Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Volume Three: Jumpin' with Symphony Sid - Swing to Bop

47. Hal McIntyre and his Orchestra: This Is the Army, Mr. Jones
(Irving Berlin) 1942

48. Spike Jones and his City Slickers: In Der Fuhrer’s Face
(Oliver Wallace) 1942

49. Mickey Katz and his Kosher Jammers: Bagel Call Rag
(Billy Meyers-Elmer Schoebel-Jack Pettis) 1952

50. Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: Mood Indigo
(Duke Ellington-Irving Mills-Barney Bigard) 1957

51. Count Basie Orchestra: The Kid from Red Bank
(Neal Hefti) 1957

52. Stan Kenton and his Orchestra: Artistry in Rhythm
(Stan Kenton) 1944

53. Gene Krupa and his Orchestra, featuring Anita O'Day: Opus No. 1
(Sy Oliver) 1946

54. Billie Holiday with Tony Scott and his Orchestra: God Bless the Child
(Billie Holiday-Arthur Herzog, Jr.) 1956

55. Frank Sinatra: One for My Baby
(Harold Arlen) 1958

56. Ella Fitzgerald: Too Darn Hot
(Cole Porter) 1956

57. Nat King Cole Trio: Straighten Up and Fly Right
(Nat King Cole-Irving Mills) 1944

58. Les Paul and Mary Ford: How High the Moon
(Morgan Lewis-Nancy Hamilton) 1951

59. Harry "The Hipster" Gibson: Who Put the Benzedrine?
(Harry Gibson) 1947

60. Charlie Parker with Strings: Autumn in New York
(Vernon Duke) 1952

61. The Quintet: Perdido [live]
(Juan Tizol) 1953

62. Dizzy Gillespie: Caravan
(Juan Tizol) 1954

63. Bud Powell: Get Happy
(Ted Koehler-Harold Arlen) 1950

64. Art Tatum: Sweet Lorraine [live]
(Cliff Burwell-Mitchell Parish) 1955

65. Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio: Stardust
(Hoagy Carmichael-Mitchell Parish) 1952

66. The George Shearing Quintet: Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid
(Lester Young) 1949


"What makes bebop legitimate is the fact that when it was done, it was illegitimate."

-- Matthew Shipp

Much of the sentimental wartime pop produced in the early nineteen forties falls outside the purview of this project; early rock and roll was in many ways a reaction against the music of the period and much of the most famous pop of the period (Glenn Miller, the Andrews Sisters) had a tendency to be both repetitive and vapid, although, on occasion, the humor and creativity of early jazz and hot swing did show through. As examples of songs of the period, Miller veteran Hal McIntyre’s recording of Irving Berlin’s patriotic “This Is the Army, Mr. Jones”, and, especially, Spike Jones’s gloriously obnoxious “Der Fuhrer’s Face” (from a Disney short of the same name) manage to balance humor, swing, and patriotism in a blend not often found in agit-prop songs. In a similar vein, the unjustly overlooked Mickey Katz (father of Joel Grey and grandfather of Jennifer Grey), who had contributed glugging sounds to a series of Jones’s parodies, produced Yiddish song parodies from the late the forties until the early sixties, combining a trad. Jazz / Swing fusion with Klezmer breaks he termed “Yiddish jazz.” The members of his “Kosher Jammers” were mostly veterans of the Goodman and Dorsey bands and his “Bagel Call Rag” features some astonishing breakneck soloing from Katz on clarinet and Mannie Klein on trumpet.

The war years were a period of very rapid change in popular music, due not only to the war itself, but to the American Federation of Musicians undertaking a recording strike, prompted by disputes of record royalties, from August, 1942, until late 1944. Musicians could not record (except on V-Discs, recordings made especially for use by the armed forces), although vocalists could and did. In an era in which swing bands balanced their repertoires between swinging instrumentals and softer, sweeter vocal tunes, the effect of the recording ban was profound: by the close of the ban, vocalists had become central to the American popular recording industry, a condition that has not changed since the forties. Also, freed from the constraints of commercial recording, many musicians focused on more adventurous playing; it’s generally agreed that bebop, with lengthy, complicated solos replacing full band or sectional playing of a song’s melody, developed during the recording ban.

Thus, in the post-war era, there are three distinctive major stylistic changes to swing-based jazz: the rise of non-danceable, intellectually and artistically-rigorous small group bebop (which effectively distanced jazz from mainstream pop), the further development of more compositionally complex full-band jazz (the golden age of Duke Ellington’s and Count Basie’s bands, and the experimentation of Stan Kenton), and what is usually thought of as the Golden Age of Traditional Pop Singing – solo jazz-inflected vocalists influenced by Armstrong and by Billie Holiday, singing selections from the Great American Songbook (the Gershwins, Cole Porter) in lightly swinging arrangements by former swing musicians (Nelson Riddle, especially, but also Billy May, Gordon Jenkins, and many others).

These stylistic changes were accompanied by very rapid technological changes – particularly the introduction of magnetic tape and Les Paul’s experimentation with tape-based overdubbing (“How High the Moon” features only Les Paul’s overdubbed guitars and Mary Ford’s overdubbed vocals). Further, the introduction of the long-playing album and the 45-rpm single in 1948 accompanied the boon in post-War incomes in America. Increased disposable income meant increased money that could be spent on entertainment; singles gradually becoming the province of casual listeners and, especially, teenagers while lps focused on classical, jazz, and “adult” pop. The greater track times available on lps made the reproduction of lengthy bebop performances on disc a reality and allowed concept-based albums by singers (particularly the classic Capitol Sinatra albums of the fifties) possible.

Bop grew out of earlier swing-based precursors, especially the rhythmic and harmonic innovations of Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Christian (both included on Volume Two): improvising complex melodic lines over a standard’s chord changes until the original melody is either unrecognizable or disappears completely. The bop musicians’ reliance on the same standards the pop vocalists were recording and re-recording, often songs from the previous twenty years that had initially been written for Broadway, further solidified the sense that these songs were the high point of uniquely American art – “Stardust” by Lester Young, “Sweet Lorraine” by Art Tatum, “Get Happy” by Bud Powell. By taking songs that were familiar to audiences and reinventing them harmonically and melodically, bop soloists created an effect similar to that already present in blues and much later evident in hip hop – the presentation of a singular individual vision against a pre-existing framework, resulting in the equivalent of modernist (and post-modernist) intertextuality.

Saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie are the recognized fathers of the genre. Parker’s favorite among his own recordings was the Bird with Strings album, which saw him playing more conventionally than his more critically-lauded recordings while the live recording of “Perdido” features him (billed as Charlie “Chan” for contractual reasons), Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and Bud Powell as “The Quintet.” Parker’s influence on jazz and, in particular, on the growing pre-eminence of the saxophone as the jazz instrument cannot be understated. As Mingus titled a composition, “If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Lot of Dead Copycats.”

Similar techniques were being employed by the pop vocalists; Billie Holiday’s technique of lagging behind the beat and ‘acting’ the song’s lyric was a profound influence on all pop singing to follow: Frank Sinatra named her as his greatest vocal influence (and her influence is clearly heard in the vocals included here by both Sinatra and by Anita O’Day), while Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald extend Louis Armstrong’s scat improvisation on the melody into swing territory.

The recording industry had changed massively by the end of the forties: technology allowed for greater innovation while the gulf between jazz and pop started to widen into one that would never again be closed. As pop became big business again, the album became the venue of “adult” artists and singles started to be where novelties, dance records, and unproven artists found their outlet, thus setting the stage for the rhythm and blues and rock and roll revolutions to come.



Christopher said...

Ok, ok. Your Spike Jones inclusion takes me back to hearing his 78s at Grandma's house as a kid.

Pretty good representative selections here, but I'd have to go for another Holiday tune. "Strange Fruit" seems indispensible, and I'm also partial to the Lady in Satin recordings and her own untouchable (rather than Parker's) "Autumn in NY." "God Bless the Child" is great, but there is better and more important material.

Same take on Parker. The Parker with Strings LP may have been a fav for him, but is hardly at the heart of some things he did that have lasted. Seems the 1945 small-group Diz/Bird (I think with Miles in the combo, too!) stuff is more representative of Parker's achievement--"Koko" perhaps, or a live "Night in Tunisia"? And for pure kicks, I'll dig on Dizzy's "Swing Low Sweet Cadillac" anyday.

Your framing of bebop's development in relation to wartime recording restrictions is interesting. Too bad that happened -- it forces one to wonder if more 'out' playing wouldn't have eventually found a bit of a foothold in the mainstream and therefore helped pop & the artists. Of course & on the other hand, it may have killed any good music for years to come if that recording limitation hadn't been imposed. We'd all be listening to what Woody Guthrie disdainfully called the "orgasm girls." Still, the wedge that gets driven in here between pazz & jop is perhaps the best explanation for the unfortunate impossiblity of getting most listeners to hear what's good in what the post-Coleman/Ayler/Taylor free improv people (Anthony Braxton, Peter Brotzmann, etc.) are doing.

If any other readers are going to see Club D'Elf play tomorrow night, I'll see you there.

Bird lives!

History of Pop said...

I can see your point about "Strange Fruit"; it is culturally iconic, but, for me, "God Bless the Child" gets the essence of Billie Holiday's personality and vocal style, so that's what I went with. As for Bird, I think the live "Perdido" is pretty representative . . . and Diz's "Caravan" is great and I wanted the song to appear somewhere in the history, though it does result in back-to-back Juan Tizol compositions. I can't think of him without thinking of the Mingus-Tizol altercation when they were both with Ellington.

Your point about the post-Ornette free people is intriguing; I'm not sure what could have made pop people more interested there - I think the danceability issue shouldn't be overlooked as a factor separating jazz and pop. Look at what prog did to set the stage for disco, for example.

If you haven't heard Mickey Katz, you should check him out; I'm on an 'evangelizing for Yiddish jazz" kick right now - the parodies are silly, but the playing is really really hot. Nearly every track I've heard features a couple jawdropping klezmer jazz breaks . . . good stuff.