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Jazz recordings

This column was originally published in three parts between 
the 8th of April and the 6th of May 2013 in Le Castor™.

The links mentioned therein will be re-established as soon as possible.

Notes (May 2022) :

This is one of the pagese


"If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know."
(Louis Armstrong)

Years ago I meet Ludmilla Chiriaeff (1924-1996). For those who don't know her, she did, in Canada, what George Balanchine (1904-1983) did in the United Sates : she single-handedly introduced ballet to Canadians, creating amongst other things, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. She was no longer teaching when I meet her but, during the course of our conversations, she said that her proudest achievement was not to have developed the natural talent of ballet dancers but brought into existence an audience that could appreciate ballet for what it was : an art form with its rules, peculiarities and complexity.

I was thinking about her the other day trying to figure out who thaught jazz audiences what jazz was all about ; with its chords, bars, improvisation, down to blue notes and standards. Couldn't come up with an answer. This probably explain why one sees, hear acually, so often in jazz bars or concerts, fans tapping their hands off beat or raving about an on-going drum solo, not knowing when it was to stop, having no idea that the drummer was actually improvising on a fixed set of rules.

It is a pity to see such things as the entire beauty of jazz lies not in its rhythm but in its overall format and complexity with its variations of keys, tempo, chords, balance, accompaniment, time signature...

I don't pretend to know a quarter of what I should know about jazz but it has been part of my live ever since I heard Louis Armstrong singing "All of Me" on an old 78 rpm that I found buried under a pile of even older 78's near a portable record player in the basement of my father's house. I was ten years old.

Oh, I've learned a trick or two since, even attempted to play a musical instrument but found out that I had no talent whatsoever for playing anything including two sticks on a piece of wood. I do thank my mother, however, for forcing me to take music lessons which I originally hated, of course.

Finallly, amongst my favourite quotes on jazz, the following should be printed in bold letters in every jazz clubs, just above the stage  :

"Jazz is the last refuge of the untalented. - Jazz musicians enjoy themselves more than does anyone listening to them." (Tony Wilson - 1950-2007 -, record label owner, radio presenter, TV show host, nightclub manager, impresario and journalist for Granada Television and the BBC.)

On the content of this multi-media page :

I wrote this three-parts "essay" in the continuity of a series of columns I wrote for the Castor™ (Le journal officiel de l'Universite de Napierville) at the request of its editor, Mr. H. Perec, columns which dealt with "Ten books everyone should read", "Ten plays one must see", "Ten classical composers one should know", etc.

At the suggestion of some readers, I added various recording excerpts which, finally, turned out to be full tracks of recordings made between 1923 and 1980.

Due to the difference in style and evolution, these recordings were divided into the two last parts : before and after 1939.

Hope you enjoy.


And all that jazz... (part one)

First of all, I have to admit that I have a bit of a problem with jazz. Well not jazz itself, nor its fans, but with most of their current performers.

Let me sidetrack for a minute, here, and mention one of the great composers of all time : Chopin.

Frederic Chopin (Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin or Szopen) has been played by the foremost pianists of the twentieth century : Cortot, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Ashkenazy, Perahia, Argerich... - no shrinking violets amongst any one of them - but none thought for a single moment, in concert that is, playing like, improvising like or composing like Chopin. They all played him note-for-note as he originally wrote his nocturnes, ballads, waltzes, etc., several decades ago. So why do jazz musicians insist upon playing their own inept interpretations of performances practically fixed in time by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane... years ago ?

The worst of them all are cocktail pianists. One can find them in hotel bars, jazz clubs or restaurants, practically everywhere, playing (read : doing their interpretations) of stuff created by Nat King Cole in the late thirties. - Hey : you wanna play like Nat King Cole ? Well have some respect : play like he did 75 years ago. Note for note. Like the above mentioned Chopin interpreters play Chopin in concert.

Isn't there somebody in the whole wide world who might hink that it could be a good idea to play Errol Garner's April in Paris like he did in his Concert by the Sea recording ? Or Dave Drubeck's Southern Scene ? Or Django's Exactly Like you ? - I'm sure there's a lot of people out there who'd loved to hear all of these classics live, with real instruments... Yes, I know, rare are musicains who have the technique to play like Coltrane (My Favoritie Things) or could attempt to repeat some of Art Tatum or Bix Bierdebecke's recordings... - But could somedy at least try instead of frustrating every customer who walks into a lounge by trying to compete with these masters... with their, usally bad, imitations ?

I've been showing up, lately, as early as I can in jazz bars ; to listen to the recordings that are played on their usually good sound systems.

In May, 2009, Paul Dube, in his columns, mentioned a band that plays in Paris, in a jazz bar known as Le Petit Journal, every last Friday of each month, their interpretation of King Oliver's 1923 band recordings. Now that's a start.

Link to follow

So forget about the current jazz scene (if there is one) and let me say this :

In my next two columns, I shall be talking about recorded jazz nothing else, with, maybe, some reminescences of live concerts I heard but by the jazz musicians who recorded them.

On a side note (added August 20th, 2013) :

Yes Mary, I know there are excellent jazz musicians out there, playing interesting music occasionally along the lines of Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young - I even heard, lately, a mean Bud Powell - improvising as well as their predecessors. But still : I prefer hearing either new stuff or no stuff at all. 'Cuz, you have to admit that, while every jazz musician stand on shoulders of giants, not everyone can be a Bunny Berigan or a Lionel Hampton. I will add a sympathizing note : well... everyone has got to earn a living.

I still believe however that every jazz musician ought to remember Monk's advice : "Play your own music. If it's good, people will line up to hear you. If it's so and so, you might not be as lucky but at least you will have played your music."

And all that jazz... (part 2 : 1923-1939)

Miles Davis once said that you could summarize the history of jazz in four words : "Louis Armstrong" and "Charlie Parker" which, chronologically or recording-wise, could be summarized into two years : 1923 and 1939.

On the tenth of March 1923, King Oliver (with Louis Armstrong as a second trumpet) made his first recording in Richmond, Indiana : "Alligator Hop". T'was the same year Jelly Roll Morton recorded his famous piano solos ("soli" for the purists but this is the first and last time I mention it.). - So, ok, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings had made their first recordings a year before and so had the Original Dixieland Jazz Band some six years earlier (two white orchestras, by the way) but, if you really want to go into, say, "real jazz", I suggest you start with the 37 tracks that the King recorded that year with the then available technology, their floating tempos, missed breaks and occasional off-key notes. History in the making.

As to 1939, it was the year Charlie Parker discovered that the twelve tones of the chromatic scale could be used to develop his improvisation style practically in any key, thereby inventing be-bop and, at the same time, changing the jazz scene forever. He was 19 at the time. We'll talk about him in our next installement.

For the moment - because this is not an essay on jazz history -, let's go into what I would call ten recordings that one should absolutely listen to. Definitely not the ten best jazz recordings of all time (1923-1939) which would contain, most likely, five recordings made by Louis Armstrong, but something that should give anyone an idea of what jazz was all about during that period.

1. King Oliver

I remember reading years ago about what it was like, at the Royal Gardens in Chicago, in the early twenties, when nobody said a word once Joseph Nathan "King" Oliver and his band went on stage. They literaly had people in awe (I was about to say they were "laying them in the aisles") with a line strechtching all the way around the corner. - I mentioned, did I not, last time, the High Society Jazz Band who performs regularly at le Petit Journal in Paris where you can hear - what should I call them ? - reproductions... facsimiles... copies... ? - of King Oliver's music. Worth looking into : sorry, listening to. In the meantime, if there's one recording of his that is worth mentioning is his Tears in which Armstrong, then only 23, surpassed the master in his unbelievable breaks :

King Oliver - Tears


2. Louis Armstrong

Miles Davis (again), in a rare interview he gave for the Downbeat magazine, years ago, mentioned that he had stopped listening to Louis Armstrong at age 20, shortly after he had left the Juillard School of Music : "He's impossible to listen to, he said, because, whatever you want to play, you know that he played it before."

Considered by every musical critic in the world as the greatest jazz musician of all times, Louis Armstrong was and remains so to this day. His improvisation skill, his unique sound, the structure of each and every thing he did remain unparalleled.

Here he is, at the beginning of his solo career playing what I consider one of his best recordings.

Dates back to 1927 and while his then-wife, Lil Armstrong, was not up to par with any of the musicians that recorded this track (notably Johnny Dods at the clarinet and Honore Dutrey on the trombone), it is an, under three minute, masterpiece that contains an exceptional vocal of what he had, Louis, just played on his cornet a minute erlier.

And yes, he recorded greater pieces of music. Just listen to his introduction to West End Blues (with Earl Hines) or his Back of Town [Blues] with Jack Teagarden (recorded live at the Town Hall Theater in New York (in 1947). - Both are available on YouTube.

Anyway, here is "Hotter than That" - Recorded in Chicago, Illinois, December 13, 1927 - Okey 8535. - The composer ? Lil Armstrong !

Louis Armstrong - Hotter than That 

In Paul Dube's pages, on the this site, you could hear until recently four other recordings, including the aforementioned Back of Town [Bluesand one Louis Armstrong made with Sidney Bechet in 1925 :

Link to follow

3. Jelly Roll Morton

Ferdinand Joseph Lamenthe (also "Lamothe" and other spellings : he continuously refused to give his date of birth and real name) had "Inventor of jazz" printed on his business card. Ironically, he probably was. Well, at least, he was one of the first, if not the first, to make "arrangements" for his small bands in which some musicians never played any better.

His solo piano recordings are gems and so are two recordings he made with King Oliver, he and the King, alone, in a studio.

Here he is in a recording he made on December 16, 1926 for the Electra label (no. EG 7907) - which you can find on YouTube, with : Morton leading on the piano, Kid Ory (trombone), Andrew Hilaire (drums), John Lindsay (bass), Omer Simeon (clarinet), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo) , and George Mitchell (trumpet).

Jelly Roll Morton - Dr. Jazz 

More recordings, including Jelly Roll on piano, on a page which used to be on  this site.

Link to follow

4. Bix Beiderbecke

Here I have to cheat a little and mention two recordings because Bix Beiderbecke played both trumpet and piano.

His trumpet style has been associated with the sound of "bells". Apparently, it was pure as you can imagine : no tremolo, always precise and no "fluffing", a style which Miles Davis (mentioned here for the third time) took years to master.

As to the piano, well he only made one recording but critics have found that it was in the continuity of Ravel with an improvisation quality that, today, has remained unique.

First, the trumpet. In one of his most famous recordings :

Bix Beiderbecke - Sorry 

(... which he recorded in 1927 under the name of Bix and his Gang for the Okeh Label - No. 41001)

Then on with is famous piano solo bit called In a Mist, in 1927 as well, for the same Okey labek - No. 40916.

Bix Beiderbeck - In a Mist 

Click on the note :

5. Fletcher Hendersen

In 1963 (?) - I wish record companies would date their product ! -, Columbia released a four 33 rpm box set that included 64 recordings by various bands Fletcher Hendersen lead betwen 1923 and 1938. The linear notes were written by Frank Driggs (with an intro by Nat Hentoff) and the entire set was called "A Study in Frustation" which was no great surprise as Fletcher, who practically invented big-band music, was black, his arrangements having reached huge success when played by white bands who never gave him any credit and very little money in return.

He finished his career as an arranger for the Benny Goodman Band who actually played what Fletcher had written years before.

Here he is in a piece called King Porter Stomp which he recorded in 1928 (March 14 - Columbia No. 1543D) and which was copied - pratically note-for-note - in 1935 by Benny Goodman.

And guess who was part of his band at the time... You'll recognise him after two notes, maybe one.

Fletcher Henderson and his Band
        King Porter Stomp 

(Photo of one of the CD re-issues - Mine, LP, is different.)

And while you're at it, take a look at this page (by Paul Dube) on British Dance Bands :

Link to follow

6. Duke Ellington

Couldn't skip Ellington could I ? Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington who wrote, along with Billy Strayhorn, hundreds, perhaps a couple of thousands musical pieces. Some of them forgettable but always surprising.

Here he is in a 1940 recording entitled Morning Glory with a great solo by Johnny Hodges. - Extracted from a two 33rpm album released in the USA in early 1960's.


Duke Ellington / Johnny Hodges
       Morning Glory 

But if you want a real kick out of Ellington's music don't forget an album he made in 1958 of which you can listen to an excerpt in one of paul Dube's pages :

Link to follow

7. Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole definitely was not the greatest jazz pianist that ever lived. That honor would go, in my opinion, to either Errol Garner or Bill Evans and even - believe it or not - Thelonius Monk. - We'll get back to them in due course.

Nat wasn't the greatest jazz singer either - I mean : compared to Louis Armstrng (again) and, of course, the voice himself : Frank Sinatra (with, well one has to mention Johnny Hartmann and, why not, Mel Torme). - One day I'll write a column on jazz singers. Can't forget Billie Holiday nor Bessie Smith, can I ?

But :

He did invent something wonderful when it is played correctly : cocktail piano which, unfortunately has been modified over the years by countless untalented wannabee jazz greats in countless bars and countless hotel lobbies and 5-to-7's joints all over the planet (as mentioned above).

We do, however, have to give him credit for the likes of Red Garland (so underrated !), Ahmad Jamal, and Wynton Kelly, to name only three..

Here he is, in cute little thing called Sweet Lorraine which he recorded in 1940 (yes, Mary, that was 73 years ago) - Decca label, no. 8520.

Nat King Cole - Sweet Lorraine

... Where you'll find out what happened to his guitar player who went into bricklaying... (Why not ? King Oliver finished his career as a janitor...)

8. Chick Webb

Undoubtedly the greatest big band leader of the thirties before his premature death in 1939, age 34.

Buddy Rich called him "the daddy of them all". You can read all about him in a surprisingly well written Wikipedia page, hear him and see him on YouTube. - Type "Chick Webb" in your Google or Explorer search section.

You'll hear him, here, in Stompin' at the Savoy, considered to be his all time greatest arrangement (s'got to be : it was copied by everybody), recorded, I believe, in 1936. - Sorry I don't have more details : Chick Web's discography is a rarity and, as usual, on the cheap LP that was released in the sixties from which this version has been extracted, there are no indications of dates nor original issues. All I know is that this is definitely not the May 18, 1934 version (Columbia 2926D) which you can find on YouTube but it's a better one.

Chick Web - Stompin' at the Savoy

And check this page :

9. Count Basie (and Lester Young)

Basie ! Ah... Basie ! The definite master of rhythm. He is said to have his musicians play up to 100 times the same number to make sure that they would hit the same note at the same time. - With Freddie Green, the greatest rythm guitar ever, and Walter Page on bass ; we're talking of metronomes, here.

As to Lester Young, he is one the four saxophone players (with Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and, well you guessed it, Charlie Parker) to make that instrument a jazz icon.

(Concerning Hawkins, take a moment and go listen to him on Paul Dube's pages at XXX and while you're at it, se the following link to check out Alix Combelle playing with Django Reinhardt : XXX )

Both pages : Links to follow

Recording ? I've chosen "Tickle Toe", a classic :

(about which you can read in, of course, one of Paul Dube's page, the entire story whith, as a bonus a voice transcription... Link to follow)

Count Basie & Lester Young
       Tickle Toe

You can also find a lot of Basie on YouTube but check the following numbers on Paul Dube's pages :

Shiny Stockings, one of his best recordings. "Made in London" (it was actually recorded in Sweden !), with his 1956 band 

Midgets which he recorded in 1956 (with a small combo) :

More links to follow.. !

10. Benny Goodman (etc)

Last but not least, in this pre-1939 series, here is perhaps the ultimate all-star recording made in the thirties. It is part of a concert given at the Carnegie Hall, in New York, the first jazz concert ever given there, on January 16, 1938, by a make-shift band whose members included musicians from three bands : that of Count Basie, that of Duke Ellington and that of Benny Goodman - with a couple of outsiders like Buck Clayton and Harry James -, Benny Goodman who organized the whole thing with a couple-three veterans, including, of course, Fletcher Henderson. - In a newly rediscovered recording originally issued in 1950 (yes, 12 years after) on the first two LP's album (and also on nine 45 rpm).

The greatest jazz concert of all times, it is said. Well not really, the 1955 Gillespie-Parker concert in Toronto (with Bud Powell, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach) was better and, some of the stuff that was played by Goodman and "his" band, that single night could be forgotten.

When I said "rediscovered", it was because a copy made on an aluminum disk (sic), from the original acetates, in the weeks that followed the concert, was found close to 70 years later when a fresher edition on CD was planned for the concert's 75th anniversary and, lo and behold, on it were excerpts everybody had forgotten with a longer version (by nearly 3 minutes) of "Honeysuckle Rose" - the piece you're about to hear - , probably the best number played that nigth. It contained (not on the original issue) one of the rare solos of Freddie Green (mentioned above, I think) and a solo by Harry Carney. - Longer versions too of several solos.Talk about a discovery !

In order, solos by :

Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Johnny Hodges, the band rythm section (Count Basie, Freddie Green, Walter Page and an exceptionally quiet Gene Krupa), Harry Carney, Benny Goodman, Freddie Green, Harry James (unbelievable) and, in the closing section, Lester Young (again), Buck Clayton and Harry James.

(You'll have to raise the sound of your speakers a little : this recording was made using only three microphones. and watch out : it's a bit long.)

Benney Goodman - Carnegie Hall
          Honeysuckle Rose

 The full story can be read on the Internet and you should read Jeff Bollinger's remark, published in the Castor™ , in one of the two numbers that were published September of last year :

Link or page to follow

You also musn't miss Jess Stacey's solo on "Sing, Sing, Sing", the last number played that evening. - You'll find it here, thanks to Paul Dube :

Another Link to follow

And, while we're at it :

11. A recording made in 1964...

At this stage, it would be seriously remiss of me not to mention other notable musicians which were also part of the 1923-1939 period starting with Charlie Christian, Jimmy Blanton, Ben Webster, Jimmy Lunceford, Cootie Williams, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge... (I coud go on forever) but if there was one group of musicians I musn't forget to mention, it is that of those who did not "make it" in their heydays (in the twenties and thirties) but re-appeared on the jazz scene, years after their retirement, in tip-top shape, in the late fifties and early sixties. Im talking, of course, of...

Let me start all over :

Allow me first introduce to you one of my favourite gal. Her name is Sweet Emma Barrett. She was born in 1897 and originally worked with the Original Tuxedo Orchestra between 1923 and 1936 and then worked at odd jobs throughout the 40's and 50's (including appearances as a singer-pianist here and there in her native New Orleans) until she was finally recognized as a true musical talent in the early sixties when Allan Jaffe, a traditional jazz enthousiast, opened up the Preservation Hall in le Vieux Carre, downtown New Orleans (at 726 St. Peter Street) and asked old New Orleans musicians if they wanted to perform there. - And that's when history was made. Everybody that was anybody showed up including George Lewis, Jim Robinson, Punch Miller, Percy Humphrry, Kid Thomas Valentine, Billie and De De Pierce and, of course Sweet Emma, most of them in their late sixties or early seventies. - Recordings followed amongts which were five LP's under Sweet Emma's name. - It was New Orleans Music Revival Time. - Boffo success around the world : when George Lewis, who was a fragile man, showed up in England in 1957, police had to be called and he had to stay aboard his train (Southampton to London) an hour because of the crowd of fans that had gathered at the station to greet him.

Could not insert the following recording, made, as stated above, in 1964, in my third installement (jazz after 1939), could I ? So here it is. To complete this series, so to speak.

Sweet Emma with her band in a little number called "Weary Blues".

The players ?

Willie Humphrey, born in 1900 (clarinet), Percy Humphrey, his "younger" brother, born in 1905 (trumpet), Emmanuel Sayles, born in 1907 (banjo), Jim Robinson born in 1892 (trombone), Cy Frasier, born in 1904 (drums), Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau born in 1888 (string bass) and Sweet Emma, of course,born in 1897 (piano).

Some of them were still around in their nineties...

Sweet Emma Barret
          Weary Blues

 You can catch find all sorts of excerpts and most of the people that played at Preservation Hall on YouTube. Don't miss Sweet Emma's "I'm Alone Because I love You" nor her "Bill Baily" (preceeded by an short interview). Nor Kid Thomas' "Boogie", Alphonse Picou's "High Society" and George Lewis' "Running Wild".

Finally, if you want to hear more of this stuff (and lots of other things - including Idi Amin Dada playing a calypso on an accordeon (sic) - check Paul Dube's pages starting with :

Link to follow

Go down to the bottom and read backwards to the top. You'll find some of the names mentioned above and others of the same area : Jean Goldkette, Scott Joplin, the Dorsey Brothers, Kid Thomas, Glenn Gray... even Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith.

And that's it for this installment. Sorry but I have to go back to my regular job...


And all that jazz... (part 3 : 1939 - ...)

I won't beat around the bush very long and I'll tell you what is my favourite jazz recording of all times.

It's "My Favourite Things" by John Coltrane (on soprano sax) with McCoy Tyner on piano, Steve Davis (and not Jimmy Garrison) on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, recorded on October 21, 1960, 43 years ago on the Atlantic Label (several editions :  LP 1361, SD 1541, etc. and reissues on CD's).

It replaced, the day I heard it for the first time, "All of Me" by Louis Armstrong released on his "Ambassador Satch" album, the unbelievable story of which you can read on Paul Dube's page, no. 2 :

Link to follow

And I'll tell you something else :

Besides my rare appearance (I should say "visits") in jazz clubs, I've stopped listening to jazz made beyond 1979, the year the World Saxophone Quartet recorded their "Steppin'" album on the Black Saint label, an obscure Italian record company. In that, I feel like Hugues Panassie who declared jazz dead the day he heard be-pop and who refused to consider white musicians (particularly from the West Coast) as real jazz musicians... - Sorry folks but fusion jazz (Acid, Afrobeat, Jazz core, Jazz funk, etc.) didn't make it with me and I lost all interests in what Miles Davis did beyond 1970 when he recorded "Bitches Brew".

Technically, therefore, the title of this columns should read "...(part three of three : 1939 - 1980)" but, before we jump into my suggestions of recordings of that period, let me mention a set of six CD's published in 2012 by the Smithsonian Institute (Folkways) the details of which you will find at the following address :

111 recordings ranging from "Maple Leaf Rag" by Dick Hyman to "Suspended Night Variation no. VIII" (hey, what do you want me to tell you?) by the Tomasz Stanko Quintet.

The previous edition was better (1987) - five CD's. It started off, not with a modern rendition of "Maple Leaf Rag" but by a mechanical reproduction of a piano roll recorded by the author himself, Scott Joplin, immediately followed by a version recorded by Jelly Roll Morton. It contained no less than 8 recordings by Louis Armstrong ; the new edition, only 4 of which one is a duo with Ella Fitzgerald. - Lotsa modern jazz though, but, curiously, they removed the two recordings they had included in the first one, by the Ornette Coleman Quartet and Double Quartet.

Can't stop progress, can we ? - Personnaly, I would have kept both issues available.


Ten recordings :

Here are ten recordings (make that twelve) - twelve, then, which, I believe, should be heard by everyone interested in jazz, post 1939.

In what order ? - Alphabetical. By title. Of course.

   1. Bright Mississippi (and I should Care)

No, I did not pick this title to make sure that Thelonius Monk appeared first on this list although he is my all-time favourite jazzman. - I can listen to Thelonius Monk all day, any day, day in and day out, always ready to find something new in his music and the tunes he composed or incorporated in his repertoire, but before we listen to one of two famous quartets playing "Bright Misssissippi", I want you to hear him playing a piano solo just to make sure that, if you ever read that he was a bad pianist, you'll know it wasn't true. He played differently, that's for sure, for a simple reason : he played piano for what it is : a percussion instrument.

Anyway, you can read all about this recording (of "I Should Care") in comments made by Paul Dube :

Links to follow

Thelonius Monk
          I Shoul care

And now on with his quartet.

Monk played with a variety of trios, quartets, quintets lead by himself or other musicians (including a famous recording session with Art Blakey, perhaps the perfect drummer for the way he played, and, of course, with John Coltrane). He even made an European tour in 1963 with a big band but he is best known today for the quartet he lead in the sixties with Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), John Ore (bass) and Frankie Dunlop (drums), the later two replaced later by Larry Gales and Ben Riley (the second quartet).

Here's the original one, in a 1962 version of a piece composed by Monk (said to be the greatest jazz composer after Duke Ellington) simply entitled, as stated above, "Bright Mississippi". - Nobody dared ask him why it was called that way. - Original issued on the Columbia label (33rpm), number CL (mono) and CS (stereo) 8765 :

It was re-issued, by the way, on the Columbia/Legacy label in 2002 (40 years after) with slight variations, including longer solos.

It's a bit long (over ten minutes) but it's worth it. Listen to Monk laying chords afetr chords during Charlie Rouse's solo, chords which made him practically the only saxophone player that could improvised on Monk's tunes. (Miles Davis, in a famous recording session, told Monk not to play a single note while he was doing his solo.)

Thelonius Monk
          Bright Mississippi

 2. Fables of Faubus

Charles Mingus ! - Yes, he was a loud-mouth, ill-bred,vulgar, impolite bastard (Paul Dube said he once had breakfast with him and it was a disaster, him yelling at waitresses, accusing everybody of racism, etc.), but what a great composer and arranger!

As you can read on this page :

"Fables of Faubus" which is the recording I chose as my second in this series, is a song composed by Mingus written as a direct protest against Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus, who in 1957 sent out the National Guard to prevent the integration of Little Rock Central High School by nine African American teenagers.

Columbia label, number CS 8171 (1959) - Reissued (CD) on Sony's Legacy label (with three aditional tracks) in 2009.

Broken rhythm, beautiful themes, marvelous orchestration... You'll see.

John Handy, alto sax
Booker Erwin, tenor sax
Shafi Hadi, tenor sax
Jimmy Knepper, trombone
Willie Denis, trombone
Horace Parlan, piano
Danny Richmond, drums
Charles Mingus, bass.

Charles Mingus
          Fables of Faubus

3. Hot House

What can I say about the famous concert that united on stage five of the greatest jazz musicians of the be-bop area that hasn't been said somewhere else ?.

You can read all about it here :

Recorded in 1953, in Toronto, Canada (Massey Hall). It has been issued under various labels, with some renaming Charlie Parker, Charlie Chan or simply "The saxophonist", for copyrights reasons. - The following is from a double album released in the sixties by Prestige (no. PR 24024). Double album as it contained in addition to the Charlie Parker - Dizzy Gillespie numbers, those by the accompanying trio consisting of Bud Powell (piano), Charles Mingus (bass) and Max Roach (drums). - Quite a quintet, wouldn't you say ?

The «Quintet»
Hot House

4. I'll remember April

The acoustics were poor and the piano somewhat out of tune. The balance of instruments on the recording is also uneven but it is still considered to be the finest album made by Errol Garner.

For more about the following recording, read Paul Dube's column of January 28, 2013 :

Link to follow

Recorded live in 1955 (Carmel California)
Originally issued, same year, under the Columbia label. It as since never been out of print.

Errol Garner, Piano
Eddie Calhoun, bass
Denzil Best, drums.

Errol Garner - I'll Remember April

5. If Ever I Would Leave You

For Sonny Rollins, I have a confession to make. Originally, I wanted to have here, his "John S." number from his "The Bridge" album" and then I spoke to Paul Dube, our enlighneted disk-jockey. He told me about the time he saw (heard) Sonny Rollins in person, years ago, in Montreal, and how he had been surprised (I would have had) by his manners on stage:

First, his accompanying trio showed up and started playing. - He didn't remember if it was Jimmy Hall on guitar, but it could have been. (The trio consisted of a guitar, bass and drums.) - They played whatever they had been asked to and then, after a few minutes, everybody in the audience started hearing a saxophone player, far away, somewhere in the backstage, slowing coming forward and then appeared a tall dark figure, with a Mohawk haircut, walking about everywhere, improvising on whatever the trio was playing, non-stop for something like an hour, changing rhythms, numbers with a sign of the head, inventing improvisations after improvisations, until he got tired and walked out the same way he had got in : somewhere in the backstage. No encore, no nothing; a simple one hour, one hour and a half of various themes and interpretations.

"John S.", for me, remains one of his great recordings, but to give an idea of what he was (still is), I had to go to his following album which he recorded something like a year later, during - remember ? -  the Bossa Nova craze, simply entitled "What's New?...

Out of that album, I've chosen one one my favourite numbers entitled "If I Ever Would Leave You" which lasts nearly 12 minutes and which remains something I have been delighted with for many years (although his "Brownskill Girl" comes in as close second"). And on with the improvisers' improviser :

Recorded and released in 1962. RCA Vitor, no. LPM/LPS -2572

Sonny Rollins, tenor sax
Jim Hall, guitar
Bob Cranshaw, bass
Ben Riley, drums.

Sonny Rollins
If Ever I Would Leave You

6. My favourite Things

Miles Davis may have "invented" modal jazz but leave it up to Coltrane to go beyond. Ever heard of "harmonics" ? - I don't understand what it is, really, but it was explained to me as follows : when a string is plucked, it vibrates as a whole, but if you apply pressure at its center point, the vibration is split in two and you get a different note. - Don't know anything else but if you can play two notes at the same time on a saxophone (which, by the way, is something that Monk thaught Coltrane, well... - Told you I didn't know much about this whole modal thing.)

Anyway, here it is.

Technically flawless and very emotionally driven.

John Coltrane
          My Favourite Thing


7. Milestones

Forty million copies (apparently) were sold of Miles Davis 1959 Kind of Blue album which would make the best-selling jazz record of all time but before that, a year before, actually, Miles, due to the influence of Bill Evans, had already experimented with modal music.

For an explanation of modal music, see this article :

Heavy stuff, but you don't need to understand any of it to appreciate the improvisation skills of the musicians that participated in the key number of the album, made in 1958, from which the following recording was taken.

Hey : one of the best sextets ever assembled.

Miles Davis, trumpet
Cannonball Adderley, alto sax (*)
John Coltrane, tenor sax
Red Garland, piano,
Paul Chambers, bass
Philly Joe Jones, drums

Miles Davis

(*) Something very weird about this ato-sax player. He made grandiose recordings, equal in fact, to some of Charlie Parker's and then all sort of scrap. - Particularly with his brother, Nat (trumpet), yet I still delight in hearing him with Nancy Wilson, on a, today, totally forgotten album.

8. Peanut Vendor, The

The 1930 and 1940 big bands continued well into the fifties and sixties. - Basie was still around in the early eighties and so was Woody Herman and various other bands "in the continuity of", lead by new leaders - but new big bands sprang here and there in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, one by Dizzie Gillespie, for example, and there were many more : the big bands of Gary MacFarland, Oliver Nelson, Thad Jones, Quincy Jones, etc.

And then, there was Stan Kenton. No genius here. Lotsa glitter. No surprise since he spent most of his life in or about the Los Angeles-Hollywood area. Occasionnaly, though, he made great stuff. The following is one of them one of those that came out of various experiments he made with just about everything including classical music, various rythms and rare instruments such as the mellophone (which he sort of invented)..

It's called Peanut Vendor, a cuban composition originally written by Moises Simons about which Stan Kentin's version was said to be riotus and which was recorded December 6, 1947. is a joy. - I got it from a 33 rpm issued early 1960 under the Capitol Label (No. CAPS1002).

Personnel included : Stan Kenton on piano, Harry Betts,, Eddie Bert, Harry Forbes, Bart Valsalona and Milt Bernhart (trombones), Eddie Safranski, bass, Laurindo Almeida, guitar, Jack Costanzo, bongos, Shelly Manne, drums and others.

Stan Kenton
          The Peanut Vendor


9. Southern Scene

In 1959, when Dave Brubeck released his Time Out album, he became extremely popular, particularly for his Take Five track which became his trademark and he had to play ad nauseam until his last concerts. - Kind of sad really because it made everybody forgot what a great pianist he was.

Curious thing about it all is that this Time Out album followed his Gone With the Wind album and preceeded his Southern Scene's both of which were made of ordinary run-of-the-mill stuff which, today, are still amongst the best he ever produced.

The grandiosity of the main recording of this last album is something to hear.

Very difficult to find nowadays. Seems like everybody, somehow, thinks that Dave Brubeck and his quartet (made up, amongst three other members, of the incredible Paul Desmond) were not very at ease in 4/4 time.

Original release : Columbia CL 1439 (mono).

Dave Brubeck (piano)
Paul Desmond (alto sax)
Eugene Wright (bass)
Joe Morello (drums)

A dismal repeat of this number was recorded live at a concert in Carnegie Hall, Just forget about it.

Dave Brubeck
Southern Scene

10. Three Blind Mice

(Last but not least.)

You, know, with al that experimental, modal, non-modal, west-coast, far-east-influenced, high-brow stuff that came out of the post-be-bop including 5/4 and 9/8 signatures, free improvisation, particularly when the likes of Ornette Coleman appeared on the jazz scene, something kept jazz "alive", so I couldn't leave you without what was ordinary jazz in the sixties and seventies.

At this point in tme I wanted to include one of the incredible recordings Bill Evans and his trio did, one night in 1961, at the Village Vanguard, rated as one of the most memorable live performances of - yes - all times. I transferred it to my P.-S. in order to include this Three Blind Mice, another rarely heard today live performance, by a group lead by the one and only Art Blakey who was the driving force of countless quartets, quintets, sextets throughout his incredibly long career which started in 1942 with the Fletcher Henderson orchestra (a little before, actually) and lasted well into the eighties when, practically deaf for having played his drums with too much emphasis, he played by instinct.

Here is is in 1962, in a small group he called The Jazz Messengers (he must have had thirty of them over the years) made up of musicians that were later acclaimed as some of the best to come out of the sixties.

You wanna talk about energy ? - Sorry, Mick and the Rolling Stones, you didn't invent anything.

Three Blind Mice (couldn't be simpler, could it ?) with :

Freddie Hubbard, trumpet
Wayne Shorter, tenor sax
Curtis Fuller, trombone (and arranger)
Cedar Walton, piano
Jimmy Merrit, bass
Art Blakey on drums

United Artist label, number UAJ 14002. Circa 1962.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
          Three Blind Mice

The end.

But, while we're at it :

11. Steppin'

One of the reason I've kept more or less in touch with the World Saxophone Quartet is that I like John Cage (which, by the way, I can only listen, at home, either in my sound-proof office or wearing earphones - his music drives my wife absolutely crazy) and that it mainly recorded and performed as, what itits name implied, a saxophone quartet, usually with a lineup of two altos, a tenor, and a baritone more or less reflecting the composition of a classical string quartet which I consider the greatest form of classical music.

The original members were Julius Hemphill (alto and soprano saxophone, flute), Oliver Lake (alto and soprano saxophone), Hamiet Bluiett (baritone saxophone, alto clarinet), and David Murray (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet).

You can hear (and see) them on YouTube but to give you a glimpse of their style, listen to their "Steppin'" recording.

The World Saxophone Quartet

Not too jazzy, ain'it ?

P.-S. :

Obviously, one can't mention every jazz musician of importance that made recordings between 1939 and 1980- and the period before that, for that matter -, particularly the sidemen whose name were as familiar to the then jazz enthousiasts as the leaders of groups and who, occasionnally (and sometimes very often) recorded under their own names. - Some of them were quite remarkable :

To name a few in alphabetical order :

  • Clifford Brown (trumpet) who died very young in a car accidwent (age 26) but had an enormous influence.
  • Bill Evans (piano), Scott LaFaro (bassist - who also died in a car accident (age 25) - and Paul Motian (drums) whose Sunday at the Village Vanguard album should be part of every jazz collection.
  • Art Farmer (trumpet) and Benny Golson (tenor sax), founders of the Jazztet, forgotten nowadays but a joy to listen to.
  • Ahmad Jamal (piano) whose spacing (silence between chords) was so admired by Miles Davis.
  • Chico Hamilton (drums), who must be heard to be believed.
  • Keith "Like him or leave him" Jarret (piano).
  • J.J. Johnson (trombone), ususally referred to as jazz's gentleman's gentleman. - Please do not read his life story !
  • The Kronos Quartet be it only for their Monk album.
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet - not for everything they did (their "Bach" album isn't worth a detour) - who was best listened to live. - Try their Scandinavian album or the one they did at Carnegie Hall with Paul Desmond.
  • Gerry Muligan (bass sax) - And can't mention him withiout mentioning Chet Baker (trumpet).
  • Sun Ra and his Arkestra (sic) be it only for one recording : Call for All Deamons.
  • Horace Silver (piano).
  • Cecil Taylor (piano).
  • Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, for their shear virtuosity (piano).
  • The Clark Terry (trumpet) and Bob Brookmeyer (trombone) Quintet. No great moments but something to listen to with, as say Paul ; "un constant ravissement".

(That's without forgetting the likes of Wes Montgomery, Ron Carter, Buddy Rich, Herbie Hancock, Ray Brown Freddie Hubbard...)

Remember : shoulders of giants... but ccasionnaly, ordinary buffoons.



Addendum (8th of July 2013)

You know, when I said a couple-three-four weeks ago "Sorry, but I have to go back to my regular job" after one of my "essays" on jazz, I really meant it. I don't know how long it took me to gather the recordings, the details and information required to write the three "columns" on what I considered important jazz moments (notice the word) but it was considerable and, judging by the result that came out of the hours I spent doing so, I consider having made poor job of it. - Particularly now that I have been asked to combine everything into a "single page" (and even a CD) : I re-read myself and find typos here and there, incorrect formats, approximate informations, etc. - Writing is definitely not easy.

I guess I'll have to start all over again. And I'll do because of a message I got from a certain Mick M. (gmail) who told me that I was a "smuck" (sic) what (sic, again) didn't know anything because jazz was still around and still alive. Gave me an address :

Went there and nearly fell off my chair.

Jason Morgan whose idol has got to be Thelonius Monk, playing on an upright piano, "Body and Soul". - Hadn't heard anything like this in YEARS. - Great, great stuff.

Comparable to Monk's "I Should Care") - See Paul Dubé's comments...

Link to follow

I don't cry easily but for this recording, I made an exception.

Yes, I am a "smuck" :

I should be looking into jazz after the early '80s but I've listened, in the past few years, to so much crap that I just didn't want to waste my time to even attempt discovering gems in piles of garbage when I could listen to multitudes of masterpieces that every critic in the world have labelled as such for more decades that I can expect to live (and haven't heard yet).

Same goes with books and films but I did make some effort, ten days ago, to go to the Diese Onze ( on St-Denis Street in Montreal to listen to Matt Herskowitz about whom I had heard great comments.

Was I impressed ? A little. - A bit too flamboyant for me but still worth looking into. Check this out, for example :

Some musicians out there are making some efforts to keep jazz alive. 
Thank you Mr. Mick M.


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