WBGO Blog
  • Dr. Lewis Porter on John Coltrane: More Inspirations

    March 24, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    This article, the last of three on saxophonist John Coltrane, is the latest in our regular series of blogs on jazz history, "You Don't Know Jazz! With Dr. Lewis Porter." To read previous installments, click on the links below.

    John-Coltrane-Impressions-541226

    Series Introduction

    Episode 1: A Blues Recording From the Congo -- In 1906!

    Episode 2: The Origins of the Word "Jazz"

    Episodes 3-5: Myths About Jazz -- Part One, Part Two, Part Three

    Episode Six: Putting Louis Armstrong in Context: Part One, Part Two

    Episode Seven: Myths About Early Jazz Drumming

    Episode Eight: Jazz On Film

    Episode Nine: Slap-Tonguing

    Episode Ten: The Legacy of Chick Webb

    Episode Eleven: Drummer Gene Krupa

    Episode Twelve: Bassist Walter Page

    Episode Thirteen: Pianist George Shearing

    Episode Fourteen: Coltrane's Impressions, Part One

    Episode Fifteen: Coltrane's Impressions, Part Two

    (PLEASE NOTE: If the reader uses any of the material from this series, no matter how brief, this article and its web address must be cited as the source. Thank you for respecting the intellectual property of Dr. Porter.)

    John Coltrane: More Inspirations

    In my last two blogs, I revealed sources John Coltrane used to create one of his most famous works, “Impressions.” Now I have a final reflection on that piece and another on Coltrane’s composition “Big Nick.”

    In my 1998 book John Coltrane: His Life and Music, I devoted a chapter to showing where the saxophonist found some of his inspirations. In the case of “Impressions,” these included a theme from composer Morton Gould’s “Pavanne,” the form of Miles Davis’s “So What,” and the repertoire of pianist Ahmad Jamal.

    At the time I wrote my book, I also believed that a second theme in “Impressions” might be drawn from a phrase by French composer Maurice Ravel. However, that turns out to be false, as I will show now.

    Let’s listen first to what Coltrane plays over the bridge of his most famous version of the piece, recorded live at the Village Vanguard in November of 1961:

    john-coltrane

    Now here’s the second theme from Ravel’s “Pavane pour une enfante defunte,” as played by Sviatoslav Richter:

    ravel

    This theme became well-known after it inspired a pop song called “The Lamp Is Low,” which was recorded by Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and other popular bandleaders. Here it is, as sung by Mildred Bailey in April of 1939:

    Mildred+Bailey

    I no longer believe Ravel’s composition is a source for Coltrane’s ”Impressions,” for two reasons. The first is that while what Coltrane plays over the bridge in his most famous recording of this piece does vaguely resemble Ravel’s phrase, it is not identical to it; in the case of the theme he borrows from Gould’s “Pavanne,” it is.

    More importantly, I have listened to every recording of Coltrane playing “Impressions,” including bootlegs never released to the general public, and it's very clear to me now that in this case he's simply improvising over the bridge.

    About half of the times Coltrane performed “Impressions,” he did not play this theme over the bridge. Rather, he played the main or "A" theme, Gould's theme, over the bridge, but takes it up a half step to follow the harmonic movement of the piece.

    Other times, Coltrane plays improvised lines which are sometimes very close to what he plays on his most famous version of “Impressions,” but sometimes not.

    So I think it's very clear that Coltrane did not write a bridge for this piece, but rather he simply played what he felt, or played the A theme up a half step.

    Now let’s move on to “Big Nick,” which is a very cute but not well-known composition of Coltrane’s. I have learned from an Italian pianist, Carlo Morena, through my good friend, Italian jazz scholar Maurizio Franco, that this piece does have a source: it’s the “Impromptu no. 3” by French composer Francis Poulenc.

    FrancisPoulenc

    Now let’s listen to the beginning to Coltrane’s “Big Nick,” as recorded with Duke Ellington in September of 1962:

    ellingtoncoltrane1

    As we can hear, Poulenc’s first eight notes are identical to Coltrane's melody - and this is important, because it is a very unusual melody. Even more significant, the Coltrane piece is in the same key as the Poulenc one!

    The combination of these two elements makes it almost impossible that this is a coincidence. Coltrane's melody is very clever, and the rest of Coltrane's melody does not come from the Poulenc piece. But the beginning does, very clearly.

    This answers a big question for me, so a big thank you to Carlo and Maurizio! I have always wondered, "Why is this melody very different from all the other Coltrane melodies?" The answer is, it's inspired by Poulenc.

  • Dr. Lewis Porter on John Coltrane: Impressions, Part Two

    February 17, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    This article, the second of three on saxophonist John Coltrane, is the latest in our regular series of blogs on jazz history, "You Don't Know Jazz! With Dr. Lewis Porter." To read previous installments, click on the links below.

    John-Coltrane-Impressions-541226

    Series Introduction

    Episode 1: A Blues Recording From the Congo -- In 1906!

    Episode 2: The Origins of the Word "Jazz"

    Episodes 3-5: Myths About Jazz -- Part One, Part Two, Part Three

    Episode Six: Putting Louis Armstrong in Context: Part One, Part Two

    Episode Seven: Myths About Early Jazz Drumming

    Episode Eight: Jazz On Film

    Episode Nine: Slap-Tonguing

    Episode Ten: The Legacy of Chick Webb

    Episode Eleven: Drummer Gene Krupa

    Episode Twelve: Bassist Walter Page

    Episode Thirteen: Pianist George Shearing

    Episode Fourteen: Coltrane's Impressions, Part One

    (PLEASE NOTE: If the reader uses any of the material from this series, no matter how brief, this article and its web address must be cited as the source. Thank you for respecting the intellectual property of Dr. Porter.)

    John Coltrane: Impressions, Part Two

    In our last blog, I explained how the direct source of saxophonist John Coltrane’s "Impressions" was composer Morton Gould’s "Pavanne," a well-known piece at the time Coltrane was coming into his own as a musician.

    But wait - there’s more to this story.

    In my 1998 book John Coltrane: His Life and Music, I devoted a chapter to showing where he found some of these themes. Since then, I have learned more about Coltrane's inspirations.

    What Coltrane did to create "Impressions" was take Gould's melody, the second theme of "Pavanne," and apply it to the AABA form of a composition he knew well - trumpeter Miles Davis’s "So What."

    Coltrane was a regular member of Davis’s groups in the late 1950s, and he recorded and performed "So What" several times with Davis in 1959 and 1960, most famously on the Columbia album Kind of Blue.

    kind-of-blue

    But why would Coltrane choose to combine "So What" with "Pavanne?"

    Davis frequently said, in interviews and again in his autobiography, that Chicago pianist Ahmad Jamal was an important influence on him in this period. While Coltrane in Davis's group, they regularly played staples from Jamal’s repertoire, such as “Just Squeeze Me,” and a few Jamal originals.

    jamalheadphones1

    In October of 1955 and again in January of 1960, the Ahmad Jamal Trio recorded Gould’s "Pavanne," playing both themes. This is very significant, for without a doubt, Coltrane was familiar with the Ahmad Jamal Trio’s versions of this piece.

    On the 1955 version, it’s guitarist Ray Crawford who plays "Pavanne’s" second theme:

    the-legendary-okeh-epic-recordings

    The 1960 version, in which Jamal plays the theme, brings us closer to what we hear Coltrane do with this material just months later:

    Happy_Moods

    Indeed, when Coltrane started to play Impressions in concert in 1960, "Pavanne" was part of the the Jamal Trio’s active repertoire.

    But when Coltrane first started to perform "Impressions," he didn’t know what to call it. Apparently at first he also called his version “So What,” and in November of 1961, when he played his famous, incredibly intense version at the Village Vanguard, which was later released as the title track of a 1963 album for Impulse! – he still did not have a name for it.

    In fact, even in June of 1962, when he recorded 2 short versions of this piece in the studio - these were never released on LP, but have since been released on CD - he was calling the piece “Excerpts.”

    This always makes my students laugh, because they say, "After all, his theme is an excerpt from Morton Gould!"

    john-coltrane

    Finally, you may be surprised to learn that Impressions was recorded on two albums by non-Coltrane bands, before Coltrane’s version was released in July of 1963.

    Both times, the tune was titled “Why Not?” and the composer was listed as the late drummer Pete “LaRoca” Sims!

    The first version is by saxophonist Rocky Boyd on his album Ease It, recorded with trumpeter Kenny Dorham and Sims on drums in February of 1961:

    boyd_rocky~_easeitint_102b

    A later release of the same album, under Dorham’s name as West 42nd Street, included a second take at a slightly slower tempo:

    West 42nd Street

    I asked LaRoca about this session, and he told me that of course he knew the piece, because he’d played it as a member of Coltrane’s quartet in the summer of 1960, before Elvin Jones took his place. LaRoca also said he also knew the theme wasn’t Coltrane’s, and it was by Gould.

    “I might have been in on the thought process, underlying naming and all the rest of that,” he told me, but he also acknowledged that he shouldn’t have been listed as composer and suggested that might have been Boyd’s idea.

    My friend, jazz photographer John Rogers, has also reminded me that the quartet of the terrific vibraphonist Dave Pike also recorded this theme, with Bill Evans on piano, in February 1962. LaRoca is not the drummer on this date, yet the piece is still credited to him.

    pikespeak3

    Why? I emailed Pike recently at his current residence in California, and it turns out that LaRoca was, once again, his source for this tune.
    Pike writes that he was performing with LaRoca at that time, “and he played it for me. I thought that either he wrote it, or it was just what we used to call a ‘riff’ behind somebody's solo.”

    In fact, on Pike’s version, Bill Evans solos on piano while the band plays the theme behind him.

    By the way, in “Why Not?” the bridge is the A theme played a half-step higher, as Coltrane himself sometimes performed it.

  • Dr. Lewis Porter on John Coltrane: Impressions, Part One

    January 16, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    This article, the first of three on saxophonist John Coltrane, is the latest in our regular series of blogs on jazz history, "You Don't Know Jazz! With Dr. Lewis Porter." To read previous installments, click on the links below.

    John-Coltrane-Impressions-541226

    Series Introduction

    Episode 1: A Blues Recording From the Congo -- In 1906!

    Episode 2: The Origins of the Word "Jazz"

    Episodes 3-5: Myths About Jazz -- Part One, Part Two, Part Three

    Episode Six: Putting Louis Armstrong in Context: Part One, Part Two

    Episode Seven: Myths About Early Jazz Drumming

    Episode Eight: Jazz On Film

    Episode Nine: Slap-Tonguing

    Episode Ten: The Legacy of Chick Webb

    Episode Eleven: Drummer Gene Krupa

    Episode Twelve: Bassist Walter Page

    (PLEASE NOTE: If the reader uses any of the material from this series, no matter how brief, this article and its web address must be cited as the source. Thank you for respecting the intellectual property of Dr. Porter.)

    John Coltrane: Impressions, Part One

    Many jazz fans, and even musicians, are surprised to discover that saxophonist John Coltrane took ideas for some of his compositions from existing works. In some cases, he drew from folk songs, which are in the public domain, but in others he got themes directly from tunes composed by other people.

    In my 1998 book John Coltrane: His Life and Music, I devoted a chapter to showing where he found some of these themes. Since then, I have learned more about Coltrane’s inspirations, and will share these insights with you in the next few blogs.

    Let’s start with Impressions, one of Coltrane’s best-known works. It was one of his favorite tunes to perform live in the early 1960s, and one of these performances, at the Village Vanguard in 1961, is the title track on an album released by Impulse! in July of 1963.

    As I showed in my book, Coltrane's source for the main theme of Impressions is the second theme of Pavanne, which is part of a longer work, American Symphonette No. 2, written by American composer Morton Gould in 1939.

    ad-1947-colombia-morton-gould

    Gould was well-known to radio listeners in the 1940s, through nationwide broadcasts which mixed light classical and popular music.Gould himself recorded Pavanne on multiple occasions with different instrumentations, from solo piano to large groups, and it was also recorded by prominent big bands of the era, such as the one led by Jimmie Lunceford, which may have been the first big band Coltrane ever saw in person:

    It was also recorded by one of the Swing Era's most popular bandleaders, trombonist Glen Miller:

    The first, main theme of Pavanne was also quoted by saxophonist Wardell Gray in his solo on Little Pony, which he recorded with the Count Basie Band in 1949.

    Wardell+Gray+wardellgray

    Let's listen to the first theme of Gould’s Pavanne, as recorded by the composer with orchestra in 1942, so we can compare the two. Full-length versions of all of these clips can be found on YouTube, if you're curious to hear more.

    Because Wardell played it, Pavanne's first theme became a popular quote among other musicians as well, and Coltrane said that Wardell Gray was one of his favorite saxophonists around this time.

    So we know that several versions of Gould's Pavanne were well-known precisely during the time that Coltrane began playing music. But this, of course, is just circumstantial evidence. Let’s talk about the music.

    When we listen closely, it becomes obvious that Morton Gould’s Pavanne is the source for Coltrane's Impressions for several reasons:

    First, Gould’s theme is identical to what Coltrane plays - not similar. but exactly the same.

    Second, when Gould’s theme repeats, it moves up a minor third. In Impressions, Coltrane’s melody goes up a half step, so the movement between keys is not the same, but the idea of repeating the theme at a higher pitch is retained from Gould's original.

    I have listened to every recording of Coltrane playing Impressions, including bootlegs that have never been released to the general public. There is an unissued version of Coltrane playing Impressions in 1961 where he plays not only the theme, but also the repeating background riff that you can hear played behind the second theme in Gould’s original. This destroys any remaining doubt as to whether Coltrane was familiar with Gould’s piece!

    Still not convinced Coltrane took material from other composers? There’s more – about Coltrane’s relationship with trumpeter Miles Davis, and Impressions' links to Davis’s So What – but for that, you’ll have to wait for the next installment of our blog.

    See you then! Lewis

  • You Don't Know Jazz! With Dr. Lewis Porter: George Shearing

    December 1, 2012. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    This blog, on the bebop playing of pianist George Shearing, is the latest in our regular series of blogs, "You Don't Know Jazz! With Dr. Lewis Porter." To read previous installments, click on the links below.

    George_Shearing_1959

    Series Introduction

    Episode 1: A Blues Recording From the Congo -- In 1906!

    Episode 2: The Origins of the Word "Jazz"

    Episodes 3-5: Myths About Jazz -- Part One, Part Two, Part Three

    Episode Six: Putting Louis Armstrong in Context: Part One, Part Two

    Episode Seven: Myths About Early Jazz Drumming

    Episode Eight: Jazz On Film

    Episode Nine: Slap-Tonguing

    Episode Ten: The Legacy of Chick Webb

    Episode Eleven: Drummer Gene Krupa

    Episode Twelve: Bassist Walter Page

    (PLEASE NOTE: If the reader uses any of the material from this series, no matter how brief, this article and its web address must be cited as the source. Thank you for respecting the intellectual property of Dr. Porter.)

    George Shearing: The Price of Success

    Pianist George Shearing is another great jazz musician who is widely misunderstood – in part, because of his success.

    That’s "Conception," a Bebop tune Shearing wrote and recorded in 1949.  Shearing had a unique approach to bebop composition, and this tune was recorded by many well-known musicians. We'll talk more about Shearing’s short - and largely forgotten - bop career in this blog.

    Blind from his birth to a poor family in London in 1919, Shearing showed talent on the piano from around age three. He was classically trained, and developed a strong interest in jazz after hearing recordings by Art Tatum and Fats Waller.

    At 16, Shearing left school to play in a London pub. By eighteen he was recording in a kind of Art Tatum-Teddy Wilson style, and quickly gained fame in the U.K., and even had  his own BBC radio show.

    An early advocate for Shearing’s talents was Leonard Feather, who is best known today for his music journalism. Many people forget that the British-born Feather was also a composer and a very capable pianist.  Here’s “Squeezin’ the Blues,” a novelty piece he recorded on piano – with Shearing on accordion – in 1939:

    Feather moved to the United States later that year,  and became one of the first writers to pay serious attention to the nascent Bebop movement. His 1949 book, Inside Be-Bop, was the first book on the new music, and was innovative in that it included musical analysis with notation, and brief bios of notable bop musicians.

    With Feather’s encouragement, Shearing moved to New York in 1947, and he soon found himself engrossed in bebop, and started and started composing bop pieces in his own distinctive style.

    Here’s “How’s Trix,” which he recorded in April of 1950:

    And yet another, "Good To The Last Bop," from February of 1949, on which Shearing plays accordion again, as well as the piano solo (vibraphonist Marjorie Hyams plays the piano chords behind his accordion):

    All of these tunes demonstrate Shearing’s deep grasp of bebop.  Listen not only to the sheer number of notes, but also to their unpredictability.

    For musicians, notice the unexpected turns in the chord progressions, and departures from standard form. "Conception," for instance, has A sections that are twelve bars each, not the more common eight.

    And "Good to the Last Bop" has a form of 16 bars, then 8 bar bridge, then 16 bars again, and measures 9-12 of each 16 bar section feature chords descending by thirds (hear ast 0:07-09, and 2:05-6), very rare in this time period!

    "Conception" quickly became popular with bebop improvisers, as it’s a challenging piece that moves quickly through a number of keys. It’s also interesting because it starts off like it’s in the middle of something, and has a lot of momentum.

    But "Conception" isn’t the tune Shearing is best known for. In fact, some doubt whether he wrote it at all.

    I've been reading Peter Pullman's excellent and thoroughly researched biography of Bud Powell, who is one of my "piano gods." In a footnote, Peter reports that some musicians who knew both Powell and Shearing, among them pianist Claude Williamson and bassist Al McKibbon, believed Shearing was not capable of writing "Conception," and suggest Powell was a more likely author for the tune.

    These are misunderstandings which need to be laid to rest.

    What happened? First of all, Shearing’s interest in bebop was eclipsed by his success playing in a different style. His light-hearted, medium-tempo ballad “September in the Rain,” recorded in 1949 at the same session as "Good to the Last Bop," became a pop mega-hit which sold nearly a million copies, even
    though he plays a perfectly fine jazz solo on it, as you can hear:

    And his best-known composition, “Lullaby of Birdland” from 1952, may celebrate Charlie Parker and nightclubs where bebop was played, but it’s really a light swinger, not a bebop tune.

    On the heels of this success, Shearing became very active in the Latin jazz movement, especially from 1953 onwards, when Cal Tjader, Armando Peraza and others were regular members of his group. (More on this another time.) Innovative vibraphonist Gary Burton was even a member of Shearing's quintet in 1963 and 1964.

    But from the late 1960s onward - a long stretch of time - Shearing became identified with a kind of "jazz lite"- very popular, but not respected by hard-core fans and musicians. He also accompanied singers like Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé, and did many gigs in hotels as opposed to jazz clubs, which is a different kind of career. So in a sense, he took himself out of the mainstream of jazz performers.

    George_Shearing_Plays

    The long and short of it is that many jazz performers developed the impression that he was a kind of cocktail pianist, and either forgot or never knew that he started as quite a hardcore jazz player.

    As for "Conception," it became closely associated with Miles Davis. The trumpeter recorded it several times, and he created his own version of it for the Birth of the Cool sessions he led in 1949 and 1950, which he called "Deception."

    Miles’s version adds several twists, or, one might say, "deceptions": First of all, he uses his own theme, not Shearing's, but it is written to fit Shearing's chord sequence.

    Second, Miles's tune has two extra bars in each A section. And finally, Miles starts with an eight-bar introduction, which is really the last eight bars of the theme, but since one doesn't know that on first listen, it's impossible to follow the form until one's heard it a few times. The theme really begins at the 9 second mark.

    But “Deception’s” debt to Shearing’s earlier composition is evident. If there’s any doubt of that, note that the first surviving recording of Miles playing it, in a radio broadcast with Stan Getz, J.J. Johnson, and Art Blakey, in February of 1950, a month before the studio version was recorded:

    On this version, they play Shearing's theme at the beginning, and Miles's "Deception" at the end! In fact Miles used this same arrangement again when he recorded "Conception" in the studio for Prestige in 1951.

    As for Powell,  his first surviving version of "Conception" is from 1953, at a club date in Washington, DC (although this wasn’t released until 1982). He then recorded it for Verve Records in 1955:

    Don’t get me wrong – Bud was a genius, but this tune – with its tricky head and modulations - is not what Bud was about as a player. In fact, there is no Bud Powell piece that sounds anything like "Conception." Shearing's compositional style does have elements in common with Lennie Tristano's, but still sounds distinct.

    And in any case, Shearing published sheet music for "Conception" in 1950!

    So why would it make sense to questions Shearing's authorship in the
    and to say that Bud Powell wrote the piece, when Bud wasn't associated with the piece and didn’t record it until years after Shearing? To me, it’s a bit baffling.

    And why don’t we pay proper tribute to George Shearing? To my mind, it’s a case of what can happen in jazz - that when somebody becomes very popular, people start tearing him or her down.

    Shearing had the double problem that he didn’t continue to play this kind of material. Or I should say he rarely did – if you look, you’ll see that once in a while in his later recordings he’ll play one of these wild bop pieces in the middle of a set. But he wasn’t primarily associated with this kind of material, or with hardcore jazz gigs, after the late sixties.

    So a kind of resentment developed because he was so hugely popular. But guess what? He was also hugely talented; give the man his due.

    George Shearing, in memoriam: he passed away at about 91 ½ years old in 2011.

    See you on the next blog!

    Lewis

  • You Don't Know Jazz! With Dr. Lewis Porter: Walter Page

    October 27, 2012. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    This blog, on bassist Walter Page, is the latest in our regular series of blogs, "You Don't Know Jazz! With Dr. Lewis Porter." To read previous installments, click on the links below.

    pagehorizontal1

    Series Introduction

    Episode 1: A Blues Recording From the Congo -- In 1906!

    Episode 2: The Origins of the Word "Jazz"

    Episodes 3-5: Myths About Jazz -- Part One, Part Two, Part Three

    Episode Six: Putting Louis Armstrong in Context: Part One, Part Two

    Episode Seven: Myths About Early Jazz Drumming

    Episode Eight: Jazz On Film

    Episode Nine: Slap-Tonguing

    Episode Ten: The Legacy of Chick Webb

    Episode Eleven: Drummer Gene Krupa

    (PLEASE NOTE: If the reader uses any of the material from this series, no matter how brief, this article and its web address must be cited as the source. Thank you for respecting the intellectual property of Dr. Porter.)

    Walter Page: Listen to the Bass, Already!

    Of all the musicians in a jazz band, the one who gets the least “props” is the bass player. Most people just don’t listen to what they play!

    And the things they say about bass players are so superficial, either they haven't listened to them at all, or what they say is based on just a minute or two of listening to a single recording. Therefore, this is the first of several occasional blogs where I will focus on bassists.

    A case in point is Walter Page, who lived from 1900 to 1957. Page played bass (and tuba) in early Kansas City swing bands. He led his own Blue Devils in the late twenties, then joined one led by Bennie Moten, which had William “Count” Basie on piano for its last recordings in 1932. Page then anchored the rhythm sections of Basie’s own bands, with one break, through 1948, and it is for this work that he is most celebrated.

    43_universal-topman
    Page with Basie's band circa 1942: with singer Jimmy Rushing, Jo Jones on drums, Freddie Green on guitar, and Don Byas on tenor saxophone

    What do folks say about Walter Page? Not a lot. You can Google all over the place, and look at all your jazz books, and either they say nothing, or they say something vague like “He really swung,” which is just a way of saying, "I don't KNOW how Page sounds, because I've never really paid attention."

    Many people think they’ve got Page covered when they say he played “four beats to the bar,” which means one note on every pulse of a four-beat measure.

    But this is basically meaningless - because that's what bass players are  supposed to do. So that can't be all there is to it. You don’t get famous because you play four beats to a bar. That would be considered adequate, but never great.

    Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Walter Page:

    "More than any other jazz bass player in history, Page is credited with developing and popularizing the “walking bass” style of playing on all four beats, a transition from the older, two-beat style."

    Ok, so I guess this is what people mean when they say Page plays “four beats to the bar.”  It’s true, he did play a role in the transition from the older, "two beat" or "oom-pah" style, but my listening tells me that that there was a general and nationwide trend around 1930 towards playing walking bass, so I would *never* want to say Page or any other single person was the first to do it.

    Let’s listen to part of one of Page’s very first recordings, “Squabblin’,” recorded in Kansas City by the Blue Devils in November of 1929.

    haddix-battle-of-the-bands-ad-750px

    Page's playing here is quite varied--he starts with a two-beat style behind saxophonist Buster Smith, who was later a mentor to Charlie Parker, though Parker didn't play like him).

    The next section features the rhythm section, and Page plays melodic rhythms taken from the tune's written theme, played previously, and he even takes a solo break. There is a passage later where he does play on all four beats, mostly with repeated notes, but it's not his primary style at this time.

    Page didn’t record again until December of 1932, with Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra. Here’s a track from that session, “Lafayette.”

    mmf-p146-750px

    At the very beginning, you hear kind of an unusual sound coming out of the bass department, before he moves to four-four behind Ben Webster's sax solo. What is it?

    Page is playing what today's bassists call “slap bass,” where you alternate between slapping and aggressively plucking the strings. Listeners today may associate this sound with the electric bass, but the technique has been around for years.

    Now let’s listen to the end of the most famous Benny Moten recording of all time, “Moten Swing,” from that same 1932 session. Pay close attention to what you hear.

    This track is on the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, a boxed set was first issued in 1973 and eventually sold over two million copies, and is now in almost every music library in the U.S. and around the world. But nobody seems to have ever noticed that at the very end - and I do mean the very end, while the band is playing - Walter Page is slapping the bass. You might think it’s percussion at first, but it’s definitely Page.

    So one thing we can note about Page, although no one ever mentions it, is that he was an early proponent of the slap bass style.

    The_Smithsonian_Collection_of_Classic_Jazz

    Now let's listen to another track from the Smithsonian Collection, “He’s Funny That Way.” This is a recording that Billie Holiday made with Page, saxophonist Lester Young and others in November of 1937.

    What Walter Page plays here is so beautiful, that when you do start listening to the bass line, after a few seconds you won’t be able to take your ears off of it!

    On each of these tracks, Walter Page leaves the standard four-four pattern behind and does something that surprises the listener. On  “He's Funny That Way,” he leaves space – lots of spaces, and plays beautiful melodies; it just sounds great.

    Let's listen to another small-group session, “Live And Love Tonight,” led by Basie himself in February of 1939.

    This is interesting because it’s one of the few sessions where Basie plays organ, and it’s also as close as Page ever got to playing a solo during all of his years with Basie  - even though you have to listen very closely, because he’s playing behind the organ.

    basiepage1

    Guess what? Page plays double-time. I can’t think of another bass player in the ‘30s playing double-time. For that matter, I can't think of one in the ‘20s, or the '40s, either.

    So it may not leap out at you, because Page is playing mostly scale notes, but it's pretty unusual, and another example of Page breaking up the pattern of four notes to the bar.

    There are plenty of other recordings from this period where Walter Page plays great and creative stuff, such as “Farewell Blues,” “I Left My Baby” and “Swinging at the Daisy Chain.”

    One very interesting track is “Oh Lady Be Good,” from the “Spirituals To Swing” concert organized by John Hammond at Carnegie Hall in December 1939. Walter Page takes a real solo on this one, as do Charlie Christian and Lester Young, and it's kind of interesting and wild to hear what he does.

    NYTimes-23dec39

    Page purposely starts to hang back and play slower than the pulse of the band, to the point where it really starts to feel like he's going to drag everybody down with him!

    But Page knows he won't, because you have the drummer and the piano player, and everybody to hold it together. So what you have is a very clever, very offbeat kind of a bass solo.

    So, by the time you’re actually done listening to Walter Page, you realize he was a very creative and very melodic bass player. And what's most interesting about him is that in fact he's not riveted to the idea of playing four quarter notes in every bar. That's not what's so special about him.

    On the contrary. What you hear when you actually listen to Walter Page is that he breaks up that pattern of four beats to the bar whenever he thinks of something more interesting, interactive, or melodic to do.

    That's why he's famous, and that's why we love Walter Page.