Louis Armstrong in London, October 28th, 1970
(Photo by Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Miles Davis – Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Fontana) 1958
Miles Davis – trumpet
Barney Wilson – tenor saxophone
René Urtreger – piano
Pierre Michelot – bass
Kenny Clarke – drums
“This recording can stand proudly alongside Duke Ellington’s music from Anatomy of a Murder and the soundtrack of Play Misty for Me as great achievements of artistic excellence in fusing dramatic scenes with equally compelling modern jazz music”
Dave Brubeck‘s enduring influence on me had an unlikely beginning. In the early 1980s I found a stack of discarded albums in a dumpster in an alley in my university neighborhood, along with some furniture, books, and other household items (evidence of a hastily-abandoned student apartment) I rescued a few classical music albums, a Chinese cookbook, and a 1953 Dave Brubeck Quartet album Jazz at the College of the Pacific. I took it home, put it on my turntable, and fell in love.
For reasons I can’t explain, I listened to that album countless times, memorizing nearly every note. It’s a live recording, in mono (stereo was just on the horizon) and 1953 is not exactly the best-known era for Brubeck. I later understood that this is the quartet’s first album, when the band was an avant-garde college campus touring phenomenon. The Dave Brubeck Quartet enjoyed both artistic and commercial success. By the late 1950s, it was perhaps the most mainstream, popular jazz in America. By the time I came of age, it was considered “square”, not unlike how “Girl from Ipanema” went from being a worldwide favorite, to overplayed, watered-down elevator music. But in 1953? The Dave Brubeck Quartet was a radical new sound, played by a relatively unknown band, picking up momentum performing at colleges.
Brubeck’s intellect, complex timing, brooding lyricism, and signature “block-chord” playing style (as if he had 16 fingers and giant hands) matched with Paul Desmond’s disciplined ear, sweet soulful riffs, and perfect voicing, helped expand the popularity of instrumental jazz in the post-war era. What about that blocky-hand playing style? I’d always wondered. According to the Dave Brubeck page on Wikipedia:
In 1951, Brubeck damaged several neck vertebrae and his spinal cord while diving into the surf in Hawaii. He would later remark that the paramedics who attended had described him as a “DOA” (dead on arrival). Brubeck recovered after a few months, but suffered with residual nerve pain in his hands for years after. The injury also influenced his playing style towards complex, blocky chords rather than speedy, high-dexterity, single-note runs.
More from the Brubeck Quartet Wiki: Brubeck organized the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951, with Paul Desmond on alto saxophone. They took up a long residency at San Francisco’s Black Hawk nightclub and gained great popularity touring college campuses, recording a series of albums with such titles as Jazz at Oberlin (1953), Jazz at the College of the Pacific (1953), and Brubeck’s debut on Columbia Records, Jazz Goes to College (1954).
When Brubeck signed with Fantasy Records, he thought he had a half interest in the company and he worked as a sort of A & R man for the label, encouraging the Weiss brothers to sign other contemporary jazz performers, including Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Red Norvo. When he discovered that all he owned was a half interest in his own recording, he was more than willing to sign with another label, Columbia Records.
In 1954, he was featured on the cover of Time, the second jazz musician to be so honored (the first was Louis Armstrong on February 21, 1949). Brubeck personally found this accolade embarrassing, since he considered Duke Ellington more deserving of it and was convinced that he had been favored for being Caucasian. Ellington himself knocked on the door of Brubeck’s hotel room to show him the cover and the only reaction Brubeck could give was, “It should have been you.” (more)
Biographical notes source – Wikipedia
Image & quote: Diary Of A Radical Conformist
Incarnational living versus the selfie-ness of the season.
Elizabeth Scalia writes: The story goes that if the legendary composer and orchestrator Duke Ellington had met you, and gotten his hands on your mailing address, you’d have gotten a Christmas card from him. It may not come at Christmas, but at some point during the year, his personally written and signed greetings would grace your mailbox.
A reformed Ebenezer Scrooge may have pledged to “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year,” but for Ellington, no reform was needed. His card list was extensive, and he faithfully wrote out his greetings while traveling, or when there was a little downtime between gigs. Friends said he found nothing strange in dropping some Christmas wishes in the dog days of summer, when chestnuts roasting on an open fire seemed a hellish idea, and a stable suggested only a stench.
The cards we are receiving at our house this year, though timely, have seemed relentlessly self-absorbed and unseasonal; the majority of them are not even cards, but photographs. They are pictures of families — or at least of the children, no matter how old — posing in bathing suits on a beach, or with a parrot on a cruise, and with nary a manger or an angel in sight.