Tag Archives: Gerry Mulligan

The Sound of Jazz at 60

Sound of Jazz 2Sixty years ago, at 5pm on Sunday December 8, 1957, a television broadcast went out on air and down in the pages of music history. The Sound of Jazz was made as a one-off show for a CBS series called The Seven Lively Arts, but it has ended up as a priceless treasure trove which has been systematically plundered by makers of jazz documentaries and which is, unfortunately, seen in its entirety all too rarely (although it can, of course, be found on YouTube).

The show was the brainchild of CBS producer Robert Herridge who had the further inspiration of leaving the selection of the musicians involved to two eminent jazz critics, Nat Hentoff and Whitney Balliett. Hentoff and Balliett were given complete artistic control, and the results – six numbers featuring 32 of the top musicians on the jazz scene – were stimulating, surprising, and historically invaluable.

Balliett and Hentoff created various small groups featuring musicians who seldom had the chance to work together. They teamed clarinettist Pee Wee Russell – a player who was still associated with Chicago jazz of the 1930s in the minds of many – with the young clarinettist of the moment, Jimmy Giuffre. They even convinced Count Basie that he should lead an all-star big band of their choosing rather than his own, regular, outfit.

The influence of Hentoff and Balliett extended beyond the musical. It was they who decided that the show should have the minimum amount of chat, the maximum amount of music, and the informal feel of an after-hours jam session or a recording date. The musicians were asked to turn up in casual gear – there was to be none of the artifice associated with television entertainment shows of the day. Not all of the participants were initially happy with the dress code, however. Hentoff later wrote that singer Billie Holiday’s response was: ”I just spent five hundred goddam dollars on a gown!”

The resulting look and atmosphere of The Sound of Jazz are inextricably bound together with the music in the memory of anyone who has seen this icon-packed programme. Cigarette smoke billows around the horns of the Basie band as it rip roars its way through the opening number. The cameras – there were several, covering every angle since this was a live transmission – roamed about the undecorated studio, and were able to provide excellent close-ups of the likes of the bug-eyed blues singer Jimmy Rushing.

Thanks to director Jack Smight’s eye for detail, the unusual method with which pianist Thelonious Monk kept time was captured for posterity: we see him scliff his foot along the floor as he played his most famous number, Blue Monk. We also see other musicians’ reactions to the playing of Monk, an outsider whose discordant playing revolutionised jazz piano. Fellow pianist Count Basie is shown sitting at the other side of Monk’s piano, listening intently to and clearly delighted by what he hears. Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins can also be glimpsed, snapping his fingers along with the music.

For the jazz fan there is endless pleasure to be found in the simplest of the many details which were caught on camera during The Sound of Jazz, in particular a rare chance to witness the interaction between musicians as they play.

Of the six numbers, one eight-minute long piece stands out. The show’s all-star version of Billie Holiday’s blues Fine and Mellow has taken on a life of its own. To appreciate fully the import of this song, consider these facts. The song signalled the reunion – after a period of estrangement – of Holiday and her musical soulmate, the tenor saxophonist Lester Young, both of whom were dead within 18 months of the show. Shortly after the transmission, Young was given two months to live. He died in March 1959, and Holiday followed him four months later.

At the time of The Sound of Jazz, however, Holiday was in good form: Doc Cheatham later recalled that she was in jovial mood and invited all the musicians back to her place afterwards. Young, on the other hand, was so physically fragile that his parts in the Basie big band numbers had to be split between Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, and he remained sitting down through most of Fine and Mellow.

Of course Fine and Mellow is one of the last great performances by Holiday, whose voice was still magnificent despite its splintered, needle-scratched grain. Dressed in twinset and slacks, with her hair pulled back into a sophisticated ponytail, she looked beautiful, laid-back, and happy. She was surrounded by some of her favourite musicians – Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Doc Cheatham, Gerry Mulligan, Vic Dickenson, and, of course, Lester Young, whose solo – a beautifully understated and superbly constructed blues chorus of almost unbearable poignancy – and the reunion which it represented, reduced Nat Hentoff and some of the other observers to tears.
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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Remembering Chet – and Gerry

Remembering Chet – and Gerry, Rose Theatre ****
 
The deservedly popular tribute group Remembering Chet – a swinging trio with Iain Ewing (vocals) and Colin Steele (trumpet) reflecting the twin facets of the late, great Chet Baker’s music-making, and Euan Stevenson (piano) accompanying them – has been a staple of the last few Edinburgh Jazz Festivals. For this year’s event, on Saturday lunchtime, the band added a new dimension by bringing baritone saxophonist Billy Fleming in to the mix, thus allowing them to broaden the programme out to include some of the classic numbers Baker recorded with Gerry Mulligan in the 1950s.
 
It certainly gave the group – which, Ewing explained, he had been about to retire – a new lease of life; Fleming’s graceful baritone forming a formidable front line with the ever-eloquent Steele trumpet, notably in their unaccompanied climax to Bernie’s Tune, one of the compositions famously recorded by Baker and Mulligan’s radical piano-less quartet but here benefitting also from Euan Stevenson’s elegant keyboard skills.
 
Ewing, as ever, kept his patter lighthearted and often very funny to offset the melancholy that characterises the greatest hits from Baker’s back catalogue as a singer. As Steele headed offstage to sit out one ballad, Ewing quipped: “Colin’s away to mainline in the toilets. We are a Method Chet Baker tribute band. I, of course, represent Chet Baker after he died.”
 
As for those melancholy songs, Ewing – like Steele on trumpet – did his usual terrific job of stylishly channelling the Baker hallmarks – wistfulness, a soft, gentle tone, simplicity and vulnerability – while avoiding sounding like an impersonator. The many highlights included I Get Along Without You Very Well, which featured an exquisite, Satie-esque accompaniment from Euan Stevenson.
 
* First published in The Scotsman on Monday July 24th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Birth of the Cool

Birth of the Cool, George Square Piccolo *****

Wow. Sunday evening’s concert at the smaller Spiegeltent could well turn out to be one of the top highlights of this year’s jazz festival for those of us “lucky” enough to be shoehorned into one of the wooden pews by the brigade of battleaxes running the George Square venues.
 
Celebrating the groundbreaking Birth of the Cool series of recordings, the concert reflected not only the iconic tracks laid down by the Miles Davis-led nonet from 1949 (that were eventually released as the seminal, 1957, BOTC album), but also rehearsals and broadcast material recorded by the same line-up during its brief lifespan.
 
If all this sounded like we were in for a potentially po-faced, academic project – and it certainly seemed that way when the headmasterly-looking musical director Richard Ingham was making his opening comments – then those concerns were quickly blasted away by the inadvertent comedy that ensued when a cue was missed for a re-enactment of the band’s first live broadcast. 
 
Instead, we were treated to a blissful hour of the lush, slightly ethereal harmonies featured in the distinctive arrangements and compositions of Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan et al – and it was a rare thrill to hear such classics as Jeru, Moon Dreams, Move and Godchild being played live and with such panache and obvious enjoyment by this superb nine-piece outfit which included several students.
 
The 2017 BOTC band had at its heart an A-list team of Colin Steele (trumpet), Martin Kershaw (alto sax) and Allon Beauvoisin (baritone sax), all of whom were improvising rather than recreating their terrific solos and all of whom were on top form; Steele, in the Miles Davis role, has seldom sounded better. The Cool is born again … 
* First published in The Herald, Tuesday July 18th
Birth of the Cool, George Square Piccolo, Sunday July 16th
* Boplicity
* Venus de Milo
* Jeru
* Move
* Moon Dreams
* Rocker
* Rouge
* Israel
* Godchild
* Deception
* Budo

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Glasgow Jazz Festival Memories

In July 1988, I had recently finished my Highers but I was still only in the third year of my jazz education. Aged 16, I had notched up a couple of Edinburgh Jazz Festivals and started to build a basic jazz record collection thanks to the excellent Giants of Jazz series.

What I hadn’t yet experienced was a full-blown, formal jazz concert in a proper hall – but that was about to change. The Glasgow Jazz Festival has always specialised in big, one-off concerts and it was at the festival of 1988 that I experienced my first – in the form of the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band at the Theatre Royal. To be honest, I’m not even sure I’d heard of Gerry Mulligan when my Dad – a master in the art of brainwashing (midnight feasts to celebrate Louis Armstrong’s birthday had been the first phase) – said he’d bought us tickets.

Hearing the sound of this terrific, 16-piece, outfit was electrifying and exhilarating and it made me an instrant fan of Mulligan’s eloquent and very distinctive saxophone playing, composing and arranging. So much so that I waited at the stage door to get his autograph. Despite his reputation as a difficult customer, he obliged willingly – another reason for me to love him. The highlight of the evening for me was the utterly thrilling number he had penned for the jazz festival – The Flying Scotsman, a rollercoaster ride of a tune.

Many of the numbers the band played in Glasgow (scroll down for the list) were on their recent LP Walk on the Water, so in the weeks following the jazz festival, I got hooked on that album in particular while also discovering such other landmarks in Mulligan’s career as the Birth of the Cool album he made with Gil Evans and Miles Davis in the late 1940s, the piano-less quartet he pioneered with Chet Baker in the 1950s, the series of classic LPs which teamed him with such other notable saxophonists as Johnny Hodges, his tentet, the original incarnation of the Concert Jazz Band, his film work – notably I Want to Live! (1958), which we’re showing at this year’s jazz festival – and his lovely 1960 album with his one-time lover, the movie actress Judy Holliday..

The Glasgow concert was recorded by the BBC to be broadcast on Radio 3 some months later. When it was, Dad and I were ready for it: we had tape recorders set up all over the house so that we could have back-up copies of the recording, and they were all started at different times so there was no chance of us losing a bit of a number as we turned over a tape when one side ran out.

The recording confirmed all my initial feelings about the concert, and I’ve been playing my favourite copy of it (the one which left in all Mulligan’s announcements) ever since. It came to Paris with me in 1991, when I went to work there for a year (a year which culminated in my seeing Gerry Mulligan

with the Re-Birth of the Cool Band at La Villette), and it came to Edinburgh with me, in 1994, when I did a brief post-grad course.

While the next Glasgow Jazz Festival concert I attended – Stan Getz’s, in 1989 – was released on a CD, by Concord, the Mulligan one has never materialised in this form, and The Flying Scotsman was only subsequently performed by Mulligan (who died in 1996) in a quartet setting. (This will be recitified by the
Classic Jazz Orchestra plus Alan Barnes on June 29, at this year’s festival.)

Frankly, Getz’s concert made nothing like the impression on me that Gerry Mulligan’s did. In fact, all I remember is the fact that I – along with everyone else – failed to get an autograph: he resolutely refused to oblige the many fans who waited for him at the stage door. Dad, who was on hand to photograph the autograph being given, snapped me walking away with a decidedly bemused look on my face.

It turned out that the highlight of the 1989 festival was hearing the legendary Cab Calloway performing Minnie the Moocher with the Glasgow audience enthusiastically yelling the “ho-de-hoes” back at him, and waiting, programme and pen in hand, for him to leave the theatre after the show…

* The Classic Jazz Orchestra & Alan Barnes play the music of Benny Carter and Gerry Mulligan, Tron Theatre, Wednesday June 29 as part of the 25th Glasgow Jazz Festival. Visit www.jazzglasgow.com for details

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Jazz on Film @ Glasgow Jazz Festival prt 2

By way of previewing the 25th Glasgow Jazz Festival, which this year includes a Jazz on Film strand, the Glasgow Film Theatre is showing a couple of movies – and I’ll be introducing them..

First up, the definitive – and original – jazz documentary, Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959), which is showing on Saturday, June 25 at 1.45pm. I’ve written extensively on this wonderfully evocative film before – so please read my jazz and style posts about it.

I am delighted that we’re showing it as a taster for the Glasgow Jazz Festival because it is a favourite film of Glasgow audiences. It also ties in rather nicely with a concert I had a wee hand in: the Classic Jazz Orchestra’s concert, which pays tribute to two of the big names who appeared at the first two editions of the Glasgow Jazz Fest – Benny Carter and Gerry Mulligan. Saxophonist extraordinaire Alan Barnes is playing both the part of altoist Carter and baritone player Mulligan. And the connection with JOASD? Well, Mulligan can be seen both performing and being a jazz fan (he’s pictured in the poster above) in Bert Stern’s iconic documentary.

The other film I’m introducing (at the GFT, on Monday June 27 at 6pm) is not really a jazz film but was chosen because its  music was written by the great Michel Legrand, who is performing with his trio to the Glasgow Jazz Festival, on July 2. I thought that Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, the tongue-in-cheek 1967 homage to the classic Hollywood musical, was much more likely to appeal to a jazz audience than something like The Thomas Crown Affair as the music does have a bit of a jazz feel in parts – mostly when Legrand is playing piano. Also, I’ve heard that this is Legrand’s favourite of his own films..

I first saw Les Demoiselles a couple of years ago and have been obsessed with it ever since. It’s kitsch but stylish, cheeky but romantic, silly but – typically, given that it’s French – deadly serious about l’amour… It has frothy, camp pop tunes and lush, romantic ballads. I’m not 100% sure whether Catherine Deneuve, Francois Dorleac, Gene Kelly, Jacques Perrin, Danielle Darrieux, Michel Piccoli and George Chakiris did their own singing – but hopefully I’ll find out when I interview Monsieur Legrand next week.

* For tickets, visit www.gft.org.uk .

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Jazz on Film @ Glasgow Jazz Festival

Jazz and film have been my two big passions since I was an adolescent and I’m beyond thrilled to have programmed a jazz movie festival within this year’s Glasgow Jazz Festival (June 29- July 3). And the really good news? All the films are free – though tickets are limited and should be booked in advance.

This being the 25th edition of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, the films have been chosen because they have a connection to the festival’s history, which is being celebrated throughout this year’s event. So we’re kicking off, on June 29, with a matinee screening of All Night Long (1961), a British film which stars Richard Attenborough and Patrick “The Prisoner” McGoohan and is effectively a jazz version of Shakespeare’s Othello.

Attenborough stars as a playboy who hosts a jam session-cum-party to mark the one-year wedding anniversary of the golden couple of the London jazz scene.. Among the many British and American musicians who are seen onscreen (and even act a bit!) are pianist Dave Brubeck, bassist Charles Mingus (above;  in his only feature film appearance) and saxophonist and vibes player Tubby Hayes. Cleo Laine, who is performing at the jazz festival on the evening of the 29th, sings on the soundtrack while her late husband, the saxophonist John Dankworth, is onscreen.

On June 30 at 2pm, I’ll be in conversation with Pauline McLean, BBC Scotland’s arts correspondent, at the Club Room in the City Halls. We’ll be discussing how jazz and film have been linked since the advent of talkies – and I’ll be showing some of my favourite clips.

The rarely shown cult movie Mickey One (1965) is our first evening screening, on July 1. I was delighted to find that Park Circus, the Glasgow-based company which distributes old movies and from which all of our films are coming, had this particular title as it features tenor saxophonist Stan Getz – who came to the jazz festival in 1989 – extensively on Eddie Sauter’s atmospheric score.

It’s a weird yet stylish film, directed by Arthur Penn, with a New Wave feel plus the sort of surrealism associated with British TV of the period – The Prisoner and The Avengers, for example. It also anticipates the paranoia thrillers of the early 1970s, with a touch of The Fugitive and Sullivan’s Travels throw in … Oh, and it stars a very sexy young Warren Beatty as the eponymous stand-up comedian (“Onstage, I’m a Polack Noel Coward”) on the run from the Mob, or – as he puts it: “I’m a silent movie king hiding out till talkies are over.” He and the director were reunited a couple of years later for the better-known Bonnie and Clyde.

Sharing the bill with Mickey One is a classic soundie from 1929: St Louis Blues. This 16 minute film boasts the only screen appearance of the legendary blues “empress” Bessie Smith, and although it’s creaky in parts (notably at the beginning, when the participants are acting), the pay-off – Smith’s magnificent performance of the WC Handy blues – is the stuff that tingles spines. Not only that, but you’ll see James P Johnson on piano.

Our final movie (showing on July 2) features the great baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan – who was the composer in residence at the 1988 jazz festival – onscreen and on the soundtrack. I Want to Live! (1958) is another stylish crime drama, this time based on the true story of the murderess Barbara Graham (an Oscar-winning Susan Hayward). The director Robert Wise, who went on to make West Side Story and The Sound of Music, clearly had a musical sensibility and the music – by Johnny Mandel – is a key part of this very hip film.

Showing alongside I Want to Live! is Symphony in Black (1934), a stunning short film starring Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. As they play the Duke’s evocative Negro Moods suite, scenes from African-American life are depicted, with beautiful, poetic cinematography. And, to top it all, a teenage Billie Holiday (right) sings the haunting refrain The Saddest Tale.

To book free tickets for any (or all) of the films – or the talk – please visit www.jazzglasgow.com

Here are some trailers and tasters to whet the appetite:

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Norwich Jazz Party 2011: Monday afternoon

The last day of the Norwich Jazz Party got off to a rousing start. If ever there was a set guaranteed to wake you up it was the one which launched the sensational new CD by Alan Barnes and Warren Vache – The London Session (Woodville Records). I have to confess to feeling a sort of  motherly pride as they began playing the music which was already very familiar to me as I wrote the liner notes for the record, and had interviewed them extensively in the process.

So, hearing the very distinctive and stylish arrangements of such numbers as My Funny Valentine and, especially, a hangover-blasting Molasses played live was a particular treat. And, since not all of the Woodville All-Stars, with whom Barnes and Vache recorded the CD, were at the party, they were replaced by the likes of trombonist John Allred, and multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson, adding a different flavour to the tunes.

Barnes himself farmed out his baritone sax duties to Karen Sharp (who turned in a gorgeous extended solo on Sophisticated Lady), and was able to devote himself to some ace alto solo work instead, notably on an uptempo Love For Sale – a number which also had him playing bass clarinet.

For Sharp, The London Session er, session was an excellent warm-up for her own set of Gerry Mulligan-associated music later in the afternoon. It was interesting to note how many of the musicians made a point of listening to her set – the same thing happened with pianist Rossano Sportiello’s solo session later that night. And no wonder: both are lovely, lyrical players who grabbed the audience’s attention and kept them spellbound.

In fact, having your attention grabbed and then being bound to your seat are the risks you run if you attend a jazz party like this. The fear of missing what might turn out to be THE set of the weekend leads to marathon bouts of sitting still (some of the audience members looked as if they should be checked over for DVT), and, frankly, after a while the music just starts to wash over you. (I was completely jazz-lagged by Sunday afternoon.)

My leg is still bruised from the kicking I gave myself for missing most of the Basie set led by Rossano Sportiello on Sunday at lunchtime – the self-abuse began almost as soon as Scott Hamilton wrapped his horn around a sumptuous Blue and Sentimental… At least I got to hear him and Sportiello again – this time in a duo, playing some glorious music from their recent CD – on Monday afternoon. Among the many highlights was a high speed This Can’t Be Love – featuring a rollicking solo from Sportiello and Hamilton working up a head of steam on tenor – and the poignant ballad A Garden in the Rain which highlighted the tenderness and gentleness of Sportiello’s piano playing in particular.

Of course, there’s just no way I would ever risk missing the Ken ‘n’ Marty show – sadly only 20 minutes long this year but one for the history books as it featured this longstanding double act’s first onstage kiss, midway through Ken Peplowski’s sung serenade to Marty Grosz (pictured above) of When Did You Leave Heaven? Amidst the hilarity there was some lovely music – for the serenade they were joined by John Pearce (piano),  Alec Dankworth (bass) and John Allred whose mellow obbligato work behind Peplowski’s vocals was a delight. Peplowski himself was on great form, notably on a speed limit-breaking version of Walter Donaldson’s You, an old favourite of this duo. And Grosz, who has enjoyed better health this year than before last year’s Norwich expedition, was in similarly fine fettle, and evidently relishing the musical and comedy antics.

Other stand-out moments of the afternoon? Pianist Tardo Hammer’s elegant and funky set which revealed the great rapport he’s established with British drum whiz Steve Brown, Dan Block’s set of colourful and complex, John Kirby-style arrangements of Fats Waller songs, and Jim Galloway’s serene tribute to Pee Wee Russell – I’d Climb the Highest Mountain. When the young Galloway complimented Russell on his handling of the tune, he was told that he liked to play it “because it was a favourite of Bix’s”.

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