Swing

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The Swing genre represents a golden age for jazz that showed its first signs in the mid-20s, but really peaked from the mid-30s to the mid-40s. Going well into the 20s, most jazz bands still played in New Orleans or Dixieland styles in which the musicians all improvised simultaneously while staying within the boundaries of the original tune's melody and harmony.

When cornetist Louis Armstrong joined Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra in 1924, the band's arranger, Don Redman, knew he had a rare talent on his hands and began to spotlight Armstrong's melodic skills. No longer would the entire band improvise, instead Armstrong would be given the freedom to take solos to new heights while the rest of the band supplied supporting riffs. This new approach to band arranging spread and reached the public at a time when people were looking for large orchestral bands that could provide an evening's worth of dance music. Thus the golden age for big band jazz was born.

From 1935 to about 1946 jazz dance bands led by the likes of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington were the number one form of entertainment in the US. The swing era finally came to an end when new taxation laws on nightclubs made dance floors unprofitable and jazz became an entertainment for listening, not dancing.

On JMA, The Classic (1920s) Jazz genre is considered the genre that happens between the end of Dixieland and the beginning of Swing. Many of the originators of swing, such as Louis Armstrong, can be found in the Classic Jazz genre.

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BIRÉLI LAGRÈNE Gipsy Project Album Cover Gipsy Project
BIRÉLI LAGRÈNE
5.00 | 1 ratings
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BIRÉLI LAGRÈNE Gipsy Project & Friends Album Cover Gipsy Project & Friends
BIRÉLI LAGRÈNE
5.00 | 1 ratings
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BIRÉLI LAGRÈNE Move Album Cover Move
BIRÉLI LAGRÈNE
5.00 | 1 ratings
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SCOTT HAMILTON Across the Tracks Album Cover Across the Tracks
SCOTT HAMILTON
5.00 | 1 ratings
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BUDDY RICH The Roar of '74 Album Cover The Roar of '74
BUDDY RICH
5.00 | 1 ratings
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ART TATUM The Art Tatum - Ben Webster Quartet Album Cover The Art Tatum - Ben Webster Quartet
ART TATUM
5.00 | 1 ratings
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IKE QUEBEC It Might as Well Be Spring Album Cover It Might as Well Be Spring
IKE QUEBEC
4.75 | 2 ratings
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IKE QUEBEC Blue and Sentimental Album Cover Blue and Sentimental
IKE QUEBEC
4.52 | 2 ratings
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STÉPHANE GRAPPELLI Jazz in Paris: Improvisations Album Cover Jazz in Paris: Improvisations
STÉPHANE GRAPPELLI
4.50 | 2 ratings
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DUKE ELLINGTON Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (aka Incontro Duke Ellington & Coleman Hawkins) Album Cover Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (aka Incontro Duke Ellington & Coleman Hawkins)
DUKE ELLINGTON
4.50 | 2 ratings
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ROY ELDRIDGE Montreux 77 Album Cover Montreux 77
ROY ELDRIDGE
4.50 | 1 ratings
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DUKE ELLINGTON Play The Blues - Back To Back (with Johnny Hodges) Album Cover Play The Blues - Back To Back (with Johnny Hodges)
DUKE ELLINGTON
4.50 | 1 ratings
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swing Music Reviews

COLEMAN HAWKINS At Ease With Coleman Hawkins

Album · 1960 · Swing
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js
Mood music was a phenomena that arose in the 50s with the arrival of the long playing album and was designed to provide a ‘relaxing atmosphere’ for people during times of leisure. Often these albums consisted of rather faceless orchestras playing classic ballads in a rather bland and unobtrusive manner, but a not uncommon alternative to the generic orchestra would involve having a well known jazz musician play the ballads instead. Big stars from Charlie Parker to John Coltrane have recorded such albums and these sides can range from cheezy and forget-able to decent sets of jazz, albeit a bit laid back. Fortunately, Coleman Hawkins’, “At Ease with Coleman Hawkins”, falls into that latter group.

If you had to pick the nicest tone in saxophone history, Hawkins would rate at the top along side fellow reed men like Johnny Hodges and Lester Young. For those unfamiliar with his history, Hawkins, pretty much by himself, invited modern saxophone playing in the late 20s and made the saxophone a competitive solo instrument with his virtuoso solos and smooth tone that is still hard to match today. Coleman brings all that virtuosity to “at Ease”, but keeps things in a relaxed manner as required by the mood music setting.

In comparison to other jazz albums that double as easy listening, “at Ease” rates very well. One big plus on here is that there are no background strings weighting down the sound, often a big problem with other jazz mood albums. Instead, the only instruments you get on “at Ease” are a simple four piece combo with the great Tommy Flanagan on piano. A second big plus is the choice of tunes. Easy listening albums are notorious for featuring songs that have been played to death, not so on this one, apparently Hawkins picked the tunes himself, and his choices are thoughtful and unique. Fans of Coleman Hawkins don’t need to be afraid of this one, Hawkins keeps it mellow, but he doesn’t necessarily check his genius at the door, there is a lot of great playing on here, inventive and unique as always.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS The Smithsonian Collection Of Classic Jazz

Boxset / Compilation · 1973 · Swing
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js
This review is written using the original Smithsonian Collection of Jazz issued on 6 LPs that came in a box with an excellent 46 page booklet. If you are looking for a good way to get an overview of jazz history from New Orleans up to the early 60s, you couldn’t do much better than this one. Almost all of the important players are here and arranged in very logical chronological order, or sometimes grouped by genre and/or instrument. Much effort was made in assembling this package to present jazz as it grew and changed over the years. There are a few omissions and those will be covered later in this review.

This collection starts where it should, in New Orleans in the early 20s, and finally ends with John Coltrane’s “Alabama”. In between you get several cuts by major innovators like Ellington, Parker and Armstrong, and at least one cut from anyone else who was important. A top highlight of this collection comes early on when Scott Joplin’s version of “Maple Leaf Rag” is followed by Jelly Roll Morton’s, and it becomes clear what this new “jass” was all about. From the beginning jazz was a nuanced musical language whereby “hipsters” could transform pop tunes and make them personal creations in a way that was difficult to imitate and in a manner that left “squares” clueless. It’s this attempt to always stay one step ahead of the imitators that has fueled most of jazz’s innovations. Another similar juxtaposition comes when the collection follow’s Benny Goodman’s version of “Body and Soul” with Coleman Hawkin’s version. No doubt Goodman was a major talent, but no one could transform a melody like Hawkins.

Another highlight in the chronology occurs when Ellington makes his first appearance. The Basie cuts preceding Ellington are great energetic rockin swingin numbers, but when the first couple bars of Ellington’s “East St Louis Toodle-Oo” come slinking into the picture, its obvious we have entered a whole new universe. Actually the first couple bars of that tune almost sound like a ‘Knitting Factory’ band in NYC’s 21st Century, but when the tune proper kicks in, there is no doubt that this is Ellington in the late 20s, a couple centuries ahead of his time, and still so today. This whole new universe effect happens again when Parker and Gillespie show up, and once more when Cecil Taylor unveils “Enter Evening”.

This is an excellent collection, but there are some omissions. The most glaring is that nothing is included from Coltrane’s hard bop years, particularly the groundbreaking album “Giant Steps” and even more particularly, the hugely influential title track. Possibly still the most influential tune in modern jazz, the fast moving and difficult chord changes to “Giant Steps” continue to be a holy grail for young saxophone players who want to prove their skills. It was probably hard to include every major player, but if I had to pick the one most missed it would be Eric Dolphy, one of the few musicians who seemed capable of expanding on what Parker had established. Although there is an attempt to show the roots of jazz with one ragtime tune and a couple early blues numbers, it would have been nice to hear even earlier music that demonstrates the relationship between traditional African music and pre-jazz brass bands. Recordings of rural Louisiana brass bands, as late as the 1950s, playing in a very African style that preceded jazz, do exist.

There is a CD re-issue of this collection that corrects a few other omissions, particularly the Bill Evans Trio and Wes Montgomery. The CD collection also quite slyly jumps a decade and a half at the very end to feature one cut from 1979 by The World Saxophone Quartet. The implication being that the fusion/smooth jazz years were merely a diversion, the real innovations in jazz will be coming from guys like Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Hamie Bluiett and David Murray.

LESTER YOUNG Lester Young: Ken Burns Jazz

Boxset / Compilation · 2000 · Swing
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js
“Lester Young: Ken Burns Jazz” is a great collection of Lester Young tunes that is often criticized for its sound quality. Personally I find most of this CD to be fine, but unfortunately I think what gives people such a bad impression is that the worst moments come at the very beginning. The first 30 seconds are unbearable with a loud hiss that buries the opening piano, but after that first half a minute, the instruments seem to strengthen and the rest of the CD seems to be OK, except for “Twelfth Street Rag“, which also suffers from a very prominent hiss. Having said all that, the music on here is excellent. Lester Young is one of those rare instrumental voices who transforms every tune he plays into a personal statement. Often credited with being one of the first great jazz soloists to take a cool approach to soloing as opposed to the expected “hot” approach, Young’s languid and slightly off-kilter phrases matched with his smooth sound can be mesmerizing.

This CD does a good job of spanning Young’s entire career and includes some good performances from late in his career when he had supposedly lost his skills due to alcohol. The different settings Young is cast in on here include many sides with the Count Basie Orchestra and its many smaller off-shoots like the Kansas City Six, as well as some cuts that feature his legendary accompaniments to the sultry Billie Holiday and some cuts that feature Young as a leader. The tunes recorded with Basie seem to show what Young was best at. The Basie Orchestra was anything but cool and their high energy romps and tight riffs make for a perfect foil for Young’s rhythmically loose solos that blur the crisp lines of the big band. Due to some of the sound issues, this may not be the best Young collection to buy, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is some excellent music.

STÉPHANE GRAPPELLI Jazz in Paris: Improvisations

Album · 1958 · Swing
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Atavachron
Jazz is the bleu cheese of popular music. It's robust, complex, sophisticated, and, as any good cheese, often smells like a dead man's feet. When you're talking jazz violin, the line between sweet & sour is thin; no frets or classical positions to rely on and four delicate strings so responsive and elastic it's a miracle a few straight notes are ever voiced. Plus you're improvising. It's like dancing in a swamp, and you better be damn good.

And Stéphane Grappelli was all kinds of good. More importantly, he was brave, and understood not just trad jazz but the art of spontaneity. He'd learned it the hard way busking in France, swinging and bopping his way to the top, paying his dues, and becoming one of the finest stringmen in the world. Some think of Grappelli as "gypsy music", though he is nothing of the sort. This is one of his earliest records proper as a solo artist (a sort of comeback for him after a dry spell) backed-up by the smokin' trio of piano great Mo Vander, double-bassist Pierre Michelot, and Baptiste Reilles' skins. The 1956 issue consists largely of standards, and Sinatra never did 'Lady is a Tramp' like this.

As a young jazz listener, I wasn't much partial to standards. I found them, well, boring. But here the beauty and possibilities of a quality tune is abundantly clear, the opportunity to to alter, even destroy and rebuild a good ditty, never more glorious. Grappelli's bluenotes curl around melodies and pull them into malleable phrases of giddy delight and musical wonder, as on 'Fascinatin Rhythm' with its sudden modulations and stuttering pace. Contemplative and slightly sad 'Dans la Vie', lively 'Cheek to Cheek', tightly-swung 'Taking a Chance on Love' with Grappelli all over the neck and Mo Vander starting to come out.

For '56 this is a lovely recording, levels for 'S'Wonderful' spot-on and Baptiste Reilles showing why he was considered the best brusher in the business. More Gershwin Bros. with 'Someone to Watch Over Me' sporting a misplaced harpsichord, bright-eyed and bushytailed 'If I Had You', sublime ruminations of 'Body and Soul' and frantic whirling of 'I Want to be Happy' where these boys just let it go. Utterly heartsick 'Shes Funny That Way' takes us along with two lovers walking & shopping in Paris, and 'Time After Time' allows us to peek into their intimacy later that night.

The historic session wraps with a hot-bop treatment of Cole Porter's 'Just One of Those Things' and a few alternate takes. If you're ready for Grappelli and what is possible from a good jazz violinist, he's ready for you and always will be-- hanging in time, waiting patiently for you to discover his elegant magic.

DUKE ELLINGTON The Intimate Ellington

Album · 1977 · Swing
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The title, “The Intimate Ellington”, was the perfect choice for this collection of odd recordings left over from various sessions. Many of these songs are recorded with small and unique ensembles giving a very clear and unobstructed look at the music of Duke Ellington. Some of the very best cuts feature just Ellington on piano backed by bass and drums. Getting to hear Duke’s piano playing this clearly is a real treat. You can certainly hear the roots of modernists like Monk and Sun Ra in Duke’s sparse open phrases and use of extreme ranges on the keyboard. Like those future pioneers, Ellington says more with simple obtuse phrases than others can say with cascades of sophisticated scales. Possibly the oddest cut on the album features Ellington playing the celeste while delivering a bizarre spoken reading of “Moon Maiden”.

Mostly recorded in the early 70s, the band cuts on here are great and feature a mix of old Ellington standbys like Paul Gonsalves and Johnny Hodges, as well as young up and coming modernists like Julian Priester. Some of the ensembles are a bit unusual for Ellington, particularly nice is “Intimate Interlude” which features Harry Carney on bass clarinet and Norris Turney on flute. All through this album flutes and low woodwinds are featured more prominently than is usual in the Duke’s music. Another unusual addition on a few cuts is early B3 organist Wild Bill Davis who uses an old school, almost theatre, sound on the organ. As is usual with Ellington’s music, the soloists are encouraged to use very expressive vocal like techniques that go back to the earliest days of jazz.

Ellington fans will find a lot to enjoy in this eclectic collection. A lot of these tunes were recorded with small groups so that Duke could work out ideas for various projects. Hearing Ellington in these more miniature and experimental settings allows the listener to hear this more “intimate” side to his music. The intimate feel to this collection is furthered by the outstanding recording quality of these cuts. Every instrument sounds very bold and clear, as if you were in the same room with them.

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