Saturday, October 22, 2011

Duke's Flaw

For the past two years, I have been progressively initiated into the majestic world of Duke Ellington. The Maestro held together his big band for nearly fifty years, pioneered new jazz sounds, and kept developing as an artist. It is all so wonderful that I cannot stop getting Ellington CDs and books about the man.

However, to my mind, Duke has one fairly large musical flaw: hiring trumpeter, William "Cat" Anderson. Anderson was known for his high notes and bright tone. He could hit some remarkably high notes, but often attempted notes he could not hit (unlike, say, Doc Severinsen). Further, his highest notes sounded little like a trumpet, but not unlike a dying animal (a cat, perhaps). Duke gave Cat a lot of solo room, and often cringe at this attempts to hit the stratosphere. He almost managed to cancel out the beauty of the entire rest of the band at times.

Duke's other trumpeters were another matter: Ray Nance, Clark Terry, and so on. But Cat...I just do not understand it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Epiphany at Twist and Shout

It does not take long. When I walk into a store that is play jazz on the sound system, I immediately listen intently. Before long, I can usually ascertain which artist is playing. Today, after walking into Twist and Shout (the best store in Denver for jazz CDs and albums), I heard a small combo with an insistent saxophone taking the lead. After a few minutes, I realized it was the legendary Miles Davis Quintet live in a newly released recording. Miles is joined by Tony Williams on drums (then about 20), Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Ron Carter on bass, and Herbie Hancock on piano. This is the free-bop, pre-electric Miles, with lyricism, telepathic coordination, and an open sky in which most anything could happen.

I marveled at the timing, and at the quality of the old JBL speakers (similar to one's I had in high school) bringing this sublime music to me there and then. You never know what you may hear at Twist and Shout. I have cringed at rap, been hammered by heavy metal, and generally sickened by other defective forms of music. But today, it was pure stereophonic magic.

I stopped, looked into the old, open-faced speakers--and thanked God for the beauty.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Now, so many years later, having not watched TV on a regular basis for over a decade, I realize that one of the best things ever on TV was the old Tonight Show Orchestra, led by Doc Severinsen.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Big Bands Today

I have been luxuriating on the big bands of Duke Ellington and, to a lesser extent, those of Count Basie and Stan Kenton. Do any of you recommend any contemporary jazz big bands?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Jazz Language Chop

Jazz vocabulary:

Dukish: the quality of being of or resembling the work of Duke Ellington.