Alec Wilder’s “Blackberry Winter”: Marlene VerPlanck and Keith Jarrett

American composer Alec Wilder (1907-1980) was a maverick and an eccentric whose music defied categorization. Born in Rochester, New York to a prominent family, Wilder was largely self-taught. For a few years, he studied composition and counterpoint privately at the Eastman School of Music, but he felt confined and stifled by the rules of the academy. As a young man, he moved into the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, an enclave …

Read more

Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche”: Three Classic Recordings

The Mooche was one of Duke Ellington’s signature pieces. Composed in 1928 by Ellington and the jazz promoter Irving Mills, it is an example of the Duke’s characteristic “jungle style,” with its exotic, pseudo-African undercurrents. These are the jazz age sounds which filled Harlem’s Cotton Club in the late 1920s. According to Ellington, the title, underscored by the infectiously languid rhythm, refers to “a certain lazy gait peculiar to some of the …

Read more

“Long as You Know You’re Living Yours”: Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet

Long as You Know You’re Living Yours is the third track on the 1974 album, Belonging, featuring the American jazz pianist, Keith Jarrett, with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer, Jon Christensen. Jarrett’s collaboration with the three Scandinavian musicians resulted in a group which became known as the “European Quartet.” Infamously, Long as You Know You’re Living Yours heavily influenced Gaucho, the title track of Steely Dan’s seventh studio album, released in …

Read more

“Solar”: Keith Jarrett and Miles Davis

Jazz is there and gone. It happens. You have to be present for it. That simple. -Keith Jarrett Originally attributed to Miles Davis, the tune Solar was written by the jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne. It was first heard at an intimate 1946 jam session in Oklahoma City. Later, Davis included it on his 1954 album, Walkin’. Here is an ecstatic improvisation on Solar by the American pianist, Keith Jarrett. The athletic performance took place in Japan in …

Read more

Remembering Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett, the American jazz singer, passed away late last week. He was 96, just two days shy of his birthday. A devotee to the Great American Songbook, Bennett was, perhaps, the last exponent of the mid-twentieth century crooner style  of singing. Among his signature songs was, I Left My Heart in San Francisco. As styles changed with the rise of rock and roll, Bennett launched a spectacular comeback in the 1980s, …

Read more

Dvořák’s Humoresque in G-flat Major: Ignaz Friedman and Art Tatum

Antonín Dvořák was one of the greatest composers of melody. Perhaps the most catchy and popularly enduring example is the Humoresque No. 7 in G-flat Major (Poco lento e grazioso), originally written for solo piano. Propelled forward by an infectious, lilting rhythm, the melody develops in two-note steps which ascend gradually and explore a variety of motivic combinations before sinking into repose at the end of the phrase. As with much of …

Read more

Remembering Ahmad Jamal

Ahmad Jamal, the American jazz pianist, composer, and band leader, passed away on April 16. He was 92. Known for a taut, minimalist style, Jamal broke new ground in modern jazz. Miles Davis once said, “All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal…[He] knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, and the way he phrases notes and chords and passages.” Born Frederick Russell Jones in Pittsburgh, Jamal began playing …

Read more