Hard-working jazz singer/instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding, who recently played several dates in California and whose latest album Esperanza on Heads Up International has been available at Amoeba Music since it was released last month, took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with the Amoeblog this week. The jazz acoustic bassist/vocalist talked about how she defines the type of music she plays, her recent gig at the Roots Picnic in Philly, the state of jazz music in 2008, and how she got into the style of music initially.
"I fell in love with the music via the bass," said Esperanza. "Playing the instrument automatically made me a draw for jazzers who needed bass in their band, or on a gig. People would literally tell me, 'Hey if you check out these records or learn these songs, you can have this gig.' And, when the music I was assigned or turned onto was jazz, I would take it to heart and try my best to understand it. Of course, for my musical palette at that time, it took a while before I could really
appreciate what I was listening to."
As for the challenge of being both a vocalist and an instrumentalist simultaneously, the artist said that it just takes practice as far as executing the music. "But what can be difficult is being a singer, in the sense that you are engaged with the audience, and really responsible for emoting, and getting into the lyrics, melody, etc and being an effective bassist/band leader," she added. On the topic of Esperanza's music, I asked the artist how she herself describes her style? "Hmm, investigative," she replied. "I am trying to synthesize all the elements that are present, or at least present in my intention, if it doesn't always translate to the listener. I figure in a few years I'll really be able to peg my sound."
80 years ago today, in 1928, the legendary jazz musician and groundbreaking force of nature Eric Dolphy was born in Los Angeles. He was one of guiding forces who piloted the "new thing" of jazz though the late fifties and the 1960’s. His unique improvisational style intoned wide intervals, extended techniques, scorching intensity and unexpected sonic explorations on alto sax, clarinets, and flute. Such sounds were seldom heard before and seldom sound as accomplished since.
Educated at Los Angeles City College, he walked the fine line between traditional/mainstream jazz and the avant-garde like few musicians could. Though his work is often classified as simply “free jazz,” Dolphy’s playing was more then just his own idiosyncratic personal voice. He touched on the history of most jazz styles, from New Orleans to bop to third stream; he experimented with various non-Western music and 20th century classical ideology, pioneering extensions as both a soloist and as a jazz composer. His influence is still felt today.
During his short time on the scene Dolphy played with almost every great jazz musician of the day including, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Chico Hamilton, Oliver Nelson, Max Roach, Gerald Wilson, Abbey Lincoln, Gunther Schuller, and Andrew Hill. In his own bands Dolphy included the likes of Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson, Woody Shaw, Richard Davis, Ron Carter, Jaki Byard, Roy Haynes, Mal Waldron, Booker Little and Freddie Hubbard.
At the age of 36 Eric Dolphy died in a diabetic coma in Berlin on June 29th, 1964. Dolphy was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame shortly after his death.
Earlier this week legendary, Emmy Award-winning television composer Earle Hagen died in Rancho Mirage, Calif., of natural causes at the age of 88. A prolific composer, he wrote many of the classic television themes that endlessly stick in our heads. Shows like Make Room for Daddy, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C, That Girl, The Mod Squad, and Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, many of which featured his sense of humor and droll musical wit. Hagen also wrote the jazz standard "Harlem Nocturne” when he was only 20 years of age.
Born in Chicago on July 9, 1919, his family moved to Los Angeles when he was a child. After graduating from Hollywood High School, he left home at age 16 to tour with many of the Big Band giants of the day -- Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Ben Pollack and Ray Noble. While on the road with Noble in 1939 he wrote the classic instrumental "Harlem Nocturne." Inspired by the work and sound of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, this sexy/sultry tune has since then been recorded hundreds of times by artists such as Charlie Barnet, Glenn Miller, Sam "The Man" Taylor, Stan Kenton, Earl Bostic (a major hit in 1956), Johnny Otis, The Viscounts (whose version is perhaps the raunchiest!), Edgar Winter, King Curtis and The Lounge Lizards. "Harlem Nocturne" was also used, years later as the theme to the television show Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.
But Hagen’s greatest fame probably stems from The Andy Griffith Show and its whistling happy-go-lucky theme written in 1960. This folksy-down home melody perfectly captures the opening credits, scene and feel of Andy Griffith and a young Ron Howard in character as the Sheriff and son Opie, walking down a country path towards the old fishing hole, poles on shoulder, in what must be the-life-idyllic. The whistling was done by Earle Hagen himself.
Twenty years ago today, May 13th, 1988, legendary west coast jazz trumpet player, silky vocalist (has anyone ever sung "My Funny Valentine" better?), and once gorgeous bad boy, Chet Baker, fell to his death in Amsterdam from his hotel room window. Of course, there has been a wide variety of conspiracy theories and speculation regarding the odd nature of his death. Because Baker’s life was so full of mysterious and scandalous details, a life full of intrigue and questions, why shouldn’t his death have a similar story line? I guess there is a possibility of some vendetta at play here-- at least once before in the mid 1960’s he had his teeth knocked out over a drug deal gone awry, why couldn’t another drug dealer, years later, just shove the poor son of a bitch out a window? Well, there were no signs of a struggle in his hotel room and the door was locked from the inside. Then could it have been suicide? Doubtful-- there wasn’t a note, and any person determined to kill themselves probably would have rented a room higher than two stories above the sidewalk. Sadly, Chet's death was an odd, common place accident; it’s just one of those way people accidentally meet their maker. Chet Baker simply fell out of a window. There was heroin in his system, and a considerable amount of cocaine and heroin in his room. He probably went to open the window, and simply leaned a little too far west, and lost his balance. Anyway, it’s been two decades since his death. Right now I have Chet Baker Sings on the turntable; I’m sipping some good Catholic Irish whiskey, hanging out in my new abode. Everything is perfectly copasetic. Thanks.