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  • Writer's picturejim lenz

OLLI Pirate Radio 213

Man-O-Man! For a sunshine junkie like me, whoever's controlling the weather has definitely hit my sweet spot. Today (Saturday) was about as perfect a day as I can remember.

And while I'm thinking about it, a shout-out and welcome home to OPR listeners Nancy Blake and Jim Lenz who just got back from France. I'm dying to hear the story of how they narrowly escaped the clutches of the sinister Marine le Pen--who as I understand it is running on the rendre à la France sa grandeur platform. I bet it features run-ins with the Corsican mob, and car chases though the back streets of Marseilles!

But all that can wait. Right now it's time for






Today put me in a good, mellow mood. Really good and really mellow. And when that's where you are, what does your mind turn to?


That's right—jazz!


And not just any jazz. I'm talking classic jazz, bedrock, heritage stuff, songs made famous by Duke Ellington and recorded over and over again . . . but with each artist free to make their own mark on it. (And if they don't make their own mark, are they really artists?)


So, you're going to hear me use us words like "great" and "genius" a lot tonight, because this really is full of jazz royalty. You put them all together like this and it sorta obscures how they towered over the rest of the field, but that's just the way it goes, I guess. My point is, although I'm going to use superlatives a lot tonight, it is not exaggeration or hyperbole. These are great musicians, so buckle up.

This first song is about as classic as it gets. It was jointly written by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Unlike a lot of the supposed joint compositions—which were actually Strayhorn's work—as far as I know this one really was a joint effort, with Ellington providing the main melodic themes and Strayhorn doing harmonies and orchestration. The lyrics you're probably familiar with were written later by Johnny Mercer, but this performance is just an instrumental (as Ellington's original recordings were as well).


This recording is by the Oscar Peterson trio, which at the time of the recording included OP himself, Dave Young on bass, and Martin Drew on drums. They are playing at the 1988 Bern Jazz Festival. Please enjoy maybe the greatest jazz pianist of all time playing "Satin Doll."




Next we're going to go very mellow. This is of course another Duke Ellington song, and this one he composed largely on his own. And this time he's playing it, but it's not his original big band version, He recorded this with John Coltrane in 1963 for the Duke Ellington and John Coltrane album (and it also appears on Coltrane's 2001 collection Coltrane For Lovers).


I love John Coltrane's saxophone, but I'm not sure a lot of Coltrane junkies would accept my bona fides as one of the gang. See, I like the mellow side of Coltrane much more than the higher energy stuff. And like I said, you can’t get much more mellow than this.


From 1963 please enjoy Duke Ellington and John Coltrane performing "In a Sentimental Mood."




Man I love that. I could just listen to that and melt right into the moonlight.


So here's my final Ellington song of the evening, and it's an unusual recording . . . or at least I think it is. The Dave Brubeck Quartet really transformed jazz. I know, people say that about a lot of people, and the funny thing is it's true of all of them. Jazz has been transformed many times, over and over again. That's what keeps it alive. Dave Brubeck was such a talented composer that he performed his own stuff almost exclusively. Nevertheless, here he is performing an iconic Duke Ellington song.


I don't really know when this was recorded. (I bet one of our listeners does, and there's a shiny new virtual gold doubloon in it for you if you send in the info.) The song is on the compilation album of three concerts: Copenhagen (1958), Amsterdam (1962) and Carnegie Hall (1963). The thing is, this track doesn’t appear on any of those three individual concert albums, so it was probably part of the program performed at one of those venues, but it didn't make the individual album cuts.


Machts nichts.


(Or, as I once saw it painted on the turret of an American M-60 tank in Germany in the 1970s, "Max Nix," which alters the meaning somewhat.)


Regardless of where it was recorded, this is still a great example of how a genius composer can take an oft-played standard and give it a fresh, original feel.


Like "Satin Doll," this song is credited to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, but in this case, it looks like Strayhorn actually wrote the whole thing.


Please enjoy the Dave Brubeck Quartet (DB on piano, Eugene Wright on bass, Joe Morello on drums, and the brilliant Paul Desmond on sax) performing "Take the A Train."




It doesn't get much better than that.


So now we come to the part of our show dedicated to a featured artist (or theme) of the month. This month we're sticking with jazz, but not the classic variety. Those of you who have been with the show for a while have probably realized I really like fusion jazz. Why else would I play so much Spyro Gyra? (Some of you may very well have asked exactly the same question, probably while shaking your head.) But Spyro Gyra has already been featured artist(s) of the month, so you ducked that bullet this time. Instead, I'm going with a band that combines great musical chops and considerable popularity (while they were together) with genuine critical acclaim. They won the DownBeat Best Jazz Album five years in a row! Like most fusion bands of the 1970s and 80s, they were inspired by the work of Miles Davis, but this band took it a step farther and built a very specific musical style, combining classic jazz with rock, R&B, and (as you'll hear in this first selection) funk.


The band was founded by keyboardist Joe Zawinul and the brilliant Wayne Shorter on sax (fresh from his stint with Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet, and before that co-founder of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers). Other musicians came and went, but one of the most distinctive was Jaco Pastorius on electric bass, and man, he's got a good solo at the start of this selection.


That said, the band was not as into as many extended individual solos as was traditional. They tended toward more unified play, with everyone improvising as it seemed to fit the song.


But . . .  less talk, more music, right? Okay. Please enjoy Weather Report in 1977, performing one of their biggest hits, "Birdland."

So that's it for this week. Hope you're enjoying a fine summer weekend so far and I'll see you next week.

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