Jimmy Smith Plays “Root Down (And Get It)”

Jimmy Smith Root Down Listen to this track by Hammond B3 organ kingpin and soul jazz practitioner Jimmy Smith. It’s “Root Down (And Get It)” as taken from his 1972 live album Root Down Jimmy Smith Live. The record was recorded live in Los Angeles in February of that year. You can hear the clinking of the glasses which serve as a kind of unofficial percussion section as the patrons listen to the groove as it unfolds. And boy, does it ever.

Like Wes Montgomery with whom Smith partnered on many occasions, Smith was interested in the pop music side of the soul jazz spectrum. But also like Montgomery, Smith was a formidable improvisationalist even if some of his sides are viewed as a bit lightweight.

Yet, here on this cut, it’s the funk that really shines through. And it serves somewhat as a beacon of light for the music that would emerge in ensuing decades, too. Read more

The Oscar Peterson Trio Play “Night Train”

Oscar Peterson Trio Night TrainListen to this track by super-stylin’ three-sided jazz force of nature The Oscar Peterson Trio, led by the aforementioned ivory-tinkling Montrealer Oscar Peterson. It’s “Night Train” the title track from the classic 1962 release of the same name – Night Train. Peterson is joined on this by one-time Mr. Ella Fitzgerald and acoustic bass colossus Ray Brown, and supernaturally slick drummer Ed Thigpen.

When the song was recorded for Peterson’s record, it was aimed at the charts specifically by producer, and former Verve owner Norman Grantz. That’s why it doesn’t stretch out as much as some jazz tunes of the era. It’s the length of pop song that would get play on early ’60s radio, perhaps like a song like “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck had done. And it certainly was a big success for Oscar Peterson, being one of the most recognized records he’d put out during a long and celebrated career.

But, this tune and the record it comes off of holds a special place in my heart during my teenage discovery of jazz. And I know I’m not the only one. Read more

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

John Coltrane Quartet Plays “Greensleeves” AKA “What Child Is This?”

Listen to this track by saxophone immortal John Coltrane and his classic quartet (Elvin Jones on drums, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and McCoy Tyner on piano). It’s the perennial holiday favourite “What Child Is This”, or as it is credited: “Greensleeves”, with those two pieces having the same melody, with lyrics added by hymn writer William Chatterton Dix in 1865.

This song was recorded during a specific and very celebrated phase in Coltrane’s career, when things were really gelling with his band, many of whom believe was the greatest collection of musicians in jazz over a long-term recording period between 1961 and 1965. This period corresponded with Coltrane’s work on the Impulse! label, with whom he’d stay until his untimely death from liver cancer in 1967.

The song itself has an even older pedigree than Coltrane’s classic period of course. It has been connected with King Henry VIII, he who provided a number of creative ways to get out of being married during a time when that wasn’t an easy thing to do. In the meantime, evidently, he was a songwriter. I’m not so sure about  the facts on that one. It seems kind of unlikely to me.

But, whatever.

It’s a melancholic, beautiful little tune no matter who wrote it. “Greensleeves” is about being rejected by a true love, which is a pretty solid theme no matter what era it comes out of. And in a Christmas context as “What Child Is This?”, it’s used to tell the story of the birth of Jesus; not just about the joy of that event, but also through its minor key suggests the shadow of human brokeness, too. So what makes Coltrane’s take on that so compelling? 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

George Benson Plays ‘Give Me The Night’

Listen to this track by crossover pop-jazz guitarist and R&B singer George Benson. It’s his 1980 top-40 radio single “Give Me The Night” as taken from the album of the same name, Give Me The Night. This is one of those tunes that’s pretty of its time in some ways, tying into that whole soft rock, light jazz, post-disco vibe of the early ’80s.  But, in other respects, it’s a pretty universal song. After all, how many songs have there been over the decades and since about the unifying power of music, and going out at night to hear it?

This was certainly Benson’s biggest hit, scoring a number one on the R&B charts, and number four on the pop charts. And if you recognize some of the production flourishes being similar to a pre-Thriller Michael Jackson, it may be because Quincy Jones (a man who knows a thing or two about adding jazzy flavour, with a hint of the funk, to pop tunes), is calling the shots on this one.  Read more

Vince Guaraldi Trio Performs ‘Skating’ From A Charlie Brown Christmas

Listen to this track, a classic Christmas melody from West Coast jazz proponent and Charlie Brown soundtrack purveyors Vince Guaraldi Trio, featuring Guaraldi  himself on piano. It’s “Skating”, a piece is featured on the soundtrack of Charlie Brown Christmas, a TV special first broadcast in 1964, and since a part of everyone’s Christmas viewing pleasure into our Twenty-First Century.

Vince Guaraldi was an established jazz pianist and plugged into the West Coast jazz scene from the 1950s, having played with Vibraphonist Cal Tjader on one of my favourite West Coast jazz albums, Jazz at the Blackhawk. He was an established recording artist even before his work on the Charlie Brown Christmas project, but his music – lyrical, accessible, and somehow perfectly capturing the whimsy and innocence of the subject matter – would be his greatest impact as a part of many a childhood, and across generations of holiday TV special enthusiasts.

Read more

Roy Ayers Ubiquity Performs “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”

Listen to this track by smooth jazz and R&B-miester Roy Ayers and his group Ubiquity with a sunshiny tune with a simple message that can be pretty easily appreciated.  It’s ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine” as taken from the 1976 LP of the same name, Everybody Loves the Sunshine.

If ever you felt that jazz was an island unconnected to other strains of popular music, let this tune banish the thought from your mind.  Here you’ll find a bit of soul, funk, and even African-influenced choral music attached to a repetitive jazz structure and all packed into one tune.

Roy Ayers is a respected vibraphonist seemingly unbound by the obligation to stick to straight ahead jazz playing, not that this was a completely unprecedented approach by the mid-70s.  Still, what we’re left with in this tune, and on the rest of the record too, is a seamless amalgam of styles, with less emphasis on soloing, and more on pure vibe – no pun intended.   Read more

Sonny Rollins Plays ‘St. Thomas’

Listen to this track from post-bop last man standing, jazz giant, and respected saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins. It’s “St. Thomas” his signature song from 1956’s album named, appropriately enough, Saxophone Colossus.  This is a tune for which Rollins is credited for composing, although in actuality it’s derived from  a folk song originating  from the country of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, the birthplace of his parents, and a tune he would have heard as a child.

Like many jazz musicians, Rollins started out his recording career at a very young age. He mixed with a rich talent pool of contemporaries on the scene by the late 40s and early 50s New York City including Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Clifford Brown, and Miles Davis.  This was a time when be-bop was winding down to cool jazz and post bop.  The sounds of R&B didn’t  escape his musical ear either, inspired as he was by Louis Jordan’s jump blues, which is a musical strain that led directly to rock n roll by the end of the decade.

But, Rollins’ path remained to be straight stylistically on the jazz road for the most part, but for this little gem of a track on the Prestige label (same as Miles Davis by the mid-50s) that featured on his essential Saxophone Colossus album. The record also features Tommy Flanagan on piano and the incomparable Max Roach on drums.  The album is recognized as his masterpiece, and this tune to be his signature.  And what a tune it is, beaming with sunshiny optimism, helped along by Rollins keen emphasis on melody and roundness of tone that make it a welcoming invitation to jazz fans and newbies all at once.

Still, Rollins would not stop here, but neither would he continue without interruption.  He took a musical sabbatical by the end of the decade (one of a number), simply to re-evaluate his direction (while still maintaining a regimen by practicing regularly on the  Willamsburg Bridge in New York City).  He returned in 1962 with the comeback record, again appropriately enough, The Bridge.  In the meantime, “St Thomas” took on a life of its own, re-entering the vocabulary of island jazz musicians such as the Skatellites, who recorded it in 1964 and helping to usher in ska as an independently defined style. Ska as a musical form of course would later go on to influence new wave and punk.

Rollins would continue to delve into various musical avenues off of the main street of post-bop jazz, including fusion, jazz funk, and continue an exploration of Calypso forms as well.  He is an active musician today an one of the remaining pioneers of post-bop jazz, touring and recording regularly even in his 80s.

For more information about Sonny Rollins, check out SonnyRollins.com.


Mose Allison Sings ‘Young Man’s Blues’

Here’s a clip featuring jazz pianist and rhythm & blues stylist, singer, and songwriter Mose Allison, with a song he wrote and recorded in 1963 . It’s “Young Man’s Blues” a lament for the titular young man who once ‘had all the money’. Luckily, thanks to a 1970 cover version by the Who on their Live At Leeds album, pretty soon Mose Allison had all the money, too. The song is taken from Allison’s Mose Allison Sings album.

During a time when having a cross-over career from the jazz world to the world of R&B was looked upon as commercial suicide, Mose Allison was a fearless artist who’s music defied the high walls between genres and audiences. He was born in the Mississippi Delta in 1927 and took to the musician’s life at a young age.  By the 1950s, his skills as a pianist were being employed while in jazz bands with Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Gerry Mulligan.

But Allison’s feel for the blues allowed him to gain the attention of R&B fans too, including many rock players, from Van Morrison, and later to the Clash, and Elvis Costello.  As mentioned this particular tune, a jazz-inflected number that features Allison’s laid back tenor drawl and light-as-air piano lines, was ripe to be transformed into the monster rock assault by the Who, who made it a part of their live set, and later recorded it for their monumental Live At Leeds album. When he got the royalty cheque, he was convinced it must be mistake.

This perhaps shows that anything held together by the base ingredient of the blues can be interpreted and re-interpreted in any other musical milieu that has that same base ingredient.   Yet, it also proves the song’s writer to be ahead of his time, in being able to see that common thread and build it into his music, despite the difficulties of being able to successfully do so in the early 60s.

While the decades rolled on from the 50s to the 90s, Allison continued to be an active recording artist and performer, with a dedication to putting out records that was perhaps contrary to his lack of widespread recognition among pop music fans.  At the age of 82, he’s released a new record this year, Way of the World produced by Joe Henry on Anti-Records.

In this 21st Century when mixing styles and writing songs which are open to stylistic interpretation is common, Mose Allison has in many ways come home.

For more information about Mose Allison, check out moseallison.com.

You can review or preview the music on the Mose Allison on MySpace.