Bad Music

Duke Ellington said there are two kinds of music – good and the other kind.
Here are some of observations regarding the Other:

    a jazz group is not an ensemble when all of the individuals solo simultaneously
    velocity and volume do not make up for a lack of taste or talent, no matter how great the technical execution
    drowning an audience in an avalanche of sounds gives them no space in which to discern
    it’s not likely to be good if the only message sent is ‘look ma, no hands’
    same approach to each and every tune – performer can’t possibly understand the ‘meaning’ of the compositions
    a few inventive licks get re-used, over-used, and ultimately abused until the spice kills the whole dish

Too many performers have played too many notes while managing to say nothing at all.

Coincidental Timing?

For my listening pleasure today while in the HBOT tube, I chose The Bill Holman Band Live. Big band studio recordings are nice, but the live recordings get the listener a little closer to that indescribable experience of being there, up close, with a 16-piece swinging ensemble. There really are no words to sufficiently convey THAT feeling, so if you’ve never experienced it, please seek out an opportunity at your soonest convenience.

This disc, recorded back in Sept of 2004 in Los Angeles, includes several excellent Holman originals starting with Woodrow, dedicated to Woody Herman. But it was the second tune that surprised me — A Day In The Life by John Lennon and Paul McCartney — and provided coincidental timing #1: immediately my thoughts turned to this past Sunday’s post by Marc Myers at Jazzwax where he discussed how a group’s tune choices can invite or alienate audiences. Marc suggests that including some recognizable selections is one of the things that can help bring audiences into the fold. To me, that sense of recognition not only can make a listener feel ‘in the know’ and ‘at home’, but also aids in educating ears, helping one to hear where an improvisor is going and then allowing one to feel the elation of the return when the music comes back from an improvisatory run that might have one well out onto a limb.

Coincidental timing #2 came with the last selection on the disc, another Holman original titled Zoot ‘n’ Al. Bill Crow reported that the Water Gap gig dedicated to the tunes from the Zoot and Al songbook (see last post) went beautifully and he reminded he me that on November 13, at the U of Pennsylvania in East Stroudsburg, where the Al Cohn Collection resides, they’re having a Zoot Fest, celebrating Louise Sims’ gift of Zoot’s memorabilia to the collection. Bill writes:

They’ll be concentrating on the jazz loft music at Dave Young’s place (821 6th Ave) where Zoot, Al, Jim, Jim Raney, Brookmeyer, etc. etc. played frequently, and where W. Eugene Smith took photographs and recorded a lot of the music.  After a morning presentation by Sam Stephenson regarding his Jazz Loft Project and a panel of some of the loft denizens, the afternoon will feature music by Phil Woods, Bob Dorough, Ronnie Free, Lew Tabackin, Bill Goodwin, me, the COTA Festival Orchestra, and “surprise guests.

I don’t believe in coincidence. You just have to open your ears and listen to the universe. Jazz is but one of may excellent ways to connect.

a little nudge

Just received a note from long-time friend Bill Crow, fabulous bassist and excellent writer and jazz raconteur (From Birdland to Broadway and Jazz Anecdotes: Second Time Around).

He asks:

… did you abandon your blog? I miss your comments. Hope it is because you’re doing something that’s too interesting too leave time for Devradowrite.

I keep making elaborate plans to re-launch this blog and life keeps getting in my way. The interesting diversion has been the re-focusing of my Luther Henderson biography and I am now back on track there and in high-gear. I will be describing the re-focus aspect, along with the challenges of biography and of writing about music, in some upcoming blog posts.

For those who want to know, the not-so-interesting diversions have been health-related (see Diver Devra and HBOT, just below).

There are certain tenets to maintaining a successful blog, and primary among them is consistency. When I first began, back in 2005, I posted every weekday, and sometimes more. I don’t know if I will be able to keep up with myself, but it is clear now that I will just have to plunge back in and do the best I can. So, thanks for the nudge, Bill.

If you ever have a chance to hear Bill play live, grab it. Tonight, anyone near enough to Delaware Water Gap, PA should head for the Deer Head Inn where Bill, along with Bob Keller, Lew DelGatto, Jesse Green and Tom Whaley, will be playing tunes from the Al Cohn & Zoot Sims songbook.

Diver Devra and HBOT

Many of you are aware that I beat tongue cancer with heavy radiation and chemo back in 1996. The radiation burned out my salivary glands and the lack thereof over these years has led to dental decay with which even the dentist cannot keep up. The upshot is that I have had more root-canals than I can count and 6 more teeth were pulled in August (2 had been pulled in 2008).

The extractions weren’t so bad (done in hospital, under anesthesia) but my ability to heal from oral surgery is compromised due to the radiation I absorbed during the cancer war — it killed more than just the salivary glands — the diagnosis is osteoradionecrosis (dead bones). Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (HBOT) is the prescription, 2-hours a day, five days a week, starting two weeks before surgery and continuing after for as long as it takes for the ‘wounds’ close up. This little image is not me, but it is the actual chamber you’ll find me in from 7-9 AM, M-F for awhile.

You can’t take anything into the chamber with you, no books, nada. There’s no room to move around, but you can listen to music or watch a dvd through a porthole. My preference is to lie down and listen to music. But sometimes I am not given the lie-down option and have to sit in the back compartment (pictured). In chamber I seem to fare best listening to instrumentals rather than vocals, and orchestral rather than small ensemble, though I did spend two days listening to solo piano from the Live at Maybeck Hall series. Recent listening includes Jim Hall’s Textures and By Arrangement, Bob Brookmeyer’s Get Well Soon, and Quincy Jones’ Big Band Complete 1960 European Concerts.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works by “force-feeding” pure oxygen to the bloodstream, tissues and cells. Treatments make me feel like DiverDevra (do you remember Diver Dan on TV?) – you are placed in a submarine-like compartment which is then pressurized. The earth’s atmosphere normally exerts approximately 15 pounds per square inch of pressure at sea level. That pressure is defined as one atmosphere absolute (abbreviated as 1 ATA). The chamber gets pressurized to 2 ATA, and by elevating the atmospheric pressure and increasing oxygen intake, oxygen is transferred through the membrane of the red blood cells at a much greater, more effective rate to saturate the bloodstream, tissue and cells.

The hoped-for end result is that the gum tissue will grow to fill in the gaps and cover all exposed bone. But until the bone is buried, you’ll find me popping antibiotics and diving.

Benny Powell, R.I.P.

b. March 1, 1930, d. June 26, 2010

The funeral will be held
July 12, 7 PM
Saint Peter’s Church
619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street)
New York, New York 10022-4610

A jazz service is being planned and is likely to include: Randy Weston and African Rhythms, a classical piece on violin played by one of his nieces, and Nextep featuring Frank Wess (Benny’s last group with whom he recorded). There will be New Orleans Brass band to play first and second line.

Condolences may be sent to:
Lisa Dickerson
3128 Westover Drive SE
Washington DC 20020

Instead of flowers the family has setup an education fund for his Grandchildren.
Kyle and Faith Swetnam
CO Evelyn Nolan (Grandmother)
2890 Emerald Spring Dr
Lawrenceville GA 30095

Benny died on the morning of June 26th. He was at Roosevelt Hospital, in New York City, recovering from successful spinal surgery when he died from causes not yet determined. He may have suffered a fatal heart attack, but the official report is not due until later this week.

Benny is survived by his daughter Demitra Powell Clay, his grandchildren Faith and Kyle Swetnam, his sister Elizabeth Powell McCrowey, his nieces, Lisa Dickerson who was in New York with him for the surgery, Terri Dickerson Hawkins, Patrice Dickerson, Laurie Dickerson, Verna Von Holtzclaw, Ann McCrowey Mickle and Bennette Brown; his nephews Bryon Brown, Craig Brown, Gilbert Mc Crowey Michael McCrowey, and Scott McCrowey; Barry K. Cooper, whom he loved as a son, and a host of grand nephews, nieces, cousins, and dear friends.

[info as of 7/1/2010]

Relay for Life

There are so many fundraisers for worthy causes that I hesitate to ask, but they say it can’t hurt to ask. For the first time I have decided to participate in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, the society’s nationwide signature event. As most of you know, I am a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in 1996 with a stage-four carcinoma in the base of my tongue. Some doctors didn’t think much of my chances, but other doctors bet on aggressive treatment and with their help, and the support of family and friends, I beat the odds. I believe that research can ultimately eradicate this pernicious disease, but its going to take more time and more effort, and that costs money.

I am on a relay team from Altadena (The Soroptimist Strutters) and we will take turns walking the track at Loma Alta Park on May 15th-16th. If you are able to support the cause and help the world fight cancer, you can make a contribution to the American Cancer Society. I will be collecting checks for the Relay for Life right up to the event or you can donate online by clicking here.

I would be glad to walk in honor or in memory of someone you know who has been touched by cancer. If you send me that persons name with your donation I will make sure that the person is included by name in the Luminaria Ceremony when candles are lit and we celebrate their lives.
UPDATE: Good news/bad news — the Altadena Relay has been rescheduled for August and moved to Farnsworth Park. Only bad news cause I was already psyched and ready to go, but it’s good news as it gives me a longer lead time to collect contributions.

Thank you to my wonderful friends & contributors

I started the ball rolling with a donation in the name of two friends; Jan Strayer and Josie Tison. I will continue to update this list as donations come in. Among those who I will be remembering are Kate Sullivan. Also in my thoughts is Jesse Fife waging his cancer war in Pittsburgh.

5/14/2010: Current tally is $575

Greg & Sue
Renee Govanucci
Sue Jennings
Tison Lacy
J E Nelson
Arlene Richards
Maria Schneider
Jan Strayer
Karen & Scott Twomey

Jake Hanna, R.I.P.


This video of Jake, swinging with the All Stars: Jimmy Cleveland, Jeff Fuller, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Bunch, Warren Vaché, Scott Hamilton is a short excerpt from one posted at Drummer World. The tune is Perdido.




It used to be in days of yore, that news, be it good or bad, took weeks to travel – pony express. Now word goes out so fast that scarcely an hour passes before the entire world becomes aware. So it was on Friday evening that I learned that Jake Hanna had left us. It has been years since I’ve been in real touch with Jake & Denisa, but my affection for them both remains always in my heart. You’ll read elsewhere, and everywhere, about Jake’s tremedous talent, his huge heart, his super-sized sense of humor and penchant for telling a good, often hilarious story.

Not only was Jake a wonderful raconteur but he was also a perpetrator of many pranks. Every once in a while, though, someone would turn the tables on him and one such time it was my dad who, much to his own chagrin, prevailed. It was during The Merv Griffin Show days in New York. The show was taped in the Little Theatre on 44th street between Broadway and 8th avenue, next door to Sardi’s. Mort Lindsay was the band leader, and musicians included Bill Berry, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Davis, Jim Hall, Jake Hanna, Richie Kamuca,…

As Jake got up from his seat at the drums, after or during a rehearsal, he had a habit of deliberately stepping into a small waste basket — when done at the correct angle, he’d then walk a few feet with the basket affixed as a boot. One day my dad decided to put quite a few inches of water in the bottom and float a few wadded-up papers on top to hide the tide. Rehearsal came and went but Jake didn’t step in it; oh well.

That night, during the show, Jake had the rare occasion to leave his drums and walk a few feet onto the stage to hit a gong — yes, you guessed it. TV cameras rolling, Jake walks onstage with a very wet pant leg. The camera didn’t see him step in the basket, but the band did and they all fell out, quietly. The water had sloshed up towards his knee and Jake just had to keep on going to hit his mark and ring that gong.

I am sure he is now instigating heavenly hilarity and swinging with all his angelic friends – well, maybe not angelic….

Read more about Jake here and here.

UPDATE: Also check out the Rifftides post and dig the early photo of Jake that looks to me to be circa the time of the Wastebasket Caper, along with a great video clip.

Celebrating BB

Bob Brookmeyer has been in the news a lot of late. It shouldn’t take an 80th birthday to precipitate this avalanche of applause — his artistry and tremendous output throughout the decades should be cause enough — but such is the nature of arts coverage in America so I am thrilled that he has garnered a spotlight.

Thanks to Doug Ramsey’s Rifftides for reminding me and for posting a video I had not seen, AND for pointing me to Spirit Music: Bob Brookmeyer at 80, an appreciation that includes a brief account of the Eastman celebration on Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society blog plus several delectable downloadable audio clips and other links.

My personal memories of Bob go back a ways. “Trombone and guitar duets? Your kidding, right?” So said the little kid that I was in the 1960s when dad said he and Bob Brookmeyer were going to play a duo gig at Hopper’s, a now long-defunct restaurant/jazz club just a couple of blocks away from our apartment. Filial love aside, I was mesmerized and have been an ardent follower of all-things-BB ever since. By my teen years I was addicted to his arrangements for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.

In 1999 a recording of Brookmeyer & Hall 1979 duo performance at the North Sea Jazz Festival was released on CD and I got to write the liner notes.

And here are just a few more BB links worth noting:

  • Jazz Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer on His Career, Influences, and Outlook on Music at ArtistHouse Music.
  • Bob Brookmeyer at Trombone Page of the World.
  • Bob Brookmeyer to blow out some candles (with his trombone) at Jazz @ Rochester blog.
  • Bob Brookmeyer and Some of His Friends on Night Lights (a weekly one-hour radio program of classic jazz hosted by David Brent Johnson and produced by WFIU Public Radio).