Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Criss-Crossing With Kenny Washington

Steven Cerra [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

If Kenny Washington had played in the 1950s - modern Jazz's heyday - he would be legendary today. It’s that simple. He’s that good a drummer.

For the better part of the last ten years, Kenny has perhaps been best known as the ultimate “New York” trio drummer. During this period, he has appeared in the Gotham City based Jazz piano trios of Kenny Barron, Walter Bishop, Jr., George Cables, Bill Charlap, Tommy Flanagan, Benny Green, John Hicks, Mike LeDonne, Mulgrew Miller and Richard Wyands.

Not a bad pedigree in and of itself.

Yet, there is more. Outside of the trio context, there have also been long associations with vocalist Betty Carter, Johnny Griffin, Milt Jackson, and Don Sickler [in terms of both Dameronia and the two Super Blues on Blue Note]. And shorter associations with Sonny Stitt, Clark Terry and Phil Woods. But you get the point and further name-dropping isn’t necessary to establish the fact that Kenny Washington is one of the premier drummers of our time, if not, of all time.

In order to better understand the exceptional qualities that Kenny Washington offers as a drummer, let’s concentrate on [1] what I think makes his playing so distinctive and [2] his recording career on Criss Cross Records because this discography is available in its entirety through most CD outlets and because I think his output on Criss Cross, in many ways, represents Kenny’s best collective oeuvre if it can be said of drummers that they have a “body of work.” These 44 Criss Cross recordings will provide a focus and a great laboratory in which to examine his playing. You can find a detailed listing of Kenny’s Criss Cross recordings here:

As to the first focal point of this feature, while Kenny very much plays in a manner similar to that of Philly Joe Jones, it would be a mistake to think of him simply as a clone. He does things on drums that Philly didn’t do and has found ways to take this fiery and intense manner of drumming to new levels of complexity without sacrificing in any way the music or doing a disservice to the other musicians with whom he plays.

What makes Kenny so distinctive is the sound that he gets on drums and the two major elements that combine to make Kenny’s such a singular sound can be seen in the following photo:

Kenny’s right-hand or ride cymbal is a huge, original 22” K-Zildjian drilled for rivets that provides a perfect “clicking” sound to accent the cymbal beat as well as harmonic overtones to keep the cymbal’s sound from becoming overbearing and dominating the group.

Art Blakey, Jimmy Cobb and Louis Hayes as well as many of the drummers on the classic Blue Note recordings of the 1950s and early 1960s such as Billy Higgins and Al Harewood made a living riding on a 22” riveted K-Zildjian.

The other significant quality that I think sets his drumming apart from others and helps provide Kenny’s drumming with such an idiosyncratic sound is the 8” deep snare drum, which can also be seen in this photo. This snare drum is somewhat unusual in modern drumming circles, and its depth helps to produce either crisp, snappy accents or resonating, powerful blasts depending on where and how it is struck.

Kenny uses two tom toms: a bass drum mounted 8” x 12” tom [not shown above] which he tunes fairly “high” and which offers an excellent contrast to the deep snare drum and the 14” x 14” floor tom. This smaller tom also serves to produce a timbales-like sound when he strikes it on the taut portion near the rim on Latin Jazz tunes.

The pair of 14” hit-hat cymbals that he employs cut through very audibly on two-and-four and help emphasizes and magnify the initial stroke on his ride cymbal beat. His other main cymbal is mounted on a stand to the left of his snare and hi-hat. It is not drilled for rivets and is used alternately as a crash cymbal and, when he’s not playing brushes, as an accompaniment behind piano solos as the lack of the rivets produce a clearer sound and overtones that diminish more quickly.

You can get a full look at Kenny’s kit from the top-down view displayed below:

However, let’s not make the mistake of believing that this is a situation where – not to mix metaphors- “the drums make the drummer.” None of the best stuff in the world makes another drummer the equal of Kenny Washington. Kenny’s “chops” and conception are the key ingredients that make all this fit together.

What ears this guy has and he never, ever plays anything that doesn’t belong in or with the music. His concentration is bar-by-bar; nothing is mailed in or just thrown in for effect. He is listening all the time and adding figures and textures to enhance or color the music, the group and/or the soloist. Kenny approaches every bar of every track with undiminished vitality.

He’s right on top of “Ones” – the beginning of the next refrain or chorus – and what he plays in the background rarely interferes with what is going on in the foreground. Complete control and command of the instrument results in impeccable taste.

Kenny is a student of Jazz and is extremely knowledgeable about its recorded history. This background allows him to draw on a wide variety of percussion effects. He has listened to and absorbed those who have come before him and his knowledge of Jazz’s history becomes a resource that enables him to contribute to the rhythmic presence of whatever musical setting he’s playing in.

Gene Lees commented:

“Benny Golson warned me about Kenny Washington before I met him. ‘Unless you are prepared to listen for three hours, don’t ask him anything about jazz history, especially drums. He’ll start probably with Baby Dodds and take you on to Tony Williams and beyond.’ Benny was right. I asked a question or two, and found that Kenny – aside from being a highly admired drummer in the bebop tradition – is a formidable scholar of the music’s history.” Jazz Lives: 100 Portraits in Jazz, p. 186.

Turning to the second focus on Kenny drumming, the broad scope of Kenny’s Jazz background and knowledge can be heard on the forty-four [44] albums he made to date for Criss Cross Records, the Dutch label owned by producer Gerry Teekens. Interestingly, of the 44, nine of them are one-off’s or single appearances backing Criss Cross artists and there are also nine multiple CD appearances. We will offer selections from both categories to help us talk more about Kenny’s drumming and to provide some examples of it.

Since the Criss Cross label, for the most part, highlights new and relatively young players on the Jazz scene, the many recordings Kenny has done with Johnny Griffin, Milt Jackson, George Coleman and Cedar Walton, among other Jazz notables, are not included with this label.

A closer look at Kenny’s ‘body of work’ serves the dual purpose of revealing more about Kenny’s superb drumming while at the same time helping to bring to light Criss Cross’ stable of “new” Jazz faces.

Because not everyone is familiar with “drum-speak,” relevant quotations from the “Give and Take” chapter in Paul F. Berliner, Thinking in Jazz: the Infinite Art of Improvisation [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994] will be used to help emphasize particular aspects of Kenny’s considerable technique and style as reflected in these recordings. I will indicate these citations by noting the page number/s at the end of the quotation.

Beginning what is now a twenty-three year association, Kenny’s first appearance with Criss Cross was on January 2, 1985 when he recorded at van Gelder Studios with the Hod O’Brien Quintet on Opalessence CD [1012]. And what a quintet! Tom Harrell [trumpet/flugelhorn] and Pepper Adams [baritone sax] form the front line with Hod [piano], Ray Drummond [b] and Kenny making up the rhythm section.
Each of the “horns” contributes hard-bop original to the date, but the outstanding cut is the group’s version of Clifford Brown’s The Blues Walk. In addition to constantly propelling the soloists forward on this track, its conclusion finds Kenny trading a series of beautifully crafted 12 bar exchanges with the soloists, which are as musical as anything offered by the horns on this tune.

On this recording and throughout his playing in general, Kenny seems to achieve what drummer Akira Tana offers in the following as a drummer “ideal:”

“The goal is to mesh your sound with all the other instruments and to create a balanced group sound. I don’t just mean this in terms of volume. I’m talking about balancing the figures you play with all the things that you hear coming from other instruments. As a drummer, I’m listening to the rhythm section in relation to what the soloist is doing. I’m still learning how to hear the whole group and all the individual instruments in relationship to my own.” [p.362]
A year later in April, 1986, Kenny appeared with Michael Weiss, with whom he had been playing as part of tenor saxophonist Junior Cook’s group, on Michael’s only Criss Cross recording – Presenting Michael Weiss [1022].

Joining them on this CD are Tom Kirkpatrick on trumpet [who almost eerily evokes a tone reminiscent of Kenny Dorham], Ralph Lalama on tenor saxophone and Ray Drummond on bass.

On Après Vous, a Weiss original based on the changes to After You’ve Gone, after laying down a nice Latin beat with strong accents on the ride cymbal bell, Kenny does a marvelous job of establishing a groove that is strongly in support of the other player’s solos before trading eights and taking a magnificent 32-bar chorus himself using the last three bars to return to the Latin beat that gently guides the band back into the top of the arrangement for a closing theme.

Here’s what Charli Persip and Lou Donaldson have to say about the shared sense of the beat, or ‘striking a groove,’ something that Kenny is always brilliantly adept at doing:

“… the groove provides the basis for everything to come together…. ‘When you get into that groove,' Charli Persip explains, ‘ you ride right on down that groove with no strain and no pain – you can’t lay back or go forward. That’s why they call it a groove. It’s where the beat is and we’re always trying to find that.’ The notion is shared. ‘I don’t care what kind of style a group plays as long as they settle into a groove where the rhythm keeps building instead of changing around,’ Lou Donaldson asserts. … 'After a while, it’s there, it’s tight.’” [349]

There are also examples of Kenny's brilliant brush work on J.J. Johnson’s Enigma and Joe Zawinul’s all-too-infrequently-heard Riverbed - the two trio takes on the recording that also serve to provide early examples of why Kenny would be so widely sought after as a trio drummer.

The first of the multiple artist recordings for Kenny began with Mike Le Donne’s ‘Bout Time [1033] on which he brings the band to excellence in performance with his blisteringly pulsating drumming on Hank Jones’ Minor Contention. Thanks to Kenny, this thing it out-of-the-gate like a shot. And what a band it is with Tom Harrell once again in fine form on trumpet, Gary Smulyan on baritone [whose playing would put a big smile on Pepper Adams’s face]. The contrast for this cooker is made all the more greater by the fact that the album opens the with Boo’s Blues, a medium tempo blues original by LeDonne.

Kenny’s performance on Minor Contention is a sterling example of hard bop drumming at it’s best as he unrelentingly pushes the soloists forward. His playing throughout this CD is made still more persuasive by the thudding sound he gets from his bass drum adding even heavier punctuations to his kicks and fills.

Kenny’s solos are integrated into this track by having the horns play an ascending six note riff over the first four bars of each “A” chorus with Kenny following to complete the 8-bar phrase while continuing through the bridge after the second “A” of this 32-bar tune.

As was the case with the Michael Weiss CD, Mike LeDonne performs a number of trio selections on his first Criss Cross date, one of which, the slow tempo Kelly’s Gait offers an intricate and very musical full chorus in which Kenny takes the first sixteen bars in tempo, double times the bridge and then returns to the original tempo for the last eight.

Dennis Irwin is the bassist on this recording and together he and Kenny achieve a critical, precise coordination upon which a strong groove is especially dependent [see figure 13.1 below from Berliner, p.350.]

As bassist, Chuck Israels explains:

"When I listen to the drummer and the bass player together, I like to hear wedding bells. You play every beat in complete rhythmic unity with the drummer, thousands upon thousands of notes together, night after night after night. If it’s working, it brings you very close. It’s a kind of emotional empathy that you develop very quickly. The relationship is very intimate.” [p. 350].

Kenny would go on to appear on three additional Mike LeDonne Criss Cross CDs, but we will reserve further comment on these until an upcoming feature on Mike.

Next up for Kenny would be Introducing John Swana [1045], another masterful stroke by Criss Cross’ owner/producer, Gerry Teekens, to have Kenny anchor the debut album of this young trumpeter from Philadelphia. Since the release of this album in 1990, Kenny has made 5 Criss Cross CD’s with John, including two that John co-led with New York trumpeter Joe Magnarelli [Philly-New York Junction[1150 and 1246].
Joining John on his Criss Cross maiden voyage are Billy Pierce on tenor saxophone, pianist Benny Green and bassist, Peter Washington. Despite the common last name, there is no familial relationship between the Kenny and Peter. However, in terms of the number of recordings they made together on all labels from 1988-2008, Peter has become, hands down, Kenny’s “bassist of choice.”

On this recording Kenny’s use of sticks on the Swana original - Gert’s Lounge is an excellent example of the following observation by Chuck Israels [one, which perhaps bassist Peter Washington would also agree with]:

“The drummer has such a percussive sound because the beat is carried on the ride cymbal: a wood or Teflon drum stick hitting that metal cymbal makes such a definite sound when it articulates the beginning of each beat. As a bass player, you add your somewhat less defined and fatter bass sound to fill up the space in between those cymbal beats. It feels good when you fall right in between those cymbal beats. If you feel like your sound is leaking out the front or back of them, you feel a whole lot less comfortable.” [p. 351]

Kenny’s flawless use of brushes behind Swana’s Harmon-muted solos on Three Little Words leads to trading 8’s and 4’s with John and then a chorus for drums before he picks up sticks and helps the tune explode out of the Harmon-mute-brushes mode behind Billy Pierce’s fiery solo. Kenny’s sensitive drumming gives this straightforward well-known ditty a complexity of rhythms and textures that make it sound anything but commonplace.

Feelin’ and Dealin’ [1046] was to be the first of five albums that Kenny made with tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama [with whom he played on many occasions while substituting on the Monday Village Vanguard Orchestra during Mel Lewis’ prolonged illness]. We will focus our remarks about Kenny’s playing with Ralph on Momentum [1063] the second CD he made with Ralph along with Kenny Barron on piano and Dennis Irwin on drums [also from the Village Vanguard Orchestra]. As one would imagine, Ralph is partial tunes written by tenor saxophonists and the album features three: [1] The Rainbow People by Dexter Gordon; [2]The Break Through by Hank Mobley [3] Kids Now by Sonny Rollins. Kenny’s playing is mature and restrained throughout and as Ira Gitler points out about The Break Through in his insert notes: “It’s a blues with some altered changes leading back into the next chorus. The ‘fours’ between Lalama and Washington [that occur immediately following the statement of the very up tempo theme] further heighten the urgency of the theme statement.”
Additionally, this 1992 abounds with examples of the interplay between piano and drummer that Kenny Barron describes as follows:

“When you [and the drummer] just lock up and play rhythmic things together that are not planned … it sounds like you actually rehearsed it all, and it makes a rhythm section sound cohesive. One small example might be to anticipate the ‘and’ of a phrase together with a drummer. Many drummers anticipate the first beat of a measure by playing two eight notes, accenting the ‘and of four’ and the ‘and of one’ of the next measure. When I do those kinds of things together with drummers, many are surprised and go, “Oh, yeah?’ But I can only do that because I listen to drummers so much. The figures we play together are most likely to occur at the end of phrases, like four or eight-bar phrases. That helps to define the form of the tune." [p.356].

Kenny had a five record association with baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan on Criss Cross and I must admit to being very partial to the second in the series that they made together – Homage [1068]. All of the music on this album was composed by baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams and the recording stands as a magnificent tribute to Pepper, Gary’s instrumental inspiration.

Working with Gary and Kenny are Tommy Flanagan [in whose trio Kenny played for much of the 1980s] on piano and Ray Drummond on bass. As Gary Carner writes in his insert notes to this CD:

“Listen to the way Washington punches accents in ‘Twelfth and Pingree,’ behind Smulyan’s and Flanagan’s solos, while sustaining the groove. Or to the way he builds excitement in ‘Muezzin’ and ‘Trentino.’ And observe, in ‘Bossallegro,’ how Washington locks into Flanagan’s descending sequential figure in the third chorus of the piano solo. Here’s a drummer who listens closely, who accompanies (in the truest sense of the word), who responds to rhythmic and melodic motives that soloists build, while they are building them.”To my ears, in many ways the most interesting multiple series of recordings that Kenny has done on Criss Cross with any artist are those on which he performs with Hammond B-3 Organist – Melvin Rhyne.

Of these, six have Kenny with Mel in either a trio, quartet, or quintet format and two feature The Melvin Rhyne Trio with “The Tenor Triangle” – Eric Alexander, Ralph Lalama and Tad Shull. For our purposes, we’ll discuss more about Kenny Washington drumming by selecting a Criss Cross CD from each of these categories.

In case you are not familiar with Mel, he achieved almost legendary status on the Hammond B-3 for a series of small group recordings that he made with the late guitarist Wes Montgomery for the Riverside label in the early 1960s: West Montgomery Trio, Boss Guitar, Portrait of Wes and Guitar on the Go.Indeed, Criss Cross owner-producer Gerry Teekens held Mel’s work on these albums in such high esteem that he simply labels his first recoding for the label – Melvin Rhyne: The Legend [1059]. Lora Rosner’s had this to say about the Montgomery-Rhyne Riverside collaborations:

“Wes and Rhyne both played with great imagination and a certain disregard for convention; they also shared great respect from one another. Wes loved his ‘piano player’s touch.’ … [Having grown-up together in Indianapolis] from 1959-64, Rhyne played and toured with the guitarist except when Wes had the chance to work with his brothers as part of the Mastersounds.”As a point in passing, I should mention that the guitar chair on all of the Rhyne Criss Cross CD’s is most capably handled by Peter Bernstein, a very accomplished player on the New York Jazz scene, as well as, himself a Criss Cross recording artist who will be a future subject of a Jazzprofiles feature.

Another significant aspect of Kenny’s playing on all the Rhyne recordings is that he has to keep everything together without the aid of a string bass player as Rhyne plays the bass lines with his feet on the organ’s pedals. For a lesser drummer, the lack of a string bass to fall back on could prove daunting in the extreme, but Kenny just seems to take it all in stride and doesn’t alter or compromise his style of playing to accommodate this absence. Mel’s organ pedaled bass lines do make their presence felt, but in a way that’s more understated.

Along with a Melvin Rhyne trio made up of Mel, Peter and Kenny, Stick to the Kick [1137] offers the added bonus of brilliant trumpet playing by Ryan Kisor and the sparkling tenor work of Eric Alexander.
Whether it’s on the bouncy, boppin’ title tune, the boogaloo and Latin-inflected J. Robin, the slow back beats of the bluesy Captain McDuff – both Rhyne originals – or the blisteringly fast tempo version of Bud Powell’s Wail – Kenny is everywhere and nowhere. His drumming on this album is a perfect reflection of what drummer Leroy Williams posits in the following statement:

“You can never know in advance of the situation what you will do at the time. Maybe the soloist will play a phrase, and you will feel like grabbing the phrase and taking it someplace else, doing something else with it. What makes creativity is playing half of this and half of that, interjecting your own thing into it. Or you might let the soloist’s phrase go by completely because it would seem too obvious to play it. The unexpected is as cool as the expected, at times. Like Dizzy said: ‘It’s not always what you play that’s important. It’s what you don’t play.’ Silences can be just as important.” [p. 370].

From the opening bars of Wayne Shorter’s Tell It Like It Is, the listener knows that this album subtitled, The Tenor Triangle & The Melvin Rhyne Trio [1089], is going to bring forth a delightful cornucopia of “tenor madness.”

Bret Primack explains in his insert notes:

“Teaming three tenors, a first for Criss Cross, was the brainstorm of producer Gerry Teekens and Kenny Washington, who in addition to his drumming duties, is a serious aficionado and historian (…). ‘The interesting thing about this date,’ Washington recalls, ‘is that all three tenor players are unique stylists. That’s what made those dates from the fifties like ‘Very Saxy’ so successful. Buddy Tate, Hawk and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis played completely differently. And so do Tad, Ralph and Eric. They play as different as night and day.”

Primack goes on to offer some specific comments from Kenny about playing in an organ trio format:

“First of all, playing with Melvin is a great experience. He’s the easiest of all the organists to play with, because his time is so strong and solid that you can’t miss. But when you play with an organ, for a drummer, it’s different. There’s a certain thing you have to dig into, you have to hook up with his feet. So you play less, you groove more, you have to play a little heavier, especially down in the bottom of the bass drum.
I learned from cats like Idris Muhammed, Grady Tate, Donald Bailey and Billy James, who were masters of playing with organists.

…you really have to know something about the organ tradition. Growing up, that’s one of the things I really listened to, people like Jimmy Smith and Melvin Rhyne with Wes Montgomery. It’s really a different way of playing. You can’t play all of the super cute BEBOP stuff. It does not work. You have to lay in there and play a strong groove. Grits and gravy.”

How can you not love a drummer like this? One who goes to school and can also take you to school.

Taken as a body of work, there is no more representative or comprehensive review of Kenny’s skills and talents as a drummer than what he puts on display on the Melvin Rhyne Criss Cross recordings. We are talkin’ Desert Island stuff, here.

If you want to hear one of the great Jazz drummers of this or any era, listen to Kenny Washington on any of his Criss Cross CD's. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Philly Jazz – John Swana

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

It’s a such a shame.

Today’s Jazz players are constantly being compared to the Giants of Jazz of halcyon days gone by.

Bull puckey!

These guys can play … period.

If there’s any doubt about the veracity of this claim, skip the rest of the text, scroll down to the embedded YouTube and listen to six [6] minutes of the finest recorded Jazz that you are ever likely to hear anywhere at anytime.

Now that “we’ve” cleared that up ….

This piece was originally written for a friend to help him follow along with what was happening in the music.  Discovering it again, the editorial staff  thought that it might make an interesting audio-video feature for JazzProfiles.

The tune is Philly Jazz.  It was written by trumpeter John Swana who, as you would imagine, hails from Philadelphia, and it appears on his On Target Criss Cross CD [1241].  Joining with him on the album are Dutch guitarist Jesse van Ruller, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Eric Harland.

After reading a brief introduction about how the tune is structured, just follow the timings listed under each musician’s name while playing the video, open your ears and you’ll hear it all fall into place. You can always pause or re-set the video if you lose your place or wish to hear something again.

Philly Jazz is a typical 32-bar tune that is formed around four [4], eight [8]-bar sections.

This song structure is often referred to as “A-A-B-A.”

[Please note that the timings slide into one another and as such are not precise. They are approximations of when something described in the music or solos is beginning and/or ending. But these approximations should get you close enough to follow along with the descriptions of what is going on in the music.]

This first “A” = 8 bars or measures of the theme or melody [0-7 seconds of the video]

The second “A” = 8 bars or measures of the theme or melody repeated [8-14 seconds].

“B” = 8 bars or measures of an alternate melody sometimes called the release or the bridge [15-20 seconds]

The third “A” = 8 bars of the theme or melody restated [21-27 seconds].

Philly Jazz’s entire 32-bar A-A-B-A configuration is thus heard in the first 27 seconds of the video.

The melody and the related chords for the A-A-B-A song structure then become the basis upon which subsequent improvisations are developed; in this case by Swana, then by van Ruller and lastly by Harland: first in conjunction with Swana and van Ruller and then he solos alone. Patitucci does not solo on Philly Jazz.

To put it another way, the musicians repeat the 32 bar A-A-B-A sequence, each time making up and super-imposing new melodies on the tune’s chord progressions.

Every time a musician completes a 32-bar improvisation, this is referred to as a “chorus.”

On Philly Jazz, Swana takes 5 choruses [from 28 seconds to 2:38 minutes], van Ruller takes 3 choruses [from 2:39 to 3:54] and Harland takes 4 choruses, sharing the first two with Swana and van Ruller [from 3:55 – 5:38, en toto].

Following these solos, the tune’s A-A-B-A pattern is repeated at 5:39 [A], 5:44 [A], 5:51 [B] and 5:58 [A], thus closing the track.

We thought it might be fun to post a listing of the timings for the tune and the improvised choruses to help you better hear what’s going in the music.

To make things a little less confusing, the first two “A’s” or 16 bars of each chorus have been combined.

So John Swana’s first chorus’ A/A = 28-39 seconds, its B = 40-45 and its last 8 = 46-53 seconds.

At this point, you may wish to “Play” the YouTube and follow along with the timings noted below it.  And please don’t be concerned about missing the video’s images while you are checking the track timings as you can always go back and watch it again later once your ear is trained!

Philly Jazz
0–7 = “A” first 8 bars of the theme/melody 8–14 = “A” theme/melody repeated for 8 bars 15-20 = “B” bars of the bridge 21-27 = “A” theme/melody restated for 8 bars

John Swana [trumpet]
First Chorus 28-39 = A/A 40-45 = B 46-53 = A
Second Chorus 54 – 1:06 = A/A 1:07 – 1:12 = B 1:13 – 1:19 = A
Third Chorus 1:20 – 1:32 = A/A 1:33 – 1:38 = B 1:39 – 1:45 = A
Fourth Chorus 1:46 – 1:58 = A/A 1:59 – 2:05 = B 2:06 – 2:11 = A
Fifth Chorus 2:12 – 2:24 = A/A 2:25 – 2:30 = B 2:31 – 2:38 = A

Jesse van Ruller [guitar]
First Chorus 2:39 – 2:50 = A/A 2:51 – 2:57 = B 2:58 – 3:03 = A
Second Chorus 3:04 – 3:16 = A/A 3:17 – 3:22 = B 3:23 – 3:29 = A
Third Chorus 3:30 – 3:41 = A/A 3:42 – 3:47 = B 3:48 – 3:54 = A

Eric Harland [drums]
First Chorus 3:55 – 4:07 = A/A 4:08 – 4:13 = B [improvised by John Swana]
4:14 – 4:20 = A
Second Chorus 4:21 – 4:32 = A/A 4:33 – 4:39 = B [improvised by Jesse van Ruller]
4:40 – 4:45 = A
Third Chorus 4:46 – 4:58 = A/A 4:59 – 5:05 = B  5:06 – 5:11 = A
Fourth Chorus 5:12 – 5:24 = A/A 5:25 – 5:31 = B  5:32 – 5:38 = A

Restatement of the theme and song closing:
5:39 – 5:43 = “A” first 8 bars of the theme/melody
5:44 – 5:50 = “A” theme/melody repeated for 8 bars
5:51 – 5:57 = “B” 8 bars of the bridge
5:58 – 6:12  = “A” theme/melody restated for 8 bars

And there you have Philly Jazz, by way of a bassist born in Brooklyn, NY, a drummer from Houston, TX and a guitarist from Amsterdam.

At least trumpeter John Swana, it’s composer, is a native Philadelphian!

Jazz … the universal language, indeed.

Monday, November 20, 2017

"Wish Me Well" - The Music of Gary McFarland by the Mark Masters Ensemble

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

“Gary McFarland was unknown at twenty-eight when he turned up at a 1961 rehearsal [of Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band] with two pieces, "Weep" and "Chuggin'," profoundly influenced by Ellington and Strayhorn.

When he died tragically ten years later, his reputation had been sullied by several com­mercial projects. But the McFarland that Mulligan sent on his way was an impressive writer (he soon fulfilled his promise with The Jazz Version of How To Succeed in Business, Point of Departure, and The October Suite), with an ear for melody and the ability to layer rhythms in the wind sections.

Like Bob Brookmeyer and Thad Jones, McFarland extended El­lington's harmonic density, employing what the arranger and educator Rayburn Wright called "grinds"—major and minor seconds woven into the voicings.”
- Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz [p.362-363]

“This recording is a culmination of something that started almost thirty years ago when Roger Rickson put into my hands Gary McFarland's Skye LP Today (1970), that led to my hearing everything else McFarland had written, including his brilliant album conceived for pianist Steve Kuhn The October Suite (1966).

A gifted arranger, wonderful tunesmith and musical chameleon, McFarland was a person who put his stamp of individuality on everything he touched. Had he lived longer and continued to grow musically, he would be held in the same high esteem today as Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Holman, and Gil Evans. The immediacy of his writing and the poignant nature of his songs, many of them tinged with more than a bit of melancholy, is undeniable.

The American Jazz Institute is pleased to present this project, the first of its kind, built around Gary McFarland's music. Our endeavor was to use McFarland's music as a springboard for these wonderful musicians to sing their own songs. This recording is dedicated to a great teacher and friend, Jack Montrose, who passed away in 2005.
—Mark Masters, Musical Director of the American Jazz Institute

What do Granchan Moncur III, Dewey Redman, Lee Konitz, Clifford Brown, Steely Dan, Jimmy Knepper, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, and the Duke Ellington saxophone section have in common?

Give up?

The music of each of these artists has been the focus of a reinterpretation by composer-arranger Mark Master who also heads up an organization called The American Jazz Institute.

Each musician’s compositional oeuvre becomes the object of a year-long arranging “project” for Mark who often puts on concerts of the reinterpreted music featuring musicians who have evolved, over the years, into ongoing members of the Mark Masters Ensemble.

After the musicians have had a chance to rehearse the music associated with these projects and perform it in concert, Mark then takes the ensemble into the recording studio to save the music for posterity. Some of it is issued on a self-produced basis, but more recently, many have been issued on Capri Records and you can locate copies of these AJI CDs via online vendors or order them through the AJI website.

Kristian St. Clair’s informative and well-written insert notes provide the following encompassing overview of the Masters McFarland Project.
“All but forgotten, Gary McFarland has long been relegated by jazz history to footnote status, usually only mentioned for his break-out work as an arranger/composer for Gerry  Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band  in the early Sixties. The conventional wisdom goes something like this: Brilliant self-taught arranger composer showed great promise but squandered his talents on easy listening projects in the late sixties and died young. As is often the case with conventional wisdom, it is wrong, and anyone who has cared to dig a little deeper into McFarland's oeuvre will know this to be so.

One of these people is Los Angeles-based arranger and composer Mark Masters. Masters likes to tell the story of how an early mentor turned him on to McFarland's 1970 LP Today. That particular album was dismissed by many who should have known better as one of those "easy listening" projects. Those who have heard this particular album have been moved and inspired by McFarland's spare arrangements for flute, cello, trombone and his own vibraphone and vocals. For Masters, it was obviously an intimidating task to arrange an arranger's compositions, but Masters has succeeded with aplomb, quietly paying homage to McFarland's unique style and underscoring the pieces on this record with his own unique style.

This current album had its origins in a concert of Gary McFarland's music Mark Masters staged in early 2002 which featured Gary Smulyan as the guest soloist. That concert was a success and Masters resolved to make an album of his arrangements, augmented by some new ones specially crafted for this album. For anyone already familiar with McFarland's music, this album will be a treat, as it includes three never-before-recorded compositions, two of which were written for but never recorded by Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band. If you're new to McFarland, this album will be a great introduction. Either way, this album is a joyful revisitation of McFarland's abundant musical talents. McFarland died in 1971 at the age of 38, so there won't be any "new" McFarland albums on the horizon. This one is the next best thing.

Tree Tops, the album opener, is one of the three never-before-recorded    McFarland tunes, which is given a great treatment by Mark Masters with a light and loping vamp in the background that gives way to great solo work by trumpeter Tim Hagans, pianist Steve Kuhn, and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. The piece is no doubt an ode to McFarland's rural upbringing in Grant's Pass Oregon during the late forties and early fifties. Next up is Monk's Sphere, another unrecorded piece, originally written and performed during McFarland's stay at the Lennox School of Music in 1959. His classmates then included Steve Kuhn, Ornette Coleman, Margo Guryan, and Don Ellis. The faculty included Bill Evans, John Lewis, and Max Roach. On this one, dig the bluesy trombone solo by Dave Woodley.

Weep, Chuggin' and Kitch were tunes all written for and performed by the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band and helped cement McFarland's reputation in early sixties New York City. Weep and Chuggin' both hark back to one of McFarland's primary influences. Duke Ellington, and were his Verve Records debut on the Mulligan LP A Concert in Jazz. Masters' reworking of Weep features outstanding solo work from studio-vet Gary Foster who has recorded with everyone from Milt Jackson to Bob Dylan. Kitch was never recorded by the Mulligan band and is given its recording debut here with top-notch results from all involved. Tree Patterns is a composition that originally appeared on the criminally neglected Gary McFarland/ Bill Evans collaboration that appeared in 1963 after the pianist had signed with Verve. The original arrangement was for string quartet augmented by a few reeds and Bill Evans' delicate solos. Here, Masters fleshes it out in a more muscular big-band version that is propelled forward by great solo work from Tim Hagans on trumpet, Gary Smulyan and bassist Darek Oles.

Summer Day was originally recorded during McFarland's one semester stay at Berklee School of Music in Boston, before he made the move to New York. I Love to Say Her Name was written for Gary's wife Gail and originally appeared on McFarland's Point of Departure album for Impulse in 1964. It is a joyous and buoyant composition that Masters turns into a great showcase for baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. Why are You Blue? is an evergreen composition that has been recorded by the likes of Bob Brookmeyer, The Modern Jazz Quartet and Johnny Hodges. There is a great story of McFarland writing out charts for the Hodges recording session. The band did one run through of the arrangements the way McFarland had written them and then afterwards Hodges turned to the band and said, "Now forget about the arrangement." It was a great early lesson on in-studio spontaneity that McFarland carried with him through his mid-sixties bossa-jazz projects Soft Samba and The In Sound.

Of special mention on this album are the tunes Gary's Waltz and Wish Me Well, both showcases for pianist Steve Kuhn, a jazz legend in his own right. This album is a bit of a homecoming for Kuhn, who had a close personal friendship with McFarland since they first met at Lennox in 1959. Together, they briefly played on a Stan Getz tour in the early sixties, appeared in a TV special with Getz in 1963, and recorded the now-classic collaboration October Suite in late 1966. McFarland's last released recording project before his untimely death was Steve Kuhn's self-titled Buddah Records debut released in 1972.         

Gary's Waltz was originally recorded by Bill Evans in the late seventies as a tribute to his lost friend. It is a beautiful longing melody that shows off McFarland's profoundly melancholy side. Kuhn starts things off magnificently and Masters gradually enters the proceedings with a few voicing that are reminiscent of, dare I say it, Brian Wilson. As Kuhn's piano builds to a crescendo, the big band comes roaring in for the finish. For anyone familiar with Evans' many recordings of this piece, this new version will be a welcome reinvention.

Wish Me Well closes out the album. It is a wistful and fond farewell,  performed  to  perfection, by Steve Kuhn in a trio setting featuring Bill Evans alumnus Joe La Barbera on drums and Darek Oles on bass. McFarland was always a melodist first and an arranger second and that is very much evident when listening to this haunting piece. It lingers in the mind long after the recording has ended.

Gary McFarland is long gone and all but forgotten, but as long as there are musicians around like Mark Masters, profoundly affected and influenced by the brilliant canon of work McFarland left behind, there is hope that more people will discover the joy, the sadness, and life affirming gift of Gary McFarland and his music.”
—Kristian St. Clair