Monday, September 26, 2011

A retrospective look at the future

I especially enjoy these two tracks because they allow us an understanding of where 1930s musicians thought their music was going - both are self-consciously progressive.

In some ways, the predictions of the musicians here are prophetic, but in others these 'futuristic' ideas serve only to anchor the music in its era. Regardless of its modernity, this music is quality material played by quality musicians - surely more important than any discussion of progress in stylistic terms.

Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra playing 'Radio Rhythm':

Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra playing 'Frisco Fog':

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Frank Newton's 'Onyx Hop'

Frank Newton, one of the most creative of the swing trumpeters, recorded under his own name relatively infrequently. Here's one of his best - 'Onyx Hop', with a vocal that is at once musically fascinating and a wry reflection on recreational drug-taking:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Standard-ising 'Stardust'

Our tastes with regard to the 'standards' (tunes commonly known and performed by jazz musicians) are powerfully influenced by our earliest exposure to these tunes. In my case, the first recording of Hoagy Carmichael's 'Stardust' I heard was, incredibly, this obscure track by the composer and 'His Pals' in 1927. Not just my first 'Stardust', but also THE first recorded version.

Since I was 14, the song 'Stardust' has primarily meant the treatment found here. The melody carries a wistful combination of innocence and regret, heavy with emotion yet introverted, lacking the vulgar emoting jazz musicians have inflicted on it so often.

As I discovered other versions of the song (Louis Armstrong valiantly reaching, Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman relaxed, searching), these different treatments moved into my musical consciousness, alongside the original. But I find myself coming back to this one to enjoy the melodic variations from the cornet, alto sax, piano and clarinet. These musicians are not jazz greats, but somehow their efforts - awkward yet full of hopes and dreams - provide a narrative that matches the song so well.

The California Ramblers in sparkling sound

Here are three 1928 Columbia records by the unjustly neglected dance band California Ramblers. While the vocals on these records may not thrill hot jazz aficionados, YouTuber Atticus70 has gleaned astonishingly rich sounds from the grooves of these 78 rpm records. The horns in particular sparkle with a freshness unmatched by many contemporary studio recordings.

Congratulations to Atticus70 for 1,000 marvellous YouTube videos, featuring fantastic vintage music and captivating period photography.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Al Bowlly - a 'hip' spoken vocal

Who says British dance bands didn't swing?!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Hawk with Red Allen

I've been doing my homework for a Coleman Hawkins tribute concert this afternoon. Here's two of my favourites - both feature the Hawk with Henry 'Red' Allen, a great partnership that (intermittently) spanned decades:

And here's priceless film of them in 1957 CBS production 'The Sound of Jazz', along with an all-star lineup including Pee Wee Russell (another notable collaborator with Hawkins):

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ellington, Mingus and Roach - "Fleurette Africaine"

I love early jazz so much that I find comparatively little time to listen to more 'modern' styles, although I enjoy them too. I'm always grateful when musicians with whom I work bring something special to my attention. Thanks to UK pianist Martin Litton for bringing my attention to this evocative rendition of "Fleurette Africaine", by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach in 1962. Ellington's playing here reminds me of Willie 'The Lion' Smith, but with more introspection.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Teddy Wilson & his Orchestra featuring Billie Holiday - "I'll Never Fail You"

Of all the masterpieces recorded by Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday in the 1930s, this one has received relatively little attention. Yet the lineup is stellar, the tune a good one and the performance swinging: