Friday, July 31, 2009

Some wake up music at my house...

The baby loves this. So does her Pops. It starts around a min. in.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

George Russell

By Don Heckman

July 29, 2009

George Russell, a composer, educator and theorist who had a powerful effect on the jazz forms and methods that have evolved from the 1950s to the present, has died. He was 86.

A MacArthur Foundation Award winner, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and a Distinguished Artist-in-Residence Emeritus at the New England Conservatory, where he taught for 35 years, Russell died Monday in Boston of complications from Alzheimer's disease.

George Russell obituary: The obituary of jazz composer George Russell in Wednesday's Section A said that among his survivors was a son, Millgardh. His son's name is Jock Millgardh. —

Russell was a rare spokesman for the study of theoretical principles in an art form that emphasizes improvisation and spontaneity. His treatise “The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization” -- first published in 1953 -- had a significant effect on the growing fascination with modal and free improvisation surfacing in the late 1950s. Elements of the concept, which outlines methods by which improvisers can free themselves from the "tyranny of chords," as Russell described it, were a factor in the modal works present in Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue," the bestselling album in jazz history.

Russell's premise that jazz improvisation could reach beyond well-established harmonic foundations further validated the methods chosen by jazz artists such as John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Don Ellis, Wayne Shorter and others. His own compositions -- beginning with the startlingly inventive music on his mid-1950s breakthrough recording, "The Jazz Workshop," continuing with his small groups of the '60s, occasional large ensembles of the '80s, and the Living Time Orchestra that he led on and off until his death -- were constantly evolving displays of the expansive possibilities of his creative overview.

"My work," he told The Times after the MacArthur grant was awarded in 1989, "tries to achieve a kind of world view or synthesis of many kinds of musics, one that doesn't ignore the sounds of our time. My hope is that it's a complete music -- physical, emotional as well as thought-provoking."

George Allen Russell was born June 23, 1923, in Cincinnati, the adopted son of Joseph, a chef on the B&O Railroad, and Bessie, a nurse. Drawn to music at an early age, he sang a number with Fats Waller at age 7 and played drums in a Boy Scout drum and bugle corps. After receiving a scholarship to Wilberforce University, he was called up for the World War II draft. But when tuberculosis was diagnosed in his examination, he was hospitalized, serendipitously with a fellow patient who instructed him in the fundamentals of music theory.

Briefly working as a jazz drummer after his release, Russell decided to explore other areas of music after hearing Max Roach play the drums, and wound up in New York City. By the mid-1940s, he had become part of an adventurous group of young musicians -- Davis, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, John Benson Brooks among them -- who frequented Gil Evan's West Side apartment. Told by Davis that he wanted to "learn all the changes," Russell interpreted the remark as a quest to find new ways to approach harmony, and he began to work on his Lydian Concept. Applying the principles he was discovering, he composed "Cubana Be/Cubana Bop" -- early examples of the blending of jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms -- for Dizzy Gillespie's big band.

In the 1950s, while still supporting himself with odd jobs, he wrote and recorded "The Jazz Workshop" album, which -- combined with the publication of the Lydian Concept -- thoroughly established his credibility as a jazz artist. A commission from the Brandeis Jazz Festival followed, along with the large ensemble album, "New York, New York," which showcased Russell compositions performed by an all-star assemblage that included Coltrane, Bill Evans, Jon Hendricks and others.

Russell led his own sextets in the 1960s, but by mid-decade, the music industry's turn toward rock music had diminished the employment potential for jazz players. He moved to Sweden until 1969, then returned to teach at the New England Conservatory.

A second volume of his Lydian Concept -- "The Art and Science of Tonal Gravity" -- was published in 2001.

He is survived by his wife, Alice; a son, Millgardh; and three grandchildren.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Max Roach... a great musician.

Those who heard you are enriched.

Kenyon Hopkins... WOAH!

Kenyon Hopkins is a myth to me.
I wish he were around now- sort of like if Leonard Bernstein and David Axelrod had a love child, it would have ben "Ken" (as Johnny Mandel likes to refer to him.
Of particular note(s) is the music he did for the Elia Kazan movie "Baby Doll"... which is so... cinematic and extravagant... and indulgent and beautiful and sexy... and you wonder... WOW! THAT is sooooooome writing.
I mean besides Mr. Mandel, I don't anyone today that could even get close to that vocabulary.
Anyways, "Baby Doll" and "The Hustler" and, if you can find it (and email me if you can't) the George C. Scott TV Show "East Side West Side" are just breathtaking examples of a guy who could really write and get stuff out of a band or orchestra- and he ALWAYS hired a crack band.
I found this online:
In the early 1960s, Hopkins arranged and conducted a tame but delightful collaboration between Verve Records and Esquire Magazine. This series of four albums of "impressions in sound of an American on tour" included a mix of stereotypical tunes associated with a country (such as "La Paloma," "Arrivaderci Roma," and "Hawaiian War Chant") and Hopkins originals, played by ace group of New York session men such as Doc Severinsen and pianist Hank Jones. Tossed in amongst the music are evocative sound effects like street traffic (Italy) and bullfight noises (Spain).
Hopkins also wrote modern classical music, including two symphonies and chamber pieces.
For a superb sample of Hopkins' music, including some ultra-rare tracks, check out Basic Hip's page on Recordings by Kenyon Hopkins.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gabe Kahane

Gabe Kahane is writing at an ambitious, unique level. His music reminds me of... well, Gabe Kahane- and that is a good thing (I have not met Gabe, but we have a mutual friend in Sam Sadigursky (Sam's newest recordings "The Words Project" is filled with new ideas, great playing and generally will make you feel good about music's ability to go forward too- but this post is about Gabe... I will write about Sam later- in the meantime go buy Sam's record). Anyways, the writing, like much great music, sounds personal and universal and unique to the composer. I can't remember being as inspired by a contemporary writer and so I am going to expound on the writing of Gabe.

Gabe's EP called "Five Songs" is inventive, reinventive and always interesting. He explodes song structure but makes it all feel familiar and that is quite a trick. I would say if you like Allan Sherman and Charles Ives or... maybe Allen Iverson and General Sherman... well, in any case, I think you should check out.

"Walking Away From Winter" is Gabe's record which has the hilarious song cycle called "Craigslistlieder" which, if our country/culture had continued to evolve past 1950 would be the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" for a new generation... but I digress.

Go get all of Gabe's music. It is really fun.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bruce Broughton

I have had the luck to watch the greats of film music for say the last 35 years from close up. Like close up enough to check the score and see what the heck is going on. And with the exception of my hero Jerry Fielding, I have seen em all... Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein, Quincy Jones, Dave Grusin, Lalo Schifrin, Johnny Mandel... been there, LOVED it all... but I have never seen anyone who impressed me more than Bruce Broughton when I was lucky enough to watch him conduct today at the Newman Sound Stage.
For those that don't know, Bruce is, with John Williams, one of our greatest film composers working. (He is also one of the great guys.)
What was really impressive aside from the musicality, the imagination and the execution that was in effect today was when I went up to the podium and checked just how in control Bruce is by checking what he was conducting:
Bruce was not going over some laser printed score that was Sibeliused and spat out (that was for the orchestra and the booth)... Bruce's own original sketch was what he conducted from- and the hand with which he works is so clean, clear, concise and coherent (what now can be known as the four c's), that it was one of the great learning experiences to be a part of for me.
Young Hollywood (and old Hollywood) will soon rediscover Bruce- the music is just too good to be ignored. For anyone making a motion picture that wants to add depth, musicality and insight to their film... seriously... if you are making some blockbuster... GO WATCH AND LISTEN TO "SILVERADO"... or "TOMBSTONE" (ohmygosh)... "YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES"... shoot... "BABY'S DAY OUT" is as impressive as any score done in the last four or five years (and "Harry and the Hendersons"- don't get me started)... do it!- if you love movies and film music- go watch- YOU NEED TO! Seriously, name your favorite film composer for big entertainment movies... no one is more accomplished or knowlegdable or MUSICAL as Bruce- and folks need to recognize. As the old joke goes- Bruce has forgotten more about orchestration/themes/variations/arranging than the guys doing today's blockbusters may ever learn in their giga-studio'd, jet-powered computer laboratories. And that's not a knock on them (or me!- not that I have gotten to do any blockbusters...)- but this is merely an acknowledgent of how much Bruce has at his fingertips and how vital he is TODAY for a generation that can use his abilities.
Anyways, I wanted to share my day. Go watch a rare bird, my pal Bruce, Click on the picture below... Watch and enjoy.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Frank Comstock

God love that I can still have a conversation with Frank Comstock about Eddie Sauter. Life is good.
(that's Gene Puerling (l), John Clayton, Jr. (c) and... Frank on the right.
Frank Comstock did some amazing work. I was listening to the music from Bullwinkle which I have put up here- which is marvelous. Frank and I have become phone pals- he also did the music arrangements for Les Brown's band for... ever (lots of good stuff available on line)... as well as, it goes with saying!, the Hi-Lo's (Gene Puerling did the remarkable vocal arrangements, Frank did the music arrangements).
But back to Moose and Squirrel...
Fractured Fairy Tales Theme
You can here a little Stravinsky, a little Prokofieff, a little Debussy... a little moose... ok- a BIG moose and a little squirrel. But can you imagine the musicianship available! Great sounding band too.
Peabody's Improbable History
Man, music was great fun on these cartoons!!!!
Dudley Dooright theme

Monday, April 30, 2007

Eddie Sauter

This may be my favorite music photo.
Someone I have been really shaking my head about... Eddie Sauter. The music and the arrangements are astounding. It really makes me think that there was this great nexus of musical thinking near the middle of the 20th century and we are just piddling along now. What inventiveness and... fun! If you go to itunes- you can find a couple of amazing things- and the music, diversity and FUN! is something you won't regret.
Scott Yanow wrote Eddie Sauter the following: One of the most inventive arrangers to emerge during the swing era, Eddie Sauter's complex and colorful charts never fit that easily into any specific category. His work tended to be at its best when written for a specific purpose, format or soloist. Sauter originally played trumpet and drums, later also learning mellophone. He studied at Columbia University and Juilliard and then during 1935-39 made a stir in the jazz world as the main arranger with Red Norvo's Orchestra. Sauter's writing perfectly framed both Norvo's xylophone and Mildred Bailey's voice and was full of surprises. He worked as a freelancer during the remainder of the swing era with his most notable work being for Benny Goodman (including the complex charts for "Superman," "Clarinet A La King," "Benny Rides Again," "Moonlight On The Ganges," "Love Walked In" and "La Rosita"), some of the most advanced music that the clarinetist ever played. In addition, Sauter contributed arrangements to the bands of Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman and (in the postwar years) Ray McKinley. In 1952, Sauter joined forces with fellow arranger Bill Finegan to form the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, an interesting but often excessive band that allowed the co-leaders' imaginations to run wild, often leading to novelties (including their hit "Doodletown Fifers") that are of lesser interest to jazz. After the band ran its course, in 1957 Sauter began two years in Germany as the leader of the Sudwestfunk Radio Station Band of Baden-Baden. Returning to the U.S. in 1959, Eddie Sauter worked in the studios but occasionally wrote for jazz-oriented projects, most notably 1961's Focus (which featured Stan Getz).and scoring for the movie Mickey One in 1965 (which also had Getz as the lead voice).

Friday, April 06, 2007

Antonio Carlos Jobim and Elis Regina...

Go snuggle up with someone. Tell them they are loved.

Friday, March 30, 2007

A Guaranteed Smile: Dizzy and Louis...

on the Jackie Gleason Show!

I have been listening to a lot of Dizzy of late- he has such pure joy- and this performance is so joyful... do yourself a favor and click.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Toots Thielemans plays "Little Suede Shoes"- a Charlie Parker composition on "Night Music"- the old Paul Schaeffer/David Sanborn show that was so great.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The joy of Clifford Brown

Clifford Brown is, for my money, the warmest, most emotional, most expressive, most.. FUN trumpet player... EVER!
His playing is so right on- it let's you know why, for the time, he was the man.
There is a rare out of print record he made with Gigi Gryce and His Big Band, Jazztime Paris featuring Clifford Brown, 1954 on Blue Note (it's a 10")... and it is marvelous.
If you can find it online... and you CAN (if you look... or email me)... it is amazing and worth the trouble.
There are a bunch of records available on ITunes or wherever... find something with Max Roach as a starter.
You won't be sorry and you will feel the joy that was Clifford.
Oh, and check out the video above- it is very rare footage of Clifford on the Soupy Sales show.
Here's a bit more- I went to Wikipedia to get a description for those that might know...
Neil Tesser wrote of him:
"Clifford Brown could play with a speed and precision that challenged, and at time eclipsed even the virtuosity of his own idols ... But even more than that, Clifford became known for a brain-boggling capacity to improvise long, complex and stunningly well-constructed solos."
Despite an abbreviated recording career of only 4 years duration (due to his early death), he had a considerable influence on later jazz trumpet players, including Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Arturo Sandoval.
His style was influenced by Fats Navarro, sharing Navarro's virtuosic technique and brilliance of invention. His sound was warm and round, and notably consistent across the full range of the instrument. He could articulate every note, even at the high tempos which seemed to present no difficulty to him; this served to enhance the impression of his speed of execution. His sense of harmony was highly developed, enabling him to deliver bold statements through complex harmonic progressions (chord changes), and embodying the linear, "algebraic" terms of bebop harmony. As well as his up-tempo prowess, he could express himself deeply in a ballad performance. It is said that he played each set as though it would be his last.
The Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet was a high water mark of the hard bop style. The group's pianist, Richie Powell (younger brother of Bud), contributed original compositions, as did Brown himself. The partnership of Brown's trumpet with Harold Land's tenor saxophone made for a very strong front line. Teddy Edwards briefly replaced Land before Sonny Rollins took over for the remainder of the group's existence. In their hands the bebop vernacular reached a peak of inventiveness.
The clean-living Brown has been cited as perhaps breaking the influence of heroin on the jazz world, a model established by Charlie Parker. Clifford stayed away from drugs and was not fond of alcohol; his only vice was chess. Rollins said of him: "Clifford was a profound influence on my personal life. He showed me that it was possible to live a good, clean life and still be a good jazz musician." Roach described him as "one of the rare complete individuals ever born ... a sweet, beautiful [person]".

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sly... Back on the right track!

"Shady as a lady in a mustache, feelings camouflaged by groans and grins, secrets have a special way about them, moving to and fro among your friends"... SOMEBODY"S WATCHING, SLY! US!!!
Last Saturday night, my fellow Sylvester Stewart devotees and myself made what can best be described as a pilgrimage to... Anaheim... the House of Blues in Anaheim to get a glimpse of who is, for us the most important living writer of popular music in America (and I am only somewhat equivocating and shouting USA! out of respect to Sir Paul Macca...). The universality of Sly- the fact that you can hear ONE SONG and say- I KNOW THAT GUY!- is magic... you get the feeling- THAT FEELING!- when you here Sly- and when you get it like that... well, you'll go anywhere to support- even Anaheim on a Saturday night.

That's me, Paranorm, Ian, and Zoe. Well... we got a glimpse. What can I say... It was better than the show at the Las Palmas Theater in 1987. How about that? (Chris Willman, myself and 25 other people know what I mean!) It was kind of a baby step- if you can call it that in 19+ years... sort of like when Brian Wilson got up with the Beach Boys in Anaheim (why do all comebacks start in Anaheim)... it was surreal- as you might expect. It was a major step up from the Grammy travesty- Sly really seemed to be into it... but it only last a brief nine minutes (according to the OC Register).
We were standing real close- say three people to the stage between us (that's my photo at top)- and the band included Rose, Pat Rizzo for a few numbers and Little Sister Vet (giving Sly a hug in the pic) singing... along with some other guys who were faithful and serviceable- and when they play the songs, you kept getting excited that Sly MIGHT come out... which he eventually did after tune #10 or so... when he awkwardly was announced and came out and gave the peace sign and told us he would take us higher... Sly then came back with two different daughters. and this is where it got fun... er, PHUNNE... as his daughter, PHUNNE came out to play some Mozart on the Yamaha Motif.
Well, anyways, Sly liked that a lot. Then he brought out another daughter to rap and he played a clavinet part behind her- and that seemed to stun the band- but they rolled with it, and she did that for a minute... then he walked off to more people begging him to stay. Sly came back once more and asked to take us higher- and he did. Sly seemed to be in good spirits- and I don't think he looked as hunched over as I was led to believe he is- although he is not exactly ready to put back on the jump suit and do the ham-bone down the aisle either.
And so I have been listening to his music today- and it is still magnificent. The lyrics are the most uplifting, forceful, loving, honest, biting, warming... truthful we have seen in the rock era.
Fun (Phun) story... When I first met my pal Ian- we started talking music... and I gave him the above thought about how important, truthful blah blah blah Sly's music is... Ian let me go on... then lifted his shirt to reveal the following tattoo. It was love.
Still is.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Jerry Fielding- HERO

Jerry Fielding was so great.

You can find his music from "The Wild Bunch" by clicking on this sentence. I have been listening to it again recently on my ipod... my god, as a really fine composer friend once said to me, "I'd have given time off my life to have a score look like one of Jerry's."

The ORIGINALITY that is in evidence in "The Wild Bunch" soundtrack shows why music for films was so breathtaking when in the hands of masters like Fielding, Johnny Mandell, Elmer Bernstein, Kenyon Hopkins, Dave Grusin and others in this time period- as these guys KNEW where the music came from and instead of just aping it- as so often happens today (most music in films feels to me like, "this is what music should sound like for this part of the picture IF indeed the scene even needs it...")- they tood the medium and CONTRIBUTED original thought/sound to the whole to make something that wasn't... just regurgitated dreck.

In scores today you hear people basically, to me, doing impressions of what they think a movie soundtrack SHOULD sound like- Fielding was INVENTING A LANGUAGE! and it is quite exciting to listen to. When you hear a score in the hands of a master like Fielding, you get context, you get economy, you get meaning and you get FEELING that isn't there if you take the music away! And when was the last score you heard that did that!?!?! (I mean, excepting of course, "Let's Go To Prison.")

in the case of "The Wild Bunch," Fielding takes the score American Western- and turns it on it's ear- like what Peckinpah did for the movie. As Peckinpah took what John Ford (and others before him) and reinvented it, Fielding managed to take what Aaron Copland had done (and even what Elmer had done with say "The Magnificent Seven"- an amazing score too)- and gave it new breath, interpretation... and, for the picture, a voice that supports and extends the story. The best way to describe it is to say that Fielding's music is... informed.

If Jerry were alive today... ah... well, unfortunately he isn't. But in this blog he lives on!

Click here for an interview with Jerry.

"It seems to me that we’re totally adrift at the moment, culturally—the Western world generally is. I don’t know what the serious musical idiom of this time is. I’ve no idea who history will designate as the proper spokesman seriously for this period. It isn’t like you could pinpoint Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, whoever. Even Stravinsky—there was a time that was right for him. Right now, the time seems to be wrong for everybody—or everybody seems to be wrong for the time."
-Jerry Fielding.

In film and television music, I would argue that you can sub in Rota, Fielding, Mancini (btw- both Fielding and Mancini came from the same hometown- Pittsburgh- Fiedling was two years older), Herrmann or Elmer for Mozart and the others Jerry was quoted about above.

Here's my feeling on Jerry and what he meant to film music and how it resonates today:

I believe Clint Eastwood became so indebted to the music of Fielding, that in this day and age- when we sooooo need a Fielding- Clint has decided that since no other composer who is working steadily could do what Jerry did... Clint just does the music himself.

And I gotta say, having just watched "Million Dollar Baby"- if that's his thinking (which I think it is), that's the way to go.
Fielding could have added so much to that movie...

Go find ANYTHING written or arranged by Jerry Fielding and you won't be sorry.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Amy Winehouse...

Thank god!!!!
A record that makes you feel good and...
let's you feel like you are experiencing something new and special and real and... you know- of the moment. You remember... like when you heard a record on the radio and thought, "Man, that's cool. I LIKE that!"

Amy Winehouse has a a record called "Rehab" and you can watch the video if you click on this sentence.
Salaam Remi produced the record and he is a bad man.
This record feels familiar yet new... it has a sense of humor- I really like it.
Shout out to Matt Berenson for sending it my way- he knows jewish women soul/jazz singers like nobody's business.
Go watch, and maybe feel good about pop music... for a few minutes at least.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's Neruda Songs...

is a beautiful heartbreak.
If you don't know her, there is a nice piece online from the New Yorker.

Recommended (again) by Rafi Zabor, you can find on iTunes these recordings done with the Boston Symphony Orchestra with James Levine conducting as Ms. Lieberson sang music composed by her husband.
These songs are the last pieces performed by her and they are a series of Pablo Neruda's love sonnets set to music by her husband, composer Peter Lieberson. Hunt Lieberson died in July, 2006 of breast cancer at 52 years old.
These recordings are something else.

Charles Koechlin

... is a course- actually a four- no, seven course meal- in orchestration and arrangement.

Koechlin was something else- you can hear how influential he IS and what a master of the orchestra.
I found Leif Segerstam & Rheinland-Pfalz Philharmonic's version of Koechlin's "The Jungle Book" (four symphonic poems and three orchestral songs making up Livre de la jungle after Rudyard Kipling) that Mike Lang turned me on to on iTunes.
According to the wikipedia entry: "He wrote in several styles, sometimes severe Baroque counterpoint, as in the fugue that opens his Second Symphony (unrecorded as of 2005), sometimes "impressionistically" as in the tone poem Au Loin, or, as in the Symphony No.2's scherzo, yet more astringently. He could go from extreme simplicity to extreme complexity of texture and harmony from work to work, or within the same work. Some of his most characteristic effects come from a very static treatment of harmony, savouring the effect of, for instance, a stacked-up series of fifths through the whole gamut of the instruments. His melodies are often long, asymmetrical and wide-ranging in tessitura. He was closely interested in the works of Schoenberg, some of which he quoted from memory in his treatise on Orchestration. The twelve tone technique is one of the several modern music styles parodied in the 'Jungle Book' symphonic poem Les Bandar-Log, but Koechlin also wrote a few pieces in what he described as the 'style atonal-seriel'. He was fascinated by the movies and wrote many 'imaginary' film scores and works dedicated to the Hollywood actress Lilian Harvey, on whom he had a crush. His Seven Stars Symphony features movements inspired by Douglas Fairbanks, Lilian Harvey, Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings and Charlie Chaplin in some of their most famous film roles. He also composed an Epitaph for Jean Harlow and a suite of dances for Ginger Rogers. He was interested in using unusual instruments, notably the saxophone and the early electronic instrument the Ondes Martenot. One movement of the Second Symphony requires four of them (and has not usually been included in the few performances of the work, for that reason). He also wrote several pieces for the hunting-horn, an instrument he himself played. Koechlin orchestrated several pieces by other composers. In addition to the Fauré Pelléas et Mélisande suite mentioned above he orchestrated the bulk of Claude Debussy's 'legende dansée' Khamma under the composer's direction, from the piano score [1], and orchestrated Cole Porter's ballet Within the Quota; other works he transcribed include Schubert's Wanderer Fantasie and Chabrier's Bourrée Fantasque."
Anyways, check it out- I had never really known about him... now I can't find enough.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Stephen Riley- Saxophone God

To start things, I thought I'd share my passion for Stephen Riley. Author Rafi Zabor, who wrote "The Bear Comes Home," a book of depth, warmth, humor and... humanity, told me that Branford Marsalis hipped him to Stephen- and that was enough name dropping to get me to at least check it out on itunes.

So I did.

And so should you.

(click this to go to his itunes record...)
Stephen Riley, Saxophone God"Stephen Riley, Saxophone God"