Track of the Month

Paul Haidet, Friends of Jazz board member, recommends a track to check out every month, reflecting on the music through his experiences as a physician, medical educator, and researcher. Whether you're new to jazz or a seasoned listener, Paul will have you excited to hear more of this music!

Follow him on Twitter at @MyHeroIsTrane

Joshua Redman: Stoic Revolutions 

For me, this track encapsulates the pandemic, in all its paradoxes. On the one hand, there is the urgency of the churning harmonic background, with Aaron Goldberg, Reuben Rogers, and Gregory Hutchinson running though the changes over and over in 6/4 time, simultaneously propulsive and halting. Then there’s Redman’s playing, both reflective and forward leaning. When the pandemic started, it felt like everything was in a rush to get ready for the onslaught of the oncoming plague. Remember trying to find toilet paper? Then everything stopped, and it felt like we all went on pause. When many of us surfaced in virtual land, working from home, conducting school at the kitchen table, narrowing our spheres of travel, it seemed like we would be in hibernation for an extended period of time. Yet that hibernation has been packed with more activity than we did before any of this started – for example, studies have shown that people work more now than they ever did before the pandemic. Make no mistake: we live in a different world, one at once more connected, and more distant. Which brings me back to Redman’s music – how can we hold in our minds and live through the conflicting realities of the modern world? How can we honor tradition while at the same time looking forward? How can we move in a new, deliberate, and resolute way? The answers to those questions and more are in this music. 

Want a track every day? Follow #JazzForCOVID on twitter.

Allen Toussaint: Waltz for Debby 

I miss Allen Toussaint. He was utterly unique, whether shaping the New Orleans soul and funk sound in the 1970s, or producing artists all over the spectrum, or collaborating with artists one would never think of, like Elvis Costello. It’s no accident that he is in both the rock and blues halls of fame, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, and was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 2013.

It’s fitting, then, that his last album would come back to New Orleans jazz roots, with Toussaint playing piano in a trio format, covering his own as well as a cornucopia of songs from across the American landscape, and infusing them with a gently swinging character that is unmistakably New Orleans. I understand that Waltz for Debby has become something of a jazz standard and has been done many times on many records. Even Bill Evans’ Village Vanguard version recorded on that fateful Sunday in June 1961 (Scott LaFaro, the bassist, would be dead 10 days later, thus ending one of the most empathic units in jazz history) was actually a remake of the solo piano version on Evans’ first album. The problem is, the Sunday Village Vanguard session is so iconic that all other versions, to me, fall somewhat flat. 

Until now. 

Want a track every day? Follow #JazzForCOVID on twitter.

Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger: You Make Me Feel Brand New 

Forced into lockdown in their apartment in the spring of 2020, Dezron Douglas (bassist) and Brandee Younger (harpist) started a series of Instagram brunches to stay connected with fans and friends and the music. What resulted was the album Force Majeure, which lives up to its name in every way. While many may see the “force majeure” here as the pandemic, the real truth is that music can constitute an extraordinary circumstance that is beyond the control of any party or thing, including a pandemic.

This music will grab you and clarify two things:

  1. This is exactly what those bass fanatics (I am one of them) talk about when extolling the virtues of the big instrument on the bottom, and
  2. If it wasn’t patently obvious already, the harp is such a gorgeous instrument that it deserves more prominence in virtually every genre of music, including jazz.

What helps is the selection of outstanding material, including the Stylistics beautiful 1973 song, penned by the incomparable “Philly sound” team of Thom Bell and Linda Creed. This song has been done many times by many jazz artists (my favorite was Hubert Laws’ version on the LP Chicago Theme) since the 70s, but never quite like this.

As I write in late January with the pandemic still raging and Douglas and Younger’s version playing through the computer speakers, I do feel a brand new sense of hope. 

Want a track every day? Follow #JazzForCOVID on Twitter.

Listen to the full album Force Majeur:

Coleman Hawkins: Love Song from "Apache" 

What story can bring together Coleman Hawkins (who many consider to be the trunk of the Tenor Saxophone tree), the actor Burt Lancaster, contemporary jazz greats Charlie Haden and Cassandra Wilson, David Raskin (the “Grandfather of Film Music”), and Johnny Mercer, one of the greatest lyricists of all time? Well, it’s the story of THIS track. It starts with the 1954 movie, based on a 1936 novel and starring Lancaster, which ended up grossing over $10 million. Raskin had done the music for the film, and wrote the song, originally titled “My Love and I.” Next comes the September 1962 Impulse! Records date at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Bob Thiele, producer and head of Impulse, brought sheet music to the session, including the song, which had not to that point been performed outside the movie score. Hawk, Tommy Flanagan, Major Holley, and Eddie Locke casually looked over the music, tried out a few chords, and then proceeded to lay down one of the most hauntingly beautiful tracks. Ever. 

Charlie Haden, a twentysomething bass player from Iowa, picked up the album and was mesmerized. He decided to include the track on his 1993 Quartet West CD Always Say Goodbye. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted to do the track with a singer, so asked his friend Rick Starr from Hollywood Sheet Music to find some lyrics to the song. None turned up. Haden was about to call David Raskin’s estate to see if he could get the rights to commission a lyricist, when his friend Rick found the lyrics in a forgotten vault (the movie version was instrumental). And who had written said unused lyrics? Yup, Johnny Mercer, one of the greatest lyricists in filmmaking history! Haden enlisted Cassandra Wilson to sing the song on Quartet West’s 2010 CD Sophisticated Ladies. So…. check out this track. If it doesn’t bring tears, I don’t know what will. 

Want a track every day? Follow #JazzForCOVID on Twitter.

Listen to the full album Today and Now:

Vijay Iyer Trio: Mystic Brew (Trixation Version) 

Can the space-time continuum be changed? This track might just be the proof. Using Ronnie Foster’s simple vamp from his 1972 album Two Headed Freap, Iyer, bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Marcus Gilmore manage to bend time. Yes, bend time. If you listen to the snare, you will hear that actual time remains constant throughout the whole of the five-minute track, marching inexorably forward. However, if you listen to the piano, bass, and rest of the drum set, you will experience time being compressed, stretched, bent, and squeezed like taffy. Like taffy, man. There is a book that posits that doctors who communicate well can take a 15 minute visit and make it feel like they spent an hour with you. Those doctors must have been listening to Vijay Iyer. 

Want a track every day? Follow #JazzForCOVID on Twitter.

Listen to the full album Historicity: