Friday, March 24, 2017

Listening to Prestige 252: Jackie McLean

"Jazzy" is a slang term that's fairly commonplace in our national discourse, and as it's generally used, it has nothing to do with jazz. If jazz musicians don't care for the word "jazz," as many of them don't (perhaps not so many as at one time), maybe it's not just because of its origin as a slang term for sexual intercourse. After all, there are a lot worse things than having your art form compared to sexual intercourse. Maybe it's the ancillary meanings that have grown up around it. The Jazz Age -- drinking bathtub gin and shallow partying. Don't give me any of that jazz - don't give me any of your insincere bullshit. He's studying Greek literature and all that jazz -- and a lot of other stuff that's not really important enough to talk about.
Let's jazz it up -- let's add some bells and whistles.

And "jazzy" means showy, glitzy, with lots of surface flash. If it's used in connection with music--well, it almost never is--it's not related to jazz. Will Smith's hip hop partner, when he was starting out, was Jazzy Jeff. If you watch movies on TV with closed captioning, which some of us older folks have to do, sometimes a caption will inform you that a "jazzy theme" is being played, and if your hearing ain't all that bad, you can tell that the background music for the scene has about as much relationship to jazz as...well, as the "noirish jazz" that also pops up on closed captions.

That being said, Jackie McLean's version of "Chasin' the Bird" is jazzy. It starts out with an odd dirgelike intro from Curtis Fuller, and the whole ensemble bursts into a lively, glitzy, spirited rendition of the head. Proving that something can be jazzy and real jazz at the same time. "Chasin' the Bird" is one of the many jazz compositions based on Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," which is one of the products of the Jazz Age.  And it's a joyous melody. We've heard it recently by Herbie Mann and Bobby Jaspar, and the joy comes through loud and clear in their version: chasin' a bird is a sunny, open pastime.

And "A Long Drink of the Blues" is bluesy. And long, And deeply satisfying: 20 minutes of jamming on the blues with a bunch of cats who know how to play the blues.

Gil Coggins is the newcomer on this session. He was raised in Harlem and Barbados by a mother
who played piano in church and encouraged him to play until he joined the army. Stationed in St. Louis, he received some encouragement from his tap-dancing sergeant, Honi Coles, but his real inspiration came when he met a jazz-loving 16-year-old kid who was playing trumpet with a local band in a bowling alley. Ten years later, he would reunite with that teenager in New York to record an album for Blue Note, the one called Miles Davis Volume 2.

Coggins was another one of those jazzmen, like Wendell Marshall, George Wallington and Teddy Charles, who gave himself a day job to fall back on. In 1954, he began selling real estate, and eventually he phased out of the music business and into real life, and realtor life. Like Wallington, he made a return to music later in life, recording his only two albums as a leader in 1990 and 2003. At the time of his death from an auto accident in 2004, he was playing regularly at an East Village club. His last album, Better Late Than Never, was released posthumously.

This is another one of those mix-and-match sessions. "What's New" was released first, on the Strange Blues" album. "Chasin' the Bird" and "Jackie's Ghost" both came out on a 1960 New Jazz release, Makin' the Changes, resulting in two dropped g's from the same session."A Long Drink of the Blues" waited until 1961 and the eponymous album, also on New Jazz. All three of these albums also included cuts from the earlier February 15 session.

 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

No comments: