Category Archives: News

My Funny Valentine

In my opinion, “My Funny Valentine” ranks up there with “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and Extreme’s “More Than Words” as one of the creepier, more disturbing songs ever written. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first here’s Yoko playing “My Funny Valentine” with vocalist Rebecca Paris:

The song was written in 1937 by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the musical Babes In Arms. Since then it’s appeared on well over 1,000 albums.

It always gets sung as if it’s the most romantic thing in the universe, but as far as I can tell, the entire song boils down to: “You’re a mess and not that bright but I love you anyway.”

Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
Yet you’re my favorite work of art

or

Is your Figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

What gives, Rodgers and Hart?

Probably the most famous version of this song was recorded in 1952 by Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker. Earlier this year it was announced that their version will be placed in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry for its historical significance. Here it is:

— Jason Crane is the webmaster of this site and host of The Jazz Session.

Jazz On Film … In A Cafe

REMINDER: Get your tickets NOW for Yoko’s May 15 show at the Regattabar!

This is part 2 of an occasional series in which our blog administrator, Jason Crane, remembers his jazz-related experiences in Japan.

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In the first installment of this series, I talked about meeting Eddie Gomez and Jimmy Cobb at a jazz club in northern Japan. This time, I want to talk about one of the cooler places I went when I worked in Tokyo.

From Duke Ellington and Count Basie and others appearing in short films, to Louis Armstrong in big Hollywood hits, to countless concert videos and documentaries, jazz has a long history on film. In our internet era, anyone can quickly find clips of their favorite jazz artists online.

Back in the olden days, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the internet was barely a thing, it was much harder to find jazz videos. A video rental place might have a copy of Jazz On A Summer’s Day or ‘Round Midnight, but for the most part you had to order them through the mail or find a friend who collected that sort of thing.

So you can imagine my delight when I discovered a jazz film cafe in Shibuya, a busy shopping district in Tokyo. The cafe was down one of the many small, winding streets of Shibuya, not far from the Parco 109 department store, if I remember correctly. (Does anyone remember the name of this cafe?)

The set-up was simple. You’d buy a tea or coffee or beer (I’m guessing — I don’t drink), and they’d give you a three-ring binder full of the names of all the available videos. You’d choose yours, it would go into the queue, and you’d relax on a couch and watch whatever was playing on the movie screen at one end of the long room. I saw lots of great stuff there. I particularly remember some burning Rahsaan Roland Kirk live performances.

I’d love to start a place like this in the U.S., although I think the ubiquity of the internet probably means this business model’s time has passed. But it was great while it lasted.

Japan, The Land Of Jazz (Part 1)

REMINDER: Get your tickets NOW for Yoko’s May 15 show at the Regattabar!

This is part 1 of an occasional series in which our blog administrator, Jason Crane, remembers his jazz-related experiences in Japan.

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I lived in Japan twice: first from 1991-92 as a Rotary exchange student; and then again from 1996-98 as an editor and journalist. The first time, I lived in Miyagi Prefecture on the northern part of the main island. The second time, I lived in Yokohama and worked in Tokyo. Both times, I was surrounded by jazz.

During my exchange year, I lived in Furukawa, a small city of about 60,000 people roughly an hour west of Sendai. You may have heard of Sendai, because it’s near where the earthquake and tsunami hit in 2011. Anyway, Furukawa is an industrial town. Not particularly wealthy, not particularly poor. It reminds me of a rust belt town that still has its manufacturing base. And in this town is, or at least was, a club called Hana no Yakata (which, if memory serves, means “flower castle”).

The club was owned by a guy everyone called The Master. I can’t even remember his real name at this point, almost a quarter-century later. He’d been a prominent jazz drummer in Tokyo, but had moved back to his hometown for health reasons. But because he’d been so in-demand when he was in Tokyo, he was still connected to many of the great Japanese players, and to many foreign musicians with whom he’d played.

I played soprano saxophone when I lived there the first time. I’d recently graduated from high school and was still pretty green on the instrument, but The Master was kind enough to let me sit in on jam sessions, and occasionally even with visiting guest artists. I knew only Real Book tunes, so I’d get up and play “Blue Bossa” or “On Green Dolphin Street” or “Blue Monk” or other tunes with colors in the titles.

By the second time I lived in Japan, I’d become a professional saxophonist. Funnily enough, I don’t remember ever playing at the club then, but I do remember a very special evening I spent at Hana no Yakata.

It was 1996, and my then wife and I were up in Furukawa staying with friends while we looked for jobs in the Tokyo newspapers. We got a phone call at our friends’ house from The Master, asking if we could come that evening and hang out with two American musicians who were in town. Their names? Eddie Gomez and Jimmy Cobb. Of course we said yes.

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We went for a walk and spotted Jimmy and Eddie walking down the main street in town, looking in the shop windows. I was way too star-struck to go over to them. But that night we went to the club a couple hours before their gig and hung out with Eddie, Jimmy, Jeremy Steig, The Master, at least one another American musician (a pianist from Las Vegas whose name I can’t remember), and a few other guests. Jen and I were the only two English speakers other than the band, so we passed a very enjoyable two hours talking about food and the town, and hearing jazz stories from these two giants, who’d played with Miles Davis and Bill Evans and many others.

Next time: A jazz video bar? Why not?

Yoko returns to the Regattabar on May 15!

It’s time for the Yoko Miwa Trio’s annual show at the Regattabar, one of the Boston area’s most famous jazz clubs. The show is at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 15. One set only, so get your tickets NOW. The show is usually very packed. The trio has some special music planned for the evening, too.

“Harvard Square is one of my favorite places,” said Yoko. “There are always interesting people hanging out; such a scene of eclectic street musicians! And let’s not forget all the great food. The Regattabar is one of my favorite jazz venues. It’s a special room to play in and to hear music in. I saw so many legends perform there: Elvin Jones, Cedar Walton, McCoy Tyner, Billy Higgins, Hank Jones, Tony Williams, Mulgrew Miller, and Clark Terry, to name just a few. To say the least, lots of good notes have been played in this room and you can feel that legacy every time you walk into the club.”

Here are some photos by Caroline Alden from last year’s show:

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The piano mastery of Nat “King” Cole

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If you’re over 30, you’ve almost certainly heard Nat “King” Cole sing. Nat was born 96 years ago yesterday (March 17). Even if you’re under 30, you’ve heard this:

Now, if you’re a jazzhead, you probably already know that long before he became a famous crooner, Nat was one of the greatest jazz pianists who ever played. Nat’s trio — with Oscar Moore on guitar and either Wesley Prince or Johnny Miller on bass — sounded like proof of telepathy. They could play beautiful, flowing, intricate lines together as effortlessly as you please. Listen, for example, to the introduction to this classic standard:

The trio had no drummer (sorry, Scott!), but they didn’t need one to swing hard:

To my ear, this band is the gold standard of jazz trio playing. There are more famous trios (those of Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans, for example), but none better. For tasteful, musical, swinging playing, make mine the King.

— Jason Crane is the host of The Jazz Session and the webmaster of this site.

“Getting” Bill Evans

(Note: This post was written by our blog administrator, Jason Crane, host of The Jazz Session)

everybodygroot Everybody digs Bill Evans. I mean, it’s right there in one of his album titles. Not me, though. As a teenager, I really tried. I listened to Bill Evans with his own bands, solo, with Miles and with Cannonball and with Oliver Nelson. I just didn’t get it. What was it about this guy that everybody dug? At that point in my life, I was into flashier playing, having gone through high school on a diet of prog rock like Yes, ELP, Rush, Genesis and King Crimson. Evans was too light, too airy.

In 1994 I moved to Tucson, Arizona, where I started playing music professionally. I also started borrowing armloads of CDs from the public library across the street from my tiny studio apartment. My apartment had a bed, a small table, two chairs, and the most important thing of all, a stereo system. I would sit for hours listening to music. One afternoon in early ’95, I brought home a copy of Sunday At The Village Vanguard, figuring I’d give Evans another shot. It was free, so I had nothing to lose.

I sat there on the floor in front of the stereo, soaking up the sound as Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian played “Gloria’s Step.”

Suddenly, like the tumblers in a lock clicking into place, I got it. Evans’ touch on the piano, his chord choices, his phrasing, the almost telepathic interplay of the trio — it all hit me like a wave washing over the beach. I’ve never been the same, and now, like everybody else, I dig Bill Evans.

It’s the day after Mardi Gras: Let’s listen to some pianists from New Orleans

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Yesterday was Mardi Gras, which here in the US is a holiday primarily celebrated in New Orleans and a few other southern cities. And there’s no better way to get in the spirit of New Orleans than to listen to some of that city’s great piano players, past and present.

Jelly Roll Morton
Any list like this is going to start with the man who helped give birth to jazz. Here’s an all-time classic, “Hesitation Blues.”

Professor Longhair
If Mr. Morton is first on the list, then most people would probably put the Professor next. In this clip, he talks about learning to fix pianos, and plays his most famous composition.

James Booker
James Booker was a giant with an extra helping of soul. The man could make you cry one minute and dance the next. Get up off your chair and check out “Junco Partner.”

Jon Cleary
A British pianist and singer who’s called New Orleans home for decades. In this video, Jon Cleary takes us on a tour of New Orleans piano playing.

There are so many more! Dig in and find your favorites.