This week I’d like to share some music my grandmother liked. She died suddenly last week, at age 86, when her health rapidly declined after a minor injury got infected. My mother was with her in her last few days and the rest of the family was able to say goodbye to her, so seeing them at the funeral this weekend was less a somber occasion than a happy reunion.
I never knew my grandmother to enjoy jazz (aside from Glenn Miller), but once when she heard me playing Sam Rivers’ classic album Fuchsia Swing Song she remarked how good it was. I take this as more proof that Sam was a first rate genius. Here are a couple of my favorites of his.
After leaving Coltrane’s group, Elvin Jones spent much of the next 15 years touring with pianoless combos. In 1972, however, he made time to record Hollow Out with bassist Gene Perla and pianist Masabumi Kikuchi at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio. The album features five of Kikuchi’s original compositions and plenty of group improv. I think the melody sounds especially good on tenor sax.
I have been a fan of the Respect Sextet since being introduced to their music by a friend from Rochester in 2003. Their album The Full Respect has never been far from my CD player. Their music is energetic, surprising, and often funny. Case in point:
As you may have guessed, this is the RS mashup of Bird’s “Moose the Mooche” and Bill Evans’ “Very Early”. These two tunes have been practiced ad nauseam by aspiring sax and piano players (piano great Kenny Werner says he once spent an entire summer shedding “Very Early”). Together they become a bebopper’s nightmare, contorting an already difficult melody over a chord progression that gets less and less predictable as the form goes on.
Still, the Respect Sextet seems to handle the task with ease, propelled in no small part by drummer Ted Poor, who I have heard backing Ben Monder, Chris Potter and Cuong Vu in recent years. Ted is also a member of self-described “lungcore” group Jerseyband, another personal favorite.
Well, it’s Valentine’s day again! Like it or not, it’s one of the few chances you get during the year to put an actual dollar amount on the love you feel for another human being. Because let’s face it, the day itself doesn’t bring people closer together. You probably don’t love a person any more today than you do on the 13th or 15th of February. Like so much of life it comes down to advertising. People who have a product to sell want you to believe that you pay a social or personal price for not buying it. I know most people are rational about the meaning of Valentine’s day, but woe is the man who fails to acknowledge it in some way. We would do well to just change the name to “Chocolate Day”. Significant others still get gifts, unattached people don’t feel lonely or stigmatized, everyone gets that coveted serotonin rush. Doesn’t Chocolate Day sound nice?
Anyway, my contribution to the festivities will be a couple of “love” songs, the first from the pen of George Gershwin.
This chart is based on an Erroll Garner version I had on cassette tape. He recorded the tune more than once but I remember this take really captured the essence of Erroll’s style: his warmth and humor, the way he made virtuosic playing seem so easy, never losing that swinging feel.
Here’s a tune I transcribed a few years ago off a John Coltrane reissue called Stardust, recorded with Wilbur Harden on trumpet and the flawless rhythm section of Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. “Love Thy Neighbor” was written by the team of Harry Revel and Mack Gordon (Mack also wrote one of the great love songs of all time, “At Last”).
The middle staff here is the cello line given to Kermit Moore, one of my favorite string players. I added the vamp at the end of the form to serve as an interlude between solos and possibly a drum solo leading into the last A. On the studio version the track fades out, but on the bandstand I would end on the pentatonic line just before the B section.
Ron Carter and Billy Cobham are in fine form on this record, and this tune is a highlight. The trio and strings swirl around the flute of Hubert Laws like shifting winds, and the tonal center moves around during the song too. I have heard pieces of this album sampled on more than a few hip hop tracks.