The Don Ellis Orchestra charted an original path through the jazz of the late 60s and early 70s, producing some remarkable music for big band.
With an emphasis on electronics, non-conventional time signatures and improvisation, there are more than a few fans who consider his Orchestra to have been one of the most advanced in modern jazz. The 1971 live album Tears of Joy is worth checking out to hear what this band was all about.
Ellis himself died in 1978, cutting short his remarkable career, and his music fell back into relative obscurity in the neo-conservativism of 1980s jazz. Very little film footage of the band seems to have survived: this VHS copy of the Ellis composition “Indian Lady” at a concert at Tanglewood in 1968 is one of the few films of the Don Ellis band on YouTube.
Thursday 14th January was trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s 80th birthday. John Fordham in the Grauniad offers a review of the Birthday Concert that was held this week at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Image: Juan Carlos Hernandez
It sounds like it was a predictably wonderful evening – with a monster band assembled to pay tribute to this most modest of master musicians: including Dave Holland, Evan Parker, John Taylor, Stan Sulzmann and Norma Winstone… all players with long histories of fruitful collaboration with Wheeler.
So it turned out that my temporary landlord in Paris is a trumpet player. And a very good one. And I was invited to his gig last night on in a basement on rue Palestro. Although I’d been told they were going to play “electro-pop-jazz”, I really had little idea what to expect, but I was not disappointed!
Image: Anne Lacomb
Ici et Lui (Here and Him) is a duo formed in 2006 by brothers Thomas and Pierre David, who both have been on the scene for quite some time (their biographies talk of previous recording contracts with Universal, various prizes from musical schools and regular gigs with orchestras and artists around Paris).
Their suprisingly effective set-up involves Thomas on guitar (a Telecaster) and Pierre on trumpet, with both brothers sharing duties on vocals, samplers and effects pedals. The performance itself, in a basement bar that squeezed in about 20 people, crossed so many stylistic boundaries that it could really only be called “music”, in the broadest sense of the word. And although it’s definitely not comedy music, Thomas and Pierre’s dry stage humour worked really well in the intimate of a Paris cellar.
Highlights included “a homage to chanson française” using melodies based on (I think) a whole-tone scale, a cover version of Desmond Dekker‘s Shanty Town (complete with Jamaican English sung with French accents) and a short lecture on composer Steve Reich‘s theory of voice melody.
Image: Emmanuel Schmitt
It was all slightly surrealist. They sample the continuity announcer from Radio France Inter, slip in some beatboxing, sing in Japanese, and play some mean unison bebop lines (the album includes a lo-fi hip hop version of Charlie Parker’s Ornithology). Boris Vian would’ve been proud.
Their album pop electro jazz has just been released this month (available from, among others, iTunes and fnac.com). But Ici et Lui’s live show should definitely be seen. They play every first Wednesday of the month at Les Cariatides in the 2nd arrondissement. Free entry!
I was just starting to learn about jazz. A friend’s father (himself a well-known pianist and jazz broadcaster around town) thrust two dusty cassettes into my hand, which I duly took home and thrashed to death in my bedroom.
One tape was a copy of Miles’ Someday My Prince Will Come. The other was Herbie Hancock’s Empyrean Isles. The Herbie tape had a hastily scribbled playlist and personnel listing: Herbie… Ron … Tony… Freddie. Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, I’d heard of. But this Freddie guy… playing the … cornet?
Pretty soon Freddie Hubbard was a familiar sound in my house. His solos from that album – on One Finger Snap,Oliliquy Valley – were melodies I could sing in the shower. At that time, all trumpet players sounded fresh and exciting to me. Lee Morgan, Wynton Marsalis, Clifford Brown were all early additions to a small trove of cassettes that filled the family home with sound on evenings and weekends and annoyed my sister in her room down the hallway. Freddie, with his loud-high hard bop style, probably annoyed her more than most.
At university we formed little jazz bands that played cafés around town. Somehow we managed to persuade the owners that we were actually good, and sometimes the owners even paid us. By that time, we had discovered Freddie’s early 1970s recordings for CTI, and Red Clay inevitably ended up on our setlist. We played it EVERY gig. Along with Chameleon, Wayne Shorter’s Footprints and a couple of Cole Porter ballads.
And then one January day, one of the band was killed in an accident. He was the youngest of us. Hell, the oldest of us was only 23. We put together a band that played at his funeral. Stevie arrived there before us, and we did our soundcheck next to his coffin. We played four songs before the start of the service. One of them was Red Clay.
Now Freddie Hubbard’s gone too, to join the ever-expanding jam session in the sky. Through his most powerful recorded work (from, say, 1961 to 1975) many of his phrases have spun themselves into the DNA of all young jazz trumpet players today. I never got to see him play live, but more than most trumpeters, it felt like I knew him a little bit through his records and the way they influenced me and my bandmates. So, thanks, Freddie. We’ll remember you.
Filmed at the Jericho Tavern (see the recent Oxford pub guide) on a Friday night with a near-sellout crowd. The trumpet solo is a bit boring, but it was late in the evening and the trumpet player was getting tired….
Not many people these days, even in Britain, have heard of Nat Gonella. In the 1920s, he was the first British musician to take jazz out of the hotel salons and play it to a working class audience in the music halls of London… it was a quiet revolution that changed popular entertainment in Britain forever.
Gonella’s style of jazz was raucous, populist and sing-a-long: a far cry from most of the jazz we hear today. I hope the performance above recaptures some of that spirit – if it doesn’t, here’s Nat Gonella’s band in the mid-1930s in a clip filmed by Pathé:
This is a question I’ve been asking recently, since I haven’t seen any gigs advertised around the UK (and I’d really like to hear Kenny Wheeler live, one day). Also, KW is 78 years old, and so we like to keep an eye on his health and wellbeing.
The good news is that Kenny Wheeler has a new album out, called Other People, which you can get through emusic, Amazon or the other usual outlets.
Other People is an outing with a string quartet, and the first time KW has written for or recorded with strings. Despite the new sonic context, all the expected navigational marks in the “univers wheelerien” remain in place – inventive use of minor keys, a sense of melancholy and Wheeler’s plaintive and distinct trumpet voice. With less improvisation than most jazz dates, the emphasis is on composition and it’s all very, very good.
There’s not much Kenny Wheeler on Youtube, but the track below, “Aye Aye That’s Your Lot” is outstanding. Recorded in Taunton, England in 1991, KW’s playing alongside some great musicians including Tony Oxley (d), Stan Sulzmann (ts) and Gordon Beck (pn).
Humphrey Lyttleton – One Man Went to Blow
From Platinum Series : [emusic]
Louis Armstrong referred to him as “that cat in England who swings his ass off“.
Humphrey Lyttleton led the sort of polymath life that most of us can only dream of: cartoonist, soldier, broadcaster, author, chairman of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue on BBC Radio Four, and one of the greatest jazz musicians to emerge from postwar Britain.
Humph died on Friday, and it’s unlikely the world will see anyone like him again. A member of the minor English nobility, he was schooled at Eton in the 1930s, but avoided a life of privilege by buying a trumpet and developing a deep love of jazz.
In 1943 he landed on the Salerno beaches with a gun in one hand and a trumpet in the other. On V-E day in 1945 he was paraded around in front of Buckingham Palace in a wheelbarrow, playing “Roll Out the Barrel”. After the war, he drew cartoons for the Daily Mail, played and toured with Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong.
In 1956 Humph’s band scored the first “jazz” hit in the UK Billboard charts – Bad Penny Blues reached number 19 and stayed there for 6 weeks: a real achievement when British ears were already picking up the intimations of a new kind of pop, courtesy of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley.
And from 1971 until his death Humph was the chairman of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, one of the longest running panel games on the BBC. A platform for the absurdist and surreal streaks in British humour, nobody had less idea about what was going on during the show than the ringmaster himself, Humphrey Lyttleton.
I hope that Humph is now jamming somewhere with his old friend Louis Armstrong. But I’d like to think that he’s also introducing the angels to the complex and ancient rules of the greatest game of them all, Mornington Crescent:
Every few months, I get a magazine from my primary school. It contains a bunch of news, and well as writing and art by current pupils. I thought this poem was great – written by Joshua in year 7, the equivalent of first year of junior high…
The Hidden Notes
Inside this trumpet
Float notes that have never been revealed
Never been played
Never been seen
They’ve never been awoken
Deep down inside listening
But they won’t come out
Not for people
Not for freedom
Even when the insides are being fulilled
But still they lay there soundless
A school of fish with a jazz band
Will conquer it
Forcing it to come out
But still it holds on
What music can it be
That wont reveal itself
For what country?
Is it my country?
Would I be able to recognize it?
Could I name the notes of everything?
Maybe they have differents notes for this trumpet
Maybe only one note
And that’s all we need
It’s here inside this trumpet
Every trumpet in the world is like this.