The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Sonny Rollins’

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


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Summer in the city

Posted by keithosaunders on July 17, 2011

Another great week spent in New York.  What a town!  I can’t believe I lived here for so many years. 

I had three gigs this week, and when I wasn’t gigging I was hanging out in the city, mostly at my favorite club, Small’s.  I’ve got long hair and a goatee now and everyone says that I look like a Californian.  Of course this belies the fact that I often had this look during my New York years.  Back then it would have bothered me to have been mistaken for a Californian, as if there was an inherent put-down in such a comment.  These days I don’t care; in fact, I’m amused by it.  Listen, there’s no denying it any longer..I am a Californian.

Musicians have been very welcoming to me since my return.  They seem genuinely happy to see me and curious about what my life in the Bay Area is like.  For my part, it feels great to be able to feel at home on both coasts.  Something that never occurred to me in all of my New York years, was that it is possible to actually like both places.  The inclination is to belittle the opposite coast.  I’m guilty of it —  there are jokes to be mined, for crying out loud!  But at this point, from where I stand, it’s a waste of energy.

A highpoint of my stay has been sitting in for one tune at the late night jam session at Small’s in the Village.  I was hanging out at the bar during the regular gig.  After the band finished I was getting ready to head to the subway to go back to the Bronx when I noticed that there was no piano player to start the session.  I figured, what the heck, I’ll play a tune.  A sax player began the first few notes of Oleo by himself, and boom, we were off. 

There is something about the energy of New York musicians that is at a different level than all others.  I lived here for 26 years, and after a while you can’t help taking it for granted.  But being away from it for a year and jumping back into the pool is an amazing experience the momentum is both startling and infectious.  

I didn’t know any of the musicians — they were all young guys — but it felt great to be in there with them, holding my own, and enjoying the energy.  The best part, for me, was the realization that even though I no longer live in new York, I haven’t lost that energy — that fire.

I played one tune, and ceded the piano bench to a young woman sitting in the front row who was patiently waiting her turn.  I went home on the subway, which slogged its way up the 2 train tracks, and arrived in the Bronx an hour and a half later, none the worse for wear.

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Not my finest hour in the kitchen

Posted by keithosaunders on September 8, 2010

Lately I’ve been getting into cooking dinners for my family.  For the most part I’ve done a good job.  A little internet searching usually yields a simple enough recipe for my culinary skill-set, and if I’m really ambitious I’ll even make a sauce.

Tonight I improvised a mexican sauce for steak by adding cilantro, garlic, chile sauce, and lime juice into the blender.  I set my phasor on stun and fired it up.  (actually it was the blender and it was set to puree) I added the sauce to the steak, put it in the oven at 450, and went about my business.

15 minutes later I checked on the steak only to see it was still rare.  I went to the freezer to get some ice for my water and wouldn’t you know it, the handle was loose and came ajar.  I tried to set it back in place and ended up gashing my index finger on the loose metal. 

There’s always that split second after the cut where you are hoping against hope that the cut isn’t a deep one.  I held my breath to no avail.  The blood came gushing out like old faithful.  I Was like Dan Aykroyd as Julie Child in that old Saturday Night Live skit.  By the time I finished with the washing and bandaging of my finger the steak was over-cooked.  Like leather.  The pity was that the sauce came out good and received rave reviews from my kids.  I spent the dinner trying to cut my steak with the knife precariously propped against my thumb.  I’m lucky I didn’t do any further damage to my hands. 

On a happier note I would like to wish a happy birthday to the greatest living sax player, Sonny Rollins!   Sonny is one of my all time favorites and I spent a good part of today on Pandora listening to his music.  He is 80 years old today. 


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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.

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