Friday, April 30, 2010

John Birks Gillespie 1917 - 1993: A Tribute to Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie in South America

PART 1 – Introduction

“There is a gesture he has, a motion, that always reminds me of a great batter leaning into a hit. He has a way of throwing one foot forward, putting his head down a bit as he silently runs the valves, and then the cheeks bloom out in a way that has mystified his dentist for years, and he hits into the solo. When that foot goes forward like that, you know that John Birks Gillespie is no longer clowning. Stand back.”
- Gene Lees, Waiting for Dizzy

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Scroll down a bit on the columnar side of the JazzProfiles site, and this colorized version of William Gottlieb’s famous photograph of Dizzy Gillespie appears with the following quotation from Diz inscribed below it:

“You can’t steal a gift. If you can hear it, you can have it."

Dave Usher gave the world of Jazz a gift when he recorded and subsequently issued three volumes made up of four [4] CDs of Dizzy’s 1956 State Department sponsored tour of South America.

And in an act of continuing generosity, Dave Usher gave JazzProfiles - and its readers - a gift by granting the editorial staff permission to transcribe and post the interviews with Dizzy and members of the band that made the 1956 South American tour and which are included on the two CDs that comprise Volume Three of the set.

And the gifts continued to abound when the noted Jazz writer, Ira Gitler allowed, JazzProfiles copyright permission to reproduce his insert notes to Volume One of the Dizzy in South America series in order to provide a context for Dave Usher's interviews with Dizzy and the band members that make up Part 2 of this feature.

Although the CDs themselves have been discontinued by Dave’s Consolidated Artists Productions, all three volumes are available as Mp3 downloads at

© -The following insert notes to Volume 1 are reprinted with the permission of Ira Gitler; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

© -The subsequent interviews which comprised Part 2 of this feature are transcribed and reprinted with the permission of Dave Usher; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"From the September 5, 1956, issue of Down Beat: “The John (Dizzy) Gillespie band, making its second trip this year under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, began its Latin American swing July 25 in Quito, Ecuador. The band played Guayaquil, Ecuador (July 26-27); Buenos Aires, Argentina (July 28-August 4); Montevideo, Uruguay (August 5); Rio de Janeiro (August 6-12) and Sao Paulo (August 13-17), Brazil."

"At press time, it appeared possible that Dizzy and the band might play Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela on the way back."

While this projected back-end of the trip did not happen, what did take place was momentous. At this point in his career, Gillespie, at 46, was a young elder statesman of jazz and a musical ambas­sador for his country. As co-founder of the modern jazz movement and a prime mover in bringing Afro-Cuban rhythms and themes to jazz, he was one of the most respected and recognizable musicians in the world. Earlier in 1956, he had suc­cessfully toured the Middle and Near East for the U.S. State Department, leading a big band for the first time since 1950 (other than in isolated engagements).

No one would ever accuse Gillespie of being a slouch as a small-group leader, but he was truly in his element when fronting a big band. That is the back­ground from which he came, including the orchestras of Teddy Hill, Cab Cal­loway, Edgar Hayes, Lucky Millinder, Charlie Barnet, Les Hite, Earl Hines, Boyd Raeburn, and Billy Eckstine, to name a few. The first big band of his own was the one that made the ill-fated south­ern U.S. tour with Hepsations of 1945. The second attempt at a big band was made in the spring of 1946, after Diz had returned (without Charlie Parker) from a month in California, and once again put down roots on 52nd Street.
After opening with a sextet at the Spotlite in late February, expanding to an orchestra was discussed. By April it became a reality - one of the most excit­ing, explosive big bands of all time, caught up in the realization that it was taking part in something that was "hap­pening," a musical benchmark. You did­n't have to consciously think, 'This is his­toric." You felt it.

By the summer of 1947, the band, now at the Downbeat club, a few doors away from the Spotlite, had lost some of its rough edges but none of its fire, and had the luxury of an ever-expanding book. A signing by RCA Victor toward the end of August proved to be a beneficial relation­ship for both the band and the recording company, until it ended in 1949. Dizzy Gillespie and his orchestra became a major force in jazz. The next contract, with Capitol Records, proved to be not as sanguine. The material recorded was not up to Gillespian standards. (The last recording they made with Capitol — under pressure - was a novelty tune titled "You Stole My Wife, You Horse Thief.") By 1950, the hand business was in seri­ous decline. It was a year in which the Count Basie band broke up, as did Gillespie’s. Basie went to a small group before reorganizing his orchestra in 1951. Dizzy wasn't to get a big band underneath him again until 1956.

Like Basie, Diz went to a sextet format.
Enter Dave Usher, a young jazz fan from Detroit work­ing in his fathers reclaimed-oil busi­ness. Usher first met Gillespie in Detroit, at the Paradise Theater. During Usher’s undergraduate days in the east, he met Gillespie again, on 52nd Street, in 1946. When, later that year, the trum­peter played in Detroit, they renewed their acquaintance, which strengthened into a lifelong friendship. With money he had saved from driving a truck for his father, Dave formed Dee Gee Records with Dizzy in 1951. There were artistic successes and commercial hit singles, such as "Oo-Shoo-Be-Doo-Be" and "School Days," but distribution and other woes forced them to lease the masters to Savoy. Usher explains: "We didn't want to lose the company, but it was Tap City, and I didn't want to declare bankruptcy. Dizzy signed with Norman Granz, and I got mar­ried and went back to work for my dad."
Gillespie led combos and also toured as a member of Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic, recording for Norman’s labels in a variety of contexts. In 1956, Dizzy was asked by the U.S. State Depart­ment to organize a big band for a tour of the Near and Middle East. Quincy Jones, who had assembled several orchestras for recording dates, etc. for Diz in 1954 and 1955, was given the assignment to put together another one. As a result of the successful Middle East trip, Gillespie was asked by the State Department to tour under its auspices once more, this time in South America, with Jones again as musi­cal director. Gillespie asked Usher to join the traveling troupe. Dave explains: "Dizzy informed me that he was going to buy a portable tape machine. It was an Ampex 600 fitted into Samsonite luggage. He said, 'Why don't you come along and record?’ From being a producer, I became an engineer. We felt it was a very exciting opportunity, but for some reason Norman Granz wasn't interested."

Regarding his task at hand, Usher said, 'The good thing was that because we were on a State Department tour, we were always met by a representative from eith­er the consulate or the embassy, and they would help us with the technical aspects. We had to convert from 60 cycles to 50, and we could always rely on the people from the State Department to call ahead for a transformer, which made my job much easier. Whenever we had a prob­lem, they were there to help us and did."

'The tape ran at 7-1/2 ips. Profession­al taping at that time was always done at 15 ips (symphonies at 30). Only the 'pub­lic' used 7-1/2. Well, we disproved that theory, because this stuff is still unbeliev­ably good today, more than 42 years later. We used 3M 111 magnetic tape. It was great equipment for its time. The pre-amp was a Fisher. The Ampex was a monaural tape machine, and a guy in New York had shown me how to adapt it so that I could have two Electrovoice mics — a solo mic plus an overall mic — that I put on a stand which went up eight feet max. Most times we didn't bother trying to get the piano because we never had a decent one.

"It was a very exciting tour. The band, after the Middle East tour, was very well-seasoned, and the thing that really got me is that generally, when you're on the road, you're going to have arguments; some guys aren't happy with the other guys. We had nothing like that. There were no ani­mosities, no gripes; nobody was bitching. It was a happy tour. We had times when things were bad, like on the boat from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, when there was no heat. I mean it was winter! Every­one was bundled up, but there was never any complaining.
'This was in 1956, only two years after the Supreme Court had rejected the prin­ciple of separate but equal to end segre­gation in schools. In a sense we were an experiment, this integrated orchestra. There were four white musicians — Phil Woods, Frank Rehak, Rod Levitt, and Marty Flax. Melba Liston, the only woman, and the rest of the band were black. The State Department had spon­sored this tour to show that the U.S. was promoting integration, but an incident involving a hotel in Buenos Aires almost backfired in the State Department's face.

"We were coming from Chile after play­ing in Ecuador, and we had lost the use of two of our four engines coming over the Andes. We made it, but we were really late. People were waiting for us at the Teatro Casino. Whenever we arrived somewhere, we had to first check into a hotel in order to get ID cards in exchange for our passports. So we just dumped our gear at the hotel and immediately went to the theater. People kept saying to me 'What about the hotel? What about the hotel?' I didn't understand what they were talking about. I didn't even think about the fact that we weren't staying at the Savoy, where we had made reservations. It turned out that the Savoy Hotel had refused our admittance because there were blacks in the band. This was partic­ularly ironic because the Savoy was owned by Americans. It was a huge story in South America, in all the headlines.

"Peter Hahn, a stringer for CBS news, took me to La Prensa, the leading news­paper in Buenos Aires. This was right after Peron had fallen, and there were shell holes in the building. Hahn showed me that he was filing the Savoy story to the press services in the States. It was sup­posed to come back down in Spanish. He said, 'Watch. It'll never come back.' And it never did. The story never appeared in the U.S. It was squelched. The incident wasn't the State Department's fault, but the Communists had a field day.

“The next morning, while Dizzy was still sleeping, Peter came and dragged me out of bed. He said we had to get to the 'Pink House,' where the president of Argentina wanted to make an official apology. I accepted the apology on behalf of the band (the hotel was fined $2,500)."

None of this deterred the band from its appointed sounds. Gillespie was a great ambassador. Usher notes, "I admired Dizzy for many reasons, but one that real­ly hit home to me was when we were in Sao Paulo. We went to be interviewed at a school, Casa Roosevelt [the Franklin Roosevelt School], which was sponsored by the U.S. to teach English. It was an open-air, backyard kind of thing. There were a great many young kids, junior high and high school students, who were ask­ing Dizzy questions. They wanted to come to the evening performance, but they did­n't have the money. (We found out that our secondary sponsor, the American Nation­al Theater Academy, was charging admis­sion.) We told the kids to present their IDs and they'd get in. Dizzy refused to play until the kids were allowed in. He said, 'We're doing this for the people.'"
"For me, one of the most interesting and poignant facts of this documentary on Dizzy is not only about his music. I often looked on Dizzy as a Chaplin-esque character. He would do these cute, funny things. In addition to being known as a supreme musician, people knew him as a clown. He had comedic tendencies, and he would utilize them with an audience and be able to get an audience friendly. This can be heard here, particularly dur­ing "Manteca," when you can hear the audience's laughter. He did these little dances and all that kind of stuff, and of course the band would follow him. How­ever, having known him for the number of years that I did, I also knew a serious side to him. That serious side was shown very rarely - sometimes during an interview, but never within the structure of a performance. But he does one number [track seven], and there's a pause. Then he comes to the mic, and he comes on very straight. He says, 'And now, ladies and gentlemen.' Then he turns from the mic and says [to himself), 'Oh my good­ness, I'm out of character.' He didn't intend for the mic to pick it up, which it did, just barely. It's so brief that it escapes attention, but the memory of that moment looms in my mind.

“The U.S. also gained as a result of the tour. In every hotel, in every country we
visited, people were always waiting in the lobby, day and night, to meet Dizzy, or even just get a glimpse of him. Somehow, a few of them would always get upstairs. They would be waiting in the hall outside Dizzy's room. We tried to be nice, but it would often get intense. It was hard to move around or visit from room to room, as we often did. Someone would always want to accompany you, or take you out somewhere for a drink, or give you a pre­sent for Dizzy. Some of these guys must have figured out I was P.R. because they started approaching me. One day, a young man introduced himself to me. He was very bright, with a really quick wit. I gave in and took the young Lalo Shifrin (with his arrangements) to meet Dizzy. Lalo was the leader of the only bebop big band in Argentina. Dizzy listened to him play and immediately wanted to hire him. He asked Lalo to go to the U.S. and work with him. After that, Lalo spent nearly four years and countless sit-ins with Dizzy. Of course, Lalo went on to write some of Hol­lywood's greatest scores; Bullet, Coolhand Luke, Dirty Harry, Mission Impossible, and, recently, Tango and Rush Hour."
Reminiscing about the orchestra put a smile on Usher's face. “They flowed and drove so well. Precision and warmth. These two words don't normally go togeth­er, but they do in the case of this group of musicians. The band was able to achieve this partly because they had been working together on the road with only one day a week off, and partly because they were doing these particular compositions steady every night. But steady doesn't mean a thing if you don't have the enthu­siasm of an audience. These audiences picked up on the feel. They understood what the band was doing."

Now we can all hear what the band was doing in South America, beginning on Volume 1 with Tadd Dameron's "Cool Breeze," taken at a faster pace than in the old days. This is one of the arrangements that Billy Eckstine let Gil Fuller have for the second Gillespie band, five days before it was to open at the Spotlite in 1946. Trombonist Frank Rehak, who styl­istically was coming behind Earl Swope, opens the soloing with a combination of fluidity and rich tone. Gillespie is up next. Here a quote from Bama Warwick is in order. In Dizzy's book, to BE or not to BOP, Warwick says, "Diz was really at his peak. He was really fired up playing in front of that big band..."
Bama was referring to the Middle East tour, but he could just as well have been talking about Latin America. Dizzy's chops are phenomenal, with imagination to match. Sprinkled into his leaping solo are quotes from "Hawaiian War Chant" (altissimo), “The Hut-Sut Song," and Illi­nois Jacquet's "Bottoms Up." You can hear the crowd in a stirred-up state before the saxes begin to riff behind Diz. Then Billy Mitchell's tenor sax keeps the tem­perature at its elevated state. Dizzy comes back for a second helping, melding with the band to a close.

Ernie Wilkins' "Groovin' for Nat" (Hentoff, as you might rightly assume) is an airy, sophisticated swinger with Char­lie Persip kicking away. Gillespie's two solo spots sandwich Mitchell's, and there's a short bit from a distant Walter Davis.

In a studio version of "Can't Get Start­ed," Quincy Jones gets credit for the arrangement. Perhaps he did the orches­tration, but the introduction/ending, which Dizzy created for his small-band version in 1945 and also utilized on "Round Midnight," is present here, as are the figures under his opening inter­pretation of the melody, also from 1945.

Quincy's insinuatingly syncopated theme, "Jessica's Day" (another dedica­tion to a member of the Hentoff family, this time Nat's daughter Jessica), grooves along, giving the first bridge to Mitchell. Then it's Dizzy and Phil Woods' mobile alto sax splitting a chorus, followed by some well-grooved ensemble work with a little time out for Davis at another one of those sad pianos.

In Gillespie's big-band format for his "A Night in Tunisia," the trombone always transmits the exotic theme. Rehak helps establish the mood before the table is set for the dazzling Diz catapulting seamlessly into his solo with one of his classic suspended beginnings. Tenorist Benny Golson, with his Byas-ed stylings, catches the air of mystery well, and bassist Nelson Boyd (the man for whom "Half Nelson" was named) plucks a sonorous solo. Dizzy's coda caps the trip with a climactic exclamation point. Then, in a variety of languages, he thanks the audience for its applause before stating some multilingual toasts.
Then it's Austin Cromer's turn in the spotlight. Judging by his efforts here, it is hard to figure out why he never made it. His voice is effective in all registers. He can shout, as on "Seems Like You Just Don't Care," where Gillespie solos; and croon, amply demonstrated by "Fla­mingo," where lead alto saxist Jimmy Powell is heard in solo. Cromer's dramatic ballad style is Eckstine-tinged (in a way he reminds me more of Al Hibbler) but he has his own sound within the genre.

"Stella by Starlight" is the first of two Melba Liston arrangements. Gillespie interprets the melody, interweaving and alternating with the chart in which Liston uses the song's arresting harmonic struc­ture to her advantage. Diz solos more broadly toward the end, topping it off with his heavenly chops.

The band shuffles off to "School Days," with Davis plinking away before expand­ing his single line, which includes a refer­ence to 'The Peanut Vendor." Vocalist Gillespie updates the old nursery rhyme, having a lot of fun, and Mitchell comes on like a bar-walker with some rock-house tenor that, even in its semi-parody, cooks like crazy.

Volume 1 of this tour closes with "Manteca,” one of Dizzy’s hits. It’s all here: the ‘I’ll never go back to Georgia,’ chant; the maestro’s flights over the Latin vamp; the theme; a short solo from Mitchell; and an even shorter one from Dizzy. The rhythm section takes over at this point with bass bone and cowbell in the mix.  Soon the ensemble is into the ‘Is-tan-bul, Con-stan-ti-nople’ groove, and you know Diz is dancing. Persip, an inspiring helmsman throughout, brings it back into the ‘Manteca’ vamp and out with the main theme never restated.

There you have Volume I of Dizzy in South America. Volumes 2 and 3 will be issued in the near future.  They will not only contain more exciting big-band sides, but also some very special recordings Dizzy made with a samba band in Brazil and a tango ensemble in Argentina!”

- Ira Gitler

[Gitler’s first published piece on Jazz, which appeared in his high school (Columbia Grammar prep) newspaper (March 1946), covered Dizzy Gillespie’s small group at the Spotlite. Gitler’s friendship with Dave Usher began when they met at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.]

Dizzy Gillespie - Leader & Trumpet
Quincy Jones, Bama Warwick, and
E. V. Perry - Trumpet
Phil Woods and Jimmy Powell - Alto
Benny Golson and Billy Mitchell -Tenor
Marty Flax - Baritone
Melba Liston, Frank Rehak, and Rod Levitt -
Walter Davis, Jr. - Piano, Nelson Boyd - Bass
Charlie Persip - Drums

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Phil Woods

Philip Wells [Phil] Woods
Born: Springfield, Massachusetts, November 2, 1931

© -Reprinted with the permission of Gene Lees; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Phil Woods sometimes refers to himself as Dubois. He is more than half French by ancestry. His father changed the name from Dubois. The rest of Phil is Irish.

When I played one of Phil's records for a friend whose main experience of music was country and western, she said, "Oh yes—he cares." And so he does. Phil's wife Jill (whose brother, Bill Goodwin, is the drummer in Phil's group) once said to me, "Phil's angry about all the right things."

And so he is. He gets angry about indif­ferent musicianship, politicians, racism, injustice in all its forms, and any failure to render to jazz and its past masters the respect he thinks they deserve. Phil man­ages to combine in his brilliant alto playing an improbable combination of ferocity and lyricism. Phil once said pointedly that his influences were "Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, and Charlie Parker, in that order." He has assimilated all his influ­ences to become utterly distinctive, one of those people you can identify in two or three bars, sometimes in one assertive phrase.

Phil graduated from Juilliard as a clari­net major. He still plays the instrument occasionally, and always beautifully. But he has specialized since early days in alto saxophone, on which he achieves a huge tone. He has played with absolutely eve­rybody of consequence in jazz, in every imaginable context, and has recorded with Benny Carter and Dizzy Gillespie, two of his major heroes. He is an intriguing com­poser and, as a soloist, inexhaustibly inventive.

One of Phil's early idols was Artie Shaw, on whose work he modeled his own clari­net playing. It was my pleasure to intro­duce Phil to Artie, who began his pro­fessional career on saxophone, at a party after one of Phil's concerts. Also at that party was the fine tenor saxophone player Eddie Miller. When Phil had gone off in the crowd of his admirers, Shaw said to me, "I've heard them all. All. Phil Woods is the best saxophone player I ever heard." And Eddie Miller warmly agrees.

Phil is completely uncompromising. He dislikes amplification, and will not allow microphones on the bandstand. Though he was a successful studio musician in New York in the 1960s, he has since then declined to play anything but jazz, and only on his terms. He tours with a quintet that usually contains a second horn, whether trumpet or trombone. Tom Harrell is one of the alumni of his group.

I don't wish to make Phil sound forbid­ding. He isn't. Indeed, he's terribly funny and a delight to be with. But Jill got it right; I know no one on this earth with more integrity than Philip Wells Woods.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

J.J.Johnson Sextet - "In Walked Horace"

J.J. Inc. – A Look at the Music of J.J. Johnson

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

At a point in the development of recording technology when you could still do such things, I literally wore out my copy of trombonist J. J. Johnson’s Columbia LP - J.J. Inc. [1606]. I still have the scarred LP to prove it. Imagine my delight, then, when it was re-issued as a CD [Columbia/Legacy CK 65296] with three [3] additional tracks, no less!

Why does this album have such a great appeal to me?  After all, although my father venerated the music of trombonist Jack Teagarden, I am not a trombonist nor have I ever had any desire to be one [this also in spite of the fact that as a teenager, I had the opportunity to hear the marvelous trombonist Frank Rosolino as a member of the Lighthouse All-Stars on an almost weekly basis].

Over the years, my mates who played the instrument made me aware of the technical reasons why many trombonists revered J.J. and many of these skills and qualities are outlined below in trombonist’s Steve Turre’s insert notes to the CD reissue.

What initially struck me about this recording is that it was one of the few that I always enjoy listening to from beginning to end. Many albums in my collection have one or a few cuts that I find interesting and/or enjoyable, but over the years I’ve noticed that there are only a relative few that I want to repeatedly hear in their entirety.

As I was pondering the reasons for my attraction to this album, both at the time of its issuance and retrospectively some 50 years later, it came to me that I also like the album for its consistency and continuity.

All of these factors may ultimately be due to what is denoted on the album cover: “Compositions by J.J. Johnson, Arrangements by J.J. Johnson and Conducted by J.J. Johnson.”

This recording was my first exposure to J.J.’s writing skills and they are considerable.

Recorded in 1960, J.J.’s songs and arrangements on J.J. Inc. incorporated many of the musical sensibilities that were relatively new to the music at that time such as modal Jazz, adding blues and gospel inflections to bebop, odd time signatures [i.e.: other than 4/4 time] and unusual or ‘exotic’ sounding minor key harmonies.

And then there are the magnificent musicians who perform on the date, many if not all of them relatively new on the Jazz scene at that time including a fiery and technically monstrous Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Clifford Jordan’s bel canto singing tone on tenor saxophone and Cedar Walton’s perfectly dotted eight-note phrasing and extended, lyrical improvisations on piano; all held together by Arthur Harper’s strong bass lines and Albert “Tootie” Heath crackling and incessantly, driving drumming.

If you are looking for a masterpiece, one that will keep you engrossed and enthralled for 70+ minutes, then look no farther as it’s all here whether it be the classic execution of the blues in two versions [short & long] of Fatback whose line is enhanced by Tootie’s use of 6/8 triplets on the cymbal with backbeats on the snare on “2” and “4;” or Clifford Jordan’s surprise take-over from Freddie Hubbard in the middle of his solo on In Walked Horace [need I say more about the style of this composition?]; or the vamp that holds Minor Mist together as it alternates between two minor chords before it releases each soloist into a medium walking groove; or the Milestones-inspired Shutterbug; or the easy way the soloists glide over the 3/4 time signature of Mohawk and the 12/8 time signature of Aquarius making them sound anything but “odd.”

And the CD adds three more tracks by J.J. and this brilliant group of “Young Turks” in the form of Blue ‘N Boogie” by Dizzy Gillespie, in which J.J. trades “12’s,” “8’s,” “4’s,” “2's,” and “1’s” at a lightning fast clip with "Tootie" Heath before beginning his own glorious solo,  a 13 minute version of Turnpike [a 32 bar AABA tune by J.J., based on “I Got Rhythm" changes that are altered to include the then-atypical, minor key harmonies], and the extended version of Fatback.

But don’t just take my word for it, here are the highly regarded trombonist Steve Turre’s impressions of the album.

“When I first heard a J.J. Johnson recording as a high school student, my initial reaction was one of amazement, energy, emotion, inspiration and a little disbelief!

I didn’t know it was possible to play the trombone on that level – with the technical fluidity and clarity of a sax or a trumpet – with the kind of sound possessed by the best symphonic players – with a unique conception as an improviser marked by melodic invention, harmonic sophistication, unbelievable rhythm acuity and emotional warmth based on the blues.

I was immediately converted to this new school of trombone playing and, as a young practitioner of the instrument, quickly found out that it was a lot harder to play this way than one could even imagine!

J.J. made it sound so easy, and upon seeing him in person, he made it look easy, too!

After buying every one of his recordings I could get my hands on, I sound found out
that there was so much more to his music than just a trombone player without peer.

He is as talented an arranger and composer as he is a trombonist. As a band leader, his ability to pick the right players to get the chemistry happening at the highest level and set a personal direction in the music is a gift possessed by few. When J. J. puts a band together, one hears the majestic sound of the trombone front and center. There is no doubt about it—the SOUND of his horn commands your attention as he tells his story!

J.J. INC. finds the master in a sextet setting, with an incredible line-up of young talent. A young Freddie Hubbard—before he joined Art Blakey—gives us a taste of the immense talent that he went on to develop into innovation and stardom. Likewise, a young Cedar Walton—also pre-Art Blakey—shows the promise of the innovator he became with his marvelous ensemble/accompaniment as well as his masterfully construct­ed solos. Even at an early age, Cedar is the consummate team player! Tootie Heath—from the famous family of the Heath Brothers—is smokin', playing with the fire and dynamic subtle­ty that he is known for. The wonderful tenor sax of Clifford Jordan adds a unique voice. Clifford went on to become one of the mainstays of the New York scene, playing with all the greats. Bassist Arthur Harper supplies a solid bottom with a big sound.

J.J.'s affinity to the blues is all over this recording. Mohawk is a minor blues in 3/4; Fatback is a straight ahead, funky blues in F with a slick head that gives us a classic solo by J.J.; Shutterbug is a 20 bar form that is a variation on a minor blues, and Blue N' Boogie is another up tempo blues written by Dizzy, with lots of fireworks from J.J.!

Another form closely associated with the blues is "Rhythm Changes." In Walked Horace is medium tem­po and Turnpike is up tempo and both are written on "Rhythm Changes." You can hear more blues in J.J.'s solos than in his younger bandmates, and that depth of feeling is always appar­ent in whatever he plays, whenever he plays. J.J. said that this was one of the best groups he ever put together, and he enjoyed playing with them very much. That joy is apparent!

Two tracks stand out as "compositions" rather than "tunes." Minor Mist is a beautiful melody woven by J.J. in and out of the ensemble—it showcases his beautiful tone—and there is some great brush work by Tootie. Aquarius is almost orchestral the way it is put together, with the trumpet/trombone unison melody going against the tenor sax/piano counterpoint. The interlude is very contrapuntal as well. The mood of the piece is exotic with drums playing mallets on the tom-toms.

There are many wonderful trombone players in America's clas­sical music – jazz - and they have different areas of excellence that they bring to the music. The profundity of J.J. Johnson is that he is totally balanced in all areas-as a trombonist, as a musician and as a beautiful human being. (What you are as a person comes out of the horn in the music!) He has no one area of excellence - at the expense of other areas. He has range-both high and low, a huge sound, a flawless attack, dynamics, speed, swing and soul, and yet all these great powers are only used to serve the music. They are never used superficially for their own sake. He did for the trombone what Charlie Parker did for the saxophone. He brought the trombone into the modern world with a unique conception that affected all those who came after him and set the standard that is yet to be matched. He is still "Chairman of the Board" and I love him and thank him for all the beautiful music, inspiration and guidance.

Steve Turre
New York, May 1997

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Big Band Bossa Nova

Fresh from the sudden success of Jazz Samba and "Desafinado," Stan Getz asked the 28-year-old, strikingly gifted Gary McFarland to arrange a bossa nova album for big band as a follow-up. Getz is always his debonair, wistful, freely-floating self, completely at home in the Brazilian idiom that he'd adopted only a few months before. – Richard Ginell

Getz’s melodic gift was never more evident; even the way he plays "straight" melody is masterful. Few jazzmen have had this gift - Lester Young did - and it has to do with singing by means of an instrument, for Getz doesn't just play a solo, he sings it,… - Don DeMichael

Recorded in 1962, Stan Getz’s Big Band Bossa Nova [Verve V6-8494, CD 825771-2] which features his tenor sax in a series of magnificent arrangements by Gary McFarland is an album from a time when the world was awash in good music. 

Mainly through his early association with composers Antonio Carlos Jobim, João  Gilberto and João’s wife, vocalist Astrud, Getz was to become personified [and made quite wealthy] by his association with the bossa nova music from Brazil that became an international sensation in the early 1960s.

Lyrics were such a powerful and intriguing part of the bossa nova movement that it was initially unusual for instrumental-only versions of the music to succeed.

Big Band Bossa Nova was one of those early instrumental-only success LP’s. Getz, who had such a beautiful tone on the tenor saxophone that some musicians referred to him as “The Sound,” plays beautifully throughout, no doubt inspired in part by McFarland superbly developed and orchestrated arrangements.

Thanks to a friend in New Zealand whose collection of criticism and writings about Jazz appears to be equal to or greater than his [quite vast] collection of the recordings themselves, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is able to share the following reviews of Big Band Bossa Nova which appeared in the Jazz press around the time of the album’s release.

Also included to further familiarize the reader with the album and its music are Gary McFarland’s and esteemed Jazz author Dom Cerulli’s liner notes to the original LP.

While Stan Getz was to go on and have a long and distinguished career, quite sadly, Gary McFarland passed away, under mysterious circumstances, at the very young age of 38.

For those interested in delving further into Gary’s music please checkout the website lovingly maintained in his honor by Douglas Payne.

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Liner Notes to the Verve LP Big Band Bossa Nova [V6-8494]

“My first exposure to bossa nova was in the Spring of 1960 when a friend played a recording by João  Gilberto, a Brazilian guitarist and vocalist. I liked it immediately. Naturally, I responded to the rhythm, but it was more than that. There seemed to be more underplay, more subtlety than in other Latin rhythms but with just as much buzz or intensity. The songs had interesting chord progressions, and the melodic intervals were more modern than in traditional samba melodies. I'm sure that Gilberto's singing had much to do with my response to this music. His voice has an indefinable quality- something close to melancholy, but not quite.

I asked a Brazilian friend about the bossa nova, and he explained that it is a variation of the samba with modern harmonies and more syncopation than the traditional samba. He also told me that the first reaction in Brazil to this new music was similar to the American public's reaction to be-bop in the 40's- it was misunderstood by the traditionalists. However, it is now more widely accepted.
When Stan asked me to write an album for him, he told me to do anything I wanted. I had written a few bossa nova arrangements for Cal Tjader's group, and Stan had recorded a jazz samba album with Charlie Byrd. We both enjoyed working with this music, so we decided to do a big-band album with four songs by Brazilian composers and four songs of mine.

MANHA DE CARNIVAL (Morning Of The Carnival) is a theme from BLACK ORPHEUS. When I saw the movie, 1 was deeply touched by the gentle melody. In keeping with this mood is Jim Hall's treatment of the introduction on unamplified guitar. Following Stan's statement of the theme is an interlude in 5/4 leading into the guitar solo.

BALANCO NO SAMBA (Street Dance) was inspired by the film BLACK ORPHEUS, particularly the street scenes with the marching bands romping, the people dancing and yelling. This is more like a traditional fast samba. 1 think the band got a real happy feeling on this song.

MELANCOLICO (Melancholy) is another tune of mine. Stan plays the verse, the band enters, and he states the melody. The piano solo is by Hank Jones.

ENTRE AMIGOS (Sympathy Between Friends). Stan's phrasing on this tune is, as always, extremely lyrical. After Stan's solo the trumpets play a 16-bar figure that is typical of the high level of their performance on the entire date.

CHEGA DE SAUDADE (Too Much Longing) was also written by Jobim and is one of the best-constructed songs I have ever heard. Notice the restatement of the original minor theme in major during the last 16 bars of the song. Doc Severinsen introduces the melody in the opening statement. Stan begins his solo and is joined by Bob Brookmeyer for 32 measures, leading into the complete statement of the melody. Doc's sensitive handling of the introduction and the interplay between Stan and Bob are high points.
NOITE TRISTE (Night Sadness) is a song of mine. The melody is first stated out of tempo by Hank Jones and then restated by Stan leading into his solo. Drummer Johnny Rae plays Chinese finger cymbals on the first 16 bars of the solo.
SAMBA DE UMA NOTA SO (One Note Samba) was written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, a composer-arranger who works with Gilberto on most of his albums. I have a lot of respect for Jobim's work. This is a song I heard Gilberto sing, and I thought it would be a good ensemble piece.

BIM BOM, by Joao Gilberto, is a lilting melody in the lighter spirit of bossa nova. Solos by Stan and Jim sustain this happy feeling.

I am indebted to the whole band for making the always difficult task of recording much easier. Drummer Johnny Rae did a wonderful job of heading the rhythm section; his experience in Latin music made him an invaluable asset to the band.

About Stan - well, his is a unique talent. In the strong romantic quality of his playing, in his regard for the melody and the spirit of a song, he is perfectly in tune with bossa nova.”


DOWNBEAT 1962  Rating:*****

This is one of the most musical albums I've ever heard. And, please, let's drop the pigeonhole bit- it doesn't make a great deal of difference if this music is called jazz, bossa nova, or what.

And Getz. . . . His playing is flowing, lyrical, inventive, beautifully songlike -commonplace words all, and none describe adequately or even come close. Those words don't capture that sad-glad feeling he achieves on Melancolico or Entre Amigos. Nor can they substitute for hearing his tenor line rise like a dove from a descending trumpet figure on Melancolico; it lasts but a moment, but it's just one of many little diamonds strewn through this record.

Getz’s melodic gift was never more evident; even the way he plays "straight" melody is masterful. Few jazzmen have had this gift - Lester Young did - and it has to do with singing by means of an instrument, for Getz doesn't just play a solo, he sings it, as can be heard on any of these tracks, most evidently on Noite Triste and Chega De Saudade.
The most remarkable performance in the album is Chega De Saudade, a lovely tune by Antonio Carlos Jobim. It begins with Severinsen's unaccompanied trumpet and gradually builds, like a flower unfolding its beauty. Following Getz1 first solo, he and Brookmeyer engage in a twining duet, as if they were dancing around each other's phrases- it's a wonderful moment.

McFarland shares in the artistic success of the album. His writing is peerless. With what he's shown on this effort and his own adaptation of 'How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' released earlier this year, he looms large as an outstanding writer. He knows the proper combination of instruments to achieve certain sounds, and he has the taste not to use all the instruments at hand all the time. His sparing use of the ensemble allows the beauty of the soloist and the material to shine through.

Perhaps McFarland's mastery of writing in song form explains his taste in orchestration, for the four songs he contributed (Balanco No Samba, Melancolico, Entre Amigos, and Noite Triste ) are much, much more than record-date lines. Others deserving credit for their work on the album are Jim Hall, for his sensitive unamplified accompaniment and for his solos on Manha De Carnival and Bim Bom; Hank Jones, whose taste matches that of Getz and McFarland. as can be heard on his out-of-tempo Noite Triste theme statement; and Johnny Rae, for general excellence (his use of finger cymbals behind Getz on Noite Triste is a perfect touch).

But it's still Getz who is most responsible for the beauty of the album. This record, 'Focus', and 'Jazz Samba', all issued this year, plus the quality of his 1962 in-person performances - well, most of them - lead me to believe Getz is at the height of his creative powers. And he sure wasn't a slouch before.”

Don DeMichael


“Gary McFarland, who arranged all the numbers here and conducted the band, wrote Balanco No Samba, Melancolico, Entre Amigos, and Noite Triste in the style of such native Brazilian bossa nova composers as Antonio Carlos Jobim and Louis Bonfa. In recent months McFarland has been the arranger on a number of records and has contributed several pleasant melodic themes, but it is still too early to detect any very clear personality in his work.

The bossa nova is, to all intents and purposes, a samba played with jazz overtones, the themes using more 'modern' chord progressions and the rhythm being more subtle than is the case with most of the older sambas. I find the work of Bonfa in particular very interesting in the compositional field but while the idiom provides an attractive means of varying the content of a jazz LP I suspect that too many records solely devoted to it will prove a little wearisome. This is by the way, of course, for this present release is the best of its kind that I have heard to date.
Stan Getz is a particularly good choice to carry the main solo role, for his style, although it has developed more strength over the past few years, is notable for a melodic awareness that fits aptly with the thematic content to be heard in the best of bossa nova. The lightness and grace of his work on Chega de Saudade and Bim Bom is immensely attractive - these are perhaps the best tracks on the LP- but one must not overlook the fact that graceful as the outlines of his solos may be they do not lack, as was sometimes the case in his earliest records, the necessary swing. Throughout this LP the impressive aspect of Getz's playing is the balance between refinement and rhythmic strength, illustrated very well on his finely constructed solos on the two tracks already mentioned and on Manha De Carnival and Balanco No Samba. The only other soloist to be heard at length is Jim Hall who is also playing better than before, with a continuity previously lacking, and he is heard to best advantage on Manha De Carnival and Bim Bom.

Two points which bossa nova can claim credit for is far superior themes than one hears in the case of the average jazz 'original' and the guiding of guitarists to the potentialities of their instrument in its unamplified form. Bossa nova may be something in the nature of a gimmick in its exploitation by the record companies but when a musician of Getz's talent uses it this LP proves that it can be stimulating and melodically attractive. I think that most readers will find this a very worthwhile LP, the playing time being rather short at 33 1/2 minutes, and the recording excellent.”

Albert McCarthy