A Problem in Emotionally Applied Semantics
July 29, 2012 8:56 AM   Subscribe

The Billy Taylor Trio, live at Storyville. In 1951 legendary bass player Charles Mingus sat in with the Billy Taylor trio for a live broadcast. Here is thirty minutes of the broadcast.

The first number is the classic "What is this Thing Called Love," which was written by Cole Porter in 1929 for his musical Wake up and Dream. This is his take. It soon became part of the standard jazz repertoire, although it's often taken a bit faster than the original.

Next (@5:39) comes a bouncy version of Duke Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See the Light," written with the help of Don George, Johnny Hodges, and Harry James. One great recording features Duke, his orchestra, and Ella Fitzgerald performing. Want more? How about Phineas Newborn Jr.'s take at a blazing bop tempo.

The two well known pieces are followed (@11:11) by the sometimes overlooked gem, Laura. Orginally in 1945 for a movie a the same name, this haunting ballad was composed by David Raskin with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. For those interested in the lyrics, here's a live performance by Johnny Mathis.

A pedal based introduction turns into "Lady Bird" (@15:30), leading us back into the territory of better known standards. Version of Ladybird are innumerable, and include such greats as Dexter Gordon and the Jazz Messengers.

For the penultimate song (@21:16) there's a playful take on "Tea For Two". Like so many tunes in the Great American Song Book, this one comes from a musical, No No Nanette, with music by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Irving Caesar. Unlike many of those same tunes, it was then used (on a bet) as thematic material for a piece by Russian composer Shostakovich It was also the most performed piece on Lawrence Welk's (in)famous show.

Things wrap up with "Three Little Words" (@28:48) composed by Harry Ruby with lyrics by Bert Kalmar. Milt Jackson and John Coltrane had a go at the same tune. As did Lester Young, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, and of course Ella Fitzgerald.

For complete discographies of Billy Taylor, Charles Mingus, visit their official websites.
posted by Gygesringtone (8 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This is fantastic. Via the related links sidebar in Youtube, here's audio and video of the interview of Billy Taylor about the gig that's quoted in the first link. Billy was, up until the day he died, a very eloquent and outgoing jazz ambassador, so he has a lot of great stuff to say about Mingus.

Thanks so much for this awesome stuff on a Sunday morning, Gygesringtone.
posted by koeselitz at 9:22 AM on July 29, 2012

Billy Taylor and Horace Silver are my piano favorites these days. Thanks so much for this. Fantastic illuminatory links all through as well.
posted by Fnarf at 9:52 AM on July 29, 2012

Phenomenal. Echoes of Art Tatum, and certainly Oscar Peterson. Taylor seemed to at his prime in the fifties. I always felt that Mingus played a little ahead of the beat, and he definitely works well with Billy here. Thanks for this.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 11:08 AM on July 29, 2012

What a lovely set, thanks for posting it. I remember back in the day - late fifties and sixties - Billy Taylor was considered to be unhip, rather square don't you know. Damn if I can remember why. Laura was gorgeous.

Incidentally, Hentoff says the trio was going to "exfoliate" Tea for Two? WTF?
posted by charlesminus at 11:25 AM on July 29, 2012

Thanks for this fantastic post; it will occupy me for some time. (Is "Laura" really not as well known as the other tunes? One more proof I'm a moldy oldie.)
posted by languagehat at 11:44 AM on July 29, 2012

One of my favorite ways to spend on Sunday morning is to go down the rabbit hole of You-tube comparing various versions of songs. So I figured I might as well share. I'm glad people enjoyed it.

Is "Laura" really not as well known as the other tunes?

Yeah, I think I've got maybe two albums with it on there, as opposed to at least seven or eight for each of the other songs. The only times I've played it were with someone I was studying with (and he was in his 90s) and a pretty old arrangement that a big band I played in would whip out for gigs where people were dancing and I was the only one in the group that knew the tune.

I think as great of a tune as it is, generally comes across as old fashioned. Part of that is because it mainly seems to pop up in arrangements with a orchestra. You've actually got me going back down the hole trying to find another small group version. Bill Evans and Dexter Gordon both played it in very soundtrack like arrangements (although the Evans one IS from an album of movie themes, so that's to be expected). Same goes for Oscar Peterson's version.

Here we go, Brubeck plays a pretty cool trio version. He does seem to poor on the schmaltz sometimes. There are some pretty big winks and nods to the song's origin in there though.

Which led me to: Bird playing it, also with strings; Clifford Brown, with strings (although his arrangement sounds much less Filmscore like); and Chet Baker which seems to nail it with a more modern feel to it. So including the Billy Taylor, that's what, three of eight?
posted by Gygesringtone at 12:55 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Coleman Hawkins plays an impassioned version, with a sweet bone solo by J J Johnson.
posted by Jode at 1:52 PM on July 29, 2012

Great! Billy Taylor is especially impassioned here. Regarding the problematic nature of playing "Laura": for one thing, it was, at the time, inextricably entwined with the film, and its saccharine score. Also, it is a ballad. And as much as musicians love playing ballads, it helps if a ballad can easily be played uptempo. I have not found a convincing way to play the song other than as a ballad.
posted by kozad at 8:38 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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