Archive for “Features”

Features

“Bird Lives” — a memory of Charlie Parker’s Kansas City, by Robert Hecht

     The night I truly ‘got’ the shining genius of Charlie Parker I was in my girlfriend’s apartment on the Lower East Side. The year was 1961. I was nineteen, she was much older and hipper, and had turned me on not only to some great music but to getting high as well. She had all the essential jazz records, including the one on the turntable that night. It was The Fabulous Bird, on the old Jazztone label, consisting of reissues of some of Bird’s phenomenal 1947 Dial sessions. She had a very low-fi stereo—I can still see the nickel she had scotch-taped to the tone arm to keep it in the grooves. But the fidelity didn’t matter, in part at least because this evening I had just smoked a

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Features

“Rate it? How can I rate that?” — the Miles Davis “Blindfold Test” June 1964

In this June, 1964 Down Beat Blindfold Test hosted by pianist, composer, producer and journalist Leonard Feather — who created this famed feature and first published it in the late 1930’s in Melody Maker  — the ears of Miles Davis are tested. 

Although Feather writes in the introduction that Davis “does not have an automatic tendency to want to put everything down,” he appeared to be in rare form on this date.  His remarks are brilliant, blistering, biting, sarcastic, insulting…and that’s just in his comments on the first record!  Miles take aim at artists and record companies, musical styles and

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Features

Remembering Jon Hendricks, 1921 – 2017

The great jazz singer Jon Hendricks died in New York earlier today at the age of 96.  In his New York Times obituary, Peter Keepnews writes that “Mr. Hendricks did not invent this practice, known as vocalese — most jazz historians credit the singer Eddie Jefferson with that achievement — but he became its best-known and most prolific exponent, and he turned it into a group art.” 

His work with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross was one of my gateways into jazz music.  My childhood home had only a few mostly dreadful record albums (and my beloved mother’s favorite radio station was KABL/San Francisco, with Mantovani and 101 Strings in heavy rotation on the Philco clock radio on the kitchen counter), but somewhere in the bowels of the house was Sing a Song of Basie LP that would somehow occasionally make its way on to our Hoffman stereo system’ turntable — in competition for time with Creedence and the Doors and Beatles 45’s.  Even as a little kid I could tell this was “hip” music, and it ultimately led me to an unforgettable experience.   

When I was living in Berkeley in the late seventies I went to see him on stage in a small North Beach

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Features

Where Erroll Garner wrote “Misty”

The legendary pianist Erroll Garner’s most famous composition, “Misty,” was written as an instrumental in 1954 for his 1955 album Contrasts.  Lyrics were added in 1959 by Johnny Burke and it became the signature song of Johnny Mathis, and was subsequently recorded by Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Etta James, and countless others.  Garner’s version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1991.

In this excerpt from an interview with the drummer Art Taylor, Garner describes how he wrote “Misty:”

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Features

Art Tatum on 52nd Street

In this entertaining short excerpt from Arnold Shaw’s 1971 homage to the jazz clubs of New York,  52nd Street:  The Street that Never Slept, Ralph Watkins, owner of legendary New York City clubs like Kelly’s Stable, the Royal Roost (the famed chicken restaurant nicknamed the “Metropolitan Bopera House” due to it being near the Metropolitan Opera House) and Bop City, remembers the blind pianist Art Tatum:

“The 52nd St. performer that stands out in my mind is Art Tatum, above everyone else.  Not only his musicianship but the fire in him.  He had a way when he was annoyed.  When people were talking during his playing, he’d stand up, bang the piano shut, stare in their direction, and tell them off:  ‘Quiet, you

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Features

Quincy Jones on the marketing of jazz and the likelihood of success of a “properly-backed chimpanzee”

I came across a classic August, 1956 piece in Down Beat, “A Tribute to Brownie,” in which none other than Quincy Jones pays homage to the recently deceased Clifford Brown, and expresses a critical eye on the business of jazz – and his fellow performers – at the time…Here is the prominent and most entertaining section of the piece:

 

Here was the perfect amalgamation of natural creative ability, and the proper amount of technical training, enabling him to contribute precious moments of musical and emotional expression.  This inventiveness placed him in a class far beyond that of most of his poll-winning contemporaries.  Clifford’s self-assuredness in his playing reflected the mind and soul of a blossoming young artist who would have rightfully taken his place next to […] Continue reading »

Features

Remembering Fats Domino

Fats Domino is remembered as a rock and roll legend, and idolized by many musicians of his era, including Elvis Presley, who, according Peter Guaralnick, author of Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, referred to Fats as “The King of Rock and Roll.”

In 2006, Jerry Jazz Musician contributor Adrienne Wartts interviewed Domino’s biographer Rick Coleman…You can read it by

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Features

Dizzy is 100 today

Dizzy Gillespie — born 100 years ago today — recalls his childhood in this excerpt from his 1979 autobiography, To BE, or not…to BOP

 

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The pictures show me as a very beautiful boy, but I was the last of nine children and my arrival probably didn’t excite anybody. So many people had been born at our house before. I don’t think Mama felt too blessed about having nine children, unless “blessed” means “wounded” like it does in French. She probably figured someone had put the bad mouth on us.

Every Sunday morning, Papa would whip us. That’s mainly how I remember him. He was unusually mean; and hated to see or hear about his

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