Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Jean Babtiste “Toots” Thielemans (1922 – 2016) - # 2

Georg Lankester gives his account of the career of Toots Thielemans. The article is in two parts, first part is accessible here,  below follows the second part.

Toots Thielemans, the genius on the harmonica  - Part 2

Toots and his harmonica
Studio activities

Because he could join the studio group of ABC-Television, this generated more money than the preceeding years playing all the time. His creativity soon showed out and in the film “Midnight Cowboy” – made in 1969 – his background improvisations can be heard till the end.

From about 1970 Thielemans divided his time between studio activities and playing Jazz. However, in those years he also performed with well-known singers out of the world of entertainment such as Peggy Lee, Quincy Jones, Bill Evans, but also Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon – and not to forget: Jazz piano player Herbie Hancock.

 In 1972 Jean even made a tour in Russia. In the same year he composed music for the movie “The Getaway” and in ’75 he performed with Oscar Peterson in Montreux so that he can be reckoned to the best Jazzmen of that time. And….his versality enabled him to give lessons at the “Eastman School of Music”, At this famous American Institute for Music in New Yersey one can study Classical music as well as Jazz.

Still maintaining his independancy in the Eighties, he can often be found in European countries where he performed e.g. with the Swedish lady singer Sylvia Vrethammer.
Toots and Sivuca outside Chiko's Bar, Brazil
Amazing is that Jean also travelled to Brazil where he played with the legendary and world famous accordionist Sivuca a.o.. “Toots”  showed great affinity to the ‘bossa nova’ and liked to make long improvisations on its typical rhythm and the beautiful diminished chords. Yet he found also time to jam with Jazz musicians overthere.

A beloved musician  

Toots in high spirits with his beloved instrument
He also often visited Sweden, as known, a jazz-minded country. When he gave concerts, he used to  speak to the audience in the Swedish language which made him highly popular. In a Belgian documentary one can feel the atmosphere he creates when announcing and performing. But he always had contact with his listeners, wherever he gave his concerts.

He whistles, plays guitar and harmonica in a unparalleled way, performs with Shirley Horn, made ‘jingles’  and tunes for TV commercials. Moreover he composes and takes care of the music for the highly popular children series “Sesam Street”.

The most astonishing in all  those activities is that he never choose an easy way in bringing his music. He was not afraid to play the most difficult melodic lines. Moreover his playing, very much based on the bebop,mainly inspired by John Coltrane, is also easy accessible to the modern electronic way of listening to music.

To end this survey on the career of “Toots” Thielemans, l’ll insert a video showcasting a lengthy live performance by this great artist. The video was recorded at the Hague Jazz Festival in 2010 and features “Toots” Thielemans’ Quartet – enjoy!

Georg Lankester

With thanks to Eddy Determeijer and Jef Van Gool for their photos
Any additional info  is most welcome, contact me at

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Jean Babtiste “Toots” Thielemans (1922 – 2016) - # 1

Georg Lankester gives his account of the career of Toots Thielemans. The article is in two parts, below follows the first part, the second is accessible here.

An exceptional Jazz musician and a genius on the harmonica  - Part 1

Toots Thielemans
On August 22nd 2016 this famous Belgian artist passed away at the advanced age of 94 years. With his decease the Jazz world looses a great musician and a sympathic human being. By all means a reason  to memorize his long career with plenty of  highlights.

Jean took the nickname “Toots”over from saxophonist Nunzio Toots Mondello and trumpet player Tutti Toots Carmalita. Only the harmonica virtuoso, however, would spread this nickname all over the world, no doubt about it.

An early musical start 

Jean Babtiste Thielemans was born on April 29, 1922 in Brussels and already began to play accordion when he was three years old. He used a simple homemade instrument which was replaced by a genuine accordion a few years later. It was only in 1939 that he switched to the harmonica !

At that time Jean studied mathematics, but he spent more and more time playing on his new instrument which attracted him strongly.

However, he also took interest in the guitar after having heard Django Reinhardt playing with the ‘Hot Club quintet’. After the Liberation he also bought a guitar and listening to other guitar players, he exercised day after day until he could reproduce a solo of the American player Al Casey note by note. “Toots” did so in order to break away from the gypsy style. By the way: Casey’s guitar solo can be found on an Esquire record called “All American Jazz  Concert”.

Longing for America 

Just after World War II Jean is playing for American soldiers in Belgium and in some surrounding countries. In 1947 he visits the USA where, in New York, he is soon joining Jazz musicians in the 52nd Street. That’s the place where he discovers the new bebop style and also becomes friends with Charlie Parker. Later, in 1949, they  won (together) a prize during the International Jazz Festival of Paris.
Benny Goodman and Toots switched instruments for the photo
Not long afterwards he was engaged by Benny Goodman, ‘The King of Swing’ with whom he made a tour through Europe in ‘50/51, an interesting experience.

Early 1951”Toots”- for a short time - also joined the orchestra featuring the popular Belgian artist Bobbejaan Schoepen. Later that year he emigrated to the States and settled in New York. With lack of a musicians’ license he played for fun, taking part in the so-called “Birdland Sessions” where he met many other bebop players.
George Shearing and Toots
Quite soon he was engaged by Dinah Washington and several months later asked to join the quartet of piano player George Shearing, which shows his musical versality. In a Begian documentary “Toots” told that he there had to work hard and earned very little. Every month he sent some money to his wife in NY; only after one year saving they could afford to make a trip to Belgium.

A surprising composition 

At the beginning of the Sixties Jean formed his own group and made several tours in Europa. He setlled for a short time in Sandinavia where he played together with violinist Svend  Asmussen  and bass player Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. His friendship with Asmussen would always remain.
Printed music of Bluesette (click to enlarge)
And then in 1962 he composed and recorded “Bluesette”, as he said, a combination of Blues and Musette. Of this composition more than 100 different versions were recorded and it made him instantly a star. - Here is the original recording from 1962

Blowing the harmonica, whistling while playing guitar, he surprised people all over the world. “Toots” remembered that once playing this song with Stéphane Grappelli, the latter was excited about the theme and improvised on it with enthousiasm and in the right style.

Due to this success “Toots” was re-discovered in the US and soon back there performing as an independant musician with more and more interest in creating new kinds of music.

To be continued

Georg Lankester

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

C'est Magnifique! - New CD Revives The Atmosphere of Paris

 Quatre Tickets de Swing & Inge Alberts - Paris, Je t'aime (2016)
Quatre Tickets de Swing was formed in late 1999 and consists of four musicians from the Zwolle area of The Netherlands. Since 2014 vocalist Inge Alberts has joined the ensemble and is now a permanent member at the quartet's live performances. Inge Alberts is also featured vocalist on the new CD shown above contributing great interpretations of highlights from Paris' rich musical heritage. The other members of Quatre Tickets de Swing are Peter Swart (clarinet, saxophones), Georg Lankester (solo guitar), Arthur Siero (rhythm guitar) and Eric van Buijsen (double bass)
Quatre Tickets de Swing and Inge Alberts
Quatre Tickets de Swing is inspired by the French Hot Club tradition founded by Django Reinhardt a.o., but unlike many other ensembles in this genre, Quatre Tickets de Swing does not rate equilibristic guitar playing as the band's trademark. The trademark of the orchestra is melodios songs from the swing era and French chansons played with a deep sense and understanding of the simple beauty of the chosen musical themes. The vocal by Inge Alberts adds the final touch which convinces this listener that Quatre Tickets de Swing has chosen a musical profile that inspires and engages all members of the orchestra as well as its audience.
Tracklist of Paris je t'aime CD
The tracklist of the new CD shows a selection of both swing standars like Ain't Misbehavin, Exactly Like You and I Surrender Dear and themes from Django's book, i.e. Fantasie sur un danse Norvégienne and Songe d'automne. The main part consists of songs associated with French chansons and Paris' nightlife - Cole Porter's Night And Day (- here sung in French) and C'est magnifique together with a seldom performed song by Sidney Bechet, Si tu vois ma mère. fit perfectly in with the remaining French repertoire. To give you an impression of Quatre Tickets de Swing and Inge Alberts in live performance of some of the songs available at the new CD, I'll insert a couple of videos uploaded at YouTube - Here is first the ensemble's version of Ain't Misbehavin

From the same live perforance, here is the ensemble's version of Night And Day 

Finally, from another live performance here is Que res-t-il de nos amours/I Wish You Love by Quatre Tickets de Swing and Inge Alberts

The new CD by Quatre Tickets de Swing and Inge Alberts may be purchased from the website of Quatre Tickets de Swing, here 

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Night And Day

Original sheet front page (1932)
Night And Day is a popular song by Cole Porter. It was written for the 1932 musical play Gay Divorce. It is perhaps Porter's most popular contribution to the Great American Songbook and has been recorded by dozens of artists.
Original theatre poster (1932)
Fred Astaire introduced Night And Day on stage, and his recording of the song with the Leo Reisman orchestra was a no.1 hit, topping the charts of the day for ten weeks.

Original film poster (1934)
Fred Astaire performed Night And Day again in the 1934 film version of the show, renamed The Gay Divorcee, and it became one of his signature pieces.

Original film poster (1946)
Night And Day was so associated with Cole Porter, that when Hollywood first filmed his life story in 1946, the movie was entitled Night and Day.

The construction of Night and Day is unusual for a hit song of the 1930s. Most popular tunes then featured 32-bar choruses, divided into four 8-bar sections, usually with an AABA musical structure, the B section representing the bridge. Porter's song, on the other hand, has a chorus of 48 bars, divided into six sections of eight bars—ABABCB—with section C representing the bridge. (info above excerpted from Wikipedia, here )

Night And Day has been recorded by numerous artists, both as an instrumental and with Porter's lyrics by various vocalists. Below I'll insert some examples within a jazz context. - Here's first a recording by Ray Ventura and his Orchestra of Night And Day with vocal by an unidentified singer

In 1938, the singer Maxine Sullivan recorded her version of Night And Day

From the album Charlie Parker plays Cole Porter, here's his version of Night And  Day recorded with big band March 25, 1952 in New York

Another great instrumental of Night And Day was recorded by Art Tatum (p), Roy Eldridge (tp), John Simmons (b), Alvin Stoller (d) in 1955

One of my all time favorite instrumental recordings of Night And Day was recorded by Oscar Alemán y su Orquesta de Jazz for Odeon (Odeon 74265, mx 20199) as Noche Y Día on May 30, 1955 inserted below to end this small entry on a famous song


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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Ragtime Guitar Revitalized - New CD by HAMADA Takasi

Hamada Takasi (photo by Goro Noda, 2005)
A couple of years ago I introduced the amazing Japanese fingerstyle guitarist HAMADA Takasi who has specialized in ragtime guitar both as an interpreter of classic ragtime originally written for piano and further as an excellent contributor to the genre through his own compositions. Mr. HAMADA Takasi has released several CDs featuring his arrangements of both classic ragtime by Scott Joplin, James Scott, Joseph F. Lamb, David Thomas Roberts a.o. besides more than 30 pieces of his own which have extended the ragtime guitar repertoire with great new material. This summer a new CD by HAMADA Takasi was recorded and has now been released internationally at the Otarunay label with the title Ragtime Children (OTR-039), shown below
CD front: Ragtime Children by HAMADA Takasi (OTR-39)
The new CD has fourteen tracks, seven of them are devoted to ragtime compositions by other artists and seven are original compositions by HAMADA Takasi, among them the title piece of the CD, Ragtime Children. All pieces at the CD are solo guitar recitals using the special Otarunay Tuning (Eb-Ab-C-F-C-Eb), and all arrangements are made by the guitarist. Among the tunes by other artists ragtime guitar connoisseurs will recognize titles like St Louis Tickle (by Barney & Seymore, 1904, popular at the St. Louis World Fair the same year and later adapted as a ragtime guitar piece by folk/blues artist Dave van Ronk), Magnetic Rag (by Scott Joplin, 1914 - his last published rag) and Ragtime Nightingale (by Joseph F. Lamb, 1915 - a challenging piece re-arranged for solo guitar by David Laibman, who recorded his version in 1980). Here is HAMADA Takasi's version of Magnetic Rag in a live performance earlier this year

Among the pieces by other artists Trombone Rag (by Turk Murphy, 1942) stands out as a composition not written for piano, but for the trombone by the well known dixieland revival trombone player Turk Murphy, here in a sparkling arrangement for solo guitar by HAMADA Takasi. A 'folk ragtime' composition by David Thomas Roberts, Poplarville (1979) is an example of the new ragtime piano school, here in an arrangement by HAMADA Takasi made in 2015. Among the seven pieces at the disc composed by the guitarist, the inspiration from both classic ragtime as well as the new directions represented by David Thomas Roberts a.o. shines through. I am especially fond of a tune titled Hayashi Rice, which reminds me of some of the legendary pianist Blind Boone's contributions to the ragtime genre. Here is a live performance of Hayashi Rice by HAMADA Takasi

The Ragtime Children CD is an excellent contribution to a contemporary ragtime guitar collection, a must have for all serious followers of the fabulous Japanese fingerstyle guitarist HAMADA Takasi. The CD is available for purchase here 

To end this, here is another live performance by HAMADA Takasi playing the rag of rags,  Scott Joplins Maple Leaf Rag (- not on the new CD)


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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Solid Gassuh! New CD By The Fat Babies Revitalizes Jazz of The 1920s Era

The day after
After a hectic Black Friday you may need more than a lot of coffee to get things back to normal, because you are in an acute confusional state known as suffering from delirium

A monster syringe of good medicine
If you spent your last five pennies yesterday and this extravagance did not help consolidate your normally good taste, you have better see a doctor

Well, I assume Doctor Russell's medicine may have boosted your sanity, now you need just a small infusion of Henderson's exquisite vintage before you're a feeling good

CD front: The Fat Babies - Solid Gassuh (Delmark, cd 257)
Instead of going to the shopping mall last night, I spent a pleasant time in the good company of The Fat Babies listening to the latest CD by this great band which has specialized in revitalizing vintage jazz of the 1920s era. The Fat Babies is a Chicago based jazz ensemble founded in 2010 by string bass player Beau Sample. Remaining members of the septet performing at the shown CD are Andy Schumm (co,as), John Otto (reeds), Dave Bock (tb), Paul Asaro (p, voc), Jake Sanders (bj,g) and Alex Hall (dm). The title of the CD quotes a late 19th century slang term describing something especially pleasing or successful. It's not just  a case of fraudulent advertising being put at the front cover of the CD, the music and the performance in the fifteen tracks contained at the disc definitely support my impression of a very pleasing  and successful album. - The repertoire of the album comprises music originally recorded by a.o. Luis Russell and his orchestra (Doctor Blues), Fletcher Henderson (Feelin' Good, Alabamy Bound), McKinney's Cotton Pickers (I Miss A Little Miss), Johnny Dodds (Pencil Papa), Benny Goodman (After Awhile), Red Nichols (Delirium), Jean Goldkette's Orchestra featuing Bix Beiderbecke (Slow River). There are also seldom performed tunes like Original Charleston Strut (originally recorded by Thomas Morris' Past Jazz Masters), Parkway Stomp ( originally by Albert Wynn a.h. Gut Bucket Five feat. Alex Hill), Alex Hill and King Oliver's You Were Only Passing Time With Me, the Bing Crosby hit Did You Ever See a Dream Walking? (- also by Gene Kardos a.o.), Egyptian Ella (Ted Lewis a.h. Orchestra feat. Fats Waller a.o.) and Sing Song Girl (by Ben Pollack a.h. Orchestra feat. Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden, a.o.). Finally, the disc ends with a hot orchesta version of Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag. - The arrangements and performance by The Fat Babies are great, it's a sheer pleasure to listen to updated versions of vintage jazz when performed by musicians who know their roots and contribute their skills with due respect to both the past masters and a contemporary audience. I highly recommend the CD as an example of vintage jazz in exquisite performance by the fabulous Fat Babies, available for purchase here
The Fat Babies in performance
To end this small review of Solid Gassuh, I'll insert a couple of uploaded videos featuring The Fat Babies in live performance recorded last year of some of the tunes contained at the CD - Here's first the band's version of Delirium

From the same performance, here's The Fat Babies performing Feelin' Good

Finally, to end this, here is the band's version of Maple Leaf Rag from another live performance in November last year


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Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Hot Time In The Class Room of Fingerstyle Guitar - New DVD Lessons by Ton Van Bergeijk

Ton Van Bergeijk (You Tube still photo)
Some months ago I wrote a small review of the new great solo CD by the amazing Dutch guitarist Ton Van Bergeijk devoted to fourteen pieces of blues influenced music composed and/or arranged for solo fingerstyle guitar by the guitarist. You still have the opportunity to read this review with additional info in inserted links how to obtain a copy of the CD entitled Pickin Again! Just Blues (and a wee bit o'Jazz), here

Pickin' Again CD (Ice 'n Slice Records 89065-2)
In the liner notes with the Pickin' Again CD, Ton Van Bergeijk pointed to a planned release of some video lessons as a follow-up to the CD to give other guitarists an opportunity to study the music further. Now these video lessons are scheduled to be released as a DVD coming week offering 90 minutes in depth covering of patterns, licks and variations of eight tunes from the Pickin' Again CD. A promotional video of the forthcoming DVD course has been made and uploaded at YouTube, inserted here

In the video, Ton explains the goal of these DVD lessons further, quote:
”It has always been my belief that the gems from musical history can be used in many different ways. I've gathered licks, patterns, New Orleans piano based grooves, and other influences from country blues, swing, rhythm & blues, and even the funky 70's. I've adapted them for fingerstyle guitar and projected them on a blues and boogie environment. Fiddling and juggling all of these elements is what this course is all about. The old supporting the new, and the new enriching the old.”
Ton Van Bergeijk in the inserted video (You Tube still)
More info about the contents of the DVD course and how to buy a copy of it is accessible here 
- Newcomers wanting to learn more about Ton Van Bergeijk can visit his official vewsite, here and may also find further info here
DVD, Truefire 2016

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