He and Walter Becker seemed to appear fully formed and ready to deal in 1972. They were modernists in a world of louche pisstakers or so it seemed. I liked Roxy Music, still do, but the Dan had weapons-grade intelligence and a precocious sense of themselves in a world of music that had a history they saw first hand. This F is a view of the wild possibilities of life in a city of dreams. Everybody they love is there: Charlie Parker, Mingus, Billie Holiday and every other sacred soul in whose footprints they were placing theirs.
Fagen is possibly the most underrated voice in the world. Any Major Dude is an early tune, but one with a soft and tender heart but still a song of the city. .
I first saw him on a programme called Jazz Goes To College when I was at school. I can’t remember the lineup but I do remember the drummer being amazing (not flashy, just cool in a way that jazz players all were), so it might have been Billy Cobham. Anyway Horace was bathed in sweat, head down playing his melodic riffy hard bop piano. This is a bit of an obvious letter, adorned with its fragments and chrome highlighting but sometimes even obvious stuff hits the mark. Especially when it gives off so much warmth. .
I first heard Escalator Over The Hill In 1972 and it still fascinates. Six sides of vinyl, apparently about expatriates in a hotel in Pakistan. It featured the hippest musicians that the worlds of jazz and rock could offer, it seemed. There’s a libretto crammed with photographs which document this sprawling and beautiful epic. Highlights for me were the Gato Barbieri free blowing on the first side and Jack Bruce’s haunting blues coda which brings it to a close with Don Cherry (I think) yodelling as if from a lost horizon. Plus Carla’s trademark descending chords on the Hammond. It’s a sad thing to realise that Jack Bruce slipped away from the sublime path that this record represented. He was, or seemed to be, so comfortable in this magical world of creativity. I used to will him to get a loft and settle where I thought his heart belonged. But Carla has always been fantastic and her music with Steve Swallow is really what this letter is about. Quiet and astonishing. Full of love. .
This should have been in black and white but there will be a monochrome version to represent the rhythmic conundrums he sets up for us. I’ve placed two sets of dots and shifted one of them slightly to represent his subtle changes. God knows how a percussionist can do it without distraction. It’s a moiré pattern and the subtler the shift of register, the wilder the effect. Anyway, Steve’s a clever dude. .
The classic one of Miles Davis from the 60s probably. They were edging towards a new electronic jazz age. You might think of Miles as the heart of cool and you’d be right, but listen to the outtakes from the Freedom Jazz Dance cd; all taken from 1966-68 as they recorded Miles Smiles, Nefertiti and Water Babies.
The band are functioning on sense and instinct, and seem to be having the time of their lives. Especially Herbie Hancock, shrieking with laughter at Miles’ good natured obscenities at poor Teo Macero.
It’s electrifying fun just before it got to be electric. .
His 1964 album Out To Lunch! is beyond brilliant. Someone told me it was their second favourite jazz album of all time; the favourite might change from day to day, but Dolphy’s masterpiece stays up there. He was a genius and his work with Charles Mingus is a perfect marriage of discipline and inspiration. Mingus never had a bad word to say about him, this incredibly gifted multi instrumentalist, tragically died of a misdiagnosed diabetic coma in Berlin only a few months after his benchmark record was completed. .
Free jazz at its most mysterious. I love him because he was such a committed soul. Garry Giddens said that classical music students took to him much more readily than their jazz counterparts. His bursts and bombs of notes were all perfectly played but perhaps it helped to have had a more conventional and restricted grounding in music to feel the liberation and ecstasy of his playing. A tutor at the London Guildhall College Of Music once told me that when first exposing children to John Cage’s 4’ 33” of silence, it was always the teachers who shifted uncomfortably and giggled while the kids sat listening. .
Miles might have thought that his music lacked swing but Dave Brubeck was one of the first jazzers I was aware of, passing a record shop every day back from school. I think I remember a Miro painting was used for one of his album covers, which my letter tries to echo.
My mate Jonathan Madden reminded me of the gorgeous Donald Fagen lyric (a true sophisticate) from Nightfly:
“He’s an artist, a pioneer, we’ve got to have some music on the new frontier”
My dad wouldn’t have known much about jazz, so I first heard Take Five at a friend’s place and was smitten. Our house was overrun with Mantovani and other easy listening misdemeanors. Weirdly, he got into Led Zeppelin just before he died, which may have been a step in the right direction. .
In his brief time, the most physical tenorist on earth.
He tore the heart out of his music in a way that made it compelling and beautiful, as well as being completely original.
This spiritual, solemn and wild player was largely ignored during his brief stay here. He was found in New York’s East River in 1970. He was 34 years old and apparently jumped from the Staten Island ferry. He was amazing. .
More than that, even.
Kind Of Blue. The best known and highest selling jazz album of all time.
Part of a jazz alphabet. This is Miles Davis’ most famous album and it’s still as fresh as paint. It was a game changer without doubt, and the only survivor of that session is the drummer, Jimmy Cobb, who still sounds as though he was in the session last week.
As if you didn’t know. I might do another one, this is a bit ordinary; a bit corny, but he was a fantastic musician. I was listening to Naima yesterday and really couldn’t undestand how anyone could conceive of such a perfect tune.