french horn, jazz, jazz french horn, music, musicology

Fireworks Sound Like… Stompin’ (at the Savoy)

Over the long weekend, I not only enjoyed a relaxing vacation with the nation (excuse me), but I also finished David Amram’s Vibrations. I can’t reiterate this enough: he is such a compelling storyteller. More than an insight into the world of jazz horn playing, Amram’s autobiography charts the rise and fall of jazz for everyone who wasn’t Miles Davis, and really elucidates how creative and inspirational a person Amram is (in his own words, of course).
It also shows how much Amram did in his life, and how he was able to do it. He was a megacomposer, spending (after about 1959) at least 8 hours a day writing music, whereas before he was playing horn around that much. As well, he accomplished so much early in his life, allowing his credentials to net him a gig as the NY Philharmonic’s composer in residence at the tender age of 35 years and 10 mos.
That being said, Vibrations ends its chronological tale with its publication date of 1968. So digging still must be done surrounding Amram’s “second half”, which includes “Havana New York“, among other things, and his more adult, non-army travels, which spurred creativity in the direction of native and lost instruments.

As well, today, I transcribed a take of Edgar Sampson’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy” from NBC’s The Today Show that Mitchell and Ruff performed together in 1991 (I think, because that’s the year A Call To Assembly was published and I think that the show was meant to publicize it). Anyways. Here it is.

While the interview itself is… lackluster, the playing is great, with Ruff’s superlative tone capturing the listener and transporting them to the concert hall. I believe the only note Willie cracks is in the melody very early on, and from there, his playing is flawless. I am beginning to realize that Ruff mainly focuses on the important color tones of a chord or tonal feel, utilizing far fewer scales than either Watkins or Amram. Ruff also focuses on traditional jazz phrasing, syncopating here and there and holding out wonderfully crafted scale tones.
Very soon, once I get around to it, I will make a post dedicated to my transcriptions and continue updating it as I scan them in.
til then.

In Love and Horn-
Mamet

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french horn, jazz, jazz french horn, music, musicology

In French, Jordu means Jor-Du. Oh.

Well isn’t that a gas.

Today, David Amram went to Paris.
In his autobiography, that is. Flights are getting a bit expensive, I hear.
I don’t want to go into too much detail, but basically, he played a ton there. After he left the army, he stayed in Germany for a little bit, but decided on a “short trip to Paris”. As he says, he ended up staying for a year. It’s a colorful year, filled with wild times and the typical “Parisian Thoroughfare” (excuse me).

He did play quite a bit, though, venturing into what seems to be his most avant-garde period in jazz music. Along with some other ex-pat post-army jazzers, Amram played as a house band for an experimental cafe, the Rose Rouge, until the experiment went under. After the Rose Rouge closed, Amram jammed all over Paris, appearing on his first commercial recording, with Lionel Hampton (a recording so commercial that I can’t even find a copy online…).
Well, Amram played Paris, loved Paris, and fancied himself a European. All the way until, of course, Bird died. Amram describes this moment as a death, a movement inside him, one that made him yearn to go home and immerse himself in music.
And that’s where I got to for today. It is going a bit slower than I had anticipated, but the autobiography is too good. Darn those dripping poetics.

So after I had my daily fill of pleasure, I moved on to what I think is the longest Ruff solo I will analyze.

Of course, the tune is Jor-Du, which means nothing really in French although I think Clifford Brown thought it must have. It’s originally by Irving Berlin, and appears on the Mitchell-Ruff’s duo “Appearing One Night Only”.

It’s a really typical solo of 1958, the year it was recorded. It’s super essentialist, exploring the same theme (a minor third riff starting on either the one or the two), and barely cresting a one and a half octave range. It’s really a beautiful, simple solo, as I am realizing most of Willie’s playing tends to be. He is really unburdened by the need that jazz players often feel to rip some virtuosic scales, dazzling the listener with some hard to understand patterns. It’s not that I don’t love Coltrane or Brecker or Lee Morgan, it’s just sometimes nice to hear something really, really, really understandable sometimes. Something that speaks to your most basic musical instinct, and fulfills your desire for the clean, for the bite sized, for the lovely.

And Willie delivers that. And will, I’m sure, continue to deliver.

In Love and Horn-
Mamet

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french horn, jazz, jazz french horn, music, musicology

More Vibrations Creating Ill Winds

It was another day of trying to keep the pure pleasure of Amram’s autobiography from slowing down my reading.
It was hard, though: today he talked about his army days.
Aside from his time with Charlie Parker, this is one of the most interesting periods in Amram’s life. Essentially, he played his way through the army, joining up with great bands and great people and seeing Europe in true fashion. He played everything from latin with the drum line to jazz with the National Guard Band to “high art” classical music in good old Germany in the 7th Army Symphony (who he played with for the bulk of his military career). He served, of course, in the Korean war (1952-54), but never even set foot outside of Europe. An incredibly interesting read.
Unfortunately, not so enlightening as far as his playing style goes, aside from the illumination that this must have been how he got his spectacularly robust chops, playing anywhere from ten hours a day and having nearly constant contact with the horn and with the music.
Oh well, on with the weeds tomorrow, I guess, hopefully with a rather efficient wrapping up of Amram’s bio so I can move on to the Ruff stuff (excuse me) for the long weekend.

As well, I transcribed my second piece from Willie Ruff: “Ill Wind”, from the duo’s first (and aptly named) album, The Mitchell-Ruff Duo.

The youtube video would be here, but it’s not. Alas! This take does not exist on the internet! Or anywhere digitally, I’m afraid! Luckily, I managed to get my hands on a not so digital copy (read: vinyl), and Professor Bañagale has a lovely new device with can metamorph any vinyl record into an mp3 track. Neat!
Anyways, that’s what I did, and unfortunately I can’t share it with you (read: copyright laws). So you’ll have to live with my aural image (watch out!).

Listening to this track, imagine that the wonderful Ms. Vaughan was playing french horn. Then imagine she was Willie Ruff. Then get rid of that pesky bass player and turn the guitar into a piano, playing chords the billow out of the box with the ferocity of a Peacock’s plume. Now fit the horn back in, slicing through the chaos with a remarkably steady beat and tasteful rubato. No embellishments, just the essence.
Now you have it. You see, on this take, Ruff doesn’t improvise. He is the constant rock to which his partner Dwike clings, venturing out into the furthest depths of musical space. It really reflects (as I will further discuss in a later segment) Ruff’s classical tendencies, his faith in the head.
On a sidenote, I think this is the first take of anything I’ve really looked at where the horn player doesn’t crack a note. It’s beautiful, it’s creative perfection. It’s quite nice.

In Love and Horn-

Mamet

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These Vibrations are… Out of this World!

Having completed David Amram with the ending of last week, I will be spending the next week or so on Willie Ruff. (As far as transcriptions go for Amram, I was able to get in Lobo Nocho, It Might As Well Be Spring, Blue Monk, and Para Los Papines, as well as the previously mentioned Two French Fries and Roc & Troll).

As well, I have continued to read Amram’s autobiography, Vibrations. It’s a tough read, because it is so good, and I find myself taking a lot of time just savoring his wild stories. For example: for a week or so in 1952, David spent time with, and eventually sat in with, Charlie Parker (i.e., Bird). Amram’s wonderful telling of the fascinating times he spent with Bird are hard to skim over, as is the rest of the autobiography. I have about two days to go on that, and then I will move on to two texts about Willie Ruff: his autobiography, and a biography about his group (the Mitchell-Ruff duo).

To get back to Amram, though, his autobiography does a fantastic job of explaining his bluesy nature. His jazz education was largely autodidactic, as his musical upbringing was (as unfortunate as it is to discuss racially) mostly white European classical. He loved jazz from a young age, though, and practiced with other jazz people as much as he could. That being said, he never really jelled in with the jazz scenes anywhere, and largely forged his own creative name for himself. That’s why, I think, jazz people generally don’t know him as well as, say, Watkins, even though they both have a lot of technical ability and merit. He played with very few big-time jazz people (unlike Watkins, who began pretty much with the mythical god of piano, Monk, and ended his career with one of the great jazz-pop bridge builders, Q (Quincy Jones)). Amram, on the other hand, was buddy buddy with some of the biggest beat people (Kerouac, Ginsberg, etc), and so may jazzers simply lump him in with the hipster beatnik offshoot that “commandeered” jazz in the mid-50’s or so (and used it up till essentially Woodstock). But David was a killer jazz musician, and moreso, just a killer musician. He wrote tons of music, ranging from pop tunes, to folk tunes, to high classical, to avant-garde, to jazz. So I guess we just need to chalk him up to being a member of that ever growing group, the unrecognized musicians (for whom Joshua Redman wrote his hit Jazz Crimes).
The whole reading, of course, will culminate in a timeline of Amram’s life particular to French Horn, and I’ll present that when I’m done with the autobiography.

And now for Willie Ruff. Probably the most interesting figure to tower over the jazz horn genre, he essentially came from nowhereville (Sheffield) Alabama, and ended up (and still teaches) at Yale University as one of the most distinguished ethnomusicologists in his field. While I still need to do some heavy reading on Ruff’s total biography, essentially, he turned to jazz because, as he describes in this interview on the Today Show, a black musician couldn’t get a job in classical music. Interestingly, even though this was Ruff’s passion, he turned to jazz and got odd jobs here and there, eventually landing a longstanding gig with Lionel Hampton, where he reconnected with Dwike Mitchell, an old army buddy and excellent pianist. Together, they formed the Mitchell-Ruff duo, which lasted through Mitchell’s death.

Today, I started (as I always try to do) with one of Willie’s earliest solos, off of a cut in Benny Golson’s Take a Number from One to Ten, titled “Out of this World”.

Willie has a nice solo, actually, really nice. It’s very clean, and uses a very modest range, going two notes and an octave, and never going above a high A or below a middle F. With this bare handful, Willie constructs a hip, exciting form focused on the minor third and radiating out from that. As always, I’ll post that when it’s all clean and edited.

As an interesting sidenote, Willie Ruff played acoustic bass on The Doors’Ships With Sails“. Which is quite hip, a jazzman on a rock record. Till then!

In Love and Horn-
Mamet

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Day 19: Loco Nocho (or is it nacho?) – In Other Words, Oral Histories

For the past two days, I have been reading Stanley J. Spinola’s An Oral History of the Horn in Jazz, yet another dissertation. Hence the “Loco Nocho”. But more on that.

Spinola’s is one of the better dissertations I’ve read. It is purposeful, clear, and (shockingly) direct. It begins, of course, by stating its purpose. In short, Spinola identifies one of the main problems surrounding the horn in jazz is the lack of good scholarship surrounding the genre. In my opinion, he then goes on to do a wonderful job essentially covering the bases and establishing a good grounding for jazz-horn scholarship.

He begins by summarizing the history of the horn itself, which is quite insightful. He brings us up to modern day horn, and shows how there is really a lack of solid education that a horn player can get. While anyone can enroll in a jazz studies program and also play the horn, the only institution where a student can be a jazz horn major is the Manhattan School of Music (John Clark is the professor of horn studies there).

Coming to the edge of the cliff, Spinola pushes off and asks four driving questions:

  1. How does a horn player find themselves entering into the jazz world?
  2. What challenges will this player face because they play the horn?
  3. What are the solutions to these challenges?
  4. Once trained, how does a competent horn player gain acceptance in the world of jazz?

These questions drive Spinola’s dissertation, and while left unanswered, provide a framework for the information Spinola uncovers in his research. While I won’t touch on specifics of Spinola’s Lit. Review, he essentially organizes a list of articles, then books, then dissertations & theses, then method books about jazz horn. Extensive, this review can provide any reader with a very healthy selection of what has been written regarding the horn in jazz and specific to the horn in jazz.
For my purposes, it was really wonderful to see a lot of what I had wanted to do already done. That said, I do disagree with some of the summaries that Spinola brought up, so I will be reviewing a lot of the same materials that Spinola did and directly addressing his dissertation in my own lit. review section.

Then we get to the actual study. Essentially, the study is an 11 question interview from 4 leading modern hornists (in Spinola’s eyes) compiled into an 11 section review. His 4 “exceptional” players are Richard Todd (also his dissertation advisor…), Mark Taylor, Tom Varner, and John Clark. It is quite detailed, and the general takeaway I had from this was that, for the most part, horn players have to lead their own groups to gain acceptance. Very few horn players make it as famous “sidemen”, like a lot of other jazz players can do, simply because very few people are looking specifically for a horn in a small jazz combo. Almost exclusively, a horn will be a “side” instrument if the ensemble already has 9 other players in it (a la the Davis Birth of the Cool nonet, which many horn players look lovingly to as one of the first sessions with a horn player in it).

Spinola, all in all, arrives at this conclusion: the horn is great in jazz music, the player simply must spend more time on technique and must be more assertive about their playing abilities than most other instrumentalists.

All in all, a great dissertation.

On to the transcription! Today, I transcribed Amram’s solo on “Lobo Nocho”, a David Amram composition on his album The Amram-Barrow quartet.

Funny enough, youtube screwed up and it actually says it’s a John Graas record. But it’s not: a) that’s definitely Amram soloing, and b) this discogs page has the actual record facts, and John Graas is nowhere there. Anyways, it’s a great, classic Amram solo. Interestingly, he hangs out in the low range (basically below the staff) for the majority of the solo, and sounds like a beautifully toned trombone. Which is (I think) what a great french horn often sounds like down there.
A note: this was a very difficult solo to transcribe, because the note was a little off pitch a lot of the time. My guess was that there was some recording error (such as the original release of Kind of Blue, which was a half step higher on the record than the way the band actually played it). Either that, or Amram was wildly out of tune and it sounded fine with the rest of the band. Or I was out of tune. Who knows.

In Love and Horn-

Mamet

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Day 17: Just Play That Roc And Troll Music

This one will be brief, since it was just more of PG Smith’s Watkins dissertation (and another transcription, which I will get to). Today, I read about Julius’s musical qualities, and other horn players from 1977 (Watkins’ death).

So let’s say you’re at a party with some horn players, and they go, “wow, that Watkins character, he certainly is amazing!” Yet you don’t know what to say! You want to sound educated, but you don’t really know what characterizes Julius’s sound! Well, here’s the answer.

“Yes, Watkins is good alright. His range blows me away!” The horn players you are with will praise you for your vast knowledge of the repertoire; you will be the most popular person at the party! Because, essentially, the one thing we realize makes Watkins special (other than his virtuosic ability) is his superhuman range. He extends the “proper” horn range as much as one octave above, regularly dabbling one or two partials above the reccomended limit, high C. And he hits these notes cleanly and beautifully, much to the envy of us who still struggle to pull off that C consistently.

While this is an amazing feat, Smith also writes about Julius’s neverending creativity and continued dedication to the instrument and music through his death.

After discussing Watkins’s musical attributes, Smith shows off a few “modern” (i.e., pre-2004) horn players. The list includes Tom Bacon, Vincent Chancey, Rick Todd (one of a couple on the list I hadn’t heard of, he is really wildly fantastic), Tom Varner, Ken Wiley, Arkady Shilkloper, Mark Taylor, and briefly mentions John Clark at the end.

I will be getting to all of these players in due time, of course, but for now am still trying to nail down a few more Amram solos. Today, it was a really classic solo on Curtis Fuller’s “Roc and Troll”, from Curtis Fuller and Hampton Hawes with French Horns. Unsurprisingly, the french hornists on this album are none other than Amram and Watkins themselves, probably the two best representatives of our craft at the time.

Amram takes the first horn solo, and opens with one of his classic lip bends, leading into a classic lip turn. I told you, this guy is way more swaggerissimo. Way more bluesy, too. I found him a lot easier to transcribe because I think this is definitely more along the lines of how I play the instrument, and so it’s much easier to predict exactly where Amram will go next.

It would only fit that way, I did come up on his music. The first, I guess, is the most impactful.

Tomorrow, I finish the dissertation and do a cool little thing that Amram recorded when he was 80.

In Love and Horn-
Mamet

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Day 16: French Fries, Boogies, and a Dissertation

Today, I read the first chapter in P.G. Smith’s dissertation about Julius Watkins. This was the biographical bit, and while it did not lead to any meaty or contentious insights (naturally), it did give a decent background to Julius’s life.

Which leads me to wonder whether composing a general timeline for the whole instrument might be of order.

In any case, here is the brief timeline of Julius Watkins’ life, as taken from Smith’s dissertation.

Phase 1

1921 – Julius Burton Watkins born in Detroit
1937 – Drops out of high school to devote more time to being a soloist
1939-1942 – Tours with Ernie Fields’s orchestra, but forced to play trumpet or trombone only. Unhappy.
1942 – Moves to Denver, forms an unrecorded sextet. Plays for a year.
1943 – Moves to Detroit, steady work, unfulfilled as a soloist
1946-1949 – Tours with Milt Buckner’s “Beale Street Gang” as a hornist, trumpetist, and trombonist.
1950 – Enters Manhattan School of Music, thrives for one year
1953 – Due to unknown circumstances, drops out of school. Also divorces first wife

Phase 2

1954 – Appears with Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, marking the beginning of a 5 year run as a combo soloist with many groups. Also records with Pete Rugolo this year.
1954 – Forms Julius Watkins Sextet, which records two 10″ blue note LP’s.
1955 – While on a date with the Oscar Pettiford Sextet, meets Charlie Rouse, who will become musical partner for next 4 years
1955 – Closing months: Les Modes (alternatively: Les Jazz Modes, The Jazz Modes) forms.
1955-1956 – Still unrecorded, Les Modes tours consistently, most notably and importantly in Birdland for one week, starting Jan. 3, 1957
1957 – After success at Birdland, Les Modes record 4 albums: Mood in ScarletThe Jazz ModesSmart Jazz for the Smart Set, and The Most Happy Fella
1959 – After slowing record sales, The Jazz Modes end after a disastrously reviewed avant-garde performance with a ballet company on Jan. 23, 1959

Phase 3

1959 – Meets Quincy Jones, who he will perform with for the next year or so
1959 – During a tour in France with Q. Jones, the band becomes stranded in Europe for 10 months. During these 10 months, Watkins develops into a consistent alcoholic, also given nickname “Phantom”
1960-1968 – Performs consistently, yet almost exclusively as a sideman
1968 – Health failing, drops off the recording scene, becomes homeless.
1969 – Moves into Warren Smith’s studio for 18 mos., meets and records with Pharoah Sanders, Mary Lou Williams (with David Amram), and others
1970 – Meets 2nd wife, married and moves to New Jersey
1972 – Records last known original piece and takes last known improvised jazz solo with the Jazz Contemporaries
1972-1977 – Begins teaching, but plagues with diabetes, playing suffers, only really appears in large orchestras
1977 – April 4, dies of a massive heart attack

That’s a lot of Julius’s life (but not all!)

As well, today I transcribed two solos: Oscar Pettiford’s Two French Fries and Mitch Miller’s Horn Belt Boogie

On Two French Fries, we hear solos from both David Amram and Julius Watkins (get the title?). I transcribed Amram’s, since I will be exploring him a bit next. While on the surface, the soloists are nearly indistinguishable, the division becomes readily apparent when analyzed structurally. First of all, the form is a 32 bar AABA. After bar 32 of the first soloist, we hear a sharp stylistic distinction, with more bends, more lip glissandos, fewer chromatic leading tones, more blue notes, more missed notes, and a smaller range. This is David Amram. It is a really cool solo, way more bluesy and “swaggerissimo” (as my band instructor likes to say) than Watkins.

On Horn Belt Boogie we hear what may possibly be the first recorded improvised french horn solo in a jazz setting (I have to do some more digging on this one, though). The soloist is probably Gunther Schuller, but I need to do a lot more digging around to find out more about this piece. While short, the solo is very nice, conforming to the bebop licks that were dying out (well, still are) very slowly. Lots of flat sevens and sixes. Yeah.

In Love and Horn-
Mamet

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