Thursday, December 14, 2017

Carmen McRae – A Grande Dame of Jazz

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“There's always a tigerish feel to her best vocals - no woman has ever sung in the Jazz idiom with quite such beguiling surliness as McRae.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Carmen McRae is the true grande dame of jazz. Like so many of the best women Jazz singers, including her friends Shirley Horn and the late Sarah Vaughan, Carmen is an accomplished pianist. This means she not only has a feeling for harmony, she has true knowledge of it. Carmen always knows exactly what she is doing.

The term ‘Jazz singer’ is a dubious one, and Sarah Vaughan objected to it. It means many things to many people, including merely a style that entails a cer­tain indefinable jazz feeling. If it means anything specific, it surely denotes some­one who can improvise with the voice. In a well-made song, the intervals of the music bear a significant relationship to the natural inflections of the words, and to alter the melody compromises the mean­ing and diminishes the dramatic effect of the song as a whole. Unfortunately, that is exactly what all too many ‘Jazz singers’ do. Carmen is a spectacular exception. When she changes the melodic intervals, she somehow, mysteriously, deepens the song, increasing the impact of the words.”
- Gene Lees, Jazz writer and critic

“No singer since [Billie] Holiday had been more adept at singing behind the beat than McRae, or more skilled at shifting from an intimate conversational delivery to hard-edged reconfigurations of melody and lyric.”
- Ted Gioia, A History of Jazz

“No singer was more stubbornly verbal than Carmen McRae, who inflected words as though she were giving them a tongue-lashing. McRae was famously outspoken and her songs had a similarly tart ap­peal. You didn't necessarily turn to her for profane insight into the song­writer's art, but you occasionally got it anyway. This is especially true of the numerous [Billie] Holiday tunes she covered.

If Holiday made the word ‘love’ shimmer with unrequited longing, McRae cast it in caustic languor. Consider her 1965 live recording of "No More": Holiday sang the line, ‘you ain't gonna bother me no more no how,’ as if trying to key up her resolve; McRae phrased those words as if she had a gun in her purse.
- Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz [paragraphing modified]

There was noting quite like hearing Carmen McRae sing, especially in-person.

To my ears, she was the epitome of a song stylist, but watching her style a song was a captivating and beguiling experience. I told her once that she was my “witchy woman,” to which she laughingly replied: “Be careful, or I’ll put a spell on you.”

Of course, she knew. She already had.

And it wasn’t only me. Carmen had a way of enchanting anyone who ever caught her in performance.

The reason was simple. She loved singing Jazz and she was good at it. She knew it, the musicians who backed her knew it and we knew it.  And if you were in her presence while she doing her thing, you knew that you were in for the thrill of your life.

What Carmen served up during her performances was akin to a musical feast: phrasing lyrics with meaning and understanding; picking tempos that were always just right; scatting – just enough – while employing the cleverest of harmonies; and just when you thought that you didn’t have room for dessert, she’d offered up a stomping version of “I Cried for You” or “Three Little Words” and leave you screaming for more.

I always sensed a great sadness in Carmen, too. The weightiness and gravity with which she handled certain ballads bespoke of a life with its share of disappointments.

She was nobody’s fool, but few of us go through life without some emotional bumps and bruises and it appeared to me that Carmen had had her share of these, including some personal relationships that didn’t work out.

It was easy to catch the sense of this if you listened closely to her banter between tunes or observed her knowing facial or lyrical expressions when she sang romantic ballads.

Carmen brought the Jazz musician’s life to her music,  a life which was never an easy one, even during the best of times.

I loved seeing her work at a club whether it was at Sugar Hill in San Francisco, or P.J.’s  on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood or at Donte’s Jazz Club in North Hollywood, CA.

Can you imagine a rhythm section made up of Joe Pass on guitar, Jimmy Rowles on piano, Chuck Domanico on bass and Chuck Flores on drums backing Carmen at an intimate Jazz club located only a 10-minute drive from my home?

Welcome to my world in 1972 when Carmen worked a week at Donte’s.

The room was loaded with musicians during her appearance and Carmen was always gracious about visiting with as many of them as possible during the breaks between sets.

With her signature – “Hey baby, what’s happening?” – she come up to your table and there would be hugs and giggles all around.

She was a queen who deserved to be an empress. Those of us who understood this treated her royally and gave her the respect that she merited.

In return, she bestowed upon us a treasure chest filled with rendition after rendition of great vocal Jazz.

Thankfully, much of her gift has been saved on recordings.

While I’m grateful for the recorded legacy of her music, there was nothing quite like watching her weave her special charms into a song while sitting three feet away from her in a Jazz club.

When you were around Carmen, "baby," it was always “happening.”

We put together the following video tribute to her with the help of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD.  It features Carmen singing Let There Be Love accompanied by Norman Simmons on piano, Victor Sproles on bass and Stu Martin on drums.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Serge Chaloff - 1923-1957: A Brief Remembrance by Rik van den Bergh and “The Reeds”

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“[Blue Serge – Dial LP 1012] …gave a vivid idea of the extent to which … [Chaloff] had absorbed Bird’s [Charlie Parker’s] … modern conception, and adapted it to the baritone saxophone ….
By this time [1947], Serge’s style was fully developed. He could get around on the horn at any tempo, played changes with incredible agility both of mind and of fingers, and generally was equipped to astonish anyone who thought the baritone was too cumbersome to be worth developing to this point.”
- Leonard Feather, Jazz critic/writer

“… [Chaloff] was an agile improviser who could suddenly transform a sleepy sounding phrase with a single overblown note.
At least the classic Blue Serge [Capitol 94505 – 1956] is still around … and … shows that Chaloff still had plenty of good ideas about what could be done with a bebopper’s basic materials.”
- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Serge Chaloff showed the deepest allegiance to bop among the [Woody] Herman saxophonists [of the 2nd Herman Herd, 1947-49] and earned praise for his skill in adapting many of Charlie Parker’s innovations to the baritone. … his work with Herman, as well as his various recordings in smaller combos, reveal an expressive, technically accomplished instrumentalist.”
- Ted Gioia, Jazz writer and historian

I'm in a baritone saxophone "bag" these days [does anyone use this term anymore?]. For the uninitiated, "bag" is bebop slang for a person's area of interest or expertise.

When it comes to bebop and baritone saxophone no one left a bigger footprint on the music than Serge Chaloff [1923-1957] and its nice to see him memorialized by Rik van den Bergh. Rik and his form the basis for this feature. 
As alto saxophonist Phil Woods observed: “A lot of people have died for this music.”

The “this music” that Phil’s referring to is the Bebop style of Jazz that came into vogue around the time when the Second World War was ending in 1945.

While their were many musicians who contributed to Bebop’s development, the movement became closely associated with alto saxophonist Charlie [“Bird”] Parker whose personal excesses were as great as his musical achievements.

In addition to being influenced by his music, sadly, many of Bird’s admirers became heroin addicts, too, and either died as a result or were sent away to federal prisons for long internments.

One of these youthful followers was Serge Chaloff who not only adapted Bird’s alto saxophone style to the baritone saxophone, but was almost the same age as Bird when he died from health problems that were no doubt worsened by his lengthy heroin addiction.

Thirty-three years of age is much too young for anyone to die.

In his insert notes to The Complete Serge Chaloff Sessions [Mosaic MD4-147], Vladimir Simosko reflectively states:

“Unfortunately, ill health cut short a career already fallen into obscurity by the time of his death in 1957. Chaloff had provided the usual ingredients for fulfilling the stereotype "legendary tragic hero" role romantically assigned to several prominent jazzmen whose lives traced similar patterns across North American culture in the 20th Century — the "creative genius, frustrated by society, debauches to extremes and dies young" syndrome that was brought to the public's awareness by Bix Beiderbecke and carried to further extremes, with racist overtones, by Charlie Parker. However, as with many others also fitting that mold (some of whom didn't even debauch), Chaloff remained relatively obscure, his work recognized, treasured and collected primarily by knowledge­able jazz lovers.”

In the following excerpt from his piece in The Baltimore Sun entitled Fairy Tales and Hero Worship Richard Sudhalter places “the legendary tragic hero” view of Serge Chaloff in a different context. Perhaps as you read these thoughts, you might substitute “Serge” for “Bix.”

“One of my favorite sentences in the current literature on jazz was written by an old friend, British trumpeter-historian Digby Fairweather. It's about Bix Beiderbecke.

Bix, says Digby in Jazz: The Rough Guide (Penguin, 754 pages, $24.95), "was a man of enormous talent but meager character or self-discipline, and his creative despair, induced by technical inadequacy and lack of vision, made him take refuge in alcohol."

As a judgment it's a bit severe; but it works, stripping layers of exaggeration and wishful thinking from one of the most over-idealized musicians in our jazz century. Leon Beiderbecke, player of cornet and piano, dead at 28 in 1931, was a brilliant musician, an innovator, much admired; but he was also, as Fairweather reminds us, an autodidact, confined by his shortcomings. He wanted to play "serious" music, yet was a poor sight-reader and short on technique. Though he longed to compose, he knew little about harmonic theory, save what his ears told him.

And, rather than assess himself, redefine his goals, then actively seek the training needed to realize them, Beiderbecke drank himself into the nonjudgmental consolation of an early grave.

In viewing his subject this way, Fairweather is — among writers on jazz, at least — something of a contrarian. Even in our age of demystification, deconstruct ion, debunking, and disclosive debasement, too many jazz chroniclers still cling to a starry, fairy­tale approach not far from hero-worship. In its most extreme forms it idealizes, canonizes, seems most fascinated with, irresponsible and self-destructive behavior. …

I think Digby Fairweather had it just right: Bix Beiderbecke was prodigiously gifted, but betrayed those gifts through failure (or unwillingness) to realize that they conferred neither privilege nor license, but responsibility. His early death, as those of Young, Parker, Pepper, Powell, Baker, Billie Holiday, Lee Morgan, Albert Ayler, and so many others, was not martyrdom. It was simple waste.”

As noted previously, fortunately for those Jazz fans who appreciate Serge’s music, Charlie Lourie and Michael Cuscuna gathered all of the recordings that he made in his all-too-brief lifetime and reissued these as The Complete Serge Chaloff Sessions [Mosaic MD4-147]. This limited edition set has long since been out-of-print.

There the matter rested until a group of Dutch Jazz musicians under the leadership of baritone saxophonist Rik van den Bergh entered a recording studio in Holland in June, 2007 and re-created a number of Serge’s compositions on Reserge: A Tribute to the Great Baritone Saxophonist Serge Chaloff which is still available on the Maxanter label [MAX 75373].

Detailed background information about why and how this a recording came about is included in these excerpts from Jaap Ludeke’s insert notes:

"Just because your parents are successful musicians does not always mean that you will be as talented. But barito­ne-sax player/composer Serge Chaloff did succeed, to some extent. His father Julius, of Russian descent, was a composer and played piano with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His mother Margaret Stedman Chaloff had British parents. She taught piano at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Mass. Among her pupils were at various times: Toshiko Akiyoshi, Dick Twardzik, George Shearing and Herbie Hancock. When I spoke to Toshiko Akiyoshi about this period she told me: "Serge was very helpful to me, in my early days in Boston. I think he was a bit skeptical, at first, until he heard me play and noticed my bebop sensibility. I have fond memories of him, and of our performing together at the Newport Festival in 1956."

When little Serge was between the ages of six and twelve years old his mother taught him the piano. After that, he immediately picked up the baritone saxophone. Harry Carney was his favorite, but he could not chase after him for lessons while Carney toured throughout the USA. So Serge took his education into his own hands. In the late forties, things were looking good for Chaloff: he was a member of the famous 'Four Brothers' sax section of the Woody Herman Band (1947-1949]. Unfortunately, the percentage of drug addicts in that band was high and Chaloff became one of them. In the same period he fell in love with Charlie Parker's innovative bebop style. Both as a leader and a sideman, Chaloff made several interesting recordings for jazz labels like Savoy, Storyville and Capitol. Blue Serge on the latter label is generally thought to be his best record.

Like Chaloff, Gerry Mulligan was a fan of Carney, and from about 1953 on Mulligan started winning all the polls instead of Chaloff. It was similar to the relationship of Zoot Sims and Stan Getz: Zoot complained that people always talked about Getz. In 1954 Serge kicked his drug habit, but two years later his bad health led to paralysis of his legs. A tumor did the rest. I am happy to report that Dutch baritone player Rik van den Bergh and his group The Reeds have come up with the idea to bring Serge Chaloff's challenging music back to life. And that exactly fifty years after Serge died.

- Jaap Ludeke [is a contributor to Down Beat and He has a radio program called Ludeke Straight Ahead at the Dutch Concertzender/Radio 6].”


The Serge Chaloff  project has resulted in a great new band: The Reeds. This band is no less than a dream team: five of the finest Dutch saxophone players in one section, playing with one of the most swinging rhythm sections in Holland. They are all members of The Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw and/or The Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra, and they are not only great section players but also top soloists.

•  Rik van den Bergh (baritone saxophone] is one of the few Dutch saxophonists exclusively focusing on the baritone. For a number of years he was active with his baritone/Hammond-organ quartet Swingmatism. At the moment he is a member of The Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra and of the Young Sinatra’s.
•  Marco Kegel (alto saxophone) is lead alto in The Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra. In 2003 he recorded the CD Jonquil with Lee Konitz and the Gustav Klimt String Quartet.
•  Jan Smit (alto saxophone] is a member of the Young Sinatra’s and a sought-after reed player in Holland.
•  Simon Rigter (tenor saxophone] is in The Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra. He teaches at the conservatories of Rotterdam and Zwolle and plays in quite a number of bands. He recorded and played with greats like Curtis Fuller, Slide Hampton and George Coleman.
•  Sjoerd Dijkhuizen (tenor saxophone] plays in many different groups. He is a member of The Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw and leads his own quartet with his brother Gijs on drums.
•  Erik Doelman (piano] has his own quartet with the rhythm section of The Reeds and Simon Rigter on tenor. In 2006 he recorded the CD The Erik Doelman 7tet Plays Cole Porter.
•  Frans van Geest (bass) played with about every major jazz artist in the world. He is the backbone and founder of The Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw.
•  Gijs Dijkhuizen (drums) is in great demand in the Dutch jazz scene. Together with Frans van Geest he is a member of the Peter Beets Trio.

Here’s a video tribute to Serge which has as its soundtrack an original composition from the Rik van den Berg Reserge tribute CD which was written by tenor saxophonist Simon Rigter entitled Brothers. The solo order is Sjoerd Dijkhuizen, Jan Smit, Rik van den Bergh, Marco Kegel and Simon.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Pianist Eddie Higgins From Two Perpsectives

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

It recently came to the attention of the editorial staff at JazzProfiles that a friend of these pages is a huge Eddie Higgins fan. So we though we'd combine two, previous features on Eddie as a way of saluting his many contributions to modern Jazz in the second half of the 20th century and sharing more information about him with his fans.

You have to be very brave to earn a living as a Jazz musician as the late pianist Eddie Higgins explains in the following piece which appeared in the February 1985 Jazzletter edited by Gene Lees.

The business itself is intimidating and so are some of the monster musicians you come up against from time-to-time who make you wish you had turned to selling used cars or women’s shoes to earn a living.

Some monster musicians remain aloof, but others reach out and become inspiring teachers.

Such was the case when Eddie Higgins had an encounter one night with the magnificent Oscar Peterson at the London House in Chicago, IL.

"Or Opposite Oscar Peterson?
by Eddie Higgins

During one of the many times in the late 1950s and '60s I worked opposite Oscar Peterson at the London House in Chicago (fourteen times in twelve years, 'to be exact), he and Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen were having a particularly hot night. Even when one or another of them wasn't "on", the trio was awesome — in my opinion the greatest piano trio in the history of jazz. And on this occasion, they were all on, and the total effect was just devastating.

After they had finished their third encore to a five-minute standing, whistling, screaming, stomping ovation and left the bandstand, it was my unenviable task to follow them with my trio. I was proud of Richard Evans and Marshall Thompson, and we had developed a good reputation of our own among the various groups with whom we shared the bandstand in those halcyon days. But there wasn't anyone who could have followed Oscar Peterson that night. I mean, there was, I swear, smoke and steam coming out of the piano when the set ended.

Well, I did what I was being paid to do, but with that sinking feeling you get when you're down two sets to love, the score in the third set is two-five, and you're looking across the net at John McEnroe.

After a lackluster set of forty minutes, which seemed like three hours, we left the stand to polite applause, and I started to look for a hole to climb into. Oscar had been sitting with friends in Booth 16 — remember? — and as I attempted to sneak past him into the bar, he reached out and grabbed my arm.

"I want to talk to you," he said in a grim tone of voice.

I followed him out into the lobby of the building, which of course was deserted at that time of night. He backed me up against the wall and started poking a forefinger into my chest. It still hurts when I think about it.

"What the hell was that set all about?" he said.

I started a feeble justification but he cut me off. "Bullshit! If you couldn't play, you wouldn't be here. If I ever hear you play another dumb-ass set like that, I'm going to come up there personally and break your arm! You not only embarrassed Richard and Marshall, you embarrassed me in front of my friends, just when I had been telling them how proud I am of you, and how great you play.

"I know we're having a good night, but there are plenty of nights when you guys put the heat on us, and if you don't believe me, ask Ray and Ed. We walk in the door, and you're smoking up there, and we look at each other and say, ‘Oh oh, no coasting on the first set tonight!' So just remember one thing, Mr. Higgins, when you go up there to play, don't compare yourself to me or anyone else. You play your music your way, and play it the best you have in you, every set, every night. That's called professionalism." And he turned and walked back into the club without a further word.

I've never forgotten that night for two reasons. It was excellent advice from someone I admired and respected tremendously. And it showed that he cared about me deeply.

I'm still making a living playing the piano, and, believe it or not, playing jazz for the most part. It's more of a struggle now, after thirty-five years, than it was at the beginning, but I attribute that to two factors mostly.

One, I insist on living where I want to — Miami in the winter and Cape Cod in the summer — instead of where I should live in order to further my career, New York City. Two, the thirty-year dominance of rock, country, disco, Top Forty, and other forms of musical primitivism (I don't care who does it; it's still musical primitivism) has just about dried up the venues for the kind of music I play, with the exception of a few remaining holdouts in the big cities. For example, in all of South Florida, with a population of close to seven million people, there are three jazz clubs at present — two in Miami and one in Fort Lauderdale. So I've had to start traveling a little: traditional jazz festivals, at which I dust of my Dixieland repertoire and my stride and boogie-woogie chops; Chicago, which is still a place I can work just about any time I want; and infrequent trips abroad. I try to fill in the gaps with "casuals" (L.A. jargon), "the outside" (Miami jargon), "jobbing" (Chicago jargon), "general business" (Boston jargon), and whatever they call it in New York.

It's a tough way to make a living, but as Med Flory said in that same issue of the Jazzletter with your piece on Oscar, you're never completely happy doing anything else. So you just do it.

Drop a line if you have the time, and if you don't, I understand completely. Your friend always,


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Eddie Higgins is a very soulful cat who knows where it's at; lives there and stays there and constantly plays there!”
- Jon Hendricks

I know this might sound incredulous in today’s music file sharing world where a couple of clicks on an internet site can bring anyone into contact with the music of any recorded Jazz artist. The fact that  many of today’s Jazz recordings are self-produced and can be bought directly from the musician located anywhere in the world via a website only serves to further expedite the process.

But it was a totally different world a little more than half century ago and obtaining recordings by musicians who recorded for specialized Jazz labels was a bit like the Quest for the Holy Grail and seeking the hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant all rolled into one.

As the fifties progressed, it became clear that while jazz had largely lost its popular support - hardly any records by recognizable jazz artists made the Billboard album or single charts in the period covering 1955-60 - it had built up a committed, hip audience of both blacks and whites in the urban areas that were still nurturing the music.

The club culture of 52nd Street may have declined since its pinnacle of the first bebop era, but New York City was still full of places which had a jazz booking policy, from young venerables such as Birdland and the Village Vanguard to mayfly cellars and bars that lasted a while before switching policy or changing hands.

Just as significant were the many other cities - Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles -  which could boast similar, if less populous, local circuits. While urban real estate was still cheap and low-rent accommodation plentiful, there remained the margins which could almost comfortably support the jazz musician and his or her working life.

It was also a time, in American culture, of a new Bohemia. The beat poets, writers, film and theater people, artists and just a general gaggle of people who liked to hang out were temperamentally attuned to the idea of jazz, even if not always the substance or actuality of it. Most of the hard-bop musicians plied their trade in hard-core circumstances: their daily work was what it was. Unlike the situation on the West Coast, where a climate of session work had built up for many of the local Jazzmen, playing on pop records or for TV and film music, the idea of being a 'session musician' hadn't so far emerged in the hard-bop life.

Yet any sense that this was some kind of balmy period with plentiful work and agreeable conditions should be quickly set aside. The pull of New York began to hurt local scenes, as the most talented musicians in the end left for the principal jazz city. Clubland was still substantially in the grip of gangsters. And just as so many musicians a decade earlier had found themselves with remorseless narcotics habits, so heroin still exacted a considerable price among young musicians. Many Jazz musicians were acknowledged heroin addicts. Instead of the squalor which came to be associated with hard-drug dependence, the ugly reality of heroin chic sucked in many in this new Bohemia, jazz musicians making up a plentiful proportion of their number.

For all that, it was an intensely creative moment in jazz, perhaps even more so than the original bebop era, because the language had been established and was available for anyone to speak, if they had the will to do so, and a new record industry was rushing to grow up around it. Where bebop had once seemed almost outrageous, to some of the more settled swing-era musicians, hard bop was now familiar. The neurotic climate of bebop had been traded for a more studied intensity.

As the LP format became standardized, the music, now available in a medium which approximated the length of a typical club set, was documented in a way that sought a new audience. Followers of the music began to build collections - without necessarily becoming mere 'collectors'. If microgrooves encouraged a more leisurely, contemplative approach to jazz listening - no more rushing to change the record after three minutes - they also helped to educate tastes, and develop serious appreciation.

All of which might suggest an atrophying or at least a gentrification of this new jazz mainstream. But there were too many individuals, too many singular and identifiable voices at work in hard bop to allow anyone even to imagine that the movement could go stale or turn grey. For many listeners (although not all critics, of which more later), each fresh record spelled out an exciting new development. The further away one was from the local scene the more compelling it seemed.

Because I lived in Los Angeles, I had ready access to Jazz record labels such as Pacific Jazz and Contemporary, but Blue Note, Riverside and Prestige were much harder to find and therefore prized. This was also the case with Chicago based Jazz labels such as Argo, Veejay and Emarcy.

Luckily, a friend of the family was an AM radio DJ whose program focused on popular music - Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat "King" Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Sammy Davis, Jr. and the various vocal “sisters” and “brothers” groups - so he basically lined up the Jazz LP’s along his living room wall and periodically allowed me to “... pick out what you want; I can’t use this stuff on my program.”

And that’s how I met Chicago-based pianist Eddie Higgins.

He was seated at a grand piano, looking through the open top and staring right at me on the cover of a Vee Jay LP simply entitled Eddie Higgins [Vee Jay SR 3017], so the least I could do was take it home and give it a listen - right?

Recorded in Chicago in 1960, the album featured four tracks by Eddie’s trio with Richard Evans [trio]/Jim Atlas [quintet]on bass and Marshall Thompson on drums, and three tracks on which the trio is joined by Paul Serrano on trumpet and Frank Foster on tenor sax.

As Jon Hendricks of the renown vocal group Lambert Hendricks and Ross states at the end of his liner notes to the LP:

“So, since Eddie Higgins can't get out of Chicago right yet so people can hear and see, the next best thing is that he's got his own LP, and this has been taken care of by Vee-Jay. Hooray!”

Hooray, indeed, because Eddie Higgins [Vee Jay SR 3017] introduced me to an imaginative and interesting pianist whose career I have since followed on record for almost 50 years until Eddie’s passing in 2009.

Eddie was born in Cambridge, MA in 1932, the home of Harvard University but moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern University [in nearby Evanston, IL] because they had “... a better school of music than Harvard’s, which was almost non-existent. I began playing at local clubs to earn some money and one thing led to another and I wound-up leading the resident trio at the London House [famed Jazz club] from 1957-1969.”

Eddie’s style of playing is unpretentious, straight-ahead and always swinging. It is based on a repertoire drawn primarily from the Great American Songbook with a smattering of Jazz Standards and a few originals thrown in to add spice and color to what can only be described as “the perfect set” on each of his recordings.

While listening to Eddie’s latest CD, it’s as though I am visiting him in a Jazz club and he is allowing me to call my favorite tunes for his trio to perform while I sit back a sip a glass of my favorite red plunk.

Eddie improvisations are generally close to the melody, sometimes blues inflected, and generally feature him playing on the full range of the piano.

After growing weary of Chicago’s long, cold winters, Eddie moved to Fort Lauderdale, FL where he co-lead a trio with Ira Sullivan [tenor sax and trumpet] that played at clubs, Jazz festivals in the US, Europe and Japan and on Jazz cruises.

In 1988, Eddie married vocalist Meredith D’Ambrosio and worked frequently as her accompanist. They made a number of recordings together for Sunnyside.

Over the years, Eddie’s fans have been treated to a series of excellent trio recordings on Venus Records produced by Tetsuo Hara and Todd Barkan. Many of these are highlighted in the video tribute that closes this feature.

All of Eddie’s Venus albums are highly recommended both for his consistently outstanding performances and for their unsurpassed sound quality.

Who knew that a chance encounter with Eddie’s first LP on Vee Jay with lead to a half century of listening some of the best piano trio on record?

Jon Hendricks’ way with words is always a joy to encounter whatever the context and here are the original liner notes from Eddie Higgins [Vee Jay SR 3017].

“Ever since first coming to Chicago I've been very favourably impressed by Eddie Higgins and the worthwhile piano he plays. I've mentioned to him several times that perhaps he ought to hit the road; that his appearance before audiences outside Chicago had been too long delayed, but he quickly assured me that he was working seven nights a week - quite often enough, especially when conditions on the road were best described as 'tough'.

Eddie doesn't work seven nights a week on the same gig. Not at all. In fact, he works in so many different places you'd think he'd snap his wig, but he says it's a boll. He'll work two nights as relief pianist with his trio in a jazz house, then two nights in a plush establishment featuring acts with a more 'commercial' name, but the music he plays is always the same.

I remember going to hear Eddie at the London House, a Chicago restaurant featuring fine food and idle chatter, and being so thrilled to hear him play Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream," Benny Golson's "Whisper Not" and "I Remember Clifford", and Gigi Gryce's "Social Call" amid the jingling of silverware and other clatter. And although only our party was listening and applauding, Eddie and the Trio swung right on, like it didn't really matter, which boils right down to the fact that Eddie Higgins is a very soulful cat who knows where it's at; lives there and stays there and constantly plays there!

Eddie's bassist on the Quintet tunes and on "HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?", Jim Atlas, is a mild-mannered, bespectacled chap of quiet demeanour whose execution could hardly be cleaner, who listens intently to what the other instruments are saying, and whose deep respect for Paul Chambers is evident in his playing.

Richard Evans, who joined the trio in between record dates, has worked with Lionel Hampton, Maynard Ferguson and other greats. Richard is a dedicated bassist with great harmonic sense, and when he solos he gives his all, as you can hear from his work on "SATIN DOLL".

Drummer Marshall Thompson is another ex-hoofer who got tired of standin' up dancin' and decided to sit down while dancin', thus joining Jo Jones, Ed Locke, and Buddy Rich, to name some, who were dancers all before they sat down and started dancin' on the drum; so, rhythmically, Marshall's beat is steady because he stays ready.

Joining the trio on "YOU LEAVE ME BREATHLESS", "FOOT'S BAG," and "ZARAC, THE EVIL ONE", are Frank Foster, tenor saxophone, and Paul Serrano, trumpet, and they have a ball before they're done. Frank Foster needs no introduction because of his work with the Basie crew, but Paul Serrano, a Chicagoan, may be new to some of you. Paul is a calm, quiet man who says what he has to say with his horn on the bandstand. He's the kind of musician that the public finally hears then wants to know what he's been doing all these years! The answer is he's been doin' the best he could - playin' good.

The trio tunes, "AB'S BLUES", "FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE", and "SATIN DOLL", and one Quintet side, "YOU LEAVE ME BREATHLESS", are familiar tunes and have been heard, but about one trio side, "BLUES FOR BIG SCOTIA", and two Quintet sides, "FOOT'S BAG" and "ZARAC, THE EVIL ONE", it might be best to say a word.

"BLUES FOR BIG SCOTIA" is on Oscar Peterson original that Eddie heard Oscar, Ray Brown, and Ed Thigpen play. You'd never figure out who "Big Scotia" is, so I'd better tell you that it's Oscar's nickname for Ray's wife.

"FOOT'S BAG" is an Eddie Higgins composition, "Foot" being Eddie's wife. When you know that she is of Greek descent and that the tune is written in modes, common in Greek music, you'll know by the title just what is meant. You might say it is Eddie's musical reference to "Foot's" musical preference.

"ZARAC, THE EVIL ONE" is not a fiend with diabolical power, but the name an ex-drummer of Eddie's gave to the red light gleaming atop the Sheraton tower! That It couldn't be anyone really evil is made very clear, because the tune - composed by Eddie - is very beautiful to the ear, You have my word that "Zarac" is the most beautiful evil cat I ever heard!

So, since Eddie Higgins can't get out of Chicago right yet so people can hear and see, the next best thing Is that he's got his own LP, and this has been taken core of by Vee-Jay. Hooray!”

JON HENDRICKS [of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross)

The following video features the quintet’s version of Eddie’s original, Zarac, The Evil One.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Jeru's Journey by Sanford Josephson - Four Appreciations

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Jazz author Sanford Josephson “stopped by” the editorial offices of JazzProfiles recently and left off four reviews of his recent book Jeru’s Journey: The Life and Music of Gerry Mulligan. It’s a recent volume in the Hal Leonard Jazz Biography Series and you can locate more about the series and order information about the book by visiting the publisher’s website.

“Sandy” Josephson serves on the Board of the New jersey Jazz Society, is a contributing editor to Jersey Jazz Magazine, and serves as a curator of Jazz concerts and as a producer of Jazz festivals. Currently residing in Manchester, New Jersey, Sandy is also the author of Jazz Notes: Interviews Across Generations.

We thought it might be fun to represent these different points of view as part of one feature offering four appreciation of Sandy’s effort on behalf of one of the giants of Jazz in the second half of the 20th century - Gerry Mulligan.

Jersey Jazz Magazine, January 2016


JERU’S JOURNEY: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan
By Sanford Josephson

Hal Leonard Books, Milwaukee
214 Pages, 2015, $19.99

By Joe Lang

When thinking about the true geniuses who have graced the jazz scene, Gerry Mulligan is certainly among them.  In Jeru’s Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan, Sanford Josephson has produced a biography that gives a comprehensive picture of the unique person who was Gerry Mulligan, and does so in an interesting and highly readable way.

Josephson has made extensive use of quotations from the many interviews that he conducted with people who knew and/or were influenced by Mulligan; from Jeru: In the Words of Gerry Mulligan, an oral autobiography compiled with the assistance of Ken Poston, the Director of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute; from Jerome Klinkowitz’s Listen: Gerry Mulligan – An Aural Narrative in Jazz; and from a variety of other cited sources.  He has provided a nicely flowing connective narrative that places these quotations in their proper chronological order and context.   

Mulligan was a multi-faceted talent.  He is regarded as one of the finest and most creative baritone saxophone players in jazz history.  His prowess as an arranger for big bands was evidenced in his contributions of the books for such leaders as Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill, Elliott Lawrence and Stan Kenton, and most memorably for his own Concert Jazz Band.  Going hand in glove with his arranging was his marvelous composing facility, creating some of the most admired and played jazz standards.  He also was an outstanding leader of both small groups and big bands.

Perhaps Mulligan’s most outstanding trait was his role as an innovator.  

* His big band writing was truly original, as he was in the forefront of the transition from the swing tradition to incorporating the emerging sounds of newly developing jazz forms into a big band setting.  

* His significant contributions to the legendary Birth of the Cool, sessions recorded under the ostensible leadership of Miles Davis, were a strong element in the emergence of what was dubbed the cool school of jazz.   

* His decision to form his first pianoless quartet was not planned, but was the result of being booked into a Los Angeles jazz club, the Haig, where there was no piano.  Once he chose to proceed, he quickly embraced the possibilities afforded by the combination of two horns playing contrapuntally, bass and drums.  When he formed his Concert Jazz Band, he again went the pianoless route, and the larger ensemble incorporated much of the feeling of his quartet.  

* His Age of Steam album was perhaps the most successful incorporating of an electronic keyboard and Fender bass into an essentially mainstream jazz context.
Josephson addresses all facets of the professional and personal sides of Mulligan.  He deals frankly with Mulligan’s problems with drug abuse at one stage of his career.  Mulligan’s difficult relationship with Chet Baker is fully explored.  He discusses Mulligan’s romantic involvement with the actress Judy Holliday, and how that relationship led to Mulligan’s appearances in a few films where he showed a natural flair for acting.  During the years that he spent as a member of Dave Brubeck’s group in the late 1960s he was exposed to playing with a symphony orchestra, and that sparked a continuing interest in developing material that he could employ in such a setting.

The quotations chosen by Josephson, especially those from Mulligan’s recorded autobiography, provide interesting perspectives on all facets of Gerry Mulligan, both personally and professionally.  One fact that emerges consistently is the keen intelligence that he possessed.  He was able to, at every stage of his career, understand what musical paths to follow in order to advance his artistry while doing so in a manner that was accessible to his listeners.  This career lasted from his teenage years in the early 1940s when he wrote his first arrangements for a local big band in Philadelphia until November 1995 when he performed on a jazz cruise just months before his death from cancer on January 20, 1996, a period of over fifty years of musical excellence.

Josephson brings all of this together in an appropriate manner, with the last few chapters of the book summarizing his career and influence.  He includes extensive quotes from Mulligan’s peers about his artistry and commitment to the music that was at the center of his life.

With Jeru’s Journey, Josephson has presented a well-rounded depiction of a true jazz giant, one that is hard to put down once your reading commences.

ARSC Journal (Association for Recorded Sound Collections)

Jeru’s Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan. By Sanford Josephson. Milwaukee,
WI: Hal Leonard Books, 2015. 214pp. (softcover). Sources, Discography, Index.
ISBN 978-1-4803-6024-2

Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996) is a towering figure in the history of jazz. In a career lasting
six decades, he has left his mark as an influential baritone saxophonist, composer, arranger, and bandleader. His relevance and importance in jazz history is cemented by his
work with Miles Davis and the Birth of the Cool, his piano-less quartet with trumpeter
Chet Baker, and his Concert Jazz Band, all within the realm of Cool Jazz during the
1950s. However, Mulligan would go on to live until 1996, developing as an arranger and
composer, maintaining a high profile as an active performer, and leaving behind a large
body of excellent work that is obscure and more often ignored. Sanford Josephson’s new
book, Jeru’s Journey, fills in the empty gaps of Mulligan’s career and does an excellent
job at presenting a complete picture of Mulligan’s life and career without emphasizing
any particular period.

Josephson is a journalist who has written extensively about jazz musicians in publications
ranging from the New York Daily News to American Way. In his 2009 book, Jazz
Notes: Interviews Across the Generations, he collects interviews he conducted with a number of leading jazz artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, and Gerry Mulligan. He rounds off this material by speaking with contemporary musicians with connections to these legends. This is the formula followed in Jeru’s Journey (Jeru is Mulligan’s nickname), as Josephson bases his book on material from Mulligan’s recorded autobiography Jeru: In the Words of Gerry Mulligan by Mulligan and Ken Poston, and quotes from Jerome Klinkowitz’s Listen: Gerry Mulligan. Josephson then complements these with more than forty interviews with those who knew Mulligan, who played with him, and who are influenced by him. Finally, he also used material from articles, reviews, and excerpts from different publications, from doctoral dissertations to magazine articles to books. Josephson’s research methods are thorough and this book is essentially a compilation of quotes from and about Mulligan and his work.

Every part of Mulligan’s career is outlined, from his formative years moving around
from town to town to his last years in Darien, Connecticut. He began his career as an arranger and sometimes baritone saxophonist for bands as obscure as Tommy Tucker and
Elliot Lawrence and as legendary as Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill, and Stan Kenton.
He met fellow arranger Gil Evans through his work with Thornhill which led to his involvement with the Birth of the Cool sessions. Josephson points out that Mulligan’s role in the famous nonet is often played down in favor of the presence and contribution of Gil Evans and Miles Davis, despite having arranged half of the material and being the only participant to continue working with the nonet’s music, either recording the material or through the arrangements of in his own Tentette from the early 1950s. Josephson makes a compelling argument for Mulligan’s achievements with numerous quotes of other musicians and critics who think the same.

Mulligan’s work in the 1950s is well documented: the formation of his piano-less
quartet with Chet Baker (later replaced by Bob Brookmeyer then Art Farmer) made
Mulligan a star and his name in the jazz world solidified. In the late 1950s, Mulligan
formed his Concert Jazz Band (which was also piano-less) as “part of a general
movement to do more obvious things with counterpoint.” With arrangements by Bob
Brookmeyer, Al Cohn, Johnny Carisi, and Bill Holman, the band recorded five albums
for Verve and disbanded by 1964. Although it was a short-lived band, its influence and
legacy are still felt, as it set the stage for the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band.
The rise of rock in the 1960s limited work and exposure for jazz musicians and so
Mulligan stopped recording regularly in 1965. His material afterwards is not as famous
and is often obscured in summaries of Gerry Mulligan. He began a brief association
with Dave Brubeck that gave Mulligan a break from leading a band and resulted in one
studio recording and two live recordings. 1971’s The Age of Steam is a radical departure
from Mulligan’s earlier works and a personal turning point. This record features a fifteen-
piece band including electric bass and electric piano and includes Roger Kellaway,
Harry “Sweets” Edison, Chuck Domanico, Bud Shank, and a young Tom Scott. 1980’s
Walk on the Water won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance and features
a rejuvenated Concert Jazz Band with Tom Harrell and Harold Danko among others.

Of particular interest amongst Mulligan’s lesser-known works are his classical compositions and performances with symphony orchestras that constituted a major part of his work in the last twenty years of his life. He was enticed by the idea of combining jazz and classical music through his time with Brubeck. Highlights of this period include a 1977 performance by the CBS Symphony Orchestra with Mulligan as guest soloist on Celebration, a symphonic work by Candian composer Harry Freedman and commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Company in honor of Mulligan’s fiftieth birthday. Later, after a chance meeting with famed conductor Zubin Mehta, Mulligan was invited to perform Ravel’s Bolero with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in May 1982. Afterwards Mulligan began work on an extended symphonic piece, Entente for Saxophone and Orchestra, completed in 1984 with performances in Italy, England, and the US.

In addition to his quartet work, Mulligan would continue to make appearances with
several other classical orchestras including the Stockholm Philharmonic, the Philadelphia
Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Mulligan’s stature as a great jazz composer
who successfully crossed over into classical is well documented here and begs for this music to be heard and performed again. In 1999, three years after Muligan’s death, the Library of Congress opened an exhibition entitled “The Gerry Mulligan Collection,” featuring photographs, manuscripts, scores, and Mulligan’s gold-plated saxophone.

In addition to discussing Mulligan’s life and career, there are also a few chapters
featuring quotes from Mulligan’s sidemen that offer a different perspective of Gerry Mulligan as well as one on Mulligan’s legacy on the baritone saxophone. There is some discussion on Mulligan’s personal relationships, especially with Judy Holliday and Franca Rota, but the focus of the book is on Mulligan’s music.

Jeru’s Journey is an important addition to the history of jazz and especially towards
the scholarship of Gerry Mulligan. The book is a fairly easy read with twenty-one chapters (none longer than fourteen pages), and sixteen pages of pictures that highlight his entire life, including scans of programs featuring his compositions from his late career. While the format does get predictable, many of the interviews give a well-rounded view of Mulligan’s work. It would have been nice to directly read Josephson’s opinion on certain matters, however his reverence and respect for Mulligan’s music comes through clearly. What Josephson has done has been essentially to compile a complete picture of Mulligan’s life and career, and this is what makes Jeru’s Journey an important addition towards representing Mulligan in a broader light. Hopefully other scholars will take notice and acknowledge his other, equally important accomplishments.

Reviewed by Fumi Tomita

New Saxophone Publications
David Dempsey

Sanford Josephson. Jeru’s Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan (Hal
Leonard Jazz Biography Series, $19.99) Recommended for: All musicians
interested in this American musical giant, both for his playing and for his
composing and arranging.

In the pantheon of jazz, Gerry Mulligan represents not one, but two major
voices. He is not only one of the inarguably historic voices on the baritone
saxophone, but he is also a major arranger who wrote for some of the major big
bands and his own recordings, not to mention the game-changing 1949 Birth of
the Cool recording which is often credited only to Gil Evans but also featured
Mulligan’s arranging voice.

Author, producer and interviewer Sanford Josephson is also the writer of
the book Jazz Notes: Interviews Across the Generations, focusing on words from
some of the senior mentors and voices of jazz. In that way, Josephson’s adept
interview style is perfect for the format of this book, which relies heavily on
interview contributions from dozens of the great musicians who knew, worked
and collaborated with Mulligan, as well as extensive secondary quotes from
Mulligan himself. Each of the chapter titles are actually a quote from Mulligan –
evidence of the interview-based motifs.

This book is laid out in classic chronological style, but the extensive
contributions from other musicians, and Josephson’s gift for weaving them in and
out of his own elegant narrative sets this book apart. Mulligan’s many
contributions not only to jazz but to the broader scope of American music are
chronicled, along with his personal life story. A positive element in this area is
Josephson’s discussions of Mulligan’s battles with addiction – stating the facts
plainly, but without any overplaying of these literary scenes. When a biographer
puts music ahead of melodrama, concentrating on their subject’s art instead of
making a sensationalist play for extra book sales, it’s a sign of that writer’s
dedication and integrity.

Some of the highlights of the book include “Out of the Basement and…Into
a Rehearsal Hall,” the account of the aforementioned Birth of the Cool scenario
and recording sessions, conceived by a collective in Gil Evans’ West 55th St.
Manhattan apartment that included Mulligan, Evans, Miles Davis, John Lewis and
others – a remarkable group in many ways, particularly because it brought their
many interracial musical influences to the forefront.
In other chapters, “We Couldn’t Believe How Good the Band Was,” the
description of Mulligan’s 1960 Concert Jazz Band that almost bubbles with joy,
with band member bassist Bill Crow’s description of the amazing nightly interplay
with the virtuosic Clark Terry that turned every Mulligan arrangement into a
small-group adventure, with open-ended blowing sections and improvised
accompaniments. Mulligan’s years with Dave Brubeck are also described in
detail, with Mulligan’s interplay with bandleader Brubeck and the always witty
Paul Desmond. The Desmond partnership resulted in an under-recognized
masterpiece of an album, Two of a Mind with just the two saxophonists, bass and

As the book progresses into later years, increasing numbers of Mulligan’s
sidemen are interviewed in detail, including many who have gone on (not unlike
the sidemen of Mulligan’s associate Miles Davis) to become
major jazz figures themselves. Pianists Bill Charlap, Harold Danko and Bill
Mays, bassists Ron Carter, Bill Crow and Brubeck alumnus Jack Six, and
drummers Rich DeRosa and Ron Vincent all make vivid contributions. All of
these fellow musicians not only paint a clear picture of Mulligan as a person and
musician, but also of what it was like to be on the road, traveling and performing
on a nightly basis with someone of Mulligan’s demanding personality. Crow’s
and Charlap’s are particularly are particularly well-spoken and fascinating.

One of the final chapters is all Mulligan’s. In “Kings of the Baritone Sax,”
Gerry describes a number of the great musicians who he knew, including “the
king,” baritonist Harry Carney (Mulligan says Duke Ellington always introduced
him as ‘the world’s second greatest baritone saxophonist,’ a title he took
proudly), Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie and
Charlie Parker (he credits Bird’s encouragement of his playing as a great early
motivator), Woody Herman, Antonio Carlos Jobim and composer Alec Wilder.

The book concludes with a Mulligan discography, and an impressive list of
interviews that gives insight into the depth of this book. This book, and
Josephson’s obvious hard work and deep passion, are all deserved by someone
of Mulligan’s depth and importance.

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The New York City Jazz Record, October 2016
Jeru’s Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan
Sanford Josephson (Hal Leonard)
by Ken Dryden
Gerry Mulligan’s career spanned over five decades, yet it is only now, a decade after his death, that a serious biography of the master has appeared. What Sanford Josephson manages to accomplish in a mere 180 pages is remarkable, creating a detailed portrait of the perennial poll-winning baritone saxophonist, noteworthy bandleader, composer and arranger, who also added something special to every band of which he was a part.
Josephson skillfully blends excerpts from Mulligan’s oral autobiography Jeru: In the Words of Gerry Mulligan and the video documentary Listen: Gerry Mulligan, along with the author’s own interviews with the artist and musicians who either played with or were influenced by him. If that isn’t enough, Josephson does a masterful job incorporating excerpts of reviews, articles and liner notes into his text, creating a fast-paced yet thorough history of Mulligan’s many contributions.
While Josephson explores some of the rocky points in Mulligan’s personal life, he does so without descending into tabloid territory. Mulligan changed the role of the baritone saxophone, making it a viable, melodic solo voice, ignoring the supposed limits of its lower range. Recognized for his ability to create memorable impromptu arrangements, Mulligan was also a living jazz historian, blending as well with musicians of earlier styles as those of his generation. Those who have not yet investigated his vast discography will gain a greater appreciation for his work from Josephson’s analysis of his recordings. Josephson also recognizes Mulligan’s compulsion to add background harmonies behind others’ solos to flesh out a song while his gift of creating impromptu counterpoint with Dave Brubeck, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer and others. While most of the focus is correctly on the saxophonist’s work as a leader, Mulligan was very proud of his recordings with Brubeck, with whom he served as a “special guest” for several years.
Josephson’s biography of Gerry Mulligan sets a high standard for all jazz journalists.