Hot, Cool, Swinging….
As I write this, I’m sitting in air conditioned apartment in Colmar in Alsace with an outside temperature in excess of 37C and listening to the ex-Basie trumpeter Harry Edison swinging his way through a typical Basie-like tune, with Edison quoting nursey rhymes and joined by another ex-Basie musician, tenor saxist Lockjaw Davis… music to keep me content whilst contemplating a glass of cool white wine. Edison went on to a long career in the studios, being Frank Sinatra’s favourite and providing solos on most of those great Sinatra discs of the 60s and 70s. And to follow Edison I’ll probably turn to another trumpeter Chet Baker, one of the coolest trumpet players from the 1950s until his unfortunate death in the late 80s. Baker was also liked for his singing – though I must say it is an acquired taste! Addicted to drugs throughout his career, having spent time in prison and losing some teeth in a fight, Baker was capable of producing some of the most moving sounds in jazz from his time as a member of the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet onwards in the early fifties. And at the same time pianist John Lewis and vibraphone player Milt Jackson were also producing cool jazz in what was known as the Modern Jazz Quartet, with Lewis determined to take the music out of the noisy clubs into the concert hall. Always dressed in suits, playing what sounded almost like pure chamber music, the MJQ were also capable of swinging their American ‘asses’ off, if one listened carefully!
Market Harborough Market Hall has one stall manned by a guy who sells second hand vinyl and cds (cf Robert Cook) – mainly rock and pop, but with a small jazz holding. Not long ago I was fingering my way through the small collection of jazz vinyl on show when I came across one of my boyhood treasures – an LP recorded at the Royal Festival Hall in 1954, a concert which was the first I ever attended at the tender age of 15. Such British greats of traditional jazz as Ken Colyer, Alex Welsh and Chris Barber worked their way through a selection of tunes associated with the style of jazz known as traditional or Dixieland – much enjoyed by the ‘mouldy figs’ of the time, and rather despised by the ‘dirty boppers’ who preferred the sound of modern jazz of the time – bebop! How could I refuse the offer of such a hot gem, one my mother had thrown out when I left home for university… and only some £3! And it still sounds as good as it did then.
At this point it is the sound of tenor player Dexter Gordon coming through my headphones, working his way through a bop tune called Gingerbread Boy, but quoting Here Comes the Bride inter alia as he works his way through a really hot solo. Gordon rose to fame in the 1940s in the Lionel Hampton band (now that was a hot swinging band), eventually came to Europe in the mid-1950s, working much of the time in Copenhagen. His major claim to fame is for his role in the Bertrand Tavernier film Round Midnight as Dale Turner, a composite character based on the lives of pianist Bud Powell and tenor sax player Lester Young – one of the best jazz films made and including appearances by the aforementioned Chet Baker, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter amongst others. Nominated for an Oscar, Gordon was to die shortly after in 1990.
And having just passed another of those annual events called a birthday, I’ve been reading a BD (adult comic book) present about the singer Billie Holiday, or Lady Day as tenor player Lester Young used to call her, whilst she named him Pres in return. The pair enjoyed a close platonic relationship from the thirties through to the 1950s, when both died earlier than they should – him in 1959 aged 40 because of alcohol and she four months later at age 44 because of drugs and liquor! But Billie remains my favourite singer ever since I first heard her in 1956, whilst Pres remains the father of cool jazz. Their partnership on some of her early songs in the mid-30s are real treasures, well worth looking out for – try Easy Living and Travellin’ All Alone for starters.
And as I come to finish off this piece, it is the sound of a Scandinavian trio to which I’m listening – e.s.t. playing Definition of a Dog from a concert live in Hamburg in 2007. This trio managed to be all three – hot, cool and swinging – as well as very modern in their sound. Another pity that its leader Esbjörn Svensson died in a drowning accident whilst scuba diving not long after! But like the others I’ve mentioned in this piece they can still be heard on disc – give them all a try! Mike Goldsmith.
Hot, Cool, Swinging….