The past year was a home-going for a few great musicians, but the jazz side of heaven got a top notch revival when both Joe Sample and Wayne Henderson entered the gates.
As two of the four original Houstonians who created the Jazz Crusaders, the two moved to California together, played together and, coincidentally, died together in the same year.
Along with fellow Houston musicians Wilton Felder on sax and Stix Hooper on drums, they made marvelous music together until 1976 when Wayne Henderson decided to branch out to become a producer. Yet, the trombonist in him made him come back to the group in 1995. He taught at the California College of Music in Pasadena in 2007. Henderson died on April 4, 2014, at the age of 74 from heart failure.
Unfortunately, the beautiful hippie piano player is no longer out on the corner. Joe Sample walked away from the curb on September 12, 2014. Joe had remained a part of the Crusaders, through all its incarnations until the final album in 1991. We got to enjoy his solo career that started in the 1980s when he played with Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, George Benson, B.B. King, the Supremes and many others. Sample died back in Houston from lung cancer at the age of 75.
Iola Whitlock Brubeck, daughter of a California forest ranger, was the hidden, often unsung fifth member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. For seventy years, she was wife, collaborator and manager. She and Dave met at what is now the University of the Pacific in 1941. Dave proposed that very night in the concert hall and they were married a year later. Iola finished her degree in 1945 while Dave was in the Army.
After the war, he struggled to get his career going. They even lived in a one room corrugated tin shack in the early years. She suggested that he and the quartet play colleges and, to that end, she wrote, offering their service to each one within driving distance of their home in San Francisco. Her efforts worked. In 1950, she helped him teach a one of the first Jazz appreciation courses in the nation and by 1953, the album Live at Oberlin was recorded at that college in Ohio. The series of albums from the campus concerts moved him into prominence.
A 1958 State Department-sponsored tour of Eastern Europe made the Brubecks semiofficial emissaries behind the Iron Curtain. As a result of that trip, the quintessential Brubeck song, "Take Five," was born. Paul Desmond, the alto sax man of the group composed the music and Iola and Dave wrote the lyrics. She wrote lyrics for many of his songs and choral works. Her battle with cancer ended on March 12, 2014, almost two years after Dave's death. She is survived by five of her six children, ten grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
Horace Silver played with some of the biggest names in jazz during his early career in the 1950s. A prolific composer and marvelous pianist, he was called the originator of hard bop, a style which incorporates bebop, blues and gospel with a driving fast and tight rhythm.
Horace Silver and his Quintet did the album Song for My Father in 1965 for the Blue Note label after a trip to Brazil. The cover artwork features a photograph of Silver's father, John Tavares Silva, to whom the title song was dedicated. In the liner notes Horace says "My mother was of Irish and Negro descent, my father of Portuguese origin, He was born on the island of Maio, one of the Cape Verde Islands."
That title song is so good that parts of it has been incorporated into several other songs that went on to be big hits in several genres. Steely Dan used the beginning bars to build "Ricki Don’t Lose That Number." Stevie Wonder used the it in his hit "Don’t Worry ‘Bout A Thing" and Earth Wind and Fire used the opening bass note for their song "Clover."David Benoit played it whole on his cover album called Heroes.
Although, Dee Dee Bridgewater does a wonderful version of the song, she does not use the original lyrics written by Silver. It’s a simple poem that you’ll not hear on the album version of the song either. It goes as follows:
If there was ever a man, Who was generous, gracious and good, That was my dad, The man,
A human being so true, He could live like a king, 'Cause he knew, The real pleasure in life,
To be devoted to and always stand by me, So I’d be unafraid and free
His death was announced by Blue Note Records, the company for which he recorded from 1952 to 1979. He was 85 when he died at his home in New Rochelle, N.Y., June 18, 2014.
Ronny Jordan's guitar was silenced when, at age 51, he died of unknown causes on January 13, 2014. The self-taught acid jazz pioneer, who started with a ukulele and didn't pick up the guitar until he was twenty, mixed hip hop and funk into Miles Davis' So What, making it a dance floor hit in the 1990s.
This success brought him to the attention of Dave Brubeck and George Benson. In 2000, MOBO, the UK’s award platform for urban music, gave him nod as the best jazz act. He was also nominated for a Grammy for his album Brighter Day which was a top 10 Billboard hit that year. His song The Jackal was lip-synched by the actor Allison Janney in her role of CJ Cregg for the hit TV drama The West Wing. In 2001 the Gibson Company made him its Guitarist of the Year. Jordan kept touring to the very end, doing his last set on concerts in Italy.
Although the name Manhattan Transfer evokes thoughts of the subway, Tim Hauser used the front seat of a New York taxicab to gather the singers who comprised his two versions of the Grammy winning group. The first set of singers dissolved some months after their first album, Jukin’, was recorded in 1969. Tim's encounters with singers and musicians in his cab allowed him to bring together the 1972 version of Manhattan Transfer, which remained stable through the 70's and 80's.
Winning ten Grammys and being number one on the Downbeat and Playboy polls every year of the 1980s, the group's genre crossing tight harmonies, often done a capella within their songs, enchanted us. In 2007 they were voted the JazzTimes best vocal group of the year. The story ended for Tim, who was hospitalized for pneumonia just before a scheduled solo performance in Philadelphia, when he had a fatal heart attack this past October.
This is the time when you take a breath, after Christmas is over, and you realize that a new year is nearly upon us. This is the time to think about resolutions.
Looking back over the past year, you take in what has worked for you and think about what needs changing. Putting pen to paper, these things can become your New Year's Resolutions. The top ten things for 2014 were (in order of popularity) lose weight, get organized, spend less and save more, enjoy life to the fullest, stay fit and healthy, learn something exciting, quit smoking, help other in their dreams, fall in love and spend more time with family. Forty five percent of us made them and keep them. So, I thought I would see what musicians have done with the subject.
In Jazz, I found only one song with "Resolution" in the title. Chicago native Kurt Elling performs it. You might remember him from the SmoothJazzChicago playlist. He does a vocal version of "Stepping Out," which Bill Cochran plays occasionally on the Dinner Party show. The tune "Resolution" has the feeling of a spoken word poem with a jazz trio playing Coltrane in the background. It reminds me something you might have heard in the days of coffee shops and tiny clubs with "grotto" in their names. The piece is all open verse that doesn't use the word in the lyrics or refer to resolutions in any way, but it does give a piece of advice that has the spirit of a resolution.
‘Take a spark of it - deep within you - put it to the test - it will do the rest’
If you want to hear the rest of the tune – ask the TuneGenie! Magically, it will play it for you and then bring you right back to the SJC stream. Or check it out below.
Here’s my resolute wish for the coming year. Have a Happy, Snappy, Jazzy and Safe New Year, one and all!
Some of our most popular Christmas songs have very interesting origins. This one is rumored to go back to the time of King Henry the Eighth of England.
In his day, Henry was quite the composer, but research shows that the melody variation that we a are familiar with didn’t reach his island from Italy until thirty years after his death. That makes it music of his daughter's reign, Elizabeth I. The earliest known registration of a ballad with the name "Greensleeves" occurred in London in 1580. There were six more variations registered within that year. Quite the catchy tune for its day. With a sequence of four chords and a repeating bass, it is enchanting in its simplicity.
Fast forward to 1865. A man named William Chatterton Dix, suffering from an illness that left him depressed and bed ridden, he was inspired to write a poem he called "The Manger Throne," describing the scene of the Epiphany from the Magi’s point of view. Six years later, two other Englishmen published a collection of carols. They used the poems first three stanzas paired with the tune of Greensleeves. Using the first line as the title, a favorite Christmas song was born.
Like a beautiful tree filled with different ornaments, this song has had so many cover versions, there’s one for any mood. We should thank Johnny Mathis for getting the ball rolling back in 1958. He was followed by Vince Guaraldi and Ray Conniff, Jr. in 1965. Tony Bennett and Burl Ives both released a version in 1968. On the jazzy side of things, it’s been done by Earth Wind and Fire, Vanessa Williams, Oscar Peterson, Chicago, Mannheim Steamroller, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Dave Brubeck.
Whether you call it "Greensleeves" or "What Child is This," it’s a holiday tradition.
It’s not a real band, just something that came to my mind because I live with several December birthday babies. In the midst of the frustration of buying both a Christmas gift and a birthday gift for them, I came up with an imaginary gift for myself.
To begin, let’s call this fantasy band Sagittarius, in honor of the astrological sign. Musical groups have been named for wilder things, but let me explore that in a future blog post. In this band, we get some of the famous Sagittarius jazz artists who have left us.
Their signature piece would be the one that made Sagittarians, Dave Brubeck and the quartet’s sax man, Paul Desmond, famous. It is also one of the most covered jazz pieces in history. "Take Five" started as a one hit wonder and then wove itself into a jazz icon. Written by Desmond, and thought to be a throwaway piece, from its release in 1959 to today the song has been used by numerous movies and TV shows. During the early 1960s, it was the theme for the NBC Today Show. When he died in 1977, Paul Desmond willed the royalties from the tune to the American Red Cross. You can feel good because every time you hear "Take Five" played over the air, it's helping someone. The donation has amounted to over six million dollars by 2011. Good thing Mr. Desmond didn’t take the used Ronson shaver that was offered as an alternative for payment for the tune.
To round out the quartet, let’s have their drummer, Joe Morello, up on the stand. He’s the one who did the solo in the piece that often gets cut out to save time and make it more radio friendly. Joe Morello passed into the massive jazz club in the sky back in 2011, and although he was not born in December, I think we can stretch the point. And while we’re at it, because the bassist Eugene Wright is the only quartet member still alive, we need to use Jaco Pastorius from Weather Report. He was a Sagittatius too.
Then, last but by no means least, the late great Grover Washington, Jr. would step on the stage to jam with them. After all, his composition "Take Five (Take Another Five)" is one of the best covers of "Take Five!" Now I can finish my Christmas shopping. My jazz fantasy is finished.