17/12/2010

2010 final, and a Spotify playlist (VIII)

(Pica aquí para ir al texto en español.)

Like almost anyone reading this, I'm taking a break for the next few days or weeks. And I am also taking a break for this window to the virtual world for a healthy helping of real world, people in the flesh and, hopefully, nature and the great outdoors. In The Conquest of Happiness Bertrand Russell talks about the unhappiness that is caused by not being close to kindred spirits. The internet has certainly helped introducing people from distant place in a large chunk of the planet who happen to share an interest in these things humans do, like music.

14/12/2010

Happy birthday to a hero

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In my previous post, about Moody, I commented on one or several generations of jazz musicians who went from suffering indifference for their music and abuse because of their skin pigmentation, to general acclaim all over the world. These are musicians whose lives should be taught at school, even beyond musical considerations.

It's all too easy to take those men and women for granted. For one thing, there's a deep-rooted tendency to tell the history of jazz as a mythical epic. Well-intentioned as this may be, it can hinder rather than help our appreciation of some very extraordinary human beings. Explaining Louis Armstrong as a supernatural being will never give anybody a fair assessment of his achievements. Show him as a man, bones and flesh, warts and all and then you'll see how extraordinary he was.

On top of that, these men and women, some well-known, some completely anonymous, tend to be lacking of any self-importance, which can mislead us to think that they are not important. And don't expect any help from them, either - they probably wouldn't recognise themselves as the extraordinary people they are.

One of these extraordinary people is Clark Terry, who turns 90 today. You'll read everywhere that he's a master trumpet and flugelhorn player, a pioneer in the latter instrument in jazz. His sound is pure and soft, his technique immaculate, his ideas, witty and quick, and all of it soaked in blues. He's worked with Count Basie, with Duke Ellington, and many others. He was a mentor to Miles Davis. He was one of the first Afro-American musicians to play in the studios in New York, and also on TV, with Skitch Henderson's orchestra for Johnny Carson. He also had a terrific quintet with his very dear friend Bob Brookmeyer, with which they did three studio albums for Bob Shad's Mainstream label (in the early Seventies, Verve released some live tracks from one of their earliest gigs, in 1961).

11/12/2010

Moody speaks

In jazz, there's a generation, or two, of Afro-Americans who had to overcome what would have been unsurmountable difficulties for lesser people. Not only they did, but did it unassumingly, with a smile on their faces, keeping a sense of humour and playing beautiful music, a feat only achieved by taking music, not themselves, seriously. Moody, a partially deaf musician, was one of them.

As you probably know by now, Moody just passed away, a victim to pancreatic cancer. He was 85. I've already posted this before, but it's worth listening to him again.

10/12/2010

A Spotify playlist (VII): Charlie Christian

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(All pictures from Leo Valdés's site)

Charles—rather than Charlie—Christian is normally hailed as the greatest pioneer of the electric guitar. He was not the absolute first to use or record with the instrument, but he's arguably one of the most influential of jazz musicians. Besides the implications for popular and rock music in general, his approach to guitar playing is still current today.

06/12/2010

Happy 90th, Mr. Brubeck!

I like the piano because he plays the piano like the guys I told you about at the brickyards in Haverstraw, New York, where the blues was born... He has heavy hands, but hits some beautiful chords... You could put this on at anybody's house, and they'd dance all night.
Willie 'The Lion' Smith's reaction to Brubeck's "St. Louis Blues"
(from Jazz Goes to Junior College)
in a blindfold test.

Today Dave Brubeck celebrates his 90th birthday. His career is one of those treasures that can slip past you if you don't go beyond the musician's image and explore the actual music. Through the years Brubeck's been 'accused' of being cold, intellectual, and commercial, but just a bit of browsing through his many recordings will demonstrate that he can be a perfectly hot and visceral pianist, closer to The Lion's assessment, heavy hands and all. About this, I already told the story on how Brubeck's "presence" was felt (pun intended) in Miles Davis's Kind of Blue.

Dave Brubeck's first recording is a solo from 1942, where he already plays a lot of piano. After that, he worked with an octet formed mainly by students of Darius Milhaud, and in 1949 he did his first discs as a leader, of a piano trio at the time, kickstarting, in fact, the Fantasy label. Since then, I don't know of any instances where Mr. Brubeck has recorded as a sideman, and given his very active career to this day, I think his must be one of the longest careers, possibly the most prolific, as a leader in jazz.

04/12/2010

Happy 80th birthday, Jim Hall

Jim Hall is one of the greatest guitar players in jazz history. Today it is his 80th birthday, and to celebrate, I recommend this interview with Library of Congress music man Larry Appelbaum.



"What does my music mean to me...?
What came to mind is that it is me, actually"


03/12/2010

A Spotify playlist (VI): Art Farmer & Jim Hall Quartet


Steve Swallow, Art Farmer, Walter Perkins, Jim Hall
Picture from the cover of Live at the Half Note (Atlantic)

After last week's list of the Paul Desmond Quartet featuring Jim Hall, I immediately went to see whether Spotify had anything by the other great pianoless quartet with Hall on guitar, also from the Sixties, but with a different wind instrument at the helm: Art Farmer on flugelhorn (exclusively - no trumpet here). And yes, all the official stuff is there, plus a few extras.