Chet Baker lived a hard life. But he was without peer as a singer and trumpet player. There are two recorded versions of him singing “My Funny Valentine”; one when he was very young, and one when he was at an age late in his life. What the latter lacks in freshness is compensated by the life-experiences of an older person. That is, it seems to have a deeper level of profundity than the former.
One of the top swing-based pianists of the past 25 years
Dave McKenna (1930 – 2008) is the undisputed master of left hand bass for jazz pianists. What he did with his left hand was much deeper than just that. He changed the function of the left hand often in his playing. His right hand was also exceptionally fluid and had a beautiful tone as if he were playing Chopin.
In the following video clip, he plays “Lulu’s Back in Town”. You can observe how he changes the function of his left hand. Towards the end of the clip, he modulates six times through increasingly ascending keys.
Here he plays “Serenade in Blue”. The camera is always on his hands. You’ll see that he has incredible economy of motion. He plays block chords, left hand bass, left hand “strumming” chords and so on. The secret to his “feel” is when he phrases the melody behind the beat, as singers often do, and plays bass on the beat and chords slightly ahead of the beat.
McKenna knew by heart something like a kabillion songs, and he could play them in any key. He often played medleys, with song-to-song connections ranging from the obvious to the somewhat obscure, but based around a theme. Here he is playing a Rodgers and Hart medley.
I was fortunate to be able to share a house for several months with Jackie and his family in San Francisco. I had known him previously from his San Antonio days. There were a lot of Texan musicians who were in San Francisco or Hollywood at that time, and we all tried to stick together. Many of them breezed in and out of Jackie’s house for impromptu jams, where I watched with dropped jaw.
One of Jackie’s gigs I went to was with legendary blues artist “Lightnin’ Hopkins”. Doug Sahm, another San Antonio man, also dropped by that night. Through my association with Jackie, he introduced me to a lot of great musicians. This gig was right at the time when Governor Reagan called out the natural guard because of the so-called “student unrest”.
Jackie is a left-handed guitarist virtuoso. I think that part of why he is so good is that he can take a “normal” right-handed guitar, turn it upside down and play just fine. Also, he got put on the spot (gigs) at an early age.
Country music was and is a big part of the San Antonio culture. He was enlisted at a very early age to do gigs, often with people associated with the older legends of the time, such as Bob Wills. On these “Country” gigs, a jazz feel and jazz playing was welcomed. This continues today, as many Nashville studio musicians and players are very accomplished with jazz. When George Strait is not on tour, some of his group play a regular jazz gig in Austin, TX.
Jackie has also played with Tony Bennett, The Boston Pops, Ray Charles, Bill Evans, Jerry Garcia, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm, and many others.
Having known Jackie for many years, I know first hand that Jackie is unpretentious, humble, and always pleasant. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a smile on his face. When playing, he often bursts out laughing, looking at the other players, when a song ends, as if an obscure inside-joke just occurred. In his own words:
The first (thing to know) is to always try to be around at least one person who is either a better musician than you or at least as good. The second is to remember you can always learn something from everyone, regardless of how well or poorly you think they play. Through the years I have found this to be consistently true…Somebody will say or play something that you think he or she really should not be able to say or do according to the level of player you think he or she is. Wow! I have learned a lot of licks, etcetera, that way…Control of energy is absolutely necessary to a great technique.
He once had a guitar school in San Antonio located in the historic Majestic Theatre building. In more recent times, he is or has been based in the San Francisco/Mill Valley area for years, but still does tour some, and makes it back to the San Antonio Jazz Festival most every year. He did have some instructional videos, but now, I think they are out of print. He has CD’s that are available on the Books & Media page on this website.
In the following clip, he plays solo, then with the band, his rendition of the song, “If”. Later in the clip, they play “There Will Never Be Another You” with Willie singing.
Jackie King and Legendary Sax Player Richie Cole
Here he plays some Charlie Parker tunes.
Willie and Jackie have an album of standards named “Angel Eyes” only available on Vinyl or cassette. Here is a video clip with Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and Jackie King. I believe this is from the DVD of their HBO special, which is available for purchase on Amazon. They do a blues, then the song “Angel Eyes”.
Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and Jackie King
In this clip they play Bach and Improvise over it. I saw this concert at the La Villita church in San Antonio sometime in the ’80’s.
Jackie King and Classical Guitarist David Underwood
This next clip was filmed at the Travis County Exposition Center in in Austin, TX. Jackie played a solid year of concerts (300+) with Willie that year. Here he holds back and lets Willie shine. After the concert, my family and I got to go backstage and then get on Willie’s bus and meet him–a very sweet man.
Willie Nelson, with Jackie King – On The Road Again (2000)
Marcus Roberts, Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies, Florida State University
Marcus Roberts (1963 – ) was born blind and studied music and piano at the Florida School For the Deaf and Blind, the same school Ray Charles attended. He later was discovered by Wynton Marsalis, and they went on to do a number of collaborative projects. He has recorded many albums, both solo and in other varieties of musical settings.
Most of these pay homage to the great American composers of the past such as Ellington, Gershwin, Monk, Porter, etc. [button]Read More…[button]His recording of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is unlike any other recording I’ve ever heard of the same piece.
Gershwin wrote the piece for piano and small jazz band. He enlisted Ferde Grofe to orchestrate it, and it is written for full orchestra. Of course, the piano part is fully written out, and most all performances and recordings are of this version. That is, played in the “classical” vein where you do not change the score, you only interpret it. However, Gershwin’s roots were informed by the music of jazz, pop, and stage. Gershwin’s mission was to write music that would fuze jazz and classical music together.
Unlike these other recordings, Marcus Roberts’ version takes many liberties with the score. He will include his jazz trio (with bass and drums) along with the orchestra. During piano solos, he will take extended flights of fancy, acknowledging the written themes, and extending or modifying them. He ad-libs; The version you’ll hear in the clip below is certainly not a note for note replay of the Robert’s recording. The orchestra has been silent during these interludes, and the cues for them to re-enter are both dramatic and pleasing.
In this video, the expressions you see on Seigii Ozawa’s face are well worth the price of admission.
Marcus Roberts Plays Rhapsody in Blue With Seijii Ozawa
This next part picks up where the first part left off, at the beginning of the E major “pretty part” (that’s a technical term). During his improv, you can see the members of the orchestra and band smiling, probably because it’s not known what he’s going to do next. For example, he quotes an extensive passage of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”; later, he goes into a quasi stride piano part during part of his solo. The fact that there are quotes and improvisation is not the interesting thing. It’s how well he makes it work, blending in an out of what’s written, or hinting at it.
Founder of the "Hot Club of France" With Django Reinhardt
Stephane Grapelli (1908 – 1997), violinist extraordinaire, played with Django Reinhardt from the 1030s through the ’50’s. Over the years, he has played with a who’s who list of musicians from George Shearing, Oscar Peterson, and a lot with guitarist Martin Taylor.
In the following video clip, he plays with the great classical violinist Yehudi Menuin on a BBC broadcast.
Here he plays Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” with Martin Taylor
Martin Taylor (1956 – ) was practically born with a guitar in his hand. The guitarist Pat Metheny has said he is “is one of the most awesome solo guitar players in the history of the instrument. He’s unbelievable”. His influences include Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Ted Greene and Art Tatum. He is equally comfortable with pick or fingers.
Freddie Green played rhythm guitar for Count Basie’s various small and large bands.
If you are a Frank Sinatra fan, you probably heard either the Count Basie band, or the Nelson Riddle orchestra backing him up.
Basie played piano, and along with Freddie, the upright bassist and drummer they became an astounding rhythm section.< --more-->It was noted for its sparseness (Basie played a note here and a lick there-the opposite of Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum) yet it accomplished two things: It really did swing, and none of the rhythm players ever got in the way of each other or the rest of the band.Continue reading »
This example show’s some interesting consonant/dissonant harmonies between the vocal and the accompaniment. The melody is simply a downward-arpeggiated A minor chord, with the added “B” note, functioning first as a 9, then as a 2. This note has a built-in dissonance in this context because it is one half-step from the defining minor third note (“C”). A good vocalist will clearly hear in advance, in his/her imagination, the A and C that surround it, and fit the vocal note in at the right pitch and volume. The resultant sound being perfectly on pitch, and exploiting that dissonance. The singer has to nail it right off. Sliding up or down to the note, or too much vibrato will spoil the effect. For example, listen to how Chet Baker does this so well.
Notice that the first note, “Now…”, has an easy, powerful, and great sounding vowel for a vocalist. As the note is held out, the crescendo sells the song. The rest of the line becomes a very natural-sounding decrescendo.
Oscar Peterson, Canadian Hero and Virtuoso Jazz Pianist
Technique is something you use to make your ideas listenable…You learn to play the instrument so you have a musical vocabulary, and you practice to get your technique to the point you need to express yourself, depending on how heavy your ideas are”. – Oscar Peterson.
Oscar Peterson (1925 – 2007) was one of the greatest jazz pianists ever. He is the only jazz pianist of the contemporary era who can claim to be the heir of the great pianist Art Tatum. Although steeped in the jazz tradition, he studied with a pupil of Franz Liszt, an encouraged his students to study Bach.
He has one numerous awards: Eight Grammys including the Lifetime Achievement Award; the Toronto Arts Festival Lifetime Achievement Award; The BBC-Radio Lifetime Achievement Award, at least 16 honorary University Degrees, and much more.
In the following video clip, Oscar plays the song, “I Can’t Get Started”, solo piano. After having gone through a rubato introduction, at about 1:15 he goes into an moderate jazz tempo. Then at about 3:00 he more or less double-times it. At 4:00 minutes the camera catches a good view of his hands, doing one of his characteristic double-octave ad-lib single line solos.
Here is a transcription you can watch while Oscar plays Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Goin’ On?” In several places you can hear and see his double octave runs.