Tag Archives: Harry Allen

CD Recommendations: September 2012

Scott Hamilton & Harry Allen: Round Midnight (Challenge Records) 

This reunion of two great US tenor saxophonists is very much a meeting of minds. Harry Allen was strongly influenced by the playing of Scott Hamilton as he grew up, but rather than coming across as an imitator, what’s clear here is that his unique, immediately identifiable sound – wispy, yet rough around the edges – complements Hamilton’s full-bodied, rich tone. They lead a super-swinging trio featuring ace pianist Rossano Sportiello through nine tracks which, surprisingly for them, includes only one ballad.

Daryl Sherman: Mississippi Belle (Arbors Records)

As Edinburgh Jazz Festival-goers discovered lastmonth, the American singer-pianist Daryl Sherman is a terrific entertainer whose frothy, coquettish vocals and swinging jazz piano make her a class act. On this CD Sherman celebrates the lesser-sung Cole Porter – a composer with whom she has a special affinity, since for years she played his piano in the Waldorf Astoria. Some of the songs here are a little too cabaret for jazz tastes but there’s still much for devotees of elegant mainstream jazz.

Joe Stilgoe: We Look to the Stars (Absolute) 

This is the second album from the singer/songwriter/pianist and raconteur who delighted Fringe audiences with his one-man show last year – and it’s a winner, though one which veers more towards pop than his last CD. The voice is very Buble-like, but the wittily-worded songs and catchy melodies are distinctly Stilgoe, with the poignant, Billy Wilder-inspired, (That’s The Way It Crumbles) Cookie-Wise and the jubilant I Like This One and Let’s Begin highlights alongside a gorgeous take on Waterloo Sunset.

Stan Getz Quartet: Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series Volume 29 (TCB) Recorded in Zurich in 1960 by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, this superb, swinging, six-track set by Stan Getz finds the tenor man at the peak of his pre-bossa nova powers. At the time of this concert, which was part of a Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, Getz was living in Copehnhagen and had brought a Danish rhythm section with him. But en route to Zurich he fell out with his bassist and drummer so Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen were co-opted in from Oscar Peterson’s trio to join pianist Jan Johansson. The results are simply sublime.

Sophie Milman: In the Moonlight (eOne Music) 

Milman is a Russian-born, Israeli-raised and Toronto-based singer with a rich, luscious voice who sounds as if she has been around much longer than her twentysomething years, and who has a particular love of great lyrics. On this, her fourth album, she sings 14 love songs which were selected especially for the greatness of their lyrics. Several of these are given the full romantic treatment, with strings arranged by the great Alan Broadbent.

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CD Recommendations: June 2012

Martin Taylor & Alan Barnes: Two For the Road (Woodville Records) 

With the right combination of musicians, the duo can be THE most satisfying of jazz line-ups – and this CD is a perfect example. Martin Taylor (guitar) and Alan Barnes (clarinet) have created a beautiful, intimate, album which showcases their rapport and mutual respect and plays out like a series of conversations – some cosy chats, some playful banter and some lively debates. And you don’t have to be a fan of Taylor’s guitar monologues to get a huge kick out of his lovely, warm, lyrical playing on this CD. A joy.

Sonny Stitt: Now!/Salt and Pepper (Impulse! 2-on-1)

Two early 1960s albums from the underrated tenor and alt saxophonist Sonny Stitt appear on this CD. Now! (1963) finds him asserting himself mostly on the tenor, undoubtedly to shake off the Charlie Parker comparisons, but, with his driving, lyrical style and the Bird-like improvisations, the influence is still very evident. On Salt and Pepper (1964), accompanied by an almost identical classy trio (led by pianist Hank Jones), he goes head to head with the tenor man Paul Gonsalves with memorable results.

Harry Allen & Rossano Sportiello: Conversations – The Johnny Burke Songbook (CD Baby.Com/Indys)

An instrumental album paying tribute to a lyricist may seem a bit odd but American tenor saxophonist has a personal connection to Johnny Burke, the writer of such standards as It Could Happen to You, Pennies From Heaven and Like Someone In Love. All of these are included in this lovely CD which finds the eloquent tenor man well-matched with the elegant pianist Sportiello. Their pairing is magic on the ballads especially, and it’s a rare treat to hear some of the seldom played songs Burke co-wrote for Paramount movies as well as such “new” finds as I Wish You Needed Me.

 Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock: The Beale Street Blues (Cside) 

The fourth CD from Scotland’s swinging-est purveyors of hot, Chicago-style, jazz is another wee cracker. This time, the original quartet, headed by cornettist Mike Daly and clarinettist/saxophonist John Burgess, is joined by their regular special guest Brian Kellock on piano – and the results are superb, notably such lesser-played numbers as Shim Me Sha Wabble and That Da Da Strain. Only possible quibble? I’ll Be a Friend With Pleasure is such a pretty, poignant tune, it would be a treat to hear what Daly and Kellock could do with it at a slower speed.

Benny Carter: Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid Jazz) 

The quartet of 1950s/1960 LPs featured on this double CD showcases almost every one of jazz legend Benny Carter’s talents: as composer, arranger, alto saxophonist, tenor saxophonist and trumpeter. These LPs also find him in the top-notch company of the likes of Ben Webster, Andre Previn, Jimmy Rowles, Frank Rosolino and Barney Kessel – all of whom play on the opening album, the terrific Jazz Giant – and Earl Hines. It’s perhaps not essential Carter – but a superb snapshot of the great man in his (very long) middle period.

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Norwich Jazz Party 2012: Assorted Highlights

The Norwich Jazz Party strikes just the right balance between the completely informal, thrown-together, “jam” sets and arranged sets which have a rehearsal and charts and more esoteric material. I love both – and both formats produced some magic last weekend. Such as? Well,  that first track came from the opening night’s jam session. Or try this Drop Me Off in Harlem, which combusted into action so spontaneously that I didn’t even have the camera ready. And, no, that’s not Robert Redford on the soprano sax: it’s Bob Wilber, who, having hit 84, now seems to be rewinding towards his sprightly seventies…Another number which I was delighted to have captured on camera was this funky take on No Moon At All by singer Rebecca Kilgore with Craig Milverton (piano), Harry Allen (tenor sax) and Eddie Erickson (guitar) all featured. Of the sets featuring arrangements, my favourites were undoubtedly the Benny Carter set, led by Ken Peplowski, and Alan Barnes’s Ellington set – of which this sublime Sultry Sunset, featuring the national treasure that is Mr Barnes, was a stand-out.

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Norwich Jazz Party 2012

Aaaarrrgghhh! Where to start? The Norwich Jazz Party has been finished for three days and I’m still processing the music that I heard there. The jazz party format is great fun but it’s also an endurance test for those of us who want to get as much out of the concentrated musical activity as possible – while avoiding turning into zombies. Mind you, by the end of the first afternoon, I was definitely suffering from what saxophonist Alan Barnes diagnosed as “jazz fatigue”. Continuous jazz, with only a two-hour break for dinner and a change of shirt for the sweatier musicians, is the order of the day at one of these events and it’s so intense that it can threaten to sap the fun out of the party – if you don’t take precautions.

This year, I had vowed to take more breaks and try not to fret about what I might miss. I bought a tripod for my camera and planned to leave the photographic equipment doing the work of recording the music so I could nip off for some fresh air/chat/kip. However, the tripod idea didn’t work out – too many heads in the way – so I did sit through just about everything and, in the process, perfected the art of holding the camera still using props.

At least I knew that if my brain switched totally to zombie mode, I wouldn’t have to rely on zombie-penned notes as aide-memoirs later on.  Mind you, watching back some of the videos, I’ve realised that all the numbers I marked as the stand-outs for me at the time are still the stand-outs. So at least I’m consistent…

I’ll be writing a considered overview for Jazzwise magazine but instead of the more detailed reviews I’ve done in the past on this blog, I’m going to let the music do the talking – and throw in comments and observations here and there.  It didn’t help that Marty Grosz wasn’t in attendance this year – I always feel inspired to take notes when he’s throwing gags around the place.

The first clip, above, was the highlight for me of a Benny Carter-themed set on Sunday night, and this next one – with a similar line-up – is from a Coleman Hawkins-inspired session on the same day. More to follow as I get it all uploaded .. 

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Nairn Jazz Festival 2002, Part 2

Published in The Herald, Monday August 12, 2002

It may not be in quite the same historic league as Benny Goodman’s legendary gig at the Palomar Ballroom, or Louis Armstrong’s Town Hall concert or the Ellington band’s riot-sparking Newport performance, but American cornet star Ruby Braff’s Wednesday night concert at The Newton Hotel for the Nairn International Jazz Festival was undoubtedly one of those nights which will be talked about for many years to come – at least by those who were there.

Before Braff opened his mouth, things didn’t bode well. Looking frail and wizened, and suffering from emphysema, the 75-year-old made it out of his wheelchair and up onto the stage. Propped up by pillows, he looked as if he should be in the local infirmary rather than in front of an all-star band. However, as soon as he began to talk, it was obvious that the notoriously cantankerous star was in good spirits, reducing the audience and the musicians onstage to tears of laughter with his politically incorrect jokes.

Of course, it wasn’t just the priceless patter which made Braff’s concert such a highlight. It was a fantastic night musically – a perfect example of swinging, melodic chamber jazz. Holding court for well over two hours, Braff brought out the best from an already terrific band which featured Scott Hamilton on tenor sax, John Bunch on piano and Jon Wheatley on guitar.

Rather than taking the easy – and more common – all-star concert option of featuring each soloist individually or dividing the band into different line-ups for different numbers, Braff simply had each musician play a share of the melody before everyone took a solo. The results were sublime, particularly the beautiful, laid-back version of Jerome Kern’s Yesterdays, which prompted Braff to comment: “That was like a nice conversation.”

Braff’s playing gave no indication of his breathing difficulties; indeed, the horn seemed to double as an oxygen mask, and as the evening progressed, he played for longer stints, always with that unique, mellow tone. He was surprisingly generous in his praise for his fellow musicians, and was clearly relishing the opportunity to be playing with Bunch and Hamilton again.

In those wee small hours of Thursday morning, it looked as though the highpoint of the festival had just finished, but there were still treats ahead, among them Scott Hamilton’s lunchtime reunion with pianist Brian Kellock. Kellock hooked up with his own band (John Rae on drums and Kenny Ellis on bass) to join American saxophonist Harry Allen for a gig on Friday evening which proved that the United Reformed Church should probably be a last-resort venue for Nairn jazz. Allen and co rose above acoustic problems and turned in a terrific extended set which left the tenor man raving about Kellock’s trio being the best in Britain.

Aside from the Braff concert, the gig which best summed up the spirit of the Nairn International Jazz Festival was the lunchtime concert by members of the Gully Low Band. Featuring a quartet made up of the magnificent trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, the elegant clarinettist Dan Levinson, virtuoso guitarist Howard Alden and tuba player-bandleader David Ostwald, the first set epitomised the relaxed, informal feel of the best Nairn concerts. This was a rare chance to hear this kind of line-up and their swinging, tasteful performances of such little-played 1920s and 1930s numbers like Diga-Diga-Doo and From Monday On were superb – sheer pleasure.

The relaxed feel of this ensemble was in complete contrast to the more carefully staged and formal atmosphere of the two concerts by the entire Gully Low Jazz Band, on Friday night and Saturday lunchtime. Although this band went down well with audiences, it seemed to lack the joyfulness and spontaneity of the small group sets, and, frankly, leader David Ostwald’s dull announcements were tiresome and unnecessary.

Also more formal and less rewarding than might have been expected was the concert by young stars Benny Green (piano) and Russell Malone (guitar) on Thursday evening. This slick, sharp-suited duo was, unquestionably, a class act but there was a strong sense that they were simply working their way through the material on their album, and that, to them, this was just another stop on the touring itinerary. Which is about as far removed from the one-off, peculiarly Nairn, feel of the Braff concert and the Bob Wilber-Fapy Lafertin gig of earlier in the week.

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A Celebration of A Celebration of Sammy Fain

During the publicity build-up to the recent release of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, one tune kept running through my head: the title theme to the original Disney animation, which was written by Sammy Fain.

Never much of a fan of the 1951 Disney cartoon, I only really got to know this lovely number when I received a tape recording of it from my dad while I was a student spending a year in Paris. It was from an album entitled A Celebration of Sammy Fain – Are You Having Any Fun?, by a quintet co-led by tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and pianist Keith Ingham.

My regular parcels from home not only kept me up to date with dad’s latest CD purchases but also meant that I had plenty of options available to me musically on the long walk home each morning and night, and on the Metro – where the Sony Walkman was undoubtedly a girl’s best defence against unwelcome conversations.

The tape recording of the Harry Allen-Keith Ingham CD was one of the musical highlights of my year in Paris. It really is a glorious affair which not only showcases the marvellous playing of the band, but also the fact that Sammy Fain deserves to be a much-better known name than it is.

Alongside such well-known songs as Secret Love, You Brought a New Kind of Love To Me, When I Take My Sugar to Tea and I’ll Be Seeing You are several beautiful ballads, among them the afore-mentioned Alice in Wonderland and the theme tune for the 1961 movie Tender is the Night.

I’ve never heard another version of this song – and, given how exquisite this version is, I’ll never need to.  It’s the perfect evocation of a balmy, sultry, romantic night and one of the best examples of Allen’s skills as a balladeer.

Another highlight is the elegant solo feature by Keith Ingham on the similarly sumptuous ballad A Very Precious Love, and an uptempo take on That Old Feeling.

I must have worn my original tape out by the end of the year because among the various jazz discs I was given by my dad that December, for my 21st birthday,  was my own copy of the CD.

* The Harry Allen-Keith Ingham Quintet: A Celebration of Sammy Fain? – Are You Having Any Fun? (Audiophile ACD-261)

Personnel: Harry Allen (tenor sax), Keith Ingham (piano & arrangements), John Pizzarelli (guitar), Dennis Irwin (bass), Oliver Jackson (drums), recorded 1990.

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