Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frank Foster R.I.P.

The great composer, band leader, educator, humanitarian and reed player Frank Foster, died today of complications from kidney failure at his home in Chesapeake, Virginia. He was 82. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 23, 1928, Frank Benjamin Foster took up the clarinet at age 11, switching to alto saxophone two years later. He became so proficient on the alto sax that he was playing professionally at age 14 and leading his own 12-piece band while still a senior in high school.

After attending Wilberforce University, Foster moved to Detroit with trumpeter Snooky Young where he joined the local scene, playing with such musicians as Wardell Gray. After being drafted and serving in Korea, Foster returned to the music scene by joining the big band of Count Basie (1904-84), where he stayed through 1964.

During this time Foster was a featured soloist in the Basie band on tenor saxophone and contributed many compositions and arrangements to the Basie book, including the now standard “Shiny Stockings” as well as “Down for the Count,” “Blues Backstage,” “Back to the Apple” (featured in the 1986 Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters), “Discommotion,” and the terrific “Blues in Hoss’ Flat” (from the 1959 album Chairman of the Board and brilliantly used by Jerry Lewis in his 1961 film The Errand Boy), as well as arrangements for the entire 1961 album Easin’ It (featuring “Discommotion” and available on the now out-of-print CD box set The Complete Roulette Studio Recordings of Count Basie and his Orchestra).

While still with Count Basie, Frank Foster recorded several solo albums for the Blue Note, Savoy and Argo labels, but began his own solo career in the mid ‘60s with several albums of soul jazz on the Prestige label, including his first, Fearless Frank Foster (1966), featuring another near standard in “Raunchy Rita.” It was around this time that Foster also arranged Sarah Vaughan’s Viva Vaughan (Mercury, 1965), performed with his own 18-piece ensemble and toured and performed with Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton and Duke Pearson.

Foster recorded several albums for the Blue Note label (one of which was never released) and joined drummer Elvin Jones’s group in 1968. Foster recorded and toured with Jones through 1974, while holding several teaching positions and a featured spot in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band from 1972 to 1975.

In 1974, Foster formed his famed Loud Minority band (first heard on the 1974 Mainstream LP The Loud Minority) as well as Living Color, a quartet co-fronted with drummer Charli Persip. In 1983, Foster co-led a quintet with Frank Wess, recording Two For The Blues (Pablo, 1984) and Frankly Speaking (Concord, 1985).

In June 1986, Foster succeeded Thad Jones as leader of the Count Basie Orchestra. While leading the Basie Orchestra, Foster earned two Grammy Awards, one for his arrangement of the Diane Schuur composition "Deedles’ Blues" (1987) and the other for his arrangement of the renowned guitarist/vocalist George Benson’s composition "Basie’s Bag" (1988 – Foster had earlier played with Benson on the guitarist’s 1973 CTI album Body Talk).

Foster left the Count Basie Orchestra in 1995 to assume leadership of his own groups The Non-Electric Company (a jazz quartet/quintet), Swing Plus (a 12-piece band), and The Loud Minority Big Band (an 18-piece concert jazz orchestra).

In 2001, Frank Foster suffered a stroke that impaired his left side, preventing him from playing the saxophone. He turned the reins of his Loud Minority over to trumpeter and group member Cecil Bridgewater, and continued composing and arranging at his home in Chesapeake, Virginia. He had recently contributed to Jamie Cullum’s The Pursuit.

The zest of wondrous musicality in Frank Foster’s sax playing and the zing of spontaneous joy in his writing will be sorely missed in jazz. Very few sounds could match the utter joie de vivre of Frank Foster’s music.

Few players and even fewer composers can match or even copy the lovely examples of music Frank Foster left for us. Fortunately, there is much of Foster documented on disc and plenty of other worthy talents who appreciated what Frank Foster contributed to music in his six-decade career.

Foster’s glorious “Blues in Hoss’ Flat” – as interpreted by Jerry Lewis in The Errand Boy (search YouTube for the brilliant copycat version made but not used for Family Guy):

The immortal “Shiny Stockings” by Count Basie and his Orchestra:

“Raunchy Rita” from the great 1968 Elvin Jones/Richard Davis album Heavy Sounds, with Foster reeling out on tenor sax and the little-known and possibly pseudonymous Billy Greene on piano:

The Impulse 2-on-1 Series - Celebrating 50 Years of Impulse Records

Out today in the U.S. are the first 15 volumes of the Impulse 2-on-1 series, celebrating the musical legacy of one of jazz's most important labels.

Impulse Records was more than just a label. It was an identity. It was a statement. Impulse Records was a musical brand of artistry that provided some of jazz’s greatest creators with a platform for making some of their very best music. The new wave of jazz was indeed on Impulse!

With its distinctive logo and unique packaging, Impulse stood out in the crowd. But it was the music that made Impulse impressive. Impulse captured not only such traditionalists as Duke Ellington and Art Blakey but also cataloged many of the fiery voices of the emerging free-jazz movement, notably led and inspired by John Coltrane, who made his most memorable music for Impulse.

The label also caught everything in between, from traditional jazz combos with a special affinity for jazz’s best drummers to psychedelic jazz-rock and orchestral outings, while later specializing in spiritual jazz and musical fusions.

I am proud to have produced these sets with Matthias Künnecke, celebrating not only one of the finest labels jazz has ever known but some of the most diverse and innovative music the art has generated. If "The New Wave of Jazz" was on Impulse, the tide has come in with the new Impulse 2-on-1 series.

Now available at Dusty Groove and most online retailers.

Ahmad Jamal: Even though the great pianist Ahmad Jamal had “retired” from performing in the late 1960s, he waxed a number of recordings for the Impulse label, including these two live sets from 1969 and 1971, that proved he was not only at the top of his game but at the height of his musical prowess.

Albert Ayler: The searing and searching saxophone of Albert Ayler (1936-70) explored the roots of jazz as much as its outer reaches. John Coltrane brought Ayler to the Impulse label, where he recorded a dizzying display of his iconoclastic lore, including these two scorchers, Love Cry and The Last Album.

Alice Coltrane: Pianist, harpist, organist and composer Alice Coltrane (1937-2007) turned her attention toward orchestral endeavors on these great Impulse albums from the early 1970s, producing a rich musical palette without ever sacrificing the spiritual jazz she had long championed.

Archie Shepp: Swept up in the “new thing” of the 1960s, Archie Shepp quickly began to discover how more traditional forms of music, like African polyrhythms and R&B, could appropriately inform the jazz he was delivering, as evidenced on these two terrific albums recorded between 1968 and 1969.

Art Blakey: The revered leader of the Jazz Messengers, one of jazz’s greatest musical proving grounds, drummer Art Blakey (1919-90) recorded only these two dates for Impulse, 1961’s Jazz Messengers!!!! (with the superb “Alamode”) and 1963’s unconventional, yet sterling, quartet outing A Jazz Message.

Coleman Hawkins: Coleman Hawkins (1904-69) was not only one of jazz’s greatest tenor players, but probably its loveliest ballads performer. The Hawk recorded several Impulse records, including these two from 1962: Today and Now (with “Love Theme from ‘Apache’”) and the unusual Bossa Nova.

Curtis Fuller: Bebop trombone great Curtis Fuller had already led dates for Prestige, Blue Note, Savoy and Epic and joined the Jazz Messengers when he waxed his only two leader dates for Impulse in the early 1960s, Soul Trombone (with fellow Messengers) and Cabin in the Sky (arranged by Manny Albam).

Duke Ellington: It was producer Bob Thiele’s idea to feature legendary orchestra leader Duke Ellington (1899-1974) in small-group settings with former Ellingtonian Coleman Hawkins (1905-69) and the fiery saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-67). Both 1962 sets are inspired, historic and featured here.

Elvin Jones: At the time propulsive drummer Elvin Jones (1997-2004) manned the beat in John Coltrane’s 1960-1965 quartet, he also found time to lead these great Impulse gems, Illumination (co-led with Coltrane bassist Jimmy Garrison and featuring Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner) and Dear John C.

Gabor Szabo: While the late, great guitarist Gabor Szabo (1936-82) recorded many studio albums during his brief career, he was always best served by his few live recordings. These two live Impulse albums brilliantly catch Szabo’s working group, featuring the stunning guitarist Jimmy Stewart, in 1967.

McCoy Tyner: Legendary pianist McCoy Tyner launched his mercurial solo career with these two exciting trio sides, a mix of well-known standards and effective originals (including the now standard “Effendi”) recorded in 1962 while he was still part of John Coltrane’s historic quartet.

Milt Jackson: Vibraphonist Milt Jackson (1923-99) led a double life, co-fronting the Modern Jazz Quartet, while also charting a significant course of his own on records such as 1962’s bracing Statements and 1964’s light-hearted Jazz ‘n’ Samba – two of his earliest and best Impulse endeavors.

Pharoah Sanders: Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders was initially part of John Coltrane’s group before scoring his own hit with 1969’s “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” The saxophonist went on to become a world-class leader, waxing the East-meets-West-meets-Africa of these two great albums from 1973.

Shirley Scott: Hammond B-3 great Shirley Scott (1934-2002) often played with John Coltrane in the 1950s but rose to fame as part of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis’s group. Her long string of Impulse albums included these two, among her best, alternating her trio with a big band arranged by Oliver Nelson.

Sonny Rollins: Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins was already one of jazz’s greatest players and composers when he recorded 1965’s On Impulse. Thirteen years later that album’s template, There Will Never Be Another You, caught live several weeks earlier, finally appeared. Here, they’re together at last.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gerry Mulligan “Watching & Waiting”

Dave Grusin, like fellow Silver Age film composer Lalo Schifrin, has steadily slowed the pace of his movie scoring down over the last few years. Like Schifrin, Grusin – also a jazz pianist – has devoted more of his attention to other facets of his remarkable musicality. But even as Dave Grusin seems to have moved away from film, he thankfully remains an active force in music.

Grusin, who turned 77 last month and has been quietly turning up in the most unexpected places of late, has also seen some fervor on CD as his latest, An Evening With Dave Grusin, has seen the light of day, along with recent reissues of the maestro’s glorious soundtrack to Mulholland Falls (1995) and the upcoming Divorce American Style (1967), Grusin’s first feature film score, both on Kritzerland.

So why discuss Dave Grusin in an article about Gerry Mulligan?

Well, Dave Grusin contributes significantly to this particularly obscure recording that very few even know anything about. It all started when actress/producer Denise Petitdidier contacted the great jazz leader and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan (1927-96) in the spring of 1977. Petitdidier had told the jazz legend that director Alain Corneau (1943-2010) had specifically requested that Gerry Mulligan score his thriller, La Menace, starring Yves Montand.

Mulligan had previously scored Clive Donner’s little-known film Luv (1967) and had several of his songs featured in films, particularly by French filmmakers. Much of his own music was perfectly well suited to film, offering a moody sense of romance and longing and a painterly sense of mystery and adventure.

No better examples exist than Mulligan’s subtle and sublime Night Lights (1965) – one of his most perfect recordings – and his too-much derided masterpiece The Age of Steam (1971), an ode to his youthful love of trains. There are many other great Mulligan masterpieces and many more famous and significant jazz mileposts. But these two albums in particular are the ones that appeal most to this listener and, no doubt, drew filmmakers of substantial merit to Gerry Mulligan and the quality of musical mood and perfect resonance he offered in a visual medium – particularly a French thriller.

Mulligan accepted the job of scoring La Menace, but found it difficult to complete his assignment in the 15 days allotted to him. During this period, Dave Grusin happened to be visiting the composer at his home in Connecticut and graciously agreed to help Gerry Mulligan organize the finished tracks into a filmic semblance, as well as play behind the saxophonist for support.

That support is significant as the music to La Menace is energized more by its piano and keyboard backings than Mulligan’s still quite appealing melodic lines – driven, for the most part on baritone sax, but also on other saxophones, clarinets, keyboards and synthesizers.

At this point Grusin was well-known for his scores to such films as The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (1968), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), The Yakuza (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Murder by Death (1976) as well as his TV themes and/or scores for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., It Takes A Thief, The Name of the Game, Baretta, Maude andGood Times.

In 1977 alone, Grusin waxed four film scores including Sydney Pollack’s Bobby Deerfield and Herbert Ross’s hit The Goodbye Girl as well as his first jazz album in his newly-formed “Grusin Rosen Productions,” the start of the famed GRP Records, One of a Kind.

Mulligan’s soundtrack to La Menace yielded 13 tunes, with Grusin on piano and keyboards and a group including Derek Smith on piano, Tom Fay on piano and Fender Rhodes, Pete Levin on Moog synthesizer, Ed Walsh on Oberheim synthesizer, Jack Six (who worked with Mulligan in Dave Brubeck’s brilliant late 1960s group) or Jay Leonhart (who would go on to work with Mulligan on other recordings) on bass and Bobby Rosengarden or Michael Di Pasqua on drums.

The French arm of CBS issued a soundtrack to La Menace in 1977 (pictured above). Since the film, known in English-speaking climes as The Threat, never had a proper US release, the music had also never had a proper American release until this 1999 CD release, stupidly titled Watching & Waiting.

The disc inexplicably takes its title from one of the seemingly randomly-chosen songs included on the 13-track set. It’s a great little tune, with Mulligan in his prime. But why they would call this anything but La Menace is anyone’s guess. Still, hardly anyone knows that the American DRG CD of Watching & Waiting totally equals the French CBS LP of La Menace.
It seems like a bootleg, looks like a bootleg (even though Mulligan recorded Walk on the Water for DRG in 1980, arranged by Tom Fay) and presents itself as any other Gerry Mulligan album, with no musician credits on the outside and a very small note on the back panel that the music is the original motion picture soundtrack of La Menace. As an aside, many write-ups on this disc, and the music, inexplicably indicate that music was made and/or released in 1982 – but it wasn’t…it was 1977.

While it’s often derided as a lesser Gerry Mulligan set (keyboards and real jazz apparently don’t go together for real jazz critics), it is easily celebrated as a wonderful addition to any Dave Grusin soundtrack discography. Keep in mind, too, that the prolific Dave Grusin, in addition to all of his own jazz and film work, has done plenty of session work on other artists’ records and many other composers’ film scores (Patrick Williams, Quincy Jones, etc.). Grusin also later recorded with Gerry Mulligan on the baritone saxophonist’s Little Big Horn (1984) and the sensationally beautiful Dragonfly (1995).

Were it not for Mulligan’s terrific compositions, one could easily consider La Menace / Watching & Waiting a Dave Grusin soundtrack, with special guest soloist Gerry Mulligan. Grusin’s sensitively aesthetic touch is much in evidence here. The brief opener, “Dance of the Truck,” trumpets its Grusin origins as does the soundtrack’s single strongest piece, “Introspect” (which doesn’t even introduce Mulligan until his solo two minutes in). Grusin’s influence is also evident on the lengthy “The Trap,” a keyboard-driven piece that will remind some of Grusin’s Condor conspiracies, and the attractive bossa, “The House They’ll Never Live In.”

Mulligan fares well throughout; perhaps less as an improviser and more as a mood setter. But the wonderful clarification he brings to his horn parts sings with the overall goal of the piece. Like any composer, he isn’t aiming to be the star soloist. He is suggesting the right setting for the film he is accompanying. But his beautifully signature-sounding baritone is bountiful on such pieces as “Introspect” (both versions), “Watching and Waiting,” and the lovely “Vines of Bordeaux” (heard here in two versions and one which probably deserved to transcend this score).

La Menace / Watching & Waiting makes for some wonderful listening, whether you are a Gerry Mulligan fan of the Night Lights or Dragonfly order or whether you are a Dave Grusin aficionado who revels in the moody jazz of his GRP releases or the bountiful scores he has on offer, many of which are now quite fortunately easy to acquire.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Return to Forever – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection

After a prodigious session career in the 1960s, several solo albums that toyed with both the traditional and freer forms of jazz and a mercurial period of experimentation with Miles Davis between 1968 and 1972, pianist and composer Chick Corea crystalized the notion of his first “group” endeavor, to be known as Return to Forever.

Corea recorded his blueprint for the concept with his tremendous Return to Forever album for ECM Records in February 1972. The album collected the talents of reed player Joe Farrell (1937-86), who featured on the pianist’s 1967 Tones For Joan’s Bones (Corea is also heard on Farrell’s first two CTI records, Joe Farrell Quartet and, brilliantly, on Outback), young up and coming electric bassist Stanley Clarke, percussionist and former Miles mate Airto Moreira and Airto’s wife, Flora Purim, on vocals and percussion. and yielded three near standards in Corea’s “Crystal Silence,” “What Game Shall We Play Today” and “La Fiesta.”

The following month, Corea, Clarke and Moreira backed Stan Getz for the saxophonist’s terrific album Captain Marvel, which wasn’t issued until 1975, and then all five of the Return to Forever musicians collected (with others) to wax Airto’s CTI classic Free. Corea, Clarke, Farrell, Moreira and Purim finally reconvened in October 1972 to record Return to Forever’s Polydor debut, Light as a Feather, which includes Corea’s now standard “Spain.”

Airto and Flora left shortly thereafter to form their own group, Fingers, as did Joe Farrell, who formed his own quartet. Guitarist Bill Connors, drummer Steve Gadd and percussionist Mingo Lewis were added to the group, but Gadd’s studio duties prevented him from staying. By the time of the group’s second album, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (featuring Corea’s well-known “Señor Mouse”), Corea, Connors and Clarke were joined by drummer and percussionist Lenny White.

Tired of touring and the required adherence to his electric instrument, Bill Connors left the group and was replaced by recent Berklee School of Music alum Al Di Meola. The Corea/Di Meola/Clarke/White configuration then recorded 1974’s Where Have I Known You Before and 1975’s No Mystery for Polydor.

In 1976, Chick Corea took Return to Forever to the mighty Columbia Records label, where the group waxed only three releases in an 18-month period. One of these recordings is the group’s most significant recording and yet another represents one of the group’s best recorded performances. One is an under-appreciated gem that deserves more appreciation.

Under the direction of reissue producer Richard Seidel, Sony has done a masterful job collecting Return to Forever’s three Columbia recordings on this lush six-CD box set called Return to Forever – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection.

The set is packaged in a handsome, sturdy box that fits easily on most CD shelves with each individual album packaged in replica mini LP sleeves, reproducing the original record’s exact graphics, and a 27-page booklet with complete discographical information, photos and new liner notes by Chick Corea and musician/historian/producer Bob Belden. It’s a treasure trove of music, immaculately packaged and beautifully presented, well worth reconsidering for the surprisingly timeless surplus of artistry it contains.

Romantic Warrior (1976): After four albums on Polydor, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever moved to Columbia Records, even though Corea the solo artist remained with Polydor for the better part of the decade. Columbia was home to other fusion leaders of the day like Miles Davis, Weather Report, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and Herbie Hancock. Note here that all, including Corea, were connected to the trumpeter’s electric phase. Little wonder that Columbia should have named their reissue line “Legacy.” And this is just the jazz fusion portion of Columbia’s holdings.

In February 1976, Corea and company headed to Chicago producer James Guercio’s popular and isolated Caribou Ranch in a remote part of Colorado to wax what was to become the group’s definitive musical statement, Romantic Warrior. Without a doubt, the album is the pinnacle of the group’s creative and artistic vision. It’s a fusion classic and, coming out of 1976, surely one of the music’s final highlights. Placing their musical topography somewhere in the middle ages, RTF rethinks its strategy to be more large scale and consciously more musical; an electrically-charged Ellingtonian statement that is like a soundtrack for a non-existent film or an electronic symphony for a post-jazz age.

With Chick Corea (piano, electric piano, clavinet, synthesizers, marimba and percussion), Al Di Meola (electric guitar, guitar, soprano guitar, hand-bells and slide-whistle), Stanley Clarke (electric bass, piccolo bass, bass, bell-tree and hand-bells) and Lenny White (drums, timpani, congas, timbales, hand bells, snare drum, suspended cymbals, alarm clock) in a formation that has since become known as “RTF 2” – the same group waxed the group’s previous Where Have I Known You Before and No Mystery - Romantic Warrior features strong originals from all principals, including Lenny White’s “Sorceress” (my vote for the album’s best track), Al Di Meola’s “Majestic Dance,” Stanley Clarke’s “The Magician” and Chick Corea’s “Medieval Overture,” “The Romantic Warrior” and “Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant.”

Romantic Warrior has been rightly available in one form or another almost consistently since its original 1976 release and, in addition to its inclusion on Return to Forever – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection, can also be heard in its entirety on the 2008 Concord set Return to Forever – The Anthology. No matter where it appears, it’s important music well worth hearing.

Musicmagic (1977): This surprising turnabout must have surprised many Return to Forever fans in 1977, even those Chick Corea fans willing to follow the bandleader down just about any long and unyieldingly winding path. Long derided and dismissed altogether by even the most devoted Return to Forever fan, Musicmagic really has much musical magic to offer, even if it isn’t served up like previous RTF albums.

The sound is remarkably more orchestral than anything the group had previously done, with a heavy dose of vocal leads and vamps that veer dangerously close to pop territories and, most surprisingly, solos on primarily acoustic instruments. It’s as vexing as it is bewitching and probably the intention all along.

Only Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke remain from the previous edition of RTF, gathering a larger-than-usual group that became known as “RTF 3” including Corea (piano, Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, Hohner clavinet, Moog 15, Polymoog, ARP Odyssey and vocals), Clarke (electric bass, piccolo bass, bass, vocals), Gerry Brown (drums), original RTF reed player Joe Farrell (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flutes, piccolo), Chick Corea’s wife Gayle Moran (Hammond B-3 organ, Polymoog, piano, vocals), John Thomas (trumpet, flugelhorn), James Tinsley (trumpet, piccolo trumpet), Jim Pugh (tenor trombone) and Harold Garrett (tenor and bass trombone, baritone horn).

Again recorded at the Caribou Ranch in Colorado in January and February 1977, Musicmagic seems to celebrate the pure joy of music with contributions from Corea (“The Musician”), Moran (the existential jazz ballad “Do You Ever”), Corea and Moran together (“Musicmagic,” and the most typically RTF-sounding piece here, “The Endless Night”) and Clarke (“Hello Again” and the album’s single greatest moment, “So Long Mickey Mouse,” offering particularly great spots for Farrell’s flute and soprano, Corea’s keyboard kaleidoscope and Clarke’s entrancing bass-ics).

Adventurous and enjoyable as it is, Musicmagic seemed to suggest that the Return to Forever concept had effectively run its course. The ever restless Corea was probably bored with the whole thing at this point, either not coming properly to terms with his new RTF experiment or looking forward to other challenges altogether. This particular musical model was fascinating and new in 1972, when RTF waxed its first album, Light as a Feather, but after 1976’s masterful Romantic Warrior, there was only one direction left for the group.

A monumental, but little-known, live album followed and shortly thereafter, Corea disbanded the group. Not too long after this, Chick Corea abandoned electric keyboards altogether. Corea reunited with Clarke, White and guitarist Al Di Meola for one song (“Compadres”) on Corea’s 1983 album Touchstone.

Then, many years later in 2008, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White came back together for a RTF reunion tour and in June 2011 issued a double-disc set of acoustic studio tracks and electric live tracks (with guests, including former RTF members) on Concord called Forever under the suspiciously non-RTF moniker of “Corea, Clarke & White.”

Originally issued in March 1977, Musicmagic quickly disappeared before finding its way onto a limited-run, long out-of-print CD in 1990. Its inclusion in Return to Forever – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection is the album’s first domestic CD release in over two decades and a most welcome “return” it is.

Return to Forever Live – The Complete Concert (1978): This is effectively the final Return to Forever album released and, perhaps, one of its most significant. It was recorded live at the Palladium in New York City on May 20 and 21, 1977, as part of the Musicmagic tour, which led the group to meet President Jimmy Carter the following month.

The performers here more or less match those heard on Musicmagic and include Chick Corea (Minimoog, Fender Rhodes, Moog 15, Oberheim 3 Voice, Hohner Clvinet, ARP Odyssey, MXR Digital Delay, Steinway piano), Stanley Clarke (Alembic basses, piccolo bass, bass, vocals), Joe Farrell (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, piccolo), Gayle Moran (vocals, Hammond B-3 organ, Yamaha electric piano, Mellotron, Minimoog), Gerry Brown (drums), John Thomas (trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet), James Tinsley (trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flugelhorn), Jim Pugh (tenor trombone, baritone horn), Corea’s manager at the time and later president of Corea’s Stretch Records, Ron Moss (tenor trombone) and Harold Garrett (bass trombone, baritone horn, tuba).

Needless to say, there is a plethora of fantastic playing to be heard here that RTF’s studio albums probably prohibited, with inventive interjections from almost all concerned, waxing eloquently over some very long passages that are sufficiently more worthwhile than their studio counterparts.

Return to Forever Live has an unusually peculiar history, though. It was originally issued as single LP release (Columbia JC 35281) in late summer 1978, with a cover featuring Picasso's “Three Musicians” and the following line up:

Side 1
1. "So Long Mickey Mouse" (Stanley Clarke) – 6:53
2. "The Musician" (Chick Corea) – 7:03
3. "Chick's Piano" (Corea) – 4:35
4. "Musicmagic" (Corea, Gayle Moran) – 6:29

Side 2
1. "The Moorish Warrior and Spanish Princess" (Clarke) – 6:39
2. "Come Rain or Come Shine" (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) – 3:19
3. "The Endless Night (Part I)" (Corea, Moran) – 8:00
4. "The Endless Night (Part II)" (Corea, Moran) – 7:14

For some strange reason, a greatly expanded version of the album was released in October 1978 on four full LPs in a generic-looking box set as Return to Forever Live - The Complete Concert (Columbia C4X 35350), showcasing two and a half hours of music recorded over two nights. The four-disc version of the concerts contains the entirety of pieces that had been edited down for the original single LP release, many additional pieces and lengthy spoken introductions.

A two-CD version of Return to Forever Live was issued by Columbia’s reissue imprint, Legacy, in 1990 with several strange edits to be found. Missing are four of the spoken introductions, while “Chick’s Piano Solo” (featured on the single LP) and “Spanish Fantasy” are rolled into one long marathon performance and, strangely, “The Musician” and “So Long Mickey Mouse” get their original single LP edits rather than a full airing – probably to fit the program on to two CDs. A Japanese release over three CDs in 2000 changed the color of the cover from red to blue and restored all the music heard on the original four-LP box set. This is the version of the recording included within The Complete Columbia Albums Collection.

While there’s little argument for including the rather lengthy spoken introductions, it is fair to say that Return to Forever Live – The Complete Concert makes The Complete Columbia Albums Collection box set an indispensible part of any Chick Corea or Stanley Clarke collection (I would count Joe Farrell in there too) and worth every penny for the magisterial music and its gloriously loving presentation here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

George Benson "Benson Burner"

When guitarist George Benson’s Warner Bros. debut Breezin’ was issued in March 1976, it immediately became a hit; indeed one of the largest hits jazz has ever known. Guided by the successful hit single “This Masquerade” (Leon Russell’s 1972 original, previously covered by Helen Reddy and The Carpenters), Breezin’ went on to win three Grammy awards and become a triple platinum success, an unprecedented feat in jazz and one that was bettered by very few in the pop-music world at the time.

Any label that ever had anything whatsoever to do with Benson prior to Breezin’ scrambled to get out something with the guitarist’s name on it in order to capitalize on the newfound and rather unbelievable fame George Benson immediately acquired in 1976.

One of these releases was Columbia’s double-album compilation, cleverly titled Benson Burner, released in December 1976, with an asking price of $4.98 (a bargain in those days, especially for a double album) and featuring over 100 minutes of little-known music and, in a lot of cases, previously unissued music.

The guitarist had launched his solo career – under the guidance of legendary impresario John Hammond – at Columbia Records in 1966, often recording with his own group at the time, which included Lonnie Smith on organ and Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax. Even though Benson had long been a practicing jazz pro, and had even recorded his own solo album in 1964 under the auspices of then boss Jack McDuff, the Columbia sides represent the guitarist’s first forays into his own thing.

At the time, The George Benson Quartet issued two albums, It’s Uptown (1966) and The George Benson Cookbook (1967), both of which have seen repeated issues on CD. Benson’s organist, Lonnie Smith, now known as Dr. Lonnie Smith, also had his debut album released by the label, Finger-Lickin’ Good Soul organ (1967, not yet issued on CD) with pretty much the same line-up that featured on Benson’s Columbia records.

Surprisingly, Benson Burner has found its way onto CD by the always reliable reissue Gods at Wounded Bird in a two-disc set that is more remarkable than an initial glance might suggest. While Wounded Bird has previously reissued LP compilations like this that may make you wonder why they’d bother, it’s usually because they know something about the compilation that is particularly special.

Such is the case with Benson Burner. There is not much detail included on the original Benson Burner - nor do many discographies accurately reflect the treasure trove of music that’s included here. But while there are a few retreads of music available on other George Benson albums, there is much here that is only available here.

This disc requires a discography, which I will attempt to provide here. I owe many thanks to Didier Deutsch, who helped me collect all this information many years ago for my Lonnie Smith discography.

But it’s worth noting all the valuable music you can hear on Benson Burner that is either known under a different name or can’t be got elsewhere. Indications of “sessions” below mean the song was not previously issued. Check it out:

New York City: August 1, 1966
Bennie Green, All Hall (tb); Ronnie Cuber (bs); George Benson (g); Lonnie Smith (org); Albert Winston (el-b); Billy Kaye (d); Lenny Sced (cga).

1. Bayou (aka Ready And Able) (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK)

New York City: February 9, 1966
Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

2. Hammond's Bossa Nova (aka J.H. Bossa Nova) (from the IT'S UPTOWN sessions)
3. Willow Weep For Me (from IT'S UPTOWN)

New York City: May 23, 1967
King Curtis (ts); Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (p); George Benson (g); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

4. Clabber Biscuits (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)
5. Chicken Giblets (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)

New York City: November 22, 1966
Blue Mitchell (tp); King Curtis (el-ts); Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson, Melvin Sparks (g); Charlie Persip (d).

6. Mama Wailer (from the FINGER-LICKIN GOOD SOUL ORGAN sessions)

New York City: November 22, 1966
Blue Mitchell (tp); King Curtis (el-ts); Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Marion Booker (d).

7. Goodnight (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)
8. The Man From Toledo (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)

New York City: November 22, 1966
Blue Mitchell (tp); King Curtis (el-ts); Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson, Melvin Sparks (g); Charlie Persip (d).


New York City: May 27, 1966
Richard "Blue" Mitchell (tp); Harold Ousley (ts); Howard Johnson (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); Al Michelle (g); Charlie Persip (d).

10. Minor Truth (from the FINGER-LICKIN GOOD SOUL ORGAN sessions)

New York City: September 6, 1966
Ronnie Cuber (bs); George Benson (g); Lonnie Smith (org); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

11. Slow Scene (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)
12. Flamingo (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)

New York City: January 10, 1966
Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Ray Lucas (d).

13. Redwood City (from the IT'S UPTOWN sessions)

New York City: October 19, 1966
Ronnie Cuber (bs); George Benson (g); Lonnie Smith (org); Albert Winston (el-b); Marion Booker (d).


Same, add King Curtis (ts).

15. The Return Of The Prodigal Son (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK)

New York City: August 1, 1966
Bennie Green, All Hall (tb); Ronnie Cuber (bs); George Benson (g); Lonnie Smith (org); Albert Winston (el-b); Billy Kaye (d); Lenny Sced (cga).

16. Push Push (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)

New York City: October 19, 1966
Ronnie Cuber (bs); George Benson (g); Lonnie Smith (org); Albert Winston (el-b); Marion Booker (d).

17. Benson's Rider (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK)

New York City: May 23, 1967
King Curtis (ts); Ronnie Cuber (bs); unknown (hca); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

18. Doin' The Thing (from THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK sessions)

New York City: May 27, 1966
Richard "Blue" Mitchell (tp); Harold Ousley (ts); Howard Johnson (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); Al Michelle (g); Charlie Persip (d).

19. Bright Eyes (from the FINGER-LICKIN GOOD SOUL ORGAN sessions)

New York City: February 9, 1966
Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

20. Myna Bird Blues (from IT'S UPTOWN)

New York City: May 27, 1966
Richard "Blue" Mitchell (tp); Harold Ousley (ts); Howard Johnson (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); Al Michelle (g); Charlie Persip (d).

21. What Do You Think? (from the FINGER-LICKIN GOOD SOUL ORGAN sessions)

New York City: January 10, 1966
Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g); Ray Lucas (d).

23. Peg-Leg Jack (from the IT'S UPTOWN sessions)
24. Jaguar (from IT'S UPTOWN)

New York City: March 15, 1966
Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g, vcl); Jimmy Lovelace (d).

25. Hello Birdie (from IT'S UPTOWN)

Ronnie Cuber (bs); Lonnie Smith (org); George Benson (g, vcl); Ray Lucas (d).

26. Ain't That Peculiar (from IT'S UPTOWN)
27. Forevermore (aka Eternally) (from IT'S UPTOWN)

In my humble opinion, much of the music of Benson Burner bests the otherwise officially issued Benson sets from the 1960s. It’s worth every penny – until a complete set of all these sessions comes out in some fashion or form.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Stan Getz - The Complete Columbia Albums Collection

Know what’s really cool to a music lover? When record labels that own a big chunk of an important artist’s output release it as thoroughly, as nicely and as affordably as Sony is doing in its “The Complete” reissue series available on the newly-launched online retailer Pop Market.

Pop Market at popmarket.com is a resource for some of Sony’s most commanding releases – mostly box sets and special packages – and offers outstanding music that is not only available exclusively at this location but also “daily deals” that can save subscribers up to 50 percent off of regular retail prices. All it takes to subscribe is an email address and all you get are “daily deal” announcements, no spam.

One of Pop Market’s best offerings is “The Complete” series. These beautifully produced box sets collect the entirety of an artist’s output for Sony-owned labels and some are absolutely exclusive to Pop Market. So far the series features sets by The Byrds, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Miles Davis, Return to Forever and this one, dedicated to Stan Getz.

Tenor saxophonist Stan Getz (1927-91) is one of jazz’s best and best-known sax players. His warm, lyrical sound transcended many fads and fashions in jazz and was remarkably consistent throughout his long and varied career. Although he played everything from bebop to cool jazz, he is best remembered for popularizing the warm wave of the Brazilian Bossa Nova in America during the early 1960s, scoring huge, timeless hits with such songs as “The Girl from Ipanema.”

After a long tenure and much success at Verve Records (1952-72), Getz spent most the 1970s at Columbia, where he waxed several more classics and created a diverse body of work that holds up especially well some four decades later. The saxophonist’s work in the ‘70s mirrors much of the work he did in the ‘60s – in small group, sax and strings, even Bossa Nova settings – but adds the era’s added amplification (electric basses, keyboards, etc) and some especially improved recording techniques to give Getz an up-to-date sound that doesn’t compromise any of his dynamic lyricism or his patented delivery.

Stan Getz – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection gathers all seven of the saxophonist’s Columbia albums plus a bonus disc of Getz concert material featured on other albums during the period in a handsome, sturdy box that fits easily on most CD shelves with each individual album packaged in replica mini LP sleeves reproducing the original record’s exact graphics, and a 15-page booklet with complete discographical information, photos and liner notes by the set’s producer, Richard Seidel (who oversaw the majority of Getz’s Verve reissues in the 1990s when he was president of Verve).

This stunning package is a tremendous addition to any jazz collection and catalogs the fine, timeless and nearly forgotten work Stan Getz contributed to jazz in the 1970s. Nearly all the music here was produced by the saxophonist, indicating that the artist alone had much control in the way his music was prepared and presented. This explains why his performance throughout sounds so impassioned. It’s clear that he loved the music he recorded during this time. This box set is well worth celebrating.

Captain Marvel: Recorded in 1972, but surprisingly not issued until 1975, this excellent recording features Getz fronting what was then the nucleus of Return to Forever, the group fronted by keyboardist/composer Chick Corea (who was first heard with Getz on the saxophonist’s 1967 classic Sweet Rain). With Chick Corea (electric piano), Stanley Clarke (bass), Tony Williams (drums) and Airto Moreira (percussion), the group waxes a mostly Chick Corea program with Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” thrown in for good measure and includes the two alternate-take bonus tracks of “Captain Marvel” and “Five Hundred Miles High” included on the 2003 CD reissue of the album.

The Best Of Two Worlds featuring Joao Gilberto: Recorded in 1975 and issued in 1976, The Best of Two Worlds was Stan Getz’s first Bossa Nova record in more than a decade and reunited him with composer, guitarist and vocalist Joao Gilberto, who had waxed two successful Verve albums with the saxophonist in 1964 and 1965, among Getz’s last Bossa Nova adventures. With Albert Dailey (piano), Joao Gilberto (guitar, percussion, vocals), Oscar Castro-Neves (guitar), Clint Houston or Steve Swallow (bass), Billy Hart or Grady Tate (drums), Airto Moreira, Rubens Bassini, Ray Armando and Sonny Carr (percussion) and Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda (vocals, also pictured on the album’s front cover), the leaders take listeners on a journey through a new set of samba classics that sound perfectly at home in the previous generation of Bossa Nova greats and as genuinely timeless as the older, better-known songs. Alternate takes of three titles not available on the 1990 single-issue CD are included here too.

The Master: Although recorded in 1975, this splendid outing wasn’t issued until late 1982, long after Stan Getz had left the label. This straight-ahead jazz outing probably wasn’t what the suits at Black Rock wanted at the height of jazz fusion and the introduction of disco into the vocabulary of all popular music. Oddly, in 1982, it probably sounded better when Wynton Marsalis and other “young lions” were reclaiming the pre-electric sound of jazz as the authentic voice of the music. Regardless, it’s a terrific performance offering Getz’s working group of the time, featuring Albert Dailey (piano), Clint Houston (bass) and Billy Hart (drums), reflecting on three long standards and (surprisingly) Ralph Towner’s “Raven’s Wood.” This is the first appearance of The Master on CD outside of an obscure and now extremely rare and out-of-print CD issued in Europe in the mid 1990s.

Stan Getz Presents Jimmie Rowles: The Peacocks: Stan Getz came up with pianist Jimmie (also Jimmy) Rowles (1918-96) in Woody Herman’s 1940s big band and the two were also paired on a 1954 Getz session. They hadn’t worked together since those fabled days of yore and while Getz found fame as a soloist, Rowles was only acknowledged as an accompanist for great singers like Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald. Getz put Rowles’s name on the cover of this 1975 recording (issued in 1977) to give the pianist his shot at recognition and ended up scoring a jazz standard out of Rowles’s title track, which like “Moonlight in Vermont” several decades before became famous for someone because of Stan Getz’s perfectly melodic carriage. The album is a feature for Rowles on solo piano (“Body and Soul,” “Mosaic/Would You Like To Take A Walk”), duets with Rowles and Getz (including “The Peacocks”), five group performances adding Getz, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Elvin Jones and one of which (Wayne Shorter’s “The Chess Players”) adds a vocal section including Jon Hendricks, Judy Hendricks, Michelle Hendricks and Beverly Getz. Jimmie Rowles himself sings on four tracks as well. The Peacocks was issued domestically on CD in 1994 and has been out of print for a few years now. Gotta dig the Yellow Submarine-esque cover!

Another World: This little-known gem was recorded in 1977 and issued in late 1978 and highlights a dazzling program that mixes things up a little bit for the saxophonist without getting too far afield from his naturally swinging thing. It’s easily considered a jazz fusion outing, but occasional electronics aside, it really cooks with a great deal of the fire and passion Getz displayed in his youth. Featuring Andy Laverne (keyboards), Mike Richmond (bass), Billy Hart (drums) and Efrain Toro (percussion) in a remarkably pristine recording caught live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1977, Another World is Stan Getz doing what he does best: cool when it’s called for and hot when the groove goes south. All the audience noise is filtered out and it’s possible that a number of synthesized effects were added after the fact. But nearly everything here is worth savoring and the playing from all concerned – notably Getz and Andy Laverne – is worth hearing and appreciating. Andy Laverne’s funky “Keep Dreaming,” Mike Richmond’s jaunty “Sum Sum” and Mercer Ellington’s pensive “Blue Serge” are as much the album’s highlights as Another World is a highlight of this box. Another World was issued on European CD in 1994 and has long been out of print.

Children Of The World: The third of Stan Getz’s Columbia “world” albums, Children of the World reunites the saxophonist with composer Lalo Schifrin, who had previously worked with the saxophonist on part of the 1964 Verve album Reflections. First issued in 1979, this forgotten album features a bevy of pleasant, lightweight tunes from the pen of composer Schifrin, played with slick prettiness by Mr. Getz. Getz and Schifrin pull off a nice set of easy-listening Schifrin originals, accompanied by a large group of LA studio musicians. Most memorable are "Street Tattoo" (from the film Boulevard Nights - George Benson performed the original), "Around the Day in Eighty Worlds" (which Jon Faddis re-interprets quite nicely on Schifrin's own Firebird) and "The Dreamer." The album also includes “On Rainy Afternoons,” based on a theme from Schifrin’s score to The Eagle Has Landed and one the composer arranged for Barbra Streisand’s Wet album, as well as a cover of the horrifically awful “Don’t Cry For Me Argentine,” which supposedly does not include Schifrin’s participation. All in all, it makes for exceptionally good light jazz but it shies a bit away from being entirely memorable – even though it is probably my favorite album in the whole box (although an unissued song from the sessions called “November Landscape” is not included here and remains unissued). The album was issued on a European CD in 1995 and has long been out of print and otherwise unavailable until now. Love the Charles M. Schulz cover.

Forest Eyes - Music Composed, Arranged & Conducted by Jurre Haanstra: Perhaps the nicest surprise in the entirety of the Stan Getz - The Complete Columbia Albums Collection is the inclusion of Forest Eyes, a “strings” album the tenor saxophonist recorded in Holland in late 1979 with Dutch composer Jurre Haanstra. The little-known album has never appeared before in the United States and recalls such previous Getz triumphs waxed years earlier with Eddie Sauter, namely Focus (Verve, 1962) and the soundtrack album Mickey One (Verve, 1965). Haanstra (b. 1952), best known as a composer of film and TV scores, notably for his father, director Bert Haanstra (1916-97), and for the popular Dutch detective series Baantjer, featuring harmonica player Jean 'Toots' Thielemans as guest soloist, got his start as a jazz drummer and percussionist (he plays drums on this album’s “Tails Part 2” and “Little Lady”). He has since gone on to become a world-class conductor and composer and arranger for a diverse range of artists including Petula Clark, Michael Franks, Johnny Griffin, Julian Joseph, Michel Petrucciani and Clark Terry. Haanstra crafts a lovely canvas for Getz to splash his lyrical watercolors upon here, mixing traditional orchestral jazz with some late 70s fusion grooves, among which stand out as the album’s best moments (the Bob James-like “Tails Part 1 & 2” and “Little Lady” especially). Though often considered a soundtrack album, Forest Eyes only features several of Jurre Haanstra’s songs from his father Bert’s 1979 film Een Pak Slaag (the main theme, “Shades of Blue,” “Silva” and “Eye of The Storm”). Getz is typically lovely from start to finish. But brief as it is, Forest Eyes sadly never offers that one compositional moment that makes you feel this is anywhere near as significant as something like Focus. Forest Eyes was issued on CD in Europe in the mid ‘90s and has long been out of print until now.

Bonus Disc: An amazing 66 minutes that includes “Four Brothers,” “Early Autumn,” “Cousins,” “Blue Serge,” “Blue Getz Eyes” and “Caldonia” from the 1976 Woody Herman/The New Thundering Herd album The 40th Anniversary Carnegie Hall Concert Recorded Live…November 20, 1976 (RCA, 1977), a gorgeous quartet version of Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” (with Bob James on piano) from Montreux Summit (Columbia, 1977) and “Tin Tin Deo” and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” (with Dexter Gordon, Cedar Walton, Percy Heath, Tony Williams and others) from Havana Jam 2 (Columbia, 1979).

Friday, July 08, 2011

Son Of A Preacher Man

In the late 1960s British singing sensation Dusty Springfield (1939-99) signed to Atlantic Records, home of one of her soul idols, Aretha Franklin, in the hopes of reinvigorating her career and boosting her artistic credibility. She wanted to make a true soul album with some of the folks who made some of the finest American soul music at the time.

So Dusty went across the pond to Memphis, where the Memphis Cats, the studio group that backed many records by Wilson Pickett, Elvis Presley, King Curtis and others, and vocalists the Sweet Inspirations , led by Cissy Houston (Whitney’s mother), set about making it happen. Oddly enough, though, Dusty’s vocals were actually recorded in New York.

Dusty in Memphis was released in early 1969 and its first single, “Son of a Preacher Man,” became a worldwide top-ten hit. It is considered one of the best singles in pop history. Written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins (musicians who were apparently lovers at the time), writers of “Land of Milk and Honey” (The Vogues), “Love of the Common People” (The Four Preps) and “Bring Us A Better Day” (Friends of Distinction), the song was first offered to Aretha Franklin, who turned it down.

The song found renewed popularity when it was used in a pivotal scene in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction, helping the soundtrack album to sell more than two million copies, Indeed, the song was so important to Tarantino that he said he would not have included the scene in the film if he could not get the song to accompany it.

The song was also used in the film Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room as ex-Enron CEO Kenneth Lay is the son of a Baptist minister as well as in several hip-hop samples and Dusty in Memphis was reissued in a 30th anniversary CD package in 1999 with a bevy of extra tunes.

A year after Dusty Springfield hit with the tune, Aretha Franklin released her own version of the tremendously infectious song, with a slightly different, more Gospel-inflected treatment. It didn’t get the attention Dusty’s did, but the British singer claimed to like Aretha’s version better, adapting some of Ms. Franklin’s phrasings in her own performances of the tune hereafter.

Many others covered the song over the years, notably Peggy Little (who had a country hit with her version of the tune), Bobbie (“Ode to Billie Joe”) Gentry (in an absolutely terrifically arranged variation), Nancy Wilson, Tina Turner and the always exceptional Dolly Parton.

In recent years, Joan Osborne and Sarah Connor have also covered the tune rather nicely. But one of the best versions I’ve heard of late is Joss Stone’s 2006 performance in a tribute to Dusty Springfield at a British awards show. Despite the nightie and no shoes, she really gives the powerfully addictive tune the fire and passion it deserves – though I don’t think this one’s on record:

Jazz has also given “Son of a Preacher Man” (aka “Son-Of-A Preacher Man”) its due in soulfully instrumental performances by Swedish guitarist Rune Gustafsson (Rune At The Top - also on Atlantic), blues guitarist Mel Brown (Blues For We), Pat(rick) Williams (Heavy Vibrations), Gene Ammons (Brother Jug), Mongo Santamaria (Stone Soul) and, in my favorite version, Steve Allen – of all people! – in an Oliver Nelson arrangement on Soulful Brass #2 (Flying Dutchman, 1970), also featuring Mel Brown – but sadly there’s no sample of the Allen/Nelson variation on YouTube.


Billy-Ray was a Preacher's son,
And when his daddy would visit he'd come along,
When they gathered round and started talking,
That's when Billy would take me walking,
Through the back yard we'd go walking,
Then he'd look into my eyes,
Lord knows to my surprise:

The only one who could ever reach me,
Was the son of a preacher man,
The only boy who could ever teach me,
Was the son of a preacher man,
Yes he was, he was, oh yes he was.

Being good isn't always easy,
No matter how hard I tried,
When he started sweet talking to me,
he'd come tell me everything is alright,
he'd kiss and tell me everything is alright,
Can I get away again tonight?.

The only one who could ever reach me,
Was the son of a preacher man,
The only boy who could ever teach me,
Was the son of a preacher man,
Yes he was, he was, oh yes he was.

How well I remember,
The look that was in his eyes,
Stealing kisses from me on the sly,
Taking time to make time,
Telling me that he's all mine,
Learning from each other’s knowing,
Looking to see how much we'd grown.

The only one who could ever reach me,
Was the son of a preacher man,
The only boy who could ever teach me,
Was the son of a preacher man,
Yes he was, he was, oh yes he was.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bernard Herrmann at 100

Composer Bernard Herrmann emerged from the Golden Age of cinema and contributed a signature sound to some of history’s most significant films. While his name may not be known to most of today’s filmgoers – he died, after all, a full generation or two ago in 1975 – Bernard Herrmann’s music is undoubtedly some of the best and best known the cinema has ever produced.

Chances are, if you care about film or film music, you know who Bernard Herrmann is and you either know or appreciate his importance. If, on the other hand, you just like movies or certain kinds of movies, then you may not know Herrmann’s name but you will undoubtedly know his mighty influence.

Born in New York City on June 29, 1911, Bernard Herrmann scored only 49 films from his first, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941), to his last, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). But those two films alone should register the validity of the composer’s enduring significance.

Even deeming Herrmann’s filmic output to “only 49” features is like saying Beethoven wrote “only nine” symphonies. Herrmann’s output was so spectacular and dazzling from one score to the next – romance to thriller and fantasy to drama (very few comedies, to the composer’s own chagrin, but all in the realm of human irrationality that Herrmann himself experienced so mightily) – and each score so densely textured that it’s hardly considered background music or film music. It’s music of the highest order written for film.

Almost everything Herrmann touched or reflected upon was new and unique, with scarcely a lazy regurgitation of repeated themes, recycled riffs or pop-ified cover to be heard. Herrmann created visual symphonies with all the drama and action of a concert work for the pure benefit of not only aiding but enhancing a purely visual medium. Herrmann’s music greatly contributed to making film an aural medium as well.

Despite his training and musical pedigree (he founded the New Chamber Orchestra of New York when he was only 20), Bernard Herrmann brought something very different to the film medium than many of his peers at the time. While so many other composers working in film at the time were frustrated writers who took on lowly film work to earn a living and, resultantly, imprinted their own ideas on top of the story on the screen, however inappropriate that might have been (or writers who overstated emotion with overly emotional statements), Bernard Herrmann wrote music for film and only sought to enhance the action or the psychology of what was happening on screen.

Herrmann contributed a great body of work to radio and later to television during his long career. The composer’s radio career was launched in 1934 when he was appointed staff conductor of the Columbia Broadcasting System. He contributed music to many radio programs during these years, notably composing scores for many of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre on the Air productions, including the historic “War of the Worlds” (1938 – which recycled older music) and the riveting Campbell Playhouse production of “The Hitch-Hiker” (1941 – a radio play written by Lucille Fletcher, Herrmann’s wife at the time and librettist for his opera Wuthering Heights and writer of the great Sorry Wrong Number).

Welles took Herrmann to Hollywood in 1940 to score his first film, Citizen Kane, the same year Herrmann was appointed chief conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra, where the conductor helped reversed the fortunes of many little-known works and little-known composers. Herrmann scored Welles’s second film The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), but the studio cut as much of Herrmann’s score from the final film as they cut much of Welles’s original story.

Between those two movies, Herrmann wrote the score for William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), for which he won his only Oscar. In 1947, Herrmann scored the atmospheric and highly celebrated music for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Herrmann is best known for his work on Alfred Hitchcock films made between 1955 and 1964 and five of Ray Harryhusen’s fantasy films made between 1958 and 1963 – all of which he was perfectly suited to score.

While I haven’t heard or had the opportunity to appreciate everything Bernard Herrmann has ever done, I am especially thankful for the following works, which I continue to enjoy over and over and over again. My point is not to make a completist’s guide to Bernard Herrmann, nor a definitive guide to the composer’s allegedly “greatest hits.”

These are the Bernard Herrmann pieces that I have discovered and those that continue to give me the greatest joy. I’m sure there are others. Feel free to share yours if I haven’t covered them here. I would love to hear more Bernard Herrmann and I hope to help others continue to hear the composer’s fantastic and ageless work.

Citizen Kane: For all the sound and fury of Orson Welles’s first film, undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made, it is amazing how little composer Bernard Herrmann’s contribution (in his first film score) is acknowledged or even considered as part of the film’s success. That is perhaps the point. Nothing about Citizen Kane was ordinary and Bernard Herrrmann knew that going into it. His music is far more suggestive than persuasive (as it might later be). Today, filmmakers are routinely celebrated for constructing fictional documentaries that owe a huge debt to Citizen Kane. This was never intended to be a film, as so many were in 1941, to knock you over the head with overstated drama or emotion. Orson Welles wanted you to believe that Charles Foster Kane was a real man. Phony movie music would never have accomplished this mission. That leaves viewers with scarcely little enough music to recall outside the film except the song Welles’s Kane sings with a chorus line of showgirls at his paper’s party and the horrific aria from the fictitious opera Salammbo. Herrmann’s underscore is so understated as to be practically silent, like the lonely winds whispering through the spacious eaves of a large, empty house like Xanadu. These are the cues that I like best, especially notable during the dramatic opening sequence (“Prelude/Xanadu/Snow Picture”) and the captivating closing (“Rosebud and Finale”). Herrmann later strung a few of the Citizen Kane themes into a medley called “Welles Raises Kane,” mostly fitted out with the more pronounced music Herrmann provided to Welles’s next film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). The medley contains only a minimal amount of music from Citizen Kane. A 1970 Phase 4 album titled Music From Great Film Classics (and subsequent reissues on various labels over the years) credits this music solely to Citizen Kane, which is unfair. Quite a number of variations of the Citizen Kane music have been made available over the years, but I would suggest the 14 minutes of the score Charles Gerhardt recorded, under Bernard Herrmann’s supervision, in 1974 and reissued several times since. I don’t think Herrmann’s score was intended to be enjoyed away from the film. But the most important pieces from the score are included in Gerhardt’s recording and offer enough of a glimpse into Herrmann’s method to satisfy most listeners (and Kiri Te Kanawa’s handling of the aria here suggests how nicely Herrmann’s impossible piece could have sounded).

Hangover Square: John Brahm’s tremendously atmospheric thriller starred Laird Cregar in a stunning performance (his last) as a talented composer who suffers bouts of murderous amnesia. Throughout the film, Cregar’s character, George Harvey Bone, is developing his concert-hall concerto, called here Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, while a scheming chanteuse provokes him to write melodies for her to sing in her nightclub act. His personality splits even further as he wrestles with being a composer and a tunesmith for his beloved. These anomalies present themselves in the final concerto, a remarkable piece by Bernard Herrmann, combining grandiloquent statements of Lisztian fury with slightly off sweet bites of melodic tunefulness (gleaned from Bone’s songs for the singer). Herrmann’s “Concerto Macabre” is indeed macabre and an achievement of longing and anger as much is revelation of sensitivity and despair. Its unrelenting and nearly unendurable crescendo leads to a (literally) fiery outcome, something for which Herrmann’s superb sense of drama and signature musical vocabulary is absolutely perfect. Herrmann personally selected this concerto for inclusion on a 1974 recording by Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Herrmann was also present when the recording, titled Citizen Kane – The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann was made. Pianist Joaquin Achucarro delivers a truly fine performance, but it lacks some of the voltage of the original performance (which has been available, notably on an out-of-print Japanese CD).Gerhardt’s orchestra makes the effort worthwhile though.

The Man Who Knew Too Much: One of Bernard Herrmann’s most notable turns in film is, remarkably as himself, conducting – even more remarkably – another composer’s work. Herrmann can be seen conducting Arthur Benjamin’s (1893-1960) astonishingly Herrmann-esque “Storm Cloud Cantata” in the classic 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much, best known probably for the corny Ray Evans/Jay Livingston song “Que Sera Sera,” a huge hit in its day for the film’s star, Doris Day (not the only time the film’s composer was forced to work around a tune derived for the popular market). The conductor surprisingly declined the opportunity to record a composition of his own for the climatic sequence, favoring the idea of re-orchestrating Australian composer Arthur Benjamin’s concert piece from Hitchcock’s 1934 original – a piece Hitchcock especially commissioned (it derived its title later on). Herrmann felt the piece was ideal to the 12-minute dénouement and favored the idea of conducting the London Symphony Orchestra with a huge choir and a single pair of cymbals at the Royal Albert Hall. Such an inspired filmic climax so heavily dependent on the presentation of music inspired other directors to allow composers such as John Barry (Deadfall, License to Kill) and Lalo Schifrin (Red Dragon) to take turns in front of the camera at the podium doing what they did so often behind the scenes. Herrmann’s fierce seriousness with the baton shows that he knew and understood each and every sound of an orchestra, no matter how large, and how important each sound and silence was to the overall drama. Little wonder how he and Hitchcock were so perfectly paired and, miraculously, how they could accomplish all they did together. The Man Who Knew Too Much is a perfect display of mutual admiration between one of cinema’s few strong director-composer alliances. All this said, Herrmann’s main theme for the film is sumptuous and, remarkably, not nearly as celebrated as it ought to be.

A Hatful of Rain: Movies about drug usage weren’t only disdained and more or less prohibited in the 1950s by social watchdogs that sought (or claimed) to protect American interests, but it was believed that respectable audiences would never want to see such things. Don Murray’s excellent performance in Fred Zinnemann’s terrific film proved otherwise. Contributing to the film’s success was Bernard Herrmann’s mercurial music, which pulses with emotional highs and lows to a thoroughly riveting climax that suggests the physiological and emotional sturm and drang of drugs’ effects long before loud hippie-rock clichés were ever even considered. A 16-minute suite of the film’s original themes is included in the 1999 Varese Sarabande CD Bernard Herrmann at Fox Vol. 1. The Varese Sarabande CD also includes the scores for The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956) and Tender is the Night (1962), both of which are worth a listen or two. The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, in particular, supports Nunnally Johnson’s popular and topical (for the time) film. But for a talky two and a half hour film that resonates with a generation at least three times removed from today’s current viewership, it offers very little music and certainly not enough of Bernard Herrmann’s signature flair. A notable exception, though, is the absolutely stunning “Maria,” named for Marisa Pavan’s character, a war-time lover of Gregory Peck’s Tom Rath.

Vertigo: As film soundtracks go, perhaps none are finer than Bernard Herrmann’s sublime Vertigo, a haunting reverie on love and a romantic reflection on loss. Anyone who has ever known the intersectional subterfuge of these paralyzing handicaps of emotion will certainly understand, appreciate and celebrate Bernard Herrmann’s supreme musical achievement here. The film, like the music that accompanies it, is a timeless masterpiece of odd, though hardly inhuman, emotion that will resonate long after box-office receipts are counted and critical diatribes are debated. The film is perfect. So is the music. Like so much in Bernard Herrmann’s repertoire, one could scarcely improve in any way on what is presented. This is a magnificent achievement that resounds with the timelessness of any great classic. Only the Orson Welles-directed Citizen Kane, also scored by Bernard Herrmann, could be said to best Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo as an American cinematic triumph. But Herrmann’s music here is so much stronger and more persistent than that which he presented in Citizen Kane - mostly to accompany long passages of exposition without any dialogue at all – that the music can be said to contribute significantly to the success of the final piece of art (an argument against the contrived “auteur” theory of filmmaking). Like so many of the best Bernard Herrmann scores, nothing in Vertigo should be isolated apart from the rest of the score. Vertigo is intended, like a symphony or concerto, as an entire performance; not a string of themes where something cute and clever or pulpy or popular can be pulled to “say it all” or say anything that can make a radio audience immediately happy (although the main title theme, “Prelude” was sampled beautifully in a perfectly sci-fi way for Lady Gaga’s recent “Born This Way” and “The Nightmare” can still freak out just about anyone still to this day). Varese Sarabande producer Robert Townson indicated in his notes to the 1996 CD release of the Vertigo soundtrack (the most complete version of the original soundtrack available) that “Bernard Herrmann’s score for Vertigo, like the film, continually reveals new aspects of itself on each hearing.” This is absolutely true and appropriate to point out. Vertigo remains impressive, revealing and new some half century after its initial release. Its themes are used to this day in many contemporary film and TV scores, most recently in Tom Ford’s beautiful A Single Man (2009), to reflect on the tragic poetry of love and loss.

North by Northwest: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 film is one of cinema’s most enduringly entertaining pleasures. From the beautifully-worded script, the pitch-perfect acting, the glorious cinematography and the elegant production design, to say nothing about Hitchcock’s assured delivery of it all, this is a film that weaves action, adventure, comedy and romance together with unerring precision and clever fortitude. It is, as Hitchcock always said, “pure cinema.” Almost everything about this bravura film is perfect and it continues to entertain over half a century later. Add to this Bernard Herrmann’s sensationally varied score and the film is hard to better in any way. Just like Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann’s music is probably the sine qua non of Alfred Hitchcock’s film and certainly among both masters’ highest achievements. The music is as much of a rollercoaster ride (sans clichés) as the film (clichés turned somehow to coinage), which wrests Madison Avenue man Roger Thornhill out of his comfortable if not meaningless existence and throws him into a Josef K. like morass where he finds himself a suspected spy/double agent/murderer. From Herrmann’s striking all-over-the-map (get it?) main theme, “Overture,” scored brilliantly to Saul Bass’s dazzling titles sequence, to the very last note, this score – like the film itself – excites attention and lures listeners with its dazzlingly differences. Action and chase themes abound (“Overture,” “Cheers,” “The Station,” “The House,” “The Knife,” “The Stone Faces,” “The Cliff”), peppered by those that suggest the mystery of Thornhill’s conundrum (the great “Kidnapped,” “The Return,” “The Airport,” the brilliant “The Cafeteria”) and relieved by the blossoming love themes (“Interlude,” “The Forest,” “Finale,” which of course hints at what triumphs?) that hint at Roger Thornhill’s emerging humanity. Unlike many other Herrmann scores, several cues here are repeated in slightly altered form, including the main titles theme (loveliest with added harp glissandos in “On the Rocks”) and the obligatory love theme that unites Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill with Eva Marie Saint’s Eve Kendall. There’s also more a fair bit more source music here than usual for a Bernard Herrmann score too (“It’s A Most Unusual Day,” “Rosalie,” “In The Still of the Night,” “Fashion Show”) but it works perfectly well in the film as well as on the soundtrack, which was issued in full on CD on the occasion of the film’s 40th anniversary in 1999.

The Twilight Zone: In the 1950s, composer Bernard Herrmann was no stranger to the increasingly popular medium of television. He had scored several TV shows during the ‘50s and wrote a popular and memorable theme for the Richard Boone starrer Have Gun – Will Travel (1957-1963). Herrmann also scored seven episodes of Rod Serling’s influential and still much loved TV show, The Twilight Zone, between 1959 and 1963. His most notable achievement here, though, was for the exceedingly memorably pilot episode, “Where Is Everybody?” (1959), where the composer provided over 11 minutes of highly distinctive music that beautifully underscored the panic and dread of total isolation and the pervasive horror of “being watched.” Herrmann’s original 11-minute score is included on the 1985 Varese Sarabande disc The Best of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone along with Marius Constant’s immortal theme, several of the series’ more memorable scores (by Jerry Goldsmith and Nathan Van Cleave) as well as Herrmann’s 12 and half minute score to “Walking Distance,” the show’s fifth episode and Herrmann’s second TZ offering, a beautiful reflection on the haunting visions of Vertigo and a first consideration of the poetic unreality of Marnie.

Pyscho: Without a doubt, Psycho is Bernard Herrmann’s best known score, even if the only piece that is widely known is “The Murder,” which accompanies the film’s notorious and justifiably celebrated shower scene. This one piece of music alone is instantly recognizable to generations of film goers, even those that don’t pay attention to film music, and says as much economically as do such themes from “The Twilight Zone,” “Mission: Impossible” or “Jaws.” But each and every note of this remarkable symphony set to filmic images is magnificent, noteworthy and memorable. Even without one clear melody or tuneful piece, Herrmann’s music more than succeeds in aiding the film’s influence and continued popularity. The psychologically colorful score is as much a high point in composer Bernard Herrmann’s career as the provocative black-and-white film was for director Alfred Hitchcock. From the startling main title sequence (“Prelude”) – which shocks viewers into submission as dramatically as Herrmann’s main title sequence for On Dangerous Ground (1951) – and the hauntingly soothing “The City” (and other such gently foreboding cues heard early on) to the adrenaline rush of “Temptation” and the mysterious strain of “The Search” and other later cues such as the strikingly disturbing “Finale” – this is music that evokes fear and provokes tension better than just about anything that ever came before or since, with the possible exception of the darker cues from Ennio Morricone’s giallo scores. Psycho is nothing less than the ideal symphony of terror and dread and the single most perfect musical statement in the thriller/horror film genre. That’s why it’s been lifted (as in Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot remake of the film) or copied countless times for other such productions and the reason such young up-and-comers of the ‘70s like Brian De Palma and Larry Cohen wanted Herrmann’s music to ramp up their own significantly slighter horror-film projects. While Herrmann’s originally recorded score for Psycho has yet to appear on record or disc in an official capacity, the composer recorded a suite of the Psycho themes (“A Narrative For Orchestra”) for a Phase 4 LP that has been reissued under quite a few different titles, including the misleading appellation Psycho: Great Hitchcock Movie Thrillers (Decca, 1992). The composer was finally afforded the opportunity to record his score to Psycho on October 2, 1975, for the British Unicorn label, right before leaving London to work on Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Fronting the National Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernard Herrmann presents his Psycho music in all its glory. It is a magnificent recording and as close to an original soundtrack as we’re likely to get.

Cape Fear: The breathtaking music Bernard Herrmann composed for the 1962 J. Lee Thompson film of Cape Fear never found its way onto a soundtrack album during Herrmann’s lifetime, which certainly must have convinced the composer that Hollywood didn’t take him seriously. Trouble was the tawdry thriller probably wasn’t the equal of Herrmann’s masterly music. Indeed, following this film Thompson continued to attract top-shelf composers to his increasingly trashy thrillers while Herrmann’s scores at this point start outclassing the films they accompany. When Martin Scorsese was slated to direct a remake of Cape Fear some three decades later, the great film composer Elmer Bernstein wanted the job; not to insert his own Herrmann-influenced score, but to re-score Herrmann’s original work for the new film. Bernstein found in Herrmann, whose final score was for Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver, both an inspiration and a friend. But he also strived to ensure that Herrmann’s musical statements stayed with this film and, more importantly, were better suited to Scorsese’s dynamic presentation than Thompson’s original.

As Scorsese’s film was denser, more layered and considerably longer than the original, Bernstein sought to insert some of Herrmann’s music from Herrmann’s previously unused score to Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain (1966). Bernstein was a champion of Herrmann’s Torn Curtain score, having recorded it in 1977 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for his Film Music Club label in 1977 (the album was reissued with greater distribution in 1978 on the Warner Bros. label and in 2006 on the FSM CD box set Elmer Bernstein’s Filmmusic Collection). Of course, the pairing makes perfect sense. Bernstein’s flawlessly realized score, presented on a still readily available CD, does his mentor proud. He derives a symphony of menace the composer himself would have done and, despite Bernstein’s claim to the contrary, would have been very proud of. A lot of this music, especially the second part of the main theme “Max,” was used in The Simpsons spoof episode “Cape Feare” (1993) as well as later episodes of the popular animated show where the Sideshow Bob character recurs. Highlights from Torn Curtain are many and include the lovely source cue “Valse Lente,” the stirring “The Farmhouse“ and “The Killing” (a scene that is scored without music in the original film). The Torn Curtain score has since been recorded – apparently more fully than under Bernstein’s direction (even though the score was never fully completed) – under the supervision of Joel McNeely.

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Composer Bernard Herrmann scored a whopping 17 episodes of the hour-long The Alfred Hitchcock Hour shows between 1963 and 1965 (his music for the series was tracked in other episodes too). Surprisingly, none of these episodes was directed by Hitchcock himself and, even more remarkably, Herrmann never worked on any of the better-known Alfred Hitchcock Presents shows that aired between 1955 and 1962, many of the best of which were directed by Hitchcock. But the music Herrmann provided to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour really ranks among some of the greatest work the composer ever did in the televisual medium and certainly stands mightily alongside his best film work. The shows themselves are strong enough to warrant Herrmann’s magnificent musical counterpoint. Perhaps it was due to the show’s hour-long length, affording the composer, as Varese Sarabande producer Robert Townson puts it, the opportunity to create “mini-film scores unto themselves.” During Herrmann’s centennial year, Varese Sarabande issued – for the first time ever – eight of the 17 scores Bernard Herrmann composed for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour series. Apparently the music from only 14 of these episodes survives and the excellent 2011 Varese set - the only Herrmann release thus far in this centennial celebration - is said to be the first in a series of what can only be two volumes. The best music here also corresponds to the series’ best shows (from its second and third seasons), including “A Home Away From Home” (starring Ray Milland), the excellent “Behind The Lock Door” (starring James MacArthur and Gloria Swanson), the riveting “Body in the Barn” (starring Lillian Gish) and the terrific “Change of Address” (starring Arthur Kennedy). No worthy collection of Bernard Herrmann’s music should be without this tremendous disc, filled with “action, romance, macabre humor and lots of classic, chilling Herrmann suspense.”

Marnie: Although this 1964 Alfred Hitchcock film has never received the respect or appreciation it deserves, many consider Bernard Herrmann’s score for the film, his last for Hitchcock, to be among his very best. It truly is. From the powerful, attention-grabbing opening, this elegant orchestral music courses through a variety of jagged emotions in a way that tells a compelling story without any need of visual accompaniment at all. I’ve seen this film so many times, I know exactly where every note of this score belongs. Herrmann’s Marnie is a masterpiece of form and content, with such a strong signatory flair as to rank among one of the three or four greatest film scores Herrmann ever did (my vote for the others would be from Hitchcock films too). The music tells of substantial psychological trauma and the subsequent delusional mindset that results with such strength and conviction that Hitchcock could have presented a real half-assed story (as many believe he did) and Herrmann’s music would tell you all you need to know. A 45 of the theme was issued in 1964 and then the score was issued on vinyl in 1975. The Japanese Tsunami label issued a CD of the 48 and a half minute score in 1994 (pictured above). Herrmann recorded a suite of the film’s themes for his 1969 album Music from the Great Movie Thrillers (aka The Great Hitchcock Movie Thrillers). Several other conductors have recorded suites from Herrmann’s “Marnie,” including Lalo Schifrin, Paul Bateman, Nic Raine and Esa-Pekka Salonen, but Joel McNeely conducted the full score for a 2000 Varese Sarabande CD. For a less doomed spin on Marnie’s more romantic passages, consider Herrmann’s Joy in the Morning, the composer’s next film assignment and last American studio film, issued on CD in 2002 by Film Score Monthly.

Endless Night: In 1966, Bernard Herrmann left the United States and relocated to London, where he lived until the end of his life. Divorced from his second wife and disenchanted with Hollywood, Herrmann was occasionally sought out by European directors like Francois Truffaut for Fahrenheit 451 (1967) and The Bride Wore Black (1968) until his American rediscovery came in 1972 with Brian De Palma’s Sisters. Unlike the big-budget Hollywood dramas and fantasies of yore and those starry Truffaut efforts, Herrmann was often contracted (at his regular “elder statesman” working rate) to work on low-budget films that often never even played in the United States. For his thriller/horror films of this period, he would introduce an unusual solo instrument into his orchestrations that had significance to the story at hand: a whistler in Twisted Nerve (1968 – a theme later used as is by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill Vol. 1) and a harmonica in The Night Digger (1971). For 1972’s Endless Night, Herrmann used a Moog synthesizer to underscore the perplexingly haunted nature of the lead character. Although based on a terrific Agatha Christie whodunit – a genre Alfred Hitchcock despised and repudiated throughout his career – the film of Endless Night was directed by former Hitchcock associate Sidney Gilliat (Jamaica Inn, The Lady Vanishes) in a Hitchcockian style that recalls Suspicion and Dial M For Murder, peppered with a bit too much psychology and further seasoned with too much suspicious sexuality. Herrmann’s music here is masterful, despite a regrettable song bizarrely voiced by Shirley Jones - known at the time as Mrs. Partridge on The Partridge Family and whose voice doesn’t come close to suggesting the film’s pictured singer, Hayley Mills - with lyrics from a poem by William Blake (also used in a song by The Doors). The film’s terrible reviews and utter lack of success prevented it from ever opening properly in the United States or attaining a soundtrack release in any form. Still, it is a grand piece of work from Bernard Herrmann that deserves better than it ever got – not unlike the film, which is a jolly good mystery of pleasurably rousing though campy delights. Herrmann’s music helps you take it seriously. But just about everybody could have probably done a little better here. Curiously, while the film offers up former Hitchcock actor George Sanders (who killed himself a few months before the film’s release), the film’s two lead actors, Hywel Bennet and Hayley Mills, had previously appeared together in Twisted Nerve, also scored by Bernard Herrmann.

Sisters: Composer Bernard Herrmann hadn’t scored an American motion picture since 1965’s little-known film Joy in the Morning (a nice score issued on CD recently by FSM) when director Brian De Palma convinced the composer to score his 1973 horror/thriller Sisters, starring Margot Kidder. Indeed, De Palma laid in previously-recorded cues by Herrmann from films like Vertigo and Marnie as “temp tracks” to the movie to indicate what he wanted the score to be like. The director has said that some composers appreciate this musical guidance a director provides while also indicating that composers such as Ennio Morricone are deeply opposed to such suggestion. One guesses that Bernard Herrmann, too, was opposed to De Palma’s use of temp tracks, stating – as IMDb suggests – that while De Palma was showing the film to Herrmann, the composer stopped him with, "Young man, I cannot watch your film while I'm listening to Marnie ." Ironically, Herrmann was probably more influenced by the past accomplishments De Palma reminded him of than he thought as Sisters is much more of a reflection on Herrmann’s achievements than he might have liked to admit. Still, Bernard Herrmann recycling his past glories (and truthfully, few composers aren’t susceptible to such temptation) still makes for a first-rate soundtrack of classic proportions. Without any doubt, Bernard Herrmann’s classy score for Sisters far outranks and outflanks the cheap, nearly sleazy quality of Brian De Palma’s concept thriller, a bit of ‘70s psychological mumbo jumbo mixed with the pure grind-house horror churned out then for the drive-in crowd. “Main Title,” “Phillip’s Murder” (the equivalent of Pyscho’s shower scene), “Siamese Twins” and “Separation Nightmare” mostly recall Cape Fear mixed with the Moog-y overtones of Endless Night. “The Dressing Room” and “The Ferry, The Apartment, Breton” all reflect upon Vertigo with a touch of Marnie thrown in for good measure. And so on and so on. As Bernard Herrmann had undoubtedly developed a truly signature musical vocabulary by this point in his storied career, it was inevitable that his previous work in the thriller genre would influence his work here. But this is not to undermine the validity or originality of this truly great music, filled with as much that is new and interesting (in cues such as “Apartment House: The Windows” “The Couch,” “The Solution, The Clinic, Hypnotic Trance,” “The Syringe” as well as instrumentation, which always allows Herrmann to differentiate ideas for specific films) as that which hints at earlier glories. Sisters is another of Herrmann’s exciting and enticing macabre dances, perfectly complementing the emotion and action on screen and one that stands frighteningly well on its own. The soundtrack, presumably recorded in London in 1973, was issued on an Entr’acte LP in 1975 and has been reissued on CD in Japan in 1996 and by the Australian Southern Cross label in 2001.

Taxi Driver: While Bernard Herrmann’s final film score is among his greatest achievements, it is neither the prototypical Herrmann soundscape nor is it the most obviously Herrmannesque in what it accomplishes. But Bernard Herrmann as much as ever creates the perfect musical equivalent for the story a film is telling. The presence of a steamy saxophone (played by Ronny Lang, for the most part) causes many to consider this a “jazz” score when it really is anything but. The saxophone suggests a jazzy respite from the composer’s orchestral flourishes, which provides a perfect counterpoint to the teeming underbelly of an urban nightmare right out of Dante. But the little jazz that is present here (usually the painful wail of the saxophone) is only suggestive in the way that Jerry Goldsmith’s use of a mournful trumpet suggests a stilted romanticism of a corrupt L.A. in Chinatown. Herrmann’s use of a saxophone here isn’t unlike the use of the predominant solo instruments in his later scores (whistle, harmonica, synthesizer, etc.) to carry a certain thematic mood across his otherwise dominating themes. Like the expressive considerations of jazz, the saxophone here represents a soul crying for release. Even Herrmann’s atypically melodic main theme hints at jazz. But I don’t think jazz was ever on Bernard Herrmann’s mind, either before or during the writing of this score. I liken the sound of the saxophone to a romantic ideal of something that doesn’t really exist. It is the inner world of Travis Bickle – a sad, lonely place that’s even dirtier than the world he feels at home in. Bernard Herrmann died the night he finished this score for Martin Scorsese’s brilliantly conceived film. One senses that the great composer said all he had to say and accomplished all he wanted (my favorites are the most Herrmann-like: “Main Title,” “Phone Call,” “Sport and Iris,” “God’s Lonely Man”). Written by Paul Schrader in a poetic language all his own and starring Robert De Niro in an unforgettable performance (not to mention beautiful turns from Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks and Harvey Keitel), Taxi Driver represents an apogee for all concerned, even though some of its participants went on to other great work. It certainly was one of Bernard Herrmann’s greatest of many great achievements.

A very special thanks here to Jon Burlingame and Paul Conway, for the information, affection and insight that allowed me to write whatever I did here. I can never claim to have their knowledge or understanding of Bernard Herrmann’s music. But I hope my appreciation is evident. Any inaccuracies or offences are my own fault and I apologize to anyone who might be offended by any comment I’ve provided. I especially thank the erudite Christopher Palmer and Royal S. Brown for their glorious writings and incredible scholarship and the expressions of deep and abiding appreciation they have dedicated so lovingly to Bernard Herrmann.