Sep 28, 2016

Review - "Unheard Bird - The Unissued Takes"

I was thrilled when the news came out that 58 previously unknown Charlie Parker studio takes had been discovered, and would be issued by Verve. I ordered my copy of the 2-CD set as soon as it became available, and I was not disappointed. The recordings include alternate takes and incomplete takes from a number of the Parker sessions organized by Norman Granz, originally for the Mercury and Clef labels (later subsumed under the Verve label). Sessions include Parker with Machito and His Orchestra; a group with Al Haig and Kenny Dorham; Parker with strings; a Parker quartet with Hank Jones, Ray Brown, and Buddy Rich; Parker's all-star session with Dizzy, Monk, Curley Russell, and Buddy Rich; the "South of the Border" session with Parker's quartet augmented by two Latin percussionists; and Parker fronting a first-rate, very tight big band.

Besides the previously unreleased alternate takes, the original released master takes of each tune have been included. It's fascinating to listen to the process that led to the finished products. In some cases the completed alternate takes are excellent in themselves; in other cases you can hear mistakes that show the players were after all only human, and adjustments being made through the takes leading up to the released master.

Here are a few observations I jotted down:

Disc 1

Tracks 1-5, Okiedoke - With Machito's Afro-Cuban band. Alto sax too high in the balance. Maybe this worked on c.1949 record players. Bird burns.

6-9, Visa - C blues.  Features Al Haig, piano, and a young Kenny Dorham on trumpet.

10-15, "Tune X," "Tune Y," "Tune Z" - Long-standing confusion about the titles of these tunes is somewhat cleared up here. Two takes of Tune X were originally released, one with the title "Diverse," another with the title "Segment." Tune Y (a C blues) and Tune Z (a different tune, with Rhythm changes), were both released under the name "Passport." Track 15, a false start labeled Tune Y on this CD, is actually Tune Z, a mislabeling that doesn't help the confusion over the titles.

Tune Z, a "Rhythm changes" piece, is the tune that appears in in the Omnibook under the title "Passport." After a number of false starts, the band tries it at a slower tempo, and gets a keeper.

24-25, If I Should Lose You - Bird With Strings. Track 24 consists of 30 seconds of false starts; track 25 is the previously released master. #24 is included as a "make-good" track; it was discovered after the release of the "Charlie Parker With Strings Deluxe Edition." Not much new here, though the previously-released master take is great.

26-28, Star Eyes - This tune, and the blues that follows, feature a 22-year-old Hank Jones, sounding very good. There is a tight, arranged intro; after false starts and one incomplete take, the band gets a good one.

29-36, Blues (Fast) - Bb blues at about mm 270. The band is Parker, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, and Buddy Rich. Although one might think that these musicians could have done a great Bb blues in one or two takes, it took them 12 tries to get to the one that was released. The album notes relate that the session engineer carefully numbered the 12 takes, including false starts; the 8 tracks included here comprise all but the (still lost) takes 9 and 10. The head and the arrangement seem to have been created in the studio. Over the course of the 10 takes preserved here, you can follow the development of both the head and the arrangement. By the end, it's a pretty tight product. Of course, this process includes many fantastic choruses of Parker playing blues in Bb.

37-38, Bloomdido (Bird, Diz, Monk, Rich, Russell) - The intro is first tried as unaccompanied piano, followed by drums, but that sets up a sloppy entrance by the horns. Monk, Buddy Rich, and the horns were not quite on the same wavelength. Dizzy muffs bar 5 a couple of times. They fix these problems by having the drums start along with the piano, and by having Diz drop out for bar 5, letting the alto sax cover it. The final result is a clean, classic take. Monk's intro is the same in every take; he seems to have worked it out in advance.

Disc 2

Tracks 1-4, An Oscar for Treadwell - Piano intro is the same for each take; again Monk seems to have prepared it in advance. Dizzy is in great form in this session. Track 3, an alternate take, is very good until the horns mess up the out-head.

5-8, Mohawk - In the first 2 takes, the horns don't have the head clean yet, and the tempo is slower. By the time they record the released master, the tempo is faster and the head is tight. Monk develops the intro over the course of the takes. In the album notes, Phil Schaap tells a story about this session that was related to him by Curly Russell, the bassist:
"...the slightly different timing mechanisms of Thelonious Monk and Buddy Rich were throwing off Bird and Diz. The horn players asked the engineer if it would hurt the audio if they were repositioned so as to stare at and play directly to Curly, a steady rock and a one-man rhythm section. The adjustment was made."
9-12, My Little Suede Shoes - See this post for some details about the origin of this song. My impression of Bird's Latin recordings, including the cuts with Machito, is that Parker's solo concept doesn't always mesh as well with Latin grooves as well as it does with bop/swing. The overall ensemble groove is better in his bop combo and big-band tracks. He seems to be "feeling it" in his recordings with strings, too.

13-17, Tico Tico - A Charlie Parker choro! The drum set seems to be thinking samba here - not inappropriate, really. The tempo seems to be a little too fast for Bird to tongue repeated notes cleanly in the B section. I guess he was a single tonguer. That makes me feel a little better about my lack of double-tonguing ability.

18-19, Fiesta - Second take is faster. Parker seems quite comfortable on this "Latin" tune, maybe because it was written by Americans (Cal Massey and possibly Jimmy Heath), and possibly because the bridge to the head - as well as the entire solo form - are played swing.

20-21, Mama Inez - Nice groove, Parker is comfortable on this one too. It is a well-known tune, written in 1927 by Eliseo Grenet, a pioneer of Latin jazz - see this very interesting Wikipedia bio. Youtube has dozens of versions of Mama Inez (or "Ay, Mama Ines"), played by many artists from the 1930s to the present, in a wide variety of styles.

22-24, Night and Day - A terrific, tight big band on these last three songs. Parker is right at home.

25-27, Almost Like Being in Love - The album notes say this was composed by Cole Porter, but it's really by Lerner and Loewe.

28-31, What Is This Thing Called Love - Again, a great big band, with a tune that Parker knew inside out.

I had a great time listening to this album, many times over. For Charlie Parker fans, which ought to include all jazz fans and jazz players, this is a must-listen album. Again, you can get it here.

Aug 4, 2016

"Batida Diferente," "Satin Doll," and a Couple of Other Songs

Here's another bossa nova with American antecedents - "Batida Diferente," by Durval Ferreira and Mauricio Einhorn (English - "A Different Beat"). "Batida" was featured on Cannonball Adderley's 1962 album, Cannonball's Bossa Nova.

Brazilian bossa nova musicians were very much aware of, and influenced by, American jazz of the 1950s and "Golden Age" standards of the '20s to '50s. It's hard to miss the resemblance of "Batida's" bridge to "Satin Doll" - not only the chords, but also the starting note of each 4-bar phrase, and the fact that the second phrase is a repeated sequence of the first. Here's the bridge; the A section is in the key of G.

The chord pattern here (II V I to the key of the IV, then II V I up a step, leading to the V of the original key) is common enough in standards to have been dubbed the "Montgomery-Ward bridge." Nowadays we might have called it the "Walmart bridge."

The harmonic progression in the A section of "Batida" is pretty much the same as "Do Nothing 'til You Hear From Me," or "The Nearness of You."

Last week I brought in a chart of "Batida Diferente" for my Saturday adult combo class to play, and a couple of the band members noticed some other song resemblances. A stretch maybe, but the first phrase of the melody in "Batida's" A section isn't too far from this one:

"Be My Love" was composed in 1950 for Mario Lanza by Nicholas Brodzsky, lyrics by Sammy Cahn. It sold over 2 million copies. Ferreira and Einhorn certainly would have known the tune, but who knows?

The melody of the A section of "Batida" also resembles the original "Star Trek" theme (composed by Alexander Courage), but because the TV series didn't come out until 1966, it's disqualified as a "Batida" source. Maybe Courage listened to Mario Lanza (it's common knowledge that the harmony to "Star Trek" seems to have been lifted from Johnny Green's "Out of Nowhere").

Larry, our Saturday pianist, noticed that the bridge to "Batida" matches There! I've said It Again, a tune popularized by Vaughan Monroe in 1945, and also recorded by Jimmy Dorsey, Nat Cole, Bobby Vinton, and others. The chords are "Montgomery-Ward," but the melody also almost exactly matches in bar 1-2 and 4-5 of the bridge.

Incidentally, Mauricio Einhorn, co-composer of "Batida," is is an excellent jazz harmonica player. Here he is appearing with Toots Thielemans:

Jul 12, 2016

"My Little Suede Shoes," "Pedro Gomez," and "Le Petit Cireur Noir"

In his liner notes for the newly-released Charlie Parker collection "Unheard Bird," Phil Schaap discusses the origin of "My Little Suede Shoes." Apparently Parker created the tune by combining two French pop songs, "Le Petit Cireur Noir" and "Pedro Gomez." The "Suede Shoes" title comes from the story that is told in the lyrics of "Le Petit Cireur Noir."

Check it out for yourself. "Pedro Gomez" contributes the A section of Parker's tune; "Le Petit Cireur Noir" contributes the bridge. The two Giraud songs were flip sides of the same 78 rpm single:

The music to "Pedro Gomez" was composed by Hubert Giraud, with lyrics by Roger Lucchesi. The music to "Le Petit Cireur Noir" was composed by Giraud and Lucchesi, lyrics by Annie Rouvre. Both songs were published in 1950.

The French lyrics to "Pedro Gomez" are here. This song tells the story of Pedro, who is taking a boat from Bahia and going to Paris. He packs up his cuica and other samba instruments. The song lists the instruments ("one needs at least 10 instruments like that" for a good samba). When the boat arrives it takes Pedro 2 1/2 hours to get through customs, because the officers suspect contraband, and "at least four taxis" to take his belongings into Paris. "With a well payed gig at Lido he replaces 22 gauchos...By himself he creates so much rhythm that all women go nuts." He spends his money, and two months later is broke. He starts to sell his instruments, "starting with the pandeiro... tamborim, small bongos...soon was the turn of the conga, his bells, tam-tam, etc....finally his he can buy a ticket back." Pedro returns to Bahia by himself "with his small cuica." Note the vocal cuica imitation in the recording. (Thanks to my friend Carlos for the translation.)

The French lyrics to "Le Petit Cireur Noir" are here. This song is about a shoeshiner, who complains that the fashion for suede shoes is putting him out of work. It's in dialect (Carlos thinks Caribbean). "But one day I found in a cafe terrace a well stuffed wallet...nobody claimed it. With it I bought a shoe store. I now sell pretty shoes...and since then I now like the suede shoes..." But he doesn't forget his old job: "...and when I go to the cafe I put on my old shoes... leather shoes, well worn I can have them polished and give big tip...This little story has a moral, that a little black shoeshiner can very well make it in life...and to make it, all he needs is to find at the cafe terrace a well stuffed wallet."

Hence, the title to Parker's tune.

According to Phil Schaap's notes, Parker was in Paris in November 1950, where he heard an artist/entertainer named Lobo Nocho sing "Le Petit Cireur Noir" (check Wikipedia's very interesting biography of Nocho). Bird tracked down a copy of the Trio Do-Re-Mi recording (the Youtube videos above), and combined the songs into "My Little Suede Shoes."

In his blog, Doug Ramsey expresses the opinion that Parker borrowed the chords and structure for "My Little Suede Shoes" from "Jeepers Creepers." I agree that the chord progressions for the A sections of the two songs match, but the evidence for Parker using the two Giraud songs as his source is kind of overwhelming. The chord progression is basic. The melody of "Shoes" matches Giraud's songs closely, and "Jeepers" not at all. There's a comment from a reader at the end of Ramsey's blog post quoting Annie Ross as saying that she had owned the record of the Giraud tunes, and Parker had heard it at Kenny Clarke's house. The poster does not say if this was in Paris or not. According to Wikipedia, Clarke did not move permanently to Paris until 1956.

Brian Priestley, in his book Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker, states that "My Little Suede Shoes" is "actually a song from the French Caribbean that Charlie picked up in Paris entitled 'My Little Suede Shoes' or 'Mes Souliers de Daim.'" This would appear to be incorrect information.

I'd always felt that "Shoes" was stylistically unlike anything else Parker ever wrote. I guess this explains it.

As a side note, "Pedro Gomez" is obviously intended rhythmically as a samba, and comes off in the Trio Do-Re-Mi recording as a sort of 1950 French pop samba. Parker's recording has more of a Cuban flavor. When Americans play Latin nowadays, you are more likely to hear a bossa nova rhythm. I guess it all works here.

The "Unheard Bird" CD is all great stuff. It includes three alternate takes of "My Little Suede Shoes," plus the originally released master, as well as over 50 more previously unreleased studio takes from various other recording sessions. More on that in a future post.

Jun 30, 2016

Is the major sixth a blue note?

Why don’t we call the major sixth a “blue note?” From the earliest days of jazz and blues, it’s been a basic part of the blues melodic vocabulary. Here’s a perfect example - check out Illinois Jacquet’s opening phrase. It’s an archetypal blues lick, 5-6-1-3-1-3:

I’d argue that in terms of traditional blues vocabulary, the major sixth is just as important as the the flat seven or flat five.

Here’s Bessie Smith’s 1925 rendition of “Yellow Dog Blues” (W. C. Handy, 1915). You’ll hear major sixth licks all through it:

There are countless other examples of the major sixth in blues licks, from all eras of jazz and blues.

Maybe we should try to better define our terms. What exactly is a “blue note,” anyway? Merriam-Webster cites the first use of the term “blue note” as 1919; says it dates from 1925-1930.

Pretty much everyone agrees that the term “blue note” refers to a flat third or flat seventh, often in a context that is otherwise major-key. For about the last 70 years or so, one could include the flat fifth as well.

As I see it, the term was originally coined to describe the use of notes that contradicted the simple diatonic vocabulary of most early popular music. It’s an ethnocentric term, describing a Southern, mostly African American melodic usage that was at the time (c. 1919) heard by most mainstream-culture Northerners as unusual and exotic.

The terms “blue notes” and “blues scales” don’t go very far in actually defining the language of blues and jazz. They are overly-limiting concepts (though that limitation can be helpful to beginners); also, these terms say nothing about rhythm. Musicians, and especially educators, would do better to think of blues usage in terms of melodic vocabulary (licks).

True, the “blues scale” can be a useful teaching tool. When I help beginners learn to improvise, I nearly always start by having them experiment with a “minor blues scale” (1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-1), while I play a basic 12-bar progression on piano. They usually sound good right away, which gives them confidence. In addition, they usually end up finding some traditional licks in playing around with the blues scale - and that’s a good thing. Fortunately, most people today have heard plenty of blues, even if they didn’t know that’s what they were hearing, and they will intuitively draw on it.

But the next step is to tell them that actually, any note could work, depending how it is used.

The “major blues scale” (1-2-b3-3-5-6-1) is a useful concept too - again, because it draws students into traditional licks, this time including the major third and major sixth. You can’t use this scale over the entire progression like you can the minor blues scale, because the major third in this scale doesn’t work so well over the IVdom chord (e.g., playing the note E natural over the F7 in a C blues). Also, the “major blues scale” omits the flat seventh. And anyway, dwelling on a scalar approach to improvising is kind of going down the wrong road, I think - not the best way to get students to play melodically.

Getting back to the major sixth - I’d speculate that its use in traditional blues licks traces back to 19th-century hymns - consider “Amazing Grace” (the words were set to its present melody in 1835), for example - and before that, back to English/Irish folk music (e.g., “Londonderry Air,” c. 1792). I suppose you could call that usage “major pentatonic,” if you subscribe to the oversimplistic theory that pentatonic scales are somehow an Ur-form of world music.

In terms of defining the vocabulary, some notes are bluer than others. The flat third is the bluest (maybe we should call it the flat/major third, or bent third); after that the flat seventh, flat fifth, and major sixth, then maybe the second and fourth. The performance practice of bending notes (pretty much any note) is a separate, but related, element in jazz and blues vocabulary. It can turn any note “blue” - think Johnny Hodges or Jimi Hendrix. 

In a due-diligence internet search, I ran across an article by Hans Weisethaunet, Is There Such a Thing as the “Blue Note”? It’s worth reading (I agree with some, not all, of what he has to say). Weisethaunet concludes that:
…there is no such thing as the blue note, the ‘item’ of musicology. There is no such thing as the ‘blue note’ as a strange or ‘out of tune’ third or seventh (apart from in the theories and ideologies of a few musicologists). Rather than thinking of ‘blue notes’ as pitches being out of tune, ‘blue harmony’ creates a space for the play of identity in music performance...
My perspective here is not that of a musicologist, but of a player and teacher. My point in this post is simply that blues and jazz are best thought of as a matter of tradition, vocabulary, and creative evolution over time. The terms “blue note” and “blues scale” are useful and descriptive, and can be utilized as teaching tools, but the blues/jazz tradition is far more than these simplistic concepts, and students should be made aware of that early on.

If you want to teach a student what constitutes a blues vocabulary, you couldn't do much better than to have them listen to the two videos above, as a start, then check out another thousand classic blues on Youtube. Don't forget this one; the melody opens with a major sixth lick, right after the intro:

Jun 19, 2016

New Charlie Parker Release: "Unheard Bird - The Unissued Takes"

On July 1, Verve/UMe will be releasing Unheard Bird - The Unissued Takes, a collection of 58 previously unknown Charlie Parker studio recordings. These are alternate takes from sessions organized by Norman Granz for the Mercury and Clef record labels (later incorporated into Granz's Verve label). The recordings were discovered as part of a "cache of material" owned by one of Granz's associates.

The collection includes cuts from a number of landmark recording dates: Bird with Strings; a Latin session with Machito; a Cole Porter project with big band; 14 tracks with Parker's quintet featuring Kenny Dorham; and 10 tracks from the session with Dizzy, Monk, Curly Russell, and Buddy Rich. 20 master takes are also included; notes are by Phil Schaap.

More information in the link above. This promises to be the most important release of Parker material since the Benedetti tapes - and with studio quality sound!

May 29, 2016

Video: Louis Armstrong Recording Session

Here's a newly-discovered film of Louis Armstrong in the studio, recording "I Ain't Got Nobody." We only get to see one song for now; the rest of the session will eventually be released by the Louis Armstrong House Museum. 

Here's the story of how the film was discovered:

These two YouTube items were posted last month, but I just was made aware of them - Thanks, Tom!