Sunday, April 30, 2017

Writer's Block + April Jazz Birthdays on International Jazz Day

Today, the dreaded Writer's Block, clearly upon this blogger like a hungry housecat on ACME Smoked Whitefish Salad, determines our month-ending topic: the downright astonishing number of April birthdays for jazz legends, including April 30, both International Jazz Day and the natal anniversary of MJQ and Heath Bros. Quintet bassist magnifique Percy Heath (1923-2005).

As February 26 remains a bonanza for birthdays of comedy and musical comedy performers from stage, vaudeville, movies and TV (Jackie Gleason, Danny Kaye, Betty Hutton, Tony Randall, William Frawley), the entire month of April is chock full of birthdays of iconic jazz artists, as well as composers for movies and television who were heavily influenced by jazz.

First and foremost, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog shall atone for missing the 100th birthday of the ultimate lady of song, the incomparable and always perfect-pitched Ella Fitzgerald, born on April 25, 1917, by paying homage with these amazing concert clips.

One day earlier on April 24, two of the greatest jazz saxophonists who ever lived, Joe Henderson and Johnny Griffin, share a birthday.

This writer saw these two greats play together - they tore it up - at Yoshi's Oakland (Claremont Avenue location) way back when, but does not remember if the concert took place on an April 24! If it did, that would have been fitting, indeed.

And a few days later on April 29, Duke Ellington, the maestro, the composer, the man with the symphonic vision who painted with the sophisticated sonorities of a brass and reeds orchestra, was born.

Guitarist and guitar teacher (neighbor and friend of at least two of this blogmeister's film historian colleagues) Larry Coryell was born on April 1.

No doubt Larry had a few good jokes - musical and otherwise - about having an April Fools' Day birthday.

April 7 is the birthday of Billie Holiday, a legend and songstress like no other. While well aware that many of Billie's greatest performances, such as her appearances at New York's Café Society, stints as vocalist with the Count Basie and Artie Shaw big bands, as well as Lee Young's epic early 1940's swing-to-bop ensemble (featuring Lee's brother, Count Basie Orchestra saxophonist Lester "Pres" Young), were not captured on tape or film, there's still plenty of magic even in her last recordings.

Even while her physical health and strength were clearly deteriorating, Billie's ability to feel and express that lyric, find its essence, remained undaunted.

Among notable late career Billie Holiday appearances on television, the following are from CBS TV's The Sound Of Jazz special - yes, believe it or not, music other than country-western actually was seen on network television in 1957 - and features the yin and yang of swing tenor saxophonists, Bean and Pres. . . Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. She sounds great. So do they.

Keyboard wizard, super prolific recording artist and multi-genre world music explorer Herbie Hancock, born on April 12, 1940, is still touring. Herbie started his career in the late 1950's and early 1960's and continues rocking on nearly two decades into the 21st century.

Obviously, music keeps him energetic and youthful at 77 - although we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog would love to find out just what Herbie's specific diet and workout regimen is.

Arguably the single bluesiest tenor saxophonist to ever work in jazz, the soulful Gene Ammons, was born on April 14, 1925.

Born on April 16, the same day as two of our all-time favorites, Charlie Chaplin and Edie Adams, one of the jazziest of composers for movies, Henry Mancini.

Sharing a birthday with center fielder Marquis Grissom, the great silent movie actress/comedienne Fay Tincher, this blogger (writer Psychotronic Paul Etcheverry) and his craftswoman-illustrator fraternal twin: keyboardist and prolific composer for movies and TV, Jan Hammer. Unquestionably, artistic tie-ins between Jan and Henry Mancini abound, although the latter did not tour with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and The Jeff Beck Group.

Also born on April 17, Dutch percussionist Han Bennink and one of the unequaled kings of the upright bass, Buster Williams.

April 20 is the birthday of vibraphonist, bandleader, member of Benny Goodman's historic quintet and key stylistic predecessor of rock n' roll Lionel Hampton. Here's Lionel, making history with The Benny Goodman Quartet in 1937.

This ridiculously hard swingin' version of Flying Home from the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival would be this blogger's favorite among the many great Lionel Hampton Orchestra recordings. This edition of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra features quintessential "Texas tenor" Illinois Jacquet. Deftly blending r&b, jazz and rock n' roll, Jacquet, ever the showman, does not disappoint!

The larger-than-life volcano of creativity - composer, arranger, bassist, bandleader of the Jazz Workshop, activist and wordsmith - Charles Mingus and one of the cornerstones from his 1970's group, George Adams, both have April birthdays, on the 22nd and 29th, respectively. This writer, who prefers his modern jazz undiluted, finds Mr. Adams' sonic stylings always a splendid antidote to the syrupy and overly sentimental sounds of "easy listening" saxophonists. Let 'er rip, George!

Frank Sinatra liked, in fondly reminiscing about hot-blooded romantic encounters, to sing "it was a very good year" and, as friend of Basie, Ellington and Holiday, would very likely agree that for the world of music, April was a very good month.

There were so many bandleaders, virtuoso jazz composers and brilliant instrumentalists born in the month of April, it would not have been possible to cover all of them in this post and actually finish the post!

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