WBGO staffers have big love for vibraphonist Milt Jackson. Among the monumental contributions to jazz music, "Bags" turned a set of percussive steel bars into a more versatile jazz instrument. His was an altogether different sound for the vibraharp, sonically more warm and mellow than his predecessors, Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo. Milt Jackson made the vibes sing.
It's no wonder that Milt Jackson was himself a singer, a teenaged tenor in a gospel group, The Evangelist Singers, in his Detroit hometown. He loved the sound of the voice, and he accompanied many singers throughout his career. One of his last records was Sa Va Bella (For Lady Legends), a tribute to the leading ladies of jazz that Milt Jackson loved so much - Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Etta Jones.
WBGO recorded Milt Jackson's Quartet in the summer of 1996. The concert was part of the Oris Spirit of Jazz concert series (of which we are still proudly associated). Mike LeDonne is the pianist, Peter Washington the bassist, and Mickey Roker the drummer.
When I listen to swing music these days, I love it with a sense of loss, a disconnect. Nearly all of the swing legends are gone. This music has the feeling of a time that no longer exists, not that it ever did for me. I had to find it. Twenty-six years ago, however, swing still had some traction in our culture.
I would like to put myself back in that time. I'd be the coolest eight year old in the world, digging the scene at Sweet Basil. Trombonist Al Grey and saxophonist Buddy Tate are playing "Undecided." I can't believe I'm hearing this.
Chances are, however, I was anticipating the release of Michael Jackson's Thriller, which came out in records stores the week after this recording was made.
As I listen to this performance from the WBGO Archives, I am reminded of the vitality of the swing era, and that the music still had resonance in 1982. Count Basie was still alive. So were a number of his associates. Tate was one of them. Grey another. Tate was the tenor player that had the unenviable task of replacing Herschel Evans in Basie's band. Al Grey joined Basie much later, but he had previous stints with Benny Carter and Lionel Hampton. These were swing men through and through.
So much seems different now. By the end of 1982, Time Magazine declared the computer as Man of the Year, the first-ever distinction for an object. These real men are gone, except for their music. Here I am in 2008, writing a blog entry on my laptop, trying to get closer to an analog era. How do I feel about it? Decidedly Undecided. All I know is that it's easy to get lost in ones and zeros, better to be found alive, and even greater to be swung....Tempus fugit, baby.
PS That amazing photo courtesy of Rein. Check out her photostream.
If I had a time machine (preferably a DeLorean with a Flux Capacitor requiring 1.21 jigowatts of juice), one place I would go to is Carnegie Hall. Specifically on the evening of January 16, 1938. That's because seventy years ago today, jazz giants roamed the stage at Carnegie, and jazz was finally getting some respect from the concert hall scene.What an extraordinary night in many ways. There are a million stories about this show, and historians have cleared most of the myth from the reality. That's important work, but at the end of the day, I just like the music. I've listened to this stuff over and over. When modern listeners' conceit gets in the way of hearing an "old sounding" recording like this, those folks are simply missing the point. It's the music.And the music is amazing. Benny Goodman with his trio (pianist Teddy Wilson, drummer Gene Krupa), his quartet (add Lionel Hampton), and his orchestra with Jess Stacy, Harry James, Ziggy Elman etc. With Fletcher Henderson and Jimmy Mundy arrangements. You can't go wrong with this. It's enough.
But it wasn't enough. Ellington sidemen Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney sat in. Not to forget Cootie Williams' muted trumpet on "Blue Reverie." That's my reverie. Plus, a jam session on "Honeysuckle Rose" that's crazy long, with Count Basie and most of his men. No Papa Jo on the drums, but Krupa turns the volume down a bit. Hell, even rhythm guitarist Freddie Green takes a two chorus "solo" of strumming the strings...
If I had my way, I'd post the whole show online, RIAA be damned. People need to hear it. If you haven't heard it, what exactly are you waiting for?
As for me, I'm waiting for lightning to strike the clock tower. It's 10:04 on November 12th, 1955. I'm in my DeLorean. Trying to get back home.