Music: The voice of the Sixties. We are Talkin' Verve
Tuesday 10 February 1998
jazz in the Sixties
Astrud Gilberto had one of those voices that gave her music a melancholic twist. It was as if she sensed that the end of summer was approaching. Hearing her, you are instantly transported back to the 1960's. And it is the same with all the stars on the label that made her famous - which she helped to make famous - "Talkin' Verve".
The 1960s was a decade characterised by an urge to experiment. The very act of pushing the creative boundaries was more important than the sometimes naive finished result. Serious musicians of the classical and jazz worlds toyed with more commercial musical aspects, while popular acts incorporated more avant-garde styles within their work, or simply moulded previously distinct styles together. At the centre of all this creative whirl was Creed Taylor, the instigator of musical experiments at Verve Records.
The two most recent CDs in the "Talkin' Verve" series are the easy listening compilation, "Talkin' Verve With A Twist", and a collection of Gilberto's songs. It is the music on these CDs that, perhaps, explains the wrath many of the jazz critics of the day reserved for Creed Taylor. The compilers are fully aware of this and describe Astrud Gilberto's CD as "a fun look at this Brazilian jazz vocalist" and the compilation as "perfect for lounging" and, wittily, include extracts from Susan Sontag's essay, "Notes on 'Camp'" in the sleeve notes.
Creed Taylor won a Grammy award for his work on "The Girl From Ipanema" and the songs on Astrud Gilberto's CD are in a similar vein. Astrud Gilberto's charm lay in the innocent and naive quality of her voice and her delightfully imperfect grasp of the English language. The bossa nova was a light and breezy music that conjured up dream-like images of idle pleasure. Some songs could easily have been included on the soundtrack to the film Austin Powers, and even the CD covers resemble designs from the 1960's. With the exception of the deliberately kitsch compilation, "Talkin' Verve With A Twist", the "Talkin' Verve" series highlights the strongest music from Verve Records and successfully avoids Creed Taylor's more tawdry experiments.
Norman Granz, who started Verve Records in 1956, sold the company at the end of 1960 to MGM. He had kept his jazz acts in strict musical camps of either bop or swing but, in 1961, Creed Taylor was hired by MGM to diversify the musical output of Verve Records. He encouraged many vibrant, colourful hybrids and offshoots of jazz by combining previously untested musical genres. Soul music, Broadway musicals, film soundtracks, Latin and Brazilian music, gospel, among other styles, were all placed in a jazz context with a fluctuating level of success.
Contemporary jazz critics cynically perceived him an iconoclast and a charlatan, but Creed Taylor's ambition was to give jazz a bigger audience without draining the music of its essence. The excellent "Talkin' Verve" series is culled almost totally from the 1960's and reflects the range of styles that fascinated Creed Taylor. He wanted his artists to create jazz that was danceable, an essential quality of the music that is often ignored, and the compilations reflect this.
The music on Dizzy Gillespie's CD is from the years 1957 to 1966, and demonstrates his love of dramatic Latin rhythms, especially on his interpretation of Joe Cuba's "Bang, Bang". Lalo Schifren, who arranged and wrote some of his material for Verve Records, described Dizzy Gillespie as "always hungry for new musical foods". By commissioning DJ Giles Peterson to compile the first CD of the series, there was a conscious effort to align this series to music of the 1990's, particularly acid jazz. But, although the first four releases were subtitled, "The Roots of Acid Jazz", this label has been wisely dropped. In the sleeve notes of Jimmy Smith's CD, he is quoted angrily disowning the term: "Acid is those damn pills they used to drop at Woodstock - don't connect that shit with jazz".
Cal Tjader's and Willie Bobo's CDs also explore the many faces of Latin jazz. Although he was a capable drummer and percussionist, Cal Tjader excelled on the vibraphone whether playing a frantic mambo, performing with a big jazz orchestra or simply creating slow, shimmering chords on his instrument. The percussionist Armando Peraza said that "the music of Santana comes from the roots of Cal Tjader" but Willie Bobo, who recorded the original version of "Evil Ways" also influenced the famous Mexican guitarist. Willie Bobo, a Puerto Rican from New York, played with Cal Tjader in 1957 and was described by Down Beat magazine as "the world's outstanding percussionist".
Although the music Jimmy Smith recorded for Blue Note Records is more celebrated, he produced some highly eclectic albums for Verve Records over a decade, infusing jazz music with strains of the blues, gospel and later, funk music. Lalo Schifren and Oliver Nelson, two of the most revered arrangers at Verve Records, both successfully placed him within a large jazz orchestra.
The blind jazz saxophonist Roland Kirk, whose CD includes some material recorded for Mercury Records, was an awesomely inventive musician fascinated with both commonplace noises as well as abstract sounds. He could play 40 different reed instruments and, during performances, would hand out nose flutes to the audience. The CD demonstrates the influence that the blues and New Orleans jazz had on Kirk. The song "Untitled Blues" includes one of Sonny Boy Williamson's final vocal performances.
The recordings that the guitarists Wes Montgomery and George Benson made for Riverside Records and Prestige Records respectively, are considered to be their seminal work. By adding string sections and gospel singers to the music they released on Verve Records, they disgruntled the jazz critics but had hit singles. Wes Montgomery also won a Grammy award for his album, Goin' Out Of My Head.
Both their CDs for the series concentrate on the more earthier recordings that were undoubtedly influenced by the raw soul music of the mid-1960's. Wes Montgomery's music is relentlessly rhythmic and the sound of flutes and forceful brass sections compliment his supple guitar playing.
Astrud Gilberto's album, "Talkin' Verve", was released on 9 February.
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