Jazz

10. All of You

JamalRecord: All of You
Artist: Ahmad Jamal
Released: Argo Records, 1962

I had never heard of Ahmad Jamal before flipping through these records a few months ago as I started thinking about this project, and this record stood out, not just because the artist was unfamiliar.

Look at young Mr. Jamal gracing the cover of the album, sitting confidently in a mid-century modern chair that my wife would die for, nattily dressed with a tie I wouldn't mind wearing to work. There's something striking, not just about his pose, but the entire composition of the photo. Jamal couldn't be more self-assured, but he seems to be holding something back. His eyes don't quite meet ours, and the blurred foliage in the foreground seems to be keeping us at a bit of a distance. "Give me all of you," he seems to be saying, "but you can only have some of me." Some is enough.

As with a lot of these albums, I had never heard All of You before dropping the needle on the record this afternoon, so I had no idea what to expect. It took me about three or four bars before I fell in love.

This isn't usually the case for me. Typically I have to immerse myself in a new album, and plenty of my favorites grew on my over time. It's hard for me to imagine now, but the first time I listened to the Cure's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me it felt a little abrasive, as did Nirvana's Nevermind. Not until I had studied the lyrics of Springsteen's Nebraska did I fully appreciate its genius, and it took several listens to wrap my head around Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Sometimes listening has to be intentional, not casual.

But once in a while a record will meet you right where you are, whether it's at a particular time in your life or a moment in time. For me, some of these were Led Zeppelin's first album, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and even a self-titled debut album from an obscure Scottish band, Glasvegas. 

There's no explaining why, but it was like that with All of You. It turns out Jamal is only the headliner, the pianist in the Ahmad Jamal Trio, and the opening track, "Time on My Hands," highlights his skills on the keyboard in the most beautiful way. I was only a minute or two in before I was reminded of a similar jazz pianist I had discovered on my own when I was in college. Marcus Roberts burst on the jazz scene in 1989 with his debut album, The Truth Is Spoken Here, at the age of just 26. (Here's my favorite track from that album, a Duke Ellington cover, "Single Petal of a Rose.") He had already been playing with some of the greats at an even younger age. (When I first heard him he was playing with Wynton Marsalis.)

Roberts has always been known for his appreciation of traditional jazz and the greats who came before him. His third record, Alone with Three Giants, features his interpretations of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Jelly Roll Morton, and he later recorded tributes to George Gershwin, Scott Joplin, and Nat "King" Cole. It shouldn't have been a surprise that I heard similarities between Jamal and Roberts, but I was still pleased (and admittedly proud) when a Google search for "Ahmad Jamal and Marcus Roberts" returned several articles. In 2009, for example, the Village Voice declared that Roberts "has more than a little Ahmad Jamal in him." So I wasn't the only one who heard it. It was validation for my ear.

I've just flipped the record again, listening to the second side for at least the third or fourth time, and I'm struck again by the emotional aspect of the quest I've been on. Certainly I enjoy listening to the music, whether it's familiar or new, and I love the unpredictable paths I wander as I learn about each record, thinking about things as surprising as mix tapes one week and cover art the next, a demolished department store last Sunday, and today a band from Scotland. 

But all of that is diversionary. At its heart, this project will always be about my father. I pull him closer with each Sunday that passes, with each record I play. I learn something about who he was by listening to the music he treasured. Sadly, it's like catching smoke in your hands. It's temporary. Every wisp of truth brings along pangs of regret. I so wish that I could have had this conversation with him, that he and I could have listened first to All of You and followed it with something from Roberts. That we could have shared interpretations or argued about opinions. Or just sat together and listened.

Jamal2

Side 1
Time on My Hands
Angel Eyes
You Go to My Head

Side 2
Star Eyes
All of You
You're Blasé
What Is This Thing Called Love


9. Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings

BasieJoe1Record: Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings
Artist: Count Basie and Joe Williams
Released: Clef Records, 1955

If there's one thing that classic jazz has in common with modern hip-hop and rap it's that it was as common then as it is now for major artists to collaborate. My father's collection is full of records like this one, with two legends sharing the studio, apparently unafraid of being overshadowed by the other. Instead each elevates the other, especially when a gifted singer joins a renowned band leader.

In some of these collaborations we see the genius of Count Basie. I've already written about the record he recorded with Frank Sinatra, in which his band adjusted to Sinatra's pop-leaning style. Here, Basie accommodates Joe Williams, one of the great blues singers of the era.

The opening track, "Every Day (I Have the Blues)," is a negotiation. The record opens up with Basie's signature stride piano style, and then the horns join in, reminding us that this is one of the most powerful big bands in history. Once that's been established, Williams is welcomed in, and his trademark baritone voice parts the waters; within seconds a swing tune morphs into the blues.

Nobody loves me,
Nobody seems to care.
Speakin' of bad luck and trouble,
Well, you know I've had my share.

Although he's best known for singing the blues like that, there are other tracks on the album that are more upbeat ("Alright, Okay, You Win") or ask Williams to do a little crooning ("In the Evening"). His versatility, along with Basie's, is on display, and the result is a showcase for both legends. (There will be lots more from both men as this project continues.)

Depending on the version you find, this record could have as many as twelve tracks, with the final three recorded in 1956, but my father's album, released in 1955, has only nine, which remains mysterious to me. 

One of my favorite things about this record is the slip case, which features cover art by David Stone Martin, an artist who designed covers for more than a hundred jazz albums in the 1950s and '60s. (Like Williams and Basie, we'll see Martin's work again.) On the back cover Basie and Williams, resplendent in suits that would still look sharp today, frame liner notes that are modest for the time, only six paragraphs. 

But most interesting is something that you won't find on your album. In the upper right hand corner there's a price tag -- $3.98 -- that's survived sixty-seven years. My father bought this record from Hudson's, a landmark department store in Detroit. Once upon a time, Hudson's was the tallest department store in the world, and only slightly smaller by square footage than Macy's in New York City. My own memories of the store are hazy, but I remember shopping trips and lunch and Sander's with my mother, and when I learned to write in cursive in the third grade, I patterned the H in my first name after the stylized loopy version in the Hudson's logo rather than the standard H I saw on the chalkboard.

I was just a boy back then, but it's fun to imagine my father as a young man twenty years earlier, walking into the flagship store at the corner of Woodward and Gratiot and heading to the record counter, either down in the basement or up on the twelfth floor. After settling on this record, perhaps he paid with a five dollar bill, then used the change to get some lunch on the way out. There's no way to know if he might've taken the same elevator my mother and I did twenty years later or sat in the same booth at one of the restaurants, but this morning I listened to the record he bought that day, and that's a pretty cool thing.

BasieJoe2

Side 1
Every Day (I Have the Blues)
The Comeback
Alright, Okay, You Win
In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)

Side 2
Roll 'Em Pete
Teach Me Tonight
My Baby Upsets Me
Please Send Me Someone to Love
Ev'ry Day


8. Focus

FocusRecord: Focus
Artist: Stan Getz
Released: Verve Records, 1962

I hadn't heard this record before this morning, and even though I'm only on my second listen as I write this, I have to admit that it's already one of my favorite albums for a handful of reasons.

First, it's absolutely beautiful. Stan Getz's tenor saxophone is melodic and sonorous as it pours into every nook and cranny of Eddie Sauter's composition, layering atop the delicate strings of the arrangement and lingering in empty spaces before quietly fading away. It's soothing and hypnotic at times, like on "I Remember When," the opening track on side two, but there's also the pulsating frenzy of "I'm Late, I'm Late" on side one. There's a song here for every mood.

It only took me a few minutes to realize why this was one of my father's favorites. His jazz collection leans heavily towards the big band era, but that's not this. This isn't one horn player fronting a band, this is Stan Getz front and center, with each composition highlighting his tenor sax and giving him room to dance. There are any number of records like that, but what makes this one unique, what must've appealed so much to my father, was the merging of his two musical loves, classical music and jazz. As Getz explained while describing the songs Eddie Sauter wrote, "...more than anything, they show quite clearly that the legitimacy of the past 300 years and the soul of our modern times can be put together and be beautiful."* Indeed.

There are more than a hundred classical records in my father's collection and notebooks filled with musings on the masters. He no doubt appreciated what Getz and Sauter were doing, blending his two loves into something new.

"What I wanted to do," explained Sauter, "was write like a string quartet with space to move things." Incredibly, all Sauter did was write for the strings; he left Getz on his own with the idea that he'd simply improvise over the written material. Obviously it's Getz's improvisation that elevates this record from a good idea to something closer to genius.

The art form of jazz is built on improvisation, which often means one musician is stepping forward to explore some musical ideas for a minute before retreating into the fold. You can see that at any high school jazz concert, but when elite musicians come together the improvisation becomes more of a communal call and response as a riff is floated by one, echoed by another, punctuated by the drummer, then reimagined by the originator. In many ways it feels like music in its highest form.

Years ago my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary at a Harry Connick, Jr., concert at the Hollywood Bowl. He was playing with a large band, and while the music was amazing, what stayed with me as we walked away was the absolute joy that had flowed from the stage that night. Connick is a showman, and he was obviously there to entertain us, but there were moments when the audience didn't matter. He and his band were all in their element, discovering new nuances in tunes they had played hundreds of times, and when a song would end to thunderous applause, the band members didn't look to us. Instead they first looked to each other, nodding and smiling, a bass player acknowledging something the drummer had done, the piano player appreciating a tangent the saxophonist had just explored. Only after they had celebrated each other would they turn to us and accept our applause. We were clearly secondary, just lucky to be there.

It's this ephemeral nature of jazz and improvisation that has always proved difficult to capture on vinyl. If you watch a band over the course of a few nights, the same song might go in different directions from one show to the next, and the same thing can happen in a studio. Nothing was written here for Getz, so this album is just a record of the musical journeys he took during the three sessions it took to complete the work. In fact, the opening track of the album is significantly longer than any of the others precisely because of the vagaries of improvisation. "The only two takes were judged to be so fresh and so different that, rather than scrap one, they were tacked together to form a single take."

The choice to combine those two takes echoes the larger choice to combine these two genres. I'm sure that some of the records I write about here will go back into their sleeves and rarely if ever see the light of day again. My father was right about this one, though. It'll stay in the rotation.

* All quoted material comes from the text of the liner notes written by Dom Cerulli.

FocusNotes

Side 1
I'm Late, I'm Late
Her
Pan

Side 2
I Remember When
Night Rider
Once Upon a Time
A Summer Afternoon


6. Just One of Those Things

ColeRecord: Just One of Those Things
Artist: Nat "King" Cole
Released: Capitol Records, 1957

Once upon a time there was no more common rite of passage for a teenager than the creation of a mixtape. You'd fill a sixty- or ninety-minute cassette with favorite songs from your collection, maybe from your friend's, and you had a soundtrack for your summer. It was usually just a collection of the best songs from your favorite bands, but sometimes there was a theme of some sort -- British new wave, bands with female leads, classic rock guitar legends. (Rob Sheffield wrote a great book about this that I highly recommend, Love Is a Mixtape.)

Which brings us to the pinnacle of the art form, the romantic mixtape. Never did we spend so much time finding just the right songs with just the right lyrics and putting them in just the right order as when we were crafting a collection of songs to present to someone we loved and hoped would love us back. I still have the mixtape my wife made for me when we first started dating almost a quarter century ago, and even though I no longer have a cassette player and don't even know where I'd get one, I'll keep that tape forever.

None of that was possible for young lovers sixty years ago, so the music industry obliged. There were any number of options for those looking to set a romantic mood, and all the crooners of the day -- Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett -- regularly released collections of love songs that were no doubt played over candlelight dinners everywhere.

Nat "King" Cole was one of the legendary singers of that or any era, and here he presents a collection of ballads lamenting lost love. In "A Cottage for Sale," a man comes across a home where he once lived with his true love and discovers that though it looks the same, everything is different.

From every single window, I see your face
But when I reach a window, there's an empty space.
The key's in the mailbox, the same as before,
But no one is waiting for me anymore.

The lyrics are from Larry Conley, and the song has been recorded dozens of times by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Judy Garland to Willie Nelson, but Cole's phrasing here is perfect as he expresses a longing for something he can no longer reach.

Continuing with the theme of heartbreak, Cole tackles another standard, "These Foolish Things." Of all the tracks on the record, none has been recorded by as many different legends. There are versions from the people you'd expect -- Sinatra, Holiday, Fitzgerald -- but it's also appealed to modern singers from different genres, like Aaron Neville, Rod Stewart, and Bob Dylan. The first time I came across the song it was the Bryan Ferry version, which isn't surprising because I'm sure Ferry would've been right at home singing standards back in the 1950s.

The lyrics are simple but poignant.

A cigarette that bears a lipstick's traces,An airline ticket to romantic places,A fairgrounds painted swings,These foolish things remind me of you.
 
A tinkling piano in the next apartment,Those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant,And still my heart has wings.These foolish things remind me of you.
 
You came, you saw, you conquered me.When you did that to me, I knew somehowIt had to be.
 
The winds of March that make my heart a dancer,A telephone that rings but who's to answer?Oh, how the thought of you clings.These foolish things remind me of you.
Who among us hasn't experienced something like this? The surprise that comes when a common object triggers a flood of memories. A pack of gum might remind you of your high school boyfriend, a child's hairbrush can bring your newborn baby back into your arms. Or the feel of an old cassette tape can remind you of what it was like to fall in love.
 
If my father were sitting with me this morning, listening to this record, I wonder what foolish things the music might bring to his mind. Maybe they wouldn't be foolish at all.

Cole2

Side 1
When Your Lover Has Gone
A Cottage for Sale
Who's Sorry Now?
Once in a While
These Foolish Things Remind Me of You
Just for the Fun of It

Side 2
Don't Get Around Much Anymore
I Understand
Just One of Those Things
The Song Is Ended
I Should Care
The Party's Over


5. Newport 1958

NewportFrontRecord: Newport 1958
Artist: Duke Ellington and His Orchestra
Released: Columbia Records, 1958

The idea of composing music of any kind is completely magical to me. I can understand DaVinci dipping a brush into his oils and producing the "Mona Lisa" or Dante spinning his Divine Comedy, but how, I ask, can a composer conceive an original work, imagine the different instruments that might contribute to its overall tapestry, and finally bring the entire piece to fruition? People sometimes speak of a hypothetical room full of monkeys and typewriters eventually producing the works of Shakespeare, but we've never heard any speculation about monkeys and pianos. That genius can never be attributed to the hand of chance. Whether it's John Lennon and Paul McCartney sitting down to write "Eleanor Rigby" or John Coltrane creating "A Love Supreme" or a deaf Beethoven writing his 9th Symphony, there is an element of the divine. It's no wonder the Ancient Greeks spoke of muses inspiring their artists. How else to explain miracles like these?

Duke Ellington is one of these geniuses, a songwriter beyond compare, and this won't be the last time one of his records shows up here. This particular record has an interesting history. The Newport Jazz Festival is one of the oldest and most important gatherings of musical talent in the United States, and the 1958 edition featured dozens of legendary musicians aside from Ellington. Like Ellington, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and Mahalia Jackson all later issued "live" albums, each titled Newport 1958.

As was common at the time, Ellington's record isn't completely live, even though the album jacket claims that it was "recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival." Ellington and his orchestra did perform all of these songs at Newport, but those live recordings aren't preserved here. Dissatisfied with the performance -- several of these tracks were played for the first time at the festival -- and possibly the limitations of the live audio, Ellington took his band into the studio to record the songs again for the record. Crowd noise from the festival was dubbed in, so perhaps the subtitle on the jacket isn't completely wrong.

This is the story behind the original record from my father's collection, but by the time I was searching for the CD to add to my own, an expanded two-disc version with many of the original live recordings had been released, so that's the one I've always listened to. It was fun to listen to the vinyl this morning, filled mainly with polished versions of the tracks I had heard, but the genius was still there.

NewportBack

Side 1
Just Scratchin' the Surface
El Gato
Happy Reunion
Multicolored Blue
Princess Blue

Side 2
Jass Festival Jazz
Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool
Juniflip
Prima Bara Dubla
Hi Fi Fo Fum


4. Sinatra-Basie

SinatraBasieRecord: Sinatra-Basie
Artist: Frank Sinatra and Count Basie
Released: Reprise Records, 1962

I bought my first true stereo in the summer of 1990, and few purchases before or since have given me as much pleasure. Until then my music had come from single-speaker clock radios, cassette tapes played through a boom box, or the CD players of college roommates. 

But when I gladly parted with six hundred dollars of my summer earnings and came home from Rogers Sound Labs with a receiver, a five-disc CD changer, and a set of speakers, everything changed. Suddenly I needed to have every song I'd ever loved in my CD collection, and even some that I didn't love just because someone else might want to hear it.

If only my twenty-year-old self had known about the world of streaming that was just a few decades away. Today I can stand in my kitchen and ask Alexa to play any song ever recorded, and within seconds I can be singing along while dicing an onion. It's a brave new wonderful world, but one thing we've lost is the joy of the search and the thrill of discovery.

During that first summer I had a detailed list of CDs that I wanted (needed) to add to my collection. Most weekends I'd spend a few hours with a likeminded friend scouring the racks at a used record store, searching for nuggets hidden in the stacks. The CDs were organized alphabetically, but only loosely, so the only method was to flip through -- flip through them all.

That rhythm of the cases clicking together as my index and middle fingers walked up the stack was hypnotic, and I don't have to look too deeply into my memories to hear the sound of the plastic click, click, click, clicking. And then you'd find one. Sometimes it was a CD you'd been searching for for weeks, but sometimes it was even better -- a CD you didn't even know existed. A bootleg recording of a live concert or the European edition of a CD you already owned. (You'd buy it anyway because it might have different artwork and an extra track.) I miss the search. I miss the discovery.

It wasn't immediately that I connected my love of music with my father's, nor my growing CD collection to his vinyl, but that would come. When I wanted to expand my jazz collection, I looked to my father for guidance and opened his record chests with intent. It was similar to my Saturday CD runs. Some of the names were familiar, but others were brand new. I flipped through the records, pulling one album out at a time, and I added titles to my list.

This record, Sinatra-Basie, was one of the first to show up in my collection, and it's still one of my favorites. I don't remember for sure, but I'm guessing I was drawn to it because of Frank Sinatra, who was one of my mother's favorites, probably her only favorite. 

My whole life was in front of me when I was in my early twenties and first listening to this record, and no track spoke to that like the fourth song on the first side.

"Lookin' at the world through rose-colored glasses
Everything is rosy now
Lookin' at the world and everything that passes
Seems a rosy hue somehow..."

If my life had been a movie, I imagined, this was the song playing in the opening credits. A few scenes later, when life took its first turn, there would be Sinatra again with a track from side two, "Learnin' the Blues," this time gently explaining the pain of lost love. He gently croons,

"When you're at home alone, the blues will taunt you constantly.
When you're out in a crowd, those blues will haunt your memory."

People often refer to one album or another as being the soundtrack of their lives, and I think that's telling. Music speaks to us, and great music speaks to all of us. What Sinatra and Basie have done here is combine Basie's orchestra with Sinatra's singing, and the result is a record the must've spoken to by father sixty years ago, certainly spoke to me thirty years ago, and still swings today. That's genius.

SinatraBasieVinyl


Side 1
Pennies from Heaven
Please Be Kind
(Love Is) The Tender Trap
Looking at the World thru Rose Colored Glasses
My Kind of Girl

Side 2
I Only Have Eyes for You
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Learnin' the Blues
I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter
I Won't Dance


3. Billie Holiday

LadyDayRecord: Billie Holiday
Artist: Billie Holiday (with Ray Ellis and His Orchestra)
Released: MGM Records, 1959

Quite simply, there's no one like Billie Holiday. This isn't her finest work, but it's important because it's her last work; she died four months after these songs were recorded. If you were to look for this album today, you'd find it as Last Recording, with that new title added to the album artwork, but the record I'm listening to this morning must be from the first print run. It's just Billie Holiday.

How to describe Lady Day? It's difficult to find a comparison to someone as legendary as Ms. Holiday, but I can say that Norah Jones reminds me of her, though Jones is a bit more sultry, and Madeleine Peyroux is another musical descendant, but there's something unique about Holiday. 

The artist does not need to be pained, but some of our greatest artists channel their pain into their work, either directly or indirectly. But when Holiday sings on this record, "I'll never smile again, until I smile at you. I'll never laugh again, what good would it do?" these aren't her lyrics but it is her pain, an apparent contradiction that highlights a key difference between how standards in the music industry have changed.

Artists today must write their own songs to be taken seriously, and some -- like Taylor Swift -- are criticized even if they collaborate with another songwriter. That was never the case before. The great singers from the last century -- Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams -- almost never wrote their own songs. They were performers, and that they were singing someone else's songs could never diminish their genius. There was only one Sinatra, after all. No one could duplicate Ella Fitzgerald.

And so what Holiday does with these songs is something no other artist could have done. In the liner notes for this album, Leonard Feather describes how different she was in 1959 as compared to her earlier years, but he doesn't go into specifics. The truth is that Holiday had spent her thirty-year career chasing away pain with alcohol and heroin, and so when we listen to these final recordings, we're listening to a voice that's been damaged and a soul that's been ravaged. And yet, it's all so beautiful.

This morning was the first time I've listened to this record, but I smiled to hear her renditions of two timeless classics, "All the Way" ("When somebody loves you, it's no good unless he loves you, all the way") and the Louie Armstrong standard "When It's Sleepy Time Down South." Both songs are someone else's, both songs are familiar, but Holiday makes them her own.

The best example of this is in one of the most important songs ever recorded, "Strange Fruit." I don't think my father had that in his collection, but we can't talk about Billie Holiday without discussing her haunting version of a song that helped plant the seeds for the Civil Rights movement by taking an unflinching look at the dark history of lynching in the American South. Consider the lyrics, then watch this video of Holiday performing the song in 1959.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit.
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
 
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth.
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
 
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
 
Again, these are not Holiday's words. The lyrics were adapted from a poem written by Abel Meeropol in response to an infamous photo of a double lynching in Marion, Indiana, in 1930. (You can read about that history here.) But just as she did throughout her career, Lady Day took those words and elevated them. That, I think, is what true genius is. The elevation of a truth that the rest of us already knew.
 

LadyDay2Side 1
All of You
Sometimes I'm Happy
You Took Advantage of Me
When It's Sleepy Time Down South
There'll Be Some Changes Made
'Deed I Do

Side 2
Don't Worry 'bout Me
All the Way
Just One More Chance
It's Not for Me to Say
I'll Never Smile Again
Baby Won't You Please Come Home


2. Jazz Goes to College

Brubeck1Record: Jazz Goes to College
Artist: The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Released: Columbia Records, 1954

The Dave Brubeck Quartet doesn't have the broader name recognition of Miles Davis or John Coltrane, but in his day, Brubeck was was seen as one of the most influential jazz musicians of his era. This particular album features tracks recorded live at three different colleges in the Midwest -- the University of Michigan, the University of Cincinnati, and Oberlin College. Even today jazz is often referred to as the first true American art form, and while the genre was largely driven by Black Americans, this is an example of white musicians making their mark and, as suggested by the locations of these performances, bringing jazz to a white audience.

There's no doubt that this was one of my father's favorite records. The jacket is worn from handling, with tape on three sides to keep it together, but there's something special on the back. Somehow jazz has developed an aura of academic sophistication that can feel almost exclusionary at times. You don't have to study rock and roll, you just feel it. No one ever says, "I don't get pop music." But no genre of music invites investigation like jazz. 

I noticed this when I was younger and started buying jazz CDs, mostly repackaged titles that my father had owned on vinyl. In addition to the remastered music, these CDs always came along with exhaustive liner notes with recording history and artist biographies. I devoured them. But it turns out this is an old practice. On the back of this album jacket is a 2,000-word essay by producer George Avakian. This isn't something written from an historical perspective, but a contemporary review explaining the strengths of the musicians on the record and giving in-depth analysis of each song. "These recordings bubble with exuberance," he writes; "they swing like mad, they are packed with fantastic ideas, they exhibit an incredible cohesion among four sympathetic musicians of consummate skill." Later he explains the importance of improvisation, not just in general but specifically on this record. "The improvisation on harmony and rhythm, as well as melody, goes well beyond what jazz musicians usually have done." It's a master class.

Again, it isn't hard to imagine my father lounging on a Sunday afternoon, reading and re-reading Avakian's essay with Brubeck's cool jazz playing in the background. Saxophonist Paul Desmond carries the melody, drummer Joe Dodge and bassist Bob Bates keep the rhythm, Brubeck himself jumps back and forth on piano, and my father's toe taps along. It isn't hard to imagine at all. 

Brubeck2

Side 1
Balcony Rock
Out of Nowhere
Le Souk

Side 2
Take the "A" Train
The Song Is You
Don't Worry 'Bout Me
I Want to Be Happy


1. Not Now, I'll Tell You When

Basie1Record: Not Now, I'll Tell You When
Artist: Count Basie & His Orchestra
Released: Roulette Records, 1960

I wish I had the musical expertise to better describe this record. Any casual jazz fan knows Count Basie and the Count Basie Orchestra. I'd put myself in that group, certainly. I pulled this record, the first step of my journey, from a small subset of my father's collection. 

Twenty years ago my wife gave me the most thoughtful gift I've ever received. What struck me first was the weight, but the weight made sense when I unwrapped it and found a small carrying case holding twenty or so records. At first I didn't know why my wife was giving me a case of old records, but then I quickly recognized them as my fathers. By itself, it was beautiful, but then she explained. "These are your father's records, some of his favorites."

My mother hadn't yet given me his collection, so it still sat in her house in two record cabinets. They were actually matching chests with upholstered lids that could serve as seats when closed but then open to reveal the vinyl they held within. My wife wanted to buy me a record player, specifically so I could listen to those records. And so she and my mother went through the collection one record at a time so that my mother could pull out twenty or so titles that my father listened to most often. His favorites.

I've never talked to either of them about their actual process that afternoon, but I've replayed the imagined scene in my mind hundreds of times. I see my mother lifting one album after another, each one a time capsule of sorts holding memories from another lifetime. I watch as her eyes play across the images on a cover and the music begins to play in her mind, no needle required. Tears begin to collect in her eye lashes, and she hands a record to my wife. "This one," she says. "He liked this one."

I like this one, too. Piano player Basie was the king of bebop, and as you listen to this record it isn't hard to imagine him leading his orchestra on stage with dozens of spinning  couples on the dance floor in front of them. This title was released in 1960, a couple decades after the height of the Big Band Era, and even though people like Miles Davis and John Coltrane were beginning to take jazz in new directions, there's something special about these songs.

I don't know if it's my time playing saxophone in middle school and high school, but I've always been a sucker for horns, especially when they find their way into pop music. Few people in history have sold more albums than Phil Collins, whose legacy is largely defined by the greatest drum fill in the history of pop music and a string of songs that play well in grocery stores, but his liberal use of a horn section on his first two albums is what I'll remember. I've been a casual reggae fan since I went away to college and started hearing Bob Marley's Legend coming out of every dorm room on the hall, but what I really love is reggae's precursor, British ska with its stabbing horns.

All of that, in one way or another echoes back to bepop, echoes back to the Count. Basie is known for jazz classics like "Fly Me to the Moon" and "One O'Clock Jump," but you won't find those tracks on this record. It's a bit more obscure, but I think I like it more because of that obscurity. I listened to it for the first time this morning, and I'm quite sure today was the first time it had been out of its sleeve in more than fifty years, the last time my father's hands set it on a turntable and set the needle on the grooves. 

Basie2Side 1
Not Now, I'll Tell You
Rare Butterfly
Back to the Apple
Ol' Man River

Side 2
Mama's Talkin' Soft
The Daly Jump
Blue on Blue
Swinging at the Waldorf
Sweet and Purty