Later On

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Archive for the ‘Jazz’ Category

Jazz Origins of James Bond

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Great clip, eh? It’s from an interesting post by Ted Gioia that begins:

A few minutes into the new film No Time to Die, Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond, our gallant superspy flirtatiously comments to actress Léa Seydoux: “We have all the time in the world.” That may seem like just one more come-on line in a movie franchise built on pick-ups and hook-ups, but seasoned jazz fans recognize something more in the phrase.

Back in 1969, Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “We Have All the Time in the World” was featured as part of a romantic interlude in the James Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

The context was much more than a one-night stand, but rather the extraordinary moment when James Bond courted his wife, the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (aka Tracy Bond)—soon killed by a Bond villain’s bullet. Her tombstone even reads: “We Have All the Time in the World.” 

So Louis Armstrong helped bring agent 007 a short taste of marital bliss, you might say. But the jazz connections of James Bond run much deeper than that.

Ian Fleming, who introduced the Bond character in his novel Casino Royale, back in 1953, was a devoted jazz fan. His tastes were a bit old-fashioned, but he was hardly the only British writer to prefer traditional jazz even in the face of bebop and other modernist movements. Philip Larkin, as esteemed as any British poet of that era, even took a side job as a jazz record reviewer, where he fought valiantly for the honor of the old New Orleans and Chicago players. Novelist Kingsley Amis, Larkin’s friend and fellow jazz connoisseur, revered Sidney Bechet, Pee Wee Russell and Henry ‘Red’ Allen, preferring them over more up-to-date exponents of the idiom. Eric Hobsbawm, the influential British scholar, also wrote about jazz, but under the pseudonym Francis Newton, and again favored the older sounds, which he viewed as a kind of vernacular soundtrack for his populist concerns as a Marxist historian.

Fleming’s jazz tastes were hardly so sophisticated. When he appeared on the BBC show Desert Island Discs in 1963, he said that his favorite song was “The Darktown Strutters Ball” by Joe Fingers Carr, a rough-and-rowdy example of honky-tonk jazz. (By comparison, his favorite book was War and Peace by Tolstoy—what a contrast!) This is a step below Armstrong, maybe several steps, but it revealed a taste for brash sounds and lively syncopation.

It’s clear that Fleming had music in mind when he created James Bond. In two different Bond books, Fleming notes that his secret agent looks like jazzy songwriter Hoagy Carmichael. In Casino Royale (1953), a character describes Bond in these words: “He is very good-looking. He reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless in his. . .” The sentence is never finished, but you get the idea. In Moonraker (1954), Fleming further emphasizes the resemblance, when fellow agent Gala Brand remarks: “Rather like Hoagy Carmichael in a way. That black hair falling down over the right eyebrow. Much the same bones. But there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold.”

Hoagy Carmichael must seem an unlikely role model for a superspy. He came of age playing ragtime and jazz piano in the Midwest, and eventually fell under the influence of the great Chicago players of the era, especially Bix Beiderbecke. But Carmichael would achieve even more success as a songwriter, and composed some of the most popular hits of the 20th century, including “Star Dust,” ‘Georgia on My Mind,” “The Nearness of You,” “Skylark,” and “Heart and Soul.”

In this clip, from the 1944 film To Have and Have Not, he even gets the attention of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

What does this have to do with espionage? I suspect that Fleming was especially attracted to the paradoxical nature of Carmichael’s demeanor, which seemed both rugged and romantic—with each of those two qualities reining in the other. He learned all this from Chicago jazz, where so many of the key elements we associate with this music also describe agent 007. Like James Bond, that music is tough-minded and spontaneous, passionate without falling into mere sentimentality, heartfelt but never losing its ironic or humorous touches, capable of elegance but never allowing you to forget the intensity lurking just below the surface.

Fleming’s books don’t tell us much about James Bond’s musical tastes, but there are hints in the movies. There’s a brief interlude in The Living Daylights where Bond listens to jazz in his Austin Martin . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 October 2021 at 1:59 pm

Posted in Books, Jazz, Movies & TV

How William Shakespeare and Duke Ellington are similar

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I had more thoughts on Octavian’s interview of James Shapiro about King Lear and Shakespeare, so I updated that post.  The similarities with Duke Ellington’s approach are probably the result of having to respond to similar creative (and business) pressures.

Written by Leisureguy

2 October 2021 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Art, Business, Daily life, Jazz, Music

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The Sound of Jazz

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I thought we could all use something that’s upbeat. 

Written by Leisureguy

2 September 2021 at 10:16 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

The Tragic Final Days of Billie Holiday

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Billie Holiday with her dog Mister, 1946

Ted Gioia writes at The Honest Broker:

There was a side of Billie Holiday fans never saw. And the pop culture narratives about her ignore it—for the sad, simple reason that positive details about Lady Day (as she was called) don’t fit the preferred tabloid storyline. But at home, the famous jazz singer would put on a comfortable dressing gown, turn on the radio, and relax by knitting or crocheting. Sometimes she would bring knitting needles on the road with her—although it’s another kind of needle that got most of the media coverage.

She was devoted to her dog—perhaps not surprising for someone who demanded absolute loyalty from those around her, and so seldom got it. (“She was extremely possessive,” Holiday’s longtime pianist Carl Drinkard explained. “Anybody who belonged to her, belonged strictly to her.”) Over the years, there was Chiquita, Pepe, and Mister to share her domestic life—and no rhythm section or lovers would ever prove as reliable. Holiday sometimes spoke of wanting children, but Holiday’s pets were the main outlet for maternal affection she couldn’t give elsewhere. One musician even saw her put a diaper on her dog and feed it from a bottle

Addiction destroyed her, but she dreamed of something better. “I’m so sick of this shit,” she told guitarist John Collins a few months before her death. “I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried to kick the habit, and I can’t kick it.”

Substance abuse problems are not uncommon in the entertainment world, although most of them are kept hidden from view. But with Billie Holiday, her indiscretions were headline stories. And if the reality wasn’t good enough, people invented even more extreme tales. Drinkard, who spent many long months with Lady Day on the road, was amazed at the lies circulating about her—the East Coast people who related some bit of gossip would claim it happened on the West Coast, while in California the incident allegedly took place back East. They didn’t realize that Drinkard had accompanied her in both settings, and knew the accounts of each side were often pure invention.

But the government authorities were the most suspicious of all. A few days after Holiday returned from her tour of Europe in January 1959, a US Customs official phoned the singer—announcing that she had violated a new law requiring narcotics criminals such as her to notify the government of all trips to and from the United States. This law, which Holiday knew nothing about, applied retroactively even to narcotics convictions in the distant past. Holiday was so fearful of the consequences she wouldn’t even tell her agent—knowing how her reputation was already making it difficult to get bookings. So she traveled secretly to a federal building and, after submitting to an interrogation by three federal investigators, was told there would be no criminal prosecution this time.

A few weeks later, Holiday’s closest musical partner, saxophonist Lester Young, died just hours after returning from a Paris engagement. He was 49 years old—and, like Holiday, worn out from alcohol abuse. Billie Holiday was almost six years younger than Young, but she had been diagnosed with cirrhosis, and would only survive him by four months. Two years earlier, they had made a brief appearance on television for a CBS show as part of an all-star band, and their musical chemistry performing the song “Fine and Mellow” ranks as my most cherished moment of jazz captured on film. But this would be the last moment of glory for the duo, their greatness destined for the ages, but not for the immediate future.

Savor this musical interlude—because the rest of the story will have nothing quite so inspiring.

At Young’s funeral, Holiday was heard predicting her own demise. Sylvia Sims, who encountered Billie Holiday on the street around this time, recalled her saying: “Baby, everyone I love is dead—and you dead and I’m dead.” When Sims replied: “You’re alive and I’m alive,” Holiday replied: “You mean it?”

She continued to work, and sometimes gigs went well. A week in Boston at Storyville in April was well received. But when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2021 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, History, Jazz, Video

Pierre Sprey, Pentagon analyst who battled brass to produce A-10 warplane, dies at 83

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Matt Schudel writes Pierre Sprey’s obituary in the Washington Post:

Pierre Sprey, a 1960s Pentagon “whiz kid” who was a formidable intellectual force in military analysis and weapons development and was sometimes an outspoken critic of Defense Department spending and war plans, died Aug. 5 at his home in Glenn Dale, Md. He was 83.

The cause appeared to be a sudden heart attack, said his son, John Sprey.

The French-born Mr. Sprey (pronounced “spray”) was considered a polymath whose interests encompassed history, engineering and literature. A Baltimore Sun profile declared that he “may well be the most fascinating person you’ve never heard of.”

In later years, he set up a recording studio and jazz record label in a tumbledown house and produced dozens of recordings known for their exquisite high-fidelity audio.

Former colleagues said he applied the same meticulous — and sometimes unconventional — principles to military matters. After working for the Grumman aircraft company early in his career, Mr. Sprey moved to the Pentagon in 1966 as part of a group of analysts and engineers dubbed the “Whiz Kids,” borrowing a term first used to describe then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and his former colleagues at Ford Motor Co.

“Even among McNamara’s Whiz Kids — the highly educated and extraordinarily bright young men brought into the [Pentagon] with the mandate to impose rational thought on both the military and the military budget — Pierre Sprey stood out,” author Robert Coram wrote in a 2002 biography of Mr. Sprey’s onetime Pentagon boss, John Boyd.

It was the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and Mr. Sprey spent his first year working on a study of the Air Force budget and preparations for a potential war in Europe. His report, based on studies of World War II and information from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that the Air Force’s existing plan to bomb bridges and infrastructure was useless and would not prevent Soviet troops from pouring into Europe.

By rejecting a long-held doctrine, Mr. Sprey quickly became persona non grata among top-ranking Air Force brass, many of whom had been fighter or bomber pilots and resented getting advice from a civilian who was barely 30.

“He was one of the most detested people by the United States Air Force,” Tom Christie, who spent decades as a Pentagon analyst, said in an interview, “because he was challenging a lot of sacred programs and strategies.”

Instead, Mr. Sprey advocated a primary mission of “close air support,” with Air Force planes flying low to support Allied ground troops and to attack enemy convoys and armored units. He made the startling assertion that the most important vehicles in warfare were not fighter planes, aircraft carriers or tanks — but ordinary trucks.

“I made myself pretty unpopular by pointing out that trucks were much more important than airplanes,” Mr. Sprey told the Baltimore Sun in 2002. “The tonnages moved by airplanes are tiny. Trucks are what count in the theater of war. Well, that wasn’t very glamorous for all those guys, so I got fired from that job.”

Mr. Sprey, Christie and a few others became part of a small group of analysts under the leadership of Boyd, a former fighter pilot who wanted to bring improved planning and efficiency to the Air Force. They adopted an almost furtive, underground approach, often working late at night, and came to be known as the “fighter mafia.”

In general, the group believed that simpler, cheaper weapons and aircraft worked better than complex, more expensive designs. Airplanes loaded down with electronics and other features, Mr. Sprey argued, were less maneuverable and harder to repair.

Mr. Sprey and his group faced a strong backlash from Pentagon officials and from manufacturers who stood to profit from defense contracts. According to Coram’s book on Boyd, the Air Force assigned a colonel to get Mr. Sprey fired. When the colonel presented doctored statistics to challenge Mr. Sprey’s calculations, Mr. Sprey replied, “Your numbers are a lie.”

The colonel demanded an apology, but Mr. Sprey responded by calling him a “slimy creature” who “oozed mendacity.”

“Unlike many civilians who worked in the Pentagon,” Coram wrote, “Sprey was not intimidated by rank; in fact, he thought there was an inverse relationship between the number of stars on a man’s shoulders and his intelligence.”

He stayed at the Pentagon as part of Boyd’s team and worked on two new airplane designs in the 1970s: one was a lightweight fighter that turned out to be the F-16; the other was a relatively slow, low-flying aircraft that became the A-10.

Mr. Sprey was particularly influential in the development of the A-10, a stubby plane with upright fins on the tail and two jet engines mounted over the body. Its central feature was a nose-mounted 30-mm Gatling gun that could fire 70 rounds a second. The plane could carry missiles and bombs under its wings.

Mr. Sprey insisted that the A-10 be durable and easy to repair. It was covered in a titanium shell that could withstand ground fire. Fuel tanks were insulated with nonflammable material to prevent explosions, and backup systems were in place for various hydraulic and mechanical components. Officially called the Thunderbolt, the A-10 looked so ungainly that pilots affectionately called it the Warthog.

The Pentagon sought repeatedly to kill the A-10 project or relegate the aircraft to the National Guard, even after testing proved that its gun and rockets could easily destroy armor-plated tanks. Mr. Sprey helped rally support for the plane among sympathetic military officials and members of Congress, and the program stayed alive.

During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the A-10 was brutally effective, taking out 1,100 of the 1,500 Iraqi tanks lost during the conflict, plus more than 1,000 pieces of artillery. The A-10 was so rugged that stories and footage began to circulate of badly damaged planes landing safely after combat missions. The A-10 continued to be a useful warplane during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The pilots love them,” Mr. Sprey said in 1999. “Any of our jet fighters can be shot down by a .22-caliber rifle. But you can punch an A-10 full of holes and it will come home with sky showing through the wings.”

Pierre Michel Sprey was born Nov. 22, 1937, in Nice, France. His Jewish parents had fled oppression in Germany in the early 1930s, then came to the United States in 1941, settling in the New York borough of Queens.

His father was a jeweler, and his mother a homemaker. Young Pierre grew up speaking German and sometimes French with his parents, who would discuss classical music at the dinner table.

Mr. Sprey studied engineering and French literature at Yale University, graduating in 1957 at age 19. He later received a master’s degree in systems engineering and statistics from Cornell University.

His eyesight was not sharp enough to allow him to be a fighter pilot, his son said, so he turned to aircraft design. After leaving the Pentagon in the 1970s, he continued to work on defense projects as a consultant for many years afterward.

While growing up in New York, Mr. Sprey often attended jazz clubs, and he began to record musical performances as a hobby. A fellow Pentagon engineer showed him a high-end turntable, spurring Mr. Sprey to take it apart and explore the mechanics of high-fidelity sound.

He devised a homemade recording system that employed extremely thin wires, battery-powered microphones and a two-track Sony reel-to-reel recorder weighted with lead. He had a restored 1911 Steinway piano in the front parlor of an old country house called Mapleshade in Upper Marlboro, Md. He had made amateur recordings of Washington jazz singer Shirley Horn, who came to Mr. Sprey’s house to play his piano.

“One night she was sitting at my piano and fell in love with it,” he told The Washington Post in 1996. “She said, ‘P. baby, I want to do my next album on this piano and I want you to be my engineer’ … I enjoyed recording Shirley so much, I decided to hang out my shingle.”

Mr. Sprey named his record label Mapleshade and recorded primarily jazz and blues musicians, including saxophonists Clifford Jordan and Hamiet Bluiett and pianists Walter Davis Jr., John Hicks and Larry Willis. He placed rubber baffles on the walls and ceiling and turned off all the lights, refrigerators, furnaces and electronic devices to obtain as pure a sound as possible.

“Something important is happening in Upper Marlboro,” a CD Review critic wrote. “To sit down with a small stack of your very first Mapleshades is a revelation.”

A 1997 recording of New York’s Arc Choir singing the gospel tune “Walk With Me” was sampled on Kanye West’s hit . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 1:54 am

New edition of “The History of Jazz”

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Ted Gioia writes at The Honest Broker:

Back in the early 1990s, Sheldon Meyer of Oxford University Press asked me to write a full history of jazz, from its origins to the current day—a book that would serve as the publishing house’s flagship work on the subject.

When Oxford University Press had published Marshall Stearns’s The Story of Jazz in 1956, it had served as a milestone moment in music scholarship. For the first time, a major academic press was embracing jazz as a legitimate field of study. But by the 1990s, Stearns’s book was terribly out-of-date, and Oxford needed a new work to replace it in their offerings. My book was envisioned as that replacement.

I told Meyer that I would need at least 4-5 years to deliver a book on such an expansive topic. He accepted this timeline—he was a wise editor who took a long term view of publishing, a rarity nowadays, but that’s why so many books he edited went on to win the Pulitzer or Bancroft prizes. I was blessed to have him as my editor, and wanted to work with him on this project. I managed to complete the manuscript in the promised time frame, and in 1997 my book The History of Jazz was published, a few days after my 40th birthday.

In retrospect, I view this moment as the key turning-point in my vocation as a music historian. The History of Jazz would prove to be the bestselling jazz book of the next quarter-of-a-century, selling hundreds of thousands of copies in English and various translations. It brought me in contact with readers all over the world, and put me in an enviable position. Music tends to be a young person’s game, and that’s true for writers as well as performers. Yet I found that I had somehow reversed the trend, finding a much larger readership after the age of 40 than I’d ever enjoyed as a young man—in the aftermath everyone from the White House to the United Nations would contact me for guidance and advice on jazz-oriented projects, and I still hear daily from readers of this book who share their own jazz stories from all over the world. I never take that for granted, and have always felt gratitude to Sheldon and Oxford, but especially to these readers, who have stayed with me through so many subsequent books.

But the history of jazz is not a static subject. The music continues to morph and evolve. So I wrote an updated and expanded second edition of The History of Jazz released in in 2011. And ten years later, another upgrade is very much necessary. A few weeks ago, the new third edition of The History of Jazz was released—which has allowed me to bring this exciting story, once again, up to the current day.

Below is an extract from the new edition for my subscribers. It looks at the extraordinary conjunction of events spurring a resurgence of interest in jazz in the current moment.

For more information on the book, you may want to check out my recent interview for NPR, conducted by Natalie Weiner.

How Jazz Was Declared Dead—Then Came Roaring Back to Life

by Ted Gioia (from The History of Jazz, 2021 Edition)

I’ve heard many predictions about jazz over the years. The prognosticators typically serve up grim forecasts about the genre’s inevitable decline into irrelevancy or its survival on life support as a kind of musical museum exhibit celebrating past glories. Such prophecies aren’t much fun to consider—but they haven’t been very accurate either. None of these seers has anticipated what’s actually now happening on the jazz scene, a development as delightful as it has been unexpected. Jazz has somehow rediscovered its roots as populist music, embarking on a new and unscripted dialogue with mainstream culture. To some extent, jazz has even turned into a kind of talisman for forward-looking sounds in commercial music—with the same mass-market periodicals that published obituaries for the genre just a short while ago now proclaiming its hot new status.

Artists as different from each other as Kamasi Washington, Esperanza Spalding, Shabaka Hutchings, and Robert Glasper have shown that they can draw on the full range of current-day song styles without losing their jazz roots, and attract a young crossover audience who are energized and excited by this give-and-take. Pop culture stars, from Kendrick Lamar to Lady Gaga, have returned the favor, seeking out ways of uplifting their own artistry by incorporating jazz ingredients into their music. In the process, the whole notion of jazz as a niche genre for snobbish insiders has gotten overturned. Jazz is showing up with increasing frequency on tourist guides, suggested as the preferred evening’s entertainment in New York or London or Tokyo or some other travel destination. And even for stay-at-homes watching movies from the comfort of their couch, a surprising number of Hollywood offerings—La La LandGreen BookWhiplashMiles AheadBorn to Be BlueSoul—have served up jazz stories and songs suitable for mainstream appeal.

Of course, not every jazz old-timer celebrates the music’s newfound popularity. Just as complaints could be heard in the 1980s and 1990s when the music gained wider respectability and made an alliance with academic and nonprofit institutions, a whole litany of different grievances have been raised now that the genre has seemingly reversed course and returned to the people. But the lessons of jazz history are fairly clear by now: complaints and denunciations by entrenched insiders are almost always a sign that something important is underway. In this instance, the new discourse between jazz and popular music seems more than just a passing trend but the sign of an emerging ethos that might prove lasting and transformative.

It’s hard to pinpoint the moment a trend reverses. And in the case of jazz, it sometimes seemed as if its alleged downturn would never end—at least judging by the pessimistic media pronouncements on the art form made during the early years of the twenty-first century. Jazz’s problem, they declared, wasn’t like a bad haircut, something you could grow out of, or an embarrassing tattoo that a laser might zap away, but more like a death sentence. I still recall my dismay when The Atlantic entitled an otherwise favorable review of one of my books with the dispiriting headline: “The End of Jazz,” and followed it up with a subhead that promised to explain “how America’s most vibrant music became a relic.” I was miffed, but I could hardly blame the author. He was simply stating the consensus view among opinion leaders.

That was back in 2012, but the notion that jazz was dead had been bouncing around for quite some time. In 2007, Esquire had published a similar article, proclaiming in its headline not only the “Death of Jazz,” but adding that the genre had been in decline since John Coltrane’s demise forty years earlier. Around that same time, critic Marc Myers published an article on his JazzWax website entitled “Who Killed Jazz and When?,” which reached a similar conclusion, but pinpointed an even earlier cause of decline— specifically, the decision by jazz bands in the late 1940s to stop playing for dancers. When CNN tackled the same matter, in an article entitled “When Jazz Stopped Being Cool,” the guilty parties were now the Beatles and rock & roll. Other pundits focused on different root causes for the music’s obsolescence, with everyone from elitist fans to narcissistic performers getting a share of the blame. But the final result was, as they saw it, hardly open to debate: jazz had been on life support for too long, and it was time to put the dear old thing out of its misery.

It’s now been several years since I’ve seen any of those anguished obituaries for jazz, and instead a different kind of news story has taken its place. Big font headlines now proclaim  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2021 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Books, History, Jazz

“Cry Me a River” by Dakota Staton

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My understanding of “Cry Me a River” is due to Julie London, a contemplative, quiet, 2:00am sort of song, but this by Dakota Staton is electrifying and much more substantial:

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2021 at 11:08 pm

Posted in Jazz

Ella Fitzgerald – All The Things You Are

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Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2021 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Art, Jazz, Music, Video

Oscar Peterson – Boogie Blues Etude

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Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 7:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Video

Raymond Scott’s bizarre but intriguing ideas

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Being ahead of one’s time is a serious curse. Ted Gioia has a most interesting column that begins:

Background: Below is the latest in my series of profiles of individuals I call visionaries of sound—innovators who are more than just composers or performers, but futurists beyond category. Their work aims at nothing less than altering our entire relationship with the music ecosystem and day-to-day soundscapes.

In many instances, their names are barely known, even within the music world. In some cases—as with Charles Kellogg, recently profiled here—they have been entirely left out of music history and musicology books.

In this installment, I focus on the remarkable legacy of Raymond Scott. During the coming months, I will be publishing more of these profiles. Perhaps I will collect them in a book at some point.

The Secret Music Technology of Raymond Scott

Unfortunately, I need to start this article by talking about Porky Pig.

Raymond Scott deserves better. He never intended for his legacy in music to depend on cartoon animals. But his largest audience, as it turned out, would be children who laugh at Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and the other animated protagonists of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons released by Warner Bros.

Scott didn’t write cartoon music—at least, not intentionally—but his music appears on more than 100 animated films. For that give credit (or blame) to Carl Stallings, who needed to churn out a cartoon soundtrack every week, more or less, while under contract to Warner Bros. Stallings found a goldmine in the compositions of Raymond Scott, whose music had been licensed to the studio. These works, which straddle jazz and classical stylings, possess a manic energy that made them the perfect accompaniment to a chase scene or action sequence or some random cartoon-ish act of violence.

Scott called his music “descriptive jazz”—his name for a novel chamber music style that drew on the propulsive drive of swing, with all the riffs and syncopation of that dance style, but with less improvisation and proclaiming a taste for extravagant, quasi-industrial sounds. It was like techno before there was techno, but with a jitterbug sensibility.

When I first learned about Scott, I was taught to view him as a music novelty act, akin perhaps to Zez Confrey or Spike Jones, and the most frequently cited examples of his work (to the extent, they were mentioned at all) were these cartoon soundtracks. But Scott had higher ambitions. He was, after all, a Juilliard graduate, with a taste for experimental music, and worldview more aligned with Dali and Dada than Daffy Duck. But Scott also wanted to be a technologist—his early aim had been to study engineering. He dreamed of combining these two pursuits, and gaining renown as one of the trailblazers in electronic music.

Under slightly different circumstances, he might have become even more famous for music tech than for his cartoon music, as well-known as Robert Moog or Ray Dolby or Les Paul or Leon Theremin. But those dreams were all in the future, when he picked the name “Raymond Scott” out of a phone book—because he thought it “had good rhythm.” . . .

Continue reading. It gets stranger and stranger. He invented a music synthesizer, for example, hiring Bob Moog to design circuits for him. (Moog later made his own synthesizer, of course.) Amazing story.

There’s an old country song called “Pictures from Life’s Other Side.” This whole piece reminded me of that.

Written by Leisureguy

21 July 2021 at 3:03 pm

A jazz great who died too soon: Austin Peralta

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Austin Peralta recorded the album above when he was 15, with Ron Carter on bass. Ted Giola writes at The Honest Broker:

Frankly, I don’t recall why I reached out to pianist Austin Peralta back in 2008 or 2009. I vaguely remember that someone told me about him in an email—but I get recommendations like that every day. So why did I pay attention to this one?

It must have been someone whose judgment I trusted. Not a paid publicist or record label flack—probably a seasoned LA musician whose opinions I took seriously. The advice, as I recall, was short and to-the-point, along the lines of: Ted, pay attention to this LA teenager named Austin Peralta. He’s going to shake things up.

I can say with certainty that I had no interest in Peralta as a jazz child prodigy. There are few music critics less interested in child prodigies than I. I hear about them all the time—they’re everywhere nowadays—and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are just two kinds of child prodigies in jazz, and it’s wise to avoid both of them.

The first type is the over-hyped talent who is nowhere near as good as the press releases claim. This is not an infrequent situation—and usually because someone stands to gain from exaggerating the child’s ability. If I had a taste for jazz gossip (which I don’t), I could share shameful details of parents who invest a hundred thousand dollars or more in creating a reputation for their youngster as a prodigy, built largely on smoke and mirrors and cash payments. The kid must have a modest level of talent, but we’re definitely not talking about the next Mozart—more like a school band standout. If you have enough money to spend, you can even get radio airplay and fawning reviews. It sure looks good on the college application.

On the other hand, there are genuine child prodigies, with enormous talent. But even here, I find the whole situation distasteful. No matter how awesome their ability, children should not be releasing jazz albums. They need time to mature and find their individual sound and approach. If they’re rushed at this juncture, they may never achieve any genuine depth as artists.

Consider the case of Joey Alexander, the most hyped child prodigy in jazz in recent memory. The first time I heard him play, I knew immediately that he had huge upside potential. Alexander is the real deal. But I also knew that he shouldn’t be making records at age 11—and the New York Times wasn’t doing him any favors by proclaiming his greatness in large font headlines.

Even if the finger dexterity is impressive, the emotional depth and sense of individualism—absolutely essential elements in jazz—will be lacking at that age. There’s only so much soulfulness a preteen can put into a solo, and it barely fills a thimble. More to the point, too much praise too soon can stunt a child’s development. (If you have any doubts, just look at the teen sports world and count the tragic stories.) Alexander recently turned 18, and I’ve started paying closer attention—with the highest of hopes. But he may struggle holding on to his audience, because he built his public image as a precocious whiz kid, fast and glib at the keyboard—a rare adolescent, no doubt, but embraced by various interests as a marketable commodity. The time will come when Joey Alexander genuinely deserves a Grammy nomination, but when he was 13, there were a thousand jazz players more worthy than him. Yes, the marketing hype won out, but that’s a risky way to embark on your life’s work—you can only be the whiz kid for so long.

So I certainly didn’t reach out to Austin Peralta because he was promoted as a prodigy. That probably made me more skeptical than anything. But in all fairness, there wasn’t much promotion. I’d never received a press release, and few were aware of Peralta’s precocious music skills back in those days—at least in the United States. There was no fawning article in the New York Times or any other leading newspaper, as far as I could tell. I had never heard his name until someone told me about him.

But a Google search informed me that Peralta had achieved a degree of jazz fame in Japan when he was 15 years old. He even made two records in Japan—both of them released in 2007. The first one, called Maiden Voyage, featured Peralta playing with bassist Ron Carter. That caught my attention. Carter is one of the most respected bassists in the history of jazz—what’s he doing in the studio with a 15-year-old pianist? And that same year, Peralta recorded another album for the Japanese market, but this time with another world class bassist, Buster Williams.

At this juncture, I decided I should listen to this music, just to stay informed. I had low expectations—as mentioned above, the prodigy angle always turns me off. I’m old enough to remember the rise and fall of Craig Hundley—these youngsters come and go, usually sooner rather than later. But as a jazz critic, I still need to listen. I spend a lot of time doing just that, staying abreast of trends, whether I like them or not. Stan Getz once told me: “I listen to music the way a stock broker follows Wall Street”—a comment which puzzled me at the time, but I now understand exactly what he meant. You ought to know whose stock is rising, and whose is falling, even if you’re not making an investment.

But I ran into a problem. I couldn’t . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2021 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Music

Good treatment of a jazz standard: After You’ve Gone

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Written by Leisureguy

4 May 2021 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Video

Bria Skonberg, excellent jazz trumpeter and vocalist

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Take a listen:

For more, see her interview in Classical Voice. And here’s a longer sample of her work:

Written by Leisureguy

3 May 2021 at 9:23 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

A Dance to ‘Swing, Swing, Swing,’ by Benny Goodman Orchestra (from a riff by Chick Webb)

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Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2021 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Jazz, Music, Video

Hellzapoppin (colorized)

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14 March 2021 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Jazz, Movies & TV

The most feared song in jazz, explained

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24 February 2021 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Jazz, Music, Video

Wow! Watch this Instagram

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25 January 2021 at 8:02 pm

Posted in Jazz, Music, Video

Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich with Sammy Davis, Jr.

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Not to forget Zutty Singleton:

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2021 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Jazz, Music, Video

Elton John interviews Diana Krall

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I have loved Diana Krall’s work since her first album, which blew me away. I actually saw her perform in Santa Cruz. It was packed and at the intermission people were in line to to use the rest rooms. She walked up, asked where the rest rooms were, and as she walked away a woman standing near me turned and said, “It must be reincarnation. She’s too young to be that good.”

And she’s from just up the road in Nanaimo (home of the famous Nanaimo Bar), though she now lives in Vancouver and London with her husband Elvis Costello and their twin sons (age 11). Interview is from December 27, 2019.

I really enjoyed this interview and you can search on YouTube and Spotify for more songs by her. (And I also love Julie London’s work and I think I had CDs of everything. And I had lots of Nat King Cole CDs. I remember hearing Nat King Cole from my childhood.)

Written by Leisureguy

3 December 2020 at 6:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Music, Video

A more pleasant video: Doris Day and Kirk Douglas in a scene from “Young Man with a Horn”

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Young Man with a Horn is an excellent movie in which Hoagy Carmichael also plays (a role and the piano). It continues awhile after the actual ending of the movie, doing an after-the-fact pasted-on fakei-cheery epilogue narrated by Carmichael, but if you stop the movie just before that starts, it’s a great movie. Here’s the scene:

Written by Leisureguy

3 December 2020 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Jazz, Movies & TV, Video

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