School is almost out for the summer for a lot of kids in the U.S., but they can still learn! And what better topic to learn about than jazz? That’s what Julian “Cannonball” Adderley must’ve thought, as he narrated a 1961 album called A Child’s Introduction to Jazz. It was released on Riverside Records (RLP 1435) as part of their “Wonderland” series, designed to teach kids about a variety of topics in an entertaining way.
Throughout, Adderley narrates the history of jazz and talks about the genre’s roots in work songs, blues, and ragtime, and brings the listener through Dixieland, Swing, and Bebop. He also explains the instrumental makeup and musical structure of jazz.
Numerous songs and clips back up his lessons, which makes the whole experience rather rich and informative. Some of the legendary jazz artists featured on this record are Scott Joplin, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Fats Waller, Ma Rainey, Duke Ellington, Wes Montgomery, Art Blakey, Bix Beiderbecke, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, and John Coltrane.
This is a fascinating record and I highly recommend listening to the whole thing at least once.
(Spotify users — you can listen to many of the songs featured on Sunday Jazz by subscribing to my GFS Sunday Jazz playlist.)
This weekend sees the continuation of one of the greatest musical celebrations around — the Newport Jazz Festival. It was founded by George Wein in 1954 and in its half-century-plus history has showcased some of the greatest talent in jazz, as well as other genres. But in just its third year, 1956, the Newport Jazz Festival was the setting for a truly legendary performance. For it was that year that Duke Ellington and his band took the stage and delivered a show for the ages.
I’ll let this clip from Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary miniseries tell the story…
The band’s performance of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” — punctuated by tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves’ famous solo — became the defining moment of Ellington’s late career, and led to a creative and commercial resurgence. Columbia Records capitalized on the magic created at Newport by issuing Ellington at Newport, a live document of that show.
Later it was discovered that more than half of the original LP was actually performed in the studio, including Gonsalves’ solo, but this was rectified on a later CD re-issue. It is highly recommended listening.
(If you have Spotify, you can listen to this and other featured Sunday Jazz songs by clicking on my GFS Sunday Jazz playlist.)
Tomorrow is of course July 4th, Independence Day here in these United States of America. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t dedicate this week’s Sunday Jazz to the birth of my country. She turns 235 years old this year, but if you ask me she doesn’t look a day over 178.
So here’s a handful of jazz songs (if not necessarily jazz compositions) to get your flags waving and your fireworks exploding (legally, of course).
“America the Beautiful,” Ray Charles (live performance on The Dick Cavett Show, 1972)
Steely Dan is one of those bands that evokes an instant response from people — usually a big, goofy grin or wretching noises of some sort. There really seems to be no middle ground for people once they’ve been exposed to the unique and acerbic brand of jazz-rock practiced by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.
Like a lot of others, I figured that the Dan was all about “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Black Cow,” and not much else. Boy how wrong was I! Here’s ten shining examples of what this great band has to offer beyond the classic rock radio staples, if only you’ll come along for the ride.
No need to go any further than the band’s debut LP to find evidence of their greatness. And if you’re ever going to appreciate Fagen’s earnest but somewhat warbling vocal delivery, might as well start now. The way the tension built up over the verses resolves in such subtle beauty in the chorus as a joy to behold. A lot of Dan fans swear by Can’t Buy a Thrill as their best album, and this is one of the reasons why.
2 — “Kid Charlemagne” (from The Royal Scam, 1976)
If it’s good enough for Kanye West to base an entire song around, it’s good enough for the rest of us. Rhythmically this finds the Dan operating on a whole ‘nother plane (thanks to Bernard Purdie and Chuck Rainey), but what really takes this track over the top is the Larry Carlton guitar solo. It’s one of the crown jewels of ’70s music.
3 — “Here at the Western World” (from Greatest Hits, 1978)
This didn’t make the cut for The Royal Scam, a testament to that album’s potency. I can see why, though — it’s a relatively subdued track and doesn’t quite fit with what was their darkest album ever. Or maybe not, as it is about a brothel.
Fagen and Becker have made no secret that their shared love of jazz was one of the reasons they were so effective as a songwriting team. Elsewhere on Pretzel Logic they offered one of their only cover songs (of Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo”), and here they blow the doors off the place with a smoking tribute to Charlie Parker. If this song doesn’t make you want to explore the Bird’s music, nothing will.
5 — “Aja” (from Aja, 1977)
Already a great song and the centerpiece of the Aja album (pronounced like Asia, by the way), the transcendence of this number is summed up in three words — Steve. Gadd. Drums. I’ll wait for you to pick your jaw up off the floor before we continue.