Archive for the 'smooth 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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27
Sep
19

Arthur Prysock “I Must Be Doing Something Right”

I’m pretty sure I had this 1968 record back before I lost all my records—and I have it now—but I’m pretty sure I didn’t move it around with me—in fact I know I didn’t—so this is the second copy I’ve owned—and I’m also pretty sure I never listened to it before right now. Well, maybe I did, way back, but I don’t remember it. It’s actually quite a striking record. Arthur Prysock has an extreme voice—it’s deep and resonant—I can’t think of anyone quite this deep and smooth at the same time. I’m really liking this record—I wish I’d listened to it before. He was pretty popular, I guess, and put out a lot of records. Maybe I’ll pick up some more if I see them. The strange thing here is that because the songs are mostly recognizable, some standards I know, some new to me—there’s a lot of emotional heft with each one, and his approach is so big, it’s like each song sounds like it could be the opening number, or closing number, or credit sequence to a movie. I kind of wanted to take the approach (I’ve done in the past) of writing down what each song made me see, as in a movie scene, or even a scene from life, but they are so all over the place, I’m not seeing a narrative line, so I’m not going to do that. I think I’ll just remember to put this record on again sometime to cheer myself up. The cover is pretty great—it’s Arthur Prysock in what looks like a private roulette room of a casino (or maybe it’s an illegal one) with a fairly international crowd—one guy is wearing a turban. Most of the chips are stacked in front of Prysock. The croupier looks a lot like Jeff Goldblum. Everyone looks a bit concerned, except for Prysock and an attractive woman with some gaudy jewelry and thin cigar who is giving him the eye. The cover is meant to illustrate the idea of “I Must Be Doing Something Right” which, besides being the title of this album, is also the last song. This gave me an idea for a song, called “I Must Be Doing Something Wrong”—has anyone written that song?

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.

07
Feb
19

Easy Williams “Easy Does It”

I never heard of “Easy Williams” but I saw this record in a thrift store and no way I was not going to buy it, based on the cover alone, which is a highly arranged portrait, set up in a studio, I guess (there’s no background). A woman (we’ll presume Easy Williams) is stretched out on her stomach on couch pillows, and just behind her, a young boy wearing what looks like a jockey uniform is fanning her with a huge fan made out of some kind of giant bird feathers. The whole setup is a reference to something, I guess, but I don’t know it, so I’m not getting it, I suppose. It’s possible it could all be highly offensive. But at face value, it’s just plain weird. And on the other hand, not really weird at all. She’s taking it easy, and a servant of some kind is fanning her. My favorite thing, though, are all the details in the set-up. The cushions she’s lying on are yellow, red, and blue—cleverly, the same colors as the letters on the “Dot” record label (one of my favorite labels)—though the blue might be green—but there is a blue one, too—these random, brightly colored cushions. She’s dressed casually, jeans, no shoes, though her jewelry might weigh several pounds. She’s sipping some champagne and looking off somewhere to the left. Theres’s also a bowl of fruit, and a lit cigarette in a long, long holder, resting across an opened box of chocolates. The red pillow is actually more of a queasy orange (unless the cover is faded) which matches pretty much the shimmering, satiny pants of the boy with the fan. Now that I look more closely, maybe it isn’t a boy after all, but perhaps a “little person”—possibly of some difficult to determine ethnicity. Maybe it is offensive, after all, but I’m sure it’s all in good fun. Though we’ve heard that before.

The record sounds a lot like you’d expect from the cover—12 vocal numbers with minimal jazz arrangements, some with guitar and vibes and flute. I know some of the songs, like the first one, “Easy Street,” which sounds like Julie London’s version, but even more sultry. “Mean To Me” is another of my favorites. “Easy Come, Easy Go” is also a killer, here, as well as “A Woman Needs So Little.” They’re all good—I prefer the slowest and the quietest ones. Her voice is great—they didn’t really need to drown you in reverb, but I guess that’s part of the “Easy Does It” feeling they’re going for. Looking quickly on the internet I don’t see anything about Easy Williams, so I’ll have to go with what’s here. The brief liner notes mention that it’s her debut. Where she went from here, I have no idea. It occurs to me that maybe there is no “Easy Williams”—I mean, there’s a fine singer here, singing, but not credited, and of another name. After all, would a woman in 1957 call herself “Easy” Williams? It’d be like, if you were a guy, going by something like “Martin Everhard.” Maybe this is one of those records made to exploit the young people with hi-fi lifestyles, like those mood music, “Music for…” records—(you know, “Music for Dining,” “Music for Cleaning,” etc.) I could see this going on the turntable at make-out time—just maybe keep that album cover hidden! Still, I want to believe there’s an Easy Williams out there somewhere—maybe someone will let me know.

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.

05
Jan
19

The Walter Wanderley Trio “Cheganca”

I thought I had more records from Walter Wanderley, the Brazilian jazz keyboard hit recording artist and guy with a great name—but maybe that was before I lost all my records—anyway, sometimes you’ll see one in a cheap bin or thrift store, and I’m guessing that any or all of his vinyl is worth picking up. This one is all instrumentals, him playing organ with a couple of percussionists. I can listen to this any time of day, though coffee time and cocktail time come to mind as the most appropriate—but it would also work for painting an abstract canvas or the wood trim a bright color. This is on Verve records, from 1966, and the cover is a color photo of the trio in formal wear perched on gargantuan stacks of pallets of burlap bags of coffee beans. I’m assuming it’s coffee since one bag is stenciled “Brasil”—but who knows, it could be soybeans, or it could be Cheganca, because I sure as hell have no idea what “Cheganca” is.

I’m not even sure that if I spoke Portuguese I would know—I like to think that maybe it’s one of those things you know when you know, but it’s not for the squares. The album cover folds out to some extensive liner notes by Bob Lee with KRHM-FM, L.A. He says: “Walter Wanderley has no worry. He could play the Pasadena phone book and make it sound great.” What I do know is that this record would not only be appropriate, but essential if I was throwing a Holly Golightly style cocktail party (the only kind of cocktail party I’m interested in throwing)—it’s even possible this was playing in the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)—though that would require a time machine—and this record is one. I feel like I’ve heard this version of “Agua de Beber” in a movie somewhere (of course, I’ve heard a vocal version with Astrud Gilberto). Truthfully, much of this record is more upbeat than I normally care for, and also, I just quit drinking (25 years ago)—but that doesn’t mean I’ve been bright-eyed and jaunty for a quarter of a century. This music—in spite of it making you visualize odd groups of young lovers shopping in frivolity—also isn’t jaunty, which is kind of its miracle. And in a few cases, as with the standard, “Here’s That Rainy Day,” it manages to be both melancholy and upbeat at once, knowing that while there is no cure for a broken heart, painting your woodwork a bright color is a wise use of broken-heart-time, because time cures all things, maybe—but there’s a limited supply of it—and a serious limited supply of more.

16
Dec
18

The George Shearing Quintet with Nancy Wilson “The Swingin’s Mutual!”

I heard that Nancy Wilson passed away a few days ago, and I recalled hearing her music now and then over the years, mostly on the radio. Then I remembered that—among my limited, rag-tag record collection—I have this 1961 album of her singing six songs with George Shearing. I have as many Shearing records as by any artist, because for one, you can find them, and not for a million dollars, and they’re all either pretty good or excellent. But also, I probably listened to more George Shearing than anyone as a kid because my parents had a lot of his records and seemed to play them more than anything else. That distinctive vibes along with the piano sound is probably more entrenched in my brain than fear. Nancy Wilson sings on half of these twelve songs; I would have liked it better if it was all of them, but it’s a fine album, regardless. “The Nearness of You” is a standout, and they’re all good. She must have been only in her early twenties when they recorded this, but she sounds very mature and has a lot of personality. She’s an Ohioan, and about the same age as my mother. I like to think she was maybe in Columbus when my dad was in college there. I know my dad saw George Shearing in Denver when he was in the service out there. The album cover is pretty odd, the two of them sitting back to back, both in in plastic Eames chairs, Nancy Wilson holding a Shearing album, glancing over her shoulder at George, and Shearing kind of propping himself up with her her “Something Wonderful” album (which was like her second, this being only her third). She went on to record 60 or 70 albums, no doubt covering all my favorite songs, so I’ll keep an eye out for them. The only sad thing is, unless I’m missing it, they didn’t collaborate on any more records—because, besides good music, for the album cover, they could have each held up this album cover, and started a kind of infinity mirror thing. Just an idea for one of the parallel universes.




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