Sunday, December 16, 2007

While I'm in a YouTube jazz kind of mood, here are some other clips that have caught my eyes and ears. We'll kick off with Ella Fitzgerald in London in 1965, with the Johnny Spence orchestra and the much-missed Tubby Hayes on tenor saxophone. I'm happy to report that you can see the whole show from which this performance comes on BBC4 on Christmas Eve at 9.30pm, following a documentary about Ella.

That Ella Fitzgerald Sings special was a Terry Henebery production, as was the 1987 edition of Parkinson One to One from which this next clip comes: a blistering Buddy Rich Orchestra tearing into Matt Harris' killer-diller arrangement of 'Just in Time'. Not sure who the trombonist is, but the trumpet solo is by Greg Gisberg. As good as the solos are, it's the Clarke-Boland Band-style unison ensemble work from 2:02 onwards that gets the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

Talking of Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland, here's one of my own uploads - 'Sax No End' from a 1968 German TV special. I think that, if I could go back in time to see any past jazz ensemble in concert, it would be this one. As it is, I shall just have to settle for a memorable evening in a Wigan hotel bar with Johnny Griffin. Again, solos great, ensemble playing (from 2:30 onwards) greater. Just so dextrous, powerful and tight.

Here's another swinger, and one that doesn't quite come off, but it's an fun and interesting experiment, nonetheless: John MacLaughlin with the Tonight Show orchestra in 1985, ripping into 'Cherokee'. It sounds ever so slightly as though JMacL's fighting the band while he's stating the theme, but when he takes off into his solo from 1:12 onwards, I find it hard not to be rendered breathless by the gusto of his playing. Some accuse him of playing too many notes, and they may have a point, but the notes he does play are always impeccably placed and pitched. Sometimes I think less is more, sometimes I'm ready for the works.

Moving into the fusion arena, I had a major thing for Weather Report in my teens - RIP Joe Zawinul. I still love their work dearly, but don't listen quite as obsessively to them as I did 20 years ago. Around that time, Channel 4 had a music strand called The Late Shift, in which Charlie Gillett and Vivien Goldman - both commendably knowledgable and broad-minded - introduced bought-in concert footage. One night, they showed Jaco Pastorius live at the Montreal Jazz Festival, a show that opened with a ferociously groovy number called 'The Chicken'. Weather Report's music was given to odd squawks and warbles, and that was a large part of its charm, but on his own, Jaco liked to dig deep into the pocket, and 'The Chicken' is a perfect example. Yes, there's some flashy playing from Bob Mintzer on tenor and Randy Brecker on electronically-treated trumpet, but the groove - to which the great Pete Erskine's drumming makes no small contribution - is rock solid. Here's the Montreal version that blew me away, with a link after that to a big band version recorded in Japan. Both are just jaw-dropping.

Back to the 1960s, and around the same time that Ella visited the UK, we were graced by a visit from saxophonist, composer and arranger Benny Golson. Terry Henebery (that man again - jazz history owes him a great debt) got Golson into the BBC Television Theatre with an orchestra of the best British musicians, including Tubby Hayes, guitarist Dave Goldberg and multi-instrumentalist Alan Branscombe, all of whom died far too young.

Another of my own uploads, but what the hell. This is the Victor Feldman Trio rattling through 'Swinging on a Star', and it just makes me smile every time I hear it. That's Rick Laird from the Mahavishnu Orchestra on bass, and it's Ronnie Stephenson on drums, a great, underrated British player (for my money, one of the best and most musical jazz drummers there's ever been - he was very fond of playing the tune in his breaks and fills), whose best-known work is the excellent Drum Spectacular album he made in 1966 with Kenny Clare and a host of names like Stan Tracey and Tubbs. When not playing jazz, Ronnie was a session giant, providing the drums for tracks like Dusty's 'You Don't Have to Say You Love Me'.

More will follow.

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