Posts Tagged ‘blues’

The Future is Now with Teddy Charles

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Vibraphone Grandmaster Teddy Charles has been in retirement from jazz recording and performance for more years than he was active. Even so, he remains one of the very best vibraphonists in the world. I have to suppose this is the essence of what it means means to be a legend, and also what it means to be very old which Teddy is at age 86.

But let me back up  and explain how I came to meet Teddy Charles. For musician this is hard to admit – I knew very little about Mr. Charles or jazz itself until late last summer.

To be honest I did not know who Teddy Charles was until Steve Witthoft, happened to invite me to a Wednesday night jam at Teddy’s house. I met Steve while playing in a local big band. He is an excellent trombone player and more about him in a future post. If it weren’t for his invitation, I would still be “jazz ignorant” about Teddy.

When I mentioned the name to Bo he flipped out. Turns out Bo heard about Teddy and was a great fan.

The real inspiration for YDKWLI happened when my two sons and I were over at Teddy’s house helping him archive his life’s work.

We cleaned the piano!!

A job well done!

The Strut, by Benny Golson
The original music for The Strut, by composer and saxophonist Benny Golson, who is a year younger than Teddy. The number eventually debuted as “Strut Time” on the 1958 album The Other Side of Benny Golson.

“Unburying the piano” would be another accurate way to describe that afternoon. Anyway, at some point the four of us came upon an unmarked cardboard box. Inside? Pure treasure.

1955 Screen Blues

Original folio for 1955 Screen Blues

Now some words about seeing the music in the box, and how holding the original paper and seeing the pencil marks brought you closer to feeling. Closer to understanding the nature of Jazz. You passed your inspiration on in a follow-up phone call to Bo

Jazz Hall of fame vibraphonist Teddy Charles played with Charlie Parker 60 years ago. He wrote the arrangement to Miles Davis’s “Nature Boy”, and the list of people he recorded with sounds like a “who’s-who” of Jazz and Blues hall of fame. Coltrane, Mingus, Roach, Cannonball Adderly… drop a name any name…  In 1964 he played with Aretha Franklin on “Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington”, that is close to 50 years ago!  His biggest album was going to be “Russia Goes Jazz (Teddy Charles)“, United Artists UAL 3365. He hired the best of the best musicians of the time for this project: Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams, Eric Dolphy, Hall Overton to name a few. Alas, in an a unfortunate turn of events an unknown group released its debut album the same day he released this album. Under the same label, no less. Their name? “The beatles” (!)

For many years he was first on call for playing the vibes here in New York. This fell out of favor when synthesizers went big during the late 70’s and early 80’s. He was also busy sailing his historic scooner, the “Mary E”  – a 75 foot authentic clipper built in 1906. In 2008 he began a come-back with help from many friends and colleagues  including Chris Byars and many others. Apparently he outlived all the people he thought would go before him, such as his manager and many of his friends. I suspect that it is his sense of humor that keeps him going strong at 83 years old.

I have been playing and learning a heck of a lot from him for a while now. While producing “You don’t know what love is” for English blues phenomenon Wily Bo Walker and his quintet, I thought that it would be an opportunity for Teddy to shine again with the magic touch of a true vibraphone master. These with fake B3, fake pianos, fake brass, fake strings, and fake slide whistles, I thought it could really be great if we used a real vibraphone.  Bo was excited to play with a true giant, and this turned out as a huge success! As of now (3/2/2011),  The track, is now topping the US, UK and Global Jazz download charts on MySpace.com.

For nostalgia’s sake, here is Teddy playing the vibes with Aretha Franklin’s 1964 recording of “Unforgettable”. The song was recorded as part of her tribute to Diana Washington. After the release of this tribute album, Columbia drifted away from their early jazz dreams for Aretha:

You Don’t Know What Love Is (part #2)

Friday, February 11th, 2011

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but Wily Bo Walker’s voice is stratospheric.

The man with the pipes

The more I listen to him sing You Don’t Know What Love Is, the more I understand the subtle interplay between melancholy and passion, the yin/yang at the heart of this Jazz Standard. Earlier this morning I had been waiting for the kids to come downstairs so I could take them to school. I hit play on You Don’t Know What Love Is while flipping through an old Forbes magazine, and at 1 minute :30, I became aware of having been transported into an intense state of relaxation and mindfulness. Was that me getting all sentimental over a Verizon ad on page 7 featuring a father and son telephone reunion?

That’s what a good song does; it takes over, and the listener welcomes the transcendence.

Click to play: You Dont Know What ♥ Is

I hope we’ve been able to bring something new and fresh to Don Raye and Gene De Paul’s masterpiece.  You can purchase this track (Wily Bo Walker Quintet/Heartbeat Records) on iTunes and Amazon.com. However, we are offering it on the above downloadable link for a limited time. Right click and download You Don’t Know What Love Is onto your iPod or Zune or whatever you’ve got. Give it a listen. Put it on the mixed tape for your Valentine. But most importantly, please let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Scottish blues impresario Wily Bo Walker records under his own name, and also with his group Rattlin Bone. (He’s followable on Twitter.) The vibraphone tracks were offered courtesy of the Grandmaster on that instrument, Mr. Teddy Charles.

Teddy's 1957 Vibe-Rant

A few months back I jumped at a chance opportunity to join in his semi-regular Wednesday night jam sessions at his place out on Long Island. Enjoy lots of jam photos on Flickr here.

Take a look at Teddy’s extensive discography with the likes of giants including Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald via jazz historian Noal Cohen.

You are also hearing pianist Ruslan Agababayev, Marco Panascia on bass and Eran Asias on drums. That’s me on Trombone.

Thank you music appreciators. We look forward to your comments.

Thank you, and again, thank you!

Jazz Standards: You Don’t Know What Love Is (part #1)

Monday, February 7th, 2011

A lot of work went into the melancholy cover art for the Wily Bo Walker Quintet’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is” single. How does it look? Singer Wily Bo Walker, Vibraphone Legend Teddy Charles and I are extremely pleased with the song itself and a link to it will follow in the next blog post.

Cover to a new single

Sepia goodness …

Most music lovers probably know this standard via Billie Holiday’s 1958 rendition, but the song was actually written in November, 1941 by Don Raye (1909 – 1985) with lyrics by Gene De Paul (1919-1988) for the Abbott and Costello film Keep ‘Em Flying.

Abbott and Costello?!

A soulful duo …

The bombing of Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941 kids!) occurred in between the film’s start and completion, and I wonder if the attack set the stage to ‘wake up’ the film’s editors to the absurdity of featuring this raw passionate song in a slapstick comedy film.  “You Don’t Know What Love Is” was left on the cutting room floor just before Keep ‘Em Flying’s release.

Passionate and Haunting

At the time the actress and singer Carol Bruce (1917-2007) was naturally disappointed. Who can blame her? Here’s a wonderful Carol Bruce YouTube clip showcasing her singing style. Larry Clinton and Carol Bruce. Look closely -you might recognize her from later work on the sitcom WKRP In Cincinnati.

I read somewhere that of all the De Paul and Raye songs and instrumentals, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” remains their most appreciated and most recorded.