On August 17, 1959—50 years ago exactly—Columbia Records released Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which became not only the best-selling jazz album of all time but also one of the best jazz albums, period, the spearhead of the “modal” revolution.
Charlie Haden, the world’s most distinctive and enticing bass player, seems to have adopted a new tradition. It started as a special occasion, a dozen years ago, in celebration of his 60th birthday, when he played a week of duets at the Blue Note jazz club in New York, each night with a different pianist. He repeated the experiment on his 70th, and this week he’s doing it again, just short of his 72nd, not a round number, which leads me to suspect he’s doing it—and may do it again, semi-regularly—simply because it’s so thrilling, so fun.
Acoustic Sounds, Chad Kassem’s Oz of analog wonders, has expanded its line of 45rpm jazz reissues to the Impulse! catalogue. Like the Blue Notes, which Kassem and Mike Hobson’s Classic Records have already covered (at 45, 33-1/3, 180g, 200g, black vinyl, clear vinyl, just about any format you might imagine), the great Impulse! albums were engineered by Rudy Van Gelder and featured the masters of their day—Coltrane, Mingus, Rollins, and, one of the most innovative big-band arrangers in modern jazz, Gil Evans.
What’s the point of having a blog if I can’t occasionally indulge in self-promotion? So if you’ll forgive my blatancy for a moment, today marks the official pub date of my new book, 1959: The Year Everything Changed. Unlike my last book, which was entirely about foreign policy, this one actually might be of some interest to the readers of this space, because it covers not just politics but also culture, society, science, sex—as the title suggests, everything. More to the point, there are three chapters (out of 25) that deal explicitly with jazz. (Key jazz albums of 1959 included Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out.) There’s also a chapter about the creation of Motown (another 1959 phenomenon), and a jazz-blues vibe infuses the whole book.
Trumpeter Dave Douglas’ new album, Spirit Moves, featuring his Brass Ecstasy quintet, is a rouser: hot, cool, raucous, pensive, sometimes all at once, and always a lot of fun. The band’s name is a play on the late Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, and they share a similar hard-blowing vibe—as well as two of the players (Luis Bonilla on trombone and Vincent Chancey on French horn)—but where Bowie used the band to riff on the pop tunes of the day (long before The Bad Plus), Douglas’ sources are mainly original tunes with a zesty swing and a dash of his trademark Mediterranean melancholy.
The Jazz Journalists’ Association held its annual awards bash this week, honoring musicians and their work for the period from March 2008 to March 2009. Here’s who won in each of the major categories, followed by who got my vote and why.
Joe Lovano’s Folk Art, his 22nd album on the Blue Note label, is an odd, sometimes jarring record—it took a few hearings before I found my bearings—but once the fragments snap into place, it’s a rousing pleaser, bursting with indigo moods, heart-skipped romance, and free-flow funk riffs. Lovano plays all kinds of reeds—tenor sax, straight alto sax, clarinet, and, on one song, the aulochrome, a Hungarian-built horn that’s a double soprano sax (attached to one reed), each side tuned to a different key, so that you blow melody and harmony simultaneously. He plays with a somewhat hardened tone, reminiscent of Sonny Rollins, but with a more soulful sensibility, stemming from his Midwestern roots (his father was a tenor blues saxophonist in Cleveland), though over the past couple decades, he’s played with, and gleaned ideas from, a wide variety of masters, including Hank Jones, Gunther Schuller, and Mel Lewis, to name a few.
I’ve just found out about a new, and unlikely, place to go hear jazz in New York City: the Cacao Bar at the Chocolate Factory, a.k.a. MarieBelle. Most of the time, it’s a chi-chi caf—on the 2nd floor of 762 Madison Avenue, between E. 65th and 66th Streets—that serves hyper-rich chocolates, exotic drinks, and (so I’m told) killer short ribs. But on Wednesday nights, from 7:30 to 10, jazz musicians—a pianist and usually just one or two others (there’s no room for more)—come in and play.