That Jones piano sound

So, give a listen to this:

Norah Jones's first album was based in this sound... brushes, that gentle, precise piano touch... Whatever you may want to think of Ms. Jones, her music reached to millions and her sound is immediately recognisable, something jazz musicians have strived for since the days of Buddy Bolden. I'm not entering into the discussion of whether Ms. Jones plays jazz... and I'm getting away from my point.

The point is... that's not Ms. Jones. It's actually Mr. Jones. Mr. Hank Jones, who celebrates his 90th birthday today. The clip comes from one of the hundreds of sessions he's done since he started his recording career in 1944, in this case for Wes Montgomery and his So Much Guitar! album (Riverside, 1961, with Ron Carter on bass.)

Of course, Jones's merit has little to do with his being an uncanny and incidental forebear to Lady Norah, and we've had him for so long that it's not so easy to give a proper assessment of his achievements. When he moved to New York and started recording with Hot Lips Page, Art Tatum - his only real idol - was king... Bud Powell and Monk were still with Cootie Williams and Coleman Hawkins respectively. In 1947, the year Powell and Monk debuted in Blue Note records, Jones recorded his first solo album, Urbanity, for Norman Granz, a recording infused with the new sounds of Nat King Cole and even Tristano. Then came the fifties, with his unofficial "in-house" position at Savoy records and his very many sessions elsewhere (everywhere, more like, Coleman Hawkins and Al Cohn were two regular employers.) Then came the sixties, with his job with the CBS and still his many recordings, including a ragtime album (This is ragtime now! for ABC-Paramount) in 1964, years before The Sting. Then, the seventies, with his return to full-time jazz practice with the Great Jazz Trio (mainly with Ron Carter and Tony Williams, see picture) at the ripe age of 60! (A bit of trivia: the first solo ever played in public by the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra was his.)

Since then, another thirty years have gone by, and this man, whose approach puts sincerity before innovation has continued doing what he's always done, adding to and polishing his style, a style so familiar for so long by such an ubiquitous musician, that one has to wonder whether its apparent lack of originality is only due to its being so central to our idea of mainstream jazz.

Recently Joe Lovano and Roberta Gambarini - a truly phenomenal singer - have benefited from that Jones piano sound. It was quite something to hear Jones in London with Lovano four years ago, when the audience at the Barbican gave him the loudest round of applause, and justly so. As for the collaboration with Ms. Gambarini, as a singer she has benefitted from Jones's prowess as an accompanying pianist, and she, in turn, not only has delivered the goods as a singer, but has also become a sort of guardian angel to Mr. Jones after a couple of serious health scares, as it was explained recently in Down Beat. A second part to their CD You Are There (EmArcy) seems to be on the cards (as a quartet instead of a duo) for as soon as the end of the year.

I have met Mr. Jones in person twice, in 1996 and 1997, back in San Sebastián, when I was a budding journalist. My memories of our two meetings are blurry, but two things stand out: his graciousness towards a poorly-informed hack who spoke an appalling English, and the concert he gave in 1997 as a duo with Nicholas Payton at the Town Hall, as a last-minute substitute for Tete Montoliu, who would sadly die shortly thereafter. The duo's lack of proper preparation was probably the reason for the tension that kept both musicians on their toes, ready and alert.

In 2004 the Dutch TV did a very nice programme with Jones. You can watch it here (in English, with Dutch subtitles.)

So here's to Mr. Jones in his 90th birthday. Happy birthday!


Hoy Hank Jones cumple 90 años. En el próximo número de Cuadernos de Jazz escribo ampliamente sobre este pianista.


EC - House of Blue Lights... for $700!!!

(Texto en español más abajo)

I recently read in the San Francisco Gate a story about the Groove Yard Records shop in Oakland (California) and their LP sales. This caught my attention:

The most expensive album [owner Rick] Ballard ever sold was "House of Blue Lights" by '50s bebop pianist Eddie Costa - $700.
I've been doing some research on Eddie Costa's discography for a while now (which I hope to finish and publish soon), and I know this album very well. So, let me introduce you to it and its author.

Costa was, first and foremost, a pianist, although quite a few people remember him as a vibist (he's also on record playing organ and assorted percussion, including bells.) He had a very active career between 1954 and 1962, both playing jazz and as a studio hand, till he died at 31 in a car accident. As a pianist he had a fierce attack, and was famous for diving into the lower register of the piano, sometimes playing as if it were a set of vibes, not entirely different from Lionel Hampton's two-fingered style (although Costa played octaves with his left hand.) Beyond that quite compelling feature, there's a soloist with a knack for long, fluid improvised lines, devoid of clichés or licks.

Although he recorded a lot (I have him in 150 LPs and counting) he only did four and a half albums as a leader, for Jubilee (The Eddie Costa-Vinnie Burke Trio, 1956), for Mode (Eddie Costa Quintet, 1957, with Art Farmer and Phil Woods), for Verve (half of a Newport album, 1957, with Dick Johnson and Rolf Kühn), for Coral (Guys and Dolls Play Vibes, 1957, Costa on vibes and Bill Evans on piano), and for Dot (House of Blue Lights, 1959).

The Dot album is undoubtedly his best. Not only he had widened his resources, but he was also using the whole range of the piano and was producing more structured solos. It got four stars in Down Beat at the time, and deservedly so: it's a great album, that points to a personal direction beyond bop that would get truncated all too soon.

So, House... is very good indeed, but $700!!! (I've seen it go on eBay for anywhere from $9.99 to over $400, depending on its condition.) This however, only applies to the mono edition, which has never been reissued on any form. The Japanese have reissued this album on LP and CD, but it has been always the stereo version, not the mono.

Thus, the mono version (Dot DLP 3206) can only be a first edition. That makes it scarcer and therefore expensive. To my ears, the mono version sounds better balanced than the stereo... but there's one more detail: the mono and stereo versions are slightly different.

Thanks to the good people of the Institute of Jazz Studies, I was able to compare both versions, the original mono and a stereo reissue. The music in all tracks is exactly the same, except for the tunes "Diane" and "Annabelle".

"Annabelle" is a blues in G by Costa, with a very interesting riff from around 1:40 (not included in the clip below) that starts with Db (the flatted fifth) and it's built on the augmented scale of G (B, Db, Eb and F.) The mono and stereo versions are identical, except for the short chordal intro, which is missing from the stereo. Check the audio clips below to see the difference.

The other track, "Diane", is an obscure 1927 song from the film Seventh Heaven, which had been previously done by Miles Davis (with Trane in the 1956 Steamin' LP for Prestige) among others. Here it has quite an interesting arrangement, possibly by Eddie himself. It has seven choruses, it's book-ended by a chorus with bass and drums playing free-ish (remember this is 1959, the year Ornette got to New York), very fast and Costa doing the melody in a kind of half-time (you'll catch a bit at the end of the clips); in the middle it alternates three "4/4 swing" and two "stop-time" choruses. Here, the stereo version is missing a full "4/4 swing" chorus, (32 bars, about half a minute) and the reason seems to be that Costa hit a clam: at the beginning of the swing chorus he starts playing as if it were the end chorus, he realises his mistake, switches to the correct gear and seems to struggle a bit. The clips should illustrate this better than my words, and if you listen to the stereo "Diane", you'll probably notice the tape-splicing (0:13).

But don't let any of this bother you: this is excellent music, well worth checking out.

Annabelle (intro, stereo)

Annabelle (intro, mono)
Diane (chorus V-(VI)-VII, stereo) Diane (chorus V-VI-VII, mono)


Hace poco leí en el San Francisco Gate una crónica sobre la tienda de discos de Oakland (California, EE. UU.) Groove Yard Records y sobre cómo siguen vendiendo vinilo. Lo que me llamó la atención fue lo siguiente:
El álbum más caro que ha vendido [el dueño Rick] Ballard ha sido "House of Blue Lights" del pianista de bop de los cincuenta Eddie Costa - $700.
Llevo un tiempo investigando la discografía de Eddie Costa (que espero terminar pronto), y conozco muy bien este disco. Con su permiso, les presento al disco y a su autor.

Costa fue, principalmente, un pianista, aunque unos cuantos le recuerdan más como vibrafonista (también ha grabado al órgano y todo tipo de percusiones, incluidas las campanas). Tuvo una carrera muy activa entre 1954 y 1962, tocando jazz y como músico de sesión, hasta su muerte a los 31, víctima de un accidente automovilístico. Como pianista gozaba de un fiero ataque, y era conocido por lanzarse al registro bajo del piano, tocándolo a veces como si fuera el vibráfono, de forma no muy distinta a como lo hacía Lionel Hampton con dos dedos (aunque Costa tocaba octavas con su mano izquierda). Más allá de esa característica tan llamativa, no obstante, existe un solista con querencia por las líneas improvisadas largas y fluidas, exentas de clichés o frases hechas.

Aunque grabó muchísimo (me consta su presencia en más de 150 LPs y subiendo), sólo hizo cuatro LPs y medio como líder, para Jubilee (The Eddie Costa-Vinnie Burke Trio, 1956), para Mode (Eddie Costa Quintet, 1957, con Art Farmer y Phil Woods), para Verve (medio disco de Newport, de 1957, con Dick Johnson y Rolf Kühn), para Coral (Guys and Dolls Play Vibes, de 1957, con Costa al vibráfono y Bill Evans al piano) y para Dot (House of Blue Lights, de 1959).

El disco para Dot es, sin duda, el mejor que hizo. Para entonces había ampliado sus recursos como intérprete, usando toda la tesitura del piano y dotando de gran solidez estructural a sus solos. En su momento recibió cuatro estrellas en la revista Down Beat, y con razón. Es un gran disco, que apunta a una vía personal más allá del bop que se truncaría demasiado pronto.

Así que House... es de veras muy bueno, pero ¡¡¡$700!!! (yo lo he visto venderse en eBay por precios que oscilan entre $9.99 y más de $400, según su estado.) Esto, no obstante, sólo es válido para la versión mono, jamás reeditada. Los japoneses han reeditado el disco muchas veces, tanto en LP como en CD, pero siempre ha sido la versión en estéreo, no la mono.

Así pues, la versión mono (Dot DLP 3206) sólo puede ser original, no reedición, lo cual la hace más escasa y cara. Personalmente, me gusta más cómo suena la mono... pero hay un detalle añadido: las versiones mono y estéreo son levemente distintas.

Gracias a los buenos oficios del Instituto de Estudios de Jazz, pude comparar ambas versiones, la original mono y una reedición estéreo. La música en todos los temas es exáctamente idéntica, salvo en los temas "Diane" y "Annabelle". "Annabelle" es un blues en Sol compuesto por Costa, con un riff muy interesante a partir de 1:40 (no está en el clip de audio) que comienza con un re bemol (la quinta disminuida) y está construído sobre la escala aumentada de sol (si, re bemol, mi bemol y fa). Las versiones en mono y estéreo son idénticas, salvo por la breve introducción de acordes del piano, que falta en la versión en estéreo. En los clips de audio se aprecia la diferencia.

El otro tema, "Diane", es una olvidada canción de 1927, de la película El 7º Cielo, que contaba con una versión anterior a cargo de Miles Davis (con Coltrane en el disco de 1956 para Prestige, Steamin'). En esta versión el arreglo es muy interesante, posiblemente del propio Eddie. Son siete chorus, enmarcados por dos en los que el bajo y la batería tocan bastante free (recuérdese que estamos a principios de 1959, el año en que Ornette llegó a Nueva York), muy rápido, mientras Costa hace la melodía casi a media velocidad (se oye un poco al final de los clips de audio); en medio se alternan tres chorus en swing a 4/4 y dos de stop time. Aquí, a la versión en estéreo le falta todo un chorus de swing a 4/4 (32 compases, medio minuto) y el motivo parece ser que Costa metió la pata: al principio del chorus de swing se lanza a tocar el tema como correspondería al chorus final, se da cuenta de su error, cambia a la marcha correcta y parece que no acaba de hilar su solo. Los clips deberían ilustrar todo esto mejor que mis palabras. Y si se escucha "Diane" en estéreo a suficiente volumen, creo que se oye el corte de la cinta (en 0:13).

En todo caso, todo esto son detalles que no empeoran un disco excepcional que bien merece la pena catar.


(Don't) Say it loud! / ¡Más bajo!

El aficionado al jazz en Londres es un privilegiado, porque hay mucha música y porque se nos presentan ofertas singulares. Hace ya un mes largo pasaron por aquí casi seguidos Abdullah Ibrahim y Jason Moran, el primero en el Barbican con la big band y la sinfónica de la BBC, el segundo en St. Luke's con su trío más una sección de viento "local" presentando su montaje In My Mind, homenaje a Thelonious Monk y su concierto del Town Hall de 1959. Las correspondientes reseñas están en la página de Cuadernos de Jazz (la de Moran y la de Ibrahim).

El concierto de Moran fue... intenso. Por un lado la música tenía mucha miga, una mezcla de visceralidad e intelecto muy apetitosa; por otro, el montaje de vídeo, con imágenes y sonido procedentes del archivo del fotógrafo Eugene Smith (ver entrada previa) era igualmente atractivo, incluida la historia sobre el primer contacto de Moran con la música de Monk. A ratos resultó demasiada información para asimilar de una tacada.

La única objeción seria que se me ocurre al concierto de Moran fue el volumen del sonido. Lo mismo es la edad (no creo), o que me tocó la primera fila, pero lo cierto es que la música sonó muy alta. Sin llegar al absurdo estrépito de la big band de Escocia con Tommy Smith hace unos años en la Purcell Room (aforo: 370, sala diminuta en la que una big band debería poder tocar sin micrófonos, salvo quizás el contrabajo), o la lamentable sonorización de la big band de Charles Tolliver en el Queen Elizabeth Hall (aforo: 900) el año pasado, que impidió apreciar los matices de los arreglos, uno de los atractivos, si no el principal, de escuchar a una big band en vivo.

Lo cierto es que por el motivo que sea estos son tiempos de maltrato auditivo. Pruebas anecdóticas: 1) el año pasado iba yo en el tren escuchando música con auriculares, y pude reconocer el intérprete y la canción que iba escuchando un vecino de vagón con sus auriculares (a través de mi música y del traqueteo del tren); 2) el lunes 7 de julio se presentó en Ray's Jazz el libro de Derek Ansell sobre Hank Mobley con un dúo de tenor (Simon Spillett) y piano (John Critchinson); las ocasiones en que Spillett apartó del micrófono la boca del saxo demostraron que no hacía falta la amplificación (y además sonaba más bonito); 3) el cine en salas comerciales, al menos en esta ciudad, se ha vuelto literalmente insoportable para el oído.

La excepción a esta tendencia fue precisamente el concierto de Abdullah Ibrahim en el Barbican. La interpretación y los arreglos fueron exquisitos, pero lo mejor de todo fue el sonido. En todo momento se mantuvo a un nivel perfecto, audible en los pianísimos y no saturado en los fortísimos, ideal para apreciar los matices, para seguir los instrumentos de cada sección.

Supongo que con el borreguismo imperante hará falta, al menos en este país, que se ponga de "moda" el tema del volumen excesivo, que cunda el alarmismo y la gente se "conciencie" (me pregunto cómo podríamos vincular esta cuestión con el calentamiento global o el precio del petroleo). Yo, de momento me voy a agenciar unos tapones.


I don’t know whether jazz fans in London realize how privileged they are. Not only the offers are abundant, but special too. How many cities in the world have Abdullah Ibrahim with a big band and a symphonic orchestra and Jason Moran’s “tentette” within a week? The former played the Barbican, the latter brought his In My Mind to St. Luke’s.

Moran’s show was great, but a bit of an information overload too. In My Mind has plenty of substance, because of Monk’s meaty compositions and the gutsy interpretations by the pianist and his gang, all of which makes it difficult to follow the accompanying film and unmissable sound clips, like Monk’s instructions to Hal Overton on how to arrange his tunes. The images in the film come from the research been carried out by Sam Stephenson and his team at Duke University on photographer Eugene Smith’s archives of reel tapes and pictures (see previous entry). My only complaint about this gig is that it was too loud.

It may well be that I’m getting old (not really), and the fact that I was seated close to the stage probably didn’t help, although the volume didn’t reach the absurd levels of Tommy Smith and the Scottish big band a few years back at the Purcell Room in the South Bank (capacity: 370, a tiny toom where a big band should be able to play with no mikes, except perhaps the double bass), or the poor sound achieved at Charles Tolliver’s big band gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (capacity: 900) last year, which made it very hard to appreciate the details in the arrangements, one of the appeals, maybe the main one, of listening a big band play live.

The fact is that, for whatever reason, these are times of punishment for the ears. Anecdotal evidence: 1) last year I was in the train back home, listening to my mp3 player with my headphones on, and I was able to identify the song and interpreter on somebody else’s mp3 player (through my music and the train’s clatter); 2) on July 7 Derek Ansell's book on Hank Mobley was launched with a short performance by a tenor sax (Simon Spillett) and piano (John Critchinson) duet at Ray's Jazz; whenever Spillett moved the horn away from the mike, not only it sounded prettier, but it also became clear that he didn’t need any amplification; 3) films in commercial rooms, at least in London, have become unbearable volume-wise.

One exception to this trend was Ibrahim’s gig at the Barbican. The arrangements for the big band were excellent, the execution spotless... all of it enhanced by the excellent sound balance. The volume was perfect at all times, audible in the pianissimos and never saturated in the fortissimos, ideal to appreciate the nuances, to follow the different instruments of the orchestra.

I guess that in the current situation, where so many people sheepishly following the latest media trend, we’ll have to wait till anti-loudness becomes fashionable with the papers and the telly, with a generous of social alarm and am overwhelming need to make people aware of its long-term consequences (there must be a way to link it to global warming or the price of oil.) In the meantime, I’ll get me a pair of ear plugs.


Peter Ind reaches 80 / Peter Ind cumple 80

Jazz may or may not be in good shape (boooring...), but some elder jazzmen certainly are, like Peter Ind. Last Saturday (July 5) Ind and his partner, Sue Jones, invited a few (actually, a lot) of their friends to some drinks and music at Ronnie Scott's upstairs bar to celebrate the 80th year (on July 20th, actually) of this Gandalf-with-a-bass. Four scores of years, a fairly recent stroke and a rather severe financial situation when his Bass Clef Club shut down would make anyone at his age sit back and relax. Not him (although at least he's stopped repairing roofs).

Besides the several birthday celebrations (I also saw him at the 606 Club in May and right now he's probably getting ready for his party in Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris), Ind is relaunching his Wave label with five (5) new releases:

- PETER IND: Sixty Years With My Bass... Well, Almost! (Wave CD 22). Mainly solo bass recording.
- DISTRICT SIX: Leave My Name At The Door (Wave CD 29). South-African flavoured jazz combo.
- THE NEW PAUL WHITEMAN ORCHESTRA: In Concert At Queen Elizabeth Hall (Wave CD 27). What the title says.
- MATT ROSS & EDDIE THOMPSON: Beauty And The Beat (Wave CD 19). Piano duo.
- DUKE JORDAN: Live at the Bass Clef (Wave CD 20). Duke Jordan in a trio setting.

More info about the relaunch here (.pdf file). The catalogue is here (.pdf file).

Haven't had the chance to hear these, but I'm intrigued by the Whiteman and the piano duo: the Whiteman, because it's a large formation with a neglected legacy recorded by an excellent sound engineer (Ind himself) and two people I've never heard play, author Dick Sudhalter and the late sound restoration wizard John R. T. Davies; and the piano duo, because I've seen Ross play twice in the last few months and he hasn't failed to tickle my curiosity, for some quirky ideas and his chops, diminished by age as they may be. The names in the back catalogue include fellow Tristano-ites Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, as well as Kenny Wheeler, Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, Martin Taylor, etc.

Later in the year there'll be more CDs, books, a DVD... and a couple of dates on September 9 and 10, at the 606 Club with an old friend: Lee Konitz.

Dejando a un lado la soporífera cuestión de la salud del jazz, lo cierto es que hay algunos músicos que están frescos como lechugas (Pachi Tapiz habla sobre algunos en su blog). Peter Ind es uno de ellos. Ochenta años el próximo día 20, un achuchón hace cinco y las penurias económicas que siguieron al cierre de su Bass Clef Club, un paraíso que en su día iluminó la zona de Hoxton (Londres)... todo eso bastaría para que un octogenario se recostara en su sofá y brindase tranquilamente, con chimenea y manta. No es el caso de Ind.

Este trasunto de Gandalf se ha embarcado en un año de actividades apabullante. El sábado pasado invitó a unos cuantos (bastantes) amigos al bar "del piso de arriba" de Ronnie Scott's a tomar unas copas y presenciar una jam session (en la foto, con Geoff Simkins). A estas horas debe de estar haciendo lo mismo en Auvers-sur-Oise, al norte de París). Además, ha relanzado su sello discográfico, Wave, un recordatorio de su pericia y veteranía como ingeniero de sonido, con cinco nuevas grabaciones (véanse los títulos arriba, en la parte en inglés), aparte de las ya publicadas con, entre otros, Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid y Martin Taylor.

Como explica en su website, a lo largo del año habrá más lanzamientos, libros, un DVD, y más discos, nuevas grabaciones en una serie denominada "Live Jazz: Improvisation Today" (Jazz en vivo: improvisación hoy) en la que buscará reunir a músicos de diversas generaciones, jóvenes con intérpretes "más maduros", como le gusta decir a Sue Jones, pareja de Peter.

Y en septiembre, los días 9 y 10, el bajista se reunirá en el 606 Club de Chelsea, con un viejo colega: Lee Konitz.


Vanessa Paradis, Kylie Minogue, Ramón López...

What do they have in common? All three have been named Chevaliers des Arts et des Lettres by La France. Ah, mais oui! C'est evident que les français sont très originaux et éclectiques.

For those who don't know him, Ramón is a drummer/percussionist/composer from Alicante (Spain) who has lived in France for almost 25 years now. He's one of those adventurous musicians stretching the definition of jazz in Europe. Fellow drummer Daniel Humair nominated Ramón for the award, which he received in his hometown of Alicante accompanied by friends and family.

Ramón López's site is http://www.ramonlopez.net/.

You can listen to a few clips of Ramón's music here.


La Paradis y la Minogue no han grabado con Ramón López (que sepamos). Lo que tienen en común con el batería alicantino es que el gobierno francés les ha nombrado Caballeros de las Artes y las Letras. Ramón recibió el galardón hace unos días en su Alicante del alma, rodeado de familiares y amigos.

El resto de la noticia se puede leer en Cuadernos de Jazz.

Más sobre Ramón en Tomajazz (en español) y en http://www.ramonlopez.net/ (en francés).

Para catar la música de Ramón, pincha aquí.

(Por si alguien quiere hacer algún comentario al Ministerio de Cultura español, el contacto está aquí).


Conversations with Konitz / Conversando con Konitz...

The latest issue of Cuadernos de Jazz (#107-108, July 2008) carries my review of Andy Hamilton's Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser's Art (Jazz Perspectives - University of Michigan Press), as well as a few excerpts translated into Spanish. I've also written a short review in Amazon.com. The book is unreservedly recommended.


La bibliografía sobre jazz en inglés (idioma más extendido del mundo) sigue aumentando en cantidad y calidad, mientras que en español (segundo idioma más extendido del mundo) continuamos nuestra travesía del desierto. En mi opinión, la revelación de los últimos meses ha sido el libro de Andy Hamilton sobre Lee Konitz, con permiso del Tristano de Eunmi Shim (en el CdJ-103 lo reseñé y traduje unos fragmentos) o la historia de la AACM de George Lewis, que aguarda en la pila de "pendientes".

Por un lado, Konitz habla alto y claro, sin cortapisas, sin miedo a ofender y argumentando y, por otro, Hamilton plantea cuestiones sustanciosas (desde su método de improvisación hasta su opinión sobre otros músicos); su papel, como guía de la conversación y excelente editor de los textos (que salpica con breves entrevistas a músicos relacionados con Konitz), es fundamental a pesar de su lógico segundo plano.

El libro va recomendado sin reservas. El último número de Cuadernos de Jazz (nº 107-108, de julio de 2008) incluye una crítica del libro y varios extractos traducidos al español con opiniones de Konitz sobre otros saxofonistas.