Taps Reprise

It’s Memorial Day, and that explains the momentary explosion of stories about the origin of Taps. Embedded in many of those accounts is the stuff of myths and legends. Here is a reprise of the brief history of taps that I posted last summer:

It is perhaps the most famous of all bugle calls, and is comprised of just 24 notes. I don’t know for sure when I first heard that haunting melody. I keep thinking that it was probably at summer camp signaling ‘lights out’ – the original purpose of the call – or perhaps in an old war movie soundtrack, playing as darkness enveloped the barracks of the good guys. Fond memories aside, my first exposure was most likely while watching television coverage of John F. Kennedy’s funeral – I was barely eight years old. Over the last forty years, the American public has come to know Taps all too well. For many days following 9/11 we heard it several times a day, and now as soldiers and civilians in all corners of the world die at terrorist hands in political and religious wars, I only hope that we never become inured to the sadness that Taps evokes.

Taps, as we know it today, was first sounded in July of 1862 for the Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, under the command of Union General Daniel Butterfield. Its origins are much disputed, and the truth is confounded by verbal accounts that have grown into myth. Master Sgt. Jari A. Villanueva, a longstanding member of the United States Air Force Band and respected bugle historian, traces today’s Taps back to an earlier version of the call Tattoo used “to signal troops to prepare them for bedtime roll call.” In his comprehensive essay that covers the history and the mythology of Taps, Villanueva writes, “In the interest of historical accuracy, it should be noted that it is not General Butterfield who composed Taps, rather that he revised an earlier call into the present day bugle call we know as Taps.”

Other stories of Taps’ origin include a Union Army father finding the musical notes on a slip of paper in the pocket of a dead Confederate soldier…his own son. Villanueva has traced this tall tale back to a Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” story that was later spread by re-telling in an Ann Landers or Dear Abby column.

Villaneuva also explains the circumstances under which Taps was first used at a military funeral during the Peninsular Campaign in 1862. Captain Tidball, worried that a loud gun volley would alert the enemy nearby, ordered Taps to be played at the burial of a fallen soldier. “The custom, thus originated, was taken up throughout the Army of the Potomac, and finally confirmed by orders.” Taps can be heard as many as thirty times a day at Arlington National Cemetery. Villanueva, himself a bugler, says that this duty “is the military musician’s equivalent of ‘playing Carnegie Hall.’”

“Taps should be played by a lone bugler,” says Colonel Arnald D. Gabriel, Commander and Conductor of the United States Air Force Band from 1964 – 1985. “Some have tried to harmonize it, but it destroys the simplistic beauty of the lone bugler. The most heart tugging time to hear it is at Arlington Cemetery when a veteran is buried and there are no family members present, just the Chaplin, the honor guard and the pallbearers. To hear taps in that setting is gut-wrenching.”

Music is a powerful communicator.

Happy Birthday Thaddeus

On my CD player today I have three discs in rotation; they are The Complete Solid State Recordings of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (Mosaic 1994). Thad, middle brother to Hank and Elvin, would have been 83 years old today. He was a brilliant arranger and band leader, better known for his dynamic conducting, harmonic constructions, section writing, and on-the-spot head arrangements than for his horn playing. But he playing was beautiful too. I mention Thad from time to time on this blog — A Week of Monday Nights last May, Once Upon A Monday Night last October, and just last week I mentioned seeing Ralph Gleason’s “Jazz Casual” tv episode featuring the band in the late 1960s. I guess I’d better order the Jazz Casual DVDs while supplies last.

I am so glad that my husband gifted me this boxed CD set when it came out a dozen years ago; being a “limited edition” it is no longer available. The brightness and bounce of Little Pixie seems particularly uplifting on this chilly, rainy day in usually sunny California. Happy birthday Thaddeus.

At The Vic

I’ve only been to The Vic twice, first time to hear Roger Kellaway’s trio and and last Thursday night to hear Bill Henderson and celebrate his 80th birthday. Many of you would recognize Bill from his acting roles (ranging from big screen roles in movies such as City Slickers to small screen appearances on shows such as Cosby, ER, and lots of commercials), but if you are not familiar with Bill’s singing, you should check him out. Some may find him to be an acquired taste, his sound is recognizable and his style, phrasing, and interpretations of a song are always unique. He’s a hipster more than a suave crooner, yet it’s his ballads that I love most. Bill has recorded a bit, some out of print releases on the Discovery label and Bill Henderson/Oscar Peterson Trio (Polygram 1989), but my favorites are his four tracks accompanied by a chamber orchestra on a Charlie Haden CD titled The Art of The Song (Polygram 1999).

The Vic is an intimate room reminiscent of an old speakeasy, complete with password-required rear-door entry. A living-room setting with good food, a full bar, and excellent music — who could ask for anything more? This coming Thursday we’ll be there again to cheer on Clairdee, who is making a rare Los Angeles appearance. If you are a DevraDoWrite regular, then you’ve heard a bit about her before, and hopefully checked out her web site and perhaps purchased a CD or two. Accompanying her will be her musical director and pianist Ken French, along with Los Angeles’ own dynamic duo that is The Cross Hart Jazz Experience (Ryan Cross on bass and Lorca Hart on drums.) If you watch Friends, ER, The West Wing, Girlfriends or Eve, chances are you have heard music by The Cross Hart Jazz Experience.

Here’s are some press quotes about Clairdee

    Downbeat – “Clairdee invests the songs with generous spirit and unpretentious sincerity.”
    USA Today – “Clairdee offers swinging renditions of traditional tunes.”
    San Francisco Examiner – “She is among the most skilled and appealing singers around – fine songs, beautiful voice, great moves.”
    WBGO Radio, New York – “A force to be reckoned with!”
    Urban Network – “A heartfelt connection that swings, grooves and soothes.”
    Jazz Now Magazine – “Clairdee’s clear contralto is laid back and mellow, her phrasing impeccable, her lyrical interpretations warm and unpretentious. She produces a compelling argument for a prominent niche among the best of today’s young female vocalists.”

and a link back to what I wrote about her appearance at IAJE in New York.

The Vic is located at 2640 Main Street, Santa Monica CA 90405. Two shows — 8 PM and 10 PM. Call for reservations: 888-367-5299. I’ll be present for both of Clairdee’s shows, so if you’re there, please be sure to say hello. That’s this Thursday, March 30th.

Jackie Sings Again

I just left New York, but were I to be on the East Coast on April 8th you’d find me across the river in South Orange, New Jersey listening to Jackie Cain in the intimate club-like setting of The Baird Center.

You may have heard about Jackie’s appearance at Trumpets a few months ago — Mr. Rifftides wrote of it here, or you might have read Zan Stewart’s review in The Star Ledger — it was a sold-out, standing-room-only performance. At The Baird Jackie will be backed for the first time ever by her own trio with Allen Farnham on piano, Dean Johnson on bass, and Rich DeRosa on drums. I really do wish I could be there.

I’m not much of a commuter type, and there is no chance that I’ll be flying in from the Left Coast, but for you New Yorkers, I’m told that The Baird is only a half-hour away and easily accessible by car or train (just 8 blocks from the South Orange train station). And even better, the tickets are truly affordable at $17.

If perchance you are not familiar with the name of Jackie Cain, maybe “Jackie and Roy” will ring your bell. Jackie Cain and her husband Roy Kral were a popular duo attraction for more than fifty years. Gene Lees wrote in the liner notes for a recording titled Full Circle:

“One of the things that keeps Jackie and Roy so young is that they never lost their enthusiasm for the songs they sing. They are always coming up with fresh insights into familiar material or – as in the case of the present album – bringing unfamiliar or overlooked material to our attention. Their repertoire is constantly expanding.”

Sadly, Roy died in 2002, but, happily for us, Jackie is still singing and swinging.

FYI: Tickets may be purchased online here http://southorange.recware.com or in person or by phone from The Baird Center, 5 Mead Street in South Orange, (973) 378-7754.

Carol Sloane. Friday. Be There.

Okay, I’m biased. Carol is a longtime friend and we were nightclub running buddies more years ago than either of us would like to count. Recently Jerry Jazz Musician did a roundup asking various artists to name a record session that they would like to have been at — I would like to have been present when Carol recorded direct-to-disc in Japan with Roland Hanna on piano, George Mraz on bass and Richie Pratt on drums. When that album first came out direct-to-disc was brand new technology and all her New York jazz friends were in awe, especially of the track that opened with just voice and bass. I think this was the Sophisticated Lady album was later released by Audiophile, but I’m not positive. Carol?

This Friday night, March 3rd, radio host Steve Schwartz is doing a Carol Sloane birthday show. Tune in to WGBH, 89.7 FM, 8 PM to midnight Eastern time. If you’re out of range, listen online: go to www.wgbh.org/jazz and click on “Jazz From Studio Four.”

If you are already a fan, you won’t want to miss it. If you’re not familiar with her work, you owe it to yourself to give a listen. You should also check out her web site.

Some Jazzy Birthdays This Week and Next

Celebrating those who are here as well as though who are gone —
November 21: Coleman Hawkins would have been 101.
November 22: Happy 80th to Gunther Schuller; Jimmy Knepper would have been 78.
November 23: Happy 80th to Johnny Mandel; Willie The Lion Smith would have been 108.
November 24: Al Cohn would have been 80; Teddy Wison would have been 93.
November 25: Nat Adderley would have been 74 and Paul Desmond would have been 81.
By the end of the month, Ed Bickert and Jack Sheldon will be celebrating their 73rd and 74th birthdays, respectively; violinist Eddie South, Billy Strayhorn, and Gigi Gryce, would have been 101, 90, and 80 respectively.

Brick Fleagle

Born August 22, 1906, Brick Fleagle would have been 99 years old today. Before beginning research on Luther Henderson’s biography, I knew of Fleagle only as Luther’s friend and chief copyist. I didn’t know that he started out playing banjo, then switched to guitar and worked with trumpeter Rex Stewart. I didn’t know that he was also an arranger who penned charts for Stewart, Chick Webb, Jimmie Lunceford, Fletcher Henderson, and Duke Ellington. I haven’t yet documented when Luther and Fleagle first met. I have read that Fleagle did a lot of music copying for Ellington, but was that in the 1930s, the 1940s, or possible even later? Did Luther ever go to hear Fleagle’s group at the Arcadia Ballroom in the mid 30s? Did Fleagle hear about the kid who won an amatuer contest at The Apollo Theater in 1934? Fresh out of Julliard in 1944, Luther was working for Ellington — was Fleagle already on Duke’s payroll then? Did Luther hear the tracks arranged and recorded in 1945 by Fleagle and his Orchestra for H.R.S.? [These can be heard on Mosaic’s reissue of The Complete H.R.S. Sessions and include The Fried Piper, When The Mice Are Away, Double Doghouse, among others.] Did Luther read the July 30, 1945 review, “Brick’s Boys Go Riding,” in Time magazine? All I know so far is that Luther and Fleagle worked closely together for many years, and that when Fleagle died, he left his belongings to Luther, who, in turn, later donated the wonderful collection to The Peabody Institute. I expect to learn more about that later today when I interview David Alan Bunn who was a protege of Luther. Mr. Bunn, who is a conductor, composer, arranger, and pianist for Broadway, recordings, and television, is also the founder of the Jazz Studies Department for the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Oh yeah, there’s also a great story about Luther visiting Fleagle in the hospital and bringing a voodoo woman with a live chicken for sacrifice…you’ll have to read the book when it comes out.

Al McKibbon: May He Rest In Peace

Alfred McKibbon, born January 1st, 1919 at 12:00am in Chicago, Illinois, died this morning at Good Samaratin Hospital in Los Angeles. It seems like just weeks ago that Al and his daughter, Alison, were here at the house — we ended up going out for seafood dinner, Al loved seafood — but that was five months ago. My husband, John, and Al were friends for more than fifty years. When John put down his bass to become a fulltime manager, it was Al that he hired to play bass with the George Shearing Quintet. We will miss him.

Al’s first-person bio, which includes photographs from his personal collection, can be read online here. Also included are liner notes and audio clips from Tumbao Para Los Congueros Di Mi Vida, his first recording as a leader.

And here’s a Wikipedia entry that has links to info about many of the great artist with whom Al worked.

Also check out “Al McKibbon: a living history of Jazz/Al McKibbon and the Roots of Latin Jazz” a recent (April 2005) article by Nelson Rodriguez in Latin Beat Magazine.

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.