Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Addendum To "Thar's Music In Them Thar San Francisco Hills"

The Lee Konitz New Quartet, whose Live At The Village Vanguard CD was released earlier this year, performs in San Francisco tonight. Here's a clip of Lee - now celebrating seven decades in music and counting - co-leading a quintet in 1954 with the late, great tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh.

I neglected to mention the following events in my last posting:

Coda Live Music Supper Club, 1710 Mission Street, San Francisco


Classical Revolution, featuring People Revolution Quartet, Adam Theis' Banned Instruments (performing new compositions for string quartet) and Rupa Marya.

Bay Area Composers Big Band featuring Erik Jekabson (trumpet) and Jeanne Geiger (trombone)

Yoshi's Jack London Square
Saxophonist Dave Liebman, who, among other things, is very familiar to jazz fans for his contributions to several particularly mighty Miles Davis and Elvin Jones bands (including the one in the following clip).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thar's Jazz Music In Them Thar San Francisco Hills

As this blogger mulls over the passing and drama-filled showbiz story of Eddie Fisher - 1950’s pop heartthrob/TV star, father of Carrie Fisher, survivor of very public love triangle scandals, party boy and pre-Richard Burton hubby of Liz Taylor - this blog must call attention the extraordinary lineup of local jazz performances here in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend and next month.

Although the Ken Burns Jazz documentary erroneously claimed that the music called jazz dropped off the map in the 1970’s (since jazz players were largely not recording on U.S. labels and not performing beyond a few American metropolitan areas. . . although finding semi-plentiful gigs in Europe and Japan, as well as at festivals), the San Francisco Bay Area was definitely not a parched, barren desert when it came to cool music in those days: extraordinary performances and legendary musicians were holding forth in everything from tiny clubs to symphony halls frequently back in the 1970's and 1980's.

Had the youthful version of moi had the slightest inkling that the days of "wow - Charlie Mingus is at Keystone Korner, Oscar Peterson Trio's playing the El Matador, Dizzy Gillespie's at Great American Music Hall, Ornette Coleman's at Wolfgang's and Frank Zappa's at Stanford. . . which do I choose - can't clone myself and go to ALL of them?" would end amazingly soon, I would have attended even more of these amazing nights of music and be even more stone broke in 2010!

We do have the San Francisco Jazz Festival and splendid local composers-bandleaders in residence, for which (and whom) music lovers are thankful.

Among said S.F. Bay Area luminaries: the Ray Charles-inspired Rayband Orchestra will be at Coda (frequent venue of the first-rate local players from the Jazz Mafia) tonight at 10:00 p.m with songwriter-songstress-arranger and belter supreme Karina Denike sitting in as a Raelette.

Standout musicians from the Rayband Orchestra (including Karina) are also in arranger Mike Irwin Johnson's superb hard-swinging octet 8 Legged Monster, performing this Saturday at Club Deluxe on 1509-11 Haight (near the historic corner of Haight and Ashbury).

The following mp3 is the band's most recent release and available on Amazon.

Yoshi's and Intersection For The Arts are hosting quite a few evenings of good jazz these days. Yoshi’s in Jack London Square will be presenting world-class keyboardist Geri Allen and an all-star band (Don Byron, Oliver Lake, Dwayne Dolphin, Jeff "Tain" Watts) in a Tribute To Eric Dolphy this weekend, then shall follow that up with an appearance at San Francisco Yoshi's by ageless alto saxophonist Lee Konitz on Tuesday night, with Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra on Wednesday and a group co-led by John Popper, Rob Wassermann, DJ Logic and the Jazz Mafia All-Stars next Thursday. The Intersection's Jazz At The DeYoung series at the Koret Auditorium spotlights local composers (bassist Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait And Switch band, Beth Custer And Clarinet Thing and the aforementioned percussionist-arranger Anthony Brown) throughout the month of October.

And, speaking of that cloning business, I personally am trying to figure out how to clone myself while imbibing deeply from the "Fountain Of Youth", thus enabling attendance of both the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum's screening of Charlie Chaplin rarities this evening and the Ray Charles Tribute tonight - and that, dear readers, is among the few happy problems in life.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mike Patton And The Metropole Orchestra, 2008

To describe Mike Patton as an original and versatile vocalist who thrives on tackling different musical genres (not to mention difficult songs and arrangements to learn) would be quite the understatement; the Metropole Orchestra is more than up to the task of providing superlative accompaniment.

I won't be posting the rest of this concert (there are sixteen YouTube clips), but would certainly enjoy a DVD of the complete performance.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mel Tormé

Born on September 13 in the year of 1925 (which also brought the world June Christy, Johnny Carson, Dick Van Dyke and Sammy Davis, Jr.), the consummate entertainer and jazz singer (as well as the songwriter of "The Christmas Song"), Mel Tormé.

After his first published song, "Lament to Love," became a hit recording for Harry James, Mel played drums in the early 1940's touring band of comedian/musician Chico Marx and joined forces with a vocal quintet of Los Angeles City College students as their lead vocalist and principal arranger. Dubbed The Mel-Tones, the vocal quintet was hired by Musicraft Records to make cutting-edge swing recordings with jazz clarinet icon Artie Shaw to counter Frank Sinatra's popular Columbia recordings with The Axel Stordahl Orchestra.

In late 1946, Mel struck out on his own as a solo artist, and in 1949, had his first number one hit, 'Careless Love'. He soon began making a series of recordings - some of his own original material (County Fair, etc.) - with the Page Cavanaugh Trio. Here's one of his early solo appearances.

Mel continued performing amazing music in the 50's, and in particular did stellar work in a series of recordings with The Marty Paich Orchestra (a veritable Who's Who of West Coast jazz at the time), many on the Verve label.

He hosted his own show in 1951-1952 and made numerous television appearances. Among them: scatting with Ella Fitzgerald; singing Bobby Timmons; "Dat Dere" on Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casual show.

Like Sammy Davis, Jr., Mel did more than just a little bit of acting on the side; , after getting his start with parts on such radio serials as Jack Armstrong: All-American Boy and The Romance Of Helen Trent, his role in the 1943 musical Higher And Higher (which also was Frank Sinatra's screen debut), would be the first of
over 30 appearances in films and television. Particularly notable was his vivid performance in Rod Serling's Emmy-winning episode of Playhouse 90, The Comedian portraying the sad sack "whipping boy" brother of an abusive monster of a TV star, Sammy Hogarth, played with tremendous relish by the post-noir Mickey Rooney

Mel could also play the drums, and sometimes got behind the kit in his own performances, as well as during such "drum battles" as this one with Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton.

He wrote five books, three in the last nine years of his life, including a biography of his pal Buddy Rich, who he performed with on a number of occasions, including this scat-fest on The Merv Griffin Show:

The book I have wanted to read very much was Mel's
first hard account of his (without a doubt) never-a-dull-moment stint as music director on Judy Garland's TV show.

If anything, Mel's swingin' music just got better and better with the decades. From 1982 onwards, he recorded prolifically with Concord Records, including four albums with pianist George Shearing.

Some of my favorite performances he ever did were from his long partnership with Shearing. They sounded great together; each gave each other plenty of room to be creative, while backing off and letting the other shine when necessary. And here's plenty of proof:

Swing on! Thanks for the memories, Mel.

Friday, September 10, 2010

And This Blog Loves Visionary Composer Raymond Scott: Happy 102nd, Ray!

The 20th Century was graced by many musical innovators, and among the most fascinating of them was Raymond Scott. While I am way too damn lazy to write a blog, and thus, two years late to celebrate Scott's centenary, today's entry toasts his lengthy, restlessly creative, varied and one-of-a-kind career as composer, bandleader, arranger, orchestra conductor and inventor of such electronic instruments as the Electronium.

The striking original compositions performed by his 1930's ensemble, The Raymond Scott Quintette, were eventually licensed by Warner Brothers for use in their cartoons.

The Raymond Scott Quintette

Stamped in the collective consciousness via the six minute masterpieces directed by Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson and Art Davis (among other animation luminaries), these amazing songs are available on the Restless Nights And Turkish Twilights and Microphone Music CDs.

Raymond Scott's contributions to Carl Stalling's inspired soundtracks for Looney Tunes And Merrie Melodies were just one accomplishment from a career spanning four decades.

There's a documentary, Deconstructing Dad: The Music, Machines And Mystery Of Raymond Scott, produced by his son, Stan Warnow, that I'd love to see on the big screen and own a DVD copy of. Here is the official website and the trailer.

For additional sources of information about Raymond Scott's life and career:

We close with "Lightworks" from the Manhattan Research, Inc. album, with Dorothy Collins on vocals and Raymond playing electronic instruments he designed, and the electronic music composition, "Little Miss Echo" (which makes me wonder if Brian Eno and Pere Ubu's Allen Ravenstine were fans of Scott's early synth work).

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Album Covers For Hammond B-3 And Gibson Guitar Fetishists

Most of the following stellar soul jazz and hard bop luminaries made very few television appearances (that early death problem), so there just isn't much video around to post, with the exception of just a smidgen of brief clips involving Larry Young's performances as a backing player in some killer early 70's rock-jazz fusion bands (Tony Williams Lifetime, McLaughlin-Santana, etc.)

And yes, I promise to switch to another topic after today's entry.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

No Stupid Jokes About Organs On This Blog!

Please do not compare me to that infernal hologram from the classic Red Dwarf TV show (the ever-loathesome Arnold J. Rimmer, portrayed with panache by Chris Barrie) when I make the following admission: I really, really like the sound of organs, not just as rousing accompaniment for swashbuckling silent movies, but as good stuff to listen to (any ham-handed butchers I have winced through at ballparks and skating rinks notwithstanding).

That sound got me, even as a very young person (a pre-zygote at the time). I sought out the music of bands that featured the Hammond B-3 - The Zombies, Booker T And The MGs, The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Procul Harum, Sly And The Family Stone and especially The Young Rascals.

Later, as an obsessed jazz fan, I watched gaping-mouthed as Alice Coltrane conjured otherworldly orchestral soundscapes, impressionistic reveries, hymn-like chants and serpentine soprano sax-like lines out of a mighty custom-made organ.

The greatest ever to play the Hammond B-3? Arguably, the fabulous Larry Young (1940-1978). What he does here on his 1965 Blue Note Records album Unity - pouring out cascades of single-note runs with fast moving chords and nimble bass lines simultaneously - is nothing short of astounding.

I have been marveling of late at the Hammond B-3 centric soul jazz masterpieces of Jimmy Smith, Baby Face Willette and Big John Patton (many with guitar genius Grant Green on hand to stoke the fires even further). The groove can't be beat.

Is there anyone around today who can rip up and down the keyboard while tapping out ridiculously propulsive swinging bass lines with unstoppable happy feet? You can't overlook Rhoda Scott, who has been doing just that in playing the living daylights of the B-3 for decades.

In addition, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Joey De Francesco and Wil Blades can more than hold their own with the mighty B-3.

We close with Barbara Dennerlein, another goddess of the B-3. Swing it, Barbara!