Sunday Jazz: The incredible Wes Montgomery

Sunday Jazz at The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

Man, all these Sunday Jazz pieces and not one about Wes Montgomery? Well that has to change now. Here’s a great clip of Wes performing one of my favorite numbers, “Four On Six,” from 1965. The film quality is superb and you can really see how he employed his unique thumb technique.

Here he’s backed by Rick Laird (bass), Stan Tracey (piano), and Jackie Dougan (drums). Enjoy!

(Spotify users — you can listen to these and other featured Sunday Jazz songs by subscribing to my GFS Sunday Jazz playlist.)

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Lester Young

Sunday Jazz: Happy birthday Lester Young

Lester YoungYesterday was the 102nd birthday of saxophone immortal Lester “Pres/Prez” Young who was born in 1909 in Woodville, Mississippi. His contributions to jazz are immeasurable, and his story is typically tragic. Young was in the grip of alcoholism for the last years of his relatively brief life, and he died at the age of 49 on March 15, 1959.

Prez’s lyrical and relatively subdued sound is cited as a major influence of not only later players like Charlie Parker and Stan Getz, but of the entire Cool/West Coast Jazz sound. His pre-World War II recordings tend to have a little more fire in them, but there is plenty worth hearing from his late ’40/early ’50s period as well. The notion that Young’s experience in the U.S. Army robbed him of his ability has by now been thoroughly debunked.

The first cut I’m offering today is from that oft-maligned post-War period — it’s “Tea for Two,” performed by Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio (the pianist himself is joined by Barney Kessel on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, and J.C. Heard on drums). This song provides ample evidence that at least as late as 1952, Young could still swing and deliver melodic genius with ease.

(enjoy “Tea for Two” from Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio)

The second song for your listening enjoyment dates much earlier. It’s from a September 1938 session by the Kansas City Six, a group straight out of the Count Basie Orchestra — bassist Walter Page, drummer Jo Jones, and rhythm guitarist Freddie Green (who also sings on this track), with a frontline of Young on sax, trumpeter Buck Clayton, and guitarist/trombonist Eddie Durham. Due to the conventions of the era, Young’s solo is relatively brief but still worth hearing.

(enjoy “Them There Eyes (Take 2)” from The “Kansas City” Sessions)

(Spotify users — you can listen to these and other featured Sunday Jazz songs by subscribing to my GFS Sunday Jazz playlist.)

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Warren Wolf - Warren Wolf

Sunday Jazz: Warren Wolf debuts on Mack Avenue

Warren Wolf - Warren WolfI’m happy to report that, despite what many think, jazz is indeed alive and well. Further proof of that can be found in the new, self-titled album from vibraphonist Warren Wolf (out now on Mack Avenue Records). After just one listen I knew this was a lock for my year-end best of list.

Do yourself a favor and pick up Wolf’s album today. But if you’re one of those cautious types who needs a little proof, I’ve got you covered. Follow this link to SoundCloud to hear two tracks from the album — “427 Mass Ave.” and “Señor Mouse.”

“427 Mass Ave.” puts me in mind of the Modern Jazz Quartet — and it’s no surprise that Wolf cites Milt Jackson as an influence — but there’s nothing retro or backward-looking about it. “Señor Mouse” is a Wolf solo showcase and as you might expect, it sports a slightly Latin flavor.

Of course it’s never a bad thing to have personnel like Wolf has supporting him on his album — bassist Christian McBride, pianist Peter Martin, drummer Greg Hutchinson, alto and soprano saxophonist Tim Green, and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt (on two songs).

(If you have Spotify, you can listen to these and other featured Sunday Jazz songs by subscribing to my GFS Sunday Jazz playlist.)

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Sunday Jazz: Herbie Hancock, “Wiggle Waggle”

Would you like to add a little funk to your Sunday Jazz? Good, ’cause I’d like to as well. Here’s one of the best cuts off of Herbie Hancock’s inspired 1969 LP, Fat Albert Rotunda — “Wiggle Waggle.”

Instead of blathering on about this excellent disc myself, I’ll let AllMusic Guide’s Richard Ginell take it from here:

Centered around some soundtrack music that Herbie Hancock wrote for Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert cartoon show, Fat Albert Rotunda was Hancock’s first full-fledged venture into jazz-funk — and his last until Head Hunters — making it a prophetic release. At the same time, it was far different in sound from his later funk ventures, concentrating on a romping, late-’60s-vintage R&B-oriented sound. with frequent horn riffs and great rhythmic comping and complex solos from Hancock’s Fender Rhodes electric piano.

The sextet on hand is a star-studded bunch, with Joe Henderson in funky and free moods on tenor sax, Johnny Coles on trumpet, Garnett Brown on trombone, Buster Williams on bass, and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums. Only Williams would remain for Hancock’s 1977 electric V.S.O.P.: The Quintet album to come. In addition, trumpeter Joe Newman, saxophonist Joe Farrell, guitarist Eric Gale, and drummer Bernard Purdie make guest appearances on two tracks.

Yeah, right on!

(If you have Spotify, you can listen to this and other featured Sunday Jazz songs by subscribing to my GFS Sunday Jazz playlist.)

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Sunday Jazz: Duke Ellington at the Newport Jazz Festival, 1956

Duke Ellington at the Newport Jazz Festival, 1956

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.)

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Vince Guaraldi

Sunday Jazz: Vince Guaraldi, “Freeway”

Vince GuaraldiIf you pressed me to name my favorite jazz pianist of all-time, it’d be a tough call. But it’s really a toss-up between Hank Jones and Vince Guaraldi. Neither of them sounded like the other, but I’ve never heard a piece of music from either that I didn’t like at least a little.

So today is Vince’s day. It’s been 35 years since Guaraldi died of a heart attack at age 47, and when I think of all the music he had left in him it makes me sad. But he did leave behind so much great stuff, like today’s track. It’s “Freeway,” from his 1963 live album In Person. The album was recorded live in 1962 at Sausalito‘s Trident Lounge with Fred Marshall on bass, Eddie Duran on guitar, Colin Bailey on drums, and Benny Velarde on scratcher. It features Vince’s sense of rhythm and melody that is often imitated, never duplicated.

Enjoy “Freeway”! And if you want to dig even deeper into Vince’s career and work, by all means check out the guide to his music I published here.

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Sunday Jazz: Cannonball Adderley, “Jive Samba” 1963

Is it possible that I’ve been posting Sunday Jazz segments all this time and haven’t gotten around to possibly my favorite saxophonist ever? Well a search of the archives says yes, so today I will correct that oversight. Here’s a clip of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley leading one of his most potent groups ever — brother Nat Adderley (cornet), Yusef Lateef (tenor sax, oboe, flute), Joe Zawinul (piano), Sam Jones (bass), and Louis Hayes (drums). This is from a 1963 TV appearance I can’t place, performing Nat Adderley’s “Jive Samba.”

Cannonball clearly is in the Charlie Parker school, but carved out a sound all his own. Listen to that trill at around the 2:26 mark. Awesome. The whole sextet is in the zone here, but Cannonball in particular is in complete control. He makes it look so damn easy.

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Sunday Jazz: Cal Tjader, “Shoshana”

Cal TjaderYesterday would’ve been Cal Tjader‘s 86th birthday. In honor of the late, great vibraphonist and Latin musician — who died of a heart attack on May 5, 1982 at age 56 — let’s listen to just one of his many brilliant contributions to Latin jazz. This is “Shoshana,” originally released posthumously in 1984 on Good Vibes (Concord) and later released as part of the two-CD set called Cool Fire.

Tjader was joined for the recording sessions by Mark Levine on piano, Poncho Sanchez on congas, Vince Lateano on drums and timbales, Roger Glenn on flute and percussion, and finally Gary Foster on flute, soprano and alto saxophone.

Enjoy Cal Tjader’s “Shoshana”!

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Sunday Jazz: Star-Spangled Jazz

Star-spangled jazzTomorrow 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)

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” Duke Ellington (from Ellington at Newport)

“The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Red Nichols and His Five Pennies

“When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” Jimmy Smith (from Crazy! Baby)