Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Bird's 90th, a Stop at 151 Avenue B

Before meeting my wife in the seating area near the stage inside Tompkins Square Park, the site of an annual (since 1993) musical birthday tribute to Charlie Parker (1920-1955), I asked a gentleman standing on the park's east side (a three-block segment of Avenue B christened "Charlie Parker Place" in 1992), if he happened to know which of the buildings across the street from where we were standing housed Bird and his family from late 1950 (no source to my knowledge is more specific) to September 1954.  (As the chap was sporting a black tee shirt with Lester Young's image, I guessed rightly that he wouldn't respond with, "Who?")  He wasn't sure, and as it turned out his educated guess was off only by one building, for neither he nor I could see the plaque noting the landmark status of the 1849 Gothic Revival townhouse at 151 Avenue B. 

Later that night at home I found this unambiguous graphic:

There's the plaque between the two staircase-level windows.

An excellent place to start one's research on the Charlie Parker Residence is this site, which has a page on Charles Lockwood's Brick and Brownstone, which used an elevation of 151 Avenue B's façade for one of its many illustrations.  According to Chan Parker's memoir, My Life in E-Flat, "Before Pree was born [on July 17, 1951], we moved to a large apartment on Avenue B and 10th Street.  For the first time in his life Bird had a stable family life.  He played his role of husband and father to the hilt."  (Page 31)  For what it was like to live there with Bird, one could hardly do better than this interview with his step-daughter Kim.

The site of the original Birdland is now a strip joint, but at least the townhouse wherein Bird did his utmost to be husband to Chan and daddy to Kim, Baird, and Pree has suffered no such indignity. 

I mean no disrespect to the fine musicians who played their hearts out in the park today from 3:00 to 7:00.  Their virtuosity notwithstanding--and there were a few transcendent moments--by the tribute's end, all I longed to do was to don my headphones and lose myself in something like this:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Clifford Brown, First Recording as Leader, August 28, 1953

Clifford Brown Memorial Album, Blue Note 1526
Tracks 10-18. Audio-Video Studios, NYC, August 28, 1953.

Clifford Brown (trumpet), Gigi Gryce (alto sax, flute), Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), John Lewis (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Art Blakey (drums). 

Track 10. Wail Bait
Track 11. Hymn of the Orient
Track 12. Brownie Eyes
Track 13. Cherokee
Track 14. Easy Living
Track 15. Minor Mood
Track 16. Wail Bait (alt. take)
Track 17. Cherokee (alt. take)
Track 18, Hymn Of The Orient (alt. take)

From Stuart Broomer's Review on Amazon:

Clifford Brown emerged fully formed in 1953, a trumpeter gifted with an ebullient swing and technical skills that added polish and precision to fresh invention. Foregoing both the manic pyrotechnics of Dizzy Gillespie and the laconic introversion of Miles Davis, he also provided a stylistic model for jazz trumpeters that has never gone out of style. This CD combines Brown's first two recording dates as leader, placing him in quintet and sextet settings with some of the core musicians of the New York bop scene. The first nine tracks [recorded June 9, 1953] have Brown in an inspired quintet, prodded by the twisting, off-kilter solos and comping of the brilliant and underrated pianist Elmo Hope and the sparkling complexity of drummer Philly Joe Jones. While altoist Lou Donaldson is deeply in the sway of Charlie Parker, Brown sets his own course, whether it's the boppish "Cookin'" or the standard "You Go to My Head."
The final nine tracks [recorded August 28, 1953] have Art Blakey's drums driving the sextet, while altoist Gigi Gryce's understated concentration acts as an effective foil to Brown's joyous, dancing lines. Taken at a medium up-tempo, "Cherokee" is one of Brown's most effective vehicles. The alternate takes from each session highlight Brown's spontaneous creativity, while Rudy Van Gelder's remastering adds fresh focus to both his gorgeous tone and the explosive drumming.
From Bob Blumenthal's liner notes (2001):

. . . It was at this last session [trombonist J.J. Johnson's first for Blue Note] that [Blue Note founder] Alfred Lion offered the trumpeter a date of his own, which was held on August 28.  By that time, Brown had become a member of Lionel Hampton's orchestra.  he included another Hampton sideman, Gigi Gryce, on alto sax and flute,

as well as Charlie Rouse on tenor.   
Heath was again on bass, together with one of his partners in the recently-formed Modern jazz Quartet, pianist John Lewis.  The drummer was Art Blakey, who would feature Brown on the memorable A Night at Birdland recording for the label six months later. . . .

The final two years of Brown's abbreviated career were spent in partnership with Max Roach and produced his most famous recordings, yet the present performances are in no way inferior.  On the contrary, they announced the musician Blue Note justifiably failed when the sextet session was first released as a New Star on the Horizon--a star that unfortunately shone all too briefly.
Beside musical delight, this recording has personal significance to me: it took place the very day I emerged from the womb into the light. 

I sometimes romantically imagine the synchronicity of Brownie's wailing in the studio and mine in labor and delivery.

C'mon, by how many hours could I be off?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pat Martino: The Hard Bop Years -- Happy Birthday!

Anyone who knows me knows how central to my musical universe Pat Martino has been for almost 40 years.  Today, however, on the occasion of his 66th birthday, I will celebrate a period of his evolution that preceded this personal influence by a decade.  Pat Azzara (his birth name) is the Pat Martino I wish my parents had taken me to see when I thought George Harrison's opening riff on "Ticket to Ride" was the apex of guitar improvization. 

Pat Azzara at a Boston club, 1963, with Jack McDuff (organ),
Red Holloway (reeds), Joe Dukes (drums), Al Hibbler (vocals). 
[Pat made made this pic available on his All About Jazz bulletin board.]

This Pat is virtually "another guitarist" than the one who, in a few precious lessons in the '70s and in countless live performances over the past four decades, altered how I contemplated the guitar's possibilities. 

With Pat, Folk City, 1/1/73, 3:20 A.M. 
A few weeks later, on the day the Paris Peace
Accords (ending the Vietnam War) were signed,
I traveled from New York to Philly for my first lesson.

Pat Azzara, the Wunderkind, was socially as well as professionally surrounded by almost every cat to whose collective legacy this site is dedicated, most notably John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery.  They guided him, taught him, shaped him.  In the early '60s, they constituted his musical milieu, even if it changed and he with it to become a major guide, teacher, and life-shaper himself.
The solos you must hear are on the sides he cut with with Willis Jackson, 1963-1964, when Pat was in his late teens. (Pat's time with Jackson goes back to '61, but I know of no recording before '63). Those stellar solos are on the following eight albums (given chronologically by date of recording, not of release):

I. Willis Jackson, Grease 'n' Gravy (Prestige 7285, recorded May 23-24, 1963) and Willis Jackson, The Good Life (Prestige 7296, recorded May 23-24, 1963). Remastered in 2001 and re-issued together on CD as Willis Jackson with Pat Martino, Gravy (PRCD 24254-2). 
II. Willis Jackson, More Gravy (Prestige 7317, recorded October 24, 1963) and Willis Jackson, Boss Shoutin' (Prestige 7320, recorded January 9, 1964).  Remastered in 2002 and re-issued together on CD as Willis Jackson, Nuther'n Like Thuther'n (PRCD 24265-2).
III. Willis Jackson, Jackson's Action (Prestige 7348, recorded live at the Allegro, New York City, March 21, 1964) and Willis Jackson, Live! Action (Prestige 7380, same place, same date). Remastered in 1995 and re-issued together on CD as Willis Jackson with Pat Martino (PRCD 24161-2).
IV. Willis Jackson, Soul Night/Live (Prestige 7396, recorded live at the Allegro, New York City, March 21, 1964) and Willis Jackson, Tell It (Prestige 7412, same place, same date).  Remastered in 2002 and re-issued together on CD as Willis Jackson, Soul Night Live! with Pat Martino (PRCD 24272-2).
Now, to the solos themselves.  Following the CD compilation's track number is the title of the track on which Pat solos (he doesn't on every track); the location of his solos on the track; song type; and number of choruses Pat takes.

I. Willis Jackson with Pat Martino, Gravy (PRCD 24254-2):

1: "Brother Elijah," 3:36-4:32 (blues, 4)
2: "Doot Dat," 2:04-3:52 (blues, 7)
3: "Stompin' at the Savoy," 1:14-1:49 (rhythm changes, 1)
4: "Gra-a-a-vy," 8:17-10:28 (slow blues, 3)
5: "Grease," 2:31-4:37 (blues, 8)
9: "Fly Me to the Moon," 1:15-1:56 (ballad, up-tempo, 1)
10: "Angel Eyes," 0:01-0:10 (intro), 0:10-4:11 (ballad, mod. slow/bluesy, 1, except for trumpet on B section)
11: "Troubled Times," 0:59-2:02 (blues, 4)

II. Willis Jackson, Nuther'n Like Thuther'n (PRCD 24265-2).
3. "Stuffin," 3:24-4:46 (blues, 5)
4. "Nuther'n Like Thuther'n," 1:16-2:28 (Vamp tune, 1)
6. "Fiddlin'," 1:51-2:29 (blues, 3)
8. "Que Sera, Sweetie," 2:48-4:37 (minor blues, 5)
9. "Shoutin'," 3:18-5:00 (fast blues, 9)
10. "Nice 'n' Easy," 3:16-5:19 (pop tune, 2)

III. Willis Jackson with Pat Martino (PRCD 24161-2)
2. "A Lot of Living to Do," 3:33-4:26 (show tune, 1)
3. "I Wish You Love," 0:11-2:09 (ballad, 2; Jackson takes it out from B section of second chorus)
7. "Hello, Dolly," 1:11-1:44 (show tune, 1)
11. "I'm a Fool to Want You," 1:06-1:44 (ballad, lines behind Jackson)
12. "Gator Tail," 4:39-7:23 (fast blues, 12)*
13. "Satin Doll," 5:32-7:41 (jazz standard, 2)

IV. Willis Jackson, Soul Night Live! with Pat Martino (PRCD 24272-2).
1. "The Man I Love," 3:10-3:54 (ballad, "manic" uptempo, 1)
2. "Perdido," 4:02-5:33 (pop tune, 2)
3. "Thunderbird," 2:40-4:25 (rock blues, 5)
4. "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," 0:19-5:50 (ballad, 2; cadenza from 5:04 to 5:50.  Note: The more one concentrates on Pat's playing, the more painful are the charming atmospherics provided by the live audience, e.g., "What the hell are you doing over there?" at 0:43.)
6. "Flamingo," 0:17-5:36 (ballad, 2; cadenza from 4:48-5:36)
8. "One Mint Julip," 1:11-3:20 (rock blues with a bridge, 2)
9. "Up a Lazy River," 0:35-1:22 (pop tune, 2)
11. "Tangerine," 0:33-1:08 (ballad, uptempo, break + 1)
14. "Secret Love," 1:28-2:30 (ballad, uptempo, 1)

* This takes the crown.  No lover of soul-jazz-blues guitar should go to his grave before hearing Pat's twelve break-neck blues choruses on "Gator Tail."  Every listener has been left speechless (at least in my presence; at least initially speechless).  As more words will sound like hype, I implore you, listen to them as soon as you can, and then ask: "Who else, of whatever age, of no matter how many years of experience, was doing that in those years?" And then remember that Pat was all of 19 when he laid down that solo before the Allegro's live audience on March 21, 1964.

Twelve of the above-listed 29 tracks are blues.  Remarkable, apart from their groove and clean articulation, is their linear and rhythmic variety.  There is, of course, a discernible common vocabulary, but at no time is one driven to say, "Oh, that again!"  Not only from one track to another, but from one chorus to another, inventiveness reigns.  The seven choruses of "Doot Dat" and the eight of "Grease" are excellent examples of this.  And, again, "Gator Tail"'s dozen are in a class of their own.

On several ballads, "Angel Eyes," "I Wish You Love," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," and "Flamingo," Jackson lets his young guitarist show off his hard bop chops virtually from start to finish.  Pat's sound here invites comparison, and contrast, to the one he would achieve a few years later on El Hombre, his first released album as a leaderFor a taste of the latter period, dig this rare, live, 1969 recording of "Who Can I Turn To" with Gene Ludwig (who passed away last month) on organ, recently posted on YouTube and graced by an equally rare still shot:

I dedicate this bit of discographical mining to Pat on the occasion of his birthday, hoping it will send others to all of his recorded work (and to his gigs).  Our paths have crossed many times since September 9, 1972 at New York's Folk City; may they do so again and again.

With Pat and my wife at the Blue Note, New York, 9/9/95
(22 years after I first approached him after a set at Folk City across the street)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Happy Birthday, Eddie McFadden, Wherever You May Be

Not much is known about Jimmy Smith's late '50s/early '60s guitarist beyond the fact that he was born on this date in 1928.  (The above rare pic was found on organist Dan Fogel's site.)  For discographical information, go to, search his name, go to each “hit” on the results page and search his name again.  It seems all the tracks listed were made on recording dates with Mr. Smith.

I found this wonderful item on a 2008 post by another McFadden seeker.

Got a minute?  If you do, consider spending it listening to Eddie's solo from 0:48 to 1:48 before Lou Donaldson's.  Exactly one minute:

I'm not alone in my interest in Mr. McFadden's career and his understated, quietly intense improvisations.  If you have information worth sharing, please do so, and I'll post it here. Thanks! 

Can someone at least confirm that he is still "on the planet"?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Jimmy Ponder, Keeper of the Flame

I blog about Jimmy Ponder today, not because I have been one of his fans, but because I should have been.  In a rare 1994 interview extant online only in a "second-hand" version (because all of the sites associated with guitarist Tim Berens, the interviewer, seem to be defunct), Ponder said some things that  touched me both as a guitarist and personally.  When you read it, you will know which statements I mean.

We can see Jimmy play beautifully in some grainy online videos.  There are too few of them, but they at least give us a glimpse of the soulful playing this site seeks to draw attention to.  For example, here's the instrumental (and vocal!) treatment of "Summertime" he provided at a Pittsburgh club:

And this version of "Autumn Leaves" (from August 4, 1984 at Mikell's ['69-'91]) just made me want to play, play, play my guitar:

He has an impressive resume of recordings and performances.  His albums have been favorably reviewed over the years.  If the comments sections of blogs are an accurate indication, there is a widespread affection for Jimmy Ponder, and deep respect for both his accomplishments and equally deep appreciation to him for the joy he brings his audiences.

He has yet to "break through."  Like George Benson, he is a Pittsburgh native, but unlike his near-contemporary he remains a denizen of that "City of Bridges" (which desperately needs its counterpart to Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit, 1920-1960).  He is an active player and teacher, but I've never seen his name in a lineup for any New York jazz club or festival.  Never.

But who else is doing what he's doing?  No one.

He is a (if not the) keeper of Wes Montgomery's Hard Bop/Soul Jazz flame -- "legacy" is the word Wes himself used, according to that interview.  Therefore, since Jimmy rightly declares that "there's no guitar player that's aware of jazz that is not aware of me," he must be brought out of the background to the foreground of our minds.  

Let it begin, or at least continue, with me.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Baker's, A Hard Bop Home: A Hat Tip to Dennis Coffey

Although I savored every page of Lars Björn and Jim Gallert's scholarly and profusely illustrated Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit last year, its brief mention of Baker's Keyboard Lounge did not make a deep impression.  Ironically, it took a chat with Motown studio legend Dennis Coffey last Saturday to begin to remedy my near-nescience on this under-recognized jazz venue.

Coffey was always in my peripheral vision.  I was never a rocker, having embraced jazz in earnest only in 1971, a few years after my musical interest had shifted from the Beatles and kindred groups to Soul Music, Coffey's bread-and-butter.  I therefore had known his playing, but not as his playing.  He was "Author Anonymous" for me and for millions of others (as were all the "Funk Brothers").  His 1971 debut album, Goin' for Myself, sported this image:
At Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors' "Motor City Soul Review," it was closer to this:

I hope I'll be playing with equivalent conviction and energy when I'm pushing 70. 

As he was packing his gear, the only thing I could think of to ask him about was the Detroit jazz scene.  I broke the ice by mentioning to him that Before Motown leaves the post-1960 period a blank.  Coffey assured me that the scene is alive and well and that he plays "about once a month at Baker's."   A research assignment.

What a revelation!  Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit has been in continuous operation since 1934, and thus its claim to be "the world's oldest jazz club," which it broadcasts on its site.  It may have been in continuous operation since '34, when Chris Baker opened it as a sandwich shop, but his son Clarence (owner since '39) booked no "name" acts, only local jazz talent, until '54.  (What about The Village Vanguard?  It opened in '35 and didn't have a fulltime jazz policy until the late '50s.)  Every jazz great, including every Hard Bop giant, played Baker's.  But why not hear the story from the lips of Clarence Baker himself?

Current co-owner John Colbert proudly drives home the historical importance of Baker's in the following clip (which morphs into a rousing performance of Miles Davis' "Four" by Dwight Adams and his colleagues):

Colbert mentions that the club's original piano is being restored.  This informative Detroit News article notes that it was Art Tatum who had selected it in New York and had it shipped to Baker's!

And so this expansion of my inventory of jazz historical knowledge was occasioned by an unplanned encounter with a soul guitar master.  In a short exchange of e-mails with me yesterday Dennis Coffey recalled having seen, "back in the day," fellow Detroiter Kenny Burrell not only at Baker's but also at the Minor Key (which would have had to be sometime between Winter '58-'59 and 1963, the club's short lifespan).  Coffey also remembers catching Wes Montgomery at a club called "the Drome Lounge . . . a small club on Dexter" (he must have meant the Bowl-o-Drome, which was on Dexter) and hanging out with Joe Pass at his house in Los Angeles. 

I close this post of gratitude to Mr. Coffey (you see why I wasn't so formal until now?) for his graciousness in opening my eyes (and, yes, even my ears) over the past few days by posting a clip of his playing -- his music -- at Baker's this past February.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Welcome Mat for The House!

Doug Ramsey, a seasoned writer of all things jazz, became aware of this blog thanks to Dave Lull, a visitor we have in common -- thanks, Dave! -- and welcomed it to the "the neighborhood" yesterday on his blog. (Every major jazz figure should be lucky enough to get the treatment -- equal parts passion and hard research -- that Mr. Ramsey give his subject's life and work in Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.)

Mr. Ramsey chose to hold up the text of my inaugural post for his readers' consideration.  Thus began my side of what already threatens to be a battle to focus on Hard Bop rather than on the words we use to pick it out from the rest of the jazz universe.  Mr. Ramsey invites us to consider (and links to) his past posts on Hard Bop and the comments they stimulated in his visitors.  I read them all with interest--and with more determination than ever to keep to an absolute minimum the space that dialectic will consume on this blog.  I can no sooner say something than someone else immediately asks in all sincerity, "Whatever are you talking about?" My inevitably poor answer -- suggesting a unity of gospel plus blues plus virtuosity -- invites only more of the same: "Oh, no, no, no!  You've got it all wrong!  What about the following counterexamples!" (And "What is 'jazz,' anyway?")  And we're off to the races. 

The day the fog of contentiousness threatens to descend on this blog -- whether on little cat feet or with seven-league boots -- to obscure its eirenic aim is the day I'll shut it down.  For forty years I've lived and breathed the negativity of dialectic (that is, of affirmation and denial, not of "negative vibes, man," of the dynamism of the human mind, not of depressed moods).  This is where I take a break from it, not where I force upon my readers the alternative of either tolerating or combatting my "beautiful theories."

Even to say that bare minimum required participation in dialectic, and it leaves a bad taste, the very opposite of Hard Bop.