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.
Lately I’ve been on a kick with YouTube watching international jazz. Specifically, how the art form has evolved in other countries. One sub-genre of jazz is the big band. Big-band music was a big deal back in the swing era, but it’s hard to make a big band work these days. It’s usually 17 (or more) players, and there isn’t enough of a market for jazz for a big band to keep its members fed.
There is a Blue Note jazz club in Tokyo, and they have a house big band called the “Blue Note Tokyo All-Star Jazz Orchestra”, which is excellent. Remarkably, they have no albums on Apple Music, but there are several videos on YouTube. One of my favorite things about the band is its director Eric Miyashiro. He clearly loves both his job and jazz music. Part of me thinks Miyashiro must walk around Tokyo and everyone says, “Hey! It’s jazz-guy Eric.” At least that’s my head canon. If I can ever get my way to Tokyo, I fully intend to make my way to the Blue Note and, hopefully, meet Eric Miyashiro.
They have lots of songs on YouTube, but I’ve picked the video below, which isn’t as much straight ahead jazz, but it does a great job of featuring more of the band members with solos. I would also note that one of the nice things about jazz migrating to foreign countries is that they will have their own take on the music, and this is a good example. They have a YouTube channel with a lot more music.
This week we lost jazz pianist Chick Corea (Wikipedia). I’ve been a Chick Corea fan my entire life. He got his start with several jazz greats (including Miles Davis) but really arrived as an early pioneer of jazz fusion with his band, Return to Forever. LIke so many greats, Chick was constantly trying different things and sounds. At one point he had two bands, one focused on electric instruments and another focused on acoustic instruments.
Regardless, he was amazing when he sat at a keyboard. The thing that always stood out to me was how effortless he’d make it look. Almost like he was barely touching the keys. If you’d like to listen to some Chick Corea music, I really like his Chick Corea Plays album recorded live in Paris a few years ago. Chick talks about some of his favorite music as well as playing.
Chick also did a lot of duet collaborations. One of the best was with vibraphonist Gary Burton. They made several albums together over the decades. Below is a tiny concert they did together giving you a tease of their music.
We’ll miss you, Chick.
There is a new Thelonius Monk album, and the story behind it is almost as great as the music on it. In the late 1960s, a high school student serving as “social commissioner” at Palo Alto High School in Northern California was charged with booking entertainment for the high school auditorium. Instead of booking the local Beatles copycat band, he decided to book Monk. Pulling that off wasn’t easy. First, because he was too young, he had to get his older brother to drive to San Francisco to pick up Monk and his band. They returned with the bass sticking out the window only to find the piano was out of tune. The school janitor agreed to tune the piano if Monk would agree to let him record the concert. It was all a crazy bit of kismet.
So that recording sat around for 52 years, but now we can all enjoy it (Apple Music)(Amazon). You can just tell Monk was having a good time. Monk had a lot of struggles in his life, ranging from getting his Cabaret Card pulled in New York (so he couldn’t perform) to mental illness, but this concert toward the end of his career catches him brilliantly. My favorite track is “Epistrophy”. It is a great song, but this version is special because of the loping groove they start at the beginning and carry throughout the tune.
Regardless, I didn’t think I would hear any new Monk music for the rest of my lifetime. Aren’t little surprises like this delightful?
If you’ve been reading my Jazz Friday posts over the years, you’ll know that the majority of featured jazz artists are Black Americans. That isn’t a coincidence. Black America is the reason that jazz (and nearly every other pop music of the last 100 years) exists. Jazz is just one of the many things for which America is indebted to its black citizens.
Racism and bigotry are not only abhorrent, they also deny American of its greatest asset, multiculturalism. Adam Neely posted an excellent video about Black America and jazz that sums it up.
In March we lost another jazz great, pianist McCoy Tyner (Wikipedia). McCoy first entered my orbit as the pianist in the John Coltrane quartet during its best years. McCoy played piano on some famous Coltrane recordings, including My Favorite Things (Wikipedia(Apple Music) and one of my all-time favorite albums, Ballads0 (Wikipedia(Apple Music). As John Coltrane’s music became more atonal, McCoy left the band in the mid-60s and continued to record as a solo artist and group leader for the rest of his life.
I’ve been doing a deep dive on McCoy Tyner in Apple Music all week. The album I keep coming back to is a big band he led. My favorite track is High Priest. I particularly dig the McCoy piano solo at the top. We’ll all miss you, McCoy.