Archive for December, 2008

For Archtop Purists

December 19, 2008

Nicolai Foss

Finally — Johnny Smith on YouTube

December 18, 2008

Nicolai Foss

Until recently, every jazz guitarist in the world seemed to have a youtube presence, with one notable exception, namely the incomparable Johnny Smith. But, alas, here is Smith playing a fantastic version of “What Are You Doing For the Rest of Your Life?”. And here he is with Mundell Lowe, playing “7 come 11″ (and not sitting down?). Fairly low key playing for this standard!

That “Almost Fainting” Experience

December 17, 2008

Nicolai Foss

As recently recounted on this blog, Jimmy Raney once remarked that he “almost fainted” when he first heard Charlie Christian with the Benny Goodman orchestra playing “Solo Flight.” This was an absolutely decisive moment in his evolution as a jazz guitarist. Many musicians and music fans have told of similar experiences.

I have had a number of almost fainting experiences myself. In fact, my first one also involved Charlie Christian. The scene: 1979 — two teenageboys drinking tea and smoking pipes and listening to the jazz record collection of the mother of one of the boys (how nerdy can you get?). After listening to — we thought — some rather dull Ellington, suddenly a mildly distorted, wildly swinging , but poorly recorded guitar sound came blasting out of the loudspeakers. What was that? Well, Charlie C playing “Swing to Bop” (the 1941 Minton sessions). I think I insisted on hearing the track at least a dozen until my buddy grew tired of it.

I remember other almost fainting experiences. Some of Tal’s early stuff had that effect (particularly, The Swinging Guitar of Tal Farlow), as well as Wes’ Smokin at the Half Note, and, particularly, Barney Kessel’s wildly swinging late-1960s work with Stephane Grappelli.

Now, what — dear J&A readers — are your almost fainting experiences?

Chuck Playing Barney

December 17, 2008

Nicolai Foss

That is, Chuck Wayne and the rest of the Shearing Quintet playing Barney Kessel’s “Swedish Pastry” (originally recorded with Charlie Parker) (here). Chuck plays the Epiphone Century (I think) that he favored in the beginning of his career (he later switched to a D’Angelico). And here they are playing “Move” with another great and legato Wayne solo.

Irving Ashby Playing “Solo Flight”

December 13, 2008

Nicolai Foss

We have it from Jimmy Raney that he “almost fainted” the first time he was exposed to the recording of Charlie Christian playing “Solo Flight” with the Benny Goodman orchestra. Not surprising, perhaps, for the inventiveness and assertiveness of that piece is hard to surpass. Various cover versions and paraphrases quickly followed. In UK, Ivor Mairants recorded “In Charlie’s Footsteps” with Geraldo and His Swing Orchestra in 1945 (can be found on this record), which is an excellent paraphrase, and in US a young Irving Ashby recorded “Solo Flight” with the Jimmy Mundy Orchestra (here) in either 1943 or 1944. Ashby stays very close to Christian’s original guitar work, but his picking seems less confident than Christian’s.

Barney Kessel: A Jazz Legend

December 9, 2008

Nicolai Foss

Maurice Summerfield first came to my attention when as a 16 year old (in 1980) kid, I was getting into Django Reinhardt and, a little later, Tal Farlow. Eager to learn more about the players, I picked up an intriguing volume with the title The Jazz Guitar in my local library. The book consisted mainly of brief bios of the ca. 100 most prolific and famous jazz guitarists as well as pics of beautiful guitars. The preface to that book was penned by Barney Kessel, and it was this preface (and Summerfield’s bio on Barney) that made me seek out Barney’s recordings.

I received my copy of Summerfield’s new Barney Kessel: A Jazz Legend (published Nov. 1 this year) a couple of weeks and read it very quickly. In fact, the book is a quick read because most of its appr. 300 pages are spent on Barney’s discography. There are lots (and I mean lots) of Barney pics, most of which I haven’t seen. Most of the biographical material in the book is reasonably well known (some of it consists of reprints of articles), but together here for the first time, and there were lots of details that were unknown to me, e.g., on Barney’s family, his strong religious beliefs, etc. Of particular interest to readers of this blog is the long chapter on Barney’s “Guitars and Equipment”. At 26 USD this book is (for a guitar book) very reasonably priced and is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in jazz guitar.