Saturday, August 16, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records, Part 20: Sonny Stitt/Bud Powell

When Chuck Berry said he had no kick against modern jazz, except they try to play it too darn fast, he had to have been thinking of sessions like this one -- Sonny Stitt leading the same group six  weeks later, and this time tearing through four uptempo numbers - five if you count the alternate take on "Fine and Dandy."

This group features the men who revolutionized modern music, but two who especially revolutionized it. Max Roach, with Kenny Clarke, changed the way that drums were played, moving the beat to the lighter, more flexible high-hat cymbal, and using the bass drum for accents. Bud Powell changed the way that the piano was played, giving a different role to the left hand. This led to the denigration of modern players as one-handed. Art Tatum, in particular, was initially disdainful of Powell, declaring that he could only play with one hand, until Powell proved him wrong by playing a tricky uptempo solo entirely with his left hand.

But Berry was wrong, of course. It's fast, but not too darn fast. In the hands of masters like these, the speed is exhilarating and joyous, and the complexity and surprises of bebop only make it more so.

These are songs I wouldn't have thought of as jazz standards, especially "Strike up the Band" and "I Want to Be Happy," but actually they've been recorded by others -- Art Farmer, Stan Getz and Red Garland have all found ways to jazz up George Gershwin's version of marching band music, and Ella Fitzgerald and princess of Cool Chris Connor have done vocal versions.

This is great stuff, alive and thrilling. You've gotta listen.

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