Tag Archives: Jazz

Ella Fitzgerald and “How high the moon”

In 1947 Ella Fitzgerald, already an acclaimed singer of jazz standards, toured with Dizzy Gillespie, immersing herself in the new style known as bebop. Like Dizzy, Ella responded to bebop’s complex harmonies with an infallible ear, and easily translated its fast-moving lines.

Late that year she recorded a deeply bop-inflected version of How high the moon that was based on one of her offhand improvisations. The producer Milt Gabier recalled “We taped it in my office on a little tape machine. We had the arrangement written from that, then she came in and did it.”

Adorned with sly musical references to Charlie Parker, Ella’s playful rendition begins with a straight version of the song before doubling the tempo and switching the lyrics: “How high the moon is the name of this song/How high the moon, though the words may be wrong.” A superb scat improvisation follows that is wholly colored by bop.

This according to Ella Fitzgerald: A biography of the first lady of jazz by Stuart Nicholson (London: Routledge, 2014 [updated edition]).

Today is Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday! Above, Ella and Dizzy in 1947, the year of the recording; below, the recording itself.

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Iggy Pop and John Coltrane

In an interview, Iggy Pop described the influence of John Coltrane’s music on his career.

“The first time I heard Coltrane the cut was A love supreme, and that’s an extremely simple three-note bass line that repeats without variance throughout the duration of a very long piece.”

“I was a novice unfamiliar with that sort of jazz, and I heard him run through the gamut of emotions on his horn, from tender to angry to bluesy to just…insane, to where it actually sounded offensive to me—until later.”

“I liked the way he was dancing over, above, under, within, and without this rock solid motif that didn’t change, and that three-note motif established a trance world where he could do all those things. It seemed timely, spiritual, and earthy all at the same time.”

“What I heard John Coltrane do with his horn I tried to do physically.”

Quoted in “Iggy Pop” by Kristine McKenna, in Talk to her: Interviews (Seattle, Fantagraphics, 2004, pp. 174–82).

Today is Iggy Pop’s 70th birthday! Below, live in 1986.

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Mildred Bailey’s Native American roots

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Despite living in a racially stratified 1930s U.S., Mildred Bailey never sought to hide the fact that she was born into the Coeur d’Alene tribe of Idaho. Rather, it was a source of personal pride that she readily shared with her associates.

Cast within a jazz narrative that left no room for Native Americans, the public image of Bailey as a “white” jazz singer mattered for many reasons—not least, because she exerted considerable influence within the jazz and pop world, pioneering the vocal swing style that countless singers sought to emulate.

Bailey pointed to the Coeur d’Alene songs of her youth as a major factor in shaping her style:

“I don’t know whether this music compares with jazz or the classics, but I do know that it offers a young singer a remarkable background and training. It takes a squeaky soprano and straightens out the clinkers that made it squeak; it removes the boom from the contralto voice, this Indian singing does, because you have to sing a lot of notes to get by, and you’ve got to cover an awful range.”

This according to “American Indian jazz: Mildred Bailey and the origins of America’s most musical art form” by Chad Hamill, an essay included in Indigenous pop: Native American music from jazz to hip hop (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016, pp. 33–46).

Today is Bailey’s 110th birthday! Below, Thanks for the memory from 1938.

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Eubie Blake’s second act

Eubie Blake F26

eubieblakeEubie Blake enjoyed a rewarding career in the 1910s and 1920s with his lifelong friend and lyricist Noble Sissle, both as the duo Sissle and Blake, the most successful black act of their time, and as songwriters for landmark musicals—most notably Shuffle along (1921), which included their most enduring number, I’m just wild about Harry.

Blake continued to compose songs for revues through the 1930s and 1940s, although none of his ventures reached the level of success that he experienced in the 1920s. But the ragtime revival of the 1950s kindled new interest in his talents, and he began playing and composing ragtime pieces.

In 1969 Columbia issued a two-LP set, The 86 years of Eubie Blake, featuring both his ragtime and his show music (along with a reunion with Sissle), which helped to renew interest in his work. During the last decades of his life Blake had his own record label, and his songs returned to Broadway in the anthology revue Eubie! (1978), which ran for 439 performances. The show’s namesake attended several times and performed a few songs on opening night.

This according to “Eubie Blake” by David A. Jasen, an article in Tin Pan Alley: An encyclopedia of the golden age of American song (New York: Routledge, 2012, pp. 47–48); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Blake’s 130th birthday! Below, performing in 1972.

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Stan Getz and bossa nova

stan_getz_joao_gilberto

Stan Getz was already a successful jazz saxophone player when, in 1962, Charlie Byrd’s search for a horn with a human voice prompted him to record Antônio Carlos Jobim’s Desafinado.

The recording was such a surprise hit that Getz decided to pursue Brazilian music further, particularly examples of the new bossa nova genre. His subsequent recording of Jobim’s Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema) became his biggest success, spearheading a brief but notable enthusiasm for Brazilian styles among international audiences. Getz’s breathy, smooth sound and the delicate floating effect that he created proved widely popular beyond the jazz world.

This according to “Getz, Stan” by Jeff Kaliss (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century [New York: Routledge, 2013] p. 247); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Getz’s 90th birthday! Above, with João Gilberto in the early 1960s; below, his signature numbers in 1983.

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Eddie Palmieri and La Perfecta

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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.

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Televising jazz, 1964

miles-davis-1964

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.­

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John Coltrane’s “Ascension”

john-coltrane

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.

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Charlie Christian’s metric displacement

charlie-christian

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.

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Jazz and imaginary folklore

La Marmite Infernale

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.

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