We could use some music.
I was listening to some Medeski Martin & Wood this morning driving into work. It's great stuff, always puts me in a different frame of mind than before I hear it.
One of the tracks I really like is off the Combustication album. It's called "Whatever Happened to Gus?" It names a lot of classic jazz greats.
So who are they talking about?
Well "Max" from Pittsburgh is Max Roach. He invented, or maybe helped invent bebop jazz with his innovative drum playing. Check this out.
Amazing, huh? That's the Max Roach Quintet with Abbey Lincoln, who was married to Max for a while. Clifford Jordan is playing tenor sax there, the cool bass licks are from Eddie Khan and the versatile Coleridge-Taylor Parkinson is on piano. The songs are the Freedom Suite, about segregation, and how it had to end. Damn. That just blows me away.
Okay, so that's Max. Who was Billy Eckstine? Just the greatest jazz and motown musician you never heard of. He had a bebop band, but sang love ballads. He was a early (and middle and late) Motown star. Check out this mashup between a ballad, and a rocking band. Which just happened to be the Billy Eckstine Orchestra.
Of course you guys are all smart, so you know who the Bird was. Charlie "Bird" Parker's Ko Ko is one of the signature bebop pieces. A lot of older musicians didn't groove on this because the rhythm wasn't straight up and easy to count, but the arrythmic forms pioneered in bebop later allowed Miles Davis to push jazz past the avant garde and into a whole new art form.
MM&W also mention Wynton Marsalis. You probably know of some of his siblings, who are pretty damn good musicians. Wynton is a pretty good trumpeter, and a scholar of jazz. He's a young guy who has come in for a lot of criticism because he adheres to older jazz forms and doesn't think much of fusion or any of the experimental stuff that's been done in the last 30 years. His strength is classical music - not classical jazz but straight up classical. Want to know a secret? Most of the jazz musicians going into the age of bebop were classically trained too. You hear Bird, but Bird... he heard Mozart. Just as you need to know the order of the keys on the keyboard to write a book, it helps to know the rigid, plainly theoretical and mathematical forms of classical music before you improvise. So Marsalis, despite his limitations - maybe limitations of his own choosing - he's still pretty solid. Here he knocks out Autumn Leaves with the great Sarah Vaughn, one of the grand dames of the golden age of jazz. In case you're new to jazz, her singing is called "scat." It's the style Cab Calloway used in signing Minnie the Moocher, and takes great verbal dexterity. Scat and bebop go together like farmhouse ale and pommes frites. The thing about Wynton Marsalis is that maybe it is true he isn't an innovator, but he sure gets and likes bebop and classic jazz, and I like him for that. How could I criticize a guy for liking to play what I like?
Lester Young headed the Lester Young Quintet. Here he is with a bunch of friends, playing Blues for Greasy. Lester played saxophone. The guy on the drums is Buddy Rich, who was a reasonably good musician in his own right.
So say, man... who has the key? The key? Gus Johnson. Here he is sitting at the back and playing a cool set of drums with the great Count Basie Orchestra, with Jimmy Lewis on bass.
Now go back and replay that Medeski, Martin and Wood song and see if you don't hear the echos of this piece in that.
And here's another one with Gus Johnson driving the rhythm.
There's only 8 notes, man. Sooner or later, they all get played over again.
Good luck at Jeff Cup y'all.