Jazz à la Mode Blog

Tom Reney’s writings delve into the history and mystery of jazz, blues, and beyond. The Jazz à la Mode Blog has plenty to stimulate your interest and curiosity in American music.

Fenton Robinson
B.L.U.E.S.

Dear Reader: Please don't mistake this blog as an endorsement of cigarette smoking. I chain-smoked Pall Malls, Kools, Marlboro Lights and other coffin nails for 23 years and have never regretted the cold turkey dues I paid in quitting them 26 years ago. But the display ad seen below, which I found posted on the Facebook page for "Dave's Orbit" last week, was just too cool to ignore. It shows the bluesman Fenton Robinson posed between a garland of hip poetics in a Newport ad that ran in Ebony magazine in January 1970.

George Avakian in 2003
Ian Clifford / WBGO

One of the first album covers to grab my attention as a kid was Ambassador Satch. Released in 1956, it pictured Louis Armstrong in a formal cutaway jacket, contrasting gray vest, and striped trousers, and it conveyed a composed elegance about the man that belied the outsized figure I'd felt bemused by when I saw him on television. I would have been seven or eight when I began rifling through the small stack of albums that my parents owned, mostly symphonic and Broadway musical, and this lone record with a black face on the cover.

Jon Hendricks, who died on Wednesday at 96, was for over seven decades an artist who embodied the characteristic “sound of surprise” that the late New Yorker writer Whitney Balliett coined to describe jazz. Jon’s came in two forms, first as a singer who came to prominence with the vocal trio, Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross in the late ‘50s, and in his extraordinary skill as a lyricist. 

This rare footage of Coleman Hawkins playing "I Wish I Were Twins" was discovered by Harry Oakley and posted on YouTube four years ago. I've just come upon it for the first time, five pages deep into a Google search. I'm sure you'll agree that in the annals of jazz, as well as the archive of Hawk's filmed performances, it should pop up at the slightest mention of his name.  

Fats Domino
PBS

There's no doubt in my mind that the first music I heard from New Orleans was by Fats Domino, and that he was in my head for well over a decade before the city's music became a passion of mine. That didn't take place until I saw Professor Longhair performing in Central Park in 1973, but I would have heard Fats as early as the late fifties, and there the seed was planted. His hit tunes "Blueberry Hill,"  "Ain't That a Shame," and "Walkin' to New Orleans," were part of the aural wallpaper of my youth, and the intriguingly named Antoine Dominique Domino was no stranger to television either. (Since his recent death, I've been surprised by the number of people who've told me they thought Domino was a nickname that went along with Fats.)

Andy McGhee
Berklee College of Music

Andy McGhee was a household name in the world of jazz education, but Berklee's gain meant that Andy remained one of the least-known and most under-recorded tenor masters of the past half-century. Why, even his name is subsumed under a colleague's in this 2006 performance of "Body and Soul."

During his 1985 appearance on the NPR program, Piano Jazz, Dizzy Gillespie was asked by host Marian McPartland about the month he spent playing with Duke Ellington in 1945. 

October’s quite a month for big-time jazz birthdays, and this year it’s ringing with major milestones, including the centennials of Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, the 95th of Illinois Jacquet, and the 90th of the ever-ready Lee Konitz, who's still touring and making records.

Thelonious Monk
Jean-Pierre Leloir

It's now 35 years since Thelonious Monk's death in 1982, and over 45 since his last significant recordings were made. The pianist was 30 by the time he made his first session as a leader for Blue Note, and it took another decade before he began to develop a dedicated following and the respect of critics. 

It's been over twenty years since the late Steve Lacy last came to town, but the memory remains vivid of his annual visits to the Iron Horse in Northampton. 

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