Category: Sunday Jazz Corner

September 8th, 2013 by harlemhouse

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Duke Ellington’s last words were, “Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered”.  He was an American composer, pianist, and jazz-orchestra leader with a career that spanned more than 50 years.  Ellington led his orchestra from 1923 until his death.  He was born  April 29, 1899 and passed along on May 24, 1974.  He was known as a key participant of  the Harlem Renaissance era and his legacy lives on in Harlem and all around the world.

For this post I chose two video performances “Take The A Train” live in Harlem 1964, and a video of Ellington and his band performing “It Don’t Mean A Thing” back in 1943.

Duke Ellington married his high school sweetheart, Edna Thompson, on July 2, 1918, when he was 19.  Shortly after their marriage, on March 11, 1919 Edna gave birth to their only son, Mercer Kennedy Ellington.  Ellington was joined in New York City by his wife and son in the late twenties, but the couple soon permanently separated.  According to her obituary in Jet magazine, she was “homesick for Washington” and returned (she died in 1967).  In 1938 he met and moved in with Cotton Club employee Beatrice “Evie” Ellis, who with with him during his Cotton Club years in Harlem.  The relationship with Ellis, though stormy, continued after Ellington met Fernandae de Castro Monte in the early 1960s. Ellington supported both women for the rest of his life.

At his funeral, attended by over 12,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Harlem, Ella Fitzgerald summed up the occasion, “It’s a very sad day. A genius has passed”.  He was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York City.  His reputation increased after his death and the Pulitzer Prize Board bestowed on him a special posthumous honor in 1999.

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Duke Ellington in 1973

VIDEO: Duke Ellington Live in Harlem “Take The A Train” (1964) features Ernie Shepard on vocals.

VIDEO: Duke Ellington – It Don’t Mean A Thing (1943)

Posted in Art and Culture, Celebrity, Central Harlem, Community, Culture, East Harlem, Entertainment, Harlem, History, Music, New York City, North Harlem, South Harlem (SOHA), Sunday Jazz Corner, West Harlem Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

September 1st, 2013 by harlemhouse

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Ella Fitzgerald was known as the “Queen of Jazz“.   An American jazz vocalist with impeccable diction, phrasing and a vocal range spanning three octaves.  She would create and change the notes spontaneously with an effortless improvisational style in perfect pitch while we all watch and listen in awe.  There was no auto tuning here.  There were no simple three note melodies.  This was the real deal.  Ella set the bar high for everyone to follow.  Whether you are a lover of jazz or not, it would be difficult not to recognize her God-given talent.

Listen and witness a master at work giving off a joyous smile as she makes it all look so simple.  Especially with her style of scat singing.  I wonder who can sing like her today out of all our new singers?  I hope that there is someone, or that a young talent will grow and meet her expertise someday.

She really had something special and gave us everything, every time with every recording and live performance.  Take a minute to read a bit of history on this musical genius Ella Fitzgerald.

Here she is performing a live 7:00 minute uptempo version of “The Man I love.”

Posted in Art and Culture, Celebrity, Entertainment, Harlem, History, Music, New York City, Sunday Jazz Corner Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

August 25th, 2013 by harlemhouse

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What do you get when you mix Jill Scott, Al Jarreau and George Benson together?  One of the best versions of the jazz classic “God Bless The Child” in the last decade.  How can you go wrong with these music greats.  Seven-time Grammy Award winning Al Jarreau has an endless list of albums and hit songs and collaborations throughout his long and successful career.  Grammy-winning  Jill Scott glides beautifully from R&B, Neo Soul to Jazz standards with such ease in her unique style and thunderous talent.  George Benson is known for his famous guitar-vocal style which has made him a ten-time Grammy Award winning artist with one of the best songs in my opinion of all time “This Masquerade.”

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Below is a video version of their recording of God Bless The Child which is available on iTunes on 2 different albums  Jill Scott Collaborations and  George Benson & Al Jarreau “Givin It Up”.  Both albums are great!  Preview them for yourself after listening to God Bless The Child, and download a copy.  Hope that you enjoyed Sunday Jazz Corner this week.

Posted in Art and Culture, Celebrity, Entertainment, Harlem, Music, New York City, Sunday Jazz Corner Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

August 18th, 2013 by harlemhouse

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Jazz great and entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. was the coolest cat in the Rat Pack.  He was known as someone who could do it all – sing, dance, play instruments, act, do stand-up and for his self-deprecating humor.  But Sammy Davis first and foremost was a performer and entertainer until the day he died.  Looking through old video footage you can see him come alive the second he hits that stage connecting with his audience.

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Rat Pack

After reuniting with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before he died of throat cancer in 1990. He died in debt to the Internal Revenue Service, and his estate was the subject of legal battles.  It is hard to imagine that such a musical great once billed as the “greatest living entertainer in the world”, story ended the way that it did.  His music will live on with us forever and he will be remembered always as an important part of our history. 

Posted in Celebrity, Culture, Entertainment, Harlem, Music, New York City, Sunday Jazz Corner Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

August 11th, 2013 by harlemhouse

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Louis Armstrong was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1972 by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.  He was one of the most famous musicians of the Harlem Renaissance.
Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an “inventive” trumpet and cornet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. With his instantly-recognizable gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes.  He was also skilled at scat singing (vocalizing using sounds and syllables instead of actual lyrics).  Armstrong was one of the first truly popular African-American entertainers to “cross over”, whose skin-color was secondary to his music in an America that was severely racially divided. He rarely publicly politicized his race, often to the dismay of fellow African-Americans, but took a well-publicized stand for desegregation during the Little Rock Crisis. His artistry and personality allowed him socially acceptable access to the upper echelons of American society that were highly restricted for a black man.

In Louis Armstrong’s later years he resided in Corona, Queens NY in a home that now many schools and classrooms still visit today for history on the Harlem Renaissance and Social Studies.  It was explained to me recently by a teacher who took his classroom to visit the home as a school field trip that when Louis was on the road and would drive home all the neighbor kids would run up to the driveway to greet him and he would play his trumpet for them.  It is also told that his wife and him would invite the neighborhood kids in for cake.

Here is Louis Armstrong singing his classic version of “What A Wonderful World.”

Posted in Harlem, History, Music, New York City, Sunday Jazz Corner Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

August 4th, 2013 by harlemhouse

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Grammy award winning American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan was described as having “one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century.”

Biographies of Vaughan frequently stated that she was immediately thrust into stardom after a winning amateur night performance at Harlem‘s Zeus Theater. In fact, Vaughan was frequently accompanied by a friend, Doris Robinson, on her trips into New York City. Sometime in the fall of 1942 (when Sarah was 18 years old), Vaughan suggested that Robinson enter the Apollo Theater Amateur Night contest. Vaughan played piano accompaniment for Robinson, who won second prize. Vaughan later decided to go back and compete herself as a singer. Vaughan sang “Body and Soul” and won.  The prize, as Vaughan recalled later to Marian McPartland, was $10 and the promise of a week’s engagement at the Apollo. After a considerable delay, Vaughan was contacted by the Apollo in the spring of 1943 to open for Ella Fitzgerald.  Of course the rest is history.

Here is Sarah Vaughan singing “Shadow Of Your Smile” in 1964.

Posted in Free!, Harlem, History, Music, Sunday Jazz Corner Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

July 28th, 2013 by harlemhouse

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Nat King Cole (Nathaniel Adams Coles) was born on March 17, 1919 and passed away on February 15, 1965.  He first was known as a leading jazz pianist but went on to be widely noted and adored for his soft, baritone voice.

Cole was one of the first African Americans to host a television variety show, The Nat King Cole Show, and has maintained worldwide popularity since his death from lung cancer in February 1965.

Here is a live performance of Nat King Cole singing “Nature Boy.”

Posted in Entertainment, Harlem, Music, New York City, Sunday Jazz Corner Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

July 21st, 2013 by harlemhouse

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Pure Jazz perfection.  Billie Holiday singing the blues live in this video version of Fine and Mellow with Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Vic Dickenson and Roy Eldridge.  You can see Billie’s talent and vocal gift of timing and delivery as she carries on with each of these talented musicians taking turns expressing the blues.

What a gift for us all to have this video footage of Lady Day from back in the day.  As she says in her own words in the intro “There’s two kinds of blues there’s happy blues and there’s sad blues.  I don’t think I ever sing the same way twice, I don’t think I ever sing the same tempo.  One nights a little bit slower the next nights a little bit brighter depending on how I feel.  The blues is sort of a mixed up thing you just have to feel it.”

VIDEO: Fine And Mellow Billie Holiday With Coleman Hawkins Lester Young Ben Webster Gerry Mulligan Vic Dickenson Roy Eldridge

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July 14th, 2013 by harlemhouse

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This version of  “Strange Fruit” by Nina Simone channels what many feel during racial times from years gone by to current controversial issues such as the Trayvon Martin shooting.  See the link below for the lyrics (controversial to many) and songwriters credits.  Billie Holiday’s original version was the popular version of this jazz classic.  It is equally if not better than Nina’s version but this rendition adds such a darkness and extra edgy realness that haunts your awareness.

If you do not already have a collection of Nina Simone’s music, treat yourself and go to iTunes and listen through her incredible career and legacy.  I thought I had almost everything by her, but just downloaded two albums I’d never heard before.

Nina Simone Wikipedia

Strange Fruit Lyrics

Posted in Community, Harlem, Music, New York City, Sunday Jazz Corner Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

June 30th, 2013 by harlemhouse

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This week we celebrate two versions of My Funny Valentine by Chet Baker.  The first, his classic studio recording which in my opinion was one of the best versions of My Funny Valentine ever recorded.  The second shows footage of Chet Baker performing  live in Torino, Italy (1957) with his smooth and melodic interpretation of My Funny Valentine.

Truly one of our jazz greats he takes us through a deep journey with hundreds of recordings and a handful of vocals over the years.  A great movie – Let’s Get Lost 1988 is a documentary by Bruce Weber on Chet Baker’s life journey and tells his story through all the good and bad.  In listening through Chet’s videos and recordings, his haunting version of My Funny Valentine stands in a class of its own.  One of the most beautiful versions of this song ever recorded.

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