Saturday, November 3, 2012

Generations of Jazz – Watching and Learning

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

“Passing the baton” in Jazz is a recurring theme in the history of the music.

There are aspects about it that can’t be formally taught so they must be informally learned, in many cases, through observation.

Whether it’s King Oliver shepherding the gang of youngsters from Austin High closer to the bandstand at Chicago’s Lincoln Gardens so that they could more closely watch the music being made, or alto saxophonist Bud Shank holding forth at the back of The Lighthouse, a Jazz club in Hermosa Beach, CA, demonstrating reeds and mouthpieces to a group of admiring, teenage disciples, or Joe Morello bewildering a coterie of young drummers with a dazzling display of technique between sets with Marian McPartland’s trio at the Hickory House in NYC, the “old guys” help the “young guys” learn the music.

These shared gifts of knowledge and technique help The Tradition that is Jazz, grow and develop.

The late, bassist Ray Brown was particularly keen on helping to “pass-the-torch.” As I once heard him put it: “When you get off the train from Pittsburgh in New York City in the morning and you are working with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band that night, you gotta do what you can to make it happen for other cats. Not everyone is that lucky”

Among his many accomplishments, Ray fronted his own trios during the last two decades of his illustrious Jazz career in which he nurtured the likes of drummers Jeff Hamilton and Gregory Hutchinson and pianists such as Benny Green and Geoff Keezer.

To keep expenses down and their own revenue up, Ray and Jeff would make a swing of Europe as a duo. Contractors would then pair them with local young musicians such as British trombonist Mark Nightingale, Italian Jazz pianist Dado Moroni and Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius.

In club dates and the concert stages of the summer Jazz festival season, European audiences would get to hear their favorites performing with “the big guys” from the States.

On one such occasion in 1993, Stephen Meyner, owner-operator of Minor Music, produced a recording session with Ray and Jeff that featured three, young German musicians: Till Bronner on trumpet, Gregoire Peters on alto and baritone saxophones and Frank Chastenier on piano.

The results of these recording sessions which took place on May 1st and 2nd, 1993 in Cologne, Germany can be heard on a Minor Music CD which is aptly named – Generations of Jazz [MM 801037].

Jazz pianist Walter Norris points out the benefits of such a generational and international blending of Jazz musicians in the following insert notes to the recording.

© -Walter Norris/Minor Music, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“GENERATIONS OF JAZZ gives the listener a cohesion, found not only in the musician's performance but a cohesion of music existing in each musician's generation. Music that survives as art has this cohesive quality, yet, there must also be a "spirit of musical joy" and this joy combined with musical cohesiveness is heard throughout all these omnigenous titles.

The opening blues [Dejection Blues], their first playing together, was recorded in one-take and this "good omen" continued for the entire session. Ray Brown, the most recorded bassist in jazz and recognized as a master for his outstanding contributions with Oscar Peterson's trio, has perhaps formed an alliance with the musically compatible Jeff Hamilton, Peterson's percussionist, as they have become renown for their ability to energize, as a rhythm section, any assembled group regardless of instrumentation. It's touching hearing them project their warmth and affection.

Their example should be followed more... where the older, more experienced, give of themselves musically in order to bring out and mature the better qualities of a younger generation. Here, these better qualities, resulting from hard but gratifying work, sound surprisingly mature.

Frank Chastenier studied with the late Francis Coppieters, to whom his composition [This One’s For Francis] is dedicated. Gregoire Peters studied woodwinds with Allan Praskin and Heinz vonn Harmann. Till, whose talents extend to piano and drums, studied trumpet with Ack van Rooyen, Bobby Shew, Derek Watkins and Chuck Findley.

I remember hearing Gregoire when he was sixteen. Till, I believe was sixteen and Frank about eighteen when they entered the Bundesjazzorchestra - seminars led by Peter Herbolzheimer and it has been most rewarding for me to watch them grow and develop musically.

Although this is the group's first recorded effort, other recordings will surely follow for these young musicians will continue and survive this most difficult profession. Frank is contracted with the WDR Radio in addition to a teaching position at Hochschule-Cologne and Till and Gregoire are members of the RIAS Radio Orchestra.

All titles are cleverly arranged, the improvisations and original compositions are truly effervescent, yet, there's a seasoned maturity that will impress any connoisseur. Of course, this music is traditional but one is aware that phrases have been reshaped and molded which is reason to rejoice since, historically, music has always been traditional and changed only through a process where individuals mold and reshape harmony, form and phrasing. It's refreshing to hear the 'torch of music'' carried on by a new generation

Walter Norris

Guest Professor Piano Improvisation
Hochschule der Kuste, Berlin

Dejection Blues forms the audio track to the following video montage having to do with paintings, illustrations and photographs, all of which were loosely gathered to fit the stated theme of the music.

I think that you’ll feel anything but dejected after listening to Till, Gregoire, Frank, Ray and Jazz make Jazz together. “Elation” may be more like it.