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: Remembering Hank Jones

It’s been just over a year since jazz piano great Hank Jones died at the ripe old age of 91. As I’ve opined before on this site, Jones is probably the one musician most responsible for making me love jazz. So it’s only appropriate this weekend to remember the Jazz Master, Hank Jones. This is a video about Hank compiled for his memorial service in June of last year. I encourage you to watch it, and then seek out some of his voluminous and always entertaining music.

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2010: The Gray Flannel Suit Year That Was

It’s been another fun year for me in running this site, and I’d like to thank all of you who visit regularly, irregularly, or even once.  I’d also like to thank everyone who has helped by contributing comments and post ideas.  It’s good to know there’s at least a few people out there who enjoy my little corner of the intertubes.  Since we’re in the midst of year-end review season, let’s take a quick look back at the posting year that was 2010 for The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

Most Popular Posts

This is really what it’s all about right?  It’s always interesting to me to see what content takes off and what content gets largely ignored.  Since I want to stay positive I’ll focus on the former.  So here are the eleven most-popular posts on the site for 2010.

#11. Happy Hoff-Day! – David Hasselhoff is ageless, wouldn’t you agree?  Apparently many do, as this birthday celebration post from all the way back in 2007 is an evergreen.  For Hoff lovers, might I recommend you check out my Hasselhoff/Shatner showdown post from 2008?

#10. Rush album countdown: #4-#1 – Leading up to the 2007 release of Rush’s Snakes & Arrows, I took on the task of ranking every Rush studio album to that point.  As you can guess, this was the payoff.

#9. Retrotisements – Marlboro cigarettes – I’ve made no secret about my fascination with American tobacco advertising.  This classic from July 2007 showcases some vintage Marlboro ads, from long before the Marlboro Man rode into the American pop culture scene.  Maybe he was one of the infants from these early ads?

#8. Album cover of the week: Peter Gabriel (car) – The second album cover post in the top 10, this one showcases the debut album of prog rock legend and former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel.  Creepy stuff.

#7. Rush album countdown: #8-#5 – I guess fewer people were interested in the big finish to the Rush countdown?  Or maybe I didn’t rank A Farewell to Kings high enough?

#6. Commercials I hate – Hyundai Sonata hipster Christmas – And making a late charge into the top 10, it’s everybody’s least favorite car commercial featuring annoying hipster musicians.  I figured I wasn’t the only one who hated this spot, but even I was surprised to see how this post resonated.

#5. Album cover of the week: The Who Sell Out – I think I’m getting the picture that I need to get on the stick with more album cover posts.  Or at least more with cool information, like this Who one.

#4. Michael – Death is a weird thing.  I and countless others spent years distancing ourselves from Michael Jackson and his music, and as soon as he died it’s like it was OK to like him again.  I guess that means I can expect a ton of hits here when I kick the bucket?

#3. Attn: Cartoon porn enthusiasts – I’m not too proud to admit that I wrote this to mess with people.  I noticed a strange trend of incoming searches for cartoon/Disney porn, so I set this up as a sort of welcome tent for pervs.

#2. America the Brave: A selection of Veterans Day images – I dusted off this 2008 image gallery in November, and it’s proven to be even more popular than before.  The Vietnam War seems to be the main topic of interest for people looking at this post, so maybe I’ll write a new one just for ‘Nam.

#1. Album covers of the week: 1962-1966 & 1967-1970 – I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the most popular band of all-time is the subject of my most popular post of the year.  I am a little surprised that this relatively obscure (for the Beatles) compilation is searched for so often.  I imagine there will be at least one or two more Beatles albums in future installments of Album Covers of the Week.

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Thank you Hank

Hank Jones, Newport Jazz Festival, 7/14/05 (credit Ed Newman)

Although I knew this day would come, it doesn’t make it any easier to handle.  Hank Jones, the man most responsible for sparking my love of jazz, has died at age 91.  Jones’ always tasteful and elegant brand of swing may not have blazed any musical trails, but it always made for good listening. The music was a reflection of the man – gentle, thoughtful with a touch of humor, and never self-important.

Jones was the last surviving member of an immensely gifted trio of brothers – Thad (1923-1986) made a name for himself as much for his trumpeting acumen as for his compositional skills, and Elvin (1927-2004) was one of the most respected drummers in the genre.  Hank’s understated style made him the least flashy or famous of his brothers, but he was always my favorite.

You can find any number of Hank Jones biographies online and in print, so I won’t recycle them here.  I’ll just relate a little bit about how I was touched by his genius.

About ten years ago or so, I started my exploration of jazz in earnest.  I had no idea where to start, so I started listening to the local jazz radio station, WBGO, to see if anything caught my attention.  Much of it sounded the same – some good, some not so good.  Then, out of the background, I heard a song that stood out from the rest.  Something about the style and arrangement spoke to me.  It was “Interface”, from a 1990 Jones release called The Oracle.  I immediately set out to buy the album but, of course, it was long out of print (a common problem with jazz artists who never hit it “big”).  I made do with a live version off another Jones disc for many years until I was finally able to track down a used copy of The Oracle.  Sure enough, I still love that song.

From there I branched out in many different directions of jazz, but I always return home to Hank.  He was never as acrobatic as Art Tatum, as sublime as Bill Evans, as idiosyncratic as Thelonious Monk, as flashy and complex as McCoy Tyner, or as versatile as Herbie Hancock.  But he was always, always a joy to listen to and to my ears he never played a bum note in his life.  You can’t help but be put immediately at ease from the chord of any of his songs.

I had the great privilege of seeing Hank perform not too long ago, during a week-long celebration of his 90th birthday at Birdland in New York City.  He was on top of his game and fulfilled every expectation I had going into the show.  At the end of the concert he was presented with a birthday cake, and the audience got to express their appreciation for Hank with a round of “Happy Birthday”.  Of all the performances I’ve attended, it was one of my favorite by far.  I’m so glad I got the chance to see him live and bring my love of jazz and his music in particular full circle.

Album cover of the week: Our Delights

Jazz piano giants Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, who both sprang out of a very fertile post-war Detroit jazz scene, entered Fantasy Studios (the in-house studio of Fantasy Records) in Berkeley, California to record an album of piano duets in January 1978.  The result of that session was the Galaxy Records release Our Delights (GXY-5113).  The album art indeed reflects the very sweet music contained within:

Our Delights

It took a few glances at the photo before I figured out that those aren’t chocolate hearts, but chocolate pianos.  A nice little juxtaposition for sure.  Unfortunately I don’t know who’s responsible for this rather clever photograph, but if anyone has that info please let me know.

The same recording session also yielded a second duet album, More Delights, which featured a similar piano/candy theme.

In Concert: Hank Jones at Birdland, 8/8/08

When I was starting my exploration of jazz about eight or so years ago, Hank Jones was one of the first musicians I gravitated toward.  By complete chance I was listening to a local jazz radio station and heard a studio version of one of his original compositions, “Interface”, and made it my mission to hear more from the man who had written such a wonderful song.

Although I never did track down that album (The Oracle, long out of print), I did develop an even greater appreciation for Jones’s music, and in turn for jazz in general.  So when I discovered, quite by chance, that he was scheduled for a run of shows at New York’s famed Birdland jazz club in celebration of his 90th birthday, there wasn’t even a thought of not going.  It’s not every day you get to witness a living legend perform, after all, especially these days.


In front of a packed house, Jones started things off with a tender solo rendition of “Alone Together” before he was joined by the rest of his band – bassist George Mraz, guitarist Russell Malone, and drummer Lewis Nash.   The quartet launched into a swinging version of “Stella by Starlight” before they unveiled what I consider to be the highlight of the show – a gorgeous and sophisticated take on the long-time standard “I Cover the Waterfront”.

What made this performance of the song great was not only Jones, but guitarist Russell Malone, of whom I was previously unaware.  His slow-cooking but strong fretwork immediately called to mind the great Wes Montgomery, easily my favorite jazz guitarist.  Hearing Malone (who also stood out during the hard-driving “Speak Low”) play was a revelation, and I will definitely be checking out his work more in the coming days and weeks.

As for the rest of the band – Mraz, who has collaborated with Jones on a number of albums and shows in recent years, was in fine form throughout the set and demonstrated why he’s one of the premiere jazz bassists around.  Nash displayed some serious talent, especially on the uptempo numbers.  I would’ve liked to hear a lighter touch on some of the ballads, but his was still a very enjoyable performance.

Hank Jones at Birdland, 8/8/08

And what about the man I came to see?  I’ll admit that I had some concerns about Jones’s ability to play at a high level – after all, not many musicians manage to live to 90, much less perform at that age.  Happily, not only was he in good spirits and humor during the entire set, but played with the same fluid grace and style that drew me to him in the first place. To see and listen to Jones, you simply wouldn’t know he was born when Woodrow Wilson was president.  And as he joked to the audience, he doesn’t feel a day over 89.

During the last half of the set, Malone exited the stage and the trio of Jones, Mraz, and Nash tackled three Jones originals – one by Hank and two by his late brother Thad.  The gem of these was “Interface” – indeed, the very song that introduced me to Hank Jones in the first place.  Hearing it performed live by Hank himself is one of the great moments of my concert-going life.

Malone returned to the stage for two more numbers, and before I knew it the show was over.  But not before Hank was presented with a birthday cake and the audience sang a round of “Happy Birthday to You.”  In all, the entire evening was a display of top-flight musicianship and while I can’t speak for everyone in attendance, the crowd was more than thrilled to have witnessed it.

A quick note about the venue itself: This was my first trip to Birdland, and I highly recommend it.  There didn’t appear to be a bad seat in the place, and the acoustics were excellent.  On top of that, the staff was extremely friendly and the food was excellent (get the Cajun meatloaf!).

“Alone Together” (piano solo)
“Stella by Starlight”
“I Cover the Waterfront”
“Speak Low”
“A Child Is Born”
“Quiet Lady”

Note: “A Child Is Born”, “Interface”, and “Quiet Lady” were performed by the trio of Jones/Mraz/Nash.

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Album cover of the week: Tiptoe Tapdance

While he doesn’t get the widespread acclaim of jazz pianists like Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, or Dave Brubeck, Hank Jones has nonetheless been producing music of a high caliber for decades. 1978’s Tiptoe Tapdance, originally released on the Galaxy Records imprint (a subsidiary of the more well-known Fantasy label) came out when Hank was 60 years old, and as of this writing he’s been playing pretty consistently for the 30 years since its release.

Alas, the best image I could find (meaning the largest image that was also in decent shape) was from a used record site.  For those under 30, those light circles on the cover are not part of the image; they’re what’s known in the business as ring wear.

Admittedly, the clumsy cropping job at the wrist indicates that Galaxy probably didn’t have a huge budget for graphic design.  Still, it’s eye-catching at least.

Track listing:

  1. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
  2. Emily
  3. Sweet Lorraine
  4. Two Sleepy People
  5. I’ll Be Around
  6. It’s Me, O Lord (Standin’ in the Need of Prayer)
  7. Love Divine, All Loves Surpassing
  8. Memories of You
  9. Lord, I Want To Be a Christian
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Meme time: Pick an album for every year you’ve been alive

From Idolator via the AV Club comes a pretty cool music meme – compile a list of your favorite albums, with one for each year you’ve been alive. Sounds easy enough, but some years are positively stacked with music I love.  Forcing me to choose among my musical children is just so…cruel.

For me the most bountiful years were 1975-1978, 1980, 1982-1984, 1990, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2006, and 2007.

1975 – Kiss, Alive!
1976 – Led Zeppelin, Presence
1977 – Rush, A Farewell to Kings
1978 – Ace Frehley/Kiss, Ace Frehley
1979 – Pink Floyd, The Wall
1980 – Genesis, Duke
1981 – Rush, Moving Pictures
1982 – Rush, Signals
1983 – Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind
1984 – Iron Maiden, Powerslave
1985 – Kiss, Asylum
1986 – Queensrÿche, Rage for Order
1987 – Anthrax, Among the Living
1988 – Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime
1989 – King’s X, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
1990 – Queensrÿche, Empire
1991 – Queen, Innuendo
1992 – King’s X, King’s X
1993 – Robert Plant, Fate of Nations
1994 – Queensrÿche, Promised Land
1995 – Faith No More, King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime
1996 – King’s X, Ear Candy
1997 – Hank Jones, Favors
1998 – Pearl Jam, Yield
1999 – Ben Folds Five, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
2000 – Doves, Lost Souls
2001 – Spoon, Girls Can Tell
2002 – Koop, Waltz for Koop
2003 – Muse, Absolution
2004 – Mastodon, Leviathan
2005 – The Bad Plus, Suspicious Activity?
2006 – Muse, Black Holes and Revelations
2007 – Field Music, Tones of Town
2008 (so far) – School of Language, Sea from Shore

As I would’ve predicted, there’s some pretty clear trends at play here.  Most of the bands I grew up loving (Kiss, Iron Maiden, Rush, etc.) were at the peak of their powers during my youth, thus their early list dominance.  That also explains why hard rock and metal are heavily represented on this list until the mid 1990s, when they either dropped off my radar entirely or were just not releasing stuff I was all that interested in.  In fact, metal pretty much disappears for good until 2004, when the awesome Leviathan was released.

The other item of note is that I was listening to most of the albums at the front of the list when they came out.  Starting around the mid-’90s, my musical horizons began to expand and I started going back and filling in holes. Were this list to go back a few decades there’d be a ton of Beatles and jazz on it.

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