April 23, 2015
March 29, 2015
John Renbourn, an English guitarist known for his light-fingered fusion of classical, folk, blues and jazz and for his work with the group the Pentangle, was found dead on Thursday at his home in Hawick, Scotland, near the English border. He was 70.
He had been touring with another guitarist and singer, Wizz Jones, who was one of his earliest influences. When he did not show up for a concert in Glasgow on Wednesday, his agent contacted the police. The cause had not been determined, but a police spokeswoman said there were “no suspicious circumstances.”
Mr. Renbourn was both an antiquarian and an innovator — part of a generation of British and American guitar virtuosos who in the 1950s and ’60s reached deeply into traditions but were not bound by them.
As early as the 1960s, Mr. Renbourn delved with scholarly dedication intomedieval and Renaissance music; his “Complete Anthology of Medieval and Renaissance Music for Guitar.” a sheet-music collection of 28 pieces, was published in 1995. He learned British folk songs and sang them in an amiable tenor, and he was drawn to ragtime and the blues, particularly the fingerpicking complexity of early rural blues.
His music also used the harmonies and phrasing of jazz guitar and an occasional hint of flamenco, and he studied the sitar and the shakuhachi, the Japanese wooden flute.
He was a founder of the Pentangle — which he named after the five-pointed star, symbolizing five virtues, on the shield of Sir Gawain in the medieval Arthurian poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” — in 1968 with the guitarist Bert Jansch, the singer Jacqui McShee, the bassist Danny Thompson and the drummer Terry Cox.
The core of the group was the pairing of Mr. Renbourn and Mr. Jansch, who made their first duo recordings in 1965. They forged a tandem style that became known as “folk-baroque,” full of gnarled harmonies, spiky counterpoint and melodic filigree.
The quintet added Ms. McShee’s soprano — she had sung on Mr. Renbourn’s 1966 album, “Another Monday” — and a jazz-inflected rhythm section to make music that was mostly acoustic (although Mr. Renbourn played some electric lead guitar), intricately arranged and pointedly eclectic. Its repertoire included the group’s new songs, an a cappella medieval dirge, a girl-group remake, Charles Mingus pieces, blues tunes and traditional ballads.
The Pentangle first visited the United States in 1969, appearing at the Newport Folk Festival, at Carnegie Hall and — opening for the Grateful Dead — at the Fillmore West. The original version of the group made its last studio album, “Solomon’s Seal,” in 1972 before touring and then disbanding. The group reunited in the early 1980s, but Mr. Renbourn left before it made any new records.
The original quintet eventually regrouped for the BBC Folk Awards in 2007, and went on tour in 2008. It also played concerts in 2011, its last shows before Mr. Jansch’s death in October 2011.
Mr. Renbourn had a prolific career both before and after the Pentangle years. Born in London on Aug. 8, 1944, he got his start in folk clubs there and made his first album in 1965 with Dorris Henderson, an American singer based in London.
He also recorded extensively on his own and in collaboration with many luminaries of British and American folk music, among them the American folk-blues guitarist Stefan Grossman, with whom he made four studio albums and a live album, and Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band. Their collaboration (“Wheel of Fortune,” 1994) brought Mr. Renbourn a Grammy nomination.
Mr. Renbourn’s final studio album was “Palermo Snow,” released in 2010.
He had a pedagogic side. In the early 1980s, well into his career, he enrolled in a three-year music course at Darlington College in England, where he would later teach. He published sheet-music anthologies, including a piece from the revered Irish harpist Turlough O’Carolan, and an instruction book, “John Renbourn Fingerstyle Guitar.” He taught guitar at universities in the United States (including Columbia), Canada and Britain, and held guitar workshops across Europe.
His marriages to Jo Watson and Judith Hills ended in divorce. He is survived by three children, Joel, Jessie and Ben.
Mitch Greenhill, who produced three albums by Mr. Renbourn, recalled him in an email: “He was most at home in his practice studio, sheet music on a stand, guitar on his knee, trying to channel the muse that hovered just beyond the temporal world.”
March 5, 2015
Members of the Lionel Hampton and Count Basie Orchestra, Chicago, 1941
L to R (standing): Karl George, unknown, Ernie Royal, Buddy Tate, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Carpenter, Jack Trainor, Jack McVea
L to R (sitting): Harry Edison, Marshal Royal, Irving Ashby, Shadow Wilson, Evelyn Meyers, Don Byas, Illinois Jacquet
February 22, 2015
NY Times, February 22, 2015
Clark Terry, Influential Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 94
Clark Terry, one of the most popular and influential jazz trumpeters of his generation and an enthusiastic advocate of jazz education, has died at age 94.
His death was announced late Saturday by his wife, Gwen. She did not say where he died or provide any other details.
Mr. Terry was acclaimed for his impeccable musicianship, loved for his playful spirit and respected for his adaptability. Although his sound on both trumpet and the rounder-toned flugelhorn (which he helped popularize as a jazz instrument) was highly personal and easily identifiable, he managed to fit it snugly into a wide range of musical contexts.
He was one of the few musicians to have worked with the orchestras of both Duke Ellington and Count Basie. He was for many years a constant presence in New York’s recording studios — accompanying singers, sitting in big-band trumpet sections, providing music for radio and television commercials. He recorded with Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and other leading jazz artists as well as his own groups.
CreditTodd Feeback/Associated Press
He was also one of the first black musicians to hold a staff position at a television network, and one of the most high-profile proponents of teaching jazz at the college level.
His fellow musicians respected him as an inventive improviser with a graceful and ebullient style, traces of which can be heard in the playing of Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and others. But many listeners knew him best for the vocal numbers with which he peppered his performances, a distinctively joyous brand of scat singing in which noises as well as nonsense syllables took the place of words. It was an off-the-cuff recording of one such song, released in 1964 under the name “Mumbles,” that became his signature song.
The high spirits of “Mumbles” were characteristic of Mr. Terry’s approach: More than most jazz musicians of his generation, he was unafraid to fool around. His sense of humor manifested itself in his onstage demeanor as well as in his penchant for growls, slurs and speechlike effects.
Musicians and critics saw beyond the clowning and recognized Mr. Terry’s seriousness of purpose. Stanley Crouch wrote in The Village Voice in 1983 that Mr. Terry “stands as tall in the evolution of his horn as anyone who has emerged since 1940.”
The seventh of 11 children, Clark Terry was born into a poor St. Louis family on Dec. 14, 1920. His mother, the former Mary Scott, died when he was 6, and within a few years he was working odd jobs to help support his family. He became interested in music when he heard the husband of one of his sisters play tuba, and when he was 10 he built himself a makeshift trumpet by attaching a funnel to a garden hose. Neighbors later pitched in to buy him a trumpet from a pawn shop.
His father, Clark Virgil Terry, discouraged his interest in music, fearing that there was no future in it, but he persisted. He played valve trombone and trumpet in his high school orchestra and secured his first professional engagement, which paid 75 cents a night, with the help of his tuba-playing brother-in-law.
His career got off to a bumpy start. After working with local bands like Dollar Bill and His Small Change, he joined a traveling carnival and found himself stranded in Hattiesburg, Miss., when it ran out of money.
In 1942 he joined the Navy and was assigned to the band at the Great Lakes Training Station near Chicago. When the war ended, he returned to St. Louis and joined a big band led by George Hudson.
“George put the full weight of the band on me,” he told the jazz historian Stanley Dance in 1961. “I played all the lead and all the trumpet solos, rehearsed the band, suggested numbers, routines and everything.”
The regimen paid off: When the Hudson band played at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Mr. Terry’s work was heard by some of the most important people in jazz, and he soon had offers. He worked briefly with the bands of the saxophonist Charlie Barnet and the blues singer and saxophonist Eddie Vinson, among others, before joining Count Basie in 1948. Times were getting tough for big bands in the postwar years, and Basie reduced his group from 18 pieces to a sextet in 1950, but he retained Mr. Terry. The next year, Duke Ellington called.
It was the opportunity he had been waiting for. Working with Basie, he would say many times, was a valuable experience, but it was like going to prep school; his ultimate goal was to enroll in “the University of Ellingtonia.”
Nonetheless, after close to a decade with the Ellington band, he decided it was time to move on. “I wanted to be more of a soloist,” he said, “but it was a seniority thing. There were about 10 guys ahead of me.”
In late 1959 he joined a big band being formed by Quincy Jones, who not that many years earlier, as a youngster, had taken a few trumpet lessons from him. The original plan was for the band to appear in a stage musical called “Free and Easy,” with music by Harold Arlen. But the show folded during a tryout in Paris, and Mr. Terry accepted an offer to join NBC-TV’s in-house corps of musicians.
The first black musician to land such a job at NBC, he soon became familiar to late-night viewers as a member of the band on “The Tonight Show,” led for most of his time there by Doc Severinsen. He also led a popular quintet with the valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and worked as a sideman with the saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and others.
When Johnny Carson began his popular “Stump the Band” feature on “The Tonight Show,” in which members of the studio audience tried to come up with song titles that no one in the band recognized, Mr. Terry would often claim to know the song in question and then bluff his way through a bluesy half-sung, half-mumbled number of his own spontaneous invention.
He recorded one such joking vocal in 1964, as part of an album he cut with the pianist Oscar Peterson’s trio. As he recalled it, the song, “Mumbles,” was recorded only because the session had gone so smoothly that the musicians had extra studio time on their hands. Much to his surprise he found himself with a hit.
When “The Tonight Show” moved to the West Coast in 1972, Mr. Terry stayed in New York. Jazz was at something of a low ebb commercially, but he managed to stay busy both in and out of the studios and even found work for a 17-piece band he had formed in 1967. Between 1978 and 1981 he took the band to Asia, Africa, South America and Europe under the auspices of the State Department. Most of his concert and nightclub work, though, was as the leader of a quartet or quintet.
Mr. Terry also became active in jazz education, appearing at high school and college clinics, writing jazz instruction books and running a summer jazz camp. He was an adviser to the International Association of Jazz Educators and chairman of the academic council of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. For many years he was also an adjunct professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., to which he donated his archive of instruments, sheet music, correspondence and memorabilia in 2004.
Mr. Terry was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 1991 and was given a lifetime achievement award by the Recording Academy in 2010. A variety of health problems forced him to cut down on touring in the 1990s, but he remained active into the new century. He was appearing in New York nightclubs as recently as 2008, doing more singing than playing but with his spirit intact.
And he continued to be a mentor to young musicians after his performing days were over. An acclaimed 2014 documentary, “Keep On Keepin’ On,” directed by Alan Hicks, told the story of his relationship with a promising young pianist, Justin Kauflin, whom Mr. Terry first taught at William Paterson, and with whom he continued to work even after being hospitalized.
“The only way I knew how to keep going,” Mr. Terry wrote in his autobiography, “Clark,” published in 2011, “was to keep going.”
NEXT IN MUSIC
January 23, 2015
December 7, 2014
My old friend Richard Greener was a business associate of James Brown for many years. In this interview we compare notes on the great rhythm and blues musician prompted by my review of Alex Gibney’s documentary “Mr. Dynamite” and the feature film “Get on Up” in CounterPunch.
November 16, 2014
Thanks to the kindness of an old friend and comrade, I was able to attend a concert that was one for the ages. Both in terms of the participants and the program, it was one that had special resonance for me.
It was the first time I ever saw Rubén Blades perform. For anybody involved in Central America solidarity in the 1980s, Blades was an iconic figure. Track one of Canciones Del Solar De Los Aburridos (Songs From The Tenements Of The Bored), the 1981 album featuring Willie Colon and Blades, was a song called “Tiburón” (Shark) that was a wake-up call to Latin Americans and solidarity activists alike. The shark was obviously American imperialism.
Like the abortive Sandinista revolution, Blades was part of my past through no fault of his own. He continued to make records over the past twenty years but I had not kept up with them except for “Caminando” (walking), the 1991 album that was a mixture of songs about personal experience and politics. “¡Prohibido olvidar!” left no doubt about his outrage over injustice in his own country and other dictatorships:
Prohibieron ir a la escuela e ir a la universidad.
Prohibieron las garantías y el fin constitucional.
Prohibieron todas las ciencias, excepto la militar.
Prohibiendo el derecho a queja, prohibieron el preguntar.
Hoy te sugiero, mi hermano, pa’ que no vuelva a pasar,
Forbidden to go to school and go to college.
Forbidden the guarantees and constitutional rights.
Forbidden all sciences except the military.
Forbidden the right to complain, and to ask questions.
Today I suggest, my brother , so that does not happen again,
Forbidden to forget!
Listening to the still powerful voice of this 66-year old singer reminded me to look into the Blades recordings on Amazon.com, a reservoir of art and politics perfectly matched to each other.
Blades was backed by the house band of Jazz at Lincoln Center that is led by Wynton Marsalis. I was not only richly rewarded by hearing one of the most important salsa singers of recent decades but accompanying musicians who hearkened back to the golden age of Afro-Cuban jazz. Blades mentioned some of the more memorable practitioners, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Machito and Chano Pozo. In a very real sense, Afro-Cuban jazz united two disparate strands of the African diaspora both rooted in the mother country’s culture kept alive by slaves. In Cuba they bequeathed the distinctive clave (rhythm) that formed the basis for modern salsa and in the Deep South the blues and spirituals that found their way into New Orleans jazz.
Wynton Marsalis, a native son of New Orleans and a musician very much committed to the grand traditions, demonstrated a real affinity for the Afro-Cuban trumpet style, sounding very much like the legendary Chocolate Armenteros in his blistering solo on the opening number “Apoyete en Mi Alma”.
The concert was roughly divided into salsa tunes written by Blades for the most part and American standards that he learned at an early stage from the records that came along with the gargantuan record player his father won in a card game, including a Frank Sinatra album. Drawing laughter from the audience, Blades said that he did pitch-perfect renditions of such songs without having any idea what the lyrics meant. People who came by the house and heard the 11-year old breaking into something like “Begin the Beguine” thought he was out of his mind.
Weaving personal recollections such as these with thoughts about the need for continuing solidarity with movements for social justice in Latin America, Blades ended the concert on a fitting note—an encore called “Patria” that can be seen below (go to Youtube and search for “Rubén Blades” and Marsalis for other performancs):
October 24, 2014
Since I could not justify spending hundreds of dollars for tickets to “The Death of Klinghoffer” at the Met, I did the next best thing, which was to take out a CD from the Columbia University library. Something told me that the work was a bit off, so I wanted to reduce my financial liability to a minimum—the price of a subway ride back and forth from my old workplace.
My goal was to come to terms with the opera as an artistic/political statement rather than comment on Zionist attempts to squelch it, as ably reported by Bill Dobbs in CounterPunch.
I first became aware of composer John Adams back in the 1970s when I was always on the lookout for works by minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Since Adams was touted at the time as the new kid on the block, I made sure to pick up a recording of “Shaker Loops” when it came out in 1987, a piece like most of Reich and Glass that was calculated to appeal to the average listener as a kind of ear candy. As the classical music counterpart to Kraftwerk or Brian Eno, minimalism was about as close as you could come to the pleasure of pre-20th century classical music, joined on these terms later on by the neo-romanticism of composers like Henry Górecki.
September 19, 2014
Jackie Cain, who teamed with her husband, Roy Kral, to form probably the most famous vocal duo in jazz history, melding popular tunes and sophisticated harmonies for more than half a century, died on Monday at her home in Montclair, N.J. She was 86.
Her death was reported by the music writer James Gavin, a friend, who said she had been in declining health since suffering a stroke four years ago.
Performing and recording as Jackie and Roy, Ms. Cain and Mr. Kral, who was also a gifted pianist, created polished interpretations of Broadway standards, jazz tunes and even Beatles songs. They sang in a sophisticated bebop style, enunciating the lyrics crisply and playfully and often forgoing lyrics altogether for energetic scat singing.
Mr. Kral died in 2002.
“Such is their affinity that when they sing harmonies, her airy high tones cushioned by his supple, swinging lows, their notes could be holding hands,” Jon Sall wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times in 1997.
Their voices had similar ranges but were separated by an octave, which made for unusual harmonies. Their easy banter, and Ms. Cain’s striking good looks and sunny personality, added to the appeal of their music, which was routinely praised by jazz critics.
Ms. Cain’s admirers included fellow singers like Billie Holiday, who once said of her to Metronome magazine, “She’s my girl.”
Jacqueline Ruth Cain was born in Milwaukee on May 22, 1928. Her father sold office furniture and managed a community theater. Her parents divorced when she was a child, after which her mother took a job with a photo-imaging company and moved with her to a rooming house.
They could not afford a phonograph, but Jackie loved to listen to music on the radio. She also loved to sing: She was in the chorus in elementary school and an a cappella choir in high school, and she sang with a band organized by a local music store and on a children’s radio show.
“If people wanted someone remembered on their birthday, they’d send cards in or call the station with requests: ‘Please have Little Miss Cain sing this or that,’ ” she said in a 2009 interview with the writer Marc Myers on his blog JazzWax.
Ms. Cain’s first full-time job in music was with Jay Burkhart’s band, which she joined when she was 17. In 1947, a band member, Bob Anderson, took her to a jazz club in Chicago, where Mr. Kral was the pianist with the quartet that was performing.
Mr. Anderson approached Mr. Kral at the bar and suggested that he let Ms. Cain sit in. He said no. In the JazzWax interview, Ms. Cain recalled that Mr. Kral explained why: “Because they never know what they want to sing, and when they tell you their key, it’s usually in the key of Z.”
But she and Mr. Kral talked some more, and it turned out that she knew a song he also knew, “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe.” He let her sing it, she said, and “the club went nuts.”
In an interview with The Sun-Times in 1997, Mr. Kral suggested that other factors besides music had influenced his decision. “She was a voluptuous blonde, right out of high school,” he said. “She was very convincing.”
Ms. Cain and Mr. Kral began to work as a duo in Chicago clubs. Their breakthrough came when the saxophonist Charlie Ventura hired them for his band. They worked for him for a year and a half and briefly again in 1953. In 1954, they hit the cabaret circuit on their own.
Their relationship was strictly professional, Ms. Cain told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1995, until one day “I leaned over and kissed him. A big, juicy wet one.”
They married in 1949. They had two daughters, Dana Kral, who survives her, and Niki Kral, who died in a car accident in 1973. Ms. Cain is also survived by two stepdaughters, Carol May and Tiffany Bolling-Casares.
The two went on to record nearly 40 albums for Columbia, Verve and other labels. They also sang jingles on television for Halo shampoo, Cheerios and Plymouth. Their repertoire contained more than 400 songs; among their staples were “Mountain Greenery,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” “You Inspire Me” and “It’s a Lovely Day Today.”
After Mr. Kral died, Ms. Cain occasionally performed as a solo singer. Her last performance was in 2007 at a concert celebrating the centennial of the birth of the composer Alec Wilder, a good friend.
In the mid-1950s, Jackie and Roy recorded a harrowingly poetic lament with music by Mr. Wilder and words by Ben Ross Berenberg, “The Winter of My Discontent.” Ms. Cain later remarked that the song (“Like a dream you came, and like a dream you went”) was beyond her life experience at that time.
After hearing her sing it in a nightclub, she recalled, Mr. Wilder asked her never to perform it in a club again. “That’s a song for your last day on earth,” he said.