Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Jeff Hamilton: Always in Good Time and In Good Taste

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

If you have an interest in Jazz drumming, Jeff Hamilton spoils you.

He doesn’t follow a standard of excellence for good taste and drive in the drum chair; Jeff sets the standard. Jeff always comes to play and his playing is always superb.

Nothing is thrown in or thrown away. With Jeff, every bar of music counts and every bar he plays is musical.

One of the qualities that I admired in the work of Larry Bunker, the late drummer, vibraphonist and pianist, was that whatever the musical setting, Larry made a difference.

When Larry replaced Chico Hamilton with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, the quartet became more hard-driving and forceful. He was trumpeter and composer Shorty Rogers drummer of choice in either a big band or a small group setting. “He makes things happen in the music,” said Shorty. When pianist Bill Evans was in Hollywood and looking for a replacement for drummer Paul Motian, the unanimous recommendation from the studio pros was Larry.  Bill later said of his year-and-a-half tenure with Larry: “His time was always so strong and his drumming so discriminating.” And when, Claire Fischer formed his big band, he said of Larry: “There was no other choice to fill the drum chair.  Larry is not just a drummer, he is a complete musician.”

Jeff Hamilton is this kind of drummer. You never overlook him. Not because he draws attention to himself, but because of the attention he draws to the music at hand by his contributions to it.

Woody Herman once said: “Davy Tough, Don Lamond and Jake Hanna all made my band their own, and so did Jeff Hamilton. That’s pretty damned good company.”

You can run but you can’t hide as the drummer is a piano, bass and drums trio.

Many drummers overplay in such an intimate setting, but not Jeff who always brings the perfect blend of time-keeping, adding color and, when called upon, masterful solo interpretations to trios led by pianist Monty Alexander, bassist Ray Brown and his own, current group with Tamir Hendelman on piano and Christoph Luty on bass.

Drummers like Jeff make you proud to be associated with the instrument and we wanted to recognize and salute him on these pages with the following overview of his career as drawn from his website: and with the video tribute that concludes this piece.

“Originality is what versatile drummer Jeff Hamilton brings to the groups he performs with and is one of the reasons why he is constantly in demand, whether he is recording or performing with his trio, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, the Clayton Brothers or co-leading the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. As well as recording and performing throughout the world, Jeff also teaches, arranges and composes.

Jeff has received rave reviews for his dynamic drumming. David Badham of Jazz Journal International stated in his review of the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra's release, Heart and Soul (Capri): "This is one of the finest modern big band issues I've heard...This is undoubtedly due to Jeff Hamilton, a most driving and technically accomplished drummer."" Jeff is equally at home in smaller formats. He is an integral part of the Clayton Brothers and Herb Wong stated in his review of their release, The Music (Capri), in JazzTimes: "Always evident is...the colorful work of the rhythm section featuring...the sensitivity and sizzle of Jeff Hamilton's seasoned drums." Leonard Feather of the Los Angeles Times described Jeff and his work with Oscar Peterson as "the Los Angeles-based drummer whose intelligent backing and spirited solo work met Peterson's customarily high standards..." In his review of the Ray Brown Trio in the Denver Post, Jeff Bradley stated that Jeff "brought the crowd to its feet with his amazing hand-drumming, soft and understated yet as riveting and rewarding as any drum solo you've heard."

Born in Richmond, Indiana, Jeff grew up listening to his parent's big band records and at the age of eight began playing drums along with Oscar Peterson records. He attended Indiana University and later studied with John Avon Ohlen. Jeff was influenced by Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Mel Lewis, "Philly" Joe Jones and Shelly Manne. In 1974, he got his first big break playing with the New Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. He then joined Lionel Hampton's Band until 1975 when he, along with bassist John Clayton, became members of the Monty Alexander Trio. He attained a childhood goal in 1977 when he joined Woody Herman and the Thundering Herd, with whom he made several recordings. In 1978, he was offered the position vacated by Shelly Manne in the L.A.4 with Ray Brown, Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida. He recorded six records with the L.A.4, some of which featured his own arrangements and compositions. From 1983 to 1987, Jeff performed with Ella Fitzgerald, the Count Basie Orchestra, Rosemary Clooney and Monty Alexander. Jeff began his association with the Ray Brown Trio in 1988 and left in March 1995 to concentrate on his own trio. From 1999-2001, the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra was named the in-residence ensemble for the Hollywood Bowl Jazz series. Jeff is currently touring with his own Trio, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and vocalist-pianist, Diana Krall.

In addition to his many recordings with Ray Brown, Jeff has been on nearly 200 recordings with artists such as Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Milt Jackson, Rosemary Clooney, Barbara Streisand, Mel Torme, John Pizzarelli, Benny Carter, Lalo Schifrin, George Shearing, Dr. John, Clark Terry, Gene Harris, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Scott Hamilton, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Keely Smith, Bill Holman, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and Mark Murphy. Jeff is a frequent guest of the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany. He also appeared in Natalie Cole's Great Performances PBS special, Unforgettable and an Oscar Peterson documentary, Life In The Key Of Oscar.”

Jeff currently leads a wonderful trio with Tamir Hendelman on piano, a technical and artistic marvel, and Christoph Luty on bass, a steady and sophisticated swinger.

But for the accompanying video to this piece, I wanted to reach back to an earlier version of the trio with Larry Fuller on piano and Lynn Seaton on bass performing at Nick’s Jazz Cafe in Laren, The Netherlands, on October 10, 1996. The tune is entitled Max and Jeff wrote it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Yusef Lateef "Before Dawn" and "Live at Pep's"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Lateef never settles for bebop cliches, however. Like that of his boyhood friends Mitchell and Thompson, his tenor saxophone work is steeped in older sources, particularly in the brawny approach of patriarch Coleman Hawkins and in that of swing-to-bop giant Don Byas. Consequently, there is a gravity and an assertiveness to Lateef's playing that sets it apart from his contemporaries', plus a familiarity with scales not commonly employed by jazz soloists at the time. What is most impressive about Lateef is the great variety he brings to his performances ….”
- Bob Blumenthal, Jazz author, journalist and critic

“Five years older than John Coltrane and eight years older than Sonny Rollins, Lateef. born William Evans, entered jazz in the Swing Era, working with Lucky Millinder's big band and with trumpeters Hot Lips Page and Roy Eldridge. His sound on tenor and the momentum of his phrasing betray those pre-bop roots. Yet throughout his career he has experimented and innovated, displaying a mind more open than those of many musicians half his age.”
- Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records, Jazz author and critic

With his deep-textured sound, Yusef Lateef remained in the Detroit tenor saxophonist tradition while making a lifelong commitment to assimilate other musical forms, particularly non European scales.

He also made a concerted effort to master instruments not usually associated with Jazz such as the oboe, the bassoon, and a variety of Middle Eastern instruments.

So Lateef headed east in April, 1957 with his working band on its day off to produce Before Dawn [Verve 314 557 097-2] - his sole outing for that label - and until its reissue on CD in 1997, one of the rarest of the 1950s Jazz recordings.

Bob Blumenthal wrote the insert notes to the CD and has graciously granted JazzProfiles copyright permission to reproduce them below.

© -Bob Blumenthal, copyright protected, all rights reserved and used with the author’s permission.

“This is one of the most elusive albums of the postbop period. It contains particularly eloquent playing by Yusef Lateef, in a program that casts a clear light on the origins of his innovative style; but rt was overlooked during the two LP reissue booms, of the Seventies and the Eighties- There were reissues in those decades, on the Savoy and Prestige labels, of Lateef's efforts that were contemporary with Before Dawn, as well as of his later work on Riverside, Impulse, and Atlantic. His lone album for Verve was so neglected, though, that Walter Bruyninckx's Modern Jazz Discography (Copy Express, Mechelen, Belgium, 1982-1985) fails to include it.

Yet Before Dawn is mentioned in Modern Jazz: The Essential Records (Aquarius Books, London, 1975), in which five British critics compile a list of two hundred albums that comprise a basic jazz collection. The authors do not place Before Dawn among the two hundred, opting instead for Lateef's Eastern Sounds (Prestige, 1961), which includes examples of his oboe work as well as that of his tenor saxophone and flute, which are heard here. In the cogent essay on Lateef in Modem Jazz 1945-1970, however, Jack Cooke notes that Lateef's consistency was such that "it is possible to name seven or eight LPs as being among Lateef's best." He then says, "Lateef's most impressive single asset, his immensely powerful tenor playing, is perhaps better demonstrated on the earlier Before Dawn —"

Lateef at the time of this record was beginning to emerge as a singular and quite prescient voice. It would be mistaken to call Before Dawn the beginning for Lateef, though. Just shy of his thirty-eighth birthday when he made these tracks, he had patiently practiced and studied to arrive at the distinctive sounds that make this music so compelling.

Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston on October 9, 1920 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When he was five, his family relocated to Detroit and his father changed the last name to “Evans.” The move to Detroit placed the youngster now known as Williams Evans in the center of an environment as nurturing for young African-American musicians as any north of New Orleans and east of Kansas City. Starting with a drum pad, then moving to the alto saxophone, Evans received instruction at Sidney D. Miller High School, where vibraphonist Milt Jackson was one of his classmates, and began hanging out with such other future stars as saxophonists Billy Mitchell and Lucky Thompson. The live music these teenagers heard at such places, as the Arcade Theater, the Graystone Ballroom, and the Paradise Theatre made a lasting impression, as did the many recordings they studied. Lateef has recalled being particularly struck by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, whom he heard for the first time on Jay McShann's 1941 big-band recording, "Hootie Blues".

Thompson, who became Evans's friend, was pivotal in helping the Tennessee native to get work with the 'Bama Slate Collegians and with Lucky Millinder’s orchestra when he was ready to leave Detroit.  Evans then played in the small groups trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Hot Lips Page and in the big band of Ernie Fields. He also played in Chicago with tenor saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt before a chair opened up in Dizzy Gillespie’s 1949 big band; Evans spent a productive year in that band.  By 1950 he was back in Detroit and had begun using his Muslim name, having converted to Islam during his years on road.

Family responsibilities initially brought Lateef home, but coming off the road also provided him with an opportunity to return to the serious study of music. Lateef was particularly impressed by the example of the young guitarist Kenny Burrell, who had recently received a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University, and who encouraged Lateef to take up the flute, which became his major when he enrolled in college in 1951.

For the remainder of the decade, Lateef studied and played locally and, over time, gained wider recognition through his recordings. A band that he formed in 1954 became a mainstay of the Detroit scene, and at various times it included Burrell, trumpeter Donald Byrd, pianist Barry Harris, and two of the musicians heard here, Curtis Fuller and Louis Hayes. In 1957, Lateef's group began making the quick trips to the East Coast recording studios that resulted in Before Dawn as well as in the more familiar titles issued on Savoy and Prestige. "We were working six nights a week in Detroit," Lateef recalled in a 1994 interview, "and when a record session came up, we would finish the Sunday night performance; immediately drive to Hackensack, New Jersey; record in Rudy Van Gelder's studio on Monday; and then drive back on Monday night, which was our night off. That's the way it went until 1960, when everyone in the band moved to New York together."

Before Dawn captures Yusef Lateef's band early in this traveling regimen, being preceded in his discography by two April 1957 Savoy sessions with the same personnel. Two of Lateef's sidemen had previously left Detroit and were making names for themselves in New York: Hayes, barely out of his teens, had been the drummer in pianist Horace Silver's quintet for nearly a year at this point, and Fuller was building his own multi-label discography as J. J. Johnson's heir-apparent, with sessions for Prestige, Blue Note, and Savoy already under his belt. Hugh Lawson and Ernie Farrow, still in Detroit and working nightly with Lateef, continued making important contributions to his music over the decade Before Dawn.

The influence of African and Indian music is less overt here than on Lateef's other recordings of the period, a result perhaps of Norman Granz's preference for straight-ahead jazz. Touches that today are called multicultural dominate only on the title track where, in the introduction, Farrow plays a one-stringed rabab to create a harmonic drone while Lateef blows the double-reed arghul. The composition is a dose cousin to "Morning", one of Lateef's most enduring (and covered recently by trombonist Steve Turre on Rhythm Within, Verve 314 527 159-2). The structure is modal and the mood raga-like, and Lateef and Fuller improvise ideas rather than mere effects.

Elsewhere, the settings are more familiar, with the inspiration of Charlie Parker particularly strong: Constellation is one of Parker's variations on the chord sequence of "I Got Rhythm"; "Parker's Mood" is echoed in the introduction to the driving blues Chang, Chang, Chang (a tune that Turre finds ideal for his choir, which plays sea conches); and Pike's Peak is based on another of Parker's favorite chord sequences, that of "What Is This Thing Called Love?".

Lateef never settles for bebop cliches, however. Like that of his boyhood friends Mitchell and Thompson, his tenor saxophone work is steeped in older sources, particularly in the brawny approach of patriarch Coleman Hawkins and in that of swing-to-bop giant Don Byas. Consequently, there is a gravity and an assertiveness to Lateef's playing that sets it apart from his contemporaries', plus a familiarity with scales not commonly employed by jazz soloists at the time. What is most impressive about Lateef is the great variety he brings to his performances (Twenty-five Minute Blues and Chang, Chang, Chang) explore the twelve-bar form tn distinctly different ends) and his ability to incorporate "Eastern" phrases in the flow of his solos without their sounding calculated or gratuitous.

In tins regard, his ballad playing on Love Is Eternal deserves special mention. Everything Lateef plays is heartfelt, yet the emotion in this performance is especially hard to ignore. Slow tempos present special challenges to the improvisor, and Lateef meets those challenges here without resorting to double-time or obvious licks. The track cries out with mature feeling, the very "Passion" acknowledged in the title of the first track.

The only example of Lateef's flute playing, Open Strings, is also notable for Lawson's use of celeste, the instrument employed in jazz most famously by pianist Meade Lux Lewis, when he recorded with clarinetist Edmond Hall's Celeste Quartet in 1941 (for Blue Note). Pianist Thelonious Monk also recorded on the instrument, on his own "Pannonica", a year before Lawson did here. "Open Strings" is another boppish opus, and it captures what is arguably the richest flute sound in jazz, then or now - a sound that Lateef's Detroit mentor, Larry Teal, once felt was too big. Yet it is clearly of a piece with Lateef's enveloping tenor saxophone tone.

So now, finally, we have this nearly forgotten chapter from the formative years of Yusef Lateef. I've been scouring auction lists and used-record stores for twenty years in search of this one and - unlike far too many tantalizing entries in rare-LP catalogs - it lives up to expectations.”
- Bob Blumenthal March 1998

Although it was issued on two albums on Impulse! Records as Live at Pep’s and Live at Pep’s Volume 2, all of the music on these two recordings was recorded live at Pep’s Lounge in Philadelphia, PA on June 29, 1964.

The reasons for this bifurcation as well as the background for how this music came into being are contained in the following insert notes by Michael Cuscuna to the CD issued at Yusef Lateef, Live at Pep’s Volume Two [Impulse! 314 547 961-2].


“It was the earthiest of jazz, it was the most exotic of jazz.

Yusef Lateef is an artist of extremes. When he approaches the blues on the tenor saxophone, it growls from the gut with a century of cultural history in every note. At the same time, he plays a variety of exotic reeds and incorporates melodies, scales, and rhythms from what is now called world music. He has also been known to incorporate European classical pieces, like Eric Satie's first "Gymnopedie", into his performances.

Five years older than John Coltrane and eight years older than Sonny Rollins, Lateef. born William Evans, entered jazz in the Swing Era, working with Lucky Millinder's big band and with trumpeters Hot Lips Page and Roy Eldridge. His sound on tenor and the momentum of his phrasing betray those pre-bop roots. Yet throughout his career he has experimented and innovated, displaying a mind more open than those of many musicians half his age.

Lateef’s mix of swing, blues, bop, and exotica made quite a splash when he brought his Detroit group (trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Hugh Lawson, bassist Ernie Farrow, and drummer Louis Hayes) to New York in 1957 to record for Savoy and Verve. He commuted between New York and Detroit for several years, establishing himself with a series of fine albums for Prestige, Savoy, and Chess's Argo label.

After moving to New York in 1960, he worked with bassist Charles Mingus and percussionist Olatunji. But the gig that helped establish him throughout the jazz world was his two-year stint (1962-63) with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley's sextet. Adderley featured Lateef’s tenor, flute, and oboe generously, and added several of his compositions to the band's book. Lateef in turn added depth and dimension to the group, expanding its palette and giving it a creative jolt.

After leaving Adderley, Lateef started a quintet with trumpeter Richard Williams in the front line and signed a deal with Impulse!, which had rapidly become an important jazz label, thanks in large part to John Coltrane. Live at Pep's, recorded on June 29, 1964 before a very appreciative audience, was Lateef’s second album for the label.

Pep's Lounge was a very hip Philadelphia club located on South Broad Street in what is known locally as Center City, where several neighborhoods met. Given the atmosphere and the enthusiastic crowds, it's surprising that there wasn't more live recording done there. But Lateef’s appearance and an
unsuccessful recording six weeks later with Horace Silver's new quintet for Blue Note, both engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, seem to be the only professional tapings at the club.

Live at Pep's introduced a new edition of Lateef’s quintet, with New Zealand pianist Mike Nock and New Orleans drummer James Black, and is considered by many (this writer among them) to be his finest recording. Here was a sparkling, flexible ensemble that could move creatively and empathetically with Lateef no matter what musical direction he chose to pursue. And he brought the full range of his music to the bandstand on this incredible night.

The band's repertoire was a mixture of old and new. Lateef and producer Bob Thiele chose seven performances for Live at Pep's and targeted another ("I Loved") for one of the label's Definitive Jazz Scene compilations, though it was never used. In 1976, when Esmond Edwards became the recording director for Impulse!, he immediately delved into the vaults to find more material from this session (and from Coltrane's 1961 Village Vanguard dates). He unearthed six more tunes for an album called Club Date. In 1978, this writer went back to the well to retrieve another six (including the aforementioned "I Loved") for release on a double album. The Live Session, along with the original seven.

When Live at Pep's was finally issued on CD (Impulse! GRD-134), three tunes from Club Date ("Oscarlypso", "Gee! Sam Gee" and "Rogi") were added to the original album. Here, as Live at Pep's — Volume Two. is the rest of Club Date plus the six selections that first appeared on the double album.

"Brother John" and "P-Bouk", like "The Weaver" from the original album, had been recorded by the Adderley sextet, though "P-Bouk" first appeared on a Lateef date for Prestige in 1961. The hypnotic 6/8 piece "Brother John", written in tribute to John Coltrane, primarily features Lateef on oboe. This version of "P-Bouk" offers a compact tenor solo that moves freely from gutbucket growls to Eastern scales to avant garde cries.

"Yusef’s Mood" and "Delilah", both of which date back to Lateef’s 1957 Savoy sessions, illustrate the extremes of his approach. "Yusefs Mood" is basically a blues shuffle that digs deep into his pre-bop roots, while his arrangement of "Song of Delilah", the quintet's theme song, is an exotic flute feature.

"Listen to the Wind" and "Gee! Sam Gee" were new at the time and recut in the studio the following year with Nock, Black, and bassist Reggie Workman for Lateef’s album 1984. "Wind" is a very contemporary-sounding piece with dark harmonies and shifting meters.

James Black's "Magnolia Triangle" is a harmonically dense, riveting composition in 5/4 that the quintet pulls off with remarkable ease. This alternative version is different from the take that appears on the original album.

Three tunes here appear nowhere else in Lateef’s discography. "Nu-Bouk" is a slow, sensual blues for flute. Benny Golson's classic "I Remember Clifford" is primarily a vehicle for Richard Williams. "I Loved", a beautiful original, is a ballad feature for Yusef’s tenor.

We are fortunate that the chemistry of these five musicians on this random night in a Philadelphia club was caught on tape by Rudy Van Gelder. The breadth of Lateef’s music, with the soulful blues always at its core, is truly captured on these recordings.”
- Michael Cuscuna

Before Dawn and Live at Pep’s have long been among my favorite recordings. Here are samplings of the music on each.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sadik Hakim: A Remembrance by David Ouse

Our thanks to JazzProfiles Dave Lull for bringing this information about Sadik Hakim to our attention so that we could present it to you as another feature in our “Forgotten Man” series.

Interestingly, Sadik has a discography of eleven recordings which you can locate by going here.

And you can also check out an extensive JazzJournal piece on him by clicking on this link.

All Content © Copyright X-Communication & Zenith City Press - Story by David Ouse. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017); used with the author's permission.

“In 1982, the music world lost a legend with the death of Thelonious Monk. At Monk’s funeral, thousands gathered to pay their respects. One of Monk’s former colleagues sat at the piano and played, according to legendary jazz writer Ted Joans, “a sad but soulful” version of Monk’s own “’Round Midnight.” That pianist was Duluth-native Sadik Hakim, who played and recorded with jazz icons from the 1940s to the 1980s. Down Beat magazine described him as “one of the unsung veterans who helped forge the bebop revolution.”

Born Argonne Dense Thornton on July 15, 1919, in Duluth, Hakim was raised—and trained—by his grandparents. His mother, Texas-native Maceola Vivian Williams, married mailman and St. Paul-native Luther Matthew Thornton at Duluth’s St. Mark’s A.M.E. Church in Duluth on October 9, 1916. They lived on Park Point at 3720 Minnesota Avenue, but the marriage had its problems, perhaps due to their age difference: Luther was 18 years older than Vivian. By January of 1922, they had separated and Luther was charged with non-support. That July Luther filed for divorce, alleging desertion. Both parents left Duluth by 1925, and young Argonne went to live with his grandparents, Henry and Jessie Williams.

By the 1890s Henry Williams—born in about 1865 in Natchez, Mississippi, to a slave mother—had landed in St. Louis, where he worked as a porter and studied music under several teachers. While in St. Louis, Henry organized a concert band that became very popular, performing in city parks. He moved to Duluth about 1904 and worked as a barber and later as an elevator operator in the old U.S. Government Building and Post Office at 431 West First Street. Henry also operated the Williams Violin School, where he taught violin to about 400 children over the years. He composed numerous spirituals and patriotic songs now forgotten (including “Bells of Emancipation” and “NRA March”) and sometimes conducted his own compositions with the local WPA band and the Duluth Civic Band. The family often performed as a chamber group—Henry played violin, his wife Jessie played cello, daughter Maceola played violin, and younger daughter Lucelia played piano and violin. Henry also wrote a radio play entitled The Rising Sons of America. In later years, he published a small monthly newspaper called the Progressive News Review. Henry and Jessie lived at 125 West Palm Street in Duluth Heights.

While Argonne attended Washington Junior High School and Central High School, he learned to play music through his grandfather’s lessons, beginning with trumpet but soon switching to piano. Argonne was drawn to jazz, but Grandpa Henry disliked the newly emerging form—he called it “ragtime” and wanted Argonne to strictly play classical music. Argonne had to wait until has grandfather had gone to work before he could listen to his jazz records.

Argonne left Duluth around 1937 and travelled to Los Angeles to visit his father. He returned to Minnesota and lived in the Twin Cities for a while, and in 1938 he went to Peoria, Illinois, to perform with trumpet player and singer Fats Dudley. By 1940 he relocated to Chicago and found work there playing with Jesse Miller, A. K. Atkinson, and Ike Day. He also met and played with Charlie Parker and performed on radio with Ben Webster.
In 1944, Webster invited him to New York. There he met up with Parker again and for a time roomed with him in an eight-room Harlem apartment. The apartment attracted musicians like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Dexter Gordon; Billie Holiday also lived there for a while. Argonne accompanied Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the legendary 1945 Ko-Ko Jazz Session for Savoy Records. Argonne toured with Lester Young from 1946 to 1948, and was involved in several memorable recordings for Aladdin Records, including the famous “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid” (which Argonne composed), named for the New York disk jockey Symphony Sid Torin.

In 1947, Argonne embraced the Muslim faith and changed his name to Sadik Hakim. He toured with the James Moody Orchestra from 1951 to 1954 and in Buddy Tate’s band from 1956 to 1959. Sadik composed over 80 pieces of music in his life, including (along with Idrees Sulieman) the song “Eronel,” which for a long time was incorrectly credited to Thelonious Monk. The title is the backwards spelling of Lenore, an old girlfriend of Sadik’s. In 1961 he made his first record as the lead instrumentalist in East Meets West.
In 1966, Sadik moved to Montreal where, except for a tour of Europe in 1972 he stayed for 10 years. In Canada, he recorded two albums for Radio Canada International, London Suite and Sadik Hakim Plays Duke Ellington. He returned to the United States in 1976 and his trio, which consisted of Sadik on piano, Dave LaRocca on bass, and Al Foster on drums, appeared in a concert at the University of Minnesota Duluth on May 26, 1976, as part of the Duluth Public Library’s Celebrate Duluth’s Heritage Bicentennial program. Returning to New York, he made several recordings on the Progressive label, including Memories and A Bit of Monk, and toured Japan in 1979-1980 where he played large concert halls before enthusiastic crowds.

Back from Japan, Sadik moved into a lower Manhattan apartment and played in local jazz clubs. He died in New York on June 20, 1983, a year after he performed at Thelonious Monk’s funeral.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Biography of Fats Waller by Maurice Waller and Anthony Calabrese

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"My father [Fats Waller] had a unique system to reward inventiveness in improvisation. Pop kept two bottles of gin on a table during the rehearsals. One bottle was for himself... The other bottle was the 'encourager,' as he called it. When one of the band excelled in an improvisational section, Dad would stop the rehearsal, pour him a healthy shot of gin, and the two of them would toast each other."
- Maurice Waller

“Both Fats Waller and his principal tutor, James P. Johnson, lived lives of aching frustration. Johnson ached openly because he could find no audience for his serious compositions, but Waller's desire to find acceptance as a serious musician was buried under a heavy coating of pervasive geniality. And while Johnson plodded steadily downhill in puzzled despair, Waller's blithely ironical attitude carried him up and up and up in the material world — eventually to a level that even his enormous energy could not cope with.

He was one of the most massively talented men who has ever turned up in the world of popular music — an inimitable entertainer whose charm has, if anything, grown in the nostalgic decade and a half since his death; the writer of some of the great evergreen songs in the popular repertoire ("Honeysuckle Rose," "Ain't Misbehavin'"); a jazz pianist whose playing was a landmark in the development of that instrument and whose influence on pre-bop pianists was surpassed only by that of Earl Hines; and a section man who could swing an entire band as no one else could.

All of these gifts were his and yet, like the inevitable clown who wants to play Hamlet, he had a consuming desire to bring to the public his love of classical music and of the organ. His need to offer this gift and have it accepted was almost childlike and, childlike, the hurt when it was rejected was deep and long.”
- James S. Wilson, Jazz author and critic

“Fats Waller, one of the most enduringly popular figures in American music, is a state of mind. Jazz has always claimed him (what idiom wouldn't claim him?) and yet he spent most of his abbreviated career cavorting through, and contributing to, the Tin Pan Alley canon—applying a determined jazz accent, perhaps, but with the sui generis detachment of a free-floating institution. He wasn't witty, if that word is taken to imply a kind of humor too subtle to engender belly laughs— he was funny. He was also bigger than life, Rabelaisian in intake, energy, and output. His greatest joy was playing Bach on the organ, but he buttered his bread as a clown, complete with a mask as fixed as that of Bert Williams or Spike Jones. It consisted of a rakishly tilted derby, one size too small, an Edwardian mustache that fringed his upper lip, eyebrows as thick as paint and pliable as curtains, flirtatious eyes, a mouth alternately pursed or widened in a dimpled smile, and immense girth, draped in the expensive suits and ties of a dandy.”
- Gary Giddins, Jazz author and critic

I never knew what to make of Fats Waller. His music happened way before my time and I could never seem to reconcile the views some held of him of him as little more than a musical buffoon with those that labeled him a keyboard stylist and composer of the first order.

In attempting to make up my own mind about his music, part of the problem was that most of what I had access to was derivative, in other words, what other Jazz musicians had to say on Fats’ Ain’t Misbehavin’, Honeysuckle Rose [upon which Charlie Parker’s Scrapple from the Apple is based], Squeeze Me, The Jitterbug Waltz and Black and Blue.

It really wasn’t until the reissue mania associated with the advent of the compact disc in the 1980’s that I had the opportunity to sit down and listen to the collected works of Fats which helped me finally understand what the fuss had been all about concerning his playing and his music.

One of the great joys of recorded Jazz is being able to go back in time and listen to the music of the Jazzmasters of yesteryear.

And recently, thanks to the kind folks at The University of Minnesota Press who sent along a preview copy of Fats Waller by his son Maurice and co-authored by Anthony Calabrese, I now have a narrative reminder to revisit Fats and his music.

This month [August, 2017] The University of Minnesota Press [UMP] is releasing a paperback version of the Waller-Calabrese biography of Fats which was originally published in 1977 by Schrimer Books.

As was the case with the original hardbound publication, the UMP paperback version of Fats’ bio benefits immensely from the inclusion of a Foreword by Michael Lipskin that places Waller and his music in the broader socio-cultural context of his times [Fats died in 1943 at the age of 39!].

Michael Lipskin is a veteran stride pianist and former protege of Harlem stride piano master Willie “The Lion” Smith and his Foreword contains many insights and observations about Fats including the following:

“Like most artists, Fats possessed a very complicated personality. On the surface there was the sense of humor that pervaded any situation, be it in a private party, hotel room, or concert hall. His humor always managed to get a laugh. But, on another level, it subtly pointed out the basic contradictions and deceits that he saw around him every day. There was the rampant sensualist, with tall tales of how many steaks, hamburgers, pies he could eat at one sitting. And there were the women who wanted Fats, whom Fats had trouble resisting. Above all, there was the tremendous drinking that the man could do, and did for too many years. His gargantuan capacity for life was in many ways responsible for his premature death.

Occasionally, when the party stopped, there appeared a sadness, increasingly apparent on the later slow-tempo compositions cut at private sessions, on his London Suite, and in his last Associated Program Service transcriptions. Conjecture as to specific reasons for this disparity is pointless, but conflicts in his upbringing appeared early. Fats' father, a Baptist deacon, rejected the young Waller's music, Fats' moral support coming from his mother, whose death, in Fats' fifteenth year, was a tremendous blow to him. In those times, before mass black consciousness, Negro families frowned upon jazz, and certainly did not like their children playing a music that they felt demonstrated the worst aspects of their society.

Although he took pride in what he did, and had a healthy attitude toward his music, in some small way Fats never got over the feeling that what he was contributing was not an end in itself; that his real artistic success would lie in the creation of "serious" or "classical" music. Like James P. [Johnson] and the highly individual Willie The Lion, Fats admired the "serious" tradition. The Lion's own wonderful compositions referred constantly to impressionists of the late nineteenth century, and this influence rubbed off on Fats. Consequently, Fats never quite appreciated the fact that his own contributions were different but equal in value. But it is the rare artist who has a proper perspective on his place in history.

What Fats and those around him did was create a beautiful and whole music, on both an extended intellectual level and a sensual level, many years before there was anything approaching equal opportunity for formal education, the end of segregation that would allow proper exposure to the tools of Western tradition, or the existence of a collective black ego.”

Fats Waller's death in December 1943, accelerated by his habitual overindulgence, was a worldly exit fully in keeping with his flamboyant lifestyle. His clowning and infectious capers disguised a top-ranking musical genius whose importance lay in two distinct areas: the development of the STRIDE style of piano playing to its limits of virtuosity, and the promotion of jazz as a medium for refined popular entertainment.

Waller's early keyboard training was as a church organist, an experience that enabled him as a teenager to gain employment playing in the cinemas and theaters of New York. (In later life he shocked the musical establishment by playing jazz on the organ of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.) His skills as a pianist were fostered by James P. Johnson, whose own piano concerto Yamekraw Waller performed at Carnegie Hall in 1928. Waller's astonishing keyboard facility and compositional fluency resulted in a steady succession of fine works for solo piano characterized by a combination of dazzling virtuosity and harmonic ingenuity, including Smashing Thirds, Alligator Crawl, and Handful of Keys. Among his admirers was Al Capone, who allegedly had Waller kidnapped at gunpoint in Chicago in the mid-1920s, just to get him to play at the gangster's birthday party.

Waller's incomparable aptitude for songwriting was developed in collaboration with lyricist Andy Razaf. Many of their numerous hits began life in stage shows, including Ain't Misbehavin. popularized by the vocal talents of Louis Armstrong, on whose gravelly tone Waller partly modeled his own singing voice.The peak of Waller's achievements came after 1934 in a series of recordings on the Victor label, made with a versatile combo billed as "Fats Waller and His Rhythm." In this context he found full expression for his remarkable comic talents, interpreting his own songs with infectious wit and a strong dose of satire. Among the most celebrated numbers in his vast repertoire was Honeysuckle Rose, which became an indispensable standard for later jazz musicians, not only in its original form, but as a harmonic skeleton on which other compositions were based.

As a keyboard technician, Waller formed an essential link between the first generation of STRIDE performers and the innovative work of later pianists such as Art Tatum  and Thelonious Monk.”

Thomas “Fats” Waller is a Jazz immortal and I for one couldn’t be happier that the UMP has sought fit to reissue in an affordable paperback format his biography by his son Maurice in conjunction with Anthony Calabrese as a reminded of that fact.

You can obtain order information on The University of Minnesota website by going here.