Political, fiery, critical, poetic, inspirational…All of this shows up in Amiri Baraka’s brilliant liner notes to the 1963 recording of John Coltrane’s Live at Birdland. At the time known as LeRoi Jones, Baraka’s liner notes to this album were the first time the jazz writer Stanley Crouch “had seen that kind of poetic sensibility brought to the discussion of jazz. It was as new to me as the way Coltrane and his band were reinventing the 4/4 swing, blues, ballads, and Afro-Hispanic rhythms that are the four elements essential to jazz…His was the first Negro voice that sailed to the center of my taste by combining the spunk and the raw horrors of the sidewalk with the library, for an elegant manhandling of the form.”
These notes were written at the time of Jones’ 1963 Down Beat essay “Jazz and the White Critic,” which, in the words of Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics author John Gennari, was a “challenge to jazz writers of all backgrounds to reckon with the lived experience of black Americans and to consider how this experience had been embedded in the notes, tones, and rhythms of the music.” Keep that in mind when reading these notes… […] Continue reading »
In his New York Times obituary of Yusef Lateef – who died on December 23rd at the age of 93 – Peter Keepnews describes him as a “decidedly unconventional musician,” and quotes Lateef as saying “My attempts to experiment with new instruments grew out of the monotony of hearing the same old sounds played by the same old horns. When I looked into those other cultures, I found that good instruments existed there.”
Keepnews also writes that Lateef “professed to find the word ‘jazz’ limiting and degrading; he preferred ‘autophysiopsychic music,’ a term he invented. He further distanced himself from the jazz mainstream in 1980 when he declared that he would no longer perform any place where alcohol was served. ‘Too much blood, sweat and tears have been spilled creating this music to play it where people are smoking, drinking and talking,’ he explained to The Boston Globe in 1999.”
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A recording essential to anyone who appreciates jazz is Duke Ellington’s 1943 jazz symphony Black, Brown and Beige, written for his first Carnegie Hall concert appearance. Described by many critics as his most ambitious composition, Ellington called it a “tone parallel to the history of the Negro in America.” Ellington only performed it complete on three occasions; once at Westchester County’s Rye High School on January 22, 1943, the Carnegie Hall concert the next night, and in Boston’s Symphony Hall a week later.
Fifteen years later, Ellington revised the composition, which Columbia released as Black, Brown and Beige, “Featuring Mahalia Jackson.” In his recently published Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, Terry Teachout writes that this recording was “falsely billed by Columbia as a complete version of ‘Black,’ the work’s first movement, augmented by a vocal version of ‘Come Sunday’ performed by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who also contributed an impromptu ‘setting’ of the Twenty-Third Psalm. (‘He didn’t rehearse me nothin’,” she later said of the latter performance. ‘He said, “Just open the Bible and Sing!”‘). For those who hoped that Ellington would put all of Black, Brown and Beige on record, it was a disappointment.”
This sets the stage for this edition of “Liner Notes” – Columbia Records producer Irving Townsend’s description of the 1958 recording of Black, Brown and Beige, by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, Featuring Mahalia Jackson, […] Continue reading »
Keeping in the Bud Powell frame of mind…Here are Leonard Feather’s liner notes to “The Amazing Bud Powell (Volumes 1 and 2),” featuring recordings made between 1949 and 1953. The many links within the text will take you to full song versions.
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