Category Archives: Jazz

New Acquisitions

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Here are some recent additions to my Jazz library:

There does appear to be a theme; mainly that my Monk phase lives on.  But, besides getting hold of In Action (a live date from a brief stint with Gigi Gryce on sax), the majority of these albums are based on Monk compositions. Steve Lacy’s Reflections, for example, was one of the first albums ever dedicated  to Monk compositions, recorded in 1958 before Monk had made his popular breakthrough. The second Lacy album, Straight Horn, is made up three Monk compositions, two by Cecil Taylor and one by Charlie Parker. This leads me to the rationale behind At Newport with both Gigi Gryce/Donald Bird’s group and the Cecil Taylor Quartet: Gigi Gryce, as mentioned had been a Monk sideman, and Steve Lacy plays sax here for Cecil Taylor whose style at this early stage in his career was arguably Monk-inspired.

Finally, I acquired the smooth Paul Desmond/Gerry Mulligan combo because besides being so easy and pleasant to listen to, it serves to counter-balance the angularity of the other musicians here (and to appease the wife if she suddenly wonders why I bought even more screechy Jazz).

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Alabama

John Coltrane composed “Alabama” based on the events of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. It is telling how throughout much of  Twentieth Century American history, groups like the K.K.K were given all of the protections of the Constitution while they freely committed what today would clearly be considered acts of terrorism. Meanwhile, throughout most of the 1950s and 60s, civil rights activists were considered by local governments and law enforcement as terrorists and treated with violence. Similarly, up until the final years of Apartheid in South Africa, the U.S. government (as did our closest ally, Israel) supported the Apartheid regime and considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist.

Unless you are in the NRA or the Tea Party and look good in a sixshooter, no matter how much we profess that the people have a right to rise against an oppressive government, neither armed nor peaceful resistance have ever had much support in American politics or society.

Just food for thought and some beautiful music.

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Round Midnight

As mentioned, since reading Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of An American Original, my interest in Monk’s music has been rekindled, and I am listening to little else these days. But, in particular, I have become completely addicted to “Round Midnight” — an original Monk composition that became a classic Jazz standard even before Monk himself recorded it and is now the most recorded Jazz standard of all time — of which I have countless Monk versions, as well as excellent interpretations by Cootie Williams, Miles Davis (with Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane), Ken McIntyre, Barry Harris, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, and George Russell (with Eric Dolphy on Sax).

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An American Original

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For most of 2009, I was a very good boy. Instead of buying new music, I did my best to recycle from the fairly vast collection that I already had – because, of course, the more music you have, the less of it you can enjoy.

And then my frugal trend suddenly took a turn for the worse. Over the last few days, I have been totally engrossed in Robin D.G. Kelly’s new book, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. What a fantastic read, especially if you are a Jazz fan. The problem is that the book inspired me to fill in some of the gaps in my Monk collection, picking up

Revisiting some already in my collection, particulary,

And also getting my hands on a few rare gems by other Monk contemporaries:

  • Cootie Williams: 1941-1944 (with some of the first ever recordings of Monk compositions “Fly Right (Epistophy)” and “Round Midnight”, and with Bud Powell on piano).
  • Sahib Shihab: Jazz Sahib (with Bill Evans on piano)
  • Abbey Lincoln: Straight Ahead (with Coleman Hawkins, Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, Mal Waldron, and Max Roach)
  • Pepper Adams: 10 to 4 at the Five Spot (with Donald Bird, Doug Watkins, Elvin Jones, and Bobby Timmons).

Some critics of Kelly’s work complain about inclusion of African American-centric political commentary, of which I assume they mean references to slavery and the racial violence and discrimination that occurred during Monk’s life. But it would be hard to tell the story of a Twentieth Century African American – one whose great-grandparents and grandparents had been born into slavery and, like his fellow black Jazz contemporaries had difficulty traveling freely in certain states and were often harassed by the police – and not recognize that these factors essentially shaped their lives. Ignoring them is a denial of the American experience.

In any event, the book is thoroughly enjoyable and sheds light on Monk as a family man and homebody, a generous teacher – and not the eccentric hermit he was made out to be – but someone fully focused, dedicated and unwavering in the pursuit of his own unadulterated artistic identity. Monk never changed his style, not when he was being laughed at, not when he finally achieved recognition twenty years later, and certainly not thereafter.

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Let’s Get Lost

Last night I saw Let’s Get Lost, the most chillingly disturbing film that I can remember having seen in a long time. It wasn’t horror movie, but a documentary about the Jazz trumpeter and singer, Chet Baker. In the film, director Bruce Weber goes back and forth between 1988 interviews of the then 57 year old Chet Baker (who would later fall to his death at 58) and interviews with various people who had been closed to Baker during his career, including ex-wives, former lovers and his estranged children.

I became a fan of Chet Baker back in 2000-01 when I first moved to Madrid and was living in a beautiful but unheated apartment (with limited hot water) in the Barrio de Salamanca. My memory of that winter and that apartment is of being wrapped in blankets and listening to Chet Baker. I would listen to “Time After Time” to fall asleep and “Let’s Get Lost” to wake up in the morning. Baker had a weak, yet completely distinctive singing voice, that regardless of its obvious limitations was able to transmit such great emotion and tenderness — similar perhaps to  Billie Holiday.

Also like Billie Holiday and so many other Jazz musicians, Baker was a drug addict. Unlike the majority of his junky contemporaries who died in their 20s and 30s, somehow Baker was able to stay alive until he was 58 — but at an incredible cost. Instead of coming off as the sensitive and profound man behind the tender voice and virtuoso trumpet, the Chet Baker portrayed in Weber’s film is an apathetic, emotionless and decaying man, on the verge of death, constantly fading from consciousness. Then there is the video footage and photography of the once youthful and beautiful Chet Baker who over the course of 30 years goes from resembling James Dean to becoming the spitting image of Charles Manson. And finally there is the damage left in the wake: the bitter former lovers and the jaded, borderline white trash offspring.

In his film, Sweet and Lowdown about a fictional Jazz guitarist, Woody Allen does an excellent job of separating the musician from the music and musical genius from other forms of intelligence (ie, someone could play beautiful music but be an otherwise uninteresting person). But in Weber’s film, the total asymmetry between the man and his voice is truly disturbing and even haunting. I don’t think I will ever listen to him the same way again, unfortunately.

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Re Joe Henderson

The background music to my life is generally filled with whatever Jazz is being shuffled on my iTunes library. On countless occasions I hear an amazing tenor saxophone solo that I just can’t put my finger on, and low and behold, it almost always turns out to be the versatile Joe Henderson. Although I have only a handful of his recordings as a leader, he is constantly popping up on my random playlists as a sideman for other musicians.

Here’s my Joe Henderson collection:

As a Leader:

As a Sideman:


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Yusef Lateef on Oboe

Here’s Jazz multi-reedist Yusef Lateef on oboe with the Cannonball Adderley Sextet. Cannonball on alto, Nat Adderley on cornet, Joe Zawinul on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums.

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The Tree in the Woods

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I don’t really want to get into the whole “being is perception” debate about the proverbial tree falling in the woods. Nevertheless, I keep finding myself wanting to leave my music playing (at a modest volume) during brief absences from home. Here’s why: Continue reading

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Epistrophy

I am doing some serious spring cleaning on this holiday Friday (it’s San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid) and trying to take my mind off of being infuriated by the tortuous logic behind Cheney’s rationalization that it’s alright for the executive branch to secretly and grossly break as long as they can allege, after the fact, that the crimes were in the interest of national security.

Helping to distract me is this fantastic version of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” performed here by Eric Dolphy. It’s from Last Date, one of Dolphy’s last recorded performance prior to his death. Dolphy is playing the bass clarinet and is accompanied by an all European rhythm section of pianist Misha Mengelberg, bassist Jacques Schols, and drummer Han Bennin.

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Monk Elaborated

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Thelonious Monk is one of the most creative, unique and enigmatic figures in the history of Jazz. Monk is often associated with his eccentricities, in particular his long periods of silence and his use of silence in his music (as I have written about before). This morning I read a blog post in El Mundo about a handwritten letter Monk had written to saxophonist Steve Lacy. It reveals a slightly less silent pianist and thus gives us some greater insight into Monk and his musical philosophy.

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