Friday, December 26, 2008

Art Tatum -- Trio Days

I was wrong. I like Art Tatum. But in a slightly different way.

My introduction to Art Tatum, many years ago, was a series of solo piano albums. They left me cold.

No question, the man was gifted beyond belief. He could play faster, more accurately and with a greater sense of fun and originality than almost any pianist between Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk. And yet his solo work never felt right to me. Something always seemed missing. In the end, it's a matter of taste.

Recently I picked up a discarded CD from my public library for the rock-bottom price of $1. It's Art Tatum's "Trio Days." It's a no-name compilation of Tatum's piano-guitar-bass trio from 1942-44.

This I like. And now I know why.

From the very first song, I thought, "Oh my God! He's taking Fats Waller's stride and taking it one step further." I love that. Then I realized something else. The trio sounds exactly like Nat King Cole's trio from the very same period, right down to the guitarist. In fact, I had to check the liner notes to make sure it wasn't the same guitarist. It's not. Cole played with Oscar Moore; Tatum played with Tiny Grimes. But they sound absolutely identical, in a very good way.

At first, I thought Tatum's trio was the missing link between Waller and Cole. I figured Cole was copying the master. Turns out it's the other way around. After reading the liner notes, I now know it was Cole who set the mark with his popular jazz trio and Tatum who came a couple years later with a very similar trio. Not that it's an exact copy. Clearly Tatum is the superior pianist. And his bassist sometimes bows his instrument. And Tatum never sings. Otherwise, their trios are remarkably similar.

Anyway, if the only thing you know about Art Tatum are his acclaimed solo works, you need to find his trio works, too. For me, it was an eye-opener.

For an excellent profile of Tatum on NPR, click here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Odd Couple: B3 and Clarinet

On its face, pairing a Hammond B3 organ and clarinet on a jazz album makes about as much sense as eating a peanut butter and vinegar sandwich.

And then again, maybe it's not so bad.

Last year, a local jazz DJ played a cut from a CD that caught my attention. The CD was called "The B3 and Me" and it was by an unknown (to me) clarinetist named Mort Weiss, paired with organist Joey DeFrancesco. It was released in 2006.

Now, I'm a big fan of the B3. I have quite a few Jimmy Smith albums. I also like Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff and Shirley Scott. At the same time, I enjoy wild klezmer clarinets and even Benny Goodman's big band. So I bought the strange B3-clarinet CD.

And surprise -- it's good fun.

For the most part, this is a traditional B3 trio, with organ, guitar and drums. Most of the music would be familiar to Jimmy Smith fans. But in every song where a soulful sax might take the spotlight, there's a clarinet instead. It fits.

The music is mostly bebop, swing and ballads, and it is very fine. I particularly enjoy Craig Ebner's taseful guitar. It goes without saying that DeFrancesco is terrific. If you like the B3, he's the guy to watch these days.

Oddly enough, DeFrancesco isn't credited on the cover or anywhere else in the liner notes. Something about a dispute with his label. But it's not like the producer tried to hide him. The CD cover states, "FEATURING A VERY SPECIAL GUEST: The Finest Jazz Organist in the World, Concord Recording Artist... You Guessed It."

OK, that's not very subtle. But anyway, if you like B3 combos, this is one to try.

(There's a very thorough review of this album at here, including a longer explanation of why DeFrancesco is not credited in the liner notes.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Musically corny for Christmas, and that's OK

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" is the corniest jazz-Christmas album ever made.

And that's OK. It's even good.

I know the dig. What Vince Guaraldi played wasn't jazz, it was lounge music. It was sentimental. It was lightweight. It was sappy.

Yep. All of that.

But so what?

Christmas time is about memories. That's what the smells, the sights, the tastes and the music are about. Some are family memories, some are communal memories. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is a TV show with a long, sappy communal memory.

If you're a certain age, you only need to hear the opening strains of the children's choir singing "Christmas Time is Here" and it all comes back. Linus and the sincere speech. Charlie Brown and the pathetic tree. And Dolly Madison snack cakes. I never ate them, but I can't separate the two things -- Charlie Brown and Dolly Madison. Watching on an old black and white TV in my parent's living room in the 1960s and 70s.

So go ahead. Tell me the show is goofy and the music is shallow. Doesn't matter.

Music evokes memories and feelings. And that's good.

You blockhead!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Horace Silver -- young and old

With musicians, and artists generally, there's a tendency to think the best work is the earliest.

It's usually true. Paul McCartney was never better than when he recorded with the Beatles. Chuck Berry's best work was the early hits like "Johnny B. Goode" and "Roll Over Beethoven." Tom Wolfe hasn't written anything as good as "The Right Stuff" and "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."

So it is, too, with jazz musicians. Dizzy Gillespie's seminal work came in the 1940s and the birth of bebop. Chick Corea, while still solid and dependable, did his best work with Return to Forever.

There are exceptions, of course. Miles Davis constantly reinvented himself over a long period of years. Duke Ellington was a terrific composer and leader until the day he died.

And so, consider Horace Silver.

Early in my jazz education, I found a 2-CD set called "A Night at Birdland." It was recorded in 1954 by a fabulous quintet led by Art Blakey. Horace Silver was the piano player, only 26 years old, and he wasn't even the best musician in the group, or even second-best, and maybe not even third-best. There was Blakey on drums, the sensational Clifford Brown on trumpet, and the underrated Lou Donaldson on sax.

This is the very definition of hard bop. It's a 5-star ensemble playing at the peak of its power. Every song is masterful. The ballads are tender and poignant. The bop is breakneck and invigorating. Every one of the musicians is at the top of his game. It's likely Blakely never recorded a better live set -- and that's saying something. It's not a Horace Silver record, per se. Silver was still young and on the cusp of fame. But he's brilliant. If you buy just one Horace Silver CD, this would be my pick.

Fast forward 42 years to 1996.

Horace Silver was 68 and past his prime. A critic tagged him "the hardbop grandpop." Silver liked the name so much, he used it as an album title. Following Blakey's lead, he surrounded himself with younger musicians, notably four horn players. And he wrote 10 new songs.

I won't pretend that "The Hardbop Grandpop" was the Jazz Messengers reincarnated. But it's very good. It's probably better than a 68-year-old has any right sounding. The mood is different. It's not hard bop exactly, despite the title. There's more soul. The brass really takes the forefront. Silver takes his solos, and they are very good, but he mostly lets the younger guys shine. (Though Silver wrote corny lyrics for half of the songs, he wisely decided against using a singer. The CD is entirely insrumental, though he included the lyrics in the liner notes, for anyone who wants to follow along.) It includes tributes to Coleman Hawkins and Dexter Gordon and even a tune based on a teapot whisle. All of it is wonderful and lyrical and soulful.

No, it's not vintage Silver. It's not as good as the Blakey/Jazz Messenger stuff. So maybe it's only 4-star CD. With legends in late-career, you adjust your pallette. This is enjoyable music. It's not fair to compare Paul McCartney in 2007 to Paul McCartney in 1968. It's the same in jazz. Even so, sometimes a lion in winter is still a majestic thing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Celeste + Jazz = Blech!

In 28 years of professional writing, I don't think I've ever used the word "twee." But I'm about to.

Look it up. says "twee" means "affectedly dainty or quaint." Put another way: Unnaturally cute.

That's the celeste in jazz. It's cute and dainty and thoroughly unnatural. What's more, it's a mood killer. I can't understand why anyone would use it.

You've heard the celeste, even if you don't know it. It sounds like a toy piano. That's the problem. It's about the most un-serious musical instrument I can think of, except maybe a kazoo.

There's a place for the celeste in classical music. Tchaikowsky used it effectively in The Nutcracker. Think of the "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies." It's also in Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite."

But lately I've been listening to "The Blues Piano Artistry of Meade Lux Lewis." It was recorded in 1961 and it has 10 tracks. Seven of them are pure barrelhouse, booggie-woogie, solo piano pleasure. It's about as good and rolicking as a solo piano can get.

And then there are three tracks on celeste. Let's just say blues were never meant to be played on a celeste. The CD just stops cold dead at each track.

In fairness, Monk used a celeste, too, on his classic "Brilliant Corners" album, five years before Lewis. He did it on one track, "Pannonica." At least he was smart enough to surround himself with other instruments. He plays the celeste with his left hand and the piano with his right. Plus there are two saxes, drums and bass. And he does lay off the celeste for part of the track. Still, it doesn't sound right.

You have to wonder. Didn't anyone say to Monk or Lewis, "Dude, that's wrong. You sound like a 5-year-old. You sound... twee!"

I wish someone had.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blue Note LP + CD

I don't get it.

I recently received an email from Blue Note Records. You can see the offer here.

They're offering 12 "classic Blue Note bestsellers," each in a package containing one LP and one CD. As the email explains: "CD for the car or computer, and a warm analog LP for the home sound system!" Each package sells for $20.98 at the Blue Note Direct Store.

Among the classic LP-CDs for sale are John Coltrane's "Blue Train," Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" and Dexter Gordon's "Go!" You can see the offer here.

Is there really a market for this? Are people still buying LPs? I like LPs and I still have many old favorites, but I don't like them enough to buy a CD for the car and an LP for home. Not even to get the "stunning, legendary album covers, which are works of art themselves," as the promo says.

Obviously, Blue Note knows it's market better than I do. But I don't see the attraction. I'd be curious to know how many they sell.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Bad Plus - But Is It Jazz

And now for something completely different.

I've been listening to The Bad Plus. They're not new, exactly. They've been around since 2003. That's pretty new relative to the rest of jazz/rock/pop/whatever.

And I guess it doesn't matter so much what they are. Jazz? Power trio? Fusion? Well, no, not fusion. By definition, fusion would have to include something electric, and The Bad Plus isn't that. It's just a traditional jazz trio of piano, bass and drums.

But there's nothing traditional about their music.

I have 3 Bad Plus CDs, two of which I bought last week. They are: “These Are The Vistas” and “Give” and “Suspicious Activity?” (The question mark is their's, not mine.)

I like them – I think. I can't recall hearing anything like them before. And how often does that happen?

I remember hearing Monk for the first time. I thought: “Wow, I know that's jazz,but it's unique.” That was three decades ago and I still believe it. I have searched near and far and I haven't found anyone yet who sounds like Monk, or even remotely reminds me of Monk.

The Bad Plus does. Not because their music is Monk-like. It is anything but. Still, it reminds me of Monk in its utter freshness. This is unlike any jazz trio I've heard before. Maybe that's because it's not jazz. It's not free jazz. Maybe this is more like a power trio – like the Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream, but substitute a piano where Jimi or Clapton would play guitar.

The drummer is mad crazy. He reminds me of Keith Moon (the Who) or Carl Palmer (ELP). The bass is big and fat. And the piano is loud and fast and playing heavy block chords, kinda sorta like McCoy Tyner, but nothing like that. This is dense music, bomabastic music. There's very little melody per se, which usually ticks me off. But somehow, this works.

These aren't five-star CDs, really. I can't listen to them for long stretches. But for four or five or six tracks, they're really provocative.

I can't think of anything remotely like them. Can you?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Eldar (piano) vs. Eldar (beeps and boops)

There are two Eldars and I know which one I don't like.

Hint: It's the newer one.

Let's start with a confession. I'm an old fart. I don't try to hide it. I like acoustic jazz. I like old jazz. Sometimes I like electric jazz, too, but I don't like them together and I can't think of a single instance where mixing them up on one CD worked.

Hence Eldar.

Now, I don't mind the kid's odd name or the fact that he looks like he's 12 years old. There are plenty of jazz guys with odder names and weirder faces. (What's with those cheeks, Dizzy?)

And I really liked his first CD from 2005, the one called just "Eldar." That super-duper-fast version of "Sweet Georgia Brown" blows me away every time. So does "Maiden Voyage" and "Moanin'" and "Watermelon Island." Although, come to think of it, all of those are covers of old jazz standards. The originals and the slow tunes -- not so much. But I do generally like the trio format and the solo piano tunes.

Then there's last year's CD, "Re-Imagination."

Fusion has its place. I like Return to Forever. But one thing I never heard Chick Corea do was mix his acoustic and electric stuff all on one CD. But that's what Eldar does on "Re-Imagination."

Let's start with the worst stuff. On this CD, there two short, weird electronic "pieces" with beeps and boops and buzzes. I don't get it. Then there are pieces that sound sorta-kinda like a cross between pop and jazz with acoustic piano and electric noise and some synthesizer thing in the background. One of these pieces is 8 minutes long. It leaves me cold.

And then, smack in the middle of the CD, there's this perfect track. It's a joyful, old-time piano romp on "Place St. Henri" by Oscar Peterson. If the kid left it at that, I'd be a happy old fart.

But then Eldar wanders off into some not-very-inspiring slow dreamy thing, followed by some more electronic stuff.

Look, I like Eldar. I admire his experimental streak. I love his chops. But I don't love "Re-Imagination." I hope he finds his own voice sometime soon, and I hope it doesn't include any beeps or boops.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Gershwin, rhythm and constipation

Insert your favorite toilet joke here.

I tried. I considered dozens of poop puns, then finally decided nothing could top reality. So here it is:

In the 1930s, George Gershwin – already a huge star – hosted a radio show on which he played piano between laxative commercials.

It's funny, really, when you hear it. And yet it doesn't detract from the music, which is sensational. Actually, the Feen-A-Mint ads are kind of charming.

You can hear it yourself on a CD called “Gershwin Performs Gershwin: Rare Recordings 1931-1935.” It's not easy to find. The CD came out in 1991 and it's currently out of print, although there are used copies available on Amazon for around $18.

Gershwin's tunes are absolutely everywhere, and performed by absolutely everyone. I'm sure Elmo and Big Bird will record “Summertime” any day now. So it's easy to forget that Gershwin started as a piano player. He was a “song plugger” on Tin Pan Alley in New York, plinking away on the 88s to promote new tunes by his musical publisher, Jerome Remnick Music Co.

You can hear Gershwin playing his own songs – sort of – on a pair of CDs called “Gershwin Plays Gershwin.” I say “sort of” because these aren't actual recordings. These are piano rolls created by Gershwin himself. So the listener, in effect, is hearing Gershwin play his own music. But it's not a direct thing. You can't actually hear Gershwin's voice. You can't really feel his personality in the piano rolls.

But “Gershwin Performs Gershwin” is something else. These are actual recordings from the 1930s. The quality is awful, as you'd expect. The first 16 tracks are from three radio shows. One includes an 8-minute “Variations on I Got Rhythm,” in which Gershwin not only plays the piano but explains the variations. It positively brings Gershwin to life. In another, he jokes with Rudy Vallee after playing “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Liza” and “Second Prelude” on piano. (The jokes are corny and they sound scripted, but so what?)

And that's just the start.

On Track 17, Gershwin personally leads a 1931 rehearsal of his underrated “Second Rhapsody.” It's a 14-minute treat. And on Tracks 18 to 22, Gershwin leads a 1935 rehearsal of “Porgy and Bess” – before it was ever performed publicly. This is history. You can hear him talking to the performers before each song. It's like watching the outtakes of “Gone With The Wind” or “Casablanca.” It is electrifying.

And, of course, there are those laxative commercials. One touts Feen-A-Mint as a great advancement in the field of medicine. Another is a 90-second melodrama in which two traveling salesmen discuss constipation and the benefits of a certain chewable laxative.

OK, it's laughable. But it's also a snapshot of an era – as true to its time as George Gershwin on the keyboard and at the microphone, chatting about his latest Broadway show. Like the rhythm in the song, it's fascinating.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The blues-iest Rhapsody in Blue

"Portraits in Blue" by Marcus Roberts

This has to be the most raucous, the most bluesy, the most improvisational Rhapsody in Blue ever recorded. And not all of the best improvisation is by Marcus Roberts. Wailing clarinets and wandering trumpets abound. And it is all in a spirit of the original, so much so that I believe jazz-loving Gershwin would have approved.

All of Gershwin's original music is there, but much of it is taken at unusual tempos -- speeded up, slowed down or synchopated -- with many additional minutes of improvisation that actually fit with the original. I'm usually a traditionalist, so I wasn't sure I really wanted to hear a 28-minute Rhapsody in Blue, figuring it probably had a lot of filler. It doesn't. This is music that makes me smile.

Oh yes, there are also two additional pieces, which are very good. The James P. Johnson piece is NOT stride piano, which threw me for a loop. But it IS a sort of answer to Gershwin's Rhapsody. Written just 3 years after the Gershwin original, it is also a multi-themed bluesy 20-minute mini-symphony. And there are the I Got Rhytm variations, which are catchy and inventive. But Rhapsody is what you're buying here, and it may be the best one I've ever heard.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Can a box set be too big?

In a word: Yep.

I don’t say this lightly. There is something about a box set that makes me salivate. I’m Pavlov’s dog for a good box set. I love Springsteen’s “Tracks.” I can listen over and over to all 5 CDs in the Brubeck “For All Time” box set. (Which isn’t really a box set. It’s just five previously released CDs crammed into a box. I like it anyway.) I’m a sucker for box sets of label histories, like the 8-CD “80th Anniversary of RCA Victor.”

And yet…

I remember the early days of For something like $15 a month, you got unlimited downloads. Yes, unlimited. We all knew that couldn't last forever, and it didn't. Anyway, at first I downloaded a CD a week and savored it. Then two a week.

Then I got greedy.

One day, I downloaded all 15 CDs of Monk’s “Complete Riverside Recordings.” It was pure gluttony. I couldn’t possibly digest it all. What’s worse, after a while it all started sounding the same. (And, of course, there were no liner notes, no booklet. I had no idea what I was listening to.)

Then I hit on a solution. Monk recorded a lot of single-LP albums for Riverside. What if I deconstructed the box set into its component parts? That is, what if I discarded the “rare and unreleased” tracks and the outtakes and simply kept the individual tracks together as they originally appeared on Monk’s albums?

Suddenly, I was enjoying my massive download. Suddenly, I had a whole bunch of Monk’s most classic albums, just as he had recorded them -- “Monk’s Music” and “5 By Monk By 5” and “Brilliant Corners,” etc. – instead of an indigestible box. I like that.

But did I lean my lesson? Not really.

Recently, I found a 10-CD Monk box at my local drugstore for exactly $10. How can you not buy a 10-CD set for $10? (How in the world can they even afford to offer a 10-CD set for $10? I don’t get it.) So I bought it. No liner note, no booklet, no idea in the world when the discs were recorded or with whom. And yes, I found myself choking on on Monk all over again.

I’ve learned my lesson this time. Really.

Then again, there’s this really neat 10-CD Duke Ellington set, "The Private Collection," and it only costs $40, and you can never have too much Duke…

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dr. John vs. Professor Longhair

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages! It is time for… the New Orleans piano smack-off! Pianists, you know the rules. Go to your corners and come out drawling. No punches below the belt. No crawfish up the nose. Ready?


Round 1
Dr. John: Education counts, man. I’m a doctor!
Professor Longhair: You ain't no doctor! That's just a nickname. I'm a doctor and a professor. You know the song: "They call me Dr. Professor Longhair, but the ladies all call me a sweet ol’ lovin’ man!"
ROUND: Professor Longhair.

Round 2
DJ: My real name is Mac Rebennack. Top that!
PL: My real name is Roy Byrd. I know. How dull can you get?
ROUND: Dr. John

Round 3
DJ: My best album is “Dr. John’s Gumbo” from 1972. It includes the best version of the best New Orleans song ever! “Iko Iko” is a classic, man! Rolling Stone ranked my album No. 402 in the top 500 albums of all time. My grandma told your grandma I’m gonna set your flag on fire!
PL: My best album is “Rock ‘n Roll Gumbo” from my comeback period in 1977. It includes the instrumental classic “Doin’ It.” Lots of great honky-tonk, boogie-woogie piano on that one. Tell me how long has that train been gone?
ROUND: Dr. John

Round 4
DJ: I growl, man. My voice sounds like it’s been kicked around a dirt road a few times, then soaked in jambalaya.
PL: I sounded like Elvis before there was an Elvis, man! Deep, dark, honey-soaked voice.
ROUND: Dr. John

Round 5
DJ: You wanna know hard luck? I got exiled to LA! says: “Skirting trouble with the law and drugs, he left the increasingly unwelcome environs of New Orleans in the mid-'60s for Los Angeles, where he found session work with the help of fellow New Orleans expatriate Harold Battiste.”
PL: Oh man, that ain’t hard luck. says: “Justly worshipped a decade and a half after his death as a founding father of New Orleans R&B, Roy ‘Professor Longhair’ Byrd was nevertheless so down-and-out at one point in his long career that he was reduced to sweeping the floors in a record shop that once could have moved his platters by the boxful.”
ROUND: Professor Longhair

Round 6
DJ: I recorded “Stack-a-Lee.” It sounds jaunty and happy and bluesy, with horns, man, horns!
PL: I recorded “Stagger Lee,” too, but I spelled it right! It also sounds jaunty and happy and rocking, with a Chuck Berry-style guitar solo!
ROUND: Professor Longhair

Round 7
DJ: I’m the read deal. I was born in Louisiana, became popular in late 1960s and early 70s as the psychedelic “Night Tripper.” But later I sold out and did an album of Duke Ellington, and an album of standards with strings and a Popeye’s chicken ad jingle! But my best single, “Right Place Wrong Time” was No 9 in the country in 1973. No. 9!
PL: Hey, I was born in Louisiana, too, but I was popular long before you, in the 1950s, pretty much only with black audiences. Then I had a long fell from grace, but I rebounded in the 70s, pretty much with white audiences who recognized me as the godfather of New Orleans R&B. I’m the authentic sound of bluesy New Orleans!
ROUND: Professor Longhair

Well, there you have it, fight fans. It’s Professor Longhair by a decision. But honestly, you couldn’t go wrong with either of these fine gentlemen tickling the 88s. Get at least one CD of each. Now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Modified Monk

There are worse ways to discover Thelonious Monk.

It was 1984. I was four years out of college. I was a struggling newspaper writer, freshly married. I had discovered jazz a few years earlier, but was still fixated on a few faves – Brubeck, Corea, Mingus, even Fats Waller. Monk? Heard of the guy, but never listened to his music.

And what kind of name is that, anyway?

Then a friend gave me a two-record set called “That’s the Way I Feel Now,” a tribute to Thelonious Monk by a bunch of disparate musicians – some jazz, some rock, some who sounded like they came from Mars, or maybe CBGBs.

You need to hear this record. Really.

There are 23 cuts, all Monk tunes, but no two of them sound remotely the same. And yet every one remains true to Monk and his music.

NRBQ and Peter Frampton rock out on “Little Rootie Tootie” and “Work,” respectively. Dr. John gets all New Orleansy on a solo piano version of “Blue Monk.” Joe Jackson plays piano with an orchestra on a wistful “Round Midnight.” Todd Rundgren turns in a happy, playful, fun “Four In One.” Bobby McFerrin tries an equally fun duet with voice-and-vibes on “Friday the 13th.”

And then there are the oddities. In their dopey way, I like them, too. John Zorn turns in, by far, the strangest version of a Monk song you’ll ever hear. It’s “Shuffle Boil” with squeaks and beeps and duck calls. I’m sure there’s a Monk tune in there somewhere. I think. Anyway, it’s clever and original – just like Monk. He’d like it.

The original LP featured sleeves with references to all the original Monk works. I was intrigued. If the reworkings were this odd, what could the originals sound like? I bought one. Then another. And another. They lived up to expectations. I became Monk crazed.

The shame is this: The record is out of print. There is an old one-disc CD version, which costs way too much used, which may be OK because the producers cut out seven tracks to fit it on the one disc. That means I’m left with my cassette tape, and I’m not too sure how long that will hold out. (I gave away the original LP. Wish I hadn’t.)

If you can find it, get it. Tape it, copy it. This is the one that turned me on to my all-time favorite jazz pianist. After all these years, it still sounds fresh.

Suggested CD: "That's The Way I Feel Now" by Various Artists

Sunday, October 12, 2008

In praise of fun

In the beginning, jazz was fun.

Check it out. Go back. Go way back.

Louis Armstrong was fun. Duke Ellington was fun. Fats Waller was fun.

I feel silly pointing this out, but I think some jazz artists forgot about this fun thing. They’re so caught up in being wonderful and precise and – God help us – fast. Nothing wrong with fast. Fast can be fun. But it isn’t always.

Wynton Marsalis is fast. He’s very fast. He’s a wonderful musician. He’s a great proselytizer for jazz. He is the face of jazz at a time when it desperately needs a face. But he ain’t fun. He’s so damn serious, and all the time!

Miles Davis was like that, too. He was moody and his music sounds moody. In a good way. Art doesn’t always have to be fun, but it’s nice when it is.

Now, Dizzy Gillespie was fun. He could throw a party just standing in a room alone with a trumpet, and that would be fun. You sensed it on all his records, and it was truer than ever in concert.

Fats Waller was maybe the funnest jazz musician of all. If anyone had more fun on the 88s, I haven’t heard it. And I don’t care if his records are older than Fred Flintstone. He was part-clown, yes, because he was having fun. He had fun without singing a word. Solo Fats is maybe the most fun you can have on a piano.

Suggested CD: “If You Got To Ask, You Ain’t Got It!” by Fats Waller

Tracks: “African Ripples” and “Viper’s Drag”