In my post about Rafael Mendez I mentioned how he directed my attention to jazz. I loved the material he did with the “Spanish tinge,” as Jelly Roll Morton called, so I went looking for more. What would you think if you saw this record sitting in a bit at the local discount store just waiting your greedy ears?
The man’s wearing a serape and “Si! Si!”, that’s Spanish, no? And he’s obviously a trumpet player, even if he’s surrounded by the “lesser” brass instruments.
So I bought it. The title track (that’s it above) was indeed Spanish tinged, though quite not what I was expecting. But that’s OK. It was very good. And the arrangement, I’d never heard anything like it–dig the close harmonies in the trumpets on the shout chorus. Not to mention Maynard himself.
But then it had this, “Early Hours,” a very different kind of tune, lazy and relaxed:
Notice that Maynard gave his sidemen generous solo time. Check the lead trumpet starting at 2:19, and then 2:52. Dig the shakes, the top notes–not super loud, just what taste dictates. And the closing phrase for the sax.
“Straight Out” is just what the title says:
Medium up, driving like a mofo! Maynard takes the second solo starting at 1:45. Notice that he doesn’t take to the stratosphere until 3:03.
I went looking for that Spanish tinge and a found that, and a whole lot more. Some swinging big-band music on one of Maynard Ferguson’s fabled Roulette recordings. That same Spanish tinge led me to an album called Miles Ahead: Miles Davis + 19. I don’t know who this Miles Davis guy is, said I to myself, but with tunes named “Maids of Cadis,” “Blues for Pablo,” and “New Rhumba,” how could I miss.
Truth be told, that was even less like what I was looking for than Si! Si! MF. But who cares! I didn’t. I’d discovered Miles Davis and Gil Evans. But if one of the things I was looking for in the Spanish tinge was mournful soul, well you can’t do better than “Blues for Pablo,” by Gil Evans:
Mile’s straight uninflected tone is pure blue. It starts out of tempo with Miles playing over a drone with the rest joining at 0:19, where we get a sense of tempo (check Paul Chambers on bass). Then the trumpets playing swing phrases starting at 1:13 for a different flavor. That Gil Evans, he’s clever. And then Ernie Royal barks on lead at 1:45. Then it’s back to lazy town at 1:52. Man! There’s a lot going on, gotta’ keep up, pay attention (do I hear a bass clarinet in there?). It keeps going like to the end, a shift of mood and feel every 15 to 30 seconds. We get some Spanish riffs at 4:04 and then it changes. At 4:48 we’re back to the opening figures, and then we relax it on out.
For something different, check out David Brubeck’s “The Duke,” relaxed swing with the melody in the flutes:
Miles doesn’t show up until about 1:38, after a forceful trumpet line with Royal on lead. That makes for a strong contrast, Royal’s bright and pointed, Miles veiled and elliptical. But that’s a bit late for the soloist in a tune that only runs 3:39? Well, yeah, I suppose so. I figure it like this: We had to get the flutes, lower brass, and lead trumpet firmly established before Miles could nestle among and between those different tonalities.
Somewhere I managed to find Dizzy Gillespie. I don’t recall exactly how. Maybe my instructor, Dave Dysert, suggested him. Or maybe the name “A Night in Tunisia” appealed to my sense of the exotic. In any event I found my way to two-album set on Roost that featured early recordings by Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Those cuts must be somewhere on YouTube, but I haven’t been able to find them.
But here’s a version of “A Night in Tunisia” from the same era, recorded on June 22, 1945, in Town Hall in New York City. The opening introduction is by Parker:
The opening bass line, played by Curley Russell, is standard for this tune. It’s an ostinato that reflects, you got it, the Spanish tinge by way of Cuba. Then Parker enters with a standard back-up riff and Gillespie plays the theme on muted trumpet. At 1:19 we get a standard vamp leading into the solos. Parker takes the first break, at 1:35, and we’re on it at 1:40 when the rhythm section enters. Bird takes two choruses and then throws it to the piano, Al Haig, at about 3:14. He takes two and then Bird and Diz enter on a short transition figure at 4:59, break! at 5:02 and Diz is off flying into his solo. Listen at 6:06 for how the drummer, Max Roach, follows Diz’s figures. We get a bit of ensemble, and then Diz’s closing cadenza at 6:44. He would be playing some of those same cadenza riffs for the next 50 years. Bird offers some closing remarks.
“A Night in Tunisia,” like a whole lotta’ jazz tunes, takes the form of a 32-bar AABA “standard.” We’ve got an A strain and a contrasting B strain. Now, look what happens when we conjoin two of these into a solo chorus (which is what these guys were doing, two times through) AABAAABA. There, in the middle, you’ve got three A’s in a row. When playing a solo the trick is to play the first of them as the last section of the first chorus and then play the second as the beginning of the next chorus. Getting that right is particularly difficult in a tune like this, where the A strain is just a two-chord vamp. It has very little structure. But if you listen closely you’ll see that these musicians nail it every time.
Here’s another tune that was on that Roost set, but not in the version from that set. It’s a novelty tune called “Swing Cadillac” and this is how Gillespie performed it on The Muppets:
This is the purist most rarified crowd-pleasing schtick–a man’s got bills to pay. I doubt that Gillespie ever did a live performance in that kind of get-up, though he might have, but he certainly did play the congas, and the lyrics are pretty much what he had in place in the 1940s, including the last line: “Old Cadillacs never die, the finance company just faaaaaaaaade ‘em away.” When I first heard that in my early teens I thought it was impossibly cool. I liked the congas too. Now, listen to the electric bass starting at 1:05. They didn’t have that it the 1940s. It took jazz musicians awhile to come around to the electric bass.
Here’s Diz with a big band on George Russell’s “Cubana-Be, Cubana-Bop.”
That’s Luciano "Chano" Pozo González, Chano Pozo, on the congas and chants. He’s Cuban and was a devotee of Santeria. He emigrated to New York in 1947 where Mario Bauza, trumpeter and Latin band leader, introduced him to Gillespie, who hired him as a conga drummer. He also co-composed “Manteca” with Gillespie. This is from the same concert as “Cubana-Be, Cubana-Bop,” Carnegie Hall in New York later that year.
The tune opens with congas and bass, with the bass playing an ostinato. (Later on Gillespie would sing the words “I’ll never go back to Georgia” to that figure.) The band enters section by section, each with its own riff, with all the riffs interlocking in a rhythmically rich whole. At 0:21 Dizzy plays some opening figures and then things get pared back for the trumpet’s to come in on the melody. Like “A Night in Tunisia,” this is also an AABA tune, with the A strain based on a simple vamp while the B strain as articulated chord changes.
Gillespie would be playing “A Night in Tunisia” and “Manteca” until the end of his life and who knows how many other jazz musicians played those tunes how many times. “A Night in Tunisia” is one of my favorite tunes. When I was first learning it I would, of course, play along with recordings. But I would also practice without recordings and I would even practice in my head, without any instrument at all. I still remember the day when, as I was on a Greyhound bus somewhere between Frederick and Baltimore in Maryland, I managed to hold the melody in my head while at the same time imagining improvised figures over it. Ouch! Cool.
Here’s my a capella version of “Tunisia.”