Thursday, 24 February 2011

Going Dutch

“You're young and growing and I'm old and going. So have your fun while you can…”

Added recently to the Roll of Honour, opposite is the weblog Keep Swinging – a bilingual affair in English and Dutch edited by Hans Koert.

There is a fascinating piece there at present about Ben Webster’s final performance which took place in Lieden, South Holland on Thursday the 6th of September 1973 at De Twee Spieghels.

From Keep Swinging:

"On the 6th of September 2010, thirty seven years after Ben's last concert, four "aged" men joined for a concert at the Twee Spieghels in Leiden to play a tribute to Ben Webster: Bob Rigter, who played at the 1973 concert on Ben's original tenor saxophone; Rob Agerbeek at the piano and the original 1973 rhythm section with Peter Ypma on drums and Henk Haverhoek, on double bass."

Film director Flore Deroose made a recording of the concert which forms the centrepiece of her new film Tribute to Ben Webster.

The first twenty minutes of the film, with subtitles in English, have been posted at the blog. You can read all about the documentary and watch this first part here.

I don’t know if there are plans to post the rest of the film with subtitles but you can see Part Two at the First Flore Production’s own Youtube channel here.

More about Ben’s last years from the excellent Keep Swinging blog can be found here.

Ben’s final performance was captured, fortuitously, by a student on cassette. It has since been made available commercially on EMI/ Blue Note.

I’ve included a picture of the original LP issue here. The susurrant (from Webster’s Dictionary!)tones of Ben’s tenor are invariably experienced best in this medium – but the double album is next to impossible to find.

Copies of the compact disc version – called Ben Webster Holland Sessions -were legion until a few years ago but that, too, is now out of print and has disappeared from sale at the usual online retailers. It can be downloaded, however, from here.

Tenor saxophonist on the tribute concert was Bob Rigter. He was also present at Ben’s last performance. At his own website here, Rigter recounts the experience of being asked to play ‘Betsy’, Webster’s tenor saxophone, for the penultimate number of the night.

Ben Webster died two weeks later on 20 September, 1973. On the same day, Bob Rigter’s son Simon was born.

A professional musician himself, now, Simon’s site can be found here.

And here is the saxophonist with the Dutch jazz Orchestra performing Day Dream.

Ever up and onward…

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Hi Fi Fo Fum

The search for quality music inevitably gets bound up in the search for quality sound.

I do not have the budget to indulge my hi-fi tastes to the limit, but I do have a proper ‘separates’ system and a turntable. Whilst I don’t have the specialist knowledge either to build a perfect system, I do appreciate the language of the hi-fi enthusiast which often borders on the poetic.

So, audio engineer Steve Hoffman’s discussion board (here) is one of my favourite stop overs on the old information super highway. It was a discussion thread which led me to this article by Henry Rollins about the supremacy of vinyl over compact disc and download.

My favourite lines read:

Sitting in a room, alone, listening to a CD is to be lonely. Sitting in a room alone with an LP crackling away, or sitting next to the turntable listening to a song at a time via 7-inch single, is enjoying the sublime state of solitude.

And Solitude is the most tenuous of links to this: part of a report by David W. Robinson from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2007: The Audio Oasis! complete with photograph of one mean hi-fi rig and a couple of choice Ellington albums:

USA's Dan Meinwald demonstrated the playback of some choice mono LPs that he had brought with him.

"My personal favorite was the original 1950(!) pressing of Duke Ellington's Masterpieces by Ellington. Via the Dynavector mono, the sound was incredibly immediate, very clean, and spilling over with real presence. Not only that, but I got to hear a performance of "Mood Indigo" that went on for some eleven minutes, allowing Ellington and company to really explore some variations that were new to me. To say that this session was the personal highlight of the show for me is an understatement. It was an exceptional experience, one that furthered my audio education."

Dan Meinwald with a monoraul pressing of Ellington Indigos (left) and the marvelous 1950 monoraul Masterpieces by Ellington (ML 4418). Sublime! Many thanks, Dan.

"It was also a revelation of the glories that great performances on mono can have: layering (you don't need stereo for that, surprisingly enough), texture, rich enveloping tone, and atmosphere by the ton. Dan was sharing with anyone who has EARs to hear (not everyone does!) how good such mono LPs can be, properly played back. Dan even did a comparison of mono playback via mono vs. stereo cartridges. The Dynavector stereo did a good job, but the noise floor was noticeably increased (more tics/pops) with a stereo MC. This demonstration made it clear to me that if you're serious about mono, invest in a good mono setup. In the case of the Disc Master, getting a second tonearm is quite feasible …just the thing for the serious collector."

Interested parties can read the full report here.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Only Connect

January 23 last, a couple of weeks ago saw the sixty eighth anniversary of Duke Ellington’s first concert at Carnegie Hall. Centre piece of this event was the performance of a piece written specifically with this occasion in mind – Black, Brown and Beige.

Whilst the work was previewed the night before at Rye High School, Westchester County, New York the previous evening, Carnegie was the occasion, effectively, of its world premier.

A further performance of the work took place at Boston’s Symphony Hall on January 28 and then Ellington never performed the work in its entirety in concert ever again.

Listening to that first Carnegie Hall concert from the original vinyl issue (the transfer to CD is not done well –vinyl is the way to go to hear these recordings), B, B and B occupies both sides of the second of the three discs. It comprises, then, an entirely self-contained experience. I know that over the next few weeks I shall be returning to these sides again and again to reflect on the significance the composition – perhaps the major work of his career - certainly had on Ellington himself.

It is interesting to reflect, too, on the life the work enjoyed beyond these initial performances. There is the 1958 Columbia album, for example and the way certain pieces from the work would recur throughout Ellington’s work, the sublime Come Sunday, signally, which is featured both in Ellington’s 1963 My People and the Sacred concerts. These matters of heritage and faith run deep.

I was particularly gratified to receive a comment following the recent, brief piece on the passing of Barrie Lee Hall Junior posted here. The comment was signed Maurice. A little research on line confirmed me in my thoughts that its author was Maurice Peress who amongst his many accomplishments through his work with the Aaron Copland School of Music, is the author of Living with American Music: From Dvorak to Duke Ellington and who worked with Ellington himself on orchestrating Black, Brown and Beige in the sixties.

Thank you, Mr Peress for your comments. As with all the support, interest and kindness I receive here, they are very much appreciated.