A Ghost of a Chance (new novel)

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I am pleased to announce the publication of my new young adult novel A Ghost of a Chance!

Chet Barclay is a gay, jazz-obsessed sixteen year old that has been suffering from depression since the mysterious suicide of his boyfriend a few months earlier. When his parents go away on holiday, Chet is overjoyed at the thought of being alone in the house for a week – and away from his constantly fussing mother. However, it doesn’t take long before he starts hearing strange noises, and things start to move around by themselves. Chet begins to wonder whether he is alone in the house after all, especially when a friend tells him she saw the ghost of a boy there just after he had moved in. And how is everything connected to the bizarrely realistic dreams he has been having? Chet soon realises that he is about to embark on one of the strangest weeks of his life…

The book features a lead character who has depression – I myself have had bipolar disorder going back nearly two decades. I wanted to write something that had a character with depression but where the storyline didn’t revolve around that.  Therefore, A Ghost of a Chance is a surprisingly irreverent, lighthearted book at times but, through Chet’s storytelling, also portrays the difficulties that all sufferers of depression have to cope with.  I hope it will be seen as a positive portrayal of ordinary guy saddled with a difficult condition, and a far cry from the portrayals we see so often of those with mental illness seen as violent, unpredictable and about to go on a murderous rampage!

The Kindle edition will be free to download from October 29th to October 31st, 2016.

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The Wonders of Pablo Records

Most people with any knowledge or love of jazz will agree that the late 1920s through to the early 1940s was the first golden age of jazz, and that the 1950s was jazz‘s second coming, with the genre branching out into disparate and yet linked sub-genres such as be-bop, cool, west coast jazz and the resurgence of the big band. But what is generally forgotten or, perhaps, under-estimated, was what I would suggest was jazz‘s third golden age: the 1970s.

The 1960s was a tough time for many jazz artists and many jazz fans. Older statesmen of the genre seemed to lose direction, with big bands such as Basie and Ellington often making albums of current pop songs or short, simple arrangements of standards. Ella Fitzgerald ended up without a permanent contract, resulting in some unlikely albums for Capitol and Reprise. Meanwhile, acid jazz came to the fore, but was hardly the most accessible form of jazz. Yes, there were some fine albums recorded during the decade but as the 1960s progressed, jazz got lost in a milieu of a lack of ambition and direction and an overdose of pretension.

But then, in the early 1970s, Norman Granz came to the rescue. Granz had been behind the idea of taking jazz to the concert hall in the 1940s with his Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, and he was champion of the jam session. He liked to sit a group of musicians in a studio or on a stage and light the touchpaper to see what happened. In 1972, he recorded a concert in Santa Monica, which he released as “Jazz at the Santa Monica Civic.” The concert was billed as a Basie/Ella Fitzgerald show, but Granz had some surprises up his sleeve, and presented the audience not just with the main stars of the evening, but also a revival of the JATP format, bringing out guest stars such as Stan Getz, Harry Edison, Roy Eldridge and Oscar Peterson for a number of jams. The show lasted nearly three hours (all of which is now available on CD) and signalled the birth of Pablo records – the finale is below:

Pablo records, for me, is the 3rd golden age of jazz. Pablo was not concerned with nurturing new talent, but bringing the old guard back to doing what they did best. Granz pulled together a great roster of talent, including Basie, Ellington, Fitzgerald, Joe Pass, Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Zoot Sims and more. All were viewed in the early 1970s as well past their prime, but the recordings they made for Pablo show something different altogether, and the label went on to win multiple Grammy awards.

Pablo is well-known for two things. Firstly, a succession of some of the most awful album covers ever created:

And, secondly, reiterating the old saying that you should never judge a book by its cover. The big band albums aside, the key element of Pablo recordings was the notion of improvisation and spontaneity. Granz would get a group of musicians together and let them just jam on a batch of songs, often recording a whole album in just a couple of hours. The results are some of the greatest and most under-rated jazz albums ever recorded.

Granz was always keen at Pablo on mixing things up, trying combinations of musicians that would never normally come together. Ella Fitzgerald’s voice was sounding rather ragged and harsh in 1973, but Granz put her in that most exposed of environments: the guitar/vocal duo. The result, the first of four albums with Joe Pass, is regarded as one of her finest hours. Count Basie and Oscar Peterson were pianists with wildly differing styles. Basie was the most economic of all players, using as few notes as possible to make his solos, whereas Peterson was a virtuoso of the keyboard, often using more notes in five minutes than Basie would in an hour. But, again, Granz pulled them together for a series of albums that are remarkable in their musicianship and entertainment. Many of the albums for the label were live efforts, with Ella Fitzgerald (as an example), being recorded in a live setting in 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1983. In 1977 Granz virtually took over the Montreux festival and released a staggering fourteen albums from the event (and I may have missed some). He also used the label as a way of releasing tapes that he had recorded up to three decades earlier, allowing for new material by long-gone greats such as Art Tatum, Lester Young and John Coltrane.

Perhaps because of their look, the Pablo albums are almost unknown today outside of the jazz world. Ella’s Verve catalogue is still well-known, and yet much of it sounds square compared to the records she made in her twilight years for Pablo. Pablo’s product wasn’t progressive, forward-thinking jazz, and some afficianados might even call it conservative, but for me jazz has never been about intellect and challenging music, but having a great time. Pablo’s output was brilliantly accessible music, and wonderfully played by the great masters who managed to end their careers on a high thanks to Granz’s willingness to let them get on with their craft and do what they did best. Most of the albums have been released on CD through the Fantasy label.

So, here’s a toast to the wonders of the Pablo label, and jazz‘s 3rd, little-known, golden age.

Bobby Darin: Bill Bailey and the February 1960 Jazz Recordings

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Just a few days after finishing the It’s You or No One LP, Bobby was back in the studio to record a very different album.  In just two days, Bobby recorded fifteen songs, this time backed by a small jazz combo headed by Bobby Scott.  Once again, this may well have been an instance of Darin trying to distance himself from Sinatra.  In 1959 and 1962, Sinatra performed concerts using just a jazz sextet as backing, but he never recorded an album with that kind of setting (which is a great loss, it should be added).  Here, Bobby records what is, pure and simply, a jazz vocal album.  The results are much looser than on any of his other albums of standards and, while Bobby Scott is credited as arranger, it sounds much more as if he put together some basic ideas and the musicians simply took it from there.  This group of songs (released on an album and three singles) shows Darin in fine form and demonstrating his versatility in a way that It’s You or No One ultimately failed to do.

Before discussing the recordings themselves, it is worth talking about how they were released.  Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey was released as a single backed with I’ll Be There in June 1960, reaching #19 in the U.S. charts.  In November 1962, I Found a New Baby was released as a single side.  Then, in June 1964, nine more songs (plus I Found a New Baby) appeared on an album called Winners, which was released with relatively little notice.  The remainder of the album was filled by both sides of the Milord/Golden Earrings single which had been unearthed from the vaults two months earlier and reached #45 in the charts.  The problem here is that the sound and orchestration of the single sides (recorded in June 1960 and March 1961) had nothing to do with the distinctive jazz sound of the rest of the album. Two months after the release of Winners, ATCO released yet another track from these February 1960 sessions, this time pairing Swing Low Sweet Chariot with Similau, an odd little number recorded in December 1960.  Finally, one more track from the sessions, Minnie the Moocher, was paired up with Hard Hearted Hannah (already released on the Winners  album) as a single in February 1965, more than five years after they were recorded.  And that’s not all! A Game of Poker and I Got a Woman have never been released at all.  The reason for the latter may have been because the song had been released in different arrangements on two other albums by 1964, but why A Game of Poker never appeared is unknown.

Such a release strategy is mystifying.  When Bill Bailey became a hit in 1960, one would think that the obvious thing to have done would have been to place it as the lead track on an album containing the other songs from the same session.  For some reason, that didn’t happen and, to date, these wonderful tracks have never appeared all together in one place – and yet they are a collection of songs just waiting to be rediscovered.

With its stripped down arrangement, Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey was an unlikely single release.  While Darin had taken old songs and had hits with them in the past, they had always been in big, swinging arrangements, but this was something different.  Still, the song manages to draw in the listener from the very beginning, with Bobby’s spoken lines before the song starts proper, and that seemed to be enough for it to catch on.  As with some of the other songs from the sessions, Darin interacts with the group, spurring them on as he yells “yeah, I like it like that” during the instrumental.  Not only is Bobby showing off his vocal abilities here, but also is showmanship.  It’s a stunning record, and while it wasn’t the biggest hit that Darin ever had, the fact that a pure jazz number broke into the top twenty shows just how good it is.  Billboard magazine referred to the song as “another winning side for Bobby Darin, featuring a great vocal by the lad over smart backing by the Bobby Scott Trio.”[1]

The first day of recording had begun with the aforementioned, unreleased A Game of Poker, and then continued with a straightforward rendition of the Gershwin’s They All Laughed.  Despite the relatively mundane arrangement, there is some great interplay between Bobby and the musicians, with each giving the other room to breathe.  There’s no instrumental section, but enough space at the end of each vocal line for an instrumental lick, normally on xylophone.  The “laughs” on the record are provided by Darin’s friend George Burns.[2]

Hard Hearted Hannah, a song dating back to 1924, is even better and, as with some of the other songs here, Bobby sings the verse as well as the more familiar chorus.  Once again, we can hear just how much Darin is enjoying himself here.  Listen closely and you’ll hear him singing off-mic during the instrumental.  He revived the song a few years later with a full big-band arrangement, performing it on TV on one of his appearances on The Andy Williams Show.  Hard Hearted Hannah was a song also included in the 1955 film Pete Kelly’s Blues (Jack Webb), bringing the number of songs from the film that Darin covered up to three, with She Needs Me appearing on That’s All, and the title song recorded for This is Darin.

There are few disappointing numbers here, but Anything Goes certainly fits into that category, despite some tasty piano licks during the first half.  The song, written by Cole Porter for his 1934 musical of the same name, is just too slow, and never gets going.  It’s clearly an attempt at doing something different with the number, but it just doesn’t work.

What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry finds things moving along at a much better tempo, and Bobby gives a gently swinging performance that adds nothing new to the song, but is pleasant enough.  The same can be said about Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, which is given a kind of Latin American rhythm before switching to a standard swing feel during the bridge section.

Perhaps the best upbeat track of the whole session is the masterful I Found a New Baby, which begins with Darin’s finger-snapping before the various instruments slowly join in.  There is wonderful late-night jazz feel to the whole number, and Bobby Short’s piano solo is stunning and Darin tells him to “growl on it.”  There’s more variations to Bobby’s vocal here too.  He never sings at full volume and yet still manages to switch between a silky smooth tone and one that has the rawer sound heard on the That’s All LP.

Bobby’s take on Duke Ellington’s Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me is at a slower tempo than usual, and also contains a mistake in the vocal – something very rare for a Darin track.  On the line “If you should take the word of others you’ve heard,” you hear that he starts to sing “anyone’s dream” instead of “others you’ve heard,” but tries to correct himself, but it’s just a little too late.  It’s surprising he didn’t decide to do another take – unless the wrong take was actually issued by ATCO.  Like Anything Goes, the song doesn’t entirely work at this speed (Ella Fitzgerald also tried it at this speed with similar results), and it would have been better to hear Bobby belting this out in a full big band arrangement.

Minnie the Moocher gets given a wonderful treatment, with Bobby in full show-stopping form.  He makes the lyrics a little more palatable for early 1960s conservative audiences by removing the references to drugs, but it takes nothing away from the authenticity of the performance which comes complete with a rare example of Darin scat-singing, which he does much better here than on the later Two of a Kind album.  By recording it with just a jazz combo to back him, he removes the opportunity for anyone to compare it with the well-known Cab Calloway rendition, and Darin’s take is a classic in its own right.

Two of the ballads here are among the best vocals that Bobby ever recorded.  What a Difference a Day Made and Easy Living are wonderful examples of just how much his ballad singing had progressed in the year or so that he had been recording standards in the studio.  Written for a 1937 screwball comedy, Easy Living in particular is truly marvellous and the smoky jazz-club-style playing behind him is perfect framing for a perfect vocal.  What a Difference a Day Made finds Bobby taking on a song that, the year before, had won a Grammy award for Dinah Washington.  Ironically, Bobby’s version of the song is more jazz-oriented than Washington’s. When Day is Done is another ballad in the same style and with a similar vocal, but it’s simply not quite up the standard of the aforementioned titles, with the vocal just a little too subdued.  The song itself is more obscure, being of German origin with lyricist Buddy DeSylva writing English words for it during the 1920s.

The final song of the session is also the hardest to find.  Bobby had been singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot on stage for a while in medley with Lonesome Road in a big band arrangement.  However, here it gets a jazz workout by itself in an arrangement that is a cross between Bill Bailey and some of the songs he recorded for the folk album Earthy.  Here, he growls and rasps his way through the spiritual, and the performance is both a bizarre and masterful mixture of styles and genres.  The fact that this song has seemingly not re-appeared on CD or LP since its original single release back in 1964 is a great shame, for this is a fine, intriguing recording that deserves to be much better known than it is.

Unlike It’s You or No One, Winners did at least get some recognition when released, helped along by the inclusion of Milord, which had been recent single release.  Billboard, however, were rather non-committal in their review, referring to the album simply as “romantic and sentimental ballads and up-tempo swingers aimed at the sophisticated set.”[4]  They clearly missed the fact that this was one of the best jazz-oriented sets ever recorded by a pop singer.

[1] “Spotlight Winners of the Week,” Billboard, May 16, 1960, 41.

[2] Bleiel, That’s All, 55.

[4] “Album Reviews,” Billboard, July 25, 1964, 50.

Jazz Mission to Moscow (CD Review)

Jazz Mission to Moscow

Jazz was hardly welcomed in the Soviet Union for much of the 1950s and 1960s. The most famous US jazz artist to play in Russia during a short lull in anti-jazz sentiment by authorities was Benny Goodman in his famous tour of 1962. That tour was documented on record with the Benny Goodman in Moscow release, but a number of other albums related to that tour, Russia and jazz were also released in 1962 and 1963. Three of these have been collected by the independent Fresh Sounds label and were released at the end of last year under the collective title of Jazz Mission to Moscow, also the title of one of the albums.

This is a double disc set that I confess I bought out of curiosity rather than any expectation that the music itself would be particularly good. However, I was quite wrong. The music contained here, not available for decades in most cases, is actually superb. The first album, Jazz Mission to Moscow, was recorded by ten musicians, most of which had been part of the Goodman tour. The album is a kind of souvenir of their experiences. It features a new number, Mission to Moscow, and then five Russia-related items, most of them either traditional Russian songs or pieces written by Soviet jazz musicians. Recorded in New York in 1962, and featuring Zoot Sims, Phil Woods and Mel Lewis, and arranged by Al Cohn, this is vibrant, exciting West Coast music.

A couple of months later, Victor Feldman, another member of the Goodman tour, recorded an album called Soviet Jazz Themes, this time entirely comprised of pieces written by Russian composers. Again, the band contained well-known names such as Nat Adderley and Joe Zawinul, and again the quality of the material and arrangements are very high. It fills up the remainder of the first disc.

The second disc is not quite so good musically, but still enjoyable and interesting. The album on this CD is Jazz at Liberty, pieces recorded for Radio Liberty for airplay in Russia once the crackdown on jazz had begun once again. The resulting album, released by RKO records, was hardly an epic (it runs at about 20 minutes) but the sound quality is surprisingly good and the music is also worthy – this time featuring Zoot Sims, Bob Brookmeyer and Art Farmer among others. Filling out the disc are four alternate takes from Jazz at Liberty and a short interview with saxophonist Phil Woods.

Fresh Sound Records have really come up with the goods here, as this label so often does. The bringing together of these forgotten albums (unavailable for decades in most cases) on one set is a wonderful idea, the music itself is superb, and the sound quality is great. The 24-page booklet contains new material, original album covers and original liner notes for all albums. This is a set that could so easily have been nothing more than a curio, and yet actually one that will be returned to repeatedly. Well worth the modest investment for anyone interested in this material from either a historical or musical point of view. Great stuff.

The Sinatra 100: Part One

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2015 sees what would have been the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra.  In a series of blog posts over the course of the year, I will be taking a look at some of my own favourite recordings by “ol’ blue eyes” in what I’m calling “The Sinatra 100.”  The one hundred performances won’t be in any particular order – I’m not that organised – but hopefully they will highlight some little-known recordings as well as visiting some familiar ones.  This first batch of five numbers come from the first decade of the Reprise label.

1.  MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES (1961)

I’ve always loved this romp, which was recorded for the album Sinatra Swings – originally titled Swing Along with Me, but Capitol forced the title to be changed, stating that it was too close to their own Sinatra album Come Swing with Me from a couple of years earlier.  The whole album is a blast.  Billy May arranged all twelve tunes, which included some rather left-field numbers such as Granada, The Curse of an Aching Heart and Moonlight on the Ganges.  Despite Capitol’s protestations, the album has far more in common musically with the light-hearted upbeat elements of Come Fly with Me than the more traditional-sounding Come Swing with Me.  This is certainly true in the case of Moonlight on the Ganges, which has an arrangement clearly modelled on that provided for On the Road to Mandalay for the earlier album.  As with that number, Billy May uses everything at his disposal in his arrangement, and even if the result is not quite as much fun or not quite as quirky, Sinatra still swings the hell out of it.

2.  I’M NOT AFRAID (1970)

One of the best Sinatra songs you’ve never heard.  In 1969, the singer had recorded an album entitled A Man Alone, consisting of songs and poetry by Rod McKuen.  It was a hit and miss affair, but an interesting effort all the same, with Sinatra in wonderful voice.  Eighteen months later, Frank was recording another McKuen lyric, this time to a tune by Jacques Brel.  Sadly wasted as one of the most uncommercial single sides ever released by Sinatra, this is rather special.  Arranger Lennie Hayton managed to come up with an orchestral backing that drew heavily on the tonal qualities of music by Debussy and Ravel, particularly the latter’s La Valse.  Sinatra’s performance is dramatic and gives him the chance to show just how good his voice was here, just a month before his final session prior to the infamous retirement.

3.  REACHING FOR THE MOON (1965)

Recorded late in 1965 for Moonlight Sinatra, this is one of my favourite ballad performances.  The song had been written thirty-five years earlier for a film that was intended to be a musical but, with the musical having a decline in fortune by the time of its release, had virtually all of the songs cut.  Reaching for the Moon, the title number, remained, but is still one of Irving Berlin’s lesser-known tunes.   Here it is given a sumptuous arrangement by Nelson Riddle with lovely cascading strings during the instrumental break.  Sinatra’s vocal has a darker tone than usual, giving the number more gravitas than, say, the Ella Fitzgerald recording for her Irving Berlin songbook eight years earlier.

4.  OL’ MAN RIVER (1963)

Many will argue that Sinatra’s Columbia-era take on this classic from Show Boat was better, but I’d have to disagree.  This 1963 version derives from The Concert Sinatra, a strange title for an album recorded wholly in the studio.  The album has just eight songs, each arranged in a rather grandiose way by Nelson Riddle, and each one a ballad.  Ol’ Man River here becomes an epic, taken at a remarkably slow pace by Sinatra and featuring some of his very best vocal phrasing.  His voice is deeper and darker here than in the 1940s version, and is all the better for it.  He used a similar arrangement in his 1967 TV special (mostly with just a piano instead of a full orchestra) with Ella Fitzgerald and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and the result was, arguably, even better than the performance here.

5.  WE’LL MEET AGAIN (1962)

Great Songs from Great Britain was, well, not such a great album when it comes to Sinatra’s voice.  He sounds tired after his world tour, and understandably so.  However this was, importantly, his only studio album recorded outside of the USA (it was recorded in London), and the arrangements by Robert Farnon breathe new life into a batch of songs that were, by and large, viewed as past their sell-by date.  We’ll Meet Again is typical of that.  Here Sinatra takes this old war horse and completely reinvents it, making one completely forget the fact that it had been almost solely associated with World War II.  His tired voice forces him to come up with a different style of phrasing, and the result is that the song becomes not a sing-a-long but a beautiful love song.

Ella Fitzgerald Live in Paris (3 CD set)

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This new 3CD set from the Fremeaux label is absolutely remarkable.  The material was released previously in download form from other companies at various points, but in inferior quality to that presented here. Seven (maybe eight?) concerts from six dates are included here on three discs, all recorded in Paris during the period 1957-62.

The set starts with a five-track set from a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert during May 1957. While most of these songs are familiar Ella repertoire, it’s true to say that this is the best-sounding concert from 1957 so far released – far superior sonically to the familiar Newport and Stockholm releases. Ella is in great form (much better than at Newport) and includes Singing the Blues in her repertoire – a song she never recorded in the studio, and that fans only have in one other officially released concert. This version is better than that recorded in Stockholm, and contains a lovely seamless segue into Blues in the Night. The first disc continues with three songs from another JATP concert, this time from 1958. No explanation is given why Ella’s full set isn’t included, but it’s nice to have a rare live outing for A Fogy Day.

Next up are two sets from JATP concerts on February 23, 1960 (presumably matinee and evening performances), just a few days away from the Grammy-winning Ella in Berlin album. My guess is that the first track from this set is missing as she starts with a ballad, but the sound is once again remarkable. With a couple of exceptions, the repertoire is familiar – hardly surprising given that we already a concert from the same month. Still, its nice to hear a live version of S’wonderful from the recently released Gershwin songbook, complete with the rarely heard verse.

The first concert from 1961 is in slightly inferior quality, but that doesn’t mean there are any major problems, it’s simply not quite as clear and there are a few minor tape defects. Repertoire is much the same as from the forgotten Ella Returns to Berlin release. We then move forward to April 1961 for a set (possibly two) that features rare live outings of Every Time We Say Goodbye, Love Is Sweeping the Country, I was Doing Alright and the first ever release of Ella singing Straighten Up and Fly Right, a song which was in her live repertoire for at least forty years but was never officially recorded.

The 1962 concerts (again, two sets from the same day) which rounds out the set are really rather special, with a totally unexpected ballad version of C’est Magnifique, as well as live rarities More Than You Know and Spring Is Here.

I have highlighted various rarities, but unless you have the expensive Twelve Nights in Hollywood set released a few years ago, there are many songs here not available from Ella in live format elsewhere. Why does the live format matter? Well, the Ella represented here is a very different singer to that featured on the well-known Songbook albums from the same period. On those albums, she is a pop singer, backed with orchestral arrangements for the most part. Here, she is a jazz singer, working with anything from a trio to a quintet. This is, in many ways, the REAL Ella Fitzgerald. The performances are loose, spontaneous, and totally stunning. The squareness of Buddy Bregman’s arrangements for the Cole Porter album, for example, fade away when Ella presents the same songs here in very different formats.

The set is remarkable, and has been released with little fanfare (unlike the similarly themed Sinatra set out next week). The discs come in double jewel case with a twelve-page booklet. The notes, to be fair, don’t really tell us anything exciting, but it’s the music that counts, and it is presented here in mostly stunning quality – a remarkable feat given their age and rarity.

Are there any complaints at all? Well, the booklet could be more luxurious, and I’m certainly not a fan of splitting concerts across two discs, but I understand why it was done here to prevent a fourth disc being required. Otherwise, this is very special indeed.

Jazz at the Santa Monica Civic ’72

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In 1975, jazz impresario Norman Granz released a 4LP boxed set of concert recordings from 1967 and called it “The Greatest Jazz Concert in the World”, a slight exaggeration as the material was taken from a number of live dates.  Good though that set is/was, Granz perhaps could and should have used that grandiose title for his release from a couple of years earlier, “Jazz at the Santa Monic Civic ‘72”.  That concert, originally in slightly edited form on a 3LP mail-order set and now available unedited on 3CDs, was rather unusual.  It was billed as a Count Basie-Ella Fitzgerald concert, but unknown to the audience (and, so it is said, some of the participants) Granz had invited along a few special guests.  The audience was therefore treated to a concert that included nearly three hours of music with, alongside the Basie and Fitzgerald sets, featured a full-blown Jazz at the Philharmonic jazz session and a short set from Oscar Peterson.  What better way to kick off this blog, therefore, than by discussing what is one of most joy-filled and enjoyable jazz concerts that was ever recorded.

There must have been something in the air that night.  With the CD reissue we can finally hear the opening set by Basie in its entirety, and what a set it is.  The Basie band is heard at full force here and seems only too eager to let rip after those rather dull mid to late-1960s studio albums where they were reined in due to the two to three minute arrangements of each song.  Here, there is plenty of room for solos, but the ensemble playing finds the Basie band still as tight as a drum (so to speak), and a far cry from the slightly ramshackle outfit the Ellington band had become by this time.  DVD footage of the Ellington band from the period (great though it still was) finds the various players arriving late on stage, missing cues etc, but the Basie outfit remained a unique tight unit and is aided and abetted by the fine arrangements.

At the end of the Basie set, Granz takes to the stage to announce to a stunned audience the various guests that are about to take to the stage.  Oh, to have been in the audience that night.  The excitement in the audience as the names are read out is wonderfully captured in this fine recording.  And what a list of guests:  Ed Thigpen, Roy Eldridge, Stan Getz, Al Grey, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Harry Edison and Ray Brown.  The jam session then follows, starting with a 15 minute rendition of In A Mellow Tone.  Everyone is in fine form.  Often the JATP jams can descend into good-hearted chaos, but not here.  The jam builds up wonderfully and the solos are quite brilliant.  Loose Walk follows and is (if you’ll excuse the pun) relatively pedestrian in comparison.   A beautiful ballad medley follows, with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis stealing the show with his sublime rendition of If I Had You.  The first half of the show is then brought to a close by a final raucous jam, 5400 North.

The second half opens with yet another special guest, this time Oscar Peterson, who is joined by Ray Brown for a near-ten minute rendition of You Are My Sunshine.  But it is Ella Fitzgerald who really gets the second half into gear.  She had performed very little over the previous twelve months due to eye problems, but here she takes to the stage in brilliant voice and backed by the Basie band and her own trio.  Ella performs a number of songs not recorded by her elsewhere, starting with the Nat King Cole song L.O.V.E., and then wading into a Marty Paich arrangement of Begin The Beguine as if her life depended on it.  Cole Porter’s song had never been heard like this before, as Ella uses it to incorporate special lyrics about the great dance bands of the 1930s.  A Nelson Riddle arrangement of the beautiful Indian Summer follows, and then an epic take on You’ve Got A Friend and a rather unlikely cover of What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye!

The Basie band sits out to allow Ella and her trio to take centre stage for a quartet of numbers that includes a beautiful rendition of the rarely heard ballad Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most and the Cole Porter classic Night and Day.    But the best is yet to come when the band rejoins Ella and her trio for Shiny Stockings, the theme tune to Sanford & Son, It’s Alright With Me, and a brilliantly realised five minute rendition of I Can’t Stop Loving You.

The evening comes to a close in what can only be described as possibly the most joyous JATP-style jam session of all.  For over ten minutes, Ella Fitzgerald trades fours with each of the horn players introduced earlier in the evening.   It is a fitting end to a wonderful show that sounds better than ever in its CD reissue, despite being re-mixed and mastered over twenty years ago.

This is wonderful , life-affirming music  with all of the participants having a wail of a time on stage (often literally!).  Many will cite the Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl concert of 1956 as the best multi-artist jazz concert of all time, but don’t make your mind up until you have heard this relatively little-known 165 minute epic from 1972.  This isn’t just jazz for jazz lovers, it’s jazz for music-lovers in general and anyone who wants to sit down in front of the hi-fi for three hours with a huge smile on their face.