Jazz à la Mode Blog

Tom Reney’s writings delve into the history and mystery of jazz, blues, and beyond. The Jazz à la Mode Blog has plenty to stimulate your interest and curiosity in American music.

Clifford Jordan
Rick McGinniss / http://someoldpicturesitook.blogspot.com/

I'm dusting off Clifford Jordan's Repetition for my feature in tonight's Jazz à la Mode. It brought a warmth to my heart when it was released in 1984-- the year I began hosting the show-- for by then I'd been savoring the memory of having seen Jordan and pianist Barry Harris, with bassist Vishnu Wood and drummer Clifford Jarvis, at Hampshire College six years earlier. Their Monday evening concert took place during a period in which I saw an astonishing amount of live music, mostly jazz, that ranged from mainstream to post-hard bop to avant-garde.

Randy Weston
Chuck Stewart / Mosaic Records

Randy Weston, who died on September 1 at 92, was one of my early favorites among jazz pianists. Like his “biggest influence,” Thelonious Monk, as well as Herbie Nichols, Cecil Taylor, and Abdullah Ibrahim, Randy had a powerful touch that reflected the influence of Duke Ellington. (Ellington was sufficiently impressed with Weston's playing to produce Randy's album Berkshire Blues, in 1965.) In Weston's case, early influences also included pianists Count Basie, Art Tatum and Nat "King" Cole, and the arpeggiated improvising style of Coleman Hawkins.

Aretha Franklin at President Barack Obama's Inauguration, January 20, 2009
Jason Reed / Reuters

As with many of you, my Aretha Franklin vigil began with the news of August 13 that she'd entered hospice, and for the next two days I posted some reflections on Lady Soul on Facebook. Then on what proved to be the eve of her death, I listened to her throughout a three-hour drive to Cape Cod and could hardly contain myself. Hers is simply the most powerful-- and versatile-- voice of my lifetime.

Alas, Aretha Franklin died on Thursday, August 16, three days after I posted the tribute below to the Queen of Soul.  We listened to Ree for our three-hour drive to Cape Cod on Wednesday night and I could hardly contain myself. Hers is simply the most powerful and versatile voice of my lifetime. The line that's resonated most this week is "If you walk in that door, I can get up off my knees," from "Since You've Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby)." It reminds me of a to-the-point reflection sent by a 70-year-old female friend, "Boy, did she ever get me through some tough times." 

I found impeccable footage of T-Bone Walker two weeks ago and have been on the search for more ever since. T-Bone's performance of "Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong" was filmed in 1962 for a West German TV special, "Jazz Heard and Seen." He's accompanied by pianist Memphis Slim, bassist Willie Dixon, and drummer Jump Jackson, who were all part of that year's American Folk Blues Festival tour in Europe.

Charles Neville
Steven Sussman

Charles Neville died on Wednesday, April 25, aged 79, at his home in Huntington, Massachusetts. He'd been ill for several months with pancreatic cancer.

April 6 was the bluesman Walter Horton's birthday. When I first read of him, his birth year was given as 1918, but now I see it listed as 1921, which if accurate means he was 51 when I first saw him at Joe's Place in 1972. He was touring with Chicago bluesmen Eddie Taylor (one of his earliest and longest colleagues) and Carey Bell (a young protege), both of whom were on his new Alligator album, Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell.

Steve Kuhn
Steven Sussman

I spoke with Steve Kuhn in 2004. The pianist had just released the album, Promises Kept, which fulfilled his goal of recording a program of original compositions with a string ensemble. The record was a posthumous tribute to his parents Stella and Carl Kuhn. Bob Blumenthal, a close observer of Kuhn’s career for several decades, said that “in giving full reign to his emotions, Kuhn has created both his most personal and his most beautiful recording.”

Jackie McLean
Steve Lehman

Jackie McLean, jazz legend and patron saint of the Hartford jazz community, was the subject of the 1979 documentary, "Jackie McLean on Mars." I attended its Hartford premier in 1980, and have watched it many times since, but thanks to a Jazz Wax post this week, I gave it another look this morning.  Jackie's charisma and patter alone make it worthwhile, but there's some great footage of the master playing "What's New," and discussing the challenges of maintaining his chops and keeping (or not) to a practice schedule.

In the speech he gave before the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington in August 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., employed the refrain, “Now is the time.” Was he inspired by Charlie Parker’s, “Now’s the Time,” the bop classic that Parker recorded in 1945? Bebop's urgency had implications stretching beyond music, and many found among the leading figures in modern jazz the embodiment of a new African American consciousness.

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