Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chet Baker   
My Funny Valentine 
Blue Note 

Soft, delicate and serene, Chet Baker's voice is one of jazz's overlooked talents. Every serious jazz fan is well aware of his trumpet playing, both solo and with Gerry Mulligan 's Quartet. His legendary style on the instrument helped establish his standing as one of the horn's most influential players. Baker was also an amazing vocalist; his debut recording My Funny Valentine serves as generous proof. 

In the days when Frank Sinatra  was laying down his best cuts on Capitol Records with Nelson Riddle 's Orchestra, Baker released a record of a more refined style, following in the footsteps of trumpeting and vocalist Louis Armstrong. When you strip both Baker and Sinatra down to base of style and influence, you find they come from the same root. Sinatra emulated Billie Holiday's style down to a fine art, but like Baker she learned her chops from the purest spring of influence: Louis Armstrong. Whereas Billie mixed Pops with the mother of the blues, Bessie Smith, Sinatra had taken his style and added Bing Crosby and Nat Cole's crooner sound. Baker, on the other hand, created a sound with exact horn phrasing much like Armstrong's. When Baker scats, it is amazing how much he sounds like his instrument. 

Baker filled My Funny Valentine out with several standards by composers such as Cole Porter, which was a popular trend among jazz vocalists at the time. That concludes his similarities with guys like Sinatra or Mel Torme . His vision was more akin to vocalists like Nina Simone who were musicians first and foremost. This one minor difference turned him in a completely different direction from the rest.

When listening to Harry Connick Jr., it is hard not to be knocked over by how much he clones Frank. But throughout his phrasing you can hear Baker's unique readings. The long held and soft-spoken notes blend into each other as if an instrument were playing along. Sinatra's style was full of pauses between phrases, which gave his readings a unique flavor that—although often copied—were truly exceptional to his style.

As was popular at the time, My Funny Valentine was dedicated to lovers, although the concept of such dedications persists among hokey vocalists today. But this record does feature some beautiful arrangements of songs such as "Someone to Watch Over Me," and of course "My Funny Valentine." Even on Chet's later live work—check out the newly released Oh, You Crazy Moon (Enja, April 2003)—he would often serve up this title track, and it sounded as beautiful and haunting as ever. For those who interested in the Baker's chops, some exquisite solos and instrumental cuts fill out the record as well, making it a great introduction into his work.

Even today Baker's vocals are still compelling. With the sudden resurgence in vocal jazz it is time for people to rediscover his records. Through the years this album hasn't received the praise it deserves. More critics are inclined toward his brilliant non-vocal work such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow. But as times turn back to purer forms of jazz, vocal pioneers like My Funny Valentine are even more essential.

By Trevor MacLaren
Published May 8, 2003

Monday, February 7, 2011

Miles and Coltrane Says: Neuter your Mutt

For every lucky dog or cat who has a comfortable home, nutritious food, and loving guardians, countless other dogs and cats are suffering at the hands of incompetent or abusive people, are struggling to survive on the streets, or are waiting in animal shelters for a good home.

In communities across the U.S., countless dogs are kept chained up—forced to eat, sleep, and relieve themselves in the same filthy patch of dirt, far from the human companions they long to be with. Others are forced to wear collars that deliver painful shocks for normal behaviors such as barking, or they have their tails and ears cut off based on human aesthetic preferences. Many are dumped on the streets like trash when their guardians tire of caring for them—and some fare even worse.

Across the U.S., 6 to 8 million stray and abandoned animals enter animal shelters every year, and about half of them must be euthanized because of a lack of good homes. Breeders, pet shops, puppy mills, and people who don't spay or neuter their animals are fueling this crisis by bringing more animals into a world that is already desperately short of good homes.

Fortunately for animals, there are people who care. PETA's Animal Birth Control (ABC) campaign is dedicated to ending the needless suffering of companion animals. By educating animal guardians about the need to spay or neuter their cats and dogs and by offering low-cost sterilizations in our "Spay and Neuter Immediately, Please" (SNIP) and ABC mobile clinics, we can prevent thousands upon thousands of animals from ending up homeless or in the hands of callous and abusive people.

John Coltrane Interplay:

John Coltrane

In the extensive liner notes that accompany this five-disc set, jazz writer Nat Hentoff quotes John Coltrane as having once said, "I wish I could walk up to my music as if I'd never heard it before. I'll never know what the listener feels, and that's too bad." For the bulk of Interplay, the new box set taken from some fairly obscure sessions during the late 1950s, a still relatively young Coltrane is encountered tinkering with new styles and capturing their results for the first time. The material here, originally released across a span of eight Prestige albums, features some unorthodox group configurations, such as the four-tenor "conclave" of Coltrane/Al Cohn/Hank Mobley/Zoot Simms, a double-baritone group featuring baritone sax players Cecil Payne and Pepper Adams, and two groups that feature guitarist Kenny Burrell. The allure of this new package lies in the fact that Coltrane's work from the same period as sideman to Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis has received far greater scrutiny, and this is a side of 'Trane without much of that pressure. The listenability factor is high throughout, especially on the delightfully melodic fifth disc, which means that Interplay should hold substantial appeal for the casual fan or the initiate, as well as the completist, despite the relative obscurity of the tracks. And exquisite packaging makes Interplay a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears. --  

Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
SF Weekly www.sfweekly.com/

This is a fantastic box set for any one who is interested in John Coltrane's early work. The liner notes are compiled in book format. Prestige also issued a six disc companion box set of all of the original Prestige albums led by John Coltrane from 1957 and 1958 titled John Coltrane Fearless leader. I was fortunate enough to pick up both of them together for $25. Amazon sells each individual box set for $35 plus change.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Miles and Coltrane: Introductions

Miles Dewey Davis III; May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991; American trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. Widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Miles Davis was, with his musical groups, at the forefront of several major developments in jazz music, including bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz fusion.

John William Coltrane; September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967; American jazz saxophonist and composer. Working in the bebop and hard bop idioms early in his career, Coltrane helped pioneer the use of modes in jazz and later was at the forefront of free jazz.

Miles; June 11, 2008; American Terrier Mix - along with Coltrane known as the 24th Street Hooligans; co founder of the Lawrence KS Terrier Terrorist Cell.

Coltrane; May 05, 2006; German Schnauzer - American Terrier Mix; the other half of the 24th St Hooligans; co-founder of the Lawrence KS Terrier Terrorist Cell