Pat Blythe – All That Jazz – Part III…..the photographers…..and music

I am completely, unequivocally lost in the world and the power of jazz.

Call it a little pre-spring cleaning but tidying up I found, tucked away in among my vast collection of British history books, (okay, one large floor to ceiling bookcase) was this wonderful coffee-table book on jazz. Unfortunately I cannot remember who gifted me this gem but I thank you. Photographed by the late Toronto-based photographer John Reeves, Gene Lees Jazz Lives encompasses 100 portraits of jazz musicians from around the world. The forward is a brief but concise history of jazz. The following pages are gorgeous portraits of the individual artists and a short history of each.

The book, published in 1992, was a labour of love and conveys Reeves’ deep passion for jazz, beginning in his adolescence and continuing throughout his life. “I’ve had a great life being John Reeves the photographer, but in my absolutely perfect world I would have chosen to be Zoot Sims or Mel Lewis or McCoy Tyner.” – John Reeves

“Somebody once said that there aren’t any stupid jazz musicians because the music is too complex for a stupid person to play. That assertion proved to be accurate…In the jazz culture the sexes, the races and the generations all play beautifully together. Jazz musicians take generous delight in each others’ talents. They believe that the diligent pursuit of excellence leads to a more rewarding life and they want to believe that a free, sane, compassionate society may still be attainable.” – John Reeves.

Hallelujah!!!

John Reeves posing with a couple of his portraits

The musicians are arranged in descending order by birth date, beginning with Spiegle Wllcox and ending with Christian McBride. In between are Shirley Horn, Guido Basso, Artie Shaw and Dave Brubeck. There are many names I’m not familiar with but I was pleasantly surprised to recognize a few and a couple I’ve had the pleasure of actually meeting and/or photographing.

I was hoping Reeves might still be alive. I thought I’d actually seek him out as he resided in Toronto. Nope. Reeves died of cancer November, 2016. A world-famous portrait photographer, he has left behind an incredible body of work and a beautiful legacy.

Coming up for air and diving again…..

I’ve barely begun this series and have already tumbled into the 1950s, fast-forwarded to the 70s and 80s, graduated to the 90s, danced back to the 50s again but somehow still find the road back to the 30s. It appears I will be bouncing, note-by-note, beat-by-beat in a rather non-sequential fashion, non-chronological order. My “squirreling” appears to be in high gear. The stories are endless, the music….legendary, powerful and exhilarating and then this popped up……

A Great Day in Harlem……

I received a FB message containing two photos, one taken in 1958 and the other in 1996. I had no idea who was in the in photograph, the relevance or its significance so I’m Alice In Wonderland once again and down the rabbit hole I go. Titled A Great Day in Harlem, it is a photograph of 57 jazz greats all gathered in one spot in NYC. A near impossibility, this now infamous, iconic photo, taken by the late photographer Art Kane for Esquire Magazine, was never a sure bet when the invitations went out.

A Great Day in Harlem ©1958 Art Kane

What musician in his right mind shows up for a photo op at 10am?? It was anyone’s guess who would appear, but appear they did. Groups of them arrived, sauntering down East 126th Street together. Milling about, the phrase “herding cats” comes to mind as Kane and his assistant, having no idea what they were doing, coaxed and encouraged everyone into some sort of cohesive formation. Many of these artists had never met and others, rarely in the same city at the same time, hadn’t seen each other in years. They were far more interested in gossiping and catching up than listening to the neophyte photographer trying to direct them. Set aside an hour and watch the documentary; it’s a wonderful story and fabulous piece of history.

A Great Day in Harlem ©1996 Gordon Park

The 1996 photograph, taken by Gordon Parks, shows the surviving musicians who were still alive, positioned in the same spot as they were in 1958. However, Count Basie, who sat on the curb in the original photograph, died in 1984 so I’m assuming the man sitting on the curb in his spot is either Basie’s son or Gordon Parks himself. The only one missing from this photograph was Sonny Rollins. In 2020, only two remain alive….. Rollins and Benny Golson.

Art Kane, Self Portrait (from his website)>

Reading up on Kane after watching the documentary I was saddened to find he took his own life in 1995 at the age of 69. A tragic loss Kane was instrumental in changing the world of photography….for both the photographers and those who appreciate the art form. From his website, Art Kane’s contributions to the medium of photography continue to resonate throughout the industry today. His work remains unmatched.”

A Great Day In Harlem – A Jazz Documentary, the story of a photograph (1995)

“If I start counting heads and I think about how many people are no longer there anymore, it still comes as a shock to me because we don’t think about people not being here. We think about….if we think about Lester Young, we don’t think well, Lester Young was here but he’s not here anymore, Lester Young IS HERE, Colman Hawkins IS HERE and Roy Eldridge IS HERE. They are in us and they will always be alive.”Art Farmer

As I read through some of their biographies, the final note in many is, “….on 25 June 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed (insert name here) among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.”

Art Kane behind the “Pictures of Lily” drum kit designed for Keith Moon

The history and the magic destroyed in that fire actually makes me sick to my stomach. Lifetimes of great work that can never be recovered or shared with the future generations of music makers and audiences alike. There are really no words to adequately describe the loss.

Transformation…..

In less than a year after Art Kane assembled the jazz greats of the day, four albums were released that would turn the world of jazz on its proverbial ear. 1959 was a year of great significance and a major turning point in the jazz world, for the music, the musicians and the audiences. It was to be the beginning of whole new era of jazz.

Davis, Mingus, Coleman & Brubeck

“1959 was the seismic year jazz broke away from complex bebop music to new forms, allowing soloists unprecedented freedom to explore and express. It was also a pivotal year for America: the nation was finding its groove, enjoying undreamt-of freedom and wealth, social racial upheavals were just around the corner and jazz was ahead of the curve. Four major jazz albums were made, each a high watermark for the artists and a powerful reflection of the times. Each opened up dramatic new possibilities for jazz which continue to be felt. Miles Davis; Kind of Blue (the biggest selling jazz album in history), Dave Brubeck; Time Out, Charles Mingus; Mingus Ah Um and Ornette Coleman; The Shape of Jazz to Come.

1959 The Year That Changed Jazz

Rarely seen archive performances…..the video contains interviews with Lou Reed, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, More Morello, and Jimmy Cobb (the only surviving member of Miles’ band).

Last train home…..

Lyle Mays & Pat Metheny

Lyle Mays, co-founder of the Pat Metheny Group, passed away February 10, 2020. I’ve been listening to his keyboard work on the album First Circle for the past couple of weeks (he also plays trumpet on two songs). I really have no words to describe his music. He and Metheny synched so well they were like a single soul and body, one plucking the strings and the other dancing on the keys, both in complete and utter harmony. Their musical connection….emotional, poignant and spiritual.

Last Train Home – Pat Metheny Group

The following song Letter From Home is an exquisite piece and a fitting tribute to a man who, quite literally, made the ivories sing.

Letter From Home – Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays

September 15th – Lyle Mays & Pat Metheny

It’s For You – Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays (Montreux Jazz Festival)

Full Circle – Pat Metheny Group

Final notes…..

Okay, I have to add a few things here that are completely unrelated to jazz….but it is music and it’s NEW music….local artists….incredibly talented artists.

Julian Taylor is currently working on a solo project and here is a taste of what is to come. One of the deepest, passionate and most soulful singers I know, Taylor sings from the gut, the heart….the everything. He’s either enveloping you in a cozy blanket or has your feet and body doing things on a dance floor you didn’t think possible.

Taylor is the song or maybe the song is Taylor. Whatever it is, the stories and the music he sets them to sweep you up and carry you through to the last note. But the key to Taylor’s work….the lyrics and how he is able to wrap the music (and his voice) around the words.

https://soundcloud.com/julian-taylor-495469142/human-race?fbclid=IwAR0n7LvecLJR1FMa7iTOmXZ1TjQRLhIs9NQ_AnLGr2GCdnqzFRW57LQ5n_M

James Blonde – Steph Mercier, Phil Taylor & Neil Carson

James Blonde has released their latest singe, Hundred Bucks. Why this trio have not been picked up by a major label is beyond me. “Hundred Bucks is an indie-rock anthem…..about finding happiness and fulfilment beyond relationships and commercialism without altering one’s state of mind.” To me it’s simply an extremely well-crafted pop/rock song with superlative harmonies, consummate musicianship and loads of fun. If you’ve ever seen these three in action you can’t stand still. Phil Taylor (drums/vox)), Steph Mercier (guitar/vox) and Neil Carson (bass/vox) are the real deal! Currently on tour with Courage My Love you can catch them at The Garrison in Toronto March 11. Ten bucks will give you a night of fantastic music!

https://soundcloud.com/jamesblondeband/hundred-bucks

Courage My Love – Mercedes, Brandon & Phoenix

Speaking of Courage My Love, this trio also has a few new releases. This Juno nominated band consisting of classically trained twin sisters Mercedes (guitar/lead vocals) and Phoenix (drums) Arn-Horn and bassist Brandon Lockwood got their start in Toronto at Cherry Cola’s. Based in Kitchener, Ontario, this alternative pop/rock band focuses on social media to get their music and the word out. Expanding their horizons, Mercedes works on her directing skills for their videos while Phoenix is branching out into production. Love their music, love their sound.

Slow Motion – Courage My Love

We’ll rewind next week and head back to jazz in the 30s and how blues and jazz became conjoined twins and merged into one art form. For now sit back, pour your favourite cocktail and enjoy the music and the stories.

Cheers!

Just one more….for all you Beatles lovers out there.

And I Love Her – Pat Metheny

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

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