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Coleman Hawkins_edited-1
Coleman Hawkins – Hawk to his many fans – did more than any other musician to establish the tenor saxophone and it was on this day in 1969 that he passed away. He was a suave, elegant and sophisticated player – the very antithesis of what mmany consider a jazz musician to be; although his love of drinking ensured he fulfilled that particular cliché. ‘Bean’ was a powerful, passionate and original tenor player who lived in London and toured Europe for five years during the 1930s, helping to spread the word that is jazz.

The eighteen-year-old Hawkins became one of Mamie Smith’s Original Jazz Hounds – billed as ‘The Saxophone Boy’; he recorded with Mamie in May 1922, before leaving her band to settle in New York. In August 1923 he was with Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra, the start of a long running relationship with what was the premier Black orchestra of the day. At the same time he recorded with were Bessie Brown, the Chocolate Dandies, Fats Waller and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.

In September 1933 Coleman went into the studio with his own Orchestra for the very first time. The following year, somewhat unusually for an American musician at this time his next recording date was to be in London. Henderson’s band had been due to tour England, but it fell through, leading Hawkins to make contact with British bandleader Jack Hylton to arrange a visit for just himself.

Billed as ‘King Coleman Hawkins’ the European trip was supposed to be a short, but Henderson kept extending his stay to play; recording in Paris, Zurich and Amsterdam , as well as performing in Denmark and Belgium. In Paris he recorded with Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt before his final European appearances with Jack Hylton in London in May 1939. With war looming Hawk headed home and got an orchestra together to begin a residency at Kelly’s Stable, in New York. On 11 October 1939 he recorded the sublime, ‘Body and Soul’, which just about everyone at the time, and since, have agreed is perfection. It was one hell of a way to put every other aspiring tenor sax player on notice that he was back.

His band played the Savoy Ballroom and the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, but it was not the way to present Hawkins or his music, as he had none of the showman qualities to pull off these kinds of gigs. By 1941 he was working with a small group and feeling much more comfortable playing in Chicago and the Midwest. In 1946 he appeared on the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, the first of many that he undertook.
As the fifties came around, and approaching fifty, Hawk embraced the role as one of jazz’s elder statesmen. He was quick to tell people about Miles Davis before almost anyone was aware of him. He had worked with some of the rising stars, including Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach, playing some of the earliest Bebop recordings.

Because of his JATP shows he was asked to record for Verve. The first session was actually the live show at The 1957 Newport Jazz Festival before the first studio session at Capitol’s Studio in Hollywood in October of that year backed by Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Alvin Stoller. The songs the cut became ‘The Genius of Coleman Hawkins’, and every tune proves the point. Later that day they were joined by another tenor sax great and the result was ‘Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster’. Not a bad day at the office.

By the early Sixties Coleman’s style was not seen as hip by those that thought themselves tastemakers but he still recorded some interesting albums, including, Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins. He still continued to perform, especially in New York City’s clubs and on tours. Finally the life of a hard drinking jazzman begun to catch up with him and in 1967 he collapsed while on stage in Toronto. By December he was appearing one last time in Britain with his old friend Oscar Pettiford’s band at Ronnie Scott’s club. He played just once more, in Chicago in April 1969, but a month later he was dead at just 64 years old.

If you do nothing else today then listen to the ‘Love Theme from Apache’ and ‘Body and Soul’; Bean’s first solo on Apache tells you everything about what made him so vital and indeed, a Genius. The world will seem like a better place after you’ve savoured them.

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Tracie May 19th at 11:44am

Little typo in the first paragraph. It should read "Coleman Hawkins" instead of "Coleman Hawklins".

The Jazz Labels May 19th at 2:36pm

Tracie, thank you, we've sorted it!

Maiden Voyage_edited-1On 11 March 1965 Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Ron Carter (bass) and Stu Martin (drums) along with Herbie Hancock were at Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey with producer Alfred Lion to record the pianist’s new Blue Note album. The first song they put down was ‘Maiden Voyage, followed by ‘Little One’ and ‘Dolphin’s Dance’, but in the final analysis these tracks were rejected as unsuitable.

Six days later on 17 March Hancock was back in the same studio and this time he cut not just a defining album in his career, but a defining album for Blue Note Records and jazz. Whereas there was something missing at that first day’s recording nothing was missing, not a note, not a nuance, there was simply perfection. For their second attempt at recording Herbie’s five compositions it was Tony Williams rather than Stu Martin (Sonny Rollins’s drummer at the time) that was behind the drum kit.

Maiden Voyage is Hancock’s follow-up to Empyrean Isles, and is an album that is totally different in form and feel, aside from the obvious addition of tenor saxophonist George Coleman who, like most of the others, had been playing in Miles Davis’s band for the previous two years. Departing from the hard bop of Hancock’s 1964 album Maiden Voyage is more mellow, with gentle composition that have more of a chamber-jazz vibe – it has even has been called a sound sculpture. But do not for a minute think this makes it in any way less exciting; this is innovative musical exploration of the highest order. Hancock’s time with Miles Davis comes across in his playing, but in no way is this simply a pastiche of Miles’s music. Just listen to the closing crescendo on ‘Survival of the Fittest’: it owes more to Rachmaninoff than Miles Davis.

The album’s title track was originally titled ‘TV jingle’ until Jean Hancock, Herbie’s sister, renamed it, and it sets the tone and the theme for the album. Ironically, many years later, the track was used in a TV commercial by Fabergé sometime later. It is a composition that many artists have covered, including Dianne Reeves who recorded an interesting vocal version in 1996, and pianist Robert Gasper whose fabulous interpretation is on his 2007 Blue Note album, In My Element.

Side 2 opens with the album’s most experimental piece, ‘Survival of the Fittest’ that perfectly reflects the album’s concept – an evocation of ‘oceanic atmospheres’. ‘Dolphin Dance’ is the other genuine classic on this record, deservedly so given Hancock’s skilful writing and equally skilful playing throughout. It’s a tune that offers subtle shifts and changes in both key and the interplay between the soloists. Maiden Voyage is as perfect as an album gets.

Released on 17 May 1965 it has gone on to become one of Blue Note’s most loved releases and it is an album that no self respecting jazz collection should be without.

Listen to Maiden Voyage on Spotify and buy it from iTunes

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Johnny HodgesJohnny Hodges passed away this day in 1970, but left a legacy like few other saxophonists. He was a musician of considerable authority when playing with a band, he possessed technical mastery of his instrument an individualistic style and use of vibrato that made him admired by many. His sax playing had a beautiful tone and he was able to play long flowing runs like few others. His playing of the blues was particularly sensuous and his way with a ballad made him the quintessential Ellington sideman and an in demand player to accompany others.

After learning to play both piano and drums he first played soprano sax before becoming a specialist with the alto saxophone. He went to New York while still in his teens where he played with a few bands; having been inspired by Sidney Bechet he also took guidance from the jazz pioneer.

Johnny joined Duke Ellington’s Orchestra in 1928, playing on his first record in March and from the very first he became pivitol to the Ellington sound as well as co-writing some of Duke’s recordings. He toured Europe with Ellington in both 1933 and 1939, and three years later he played on the classic, ‘Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’ helping to make it so distinctive as well as a big hit record.

After playing on so many wonderful Ellington records Hodges left in 1951 to work within a small group environment, something he had already done within the Ellington organization. His first session for Norgran was in January along with two other Ellingtonians, trombonist Lawrence Brown and Duke’s long serving drummer, Sonny Greer. The album was called Castle Rock, the title track was a hit single and the album was later reissued on Verve. A month later the same players recorded an album entitles, Memories of Ellington that was reissued as In A Mellow Tone by Verve
Johnny Hodges

Pee Wee Russell,Johnny Hodges, and Chu Barry

Over the next decade or so Johnny recorded a lot of albums for both Norgran and Verve. Among the highlights were Ellingtonia ’56, Johnny Hodges with Billy Strayhorn and the Orchestra and The Big Sound. He also worked with Ellington himself and recorded Duke Ellington And Johnny Hodges Play The Blues – Back To Back and Duke Ellington And Johnny Hodges Side by Side that show off the wonderful musicianship of the long time colleagues.
In the early 1960s he rejoined Ellington’s band and was in the studio when Duke and Sinatra recorded the album, Francis A. And Edward K in December 1967. Among the songs they recorded was the beautiful ‘Indian Summer’ with a sumptuous Billy May arrangement. It is among the best songs Sinatra recorded for Reprise and Johnny Hodges sax solo certainly adds to the overall effect. So enthralled was Sinatra during its recording that when it ends he’s half a second late in coming in to sing.

Hodges last appearance was at the Imperial Room in Toronto, less than a week before his death. He suffered a heart attack during a visit to his dental surgeon in May 1970. Hodges performance on Sinatra’s record was a fitting elegy to a great saxophonist.

Listen to Johnny with Frank Sinatra on Indian Summer

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Billie and dog_edited-1At UK 8 pm time there is a special two hour BBC radio show to celebrate the centenary of Billie Holiday. It stars Madeline Bell, Gloria Onitiri and Rebecca Ferguson. With the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Mike Dixon and featuring Guy Barker on trumpet and Ben Castle on tenor sax. The concert tells the story of Billie Holiday’s dramatic rise from poverty and prostitution to becoming one of the most influential jazz singers of all time. Among the songs, the classics ‘What A Moonlight Can Do’, ‘Don’t Worry About Me’, ‘Strange’ Fruit’, ‘Don’t Explain’, ‘I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues’ and God ‘Bless the Child’.

You can listen from anywhere around the world, here

Get God Bless The Child, our brand new Billie Holiday compilation, here

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Cyndi April 11th at 2:47pm

Billie has been the soundtrack of my life for many years. She was just pure magic. Her voice soothes my soul.

Pres largeBy the early 1950’s Lester Young was finding the popularisation of his style something of a double-edged sword. He was so admired that many copied his style and with all these sound-alikes, he himself was beginning to feel obsolete. The impact of the abuse he had received while serving in the U.S. army, which he described as, “a nightmare, man, one mad nightmare”, meant that his playing was becoming far more melancholic than mellow. To add further to his woes his battle with alcohol was intensifying.

He was living in New York, in a state that would nowadays be diagnosed as clinically depressed, sitting by his window in the Alvin Hotel at 52nd Street and Broadway, watching the musicians arriving at Birdland on the opposite side of the street. He spent much of his time watching Western movies, and listening to Frank Sinatra records, sat in his chair, while drinking gin.

On one occasion Gil Evans visited him, “He had a great big room at the Alvin, and when I’d go to see him, I’d find full plates of food everywhere. They’d been brought by friends, but he wouldn’t eat. He just drank … One of the reasons his drinking got so out of hand was his teeth. They were in terrible shape, and he was in constant pain.”

In 1956 the man everyone knew as Pres was named the greatest tenor saxophonist ever in a Leonard Feather poll. Many phrases that are in daily use today have been attributed to him. He was most famous for dubbing Billy Holiday “Lady Day”, and she for calling him the “President”, but it is Young that also introduced, “you dig” (you understand) and “bread” (money).

In February 1959 Young went to Paris to work and while he was there he recorded at Barclay Studios in Paris on 4 March; it came out later in the year as the appropriately entitled Lester Young In Paris. Among the tracks on Young’s last album is ‘I Can’t Get Started’, a song that he and Billie Holiday had recorded twenty-one years earlier. Lester Young in Paris is not his best playing by a long way, but it is fascinating that a man in his physical condition could even perform.

The day after returning to New York from the one-month engagement in the French capital, Young died on 15 March 1959 from a heart attack brought on by severe internal bleeding arising from cirrhosis of the liver – he had essentially drunk himself to death.

Norman Granz took out a full-page ad in Down Beat: there was a photo of Lester Young under which was the simple dedication, “We’ll all miss you, Lester”. He was posthumously elected to the Down Beat Hall of Fame in 1959.

Today, Pres’s playing is not so in vogue, his style is looked upon as old fashioned. Yet no one could swing like Pres, swing is what Lester Young is all about. He recorded an album of wonderful swing standards with Teddy Wilson in 1956 for Verve. This record is a joy and has sometimes been overlooked because it was recorded at the twilight of Young’s career; it is one of the best albums that Granz ever produced. Aside from the emotional intensity of Young’s playing, the pairing with Wilson is inspired.

pres and teddy
If you do nothing else today the listen to it on Spotify

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Bas Gunn March 16th at 6:19pm

I am 82 and a Jazz fan for years. I had almost forgotten how good Pres was. than you for reminding me

Bird’s Last Session

12th March, 2015

Charlie Parker lg_edited-2
In 1950, Charlie Parker moved in with a dancer named Chan Richardson, despite only having married his long-term girlfriend Doris two years earlier. Charlie and Chan had a daughter in 1951 and a son in 1952. Charlie’s daughter died from pneumonia in 1954, an event that brought on the final decline for a man whose mind was already in a fragile state from self-abuse.

Things eventually got so bad that Bird was even banned from Birdland. By September 1954, Charlie Parker had a breakdown; he even attempted suicide. After a spell in hospital he did get back on his feet and was once again booked to appear at Birdland in March 1955.

On 10 December 1954 Bird was at Fine Sound Studios in New York to record with pianist Walter Bishop Jr.; Billy Bauer on guitar, bass player Teddy Kotick and drummer Art Taylor. They cut two songs that day, the first was ‘Love For Sale’ and they followed it with ‘I Love Paris’, both are Cole Porter songs.

This was Bird’s last visit to a recording studio and before he could fulfill his engagement at Birdland, he died on 12 March 1955 at the home of jazz patron Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, where Thelonious Monk would also pass away, nearly twenty-seven years later. Bird was thirty four when he died, but according to the autopsy report he had the body of a man of over fifty.

Verve Records that Norman Granz launched at the end of 1955 began an ambitious reissue schedule of old Clef and Norgran titles in 1957.. One of the most ambitious and one of the most exciting series of records was The Genius Of Charlie Parker #1 through #8, which included Bird And Diz, April In Paris and Night And Day. This series – along with The Charlie Parker Story #1, 2 and 3, was an early sign of the record industry capitalizing on the death of a legendary artist.

‘I Love Paris’, Parker’s last recorded song at Bird’s last session appeared on Charlie Parker Plays Cole Porter, which was #5 in ‘The Genius Of’ series.

Listen to ‘I Love Paris’ on Spotify and you can buy The Complete Verve Master Takes on iTunes

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sherrie kober evans March 12th at 4:07pm

What a tragic life for such a great talent

Recorded over three days on, 6 and 9 February, and 20 May, 1963 in New York City this classic album was released the following year and immediately caused controversy. It’s title comes from the idea that Bill Evans played three separate tracks and over-dubbed himself to build up the complex arrangements.

There were some that thought this sacrilege and an impure art as it was impossible to recreate in concert. It is with the passing of time acknowledged as a masterpiece by a genius. Producers David Foster and Tommy LiPuma both cite this album as an inspiration; many others agree and 1964 it won the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group.

Evans played Glen Gould’s piano, CD 318 on the recording that was created out of a ‘conversation’ between the first two takes with subtle embelishments added on the third take. As it says on the liner notes of the album regarding ‘Bill three’, “He was their Greek chorus, and sometimes he had the best lines.” If you have any doubts just listen to ‘Stella By Starlight’ it is shows off Evans’s genius in all its glory

The cover photography is by the celebrated photographer, Roy DeCarava

 “Those hands were thrust in the slash side pockets of his windbreaker and he was all hunched up with the bitter cold. I thought: So that’s what genius looks like.” – Gene Lees on the liner notes of the album.


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Steve Grathwohl February 26th at 5:43pm

Yes, an undoubted masterpiece. The closest analog I can think of is Hume's "Dialogues concerning natural religion"---a remarkable mind in conversation with itself.

mindfulkettle February 26th at 5:51pm

Reblogged this on The Mindful Kettle.

Luiz Roberto February 26th at 7:29pm

..."There were some that thought this sacrilege and an impure art as it was impossible to recreate in concert"...sacrilege for me is saying it's not a masterpiece...and who said that art would be impure if it couldn't be recreated live in concert ?...

Gib Veconi February 26th at 8:51pm

This recording represented a groundbreaking concept in 1964, and few if any other pianists could have pulled it off. Bill later recorded "Further Conversations with Myself," and "New Conversations." The breathtaking arrangements and playing on the latter make it my personal favorite.

CommunicateAsia February 26th at 10:54pm

Reblogged this on CommunicateAsia and commented:
I vote yes, a true masterpiece.

Jedd Carby February 27th at 12:30am

While I am a huge Bill Evans fan, I had a hard time with repeated listens to this album. I found it too busy and often times cluttered. That being said, there were some great moments here. I think that I will persist with it, as I like the concept and feel I haven't tapped into how good this really is yet.

JoYcelyn Avery February 27th at 1:45am

Don be doin' so much sloggin' in the bl0ggin'; rather open your ears as well as you can and take great apportionments of time tolisten listen listen! If this is a bit much and even if not give "Left to Right " a go. Unique, I believe.

Jedd Carby February 27th at 7:49am

It is a great album, rather, I just have not been able to Enjoy it with as much ease as some of the other Bill Evans albums. Thanks for your suggestions!

Craig Lawless January 21st at 8:17pm

Little-known fact: the song "NYC's No Lark" is an anagram of and tribute by Evans to Sonny Clark, who had recently died. It's a great album to listen to with headphones on...the intricacies of the 3 voices become less "busy" when they are immediately within your head through headphones. I first heard the album on headphones in the library at SUNY Potsdam in the Fall of 1976. The fact that I remember when, where and how I first heard it should indicate the artistic weight this album carries with me to this day.

From One Charlie To Another…

17th January, 2015
posted in: Jazz Greats

Charlie-Watts-Ode-To-A-High-Fly lg
In March 1955 Charlie Parker died, he was still only 34 years old. Six years later twenty-year-old Charles Robert Watts paid tribute to one of the men who inspired him to become a jazz drummer. According to Charlie Watt’s mother, “He took to it straight away, and often used to play jazz records and join in on his drums.” According to Charlie ” It was just a collection of bits and pieces, but I got a lot of fun out of it. Any sort of Jazz interested me, so I taught myself by listening to other people’s records and watching drummers.”

Charlie was working as a fulltime graphic designer and a part-time drummer. He had left art school in July 1960- and after working as a tea boy in an advertising agency he got his chance to work as a designer. In mid 1961 he was also playing drums twice a week in a coffee bar, but by September he was playing with a band at the Troubadour Club in Chelsea. It’s here he met Alexis Korner who asked him to join his band, but young Charlie had other ideas, instead he moved to Denmark to work

It was while he was at art school that he wrote a and illustrated a book he called, ‘Ode To A High Flying Bird’, the bird being, Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophonist who Charlie loved so much. When Charlie became a member of the Rolling Stones in January 1963 his jazz drumming took a back seat, but not his passion for the music, which he has loved and played ever since whenever his commitments with the Stones allowed.

Charlie did Ode To A High Flying Bird was as a children’s book for his portfolio, with a narrative of Parker’s life (“Soon everybody was digging what Bird blew. . . . His nest was made”) along with simple whimsical drawings that illustrated the narrative.

Late in 1964, according to Charlie, “This guy who published ‘Rolling Stones Monthly’ saw my book and said ‘Ah, there’s a few bob in this!'” The 36 page book was published by Beat Publications, London. on 17 January 1965 and cost 7 shillings (35p/70 US cents)
Charlie Watts Bird
Charlie’s love of jazz and his fame as one of rock’s best drummers allowed him to pursue his passion for jazz. One of the jazz albums he recorded was in 1992 and it was a ’Tribute To Charlie Parker’. Charlie Watts took his album ‘on the road’ and played it live. His concerts included such Parker compositions as ‘Cool Blues,’ played by the quintet, and ‘Dewey Square,’ played with strings and a version of ‘Just Friends.’ The long-time Stones’ backing singer, Bernard Fowler served as a narrator at the concerts, reading extracts from, Ode to a High Flying Bird, as a segue between some of the music.

Our Charlie Parker Spotify playlist

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50 Greatest Jazz albums
We have decided to attempt to come up with a definitive list of the 50 Greatest Jazz Albums of all time. Impossible, you are probably thinking, and it probably is, but rather than just thinking of our favourites we decided to take a good look through the web to see what other lists there are and combine our findings.

As usual we expect many of you to disagree, sometimes strongly, but as usual we will love hearing from you.

50. Thelonious Monk – Genius of Modern Music vol.1 & 2.
49. Count Basie – the Original American Decca Recordings
48. Bud Powell – The Amazing Bud Powell Vo.1
47. Weather Report – Heavy Weather
46. John Coltrane & Thelonious Monk – At Carnegie Hall
45. Horace Silver – Song For My Father
44. Grant Green – Idle Moments
43. Count Basie – The Complete Atomic Basie
42. Hank Mobley – Soul Station
41. Charlie Christian – The Genius of the Electric Guitar
40. Art Pepper meets the Rhythm Section
39. John Coltrane – My Favourite Things
38. Benny Goodman – At Carnegie Hall 1938
37. Wes Montgomery – The incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery
36. The Mahavishnu Orchestra With John McLaughlin – Inner Mounting Flame
35. Clifford Brown and Max Roach – Clifford Brown & Max Roach
34. Andrew Hill – Point of Departure
33. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters
32. Dexter Gordon – Go
31. Sarah Vaughan – With Clifford Brown
30. The Quintet – Jazz at Massey Hall
29. Bill Evans Trio – Waltz For Debby
28. Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder
27. Bill Evans – Sunday at the village Vanguard
26. Thelonious Monk – Brilliant Corners
25. Keith Jarrett – the Koln Concert
24. John Coltrane – Giant Steps
23. Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage
22. Duke Ellington – Ellington at Newport
21. Cecil Taylor – Unit Structures
20. Charlie Parker – Complete Savoy and Dial Studio recordings
19. Miles Davis – Birth of the Cool
18. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers – Moanin’
17. Albert Ayler – Spiritual Unity
16. Eric Dolphy – Out To Lunch
15. Oliver Nelson – The Blues and the Abstract Truth
14. Erroll Garner – Concert By the Sea
13. Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil
12. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto
11. Louis Armstrong – Best of the Hot 5s and 7s
10. John Coltrane – Blue Train
9. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
8. Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus
7. Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else
6. Charles Mingus – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
5. Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come
4. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um
3. Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
2. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
1. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

Listen to our selections from these great albums on Spotify

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Comments (4)

giandomenico de cicco January 17th at 7:12pm

The first Bird album 20th & the first Ellington 22th. Isn't serious

Al Milchem January 28th at 6:13pm

All great selections. I have had the good fortune to collect this wonderful music in one form or the other over the years, since the 1940's. And there is so much more of it not included here!

giannipapa January 28th at 8:12pm

I would certainly recommend the list to anyone willing to explore jazz, as these are all wonderful albums worth listening to. However the list offers limited scope for excitement past the introductory level. After that, in my opinion, the best 'greatest jazz albums' lists should be idiosyncratic and surprising - this is not.

No One Ever Agrees! January 28th at 11:05pm

[…] here goes anyway! The 50 Greatest Jazz Albums of All Time? - The Jazz Labels - The 50 Greatest Jazz Albums of All Time… Myles B. Astor, Senior Editor, Positive Feedback;, Executive Editor […]