Writing about Jazz

Jazz has inspired some great writing. Whitney Balliett, who died in 2007, wrote on jazz for the New Yorker magazine for many years and bought real style to his writing. Here’s a couple of examples – the first on tenor sax player Ben Webster and the second some thoughts about pianist Thelonious Monk.

Ben Webster:


He would start a medium-slow blues solo very softly with a weaving five-note phrase, pause, play a high, barely audible blue note, and duck back to his opening phrase, still as soft as first sunlight. He would harden his tone slightly at the start of his next chorus, issue an annunciatory phrase, repeat it, insert a defiant tremolo. His tone would grow hard, he would growl and crowd his notes, he would shake his phrases as if he had them clamped in his teeth. As the years went by he would close certain phrase endings by allowing his vibrato to melt into pure undulating breath—dramatically offering, before the breath expired, the ghost of his sound.

Thelonious Monk:


His improvisations were attempts to disguise his love of melody. He clothed whatever he played with spindly runs, flatted notes, flatted chords, repeated single notes, yawning silences and zigzag rhythms. Sometimes he pounded the keyboard with his right elbow. His style protected him not only from his love of melody but from the love of the older pianists he grew out of – Duke Ellington and the stride pianists. All peered out from inside his solos, but he let them escape only as parody.

You can get more of Balliett’s brilliant writing in his book The Sound of Surprise. Amazingly, it now seems to be out of print – there’s a photo of the Pelican paperback version published in the 1960s below. Imagine this as a coffee table book with great black and white photos of jazz musicians…

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To hear this writing in action, listen to Ben Webster’s Soulville or Thelonius Monk’s Brilliant Corners.

writingaboutjazz2

As always, just listen and explore.

Now’s the time. Let your journey begin here.

Tune into Cosmic Jazz every Thursday between 8.30 and 10pm on www.icrfm.co.uk

Sleep Walker at the Jazz Café, London 26 October 2008

Sleep Walker returned to the Jazz Café on Sunday with a blistering set. Although a classic quartet lineup, their music is a loud, colourful synthesis of the best of soul jazz and Pharoah Sanders style spiritual vibes. There’s no samples and no electronic wizardry – just extended grooves that feature the soprano and tenor of Masato Nakamura and Hajime Yoshizawa on acoustic piano. Playing here to a largely young – and Japanese – audience they made club jazz deeply funky again.Live, Nakamura took on more of the sound of his obvious idol Pharoah Sanders with lots of overblowing on tenor and long, sinuous improvised lines on soprano. On record a tune like Brotherhood is more relaxed with trumpet and flute solos – here it was stripped down into a powerful remix that really worked.

Yoshizawa stretched out too, and on the Steinway grand at the Jazz Café (rather than the Fender Rhodes of their earlier Paris show at the Batofar) he created lyrical figures that gradually built into great grooves recalling the extended piano work on another one of Sleep Walker’s stand out tracks on CD, Eclipse.

Drummer Nobuaki Fujii was a revelation. His convincing rock style applied to a jazz sensibility allowed him to move effortlessly from straight 4/4 bombast into a swinging 3/4 jazz waltz – great solos too.

No vocalist at this set but – for me – this only tightened up their sound, allowing them to avoid obvious soul jazz clichés and create a new and deeper sound that was truly convincing. No ballads either and so no let up on the deep grooves. This focus on just one aspect of their music only made a more convincing case for Sleep Walker as one of the best of the current Japanese jazz groups.

For an idea of Sleep Walker’s power live, check out the Youtube clip on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood blog. Visuals and sound are poor but the energy comes across well.

Photos from the Jazz Café show below:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usFree Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Playlist – 23th October 2008

Lots of new music this week including tracks from avant gardist Bill Dixon, Japan’s new jazzers What’s Up and quasimode and Detroit keyboardist Amp Fiddler’s collaboration with Jamaican rhythm masters Sly and Robbie. But there was also time to revive an old favourite on vinyl – the beautiful final movement from Mike Westbrook’s masterpiece Metropolis with its haunting trumpet theme played by Harry Beckett.

Shout outs to all our listeners and callers including Pete who will be coming next week to play his latest selection of music old and new.

Two more related Youtube links this week for you – check out

Paul Motion:

Joe Henderson:

1. Bill Dixon and Exploding Star Orchestra – Constellation for Inner Light Projection
2. Paul Motian – Ch’i Energy
3. Sun Ra Arkestra – Call for all Demons
4. Sarah Webster Fabio – Sweets Songs
5. Harmonizing Four – Motherless Child
6. Max Roach with the J C White Singers – Motherless Child
7. What’s Up? – Which One is True
8. J Life – Afro Blue
9. N’Dambi – People
10. Defunkt – For the Love of Money
11. Mike Westbrook – Metropolis IX
12. Ceu – Roda
13. Yvette – Preconceito (live)
14. Amp Fiddler with Sly and Robbie – Paint the White House Black
15. quasimode – Jeannine

Stan Tracey at the Fleece, Kersey Mill 17 October 2008

“Does anyone here know how good he is?” said Sonny Rollins after working with Stan Tracey on the soundtrack to the film Alfie in 1966. Er, yes – they do now!

This was a blistering set from an extended Stan Tracey Trio with special guests Guy Barker on trumpet and Dutchman Benjamin Herman on alto sax. I thought Barker was a revelation – endlessly inventive, powerful playing that underscored his status as one of the finest trumpeters Britain has produced. Herman is just a youngster in this company and his playing initially seemed to lack confidence but by the end of the first set he had established himself as an integral part of the group. Clark Tracey has had nearly thirty years playing with his dad – and it shows. His tiny drum kit belied the power and scope of his playing and the obvious empathy with Tracey senior was apparent in every texture.

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What about Tracey himself? Well, the piano playing of the godfather of British jazz (now 81) is as dynamic and vibrant as ever. This was a largely Thelonius Monk set – understandable as Monk and Ellington have been the biggest influences on Tracey. He plays with the quirkiness and odd time signatures of Monk but his arrangements (most notably in the classic Under Milk Wood suite from 1965) have the sweep and scope of the Duke. It’s a great mix, and at this intimate venue you got a chance to see how Tracey creates these rich chords, sudden darting percussive runs and Monkish stabs at the keyboard – left hand crossing over his right with dazzling accuracy.

The tunes tonight included Well You Needn’t, Pannonica, Blue Monk and – unexpectedly – a fabulous interpretation of I Want to Be Happy. Now if only this was available on a CD….

Tracey’s backstory is amazing and worth repeating briefly here. In the 1950s he played on cruise liners, knew Tony Hancock and toured with Cab Calloway. In the 1960s he was the house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s (where he obviously picked up some of Scott’s dry wit as well as a debilitating heroin addiction) and so he backed visiting jazz royalty including Ben Webster and Sonny Rollins. In the 70s his fortune waned and he retrained as a postman but by 1978 he was supporting Gil Evans in a concert at the Royal Festival Hall.

More new commissions for large group suites followed and he started the quartet with son Clark that would form the basis of his current group. By 2008 he was an OBE and CBE – a rare honour for any musician – let alone one from the world of jazz.

This Suffolk show was something special with the constant feeling that you were in the presence of unassuming greatness. A real joy.

Watch Tracey playing with Ben Webster here:

And check out his own comprehensive website at www.stantracey.com where you will be greeted by the opening chords of Starless and Bible Black from the magnificent Under Milk Wood suite – a house favourite here at Cosmic Jazz.

Try out Benjamin Herman’s MySpace site here and listen to a great tune called Bootlicker featuring Stan Tracey.

Playlist – 16th October 2008

Great music this week with a focus on the Coltrane heritage and new Japanese jazz.  Tracks from Kenny Garrett, Pharoah Sanders, Alberto Favero and Coltrane himself followed by two tracks from the brand new Quasimode album Sounds of Peace.  Japanese group What’s Up debuted on the show with a wonderful long track.  We loved this!
We also commemorated the sad death of Jamaican vocalist Alton Ellis with a beautiful version of Ain’t That Lovin You.
Shout outs to Tom (brilliant OffWorld show this week), Pete, Susan, Simon and all our listeners and callers.
Two more related Youtube links this week for you – check out
John Coltrane –

[This is beautiful music – a live in the studio version of Alabamaa song dedicated to four young girls who were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Listen and be moved…]

quasimode –

1. Terri Lyne Carrington – Jazz is
2. Dub Colossus – Azmari Dub
3. Morris Wilson/Beau Bailey Quintet – Paul’s Ark
4. Mor Tiam – Ayo Ayo Nene
5. John Coltrane – My Favourite Things (live edit)
6. Kenny Garrett – The Ring
7. Pharoah Sanders – Jemenja
8. Sun Ra – Door of the Cosmos
9. quasimode – Sounds of Peace
10. What’s Up – Telemundo
11. Art Pepper – Mambo Koyama (live)
12. Alton Ellis – Ain’t That Lovin’ You
13. Zoe and Idris Rahman – Sanctuary
14. N’Dambi – Ode 2 Nina
15. Cassandra Wilson – Suite Trane – first movement
16. Alberto Favero – Mr Kenyatta
17. Wayne Shorter – Sweet Pea
18. Elvin Jones – Pollen
19. quasimode – The Young Black Horse

Playlist – 9th October 2008

No theme – just great music. Some new jazz from Hajime Yoshizawa and a couple of tracks from the first batch of ECM budget reissues in the Touchstone series including Jack de Johnette’s magical take on Coltrane’s India. A 70s rarity from Hadley Caliman, a favourite from Soil and Pimp Sessions and an unusually soulful track from one of our favourites – Andrew Hill. Longer tracks included McCoy Tyner’s magnificent Message from the Nile and a new one from Seun Kuti, Fela’s youngest son.

Thanks to our callers and emailers this week – especially Pete for a few crumbs from his competition sized knowledge pie! Your contributions are always welcome.

We’ve added a couple more Youtube links this week for you – check out

Seun Kuti –

Andrew Hill –

1. As One – Anyana
2. Uncle Sam – Round the World Girls
3. Hajime Yoshizawa – Satellite Dancer
4. Dave Holland – Black Hole
5. Andrew Hill – Soul Special
6. Hadley Caliman – Quadrivium
7. Ramsey Lewis – Eternal Journey
8. McCoy Tyner – Message from the Nile
9. Soil and Pimp Sessions – Hype of Gold
10. Val Bennett – Take Five (aka the Russians are Coming)
11. Pepesito Reves feat. Estrella Morente – El Manicero
12. Charles Earland – Spinky
13. Seun Kuti – Many Things
14. Lee Morgan – Mr Kenyatta
15. Jack de Johnette – India
16. Don Rendell and Ian Carr Quintet – Dusk Fire
17. Terri Lyne Carrington – Jazz is a Spirit

Playlist – 4th September 2008

The usual range of jazz-inspired music but with a focus on some great new releases including Hajime Yoshizawa and Nightmares on Wax. Our music this week ranged from Lee Morgan to Monday Michiru, from Donald Byrd to Tony Allen and a couple of club jazz favourites – Canyon Lady and Loud Minority.

1. Cannonball Adderley – Soul Zodiac
2. Bullion – Get Familiar
3. Nightmares on Wax – Bringin’ It
4. UFO – Loud Minority
5. Joe Henderson – Canyon Lady
6. Hajime Yoshizawa – Open Door
7. McCoy Tyner – Message from the Nile
8. Horace Parlan – Home is Africa
9. Ernie Watts – Spirit Song
10. Lee Morgan – Exotique
11. Samuel Yurgo Mitiku – Ambassel in Box
12. Kira Nevis – Un Ete Sans Fin
13. Monday Michiru – A Calmaria
14. Hajime Yoshizawa – Time
15. Donald Byrd – The Emperor
16. Russell Gunn – Del Rio (aka Anita)
17. Lisa Shaw – All Night High
18. Tony Allen – Isle Nla

Playlist – 2nd October 2008

Two themes this week – big toned tenor sax sounds and a couple of tributes to John Coltrane, including the awesome Alberto Favero track. The music ranged from Clifford Brown with Max Roach from 1954 (sounding very good!), some free jazz from Henri Texier and the funky Defunkt. Our jazzy world music cuts tonight were from the wonderful Mulatu Astatque and Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Children Go Round from her Red Earth album.

And we pay homage to another great show from Smoothgroove preceding Cosmic Jazz – tune in to Offworld if you can!

Want to see some of these artists in action? Try these two Youtube links:

Terri Lyne Carrington:

Defunkt:

1. Santana – Eternal Caravan of Reincarnation
2. Terri Lynne Carrington – Jazz Is
3. Archie Shepp – Cousin Mary
4. Albert Ayler – Angels
5. Henry Texier – Happy House
6. Gato Barbieri – Tupac Amaru
7. Mulatu Astatque – Angola
8. Eddie Henderson – Inside You
9. Azymuth – Jazz Carnival
10. Stacy Epps – Floatin’
11. Dee Dee Bridgewater – Children Go Round
12. Clifford Brown and Max Roach – Delilah
13. Alberto Favero – Suite Trane (third movement)
14. Saxophone Summit – Expression
15. JAM – Jazzy Joint for Jose James
16. Defunkt – Razor’s Edge (12in version)
17. Hank Mobley – Hank’s Other Soul
18. Twelves Trio – Earth
19. Jackson Conti – Upa Neguinho

Playlist – 28th August 2008

Derek and Neil with a jazzy mix focusing on the diversity that is Blue Note. But we started with some Brazilian drum and bass and a very rare rap track from Don Cherry and ended with some great piano-led Japanese jazz. That’s Cosmic Jazz!

1. DJ Marky – Carolina Carol Bela
2. McCoy Tyner – Man from Tanganyika
3. Don Cherry – I Walk
4. The Beginning of the End – Funky Nassau
5. The Harlem Experiment – Harlem River Drive
6. Bobby Hutcherson – Catta
7. Dewey Redman – Turn Over Baby
8. Lee Morgan – Twice Around
9. Soullive feat. Black Thought – Clap!
10. Kira Neris – Open Doors
11. Isaac Hayes – Café Regio’s
12. Solomon Ilori – Yaba E
13. Mor Thiam – Ayo Ayo Nene
14. Dizzy Gillespie – Calidoscopio
15. Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore – Sudden Destruction
16. Kenny Garrett – After the Rain
17. Sleep Walker – Eclipse
18. Candido – Ghana Spice pt 1
19. Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough (original demo)
20. Andrew Hill – Sideways
21. Quasimode – Last Nine Days

Playlist – 21st August 2008

With Derek and Neil absent, brothers Ivan and Jacob take the show. Perhaps not the jazziest Cosmic Jazz show of the year but we enjoyed ourselves.

1. Sleepwalker – Ai no Tabi
2. Mulatu – Chifara
3. Monomono – Tire Loma Da Nigbehin
4. J.A.M. – Jazzy Joint (feat. Jose James)
5. NOMO – Nu Tones
6. Studio Apartment – Round the World
7. Ghetto Blaster – Na Waya
8. Shina Williams & His African Percussionists – Agboju Logun
9. Soil & “Pimp” Sessions – A.I.E.
10. Quasimode – Raw Cotton Field (feat. Masato Nakamura)
11. Kenny Garrett – Tsunami Song
12. Terry Callier – Dancing Girl
13. De La Soul – Trying People
14. Song and Daughters of Life – Juju’s Door
15. Segun Bucknor & His Revolution – La La LA
16. Terry Callier – You Goin’ Miss Your Candyman
17. Shackleton – Hamas Rule
18. Martyn – Broken
19. Flying Lotus – Camel
20. Marco di Marco – Fontana Blue (L.T.J. X-Perience)
21. Jose James + Flying Lotus – Visions of Violet
22. Soil & “Pimp” Sessions – The Slaughter Suite
23. Kira Neris – Open Doors

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