WBGO Blog
  • Saluting Hank Jones, Jazz's Great Gentleman (Part One Of Two)

    May 18, 2010. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

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    Hank Jones performs at the 2009 Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards in New York, N.Y. (Image Credit: Fran Kaufman)

    Twice, the late Hank Jones was profiled in The New Yorker: by Whitney Balliett in 1996 and Gary Giddins in 2007. Read them in reverse chronological order, from Giddins' "Hank Jones can be said to have had the most impressive second act in jazz history" to Balliett's "Jones's solos think."

    His voice is energetic in a 2005 interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. Hank says that hymns were a foundation of his piano playing -- hymns and piano rolls. James P. Johnson, Fats Waller (who died in 1944, just before Jones came to New York), and then Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson were influences and mentors.

    Hank then absorbed the new music of Dizzy Gillespie and his generation of modernists. Hank referred to that style as "you should pardon the expression 'bebop'" during a talk at the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival. At some point Hank also spent a year in Buffalo, N.Y.; that's where he first saw Mary Lou Williams play. And he drove a Chrysler, I do believe. I picture it as having fins and a deep dashboard, but that's my imagination taking over.

    Any chance I could get to hear him -- including at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola with Joe Lovano last year -- I would try to. The 2008 Montreal Jazz Festival presented him in an extraordinary duo concert with Brad Mehldau; it seemed as though they were dancing with one another.

    I may have first seen him in Ain't Misbehavin' on Broadway in 1979, and perhaps a few years later at Bradley's. In 1998, we recorded Hank Jones at the Gilmore Festival in Kalamazoo, Mich. for my program JazzSet. He played music by Mary Lou, Thad Jones (his brother), Oliver Nelson, Sonny Rollins, and standards like "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" and "On Green Dolphin Street."

    "Hank is kind of like the musical equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the most senior officer that you can possibly be around," said his drummer at the time, Dennis Mackrell. Bassist John Clayton pointed out, "He's really famous for his touch." Hank had just turned 80, and joked that, "It reminds me of something Eubie Blake said when he just turned 101: 'If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken care of myself.'" Hank Jones loved to introduce a song with an old joke, charmingly told.

    After a show, Hank had a way of seeing you and making sure that he spoke with you. He always said something warm, something self-deprecating, some thoughtful answer to a question about what he had played or why. Hank was reserved but generous at the same time.

    In Kalamazoo, I asked him a possibly exasperating question about his perspective at 80. He told me, "Well Becca, you hope that you've done something worthwhile ... you hope that you've been able to make some meaningful contributions to the art form. What else can you do? If you do whatever you can on a daily basis, then the rest takes care of itself."

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  • 'Treme,' Episode 6: Straight Ahead, Striving For Tone

    May 17, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    John Goodman's Creighton Bernette (left) and Steve Zahn's Davis McAlary: kindred spirits, in a twisted sense. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/Skip Bolen/HBO)

    Pot for potholes
    Hos for schools
    Always for pleasure
    Break all the rules
    --Davis

    Episode six of Treme begins and ends with outlandish political satire. Davis McAlary's self-amused campaign for city council launches, and launches the show, in earnest, parading down a wide avenue in a flatbed pickup truck blaring music, giving away CDs, and slapping strippers on their butts. Meanwhile, the whole Bernette family dresses as sperm as the Krewe du Vieux parade courses past, its highlight a giant float of then-mayor Ray Nagin in bed nursing an outsized nocturnal emission.

    It must be with a bit of a wink that the writers of Treme made John Goodman's Creighton wary of Zahn's Davis; they seem like kindred spirits as New Orleans apologists with loony streaks. Their aims aren't the same; the Krewe du Vieux simply lampoons major political figures, while Davis' council run is at least half-serious. But they're certainly more akin than Creighton wants to let on to. Davis' platform can't possibly win (especially if he wants to legalize illegal drug sales, as we learned from season three of The Wire), but it can act as a gadfly, speaking out on topics other candidates won't touch with absurd humor. If anger is occasionally a proper response to injustice (a la Creighton's "f--- you, you f----- f--s"), humor has just as much potential as a community statement.

    Enough of that. Josh Jackson of WBGO joins me again via email to talk about the episode's music (full playlist here), and whatever else comes to mind.

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  • 'Treme,' Episode 5: Struttin' With Some Southern Cooking

    May 10, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    L-R: Actual New York chefs Tom Colicchio, Eric Rispert, Wylie Dufresne, David Chang crash the fictional New Orleans restaurant of Janette Desautel. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    So you know when, in episode five of Treme, those four big-time chefs come in from New York to eat at Janette's restaurant? She makes a point not to "out New York" them, but still hits them with artful Southern cooking: sweet potato andouille shrimp soup, rabbit kidneys wrapped in bacon lardons, crawfish and grits, lamb, etc. Janette impresses those guys, and they seem loose and relaxed. It seems to me to be saying something to the effect of "we do it our own way here" — but still at a very high level, objectively speaking.

    Well-stated. Negotiating the line between New Orleans and New York has its rewards, whether you're a big chief, a big chef, or Louis Armstrong. Negotiating your way through a plate of grits and grillades versus a pastrami sandwich is helpful to understand the difference.

    Oh, hello again Josh Jackson of WBGO. You know, I can see a theoretical parallel scene in my head: Delmond is going to show up in a later episode with a bunch of New York jazz musicians, and they're going to be really impressed with the local talent.

    They should be. Connecting to the music of New Orleans can be a powerful experience. On that note ...

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