Saturday, November 28, 2015

Harry Parry & His Radio Sextets

If ever anybody was more deserving of being described as a multi-instrumentalist, that musician was Harry Parry, the Welsh bandleader who mastered all sorts of instruments, from reeds to brass to drums to the violin, before settling for a career as a clarinetist leading several trio and sextet combos on highly popular BBC radio shows throughout the 1940s and '50s. Not only was Parry an accomplished musician, but his vast knowledge of the history of jazz made him a perfect host for the BBC's Jazz Club series as well. His rise to stardom was preceded by a period of apprenticeship within the ranks of several dance bands led by then-popular names such as Oscar Grasso, Charles Shadwell, and Louis Levy, among many others. Parry, who sang occasionally, also had a fine ear for talent, and some of the small swing groups that he fronted when popular acclaim beckoned included a young George Shearing on piano. Shearing was also featured on some of the trios and sextets that Parry put together for broadcasting purposes during the World War II years.

The war and postwar period of Parry's career is precisely what is captured on the 2004 Dutton Vocalion release, Parry Opus. The 26 tracks included on the CD were recorded between 1942 and 1946 are perfect examples of Parry in his prime, playing the clarinet and leading sextets that often feature Shearing on piano and Ben Edwards on drums. As a clarinetist, Parry was obviously influenced by Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, so it's no wonder that he chose to record songs that were closely associated with Shaw and Goodman, such as "Frenesi," "Moonglow," "Runnin' Wild," "After You've Gone," and "Body and Soul." As these sides show, there is always a sort of restrained elegance to Parry's playing, and he leads his sextets with great conviction and charm. The collection also features some of his own compositions, including "Parry Opus" and "Potomac Jump," the latter written during a highly acclaimed engagement at London's Potomac restaurant. Both the contents and the fantastic sound make this release the perfect introduction to Parry's sound, which still comes across as fresh and exciting all these years later. Parry, who also dabbled in acting and television, passed away in London in 1956, due to a heart attack, when he was only 44 years old.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Swedish Trumpeter Bengt-Arne Wallin Dies at 89

I just heard from my Stockholm-based friend, Guy Jones, founder and president of Friends of Jan Lundgren, the fan club of pianist Jan Lundgren, that legendary Swedish trumpeter Bengt-Arne Wallin passed away on November 23. He was 89 years old, and even though he's far from a household name in the United States, he devoted his whole life to music and was extremely well respected in Scandinavian jazz circles. Born in Linköping, Wallin showed an interest in music at an early age and concentrated on the trumpet and the flugelhorn. He spent much of the 1950s and '60s playing and recording alongside such European jazz luminaries as Arne Domnérus and Lars Gullin, and when American tenor saxophonist Benny Golson made some recordings with Scandinavian jazzmen, Wallin was one of the musicians who were called in for the sessions.

Like pianist Jan Johansson, Wallin became interested in exploring the relationship between Swedish folk music and jazz, and his recordings in this vein garnered him much acclaim in his homeland. Besides his work as a trumpeter, Wallin was also valued as an arranger and composer (he wrote music for films and TV productions), and he also spent two decades as a music teacher at Stockholm's Musikhögskolan. Throughout his long and successful career, Wallin acted as mentor to younger musicians such as trombonist Nils Landgren, who, upon hearing of Wallin's passing, called him "my greatest mentor, both as a musician and as a human being." Pianist Jan Lundgren also remembered Wallin on his Facebook page, reflecting on how thankful he was to have had the chance to work with the great trumpeter, whom he considers "one of the finest arrangers we have had." I must admit that the only recordings I've ever heard by Wallin are the ones he made in 1959 and 1960 as part of an octet led by saxophonist Lars Gullin, which can be found in the Gullin 4-CD set, Portrait of the Legendary Baritone Saxophonist: The Complete Recordings 1956-1960 (Fresh Sound Records). On these, of course, Gullin is the star and the spotlight is mostly on him, but Wallin comes across as a very dependable accompanist in ensemble passages, and on "Blue Mail" and "Baritonome," for example, he even gets to contribute some highly original, exciting solos that make you wish he'd been featured a little more prominently. On the strength of these sides alone, there's little doubt that Wallin is a musician whose recorded legacy is worth exploring further.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Herbie Brock's 'Herbie's Room'

I recently wrote an article in Spanish about Herbie Brock, who is possibly one of the most obscure pianists in jazz history and sadly forgotten these days. That post was about his 1956 Savoy album, Brock's Tops, one of merely six records he made between 1955 and 1965, most of which aren't even available on CD. The only full-length writing I've found about Brock is this entry in Wall Street Journal jazz critic Marc Myers's blog, JazzWax, and in it, Myers tells us that Brock learned to play the piano, the organ, and the saxophone while attending the State School for the Blind in Batavia, NY, and then appeared in clubs in Rochester and even toured as a piano duo with one Buddy Satan, who was his brother-in-law. In the early 1950s, Brock relocated to Florida, soon garnering quite a reputation at Miami's Onyx Club, which led to his mid-'50s recordings for Savoy and Criteria. As far as we know, Brock didn't make any further records after 1965, though he kept appearing live in clubs, mostly around Florida and the Miami area.

Herbie's Room is his third album, and the only one he made for Criteria (fortunately reissued in 2000 by VSOP), and it was recorded live in August 1957 at a club called Herbie's Room, apparently because, as the liner notes by Jeff Barr state, "the owner had Brock at the keyboard seven days a week." On the eight tracks—most of them standards—Brock is accompanied by Brooks Caperton on bass and Bill Ladley on drums, and his very attractive piano style mixes swing and bop in equal parts, clearly reflecting the influence of both Art Tatum and Bud Powell, two pianists that Brock admired greatly. Brock is at his most boppish on Sonny Rollins's "Doxy" and Lennie Niehaus's "Johnny Jaguaar," and although this album doesn't include any of his own compositions, he imbues every track with his highly personal style, taking "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," for instance, at a faster tempo than is customary. Ballads such as "Tenderly," "My Funny Valentine," and "Laura" are full of Tatum-esque runs and sense of drama and suggest that Brock must have been listening to piano virtuosi like Eddy Duchin and Carmen Cavallaro. I love the very poetic way in which Myers sums up Brock's contribution to jazz, calling him "another superb jazz ship passing in the night." Albums like Herbie's Room leave no doubt that it's high time we brought him back out of obscurity.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Jimmy Rushing Live in New York with Zoot Sims and Al Cohn

The first time I ever heard Jimmy Rushing, on a recording of "He Ain't Got Rhythm" he made with Benny Goodman, I was impressed. But when I later discovered the outstanding records he cut with the Count Basie orchestra, I realized that Mr. Five by Five (such was his nickname due to his stocky complexion) was one of the most fascinating singers ever to come out of the Swing Era. Not only did he have rhythm, but his voice was immediately recognizable, and his blues phrasing was simply irresistible. Rushing had begun his career in the late 1920s in Kansas City, singing first with Walter Page's Blue Devils and then with Bennie Moten's band, out of which the Basie organization evolved. He helped popularize the blues within a big band swing context, but he wasn't just a blues shouter—he knew how to approach a pop tune and inflect it with an unmistakable bluesy feeling.

Jimmy Rushing at Newport in 1965
(Photo: Francine Winham)
After the years he spent within the ranks of the Basie band, Rushing made some very interesting albums for Vanguard and Columbia, and by the mid 1960s, he was appearing in New York clubs, which is the period of his career captured in The Scene: Live in New York (Hightone). The group backing Rushing on these live dates is led by saxophonists Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and also includes Dave Frishberg on piano, Major Holley and John Beal on bass, and Mousey Alexander on drums. The band actually gets a chance to cut loose on two selections without Rushing ("The Red Door" and "It's Noteworthy") but the singer, who is in fine form, is the main attraction here. The repertoire features both standards ("I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me," "Baby Ain't I Good to You") and blues numbers ("Goin' to Chicago," "Good Morning Blues") that were closely associated with him during his Basie years. The sound of the recordings is excellent, and Rushing's performances are very relaxed and ooze charm and conviction. While any Rushing collection should begin with his records with Basie, this is a worthwhile snapshot of his lesser-known later years.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Bing Crosby and Some Jazz Friends

Back in 2010 I began The Vintage Bandstand with a post about Bing Crosby, so it's only fitting that I'd start this new blog talking about Crosby as well, particularly because in my early teens, Der Bingle was one of my main gateways into jazz. Crosby, who is mostly known to the general public for his Christmas recordings these days (which is a sad state of affairs, in my opinion), was a jazz singer of the first order. When Crosby changed the face of popular singing forever in the early 1930s, he did so not only by mastering the use of the microphone, but also by inflecting pop music with the tones, the sensibility, and the rhythm of jazz. And throughout his career, he always enjoyed singing and recording in a jazz setting and with jazz musicians. The 1991 Decca compilation, Bing Crosby and Some Jazz Friends, is a great way to get introduced to the jazziest side of Crosby's output via a series of fantastic duets recorded in the 1930s and '40s.

Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby
As Crosby shares the studio with fine artists such as Jack Teagarden ("The Birth of the Blues"), Connie Boswell ("Basin Street Blues"), Woody Herman ("I Ain't Got Nobody"), Eddie Condon (two takes of "After You've Gone"), and Lionel Hampton ("On the Sunny Side of the Street"), we are reminded of how thoroughly the singer understood the jazz idiom and how relaxed and extremely hip his phrasing always was. Crosby's two sides with Louis Jordan, "Your Socks Don't Match" and "My Baby Said Yes," are two obvious highlights of this album, which also includes duets with his brother Bob Crosby ("When My Dreamboat Comes Home"), Lee Wiley ("I Still Suits Me") and Louis Armstrong on the semi-impromptu "Gone Fishin'." One of the most charming tracks features Crosby having a ball with Satchmo and Jimmy Dorsey on a very appealing reading of "Pennies from Heaven." Overall, this is a CD that all vocal jazz fans should own lest they forget that there was a jazzier side to Bing Crosby than can be heard on "White Christmas."

Welcome to Jazz Flashes!

Jazz Flashes is a new blog that I am starting today as a companion site to The Vintage Bandstand, the blog on classic jazz and the crooners that I have been publishing since 2010. As its title implies, Jazz Flashes will feature a series of brief posts—the flashes—that will concentrate on all kinds of jazz, from New Orleans jazz to swing to bop to hard bop and beyond. These posts will spotlight a wide range of musicians, recordings, concerts, books, photographs, videos, and anything related to the world of jazz that may be of interest to our readers. Whereas The Vintage Bandstand concentrates on longer, more detailed articles, Jazz Flashes will include shorter, more straight-to-the-point posts. In that respect, we will sacrifice depth for immediacy, in an attempt to write in a more conversational way and spread the word about quality jazz in as direct a manner as possible.

Therefore, welcome one and all to this new venture into the world of jazz! I hope you will find something that piques your interest among all these brief Jazz Flashes.

Anton Garcia-Fernandez
Jazz Flashes
Martin, Tennessee