I’ve Got Mail: It’s a Small World – Part Two

If you’re a regular here, you’ll know that I’ve mentioned Bob Brookmeyer before, twice with regard to the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Orchestra (here and here) and once with respect to ArtistShare. The other day, it was last Thursday, around lunchtime, I was listening to Get Well Soon, a Brookmeyer CD I had just bought. A few hours later, the front doorbell rings. I can see the door from my office window and there’s a guy standing there, his arm in a sling, holding a CD. Stay Out of the SunSo I open the door, he hands me the CD — Bob Brookmeyer’s Stay Out Of The Sun — and says, “I’m Michael Stephans. I’m a friend of Bob’s and I live just four houses down the block from you.” Now I’ve lived here for almost seven years, and he’s been there for at least six, and we never knew of one another until now. It took a nudge from Bob and encouragement from a mutual neighbor to get Michael to drop in, and I am glad that he did. (By the way, Michael is the drummer on this very beautiful CD.)

Subsequently, Michael read my posting about Alec Wilder and sent me the following email:

I had the chance to be in the orchestra that premiered a saxophone concerto he wrote for Zoot [Sims] many years ago, and meeting him was daunting, but fun. One of my favorite collections of his tunes is Bob’s “7 x Wilder” with your dad [Jim Hall], Bill Crow, and Mel [Lewis]. The music still breathes so beautifully…

I am embarassed to say that I am not familiar with this recording (I had to look it up, it’s a 1961 Verve LP), but I plan to get my hands on a copy ASAP.

I’ve Got Mail: It’s a Small World – Part One

Bill CrowThe jazz family is of the large extended variety, and that makes the jazz world very small, connecting people with much less than six degrees of separation. So it should not come as any great surprise that Rifftides and DevraDoWrite share quite a few readers in common. One of the people who found me by way of Rifftides (thank you Doug Ramsey) is bassist Bill Crow.

Bill Crow was a musical chameleon in his youth, playing trumpet, baritone horn, alto sax drums, and valve trombone. He didn’t take up the bass until he was in his early 20s. Within a few years he was playing bass with Stan Getz, Marian McPartland, and Gerry Mulligan, to name just three, and he never looked back. That was in the 1950s. His credits as a writer also date back to the 1950s with his record and book reviews for Jazz Review. In 1991, Oxford University Press published Jazz Anecdotes, a collection of Bill’s stories that was voted Best Jazz Book of 1991 in a Jazz Times readers’ poll. Two years later, they published a second volume, From Birdland to Broadway: Scenes from a Jazz Life

I’ve known Bill (or more accurately, Bill has known me) since I was a little kid — at one time my dad sublet Bill’s apartment at 22 Cornelia Street. Bill also has a connection with Marian McPartland (about whom I recently wrote) as he was the bassist in the McPartland Trio when it was named “Small Group of the Year” by Metronome (1955). Also, coincidentlly, in the same issue of The Washington Post wherein Terry Teachout recommended the Alec Wilder book that prompted me to talk about Marian a few days ago, Jonathan Yardley recommended Bill’s book (read it here).

So what’s Bill Crow up to now?

I’m playing a lot with a guitarist named Doug Proper, who lives in upper Westchester County. Good drummer, Gerry Fitzerald, and the fourth member of the group is often Joe Beck, who is a monster guitar player.

When Joe can’t make it, we sometimes have John Abercrombie, and sometimes a good alto player named Andrew Beals.

Tonight I’m driving up to the New Paltz area to play with the Kansas City Sound, a band that reveres the Old Testament Basie book. Harvey Kaiser, a saxophonist, is the leader, and we often have Eddie Bert on trombone, Fred Smith on trumpet and a variety of piano players.

Last week I subbed for Earl May on a band that plays the old Ellington repertoire, so I’m getting my nostalgia kicks. I really know how to play that music, so it is nice to be asked to do so.

If you noticed that I didn’t give you a link to Jazz Anecdotes, that is because Bill also happened to mention that Oxford has asked him to make a revised edition.

I’ve added a new preface and about 150 new stories, and they’re going to put it out with a slightly altered cover, calling it “Jazz Anecdotes, Second Time Around.” Should be ready this fall, I think.

I’ll be looking for it, meanwhile you can get a taste of Bill’s stories online in his monthly Band Room column for Local 802’s Allegro. (You’ll have to click on Publications and select Band Room for your search.)

I’ve Got Mail

The ebb and flow of people in one’s life is always amazing. I have had the great fortune to count among my friends a lot of wonderful jazz people. Our paths cross, then diverge, then cross again somewhere down the line. Often, years intervene. Back in the days when I was enjoying Monday nights at the Vanguard, or any night at Bradley’s (a tiny bar on University Place that hosted the world’s best jazz pianists and was the musicians’ late night hang out), one of my favorite people to hang with was Carol Sloane. Carol is a superb interpeter of a lyric, truly one of the best jazz singers, and sadly underrated. If you are not familiar with her work, get thee to Amazon now! One of my favorites is the 1988 recording Love You Madly, with Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, Akira Tana, Art Farmer and Clifford Jordan. It’s one of Carol’s favorites, too.

Anyway, about the mail. Carol wrote to fill in a few details about Joe Williams’ recording date with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra:

Memories of this record date flood back to me. I was there, as Joe’s guest. He had been singing at The Half Note, and he told me that the date was scheduled for a few hours’ hence. He came to my apartment (35th & Third) and flopped on the sofa for a while. Slept a bit, I think. Then we went uptown for some breakfast and on to the date.

She also questioned my memory of “the plaintive sounds of Bob Brookmeyer’s arrangement of Willow Weep for Me.”

I asked Bob to listen to a recording of Mildred Bailey’s gentle version of a song I liked called “Willow Tree”. He responded to it, and of course, eventually wrote a gorgeous chart. He may also have written one on “Willow Weep For Me”, but I suspect you may have confused the two. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Well, it turns out we are both right. First I looked at my CDs and found that the band had recorded both ‘willow’ songs, but the credits did not list the arrangers. Still in a quandry, I decided to go to the source. I called Brookmeyer, who promptly informed me that he wrote five charts for that fine band: St. Louis Blues, ABC Blues, Samba Con Getchu, Willow Tree, and Willow Weep For Me. He also happened to mention that he is about to launch a new project online with ArtistShare. When he launches, I will let you know, and at that time I will tell you more about the brainstorm that is ArtistShare.

I’ve Got Mail

Yes, I want to hear from you. I know many bloggers allow readers to post comments directly, but I am not ready to open the gates when so many spammers are clamoring to get in. It is also for that reason that I have not posted a convenient “click here to email me” button, as those are quickly harvested by spammers as well. My email address is my first name, Devra, AT DevraDoWrite.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Several people wrote to share in my dismay about casual Fridays at the concert hall. One wrote:

It almost seems to me a bit disrespectful of the majesty of orchestral music. When I was young, my parents insisted that I behaved better, and performed better, when I was “dressed for the part”. While I am certain that many musicians are capable of great performances irrespective of how they are dressed, I suspect that at least some perform better in “concert black”.

and another wrote:

Bless you for writing about the people who go to concerts in their clean-out-the-garage clothes. They do so not only on Casual Friday, you know. The music is the thing, of course, but standards matter.

My favorite email last week came from a friend on the East Coast who wrote:

As you’ll discover about reaching 50, one of the luxuries of our “certain age” is not giving a rat’s ass about what anyone thinks about our work. If we think it has value, the hardest test has been passed.

I’ll try hard to put those editors and publishers and reviewers out of my mind, you know, the ones who can make or break a career. Seriously. My friend is right. I know a lot of artists, both writers and musicians, and those who work hardest at their craft are inevitably their own toughest critic. Often, they pan work that their audience found pleasing nonetheless, and, as Martha might say “that’s a good thing,” as it drives one to do even better. And on those occassions when an artist feels the magic — those are the moments to live for, moments that can’t be bought. As the commercial says, “some things are priceless; for everything else there’s Mastercard.”