Archive for the 'Bebop' Category

Sacha Distel, Jazz Guitarist

December 6, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Before Distel-the-crooner, the affairs with Brigitte Bardot and Dionne Warwick, etc., there was Distel-the-jazz-guitarist. Strongly influenced by his uncle Ray Ventura, one of the first jazzmen in France, Distel (1933 – 2004) began playing traditional jazz, becoming a professional musician 16. He quickly moved in more modern directions, working with Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Bobby Jaspar, and Tony Bennett, but he continued to work with the older generation, for example, Lionel Hampton. This clip with Louis Armstrong seems to be the only one on YouTube where Distel’s jazz guitar is showcased. Distel was clearly highly adaptable, because there are little traces of bebop in his playing which is probably best as “robust” and Tiny Grimes-like.

The great “Jazz in Paris” series has a twofer with Distel’s early recordings. Here is another collection of his jazz cuts.

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Pat Martino, Jazzhouse (Cph), April 29

April 30, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Pat Martino’s current European and North-African tour took him to Copenhagen yesterday. His trio with Tony Monaco on Hammond B3 and Louis Tsamous on drums opened the show on 8.05 pm on the small stage of the Jazzhouse with a blasting rendition of Wes Montgomery’s “Four on Six.” The show was a one-set, appr. 100 mins. thing which also included “Round Midnight”, “Road Song” and other standards. It was a high-energy, ultra-virtuosic affair and a marvelous display of classic hardbop playing. The energetic Monaco was a perfect match for Martino, the latter playing with a(n even) harder and more direct attack than on his records.

Pat, playing his Gibson signature model through a huge Marshall amplifier, didn’t talk much, but recounted an anecdote of how he, at the age of around 18 had played a gig with Les Paul in New York, after which he taken Les Paul to Count Basie’s where Wes Montgomery was playing with Mel Rhyne and Jimmy Cobb. Martino left Paul, who was mesmerized by Montgomery’s playing, for another job, and upon returning found Montgomery still playing, but now joined by Grant Green, George Benson and Paul. After the playing they all went to a diner and “talked guitar for the rest of the night”. I sure would have liked to have been the proverbial fly on the wall that night.

Recent Howard Roberts Re-Issues

March 24, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Howard Roberts may not be as well known as Kessel, Pass, Farlow, Smith et al., but for many jazz guitar afficionados he belongs in that league. Roberts combined the drive of Farlow, the earthiness of Kessel, and the technical mastery of Smith. And added his own distinctive touch.

I heard Howard Roberts play in the Montmartre in Copenhagen around 1981-2. If I remember correctly, he played a Gibson L5S (but perhaps it was really the Gibson HR Fusion, which I think must have been out at this time). His technique was absolutely astonishing and I remember some of the local guitarists (I am pretty sure a young Doug Raney was on stage with Howard) literally dropping jaws in awe of his amazing dexterity. HR’s The Real Howard Roberts (currently on sale at Amazon for 60 USD!!!) is among my top-5 jazz guitar albums. For the ultimate HR resource, check Mike Evans’ fabuloussite.

Roberts’ recordings have until recently been difficult to find. Luckily, much material has been re-released within the last decade. I just received my copies of Mr. Roberts Plays Guitar (first released in 1956; re-released in 2008) and Good Pickin’s (released in 1959; re-released in 2006).

I am still digesting these two great albums, but they are clearly distinct. “Mr. Roberts” comes complete with a string quartet on a number of the tracks, and is general much more arranged and polite than “Pickin’s” which has much more straightahead blowing. The distinctive Roberts style with its “funk” was clearly developed already at this early stage of his career (Roberts was 27 when “Mr. Roberts” was recorded but clearly a very mature player). The blues was always a strong force in Roberts’ playing, and the source of that is revealed in the liner notes to Good Pickin’s: Playing the blues, and nothing but the blues, in the 2-3 “negro jazz clubs” of Phoenix in the years immediately after the 2nd World War. Both CDs are terrific and highly recommended.

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!

Jimmy Gourley

October 8, 2008

Nicolai Foss

James Pasco Gourley (b. 1926) has often been taken to be a Jimmy Raney copy. This may explain why Gourley is clearly underrated, and little known outside of France, where he has lived since, I believe, the beginning of the 1950s. While Gourley was a childhood acquaince of Lee Konitz, the Raney of the alto, succeeded Raney in the guitar chair of the Jay Burkhart combo in the mid-1940s, and indeed was influenced by him, Gourley’s style is more direct and hard swinging than Raney’s, more hard-boppish, sometimes even gutsy.

For example, check this great clip of “Montagne Madness,” probably from around 1980. (There is quite a lot of Gourley on YouTube). Like Raney in the beginning of his career, Gourley played the ES-150 with the Charlie Christian Pickup, but, unlike Raney, Gourley continued working with this instrument, playing it to this day (Raney played many different archtops, among them the Guild Artist Award).

Here is a French “Retrospective” (check the photo with a very distinguished looking Raney, and the less serious Gourley, René Thomas, and Sascha Distel).

Mundell Lowe’s Site

February 29, 2008

Nicolai Foss

One of the most stylish players of the first generation of bebop guitarists, Mundell Lowe, has his own site. Definitely worth a visit.

Jon Raney’s Jazz Forum

October 27, 2007

Nicolai Foss

One of my first great jazz guitar experiences was listening, as a young high school student, to Jimmy Raney’s talented son, Doug Raney. I remember several great concerts from around 1980, some of them in the classic “Montmartre” in Nørregade in Copenhagen, with Doug who was then in his late twenties, that is, not that distant from my own age. Doug became something of a hero to me, and I listened endlessly to his debut record, Introducing Doug Raney, which Doug cut at the tender age of 21.

I realized only yesterday that Jimmy Raney had another talented son, Jon Raney, who specializes in the piano. Jon runs Jon Raney’s Jazz Forum. For the Jimmy Raney fan, there is much interesting material. For example, here is Jim Hall on Jimmy Raney.

UPDATE: Here is the myspace page on Jimmy.

WEHT Elek Bacsik?

September 19, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Along with Snoozer Quinn, Elec Bacsik (1926-1993) is often talked about as the great mystery in jazz guitar. The story goes that Bacsik produced two truly excellent albums in the early 1960s, “Guitar Conceptions” and “The Electric Guitar of the Eclectic Elek Bacsik” (re-issued as “Nuages”), left for the US, and basically disappeared, popping up twice for the production of two albums with bop violin playing, before dying in complete neglect in 1993. Add that Bacsik was of Hungarian gypsy background. And add suggestions of substance abuse, and you have sufficient ingredients for a romantic tale of tragic musical genius.

However, things may be a bit more mundane, or at least well-documented. Thus, we know a fair amount about Bacsik’s musical activities after he left France for the United States. Here is a relatively detailed French biography that among other things mentions that he recorded in the US with Hank Jones and Grady Tate (which doesn’t exactly indicate complete obscurity). Here is another biography, also in French, that explains that Bacsik was active until illness around 1990 made it impossible for him to play in public.

Here is Bacsik accompanying Serge Gainsbourg on “All the Things you Are”

Emily Remler Site

September 17, 2007

Nicolai Foss

I have never met a jazz guitar connaisseur who didn’t admire Emily Remler’s work. She produced a string of truly excellent records (my favorite is this one), and some great instructional material (I recommend this one, if you can get it). Unfortunately, as we all know, her promising career was cut short by her apparently drug-related death at the age of 32 (apropos, isn’t it the case that there have apparently and luckily been comparatively few jazz guitarists with a substance problem?). Here is very nice tribute site.

HT to The Jazz Guitar Life.Com Blog

Barney the Hardbopper

August 24, 2007

Nicolai Foss

In my post below on hardbop I listed Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery and George Benson as the quintessential hardbop guitarists. I am certainly not the first one to do so; this is pretty much conventional wisdom. However, I forgot one: Barney Kessel!

To claim that Barney belongs to the hardbopping crowd surely is not conventional wisdom; he is usually thought of (correctly) as an early bebopper. In fact, he (along with Herb Ellis) has sometimes been talked about as somebody who is somehow in between swing and bebop, supposedly meaning that he never fully absorbed the bebop language (which I think is wrong).

Specifically, the claim here is that some of Kessel’s 1960s albums lie clearly within the hardbop approach. The first indication of the style in his playing may be the last of the Pollwinners’ abums, Exploring the Scene, where his playing on, e.g., Ray Bryant’s “Little Susie” is so bluesy and hard-driving that Bobby Timmons or Lee Morgan seem like softies in comparison. His 1961 album, “Workin’ Out” (even the title sounds hard-boppish) also exemplifies the approach with even more earthy and bluesy performances.

In general, there was a more stomping, funky and harder dimension to Kessel’s playing in the 1960s than to his 1950s playing. While it is tempting to attribute this to the influence of rock (and Kessel’s studio work), it may well be that was primarily a matter of the influence from the hard bop movement.