Listening to Rob de Bord Barker’s presentation on Gerry Mulligan reminds me that we all have our favourite composers, musicians, singers etc, be they from the classical world, rock and roll, the pop scene, or in my case jazz and blues. If I look at my record collection for a guide to what I appear to like, pianists outstrip all others – though the collection covers everyone from Jelly Roll Morton through Art Tatum to Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Bill Evans to present day exponents such as Keith Jarrett and Brad Meldhau. Duke Ellington’s music makes up the largest single part of my records, but he is perhaps the most important American composer of the 20th century and certainly in jazz. Trumpet/cornet player Ruby Braff, alongside Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie probably come next, whilst amongst sax players tenor sax players Ben Webster and Stan Getz come out ahead of someone like Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young. Of the guitarists Wes Montgomery is way out ahead, though I also love the sound of Brit Mike Walker when he lets rip, and amongst trombonists it is the wit of Vic Dickenson which I prefer to the more modern sound of someone like J J Johnson – though hearing Gary Valente blowing his raspberry-like sounds in the Carla Bley Big Band is always a pleasure. Of bass players Ray Brown leads by a mile and for drummers I still like to hear the old sounds of Jo Jones and Big Sid Catlett, notwithstanding the modern work of people like Elvin Jones and Paul Motian.
Until recently (i.e. the last fifteen years or so!) singers featured only marginally in my collection. Here my two favourites are Shirley Horn and Billie Holiday. Both share the ability to stretch time in a way few other singers match. Alongside these two Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan also stand out. Dee Dee Bridgwater can swing more than most, though can be equally disappointing on occasion. Most recently it is the little-known Mary Stallings that I find myself putting on the CD player quite often. I’m not a great fan of male singers: Mel Torme was a good jazz singer whilst Frank Sinatra remains incomparable, if not always in a jazz vein. Two modern examples worth hearing are Kurt Elling and present day wunderkind Gregory Porter. But it is some of the old urban blues singers I really like – Jimmy Rushing with the Basie band or one of the smaller groups drawn from the same circle, or perhaps even more I like the sound of Big Joe Turner – limited range, guttural mutterings and all.
Alongside Ellington, three big bands can always be expected to start my feet tapping. Basie of course – at least until his last recordings – as well as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra from the 70s and 80s. Then two bands which were and are largely Euro/American: the old Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland band, which mixed European musicians with Americans living in Europe from the 60s through the 70s, and the Carla Bley Big Band, which, when it makes its rare appearances these days, also mixes European with American musicians. Last, but not least, there is the Maria Schneider Orchestra, largely to be heard on disc but which did come to Britain briefly last year – an example of a band under the direction of a composer/arranger like those formerly led by people such as Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer, not forgetting Gerry Mulligan.
What the above should make clear is that I don’t have a favourite jazz musician or band – but clearly I have enough music to find something to lift my mood whenever I want! Mike Goldsmith.