His work in the quartet and quintet formats allowed him to explore the feather-light intimacies of melody, rhythm and texture, expressing himself in a way that would have been difficult, if not impossible, in a big band.

For fans who prefer to hear Thompson in the throes of a large ensemble, there's a companion disc, Lucky Thompson In Paris 1956 (Fresh Sound Records), which shines a light on the saxophonist's All Star Orchestra Sessions. On the first of these sessions, Thompson joined the 10-piece Modern Jazz Group to play five compositions written by pianist Henri Renaud (including "Meet Quincy Jones") and arranged to highlight the newly arrived saxophonist. For the remaining three sessions, Thompson and Pochonet co-led medium-sized all-star groups that played originals like Sasson's "Portrait Of Django" and Thompson's "Still Waters," as well as an arrangement of Count Basie and Neal Hefti's "Bluebeard Blues."

The pleasures of hearing this unsung tenor master overcome the dogma of his homeland and reinvent his legacy as a leader makes these reissues a revelation, especially if you are a fan of the embryonic stage of modern jazz.

Moreover, Thompson's life story illustrates a vitally important lesson: If you are true to yourself and to your beliefs, despite the forces of oppression in your vicinity, you might find another place in this world where behavior once perceived as difficult is considered dynamic.”

—Ron Hart