Re-running the Hits

Usually the front page of DTM is a listing of my gigs. In the time of a pandemic, I’ll offer the list of DTM interviews with comments about their gestation and context.

1) Billy Hart was the first. I had meant to interview Dewey Redman but Dewey passed away. The next week I brought my tape recorder to Billy’s basement in Montclair.

2) Many of my peers had a dismissive attitude towards Stanley Crouch. I had always enjoyed Stanley’s writing and thought he was an important voice in the choir. This interview was (at least from my side) a polemic aimed at broadening the tent.

3) My own voice was heard all too clearly in those early DTM interviews. A quick one with Jason Moran is a good example. As these interviews turned out to be widely read and perhaps even important, I tried to dial back my side of the convos, at least a little bit.

4) When I realized I was commanding a small bit of real estate as a writer/blogger, I started to help my friends. Benoît Delbecq was coming to NYC to play a concert, and we did an email Q&A to promote his work.

5) The internet opened a lot of doors. I spent many hours re-living old memories, and even tracked down (via email) Robert Dennis, who did the music for some classic Sesame Street. Just learned that Dennis passed in 2018…

6) There was novelty value in a practitioner being a proactive journalist, so I started to get requests from official publications. DownBeat asked me to interview the great Charlie Haden. I’ve thought a lot about Ornette Coleman, and it was helpful to talk to a main architect of OC’s best records.

7) From Haden it was only natural to go on to Keith Jarrett. I doubt I could have gone out to Keith’s pad if the radio show Jazz on 3 at the BBC hadn’t opened the way. (Later Keith told me he thought this was one of his best interviews.)

8) Stanley Crouch told Wynton Marsalis that I was OK, so that led to the next big talk. Again, this was a polemic, as I thought too many of my peers had been dismissive of WM for inadequate reasons.

9) The BBC interviews continued with Django Bates. I didn’t know Bates’s music before Dave King introduced me, and I was smitten with this astonishing personality.

10) The BBC then requested Gunther Schuller. I researched hard for this one, because I didn’t think his legacy was sorted properly. In a way I’m in a Oedipal battle with GS, so I took the fight to his front door.

11) Henry Threadgill was also a BBC request. This one is notably good if I do say so myself.

12) The final BBC interview was with Wayne Shorter, which never aired, because Jazz on 3 ceased operation. Mr. Shorter is famously elliptical in conversation, but I sorta got a few “hard facts” out of him.

13) Before the radio series closed it was already becoming hard to find mutually satisfying subjects. The BBC wanted me to do Anthony Braxton or John Zorn, but those weren’t a fit for me. We agreed on Paul Motian but Paul refused me point blank.

I suggested Cedar Walton. but the BBC rejected him (wasn’t popular enough like Braxton or Zorn). BUT I had already asked Cedar at the club and name-dropped “for the BBC” so Cedar would agree. I never told him that it would just be for DTM.

Cedar remains an unsung giant. The good jazz musicians know, but the critics and gatekeepers don’t always know. After Cedar passed I spoke to two comrades,

14) David Williams and

15) David Hazeltine.

16) It seemed to me that genuine straight-ahead mastery of the old school was leaving the planet. I say “straight-ahead,” but these musicians were also idiosyncratic avant-gardists. I present to you Mr. Albert “Tootie” Heath.

17) With Billy Hart and Tootie Heath on DTM, it was pretty easy to convince Mickey Roker to let me come over for an hour.

18) Roker’s great compatriot was Bob Cranshaw. The musician’s union helped me get in touch with Bob. Ironically, despite his proselytizing for union over the years, Bob needed a GoFundMe at the end of his life, just like so many other masters of late.

19) I love “classical” music too. My piano hero is Marc-André Hamelin, and we went long and detailed in this convo.

20) Hamelin pairs in my mind with the younger violinist Miranda Cuckson, as they both stayed out of the normal classical career path while playing the hardest and most idiosyncratic repertoire in a relaxed and conversational matter.

21) Another fabulous talent from the classical side of the tracks seen on DTM is Mark Padmore. This short interview was done via email.

22) Two of the interviews have been with formal, “classical” composers that lack the association with jazz Gunther Schuller had. The late George Walker and I corresponded over email…

23) …and it it was a real pleasure to host a more in-depth discussion with Alvin Singleton.

24) Just a step or two away is James Newton, who made plenty of great jazz records before ending up as predominantly a formal composer…

25) …while Carla Bley was predominantly a composer who has doubled down on performance in recent years.

26) While working on the Carla material an article by Gavin Bryars was a help. Bryars has played jazz, was resolutely experimental for a time, and now has settled into being a classic British composer.

27) I have also interviewed a few non-musicians notably important to the community. It’s incredible that the Village Vanguard is closed for the moment, a first in the club’s storied history. In 2012/13 I spoke with the GM, Jed Eisenman.

28) In some ways Ben Ratliff was the jazz critic for my generation, and he certainly helped give the Bad Plus some initial traction. When he left the New York Times, we did a kind of “exit interview.”

29) Terry Teachout was another early supporter. Teachout is one of the few mainstream critics who really sees jazz as part of the larger American cultural puzzle. We also share a love of Anthony Powell, Rex Stout, and Donald Westlake,

30) Unlike Jed, Ben, or Terry, I have had almost no interaction with Gerald Early other than the hour I spent in his office in St. Louis. Early is an amazing thinker and writer who really should be much better known in American musical circles.

31) Ken Slone is a musician, but his most familiar contribution to the canon has been academic. As far as I know, I gave the man behind Charlie Parker Omnibook his first interview.

32) Bill Kirchner is someone who predates my own work, a player who got involved with setting the record straight in print.

33) The most recent interview with a writer was with Mark Stryker, simply one of the best jazz critics in the history of the music.

34) It made sense to include some of my biggest influences and teachers. Unlike an official publication, I do only what I want at DTM. Ladies and gentlemen: Patrick Zimmerli.

35) Like Pat, Tim Berne gave me something that totally opened up an aesthetic. Unlike Pat, Tim has been wildly influential to so many musicians in the last 30 years.

36) I did two years of jazz performance at NYU. My teacher Jim McNeely showed me stuff at the keyboard, but he also had amazing anecdotes from his personal history. In time I would come to accept “the stories about the greats” as essential to jazz wisdom. Jim’s tales are part of why I have done the DTM interviews.

37) After I dropped out of NYU I knew I needed to keep studying privately, and did a deep immersion with Fred Hersch. This interview helped get the ball rolling for Fred’s memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly.

38) I was blessed to study with Sophia Rosoff for more than a decade, and eventually turned the task of documenting her work over to my wife Sarah Deming. Now that Sophia is gone, this essay is important to the Rosoff literature.

39) I had an informal lesson or two with the late great Masabumi Kikuchi.

40) David Sanborn talked about Phillip WIlson. Wilson is a particular favorite of mine, especially for his magnificent drumming on Julius Hemphill’s Dogon A.D.

41) Bill Frisell is a long-time hero and universally one of the best-liked musicians on the planet.

42) I have many peers, far too many to interview them all, but I grew up near Geoffrey Keezer

43) ….and have known George Colligan since 1990. Both Geoff and George are jazz virtuosos of the highest order.

44) Not enough singers in the mix here, but at least I spoke to Cécile McLorin Salvant.

45) Someone who has been controversial online (even more than myself) has been the estimable Nicholas Payton. This is a good one.

46) Early on, I was thrilled to have a phone call with my ultimate hero, Ron Carter. More recently we played a word association game.

47) I’m proud of this major discussion with George Cables.

48) Drummer Steve Little recorded with Ellington and was a long-time presence on the soundtrack to Sesame Street.

49) I love the tenor saxophone, it’s probably my favorite instrument. Houston Person helps define the lineage.

50) Two of the very first LPs I ever heard (owned by my neighbor Dean Estes) were by Stan Getz and Toots Thielemans with Joanne Brackeen on piano. I’ve never played “The Days of Wine and Roses” without thinking of Joanne’s voicings with Toots…

51) Tom Harrell goes long on musicianly detail.

52) The most recent was a sit down with Bertha Hope, who spans an extraordinary amount of jazz history.

53) And this list finishes very strong with an icon of bebop, Charles McPherson. Very important interview IMHO! Charles is one of kind, certainly one of the best teachers of jazz I know.

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The Shadow of Johnny Mandel

RIP to a deep cat, someone who knew his way around the thorny environs of American entertainment and always left beauty in his wake.

Naturally, it was time for a quick rendition of “Suicide is Painless” for all my socials. During quarantine I had done two dozen TV themes, thought that was probably enough, but Johnny Mandel’s passing prompted a gentle encore:

I have been working on Johnny Mandel lately, specifically an appraisal of two of his greatest film scores Harper and Point Blank, to be published in the next issue of Noir City. You’ll have to wait for that, but for now, a few bits and pieces….

Bill Kirchner interviewed Mandel for the Smithsonian.

Marc Myers interviewed Mandel for JazzWax.

From 1958, there is audio of Leonard Feather giving Mandel a blindfold test. Mandel generally impresses with who he recognizes, even though Feather pitches him a few unfair curveballs. Mandel is also strikingly critical: “The recording quality is bad enough to be Norman Granz, who has put the worst sounds on records ever made with probably the best talent involved.”

Thanks to Loren Schoenberg for sending along the relevant pages from DownBeat.

Mandel wrote a few songs that were among the last “standards,” conventional themes generally taken up by jazz singers and instrumentalists. After The Sandpiper was released in theaters, dozens of eminent jazzers recorded “The Shadow of Your Smile.” One of the earliest was by Eddie Harris with Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, and Billy Higgins.

Carter told Mark Stryker, “I got a call from Eddie Harris saying he was going to do a song called “The Shadow of Your Smile” and so far he didn’t have a lead sheet. That was the theme song for the movie The Sandpiper. I was in Boston working with Tony Williams and Gábor Szabó, so I had to go into a theater in Copley Square with a pencil, a pad and a flashlight and write down the melody of this song…”

Mandel didn’t begin as a songwriter. He’d be the first one to tell you: He began as an arranger. As an appropriate memorial, Mark Stryker offers a careful listen to Mandel’s arrangement of “In the Still of the Night” for Frank Sinatra.

Two of my favorite Mandel songs have definitive performances. “I Never Told You” is played by Toots Thielemans over Quincy Jones’s sparse orchestration on Walking in Space. Shirley Horn sings and plays “Close Enough for Love” all by herself on the album of the same name.

The correct adjective is “haunting,” which the dictionary defines as, “poignant and evocative; difficult to ignore or forget.” These are the songs and the performances you need at certain points in your life. Don’t worry about finding them: They will find you.

Most of Mandel’s work was for the movies.

In the later 20th century, movies became the great connector in American society. A personal anecdote:

When I was very young I saw Point Blank with Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson on television. However, I was just too young to understand the expressionist language employed by director John Boorman. Later on, in college, I took a course on film music, and ended up with a copy of Knowing the Score: Notes on Film Music by Irwin Bazelon. Mandel is interviewed in the book, and talks quite a bit about Marvin, Boorman, and Point Blank. Mandel’s comments made me curious, so I rented the VHS tape and watched again. The penny dropped and I started telling everyone I knew that this was one of the greatest movies of all time.

The movie was based on a book by Richard Stark, a name unfamiliar to me. Eventually I found a copy of The Green Eagle Score. Huh. Weird but good. Oh, Stark is a pen name. Who’s Donald E. Westlake?

In time I read all of Westlake, chased him down in person, and produced a major overview after he died. So, one could say that thanks to Johnny Mandel, I met Donald Westlake.

I write many more words about Mandel and his — why not use this adjective once more — haunting score for Point Blank in my forthcoming essay for Noir City.

However, space there didn’t allow for much comment on “Count Source,” a big band chart briefly danced to by Angie Dickinson oncreen.

The two minute cue can be heard on YouTube.

It’s a tribute to his old employer Count Basie, of course, and probably took Mandel all of half an hour to write. Still, “Count Source” is perfectly scored and perfectly played…a reminder of the breadth of American music, especially in those heady post-war years before rock, pop, and eventually hip-hop controlled the market.

New from Lawrence Block

One of our greatest releases a book for his birthday: Dead Girl Blues.

Just left the following 5 star review on Amazon:

DEAD GIRL BLUES is a surprising late triumph: one of a kind, touched in equal parts with genius and sin. The author has been heading this way for a while — probably his whole life — but recent sensationalist tales like GETTING OFF (2011), THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES (2015), RESUME SPEED (2016) and A TIME TO SCATTER STONES (2019) now seem like sketches for the real deal. Donald E. Westlake shared a lifelong friendship with Block. For me, the dark standalone THE AX is Westlake’s masterpiece; when the dust settles, I suspect I will give the same honor to DEAD GIRL BLUES. Not for the faint-hearted. If you have any trigger warnings around, put them on this book. Put ’em *all* on.

77 and 88

Happy 77th birthday to Kenny Barron, one of the last giants of jazz piano. Barron must be one of the most-recorded pianists of his generation; he’s also gigged constantly since hitting the scene in the ’60s. Not a year has gone my during my time in New York where I didn’t get to see Mr. Barron at least once.

Seven moments off the top of my head:

1) A casual performance at the Artist’s Quarter with a local rhythm section, maybe Tom Hubbard and Kenny Horst. One of the very first jazz gigs I ever saw! Very fast “Back Home Again in Indiana” and a solo version of Barron’s heartfelt tribute “Song for Abdullah.”

2) “Song for Abdullah” is on Scratch with Dave Holland and Daniel Humair. This set has some of the freest Barron I’ve heard, for example the wild blues solo on “And Then Again.”

3) More straight up is the lovely LP of duos with Ron Carter and Michael Moore, 1+1+1. The brisk “The Man I Love” is fabulous.

4) I ended up listening to Scratch and 1+1+1 a lot in my high school years, but the first Barron LP I ever got was the moody electric Innocence, with a long version of Barron’s “Sunshower” with a great Sonny Fortune solo. The final time I saw Fortune live was one tune at a gala event with Barron, Ray Drummond, and Billy Hart, where they played “Sunshower.” I myself played “Sunshower” with a Barron-worthy rhythm section, David Williams and Victor Lewis, that was memorable.

5) The first time I saw Barron in NYC he was with Joe Henderson, Rufus Reid, and Victor Lewis at Fat Tuesday’s. The piano’s high “C” was notably out of tune; Barron built a significant statement on “Body and Soul” that highlighted that “wrong” note.

6) The YouTube era has been kind to Barron fans. Bootleg audios of Sphere are phenomenal, while videos of Barron with Yusef Lateef’s ’70s quartet and Dizzy Gillespie’s 60’s band may argue more forcefully for those eras than the related LPs.

7) And this morning a true find surfaced, Kenny Barron at Boomer’s in 1976 with Bob Berg, Charles Fambrough, and Al Foster. Wow! Great to hear this muscular ’70s style captured “in the wild.” Perfect.

Right in There with Jimmy Cobb

RIP the great Jimmy Cobb. In his honor I practiced a solo that all pianists fool around with, Wynton Kelly on “Freddie Freeloader” from Kind of Blue.

Every solo on this classic album seems bathed in an ethereal light, and of course Cobb’s beat has everything to do with the magic.

Kelly blows for four choruses. In chorus three Cobb adds a side-stick on “2,” on the last chorus Cobb changes it to “4.”





In the next Chronology column for JazzTimes, I give a careful listen to the three live dates of Wynton Kelly and Jimmy Cobb in Baltimore with varied tenors and bassists: Joe Henderson and Paul Chambers, George Coleman and Ron McClure, Hank Mobley and Cecil McBee. Stay tuned…

I’ve never heard a bad record with Jimmy Cobb! You can’t say that about every drummer, but when glancing through his discography, Cobb’s recorded legacy runs from great to genius.

One from back in the day that may have slipped through the cracks a bit is Bobby Timmons’s The Soul Man from 1966 with Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter.

A more recent session taking place at a very high level is Peter Bernstein’s 2009 Live at Smalls with Richard Wyands and John Webber.

The Jimmy Cobb interview conducted by Marc Myers offers some fascinating stories.

Great Material

20 years of “Oops, I did it Again” by Jeff Weiss. 

(When The Bad Plus recorded with Tchad Blake at Real World Studios, Tchad praised “Oops,” saying that Max Martin and the production team had created a track that wiped everything else off the radio.)

Revisionist History: Bernstein at the Berlin Wall by Olivia Giovetti.

(Giovetti begins by citing Jonathan Cott. I don’t know most of Cott’s work, but the slim volume Conversations with Glenn Gould made an unforgettable impact when I was very young, and I suppose must be a major influence on DTM.)

Matthew Guerrieri on Little Richard.

Brad Mehldau. Why does he like Bach? on the WTF Bach podcast.

Hangin’ with Hyland, a new series at the Louis Armstrong House.

“Fine and Dandy” played by Charlie Parker, transcribed and annotated by Kevin Sun.