The World According to Keitho

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Posts Tagged ‘Bird’

Happy Bird’s Birthday!

Posted by keithosaunders on August 29, 2017

Today should be a holiday.  It is the birthday of one of the most important musicians of all time — Charlie Parker.  He was born on this date in 1920 which means had he lived, he would have been 97.  As it was he died at the tragically young age of 34.

He left us, however, with an ample discography, as well as this snippet of video footage of him playing live with Dizzy Gillespie.  They perform Tadd Dameron’s Hot House.

I would strongly recommend to anyone who has not heard of Charlie Parker, to Youtube him.  Your mind will be blown.

The New York radio station WKCR, as they do every year, is broadcasting a marathon Bird broadcast until tonight at midnight.  I highly recommend this.

https://www.cc-seas.columbia.edu/wkcr/#

In this dismal age of dangerous politicians and natural disasters why not take a few minutes to explore the beauty that exists in this world.  Happy Charlie Parker day.

 

 

 

Posted in jazz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Glass Enclosure

Posted by keithosaunders on December 17, 2016

It took me almost half a year but I finally finished it – a piano transcription of Bud Powell’s Glass Enclosure. It was such painstaking work that two to four bars would take 40 minutes at which point I’d either be out of time or exhausted. The middle section, in which many of the measures contain a different chord for every beat, was particularly thorny. I’m confident I have accurate melody and harmony, but with the lower fidelity of 50s recordings I can’t be certain of the voicings. They are very close, though, and the genius of the piece is evident.

Glass Enclosure was written in 1953 shortly after Powell had been released from Creedmore State Hospital in Queens. According to a 1996 article in Atlantic Monthly written by Francis Davis, Bud, who had an ongoing engagement at Birdland, was kept locked in his apartment during the day by his manager, who was also his legal guardian. One day producer Alfred Lion, the co-founder of Blue Note records, came to Bud’s apartment and heard him working on new material. Glass Enclosure was the most striking of the songs he heard.

After living with this piece for 6 months my level of awe for Bud Powell has increased, if this is possible. The way I see it Bud’s repertoire can be divided into four distinct categories. There are compositions such as Dance of the Infidels, Wail, and Bouncing With Bud which are brilliant, as well as accessible to mortals.

Then there are the through composed pieces that are somewhat inaccessible, such as Glass Enclosure, Sure Thing, and Un Poco Loco. There’s also Tempus Fugit, which you can blow on, but is ultimately a giant pain in the ass. The thing is, even if you learn these tunes, what are you going to do with them other than attempt to play them as much like the original as possible?

In addition there are Powell’s reworking of standards such as I Should Care, Over the Rainbow, and Polka Dots and Moonbeans. These are so personal to him he may as well have composed them.

Then there is late Bud which still contains some gems such as John’s Abbey, Time Waits and Cleopatra’s Dream.

I believe that there is a legitimate case to be made that because of his compositions and the debt that every subsequent pianist owes him, Bud may have been deeper than Bird. At the very least they’re on par.  See for yourself.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

It’s all music

Posted by keithosaunders on November 16, 2016

If you’ve never heard a live recording of bebop music when it was in its prime in the mid 40s then you’ve never really heard it.  There is an immediacy and an electricity about it that does not fully emerge in the studio recordings.  Don’t get me wrong; anything that Bird ever recorded is nothing short of outstanding, but to get the complete picture you must check him out live.

This is top of mind because as I write this I’m listening to a compilation of live radio broadcasts of Bird on a disc entitled, The Complete Live Performances.  The host of the broadcasts is the New York disc jockey,  Symphony Sid.   Sid had a hipster way of speaking (“Blow Bird, blow!“) which I’ve always gotten a kick out of.  It sounds to my ears, however, that he got under the skin of the musicians whom he revered.

On one of the tracks Sid says to Bird, “Can I get a few words about the sides you did with Machito? [In the late 40s Parker recorded The Afro Cuban Suite with Cuban percussionist, Machito]   It sounds like you’re trying to bring bop to a larger audience – make it more commercial.”   Bird responds in an affable, yet slightly condescending tone, “Well, if you say so, Sid, it’s all just music to me.”

Birds response – it’s all music – is revealing in that it implies that he was more interested in making great music than leading a bebop revolution.  The modern musicians of the 40s knew they were onto something special and that they had made breakthroughs, both harmonically and rhythmically.  We know that Bird was influenced by Lester Young and Art Tatum, but he also loved classical music and was influenced by Igor Stravinsky.  There were a myriad of influences that effected modern jazz music, among them the Cuban music that Bird had played with Machito, and later on his own Verve date.

I’ve always distrusted fellow musicians who blithely announce that they’re going to play a bebop song.  It’s a diminutive term – as if you’re choosing from categories on a menu. Sure, it is useful for describing a brief jazz epoch, but in the end, if you are going to become a jazz musician, you are going to have to grapple with the genius of Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and all those that came before and after them.

It’s all music!

 

Posted in jazz, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Miles’ Prestige transition

Posted by keithosaunders on February 29, 2016

Miles Davis had one of the most fascinating careers in jazz.  He came to New York in 1945 to study at Julliard but soon connected with Charlie Parker and joined his quintet.  The first few recordings Miles made with Bird are the only ones on which he sounds a little tentative. He would soon find his voice and by the time he recorded Birth of the Cool in 1949 he was on his way to becoming one the most influential jazz musicians of all time.

Davis is the antithesis of John Coltrane, whose playing was in a constant state of flux. Miles playing in 1950 – his choice of notes, his warm, personal sound, and his attack –  is not all that different than in 1990.  it was the bands around him — the sidemen he chose – who evolved, keeping Davis’s sound fresh. That’s why hardly any Miles record sounds like the other, yet all are instantly identifiable.

Last week I listened to a box set of all the recordings Davis did on the Prestige label; these took place between 1951-56. Miles sounds great throughout and there are sessions with Milt Jackson, Horace Silver,  a quirky (even for him) Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins.

In 1955 Miles, at the urging of George Avakian, an executive at Columbia records, put together his first great quintet. This consisted of John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones.  Miles first choice for tenor was Sonny Rollins who was busy with other projects.

Before he could sign with Columbia records Miles had to fulfill his obligations to Prestige which he did in the form of marathon recording sessions in 1955 and 56.  These sessions yielded some of the greatest sides known to jazz:  Workin,’ Cookin,’ Steamin,’ and Relaxin.’

I spent the better part of the week listening to the earlier Miles Prestige sides but when I got to the ’56 recordings the difference was stark and immediate.  The quintet has a kinetic energy that is missing from the earlier recordings.  As good as the pre-1956 musicians were they didn’t have the infectious chemistry that Garland, Chambers, and Philly Joe did.  Coltrane is not yet the master improviser he would become a mere couple of years later, but it’s fun to listen to him trying new ideas, stumbling, getting up, and succeeding.  He swings his ass off even though he’s not fully formed.

Check it out!

Serpent’s Tooth 1953 w Sonny Rollins and Bird on tenor!

Woody’n You 1956 w the classic Quintet

 

Posted in jazz, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Bud Powell: The greatest.

Posted by keithosaunders on February 24, 2016

I had an interesting conversation with a sax player at my gig last night.  He said that years ago he had gone to see Stan Getz and that between tunes Getz began talking about the great pianist, Bud Powell.  He asserted that a strong case could be made that Powell could be considered the most important jazz musician of all time.

Even I, who considers Powell my most important influence was slightly taken aback by this statement.  Charlie Parker looms as an enormous presence in jazz, and although we can’t equate the harmonic and rhythmic revolution that was bebop with one man, it is generally accepted that Bird, with his prodigious technique and dense harmonic lines was the prime catalyst.

The thing is that if you agree that Bud was every bit the harmonic equal of Bird, it becomes not so much a question of who played better, but who was the first to invent the language.  We may never know this but one thing Getz pointed out which I am in complete agreement on is that Bud wrote some of the most forward-thinking songs of all time.

Of course Bird wrote great songs as well, most of which we study and play to this day.  Yardbird Suite, Ornithology, Scrapple From the Apple are  the first three that come to mind but I could rattle off another two dozen if I had to.

While Bird’s songs defined and codified an era, Bud’s compositions looked towards the future.  Un Poco Loco was one of the first songs to combine Afro-Cuban rhythms with the new sound of bebop — its extended montuno solo section presaged modal music by a good ten years.  Dance of the Infidels is an altered 12 bar blues with a herky-jerky melody that somehow manages to appear fluid.  Check out its whole tone intro.  Bud wrote haunting ballads such as Dusk in Sandi, and his brilliant reworkings of standards such as Autumn in New York and Everything Happens to Me asserted an infectiously personal and passionate voice.

Bud Powell remains a giant among giants.

Dance of the Infidels

Dusk in Sandi

Posted in jazz, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

My Favorite Things: My favorite record

Posted by keithosaunders on December 5, 2010

When people ask me who my favorite musician is, or what my favorite song is, I find it impossible to come up with an answer.  There are too many to narrow it down to one.  Besides, if I did have a favorite song I would probably overplay it to the point that it would lose its number one ranking.  I do have my list of favorite pianists — Bud Powell, Horace Silver, and Wynton Kelly — and if you put a gun to my head I would choose Bud Powell, but regardless, it doesn’t feel right to narrow such genius down to one person.

When it comes to my favorite record I’m going to make an exception.  Coltrane was 34 years old when he recorded My Favorite Things on October 24th, 1960, 2 weeks shy of JFK winning the presidency and one month after the Pittsburgh Pirates, behind Bill Mazeroski’s dramatic 9th inning homerun, defeated the New York Yankees in game 7 of the World Series.  I was one day shy of two months old. 

During the previous three years Coltrane had worked with Theloniuos Monk and Miles Davis respectively.  During this period he played long, note-laden solos that critic Ira Gitler dubbed “sheets of sound.”  Between Monk’s angular compositions, and later with his own Giants Steps chord changes, Trane was playing over some of the most intricate, sophisticated harmony ever conceived, and he worked his way through these thorny chord changes like a knife slicing through butter.

By the time of My Favorite Things we see Coltrane straddling his sheets of sound with a more muscular, modally infused lyricism that would inform his classic quartet of the early to mid 60s.  The record is composed of four standards, but the arrangements are so germane to Coltrane that they may as well have been original compositions.  They are disparate songs which are not only connected by Trane’s genius, but by the group’s sound.

Coltrane’s concept meshed perfectly with his new group.  McCoy Tyner Steve Davis, (Jimmy Garrison would not join him for another year) and Elvin Jones infused Coltrane’s earthy relentless tone and hard-driving rhythmic concept with an ideal underpinning, giving him the freedom to expand on his ideas.  You can almost sense that he is so comfortable with his band that he has the confidence to play less.  These musicians were the ideal compliment for him, widening the beat and fusing dissonance, lyricism, and explosive poly-rhythms.       

Tyner’s 8 bar introduction to Richard Roger’s My Favorite Things is at once dark and foreboding.  Coltrane suspends the song’s chords over an E pedal and alternates between major and minor vamps.  The combination of his soprano sax and Davis’s droning E pedal gives the song an exotic, Eastern flavor.  If anyone thinks that it is a simple feat to play over one or two chords for this long a period I would advise them to try this at home and see what happens.  Not only does Trane never run out of ideas, but he shows such an attention to melody and phrasing that we never want him to stop.  The ballad, Everytime We Say Goodbye, perfectly offsets the denseness of the songs that frame it.  It could serve as a treatise on how to play a melody.  It is romanticism at its finest.  

It is side two, however, which for me makes this date.  It is comprised of two devastating arrangements of a pair of Gershwin songs that are both shocking and awe-inspiring.  They are cast against type and perfectly fit the scope of Trane’s style and they seamlessly cohere to the shape of this date. 

Coltrane transforms Summertime from a languid, bluesy number to a tour de force modal vehicle, complete with pedal point, whole tone harmony, and a four bar break that rivals Bird’s all-timer on Night In Tunisia.

The album’s closer, But Not For Me, is Trane’s farewell to Giant Steps changes and it transforms a well-worn vehicle into a personal tour de force.  He uses the Giant Steps progression on the first 8 measures of the  A and B sections, but it is the long tag — the iii-Vi-ii-V turn-around vamp at the end of his solo and final melody chorus — that stands out.  Here is an artist with an inexhaustible wealth of ideas that is able to build tension and excitement over the same four chords for several minutes at a time.  Only Sonny Stitt could play a tag for this long without running out of ideas, but Stitt didn’t have McCoy and Elvin.        

Not long after this recording Trane would give up playing on standards entirely.  True, the Ballads, and Duke Ellington dates were still two years in the future, but by 1960 Trane’s music was in rapid flux and he would not only pare down his notes per bar, but his chord progressions as well. 

 By the time of My Favorite Things Coltrane had become a musician who could play over the most difficult of harmony at any tempo.  Not only did he possess a supreme technical prowess, but he had the ability to infuse his lines with witticism and melody.  This is why he sounds so great regardless of whether he is playing a standard or a composition without any harmonic center.  Even towards the end of his life, when he would sometimes scream into the horn, there is a foundation.  It all comes from substance. 

In 1960 John Coltrane would begin to eliminate what he felt was not essential.  Most of us can only dream of having that luxury and the wherewithal to implement it.

Posted in jazz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

What’s in a break?

Posted by keithosaunders on April 1, 2010

Dizzy Gillespie’s NIght in Tunisia has been recorded hundreds of times. It is a forward looking tune, especially when you consider that it was written in 1942. It’s not quite be-bop and not quite modal, but a little bit of both. It consists of vamp centered around Eb7(-5) to D-7 and an 8 bar bridge that came to be known as,, well, the Tunisia bridge.

Tacked onto the melody is a 16 bar interlude — a series of descending chords building towards a four bar break on Fmaj7. What to do with this break, especially after Bird played it, has challanged and befuddled musicians throughout the decades. (I can personally own up to my share of befuddlement)

Charlie Parker, damn him, set the bar too high. In a 1946 recording for the Dial label, Bird played a seven second break that is stunning not only for its flawless technique — an unbroken string of 16th notes encompassing the entire four measures — but its dense harmonic underpinning. What he played was miles ahead of what anyone else was doing at that time. I would argue that it is still ahead of our time. Bird had a way of approaching major 7 chords that was so complex that we have yet to decode it! The track, however, was marred by mistakes in the ensemble and was not used at the time. It was subsequently released as a fragment because of Bird’s break.

So what do you do with that break after Bird? Sonny Rollins had the answer. He recorded Tunisia live at the Village Vanguard on November 3rd, 1957 with Donald Bailey and Pete La Roca. That night, Rollins played Tunisia at a medium-fast clip, much faster than Bird did. By the time he reached the break 16th notes, even for him, were out of the question. He executed an angular [mostly] 8th note break that is striking not only for its harmony, but for its warmth. It is intense, but in a way that invites you into the piece and it perfectly sets up the solo which is driving and filled with humor.

My favorite Tunisia break comes from John Coltrane. In 1960 he recorded his original composition, Liberia, with McCoy Tyner, Steve Davis, and Elvin Jones. Liberia is based on the Tunisia changes except it has its own bridge consisting of one chord for the entire 8 measures, in effect transforming it into a model tune. Trane includes the interlude but adds his own set of chords.

Trane’s break is stunning and practically indescribable. He keeps the 8th note feel (the tempo is roughly the same as Rollin’s) while inserting harmonics and false fingerings, all without dropping a beat. It is unexpected, innovative, and thrilling. Not being a saxophonist, I cannot effectively describe what he is doing. I wonder if the most accurate, and artfully prose could do it justice.

Posted in jazz | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »