Before & After: Frank Morgan

Frank Morgan

This B&A was done for JazzTimes on a beautiful fall afternoon in 2005, just a couple of years before Frank Morgan passed.  He was in a good mood that day and genuinely enjoyed just hanging out and listening to music. Me too.

Frank Morgan’s life changed and his fate was set when, at age 7, his father took him to see Jay McShann’s band with Charlie Parker. It was then that he knew he wanted to be a musician and play the alto saxophone.

Born in 1933 in Minneapolis, Morgan spent his pre-teen years in Milwaukee, but he’ll be forever linked to the  post-war jazz scene in Los Angeles. That’s where his father, guitarist Stanley Morgan, opened the Casablanca Club in 1947, which became a late-night hangout for jazz musicians and movie folk.

Assimilating the music and lifestyle of Bird, Morgan made his first records with Freddie Martin, Wardell Gray and Kenny Clark before leading his own session in 1955.  Unfortunately, Morgan’s appetite for self-destruction repeatedly landed him behind bars and his career was more or less derailed until the mid 1980s when he was “discovered” by the east coast critics and began making a series of highly acclaimed recordings for Contemporary, Antilles, Telarc and Verve.

Morgan suffered a stroke in 1998, but he’s worked hard on his recovery,  battled back, and is touring again. Currently living in Taos, New Mexico, Morgan seems in good spirits; he talked about buying a juicer for the road, and reports that a new recording for High Note records is in the offing.

1. Benny Carter

“The Music from M Squad: The Mugger,” from All of Me (Bluebird). Carter, alto sax, composer; Stanley Wilson, Pete Candoli, Frank Beach, Don Fagerquist, trumpets; Frank Rosolino, Joe Howard, Pete Carpenter George Roberts, trombones; John Williams, piano; Red Mitchell, Joe Mondragon, bass; Alvin Stoller, drums. Recorded in 1959.

Before: It’s a good band. Everything’s in tune with a nice blend. I was listening to the alto player, a very fine saxophonist. It reminds a little of a Mingus tune, though I don’t hear the fire of a Mingus big band. That alto is someone who knows his history. For a minute I thought it was Benny Carter, something in the beautiful tone and approach to the horn. Benny was one of my mentors when I moved to California at 14. I tried to study with him but he said he didn’t take students so he recommended me to Merle Johnston, the guy that taught Jimmy Dorsey and Buddy Collette, to give me facility and help prepare me to play in the studios.

After: Ah-ha, it is Benny! Benny continues to amaze me, he’s the amazing man of music. The last time I saw him he was still playing like a young lion. I hope I can live that long and do that well. As an alto player he can manipulate the horn from top to bottom with such grace and ease. And he has a beautiful way of gliding down the streets of Beverly Hills in his Rolls Royce. He’s great and he deserves all that. I never had the opportunity to spend some time and really talk with him

If he were here with us right now, what would you ask him?

I would ask him what he eats and what he drinks and how he stays healthy. And then we’d get around to the horn.

2. Sonny Stitt

“It Might As Well Be Spring,” from Sonny’s Back (Muse) Stitt, alto sax; George Duvivier, bass. Recorded in 1980.

Before: [big smile] Well that’s my kind of music. I think it was Sonny Stitt. Sonny had lots of beautiful patterns that he played and that was a fine example of having one’s shit together.  There weren’t a lot of wasted notes. Great tone, great feeling. Good bass player, you don’t miss the piano or drums.

After: [sees Duvivier’s name] Oh, no wonder. I didn’t know Sonny very well, but I’ve always admired him and hold him in high esteem. I played with George once or twice at jam sessions. He’s A-Number-One.

Do you think Sonny plays the same way on tenor as he does on alto?

To me I never felt Sonny had the authority, the strong presence on the tenor that he does on the alto. Not that he doesn’t play the tenor extremely well. Hey, whenever he picks up the horn it’s an astounding thing.

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Before & After: Ed Thigpen

ed-thigpen

This B&A was done for JazzTimes just after the drummer’s performance at the 2005 Toronto Jazz Festival (pictured above). If anyone wants a deeper insight into how Thigpen thought about himself and his music, I’d recommend Don McGlynn’s aptly named documentary film, Ed Thigpen: Master of Time, Rhythm & Taste.

 

I’ve been waiting many years to meet and hear drummer Ed Thigpen in person. This master of the brushes has been living in Copenhagen since 1972, and because he rarely tours the U.S., I’ve had to get my Thigpen fix by listening to his 1966 Verve session “Before The Storm” and various recordings with Oscar Peterson, Dinah Washington, Ben Webster, Lennie Tristano, Ella Fitzgerald and others. Born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles, Edmund Thigpen was inspired by his father Ben Thigpen, who played drums with Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy. He gained early experience with Cootie Williams, Bud Powell, and Johnny Hodges, and appeared on the groundbreaking NBC television series “The Subject Is Jazz” with a band led by Billy Taylor.

Since relocating to Denmark, Thigpen has taught, written several instructional books, and recorded his various groups on the Danish Stunt label. His latest “Ed Thigpen Scantet #1” features five original compositions by Thigpen, including a lovely tune written for his daughter Denise. We finally caught up in Toronto where he was appearing with the Scantet. An airline snafu meant he and the group had to come right from the airport and hit the stage. People expecting a set of subtle brushwork must have been surprised to hear the band roar. It was worth the wait.

1. Jo Jones

“I Got Rhythm Pt. II” (from Jo Jones The Everest Years, Empire). Jo Jones, drums; Ray Bryant, piano; Tom Bryant, bass. Recorded in 1958/re-issued 2005.

Before: [immediately] Jonathan. Everything about him is wonderful. Nobody has as clean a sound. Is that with Ray Bryant? That’s a classic recording. You hear the clarity, the touch. It’s just so perfect. I don’t know if he’s the first to play brushes like this but as far as I’m concerned he’s the best. The way he played music. He knew music. And the effect he had on the musicians he played with. All this was very inspiring to me. What he brought out in the music. [listens closely to the breaks] He’s a dancer. He’s so happy. It’s classic. It’s an example of taking a small unit and making it sound like a full band.

After: Jo was my mentor. I didn’t take formal lessons from him. The way you learned from Jo Jones was by listening to him. And I learned from him about life and how to take care of yourself as a man. We didn’t talk that much about drums per se, we talked about music and life. But after I’d talk with him I’d play better that night, because you play life. We talk about all types of things; the children, the grandchildren, and his experiences with the people he knew. Never negative. He was very concerned about humanity. The things that made him unhappy were the people who were not respectful to one another. He had virtue, let’s put it that way. People like Jo Jones and Milt Hinton were our leaders and our mentors.

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Joshua Redman and Ola Kvernberg

 

One of the highlights from last summer’s Molde Jazz Festival was this performance by violinist and composer Ola Kvernberg’s group, Liarbird. Here’s an excerpt I shot with Joshua Redman and Kvernberg on July 22, 2010.

 

 

Before & After: Paquito d’Rivera

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Most successful, creative jazz musicians today are adept at multi-tasking; they often lead several groups, cross various genres, and write original music. Saxophonist, clarinetist, composer and bandleader Paquito D’Rivera has done all that and more. Of course it doesn’t hurt that he’s also an acclaimed virtuoso.

Born in Havana in 1948, Mr. D’Rivera was a child prodigy who performed with the Cuban National Symphony, and at age twelve entered the Havana Conservatory. In 1965, D’Rivera and pianist Chucho Valdez formed the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna, which later morphed into the Cuban Jazz-Rock supergroup Irakere.

Since arriving in the U.S. in 1981, D’Rivera has led his own combos and big bands, and is becoming increasingly well known for his classical chamber compositions. He has received numerous commissions and he’s  appeared as guest soloist with symphony orchestras throughout the Americas and Europe.

D’Rivera has over 30 records in his discography, including two Grammy Award-winning titles, and his musical associates have included Dizzy Gillespie, Cachao, Astor Piazzola, McCoy Tyner, Carmen McRae, and Benny Carter. His latest recording, Habanera (Enja), features his work with The Absolute Ensemble.

As if that weren’t enough, the indefatigable D’Rivera has written his soon to be published autobiography My Saxual Life, and a novel, En tus brazos morenos.


1. Charlie Parker with Machito and his Orchestra

“Mango Mangue” (from Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve). Recorded in 1948. Charlie Parker, alto saxophone solo

BEFORE: (immediately starts singing along with the intro) C’mon in Bird. I think that’s Mario playing the lead alto in the orchestra. I never get tired of listening to this. My father was a personal friend of Mario Bauzá, and he always told me Mario went to the States and made it big there. He also said Bauzá was an alto saxophonist and clarinetist in Cuba, and learned the trumpet only after he came to the States. Of course that’s Mango Mangue.

AFTER: I had been a kid soloist playing classical and commercial music in Havana and I remember the first time I heard be-bop, it was a shock. My father was a classical saxophone player who loved jazz, especially the big bands; Ellington, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and all that.  When he played be-bop for me for the first time, it was Charlie Parker and Dizzy (sings first eight bars of Red Cross), and I asked him what the hell is that? He told me be-bop and asked if I liked it? I said no, and he said he didn’t either but it was indisputably well-done. It was big confusion for us. It’s like we had all been listening to Mozart and someone played Stravinsky.

LA: How well does Bird play on clave?

PR: There is a tendency to idolize everything that the genius does, so I will tell you what Machito told me. I asked Machito about his experience with Charlie Parker and Chico O’Farrill and that wonderful era, and he told me that Bird was so musical, like Midas, everything he touched turned to gold. But he said Bird didn’t understand one single note of Cuban music. Machito played his music and Parker played his own thing on top. Dizzy understood Cuban music much better. I’m not putting down Parker at all. Red Rodney said the same thing. He said: “Bird and I tried to understand it and we always asked, where the fuck is the one?”

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LC/UMG Acquisition: The Mile of Music

 

Jazz Journalists Association News

Interview by David Adler

 

On January 10, 2011, the Library of Congress announced its acquisition of a trove of recorded music from the vaults of Universal Music Group (UMG), spanning the years 1926-1948. The New York Times recently ran a story by Larry Rohter on the acquisition.

What is the true significance of this “mile of music”? We asked the JJA’s Larry Appelbaum, jazz specialist at the Library of Congress as well as a recording engineer, radio host, film curator, concert producer and jazz journalist based in Washington, DC. Larry has worked on preservation of the Library’s audio and video collections; he discovered the recently released tapes of Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, the Lester Young 1940 jam session discs and other historic recordings.

JJA News: Were you directly involved in the “mile of music” acquisition process?

Larry Appelbaum: No. The acquisition came via the Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division. I am a Senior Music Reference Specialist in the Library’s Music Division.

JJA: How much of this “mile of music” donation is available elsewhere, and how much is unique to the collection?

LA: It’s worth clarifying that the donation pertains to the physical materials only (metal parts and lacquer discs from the Brunswick, Decca and Vocalion labels) and does not apply to the intellectual property. My understanding is that the lacquers are safety copies made during transfers of the masters. Some lacquers contain in-studio chatter and alternate, previously unpublished takes. Due to the vicissitudes of the record business, many of the previously published master recordings are now out of print. So while much of the music may have been previously released, a lot of it may be out of print and widely inaccessible.

JJA: How much of it is jazz or jazz-related?

LA: It’s hard to say exactly, but if you look at the Decca, Brunswick and Vocalion catalogs, there is a significant percentage of jazz and vernacular music represented, along with pop, light classical, country, etc.

JJA: In practical terms, what will this change for jazz journalists and researchers in terms of material available in the public domain? Put simply, is this a big deal?

LA: How does one measure such things? For those who truly care about this music, it’s a big deal. First, it’s a window into American musical culture from the late 1920s through the late ’40s. The unpublished materials might alter or change our perspective on some classic or undeservedly obscure recordings. But there’s also the practical issue of access. Eventually, this collection will be catalogued and those catalogue records will be accessible online for anyone doing discographic and other kinds of music and cultural research.

JJA: How exactly will members of the public be able access this material?

LA: Once the materials are properly cataloged and digitized, the files will be stored and backed up on Library of Congress servers. Any researcher will be able to make a listening appointment to hear these materials in the Library’s Recorded Sound Reference Center, but the intellectual property will be retained by UMG. The agreement does include a commitment by UMG to allow some materials to be streamed from a Library of Congress website (the National Jukebox), but unless or until copyright laws are changed, we cannot allow downloading. Universal may and hopefully will make the files available via downloads, but since they retain rights, that decision is up to them.

JJA: The most talked-about recent unearthing of rare music is the Savory Collection, of course, at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. How is this similar, and how is it different?

LA: Everyone was interested in seeing and hearing what Bill Savory had collected. But there are several important differences. First, just in terms of sheer numbers, the Savory Collection is approximately 1,000 discs. This collection of Decca, Brunswick and Vocalion masters and lacquers exceeds 200,000 discs and metal parts. Second, some of the Savory discs sound very good, but some do not. In this case, the vast majority of these metal parts and lacquers are pristine, and will produce better sound than what we’ve ever heard, even from the published and reissued versions of these materials. And lastly, the provenance of the Savory materials is a bit murky, which will make securing permissions to release quite complicated. In this case, we know exactly where these materials came from and who owns the rights, so negotiating access will be relatively straightforward. For example, Mosaic Records and various other labels will continue to mine this material. But at least it will be in a safe place and eventually properly cataloged, digitized and preserved.

JJA: Can you shed any light on how the UMG-Library of Congress deal came about?

LA: I was not part of the negotiation, so I can only offer my personal opinion and perspective. I can assume that this was driven initially, and in large part, by UMG’s decision to cut costs. It’s expensive to store such a collection at Iron Mountain [a facility in a former limestone mine, near Boyers, Pennsylvania], where it had been residing. And unless you have experience, expertise and resources, it can be daunting to launch an extensive preservation project for such a collection.

JJA: Had UMG explored the option of archiving and digitizing this material itself?

LA: I don’t know, but was that considered cost-effective in their business model? I doubt it. Only a small percentage of this collection will generate any real income for a multinational corporation.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that there was a fire at the Universal vaults a few years ago (with varying reports on the extent of damages). And UMG currently stores their materials at various locations around the world and likely wants to consolidate them. It would not surprise me if UMG saw this as a win-win: they get to retain intellectual property rights, but the responsibilities and headaches of storage, cataloging, digitization and preservation are now assumed by the Library of Congress. On the other hand, America’s library and the American people now have possession of and access to an extraordinarily rich resource into American music and culture.

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