This is my third Jazz Dairy this month. My motivation to do these has been my fundamental devotion and appreciation of Jazz and the fact that this is Black History Month…and I do believe most folks on daily Kos would agree: We need a bit more Black history during Black History Month. My intention was to write a diary on Jazz tragedies, but Ive decided against that. Instead, I present a diary about great Jazz musicians, brilliant African-American men, who have left this earth but who deserve to never be forgotten. Yes it is a subjective list, but please don’t think this list is comprehensive at all. I have no intention of stopping these diaries come March, but the folks on this short list are people I probably will not do an entire diary on any time soon. Except for my first offering…
Please follow past the orange squiggle away from squaresville…
With all due respect to the pop star Buddy Holly, June 26, 1956 was the day the music died. It was on that day that we lost the great great Trumpeter and Jazz Musician, Clifford Brown (b. October 30, 1930). Clifford was not the primeval force that Miles was, but he could play the trumpet better. Arguably, he was better than Dizzy. He was as an original member of The Jazz Messengers, which in its first incarnation was run by both Art Blakey and Horace Silver. Art Blakey will lead this group with its ever changing line-up until his death on October 16, 1990. And please take note of how good Lou Donaldson sounds on alto….all the players in the following recording deserve to never be forgotten
Blakey and Horace are iconic and prolific enough to get full diaries about them; this will come in the future. And Clifford Brown probably will as well. He is a role model for how to play Jazz correctly. A status further supported by the group he went out to found with Max Roach, The Clifford Brown- Max Roach Quintet. This group featured excellent original compositions which have today become Jazz standards as well as clever arrangements which really made the most out of a 5 piece band with only two horns.
On June 26, Clifford and Ritchie Powell, the group’s piano player, were driving home from Philadelphia to New York after a gig and got into a car accident. Both men died. I’ve heard that Ritchie Powell’s hands got cut off. Clifford Brown wasn’t even 26 years old.
Sonny Stitt, February 2, 1924 – July 22, 1982, played both Alto and Tenor saxophones. He performed and recorded with nearly every legend of Jazz. A smart young musician learning to play Jazz who happens to play alto saxophone would be wise to listen to Sonny Stitt as much as to Charlie Parker (and also quite wise to leave the Kenny G records in the store in their plastic casings…or in the itunes database…never to be touched). In the 50s, Sonny Stitt often recorded and performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Parker’s original partner in musical crime. Sonny plays so f’ing well…..
Cedar Walton (January 17, 1934 – August 19, 2013) and Billy Higgins (October 11, 1936 – May 3, 2001)
This is a two-fer. I first wanted to write about Billy Higgins, but in my mind I cannot separate these two men. I remember back in the late 80s when a friend of mine from Athens, Greece pointed out that in NYC every week it was like what a Jazz festival might be in Greece. For instance, one could frequently see Cedar, Billy, and usually David Williams perform at the long gone club, Bradley’s. Billy Higgins was nothing but happiness and joy. He was always smiling. He had survived and lived and thrived. He would never hesitate to show young aspiring musicians the tracks on his arms and tell us how he was lucky to be alive and that heroin was no path to follow (It wouldn't matter if said young men were only drinking ginger ale and had no thought to getting high either!). Heroin looms large in the history of Jazz…for a damn long time. Billy Higgins kicked it and cherished each moment of life he was given afterwards, which was at least 30 years. He was also the featured drummer on several early and classic recordings by Ornette Coleman. You can do the math.
There is no drum machine, no computer program, no sequencer that can play a ride cymbal like that. And if you sample it…YOU ARE NOT PLAYING IT. You may be using it creatively and musically, but you aint doing it. Learn to play without the benefit of electricity. You will make better music when you do decide to “plug in”. I swear this to be as true as 2+2=4.
Cedar Walton is not just one of the best pianists in the history of jazz, he was a key figure in the sophisticated advanced Jazz of the early 1960s. He made key recordings with Joe Henderson, Art Blakey and many others. He was also a fine composer.
The trio of Walton Higgins and Williams was one of the best of the 80s into the 90s and really only musically rivaled by the trio of Keith Jarret, Jack DeJohnette, and Gary Peacock at the time.(Its Black History Month. Keith Jarret will wait.)
Coleman Hawkins (November 21, 1904 – May 19, 1969). My diaries have been and will be focused on post WWII Jazz. This is partly because the Ken Burns series dealt with pre war Jazz so well and post war jazz so poorly. This is also because the post war Jazz hits levels of sophistication and innovation that truly bring it on par with the European Classical tradition, with respect of course to Mr George Gershwin (see? race is not quite so clear cut in Jazz. We'll get to that, its February, white guys can wait). And Post WWII Jazz is what I like best and represents the styles Ive always striven to play. But Jazz is a legacy and it is connected to the past as much as to the present. This is most notable in the generational relationships on recordings and in performances. Older men tutor younger man as to how to play. And Jazz did not start with Charlie Parker.
We need a little explanation for the younger folks…..
Recordings used to come out on vinyl. A record really couldn’t hold much more than 20 minutes of music per side in its long playing form (LP). Individual songs would be released as singles on smaller units of vinyl referred to as “45’s”. A turntable would play things at two (sometimes 3) different speeds: 33 rotations per minute (rpm’s) or 45 rpm’s (and sometimes 78, but not so much after the late 70s). The LPs were supposed to be played at 33rpm’s but you could play them at 45 and it would sound twice as fast and higher in pitch, as if everything was done by chipmunks. This would be especially entertaining to do with records when you were 8 and possibly could bring the wrath of your parents if you were doing it with one of their records.
If you play Coleman Hawkins at 45rpms instead of 33 he sounds like Charlie Parker. The saxophone is a much more recent creation than a clarinet or oboe or flute. Some regarded it simply as a novelty instrument meant primarily to be performed at the circus. Jazz (and also some classical composers) changed that in the early 20th century. Arguably, the modern approach to the Tenor Saxophone was created by Coleman Hawkins (along with Lester Young, August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959, and Ben Webster, March 27, 1909 – September 20, 1973). The following is considered by many to be the bridge between the swing music of the 1930s and the BeBop style to come in the 1940s. It is one of the most influential recordings in Jazz.
Coleman Hawkins continued to play well into the 50s and 60s. And he recorded and performed with men who regarded him as their biggest influence, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane among them. Here’s one which features Coleman not just with Coltrane, but also with The High Priest of BeBop, Thelonious Monk, AND Art Blakey!
I dig how not everyone can pick Trane out by ear (though it isn’t very hard to do). Coltrane takes the first sax solo, right after Monk on piano. Ray Copeland on trumpet goes next followed by Wilbur Ware on bass and then Blakey. Coleman Hawkins plays the second tenor sax solo starting at about the 7:13 mark and then Gigi Gryce takes an alto solo at about 8:36 until Monk comes back to play another solo before the group comes back to play the head—the melody of the tune--at the end.
One more, because its best to leave these things moving and grooving. And besides, its fun to make the GOP happy and go to Church. Bobby Timmons, December 19, 1935 – March 1, 1974.
There is actually a whole lot of “NEVER FORGET” in that performance. Lee Morgan is on Trumpet and Benny Golson on Tenor Sax. I am sorry, I don’t recognize the bass player. It kinda looks like Sam Jones to me, but Im just not sure. And btw, at the end of the clip they introduce the next song which we don’t get to hear. Its called “I’ll Remember Clifford”, written by Golson for Clifford Brown after his tragic death.
Bobby Timmons’ piano style brings in elements of gospel playing and funkiness that few, if any, brought before him. He swings, he grooves, he calls the Holy Spirit. I think you can call his playing accessible. And it is a style that people still appreciate in the “here today, gone tomorrow” places where one can still play Jazz in Newark and Jersey City and New York today. I am a pianist. I will do my best to emulate Bobby Timmons when I can. His compositions are still performed and some even covered by famous “pop” stars.
This one also has an early pre-Miles Davis performance by the great Ron Carter on bass. Ron Carter has played with everyone from Airto to Miles to A Tribe Called Quest. Check the Rhime.
7:54 PM PT: Wow! community spotlight! Its an honor, thank you.