Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


It's often said that the British are a literary nation, particularly when discussing the nation's relationship to visual arts.
However, we are also a nation that likes music and in the early part of the sixties, very briefly, there seemed to be a moment when literary words and jazz might become bedfellows.
Jazz and poetry had already been having a liaison in the United States. The beats, in the main, loved jazz. Writers and poets such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac and Kenneth Rexroth recorded their poetry in jazz settings and many others praised the world of jazz in their work. The relationship between the beats and jazz was by no means straight forward and it has been pointed out that the racial tensions of 50s America were revealed in this relationship. Nevertheless one of the aspects that made jazz so appealing to the beats was that is was seen to be music from outside the (white) mainstream. It was, according to them, music that was somehow more in touch with emotions and music that was part of the popular, rather than highbrow, culture.

In Britain the worlds of jazz and poetry didn't make it on to vinyl until 1959 when Red Bird, Jazz and Poetry by poet Christopher Logue and drummer and band leader Tony Kinsey was released.

In some ways Logue could be seen as the link between the beats and British jazz-poetry. In the mid-1950's he lived in Paris and became friends with Scottish poet/writer and heroin addict Alexander Trocchi. Trocchi later moved to the US where he moved in beat circles.
Logue was also something of an outsider as he was a pacifist who was very involved in both anti-war and anti-nuclear arms movements. Both of these interests aligned him to many in the British jazz world.
According to the sleeve notes, the pieces on this EP were originally broadcast on the BBC.
Logue is a very intriguing poet, not least for the ways in which his political views were expressed in his work. Although he could be direct, often the politically message is implicit rather than explicit.
Logue performs his poetry while the music is played behind him by Les Condon, Kenny Wray, Bill Le Sage, Kenny Napper and Tony Kinsey - all names that will be familiar to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of British jazz. Le Sage and Kinsey composed the music around Logue poetry and it shows. Logue's voice, with it's received English pronunciation and slightly arch and melodramatic delivery, is pushed to the front of the mix, with the effect that the music is often background to the words. This split between the music and the words is alluded to on the record sleeve which lists each track as having a name for the poem and a different name for the music. Largely the poems deal with romantic problems, or rather the hypocrisies of 'modern' love.
Listen for yourself. I feel that the You tube poster dismisses Logue and the music too quickly. Although I have to admit I don't often listen to this EP, it is wrong to approach it as a comedic relic.

If you want to hear Logue and Jazz getting it on beautifully then you must track down Annie Ross with the Tony Kinsey Quintet.

There is another slightly earlier edition of this record called Loguerhythms from 1963 - mine is on Xtra from 1966.
Annie and Tony and the band reprise songs for the LP that they have been performing at Soho's Establishment Club, owned by Peter Cook and dedicated to the new satire boom.
Logue's anti-establishment words must have fitted in perfectly in such a setting, however, to modern ears they sound very dated. The targets of these barbed words (capitalism, conformity, class) no longer raise the ire of audiences. Either we have become inured to the inequalities of the world or they have been solved - take your pick.
Ross is one of my all time favourite jazz singers. Like Sinatra, she sings without seeming to try. Her delivery is so natural that it fits Logue's complex words very well. Although she is singing, she does so in a way that retains the spoken-word delivery of performance poetry.
Kinsey is joined by most of his cohorts from the Red Bird recording together the Peter King, Brian Brockelhurst, Gordon Beck, Roy Willocks, Malcolm Cecil, Johnny Scott and Stanley Myers.
Just as with Red Bird the words are pushed to the foreground and are clearly meant to be the most important part of the ensemble., However, with a voice as good as Ross's that is no hardship.

Logue would further successfully mix his poetry to music when Donovan set his poem Be Not Too Hard to music in the film Poor Cow in 1967 and Joen Baez went on to cover it.

However, Logue was not the only poet that was attracted to jazz. A very different approach led to the release of Poetry and Jazz in Concert One and Two in 1964 on Argo. Argo was a fairly small but diverse record label that had released a number of recordings of poetry readings, plays, adaptations of novels and other spoken word projects, not to mention a number of recordings of steam trains.

The rational for the Poetry and Jazz was to harness some of the power (as well as the popularity) of the two art forms to their mutual benefit Intriguingly, of the musicians, Michael Garrick, Shake Keane and Joe Harriott were also deeply involved with literature. Shake Keane wrote his own poetry although he did not get much published while in England. I wonder what he though about the poets he accompanied, and about the irony of a situation of a poet playing trumpet for other poets? Did he ever want to put his trumpet down and read some of his verse? And why did no one ask him? Garrick was an English Literature student and would often use literary sources as inspiration for his music, while Harriott had been friendly with Michael Horovitz for some time. These LPs are the only recorded relics of the Poetry and Jazz movement, although there were numerous concerts and recitals throughout the mid to late 60s.

A meeting between Michael Garrick and the poet Jeremy Robson lead to a fusion of the somewhat underground jazz world and a poetry world that Robson was determined to bring above ground. Garrick brought Harriott, Keane and later Coleridge Goode on board as part of the band that would accompany the poets during their recitals. Poets such as Laurie Lee, Ted Hughes., Stevie Smith and Dannie Abse were involved at one stage or another, Not all of them were comfortable with a jazz accompaniment and on these LPs, it is only Adrian Mitchell, for his poem Pals and Jeremy Robson for his poems Approaching Mount Carmel and The Midnight Scene that have the band behind them.

The jazz is impeccable. Salvation March and Wedding Hymn on the first LP and Vishnu and She's Like Swallow are great examples of the inventiveness of mid sixties British jazz. They are all Garrick compositions but Harriott and Keane undoubtedly bring their own style. Together with Goode, they had only recently finished recording the last album in their Free Form style and in parts that iconoclastic style can be heard. Garrick was undoubtedly sympathetic to the Free Form experiment although his music is too lyrical and open to so many influences that it can never quite be subsumed into Free Form. My personal favourite is Vishnu which has some incredible solos from both Harriott and Keane as well as some amazing examples of how completely they could play as a single unit and Goode's bass solo on Wedding March is as good an example of his talent as you could wish to hear.

The poetry often touches on the same concerns as Logue's verses, class, hypocrisy, capitalism, and a counter-cultural view of the establishment. Jazz, of course, also played its part in this. Interestingly, however, by 1963 it was not a truly popular music and certainly not popular in the same was as it had been during the bid band ere in the 50s. Pop music and rock and roll were soon to be edging jazz out of people's houses. However, in 1963 jazz, and in particular the type of modern jazz played by Garrick and Harriott could be seen as an intellectual form of popular music that embodied many of the anti-establishment ideas then-current. I think it is telling that modern jazz was thought to be suitable for a concert in which the audience was seated. Long gone were the days when jazz automatically meant dancing. While you could dance to some of Garrick's music I suspect that none in the audience did.

Although Poetry and Jazz had a life that lasted well beyond these two LPs, none of it was recorded. The uneasy split between the music and the poetry, evident when you listen and clearly acknowledged by the reluctance of most of the poets to put their words to music, meant that there were no more recordings. Adrian Mitchell would go on to record with folk musician and wordsmith Leon Rosselson. I feel that, for Mitchell, this is a much more suitable setting.

 While this was the end of contemporary poetry and jazz it was not quite the end of the intersection of jazz and poetry. In 1965 Stan Tracey released his Jazz Suite inspired by Under Milk Wood.
Undoubtedly one of the highlights of British Jazz, Tracey's Under Milk Wood it a beautiful record that demands repeated listening. 
Tracey, together with Bobby Wellins on sax, Jeff Clyne on bass and Jack Dougan on drums take Thomas's famous long poem as a the starting point for making heart rending beautiful music.
However, I am not sure that the listener would immediately connect any of the songs on this record with Thomas. Nowhere are Thomas's words used in the music, although they do provide the names of the songs.
There is a later reissue of this record which is not expensive and I urge everyone to track down a copy and luxuriate in the beautiful music.

1964 was the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare and to commemorate it two jazz records were released that used his verses as their basis.

The better of the two was Swinging the Bard by the Ken Jones Orchestra with Elaine Delmar. It also benefits from the inclusion of Shake Keane, Stan Tracey, Eddie Blair and Kenny Baker.
The music is provided by David Lindup, David Mack (read about his work with Shake Keane here and his work with Joe Harriott here), Ray Premu (read about him here), Johnny Hawksworth and John Mayer (read about his work with Harriott here). Phew!
Using the Elizabethan Consort of Viols and Geoffrey Emmott's Recorder Consort, together with the Bard's words this is a surprisingly effective set of songs. Unfortunately the weakest element is the married between the words and the music. Delmar is a good singer and tackles the lines with aplomb but it just doesn't swing as the title would have you believe.
David Mack's contribution is very cinematic and Keane's playing is wonderful. Meyer's piece, tablas and all, seems in some ways to be a precursor to his Indo Jazz experiments that would begin in the following year. However, his classical training, rather than his love of jazz, is all to evident here.
While there is nothing here that lifts itself above the conceit of the concept it is a great listen from start to finish. Shakespeare-ploitation anyone?

Dankworth and Cleo Laine attempt a similar exercise on their Shakespeare and All That Jazz.
Unfortunately it is not as successful as Jones's effort.
Laine's singing is good and Dankworth's music, while not breaking any boundaries is also interesting.
Unfortunately the Bard's words stubbornly refuse to translate to a jazz setting and as such the whole exercise falls flat.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Exploito Records Update - is there no end????

I must say I'd thought I'd come to the end of the line with the whole 60s exploito thing. I mean could I scrape the barrel any more?
The answer, of course, is yes, I could.
Over the last few months I've spotted some more records from the same stable as some of the ones I've already mentioned.

First up is this beauty. It just goes to show how in thrall I am to these kind of records that I got really excited by finding a Spanish issue of the Black Diamond's Hendrix tribute record. Which of course is nothing more than a repackaging of the Animated Egg record. How many copies of this in different versions do I now own??
Read about some other Hendrixploitation records here and here

 Another find that got me hot under the collar was the 101 Strings Play Hits Written By the Beatles. The image on the front is from a California Poppy Pickers LP and lurking towards the end of side two is Blues For the Guru - a sitar type thing written by Mike Kelly that also appears on their Sounds of Today LP and Love is Blue - here and here

But, by far and away the most exciting find has been this one. On the even-more-budget-than-Alshire label Oscar, Block Busters by the Young Sound of Today, this is manna from heaven for an exploito addict like myself.

Recognise the girls on the front? Of course you do, they first appeared on the Mustang's Organ Freakout (you can see his organ in the foreground - phoar) before making another appearance on the Haircuts and the Impossibles - here and here
And as for the music....
Basically this record is a reissue of the Young Sound of 68 record put out by Somerset clicky

Everything on it appears on other releases as well. There are two Animated Egg tracks, one by Donnie Burks, one by The Mustang, one by Little Joe Curtis and four by the Strings for Young Lovers/ 101 Strings. I could go on and on about where they all appeared (for instance the MacArthur Park appears with vocals on the Stone Canyon Rock Group LP). If you really want to know, go through some of my old posts and join the dots.

Here we have Golden Oldies Vol. 3 by the 101 Strings. Surely none of the Animated Egg tracks could be described as a Golden Oldie? I know that the record originally came out in 1968 and this record was released in 1973 (on Alshire International in Canda no less!), but not even DL Miller could call it a Golden Oldie?
But guess what? On side B we have Flameout from the Astro Sounds Beyond the Year 2000 LP. Amazing cheek I call it!
I quite like their take on Hound Dog, so if you see this, pick it up! 

No doubt there are even more out there. If anyone wants to point me in the right direct I'd be very grateful.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Bert Kaempfert - A Swingin' Safari

There was a time when you could pick this record up in virtually any charity shop in Britain, and for all I know from everywhere else in the world! At one time I had four copies of it - I'm still not really sure why.

It's long held a strange fascination for me. Its clearly an example of exotica. I mean just look at the cover!
The picture on the front tells you all that you really need to know about the kind of music you are going to find inside. The pretty girl is dancing or swinging, she is happy, clearly because the music is happy. Around her are signifies of Africa (although I'd swear that its a rubber plant in the foreground). However, she's not really in Africa and, just as the music has only a spurious link to music from Africa (although more than you might think - more of that later), so too does the cover image make no attempt to make you think that the lady is anywhere other than a photographer's studio.
Compare this cover to another exotica classic, Les Baxter's Ritual of the Savage.

Although the couple are still in their evening clothes, they are surrounded by carved idols and seem to be genuinely in a lush, jungle-like landscape. In comparison the Kaempfert cover seems to be revelling in its knowing unreality. The woman swinging away knows she is in not in an exotic location, so do we and what's more none of us care!

Bert is also not trying to fool us with the music either. You won't find any bird calls, unusual percussion, 'hot' backing vocals, chants or indeed any of the other staples of exotica records. This is lightly swinging big band music that wouldn't be out of place anywhere in Europe and America in the late 50s and early 60s. It was very much in the style of Billy May, Nelson Riddle, Ray Coniff, James Last or Ted Heath. Of course it has Bert's signature arrangements but he's nowhere near as experimental as Les Baxter.

However, I defy anyone to listen to this record and not tap there foot or at the very least smile. For me its the playing of trumpeter Fred Moch. Beautifully restrained and lightly swinging, Moch is (uncredited) at the front of every song on this record and his happy tone, together with Bert's arrangements, give the whole record its upbeat and exuberant feel.

But its not just the arrangements that capture my attention. Its the songs as well. Lets start by looking at the ones that Bert didn't write.
First off we have That Happy Feeling by one of my obsessions Guy Warren. That's right, Guy Warren Ghanaian drummer extraordinaire! How did Bert get to hear Guy's song? In 1962 when this record was recorded Warren was leaving America in disgust over the lack of interest in his fusion of African and American jazz. It cannot be an exaggeration to say that more people must have heard Kaempfert's utterly European take on one of Warren's compositions than any of his other tracks. It completely lives up to its title. However, given Warren's passionate Afrocentrism he must have been somewhat dismayed by its adoption as an easy/exotic classic.

He did, however, return to it on his son's album. Perhaps this is more the way he imagined it?

The next cover is Similau. Similau is an old song, the earliest recorded version of which is by Peggy Lee in 1949 and quickly became a standard with versions by Artie Shaw, Jimmy Dorsey and Edmundo Ros amongst many others. Apparently it was based on a voodoo chant from the Caribbean. However, I suspect that it was Martin Denny's version from his 1957 hit Exotica that prompted its inclusion. Bert's version doesn't have the, frankly annoying, bird calls of Denny's instead replacing them with a rather lovely string section and some female wordless vocals. Moch's pure trumpet rounds off the song. Altogether lovely and about as far from a voodoo ritual as its possible to get.

Having made a slight detour to the Caribbean, Bert returns to Africa with the next track. Zambezi, written by South Africans Nico Carstens and Anton de Waal was another well covered track (it was even revived by the Piranhas as a kind of post punk novelty number). Using a jaunty flute section that is clearly intended to recall kwela penny whistles Bert's version of Zambezi is certainly not grey green or greasy and will have you dancing all the way through Southern Africa.

On the B-Side Bert continues to cover Southern African songs, this time Wimoweh and Skokiaan. The story of how Wimoweh became world famous is well known. Written by South African Solomon Linda Mbube, already a huge hit in South Africa, folk music collector Alan Lomax played it to Pete Seegar and the Weavers. Rather than copyrighting the song to its true author it was credited to the fictitious Paul Campbell. Not until the 1990s did Linda see any royalties from a song that had become a global smash hit.

Skokiaan is another song written by someone from Africa, this time from Zimbabwe. Originally recorded by the Cold Storage Band and written by August Musaruwa in 1951. Similarly to Mbube, after becoming a huge hit in South Africa, the record made its way to the United States but unlike that song it was played in its original form and became a hit there too. Covered by numerous people including Louis Armstrong and Bill Haley it was another well known song by the time Bert included it.

Although none of the songs sound particularly African, Bert's arrangements are just too European and easy, I think its interesting that he should chose so many songs that originated in Africa. It would have been easy for him to either use other exotica songs or to use only his own compositions. I suspect that by including songs written by Africans (both black and white) Bert was trying to give his record a degree of authenticity, to somehow include an element of the continent in his music (without actually making it sound at all African).

For his own compositions, Bert seems also to have tried to retain a (Southern) African feeling. The title track is clearly Bert's take on kwela. Although he didn't cover Tom Hark, A Swinging Safari obviously owes a lot the record that put kwela on the international map Make your own mind up.

And keeping with the Southern African theme another one of Bert's originals is called Afrikaan Beat. And wonderfully, just as he covered tracks from overseas, the rhythm of Afrikaan Beat has become a much sampled reggae rhythm. What goes around......

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


The Watts Towers in Los Angeles are fascinating examples of outsider art, public art, community art, and inventive engineering.
They have come to stand as symbols not just of the place in which they were build, the Watts area of Los Angeles, but also of racial politics in California as well as the United States.
I am fascinated by them, both as a unique work of art and as structures that have developed symbolic meaning that go well beyond anything their creator may have envisaged.
In his phantasmagorical autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, Charles Mingus, who grew up in Watts describes the Watts Towers thus: "At that time in Watts there was an Italian man, named Simon Rodia - though some people said his name was Sabatino Rodella, and his neighbours called him Sam. He had a regular job as a tile setter, but on weekends and at night time, under lights he strung up, he was building something strange and mysterious and he'd been working on it since before my boy was born. Nobody knew what it was or what is was for. Around his small frame house he made a low wall shaped like a ship and inside it he was constructing what looked like three masts, all different heights, shaped like upside down ice cream cones. First he would set up skeletons of metal and chicken wire, and plaster them over with concrete, then he'd cover that with fancy designs made of pieces of seashells and mirrors and things. He was always changing his ideas while he worked and tearing down what he wasn't satisfied with and starting over again, so pinnacles tall as a two storey building would rise up and disappear and rise again. What was there yesterday mightn't be there next time you looked, but another lacy-looking tower would spring up in its place.
Tig Johnson and Cecil J. McNeeley used to gather sacks full of pretty rocks and broken bottles to take to Mr Rodia, and my boy hung around with them watching him work while he waited for Gloria Stopes, one of his classmates who happened to live across the street....
Mr Rodia was usually cheerful and friendly while he worked, and sometimes, drinking that good red wine from a bottle, he rattled off about Amerigo Vespucci, Julius Caesar, Buffalo Bill and all kinds of things he read about in the old encyclopedia he had in his house, but most of the time it sounded to Charles like he was speaking a foreign language. My boy marvelled at what he was doing and felt sorry for him when the local rowdies came around and taunted him and threw rocks and called him crazy, though Mr Rodia didn't seem to pay them much mind. Years later when Charles was grown and went back to Watts he saw three fantastic spires standing there - the tallest was over a hundred feet high. By then Rodia had finally finished his work and given it all to a neighbour as a present and gone away, no one knew where."
Buddy Collette,. who grew up with Mingus in Watts, described Rodia and his creation in this way: "Simon Rodia was a little Italian guy with an old, dirty hat; a very quiet man, who didn't seem to have any friends and lived alone. Most of the neighbours ignored him and he didn't talk much. I don't know if he spoke English. Although he was a full-grown man, it seemed he weighed only about 100 pounds. He carried an old burlap sack on his back that he'd fill with little rocks, bottle caps, broken bottles, shells and all that material he was gathering to build his towers. Mingus and I would take these gum machines and put them on the railroad tracks. When the Watts Red Cars would come by, they would break the cast iron bottoms, which held all the pennies, maybe five dollars worth, which was a big haul. There would be a lot of litter like that among the tracks and Rodia would pick it up and make the most of it. Simon knew what he was doing with it, but we had no clue. Most people thought, 'That crazy guy, what's he building?' We had never seen anything like that before and he just kept adding to the structures. It wasn't until later that we could see that the guy was very artistic and knew what he was doing."
Rodia built the structures, as outlined in the above descriptions, by hand from found materials. He did not use a scaffold, a blowtorch or power tools. Instead he used a system of pulleys to winch himself and thousands of tonnes of cement and materials up and down the towers. In 1954, having worked on the towers since 1921, he stopped work, and as outlined by Mingus, gave his land and towers to a neighbour and disappeared. He never explained his work or attempted to justify or recreate it.
As Mingus and Collette's descriptions show, while he was building the towers, his neighbours gave him little encouragement and failed to empathise with his work. Watts during the 1930s and 1940s was a racially mixed area but Rodia seems not to have made any effort to mix with those around him. Instead he worked alone and without any need to consult local opinion.

However, four years after he disappeared Harold Land released Harold In the Land of Jazz (my copy is a later issue retitled Grooveyard).
This was Land's first record as a leader, and although not born in California he was by this time a stalwart of the West Coast jazz scene.
West Coast album sleeves of the period were, in my view, beautifully designed and photographed, in particular those for Pacific Jazz by William Claxton.
However, if they did include references to LA or California these tended to be of the beach or the sea, sometimes of the desert as in Sonny Rollins Way Out West sleeve or other rural locations such as that for Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section.
In just four years the Watts Towers had gone from weird aberration to structures that conveyed a message. What was that message?
In 1958 the Towers were under threat of demolition by the city authorities who claimed that they were unsafe and dangerous to local inhabitants. Instead a local, grassroots group bought the Towers with the intention of preserving them. The city authorities, already engaged in a programme of closing public arts programmes, attempting to control sites of cultural activities and suspicious of contemporary art, through attempting to close down what was a local symbol only succeed in creating a local movement.
Could Land's album cover be a comment on the repressive efforts of local government as they attempted to control the LA arts scene, is it a comment on pride in a racial mixed area, or in unity of a local movement, or could it simply be a statement about pride in a predominantly black area of the city in which he lived? I like to think that there is a similarity between his sax and the structures behind him.

 It wouldn't be until 1968 that the Watts Towers would appear on the cover of a jazz record.
Big Black's Message to our Ancestors is, as you might expect, a showcase for his impressive percussion skills. With only a flautist and some vocal encouragement accompanying him, this record is largely a percussive tour de force. Black, who played with Olatunji, Freddie Hubbard and Randy Weston amongst others, was well versed in African music (he also played with Hugh Masakela).
As you can see from his leopard print shirt and hat, he was at this point in his career fully "an exponent of African music" as the sleeve notes state.
What, then is he doing in front of a structure made by an Italian in Los Angeles?
In 1965 Watts was the centre of one of the largest civil uprisings in US history, requiring the National Guard to suppress it. A frustrated response to high unemployment, a dire educational system, a lack of social services, a history of police violence and a dearth of public transportation, the riot left 34 people dead, 1,032 injured and about 4,000 arrested.
The riots immediately changed how the Towers would be seen as they changed how Watts was perceived. Watts become associated with violent crime, urban blight and black revolution.
Big Black's Afrocentric stance, in his music and clothes, therefore chimes with his positioning in front of the Watts Towers. He is saying not only that he has pride in his African ancestry, a pride that was becoming more widespread and strident amongst black Americans but also that this pride in his ancestry was linked to contemporary events and actions in the United States. The Towers post-Watts Riots now served as a symbol of embattled racial politics as well as racial pride.

 Willie Bobo's 1971 record, Do What You Want to Do isn't really a jazz record,. But I'm including it not just because of his jazz credentials but also because I think it shows another shift in the symbolism of the Towers.
Bobo's group, the terribly named Bo-Gents, included black, white and latino musicians. While this may not have been anything special in 1971, the fact that they chose to be photographed in front of the Watts Towers is significant.
The Towers have changed from symbolising a type of black militant ism to symbolising great equality. Given that the 1970s saw the hardening of conservative opinion towards inner city areas which led to a lack of empathy and reduced financial support, Bobo's statement of racial unity specifically located at a site that was known as place of racial tension was a brave move. However, I think it has a wider significance beyond the Watts area. The Towers are a symbol of urban LA, perhaps one of the few that is instantly recognisable to people outside of California. Was Bobo making a point about the wider situation in the city, one where racial tensions and property development were mixing to undermine what little unity there was in the city's population as so brilliantly exposed in  Mike Davis's City of Quartz?

Don Cherry's Brown Rice is an incredible record and deserves a review of its own (which I will probably give it as some stage).
Cherry, of course, had come to prominence in LA as part of Ornette Coleman's group and had been instrumental in developing what would become termed free jazz.
For Brown Rice, Cherry drew on Arabic, African and Indian music to create a truly unique sound.
Yet, on the cover of the LP he is posing with the Watts Towers in the background. Interestingly for the CD reissue the photo is cropped to cut out the Watts Towers.
The racial unity expressed by Willie Bobo on his sleeve is now extended beyond the city of LA to the whole world. The Towers have come to symbolise not only the potential of Watts but of the whole world, perhaps as people are brought together through music.

From the localised message of Harold Land's record through to those of Cherry's we have seen how the Tower's meanings have changed and been adopted by jazz musicians who are seeking to use them to express their own messages. Situated in a neighbourhood that has seen enormous racial tension, famously exploding into violence, the Tower's have come to symbolise not just local pride but also racial (and musical)

That sense of the music uniting different people has been adopted since 1977 by the Watts Jazz Festival.

Not a great record (although Willie Bobo's contributions are suitably cooking) but it is an incredible photo of the Towers.

The jazz festival continues to this day.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Excuse this slightly rambling post. I;m trying to work out some ideas on the fly so I hope some, at least, makes sense!

Don't expect Paul Bley's Solemn Mediation to be as exotic as the cover might make out. There is Paul, looking very serious and preppy with his buzz cut and button-down shirt but still without shoes, reading a book at the foot of the Buddha. What is he reading? Is it a religious text, is he seeking enlightenment, is he in some way meditating? Meditation, Buddha, a quest for knowledge, possibly a jungle behind him, all of these things point to the record being concerned with Eastern spirituality. Is this record going to be in any way exotic I hear you ask.

Solemn Meditation was released in 1958, the same year as another pianist called Martin Denny released Exotica. The covers of both records evoke and unnamed 'other' place with east Asian overtones. The titles of the Bley compositions, are Drum Two and Beau Diddley with Dave Pike contributing Persian Village. Compare these to Quiet Village, Love Dance, Ami Wa Furi and Waipio on Exotica. However, the two record could not be more different despite these superficial similarities.

Denny's group and Bley's were quartets, both also including vibes, Arthur Lyman in Denny's group and Dave Pike in Bley's and neither group featured brass players.
Why am I comparing these two records you might ask? I want to draw some parallels with non-American influences in jazz and in 'pop' or in Denny's case exotica.
Of course the most obvious difference between the two records is that the music on Bley's record is much more clearly in the jazz idiom. He covers songs written by Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge as well as Porgy from Gershwin's jazz influenced musical. Meanwhile Denny relies heavily on Les Baxter who, although recording a number of records with the word jazz in the title (Jungle Jazz, African Jazz), writing for prominent swing bands in the 1940s and experimenting with rhythms and instruments from Latin America and elsewhere, is not considered to be a jazz musician.
While i grant you there is considerably less swing in Denny's record it is clearly as concerned with the nature of sounds and rhythm as Bley's. Indeed at times I can hear Dave Brubeck's experiments underneath the bird calls and percussion flourishes.
What is also missing on the Denny record are the clear references throughout Solemn Meditation to other jazz musicians and trends, most notably bop and pianists such as Bud Powell and fellow Canadian Oscar Peterson.
Strangely what I don't hear on Solemn Meditation is much experimentation. Given that Bley was, at the time of recording this record, playing with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry and that his bassist Charlie Hadden would go on to join the Colemen group, Solemn Meditation is solidly in the bop tradition.
Now, I'm not suggesting that Exotica is more experimental than Solemn Meditation but perhaps it pointed the way for a new direction in a way that Solemn Meditation did not. Remember that both Coltrane and Yusef Lateef listened to and liked exotica records before they discovered field recordings. What they were listening for were new instruments, unusual sounds and original approaches to composition.

To be continued.........


This record is a Britjazz obscurity. Recorded in 1962 it reveals British jazz trying to find a distinctive British (as opposed to American) voice. The role and influence of America on the jazz music of the rest of the world is a hotly debated issue. Here we get a glimpse of some of the leading jazz musicians in Britain in the early sixties attempting to pull away from the enormous influence of American jazz and create a new indigenous kind of jazz music. 

Peter Burman ran a nightclub in 1960s London called the El Toro and was also involved in the National Jazz Federation. Many well known British jazz musicians played the El Toro and Burman used it as a place to identify and promote (in all meanings of the word) musicians who he felt had promise. Thus he brought to the attention of the BBC some of the leading jazz bands of the period. Bands he recommended would be auditioned by the BBC and, if they passed, were given the opportunity to appear on the radio.
This led to Burman organising concerts, which he called Jazz Tete a Tete's, in the Recital Room at the Royal Festival Hall. These concerts were broadcast on the BBC's Jazz Club.
Although none of the broadcasts survive Burman, with the help of the ubiquitous Denis Preston, managed to get some of the musicians to record in Preston's Lansdowne Studios. This record is the result of these sessions.

If I'm honest what first drew me to this LP was the presence of Shake Keane. Keane had already recorded some of the most adventurous avant garde jazz ever committed to vinyl with Joe Harriott. The Joe Harriott Quintet released the seminal Free Form in 1960 and Abstract in 1962. When Keane recorded the tracks on this record in January 1962 the Harriott Quintet were half way through recording Abstract.
Of course, Harriott's free form experiments were utterly original and owed little to America. However, they were also not taken up by the British jazz scene. Indeed many British jazz musicians were openly scornful and mocking of the Quintet's music.
There is none of this experimentation in Keane's playing here. Instead he supports the Pat Smythe Trio. Smythe was also a member of the Harriott Quintet. In his way he was as important to the Harriott sound as was Keane. According to Coleridge Goode it was Smythe's harmonic subtlety and range of musical knowledge that made free form music a real possibility.
Keane and Smythe both had knowledge of classical music and, perhaps not surprisingly for music that originated in one of London's most prestigious concert venues, the music they produce here is very much influenced by the mix of jazz and classical music that came to be known as the 'third stream'. I think given Keane's other appearances on experimental third stream recordings, most notably David Mack's New Directions, this is hardly surprising.
However, of all the recordings on this record the Smythe Trios are perhaps the most 'jazz'. Of the three tracks, two are from recognised jazz greats, Miles David and Max Roach, albeit in radically different forms, while the third is the standard, Ole Devil Moon.
For me these tracks are the highlight of the record. however, they are not at all the most ambitious.

Johnny Scott, in 1962, was the leader of a quintet and had been playing jazz for a number of years. He would later move into studio work for movie scores which in turn led him into cinema composing where he has scored music for movies such as The Shooting Party and Greystoke. He has also scored classical pieces, played in classical orchestras and even conducted.
His contribution to this record is a Suite in Three Movements. I can hear definite elements of cinematic music in each movement and although his music definitely has a foundation in jazz, it is obviously pulling in a completely different direction from Harriott's free form experiments.
Although the sleeve notes compare these pieces by Scott to the American third stream I would suggest that they rather represent a more British approach to the fusion of jazz and classical music. I find his flute playing and the percussion to be very evocative of Benjamin Britten.

Ray Premru's group consisted of some great British jazzmen. Kenny Clare, Bob Efford, Kenny Napper and Eddie Blair. Unfortunately their contribution is the least interesting on the record, perhaps because it is the least experimental.
Despite also leaning heavily on classical conventions it is rather stale music that never manages to lift itself above or beyond its conventions.

Finally, the record closes with some marvellous music from Alan Clare. Again owing rather a lot to classical music, in this case Debussy, Clare's music is truly sublime. I think its his playing, his tone and phrasing, that really give his contributions such depth and beauty. It is a shame he did not record more!
He is ably assisted by Lennie Bush on drums, Dave Goldberg on guitar and Bob Burns on soprano sax. Their playing is very restrained putting Clare's playing at the forefront.
Of all the music on this record, Clare's is the most difficult to pigeon-hole. Is it jazz, or classical, or something else entirely? Its certainly very beautiful and unique.

Overall, this record is not a lost masterpiece. At best if provides a snapshot of a moment in the development of British jaz as it stuggled to find its identity. If you come across it, pick it up. Its an interesting listen.

Monday, 15 October 2012


For reasons that I can't begin to explain, this record hasn't been far from turntable for the last few weeks.
In case you don't know him, Don Burrows is one of the key figures in Australian jazz. If you ever come across a record from Australia that contains jazz it will also probably have Burrows playing on it!
Released in 1963, On Camera collects together some of the music Burrows and his band recorded for TV shows such as The Bryan Davies Show and This Is Jazz.
Oh, for a time when you could see and hear jazz on television. I don't know about you but round these parts the only jazz that gets shows on any of the hundreds of channels I get are concerts of sixties jazz luminaries but only recorded at the sunset of their careers, usually for some reason in the early nineties. There is definitely nothing showing young, avante garde, or interesting modern jazz. Imagine a whole programmes devoted to it! But then again in 1962 the world hadn't yet been completely changed by the arrived of the Beatles! I'm sure they didn't mean to, but their success put an end to the era when jazz could be considered pop music, much less popular music.
Anyway, I digress!
With Burrows on this record is a veritable supergroup of Australian jazz musos. Accompanying Burrows on brass is Errol Buddle on tenor, as well as oboe, bassoon and clarinet (that's him on the front cover with a bald head and 'tache). Rounding out the brass section is Johnny Bamford on trombone. Judy Bailey is on piano, as well as celeste, glockenspiel, George Golla is on guitar, John Sangster is on drums and George Thompson on bass. Each one is a name to be reckoned with in Australian jazz. 
In the early sixties all of these musicians, and many other jazz musicians, were making the lions share of their livings playing for TV, movies, and adverts. Just as in the UK and America, there was a demand for musicians who could play jazz, but who could also read music and be relied upon to turn up to a recording session at the right time and not too drunk! It was in this atmosphere that musicians such as John Sangster learnt about arranging and writing. All of the musicians on this record had long experience in this world. It may not have been very glamorous and you may not have been able to play exactly what you wanted but it paid well and was fairly solid work.
I'm sure that is why Burrows chose these six for his band. After all they would be recording music for TV shows, often broadcast live and frequently with little time to rehearse before hand.
But these were no faceless session musicians. At the same time as they may have been knuckling down to session work, in the evenings, everyone on this record, and many more musicians were jamming in the El Rocco. A Sydney nightclub in the Kings Cross district, El Rocco became in the early 60s one of the places for jazz musicians to congregate and engage in sometimes fearsome jam sessions that might last all night. Everyone apparently could have a go, but few could take the pressure. All styles were welcome from Trad Jazz (of which there seems to be a lot in Oz) to more avante garde styles influenced by what was going on in New York.
Like all such crucibles of musical invention, the El Rocco was both welcoming and off putting at the same time. However, it provided a place for musicians to push at the boundaries of jazz in a way that paying gigs never would have done.
Can you hear any of that experimentation in On Camera?
I'm not sure. Don't forget the music here was intended to be sent by the Australian Broadcasting Company into the living rooms of Australians all over the country. It wouldn't do to have anything too 'way out'. You might be pleased to find jazz on the box but you wouldn't have been able to get anything experimental, much less dissonant!
However, there is something playful and irreverent about the whole record. Perhaps its the way they deconstruct the songs they cover. The Porgy and Bess Medley, Moon River, Nutcracker Suite, Begin the Beguine all start conventionally enough. You might think you were getting an easy listening version of each one. Then, almost without you realising it, the band have headed off in their own direction and left the familiar song somewhere far behind them. What's going on, you might say, I know its supposed to be Begin the Beguine, what's happening now? And just at the point that you might wonder if they are still playing the same track, like the professionals they are, they slide back in and you can sit back in your armchair, puff your pipe and drink your tea. Phew, I thought for a terrible moment that those jazzers were up to their old tricks, and were trying to pull a fast one on me!
However, by a long way the standout track for me is the Burrow's penned The Wailing Waltz. Everyone has a crack at trying to wrestle it away from the others. From George Golla's intro to Burrow's own flute solo, Sangster's pushing drumming in the background, Bailey's strident, off-kilter piano until to winds up a slightly sweaty but very pleased with itself heap at the end its an endless enjoyable piece of music.