Photo of Jazz Around Town Logo

By Scott Yanow

Photo of Willie Jones  drummer

Last summer, the Manhattan Transfer and Take Six, arguably the two finest vocal groups in music, met at Catalina’s. While that encounter was considered an “experiment” and they mostly alternated with each other, only collaborating on a few numbers, it was a different situation recently at the Valley Performing Arts Center.

The ten veteran singers came together at the start on “Killer Joe” and “Straighten Up And Fly Right,” getting chances to scat and also displaying some colorful choreography. The Manhattan Transfer, now in its 45th year, has continued on after the passing of its founder Tim Hauser in 2014. With Trist Cureless doing quite well in Hauser’s place (sometimes sounding a bit like Dave Lambert), the Transfer (with Janis Siegel, Alan Paul and Cheryl Bentyne) showed that they were still in their prime. They performed excellent versions of “Tuxedo Junction,” “Candy” and “Air Mail Special.” Great as the Manhattan Transfer are, Take Six often stole the show with its humor, complexity and virtuosity. Comprised of Claude McKnight, Mark Kibble, Joel Kibble,

Dave Thomas, Alvin Chea and Kristian Dentley, Take Six (now in its 37th year) performed a very inventive arrangement of “Just In Time” and their own take on “Happy.” “Like Someone In Love” had a chorus of the Manhattan Transfer before Take Six assisted them for the second half. On many of the pieces, pianist Yaron Gershovsky, bassist Boris Kazlov and drummer Ross Pederson kept the music swinging while the Take Six features were mostly taken a capella.

The interplay between the two groups was particularly memorable. They kidded each other by singing each other’s hits, four of the singers performed a beautiful rendition of “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” and Take Six joined the Manhattan Transfer on a rousing version of “Birdland.” During Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” a few of the members of Take Six showed that they could play conventional instruments too with two acoustic guitar and two keyboards heard quietly behind the singers. It all concluded with an exciting version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” While it was not inevitable that the Manhattan Transfer and Take Six would team up, their collaboration that night was a big success and deserves to be documented.

Photo of Kurt Elling and Branford Marsalis

Normally when a singer teams up with an established group, the vocalist is in the forefront much of the time and the band serves as an accompanist. However the recent Kurt Elling/Branford Marsalis musical partnership is quite a bit different.

At UCLA’s Royce Hall, Elling and Marsalis were very much co-leaders. They had teamed up at the Monterey Jazz Festival last September and made a recording. After many concerts, the performers sound very much like a quintet. First the Marsalis Quartet (with the leader on soprano and tenor, pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner) performed a lengthy and stirring post bop instrumental, “The Mighty Sword.” Elling joined the group on Gershwin’s “There’s A Boat That’s Leaving For New York,” singing the melody, scatting and, after the soprano and piano solos, making up a humorous monologue about taking a boat to New York from Los Angeles. Elling and Marsalis (on tenor) harmonized well on the ballad “Blue Gardenia,” and, after a couple of originals that put the focus on the rhythm section (Calderazzo took several solos that were brilliant and sometimes quite tender), the group engaged in some witty free interplay on “One Island To Another.” Abbey Lincoln’s “As Long As You’re Living” had some outstanding scatting by Elling.

Throughout the night, Faulkner was a powerhouse on drums, taking several creative solos, Revis offered stimulating support and occasional short improvisations, and Calderazzo sounded quite original and inventive. As for Marsalis, this setting resulted in his solos being a bit more concise than during his usual quartet performances, and his improvisations were quite focused and dazzling, particularly on soprano.

After the set ended and was greeted with a standing ovation, Elling and Marsalis (on tenor) played a touching unaccompanied duet on “I’m A Fool To Want You.” A solo bass interlude led to a spirited instrumental version of “St. James Infirmary” with Elling wordlessly singing into what looked like an open plastic glass, emulating a muted trombone. It made for a joyful conclusion to a fun evening.


Photo of Willie Jones  drummer

A discography is a listing of an artist’s recordings, telling readers not just the list of songs that were recorded at a session but the recording date, the records on which the music was released, the personnel (with their instruments) and the location. The first attempt at putting together a comprehensive jazz discography was by Charles Delauney with his Hot Discography in 1936. Since then, Brian Rust compiled his two volume Jazz Records 1897-1942, Jorgen Jepsen put out his Jazz Records 1942-1980 (which was later revised by Erik Raben but was never quite completed) and Walter Bruyninckx’s 90 Years Of Recorded and Blues traced jazz history up until 1987.

However Tom Lord’s The Jazz Discography is the one to get, documenting jazz from 1917 (and even before with ragtime-oriented recordings dating from the 1890s) up to the present time. It was originally a 34-volume series on books, then graduated to a CD-Rom that was improved upon every couple of years with a new disc. I have used the latter nearly every day for years. But now, for a monthly fee of $9.99, the project has become a gigantic online database, TJD Online, that is updated on a daily basis.

There are many valuable features to TJD Online. One can quickly get a chronological listing not only of all of the sessions that a particular musician led but every date that he or she appeared on, including someone like Ron Carter who is listed as being part of 1,165 sessions. It is also possible within seconds to have a chronological listing of every version of a particular song (such as all 2,385 version of “Body And Soul”) or a record label’s entire output. There is full information on 35,000 leaders and 182,000 sessions, and there are over a million musician and tune entries. It is also possible to catalog one’s own record collection by using this service.

All in all, TJD Online is quite remarkable. Ever desire a list of every session on which Miles Davis participated, or wonder whether “Stardust” or “St. Louis Blues” was recorded more? (“St. Louis Blues” wins, 2,126 to 1,584). Any truly serious jazz record collector can consider TJD Online to be indispensable. More information can be found at .


Photo of Coco Schumann

Coco Schumann, who is 93, is considered one of Germany’s top jazz guitarists since the 1940s. While he had a very productive career for decades, playing jazz, pop music and in a countless number of settings, and he is well known in his homeland, it was not until the mid-1980s that Schumann freely talked about a dark period in his life. During 1943-45 he was in Nazi prison camps including Auschwitz. It was only due to his youth, his naiveté and his musical skills that he was fortunate enough to survive although he did witness quite a few horrors.

In addition to appearing in films and in interviews about the period, in 1997 Coco Schumann wrote his memoirs, The Ghetto Swinger. The fascinating autobiography has recently been translated into English and is available from Doppel House Press ( Schumann, who is Jewish but looked Aryan, remembers first discovering swing in 1936 and becoming a lifelong convert. Skilled as both a guitarist and a drummer, he worked in Germany nightclubs into 1943, somehow playing jazz regularly despite the regime’s hostility to the new music. Schumann’s stories about the German swing scene are full of revelations. However a crackdown in 1943 resulted in the 19-year old being arrested. At first he was not treated too horribly despite the loss of freedom. He was housed in a phony small town with other artists and musicians that was documented by the Nazis for a propaganda film about how well they were treating the Jewish people. During this period, Schumann played drums with the Ghetto Swingers. But after the film was finished, he and most of the others were shipped to Auschwitz. His reminiscences of the horrible train ride and tales of life in the prison camp make one wonder how anyone survived.

But Coco Schumann did survive, was freed by the Allies in 1945, and soon had a busy musical career. Considered the first ever jazz electric guitarist in Germany, he played swing for years but was versatile enough to perform in much more commercial settings during the lean periods. He kept his memories of the prison camps mostly to himself for four decades. The Ghetto Swinger has Coco Schumann telling his story honestly, colorfully and with occasional humor. It is a fascinating story that is well worth discovering.

Photo of Cynthia Sayer
Photo of Cynthia Sayer

Cynthia Sayer has been a top banjoist in the trad jazz field since the 1980s, working with Woody Allen, on soundtracks with Dick Hyman, and as the leader of her own groups. She wrote the book You’re In the Band to give students and up-and-coming musicians the chance to gain experience playing hot jazz.

In addition to the text, there is play-along music (either two CDs or a link to the music online) that has two versions apiece (at different tempos) of 13 standards. Sayer, trumpeter Bria Skonberg, bassist Mike Weatherly and drummer Kevin Dorn form a quartet in which the reader can “sit in” and take solos. The book has the music for the 13 tunes for C, B Flat, E Flat and Bass Clef instruments. The lead sheets for such songs as “China Boy,” “Darktown Strutters Ball,” “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans,” “The Saints” and even “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” are augmented by chord charts and tune layouts. In addition, Sayer’s book gives practical information and advice about playing this style of music along with a list of lingo and definitions. While classic jazz is joyful, it has its rules and both veterans coming to the music from more modern idioms and students will benefit from utilizing this valuable book. You’re In The Band is available from .

Every jazz musician needs a well-written press biography, and every CD deserves informative liner notes.

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