The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Elvin Jones’

My Favorite Things 1965

Posted by keithosaunders on August 7, 2016

Here’s a jaw-dropping version of My Favorite Things as played by the John Coltrane Quintet circa 1965. Music doesn’t get any better than this.

In particular I was blown away by pianist, McCoy Tyner’s, solo.  I’m going to show this to all my young students who play flat handed.  You can see that true power and finesse comes from above.  (No, I’m not speaking religiously here.  Get your mind out of the church!)  Tyner drops his hands onto the keyboard rather than pushing his fingers into the keys.

Technique aside, McCoy’s solo is like a lesson in harmony and rhythm.  He takes the lone E minor chord and superimposes dorian, phrygian, harmonic minor, and diminished modes over it. (among others!)   These modes are interwoven into his barrage of left hand 5ths and right hand 4ths, and are simultaneously rhythmically and harmonically transcendent.

Compare this version with one performed four years earlier to see and hear the evolution of one of the greatest groups in the history of jazz.

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The main event: The John Coltrane Quartet!

Posted by keithosaunders on October 14, 2015

I just saw this for the first time last week:  The John Coltrane Quartet playing A Love Supreme live.  Amazing stuff. McCoy’s solo on Resolution, which begins at appx 7.50, is devastating.

I really believe that in an Anchorman-style rumble the Coltrane Quartet would have no trouble with Mile’s 60s quintet. I realize that Miles’ group would have a man advantage, but the quartet would outweigh them and are going to want it more.

Now some of you are probably saying, ‘Woah, woah, woah, Miles knew boxing, mannnn!’ To that I would respond, one word: Elvin.

Elvin would be like, ‘You want a piece of this, Miles?’ *Ba bam bam be ke de bam [three against four to the face] GOOSH CRASH BE BAM CRINKLE OH SNAP [paradiddle] GA-GOOSH IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO PLAY 6/8 GROOVE GROAN SKOOSH CYMBAL*

And that, my friends, would be the end of the Miles Davis Quintet. I would hope they already had recorded Miles Smiles cause that shit is my favorite.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qt435yF2Qg

John Coltrane’s masterwork, A Love Supreme, was only played once in live concert. This portion is the only surviving film of that 1965 performance.
YOUTUBE.COM

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Three-ring records

Posted by keithosaunders on December 28, 2010

Younger readers of this blog have not had the experience of playing a record so many times that the cover develops concentric indented circles.  My favorite records had three-rings, which was a sign of dozens, if not hundreds of playings.

Today while listening to my Pandora station, McCoy Tyner’s Four by Five came on.  Hearing it reminded me that the album that it comes from, The Real McCoy, is one of my favorite records of all time.  Recorded in April of 1967, it was McCoy’s first album for the Blue Note label — he had recorded several as a leader for Impulse — and it featured Joe Henderson on tenor, Ron Carter on bass, and the great drummer, Elvin Jones.

Henderson is simply amazing.  His time is impeccable and he effortlessly glides over the changes while meshing perfectly with the explosive rhythm section.  The album contains five striking originals by Tyner and is one of the great records of the post-Coltrane era. 

Listening to Henderson play on the Tyner composition got me thinking about the first Joe Henderson record I ever heard, Inner Urge.  The personnel is nearly identical to that of The Real McCoy; only the bass player, Bob Cranshaw, is different.  I had borrowed the record from my cousin and I was fairly sceptical as to whether I would like Henderson’s playing.  At that time, still in my late teens, I was certain that Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, and Hank Mobley had said all there was to say on the tenor.  By the second jaw-dropping chorus of Inner Urge I realized how wrong I was. 

This record was probably responsible for opening my ears to more music than any other.  Not only was I hearing Henderson for the first time, but (incredibly) McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones as well. 

I had no idea…

Once I accepted and embraced the fact that there was great music created after the be-bop era it opened up an entire new world for me.  Inner Urge was my gateway drug.  I had listened to Coltrane before, but now I felt brave enough to venture into the classic quartet material.  It would take me five or six more years to get to his later works, but I had enough to chew on for the time being. 

I also began listening to Wayne Shorter’s records as a leader, as well as his work with the Miles Davis quintet of the early to mid-60s.  Wayne is an acquired taste.  He’s like the oyster of jazz — you rarely like him the first time.  Once I got used to his thinner tone and his quirky time feeling, which is not so much in the pocket, but floating in and around the beat, he became one of my favorites.  Not to mention the fact that he is a masterful composer.  The three-ring record I own of Wayne’s is a 1964 work entitled JuJu. 

 I suppose it is no coincidence that all three of these dates featured Tyner and Jones.  They had such an empathy for each other that to my ears there is no finer rhythm section.  They are in complete agreement as to where the quarter note is and they compliment each other — McCoys pounding left hand fifths and Elvin’s fiery polyrhythms.  For this reason I have always felt a greater connection to the Coltrane quarter of the 60s over Miles more ethereal (but no less brilliant) quintet of the same era. 

I don’t know what the digital equivalent of a three-ring album is.  I suppose we have the ability to star our ipod tracks, but that idea never appealed to me.  I’m not ready for the American Idolization of my record collection.

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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.

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A few words about Hank Jones

Posted by keithosaunders on May 20, 2010

This week the world lost one of the great jazz pianists of all time — Hank Jones.  He was 91 years old.  Though he was born in Mississippi, he, along with his brothers, Thad and Elvin, grew up in Michigan, and he was one of the immense crop of musicians to emerge from the Detroit scene. 

When I think of Hank Jones I think of touch.  He had a smooth, gossamer sound that was personal and instantly identifiable.  He integrated the language of Bud Powell and Charlie Parker and infused it with an elegance and harmonic language which was second to none.  But always the touch;  light and airy, yet able to handle the fastest of tempos and the thorniest of harmony.

I remember learning some of his solos back when I was starting out.  They were surprisingly difficult — angular with odd intervals.  Very different from the other pianists I was studying — Bud Powell, Tommy Flanagan, and Kenny Drew.   I always wondered how he was able to execute those lines so deftly with legato phrasing. 

A confession:  Hank was not among my favorite of the great pianists.  I gravitated towards the more horn-like styles of Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, and Horace Silver.  It did not lessen my respect and admiration for him.  In fact it made me conscious of my own lack of subtlety and grace.  I did love his playing and the times I heard him play live were awe-inspiring.

I had a friend named Jon who was a Hank Jones freak — a vibes player from L.A.   Once Jon discovered Hank’s music it was all over for him.  He didn’t want to hear about any other pianist — he ate, drank, and slept Hank.   Jon spent hundreds of dollars on rare Hank Jones recordings — his prize was a live record done in Tokyo during the 1960s.   He transcribed dozens of Hank’s solos and compiled them into a book.    When Jon contacted Hank to let him know about the book of solos Hank was flattered, but bemused.  Hank wanted to know why he ever would want to play his own solos again! 

A good friend of mine, drummer Taro Okamoto, knew Hank and played with him.  By all accounts Hank was not only a brilliant musician, but a gentleman who was down to earth and had a great sense of humor.   Warmth that is forever evident in his music.

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