Quick notes on important passings…
All the piano players loved George Mraz. He was initially endorsed by Oscar Peterson before going on to have serious relationships with the best of the best: Roland Hanna, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Rowles, Kenny Barron, Hank Jones, Barry Harris, George Cables, Steve Kuhn, Walter Norris, David Hazeltine, Emil Viklický, Mike Nock, Cyrus Chestnut, Renee Rosnes…
The collaborations with Richie Beirach had special weight. Elm with Jack DeJohnette is all originals, and Elegy for Bill Evans with Al Foster is all standards: Together these are two of Beirach’s best records and show Mraz as a truly exceptional player in a modernist bag. Also in this conversation are the duo LP Rendezvous, the first Quest record, and the important and prolific John Abercrombie quartet with Peter Donald.
Mraz would hire Beirach for his own projects, and one track is famous, a romantic cover of the theme from Cinema Paradiso. The bassist had an unforced relationship to European classical music and is eager to bow his heart out on Morricone’s “classical” movie theme. From that vantage point, Mraz was perfect for Hanna’s notated “Preludes,” Cables’s Bach fugues and Chopin nocturnes, and Beirach’s projects honoring Bartók or Mompou. When Viklický and Mraz explored Czech themes together, it was consciously “a la Bartók.”
The European side of Mraz’s thing was was intriguing — no other acoustic bassist got the award, “he always plays in tune” as often as Mraz — but he also held it down. They called George Mraz “Bounce” not just because he swung, but also because he was a “bad Czech.”
The Lord Discography lists 494 sessions. I’ve only heard a small fraction of them. Three I’ve always considered essential from my private stash:
Bob Brookmeyer Back Again (with Thad Jones, Jimmy Rowles, and Mel Lewis)
Hank Jones Upon Reflection (playing Thad Jones with Elvin Jones)
Tommy Flanagan Thelonica (one of the best Thelonious Monk tributes with Art Taylor)
Asking around today, I’ve added Stan Getz Voyage (with Kenny Barron and Victor Lewis) and Roland Hanna This Must be Love (with Ben Riley) to the “spectacularly good jazz LP” pile. But surely there are many more memorable Mraz moments for me to discover…
Juini Booth was nowhere as prolific, but was still an important bassist in the jazz canon. The record I love best from his discography is the unlikely masterpiece by Freddie Hubbard and İlhan Mimaroğlu, Sing Me a Song of Songmy (1971) with Junior Cook, Kenny Barron, and Louis Hayes. Conceived as a reaction to the horrors of Vietnam, this outstanding LP must be one of the best examples of a composer writing a “concerto” for jazz quintet.
Booth’s most familiar record might be McCoy Tyner’s scalding live Montreux engagement, Enlightenment, while one for the heads are the volumes of Rollins-influenced Steve Grossman in trio with Joe Chambers, Way Out East.
The only time I managed to see Booth live was a noisy set with the Sun Ra Arkestra in Ireland; I thought Booth sounded just great in that situation. Charlie Haden introduced me to Booth one night at the Vanguard and he seemed like a lovely gentleman indeed.
Rick Laird was the house bassist at Ronnie Scott’s in London in the sixties, playing with a truly extraordinary cast of American jazz stars: Ben Webster, Don Byas, Wes Montgomery, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Benny Golson, etc.
However, what has gone into the history books is Laird’s vital contribution to The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Both The Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Prey struck like a thunderbolt at the time and remain fresh today.
Laird’s only album as a leader, Soft Focus, is inessential, but it does document Joe Henderson blowing on “Inner Urge” (as “Outer Surge”) in 1979.
Peter Ind not only played bass behind essential solos by Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, and Warne Marsh, but recorded many of those tracks as well. Marsh’s Release Record, Send Tape was a Peter Ind production; all serious Marsh fans bow down to that LP as some of the best Marsh ever recorded. We wouldn’t have that astonishing document if Ind hadn’t turned on the tape and eventually put it out on his own Wave label.
Ind sounds nice and strong on Release Record, Send Tape, but in my mind I have typecast Ind and some of the other other background Tristanoites as timekeepers of little individuality or depth. I’m probably wrong about this. A few years ago I heard “Blues at the Den,” the lead off track from Ind’s retrospective album Looking Out. This casual bebop/blues 1958 improvisation features Ronnie Ball on piano. I sorta thought Ball was a distant third behind Tristano and Sal Mosca in the Tristano style, but “Blues at the Den” shows Ball could hang next to Hampton Hawes and Sonny Clark. There’s always more to learn…
Ind is the bassist on Konitz’s Jazz at Storyville from 1954, an early George Wein production from the days when Wein was a simple club owner rather than the mogul who created the modern jazz festival.
A few years ago both Wein and Konitz came (separately) to a Billy Hart gig at the Jazz Standard. When I brought Konitz over to sit with Wein, George requested that Billy’s group play “You Go To My Head.” (That old torch song was the party piece I offered at Wein’s house and other Wein events when he was first debating whether or not to hire the Bad Plus.) I thanked him for the thought but told him, “Sorry, George, this is Billy’s gig, we are mostly playing his music.”
Konitz piped up, “I can play ‘You Go To My Head!'”
Wein looked disappointed and said, “Lee, you won’t play the melody, though. I never hear the melody when you play.”
Konitz wasn’t offended in the slightest, and shot back, “George, I keep telling you, I play improvised melody!”
I realized that this conversation had been going on since at least 1954, and snapped a photo.
Konitz, Wein, and the Jazz Standard: all gone now.
I didn’t really know legendary researcher/maven/advocate/radio personality Phil Schaap, we exchanged only a few sentences over the years, but I was pleased when photographer Ernest Gregory sent me this priceless document after Schaap’s passing. It’s the 2015 induction of James P. Johnson into the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame at Dizzy’s.
Left to right: Schaap, me, Chihiro Yamanaka, Chris Pattishall, Aaron Diehl, Barry Glover (James P. Johnson’s grandson), Marc Cary, Terry Waldo, and ELEW.
What I like about this photo is how everyone is paying attention to ELEW — as they should, for he is speaking — except for me and Phil Schaap! I am trying to get Schaap’s attention about something, perhaps rare James P. Johnson sides?
Phil Schaap. Good lord. A monument we thought would always be there is gone. If I had a dime for every time a musician said to me, “I just heard this killing stuff on ‘Bird Flight’ yesterday…”
Thurston Briscoe was another important radio personality. As the program director for WBGO, Briscoe was surely a reason WBGO was and remains the premier jazz station. When the Bad Plus first hit, we didn’t automatically crack WBGO, but Briscoe interviewed us in Montreal early on and I think must have given us his seal of approval. Maybe I’m making that up. At any rate, when he spoke with us, Briscoe was a pro offering a sonorous voice and a wonderful smile.
While I’m sharing photos from the archives: I searched “Thurston Briscoe” in my email and found this WBGO flyer from Josh Jackson in 2009:
Ruth Cameron did a lot to help her husband Charlie Haden, especially in terms of keeping Charlie sober and on the straight and narrow. As part of that process, Ruth created Haden’s Quartet West, which was absolutely Ruth’s idea. Admittedly, when I got the first Quartet West record as a teenager, I was appalled, thinking that my favorite bassist had lost his mind. Why the hell was Charlie playing this conservative Hollywood jazz instead of wild and woolly stuff with Geri Allen, Paul Motian, or Old and New Dreams?!
In time I would appreciate all the members of the Quartet and agreed with everyone else that the live show was wonderful.
Ruth had a nice sense of humor and a good eye. Two of her photographs grace DTM pages: a perfect shot of Carla Bley and group shot of TBP/Josh Redman/Brad Mehldau trio. I especially owe her for this shot of Carla and me:
As a gifted torch singer Ruth can be heard on Roadhouse, a satisfying set that has found new life on YouTube.
Sam Reed was vastly important to the music scene in Philadelphia. The obit from Dan DeLuca in the Philadelphia Inquirer is excellent, recounting the story of, “…The jazz saxophone player whose decades-long career included leading the band at the Uptown Theater in the 1960s when it was Philadelphia’s premier Black music showplace and serving as music director for Teddy Pendergrass in the 1970s.”
Reed was one of Tootie Heath’s best friends, and when Tootie and I were exploring his old South Philly stomping grounds at 20th and Federal, Reed walked up on the street and said hello. They hadn’t planned to meet that day; it was simply kismet. The old partners posed for me outside the Lincoln Post, where Tootie heard his first live drums as part of the local marching band.
Imagine how many humans made out to the backbeat of Charlie Watts.
Watts was a classy gent and a big jazz fan. Offhand I can’t think of another rock instrumentalist who repeatedly stood up for jazz in interviews the way Charlie Watts did.
The Rolling Stones would have been a very different band with a busier or slicker drummer: The way Watts left out the right hand on the hi-hat during “2” and “4” was a modernist touch that reminded me of Paul Motian.
One of my favorite Stones tracks is “Street Fighting Man,” which had an exceptionally strange production: Watts is playing, “…a 1930s toy drum kit called a London Jazz Kit Set, which I bought in an antiques shop,” direct into Keith Richards’s cheap cassette recorder, which provides compression and distortion. Just great.
David Lee was an unheralded New Orleans drummer. One of Sonny Rollins’s best post-’60s working groups went frustratingly unrecorded, a quartet with Albert Dailey, Larry Ridley, and Lee. Still, Lee sounds good on a few diffuse studio Rollins dates and the odd live Rollins document, swinging hard in a traditional manner but also perfect for all the varied grooves embraced by ’70’s jazz. Lee began his career with Dizzy Gillespie and can be heard to acoustic, exposed, and wonderful effect in piano trio performances with Albert Dailey or Richard Wyands.
Jerry Granelli was the drummer in Vince Guaraldi’s trio for the Charlie Brown soundtracks, and also did important work with Denny Zeitlin and Mose Allison. The Granelli I know better was as part of the later West Coast crew surrounding Jay Clayton. Quartett’s No Secrets with Julian Priester and Gary Peacock is a very listenable set of collective improvisations from 1988. (The CD blurb is amusing: “Free jazz in a midlife crisis.”) At a Canadian festival some years ago I enjoyed a long duo set from Clayton and Granelli that kept interest despite the risky proposition of abstract voice and drums.
Along with John Adams, Louis Andriessen has been a big influence on recent generations of American “post-minimalist” composers. With both Adams and Andriessen, I’m just not always convinced by “the story of the counterpoint and the story of the harmony,” but people keep telling me I just don’t know the right pieces. At least for Adams I have one obvious choice for a composition I really like, Grand Pianola Music, but my Andriessen column is still empty. It will undoubtedly come around at some point.
Andriessen cared about jazz and blues, and one of his most problematic works is On Jimmy Yancey. I adore Jimmy Yancey and simply cannot accept the Dutch composer’s cubist rendition of the Chicago piano genius. In addition, Andriessen’s program note is pretentious and unmusical:
Scored for nine wind instruments, piano and double bass, the piece is in two movements. In the first, three Yancey themes are quoted; the second is a kind of In Memoriam. Both movements end with a typical boogie-woogie lick, with which Yancey unexpectedly ends all his recordings. He probably did this at a sign from the producer, when the three minutes which a 78 side could hold were up, because boogie-woogie pianists habitually played for hours on end in the bars to entertain the white bourgeoisie.
In academic lingo, Andriessen does not grant Yancey enough agency. He’s also just wrong: Yancey signed his pieces with a particular effect, which can be heard on tracks of varying length. And, as far as I know, Yancey rarely performed boogie woogies outside of his intimate social circle. It was Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, and Pete Johnson who made the Café Society circuit. The white bourgeoisie and Yancey didn’t have anything to do with each other — except maybe when Dutch chamber musicians play On Jimmy Yancey at the Concertegebouw.
However, let me set all reservations aside and praise The Apollonian Clockwork: On Stravinsky by Andriessen and Elmer Schönberger as one of the greatest books on music ever written. I love that book! Time for a re-read…
There’s a particular clip of Norm MacDonald that I can’t stop watching, a highlight reel of Mangrate ads, a pure explosion of joy. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere but in this tweet thread by Dan Ryckert.