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Wednesdays offering at the CJC was Australian based Jazz singer Susan Gai Dowling. Susan’s sidemen were Kiwi Jazz veterans Mike Walker (p), Pete McGregor (b), and Frank Gibson Jnr (d). After hearing her sing I could understand why she was in demand on the Sydney scene after so many decades. Her voice is warm and slightly smokey and above all it is a real Jazz voice. At her command were all of those tricks of articulation that tend to separate Jazz singers out from the straight-ahead variety. To underscore her Jazz credentials she announced that she would mainly sing ‘Monk’ tunes. To up the anti even further there was also an extremely difficult Brubeck number thrown in, ‘Raggy Waltz’ ; in addition we heard ‘Very Early‘ (Bill Evans), Lady Bird, (Tad Dameron) and ‘Girl Talk‘ (Bobby Troupe).
Thelonious Monk was a genius of composition, but singing his tunes is arguably a risky business with all of those spiky rhythms to contend with. Others have put words to Monk and Carmen McRae was the standout in my view. McRae has set a high bar to what is already a difficult proposition, but Susan approached the task with confidence. She opened with a standard. ‘Old Devil Moon‘ and then tackled ‘Blue Monk‘. As she progressed through the eight Monk tunes it was obvious that she was more than up to the task. Like McRae her intonation and her ability to deal with the complexity of the tunes was impressive. Mike Walker dealt with the angular percussive accents in the way that an accompanist should. Not over-bearing and leaving enough room for the singer to tell her story. The rest of the band got right in behind the singer and they deserve credit for their flawless performance because they had not been able to rehearse because of the tight timeframe.
Next was the lovely melody ‘Ask Me Now’. It was a real treat and it enhanced the singers credentials as she captured the raw beauty and emotion of the tune. The other Monk tunes were ‘Well You Needn’t‘, ‘Ugly Beauty‘, ‘In Walked Bud‘, ‘Ruby My Dear‘, ‘Monks Dream‘, & ‘Round Midnight‘. ‘Ruby My Dear’ was lovingly executed and this iconic tune along with her rendition of the Evans classic ‘Very Early‘ were highlights.
Susan Gai Dowling and Mike Walker were off this week to play a gig in New York’s ‘Birdland’ club.
I have for some time been delighting in the re-issues of classic Jazz albums. Many I had missed purchasing first time out on CD or else I only possessed a worn out LP version. These are generally produced in the EU and most often in Spain. In the early days, the re-mastering could be dire, but in recent years many high quality re-issues have appeared. Lonehill, Gambit, Essential Jazz Classics and Poll Winners Records would top the list as they are readily available and at very good prices in New Zealand. Besides the competitive pricing, the CD will often include new out-takes or hard to source out-of-print albums by the same artist.
A good example of this is the ‘Poll Winners 27220′, which is the seminal recording of the George Russell classic; ‘New York, New York’ (1959). It is pure joy from start to finnish and why wouldn’t it be, as it features John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Bill Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Cleveland, Phil Woods, Hal McKusick, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, Max Roach and John Hendricks. In addition to the above embarrassment of riches the marvelous Russell- Schuller ‘All about Rosie’ (plus alternate) is included. This last offering features the famous and astonishing solo by Bill Evans. Another good example is the latest Essential Jazz Classics ‘Boss Tenor’ by Gene Ammons which includes the hard to locate ‘Angel Eyes’ album as a bonus.
There are some traps for the unwary as some of the albums have already been released in recent times but with different cover art. This can result is duplicates being purchased unwittingly. In this matter I am a repeat offender and my friends (or Real Groovy Records) benefit from my mistakes. My ‘Curtis Counce Complete Studio Recordings’ on Gambit are a work of art in all respects except one. The album is beautifully re-mastered and has a great cover photo by ‘William Claxton. What is missing however is the cheeky art work that accompanied, ‘You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce’ and the ‘Landslide’ artwork. For completists among us this can sometimes be overcome by downloading the original artwork from an online source or begging a friend to copy it for you. I will attempt to locate some good sites for the artwork deprived, but in the meantime you could try: birkajazz.com/archive/variousUS_3ihtm .
The story of music copyright is extremely complex and the underpinnings of international copyright law face ongoing challenges. I have come to realise that there is an age-divide in attitudes about intellectual property and the ‘peer to peer’ generation just see it differently from older generations. I am caught somewhat in the middle over this argument as I strongly believe in an artists right to be paid royalties. I am not so sanguine about the rip offs that often occurred when the big studios signed artists though. ‘Kind of Blue’ is still earning well but the studio allegedly paid the Davis band peanuts. BeBop musicians confronted these rip-offs by constantly re-harmonising famous tunes like Body and Soul (and sometimes made an anagram out of the original song title); this in order to obtain royalties from the new but somehow familiar tune. The reason was simple; it was not a breach of copyright to re-harmonise over a set of chord changes because you can’t copyright chord changes (but you can a tune). Once upon a time copyright expired in America after 50 years, but when Irving Berlin (then a nonagenarian) complained to Congress they extended the period. In Europe 50 years is still the point of expiry and that is why we have Lonehill and Gambit records. The frequent takeovers of once viable record labels by fat-cat money men has resulted in some classic albums being thrown into a dark vault and forgotten about. Without ‘Gambit’ and ‘Lonehill’ we would arguably never live long enough to purchase those recordings.