Sunday, 2 August 2009

Burgers, Big Bands and Bennett (Richard Rodney)

I had a burger with Ben Aaronovitch and Simon Clegg in Belsize Park on Thursday. I got there early and had time to nose around a charity shop, which I must confess is one of my favourite pastimes. I look for DVDs, books and LPs. Occasionally CDs (I will listen to digital music in a pinch). As usual there was a box of LPs sitting on the floor of the shop. It was full of the normal depressing junk (how many copies of the soundtrack of the Sound of Music can there be out there?) but then I spotted a collection of the solo piano music of George Gershwin. Normally this wouldn't have filled me with any great excitement either, but the pianist in question was Richard Rodney Bennett. I have a lot of respect for Bennett thanks to his soundtracks, such as Murder on the Orient Express and his work on the fringes of jazz, often with top notch singers. The liner notes for the Gershwin album (EMI EMD 5538) were by Max Harrison, another jazz stalwart. So I eagerly scooped this up. Then I found a tranche of big band records. These came from a period earlier than my usual area of interest. For me jazz pretty much begins with Duke Ellington. But there was a serious looking Fletcher Henderson collection here (VJM VLP 36) and also a record of McKinney's Cotton Pickers. Ordinarily that name would signal the kind of early-scratchy trad jazz-Dixieland kind of material I'd steer well clear of. But I've recently been reading a rather groovy book about big bands The Big Band Years by Crowther and Pinfold (what great names, another charity shop acquisition). Just the previous night I'd been reading in it about McKinney's Cotton Pickers and the excellence of Don Redman's arrangements for them. This LP was Volume 1 of a two volume set, and I grinned a savage grin of triumph when Volume 2 turned up in the box as well. They were nice French pressings too, on RCA, the Black and White series (81 and 87). And in immaculate condition. When the pristine vinyl slid from the inner sleeve the static electricity emanating from it caused the hairs on the back of my hands to stir. Great stuff. The ensuing burger was very nice, too, at the admirable GBK and it was good to see Simon and Ben. But this is a music blog, so to hell with that. I got home and put the records on my turntable and I've been listening to them at intervals ever since. A bit squeaky and old timey compared to my usual listening but they do indeed swing. With arrangements by Redman and Henderson and solos by Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, how can you go wrong? Oh, and a rather saucy title for 1928 on one of the Cottonpicker's sides: Put It There (Shag Nasty). Can they possibly mean...

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