All That Jazz, Part Two

All That Jazz, Part Two

Written by Don Kaplan

When I was studying music in college, I thought about learning how to play the double bass. On second thought it seemed impractical: I would have to carry an instrument that was large, fairly heavy, and taller than I was from home to college and back on a crowded New York City subway car during rush hour. My compact (aka “skinny”) build would have a hard time being encumbered like that, so I decided to study musical composition instead. All I needed to carry on the train was a spiral-bound book of music paper to jot down my compositions, a pencil with an eraser, and a book filled with rhythm exercises to practice along the way. As a bonus, when I started rehearsing those exercises where both hands had to tap different rhythms simultaneously, other riders stayed away from me and I almost always got a seat.

Which leads me to:

Christian McBride, bass/Out Here/Christian McBride Trio (Mack Avenue CD) A stand-up (double) bass is almost always part of a jazz combo. It functions as the bridge between rhythm and harmony by providing a strong beat and the root notes of chords as well as by improvising bass lines and solos. According to double bassist and bass guitarist Christian McBride:

“I think that a lot of bass players are impressed by players who can play fast, because they think that’s what good bass playing is about. The truth is, the bass players who are getting a lot of work, who are doing a lot of sessions, or working a lot with different live bands, understand what [their role] is – and that role is to accompany [and support the others….] You are a traffic cop, or a navigator; you’re there to underpin things, and to make people dance. Playing bass…  is not about you, it’s about your role in the band, and if you remember that, you’ll get work and be a player people want to have around. When people don’t notice you, that means you’re doing your job right.” [Guitar World, December 10, 2020]

The tracks on Out Here include compositions by McBride (e.g., “Ham Hocks and Cabbage”), a couple of Rogers and Hammerstein tunes, and pieces written by several other composers. Outstanding sound quality is a major attraction on this Mack Avenue disc: on good equipment the wood of the bass resonates realistically, you can hear the detailed sound of fingers plucking and strings snapping, and all of the instruments have great presence. Excellent imaging completes the picture.




Tierney Sutton, vocals/Blue in Green/“Old Devil Moon”/Tierney Sutton Band (Telarc CD) Tierney Sutton has been described by critics as a “musician’s singer” who uses her voice like an instrument. Sutton is an “acclaimed jazz vocalist…recognized for her pure, glowing vocals and lyrical approach to modern jazz and standards. Stylistically, she straddles the line between the cool approach of classic West Coast singers…[and] more progressive contemporary artistry. Following her 1998 debut, Sutton earned accolades for her standards-based albums on the Telarc label, including 2001’s Blue in Green, 2004’s Dancing in the Dark, and 2005’s I’m with the Band, the latter of which brought Sutton her first Grammy nomination. She is also no stranger to the charts with four Top 20 Billboard Jazz Albums to her credit, including 2014’s intimate Paris Sessions with French guitarist Serge Merlaud. In 2016, she earned her eighth Grammy nomination with her unique interpretation of Sting’s music, The Sting Variations.” []

Listen especially for Sutton’s unusual phrasing, the ways she emphasizes the lyrics, and how she uses offbeat rhythms in the following songs:










John Coltrane, saxophone/Coltrane/“The Inch Worm”/John Coltrane Quartet (Impulse LP) John Coltrane helped transform American jazz, first when he became part of the bebop scene and later when he performed modal cool jazz and avant-garde music.

I’ve always liked “The Inch Worm” (not to be confused with an earworm although the inch worm could easily become one – see “The Mindful Melophile” in Issue 167). The title of the piece is descriptive without actually describing anything specific. The melody starts and stops in a herky-jerky manner, moves along into unfamiliar musical territory, comes back, goes someplace else…what I imagine an inch worm might do. It’s my favorite track on an LP many critics feel is one of Coltrane’s best albums.

The Ranting Recluse, the misanthropic reader we heard from in Part One of “All That Jazz,” is back with another rave:

“Although often overshadowed today by better-known titles like A Love Supreme and My Favorite Things, John Coltrane’s 1962 Impulse! album Coltrane (not to be confused with the Prestige label release of the same name from 1957) is probably the one that best summarizes everything that made him arguably the greatest jazz saxophonist of all time. Falling chronologically between his more accessible early work and his later avant-garde excursions, the music on this set manages to walk the precise middle ground between these two major phases of his career, capturing a near-perfect stage in his evolution where all his ideas and identities managed to be at play, and perfectly in balance with each other, all at once. If someone told me I could only have one Coltrane album in my collection, this would be the one I’d pick, because literally everything one thinks of when they think of John Coltrane – the trademark sheets of sound, the raga-like modality, the masterful balladry, the fiery, free blowing that borders on the frenetic, the yearning spirituality – it’s all here in one sublime package.”

Writer Michael G. Nastos, in his review for the same magazine, agrees that Coltrane is considered to be one of the saxophonist’s finest collections:

Coltrane finds John Coltrane displaying all of the exciting elements that sparked brilliance and allowed his fully-formed instrumental voice to shine through in the most illuminating manner. On tenor saxophone, he’s simply masterful, offering the burgeoning sheets of sound philosophy into endless weavings of melodic and tuneful displays of inventive, thoughtful, driven phrases. Coltrane also plays a bit of soprano saxophone as a primer for his more exploratory work to follow. Meanwhile, bassist Jimmy Garrison, drummer Elvin Jones, and especially the stellar [pianist] McCoy Tyner have integrated their passionate dynamics into the inner whole of the quartet. The result is a most focused effort, a relatively popular session to both his fans or latecomers, with five selections that are brilliantly conceived and rendered….Even more than any platitudes one can heap on this extraordinary recording, it historically falls between the albums Olé Coltrane and Impressions – completing a triad of studio efforts that are as definitive as anything Coltrane ever produced, and highly representative of him in his prime.”




Milt Jackson, vibraphone/Django/“Django”/The Modern Jazz Quartet/with John Lewis, piano, Percy Heath, bass, and Kenny Clarke, drums (Prestige LP) The MJQ was formed in 1952 and had an unusually diverse style incorporating elements of bebop, blues, classical/third stream music, and cool jazz. Issued in 1956, Django was the MJQ’s first full-length album. All of the original material was written by pianist/music director John Lewis, and his piece “Django” became the MJQ’s biggest hit. George and Ira Gershwin, Dizzy Gillespie, and Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York” are also represented on this famous LP.

“Django” is one of jazz’s enduring staples. Douglas Payne, writing for All About Jazz, described the piece as “classic jazz in construction and execution” and “the place to begin appreciating the many and great virtues of one of jazz’s finest aggregates.” AllMusic‘s Lindsay Planer wrote, “In terms of seminal Modern Jazz Quartet entries, it is hard to exceed the variety of styles and performances gathered on Django.”







Bill Cunliffe, piano/Bill Cunliffe Trio Live at Bernie’s/with Darek Oleszkiewicz, bass and Joe La Barbera, drums (Groove Note SACD) Grammy-nominated composer, arranger, and jazz pianist Bill Cunliffe has received nationwide attention with his innovative and swinging recordings and compositions. He was first influenced by jazz when he studied with the great pianist Mary Lou Williams, and has subsequently won several Down Beat awards for his big band and orchestral pieces.

Cunliffe’s CDs generally focus on standards and original works, so grab a table at Bernie’s to hear his jaunty version of Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” and a beautiful “Ireland” written by Cunliffe – a piece not named for the country (although the music reflects what the writer imagines it looks like) but for the English composer John Ireland who, in Cunliffe’s words, “is a beautiful composer out of the Romantic tradition but attuned to modern sounds.”

Cunliffe’s music reflects his jazz and classical influences: “I still listen to more classical music than jazz; that’s where I get harmonic ideas and inspiration. I love music that is a complete thought, that has development from beginning to end rather than a series of solos. If there’s no story being told, it’s not really that interesting.”







Holly Hofmann, flute/Minor Miracle (Capri CD) With the exception of well-known musicians like Herbie Mann and Jean-Pierre Rampal, listeners aren’t very familiar with flutists, especially female flutists, who perform jazz. This set highlights the artistry of Holly Hofmann with Ray Brown, Bill Cunliffe (see above), and Victor Lewis. There’s next to no information about the artists or the music in the thin CD pamphlet, which won’t help make Holly any more familiar. But it doesn’t matter: the music is fine and performances are enjoyable.

Of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Samba,” Hoffman explains: “Jobim’s music is so loose and nonrestrictive, perfect for flute and piano.” And of Matt Dennis’ “Will You Still Be Mine?” she simply says: “I hope so.”







Mary Stallings, vocals/Live at the Village Vanguard/“I Love being Here With You” (Mack Avenue CD) When critics write about Mary Stallings, it’s often with the highest of praise and with a kind of surprise that she isn’t better known. The New York Times said “Perhaps the best jazz singer alive today is a woman almost everybody seems to have missed. Her name is Mary Stallings.”

I searched every Stallings album I have (always a pleasure) for a song that would introduce her to new listeners as well as entertain her fans. No single selection displays all of her various talents but the album Live at the Village Vanguard demonstrates her ability to sing in a variety of styles, shows off her personality and the ways she interacts with audiences. “I Love being Here with You” is a good choice to start with. If you get hooked, you might want to listen to every song performed at this iconic club before Ms. Stallings has left the building.










Bill Evans, piano/California Here I Come/with Eddie Gomez, bass and Philly Joe Jones, drums (Verve CD) Evans’ expressive work was very influential. He inspired a generation of players who appreciated his unique harmonic approach, introspective lyricism, and unhurried improvisation guided by an analytical mind.

California was recorded live at New York’s Village Vanguard in 1967 but not released for 15 years (“it just never seemed the right time to release it,” according to Helen Keane, Evans’ producer and manager), making it a forgotten treasure. Play the album and you’ll get to ponder life sometime “Round Midnight,” contemplate “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” then take a walk “On Green Dolphin Street.” “Alfie,” “Emily,” and “Stella (by Starlight)” will accompany you as they’re re-created by one of Evans’ most outstanding trios.







Johnny Frigo, violin/Live From Studio A in New York City/with Bucky and John Pizzarelli, guitar, Ron Carter and Michael Moore, bass, and Butch Miles, drums (Chesky CD) This audiophile album was recorded in RCA’s famous Studio A so the engineers could capture the nuances of the two acoustic guitars. Bucky Pizzarelli recollects: “[The quintet] made the album in the old-fashioned way. We sat around the mike…and we just played. There was no splicing. No earphones. It put everybody on a sharp edge to get it done right.” In addition to Jerome Kern’s “Pick Yourself Up…” the program includes music by Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Benny Goodman, Oscar Hammerstein, and Michel LeGrand. Although guitars are commonly used as jazz instruments, hearing a violin play a prominent role in a jazz combo is a relatively rare treat.




Wynton Marsalis, trumpet/Wynton Marsalis Quartet Live at Blues Alley/with Marcus Roberts, piano, Robert Leslie Hurst III, bass, and Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums (Columbia CD) Faster than a speeding semihemidemisemiquaver (128th) note! More powerful than an explosive fortississimo! Able to leap large intervals in a single bound! The talented Wynton Marsalis is certainly live at Blues Alley: His performance starts with a flurry of notes, grabs your attention, and holds it for two CDs’ worth of astounding music making. Versatile and energetic, this remarkable quartet makes even the slow music sound upbeat, too.










Ella Fitzgerald, vocals/Ella in Hollywood/The ‘A’ Train (Verve LP) Here’s an LP that includes wonderful classic songs, performances, and sound, and the excitement of being in a live venue… a definite desert island disc. Ella is in fine form, interacting with the audience and sounding relaxed. If you need some air after your ride on the underground “A” Train, be sure to climb the “Stairway to the Stars” on the next track.

Following your journey, sit back, relax, and check out two performances based on that fascinating element of music: rhythm. If you follow the program below, Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” is first performed by Ella in a video accompanied by vintage photos, then sung with a different approach by a very young Mel Tormé in a clip from The Judy Garland Show.







“Fascinating Rhythm”/Mel Tormé (Video from a live appearance on The Judy Garland Show)




Header image: Ella Fitzgerald, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain.

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