Jazz History

The Sound of Jazz

On December 8th, 1957 The Sound of Jazz aired live on CBS. It was an episode in the program The Seven Lively Arts. Producer Robert Herridge convinced Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonius Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Billie Holiday, Henry Allen, Jimmy Giuffre, Roy Eldridge, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones to appear together for an hour long live jazz performance. The Sound of Jazz was one of the first programs featuring jazz made for television and is still considered one of the best.

The Sound of Jazz

The Birthdays Of Jazz: Diana Krall, November 16th

Diana Krall was born November 16th, 1964 in Nanaimo, British Columbia.  She is a jazz pianist and vocalist.  Some of her better known albums include All For You: A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio (1996) and Live in Paris (2002).  Her most recent album is Love is Here to Stay (2018), with Tony Bennett.  Krall has won three Grammy awards.  She is married to British musician Elvis Costello and has two children.

Interview on the Canadian Broadcast Corporation
Performing “Cry Me a River”

Jazz History In October

The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson.
Photo Credit: Goldmic90 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 

The Jazz Singer

The Jazz Singer premiered on October 6th, 1927.  The film, starring Al Jolson, tells the story of a second generation Russian American who wants to become a popular jazz singer.   His father wants him to become a cantor in the local synagogue and believes being in show business is sinful.  Jolson’s character must choose between his parents’ Russian-Jewish culture and pursuing his dream.  The film is controversial today because of Jolson’s use of blackface throughout the film.  However, the film is undeniably an important part of American culture because it was the first successful “talking” picture with synchronized dialogue and sound effects.  The success of The Jazz Singer pushed all of the American motion picture studios into “the talkies” and effectively ended the age of silent pictures.

Title Card of The Jazz Singer.
Photo Credit: mumblethesilent on Imugr

The October Revolution In Jazz

The first Free Jazz music festival took place from October 1st to October 4th in 1964.  Organized by musician Bill Dixon, the four day festival had over twenty artists and ensembles performing and discussing their work.  Headliners included Sun Ra, Paul Bley, and Cecil Taylor.  The festival helped introduce the general public to the free jazz style.

Source:  Anderson, Iain. This Is Our Music : Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Accessed October 8, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central, p. 122

The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson Movie Still.
Ad for the October Revolution Music Festival.
Photo Credit: Maureen Malloy

Hyperdrive on the Piano

 

The Ruthless Shapes of Paradise

A hyperpiano is, for the most part, the same as any other piano with one difference. Instead of just hitting the keys to create sound, a multitude of different objects are placed on different strings of the piano. Many of these sounds seem to come right out of an eerie horror movie soundtrack.

While playing the piano, everything from copper bars, rubber blocks, cow bells and even plastic cassettes can be placed on the strings as well as slid up and down for different effects. For example, by placing a rubber block across the strings, higher pitched sounds are created. Sliding the block will make audible rubbing or whipping sounds. By listening to just the sounds being created by these objects, it’s hard to tell that you are actually listening to a piano. In fact, it sometimes sounds like you are listening to another instrument like a guitar or banjo. These different sounds can also be combined with playing the piano traditionally, which adds structure to the music and creates a more cohesive piece.

Hyperpianos are not widely used throughout the musical world and this could be attributed to their odd sound as well as the risk of damaging the piano. Strings are fragile and placing and rubbing objects on them could ruin them. Specific sizes of objects are recommended as to not damage the strings. This recommendation comes from the creator and main player of the instrument Denman Maroney, who lends his sound to Steve Olson’s album, The Ruthless Shapes of Paradise.

Despite its relative obscurity, the hyperpiano is able to create numerous sounds by changing which objects are on the strings. While it may not work as well in mainstream jazz, it could find a home in Avant-Garde Jazz or by providing the soundtrack for the next blockbuster horror or suspense film. If you are in the mood for some truly experimental jazz, check out the hyperpiano. You can learn more about it and the different techniques used to create its unique sound at Maroney’s website:

http://www.denmanmaroney.com/Hyper.html

Translating Ether To Paper

The headline of this feature story in the Green Bay Press-Gazette is “Saxophonist transcribes jazz to printed notes.” Especially if you’re not familiar with the mechanics of the craft, it is a rather amazing thing:

“There will be one measure with 65 notes in it,” he said. “First of all, I have to write out every note and then divide each beat into however many notes until it hits on the next beat.

“And you have to do this in real time. So I’m doing it by pressing the pause button.”

Now, the musicians reading this are saying, “big deal,” and wondering why this is the basis of a feature story. For most jazz improvisers, transcribing recorded solos is a valuable way of studying the greats in depth. Writing down every single note and rest in even the simplest solo forces you to listen closely and repeatedly. And because musical notation has inherent limitations — how to represent that trumpet growl, or that tricky flurry of notes? — you must translate with great precision. (Sixty-five notes in a measure seems like a bit of hyperbole, but you get the picture.) Continue reading

Remembering Laurie Frink, The ‘Trumpet Mother’ Of The Jazz Scene

Sometimes, the most important musicians are the ones farthest away from the spotlight.

Laurie Frink was a great trumpet player. Great enough to tour with jazz big bands led by Benny Goodman, Gerry Mulligan (where she played lead) and Maria Schneider; to be one of the first female trumpet players on the Broadway pit orchestra circuit in New York. As a freelancer, she was known for her ability to execute just about anything, no matter the level of difficulty. Continue reading

‘A Walking Encyclopedia Of Rhythms’: Remembering Steve Berrios

It is not easy to play both jazz drum set and Afro-Caribbean percussion. Lots of drummers do it, but few have mastered it in a way that makes their sound in either style unmistakable from the first beat.

The music community lost one of those true innovators Wednesday with the death of percussionist Steve Berrios in New York at age 68. Berrios could move seamlessly from jazz to Afro-Cuban rhythms in a way that perfectly reflected his bicultural roots.

Berrios was a true Nuevoriqueño, born in New York in 1945 to parents who had recently arrived from Puerto Rico. His father was a percussionist who played with many of the top dance orchestras in New York during the height of the 1950s mambo craze. Berrios followed in his dad’s footsteps and eventually landed an important gig with Mongo Santamaría, perhaps the greatest exponent of Afro-Cuban music in this country. He had a long list of album credits and even a Grammy nomination for one of his two solo albums. Continue reading

Coleman Hawkins And Charlie Parker Were Not Particularly Good Actors

I was wondering just how much Madonna was lip-synching during the pitch-perfect (and ridiculously spectacular) Super Bowl halftime show last night. Coincidentally, I was recently reminded of this play-synching gem from Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and company. Someone uploaded a BBC documentary’s explanation to YouTube:

A little context. In 1944, impresario Norman Granz and the photographer/filmmaker Gjon Mili teamed up to make “Jammin’ the Blues,” a beautiful 10-minute short with stars of the time. In 1950, they started another project called Improvisation, with an even larger cast and running time. Five tunes were recorded, featuring various luminaries like Ella Fitzgerald and Lester Young, among others. The bit that we’re watching is from the section featuring Charlie Parker (alto sax) and Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), supported by the rhythm section of Hank Jones (piano), Ray Brown (bass) and Buddy Rich (drums). What a lineup, right? Continue reading

5 Points Where Poetry Meets Jazz

Poetry and song were once the same: The first poems were recited to music played on the lyre. (It’s the source of the word “lyric.”) Today, poems are published in books and journals, while songs are heard but seldom read. The poet Robert Pinsky tells of a successful songwriter-singer who said, “A little poetry can really help a song, but too much poetry will sink a song.”

Surprisingly, we’re left with relatively few recordings of poetry sung by jazz artists. Speaking truth and emotion, sonic and rhythmic, structured and free, poetry and jazz seem like natural born partners. More often, we do hear poets read their writing to accompaniment by jazz musicians — a form of spoken-word performance. Others write poetry inspired, informed and shaped by jazz. (If you’d like to read some examples, take a look at Jazz Poems, edited by Kevin Young, or The Jazz Poetry Anthology by Sascha Feinstein and Yusef Komunyakaa, for starters.)

In honor of National Poetry Month, the world’s largest literary celebration, and Jazz Appreciation Month, which culminates with a global concert on International Jazz Day (April 30), this week’s Take Five samples the collisions between poetry and jazz.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The Legacy And Future Of A Black Entertainment Palace

During the age of segregation, Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theatre was one of the country’s first large venues to welcome black audiences and performers. It was the most prestigious room in the city’s entertainment and nightlife district of the African American community — its “Black Broadway.” And after decades of dormancy and disrepair, the renovated Howard Theatre reopened in 2012. NPR’s Weekend Edition gave a good sense of the building’s historical importance in a report.

Name a popular African American entertainer between 1910 and 1970, and he or she probably played the Howard: Chuck Berry, James Brown, The Supremes, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder. Because jazz was once pop music, this means the Howard hosted plenty of jazz legends in the primes of their careers, including everyone from proto-jazz bandleader James Reese Europe to Louis Armstrong to the Count Basie Orchestra to Ella Fitzgerald to Charlie Parker to Jimmy Smith. For further reading, The Washington Post put together this oral history, and created this handy timeline graphic too.

All this makes for a fascinating story, especially as it connects the dots between jazz history and African American history. But now the theater is again becoming a living part of its community. And the particular way the Howard is rebooting gives some clues as to where its legacy stands — how, in the great jazz tradition, its past figures into its present. For example:

Continue reading