I’ve Got Mail: Jazz Is In The Air

Jazz Outside of the City

Since Whiplash, lots of people have sent well-wishes, including bassist Bill Crow who also mentioned a new venue:

There’s a new restaurant, called Division Street, in Peekskill NY that is trying out a jazz policy. I played there Friday night with Carmen Leggio and Bucky Pizzarelli, and it was nice. Good sounding room, and the people actually shut up and listened to the music! The boss says he plans to buy a good piano soon, so we’re hopeful. I’ve closed several jazz clubs in Westchester over the years, and another one, 17 Main, just bit the dust in Mt. Kisco. So it is good to see a decent venue open up. Carmen is a rare treat…playing a style that ranges from Hawk and Byas to Al and Zoot, he’s one of the last of that breed of instinctive players with a great sound and easy swing.

I am not familiar with Mr. Leggio, so I did a little googling and found this recording of Smile/Tarrytown Tenor with Milt Hinton, Derek Smith, George Duvivier, Ronnie Bedford, John Bunch and Butch Miles, and a 1999 article – Carmen Leggio: Young Man With A Horn – by Fred Cicetti that included this intriguing analogy: Leggio blows tenor the way Willie Mays ran down a flyball. They both let you know from the get-go that you’ll never be able to do it their way.

Speaking of outside the city, I also received well wishes from drummer Kenny Harris in England. You can also find him on page 248 of Doug Ramsey‘s Desmond bio, Take Five.

Emails about Al McKibbon included

“Dear sweet Al…..” (a mutual friend)

“This summer has been tough on old bass players…I’m starting to look over my shoulder.” (a bassist)


“I had the opportunity to play with Al on several occasions throughout the years here in L.A., and the things that impressed and inspired me the most were his deep, dark sound and the notes he chose to play. Al played the bass in a manner that you felt as well as heard. His sound came up at you from the floor. And no matter how convoluted the chord changes might be on any given song, Al always seemed to find the best notes to play. He was truly the heartbeat and, to my way of thinking, one of the unsung heroes of the bass world.”

That last one was from drummer Michael Stephans, who just launched a very lovely website of his own.

Radio Days

I’ve been corresponding with discjockey/drummer Dick McGarvin (he was also at McKibbon’s funeral) and he wrote belatedly about last month’s Johnny Pate piece

The day you had the piece on Johnny Pate, I played my LP of “Round Trip” by Phil Woods – it hadn’t been off the shelf in years – and was reminded of what a good album it is. Oh, and thanks to your blog, I finally learned who was in the great sounding rhythm section on “Round Trip”. There was no mention of personnel on the album!

That’s why I blog – not for the thanks, but for the kick of introducing, or in this case, reintroducing someone to some good music, a great book, or even just an interesting thought. Spotlighting those who go unnoticed or unmentioned is another good reason.

McGarvin went on to reminsce about the good old days of radio:

I remember playing it [“Round Trip”] on the radio when it was released…and I wasn’t even working at a jazz station then. It was at KSFO, San Francisco, which was an AM personality oriented MOR station playing everything from Sinatra to Paul Simon, Peggy Lee to the Carpenters, Shearing to the Tijuana Brass. That list also included Ella, Steve Lawrence, Brazil 66, Otis Redding, The Fifth Dimension, Kenny Rankin, Stevie Wonder, Nancy Wilson, Cannonball’s MERCY MERCY MERCY, Van Morrison. Well, you get the idea. (WNEW probably would have been the closest New York equivalent at the time.) What’s amazing, considering today’s homogenized radio, is that each disc jockey in those days picked his own music, so I was able to mix in the occasional Oscar Peterson or something like one of the more familiar songs from the Phil Woods album. It was wonderful to be able to program such a wide variety of music into one show…and it worked. But, sadly, that kind of radio station is of another time and doesn’t exist anymore.

The pendulum is bound to swing again…someday. Meanwhile, I am wondering if it is time to check out the XM Satellite. TT seems to think so.

Missed Basses

When you get to be a certain age the number of entries in your address book across which you scribble “deceased” begins to increase. I know this, and given that my husband knows more dead people than live ones, I really shouldn’t be the one to comment. Still, I can’t help but notice that six world-class jazz bassists, five of whom I knew personally, have died in the last three-and-a-half months, starting with former Ellington bassist, Jimmy Woode, who passed away on April 22nd, and ending with Keter Betts who died this past weekend. In between, we lost Percy Heath (April), Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (May), Pierre Michelot, and Al McKibbon (July). If I’ve forgotten anyone, let me know.

I first met Jimmy Woode in a recording studio in Berlin. It was June of 1969. We (Mom, me, and my best friend Daisy) were with Dad on one of his whirlwind tours – Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Berlin all in two weeks. For some reason, we flew into East Berlin where Dad’s amplifier did not appear with the rest of our baggage. Thankfully, the bus stopped at an outer building where the amplifier was found, and then took us on to West Berlin. Of course the ride included the obligatory stop at Checkpoint Charlie, where, against explicit instructions, we took snapshots and got away with it. It was a trio recording (Daniel Humair on drums), and as producer Joachim E. Berendt pointed out, it was Dad’s first recording of his own in more than ten years. “It’s Nice To Be With You” was a family album, if you will, in that Mom wrote the title tune and I am on the cover. I wasn’t too thrilled with the cover back then – at thirteen I would have preferred something more glamorous than eating a bockwurst out of my father’s hand at the Berlin Zoo – but that was then, and today I wish I had a copy of the original photo.

It was Dad who first introduced me to Percy Heath. Percy was playing with The Modern Jazz Quartet – I think it was the 1966 concert at Carnegie Hall. Listening to my Dad, I was familiar with a tune called Bags’ Groove, and the MJQ played it that night; it was probably the only tune I recognized. In recent years, my husband, John, and I have had the pleasure of hanging out with all three Heath Brothers at annual events like Monterey and IAJE conventions. I especially enjoy it as Beverly and Mona (Mrs. Tootie and Mrs. Jimmy, respectively) often travel with them; seeing Percy’s wife, June, was a much rarer treat. It’s funny that we always see them on the road and seldom at home, even though Tootie & Beverly are neighbors. John had breakfast with Jimmy and Tootie at the Heritage Festival in New Orleans the day after Percy died.

I never knew Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen personally, but you can’t be a jazz lover and not know his playing, especially his work with Oscar Peterson. Ray Brown, who left us three years ago (it doesn’t seem like that long) recommended him to Peterson, reportedly saying, “He’s the only one I know that might keep up with you.” The word virtuoso is often over-used, but NHOP was one, and I’ve read that he can be heard on more than 400 recordings. Of the many Pedersen-Peterson recordings, The Paris Concert, recorded live in October of 1978, is often singled out.

Pierre was not so well-known in the U.S., save by those who recognized him as the unnamed bassist in the movie, ‘Round Midnight or knew his work with Miles Davis on Louis Malle’s 1957 film, Ascenseur Pour L’échafaud. Serious jazz fans, of course, knew him from recordings with Bud Powell, Coleman Hawkins and Buck Clayton, Django Reinhardt, Dizzy Gillespie, and Clifford Brown, among others. I was in my early twenties when I met him in Paris. He, along with pianist George Arvanitas, was working in the tiny cave (basement) of a little nightclub called Le petit Opportun’ (15, rue des Lavandières-Ste-Opportune) with saxophonist Jerome Richardson. I remember Pierre as always swinging and smiling, and I was sad to learn that during the last few years of his life he suffered with Alzheimers.

Al McKibbon I’ve written about recently (here and here). I am not sure when I first met Keter, but I think it was in Nice, France, at Le Grande Parade du Jazz (the festival produce by George Wein). I was an impressionable sixteen-year-old on a summer excursion, and he was on tour with Ella Fitzgerald. I saw him many times over the years, usually with Ella, sometimes with Joe Williams, later with Etta Jones, and at recording sessions with everyone who was anyone. At home, he was active in the Washington, D.C.-area schools and music programs, taught at Howard University, and coordinated jazz programming for Black Entertainment Television.

The beat will go on without them, or perhaps, because of them.

Al McKibbon’s Funeral

We attended Al’s funeral yesterday at Forest Lawn’s Church of the Hills, followed by a gathering at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Bass players in attendance included Richard Davis (he flew in from Wisconsin) Jimmy Bond, Jennifer Leitham, Richard Simon (who along with pianist Phil Wright, accompanied Ernie Andrews in his rendition of “My Way” with lyrics by Howlett Smith) and Howard Rumsey. Of course there were many other musicians on the scene — Kenny Burrell, Herman Riley, Charles Owens, Clora Bryant, Donald Vega, Michael Melvoin, and Jake Hanna, to name a few — but what touched me most were the tributes and reminiscences shared by other people whose lives he touched: his next door neighbor, his dentist, a fan, and his hanging and dining buddy Gary Chen-Stein.

Neither John nor I spoke at the service, but here’s what I would have said:

Big Al looked tough and mean – that is, until he smiled. He was also an exceptional listener and a loyal friend who refrained from judging people…unless they did him wrong. He mastered the art of overt generosity while still wringing blood from a nickel. He could grumble a lot, but he never gave up. He was 80 years old when his first recording as a leader was released. Tumbao Para Los Congueros Di Mi Vida was followed five years later by Black Orchid, and both albums are deeply steeped in Afro-Cuban flavors. If anything could surpass the joy he felt in creating those recordings, it was his trip to Cuba last November. There he found a beautiful country with smiling faces, warm sun and great music – everything the world should be. Despite its poverty, Cuba was his heaven.

Al was a proud man who maintained the best of “old-fashioned” values: he was a man of his word (and you’d best stick to yours, too), he liked to shop for clothes and dress well, he preferred for everything and everyone to run on time, (including his wives and daughters), and he was fiercely independent. Al always spoke his mind, regardless of the consequences, and yes, it got him fired plenty of times. But when it came to darker feelings, he was very private and hid any despair. He was extremely intelligent and well-read, but when asked what college he attended, he’d say “the one behind the Bass looking out at the world.” He loved to travel and meet people from all over the world. Whenever language was a barrier, music was always the solution.

Al was a big man with big heart and we will miss him.

Al & Lucky

Kudos to Jazz Portraits — while many jazz sites have noted the passing of both Al McKibbon and Lucky Thompson, Joe Moore is the only one I’ve found who has done so by posting a photo of the two playing together. I don’t know where the photo came from, but it’s a great one – check it out.

John Levy, longtime friend of Al’s and seven years his senior, also worked with Lucky Thompson back in the day. They played at The Three Deuces with Bobby Tucker on piano.

Life was good. I was 32 years old, and I was making a living in one of the most exciting places in the world—the only place in the world for an enterprising jazz musician to be. Club and concert dates, live broadcasts, and recordings kept me busy. My encounters with Ben Webster, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Duke Ellington left me with many wonderful memories. I had engagements with other artists including Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Mildred Bailey, Red Norvo, and Milt Jackson…

Whenever I could, I’d go off the street to hear other people play; I was always looking to hear a good bass player. I knew Milt Hinton was in New York now, but he wasn’t playing on 52nd Street at the time. I’d try to catch him whenever he was playing. Then one night I heard Al McKibbon playing with Tab Smith up on 135th Street. “Damn, he sure can play,” I told Jimmy [Jones] the next day.

[excerpted from “Men, Women, and Girl Singers“]

When John put down his bass, he hired Al to fill his spot on the bandstand with the George Shearing Quintet. John and Al remained lifelong friends.

Jazz in China?

JazzPortraits blogger Joe Moore (who is also Station Manager of KFSR FM in Fresno, California) asks Jazz in China? to which I reply with the first paragraph from William Zinsser’s “Mitchell & Ruff: An American Profile in Jazz

“Jazz came to China for the first time on the afternoon of June 2, 1981, when the American bassist and French-horn player Willie Ruff introduced himself and his partner, the pianist Dwike Mitchell, to several hundred students and profesors who were crowded into a large room at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.The students and the professors were all expectant, without knowing quite what to expect. They only knew that they were about to hear the first American jazz concert ever presented to the Chinese. Probably they were not surprised to find that the two musicians were black, though black Americans are a rarity in the People’s Republic. What they undoubtedly didn’t expect was that Ruff would talk to them in Chinese, and when he began they mummered with delight.”

Originally published in 1984, with a foreword by Alfred Murray, this once-out-of-print book has been reissued in paperback by Paul Dry Books. (They also re-issued Boston Boy by Nat Hentoff.)

Ruff’s web site includes a page about the duo and I was also happy to find a CD, Breaking the Silence – Standards, Strayhorn & Lullabies, newly issued in celebration of the re-issued book. Also of great interest is Jerry Jazz Musician’s interview with Zinsser about “his special friendship with Mitchell and Ruff, their background, and the incredible journeys he accompanied them on throughout the world.”
Note: Photo credit for the picture belongs to Reginald Jackson.

Life & Death: Hank Jones, Kenny Burrell, and Luther Henderson

On Sunday, July 31st, pianist Hank Jones will celebrate his 87th birthday, just shy of one year for each key on the piano. Hank was born in Vicksburg, MS on July, 31, 1918, and NPR’s Jazz Profiles, hosted by Nancy Wilson, is celebrating. Check the NPR web site to see when the program airs near you and check out the audio clips of pianists Sir Roland Hanna and Billy Taylor talking about Jones’ personal approach to the piano, and Hank’s own reminiscences of listening to Fats Waller on the radio, watching Art Tatum practice, working on The Ed Sullivan Show, and constantly striving for excellence.

Last month Bookish Gardener heard Hank Jones on a different NPR program (Terry Gross’ Fresh Air – archived here) and wrote:

Disciplined and devout in how he lives, thoughtful and inventive in how he plays—Hank Jones is simply inspiring.

July 31st is also guitarist Kenny Burrell’s birthday — born in Detroit, MI in 1931, he will be 74. A prolific recording artist and composer, Kenny is also the Director of the Jazz Studies Program at UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology His UCLA faculty bio is here and the bio on the Verve Music Group web site is here.

Coincidently, both Hank and Kenny are on my Luther Henderson interview list. Kenny and Luther shared a love of all things Ellington. Hank and Luther both loved Fats Waller, and it was Hank who replaced Luther as the on-stage pianist for Ain’t Misbehavin’ on Broadway. Tomorrow, July 29th, is the second anniversary of Luther’s death.

Every Day

Fifty years ago today (and tomorrow), vocalist Joe Williams and the Count Basie Orchestra made their first recording together. The trumpet section included Thad Jones and Joe Newman, Bill Hughes and Benny Powell were among the trombones, Marshall Royal, Frank Wess and Frank Foster were taking care of business in the saxaphone section, and Freddie Green’s guitar anchored the rhythm section. Over two days, (July 26 and 27, 1955) they recorded eight songs:

Every Day I Have the Blues
The Comeback
Alright, Okay, You Win
In the Evenin’
Teach Me Tonight
Send Me Someone to Love
My Baby Upsets Me
Roll ‘Em Pete

all of which remained an active part of Joe’ repertoire for his entire career. The album was a hit around the world and that year Joe won his first Down Beat polls in two categories: Best New Male Singer and Best Male Bandsinger. This photo was taken two years later, but Frank Wess and Marshall Royal can be seen here, along with Bill Hughes Thad Jones, and Freddie Green.

I miss Joe every day. It was Joe who introduced me to my husband, and Joe who sang to me over the phone when I hospitalized with cancer. As Joe’s longtime friend and publicist, I wrote the text for his funeral service program, and a copy is posted on my website, here, where I can see his smiling face, every day.

Concert at the 92nd Street Y

Last night I attended a concert at the 92nd Street Y titled Jazz Legacy: A Portrait of Jim Hall. My reaction is favorably biased, of course, as Jim is my dad, but it was a great concert, really. I’m not going to review it — hopefully someone else will, but I will tell you that my favorite part of the program was the second half. That’s when an unusual string section consisting of six cellos and six violas played on three compositions: a Jim Hall original titled October Song, an arrangement of John Lewis’ Django featuring Jim along with guitarist Peter Bernstein, and Goodbye by Gordon Jenkins featuring Joe Lovano on clarinet and soprano saxophone. Jim recorded all three on 1998 Telarc CD called By Arrangement — but he seldom has an opportunity to perform them in concert, and as I mentioned earlier this week, there is an added dimension to live performances that cannot be captured on recordings. In addition to the ambiance of the concert hall, and the palpable collective concentration of the audience magnified on this occasion by the low volume/minimal amplification of the instruments, part of my fun is watching how much the string players enjoy playing this music. They seemed almost gleeful when playing the pizzicato sections in Django, and the smile on the face of violist Orlando Wells during his brief solo on October Song could have melted a glacier.

Johnny Pate 80th Birthday Celebration Concert on CD

Having attended this concert, I was honored to be asked to write an account and reveled in the 4,000-word space they allowed me. What follows is but a brief snipet. You can read the whole piece here, but better yet, buy the CD.

When jazz aficionados ask me, “Johnny who?” I wonder how someone so important in the lives of so many stellar jazz giants could slip beneath their radar. Monty Alexander, Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, Shirley Horn, Harvey Mason, James Moody, Marlena Shaw, and Phil Woods, who were all on hand, are but a few in a longer list legendary collaborators that also includes Ahmad Jamal, B.B. King, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, and Joe Williams.

Johnny Pate, mild-mannered and unassuming, has been slipping underneath the radar all his life. But March 30, 2003 is the day he has to face the music – his music – and accept the love and affection of those who have come not only to play his music, but also to say thanks.

The program begins with a proclamation from the Govenor of Nevada celebrating Pate’s musical legacy, and in keeping with his lifetime of accomplishments, the ‘whereas’ clauses go on forever, acknowledging his roles as bassist, songwriter, arranger, producer, teacher, composer and conductor of symphonic and film scores, and mentioning many of the great artists with whom he has worked.

The first of many emotional moments comes when Pate introduces Phil Woods. It may not seem like such a long way from Pennsylvania to Nevada, but for someone battling emphysema and down with the flu just days earlier, it is a very long way indeed. Still, Woods would not have missed today’s events. He tells the audience about his life as a struggling musician in the 1960s. “I couldn’t get arrested. ‘Buy a flute, be a studio man,’ they told me. I said ‘forget it.’” Woods moved to Europe . Tracking him down in France, Pate offered Woods a record deal with a dream rhythm section (Herbie Hancock on piano, Richard Davis on bass and Grady Tate on drums), augmented by a string section led by Gene Orloff. The album is titled Round Trip. “I’m talking the truth,” Woods tells us. “I went back to France with a shitload of money, and a few months later I was invited to play at Newport. I was back, baby! I was back, and that’s ’cause of Johnny Pate, and I want to say thank you.”

One by one, these featured artists augment the UNLV Jazz Band. By the time Monty Alexander, Ron Carter and Harvey Mason finish driving the band through the blues, the audience is cheering and we haven’t even reached intermission yet. “I promise you we won’t play anymore lullabies,” quips Pate. “It’s smoking up here.”

Johnny voice cracks more than once with unshed tears – when introducing Phil Woods, when Shirley Horn emerges from the wings in her wheelchair and procedes to play piano for the first time in public using a prosthesis in place of her amputated leg, and when he speaks of his dear friend Joe Williams, no longer with us.

The show is over all too soon. After the encore, the applause begins to die down, but not because the audience is ready to leave. Applause gives way to a spontaneous audience rendition of “Happy Birthday, dear Johnny, Happy Birthday to you.” They know his birthday is actually nine months away, but it doesn’t matter.

No one could be immune to the outpouring of love and appreciation that filled the theater. It’s just ten days since America invaded Iraq and people are still glued to the news reports, but for a few hours at least, all of that was put from our minds. Ten days after the concert, columnist John L. Smith writes in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “…I found myself not thinking about war,” and he thanks Pate “for reminding us of the beauty that is still in the world.” I like to think he speaks for everyone who hears this live commemorative recording.

Word Trips

Just about two and a half months ago, my second day on the blog, I mentioned the Internet Anagram Server and shared three of the anagrams derived from DevraDoWrite. (Click here for a reprise.) Today, as I prepare for a two-week trip to the other coast for a mixture of business and pleasure, two more phrases seem particularly apropos. I am truly a Road Wired Vet, ready for virtual action anywhere I go, lugging laptop, palmpilot, digital recorder, digital camera, wireless connector, and myriad cables power sources, and of course, a cell phone. A quick google has provided me with a list of locations with free wi-fi access, so I should have no technological excuse for not blogging. The next blog posting will come from an undisclosed location in big metropolis.

The first few days will be devoted to research for my next book, a biography of Luther Henderson. I will be blogging about Luther as the project progresses, but meanwhile, if you don’t know anything about him, read this brief bio on The African American Registry® website, and then check out this amazing CD (you can listen to some clips online). Don’t, however, pay any attention to the Editorial Review posted by Amazon.com because it lacks both understanding and accuracy. Clearly this guy was not aware that Ellington himself referred to Luther as his classical right arm, that their professional/musical relationship began in the 1940s, and their personal relationship even earlier than that when Luther, just a child, became neighborhood buddies with Duke’s son, Mercer.

It is with increasing frequency, and not a little dismay, that I notice and/or hear about factual inaccuracies created or perpetuated by the media. Just today, my husband sent off a Letter to the Editor at Jazz Times magazine to correct some misstatements in the Wes Montgomery feature. (If they don’t print his letter, I will post it on this blog.) But that is a rant for another day.

After a few days of intensive research in Luther’s personal archives, I will relax and visit with family and friends. On Thursday, July 21, 2005 at 8 PM, I will be at the 92nd Street Y (1395 Lexington Avenue) to hear a concert: Jazz Legacy – Portrait of Jim Hall, featuring Peter Bernstein, Bill Charlap, Terry Clarke, Tom Harrell, Steve LaSpina, Joe Lovano, and Strings. (The Box Office telephone number is 212-415-5500 — I heard tickets are going fast.)

By the time I cross back to the left coast and get home on Sunday, I am likely to wish that I had Arrived Towed.