Voltarol - related music

Friday, 30 January 2009

John Martyn: 1948 - 2009

Rather sadly I interupt the ''S Wonderful' postings with the news of the untimely death of guitarist/singer/songwriter John Martyn. I once spent a few hours in his company back in the late sixties and before he came to general prominence. The Jugular Vein were playing in Sheffield on the same night as John Martyn. Thanks to the good offices of the late Tony Capstick we all ended up in the same after-hours drinking club. Mr Martyn was already no stranger to alcohol and neither were we so, perhaps appropriately, I don't remember much about the encounter except that we had a damn good time and that guitars were played. Ah well...I'll raise a glass to his memory tonight.

The Guardian obituary.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

'S Wonderful...part three

This is the third part of a series. For parts 1 and 2 see the blog archive on the right.

Side two of this record kicks off with 'Hollywood Jump', recorded in 1939 by Count Basie and his Orchestra. The line up at this time included tenor saxophonist Lester Young (who also featured on the Billie Holiday track), and as Benny Green observes in his sleeve notes, was "...at his zenith as a creative artist, completely original in his conception and destined to change the entire course of jazz". The band also included trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry Edison, trombonist Dicky Wells, saxophonist Buddy Tate and drummer Jo Jones, all of whom would make a significant, though lesser impact on the music. Jones, along with guitarist Freddie Green and bassist Walter Page (both of whom also played on this recording) made up one of the most dynamic rhythm sections in jazz. I found this short clip of the Basie Orchestra playing live at a concert in New York in 1938. Unfortunately the 'embedding' feature has been disabled on this one but here is the link - http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=cbubFSgUTlM . There's a wonderful examaple of a Lester Young solo here. Basie's career lasted well into my lifetime and his band became positively iconic in the '60s, so her is another clip of them in 1961. By this time the line up had almost totally changed, but the guitar chair was still held by Freddie Green.

Next up was an equally iconic figure and one of the founders of the bebop movement. This 1945 recording of Dizzy Gillespie and his Band playing 'I Can't Get Started' was not quite such a full-on bebop approach that is present on many of the other recordings of that year (the year of my birth incidentally) , but a comparison with the famous Bunny Berigan version from 12 years earlier quickly shows that there was a whole new way of thinking at work here. Needless to say, I could not find a clip of the Gillespie version, but I managed to find this performance from 1947 that clearly shows where Dizzie was heading. There are elements of 'swing' in detectable but the harmonic ideas have moved on to a whole new dimension -

Here, for comparison, is Bunny Berigan's 'I Can't Get Started'. If you ever get to hear the Gillespie version you'll clearly understand the difference of approach, but you'll get a pretty good idea from this anyway...

Track three on the album is 'To Beat Or Not To Beat' by the Horace Silver Quintet, and was recorded in 1956. The line up includes two other significant figures - Donald Byrd (trumpet) and Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone) as well as drummer Art Taylor and bassist Doug Watkins. Yes, you've guessed it - I couldn't find a clip - but here's the quintet's 1958 line up playing 'Cool Eyes'.

The fourth track is a version of something I was already familiar with -'My Funny Valentine' by The Gerry Mulligan Quartet. I had heard and liked the version which featured trumpeter Chet Baker, bassist Carson Smith and drummer Chico Hamilton which Mulligan (baritone saxophone) had recorded in 1952. Now I had my first real insight into how a group of different musicians under the same leadership and playing essentialy the same arrangement can say something completely different about a tune. The line up here was Mulligan with Art Farmer (trumpet), Bill Crow (bass) and Dave Bailey (drums). The recording was made some seven years after the first one, in 1959. I was impressed with Art Farmer and if anything preferred his playing to that of Baker (twenty-odd years later I was to see him play at Ronnie Scott's with The Clarke-Boland Big Band and was impressed all over again). As usual the actual clip is not available but here is Mulligan revisiting this tune in 1991 with a quartet that includes a piano -
And here is the quartet that performs on the record playing another great standard - 'Moonlight In Vermont' - in 1959

In the next posting I'll cover the last four tracks - Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson and Duke Ellington.

Friday, 23 January 2009

'S Wonderful...part two

For those of you that are new to this blog I suggest that you start with 'S Wonderful...part one

The sleeve notes for this compilation are by the late Benny Green, whose observations were to grace hundreds of albums over the next thirty years or so, particularly those on the Pablo label. He was a very knowledgeable - if opinionated (aren't we all) writer but was inclined to air his knowledge a little gratuitously sometimes. I recall one Pablo release of the seventies - a Count Basie album - where his sleeve notes started somewhat bizarrely with a quote from Proust. However, he made an observation in these particular notes that has informed my approach to music ever since, even if I didn't realise it at the time. In his opening paragraph he said "...one of the wonderful things about jazz is its great breadth of style and temperament...An album like this is therefore an excellent gauge of one's perception and an invaluable weapon in the campaign to teach us all the lesson of tolerance in our jazz appreciations." If you substitute the word 'music' for the word 'jazz', you get a good idea of where I'm coming from in these postings.

Meanwhile, back at the album, the next track is 'Buddy Bolden Stomp' by The Sydney Bechet Quartet. I was much taken with Bechet's distinctive tone and relentless energy. Here he plays clarinet but, as I was subsequently to discover, he was equally at home and distinctive on soprano saxophone. He favoured the straight -as opposed to the curved - version of this instrument. It's interesting to note that this track, which was recorded in 1948, sounded as fresh and exciting as the then-emergent bebop music. I couldn't find a clip of this track but here is a version of 'China Boy' that he recorded in 1940 with the trumpeter/cornetist Muggsy Spanier. Bechet's solo here is a joy.

The next track - coincidentally also a version of 'China Boy'- is by Eddie Condon and his All Stars., and was recorded in 1957. Condon was a banjo player who had switched to guitar but, unusually in jazz, to the four string version. He was notable mainly as a band leader, and also as the author of We Called It Music, a highly entertaining and somewhat colourful autobiography which is well worth a read. Once again, I could not find the exact track, but here is a good example of a Condon line up at work which, I suspect, dates from around 1960. Here, the All stars play 'Big Ben Blues' and 'Stealin' Apples'.

It took me a while to get the hang of Billie Holiday, and this next track - 'Tell Me More' by Billie Holiday and her Orchestra , recorded in 1940 -was probably my least favourite when I first heard it, but within a couple of years I had come to realise just how great she was ( see Little Jazz Birds and other related species). Never the less, I did register the quality of her band from the off - who could fail to appreciate a group that included Lester Young, Roy Eldridge and Teddy Wilson? Here she is with Teddy Wilson's Orchestra in 1937. This line up also included Lester Young.

Side one of the album concludes with a classic track - 'Air Mail Special' by The Benny Goodman Septet, recorded in 1941. This was my introduction to the legendary guitarist Charlie Christian, whose flowing lines were like nothing I'd yet heard. Christian was only twenty five when he recorded this, a year before his tragically early death. The other thing that intrigued me about this performance was the way the accenting of the beat made the time signature seem very ambiguous.

This thing will run and run...I got so carried away with Benny Green that I suspect that this will run to a fourth posting to cover all of side two.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

'S Wonderful...part one

In previous postings I've described at length how I've found my way into music, but I have forgotten to mention one vital link from the early days. If 'Blues Fell This Morning'(see Woke up this morning) was my atlas for the blues, then "This Wonderful World of Jazz" was my 'Rosetta Stone' for jazz. This LP compilation was issued by Philips Records around 1960, at a time when that company were distributing the American Columbia Records catalogue in this country. I had acquired my copy from a friend of my older brother ('Alcohol'), who had purchased it under the impression that all the tracks would be Traditional jazz, and had been more than a little disappointed to find Modern jazz performances on there as well. I swapped my copy of another compilation - 'Great Jazz Reeds' on RCA Camden, which was much more to his liking, despite one Charlie Parker track. (It wasn't that I didn't like 'Great Jazz Reeds' - it was just that my friend Muff owned a copy as well so I knew I had access to it whenever I wanted to hear it.)

As you can see from the photograph at the top of this page, I still own the Philips compilation, although I haven't played it for many years. In fact, it's virtually unplayable these days. I acquired it second hand nearly fifty years ago and played it regularly on a record player whose sapphire stylus must have tracked like a baby plough, but I can't quite bring myself to part with such an old friend. However, musical memory is a wonderful thing and I have only to look a the track listings to hear the music in my head again. Fortunately I don't have to do that in many cases because I own a lot of the tracks in different formats these days, but over the next few postings I shall give you a complete rundown on the titles that helped me make musical connections and advance my understanding and appreciation of jazz.

Side one opened with Big Bill Broonzy performing his own composition, 'Texas Tornado', a recording made in 1956. This was another pointer to the relationship between blues and jazz, and I really liked the guitar playing on this one as well. This and other Broonzy recordings were to influence my own attempts at the guitar. I couldn't find 'Texas Tornado on YouTube but here are a couple of other performances. Firstly his classic Black ,Brown and White (which was another of the treasures on Paul's dad's tape recorder (see Wonderful round, black, shiny things)

Allthough this was not a blues, it was a powerful statement against racism and was something that we often sang. However this instrumental clip of Bill playing 'Hey Hey' contains all of the elements of fingerstyle blues guitar that grabbed my attention.

The next track on the album was 'Papa Dip' by The New Orleans Wanderers (recorded 1926) which was a group led by pianist Lil Hardin (then wife of Louis Armstrong) and was in fact Louis' Hot Five but, due to contractual problems, without Armstrong himself. This introduced me to clarinetist Johnny Dodds and trombonist Kid Ory, as well as banjoist Johnny St Cyr. And here it is...

Track three was 'Potato Head Blues' by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven, recorded in 1927. This was my first real taste of Armstrong. Up to now I had just seen him as a popular entertainer, based on his performance in the movie High Society. It now began to dawn on me that here was something rather special...

Next up was my first taste of another musician that I came to love and admire - Bix Beiderbecke. Bix recorded a number of sides with a group known as Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang, the personnel of which varied from recording to recording. This particular track - Jazz Me Blues (recorded in 1927) - also introduced me to Adrian Rollini ( multi instrumentalist, here playing bass saxophone), who was by no means in the same class as Bix, but an interesting fellow none the less. (The Jugular Vein - see Mutt and Jeff would later take great delight in regularly hamming up a Rollini Orchestra number as a part of their stage performances. I couldn't find 'Jazz Me Blues' so here's 'Royal Garden Blues', which was recorded on the same day and with the same personnel

Parts two and three will include Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman and Count Basie, Dizzie Gillespie, Horace Silver and Miles Davis - amongst others.

Friday, 9 January 2009

(High) Street life

From my earliest memories of getting together with friends to play records I have enjoyed sharing music with other people, so it seemed only logical that I should start work in a record, hi fi and musical instrument shop when I was just nineteen. I was newly married, had a three month old daughter and took a 20% pay cut from my previous occupation as a stock handler and counter cutter (don’t ask) at Hallmark Cards in Perivale. With hindsight I realise that this was not one of my smartest moves in terms of financial security for my family, but I was desperate to do some kind of job that involved music and no force in the land would have kept me from answering the advertisement in the local paper. I started work at the shop in August 1964 at a wage of £10 per week.

One of my first jobs when I started there was to take down the window display which was advertising the Rolling Stones first LP (the cover of which was title-less, consisting only of a moody profile photo of the group) and replacing it with one promoting the Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, which would be showing the next week at the local cinema. I think the number one single that week was Manfred Mann’s ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, which was soon to be replaced by The Honeycombs with ‘Have I the Right?’. The Honeycombs were possibly the first pop act to feature a girl drummer and certainly the first to achieve a number one hit. Manfred Mann, the South African leader of the eponymous group, had previously come to my attention with a personal advertisement in the back pages of Jazz News, offering jazz piano lessons at reasonable rates.

I quickly got into the swing of things and began to learn how to monitor the charts and construct record orders, how to create a ‘master bag’ for a new record, how to file stock numerically and alphabetically and how to use a record catalogue. The shop had two listening booths and two turntables for the benefit of record customers, as well as several functioning ‘quality rigs’ in the hi-fi department. We also had a small selection of acoustic and electric guitars and a selection of accessories appropriate to our three areas of trade – plugs, cables, batteries, styli (both sapphire and diamond), cartridges (crystal, ceramic and magnetic) ‘dust-bugs’, record cleaners and cloths, anti-static mats, paper and polythene inner sleeves for both LPs and singles, guitar strings and straps, sheet music (to order only) and Reel to Reel tapes (the cassette recorder was still a year away in the UK).

The shop had an ‘in depth’ selection of music. There was a large classical section, a wide range of jazz , folk and blues, an international section and a range of spoken word and specialist material (location recordings of steam locomotives, bird song etc. We also had a large selection of Indian music (see Indian summer). Apart from the latter, this was the pattern for all good general record shops then. The money generated by the chart material allowed one to stock material which turned over more slowly but did not date – the absolute opposite of today’s ‘supermarket shelf space’ approach of the average high street record outlet.

It was a great time for me – musically, at any rate - because I suddenly had access to unlimited music. Anything that I wanted to check out was there for me to listen to whilst I was at work. And if it wasn’t, I could order it for stock and still audition it before spending any of my (extremely) limited cash. Thus it was that I discovered the music of Ravi Shankar, Jorge Morel, Baden Powell, Jaques Ibert, Leoš Janáček, William Walton and others too numerous and diverse to mention.

And meanwhile the (now) classic hits kept coming. By the end of 1964 I had participated in the sale of the following number one hits – The Kinks - 'You Really Got Me', Herman's Hermits - 'I'm Into Something Good', Roy Orbison - 'Oh, Pretty Woman', Sandie Shaw - '(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me', The Supremes - 'Baby Love', The Rolling Stones - 'Little Red Rooster' and that year’s Christmas number one - 'I Feel Fine' by The Beatles. I was to support my attempts to make a living as a musician by (mostly) working in record shops on and off for the next twelve years and - apart from some of the people I had to work with, I enjoyed every minute of it, and I certainly wouldn’t have developed as catholic a taste in music without those years. I sometimes day-dream about starting a little record shop again, and then I remember that the internet has sounded the death knell for that kind of shop. Mind you, if it wasn’t for the internet I wouldn’t be doing this…

Monday, 5 January 2009

Bass thoughts

One of my Christmas presents was a copy of the Anniversary Edition of Jaco by Bill Milkowski. This revised and expanded biography of the great but troubled electric bass guitarist Jaco Pastorius is well worth reading, even if you have read the previously published version of this book. Pastorius was, of course, far more than just a great bass player. He possessed a formidable musical mind which produced many superb compositions and arrangements, as well as inventing an entire new vocabulary for his chosen instrument which irrevocably changed the way the electric bass is played.

I don't intend to repeat the Pastorius story here - if you want to know more about his life then read the book - but I did find myself having a bit of a 'Jacofest' on the CD player and thinking about some of the bassists that rushed through the door that he opened. My late friend John McCartney was one of them and I will be writing about him in the near future, but for the moment I have an abiding memory of the expressions of astonishment, disbelief and then delight that chased across his face when we saw Jaco perform with Weather Report at Hammersmith Odeon (as it was then) in 1980. Incidentally, I rate this gig as probably the best I have ever attended, and I've attended quite a few. I've not been able to locate any clips of that concert (although I've discovered that a bootleg recording of it does exist) but here is a Clip from German TV c. 1978 which does give flavour of the band in full flight.

And here is Jaco's Word of Mouth Big Band live in Japan in 1982, playing the Pastorius composition 'Three Views of a Secret'. This features the great Toots Theilmans on harmonica.

Here is another of my favourite bass players of all time - Nico Assumpção. The Brazilian 6 string bass maestro is seen here in Salvador in 1992, playing with Larry Coryell and an all star line up. Alas, Nico died of throat cancer in 2001.

Ney Conceição is another great Brazilian 6 string electric bass player. Here he is with João Bosco's band performing a Bosco composition - Incompatibilidade de Gênios.

Ney, fellow Bosco band members, guitarist Nelson Faria and drummer Kiko Freitas also perform as Nosso Trio. Here they are playing the classic Roberto Menescal composition 'O Barquinho' (My Little Boat).

Anthony Jackson is credited with inventing the 6 string bass and he's another of my favourites Here he is playing with Michel Camilo: piano and Horacio Hernandez: drums.I'm afraid I can't 'name that tune', but I'd be grateful if anybody else can...

Finally, here's a clip of Abraham Laboriel with Lee Ritenour in Japan. I don't know when this was recorded, what the tune was or who the other musicians are (although I'd guess at Patrice Rushen on keyboards) but it's a fun solo and incredibly 'high energy' Given that he's been cutting these capers for many years (I saw him play in London in about 1980 and he was leaping about a bit then) you'd think he'd be a bit slimmer!

These are by no means the only great electric bass players around: they just happen to be some of my favourites - and if regular readers of this blog are surprised by the absence of Richard Bona from this posting, it's only because I've covered him exhaustively elsewhere ( a quick search within the blog will reveal at least three mentions (including a concert review) and a number of clips). In the meantime I hope you enjoy this selection.