Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Eighteen reasons for not hating jazz

Herbie Hancock
When I used the term “modern jazz” in my previous post, I meant the inaccessible stuff which Be-Bop ushered induring the 1950s and which reached its unlovely zenith at the end of that decade. I didn’t mean to include Trad or Swing, which had their moments, or some of the terrific stuff that followed "modern" jazz, when a regular beat and tunes were reintroduced in the 1960s.

None of the jazz I enjoy is in the least bit exclusive or self-congratulatorily complex.  I expect many jazz enthusiasts wouldn’t even classify most of what follows as jazz, in any case.

Here, in no particular order are some of my favourites. I'll start with Benny Goodman's "That's A Plenty" which I first heard when Johnny Dankworth chose it as one of his Desert Island Discs years ago. Goodman was 19 when he recorded this in Chicago in 1928 and his performance is awesome:

Other brilliant Goodman recordings include his thumping 1937 version of Louis Prima's "Sing Sing Sing (with a Swing)", which features some of the greatest drumming ever committed to disc, courtesy of the great Gene Krupa, and "Big John's Special". And, also from that era, I've always been fond of Bob Cosby and the Bobcats' "Big Noise Blew in from Winnetka", especially when it goes bonkers about 1'45" in. That's Swing taken care of.

Post-modern jazz, now:  "Cantaloupe Island" is possibly the coolest record of all time, jazz or otherwise. I first heard it when a trendy and very nice photographer couple moved in a few doors down some 15 years ago and played a Herbie Hancock album at their housewarming party one hot summer night. I went out into our garden determined to be grumpy about the noise - but stayed for 20 minutes just to soak up the music. This is what I call a groove:

In 1993, Hancock's masterpiece was sampled on "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)" by the jazz-rap group, Us3 (a Top Ten US hit -deservedly so) - and I love that too. You can listen to it here

In a similar vein is the Horace Silver Quintet's 1964 "Song For My Father" (the old guy on the album cover featured in this YouTube video is Horace's dad, apparently - which is nice).

Seu Jorge
I'm not that keen on World Music, but I like a lot of Latin American jazz. My three  favourite tracks are Antonio Carlos Jobim's dreamy "Favela",  Seu Jorge's haunting take on David Bowie's "Oh! You Pretty Things", and Paul desmond's "Theme from Black Orpheus" (although I'm guessing Mr Desmond isn't actually Hispanic). 

Ronnie Law's relentless "Always There" sound like funk to me, but as it came on a Best of Jazz compilation CD, I reckon I'm justified in featuring it here. 

As for my earliest experience of jazz, that was either Bobby Darin's excellent Big Band version of "Up a Lazy River", which featured on a 1960 EP, or Vernon Girl Lyn Cornell's vocal version of Cannonball Adderley's "African Waltz" - but as the latter single, on which Ms Cornell was backed by the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra, is too obscure to make it onto YouTube, I'll have to settle for Johnny's 1962 instrumental version, which was a No. 9 hit in the UK (and has the merit of not featuring Cleo Laine). 

And, for old time's sake,  I'll bung in Kenny Ball's "Midnight in Moscow", from 1962, and Acker Bilk's "Delia's Gone", from 1958 - not cool, I know, but they mean something to me.

I have no idea whether contemporary artist, C.W. Stoneking's stuff counts as jazz, but this Australo-American white boy with the voice of a hard-living 65-year old Delta bluesman is so wonderful, he makes the cut in any case. I'll end with his utterly brilliant "The Love Me Or Die":


  1. You might consider acknowledging "Satch"[ you mention him in your Music Corner side-bar], Django Rheinhardt and George Shearing.

    Duke Ellington and Count Basie?

    Thank you for not mentioning George Melly [has he died yet?]. Or Dame Cleo Laine [ditto]. How many excellent British films from the 50s and 60s have Johnny and Cleo's crappy soundtracks not managed to ruin? "The Servant" - "Love for Sale".

  2. When I was in Denmark a few years ago, I saw a concert at Elsinore by a Danish bassist called Niels Henning Orstedt Pedersen, affectionately known as The Great Dane with the Never Ending Name. His jazz was modern but tuneful and he was a charming fellow as well. He's worth checking out.

    How on earth did the Dankworth/Laine duo achieve such fame and honour? SDG is spot on. Forget about torturing Iraqi prisoners with endless heavy metal music. Four bars of Cleo scat singing and I'd confess to being Jack the Ripper.

  3. Nothing against Louis Armstrong, and I did think about including "West End Blues", which is excellent. I also don't mind Duke Ellington and Count Basie, but there isn't a single track I'd go out of my way to hear again. I remember a bizarre interlude in the Jerry Lewis film "The Errand Boy" (which I thought was hilarious when I was nine) during which Lewis mimes to the Basie number, "Blues in Hoss Flat", from the "Chairman of the Board" album, which we had at home. Impossible to watch now without embarrassment, but at the time I was fascinated by the idea that music might actually be trying to say something (sounds pretentious, I know). Anyway, the sequence can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kS21T_p0pNA&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PLF0A5D6672F232DB7

    George Melly wass an endearingly amiable cove (I remember him claiming he had never felt depressed in his life) but by God his trad jazz singing was tedious! (Still, it evidently gave the old boy a lot of pleasure).

    Yes, indeed, how many decent films were destroyed from the moment a director uttered those fatal words, "Hey, let's get Johnny to do the soundtrack! Perhaps we should persuade the BFI to hunt them down and replace all the music with something nobody will notice.

    Dame Cleo is still with us at 83 (or "ush" as she would no doubt say, what with her plashy sibilants and all). According to Wikipedia, she has a four-octave range. Unfortunately her voice is very annoying in all of them.

    I think, ex-KCS, that the Dankworth/Laine duo enjoyed success due to (a) being a mixed-race couple at a time when it was very exotic, not to say brave, and (b) they were probably seen as an antidote to horrible proley pop music: both of these attributes would have endeared them to the liberal intellectual elite of the time (which is no doubt why Johnny got so much film work, and why they were forever appearing on light entertainment TV shows - how one's heart sank!).

  4. The Grønmark family's home town of Sarpsborg in Norway is dotted with memorials to a chap called Oscar Pedersen, who also had a street named after him. I remember on one visit my cousin telling us all about the great man, who was the original head of the paper mill that provided the town's main source of employment. My comment - "That's funny, I thought he only played the piano" - was met with a distinctly frosty silence.

  5. I made the same comment and got the same reaction.But, in my defence, I actually thought the streets were named after the great jazz musician. An honest mistake in one language is a grave solecism in another.

  6. And oddly, the Great Dane Pedersen was for many years the bass player with Oscar Peterson, although in the brief conversation I had with him he failed to throw light on a possible Sarpsborg mill connection.

    Maybe as you suggest, the success of Johnny and Cleo was one of the early examples of the diversity awareness agenda that so enriches our lives.