Monday, May 29, 2017

Sarah Vaughan - The Divine One by Gunther Schuller

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

This overwhelming tribute to Sarah Vaughan preceded a Vaughan concert at the Smithsonian Museum in 1980. Not surprisingly,Gunther Schuller — certainly the jazz authority most deeply rooted in classical music — places Vaughan in the entire context of twentieth-century singing.

Perhaps what is surprising is that he finds her superior to every great opera singer of this period, but he makes every effort to substantiate his claims, not merely assert them.

These remarks are drawn from Mr. Schuller's collection entitled Musings and they appear in Robert Gottlieb, editor, Readings in Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now [New York: Pantheon Books, 1996, pp. 986-991].


“What I am about to do really can't be done at all, and that is to do justice to Sarah Vaughan in words. Her art is so remarkable, so unique that it, sui generis, is self-fulfilling and speaks best on its own musical artistic terms. It is—like the work of no other singer—self-justifying and needs neither my nor anyone else's defense or approval.

To say what I am about to say in her very presence seems to me even more preposterous, and I will certainly have to watch my superlatives, as it will be an enormous temptation to trot them all out tonight. And yet, despite these disclaimers, I nonetheless plunge ahead toward this awesome task, like a moth drawn to the flame, because I want to participate in this particular long overdue celebration of a great American singer and share with you, if my meager verbal abilities do not fail me, the admiration I have for this remarkable artist and the wonders and mysteries of her music.

No rational person will often find him or herself in a situation of being able to say that something or somebody is the best. One quickly learns in life that in a richly competitive world—particularly one as subject to subjective evaluation as the world of the arts—it is dangerous, even stupid, to say that something is without equal and, of course, having said it, one is almost always immediately challenged. Any evaluation — except perhaps in certain sciences where facts are truly incontrovertible — any evaluation is bound to be relative rather than absolute, is bound to be conditioned by taste, by social and educational backgrounds, by a host of formative and conditioning factors. And yet, although I know all that, I still am tempted to say and will now dare to say that Sarah Vaughan is quite simply the greatest vocal artist of our century.

Perhaps I should qualify that by saying the most creative vocal artist of our time. I think that will get us much closer to the heart of the matter, for Sarah Vaughan is above all that rare rarity: a jazz singer. And by that I mean to emphasize that she does not merely render a song beautifully, as it may have been composed and notated by someone else—essentially a re-creative act—but rather that Sarah Vaughan is a composing singer, a singing composer, if you will, an improvising singer, one who never—at least in the last twenty-five years or so—has sung a song the same way twice: as I said a creative singer, a jazz singer.

And by using the term jazz I don't wish to get us entrapped in some narrow definition of a certain kind of music and a term which many musicians, from Duke Ellington on down, have considered confining, and even denigrating. I use the word "jazz" as a handy and still widely used convenient descriptive label; but clearly Sarah Vaughan's singing and her mastery go way beyond the confines of jazz.

And if I emphasize the creativity, the composer aspect of her singing, it is to single out that rare ability, given, sadly, to so few singers, including, of course, all those in the field of classical music. It is my way of answering the shocked response among some of you a few moments ago when I called Sarah Vaughan the greatest singer of our time. For it is one thing to have a beautiful voice; it is another thing to be a great musician—often, alas, a truly remote thing amongst classical singers; it is still another thing, however, to be a great musician with a beautiful and technically perfect voice, who also can compose and create extemporaneously.

We say of a true jazz singer that they improvise. But let me assure you that Sarah Vaughan's improvisations are not mere embellishments or ornaments or tinkering with the tune; they are compositions in their own right or at least re-compositions of someone else's material—in the same manner and at the same level that Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker and other great jazz masters have been creative.
You can imagine that I do not say these things lightly, and that I do not make so bold as to make these claims without some prior thought and reason. For I am, as many of you know, someone who played for fifteen years in the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, loved every minute of it, and during those years heard a goodly share of great singing—from Melchior to Bjorling and DiStefano, from Flagstad to Sayao to Albanese and Callas, from Pinza to Siepi and Warren. Before that, as a youngster, I thrilled to the recordings of Caruso, Rethberg, Ponselle, Muzio, Easton, and Lawrence. So I think I know a little about that side of the singing art. And yet with all my profound love for those artists and the great music they made, I have never found anyone with the kind of total command of all aspects of their craft and art that Sarah Vaughan has.

I do not wish to engage in polemical discussion here. Nor am I Sarah Vaughan's press agent. I would claim, however — along with Barbara Tuchman — that though my judgment may be subjective, the condition I describe is not. What is that condition? Quite simply a perfect instrument attached to a musician of superb musical instincts, capable of communicating profoundly human expressions and expressing them in wholly original terms.

First the voice. When we say in classical music that someone has a ‘perfect voice’ we usually mean that they have been perfectly trained and that they use their voice seemingly effortlessly, that they sing in tune, produce not merely a pure and pleasing quality, but are able to realize through the proper use of their vocal organs the essence and totality of their natural voice. All that can easily be said of Sarah Vaughan, leaving aside for the moment whether she considers herself to have a trained voice or not. As far as I know, she did study piano and organ, but not voice, at least not in the formal sense. And that may have been a good thing. We have a saying in classical music—alas, painfully true—that given the fact that there are tens of thousands of bad voice teachers, the definition of a great singer is one who managed not to be ruined by his or her training. It is better, of course, to be spared the taking of those risks.

There is something that Sarah Vaughan does with her voice which is quite rare and virtually unheard of in classical singing. She can color and change her voice at will to produce timbres and sonorities that go beyond anything known in traditional singing and traditional vocal pedagogy. (I will play, in a while, a recorded excerpt that will show these and other qualities and give you the aural experience rather than my—as I said earlier—inadequate verbal description.)

Sarah Vaughan also has an extraordinary range, not I hasten to add used as a gimmick to astound the public (as is the case with so many of those singers you are likely to hear on the Tonight Show], but totally at the service of her imagination and creativity. Sarah's voice cannot only by virtue of its range cover four types of voices—baritone, alto, mezzo soprano, and soprano, but she can color the timbre of her voice to emphasize these qualities. She has in addition a complete command of the effect we call falsetto, and indeed can on a single note turn her voice from full quality to falsetto (or, as it's also called, head tone) with a degree of control that I only heard one classical singer ever exhibit, and that was the tenor Giuseppe DiStefano—but in his case only during a few of his short-lived prime years.

Another thing almost no classical singers can do and something at which Sarah Vaughan excels is the controlled use of vibrato. The best classical singers develop a vibrato, of a certain speed and character, which is nurtured as an essential part of their voice, indeed their trademark with the public, and which they apply to all music whether it's a Mozart or Verdi opera or a Schubert song. Sarah Vaughan, on the other hand, has a complete range, a veritable arsenal of vibratos, ranging from none to a rich throbbing, almost at times excessive one, all varying as to speed and vibrato and size and intensity—at will. (Again, my recorded example will demonstrate some truly startling instances of this.)

Mind you, what Sarah Vaughan does with the controlled use of vibrato and timbre was once—a long time ago—the sine qua non of the vocal art. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries vibrato, for example, was not something automatically used, imposed, as it were, on your voice. On the contrary, it was a special effect, a kind of embellishment—an important one—which you used in varying degrees or did not use, solely for various expressive purposes and to heighten the drama of your vocal expressivity. It is an art, a technique which disappeared in the nineteenth century and is all but a lost art today, certainly amongst classical singers, who look at you in shocked amazement if you dare to suggest that they might vary their vibrato or timbre. They truly believe they have one voice, when potentially—they don't realize it—they could (should) have several or many.

Here again, I think Sarah learned her lessons not from a voice teacher, but from the great jazz musicians that preceded her. For among great jazz instrumentalists the vibrato is not something sort of slapped onto the tone to make it sing, but rather a compositional, a structural, an expressive element elevated to a very high place in the hierarchy of musical tools which they employ.

Another remarkable thing about Sarah Vaughan's voice is that it seems ageless; it is to this day perfectly preserved. That, my friends, is a sign—the only sure sign—that she uses her voice absolutely correctly, and will be able to sing for many years more—a characteristic we can find, by the way, among many popular or jazz singers who were not formally voice-trained. Think of Helen Humes, Alberta Hunter,* [ *Alberta Hunter sang remarkably well until her death in 1984], Helen Forrest, Chippie Wallace, Tony Bennett, and Joe Williams.

So much for the voice itself. Her musicianship is on a par with her voice and, as I suggested earlier, inseparable from it. That is, of course, the ideal condition for an improvising singer—indeed a prerequisite. For you cannot improvise, compose extemporaneously, if you don't have your instrument under full control; and by the same token, regardless of the beauty of your voice, you have to have creative imagination to be a great jazz or improvising singer. Sarah's creative imagination is exuberant. I have worked with Sarah Vaughan, I have accompanied her, and can vouch for the fact that she never repeats herself or sings a song the same way twice. Whether she is using what we call a paraphrase improvisation—an enhancement of the melody where the melody is still recognizable—or whether she uses the harmonic changes as the basis of the song to improvise totally new melodies or gestures, Sarah Vaughan is always totally inventive. It is a restless compulsion to create, to reshape, to search. For her a song—even a mediocre one—is merely a point of departure from which she proceeds to invent, a skeleton which she proceeds to flesh out.

There are other singers—not many—who also improvise and invent, but I dare say none with the degree of originality that Sarah commands. She will come up with the damndest musical ideas, unexpected and unpredictable leaps, twisting words and melodies into new and startling shapes, finding the unusual pitch or nuance or color to make a phrase uniquely her own. When one accompanies her one has to be solid as a rock, because she is so free in her flights of invention that she could throw you if you don't watch out. She'll shift a beat around on you, teasing and toying with a rhythm like a cat with a mouse, and if you're not secure and wary, she'll pull you right under. She is at her best and her freest when her accompaniment is firmly anchored.

Perhaps Sarah Vaughan's originality of inventiveness is her greatest attribute, certainly the most startling and unpredictable. But unlike certain kinds of unpredictability—which may be merely bizarre—Sarah's seems immediately, even on first hearing, inevitable. No matter how unusual and how far she may stretch the melody and harmony from its original base, in retrospect one senses what she has just done as having a sense of inevitability—"Of course, it had to go that way, why didn't I think of that?" I go further: in respect to her originality of musical invention I would say it is not only superior to that of any other singer, but I cannot think of any active jazz instrumentalist—today—who can match her.

If it is true, as has often been stated through the centuries, that one way of defining high art is by the characteristic of combining the expected with the unexpected, of finding the unpredictable within the predictable, then Sarah Vaughan's singing consistently embodies that ideal.

Lastly, I must speak of the quality of Sarah's expressiveness, the humanism, if you will, of her art. Sarah has a couple of nicknames, as some of you know. The earliest one was Sassy. Next, around the early 1950s, she came to be called "the Divine Sarah," and more recently simply "the Divine One." Now that's a lovely thing to say about anyone, and I would not argue about Sarah's musical divinity, except in one somewhat semantic respect. What I love so in her singing is its humanness, its realness of expression, its integrity. It is nice to call her singing divine, but it's more accurate to call it human. Under all the brilliance of technique and invention, there is a human spirit, a touching soul, and a gutsy integrity that moves us as listeners.

How does one measure an artist's success? By how much audience they attract? By how much money they make? By how many records they sell? Or by how deeply they move a sophisticated or cultured audience? Or by how enduringly their art will survive? Sarah has been called the musicians' singer—both a wonderful compliment and a delimiting stigmatization. What seems to be true for the moment is that her art, like Duke Ellington's, is too subtle, too sophisticated to make it in the big—really big—mass pop market. God knows, Sarah—or her managers—have tried to break into that field. But she never can make it or will make it, like some mediocre punk rock star might, because she's too good. She can't resist being inventive; she can't compromise her art; she must search for the new, the untried; she must take the risks.

And she will be—and is already—remembered for that for a long time. To some like me—I've been listening to her since she was the very young, new girl singer with the Billy Eckstine Band in the mid-1950s—she is already a legend. I invite you now to listen to the promised excerpt—only one example of her art—a stunning example indeed, taken from a 1973 concert in Tokyo, during which Sarah Vaughan sang and recomposed "My Funny Valentine." Listen!!

(record played)

It is now my privilege to exit gracefully and to invite you to listen to the one and only Sarah Lois Vaughan!”

I choose I different for the audio track to the following video tribute to Sarah as I have always been particularly fond of her interpretation of You’ve Changed.

But while the tune may be distinct, I’m certain that after listening to Sassy on this track, you will agree that all of what Gunther says about her in his introduction still applies.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A "Voyage" with Stan Getz

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

With so much of the late, great tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s recorded music available, it is understandable that his 1986 recording Voyage on the Blackhawk Records label [BKH 51101-1-D] has gone largely unrecognized.

But while this oversight is comprehensible, it is unacceptable, at least from my perspective, as I consider it to be one of the best recordings that Stan ever made.

Mercifully, it is still available both as a CD and on vinyl so if you haven’t added it to your Getz collection, you should give serious consideration to doing so.

A subsidiary of Aspen Records based in San Francisco, CA, Blackhawk Records issued a number of superb recordings by Phil Woods, Jessica Williams, Kenny Barron, the Elvin Jones - McCoy Tyner Quintet, Steve Kuhn the Gil Evans Orchestra, Sonny Stitt with the Hank Jones Trio, Roland Hanna, Hal Galper, Eddie Gomez, John Scofield, Chico Freeman, Maynard Ferguson, Shelia Jordan, Jimmy Knepper, Dizzy Gillespie and The Mitchell-Ruff Duo and Abdullah Ibrahim before doing the typical here-today-gone-tomorrow small Jazz recording company fade at the end of the decade of the 1980s.

Voyage is largely an outgrowth of the time that Stan and his then quartet consisting of pianist Kenny Barron, bassist George Mraz and drummer Victor Lewis spent as part of the Artist in Residence Program at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Ca [about 30 miles south of San Francisco, CA].

The recording was made at the Music Annex Recording Studio in nearby Menlo Park, CA and features Stan and the band in peak performance after playing the six tunes that comprise the LP on an almost regular basis throughout the period of the Stanford Jazz Program residency.

The distinguished Jazz author and scholar, Dr. Herb Wong had an ownership position in Blackhawk and wrote the following insert notes which explain the significance of Voyage at this point in Stan’s career as well as its place in the Getz discography.

“A  gap of four long years has separated Stan Getz last quartet recording and this latest voyage. As one of the first magnitude stars of the pantheon of jazz. Stan carries special significance to every one of his performances, regardless of the context. The quartet, however, is admittedly his favorite environment. Logically, a new Getz quartet recording promptly generates eventful interest.

It has quickly stimulated vigorous applause from those who have had the opportunity to preview it. After recording on literally several hundred albums, reams of copy and a trail of awards, you'd think he might have reached a complacent comfort zone.

Au contraire. Stan persists in his dynamic process of improvised inventiveness, shaping the bed of creativity through his enchantingly lyrical and virile personal sound and style. It's a style on the tenor saxophone that spurs and triggers a listener's imagination to roam and to discover aural images.

Apprehension of how original ideas pop up at a given moment from the unconscious is difficult to explain. Stan's genius is perceivable as a pathway to truth and ecstatic beauty. Noted psychoanalyst Rollo May in his scholarly discourse on the nature of creativity, insists that ecstasy is the intensity of consciousness that occurs in the creative act... involving the total person. "It brings intellectual, volitional, and emotional functions into play all together." Under Dr. May's framework. Stan Getz' music, in my opinion, expresses a union of form and passion with order and vitality.

Recently I asked pianist Kenny Barron about the specialness he experienced in playing with Stan, and Kenny was quick to say. "His attitude is open to growth. Stan welcomes ideas of younger players, including new tunes." And. indeed, there is fresh literature on this album—the opener. "I Wanted to Say" is contributed by drummer Victor Lewis and there is an infectious pair by Kenny—"Dreams" and the title selection. "Voyage." Pianist Victor Feldman. who has played with Stan on a number of stints through the years, composed the lovely "Falling in Love." a perfect vehicle for the warm romanticism of Stan and his group.

Balancing original pieces are the 1939 evergreen ballad penned by Jimmy Van Heusen. "I Thought About You." and the Jerome Kern diamond. "Yesterdays." recut by Stan with some surprises that just sparkle. (Dig how Kenny Barren picks up on Stan's solo!  It's like an orchestrated thing, and it just happened at the moment; Kenny plays the Milt Buckner-inspired block chords, and they are a beautiful fit I was. as well as everyone else, knocked out by the unexpected gem.)

Speaking admirably about Kenny, bassist George Mraz and Victor Lewis, Stan asserts that "they are the kind of musicians who almost sound as if they are classically trained because everything they touch is correct. Even though they have the drive of a jazz band, they have the touch of pure classicists.

"The band is like a classical string quartet. If I had another horn, it would get in my way and it would almost be like playing arrangements. In a quartet, I'm able to phrase differently every night. I'm up there and I can freely do whatever I wish to do. And a quartet is small enough for everyone to solo; I like to hear everyone in the band solo. It's essentially a classical-jazz approach to music."

In reality, the band on this album is Stan's working band. It's plain they fit into his paradigm of empathic values. All three rhythm section mates play what's needed for each individual tune, giving to the whole. "Kenny, for instance, plays every piece, wanting to give Kenny Barron to the piece, and not make the piece Kenny Barron." notes Stan. "Like George and Victor, too. he's ego-less like the Taoist philosophy of removing all self."

Not incidentally, this quartet has been the official band Stan has been leading during his current Artist-in-Residency at Stanford University-a position from which he has been deriving much pleasure, having invested much time and expertise into the experience.

Besides concertizing on campus, he works with the university big band, a cluster of jazz combos, plus other facets of the jazz education curriculum. Residing in nearby Menlo Park, moments from Stanford's campus. Stan finds this peripheral enjoyment a part of the total positive perspective of his living. He is a veritable super folk hero on campus and in the community. As the director of the Stanford jazz ensemble, Joseph Bowen, says: "When Stan walks into class, the students are in awel"

Stan speaks through the eloquence of his horn to illustrate theoretical aspects, always with the fluid, emotional heat he brings. "My area of the curriculum is feelings. When I was asked about my reaction regarding modes in a jazz theory class. I said: 'I don't care much for modes. It's not the mode that counts, it's the mood!" Man, that is succinctness

Here. then, are four brilliant magician/musicians sharing their spiritual and organic soulfulness. delivering their messages. Personally I have had a lifetime love affair with Stan's music and emotional art. and so have countless others

One of these generalized others is Aiko Suzuki of Toronto whose striking art piece adorns the album cover. Her fan letter to Stan includes associative responses illustrating the influence of his music:

"Your artistry is compelling for so many reasons, at many levels... intense serenity ... from out of ancient lonely primeval caves to dazzlingly positive humanism ... rich and at times minimalist —hence spiritual and emotional dynamism ... you dignify our carnal spirit. . no rhetoric, clear, clean ... crystalline ... elegantly romantic and sensuous."

The music on "Voyage" will stick in your memories. It should enjoy an unlimited life span.”

—Dr. Herb Wong
You can check out the title track on the following video:

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Madeline Eastman - "The Dolphin Lady"

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

“‘The definition of a jazz singer is a singer who sings jazz,’ said Mark Murphy with tongue-in-cheek, although, actually, he's a definitive jazz singer himself.

He scats with bravado. He improvises melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, and with the lyrics. He writes vocalese lyrics to jazz instrumentals and also writes his own songs. He can break hearts on a ballad, plumb the deepest blues, bossa like a Brazilian, or wing harder and hipper than just about anyone. [Emphasis Mine]

‘A lot of singers attempt to sing jazz, use aspects of jazz in their arrangements, but without really getting into the whole thing,’  …

‘l think the test is The Jazz Singer Test.  You take a singer and three musicians and you put them in a room, or a pub like I used to do in London. I had this trio. The piano player couldn't read. The bass player couldn't read. The drummer read, but it didn't matter. I gave them a list of tunes. We never rehearsed. We just got up. I gave them the keys, and I counted off, and it happened. Because we were all Jazz musicians. I think that's the test. If a singer can get up and cut that, he's really doing it."
- Mark Murphy as told to DJ Michael Bourne

“In this world of ordinary singers, of overrated singers, I’m glad there is Madeline.”
- Leonard Feather, Jazz author, scholar and critic

Michael G. Nastos in his artist biography about Madeline Eastman for all about jazz asserts: “

“In her career as a jazz singer, Madeline Eastman has remained close to home while establishing a worldwide presence without recording for a major label, instead releasing a series of independently produced, critically acclaimed recordings.”

Remarkable in itself, what makes this statement border on the incredulous is that “close to home” is the greater San Francisco Bay Area, which in recent years has not exactly been known as a hotbed of Jazz.

But for those of us who have ready access to the SF bay area, catching Madeline in performance in either a club or a concert venue is one of Life’s great Jazz experiences for nothing compares to the vocal renderings of Mad [an explicable nickname that comes about by shortening her first name; you are gonna have to wait for an explanation of “The Dolphin Lady” until you read the Mark Murphy insert notes to her Point of Departure CD that close this piece].

I mean, where else can you hear vocalese lyrics to tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge, or vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's Little B’s Poem - both of which she wrote [!]- or a scat chorus sung in unison with Phil Woods on Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance, or a heart-stopping rendition of the ballad theme to the movie Baghdad Cafe?

Perhaps Madeline’s greatest gift to us goes beyond her interpretative skills as a vocalist and points directly to the quality of her voice which is magnificent in and of itself. Madeline’s voice is the ultimate “point of departure.”

Madeline’s voice is pure and it is powerful and I for one have to take it in small doses because it simply overpowers my emotions.

By way of background, Mad was born June 27, 1954, in San Francisco, CA, where she grew up listening to pop tunes on the radio, including those sung by Barbra Streisand, Jack Jones, Vic Damone, and Eydie Gorme, among others. In her senior year of high school, she viewed the film Lady Sings the Blues and discovered Billie Holiday, then enrolled in college music classes at San Francisco State University, and also attended various local jam sessions during her academic years.

Finding her calling as a “legitimate” jazz singer through early voice coach Charles Richards, Eastman made her recording debut with the Full Faith & Credit Big Band; began collaborating with Palo Alto-based trumpeter Tom Harrell; and over the years worked with internationally known veterans like Phil Woods, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Mike Wofford, the Turtle Island String Quartet, Tony Williams, Rufus Reid, Matt Wilson, and vocal mentor Mark Murphy. Barron and Eastman teamed up for a recording project with the legendary 50-member Amsterdam-based Netherlands Metropole Orchestra.

In 1990, Eastman and Kitty Margolis co-founded their Mad-Kat record label, through which they were able to make their own music with no commercial or artistic constraints. She has also been a member of the administrative staff for the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

Aside from performing, she has conducted many clinics, is director of the Stanford Jazz Workshop, is artistic director of Jazzcamp West, conducts mobile touring Monterey Jazz Festival programs, and does her own Voice Shop retreats.  She now serves as Department Chair of Jazz Vocal Studies at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, CA.

A pivotal recording, influential for her in terms of composition, arrangements, and phrasings, was Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro. After hearing it, Eastman's approach to time, dynamics, and pitch changed her into a jazz vocalist more interested in taking chances than in toeing conventional standard lines. Her debut recording, Point of Departure from 1990, was followed by Mad About Madeline! in 1991, Art Attack in 1994, and the 2001 CD Bare, which concentrated on ballads. While broadening her repertoire, Eastman added Brazilian and soul/R&B tunes along the way for the 2003 effort Speed of Life, featuring Reid, Akira Tana, pianist Randy Porter, percussionist Michael Spiro, and trumpeter Mike Olmos. All of her recordings are available through her website:

Along the way, Eastman has picked up awards from Down Beat magazine critics in their annual Talent Deserving Wider Recognition poll, and has twice been named one of the top female jazz vocalists.

She has toured worldwide, from Japan, Finland, Sweden, Germany, and Scotland to New York City nightclubs and festivals close to her West Coast home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Eastman has also become a prominent lyricist, writing her own song lines to several modern jazz classics, and has arranged more than a fair share of her repertoire.

As promised. here’s Mark Murphy’s insert notes to Mad’s Point of Departure CD.

“Just a few years ago I was doing my three or four hips at the local "Y" pool here in San Francisco. This particular afternoon my snail's pace kept being interrupted by a lithe, fishlike lady slipping past me like a dolphin. I stopped after the sixteenth splash and took a pause. Who pops up out of the chlorine from another lane in the pool but the great drummer Vince Lateano. of jazz and latin fame. We shout "Hey..." and begin the rebop that is inevitable between musicians anywhere: what's doing and where etc… Suddenly the dolphin lady surfaces dripping and grinning to join us. It's Mad! I mean Madeline Eastman, the swimmer. She and Vince know one another 'real well,' and the rebop gets louder among us.

So, you might ask, what's doing with Mad? Madeline Eastman has just recently given me one of the best, most stylish and cool album-tapes of contemporary vocal jazz.  I hear them all and this is the best in a long time. The dolphin lady certainly does more than swim...she sings.

Wherever I perform, I'm constantly given tapes from songwriters and jazz singers, all over the world, really. I love singers. Jazz singers and all their problems especially. I know them all. (You should have heard my concert in Sydney of the Australian Vocal Jazz Summit a few years ago. Wow.) But, we're talking Madeline Eastman here.

I first heard Mad on my long gig at Jim and Mary Lou Quinlavin's The Dock - in Marin County's stylish Tiburon [north across the Golden Gate Bridge]. Even then Mad was cool, as she belted out Four all the way through, and she lets you do some of the work, making you listen. Now, of course, with that swimmer's bod and her stylish clothes that remind you what a looker she might be distracted from her vocal artistry. But not for long.

Cool, but intense is our Mad. She means it. She did not compromise, and this radiant tape is the result.

Like I say, for years singers have given me tapes, and Madeline Eastman's is just about the freshest, coolest, most interesting of them all.

You'll pick your own favorites of course, but dig the bittersweet heartbreak of "No More" — all those bop lines she sings with such ease. She even makes sense of the silly English lyrics to two gorgeous Ivan Lins songs. And then the brilliant You Are My Sunshine. I could go on.

Special, SPECIAL applause for the charts by Paul Potyen! Hey Paul!...All right! And she's got some good company in trumpeter Tommy Harrell, pianist Mike Wofford and bassist Rufus Reid. Remember the other swimmer? Vince Lateano? Playing here, too. But as for you Madeline Eastman, did it right!”

— Mark Murphy

Friday, May 26, 2017

"Standards in Silhouettes" - the Kenton-Mathieu Alliance

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

“... the sound of Kenton is the battle cry of a squadron of stratosphere-scraping trumpeters blowing with such fury that athletic cups must have been far more necessary than cup mutes; the grunt of a platoon of trombones exploring a hundred new degrees between low and very low; the soaring and searing sax stars, especially his succession of alto giants, who defined themselves by their own particular "take" on Charlie Parker (just as dozens of Woody Herman "Four Brothers" tenor stars defined themselves by their angles in relation to Lester Young); the killer drummers, who responded to the accusations of over-intellectualism by pounding with enough primitive force to knead all the pizza dough in Brooklyn - and parts of Staten Island.”
- Will Friedwald, Jazz author and critic

“Kenton recalled that : "Bill Mathieu was a young guy when I first met him. When he was only 16 years old he had written a first arrangement that he showed me. I was very impressed with his talents, and later on we brought him into the band as a writer. He was also in the trumpet section for a little while, but he didn't really play well enough, and it didn't work out. Bill had a very difficult time writing rhythm music ; he wrote a few swing things to pace STANDARDS IN SILHOUETTE, but they weren't very good, so I finally said : 'Bill, let's not worry about that, let's make it entirely a mood album.'"
- Michael Sparke, Peter Venudor, Stan Kenton: The Studio Sessions

Returning to the episodic favorite recordings theme, there are many albums by the Stan Kenton Orchestra that fit into this category especially those like Contemporary Concepts and Back to Balboa with Mel Lewis on drums.

But other favorites by the band such as Cuban Fire, New Concepts, and Innovations feature the band’s orchestral prowess rather than its swinging pulse and along these lines,  Standards in Silhouette sort of fits into this category but with a heavy element of “mood music” underscoring the texture of the arrangements by Bill Mathieu.

Stan’s was always an arranger’s band and writers like Rugolo, Russo, Holman, Mulligan, Graettinger, Roland, Paich, Niehaus, Barton, Levy, Hanna and many others walked in and out of the orchestra each contributing to the Kenton oeuvre along the way.

Bill Mathieu’s short time with the band produced primarily nine tracks that have been combined to make up one album and which have been variously described as “scholarly orchestrations” and “elegant structures” in the reviews that greeted  Standards in Silhouette which was recorded on September 21 and 22, 1959 in the ballroom of Riverside Plaza Hotel in New York City.

By way of background, here is how this landmark LP came about as described in the following excerpts from Stan Kenton - This Is An Orchestra! By Michael Sparke, [pp. 156-159].

“Also taped by the Stan Kenton Orchestra at the Tropicana/Las Vegas in 1959 was the first-recorded arrangement by newcomer Bill Mathieu of "This Is Always." Mathieu differed in many ways from your average jazzman: a well-educated, highly literate, intellectually minded philosopher, he would soon produce one of the most enduringly efficacious albums in the Kenton oeuvre. …

Stan was paying Bill Mathieu $60 plus bed and board, but Bill was finding it hard to meet his own aspirations. He longed to write rhythmic music and join the arranging elite of Mulligan and Holman, but nothing seemed to come out quite right, and rather than try to fix the faults, Stan preferred to simply junk the charts altogether. An exception was the Latin "What Is This Thing Called Love," heard on Tantara's Revelations, a good arrangement, but a genre already well exploited by Johnny Richards and others.

Jim Amlotte explained why Bill's early pieces didn't make it: "Stan made up his mind about a piece of music very fast. One take, one play-through, and that was it." Bill's breakthrough came when Mathieu found his own voice in San Francisco, though not in the swing style he had been aiming for. Recomposition [disguising standard melodies with an arranger’s own additional themes] was certainly not new to the Kenton band.

Graettinger had practiced the art in 1948, Russo (Mathieu's friend and mentor) in 1953, and Holman in 1955. But Bill discovered an entirely new approach to recomposing standard ballads at the same time as he discovered San Francisco: "Separated from the band and on my own in an enchanted city, an innate joy broke the surface like a gulping fish. Music poured through. I wrote an arrangement of 'The Thrill Is Gone' that I knew was good." Kenton too knew a good score when he heard one. "That's a beautiful thing, Bill," he said. "What's next?"

Mathieu remained behind in Chicago after an engagement at the Blue Note to continue his writing. "Willow Weep for Me" and "Lazy Afternoon" joined the growing number of arrangements, and one afternoon in the well of the band bus Stan casually remarked, "Bill, why don't you start thinking in terms of a record of your music?" At just 22 years old, Mathieu would be Kenton's youngest arranger to have an album of his own charts.

With such an incentive, Bill's inspiration took wings. During a two-week stay at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, the band rehearsed "I Get Along without You Very Well," "Django," "Lonely Woman," and "Ill Wind": "Stan is genuinely pleased. Everyone has a seaside glow. The band is swinging. Charged layers of cymbals and brass sift through the ocean air. Success is easy!" These were the halcyon days, before realization set in. By August the material was complete. ...

Standards in Silhouette was a triumph, different from anything else the band had ever played, yet uniquely Kenton in sound and style. The album rates alongside Cuban Fire, New Concepts, and Innovations as one of Stan's indispensable, all-time, great orchestral achievements. Mathieu has reconstructed these popular melodies with intricate care and detail. He extracts fragments from the songs and weaves these themes with his own motifs, using both sections and soloists, often in counterpoint. Short fill-ins by individual instruments (as well as featured soloists) are used as an integral part of the structural jigsaw. Especially exciting is the way the brass crescendos arise unpredictably, and often end unexpectedly, allowing a more peaceful but always appropriate statement to emerge from the melee. And the momentum is sustained without a lull over nine songs of concert duration, affording a consistency, a unity of style, that gives the music its own identity, so that it resembles a Suite.

Many elements fitted together to make Silhouette so perfect. Mathieu's charts are of course the foundation, but the music could not have come together the way it did without Stan's experience and expertise, and the orchestra's understanding of Bill's intentions. Every credit is due the principal soloists, who loved this music to a man. "Absolutely gorgeous," said Bill Trujillo. And Archie LeCoque (outstanding on my own favorite: "I Get Along without You Very Well") confirms: "I think my solos on Standards in Silhouette were the best work I did with Kenton. Bill Mathieu wrote such beautiful charts you didn't really have to stretch out too much, you just stuck close to the melody and the arrangements took care of everything else." And Bill himself adds: "I was very happy with all the soloists, but particularly Charlie [Mariano]. His playing, especially on 'Django,' provided the spark and the jazz authenticity that the album needed."

The above excerpts are a re-working in book form of the following insert notes that Michael wrote for Standards in Silhouettes - Stan Kenton: The Kenton Touch in A Warm Blue Mood Capitol Jazz CD CDP 7243 4 94503 2 5], and while some of the language may be the same as that used in the book, these notes also contain additional information.

“From the time he was 14 years old, Bill Mathieu knew he was going to write for Stan Kenton, a leader whose music he idolized with a fervor few ordinary fans could envisage. It wasn't an easy path to Kenton's door, and there were many setbacks along the way, but Bill Russo proved an effective teacher, with invaluable advice based on his own experiences of the Kenton psyche. It says much of Math ie us persistence that in January 1959, at 21 years of age and still something of an idealist, Bill Mathieu entered the real world as staff arranger for the Kenton band.

None of his first arrangements caught the Kenton imagination, until the time Bill discovered San Francisco. "Separated from the band and on my own in an enchanted city, an innate joy broke the surface like a gulping fish. Music poured through. J wrote an arrangement of "The Thrill Is Gone" that I knew was good. We rehearsed it one afternoon in Chicago, and Stan's ears perked up. "That's a beautiful thing, Bill," he said. "What's next?"

Mathleu's talent had enabled him to come up with the near-impossible, an original and especially beautiful slant on writing concert arrangements of popular ballads, that made them sound fresh and different. Kenton was genuinely impressed and eager for more, and as "Willow Weep For Me," "Lazy Afternoon" and others entered the book, suggested to Bill he should start thinking in terms of his own album—at just 22, the youngest Kenton arranger ever to be so honored.

Mathieu's special skill lay in almost recomposing standard melodies with his own additional themes, an art aspired to by many writers, but rarely accomplished with the flair and ingenuity that Mathieu achieves. Bill explained to me how he approached the task: "The trick is to locate the aspects of the original song that give you special pleasure, or that seem especially rewarding, and keep reworking them until a hybrid appears that is your own concept, but nevertheless allows your car to keep track of the source material. The 'aspects' might be a melodic phrase, a couple of chords, a characteristic rhythm, or even something in the lyrics, like the suppressed bitterness in "The Thrill Is Gone," the loss in "Willow Weep For Me," or the lethargy in "Lazy Afternoon." These are clues, and you run and spiral with them until your own ideas are braided with those of the composer and lyricist. Then you begin!"

There is a consistency, a unity of style about the orchestrations that give the music its own identity, so that it almost resembles a suite. Stan allowed Mathieu almost unfettered creative freedom, and together they decided the proper tempo for each piece, the appropriate soloists, and useful cuts and additions, right down to which titles actually belonged on the record and which should be omitted. At first Bill was doubtful about recording in a cavernous ballroom, as opposed to the intimacy and control of a studio, but he concluded: "Stan and producer Lee Gillette were absolutely right: the band sounds alive and awake {not always easy when recording many hours of slow-tempo music in a studio), and most importantly, the players could hear themselves well in the live room. The end result is that the band sounds strong and cohesive, and the album is well recorded."

Mathieu is well-served by his soloists, as he is quick to acknowledge: "To observe the guys endure the stress of recording with such a high degree of skill and accuracy made me feel very lucky. Their attitude to the music was quite positive as far as I could tell, and I was especially happy with the soloists, Roger, Rolf and most especially Archie. As for Charlie (Mariano), his playing, especially on "Django," provided the spark and authenticity the album needed." According to LeCoque (at his finest on "I Get Along Without You Very Well): "I think my solos on the Silhouette album were the best work I did with Kenton. Bill wrote such beautiful charts that you didn't really have to stretch out too much, you just stuck close to the melody, and the arrangements took care of everything else." There isn't a weak solo throughout, but note especially the trumpet cameo on "The Thrill Is Gone" by Roger Middleton, described by lead trumpet Bud Brisbois as: "The only solo Roger ever recorded with Stan. Roger was a very good jazz player, but he never got much of a chance with Rolf Ericson in the band."

In later years, Stan believed he had come up with the album title, but Bill remembers exactly how the name arose: "I had been walking the boardwalk in Atlantic City, trying to think of a title for the new album, something that carried forward the visual metaphor of Sketches on Standards and Portraits on Standards, when I paused to watch an attractive girl having her profile magically cut out of black paper by a silhouette artist. The title Standards in Silhouette occurred to me at that moment, and I suggested it to Stan in the well of the bus, 'That's a great title, Bill,' he said, genuinely pleased. 'Did you think of it yourself?' But it's OK with me that Stan recollects it as his own - that's an easy thing to do after many decades and uncountable miles."

Some hear a hint of Gil Evans in Mathieu's work, and Bill admits to an admiration for Gil's writing, among other composers who were striving to enrich the intellectual content of jazz without thinning its blood. Any Evans influence is tempered by Mathieu's highly inventive and scholarly orchestrations, and Bill has learned his Kenton lessons well; there is a wonderful contrast between the darkly brooding, low-keyed passages, and the high-powered trumpet climaxes. I certainly wish Mathieu had remained longer in the Kenton orbit, but instead he moved on to write for Duke Ellington, and then, such were Bill's intellectual abilities and interests, away from the jazz idiom into classical and other styles of music.

But it was Kenton's judgement that gave Mathieu his first chance, the legacy of this recording, as Bill recalls with gratitude: "I was a young, unknown and untested writer, and with Standards in Silhouette, Stan granted my truest wish: to bring my best work of 'concert' ballad arrangements into the public eye."

Vinyl rip of Stan Kenton's 1959 record "Standards in Silhouette." Ripped with Audio Technica AT-LP60 USB turntable on Audacity.