Archive | February, 2011

Around the World in Music Monday: Canada and Kenny Wheeler

28 Feb
Kenny Wheeler

Kenny Wheeler: Deer Wan

Born in Canada (St. Catharine’s) in 1930, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler can be claimed by two countries — he has lived in Great Britain since 1952. Wheeler turned 81 in January, and is still active.

Notoriously reticent, Wheeler prefers his work to speak for him more than his words. The record is lengthy and complete — Wheeler has all played kinds of jazz and played with all kinds of artists, from Anthony Braxton to his Azimuth trio to big bands to collaborating with all the best performers the ECM label has produced.

Said Azimuth vocalist Norma Winstone to the Guardian’s John Fordham (link below) last fall: “He doesn’t say much, but he makes what he does say count. It’s like his tunes.”

Mike Hennessey on the liner notes to Soul Note’s 1988 album Flutter By Butterfly: “Not only is Kenny a fresh and invigorating soloist with a totally individual style; he also is a most imaginative composer . . .”

Wheeler can sound less impressed. To Fordham in the Guardian profile: “I’ve never got over my phobias about playing. But it’s getting a bit late now. I guess I’ll just have to live with them.” (link to the Guardian story:

From the 1976 ECM release Gnu High (below): 


Roy Eldridge: Let Me Off Uptown

27 Feb

Remembering trumpet player Roy Eldridge on the day after his death in 1989.

Nicknamed “Little Jazz,” Eldridge stood only 5-foot-6, but there was a time in the 1940s when he couldn’t have been much bigger. In 1941, after apprenticing with Fletcher Henderson, Eldridge joined drummer Gene Krupa’s band, with singer Anita O’Day (link above). As the only black member of the band, Eldridge suffered from discrimination at the hotels and restaurants and the like which would serve the other members but not him; once, reportedly, Krupa once got into a fight on behalf of Eldridge and was fined.

When Krupa was arrested for marijuana in 1943, Eldridge eventually joined Artie Shaw’s band. In the 1950s he moved to Paris and enjoyed the attention there, played with Benny Goodman, moved back to New York. He suffered a stroke in 1980, and for the rest of his life he performed on other instruments.

He died in 1989 at age 78.

Eldridge is the subject of John Chilton’s book: Roy Eldridge: Little Jazz Giant.

Said trombonist Steve Turre to  “. . . there only is one Roy, and that’s Roy Eldridge . . . He is the connection between Pops and Dizzy.”

Next:  Around the World in Music Monday: Canada

Fats Domino: The Fat Man

26 Feb

A happy 83rd birthday to Antoine Dominique Domino, otherwise known as Fats, born on this day in 1928.

A native of Louisiana, Domino’s family spoke French, but most of them were also equally conversant in a second language: music. Domino dropped out of school at 14 to work a day job, but at night he played music in the clubs.

Domino did rock and roll before it was called that — the link above to The Fat Man was released in 1950. When the craze hit, Domino was a natural with his piano playing, personality and voice, right down to the wah, wah, wahs. He sold more records than any other African-American artist in the 50s — though Pat Boone reached No. 1 with a cover of Domino’s Ain’t That Shame (Fats’ version was No. 10).

Domino had plenty more hits built primarily around two themes: walking and/or blue — Blueberry Hill, I’m Walkin’, Blue Monday, I Want to Walk You Home, Walking to New Orleans.

When the decade changed so did Domino’s fortunes — he never achieved that level of popularity again. His influence didn’t wane, though: the Beatles were fans, and both Paul McCartney and John Lennon covered Domino songs. McCartney said he wrote Lady Madonna in Domino’s style. 

Domino remained popular in concert but in the 80s he ceased traveling, preferring to stay home in New Orleans, where he made annual appearances at the city’s blues festival.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Domino was out of touch for an extended time, and rumors of his death circulated. A sign was spray-painted on his home: “RIP Fats: You will be missed.” Though the reports were exaggerated — Domino had been rescued — he did lose much to Katrina. 

From Domino’s The Fat Man:

 They call, they call me the fat man
‘Cause I weigh 200 pounds
All the girls love me
Cause I know my way around

Kenny Dorham: Lotus Blossom

25 Feb

It’s easy to overlook trumpeter Kenny Dorham — his contemporaries were Miles Davs, Dizzy Gillespie and Lee Morgan, he died young, and even his 1972 death was overshadowed by Morgan’s that same year. Morgan, 33, died even younger than Dorham and more sensationally (in a lover’s quarrel).

Born McKinley Howard Dorham in 1924, Dorham’s career got going after a stint in the army, where he was on the boxing team. After his discharge, he played with Charlie Parker, was a Jazz Messenger with Art Blakey and replaced Clifford Brown after Brown’s death in 1956  in the Max Roach Quintet. But it was his friendship with and mentoring of Joe Henderson that is probably most enduring — Henderson was the first to record Dorham’s Blue Bossa to much acclaim.

Dorham was always held in high regard by his music colleagues, although once on liner notes to his own album he was called “a journeyman trumpet player.” Few would agree. But Dorham couldn’t maintain his career in the mid-1960s and he took day jobs outside the studio. He worked for the post office and wrote reviews for Downbeat Magazine.

He died of kidney failure in 1972. He was only 48 years old.

Saxophonist Jackie McLean on “Most people know Kenny, but Kenny during his whole lifetime never got the accolades and never got the roses that he should have received for all that he gave us.”

Lucky Millinder: Shout Sister Shout

24 Feb

The man called Lucky was born Lucious Venable Millinder in Alabama in 1900, and perhaps he was lucky — it’s said he played no instruments, couldn’t read music and seldom sang. But he could lead a band, and he could recognize talent, and his band produced music that the audience felt lucky to listen to.

Dizzy Gillespie played trumpet for the band briefly in 1942, and it’s said Thelonious Monk played piano for it, although Millinder wasn’t a fan of Monk’s and quickly fired him. Monk sued and won $63.33 in back wages, according to Robin Kelly’s book on Thelonious Monk: the life and times of an American original.

Singers Rosetta Tharpe and Wynonie Harris  excelled. The band’s biggest hit was Who Threw The Whiskey In the Well; Who Said Shorty Wasn’t Coming Back is worth a listen. Above is a link to Shout Sister, starring Tharpe. 

In the 1950s, Millinder complemented his band with a show as a disc jockey on New York radio, but as the preference of the majority of  music-lovers morphed from rhythm and blues to rock and roll, Lucky wasn’t so, and his band faded into obscurity.

He died in New York in 1966 at age 66.

Tony Williams: My Michelle

23 Feb

Remembering drummer Tony Williams on the day of his death in 1997.

Williams was part of the VSOP — Very Special One Time Performance — recordings, but almost every performance was special if Williams was drumming. He came to New York as a teen in 1963  to work with Jackie McLean; before long he was drumming with Miles Davis through much of the 60s. He worked with Chet Baker and VSOP artists (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter) through the 70s and Hancock through the 80s, but his all-time collaborators included the Doors’ Ray Manzarek, Dexter Gordon on Round Midnight, Eric Dolphy, Branford Marsalis, Mulgrew Miller, John McLaughlin, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Weather Report and his own fusion group, Lifetime. Among others.

Williams was only 51 and living on the West Coast when he went to the hospital for gall bladder surgery. He died of a heart attack.

The breadth of his influence can be seen in the many tributes to him over the last 15 years: a Tony Williams Lifetime Band, college scholarships and a jazz festival, among others.

From rock critic Robert Christgau in 1970 on Williams:  “Williams refuses to refer to his music as jazz. Jazz bores him, even the jazz he likes: it’s all too quiet, too conventional, too — can it be? — commercial. So call the Tony Williams Lifetime an ‘electric music quartet.’ “

Walter Becker: Three Picture Deal

22 Feb
Walter Becker

Walter Becker: 11 tracks of whack

A belated happy birthday to Walter Becker, one-half of Steely Dan, whose 61st was on Sunday.

Becker has found his voice — literally — since Steely Dan began its second act in the early 1990s. Always conscious of his sound, and previously content to play guitar and write the songs with Donald Fagen, Becker has released two solo albums (11 tracks of whack in 1994, Circus Money in 2008). He also took the lead for the first time on a Steely Dan album song in 2003 (Slang of Ages).

Becker spent much of the decade-plus without Steely Dan living in Hawaii and producing albums. It was, in great part, Becker’s work on Fagen’s solo album, and Fagen’s reciprocal work on Becker’s that reunited the group in 1993. 

Becker on his voice to the Los Angeles Times in a 2008 interview:   “The biggest drawback of course is the self-loathing that keeps me from doing things because I feel as though it places an unfortunate ceiling on how good it can ever sound to me.”

It sounds just fine from where we sit. A link to Three Picture Deal, from Circus Money, below.

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