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A Celebration of Jazz Legends

The artwork forms a continuous scroll, depicting in line ink and pencil the illustrated characterization of 75 legendary  Jazz musicians. These form a biographical timeline of the progressive musical virtuosity that evolved as Jazz, establishing a pantheon of unsurpassed artistry that heralded the evolution of the most unique art form to originate in North America.

The images are an attempt to express the personality that exists between the music-maker and the music they create, an improvised extension of their inner-self. . This is the initial showing of this original work and is subject to all the current 2017 regulatory laws of copyright

Introduction: Birth of the Jazz Age                                                              

Meanwhile music-making, adapted from many styles, with origins from the effete to the primitive, eddied forth from parlors, rambunctious bars, brothels, down-town rent parties, funeral processions and wakes that permeated the cosmopolitan port lands of New Orleans. The polychrome moods of the Delta called out and the population responded. The rhythms of Congo Square and Jazz in its embryonic form, was abroad in the Southland.

The most adventurous and ambitious purveyors of this new music set out to spread the gospel to the West Coast, Mid West and East to Chicago and New York.This coincided in the early years of the 20th Century with a seismic shift of population into the North on the heels of industrialization and with this shift came the genesis of a new music to express these times of social change and cultural upheaval. 

From these rural origins, the form and style of this embryonic music we now call Jazz, became an expression of the energy abroad in the industrial and urban heartland of 20th Century America.

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The Ebony and the Ecstasy

Although not chronologically accurate, Bessie Smith launches our odyssey into the hinterland of a musical kingdom presided over by characters of extraordinary talent and personality. She looms large as the first popular public figure of the ‘Jazz Age’. Known as the inimitable ‘Empress of the Blues’. 

Bessie had all the defining qualities of an Empress - The dominating stature and haughtiness, the single-mindedness and self-reliance born of a confidence to dictate her own terms. While magnanimous to those she loved, she had a glowing temper when roused. There lurked on her shoulder the Hyde of Dr. Jekyll, capable of trashing anyone who crossed her. She was a shining star in the vaults of Race Records and Performers of Color, euphemisms for a recording industry very much in the embrace of racism. At an early age she sang for her supper in the formative years of Jazz. Her singing was a proclamation of fortitude and redemption, her stage presence and vocal range resonated as a declaration of rights to be the Empress of her people. She crossed the paths of many of the early Jazz alumni, latterly touching the next great innovator of song– Billie ‘Lady Day’ Holiday. John Hammond recorded Bessie just before she died tragically in an auto accident, on one of those interminable one-night stand tours of the Deep South.

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The deep South of the Cotton Fields, the Delta, Storyville and Big Wheel Paddle Steamers, Conga Square and the Levies of the Mississippi, were imbued with a musical brew of contrasting ethnicity. Brass-banded parades of funereal mourning, religious devotion and riotous celebration, riverboat revels and gambling, big tent revivalists, Kingdom Hall entertainers ragging and rollingin musical improvised ensembles, all called this home. 

Mission Control was New Orleans and the high-flying astronauts of that era were the horn players whose clarion notes called ‘Beulah’ home to people in the haunts of nocturnal drinking and carousing. Reputations for tricking notes on your horn were closely guarded secrets, no more so than Buddy Bolden and Freddie Keppard, who even concealed his fingering of the valves on his cornet under a big white ‘kerchief. But the Monarch to Empress Bessie was ‘King PapaJoe Oliver, who reigned supreme over Storyville for many years before migrating North, to be re-crowned and revered once more in the citadels of Chicago. His band set the high watermark for swinging collective improvisation and featured soloists of the highest calibre. predominantly from New Orleans.

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His apprentice, Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong, first among equals at this time, had  reigned as a garrulous youth in the shark pools of New Orleans for a decade, honing his skills and becoming the genesis of the ‘King of the Zulus’, before answering the alluring call of his mentor ‘Papa’ Joe, currently roof-raising in ‘The Lincoln Gardens’ of Chicago.

This waif of humble origin, thus embarked on his most illustrious career, a journey that achieved the very pinnacle of musical genius and artistry. Louis Armstrong was ‘Jazz’ and for a decade became the very meaning of improvisation and virtuoso trumpet playing, which led the New World into a state of mind that became the ‘Jazz Age’.

By the very force of performance and personality these two men gathered around them an elite cadre of uniquely talented instrumentalists– pioneers and leaders in their own right, masters of virtuosity and improvisation in this new age of music soon to be recorded for posterity.

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Edward ‘Kid’ Ory – one for the ages. Gifted child musician, out of the Creole melting pot of New Orleans. A multi instrumental talent, bouncing around from one instrument to another, who finally settled on becoming the definitive master of the tail-gate trombone. Bringing it to a pre-eminence via California and Chicago with King Joe and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, which made miniature masterpieces of improvisation. His charisma and his musical style represent the timeless traditions of New Orleans in which he excelled for over 50 years.

The bluff irrepressible star beyond equals, the master of sermonizing on clarinet, who played it like a lead trumpet, was another Creole with the presence of a caged bear, the hugely efficacious and extroverted Sidney Bechet. He was a pocket orchestra all on his own.

No other, than his apprentice protégé Johnny Hodges, could attempt to elicit such beautiful languorous, molten phrases, with a thrumming throaty vibrato at peak moments of so many memorable performances.Whether on clarinet or his favored soprano sax, when under the spell of this man’s reed, one’s life expectancy was raised. There was no doubting this effect when you were in the presence of this magician at work on the Blues. 

The well travelled Bechet in Europe was heard by Ernst Ansermet , the conductor of Stravinsky’s works for Ballet Russa, who exclaimed ‘this man is an artist of genius’.A simple testament to his greatness is encountered in the recording of a trio consisting of three masters, Bechet, Earl Hines and Baby Dodds, playing‘Blues in Thirds’.

Not known to have sought each other’s regular company, Bechet and Armstrong combined to leave us with one perfect recording session, where 4 tracks led by‘2:19 Blues’ define all that is beautiful and masterful in the collective improvisation of the Blues in the New Orleans style.

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Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines had hands that talked to each other on the piano keys. This brilliant discourse between left and right propelled him from being a traditional accompanist into a major force as a lead instrument, often dominating and challenging leads on the melodic lines of the tune. Hines was elegant and cocktail smart but could mix it with the best of them. He commanded an orchestra that was loaded with a conveyor belt of talent he engaged in The Grand Terrace Café, where his residence outlasted all others in venues throughout 30’s Chicago.

But his greatest claim to fame is his simply prolific life’s work of recordings with an infinite heavenly host of famed musicians. It would be simpler to name the few he didn’t contribute to with his genius. Latterly, his solo career expressed the entire gamut of his talents, none greater than a live club recording of his classic slashing assault of polychromatic finger-snapping on “St Louis Blues Boogie’ in an exotic salut to W.C. Handy.

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Johnny Dodds had at first sight a rather sober, retiring personality, transformed by a powerhouse of licorice stick whoops and slashing choruses when playing his romping renderings of the Blues in definitive New Orleans fashion.

His Selmer improved Albert clarinet did the speaking for him when he was moved, as he frequently was, on missions of emotional preaching with Oliver, Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, as well as excelling in his own small groups in the vicarious decades of the 20’s and 30’s. Like many of that generation, his star waned with ill health, but his music lived on.

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No man had more regard for himself than this racy raconteur and self proclaimed inventor of piano rags and orchestrated jazz.

The truly irascible Ferdinand La Menthe ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton

When he wasn’t the pool hall hustler cum loan shark in twilight, dressed to the nines in white suede spats, fedora and glinting diamond tooth, he was the genius who orchestrated counter rhythms of immense subtlety and passages of intricate instrumentation that were never surpassed in the 20’s. Fully developed as finite compositions, these recordings have stood the test of time and have acknowledged him as a genius of tightly arranged polyphonic masterpieces of classical Jazz.

Caught in a tidal surge of growing emphasis placed on the virtuosity of soloists, the shifting sands of rhythmic changes and new configurations of instrumentation, ‘Jelly’ countered with claims of primal authenticity, while sinking forever into the shoals of obscurity with a series of erratic musical commissions. He surfaced like Captain Ahab’s white whale to record a set of shellac recollections of his storied past for Alan Lomax at The Library of Congress.

 His recital is a fascinating legacy of memories and places and the presence of the ‘Jazz Age’ is palpable.

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It was said that Jimmie Noone always kept good company.

 Another Creole clarinetist from the Southland, his tone and phrasing was full of grace and flavor. Lithe and mellifluous, he was taught by those that influenced generations that endlessly emanated from one of the greatest nurseries of Jazz.

A peer of the golden era of ‘Hot Jazz’, he favored small combos with a freedom to stretch out. He attracted the prolific Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines and his eager counterpoint sax accompanist Joe ‘Doc’ Poston and drummer Kansas Fields, to capture miniature 3 minute masterpieces like ‘I Know That You Know’ and ‘The World is Waiting for the Sunrise’. His prolific versatility took him on a peripatetic course of venues across the continent, finally encountering Kid Ory in California to play his last sessions produced by an enthusiastic Orson Welles

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Anyone rousting around the favorite sporting houses, gin palaces, back room rent parties or piano cutting duels in the local hostelries and bars of New York or Chicago would have inevitably encountered the Demon King of stride and ragtime paradiddle. Once the prodigy of James P Johnson, there is only one Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller.

Fats could go toe to toe with all-comers anywhere there was a piano, upright, downright posh or grand. Captivating audiences while singing and accompanying his own compositions, some famous for next to the knuckle innuendo. 

He was often in the company of his tightly swinging sextet led by the horns of Gene Sedric and Herman Autry, with Al Casey on guitar and often recorded as Fats Waller and His Rhythm. He was proud of his classical education, composing suites and mastering both the Hammond and Pipe Organs.

Widely travelled and a favorite of leaders and royalty, he was an eclectic envoy for popularizing Jazz in many outposts of the world.A surfeit of celebration and gastronomic over-indulgence finally caught up with him via a killer disguised as exhaustion – pneumonia. His ashes were sprinkled reverently over Harlem in New York.

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The Power and the Glory

Billie Holiday could be said to usher in the arrival of swing-time. With white gardenias in her hair and the most distinctive, achingly toned slurring of words and eccentrically accentuated phrasing, her voice was her personal band instrument for every number she sang.

Her first big break was with Benny Goodman who featured her on a John Hammond recording session. Lonely and vulnerable from an abused childhood, she fought her drug abuse throughout a career that established her as the vocalist of choice for so many great band calls and recordings. 

In her winsome investigation of a melody she shared a heartfelt rapport with another one of nature’s mystics in the guise of the superlative tenor and equally famous and capriciously enigmatic Lester ‘Pres’ Young.She was never far away from controversy, but managed to achieve an everlasting legacy for raising the status of the vocalist’s contribution in the stylistic singing of jazz. She was the one and only lovely ‘Lady Day’.

New York-New York

By now New York, thoroughly used to being a teeming entertainment metropolis, has another country cousin to contend with at the uptown end of the city. A new palace guard of burgeoning musical reputations are playing for an army of dancing feet in evermore crowd filled clubs, theaters, dance halls, gin mills, cafes and bars.

 Downtown Harlem was gradually creeping into downtown neighborhoods. The migrant perpetrators of this revolution of musical style, who were the instrumental guardians of this new music, only needed a union card and an abundance of talent to satiate a multitude of dancing feet in the great metropolis.

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Jazz of the 30’s and 40’s in New York, had the engrained DNA of one man and his band running through its core. Classless, urbane, phlegmatic and phenomenally talented with an ear for the lava flows of the social and cultural undercurrents of his people, he created musical portraits of the times from ‘hotcha’ Harlem to elite Carnegie Hall.

Edward ‘Duke’ Ellington didn’t just write great music, he lived it and wove the essential personalities of his instrumentalists in his band into the tapestry of his rich multi-faceted arrangements, creating hundreds of orchestral gems. His band rehearsals epitomized artisans at work - the quintessential meaning of the creative flux in ‘top of the head’ improvised composing, aided by the symbiosis of talent at his disposal. This was the essence of Duke’s ‘musical muse’ – plumbing the depths of the moods and dispositions of his musicians. This interactive fusion of fiercely independent musicians caught in rehearsal, captured in real time extraordinary collaborations of virtuosity. 

Under Ellington’s tutelage the orchestra became a great unifying instrument, portraying the range of his compositions and the tonal complexity of his vision. As a charismatic piano player his authority was rarely challenged by his collection of equally talented bandsmen, many of whom remained loyal to his demands for exceptionally long periods of their careers. Ellington’s world was a sphere where everything would be defined by music.

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‘It don’t mean a thing - If it ain’t got that Swing’

All aboard for the kingdom of happy feet and if you cain’t tap them, ‘It ain’t got it’. This was the break-out era for a tribal gathering of Jazz giants.A chemical marriage and an outpouring of supercharged charts and tiered orchestral sections of multi-talented musicians. Coruscating arrangements of recycled chestnuts, front lines playing harmonically scored blues, ‘call and response’ riffs heralding the birth of the new age of Swing.

The big band was king, with legendary units heavily laden with talented soloists, all vying for the alpha-dog prize of extended marquee bookings. 

The soloists became prize possessions in a burgeoning industry of dance halls, concerts and recording sessions. The illustrated tableaux of this pantheon of stars, celebrates the most unique of these playing signatories and forms an honor guard for the vast echelon of musicians that contributed to this peripatetic age

Lionel Hampton bestrode life with many second comings. From being a dominant force in small swing-time units like Goodman, to bellicose big band assemblies, even outlasting Ellington and most of his peers. 

He held a dominant place as a prolific rhythm man, pianist and vibraphonist in Trios, Quartets, Quintets, Sextets, Septets, Octets, and Festival All-Stars, you name it – he’s done it. His was a vital pulse that bubbled and percolated from the inner combustion engine that was ‘Hamp’. He was still ‘Flyin’ Home’ fronting his big band at the ‘Blue Note’ in New York at the tender age of 80.

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The tenor saxophone playing of Coleman Hawkins accurately depicts the man, his moods and charismatic personality. His massive influence over those who came after, cannot be fully estimated.

His talent led to the emancipation of the instrument, its full potential was perfectly infused in his rendering of ‘Body and Soul’ and ‘Bird of Prey Blues’.The former recording changed forever the instrument’s status as both a leading frontline voice while introducing the potential of saxophones to be used for laying a dominant coloratura to the contemporary arrangements of the swing era.

The ‘Hawk’ sermonized and bragged through an infinite number of memorable performances in many parts of the world. His rich mahogany tone was distinct and a perfect accomplice for his attacking cyclonic flair or equally the melancholic purring of a big cat with the blues.

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Introducing an inspirational percussion master, a perfect foil for many a wayward upstart soloist. All came under his thrall and were tamed to comply with the irresistible pulse of ‘Big Sid’ Catlett.

His magnificent tracery and fillips over a perfectly laid metronomic beat made him the perfect responsive tamer of lions.

He propelled all before him to groove their own inspiration of unchartered waters and then guided them back to safe harbor. What a guide, influence and mentor.

Many Commodore recordings are graced with his presence.

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Prowling the highland territory of alpha-dog tenor players was the other ‘bird of prey’, with a brooding libido and a tonal range that masked an iron fist in a proverbial silk glove. Ben ‘The Frog’ Webster could be a beast of a musician, a brutal force interspersed with interludes of touching reflection and sensuality.

Escaping the initial comparisons with ‘The Hawk’ camp, he forged a brooding, breathily husky tonal vibrato, full of glissando swoops, whoops and tongued slurs underpinned with a solid lyrical taste for the Blues. He bravely defended melody in friendly altercations with the new chromatic chords and discords of rising ‘bucks’ like Tatum and Powell.

These new kids on the block we’ll hear from later on, while Webster sought solace from time to time in Europe. He played as a divine Messiah with all and sundry, but was at his best with the homegrown genius of his peers, Hodges, Young, Edison, Hawkins, Peterson and Ellington. His true legacy is helplessly entangled with the ‘Ellingtonia’ masterpieces that he embellished.

From the piquant tremors of ‘Chelsea Bridge’ to the ferocious swinging assault of  ‘Perdido’ and ‘Cotton Tail’ - especially the version with Ella in song on ‘The Ellington Songbook’. Throughout, Big Ben glowed and glowered. He continued until the end, roaming the earth in search of the perfect storm to compliment his emotional range. 

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Enter now the ultimate lotus in the lotus pond - the glissando beauty and ‘Lily Pons’ reverie of Johnny Cornelius ‘Rab’ Hodges. No other alto saxophonist has laid serious claim to his musical landscape. A truly unique reservoir of down-home preaching, composed of an angelic lyricism of fire and sultry melancholy. Redolent tones and phlegmatic phrasing emanated from this slight, solemn figure with a disconcertingly bored appearance. He seemed stubbornly wedged in a bell jar of his own philosophical making – a time tripping Pharaoh truculently cast in another age, whilst indulging us with the full exotic gale of timelessly fluent blueness. 

A man of few words, cast in a beguiling mischievous innocence, behind a Sphinx like stare, he bewitched us with a tapestry of wailing blues and transcendental serenity, that he found in the many contemplative works of Ellington. The ultimate alchemist of fire and ice, with an almost facile agility, Hodges was his own man in any company, but particularly a loyal genie of the lamp that was perennially rubbed within the landscape of the Ellington Songbook.

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Wilbur ‘Buck’ Clayton and Lester ‘Pres’ Young were their own men too. Clayton forged an early path as far afield as China, to earn his corn in Shanghai. As a lead trumpet man he had a classic tone, clarity of phrasing and for much of his career he excelled as a leader of small and big band units. Venturing back to California in ’36, he gigged around before setting out for New York via Kansas City. 

The rest is history, as he ran into the lead trumpet chair vacated by ‘Hot Lips’ Page in the greatest swing band bar none and the everlasting influence of swing era’s heir apparent Mr. Count Basie. Basie’s unit of ’37 was a veritable freight train of sass, spit and fire, the exemplar of call and response riffing under the wailing and hollering of brilliant soloists.

Their ground was a royal mantle of the Blues. Clayton’s subsequent successes were always imprinted with those Basie days and were the legacy that begat those supercharged Clayton Jam Sessions captured in his maturing playing years, that became such perfect show cases for a clutch of his own favorite peer musicians.

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With all that heat in the kitchen it was inevitable that someone would lay siege to the classic Texas tenor traditions of Herschel Evans and Buddy Tate by inventing the pioneering, coolest, lilting challenge that Basie’s front line had ever seen or heard, in the guise of Lester ‘Pres’ Young.

Not for him the brazen visceral attack from the gut. Trading on a laconic laid back demeanor, when under fire, pork pie hatted and horn crooked sideways, he proceeded to discard all perceptions of hot by playing it cool, while still swinging the old caboose on a new starlit path. 

Always found in good company or soloing in trios and quartets he had a massive influence on future tenor players and played a leadership role in the society of eccentrics. 

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In the centre of these ‘band calls’ can always be found a metronomic engine room composed of the masters of plucking,, brushing, percussing and piano piloting. They act like a nuclear core, generating the energy that drives the progress of each performance. The most famous power-plant was composed of Jo Jones, drums, Walter Page, bass and Freddie Green, guitar. 

Other great doyens of the all-trucking amalgams of beat were drummers Chick Webb, Zutty Singleton, Dave Tough, Sonny Greer, the basses of Jimmie Blanton, Wellman Braud, Milt Hinton, John Kirby, guitarists Freddy Guy, Charlie Christian, Steve Jordan and Al Casey along with squads of others present in a legion of great big bands.

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In this decade, Count Basie, the maestro of understated piano, was the grand master of that famous power plant, where his subtle inflections and prompts, goaded the accompanying colleagues in his engine room to provide lift-off for the rest of the band. When he fancied it, he would let the dogs out to romp through a prolonged intro with a strong left hand and a slick right hand stomping the blues. He clearly was the consummate no nonsense leader, but loved the imperious talent he had at his command, rewarding them with space to stretch their legs in classic arrangements that generated such fire and pomp.

He seemed to prefer male singers and had two of the very best in Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams.

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Walter Page the ultimate rhythm bass. Freddie Green, consummate rhythm Guitar.

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Was there anyone who blew harder and with more exuberance than Roy ‘Little Jazz’ Eldridge? The most powerful horn around the swing era in both lead and solo work, bar none. A disciple of Armstrong with a clear-cut tone and emphatic spiralling ever-higher phrasing, he was everyone’s favorite guest horn player. No one could detonate a chorus like this guy. 

There was much scrambled touring and festival appearances after leaving the bands of Woody Herman and Gene Krupa, where a memorable summons from an equally pyro-technical songstress Anita O’Day, invited him to come up-town and ‘blow Roy blow’. To which he duly complied.

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A master of droll and laconic bravura, Vic Dickenson owned the trombone chair wherever he roosted and he prevailed in a veritable who’s who of major performers, bands and recording dates. This wandering minstrel of the slippery horn of wit and wisdom, the purveyor of pithy, sardonic lilting blues and pretty tunes, had a character to match.

His melancholic leads have graced some of the finest small band performances, especially keeping fine company in his brilliant septet that captured one of the greatest sessions of unabashedly glorious, harmonious swing, for Vanguard Records in the 50’s.

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Nobody could turbocharge a band by his mere presence and the anticipated impact of his urgent singing and strident tones, like James ‘Mr.5x5’ Rushing. He had the voice of a corncrake and he built it up from the ground like an exploding Vesuvius.

When he hollered ‘Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome, Shining Through the Trees’ – believe it, it looked lonesome and when he was ‘Going to Chicago’ – you and the orchestra were emphatically going with him.

Looking like a great big friendly boulder on stage, he cleared a musical path for every musician to follow. He shouted and cajoled the Blues with hurt and joy echoing through the crashing waves of the band’s ‘call and response’ choruses. ‘Mr.5x5’ was at large - rockin’ and tellin’em that little Jimmy Rushing was here.

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Benny Carter was the gentleman’s gentleman ‘sans-pareil.’ His relaxed and dapper figure disguised a firm concert master approach to his Jazz. A fledgling piano player in an extended family of musicians, he coursed his way through trumpet and c-melody sax to arrive at his favored alto-sax. 

Touching the bands of Horace and Fletcher Henderson, Ellington, Hines, Chick Webb and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers where he performed as musical director and touring his own, led to substantial recognition and acknowledgement by all as a leading arranger. Goodman and Charlie Barnet fed off his work, before he embarked on an extensive tour of Europe in the mid ‘30’s.

The 40’s were all New York and Los Angeles with great units of his own, before settling in to Hollywood and extensive composing and arranging for film and television. In spite of the considerable fame and fortune in Hollywood, he continued both as guest soloist on trumpet and alto while leading his own band on extensive tours and appearances in festivals.

His career was the exception to the rule that Jazz was a mean and bumpy road. He was blessed with a fine intellect and a professional instinct for the broadest avenues available for his considerable talents as a working jazzman. His output was prodigious, his music always a version of sophisticated Jazz. His own playing on alto or trumpet, was the pure and lustrous swing of a master craftsman. 

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A robust favorite of the Duke, who remarked admiringly that he’d never heard him play a wrong note. A chatterbox extraordinaire in both horn and musical opinion, Rex Stewart, bragged his way in brass, both on cornet and trumpet. 

An undisputed champion in gliding across notes and smearing halftones, he could be punctiliously bright or go downtown dirty with a very talkative mute. He could rock the lead and have salty conversations with himself on his horn. This was a man of intellectual standing, a debonair package, an international music scholar and teacher who advanced the meaning of Jazz and, as with all the greats, instantly recognizable from playing his first phrase.

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Teen prodigy wins amateur talent contest at the high court of fan culture - The Apollo Theater. Setting her on course to the ‘Palace of Happy Feet’ - The Savoy Ballroom, where she came under the tutelage of the dynamic resident, Chick Webb and His Band.  This outfit prowled the ballroom taking on and beating all-comers in historic cutting contests under the meteoric grip of his drumming.

Thus bloomed the glowingly sweet, angelic voicings of Ella Fitzgerald. Her band-call hit of ‘A Tisket – A Tasket’ launched her recording career into the stratosphere and an eventual stand-alone touring life of the world’s stages and clubs. This in some ways lit up the inevitable grounds for an illustrious set of recordings, each dedicated to former creators of ‘The Great American Songbook’. Endowing each one with her own inimitable brand of lilting, sublime phrasing, that was set in unerring moods and tempos.

This wandering songstress enthralled the world with her golden chops and engaging personality. She translated Jazz traditions into the popular culture of hummable tunes, whether crooning, belting or scatting the melodies, she was the real deal, loved by all who sailed and wailed with her.

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Now, there comes ‘a pause for the cause’ for the ‘White Guys’ of Jazz. In the beginning, there’s no denying that there was a grudging curiosity for this unfamiliar matrix of new rhythms that entered into the contemporary dance tunes reserve of hotel and tea-room orchestral territory. What had been the popular province of white razz-mattazz, was rapidly becoming danceable black and blue Jazz in the big cities of Chicago and New York.

On the outer edges of this phenomena were recognized early white pioneers of New Orleans who had made the trek to the big cities of the North and having established parity with the prominent black bands, their presence spawned a new echelon of young local collegiate style aspirants longing to play Hot Jazz. Their day in the sun was coming and it was all about making hay while the Mason-Dixon Line and Swing-Time era held sway in broadcasting, in recording studios and club-land jam sessions.

The first and probably only genuine starburst of talented originals that we can call great in an era of giants, embraced this new music with a messianic passion. Some fell in flames, others endured to provide a legacy for future generations. All now more happily recognized under a shared orthodoxy of just Good Jazz. Because they rallied to a testament of belief in this new world, they are depicted here as disciples in this following section called ‘The Last Supper’, where they are featured as a group celebrated for their colossal contributions to the artistic guild and tabernacle of Jazz.

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‘The Last Supper’

The Tommy Dorsey and brother Jimmy’s ship of state cleaved through the choppy waters of the mid 20th Century under the helm of Tommy’s pitch perfect fluid trombone, although the band was subsequently wrecked when he quit in a fit of artistic temperament. He regrouped to front a new line-up of metronomic swing, with precisely layered arrangements, correlated to each section of a big band laden with talent and fastidiously heckled about tempo and synchronicity. Their version of ‘Marie’ with Bunny Berigan’s stop time trumpet break, a thing of irresistible majesty, stands as a superb example of big band pomp and circumstance.

Effervescent bubbles in a glass of champagne were the Boswell Sisters. Favorites of their peer musicians and fans alike, these three sisters, Connie, Martha and Helvetia were sophisticated songstresses in their own right and were experts at 3-part harmony, counterpoint and jive talk, scat and riffs. Their dramatic voicings breathed life into many an old barnburner. They ‘Took Their Sugar to Tea’ better than anyone.

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Mel Powell had a head full of piano from an early age, romping at 12, comping precociously down at Nick’s Tavern at 16, accompanying Condon’s Boys, Hackett, Brunis, Russell, Spanier, Wild Bill, Singleton et al. His path went onwards and upwards to Goodman, then took flight in Miller’s Air Force Band during World War ll.

His was never going to have a single path career and post-war Hollywood finds him deep into arranging film and studio work. Checking in for classical studies with local resident Hindemith and onward to teach studies in musical theory and composition at Yale and Queen’s College.

In time the old bug returned intermittently to capture great Jazz piano with his old buddies and from one of those forays came a barnburner of a track, ‘The World is Waiting for the Sunrise’ with Billy Butterfield, Goodman and Lou McGarity. Before illness felled him, he made some superb sessions with Braff, Buck Clayton and Lucky Thomson.

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How about that guy - Bud Freeman? Slippery as an eel and twice as smart. One of the original Austin High School Gang, a trickster and prankster supreme, along with being a cerebrally gifted tenor sax player.

He shared with his soul mate Pee Wee Russell an imperious disregard for convention and an aptitude for embarking on solos wherever his muse led him. Freeman was an unheralded influence on tenor, but was fearless in encounters with other giants of his instrument. A scion of an almost dying fashion for the tweeds, cravats and spats of a former age, his thoroughly eccentric life was brilliantly summarized in his recording of his own tune - ‘The Eel’.

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‘Bunny’ Berigan was one of those rare individuals whose temperament on stage as an all-powerful lung busting lead trumpet, conflicted totally with his laissez-faire life style off stage. His career was laden with requests for his talents throughout the 30’s, his horn was his passport to greatness, while his own bands were bedevilled with his lack of business acumen, but a blast to play in. 

Never accused of reticence when performing, he had a spectacular burnished steel hammer tone, which scattered all before it and an inexhaustible appetite for the good-life, that made knowing him such a fascinating experience. 

Before flaming out so prematurely, he had fashioned many great live and recorded performances. What great good fortune that he left us with his greatest masterpiece of modulated power, when he recorded ‘I Can’t Get Started’. His was the hybrid throne between Satchmo and Bix, and was truly one to have been larger than life when heard in the flesh.

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Charles Ellsworth ‘Pee Wee’ Russell who packed more into his life than his diminutive frame would ever suggest. He was a veritable pied piper from an earlier age, whose travels and travails synchronized with an A to Z lexicon of musicians from many styles and deportments. Endlessly and seemingly recklessly sacrificing a safe existence on a quest that took him habitually into contorted musings on his beloved clarinet. 

These odysseys of improvisation were renowned for surprises, even amongst his fellow musicians, who hung in while Pee Wee perilously picked his route back, from the labyrinth of droll, bluesy reflections on his own music-making. 

A ‘Lazarus’ return from death’s door only seemed to strengthen his resolve to romp and teeter again on his musical mountain of choice. And once more he became infallibly able to guide the unique tone and most lamenting phrases to be rung out of a clarinet, into a hair-raising exit strategy. A deeply private man with a literary and artistic bent, he had a direct line to the alchemy of turning base metal to gold, the Paracelsus of the clarinet.

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Kenneth ‘Red’ Norvo a cool, dapper, calm and collected swinging pinger of the xylophone, an instrument with a Woody Woodpecker vaudeville reputation. Not exactly the dashing instrument with percussive powers of a Jazz persuasion.

When forcibly promoted as a lead instrument with a rhythmically articulate accompaniment, Red fashioned some of the most eloquent swing on a device from cabaret origins.

He finally abandoned the bone-yard tone for the more luxurious resonance of the vibraphone. His careful arrangements with hand picked enlightened music-makers, was a constantly evolving Jazz scene that made his small band recordings become valued collectors items. Red was a gent with an ear for good arrangements and discriminate taste in the choice of the musicians who played with him.

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‘Hoagy’ Carmichael ‘on my mind’. Who else has left such a hummable residue of great golden melodies? Never a major player in the deep end of Jazz, he was still a symbiotic influence on the colour and atmospherics of the early Jazz Age. He was an able accompanist and producer of a fine set of Victor recordings that captured the spiritual leaders of white Chicago Jazz in the 20’s and 30’s. 

His most memorable tunes have formed a matrix of numbers that all Jazz players have been grateful for as platforms for improvisation. Long live – ‘Stardust’, ‘Rockin’ Chair’, ‘Lazy River’ and ‘Georgia on My Mind’.

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The name Gene Krupa and his battery of drums are synonymous with a ‘take no prisoners’ avalanche of driving rhythm that swept any stray musician who was fortunate to play with him back into line. His was a volcanic energy, with unerring timing, dazzling rim shots and percussive brilliance. He was the drill sergeant to Goodman, Dorsey, Ventura and band boss to Eldridge and Anita O’Day. 

In his youth he mixed it up with Bix, Condon, Rollini and the Red’s McKenzie and Nichols before serious stints with Goodman led combos and big bands. Formed a gigantic band, managing to keep it together into the 50’s while on the way winning Metronome and Esquire awards. Formed a drumming school with the excellent percussionist Cozy Cole and shared various friendly fire with friend Leonard Bernstein on the fusion of Jazz with the Classical form, resulting in a tepidly received symphonic work in 3 movements, where he attempted to meld both disciplines.

He outlasted many and saw his biography played on the Hollywood silver screen, to which he laid the soundtrack for the vacuous Sal Mineo’s depiction of his drumming life story.

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We have now penetrated deep into the foothills of West 52nd Street and the gathering-place for what was a tribal potlatch of music - Nick’s Tavern and it’s acclaimed expedition leader – Eddie Condon – the smartest cracker in the barrel. Witty raconteur, quartermaster of the ‘jug of plenty’ and rhythm conductor on banjo and guitar, for many a raucous session of free uninhibited jamming. ‘Bread and buttered’ as a teen in the petri dish of South Side Chicago and the Jazz that launched a thousand lives on the rocky road to musical havens around the world. He had a penchant for guiding talent into the safe harbours of his haunts. 

After many false starts this magnate of gin and Jazz raised a coterie of playing members into a freewheeling society of master musicians playing as they pleased. The pleasure was welcomed and appreciated by a populous battered by economic uncertainty and threats of war. 

This all transitioned into jam sessions in clubs, Town Halls and theatre stages. ‘V’ discs followed for the war effort, as well as bond and savings drives, radio and recording dates. Condon as a published author and club owner was a PR catalyst that upped the ante on both white and black guys gifts to Jazz. He was a friend to fortune and the perpetrator of many happy gang memories.

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If your name was Teagarden from Vernon, Texas, you were sure to have music in your blood. Family looms large in Jack ‘Big T’ Teagarden’s life. Supporting him both musically and emotionally, his Texas styled roots are entrenched in his music.

For melodic fluency and golden pitch his trombone playing has few equals. He can batter or flatter eking out the far corners of a melody. He exhibits a deceptive languor and an unflustered air attends his many bravura performances. His prowess as a great session man was acknowledged, keeping company equally with Chicago and New York’s mainstream of renowned musicians. He took the Paul Whiteman trail of one-nighters and weekly residences during the 30’s.

Had a shot at big band leadership, gaining much praise but no money, winning over annual Esquire voters before joining and touring with Armstrong’s All-Stars in the post-war late 40’s. Co-led his own All-Stars with Earl Hines and graced many record sessions. Touring exertions and the heavy load of one-night stands led to bronchial pneumonia. He would doubtless be proud of a Jazzman’s elegy that he died with his Texas boots on, finishing his set the night before in New Orleans.

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Bix was Bix as Bix can be…the once and future uncrowned king of so many unrecorded moments. His reputation was legend and while Condon was hard to please in matters of Jazz fakery, his first encounter with Bix became a eulogy for this forlorn figure with the appearance of misspent youth. His initial comment when Bix played a few choruses on his horn – “it was like a pretty girl saying yes”.

‘Bix’ Leon Beiderbecke was possibly put on this earth to beguile and ultimately frustrate us ordinary foot soldiers. His was the mystery of genius, burning so bright in frustratingly uneven company and fashioned only to give glimpses of his full potential. For those fortunate few who were in attendance at killer-diller evenings where he played and endlessly mesmerized his audience, the message was clear, he was the real deal, stunning all with the bell like clarity of his horn and the sheer transcendental quality of his phrasing and timing.

He had an innocent worldly unworldliness that ensnared him in a farrago of futile booze related events, while attempting to catch a glimpse of his own potential musical muse. His ascent over his peers was as inevitable as sunrise, his descent fuelled by a lack of an internal compass was just as predictable as sunset. His European instincts matched his American temperament and for a while sparks flew and Jazz was the beneficiary.

Bix, was shaken by the cultural divide between the Modern Classical music of Debussy, Stravinsky, Dvorak and Jazz. He left a sparse set of piano compositions that portended a way that was never attained. The noonday sun of alcohol increasingly dulled the soul and blunted the will to thrive on these cerebral challenges. We poor mortals must make do with brilliant cameos of inspired playing in ’Singin’ the Blues’, ‘Riverboat Shuffle’, ‘In a Mist’ and those other passages snatched from less salubrious recordings.

Benny Goodman – a beady-eyed chieftain amongst the under-age ragamuffins of the South Side of 20’s Chicago. He worshipped his clarinet like a talisman to ward off evil and it was his constant companion. From the tender age of 13, he was on a mission as the sole income source for a fatherless family of 11 brothers and sisters.

Through endless start-ups and disbands he personified the old adage ‘when life is tough, the tough get going’. At last, live broadcasts on sponsored NBC radio spots launched his band on a wilderness tour of the mid-West, where unknown and unloved they were subject to one-night stands with endless requests for tin pan alley howlers, while the band busted and festered to romp and swing. 

Finally fetching up in the Palomar Ballroom in LA, they were presented with a student crowd weaned on his hot numbers from the Trans- America broadcasts that came in on the 3 hour time difference, just ready for evening consumption. When mistakenly timid on tune selection, the crowd exhorted Goodman to drop the tea-room posing and cut up a storm, which was duly delivered with interest. Riots followed them all the way back to New York and lasted for 20 years. 

All over the world, swing became a global phenomenon.

Through the attentions of guys like Benny Goodman, Jazz was changed forever. He personally led a vanguard of efforts in the music industry to change the make-up of Jazz, from music publishers, event organizes and recording producers. Personally committed to racial homogeneity in his own bands, his progressive use of small combos featuring Teddy Wilson, Milt Jackson, Cootie Williams and Charlie Christian pointed the way forward. Although flirting with the Classics, as a black stick swing artist, he still played rings around all comers well into his 70’s.

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The Second Coming

‘Fire and Ice – Bop ‘til You Drop and the Birth of the Cool’. Changes were coming and New York was the ‘holy ground’ of opportunities. Club-land was changing, more playing, less dancing. This had been caused by dramatic changes in the ‘modus operandi’ of some of the players.

Post-war Europe had already hosted the manifestations of the breakdown of traditions into a new corollary of abstract thought and deeds. This began to tug at the edges of Jazz and like all things it was also changed irreparably by World War ll. Fashions and Fads prefer the ‘Shock of the New’ and for the radicals that lead the charge, a new order of thought and deconstruction of convention was at hand and music was not to be denied its version of this abstractivism.

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With hands that seemingly could span 4 lanes of highway, Art Tatum was the spiritual leader of the new modes and changes of chord interpretation, on a piano that shrunk in fear under the hands of his polyphonic embrace. Caught in the crossfire of this virtuosity, one just marvelled at the speed, virility and technical brilliance as he deconstructed, reconstructed and resolved the melodies of familiar tunes. 

Never yielding to the temptation of one chord, when many arpeggios would fit. The sensation was of being propelled along on a conveyor belt of ever-changing ideas while simultaneously speculating on the next set of changes to be followed. Expeditions of discovery in the exploration of composition led to a lava flow of creative interpretation. This insatiable re-mapping of otherwise reticently average tunes into miniature masterpieces, was the very essence of his improvisation. 

This gentle half-blind giant of a man opened a whole realm of new ideas in musical composition for Jazz, thus forming his own geological survey of its hidden outlands. He was the early warning system of things to come.

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And down flew a ‘Bird’ into this new diatonic paradise and his alto sax wailed – ‘Let there be chromatic changes’ and ‘bops’ your uncle it was all happening. Suddenly, for many student musicians, there was nowhere to hide. This wasn’t the time for being square, anyone not playing these new progressive chords was a moldy fig. Battledress was black beret or kaftan, deadly night-shades, a zoot suit and a charcoal smudge below the lower lip – then you were a cool cat.

Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker was the keeper of the code. But he also assiduously kept the faith with the gilded presence of the Blues – his favored oily rag in the new orthodoxy. His new running mate while be-bopping along was his fellow conspirator- John Birks ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie. Diz cut his chops in the august company of the Hines, Calloway and Eckstine Big Bands before becoming a chief protagonist of change.

Unlike other understated fellow adepts, all destined to be warriors of this new age like Monk, Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell and Sonny Rollins - Dizzy was a genuinely cultivated shy man in private, while on stage, he became a flamboyant, brash bundle of energy.

A master of all registers on his trumpet, high, low and dazzlingly staccato fast, his time signatures and changes, and his repatriation of African and South American rhythms, all made for a fascinating new musical landscape in Jazz.

He became an unflinching war-horse, organizing an entire new regimen of talent, while composing and arranging in this new mode for his orchestra and combos. His intent was to play this new music into prominence until it fully matured.

Dizzy like Satch and Duke had a unique, charismatic personality and became a top ranking international Ambassador for this new musical art form and as such is a true American legend. 

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‘Around Midnight’ was when things got going at Minton’s Playhouse, stationed on the edgy side of E.52nd St. A solitary figure could be found crouched over the house piano exerting his own brand of hypnotism over some helplessly ensnared keys. His flattened handwork rendering strange changes, pauses and repetitious notes, all compiled to build upon the eccentric reputation of Thelonious Monk.

On occasions, seemingly unaware of his surroundings while working out the most sinuous lines of minimalist inspiration, he would partition a break for others to fill while he para-diddled around the stage as if sleepwalking to the rhythms of his inner thoughts. 

Monk was in the forward trenches of ‘Bop’, playing with his peers in the new fortresses of New York, like The Royal Roost, BirdLand, The Village Vanguard, The Five Spot, Three Deuces and a memorable big band performance at New York’s Town Hall. A gifted enigmatic soul, wrapped up in a reclusive personality, he was the author of such spectacular standards of Modern Jazz as ‘Round Midnight’, ‘Ruby My Dear’, ‘Epistrophy’, ‘52nd Street’, ‘Straight No Chaser’ and ‘Blue Monk’. 

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We have Errol Garner to thank for elbowing Art Blakey off the piano and on to a drum kit after a precociously early start on both.Tutored by Chick Webb, followed by gigs galore with Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine, Parker, Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan.

His original partnership with Horace Silver led to his sole leadership of The Jazz Messengers in 1954, where luminaries such as Clifford Brown, Hank Mobley and Jackie McLean passed through the band’s ever-growing reputation.

A man of immense energy, his routine assaults on his drums became legend for bass drum explosions, snare rim shots, press rolls and an exclamatory high hat cymbal, along with his 2 and 4 shuffle beat that could move mountains. His band was a straight-ahead bopping unit of young Turks like Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter and Bobby Timmins providing the front line juice.

Like many of the great characters in Jazz, he and his band are remembered for those numbers that became standards like ‘Moanin’, ‘Along Came Betty’ and ‘Blues March’. His passion and influence mentored many more new careers up into his sixth decade of playing Jazz from the heart.

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Charles Mingus was a very different kettle of fish from the average cerebrally Spartan modernist, he was equally at home in a mash-up of preacher’s tent ‘hoots and hollers’ mixed in with radically free-form abstracted improvisation. The entire mix is ably comped in his version of ‘A Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting’. His pedigree was honed in stints with Diane Washington, Red Norvo, Lionel Hampton and the famous Massey Hall Quintet concert.

Known for being an explosive unpredictable character, he was intensely faithful to his musical origins, playing tribute to Duke Ellington and Lester Young in his compositions. A complex and driven individual, he had a fine sense of obligation to his fellow musicians, co-founding The Jazz Composers Workshop and The Jazz Artists Guild.

His generosity and effort championed the empowerment of the Afro-American music community, while his music brought the bass into the front line of lead instruments as an accompaniment to his dominating presence on the bandstand.

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Oscar Peterson a veritable rockin' and rollin' piano player of endless virtuosity. His trios were always the most outstanding bass and guitar players of which Ray Brown and Herb Ellis were the most exemplary. He was the champion of choice on many JATP concert outings and the preferred pick to accompany many other illustrious recordings of august company.   

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This is the point where previously ‘Hot’ slams into precociously ‘Cool’ and things get decidedly more introverted and aesthetic. Avoiding sermons and classifications, let’s just plunge into the ice bucket that was recently a steam bath. The results are infinitely variable just like the weather.

A cold front becomes a dominant force on the West Coast, ironically where the climate is most warm. The natural inclination to seek warmer climes aided and abetted an Easterly influence from New York’s Emperors of Cool to migrate and join the playing of uncluttered vibrato-less lines of chromatic Jazz. This could be described as softer bop with a return to old-fashioned ensemble inter-play, but now with greater freedom and complexity.

The Lighthouse in 1947 Hermosa Beach under Howard Rumsey’s tutelage, becomes the incubator for West Coast Jazz.

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Looking like the fox amok in the chicken run, Miles Davis, not believing his luck, after hesitant efforts on trumpet, in comparison with the high-register histrionics of Dizzy, resolved not to compete. Instead he settled for a more circumspect style and a deconstruction of melodic convention now all the rage in certain quarters. One of these quarters being the pad of Gil Evans, a mentor of Miles and his fellow conspirators for change. This co-op including Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz, subsequently compiled, recorded and released, ‘The Birth of The Cool’, with Miles erroneously awarded the most credit. This jump-started his long career exploring his own boundaries of Jazz. 

Charismatic and far from humble, he elicited a Socratic influence over his fellow musicians, all of whom were talented pioneers of ‘Cool’. He ploughed the fields and scattered through new compositions and old chestnuts, changing line-ups to suit the needs and effects of new ideas. He ran the gamut of the talent that was Coltrane and Garland, Chambers and Philly Joe Jones and embracing Evans again to lead him to ‘Miles Ahead’. He added Cannonball Adderly to assist on ‘Milestones’ and his ultimately all-conquering track of all time - ‘Kind of Blue’. Modal freedom theory brought more personnel changes in Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Bill the other Evans.

Chasing his muse through new-age ‘electronic fusion’ and taking on the cloak of a musical hermit, he turned his back on the audience one last time and expired.

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John Coltrane is where we take our leave momentarily from the heartland of this edition of music-makers and their music. Because here we have the perfect storm of discontent vying for the heart and soul of this portrayal that attempts to capture the meaning of Jazz.

Now we have entered an advanced mathematical procedure and a systemic obsession with number and notation. Emotion remains only as a contorted shriek of consternation with endless resuscitations of notes and lurid key changes. Passages of light are rare and appreciated but are quickly torn away into discords of preach and screech.

The poet and Jazz critic, Phillip Larkin summed it up sagely: “After Parker you had to be a mathematician to follow the Jazz of today – both equally a concise summary of what is the burden of any art form”. In this regard Coltrane manages to stack scales and chords like pancakes, unattached to any latent memory of a recognizable melody and only comprehensible to music theorists indulging in the mathematical structure and complexity of a multiple calculus of sounds. There are those who choose this musical rubicon of freeform modal Jazz, while there are others who would prefer to smell the roses.

For the record, JC’s enlightenment sparked in ‘Giant Steps’ comes to a final revelation ‘In a Love Supreme’. The multitudes uninspired by his chord changes, offer their version of ‘My Favorite Things’ as not the soprano notes of Coltrane, but the lingering beauty of Bechet.

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Poor old Bill Evans – every egg-head’s dream fulfilled for existential bliss, was blessed by Bill’s limitless meditations on his harmonic freedoms of expression. From the deepest regions of his Gaelic-Slavic soul, he regurgitated endless poetic ‘Conversations with Himself’.

Bordering on brilliance, threatening boredom, clearing with sunny periods and intermittent showers, he labored to capture on record some of the most intimate musings, aided by his equally responsive conspirators of rhythm. 

Some of their time changes would have foxed Stephen Hawking, while they distilled every passage down to a burnished sinuous minimalism that knew no borders or time duration. His meditations on his next hit and his musing for such deliverance, was painstakingly thought out for our listening pleasure.

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Surviving the precocious eloquence of courses in radical brevity, we’re now safely back in the pink with Gerry ‘Jeru’ Mulligan. Shorn of the pleasure of taking his rightful credit for the acclaimed works of ‘Birth of the Cool’, hi-jacked by the resident fox of E. 52nd St. - Mulligan retreats to the warmer climes of LA to practice his own brand of ‘Cool’.

Amidst the largesse of West Coast charm, he’s all business, forming piano-less quartets, quintets, sextets and septets. His ‘Walkin’ Shoes’ set the continent tapping their feet again. His stance, ‘man at large with baritone sax’, was as instantly recognizable as Diz’s blown out cheeks.

He attracted great accompanying leads, Chet Baker being a first among equals, along with Bob Brookmeyer and Art Farmer. Like his temperament, democracy and synchronicity reigned in all his bands. Blended ensembles and the intricate balance of arrangements with spaces for freewheeling soloists, all came under the influence of the most sonorously swinging baritone sax of the age. The Big Band he took on tour was like a prowling animal, full of pomp and vitality and when at full stretch, it purred like a Bentley.

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Chet Baker’s image was the epitome of a West Coast poster boy. A trumpet modernist, clean-cut and dashingly kiss-curl handsome, but an ultimate enigma when scrutinized. Hopelessly at odds with the implications of this image, his retreat into his music became the refuge for his own brand of pathos. 

Early brightness and lightness of tone was a perfect foil for Mulligan’s chugging baritone and he could rock along with neat clipped phrasings to produce some deftly handled duet-based arrangements. 

He worked the low registers of his horn with passion and a sardonic grace, while revealing an ironic disregard for emotional entanglements of any longevity, while working on a growing trait for accompanying himself as a singer. As much lured by a fast profligate lifestyle, there was the inevitable slippery slope into parody and self-pity.

After a perilous sojourn in Europe, deportation and the loss of essential teeth in a beating due to a bad drug habit going wrong, he attempted a series of tepid comebacks. It all fell apart quite literally from a balcony window in Amsterdam. If Miles was a mentor there was surely a bit of Bix in there too. He can be best remembered for his type of sang-froid in a version of ‘Winter Wonderland’ – a fitting epitaph for a lonely musician.

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By the 60’s, it seemed that the world of the arts had changed in a profoundly indulgent way. Putting aside the buzz saw of Rock n’ Roll, most thinking modern artists had abandoned any obligations to their audiences and adopted intense navel gazing. 

This was conspicuously the case for many of the new leading lights of Modern Jazz, exhibiting a kind of religiosity for chaos, contempt, absurdity, a kind of deliberate effort to parody tradition and be ugly on purpose in a warped sense of gaining freedom from their bondage. After all if the herd can’t comprehend what only your cronies can appreciate, then you’ve got the beginnings of a secret society.

Enlightenment always breaks through the nooks and crannies of oppression and for some it was about winning back the hearts and minds of a new generation of stargazers, not in thrall with the abandonment to Rock-Pop and the psychotic rudeness of many moderns. A new audience beckoned from the Colleges and Campuses of contemporary America.

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Fresh ideas prepared for collegiate freshmen and fresh women entered the arena via the urbane, sensuous musings of John Lewis and his Modern Jazz Quartet. Stirring up a compulsive heat at times, aided and abetted by Milt Jackson’s propulsive vibes, the musical conversation builds with crescendos and tumbling pirouettes from Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay’s percussion. Rational eloquence, mystically sync’d to our body rhythms and full of grace.

Equally The Dave Brubeck Quartet happily filled the academic halls with a new boisterous Jazz chamber music, delving into Bach and Mozart’s archives as well as fugues and tricky counter rhythms of their own making. Good robust Jazz for the majority, played with intellectual guile but never far from the infectious beat of a foot tapping celebration of life.

They’re bouncing in the aisles again to the syncopated beat of Brubeck’s piano, Joe Morella’s drums and Eugene Wright on Bass, with Paul Desmond’s piquant alto sax tossing off elegant paradiddle phrases. This all combined to render their version of ‘Take Five’ into a definitive example of East and West Coast ‘Cool’ Jazz.

This forms a perfect interlude to consider where Jazz goes next….

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Meanwhile in the meaner parts of the big smoke still ensconced in mathematical mayhem and the portals of screech, there blossomed under a few entrepreneurs’ steadying hands, some continuity of tradition to play Jazz for the pleasure of listening audiences. From this intergenerational period came a new dawning for the power of assembly and a greater individual choice for one’s own poison.

Through this empowerment of the individual we lost many to the primitive dark side of concert rock, but enough stayed to buoy the efforts of original instrumental virtuosity. Thus was re-born a renewed version of ‘show me what you’ve got’ cutting contests, but now in the public arenas of Norman Granz styled concerts. 

These barnstorming tours, featured many from the golden age, literally saving them from a breadline existence and diminishing places to play. Jazz at the Philharmonic in LA kicked the whole thing off, soon to be referred to as JATP Concert Tours and the resulting Clef recordings from these concerts became famous throughout the world. Granz, like many impresarios, was hardnosed about the quality served up in these one-nightstands, but his untiring influence re-engaged an audience into acts of ecstatic celebration for these half-forgotten maestros from the Jazz Age.

Also, half-forgotten in the brouhaha of these tours was the sterling seminal work already accomplished globally by Willis Conover’s Voice of America, with its dedicated diet of Jazz, that he broadcast by radio to the four corners of the earth. The old clarion call from the heartland of free will and the emancipation of the soul.

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Much of the seismic effect of the JATP was continued with an expansion into festivals and memorial concerts and special events. More guardian angels were to follow with acts of historic importance, which increased the dynastic importance of these musicians. Art Kane’s photo mission for Esquire captured a kingdom of Jazzmen assembled together outside a Harlem brownstone, for a never to be repeated memorial snapshot.  Editorialized as a feature article and fashioned into a unique series of films under the title of “One Day in Harlem”, this documentation formed an invaluable archive that will resonate forever within the annals of Jazz.

George Wein wagered his house on the success of a Festival of Jazz in the august region of Newport, Rhode Island, with generous help from resident white knights. George made their house famous for more than yachts and mint juleps. Thus was born many remarkable stage performances by a veritable ‘who’s who’ from the Kingdom of Jazz.

These events formed the basis for the most evocative Jazz film ever made on silver nitrate. Entitled ‘Jazz on a Summers Day’, it captured a scintillating Anita O’Day, in shimmering black dress, hat, boa and animated white gloves. And on an equally dark night, the iridescent form of Mahalia Jackson, conducting a heartfelt prayer meeting. 

From Duke’s urgent goading of Paul Gonzalves into multiple ‘crescendoing’ choruses on a hyper-ventilating crowd, to Louis burying any doubts about kingship. Then followed by Basie’s battalion of stomping warriors battering everything and everyone into happy submission and Monk bopping everyone until ‘Around Midnight’ - This was a real witches brew that should have lasted forever and ever.

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There was a complete changing of the guard in subsequent years and now the ‘my way or no way’ men of mean dispositions are in the ascendancy. Both equally at home with the dispensing of pitch, harmony, tone, tune and pleasurable rhythm, as they are for obstructing the listener using his ears to gain understanding and pleasure. This all resulted in the diminishment of the will of many of us to go out and listen.

It is time to park the bus and be thankful for those many live memories and recorded performances from the ‘Golden Age of Jazz’, where giants reigned in celebration of a worthy cause.

This edition was always going to be about my favorites that accompanied every turn in life’s fortunes while listening to Jazz.

As an illustrated homage, it attempts to capture the personalities of these musicians as an expression of their musical philosophy. Many famous musicians are omitted due to the limitations of space and their holding a slightly fainter trace in my locker of memories, perhaps a Volume 2 will beckon.

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Now we arrive at a conclusion, in the form of a valediction for a man, who for all manner of reasons, stands as my classic Jazz hero. He ushered me through uncertain student and perilous business years, with his unflustered grace under fire in the constant challenges of his creative improvisation. 

He always rode the crest of excellence in his depictions of tunes. A law unto himself, where skill over fakery was concerned, fiery when roused, modest to a fault but suffering no fools or poseurs. He instilled a belief for seizing the moment when striving for excellence or why bother at all. He played with a bell like clarity and a low register control that was deliriously fluid, while he could cut, slice and dice with the best of them.

Never more than on the borders of fame, he enjoyed immense respect from his peers.Until recently he was the last man standing of a special niche of Jazz trumpeters. His name is Ruby Braff and he is sorely missed.

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