All That Jazz

All That Jazz

Written by Don Kaplan


Just in time for your final pool party, here’s a sampling of jazz recordings to keep you cool and entertained for the rest of the summer. The selections include my usual mix of iconic, well-known, and lesser-known artists performing in a variety of styles. Part Two of the sampler will appear in the next column.

Please note: The Melophile columns are not intended to compete with the entire contents of The Grove Dictionary of Music. They aren’t designed to cover every single important, famous, or influential musician or style that has enriched our lives. The suggested recordings are ones I’m familiar with, have been chosen because they best address the topic at hand, are available on YouTube (for instant gratification), and help build a musical program that is balanced, informative, and enjoyable as it progresses from start to finish.

Stan Getz, saxophone/Focus/“Night Rider” (Verve LP) I had forgotten how good – and strange – this album is. The music is moody and the recording has a distinctive sound that invites you to listen late at night with the lights dimmed. It doesn’t have audiophile-quality sound (the close, breathy saxophone playing and amount of reverberation cuts the highs a bit, and the strings are hard to distinguish from one another) but the overall effect is very enticing.

In Stephen Cook’s review of this progressive album, he explains:

“A year or two shy of his bossa nova success, Stan Getz set his mind to improvising against a backdrop of darkish yet scintillating string charts. The orchestral muscle was provided by arranger Eddie Sauter; the heady and fluid horn lines, of course, came from Getz. The jazz star might have been all airy samba fog to some, but on this classic date he really showed his expansive horn talents: whether leaping and yelping on such galvanizing sides as ‘I’m Late, I’m Late’ or ingeniously responding to the many shades heard in a grand ballad like ‘I Remember When,’ Getz is never short on ideas or panache. Admittedly Getz’s most challenging date and arguably his finest moment, Focus roams the vast jazz landscape outside of bop and boogaloo to fabulous and memorable effect.” []

One listener, identified as The Ranting Recluse, noted in the AllMusic “User Review” section:

“Backed by at times an almost ominous sounding string section and far removed from his more well-known lightweight, pop/bossa-nova sound, Focus finds Stan Getz at his most frenetic and experimental, blowing hotter and freer than on anything else he ever recorded. The end results are striking and memorable, a darkly fantastical, alternately urgent and serene suite of unique, dream-like music that will linger in your thoughts long after it’s done. Certainly not for everyone’s taste, but definitely a must-have for anyone who enjoys so-called third stream music that straddles the line between classical and jazz, of which it is a particularly good example.”

Although The Ranting Recluse actually raves instead of rants about Focus, I agree with his assessment.  This is a memorable and unusual recording of early 1960s jazz.

“Night Rider”


Gerry Mulligan, saxophone/Dream a Little Dream (Telarc CD) Gerry Mulligan helped popularize cool jazz – a controlled, subdued style that became prominent in the United States after World War II. It countered the popular bebop style (where the focus was on the soloist, faster tempos, and more complex harmonies) and was intended to reflect the laid-back attitude of California instead.

Cool jazz is characterized by straightforward, easy to follow melodies. The style avoids anything that is raucous or challenging like John Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” (chords broken into cascading sequences of notes), is generally soft and restrained, and influenced later music styles like modal jazz and bossa nova.

“Dream a Little Dream”


Thelonious Monk, piano/Criss-Cross/“Crepuscule with Nellie” (Columbia LP) Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk helped develop the bebop school of music and had a unique, distinctive style. In contrast to cool jazz or third stream music, Monk’s compositions and improvisations were angular and percussive, could be dissonant, employed melodic twists and sudden shifts in tempo and harmony, and used abrupt silences, hesitations, and odd musical intervals.

“Monk’s usual piano touch was harsh and percussive, even in ballads. He often attacked the keyboard anew for each note, rather than striving for any semblance of legato. Often seemingly unintentional seconds [an interval of a whole step] embellish his melodic lines, giving the effect of someone playing while wearing work gloves…He hit the keys with fingers held flat rather than in a natural curve, and held his free fingers high above the keys…Sometimes he hit a single key with more than one finger, and divided single-line melodies between the two hands…. Monk’s style was not universally appreciated. For example, the poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin described him as ‘the elephant on the keyboard.’ [Thomas Owens, Bebop: The Music and Its Players]

The selection “Crepuscule [twilight] with Nellie,” first recorded in 1957, was a tribute to Monk’s wife Nellie.

Crepuscule with Nellie


Bruce Dunlap, guitar/About Home/“Tesuque” (Chesky CD) Jazz originated in New Orleans, then went on to flourish in a variety of cities – everywhere from Boston to New York to Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro. However, About Home isn’t “big city” music: it’s inspired by nature and employs rural imagery.

Bruce Dunlap composed what JAZZIZ magazine described as “pieces that have the grace and emotional import of fine poetry.” Even though Dunlap favors an understated, subtle approach, he is still an accomplished musician who plays on six-, seven-, and 10-string acoustic guitars. The New York Times called his music “evocative and mesmerizing,” and Downbeat magazine thought “Dunlap’s playing has an easy flow and a singing quality with a lot of heart.”

His first CD, About Home, doesn’t appear on YouTube but his melodic and enjoyable “Tesuque” from that disc can be found on the Chesky jazz sampler below.



Bill Charlap, piano/Notes from New York/“A Sleepin’ Bee” (Impulse CD) On the Notes from New York CD, The Bill Charlap Trio plays a variety of music intended to reflect the worldly glamor, sophistication, and chic that New York brings to mind. The well-known “A Sleepin’ Bee” (music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Truman Capote) is from the Broadway show House of Flowers (1954) which featured “big name performers” including Pearl Bailey, Ray Walston, Juanita Hall, and Alvin Ailey.

Bill Charlap is one of jazz music’s outstanding pianists and best interpreters of standards. When asked about the album and how song lyrics affect his work, Charlap said “To me, the music and lyrics are a 50/50 partnership, and even though I don’t sing, I’m always ‘singing’ in my head when I play. The lyrics certainly inform the way I approach the melody and the treatment of the song.”

“A Sleepin’ Bee”


Claire Martin, vocals/Make this City Ours Tonight (Chesky CD) And now, from the other side of the pond, you can hear the terrific British singer Claire Martin performing jazz. According to Vogue critic and columnist John Powers: “Make this City Ours Tonight showcases her uncanny musical ability to do it all – swing effortlessly through a comic romp like ‘Collagen Lips,’ ease into the silky, prose-poem elegance of ‘Summer,’ or caress the tenderness of a ballad like ‘Could This be the One?’” JazzTimes has said, “She ranks among the four or five finest female jazz vocalists on the planet.” Claire has performed worldwide with her trio, with Bill Charlap, and worked extensively with the celebrated composer and pianist Sir Richard Rodney Bennett both in England and the US, where they played at venues including the famous Algonquin Hotel in New York City.

“Make this City Ours Tonight”


Louise Rogers, vocals/Black Coffee/“Alice in Wonderland” (Chesky SACD) Rogers’ rendering of the melodic “Alice in Wonderland” was inspired not by a vocal version but by the classic Bill Evans interpretation of the Sammy Fain/Bob Hilliard tune. “I’m a big Bill Evans fan and have always loved his version of it,” she says.

JazzTimes describes her voice as “a pure, incandescent voice, free of affectation or obvious influence. Rather like a moonbeam transported from a distant solar system, it glows with an easy, comfortable assuredness that simultaneously seems old as time, new as dawn and promising as tomorrow…” Jazz critic and Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff praised her work as “the most joyously encouraging way of expanding the audience for jazz.”

Louise is also a published author and leader in the field of jazz education. She has recorded two jazz CDs for kids, which brings us to “Charlie Parker Played be bop” from her CD Bop, Boo, Day. No, you don’t have to be a child to enjoy it but you’ll have twice the fun if there’s a kid around and you both try scatting along. (Scatting is a type of singing where the vocalist imitates the style of bebop instrumental solos by improvising nonsense syllables. The most important scat singer was, of course, Ella Fitzgerald.) But don’t touch that computer keyboard just yet: Stay tuned for another Charlie Parker Played be bop, a music video for children written and performed by separate artists.

“Alice in Wonderland” (Louise Rogers, vocals)


For comparison: “Alice in Wonderland” (Bill Evans, piano)


“Charlie Parker Played be bop” (Louise Rogers, vocals)


Dave Brubeck, piano/The Dave Brubeck Quartet at Carnegie Hall/“Take Five” (Columbia LP) 

Most listeners – especially jazz enthusiasts – are familiar with the iconic 1959 recording of Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. It’s one of those recordings that has been reissued many times in many forms, including several audiophile LPs. However, jazz aficionados might not be familiar with performances by the same group that differ from the original version and have now become the standard interpretations.

While listening to the audio tapes of Carnegie Hall, Brubeck noted: “The way we play [“Take Five”] now shows how we’ve fallen into a 5/4 groove more naturally. When we made the original record, we had to be very careful. We weren’t used to 5/4 time at all. On that record I played strictly the vamp rhythm to give the guys a home base. But now we feel as much at home in 5/4 time as we do in 4/4, and at many concerts I don’t use the vamp at all…Listen to my left hand. It’s comping like a guitar – sometimes on every beat. When we first recorded it, I was saying less with two hands than I’m saying with one hand here. All of us feel 5/4 naturally now, and surprisingly, it has become our favorite time signature to play in. That’s why it’s swinging so much more.”

“Take Five” (1963)


For comparison: “Take Five” (1959)


Turtle Island String Quartet/“Wapango”/Live in Brussels (Video) The adventurous Turtle Island String Quartet adapts music of all kinds to the traditional string quartet format: two violins, viola, and cello. In this instance the instrumentalists become genre-bending third stream players. (Third stream music combines elements of jazz with classical music. The term was coined by Gunther Schuller in 1957 for a type of music which, through improvisation or written composition or both, synthesizes the essential characteristics and techniques of contemporary Western art music and various ethnic or vernacular musics. See Focus, above.)

I’ve recommended Paquito D’Rivera’s “Wapango” performed by Orquesta Nova on the Chesky label before, but the piece is certainly worth your attention a second time when it’s played as well as it is here. This is a longer, more frenzied performance than the one on Chesky. If the musicians there got your foot tapping, you’ll need both feet for this rendition. It might very well knock your socks off.

“Wapango” (Turtle Island, Video)


For comparison: “Wapango” (Orquesta Nova, Audio)


Cleo Laine, vocals/Cleo Laine Jazz/“It Don’t Mean a Thing” (BMG CD) In my opinion, the versatile British jazz and pop singer Cleo Laine can’t do anything wrong. Laine is famous not only for her interpretative style, but for her almost-four-octave range and vocal flexibility. As well as hitting deep notes, Laine’s scatting and top notes (she is able to sing a G above high C) have become distinctive qualities. Music critic Derek Jewel of the British Sunday Times dubbed her “quite simply the best singer in the world.”

In this selection from the album Cleo Laine Jazz, she demonstrates her talents as she scats her way through Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing” accompanied by (among others) her husband, saxophonist/clarinetist John Dankworth, who often performed with her during live performances and on recordings.

The 94-year-old Laine is the only female performer to have received Grammy nominations in the jazz, popular, and classical music categories. She has also dazzled in musical theater. For example, I’ve heard several performers sing Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” from his musical A Little Night Music. The renditions are pleasant enough and the interpretations sincere, but on Cleo Sings Sondheim (CD and video) she sings it with greater nuances and greater emotion than other vocalists. “The Clowns” might not be into jazz, but here they are in an engaging and beautiful interpretation of the song.

“It Don’t Mean a Thing” (Audio)


Bonus track: “Send in the Clowns” (Video)


Header image: Thelonious Monk, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/William P. Gottlieb/public domain.

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