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NEWS FROM THE FRONT : BATTLES LOST

 

Jazz is battling to stay alive.  So wot’s nu?  In the first half of 2015 we have lost and celebrated the contributions of artists and other progenitors of our art.  To wit (not in any particular order):  record company exec BRUCE LUNDVALL, multiple trumpeters CLARK TERRY & LEW SOLOFF, saxophonist and arranger BOB BELDEN, vocalist, guitarist, educator and poet JIM BARTOW, and innovative colossus, Pulitzer Prize awardee and MacArthur Fellow ORNETTE COLEMAN.

Along the way a special sidebar bow and shout-out to the family of MARGARET JUNTWAIT, the voice of WNYC’s Saturday afternoon opera broadcasts, a jazz devotee and daughter-in-law of our own Dick Katz.

And those are just the headliners.  I’m not going to bore you with obituarial details –consult your dailies for those– but herewith a few “cherce” words about the artists with whom I  have had personals.

 

When I was managing publicist for Peter Levinaon’s New York office Peter played a tape for me of a new fresh voice.  It was given to him by Lundvall of someone best described as a “ranting” vocalist.   “He doesn’t just sing; he rants,” was how KURT ELLING was described to us by Lundvall.   “What do you think?” Levinson, who knew I knew more of such things asked me.  It was love at first phrase.  Here was something –someone– I could really get off on to the press.  My penchant for the unusual, the different, the creative aspect of my music was what jazz is all about.  We needed a new male voice, desperately.

This was not my first Lundvall encounter.  We got acquainted when he was at Columbia Records.  I was writing liner notes for LP’s of which no one else seemed interested: European instrumental artists, Asian phonetic vocalists, like that.  It was at that period in my life when the great John Hammond took an interest in my work as well.  ”You don’t review records do you?” was his initial gambit to me whilst I was sitting endlessly awaiting an audience with George Butler.  Happily, that never came.  Later Dr. Butler took over the reins at Columbia.  [Comments are closed.]

Lundvall next surfaced at Manhattan/Musician Records with a mandate for a self created label for virtuosi.  Thence he resurrected Blue Note Records for that same parent corporation.  History over.  Creativeness begins.

Elling was just one of the new artists Lundvall brought to the fore via Blue Note.  Norah Jones was another.  The prodigals who returned to the Blue Note family goes on for days.  You are herewith encouraged –nay, admonished– to Google the rest.   Lundvall’s had long coat tails which included producer Michael Cuscuna.

 

Saxophonist/producer Belden and I were educatingly associated.  He appeared as a guest in my “Jazz Insights” series at the New School.  We talked of many things, but the deepest impressions were about copyrighted material.

Seems Beldon had written jazz interpretations of Puccini’s opera Turandot.  As a collector of such ephemera I immediately asked for a copy.  That was about a decade ago.  He told me that he never released the jazz versions of the opera because there remains living family (!) of Sr. Puccini! and thy refused him permission as to Turandot-Goes-Jazz presumably objecting the idiom if not the word.  I’m willing to bet that that’s unique in our annals.

 

Trumpeter and flugelhornist CT (Clark Terry) who died in late 2014 was memorialized at New York’s Abyssinian Baptist early in 2015, Rev. Calvin Butts presiding.  The Jazz At Lincoln Center Band provided the opening preludial as they would again at Soloff’s memorial at Manhattan School of Music.

At the conclusion of the service all entered their autos for the processional to Jazz’s Woodlawn Cemetery there, as was CT’s long standing wish, to he interred amongst his peers, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Illinois Jacquet, and so many others.  Late into the night you may hear them jamming, if you’re very quiet!

I have any number of personal reminiscences of my longtime friendship with CeeTee.  ”Smythe,”– his pet name for me– he would ask with a glint, “When are you going to  interview me again?”  Then, “Invite me back to your [New School, NYC] class.”  This from a man permanently in a wheelchair living in Arkansas.  I did ask him for an encore visit and he was just as sharp fielding questions as enthusiastically as he did five years prior to that.

Many photographs, LP liner and CD booklets notes later CT remembered every one of them naming names and places which I could not.

In particular among those is a photo of him and my two children ages 10 and 7.  (They now have teenagers of their own.)  Copies adorn walls in Brooklyn, Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

Another is “The Flintstones” theme CT recorded on his “Jolly Giants” LP, liners by your blogmeister.  Those same offspring sang along with the recording; it somehow drew us closer.

Terry was a gourmand, a foodie as am I.  On the occasional European tour our paths might cross, in a railroad station, a bus depot, a hotel lobby, like that.  As we passed each other he would call out the name of a restaurant in some town in Belgium, or Switzerland, or France, usually, but not always, off the beaten path.  His clarion call was, “Smythe,” followed by the name of the restaurant.  No further details proffered or desired.

If I wasn’t headed there I was after such encounters.  Those suggestions were often highlights of my gastronomic experiences.

Finally, colleague –New Jersey City University– Prof. Richard Lowenthal and I present a semiannual gab entitled “2-on-1″ where we bring to the students artists and play their music, not unlike “Jazz Insights” alluded to above.

In 2015 we brought together two of Terry’s last sidepeople: drummer SYLVIA CUENCA and bassist MARCUS McLAURINE, who, alongside pianist Don Friedman made up that rhythm section.  The four of us waxed romantically about the super punctual –”he would leave us if we overslept” (McLaurine)– expertly couture-ed –Miles Davis’ ideal in that regard– and genuinely classy Mr. CT.  ”He always offered us encouragement either by word or deed,” was the overall feeling of that afternoon.

“Mumbles” sent the students away smiling.

 

THIS JUST IN!  :  Prof. Lowenthal at this posting has secured the services of trumpeter WYNTON MARSALIS to appear with the NJCU All Star Alumni Band to perform charts old and new of the Music of Clark Terry specifically things CT did with the bands of Basie, Ellington, Charlie Barnet and his own Big B-a-d- Band.  The date is Thurs., Sept. 10 on the J. Owen Grundy Pier, Exchange Place, Jersey City, 6:30p.   Admission is free as is the magnificent sun-reflected view of Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Marsalis’ appearance is being confirmed.

 

If ever there was a memorial absolutely geared to a personality it was the one designed and orchestrated (sic) by Gil Evans scion Noah.  Everyone of Soloff‘s quirks and talents were on display in an SRO Manhattan School of Music’s Borden Auditorium: trumpet, piccolo trumpet, his penchant for some of the worst puns ever uttered –the ones which could be announced from the stage, that is– Soloff’s predilection for food, mostly Italian from my experiences with him.  Even his practical jokes.

After the J@LC walked around te hall playing “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” and “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble,” Lew’s rabbi –who knew?– read the “El Mole” a prayer usually reserved for graveside.  Omitted was the more traditional concluding yizkor.

Also on display were his classical bent, notably ‘cello played by a brass quartet, a string trio, duos and a cappella.

The overall host was his longtime friend Peter Schaffer carrying a clipboard to keep abreast of who’s up next; reminisces by hornist John Clark, fellow studio trumpet sectionmates Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker with a reverent bow to the late Alan Rubin.

In its heyday those studio sessions were where you went to hear the real talents of this music.  They could –and did– read fly shit to virtually all types of music.  Oh we all knew they were “pasted on” but who cared.  Thanks to producers such as Quincy Jones and Creed Taylor everyone, including back-up singers, got credit on the LP’s.

Soloists from inside and outside the Gil Evans Orchestra conducted by Evans’ other son Miles bounced up and down.  From the youngest alto saxist Grace Kelly –watch this talent, also a singer– to veterans on up the age ladder.

How important was Soloff?  His time with Blood, Sweat and Tears by itself produced a library of work to be admired.  It took seven –I said 7– trumpeters re-voiced by trumpeter-arranger Bill Warfield to play his solo on BS&T’s “Spinning Wheel.”  Bassist Will Lee acquitted himself nicely on the all-important David Clayton Thomas vocal.

When I heard the he had opted away from jazz Soloff made me a solemn promise, which I quoted in a Down Beat interview.  Soloff: “Once I make a bankable million I will quit r’n'r.”  He kept his word, on both scores.

Fellow BS&T-ers who were on the bandstand this night: Randy Brecker, Fred Lipsius, Lou Marini.   Gil Goldstein doubled on keyboards and accordion.

As Shaffer announced from the stage as the backstage din bled into the auditorium, “It’s really tough trying to keep 50 musicians some who haven’t seen each other in a while, quiet.”

Soloff once-upon-a-time shared a house on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan.  It was visited by a multitude of musicians both studio and jazz gig-wise.  Remember, those were the days when the late-night talk show had big bands, and the studios were all in the Apple.  Dick Hyman once noted to me that one could get gigs while rushing from one studio to another bumping into fellow musicians along the way.

I was privy to some of those Soloff-house parties, but mostly to eat Italian food and listen to road warrior stories.  Oh, yes, I was drinking back then.  But nothing else.

Among my fave BS&T abstracts is from their second album.  Kelly sang the lyrics to “God Bless The Child,” the Billie Holiday standard; the GEO did the rest.

 

A name that might not be too familiar to you readers, singer, poet, guitarist and educator –The Harlem School of The Arts–  Jim Bartow passed.   At a memorial held at St. Peter’s spoke and/or performed.

The soft-spoken Bartow and wife Nancy were friends of mine.  Their warmth was evident whenever they entered a room.  When I mention his name to someone eyes widen. “You know (knew) Jim Bartow.  I thought he was long gone.”  No, he just kept his light under a bushel preferring to work behind the scenes at the school, which he actually saved when it announced its closing some years ago.

Bartow and I met at a Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights In Jazz” concert decades ago.  If I had to put a timeline on it, that was probably the time we all first heard of Jim Bartow.   Columnist Dan Singer (“Singer’s Singers”) recently dug into his collection and unearthed some long-forgotten LPs which he had his hero sign.

 

©  June 2015 by arnold Jay smith


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