Al Grey/Wild Bill Davis: Keybone

Update: This recording seems to be gone from the iTunes store again. iTunes links below will take you to the main Al Grey feature page.

It’s good to see that the Al Grey/Wild Bill Davis album Keybone is at the iTunes music store. A short story: I bought the vinyl version of Keybone when I was on a band trip to New York City with The Pride of Southland Marching Band. Yes, that was some time ago. In those days, jazz records had a definite inventory limit at Record Bars across the country, which meant that getting to New York City was a golden opportunity to find some off-the-beaten-path jazz records. I’m not sure I remember how, but I found King Karol records easily — probably at the 42nd street location — and was happy to find a huge jazz section.

Al Grey Keybone cover art

Here’s how I found out about Keybone on iTunes: I had transferred some of the vinyl tracks to digital myself. With the correct track info entered into iTunes, one day iTunes found the Keybone artwork. Voila! — apparently it had been added to iTunes.

Anyway, it’s a fun set of music, and was recorded in 1972 at Seed Studios in Vallauris, France. The rest of the personal includes Eddie Vinson on alto saxophone (Vinson sings on Alimony Blues and Person To Person), Floyd Smith on guitar and Chris Columbus on drums. Check it out; this is a good set of music.

A Strange Case of iTunes

Update: Some iTunes store links fixed below.

I’ll admit to being a little confused by the iTunes music store sometimes. Here’s an example: fairly recently a British label called Hallmark seems to have licensed some of Sony/Columbia’s jazz titles from the 50’s. The particular recordings I’m writing about are under the leadership of J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, or both. Below is a list — the links will take you to the iTunes music store.

Trombone Sound Original LP Cover Art

Original LP Album Art for The Trombone Sound

The weird thing is this that while all of the titles listed above appear to be legitimate digital transfers of the original recordings, some are duplicated and have different, non-original album art. That might be fairly innocuous, except for the fact that these duplicate titles might not be first generation transfers from the original recordings. A case in point is the “alternate album art” version of Jay and Kai +6. It’s a transfer from an LP, surface noise, scratches, and all. Thankfully, an aware iTunes store shopper wrote a one-star review which warns, “This is just a phonograph record that has been recorded onto someone’s computer.”

Ella Fitzgerald: Twelve Nights in Hollywood

Amazon

One year ago, the Ella Fitzgerald box set Twelve Nights in HollywoodAmazon was in short supply. Part of the reason was an article in the New York Times discussing its release. Soon, the box set was backordered everywhere.

The newly discovered recordings were taken from Ella’s 1961 (and ‘62) stint at the Crescendo, a small jazz club in Los Angeles. These joyful, lovely, and intimate performances languished in Verve’s recording vaults for years, mostly because Ella’s producer Norman Granz was focussing on other projects the singer was doing at the time. Which projects? Well, two were the Rodgers & HartAmazon and Cole PorterAmazon songbook albums, which featured Ella in front of large studio orchestras. In contrast, on Twelve Nights in Hollywood Ella sings with her touring rhythm section, consisting of Lou Levy, piano, Herb Ellis, guitar, Wilfred Middlebrooks bass, and Gus Johnson on drums.

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that Ella is in fantastic form. On these recordings, she lines each tune up and knocks it out without seeming to try, with just a short and appreciative “I thank you” between each number. Ella covers her kaleidoscopic range: there are touching ballads, scatted swing numbers, and even the blues she wasn’t known for. Also, there’s a glimpse of Ella the entertainer, taking audience requests and being a little coy about whether or not she really knows the song, or whether there are in fact any lyrics to sing:

Someone, someone asked for Perdido …
Don’t know how the lyrics go
to this tune called Per-deeedo …

Well, you have to hear it.

This year, Ella Fitzgerald Twelve Nights in HollywoodAmazon is just as great as it was last year. Of course, it’ll be just that good in every year yet to come.

Exercises and Etudes for the Jazz Instrumentalist

Exercises and Etudes for the Jazz Instrumentalist

J.J. Johnson’s Exercises and Etudes for the Jazz Instrumentalist is probably not as celebrated an etude book as it should be. On the cover, the publisher Hal Leonard promotes it as “Easy to advanced,” and “Great for sight reading.” Certainly true, but J.J., after dedicating the book to Fred Beckett inside, makes this better explanation:

This method book is based primarily on my own personal experiences and career as a jazz trombonist, and therefore has very little to do with dogma or tenets…In my opinion, if jazz improvisation is the heart and soul of jazz music, then a clear and basic understanding of jazz syntax (or the language of jazz) is the necessary heart and soul of jazz improvisation. With this book I am committed to helping you get a basic and clear understanding of jazz syntax.

Naturally, it won’t be a surprise to see Johnson drawing on the blues as a musical form. He also sometimes uses the be-bopper’s idea of “contrafact,” or writing a new melody over an existing chord progression. You’ll have to guess — or hear — which tunes are used as underpinning, though. No chord progressions are given.

J.J. sneaks in good advice, too. Over one etude, a reminder:

“How do you feel? Don’t overdue it. When your body is trying to tell you something, LISTEN !!! AND OBEY !!!

To sum up quickly, this is a fun, worthwhile, and thoroughly modern take on the traditional etude book. It’s available for all instruments, and is highly recommended.

Happy Birthday, Big Tea

Today, August 20, is Jack Teagarden’s birthday. In honor of that anniversary, I’m reposting a bullet-point version of Jack Tegarden’s career. I wrote this some time ago, although I’ve revised it since. Sure, there’s a wikipedia article, but why read that when you can get the information directly from one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject?

Jack Teagarden

  • Originally named Weldon Leo, Jack Teagarden was born in Vernon, Texas, on August 20, 1905.
  • Teagarden began studying music early in life. First came piano, then peckhorn. (The peckhorn looks like a small baritone horn, pitched in Eb rather than Bb.) Jack took up the trombone at the age of eight, and was reportedly proficient by the time he was eleven.
  • The Teagarden family household was a musical one, mostly because of the influence of Jack’s mother, although Jack’s father did play (apparently weak) cornet in the town band. As the family grew, each of Jack’s new siblings took up a different instrument: Younger brother Charlie played trumpet, sister Norma became a pianist, and the youngest brother, “Cubby,” played the drums.
  • Jack had perfect pitch and could, as sister Norma remembered, “Call off the overtones in a thunderclap.”
  • Jack discovered his own way of playing trombone, making use of a flexible embouchure and alternate positions to get around the inherent clumsiness of the trombone slide. This general way of “getting around the horn” influenced many contemporaries of Jack, as well as future jazz trombonists such as Carl Fontana. The trombone sound Jack began to develop has often been described as a “jug tone,” slightly nasal and hoarse.
  • While still a teenager, Jack began gigging around the Southwest with “barnstorming” bands, including Doc Ross’s “Jazz Bandits” and a band run by the famous but reclusive pianist Peck Kelley. Still unrecorded, Jack arrived in New York in 1927 with Doc Ross.
  • While with Kelley, Jack created a way of playing the slide alone with a water glass in place of the bell. The technique, which changed all the usual slide positions, created a muted and earthy sound that Teagarden used expressively on a variety of tunes, especially the blues. One of the best examples of this amazing slide-with-glass playing is St. James Infirmary, from a 1947 concert recorded at New York City’s Town Hall.
  • Jack became known as a masterful blues trombonist, and by his own account he became familiar with the sound of “blue notes” by listening to the African American holy-roller-tent-revival meetings that took place near his childhood home in Vernon.
  • Louis Armstrong became a musical hero early on when Jack discovered the trumpeter’s records. Supposedly, Jack and trumpeter Wingy Manone buried a copy of Armstrong’s Oriental Strut in the Southwestern desert, hoping the record would become petrified for the benefit of future generations. Later, Teagarden would go on to perform with Armstrong many times.
  • Jack first recorded with Louis Armstrong in 1929 — one of the earliest racially mixed sessions. The tune was a blues, Knockin’ a Jug.
  • In 1944, Jack, with the help of his band, provided the soundtrack for two Walter Lantz Universal Cartoons: The Pied Piper of Basin Street and the Sliphorn King of Polaroo.
  • Jack eventually recorded and performed with most of the major jazz musicians of his time, which kept him on the road throughout his life.
  • Jack played with the following groups, among numerous others:
  1. Ben Pollack, 1928-1932.
  2. Paul Whiteman, 1933-1938.
  3. Various editions of his own — sadly, mostly mis-managed and perpetually in-debt — big band, 1939-1946.
  4. The Louis Armstrong All-Stars, 1947-1951.
  5. His own small quasi-dixieland groups, one of which did a tour for the U.S. State Department in 1958.
  • Jack’s singing was just as beguiling as his trombone playing to many. Like his trombone sound, his voice had a distinctive timbre, “Between croon and moan,” as critic Nat Hentoff described it.
  • Teagarden enjoyed tinkering with mechanical things. He designed mutes and mouthpieces, occasionally taking a lathe on the road with him. He owned and worked on two Stanley Steamers during his life, although one was stolen when he let a prospective buyer take it for a test drive.
  • Teagarden supposedly originated the use of Ponds cold cream as a lubricant on trombone slides.

Teagarden Recordings

cover art for Jack Teagarden's Greatest Hits

During his career, Teagarden recorded prolifically, and today you’ll find many compilations featuring “Big Tea.” If you’re looking for a good cross-section of Jack’s entire discography, this boxed set is a good one. The Complete Fifties Studio Recordings, with Bobby Hackett, are also not to be missed. For downloadable music, Jack Teagarden Greatest Hits is a great value.