Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff – “The Catbird Seat”

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

I’m always asking Jazz musicians and Jazz fans what they are listening to or for their opinions about my current listening and/or favorite recordings.

It’s a fun way to get differing opinions about the music.

But when I asked Italian Jazz pianist Dado Moroni what he thought of Dwike Mitchell’s performance on The Catbird Seat from the Atlantic album of the same name, I was momentarily surprised by his answer.

“I cried,” he said.

Although I was taken aback for an instant, I intuitively understood why Dado would react this way to Dwike’s playing on this piece on which he is joined by bassist Willie Ruff and drummer Charlie Smith.

As George T. Simon describes it on the album’s sleeve notes:

The Catbird Seat, a slow, swinging blues, gets its title because, as bassist Willie Ruff  points out, ‘it has such a groovy feel­ing. There's an old Southern ex­pression, “sitting in the catbird seat” which means you're sitting pretty and everything is groovy, and that's how we felt on this number. In fact, it's how we feel most of the time when we're at home in the club [Dwike and Willie owned The Playback Club in New Haven, CT].’ The piece projects a tremendously funky feel, but it's also full of musical polish, such as Willie's marvelous articulation, Dwike's tremendous technique and Charlie's beauti­fully controlled brush shadings. Note too the contrast between the long, tremulous, two-chorus build-up into the lovely, relaxed statement of the theme.”

The Catbird Seat is a slow burn all the way.  The very unhurried tempo at which it is played is one that is rarely heard today and very tricky to execute because there is a tendency to rush or drag.

The intensity is there but you have to let it quietly capture you. The track builds and builds and builds until it reaches an exciting climax. And just when you think it is finished, Dwike offers a different ending from the one that “your ears” are expecting.

In the Atlantic Jazz Keyboards CD [Rhino R2 71596], the noted pianist and Jazz author Dick Katz offered these comments about The Mitchell-Ruff Trio, featuring Charlie Smith performance of The Catbird Seat.

"Pianist Dwike Mitchell and bassist Willie Ruff are probably the least known {in the United States, at least) of any of the artists in this compilation. This is because they have chosen to function outside the mainstream of "the business." They are more comfortable in the concert hail and on college campuses than in clubs with cigarette smoke and long hours. [Ironically, Dwike and Willie took the plunge and later opened their own club in Hartford, CT called The Playback, but like most Jazz clubs, it was to be a short-lived enterprise]

Ever since their incredible triumph in the Soviet Union in 1959 — they were the first American jazz musicians to tour there — Mitchell and Ruff have thrilled audiences everywhere They are also educators of the first rank and have enjoyed special relationships with Yale University and New Haven, Connecticut

Make no mistake, here are two virtuosos ol unique ability. Dwike Mitchell rivals Oscar Peterson in the chops department, and Willie Ruff makes it rough on other bass players. His French horn playing, not heard here, is in a class by itself.

The Catbird Seat with the addition of the late drummer Charlie Smith finds them harking back to their Southern roots. It is truly a pianistic tour de force. Over a hypnotic, steady, unembellished quarter-note pulse, Mitchell builds to a thunderous climax via some awesome tremolo effects. The piece winds down gracefully and ends with a churchlike cadence.  This is state-of-the-art piano blues. It's interesting to compare it with Ray Charles' "The Genius After Hours." [Also included on the Atlantic Keyboards compilation.]

Elsewhere in his liner notes, George T. Simon has this to offer by way of background information on what came to be known as the Mitchell-Ruff trio.

“This is thrilling jazz. I know you read such superlatives in almost every liner note, but believe me, the music herein is really something special.

It's modern jazz with the emphasis on the jazz. Like many modernists, both Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff are thoroughly-schooled musicians. But, unlike most modernists, they haven't forgotten the basic romping, swinging beat of jazz, and the results here are pretty electrify­ing.

Maybe, like me, you remem­ber Dwike and Willie when they were just the Mitchell-Ruff Duo. They achieved international fame in 1959 when, as members of the Yale Russian Chorus that was touring the USSR, they tem­porarily tossed aside their ton­sils, hauled out piano and bass, and proceeded to regale the Rus­sians with American jazz.

At that time the group's jazz feeling was highly personal  -  al­most completely implied. Now though, with the addition of Charlie Smith's drums, you can't possibly miss it. Before his ad­vent, what they were playing had relationship to themselves only, just as in modern art a painting on an infinite canvas can only relate to itself. But now, thanks to Charlie, they have been supplied with a rhythmic framework inside which they are able to create jazz masterpieces with a spatial, or rhythmic rela­tivity that all of us can feel and understand.

Mitchell, a Floridian who graduated from the Philadelphia Musical Academy, and Ruff, an Alabaman who earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees in Music at Yale (they once played together in Lionel Hampton's big band) joined forces last year with Smith, a New Yorker, who has played for Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Billy Taylor, at a New Haven club called The Playback. It was founded by Ruff himself, ‘be­cause we needed a place in which we could work out things the way we wanted to, and just stay on until we felt we were really ready to show the rest of the world what we could do.’

For close to a year, the trio worked, played, and, in the case of Ruff and Smith and their fami­lies, even lived together. ‘We got so that each of us could feel what the others were going to do without even looking,’ says Smith. By early autumn of 1961 when they felt they were ready, they brought portable recording equipment into the club and re­corded the numbers heard herein. The first Artist and Repertoire man to hear the tapes, Atlantic's astute jazz-loving V.P., Nesuhi Ertegun, flipped, and - well, here's the result.”

Dwike Mitchell passed away on April 7, 2013 at the age of eighty-three.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember him on these pages with this feature and the following video tribute on which the music is – what else but - The Catbird Suite.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bernie Senensky – Jazz Pianist

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

“I could just sit and listen to Bernie Senensky play all day.”

Like the late Bill Evans, so could I.

Bernie was also a favorite of the late alto saxophonist, Art Pepper.

According to Hal Hill, a Canadian broadcaster who booked Art into Bourbon Street in Toronto, CA and paired him when Bernie on piano for a week-long gig:

“I have many happy memories of being asked to pick a rhythm section for Art Pepper for an engagement at the now defunct night club 'Bourbon Street' in Toronto. You can imagine Art's delight at having such an ac­complished pianist to work with, someone who molded his ideas so well with Art's music. That was a week of sheer enjoyment, night after night, set after set.

When Art went on to New York at the end of the gig he phoned me to see if I could get Bernie to join him. Bernie, unfortunately, was not availa­ble due in part to his loyalty to a group he had started to work with on a regular basis in Toronto. Those sessions on Contemporary Records, Live At The Village Vanguard (1972) could have been with Bernie as pianist in­stead of George Cables.”

Bernie’s style just sparkles with a lightness and playfulness that makes his solos so easy and fun to listen to. You don’t have to reach for anything; it’s there.

He composes many of the tunes he records, but here again, as is the case with Lolito’s Theme which forms the audio track for the video feature to Bernie which you can locate at the end of this piece, his music is easily accessible.

Nothing tortuously introverted, but rather, music that becomes the basis for straightforward and melodious solo interpretation and a certain gentleness of expression in the tunes he writes as ballads.  To paraphrase Hal Hill, each tune he writes “… has a richness of detail that allows for the fact that we hear things differently.”

Many of Bernie’s recordings are available in digital formats as CO’s and Mp3 downloads.

Here are some background notes about Bernie’s considerable career in the World of Jazz.

© -  Canadian Jazz Archives, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“BERNARD (BERNIE) SENENSKY (pianist, composer) was born December 31, 1944 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Recognized as one of Canada’s premier jazz artists and one of the foremost jazz accompanists in the world, Senensky’s playing and his music have been featured in jazz festivals internationally. Since 1975, he has released eight albums, two of which were nominated for Juno Awards.

Senensky began playing piano at the age of eight, settling into his interest in jazz when he was 14, studying with Winnipeg jazz eminence Bob Erlendson. He began sitting in with local Winnipeg groups which included guitarist Lenny Breau and bassist Dave Young, eventually taking his considerable talent to Edmonton.

His work leading a house band with the Holiday Inn Hotel chain eventually took him to Toronto where he took up residence in 1968, quickly establishing himself as an accompanist playing for and with a wide variety of visiting musicians including Pepper Adams, Chet Baker, Ed Bickert, Terence Blanchard, Ruby Braff, Randy Brecker, Al Cohn, George Coleman, Buddy DeFranco, Herb Ellis, Art Farmer, Sonny Greenwich, Slide Hampton, Herbie Mann, Frank Morgan, Joe Pass, Art Pepper, Bucky Pizzarelli, Dizzy Reese, Red Rodney, Jack Sheldon, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Lew Tabackin, Clark Terry, Kenny Wheeler, Joe Williams, and Phil Woods.

He has recorded with dozens of the biggest names in the business, played in piano duets with Oscar Peterson and Marian McPartland, and performed with major name bands and ensembles including Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, the Elvin Jones Quartet, and the Herbie Mann/Al Grey All-Star Septet.

He formed his own trio in the early ‘70s, and began occupying the piano chair in The Moe Koffman Quintet in 1979 when the band was the number one small jazz combo in Canada. He had played with Moe on occasion prior to that and “was always impressed with his utter musicality and his complete mastery of the flute, alto, and soprano saxophones”. As part of The Moe Koffman Quintet, Senensky ultimately had the opportunity to contribute many of his own compositions to the band’s repertoire for more than 20 years, and continues to keep the memory and the music of Moe Koffman alive today as leader of his "Tribute to Moe Koffman Band."

The following audio only file features Bernie along with Gary Bartz on alto sax, bassist Harvie Swartz and drummer Akira Tana on the title tune from Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls."

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Russia House: Jerry Goldsmith

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

Jerry Goldsmith’s The Russia House  could very well be the best score ever to feature an unwanted theme and an unwanted album. Not only did Jerry Goldsmith disapprove of the MCA Records album for The Russia House, but the title theme of the film itself was a reject from a previous Jerry Goldsmith score. The saga of the score for The Russia House begins two years before the film's release, when Goldsmith conjured up a bold and yet longing love theme for the film Alien Nation.

 In a seemingly nonsensical move by that film's producers, Goldsmith's score was rejected and expunged. Knowing that he had a perfectly viable, not to mention powerful, theme on his hands, he waited a few years before working it into the film treatment of John LeCarre's novel The Russia House.

“[Goldsmith’s score contains ] saxophone performances by Branford Marsalis (both scripted and improvised) that are nothing short of spectacular. Never once does he quiver unintentionally or even slightly miss a note. Perfection is bliss.”
- review

“The function of a [film] score is to enlarge the scope of the film. I try for emotional penetration – not for complementing the action. For me, the important thing about music is statement. I can’t describe how I arrive at the decision to make a statement, I simply feel it and react to it.”
- Jerry Goldsmith

Spoken like a true Jazz musician - and this from one of the premier composers of music for the movies in the history of film!

As has been intended since we posted an audio track from the film The Russia House on the columnar or left-side of the blog some months ago:

“We plan to do more with the music from Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful film score to The Russia House in a future feature highlighting the beauty of the city of St. Petersburg; another of the JazzProfiles editorial staff’s attempts to meld Jazz and photographic images. In the meantime, please enjoy this audio track and marvel at Jerry’s gorgeous scoring for strings [especially beginning at 4:15] and Branford Marsalis’ mastery of the soprano saxophone. With Mike Lang on piano and John Patitucci on bass, this is one of the most beautiful movie themes ever written.”

A few years ago I came across a DVD of The Russia House.  The movie is an adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel by producer- director  Fred Schepisi, who also altered the ending of the novel into a happy one. The movie stars Sean Connery and Michel Pfeiffer who are well- served in their leading roles by an excellent cast that includes Roy Scheider, James Fox, John Mahoney and Klaus Maria Brandauer.

A number of things struck me about the movie including the engaging love affair between Sean Connery and Michel Pfeiffer [the romantic in me?] and the stunning scenes of Moscow and St. Petersburg, both of which came together to create a “feel good” movie.

But what impressed me the most about the film was how the wonderfully crafted music took this movie to a total visual and aural experience for me.

Not surprisingly, the music for this film score in all its unique splendor, was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, one of the great practitioners of this genre.

The film score does all the things it should do to support a suspenseful Cold War thriller, but it does so in many unique ways including the use of beautifully written string segments [few composers know how to score for strings anymore],  the interspersing a Jazz trio made up of soprano sax, piano and bass,  the use of electronic instruments and effects [including recording-in of a metronome] and the careful inclusion of the duduk and balalaika, traditional Slavic and Russian instruments. 

I am not often a fan of the soprano sax; it’s been disparagingly dubbed the “fish horn” for a reason.

But I came to especially enjoy the sound of the instrument as played by Branford Marsalis after listening to him soar over the film score throughout the movie, but most particularly, during the seven minute [7.39] closing scene when the film credits are launched over exquisite camera shots from around Russia’s traditional and modern capitals: St. Petersburg and Moscow, respectively.

Marsalis solos over beautifully orchestrated strings which are interjected with piano and bass rhythmic phrases, the latter played by Michael Lang and John Patitucci, respectively.

The film was released on December 11, 1990 and a CD of the sound track music was subsequently  issued on MCA Records [MCAD-10136].

While doing further research on the evolution of Jerry Goldsmith skillfully  crafted score, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles found two detailed accounts to share with you.

To give you a sense of the architectural beauty of St. Petersburg or in Russian  - Санкт-Петербург – we have interspersed photographs of some of its most famous venues throughout the profile.  These are also included in the video tribute should you wish to view them collectively while listening to Jerry, Branford, Michael and John at work.

Jerry Goldsmith’s The Russia House from 

“The Russia House: (Jerry Goldsmith) If a single film and score could define the word "bittersweet" better than any other, The Russia House would be the champion example. The potentially explosive adaptation of John LeCarre's novel needs no introduction to the concepts of depression and oppression, and despite the story's famously distraught conclusion, audiences were seemingly unprepared for either the gloom of the film or the distorted and confusing ending of the adaptation.

The film fell short of all expectations at the time, though the lead performances by Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer were well enough praised. The espionage story was the first major American production ever to be shot on location in the former Soviet Union, with a sharp, somewhat technological edge driving its fear factor.

Perhaps the most critical element of The Russia House is its extremely memorable score by Jerry Goldsmith, a score with about as much frustration and depression built into the circumstances of its creation as the story of The Russia House itself. Goldsmith first conjured the beautiful theme for this film in 1987 for Wall Street, but when he left that film due to creative differences with the filmmakers, he adapted the theme into his electronic score for Alien Nation the following year.

Being that the 1988 alien/cop drama was so wretchedly awful, however, Goldsmith wasn't particularly disappointed when his score was completely rejected from the finished product. His bold and longing love theme for Alien Nation was realized in that film's cue "The Wedding," but never did it truly take flight until it was altered slightly (improving its romantic flow in three places) and handed to an accomplished jazz trio for The Russia House in 1990.

Goldsmith's approach to the genuine locale was countered by an interestingly American approach to scoring the visuals, infusing a slight edge of old-style noir into the picture. He took a chance by composing an almost exclusively jazzy score, building off of the Barley (Connery) character's performance of the saxophone in the film.

To address the concept of espionage, and not to mention Connery himself, Goldsmith inserts a slight touch James Bond's mechanical instrumentation, making restrained, but smart use of his library of synthetic rhythm-setters. To address the danger of the romance, he offers us a glimpse of the ominously nervous strings that we would eventually hear in full for
Basic Instinct.

The most surprising aspect of the score for The Russia House is its simplicity in instrumentation and repetition. It's hard to imagine how a score of this minuscule size and scope could be so overwhelming in its appeal. That might say something about Goldsmith's raw talent, and perhaps it speaks to three years of development on the concepts.

His base elements are simple; a jazz trio handles the majority of the themes and underscore, with saxophone performances by Branford Marsalis (both scripted and improvised) that are nothing short of spectacular. Never once does he quiver unintentionally or even slightly miss a note. Perfection is bliss.

Michael Lang is equally renown for his fabulous piano performances, and he delicately establishes an elevated level of classy bar room atmosphere for Marsalis' sax. The bass, performed by John Patitucci, has a larger role in the score, not only providing a rhythm for the other two jazz performers, but also handling a large portion of the underscore.

It is during these sequences with the bass that Goldsmith utilizes his electronics to his fullest. With his knowledge of synthesized integration having matured since the experimental days of Legend and Hoosiers, Goldsmith's electronics are almost identically appealing in both the concurrent 1990 releases of Total Recall and The Russia House.

The James Bond aspect of the spy tale called for the presence of mechanized subterfuge, and thus, the use of Goldsmith's wide array of synthesized sounds keeps a consistent rhythm set throughout the score. Most of these sounds are common, light, upper-range, chime-like keyboarding from Goldsmith's library, though the incorporation of a "release of air" effect is unique to this score.

Not always are the solo bass and electronics geared towards suspense, though. The third element of Goldsmith's score is the reasonably sized string section, which is added to provide a whimsical effect for the grand, romantic performances of the title theme (this could also just be a smaller string ensemble simply mixed over itself... it doesn't matter either way). During these moments, the electronics cease their systematic beats and blossom into chimes and twinkles.

No better of an example exists than the finale of the film, when the dream-like "The Family Arrives" sequence provides a false sense of hope at an otherwise doomed finish to the story. During these elegant performances of Goldsmith's cherished theme, the sax, strings, and piano rotate in their pronouncement of the theme, with all three together occasionally blowing the listener away with stunning aural beauty (such as "Bon Voyage"). Over half of the score, though, consists of the suspenseful underscore previously mentioned, with the bass and electronics leading the way. Goldsmith throws in two more elements during these sequences.

First, some very light percussion, crisply recorded, keeps the film moving at a pre-set tempo. To do this, Goldsmith integrates the clicking of a metronome (the device by which instrument performers set their tempo in practice) right into the scheme of the recording. Only a snippet of traditional jazz band percussion is used, such as the light cymbal tapping during the faster rhythmic opening to "Training."

Assessing the need for a slight Soviet influence on the score, Goldsmith also composes for the duduk and balalaika, the former being an Armenian instrument that will sound, to the common American ear, like a low, fluttering woodwind instrument. These elements are combined well with Goldsmith's American jazz, leading to a very smooth and listenable hour of music.

The duduk is employed in a creative way so that it almost sounds as though it's a naturally lower progression of the sax, increasing both instruments' emotional range at moments like the end of "The Meeting." Cues that merge these woodwind sounds, as well as the metronome and synthetics, with some slight improvisation from the lead trio (such as in "Crossing Over") are a delight.

In sum, Goldsmith's music for The Russia House is the type that you wish you could hear every time you go into an upscale bar. It is friendly, yet mysterious. It is smoky, yet crystal clear. It is vibrant, yet lulls you to a different place. Its recording quality is so crisp that Marsalis' sax bounces off the walls with remarkable clarity.

The monotony of its underwhelming construct is compensated for by the sheer talent of its performers and the constant sense of movement that Goldsmith's rhythms use to maintain your interest. In these regards, The Russia House is the ultimate "homework score," a description used by career students who have spent countless hours researching and writing to this music. The vocal version of Goldsmith's theme, performed in the song "Alone in the World" by Patti Austin, melts wonderfully into the center of the album. The song's arrangement and instrumentation by Goldsmith is consistent with the surrounding underscore.

Aside from the recognizable Goldsmithian electronics and some minor key bass string movements teasing later development in Basic Instinct, this score is like nothing composed by any other major film composer in the last twenty years. Other composers have tried to score films with the same emphasis on jazz, but none has succeeded with the same class and sense of style as Goldsmith accomplished. To that end, traditional Goldsmith fans might not warm up to The Russia House at first.

But it has become a legend within the film score industry, a favorite score for several leading composers still working today, with similar praise extended from fans all over the world. Goldsmith's love affair with the final track of The Russia House (the ultimate highlight of the album, for which he allowed the trio of jazz musicians to improvise over seven minutes of material, leading to an enjoyably snazzy conclusion for the album) that he would reprise the sound almost identically in his underrated 1993 score for The Vanishing (though curiously out of place and not as crisp in sound). He would also touch upon the basics of the style at the end of 1997's The Edge.

Even on its addictively attractive album, however,
The Russia House still caused frustration for Goldsmith himself. Not only was his theme unwanted for no less than two films, but the MCA album, as presented, was unwanted by the composer as well.

It's a classic example of how many composers wish to maintain control over the presentation of their works outside of their intended film use. Perhaps the ultimate irony of Goldsmith's quest to narrow down the length of the album for The Russia House is that neither of the other two scores featuring versions of its themes (Alien Nation and The Vanishing) would receive commercial albums, both relying instead on bootlegs and eventual Varèse Sarabande club treatment.

Goldsmith disapproved of the MCA Records album because it presented the mass of the music from the film intact. Many people will argue alongside Goldsmith that The Russia House would make a fantastic 30-minute album. But MCA, in this case, got it right. There are nuances in this score that make every moment one of intrigue.

If you cut out all of the duduk ethnicity and bass string suspense, you'd be left with the dozen renditions of the love theme, and one of the great aspects of the score in its entirety is its ability to bring one of those lush thematic statements at just the right moment of lonely despair.

Many reviewers will be deterred by the length of the album, overlooking the profound impact that an understated score like this can have on its film, and many fans will comment that the score is simply too depressing to enjoy on a bright sunny afternoon.

But elegance comes in many forms, and the music from The Russia House, while perfect for the shadows of midnight despair, is a score that anyone (and especially a Goldsmith enthusiast) should be able to appreciate at any hour. The score came during a fantastic year for film music, but while John Barry's Dances With Wolves, Danny Elfman's Edward Scissorhands, and Basil Poledouris' The Hunt for Red October, among others, drew more public attention, the quality of The Russia House exceeds all of them. The difference is style. *****

The Russia House from
Film Released: December 11, 1990
Film Score by Jerry Goldsmith
CD: Released by
Serial number

Principal Soloists:

Branford Marsalis, soprano saxophone
Michael Lang, piano
John Patitucci, bass

Orchestrated by Arthur Morton

Vocal tracks : Patti Austin

"Leviathan scored a year earlier proved to be the turning point in Goldsmith's career and the reason why composer and agent went after a more rewarding assignment in 1990. Leviathan remains a popular score, but as a movie, Jerry Goldsmith deserved something a lot more worthy of his talents.

By saying "no" to a lot of assignments they held out for Fred Schepisi's adaptation of John Le Carre's book
The Russia House. The movie had quality written all over it and although it failed to make massive box office, the movie garnered enough respect to make it critic friendly and musically Goldsmith wrote one of his most respected works. At the time he placed this ahead of Islands in The Stream as his own personal favorite.

Fred Schepisi's polished adaptation was tailor made for scoring, with emphasis placed on the Russian locations, and at times looking like a travel log, it had to play over some of the best photography lensed for film. Goldsmith's classy jazz score is introduced over the cold grey skies of
Moscow and introduces Michelle Pfieffer's character (Katya). Goldsmith's transparent string writing shows his intentions for this theme and introduces Branford Marsalis' haunting Saxophone as the lead instrument.

Regardless of the love story this is still a cold war spy drama set against a post glasnost
Russia and we are introduced to the intrigue through some restrained but nonetheless suspenseful string work as British Intelligence search the flat of Barley Blair (Introductions). Here Goldsmith creating light but ominous overtones for strings and Piano for the espionage. These aspects come to the fore later in a sequence where Blair is taught how to spot anyone following him (Training). Here synth work and strings create momentum by way of some unusual sounds, especially noteworthy is a 'swishing' effect as Blair shows his lack of seriousness to British Intelligence.
The developing relationship between Blair and Katya is Goldsmith's main focus though as his main theme transforms during their early scenes together and the awakening of their love for each other (Katya and Barley - Bon Voyage). Here Goldsmith introduces Dante by way of atmospheric chimes and ethnic instrumentation (First Name, Yakov). For this character Goldsmith uses the traditional Russian woodwind instruments the Duduk and also the Balalaika. Their tone perfectly conjuring up the mystery of this character and the potential threat of being caught by the Russian authorities.

As Blair and Katya become wiser to the coercion of the
CIA and MI6, and realizing they are in danger of being caught, they plan an escape. Barley's Love and My Only Country signal their undying love for each other as Goldsmith breaks from spy games to focus his elegant theme once more on their relationship. Crossing Over sees the US and British intelligence waiting anxiously to see if Blair has got what they want from Dante. As the clocks tick away so does Goldsmith's metronome, now tense bass creates a sense of uncertainty as plucked strings and piano provide the signal that Blair has done his own deal to save Katya and her family.

Goldsmith clearly adored this project, closing his score with a lengthy romantic end credit (The Family Arrives) in celebration of the family being reunited, with warm strings, minor electronics and improvised Jazz.
The Russia House is evidence of Goldsmith at the top of his game and is also interesting at revealing the original theme he developed for his unused score to the movie Alien Nation. Thankfully though The Russia House became its well deserved home.

MCA issued a lengthy CD, with a crisp recording and proved a wonderful show case for the talents of both Marsalis and Mike Lang (it was no coincidence that Marsalis turned up in James Horner's
Sneakers). One of the longest CDs approved by Goldsmith, he was ironically criticized by some for its length. But his agent, Richard Kraft, took the blame for that."

Released by
Serial number

Cues & Timings
1. Katya (3:57)
2. Introductions (3:12)
3. The Conversation (4:13)
4. Training (2:01)
5. Katya and Barley (2:32)
6. First Name, Yakov (2:53)
7. Bon Voyage (2:11)
8. The Meeting (3:59)
9. I'm With You/
What Is This Thing Called Love (Cole Porter) (2:39)
10. Alone in the World (4:09) (Patti Austin - song)
11. The Gift (2:34)
12. Full Marks (2:27)
13. Barley's Love (3:24)
14. My Only Country (4:34)
15. Crossing Over (4:13)
16. The Deal (4:09)
17. The Family Arrives (7:38)

With the help of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD we have now reset the closing music to Jerry Goldsmith’s film score for The Russia House to the following visual tribute to St. Petersburg, a magnificently beautiful city that the German poet Goethe once referred to as – “The Venice of the North.” 

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Sal Nistico Quartet Live at Carmelo's 1981

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

Coming of age as a working Jazz drummer in the late 1950s, I was very fortunate to live in the eastern San Fernando Valley, an area north of the city of Los Angeles with the largest population in Los Angeles county.

My home was a short drive away from Warner Brothers and Universal Studios via surface streets and a short drive away via freeway from the recording studios and Jazz clubs in Hollywood including Jazz City, Shelly’s Manne Hole and the It club.

Because of these proximities, the San Fernando Valley became a haven for working studio musicians who played Jazz at night and the area soon developed its own Jazz clubs such as The Baked Potato on Cahuenga Blvd, Donte’s on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, La Vie Lee, The Times and a host of other small clubs on Ventura Blvd [the portion of Route 66 that comes into Los Angeles] and King Arthur’s in Canoga Park [aka the West Valley].

One of my favorites was Carmelo’s which was located “in the heart of the Valley” on Van Nuys Blvd. and few blocks north of Ventura Blvd. I was particularly fond of it because the Bob Florence Big Band played there quite often.

This trip down memory lane was sparked by the recent release by Jordi Pujol and his fine team at Fresh Sounds Records of a double CD entitled Sal Nistico Quartet Live at Carmelo’s 1981 [FSR -CD -941] on which the tenor saxophonist is joined by pianist Frank Strazzeri, bassist Frank De La Rosa and drummer John Dentz.

Jordi Pujol wrote his usual insightful and informative insert notes to accompany the thirteen [13] tracks of music on this two disc set and we thought we’d present them to you “as is” because we could hardly improve on them.

About Carmelo's

Carmelo Piscitello opened his restaurant Carmelo's around 1960. He was a former barber, and accordionist, who envisioned having the best Italian food in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles. It was a neighborhood restaurant, until in June 1979, Carmelo's brother Chuck — a professional musician described by disc jockey Chuck Niles as "a swinging little bebop drummer"— persuaded him to start offering jazz. The club was intimate, seating no more than a hundred patrons; it operated seven nights a week, and soon became popular. Chuck Piscitello booked the acts with name performers such as saxophonist Stan Getz, Harry Edison, Bob Brookmeyer, Don Menza, Terry Gibbs, blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, singer Carmen McRae, the big bands of Louis Bellson, Bob Florence, Bill Berry, and jazz organist Jimmy Smith. In June 1982, the brothers acquired the space adjoining their restaurant, and by knocking out a wall they were able to double their audience. Don Menza — one of the regular name performers of the original Carmelo's — recalls: "The jazz club was enlarged (unfortunately) and lost the real intimacy of a true jazz club."

In September 1983, after Chuck Piscitello died of a heart condition, the club entered a phase of decline, and almost closed due to disagreements between the Piscitello family, and various technical difficulties that led to serious delays and financial problems. It was then, that Ruth and Del Hoover bought the club. Previously the Hoovers also operated a smaller nitery, Stevie G's, in nearby Studio City. For two years they tried to keep Carmelo's jazz policy, but business was slow. And Ruth said she found the financial odds were against her. "The trouble is, so many of the performers charge such high fees," she said. "We just can't afford to book them in a relatively small room." The opinion of Don Menza disregards what Ruth said: "I don't know what Ruth was talking about paying us too much. We got basic low pay and we all did it."

The scarcity of financial resources put Carmelo's, a popular jazz club for almost six years and a restaurant for more than 20, on the verge of extinction. In March 1985, "out of the blue" the Hoovers sold the club to the veteran singer and businessman Herb Jeffries. The local jazz community expected Jeffries would be able to return the Sherman Oaks club to its halcyon days as one of the most popular restaurants and clubs that featured jazz in the San Fernando Valley.

However, the expectations that jazz fans had were truncated when, a few months later, in 1986, Jeffries changed the name of the club to Flamingo Music Center. "We don't want to be known as a jazz club. Sure we have jazz," he said, "but we've had rock bands in here; pop; Steve Allen, who does comedy, and opera on Sunday nights." Carey Leverette, owner of North Hollywood's Donte's (for almost two decades perhaps the Valley's premier jazz club), conceded that Jeffries' switch to varied musical entertainment was a sign of the times.

"He's not the only one. Everybody else is doing it," Leverette said. "If it works for him, good for him. I'm sorry to see that jazz is not the premier commodity that it really is in the eyes of the public. When you can get a guy like Prince making $18 million a year and some of the greatest jazz players can't even get a gig — something's wrong there."

Don Menza pointed out how he felt after the club's expansion "I played a few times in the bigger club and it never felt the same. Chuck died shortly after the enlargement, and that was really the end of the jazz community helping out. We did not support the "show biz" part of Ruth or Jeffries' idea of jazz. There were a few who did, but in general the real players felt that Chuck had been betrayed. It was a bad time for all who loved Chuck. The end of an era — too bad."

About Sal Nistico

Tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico is mostly remembered for his years as one of the main soloists in Woody Herman's band. The fact is, more outstanding tenor saxophone soloists have roamed with the Herds of Woody Herman than with perhaps any other band in jazz. Among those great names who have worked or recorded with the band were Allen Eager, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Paul Gonsalves, Al Cohn, Flip Phillips, Jimmy Giuffre, Phil Urso, Richie Kamuca, Bill Perkins, Gene Ammons, Jerry Coker, Don Lanphere, and our man: Sal Nistico.

He was born on April 2, 1938, in Syracuse, N.Y. He had an early inclination for jazz. "There used to be a lot of records around the house", he said, "and I listened to a lot of them and always wanted to play something. So, in grade school, I asked them for a trumpet. They said they had enough trumpet players and handed me an old beat-up alto. So I tried to learn to play that. They didn't think I was going to be able to play anything, though. They didn't see any promise whatsoever."

Some years later, Sal began listening to Jazz at the Philharmonic records and developed a liking for Illinois Jacquet and Charlie Parker, His first time playing jazz was with a high school combo, and reflected his listening preferences. "We played things like Anthropology at school dances," he said.

"I was playing alto at the time. I picked up the tenor at 16 and dug it immediately.

So, I went out on the road—playing with anybody I could, from rhythm and blues to strictly entertainment-type groups." At 19, his prior acquaintance with trumpeter Chuck and pianist Gap Mangione in Rochester, N.Y. led to his joining the Jazz Brothers, then a sextet, on tenor. "Up until then," Sal pointed out, "I couldn't play much more than blues, but Chuck and Gap were into all kinds of things— like  Serpent's   Tooth—and  I'd  listen. Later, I sat in with them and was hired."

He was a member of the Mangione Brothers for a couple of years. "The Brothers kept growing," Nistico recalled. "We had a chance to play every night and were really into it. Looking back on it, it really was a high point. Then, in 1962, I got the call to go out with Woody Herman. The band caught fire at the Metropole in New York and things started to happen from there." He joined that 1962 edition of the Herd which was deservedly a much-heralded outfit. The Herman "renaissance" led to Grammy awards and Woody was named one of Down Beat's jazzmen ol the year in 1963.

Nistico had what would be probably the longest tenure of any Herman tenorman, playing until 1971, even though his association with the band was not continuous — he had two stints with Count Basie (in 1964 and 1967) and a European sojourn with a small group in 1965 and 1966. But for most of the 60's, Nistico experienced the rewards of being a featured soloist with one of the most important jazz bands. Also, he experienced the frustrations and limitations of an improviser in a big band context.

He left Herman in the fall of 1971 to become a freelance soloist. In 1972 he joined the Slide Hampton orchestra that travelled to Italy in January. For a few years he played and recorded both in America and Europe with a variety of groups and orchestras led by Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, Buck Clayton, Francy Boland, Barone-Burghardt, Benny Bailey, Curtis Fuller, among others; he also recorded as a leader for the German label Ego. And although his career never really got off the ground, Nistico was always a player to reckon with.

In the summer of 1978, after spending almost three years in Europe, he returned to the US scene in top form, recording an excellent sextet album for the Chicago label Bee Hive.

In January 1981 he arrived in Los Angeles, where he would become a regular of the local jazz circuit in a short few months. There he met some old friends from his Rochester days, like Don Menza and Frank Strazzeri. In those days, Carmelo's in Sherman Oaks was one of the most popular Italian restaurants and jazz clubs on the Los Angeles scene. It was owned by the brothers Carmelo and Chuck Piscitello, and Menza and Strazzeri used to play there regularly.

Chuck, the younger brother, was in charge of hiring the bands. Trumpeter Bobby Shew, who also used to play at Carmelo's, recalls that "Chuck was also a pretty decent drummer but didn't get many opportunities to play, sadly."

When Chuck learned that Nistico was in town, he hired him to play at the club in January 22, 1981. For the date, Sal put together an ideal supportive rhythm team made up of the energetic driving piano of Frank Strazzeri, with bassist Frank De La Rosa, and drummer John Dentz.

Nistico's main influences were mainly in the straight-ahead bebop tradition mainly, but he also developed a great admiration for the early Sonny Rollins. As he pointed out, "Sonny Rollins has given me more pleasure than any musician alive. He's got a swing and swing's a medicine. If you're sick, it'll make you feel better — I firmly believe that." He makes his roots clear in these live recordings, with a redoubtable spirit, no tricks and few concessions to more modern stylings, a demeanor that surely added to his reputation a musical heavyweight among his peers. And the quartet setting allowed him the space to play inspiring, emotionally-charged music — qualities to which the at-home ambiance of Carmelo's was very conducive.

He's playing was a pure joy — blisteringly hot and imaginative at up-tempos, and equally eloquent and compelling on mid-tempos and ballads. To start the first set, Nistico picked up a buoyant up-tempo new composition titled Backlog, which he wrote for this gig. After stating the theme in unison with the piano Sal was off and flying with stunning fluidity, injecting emotional intensity and depth into the music, racing over the straight-time walking bass figures of Frank De la Rosa, the stunning fluency of Strazzeri and the restrained power of John Dentz. His solo on Lester Leaps In is a superlative, flawless, swinging, Lester-guided tenor, harmonically rich and rhythmically loose, a string of inventive, winding choruses in logical succession.

On How Deep Is the Ocean he projects his powerful rhythmic attack, and the choruses that tumble out with exuberant, driving lyricism and a limitless supply of inventive energy. A sign that Nistico was a gifted musician was his ability to infuse an old Dixieland evergreen like Sweet Georgia Brown with new vitality, startling twists of perspective, and fresh emotional zing.

He also demonstrates an obvious affinity for a standard like You Stepped Out of a Dream, making it sound as fresh and vibrant as new tune. His invigorating solo is surging and full-bodied, played at a feverish pace, never letting up and moving continually into new areas of exploration. On Equinox. Sal did inject mild Coltrane-sounding tonal nuances into his playing, and they added an extra spice to a demanding performance. Strazzeri gave an excellent and moving solo. Bass and drums play with confidence, especially Dentz, who was outstanding in catching the melody and molding rhythms for it.

Frank Strazzeri, as had happened with Nistico, was a pianist who obtained the recognition of his professional colleagues, rather than the jazz fans. Strazzeri, was a devoted jazz musician who gathered his various influences, among them Bud Powell, Horace Silver, Carl Perkins, and Hank Jones, into an exciting, cliche-free, readily identifiable personal expression. His improvised lines were consistently exciting, inventive and uncluttered, and delivered with a crisp, bright sound in medium and fast tempos. It's worth paying attention to Frank Strazzeri's solo piano rendition of Johnny Mandel's ballad Close Enough for Love, staying respectfully close to the melody, infusing it with charm and feeling with a delicate, controlled touch.

Strazzeri was a fine and prolific composer as well, and Opals was one of his memorable compositions. A melodically meaningful tune, on which Nistico emerges as a more thoughtful and lyrical soloist. This melodic quality is accentuated by his warm roundish sound. That aspect of Nistico is also heard on the groovy bossa nova Pensativa, where his approach is a relaxed, whimsical exploration of the melody, but with a highly lyrical feeling.

Chuck Piscitello, "II Padrone" as Sal announces him at the end of the tune, sat on the drums for Dentz in Hank Mobley's Funk in a Deep Freeze, a mellow neo-bop tune, delivered by the tenor with tempered energy and mature musicality. There is also a palpable feeling of joy in the whole improvisatory process of Strazzeri's solo, proving him to be a consistent source of inspired playing.

On Cedar Walton's Bolivia, Nistico displays imaginative variations from the tune's prime melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements with commanding authority

Although the vigorous tenor of Sal Nistico is the dominant, leading force throughout, Frank Strazzeri infuses the set with his amazing grasp of harmony, and the two principal aspects of his style: single note line passages alternating with contrasted sequences in chords. Nevertheless, his rather depressive personality, and lack of recognition sometimes made him underestimate his own talent, an opinion not shared by those who had the opportunity to be on stage with him, including Art Pepper, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Frank Rosolino, Terry Gibbs, Don Menza, Bill Perkins, or Bobby Shew, among many others. The latter talked enthusiastically about Strazzeri: "a giant, a master, an incredibly underrated player, a complete genius."

This gig at Carmelo's was a totally enjoyable musical event. You can hear it in the warm response of the audience. All the jazz fans who have overlooked Sal Nistico (1938-1991) — perhaps because so many great tenor soloists came out of his generation — these previously unreleased recordings are sure to be an eye-opener, pleasing old fans, and reaching younger listeners who will appreciate his powerful sound and style.”

  • Jordi Pujol

Recorded on stage by Don Menza
Mastered by Pieter De Wagter
Produced for CD release by Jordi Pujol
C & ®2017 by Fresh Sound Records