Monday, April 20, 2015

Charlie Ventura - Bop For The People

Bebop or bop is a style of jazz characterized by a fast tempo, instrumental virtuosity and improvisation based on the combination of harmonic structure and sometimes references to the melody. It was developed in the early and mid-1940s. This style of jazz ultimately became synonymous with modern jazz. The term "bebop" is derived from nonsense syllables (vocables) used in scat singing; the first known example of "bebop" being used was in McKinney's Cotton Pickers' "Four or Five Times", recorded in 1928.

In the 1940s, the younger generation of jazz musicians created a new style that came out of the 1930s' swing music. They partially strove to counter the popularization of swing with non-danceable music that demanded listening. Minton's Playhouse in New York served as an incubator and experimental theater for early bebop players. Part of the atmosphere created at jams like the ones found at Minton's Playhouse was an air of exclusivity: the "regular" musicians would often reharmonize the standards in order to exclude those whom they considered outsiders or simply weaker players.

Bebop differed drastically from the straightforward compositions of the swing era and was instead characterized by fast tempos, asymmetrical phrasing, intricate melodies, and rhythm sections that expanded on their role as tempo-keepers. The music itself seemed jarringly different to the ears of the public, who were used to the bouncy, organized, danceable tunes of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller during the swing era. Instead, bebop appeared to sound racing, nervous, erratic and often fragmented. While swing music tended to feature orchestrated big band arrangements, bebop music highlighted improvisation. Typically, a theme (a "head," often the main melody of a pop or jazz standard of the swing era) would be presented together at the beginning and the end of each piece, with improvisational solos based on the chords of the tune. Thus, the majority of a song in bebop style would be improvisation, the only threads holding the work together being the underlying harmonies played by the rhythm section.

Pioneers of bebop jazz included musicians like Dizzy Gillespie (tp), Charlie Parker (as), Thelonius Monk (p) and Budd Powell (p), who were influenced by the preceding generation's adventurous soloists, such as pianists Art Tatum and Earl Hines, tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Another bop pioneer neglected by hardliners and almost forgotten today was sax player Charlie Ventura, who attempted to popularize bebop for a larger audience by naming one of his 1940s ensembles Bop For The People.

Charlie Ventura (1916-1992)
Charlie Ventura came from a large, musically inclined family. His first instrument was C-melody sax. He switched to alto before eventually settling on tenor. Ventura left his day job at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1942 to join Gene Krupa's band. He became a featured soloist with Krupa, playing with the drummer from 1942-1943 and 1944-1946.
Gene Krupa and Charlie Ventura
Ventura achieved considerable popularity while with Krupa, winning a Down Beat magazine poll as best tenor saxophonist in 1945. The same year Ventura started recording under his own name fronting smaller ensembles, below I'll insert some examples. - The first session under his own name was recorded March 1st, 1945 for the Sunset label in Los Angeles, the line-up was a sextet featuring Howard McGhee (tp) Charlie Ventura (ts) Arnold Ross (p) Dave Barbour (g) Artie Shapiro (b) Nick Fatool (d). Four sides were cut, and one of the recorded tunes was 'Tea For Two'. that has some bebop inspired soli by both McGhee and Ventura

At the same session also was recorded a version of 'I Surrender, Dear' that shows off Ventura's inspiration from tenor sax players like Coleman Hawkins and Chu Berry, his version continues the lyrical tradition first presented by these musicians, I think

On August 24th, 1945, Ventura recorded for the Savoy label in New York, this time in a quartet setting. Personnel comprised Charlie Ventura (ts) Arnold Ross (p) John Levy (b) Specs Powell (d).

Dark Eyes
One of the tunes recorded for Savoy in this August 1945 session was the shown 'Dark Eyes' that had a radical interpretation, Ventura's solo has some of the hailed characteristics attributed 'real bebop', I think

From 1946 Ventura had his own big band, now extended with a vocal duo that contributed bebop singing to the sound of the orchestra. The vocal duo comprised Jackie Cain and Roy Kral.

Jackie Cain and Roy Kral
Ventura continued recording for smaller labels for some time, a session recorded for the National label in 1946 included a bebop inspired tune composed by Roy Krall featuring the vocal duo, 'Euphoria'

Euphoria, recorded 1946 for National
Listen to the first edition of 'Euphoria' that later was recorded in an extended live-version 1949 from a Jazz at The Philamonic concert, probably better known

In 1947, Ventura signed a contract with RCA Victor, which at the time wanted to capitalize on the emergence of bebop. An RCA executive purportedly told him that they wanted the word "bop" in the band's name. Ventura came up with the phrase "Bop for the People," which implied an accessible form of the music. Ventura formed a big band in 1948, but soon cut it down to eight members, retaining Cain and Kral, who were crucial components of the band's sound.

April 7th 1949 Ventura's orchestra recorded 'For Boppers only', again showcasting the bebop vocals of Cain and Kral. The orchestra comprised Conte Candoli (tp,vcl) Bennie Green (tb,vcl) Charlie Ventura (ts,bar,vcl) Boots Mussulli (as,bar) Roy Kral (p,vcl) Kenny O'Brien (b) Ed Shaughnessy (d) Jackie Cain (vcl)

The Bop for the People band worked through 1949, but in the end Ventura's stab at making a commercial success of bebop failed. During the early '50s Ventura led another big band; formed a highly acclaimed group called the Big Four with bassist Chubby Jackson, drummer Buddy Rich, and pianist Marty Napoleon; briefly ran his own night club in Philadelphia; and also worked again with Cain and Kral. Ventura's health was not the best, yet he continued to work with Krupa into the '60s. After the '50s, Ventura recorded commercially only once (in 1977 with pianist John Bunch), but he still remained active. He worked in Las Vegas (with comedian Jackie Gleason), and fronted various groups in the '70s and '80s, before dying of lung cancer in 1992.

Above info extracted from two articles, here and here.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

André Ekyan (1907 – 1972) – A French Saxophone Player, Part 2 (1940s)

Georg Lankester, expert in pre-WW II French jazz history, continues in this entry the story of André Ekyans career, this time focusing on the war and post-war years – the 1940s.

First part of the story (1930s) is available following this link, here 

André Ekyan, a ‘sought after’ musician

In the first year of the war (1940) our alto-sax player formed a new group named “Swingtette” in which we find guitarist ‘Matlo’Ferret. This formation played frequently in the “Moulin Rouge” and moreover made various fine records for “Odéon”.

Due to the fact that the relationship between André and Django was quite good and their musical feelings also matched, a series of new recordings was organised in February. André’s fine sax playing, accompanied by Django, was now completed with guitarist Pierre Ferret and bass player Emmanuel Soudieux, also ‘masters of strings’.They recorded swinging versions of ‘Margie’ and ‘ Rosetta’, as well as ‘Sugar’ and ‘A pretty girl is like a melody’.Those records, supervised by Delaunay, were released by “Swing” (Sw 98 & 194).

André was also the leader of a small formation  called “Kit Cat” which performed in a luxary place at the Champs Elyssées, an illustration of his popularity.

Swing, Sw 127
One year later, in September 1941 two more records with the new Hot Club quintet followed viz. the titles ‘De nulle part’ (‘Out of Nowhere’) and the exciting ‘Hugaria’ in wich sometimes  influences of Hawkins in André’s playing are noticable.These two  tracks for “swing’were released as Sw 127

Outside Paris

Shortly afterwards Ekyan remained in Switzerland because he now joined the popular Ray Ventura orchestra. This French band which had firstly toured through the South of France, went to Switzerland in order to escape from th German occupation. At the end of 1941 Ventura even left Europe to settle in South America till the war was over.

Django Reinhardt, Andre Ekyan, Ralph Schecroun, Alf Masselier and Roger Paraboschi in Rome (1950)
Back in France, André now became the leader of a formation in Baulieu, where he would remain till 1950 when Django invited him to join his new quintet which was going to play in  Italy. In April and May of that particular year this quintet performed in Rome where also several recordings were made. 

 Note: in  those  sessions André was alternating alto-sax with clarinet and….these  were historical sessions because it was the last time that  the two men played together. Django died in May 1953 !

In the Fifties, André performed often in ‘Maxim’s”, however, the music performed there  gradually had a somewhat lower level. Therefore he decided to travel through Europe and so it happened.

André Ekyan's orchestra at 'Maxim's'
He then played in a lot of  countries, but often in Spain. Unfortunately it was in the town of Alicante that he died on 9 August 1972 because of a tragic traffic accident.

André Ekyan (1907-1972)

Considering André Ekyan’s impressive activities and successes one can certainly speak of an important jazz musician, not only for France, but in general since he also played with a lot of great American jazzmen. 

Worthwhile to mention is that he produced a soft tone on clarinet which created a sometimes  melancholy atmosphere, fitting in so well with a musician like e.g. Django Reinhardt. In his alto-sax playing one can hear some influences from the Chicago jazz (Frank Trumbauer) and – later – from Benny Carter. Producing a warm tone, sometimes calm, in other moments excuberant and fast, he could inspire other jazz musicians. Because of his technique and creativity, this artist belongs to the best European saxophonists of last century.

Some recommended records: China Boy ‘French Hot Boys’(1932),Crazy Rhythm, ‘Coleman Hawkins All Stars (1937), Margie with Django Reinhardt (1940)

Georg Lankester

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

André Ekyan (1907 – 1972) – A French Saxophone Player, Part 1 (1930s)

Georg Lankester, expert in pre-WW II French jazz history, introduces in this entry André Ekyan's pre-war career,  the 1930s.

The post war years of André Ekyan will be discussed in another entry, here

André Ekyan (1907-1972)
This highly talented musician was born in Meudon. Who could suspect that he would become one of the pioneers of the French pre-war jazz and play an important role in it as a soloist?  Here is the story of his career:

Non- French parents
André’s mother was of Hungarian origin, while his father was born in Armenia – the official family name was Echkyan. His parents emigrated to France and it was there  that the young André in 1907 was born and further grew up. Already as a boy he started to play alto-sax. André first started to follow a medical study in order to become a dentist. During his study he saved money to buy a clarinet which took quite some time. Finally he got the instrument and it seems that he could play a bit on it within a few weeks. By the end of the Twenties, however, he stopped his dental study and chose for a professional career in music. Soon he joined the orchestra of Perroquet which played in Paris; furthermore he was working continuously to improve his technique.

Cabaret performances and orchestra sideman
From 1930-32 he was active with a small formation under his own name and appeared frequently  in the cabaret “La croix du Sud”, where – according to Charles Delaunay – also Django Reinhardt came to listen to him.

Ekyan and Django
André also joined various big bands. In 1931 he became member of the well-known  English ‘Jack Hylton Orchestra’ and somewhat later he played in the band of Fred Astaire. Our active reed man could – in 1933 – be found playing with “Grégor & ses Grégoriens” which was quite popular in Paris those days. Also Stéphane Grappelli joined this orchestra, as we can see in some old film fragments!  In ’34 and ’35 André was playing in  Le Jazz du poste parisien”.

It should be mentioned that starting from 1932 Ekyan also arranged and supervised studio recordings e.g. in parts of “Jazz symphonique Salabert” and in two recordings of his own group called “the French Hot Boys”. They recorded: ‘St. Louis Blues’ and ‘Moonglow’.

André Ekyan, saxophonist and clarinetist
In 1935 André, as a band leader, played an important role in the famous cabaret “Boeuf sur le Toit” where many excellent musicians regularly met. Under his supervision several  recordings were made in his name, released by “Ultraphone”.

After lots of activities in France André then travelled to the USA where he played with stars like trombonist ‘Tommy Dorsey & the piano giants Joe Turner”and “Fats Waller”.
Once back in France he opened a cabaret called ‘Swing Time” where he showed his own new orchestra. This was the place where terrific ‘jam sessions’ (in French: ‘de Boeufs’) took place, so remembered tenor saxophonist Alix Combelle. André could there also be heard with the piano players Léo Chauliac & George Manion, in addition to his own band.

Paris was in those times a swinging town, full of theatres, cabarets and cafés offering jazz. In one of them called “au Florence” the American trumpet player/saxophonist Benny Carter played.  In the early morning, also there unforgettable jam sessions were held with American and French jazzmen like Coleman Hawkins, Django Reinhardt and Bill Coleman. After their performances in other cabarets and cafés, they liked to meet and play spontaneously in unique formations. Note: Carter and Hawkins, who stayed in Paris, were promoted by the Hot Club de France leaders secretary Charles Delaunay and president Hugues Panassié.

Historical recordings
1937 was a great year for the European jazz. Because of the World Exhibition in the capital the Hot Club leaders had invited many American jazz giants for big concert and recording  sessions and…….they met the best French players of  that time – including André Ekyan. This resulted in many unique recordings, all of them realised under the supervision of Charles Delaunay who had just launched his exclusive jazz record label ‘Swing”.

Discque Swing, SW. 1
He started recording in the  spring and possibly with the best pre-war formation in Europe ever, called “Coleman Hawkins and his All Star band” featuring Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, André Ekyan, Alix Combelle, Django Reinhardt, Eugène d’Hellemmes and Tommy Benford.

On April 28 two titles in this formation were recorded ‘’Honeysuckle rose’ & ‘Crazy Rhythm’.In the same line-up HMV recorded: ‘Out of nowhere’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. For those interested marked  SW no.1 and HMV(E) B 8812.

Ekyan, still in a very good shape, can also be heard with Django in five tracks which were recorded in 1939 in a small formation under his name.  The titles: ‘The Sheyk’, ‘Dream Ship’, ‘ I can’t believe’, Dark Town Strutters Ball’’ and Blues of Yesterdays’. Three tracks included trumpet player/saxophonist ‘Big Boy’ Goodie, who originally came from Louisiana but already lived in Paris from the early Twenties.

Georg Lankester


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