Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Year!

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles would like to thank its readers for their continuing patronage and to wish them all happiness, health and peace in 2011.



Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Remembering Dr. Billy Taylor, 1929-2010

The late Jazz writer, Gene Lees, once said of pianist Billy Taylor: 

"With his knowledge of history, musical and otherwise, Billy quietly rejects the image of the early Jazzman as an uneducated autodidact, creating the music out of thin air and natural instinct - which he calls with a wry smile the 'noble savage' theory of Jazz genesis."

And Richard Cook and Brian Morton writing in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD noted:

"... Billy Taylor's talents as a piano player should be recognized more than they are. He played with everyone from Stuff Smith to Charlie Parker on 52nd Street.... Taylor's affinities are essentially bop, but his sensibility is akin to Teddy Wilson's: cultivated, gentlemanly, his improvisations take a leisurely route through his surroundings, alighting only on points which are germane to the setting, but managing to suggest a complete grasp of the material and the task at hand."

In The Oxford Companion to Jazz, Bill Kirchner [ed.], pianist Dick Katz stated:

"Pianist-composer-spokesman-author-educator Billy Taylor has done as much as anyone in Jazz history to promulgate an awareness, understanding and appreciation of Jazz to large audiences. ... Because of his public persona, his brilliant piano playing has sometimes been under-appreciated. ... The influence of his mentor, Art Tatum, is a prominent feature of his playing." 

In the following tribute to him, Billy is joined by Gerry Mulligan on baritone saxophone, Chip Jackson on bass and Carl Allen on drums as they perform Laura by David Raksin and Johnny Mercer.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Music of Horace Silver

In our earlier feature on Horace which you can locate here, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles commented: "Put directly, I find the music of Horace Silver irresistible. When I listen to it, I feel happy, joyous and free." 

Swingin' the Samba, as Horace points out, is "a legitimate samba all the way through, on a minor theme. I was particularly happy with the way this came out and hope something happens with it. The melody is very simple and it swings nicely, I think, with good solos. We have a little eight-bar thing going with the drums that's used before and after the opening theme and again after the solos. This may seem a little tricky to follow at first, because the release, between the two 16-bar passages, is just six bars long; so the chorus runs 16-6-16."


See how you feel about Horace's music after viewing the following video tribute to him.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mike Barone – Composer-Arranger



© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Within five minutes, or ten minutes, no more than that, you know that you are in the presence of incredibly talented big band arranger.

When listening to the Mike Barone big band perform them, all of his arrangements just seems to come together and to sound just right.

Whether its the way in which the melody is initially stated, the tempo, the backgrounds for the solos, the shout choruses and the ending – each arrangement is artistically inspired and masterfully crafted.

Mike was kind enough to grant the editorial staff at JazzProfiles a telephone interview for the express purpose of discussing how he approaches big band arranging.

Arranging for big bands is something that he has been doing for over 50 years, and yet, Mike’s completely unassuming when he talks about it as though there is nothing special about what he does.

The other motivation for talking to Mike about this topic was we really enjoy his charts [musician speak for “arrangements”] and were curious about how he went about creating them.

Incidentally, for more detailed information about Mike and his career, visit his website, click on “Articles & Reviews” and scroll down to the interview he gave to Steve Randisi of Cadence Magazine on September 1, 2006.

With Mike, it all begins and ends with arranger-composer Bill Holman – his single biggest influence.

According to Mike, the arrangement of Stompin’ at the Savoy that Bill wrote for Stan Kenton’s Orchestra in the 1950s “… changed my whole life. Bill has more ideas going on in one chart than some arrangers have in a lifetime.”

And like Bill, although Mike has some formal training, Mike’s arranging skills are largely self-taught.

Mike also credited Johnny Mandel and the late Gil Evans as additional influences on his writing for big bands and noted that the late Neal Hefti was a “great melody writer.” He also had words of praise for the late Benny Carter and Gary McFarland, respectively.

And, while not necessarily an inspiration for Mike in a big band context, the music of Charles Mingus is a big favorite of Mike’s.

When Mike talks about what goes into his big band arrangements, one gets the feeling that he takes everything into consideration from the tempo at which a particular piece is played to the musicians who make up his band at any given time.

In expanding a bit on the subject of personnel, Mike said: “My job as a band leader and as an arranger is to balance bringing good players together with good music.”

“I’m not trying to sing my own praises, but I’ve been around a while to the point where I got guys ‘standing in line’ to play in my band. New guys are always coming around and these young guys from the University of North Texas and the Masters program at USC are a windfall for me; and man can they play. Their reading skills are incredible”

Over the years, the high quality of the musicianship in Mike’s big band “… has made it possible for me to get an idea and just do it.”

“An idea will just come to me and I’ll start walking around the house singing it in my head.”


“One day, the pedal tone that bassist Paul Chambers plays on Miles Davis’ version of Someday My Prince Will Come was playing through my mind and I put together the introduction to my chart on I Won’t Dance using this figure. It’s just how my mind works sometimes.”

When I asked Mike why he often chooses older tunes such as I Won’t Dance, Yes Sir, That’s My Baby and When You’re Smiling, he commented: “There a challenge. Figuring out how to make them sound fresh and different is like solving a musical puzzle.”

“I get bored very easily, so what about the listener? A lot of these old tunes have great melodies so I like to work them through, sometimes changing keys, putting ensembles in certain ranges and finding another tempo for the tune.”

An excellent example of how Mike re-works a standard in this manner to give it an entire different feeling is his use of a medium bossa nova rhythm for his chart on the Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer standard – Blues in the Night.

To my ears, Mike does a superior job of voicing sections in unison to play the melody and alternating these sections for a set number of bars so that a portion of the tune is heard through the trumpets, and then perhaps through the saxes and then later through the trombones. He may alter this pattern subsequently and change keys to continue to embellish the sound of the arrangement.

And then there are the voicings within sections for as Mike said: "Range is everything. Knowing how an instrument sounds in a certain range means blending or sticking out. Sometimes I push the limit but mostly I like to use the fat part of the instrument."

Yet while all of this – and more – is going on, Mike’s arrangements never sound strained or forced; they just flow.

Another ingredient in the mix according to Mike  is “finding the right tempo; tempos are very important.”

A perfect example of the rhythmic flow that is so characteristic of Mike’s writing can be found in his arrangement of John Coltrane’s tune Grand Central which was originally performed by John along with alto saxophonist “Cannonball” Adderley on their Cannonball Meets Coltrane Emarcy LP.

Mike said: " I just constructed the melody part right off the record with the tenor on top of the alto only I used 2 tenors and 2 altos. 

The powerful pulse of the original performance is maintained throughout but Mike elaborations as a vehicle for tenor sax soloist Ernie Watts and Vince Trombetta are astounding – he’s just all over this tune.

I don't know how many times I've played his arrangement of Grand Central but I still can't figure out how he incorporated and integrated the many ideas contained in it. See what you can discern as we have used Mike’s arrangement as the audio track to the following video.

Here are some guideposts to keep in mind:

- The “line” or melody is stated from 0:00 – 0:40 seconds; Grand Central is an AABA 32-bar tune
- Tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts takes a one chorus solo from 0:41 – 1:14 minutes
- Tenor Saxophonist Vince Trombetta solos for a chorus from 1:14 – 1:47 minutes
-  Following a 4-bar drum break by Paul Kreibich at 1:48 Minutes, the entire band plays a chorus in unison from 1:50 – 2:20 minutes
- a simultaneous solo involving the two tenor saxophones begins at 2:21 Minutes while the band “lays out” [does not play]; when the band comes back in behind them at the bridge, Mike has them playing “stop time"
- at 2:53 minutes the tenors beginning trading 8-bar solos with Vince taking the first 8-bars
- the band comes back in for a “shout chorus” from 3:13 – 4:14 minutes only this time Mike changes the key
- a 3-chord phrase from 4:14 – 4:19 minutes launches each tenor into a cadenza [a point at which the band stops playing], leaving the soloist to play in free time [without a strict, regular pulse] before the tenors restate the theme at 5:09 and close out the tune.


If you’ll excuse the analogy, listening to Mike Barone’s big band arrangements is like sampling a rich dessert, one that’s so full of flavors you wish it would never end.

In this case, the “flavors” are textures or sonorities – the way Mike makes the music sound.

People who cook know that there are no margins for errors when it comes to making desserts, everything has to be apportioned just right.

So it is with everything that Mike writes for his big band – everything just “lays” so right – proportionally.

With Mike it’s the little things. Using the Grand Central chart as an example:

- the band coming back in behind the tenor soloists at 0.57 seconds and 1:30 minutes;
- following the tenor solos with one of his own voiced in unison for the entire band beginning at 1:50;
- the idea for the simultaneous tenor sax solos beginning at 2:21 minutes;
- ushering in the tenor sax cadenzas with three fanfare chords at 4:14 minutes.

And all of this – and more - is going on, and this is just in one of Mike’s arrangement!

Because of Mike mastery of big band arranging, I find it almost impossible to listen to any of his CDs at one sitting: there’s simply so much going on and so much to absorb that I have to stop and savor one chart before moving to the next one.

But then, the richness of what’s on offer in Mike’s creations makes it very easy to take pleasure in them at a slower pace.

Treat yourself to a sampling of music by Mike’s big band; I think you’ll find the experience of being in the presence of a master arranger to be a very rewarding one, indeed.


All of Mike’s CD’s are available on his website including one that was made in performance at Donte’s Jazz club in 1968 which offers a “then and now” some perspective on Mike’s writing. You can also find his CDs at CDBaby and as downloads through both iTunes and Amazon.. 

For those of you with ready access to the greater Los Angeles area, Mike’s big band will be performing as part of the Sunday Jazz Brunch series on January 16, 2011 from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM at The Lighthouse CafĂ© which is located at 30 Pier Avenue, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254, [310] 376-9833.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Brian Lynch – Peer Pressure


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In his incisive and informative insert notes for Brian Lynch's Peer Pressure, a Criss Cross recording [1029 CD], Mike Hennessy offers up the following rhetorical question – “Where are the Gillespies, Parkers, Rollinses, Getzes, J.J. Johnsons and Miles Davieses of the new Jazz generation? [To which he answers] “There aren’t any.”

Hennessy goes on to explain that the implication of this question and answer is “… intended to imply that the general level of [Jazz] artistry and creativity today is in a state of decline.”

To this charge, Hennessy offers two pertinent quotations, taken appropriately from members of today’s Jazz generation.

The first is from trumpeter Terence Blanchard: “The real problem is that people keep looking for new Dizzys, Birds and Tranes instead of judging the new generation of musicians on their own terms and evaluating their music objectively.  Why should they be expected to be clones of other musicians?”

Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, Blanchard’s partner at the time of this writing continues the sentiment by adding: “The general standard of playing among today’s young Jazz musicians is getting higher and higher all the time.”

Any doubt about the merit contained in these assertions by Blanchard and Harrison is further swept away by listening to the playing of the musicians that trumpeter Brian Lynch has assembled on Peer Pressure

After stints with the Horace Silver Quintet, the Mel Lewis big band and the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Peer Pressure was the first album that trumpeter Brian recorded under his own name.  On it, he is ably assisted by tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore, his front-line mate with Horace’s quintet, and alto saxophonist Jim Snidero, also a member of Toshiko’s big band.

The cookin’ rhythm section is made-up of Kirk Lightsey on piano, Jay Anderson on bass and Victor Lewis on drums who was to spend most of the decade of the 1980s as Stan Getz’s drummer.

Here’s a sampling of the group in action on the title tune – Peer Pressure - which forms the sound track for this video tribute to Brian.


In evidence throughout the seven tracks on this album are the general high standards which Harrison uses to characterize the players on today’s Jazz scene.

A great deal of thought and care has gone into this recording from the standpoint of the selection of tunes and their sequence, the seeking out of Rudy van Gelder to engineer the recording in his inimitable style which makes the listener feel enveloped by the sound of the music, and especially, the high quality that went into the crafting of the solos.

Every one is listening to everyone else; adding something to what the soloist is saying through the use of background riffs and dynamics, pulsating bass lines, piano “comping” that’s just right and just enough, with the whole thing encapsulated by Lewis’ beautiful time-keeping and wonderful “kicks” and “licks.”

All of these qualities are discernible in the opening track of the CD; the rarely heard Thomasville, a looping blues by the trumpeter Tommy Turrentine that gives everyone a chance to get loose at a relaxed tempo that includes all three horn players trading four’s with Victor before Victor takes his own 12-bar solo.

This is followed by Park Avenue Petite another rarely heard tune, although this one is by Benny Golson one of modern Jazz’s prolific composers, and it becomes a beautifully played ballad feature for Lynch.

Sandwiched in between Peer Pressure and Change of Plan, two originals by Lynch, is a superb version of Horace Silver’s The Outlaw.

This composition is vintage Horace with its twists and turns containing all sorts of surprises due to its unusual structural form.  Like Ecaroh, it employs both 4/4 straight-ahead and Latin-inflected rhythmic passages, but The Outlaw does so within an asymmetric construction that employs two sections of thirteen [13] bars divided into seven [7] measures of straight-ahead 4/4 and six [6] of Latin rhythms, a ten [10] bar 4/4 section which acts as a bridge followed by a sixteen [16] bar Latin vamp [or Latin pedal] with a two [2] break that leads into the next solo.

It’s a masterpiece whose seemingly disparate parts generate a powerful “tension and release” effect that will leave you wanting to listen to this sprightly bit of musical magic over and over again.

We’ve used it as the audio track to the following video tribute to Art Farmer, one of Brian’s trumpet idols.


Rounding out this compilation is ‘Nother Never, with Lynch and Snidero alternating playing in unison and harmony on the always-stimulating chord changes of Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s There Will Never Be Another You and a beautifully rendered version of Cole Porter’s I Concentrate on You which finds Brian Lynch in the solo spotlight.

While we all miss the great musicians who created modern Jazz, the music on this recording is an example that their legacy of excellence in musicianship, creativity and improvisation lives on and that the music is in good hands.

Treat yourself – these guys can PLAY!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Adderley Brothers and "Brother" Lateef

Julian “Cannonball” Adderely: 1928 – 1975


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

One of the great joys of hearing the late Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s group in person or in performance on record was listening to the cordial and convivial way Cannonball had with his audiences.

He was a man who radiated joy and warmth and these qualities shined through whether he was talking about his music in a general way or giving details about a tune the band just played or was going to play.

Sometimes Cannonball could simply introduce the members of his band and make you feel as though you had been a part of his family for years.

On the following video tribute, the introductions by Cannonball are of the members of his regrettably, short-lived sextet with Cannon on alto saxophone, brother Nat on cornet, the inimitable Yusef Lateef on tenor saxophone [oboe and flute], Joe Zawinul on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums.

The audio track, variously entitled Cannon’s Theme or Unit 7, was written by bassist Sam Jones and is from the group’s Live in New York: The Cannonball Adderley Sextet which was recorded in 1962 in performance at The Village Vanguard.

Beginning around 1:30 minutes, checkout “Brother” Yusef Lateef’s “bar-walking” tenor saxophone solo.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chico Hamilton


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In his insert notes to The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of the Chico Hamilton Quintet [MD6-175], author Bob Gordon writes:

“The popularity of the Shelly Manne and Andre Previn My Fair Lady album in 1956 made the issuing of Jazz versions of [Broadway] musical scores de rigueur for most Jazz labels by the late 1950s. It was a mixed blessing. … Chico Hamilton Plays South Pacific in Hi-Fi is far from the worst example to be found in this genre ….”

The primary means by which I heard Broadway musicals was in the form of these Jazz interpretations.

The fact that I lived 3,000 miles away from New York City and couldn’t abide Ethel Merman’s singing may have had something to do with why I didn’t hear or see many of these shows in their original form, not to mention the fact that I wasn’t going to spend any of my limited budget for buying LPs on such overblown spectacles.

I did acquire of copy of the Manne/Previn Jazz reading of My Fair Lady, as well as The Mastersounds Jazz interpretations of The King and I and Kismet, and drummer Chico Hamilton’s quintet rendition of South Pacific, and a number of others.


Despite the oddity of having a cello amongst its instrumentation, I did spend quite a bit of time listening to Chico Hamilton’s original quintet, both on record and in performance.

It’s easy to overlook the unusual sound of the cello when, at one time or another, Buddy Collette, Paul Horn and Eric Dolphy are playing alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute in the quintet, Jim Hall, John Pisano and Dennis Budimir are occupying the guitar chair, and Carson Smith, Hal Gaynor and Wyatt Ruther are anchoring the combo on bass.

During the quintet’s existence in this format, I rarely ever remember hearing Chico use drum sticks, relying instead on brushes and tympani mallets to create a rhythmic pulse. It seemed that by choosing not to use drum sticks, Chico was consciously enhancing what is known in Classical music as the chamber group sound.

And, of course, what linked Chico’s original quintet even more closely to the sound of the Classical chamber group was its singular use of the cello, an instrument which, even today, is rarely featured in Jazz combos.

Fred Katz, Chico’s first cellist, and I went to the same university: he as a teacher and me as a student.  It was one of those state universities that dotted the California landscape, brought into existence by the hordes of people that initially descended on the state during its post World War II “Golden Era.”

Ah, those were the days: $47 bucks per semester plus another $100 schimolies for books – no student loans here - professors who taught more than one class a year and who published monograms that other human beings could actually read and students who finished a course of study and graduated with a baccalaureate degree in four years or less!

At the state university in question, Fred taught a class in anthro-musicology, which I can only imagine was some type of forerunner to today’s ethnomusicology.  I have no idea what Fred’s course was about, but the students seemed to like it as they flocked to it in large numbers.

At this time, the university did not have a formal Jazz curriculum, but those of us interested in the music found a way to informally make things happen on campus in the form of a rehearsal big band and various combos.

Since I was still gigging around town while taking courses at the university, I only sat in occasionally with the big band at the request of certain arrangers because of my reading skills.

Although he didn’t arrange for the big band, Fred dropped by some of its rehearsals.

During a break one night, I approached him and we chatted amiably about a number of topics including his work on the film score [with Chico’s quintet] for the movie Sweet Smell of Success and his writing for Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz album.

When I mentioned his playing on Chico’s South Pacific LP Fred seemed genuinely pleased and commented that he thought that this was some of his best work with Chico’s group.

He arranged Cockeyed Optimist for the date and said of this assignment: “Maybe the reason Chico asked me to do this tune was because he knows I am one!”

Although I doubt that most students had much of an interest in anthro-musicology, after visiting with Fred a few times and finding him so engaging and charming, it’s easy to understand why his course was so popular.

We didn’t choose Fred’s arrangement for this video tribute to Chico and his group’s Jazz interpretation of South Pacific selecting instead guitarist John Pisano’s treatment of Some Enchanted Evening as the audio track.

Fred and John are joined by Paul Horn on alto saxophone, Hal Gaynor on bass and Chico on drums.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Johnny, Irving & Ernie

Every now and then, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles gets a hankering for some vocal Jazz.


On a recent trip, we heard this Johnny Hartman performance of Irving Berlin's Blues Skies on the car radio and liked it so much that we thought we'd use it as the audio track to the following video tribute to Johnny.


The arrangement is by Ernie Wilkens.  Lucky Thompson takes the tenor solo, Howard McGhee does the honors on trumpet and Tony Ortega plays the alto solo.












Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Jazz in Italy: Gianluigi Trovesi


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Passion” comes in many forms in Italian Jazz.

While on the broader subject of Jazz in Italy with the December 13th feature about alto saxophonist Stefano di Battista, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles decided to bring the following video tribute to Gianluigi Trovesi up again as a way of complimenting the theme of di Battista's passionate approach to Jazz.

Gianluigi was the subject of an earlier blog profile which you can locate at Jazz in Italy: Gianluigi Trovesi – “One of Another Kind.”

You can also find the “articolo” and more information about this outstanding alto saxophonist and clarinetist by visiting his website at http://www.gianluigitrovesi.com/

The video tribute to Gianluigi, which was one of our earliest efforts [second, in fact], uses as its audio track Rina a Vigilio, a cut from Trovesi’s 2007 Jazz Italiano Live album.

Recorded in performance at Rome’s Casa Del Jazz [House of Jazz], the track features a beautiful trumpet solo by Trovesi’s long-time, front-line mate, Enrico Rava, followed by solos by Gianluigi on alto and Roberto Cecchetto on guitar, respectively.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Stefano di Battista: Jazz in Italy


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Soprano and alto saxophonist Stefano di Battista and I have three primary things in common: [1] February 14, [2] Rome and Paris and [3] a passion for passionate Jazz.

We were both born on February 14th  although I am – ahem – a few years older than him.

Stefano was born in Rome; my father was born there and it along with Paris are our favorite European cities.

The last common interest is self-explanatory, but is really the point of the whole piece.

I know that it seems hard to believe that an Italian and an American of Italian descent would be passionate about Jazz, but Stefano can’t play Jazz other than passionately and I have no interest in Jazz that doesn’t “speak to me” – passionately.

[Actually, we have a fourth thing in common: we both have the same first name].

Essentially, this piece on Stefano has two, main features [it seems that I’ve suddenly discovered enumeration].

The first feature consists of three [here I go again] videos that we have developed and embedded throughout this profile on Stefano.  Each of these uses a different audio track from Stefano’s Parker Mood CD as a way of acquainting you with his style of playing

In the initial video, Stefano performs Tadd Dameron's "Hot House" with Flavio Boltro [tp], Rosario Bonaccorso [b], and drummer Herlin Riley. Can you tell that drummer Herlin Riley is from New Orleans, home of the syncopated, marching street bands? And if you've ever wondered about the sound of the Jazz expression - "a two-beat-feel" - you're listening to it.

HOT HOUSE


The other, two videos are interspersed in the following overview of di Battista’s career and approach to Jazz which is largely drawn from the annotations on his My Space profile.

“Italian saxophonist Stefano Di Battista could spill a can of paint onto a canvas, only to find he has made a beautiful picture. In other words, every breath that passes through his horn is attractive.

His latest project Round About Roma creates an imaginary cinema score, with strings by the Symphonic Orchestra of Paris, that could have been a 1960's romantic film centered in Rome. Together with composer/arranger Vince Mendoza, Di Battista weaves jazz elements into these well-tempered tracks. Mendoza has created orchestral arrangements for jazz and pop music from John Scofield to Bjork. His most accomplished work being two discs for Joni Mitchell, including last years Travelogue with his string arrangements for Mitchell's re-interpretation of her beloved hits.

Two saxophonists, Art Pepper and Cannonball Adderley, have influenced Stefano di Battista's career. Both of these players incorporate an emotional approach in their playing. Where Pepper would reach for a clarinet, di Battista favors a soprano saxophone. His tone is more luscious than his two heroes, as is evident throughout this disc. Where the prior self-titled Stefano Di Battista (2000) with Elvin Jones and pianist Jackie Terrasson threatened to speak bebop throughout, this albums concept is pure amour. This isn't as much a jazz quartet with string accents as it is a small orchestra that includes piano/bass/drums/saxophone. Mendoza and Di Battista refrain from overlapping music, they intertwine and prudently have either the quartet or the strings drop out for an agreeable mix.

It is a stretch to call this jazz. Let's call it beautiful cinema orchestrations in the tradition of Nina Rota. If there is such a category, this is a near perfect album.

CONGO SQUARE:


Born: February 14, 1969


For many jazz fans, Stefano Di Battista will always be associated with the city of Paris, where he became a regular performer at The Sunset in the mid-1990s. From there, the alto and soprano saxophonist became a valuable sideman (to the late piano great Michel Petrucciani and later, drummer Elvin Jones) before launching his own solo career. On Round About Roma, his third date for Blue Note, Di Battista keeps the lush romance of the City of Lights alive and well while taking us back to the music of Rome, his beloved birthplace, where his journey on the sax began at age 13.

“This album is a story about Rome and its history, with every song featuring a unique point of view about the city’s life,” he says. “The idea was to remember people and places, both real and fictional, like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Anastasia,’ and bring out love through the music. It’s important that as a composer and player, I always tell the truth. My band and I really liked the 2000 Joni Mitchell CD Both Sides Now and we wanted to recreate a new kind of jazz music using this idea.”


Di Battista is in the company of longtime friends and cohorts throughout the eight beautiful and haunting tracks. He has worked with this particular quartet”pianist Eric Legnini, double bassist Rosario Bonaccorso and drummer Andre Ceccarelli”for almost ten years, and they’re still making magic some 500 gigs later (Legnini appeared on A Prima Vista, and Bonaccorso is on that date and the 2001 self-titled release).


“Playing with them is my life,” the saxophonist says. “We all know each other really well. The piano and double bass are like a prolongation to my mind, and the drum is my heartbeat.”

Still, the essence of Rome cannot be conveyed by jazz ensemble alone, and this is where the orchestra of top Parisian musicians (featuring the 1st violin of the Opera National de Paris) transforms a magnificent jazz date into a truly universal expression of love featuring classical and film score overtones. Bringing this element to glorious life is veteran orchestrator and arranger Vince Mendoza, who has worked a similar magic for years with jazz and pop heavyweights like Bjork, The Yellowjackets, Peter Erskine, John Scofield, and significantly, Joni Mitchell, for whom Mendoza wrote the orchestral arrangements of Mitchell classics that appear on her previously mentioned recording, Both Sides Now. Incredibly for all of its grandeur,
Round About Roma was recorded in one nine hour session in Paris, with no overdubs.


“Vince wrote the arrangements, and the quartet integrated his music with our own,” says Di Battista. “Playing with an orchestra is a great experience and the music is much easier for the people. It helps us keep the essence of what we’re trying to convey musically. This is the first time I have recorded with an orchestra under my name but I’ve been playing with orchestras for many years, including a whole orchestra tour with Dianne Reeves two years ago. I like the idea of music that’s simple and can be listened to easily. It’s a real challenge compared to what I did previously with my quartet or with Elvin Jones.”

A NIGHT IN TUNISIA [“A Tribute to Charlie Parker: 1920-1955”]


In an ongoing effort to convey different emotions and moods, Di Battista switches off between soprano and alto effortlessly throughout the session. His wistful soprano leads us through the elegant, dreamy atmospheres of his own composition “Tartaruga,” while he leads with alto on Mendoza’s “Amoroso” to convey a rich sense of deeper melancholy. The soprano-driven “Anastasia” offers interesting mood swings between the contemplative beginning (violin solo over a dark bassline, then a classical flavored opening melody) and the livelier, swinging quartet action that emerges later. Di Battista is a longtime fan of the classic Franco Zeffirelli film Romeo & Juliet, and blends his alto with Mendoza’s caressing yet dramatic orchestrations to bring new life to the familiar Nino Rota theme. “The Other Side” begins with a dark, minor key flavor before becoming a reflection of the lighter side of the Roman experience via Di Battista’s spirited soprano jamming, a trademark lively Legnini piano solo, and the intense contrast between Bonaccorso’s double bass and Ceccarelli’s insistent hi-hat. Mendoza’s “Arabesque” is a joyful adventure, which begins as a silky soprano ballad before widening the palette to include off-meter rhythms and powerful orchestral swells. Di Battista’s warm alto drives the final two tracks, the soulful ballad “Roma Antica” and the intensely percussive, pop-flavored closer “The Next Nine Hours.”

While it would be hard for anyone born in Rome and living for years in Paris to be anything but ultra-romantic, Stefano Di Battista’s birth date, February 14, 1969, ensures that Cupid will always be part of his life. He began playing sax as a teenager in a neighborhood group and says his love affair with jazz grew from his early infatuation with the acid tone of Art Pepper. But John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and the Italian saxophone legend Massimo Urbani are equal influences: “Urbani taught me energy, generosity, physical and spiritual commitment to music. And when I heard Cannonball at 16, I thought that was the most important turn of my life. It became a career just after that.”

In 1992, Di Battista played at the Calvi Jazz Festival and was invited by Jean-Pierre Como to move to Paris, where he soon established himself at the city’s premier jazz hotspot, The Sunset. “When I arrived in Paris,” the saxman remembers, “it was as if I’d been born there.” He appeared frequently on the bill with Michel Benit, drummer Stephane Huchard and drummer Aldo Romano. Then came associations with cornetist Nat Adderley, drummers Daniel Humair and Jimmy Cobb, and the late pianist Michel Petrucciani, who asked Di Battista and his trumpeter sidekick Flavio Boltro, to join his new sextet.

In 1997, Di Battista released his solo debut Volare on Label Bleu, which was nominated for the Victoires de la Musique, Choc de L’Annee 97 Jazzman. He made the transition from Bleu to Blue (Note) with the recording of A Prima Vista, his well-received 1998 label debut featuring Boltro, Legnini and Bonaccorso. Di Battista’s fruitful association with drummer Elvin Jones, legendary originally for his work with John Coltrane, began with the recording of Di Battista’s well-received self-titled second Blue Note album in 2001. Jones came to Brussels to lay down tracks for “some kid” and wound up taking Di Battista on his own world tours with the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine.

For Di Battista, making music comes down to one thing: “I like the idea of simple, communicative playing that remains fluid and immediately perceptible. On Round About Roma, I wrote everything with the orchestra in mind and Vince helped me make my dream come true. The music sounds like a soundtrack so it made sense to make a play on the words ‘Round About Midnight.’ I was born in Rome and the city grew with me in my heart. Every time I leave it, something is missing to me. Being around these beautiful cities helps me communicate those special images to the listener.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Paul Horn’s Jazz Impressions of CLEOPATRA


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Recent research has revealed that Antony and Cleopatra - one of history's most romantic couples - were not the great beauties that Hollywood would have us believe.

A study of a 2,000-year-old silver coin found the Egyptian queen, famously portrayed by a sultry Elizabeth Taylor, had a shallow forehead, pointed chin, thin lips and sharp nose.

On the other side, her Roman lover, played in the 1963 movie by Richard Burton, Taylor's husband at the time, had bulging eyes, a hook nose and a thick neck.


History has depicted Cleopatra as a great beauty, befitting a woman who as Queen of Egypt seduced Julius Caesar, and then his rival Mark Antony.

But the coin, which goes on show on Wednesday at Newcastle University for Valentine's Day, after years lying in a bank, is much less flattering about both famous faces.

The 32 BC artifact was in a collection belonging to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, which is being researched in preparation for the opening of the new Great North Museum.

Clare Pickersgill, the university's assistant director of archaeological museums, said: "The popular image we have of Cleopatra is that of a beautiful queen who was adored by Roman politicians and generals. The relationship between Mark Antony and Cleopatra has long been romanticized by writers, artists and film-makers.


"Shakespeare wrote his tragedy Antony and Cleopatra in 1608, while the Orientalist artists of the 19th century and the modern Hollywood depictions, such as that of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1963 film, have added to the idea that Cleopatra was a great beauty. Recent research would seem to disagree with this portrayal, however."

The university's director of archaeological museums, Lindsay Allason-Jones, said: "The image on the coin is far from being that of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.


"Roman writers tell us that Cleopatra was intelligent and charismatic, and that she had a seductive voice but, tellingly, they do not mention her beauty. The image of Cleopatra as a beautiful seductress is a more recent image."

While the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is saddened to learn that Hollywood didn’t get it right, again, we were delighted when producers at Columbia Records commissioned Paul Horn to make a “Jazz Impressions” LP of composer Alex North’s fine score to Cleopatra [he is also the composer of the film score for the movie Spartacus].

In a way, the Paul’s Jazz Impressions of Cleopatra turned out to be a family affair as both of my drum teachers, Victor Feldman and Larry Bunker played piano and percussion, respectively, on the album. In addition to Paul [who plays flute exclusively], Victor and Larry, the LP features the talents of Emil Richards on vibes and Chuck Israels on bass.

It doesn’t appear that this recording ever made it to CD. To rectify this omission, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles and the cracker-jack production team at CerraJazzLTD have developed the following video which features the Paul Horn Quintet performing  Grant Me an Honorable Way to Die from the Columbia LP Cleopatra [CL 2050] as the audio track.