I am really pleased that the first guest post on the mylifeinjazz website comes from my good friend Carl Gardner

As you can see Carl has plotted his own path into jazz. Carl hosts a monthly jazz discussion group where each of the members curates a playlist of up to six tunes, sometimes linked to a particular theme or style-trios, big band, funk, fusion, Scandi jazz etc…  The subsequent discussion is always intense, sometimes polarised! It is a multi-generational group which means that we get to listen to music often for the first time and from a very wide range of musical genres both within the broad parameters of jazz and beyond.

I hope that Carl’s will be the first of many guest contributions. – Danny

I am a retired journalist and lighting designer and a relative late-comer to jazz, after 30 years of immersion in pop, rock, blues and folk music. My initial interest was triggered in my mid-40s by a rave retrospective review of ‘Kind of Blue’ in The Guardian by my former colleague from Time Out and City Limits days, John Fordham. From that album I branched out to listen to Miles’ various collaborators, such as Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and so on. A shared interest in the music of Ella Fitzgerald with my partner of 28 years was another entry point to my journey through post-war women vocalists… an area of jazz that I feel is still neglected and poorly studied.

Three years ago I initiated a successful monthly jazz discussion group with half a dozen friends, in which Danny also participates… first of all it was ‘live’ in my central London apartment, latterly, since the arrival of Covid, it has been held on Zoom. My jazz horizons have been considerably extended by these monthly sessions, at which each member of the group chooses tracks on a particular theme, which we then discuss. What follows are some of my favourite all-time pieces, some of them aired in recent sessions – thank you Danny for giving me the first ‘guest’ slot on your blog.

Pavanne from ‘Don Rendell & Ian Carr Live’ (1969)

An all-time favourite, this little-known British classic by a quintet led by the massively under-rated sax-trumpet duo, Don Rendell and Ian Carr…with Michael Garrick on piano. ‘Pavanne’s catchy, slightly middle-Eastern theme ramps up the tension with wit and verve – wonderful ensemble playing, plus three fabulous soloists trying to outdo one another.

Stolen Moments on ‘Blues & the Abstract Truth’ (1961) 

Another favourite, the opening track from Oliver Nelson’s classic album — a stellar sextet, including Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy and Bill Evans, combine in a sublime manner, courtesy of Nelson’s skilful arrangements. Hubbard’s tension-busting entry, after the gentle intro, rivals Miles on ‘So What’ in its vibrant attack. Beautiful summation of some of the finest innovations in post-bop jazz.

It Ain’t Necessarily So on ‘Black Christ of the Andes’ by Mary Lou Williams (1964).

Mary Lou was in her mid-50s when she recorded this great Gershwin tune from ‘Porgy & Bess’ and it demonstrates what a neglected, under-rated pianist she was. Her  immaculate, laid-back modernist style (shades of Evans and Jamal?) her clear, crisp phrasing – and her witty timing – belie her rag-time origins. Quite entrancing — can this great tune have ever been played better?

Mary Lous Williams

Wonderwall on ‘Brad Mehldau Trio Live’ (2008)

Mehldau is the specialist in taking unexpected pieces and making them extraordinary… The Beatles, Radiohead and Elton John have all been left-field grist to his mill. Here his trio rips up Oasis’s Brit-pop classic with inspired style, while maintaining the anthemic outline. A very exciting solo from Mehldau is supported impeccably by the rhythm section of Grenadier and Ballard, who drive up the tempo. I expect the Gallagher brothers hate it.

I Can’t Stand the Rain on ‘Blue Light till Dawn’ by Cassandra Wilson (1993)

For those who prefer the up-tempo soul versions of Ann Peebles or Tina Turner, Wilson’s slower, intricately bluesy treatment of this great piece of pop will come as a surprise. With only the accompaniment of some fabulously swampy slide guitar, she turns it into an extended, almost other-worldly meditation straight from the Bayou. Brilliantly original and for me the most affecting version of all.

Light ‘Til Dawn – Cassandra Wilson

My Favourite Things from the album ‘My Favourite Things’ by John Coltrane (1961)

Heresy I know, but I’m not Coltrane’s biggest fan. However, I love this version of the rather twee Rogers and Hammerstein song, mainly because he manages to hang onto the famous tune, while weaving some beautiful soprano licks around it. Full credit too to McCoy Tyner’s classy improvising which drives the track along.

Black Satin from ‘On the Corner’ by Miles Davis (1972)

I had to include Miles, but this track, from one of his psychedelically influenced post-‘Bitches Brew’ albums, is somewhat Marmite. I love it for its hypnotic, futuristic feel. Miles lays down a high-pitched repeating trumpet motif over a distorted mix of funky guitar, tom-toms, sitar and shifting rhythmic clapping. Crazy.

Lifeline from ‘Changeless’ by the Keith Jarrett Trio (1989)

A different feel altogether: recorded live, this unique piece starts off very gently and turns into a beautifully paced exercise in exquisite ensemble playing. Jarrett uses a clever repeating one-note ‘hook’ to gradually up the tempo and DeJohnette’s superb drumming and Peacock’s bass solos make a huge contribution. Harmonic heaven.

Try a Little Tenderness on ‘Double Duke’ by Joe Temperley (1999)

Scots baritonist, Temperley, who died in 2016, was a late-period member of Ellington’s band, before joining Wynton’s Lincoln Centre outfit. Never has the baritone sax been so bewitchingly romantic as on this tune (which pre-dates Otis Redding by about 30 years!). Rich, mellow tone and wonderfully laid-back tempo. A perfect melding of sentiment and performance.

Joe Temperly

Summertime on ‘Porgy & Bess’ by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (1959)

Another much-recorded song from Gerschwin’s great musical, sumptuously produced by Norman Granz. Moody and affecting, it opens with a simple but effective trumpet theme from Armstrong (by then short of chops) echoed by a superlatively lyrical vocal by Ella at her very best… and then Louis kicks in with his wonderful gravelly tone, soon contrasting with Ella in a higher register… and Louis gently scatting in the background. Two giants in complete harmony.

A version of this article was first published on the website of Jazz Jurassic festival in August 2021.