Archive for category Vocals
I recently attended a concert which offered up a bill comprised of multi-generational musicians. With the older guys, were one to not watch them play but listen only, there would be no sense of having lost a step; no reduction in power or chops. The night had been dedicated to the recently departed Mulgrew Miller, a joyous sendoff yet a reminder too that the clock never stops ticking down.
Now added to the sad parade of names, Sathima Bea Benjamin and Marian McPartland. While I currently have a very full up schedule, I could not let these two passings go unremarked upon as I greatly admired both women and our paths ever so briefly intersected. This is by no means meant to be any kind of definitive, scholarly obituary but more a personal memento mori .
I had the pleasure of interviewing both women back when I used to bleed ink for All About Jazz. With Marian, I scored the interview basically as luck of the draw; I was up next in the bullpen to conduct an interview.
Her importance of place in modern jazz can never be overstated. Besides her own performances and recordings, her Jazz piano show did not so much humanize a diverse array of greats as add further, deeper layers to already compelling artists. I did thorough research so that I could ask the questions that I knew were expected of me but also more obscure ones as to try to do a definitive interview that covered her long career.
I was given an East Coast number to call and a time. I called at the appointed time, on the dot but no one picked up. Being her home phone number an answering machine came on. I did not feel it right to leave a message, I may have been wrong, and so hung up. A minute later my phone rang, that familiar voice sounding a little annoyed asked me;
“Did you just call me and hang up?”
I explained who I was and why I had called; asking if now was a good time to do the interview to which she said yes. A few questions in and she paused for a moment, asking me;
“But why had you hung up without leaving a message?”
As we continued on she realized I was not merely asking the standard run of the mill questions and warmed up to me. She was surprised that I had found out about her father having offered her one thousand pounds to stay in school at her career’s start. The interview was conversational and rich with jazz history. Two of my favorite moments:
Prompted by my questions, she went into great detail about the day of Art Kane’s photograph “A Great Day in Harlem” (1958). Among other thing Thelonious Monk holding up the taking of the photo as he tried on all combinations of jackets and hats to try to look different;
“[Thelonious] Monk wanted to choose an outfit so that he would look different from everybody else, but he wound up looking just the same as everybody else. He kept trying on different jackets and hats; I forget what he eventually wore.”
I asked her about having toured briefly in the 60’s with Benny Goodman. This was when Rock and Roll had already deposed Modern Jazz as soundtrack for youth, artists and bohemians, let alone the older genre which Benny Goodman had helped create. He did not like her playing and she asked;
“Benny I know you don’t like my playing. Why did you hire me?” He looked at me in sort of astonishment and said, “I’m damned if I know.”
The tour would be stopped with the death of President Kennedy.
She was a great lady and one of whom I was honored to have briefly interacted with.
The Sathima interview I got under different circumstances. I unintentionally became the go to guy for artists who were deeply genre defying; doing interviews with people propagating odd mélanges of the downtown sound or modern improvised classical. The benefit of these assignments was that I was turned onto artists I would otherwise not have discovered. The other type of interviews I was given were artists who had pedigree and an abundance of talent but their stature, to the more casual listener, was not on the same level as Miles or Sonny Rollins. These assignments I relished, as to me regardless of what tier they were placed on by other jazz writers, they were heroes. Again, I did my research finding far less information and what I did find seemed the reiteration of the same basic history from previous articles. At the time I was to do the interview, she was living in New York doing light club gigging and a soft promotion of the reissue of her A Morning In Paris album.
From the very start she was friendly, exuding a warm, earth-mother kind of vibe. She was beyond generous with her time, I had to keep changing tapes in my machine, both of us laughing as I had to tell her;
“Wait, please wait I must change the tape again.”
Eventually I ran out of questions to ask, we talked about the nature of creativity, cooking and Africa. She said that she liked my name and sort of sang-said it several times as she was mulling over the answer to one of my questions. Her life would make an amazing movie with no need of embellishments for the drama. She talked about not being well known in America and the hard logistics of trying to keep a band if not together as a permanent unit then steadily working for live dates, all without a trace of bitterness or regret. It seemed after a while; more that I was talking to a friend than being granted an interview. As we continued to chat I made bold by asking her about the pizzicato violin of Svend Asmussen, from the Paris album. As great of a musician as he was, to me it at times is distracting from the other things going on. She told me a fantastic story “off record” then as we continued to talk, changed her mind and said that I could put it in;
“So while we were doing this “Nightingale In Berkeley Square” he said now you are going to work with a trio. And then I did “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year” and other things, “Darn That Dream…” And while we were into that the door opened and in walked… Svend Asmussen. And Ellington said “Oh, hey—you are just what we need… I want you to play with her but listen and this is important…Please do not play the melody. She is the melody.” So is that not beautiful? Ellington said “You can play anything else but you don’t play the melody.” So that’s why he played all the pizzicato, which I found sometimes like really annoying me. But what could I do? I wasn’t in control of this. I wasn’t going to tell him.”
She was an amazing woman, whose acquaintance I feel lucky enough to have made. I would like to think that if my interview did not help her in any professional way, it at the very least pleased her.
Farewell to two great artists whose artistic lights will never dim.
August 21, 2013 Midtown
This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (email@example.com)
Like A Bridge Movie Premiere
November 15th, 7:30pm
Balboa Theater, San Francisco
For more information go to Lua’s website at http://www.luahadar.com
Jazz At Pearls is located in North Beach, a great San Francisco neighborhood which is a mix of curious tourists and colorful locals. In the 1950’s it was ground zero for the (literary) beat movement and some of that bo-ho flavor remains for the younger generations to absorb.
The room is small enough that there are no bad seats, but not so small as you feel depressed for the artists. Their concert schedule offers an eclectic mix of local heroes and well known names in jazz who would rather forgo the larger less personal venues.
Multi-award winning singer Linda Kosut brought her tribute to Oscar Brown Jr. (1926-2005) “Long As Your Living” to Jazz At Pearls June 22 for two sets. I was there among the capacity crowd for the first set.
Linda possesses a stage presence which is naturally relaxed while also being able to convey the emotions of each song’s story. The set was made up of songs from her Oscar Brown show with which she has been touring the country interspersed with standards which shared similar emotional cadence and feel. In between songs Linda would talk with the audience, sharing the background of a piece’s history. This never disrupted the flow of the set and never felt show-biz-e. There was an instant rapport with the audience which lent an intimacy to the entire set.
I have seen this show in various venues and I appreciate that it is no cookie cutter affair. Every show and set is different while never losing its main theme. This time there was an expanded band too, still led by band leader Max Perkoff there was now an added multi-reedist/flautist Fil Lorenz. I enjoyed the extra colorations that another instrument allowed for, as Fil added further depth to the pieces.
The set opened with the standard “Let’s Get Lost” taken at a brisker pace than usual and lightly samba flavored. John Mader on drums made his brushes delicately dance across the snare while still getting a nice full sound, the piece having none of that E.Q tinkering sometimes encountered at the start of a club show. There was a nice tartly flavored sax break with a piano solo continuing the horn’s conversation. Being a leader of his own ensemble, Max knows the perfect mix of band interplay and interaction with the singer. Listening, you never feel one component of a song has gone on too long or is merely a bone thrown to the band.
“Birth Of The Blues” was a perfect counterpoint to the previous song’s cheery romanticism without bringing the audience down. It was melancholy as a thing to rejoice as it gives something whose passing can be celebrated. There was a soulful, sanctified sax solo worthy of every late night blue note.
As Linda pointed out, Oscar sometimes would add lyrics to standards of the jazz cannon, not always with permission. A cover of Charlie “Bird” Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” complete with Oscar’s words came next. The piece was fun and sexy, the sister to Oscar’s “Hazel’s Hips”. Max plays both trombone and piano; here he takes a boppish ride on the eighty eight keys. The cymbals sound like rain falling upon the city of the hip while each musician gets a solo statement before passing it off, radiating the fun they are having out to the crowd.
The next song featured both lyrics and music by Oscar, “Column of Birds”. Here the flute acted as the fluttering wings. Linda can use her voice as a musician, varying cadence and volume depending upon the size of the room and the emotion required. Both in lyric and delivery this song was plaintive yet hopeful.
After sharing the interesting history of the lyrics for “Don’t Fence Me In” which Cole Porter bought off Robert Fletcher, came the actual song. The vocals are answered by a stride flavored piano and sassy horn sounding like a friend with whom a playful joke is shared. The vocals are bluesy and hip and would not sound out of place in the halcyon days of cabaret in Paris or Berlin.
The Doc Pomus tune “Save the Last Dance for Me” was performed after an anecdote of the pieces inspiration. This version differs from the more familiar R&B versions in that the poetical intent of the lyrics is more apparent. Without back up singers echoing the songs refrain, there is a darker strain to the song’s protagonist’s emotions.
Leaving the stage, Linda brought one of her protégées Benn Bacot up on stage to sing “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Benn has strong, natural power in his delivery. He wields a rich baritone which recalls Joe William and Johnny Hartman. In his hands the song became less a fragile lament and more a declaration of heartache and tenacity. For the entire set there was great interplay among the band and with this different vocalist sitting in there was no detectable bump in their performance.
After Linda rejoined the band, Benn would be back for a cover of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” which Oscar had put lyrics to. His baritone was perfectly tailored to traverse the emotional landscape of the song. Mirroring his blues was a bar walking sax solo devoid of all cliché that style sometimes has.
Daniel Fabricant on bass was a study in tasteful restraint throughout the set. His sound on bass was full but never overwhelmed and there were no over long over flashy solos which can distract from the tension of a piece. One song was performed “Young Jazz” which had lyrics of Oscar Brown over a Lester Young solo arranged into music by Daniel. It got everybody moving in their seats and was the perfect song to end the set with as it served as a reminder that not only was Oscar a poet and activist, but he entertained as well. His art is continuing to be served and served well by Linda and the band.