Saturday, February 18, 2017

In Memory of Svend Asmussen - Some Live Shots

Svend Asmussen (photo by Thorkild Amdi, 2002)
The keep(it)swinging blog likes to honor the Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen, who passed away earlier this month at almost 101 years of age. Below some live performances from uploaded videos at YouTube to keep our memory of a great artist alive.
Svend Asmussen & Benny Goodman 1950 (photo courtesy Scanpix)
Benny Goodman and Svend Asmussen had met and played together before Goodman's last live performance in Copenhagen at the Tivoli Gardens in 1981. At this concert Goodman and Asmussen shared solo spots in a repertoire of jazz standards, i.e. After You've Gone

Toots Thielemans & Svend Asmussen (YouTube still photo)
Toots Thielemans and Svend Asmussen performed together in a Swedish TV production from around the same time as the Goodman concert above

From a 1986 live performance at Club Montmartre, Copenhagen - It Don't Mean A Thing, If It Ain't Got That Swing

Finally, Svend Asmussen quartet featuring Jacob Fischer (g), Jeper Lundgaard (b) and Aage Tanggaard (dm) from a live performance at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen 1993 - Limehouse Blues


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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Svend Asmussen (1916 - 2017)

Svend Asmussen  (photo by Ida Munch)
The media have just released the sad news that the Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen has passed away today. A true legend and giant of the jazz violin has left the scene.

Svend Asmussen (28.2 1916 - 7.2 2017) R.I.P. 


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Monday, February 6, 2017

A Dream of Hawaii - Kostas Bezos & The White Birds

Kostas Bezos and The White Birds, Olvido Records (OLV-002) and Mississippi Records (MRP-098) (2017)
The Hawaiian hype hit all over the the world during the first decades of the 20th century. The sound of the steel guitar and the ukulele as played by native Hawaiian musicians reached and attracted a global audience through records, films and visiting Hawaiian ensembles. The effect of the hype furthermore gave inspiration to local musicians in every country and region to create their own version of 'Hawaiian' music by using the novelty instruments in performance and interpretation of popular music of their own region. This way local musicians the world over supported a dream of Hawaii which  fascinated their audiences, and in many instances records were made documenting the local version of 'Hawaiian' music. An example of such a local ensemble performing music in the Hawaiian style is the Greek steel guitar virtuoso Kostas Bezos and his White Birds which recorded some remarkable 78 rpm discs in Athens during the 1930s. A selection of these recordings has just been reissued in a limited LP and bonus CD edition or as a digital download version, co-released by Olvido Records (OLV-002) and Mississippi Records (MRP-098)
Kostas Bezos (-seated, center left) and his ensemble (photo courtesy Les Cook, SteelGuitarForum)
Kostas Bezos (1905-1943) was from a village near Corinth in Greece. He was a political cartoonist, frequented the 'underground scene' in Athens and performed as a guitarist playing rebetiko songs, but also played excellent steel guitar in Hawaiian style. He recorded several 78 rpm discs for Columbia and His Master’s Voice, both rebetiko and Hawaiian style repertoire.
A HMV 78 rpm disc featuring Kostas Bezos (1931)
The first-ever compilation of Kostas Bezos' Hawaiian influenced music containing 32 recorded and remastered sides including extensive notes, rare photos and lyrics in both Greek and English is now available produced by Gordon Ashworth, Tony Klein and Dimitris Kourtis. You can find more info about this compilation and also have the opportunity to listen to all 32 recordings in streaming audio and purchase online here. - To give you an impression of the music as played by Kostas Bezos and his White Birds ensemble, I'll insert a couple of uploaded audio videos from You Tube.  Here is first the 1936 recording of Ta Aspra Poulia Sta Vouna (The White Birds in the Mountains), also available at the compilation mentioned above

The strange animal imitations at the beginning of this record are superseded by great choir vocal and outstanding lap steel guitar, the atmosphere is not too serious, but rather unrestrained. A similar atmosphere is to be found in the recording of Pame sti Honolulu (Let's Go to Honolulu), here even including yodelling

Let's end this small presentation of Kostas Bezos and his White Birds with the ensemble's version of a song titled The False Kisses of Women in English, here in the You Tube video from the original Columbia 78 rpm


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Monday, January 30, 2017

Oscar Alemán And The Blues

Original sheet music (1914)
It has been said that Oscar Alemán never was a 'blues man',  implying that his concept of jazz did not include the Afro-American music genre known as 'blues', an important source in the original versions of jazz rooted in New Orleans' music culture and practice. However, the statement should be modified, if 'the blues' is not just the musical style that originated in the Southern states of USA around 1900 and was performed by amateurs and local pick-up ensemples at social events in mainly black Afro-American societies long before the music spread to other parts of the country via radio networks and 'race' records. 
W.C. Handy
Innovative tunesmiths and music publishers like W.C. Handy (1873-1958), known as 'father of the blues', were soon aware of the commercial opportunities of the blues and took advantage of the music by publishing their own versions of blues as sheet music which became popular hits with the public even before WW 1. W.C. Handy's Saint Louis Blues (published 1914) was among his most popular songs and was quickly adopted by the mainstream music business as an example of the original version of the blues style. Countless musicians and jazz bands have since incorporated Saint Louis Blues in their repertoire and the tune is a fundamental part of the jazz standard book, still performed today by traditional jazz orchestras. 
Alemán performing St. Louis Blues
It is from the tradition paved by W.C. Handy Aleman´s concept of the blues  originates, I think. Fact is that the mentioned Saint Louis Blues was a part of Alemán's repertoire throughout his career in Argentina from 1940 and on. Already at one of his first public performances after his return to Argentina from Europe, Saint Louis Blues is presented and elaborated as a great vehicle for his improvisational skills both as a musician and entertainer. Luckily, a test recording from this live performance October 14, 1941 at Teatro Casino in Buenos Aires has been saved and documents Alemán's rousing and roof raising version of Saint Louis Blues as a solo piece of improvised music for guitar, vocal and stomping feet! 

Alemán recorded Saint Louis Blues commercially twice, the first version was recorded by Odeon January 30 1953 featuring Alemán's Orquesta de Jazz (mx 18802, Odeon 55613 and LDS119). The tune is here a great vehicle for his improvisational skills as a guitar player in the applied solos.

The next time Alemán recorded Saint Louis Blues was in May 1973 at the session for the Redondel label with Jorge Anders' orchestra issued on Redondel SL-10511. This version has also been uploaded at YouTube and is inserted below

Alemán composed and recorded two tunes which were titled Oscar Blues No. 1 and Oscar Blues No. 3, both recorded for Redondel - the first mentioned on Redondel L-809 made September 1974, the other was issued on the Alemán '72 LP (Redondel, SL 10.508) recorded Sept.-Oct. 1972. Both tunes are solo pieces for guitar, here is Oscar Blues No. 3 inserted below

Collectors of Alemán's output may have wondered, if there also exists a tune titled Oscar Blues No. 2 although never recorded officially. I don't have the answer to that question, but instead I like to point to a saved untitled home-recording from c. 1971 in much the same style and mood as the two known pieces titled Oscar Blues. Thus, below is inserted a possible Oscar Blues No. 2 to end this


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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Jean Babtiste “Toots” Thielemans (1922 – 2016) - # 2

Georg Lankester gives his account of the career of Toots Thielemans. The article is in two parts, first part is accessible here,  below follows the second part.

Toots Thielemans, the genius on the harmonica  - Part 2

Toots and his harmonica
Studio activities

Because he could join the studio group of ABC-Television, this generated more money than the preceeding years playing all the time. His creativity soon showed out and in the film “Midnight Cowboy” – made in 1969 – his background improvisations can be heard till the end.

From about 1970 Thielemans divided his time between studio activities and playing Jazz. However, in those years he also performed with well-known singers out of the world of entertainment such as Peggy Lee, Quincy Jones, Bill Evans, but also Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon – and not to forget: Jazz piano player Herbie Hancock.

 In 1972 Jean even made a tour in Russia. In the same year he composed music for the movie “The Getaway” and in ’75 he performed with Oscar Peterson in Montreux so that he can be reckoned to the best Jazzmen of that time. And….his versality enabled him to give lessons at the “Eastman School of Music”, At this famous American Institute for Music in New Yersey one can study Classical music as well as Jazz.

Still maintaining his independancy in the Eighties, he can often be found in European countries where he performed e.g. with the Swedish lady singer Sylvia Vrethammer.
Toots and Sivuca outside Chiko's Bar, Brazil
Amazing is that Jean also travelled to Brazil where he played with the legendary and world famous accordionist Sivuca a.o.. “Toots”  showed great affinity to the ‘bossa nova’ and liked to make long improvisations on its typical rhythm and the beautiful diminished chords. Yet he found also time to jam with Jazz musicians overthere.

A beloved musician  

Toots in high spirits with his beloved instrument
He also often visited Sweden, as known, a jazz-minded country. When he gave concerts, he used to  speak to the audience in the Swedish language which made him highly popular. In a Belgian documentary one can feel the atmosphere he creates when announcing and performing. But he always had contact with his listeners, wherever he gave his concerts.

He whistles, plays guitar and harmonica in a unparalleled way, performs with Shirley Horn, made ‘jingles’  and tunes for TV commercials. Moreover he composes and takes care of the music for the highly popular children series “Sesam Street”.

The most astonishing in all  those activities is that he never choose an easy way in bringing his music. He was not afraid to play the most difficult melodic lines. Moreover his playing, very much based on the bebop,mainly inspired by John Coltrane, is also easy accessible to the modern electronic way of listening to music.

To end this survey on the career of “Toots” Thielemans, l’ll insert a video showcasting a lengthy live performance by this great artist. The video was recorded at the Hague Jazz Festival in 2010 and features “Toots” Thielemans’ Quartet – enjoy!

Georg Lankester

With thanks to Eddy Determeijer and Jef Van Gool for their photos
Any additional info  is most welcome, contact me at

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Jean Babtiste “Toots” Thielemans (1922 – 2016) - # 1

Georg Lankester gives his account of the career of Toots Thielemans. The article is in two parts, below follows the first part, the second is accessible here.

An exceptional Jazz musician and a genius on the harmonica  - Part 1

Toots Thielemans
On August 22nd 2016 this famous Belgian artist passed away at the advanced age of 94 years. With his decease the Jazz world looses a great musician and a sympathic human being. By all means a reason  to memorize his long career with plenty of  highlights.

Jean took the nickname “Toots”over from saxophonist Nunzio Toots Mondello and trumpet player Tutti Toots Carmalita. Only the harmonica virtuoso, however, would spread this nickname all over the world, no doubt about it.

An early musical start 

Jean Babtiste Thielemans was born on April 29, 1922 in Brussels and already began to play accordion when he was three years old. He used a simple homemade instrument which was replaced by a genuine accordion a few years later. It was only in 1939 that he switched to the harmonica !

At that time Jean studied mathematics, but he spent more and more time playing on his new instrument which attracted him strongly.

However, he also took interest in the guitar after having heard Django Reinhardt playing with the ‘Hot Club quintet’. After the Liberation he also bought a guitar and listening to other guitar players, he exercised day after day until he could reproduce a solo of the American player Al Casey note by note. “Toots” did so in order to break away from the gypsy style. By the way: Casey’s guitar solo can be found on an Esquire record called “All American Jazz  Concert”.

Longing for America 

Just after World War II Jean is playing for American soldiers in Belgium and in some surrounding countries. In 1947 he visits the USA where, in New York, he is soon joining Jazz musicians in the 52nd Street. That’s the place where he discovers the new bebop style and also becomes friends with Charlie Parker. Later, in 1949, they  won (together) a prize during the International Jazz Festival of Paris.
Benny Goodman and Toots switched instruments for the photo
Not long afterwards he was engaged by Benny Goodman, ‘The King of Swing’ with whom he made a tour through Europe in ‘50/51, an interesting experience.

Early 1951”Toots”- for a short time - also joined the orchestra featuring the popular Belgian artist Bobbejaan Schoepen. Later that year he emigrated to the States and settled in New York. With lack of a musicians’ license he played for fun, taking part in the so-called “Birdland Sessions” where he met many other bebop players.
George Shearing and Toots
Quite soon he was engaged by Dinah Washington and several months later asked to join the quartet of piano player George Shearing, which shows his musical versality. In a Begian documentary “Toots” told that he there had to work hard and earned very little. Every month he sent some money to his wife in NY; only after one year saving they could afford to make a trip to Belgium.

A surprising composition 

At the beginning of the Sixties Jean formed his own group and made several tours in Europa. He setlled for a short time in Sandinavia where he played together with violinist Svend  Asmussen  and bass player Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. His friendship with Asmussen would always remain.
Printed music of Bluesette (click to enlarge)
And then in 1962 he composed and recorded “Bluesette”, as he said, a combination of Blues and Musette. Of this composition more than 100 different versions were recorded and it made him instantly a star. - Here is the original recording from 1962

Blowing the harmonica, whistling while playing guitar, he surprised people all over the world. “Toots” remembered that once playing this song with Stéphane Grappelli, the latter was excited about the theme and improvised on it with enthousiasm and in the right style.

Due to this success “Toots” was re-discovered in the US and soon back there performing as an independant musician with more and more interest in creating new kinds of music.

To be continued

Georg Lankester

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

C'est Magnifique! - New CD Revives The Atmosphere of Paris

 Quatre Tickets de Swing & Inge Alberts - Paris, Je t'aime (2016)
Quatre Tickets de Swing was formed in late 1999 and consists of four musicians from the Zwolle area of The Netherlands. Since 2014 vocalist Inge Alberts has joined the ensemble and is now a permanent member at the quartet's live performances. Inge Alberts is also featured vocalist on the new CD shown above contributing great interpretations of highlights from Paris' rich musical heritage. The other members of Quatre Tickets de Swing are Peter Swart (clarinet, saxophones), Georg Lankester (solo guitar), Arthur Siero (rhythm guitar) and Eric van Buijsen (double bass)
Quatre Tickets de Swing and Inge Alberts
Quatre Tickets de Swing is inspired by the French Hot Club tradition founded by Django Reinhardt a.o., but unlike many other ensembles in this genre, Quatre Tickets de Swing does not rate equilibristic guitar playing as the band's trademark. The trademark of the orchestra is melodios songs from the swing era and French chansons played with a deep sense and understanding of the simple beauty of the chosen musical themes. The vocal by Inge Alberts adds the final touch which convinces this listener that Quatre Tickets de Swing has chosen a musical profile that inspires and engages all members of the orchestra as well as its audience.
Tracklist of Paris je t'aime CD
The tracklist of the new CD shows a selection of both swing standars like Ain't Misbehavin, Exactly Like You and I Surrender Dear and themes from Django's book, i.e. Fantasie sur un danse Norvégienne and Songe d'automne. The main part consists of songs associated with French chansons and Paris' nightlife - Cole Porter's Night And Day (- here sung in French) and C'est magnifique together with a seldom performed song by Sidney Bechet, Si tu vois ma mère. fit perfectly in with the remaining French repertoire. To give you an impression of Quatre Tickets de Swing and Inge Alberts in live performance of some of the songs available at the new CD, I'll insert a couple of videos uploaded at YouTube - Here is first the ensemble's version of Ain't Misbehavin

From the same live perforance, here is the ensemble's version of Night And Day 

Finally, from another live performance here is Que res-t-il de nos amours/I Wish You Love by Quatre Tickets de Swing and Inge Alberts

The new CD by Quatre Tickets de Swing and Inge Alberts may be purchased from the website of Quatre Tickets de Swing, here 

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