Category Archives: Jazz and blues

Jon Hendricks, grand master of vocalese

Jon Hendricks was not the first jazz singer to practice the art of vocalese—crafting lyrics to jazz instrumental compositions and solos—but was widely considered its standard-setting grand master.

After hearing King Pleasure’s 1952 record of “Moody’s mood for love” with lyrics by Eddie Jefferson, Hendricks was inspired to write his own verses to jazz instrumentals. “It opened up a whole world for me” he said in a 1982 interview. “I was mesmerized. I’d been writing rhythm-and-blues songs, mostly for Louis Jordan. But I thought ‘Moody’s mood for love’ was so hip. You didn’t have to stop at 32 bars. You could keep going.”

Dubbed “the James Joyce of jive” by Time magazine, Hendricks gained international fame as part of the trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, which often featured his vocalese creations.

This according to “Jon Hendricks, vocalese pioneer, dies at 96” by Allen Morrison (DownBeat LXXXV/2 [February 2018] 25; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-1066).

Today would have been Jon Hendrick’s 100th birthday! Below, LH&R perform his Cloudburst.

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Billy Taylor, jazz advocate

“There’s no question that being an advocate eclipsed my reputation as a musician” Billy Taylor said in a 2007 interview. “It was my doing. I wanted to prove to people that jazz has an audience. I had to do that for me.”

Taylor’s career spanned nearly 70 years and included collaborations with almost every significant performer in jazz, from Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker to Wynton Marsalis; but he had an even rarer gift for explaining his music and drawing people to it.

With a doctorate in education, Taylor was considered perhaps the foremost jazz educator of his time. He taught in colleges, lectured widely, served on panels, traveled the world as a jazz ambassador, and organized events that took renowned jazz musicians directly to the streets.

Fully conversant as a performer in the complexities of bebop, he was among the few musicians who were comfortable with explaining it to the uninitiated. “It bothered me when Diz and Bird would start talking bebop and giving nonsensical answers to what they were intelligent enough to know was a seriously meant question” he said in 1971. “It bothered me so much that every chance I got, I tried to set the record straight.”

This according to “Billy Taylor, revered musician, broadcaster and spokesman for jazz, dies at 89” by Matt Schudel (The Washington post 30 December 2010; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2010-50027).

Today would have been Taylor’s 100th birthday! Above, Billy Taylor in 2000  by John Mathew Smith is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; below, Taylor plays Ellington’s In a sentimental mood.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Erroll Garner and “Misty”

When Clint Eastwood was asked to “play Misty for me” in the classic movie of the same name, the song was played by its composer Erroll Garner, one of jazz’s most popular and prolific artists.

A completely self-taught pianist who never learned to read music, Garner created a unique and idiosyncratic but always accessible style. His musical approach was based on elements of swing and bop, while being harmonically reminiscent of French impressionistic composers such as Debussy and Ravel. This style, combined with a winning stage persona, made him arguably the most successful jazz artist of the 1950s.

Garner composed several songs that went on to become jazz standards, but the one with which he will be linked forever is “Misty” (1954). With lyrics by Johnny Burke, the song became a hit for such artists as Johnny Mathis and Sarah Vaughan

The critic Leonard Feather eulogized him as a pianist who played “cascades of jubilant chords that seemed to tell you, ‘Boy, am I having a ball!’”

This according to “Garner, Erroll” by Michael R. Ross (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century [New York: Routledge, 2013] p. 641); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Garner’s 10oth birthday! Below, the composer holds forth.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers, Popular music

Dave Brubeck’s legacy

Dave Brubeck helped to rekindle jazz’s mainstream popularity in the 1950s and 1960s with recordings like Time out, the first jazz album to sell a million copies, and Take five, the still instantly recognizable hit single that was that album’s centerpiece.

In a long and successful career, Brubeck brought a distinctive mixture of experimentation and accessibility that won over listeners who had been trained to the sonic dimensions of the three-minute pop single. He experimented with time signatures and polytonality and explored musical theater and the oratorio, Baroque compositional devices, and non-Western modes.

Brubeck did not always please the critics, who often described his music as schematic, bombastic, and—a word he particularly disliked—stolid. But his very stubbornness and strangeness—the blockiness of his playing, the oppositional push-and-pull between his piano and Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone—make the Brubeck quartet’s best work still sound original.

This according to “Dave Brubeck 1920–2012: His music gave jazz new pop” by Ben Ratliff (The New York times 6 December A1; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2012-10080).

Today is Brubeck’s 100th birthday! Above and below, the composer and pianist in 1964. (Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

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Sonny Rollins and thematic improvisation

Sonny Rollins’s extensive use of improvised thematic development in his 1956 recording of Blue 7 marked a new level of musical evolution for jazz.

Jazz improvisatory procedures may be divided into two broad and sometimes overlapping categories: paraphrase and chorus improvisation. The former consists mostly of an embellishment or ornamentation technique, while the latter suggests that the soloist has departed completely from a given theme or melody and is improvising freely on nothing but a chord structure.

Most improvisation in the modern jazz era belongs to the second category, and Rollins’s recording is a landmark for maintaining thematic and structural unity in this type of playing.

This according to “Sonny Rollins and the challenge of thematic improvisation” by Gunther Schuller; this foundational work of jazz analysis from 1958 is reprinted in Keeping time: Readings in jazz history (New York: Oxford University Press 2015 193–202; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2015-155).

Today is Rollins’s 90th birthday! Above, the artist around the time of the recording; below, the recording itself.

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“Parker’s mood” redux

Charlie Parker’s three improvisatory choruses in Parker’s mood (1948) can be viewed as one statement; the first is introductory, the second climactic, and the third provides a summary by repeating previous material.

Analyzed as a Schenkerian series of layers, the piece progresses in complexity from the background to the foreground. Parker’s palette of resources includes the blues scale, stock blues melodic figures, bebop-style scale runs, arpeggiated figures derived from substitute progressions, idiosyncratic articulation, and a historic tradition of improvisation.

This according to “Parker’s mood revisited” by Kwatei Jones-Quartey (Annual review of jazz studies X [1999] 221–35; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-13483.

Today is Charlier Parker’s 100th birthday! Below, the recording in question.

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Jazzomat

The Jazzomat Research Project takes up the challenge of jazz research in the age of digitalization, opening up a new field of analytical exploration by providing computational tools as well as a comprehensive corpus of improvisations with MeloSpyGUI and the Weimar Jazz Database.

The volume Inside the Jazzomat: New perspectives for jazz research (Mainz: Schott, 2017; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2017-48411) presents the main concepts and approaches of the ongoing project, and includes several case studies that demonstrate how these approaches can be included in jazz analysis in various ways.

Above, a graphic related to Jazzomat’s DTL Pattern Similarity Search; below, Don Byas’s recording of Body and soul, one of the book’s case studies.

More posts about jazz are here.

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Filed under Analysis, Jazz and blues, Resources

Audra McDonald and Lady Day

In an interview, Audra McDonald discussed Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille, for which she won the Best Actress in a Play Tony Award in 2014.

“It’s about a woman trying to get through a concert performance, which I know something about, and she’s doing it at a time when her liver was pickled and she was still doing heroin regularly.”

“I might have been a little judgmental about Billie Holiday early on in my life, but what I’ve come to admire most about her—and what is fascinating in this show—is that there is never any self-pity. She’s almost laughing at how horrible her life has been. I don’t think she sees herself as a victim. And she feels an incredible connection to her music—she can’t sing a song if she doesn’t have some emotional connection to it, which I really understand.”

“One wonderful thing for me is there are tons of recordings of Billie that I’ve been listening to and watching, even audio of her talking about certain songs, so I have a lot to draw on.”

Quoted in “Audra McDonald to return to Broadway as Billie Holiday” by Patrick Healey (The New York times 26 February 2014; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2014-89300).

Today is McDonald’s 50th birthday! Below, excerpts from her Tony Awards performance.

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Filed under Dramatic arts, Jazz and blues, Performers, Popular music

Howlin’ Wolf and “Back door man”

In June 1960, after nine years of recording and over two decades of touring and performing, Howlin’ Wolf and some trusted sidemen entered Chess Studios in Chicago to cut three sides. Wolf was 50 years old and an established act; yet everything about the session’s results, and particularly the song Back door man, seems elusive and interstitial.

Jim Crow racial segregation—at least one of the many meanings of the song’s title—was then both legally discredited and locally practiced, in the North as well as the South. Minimal, sinister, and edgy, fueled by images of violence, betrayal, and polymorphous sexual bravado, structured throughout by riddles and dialectical reversals, Back door man is a sort of historical puzzle, fusing Jim Crow sound, Jim Crow sex, and Jim Crow space; it implies as well a theory of how sound and subject formation, and subject formation through sound, arise out of Jim Crow violence.

This according to “Back door man: Howlin’ Wolf and the sound of Jim Crow” by Eric Lott (American quarterly LXIII/3 [September 2011] 697–710; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-27928).

Today is Howlin’ Wolf’s 110th birthday! Below, the recording in question.

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Filed under Black studies, Jazz and blues, Performers

T-bone Walker’s legacy

 

One of the most important and enduring icons of blues history, the charismatic T-Bone Walker radically transformed the music with a combination of instrumental virtuosity and stylistic and technical innovation throughout a career of unusual longevity and legendary significance.

Walker invented both the electric blues guitar concept and the sound identified with it. Incorporating jazz changes with blues innovations of his own design, he created a new guitar sound with a horn-like richness that was emulated by guitarists everywhere, but especially in his home state. Everybody that picked up a guitar in Texas wanted to sound like T-Bone, and his onstage acrobatics, complete with signature splits, were directly responsible for similarly extroverted stage antics by later performers such as Chuck Berry, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix.

This according to “Walker, T-Bone” by Michael Point (Encyclopedia of the blues, 2006); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is T-bone Walker’s 110th birthday! Above, T-Bone Walker (1972) by Heinrich Klaffs is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Below, a performance from 1966.

BONUS: Walker’s signature hit Stormy Monday.

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