As you’ve probably noticed, this website isn’t updated nearly enough. Today, however, is International Jazz Day, (the culmination of Jazz Appreciation Month), so updating today is probably a solid idea! To get in on some international events for this celebratory day, head on over to the International Jazz Day website right now, or watch here . . .
Trombonist and proprietor of Hip Bone Music Michael Davis has been running his excellent Bone-to-Pick interview series for a while now. A little over a year ago, Davis featured the incomparable trombonist Bill Watrous. Watrous, who is full of stories, observations, and the occasional joke*, is a natural for this sort of thing, and that makes the interview fun to watch.
How Long Has This Been Going On?
*The Carl Fontana Joke
Watch the entire interview if you haven’t already, but for the joke as told by Carl Fontana to Watrous, check out 32 minutes 13 seconds.
When recalling his earliest — and fairly obscure — LP solo recordings, Bill mentions one whose title seems to be a 60s zeitgeist send-up: Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known. Watrous remembers the arranger Walter Raim talked him into the project when he was in New York City doing other recording work. Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known had interesting instrumentation in addition to Watrous’s trombone, consisting of string quartet, vibes, guitar, bass, and drums, plus voices. “I still have a copy of this. You can’t get these anywhere,” says Watrous.
Well, over at my favorite used record store, Hymies, I did find a copy of, you know, Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known. It was recorded in 1969 for MTA Records in New York (not to be confused with the current label of that name). Despite the high concept title, the recording is a standards outing with Aquarius (from the 1967 musical Hair) added in. (Also, did Aquarius ever really become a standard?) To be sure, it’s easy listening, but as the liner notes mention, using a string quartet — as opposed to a huge string section — changes up the usual “easy listening” texture. The arrangements are interesting — the tracks on this LP could have easily been used for Mad Men music cues.
UPDATE: 1/24/16: The podcast I mention below is no longer hosted by AM 1690, but you’ll find Mr. Vernick’s Jazz Insights at iTunes U.
A while back, I had a little write-up about Gordon Vernick and his Jazz Insights radio show that’s also a podcast. Jazz and trombone aficionados should know that in August, Vernick authored episodes featuring five jazz trombone players of the 20s, including Kid Ory, Miff Mole, Jimmy Harrison, Charlie Green and Jack Teagarden. Another good reason to check the show out.
It’s October, and presumably time to start raking leaves. Despite the date on the calendar, though, it’s still getting up to 80º degrees up here in Minnesota! Whoo-hoo!
On a series of shows about J.J. Johnson, an initial mention of the slide trombone’s recalcitrant nature is inevitable. Vernick says:
The Trombone is a very difficult instrument. It’s a very ancient instrument. It’s been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years…
It’ll come as no surprise that Dr. Vernick uses recordings as one of the vehicles to recount a jazz artist’s career and development. Continuing with Johnson — the only trombonist featured so far — Vernick begins with J.J.’s early swing-style playing on Lester Leaps In for Norman Granz’s Jazz At the Philharmonic. Johnson’s emerging be-bop style is illustrated by I Mean You with Coleman Hawkins and How Deep Is the Ocean? with Charlie Parker, before we hear classic be-bop dates with J.J. as the leader. By the end of the 40s, we hear how J.J. cooled off a bit.
While recounting his career in the 50s, Vernick discusses Johnson’s involvement in the somewhat short-lived idea of Third Stream Music (A Mix of Jazz and Classical Music) by playing us some of the rare recording Birth of the Third Stream,while getting to J.J.’s musical connection to Miles Davis. Naturally, there’s also discussion of The Eminent J.J. Johnson Volumes One and Two. Along the way, Vernick includes some other important Johnson recordings, including Jay and Kai + 6 (below, courtesy YouTube) and Stan Getz and J.J. Johnson at the Opera House.
I won’t spoil it by recounting all of Vernick’s show on J.J. here. You really should go give it a listen yourself. Vernick’s presentational style is friendly and geared towards a jazz novice, but it’s still interesting if you happen to know more. In other words, Jazz Insights is aptly named. Plus, Dr. Vernick has recorded programs on Jackie McLean, Thad Jones, Scott LaFaro, Stan Getz, and other artists. Check it out.