Before & After: Toots Thielemans

Toots-ThielemansWhen I met Jean “Toots” Thielemans in early 2007 to record this piece for JazzTimes, he was not prepared to do any serious listening (he thought it would be an interview about his latest cd). He vacillated for a few minutes, finally agreed, and eventually warmed up to the idea and told some great stories. To prompt him, I wanted to get his reaction to various guitarists, a few harmonica players (including Stevie Wonder), and some Brazilian tracks.

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Discovering the Monk-Coltrane tapes

I’ve been fortunate to spend most of my career at the Library of Congress, and lucky to have discovered many treasures there over the years. But this recording resonated more than any other (so far). Here is a short documentary made by Kim Fields for the release of the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall tapes. The tapes were discovered at LC in 2005 and subsequently released on CD by Blue Note and on vinyl by Mosaic.

 

Before & After: Joe Morris

Joe Morris may be inspired by the traditions of Chicago blues, free-jazz and West African music, but the 47 year-old guitarist, bassist and bandleader continues to develop his own musical language and vocabulary. While the New Haven-born musician and composer is currently on the faculty in the Jazz and Improvisation Department at the New England Conservatory, he still tours the new music circuit with his own groups, and also collaborates with fellow creative improvisers William Parker, Joe Maneri, Matthew Shipp, Lawrence “Butch” Morris, and Ken Vandermark. In the last two decades, Morris’s intricately edgy innovations have been documented on nearly 30 recordings for various labels, including ECM, Aum Fidelity, Omnitone, Knitting Factory, Leo, Soul Note, and hatOLOGY.

 

1. Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane
“Why Was I Born?” (from Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane, Prestige OJCCD 300-2). Recorded in 1958. Kenny Burrell, guitar; John Coltrane, tenor saxophone

BEFORE: The guitarist has a great sound. Is this Jim Hall? No, he’s not playing like Jim Hall. His voicings are bigger. I’m trying to figure out who the saxophonist is, but it’s hard because it’s so plainly stated.  Oh, it’s Coltrane and Kenny Burrell. One little inflection and one note gave it away. Well that makes sense why it sounds so incredibly clear and the guitarist’s sound is so good. I haven’t listened to this since I was a kid. Kenny plays such choice notes and he’s impeccable in his technique. His time is really good and his sound is really great. He and Joe Pass and Grant Green are so great that they’re beyond criticism, you know?

AFTER: Before Kenny Burrell played like that, no one played like that. It’s just as much about invention as it is about being correct.  For as long as I’ve been playing the guitar it’s been assumed that that’s the correct way to play. I don’t think it was the correct way for Kenny Burrell. It was the creative way for Kenny Burrell. And without him, and Herb Ellis, and Sal Salvador and guys like that, that style of playing never would have existed. They invented that creative way of playing the guitar and that’s why they’re great.

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