Hung Truong: The Blog!

Hung’s Jazz Mix “Tape” 2008!

December 30, 2008 | 13 Minute Read

A few weeks ago I made a trip with a bunch of colleagues/friends to go see some Jazz in Detroit. We went to a place called “Baker’s Keyboard Lounge,” which is apparently the oldest jazz club, ever. That night, a group played which I would describe as a “mixed bag.” The rhythm section was outstanding, but the sax player was okay and the trumpet player (who was, sadly, also the bandleader) was in serious need of some lessons in improvisation.

Most of the people I went with weren’t Jazz connoisseurs. I sort of think of myself as an intermediate one since I’ve been involved with Jazz (playing and listening) since middle school. Anyway, I promised I’d make a Jazz primer for those interested, and I kind of let it get onto the backburner for a while. I could’ve just grabbed some tracks but I wanted to comment on what to listen to or what I liked about each track so it would be more accessible (Jazz is hard to get into if you don’t know what to look for).

Basically I went through my music collection looking for tracks that I thought were representative of something. Either of a standard tune or an artist or a genre. I tried not to duplicate songs or artists. It was kinda hard. I found what tracks I could that were available on AmazonMP3. So if you wanted, you could download almost the whole mix legally! The MP3 widget and my liner notes follow:

1. Antonio Carlos Jobim - Wave

One thing I always suggest to do when learning Jazz standards is to learn the words. The words for Wave are really cheesy. Example: “When I saw you first the time was half past three/When your eyes met mine it was eternity” Antonio’s famous for “Girl From Ipanema” but Wave is also pretty classic.

2. Art Blakey - My Romance

Art Blakey is a weird sorta monolith in jazz. I think he’s famous for having a group (The Jazz Messengers) that’s always featuring new talent. When the musicians “graduate” from the group, new ones take their place. Former members include Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard (so what if I mention just the trumpet players? They’re good)! I also like this song because of the lyrics and the group just sounds really great live! For more on the actual song, see this post that I wrote when I had the song stuck in my head!

3. Bill Evans - Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves is like the quintessential Jazz standard. By “standard” I mean that if you’re a gigging musician, it’s a song you need to know. Since everyone knows the standards, you can just get a random group of guys together and instantly jam out. There’s a lot of versions of Autumn Leaves that I like (including one by Chet Baker) but I thought I’d include some Bill Evans love.

4. Bob Mintzer – Oye Como Va

Bob Mintzer is a Jazz saxophonist who does contemporary sounding (but not too contemporary) arrangements for his big band. Oye Como Va was made famous by Santana, but it was originally composed by the Latin Jazz dude, Tito Puente. Bob Mintzer always changes something up when he puts his own spin on things. Here, he messes with the head itself. When the trumpets come into the melody, they play the it syncopated. He’s also kind of known for adding “noodly parts” (as my old Jazz Band director Glenn Kostur would say) in the background. You could listen to a Bob Mintzer tune a few times and still not catch everything going on in the background.

5. Bobby Shew – Cubana Chant

Bobby Shew is from Albuquerque, just like me! Once I went to see him when he came back and I got him to autograph my shoe! Unfortunately it was the bottom of my shoe and when I walked around for a little the autograph faded away. TRUE STORY! Bobby was primarily a lead player (played high notes) and later on started doing improvisation as well. He’s not as good as many players, but at least he’s better at improvising than Maynard Ferguson… Cubana Chant is a tune that I played in my high school combo my senior year. I probably still have the video, actually. Maybe I should post it online some time… It’s sort of interesting because the changes (the chord progression) is basically rhythm changes (from I’ve Got Rhythm) but in a minor progression. Rad.

6. Charles Mingus – Haitian Fight Song

Charles Mingus is a badass bassist. A lot of his compositions are outside of the “norm” of Jazz. I guess Haitian Fight Song is actually pretty “in” when you think about it. I played “Fables of Faubus” in high school, but I figured I’d include this because it’s a bit “easier” to listen to, being a minor blues and all.

7. Charlie Parker – Scrapple From the Apple

Charlie Parker’s nickname was “bird,” mainly because he had an actual bird’s beak and feathers. Just kidding. Scrapple From the Apple is your typical early bebop tune. A sorta complicated head followed by some pretty complicated solos. Pretty much just dudes trying to one-up each other. This tune is pretty much synonymous with Charlie Parker, so I figured, why not?

8. Chet Baker – There Will Never Be Another You

This is one of my favorite standards. It’s not really that well known, though, I guess. The lyrics are cool and so are the changes. It’s not too often that the lyrics to a song match the music perfectly. This is off the album “Chet Baker Sings,” so it’s nice to hear him play and then sing (like a girl).

9. Clifford Brown – Blues Walk

Clifford Brown was a super awesome virtuoso trumpet player who could play bebop insanely well. He died young (at 25) but he left a huge impact on Jazz anyway. Clifford died in a car crash. My friend Mark says that’s why you don’t let women drive you around! Anyway, Benny Golson wrote “I Remember Clifford” in his memory. Ironically, it’s a ballad (and not super fast bebop as Clifford was famous for). Also, this is why you never hear recordings of Clifford Brown playing “I Remember Clifford,” unless you’re stuck in some kind of paradox alternate universe. But he does play Blues Walk pretty damn well. Check out near the end of the song where Clifford and the sax player (sorry, unnamed sax player) trade ever decreasing amounts of measure! Pretty sweet.

10. Dexter Gordon – Confirmation

Dexter Gordon is a tenor sax bebop-ist who I got into because my friend Mark (also a tenor sax bebop-ist) was into him. Dexter Gordon has a helluva lot of recordings. One thing that’s apparent is that he’s pretty good. Another thing that’s apparent is that if you listen to more than one solo of his, you’ll hear him play the same riffs in each one. Nothing wrong with that, but Dexter Gordon makes it kinda more apparent than any other Jazz artist I’ve heard (besides myself, since I always use the same three patterns). Confirmation is another bebop tune that has an extremely complicated melody. It’s like they made it hard on purpose just to show off.

11. Dizzy Gillespie – Manteca

Dizzy Gillespie is the trumpet player that’s famous for having the puffy cheeks and the funny trumpet with the bell at a 45 degree angle. If you’re a trumpet player, don’t do that (unless your name is Dizzy Gillespie)! Dizzy is also famous for being a pretty good bebop player and pioneering the Afro-Cuban style of Jazz. If you’re wondering what that is, just listen to the percussion.

12. Ella Fitzgerald + Louis Armstrong – A Fine Romance

I like vocal Jazz. Ella and Louis did two recordings singing together. It’s funny because it makes me think they were a couple, with them singing so many love songs together. Their recordings are also funny because Louis’ raspy voice is continually juxtaposed by Ella’s super smooth voice. Also, Louie Armstrong says “bitches” in this song!

13. Freddie Hubbard – Up Jumped Spring

Up Jumped Spring’s got a pretty interesting melody and changes. Freddie Hubbard has a really sweet tone. It’s like a perfect combination. Plus he composed this song himself, so I suppose it makes sense that this is a good recording… Current Events Alert! Freddie Hubbard died on December 29th, which comes after I made this list but before I published it!

14. Harry Connick Jr. – Basin Street Blues

Basin Street Blues is sort of a standard, I guess. Maybe not. Oh wait, it is! Miles Davis even has a version! I remember playing it in middle school jazz band. Harry Connick Jr. is a Jazz pianist and vocalist from New Orleans who has a super sweet voice! So it’s cool that in this song you get to hear him play piano and sing, simultaneously!

15. Herbie Hancock – Chameleon

I’d have included the Maynard Ferguson version of Chameleon but I figured I’d put the original here and any enterprising listeners can find the Maynard version themselves. Herbie Hancock is pretty far out. Let’s just get that out of the way. Chameleon is funky. I consider Funk to be an offshoot of Jazz, just like Blues. Whatever you use to classify this song, I think it’s pretty sweet. It’s also pretty long, but that’s what happens when you’re funkadelic.

16. Horace Silver – Nica’s Dream

I really, really like the melody for this song. I played it in college Jazz Band. The director, Glenn Kostur, told us that Nica was some kind of modern day saint for Jazz musicians. Like she had some kind of crib where they could stay? And then she died? I don’t quite remember. Anyway, Nica is a cool chick. The song itself is sweet as well, with a Latin Jazz kinda mentality, switching to swing in the B section (kinda like A Night in Tunisia!).

17. John Coltrane – The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

You might think I’d stick “Giant Steps” into this compilation, but that’d be too predictable of a move. John Coltrane is pretty much a badass. I’m pretty sure he learned every single scale known to mankind and made up some more in his quest to become the ultimate improvising machine. And he pretty much succeeded. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes is a good example of how Coltrane can play “around” the changes and still come up with something that makes sense because it’s based in theory.

18. Lee Morgan – Hocus-Pocus

I wonder if there’s too many trumpet players in this compilation. Oh well. Lee Morgan is another great one. Apparently (I just read this on Wikipedia) Morgan was shot when he asked his girlfriend to bring him his gun. Just another thing not to ask women to do, along with driving you around, if you’re a Jazz musician and want to avoid an untimely death…

19. Bli Blip – Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

The LCJO is pretty much Wynton Marsalis’ group. This is a live recording from a Duke Ellington Tribute concert. Some people criticize the LCJO because it doesn’t really do anything original, that is, it plays very traditionally and is sort of anachronistic in a way. This recording is actually very close (same arrangement) as a version that Ella Fitzgerald sang with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. I guess it’s intentional though. The vocals (by Dianne Reeves) are just insanely good. And it’s just a fun track, so enjoy!

20. Miles Davis – My Funny Valentine

Miles Davis is also a badass. I guess I tried sticking a lot of badasses in here, what can I say? Miles is so badass that he can just quit playing the melody after a few measures and go straight into his solo! And he doesn’t even empty out his spit valve when he seriously needs to! Plus he plays with the stem in his harmon mute, which is something only he’s allowed to do. Miles is cool because he uses silence effectively. The parts he doesn’t play are as important as the parts that he does. Also, he got into Juilliard and then dropped out! That’s how badass he is! Jazz Lesson: At around the 1:15 mark, the bass player goes into a pedalpoint. Which is a fancy word for saying he just plays the same note over and over again. Bass players just do this to be jerks.

21. Natalie Cole – Almost Like Being In Love

When Natalie Cole’s not singing with her dead father, she sings by herself (and a big band). I remember my high school band director playing this track for us in class as an example of how the voice is just as legit an instrument as one that you can hold in your hand. I think this song was also in Groundhog Day, which is braggable.

22. Nicholas Payton (with Wynton Marsalis and Roy Hargrove) – The Three Trumpeteers

I’m a trumpet player, so this song is like pure awesome for me. The three guys play through rhythm changes and sound like they’re having a hell of a time doing it. This has got to be one of my favorites, ever.

23. Roy Hargrove – I Remember Clifford

Hey, it’s a ballad! About Clifford Brown. I remember Clifford Brown, and the Alamo, too. I like that even though the song is a ballad (about 60 bpm), the rhythm section switches to pseudo double-time in the solo part, so it sounds more upbeat.

24. Sarah Vaughn – Lullaby of Birdland

Sarah Vaughn has a really sweet voice with a really sweet range. I’m pretty sure she can sing lower than me. She also scats pretty well (the singing, not the bodily function)! I have a pet peeve with the lyrics in this song, rhyming “Birdland” with “Wordland” but hey, it’s still a good one.

25. Sonny Stitt – The Shadow of Your Smile

This track features some kind of “electric saxophone.” I’m not sure if it’s like a weird effect that Sonny Stitt is using, or if he’s actually wielding an instrument of pure energy. Either way, it has a funny sound. I also like the organ in this song.

26. Wynton Marsalis – Caravan

Marsalis Standard Time has a bunch of standards, predictably played by Wynton Marsalis. He kind of plays them non-standard though, but it’s cool. The solo that he plays is especially out, only going back “in” every once in a while to relieve some tension. Caravan is a pretty old standard, made famous by Duke Ellington.

There’s a bunch of other songs that I really like, but this will probably suffice for now. Memorize these tunes and I’ll make a new Jazz Mix at some point.