Archive for the ‘Jazz History’ Category

Rio Lobo Guitar

I’ve written about Tommy Tedesco and jazz’s “unsung heroes” on this blog before.  It bears worth mentioning once again that many jazz musicians relied on their studio session work more than anything else to put food on their family’s table.  While Tommy Tedesco played guitar as a session musician on albums that garnered millions for well-known artists, he never had a successful recording career himself.

Sadly, Tedesco’s highly influential and often brilliant studio work mostly went unaccredited (cf. Denny Tedesco’s Wrecking Crew documentary and Guitar World‘s 2014 interview with him).  I recently discovered a powerful example of this when I watched the 1970 John Wayne western Rio Lobo.

The opening sequence was fascinating and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  William H. Clothier, cinematographer for countless westerns, including many John Wayne westerns, and main title designer Dan Perri, who for many years remained uncredited as the creator of the guitar sequence (Perri, along with George Lucas is best known for creating the famous “opening crawl” main title sequence for the very first Star Wars film:  Star Wars:  Episode IV – A New Hope, 1977) collaborated on the Rio Lobo opening sequence.

The Rio Lobo title sequence shows a Spanish style guitar being played from a variety of different angles, including an “inside” shot of the guitar from behind the strings. Composed by Jerry Goldsmith, the guitar instrumental itself is a rather run-of-the-mill sentimental Spanish melody.  The musician is filmed while he fingers the chords and notes, using standard Spanish sounding arpeggios.

Curiously, I discovered that the guitarist was Tommy Tedesco, though he goes uncredited for his work.  However, the musician shown playing in the film, according to Denny Tedesco, is not Tommy Tedesco.  Tedesco never played using only his fingers; he only played using a pick.

Here’s the main title sequence to Rio Lobo:

How Tommy Tedesco’s playing ended up on the opening title sequence of a John Wayne movie is probably the same way he ended up playing on the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album:  as a dedicated studio musician willing to lend his virtuoso guitar talents to anyone who needed him.


Read Full Post »

Learning Django

The following is a post I wrote last February, but got too sick to polish and publish.  Here it is now:

I’ve got a week’s relief from chemo, so neuropathy side effects, particularly in my hands, have all but disappeared, a good thing since I can now resume my guitar playing.  I’ve been wanting to get back to practicing the Django Reinhardt tune I’ve been working on for the past year—”Minor Blues.”  I’ve managed to get down the first 33 bars (out of 45) of an arrangement by David Blacker, a superb swing guitarist and instructor for TrueFire.com.  Blacker classifies his arrangement as “beginner,” but because of the timing and rhythm of this piece, which is swing time and relies heavily on flurries of 1/8th note triplets throughout the tune, I would place it in the “intermediate” level category.

There’s two versions of Django playing “Minor Blues” that I know of.  Blacker’s arrangement is one of them:

Hubert Rostaing (1918-1990) plays clarinet solo.  Rostaing is probably best known for his clarinet playing on Django’s “Nuages.”

Read Full Post »

round navajo rug

The Warp and Woof: Round Ganado Rug by Master Weaver, Mary H. Yazzie

Complex music, especially jazz, does not always have to be inaccessible.  There are times when the musician is creative or clever enough to combine the complex with the accessible.

Mal Waldron is one.

Man, that guy can really play piano.  You wouldn’t know it though unless you listened closely to his playing because he’s rarely out front, no matter the setting.  Waldron seems to be perfectly satisfied to lay out behind the soloists.  His introverted playing style is full of  Monk-style spaces and brooding chord voicings, but always with swing.

Waldron’s jazz credentials run deep.  New York City born, he cut his chops with tenor saxophonist Ike Quebec and his band, playing the Cafe Society Downtown (the original renamed nightclub post-1940).  This led to working with Charles Mingus and others, but especially Billie Holiday, who he accompanied from 1957 until her death in 1959.

Waldron was firmly rooted in jazz traditions from an early age.  While serving a two-year stint in the army starting in 1943 stationed at West Point, Waldron had the opportunity to listen to the jazz greats of the time playing on 52nd St. and elsewhere in New York City.

Though he had a straight-ahead jazz background, Waldron’s music has slowly evolved into more experimental and complex kinds of music which were not as commercially viable.  Experimental or free jazz recordings were a risk for record companies.  As it was,  jazz records just weren’t selling very well during the 60s and 70s (jazz record sales had a 1.3 % of the total record sales in 1972; see Fabian Holt‘s Genre in Popular Music ).  Despite the economic challenges that faced Waldron, he continued to successfully perform and record.   By 1972 his music had evolved from the bop of his album Mal-1 (1957) to the avant-garde of Mal Waldron with the Steve Lacy Quintet.  Waldron often played strictly duets (for economic reasons as well as creative) with soprano saxophonist Lacy during the 80s and 90s.

As an example, first here’s Mal Waldron’s “Transfiguration” with Idrees Sulieman on trumpet and Gigi Gryce on alto, from the 1957 album Mal-1:

And here’s Waldron almost thirty years later with Steve Lacy in a duet setting, a live recording of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” at the 1984 Berlin Jazz Festival:

While obviously radically different tonally and rhythmically, there is an experimental quality to the music that they both share.

Scott Yanow describes Waldron’s music as falling somewhere between hard bop and avant-garde.  The thing about avant-garde jazz is that it can scare off jazz newcomers.  Avant-garde jazz with its atonal and grating sounds can rattle the nerves of the most well-informed jazz fan.  With hard bop, at least you don’t need to understand what your listening to in order to enjoy it.  It just sounds good.  But maybe the fact that it “just sounds good” is not the only goal for the musician. Both listener and musician have different jazz expectations.

The other night when I played “Warp and Woof” a Waldron’s composition from his 1961 album Quest it occurred is a good example of how jazz can combine the complex and accessible, like the “warp and woof” of a woven piece of fabric. What Waldron manages to accomplish with “Warp and Woof” is to weave his “experimental” jazz into a context of more traditional jazz stylings.  Listen to “Warp and Woof.”  Mal Waldron is on piano with Booker Ervin, tenor, Eric Dolphy, alto, bassist Ron Carter on cello, Joe Benjamin, bass and Charles Persip on drums:

Jazz thrives on that which is fresh, original, innovating, therefore, ensuring that as an art form, jazz will continue to improvise, to evolve, to change, maybe into something brand new, otherwise, it wouldn’t be jazz.









Read Full Post »

Older Posts »