First Friday (1/3): STOLI.
Stoli, a tasteful septet long associated with the John Payne Music Center, achieves a swinging sound and feel you can only get by playing together for years and years.
Second Friday (1/10): NATE ARONOW NEXTET.
Nate's innovative band plays original compositions and arrangements that are remarkable in their variety and sophistication.
Third Friday (1/17): DISTRICT 5
This quintet, led by saxophonist Elizabeth Reid, clearly demonstrates (yet again) that women in jazz are a force to be reckoned with.
Fourth Friday (1/24): JOHNNY HORNER TRIO. The very deep pianist, Johnny Horner, has long been a mainstay of the Boston jazz scene, and the POSTunderground is delighted to add his fine trio (Dave Gold, bass, David Mann, drums) to the roster. Now you can catch them every fourth Friday.
FIFTH FRIDAY (1/31)! Five Fridays in January has created a golden opportunity! The POSTunderground is pleased to welcome, for the very first time, a FULL BIG BAND for Set One! Is the room really bigger than it seems? We will find out as we try to fit the Harvard Alumni Jazz Band onto the bandstand. Led by Jill Altshuler, the intrepid lead altoist, the AJB has a a gorgeous sound and a million great charts. This will be a standing-room-only performance, simply based on the number of people in the band (17!), so get there early if you can!
Don't miss the week's special "Snorg Lives!" edition of Standards By Starlight! Before I go any further, our FEATURED ARTIST tonight is BARRY SMITH, a bassist whose resume includes some of the most illustrious names in jazz. The rest of the House Band (Phil Grenadier, trumpet, John Mulroy, piano, Greg Conroy, drums, John Purcell, alto) is quite looking forward to Barry's return to the POSTunderground bandstand.
Tonight, we will be recreating Bird's January 23rd, 1952, recording session, a continuation of the "Charlie Parker with Strings" project initiated by Norman Granz in late 1948. Granz (nicknamed "Snorg" by Bird) presided over Bird's artistic decline in the 50s, and some (me!) would say hastened it with his attempts to commercialize Bird's genius. John Purcell will try to control himself as he free-associates on this topic tonight. Be there or be Squorg!
Set One (7:30 to 8:30 PM): Johnny Horner Trio with special guest Salim Washington tenor saxophone!
The POSTunderground is located at 386 Washington Street (downstairs), Brookline MA. Admission and food are always free and the full CASH bar features veterans post prices! Visit postunderground.com for more info.
In December, 1948, Charlie Parker (Bird) signed a recording contract with Norman Granz, jazz impresario and founder of Verve Records. This marks the starting point of his artistic decline. It didn’t happen immediately, and many other factors contributed, but there is still much to regret about their association, starting with “Charlie Parker with Strings”.
Bird moved to New York in 1942 and quickly fell under the sway of European classical music, something he hadn’t been exposed to in Kansas City. Over the course of that decade, he grew frustrated with the limitations of the 12 bar blues and the 32 bar popular song forms, and expressed his desire to find "new ways of saying things musically. New sound combinations.” It seems Bird was talking, long before it was fashionable, about fusing jazz and classical music. So Norman Granz doesn’t deserve any blame for the “Charlie Parker with Strings” concept. The problem, however, was in the execution, and he had much to do with that.
Bird was quite taken with Stravinsky and Hindemith, and was fond of quoting melodic fragments from their compositions in his solos. It’s possible he envisioned improvising over symphonic and chamber works of that kind. Granz deserves credit for even trying, but his desire to make the project a commercial success resulted in crippling compromises. Jimmy Carroll’s arrangements for the first recording session were dreadful. To say they were on a par with Hollywood film scores would be charitable. Their sound is closer to what became known, just a few years later, as muzak.
Despite this, Bird’s playing was very inspired early on. He took particular pride in his November, 1949, recording of “Just Friends”, and rightfully so, but inspiration gradually sank due to the cement shoes of the arrangements. Bird was seldom given more than 16 consecutive bars of improvisation, and by the time 1952 arrived, some arrangements had only melody statements, and no saxophone solos at all!
Granz’s main claim to fame was “Jazz at the Philharmonic”, a hyperventilating road show intended to simulate a jazz jam session. In terms of Bird’s studio recordings, Granz favored either grandiose projects that were parodies of themselves, or more intimate combinations of incompatible musicians. Buddy Rich almost ruined a reunion session with Dizzy Gillespie, and trad jazz trombonist Tommy Turk provided the blemishes on another. What Granz consistently failed to do was record Bird with his working quintet, far and away the most productive setting.
Still, by 1949, Bird’s career had reached a point where it no longer made sense to keep recording for Savoy and Dial, the small labels that were home to his early masterpieces (the majority recorded with his working quintet). The finances for these sessions were fast and loose. The musicians were paid in cash for their day’s work, with a small advance against royalties for original compositions. This was, to some extent, Bird’s incentive for composing, which helps explain his practice of writing eight bar themes over borrowed chord changes.
As the financial burdens of supporting his family mounted, along with various legal disputes, he made some attempts to go back and claim his own Dial and Savoy compositions, already regarded as classics, but there was never any real hope of that. Herman Lubinsky of Savoy was a legendary miser, and Bird had ended up on bad terms with Ross Russell of Dial.
Ultimately, Granz was proved right. If nothing else, "Charlie Parker with Strings" was a commercial success, and it brought Bird's music to people who would have never heard him otherwise. That forgives a lot.
On the first Sunday of each month (Sept.-May), the POSTunderground hosts a bluegrass jam open to musicians of all ages and levels. Though we focus on bluegrass, we welcome forays into styles that "stretch the envelope" such as country, swing, roots/Americana. The jam is free, though we do pass the hat to help support this warm and comfortable nonprofit performance space.
Twice a year, the POSTunderground hosts the Brookline Music School Mega Jam, a nine hour party featuring 16 BMS jazz/rock ensembles. The winter Mega Jam takes place this Sunday, January 26th. This event is free and open to the public!