Monday, July 26, 2010

The Oscar Peterson Trio at Newport

by Joe Schwab

As the owner of a store that sells physical copies of music, I have mixed emotions about embracing this era of file sharing and downloads. What’s happened to the average musician, his music and more importantly his payday are best left for another post. I certainly can embrace, however, websites that deal in the rare, previously unreleased concert performances from days gone by. Leading this trend is Wolfgang’s Vault which is basically the estate of the treasures left behind by the late Bill Graham, music entrepreneur, manager and owner of the most successful music venue of the 1960’s, The Fillmore.

For the past few months, “The Vault” has been posting up recordings from the Newport Jazz Festival 1955-1969. Previously unreleased live recordings from such artists as Horace Silver, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, The Swan Silvertones, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, , and Sister Rosetta Tharpe among others are now seeing the light of day. Now how these recordings were acquired, I don’t know, and whether they came from Bill Graham’s massive collection of music related items, only the conglomerate that maintains Wolfgang’s Vault can say. I can tell you that the recordings were done every year by Willis Conover from The Voice of America and broadcast throughout the world. Archives have been kept for years at the Library of Congress. Also, the promoters of the festival sold rights to recordings every year to a revolving roster of labels. Columbia released a number of records from the 1956 festival, including the legendary Duke Ellington performance when Paul Gonzalves brought the house to a frenzy with a 27-chorus marathon for the ages. Verve Records released a number of performances from the 1957 fest, 1958 belonged to Mercury Records and Columbia again in 1959. The Muddy Waters performance from 1960 became a seminal recording for Blues enthusiasts, in particular young men from England such as John Mayall, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.

So as “The Vault” continues to make available so many of these historical performances, I was particularly happy to see not one, not two but three sets from 1959, 1960 and 1964 by the Oscar Peterson Trio featuring bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen. The 1959 set introduced many new listeners to a new format for the OP Trio with the addition of drummer Ed Thigpen. Longtime guitarist Herb Ellis had left the trio in 1958 to pursue lucrative opportunities in Los Angeles as well as freeing himself from the demons of the road. Many of the songs performed that day came from the first record released by the new Trio, “The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson”. Peterson tests the trio from the beginning with two Hard Bop standards, Duke Jordan’s “Jordu” and Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud”. No easy task here, but they handle both beautifully, especially Ray Brown who’s featured prominently on “Jordu”. Peterson then shows off his major league dexterity and virtuosity on “Daahoud” with Thigpen keeping up throughout. The Trio then settles into a comfort zone, by playing three tracks from the “Jazz Soul” record. The songs “Close Your Eyes” as well as two Dizzy Gillespie compositions “Con Alma” and Woody n’ You” all feature tight arrangements that are well rehearsed, but with very little play from the original recordings’. The trio, augmented by Russ Garcia’s arrangements, later did Big Band versions of both “Woody” and “Close Your Eyes”.

· 1. Band Introduction

· 2. Jordu

· 3. Daahoud

· 4. Con Alma

· 5. Close Your Eyes

· 6. Woody N' You

The 1960 set shows a better seasoned trio, with Thigpen’s flare for great hi-hat and brush work becoming more prominent. Again, the trio comes out blazing with it’s interpretation of “Softly as in a Morning Sunshine” followed by a version of “Billy Boy” done in its usual breakneck speed. The next song might be the gem of all three sets. Although Wolfgang’s lists it as “Waltzing is Hip”, in actuality it’s Richard Rogers classic “Younger Than Springtime”. What makes this interesting is that Peterson didn’t actually record this until the 1971 record “Great Connections” for the German MPS label. This version follows the same arrangement that Peterson would later perform with Neils Henning Orsted Pederson and Louis Hayes but with Brown and Thigpen’s take making it a fascinating look into a song that would not find it’s way onto a piece of plastic for another decade. The set closes with another two songs from the “Jazz Soul” record, “Cubano Chant” and OP’s showstopper “Blues for Big Scotia”. Again, the trio is loosened up after the first three songs and reverts to their comfort zone having already recorded these in the trio setting and the Big Band LP “Swinging Brass”.

· 1. Softly As In A Morning's Sunrise

· 2. Billy Boy

· 3. Younger Than Springtime

· 4. Cubano Chant

· 5. Blues For Big Scotia

By 1964, the trio was at its peak and this set is easily the best of the batch. After a few popular but less challenging records for Verve, the trio was soon to leave its longtime label for the newly formed Limelight Records. After hundreds of live concert dates throughout North America and the world, the previous five years the trio had honed its skills and had become a well oiled machine. Their versions of “Fly me to the Moon” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” had become staples of their live sets over the previous year. Maybe it was the salty air, or maybe it was the competitive fuel of sharing the stage with the greatest names in Jazz but they swing them harder than ever before with dazzling bass from Brown and a much looser swinging Thigpen. The set closes with a couple of Peterson’s own compositions, the beautiful “Nightingale” and a jam blues “Squicky’s Blues”, which becomes a vehicle for all three members to stretch out their collective chops.

· 1. Introduction

· 2. Fly Me To The Moon

· 3. Someday My Prince Will Come

· 4. Nightingale

· 5. Squeaky's Blues

These Peterson recordings are a welcome addition to discography, as are all the Newport postings on Wolfgang’s Vault. Thankfully these recordings and others like them have held up and are not only listenable, but have a live sound like no other. Newport recordings are famous for the creaking sounds the stage made and the sparse sound of the audience, mostly due to the mike placement. These are pure as can be, no overdubs, no remix, just straight sounds from the board, warts and all.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Report From New Orleans

After 14 hours riding I-55, the midwest artery that drifts down the
Mighty Mississippi all the way to Louisiana, the first chunk of shiny
vinyl records have arrived at 3401 Chartres Street. New Orleans, all
this music is for you! The trek was filled with tornadoes and the kind
bus-drivers lending crucial assists when Betsy the Budget Rental Truck needed gassing up. The sight of 15,000 LP's and 45's within the four walls of Euclid Records at the corner of Chartres and Desire in the bohemian Bywater makes the hard work easy-peasy. September 1st, you'll all be able to get your eager paws on copies of John Coltrane's "Kulu Se Mama," Bootsy Collins' "Bootsy?" and that requisite Danzig "Aria II" picture disc. Euclid New Orleans' brains and hearts could not physically contain more excitement if the ghost of James Booker himself floated through the front door offering a whirlwind ride through the ghosts of Lundi Gras' past, present and future. Lots of work to do, and heaps of wonderful musical happenings lie on the other side of August, kids! Can't wait to meet you all!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Peter Case to Perform Friday July 23 at 5:30 PM

ST. LOUIS: The Euclid Sessions Series of in-store performances is excited to announce that legendary Los Angeles singer/songwriter Peter Case will be performing at Euclid Records at 5:30 pm Friday, July 23. Euclid Records is located at 601 East Lockwood in Webster Groves, MO, just down the street from Webster University.

Peter Case was in the Nerves one of the earliest American New Wave bands outside of New York City. After that, he led the Plimsouls, a power-pop garage rock ensemble whose song “A Million Miles Away” was featured in the hit movie, “Valley Girl.” Case began his solo career in 1986, as his songwriting veered in a more acoustic, folk-based direction, though he would still rock out from time to time. Over the years, he has toured with bands or as a single performer, presenting his insightful and catchy songs to ardent fans around the world. At the end of June, he released his latest album, “Wig!” It’s a spectacularly entertaining rock album. Case will also be performing at 8 pm at Off Broadway later the same night.

This will be the latest in a series of live in-store performances to be followed up by the release of limited-edition 45 rpm singles recorded in the store. Each release is strictly limited to 300 copies, and $1 for each one pressed is donated to the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund (NOMRF) to benefit musicians displaced or suffering loss of equipment in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The performance will be recorded live, and the Sights will choose one or two songs to be released on the 7” single.

Euclid Records has a website devoted to the series: Here you can find out about upcoming in-store events, read up on past events, subscribe to the series or order/pre-order upcoming 45's.

Each release comes in a special package with the back sleeve designed by Firecracker Press, a terrific graphic and letterpress printshop here in St. Louis. Each front cover will be a unique 7 x 7" print, signed and numbered by various graphic artists such as Gary Houston, Guy Burwell, and more, suitable for framing or keeping as a front cover to each single.

The 45s will be sold exclusively through the website of Euclid Records ( Pricing will vary, as individual packages will each contain unique elements such as colored vinyl, etched vinyl, or other possibilities.