It was with great sadness that we learnt of the passing of the great Jimmy Heath on Sunday, 19th January 2020. Jimmy was a personal friend and played alongside John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. He wrote over 100 jazz compositions and appeared on over 125 albums in his life.
If you’re on Spotify or another music service please use the ‘Song Shift‘ App (I will paste the Spotify playlist into this when I can get it working)!
Lee Konitz was born October 13, 1927. He has performed successfully in a wide range of jazz styles, including bebop, cool jazz, and avant-garde jazz. Konitz’s association with the cool jazz movement of the 1940s and 1950s includes participation in Miles Davis‘s Birth of the Cool sessions and his work with pianist Lennie Tristano. He was notable during this era as one of relatively few alto saxophonists to retain a distinctive style when Charlie Parker exerted a massive influence.
Like other students of Tristano, Konitz was noted for improvising long, melodic lines with the rhythmic interest coming from odd accents, or odd note groupings suggestive of the imposition of one time signature over another. Other saxophonists were strongly influenced by Konitz, notably Paul Desmond and Art Pepper.
Ben Webster is one of the three most important tenor players of the pre-war era alongside Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.
Webster started on violin as a child, moving to the piano where he later played in a number of bands before finding himself playing for silent movies in Amarillo, Texas. Whilst in Texas the sax player Budd Johnson introduced him to the saxophone and gave ‘Bean’ his first lesson. Shortly afterwards Ben Webster was invited to join the ‘Young Family Band’ by Lester’s father Willis. After this he toured with some of the best swing orchestras of the time including Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, Andy Kirk and others. In 1940 he joined Duke Ellington’s Orchestra becoming a permanent fixture and the featured tenor soloist.
In the late 1940s he went out on his own and could be found playing in many of the legendary 52nd St Clubs in New York City. In the early 1950s he returned to Kansas and recorded with Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holliday and Oscar Peterson.
By the 1960s Ben Webster’s sound and style had fallen out of fashion and he moved to Europe. He died in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1973.
I’ve always loved finding out what makes great musicians ‘tick’. I often find some of the best interviews can be hosted by fellow musicians as they often have insights into the right questions.
This article that I found years ago on the JazzWise website contains an interview that Joshua Redman did with the legendary Sonny Rollins back in 2005. It was based around Sonny’s release of his Without A Song the 9/11 concert – recorded just days after the tragic events of the 11th September 2001 in New York and Washington. Sonny lived just a few blocks from the World Trade Centre site and has suffered in recent years from lung issues, thought to be from the toxic fumes released in NYC during and after the attacks.
You can read the full interview here, and of course please do watch my #DansVlog episode. I’ve also put together an exclusive Sonny Rollins playlist which compliments the interview.
Some of my favourite quotes from the interview..
When I was a little kid I tried to sing in front of one of these places on 133rd Street, which years ago used to be a real haven for clubs when people used to come uptown. And Buddy Johnson said he really dug my playing-I was about 12 years old; that was a great feeling. As I grew older, all the great people were living uptown: Coleman Hawkins, Don Redman, Erskine Hawkins, Duke Ellington.
JR: One thing that’s completely astounding to me is I’ve heard recordings that you did when you weren’t even 20, and some of your first recordings you did in your early 20s, and you had been playing the saxophone for less than 10 years. You were an absolute prodigy, you were playing on the highest level imaginable. It’s kind of intimidating and almost depressing for a musician like me to hear that. Did it feel like it came naturally?
SR: You’re very, very kind. I just practiced a lot; I practiced a lot because I loved playing. I’d be practicing all day long. My mother used to have to call me to come and eat dinner because I was in there practicing all the time. I guess some of that came through. I was also lucky to be around some of these great people. I was able to record with a genius like Bud Powell when I was very young, and so I always try to get myself up as close as I can to that level.
You can’t spend too much time thinking about what you’re going to play, it comes out so fast.
But right now, Joshua, I still have hopes of improving and sounding better and making a better record. Hope burns eternal. I’m going to put off going into the vaults and trying to find something I’ve done before. This [new CD] was a special occasion and we’ll see what happens in the future.
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As part of my goal to get my students to do more listening, here is my 2019 Cambridge Saxophone Playlist.
There is a good mixture of old classics and new players, so get listening and GET SHARING!
Naturally as I’m a jazzer and primarily a tenor player, it’s going to be biased towards those, but please feel free to add your own and share your playlists back with me via the forum.
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2019 marks 60 years since the most important year in jazz history, 1959.
In 1959 Miles Davis released Kind of Blue (the best selling jazz album of all time), John Coltrane (who plays tenor sax on Kind of Blue) recorded his seminal Giant Steps album and Ornette Coleman pointed to the direction of jazz in the 1960’s with The Shape of Jazz to Come. One also must not forget the contributions of Dave Brubeck and his Time Out album, (featuring Paul Desmond’s ‘Take Five’), Charles Mingus with his amazing Ah Um & amazing contributions by Cannonball Adderley, Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Oscar Peterson, (who released 8 albums in this year!)
1959 also saw the death of two of the most important artists in the development of jazz both before the Second World War and after it, Billie Holliday and Lester Young, great friends off the band stand, an amazing partnership on it and died within weeks of each other.
So listen to the playlists below and be sure to come along to one of our concerts celebrating this amazing year in jazz history. We’re at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on Sunday, 3rd March and the Cockpit London on Monday, 15th April with more dates to come!
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