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Review of Carnegie Hall X-Mas '49 Stars of Modern Jazz

Posted: Sun Oct 28, 2007 3:47 am
by Marv Friedenn

"Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows." Top hit in 1949. Gene Autry. God help you if you did see it. We didn't know at the time but Rudolph was the code name of an intercontinental ballistic missile with an atomic warhead which Santa intended to deliver to Moscow if Moscow was bad. In 1949 America was ready to scramble at the drop of a kopeck. So how is it that Bird and Lennie and Miles and Stan and Sonny and Bud didn't give a shit who won the world in a game of craps? Did they have better things to do than whip home the messiah? You goddamn right they did. If Bud Powell's pirouetting right hand was still in the 1930s with Art Tatum, his feisty left hand was already in the sixties with Luther King. So Bud had to work out some sort of arrangement in order to bridge the gap. And Miles, "Little Miles" the MC Symphony Sid calls him instead of speaking the truth: that in his day Miles was the most handsome man in America, and played like he knew it. Stan Getz, Mr Memory, plays Always, a very popular song. Even my tone-deaf mom sang it: "with a love that's true, always." Stan must have been born with a silver spoon in his mouthpiece to have connected so solidly with the mother lode. After Stan Sarah Vaughan propounds, "It must be great fun to be mean to me. You shouldn't forget, you see, what you mean to me." In other words, you strip away my significance the source of which is you. Hence, you demean yourself when you're mean to me. That's a heady intro to You Go To My Head by the Tristano-Konitz sextet. (The CD notes don't acknowledge Billy Bauer's contribution, which, sideman that he humbly claimed to be, was always awesome.) Except here marijuana raises the burgundy brew to new levels of intoxication. O naughty boys for whom grass makes everything graceful! Sax of a Kind, which follows You Go To My Head, is one of a kind. I think American culture peaked during the five minutes and eight seconds Lee and Warne and Lennie and Joe and Jeff interrelated in the course of playing this tune. Followed by Bird who Kokos to a T.

Bill Miner, who wrote the notes for the CD, says that "Bird can be heard calling 'Salt Peanuts' as the 'next' tune. Sorry--that item was not found when the music for this concert recreation was assembled. As I fantasized earlier, maybe somewhere in the VOA [Voice of America] vaults." Sorry, Bill, but you fantasize in vain. Bird cries "Salt Peanuts" in order to call attention to the fact that Roy Haynes has just beaten out that melody on the drums.

Reviw of X-mas Concert continued

Posted: Tue Nov 06, 2007 1:31 pm
by Marv Friedenn
Not fifteen seconds into You Go To My Head, Lennie opens up the harmony with descending chords like a fish being gutted, momentarily disconcerting Billy and Lee who are comfortably settled in their guitar/alto duet. Half a minute later Lennie invites Lee and Billy to counterpoint but, as if the forward motion of the ballad melody is too compelling to be diverted, they decline the invitation. This sort of spontaneous give and take at once distinguishes the Konitz-Tristano sextet from the other groups whose performances, perfectly circumscribed, are like potted plants compared to the tireless state of becoming of wild undergrowth.

It seems that as far as Lennie is concerned, the purpose of performing in a group is to entice the musicians into communicating with each other. And lest fear of hitting "bad notes" threatens to break off the communication, Lennie guarantees that on the spot he will underwrite any exchange however harmonically startling. I infer this enticement and guarantee on Lennie's part from Billy Bauer's description of the first time he played with Lennie (LENNIE TRISTANO, Eunmi Shin, pp.28-29): "And no matter what I did, like if I thought he did something and I'd go and grab it, he'd immediately go away from me and play something else, and I couldn't catch him and that went on for the whole night . . . . So I got used to this thing and I was very free after a while, because you could almost do anything because he'd cover you up. Now, if you hit a couple of bad notes, he'd make that a harmonic structure. . . . No matter what I'd do, it would seem like he was playing in another key. Later on I realized he was playing extensions and substitutions. I went along with it because no matter how mixed up I'd get, I'd fall into some kind of counterpoint."

The ancients speculated that the reason the tide comes in and goes out is because located at the center of the ocean is a voracious vortex or maelstrom which regularly now spews water out, now sucks it in. I apply the idea to Lennie's concept of music. I think he considered the slow and stately spin of chords and keys to arise not from a golden-voiced god with perfect pitch but from a violent and chaotic maelstrom of musical fragments where there are no "good notes" or "bad notes" because no one can bear to witness such primal beauty. Conceiving in this way the pandemonious source of what ultimately becomes refined into order, Lennie could move a chord in either direction--homeward bound toward chaos or outward bound toward order--depending on whether the chef thought the chord needed to be sweetened or soured.

Anyhow, about two minutes into the song, Lennie starts his solo. He begins very sweetly as if he is now Lennie the cocktail pianist. And I recall an anecdote John LaPorta relates in his book, PLAYING IT BY EAR (p.63). When John informs his friend Dennis Sandole that he (John) is taking lessons with Lennie, Dennis is indignant because in his opinion Lennie is "nothing but a glorified cocktail pianist!" I don't know if Lennie was sensitive to this sort of typecasting as a cocktail pianist, but if he was, all the more reason to distinguish himself from the horde of "ivory ticklers" by studding the velvety surface of the standard ballad with "bad notes" dredged up from the maelstrom.

Lennie evidently felt that playing "correctly" constricted creativity as much as playing incorrectly. Consequently, as with Billy Bauer, Lennie encouraged musicians to follow him into deep water and not to fear floundering. For friendship often begins with rescue.

Review of X-mas Concert continued

Posted: Tue Nov 20, 2007 9:01 pm
by Marv Friedenn
Lee and Warne had composed one of those exuberant, polytonal melody lines that Lennie typically asked his students to thread through a standard chord progression. They named it Sax Of A Kind. The standard in this case is Fine And Dandy. The title, Sax Of A Kind, may allude to the introductory verse of the standard, which certainly expresses Lee and Warne's good luck in having found each other: "Please forgive this platitude/ But I like your attitude/ You are just the kind I had in mind/ But never could find."

Although their appreciation of each other's playing was mutual, in the early days of their association, Lee's solo work was so formidable that Warne was intimidated. Thanks to Lennie, Lee's musical vision was remarkably clear. Lennie had already absorbed and distilled the sweet punch of Charlie Parker's accents into his (Lennie's) more introspective style. Consequently, when Lee imitated Lennie, Lee played like Bird would have played had Bird been a student of Lennie's. Warne likewise imitated Lennie. But Lennie's devotion to continuity (which paralleled Bird's) was less compatible with Lester Young's rhythmic genius for crossing swords with silence. And since Prez was Warne's other musical model, assimilating Prez and Lennie was ultimately more challenging than assimilating Lennie and Bird. When Warne finally accomplished the feat, he was incomparable.

Another of Lennie's students, John LaPorta, sensed Warne's dilemma without, like Warne, being fully able to articulate it. When Lennie expresses disapproval of Warne's effort on the 1956 double sax album, Lee Konitz With Warne Marsh, John asks Lennie point blank whether he is "talking about those Lester Young quotes." "Yeah," John recalls Lennie replying, "Lennie [sic] doesn't think that Warne really believes; he's lost in terms of what we're trying to do here." Then John asks confrontationally, "Would you prefer him doing some of your five-beat phrases?" (An Unsung Cat, S. Chamberlain, pp.55-56) Lennie receives John's taunt in silence. In retrospect, John's insinuation that Lennie's criticism of Warne is motivated by vanity confuses rather than clarifies the issue. Warne's musical effort on the album is uninspired not because there's too much Prez but because there's not enough Tristano to trigger the synthesis that Lennie intuited early on would transform Warne into an absolute original. Seven years earlier in 1949, Warne had barely begun the process of transformation. That accounts for the momentary hesitations in Warne's otherwise flawless improvisation on Sax Of A Kind.

The precision double sax work that Lee and Warne executed at Carnegie Hall (and on records) became their trademark. Their success with it in fact led to recording the 1956 album referred to above. Nevertheless, I believe an unbiased listener will conclude about Lee's performance on the album that Lee also seems to have slacked off. Maybe even might justifiably raise the question whether Lee had begun to "go commercial." (This is a somewhat different question from did Lee need to find work, the obvious answer to which is of course he did. One goes commercial, however, when, in order to find work, one lowers one's musical standards.) Lennie at any rate seems to have thought so. In 1959 Lennie sent Warne a tape of Warne's performance at the Half Note, Warne's solos spliced together and Lee's solos edited out. In a conciliatory spirit critics explain away Lernnie's apparent unkindness toward Lee as the result of a misunderstanding. But again, anyone who listens without prejudice to the 1959 album, Lee Konitz Live At The Half Note, with Warne, Bill Evans, Jimmy Garrison and Paul Motion, will plausibly conclude that Lennie edited Lee out of the tape in order to document that concurrently with Warne's having found his (Warne's) authentic musical voice, Lee had lost his. Ten years earlier Lee had sailed the seven keys! Now he hugs the coast of the key signature as if his livelihood depends on it. Furthermore, Lee's tone has coarsened. Formerly unabashedly pristine (in contradistinction to the seductively feminine tone of Paul Desmond), now Lee's tone has the edge of a man in charge. More worldly, it rings less true.

Who then can blame Lennie for feeling betrayed? Sometime later when someone telephoned asking for Lee, Lennie answered, "We don't mention that name around here." Sure, Lennie was angry. But considering their former remarkable musical rapport, Lennie must have felt the pain of Lee's absence like the ghost-pain of a missing limb which one also chooses not to mention.

If in the early days Lee's playing intimidated Warne, years later whenever Lee and Warne shared the stage (for the double sax work never stopped being in demand), Warne, who had long since become a master, left Lee sadly in the dust. Maybe Lee's motor nerves gave out. Or maybe he decided that it was false to pretend from beginning to end of a solo that he was playing the same tune. Much more genuine, perhaps, to fragment into phrases so musically pure that they lead nowhere except back to themselves. Well, never mind what happened later. When Lee stepped before the audience on the Sunday night of Christmas Day in 1949 and took his solo on Sax Of A Kind, for a few minutes everyone's dream, whatever it was, came true.

Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2008 10:59 am
by Marv Friedenn
It just now occurs to me what’s so fascinating about this concert. I hear in the high-energy performances the relief felt at the time by everyone of good faith that the death of the 1940s, one of the worst decades in human history, is only a light snowfall away.