Jazz musician Ornette Coleman, RIP


This video from the USA, about music recorded in 1959, is called Ornette ColemanLonely Woman.

From the New York Times in the USA:

Ornette Coleman, Jazz Innovator, Dies at 85

By BEN RATLIFF

JUNE 11, 2015

Ornette Coleman, the alto saxophonist and composer who was one of the most powerful and contentious innovators in the history of jazz, died on Thursday morning in Manhattan. He was 85.

The cause was cardiac arrest, a representative of the family said.

Mr. Coleman widened the options in jazz and helped change its course. Partly through his example in the late 1950s and early ’60s, jazz became less beholden to the rules of harmony and rhythm, and gained more distance from the American songbook repertoire. His own music, then and later, became a new form of highly informed folk song: deceptively simple melodies for small groups with an intuitive, collective language, and a strategy for playing without preconceived chord sequences.

Though his early work— a kind of personal answer to his fellow alto saxophonist and innovator Charlie Parker— lay right within jazz — and generated a handful of standards among jazz musicians of the last half-century — he later challenged assumptions about jazz from top to bottom, bringing in his own ideas about instrumentation, process and technical expertise.

See also here.

New jazz music on 18th century Scottish history


This music video is called Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Bobby Wellins at The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on Friday 28 October 2011 playing ‘Epilogue’ from ‘The Culloden Moor Suite’.

By Chris Searle in Britain:

Meditation on a fateful slaughter at Culloden

Tuesday 2nd December 2014

Culloden Moor Suite, by Bobby Wellins and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (Spartacus Records)

From Drogheda in Ireland to Morant Bay in Jamaica, from the Kitchener-led bloodshed in the Sudan to the massacre at Amritsar, what cruelties and ferocity have British armies wrought on the people they sought to colonise and oppress?

None so close as the Scots at Culloden Moor in 1746. “One Englishman is better than three of them!” declared the “Butcher” Duke of Cumberland, commanding the British forces, and up to 2,000 Scots supporting the restoration of the Stuart monarchy were killed or maimed during the battle, with the Scottish wounded given no quarter on the battlefield.

This video is the film Culloden (1964), by Peter Watkins.

Now the Glaswegian septuagenarian tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins has combined with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra to record the Culloden Moor Suite. It was composed by Wellins some 50 years ago around the time he was recording the landmark Under Milk Wood suite as part of the Stan Tracey Quartet, based on the work by Dylan Thomas.

The Culloden Suite is comparable to two other masterworks of a sustained anti-war theme in jazz. The first is the Mike Westbrook Orchestra‘s Marching Song of 1969, written, performed and recorded to provoke deep reflection of the 50th anniversary of the final acts of World War I. The other is Sing Me a Song of Songmy, Freddie Hubbard’s 1971 album to set into memory the massacre unleashed by the US Army on the people of My Lai village in Vietnam in March 1968.

Wellins’ powerful melodism begins the suite movement, Gathering, the mournful preface drawn by the ominous notes and pianist Steve Hamilton’s elegaic sound as the Scots rally, family by family, clan by clan, to the backward Jacobean cause. Wellins’ horn gives a narrative of the blues-as-premonition, a forewarning of a disastrous encounter.

As the Scottish armies move into England in the second movement, March, it is Alyn Cosker’s ironic drums and Brodie Jarvie’s springing bass that give the undertow to an illusory sense of optimism running through Wellins’s solo, that the Scottish armies’ southern movement will bring victory.

As they withdraw and march northwards to the highlands, with Cosker’s drums still signalling the route after Tom McNiven’s searing trumpet solo peals out like a grim soothsayer, as if the naked edge of his auguring horn is ringing out its message of calamity. Cosker’s battle-promising snares are everywhere in the music, rattling a harbinger of agony.

The third movement tells the story of the slaughter on the moor, when the Highlanders charged disastrously and directly into the cannons, muskets, grapeshot and lines of British bayonets, with the survivors pursued and slain by Cumberland’s dragoons in a barbarous ritual of chauvinist hatred.

It begins with an orchestral onslaught, the collective horns ablaze before Wellins’s saxophone tells its tragic story with a howling timbre, brief stop-time phrases and notes in piles, unaccompanied except for Cosker’s comradely drums.

Then the ensemble bleeds back into life behind Wellins in a call and response motif, an onrush of horns and a wild charge of sound. There is a pause, and Hamilton’s piano carries the narrative onwards, forlorn and naked.

Cumberland’s retributive savagery heralded an era of violent military and cultural repression of the Highland peoples, leading to forced land removals, of raw poverty and an age of almost compulsory migration.

Strangely ironic too that a form of music born in the streets of New Orleans a century and a half later, in a continent that became the eventual home of thousands of these migrants, should become the medium to express the pain and truth of that history.

For the profound grief of a Scottish blues radiates from the Aftermath and Epilogue movements, with Wellins’s wavering notes over Hamilton’s repeated scales and the full orchestra’s summative sound.

Wellins’s solo lament for the fateful, misled rebellion at the end of the Aftermath is deeply moving and the return to the suite’s opening melody in Epilogue first by Wellins, then the four trombones is both beautiful and engrossing.

History compellingly told in music – its lessons ingrained in our ears, in our brains.

Birds and musicians, video


This video from the USA says about itself:

Birds Got Swing: A Musical Experiment

8 July 2014

What happens when a jazz composer challenges a vocal virtuoso to match the voices of some of her favorite birds? Serious fun. Join Grammy recognized artists Maria Schneider and Theo Bleckmann in their musical experiment to help us tune in to nature’s music—from the melodious to the downright weird. You’ll never think of a sparrow or a toilet plunger in the same way again.

Then explore our Birds Got Swing playlist from the Macaulay Library archive.

Theo’s music at http://theobleckmann.com.

Maria’s music at http://mariaschneider.com.

Brought to you by the All About Bird Biology team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Japanese protest against militarist government


This music video is called John Coltrane – Peace on Earth – Live in Japan.

It says about itself:

10 June 2012

John Coltrane – soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion
Alice Coltrane – piano
Pharaoh Sanders – alto and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion
Jimmy Garrison – bass
Rashied Ali – drums

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Japan: Thousands protest against military change

Monday 30th June 2014

THOUSANDS of people protested outside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office today in protest at his government’s intention of reinterpreting the constitution to allow the military a larger international role.

They demanded that the plan to allow the Japanese military to help defend other nations be scrapped.

The constitution renounces war and permits the use of arms only for Japanese self-defence and critics say that the change undermines the charter.

Beating drums and carrying placards and banners, the protesters demanded that Mr Abe resign, expressing outrage that the constitution could be changed by interpretation rather than by democratic process through a referendum.

Communist MP Yoshiki Yamashita accused the government of turning a deaf ear to the people’s voices.

“Can we really keep peace by sending young people to a distant battlefield? We must stop the cabinet decision,” he declared.

The Cabinet is expected to announce its decision tomorrow.

See also here.

Louis Armstrong in jazz history


This music video says about itself:

Louis Armstrong – Black And Blue. Live in Berlin 1965.

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

Satchmo at the Waldorf in New York: The life and times of jazz great Louis Armstrong

12 June 2014

The one-man show currently playing at the Westside Theatre in New York City, Satchmo at the Waldorf, makes effective use of hundreds of audio recordings by jazz great Louis Armstrong, one of the iconic figures in American musical history, to reveal something of the man behind the myth.

The audio tapes are now stored at an archive in Queens College, not far from Armstrong’s modest former home, which was opened about a decade ago as the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Playwright Terry Teachout—the theater critic for the Wall Street Journal and the author of a biography of Armstrong published five years ago—has used the tapes to fashion a lively and moving memoir of the great jazz genius, largely in his own words.

Using a simple but effective set, the play places Armstrong (played by John Douglas Thompson) in a dressing room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York a few months before his death in July 1971, about a month short of his 70th birthday. This was to be the last public performance for the man known universally as Satchmo, a shortened version of “satchelmouth,” a nickname referring to his large mouth.

As Armstrong reminisces, the main biographical details emerge: his birth in the notorious Storyville section of New Orleans—the “red-light” district, his mother 15 years old; his father’s abandonment of his family; Armstrong’s early years of abject poverty; and his arrival at the Colored Waifs’ Home for Boys before he reached the age of 12.

Alongside the deprivation and degrading conditions faced by Armstrong, there were also some brighter moments and opportunities. At the age of seven he did odd jobs for an immigrant Jewish family, the Karnofskys, who owned a small junk-hauling business. They would welcome the fatherless boy into their home and offer him meals with the family as well as encouragement, later lending him the money that enabled him to buy his first cornet. Afterward, in the unlikely circumstances of the Waifs’ Home, Armstrong received formal musical instruction and soon became the leader of the Home’s band.

All this and much more is covered in the 90-minute show, with Thompson in an excellent performance, which for the most part does not attempt to impersonate Armstrong so much as bring out the essence of his life, his emotions and his experiences.

Necessary drama and contrast are added with the introduction of two other characters, each also portrayed by Thompson. This theatrical technique, by no means unique in recent years, is extremely effective here, as swift lighting changes mesh with Thompson’s rapid shifts in style and delivery to depict the relationship between Armstrong and his long-time manager, Joe Glaser.

Making a briefer but still important appearance is Miles Davis (1926-1991), the trumpeter and musical genius a generation younger than Armstrong. Davis, one of the pioneers of bebop and later developments in jazz, also became known for his bitter denunciations of Armstrong as an Uncle Tom, “jumping around and grinning for the white man.”

The playwright allows these three main characters to speak for themselves. His enormous respect for Armstrong is unmistakable and understandable, but the man is also portrayed honestly, as he presented himself in his candid and at times angry and bitter reminiscences. The play begins with rueful comments such as “How’d I get so old?” Of course there is plenty of profanity from Armstrong, directed at himself as well as others.

Glaser, the tough-talking Jewish manager from Chicago (and one-time associate of gangster Al Capone) who guided Armstrong’s career for 40 years and died about 18 months before Armstrong, emerges as a ruthless businessman who nevertheless understood and respected Armstrong’s genius.

The New Orleans-born musician had found wide recognition for his work with King Oliver’s band in the early 1920s, and a few years later through the superlative recordings of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five or Hot Seven on Okeh Records. During the 1920s he worked with Fletcher Henderson, Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, among other extraordinary talents. It was Glaser who helped make Armstrong a wealthy man, however, after the musician turned in some desperation to him for help when Armstrong was threatened by Chicago gangsters.

Glaser is portrayed as savvy but cynical. He declares with some astonishment that Armstrong does not care about money, and “gives away $1,000 a week.” According to the manager, it is Armstrong’s renowned gravelly voice that made him famous, not the horn. “You’re like Jolson, or Sophie Tucker,” he says, and that is where the big money is.

Armstrong makes no apologies for showcasing his vocal abilities. Speaking of his much later rendition of “Hello Dolly,” he confides to his tape recorder, “Dolly ain’t much of a song, but I made it what it became. Dolly knocked the Beatles off the charts”—an event whose 50th anniversary was marked a month ago, on May 9.

Armstrong “replies,” however, as the lighting changes to shift the scene from Glaser to him, rejecting the idea that his horn was less important. His relationship with his horn has shaped his entire life, he declares. They are one and the same. “The horn done save me.”

Glaser, himself answerable to the mob and threatened by them with the exposure of a 1928 statutory rape charge that involved a 14-year-old girl, signed over 50 percent of the business to mob lawyer Sidney Korshak and left nothing to Armstrong. One of the strongest moments in the show comes when Armstrong, who left all the business dealings to Glaser and trusted him his whole life, bitterly notes that “I was the business, but he left nothing for me. I felt like he used me up and threw me out.”

Nor was Glaser free of racist prejudices, as evidenced in the play’s portrayal. Armstrong points out that in all their decades of the closest possible professional collaboration, he was never invited to Glaser’s home.

Another theme emerges in Armstrong’s resentment over the clashes between the rival generations of jazz musicians. “That Dizzy Gillespie, he didn’t treat me right,” he angrily declares. When Time magazine put Armstrong on its cover and Gillespie was asked for his reaction, he said, “us cats, we study,” and disparaged Armstrong for supposedly possessing only “soul.”

Armstrong, reminiscing, brags of his musical credentials and experience. He read music and his playing reflected real training. “I played country music with Johnny Cash,” he declares. “And the St. Louis Blues with Bernstein….I played classical too. Like Caruso. Caruso or the blues–soul is soul. I love that grand opera–love that Pagliaccio.”

There were undoubted tensions between the early jazz pioneers and big bands of the 1930s, on the one hand, and the young generation of musical innovators that introduced bebop. As Armstrong claims, “You want to please the people. You can’t get too far out in front like the goddamn beboppers did.”

As time passed, however, passions cooled and collaborations took place between Gillespie and Armstrong, although that is not referenced in the play.

Miles Davis introduces another controversial subject: the relationship between jazz musicians and the bitter struggle for racial equality that gathered steam in the post-World War II period.

Satchmo at the Waldorf gives Davis some eloquent words, while also highlighting Armstrong’s self-defense. Armstrong complains bitterly over being called an Uncle Tom, and is resentful over the fact that he lost much of his African-American audience in the last years of his career.

“I told off President Eisenhower over Little Rock,” says Armstrong. “I said Eisenhower ain’t got no guts. And that John Foster Dulles, he’s another mother–….I played down South with a mixed band. I said if you can’t stay [at a hotel] you don’t play.”

While Armstrong’s comments are heartfelt, he was also a man of his time, born barely 35 years after the end of the Civil War, and the product of a period when open resistance to Jim Crow segregation and the brutalization of African-Americans, particularly in the South, was rare.

A younger generation, influenced by wartime experiences and also decisively by the mass movement of industrial workers that built the CIO, was far more militant and inevitably criticized many of its elders. …

These issues cannot be looked at in isolation from their whole social and political context in the postwar period. This was a period of rising militancy among black workers and youth, and of combativity and confidence among trade unionists as a whole, then at the peak of their numbers as a percentage of the labor force. It was also the period, however, of the Cold War, the grip of the reactionary union bureaucracy and the witch-hunt against those who sought to fight Jim Crow on the basis of a class struggle socialist program. These conditions created circumstances in which nationalistic views at times were looked on as the alternative to “accomodationism.”

A significant feature of Satchmo at the Waldorf, and no doubt a conscious one, is the almost complete absence of Armstrong’s music. There is a solo from the classic “West End Blues” and a few other snippets, but nothing more substantial. Undoubtedly, the playwright felt anything more would detract from the story told by the tapes.

This may well be true, but this play is nevertheless a wonderful introduction to the life and times of Louis Armstrong, and those who want to experience the music of this genius do not have very far to look.

The author also recommends:

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (Gennett, April 5-6, 1923 Session)

West End Blues – Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five, 1928

Bessie Smith – St. Louis Blues, 1925

Louis Armstrong, His Hot Five – Muskrat ramble