Concert Jazz

Author's Photo

Author’s Photo

There have been many attempts over the years to write and perform concert jazz. Some attempts more successful than others. Many critics and fans of jazz have decried these attempts, but nevertheless, jazz musicians as well as jazz conductors and arrangers have proceeded to try. What does one mean by ‘concert jazz’? A serviceable definition might be an arrangement of music which features a mixture of traditional jazz instruments (piano, saxophone, trumpet, etc.) with instruments more normally found in the concert orchestra. The composition features both written parts and improvised sections for solo instruments. The presentation of such concert music would utilize rhythms more often found in jazz such as swing eighths and sixteenth notes as well as syncopation.

Many classical composers of the twentieth century such as Charles Ives, Stravinsky, Ravel, Darius Milhaud, Shostakovich and others have made attempts – more or less successful depending upon tastes.  Jazz artists such as Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, and Stan Kenton have commissioned and performed works that one would consider to be concert jazz.  Jazz arrangers and composers (again Ellington is a key example) but also people such as Eddie Sauter, Ralph Burns, George Russell, George Handy, William Russo, Pete Rugolo have made significant contributions to this endeavor.  American composers like Gershwin, Copland, David Diamond, and Leonard Bernstein have championed such efforts and been more or less successful in this field.

Author's Photo

Author’s Photo

Depending upon your definition of concert jazz, one might consider Rhapsody in Blue to be primogenitor of the entire field.  Historians point out that the written piano sections were originally improvised by Gershwin and then later written down.  Some artists today proceed with the idea and intention of improvising the piano parts but concert goers pretty much want to hear the familiar piano cadenzas played as Gershwin played and wrote them…and who can blame them since it’s hard to come up with anything that sounds better.  Dave Brubeck commissioned his brother, Howard, to write the symphony orchestra parts to his composition Brandenburg Gate (featured on the album Brandenburg Gate Revised.)  John Lewis developed compositions that he performed with members of the Stuttgard Symphony Orchestra along with the Modern Jazz Quartet.  Composer and educator, Gunther Schuller, championed the development of what he termed “The Third Stream(blending classical and jazz) and he performed and recorded many examples of this type of music.  Many of the arrangements of Gil Evans would meet the definition of concert jazz in particular his arrangement of Porgy and Bess with Miles Davis as soloist.  Evan’s other major work Sketches of Spain (also with Davis as soloist) is considered one of the best and most successful works in this endeavor.  Attempts to blend classical and jazz influenced almost the entire catalogue of Creed Taylor’s CTI record label and the arranger Don Sebesky contributed symphonic arrangements  that supported the improvisations of major jazz artists such as Hubert Laws, George Benson, Milt Jackson and a host of others.

Verve MG V-2026

Verve MG V-2026

Two of the finest examples of concert jazz were created by the composer, arranger and pianist Billy Strayhorn.  Billy Strayhorn wrote and composed music for Duke Ellington’s band from 1939 until 1967.  He also helped to arrange performances for members of the Ellington orchestra when these members went out on their own to record independently from the Duke.  The Billy Strayhorn composition Chelsea Bridge is acclaimed as one of the greatest jazz ballads of all time.  It has been recorded by dozens of major jazz artists, but perhaps the finest rendition of the song is to be found on an album by Ben Webster recorded for Verve Records.  It is known as Ben Webster with Strings “Music for Loving” and it originally was made on three 10 inch long-playing vinyl records for Mercury/Clef or Verve Records.  Billy Strayhorn did the arrangement for the string section that surrounds the beautiful tenor saxophone solo.  Strayhorn briefly takes a solo on the piano as well.  It is a gorgeous arrangement!  Every aspect of this arrangement is in the service of showcasing the marvelous velvety tone of Webster’s saxophone.

Columbia CS 8053

Columbia CS 8053

As a companion piece to Ben Webster’s masterful performance with strings, another stellar arrangement by Billy Strayhorn is his setting of Solitude featuring Duke Ellington at the solo piano.  One can easily imagine a recording studio with the lights dimmed.  It is after hours, all the musicians are relaxed and tired from a long day of recording.  They could easily pack up and go home.  But one last masterpiece needs to be played.   Duke sits down at the piano and begins the first tentative notes of the Ellington classic Solitude. The beauty of this arrangement is its apparent simplicity…its easy, relaxed unfolding.  The band enters behind Duke very softly caressing the chord changes.  The center piece of the arrangement is Ellington alone at the piano playing one of the great jazz compositions of all time.  Very few people in the world can create this kind of magic.  The piano, the orchestra, and ultimately the arrangement are complete perfection.  This is concert jazz!

Author's Photo

Author’s Photo

When Billy Strayhorn joined the Ellington Orchestra his first assignments were to arrange and rehearse the small band recordings (which often featured altoist Johnny Hodges) and to create arrangements for the male and female singers with the band. (Hajdu, 1996, pp. 60,80) (van de Leur, 2002 , p. 34) Singers who worked with Billy Strayhorn initially and over the years commented on how much he provided them the professional help that allowed them to sing at their best.  He collaborated with them in selecting the most appropriate keys to sing in and he took great pains to make arrangements which demonstrated how much attention he could give to even the smallest detail. (Hajdu, 1996, pp. 97-99) These early assignments with the Ellington Orchestra no doubt served him well in these arrangements of Solitude and Chelsea Bridge.

 

Sources and References:

Ben Webster with Strings Music for Loving (Verve Records 527 774-2) Two CD format

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra Ellington Indigos (Columbia LP – CS 8053)

Hajdu, David.  Lush Life:  A Biography of Billy Strayhorn.  New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996.

van de Leur, Walter.  Something to Live For:  The Music of Billy Strayhorn.  Oxford University Press, 2002.

 

 

 

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An Ellington – Strayhorn Garden

 

Author's Own Garden

Author’s Own Garden

Because the music of Duke Ellington is so much associated with colors, and especially the colors of flowers, it becomes a natural and easy task to incorporate the Ellington color scheme into one’s own floral landscape. The composer, arranger, and pianist Billy Strayhorn also penned many compositions of his own with the names of flowers. For this reason, an Ellington-Strayhorn Garden can have interesting floral choices as well as a wide palette of variegated shades and hues. From the time he joined the Ellington Orchestra in the late 1930s until his death in the late 1960s, Billy Strayhorn contributed memorable compositions based upon familiar and exotic flowers. Between Duke Ellington’s own compositions and those of Billy Strayhorn, the gardener and flower enthusiast has wonderful colors to choose from and can arrange both indoor and outdoor plants to reflect the music of the great Ellington Orchestra. Here is but a few examples:

Blue
Morning Glory (Ellington & Stewart)
Fleurette Afrique (Ellington)
Azalea (Ellington)
Blue Bells of Harlem (Ellington)
Lotus Blossom (Strayhorn)

Violet
Passion Flower (Strayhorn)
Lotus Blossom (Strayhorn)

Lavender
Lady of Lavender Mist (Ellington)

Red/Yellow/Silver/Copper
A Single Petal of a Rose (Duke Ellington)

Orange
Bird of Paradise (Ellington)

Black
Black Beauty (Rose) Duke Ellington
White & Pink Azalea Duke Ellington Roulette LP Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong

Red & White
Morning Glory (Duke Ellington & Rex Stewart)

Author's Own Garden

Author’s Own Garden

Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn celebrated the inspiration of flowers by recording a piano duet of their composition “In a Blue Summer Garden” for the Mercer Label in 1950.  It featured two pianos and bassist, Joel Shulman.  It was released on a 10 inch 78 with another song on the ‘B’ side.

These two great American composers wrote hundreds of songs.  A modest estimate of the size of the Ellington song list would literally be in the thousands.  Flowers have always been the source of inspiration for many classical composers – Tchaikovsky, Schubert, and Schumann to name but a few.  Among the classical composers the rose gets the lion’s share of the honors.  Ellington and Strayhorn wrote some of these compositions in an impressionist mode much in the style and tradition of Debussy, Faure, and Delibes.  Many of their titles reflect this use of impressionism.

Author's Own Garden

Author’s Own Garden

Just as Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington ‘painted’ a rich orchestral landscape of tones and colors with the inspiration of flower shades, so everyone can easily enjoy creating their own arrangements of Ellington/Strayhorn flower compositions in their home as well as out of doors.  Choosing flowers based upon their compositions will surprise the flower enthusiast with the richness of hues and subtle shades of all the many different types of blue, magenta, rose, pink, violet, lavender, and many,  many others.  And fortunately, many if not all the flowers, mentioned in their songs and compositions are readily available at local nurseries or by mail order.

Peach Rose (author's collection)

Peach Rose (author’s collection)

The rose is the subject of many classical compositions and has always been a favorite theme:

Gabrielle Fauré (Les Roses d’Ispahan), Franz Schubert (Little Rose of the Field), Robert Schumann (The Rose, The Lily, The Dove).  Duke Ellington pursued this theme in several compositions for solo piano as well as for big band:

Single Petal of a Rose – solo piano

Rose of the Rio Grande – vocal by Ivie Anderson with Duke Ellington Orchestra (composition not by Ellington)

Blue Rose – vocalize by Rosemary Clooney with Duke Ellington Orchestra

Black Beauty – Duke Ellington.  Originally written as a composition for solo piano (dedicated to Florence Mills) and later arranged for his orchestra.  Although not written with the rose in mind, one might wish to choose the Black Rose for one’s garden to celebrate Duke Ellington’s famous composition.  Black roses are in fact a very, very deep purple or red rose but which appears to be black.  They are true favorites of rose lovers everywhere.

Dark Rose Group (author's collection)

Dark Rose Group (author’s collection)

Some of Billy Strayhorn’s compositions featuring flowers may prove too much of a challenge for persons living in northern climates or for areas suffering from a prolonged drought such as the current state in California.  Such songs as Passion Flower, Lotus Blossom, and Bird of Paradise (by Duke Ellington) represent flowers which thrive in lush tropical areas which receive equal parts of rain, humidity, and lots and lots of sun.

In developing one’s Ellington-Strayhorn Garden the architect of such a garden may be pleasantly surprised by the appearance of hummingbirds and butterflies.  Hopefully, such a gardener may enjoy the presence of a Black Butterfly (which is also the name of a Duke Ellington composition, circa 1936).

The Duke Ellington composition Azalea written specifically for Louis Armstrong (the two played it together on their Roulette recording) signifies a flower well-known to attract butterflies.  The bright, lush colors of the Azalea is what attracts the butterfly.  Butterflies are especially drawn to the colors pink, orange, purple,  yellow and red.  Even if you do not see the Black Butterfly, many of the Ellington and Strayhorn composition flowers will attract a wide variety of butterflies to your garden.  And don’t be surprised to see hummingbirds as well!

Blue "Morning Glory" (author's photo)

Blue “Morning Glory” (author’s photo)

The “Morning Glory” (Ipomoea) is a beautiful climbing vine plant which has trumpet-shaped flowers that open during the morning or on overcast days.  How appropriate that Ellington’s composition Morning Glory was co-written by his famous trumpeter, Rex Stewart, whose characteristic ‘half-valve’ style of playing, added so much coloration to the Duke Ellington Orchestra during the time he was a member.

 

Resources: 

  1. Allen Smith. Colors for the Garden: Creating Compelling Color Themes.  Clarkson Potter, Publisher.  2006
  2. Nevin Smith. Native Treasures: Gardening with the Plants of California. University of California Press.  2006.

3. Better Homes and Gardens.  Quick Color Gardening.  John Wiley & Sons.  2012.

4. Lambert, Eddie.  Duke Ellington – A Listener’s guide.  Studies in Jazz Series, No. 26.                 Lamham, Maryland, and London:  Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers – The State                         University of New Jersey, 1999.  Scarecrow Press, Inc.

5.  Clarke, Graham.  Success With Alkaline-Loving Plants.  Lewes, East Sussex:  Guild of Master Craftsman   Publications Ltd.  2008.

 

 

 

Maybeck Piano Recital Series

"Webern - Piano Variations op. 27 tone row" by .The original uploader was Hyacinth at English Wikipedia - Created by Hyacinth (talk) 06:45, 7 December 2010 using Sibelius 5.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Webern_-_Piano_Variations_op._27_tone_row.png#mediaviewer/File:Webern_-_Piano_Variations_op._27_tone_row.png

“Webern – Piano Variations op. 27 tone row” by .The original uploader was Hyacinth at English Wikipedia – Created by Hyacinth (talk) 06:45, 7 December 2010 using Sibelius 5.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

 

Chances are if you are a fan of jazz piano you are already aware of the unique project of the Maybeck Hall piano recitals which were recorded by Concord Records.  This outstanding record label issued 42 solo piano performances by some of the most original and compelling jazz pianists of the twentieth century.   The series originated in 1989 and continued until the Maybeck Recital Hall was sold in 1995.  The project was the brainchild of jazz pianist Dick Whittington, Marilyn Ross and Carl Jefferson the owner and founder of Concord Records.  The concert hall was renown for its intimate setting and acoustical warmth.  The hall was designed by the famous Arts & Crafts architect Bernard Maybeck and it allowed for an intimate audience of only 50 patrons.  The concert room was notable for its unfinished redwood paneled walls.  The acoustics were near perfect for the grand piano used by the visiting jazz soloists.

Personal favorites from this series would be Dick Hyman’s version of the Hoagy Carmichael classic Bob White (Dick Hyman Live at Maybeck Hall, Vol. 3) rendered in impeccable stride-style piano with an amazing set of variations.  As is characteristic of any Dick Hyman solo performance the listener receives an historical tour-de-force of jazz piano style which is melodic as it is memorable.  Another favorite is Marian McPartland’s gorgeous treatment of This Time’s the Dream’s On Me.  The version is both swinging and enriched by stunningly beautiful chords.  (Marian McPartland, Live at Maybeck Hall, Vol. 9)  Pianist, Gene Harris, stuns the listener with his soulful and bluesy treatment of My Funny Valentine – it is both rhapsodic and tender.  A memorable and unique interpretation of the Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart classic. (Gene Harris, Live at Maybeck Hall, Vol. 23) Fred Hersh gets gorgeous resonances out of the Yamaha grand piano on his renditions of Gershwin’s classic Embraceable You and Rodgers & Hart’s If I Loved You on Volume 31 in the series.

The late John Hicks is legendary in the jazz world as being a pianist of unique sensibility and creative imagination.  His performances at Maybeck Hall (Vol. 7) allow the listener to finally hear what all jazz musicians from Betty Carter to Pharoah Sanders already knew – that he was one of the most gifted improvisers on the scene.  His phrasing, his use of chordal color, his timing draws the listener into a very special world.  Highlights from his Maybeck recital have to be Coltrane’s heraldic After the Rain, Kurt Weill’s Speak Low, the Miles Davis/Bill Evans’ classic Blue in Green.  However, everything on this recording is memorable and he performs compositions rarely played as solo piano works such as Wayne Shorter’s Contemplation and Charles Mingus’s Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love.  Maybeck Recital Series, Volume 7, is one of the rare gems in this important series.

Live at Maybeck Recital Hall Stanley Cowell (Vol. 5) is one of the most perfect sets in the series.  It is truly a case where the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’  While this listener could mention certain favorites from this recital, it would be a disservice to the concert and to the performer whose depth of virtuosity and imagination gives this particular recital an almost magical quality.  In the very first track Stanley Cowell explores Softly As In A Morning Sunrise (Hammerstein II, Romberg) in all twelve chromatic keys in just over two minutes.  He then proceeds to a stride piano version of Stompin’ At The Savoy (A. Razaf, B. Goodman, E. Sampson, C. Webb), and then onto an original composition of his called I Am Waiting.  The entire recital is a potpourri of harmonic and melodic richness, rhythmic subtleties, and creative explorations of tempo.  Many well-known jazz standards (I’ll Remember April, Out of this World, Django) are presented in fresh, new arrangements.  Virtuosity of piano technique abounds but is always in the service of musical integrity.  A gentle ballad, Lament, by J.J. Johnson, (sadly, too little heard) is spell-binding.  This recording deserves to be listened to in its entirety.  The listener will find it infinitely rewarding.  Pianists will find it inspirational.  The Concord Records CD is a generous length of an hour and five minutes.  Thoughts of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson,  Lennie Tristano and Cecil Taylor would not be inappropriate.  At no time does the listener ever think of adding a bass or drums to the performance.  Stanley Cowell provides it all – sound, propulsion, impetus, harmonic complexity, and rhythmic variety.  It is an amazing recital performance!

Another fine pianist who can stun and amaze the listener with his awesome command of the grand piano is Kenny Barron (Kenny Barron Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 10).  The pianist brings power, range and sensitivity to his performance.  One of the best solo piano versions in the entire Concord Maybeck Hall series is his electrifying eight minute version of Witchcraft (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh).  His improvisation on this wonderful song is inspired and the melodic ideas keep flowing at an amazing pace.  Just as with the Stanley Cowell recital, there is absolutely no need for bass and drums.  Mr. Barron also brings some ‘Monkish’ ideas to bear on several of his interpretations of standards and then bestows us the favor of playing the great Thelonious Monk composition Well, You Needn’t.  With such songs as I’m Getting Sentimental Over You, Spring Is Here, and Skylark the great standards of the jazz repertoire are well represented – but those of us who yearn to hear newer material are treated to three Kenny Barron originals which sound wonderful on the concert grand piano.

Now, how about you.  Do you have a favorite Maybeck Recital Hall performance?

 

 

 

 

Paris in the Jazz Age

Eugène_Atget,_Rue_de_la_Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève,_1924

“Eugène Atget, Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève, 1924” by Eugène Atget – Metropolitan Museum of Art, online database: entry 190040304. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Blake, Jody (1999). Le tumulte noir: modernist art and popular entertainment in Jazz-Age Paris, 1900-1930. Pennsylvania State University Press.

Haskins, James, & Duconge, Ada Smith (1983). Bricktop by Bricktop. New York: Atheneum.

Lloyd, Craig (2000). Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press.

Shack, William A. (2001). Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story between the Great Wars. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Stoval, Tyler (1996). Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Williams, Iain Cameron  (2002). Underneath A Harlem Moon: The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall. London, New York: Continuum.

“You Americans take jazz too lightly.  You seem to feel that it is cheap, vulgar, momentary…Abroad we take jazz seriously.  It is influencing our work…I like jazz much more than grand opera.”

– Maurice Ravel (Letters, Interviews in Arbie Orenstein, A Ravel Reader (1990), p.390 and p.280)

The “Jazz Age”, as F.S. Fitzgerald penned it, really had two major metropolitan locations – New York and Paris, or to be a bit more precise:  Harlem and Montmartre.  The reasons for this and full exploration of how this cultural phenomenon came about has been recently documented in several books since 2000.  To name but a few:  William A Shack’s wonderful history Harlem in Montmartre:  A Paris Jazz Story between the Great Wars (2001) Published by the University of California Press.  Underneath A Harlem Moon:  The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall by author/biographer Iain Cameron Williams (2002) Continuum Press, London and New York.  Author Jody Blake discusses the topics of jazz music and new movements in art in her illuminating social – cultural critique Le Tumulte noir:  Modernist Art and Popular Entertainment in Jazz-Age Paris, 1900-1930, published by The Pennsylvania State University Press (1999).  In addition to these insightful cultural histories of the period, there are two biographies of major African American entrepreneurs who helped to create the jazz explosion that so absorbed the city of Paris in the period between the two world wars:  Eugene Bullard and Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith:  CraigLloyd’s Eugene Bullard, Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris (University of Georgia Press, 1999) and Bricktop by Bricktop co-written by Bricktop and James Haskins (Welcome Rain Publishers, 2000.) One of the most comprehensive books to describe the influx of black American musicians and writers who worked and lived in Paris is Tyler Stoval’s well researched history:  Paris Noir, African Americans in the City of Light (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996).

1.5 million French youth were killed in World War I, and in addition another 740,000 were permanently disabled.  “France suffered physically more than any other country, for most of the time war raged on French territory.” (Shack, 2001, p. 26)  At the end of the Great War, the French were anxious to plunge into activities and interests far removed from the horrors of trench warfare.  American culture and French culture were moving in new directions, and there was a large demand for a break with the past.  Among the many influences affecting France’s new tastes in music were the famous Revue Negrè, which played at the Théâtre des Champs-Élyseès for three months in 1925 and Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928 which came to Paris in 1929 to play the Moulin Rouge.  Luminaries Josephine Baker and Sidney Bechet were stars of Revue Negrè whereas Adelaide Hall and Earl ‘Snakehips’ Tucker were in the Blackbirds Revue.  Iain Cameron Williams reports in his biography of Adelaide Hall that when she arrived at the Gare St. Lazarre she was greeted by a reception of fans and reporters that was as large as Charlie Chaplins’s two years earlier. (Williams, 2002, p. 176)   New music and new dance forms were sweeping through the metropolitan clubs, nightspots, and dance halls.  Dances included the fox-trot, the grizzly bear, and ever-popular tango, and ragtime steps. “These developments in New York City had an immediate impact in Paris…” (Blake, 1999, p. 42)  The art world of Paris embraced all things African, chic primitive and African-American culture was proudly displayed  in the paintings of Francis Picabia Negro Song,  Albert  Gleizes Composition forLe Jazz,Gino Severini  The Bear Dance at the Moulin Rouge,  Marcel Janco  Jazz 133, Marcel Vertes “Dancings: Le Jazz,”  Yves Tanguy Bar Americain  and a host of others by Picasso, Matisse, and Covarrubias. (Blake, 1999, pp. 42-57; color plates after p.136)  While artists such as Jean Cocteau were embracing jazz music, the great composers of Europe were embracing it as well:  Ravel, Stravinsky, and Milhaud were in the forefront.

"Eugène Atget, Quai d'Anjou, 6h du matin, 1924" by Eugène Atget - Metropolitan Museum of Art, online database: entry 190039851. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eug%C3%A8ne_Atget,_Quai_d%27Anjou,_6h_du_matin,_1924.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Eug%C3%A8ne_Atget,_Quai_d%27Anjou,_6h_du_matin,_1924.jpg

“Eugène Atget, Quai d’Anjou, 6h du matin, 1924” by Eugène Atget – Metropolitan Museum of Art, online database: entry 190039851. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A great influx of American musicians, mostly African-American, either came to Europe or stayed in Europe after the Great War ended.  The reasons were many, but first and foremost was the desire to live and work in a country that did not practice racial discrimination.  Musicians also enjoyed the pleasant experience of being able to earn a living comfortably while developing their music.  The demand for jazz was in excess to the number of musicians transplanted, and therefore economics were a compelling reason for staying or relocating to Europe.  James Reese Europe and the Clef Club & Society Orchestra were in Europe in 1913 and 1914 (they played ragtime and fox trot numbers.)  Jim Europe’s band had even played a “command performance” for the King of England in 1917.  Sidney Bechet had toured with Will Marion Cook’s Syncopated Orchestra in 1919.  The conductor, Ernst Ansermet, heard Bechet play with Cook’s ensemble and was amazed by his musicality.  The Harlem musicians who came to Paris were pleased with the affordable housing available to them in the Parisian area known as Montmartre.   They also appreciated its artistic and bohemian atmosphere.  One of the first nightclubs that began was Le Grand Duc which opened its doors in 1921.  It was owned by Eugene Bullard, an African-American from Georgia who had been a combat aviator for France during the WWI and had earned a living in boxing in the United Kingdom.  Another famous expatriate from Harlem, ‘Bricktop’ (Ada Smith) started her career in Paris giving Charleston lessons to patrons of Le Grand Duc.  It was the new dance craze which all the society people wanted to learn.  William A. Shack tells us in his book that another famous American who worked there was Langston Hughes who washed dishes for the club and who convinced Bricktop to stay when she first arrived but was dismayed at how small the club was compared to  famous Harlem nightclubs such as Connie’s Inn (Shack, 2001, pp. 53-54).  Small or not it was the place to be in the evenings where one might run into Elsa Maxwell, Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Sophie Tucker, the Prince of Wales, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway.

Another legendary nightclub in the City of Lights was the famous Le Boeuf.  William A. Shack lists some of its patrons:  Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Rene Clair, Marcel Duchamp, Max Jacob, Eric Satie and Maurice Ravel, who was a bit of a night-owl (Shack, 2001, p. 50).  As the author recounts Le Boeuf, when it was located on the rue Boissy-d’Anglas, had “the loudest jazz, the prettiest women, and the latest art gossip to be found in Paris.” (Kluver, Billy, and Julie Martin:  Kiki’s Paris:  Artists and Lovers 1900-1930.  New York:  Harry N. Abrams, 1989, p. 80.)  The legendary nightspots of Paris:  the Rotonde and the Coupole on le Carrefour Vavin (which featured large ballrooms), the Jockey (famous for jazz), and the Jungle (live or recorded jazz);  both small clubs were started by American painter Hilaire Hiler.  People danced to blues on a tiny dance floor.  The night spots of Montmartre:  the Abbaye Thélème,  Bricktop’s, Chez Forence (named after singer Florence Embry), the Grand Duc, the Perroquet, the Plantation and Zelli’s – all Harlem style night clubs featuring the jazz one would hear in Harlem.  These clubs were popular with the Dadists of the early and mid-1920s.  The Tempo Club which was a hangout for the members of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra and their friends.  “The Tempo Club and the Grand Duc were where African-American entertainers came to dance and make music for their own enjoyment…” (Blake, 1999, p. 113).  Langston Hughes recalled in his autobiography, The Big Sea, how all the musicians and entertainers from the smaller clubs would come to Le Grand Duc after their clubs had closed to play in ‘jam sessions’ way into the early morning hours.  This was in 1924, “only in 1924 they had no such name for it.  They’d just get together and the music would be on.” (Langston Hughes.  The Big Sea, New York, 1940, pp. 161-162.)

 "Café, Avenue de la Grande-Armée, 1924–25" by Eugène Atget - Metropolitan Museum of Art, online database: entry 190036464. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caf%C3%A9,_Avenue_de_la_Grande-Arm%C3%A9e,_1924%E2%80%9325.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Caf%C3%A9,_Avenue_de_la_Grande-Arm%C3%A9e,_1924%E2%80%9325.jpg


“Café, Avenue de la Grande-Armée, 1924–25” by Eugène Atget – Metropolitan Museum of Art, online database: entry 190036464. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Living Legends: ‘The Stuff that Dreams are Made of…’

If there ever was a living equivalent to “Rick” (of Rick’s American Café in the film Casablanca) it would be Eugene Bullard whose life is well chronicled in Craig Lloyd’s biography of the musician, boxer, and café-owner as well as in William A. Shack’s Harlem in Montmartre.  Both authors describe how Bullard was a famous boxer (he knew Jack Jackson), a French combat aviator in World War I (he was awarded the Croix de Guerre), befriended American writers and jazz musicians and provided them jobs in his nightclub (he hired Langston Hughes straight off the boat from New York), and gave Ada Louise Smith ‘Bricktop’ her first job when she arrived in Paris.  When the German army invaded Paris in June 1940 Bullard chose to stay in Paris where his night club was frequented by the Nazi commanding officers, Corsican gangs, and members of the French resistance.  Information flowed to the resistance which benefited them in their sabotage of the invading army.  Famous musicians who played in the Paris nightclubs during the Nazi occupation included Django Reinhardt (Stephane Grappelly thought he was nuts to return to France since the Nazis were sending gypsies to their concentration camps), Arthur Briggs whose orchestra performed at a Champs-Elysees nightclub, pianist Maceo Jefferson, and Harry Miller the guitarist and singer who entertained at the American Legion Bar (Shack, 2001, pp. 109-110).  When his friends finally convinced Bullard to leave Paris for his own safety, he helped the French resistance install machine guns on the left bank of the Loire River to fight the Germans.  In the pursuit of these efforts Bullard was wounded and had to be treated in a hospital before he could finally leave France from Biarritz. (Shack, 2001, p. 110)  Musician friends of Eugene Bullard during his two decade history of being a Paris nightclub owner included Sidney Bechet, bandleader and fellow club-owner Joe Zelli, Ada Smith, jazz drummer Buddy Gilmore and others.  A pianist who played for him in his club was Arthur “Dooley” Wilson who went on to form his own band had bookings in Europe and North Africa.  Arthur “Dooley” Wilson played the role of “Sam” who sang As Time Goes By in the 1942 movie Casablanca. (Lloyd, 2000, pp. 92-93)  In fact, many black Americans also chose to stay in France although it was dangerous.  This was sometimes due to the fact that these musicians had families they had started with their French wives and they decided to be with their wives and children rather than trying to relocate back to the United States.  Two such musicians were Arthur Briggs and Charlie Lewis.  Later they are arrested by the German authorities who kept them under detention (Lloyd, 2000, p. 116).

"Eugène Atget, Marchand de Vin, Rue Boyer, Paris, 1910–11" by Eugène Atget - Metropolitan Museum of Art, online database: entry 190039516. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eug%C3%A8ne_Atget,_Marchand_de_Vin,_Rue_Boyer,_Paris,_1910%E2%80%9311.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Eug%C3%A8ne_Atget,_Marchand_de_Vin,_Rue_Boyer,_Paris,_1910%E2%80%9311.jpg

“Eugène Atget, Marchand de Vin, Rue Boyer, Paris, 1910–11” by Eugène Atget – Metropolitan Museum of Art, online database: entry 190039516. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Life Abroad and Life at Home

Author Tyler Stovall describes in great detail the development of jazz in Paris and the personalities who made a living playing their music in the City of Light during the Jazz Age.  He documents the efforts of some black soldiers after the Great War to remain in a country which they felt did not discriminate against color or race.  Some of them enrolled in the Paris universities in order to remain legally in the country, but others chose to earn a living as entertainers. (Stoval, 1996, pp. 68-69) For the musicians who chose to stay in France, Montmartre offered an environment free from the racial problems back at home as well as a thriving community of art, literature and music.  The author describes in great detail the various night clubs in Montmartre that flourished in the 1920s and offered jazz music to Parisians thirsty for this exciting new music.  He also acknowledges the dangers of living in the bohemian section of Paris and how on occasion musicians such as Eugene Bullard, Louis Mitchell and Sidney Bechet had to resort to carrying firearms for protection.   “Corsican protection rackets infested the neighborhood, demanding and usually getting money from club owners who wanted to stay open. Eugene Bullard got into a vicious battle with one such gangster named Justin Pereti, who ended up shooting him, putting him in the hospital.” (Stoval, 1996, p. 43) In the 1930’s more and more American jazz musicians came to Europe and played music along with European musicians.  Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter performed and recorded alongside European players such as Django Reinhardt and Stepane Grappelli.  Harlem musician (he played in the band at the Savoy Ballroom) Bill Coleman was a talented trumpet player who visited France several times.  He lived in Montmartre and was featured in French jazz orchestras.  Another swing trumpet-player  Arthur Briggs married a French woman and settled down in Paris.  Author Tyler Stoval describes in great detail the lives of these black American musicians who made Paris their home.  In fact, Paris included other black entertainers such as blues singer Alberta Hunter, pianist Ray Stokes, trumpeter Harry Cooper, and Opal Cooper who sang at the Melody Bar (Stoval, 1996, p. 117).

‘Blackbirds’ Comes to Paris

Some African-American artists did not remain in Paris after their tour was over.  Adelaide Hall was a tremendously talented singer, dancer and entertainer who came to Paris in 1929 with Lew Leslie’s  revue Blackbirds or Les Oiseaux Noirs.  It was booked for a limited engagement at the Moulin Rouge and she and the cast returned to the United States for the U.S. tour when it was over.  In his book Underneath a Harlem Moon Iain Cameron Williams gives a vivid picture of her life in America, where she encountered racist abuse and harrasement all too frequently, and her twelve-week stay in Paris where she was universally admired and adored.  What an incredible disparity between cultures!  It is a wonder that Adelaide Hall and her husband did not choose to remain in Paris, although they probably thought about it.  The author includes detailed verbatim racial abuse she and her husband Bert Hicks suffered while touring the United States where discrimination, segregation and racial bigotry reined (Williams, 2002, pp. 257-259; 265-280)   In Paris the singer-entertainer lived a life of enjoyment and wonder where she could sleep until noon, have a leisurely breakfast and set off in the afternoon to shop in some of Paris’s finest establishments before heading to her show in the evening.  The cast and crew of Blackbirds would visit the cabarets and nightclubs of Montmartre when their show finished for the evening , and they were welcomed in all the local restaurants and private homes.  They were given so many gifts by admirers that they had twice as much luggage to declare when they returned to New York on the SS  Ile de France.  However, in 1935 Adelaide Hall and Bert returned to Paris, and were immediately welcomed by a surprise party for the couple at Bricktop’s establishment on rue Pigalle (Williams, 2002, p. 313).  Adelaide Hall told admirers over French radio that she had returned to Paris with an intention to stay.  She even sang one song over the airwaves in French to show her appreciation (Williams, 2002, p. 313).  Her engagement at The Alhambra was the big hit of the season and she was surrounded by jazz musicians and friends from America, Paris, and England.  She was reunited with her former pianist, Joe Turner, and they even recorded several songs for Ultraphone including Truckin’, I’m In The Mood for Love, Solitude and East of the Sun West of the Moon.  Violinist Stephane Grapelli was in the band on these recordings (Williams, 2002, p. 313)  Adelaide Hall was the involved in several business ventures in Paris in the 1930s and she was a co-owner of her own night-club – the Big Apple which opened on December 9, 1937 at 73 rue Pigalle.  The bandleader was Maceo Jefferson, and there were live radio broadcasts from the club on Saturday nights which could be heard throughout Europe (Shack, 2001, p. 97).

Legendary Cabaret Owner ‘Bricktop’

A major document of the period is, of course, the autobiography of the very famous nightclub owner, Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith who sat down with James Haskins in the 1980s to write Bricktop by Bricktop.  By many people’s accounts Bricktop’s was the most Harlem-like nightclub in Montmartre or all of Paris.  Bricktop knew just about everyone in music business in Paris (and, for that matter, in New York as well.)  She was friends with Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Mabel Mercer, Duke Ellington, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Jack Johnson, Gloria Swanson, Django Reinhardt and literally hundreds more.  She named her club after herself at Cole Porter’s suggestion.  Django Reinhardt was hired to play at her club when others would not book him.   Mable Mercer sang at her club.  Bricktop was one of the most well-known and well-liked celebrities in Paris.  She was also one of the most well-respected business persons in Paris when she was there.  People sought out her advice on any and all aspects of running a restaurant, nightclub or cabaret.  She freely lent her expertise to all who sought her help, and for this reason even her competitors admired her.  While she was friends with the rich and famous, including royalty such as the Duke and Duchess of Winsor, she never placed anyone over anyone else.  She treated all people as people worth knowing, and for this reason, many guests at her establishment felt she was the ultimate hostess.  She did not consider herself a singer, “I’m a performer and saloon-keeper” is how she referred to herself (Williams, 2002, p. 312).  Bricktop’s first job in Paris was working for Charles Bullard at his club Le Grand Duc.  While employed there in 1925 she met and befriended Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.  Cole Porter heard her sing one of his songs and asked her if she could show him how to dance the Charleston…soon the two of them were organizing Charleston parties for Cole’s friends (Stoval, 1996, p. 45). In Bricktop’s autobiography she describes how much she liked F. Scott Fitzgerald even when he arrived drunk or broke.  Fitzgerald introduced Ernest Hemingway to Le Grand Duc but Bricktop did not find Hemingway very likable – “he just wanted to bring people down, and he had a way of doing it, and he was liable to punch you at the same time” (Haskins & Duconge, 1983, p. 98). When Bricktop opened her own nightclub in Montmartre, Cole Porter brought his friends to see her new establishment, and the club became popular overnight.  Guests included George Gershwin’s favorite singer Helen Morgan; the world famous violinist Jascha Heifetz was a frequent visitor and he enjoyed listening to the young woman violinist that Bricktop had hired to play.  (The violinist practically fainted when learned the identity of the distinguished patron.)  Elsa Maxwell and Irving Berlin were also visitors to her club.  Jazz was the club’s specialty because Bricktop wanted to have the same sound one could hear on any given night in Harlem.  When Duke Ellington came to Paris in 1933 naturally he came to Bricktop’s.  The same night that Duke Ellington and members of his band came to visit, Bricktop’s other guests included Josephine Baker, Spencer Williams, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr as well.   As it turned out, they all shared the same table and got to know each other well (Haskins & Duconge, 1983, pp. 186-187). Mabel Mercer was one of the greatest chanteuses of the twentieth century.  Bricktop hired her to sing at her club.  Song writers went out of their way to write material for Mabel Mercer since she could interpret a lyric so well.  With the inclusion of Mabel Mercer in her club, Bricktop managed to create the ambiance of café society within the larger environment of a Harlem-style night club.  This of course was perfect for Montmartre and fit the culture of Paris to a tee.

When Bricktop chose to leave Paris in 1938 and her establishment closed, Adelaide Hall continued the tradition of a Harlem-style night club by opening her own club The Big Apple.  On any given night one might catch Maurice Chevalier and Marlene Dietrich, who were friends, at the new night spot.  Adelaide’s financial backer for the club was Hetty Flacks, and Adelaide’s husband, Bert Hicks, was the proprietor.  Fats Waller dropped in one night and played “an hour-long duet with Adelaide” to the excitement of the patrons (Williams, 2002, p. 352).  Author Iain Cameron Williams writes of the Big Apple, “The music was blisteringly hot, arguably the best outside of America, and any black musicians in town would make a beeline to the venue to jam with the combo (Williams, 2002, p. 352).  To add to the excitement of this establishment was the fact that there was a live radio broadcast from the club on Saturday nights which could be heard throughout the continent (Williams, 2002, p. 353). Sadly, an end of an era was fast approaching.

Philosophy, Art, Popular Culture

Art historian,  Jody Blake informs us that many of the leading intellectuals and artists of Paris in the Jazz-Age were using jazz music as a metaphor and in fact perhaps did not fully understand or appreciate the music in itself.  As an argument against the prevailing culture of the preceding decades they were inspired by a music and an artistic endeavor which they viewed as radically different.  Jazz was such an inspiration that it helped to define new approaches to their own artistic endeavors.  However, it is also clear that many of the Dadists really viewed jazz as chaos and cacophony and as opposed to being music.  They admired endeavors which they felt threatened bourgeois sensibilities.

Jody Blake, who is the curator for the McNay Art Museum San Antonio,  points out that eventually the Dadists and some of the other early supporters of jazz music turned against it, and they saw it as a threat to their own culture and to the supposed norms of their long tradition of classical music and harmony.  Once this happened they became ardent opponents of the black artists and entertainers who were making a living in Paris, and they tried hard to instigate a huge public reaction against the new music which came to their county.  They championed the popular bal-musettes as the truly French music and they insisted upon a return to nationalistic identity in popular music.  Certainly, they had public taste on their side as French music employed instruments such as the accordion, violin, and even bagpipes – instruments which at that time seemed incompatible with developments in jazz. French  theorists and intellectuals turned conservative and even denounced the new forms of entertainment a degradation of morality and destruction of societal norms. (Blake, pp.101-107)

Philosophy and Art sometimes inform us of cultural trends and sub-currents in ways that history and biography cannot.  This is why Jody Blake’s cultural history and critique, Le tumoult noir, is essential to an understanding of the culture of jazz in Paris in the era between the two world wars.  The French had been subconsciously preparing themselves for an acceptance of jazz and African-American culture for several decades.  The process was as much subconscious and archetypal as it was intentional.  There were sub-streams in French culture that French writers, impressionists, and post-impressionists had tapped into around the fin de siècle, and which burst through into the twentieth century as black artists, writers, poets, and musicians began their sojourn in France.  Jody Blake’s book serves to inform us of those cultural currents and thought processes that eluded even most of the participants of the Jazz Age in Paris while they were living it and creating it.  People respond to art and music in a very subconscious way.  A painting or a song or a piece of music may affect us in a way which we do not fully understand.  The artists who were living and working it Paris, and especially Montmartre, in the years leading up to the ‘jazz age’ were blending and exploring new forms of artistic expression which they were appropriating from cultures from Africa, South America, Asia and America.  Jody Blake’s book describes this process and the artists who were shaping the new trends in French culture.

Concluding Remarks

Beginning around the new millennium (circa 1999, 2000) several writers, biographers, sociologists, historians, and jazz chroniclers felt that it was time to record the history of jazz in Europe, and more specifically in Paris in the days of the early twentieth century.  Authors Tyler Stoval, Iain Cameron Williams, William A. Shack, Craig Lloyd, Jim Haskins and Jody Blake wrote and published interesting and compelling histories of the men and women who brought jazz to Paris and thereby to Europe.  Adelaide Hall, Sidney Bechet, Eugene Bullard, and Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith, Will Marion Cook,  James Reece Europe, Arthur Briggs, and Bill Coleman were but a few of the creative and fascinating personalities and talent who ‘conquered’ Paris  with an energizing new form of music.  Their contribution was to take hold and inspire a whole new generation of talented European musicians.  When American jazz musicians were to travel to the continent in succeeding decades to play concerts there was no lack of native born talent to help them perform.  Whether it was Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington in the thirties, the swing bands in the forties after the war, or Charlie Parker and Bud Powell in the fifties, Dexter Gordon and Eric Dolphy in subsequent years – American jazz musicians could find plenty of skillful and creative European musicians to play music with and to form bands.  American musicians began to relocate to Paris, Stockholm, Denmark, and Italy knowing full well that they could live well and play creatively in Europe.  When Django Reinhardt toured the United States with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1946 there quietly began a new era, the acknowledgement that European musicians were  now influencing American jazz music and the future of jazz.  It turns out that the French intellectuals who feared that American jazz would eclipse their culture had nothing to worry about – in fact, it was just the opposite – Django and the Hot Club of France were creating a unique European hybrid which was, in its turn, influencing the development of jazz music in America and in the U.K.

The subject of Paris in the Jazz Age is too rich and variegated to be fully captured in any one book as brilliant and as well-researched as it might be.  Each of these fairly recent books is well-documented and rich in detail.  The authors have presented their subjects with amazing insight and clairity.  Each book, therefore, serves to inform and enrich the others.  It is interesting that many of the stories told in one volume may appear in a slightly different presentation in another.  It is sort of like reading Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet in that the personages described as having lived and performed in Montmartre in the 1920s and 1930s were all larger than life, and their stories and lives cannot be reduced down to one understanding of who they were or what they did.  The more that each one of these books is consumed by the reader, the more one gets a fuller, more complete, and to some extent, more complex understanding of the era and the artists and musicians of that era.  And what a brilliant era it was!  Tyler Stoval does us a great favor by continuing the story through the 1940s, 50s, and 60s as well as he traces the lives of the original black artists, musicians and writers of the jazz era in Paris, and also introduces us to the newer generation of African-Americans who made Paris their home.  People such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin to name a few.  And who doesn’t want to know what happened to Arthur Briggs when he was arrested by the Nazis in 1940?  Well, Professor Stoval continues his story and the stories of others who chose to live in France after the fall.

When Maurice Ravel toured the United States in 1928, he told Americans everywhere he visited, “I like jazz much more than grand opera…”(Arbie Orenstein, Letters in Ravel Reader, p. 280) You Americans take jazz too lightly.  You seem to feel that it is cheap, vulgar, momentary.  In my opinion it is bound to lead to the national music of the United States.  Aside from it you have no veritable idiom as yet.  Most of your compositions show European influences…”(Orenstein, Ravel Reader, p. 390)  Abroad we take jazz seriously.  It is influencing our work…” (Orenstein, Ravel Reader, p. 390)

Suggested Listening

Arthur Briggs

Avalon (Rose/Jolson/deSylva) recorded 1935.  Michael Warlop & his orchestra.  Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), Django Reinhardt (guitar), Arthur Briggs (trumpet).  Django and His American Friends, Vol. 1 & 2, BGO Records, BGOCD249, 1994.

Toute le Jour Toute la nuit (Cole Porter/L. Hennevé)  recorded 1935.  Alain Romans and his Orchestra of the Poste Parisien.  Arthur Briggs (trumpet), Leon Monosson (vocal), Michel Warlop (violin), Django Reinhardt (guitar).  Django and His American Friends, Vol. 1 & 2, BGO Records, BGOCD249, 1994.

Django Reinhardt

Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup (Anna Sosenko)  Recorded 1935.  Jean Sablon (vocal), Stephane Grappelli (violin), Django Reinhardt (guitar) Rare Django, « Disques Swing » DRG Records Incorporated.

Out of Nowhere (Green/Heyman) recorded 1937.  Django and His American Friends, Vol. 1 & 2, BGO Records, BGOCD249, 1994.

Mabel Mercer

While We’re Young (Alex Wilder & Bill Engvick) The Art of Mabel Mercer, Altantic 2-602

Hello Young Lovers (Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein) The Art of Mabel Mercer, Atlantic 2-602

Feuilles Mortes  “Autumn Leaves”  (Jacques Prevert & JosephKosma)  The Art of Mabel Mercer, Atlantic 2-602

Adelaide Hall

East of the Sun West of the Moon (Brooks Bowman) Authentic Recordings (1932-1939)

Solitude (Duke Ellington, Irving Mills, Eddie Delange) Authentic Recordings (1932-1939)

 Bill Coleman

Rosetta (Hines/Woode) recorded 1935.  Django and His American Friends, Vol. 1 & 2, BGO Records, BGOCD249, 1994.

Stardust (Carmichael/Parrish) recorded 1935.  Django and His American Friends, Vol. 1 & 2, BGO Records, BGOCD249, 1994.

The Object of my Affection (Tamlin/Poe/Grier) 1935.  Django and His American Friends, Vol. 1 & 2, BGO Records, BGOCD249, 1994.

Bill Coleman Blues (Coleman) 1937.  Bill Coleman (trumpet) and Django Reinhardt (guitar).  Django and His American Friends, Vol. 1 & 2, BGO Records, BGOCD249, 1994.

 Benny Carter

Out of Nowhere (Green/Heyman) recorded 1937.  Trumpet, Benny Carter.  Guitar, Django Reinhardt. Tenor Sax, Coleman Hawkins.  Django and His American Friends, Vol. 1 & 2, BGO Records, BGOCD249, 1994.

Coleman Hawkins

Honeysuckle Rose (Fats Waller & Andy Razaf)  Django and His American Friends, Vol. 1 & 2, BGO Records, BGOCD249, 1994.

Out of Nowhere (Green/Heyman) recorded 1937.  Django and His American Friends, Vol. 1 & 2, BGO Records, BGOCD249, 1994.

Jim Hall and Jazz Guitar

 Image By Theeradech Sanin, published on 29 January 2014 courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Image By Theeradech Sanin, published on 29 January 2014 courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jim Hall wasn’t just a jazz guitarist…first, and foremost, he was a great musician.  Like Bill Evans for the piano Jim made us hear the guitar anew.  In his hands the guitar took its rightful place in the arena of jazz and became the artistic instrument it was always capable of being.  Jim Hall took his inspiration from the great jazz artists of his era and from a few before him.  Born in 1930 he was to too young to hear in person the great Ellington Orchestra in its prime, but his solos had the phrasing of the great saxophone players Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges…in other words, sheer artistic perfection.  But he also listened to Charlie Christian, and Jim’s earliest records for Pacific Jazz show the strong influence of the famed originator of the amplified jazz guitar.  In a recording with Art Farmer in the mid-1960’s Hall even quotes Charlie Christian directly on their version of Stomping at the Savoy.  Jim also absorbed the influence of the great rhythm guitarists of the swing era – especially Freddie Green, and Jim could mesmerize an audience with the light, bouncy swing of rhythm chords during another musician’s  solo.  In other words, Jim Hall mastered the history of early jazz guitar holding on to all its essentials while he also explored the newer forms of modern jazz with its altered chords and newer scales and harmonies.  He combined the best of tradition and modern exploration.  This is why his records do not sound dated as some recordings of other guitarists do.  Hall could ‘blend’ his sound with any instrumentalist and any rhythm section.  Sometimes his presence was almost transparent except that he was always, always contributing.  By the mid-1960’s Jim Hall was much sought after by jazz musicians and he never had to play with inferior players.  Some of the musicians who wanted him in their groups included arrangers Claus Ogerman and Gary McFarland, tenor saxophone legend Sonny Rollins, flugelhorn player Art Farmer, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, and of course pianist Bill Evans.  The two recordings by Bill Evans and Jim Hall redefined the concept of “duet” and quietly rocked the jazz world.  Nothing was ever the same again!  Jim Hall is often referred to as the ‘poet laureate’ of jazz guitar, but on the Evans/Hall version My Funny Valentine these two musicians played an incendiary performance of this well- known ballad.  (Hall had accomplished the same fiery intensity in his recording with Paul Desmond on Cole Porter’s I Get a Kick Out of You on a Warner Brothers album.)  Musicians sounded at their absolute best when playing with Jim Hall.  Even musicians of this high caliber reached even deeper into themselves  and discovered levels of playing that they probably didn’t even know existed.  Jim Hall’s versatility as a musician/guitarist was first demonstrated in two unusual jazz ensembles in the 1950’s:  The Chico Hamilton Quintet (recording on Pacific Jazz) and The Jimmy Guiffre Three (Atlantic Records).  The unusual textures achieved in the Hamilton Quintet were amazing (the group featured guitar, flute or alto and cello – yes, that’s right, the cello!)  With Guiffre, Jim played in one group which featured bassist Ralph Pena and multi-instrumentalist, Guiffre…but the truly amazing ensemble is the one called The Western Suite which features only Jim Hall on guitar, Guiffre on sax and clarinet, and Bob Brookmeyer playing valve trombone.  On that recording Jim Hall’s guitar represents what would normally be considered the entire rhythm section. There were times in Jim’s career when he was called upon to be a magician…and this was one of them.  Of course, it is also a tribute to Guiffre and Brookmeyer  that they were able to complete the illusion of being a full ensemble when in fact it is only three musicians – two of which are horn players.  Their version of the Eddie Durham-Edgar Battle hit for the Basie Band Topsy burns!  This writer also saw Jim Hall and Bob Brookmeyer perform at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.  The two musicians filled the venue and you could hear a pin drop as the audience listened to their inspired collaboration.  Just a guitar and a trombone played by two masters was enough to hold the attention of a large audience and keep the enthralled.

Jim Hall graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music where he no doubt learned much about music theory and harmony, but his greatest learning came from his ability to listen and assimilate.  Jim Hall has been called a ‘minimalist’ and to a great extent this is true because he valued space and silence in his improvisations.  Jim taught us that ‘less is more.’  He was never guilty of overstatement.  He was a virtuoso of creativity not of muscle ability and complex ‘licks.’  When you listen to a Jim Hall solo you encounter form and substance.  Debussy and Ravel were minimalists too, so Jim was in good company. Unlike any other guitarist of his generation Jim Hall wove together musical ideas which blended chords and single notes so that the whole was greater and any part.  It makes no sense to try to pick apart a Hall solo because each solo is an integral whole – as tightly woven as it is also delicate and intricate.  He taught us the value of approaching a jazz solo as if one were composing…and indeed that is exactly what he was doing.  But Hall also listened to the musicians he was playing with – he interacted with them – he collaborated with them – there was a real interplay of ideas, emotion and rhythm.  These shared collaborations resulted in many pairings with just one other artist, and fortunately many of them are recorded for all of us to hear.  Here is a list of some of his jazz partners (probably incomplete):  Paul Desmond, Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Evans, George Shearing, Michelle Petrucciani,  Red Mitchell, and Ron Carter.  His first recording with Ron Carter recorded in 1972 was another milestone in the history of jazz, as both musicians demonstrated that a very high level of improvisation could be achieved with just two instruments (and incidentally sell reasonably well as a jazz record – it has never gone out of print!) In addition to his many duet-pairings with fellow jazz artists, Jim Hall frequently performed with his trio which included Terry Clarke on drums and Don Thompson on bass.  The interaction between these three musicians is similar to the interplay of ideas that Bill Evans achieved in his famous jazz trio.  All of their recordings are masterful and are well worth acquiring.

Special mention has to be made of Jim Hall’s sound and use of the guitar.  Jim valued the guitar and saw it as complete in and of itself as an instrument of expression.  In an age that has grown increasingly dependent on electronics and gadgets, Jim taught us all that all you need is a good jazz guitar and amplifier.  No pedals, no distortion devices, no tricks with synthesizers and computers.  Music isn’t about these things.  It is about what music has always been about – harmony, rhythm, and melody.  Form and Substance.  Less is More.  An idea that is worth expressing is worth expressing well with good taste and just the right amount of technique.  Jim’s guitar sound was achieved by the use of a good tube amp, an acoustic guitar with a nicely wound pick-up, and a string-damper mechanism which allowed the guitar strings to sound full and richly beautiful.  In his later recordings, Jim favored the sound of the acoustic guitar even more, and he turned the amplifier down to allow the acoustic sound to shine through.

This commentary on the music of Jim Hall is not meant as a summary (that would be impossible) but as an invitation.  It is an invitation to the joy of listening to Jim Hall the artist.  Hall’s recordings span several decades and everything he ever recorded is rich and valuable.  He is a constant source of creativity, spontaneity and ideas.  Because he was frequently invited to join the rhythm section of other artists, his improvisations can be found on the albums of other musicians as well as under his own name.  Finding an unknown recording where he was a contributor is always a pleasure!  As has already been mentioned, the presence of Jim Hall in a group made everyone sound better.  So go out and have fun finding the gems that there to be discovered!  Whether you start with a recording under his name or someone else’s – you will be very pleased.  Whitney Balliett called jazz “the sound of surprise.”  Many surprises await you discovering the music of Jim Hall.  Whether you are re-visiting him again or just discovering Jim Hall for the first time you will have a wonderful time.  Listening to Jim Hall is like visiting a favorite art museum and discovering treasures in every room.  As you proceed through the galleries discovering new surprises, you will be drawn to revisit rooms you have left to enjoy previous well-loved masterpieces and see them  again, fresh and new.