Remembering two jazz legends, Von Freeman and Dave Brubeck, who have passed this year, reminds me of why I love this music.
I had planned to round out the year by remembering saxophonist Von Freeman who passed in August. Writer Howard Reich from the Chicago Tribune recently wrote a lovely piece on Freeman. Check it out.
But with the news of pianist Dave Brubeck’s passing on December 5, I now think of both men and I am reminded of their similarities, the legendary and unique lives they lived. I have warm memories of meeting and writing about both of them.
Early on as a writer, I was honored to have met Freeman and Brubeck and I’ve written concert reviews on both. At home, I recently found a holiday card with a beautiful photo of Brubeck at the piano that I received from the Brubeck family in 2010. And I just saw — and immediately bought — Von’s CD, Walkin’ Tuff (Southport, 1989) from Cheapo in St. Paul. His tenor solo of “How Deep is the Ocean” is truly mesmerizing.
Brubeck enjoyed international fame and fortune, and Freeman damn near avoided it, yet there was a commonality between the jazzmen — their approach to the music and their enduring lifelong commitment to it as both musicians and composers.
Freeman in his 80s and Brubeck in his 90s also shared the fact that they lived long and played strong. Freeman was successful while not seeking success, and Brubeck was successful and commanded audiences worldwide, garnering major critical acclaim.
Jazz musicians don’t always live long lives, yet the two men endured to the end. They played their music, enjoyed their fans and family. Let’s not forget that both men were National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters, and well-respected elder statesmen of jazz with major influence on legions of young jazz musicians.
Did you listen to NPR’s Toast of the Nation a few years ago with Freeman live in Chicago? I did. He played his saxophone like he was in his 20s, not his 80s. That performance is unforgettable. Did you see Brubeck perform at Orchestra Hall in 2003? That concert was unforgettable, too.
This columnist is struck by the lives they lived as jazzmen, all the while loving this music and leading their lives in accordance. To adapt the title of Dave’s song “In Your Own Sweet Way,” each man dealt with living life as a jazz musician in their own sweet way. They, indeed, forged their own paths.
I will not forget that I had the great fortune to have met both Freeman and Brubeck and have one-on-one conversations with them. Although the talks may have been brief, the impact of those memories will forever remain strong. What I will remember most of all about them is how kind they were to me. And I will remember their rich creativity. There was fire. There was warmth.
When all is said and done, how does one want to be remembered? With the passing of Freeman and Brubeck, I have been inspired to give that question some thought. Is being remembered for being kind, or being remembered for all kinds of accolades, or fame, or fortune more fitting? If you look at what Freeman and Brubeck achieved in life, as jazzmen, how can you not respect each man’s individual journey?
I could go on about those accomplishments, which were no doubt well earned, but instead I choose to reflect on the more personal ways each man has touched my life and share those personal details with you, still keeping some of those details of interactions with them for myself.
James on Jazz year-end 2012 and some holiday buying suggestions
I didn’t listen to any one song or album more than others in 2012. Instead, there were albums and songs that stood out more than others. When making your holiday purchases for that music lover on your list, you might want to consider the following:
First of all, I got into an intense argument over this album. With strong songs come strong emotions. Long story.
Short story is Clifford Brown: The Singers Sessions with Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Helen Merrill: The Emarcy Master Takes Vol. 2. (Xenon, Oct, 2012), released on October 24. This one is a keeper. Here, pianist Jimmy Jones makes his presence known throughout.
I have to mention that Vaughan’s version of “Jim,” Merrill’s rendition of “You’d be So Nice to Come Home To,” and Washington’s “There Is No Greater Love,” and Brown’s brilliant solos on “Jim” and “You’d be So Nice to Come Home To,” provided some particularly happy moments while listening to this iconic music, and further illustrates why he was a stand-out trumpeter like no other. This is good, timeless music that swings, my friends.
Bandleader, soloist and composer/trumpeter Clifford Brown was a very instinctual sideman. And the newly released three-CD set Clifford Brown: The EmArcy Master Takes, Vol. 2: The Singers Sessions, reveals this fact. He just knew how to back up three of the greatest singers of any era.
There is Dinah Washington featured during an informal, live-in-the-studio jam session, a date with “Sassy,” Sarah Vaughan, and the impressive debut recording by Helen Merrill. Recorded in 1954-1955, the material, previously issued across several disc projects in the past three decades with the Dinah albums, now out of print for years, has been newly re-mastered from the original master tapes.
The Dinah Washington’s band included Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson and Junior Mance. In the 1980s, some unreleased tracks were discovered and issued on a complete Washington box set, then included on a Brownie box set a few years later. Now, this is the first time in years the tracks are available in full.
Sarah Vaughan’s self-titled album was arranged by Count Basie veteran Ernie Wilkins and featured Brownie complementing Vaughan. Four days later, Brownie recorded with Helen Merrill on her first-ever LP, which featured arrangements by Quincy Jones.
What I enjoyed was the experience of listening to the singers’ contrasting voicing, Brown’s complete ease at accompanying them, and his ability to maintain an intense dialogue with each in very unique ways, as if he were tailoring each song just for them individually.
The box set contains The EmArcy Takes: Vol. 1, fully illustrating Brown’s brief but brilliant career on EmArcy Records, a jazz division of Mercury Records. This collection’s Verve Select mini-album packaging features a hard-backed book with rare photographs, images of rare EP and LP jackets, and an essay by author and editor Aaron Cohen, also associate editor of DownBeat magazine.
The Baddest Monk from HighNote
The Baddest Monk from HighNote, featuring pianist and composer Eric Reed, stood out this year but didn’t receive the attention it deserves. If you haven’t taken a listen by now, I invite you to do so and listen closely.
The band includes tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, trumpeter Etienne Charles, bassist Matt Clohesy, drummer Henry Cole, and a passionate rendition of “Round Midnight” by up-and-coming vocalist José James. Reed deserves high praise for bringing this ensemble together for the making of one of the most authentic jazz sets featuring the music of Monk that I can recall having heard to date.
With the exception of Blake, Reed hadn’t worked extensively with the other musicians prior to the recording and said he knew the date would be sort of untamed, and that they “cut up” more surprisingly than he’d anticipated, according to his liner notes. I’ve been lucky enough to hear Reed play live, and he’s always good, but with this new album he sounds particularly great.
The album is well produced and the sound quality is top-notch. From the first song, “Rhythm-A-Ning,” you can immediately hear the high-quality musicianship.
Chano Domínguez/Flamenco Sketches from Blue Note
One of my favorite songs of 2012 came from Blue Note Records. The album by Andalusian pianist Chano Domínguez, Flamenco Sketches, a live recording featuring classic Miles Davis songs, struck a cord with me for its easygoing beauty and lush expressiveness.
Reimagining Miles is a tough task, but Domínguez handles it with plenty of grace. When I hear this music, it makes me want to know how to Flamenco dance. I am not alone in the adoration of this music, as this album just received a Grammy nomination.
My favorite discovery of 2012 was Ahmad Jamal’s latest recording from Jazz Village, Blue Moon: The New York Session. This album also just received a Grammy nomination. Here, drummer Herlin Riley and bassist Reginald Veal never sounded more on point.
Happy Holidays to everyone!
Robin James welcomes reader responses to jamesonjazz@spokes man-recorder.com.