THE JAZZ WORD

All that's jazz... and more

It was on this day in 1889 that Nick LaRocca was born in New Orleans. LaRocca became a cornet player and later led the Original Dixieland Jass Band, a band that cut the first ever jazz record, at least that is the commonly held view.

All too often, the history that is passed down through time is less than accurate. As the popular truism goes, ‘History is written by the victors’, and the history of jazz no different. Most will tell you that The ODJB was the first band to record a jazz record. This is not quite true on a number of counts.

The ODJB were white musicians who played together as Papa Jack Laine’s Reliance Brass Band in New Orleans. Laine was a drummer and his band always included black as well as white musicians. In 1916, a Chicago promoter recruited LaRocca and some of Laine’s band to go north to play at the Hotel Normandy. Later they played at the Casino Gardens where Al Jolson heard them, which secured them a gig in New York City at Reisenweber’s Cafe at Columbus Circle in January 1917.

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This in turn led to the British-owned Columbia Graphophone Company recording the band but they found their playing so unappealing that they rejected the idea of issuing any records. Soon after the ODJB recorded for RCA Victor in New York City on 26 February 1917. The challenge for Victor was to make a recording through the huge pick-up horn that actually sounded like the music they heard when the band played. Their novel solution was to place the musicians at various distances from the horn, the drummer being furthest away and the pianist closest. The challenge of capturing a true representation of a jazz performer, or any other performer for that matter, continued well into the hi-fi age.

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Victor released “Dixie Jass Band One Step” and “Livery Stable Blues” in May 1917, a dance number and a blues tune that to our ears may not sound like jazz as we know it. They billed the OCJB as The Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band on the record and recorded frequently during 1917 and 1918. By this time they had changed their name to The Original Dixieland Jazz Band and partly through their success and partly because they told everyone it was the true, they became accepted as the first group to ever make a jazz record.

The truth is that there are a number of other artists that could make a claim to be the first to record a jazz record. There was Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harlan who released “That Funny Jas Band From Dixieland” in April 1917; it’s just as jazzy as the ODJB. Borbee’s ‘Jass’ Orchestra recorded two songs nearly two weeks before the ODJB but they did not get released until July 1917. Like the ODJB, both of these artists were white.

Among the contenders for the first black musicians to make a jazz record was Charles Prince’s Band. He was a pianist who had recorded both “Memphis Blues” in 1914, and then in 1915 he became the first to record a version of W. C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”. In April 1917, Charles Prince’s Band recorded “Hong Kong”, a ‘Jazz One-Step’. And two months later, they put down several more jazz sides including “New Orleans Jazz”. Not to be outdone, W. C. Handy’s band were recording jazz records in September 1917. There was also Wilbur Sweatman and his Jass Band, and the Six Brown Brothers who recorded “Smiles And Chuckles – A Jazz Rag” in the summer of 1917. There is debate as to whether some of these records are jazz or ragtime.

‘Just how the Jazz Band originated and where it came from is very hard to say. It hit New York during the winter of 1916–17 and once it got on Broadway it stuck. It is there yet and none of the great “Tango Palaces” can be considered complete without it. Frisco’s Jazz Band is as “jazzy” as they come. It is the newest and smartest thing in modern music. If you have never danced to a “jazz” you have a real treat in store.’ – From the paper sleeve of The Frisco Jazz Band’s Edison recording from May 1917

The Frisco Jazz band was just one of many bands to record jazz tunes during 1917. From then on, the proliferation of jazz recordings and in particular jazz dancing spread through the United States and over to Europe. By the spring of 1918, American officers on leave in Britain from the trenches in France were showing off, as reported in the newspapers, what was called the Jazz Trot. It was, according to one Mayfair club hostess, ‘Healthy and harmless. Half the brides of Mayfair have met their men at dance teas.’ Before the year was out, it was announced in a British paper: ‘Sixty-three men of the United States Navy will present an entertainment which they officially describe as a “musical mush-up” at the Palace Theatre tomorrow night. They will have their own orchestra and jazz band.’

The arrival of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band on a liner at Liverpool on 1 April 1919 was a case of perfect timing. The fashion for jazz dancing, the band’s assertion that they were the ‘originators of jazz’, their performances at the London Hippodrome and even an audience before King George V, meant that they were guaranteed publicity. Yet again, they may not have been first. Recently an advert for Dawkin’s Famous Coloured Jazz Band appearing in Scotland in March 1919 has been found; this was a group of West Indian musician’s led by Oscar Dawkins, a drummer. Also, ‘The Jazz Seven, the sensation of London and Paris’ was playing at the Alhambra Theatre in Leith, Edinburgh’s port area in March and by late April, the American Varsity Jazz Band was also in Britain.

In general, for British audiences and many people outside of New York and Chicago, there was little understanding of where jazz came from or what it was all about. What everyone cared about most was that it was ‘the next big thing’. The sound of America spread across the Atlantic quicker than many thought it might.

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mikestoddart April 11th at 1:21pm

Indeed, it's like pinpointing the first rock'n'roll record. Maybe the ODJB made the first "jazz" record, but "hot ragtime" records were being made several years earlier by James Reese Europe's 363 Infantry Hellfighters among others. Oh, and don't forget the legend that Freddie Keppard was allegedly offered the opportunity to make what would have been the first jazz recordings in 1915, but declined for fear that his ideas would be stolen by all and sundry!

mrG April 11th at 4:08pm

Excellent scholarship here, I plan to pillage your information here in my shows, but there is one detail that you omit on the history of 'jazz', the word: H.O.Brunn's "The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band" published around 1960 with the direct participation of Nick LaRocca, including granting Brunn access to LaRocca's collection of memoriabilia tells us several key legends, and backs them up with documents.

first, the origin of the name. no one in the music biz could say where the word came from, no one could say more than a guess what it meant, so it wasn't negro slang, or even New Orleans slang, although it was San Francisco slang in 1912, and far from obscene, it was clean enough to put into a newspaper where it was specifically defined as "pep" and "giniker" (which are Irish slang, but let's leave that alone for now ;)

second, the music comes from Chicago, the music *named* jazz. Louis Armstrong tells us that he remembers, as a boy, being blown away by a new young player, Nick LaRocca, who was playing a new kind of thing; Louis later tells us that when he arrives in Chicago to play with Joe Oliver in 1922, the music they are playing is not like it was back home, it is faster, more frantic, not laid back and southern. He tells us (cited in Master of Modernism) that he has to adapt. Flash back to 1917 or so, and a competing record company wants to cash in on this 'jazz' craze and so sends an A&R man to New Orleans; Nick produces the telegram, it says, "There is no jazz in New Orleans" and the A&R man comes back with W.C.Handy's blues band, and proceeds to make a jazz band out of them.

third is Nick's own testimony: he says he was unsatisfied with the dixieland beat, so he ramped it up, layed on the syncopation and started playing ahead of the beat, that was, he says, his sound. No improv (just breaks like everyone else) and basically the same music and tunes as everyone else, just ramped up, punked up. His bass player could barely play and he fired the clarinet player who could play and found someone who would just noodle. Then, with this new punked up sound, he gets hired for 6 weeks in Chicago, arrives in winter with no winter clothes and so the promoter finds them some second hand coats, and this is significant: the coats are too big, but they are coats, so the band wears them and in a very short span of time oversized overcoats become the fashion rage among the hipsters who are their fans -- you have to be doing something new and youth-oriented to gain a fashion following like that! Nick says, one night, a drunk in the back caught up in the frenzy of their punked up dixie, he yells out, "Jazz'er Up Boys!" and nobody knows what it means, but they like the sound of it, so they 'hire' him with free beer to come back every night and yell the same, and it catches on, they start calling themselves "the Dixieland JASS Band" and their infectious enthusiasm turns Chicago on its ear, pretty soon, long before the record, everybody wants to be a jass band, it's good marketing copy.

That's Nick's testimony, relayed through Brunn but also repeated in his later interviews. Listening to the recordings, it is clear that what he played and what Louis describes back home, Nick isn't playing what *we* call Jazz, but he is playing something ramped up from what Papa Jack played, it excited the teenaged Louis Armstrong. Given Nick's story about the craze that he ignited, it is also unsurprising that nearly 2 years later pretty much all the bands in this new genre would sound the same and be calling themselves jazz bands. So the fact of the first *recording* was just a crap shoot, it could have been anyone one of them, and if Nick's story is true, maybe he did deserve to be first, especially since he was never going to be the best ;)

And compare this to what we experience in modern times, for example, in the rise of punk rock, from Malcolm McLaren assembling an absurd mix of dock workers under Johnny Litton, to the 'cleaned up' versions we saw nearly instantly that tried to mix more musicianship and theatrics while staying true enough to the genre to attract the same youth audience. Although it's HIS story and the rest is conjecture and circumstantial, I'm inclined to believe Nick's story.

mrG April 11th at 4:10pm

for what it's worth, there's no evidence that they intended to call Freddie's record 'jazz' -- Pops Foster tells us there were three kinds of music popular at the time, blues, sweet, and ragtime. I believe Freddie was known as a blues player.

jazzlabels April 11th at 4:18pm

Fabulous piece, thanks so much. We are off in search of Brunn's book. As has been said about many things in many ways, "This is my truth, tell me yours." It all goes to prove that there is not really ever 'the truth' about anything. All we can ever hope to do is to keep adding nuggets and slithers…

zola April 11th at 4:29pm

Please don't forget to include me in the new catalogue

Sixty-five years ago in 1949, as winter was turning to Spring, the eighth national tour of Jazz At The Philharmonic began at Carnegie Hall; things were looking promising for this year’s concerts, despite the disappointments of the previous year where audience numbers were down. Concert organiser Norman Granz’s had managed to secure Ella Fitzgerald as the headliner for the spring tour; a tour on which his payroll was $9,100 per week excluding Ella – $1000 more than any previous tour.

To secure Ella’s participation, Granz had negotiated long and hard with her agent Tim Gale, and he paid her much more than anyone else on the tour, paying per appearance rather than a weekly wage like all the other musicians. Even when pianist Hank Jones went down with flu as the tour reached Chicago, Ella just went on with bass and drums. Not that everything was a positive. Down Beat in particular was critical of Ella’s ‘crummy’ selection of songs; Granz knew it to be true and it marked the start of a very long and sometimes painful process to take Ella in a completely new direction. The brilliant pianist, Bud Powell was another new addition to the shows; Powell had just began recording for Clef and his first album was the aptly named Bud Powell – Jazz Giant; an album that Verve later reissued as The Genius of Bud Powell (1956).

Besides Ella and Bud Powell the tour featured, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, drummer Shelly Manne (drums) on his first JATP, Fats Navarro, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Criss, Flip Phillips, Tommy Turk, Charlie Parker and Buddy Rich.

To coincide with the tour Granz released the 78rpm album Jazz at the Philharmonic volume 9, the previous volume had just registered sales of 100,000 copies, which was a considerable number for a jazz album.

 Check out our Jazz at the Philharmonic playlist to hear the brilliant jazz and to soak up the atmosphere of these legendary concerts.

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It was on this day in 1961 that Freddie Hubbard recorded his album Hub Cap and to celebrate we have a playlist of tunes that were all recorded in the month of April. We’ve dug into the vaults to come up with these tunes and there are undoubtedly some that you’ll know but there are a number we’ll wager that will be new to you… These are just some of the albums from which we’ve taken the tracks.

 

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Recorded at Van Gelder’s studio (where else!) in November 1965, organist Larry Young’s Unity featuring Woody Shaw on trumpet, Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and drummer Elvin Jones was released in the summer of 1966 and has just been reissued on 180 gram vinyl as part of the celebration of Blue Note Records 75th anniversary.

 “The combination of organist Larry Young, Woody Shaw on trumpet, Joe Henderson, tenor sax, and drummer Elvin Jones should make this a sure shot for jazz fans. Blue Note’s got a solid seller here.” Billboard, 27 August 1966

The thing that grabs you the first time you hear this album is the empathy – the unity – between Larry Young and Elvin Jones in particular. Yes, we’re talking rhythm section, but Jones’s drumming and Young’s oh-so-cool organ sound seamless, like the product of one mind. In the liner notes Young says, ‘Although everybody on the date was very much an individualist, they were all in the same frame of mood. It was evident from the start that everything was fitting together.’ All of which informed Young in his decision to call the album Unity.

Young is no songwriter, as the credits of the album show. Shaw contributes half the tunes with Henderson bringing, ‘If’ to the date along with ‘Monk’s Dream’ and ‘Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise’, the Hammerstein/Romberg tune from the 1920s operetta, The New Moon. For many, the stand-out track is Shaw’s ‘Moontrane’, written when the trumpeter was just 18 and dedicated to John Coltrane; the superb harmonic cycles are redolent of his most accomplished work.

While Young is one among four talented players, his contribution is immense and there is no doubting that Unity is his album. ‘Monk’s Dream’ is a dialogue between just drums and organ, and it is one of the most satisfying covers of a Monk tune that dates from the early 1950s, when the pianist was recording for Prestige. The Hammond seems to embrace Monk’s imaginings, its cycles wrapping themselves around the listener’s ears in a way that brings fresh ideas to such a well known piece – something that’s not to be underestimated when confronting a Monk tune.

And then there’s the cover art by Reid Miles. His prodigious talent is there for all to see on this simple but perfectly conceived sleeve – conceived without the aid of a Wolff photograph for once. The four orange dots inside the U are all that’s needed to communicate Young’s own description of the session, ‘that everything was fitting together’.

You can order it and hear it by clicking this link.

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‘At the height of his success, Gerry was the dominant baritone saxophonist in the world’

– Music critic, biographer, lyricist and journalist Gene Lees

Gerald Joseph Mulligan’s father was from a family of Irish immigrants in North Carolina, while his mother, from Philadelphia, had Irish and German ancestry. Three of their four sons arrived while they lived in Chester, Pennsylvania, before work moved the family to New York, where Mulligan was born in Queens Village, Long Island on 6 April 1927. He was less than a year old when the family moved again, this time to Marion, a prosperous town in Ohio mainly associated with the construction and mining industries.

Looking after a big house and four sons proved too much for Mulligan’s mother, so a black woman named Lily Rowan was hired to help out. She grew fond of the youngest son and felt protective towards her ‘Bonzo’. Spending an increasing amount of time at Lily’s house, he loved to ‘lean against the piano bench with my nose at keyboard height’ watching her player piano play Fats Waller rolls. While he showed interest in piano, Mulligan would eventually choose to learn the clarinet at his Catholic school, where he wrote his first arrangement for the odd mixture of instruments that made up their orchestra: ‘one clarinet, one violin, one drum, one piano player—seven or eight of us.’ The nuns at the school took exception to the tune’s title, “Lover”, and it was never performed.

Mulligan continued to arrange into his teens, also taking up various saxophones and moving to New York in 1946, where he ended up spending most of his time in Gil Evans’ flat on 55th Street, taking turns on the piano and taking part in the informal salons hosted there. This was during a fertile period of reinvention when many of the attendees were looking for new sources of inspiration, in particular the European Impressionist composers, such as Debussy, Ravel, Satie Delius and arguably England’s greatest composer, Vaughan Williams. What was appealing about their approach lay in the way that they had freed the music from the need for defining root notes, or tonics. Instead of a key being explicit, its tonality was suggested; it too was impressionistic.

Composer and bandleader George Russell had formulated this modal theory, sharing it with other members at Evans’ salon, and Evans and Miles Davis set about implementing this new music in a jazz setting, Meanwhile, to make ends meet, Mulligan worked as an arranger and alto player in the bands of Gene Krupa, and Claude Thornhill (1948), which also involved Evans, and Elliot Lawrence (1949). His growing reputation and involvement in the salon made Mulligan the perfect choice when Evans and Davis were seeking an additional arranger for their Birth Of The Cool nonet (1949–1950), although he actually ended up being one of the main contributors, charting the majority of the music and playing on every session, significant for it being the his first outing on baritone and, importantly, helping to orchestrate the horns to achieve their choral sound.

Mulligan also recommended Lee Konitz for the sessions who he had met in Thornhill’s band, proving to be a perfect choice, because that is exactly the sound for which Davis was searching. Miles loved the sound of the Thornhill Band, and if Konitz had not been recruited it is arguable that things might not have progressed.

After the nonet, Mulligan recorded his own tentet before moving to Los Angeles in 1951. He landed a gig arranging dance numbers for Stan Kenton, then Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, before forming an unusually piano-less quartet in 1952 with Bob Whitlock, Chico Hamilton and Chet Baker whom he had met jamming at the Haig Club, and with whom he had discovered an almost telepathic rapport.

Their residency at the Haig and the recordings they made propelled them to instant stardom, which might have gone on unchecked if it were not for a six-month prison term for possession of heroin that put Mulligan behind bars. Meanwhile, Baker developed his style and solo career so that by the time Mulligan was released, the offer of reforming their band was no longer financially attractive. Instead, Mulligan began a series of new musical partnerships over the course of the next few years, with Bob Brookmeyer then Jon Eardley replacing Baker, Red Mitchell substituting for Whitlock and Frank Isola for Hamilton.

Returning from a huge success with this quartet in Paris, Mulligan formed a sextet with Zoot Sims (1955–1958), followed by a group with Art Farmer (1958). Being the best baritone saxophonist around meant constant invitations to play alongside a fantastic range of talent: Desmond, Ellington, Webster, Hodges, Holiday, Armstrong, Basie, Getz, Monk, Winding, Davis, and a soloist spot with the Dave Brubeck Trio (1968–1972).

He first recorded for Verve on their historic recordings at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1957 where he guested with Teddy Wilson’s Trio; the track listing was like a best of JATP. He was also recorded leading his own quartet featuring trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. A few weeks later he was at Capitol’s Hollywood studio recording with Harry Edison, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Louis Bellson on an album aptly titled The Jazz Giants of ’58. The following day, Mulligan and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond recorded some of their Blues In Time album that they finished before the end of August. Before this very productive year was out, Mulligan had recorded Getz Meets Mulligan in Hi-Fi that ranks alongside some of his best work

The following year he put his arranging skills to good use when working on an album with Gene Krupa, appropriately called Gene Krupa Plays Gerry Mulligan Arrangements. When not being a guest in other peoples’ bands, the 1960s brought Mulligan a new focus for his arranging skills: big-band music for a thirteen-piece concert jazz band. His first sessions for Verve in May 1960 at Plaza Sound Studio in New York and subsequent sessions in June created Gerry Mulligan and The Concert Jazz Band. Before the year was out, he took the concept on tour, culminating in Gerry Mulligan And The Concert Jazz Band At The Village Vanguard that was recorded in New York in December.

During the 1970s and most of the 1980s, Mulligan kept just as busy, intermittently leading another big band, the Age of Steam, and forming various groups and playing festivals, including dates with Charles Mingus. In the 1990s, he embarked on a world tour with his ‘no-name’ quartet and led a ‘Rebirth of the Cool’ band that performed and recorded remakes of the Miles Davis Nonet classics. Davis had been keen to take part on the heels of his recent well-received performance of the material at the Montreux Jazz Festival with Quincy Jones, but unfortunately died shortly before they were due to enter the studio. Mulligan himself died five years later on 20 January 1996 from complications after knee surgery, although his wife reported that he also had cancer of the liver.

Mulligan became known for his sensitive arrangements and revolutionary orchestrations. His compositional and tuition skills were highly sought after; he was made the Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University, and was invited to be the Glasgow International Jazz Festival’s first-ever Composer-in-Residence, for which he wrote “The Flying Scotsman”, both in 1988. He received many awards, including a Grammy in 1981, induction of the Birth Of The Cool album into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1982 and a personal induction into the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1993.

Listen to our exclusive Gerry Mulligan playlist here

And these are just a few of our favourite albums From Gerry.

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The third in our series of 180 gram vinyl recording from the 100 titles that Blue Note are reissuing to celebrate the label’s 75th anniversary is Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch recorded in February 1964. It features Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (flute, alto saxophone bass clarinet), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Richard Davis (bass), Anthony Williams (drums) and despite being recorded 50 years ago sounds as fresh today as when Rudy Van Gelder committed it to tape.

“I’m on my way to Europe to live for a while. Why? Because I can get more work there playing my own music and because if you try to do anything different in this country, people put you down for it.” Eric Dolphy

Recorded in February with the liner notes written sometime shortly thereafter, this album was released in the middle of August 1964. Tragically, Dolphy died in Berlin in late June 1964 from an undiagnosed diabetic condition and this recording was to be his epitaph. Few artists have had a more immediate or more fitting one. Dolphy had been true to his word, leaving the US to tour Europe with Charles Mingus and at the end of the tour, he went to join his girlfriend in Paris. It was while playing a gig in Berlin that he was taken ill.

On this, his first and only album for Blue Note as a leader, Dolphy excels; his achievements made more poignant by what might have been. The opening track ‘Hat and Beard’, a reference to Monk, gets the album off to an incredible start. The interplay between Hutcherson’s vibes and eighteen-year-old Tony Williams is fascinating, but then again that word can be applied to everything on this recording.

Dolphy wrote all the tracks – the album stands head and shoulders above his previous recordings – and it is deeply ironic that just as the thirty-six-year-old Doplphy had found where he wanted to go musically, he died. His bass clarinet on ‘Something Sweet, Something Tender’ is perhaps the album’s very highest point. Make no mistake, this is not easy listening, but once you have allowed yourself to be immersed in Dolphy’s musical imaginings then all is revealed. On Side two Dolphy plays the alto saxophone and for us, this is the place to start your initiation into his exploration of free jazz.

With it’s brilliant Reid Miles cover, featuring one of his own photographs – just imagine Miles stepping out from his office at lunchtime, a brief for the cover design and the title of the album in his head, and suddenly his eyes fall upon the perfect sign – this is now considered one of the most important free jazz albums ever recorded, and not just (as some have suggested) because Dolphy died prematurely. Avoid it at your peril.

Click here to visit the Back To Blue web site where you can order Out To Lunch.

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For our second 180 gram vinyl record in the series of 100 titles that Blue Note are reissuing to celebrate the label’s 75th anniversary we are looking at Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. According to Blue Note President Don Was this album is particularly personal to him and one of his favourite releases from Blue Note. “It’s a little mysterious, particularly side two of the record. I bought it in the late 1960s when I was having some problems in my life and when I played Speak No Evil for the first time it made me feel like myself again, it restored balance to my life.” Such is the magic of music and especially Wayne Shorter[s fabulous album.

“I was thinking of misty landscapes with wild flowers and strange dimly lit shapes – the kind of places where folklore and legends are born. And then I was thinking of witch burnings too.” – Wayne Shorter, elaborating on his compositions for Speak No Evil, 1965

Shorter began recording this album in early November 1964 at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio but the three tracks the band cut were all rejected for various reasons, and when he got back into the studio on Christmas Eve, Elvin Jones had taken over on drums from Billy Higgins. Jones had played on a handful of Blue Note sessions in the 1950s but during 1964 he was playing more regularly; the sense of swing he brought with him from Coltrane’s group is essential for this record.

‘Witch Hunt’ opens with a flurry of a fanfare from trumpeter, Freddie Hubbard and Shorter, then quickly settles into the theme of the piece. The empathy between the old Messengers is clear and the feel of the track is brighter than much of what follows. ‘Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum’ is darker in tone and conjures up the shadowy, mythicalworld that inspired Shorter to write this, and all the other compositions on the album.

The album’s title track is pure hard bop and is driven along with intensity by Shorter before Hubbard solos; all the while Herbie Hancock’s piano teeters on the edge of the avant-garde. It’s a heady mix that works superbly well and helps to justify the huge reputation that this album has built up over time. Despite its originality, the album attracted little attention on its release: Shorter was not as well regarded in 1965 when it was released as he was to become.

Perfectly juxtaposed with the title track, ‘Infant Eyes’ was written for the saxophonist’s baby daughter; her mother, Shorter’s wife, is the woman who appears on the front cover of the record (both photographed and designed by Reid Miles). This beautiful, tender ballad is followed by the gorgeous ‘Wild Flower’, which brings the record to a slow but intense close. The album appears to be precisely structured, with clearly defined sections, and Shorter clearly had the whole thing worked out. Perhaps this explains the reason for ditching earlier session; it simply failed to come up to the standards that Shorter demanded of himself and his band.

Click here to visit the Back To Blue web site where you can order Speak No Evil

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As part of the celebration of its 75th anniversary Blue Note are reissuing 100 treasured titles on 180 gram vinyl. Among the first batch of five is this gem from John Coltrane – his one and only recording for Blue Note.

“A provocative item in the hard, modern idiom, most notable for tenor-ist Coltrane’s arresting solo continuity. Obviously moved by vibrant, creative rhythm playing – Paul Chambers, (Philly) Joe Jones, Kenny Drew – trumpeter Lee Morgan and trombonist C. Fuller also turn in top performances.” Billboard 3 March 1958

This is an album revered, cherished, and loved by many; and there are others who cannot quite see what all the fuss is about. We are firmly in the former camp. Granted, some controversy surrounds the recording and critics argue that both Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller have done much better work elsewhere. Yet such judgements seem overly harsh; this is after all a Coltrane album. Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones had already played together on an album the pianist recorded for Riverside Records, so they were already acquainted with each other’s style.

In truth, for the title track alone – and its value is virtually doubled by the addition of a ‘Moment’s Notice’ – this record is a masterpiece. So familiar is ‘Blue Train’ that it feels like a theme to some long-forgotten TV series or the soundtrack of an atmospheric movie. It is everything that makes jazz so affecting.

Much of the debate surrounding the album centres on the track, ‘Blue Train’. On the original album release, the piano solo from take 8 is spliced into the following take from the same September 1957 session to create what we have come to accept as Coltrane’s masterpiece. A later reissue has both the complete take 8 and the composite version, much to Van Gelder’s annoyance, who considered such tape-splicing ‘desecration’.

Along with the four Coltrane originals there is a beautiful reading of the Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer standard, ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ that is unapologetically sentimental and among Coltrane’s finest ballads.

Click here to visit the Back To Blue web site and order Blue Train.

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Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean passed away on this day in 2004 having been born in New York City in 1931. He recorded for Prestige in the second half of the 1950s before switching to Blue Note in 1959 where he recorded a string of albums including Let Freedom Ring, arguably the best of the bunch. Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s in Englewood Cliffs on 19 March 1962 it features Walter Davis on piano, Herbie Lewis on bass and drummer Billy Higgins. The cover of the album is yet another striking Reid Miles design with his innovative use of typography to make this LP stand out from the crowd.

“I am proud to say that my musical schooling has been at the universities of Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey and of course Bird. Many of my early days in jazz were spent at Monk’s house. Monk has been a dear friend of mine for many years”. Jackie McLean, liner notes to Let Freedom Ring

*Three tracks are McLean originals and ‘I’ll Keep Loving You’ is a Bud Powell tune. All four are fabulous and the saxophonist’s playing is inspired, which is why this album is so justly revered. From the opening bars of ‘Melody For Melonae’, with Higgins’s drums sounding as though they are right there in the room, you know you are in for something special and significantly different from a Blue Note date of the period.

Throughout Let Freedom Ring there is evidence of the influence of Ornette Coleman. Higgins was a Coleman band alumnus, but this recording remains a unique post-bop album that has elements of the avant-garde on display and it feels like the link from the old to the new. Yet despite its modernist credentials, the music is also steeped in the blues: both tracks on side two of the original album are based on the old 12-bars.

McLean had already cut nine albums for Prestige before his 1959 Blue Note debut, New Soil, and this was his seventh record for the label – in spite of his prodigious output he was still only 30 when this album was recorded. His first Blue Note session had been in 1952 for Miles Davis, a week before his 21st birthday.

A comparative rarity among Blue Note albums from the period, this one features McLean’s own liner notes, and very good and informative they are, too. He was well aware of his position in the pantheon of jazz and the one thing that comes over clearly is his humility. McLean later became a teacher and founded his own musicians’ collective.

You can hear it here…

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Astrud Gilberto was born this day in 1940 in Brazil as Astrud Weinert, her mother was Brazilian and her father German. She was raised in Rio de Janeiro and married João Gilberto in 1959 and emigrated to the United States in 1963.  Astrud Gilberto sang on the influential album Getz/Gilberto featuring João Gilberto, Stan Getz, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, despite having never sung professionally before this recording. For this album she added her unique vocals to ‘The Girl From Ipanema’, the record that immediately says summer – whatever the weather. She went on to record a string of successful albums, mostly for Verve Records  and remains the epitome of cool and elegance.

Check out our Astrud Gilberto playlist.

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yonque March 30th at 11:19am

Astrud Gilberto ha influenciado ha muchas generaciones y se ha convertido en un ícono como vocalista de Bossa Nova, en lo personal felicito a Astrud hoy y le deseo muchas felicidades, parabéns minha linda!!! Obrigado!!!!

James Kerr March 30th at 4:47pm

It was love at first listen. Forever a fan. Happy Birthday.

Lcol Coleman March 31st at 6:07am

I grew up with this timeless music. My parents had the Getz/Gilberto album. I played it constantly.