A Jazz History
(1895-1950) by Allen Lowe Volume 4 (of 4)
9 CDs each in an
individual slip envelope housed in a cardboard box along with liner notes
There is a pecking order to recorded jazz. Of course, first and
foremost are the musicians who must be possessed of a talent which makes you
want to be captured, to listen. Then would come the engineers, it does not
matter what a cat is playing if you can not hear him. After these first two
things are a few of equal importance, although in appearance not immediately
so. The producer who wears many hats during a recording session and the jazz
theorists/critic who, once Jazz was out of its infancy, would often provide the
liner notes when the artist or producer did not.
Another thing which grew out of jazz as it aged was the phenomenon
of the anthology. The anthology is usually used to present a broad cross
section of an artists oeuvre or to try to define the musics history
or various eras. Inherently containing a large degree of subjectivity, this is
far more difficult task than one may imagine.
Which cuts by an artist are the best examples of what they are
about? When trying to convey the history of an art or an era, who should be
included and/or how many tracks? Ironically, as difficult of a task as this is,
when it is done correctly, the producers hand is barely perceptible.
The dichotomy of a difficult task combined with, when done right,
subtle results, has made the mantle of anthology producer an art unto itself.
Alan Lowe has achieved fantastic results with volume four of a
four volume (36 CDs) anthology. Part of the reason for this is because he is
not only a producer but a jazz theorist with a strong grasp of the jazz family
tree and its many branches and complex roots system.
The set is arranged chronologically, recording dates by year.
Initially, looking through the accompanying book I bemoaned to myself what
seemed to be an imperfect way to arrange each discs tracks. This
methodology meant that a pre-saccharined Doris Day appeared a few tracks away
from Bird and Diz.
But there is a subtle magic afoot. As I listened, what Alan had
set out to do slowly became apparent. Bop, modern-jazz was radical, but also
inevitable. If Bird and Diz the two most visible progenitors had not come to
midwife this art, then someone else would have. That is not to take away from
what they achieved or to say that jazz would have progressed along the exact
The way the discs are arranged you see modern jazzs Rosetta
stone, bop, as it had emerged from all the forward thinking elements of big
band and its sub genres.
Just as Picassos ground breaking Les Demoiselles
dAvignon (1907) seemed a total, radical break with the past and a
launching pad for modern art, so too did bop. But, a closer look at the
painting after the shock of the new is gone and one detects influences from the
past, progressive elements from some of the forerunners whom he had admired
mixed with more primal sources such as oceanic and African art, all of which he
used to synthesize something new and uniquely his own. This set brings forth in
an organic way many forward thinking elements which were to be found not just
in big band, but also country-swing, tango, Dixie-land and even a nascent
version of R&B. Showing us once again, that to be in any artistic vanguard
an artist does not necessarily have to use all which came before, but a
knowledge of it and perhaps cherry picked elements are both a must and the
The big band era can really be broken up into several strata.
Unfortunately it is usually all lumped together so that early dance hall things
make a listener who may have grown up on later jazz player/works avoid Claude
Thornhill for fear of merely getting another Take the A Train type
Too often too, when jazz histories are written big band and
orchestral ensemble history is truncated. Duke Ellington was leaning towards
the symphonic and Count Basie deeply swung. Then there will be a few paragraphs
of the more obscure trinity of band leaders Stan Kenton, Claude Thornhill and
Woody Herman, each being inserted into either the Basie or Ellington
Jazz was seen as an American thing, a young art from a young
country. It was sometimes a by-word for modernism and optimism perhaps tinged
with a little bit of decadence.
In Europe during the early part of the century composers began to
let jazz elements creep into their compositions. What is interesting is there
was, to some extent a boomeranging of ideas and inspiration. It was part of a
not always direct cross pollination. Modern classical composers such as Le Sixe
member Darius Milhaud would use some of jazzs idioms in his compositions.
Darius had first heard jazz on a trip to Brazil as part of a government
attaché. He would later teach at the Paris conservatory and Mills
College in Oakland, California where one of his students would be the young
There are many other examples, Kurt Weil and his Weimar/Berlin
cabaret songs, the discordance and satirical modern machine gone amok marches
which occur in some of Shostakovichs works et al.
The inspiration of classical stateside was for a more musical
complexity. It is often said that the bop musicians were the first musicians
who really wanted to be considered artists, shedding the entertainer moniker,
but there were some band and orchestra leaders who also did not want to settle
for merely making the people dance.
When discussing the first wave of boppers, their day jobs filling
the seats in big bands to some extent paints an inaccurate picture, that they
were forced into a musical drudgery with nothing to absorb. While that was the
case sometimes, such as Dizzy Gillespie and his stint in Cab Calloways
band, the latter who kicked him out for, among other things, Playing that
Chinese music, there were leaders whose certain aspects rubbed off on the
up and coming artists, becoming important parts of modern jazzs overall
palette. Stan Kenton had Dizzy do the arranging for a piece titled
Interlude which would become one of the crown jewels of bop when
renamed A Night In Tunisa.
Claude Thornhill (1909-1965) was a piano playing
bandleader/arranger who strove to merge the big band vernacular of the day with
a more European classical complexity.
He showed musical talent from an early age and had a formal
education from the Cincinnati Conservatory and The Curtis Institute in
His first professional gig with the Austin Wylie Band, found
him sharing the bandstand with friend and future big band great Artie
After this band they both cut their teeth further in Irving
Aaronsons Commanders which led to them both becoming New Yorkers. From
very early on, the big apple had become a sort of jazz promised land. With the
end of his touring obligations Claude filled his time with various studio
During this time he worked with many of the popular big bands
including Benny Goodman. From a growing reputation as a hard worker, plus an
obvious talent in dealing with multi-instrument charts, he worked for two years
with Glenn Miller before emigrating to the West Coast.
There, he found work as the musical arranger for the Bob Hope
radio show. Singer Maxine Sullivans songs Loch Lomond and
Gone with the Wind were both made famous during this time with his
In 1940 he recorded as leader. Knowledge gained from having worked
for bands of various size and talent helped crystallize in his head what he
wanted for a sound and how to get it.
Records during this time were not made to last, they served more
almost as a tangible souvenir of moments witnessed on stage, or as a sort of
mental foreplay for what was to occur at the dance hall. Part of this reality,
bands had to hit the road.
Initially his orchestra filled in for Glenn Millers at
the Pennsylvania Hotel and Sammy Kayes band at The Commodore. Both groups
were different than what Claude wanted to do, but he made his music fit without
compromising his artistic vision or disappointing the audience.
From these two fill in slots they embarked on a seemingly cursed
tour where every true road cliché seems to have occurred, including a
ballroom fire which almost broke the bands spirit and will.
A booking at the Glenn Island Casino (1942) provided a heaven sent
reversal of fortune. After this two month residency the band toured, although
not keeping up visibility via the usual route of radio broadcasts, which might
have also left us with some scratchy if not compelling snap shots of how the
music grew as it became more road tested.
Having hit the rest of nation, the band ended up in California
with some line up changes, including significantly, arranger/pianist Gil
Before further momentum could be built how ever, Claude was
drafted. He could have joined the coast guard as a chief petty officer. He
instead opted to join the navy as an apprentice seaman (lowest rank). Despite
claiming that he wanted to Get away from music he ended up in Artie
Shaws navy orchestra.
After his tour of duty, he was able to reassemble his band with
most of the original members.
During the war, a lot of big bands and orchestras had lost many of
their members to the armed forces. The bands which managed to tour during these
years were often drastically scaled back.
Bop with its quartet/quintet line up was in its infancy just
passing its theoretical stage but, showing ways of creating sonic complexity
without the need of as many voices.
Claude could not keep the orchestra going, he would still play,
but with smaller ensembles. He died in 1965 and it is a wonder he found little
employment after the late 50s when one considers how much of what he did
figured into the equations of many of jazzs sub genres, if even
Claudes personal style of playing showed a classical feel to
great effect. It was all cool Ravelian blues which would come and go,
delicately skimming over his bands interesting and then unique tone. His
laconic way of playing was a precursor to the cool school and some
of its main figures such as Lee Konitz would find themselves on his band
He had perfected a way of his band playing with very little
vibrato for greater articulation and also the ability to do more complex
layering of sound.
The charts were some of the most forward thinking and still offer
an emotional pay off when heard today. One of the main arrangers was Gil Evans,
who would figure prominently in not only the advent of Miles Daviss nonet
and the creation of third stream music (The Birth of the Cool) but also a trio
of albums symphonic in scope and which, shades of Claudes orchestra, find
Miles adopting a vibratoless way of playing and lack of string
Gerry Mulligan, baritone sax player was another to supply charts
and also be around for Miles nonet adding both his voice and charts for
The track of Claudes here is Polka Dots and Moon
Beams, now a West Coast/cool jazz staple. It has a melancholy bent and
the piano manages to be prominent yet delicate. The arrangement is by Gil Evans
and for most of the piece the woodwinds and brass merely blow a warm, soft
breath under Claudes lines. As an interesting counterpoint the piece is
followed by one by Harry James. If it is not apparent during the course of
Claudes track, then after hearing this one you realize how different and
how far leaning towards the European classical tradition Claude had
As bop was forming there was a recording ban going on (1942-1943).
For an art movement which would have such far reaching effects, it came
together relatively fast. We do not have an audio evolutionary chart, but there
are little pieces of the puzzle available.
Bud Powell or Thelonious Monk, both are often referred to as high
priest of bop piano. It does not have to be an either or though. Both had
formal training, Bud studying the classical cannon as a child while Monk
studied briefly with a student of Austrian modernist Arnold Schoenberg. While
to some extent, they both had a percussive touch, there were many differences
in their uses of harmonic structure and composition . They actually
socialized and it was because of an unwillingness on the part of Monk to
compromise Bud to the police that Monk had lost his cabaret card, then all
important for a musician to be able to play in clubs.
Both were on scene around the same time, some people implying that
Monk took more of a mentor role, although he only had seven years on Bud. This
anthology captures one of, if not the first appearance of Bud in a bop setting.
Sitting at the piano bench for The Bebop Boys which also featured Kenny Dorham
and Sonny Stitt.
Buds sui generis has always been more his playing than song
writing. He did write some songs which became modern standards, outliving bop
(Tempus Fugit, Dance of the Infidels, Bouncing with Bud et al). Aficionados say
that after X year there was a decline in his playing as to make it
unlistenable, a tragic shade of his former self. I have never agreed with this,
actually enjoying some of his last Blue Note and Verve dates. I do think he may
have lost a step and not been as dependable after a certain year.
Here though, he is to be found just entering his prime. He plays
with speed but also a concise articulation not all those at the ivories seeking
such speed seem to manage. Like Monk, there are brief glimpses of stride which
they were both well versed in. Kenny Dorham, who would make a successful
transition into the post-bop world of the next generations jazz scene,
most notably working over the course of several compelling albums with
tenor-sax player Joe Henderson, is found here playing with a tarter tone then
he would later have. If he were to eventually become Quite Kenny
here he displays a percussive snap, similar to peer Fats Navarros,
showing an early precursor to the splatter school style of playing. Sonny Stitt
who is sometimes written off as merely a Bird clone shows here, if not having
yet found his own way, then the promise of great things to come.
The next piece is by Stan Kenton (1911-1979) who seems sometimes
to be put up upon the cross for the occasional populist ambitions. Some of his
pieces do verge on the cocktail exotica, conjuring up images of suburban wood
paneled rec-rooms. But it is easy to overlook that Count Basie had in his body
of work albums such as Basie Meets Bond and Basie Meets The
Beatles both of which being exactly what they sound like.
Stan started doing professional arranging in L.A as a teen.
Initial recognition came during his bands residency at The Rendezvous
Ballroom (Balboa beach, CA), this notice allowing them to record a series of
singles for Decca Records.
Stan had the practice of absorbing all that was going on around
him to see not only what he liked, but what he did not like. His album
Artistry in Rhythm was one of Capital Records first releases and a
popular one at that.
Although never merely a big-big band, Stan did use vocalists on
occasion. Anita ODay was his first popular singer. His forward looking
charts and her late night sensuality were a perfect mix. In time she would
leave the band to be replaced by a singer who had initially been inspired to
sing professionally from hearing her, June Christy.
June had that big city cool about her. Hers was a hip grace that
was the shimmering coolness of night lights diffused through a martini
As bop was morphing, Stan, along with Dizzy, were among the first
to inflect Latin American nuances into their pieces.
He employed arrangers, who like himself wanted the music to serve
as more than a catalyst for dance floor motion. In an early 50s tour
which also featured a string section they purposely did not play in any dance
halls. Many of his soloist would become band leaders in their own right, Stan
Getz, Zoot Sims Art Pepper. Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan would appear with
both Stan and Claude Thornhill.
These complex arrangements were given extra depth by Stans
unwavering practice of demanding his star soloist play something different, in
the moment, every night. A practice which later, that Charles Mingus would also
constantly utilize for his intricate neo-symphonic pieces.
Stans piece Ecuador has that hipster exotic vibe about it
much the way some of the better versions of Dukes Caravan do.
The piano with descending bass beginning is brief but immediately caught my
interest. There are some great horn parts including a theme played out by
trombone, an instrument Stan always favored. The piece winds down with same
bass/piano pattern with brass speaking up a final time.
Stan spent most of his life on the road to the point of not being
a home owner. L.A was considered his home, but during downtime his address
would more often than not, be a hotel. This CD made me want to explore more of
his work. Of course care must be taken in which albums to buy, but with any
artist whose catalog is large and who made it a point of continuing to
artistically evolve the same caveat exists.
There are some pieces by messianic pianist Lennie Tristano
(1919-1978). He has become one of the trump cards in the Name the
musicians musician game. While he had always, to some extent,
taught, later in life he devoted himself almost solely to teaching. With his
cult of personality, he took on students, often the way a guru would disciples.
He had some advance theories on improvisation and his own playing was dark hued
and modern calling to mind some of the solo piano works of Leos Janacek. I
prefer his solo or trio work as opposed to the work he did with Bird and other
In teaching he seems to mainly have taught horn players. Much like
surrealist figure head Andre Breton, there would be his equivalent of trials
and excommunications of anyone that deviated from the established dos and
donts of his group. Lee Konitz was one of his star pupils, excommunicated
for his seemingly populist recordings and stints with both Stan Kenton and
Claude Thornhill. Through the lens of time all of that seems unimportant now,
the passionate battles which occurred within this group making for interesting
reading, but holding very little importance in the here and now.
Inspired partially by the improvisations of Bird and working with
many who would be absorbed into the cool and third stream genres, Lennie is one
of few to be found on this anthology whose influence would leap ahead a
generation if only in certain aspects, to the free jazz genre. His use of space
was different than that of Ahmad Jahmals and combined with a classical
counterpoint and dense chord clusters. The Lee Konitz trio album
Motion further shows the influence on the yet to come free
The track Yesterdays in this anthology is solo piano.
There are some with Bird and some with Lee Konitz. Here though is Lennie
Tristano, undiluted. The tone is dark and beautiful, a drifting storm cloud
getting stuck on the apex of a mountain as it floats by. This piece is sixty
years old, yet it is still très modern, and not merely in a
shocking way such as to be felt upon first hearing some of the later free jazz
lexicon. This is both modern and beautiful.
With most artists or heroes, a close look with much scrutiny most
likely, would reveal feet of clay. Life choices and personality aside this is
an artist of highest caliber worthy of exploration.
Throughout this anthology can be found, lightly peppered, some
Dixieland and country swing. The Dixieland is of a later model, being as far as
the soloist go, more sophisticated than was the norm for that genre. The
country swing represented here was when the genre was wide open with none of
the rigid stylistic restrictions that it and regular country music
would later have.
Occasionally in jazz (and perhaps music in general) art would, by
pure happenstance, mix with popular culture, such as the initial introduction
of samba on the Getz/Gilberto albums, Miles doing Someday My Prince Will
Come and John Coltranes irony free take on My Favorite
Successfully mixing these two seemingly divergent elements over
many of his bands incarnations was Woody Herman (1912-1987).
As a child he was, like future band-mate, Zoot Sims, in
vaudeville. Woody was a singer/alto sax/clarinet player who spent his formative
years playing with the Isham Jones Orchestra. Upon dissolution of the band he
poached members to create his own band.
When writing about the various incarnations of his band, they are
referred to as herds The first herd, The Second Herd and later The
Thundering Herd. His first ensemble and the one appearing in this anthology was
called The Band That Plays The Blues.
Woody was always more than willing to directly incorporate new
musical ideas into what he did. This first band did not catch on right away,
having such a sonically advance bend. Success finally came with their Decca
Record (and theme song) Wood Choppers Ball This band lasted about
One of the most important 20th century classical
composers Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was a fan of this first ensemble. He
wrote Ebony Concerto specifically for them even participating in
some of the rehearsals.
It is an excerpt from this concerto which is to be found on disc
one. What I, as a fan of a lot of the 20th century composers noticed
was that the band does not play like a jazz ensemble playing classical, but as
if one were listening to a smaller orchestra.
Ebony Concerto is not nearly as proto-third stream as
some of what can be found in Claude Thornhill or Stan Kentons books,
although, here too there is no string section. The music has the same feel as
Stravinskys LHistoire du Soldat which he had written
for a small touring ensemble during the war with the troupes portability
in mind and war time budget constraints.
Woody Herman is not always considered as progressive as the other
two aforementioned bandleaders, but his modernism was in really absorbing and
embracing the best of what was current. His bands next incarnations would
feature many of the bop and burgeoning cool school of players such as Stan
Getz, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Like his peers Woody used the best arrangers
seeming to allow more bopish inflections in his music in arrangements by Neal
Hefti, Al Cohn and many other up and coming notables.
While always of the times, Woody never completely submerged his
musical identity for the sake of being au current. He left a large body of
work, with some definite misfires but more gold than lead.
Frank Zappa once said Jazz is not dead, it just smells
funny. In some respects, new jazz has lost its way. There are young
players coming up with much dexterity, some with soul too. But jazz has
forgotten that a lot if what is now established music/genres at the time was
railed against by a large part of the music intelligentsia. The new Bird,
wont be the one who can solo or improvise as fast, it will be the one who
brings something new to the table. This anthology shows the vanguard drawing
from the past, but also forging ahead in a new way. Once again jazz needs to do
this, drawing this time from modern classical and ethno-world music or risk
losing one of its main components, that of the unknown, the new, as it becomes
a staid nostalgia.
This collection aside from the things I mentioned has many other
things in it. There are glimpses too of what was going on elsewhere only seen
peripherally if at all by musicians in the states, things like Argentinean
tango master Astor Piazzolla and Cuban percussionist/bandleader Chano Pozo.
There are a few, very few, clunkers in this anthology, things just not to my
taste, but even those have their moments. I found that although some of the
usual suspects appear (Monk, Duke, Miles), as well they should, it is not the
standard tracks one hears again and again in jazz anthologies.
The CDs have all been remastered. None of it sounds bad, out of
nine CDs there are a few tracks with minor sound drop outs or some slight hiss,
but if the newly discovered Bird and Diz live at Town Hall does not bother you,
then possessing better sound, this definitely wont.
The actual individual CD packaging is no frills, just plain white
envelops with clear cellophane windows into which the CDs slide. I do not mind
that though, as it is easier to use than some of the more fancy packaging I
have encountered. The CDs themselves are labeled and numbered along with the
time length on each, a practice I wish were more common. These all fit into a
cardboard box along with a large informative booklet with notes by Alan. I do
not agree with everything thing he says, but there is logic to it all and he
makes no absolute pronouncements which are completely left of field.
A perpetuating beauty of this anthology is that you can return to
it again and again and even with the terrain you have already traversed,
discover new things to inspire and entertain.
This anthology manages to offer up in a logical and entertaining
way, the how and why of modern jazz. I recommend it.