Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 22, 2016

We Like It Like That

Filed under: Film,music — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

Although I confess to not having been a fan of boogaloo, a hybrid of Latin and soul music that was popular in the late 60s, I absolutely adored “We Like It Like That”, a new documentary that is available now on ITunes and VOD.

Director Matthew Ramirez Warren, who has written for the NY Times and NBC, began work on the film in 2010. The six years he devoted to making “We Like It Like That” were well-spent since it is a tour de force of musicology and social history, topped off by captivating interviews with musicians who played in this style. A year after the project started, Warren gave an interview to Rubber City Review where he explained how he got turned on to the music:

Unfortunately, I missed the boogaloo craze by quite a few years, I am 29 years old. Though I was exposed to Latin music growing up, I didn’t really discover boogaloo till about 10 years ago when I started DJing and collecting records. I would find these boogaloo records in used record stores and flea markets and they just blew my mind because they were so New York. I wanted to know more about them.

Boogaloo is essentially a hybrid of Afro-Cuban and soul music that frequently used English instead of Spanish lyrics. The title of the film is an adaptation of one of the monster hits “I Like It Like That”, which was written for the Pete Rodriguez band in 1967. Rodriguez, along with Joe Bataan, Johnny Colon, and other practitioners of the style now mostly in their seventies, is interviewed about how he began performing in the style. In each interview, the musicians go into considerable detail about how the harmony and rhythm departed from Latin music tradition, as well as singing or playing instruments to illustrate their points. It is the Latin music equivalent to listening to a Leonard Bernstein lecture on Mozart.

In the mid-60s Puerto Rican youth had lost interest in the music their parents danced to. Instead of playing Tito Puente, Machito or Tito Rodriguez records, they were into Motown or rock and roll. This reminded me of the time when I was good friends of a young programmer who had come to the USA from Cuba with his father, who had been a sergeant in Batista’s army. When we used to have lunch together when we were consultants at Nynex in the 1980s, we agreed to disagree on politics. Years later when he switched his major from computer science to anthropology at CCNY, he changed his mind considerably about Cuba under the impact of professors who, as he put it, were saying the same things as me.

We also disagreed about music but not so intensely. He was a fan of Billy Joel, Michael Jackson and INXS, as were most of his friends in Washington Heights who were all Latinos like him. At the time I was passionate about Afro-Cuban music and had amassed a considerable collection of records on the Egrem label, a Cuban company that had somehow managed to find a distributor in Queens. When he came over to hang out, I began to play Celia Cruz, Benny Moré, Alfredo ‘Chocolate’ Armenteros for him. He became hooked and started buying Egrem records himself. One day he told me that when his father heard a Benny Moré being played on his stereo, he came in with a big smile on his face. That, he said, was the band that he and his wife used to dance to at outdoor concerts.

Afro-Cuban music has had an ability to influence other styles over the decades as well as to be influenced as well. Much of modern African popular music has been influenced by Afro-Cuban music, the result of sailors on cargo ships playing their records in cities like Brazzaville and Dakar when they were on shore leave. Meanwhile, jazz and other styles have influenced salsa. If you’ve ever heard Eddie Palmieri, you’ll be struck by his obvious debt to McCoy Tyner.

Boogaloo was above all the style that echoed the culture of East Harlem, a neighborhood just ten blocks north of me. As Johnny Colon and other boogaloo veterans stroll along its streets, they convey the spirit of the times when Puerto Rican youth embraced a type of music that their parents might have hated. As one musician puts it, that is the key to any music’s success among teens. If your parents hated it, you loved it whether it was Elvis Presley or Joe Cuba.

Boogaloo became so pervasive that more traditional musicians were compelled by the marketplace to make boogaloo records, including Eddie Palmieri, arguably the greatest Latin musician who ever lived, and Larry Harlow—a Jew who grew up adoring Afro-Cuban music, so much so that he lived in Cuba for two years studying under the masters. He, like Palmieri, did not care for the music, but despite that made records that some consider boogaloo masterpieces.

Toward the end of the film, we see Johnny Colon and Joe Bataan performing before adoring crowds in Central Park. Evidently, boogaloo is making a comeback largely as a result of young DJ’s playing classic records in trendy nightclubs. I doubt that I will be buying any of the new CD’s made by young musicians carrying on in this tradition but I totally recommend “We Like It Like That”, a film that celebrates the genre and gives it is proper due.

January 6, 2016

Thoughts triggered by the passing of Paul Bley

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 6:39 pm

In 1961 I was a sixteen-year old freshman at Bard College with a real hunger to hear jazz. It was a new-found passion dating back to the summer when I heard Miles Davis’s performance of “Summertime” on a juke box in a pizza parlor in South Fallsburgh, New York. As soon as it came on, it was like being hit by lightning.

At Bard I was bowled over by the availability of jazz records in the college library. The late 50s and early 60s were the heyday of hard bop and I became a fan of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Charlie Mingus.

But it was also an opportunity to hear live jazz for the first time. That year Paul Bley came to Bard, a pianist that a friend described as a be-bopper influenced by Bud Powell. Smoking a joint beforehand, I strolled over to Tewksbury Hall and sat down for my first live jazz concert. Wow! I can’t remember who the bass player and the drummer were but I’ll never forget the saxophone player: Pharoah Sanders (this is not the same spelling as the Egyptian kings but it was the one that Sun Ra gave to his young sideman who was born Farrell Sanders.)

I had no idea that Bley was on the leading edge of the avant-garde that was just taking shape. I can’t remember much about the rhythm section but Sanders blew my fucking mind. Each solo started off with the standard chord progressions but somewhere near their apex, he began what can only be described as screaming through his horn. Whether it was the pot or the sheer power of Sanders’s solo, or a combination of the two, I was converted to a style of jazz that would become known as the New Thing a year or two later. Other musicians in this movement were the Ayler brothers, Archie Shepp and Ornette Coleman.

It was no accident that in my freshman year I also heard LeRoi Jones, as he was known at the time, reading from his “The System of Dante’s Hell”. Like Pharoah Sanders, who would go on to make recordings like “Black Unity”, Jones was an early exponent of Black Nationalism. For me, the jazz avant-garde and Black Nationalism were my guideposts long before I got involved with the political avant-garde and perhaps made my transition a little easier.

You can hear Sanders playing with Paul Bley and Don Cherry, another New Thing proponent here:

This was the second time Bley had played at Bard. In 1959 he was part of a jazz festival organized by pianist Ran Blake who would go on to an outstanding career as an avant-garde jazz musician himself. I had some dealings with Blake in 1965 when I organized a gospel concert at Bard. Ran was pushing for the Sweet Daddy Grace band but the college chaplain put the nix on them performing in the school chapel since the last time they were there, they were too rowdy for his Episcopalian sensibility. Instead we booked Johnny Peoples and the Brooklyn Skyways who put on a memorable concert in the gym.

I have to admit that despite being smitten by the concert of Paul Bley’s band in 1961, I never collected his records. Indeed, I have been much more into his ex-wife Carla Bley’s recordings, especially those done in conjunction with bassist Charlie Haden who was a leftist like her.

But I do want to put in a good word for a record led by saxophone player Sonny Rollins made in 1963 titled “Sonny Meets Hawk” that included Bley on piano. Hawk, of course, is Coleman Hawkins. I consider it one of the 10 greatest jazz records of all time. It is distinguished by the affinity that Rollins, a modernist but not a New Thing musician, has with an ostensible swing relic Coleman Hawkins. In fact Hawkins was always eager to connect with younger modernist musicians going back to Charlie Parker who he played with in 1950:

In “Open Sky: Sonny Rollins and His World of Improvisation”, Eric Nisenson describes the great aplomb with which Hawkins met his younger cohorts:

The most amazing thing about this album is how unruffled Hawkins is by the often strange sounds being created by both Sonny and Paul Bley (the band was the same as at Newport. although Bob Cranshaw substituted for Henry Grimes at the second session). The first tune, on the album, “Yesterdays,” begins with Sonny’s unaccompanied introduction, during which he briefly alludes to the famous Bird blues “Now’s the Time.” As the tune goes into tempo, Hawkins states the theme, or rather implies the melody. His statement is typically dramatic and moving, never for a moment sounding anything but utterly modern and never sacrificing his inimitable musical persona. Sonny begins by emulating Hawkins’s brief trill at the end of his solo; Sonny makes it the core of his own improvised solo statement, using it as the basis of his solo just as he had in the past used melodic fragments for thematic development. The exploration of pure sound throughout this album prefigures the work of Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and, in the last couple of years of his life, John Coltrane.

And here’s the performance of “Yesterdays”. I would only add that Bley’s piano playing keeps everything sewn together like a golden thread. I find every note played by every musician completely haunting. In fact it is the spirit of the lyrics of the tune that dwells in this post:

Yesterdays, yesterdays
Days I knew as happy sweet
Sequestered days
Olden days, golden days
Days of mad romance and love

Then gay youth was mine, truth was mine
Joyous free in flame and life
Then sooth was mine
Sad am I, glad am I
For today I’m dreamin’ of yesterdays

Photo

Paul Bley on piano at a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert in 2000, accompanied by Charlie Haden on upright acoustic bass. Credit: Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos
Paul Bley, an obdurate and original pianist who began his career playing bebop and eventually became a major force in experimental jazz, died on Sunday at his home in Stuart, Fla. He was 83.

His record label, ECM, announced his death without giving a cause.

Mr. Bley’s style of playing was melodic, measured, bluesy, often polytonal and seemingly effortless. He took as long as he needed to finish a thought, and at the tempo he chose for it. He loved standards but distrusted the strictures of the 32-bar song form, and especially distrusted repetition. His notes could move slowly without telegraphing their destination, drawling down into nothing or cohering into bright, purposefully gapped lines, with backing chords that kept changing the tonal center.

Mr. Bley (pronounced “blay”) developed an influential language of phrasing and harmony — Keith Jarrett and Ethan Iverson were two of its many beneficiaries — but often talked about being eager to get outside his own habits. In the 1981 documentary “Imagine the Sound,” he professed not to practice or rehearse, out of what he called “a disdain for the known.” And he did not stake his work on traditional notions of acceptability, or the approval of the listener.

Photo

A 1965 publicity photo of Mr. Bley for ESP Records.

“I’ve spent many years learning how to play as slow as possible,” he told the Italian pianist and writer Arrigo Cappelletti in a typically provocative 2002 interview, “and then many more years learning how to play as fast as possible. I’ve spent many years trying how to play as good as possible. At the present I’m trying to spend as many years learning how to play as bad as possible.”

Hyman Paul Bley was born in Montreal on Nov. 10, 1932. His father, Joe, owned an embroidery factory; his mother, the former Betty Marcovitch, immigrated from Romania to Canada with her family when she was 9.

He started studying violin at 5 and piano at 8, and as a teenager began playing piano professionally as Buzzy Bley. In 1949, as a senior in high school, he briefly took over Oscar Peterson’s job at the Alberta Lounge in downtown Montreal.

Mr. Bley left for New York in 1950 to attend the Juilliard School. During his early years there, he played with the saxophonists Lester Young and Ben Webster, among others.

Keeping a hand in his hometown jazz scene, he helped organize the Jazz Workshop, a musician-run organization in Montreal that set up out-of-town soloists with local rhythm sections; in February 1953 he booked Charlie Parker for a concert and accompanied him. That concert was recorded, one of his first extant recordings before his first album as a leader, made nine months later with a trio that included Charles Mingus on bass and Art Blakey on drums. Through the mid-’50s, he was an adept bebop player with a spare style.

He met the pianist and composer Carla Bley, then known as Karen Borg, when she was working as a cigarette girl at the jazz nightclub Birdland; the two of them moved west, finally settling in Los Angeles, where in 1957 Mr. Bley secured a job leading a band at the Hillcrest Club six nights a week for nearly two years.

Toward the end of his time there, in 1958, he hired the saxophonist Ornette Coleman and the trumpeter Don Cherry for his band. He noticed that Coleman, in his compositions did not follow the standard 32-bar AABA song pattern, but rather what Mr. Bley called “A to Z form.” In his 1999 memoir, “Stopping Time,” he remembered that “it didn’t take more than a second to understand that this was the missing link between playing totally free, without any givens, and playing bebop with changes and steady time.”

Paul and Carla Bley were married in California in 1957, and during the following years he recorded a lot of her music: Her compositions make up most of Mr. Bley’s records “Footloose!” (1963) and “Closer” (1965), as he found his way toward his own kind of free jazz, intimate and almost folklike.

During that time, playing with the saxophonists Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins, he defined as well as anyone the blurry line between the scratchiness of free improvisation and the virtuosity of the jazz tradition.

Paul and Carla Bley’s marriage ended in divorce. Another relationship, with the singer and composer Annette Peacock in the 1960s, resulted in more collaboration. Her compositions, which make up all of the trio record “Ballads” (1971) and some of the solo-piano record “Open, to Love” (1972), were important to his “slow as possible” period; using synthesizers, well before they became common in jazz, they performed together on record as the “Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show.”

In 1973, with the video artist Carol Goss — whom he eventually married — Mr. Bley set up the multimedia company Improvising Artists, which released his music and others’. Ms. Goss survives him, as do his daughters, Vanessa Bley, Angelica Palmer and Solo Peacock, and two grandchildren.

Mr. Bley did much of his performing and recording from the ’80s onward in Europe, often with musicians he knew from earlier days — notably the bassist Charlie Haden, from Coleman’s group; the bassist Gary Peacock (former husband of Annette); and the saxophonist and clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, with whom he made two chamberlike trio albums in 1961.

Increasingly he made solo records, full of his onrushing, nonrepeating ideas — the best way for him to express what he described as a series of questions.

“My solo piano playing is a question in itself,” he told Mr. Cappelletti. “The question is ‘why?,’ and after ‘why?’ comes ‘what?,’ and after ‘what?’ comes ‘when?’ ”

 

June 26, 2015

Gunther Schuller Dies at 89; Composer Synthesized Classical and Jazz

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 8:36 pm

The NY Times obituary  for Gunther Schuller is must-reading for anybody interested in contemporary music. It pays tribute to him both as an avant-garde composer of atonal music but also as a pioneer of what was known as the “Third Stream” in the 1950s and 60s, an attempt to bridge the gap between classical music and jazz that was epitomized by the Modern Jazz Quartet. To some extent, Schuller was merely expanding upon earlier works of synthesis such as George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, Igor Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto” that was written for Woody Herman, and Darius Milhaud’s “Creation of the World”, a ballet score that the composer wrote after being exposed to jazz in Harlem in the 1920s.

Although I have no deep insights about Schuller’s politics except that he hated racism, the MJQ saw the Third Stream as a way of breaking with the notion that jazz was “entertainment” served up for white audiences as some kind of “jungle music”. Ironically, Duke Ellington, one of the men most responsible for attempting to bridge the gap between classical and jazz, performed “jungle music” in the 1920s himself. Who said that popular culture and race were not complicated matters?

Schuller certainly was aware of the cognitive dissonances in his discussion of Paul Whiteman and Jimmy Lunceford, who was about as close to Duke Ellington in his mastery of the big band style even if he never reached Ellington’s prominence. To some, the aptly named Whiteman was the prototypical white appropriator of a Black style, in effect the Elvis Presley of his day who was the first to perform “Rhapsody in Blue”. In Schuller’s indispensable “The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945”, he ties the strands together in a brilliant synthesis:

Paul Whiteman in his biography Jazz writes of his father that he was “the best-balanced man” he ever knew—”He never had a drink until he was fifty-five and never smoked until he was sixty”—and he added that he was always “keen on athletics.” That happens to be also a perfect description of Lunceford.’ After taking a bachelor’s degree in music at Fisk University, followed by graduate work there and at New York’s City College (while working with the bands of Elmer Snowden and Wilbur Sweatman), Lunceford went to Memphis and taught music and athletics (sic) at Manassa High School. Here he met Wilcox and Smith, and when they went on to Fisk for further study, Lunceford followed them, and became an assistant professor of music at Fisk. By the time Wilcox and Smith graduated, the band, conceived back in Memphis, developed further at Fisk, and having added in the meantime two outstanding rhythm men—Moses Allen (bass) and Jimmy Crawford (drums)—had already acquired a considerable reputation throughout the South.

It is clear that Lunceford tried to emulate his teacher, Whiteman, Sr., in the same way that Wilcox and Smith at heart regarded Lunceford as their teacher and emulated his sense of discipline and exacting musicianship. Lunceford in fact was in some ways a black Paul Whiteman—down to leading his band with a long white baton.

But the similarities go further. Like the Whiteman orchestra, Lunceford’s band carried a whole retinue of arrangers; he insisted on painstaking rehearsing to achieve the highest possible technical and musical proficiency; he insisted further on playing a wide variety of that music most favored by audiences, developing among other things, like Whiteman, a superb dance orchestra. Lunceford also stressed in the band’s on-stage behavior—as John Lewis was to do with the Modern jazz Quartet twenty-five years later—that music was a profession to be respected and that, if musicians wanted to be considered respectable, they might begin by treating their music and their profession with respect. This was in startling contrast to the conduct ascribed to jazz musicians, then—and, alas, even now—as rather vulgar gin-guzzling inebriates, disreputable Don Juans, and worthless spendthrifts.

Lunceford would have none of that attitude in his band and cultivated a quite different image. As Wilcox said of Lunceford: “He didn’t like anything done sloppily, and that carried into his music.”

I am aware that for many jazz fans to link a musician to classical and “serious” training and, worse yet, to portray him as a disciple of Paul Whiteman amount to absolute anathema. But that is another myth that jazz in its maturity might finally dispense with. The notion that a black musician “tainted- by formal training of one kind or another is thereby inherently less of a jazz musician reveals a special inverse racism, as deplorable as its opposite. The theory of pedigree in jazz is simplistic at best. A man, a musician, is what he is; and what he produces as a musician is the sum total of all his talents. A musician’s antecedents and heritage neither guarantee nor preclude talent and quality, although they certainly may define and predetermine some of its characteristics. It is precisely those specific personal. intellectual, emotional, and psychological qualities in Lunceford’s makeup, influenced by his background and early training, that determined to a very large measure the quality of the Lunceford band’s music-making—its strengths as well as its weaknesses. That it was for some years one of the very finest jazz orchestras of its time is undeniable; and we cannot rewrite history in order to reconcile it with some preconceived premise. Not all white influences on black music are automatically negative in impact—starting with the early black ragtime and jazz musicians’ assimilation of white European harmony.

One thing that is not mentioned in the NY Times obituary was at least for me one of his greatest accomplishments—hosting a show in the early 60s on WBAI called “Contemporary Music in Evolution”. You can get a feel for how much the station has degraded by looking at program guide from 1960:

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.20.49 PM

It was that year that I first heard about WBAI and became determined to listen to it in my tiny village in the Catskill Mountains, a hundred miles from NYC. I had read somewhere, probably in Time or Newsweek, that there was this radio station in NY that had some daring offbeat programming. So hungry was I for something like this that I persuaded my father to have our local TV repairman mount an FM antenna at the top of a telephone pole in our backyard. You can imagine my glee when the signal came through loud and clear.

Up until I started listening to  “Contemporary Music in Evolution”, my knowledge of classical music was limited to the records I got from the RCA Victor Record Club or occasional jaunts into NYC to pick up vinyl at Sam Goody’s near Times Square. Mostly that meant listening to Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, et al. Schuller’s goal was to illustrate how late 20th century atonal music, including the 12 tone style he favored, had antecedents in Debussy, Ravel, Mahler, and other composers who were still wedded to tonality. This meant serious and discussion on the air of excerpts from a piece like “Afternoon of a Faun” to point out how chromaticism opened the door to atonality. It was the most mind-blowing education I got in music that a lower middle-class child of high school graduates could have possibly gotten.

God bless Gunther Schuller. May he rest in peace.

April 23, 2015

Que maravillosa!

Filed under: cuba,dance,music — louisproyect @ 12:24 am

March 29, 2015

John Renbourn, 70, Eclectic Guitarist Who Founded the Pentangle, Dies

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 3:39 pm

Photo

John Renbourn in 1966, before he founded the group the Pentangle with with the guitarist Bert Jansch. Credit: Brian Shuel/Redferns

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.

Mr. Renbourn at the Moseley Folk Festival in 2010. Credit: Simon Hadley/Rex Features, via AP

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

A great photo

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 8:54 pm

From the liner notes to Mosaic Lionel Hampton Victor sessions 1937-1941
hampton

 

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

Clark Terry, Influential Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 94

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 4:33 pm

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.

Photo

Clark Terry in 2003.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

I’m a mummy

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 1:08 am

December 7, 2014

Richard Greener talks about James Brown

Filed under: african-american,music — louisproyect @ 5:00 pm

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

Rubén Blades in performance at Lincoln Center

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

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,
¡Prohibido olvidar!

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):

 

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