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Listening Post: Ella Fitzgerald with Jazz at the Philharmonic; David Murray with Geri Allen and Terri Lynne Carrington


Jazz at the Philharmonic: The Ella Fitzgerald Set (Verve). The epitome of Jazz as Show Business – and Where It’s Contiguous With Art. Not to hear the adrenaline excitement of jazz at its purest here is to be entirely missing some ultra-American DNA. But so successful was this as show business in 1949, 1953 and 1954 that there are, sadly, a couple of tunes that could make strong men weep: 1) the spectacle of Fitzgerald in 1949, as swinging and sophisticated a bebop singer as any who ever lived, wanting, as always, to please audiences with the infantilism of her first hit “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” and 2) worse, Fitzgerald, as always, entertaining the daylights out of the audience with her Louis Armstrong impression, no matter what it was doing to her vocal cords. Norman Granz’s “Jazz at the Philharmonic” is how Fitzgerald and Granz began a professional marriage that overworked her mercilessly but whose offspring included some Verve Records that will always remain some of the greatest jazz records ever made (the Song Books, for instance). “Jazz at the Philharmonic” was a wildly entertaining and showy way of presenting jam-session style jazz virtuosity for mass audiences. It was the heir of John Hammond’s “From Spirituals to Swing” and Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert. It never stopped Granz from assembling mind-boggling, all-star celebrants in, for instance, Carnegie Hall. The September 1949 Carnegie Hall Concert here includes Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Flip Phillips, Hank Jones, Buddy Rich, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown. The sounds of white people worshipping Dionysus in their entitled way were not always pretty ones at jazz concerts back then, and there are moments here when Fitzgerald is swinging the house down and the audience rudeness is enough to make you want to call out a presidential rally security team. But what wonderful stuff is here – vintage Fitzgerald like “Oh, Lady Be Good,” “Black Coffee,” “The Man That Got Away” and “Flyin’ Home” and “Perdido” (where she turns into one of the improvising horns). It all ends with a gorgeous scat improvisation called “Later” because it’s the one that ended the concert. Not everyone in that JATP is on the Olympian level. Trombonist Tommy Turk, for instance. But these JATP concerts introduced jazz fans to the joys of showbiz jam sessions in public by the best the music had to offer. No singer ever fit in better with them than Fitzgerald. ŒŒŒŒ (Jeff Simon)

David Murray, Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington, “Perfection” (Motema). This was recorded just a week after the death of Ornette Coleman. The disc’s title is named for a previously unrecorded Coleman composition for which this basic trio is augmented by trombonist Craig Harris, trumpet player Wallace Roney Jr., and the brilliant bassist Charnett Moffett (whose father was one of Coleman’s most creative drummers.) On one of this disc’s tunes, they call themselves the “David, Geri and Terri Show.” On the disc’s notes, they’re matter-of-factly referred to as “The Murray, Allen and Carrington Power Trio” (when you have no bass player, it gives rise to such thoughts). This is not a mutual admiration society one might have expected – especially not one whose second cut on this disc is a version of the folk song “Barbara Allen.” (Geri Allen – whose mother’s name is Barbara – says, “I was moved deeply when I first heard this beautiful melody played by Charlie Haden at a rehearsal for our trio with Paul Motian.”) Coleman’s title tune was transcribed by trumpet player Bobby Bradford from Coleman’s playing and given to Murray but never recorded by Coleman. This is some of the best playing some of these participants have done on record in a very long time. What Murray brings forth out of Allen – and what Allen brings forth out of Murray – are not things found in abundance on other discs. Allen toured with Coleman for years but the freedoms that Murray inspires in her and Carrington are hugely exciting. It goes without saying that they would likely be sensational heard live. It’s dedicated by the trio to Coleman and other jazz figures who died in 2016: Charlie Haden, Marcus Belgrave and Father Peter O’Brian, who had been Mary Lou Williams’ manager. ŒŒŒŒ (Jeff Simon)

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