I recently decided not to go and see a very good jazz musician paying tribute to players of the past: why not? To be honest it is all wrapped up with the question as to why small jazz clubs are finding it difficult to attract a wider audience: over familiarity.
When I attend a live gig I expect to hear standards from the jazz repertoire and when I do I enjoy them. However, there does appear to be a trend for bands to play tributes to some of the greats from the past without also throwing in a few original compositions to show that we can, and should, move on from the greats.
I recently reviewed Carlos Henriquez’s album Dizzy Con Clave, which is a live recording of a tribute to the music of Dizzy Gillespie but with new arrangements that refreshes the original and avoids the label “over familiarity” – and you should be able to tell from my review that I really enjoyed this album.
The problem for many small jazz cubs is that they rely on those audience members who turn up each and every month to hear good jazz music played live, good jazz music that they are familiar with. These stalwarts struggle with the unfamiliar – they also struggle with vocalists but that might be a different topic to write about another time – and have been heard to say that they will not be at next month’s gig because they haven’t heard anything by the band that has been booked.
I would suggest that the elusive wider audience may not attend their local jazz club because they are not going to hear anything new and while they accept, and recognize, the place of the jazz standard repertoire, they do not necessarily want to be beholden to it. On Saturday 5 January, 2019 The Times newspaper wrote a piece entitled All That Jazz in which it was stated that, “For the past couple of years London’s new jazz scene has been quietly conquering the world “. Unfortunately for those of us getting our live jazz outside of London, the new jazz scene is passing us by.
There are many very good young jazz artists producing original material that deserves to be heard live by a wider audience. I should love to see the likes of Lorraine Baker, Tom Millar, and Freddie Gavita play live at a jazz club nearer to home than London. I also know that many of those who regularly attend jazz clubs in my area would think twice about paying for a ticket to hear jazz music they did not grow up with and that’s a shame. Let’s face it, if the audience at the time had not embraced the new of Monk, Coltrane, Gillespie et al we would still be listening to Livery Stable Blues and the “new jazz [bop] scene” would have passed us by.
I first came across bass player Carlos Henriquez listening to his album Bronx Pyramid, which I had read about on the latinjazznet.com, which is where I also discovered the Rodrigues brother Michael and Robert. So when I read that Carlos had released an album centred on the music of Dizzy Gillespie that also featured Michael Rodriguez on trumpet I knew it would very quickly become a part of my jazz collection.
The album kicks off with “A Night in Tunisia” and the Afro-Cuban beat is there right from the start. Soloists Melissa Aldana, on tenor sax, and Michael Rodriguez make for a formidable front line with solid, superb backing from the rhythm section.
The first track runs for a little under nine minutes and I, for one, would have been happy if it had been extended as I am sure the audience at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, where the album was recorded, would have been too.
Michael Rodriguez again takes the trumpet solo on the second track “Groovin High”, which mixes Salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz to great effect. Anthony Almonte throws in some great vocals before things really kick off with track three, Bebop. This time Terrel Stafford takes the trumpet solo alongside saxophonist Melissa Aldana. The tempo is brisk but the notes crisp and clear and that Latin beat that drives through the piece makes for very enjoyable listening.
All but two of the tracks on the album were written by Gillespie, “Tin Tin Deo” and “Trinidad, Goodbye” being the two exceptions. “Tin Tin Deo” is a well known tune that sounds like its been given a fresh coat of paint by Henriquez’s arrangement. “Trindad, Goodbye” is not so familiar a track to me, written Kenny Barron, but the musicianship, vocals, tempo and overall feel of the piece makes it a very fitting end to a terrific album – and I shall certainly to looking to find out more about Mellissa Aldana.
In the liner notes Carlos Henriquez writes:
I have arranged the Octet with an authentic rhythmic approach that Dizzy would have loved. We brought the sounds of modern Latin Jazz to the history that was bequeathed us
Carlos Henriquez: Dizzy Con Clave 201
Well I don’t think that Dizzy, who did after all initiate the Cubop era, would have disagreed with Carlos and that blend of the modern with the historical certainly works for me. Oh, and by the way, if you want to find out more about the Rodriguez brothers then find time to listen to their album Impromptu on Criss Cross Jazz
I recently picked up the album Here Comes Louis Smith on the Blue Note label. I did not do my usual thing of checking the album out first before ordering. I also had no idea who Louis Smith was (he died in 2016) or how I even came to be looking at the album in the first place. Having heard the album through a couple of times I have to ask: why I have I not heard of this trumpet player from Tennessee before?
Here Comes Louis Smith was his debut album recorded in 1957 – it had originally been recorded for the Transition label but the company went out of business shortly afterwards and before the recording could be released in the spring of ’58. The album masters were acquired by Blue Note producer Alfred Lion. Louis had a stellar supporting group alongside him with Buckshot La Funke (Cannonball Adderley was signed to the Mercury label at the time so used a pseudonym) on alto sax. Duke Jordan and Tommy Flanagan shared piano duties with Doug Watkins on bass and drummer Art Taylor completing the rhythm section.
The album features four Louis Smith compositions and one tune each from Duke Pearson and Hoagy Carmichael. The Duke Pearson number, “Tribute to Brownie“, opens the album with the drums of Art Taylor before Louis Smith comes in with a beautiful clear bop sound. If the opener does not grab your attention then go no further but, in my opinion, the rest of the album does not disappoint and is worthy of a hearing.
Of the four original compositions two are very well executed blues numbers: track 2 – “Brill’s Blues” and track 6 “Val’s Blues”. In fact track 2 features some really nice alto playing from Cannonball Adderley. Tracks 3 (“Ande”) and 5 (“South Side”) are good but it is “South Side” that stands out for me for both the group playing and the solo playing from Smith and Adderley. That leaves just one track to talk about, Hoagy Carmichaels “Star Dust”.
Carmichael wrote “Star Dust” in 1927 and it when on to become a standard that would be recorded by so many of the great and good in jazz music. On this version it is Smith’s solo trumpet work that stands out. The playing has a “haunting” quality to it that just makes everything around the listener disappear leaving only the sound of the trumpet to focus on.
[Those around Smith] make for a potent supporting cast, but the focus is mostly on the criminally obscure Louis Smith. After cutting his second Blue Note set and switching to teaching, Smith would not record again as a leader until 1978. All bop and ’50s jazz fans are strongly advised to pick up this CD ….
As I wrote at the beginning of this piece, I have no idea how I came to be looking at this album in the first place but something must have prompted me to do so. I do have to agree with Mr Yano, Louis Smith is a “criminally obscure” artist whose music deserves to be played and heard.
There was something posted on Instagram that caught my eye and it related to the cost of buying new vinyl LPs. The poster was basically arguing that now that vinyl is re-established as a viable music format, the cost of purchasing albums in that format should be coming down. This is not a new line of thinking as I can remember similar comments being made about the price of CDs back in the day and nothing much changing.
I have a copy of Jazz Journal from 1956 and in the album review section not only the band members listed but also whether the release is an EP (remember those) or a twelve inch LP and how long each side of the release played. The review also lists the price that the music retailed at. The Modern Jazz Quartet released a 12in. LP (London LTZ-K 15022), which played for 18 min on each side at a cost of 37s. 6½d. This information is known but what does it mean to a modern day collector of vinyl?
The actual average earnings in April, 1955, the latest date for which figures are available, were £10 17s. 5d.
HANSARD 1803–2005 21 February 1956 Commons Sitting NATIONAL FINANCE
With the cost of album being £1 17s. 6½d a record buyer in 1956 would be spending around 17% of their income, and that would be before rent, food, etc. had been paid for. National Service was still in place in 1956 and servicemen were paid £1 8s. a week but with all food, accommodation, uniform, and travel paid for – that MJQ album would have had to have been saved up for.
The above wage figures are for those working in the industrial sector. In 2019, the average weekly wage for a worker in the same sector is £607 before tax, around £486 after tax. The MJQ album referred to above is available on vinyl today at £16 or 3.3% of income before other costs are taken in to account. So is the cost of vinyl today really too high and if so is that the fault of the record label or the artist?
All of us who like to own music would like to pay less for it and you can if you are prepared to download. However, MP3 as a format does not give you the tactility or artwork of the physical format of CD or vinyl. If you are going to”own” an MP3 library – when did you ever hear anyone offer to let you browse their digital library – you might as well stream and kill off the music industry altogether: see my post To stream or not to stream?