Archive | September, 2011

Miles Davis: All Blues

28 Sep
Miles Davis' album Tutu

Miles Davis' 1986 album Tutu

Remembering trumpeter Miles Davis on the day of his death from pneumonia 20 years ago.

Davis was as full of contradictions as he was musical ideas: personally churlish, he was supportive and encouraging of the apprentices in his band; disdainful of critics, he was pained by their criticisms; reared on bebop, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His album, Kind of Blue, was saluted on its 50th anniversary by Congress by a 409-0 vote; we’re guessing there weren’t 409 members who were familiar with it.

The next time you need to be reminded that people are complicated, remember Miles. When he turned his back on audiences, we can only assume he meant it.

Trumpeter heir Wynton Marsalis told The Independent in 2003 Davis was “a genius who decided to go into rock, and was on the bandstand looking like, basically, a buffoon.” Davis had been dead 12 years, but his reaction probably wouldn’t have been any different than it was 17 years previously, according to the Telegraph, when Marsalis climbed on the stage as Davis performed at the Vancouver Jazz Festival: “That motherf—-r’s not sharing the stage with me.”

 “There was a classic competition between an older man and a younger man who is more idealistic. By that stage he’d given up jazz and was playing pop and rock, trying to stay pertinent,” Marsalis told the Telegraph’s Peter Culshaw. “He had released a large portion of his integrity. He knew it. We both knew it.”

We’ll see if Marsalis feels any differently a quarter-century hence when he’s 65.

We know this: asking where Miles Davis’ place is in jazz is a little like asking where Ty Cobb, the baseball player Davis’ personality most closely resembles, ranks in the Hall of Fame. It’s not if he’s in the first class, but whether he’s at the head of it.

Because there aren’t many jazz musicians whose death will evoke an editorial reaction from The New York Times as Davis’ did.

From the Times, three days after Davis’ death: “Unless someone soon emerges from nowhere, the trumpeter Miles Davis will be remembered as the most influential jazz artist of the second half of the 20th century. Mr. Davis remained iconoclastic through four decades as instrumentalist, composer and band leader. He felt compelled to change (a “curse,” he called it) and when he did, the whole of jazz often changed with him . . . Miles Davis is dead at 65. One of his albums was called “Miles Ahead.” And he was: an American original, as cool as they come.”

Davis was 65 when he died.

The link below is to Davis’ composition All Blues from the 1959 release Kind of Blue; it’s a live 1964 version with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams (there is, unfortunately, a slight skip or two).



Nicholas Payton: Fleur de Lis

26 Sep

Birthday greetings to trumpeter Nicholas Payton, who celebrates No. 38 today.

Payton is one of the many musicians from New Orleans; you can follow Payton’s musical lineage back as if it were a family tree. His father Walter, who died last fall, was an accomplished bassist and educator; Nicholas was taught by Ellis Marsalis; Nicholas toured with pianist Marcus Roberts, who played with Wynton Marsalis, who is currently the best-known in the long line of New Orleans trumpet players to which Payton belongs.

(It’s only a coincidence that the coach of New Orleans’ Super Bowl-winning Saints is Sean Payton. Or is it?)

“In New Orleans music, trumpet is king,” Payton told Ashley Kahn on “(There’s) something about the sound of the trumpet — its expressiveness, its sort of regal quality.”

The trumpet is not Payton’s only means of expression. He also plays piano, and he blogs on his website about topics ranging from race to music and in between. His blogs on race are provocative — we don’t concur with all of his conclusions — but they frequently stimulate revealing exchanges in the comments sections. If you get involved, you’ll be challenged.

Said Payton in Tony Green’s liner notes to the 1998 album Payton’s Place: “A lot of people have a very limited view of me, of what they see me doing. I don’t want to go against my reputation, as far as what I have established, but I don’t want to be categorized as a traditionalist. I’m still very conscious of my roots, but at the same time, I want to use my foundation as a starting point that will allow me to expand and express myself.”

Listen to the cut below from Payton’s 2008 album Touch of Blue to hear him do just that.


Bill Evans: Waltz for Debby

16 Sep
Bill Evans

Bill Evans' 1975 double album Peace Piece and Other Pieces; 2 sides a re-release of 1958's Everybody Digs Bill Evans and 2 previously unreleased sides

Remembering pianist Bill Evans on the day after his death in 1980.

Although much is made of Evans’ relationship with and impact on Miles Davis, and vice versa, they made only two studio albums  together — 1958 Miles and Kind of Blue.  Which is a bit like saying Harper Lee only wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. If you read, you’ve  probably read it. And if you listen to jazz, or music at all, you’ve probably listened to and/or own a copy of  Kind of Blue.

The irony is that Bill Evans — not to be confused with composer/arranger Gil Evans, who also influenced Davis — had already left Davis’ group before Kind of Blue was recorded. But according to Ashley Kahn’s article on their relationship (link below), Davis made a special request of Evans. Thus the 1959 album that featured Davis and John Coltrane had Evans on piano (and Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums and ”Cannonball” Adderley on alto sax). “I planned that album around the piano playing of Bill Evans,” Davis said in 1989, according to Kahn’s piece.

(According to, Davis said to Evans, “See what you can do with this;” the result was Evans’ solos on Blue in Green.)

On Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of 500 greatest albums, Kind of Blue was rated 12th; the only surprise is it didn’t rank higher. Said pianist Chick Correa, from Kahn’s book Kind of Blue: The Making of a Miles Davis Masterpiece: “It’s one thing to just play a tune, or play a program of music, but it’s another thing to practically create a new language of music, which is what Kind of Blue did.”

Evans and Davis each pursued careers as band leaders; their music diverged. “The further he got from the Miles experience in point of time, the less aggressive his playing became,” said producer Orrin Keepnews, in Conrad Silvert’s liner notes to the album Spring Leaves.

Evans died, after years of drug abuse and hepatitis, at just 51 years old. A friend called it, in Peter Pettinger’s book: Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings, “the longest suicide in history.”

A link to Kahn’s fascinating account of race and the Evans-Davis relationship below, and to a live version of Evans’ Waltz for Debby

Bill Evans and Miles Davis


Oliver Lake: Fire Waltz

14 Sep
Oliver Laker

Oliver Lake's 1976 album on the Black Saint record label Holding Together. We're glad he is.

Birthday greetings to saxophonist Oliver Lake, who celebrates No. 69 today.

His website calls him a Renaissance Man because of the variety of his interests beyond playing and composing music — writing poetry, painting, performing, etc. Lake is nothing if not unorthodox, and often he’ll combine his music and his poetry; whatever he does, and however he does it, he’ll evoke a reaction from his audience. Whatever it is.

Best known for his work in the World Saxophone Quartet, Lake certainly hasn’t been limited by it, and has worked with a diverse group of artists, some only once, and some regularly, like the group Trio 3 he formed with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille. All are undaunted.

“We’ve tried to disintegrate the boundaries of the music,” Lake said, in an interview with New Jersey Public Television, of Trio 3, “while trying to move the music forward in the spirit of someone (like) Coltrane, in the spirit of Miles Davis, in the spirit of Duke Ellington . . . All of these musicians before us were striving to get to the next level. And I think each one of us has that same concept, and that’s what people come to us for. They know they’re going to hear something different. They’re not going to hear traditionally sounding jazz.”

Often it can sound like his poetry, or even be his poetry. Lake’s poem separation, from his website and off the back of the album NTU: Point From Which Creation Begins:

first it’s the salad
then the meat
then the vegetables


bring all my food at one time one the same plate!
dixieland, be-bop, soul, rhythm & blues, cool school, swing, avante-
garde, jazz, free jazz, rock, jazz-rock



Aretha franklin & Sun Ra is the same folks
Coltrane & the Dixie humming birds same folks
Miles & muddy waters same, there is no …….. there is no ……..


One music–diff feelings & experience, but same. . . .the total
sound–mass sound–hear all the players as one


A link to Lake’s quintet playing the Mal Waldron piece Fire Waltz below:


Pepper Adams: Dylan’s Delight

10 Sep

Remembering Pepper Adams, born Park Frederick Adams, on the day of his death in 1986.

We’ll never know how musically inclined Adams might have been but for the Great Depression. When his father was unable to find work in Michigan, where Adams was born in 1930, the family split up, Adams’  father in search of work, Adams’ mother to live with her family in Indiana, according to Adams’ website. It was there in Adams’ early years that he was introduced to music, playing the piano.

Adams eventually came to champion the distinctive sound of the baritone saxophone in a career that included associations with Coltrane, Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band and countless, countless others.

From Richard Cook and Brian Morton in the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD:  “The baritone saxophone was as unpopular with hard-bop musicians as it was with the original boppers and, come to that, with the swing-era saxophonists. Pepper Adams, more than anyone else, came close to making it a congenial instrument in the hot-house environment of hard bop. He had a dry unsentimental tone . . . and a penchant for full tilt solos that gave no shred of concession to the horn’s ‘cumbersome’ reputation.”

The “horn’s reputation” wasn’t Adams’; his was far more exciting.  “Bepob down to his socks,” is how Phil Woods described Adams, according to His nickname was The Knife, “because when he’d get up to blow, his playing had almost a slashing effect on the rest of us. He’d slash, chop, and before he was through, cut everybody down to size,” said Mel Lewis, according to the website

Adams was 55 when he died of lung cancer. The link above is to an Adams composition from the album The Adams Effect; it was recorded just 14 months before Adams died.


Sonny Rollins: St Thomas

7 Sep
Sonny Rollins' Here's to the People

Sonny Rollins' 1991 album Here's to the People. Here's to Sonny.

Birthday greetings to octogenarian/saxophonist Sonny Rollins, born Theodore Walter Rollins, who celebrates No. 81 today.

There was certainly a time when it seemed Rollins would never enjoy such longevity or be the elder statesman of jazz — he was arrested at age 20 for armed robbery (three-year sentence), he was addicted to heroin and he was homeless for a time, as Rollins described in Neil Tesser’s story on

But Rollins defied the stereotypes of creative and tortured artists, and did most of his best work — and it is voluminous — after quitting drugs.

“I’m not proud of many things in my life,” Rollins told Tesser, “but I’m proud of that — of defeating the dragon.

 “. . . I was ‘carrying the stick. You know what that means? It means you’re homeless, like a hobo; I was sleeping in parked cars during the winter and all this stuff. I was doing very nefarious things.”

Rollins turned nefarious into virtuous. “Rollins really blossomed after his return from Chicago in 1956,” wrote Ira Gitler on the liner notes to Tour De Force; Chicago is where Rollins told Tesser he went to stop using.

The album Saxophone Colossus in 1956 was a colossus and Newk’s Time introduced his nickname — a cab driver thought Rollins was Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe — and in all, he’s been the leader on more than 50 albums, despite a hiatus in the early 60’s where he gained acclaim for practicing on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York.

From Nat Hentoff’s liner notes to the album Sonny Rollins on Impulse: “In his chapter on Sonny Rollins in Jazz Masters of the Fifties (MacMillan), Joe Goldberg quotes jazzman Steve Lacy: ‘I’ve never seen anyone in love with the tenor saxophone the way Sonny is. He really loves that horn and understands it. He knows everything about it.’ ”

A link below to Rollins and a live version of St. Thomas, which pays tribute to his roots in the U.S. Virgin Islands.


Al Stewart: Roads to Moscow

5 Sep
Al Stewart's famous last words

Al Stewart's 1993 album Famous Last Words; fortunately, they weren't his. He's done several more albums since.

Birthday greetings to British folk-rocker Al Stewart, who celebrates No. 66 today.

Known best for Year of the Cat — some folks know him only for that — Stewart incorporates more history into his music than perhaps any other artist. Listening to Stewart as history is a little like going to a movie in lieu of reading the book — your knowledge may not be as in-depth, but it will whet your curiosity to know more.

Stewart’s early albums are more folk and less folklore, and focus more on relationships than relationships of history. But 1973’s Past, Present and Future was completely devoted to historical subjects; it’s been a major theme since.

He introduced many a listener to the 16th-century seer Nostradamus (“I am the eyes of Nostradamus, all your ways are known to me,” Stewart wrote) on Past, Present and Future, and more on Time Passages’ A Man for All Seasons to English statesman Sir Thomas More, whose end was less than utopian — More was beheaded in 1535 (“What if you reached the age of reason, Only to find there was no reprieve, Would you still be a man for all seasons?Or would you just disbelieve?”).

But his songs were often about figures little-known or little-remembered, especially to the American part of his audience; even if you were a history buff, there was something to learn from listening. Among the subjects of Stewart’s history lessons are:

  • Charlotte Corday, who murdered Jean-Paul Marat, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, and was, in turn, guillotined. “All at once there’s someone there that only you can see Seeking the forgiveness that will set her free,” Stewart wrote on Famous Last Words.
  • Old Admirals chronicled the life of John Fisher, who spent his life in the service of the British Navy and was recalled to service at age 73 during World War I. “And sometimes think in all this world the saddest thing to be, Old admirals who feel the wind, and never put to sea,” Stewart wrote on Past, Present and Future.
  • Sir Richard Grenville was a 16th-century British admiral whose hunt for treasure and capture by the Spanish was memorialized in a Tennyson poem nearly 300 years later. “Go and tell Lord Grenville that our dreams have run aground,” Stewart wrote on Year of the Cat.
  • The Last Days of June 1934 chronicles the purge of Ernst Rohm from Hitler’s inner circle, The Night of the Long Knives and a Europe unaware. “And Europe lies sleeping, you feel her heartbeats through the floor, On the last day of June 19..” Stewart wrote on Past Present and Future.

There’s more — from Warren Harding to a Russian soldier’s perspective of World War II, as chronicled by Aleksandar Solzhenitsyn (Roads to Moscow, link below) to Robert Scott and Antarctica, to pilot Amy Johnson on Flying Sorcery, to the performer Josephine Baker to General Heinz Guderian in Roads To Moscow . . . like the Russian skies in that song, the list goes on seemingly forever.

Here’s a link to the latter — there’s more than two minutes of ad-libbing before the song:

“And it’s cold and damp in the transit camp, and the air is still and sullen
And the pale sun of October whispers the snow will soon be coming
And I wonder when I’ll be home again and the morning answers
And the evening sighs and the steely Russian skies go on forever”


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