Friday, September 9, 2016

My Early Jazz Education 5: Al Hirt and (again) Maynard

It’s back to my early jazz education. For one thing I just got a new pair of speakers for my computer and I want to listen to them. Mind you, these are small desktop speakers, so we’re not talking about “like real” fidelity or a room shaking sound, but still, they’re nice. I like them.

Also, I’d realized I’d forgotten Al Hirt in my second post, which was all trumpet: Maynard, Miles, and Diz. And to fill things out, I’ll add a bit more Maynard. I realize that neither Maynard nor Hirt are as important in jazz history and Miles or Diz, or, for that matter, Thelonius Monk or Dave Brubeck. But these posts aren’t about jazz history. They’re about my personal history with jazz, and Al Hirt and Maynard Ferguson loomed large in my early years. I still listen to them with pleasure.

Here’s Al Hirt playing a tune that was written by a trumpet player, Ziggy Elman, and is associated with him. “And the Angels Sing” was a number one hit for Benny Goodman back in 1939. This is on Hirt’s album, Al Hirt – Swingin’ Dixie! (At Dan’s Pier 600 in New Orleans):



To appreciate how this hit me in my early teens you have to understand that the trumpet is a beast of an instrument. Just getting a sound out of it is difficult. And to get a sound like this, nice clean and round, that’s impressive. And the playing is so relaxed. Where’s the effort?

But what really got me, it starts at about 1:03 with the just the drums, tom-toms, and then Hirt enters otherwise unaccompanied with some really sexy snaky swirly licks. What the heck is that? thought I to myself. The album notes said something about Ziggy Elman and “frailach licks.” Whatever they are, that must be them. And, wham! at 1:41 we’re back to classic swing, but still snaky and sexy. The rest of the ensemble enters at 2:02 and we go to the out chorus.

Well, Ziggy Elman was Jewish, as you might guess from his name. And he knew klezmer quite well. That’s where those frailach licks come from. Here’s the original, with the snaky licks starting at 1:53:



And he breaks into swing at 2:25, just like Al Hirt did. Except that it’s the other way around of course. And if you listen closely to the two you realize that Hirt wasn’t just playing something like Elman did, he was quoting him note for note. So what we’ve got in Hirt’s performance then is a trip from New Orleans to the shtetls of Eastern Europe by way of New York City. Such is the way of jazz, the way of music, the way of the world.

And it doesn’t end there. Lee Morgan, who became an important influence on me in the mid-1970s, recorded a tune, “Soulita” in which he quotes/paraphrases Elman, at 2:01 to 2:20:



Finally, sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s I heard a performance by tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin in Baltimore’s Famous Ballroom. Griffin played Morgan’s “Soulita” and he quoted Morgan’s Elman quote in his solo.

I didn’t know any of that back in the early 1960s. The internet net did not exist, dear children, so I couldn’t look any of that up. And just where, in a small city in Western Pennsylvania, would I have been able to find out about a trumpet solo played by a Jewish trumpeter back in the 1930s? Oh, I’m sure there were people who knew, but I didn’t know how to find them nor what books to consult in what library. So Elman and frailach licks were just tantalizing mysteries on my path through jazz.

Back to Al Hirt. Here he’s playing “Caravan,” by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol, who was from Puerto Rico. Again we have the throbbing tom-toms:



The toms return at 3:18 for Hirt’s solo starting at 3:21. Notice how the drummer picks up on Hirt’s rhythm at 4:15. At 4:54 we have a quote from “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Notice trumpet-drum call-and-response at 5:01. Ensemble at 5:48 for the out chorus. Notice at the very end the three horns – trumpet, clarinet, and trombone – play the melody in unison, just like they opened it.

Another jazz classic, W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”:



Notice that they drop the minor key tango section (heard at 0:27-0:50) for the solo choruses. Notice the call-and-response riffs they use to bracket solos, which are based on a 12-bar blues. I just love the quick down-shift at 3:47 leading to an ultra bluesy ending.

Finally, “When the Saints Go Marching In”:



At 3:12 they go into call-and-response, with Hirt playing one bar and the others giving a one-bar imitation. At 4:03 we’re down to trading bar-long single tones. Listen closely as it evolves from there into a pointillist panoply of notes until at 4:47 they’re doing the melody, with each horn playing only one note. This is known as hocketing and, off the top of my head, this is the only jazz example I can think of. And then they’re into the out-chorus, collective improv, call-and-response, and closing on “Swanee River” at 5:15.

* * * * *

Some more Maynard. Here’s a ballad, “Early hours,” without comment:



This is an Elmer Bernstein tune, “Blues for a Four String Guitar.” I love the loping bass ostinato, which is doubled on some kind of percussion I don’t recognize (bass marimba?):



This is mostly an ensemble piece, though Maynard gets in a few licks at 0:55.

Here’s Maynard’s version of “Danny Boy” (a tune I’ve loved since I was quite young).



He climbs into the stratosphere at 1:15 comes back down at 1:31, followed by a quiet alto solo, building to an ensemble out at 3:02, with Maynard riding the top, and then back down at 3:24 to the end.

Maynard died in August of 2006 and I uploaded this tribute in September:


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