Prez and Billie express their love one last time

December 9, 2017 at 9:59 am (humanism, jazz, Jim D, love, music, The blues)

60 years ago (December 8 1957), a tired, demoralised Prez played the blues one last time for the great platonic love of his life, Billie. Prez is second up, following Ben Webster:

“It was time for Prez…If he got up, he might collapse on prime time. But when the moment came, Prez stood and, Looking at Lady, played in one chorus- its colors those of twilight in October- the sparest, most penetrating blues I have ever heard. Billie, a slight smile on her face, kept nodding to the beat, her eyes meeting Prez’s, her nod invoking memories only she and Prez shared. As he ended his solo, Lady’s face was full of light and love, and Prez, briefly, was back in the world” – Nat Hentoff, Boston Boy (2001)

Lester Young died in New York, March 15 1959
Billie Holiday died in New York, July 17 1959

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In loving memory of George Avakian

November 24, 2017 at 12:22 pm (culture, good people, jazz, love, music, posted by JD, RIP)

By Ricky Riccardi at The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong

The way I feel about this record can be summed up in this way. When I die, I want people to say, ‘That’s the guy that it if it hadn’t been for him and Louis Armstrong and W. C. Handy, there wouldn’t have been that great record, Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy.” — George Avakian, 1954

George Avakian passed away this morning [Nov 22] at the age of 98. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. It really felt he would live forever. It goes without saying that the music he created will most assuredly last forever. And for those fortunate enough to know him, our memories of being in his company will linger as long as we have memories.

Louis Armstrong, WC Handy and George Avakian

When a loved one passes, it’s tempting to eulogize the departed by talking solely about one’s self. I’m not going to lie, I’m probably going to do that right now. You have to forgive me: George Avakian’s albums changed my life. The fact that I got to know him and call him a friend is something I never, ever took for granted and as I process the fact that there’ll be no more visits to see “Uncle George,” I feel like I need to write my memories down.

If you don’t know who George Avakian was (is), Google him and prepare to spend the next several hours reading about his rich history. While still a student at Yale, George practically invented the concept of a concept album with Chicago Jazz on Decca, then pioneered in Columbia’s influential series of reissue albums shortly after, digging up some previously unissued Hot Five and Hot Seven masterpieces from the Columbia vaults. After the war, George continued to move up the ladder at Columbia, eventually heading the pop music album department after long-playing 33 1/3 albums exploded in the 1950s. Into the late 50s, he produced essential recordings by Louis, Miles Davis, Erroll Garner, Eddie Condon, Dave Brubeck, Buck Clayton, Duke Ellington….what more do you need? Even after leaving Columbia, he continued to have the master touch, helping to discover Bob Newhart and later overseeing Sonny Rollins’s fantastic RCA Victor recordings, plus managing young talent like Charles Lloyd and Keith Jarrett.

My life would not be the same without the music described in the previous paragraph. Around September of 1995, I had my first run-in with Louis Armstrong when he unexpectedly showed up in the middle of The Glenn Miller Story to steal the film with a hot version of “Basin Street Blues.” My curiosity was piqued. Shortly after, I told my mother to take me to the local library in Toms River because I needed to check out some more of this Satchmo fellow. I don’t remember how many choices there were but there were many. Perhaps my life would have changed if I grabbed some inferior-quality bootleg. But no, there was one cassette that looked appealing and I liked the concept: 16 Most Requested Songs. Read the rest of this entry »

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September in the Rain, with Dinah Washington

September 1, 2017 at 2:23 pm (jazz, love, music, posted by JD, Sheer joy, song, Soul, The blues)

There’s only one song for today (and, indeed, for this month), and only one singer:

Dinah Washington was one of the few black jazz/R&B singers to break into the mainstream US hit parade: in 1959, she had her first top ten pop hit, with a version of “What a Diff’rence a Day Made“,[11] which made Number 4 on the US pop chart. Her band at that time included arranger Belford Hendricks, with Kenny Burrell (guitar), Joe Zawinul (piano), and Panama Francis (drums). She followed it up with a version of Irving Gordon‘s “Unforgettable“, and then two highly successful duets in 1960 with Brook Benton, “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)” (No. 5 Pop, No. 1 R&B) and “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)” (No. 7 Pop, No. 1 R&B). Her last big hit was “September in the Rain” in 1961 (No. 23 Pop, No. 5 R&B).[10]

Early on the morning of December 14, 1963, Washington’s seventh husband, football great Dick “Night Train” Lane, went to sleep with his wife, and awoke later to find her slumped over and not responsive. Doctor B. C. Ross came to the scene to pronounce her dead.[7] An autopsy later showed a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital, which contributed to her death at the age of 39. She is buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois (Wikipedia).

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The lovely, gentle, sad but joyous jazz star: Lester Young

August 26, 2017 at 7:11 pm (jazz, Jim D, love, song, The blues, tragedy)


Above: Pres bursts into jazz immortality in 1936

Pres, or Prez (“The President of all Saxophone Players”, so named by Billie Holiday), died in New York on 15 March 1959. He was born in Woodville Mississippi on 27 August 1909, so perhaps that happier anniversary should be Lester Young Day.

“Lester was a dancer, a dreamer, a master of time and its secrets. Foremost among them: equilibrium. He never stumbles on the tightrope of swing, of tension and relaxation held in perfect ying-yang balance. He is a juggler, a high-wire artist without a net, a diver, a gambler, a gamboler.

The discoveries, the clear profundities of late Lester have been little understood. Some of his languor, no doubt, was the result of the need for conservation of energy. But what he made of this necessity! He was indeed a mother of invention….

“Long live gentle Lester, who loved life despite what it had done to him, and who never stopped reaching out, gifts in hand. To hell with those who call your strength weakness because you turned the pain inward, upon yourself rather than others, and offer simplistic explanations for your singular fate. Perhaps they envy you your immortality” – Dan Morgenstern, in ‘A Lester Young Reader’, edited by Lewis Porter, pub: Smithsonian, 1991.

I’ve posted this clip of Lester’s final encounter with his platonic love, Billie Holiday, several times before. But there may still be people who haven’t seen it. Watch Billie’s face as Pres (the second soloist, following Ben Webster) struggles through his slightly strained, but beautifully-constructed solo: it’s pure love in its most refined and intense manifestation; a couple of years after this 1957 TV show (on which Lester was not booked to appear, but turned up nevertheless) both Billie and Lester would be dead:

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Louis Armstrong and ‘La Vie En Rose’

June 26, 2015 at 8:40 pm (France, good people, jazz, love, music, poetry, posted by JD, song)

My good friend Ricky Ricardi, archivist of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, NYC, commemorates the 65th anniversary of Louis’ recording of ‘La Vie En Rose’ (from Ricky’s blog ‘The Wonderful World Of Louis Armstrong’):

65 Years of “La Vie En Rose”

Louis Armstrong with Sy Oliver’s Orchestra
Recorded June 26, 1950
Track Time 3: 26
Written by Mack David, Edith Piaf and Louiguy (Louis Gugliemi)
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Melvin Solomon, Bernie Privin, Paul Webster, trumpet; Morton Bullman, trombone; Hymie Schertzer, Milt Yaner, alto saxophone; Art Drelinger, Bill Holcombe, tenor saxohpne; Earl Hines, piano; Everett Barksdale, guitar; George Duvivier, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums; Sy Oliver, arranger, conductor
Originally released on Decca 37113
Currently available on CD: It’s on “Satchmo Serenades” and about a thousand compilations.
Available on Itunes? Yes.

65 years ago today, Louis Armstrong tapped into his French side by recording two songs he’d perform for the rest of his career: “La Vie En Rose” and “C’est Si Bon.” What follows is a slightly updated version of my original 2010 posting on “La Vie En Rose” and I’ll be back in a few days with a fresh look at “C’est Si Bon.” Enjoy!

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For the last couple of decades, “What a Wonderful World” easily wins the title of the most ubiquitous Louis Armstrong recording, being used in a countless amount of films, television commercials and high school reports (just check YouTube). But “La Vie En Rose” is definitely a close second. According to Imdb.com, it’s been used in at least eight major motion pictures since 1994, most notably in the Pixar classic “Wall-E,” as well as television shows, commercials, you name it. And anyone who has spent three minutes and 26 seconds in its presence can easily understand the phenomenon. You’d have to have the heart of the Tin Man (pre-Oz) to not be moved by it.

Of course, the song truly belongs to Edith Piaf, the legendary French singer who co-wrote it and made it famous to the point where a documentary and a feature film about her life each bear the title “La Vie En Rose.” Piaf apparently wrote the song in 1946 and sat on it for a while before she finally gave it a go in public, where it was received tremendously. In 1948, she sang her original French lyrics on a recording that was picked up in the United States by George Avakian of Columbia Records. I’ll let George tell the story, as he eloquently did in the liner notes to an Armstrong boxed set on the Hip-O label, “An American Original”:

“That same year, Edith Piaf took New York by storm an me by surprise. I was doubling as International and Pop Album director at Columbia in those days, and when Piaf’s manager told me she was coming back to New York despite a cool reception the first time ’round, I asked our Paris affiliate to send me samples of her interim releases so that I could try to choose something which might appeal to the American public. I recognized one melody as ‘You’re Too Dangerous, Cheire,’ a failed pop tune I had liked a couple of years earlier. The label said ‘La Vie En Rose,’ and the impassioned French lyric was far superior to wishy-washy English words I knew. We gave it a shot and to everyone’s astonishment but ‘Ay-deet’s,’ it sold a million copies.”

For those who aren’t familiar with it, hear’s Piaf’s original French version, courtesy of YouTube:

As of today, multiple YouTube versions have amassed over 20 million views, a testament to the lasting power of Piaf and that song in particular. But who is in second place? Ol’ Pops with just over 19 million views himself. As Avakian added, “Of the countless cover versions that followed, Louis’ was easily the best, and he never stopped singing it.” Read the rest of this entry »

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A Great Day for the Irish (from Judy Garland!)

May 23, 2015 at 11:52 pm (civil rights, gay, Human rights, Ireland, LGBT, love, posted by JD)

Somehow, this seems entirely appropriate:

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“What will survive of us is love.”

February 14, 2015 at 12:58 am (love, poetry, posted by JD)

A suitable poem for Valentine’s Day from that unlikely romantic, Mr P. Larkin.

An Arundel Tomb

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Feelin’ Good with Henry ‘Red’ Allen

January 2, 2015 at 6:27 pm (jazz, love, music, New Orleans, posted by JD, Sheer joy)

I can think of no more bracing, positive and life-affirming start to 2015 than this magnificent performance by Henry ‘Red’ Allen, recorded live in 1965 with a quartet that included pianist Sammy Price:

Almost unbelievably, Red had just two years to live when he recorded this, the high point of a late-period revival in his musical and personal fortunes.

Philip Larkin wrote: “There was always something unusual about Allen’s playing: even at the start he tended to sound like Armstrong in a distorting mirror, and by the end of his life an Allen solo was a brooding, gobbling, stretched, telegraphic thing of half-notes and quarter-tones, while an Allen vocal sounded like a man with a bad conscience talking in his sleep.” I trust it’s obvious that Mr Larkin meant all that approvingly.

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Goodwill and love: Louis and Jackson play and sing ‘Rockin’ Chair’

December 20, 2014 at 4:27 pm (Christmas, humanism, jazz, Jim D, love, music)

At this time of year, those of us without Christian religious convictions attempt to make the best of things by celebrating goodwill and love towards all humanity. For those of us in the jazz community, nothing can express this better than Mr Jackson Tea and his old friend Louis singing and playing ‘Rockin’ Chair’: the affection – indeed, love in the truest, platonic, sense – is obvious. It transcends all racial, cultural and other artificial divisions of humanity.

This 1957 TV performance is as near as we’ll ever get to a film of the legendary New York Town Hall performance of ten years earlier: Bobby Hackett (cornet) and Peanuts Hucko (clarinet) are once again present, which is just great; but Jackson and Louis are the timeless stars – wondrous then, now and forever:

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Anita O’Day: That Old Feeling

November 17, 2014 at 1:30 am (jazz, Jim D, love, song)

I saw you last night…

I saw you last night and got that old feeling
When you came in sight, I got that old feeling
The moment that you danced by I felt a thrill
And when you caught my eye my heart stood still

Once again I seemed to feel that old yearning
Then I knew the spark of love was still burning
There’ll be no new romance for me, it’s foolish to start
‘Cause that old feeling is still in my heart

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