This morning came news of the passing of Meadowlark Lemon, the face of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 20 years, his peak coming during the height of the civil rights movement. It was a complex time to be a Globetrotter, who at one time (prior to Lemon’s tenure with the team) was a legitimate and powerful basketball entity that was so good in 1948 it beat George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers, to that of a team so focused on clowning that, in the words of Bruce Weber in today’s New York Times obituary, “some thought to be a discomforting resurrection of the minstrel show.”
It was also a complex time to be a fan of the Globetrotters, whose occasional appearance on national television always elicited […] Continue reading »
In the days of the LP – and in particularly during the 1970’s – reissue or compilation releases were a great way to be introduced to artists, or to expand a personal collection. These compilations were generally two LP sets, which not only meant there was a lot of music, but also that the gatefold package allowed for extensive liner notes. When you bought an album like this, you knew that the writer had space to write meaningful biographical sketches, tell personal stories, and wax philosophically about the artist’s overall contribution to the music.
This weekend I spent some time with several of these compilations, and the one that caught my interest was the 1975 Milestone Records Bill Evans compilation titled Peace Piece and Other Pieces. The package features the music originally released on […] Continue reading »
I’ve been revisiting some favorite recordings this week, among them the classic 1958 Cannonball Adderley-led session Somethin’ Else, with Hank Jones, Art Blakey, Sam Jones, and, in a rare appearance as sideman, Miles Davis. The tune I have been stuck on is “One For Daddy-O,” a blues written by Cannonball’s brother Nat that features a flawless blues solo by Miles.
I dug into the liner notes and was reminded of how the critic Leonard Feather used this particular solo as a platform on which to describe the essence of the “deeper and broader blues of today,” refuting a “misinformed” Ebony piece of the era that suggested that
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Back in 1937, Jelly Roll Morton was part owner of a sleazy night club upstairs from a U Street hamburger stand in Washington, D.C. At the time, I was finishing high school and playing gigs around the city as often as they came my way. I was a good, proud, seventeen years old then, and quite naturally very little remained which I did not know about life and music. I used to hang around with […] Continue reading »
In November, 1946, at the height of his popularity, Dizzy Gillespie took his big band out on the road, and in 1947 hired Ella Fitzgerald to tour the South. According to Ella’s biographer Stuart Nicholson, she had been added to this tour in response to Gillespie’s Hepsations tour in 1945, whose groundbreaking sound “had confused and confounded the southerners,” and because Ella could “create balance after the unrelieved diet of bop…The Gillespie band saw Ella as a former swing era star, light-years removed from what they were doing, a palliative to help their music go down with the public.”
Even with Ella, however, things could be challenging. The audience would “listen, stand around and applaud,” band member Howard Johnson said,” and try and pretend they dug it. I think they appreciated the artistry of Dizzy because […] Continue reading »
“What Ornette was actually doing is something that is still needed in this country — the same thing. It’s not considered popular, but he had a sense of mission. A lot of the great stuff is not the best-seller — it’s interesting or thought-provoking, stuff that makes you want to transfer [ideas] from music to something that you do in another profession.
“We need someone to do that. If everyone was doing the same thing, like the same thing pop-wise, that’s like a lake without any outlet: everything in there gets poisoned and dies. [People like Coleman] work as antidotes to the sleeping powder that we drink…think…ingest.
“I think the music that’s called “future stuff” is the soundtrack to the […] Continue reading »
“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. In this edition, Horace Silver writes of five different occasions he played with Charlie Parker.
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Besides doing his best to help raise three kids, during my 1960’s childhood my father worked his heart out at two jobs — one of which was as owner of a restaurant on Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue, and the other as a musician, playing trumpet and viola throughout the San Francisco Bay area, mostly on evenings and weekends in “casual” jobs. For years he was part of a strolling quartet that entertained San Francisco’s elite at the World Trade Club — an ensemble that at its peak toured the Philippines, playing to an audience that included […] Continue reading »
Like everyone who has a love of jazz music and its culture, I mourn the passing of Ornette Coleman. We will all likely miss the impassioned spirit of his musical creativity, and how his art not only changed the way musicians played music, but how listeners consumed it.
Few artists have lived to read words like those written of Coleman by the influential critic Martin Williams, who in 1959 wrote in Jazz Review, “I honestly believe . . . that what Ornette Coleman is doing on alto will affect the whole character of jazz music profoundly and pervasively.” It certainly affected what I played on my turntable over the years.
I found his music to be intensely and joyfully challenging and most times best suited for introspective listening, but very early on in my “Jazz 101” phase I was struck by this artist whose every album title seemed to communicate passion and revolution – what Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux wrote in their 2009 textbook Jazz “seemed to incarnate the authority of the New Negro: The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, This is Our Music, and Free Jazz.” These albums provided great curiosity, led […] Continue reading »
While hunting around the Internet for tributes of Ornette Coleman (a collection of which I will attempt to point readers toward tomorrow), I was reminded of the critic Francis Davis’s essay titled “Ornette’s Permanent Revolution.” Originally published in the September, 1985 edition of The Atlantic, Davis, now the jazz critic for the Village Voice, writes eloquently about the complexities of the great saxophonist’s “clean break from convention.” It is a worthy and timely read…
All hell broke loose when the alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman made his East Coast nightclub debut, at the Five Spot Cafe, in Greenwich Village on November 17, 1959—twenty-five years ago last fall.
The twenty-nine-year-old Coleman arrived in New York having already won the approval of some of the most influential jazz opinion makers of the period. “Ornette Coleman is doing the only really new thing in jazz since the innovations in the mid-forties of […] Continue reading »