Myths and Legends in Jazz

                                                     by Ed Rosenback

Jazz has become a restingplace for many myths–myths about its origins, myths about performers, and then some!

My range of Jazz appreciation runs from the earliest stages to the present but, in this article, I’ll keep to the earlier historical areas, since “the present” is always evolving.

Going back to the Twenties (acknowledged as the “Jazz Age”), there was Paul Whiteman who was heralded as “The King of Jazz”. As far as I’m concerned, he was no more the “King of Jazz” than he was the King of England! If Jazz were to have a “King” at all, I would suggest either King Oliver or Ferdinand LeMenthe (aka “Jelly Roll” Morton), due to their actual involvement with the development of “Jazz”.

There are many misunderstandings concerning the American art form called Jazz. As far as history allows, it seems that the rhythms of Caribbean & African music and Ragtime melded with melodic influences taken from brass bands to form a unique “new” music. Ragtime’s antecedent influences can be found in the works of the Caribbean virtuoso pianistcomposer Louis Moreau Gottschalk in the mid-1800s, which gave those “raggedtime” rhythms respectability to the concertgoing set long before Ragtime became a popular form.

Perhaps Lieutenant James Reese Europe, an African American whose “369th Hellfighters Band” performed (and recorded) improvised Ragtime pieces to great acclaim on both sides of the continent prior to the Twenties, might be considered a better candidate for honor in the development of Jazz than Paul Whiteman, due to Europe’s brass bands’ popularity. The brass band was a longstanding New Orleans tradition.

Jelly Roll Morton famously claimed to have “invented Jazz in 1904,” which may initially appear absurd, but does have some facts to support it. His piano rolls were the first Jazz music reproduced anywhere, and he published the first composition to bear the appellation “Jazz.” He hailed from New Orleans, which many cite as the originating centre of Jazz.


He was a proud Creole, with a heritage blending the Caribbean/African/French /Spanish cultures of that city. He was asked to leave his family home after it was found that he was playing piano in the “redlight” district of New Orleans, and used “Jelly Roll Morton” as his moniker to avoid family turmoil. His long and successful career culminated in a series of recordings for the Library of Congress in 1939, chronicling the history of Jazz.

Yet let’s not give Paul Whiteman short shrift. He never described himself as “The King of Jazz” (that was a publicist’s idea); it was his Orchestra (rather than he, himself) that was paramount to the success of his career. I’ll share a personal story which sheds some light on Whiteman’s beginnings as a bandleader:

While a music student at SF State in the early 1970’s, I made the acquaintance of a Mrs. Buckner (proprietor of Buckner’s Music Supplies on Clement Street), and she shared some interesting facts with me on music and Jazz in early San Francisco.  Her husband was a trombone player who worked with Paul Whiteman and a banjo player in the Barbary Coast area of the “City by the Bay” in the ‘teens.

Whiteman, a classicallytrained violinist from Denver, was intrigued by the developing Jazz music; Mr. Buckner and the banjo player were either native San Franciscans or longtime residents. One day, Whiteman informed Buckner, “You can stay here and make music I’m going to New York and make money!” (and so he did, becoming one of the largest and most formidable names in the popular music of the Twenties.)

Like Gottschalk, who popularized Caribbean rhythms with the concert crowds of the mid1800’s, Whiteman popularized the music of New Orleans (largely unfamiliar to White America), seeking to find a middleground where European & African/Caribbean sounds could merge, melding into a single Music, worthy of formal concert settings.

As Morton may have been the first exponent of Jazz in printed, mechanicallyreproduced and recorded forms, so Whiteman may have been the first to present Jazz to the concertgoing public of America and the world with his Aeolian Hall Concert of 1924. It was at this event that George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” received its world premiere, becoming the first concert piece to purposefully incorporate the emerging Jazz rhythms of Harlem as essential parts of a modern orchestral composition.


Musical historians tend to agree that this was a turning point in the acceptance of Jazz as an art form unique to America, and for this if nothing else, the rotund Mr. Whiteman deserves credit. He broke a ceiling of musical acceptance unprecedented in previous eras.

Whiteman employed the best white musicians available, who were notable in their own right as purveyors of Jazz. This was not due to any racial bias on his part, but to the prevailing convention of the times. (We know stories of fabulouslytalented people being denied entry to places of employment solely on the basis of the color of their skin). But afterhours, it was a different story!  Bix Beiderbecke, one of Whiteman’s “star” performers, often ventured into the “colored districts” of cities where the band was appearing so he could sit in with the likes of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, and Black artists did likewise in the “white districts.” My mother often said that music was the great integrator, and she was correct.

While the social “establishment” maintained a color barrier, music (and particularly Jazz) had a different view. In addition to hiring the top white musicians for his ensemble, Whiteman also hired the finest black arrangers of the time (Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson and William Grant Still) to provide an authentic ambience to his jazz repertoire.

Even in his “concert” arrangements, Whiteman proved to be an innovator, employing famed Black operatic singer Paul Robeson (both onstage and in the recording studio) in his rendition of the song “Ol’ Man River.” Was this Jazz? Not in my view, but Whiteman did have an organization capable of expressing Jazz to a high degree and did a lot to blur (if not erase) the “color” issue in music. A 1941 Capitol recording featured “Lady Day” (Billie Holiday) as the vocalist with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Progress made!

In 1930, Universal Pictures produced the first fulllength Technicolor motion picture, “The King of Jazz,” featuring the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. It wasn’t a great film by any means, although it did win an Academy Award. It had less to do with Jazz than the rest of Whiteman’s library. There were occasional bright spots, but for most jazz fans they’re dim reflections of what might have been.

When Whiteman left San Francisco in those early years he did so to make money (which he did), and his orchestra became known as a quality exponent of popular music. Commercially, he was a success, yet he was ridiculed by jazz purists because his arrangements became so topheavy with pseudosymphonic elements that waiting for improvised solos proved a daunting task for the casual listener.

“King of Jazz”? No.  Impresario? Probably. Keen ear?  Definitely.  (He was a violinist, an instrument that requires it!)

Music (particularly Jazz) is allinclusive. It has its own language, felt and understood by everyone. There is no racial or cultural divide. Music is universal in scope and belongs to all, yet is indescribable. One knows what one likes or not; it resonates within their depths as individuals.

One of the earliest integrated musical encounters occurred on October 13, 1926, when the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and the Jean Goldkette Orchestra engaged in a “Battle of the Bands” at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan.  I believe this was the first such program, not only for pitting a “Black orchestra” against a “White orchestra” one-on-one, but for the fact that the audience was also “mixed”–both black and white people attended, listened, and danced, something previously unheard of to that date!

It’s a shame that the technology permitting live recording had not yet been perfected, for that would have made for a fabulous bit of musicmaking by some of the finest jazz musicians of their day. (Forget race–think of the Music!)  According to Rex Stewart (Henderson’s lead trumpeter), the Goldkette band blew them away, but regardless of who won that contest, Music Itself was the true victor.

After that encounter, the Goldkette band went on tour throughout the Midwest, billing itself as “the Paul Whiteman of the West.”  Such was Whiteman’s reputation, that others would capitalize upon it!

There are other myths and legends surrounding the likes of Buddy Bolden (the New Orleans trumpeter who chose never to record, lest others “steal his stuff”), and cornetist & pianist Bix Beiderbecke. Bolden is probably the first Jazz Legend, and alternative legends about Bix have sprung up since his early death.  Beiderbecke left a legacy of recorded cornet work and published piano compositions (which people may listen to and perform), but Bolden didn’t.  Those who heard Bolden praised his tone, volume and inventiveness; the rest of us can only speculate (like the HendersonGoldkette faceoff).

Jazz as Music is an eternallyunfolding art. Those who appreciate it span the entire spectrum of the art, some caring only for contemporary versions, some only for earlier forms, but I, for one, love all aspects of it.

I subscribe to the notion that Jazz is Life, the rest is just details!


(Ed Rosenback is a professional musician and a Charter Member of the Vallejo Jazz Society.)

A review of some trombone players

Full disclosure:

Christopher Ingraham is my younger brother. He played trumpet in school and also bugle in the American Legion Marching band back in the day. Although not a professional musician, he has maintained an intense  interest in music, concentrating on Classical, Jazz and Blues and gives a poetic sensitivity to his listening. 

He was recently programming his Duke Ellington Pandora ©  Station and, wanting to add some trombone  to the mix, asked me for the names of well known trombone players. I gave him a list (by no means comprehensive) and mentioned that I particularly liked Bill Watrous. I also mentioned that I had seen Bob Brookmeyer with Stan Getz many years ago. 

He went onto Youtube © to listen to some samples by musicians I mentioned and wrote a review of what he found. I found his response and comments interesting and thought they might be of interest to a larger audience. The trombone player reviews in his letter to me  follow

Kevin M Ingraham,


Vallejo Jazz Society

A Review of some trombone players

by Christopher K. Ingraham

Hi Bro:

Well, the fast review of trombone greats goes something like this (remember, these are knee-jerk reactions formed after a minimum of listening and are subject to change by the second. This ranking made for entertainment purposes only

Bob Brookmeyer:  it was hard to find something I really liked of his on the internet. It all seemed a bit soapy. I wanted something more spirited, more substantial. It didn’t help that he is so poorly served by the internet. Every other artist I searched for had a greater selection and more diverse choices. I guess if you love this guy it would be best if you would send me a link for a specific tune.

Curtis Fuller: Curtis is a bit narrow, doesn’t offer much in the way of variety. I wanted to encounter more of the tonal flexibility that the trombone possesses. As a trumpet player, I was always aware of the many places that the trumpet could not go; places where the trombone is richly comfortable. Listening to Fuller I had the feeling I was listening to a trumpet player. A gifted trumpet player to be sure, but a trumpet player. Use those fat tones! Go to the trombone rain forest, Curtis ! You got the chops, now bloom !

Kai Winding: I have to admit the name seemed a bit strange to me, and the bizarre version of  “More”just reinforced that. Nonetheless, he had the stuff I was looking for; tonal creativity, great rhythmic moves and the use of the instrument to its true potential. Still unsure after “More” I went on to “Loverman”. Here it all was; great tune, great tones, infectious rhythm and the use of the ends of the scale without effort. Would this be who I added?

Bill Watrous:  I approached Watrous with some anxiety knowing your fondness for his art. No need to worry, however, as the speed and precise virtuosity of “Spain”soon knocked my socks  off. I loved his deeply felt rendition of “Body and Soul”, his heart all over the room. He had all the qualities I have mentioned above, coupled with more courage and a greater willingness to take risks. I decided to go ahead and give “Straight, No Chaser” a click. I can only repeat what I wrote down :

“Tremendous, Original “.

J.J. Johnson:  I sampled JJ Johnson and was most impressed. You never doubt you are listening to a trombone with J.J. Besides that idiomatic voice is his adherence to the sounds of what I think of as “Jazz”. His “Autumn Leaves ” puts it’s arms around you and holds tight in  its familiarity but still seems original and sincere.

Urbie Green: The music that won the prize came from Urbie Green. It speaks for itself. Give a listen to “Let’s face the music and dance”or “Sleep ” from his big-band 1956-59.His big band is, like J.J’s, familiar and continually surprising at the same time. This band is  tight and Urbie produces the trombone sound I hear in my inner ear late at night, big city big-band that renders the traffic harmless, a game of lights and movement. 

Urbie’s rhythms are infectious, you will tap your foot and be sure to annoy your seatmate as your fingers dance on the armrest. Urbie sounds like no one else without self-consciously pushing the envelope. He slides like only a trombone can, always using the potential of the instrument to the fullest. I just love the guy and his music repeats “Jazz Jazz Jazz” to me without effort. As the winner he will be added to my Duke Ellington Pandora radio station.

Of course these are only my opinions and you’re welcome to them.

Addendum; Christopher’s response after I (Kevin ) sent a couple of other Bob Brookmeyer Youtube selections and I mentioned that Brookmeyer plays valve trombone) 

“Seems maybe the valve is giving me trouble, or do the rest of them also play that instrument ? I told you I’m just a novice with first impressions. I did enjoy both offerings, but was the comparison of Brookmeyer and your other man (Bill Watrous- ed.) really fair ?

My first impressions, all selections still enjoyable and worthy. “

As always, opinions expressed are that of the writer (VJS)

Another Sonny

When the name Sonny comes up in Jazz, especially related to saxophone, who comes to mind? Probably Sonny Rollins, a giant of the tenor sax. Maybe even Sonny Stitt who, (if memory and old liner notes serve), was tagged so often with imitating Bird that, for a time, he switched from alto to tenor. How about Sonny Criss? Doesn’t ring a bell? Not surprising. Criss was usually under the radar for a lot of jazz fans.

Though I never got to see him, I still remember, back around 1975, in the halycon days of KJAZ, hearing a song that blew me away. It was called ‘The Isle of Celia’. Not only was the sax player fluid and fast, but also probably the bluesiest I’d ever heard. ( Confession- my love of blues even predates my love of jazz, and started in my early teens, listening to WDIA, a legendary blues station from Memphis I could pick up from home – but only late at night! (Ah, how those late night radio signals could travel!)

Anyway, back to Sonny Criss. After hearing that song, I had to have the album. It was called Crisscraft and contained some of the sweetest, intense sax I’ve ever heard. After that I went on a Criss hunt, digging up old albums wherever I could find them. I still have four albums issued under his name, as well as a couple of albums on which he is featured, and some MP3 compilations I found.

Criss, like many jazz artists, led a pretty tough life. He had some drug problems, was an ex-patriate for a while, and ended up with a major illness that cut short his career, which started in the late 40’s. He died in 1977 at age 50.

Sonny was once referred to as the fastest man alive on alto sax (and he’s up there, if not at the top), but that doesn’t tell half the story. That wonderful tone, on ballads or up-tempo songs, is distinctly his; his ballads bluesy and breathy, his fast solos fluid and seemingly effortless. Criss is immediately recognizable to me, (when I hear him on our internet radio) which says a lot, since my ears can usually pick out about 8-10 sax players. If you haven’t heard Criss before, check him out. You won’t be disappointed. I’ve provided a couple of links below that give you a taste of his music and a little more about his life.

More about Sonny Criss

Sonny Criss: An Overlooked Giant

Music by Sonny Criss

The Isle of Celia

Black Coffee

Jazz Memories

Ed Rosenback, a founding member of the Vallejo Jazz Society, is an accomplished musician and singer who plays the bass, violin and piano. Below he relates some interesting stories about some of the great musicians he’s met and played with.

Jazz Memories

by Ed Rosenback, VJS Staff Member

Jazz evokes many things in the listener. For me, it’s memories of days and events long past, yet as clear and vibrant today as ever.

I felt this especially during the recent VJS concert by Soul Sauce. That music transported me back to the heady days of the mid-70s, when I’d hear Cal Tjader and Vince Guaraldi live at the El Matador club on Broadway in San Francisco. What memories!

The sounds still resonate in my mind amidst the smoky club atmosphere captured forever in a timeless eternity. I can still hear the glasses clinking on small tables, the undercurrent of private conversations (not too loud to interfere with hearing each note and nuance from the performers onstage), and the anticipation and joy expressed by the audience during and after each solo and selection.

My life in and around Jazz has been mostly positive and enriching. Over the years (don’t ask how many), I’ve had the great fortune to know and perform with some wonderful musicians (some widely known, some not). Unfortunately, in too many cases, it seems, fame and financial success elude musically-gifted persons, particularly in Jazz.

This was not the case with my friend Vince Guaraldi – he reaped well-deserved financial rewards (largely from his “Peanuts” music for Charles Shultz), but it came after paying his dues playing clubs for “peanuts”. He ended up with a nice house in Mill Valley which I visited, but he wasn’t really a “social” cat – he always had music running through his brain, and that’s what had his full attention. Vince was all about the music, but club managers seldom understand that.

I recall one night at the El Matador, Vince and the sidemen took a break in the downstairs room offstage; the manager, obviously upset with something (whether the timing of the break or something else) followed, apparently in a huff and returned shortly afterward.

A few minutes later, Vince, who probably felt insulted by the manager, burst through the door from downstairs, muttering something like “he can’t say I’m not conscientious!” (sort of a ‘take that!’ comment aimed at the manager) and began playing what seemed like a 20-minute medley, solo, while the side-men were still on break. Club managers, unfortunately, frequently don’t seem to understand that musicians need breaks and fail to give them due respect for their talent.

It’s never an easy life for jazz folk. But Vince was cool, and he was always open to help educate younger folks like my friends and myself in the finer points of Jazz.

I mentioned “nuances” earlier when talking about performers at the El Matador. That was something Vince always emphasized: the subtle nuance of a phrase, the implied phrase that ran under the melody and the essence of harmonies and rhythms chosen in a moment of inspiration – truly a theory of music not taught in university or conservatory classrooms.

I recall moments, all too few, in his company, and I treasure them, for during those times I “sat at the feet” of a Master. He left us ‘way too soon (he died on a break at a gig at Butterfields in the South Bay).

I mentioned how fame and financial fortune often elude gifted musicians, particularly in Jazz. I made the acquaintance of legendary jazz violinist Joe Venuti, and in one of our conversations, he told me that Jazz is appreciated in Europe far greater than in the United States, its country of origin. Overseas, he told me, “they treat us like kings,” but here at home, not so much. (He also gave me some advice I’ve tried to follow when possible; he said, “Kid, always play for cash – cash up front!” Try to convince a club manager to do that!)

But Joe Venuti could convince a club manager to do just that! He ran the show, and could he ever negotiate with managers! They either did as he wanted or he was out, and, by the way, they’d have to pay everyone in the band double because it was in the contract that if he walked out, for whatever reason, the management paid everyone double! Joe protected his side-men, big-time! He was a unique character, and came from a time when a violinist could hold more sway than most other Jazz musicians.

He was the first jazz violinist in history, pioneering a genre called Chamber Jazz, featuring strings. He later led big bands – imagine that, a guy with a fiddle leading a big band full of brass, reeds and percussion! But he always “held his own”, be it a tour de force pitting him against the sections or his riding over the top of the band on a final chorus.

I met him at the McClellan Officer’s Club in 1972. I was 25 and he was about 50 years my senior, but we clicked, and he even asked me to sit in with him! If only I’d brought my axe! I’d have never dreamed in a million years that could happen. He had a standing invitation at my folk’s house anytime he was in the Bay Area.

We used to joke about his longevity; he’d say he would probably die playing, and I’d say “Yeah, and you’ll probably finish the chorus before you drop!” And we’d have a good laugh about it. It nearly happened that way – he was scheduled to perform at the Concord Pavilion in the summer of 1978, but was put into the hospital in Seattle a week before leaving town; he died two days after that scheduled date.

I went to his funeral, and it was the best send-off I’ve ever attended. The band played the first tune, by Joe’s request: “Back Home Again in Indiana” – that was Joe, an original to the end!

It was through Joe Venuti that I met saxophonist Zoot Sims and guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and George Barnes. George Barnes and I hit it off, and actually began planning a record (yes, we called them “records” in those days), but he died before it materialized.

Another “great” I had the good fortune to befriend was Cal Tjader. I met him at the bar of the El Matador while he was on a break during one of his engagements. He was drinking what looked like scotch and ice in a rocks glass. He was a quiet, easy-going guy, and, like Vince, fully engaged in the music. It was fortuitous that the two of them recorded and worked together so often; each was a kind of mirror to the other.

I suppose that we clicked because of the Guaraldi connection we both enjoyed. I loved following Cal to venues whenever I could. One time at the Matador, my girlfriend at the time wanted to get his autograph, and I said I’d see if that could happen. I asked, and he reached over and grabbed a cocktail napkin and wrote his name on it and inscribed it to her. (He seemed amused, but I did want to “make points” with the girl.) I have no idea whatever happened to that autographed napkin. I doubt if she still has it, but, if so, she should put it on E-Bay!

I mentioned the Soul Sauce concert at the onset of this piece. The Co-leader of that group, Jon Eriksen, not only plays so similarly to Cal, but even resembles him, which made my déjà vous experience even more intense! I mentioned that to him, and he said he does that intentionally, and for a time even wore horn-rimmed glasses and Hawaiian shirts (both a trademark look of Cal’s).

One of the unsung geniuses of music is my longtime friend and schoolmate, Mark Krunosky. A virtuoso pianist in both classical and jazz idioms, Mark is also adept on alto sax and cornet, and is a top-notch arranger & composer, writing “serious” concert pieces and symphonies as well as songs. We met in high school and continued our association in music later, in college, in clubs, and on stage.

He was responsible for my affinity with Vince Guaraldi (he too was enamored of Vince’s skill), and we’d make periodic trips into San Francisco to visit El Matador. Mark and I would perform at Vallejo schools to introduce students to Jazz (something the VJS continues to do), and after Vince’s death Mark put together a stage presentation of the “Peanuts” music Guaraldi was famous for and we took it to several college campuses. Another local legend participating in those college shows was Kenny Ilusorio.

Yet another local musician-extraordinaire was David Froehlich, my Music Theory and Piano for Music Majors instructor at Vallejo Junior College. He was not only an accomplished teacher, but a phenomenal pianist. He told me once of going to hear Dave Brubeck, and getting to speak with him after one of the sets. He said, “My name’s Dave Froehlich,…”, and before he could get any further Brubeck said, “Yes, I’ve heard of you – you’re teaching up in Vallejo, aren’t you?”

Mr. Froehlich, stunned to be on Dave Brubeck’s radar, said, “Yes, I am.” Brubeck then asked him if he was happy teaching, and Froehlich replied, “Pretty much, yes; are you happy doing what you’re doing?” Brubeck said, “Not so much – these damn people don’t know what the hell we’re doing up here.”

Mr. Froehlich (I later got to call him “Dave”) appreciated students who really took to Music Theory, and I was one of those. While I was at the University of Oregon, I’d correspond every now and then, and send him a draft of something I was working on, which he seemed to like.

After college and a stint in the Army, I returned to Vallejo, resumed my association with Mark Krunosky and began playing gigs with several local bands. To my great joy, Dave Froehlich wanted me on some of his gigs. Every time I played behind him, I played better than I ever had; he just drew the best music out of people!

I still recall during his Theory classes at Vallejo Junior College, Dave would come in, sit at the piano, and ask for someone to call out a popular tune of the day. He’d play it, and then say, “Now here is how Bach would have played it,” and launch into an elaborate contrapuntal solo; then, he’d say, “Now this is how Beethoven would have done it,” and once again play a classical masterpiece. He would do this through all the Masters of Music, and then he’d say, “And if Dave Brubeck did it, this is how it would sound,” and he would do an improvisation in the style of Brubeck.

Dave Froehlich was a genius, musically, and I’m proud to say I shared the stage with him on many occasions. We recorded some gospel songs with a group called “The Joyful Noise,” but Dave was never given the chance to shine, just played the chords underneath the other instruments, a gigantic waste of talent and a sadly-missed golden opportunity.

On the subject of missed opportunities, one was remedied years later, when I met legendary guitarist Eddie Duran. Eddie was a frequent sideman with both Vince Guaraldi and Cal Tjader, yet despite all the times I’d hung around Vince and Cal, I’d never met Eddie. When the VJS contracted with Madelyn and Eddie Duran to do one of our concerts at Ariane Cap’s Step-Up Music in 2011, things began to turn around.

Bob Nadler (a charter member of the VJS) and I were doing a gig in Yountville one Sunday and Bob had been invited to go to Eddie’s birthday party in Sonoma that same day. It was one week prior to Mad & Eddie’s concert in Vallejo, and Bob asked if I wanted to dovetail a visit to Sonoma on our way home from the gig. It sounded like a good idea, so we went.

After we made our way through the house, Janice King of the Sonoma Jazz Society asked if I wanted to sit in with Eddie on the back porch. This was too good! My mind hearkened back to that day in 1972 when Joe Venuti asked me to sit in and I had no instrument, and I realized this time I had my bass in the van!

So after all the years of following Vince, I finally got to meet his cohort, Eddie Duran, and not only that, got to perform with him! Getting to meet and play with Eddie before their VJS concert was a thrill for me. Not only that: I was also the M.C. for the event. Tres cool!

( A photo taken at that concert is below , as well as one of me with Dave Froehlich, John Kolarik and Bobby Simmons.) I have also included below some music links of the artists I’ve mentioned.

Me with Mad and Eddie Duran

Me with Mad and Eddie Duran

A link for Vince Guaraldi’s “Ginza” is:

A link for Cal Tjader’s “Soul Sauce” is:

YouTube links for Joe Venuti: the first is for a 1939 recording entitled “Flip” (the flip-side was entitled “Flop”): and the other is for the 1956 LP “Fiddle on Fire”:

Lee Simmons, Bobby Simmons, John Kolarik, Me, and Dave Froehlich

Lee Simmons, Bobby Simmons, John Kolarik, Me, and Dave Froehlich


Duke Ellington’s America by Harvey C. Cohen. Reviewed by Irma Liberty

Duke Ellington’s America by Harvey C. Cohen 576 pp. plus notes, published 2010.

I found about twenty books on Duke Ellington in the library and, not being a musician, but a music lover, chose this book due to my background in social science and interest in the creative process. Cohen, a cultural historian, takes a scholarly approach, portraying Ellington in terms of family, and cultural and historical background.

Although ‘scholarly’ in the sense of placing Ellington in his cultural milieu, this is not a dry, dull treatise, but a book fun to read, and led me to explore more of Ellington’s works, especially the longer pieces. It also revealed a lot about American culture and history of the era which is not common knowledge.

Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington (1899-1974) was born and raised in a middle class African American family in Washington, D.C. His family, like most of the African-American middle class then in D.C., believed the way to improve race relations was through individual achievement. Presenting yourself with dignity, being well-mannered and well-dressed was very important.

When Duke started out black and white music was segregated. Black musicians were expected, like those in minstrel shows, to wear blackface, clownish clothes and speak in dialect. Jazz was not a well respected music at this time and, in fact, was considered by many people, both black and white, to be associated with wicked and sinful behavior.

Ellington, however, refused to play the clown and freely mingled with other races and classes to learn from them, incorporating what he learned into his music. He formed an integrated orchestra and, due to continuing success, was able to insist that black people be allowed to attend his performances as well, something unheard of, even in some Harlem theaters. This is one of many interesting facts in the book, which tells you a lot about America in this era, while telling Duke’s story.

As an African-American growing up in this time. music and church were a natural part of his large extended family life. Although he greatly enjoyed performing, when he was off stage, he preferred solitude. He was a good pianist, but always considered his band as his instrument and fed off the interactions with the audience and band. He was driven to constantly compose new music and, while he always obliged his audience’s desire to hear his old standards, he never rested on his laurels. He kept growing, expanding his reach.

He had some help with this. While based in Harlem, he became acquainted with a music publisher and former talent manager named Irving Mills. Although Mills’ primary interest was in making money, he saw the potential in Duke Ellington’s music and positioned him to appeal to a wider audience through the new media of radio and phonograph recordings.

Using his national radio show, in the 1930’s Mills promoted Duke Ellington,and expanded his audience greatly. With this increased exposure, he and Ellington were able to gradually change the previous perception of black music as ‘primitive’. Duke Ellington, a Black American, now came to be seen as an important American composer and started to compose longer works.

One of the first of these pieces ,“Black, Brown and Beige”, a jazz symphony, premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1943 and sold out, leaving about two thousand people outside without tickets. This piece established him as a unique force in American music and led him to write more extended, sophisticated music, such as “My People” ( a musical review comprised of short pieces, Chicago 1960) and “Suite Thursday” (Monterey Jazz Festival, 1963).

Due to this increasing prominence and popularity he was engaged by the State Department as a ‘cultural ambassador’ in 1963 and traveled to the Middle East, inspiring his composition “Far East Suite”.Two more State Dept overseas tours followed, all attended by thousands in each city. He was a major factor in overcoming the stereotypical perception of America abroad as a country filled with prejudice and race riots.

While Ellington, like everyone, experienced hardships and sorrows, he didn’t dwell on them. Music was his gift and mode of expression, the way he dealt with forces in his life. Tellingly, he titled his autobiography, “Music Is My Mistress”.

We may have forgotten Duke’s great successes in Europe in the early 1930’s, the impact of his Carnegie Hall concerts, his role as a cultural ambassador for the State Department in the 1950’s, his financial generosity to civil rights groups and the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award in the 1960’s. But we now have integrated bands, orchestras and audiences, a world-wide respect for American music and a continuous stream of jazz musicians who continue to break the boundaries of jazz.

Of his many extended compositions, I am particularly fond of the “Far East Suite” * which I have listened to repeatedly over the years. “The Duke Ellington Carnegie Hall Concert” (January 1943) contains “Black and Tan Fantasy” * (1927) and the three movement forty-five minute long “Black, Brown and Tan” as well as a shorter piece, “Blue Belle of Harlem”(1938) a little over six minutes long. The latter is notable for some voicings used which sounded quite dissonant by the standards of that day.

At the beginning of his career Duke’s focus was on putting to music the feelings and lives of black people but, in later years, he expanded this concept and, thereafter always referred to his music as “American Music”. Duke Ellington, an American original.

Irma Liberty

* Here are a couple of short selections that may inspire you to listen to more:

Pennycook School Loves Jazz!

A concert was presented by the Vallejo Jazz Society Quartet at Pennycook Elementary on March 21, 2014 to introduce the children to jazz. The students of Ms. Heidl’s third grade class at Pennycook Elementary rewarded our musicians with a packet of hand printed ‘thank you’ notes decorated with musical notes, instruments, and hearts. 

The musicians playing for the children were Bryan Girard on Saxophone, Dalt Williams on bass. Bob Nadler on drums and Wayne De La Cruz on keyboards. Special guest, local vocalist Frankye Kelly, appeared and introduced the kids to scat singing. Here is a photo of the concert followed by a few examples of the children’s thank you notes in  their own handwriting.

VJS-Pennycook 005

L-R : Bob Nadler, Drums, Frankye Kelly, Vocals, Dalt Williams, Bass, Bryan Girard, Sax, Wayne De La Cruz, Keyboards

Pennycook thankyou like how you all played-str

Pennycook thankyou11 dalt and frankye

Pennycook thankyou10 Moira liked everything

Pennycook thankyou6 jazz and blues

Pennycook thankyou22 drummer and play piano

I think we may have made some new fans! smiley-face-listening-to-music-with-headphones

music notes

Al and Zoot

by Kevin Ingraham

Al and Zoot
Zoot and Al
Which is Which ?
Al can swing
Zoot can’t not swing
Where Zoot got it
who can tell
Like Johnny Lee ‘bout the boogie
It’s in him
and it’s gotta come out
They’re trading licks
in and out
one behind
one out front
one backing
one blowing
working those notes
while playing
Zoot more breath
breath of life
Al more brass
both swinging without a net
no bass
no drums
no ivories
flowing out
like a warm breeze
joyful conversation
you gotta hear it
Al and Zoot
Zoot and Al

Having trouble playing the audio track below? Click Here

The above is is a little something written while listening to Al Cohn and Zoot Sims playing ” Improvisation for Unaccompanied Saxophones” a microcosm of swinging recorded first on the album ” You ‘N’ Me issued in 1960. According to the liner notes by Ira Gitler on the reissue, Zoot and Al had never recorded this before, it was just a little something they played for themselves. Leonard Feather, the A&R man on the date convinced them to include it on the album. Most people will probably get the reference in the written piece, but the Johnny Lee is in reference to a John Lee Hooker song, a great line from ‘Boogie Chillen’.

You can hear this piece all 2:22 min of it in its entirety (without my reading) on YouTube at If you get a chance, pick up the album or CD. There’s also a wonderful version of Angel Eyes by bassist Major Holly, who scats along with his bass, and some early Mose Allison on piano.

Jim Hall- Concierto CTI Records, 1975

Well, I’m going to kick off this column with a few words about one of the most beautiful, hypnotic pieces of jazz ever, a piece that belongs in every jazz fan’s library. (Don’t worry about the ‘beautiful’ adjective, I’m not going to talk about ‘smooth jazz’ aka elevator music, but serious jazz.)

The album is Concierto by Jim Hall. All the songs are excellent but the center piece, Concierto de Aranjuez is a must-hear; music played by great musicians and engineered and arranged to perfection. The musicians on the date are Jim Hall on Guitar (electric and acoustic), Roland Hanna on Piano, Ron Carter on Bass, Steve Gadd  on Drums, Chet Baker on Trumpet and Paul Desmond on Alto. If that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice then maybe you’re new to jazz (and this is not a bad place to start!)

The album came out in 1975 on CTI, a label of record producer Creed Taylor, who founded Impulse Records and signed John Coltrane to the label. CTI also recorded Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Gerry Mulligan and others. The songs on Concierto were arranged by Don Sebesky and the engineer was Rudy Van Gelder.

I first heard this cut, which tracks at just over 19 minutes, on KJAZ back when the album was first released and it knocked me out. I had to have this song. I still have the vinyl with the drawing inside of Jim Hall from the New Yorker in my collection. Concierto de Aranjuez was written by Joaquín Rodrigo for classical guitar and orchestra. Prior to Jim Hall’s version it was  recorded by Miles Davis on the Sketches of Spain album , arranged by Gil Evans.

 Listening to the Music

Jim Hall, on guitar, starts it  off by stating the theme using a rich, full warm tone, melodic,almost devoid of treble. Chet Baker’s trumpet enters quietly, with an airy tone that seems to float. At about 1:30 in the recording Paul Desmond, long time veteran of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, tiptoes in and trades lines with Chet, meshing perfectly, understated and perfect- a mini masterpiece.

   Then it’s Jim Hall stating the melody again and you begin to notice Roland Hanna, Ron Carter and some very tasteful work by drummer Steve Gadd in the background. Paul Desmond and Chet Baker rejoin, playing off each other perfectly, weaving in and out before Hall plays a few notes and Ron Carter leads us into change of tempo and mood at about 3:38.

    Roland Hanna comes in with a vamp on piano and you really have to hear how Jim Hall simply glides into the song step by step as the rhythm section propels it forward. It’s so simple sounding, but so right. It’s not just how the music is played, but how it’s arranged and engineered. Not a misstep anywhere.

   Paul Desmond takes a solo with that unmistakable sound, sweet, but not cloying, softly swinging, with superb backing by Carter, Hanna and Gadd who are always present but don’t overwhelm.

Next Chet Baker takes a turn, sounding like Desmond’s counterpart on trumpet with such a great warm tone and melodic sense.  Roland Hanna, a versatile pianist, has his say with a bit of Spanish lilt, delicate, but not precious, finally climbing the keyboard where Jim Hall awaits, an almost seamless transition.

Hall restates and plays with the theme and, at one point, you can imagine raindrops falling one by one from his guitar. Then Desmond and Baker perform their dance back and forth until the tempo slows again, with Ron Carter providing some especially tasty bass in the background amid perfect accents by Steve Gadd before Jim Hall takes us to the end.

This is an album that can be played again and again and appreciated for so many reasons that it never gets old. Just listening to the rhythm section, so subtle, but so perfect, can be a treat. Check it out. Feedback? Send an email to: with Jazz Talk Column 1 in the subject line