Saturday, May 30, 2009

Biddy Fleet (1939)

Biddy Fleet, 1940s, D'Angelico guitar
Photographer unknown
Used by permission by James H. Fleet

I recently read Brian Priestley's compact biography of Charlie Parker Chasin' the Bird. While I have been a longtime fan of Parker's recordings, I felt like taking a deeper dive into his history. Priestley give considerable ink to what had only been a footnote in most Parker biographies I had encountered to date; namely, the role that guitarist Biddy Fleet played in the Bird's exploration of melodies found in the extensions of the chords. Checking the endnote's I realized Priestley's source for Fleet's info was one of my favorite books about music ever - Ira Gitler's EXCELLENT oral history of the development of modern jazz, Swing to Bop. Referencing that book, I realized Fleet's interview runs a couple of pages and is a filled with great information about the era, Parker, and the guitar.

The guitar in jazz for years seemed to me to be such a post-modern instrument. Looking back now, perhaps I thought this because I was simply just so familiar with the guitar in a rock context and viewed instruments like the saxophone, trumpet, piano, upright bass, drums with some degree of romantic allure. "Discovering" bebop at the age of 21 with 7 odd years of guitar playing behind me, it just did not seem like my instrument was part of the pantheon. Bebop guitarists were for the the most part footnotes in the books and LP liner notes I read (pre 'net days naturally), and the few jazz guitarists I knew were more interested in people like Joe Pass and beyond.

One of the joys of returning to the guitar has been digging deeper into people like Charlie Christian, Oscar Moore, Bill De Arango, Chuck Wayne, etc. Information is so much more accessible now as are obscure recordings many of which 15 years ago were still only available as fragile second-hand shellac 78s. So, I was thrilled to find this small piece of history this morning while looking for some online images of Charlie Parker. Not only can I now put a face to the name Biddy Fleet, but now I can start to fill out his biography.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Charlie Parker (1947)

It's YOUR Library of Congress.  Use it!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Made in Paris (1966)

On a lark, I picked up Made in Paris over the weekend, a film directed by Boris Sagal that he shot in 1965 and was released in 1966. It's a good film - not nearly as flimsy as a lot of the light-hearted romps from the same time. In a lot of ways the film straddles the divide between "swingin' in the 60s" and the "Swingin' 60s". What I mean is that core aesthetic difference between say Ocean's Eleven and Help!. Both are from "the 60s", shot within 5 years of the other, feature major pop stars in starring roles, are in glorious color, and are chock full of hip in-jokes best appreciated by their individual audiences. And yet, it's like when you are a teenager in that a difference of 5 years might as well be a decade or a generation of that matter.

This is perhaps best illustrated in Made in Paris by the opening sequence of the film. Backed by a lightly swinging jazz score, a young beautiful Ann-Margret gets ready to hit the town with a clean-cut Chad Everett: Ms. Ann in a wardrobe designed especially for her by Helen Rose (she got to keep what she wanted as part of her contract), Everett in clean-lined dinner jacket. Where do they go? Well, to hear Count Basie & his Orchestra, of course (featuring Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis on tenor). This scene is succeeded by the opening titles over which Trini Lopez croons (or however one would describe Trini's vocal stylings) a Burt Bacharach/Hal David theme tune. Bacharach himself was a self-proclaimed product of the Bebop Era, but was so very vital to the soundtrack of the 1960s. This breezy effort screams "The Sixties" to my ears. On the fence between two worlds is what I am talking about.

In addition to great Technicolor wardrobe shots throughout there are also two really cool club scenes later in the film. The first features a groovy vibraphone-led quartet in a smoky "Paris" (quotes as I am sure this was shot Stateside) night club. I don't recognize any of the musicians - although the guitarist is playing a beautiful Fender Telecaster and tweed/airplane luggage amp. Very cool. Even cooler is Mongo Santamaria's credited appearance in an extended dance sequence. He performs "El Pussy Cat" as well as another number during which Ms. Ann does her "trying to seduce Louis Jourdan while remaining hip" dance routine. Both are worth watching a couple of times. I am pretty sure that is Hubert Laws in Mongo's band doubling on flute. Did I say "Very Cool" already? Yes? OK. Pretty damn cool.

But again the scene is somewhere between two versions/visions of the 1960s. Even the notion of a boogaloo band performing speaks illustrates the shift happening almost before our eyes. Obviously it's a topic that intrigues me immensely: when did the 1960s become "The Sixties"?

And not to go off on another tangent, but the film also left me wondering: was Ann-Margret the last great Hollywood Sex Symbol? Discuss among yourselves and get back to me via self addressed stamped envelopes, would you?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Charles Mingus (1959)

Photo by Lee Friedlander for Atlantic Records

Photo by Don Hunstein for Columbia Records