Archive for the 'cool jazz' Category

04
Oct
19

The George Shearing Quintet “Burnished Brass”

My parents had this 1958 record and played it a lot, along with other George Shearing—but there may be no other music that sounds like my childhood than this particular record—George Shearing Quintet “with Brass Choir”—songs arranged by Billy May. I’ll always get a weird feeling from this particular, singular, George Shearing sound—a combination of nostalgia, comfort, and a little bit of sadness and even some queasiness. I mean it’s so present from my childhood, he almost seems like a distant uncle or something. Yet I know nothing about him, except that he was blind from birth and put out an insane amount of records. Once in awhile I’ll read something, then forget it—like I forget that he was English, born in London, and came to the US after the war. I’ve tried to figure out what that “Shearing Sound” is all about—it has something to do with how what he’s playing on the piano works with the vibes and guitar—but I don’t really understand it—it’s over my head—maybe some patient music person can explain it to me someday.

George Shearing was popular enough, sold enough records, that you can find beat-up copies for nothing, and I’ll pick them up when I see them, like this one. I’ve hardly ever paid any attention to the front cover, which is a woman in a sparkly red dress lying on some golden satin sheets—she’s looking up seductively while exposing the full length of one of her long legs. On the bed with her is a trumpet, a trombone, and a French horn. I wonder if this record was subliminally responsible for me attempting the cornet as my first instrument—though I totally failed to get anywhere with it. I should have taken up the French horn—is there a cooler instrument out there, when you really think about it? I loved the picture of Shearing on the back cover so much I put it on the cover of one of my zines (an early issue of The Sweet Ride, from the Eighties). I never thought too much about the individual songs on this record—they all just kind of melt into each other with ultimate smoothness—but this is probably the first place I heard the standard, “Memories of You”—and I’ve always really loved that song. The rest of the songs, except for “Cheek to Cheek,” I couldn’t name, off-hand, but they are all so familiar, it’s like they’re DNA—the song “Burnished Brass,” for instance, with this smooth horn part that drops in and out with the piano—it could be the main theme for the documentary on my life. Yet, listening now, I feel like I might have gotten annoyed by this record, then dismissed it entirely. Now, it almost holographically recreates the space I grew up in so vividly that it’s somewhat overwhelming.

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02
Aug
19

Lionel Hampton “Silver Vibes”

For some reason, I never put this record on, most likely because the cover makes you think it’s not all that much. I mean, a photograph of what I assume is a vibraphone, closeup, from the top—and you know, it may as well be a boardwalk. Or some shit stacked in a warehouse. The vibraphone is one of the coolest looking instruments—but not from the top. I mean, it could be stairs, or a fence. If it was out of context, you’d have no idea what it was at all. Terrible cover. Come on Columbia records! You know how they say “you can’t judge a book by its cover?” That goes for everything, metaphorically or not, and certainly vinyl records. Do I, Mister Smart Guy, have a better suggestion? I certainly do: Lionel Hampton playing the vibes. Lionel Hampton with the musicians on this record. Lionel Hampton partying. Lionel Hampton getting tea. Lionel Hampton and Lionel Ritchie getting tea. Lionel Hampton playing with Lionel Trains. Lionel Hampton in The Hamptons. Lionel Hampton eating breakfast. Lionel Hampton sitting across the desk from some jackass at Columbia Records pleading to have a better album cover. In short, any photograph of Lionel Hampton at all would be better than this cover.

Of course, I am familiar with Lionel Hampton, and as soon as I put this on, I knew it was a mistake to not have worn this record out. Incidentally, me and this record, we’re like the same age. But if I was half this fresh, I’d be getting slapped so much I’d need a weekly dentist appointment. Can’t afford it. Anyway, the liner notes are good and almost make up for the cover. I’ll type a bit: Jangling nerves? Here’s music with a wonderful, silvery tone, varied by the darker colors of trombones. This is smooth, easy-going music, that swings, nevertheless. It goes on. I love the description of the trombones having a “dark color”—it makes total sense when you think about it, and it really does sound lovely on this record, the trombone heavy arrangements with vibes over the top. It’s cool, kind of earthy, and simultaneously breezy and melancholy. Some standards I know, some I don’t, but it doesn’t matter, this is just the perfect record for a Friday night (which it is) to unwind (which I’m doing) while mixing a cocktail from your well-stocked bachelor bar (not exactly doing that; having coffee), waiting for your date to arrive (waiting being the top-heavy part of that sentiment). After this, maybe I’ll put on one of those thrift-store, easy-listening, budget classics: Music for Waiting.

27
Apr
19

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond “At Wilshire-Ebell”

I didn’t even know I had this record, and I don’t have very many records, but then I regularly lose notebooks, and it took me months to find a particular pair of socks once, and then it turned out they didn’t grant me the gift of invisibility anyway. You can pick up Dave Brubeck albums in cheap bins, I suppose, because they made a lot, and he doesn’t have the collector appeal of certain jazz legends whose records you never see, like Coltrane and Miles Davis. I mean, you see those at record shops where you have to pay for them. Sometimes I question my cheapie approach to cheap records—why not just spend the money on ones I really, really like? But if I start questioning that, I have to question my whole life, like why can’t I figure out how to make above poverty level wages. And just, generally, why do I suck so much? This thinking is a vicious cycle. It’s much better to just try to keep moving.

I picked a random card, Ace of Spades, lined it up to my random record picking system, and this one came up. It’s got a glossy cartoon cover, a drawing of a proscenium, presumably the Wilshire Ebell theater in Los Angeles, with some little cartoon musicians, white guys with glasses, Dave Brubeck at piano and Paul Desmond with an alto sax. The drawing is small enough to fit full-size on a cassette, without the theater that dwarfs them, of course, but then you’d lose the effect. The back cover is covered with words, not one but two sets of anonymously written liner notes. It’s a delight, if not particularly entertaining or weird. This 1957 record is on Fantasy, who seemed often to favor the red vinyl, so if nothing else, when you’re having a guest over, the visual of putting the records on will mix well with a well-mixed cocktail and mood lighting. This record, in spite of its live recording format, could function well in that setting. All good songs on here, standards that don’t sound enough like classic versions to put them in the forefront of your evening’s activities. The massive but polite applause at the end of each number sounds like someone briefly turning on a water faucet full blast.

For me, I’ll always associate Brubeck with his most famous composition, “Take Five,” (written by Paul Desmond) which, if you’re a certain age, you’ll not be able to disconnect from its use commercially here and there, now and then. I seem to remember some really corny TV stuff from my childhood that used either Dave Brubeck music or very similar stuff, but I can’t remember what exactly—nor do I particularly want to return to it, as I consider the bulk of my TV watching as a mild version of childhood trauma. Not to be negative—I love Dave Brubeck. Maybe I should just have a Brubeck marathon someday, with all my thrift-store vinyl, to try to shake overplayed associations. Really, I could spend weeks, or even a season, listening to nothing but scratchy old “Cool Jazz” records—though it would be best in hot weather, preferably while staying at a beach house, overlooking the vast Pacific.

12
Apr
19

Virgil Gonsalves Big Band Plus Six “Jazz at Monterey”

For one thing, if you see this 1959 album cover somewhere, like at thrift-store prices, you can’t NOT buy it, with the monochrome, crude pasteup of Virgil Gonsalves and an enormous baritone sax perched death-defyingly on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, facing a witch-like wind-blasted tree. He looks kind of like the guy who does your taxes or fixes your porch, but that horn is no joke. The bold red letters, JAZZ AT MONTEREY—irresistible. If I was starting a record company, I might steal the Omega Records label design outright—it’s one of the coolest I’ve seen. I’m not sure if this is considered “cool jazz” or what—someone correct me. I mean, it is cool, very cool, cool as a cadet blue DeVille—but I’m not sure if it’s/he’s the official member of any movement. In the first song (and all of them) you can imagine soundtracks—to stuff like a guy wearing sunglasses driving a convertible really fast, somebody standing on a corner, two scientists making love, captains of industry eating whole fish, dentists at war with each other, the city of tomorrow, a really good poetry reading—I don’t know. Mostly, what I am thinking about this record is that I like it.

On back, there’s really long and extensive liner notes by Johnny Adams, Jazz DJ at KIDD in Monterey—way too much to paraphrase here—I didn’t even read it all! I’ll get to it some day, because he’s going into great detail, and ends by saying: “SO… bend an ear and listen!” And this is a listening record for me, meaning I’m going to put it on again, just to listen to it, see? I also like how he says that Virgil Gonsalves “has not one direction, but many.” I feel like I can hear that in the music. I believe there is a six piece band playing on some songs and a band twice that size on other songs… but it all sounds simultaneously minimal and maximal, subtle and complex. Virgil Gonsalves, besides being the bandleader, also plays the baritone sax, which is a very cool instrument. The lineups here are pretty much piano, bass, drums, and then horns, and more horns—saxophones and trumpets. Horns, lots and lots of horns. And more horns. Did I say horns?

29
Mar
19

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross “The Best of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross”

I feel like I had another record by them awhile back, and I feel like I wrote about it, but I can’t find it. I picked up this one fairly recently—a little against my better judgment because it’s a “best of” record—and the cover (a stylized silhouette drawing of three howling cats) made me think this was released like, yesterday. Also because it’s a very clean copy. It’s also on that most common of all labels, the red Columbia one. So I was kind of shocked to see the record came out in 1974—that’s 45 years ago! Oh, now looking at the small print… this record was previously released as their record, “The Hottest New Group in Jazz” in 1959—so it’s essentially a re-release. So, as an object, it’s brand new—that is, if 1974 was now, but, well, the music… that makes more sense to me… it sounds like 1959.

The music on this is all good, I like every song, and I can listen to this at every meal. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross are—well, you know—a vocal group consisting of Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross. (I’m not sure if they considered calling themselves: Annie, Jon & Dave.) I first heard one of the songs from this record, Annie Ross’ song, “Twisted,” when Woody Allen used it as the title song in his movie, Deconstructing Harry (1997)—along with jump cuts of Judy Davis in a murderous rage. It’s the best opening of any of his movies (well, except for maybe Manhattan). Though the very first place I ever saw her was acting, playing a singer in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993). I believe you can find some old footage of her, maybe on YouTube (I’ll look), yeah, on some kind of old TV show that is made to look like a casual party, where you know, Count Basie happens to be playing and people (Annie Ross, then Lambert and Hendricks and Joe Williams) break out into some jazz singing. I’ve already said something else is the “best thing on the internet”—but really, this may be. It’s great. And this album’s not bad, either—like I said, all the songs here are good—they’re fun, and all pretty unique while fitting together like anything. My favorites here being Cloudburst, Twisted, and, really, just all of them. And Summertime (some day I will make a mix tape of all the versions I can find, and this is a particularly killer one).

I just noticed that there are some extensive liner notes on the back cover, written by Jon Hendricks, which I failed to read before, so I will now—written for this re-release in 1974 (he mentions Watergate)—really good liner notes, kind of a poetically conveyed history of the band, ending with his poem (“the shortest jazz poem ever heard.”) “Listen.” I’m going to steal that. That’s perfection, poetry-wise. But where do you go from there? I guess imperfection, which is also beautiful, and contained in all my favorite stuff. As part of his brief history of each of them, and them getting together, he tells us that he’s from Toledo, Ohio (interesting to me since I’m from non-literally a stone’s-throw from there), home of Art Tatum, among others, and also the expression “Holy Toledo”—which he says: “derives from the fact that there are only two bad weeks in show business: Holy Week and a week in Toledo. And if you happen to be booked in Toledo during Holy Week, well—’Holy Toledo!’”

01
Feb
19

The Chico Hamilton Quintet “Sweet Smell of Success”

This is a soundtrack record, more completely titled: The Chico Hamilton Quintet Plays Jazz Themes Recorded for the Soundtrack of the Motion Picture “Sweet Smell of Success” (and there’s an even longer version on the actual label, which sounds like someone’s Oscar acceptance speech). If you’ve never seen the movie Sweet Smell of Success (1957) you can keep reading, because I’m not going to talk about it, and also consider yourself lucky because it’s a great movie, even if it might take all your strength to get to the end, drama-wise. It’s grim! But it’s one of the most beautiful black and white movies you’ll ever see, and it’s got two of the most over-the-top performances, by two actors who probably would have paid to deliver what is some of the most over-the-top dialogue you’ll ever hear. It’s also got a great score, and in fact there are two soundtrack albums—one is Elmer Bernstein, and the other, this one, with music from the movie played by The Chico Hamilton Quintet—who actually appear in the movie, quite prominently, as the jazz band that one the characters (not one of the above two) plays guitar with. I knew nothing about Chico Hamilton before I saw this movie, and I still don’t know much, except he was a jazz drummer who then started this band that featured a cello. I’ve never heard any of their records, but if this one is any indication, they might definitely be worth picking up.

The album cover has a wallet-size picture of the band, but is mostly taken up by a big photo of Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster (actors referred to, above) who both look like they’re on the verge of actually exploding. They don’t, literally, anyway, but they come as close as an actor can without special effects. There are extensive liner notes on back, nicely written, though anonymous, which is too bad, because the beginning of the third paragraph makes this statement: “Side Two is one of the most unusual recordings ever attempted.” Ever attempted! It goes on to elaborate, but I’m neither going to retype it nor paraphrase, here. I didn’t find it as such, on first listening, but then I think there are things going on here that I’m not yet attuned to, so hell yes, I’m going to put it on again. It could be a great record for painting abstract paintings, or writing, abstract or not, or even cooking a decidedly not abstract dinner, which is what I’m going to do right now.

15
Oct
18

The Gerry Mulligan Quartet “What Is There to Say?”

Somehow I ended up with two of these albums, even though I’m not particularly a rabid Gerry Mulligan fan—which leads me to believe it was a fairly popular jazz record which you could sell a mint copy on the internet for about $2.00. I’m listening to it now, though, and it’s great. I’m going to keep one of these just as pure listening for pleasure record—the other copy is up for grabs. It just occurred to me—what do I have against Gerry Mulligan? Maybe it’s his first name that bothers me—that name, I’m never sure if it’s “Jerry” or “Gary”—I mean, I guess it’s always pronounced like Jerry—okay—sorry to offend the Gerry’s out there, that’s not fair. Maybe it’s his last name, which is some kind of stew, I guess, and also an unfortunate golf term—but it’s also Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel—one of my favorite children’s picture books—so I should come around it it! Also, he’s a blond guy playing jazz—no big deal, or shouldn’t be—but say, the picture of him on the cover of this album—you’ve never seen such long blond eyelashes. Actually, he really reminds me of someone on this cover photo—its either some famous actress or someone I know—I should just try to get that out of my head or I’ll go nuts trying to think of who. And then… he plays—or is most well known for—a weird instrument—the baritone saxophone—which isn’t really that weird actually, and is really pretty cool, and sounds great. So all in all, I should just really come around to Gerry Mulligan!

The liner notes on back are by Gerry Mulligan, and pretty good—a bit of a diatribe against the over-seriousness of jazz criticism—not too angry, good-natured. The quartet is Mulligan, Art Farmer on trumpet, Bill Crown on bass, and Dave Bailey on drums. Eight songs, some standards like “My Funny Valentine” and “Just in Time,” and some originals by Mulligan, including one called “Utter Chaos.” The songs were all recorded right about the time I was being conceived, if not biologically, working up to it with what I hope were romantic good times. My dad might have had this record, actually, though I don’t recall seeing it in his collection—though I might have ignored it, just thinking about how you could land a helicopter on that dude’s eyelashes. It’s the kind of stuff my dad listened to—he liked cool jazz—and maybe my mom, too—I’m not sure, now that I think about it—whose records were whose, for sure—which ones they each brought to the relationship, and then which ones they bought after the marriage. It’s too late to ask them now, too—kind of sad. Anyone reading this whose parents are still alive, make sure you ask them all those questions, important or not, while you have the chance!




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