"Insightful writing, captivating photography and a 100 year history of recordings for jazz fans."
Please sign up for our free jazz newsletter and
Earl “Fatha” Hines was one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. His solos were consistently exciting and he had an innovative approach of his own from virtually the start of his career. With his dazzling technique and constant delight at playing the unpredictable even on familiar songs, Hines was always a joy to hear. – Scott Yanow
Louis Armstrong & Earl Hines
“Teachout delivers a taut and well-paced work that is astute in its critical judgments and gripping in its chronicle of the trumpeter’s life and times.” —The Weekly Standard
In this excerpt from his critically acclaimed biography “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, Terry Teachout explores the relationship between two of the great jazz pioneers.
The Randy Weston Songbook
Randy Weston was a jazz giant in every regards. His compositions are varied and appealing. His pianistic ability used Basie and Ellington as a foundation for his singular, all-encompassing style. He was also one of the most patient and compassionate humans to walk the earth. This episode David Brent Johnson’s Night Lights is a one-hour joyful journey into the remarkable music of a remarkable man.
– Michael Cuscuna
A Makeover for Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio
Steve Harvey’s article in Prosound about the late Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio and its recent innovation includes an amazing 1959 photograph of the studio under constructions. It was built to Rudy’s specs and design. He even found “cement” blocks made with a special acoustically favorable compound. The blocks were only made in the state of Washington and Rudy paid the railroad charges to bring thousands of them to his New Jersey property. – Michael Cuscuna
Bob Blumenthal’s essay on the Blue Note albums “Art Blakey Quintet: Live At Birdland” volume 1 & 2 cover their historical significance in pioneering live location recording, introducing new jazz giants to the public and setting the hard bop style in motion. The track “Quicksilver,” is feaatured and is the first of many Horace Silver compositions to become a jazz standard. The Quintet mix the virtuoso velocity of be-bop with bluesy, earthy attitude and phraseology. – Michael Cuscuna
Jason Moran Journeys to the Dawn of Jazz Cinema
Pianist-composer Jason Moran has joins the ranks of outstanding jazz artists with a talent for scoring film; he recently wrote the music for “Selma” and “13.thThe Criterion Channel is showing a library of film shorts on jazz made between 1929 and ’39 and talks with Jason about their content and sociological and historical significance in this fascinating interview. – Michael Cuscuna
A Presidential Moment: Lester as a Band Leader
Albert “Tootie” Heath, who very early in his career had shared the stage with Lester Young, gives his impression of Pres’s band leading technique. – Scott Wenzel
Impressions Of Art Tatum At The Grand Piano
George Duning, a Down Beat reporter and quite possibly the man with the same name who later became an Oscar winning conductor, gives the reader an idea of what it was like to see and hear Art Tatum in 1935, a breakthrough year for the musician who was taking the jazz world by storm and leaving mouths wide open and jaws dropping. – Scott Wenzel
Lee Konitz interview on John Coltrane
This 2007 interview is from Andy Hamilton’s “Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser’s Art.” Lee was always a creative artist with his own unique perspective on music and art. Beyond his incredibly dry wit, he was always a straight shooter with his opinions. His comments on Trane (and Bird) here are intriguing. – Michael Cuscuna
I’m In The Mood For Swing
Track analysis by Loren Schoenberg
Lionel Hampton hits pay dirt for the first time with arrangements and players that are of equal quality. Benny Carter, 30 years old and just back after three years in Europe, announced his return to his native country with brilliant writing and playing. Texas is represented by 22 year-old Benny Goodman trumpeter Harry James and 28 year old Herschel Evans, featured tenor saxophonist with Count Basie…
History of this Jazz Classic by Scott Yanow
It was a fairly simple swing tune that in a classic three-minute recording by Lionel Hampton virtually gave birth to rhythm and blues. Quite a few early r&b tenor players based much of their careers off of Illinois Jacquet’s two-chorus solo, and it became a must in virtually every performance by Hampton, Jacquet, and his successor Arnett Cobb…
Miles Davis Quintet
This version of Jimmy Heath’s Gingerbread Boy by Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams in Karlsruhe during their 1967 European tour is not to believed. That mere mortals can achieve this level still amazes me. -Michael Cuscuna
Bud Powell at Birdland: 1953
Bud Powell’s life had many ups and downs, and so did his playing. His trio work in the ‘50s ranged from sublime (the Blue Notes and some of the Verves) to dismal. Marc Myers highlights a 3-CD set of Bud live at Birdland issued on ESP-Disk. I haven’t hear the music but this review makes it incredibly enticing. -Michael Cuscuna
Conversation with Richie Beirach & Dave Liebman
One of the latest installments of David Schroeder’s NYU Steinhardt Jazz Studies interviews is with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach. Dave is well known as one of the great storytellers, but Richie has always been his equal and steps in on this in-depth conversation. -Michael Cuscuna
In Jazz History, 1957 belongs to
Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane
Bob Blumenthal provides an in-depth look at the special relationship and extraordinary music they produced. Includes the momentous 2005 discovery by the Library of Congress and analysis of the full Carnegie Hall concert.
“Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order I felt I learned from him in every way – through the senses, theoretically, technically. I would talk to Monk about musical problems, and he would sit at the piano and show me the answers just by playing them. I could watch him play and find out the things that I wanted to know. Also, I could see a lot of things that I didn’t know about at all.” – John Coltrane, Down Beat 1960
Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra
Roy Eldridge (tp), Benny Morton (tb), Chu Berry (ts), Teddy Wilson (p), Dave Barbour (g), John Kirby (b), Cozy Cole (d), Billie Holiday (vcl). NYC, October 25, 1935
There’s no mistaking Chu Berry’s influence on Charlie Parker (who named his first son for Berry) and every other bebopper, John Coltrane, and a host of other saxophonists today who may not even know from whom the ideas originated.
Spirits, Ghosts, Witches & Devils
The Life and Death of Albert Ayler
Magnet has republished Mitch Myers’ 2004 superb, well-researched story of the life and death of Albert Ayler, a musician who drew his inspirations from the early 1900s and created a unique path into the future. His life and his music remain mysterious and otherworldly.
Best Jazz Recordings
Hotter Than That
December 13, 1927
By Ricky Riccardi
By the time we get to “Hotter Than That” from late 1927, the New Orleans ensemble sound is mostly gone. It is now a string of solos from start to finish, Armstrong opening the proceedings and setting the bar high on this romp based on the chord changes to “Bill Bailey.” Clarinetist Dodds and trombonist Ory contribute exciting outings but both sound primitive after Armstrong’s seamless brand of swing.
In the middle of the record, we hear Armstrong’s distinct voice for the first time in a stunning display of scat singing. Armstrong had put scat on the map with his 1926 record of “Heebie Jeebies” but he turns the “nonsense singing” into high art here during his duet with special guest Lonnie Johnson, another New Orleans native and a pioneer guitarist.
In the final chorus, Armstrong uncorks a spiraling ascending phrase before hammering home a two-note riff over and over, foreshadowing a decade’s worth of big band writing that would follow in the 1930s.
Armstrong’s playing was now stimulated by younger contemporaries who grasped his concept on how to solo and how to swing. Having transformed jazz from an ensemble-based music into a soloist’s art, Armstrong bid adieu to the original Hot Five shortly after this session.
“We’re listening to Blue Train, which to me is one of the most beautiful pieces on one of the most beautiful records that Coltrane recorded in the fifties. – Michael Cuscuna, Traneumentary podcast
Christian McBride: How Jazz Will Return
Before the world went into lockdown, few musicians could match the Christian McBride for the sheer range and ferocity of his activity. Eric Easter of the Washington Post elicited some of McBride’s thoughts on what will happen in jazz, and in particular, live jazz, as the world braces to return to normal — or whatever normal will mean– and what will be different. -Nick Moy
Read from the Washington Post…
A Blues Surrealist
Adam Shatz has researched and written a brilliant essay on the life and music of Julius Hemphill, an extraordinary composer and alto saxophonist who never really attained the level of acceptance that he so richly deserved. -Michael Cuscuna
By Bob Blumenthal
Among its many exceptional qualities, it marks the first Blue Note appearance of the Butch Warren/Billy Higgins rhythm section that would also be heard on the label behind Jackie McLean, Sonny Clark, Hancock, Don Wilkerson and Dexter Gordon.
Count Basie Kansas City Seven
Lester Leaps In
September 5, 1939
By Loren Schoenberg
Lester Leaps In became the saxophonist’s own signature number for the remaining two decades of his life. It is based on I Got Rhythm a composition that he had already long used as a showcase. Here we get a glimmer of what John Hammond was referring to when he wrote:
La Plus Belle Africaine, 1969
Thanks to Scott Yanow and Jazz on the Tube for bringing this Ellington gem to the forefront: the band’s performance of La Plus Belle Africaine, from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Russell Procope’s clarinet kicks off the solos, Victor Gaskin adds an arco bass solo, Ellington comments and Harry Carney sums it up. -Nick Moy
The Thelonious Monk Orchestra
At Town Hall
By Bob Blumenthal
Unlike fellow modern pioneers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk did not pay substantial dues in the big bands. While Monk held the piano chair briefly in Gillespie’s orchestra, and had heard his “Round Midnight” introduced by Cootie Williams’ band, his music seemed resolutely small group oriented.
At the close of 1958, however, with his quartet disbanded and yet another licensing hassle temporarily keeping him out of New York City clubs, Monk embraced his advisors’ idea of presenting a concert featuring both a reorganized quartet and a larger ensemble.
The Rajah Reviewed
LondonJazzCollector does an excellent review of Lee Morgan’s The Rajah, now released on the Blue Note Tone Poet audiophile LP series. Unfortunately, they make one bizarre assumption that the catalog number of its first release in 1985 (BST 84426) was assigned in 1972 when Lee Morgan was killed. Actually we assigned the number in 1985 when we were still able to carry on the BST 84400 series in releases. -Michael Cuscuna
Clifford Brown & Max Roach
By Michael Cuscuna
Although he had only three years on the national jazz scene before his tragic death in an automobile accident in June, 1956, Clifford Brown managed to cast a large presence as a trumpeter and composer. His originals like “Minor Mood,” “Tiny Capers,” “Daahoud” and “Joy Spring” signified the arrival of a composer of substance with his own identity.
Much like Benny Golson, he had an enormous melodic gift and structural sense. Most of the tunes that he introduced during his all too short recording career have become jazz standards.
Three of his Greatest Compositions
By Michael Cuscuna
Misterioso has been one of Monk’s most influential recordings, and small wonder. It is a summation of Monk’s work up to that time, and, in both composition and solo, a wondrous example of his artistic maturity and his awareness of the challenge of discipline and economy.
Count Basie And His Orchestra w/Lester Young
February 4, 1939
This is the Birth of Something New
A musical analysis of Lester Young’s famous solo would include his use of fourths, an unusual choice of interval for the time and one that presages much of later jazz; Gunther Schuller has noted Young’s scalar approach set the stage for what has been called “modal jazz,” as well as for George Russell’s various theories of tonal organization. Furthermore, there is the sheer “coolness” of his sound and general approach to what had been a “hot” art form. – By Loren Schoenberg
Columbia Records (1962–1968)
By Bob Blumenthal
While Thelonious Monk had not brought a working band into a recording studio since 1959, his current quartet of Charlie Rouse, John Ore and Frankie Dunlop on drums had been together for two years, including a European concert tour. In contrast to the practices of independent jazz labels, where budgets dictated that entire albums be taped in one or two sessions, Columbia employed an approach more to Monk’s liking, scheduling several visits to its famed studios and settling for one or two master takes per visit, with any additional material saved for future release.
This is how Criss-Cross, Monk’s second Columbia album, was assembled from four sessions in November 1962 and February 1963. It became one of Monk’s most popular titles, and remains the best overview of what his music had been about to that point in his career.