Thursday, January 28, 2016

A bit more jazz for those who like that kind of thing. And those who don’t are banned from this blog for a week.

These soundfiles should play fine on your Mac using Safari, Chrome and Firefox, and on a Windows PC using Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox. They don't seem to work on a Mac using Opera. I haven't tried them on Opera on a Windows machine cos I can't be buggered downloading and installing it. There are several other browsers out there - e.g. Maxthon for Mac - but at the moment is usually use an elderly Macbook running Snow Leopard and many of them demand a more up-to-date OS. But I feel I’ve done a my bit and if your browser doesn't play these tracks, it's up to you to sort it out. Chin, chin.

I was looking at my most recent post, the one before this one, correcting one or two of the literals which always slip in (me being the conscientious sort eventually, though apparently not immediately) and it occurred to me that the selection of jazz musicians and their tracks I had posted might seem to some a little top-heavy with the jazz equivalent of what some classical musicians describe as ‘squeaky-gate music’. Well, at least to some. And for those ‘some’ it is perhaps not as ‘accessible’ as it might be. (I once knew a double-bass player with the BBC Wales Symphony Orchestra and that’s when I first heard the phrase ’squeaky-gate music’.)

By the way, when I use the word ‘accessible’, I mean it pretty much as close to an insult as you can get without exactly being insulting. Des O’Connor (for real oldies), Adele, Florence and the Sodding Machine and all the other shite they play on BBC Radio 1 and 2 is ‘accessible’, as is the classical excerpts played on Classical FM. I hope that doesn’t make me sound like some kind of stuck-up, snobby prick, but I have to say that - with some very notable exceptions, quite a few actually, for me ‘accessibility’ is in inverse proportion to ‘interest’.

The exceptions, of course, are for me some of the ‘accessible’ black music, lovers’ rock, soul and related genre. To many ears, Alexander O’Neal and Freddie Jackson, say (and I shall include tracks below, just for the craic, so you can see what I mean) is, or can, be pretty bloody ‘accessible’ in my sense of the word and trashy to the point of despair, but I have to say I love them and stuff like that. And I haven’t yet chosen which track to post here but I shall make sure it makes my point. For example, Freddie Jackson does a version of Me And Mrs Jones which I like even better than the original hit by Billy Paul, but I shan’t be choosing that one.)

So here are a few more jazz tracks which I have on iTunes by way of contrast.

First up is this one by pianist Bill Evans and the guitar player Jim Hall. Evans had a heroin habit (and was a few years ago featured on Radio 3’s Composer Of The Week just to show the world that they aren’t necessarily a gang of old farts). Jim Hall didn’t have a heroin habit (though you often get the impression being addicted to smack was pretty much de rigeur for some jazz folk. Chet Baker (below) was another.

All Across The City/Bill Evans and Jim Hall

Then there’s Herbie Hancock’s take on Leon Russell’s Song For You (very beautiful and, in his version very simple). Christine Aguilera sings - bloody well - and until then I, who had not heard a lot by her, thought she was simply some pop diva. I was wrong. I have previously posted about the song Song For You and the different versions of it, some of which are too awful for words, notably ones by The Carpenters and Whitney Houston - crass beyond belief - and some which are good, though for my money Leon Russell’s own version is best, with Herbie Hancock coming, in his own way, a close second.

Song For You/Herbie Hancock with Christine Aguilera

I have about nine different versions of Autumn Leaves, from this one by Chet Baker to a very good one by Eric Clapton and, to my mind a pretty awful version by Bob Dylan. Not everything he does turns to gold. But it is a great song and one which I can play on guitar quite jazzily (it’s basically only six chords, although you can - and I do - and oddly enough the same chords can be used for Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby, which is awful, and I do a mad, disturbed jazzy version. Disturbed? You’ll understand if you know the song and the story it tells.).

Autumn Leaves/Chet Baker

I am not black (and never have been - nice white middle-class chappie, me) but every time I hear Billie Holiday’s version of Strange Fruit, I get a chill up and down my spine. For me this is a unique recording, and at the risk of sounding unbelievably pretentious it’s a song white folk sing at their peril. I have another version by Sharon Robinson (who co-wrote Everybody Knows) which is half-decent, but I have also had the misfortune to have heard renderings of it which make the song just another in the singer’s repertoire. (Just looked the song up on Spotify and see that Nina Simone sings a version, which is good, and Annie Lennox, everyone’s favourite singing feminist, which is, predictably, just another song in her repertoire. White honkies: stay away. Leave this one for black performers who will know a lot better than you might ever what they are singing about.)

I could go on, but I don’t want to sound mad or pretentious or right-on or anything like that. All I’ll say is (and for me the revelation only came after reading Howard Zinn’s account of black life in America in his A People’s History Of The United States) that in recent and not so recent history no one has been more shat upon and fucked up like blacks in white cultures and Jews in every culture. So, you white singers: sing Strange Fruit at your peril. I doubt you will come anywhere more than a million miles close to conveying what it meant to Billie Holiday.

Strange Fruit/Billie Holliday

I got into Steely Dan years ago in a big way and although I think in their most recent CDs they don’t quite have the fire of their early stuff up to Gaucho, though the tunes are still as good, Donald Fagen’s first solo CD, Nightfly, is that rarest of rare things perfect from beginning to end. And Maxine was one of the best tracks from it. Somehow I came across Justin Morell, the guitar-playing son of another jazz guitar player, John Morell (isn’t Google great, eh, makes you sound knowledgable). He had produced a great CD called The Music Of Steely Dan and this is his band’s take on Maxine. Mind there’s a lot more to Morell than this and he is worth checking out.

Maxine/Justine Morell

Stella By Starlight is pretty much a jazz standard and this is Joe Pass’s version. As a rule I don’t like to much fiddle-faddling (like sodding Chopin) in my music and far prefer clean guitar lines, but Pass is my exception and I don’t know why. Well, I do: he makes it all seem so breathtakingly simple. The same is true of Earl Hines who comes after Pass with Stormy Weather, another jazz standard.

Stella By Starlight/Joe Pass

Stormy Weather/Earl Hines

I didn’t get to hear much by Gerry Mulligan until quite recently, although I had often heard the name and, for some reason had assumed he was a Brit. He’s not. He also had a heroin habit. Here he plays The Cat Walk with someone called Ben Webster. I could google Ben Webster, then pretend I knew, but I can’t be arsed.

The Cat Walk/Gerry Mulligan & Ben Webster

Dizzy Gillespie is another jazz name even folk who don’t follow jazz will probably have heard. Usually folk play A Night In Tunisia, but in an odd way that has become so well-known it’s getting close to a jazz cliche. So here you can listen to Trumpet Blues.

Trumpet Blues/Dizzy Gillespie

Then come two version of Lullaby Of Leaves, which is a tune which sounds very familiar and seem to have heard for ever, but which I couldn’t have named for the life of me until very recently. The first is by Billy Bauer, who (thank you Wikipedia) spent most of his career as a sideman and seems to have released only on CD of his own. But I like his playing a lot. Then after that there’s Grant Green’s version, which is just as good. I love his really clean and unfettered guitar lines. The guy playing Hammond organ on Grant Green’s recording is a guy called Baby Face Willette (thanks Wiki) and I can only say I wish I had been called that. I think the ‘Willette’ is important. Baby Face Powell doesn’t quite do it, does it.

Lullaby Of Leaves/Billy Bauer

Lullaby Of Leaves/Grant Green

That’s enough jazz for one day, but posting these here has got my appetite up, and there’s lot more where these came from, Lennie Tristano, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessell, Swedish singer Lisa Ekdahl when she does jazz (apparently most of her career was a straightforward pop artist in Sweden), Art Farmer, Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Harry James, Roy Eldridge, loads and loads and loads and fuck Michael Jackson (but not Prince. He can be sublime and often has been, although not quite as often as he seems to think).

But, the big but: my Achilles heel which I mentioned above - the schlock I like. Here are two great examples of superb schlock, especially the first Good Morning Heartache.

Good Morning Heartache/Freddie Jackson

followed by Innocent.

Innocent/Alexander O’Neal

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