Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Listening to Prestige Part 179: Jackie McLean

A recent study has found that listening to jazz makes you smarter and more creative. Makes sense to me.

But they seem to be saying that jazz is an undemanding sort of music, so you can put it on as background while you're studying, and that makes you smarter? I couldn't exactly swear to it. I didn't quite read the article all the way through. Maybe I'm not smart enough. So I should listen to more jazz.

And more creative? Absolutely. I always listen to jazz when I write this blog. But maybe I'm not a representative sample. As Etta Place told Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, "your line of work requires a specialized vocabulary."

But I am listening to jazz at the moment, and I am writing, and it's another Friday at Rudy's, and once again the day begins with Breakfast with Jackie, and the same quartet: Mal Waldron, Doug Watkins, Art Taylor.

And once again with a ballad. "When I Fall In Love" was written by Victor Young, who is best known for writing lush movie scores like Around the World in Eighty Days, but who actually had something of a jazz connection, which probably shouldn't be surprising, considering the wonderfully tangled family tree of American music, and which leads me to a convoluted digression, which also shouldn't be surprising, because listening to jazz has made me creative. Young's first big break was something of a reverse spin on jazz, when he was hired by bandleader Isham Jones to take an uptempo jazz number and rearrange it as dreamy ballad. The tune was Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," and one would have to say the rearrangement was a success.

It led to Young's being signed by Brunswick records to record more dance music. The recordings were strictly for squares, featuring waltzes and semi-classics, but he was able to give employment to up-and-coming jazz musicians like Bunny Berigan, Tommy Dorsey, Joe Venuti and Eddle Lang. His Wikipedia  entry mentions that one of his most interesting recordings of this period was "Goopy Geer (He Plays the Piano and He Plays By Ear," composed and performed by Herman Hupfeld, who also wrote "When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on the Tuba." Oh, and a little thing called "As Time Goes By."

Back to "When I Fall in Love," which has the syrupy quality one might expect from the composer of "Around the World in Eighty Days," but also seems to have the jazz possibilities one could expect from the employer of Berigan, Dorsey, Venuti and Lang, not to mention the Boswell Sisters and Lee Wiley. At any rate, it has a remarkable jazz pedigree, with recordings by any number of the giants. Here it's given a rendition that's less reverent than McLean's "Sentimental Journey," and hits just the right tone for the material. Great stuff.

"Abstractions" is one of Mal Waldron's first recorded compositions, and he would go on to establisn himself as a significant jazz composer, best known for John Coltrane's "Soul Eyes."

As with the previous Friday, McLean roped in a couple of the cats who were on tap for the next session: Donald Byrd, who had sat in with them the previous week as well, and Hank Mobley, new to the Fridays with Rudy gang. So what do you play if you're getting together for a jam session? How about Charlie Parker? With musicians like this, and a tune by Bird, you can't miss.

This is billed in the discography as a sextet session, even though only one track features the sextet. That track is also the "6" in the title of the album that conjoined the two Fridays: Jackie McLean -- 4, 5 and 6. It was released on both Prestige and New Jazz.

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