Thursday, September 2, 2010

Day 18: Herbie Hancock "Maiden Voyage" and Doc Severinsen & His Big Band "Swingin' the Blues"

Once upon a time I had a record collection. You know, like real records, LPs, vinyl. I had it because that was what was available.

It wasn't a collection of rarities or anything. I think it started with Disco Duck and Pac-Man Fever and by the time of its demise contained what I thought was the core of an essential jazz collection. Or at least jazz music I had heard in jazz history classes or from instructors that I really liked.

Sadly, the stack of records was thrown out with my stack of comics after I moved out of my Dad's house and forgot them. That has always stung. Not because Pac-Man Fever is such a valuable record (I think I saw it at a thrift store for $.50 once) or my billionth printing of Giant Steps was worth anything, but because that was music I wanted and I didn't have it anymore. (I also had the complete run of the original Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2, which might actually have been worth something...well, the internet says $20...but that's for another story...)

Part of working at the record store was to fix this, to re-establish my collection. And this time not let go of it. Little did I know what I was getting into.

Herbie Hancock
Maiden Voyage

This is one of the first albums I bought when I first started to explore 'real' jazz. As I stated before, I had an early connection with Herbie Hancock and when I found out that he recorded this kind of stuff, I went right for it. Plus, after my dad had mentioned that Hancock didn't know how to play in response to Rock It, I looked forward to the moment he would ask who this incredible piano player was so I could beam, "Why, Herbie Hancock of course. Don't you recognize his playing?"

I don't know that it ever actually happened, but I sure know I wanted it to.

I've always had a cheese streak in me, so when I formed a jazz combo in High School I wanted them to play Maiden Voyage at our first show. That first show never happened, and no one was as into Maiden Voyage as I was, so I don't think it would have happened anyway.

This might be the first recording of people I've seen live to go into the hard drive. With the exception of saxophonist George Coleman, I have seen each member of this line up live, heading their own bands. Hancock I saw in 're-union' groups, first with Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter and last with The Headhunters.

With all the importance of this album to me, with all my clear love for these performers, this CD was unopened. I was undoubtedly excited to get such a crucial album back into my collection, but I never so much as took it out of its wrapper. It was a CD I knew, I was glad to have it back, I probably intended to listen to it at some point, but I probably got it along with a bunch of other things, or stuff I hadn't heard yet, and into the Albatross it went, lost. I remember it surfacing now and then and being happy that it still survived, but I never even picked it up.

I've painted myself into a corner, I realize, by classifying the jazz in the tags. I knew there would come a time when I wouldn't really be able to do that without messing up and here it is. I tend to think of this as just 'post-bop' jazz, not really cool or hard-bop (as wiki seems to think it is...or 'modal jazz' which is true of the title track). I think I'm just going to go with post-bop with the caveat that I am by no means a final authority on the subject. I just thought that there was so much jazz that was going to come up that just saying 'jazz' wasn't going to be enough.

This is as close as jazz gets to a 'concept album,' with all the pieces meant to evoke the ocean. This is done through the use of a lot of modality and openness in the arrangements and solos. It's a pretty easy album to listen to, which means you can end up missing some of the wilder moments in the solos. It's a little deceptive that way. This is what formed the basis of what I considered jazz at the time. To me, jazz was small combos and lengthy solos, not really blistering but rather developing over time. I had heard other pieces out of context before, Take Five etc., but this was 'on-purpose jazz.'

It's also pretty short at 42 minutes, with only five tracks.

This is another one of those Rudy Van Gelder reissues. I replaced a lot of my old Blue Note recordings when the promos for this series came out. It was a boon, since up to that point, my promos didn't feature a lot of 'classic' acts except in collections, not complete recordings.

Well, now it's on the hard drive, nostalgia on tap...

Doc Severinsen & His Big Band
Swingin' the Blues

This is another one of those 'why not' CDs. When it's free and offered to you, sure why not? Doc Severinson? Sure. You usually (unless you'd gone to a live taping) only get to hear him in little bumper segments here and there. Why not find out what he sounds like when given more than 15-30 seconds?

There isn't anything other than name-recognition based curiosity. The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson wasn't something I necessarily 'got.' I wasn't up on the daily news, so I didn't understand half of the monologue. I was too young to get the more scatological jokes no matter how overwhelmingly tame they were. I wasn't up on the latest whatever that the guests were there to promote and I could never remember anyone's name or face anyway, so the interviews were nothing much to me. What The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson meant to me was that I was up waaaay past my bedtime, and that was awesome. And occasionally someone would bring on wild animals that would mess with Johnny or McMahon. Or, as I knew him, 'that Star Search guy.'

I seem to remember listening to this, actually. I don't know why I remember this CD and especially don't remember listening to it, but I really think I did.

Something happened to Big Band music between its heyday and 'modern Big Bands.' There is a distinct sound change and it's not just in the way the band is mic'd. Where my High School band was modeled after the Basie orchestra, my second and final college band was a lot more like this. A lot of 'competition bands' sounded like this as well. I don't know enough about the influences or who affected these changes. I know I always associate it with Maynard Ferguson, but I don't know really.

I don't even know how to quantify the difference other than to say 'modern sounding.' I mean, it's the same book--In a Sentimental Mood, an Ellington staple, just ended. But the arrangements are different.

This is the kind of Big Band stuff I would run into a lot live. Mostly, as I said, at competitions. I was always a little uneasy with music competitions, but it meant that a lot of schools got together and played their music for something other than mandatory school assemblies and end of the semester concerts.

There's a track on here called "Doc & Snooky Banter" that's apparently just them making small noises back and forth on their instruments (both trumpets with the drummer wanting to play along) while the singer laughs. That might have been one of those things just for them that ended up on the album for the rest of us...

Usually at this point in the concert, if it's late enough and at something like a massive outdoor jazz festival, there is a group of older people dancing in front of the band. If that goes on long enough the people who know dances are joined by people who just move about. At some point, I get it in my head to join them, which when I was a teenager delighted the hell out of them. This isn't a 'cougar' thing, these are like grandmas who I think just pretend I'm their grandson taking an interest in them even though I've reached my 'too cool teens.' I don't do that anymore. It's not as 'adorable.'

Me and my brother spent a few minutes trying to get a decent sound out of my nephew's hunting horn the other day, confirming our notion that playing brass is at least 15% voodoo. I bring this up because the little intro Doc plays for West End Blues has that herald trumpet flare.

They're ending with a spiritual-induced The Supreme Sacrifice, complete with B-3 organ. It almost seems out of place, but there is a consistence of the sound especially in the horn voicings and the way it's all recorded. Easily, though, my favorite track on the CD.

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