By on May 4, 2014


Didn’t read Part 1? Catch it here

Our imaginary road trip continues in jazz, which is America’s greatest contribution to music.

2. Clifford Brown: With Strings

One story has it thus: When the Federal government disposed of surplus material after the Civil War, rather than spread things around evenly, the bureaucrats sent all the blankets to one place, all the canteens to another, and so on. The story goes on to claim that all the Civil War surplus brass-band instruments went to New Orleans.

Regardless how it happened, it can’t be denied that the most important solo instrument in early jazz was the trumpet. The trumpet has the practical advantages of comparatively low cost, portability, and the ability to make a loud sound that can carry outdoors. It does have one musical drawback, however. Unlike the piano, organ, or guitar, the trumpet can play only one note at a time.

J.S. Bach played the organ and the harpsichord, while Beethoven played the piano. So Louis Armstrong holds the distinction of being the only person to revolutionize Western music while playing a one-note-at-a-time instrument. Legendary jazz historian Stanley Crouch claims that one of Armstrong’s formative musical influences was listening to early phonograph records by Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso.

Of all the trumpet players who came after Armstrong, the one who phrased most like a vocalist was Clifford Brown. Following in the footsteps of alto-sax genius Charlie Parker, Brown recorded a “with strings” album in January 1955. The setlist reads like a “Best of the Great American Songbook” cheat sheet, the first four tracks being “Yesterdays,” “Laura,” “What’s New,” and “Blue Moon.”

Clean-living and universally loved, Brown, along with pianist Richie Powell and Powell’s wife, died in an automobile accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1956. Brown was 25 years old.

Listen to “Where Or When” from Clifford Brown With Strings here.

Buy it here.
3. Aaron Diehl: The Bespoke Man’s Narrative

What the piano lacks in portability it more than makes up for in versatility. Aaron Diehl is already a star whose résumé includes having toured Europe with Wynton Marsalis at age 17 and studies at the Juilliard School with Oxana Yablonskaya.

Diehl’s studio-recording debut is a quartet outing with vibes, bass, and drums. Along with the expected standards such as “Moonlight in Vermont,” there are surprises such as Diehl’s own arrangement of the “Forlane” (a dance movement) from Ravel’s neoclassical suite Le tombeau de Couperin.

The showstopper however is “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” Diehl delivers the blues, polyrhythms, and baskets full of virtuoso classical technique coupled with an innate sense of musical drama. Roll over Van Cliburn, is all I can say.

Listen to “Moonlight in Vermont” (live) here.

Buy it here.

4. Jim Hall: Concierto

The arabesque English-horn melody that opens the slow movement of Joaquín Rodrigo’s classical-guitar Concierto de Aranjuez provided the inspiration for Miles Davis’ famous Sketches of Spain album of 1960. Nevertheless, I think that an even more successful use of that haunting and hypnotic theme was the title track of guitarist Jim Hall’s 1975 Concierto.

On that Van Gelder Studios session, Hall shared soloing duties with Paul Desmond (of Dave Brubeck Quintet “Take Five” fame), Chet Baker, and Sir Roland Hanna over the rock-solid foundation laid down by the rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Steve Gadd.

Jim Hall’s guitar style was less-is-more, as shown by his frequent use of single-note guitar lines. Don’t let Hall’s not being a household name deny you the pleasure of hearing one of the most musically satisfying extended (20 minutes) cool-jazz collaborations on record.

Listen to Concierto de Aranjuez here.

Buy it here.

5. Sir Roland Hanna: Tributaries: Reflections on Tommy Flanagan

The title track of Jim Hall’s Concierto climaxes during Sir Roland Hanna’s piano solo. (The honorific was Liberian, not British.) Hanna was in his own way as underappreciated as Jim Hall was. Hanna, who studied at both Eastman and Juilliard, was usually in the shadow of his Detroit boyhood friend and later colleague Tommy Flanagan.

After Flanagan’s death, Hanna began putting together a tribute album, mostly of songs associated with Flanagan rather than written by him. (I respect Hanna’s decision not to record his own version of Flanagan’s most widely-loved track, the 1978 trio rendition of Horace Silver’s “Peace.”) As it turned out, Hanna’s tribute project was recorded not long before Hanna himself died.

Standout tracks include Thad Jones’ “A Child Is Born,” Green and Heyman’s “Body and Soul,” and the Gershwins’ “Soon,” but the best of the bunch is without question Evans and Livingston’s “Never Let Me Go,” which Hanna makes sound like a mournful slow movement from a sonata by Chopin or Rachmaninoff.

Listen to “Body and Soul” here.

Buy it here.

Record producer John Marks is a columnist for Stereophile magazine.

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39 Comments on “Grand Touring Music, Part 2...”

  • avatar

    #1. Hotline Miami soundtrack
    #2. Elysium Soundtrack
    #3 Need for Speed soundtracks.

  • avatar

    Jo Stafford is Moonlight in Vermont,

  • avatar


    Can you recommend a short list of Louis Armstrong’s recordings that best show his contributions to jazz?

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      Dear Ronnie,

      Thanks for reading.

      A glib answer would be “all of them.”

      The practical answer of course is, “Start with the ‘Hot Five’ and ‘Hot Seven” recordings,” those being the group names, standout members including Armstrong’s then wife pianist Lil Hardin, who doubtless was a music-theory mentor to the self-taught Armstrong, and Kid Ory, trombone.

      Armstrong’s electrifying solo prologue to his 1928 waxing of King Oliver’s “West End Blues” cast down the gauntlet–from that day on, Armstrong would never again be just a band member patiently waiting for his solo turn as one among equals in a band that spent most of its time doing ensemble work. (Although that side has Earl Hines on piano and not Mrs. Armstrong.)

      Here’s a YT of “West End Blues”:

      So, the first decision is whether to buy the “Best Of” Hot 5 and 7 recordings, or get a complete set.

      I think you are better off getting the single CD first, and if you can go crazy over it, get the boxed set and give away the single CD to an impressionable young person.

      Other Cultural Literacy Essentials on that CD are “St. James Infirmary,” “Muskrat Ramble,” and the wonderfully named “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.”

      If you have a tolerance for reading musical analysis, this book, which I have not read, looks as though it may be worthwhile:

      Not to ruffle any feathers, but, I think that while there are many Armstrong albums that are masterpieces of interpretation, not just “Porgy and Bess” but also “Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy,” as far as raising the bar as regards jazz as an art form, Armstrong made most of his game-changing contributions in his early years, before his 30th birthday, and for the rest of his career, he refined and revised but essentially stopped innovating.

      Bebop and cool jazz and modal jazz and fusion–wisely, I think, he stayed away from all of that. He was who he was, and thank God he did not act like “Spinal Tap,” and try to get in front of every trend that popped up.

      A third-hand anecdote.

      My younger brother is a Boston Conservatory BFA trumpet graduate. His first really good teacher as a young man went to hear Armstrong during the lean years, and he and his friends had the courage to approach Armstrong as he went out back to smoke a joint between sets. They announced themselves as trumpet students.

      One was bold enough to ask Armstrong how he got his tone. Armstrong narrowed his eyes and said, “You take your mouthpiece and before you play you rub it on the curbstone until it is all full of splinters and you play with it like that, and you keep a handkerchief in your hand to wipe up the blood.”

      Armstrong then grabbed the kid’s hand and brought it up to his mouth so the kid had to feel his lips, which were like leather, and indeed, still weeping blood from the recent performance.


  • avatar

    You need to post some links to samples. The average guys` exposure to old jazz is Take Five or Route 66. Or worse, think it is all Dixieland or Kenny G.

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      Sorry, there are links to at least one sample for each of the recommended recordings in this entire series.

      Look carefully, and you will see that each writeup includes:

      “Listen to “Track Name’ here”

      With “here” in RED to show that it is a hyperlink.



    • 0 avatar

      Kenny G was both the best thing and worst thing to happen to jazz.

      On the one hand, he got instrumental music onto pop radio stations and for a short spell other artists got play time (late 80’s).

      On the other hand, if you ask someone who knows nothing about jazz to name a jazz artist, they can only name one person… Kenny G. And with this “smooth jazz” crap being peddled by Clear Channel (where EVERY SINGLE SET is 3 instrumentals and one 80’s vocal pop song), the only jazz you can find on the radio anymore is stuff that sounds like Kenny G.

      My fondest memory was when I lived in DC in 1990 and WDJY converted from a rap station to a jazz station. It was beautiful! Lots of variety, and tons of artists off the GRP label I otherwise never would have heard of.

      • 0 avatar

        Kenny G’s contributions to Muzak were respectable enough. To jazz, not so much.

        I’m not a fan, but I have to give the nod to the Marsalis brothers for keeping jazz alive. Playing with the Dead and Sting helped to create some crossover that could attract a then-younger audience while it was still seeking respectability with the anti-jazz classical snobs.

        Today, there are younger guys who have been bringing rock and rap sensibilities into jazz such as Robert Glasper, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Hunter and Medeski, Martin and Wood, which is keeping the genre from getting stale.

        • 0 avatar

          All of the young guys you listed are, sadly, no younger young.

          The Fusion generation of jazz tried to bring rock sensibilities to jazz. We all saw how that went.

          • 0 avatar

            I did say “younger”, not “young.”

            These guys are in their 30s and 40s, so they should have many productive years ahead of them.

            Like prog rock, fusion had its moment in the sun, but was a bit too overwrought to be particularly enduring. The newer crop of artists is actually closer to the roots of jazz and not so likely to sound dated, in my opinion.

            Take Glasper’s blending of Radiohead and Herbie Hancock. It genuinely works, it’s unmistakably jazz (as opposed to a cynical exercise to pander to rock fans) and I’m willing to bet that it won’t sound hackneyed or cliched twenty years from now.


          • 0 avatar

            Yes ! We did see where that all went .. not to mention how its still going . Pat Metheny / Bill Frisell / John McLaughlin / Chick Corea /the influence on Frank Zappa / Practically the entire ECM catalog / Brad Mehldau / The Bad Plus / Esborjn Svenson Trio [ E.S.T. ] / Joni Mitchell’s jazz forays / the influence Fusion has had on rock [ Allman Brothers – Paul Simon – Red Hot Chili Peppers etc ]..and on and on ad infinitum .

            Which is to say …. we [ those of us incorporating the rock we grew up with into our Jazz compositions attitudes etc ] kept the damn genre alive … not to mention evolving rather than stagnating like the majority of Classical music has

            Xenophobic Jazzholes . Gotta love em ! Or not . Lets go with not .

  • avatar

    Great article, thanks–The Clifford Brown section alone compelled me to trek the web to learn more. Spotted “Neil Hefti” on the cover of Brown’s album; there’s another story in itself.

  • avatar

    Thanks for providing the long overdue recognition that Louis Armstrong and raucous N.O. jazz dramatically eclipse the polyphony and orchestration of the beer-soaked, overbreeding Bach and the have-sex-one-time-and-die-from-it pocket madman Beethoven. *toot blat toot*

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      It was Schubert who died from Syphilis.

      Beethoven died from a combination of insults that probably included alcoholism and perhaps heavy-metal poisoning (arsenic and lead)–no pun intended.


      • 0 avatar

        That’s far from settled and speculation has periodically revolved around those three plus the really insidious and baffling sarcoidosis. Probably, as you say, the combination of insults. There certainly were enough of them.

        But he wrote wham-doodle of a violin concerto. His other stuff is nice, too.

      • 0 avatar

        Wrong Mr Marks . Beethoven also had the big S amongst his ailments . Do thy research first good sir . Music History 101 .

        • 0 avatar
          John Marks

          May I suggest that you dial back your condescending attitude at least a few clicks?

          What you condescendingly state as a “fact” is no more than an inference, and from one data point only.

          The majority opinion of scholars is that while Beethoven did–apparently–undergo a “mercury treatment,” in those days mercury was used for things other than Syphilis as well.

          Beethoven’s body was autopsied, and the findings have been re-examined several times. There is a lack of the neurological damage one would associate with Syphilis, while there is an abundance of organ damage, starting with cirrhosis of the liver and including pancreas and spleen damage and IIRC gallbladder duct damage too, all consistent both with alcoholism, and with drinking wine adulterated with lead to make it taste sweeter.

          Beethoven’s case was written up years ago in a journal of Alcoholism studies.

          Back in that era, people did not drink water the way we do today, in part because water supplies were not usually sanitary, and acted as carriers for all kinds of nasty stuff such as Hepatitis A.

          So, if Beethoven were hydrating himself with cheap wine (a self-defeating strategy given alcohol’s diuretic effects), that his internal organs ended up that way is entirely understandable.

          So, I assure you, I do do MY homework before every lecture–and I was a Visiting Lecturer at a small college for 26 years. I never rely upon memories of a music history course I took decades ago, when those factoids are often the subject of historical reconsideration.


          • 0 avatar

            May I assure you having studied and taught at some of the finest and most prestigious Conservatory’s in the country that in fact my facts are correct and the facts most accepted by the overwhelming majority of Music Historians as well as those from the medical field that have looked into the symptoms Beethoven displayed … at least in as far as the historical record can be trusted .

            So condescending ? No . Just stating the facts as best as they are known to date

  • avatar

    The problem with some of these is the car. Sort of like listening to Debussy’s “Images”, road noise is just going to overwhelm it. The music is good, thanks for the links, you just must have a lot quieter car than the ones I drive, and in the traffic I drive in.

  • avatar

    Aaron Diehl is a wonderful young player. He and I had the same musical mentor growing up (a few years apart) and he is now a regular member of a close friend’s quartet.

    Armstrong the only single-note instrumentalist to revolutionize western music? Surely you jest. Even Bechet and Ory would have an issue with that.

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks


      Um nope, I was not jesting. Perhaps I was jousting?

      Ellington and Basie are hors-concours for playing the piano.

      No known recordings of Buddy Bolden exist.

      So it comes down to, how do you define “Revolutionize.”

      Perhaps it’s simply a matter of, I think that true musical revolutions come once a hundred years, not every 20 years or five years.

      There always was more to the earliest New Orleans music that could be called jazz than just being a 4/4 march in C. For it to be jazz, there had to be some elasticity of rhythm such as syncopation and not just the rubato of European Romantic music, and there had to be improvisation. So I would judge (because I am the world’s foremost authority on my own opinions) that Jelly Roll and King Oliver were evolutionaries upon the proto-jazz.

      I am not even sure that Ellington was a revolutionary, because his insistence on disciplined execution and ensemble was in some sense a throwback to jazz’s forerunner ragtime, which was a composed music.

      So, I think we will just have to agree to disagree.


  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Bubba Mac

    Joe Bonamassa

    Jeff Beck

    Brian Setzer

    Allman Bros

    AC DC

    Eagles:- night driving


    and on and on

    All music is good if it has a four four beat. Except some country music. All they seem to do in country music is complain about the dog, truck or wife. A miserable lot overall.

    • 0 avatar

      Gotta do a shout-out to Sammy Hagar–“I Can’t Drive 55!”

      Don Henley, Brian Setzer, Paul Simon “Rhythm Of The Saints” and “Graceland,” and others, are road-trip fodder.

  • avatar
    Hans Shtick

    – Mingus Ah Um, Charles Mingus
    – Mambo Sinuendo, Ry Cooder & Manuel Galban
    – Waiting For Columbus, Little Feat
    – Out of Nowhere, Hepcat

  • avatar

    Jazz Samba (Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd), 1962

    Getz/Gilberto (Stan Getz and João Gilberto), 1964

    Samba de Uma Nota, Corcovado, Desafinado,…

  • avatar

    Mr. Marks is a very astute commentator, and can be considered authoritative in his knowledge of and appreciation for classical and jazz music. He is also very knowledgeable when in comes to high end audio equipment. Not to mention that he is also a producer of some very fine classical music recordings I have only the highest respect for his opinions. I could add a few of my own recommendations for listening, but will restrict myself to one: A Fats Waller 3 cd compilation from
    Sony entitled “If You Got to Ask, You Aint Got It”. It addition to lots
    of wonderful music, it contains a very decent bio of Waller.

    • 0 avatar

      In contrast … I’ve been reading Mr Marks writings for years now and in all honesty have rarely found neither his opinions nor his ‘ historical ‘ commentary when it comes to Classical – especially Jazz and Audiophile to be either informative , relevant or astute . In fact I would label him pedantic , xenophobic and very much ‘ boxed in ‘ and insular in his opinions etc . As to his productions . Though the recording quality is to be recommended . The substance of the recordings I cannot . Same old same old in a used refurbished bottle pretending to actually somehow be new

      • 0 avatar
        John Marks

        By “boxed in” you must be referring to my advocacy of John Adams’ “The Dharma at Big Sur” and of contemporary composers Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, and Peteris Vasks.

        I have no idea what you mean by xenophobic.

        I love sharing my love of music with people who are not embittered and angry.


  • avatar

    Completed cross-country trip a few months ago and ambient, chill-out, and trip-hop were the soundscape for the journey.

  • avatar

    A Counterpoint to Mr Marks ;

    First off Jim Hall’s ” Concerto ‘ album . No doubt the weakest album put out by one of the greatest and most influential jazz guitarists of our time . CTI’s somewhat cynical attempt to make Jim into a Great White Hope Wes Montgomery pop musician by doing a ‘ Jazz ‘ arrangement of one of the most over played and tired bits of classical fluff known . While not a bad album in comparison to a lot of the pablum CTI released it certainly is not the Jim Hall album I or Jim himself would of recommended . At the top of Jim’s [ Jim never really cared much for the Concerto album ] list would of been either the two duet albums with Bill Evans or the two he did with Ron Carter . After that and in my opinion the more ‘ roadbable ‘ album would be Jim’s ” All Across the City ” A classic player adapting the minimal amount of new technology and ideas into an album that is both musically captivating as well as contemporary and relevant

    Clifford Browns ” With Strings ” Again one of the weakest albums by one of the best players . I won’t even go into the multiple reasons why . If you don’t already know …. you wouldn’t understand … Jazz or Clifford Brown that is

    Aaron Deihl – Like his mentor Wynton Marsalis …. Aaron brings nothing new to the jazz table . Simply repeating and pastiching tired old formulas while trying to pretend he is relevant or creative .

    Sir Roland Hanna . With all the creative and original music Sir Hanna did Mr Marks once again pulls out one of the weakest and least relevant albums the man ever recorded . Somehow I’m seeing a trend here . Pick out the greats … dredge their catalog for the weakest and least relevant music they recorded [ as well as choosing the young cat who has yet to prove he has anything other than some decent chops to offer ] And call it good

    PS; Jack . I felt I owed you at least this much

    Here’s my short list list of Jazz road albums ;

    Bill Frisell – ” Good Dog Happy Man ”
    Yellow Jackets – ” The Spin ”
    Brad Mehldau – ” Highway Rider ”
    Keith Jarret – ” Bregenz – Munchen ”
    Pat Metheny – ” Secret Story ”
    Tomasz Stanko – ” Dark Eyes ”
    Tord Gustavsen 4tet – ” The Well ”
    Oregon – ” Winter Light ‘

    .. and though not specifically jazz but jazz influenced … not to mention influencing many a jazz musician..

    Ry Cooder – ” Music by Ry Cooder “

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      An Apologia for Mr. Marks–

      You have what I call an “Inside Baseball” approach to jazz. Great!

      However, in my experience, “Inside Baseball” Experts often times make suboptimal Evangelists.

      If someone is new to classical music, I think that it makes more sense to introduce them to the string quartets of Ravel and Debussy (go ahead and say it–I am both ready and indifferent–“Two of the weakest string quartets ever written!”) than to Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.”

      I recommend the Hall and Brown recordings I do–as points of entry–and have done so for years, because they both combine accessibility and simple melodic beauty with elegant musical and technical execution. Hard bop in a white heat? No. I trust that if people are captivated by one or the other artist, they will seek out other recordings and in the case of Brown, eventually encounter his work with Max Roach, Todd Dameron, and Brown’s Paris recordings. As far as Hall goes, I am very familiar with his work with Evans, and I don’t think that that body of work provides a point of entry that is as interesting as the ensemble work on Concierto.

      Oscar Wilde quipped that some people know that price of everything but the value of nothing, whereas I suspect that some people try to validate themselves by the number of things or people they think they can condescend to.

      I can’t speak for Clifford Brown, but Charlie Parker is on record, and I do not think that he was being ironical in a post-modern way, as saying that his own “With Strings” was his favorite recording–yet some “purists” insist that it too is “not jazz.”

      Funny, I have never met a conservatory student who was studying trumpet who was dismissive of CBWS.

      Oh well.

      One nice side effect of this installment was that I received an email from a professional colleague I have been working on a bit of a discographic murder mystery with, and he noted, “My father recorded ‘Clifford Brown with Strings.’ ”


      • 0 avatar

        gtrslngr is a member of this community currently held in rather low esteem by many for his unsubstantiated self-aggrandizement and generally disrespectful attitude.

        We appreciate your contributions, and please don’t let him get you down.

        • 0 avatar
          John Marks


          I have been catching FLAK for more than 30 years for my advocacy of Clifford Brown With Strings and of Concierto, so I am very used to carping from the people I have come to refer to as “Joyless Alleged Connoisseurs.”

          I think that it is a human tragedy that with some people, the more they think they know, the farther they drift from the immanence and joy that brought them into music. Perhaps the purest form is found among opera buffs. But jazzers rank a solid second, and you can always tell them by the dead giveaway of “… then you don’t really know anything about jazz.” iBarf.

          Funny, when I handed glasses of champagne I had gladly paid for to Max Roach and Tommy Flanagan, and babbled something about two of my Desert Island recording legends being in the same room with me, Max Roach did not get all shirty and say “I sincerely do hope you are NOT referring to ‘Clifford Brown With Strings’!” Nor did Mr. Flanagan look sour and say “And for my part, your Desert Island pick had best not be ‘Peace’!”

          It’s many many light years between Kenny G. and Clifford Brown and Jim Hall, even at their most accessible.

          I will let Emerson have the last word:

          “These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day.”

          So it is with some recordings. And if your soul is so dry that you cannot hear the beauty, I pity you.


          PS: If 30 years of annoying the “grumpy sexual intellectuals” were not training enough, the 20 years I spent as a trial lawyer toughened up my skin a bit.

          • 0 avatar

            This goes back to my previous post to you about the hazards of this “culturally relevant but not widely appreciated” criteria that you’ve established: One man’s underrated gem is another man’s rubbish, and there’s no objective method for determining which one of them is correct.

            Aside from using technical ability as a yardstick, there aren’t any remotely objective measures of “cultural relevance” aside from the consensus of the knowing. If you like a record that a lot of other knowledgeable people don’t like, then the only thing that you’ve established is that you enjoy something that others don’t like.

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