Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Jazz

Dr. Bob Prescribes: The Buddy Rich Big Band

A confession: when it comes to jazz bands large and small, I generally dislike drum solos. My bad; color me a bore. But here’s the thing: if I buy a Keith Jarrett album, for example, I want to hear Keith Jarrett and not, with all due respect to the brilliant drummer Jack DeJohnette, extended drum solos. Speaking generally, I find most drum solos to be monochromatic, lacking – as they do – a melodic and harmonic profile, and formally incoherent, as the phrase structure of the piece under performance is almost always abandoned during a drum solo. There are exceptions, of course, and for me those exceptions are Tony Williams and Buddy Rich. I’ve written recently about my friend and student Tony Williams, who played the drums as if his trap set was a full orchestra, so colorful and melodic and structurally coherent were his solos. And then there’s Buddy Rich: a skinny Jewish kid from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, New York who had a black belt in Judo (as a United States Marine he taught Judo until he was Dishonorably Discharged from the corps); someone whose virtuosic drumming had the drive and power of a Formula One race car, […]

Continue Reading

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Oscar Peterson

It’s a story I told before, in a blog dated July 28, 2013. Since it’s been almost six years I will be forgiven for telling it again. It was sometime in the spring of 1980. I was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, living in a studio apartment in a dilapidated brown shingle house south of campus, across from a package store. I made my dollars as a teaching assistant in the music department and by giving private lessons. When folks called the music department looking for a theory or composition teacher, I was the person to whom they were referred. As a result, I received a lot of calls from prospective students, only a few of whom actually took a lesson. So I didn’t pay all that much attention when in the spring of 1980 I received such a call from a guy who identified himself as “Anthony”. Anthony told me that he wanted nothing less than the equivalent of an undergraduate music education, from start to finish. I no doubt rolled my eyes while telling him that that would take years. He told me that he was prepared to do whatever it took, including taking […]

Continue Reading

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Erroll Garner

Erroll Garner performs Col Porter’s I Get a Kick Out of You, circa 1960: Erroll Louis Garner (1923-1977) was a 5’2” miracle: a virtuoso jazz pianist whose performances had the nuanced textures of big band charts; whose sheer, overpowering and contagious joy could not help but overwhelm listeners; who created a style of playing that was and remains his and his alone. The official Erroll Garner website contains the following, rather breathless though entirely accurate paragraph: “Garner released music on over 40 labels, received multiple Grammy nominations, and recorded one of the greatest selling jazz albums of all time, Concert By The Sea. His published catalog contains nearly 200 compositions including Misty, which was named #15 on ASCAP’s list of the top songs of the 20th century. He scored for ballet, film, television, and orchestra. One of the most televised Jazz artists of his era, Garner appeared on TV shows all over the world: Ed Sullivan, Dick Cavett, Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and many others [including the Jackie Gleason show, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, the Garry Moore show, London Palladium show, the Andy Williams show, the Joey Bishop show, the Flip Wilson show, the Pearl Bailey show, the Mike […]

Continue Reading

Dr. Bob Prescribes Dave McKenna

If you are among those who just said “Dave who?”, THIS IS YOUR LUCKY DAY! I am about to offer up a gift more lasting, more aesthetically pleasing and more spiritually enlightening than any you have likely received during this “season of getting”. That gift? The pianism of Dave McKenna. Indulge me some first-person info. Along with untold millions of others of my generation, as a little shaver I took piano lessons. By the time I was thirteen I could play a handful of Beethoven Sonatas, Bach’s Two and Three-Part Inventions, some Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Schumann, etc., etc. But: with my puberty entering hyperdrive, I became bored with the “classics”, and while I spent a good bit of time writing my own, primarily rock ‘n’ roll flavored ditties, I stopped practicing the piano (and my parents subsequently cut off the lessons). And then I was hit by a bolt of musical lightning, my epiphany, a life changer: at the age of 14, I discovered jazz. Here was a music with all the rhythmic intensity of rock ‘n’ roll but magnified – to my ear, a gazillion fold – by the polyrhythmic magic that is swing. I was gob-smacked by its […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Chubby Checker, Dick Clark, and the Power of the Tube!

On this day 58 years ago – August 6, 1960 – the 18 year-old singer and dancer Chubby Checker performed The Twist on American TV for the first time on the rock ‘n’ roll variety show American Bandstand. For reasons we will discuss, American Bandstand was, both artistically and socially, one of the most important programs ever broadcast on television. It aired for an incredible 37 seasons, from October 7, 1952 (when Harry Truman was President of the United States) until October 7, 1989 (three years before the election of Bill Clinton). (In case you were wondering, the longest-running television show of any kind, anywhere, is NBC’s Meet the Press, which made its debut on November 6, 1947; it has run continuously for 70 years and 9 months!) In its 37-year run, some 3000 episodes of American Bandstand were produced.  From 1952 until 1964, the showwasfilmed in Philadelphia at the studios of WFIL, the local ABC affiliate. (That would have been channel 6; having grown up in South Jersey watching Philadelphia TV, it was one of the three network channels we received, along with WCAU – channel 10, which was then the CBS affiliate – and KYW, channel 3, which was […]

Continue Reading

Robert Greenberg Recommends: Roger Kellaway

It’s been a while since I blogged about my favorite jazz pianists. A new crush calls me back to the (computer) keyboard. That pianistic crush is the magnificent, in-every-way spectacular Roger Kellaway. Roger who? Roger KELLAWAY (born in Waban, Massachusetts on November 1, 1939), thank you very much. In fact, whether we’re aware of it or not, most of us have heard Kellaway play, as his performance of his song “Remembering You” concluded the classic Norman Lear-produced TV show “All in the Family” (which ran from January of 1971 to April of 1979). I first became aware of Roger Kellaway in the very early 1970’s when I acquired his album “Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet”. The album featured Kellaway on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, Chuck Domanico on bass, and – yes – a cellist named Edgar Lustgarten. I liked the album okay, but I sold it – along with most of my records – when I moved to California in 1978. Maestro Kellaway promptly fell off my radar and – boohoo for me – remained thus until about 6 months ago, when a friend came to dinner. The friend is a super guy named Lenny Paul, who at 86 years […]

Continue Reading

Lessons With Lee

I studied jazz improvisation with the alto saxophonist Lee Konitz for the better part of a year between 1973 and ’74. As best as I recall, his apartment in New York City was on the East 30’s. He shared it with his wife and a two cats. Of the three, Konitz clearly had the better relationship with the cats. (One day I went in for a lesson and the place felt different; a bit dustier and more cluttered. His wife, who had always been around during my lessons, was nowhere to be seen. I asked after her. Konitz said, “My old lady’s GONE.” I said I was sorry to hear it. He said, “I’m not”, and that was the end of that conversation.) Konitz was part of a small and elite group of musicians who had studied and/or worked with the pianist Lennie Tristano in the 1940’s, ‘50’s, and 60’s. This “Club Tristano” included the tenor sax player Warne Marsh, the pianist Sal Mosca, the guitarist Billy Bauer, and the bassist Peter Ind. What all these musicians had in common were mad technical skills and a penchant for improvising long, harmonically complex lines marked by a rhythmic asymmetry and phrase […]

Continue Reading

Greenberg Recommends: Oscar Peterson

I was sixteen years old when I bought two record albums that changed my life. One was called “Oscar Peterson at the JATP” and the other “Oscar Peterson on Prestige”. “Oscar Peterson at the JATP” [‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’], the producer Norman Granz’ touring jazz mega-show] is available on a just-released, four-CD set called “Oscar Peterson, Live Recordings 1952-1958”, issued by the UK-based “Coda” label. Sadly, the set is not available in the United States for reasons inexplicable. However, it can be found on iTunes, and I would single out in particular a cut called “Come to the Mardi Gras” that cooks like a roomful of industrial ranges set on “broil”. With Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar it is – in my opinion – a must have despite the fact that it can only be acquired from the evil audio empire, the Starbucks of recorded sound (iTunes). In the name of great music we do what we must. The other album named above – “Oscar Peterson on Prestige” – is indeed available, albeit under a different title. The circumstances behind its creation are fascinating, and it’s a story I’ll tell in a moment. But first, a […]

Continue Reading

Robert Greenberg Recommends — Chick Corea

It’s a standard question in a literary interview to ask an author “what books are on your bedside table.” We humans are, by our nature, voyeurs, and we can’t resist knowing what authors are themselves reading. (What we’ d REALLY like to know is what’s in their medicine cabinets and sock drawers, but that’s a question that – sadly – rarely comes up in interviews). The equivalent question for a musician would be “what music is in your car CD player/MP3player/iPod/iPhone/iPad/8-track cartridge/turntable (vinyl phreaks unite!)/gramophone (78 r.p.m. crazies unite!), or Edison cylinder Dictaphone (crazies!)”? Let’s make this personal. “Bob, dude, what’s is in your car CD player?” The answer: over the last year, way more often than not, it is the music of Chick Corea. Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on June 12, 1941, making him – today – a sprightly 72 years-old. As is so often the case with jazz musicians, Corea – unlike a concert pianist – did not hone his skills under the watchful eyes and ears of a particular set of mentors/teachers. Jazz is an oral tradition, and the only way to “learn it” is to live it: by listening to jazz […]

Continue Reading

New Jazz Appreciation Series

As a young’un, I played the usual instructional piano stuff, starting with the then ubiquitous pedagogic set by John Thompson, red-covered piano books beginning with a series called “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” and then moved on to “John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano.” By the time I was fourteen I could play a handful of Beethoven Sonatas, Bach’s Two and Three-Part Inventions, some Chopin and Schubert, a batch of Romantic fluff, and blah blah blah. Truth be told, I was bored with the “classics”, and while I spent a good bit of time writing my own, primarily rock ‘n’ roll flavored ditties, I stopped practicing the piano. And then I was hit by the bolt from the blue, my epiphany, my life changer: at the age of 14, I discovered jazz. Here was a music with all the rhythmic intensity of rock ‘n’ roll but magnified – to my ear, a gazillion fold – by the polyrhythmic magic that is swing. I was gob-smacked by the harmonic complexity of jazz , by its melodic sophistication, its discipline, its conversational nature and its freedom from the printed page. I began practicing the piano again and by the time I […]

Continue Reading