March 11, 2017
The flute has been an add-on for most of jazz history. Typically saxophone players learned it as a “double,” especially when big band arrangers started writing flute parts to be played by someone in the sax section. The most notable example of this is tenor saxophonist Frank Wess, who made the flute an integral part of the Count Basie sound in the 1950s and ‘60s. A short list of jazz flautists include Mr. Wess as well as Sam Most, Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann, and the late Dave Valentin. Dave passed away at the early age of 64 on Wednesday, March 8.
As a young percussionist influenced by his Puerto Rican parents, Dave found himself in the company of celebrated Latin band leaders. He loved to tell the story of being attracted to the flute because of a striking female flute player.
After teaching junior high school music for three years, Dave was the first artist signed to the GRP record label, led by musicians Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen. Along the way he earned a Grammy award and adulation for his combination of jazz and authentic Latin music. He was serious about the music he produced, and had strong opinions regarding jazz for lazy listeners:
DV: I think this quiet storm crap, I think it really damaged the music in a lot of ways. Where people think that this easy listening, like really easy listening is good music.
MR: You said “quiet storm?” Is that your own phrase?
DV: Oh no they use that on the radio, quiet storm format. Or cool jazz. And not to mention any names, but there’s just some music where people think that’s what a saxophone should sound like. And it’s a no-brainer. There’s no challenge in it. And I think that’s damaged the music. I mean if you play good music, people will listen. It’s very simple.
MR: I was curious if you’ve ever had producers who wanted you to like include something because they thought it would help your sales.
DV: Well with the disco thing, there was one album called “Flute Juice” and I think a review came in called “it should be called ‘Prune Juice.’” That’s the last time I did that. And I told Larry I’m not going to make another record like this. The next record was “Kalahari,” and that was one of the best records I’ve done. I said please — because it was actually his suggestion because he thought — the sales — he thought that might be a good idea to do some discoish kind of thing. But it didn’t work out. But at least he learned quickly. I said just let me produce, Larry, you just sit behind the desk.
The care he took with his own music was reflected in the care he took in his life, and he credited some words of wisdom from his father. “Listen, if you’re going to clean your room, do the best you can. If you’re going to be a brother, father, do the best you can. If you’re going to do the dishes, do the best you can. If you’re going to be a musician, do the best you can. And whatever you decide, then be the best you can.”
Percussionist Mario Bauza also offered words of wisdom Dave lived by: “If you think it’s that bad, it’s really not. And if you have faith, intelligence and a sense of humor you can overcome anything.”
Good advice, for everyone.
For your Latin jazz edification, here’s a live YouTube of Dave playing “Obsession.”
You can watch the entire interview I did with Dave in April of 2000 on the Fillius Jazz Archive Channel. Click here.
February 26, 2017
On February 26, 1917, a less-than-famous five piece band recorded what was called the first jazz record. The Original Dixieland “Jass” band was comprised of five musicians from New Orleans who formed their band in Chicago in 1916. Their recording consisted of a semi-improvised conversation between trumpet, clarinet and trombone, with rhythm provided by piano and drums.
In a now familiar occurrence regarding innovators and imitators, the Original Dixieland Jass Band, an all-white quintet, was afforded the now historic opportunity to make the first jazz record. Their music was a re-creation of the style they had heard in New Orleans, provided by black musicians such as King Oliver, Buddy Bolden and Freddie Keppard. According to jazz lore, trumpeter Keppard was offered a chance to be the first jazz musician to record but he declined, believing that his personal style would be stolen easily by way of this new medium of re-created music on wax.
“Livery Stable Blues” is a pale imitation of the real thing. The New Orleans style had been around for a number of years, an offshoot of the joyous music provided by marching bands in New Orleans. It was the first incarnation of swing, and set the stage for many jazz superstars to come, including Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Bix Beiderbecke. The Victor Talking Machine Company released this record complete with the indication of “Fox Trot,” a popular dance style at the time. The Original Dixieland Jass Band enjoyed modest success both here and abroad, but eventually faded away, like all bands, partly due to the racist and exaggerated statements by their leader and trumpeter, Nick LaRocca, who insisted that he was a key player in the invention of jazz.
Have a listen to “Livery Stable Blues” — you’ll find it quaint and hopelessly dated both in sound and style. Reflecting the title, the instrumentalists imitate barnyard sounds and barely manage to achieve a swinging rhythm. Whatever we think of it, it was a milestone. Victor Talking Machine Company, whose mind was always on profits, felt it worthy of exposure to the public. In the early part of the twentieth century music was mostly spread through live performances. A 78 RPM disc brought home to be played on the family Victrola was always an event. I can picture the adults in the room wondering what is this “jass music” I’m hearing? — and thinking this can’t possibly last. A few decades later they said the same thing about rock & roll.
February 20, 2017
I am pleased to announce the launch of the Fillius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College YouTube channel which is now up and running. On it we are uploading complete video interviews we have recorded from our body of over 330 sessions with jazz luminaries here and abroad. Syncing the closed captioning transcripts with the video takes some time, so as of now there are twelve interviews uploaded. We will be adding more weekly, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the fun.