JEAN-FRANCOIS BONNEL PLAYS BENNY CARTER
Jean-Francois Bonnel is a reed player best known for his decade as one of the solo stars of the Hot Antic Jazz Band. In the mid-1980s Bonnel became intrigued by the playing of Benny Carter and he developed the ability to sound exactly like the altoist. Rather than merely duplicating Carter’s solos or playing his songs, Bonnel has delved so deep into the style that, when he wants, he can play solos (in Carter’s tone) that sound like something Benny Carter might very well have created but never actually did.
Benny Carter had a thoughtful and very personal solo style along with the sound that, while immediately recognizable, was rarely emulated by others. He was an influence on every one from Hilton Jefferson and Ben Webster to Cannonball Adderley, and Charlie Parker was a fan. Always ranking among the top five altoists whether it was 1927 or 1997, Carter was a reliable professional who may not have gained that many headlines but was universally respected by his peers and the many generations of jazz artists who followed. Not just an altoist, he also played trumpet and clarinet, wrote some standards, and was a masterful arranger.
With Thanks To Benny Carter has Bonnel joined by the great Los Angeles-based stride pianist Chris Dawson (who, like Bonnel, can play in several different styles depending on the setting), drummer Francois Laudet and, on six of the ten selections, singer Charmin Michelle. They perform five Carter originals (including “When Lights Are Low,” “Blues In My Heart” and the very obscure “Love You’re Not the One For Me”) and five other songs that either Carter enjoyed playing or Ms. Michelle likes to sing. Of the latter, surprisingly “’Deed I Do” was apparently never recorded by Carter during his 70-year career.
Bonnel sounds strikingly like Carter throughout this set, Dawson is clearly a descendant of Jess Stacy and Teddy Wilson, and Laudet shows that he is quite familiar with Gene Krupa, Dave Tough and George Wettling. Charmin Michelle displays a warm voice and is at her best on “Key Largo” and “Mood Indigo.” The latter is one of two pieces on which Bonnel contributes some effective clarinet.
Benny Carter would have enjoyed this CD and probably would have wanted to sit in.
With Thanks To Benny Carter (Arbors 19452, 10 selections, TT = 51:29) www.arborsrecords.com
SOLO DUKE ELLINGTON
Duke Ellington has been gone for 43 years but “new” music by him still continues to be discovered and released. It is fair to say that there has never been a shortage of Ellington recordings, at least not since 1926. The Tom Lord Jazz Discography shows that he led no less than 1,100 sessions during 1924-74 and appeared on another 103 as a guest or sideman. And yet, due to his brilliance as a pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader, the release of additional Ellington recordings is always a welcome event.
On Aug. 26, 1972, a 73-year old Duke Ellington, who was appearing at the time with an octet drawn from his orchestra at the Rainbow Grill in New York, decided to make some solo recordings, documenting some lesser-known songs along with a few revivals. They are released for the first time on An Intimate Piano Session. Most of the pieces are ballads including “The Anticipation,” two renditions of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom,” and a heartfelt version of “Melancholia.” More light-hearted are a pair of versions of the brief “A Blue Mural From Two Perspectives.” On two songs Anita Moore joins Ellington, singing “I’m Afraid Of Loving You Too Much” and “I Didn’t Know About You” while Tony Watkins (always an acquired taste) takes three dramatic vocals. But the highpoint for this set is Ellington’s extensive exploration of his “New World A-Comin’,” an underrated work from 1943 that is perfect for his thoughtful yet unpredictable percussive piano.
Also included on the CD are Ellington’s encores from a Nov. 7, 1969 concert. While the music by the full orchestra from that performance has been released by Storyville, these four numbers by his rhythm section (bassist Victor Gaskin and drummer Rufus Jones) plus organist Wild Bill Davis are making their debut. After playing the recent pieces “Black Swan” and “The Lake,” Ellington does his closing announcements over “Satin Doll” and then returns for an excellent version of “Just Squeeze Me” which features some fine interplay with the organist that serves as a fine close to this intriguing CD.
THE DANISH JAZZ QUARTET
Clarinetist Leif Juul Jorgensen took a long time before finally deciding to play jazz fulltime. He took up the clarinet nearly 70 years ago but, because his parents insisted that he have a day job, he spent much of his life in the business world. He did have some experiences playing music (mostly trad jazz) in Denmark in the 1950s including being on a tour with fellow clarinetist Edmond Hall, gigging with trombonist Vic Dickenson and as a member of John Darville’s band which sometimes welcomed Wild Bill Davison as a guest. But other than occasional engagements (including with trumpeter Theis Jensen), his clarinet mostly sat on the shelf until 2010 when he decided it was now or never. Since then Jorgensen has often played trio and quartet gigs in Denmark, practiced three hours a day, and started to make recordings as a leader. 2014’s Just Jazz teamed him with three top-notch musicians who are well-known in Scandinavia: pianist Soren Kristiansen, bassist Jesper Lundgaard, and drummer Alex Riel. On The Road is their follow-up, recorded Nov. 6, 2015.
From his first notes on the opener, “Undecided,” it is obvious that Leif Juul Jorgensen is a lover of the playing of Edmond Hall. He has a similar cutting sound and his swing-oriented style will remind many of Hall. Jorgensen makes no secret of his admiration for the late clarinetist but his playing also displays his own musical personality along with his joy at finally getting to do what he loves on a regular basis.
The Danish Jazz Quartet stretches out on four swing standards (“Undecided,” “If I Had You,” “Mean To Me” and “Lady Be Good”) plus two songs from the 1950s (“Lullaby Of Birdland” and Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark”) that they turn into swing. When one considers that the rhythm section normally plays more modern varieties of jazz yet adapts their playing to Jorgensen’s, it is a measure of the respect that they have for the clarinetist. Kristiansen’s Oscar Peterson-inspired piano solos are consistently exciting.
But it is for the exuberant and youthful playing of Leif Juul Jorgensen, who is in his mid-seventies, that On The Road is chiefly recommended.
On The Road (Storyville 1014300, 6 selections, TT = 53:44) www.storyvillerecords.com
EARL HINES’ “LOST” PERIOD
Earl Hines was one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. Most biographies on Hines go something like this: In the 1920s he developed into the first “modern” jazz pianist in that he did not strictly state the time by striding with his left-hand all of the time. Instead he took occasional wild death (or time) defying breaks with his left-hand that suspended the beat until he magically found it again. His solo piano recordings were way ahead of his contemporaries as was his innovative playing with Louis Armstrong’s Savoy Ballroom Five in 1928. Hines led several fine big bands during 1928-48, a period that was followed by a musically unsatisfying three years as a member of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars (1948-51) that found Hines demoted to the role of a sideman. After a few years of heading short-lived swing combos, Hines settled in Oakland, leading a trad band that was a bit beneath him, playing music from the past. It was not until 1964 when a pair of solo concerts in New York alerted critics to his continued brilliance that he made a comeback. Hines spent his last 19 years (up until his death in 1983) leading a quartet and recording prolifically, often as a solo pianist.
The only problem with this narrative is that it greatly underrates Hines’ work in the 1950s. During 1955-59, Hines’ San Francisco band usually featured trombonist Jimmy Archey, clarinetist Darnell Howard (a former member of his big band who could play very high notes perfectly in tune), bassist Pops Foster and drummer Earl Watkins plus either Muggsy Spanier (himself a major name) or Marty Marsala on trumpet. Their music was often hard-charging Dixieland performed in exciting fashion. While Hines rarely took solo piano showcases in this context, his solos fit well with the group and he always sounded enthusiastic.
Fortunately many of the band’s weekly radio broadcasts from San Francisco’s Club Hangover have been preserved and released on records through the years. The two-CD set Live At Club Hangover 1957 is comprised of five previously unreleased sessions from their weekly Club Hangover broadcasts which had been preserved for decades by the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation. Dating from Apr. 12-May 11, 1957 and including all of the music from those airchecks except two songs left out due to space, these well-recorded performances show just how exciting the Earl Hines Sextet could be. Spanier’s solos are always full of urgency and fire, Archey manages to handle the rapid tempos (check him out on a racehorse version of “That’s A Plenty”) by perfectly placing his notes, and Howard is consistently blazing. As for Earl Hines, he sounds like he is having a ball, whether playing “Tiger Rag” at a ridiculous tempo, reviving “Boogie Woogie On St. Louis Blues” or jamming on “Rosetta,” “I Found A New Baby,” or “Bill Bailey.”
Obviously the short biographies written about Earl Hines were written by those who felt that he should have been playing more modern jazz in New York rather than Dixieland in San Francisco. But evaluating his career purely by the musical quality, the 1950s were a time of relative stability and hot jazz, far from a “lost period.”
Live at Club Hangover, San Francisco April-May 1957 (Acrobat Music 3174, 28 selections, TT = 2:20:14) www.acrobatmusic.net
JAZZ CLASSIC OF THE MONTH
Since April 25 was the centennial of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth, it seems only right to mention one of her many classic recordings.
Ella In Hollywood, a live set from 1961 when Ella was 44, features her at the peak of her powers on a very jazz-oriented night. Her version of “Take The ‘A’ Train” is her longest recorded vocal ever, over nine minutes long.
Other than a melody chorus, the rest of this version features her wondrous scat-singing. She comes up with riffs and variations that are worthy of the very best saxophonists. Ella’s occasional use of words to describe the performance that she is creating is humorous, she never runs out of ideas, and the performance gives one the impression that she could have continued for at least another ten minutes. It is doubtful that any other jazz singer past or present could have created such a masterful performance.
Joined by pianist Lou Levy, guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks and drummer Gus Johnson, Ella also creates memorable versions of such songs as “I’ve Got The World On A String,” “Mr. Paganini,” “You’re Driving Me Crazy” and “Air Mail Special.” This set (reissued on CD a few years ago) belongs in everyone’s jazz collection.
Ella In Hollywood (Verve 4052, 12 selections, TT = 47::03)
In every issue of the Syncopated Times, this monthly column features reviews of CDs by classic jazz, 1920s and ‘30s, New Orleans jazz, Swing and Dixieland artists, covering both vintage greats and some of today’s top musicians. Be sure to send a copy of your CDs to Scott Yanow, P.O. Box 1220, Lake Hughes, CA 93532 if you wish to have your recordings reviewed. If you are a musician and need liner notes, bios or press releases, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition CHOPS, a series of 50 Jazz Trivia Quizzes totaling 1,000 multiple-choice and true/false questions covering all eras of jazz, is available from me as a PDF for $25 via Pay Pal at the same E-mail address.