The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Wynton Kelly’

A terrible week for the NY Times

Posted by keithosaunders on April 24, 2017

What a terrible week last week was for the NY Times. First they had a article about how being a part of the Trump administration is helping Ivanka’s brand. You might say, that’s hard hitting news, uncovering a fresh scandal. You would be wrong. It’s simply the Times being the Times, fawning and deferring to the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Now check out last Thursday’s juicy headline:

“Obama’s silence to end, but he won’t criticize Trump.”

What’s he going to talk about, rainbows & unicorns? Who the hell cares what he has to say when his replacement is one tweet away from starting WWIII?!

And finally, on Friday,, the Gray Lady went deep with a 4,000 word article about why James Comey investigated Hillary’s emails, while not releasing to the public the information that he was simultaneously investigating the Russian hacking. Not only was the article dull as dishwater, but it wasn’t news. That’s 10 minutes of work on my fantasy baseball team that I’ll never get back.

Thanks, Times, keep twisting the knife. I’ll be over here listening to Wynton Kelly.

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The jazz nexus

Posted by keithosaunders on March 9, 2012

Get ready for a post that is so deranged it could be harmful to your health.  Don’t blame me if you come away from it insisting that America go on the gold standard.

In 1994 Paramount released the first Next Generation Star Trek film, entitled, appropriately enough, Generations.  It was a good film, not a great film, but one that I enjoyed when I saw it in its original release, as well in subsequent viewings on cable.  It featured the epic meeting between Captains Kirk and Picard, as well as the destruction of the original Enterprise.  What’s not to like?

For this post, however, I’m going to focus on a small portion of the film — a five-minute sequence in which Kirk and Picard find themselves marooned in the Nexus; an extra-dimensional realm in which ones thoughts and desires shape reality.

For Picard this meant re-discovering a love interest from his youth whom he had abandoned for the sake of his career.  For Kirk it basically boiled down to going horseback riding.

No matter, though, they were happy, at least for five minutes.  Once they realized that they had to get back to saving the universe they left the Nexus and  returned to reality, or at least what passed for it in the Star Trek universe.

Which brings me to the jazz portion of this post.  It is my belief that there exists a jazz nexus.  That is to say that there is a zone that can be entered in which the beat becomes wide enough so that the musician possesses unlimited powers.  While in the jazz nexus he can do no wrong and so is capable of executing an unlimited amount of ideas with effortless fluidity.

It’s not an easy place to get to.  It takes a symbiotic and cohesive unit, as well as a nurturing performance space with a sympathetic audience.  It’s not somewhere you can get to on your own.  I believe that’s why musicians have chosen this life, which at best is a non-lucrative existence that comes with years of dues paying and struggle.

As for me, I believe that at some point in my youth — I can almost remember the exact night  — I stumbled into the nexus and was given a brief glimpse of what it had to offer.  Once I had the bug I dedicated my life to trying to get back there.

Musicians such as Wynton Kelley and Hank Mobley lived in the nexus.  Mortals such as I are allowed in for a brief taste every so often —  long enough to keep me going playing $50.00 gigs secure in the knowledge that I will return.

Giddyup

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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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Two giants: Someday My Prince Will Come

Posted by keithosaunders on April 20, 2010

Jon Wertheim, over at Rehearsing the Blues there is a post up about the Disney song, Someday My Prince Will Come.  The song, which is from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,  has been recorded by a bevy of jazz musicians, most notably Miles Davis.  While the post at Rehearsing the Blues focuses on a version by Bill Frisell and Fred Hersch, it has inspired some thoughts of my own about Mile’s version.

One of the things I love most about Someday My Prince (other than every note and chord Wynton Kelly plays) is the contrasting tenor solos.  Hank Mobley’s solo is characteristically sparse and filled with melody and humor.  He cuts through these unconventional changes like butter and his tone is sweet and silky.

After Mobley’s solo Miles has the band break down to the rhythm section playing an F pedal interlude.  It serves as a sorbet between solos and it has the effect of building tension.  All of a sudden, *bang,* there’s Coltrane at the peak of his sheets of sound phase.  His solo is remarkable, not just for its sheer virtuosity, but how it stands in stark contrast to Mobley’s melodic gem.  Trane’s solo  is shorn of all romanticism, yet embedded in its barrage of notes is lyricism and wit.  As always his intensity and focus are in evidence, but they are tempered somewhat by the the gloss and the sheen of Miles’ arrangement.  This is the same Coltrane who later that year [1961] will record a 15 minute sax solo on the blues — Chasin’ the Trane —  without running out of ideas.  With Miles, however, he was able to distill this energy into a two-minute solo.

Mobley, to his credit, does not try to match Trane note for note.  His ideas are so personal and so confident that he  is very much at home on this track.  It amazes me that he could deliver this sublime solo while standing next to one of the greatest saxophonists of his, or any era.  In this sense he was like a basketball player calmly burying free throws in the final minute of a playoff game.   

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