By February 6, 2013 0 Comments Read More →

Individuality: a first listen

In our last few posts, we’ve begun a lament about the demise of individuality and easily recognized styles among musicians. Here’s a suggested playlist to support what we’ve discussed thus far. As usual, hit the song titles, which are Amazon links, to listen to a sample, and to purchase the songs individually.

We mentioned Count Basie’s late 1930’s band, and its two brilliant tenor players, Lester Young and Herschel Evans. We could devote an entire website to either of them, and certainly there are many already focusing on Young’s talents, but here’s a quick taste of their vastly different styles. It’s “Doggin’ Around”, a 1938 record by the Basie band. The first solo is Herschel, and the second solo is Lester.

In our first post on this subject, we brought up Lester Young in the context of how he sounded absolutely nothing like several other exemplary players. Here’s a little taste of each of those players …

To start, check out Lester Young’s very first recording, and the first recording made by Count Basie under his own name. This is from a legendary 1936 small group audition recording, and is among the most seminal and groundbreaking in 20th century music. The rhythm section is light years ahead of any other at this time, and Basie’s solo, which starts things off, gave notice that the rules were changing. Young’s solo, which comes next, is something else altogether. It was so out of left field, and so unlike anything that came before it, that it completely re-wrote the guidelines for improvisational music. One of the great moments in American music, it’s the brilliant “Shoe-Shine Boy”.

We compared Young’s sound to several players, and here they are. First up is Ben Webster, as utterly unique as Young, if less influential. Here he performs “Sleep”, from a 1944 session wherein he performs tricks of tone, range and embouchure that still give saxophone players fits, almost 70 years later. Next up is Sonny Rollins, still the best jazz musician in the world at age 82, but heard here at the height of his powers in 1956, on “Blue 7″. Finally, to make a point, we compared Young to King Curtis. Here’s Curtis doing a rarity for a saxophone player: a genuine pop hit. From 1967, it’s “Memphis Soul Stew”.

The other exemplary comparison we made in our first entry on this subject was that of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Hendrix’s output was fairly large, considering his short life, so singling something out is tough for any self-respecting baby-boomer. “Villanova Junction”, as recorded here on the last morning of Woodstock, ain’t a bad place to start. Sloppy, visceral, spontaneous, and utterly brilliant.

As for Clapton. he continues to chug along, often obscuring by his ubiquity any sense of how important a figure he was in the mid-1960’s. How many performers, before or since, get compared to God in subway graffiti? Here’s Clapton with Cream in 1967, and one of our personal favorite solos of his, on “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”.

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