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After Notes

Published August 22, 2023 at 2:47 PM CDT

It's all about After Hours... Tri States Public Radio's own home for swing, straight-ahead jazz, and The Great American Songbook... wherein host Ken Zahnle spins a few stacks of albums from our own collection every Saturday night at 8:00.

The Nutcracker Suite – Ellington/Strayhorn/Tchaikovsky

Peter, Billy, and The Duke

Posted November 30, 2023 at 11:00 PM CST
Ellington & Strayhorn Crack Down for the Holidays
Rawf8 -
Ellington & Strayhorn Crack Down for the Holidays

In 1960, legendary bandleader Duke Ellington and his co-writer/arranger Billy Strayhorn cooked up a pretty tasty jazz confection based on Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. It’s now a holiday jazz staple, enjoyable without any backstory. But, if like me, you miss the age of albums with liner notes, I’m serving up below the original notes written by session producer Irving Townsend. So whether you Spotify it, Apple Music it, Amazon Prime it, or just plain hear it on the radio 😊, you’re set uo to be an instant expert.

 “Overture” — The Suite begins, naturally enough, with an overture based on the first of many famous themes Duke and Billy Strayhorn arranged for this album. Soloists are Paul Gonzalves, "Booty” Wood on trombone con plunger, and Ray Nance, playing a beautiful solo on open horn. The ensemble last chorus gives a first taste of the kind of driving band sound that characterizes the Ellington version of The Nutcracker.

“Toot Toot Tootie Toot (Dance of the Reed-Pipes)” — You will by now have noticed that titles of the various dances have undergone an Ellingtonian change. Duke and Billy devoted many hours to retitling, mainly because Duke, having adapted the Suite to his style, felt the titles were also in need of "reorchestrating." (The full title for this piece, for instance, is “Caliopatootie toot toot tootie Toot”, but none of us could spell it, so we shortened it.) It features reed duets by Jimmy Hamilton and Russell Procope and by Paul Gonzalves and Harry Carney, a toy pipe foursome if ever there was one.

“Peanut Brittle Brigade (March)” — This is one of the fine examples of the full Ellington band turning a four-sided march theme into a great jazz performance. After the ensemble, Ray Nance and Jimmy Hamilton take solos, and there is a piano solo, one of the few in this Suite. Duke devoted so much time to the band during this recording he rarely had time to sit at the piano. The ensemble following the piano interlude features a five-octave sax figure from the bottom of Harry Carney's baritone to the top of Jimmy Hamilton's clarinet, and, the March ends with Paul Gonzalves' solo to an ending that even Tchaikovsky could hear.

“Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy)” — This famous delicacy opens with a drum figure leading to Harry and Paul on baritone and tenor saxes. Paul continues the melody while the Ellington pep section, made up of Ray Nance and Willie Cook, trumpets, and Booty Wood, trombone, wail the background. The melody returns to Paul and Harry again and fades, and the Sugar Plum Fairy, now a West Indian beauty, disappears into the cane fields.

“Entr’acte” — The entr'acte returns to the overture in a freer form and introduces Johnny Hodges, while Harry Carney and Paul Gonzalves join in the build-up. Lawrence Brown then takes over on muted trombone a wonderfully welcome sound. Jimmy Hamilton's clarinet and Lawrence's trombone complete the intermission music.

“Chinoiserie (Chinese Dance)” — This is a duet by Jimmy Hamilton and Paul Gonzalves with the assistance of drums and bass and a touch of trombones. It is played straight, although not straight-faced, and after another piano interlude, the two soloists reverse the music and play each other's solos for the last chorus. Naturally, the pianist has the last word.

“Danse of the Floreadores (Waltz of the Flowers)” — What-ever Floreadores are, they are not waltz lovers, and this one-time waltz now jumps. Booty has the opening plunger statement. Ray Nance plays the first plunger trumpet solo, following by Hamilton and then Nance again. Lawrence Brown sails into his solo, and the danse concludes with Booty and Britt Woodman.

“Arabesque Cookie (Arabian Dance)” — Russell Procope has been practicing on a bamboo whistle for months for his debut on records. This is it, and he has made the most of it. Juan Tizol, a tambourine expert, sets the rhythmic color with Sam Woodyard and Aaron Bell, and then Harry Carney on bass clarinet and Jimmy Hamilton on the regular kind, play the Arabian Dance. Willie Cook plays with the reed section on this number, and as the Moorish flavor turns into a swinging beat, Johnny Hodges plays. The dance returns to the original for the ending, and Tizol has the last shake.

Duke Ellington's first brush with the classics is successfully completed. It is a tribute, I think, to Duke and Billy and to Tchaikovsky. The Ellington forces have proved once again that in any setting, this great band and its strong personality pervade all the music it plays. But that Tchaikovsky has also triumphed is an indication of the perennial strength of his music. As Duke commented, “That cat was it."

(Columbia Records - 1960)

Jazz goes Live in Forgottonia and beyond

Posted November 2, 2023 at 10:27 AM CDT
Saxophonist Alex Graham with the HAT Trio last season
Courtesy Western illinois Museum
Saxophonist Alex Graham with the HAT Trio last season

Coming up in Macomb, the Western Illinois Museum continues its partnership with the Western Illinois University School of Music for another year of Jazz Night on Our Front Porch. Every concert in the series features a professional guest artist backed by WIU’s own faculty HAT trio. This month, on Friday the 10th, the Museum welcomes tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon. winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition, winner of the Rising Star award in Downbeat Magazine for both alto and tenor saxophones, and the recipient of a Philippine Presidential Award, the highest civilian honor an overseas Filipino can receive in commemoration for their contributions to the perception of Filipinos worldwide. The doors and bar open at 4:30 with music at 5:30 and 6:30. To close out the evening, WIU Students will take the stage at 7:30. There is a $5 suggested donation at the door.

In the ‘Burg, Knox College’s weekly Jazz Night features the Cherry St. Jazz Combo in a jam session every Thursday night at 7:00 (when the college is in session) at the Galesburg Community Arts Center on Main Street. Bonus: on November 9th, that includes the full Knox College Jazz Ensemble in concert.

And, In the Tri-States, Wednesday night means--- Jazz! It’s all over the place in the form of monthly big band performances, and there’s one near you. Let us explore:

Keokuk – the Bullis-Rutter Big Band plays the first Wednesday of most months at The Hawkeye Restaurant on the west side.

Quincy – the Big River Swing Machine can be found the 2nd Wednesday of most months at the State Street Theater downtown.

Macomb – the Post 6 Big Band holds the stage the last Wednesday of most months at American Legion Post 6, just south of the courthouse square.

The Buselli-Wallarab Big Band is Back Home Again in Indiana

The Little Label That Could

Posted October 5, 2023 at 11:14 AM CDT
Cornetist Bix Beiderbecke's nod to his home town
Wikimedia Commons
Cornetist Bix Beiderbecke's nod to his home town

When we think of the hot spots in the history of jazz, we think New Orleans. Chicago. New York. Philadelphia. Richmond, Indiana? Not so much. But the Indiana/Ohio border town is not only the ‘Eastern Gateway to Indiana”… it’s the “Cradle of Recorded Jazz.”

In the 1920’s, Richmond’s Starr Piano factory began a side business to its side business of making phonographs… they started recording phonograph records under the Gennett label. And for a few years their factory by the Whitewater River became a destination for the most famous names in early jazz: King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Bix Beiderbecke, and, coming from not quite as far, Hoosier Hoagie Carmichael.

The factory is now long gone, save one towered building open to the elements that serves as a shelter for picnickers. But the groundbreaking music recorded there lives on. And that’s the history that Indianan composer and co-bandleader Brent Wallarab wanted to honor with a major concert work for jazz big band, his Gennett Suite.

In four movements, each focused on one great Richmond visitor (Armstrong, Beiderbecke, Carmichael, and Morton), the suite revisits and updates famed tunes first recorded on the label, in a sprawling performance by the Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra.

It’s now out in album form, and the CD package is sumptuous, issued as a small bound booklet with extensive and insightful program notes with historical photos and record label graphics (including, coincidentally, both a seen above... and a sheet music cover that serve as my computer monitor desktops here at TSPR).

What's coming up... and a Chicagoan you may not know was a Chicagoan.

Posted September 1, 2023 at 12:52 PM CDT
California Street sign, Tony Bennett Way, San Francisco, California Delimont -
The Tony Bennett Way.

This week on After Hours, we’ll kick off each hour with classic songs done the Tony Bennett Way. We also have a trio of tunes focused on Prez… the President of the Tenor Saxophone, that is. Lester Young… he plays, he writes, he inspires Charles Mingus, Jon Hendricks, and Larry Vuckovitch.

And we’ll have a set involving Chicagoans, including a cover of a popular Benny Goodman tune, ‘Airmail Special.”

Most people probably connect bandleader Goodman with New York… the “Let’s Dance” radio show, the Carnegie Hall concert… but he was a native of the bustling immigrant Maxwell Street neighborhood of Chicago, taking music lessons at the local synagogue and from a Chicago Symphony Orchestra clarinetist, playing in a boy’s club band at Hull House, working in dance halls and on Lake Michigan excursion boats, and hanging out with the group of young jazzers known as the Austin High School gang. He got his union card (an important point on Labor Day weekend), made his first recordings, and played with Bix Beiderbecke in Chicago… all of that before moving to NYC in 1927.