It’s never a bad idea to listen to Lester Young, and to be reminded of the complexity of his life, and of his enormous impact on American music and culture…
In this short excerpt from David Amram’s 2002 biography Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac, Kerouac talks with Amram about how the “Beatnik crap” that Kerouac and his friends reluctantly represented was “distorting everything,” and “cheapening the memories of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk.” It is an interesting and entertaining view of that era, filled with the vigor, passion, wit and wisdom Kerouac is remembered for.
In January of 1959, we collaborated with a once-in-a-lifetime group of artists on the film Pull My Daisy. In addition to appearing in the film as Mezz McGillicudy, the deranged French horn player in the moth-eaten sweater, I composed the entire score for the film and wrote the music for the title song, “Pull My Daisy,” with lyrics by Jack [Kerouac], Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg.
The idea of making a film based on Jack’s work was easier to
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
“Ring out the false, ring in the true.”
– Alfred Lord Tennyson
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
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
“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition tells the story of the evening in c. 1930 that Louis Armstrong taught Buck Clayton how to perform a trumpet technique known as the “gliss”
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:”
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
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 »