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.

One of the most substantial biographies I’ve read in recent years is the 2009 publication that Helene LaFaro-Fernandez devoted to her brother Scott.  The great bassist is best known for his work with the Bill Evans Trio between 1959 and ’61, and for the tragic car accident that claimed his life on July 6, 1961, two weeks after the trio’s legendary performance at the Village Vanguard. LaFaro burned like a meteorite, rising to the top rank of bassists in a few short years and working with a Who’s Who of jazz greats in the compressed time frame preceding his death at age 25.

Arthur Blythe
Stuart Nicholson

They call me a producer/host in the staff directory at NEPR, but this week, like many others, I feel more like a eulogist. Two days after writing a memorial tribute to my friend and jazz radio colleague Steve Schwartz, word came that Arthur Blythe died on Monday, at 76. The San Diego native had been sidelined with Parkinson's since 2005, but for a few decades he was one of the most potent forces in the music. I hadn't seen Blythe since the mid-'90s, but I heard him as often as possible after his arrival in New York around 1975.

My Irish-born grandmother lived by admonitions and apothegms. "There is nothing as virtuous as a man without the price." "Paper never refused ink." "A fool and his money are soon parted." Whenever I contemplate Ben Webster, I keep hearing Nana Reney's brogue intone another humbling rejoinder, "When the wine is in, the wit is out."

Steve Schwartz
WGBH

Friday night, as I was noting Day 30 of a cold virus, my friend Steve Schwartz was admitted to Seasons Hospice in Milton, Mass.

James Cotton, R.I.P.

Mar 19, 2017
Jason Marck

James Cotton, the blues harmonica great renowned for his long tenure with Muddy Waters and the high-octane energy of his own festival and nightclub shows, died on Thursday, March 16, in Austin, Texas. Pneumonia was the cause of death at age 81. Cotton was born in Tunica, Mississippi, on July 1, 1935. His father was a rural preacher who died when James was five, and his mother played rudimentary harmonica in imitation of barnyard animals. Cotton heard the real thing when he caught a broadcast of Sonny Boy Williamson’s local daytime radio show.

Today is Ruby Braff’s 90th birthday anniversary. The cornetist was born in Boston in 1927. Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Lester Young were his heroes. By most accounts Ruby was a prickly personality, but on all accounts he was a player dedicated to beauty. Great songs never failed him. He called his aesthetic, “adoration of the melody.” Ruby made a ton of records, not a throwaway in the bunch.

LADY DAY IN NEWARK, 1957
Jerry Dantzic

The New York Times last week posted an album of rarely seen photos of Billie Holiday. The pictures were taken by Jerry Dantzic in 1957 during her engagement at Sugar Hill on Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey. As the Times blog by John Leland notes, Billie had been denied a cabaret card for nearly a decade at that point, and without it she was unable to work in New York establishments that served alcohol, i.e., nightclubs.

Andy Jaffe Octet

Mar 6, 2017

Illness notwithstanding, I ventured out into the bitter cold of Saturday night for the second half of the Easthampton Jazz Festival’s nighttime lineup with the Andy Jaffe Octet; it was well worth it and apparently restorative. Andy’s group featured eight of the nine members of the nonet that he leads on his 2016 Playscape recording, Arc. The woodwind player Tom Olin has passed on since its release, but the rest of the group is intact.

February 22 was Rex Stewart's 110th birthday anniversary. The Philadelphia-born cornetist was a remarkably complete stylist whose features ranged from a 1931 assignment with Fletcher Henderson playing the lyrical solo that Bix Beiderbecke essayed on "Singin' the Blues," to portraying "Menelik, the Lion of Judah," in the "stylized jungle" manner that was synonymous with Duke Ellington. "Singin' the Blues," recorded as a memorial to Bix, dates from October 4, 1931, two months after his death on August 6.

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