The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Birdland’

The art of the humblebrag

Posted by keithosaunders on February 28, 2017

Last night’s jam session was packed with people.  The establishment was going out of business and somehow this attracted jazz ghouls, suddenly smitten with nostalgia for a place that they were loathe attend during its run.  As a result the session went an hour overtime so that every last singer, sax player, and whistler could be accommodated.

When we finally finished the last “act,” a Danish accordion player who played Baby Elephant Walk in 5/4, I breathed a sigh of relief, and stood up from the piano when all of a sudden an audience member starting yelling, “LET’S HEAR ONE MORE FROM THE BAND!”  Of course the crowd cheered and hooted and the marathon night dragged on for another 15 minutes.

Now I love music as much as the next guy (probably more, since I actually play it for a living) but after having played for two hours straight I was ready for some Netflix.  Enough is enough, people.  If you really liked this club you would have patronized it during its heyday.

But let me tell you something, when a guy screams at the band to play one more song, it’s not about his love of music or his appreciation of the band.  It’s about injecting himself into the conversation.  It’s all about ego.  Look at me – I love these guys, I love music so much, I’m so hip.

The art of the humblebrag.

 

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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.

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Discovering a gem from John Coltrane

Posted by keithosaunders on March 13, 2010

Yesterday I heard a track from John Coltrane that I had previously never heard.  It’s called  Villa and it was recorded in March of 1963 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio.  Previously unreleased, it was included on a CD remastering of  Coltrane Live At Birdland in the mid 1990s. 

There doesn’t seem to be much information about the track other than it is an old standard once performed by Artie Shaw.  It was not unusual for Trane to uncover underplayed gems — Matt Dennis’ Violets For Your Furs, and Hoagy Carmichael’s Little Old Lady are just two examples.  Even though Coltrane’s music was evolving in the direction of the avant-garde, employing long, modal vamps infused with drummer Elvin Jones’ dense polyrhythms, it still retained elements of lyricism that were astounding. 

What is so striking about this track is the restraint of the four musicians.  Trane is on soprano, and Elvin begins the song using brushes.  This is their version of ‘tippin’ — the music is at a simmer, but it hints at raw power.   They’re like a high performance  sports car that’s riding in a low gear. 

All About Jazz critic C. Michael Baily wrote, …if the listener wishes to hear the master in transition, look no further than Coltrane Live at Birdland.  I disagree.  I believe that Coltrane’s playing was in constant transition throughout his career.  Contrast him with the other major band leader of the 1960s, Miles Davis, whose sound remained constant in a brilliantly disparate variety of settings.  Coltrane’s playing and sound were in a perpetual state of flux and his 1963 output was no different.     

If anyone out there has information about the history of this song I would love to hear it.  I also would like to hear your impressions of Coltrane’s version.

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