Bob Cranshaw, Bassist for Sonny Rollins and Other Jazz Greats

 

“Jazz Casual” with Sonny Rollins and Jim Hall–Watch on YouTube

The All Music Guide to Jazz describes Bob Cranshaw as a jazz “veteran who’s never been a giant, but is well-respected for consistent excellence.” Judging by the consistently excellent company he kept, that appears to be unquestionably true. Sonny Rollins, Wes Montgomery, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Rodgers, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk, George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson are among the jazz luminaries with whom he recorded or performedIn the 1960s, he appeared on more recordings for the Blue Note jazz label than any other bass player.

Cranshaw (December 10, 1932-November 2, 2016) spent 50 years with Rollins, beginning with a gig at the Playboy Jazz Festival in Chicago in 1959. Describing his relationship with Rollins in a YouTube video, Cranshaw said “If it’s a football team, I’m blocking for Sonny to run the touchdown.”

Cranshaw began his music training on the piano and drums, but moved to bass and tuba in high school. In addition to his jazz career, Cranshaw spent 25 years with Sesame Street, recording its theme song as well as other popular numbers. He was also in the original studio band for Saturday Night Live.

Bob Cranshaw (Bass) on Sonny Rollins The Bridge–On Spotify

Georges Jouvin, the Man with the Golden Trumpet

“Les Enfants du Pirée,” 1960-Watch on YouTube

Between the 1950s and 1990s, Georges Jouvin recorded no less than 70 albums, selling 25 million records along the way. Classically trained, he was happy to cross genres, from jazz to pop and dance.

Nicknamed “Golden Trumpet,” Jouvin (June 19, 1923-October 24, 2016) studied at the Conservatoire de Rennes and Paris Conservatory. In 1950 he recorded with an orchestra in Paris led by Maurice Mouflard and featuring a guest appearance by Charlie Parker.

In 1994 Jouvin was appointed Knight of the Legion of Honor (Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur). First given by Napoleon Bonaparte, it is the highest honorary decoration awarded in France.

“Ton sourire est dans mon coeur” on Spotify

Roland Dyens, Classical Guitarist, Composer and Teacher

“Tango en Skai”–Watch on YouTube

Roland Dyens (October 19, 1955-October 29, 2016), a Tunisian-born French guitarist, is difficult to peg to a genre. He played jazz, tango, folk, pop and classical with equal mastery. In an interview with Classical Guitar, he admitted “I’m most complicated to define. But my ‘homeland’ is classical music.”

A performer, composer, transcriber and arranger, Dyens was also a teacher. He held the same teaching chair at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris that was once held by Alberto Ponce, the renowned Spanish guitarist with whom Dyens first studied at age 13.

Atypical for classical guitarists, Dyens would often begin performances with an improvisation. In his interview with Classical Guitar, he says it was once said of him that he was “a jazz musician in my head and a classical one in my hands.”

“Variations on a Theme by Handel, Op. 107” on Spotify

 

Eddy Christiani, Europe’s First Electric Guitarist?

“Lorento Rag”–Watch on YouTube

I don’t have much to substantiate the claim that Christiani (April 21, 1918-October 24, 2016) was Europe’s first electric guitarist (does 1 Tweet count?), but I did hear it repeated by Toto’s Steve Lukather, the 2010 recipient of the Eddy Christiani Award. (Like me, Lukather acknowledged that he’d merely heard the claim.)

Be that as it may, Christiani was certainly early to electrify, as he was playing in jazz bands in the 1930s. His first electric was an Epiphone Electar Model M, which he got in 1939.

Early influences on Christiani were Django Reinhardt and American guitarist Eddy Lang, from whom the young Eduard presumably borrowed his nickname. And if the above video reminds hints at the influence of Chet Atkins, perhaps it’s because Christiani is playing a 1958 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Nashville. Christiani met Atkins in person in 1961.

For a full accounting of Christiani’s career, check out this excellent Dutch blog. Even if you can’t translate it from the Dutch, it gives a clear visual timeline of Christiani’s career, showing many good photos of the artist, his guitars, recordings and other performance paraphernalia. (I especially like the covers of Tuney Tunes magazine.)

 

Later in his career, Christiani turned to vocals, recording hits like “Daar Bij Der Waterkant” (“Down by the Riverside”). But there are still great instrumentals, as in the track below from 1963.

“Wild Geese” on Spotify

Irving Fields, Pianist Who Recorded Hit Album “Bagels and Bongos”

“Miami Beach Rhumba”–Video on YouTube

Irving Fields made a career out of mashing up musical styles, often by taking Eastern European sounds and putting them to a Latin beat. His hit 1959 album Bagels and Bongos sold two million copies and spawned a series of followups: Bikinis and Bongos, Champagne and Bongos, Pizza and Bongos and More Bagels and Bongos.

As a pianist with the Irving Fields Trio, he performed at many of the hot nightclubs of midcentury Manhattan–Copacabana, the Latin Quarter and Mermaid Room. Just months ago, he could still be heard performing at Nino’s Tuscany Steakhouse. He was 100 at the time.

Fields (August 4, 1915-August 20, 2016) had a humorous side to him (as if his “…and Bongos” albums aren’t proof enough). He composed and recorded “The YouTube Dot Com Theme Song,” which has been viewed over 800,000 times.

“Mazeltov Merengue” on Spotify

Toots Thielemans, Jazz Harmonica Player and Guitarist

“Bluesette” at Night of the Proms in Rotterdam, 2009–Video

I learned of Toots Thielemans (April 29, 1922-August 22, 2016)  from Lowell Pickett of the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. Lowell, who also serves as Artistic Director at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, booked Thielemans at both venues.

I never saw him play, but listened to a few recordings on Lowell’s recommendation. I’ve also learned that I’d heard his music before without even knowing it. His harmonica-playing is part of the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack contributes to the opening theme of Sesame Street. 

But Thielemans began his professional musical career as a guitarist. Inspired to pick up the instrument by listening to fellow Belgian Django Reinhardt, he achieved enough proficiency to be a member of the Benny Goodman Sextet and George Shearing Quintet. Increasingly he became known for his work on the chromatic harmonica, a slightly larger harmonica with a slide that allows the artist to play every note in every key on a three-octave scale.

“Airegin” from Images on Spotify

Bobby Hutcherson, Jazz Vibraphonist Who Bridged Bop and the Avant-Garde

The Bobby Hutcherson Quartet “Delilah”–Video

Mention the vibes, and Lionel Hampton is the first name that may come to mind. But it was Bobby Hutcherson, perhaps more than any other vibes player, who stretched the range of the instrument, using it to create more tones, more moods.

Of his nearly 40 albums in The All Music Guide to Jazz, five receive top, five-star ratings. Components, his 1966 release on Blue Note is among them and is also included in Tom Moon’s 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. “Tranquility,” a track on the album, has over 3 million streams on Spotify, a high volume for a jazz track and a sign of the artist’s enduring appeal.

Hutcherson (January 27, 1941-August 15, 2016) recorded many albums on the Blue Note label between 1965 and 1977, and Component features frequent collaborators: Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Freddy Hubbard on trumpet, James Spaulding on alto sax and flute and Joe Chambers on drums. Hutcherson composed the tracks on Side 1, which are mainly done in the hard bop style. Chambers is responsible for the arrangements on Side 2, which go in a more experimental direction. “Little B’s Poem,” which I provide a link to below, is a tribute to his then 3-year-old son.

“Little B’s Poem” on Spotify

Pete Fountain, New Orleans Jazz Clarinetist

The Lawrence Welk Show: Pete Fountain Plays “The Tiger Rag”

When I was a kid in the 1960s, there were jazz musicians who I came to know. Not because I actually listened to their music, but through some popular culture osmosis. Maybe I saw them on variety shows like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Maybe their faces showed up on the promotional record sleeves that accompanied my sister’s Columbia Records Club collection. Names like Al Hirt, Boots Randolph–and Pete Fountain, who passed last week–were somehow, some way familiar to me.

I suppose their typically upbeat music was unobjectionable enough to thrive in a 3-network world. Like a Kraft cheese single, they were packaged for mainstream tastes. But they were all accomplished musicians.

Fountain (July 3, 1930-August 6, 2016) took up the clarinet as a kid, in part to strengthen weak lungs. From the time he was in his teens he played in New Orleans clubs. A talent scout for Lawrence Welk spotted him at Pier 600 and enticed him to move to LA, where he was a member of the Welk orchestra for a few years before returning to New Orleans.

Fountain’s fame resulted in New Orleans declaring a “Pete Fountain Day” in 1959, and he went on to perform with a number of bands and run his own clubs. He was founder of the “Half-Fast Walking Club,” a fixture of the annual Mardi Gras Parade.

 

Dan Hicks, Leader of the Hot Licks

“By Hook Or By Crook,” 1972

I was first introduced to Dan Hicks by my then-girlfriend (later my wife and ex-wife), who brought Hicks’ albums Where’s The Money? and Last Train to Hicksville back from her years at a suburban Chicago college.

I was amused by Hicks’ indifference to modern musical trends. He wasn’t rock, or even folk, but something else altogether. Were it not for his wry lyrics and hippyish looks, he wouldn’t have seemed of our generation at all. (Harry Nilsson took a similar retro turn with his Schmilsson projects.)

“Jukies’ Ball,” 1969 Promo Film

Hicks (December 9, 1941-February 6, 2016) started out in the rock world as a drummer for The Charlatans, a San Francisco psychedelic band that was defining the genre with other local standouts, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

“I Scare Myself,” Live in San Francisco, 2001

I saw the Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks in the late ’90s at the short-lived Rossi’s, an underground jazz bar in Minneapolis. As my friend Brian recalls, he walked through the crowd, playing, on his way to the stage. He opened by saying “I’m sure you’re all here to hear my big hit “Where’s The Money?” Well, we’re not going to play it.”

Whether he did or not, I can’t remember.

Paul Bley, Jazz Pianist and Innovator

“Alrec” Live on French TV, 1973

Thom Jurek, writing in The All Music Guide to Jazz says it all: “Paul Bley is among the most influential jazz pianists and composers of the 20th century and a founding father of avant-garde jazz.”

Live in Oslo

In the course of his long career, he organized concerts or recorded with such 20th century jazz legends as Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ornette Coleman.

Performance

Bley (November 10, 1932-January 3, 2016) released nearly 100 recordings and two autobiographies. He taught at the New England Music Conservatory.