Bobby Hutcherson: Thanks for the Good Vibes

bobby-hutcherson-20120309080325

Bobby Hutcherson was not just a major, and positive force for good in the jazz idiom, he was a genuine innovator. Before him, the vibraphone was largely considered a novelty instrument and, despite the obvious advancements of the incomparable Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, Hutcherson was part of the post-bop vanguard, and he made the vibes not only acceptable, but cool.

And, of the many accolades Hutcherson deserves, being cool defines both the man and the era he became an indispensable part of. After the high water mark of 1959, the avant-garde moved, increasingly, to the forefront and with this “new thing”, epitomized by Ornette Coleman and the polarizing free-jazz he pioneered, jazz became, take your pick: less cool, less accessible, more adventurous, more encompassing. It was all those things, and many more.

If Miles Davis and — at least for a couple of years before he blasted into the stratosphere — John Coltrane, were ambassadors for the future of this music while remaining mostly within the orthodox or accepted bounds of jazz, the aforementioned Coleman along with, just to name a handful, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp, were already straining at convention and taking jazz places even ardent fans found difficult to follow.

Somewhere in the middle, another young breed of innovators arrived on the scene: Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Bobby Hutcherson were among the better regarded (and received) practitioners of new jazz with old(er) school appeal. And like Shorter and Hancock, Hutcherson established himself first as an invaluable session player (doing remarkable work with Jackie McLean, Grant Green and Eric Dolphy) and, eventually, emerging as a leader to be reckoned with.

In hindsight, Hutcherson had the perfect approach for the perfect instrument: his work has aged extraordinarily well (not unlike Shorter’s and Hancock’s, for that matter) and what once pushed some boundaries now seems accessible without feeling conservative, it’s conversant without a hint a cliché, and it’s mellow without ever being predictable. This is the type of jazz you can put on for the proverbial dinner party (assuming anyone has dinner parties or listens to jazz; if anyone listens to jazz at dinner parties, please invite me.) In short, it’s cool.

His work is worth exploring, and will reward even a slightly sensitive listener. Virtually any session he led or participated in throughout the ’60s is recommended without reservation.

Speaking personally, the pleasures his work has provided me are too extensive to count; suffice it to say, I’ve cherished him and will continue to do so, while being grateful we had him amongst us as long as we did. Here then are five personal favorites, any of which should prove addictive.

bh

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Butch Warren, R.I.P. (Two Years Later)

butch-warren

I know I sound like a broken record on these occasions but the simple fact of the matter is this: there are artists leaving our planet who can’t –and in some ways, shouldn’t– be replaced.

The musicians who appeared on so many classic sides cut during the mid-’50s to late-’60s (perhaps best but certainly not solely represented by the Blue Note label) are part of a critical, incomparable era in American culture. The real golden era of jazz, in terms of musicianship, influence and import, produced legends we know by one-word-names: Miles, Monk, Mingus, Coltrane, Herbie

And lest I be accused of living in the past, anyone who reads this blog knows I can be counted amongst those who feel jazz –as a music, as a cultural statement, as a way of life– is as vital, encompassing and empowering as it’s ever been. I mean that, and I celebrate where we are, and wherever we’re going. It’ll be somewhere good. It always is.

Still…man, the sheer volume of unbelievable music made during that golden era: it staggers the mind. It’s a bank vault of something more valuable than cash, and the register never rings empty.

It is with sadness, but deep respect and appreciation, that we bid farewell to Butch Warren, crackerjack bassist who made crucial contributions to too many classic albums to count. (Nice obit HERE: like so many musicians, in jazz circles or otherwise, his life was not easy, further complicated by questionable decisions, and he lived longer than he might have, albeit in circumstances and conditions that could be best described as unfair, unjust or plain unacceptable. And yet, his legacy will be the indispensable masterworks he is forever a part of.)

Let’s pick five songs from five albums where he was not merely present (enough of a statement, considering the talent pool), he was a presence. Paired with the immortal Billy Higgins, as he is on three of the five songs below, there is a rhythmic swing and underpinning that can’t –and in some ways, shouldn’t– be described with words. Words are inadequate tools for the task, but the feelings that inform them never are. It is with that feeling of respect, awe and, once more, appreciation, that I bid a fond adieu to Butch, but know that I can –and often will– invite him into my world anytime I choose.

“Watermelon Man” (the original version, with an up-and-coming piano player named Herbie Hancock. And Higgins!)

“Voodoo” with the criminally overlooked and underappreciated Sonny Clark (he and Higgins do WORK on this masterpiece; one of my all-time favorites):

“Vertigo” from the classic album of the same name by Jackie McLean (!!), featuring a very young drummer named Tony Williams, who almost steals the show.

“Recorda Me” with the great Joe Henderson:

“Pentacostal Feelin'” from Free Form with trumpet badass Donald Byrd (and, again, Higgins!):

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Butch Warren, R.I.P. (One Year Later)

butch-warren

I know I sound like a broken record on these occasions but the simple fact of the matter is this: there are artists leaving our planet who can’t –and in some ways, shouldn’t– be replaced.

The musicians who appeared on so many classic sides cut during the mid-’50s to late-’60s (perhaps best but certainly not solely represented by the Blue Note label) are part of a critical, incomparable era in American culture. The real golden era of jazz, in terms of musicianship, influence and import, produced legends we know by one-word-names: Miles, Monk, Mingus, Coltrane, Herbie

And lest I be accused of living in the past, anyone who reads this blog knows I can be counted amongst those who feel jazz –as a music, as a cultural statement, as a way of life– is as vital, encompassing and empowering as it’s ever been. I mean that, and I celebrate where we are, and wherever we’re going. It’ll be somewhere good. It always is.

Still…man, the sheer volume of unbelievable music made during that golden era: it staggers the mind. It’s a bank vault of something more valuable than cash, and the register never rings empty.

It is with sadness, but deep respect and appreciation, that we bid farewell to Butch Warren, crackerjack bassist who made crucial contributions to too many classic albums to count. (Nice obit HERE: like so many musicians, in jazz circles or otherwise, his life was not easy, further complicated by questionable decisions, and he lived longer than he might have, albeit in circumstances and conditions that could be best described as unfair, unjust or plain unacceptable. And yet, his legacy will be the indispensable masterworks he is forever a part of.)

Let’s pick five songs from five albums where he was not merely present (enough of a statement, considering the talent pool), he was a presence. Paired with the immortal Billy Higgins, as he is on three of the five songs below, there is a rhythmic swing and underpinning that can’t –and in some ways, shouldn’t– be described with words. Words are inadequate tools for the task, but the feelings that inform them never are. It is with that feeling of respect, awe and, once more, appreciation, that I bid a fond adieu to Butch, but know that I can –and often will– invite him into my world anytime I choose.

“Watermelon Man” (the original version, with an up-and-coming piano player named Herbie Hancock. And Higgins!)

“Voodoo” with the criminally overlooked and underappreciated Sonny Clark (he and Higgins do WORK on this masterpiece; one of my all-time favorites):

“Vertigo” from the classic album of the same name by Jackie McLean (!!), featuring a very young drummer named Tony Williams, who almost steals the show.

“Recorda Me” with the great Joe Henderson:

“Pentacostal Feelin'” from Free Form with trumpet badass Donald Byrd (and, again, Higgins!):

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Celebrating Herbie Hancock, Again…

hh

First and foremost: Thank you, universe, for giving us the gift of Herbie Hancock 74 years ago, Saturday (4/12).

Second, PSA for the uninitiated: everything Herbie did during the ’60s (including, of course, his stint with the second Miles Davis quintet, aka best band of all time) is an antidote for anyone who thinks jazz is staid, inaccessible or otherwise not worth exploring. This is deeply enriching, life-affirming music.

And so: the coolness of Herbie Hancock is a topic I’ve grappled with on at least a couple of occasions (the key takeaway: he’s cooler than me, you, and everyone else we know).

For a fuller assessment, you can check out my thoughts HERE and HERE.

The long and short:

Everyone knows that Herbie Hancock is one of the coolest men on the planet, and has been for almost half a century. Anyone who doesn’t know this doesn’t know much; all we can offer them are condolences. Only Miles Davis, with whom Hancock worked for several crucial years (in both mens’ lives) during the mid-’60s, can possibly be invoked in any discussion of popular musicians who consistently shaped, then challenged the vanguard over a substantial period of time. These artists not only made new music but changed music on at least a handful of occasions.

Most folks know, and love, Hancock from what was likely their first association with him: the song (and more significantly, the video) “Rockit”, which was prominent in the MTV rotation circa 1983. The import of this one song is impossible to overstate: it not only spotlighted black men on the then-lilywhite music video channel, it spotlighted a jazz band. On top of that, it served as a mainstream introduction to scratching and turntable pyrotechnics. To say the earth was no longer flat, sonically speaking, after “Rockit” is only hinting at its influence.

But before the ’80s, Hancock made music that remains fresh and vital. Just looking at some of the album covers from the ’70s era (below) should hearten the faithful and intimidate the weak. Street cred? Can you say soundtrack to Death Wish? That not impressive enough? How about Antonioni’s Blow-Up?

How about the cover art for some of those early ’70s joints. Any questions?

Of course, Herbie arguably made his most enduring music in the ’60s. In 1963 Miles Davis asked Hancock (along with bassist Ron Carter, tenor sax player Wayne Shorter and seventeen year old wunderkind drummer Tony Williams) to join his new quintet. To put it as simply as possible, this is the best band ever assembled in jazz history; only John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet comes close. And while many geniuses, from Charlie Parker to Ornette Coleman, led top-tier collectives, there is really no touching this ensemble.

But we all already knew this, right?

Right.

So……imagine my delight when I stumbled on this, a complete in-color concert from back in the DIZAY, on our best friend, YouTube.

If you think I am inclined (or able) to describe what happens, you are mistaken. Just kick back and watch, listen and learn what all of us already know.

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Newtown and The Healing Power of Music, Featuring Herbie Hancock

I feel obliged to say something, anything, on this sombre occasion.

Fortunately, Sean Beaudoin has done some heavy, eloquent lifting in the service of sanity, healing, and remembrance.

Sean is an outstanding writer. He also happened to grow up in Newtown. I can’t recommend this piece highly enough.

A few especially poignant passages:

Twelve girls, eight boys. Barely seven years old. First graders.

That alone is an essay. It is haiku for loss, without the seven syllables of absolution. There is no pretending horror can be spun into a redemptive cliché.

To lose a child, particularly in a violent manner, is beyond reckoning. Or belief. Or typing a worthy sentence about. When I sat down at my keyboard after a few days of emotionally curling up on the basement floor, I wanted to write something imbued with meaning. I wanted to comfort and inspire and transcend. But I find that I don’t have the words. Or the presumption to even try and conjure them.

What we need, just as much as sane, baseline legislation, is to start seeing these events for what they really are. “Tragedy” suggests infrequence. “Mass shooting” implies a random and unpredictable deed. “Act of a madman” pretends that we bother to identify the mad, let alone spend the money to treat them. “An expression of evil” lets everyone off the hook, as if it were something metaphysical, preordained, or inscrutably Nietzschean. It is exactly the opposite. These incidents are the direct result of institutionalized, heavily funded, and cravenly protected invitations to slaughter.

Much more, here: http://www.theweeklings.com/admin/2013/12/14/newtown-one-year-later/

 

And what do I have to say for myself, on this occasion? Well, I’ve talked a bit about my fear and loathing of our obsessive and insane gun culture, here: http://bullmurph.com/2009/04/14/ignorance-is-a-warm-gun/.

Today, I’d rather talk about what I do when words fail, when words and even thoughts seem insufficient, even inappropriate, for the scope of sadness and the sufferings of others. Certainly, we have one another; in the end we only have ourselves, and part of what keeps us going is that our good deeds, on balance, outweigh the evil and indifference we tolerate and abet. Many people have various types of faiths, and I certainly endorse any activity that helps more than it hurts (organized religion does not quite make the cut, but at least in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to enough people that I’ll Let It Be).

For me, it’s music. And while that may seem trite, or even disrespectful to some (music above humanity? Art before God?), to me it’s the ideal amalgamation of all the things we think we’re thinking about when we think about faith in something bigger than ourselves, regardless of whether or not an omnipotent Being is shuffling the deck upstairs in ways that will only make sense once we’re reunited in His eternal company. I’ve written extensively about this topic, HERE and my perspective is more succinctly articulated, below:

My own issues with Faith, Church, God, Religion (etc.) have often been inextricable from my writing, just as they have been inseparable aspects of my life. Why shouldn’t they be? Just because I ceased to wrestle with the metaphysical angst of who we are, what we’re doing here and where we’re going –amongst other concerns– and above all, if there was a big conductor in the sky overseeing the proceedings, does not mean I don’t contemplate the implications. For me; for us all. So, getting that out of the way right up front, I think the following paragraph is a succinct enough distillation of where my head is at in matters of “The Faith Question”:

I visited my mother’s grave the first several years for the same reason I used to attend church: it was expected, it was meant to make me feel better, it was supposed to signify something. I stopped going for the same reasons I ceased attending weekly services. Catharsis by commission most likely satisfies only those who don’t realize the game is rigged, spiritually speaking. Or else, they do know it’s a game and they couldn’t imagine it any other way. (It is not the people with genuine faith the faithless have reservations about; it’s the folks who find their faith so onerous or insufficient that it causes them to act in ways antithetical to the precepts they purportedly approve.)

But let me be clear, I can –and do– appreciate holy places for their aesthetic appeal. I am encouraged –and inspired– by people of genuine faith whose actions speak louder than psalms. I remain in awe of the human works that have been commissioned –or prompted– by the religious imperative. Being in Ireland this Spring involved a steady diet of Guinness, sheep, castles and cathedrals. Both of the pictures above were taken during this journey. It was incredible, and not a little humbling, to behold these mammoth structures that took decades, or centuries, to construct, and withstood the time and tempest of our increasingly insane world. The combination of inconceivable expertise (how, exactly, did these people create hundred-foot statues out of stone without, you know, lasers or at least the same friendly aliens who assisted the Mayans and Egyptians?), patience, craft and, ahem, cheap labor, all combined in the service of something intentionally designed to be bigger than mortality; something intended to span generations bonded by a common belief. Et cetera.

And certainly some of our best composers have been directly moved by the passion and intensity of their faith to create tributes dedicated to a force they can neither prove nor explain. As a dedicated non-musician, I use music (and jazz in particular) as a viable source of empowerment; while it remains first and foremost a very real and easily identifiable source of extreme pleasure; it is also a vehicle, something used to get you someplace else. A stimulus that demands a response, inexorably capable of conjuring up words and concepts (and constructions) such as spirit, soul, God, karma—things that are (rightfully) almost unbearably oblique, or pretentious, or all-too-easily invoked, expedient for folks who ardently need a way to articulate the feeling they either can’t quite explain or desperately wish to get in touch with.

I can –and have– made lists of the myriad songs that have pulled me through; the ones that rise above the ranks and never cease to inspire, console, recalibrate. Anyone who has followed this blog understands there is no shortage of material. But today, for a number of reasons, I think of one artist who has literally made a career out of using his extraordinary abilities to create beauty: Herbie Hancock. In addition to merely being a genius, and one of the seminal American musicians of the last century, virtually everything he has produced is infused with a joy, an awe, a sort of grace combined with humility that keeps the sounds fresh, vital, unequivocally positive. And deep. Hancock is a profoundly peaceful and erudite dude, and that intelligence, humor and drive propels the indefatigable quest he’s been on, and the staggering body of work he’s accumulated since the ’50s (!). (Much more on him, here: HERE). And, of course, the great man just received the Kennedy Center Honors treatment; more on that, here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/kennedy-center-honors-recipient-herbie-hancock-still-seeking-the-next-sounds/2013/12/05/14683214-5b6b-11e3-a66d-156b463c78aa_story.html

Here then, are a handful of tracks that, for me, are ceaselessly fresh and fertile; they are human answers to unknowable riddles. They achieve what Art, and the humans who create it, is capable of when it is undertaken with the rare combination of honesty and awe: it is the greatness we are in the presence of when we see what is best about ourselves.

First, here he is as part of the greatest band ever assembled (much more on the second Miles Quintet, here: http://bullmurph.com/2010/06/02/five-guys-or-the-greatest-band-of-all-time-no-really/).

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Butch Warren, R.I.P.

I know I sound like a broken record on these occasions but the simple fact of the matter is this: there are artists leaving our planet who can’t –and in some ways, shouldn’t– be replaced.

The musicians who appeared on so many classic sides cut during the mid-’50s to late-’60s (perhaps best but certainly not solely represented by the Blue Note label) are part of a critical, incomparable era in American culture. The real golden era of jazz, in terms of musicianship, influence and import, produced legends we know by one-word-names: Miles, Monk, Mingus, Coltrane, Herbie

And lest I be accused of living in the past, anyone who reads this blog knows I can be counted amongst those who feel jazz –as a music, as a cultural statement, as a way of life– is as vital, encompassing and empowering as it’s ever been. I mean that, and I celebrate where we are, and wherever we’re going. It’ll be somewhere good. It always is.

Still…man, the sheer volume of unbelievable music made during that golden era: it staggers the mind. It’s a bank vault of something more valuable than cash, and the register never rings empty.

It is with sadness, but deep respect and appreciation, that we bid farewell to Butch Warren, crackerjack bassist who made crucial contributions to too many classic albums to count. (Nice obit HERE: like so many musicians, in jazz circles or otherwise, his life was not easy, further complicated by questionable decisions, and he lived longer than he might have, albeit in circumstances and conditions that could be best described as unfair, unjust or plain unacceptable. And yet, his legacy will be the indispensable masterworks he is forever a part of.)

Let’s pick five songs from five albums where he was not merely present (enough of a statement, considering the talent pool), he was a presence. Paired with the immortal Billy Higgins, as he is on three of the five songs below, there is a rhythmic swing and underpinning that can’t –and in some ways, shouldn’t– be described with words. Words are inadequate tools for the task, but the feelings that inform them never are. It is with that feeling of respect, awe and, once more, appreciation, that I bid a fond adieu to Butch, but know that I can –and often will– invite him into my world anytime I choose.

“Watermelon Man” (the original version, with an up-and-coming piano player named Herbie Hancock. And Higgins!)

“Voodoo” with the criminally overlooked and underappreciated Sonny Clark (he and Higgins do WORK on this masterpiece; one of my all-time favorites):

“Vertigo” from the classic album of the same name by Jackie McLean (!!), featuring a very young drummer named Tony Williams, who almost steals the show.

“Recorda Me” with the great Joe Henderson:

“Pentacostal Feelin'” from Free Form with trumpet badass Donald Byrd (and, again, Higgins!):

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Herbie Hancock: Your Semi-Regular Reminder…

That THIS guy is cooler than everyone else, and always has been.

YouTube strikes again, this time with some epic and miraculous footage of his epic and miraculous septet, Mwandishi, circa 1972.

Just like his one-time employer Miles Davis (more on him HERE; more on them together, HERE), HH was adroit at recruiting talent and putting their abilities to excellent use. The work he was doing in the early ’70s is probably not appreciated, still, for how amazing, forward-thinking, and far-reaching it was.

Herbie, in short, is the man.

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Herbie Hancock: IN THE HOUSE

The coolness of Herbie Hancock is a topic I’ve grappled with on at least a couple of occasions (the key takeaway: he’s cooler than me, you, and everyone else we know).

For a fuller assessment, you can check out my thoughts HERE and HERE.

The long and short:

Everyone knows that Herbie Hancock is one of the coolest men on the planet, and has been for almost half a century. Anyone who doesn’t know this doesn’t know much; all we can offer them are condolences. Only Miles Davis, with whom Hancock worked for several crucial years (in both mens’ lives) during the mid-’60s, can possibly be invoked in any discussion of popular musicians who consistently shaped, then challenged the vanguard over a substantial period of time. These artists not only made new music but changed music on at least a handful of occasions.

Most folks know, and love, Hancock from what was likely their first association with him: the song (and more significantly, the video) “Rockit”, which was prominent in the MTV rotation circa 1983. The import of this one song is impossible to overstate: it not only spotlighted black men on the then-lilywhite music video channel, it spotlighted a jazz band. On top of that, it served as a mainstream introduction to scratching and turntable pyrotechnics. To say the earth was no longer flat, sonically speaking, after “Rockit” is only hinting at its influence.

But before the ’80s, Hancock made music that remains fresh and vital. Just looking at some of the album covers from the ’70s era (below) should hearten the faithful and intimidate the weak. Street cred? Can you say soundtrack to Death Wish? That not impressive enough? How about Antonioni’s Blow-Up?

How about the cover art for some of those early ’70s joints. Any questions?

       

Of course, Herbie arguably made his most enduring music in the ’60s. In 1963 Miles Davis asked Hancock (along with bassist Ron Carter, tenor sax player Wayne Shorter and seventeen year old wunderkind drummer Tony Williams) to join his new quintet. To put it as simply as possible, this is the best band ever assembled in jazz history; only John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet comes close. And while many geniuses, from Charlie Parker to Ornette Coleman, led top-tier collectives, there is really no touching this ensemble.

But we all already knew this, right?

Right.

So……imagine my delight when I stumbled on this, a complete in-color concert from back in the DIZAY, on our best friend, YouTube.

If you think I am inclined (or able) to describe what happens, you are mistaken. Just kick back and watch, listen and learn what all of us already know.

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Following These Footprints

Check this out.

A few years back I opined that the second great Miles Davis quintet was the greatest group of musicians ever assembled in one collective. I stand by that, and reprint the piece, below.

Listening to what they do on the seminal Wayne Shorter composition, “Footprints”, is as good a case that can be made for their sublime status.

Even after 20+ years, I find myself out-and-out marveling at what Tony Williams does on this track. The double-time, the outside-the-pocket pyrotechnics, the swing and the mother-loving soul. This is, truly, as good as it gets.

Miles Davis.

Herbie Hancock.

Wayne Shorter.

Tony Williams.

Ron Carter.

Those men, individually, are some of the most important and brilliant musicians of the last century. Together? Forget about it. This quintet (Davis’s second famous fivesome) was an unstoppable force and they made some of the greatest albums. In jazz music? In any music.

Miles and Herbie need little, if any introduction or elaboration. They were gods then and they remain gods, now. Seriously, you could spend years studying and absorbing the almost overwhelming volume of music they’ve made. And while the sheer quantity is impressive, the quality is astonishing.

Ron Carter (who, like Hancock and Shorter, is still with us) is certainly one of the best loved and highly regarded bassists. He also plays a mean cello (check him out making some of the most beautifully odd, or oddly beautiful music you’re ever likely to hear with the immaculate Eric Dolphy on Out There). To get a handle on his legacy, take a peak at his Wikipedia page. Just look at the number of albums –and the variety of brilliant musicians– his name is associated with.

Wayne Shorter is, for my money, possibly the most underrated genius in any genre of music. To be sure, he gets plenty of props within jazz circles and the people who know really know. And in his wise, humble way, he is probably cool with that. But his name does not come up quickly enough, or often enough in discussions of the true masters. And aside from his considerable proficiency on the horn(s), he is also among the most distinctive and consistently satisfying composers. And while Miles, who was without peer in assembling talent, had the vision and deservedly gets the lion’s share of the credit (he was the lion, after all), a good chunk of the material on those second quintet sessions was written by Shorter. And here’s where it gets unbelievable: all through the mid-to-late ’60s –at the same time they were in The Quintet– he (as well as Hancock) was dropping epic masterpieces on the Blue Note label (think Maiden Voyage, Speak Like A Child, JuJu, Speak No Evil –for starters).

And finally, the wunderkind. If you were to make a short list –and I will, someday soon– of the best drummers (I won’t say “in jazz” because the best drummers in jazz are, virtually without exception, the best drummers period), Williams would be difficult to top. He is generally regarded as one of the most exciting and original drummers (and if you think the invocation of the word “original” –that most unoriginal of invocations– is facile, just listen to him: few, if any, drummers could change tempos and go from smooth to scorching like him). Discovered by (the great) Jackie McLean, he played on his first session as a sixteen year old (on Vertigo, along with Herbie Hancock). Check him out on McLean’s next album, One Step Beyond:

Whenever the topic of Jazz comes up (why I love it; why anyone else should like it), I invariably mention John Coltrane since he is, in many regards, the ideal starting point and the one you always, always come back to. And then there is Mingus. And Monk. And many others (obviously).

But aside from John Coltrane’s classic quartet, there is no jazz band that can hold a candle to the second Miles Davis quintet. And if their time together was brief (relatively speaking), they more than made the most of their partnership. And, needless to say, they all went on to make several more decades of miraculous music.

Here is a quintet, from the quintet.

(Wait, I’m not going to elaborate on why this music is exceptional or what makes it indelible? Of course not. I’m not inclined to embarrass myself, or the musicians, attempting to unravel the inscrutable or explain the lightning-in-a-recording-studio chemistry that blessed these sessions. And, as (the great) Dewey Redman said, it’s all, ultimately, in “The Ear of the Behearer”.)

If this is the first time you are hearing this music, do yourself a favor and make sure it’s not your last. But I don’t need to tell you that, right?

“Circle”, from Miles Smiles:

“Pinocchio” from Nefertiti:

“Water Babies”, from Water Babies:

“Black Comedy” from Miles In The Sky:

“Agitation”, from E.S.P. (live):

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What’s It All About, Then? Part Two: Jazz, Featuring Wayne Shorter (Revisited)

Wayne Shorter is about to turn 80.

He continues to record, play and inspire.

Of the many musicians I admire and seek in some way to emulate (as artists, as people), Shorter is near the top of the list.

His dedication to his craft, his modesty and the astonishing body of work he continues to produce make him a natural source of good natured envy.

How does he do it? A recent piece in the New York Times sheds some excellent insight (check out the article HERE).

Shorter is always a peaceful, yet powerful force (in his playing, in his life) and his meditations on mortality and musicianship are never trite or typical:

To me there’s no such thing as beginning or end,” Mr. Shorter said. “I always say don’t discard the past completely because you have to bring with you the most valuable elements of experience, to be sort of like a flashlight. A flashlight into the unknown.”

A quote like that goes a long way to elucidating some of what moves this amazing man, but as usual, we need only to listen to the sounds to be reminded what some of us are capable of achieving.

6/8/2010:

There are not many people who have any idea what it’s like to be this cool. Even Wayne Shorter does not know, because he is too cool to stop and consider how cool he is. That’s what people like me are here for. And along with his partner in crime Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter has been one of the coolest dudes on the planet for more than half a century.

It was only last week, while talking about the (second) Miles Davis Quintet, i.e., the best working band to ever make music, that I had this to say about Wayne Shorter:

Wayne Shorter is, for my money, possibly the most underrated genius in any genre of music. To be sure, he gets plenty of props within jazz circles and the people who know really know. And in his wise, humble way, he is probably cool with that. But his name does not come up quickly enough, or often enough in discussions of the true masters. And aside from his considerable proficiency on the horn(s), he is also among the most distinctive and consistently satisfying composers. And while Miles, who was without peer in assembling talent, had the vision and deservedly gets the lion’s share of the credit (he was the lion, after all), a good chunk of the material on those second quintet sessions was written by Shorter. And here’s where it gets unbelievable: all through the mid-to-late ’60s –at the same time they were in The Quintet– he (as well as Hancock) was dropping epic masterpieces on the Blue Note label (think Maiden Voyage, Speak Like A Child, JuJu, Speak No Evil –for starters).

It occurs to me that while I occassionally wax ecstatic about jazz music (in general) and some of my all-time musical heroes (in particular), I have recently and with good reason invoked both the heavyweight champion John Coltrane and the man I unashamedly use words like “immortal” and “saint” to describe, Eric Dolphy. But I realize, when it comes to sax players and accessibility, perhaps I’ve been remiss to not put Wayne Shorter at the top of the list. Not that either Coltrane or Dolphy are necessarily intimidating, but they tend to both be acquired tastes (and by acquired taste I mean once you get it, you are on board for life and you won’t be satisfied until you own everything either man ever did –even the stuff like late-period Coltrane which you may never even listen to but you still must possess, for all the right and obvious reasons).

Wayne Shorter, on the other hand, is like imported dark chocolate. Or fresh Kona coffee beans. Or a 2004 Brunello (or a 1964 Brunello for that matter). Or whatever type of car people who appreciate cars get excited about. You get the picture. Wayne Shorter is, in other words, the authentic item that aficionados savor, but whom virtually anyone with unpolluted ears can immediately appreciate. We odd and admittedly obsessed folks who really love jazz have no agenda. Really. (I’m not talking about the aesthetic prigs who have nothing good to say about anything other than the music they endorse; that is a certain type of poseur who has always been amongst us, whether the topic is music, literature, movies or wine or food or coffee or, especially these days, beer, et cetera.) All we care about is disabusing opinionated but clueless blowhards of the notion that jazz is (insert cliche here: to include “old-fashioned dance music”, “boring”, “musical masturbation”, “shrieking”, “easy listening” (!!!), “overwhelming”, et cetera) what it is or, put another way, what it is so manifestly not.

Life is too short to try and pick up something you simply can’t appreciate. But if you’re willing to give it a shot you just might be surprised. So consider this five song sampler from Wayne Shorter a win/win: if you don’t like this, you don’t like jazz; if you do like it, welcome to the rest of your life.

“Deluge”, from JuJu:

“Speak No Evil”, from Speak No Evil:

“502 Blues (Drinkin’ and Drivin’)”, from Adam’s Apple:

“Miyako”, from Schizophrenia:

“De Pois Do Amor, O Vazio”, from Odyssey of Iska:

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