Eddie Palmieri recalled the early days of his band La Perfecta in 2013, on the eve of his acceptance of an NEA Jazz Masters award.
The year was 1961, and the group had scheduled a three-day recording session—but it turned out that the budget shrank each day, so the band had to follow suit. On the first day the horn section comprised four trumpets; on the second day Palmieri could afford only two trumpets and two less-expensive trombones; and on the third day he had to settle for a single trombone and a flute.
For a few months after the record was released, Palmieri barked in the street outside the small Midtown Manhattan club where La Perfecta was playing, trying to divert foot traffic from the nearby Palladium Ballroom where his more famous rivals were performing. “Not there, folks!” he remembers shouting, “Over here, folks!” But soon La Perfecta was hot, and Palmieri’s guerilla tactics paid off with a 90-day Palladium booking.
This according to “Eddie Palmieri: Rebellious perfection” by Giovanni Russonello (JazzTimes XLIII/1 [January–February 2013] pp. 28–33).
Today is Palmieri’s 80th birthday! Above, the group’s first album; below, a more recent incarnation of La Perfecta, still featuring a modest brass section and a flute.
With the emergence of jazz modernism, Miles Davis’s quintet was pushing popular standards to their limits when its 11 October 1964 performance at Milan’s Teatro dell’Arte was broadcast on Italian television.
The producers wanted us to experience the band’s internal dynamics; by tuning in to the show—by watching jazz as the live monitoring of events—we access both the band’s collective self-understanding and the continual reworking of that collective sense through the act of performance. In the group’s version of My funny valentine the television camera participates in and redefines our sense of the quintet’s performance, bringing us into a new relationship with issues of spontaneity, immediacy, and improvisation.
This according to “Screen the event: Watching Miles Davis’s My funny valentine” by Nicholas Gebhardt, an essay included in Watching jazz: Encounters with jazz performance on screen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 221–38).
Above and below, the 1964 telecast.
In his last years John Coltrane’s quest for spiritual understanding was manifest on his albums, as well as in many of the quartet’s titles, beginning with A love supreme (1964). He increasingly incorporated elements of world music into his own jazz compositions, including African and Caribbean modalities and rhythms, Middle Eastern reed tonalities, pentatonic scales, microtones, and extended modal solos resembling those in Indian rāgas.
Coltrane’s 1965 album Ascension pushed the boundaries of jazz even further. The highly experimental work introduced an intensely dissonant sound performed by a new group of musicians that aimed to amplify their instruments’ emotive potential. By this time he had attained an almost saintly status, due as much to his revolutionary contributions to jazz as to his support of young avant-garde performers.
This according to “Coltrane, John” by Lee Stacy and Lol Henderson (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.
Today would have been Coltrane’s 90th birthday! Below, Ascension live in 1965.
BONUS: The full studio album.
The solo guitar improvisations of Charlie Christian feature a rhythmic drive that is created to some extent by metric displacement.
Transcriptions of Christian’s solos illuminate ten different methods for creating metric displacement: metric displacement by contour, metric superimposition, metric displacement by phrase starting point, displaced motivic repetition, metric displacement by patterning, long sequences of eighth notes, long phrases of mixed texture, irregular phrase length, hypermetric displacement, and phrase ending peculiarities.
This according to “Metric displacement in the improvisation of Charlie Christian” by Clive G. Downs (Annual review of jazz studies XI [2000–2001] pp. 39–68).
Today is Christian’s 100th birthday! Below, Benny’s bugle, which opens (after the intro) with a solo by Christian that is fully transcribed and analyzed in the article.
BONUS: Up on Teddy’s hill, a jam session that begins with a 2¾-minute improvisation by Christian.
L’Association à la Recherche d’un Folklore Imaginaire (ARFI) is a musical collective founded in 1977 by six musicians, including three who had previously formed Le Free Jazz Workshop.
The group now consists of 20 full-time musicians and comprises numerous small groups. Its multidisciplinary performances, which may include jugglers, films, pyrotechnics, and feasting, are designed to appeal to all five senses.
ARFI’s largest ensemble, the 12-piece La Marmite Infernale, began in 1978 as a free-blowing big band but has since expanded to perform compositions. Smaller groups such as the Workshop de Lyon, É-Guijecri, and Apollo are improvising chamber ensembles, in the traditional ARFI style, while the newer L’Effet Vapeur and 32 Janvier perform higher-tech and harder edged pieces with distinctly hip-hop sensibilities.
This according to “Imaginary folklore and the infernal cooking pot: An introduction to Lyon’s ARFI” by Jim Laniok (Coda magazine 300–301 [December 2001] pp. 29, 32).
Above, a performance by La Marmite Infernale; below, an excerpt from a performance by L’Effet Vapeur.
The two versions of the first movement from Bach’s d minor concerto for two violins (BWV 1043) recorded in Paris in 1937 by the violinists Eddie South and Stéphane Grappelli and the guitarist Django Reinhardt are among the earliest preserved jazz renditions of a Bach composition.
These recordings document not only a fusion of musical genres, but also a meeting between three performers of diverse nationalities and ethnicities: South was a black American, Grappelli a white Frenchman of partially Italian ancestry, and Reinhardt a Belgian-born Manouche Romani. Their collaboration evinces a fluidly complex relationship between their social backgrounds and their music that is not easily reconcilable with some of the more inflexible ways that race and culture have traditionally been theorized in critical discourse on jazz.
In Il concerto per due violini di J.S. Bach nelle incisioni del trio Reinhardt, South, Grappelli: Una edizione critica/The Reinhardt-South-Grappelli recordings of J.S. Bach’s double violin voncerto: A critical edition (Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 2016) these recordings are transcribed in full score, both for performing and musicological/analytical ends.
Above, Eddie South, today the lesser-known member of the trio; below, the two historic recordings.
In more than 40 years at The New Yorker, Whitney Balliett encouraged readers to hear jazz through his vividly metaphorical writing.
Writing during the years of jazz’s greatest development and ferment, Balliett used comparatively little technical vocabulary, favoring a sensual rendering. Of the trumpeter Roy Eldridge, he wrote: “His tone at slow tempos still supplicates and enfolds and at fast speeds hums and threatens.” The trumpeter Doc Cheatham’s solos were “a succession of lines, steps, curves, parabolas, angles, and elevations.”
Balliett also used metaphor to great effect in describing appearances. Of Teddy Wilson: “His figure, once thin as a stamp, has thickened, and his hawklike profile has become a series of arcs and spheres.” And of the drummer Big Sid Catlett, who inspired some of his finest writing, he wrote: “Everything was in proportion: the massive shoulders, the long arms and giant, tapering fingers, the cannonball fists, the barn-door chest and the tidy waist, his big feet, and the columnar neck.”
This according to “Whitney Balliett, New Yorker jazz critic, dies at 80” by Ben Ratliff (The New York times 3 February 2007).
Today would have been Balliett’s 90th birthday! Below, Big Sid in action (wait for him trading fours near the end).
Free improvisation, which arose among jazz musicians but now encompasses a broad range of musical interactions, is best understood as a forum for exploring interactive strategies.
The practice emphasizes process, an engendered sense of discovery, dialogical interaction, the sensual aspects of performance, and a participatory aesthetic; its inherent transience and immediacy challenge dominant modes of consumption and sociopolitical and spiritual models of the efficacy of art.
This according to “Negotiating freedom: Values and practices in contemporary improvised music” by David Borgo (Black music research journal XXII/ [fall 2002] pp. 165–188).
Above and below, Ornette Coleman’s group in the early 1960s.
In 1948 Benny Goodman invited the Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen to consider coming to the U.S. to play in his band. Asmussen agreed, but he soon discovered that the U.S. Musicians Union had other ideas.
To play in Goodman’s band musicians had to be union members; but the union required foreigners to live in the U.S. for one year and have a sponsor to pay them before they could join. As Asmussen recalled, “That means you had to spend a year in America without playing or making any money.”
The two finally had a chance to perform together in Copenhagen in 1981; it was Goodman’s last recorded live performance.
This according to “Svend Asmussen: Phenomenal jazz fiddler” by Richard J. Brooks (Fiddler magazine XII/1 (Spring 2005) pp. 4–12).
Today is Asmussen’s 100th birthday! Above and below, history in the making.
In On the road (New York: Viking, 1957), Jack Kerouac described an encounter with the pianist, guitarist, and percussionist Slim Gaillard, “a tall, thin Negro with big sad eyes who’s always saying ‘Right-orooni’ and ‘How ‘bout a little bourbon-arooni.’”
“Slim sits down at the piano and hits two notes, two Cs, then two more, then one, then two, and suddenly the big burly bass-player wakes up from a reverie and realizes Slim is playing C-Jam blues and he slugs in his big forefinger on the string and the big booming beat begins and everybody starts rocking and Slim looks just as sad as ever, and they blow jazz for half an hour, and then Slim goes mad and grabs the bongos and plays tremendous rapid Cubana beats and yells crazy things in Spanish, in Arabic, in Peruvian dialect, in Egyptian, in every language he knows, and he knows innumerable languages.”
“Dean stands in the back, saying, ‘God! Yes!’ and clasping his hands in prayer and sweating. ‘Sal, Slim knows time, he knows time.’”
“Finally the set is over…Slim Gaillard goes and stands against a post, looking sadly over everybody’s head as people come to talk to him. A bourbon is slipped into his hand. ‘Bourbon-orooni—thank-you-ovauti.’”
Quoted in “Nobody knows where Slim Gaillard is” (Literary kicks, 1994).
Today would have been Gaillard’s 100th birthday! Below, some rare early footage. Can anyone date this film for us?