Summertime has always meant the opportunity for long road trips, the most notable joy of which is putting my favorite music on the stereo and cranking it up as I cruise into what Ed Abbey called the Back of Beyond. In the old days I would spend untold hours in preparation, transferring my favorite record albums onto cassette tapes. The trips back then were longer, most prominently the one from Chicago to Hayward, Wisconsin, and the musical menu a bit different. It might range from singing along with The Kingston Trio, to Canned Heat, to whatever jazz greats I could slip into the playlist for the benefit of the uninitiated among my fellow camp counselors.
Now, as I prepare for a visit to Tuolumne Meadows in the Yosemite High Country, my requirements have been modified, somewhat. I still like to crank it up, sing along, or just get carried along by the groove. The main thing nowadays, is that I have to stay awake. As much as I love Stan Getz and Bill Evans, they are not going to get me through the vast nothingness that is Rte. 395 from Mojave to Lone Pine. And just loud isn’t enough, either. Monotony can put you to sleep as easily as a lullaby. The music has to be engaging.
Technology has altered the picture, of course. CDs and iPods have eliminated the need for home taping systems, although anyone who has seen me try and navigate my iPod through the radio dials might feel safer if I was asleep. And then there are cell phones. Let me make it clear that I consider the Freedom of the Open Road to be a freedom from this blight upon mankind. The only thing I want to hear less than my cellphone ringing is YOUR cellphone ringing. The unspeakable rudeness of having a passenger turn the volume down on my Bonnie Raitt CD to yak on the phone with someone (other than me) makes me yearn for an “eject” button.
Seriously. Don’t even think about it.
Here, then, is a short list of albums, for those of you not into assembling your own playlist or tuning in Sirius, or unable to find a baseball game as you hurtle through the desert, or across the Interstate. Yes, it reflects my personal, jazz-oriented tastes, and I know you’ll substitute the Dead, or Willie Nelson, or whomever. But this is my Sort of Top 5 For The Road, with the same type of leeway you give to the speed limit.
5A: Dear Diz, Arturo Sandoval. If Sandoval’s stratospheric trumpet can’t keep you awake, not much can. The newest CD on the list, Sandoval’s big band features terrific arrangements of Dizzy Gillespie tunes, plus cameos by Eddie Daniels, Gary Burton, Bob Mintzer and Joey DeFrancesc
5B: Brotherhood, Gene Harris. Actually, practically anything by Gene Harris will do. His funky tremolo will keep you going for miles without need of caffeine. Brotherhood was one of the many CDs Gene made with his quartet for Concord after bassist Ray Brown coaxed him out of his Idaho retirement. His gigs with the Ray Brown Trio work equally well.
3: Road Tested, Bonnie Raitt. This is a double CD made from live performances and has been road tested personally many times. It includes highlights from the post-Nick of Time years, plus songs for those of us who go way back with Bonnie, including “Angel From Montgomery,” “Louise,” “Three Time Loser” and more. (Take along her new one, Slipstream, too.)
2: Bop For Kerouac, Mark Murphy. What better than to go on the road with On The Road? Vocalist Mark Murphy is at his best here, interweaving the writings of Jack Kerouac with the bebop that inspired him. Bebop lives!
2A: Que Viva Mingus, The Mingus Big Band. Mix the compositional genius of Charles Mingus with a Latin-tinged big band and keep your eyes on the road. From the opening of “Cumbia & Jazz Fusion” to the closing “Ysabel’s Table Dance,” this will keep you riveted, with a band that includes Randy Brecker, David Sanchez, Chris Potter and a terrific rhythm section.
1. MF 4 and 5, Live at Jimmy’s, Maynard Ferguson. I suppose this is my guilty pleasure. I loved Maynard’s bands of the early ‘70s, and this double album was the best of that period. Freed from the commercial restrictions Columbia put on his other albums, Live at Jimmy’s featured mostly original jazz compositions like “Nice and Juicy” and “Stay Loose With Bruce,” which spotlighted the other star of this band, baritone sax player Bruce Johnstone. The combination of Maynard’s piercing horn and these great arrangements will keep you awake and alert.
Well, that ought to do it. Now if I can just figure out where the bathrooms are between Mojave and Lone Pine…
Postscript: Special Bonus Choice! The Soundtrack from the Motion Picture Remembering Phil.
Ever since I picked up a clarinet in the Central School band, I’ve had a soft spot for great big jazz bands. While my friends were lining up for the Stones and the Dead and some others we’ve blissfully forgotten by now, I was heading off to see Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich. And I couldn’t figure out why everybody else wasn’t doing the same.
Let me say right off that the term “Big Band” was much misunderstood, then and now. The general public still associates it with the Swing Era, and nine hours of “Ken Burns Jazz” didn’t do much to dissuade them. But the truth is, by the seventies most of the big bands had evolved from dance to performance bands, featuring textured compositions by the likes of Basie, Ellington and Kenton, dynamic originals and arrangements by Thad Jones, Herman and jazz covers of everyone from the Beatles to Frank Zappa. All that, plus knock-em-dead fireworks from the horn sections. If you have ever picked up a horn at any level, nothing beats the excitement of sitting in the middle of a sax or trumpet section, whaling away.
Over the next six weeks here in LA we’ve got a bunch of terrific big bands coming through town, including Arturo Sandoval, Gerald Wilson, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and Christian McBride’s Big Band. Here’s my review of Cuban trumpeter Sandoval, from International Review of Music:
Live Jazz: The Arturo Sandoval Big Band at The Federal
By Michael Katz
The spirit of Dizzy Gillespie was much in evidence Wednesday night when trumpeter Arturo Sandoval brought a distinctly L.A.-flavored big band to The Federal in NoHo. It wasn’t just the fact that Sandoval’s new CD, Dear Diz, is a love letter to his late mentor. It was the combination of virtuosity, humor and generosity of spirit that made Gillespie beloved among musicians and audiences.
Sandoval can still reach the stratosphere with his piercing solos, but during the evening he explored the full range of the trumpet, reaching down deep on occasion, growling in the lower registers before leaping upward with startling cadenzas. He began with one of his older compositions, “Funky Cha Cha,” which allowed the band, comfortably ensconced on The Federal’s stage, to stretch out. That included the redoubtable Bob Sheppard on tenor, Andy Martin on trombone and a young pianist from Sri Lanka (by way of USC), Mahesh Balasooriya. Balasooriya sparkled throughout the set, providing a nuanced counterpoint to Sandoval’s performance.
From that point on the spotlight was on Gillespiana. Sandoval began with a sometimes hilarious explanation of be-bop, which featured him scat-o-lizing (patent pending) through the self-named tune, covering every instrument in Diz’s band. The actual performance of “Be-Bop” was a revelation. Gordon Goodwin’s arrangement started with a gently swinging presentation of the theme, Sandoval’s trumpet muted, exhibiting the in-the-pocket feel we’ve come to know from the Big Phat Band (several of whose members were in this group). Then the tempo picked up, with the saxophone section taking over and Arturo out front with a fiery riff. The band then backed down into a swinging groove, with Sandoval closing it out — not satisfied with the final cadenza, he took a mulligan and nailed it the second time, to the delight of the crowd.
As the set progressed, Sandoval shared the stage with terrific soloists. Trumpeter Gary Grant joined him out front for “And Then She Stopped,” taking Sandoval’s part from his recording with Diz, while Arturo echoed Gillespie’s solos. Then singer Becky Martin joined the band for a lush tune entitled “Sway,” which brought to mind the Cuban mambo bands.
The evening’s most poignant moments were provided by Sandoval’s vocals, as he performed his composition “Every Day I Think Of You.” His voice a tad raspy, his lyrics heartfelt, he conveyed his love for Gillespie, who brought him to the international stage and helped him escape the Castro regime in 1990. Pianist Balasooriya provided a perfectly understated accompaniment. There was even a moment of pathos as Sandoval’s trumpet solo was interrupted by a car alarm. Sandoval took it in stride, as if the alarm was just a slightly out of tune student.
Sandoval then invited another dynamic young LA musician, saxophonist Zane Musa, to the stage. Musa unwrapped his soprano and what followed was a whirlwind rendition of “Cherokee.” Watching Musa’s fingers flying over the soprano’s keys was a wonderment, and he did it with complete tonal control over the sometimes challenging instrument. Sandoval, meanwhile, took advantage of the old be-bop favorite to rip off some of the cadenzas the audience had been waiting for.
The set ended with the Diz classic “Woody’N You,” which Sandoval identified by its original title, “Algo Bueno.” The arrangement by saxophonist Dan Higgins was reminiscent of Goodwin’s earlier work – solid, swinging, in-the-pocket. It featured solos by Higgins and LA trombone stalwart Scott Martin. Sandoval, closing out the show, brought his trumpet down to an almost guttural lower register, then soared upwards for the finish.
The crowd, which filled the upstairs room at the Federal, was on its feet, boding well for the future of the venue as a jazz magnet.
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