Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Money Jungle

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Money Jungle

It’s that money spending time of year again, when retailers are supposed to finally be in the black for their fiscal year.  I haven’t shopped on the day after Thanksgiving in years, and although it always looks like there are some deals that are too good to be true, I just don’t like the fight.  Cyber Monday is a little more my style, as I have done most holiday shopping online in recent times.  I asked someone who had been out in the stores, how was it out there?  Their reply was, “It’s a jungle!”.

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

Of course, me being me, the tune that popped into my head was “Money Jungle” from a Duke Ellington piano trio album of the same name.  This is really a special album, with Duke making a rare appearance in a small group setting.  What a group it was, with Max Roach on drums and The Angry Man of Jazz himself on bass, Charles Mingus.  All three of these men are geniuses on their instrument.  They came together this one time, just for this recording.


Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Max Roach,  “Money Jungle”

Max Roach

Max Roach

The original album from 1963 had seven tracks, most of which were tunes composed by Ellington.  I am lucky to have discovered this album in the CD age, where it was released with some unheard tracks and alternate takes to bring the total up to 15 tracks.  The music is amazing, fresh, and spontaneous in part because there was absolutely no rehearsal.  Duke gave out some scribbled music with a melody and chords, said a few words, and then what we hear on the album is the absolute first time these men played together.

Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, “Caravan”

Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus

The recording almost didn’t get finished, as Mingus and his temper walked out of the recording session.  Duke had to go after him and persuade him to come back.  Duke was a very debonair and persuasive man, but it was brave to go after the Black Saint when he was mad.  Mingus had physically assaulted more than one fellow musician in his day.

Some people criticize the sounds of this album, in part because of the generational difference between Ellington and the other two men.  I actually love the sound and the playing here.  These are three of my favorite jazz players, and I can hear each of their personalities and playing clearly on this record.  Even without liner notes, I could have told you it was Roach on drums, Mingus on bass, and Duke on the keyboard. One of the most attractive things about jazz is the individuality of the musician coming through in their playing.  In orchestra music, you hear the composer and the conductor’s personality, and much less of the individual player.  If you put three different men together, and gave them the same compositions to play, it would be a completely different record.

Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, “Rem Blues”

Instead of going out to the mall and fighting the crowd, I would suggest putting on some comfortable pajamas, logging in to your favorite online shopping sight, and playing Money Jungle on Spotify.  It surely will beat hearing Sleigh Ride on the overhead speakers at a department store for the twentieth time in a row.

Money Jungle on Spotify

Desert Island Disc 5, “Sonny Rollins plus 4”

This is the fifth post in a series of writings on the jazz albums I would choose as my “Desert Island Discs”.  Each choice is getting a little harder to make, only because I am getting closer and closer to my total allotment of eight picks.  I am such a huge fan of jazz, collecting hundreds of recordings over the years, studying thousands of tunes, that it becomes a tragedy for me to leave out so much essential music.  That is the point of the game, of course, to stimulate discussion about which albums made the final list of eight, and how could you skip (insert your favorite album here).

alssI should be perfecting my desert island survival skills at some place like the Aboriginal Living Skills School in Arizona.   If you have ever read about Mr. Lundin, who runs the school, or seen him on television, you know he has an incredible bank of skills for living outdoors.  Not many people can start a fire with two sticks as well as Cody Lundin, but I like wearing shoes too much to adopt his whole persona.  I’ll have to stick to the music.

If you remember, my album choices so far are:

Kind of Blue, Miles Davis

A Love Supreme, John Coltrane Quartet

Ugetsu, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

Maiden Voyage, Herbie Hancock

(Click on each for a link to the previous blog posts)

Plus 4My fifth pick is the album Sonny Rollins plus 4, which frankly feels like I get to cheat the game of Desert Island Discs.  I get not one, not two, but three of my all time favorite musicians on one album.  Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, Clifford Brown on trumpet and Max Roach on drums are all legends on their instruments.  I would buy any album at first sight that had any one of these men playing, let alone all three!

Sonny Rollins is the leader on this recording.  The “plus 4” are the other members of the Clifford Brown-Max Roach quintet, which makes this a very interesting set.  Sonny had recently joined the Brown-Roach group as a sideman, and had played and recorded with these same musicians under their leadership.  Rollins therefore had to intentionally conceive an album that sounded different than the rest of the quintet’s recordings.  One way he accomplished this was to open with his original composition “Valse Hot”.  This is a true jazz waltz in triple meter, that still somehow flows and swings.  Being in triple meter is very significant, because most of the practiced licks and phrases an improviser has in his/her arsenal are patterned for four beats to a bar, not three.  The player instantly has to play something different.  Take a listen.

Valse Hot

The other original composition by Rollins on this album is “Pent-Up House”, which also went on to become a jazz standard.

Pent-Up House

clifford-brownI so wish that this group could have stayed together and recorded more.  Unfortunately, the piano player Richie Powell and Clifford Brown both died in a car accident three months after this recording.  “Brownie” was only 25 years old at the time, but still is one of the most influential bop trumpeters that ever lived.  He was the the complete opposite of the jazz musician stereotype that Bird created.  Brown never used drugs, disliked alcohol, lived clean and was often found practicing scales in the back room between sets at the club.  His loss was a true tragedy in the world of music.

SonnyI feel blessed to have lived long enough to see Sonny Rollins play live on three different occasions.  The first time was at the 1987 Detroit Jazz Festival, where I remember him bringing down the house with Stevie Wonder’s tune, “Isn’t She Lovely”.  When Rollins came to Detroit to play at the Music Hall in 2007, I spared no expense to attend that concert thinking I would never get to see him live again.  Like so many things, I was proven wrong :).  At the age of 81 years young, Sonny returned to the  Detroit Jazz Festival in 2012!  The Saxophone Colossus was still going strong.

Max RoachI also had the opportunity to see Max Roach play live at the Detroit Jazz Festival in the late 80’s, when he was performing with a group of strings.  Roach used to shape his drumming to fit the melodic contour of the music better than any drummer I can name.  He used all the sounds he could get out of the drum kit with great expressivity.  He showed off a portion of this skill at the DJF when he played an entire solo composition on just the high-hat cymbal!  I remember being excited at the great musicality Roach achieved sitting in the middle of the stage with a chair, microphone and this one piece of the drum set.  Max had more musicianship in his little finger than most of us have in our entire mind/body.

As you probably can tell, I am a big fan of the Detroit Jazz Festival, enjoying a yearly trip to Hart Plaza on Labor Day weekend to listen.  This year I hope to do some blogging live from the festival, if my iphone and wordpress are willing.  Stay tuned!