Nakatini Serenade

Speaking of trumpeter Cal Massey, here’s a tune of his played by Lee Morgan, John Coltrane and others. Cal didn’t get a chance to record much, but he worked with many jazz greats in the 1950s and 60s and his compositions and arrangements pop up in their discographies. My post last week was a tribute to Cal by pianist Stanley Cowell.

Cal Massey

I’ve already made brief posts in last few months about McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea, two of my favorite pianists who are sadly no longer with us. Another great pianist we lost recently, who got slightly less fanfare from major publications, is Stanley Cowell. Aside from being a talented player and composer, he deserves recognition for being co-founder of the Strata East record label, which put out some amazing music that otherwise might not have seen the light of day.

Stanley had an obvious reverence for the early greats of the jazz piano tradition like Art Tatum and Duke Ellington, but his style was modern and explorative. This piece, for example, is one I heard many times before I discovered its most interesting aspect. Stanley recorded this tribute to Cal Massey many times, most famously on Clifford Jordan’s sublime Glass Bead Games album. Recently I heard a version from 1986 that features a great reading by bassist Reggie Workman. It wasn’t until I tried to play along that I realized that the melody and bassline are mirror images of each other!

The whole piece is symmetrically arranged around the home note of D, specifically the D above middle C on the piano, also known as D4. The right and left hands start an octave away from this note and always approach or retreat from it by the same amount.


I love Yusef Lateef’s early 70s albums with Kenny Barron on piano.  They all have an earthy, funky quality that lifts me whether I’m listening intently or just looking for background music.  I only recently realized that Yusef recorded one of Kenny’s songs a decade earlier, when the pianist was still a teenager living in Philadelphia.  Joe Zawinul plays keys on this record.


Tumba Island

I’ve been meaning to pay tribute to Chick Corea since his passing a couple months ago. He was a prolific composer and player throughout his long career, and he put out top notch albums in many genres and formats. I especially like his sense of rhythmic phrasing – Chick’s body of work is full of devilishly tricky tunes that he plays with graceful ease.

This song originally comes from one of his Elektric Band albums, but I know it from a video of Chick playing at the Tokyo Blue Note in 1992 with John Patitucci on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. I transcribed this from that recording (where the song is only called “Tumba”) many years ago.