Bitches Brew is a Miles Davis album released in April of 1970. It won the Grammy for Best Large jazz Ensemble in 1971. It appear on numerous “Best of Lists” in many genres. It was a ground breaking and controversial release.
Bitches Brew embraces the popular music trends of the late 1960s to blend funk, rock and jazz in previously unheard ways…well, mostly unheard. Bitches Brew also ushers in a new era in Jazz come to call “Fusion,” but little else other than other Miles Davis albums sound like this.
The fact that one man could play Be-Bop with Charlie Parker, create an alternative cool jazz sound with Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz, lead one of the greatest Hard Bop ensembles with John Coltrane and Red and PC, conceive and perform what he did with Gil Evans, adapt and develop to record some amazingly high level music in the 60s with Wayne Herbie Ron and Tony while also providing them a platform to take acoustic Jazz into a new generation, and then to lead Jazz into this new style constitutes a musical legacy unparalleled in modern music. There may have been better trumpet players, but there were no better leaders. Only potential equals.
Roy Eldridge is an important historical figure in Jazz. A trumpeter, Roy was known for his high notes on the horn and was a direct influence on Dizzy Gillespie. But Roy is more than high notes. A pre-war star during the swing period in the 30s, Roy went on to thrive in the post-war period in the 40s and 50s. Not too many were able to do that. Additionally, Roy Eldridge was the “Jackie Robinson” of Jazz.
Beloved and recognized by multiple generations of Jazz aficionados and musicians, Roy is a major figure in the development of Jazz and American popular music. However in the 21st century, his name may not carry the same recognition as Count Basie. Let us not forget this important man…..
In his last years, John Coltrane made some rather intense music. It’s not “toe tapping” or “finger popping.” It is rather dissonant and angular. Some folks really dislike this music. Some folks find it incredibly rich, but can only take it in small doses. Some find it controversial. Some find it utterly brilliant. Some find it completely unlistenable. Some find it a combination of all of those things and the obvious contradictions within them.
In his final years, John Coltrane takes music to places we have yet to return, to which some would say we should never return. Coltrane is the herald signaling the end of the period of Modernity (if you subscribe to the notion that we are now in the Post-Modern era) as he tears down the Jericho like walls of conventional music theory and improvisational rules. And to some, the result is little more than noise.
I cannot fault you if you do not like this music. I do ask that if you do listen, that you try to put aside you expectations and comfortable musical associations. It does not get more avant-garde than some of this without gimmick or unreproducible novelty or electronics. It is virtually impossible to be further away from modern pop music with this without seeking music made by peoples who do not participate in an advanced capitalist state. Some might say this music couldn’t be further away from Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, or even Charlie Parker either. Others would disagree.
My intention over the coming weeks is to begin to engage Jazz Fusion and other more current trends in Jazz (as well as other historical stuff, especially Stan Kenton) and I want this music by Trane to be “on the table”…..so without further adieu…..
Chet Baker is one of the most well-known names in Jazz. A trumpeter and vocalist, Chet is a bit more cultural icon than canonized Jazz master…though he plays well. His is not the story of triumph over adversity. It is the story of the rise and fall of a star.
Chet in the 50s was a good looking young man; the Hollywood image of what a Jazz musician was. He was also an icon of cool at the level of James Dean. I don’t have the figures, but at the time I do believe Chet sold a lot more records than the Brown-Roach Quintet or Miles Davis. He also fell into the pit of hell we call Heroin addiction.
Chet came back in the 80s and even was the subject for a documentary that I assume many folks have seen, “Let’s Get Lost”. The doc was released at the end of 1988 a few months after Chet died. Chet never defeated the demon Heroin. Most seem to say he never cared to do so.
McCoy Tyner is one of the most influential pianist in Jazz to emerge post 1959. He developed a unique voice on the instrument developing a new vocabulary for pianist with his use of pentatonic scales and chord voicings based on fourth intervals. Between 1962 and 2000, he made a record 33 out of those 39 years, totaling at least 68 total albums. At least 5 have been recorded in the 21st century. And that’s with him as a leader! McCoy is on over a hundred other albums with some of the most famous names in jazz. He is one of the most successful and influential jazz musicians to emerge after 1959.
McCoy’s birthday was a few days ago, he turned 76. A rather important recording which featured McCoy on piano also had a 50th anniversary this week.
McCoy Tyner, among his many other accomplishments, also happened to have been John Coltrane’s pianist for several years. A Love Supreme is 50 years old this past week.
Please enter through the orange squiggle and join me for some serious sh*t…
It’s somewhat amazing really, we as a culture have an entire repertoire of songs dedicated to the “Christmas” season. Heck, multiple cultures have songs only played at this time of year. By the actual Christmas holiday, we’re also all largely sick of every single one of these songs.
So while I want to take this evening to listen to some of my favorites before I get to the point where I want to shoot myself if I hear another Christmas song, I also want to celebrate some of the best known jazz ever recorded. And some great Rock and Roll Xmas tunes as well!
It’s Christmas Time Charlie Brown!
Bobby Keys was the saxophone player with the Rolling Stones since 1969. He died last night at age 70.
He is on every album the Stones made from 1970-1974 and from 1980 on. He played on every Stones tour since 1970. He is one of the saxophone players you have heard the most throughout your life.
Billie Holiday. Born Eleanora Fagan, April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia and died on July 17, 1959 in New York City.
I don’t think there is a singer who looms larger in popular culture. She a musician who garners much devotion and celebration. It seems like every few years we get another pop star who music journalists call “a modern Billie Holiday” or “Billie Holiday for this generation” or some variation. Or a major pop star will cite Billie Holiday as an influence or a passion.
These comparisons to Billie usually seem limited and the pop star praisings sometimes disingenuous. Not always. But it seems like more folks know about the cultural symbol that is Billie Holiday than know her music. It seems generally known that she had a tragic life, but most folks don’t know the details.
I wanted to do something “special” for Thanksgiving. In the wake of current events, it feels like a bittersweet Thanksgiving. Lady Day…..
One of the defining features of jazz has been the genre’s approach to rhythm. While this absolutely means the phrasing of 8th notes ala Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, it also very much means an approach to percussion. The modern drum set, trap set, has developed through jazz and jazz provided innovations in drumming that have become “taken for granted” today.
I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Jazz in the 60s the last several weeks—and I anticipate spending much more time in the 1970s once we enter the new year. So I found myself asking the question “Which icon have I not really gotten to yet?” and “What from the 50s or even 40s would be worthwhile to engage this week?” And when I say “Icon”, I mean who would be analogous to when Steve Martin refers “Names above the titles only”.
It didn’t take too much thinking to come up with this week’s topic: Max Roach; drummer, percussionist, innovator, composer, educator, entrepreneur, and civil rights activist. Max Roach is the drummer on some of the most important recordings in jazz from the 1940s and 50s and he continued to make excellent music up until his death. There is really so much Max Roach that I can’t get to it all today. Today we focus on the first two big stages of Max’s career…and I don’t expect to get past 1956 today…
Wayne Shorter, born August 25, 1933, still performs. He is still active in the Jazz world. His career spans so much from his work with Art Blakey to his work with Miles to creating Weather Report with Joe Zawinul and pioneering Jazz Fusion to his recordings with Milton Nascimento to his work with Joni Mitchell and to his iconic rock and roll recording on Steely Dan’s Asia. And Carlos Santana.
I once saw Carlos on Whoopie Goldberg’s short run syndicated talk show in the late 80s. Carlos said he discovered that Wayne Shorter was an arch angel because arch angels were architects and this is what Wayne Shorter was, an architect.
In deciding what to write about for today, I realized that my diaries are—in a roundabout way—heading towards the shift that Miles led into Jazz fusion. I’ve diaried about Miles up to right before “In a Silent Way” and I diaried about Blakey up until Wayne left his band to join Miles. Today’s diary is about everything else Wayne did while playing with Miles. And it’s going to be incomplete as it is!
Eat the blue pill if you’re “all about the bass”. Eat the orange squiggle if you prefer things more complex…
In seeking inspiration and solace after Tuesday elections, I found myself seeking refuge with an old friend. Perhaps to some he is a relic of another time, but for a while he was probably the favorite pop star to many a Jazz musician.
Stevland Morris, aka Stevie Wonder. Born May 13th, 1950.
I think it’s fitting to bring Stevie Wonder into my general weekly blogging about jazz. Stevie is probably one of the few handful of artists who have truly shaped popular music in the 20th and 21st century. He also is an artist who clearly drew on Jazz influences and helped disseminate them into the greater popular culture framework. And when I was 16 in the early 1980s and went to Jazz summer clinics at places like Manhattan School of Music, more than a few Jazz musicians implied that they wanted “to be Stevie Wonder when (they) grew up.” One actually said that phrase.
But FIRST….a message from Stevie Wonder to Congress….