Thursday, October 31, 2013

Frank Wess 1922 - 2013

By David Colker at LATimes
Long before jazz pianist Billy Taylor became world-famous, he planned in high school to switch to saxophone. But then he heard the new kid in school — Frank Wess — play the horn.
"He's the reason I don't play the tenor saxophone," Taylor said in a 2008 Washington Post interview. "Even in his teens, he was really a remarkable player."
Wess never achieved the fame of his longtime friend Taylor, but he was a key player in some of the all-time great jazz ensembles, including Count Basie's big band, and he was a major force in establishing the flute as a jazz instrument.
He was also known as a mentor who went out of his way to help young musicians coming into jazz. No matter how progressive the music got, Wess told them, it all came down to swing.
"If you can't tap your foot or dance to it, you may as well be driving a cab," Wess said in a 2005 interview for the All About Jazz website. "When I do clinics, I have the individual instruments play by themselves and I want them to make me dance, make me want to dance."
Wess, 91, died in New York on Wednesday. He was in a cab on his way to get a dialysis treatment when he had a heart attack, said his companion, Sara Tsutsumi.
Wess played his last concert in April at the 54 Below club in New York, and had been in failing health for the last several months. But as recently as a month ago, he was still playing with friends.
"He would invite young musicians — maybe a rhythm section or horn players — to his home and they would have a jam session," said Marc Loehrwald, a saxophone player who maintained Wess' website. "He loved to play with other musicians. It was his life."
Frank Wellington Wess was born Jan. 4, 1922, in Kansas City, Mo., and his family moved when he was a small child to the town of Sapulpa, Okla., near Tulsa. "When I was 10 years old my life started — I got my saxophone," Wess said in a National Endowment for the Arts interview in 2007.
He eventually put the instrument away because the school orchestra played a lot of classical music he didn't enjoy. Then the family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1935 and he heard Taylor and others play jazz sessions in the high school orchestra room during lunch periods.
"I said, 'this is what I want to do,'" he said in the All About Jazz interview. "So I got my horn, had it fixed up and started playing again."
His early career as a professional was interrupted by military service during World War II — but he kept playing because the U.S. Army assigned him to various music ensembles that toured overseas. When he was out of the Army, he played with the famed Billy Eckstine Orchestra and several other outfits. And using the G.I. Bill education benefit, he began studying the flute in 1949 with Wallace Mann, a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington.
Count Basie had heard Wess on saxophone and called him several times to try and hire him. "I told him I was busy doing something else and I wasn't going to quit school to go back on the road, because I had had enough of the road," Wess told All About Jazz. Finally Basie convinced him by promising a regular salary and exposure. Wess joined the outfit in 1953 and stayed until 1964.
Wess said that one reason the band was so great was that unlike some other leaders, Basie strove to keep players for long periods of time. "If you fire people every four or six months, I don't care how good they are, you still got a bunch of strangers sitting on the band stand," Wess said in the NEA interview. "When they stay there long enough, they get to be brothers and you got a family, and everybody's happy and the music shows it."
And with Basie, Wess got to show off his expertise on his new instrument. Because of his time with the Basie band "being featured on the flute, it gave the instrument its place in jazz," said longtime jazz critic and historian Dan Morgenstern. "Also, of the people who played flute, he was pretty much the best of them."
Wess went on to play with several other ensembles, including the house band led by Taylor for "The David Frost Show" that ran on CBS from 1969 to 1972. And with an old friend from the Basie days, fellow saxophonist Frank Foster, he played jazz dates over a 20-year period under the title "Two Franks."
In 2007 he was named an NEA Jazz Master.
Wess may have not been involved in starting new movements in jazz, but he was known for his consistently fine musicianship over an exceptionally long career. And he knew how to move an audience.
"I think you can play anything you want to," Wess said in his NEA interview, "as long as you take the audience along with you."
In addition to Tsutsumi, he is survived by two daughters, Michele Kane and Francine Wess, both of New York; two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


By Claudio Botelho
Again: Denny Zeitlin has done an insipid recording. I’m talking about his latest “Both/And – Solo, Eletro-Acoustic Adventures”. Before I keep on, let me remind you once more that Zeitlin has been one of my heroes for long. And this is exactly what inspires me to insist on my critics about his latest launchings. Along with his former work (“Wherever You Are”), this is a totally dispensable recording: We could as well live without it, as much as himself.
While the most conventional one is too conventional to be taken seriously, the more adventurous is no more than a pale copy of things he’d done in the past (“Solo Voyage” comes to my mind). By listening to this newer outing of his, you could work very hard to find the author of recordings like his “Labyrinth”-“Precipice”- “Slick Rock’- “Solo Voyage” brethren. Or even find any similarity inspiration-wise to works like “As Long as There’s Music” or his “New River”- a fabulous duo with mandolinist David Grisman. Of course, his way of playing hasn’t changed and can be spotted easily, but where is the intellectual value of his playing?
Try listening to “Tiger, Tiger”, for instance, or the inaugural “Meteorology” and tell me why he bothered to compose and play them… Sigh!
Don’t think I’m that derogatory, but Zeitlin forced me into doing this. So, Instead of wasting your time with his last works, you could indulge your senses into savoring Alan Broadbent’s “Heart to Heart”- his latest solo recording. This time using a 9’ Schimmel Grand, Broadbent revisited songs like Charlie Haden’s “Hello my Lovely” along with standards like “Alone Together”, “Blue in Green”, “Lonely Woman”, “Cherokee” and four other songs, including the one of his pen who entitles this production. His very pronounced left hand sometimes almost takes the lead and, at times, works contrapuntally without ever breaking the unity of his renderings. His very unique and minutely way of playing exposes the songs to their entireness, extracting from them all the meanings intended by their authors. Broadbent is a “slow-food” kind of interpreter, always purveying a step-by-step construction without side moves, until he gets to his target.
To know what I mean, listen to his dissected deconstruction of “Alone Together” – the old played-by-everybody standard, enjoy his long and soulful rendering of “Blue in Green”, try “Hello my Lovely” and remember his days of “Quartet West” or savor his gothic interpretation of “Lonely Woman”, which nails straight to the heart of this song…
The sound of the Schimmel piano is magnificent, to the point of my fully acceptance: In no moment I reminded of any other musical instrument. So, there’s also life beyond the Steinway-Bosendorfer-Fazioli trio!...
I’ve been, for a very, very long time, a great fan of pianist Franco D’Andrea. For my ears, he has been one of the very sharpest improvisers in the history of jazz. It’d been a long time since I last heard of him. I’ve noticed he’s released some two or three albums recently, but I haven’t come across any of them. It seems they have a very restricted distribution. So, out of some longing of my part, I bought a CD recorded in 1997 and released in the following year called “Duets for Trane”. He plays with altoist Rosario Giuliani which, by the way, is the leader.
Yes, you guessed it right: Trane means Coltrane, being all the songs played, except the last one, from him. So, there you have: Equinox; Countdown; Naima; Giant Steps; Central Park West; A love Supreme; Like Sony; Lonnie’s Lament and Giuliani’s Solo for Trane.
From beginning to end, you have some two of the most articulated jazz musicians interplaying so synergistically that the quality of the presentations leveled the accomplishment of the tunes. Boy, D’Andrea is no chopped liver, but would you believe Giuliani, at least on this recording, is as much on the cutting edge as him? He is so strong that you hardly notice you’re listening to an alto sax! His Selmer sound is akin to the sound of a good tenor! I said a good tenor. You know, the world is full of flimsy sounding sax players…
Organic, articulated and done by utterly intertwined musicians, the renderings are just natural extensions of the tunes, as if done by the same author and a taste of Coltrane’s strong tenor permeates the whole album. D’Andrea? You can hardly find a better travel companion… (The truth is that this is an equal-responsibility-two-mind work…)
Splendid and the best thing I’ve listened this year, so far. A classic. Highly recommended.
Have you ever heard of a statistical phenomenon called “standard deviation”? It shows how much variation or dispersion from the average (mean, also called expected value) exists. So, as a rule, its graphic expression is like a sneak that has eaten an elephant or the back of a dromedary, which is like a camel, except that it has only one hump. Bellow the hump stay the great majority of cases, meaning they stand for average values. Let’s take into account that those which detach to the left side tend to mediocrity, those which go to the opposite side to excellence.
Now, take Christian McBride’s “Out There”. This is his 11th album as a leader and “the most in demand bassist of his generation” is partnered by Christian Sands on piano and Ulysses Owens jr. on drums. Surely, McBride belongs to the right side of the hump and has been very busy for some time now, but did he need to make such an uninspiring recording, firmly settled on the left side of the bump, something Ray Brown (his alter ego) used to do more than forty years ago?
This is the third incarnation of The Ray brown Trio, the second being by drummer Jeff Hamilton and Tamir Hendelman. Is it necessary a third Ray Brown trio? In these days of cerebral players, should we seek works founded solely on chops exhibitionism? I can only speak on my behalf, but I tell you: this kind of playing has been long, long superseded. One more thing about this album: to say the quality of the recording is so-so is an understatement…
Speaking of Tamir Hendelman: Wanna listen to the real musician? Try his “Destinations” and you’ll see what he can do out of the Brown-Hamilton-Mcbride circle… Here, he comes along with Marco Panascia on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. This time, you get everything from his rides with Hamilton plus…emotion!, this being just the main reason of this art called music.
For a change, let me suggest two honest British trios: Tim Lapthorn (p), with Arnie Sonogyi (b) and Stephen Keogh (d) and David Newton (p), Andrew Cleyndert (b) and Colin Oxley (g). The first trio released an album called “Transport” and the latter “Out of This World”. Lapthorn is a young musician who seems to be still searching his own voice. He’s a little hesitant and plays a little too carefully but is a talented composer. All songs played are from his pen and their span brings a very good balance to the presentation. You have the trio alone, piano solo, the trio and voices and the trio plus strings which, per se, establishes the necessary contrasts any sequence of songs must have to avoid boredom. I’ll dispense myself with nominating the songs as they’re all unknown.
Newton is a seasoned artist who, in this set, relies on nine standards plus two of his own compositions. Besides the tune that names the album, the trio plays Who Cares, Valse Jaq, I’ll be seeing You, Por Toda a Minha Vida/O Grande Amor, All Grown Up, Lament, Looking at You, A Felicidade and Why Did I Choose You. The second and the fifth songs above listed were composed by himself.
Newton has great chops, and his easy-flow style tends to go better with lyric songs. And he uses this to very good effect. His solo work “12th of the 12th – A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra” - an album I particularly like- depicts his way with songs. A casual jazz listener would be pleased with his latest album release and could take it for something of the easy-listening kind, but any attention a bit more than skin-deep would reveal a trio of great rapport, full of intricate articulations, which should award it the highest of accolades. All summed up this is a simple-sophisticated outing; not that easily found!
Anyway, if I were to choose one of them, I’d go for the Lapthorn album, but you could as well pick the latter, as did the editor of this blog.
Have you ever heard of Patricia Barber? So, please, ask her why she has SMASHED us (ouch!) with her latest album…