Lester YoungLester grew up on the road but he was born in Algiers LA, a suberb of New Orleans. Ethan Iverson's blog Do the Math contains one of the best resources on 'classic' Lester Young performances I've ever seen compiled. Made even sweeter by Lee Konitz's comments and insights, together they should be able to turn every jazz lover into a 'Presophile' and anyone who already loves Lester will be in jazz heaven. Thanks to him I'm able to reference the famous early solos and use the samples he has so diligently transcribed.
My fascination with Pres began when my jazz history teacher played the famous small group session recordings of Count Basie ie Shoehine Boy and Lady Be Good solos. Plenty has been written expounding the genius of these gems but there are a few others that are equally sublime and one version of Lady Be Good is rather prophetic. In fact this solo inspired Ethan to go on his quest to uncover the mystery of Young's work, made even more interesing considering that critic have said this solo is a wasted effort. I agree with Ethan and believe this is the gateway to improvised music or 'free jazz'' in that Lester uses a chromatic rather than diatonic apporach to this solo. It's weird and wonderful in every way. The transcription is mandatory reading for any doubters. Check out the chromatic leading tones at bars 8-12! And then at the bridge, in a surprising burst of bravura, he rides a C major 7 arpeggio 5 times and then continues that phrase over the I chord (F > D7). I love the lovely flourish at the end which is truly the icing on the cake.
A key moment of understanding of Lester's genius has to be this single chorus on the blues Fine and Mellow recorded on The Sound of Jazz for TV in the 50's. It captures him with fellow tenor giants Ben Wesbster and Coleman Hawkins. As good as they both are here, it's Pres's melancholy and achingly lyrical solo that stands out. Billie seems especially entranced by his vibe. It's almost a lost art, this way of developing a musical statement through melodic improvising.
Coleman HawkinsThe first time I heard Coleman Hawkins was on an album with Earl Hines that my father had bought as part of an incredible jazz collection that was sold before I came into my own. It's a live album from the 60's and he is swinging hard as ever. I started on the clarinet and I was immediately intrigued by Pee Wee Russell who my Dad always raved about after reading Whitney Balliet's essays on him in The New Yorker. I also liked Goodman, DeFranco, Guiffre and Bigard but for some reason Pee Wee was my man. Another standout was the New Orleans native Alvin Batiste who at the time (1980's) was one of the few clarinetists playing fusion. He appeared on a Billy Cobham album or two. Anyway, Pee Wee and Hawkins recorded together with famed trombonist Glenn Miller back in 1929 along with Red McKenzie on 'comb'. It's fascinating to compare these solos and hear the evolution from 1929 - 1963! Hawkin's solo on If I Could Be with you (One hour Tonight) from both periods are glorious in their own right. The big difference is in the phrasing and how relaxed his lines ahad become compared to '29. Might that be some of Lester's cool influencing Hawkin's own sensibility? The later solo was one of the first tenor solos I cherished and the entire album 'Jazz Reunion' is a gem. I transcribed Hawkin's passionate solo from All Too Soon off of this album and it still gives me goose bumps.
While walking along Royal St a came upon a music store that had my first reed brand in stock - Rico Regular. I had been trying to find the best sound possible for this new music and I wanted to go back to my vintage set up and a cane reed. On a whim I bought a few for kicks and once back home I put one on my mouthpiece and gave it a blow. It was like an old friend came home to visit and I think I'm going to ask that old friend to stay a while because it all fits together now; Contrasts in Individualism is the culmination of 30 years of playing, working and studying music on the tenor saxophone. I'd like to thank all the musicians who have influenced and helped me along the way! Good music is timeless and I feel some relief knowing that the struggle and hardship these great jazz pioneers had to endure really does carry on for generations. New Orleans has shown me another side of America that every musician should discover. As a matter of fact I bumped into a pair of Danish hornmen on their way home after spending 2 weeks hanging out there. It was immediately apparent that they (like me) were aware that they had just spent some time in a sort of musicians fairytale.
We premiered the work last Thursday at Kitano in NYC. There was a full house and the music came pouring out just as I had hoped it might. It was especially nice (that word always sounds so uncool) to be reviewed by Ralph Miriello. His article is up on the Huffington Post! Ben Allison, Frank Kimbrough and Rudy Royston brought exactly what I needed to pull it off, so many thanks all round.
We'll be playing the work again on Tuesday, March 18th at 7:30 and 9:30pm
Jazz Standard 116 E 27th St, New York, NY 10016 (212) 576-2232