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Chet Baker at the Canteen

Chet Baker at the CanteenThe Canteen was a jazz club at 4 Great Queen Street, on the eastern fringe of Covent Garden: a narrow single-fronted space on the ground floor, backing on to Parker Street. It functioned for probably not much more than a year in the early 1980s, after which it became Blitz, the headquarters of the New Romantics, then Browns, a sort of celebrity discothèque. Now it’s a “gentlemen’s club” called the Red Rooms. Among the musicians I saw there during its jazz incarnation were Ahmad Jamal, Slim Gaillard, Lee Konitz, Howard McGhee, Bill Perkins and Esther Phillips, who was backed by a tidy little band including Tim Hinkley on keyboards and Mel Collins on tenor saxophone. The club’s energetic publicist was a man called K.C. Sulkin, whose father had been a society bandleader in Boston between the wars.

Chet Baker’s week at the club in March 1983 was among the highlights of its short life. If you needed proof that he was always more than just a Great White Hope, here it was. “The former golden boy of the cool school has come through the fire,” I wrote in a review for The Times, “but you would not know it from his playing at the Canteen.” Accompanied by an excellent local rhythm section — John Horler (piano), Jim Richardson (bass) and Tony Mann (drums) — and sitting sidelong to the audience, his improvising was serious and creative and full of substance.

Luckily, and with Baker’s permission, Richardson recorded the engagement on a Sony cassette machine. Now, more than three decades later, the tapes have been disinterred, professionally restored and released as a two-CD set. The sound is excellent and the quality of the playing compares favourably, I would say, with the recordings from Paris, Tokyo and Hannover (1981, 1987 and 1988 respectively) on which I wrote in a post about Chet a while ago.

The trumpeter’s tone on tunes like Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”, Hal Galper’s “Margarine”, Richie Beirach’s “Leaving” and the standards — including “I’ll Remember April”, “Have You Met Miss Jones?” and “With a Song in My Heart” — is firm and confident, the lines long, the phrasing fluent. By this point in his life, 30 years after first recording it with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, he had played “My Funny Valentine” so many times that you would have expected his interpretation to be threadbare; here, in the course of a long solo, he investigates its familiar contours as if exploring them for the first time, shaping his double- and triple-time runs with such elegance that it’s easy to forgive him for running out of steam in the closing bars, before handing over to Horler.

The rhythm section is alert and resilient throughout the recording, exemplary in its collective command of the appropriate post-bop approach. So it was a treat to see the trio reassembled for the first time in 33 years at Ronnie Scott’s last week to celebrate the album’s imminent release, and playing just as well. They were joined by the trumpeter Quentin Collins, the tenorist Leo Richardson and the singer Norma Winstone to pay tribute to Baker by reprising the repertoire from the Canteen sessions. Wisely, Collins did not attempt an imitation, evoking the spirit rather than the manner (his personal stylistic compass points him closer to Lee Morgan territory). On “Beatrice”, Richardson’s middleweight sound and mobility reminded me a little of Hank Mobley, which can’t be bad. Winstone delivered “The Touch of Your Lips” and “My Ideal” with characteristic grace.

A few days earlier I’d been to see Ethan Hawke portraying Baker in Robert Budreau’s film Born to Be Blue. Like Don Cheadle impersonating Miles Davis in the recent Miles Ahead, Hawke gives an honest and sincere performance, at times genuinely touching. There are several good scenes, but the apparent need to modify the narrative to fit a Hollywood feature-film template diminishes rather than enhances the story. Your money would be better spent on Chet Baker Live in London, a valuable souvenir of an interesting week.

* Chet Baker Live in London will be released on the Ubuntu label on October 28.

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David Enthoven: the last goodbye

EG King's RoadOn my way to David Enthoven’s funeral this morning, I walked from Sloane Square down the King’s Road and paused at No 63A, where it all began. The weather was glorious: in the perfect sunshine, it was easy to drift back to the Chelsea of an imagined and sometimes real ’60s.

David died in London last week, aged 72, five days after being diagnosed with kidney cancer. Behind that door and up a flight of stairs, he and Johnny Gaydon, his schoolfriend and first business partner, set up EG Management in 1969, with King Crimson as their first clients. Marc Bolan, ELP and Roxy Music soon joined the roster. They were great days. (And here’s the obituary I wrote for the Guardian.)

When I got to St Luke’s, a large 19th century Anglican church just off the King’s Road, it was already close to packed with people wanting to say farewell to an extraordinary man. As they lingered in the sunlit churchyard after the ceremony, the event had something of the qualities of an English garden party, which was just as it should have been.

Tim Clark, his friend and partner in IE:Music, his second management company, gave an address which stressed the life-enhancing qualities that made David special to every single member of the congregation. Robbie Williams, whose life and career David and Tim had salvaged and remade, sang “Moon River” — a lovely choice — accompanied by the acoustic guitar of Guy Chambers. Lucy Pullin and a choir sang “Angels”, which Williams and Chambers wrote after David and Tim had brought them together. Lamar led the singing of “Jerusalem”.

The congregation included Robert Fripp, the founder of King Crimson, and all five surviving members of Roxy Music from the sessions for the band’s debut album in the summer of 1972: Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera and Paul Thompson, who came down for the funeral from Newcastle, where he now plays the drums with Lindisfarne.

One of the morning’s pleasures, over which the man in whose memory we were gathered would certainly have shared a chuckle, was the sight of Fripp, Eno and Ferry (so much history there, from Ferry’s failed audition for King Crimson to Fripp and Eno’s collaboration on No Pussyfooting and beyond) joining the singing of “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. You don’t get that every day.

On the Beat route

On the Road

In the beginning, probably around the start of World War Two, there were hep-cats. They were hip. Then they weren’t, because hip became hip and hep-cats gave way to hipsters. There were hippies, too, except they were decidedly unhip. Until they became hip, of course, in the Summer of Love. Some decades later hipsters returned, albeit in a modified form, with matching (rather than weird) beards and craft beers. How soon before the hep-cats make a comeback?

So the queue for entry to the Centre Pompidou the other day was just too long, and I decided that I’d probably get another opportunity to see the “Beat Generation” exhibition before it closes on October 3. (I saw a really good show on the same theme — “Beat Culture and the New America 1950-1965” — at the Whitney Museum in New York 20 years ago, its centrepiece the unbroken roll of paper on which Jack Kerouac typed the original unparagraphed On the Road.) I consoled myself for the disappointment in Paris by crossing the Seine to the excellent Gibert Joseph store on the Boulevard Saint-Michel and buying Beat Generation: Hep Cats, Hipsters and Beatniks 1936-1962, a three-CD anthology assembled to tie in with the exhibition and just released by Frémaux et Associés, the label responsible for many fine historical compilations.

It’s a real box of goodies, a useful reminder that the soundtrack to the beat life wasn’t just composed of the super-cool stylings of Miles Davis’s “Boplicity”, Gerry Mulligan’s “Soft Shoe” and Bobby Troup’s “Route 66” (all of which are included among the 72 tracks). It was also the sheer stomping mayhem of Roy Eldridge’s “Heckler’s Hop” and Cootie Williams’s “Gator Tail Pt 2”, which features a bar-walking tenor saxophone solo by Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson so extreme that, having scaled the heights of rampantly priapic  wailing, it ends in a series of exhausted squeaks. Something like this:

“The tenor man jumped down from the platform and just stood in the crowd blowing around; his hat was over his eyes; somebody pushed it back for him. He just hauled back and stamped his foot and blew down a hoarse, laughing blast, and drew breath, and raised the horn and blew high wide and screaming in the air. Neal was directly in front of him with his face lowered to the bell of the horn, clapping his hands, pouring sweat on the man’s keys, and the man noticed and laughed in his horn a long quivering crazy laugh and everybody else laughed and they rocked and rocked; and finally the tenorman decided to blow his top and crouched down and held a note in high C for a long time as everything else crashed along and the cries increased and I thought the cops would come swarming from the nearest precinct.” 

That’s how Kerouac recalled a Saturday night in a San Francisco jazz dive as he tapped out the original manuscript of On the Road, which also contains descriptions of performances by George Shearing, Slim Gaillard, Lester Young and Charlie Parker. With the exception of Shearing, all of those are represented in the anthology. There’s a lot of Kerouac, too, reciting his “American haikus” with Al Cohn’s tenor saxophone, reading from On the Road and Visions of Cody, and giving his lecture asking “Is There a Beat Generation?” to the students of Hunter College in 1958. There’s Allen Ginsberg reciting the complete “Howl” and “Kaddish”, and Lennie Bruce’s “Psychopathia Sexualis”, and authentic hipsters like Babs Gonzales and Oscar Brown Jr and hilariously bogus ones like Edd Byrnes (“Kookie’s Mad Pad”). And satire like Bob McFadden and Rod McKuen’s “The Beat Generation” (the inspiration for Richard Hell’s “The Blank Generation”), and fine music from Charlie Christian and Dizzy Gillespie and Chet Baker and Stan Getz and Les Double Six and Eddie Jefferson, with a wonderful vocal recasting of “So What”. A hint of hipsters/hippies to come appears in Dave Van Ronk’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” and Bob Dylan’s “Talkin’ New York”, and there’s a curious coda with a reading of e.e. cummings’s anti-war poem “i sing of Olaf glad and big” in 1962 at the Avant Garde coffee house in Milwaukee by Roger Steffens, then a 21-year-old actor and today the owner of the world’s largest Bob Marley archive.

And, of course, the set would not be complete without the immortal Lord Buckley, giving his hipster interpretation of the New Testament’s Lazarus story in “The Nazz”:

“So the Nazz and his buddies was goofin’ off down the boulevard one day and they run into a little cat with a bent frame. So the Nazz look at this little cat with the bent frame and he say, ‘What’s a matter wit’choo, baby?’ And the little cat with the bent frame he say, ‘Well, my frame is bent, Nazz, it’s been bent from in front.’ So the Nazz look at the little cat with the bent frame and he put the golden eyes of love on this here little kitty and he looked right down into the windows of his soul and he said to the little cat, he said: ‘Straighten!’ The cat got up straighter’n an arrow and everybody jumpin’ up and down  and say, ‘Look what the Nazz put on that boy!’ You dug him before, dig him now!”

I read in this month’s Uncut that a film about Buckley’s life is coming out this autumn. It’s called Too Hip for the Room. Now that’s hip.

* The illustration above is a detail from Len Deighton’s jacket design for the first UK edition of On the Road, published by André Deutsch in 1958.

The Waters of March

Joao GilbertoSince Rio de Janeiro is the focus of a lot of the world’s attention at the moment, and since I’ve just watched The Girl from Ipanema: Brazil, Bossa Nova and the Beach, the cumbersomely titled but otherwise mostly pleasant BBC4 programme presented by Katie Derham, it feels like a good time to alert you to the version of Tom Jobim’s “Águas de Março” performed by João Gilberto on Getz/Gilberto ’76, a newly discovered set of 40-year-old live recordings from San Francisco’s Keystone Korner released a month or two ago on the Resonance label.

It wouldn’t take much to persuade me to argue the case for “Águas de Março” — in English, “The Waters of March” — being not just the greatest song of the bossa nova era, or even the greatest Brazilian song ever written, but one of the greatest songs of the 20th century. The way Gilberto sings it on this album makes that seem even less of an outrageous claim.

Jobim’s song is a list of things: just things. It starts with things you might find flushed out by Brazil’s autumn rains. Naturally, it sounds better in the frictionless Portuguese spoken and sung by Brazilians: “É o pau, é a pedra, é o fim do camino / É um resto de toco, é um pouch sozinho / É um caco de vidro, é a vida, é o sol / É a noite, é a morte, é um laço, é o anozl / É peroba no campo, é o nó da madeira / Caingá candeia, é o matita-pereira…” But here’s the composer’s own English translation: “A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road / It’s the rest of a stump, it’s a little alone / It’s a sliver of glass, it is life, it’s the sun / It is night, it is death, it’s a trap, it’s a gun / The oak when it blooms, a fox in the brush / A knot in the wood, the song of a thrush…” And it opens out to encompass what sounds like the entire human condition. “It’s the wind blowing free, it’s the end of slope / It’s a beam, it’s a void, it’s a hunch, it’s a hope…” The images and thoughts skip by on a snatch of melody, repetition building a hypnotic momentum, the harmonies descending beneath it like a stream running between rocks.

Here’s a famous and lovely version of the song, done as a duet by the composer and the great Elis Regina. But it’s completely shaded by João Gilberto, for whose six-minute version — accompanied by his own acoustic guitar and Stan Getz’s rhythm team, the bassist Clint Houston and the drummer Billy Hart — I can’t provide a link. Gilberto’s phrasing is a marvel of conversational subtlety, full of understated but astonishing little details: sudden pauses, skips, rhythmic elisions, and seemingly infinite ways of attacking an initial consonant or shaping a vowel. You’ll just have to get the album. And you should.

* The photograph of João Gilberto (with Stan Getz in the background) was taken by Tom Copi and is included, with many others, in the booklet accompanying Getz/Gilberto ’76.

The sound of ’66

The portrait painted in 1966: 50 Years Ago Today, the BBC4 Arena documentary directed by Paul Tickell and based on Jon Savage’s recent book, was full of interesting things (notably a reminder of Jonathan Miller’s sensational quasi-psychedelic TV version of Alice in Wonderland). The mood Tickell strove to evoke, concentrating on a dour, monochrome paranoia, wasn’t the way I remember 1966 — a year only half a notch below its immediate predecessor in terms of cultural stimuli and general euphoria — but at least his programme had a point of view. And it also had, towards the end, a snatch of one of the greatest of all cover versions of a Lennon & McCartney song.

J.J. Barnes would eventually become a Northern Soul hero through tracks such as “Real Humdinger”, “Please Let Me In” and “Our Love (Is in the Pocket)”. His version of “Day Tripper” precedes and surpasses them, in my view. It was arranged and co-produced for Detroit’s Ric-Tic label by Andrew “Mike” Terry, a Motown studio regular whose fruity baritone saxophone solos could be heard on “Heat Wave”, “Where Did Our Love Go”, “This Old Heart of Mine” and many others. I love the way Terry takes on the riff from the Beatles’ original and, while keeping the driving 4/4 rhythm and the fuzz guitar, hardens up the groove, those trumpet stabs and flourishes adding an extra dimension behind Barnes’s Wilson Pickettish vocal. And presumably that’s James Jamerson, Paul McCartney’s bass-guitar hero, moonlighting from Hitsville USA to dig into the riff.

What gives the record its special immediacy is the grainy low-fi sound that would never have made it past Berry Gordy Jr’s quality control department. It was there on the original UK Polydor version I bought the week it came out in 1966, and it’s still there today, proudly resistant to any kind of digital clean-up technology.

Since we’re on the subject, there’s another favourite I’d like to mention. It’s Roy Redmond’s soulful version of “Good Day Sunshine”, arranged and produced by Jerry Ragovoy for the Loma label, Warner Bros’ soul subsidiary, in 1967. It has the lot: great laconic guitar intro, heat-drugged slow-drag beat, greasy southern horns, gospel-style female back-up choir, and an excellent lead vocal from another obscure soul-music hero. I believe McCartney himself had nice things to say about it, and no wonder.

* Ace Records have just announced the September release of Let It Be, the second volume in their Black America Sings Lennon & McCartney series. Vol 1 (titled Come Together) included Roy Redmond’s “Good Day Sunshine” among a quantity of other good stuff. J.J. Barnes’s “Day Tripper” isn’t on either volume, sadly. For that reason alone, there is bound to be a Vol 3.