Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mid-century jazz and Jordan

During the last couple of years, jazz scholars have discovered several recordings hidden in boxes at the Library of Congress and in record company vaults, while other valuable music has been made available by relatives of musicians who passed away a long time ago.

Blue Note Records has begun issuing much of that music, including a live recording by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane at a Carnegie Hall concert New York in 1957, an astonishing performance that captures both musicians near the peak of their powers: An historic record and a great find that’s available on both CD and LP.

Another historic recording was recently made available by the widow of Charles Mingus, whose 1964 concert at Cornell University is the second in a series of mid-century Blue Note issues that are as important as anything released by Mingus and his group during the height of their fame. They include Eric Dolphy on alto, flute and bass clarinet; Clifford Jordan on tenor, Johnny Coles on trumpet, Jaki Byard on piano and Danny Richmond on drums.

That’s a lot of talent on a college campus, where you seldom hear this kind of brilliant jazz anymore.

The third in this series of important jazz CDs that were recorded in the 1950s and 1950 is the Horace Silver Quintet performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.

Michael Cuscuna, a longtime producer at Blue Note, discovered the recording at the Library of Congress and in the vaults at Columbia Records. Columbia’s superior sound was used for the CD, which contains 44 minutes of Silver’s funky hard-bop jazz issued as “Live at Newport 1958.”

Silver, who is still performing at the age of 79, was making a name for himself as a pianist who hired the best up-and-coming sidemen. Appearing with him at Newport were Junior Cook on tenor, Louis Smith on trumpet, Gene Taylor on bass and Louis Hayes on drums.


The University of Arkansas at Little Rock will screen four short films next weekend to mark Louis Jordan’s 100th birthday as part of the seventh annual Ozark Foothills Filmfest.

Jordan, a native of Brinkley who helped invent rhythm and blues, the forerunner of rock-and-roll, is perhaps the most important musician to have come out of Arkansas.

His music is timeless — his hits included “Caldonia,” “Saturday Night Fish Fry” and many more. If you’ve never seen him on film — he was a fine singer, but he was also a great actor, comedian and saxophone player — catch him at UALR at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 5, when “Caldonia” (1945) and “Beware”(1948) will be shown at Dickinson Hall. “Caldonia” is an 18-minute “soundie,” which were used to promote records at movie theaters before there was MTV. “Beware” is an almost hour-long film that showcases Jordan’s acting and comic talents, along with his singing and saxophone playing.

At 5 p.m. next Saturday, you can also catch “Three Cheers for the Boys” (1944) and “Swing Parade of 1946,” along with other soundies and rare clips.

You can also see excerpts of Jordan’s films on YouTube, or listen to his best records on “Let the Good Times Roll” (MCA), a two-CD compilation of his Decca hits between 1938-1953, when he was at the height of his popularity.

Diehard fans should get his nine-CD box set from Bear Family Records, also called “Let the Good Times Roll,” which contains his entire Decca output, from the earliest recordings when he was still developing his style till the 1950s, when rock-and-roll, which he helped develop, pushed him out of the limelight.

But he kept on recording and performing for several more years, until he passed away in 1975. He’s still very much remembered by his Arkansas fans who appreciate his tremendous contribution to music and popular culture and honor him every year on his birthday.

Now if only someone would restore his crumbling house in Brinkley.