Lee Morgan Plays “The Sidewinder”

Listen to this track by hard bop trumpeter and pop-chart flirting jazzer Lee Morgan. It’s “The Sidewinder” his runaway 1963 hit from the album cleverly entitled The Sidewinder, a now-essential jazz record that on the time of release wasn’t expected to be a smash crossover success. What do record labels know, anyway?

This track stands as the vanguard of jazz opening up its doors a bit starting in the 1960s, and letting the R&B and soul breezes in. For instance, on this track, there are some creative solos. But, the horns also are arranged in harmony, playing themes and riffs as a unit just as they do in soul music. This demonstrates a clear link to the blues, and to the call and response dynamic that would characterize R&B, and later be an important ingredient to funk.

In this,”The Sidewinder” revels in simplicity, and almost childlike verve, rather than in complexity and academic artistry. This approach was something of a risky move, seeing as jazz was increasingly being looked at as ‘serious music’, very much in contrast to pop records, or to what was perceived as the crudeness of R&B.

Although still very much in the classic ’60s hard bop style, this tune adds real accessibility and stylistic variation, which is what helped to place it into the pop charts. This was certainly not a bad situation for Morgan, who was 25 at the time, and who then found himself with a hit record on his hands. But, does this have any bearing on where jazz as a form would go? Read more

Alice Coltrane Plays “Translinear Light”

translinear_light_record_coverListen to this track by jazz pianist, organist, harpist, and musical matriarch Alice Coltrane. It’s “Translinear Light”, the title track to her 2004 album of the same name, Translinear Light. This record was a family affair, with her son Ravi Coltrane producing, and playing saxophones on a level that would make his Dad, John Coltrane, more than proud.

The record was the sound of an artist who was coming out of a recording hiatus, her last record having been released back in 1978. At the time, Coltrane had established herself as something of a Eastern philosophy figurehead, founding the Vedantic Center, as well as having become a seasoned jazz musician with an impressive catalog behind her.

Her feelings about where the music industry was going, which in her opinion at the time was more about moving units than it was making great art (sound familiar?), was what made going on hiatus something of an easy decision.

And what had changed since her long departure? Read more

Jazz Pianist Horace Silver Performs ‘Song For My Father’

song_for_my_father_horace_silver_album_-_cover_artListen to this piece by 60s Blue Note label stalwart Horace Silver, with his signature tune “Song For My Father” from the 1964 album of the same name, Song for My Father.

This song really sums up the whole ’60s Blue Note sound for me, which is one of my favourite jazz labels which was at its peak in its first incarnation when jazz was, to my ears,  at its most vital.  There’s just a comfortable groove set here, clearly thanks to Horace Silver’s interest in putting across more than a standard set of what his audience expected of him.  This piece goes well beyond just an excuse for his guys to slap down a bunch of dexterous solos.  Here, the instruments sound more like singers, conveying the melody in cooperation.  And as such, it’s all the stronger for it.

Horace Silver had been an active musician since the early 50s, playing some legendary dates with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.  Later, he formed a version of the Jazz Messengers himself.  But, by the 1960s, Silver had become interested in other forms, particularly in bossa nova music.  This interest sprung partially from a recent tour of Brazil.

But, it also came out of his own heritage, since he was born on the island of Maio, Cape Verde which is also a Portuguese-derived culture much like Brazil, and whose folk music is similar even if it is thousands of miles away. This piece was Silver’s attempt to capture the music of his youth, in which his dad and their relatives would play music in informal sessions at family get-togethers – hence the title of this piece.

Where Silver had been one of the architects of the hard bop strain of jazz, his interest in capturing all kinds of textures while largely ignoring his obligations to genre continued in earnest after creating this, his signature piece.  Much like labelmate Cannonball Adderley,  Silver would make soul and r&b albums which confounded his jazz audience.   And because of his reach as an artist, he was able to influence many in the pop world too, not the least of whom was Steely Dan who borrowed the opening of “Song For My Father” for their 1974 hit “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”.

Even after Blue Note went on hiatus, Silver continued to explore different genres well into the 1980s and ’90s.  Horace Silver is an active musician today.

To get the latest news, you gotta get on down to the official Horace Silver website.


[UPDATE: June 18, 2014: Horace Silver passed away today at age 85. Rest in peace, and thanks.]