Jazz Conversation with Jim Hall

Guitarist Jim Hall gave a concert with Steve LaSpina and Joey Baron at the Library of Congress on March 20, 2009. It was his first public performance since recovering from back surgery the year before. Hall graciously agreed to sit and talk a while just before sound check. The studio lighting was a bit harsh that day but the insights flowed as his story unfolded.

David Amram talks about hanging with Charlie Parker

David Amram talks about the 1950s jazz scene in Washington D.C., including the story of Charlie Parker visiting his apartment, hanging out in his kitchen and “scarfing” down a crazy omelet. The telling of this story took place following the screening of Larry Kraman’s new documentary film “David Amram: The First 80 Years” at the Library of Congress, April 25, 2011.

Before & After: Jimmy Heath

A bit of my Before & After interview with Jimmy Heath at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, Rockville, MD Feb. 18, 2011. Jimmy talks about Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Johnny Griffin, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, the importance of interpreting the lyric and the “three ears” through which we listen to music. Complete article appears in the May 2011 issue of JazzTimes.

Sonny Rollins oral history interview pt. 1

I met with Sonny Rollins on Feb. 28, 2011 to conduct this oral history interview for the Smithsonian. I purposely chose to avoid the questions that Sonny been asked so many times before, especially the stories that have been documented in various biographies, jazz history books and articles. Here is pt. 1 of the interview, which now appears on Sonny’s web page. Thank you Sonny Rollins, Ken Kimery and Bret Primack.

Sonny Rollins interviewed by Larry Appelbaum pt 1 My Family

William Cepeda plays the conch shell

Tonight I showed Louise Ernst’s film “El Trombon de Bomba” at the Library of Congress Jazz Film Series. The 2002 documentary–a multi-layered portrait of Puerto Rican trombonist and composer William Cepeda– was shot in New York, Paris and his hometown of Loiza, PR.  For the free screening, Cepeda came down from Brooklyn to introduce the film and take questions after. Let’s just say it was not your typical introduction. He spoke briefly, then played his conch shell and engaged the audience in a bit of call & response. Thanks, William!

Before & After: Karrin Allyson

I met vocalist Karrin Allyson for this B&A just before her sold-out appearance at the Kennedy Center. Like an experienced road warrior, she arrived in town without a moment to spare, gave herself a minute to put her bags in her room, and then joined me for this in-depth listening session. She was relieved that she didn’t have to give stars for each record.

1. Maxine Sullivan
“Massachusetts” (from A Tribute To Andy Razaf, DCC Jazz). Recorded in 1956. Sullivan, vocals; Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Buster Bailey, clarinet; Jerome Richardson, saxophone; Dick Hyman, piano; Milt Hinton, bass; Osie Johnson, drums.

BEFORE: Well, I guess it’s Ella, but it sure didn’t sound like her at first. [listens more] No, I don’t know this voice. It sounds like the 1940s. It’s delightful. She’s great-her time, her personality. I mean she swings like crazy. Whoever she is I love her. Wonderful swinging band behind her. I’m stumped. Never heard the tune, either. She has a little of Ella’s sound to her. Cool.

AFTER: Yeah, this is a singer I need to know more about. A lot of folks that I admire love her too. She sounds very classic to me. Like if anyone asked what a jazz singer sounds like, I’d put her on. It’s so swinging and her pitch is great.

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Before & After: John Clayton

photo by Larry Appelbaum

Grammy-nominated bassist, composer and conductor John Clayton is not only much in demand as a top shelf player, he also co-leads the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, teaches at USC and is Artistic Director at various jazz festivals and workshops in the United States. In Washington to serve as Music Director for Benny Golson’s 80th birthday bash at the Kennedy Center, Clayton took time to listen to some of his mentors, peers and colleagues.

1. Slam Stewart & Major Holley

“Undecided” (from Shut Yo’ Mouth, Delos). Stewart, Holley, bass; Dick Hyman, piano; Oliver Jackson, drums. Recorded in 1981.

Before: [laughter] I know what this is. I have this recording, Major Holley gave it to me. I knew them both but I really knew Major. They exemplify to me what all musicians strive for, that is to become one with your instrument. They are role models for us, a reminder that the music has to be clear in you before you can get it out through your instrument. I always say you have to think of your instrument as an amplifier for the the music that’s inside of you. The barometer that we use to make sure that that’s on track is singing. So many of the greats did it instinctively, and you can hear them singing, humming, growling, tasting, breathing everything they play. And that’s what we try to do, that’s our goal to express ourselves with clarity.

What do you think of the sound they got with the bow?

Too many people think if you put the bow on the string and move it back and forth you’re gonna get what you’re looking for. That’s not where the sound is. The sound is in you. If you don’t know the sound that you want to come out of the bass, you won’t know what kind of adjustments you need to make. Sometimes you have to move the bow faster, sometimes you need to change the the position of the bow or add more arm weight. These guys studied but they also knew and discovered these things and it became second nature to them. They had a sound in their ear that their body had to find. Major Holley’s sound was mimicked by his voice and it had a raspy quality to it. Slam Stewart’s sound was also mimicked by his voice but it had a much smoother quality to it. And he sang an octave higher than his playing. Major Holley sang pretty much at pitch and would go into falsetto when he would play a G harmonic [demonstrates it]. By the time I met him I had already studied at Indiana University so I could not only fall in love with his playing but I could analyze it and say a-ha, that’s his bow placement, a-ha that’s what’s he’s doing with his left hand. I could figure it all out that way.

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