Here’s hoping your Christmas and New Year is as hip and swinging as Dexter Gordon…
Dave Brubeck, one of the most original and popular jazz musicians since the Second World War, died today, one day short of his 92nd birthday.
I’m sure there will be plenty of good obituaries of him, so rather than write my own I thought I’d simply draw people’s attention to the existence of a Scottish Television archive broadcast of a Brubeck concert at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh from their old In Concert series.
It’s not one of the classic quartets with Paul Desmond, or the oft-overlooked but excellent group with Gerry Mulligan, but a later-day Brubeck ensemble (Randy Jones, Chris Brubeck and Bill Smith) accompanied by the (Royal) Scottish National Orchestra. There’s no date, but judging by some of the musicians appearing in other broadcasts in the series (e.g. Altered Images) I reckon it’s from sometime in the early 1980s.
Scottish Television don’t let you embed their videos, but you can find it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlbruIg6-1Y. It’s just under an hour long.
Recital Room, City Halls
Wednesday 21st November 2012
Pianist Dan Tepfer had already been in the Recital Room the night before, playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations and his own improvisations on them. His classical inclinations came through quite strongly in this trio set, in that he was very much a pianist who used both hands to play multiple simultaneous lines, rather than playing a horn-like melodic line in the right hand while the left played a chordal accompaniment. His playing showed a great variety of touches, from legato melodic phrases to percussive staccato figures, and he used the whole range of the keyboard, some times concentrating on rumbling bass figures and at others exploring the instrument’s upper register.
Most of the set consisted of originals, but it was his version of pieces by other composers which made the strongest impact. Some of them were refreshingly different, but his reworkings of Jacques Brel’s “Le Pays Plats” and Beyonce’s “Single Girls” didn’t seem at all out of place alongside more conventional jazz fare like Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy”. By comparison his own tunes didn’t always seem quite strong enough: his rhapsodic improvising style meant that, like his frequent musical partner Lee Konitz, he often got a long way indeed from the original material, and when that material wasn’t particularly memorable the result could seem too much like a display of piano technique disconnected from the original composition. He also had a tendency to start many of his own numbers with an ostinato figure in the bass which he repeated several times before starting to play anything with his right hand: if overused this could end up becoming a mere mannerism.
This isn’t intended to be a negative review, though. Overall I thought Tepfer’s performance – and those of drummer Ted Poor and bassist Joe Sanders – was excellent. He’s achieved one of the features of a top jazz musician, in that he’s developed a style which is recognisably his own. There’s the occasional hint of Keith Jarrett in the improvising, and a good bit of classical playing in his touch, but ultimately he sounds like no one else but Dan Tepfer.
Away back in the late 70s, in the days when I was first getting seriously interested in jazz, there was a late night jazz programme on Radio Two on Sunday nights. It was presented by Peter Clayton (I think), and lasted for two hours, the first hour being given over to records and the second to live sessions.
One night I was lying in bed listening to it, when a record came on with some of the most gorgeous sounding tenor saxophone playing I’d ever heard. The saxophonist turned out to be Don Byas, the man after whom this blog is indirectly named. (He wrote a number of tunes punningly based around his name: as well as “Byas’d Opinion”, there are “Donby” and “Byas a Drink”).
Carlos Wesley Byas, to give him his Sunday name, was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma 100 years ago today, on October 21st 1912, and died in Amsterdam on August 24th 1972. In his early career he was one of the transitional figure between swing and bebop. He replaced Lester Young in the Count Basie Orchestra, and a few years later played on the Dizzy Gillespie tracks which were among the very first bop recordings. Around about the same time he made a number of small group recordings as leader, featuring both swing players like trumpeter Charlie Shavers and boppers such as Max Roach.
What is most instantly impressive about Byas’s playing is the beauty of his sound when playing ballads: a rich full-bodied tone rather like a mellower Coleman Hawkins. But he could swing hard when he needed to. Sonny Stitt is quoted as saying: “Years ago the game was vicious, cutthroat. Can you imagine Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Don Byas, and Ben Webster on the same little jam session? And guess who won the fight? That’s what it was – a saxophone duel. Don Byas walked off with everything.” Charlie Parker reckoned that Byas “was playing everything there was to play”.
In 1946, Don Byas toured Europe with the Don Redman Orchestra, liked what he saw, and decided to stay on in Paris. As a result, his career rather dropped off the radar as far as the American jazz world was concerned. There are still some decent recordings from the fifties and sixties, such as the live Anthropology, recorded in Copenhagen with a teenage Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass, but in general he made disappointingly few recordings with compatible musicians after World War 2. Europe offered him a better life: there was less racism, and he found it easier to live a healthy life there than on the hard-drinking New York jazz scene (he became a keen scuba diver); but there’s still a disappointing sense that later in his career he could have made more, better, recordings if he’d continued to live in the US.
Unfortunately his recordings aren’t all that easy to track down, but here are a couple of performances which, I hope, show why Don Byas is high on my list of jazz players who aren’t nearly as well known as they ought to be.
Sad news. The great free jazz tenor player David S Ware died on Thursday aged only 62. He’d been very ill with kidney disease for some years.
Ware came to prominence in the mid-70s as a member of Cecil Taylor’s groups. After that, he worked in a number of contexts, most notably his own long-term quartet which always included pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker, although the drummer changed over the years. This band released most of their material on a variety of independent labels, but had a short-live contract with Columbia, of which Ware said:
Hopefully it will help people look upon my music in a different light, to draw connections to the past and to see how it fits in the tradition. There’s a misunderstanding about the kind of music we play, that there’s no discipline, that anything goes. We’re fighting to dispel those myths. We’re like the Marines coming in to create a platform for the spirit of exploration and freedom in music.
What I like about Ware’s music is that way that it reflects both words of the term “free jazz”. He was very much at the avant-garde, exploratory end of the tradition, yet as the quote above suggests, you were always aware that he was part of the tradition. (He studied informally with Sonny Rollins, as well as formally at Berklee). You can hear a lot of late Coltrane in his music, but if you listen carefully, you can hear Coleman Hawkins in there as well.
The jazz world is definitely poorer for his passing.
Fuller appreciations, with some more footage: