Posts Tagged ‘jazz

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.

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?

13
Sep
19

Sonny Criss / Gerald Wiggins / Erroll Garner / Stan Getz

The reason I have a random system to choose records to write about is because if I didn’t I’d never get to one like this where it’s a nightmare to even know what to call it much less to alphabetize it or catalog it. Those four jazz musicians are listed on the cover, but that’s all the information we get. The actual label lists those four names, but in a different order, and also includes Wardell Gray. What the fuck, people, I give up. It’s a Crown Records release from 1963 with two songs on each side, jazz, of course, and I guess it would be considered be-bop. It’s kind of a classic thrift store record because no one can sell it for anything and the cover isn’t even interesting, just the four names in various colors. There may have been some insert or info on a sleeve, but it’s gone now, if it existed. The back cover is just a Crown Records catalog in tiny print—kind of fascinating in itself, just to see all these records listed and categorized. But who is playing what on this one, I have no idea. I’d be tempted just to funnel it back to the thrift store, except you can just put it on and enjoy listening to it. Each song has a full combo, so I have no idea who else is playing, or who is playing on what or not playing. There’s also drums and bass, naturally, but also guitar and vibes on some songs. I’m sure some jazz expert could tell me, but I don’t really care, when it comes down to it. I’d rather know who was drinking coffee and who was drinking wine, who was smoking, and who was eating bagels.

The second side is a couple of standards, “Hot House,” and “How High the Moon,” with both songs sounding like they’re recorded live, and murky as hell. Not unlistenable, I guess, that is if you’re in the mood for murky bullshit. The first side, though, sounds like studio recordings, very crisp, well-recorded, great recordings. Good songs, too, that I don’t know—the first is called “I’ll get Away” and the second, “Miss Beat”—I didn’t immediately find anything about them on the internet, but didn’t dig too deeply. I asked Siri what each song was, and she named them, but instead of listing an artist, she gave me some squiggly lines. “What’s that all about?” I asked Siri, but she didn’t answer that, and instead gave me some sarcastic hipster bullshit talk. I asked a friend who said it’s probably Japanese. He’s not Japanese, though, and doesn’t read Japanese, but it’s a good bet, I suppose, so I’ll go with that. It’s not like we’re identifying mushrooms in the wild or anything. I’m thinking these songs were released on some kind of Japanese re-release, and that would explain that. Kind of. I also asked Shazam, and it got the first one, but told me the second one was “Photon” by Deetron—uh, I don’t think so—I don’t know who that is, but it’s emphatically not this. So I guess I’m just going to let this record’s mystery reign, and maybe some day some info will come to light, but I’m not holding my breath. Well, I might be—holding my breath—but that’s another story, and not related to anything about this record.

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?

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.

03
Oct
18

Sarah Vaughan “The Lonely Hours”

I didn’t know I had this 1964 Sarah Vaughan record, and it’s a good one—I should be putting it on regularly. Twelve bluesy, dramatic songs, arranged by Benny Carter, roughly on the theme of lost love. Sarah Vaughan doesn’t hold back. It’s a nice copy, too, on Roulette records, with that lovely two-tone target checkerboard label. The cover looks like it’s part of an actual painting (no one painted square paintings) that has more deep blue color than any record I own. It’s what looks like a NYC row-house apartment, big steps going up to a darkened front door. The only light is from the bay window, in which a woman, wearing a neglige, I think, is standing, looking out (presumably, in this context, for an absent lover). She may or may not be smoking—a cigarette, that is—one might say she’s “smoking,” as in hot. I don’t talk that way, personally, but I do think it’s odd that she’s white, while Sarah Vaughan, who’s record this is, after all, is black. You’d think they could have found an image that more closely reflected the artist at hand. I wonder if there was a discussion at the label about it. Maybe that’s not so weird, there are sometimes women on the cover of Sinatra records, it’s not always him. White women, of course. No, it’s fucked up.

Quite unrelated, I noticed that there is a Wikipedia page for, besides Sarah Vaughan, a Sara Vaughn—which just struck me as funny because her name is like the more famous singer, but without the “h” in Sarah, and without the second “a” in Vaughan. Sara Vaughn—a middle-distance runner of sufficient success to get a Wikipedia page. She’s 32 years old, five foot one (like the Iggy Pop song), and her race seems to the the 1500 meters—which was close, in distance, to my best race (the mile—but we hadn’t gone metric, yet). Oh, that’s interesting—her best mile time is 4:27—that’s exactly my best mile time! I make nothing of this coincidence—I just take every opportunity to brag about that personal best, since it was not bad for a high school kid in the 1970s. “I’ll Never Be the Same”—is a standout on this record—it’s a familiar song, no doubt I’ve heard Sinatra do it—same with “If I Had You.” “You’re Driving Me Crazy” is another familiar one—I think I know the Kay Starr version—but that song (written by Walter Donaldson) goes back to 1930, the year my dad was born, and was recorded by well over a hundred artists. It makes you wonder if that was even an expression before this song—and if so, where’d it come from? Anyway, I could go on and on—I love all these songs. “(In My) Solitude” and “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” are standouts. It’s a real mood record—I’ll have to keep it in mind for the next time I break up with someone… if ever… again… A notion so distant… I’m sure there’s a song about that.

15
Dec
17

The Dave Brubeck Quartet “Newport 1958”

It’s kind of amazing to me that we live in a time when you can pick up a record like this for nothing, and because it’s been produced on an indestructible format, it has not only survived but is superior to anything that’s come along in the last 60 years. I just put this record on like it was no big deal, and holograms of this jazz quartet popped up in my room (not all see-thru and distorted like in a sci-fi movie, but indistinguishable from my memories, and me). The extensive liner notes pinpoint Thursday, July 3rd, 1958, and a salute to Duke Ellington (some of these songs are his compositions). This is a nice record. If the hologram strikes you as a little too real, you can focus on the album cover, which is a slightly expressionistic painting of the quartet (or else four guys with glasses playing piano, bass, drums, and sax). The painting’s by Bob Parker (somewhere, someone has the original) and I’m going to make a note of his name, because hopefully I’ll see other work by him. Can you take the A Train all the way up to Newport? When it’s a time machine, you can, and that’s what this record is.




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