Bill Evans is one of the best pianists ever to play jazz. He was the moving force behind Miles Davis’ outstanding Kind of Blue album. I once heard that Miles would sometimes call Bill and ask him to lay the telephone receiver on the piano and just play.
Bill was famous in his day and, as a result, got plenty of gigs. As a result, we’ve been getting plenty of previously-unreleased Bill Evans recordings, but a recent one, Bill Evans Treasures, is fantastic. It’s a series of recordings made in Denmark over four years (1965–1969).
There is a bunch of trio work and some features he did with the Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra and the Danish Radio Big Band. It is those recordings that I can’t stop listening to. Arranged by Palle Mikkelborg, the orchestrations are a fascinating showcase for Bill’s piano. You also can’t help but note how his playing changes with the bigger ensembles. It makes me wish more of the greats of that era had the opportunity to play in bigger groups like this and how they would have sounded. This album is a new favorite for me and can be a great start or addition to your Bill Evans collection.
There are some remarkable contemporary jazz artists making traditional bebop jazz these days. One of my favorites is the Yayennings Quartet. It’s an interesting instrument composition with trumpet, tenor sax, bass, and drums. There is no traditional comping instrument (like a piano or guitar). Instead, the trumpet and sax frequently play soft chord tones behind the soloing player.
The trumpet (Jay Jennings, who also is the composer) and tenor sax (Bob Reynolds – yes, that Bob Reynolds) play tight melodies flawlessly. They just released their second album, YAYennings, Vol. 2 and every track makes me smile. Enjoy it this weekend.
I wrote about Wayne Shorter a few weeks ago after his passing. Since then I stumbled on to Adam Neely’s excellent video taking apart Wayne’s song, Infant Eyes. If you have any interest in music, this is worth your time.
This week I’m featuring Wayne Shorter, who we sadly lost this week.
Wayne was a tenor and soprano saxophone player and tremendously talented. Back when I was a kid I met a guy that played with Wayne in the Army. He explained how Wayne, even back then, was on a different planet from everyone around him. As a kid, I used to listen to his solos with the Jazz Messengers. But he was a fixture in jazz for his entire life, playing both traditional jazz but also with cutting edge bands like Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet. Then he changed the face of jazz with his participation in Weather Report. In researching for this post I found this great article demonstrating how Wayne changed jazz.
You could listen to any Wayne Shorter album and enjoy it. But if I had to pick one, it’d be the 1966 album “Speak No Evil” (Wikipedia)(Apple Music).
While this isn’t technically a Christmas song, it fits in on any Christmas playlist. I’ve been covering Joey Alexander, the young prodigy jazz pianist, here for years. I simply love this track. Sublime. (Apple Music) (YouTube) (Spotify)
Graphic artist Reagan Ray isolated Jazz artists’ names from their album covers and laid them all out next to each other. It’s remarkable how much the typography is reflective of the artist. John Coltrane’s improvisational style can seem a bit frantic but nevertheless always fits, like his last name. So many of Art Blakey’s recordings are live and everything is so spontaneous, just like his name. Regardless, Reagan Ray has a new fan in me.
Over the last few years, I have really come to enjoy Steven Feifke‘s arrangements, particularly for his Big Band. He’s taking more chances than ever with his arrangements, and I dig it. A case in point is their recent recording of “On the Street Where You Live” featuring Veronica Swift (an upcoming jazz vocalist that has it). The song starts with vampy single notes as Veronica belts out the melody on top. It’s like the band is in some sort of holding pattern. Later the arrangement opens up and the band roars to life behind a gifted vocalist, and it’s glorious.
Have a great weekend!
This week I was turned onto this excellent video of Larry McKenna playing “The Nearness of You” by Hoagy Carmichael. I’ve been listening to it every day, and I just can’t get over how great Larry McKenna can play a ballad. (He also has serious bebop chops.) Wow, Larry!
As an aside, the person who sent me this link is none other than Tony Miceli, the vibraphonist in this video who is also a serious Apple nerd. We’ll save Tony for another Jazz Friday, but in the meantime, just listen to his beautiful solo in this video.
I know I just linked Chick Corea, but I’m still trying to get over his passing and listening to a lot of his music.
Moreover, he won a posthumous Grammy for Best Improvised Jazz Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Album for his trio performance on Trilogy 2 (Apple Music). This is a follow-up to his Trilogy album from 2013 (Apple Music). The album features Chick on piano, Christian McBride on bass, and Brian Blade on drums. The two-disc album is full of bangers, but my favorite is Chick’s own “La Fiesta”.
I know I’ve been trending a lot lately toward international big bands with my Jazz Friday posts, but lately I am just really digging hearing what musicians in other countries are doing with jazz. This week I’ve got one more: Germany’s WDR Big Band. These are some of Germany’s finest jazz musicians led by Bob Mintzer of the Yellowjackets. WDR has been around since 1947 and playing jazz since 1957. They have a lot of material and an active YouTube channel. Their most recent album is a collaboration with the Yellowjackets and does a fantastic job of getting the jazz fusion sound into a big band’s power. “Downtown” (Apple Music) (YouTube) is my favorite track on that new album.
I would also like to point out the Bob Mintzer arrangement of Neil Hefti’s “Cute” on their Basie tribute video. (It is the first song, so no excuse not to listen to it.) When I was in 7th grade playing in my first jazz band, it was in the middle of playing “Cute” that I first experienced what it means to swing. It was the beginning of my love affair with playing jazz, so that song is near and dear to me. Mintzer’s arrangement modernizes “Cute” while still holding onto what makes it such a precious gem.