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Cast Your Fate to the Wind with New “Very Best of Jazz” Collections From Brubeck, Evans, Guaraldi, More

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What makes a legend most?

When it comes to the legends of jazz, Concord Music Group has that answer for you.  Earlier this year, Concord launched The Very Best Of, a new series of “Jazz 101” collections designed at an affordable price point.  These compact sets might introduce new fans to daunting catalogues, or offer longtime fans a compact sampler of a favorite artist.  The first wave of titles arrived for Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), Chet Baker (trumpet) and Wes Montgomery (guitar), but the second group of artists is equally illustrious.  Four are pianists that would make any jazz buff’s all-star team, and one is an alto saxophone great:  Vince Guaraldi (piano), Dave Brubeck (piano), Thelonious Monk (piano), Cannonball Adderley (alto saxophone) and Bill Evans (piano), with his first Trio (Evans, Paul Motian on drums and Scott LaFaro on bass).  The rich family of labels under the Concord umbrella – including Fantasy, Milestone, Riverside and Prestige – captured many of these titanic talents before they were snapped up by larger labels, and so these compilations offer a window into their formative years, including a selection of their signature tunes.

Good grief!  Composer and pianist Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) isn’t always spoken of in the same breath as contemporaries like Brubeck, Evans or Monk (all represented in this piano-heavy quintet of releases!), most likely due to the overwhelming “crossover” success he experienced as the writer of some very famous songs: namely “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and the Peanuts-inspired tracks “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas Time is Here.”  Though “Cast Your Fate” netted Guaraldi a Billboard hit and a Grammy Award, its popularity was arguably eclipsed by his series of Peanuts soundtracks on which he gave jazzy life to Charles M. Schulz’s comic-strip characters.  And “Cast Your Fate” was the tune that persuaded producer Lee Mendelson to make the call to Guaraldi that led to the Peanuts jobs.  It leads off this 14-track assemblage, and remains one of the most beguiling songs ever.  Whether you think of it as jazz (its majestic piano solo certainly qualifies!) or pop, its Latin groove, shifting mood and changing tempo all still captivate.  The Very Best of Vince Guaraldi also includes the Bay Area legend’s renditions of standards from Burton Lane and Frank Loesser, and Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II, as well as his famed renditions of songs from Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa’s Black Orpheus soundtrack.  (Another bossa nova from the pen of Jobim, “Outra Vez,” also appears, and the Brazilian legend’s influence on Guaraldi the composer and arranger is apparent.)

Needless to say, the Peanuts songs (“Linus and Lucy,” “Christmas is Coming,” “Charlie Brown Theme” and the instrumental-only “Christmas Time is Here”) occupy significant space on the collection.  How many children had their first introduction to jazz via Vince Guaraldi?  His dexterity and breezy style are recognizable on lesser-known songs like “Ginza,” with the pianist joined by Bola Sete on guitar, Monty Budwig on bass and Nick Martinez on drums.  Budwig would also play bass on “Linus and Lucy.”  A more reserved, slinky side of Guaraldi is brought out on John Lewis’ “Django,” on which he employs his trademark deceptive simplicity with another sympathetic group (Eddie Duran on guitar and Dean Reilly on bass).  All told, ten albums are excerpted from the 1956-1966 period, adding up to a primer on the man once known as “Dr. Funk” but forever immortalized as the musical voice of a boy named Charlie Brown.  (A more comprehensive career overview is also offered from Concord: 2009’s 2-CD, 31-track Definitive Vince Guaraldi.)

We’ve written often here about Bill Evans (1929-1980), one of the most-anthologized pianists ever, and a pioneer in the area of modal jazz (in which the solos build from the key, not – as is traditional – from chord changes only.)  Even while fighting considerable demons, Evans was capable of creating music both heartbreaking and beautiful, and he arguably found his most sympathetic partners when he formed his first Trio.  The music on The Very Best of the Bill Evans Trio shows how closely attuned Evans, bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian were, for the brief but incandescent period between 1959 and 1961.  LaFaro and Motian weren’t so much supporting Evans as all three gentlemen were playing as one voice, tearing down the walls in a free, post-bop environment.  Yet this groundbreaking team only recorded three dates together, resulting in two live albums and two studio albums: Portrait in Jazz, Explorations (the two studio sets), Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard (the two live sets).  Any further explorations of this Bill Evans Trio were curtailed when LaFaro perished in a car accident, aged just 25, in 1961.  Evans’ grief was so great that he didn’t perform in a public setting for nearly one year after LaFaro’s death.  But oh, what music LaFaro, with Evans and Motian, left behind.

Six of the eleven tracks here are standards, sensitively reinterpreted by the Trio, including Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves,” Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean,” and George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s “My Man’s Gone Now” from Porgy and Bess.  The remaining tracks are compositions by Evans (his own oft-recorded “Waltz for Debby”), LaFaro (“Gloria’s Step”), Miles Davis (“Solar” and “Nardis”).  Shortly before forming the Trio, Evans had performed with Davis on one of the most influential and successful jazz albums of all time, Kind of Blue.  “Blue in Green” was jointly credited to Davis and Evans on that album, though many (including liner notes scribe Neil Tesser) doubt Davis had much to do with it.  Evans revisited the piece sans Davis’ horn less than one year after Kind of Blue on this subtle recording from Portrait in Jazz.  All eleven tracks show the many sides of Evans: moody and intense, yes, but also deeply lyrical, highly romantic and passionately swinging.  Of course, you might just want to go out and buy all four of the Trio’s seminal recordings, but if not, this is a solid place to dip your toes into the water.

After the jump: we explore two more iconic pianists, plus the great alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley!

A yin to Bill Evans’ yang might well be Dave Brubeck.  The bespectacled and avuncular pianist, still active today at age 91, possessed a certain kind of uniquely American optimism that manifested itself in both his composing and his playing.  A family man and Army veteran, Brubeck wasn’t nearly as introspective a player as Evans, and made his mark via innovative time signatures, classically-minded flourishes and careful use of dissonant chords.  In his liner notes, Neil Tesser points out Brubeck’s status as likely the “nicest man in jazz,” not an unfamiliar notion.  Yet nice shouldn’t be confused with bland, as proven by this collection of Brubeck’s earliest material in solo, trio and quartet settings.  The albums represented on The Very Best of Dave Brubeck: The Fantasy Era: 1949-1953 are all drawn from performances before his signing to Columbia Records (1954), the formation of his “classic quartet” and the recording of the landmark Time Out (1959).  But many of the hallmarks of Brubeck’s style were already present.  Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone, a substantial factor in the sound of the Quartet, can be heard on 10 out of these 15 tracks, or 2/3 of the new compilation.  When Desmond enters on “I May Be Wrong,” the fourth song in, his tone is instantly recognizable.  With Eugene Wright (bass) and Joe Morello (drums) not yet having entered the picture, it’s refreshing, too, to hear Brubeck with a number of different players including Ron Crotty, Fred Dutton and Wyatt “Bull” Ruther on bass and Cal Tjader, Joe Dodge, Herb Barman and Lloyd Davis on drums.

Another distinct quality of Brubeck’s music is its accessibility.  There are plenty of standards, and Brubeck’s affinity for the compositions of Richard Rodgers is in evidence.  One wonders what the famously rigid composer would have thought about the liberties Brubeck took with his songs, whether the dramatic reworking of “Blue Moon” or the rethinking of even the title phrase of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.”  Brubeck’s take on Harold Arlen’s melody to “Let’s Fall in Love” is likewise impressive, with a minuet introduction and a baroque solo; his classical experimentation would find full flower in the future.  Brubeck and Cal Tjader bring new life to “Body and Soul” when the percussionist takes to bongos for the song.  He’s stately on a strong interpretation of “For All We Know.”  Brubeck the composer offers just one track, 1951’s cool, swinging “Lyons Busy.”  And fans of 1957’s Columbia LP Dave Digs Disney will doubtless enjoy an early live version of “Give a Little Whistle” from Pinocchio.  Produced by longtime Brubeck historian Russell Gloyd, this disc is one-stop shopping for those interested in Dave Brubeck before Time Out.

Another titanic composer/pianist is captured on The Very Best of Thelonious Monk.  Derived from eight albums recorded between 1954 and 1958 for the Riverside, Prestige and Jazzland labels, The Very Best finds Monk (1917-1982) between tenures at Blue Note and Columbia.  (In total, Monk recorded 20 albums for Riverside between 1955 and 1961.)  Known for his offbeat, angular and sometimes atonal compositions, Monk pushed the limits of jazz, earning the title “Mad Monk” from critics who couldn’t grasp the depths of his voice.  Yet Monk, labelled a member of the avant-garde, paved the way for free jazz artists like Ornette Coleman and even John Coltrane (who appears with Monk on this set), and earned a Time cover story and a place in, yes, the popular jazz pantheon.  Although Monk has been cited by some as one of the most-recorded jazz composers (with genre staples like “’Round Midnight” and “Straight, No Chaser”), he only wrote around 70 pieces compared to the over 1,000 of say, Duke Ellington, to whom he paid tribute on one of the nine albums excerpted on this compilation.  But his unorthodox style, unafraid of employing pauses, silences and dissonance, still remains influential.  Two of his most famous songs, “Blue Monk” and “’Round Midnight,” bookend the set in performances from 1954 and 1957, respectively.  Most tracks were naturally written by Monk, though Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” appears as does Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose.”

Of course, time has a way of altering one’s conception of the so-called avant garde, and today, “Blue Monk” reveals an easy charm.  The pianist is aided and abetted by Art Blakey on drums and Percy Heath on bass, both of whom get turns in the spotlight.  And “Hackensack” (the New Jersey town where many of these tracks were recorded, at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio) could hardly have asked for a better ode than this urbane one provided by Monk, with punchy brass from Frank Foster on tenor sax and Ray Copeland on trumpet.  Monk surrounded himself with other notables, too, and you could hardly find a more cooking group than on the insistent “Bemsha Swing,” with Monk, Clark Terry on trumpet, Sonny Rollins on tenor sax, Paul Chambers on bass and Max Roach on drums!  Coleman Hawkins’ tenor sax brings a smoky, late-night vibe to “Ruby, My Dear.”  Hawkins and John Coltrane both contribute their tenors to the epic, 11-1/2 minute “Well, You Needn’t,” and Coltrane also appears on “Trinkle, Tinkle.”  Monk’s innovative piano stylings have aged well, and this Very Best of stands as a testament to his art.

The final title in this batch turns to an alto saxophonist with The Very Best of Cannonball Adderley.  Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley (1928-1975) played alongside greats like Miles Davis (including on Kind of Blue) and Bill Evans (another Kind of Blue alumnus) as well as his brother, cornet player Nat Adderley, and even scored a crossover pop hit with his 1966 recording of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”  But Adderley’s interests were always diverse; he maintained a keen interest in education (having once been a teacher) and even pursued acting!  This 10-track volume spans two periods in Adderley’s career: 1958-1963, during which time he recorded as a leader for Riverside, and 1973-1975, on the Fantasy label.  (In the interim, Adderley successfully recorded for the Capitol label on projects ranging from expected to unorthodox.)  The Florida native was already the stuff of local legend when he burst onto the New York jazz scene in 1955, living up to his nickname with an explosive and often boisterous saxophone style.

Even when transitioning into R&B-influenced jazz fusion, Adderley’s knowledge of, and respect for, the past kept his style rooted and recognizable.  Milt Jackson of the Modern Jazz Quartet adds flavor with his bright vibes on the melodic “Things are Getting Better” from their joint album of 1958, and Bill Evans’ subdued, ravishingly spare piano on his own “Know What I Mean?” (from an Adderley/Evans LP from 1961) makes a perfect foil for Adderley’s saxophone.  And Chuck Mangione’s swinging “Something Different” truly is, with Adderley leading a large big band ensemble with trombones, tubas, flutes, saxophones and brother Nat’s cornet.  Nat penned one of the most durable titles in the jazz lexicon, “Work Song,” and Cannonball’s sextet tears into it on a live date from Japan.  Nat, of course, was part of that sextet as well as the quintet heard on many of this compilation’s tracks.  He provides his smoky cornet on the now-standard “Work Song.”  Like Ernie Wilkins’ “Dizzy’s Business,” heard in a live sextet version from New York’s Village Vanguard, the excitement from the audience is palpable.  The disc’s chronological sequencing keeps the transition into the seventies from being too jarring.  On the funky, electrified “Jive Samba,” the Adderley brothers are joined by George Duke and Airto Moreira, while on “Inside Straight,” Adderley reunited with producer Orrin Keepnews, who helmed almost every other track here.   The quintet incorporates an electric piano on this greasy track, but Adderley was never less than true to himself.  Ideally placed alongside a sampler from his Capitol period, The Very Best of distills a remarkable career to its essence.

Each title in this series – effective as either an introduction or a sampler – offers classy uniform design, impeccably remastered sound (courtesy Joe Tarantino) and new liner notes from authors including Neil Tesser (Brubeck, Monk, Evans), Derrick Bang (Guaraldi) and Ashley Kahn (Adderley).  All titles mentioned above are in stores now from Concord Music Group, and can be ordered below!

Vince Guaraldi, The Very Best of Vince Guaraldi (Concord/Fantasy FAN-33760-02, 2012)

  1. Cast Your Fate to the Wind
  2. El Matador
  3. Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise
  4. Ginza
  5. Treat Street
  6. Django
  7. Linus and Lucy
  8. The Lady’s in Love with You
  9. Star Song
  10. Outra Vez
  11. Manha de Carnaval
  12. Charlie Brown Theme
  13. Christmas is Coming
  14. Christmas Time is Here

Tracks 1 & 11 from Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, Fantasy 3337, rec. 1962
Track 2 from Live at El Matador, Fantasy 8371, rec. 1966
Track 3 from A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, Fantasy 3257, rec. 1957
Track 4 from From All Sides, Fantasy 8362, 1965
Track 5 from The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi, Fantasy 8360, 1964
Tracks 6 & 8 from Vince Guaraldi Trio, Fantasy 3225, rec. 1956
Tracks 7 & 12 from A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Fantasy 5017, 1964
Track 9 from Vince Guaraldi/Bola Sete and Friends, Fantasy 8356, rec. 1963
Track 10 from In Person, Fantasy 8352, rec. 1962
Tracks 13 & 14 from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Fantasy 8431, 1965

The Bill Evans Trio, The Very Best of The Bill Evans Trio (Concord/Riverside RIV-33755-02, 2012)

  1. Autumn Leaves
  2. How Deep is the Ocean?
  3. What is This Thing Called Love?
  4. Blue in Green
  5. Beautiful Love
  6. Nardis
  7. My Foolish Heart
  8. Gloria’s Step
  9. Waltz for Debby
  10. My Man’s Gone Now
  11. Solar

Tracks 1, 3 & 4 from Portrait in Jazz, Riverside 1162, rec. 1959
Tracks 2, 5 & 6 from Explorations, Riverside 9351, rec. 1961
Tracks 7 & 9 from Waltz for Debby, Riverside 9399, rec. 1961
Tracks 8, 10 & 11 from Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Riverside 9376, rec. 1961

Dave Brubeck, The Very Best of Dave Brubeck: The Fantasy Era 1949-1953 (Fantasy FAN-33761-02, 2012)

  1. Blue Moon
  2. Let’s Fall in Love
  3. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
  4. Body and Soul
  5. I May Be Wrong
  6. My Heart Stood Still
  7. This Can’t Be Love
  8. Frenesi
  9. Me and My Shadow
  10. A Foggy Day
  11. Lyons Busy
  12. Just One of Those Things
  13. Stardust
  14. Give a Little Whistle
  15. For All We Know

Tracks 1-4 originally released on The Dave Brubeck Trio: Distinctive Rhythm Instrumentals, Fantasy 3-2, rec. 1949 & 1950
Tracks 5-6 from The Dave Brubeck Quartet feat. Paul Desmond, Jazz at the Blackhawk, Fantasy 3-210, rec. 1952 & 1953
Track 7 from Jazz at Storyville, Fantasy 3-240, rec. 1952
Track 8-11 from Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond, Fantasy 3229, rec. 1951
Track 12 from The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz at Oberlin, Fantasy 3245, rec. 1953
Track 13 from The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Jazz at the College of the Pacific, Volume 2, Fantasy 3223, rec. 1953
Track 14 from The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz at the College of the Pacific, Fantasy 3223, rec. 1953

Thelonious Monk, The Very Best of Thelonious Monk (Concord/Riverside RIV-33756-02, 2012)

  1. Blue Monk
  2. Hackensack
  3. Sophisticated Lady
  4. Bemsha Swing
  5. Honeysuckle Rose
  6. Ruby, My Dear
  7. Well, You Needn’t
  8. Trinkle, Tinkle
  9. Nutty
  10. ‘Round Midnight

Track 1 from Thelonious Monk Trio, Prestige 7027, rec. 1954
Track 2 from Monk, Prestige 7053, rec. 1954
Track 3 from Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington, Riverside 201, rec. 1955
Track 4 from Brilliant Corners, Riverside 226, rec. 1956
Track 5 from The Unique Thelonious Monk, Riverside 209, rec. 1956
Tracks 6-7 from Monk’s Music, Riverside 242, rec. 1957
Track 8 from Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, Jazzland 946, rec. 1957
Track 9 from Misterioso, Riverside 1133, rec. 1958
Track 10 from Thelonious Himself, Riverside 235, rec. 1957

Cannonball Adderley, The Very Best of Cannonball Adderley (Concord/Riverside RIV-33759-02, 2012)

  1. A Little Taste
  2. Things Are Getting Better
  3. This Here
  4. Know What I Mean?
  5. Something Different
  6. Winetone
  7. Dizzy’s Business
  8. Work Song
  9. Jive Samba
  10. Inside Straight

Track 1 from Portrait of Cannonball, Riverside RLP12-269, rec. 1958
Track 2 from Things Are Getting Better, Riverside RLP12-286, rec. 1958
Track 3 from The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, Riverside RLP12-311, rec. 1959
Track 4 from Know What I Mean?, Riverside RLP 9433, rec. 1961
Track 5 from African Waltz, Riverside RLP 9377, rec. 1961
Track 6 from The Cannonball Adderley Quintet Plus, Riverside RLP 9388, rec. 1961
Track 7 from The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York, Riverside RLP 9404, rec. 1962
Track 8 from Nippon Soul, Riverside 9477, rec. 1963
Track 9 from Phenix, Fantasy F-79004, rec. 1975
Track 10 from Inside Straight, Fantasy F-9435, rec. 1973

Written by Joe Marchese

September 11, 2012 at 10:10

One Response

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  1. Guaraldi, Evans, Brubeck and Monk? Damn, this is piano bliss! I may have to pick some of these up. I don’t really know much about Cannonball Adderley, apart from his work with Miles, but that might be worth it too.

    Sad that all these giants, apart from the still living Brubeck, obviously, died fairly young.


    September 11, 2012 at 21:29

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