George Shearing: Introduction and Farewell

Fri 25 Mar 2011 - Filed under: Jazz — Christian
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I started high school in suburban California riding a skateboard and running a music fanzine for which I scored an interview with Metallica, back when Metallica was still accessible to 15-year-olds with fanzines.

But change comes rapidly in those years, and by my senior year I was wearing sportcoats to school and listening to classic vocalists on the local AM radio station.

One of my favorite singers was Mel Tormé. I dug his style and thought he looked really cool on his album covers, and my interest in him increased even more when he became a routine reference, and occasional guest, on the ’80s sitcom “Night Court.”

So when Tormé came to the outdoor amphitheater at the Paul Masson Winery, I jumped at the chance to see him perform live. He was accompanied by a man I’d never heard of: George Shearing.

I rediscovered Shearing a decade later when I got interested in the “space-age bachelor” phenomenon of the ’50s and ’60s (eventually writing about it for L’Uomo Vogue), and had several albums of his urbane cocktail music. (Continue)

Black History Month: Trane Keeps A-Rollin’

Sun 27 Feb 2011 - Filed under: Historic Images,Jazz — Christian
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For the final of our tributes to Black History Month, first-time contributor Jason Marshall takes a solo.

John Coltrane, saxophonist and visionary, set standards in nearly every facet of his short but ultimately fruitful life.

While generally associated with Philadelphia, Coltrane is actually from Hamlet, North Carolina, and never tried to hide his Southern roots. In an interview by author Frank Kofsky — one of the few times his voice was recorded — the usually soft-spoken Coltrane gives casual yet measured responses to provocative questions in a thick Southern drawl.

This casual treatment of the provocative was a reoccurring theme with Afro-American musicians sartorially inclined toward the Ivy League Look, especially those whose matriculation in post-Jim Crow America was almost never casual but always provocative.

In “Men of Color,” Lloyd Boston writes, “Avant-garde sax-man John Coltrane’s music may have been ‘giant steps’ ahead, but he favored an understated style of dress: single-breasted sack suits, buttondown oxford shirts, and plain ties.”

John Coltrane’s musical trajectory gave birth to what is now known as postmodern saxophone playing, while his sartorial sense facilitated the goals of a legend in the making with more to concern himself with than the roll of the buttondown collars he was often seen in, or whether the sleeve on his terrycloth-knit polo hit his bicep at just the right spot.

Trane, as he’s affectionately referred to, had style in spades because he never seemed to have time to look anything but correct and presentable. Yet in hindsight his photographs seem to have been styled by Frank Muytjens: natural-shouldered, three-button jacket paired with a buttondown-collar shirt (with or without tie), odd trousers and typically penny loafers. Add to that look an austere haircut, occasional neat mustache, and nothing less than the most fertile musical imagination in jazz and there you have John Coltrane, musician. — JASON MARSHALL

Jason W. Marshall is a New York-based, Grammy-nominated saxophonist, composer and arranger. He is also a noted wardrobe consultant, lecturer, and clinician on the subjects of jazz history and improvisation, as well sartorialism from an Afro-American perspective. He hold degrees from the New School for Social Research and Aaron Copeland School of Music.



Zoot Suit: Sims, Eugene Smith, and the Jazz Loft Project

Mon 10 May 2010 - Filed under: Jazz — Christian
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The New York Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center currently has a great exhibit for fans of midcentury style.

Entitled “The Jazz Loft Project,” it’s based on the work of photographer W. Eugene Smith, who spent years chronicling the goings on in a loft in Manhattan’s wholesale flower district, where jazz musicians would come for all-night jam sessions.

Smith took some 40,000 photos from 1957-1965, plus 4,000 hours of audio tape of the sessions and life in the building.

Visiting musicians included Zoot Sims (shown here with natural shoulder and collar roll, and below in a shot by Smith from the exhibit), Bill Evans, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk.

In addition to the musicians, the exhibit features great atmospheric shots of New York in the ’50s and ’60s as seen from Smith’s window on Sixth Avenue and 29th Street, plus audio and video samples.

The exhibit runs through May 22, then moves to Chicago, Duke University, San Diego and Arizona through 2012. Organizers are currently looking for venues in Europe and Asia (contact them if you can help find a venue). — CC (Continue)


Travel My Way: Jazz-Ivy Icon Bobby Troup

Thu 18 Mar 2010 - Filed under: Jazz — Christian
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During the heyday of The Ivy League Look, a number of guys from preppy backgrounds wound up working in the field of jazz. Bobby Troup was one of them.

Raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Troup prepped at The Hill School, then studied economics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While an undergraduate, Troup became increasingly interested in the piano, admiring Count Basie’s minimalist style, and penned his first hit song, “Daddy,” which was recorded by Sammy Kaye & His Orchestra in 1941.

In 1946, Troup drove from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles to seek his fame as an actor, musician and entertainer. Along the way he wrote his best-known song, “Route 66,” which he sold to Nat King Cole, who had a major hit with it the same year.

Troup later married torch singer Julie London, and hosted the television show “Stars of Jazz.”

Though his jazz albums of the ’50s were not popular, they featured many leading West Coast Jazz musicians. His light and breezy version of “Route 66″ can be found on the album “California Cool,” while a 1964 version of it, from “The Julie London Show,” can be seen below.

Troup died in 1999 at the age of 80. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD


Brooks Brothers’ Swingin’ Christmas Party

Thu 10 Dec 2009 - Filed under: 1990-present,Clothes,Jazz — Christian
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Last night Brooks Brothers held a Christmas bash at its flagship 346 Madison Avenue store. The event drew hundreds, with shopping proceeds benefitting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

On the third floor, Wynton Marsalis (pictured at left) and members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, who are dressed by Brooks Brothers, played swinging renditions of Christmas tunes.

At one point, Marsalis thanked Brooks CEO Claudio del Vecchio and asked him to take a bow. From the middle of the room a tall gentleman gestured cordially.

I cleared my throat, pulled out a business card, meandered through the crowd, and made my pitch.

“Well you know we’re not hiring right now,” del Vecchio said with a chuckle, “and a couple people already like to think of themselves as Chief Historian.”

Del Vecchio and I chatted a bit more and he was actually quite responsive. I’ll see if I can get him to sit for an interview come the new year.

Back to the event: When I entered the store, a jazz trio led by Matt Rybicki was playing “Speak Low,” one of my own favorites to play on the piano (it’s in F: I always forget lyrics and composers, but never the key). Since no one was paying attention to them except me and an old man, I requested a couple more old favorites: “Deep Night” (Em/G). They didn’t know it, and offered “Night And Day,” which must be the tune most requested by people who request tunes. I counter-parried with “All The Things You Are” (A flat). Rybicki, the bassist, looked to his bandmates and said, “In three?” The drummer smiled and said yeah. The pianist looked a little apprehensive, and said, “OK, we can give it a try.” Off they went in 3/4 time and of course it was awesome. Musicians seem to be at their best when challenged. (Continue)


Take 50: Dave Brubeck Honored at Kennedy Center

Tue 8 Dec 2009 - Filed under: Jazz — Christian
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Fifty years after the release of his seminal 1959 album “Time Out” and on the day of his 89th birthday, Dave Brubeck was honored by the Kennedy Center. The gala event, which honors lifetime achievement in the performing arts, will air on CBS December 29.

The Washington Post has a Brubeck profile here, while the Washington Times has coverage here.

In the ’50s, Brubeck largely made his name playing on college campuses. In 1954 his popularity landed him a cover story in Time Magazine, a controversial choice as Brubeck was chosen over more important black jazz artists of the period. The accusation that he can’t swing and is the leading example of White Jazz Lite continues to this day. Click here for a discussion of Brubeck’s music with critic Stanley Crouch and Ted Gioia, author of “West Coast Jazz,” which I read over the summer and recommend to anyone interested in jazz and postwar California. (Continue)


Shoulda Been There: A Swellegant, Elegant Party, 1957

Fri 27 Nov 2009 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,1950s,Historic Images,Jazz,Personae — Christian
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One of the saddest phrases in the English language is “You missed a great party.” Well here’s one we all missed.

In 1957 jazz historian and Harvard/Yale alum Marshall Stearns threw the ultimate jazz-Ivy shindig. Held in honor of sitar player Ravi Shankar, the party juxtaposed Indian music with jazz, and included a jam session with Dizzy Gillespie. LIFE Magazine captured the soirée, which drew the kind of crowd only possible in New York: a dazzling melange of socialites and hipsters, artists and businessmen, with everyone dressed to the nines. Though LIFE only devoted one page to the event in the magazine, the LIFE archives include an extensive photo set entitled “East-West Jam Session.” (Continue)

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