Page One

a column by
Bill Shoemaker

By the mid-1970s, jazz festivals had gone corporate, transmogrifying from quixotic endeavors presented in picturesque destinations like Monterey, California. No American jazz festival better traces this arc than the Newport Jazz Festival, which abandoned the Rhode Island seaside town breezily depicted in Bert Stern’s documentary film about the 1958 festival, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, for New York in 1972. The move signaled a corresponding sea change in how festivals were financed. When it was founded in 1954, Newport’s old-money benefactors were Elaine and Louis Lorillard, socialites whose tobacco-based fortune began to amass before the American Revolution. The festival’s relocation reflected producer George Wein’s increasing dependency on corporate sponsorship, which caused him to replace the hallowed brand name with that of Japanese electronics manufacturer JVC for almost a quarter-century beginning in 1984.

Newport had a timely launch, concurrent with the introduction of 12” LPs, a format that allowed a mass market to hear the excitement of extended jazz performances. Without the LP’s expanded storage capacity, tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves’ ecstatic, nearly riot-sparking 27-chorus blues workout on a nearly 15-minute version of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” at the end of the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s 1956 Newport set would have remained hearsay, albeit the rare type of hearsay that makes its way into the lead paragraph of a Time cover story about Ellington that ran six weeks after the festival. The three year-old Newport’s brand skyrocketed, and may have sputtered without Columbia’s release of Ellington at Newport in the fall. One of jazz’s great concert recordings, “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” put an exclamation point on one of the great comeback stories in American cultural history, as the initial press buzz of the Newport concert, the resulting Time cover, and the best-selling Ellington at Newport¸ reversed the consensus that Ellington and his orchestra were irrelevancies in a modern jazz landscape dominated by Chet Baker, Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan. Newport single-handedly salvaged Ellington’s career.

In addition to Ellington at Newport, Columbia released three other albums recorded at the ‘56 festival, which they promptly repackaged for their European subsidiaries. Seeing the disc bonanza Newport represented, Norman Granz bought the recording rights to the entire 1957 edition, and released eleven LPs in time for the holiday shopping season in the US under the Verve banner, which consolidated his earlier Clef and Norgran imprints. With a presence in Europe by virtue of his Jazz at the Philharmonic franchise of concerts, tours and recordings, Granz then released the lot in Europe in early 1958, garnering initial reviews in the UK. The lead of a full-page spread in the 8 March 1958 Melody Maker proclaimed Newport to be “the largest jazz gala in America – and the world.” The accompanying advertisement for Dobell’s Jazz Record Shops featured not the albums, but the festival program, “Lavishly Produced and Illustrated.”

To his credit, Granz didn’t cherry-pick the ‘57 Newport festival; for every sure-fire hit like the summit meeting of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, the wailing set by Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, or the freewheeling jam led by Coleman Hawkins, there were releases devoted to new artists, albeit on discs that featured one artist on Side A and another on the B side. Blind accordion virtuoso Leon Sash split an album with Bud Powell-influenced pianist Toshiko, whose full name – Toshiko Akiyoshi – was then too much of a mouthful for jazz marketing; piano solos by Fats Waller specialist Robert Henderson were paired with the tasteful mainstream trumpeter Ruby Braff, whose octet included the irascible clarinetist Pee Wee Russell; and most provocatively, what annotator Bill Simon called the “far out” Cecil Taylor Quartet and the Gigi Gryce/Donald Byrd Jazz Laboratory. The net effect was that Newport was presented as a full-spectrum jazz festival, an image buttressed by European releases of subsequent Newport festival performances of artists like gospel diva Mahalia Jackson.

Granted: Granz’s main motivation was his own brands, as JATP staples like Fitzgerald, Gillespie and Hawkins were prominently featured in the releases. At the same time, he substantially contributed to the idea that Newport was the gold standard of jazz festivals in the fertile European jazz markets – the plural being necessary prior to the formation of the Common Market, necessitating Granz to have multiple licensing deals, including one with the French Barclay label. While these agreements assured that his records were released throughout Europe, they were often issued months later than they were in the UK. This lag proved to be propitious in the spring of 1960; the Newport recordings had very recently received mostly enthusiastic reviews in both Jazz Hot and Jazz Magazine (the latter co-founded by Eddie Barclay, who also founded the label) when Stern’s movie premiered in Paris – not at one cinema, but two.

The full page advertisement for the film that ran in the April issue of Jazz Hot provides insight into how Newport was imprinted upon the continental jazz imagination. For starters, the film had the muscle of French media giant Pathé behind it, which explains why barely a month separates the New York and Paris premieres; not only did they distribute the film, they added French subtitles of Arnold Perl and Albert D’Annibale’s script, and, most portentously, changed the title of the film to Jazz a Newport. The ad copy hails that “finally, a film that is 100% jazz from the new wave in the USA.” The use of the phrase “nouvelle vague” in 1960 is intriguing because it had been recently coined to ID such innovative French films like Jean-Luc Godard’s “À bout de soufflé” (“Breathless”), also released that year – it would be three years before the phrase was appropriated by Impulse to market their LPs by John Coltrane and other envelope-pushing artists.

Stern freely admitted being influenced by the French New Wave in the making of Jazz on a Summer’s Day, his first attempt at filmmaking. Having worked exclusively as a women’s fashion magazine’s art director and a somewhat innovative still photographer for ad campaigns, Stern had the idea that he could just improvise a feature film with Newport and the festival as its backdrop; but initial attempts at a romantic storyline went nowhere fast, and the idea of a following a cat and letting the narrative happen around it ended as quickly as it began, as the cat immediately ran away never to be found again. However, Stern stumbled into iconic sequences – particularly the film’s opening pairing the Jimmy Giuffre 3’s gently chugging “The Train and the River” and abstract close ups of undulating reflections on the harbor water – and charming leit motifs like Eli’s Chosen Six (a Yale student Dixieland band including trombonist Roswell Rudd) swinging merrily in a vintage convertible puttering around Newport. There are several memorable performances, but most are cut down to the nub, Louis Armstrong’s and singer Anita O’Day’s being exceptions. Despite his early use of whatever as a structuring device, Stern proves that a cathartic ending – in this case, the majestic Jackson singing “The Lord’s Prayer” – can confer a quirky brand of genius upon any film. Subsequently, it’s no mystery why Jazz on a Summer’s Day resonated with Europeans, and how it cemented Newport as a jazz idyll in their imagination.

In Europe, jazz festivals evolved quite differently, with the earliest and most influential held in major inland cities. Throughout the 1960s, a few began sprouting up in seaside settings in Mediterranean France, the Basque country, and even Finland – the festival now known as Jazz à Juan in Antibes was inaugurated a few months after the Paris premiere of Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Despite their increasing importance to the bottom lines of American jazz artists and their management, European jazz festivals were on the periphery of the collective jazz consciousness in the US. That began to change in 1968 with the release of Bill Evans at the Montreux Festival on Verve, the label through which Newport was introduced to Europe. The new Swiss festival, just in its second year, had a postcard-worthy waterside setting on Lake Geneva, facing the foothills of the Alps, replete with a 13th Century island castle, which graced the album’s cover. The fact that the music was presented in the Montreux casino went unmentioned in the festival’s marketing.

More importantly, the festival had Claude Nobs at the helm. Then head of Montreux’s tourism office, Nobs had a keen slant on marketing and branding, which led him to make early key alliances with captains of the American jazz industry like Atlantic Records president Nesuhi Ertegun. Nobs saw quick results from his shuttle diplomacy, beginning with signing Charles Lloyd’s quartet with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, then peaking via Atlantic albums like Forest Flower, to headline Montreux’s first edition in 1967. Given Nobs’ proclamation to Jazz Hot contributor Jean-Michel Sivry in August ‘68 that “Jazz has to return to its first vocation, that of a popular art form,” Lloyd’s inroads with an American youth counterculture about to become a transformative consumer base for the music industry made Lloyd a precedent-setting pick, the quartet’s avantish tinge notwithstanding. Additionally, Lloyd’s quartet had just garnered international attention from its barrier-denting tour of the Soviet Union that May, facilitated by Lloyd’s Russian-born manager George Avakian, the Columbia Records executive that oversaw the 1956 Newport recordings and produced Ellington at Newport.

Although Evans did not have the same skyrocketing currency as Lloyd, the pianist was a sure bet as a headliner. More than a decade had passed since Evans’ high-impact introduction on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and a series of Riverside albums with virtuoso bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, arguably the most influential trio in jazz history. By the late ‘60s, Evans’ supple sense of swing and erudite approach to harmony and thematic development – as well as his capacity to find new wrinkles in compositions he frequently revisited like Davis’ “Nardis” – was no longer considered cutting edge or innovative, but a top-shelf commodity like a 12 year old single malt Scotch. This is not to say his ‘60s trio dates were staid – Trio ‘64 with Motian and bassist Gary Peacock (who also played on Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity that year) brimmed with rigorous creativity – but, his most ambitious albums of the decade were two volumes of pieces for two and three overdubbed pianos: Conversations with Myself, which won Evans his first Grammy in ‘63, and Further Conversations with Myself in ‘67.

For any festival in the process of branding itself, Bill Evans Live at Montreux is instructive, as very few jazz artists at that time were in firmer control of their own brand as the pianist. From the brisk opening strains of “One for Helen,” a slalom course of chord changes, through a set spanning a sunnily swinging take on Harold Arlen’s wistful “A Sleeping Bee,” a solo piano take on Gershwin’s Davis-associated “I Loves You Porgy” – a showcase for the exquisite melancholy that was at the heart of the Evans brand appropriated by a succession of pianists including Jarrett and Brad Mehldau – and “Walkin’ Up,” an intriguing Evans original that surges one moment and seemingly gasps for breath the next, Evans presents an impressive brief for his influential art and his worth at the box office. Bill Evans Live in Montreux took the Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Small Group or Soloist with Small Group in 1969, the second of five Evans would be awarded; but, arguably, the big winner was the Montreux brand.

Although Verve was the first American label to release a Live-at-Montreux album in the US, Atlantic added an important facet to the Montreux brand with a series of albums beginning in 1969. While the Evans album played well with jazz sophisticates, Atlantic aimed its Live-at-Montreux albums at a consumer base steeped as much in blues and R&B as it was jazz. Although any critical ranking of Atlantic’s output in the 1960s would find its albums by pathfinders like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus at the top of the list, some of its best sellers mined soul-jazz grooves in the hopes of striking gold like Cannonball Adderley did with “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” 1966’s surprise summer hit, which hit number 2 on the Billboard R&B chart and 11 on the pop chart.

In a timely move to tap this segment of the jazz record market, Atlantic signed tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris mid-decade. Harris had a knack for writing catchy tunes packed with sophisticated intervallic relationships. Miles Davis immediately snatched “Freedom Jazz Dance,” for Miles Smiles after it debuted on The In Sound, Harris’ first Atlantic album in 1965. Harris also knew how to garner publicity; six years after receiving the first certified gold jazz record – a 1961 revamping of the theme from the film Exodus – Harris employed the Varitone for The Electrifying Eddie Harris in ‘67. A condenser mic in the horn’s head joint that fed a primitive FX box, the Varitone made – and still makes – purists cringe, as it draped Harris’ hefty yet breathy tenor sound with tremolo, echo, and “light” and “dark” equalization settings. Still, the album yielded another charted single; with a laid-back, piano vamp-driven groove, thickened by auxiliary percussion, “Listen Here” fell just short of the R&B chart’s top 10 and the pop chart’s top 40.

For the 1969 Montreux festival, Harris was teamed with a newly signed Atlantic artist with comparable crossover appeal – pianist and singer Les McCann. With two dozen albums to his credit, McCann was an established soul jazz stylist who had collaborated with other crossover artists like singer Lou Rawls. His early ‘69 Atlantic debut, Much Les, is a largely successful effort to broaden his range. In addition to roof-raisers like “Burnin’ Coal,” McCann penned pieces featuring strings that foreshadowed the “quiet storm” vein of R&B that came into vogue in the late 1970s, including “Roberta,” named after Roberta Flack. It was McCann who discovered the singer-pianist in a DC club, facilitated her contract with Atlantic, and wrote the liner notes for First Take, which yielded the Grammy-winning Record of the Year, “The First Time I Ever Saw His Face.”

Had McCann not been such a robust pianist, he would probably have relied more on his voice, an inviting baritone equally persuasive when smoothly crooning or joyfully shouting. With Harris at Montreux, McCann would only sing one song during the house-rocking set that became Swiss Movement, but it became both protest anthem and million-copy-selling single: “Compared to What.” Written by R&B veteran Gene “A Hundred Pounds of Clay” McDaniels – an unlikely source for lyrics that delivered such a stinging social critique – the tune opened Flack’s debut, albeit without the force of McCann’s two-fisted piano and wailing solos by Harris and ex-pat trumpeter Benny Bailey. Without McCann’s vocal, however, it would have been a high-octane workout among several. With McCann’s voice, which presaged Gil Scott-Heron’s blend of indignation and empowerment, “Compared to What” propelled Swiss Movement to the top of the Billboard jazz chart and number 2 on its R&B chart.

Writing in Billboard 37 years later, Dan Oullette assessed that Swiss Movement was the album that “put Montreux on the recorded-live-in-concert map,” priming the pump for several Montreux festival performances to be issued annually for years to come, and attracting now-legendary American producers like Bob Thiele, Orrin Keepnews and Norman Granz himself – as well as their prodigious British counterpart Alan Bates – to shepherd an abundance of live-at-Montreux albums by artists spanning bluesmen to beboppers, and Swing Era giants to the beneficiaries of John Coltrane’s legacy. Most of these recordings confirmed what had become obvious: longtime Granz-associated artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie were in the Indian summers of their illustrious careers; tenor players like Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon were not far behind; and Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor and Fats Domino were plays for the often elusive wider audience producers and presenters craved. Surprisingly, cutting-edge artists played an arguably disproportionately large role in shaping the American image of Montreux, their live-at albums being released as their respective stocks spiked, raising the speculation that post-Coltrane jazz would shape the 1970s.

The first was El Pampero by Gato Barbieri, who was already being touted as the most important non-American jazz artist since Django Reinhardt. The Argentine tenor saxophonist was already renowned for his searing sound, replete with blood-curdling altissimo screams, for his work in an Amercentric avant-garde context, notwithstanding the Spanish Civil War songs and the dedication to Che Guevara (who was born in the same town as Barbieri) included on Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra Impulse debut in ‘69. It is the release of The Third World in 1969 on Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label, that Barbieri revealed his fluency with tango, then on the verge of transformation through the music of Astor Piazzolla, and various forms of South American folk music, particularly the distinctive accentuations of each country’s rhythms. Occupying a space outside the contemporary parameters of both Latin jazz and avant-garde jazz with its passionate themes and thick layers of percussion, The Third World is best considered within the context of the arts and the political left in Latin America, side by side with, among others, the works of Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha and Columbian novelist Gabriel García Márquez.

While El Pampero crystallized the short-term critical windfall of Barbieri’s music, it revealed its longer term liabilities. The set’s red-lining intensity, breakneck tempi, and ecstatic sweep makes for initially exciting listening, but wears surprisingly thin after just a few spins. This is partially due to the absence of a compelling second horn like trombonist Roswell Rudd, who alternately roared, guffawed and pleaded on The Third World. It also pointed up the limitations of pianist Lonnie Liston Smith, whose groundswells of ten-fingered trills and racing arpeggios lacked the complexity and emotional depth of McCoy Tyner’s. The rather generic electric bass and percussion further dilutes the South American core of Barbieri’s music, making El Pampero little more than a calling card. Barbieri soon changed course and labels. signing with Impulse in 1973, and returning to South America to record with a pan-Andean folkloric ensemble, tango specialists, and crack studio musicians, which yielded the two-volume Latin America, his definitive projection of the Third World.

Tyner signed with Keepnews’ Milestone label at the beginning of 1972 and immediately set upon a brisk recording schedule, sharpening facets of the sensibility outlined on Blue Note recordings from 1968 through ‘70. Milestone’s release of Sahara, Song for My Lady, and Song of the New World within 18 months proclaimed Tyner’s arrival as a major force, an assertion validated by robust sales and superlatives-laden reviews. Tyner had refined familiar devices as propulsive vamps and exclamatory, frequently pentatonic themes into an immediately recognizable compositional voice, the tensile strength of which he successfully tested in LP side-long performances and his writing for chamber orchestra. Additionally, he expanded the signature style of the Coltrane years to include deluges comparable to Cecil Taylor’s in terms of crispness and ferocity – if Taylor approached the piano as 88 tuned drums, Tyner played it like an enormous kalimba. Leading a strong working band featuring saxophonist Sonny Fortune and powerhouse drummer Alphonse Mouzon, Tyner had cleared Coltrane’s long shadow, but still basked in the glow of his legacy – and bankability.

Tyner consolidated these advances into a tour de force performance at Montreux in 1973. Released as the 2-LP Enlightenment, Tyner’s revamped quartet with Mouzon, bassist Junie Booth, and the recently discovered, 21 year-old saxophonist Azar Lawrence stormed through the three-part title suite and other new compositions, including “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit,” which plied a pile-driving riff, minor key blues changes, and a soaring, beseeching theme. The unflaggingly exhilarating, nearly 25-minute performance provides a one-stop survey of Tyner’s playing, spanning labyrinthine modal lines set against powerful block chords, sustain pedal-intensified tsunamis of arpeggios and clusters, and Mach-speed counterpoint. More than 40 years after the release of Enlightenment – and despite having never being reissued in the US on CD – the album remains a touchstone of Tyner’s art at its early ‘70s apex, its culminating track singled out in the entry on Tyner in Richard Cook’s 2005 Jazz Encyclopedia: “His 1973 Montreux Festival performance, with its tumultuous version of ‘Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit’ … typifies the power of his music.”

Although Alan Bates initially produced Montreux concerts by mainstream artists like trumpeter Bill Coleman and guitarist Barney Kessel in 1973 for Black Lion, he pivoted in 1974, recording Cecil Taylor’s solo concert for the label’s sibling, Freedom. Although the resulting Silent Tongues was not the first example of Taylor’s solo music to be issued on disc, it was the first to be widely marketed in the US, due to the distribution deal Arista struck with Freedom in 1975. There were five sides of solos recorded in 1973: the A side of Spring of 2 Blue Jays, and the wholly solo Indent and Solo; however, the first two were issued in editions of 500 copies on the pianist’s own Unit Core imprint; the latter was issued on the Japanese Trio label, with few copies trickling into the US. In the instant-access Internet Era, such a lag is inconceivable; but, in the 1970s, this was the rule, not the exception, for Taylor’s ilk. Prominent among the first Arista/Freedom LPs that that brought overdue recognition to a host of artists – including two other pianists recorded at Montreux, Andrew Hill and Randy Weston – Silent Tongues remains a classic example of the power, precision and utter originality of Taylor’s music. El Pampero, Enlightenment, and Silent Tongues were soundings of the international status of avant-garde jazz, which were read by some producers and presenters as leading indicators of its potential in the US market. Therein was the influence of Montreux.

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