John Coltrane would leave for a road trip with the Quartet carrying nothing but his horn case and the Slonimsky book.
John Coltrane (1926-1967) is generally recognized as one of the most significant saxophonists in music history. However, at times I wonder whether the famous phrase applied to his playing—”Sheets of sound”—actually might lead the unwary to underestimate his talent, work ethic, and achievements. Such is the problem with music-history courses graded via multiple-choice examinations. “Coltrane???” “Oh, yeah—Sheets of sound!” A bit reductive… .
In truth, Coltrane was quite a Music Theory Nerd. He owned a copy of Nicholas Slonimsky’s fearsome Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, and had memorized much of it. (That book, first published in 1947, includes more than a thousand musical examples, the majority being not in traditional Western major or minor scales.)
The title track of Coltrane’s LP Giant Steps (recorded 1959) moves through three keys separated by major thirds… hence the giant steps. The tight structuring of this brief musical gem should dispel the impression that Coltrane was just making random noises. The animated graphical representation by Michal Levy is in its own way a great work of art, too.
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According to pop-song authority Mark Steyn, there exist more than 100 recordings of Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine“—by Chet Baker. Baker recorded the song as a trumpeter with Gerry Mulligan in 1952, re-recording it as a vocalist in 1954, a breakthrough performance that has been widely anthologized. I gather that for the remainder of Baker’s checkered career, audiences continued to demand it, because his last recording of it was in 1985.
The 1937 musical Babes in Arms (set in the imaginary town of Seaport, Rhode Island) is famous not only for “Valentine” (the name of the male romantic interest the song is sung to) but also the standards “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Where or When.” Less well known but equally significant is that the show included a “dream ballet” by George Balanchine.
The song starts in C minor, and in emotional tone is both pensive and a bit anxious. The girl knows that her guy is a bit of a ditz, but the idea of losing him upsets her no end—the climax comes on the words “Stay, Valentine, stay.” Standout versions include those by Anita O’Day; Miles Davis; and Bill Evans with Jim Hall. And, of course, Keith Jarrett, here with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock.
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The Rosenberg Trio is made up of its lead guitarist, the charmingly named Stochelo Rosenberg (which for some reason always makes me think of high-school chemistry class) and his cousins the rhythm guitarist Nous’che Rosenberg and upright bassist Nonnie Rosenberg.
Seeing as all three are members of the Dutch Gypsy (or Roma) community, of course they have been hugely influenced by Django Reinhardt. [Note: I am aware that use of the term “Gypsy” is controversial in some quarters. However, the Rosenbergs themselves use that word on their own website; so, they most likely are not offended by it.] If I might brag—just a bit—I am only one handshake away from Django, through Stéphane Grappelli (the violinist who, with Reinhardt, co-founded the Quintette du Hot Club of France in 1934).
More, after the jump. Continue Reading →
Jane Monheit: Taking a Chance on Love
Recorded at Avatar Studios, NYC, March-May 2004; released on CD September 2004.
CD Sony Classical SK 92495
(No high-resolution download found.)
Jane Monheit, vocals; Michael Kanan, piano; Orlando Le Fleming, bass; Rick Montalbano, drums; Miles Okazaki, guitar; various guests; Alan Broadbent, arranger and conductor; Peter Asher and Al Schmitt, producers; Al Schmitt, engineer.
“Great American Songbook” singer Jane Monheit’s début studio album for Sony Classical Taking a Chance on Love is in many ways the opposite bookend to Harry Connick, Jr.’s We Are In Love, which I wrote about here. After all, both titles use the “L” word… .
However, the important difference is that Harry Connick’s voice is of the “boy next door” variety, whereas Jane Monheit’s voice is of the “girl next door” variety, but only if you live next door to the Manhattan School of Music. Monheit’s own website is here; her Wiki is here.
Sound bytes, a YouTube, and more, on the continuation page. Continue Reading →
Harry Connick, Jr: We Are In Love
Recorded at Evergreen Radford Studio, North Hollywood, California in March, 1990 and RCA Studio B, New York, in April and May, 1990; released on CD and analog cassette 1990, on MiniDisc circa 1992, and on non-compatible single-layer stereo SACD (apparently from 44.1kHz PCM sources) 2000.
CD Columbia CK 46146
Harry Connick Jr., piano, vocals; Branford Marsalis, tenor and soprano saxophones; Russell Malone, guitar; Benjamin Jonah Wolfe, bass; Shannon Powell, drums; Harry Connick Jr., Marc Shaiman, George Butler, Bobby Colomby, producers; recorded and mixed by Joel Moss.
Talk about an unlikely success. In 1990, American actor, singer, pianist, and composer Harry Connick, Jr. released as anachronistic an album as anyone could imagine—male vocals, most tracks with big-band-style orchestral accompaniment. Connick wrote most of the songs, but there were also standards including “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and Cole Porter’s “It’s Alright With Me.” We Are In Love sold two million copies in its first year, and Connick picked up the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance—Male.
Connick’s voice is of the “Boy Next Door” variety, but he makes the most of it; and the recording job is stunningly good. Thanks to the advocacy of MSB Digital’s Vince Galbo, Connick’s “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (with excellent contributions from Branford Marsalis on tenor saxophone and Benjamin Jonah Wolfe on bass, who are the only musicians on the track) has become a favorite hi-fi-show demo track. Continue Reading →
Blossom Dearie: Verve Jazz Masters 51
CD Verve 529 906-2
Blossom Dearie, piano, voice; Ray Brown, bass; Kenny Burrell, Herb Ellis, guitar; Jo Jones, drums; others. Recorded 1955–60; remastered 1996.
“Blossom Dearie” (full name Blossom Margrete Dearie) certainly sounds like a stage name. However, “Dearie” is an old Scottish name, also spelled “Deery” and “Deary.”
As for her given names, she was born in April, and one story is that the pear trees in the area around her home in rural New York were in blossom, and a neighbor brought blossoms to the Dearie home on the day of her birth… . I suspect “Margrete” was chosen by her mother, who either was Norwegian, or was of Norwegian ancestry.
That said, perhaps the stage-name thing (as well as her gamine cuteness, and her little-girl voice) made people underestimate Dearie’s musical intelligence.
(Note: The photo above is not from the music video.)
WDR Big Band: “Just Friends”
Here’s an exuberant big-band video (from the year 2000) showcasing the WDR Big Band in Bill Holman’s unique arrangement of the “Great American Songbook” number “Just Friends.”
Written by Klenner and Lewis in 1931, “Just Friends” is a pensive, poignant ballad about lovers who have drifted apart. They are now “Just Friends.” (Two friends… but one broken heart.)
“Just Friends” is doubtless most often remembered as the blistering opener to Charlie Parker With Strings. Parker’s astonishing introduction nests details within details—music as Mandelbrotian fractal. Famous vocal versions include those by Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, and Tony Bennett.
Clifford Brown: Clifford Brown With Strings
CD Polygram 814 642-2
Clifford Brown—trumpet; Richie Powell—piano; Max Roach—drums; George Morrow—double bass; Barry Galbraith—guitar; Neal Hefti—arranger, conductor. Recorded New York, 1955.
J.S. Bach played the organ and the harpsichord; Beethoven played the piano. Therefore, Louis Armstrong (NB: nearly everything on this blog is “IMHO”) holds the distinction of being the only person to have revolutionized Western instrumental music while playing an instrument capable of sounding only one note at a time. Jazz historian Stanley Crouch claimed that one of Armstrong’s most important early musical influences was listening to phonograph records by Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso. How’s that for musical cross-pollination made possible by technology?