In his 1973 autobiography Music is My Mistress, Duke Ellington writes about his admiration for Lena Horne. In a footnote to Ellington’s thoughts on Horne, he wrote that he inherited the line he was known to use when telling a woman he thought she was beautiful — “You Make That Hat Look Pretty!” — from his father.
Lena Horne is such a delicate beauty. When she decided it was show business for her, before she became of age, she had to be accompanied by her mother when she came to work at the Cotton Club. From bandstands with Charlie Barnet, she went on to movies, and always with a dignity that […] Continue reading »
I can’t let Columbus Day go by without paying homage to the Chu Berry/Andy Razaf song that was a “novelty hit” for Fats Waller and the theme song of Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. Recorded and performed by countless artists from Louis Armstrong to Lawrence Welk, Jeffrey Magee, author of The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz, tells the story of the song’s origins, and how it became “another focal point of frustration to those around [Henderson].” […] Continue reading »
In an essential jazz history book Jazz, co-written by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux, the authors describe Ornette Coleman as being “universally revered as one of American music’s most original figures,” and whose influence is “beyond calculation.” In addition to his musical significance, his six albums recorded for Atlantic Records from 1959 – 1961 “generated a cultural storm, not least for album titles that continued to lay emphasis on the group’s challenging attitude, which — without once mentioning the civil rights struggle — 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.” Those Atlantic albums are creative and emotional landmarks, and for open-minded musicians and listeners, continue to be indispensable material for measuring our respective aesthetic boundaries.
The importance of these recordings heightens the influence of their liner notes. But, which liner notes best characterize Ornette Coleman’s work on Atlantic? Focusing on the first three of the recordings, in the liner notes to the first, […] Continue reading »
I am in the early stages of reading pianist Hampton Hawes’ 1972 autobiography (written with Don Asher) Raise Up Off Me, which Gary Giddins called, in his introduction, “the first book to give an insider’s view of the most provocative and misunderstood movement in jazz — the modernism of the ’40s, bebop.” It is incredibly entertaining and a witty, lucid, and smart read.
In a paragraph representative of the book’s quality, Hawes writes about his respect for and appreciation of his instrument’s dependability:
The piano was the only sure friend I had because it was the only thing that was consistent, always made sense and responded directly to what I did. Pianos don’t ever change. Sittin’ there every day. You wanna play me, here I am. The D is still here, the A flats still here, they’re always going to be there and it don’t matter whether it’s Sunday, Ash Wednesday or the Fourth of July. Play it right and it comes […] Continue reading »
“Perhaps the hours of greatest pleasure in my life have come about as a result of the capacity of the piano to be in itself a complete expressive musical medium. In retrospect, I think that these countless hours of aloneness with music unified the directive energy of my life. At those times when I have achieved this sense of oneness while playing alone, the many technical or analytic aspects of the music happened of themselves with positive rightness which always served to remind me that to understand music most profoundly one only has to be listening well. Perhaps it is a peculiarity of mine that despite the fact that […] Continue reading »
From Miles: The Autobiography, Miles Davis recalls an evening that could have had him on stage with a very young Barbra Streisand
One night we were playing at the Village Vanguard, and the owner Max Gordon wanted me to play behind a singer. So I told him I didn’t play behind no girl singer. But I told him to ask Herbie [Hancock] and if Herbie wanted to do it then it was okay with me. So Herbie, Tony [Williams], and Ron [Carter] played […] Continue reading »
In this edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo: Memories and Opinion,” noted critics and musicians list their favorite jazz record albums of the 1970’s. […] Continue reading »
“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons
In this excerpt from Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee, author Peter Richmond writes about how singing in front of a boisterous Jack Benny and his entourage in a Palm Springs haunt led to her discovering the power of singing “softly, with feeling.” […] Continue reading »
In his 1973 autobiography Music is My Mistress, from a chapter titled “The Taste Buds,” Duke Ellington writes about his special diet, losing thirty pounds while on it, and the resulting onstage antics.
In 1955 my doctor, Arthur Logan, told me I would have to take off twenty-two pounds. I tore up his suggested menu and made one of my own. Mine was simply steak (any amount), grapefruit, and black coffee with a slice of lemon first squeezed and then dropped into it. With the exception of a binge one day a week, I ate as much of this and as often as I please for three months.
When we returned to the New York area, my first date was […] Continue reading »
Pianist Joe Sample — who died on September 12 at the age of 75 — was a critical link to both the glories of hard bop and the perils of smooth jazz. His career will principally be remembered as a founding member of the Jazz Crusaders (ultimately just “The Crusaders”), a band he described as being “fathers of jazz-funk-fusion.” While his musical contributions are noteworthy, I also remember him for an altogether different reason.
In 1974, The Crusaders were all over the radio. In the San Francisco Bay area (where I lived at the time), their music — particularly their arrangement of Carole King’s “So Far Away” and a sweet ballad called “Way Back Home” — was in heavy rotation on the adult contemporary formatted KSFO-AM as well as on the era’s alternative rock giant KSAN-FM. In record industry parlance, they had “crossed over” into multiple formats. The Crusaders were “huge.”
In addition to being an important musical influence during […] Continue reading »