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.

Jaki Byard
Patrick Hinely, Work/Play®

I spent a horribly jazz-deprived time in Eugene, Oregon, in 1977, where the only saving grace was the Prez Records shop, which was named for Lester Young and operated by a true believer. But over the length of the fall semester, there was only one area performance by a jazz combo.

Ricky Riccardi, author of What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years, told Facebook readers this week that he's on assignment from Jazz at Lincoln Center to select a group of ten Louis Armstrong recordings for a Spotify playlist. I'm sure you understood the kind of pressure a list like this presents to obsessives of our kind. In this case, Ricky's playlist will be widely consulted and scrutinized, for he's emerging as one of the most prominent and reliable of Armstrong experts.

Jackie McLean
Steve Lehman

May 16 was Jackie McLean's 86th birthday anniversary. The first time I met the great saxophonist he exclaimed, "I listen!" Then he pulled me in closer and said, "And we contribute." I was aware of pledges from the McLeans by then, but still, what a way to be greeted by the master.

To local readers who knew Tom McClung, the news of his death on Sunday at age 60 at his home in Normandy is being greeted with a combination of shock and incredulity. The pianist was a fixture on bandstands throughout the Connecticut River Valley for over twenty years before he moved to Paris in 1997, primarily to assume a permanent role with the Archie Shepp Quartet. Tom's absence left a big hole on the local scene, but he helped us maintain a hope that he was gone only temporarily by returning home on a near annual basis to pay a visit and play a concert.

Connie Kay
Tom Copi / Getty Images

Lately I've grown accustomed to hearing Joe Lovano and other bandleaders introduce drummers as players of "drums and cymbals." Connie Kay, a cymbals master who was born 90 years ago today, qualified for that delineation decades ago.

Tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi hears in Joe Henderson a powerful mix of the astrological elements Earth and Air. “He can be playing some far out stuff [Air] and all of a sudden he comes back [to Earth] and grounds it and plays some groove that knocks you off your feet. He’s amazingly smart and fleet.”

Steve Davis
UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center

Today is Steve Davis's 50th birthday, which means he was born in the middle of the first month of the Impossible Dream season of the Boston Red Sox. Stevie-D is one of the most ardent Red Sox fans on the planet, but more importantly, he's a master trombonist; a tireless teacher, mentor, bandleader, and denizen of jam sessions near and far; and a dedicated keeper of a lineage that includes J.J.

Creative Commons

Jay Geils died on April 11 at his home in Groton, Massachusetts, at age 71, from what police determined were natural causes. The guitarist lent his name to one of the hardest-working and most popular rock bands of the 1970s and '80s, and his death is making headlines everywhere. While Geils was born in New York and raised in New Jersey, the J. Geils Band got its start in Worcester, where Geils, harmonica player Magic Dick, and bassist Danny Klein attended WPI and first teamed in a campus-based jug band.

The legendary Claude Jeter made one of his final appearances as leader of the Swan Silvertones at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival. The Silvertones founder was 52 at the time, and he would live another 42 years, but by then he'd tired of the ceaseless travel and modest reward of the gospel highway.

It took a "country boy" who "stayed out all night long" to create the modern Chicago blues. With his 1948 Aristocrat release, "I Can't Be Satisfied" b/w "I Feel Like Goin' Home," Muddy Waters transformed a pair of songs he'd first recorded on the Stovall Plantation in Mississippi into the urgent, amplified sound of post-war urban blues.

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