Wed, 23 April 2014
As an English major at Clark University (Class of '77) I spent many a fond moment with one of my favorite professors, Dr. Virginia Vaughan discussing the Immortal Bard, William Shakespeare. Although Shakespeare's birthdate is unknown, it is traditionally celebrated on April 23, St. George's Day. He was born 450 years ago today.
And whither, you might ask, does this great writer intersect with Jazz? Look no further than the 1964 album by Cleo Laine, Shakespeare and All That Jazz, arranged and written for her by her husband, Sir John Dankworth. Dankworth adapted sonnets and portions of the plays to create an artistically satisfying work. Many of the tunes are written by Dankworth, but he also picks from the Ellington-Strayhorn canon for "My Love is as a Fever (Sonnet 147)" a portion of the suite they composed entitled Such Sweet Thunder. Of particular interest are the tracks which feature Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, including this adaption from "Twelfth Night", "If Music Be the Food of Love".
For those interested in an updated take on this album, check out Christina Drapkin's version.
Sun, 20 April 2014
The song of the day is Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade", performed by Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine and released on their 1957 album Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine Sing the Best of Irving Berlin. Although Vaughan had made many recordings with Eckstine, this was their only album together.
Writing a song about celebrating a Christian holiday was not an anomaly for the Jewish composer Berlin. Born in 1888 into a Russian Jewish family who came to New York City to escape religious persecution when he was five years old, Irving Berlin quickly shed his religious roots and fell in love with America. He became an American citizen when he was 29. "Patriotism was Irving Berlin's true religion," writes biographer Laurence Bergreen in As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin (1990).
Irving Berlin was "not a religious person," according to his daughter Mary Ellin. Relating the story of Irving's marriage to Ellin Mackay in 1926, whose devout father had a deep reluctance to welcome a "lower-class" Jew into the wealthy Catholic family.
Once they had children, Mrs. Berlin did try to keep up a minimal appearance of religious tradition. Mary Ellin writes that her unbelieving parents "had their first bad fight when my mother suggested raising me as a Catholic . . . ."
The Berlins had three daughters. "Both our parents," Mary Ellin recalls, "would pass down to their children the moral and ethical values common to all great religions; give us a sense of what was right and what was wrong; raise us not to be good Jews or good Catholics or good whatever else you might care to cite, but to be good (or try to be) human beings. . . . When we grew up, she said, we would be free to choose--if we knew what was best for us, the religion of our husband. . . . It wouldn't quite work out, when we 'grew up,' as my mother hoped. All three of us would share our father's agnosticism and sidestep our husband's faiths."
The man who wrote "White Christmas" actually hated Christmas. "Many years later," Mary Ellin writes, "when Christmas was celebrated irregularly in my parents' house, if at all, my mother said, almost casually, 'Oh, you know, I hated Christmas, we both hated Christmas. We only did it for you children.' "
Christmas, for Irving Berlin, was not a religious holiday: it was an American holiday. He simply needed a melody in 1940 for a show called Holiday Inn, an escapist "American way of life" musical (when all hell was breaking loose in Europe) which called for a song for each holiday. The words to "White Christmas" are not about the birth of a savior-god: they are about winter, the real reason for the season.
Read more about Irving Berlin, religion and patriotism here.
Fri, 18 April 2014
In keeping with the theme of presenting spirituals perforemd by jazz artists for this week, here is "Crucifixion", a traditional spiritual with a copyright credited to its arranger, Jester Hairston.
Hairston (1901-2000) was a prolific composer and arranger of African-American music. In addiiton to dozens of arrangments still in use today, he composed what is now considered a Christmas standard, "Mary's Boy Child" in 1956. Seven years later, he penned the universally known "Amen" for Sidney Poitier's film "Lilies of the Valley". That song has gone on to be recorded by hundred of artists, most notably the Impressions in 1964. It's worth pointing out that an up-tempo version of the song, "Amen, Brother" by the Winstons in 1969 had six seconds of its drum solo sampled as what is referred to as the "Amen Break", a sample credited with launching the drum and bass movement, and included in rock, hip-hop and soul tracks for several decades.
Click here to listen to David Murray's version of the venerable tune, from the 1988 Spirituals album. Murray recorded this pensive, rather straight ahead (for Murray) version with a quartet including Murray on sax, Dave Burrell on piano, Fred Hopkins on bass, and Ralph Peterson, Jr. on drums.
Thu, 17 April 2014
The fine blog Any Major Dude with Half a Heart (dig that Steely Dan reference) has always gone deep into the crates for goodies, usually of the soul variety. Today, celebrated as Holy Thursday by Catholics around the world, he has a real winner. Visit his page for David Axelrod's "Holy Thursday". As he says on his blog:
Well, it is Holy Thursday, and while this orchestral jazz track might not feed your pieties, it should at least get your toes tapping. That does not mean that the title is irreverent. Axelrod, son of a leftist activist who grew up in a predominantly black neighbourhood, wrote and recorded several musical works referencing religion. In 1971 he arranged a jazz-rock interpretation of Handel’s Messiah and in 1993 he titled a work on the Holocaust a “requiem”. I have read that Holy Thursday also featured in Grand Theft Auto V, a game I’ve never played but the soundtracks of which seem quite excellent.
Axelrod has had a massive influence on jazz, in particular fusion. He produced legends such as Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley (including his big hit Mercy, Mercy, Mercy), as well as avant gardists The Electric Prunes.
For another posting I did on this tune, click here.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00 PM
Wed, 16 April 2014
The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) will issue new postage stamps and a souvenir card to celebrate International Jazz Day on April 30,2014. The stamps, featuring three mini-sheets of twelve stamps, were designed by Sergio Baradat (United Nations).
In 2011 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed 30 April as “International Jazz Day”. Each year, this international day brings together communities, schools, artists, historians, academics, and jazz enthusiasts all over the world to celebrate and learn about the art of jazz, its roots, its future and its impact. This international art form is recognized for promoting peace, dialogue among cultures, diversity, respect for human rights and human dignity, eradicating discrimination, promoting freedom of expression, fostering gender equality, and reinforcing the role of youth for social chang
Mr. Baradat, the artist of the stamp series had the following to say about the designs:
“This was a wonderful project to work on. I approached it as a multi-faceted piece of art where each stamp is a collage onto itself, in tandem with the other pieces to create one large composition. I was inspired by the abstraction that is Jazz; I wanted to give the designs atmosphere and a sense of sound through colour. Along the way, I listened to old favourites: Chet Baker, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington and a host of others from the 1920’s through 1950’s”.
International Jazz Day events, which are organized by UNESCO and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, highlight the historic influence that the genre has had in connecting people and igniting social change. Osaka, Japan has been selected to serve as the 2014 Global Host City. Concerts, conferences and discussions about jazz and its principles will be ongoing throughout the day across the globe, as well as local community events, such as schools, clubs, town squares and village centres.
For more information about International Jazz Day, please visit www.jazzday.com or www.unesco.org/jazzday.For information about purchasing International Jazz Day stamps and other products available through UNPA, please visit www.unstamps.org.
Wed, 16 April 2014
Congratulations to the winners of the 18th annual Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards for Music and Recording, listed here. Professional Journalist Members of the JJA (including yours truly) made open nominations in a first selection round; those who received the most nominations advanced to the final ballot.
Winners of the 2014 JJA Jazz Awards for Journalism and Media will be announced at the JJA Jazz Awards Party on June 11, 2014 at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City. This ticketed event is open to the public. Get tickets
Category:general -- posted at: 12:21 PM
Tue, 15 April 2014
The 67th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers will be celebrated as usual throughout baseball today with ceremonies from Yankee Stadium to Vero Beach, Fla.
The main event will be staged in the Bronx prior to an Interleague game tonight between the Cubs and the Yankees. Robinson's wife, Rachel, daughter Sharon, Commissioner Bud Selig and members of the Steinbrenner family are scheduled to be in attendance. Robinson's "legacy lives on," Rachel Robinson said about her husband, who passed away at just 53 in 1972.
Robinson jogged out to play first base at Ebbets Field against the Boston Braves that day in 1947, shattering Major League Baseball's decades-old color barrier, and the sport was irrevocably changed forever.
In 1997, under Selig's direction (one of the few things he has done as Commissioenr that is worth noting), Robinson's No. 42 was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute. With the retirement of Yankees epic closer Mariano Rivera at the end of last season, this is the first time the No. 42 is no longer active anywhere in baseball, and it never again will be. Rivera was among the active players wearing the number who were grandfathered in when Selig retired the famous numeral, and he wore it proudly his entire career. All uniformed personnel will again wear that number for the 15 Major League games scheduled throughout the nation tonight.
By far the best know song honoring Robinson is Buddy Johnson's classic, "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" Johnson submitted this sheet music for copyright in June, 1949. In August of that year, his recording of the song (Decca 24675) hit its peak position on the charts at number 13. Today many baseball fans are familiar with Count Basie's recording on the Victor label (Victor 20-3514), featuring vocalist "Taps" Miller. This recording, made in the Victor studios in New York City on July 13, 1949, has become synonymous with the song itself.
Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
And when he swung his bat,
Satchel Paige is mellow,
Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Yes, yes, Jackie's real gone.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:16 PM
Mon, 14 April 2014
Christian Holy Week includes the Jewish holiday of Passover this year, so this week will feature jazz music of a spiritual nature. As the first Seder is tonight, celebrating the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of the prophet Moses, I've gone into the category of music that was called "Negro Spirituals" when I was in school, and picked "Go Down Moses"
Versions of the song seem to go back to 1862, when it was called "Oh! Let My People Go (The Song of the Contrabands)". The openign verse was published by the Jubilee Singers in 1872. It's easy to see the coded message in the lyrics - "Israel" in the lyrics stands in for African-Americans oppressed by slavery and recism, and "Egypt" as their oppressors. The seminal recording of the song is likely Paul Robeson's version from 1958, which became a rallying cry for those fighting for civil rights in the American South.
Click here to listen to Louis Armstrong's version of the spiritual, taken from his Louis and the Good Book album. Armstrong recorded the song in February 1959 with Sy Oliver's Orchestra. Armstrong had jsut finished his popular Porgy & Bess album with Ella Fitzgerald, and entered the studio to record a series of spirituals and religious-tinged music. Among those in the band were Trummy Young on trombone, Hank D'Amico and Nicky Tagg on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano and Barrett Deems on drums.
In Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong biographer Terry Teachout quotes an outspoken Armstrong as being a great friend of the Jewish people, who he felt gave him a break in his youth when his fellow African-Americans would not. He wore a Star of David around his neck for most of his life.
Sun, 13 April 2014
The Spring is truly the season of spiritual awakengin and celebration. Holy week for those of the Christian faith begins today, and the first night of Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom, begins tomorrow evening as does the festival of Vaisaki, celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs. Theravada, the New Year festival for Theravada Buddhists, is celebrated for three days begining April 15. April 21 begins the Baha'i festival of Ridvan, and Pagan/Wiccan followers this week commemorate the end of the Celtic Tree Month Alder and beginning of the Celtic Tree Month of Willow.
It’s a blessing when these festivals of many faiths coincide on the calendar, reminding us of the great similarities and wonderful differences that make up these faiths. In order to celebrate this season of spirituality, I offer my annual podcast of jazz with a spiritual strain running though the tunes in Podcast 422 (previous Podcasts can be found for 2013, 2011, and 2010), including:
Herbie Mann - "Shomyo (Monk's Chant)" from Gagku & Beyond..
Jay Hoggard & James Weidman - "God Will Guide" from Songs of Spiritual Love.
Randy Weston - "Recieving the Spirit" from Randy Weston African Rhythms Quintet & The Gnwa Master Musician of Morocco.
Richard Davis with John Hicks - "Life Every Voice and Sing the Lord's Prayer" from The Bassist - Homage to Diversity.
John Zorn - "Office Nr. 9 'The Passion'- V. Holy Spirit" from The Hermetic Organ: St. Paul's Chapel, NYC Vol. 2.
The Afro-Semitic Experience - "Avadim Hayinu" from Jazz Souls on Fire
Mark Turner - "Jesus Maria" from Ballad Season.
Sean Jones - "John 3:16" from Roots.
Thu, 10 April 2014
Fifty Years ago today, Joe Henderson cut one of his most celebrated albums for Blue Note, In 'n Out. The album was the third of five releases Henderson would have on that label as a leader, although he recorded dozens of classic sessions for the likes of Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Bobby Hutcherson, Grant Green and Horace Silver in the mid-sixties,
As with most Blue Note session of the day, the recording took place at Rudy Van Gelder’s studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The all-star band was Henderson on sax, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Richard Davis on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Having a Coltrane-centric rhythm section was a plus for Henderson that day, particularly on the title track, where the drums and piano set up Joe for a blistering solo.
The original release had five tracks, three by Henderson and two by Dorham. An alternate take of the title track appears on a CD reissue. Henderson would record another great record for Blue Note in 1964, returning to Jersey to record the quartet album Inner Urge. Tyner and Jones were there again, along with Sonny Rollins’ bass player Bob Cranshaw.