I saw Monk at the Five Spot he said. He saw Trane at some little dive too. I remember walking down the street in Harlem, he said, and there was a piece of paper in a bar room window with a hand written George Benson in letters almost too small to read. Went inside for a beer and heard this young cat just burning on guitar. He was playing jazz back then. I can’t remember who was on the B3. I remember seeing Lee Morgan at the Lighthouse, the other guy said. Bennie Maupin was on tenor. The same band on the LP that’s playing now, listen. I listened: Bennie was cooking, then in comes Lee, solid. I remember the music was so good, he said, and Lee so right on and I was so happy and before I knew it I was drunk. I mean drunk. My ride had split, they were sweeping the floor and stacking the chairs and I had to walk home from Hermosa Beach to Inglewood. Damn man, how far was that? It was twenty miles. Hangover hit me about halfway there. He shook his head at the memory. But man, Lee Morgan sounded so good.
First show I ever saw at Charlie O’s was the Dave Pell Octet. Mort Sahl walked in and sat at a nearby table. Pell blew long, airy solos in a set of Lester Young. This is Prez’s horn, he said. I heard Mort Sahl tell someone that Prez had left it to Pell in his will. The band was swinging, precise, beautifully charted, a lot of Shorty Rogers arrangements, very West Coast. The crowd dug it. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. Out back in the parking lot silver hairs huddled, giggling and smelling of weed. We stepped back inside just as Dave Pell counted off a perfect Lester Leaps In. He crooked the horn at an angle, shut his eyes and let the notes flow.
Rest in peace.
Uh oh. Nobody emote. You might weird out this Scandinavian piano trio on ECM. Not exactly Bud Powell or Monk, this stuff. Is this what a century of peace, socialism and drunken blonde sex culminates in? It’s so careful. So tentative. So pretty. It’s good, sure, but I never liked Bergman movies either.
Finland I can understand, but they’re not Scandinavian in anything but propinquity. They’re more like an Estonia’s hip, rich uncle. Or the people on the nice side of town pretending they are not distant cousins of those crazy Hungarians in the trailer park. (Finnish has fifteen cases, Hungarian twenty eight, now that’s crazy.) But I understand the Finns, I think, mainly because I can’t understand then. I mean they’re loud, party too hard, love hockey and crazy rock’n’roll and hate when people push them around. That I can understand. I just can’t understand what they are saying. Now Swedes, Norwegians, Danes I could understand fairly easily, would be conversant in a year’s time. Might even get to like lutefisk. But Finnish? I mean just how many ways can you say potato? Which reminds me that I was at a fun Finnish party once, above a sauna. They made greyhounds in a huge bucket and didn’t tell any of the girls–they invited mostly girls–that it was Everclear (jet fuel in a bottle) and not vodka. The poor things got smashed. One pretty little blonde–they invited mostly blondes–got her foot stuck in a waste basket and stumped around for a moment, bewildered, the most darling Jerry Lewis you ever saw. The Finns laughed and said potato fifteen different ways. Great party, but we left before the orgy in the sauna.
The computer is shuffling its little brain out and switches from Sven Svensson or whoever to Tania Maria. Piquant. It’s on Concord and is about as far from the ECM label as Rio is from Flekkefjord or Bodø. Sunny Brazil. Brazilians I can understand. They’re crazy, for one thing. I understand crazy. And everything they do there could possibly wind you up in bed or in prison. I understand horny and dangerous, too. And they have the best music. Some of the worst music, too (it’s too bad the military didn’t ban Arp synthesizers when it banned everything else), but also some of the best. Tania Maria is riffing up a storm here, pounding the piano with almost Monk like muscularity, such strong little fingers she must have, and the melody flows this way and that, like a borboletta going from flower to flower. Hips sway, undulate, go backwards, then that way, then the other way, and finally two steps forward. Uh oh, dig that bass. It’s huge. Now she’s doing a cuica with her voice, and the cuica is doing the voice beneath crazy hand clapped syncopation. Repeated figures on the piano, building and building. Now more of the clapping,and the cuica voices and voiced cuicas, and a pile of overdubbed vocals in ways that would just confuse and frighten Scandinavians. I hear they dig this in Finland, though. If they can say potato fifteen or twenty different ways, who knows how many ways there are to say samba. It’s so much simpler in Brazil. You say potato, eu digo batata.
Damn, I wish I could get that Dexter Gordon tone in my writing. You can feel the reed vibrating between your teeth, a big man’s sound that fills the room, every corner, every crevice, the ceiling to the floor and even reverberates in shot glasses and empty beer bottles. Toward the solo’s end it disappears out the lowest register of the horn and the pads close on air, then silence. Fried bananas, he sez, very tasty.
Weird. Charlie Haden just liked my retweet. And I don’t mean a second note on a piccolo. Apparently where ever he is, they have Twitter. Heaven, Heck, New Jersey, who knows? Charlie is there tweeting and retweeting and thrumming Rambling on the bass.
(Skip ahead to 4:40 and it’s sex and drugs and rock’n’roll.)
On Friday Henri’s in Canoga Park was cooking. The John Hammond Trio–with Jim Hughart on bass, Ralph Penland drums—has been together a helluva long time, and they play like a real unit…to top it off, tenor sax ace Pete Christlieb has been playing with them for a long time now, probably for hundreds of hours. They come together for some pretty intricate ensemble like arrangements that you just won’t see in most clubs. It’s an older, more relaxed style of jazz, some classic Blue Note feeling, and then sometimes it reminds me of even older sessions, like the feeling that is on that Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio record. Reaching back, these guys, to Prez and Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. Christlieb is just a superb saxophonist…he sits there on a stool between solos grinning and bouncing about like an oversized cherub, and then he picks up his horn again and blows these long, bluesy cadenzas just packed with ideas, and then suddenly sails into an effortless–my vocabulary is failing me here–an effortless flight that just fills the room with so much energy. And he makes it seem so easy. I had been listening to that record he did with Warne Marsh, Apogee, on the way out there and damn if he didn’t quote it once or twice. Christlieb with Hammond and his trio is yet another absurdly underrated jazz experience that this city offers, and they seem to play at least weekly.
Here’s a review of a Roy Haynes/Esperanza Spalding press conference at the Playboy Jazz conference. I think this was 2010. Dig the contrast.
Must have been a hundred reporters. First up was Roy Haynes, though. What is he now, 85? He looked twenty years younger. Played twenty years younger than that. He ran that room, baby, made suckers out of the reporters, we were all laughing our heads off and recording every line, each a gem. A classic performance. Then he split to applause and in came Esperanza. The salty, hard bitten atmosphere dissipated instantly and it was almost church. We whispered. Reporters were afraid to ask anything for fear they’d bruise her. She looked so sweet, her voice was so sweet, there was so much innocence there we all stopped swearing. We knew it wasn’t real, that she couldn’t actually be a jazz musician and be that innocent. But on that off, off chance that just maybe it was, we lobbed soft questions and she answered them all, eyes sparkling.