Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Masterpieces by Ellington

Masterpieces by Ellington is one of those albums that definitely lives up to its title. Each track is a masterpiece and each track is by Ellington.

This original album was recorded in December 1950 as Ellington's first bash at the new LP format and he reworked and expanded some of his most famous repertoire numbers. The CD also has three bonus tracks from 1950-51.

It is really difficult to find anything to say about music as good as this and one is simply reduced to parroting what has already been said. So take a look at other people's reviews, listen in, and be glad that you can hear such wonderful music.

Maybe you would like to listen to to some of it right now? Good ain't it. You can buy it right here if you like. or you can download the whole album in mp3, or just one track at a time if you are inclined.

Kenny G.

I said I wasn't going to write about Kenny G. here, but this is my blog, and here is a footnote that I added to an Amazon review of Kenny G's Greatest Hits CD. I put it in here because it explains some of my thinking about jazz.

I think one of the reasons so many people like Kenny G's music is simply that they don't realize that there is so much better music out there. It is a bit like people who admire the paintings of Thomas Kinkade ("The Painter of Light") not knowing about the paintings of Monet--the original painter of light. Jazz is not played much on the radio and music education in schools is pretty lacking.

On the other hand, I am not sure if telling people they ought to listen to Miles Davis and John Coltrane is the answer. While there are some resemblances in the general ambience of a lot of Davis's recordings and those of Kenny G., Coltrane can be extremely challenging, and though he is a fine player of ballads, the honking and squawking in some of his more avant garde material would put off anyone. I guess an album like Miles Davis's Plays Classic Ballads would appeal to the G. set, though personally I don't care for it a lot as the tone of that muted trumpet reminds me a bit too much of G. himself and I personally prefer other instruments such as clarinet, harmonica, guitar, piano, or vibes but used copies are available on Amazon for as little as 30 cents and I am listening to it as I write this. If you like G., I am sure you would like it.

Then there is also the question of the identity of the musicians. I suspect a lot of Kenny G. fans are wary of black men who were heroin addicts and whose careers where blighted by their alcohol and drug use, leading to relatively early deaths for both, whereas G., as far as I know, has no such demons.

One would think, though, that anyone who enjoyed the music of Kenny G. would be very taken with the recordings of Chet Baker (another heroin addict, I am afraid), for example on the album "Chet", which is quite G-like in tempo, with pretty tunes, but much, much better. If you want something to relax to after a hard day at work, Chet's rendition of "You'd be so nice to come home to" ought to do the trick nicely.

Is it legitimate to review Kenny G's CDs if you are not a fan of his work? Well, part of the process of reviewing an individual CD is to express an opinion on where that CD lies in relation to that artist's other work and in relation to recordings of comparable music by other artists, and by comparison to the whole universe of CDs. When I give a star rating, 5 stars means that you are looking at one of the finest CDs you can get, both the best of artist and the best of genre. Now, on this Greatest Hits CD, even those who give it a five star review are admitting that it contains material not previously released (greatest hits?) and that it is often boring and repetitive. Supposing the album contained nothing but Greatest Hits and was widely acclaimed as a classic of its genre, then how many stars would it get? Still five stars, no?

I have compiled a Miles Davis/JOhn Coltrane-free list called The 100 Best Jazz CDs That Are Actually Listener Friendly. At this point in time there are actually only 40 albums on the list, though several of them are doubles. All of these are fairly easy listening jazz of fantastic quality that people who find Kenny G relaxing will be knocked unconscious by.

If Kenny G is Tylenol, these albums are heroin! Once they get under your skin, you will be hooked for life.

If you pull up the list you can play sample tracks and see for yourself. If you want something slow and soothing, maybe try out the Chet Baker album first and see how many stars it merits relative to this album. Here is a quote from one of the Amazon reviewers:

"I own 20 Chet Baker CDs, and I play them virtually every day. As a "50 something" jazz fan with over 250 jazz CDs I can honestly say that the only time my wife will join me in the music room is when I have a Chet Baker Cd playing. I think that this is significant...Chet Baker's appeal seems to cross over more lines than that of any other jazz performer. I used to think that it was the VOICE that grabbed my wife's attention, but her favorite Chet Baker album is this one..."CHET". This album has no singing."

Or the Getz/Gilberto album, or the Sarah Vaughan, or the Ben Webster. Check them out and listen to the samples to hear the difference for yourself.

MYy 100 Best Jazz CDs list

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Let's Do It

This is a remarkably fine double-CD set featuring Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, with the late Oscar Peterson accompanying on piano. Of course they are all gone now, and I saw them all perform when they were alive, which is one of the sad things about jazz. The greats are gone. You would not think that Louis and Ella would mesh so well together, but they do. Ain't Necessarily So is a favorite of mine, especially the saucy last verse.

Louis, of course, is one of the seminal figures in jazz having practically invented the instrumental solo himself. Here he is still playing strongly, though by this time the days of his incredibly virtuosity in the twenties and thirties were gone. This one is a keeper.

Click here to hear samples of the music. And for more information click on the link here Let's Do It: Best of the Verve Years

Side by Side

Here is another of my favorite albums. Here we have Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington in a small group format playing some fine standards. It is just delightful.

An Amazon reviewer says it better than I could: If Martians ever land here and ask "What is jazz?" play them this one! In the 1950s, when jazz was moving in several new directions, many of the star soloists of the great 'swing' orchestras were left somewhat out in the cold, even though many of them were not only playing better than they ever had, they were also being recorded with vastly improved technology. If proof were needed, here is one of those records. It will go down as a classic when future historians review the century's music...

Click here to hear this album

Or just go herefor additional information.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown

According to the authors of the Penguin Dictionary of Jazz, they used to think that maybe there were just too many slow numbers on this sublimely beautiful album, but finally they have come to their senses and given a four star crown rating to this queen of jazz albums.

Listen to the samples.

See the reviews.

Artie Shaw---The Last Recordings; Rare and Unreleased

OK, here it is. This double album set is the best CD album in jazz. Why? Don't argue, just listen to the samples, read the reviews, then buy it.

To hear Billie Holliday singing Any Old Time, her one recording with the Artie Shaw band, click here.

Now, how hard was that?

OK, you still haven't bought it? I guess you need more information.


In 1954 Artie Shaw made his last public appearance as an instrumentalist when he put together a new Gramercy 5 made up of such superb modern musicians as pianist Hank Jones, guitarist Tal Farlow, bassist Tommy Potter, et al. The most comprehensive sampling of that group (as well as a number of others, going all the way back to 1936 and on up through this final set of records) can be heard on a four record album, now a rare item, released in 1984 by Book of the Month Records, entitled: Artie Shaw: A Legacy, which has also received rave reviews. Some of this music was re-issued on two double CD's by MusicMasters as Artie Shaw: The Last Recordings, Rare and Unreleased, and Artie Shaw: More Last Recordings, The Final Sessions.

From an Amazon reviewer:

As all the last recordings amply demonstrate -- there are three different sets in this series, and I unreservedly recommend the lot -- Artie Shaw was a joy and a wonder, a gloriously gifted and intelligent musician who retired from the business at the top of his form. What more need I say? Oh, very well, then: If it were possible to give this man's music six stars instead of merely five, I would.

I agree with this evaluation. I have scores of jazz CDs, but none are better than this.

But wait... here is something as good or better. The Artie Shaw big band of 1949 was a definite miss with his fans who just wanted to hear his greatest hits, but it is wonderful listening for people who want to listen to wonderful music. Shaw was ahead of his time, because he was writing for the i-pod and the in-car music system before these things existed. I am sorry that I don't have any samples for you to listen to but I have the CD and it is my current favorite and is getting a LOT of play. See also the Amazon reviews.

Artie Shaw 1949

Now, if you don't know anything about Artie Shaw, and are thinking "who the hell was this guy?". then I have two links for you to one-hour mp3 podcasts that you can download for free. It is fascinating stuff and has early 1970's interviews with Shaw in which you can hear much more about this music as well as listen to some of his hits.

You can save the file to your hard drive by placing your curser over the link,
pressing the right mouse button, and selecting "save target as . . ."
With a T1, cable modem, or DSL this might take 1-3 minutes.

For even more on Artie Shaw, including a chance to hear some more of his greatest hits, interviews, and reviews of his hand-picked box set of 2002, try this link to National Public Radio. It rocks.

To hear Billie Holliday singing Any Old Time, her one recording with the band, but a very good one, click here,and for a kick-ass rendition of These Foolish Things here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

How We Listen To Music

I think there is a widespread assumption, or used to be that the individual album is the basic unit of listening. Of course now the mp3 player makes it possible to devise one’s own play lists. Presumably this means that people mix up songs originating in various albums, plus individual downloads to form a musical program.

As well as albums I have 63 big band play lists of about 1 hour on my player, I also have three other play lists that contain between 150 and 330 tracks mostly of the same material. Sometimes I put the player on random function to play these lists, so I don’t know what is coming up next.

Using Rockbox it is very easy to make play lists, because you just create a new folder, at the point in your menu structure where you want it, then Select, Copy, and Paste songs into it. Not all firmware is as simple.

But all music is not the only format. I very much enjoy listening to radio shows like BBC Radio 2’s Malcolm Laycock show, in which there is some talk about the music to be played, the music is played, and then you are told what was played, (in case you missed it first time). I would not object to buying classic CDs in which a knowledgeable commentator introduced each track in a manner that would increase appreciation and understanding. It would be best if the CD offered two modes of playing, with and without commentary. Of course such CDs hardly exist. My Fred Astaire album has a bit of this and a Bob Marley album does, but these are rarities.

Click here for Best 40 CDs list.