JAZZ JAMMED INTO CRATES
By Norman Warwick
´Remember record stores?´ asks Matt Micucci at Jazziz via Feedspot Digest.
We remember the thrill of turning your friends on to new music by swapping vinyl and CDs? My childhood school summer holidays were spent buying and swapping pop singles with my slightly older cousin Diane in Tadcaster whilst I, as a pre-teenager had never heard of jazz or folk or country.
The people at Jazziz also remember rummaging through the record stores. That’s why they are rebooting that tradition for the digital age with their Crate Digging video series, in which they search through crates of memories to bring you a handful of album recommendations on a given theme. It’s social media in the truest sense of the term: no algorithms, no computer-generated playlist.
´We´re just jazz fans sharing records with other jazz fans,´ they freely tell us.
And Mr. Micucci delivers on his word in an article that enables readers to watch a full-length discussion of the albums via a Jazziz video link. Write-ups of individual albums and sample tracks follow each clip so let´s join the party. This week, Jazziz take a cue from the recent inauguration day in the States to suggest a short list of albums by some favourite ´presidents of jazz!
The first album they suggest you put in your crate (shopping trolleys are way too small) is a 1959 Verve album by The Lester Young-Teddy Wilson Quartet, Pres and Teddy
No crate should be without the inclusion of an album by the Pres (or Prez) himself, says Matt Micucci. Saxophonist Lester Young was celebrated for his unmatched and influential lyrical and relaxed style. On this fabled quartet session (among the best Norman Grantz ever produced) Young vibrantly co-led with pianist Teddy Wilson, a legend in his own right. Young’s playing only got better with age and in the ’50s had, according to many fans and critics, acquired greater emotional depth. Unfortunately, while recorded in 1956, this album would see the light of day three years later, the same year of Young’s untimely death at 49 years old.
We could probably quite easily fill our crate with Lester Young recordings so let´s slip in at least one other album of his. Perhaps Lester Young in Washington D.C., 1956, Vol. 4 (Fantasy Records, 1998).
photo 3 ´Lester Young in Washington, D.C. Does it get any more “presidential” than that?´ asks Brian Zimmerman, the other half of this jazz-collecting unit. This album came from a live session recorded by Pres and his quartet at Olivia Davis’ Patio Lounge in 1956 and while some Lester aficionados turn their backs on Pres’ later years, this live recording makes the case that he was very much on top of his game, weaving deliciously curlicued lines through jazz standards like I Cover the Waterfront, Pennies from Heaven and Almost Like Being In Love. His solo on D.B. Blues, says Zimmerman, is as smooth and supple as anything you’ve ever heard from Young.
The Dinah Washington album, released on Mercury in 1961 is as Unforgettable as its title suggests so let´s make sure we drop a copy in the crate to share with others.
The inclusion of an album by the uncompromising Dinah Washington on this list of Presidents Of Jazz is. Micucci reminds us, partly in reference to the name shared with the first president of the United States. However, it also ´symbolically represents the hope to see more women in power everywhere in the near future.´ Macucci does not claim this to be Dinah´s most ambitious of full-length releases, 1961’s strings-laden Unforgettable was later released as a more expansive compilation LP, but even in its original format showcases all her love of melody. ´She breathes new life into well-worn standards,´ the journalist claims, ´through her spectacular voice control and interpretive skill, particularly on such tracks as the opening This Bitter Earth and the title song.
Lester Young returns with Lester Young and Billie Holiday, “Fine and Mellow” from The Sound of Jazz, 1957, with this cd being one of Zimmerman´s selections dropped into our imaginary crate. Although this isn´t an album per se, the reporter surreptitiously slips in an appropriate video clip, ofone of the defining moments in “Pres”-idential history. The footage comes from the 1957 CBS television special curated by jazz critics Nat Hentoff and Whitney Balliet and produced by Camera Three creator Robert Herridge. Although the program featured a variety of performances by prominent jazz artists, the most striking, opines Brian Zimmerman, ´was a rare reuniting of Lester Young and Billie Holiday. The once inseparable pair had grown distant in recent years, and so their appearance together for a small-group take on Fine And Mellow was a momentous occasion. Lester, by that time, had become frail in his old age, but when his solo rolled around, things took a magical turn.
Hentoff sums it up best: ´Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard, and [he and Holiday] were looking at each other, their eyes were sort of interlocked, and she was sort of nodding and half–smiling. It was as if they were both remembering what had been—whatever that was. And in the control room we were all crying. When the show was over, they went their separate ways. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.´
Surely an obvious choice to be piled in the crate of Presidential Jazz is Dizzy Gillespie´s Dizzy for President recorded on Knitting Factory in 1997. Jazziz writer Matt Micucci reminds us that ´trailblazing trumpeter´ Dizzy Gillespie wasn’t only a major innovator of the jazz idiom but also a renowned joker. One of his most famous pranks actually gained momentum and became a politically significant statement, as he staged a presidential run to garner support and raise money for the Congress Of Racial Equality. The race culminated in a legendary performance at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival, the recording of which was finally released in 1997 as Dizzy for President. One of the numbers, Salt Peanuts, was reworked as Vote Dizzy and became the official song for the presidential campaign which, as Matt reflects, in retrospect, might not have been such a bad idea after all.
In a crate full of Presidential jazz we surely cannot ignore an album by an ensemble calling itslef The President ! Wayne Horvitz, a pianist and composer with a literary bent, formed the group The President in 1985 and Brian Zimmerman has made sure a copy of this album has been placed in our crate.
The group´s original line-up, Zimmerman reminds us, featured Bobby Previte, Dave Sewelson, Kevin Cosgrove and Joe Gallant, but was later filled out with the inclusion of Stew Cutler on guitar, Doug Wieselman on sax and Dave Hofstra on bass. (Even further down the line, the group opened rank to include guitarists Bill Frisell and Elliott Sharp.) The President was a staple of the late ’80s New York City art-rock scene, playing alongside similarly un-categorizable ensembles with jazz foundations like The Minutemen. For their eponymous 1987 debut, The President draws inspiration from a variety of sources, from gospel music and Indian raga to Charlie Parker and Minimalist classical.
Will we soon see an album called White House Rising by Joe Biden´s be-Boppers?