File Under "Shows"

Recalling jazz's brief, obscure, but occasionally revelatory love affair with Broadway

Not the best jazz Porgy—that would be Miles Davis and Gil Evans's, or maybe Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald's—but easily the most novel, what with Jim Timmens (later an arranger for Sesame Street) assigning each singing part to a specific horn player. It works only because Cootie (Porgy) and Rex (Sportin' Life) were talking horns anyway, going back to their days with Ellington. With the Johnny Hodges–like Hilton Jefferson as Bess, Lucky Millinder veteran Pinky Williams as Jake, and Lawrence Brown stealing the show as Serena on an especially rending "My Man's Gone Now."

Bill Barron
West Side Story Bossa Nova
Dauntless, 1963

This bid to cash in on two trends simultaneously was going to be my dud, until I gave it another spin. Barron's tenor is more bracing than I remember it being, and his near-chromatic arrangements suggest the influence of Hindemith or George Russell. Only the bossa rhythms still sound contrived.*

Don Elliott Octet with Candido
Jamaica Jazz
ABC-Paramount, 1957

Lost Gil Evans, so overlooked it doesn't show up in disciple Laurent Cugny's online discography. The material is minor Harold Arlen, and when Elliott starts shimmering on vibes or adds his bongos to Candido's conga, we could be in a tiki bar. But on "Little Biscuit," when Elliott switches to muted trumpet as bassoons and French horns begin their rise, it's could be an outtake from Miles Ahead.

By 1970, neither jazz nor Broadway still occupied a spot adjacent to the center of popular culture, and Barney Kessel's Hair Is Beautiful seemed utterly pointless. But in the '60s, while the going was good, even the avant-garde got into the act. Along with Coltrane's "Feelin' Good" from The Roar of the Greasepaint and the compulsory "My Favorite Things" from Great Black Music the Great White Way, my purely imaginary compilation would also include Cecil Taylor's "This Nearly Was Mine," from South Pacific; Lester Bowie's "Hello, Dolly" (from '74 and a love letter to Louis Armstrong rather than Carol Channing, but still); and the Bill Dixon and Archie Shepp surging, lyrical, embattled "Somewhere," from West Side Story.

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