In 1990, a reader, a classically trained musician with a limited exposure to jazz, wrote to Miles, wondering: “ if you (in your capacity as jazz expert and father of a young child) could recommend some jazz recordings for a child of six (i.e. mine). Please don’t bother with this at all if it will take a lot of time, but if you could suggest some off the top of your head it would be lovely to hear about them. There is some emotional blackmail involved here: my daughter is blind and quite musical; I am sure she would be stimulated by jazz rhythms and harmony. She has heard a lot of classical music (Purcell is a favourite) and many kids’ tapes, some of which have jazzy elements in them which have sparked her interest…"
Miles put together a jazz for compilation for them, with the following letter:
Dear D V,
Your poor, poor daughter – fancy being condemned to Purcell at the age of 6. Why, it wasn’t till I was 21 that I found out how much I didn’t care a lot for Purcell, so perhaps I should have been induced to listen a bit earlier. On the other hand I was introduced to Lizst very early on, and hated him instinctively, which I still do, so who can tell?
I was so intrigued by the idea of what a 6 year old might like in jazz that I started imagining what sort of tape I would put together for her, and blow me down but half an hour later I had started compiling it and now here it is, 90 minutes worth of jazz hot and cold. You might even get something from it yourself. I don’t expect anyone would like all of it, but I’ll be surprised if something doesn’t grab her fancy.
Rather that do a neat little card, I’ll tell you what’s on it.
SIDE ONE“RABBIT’S JUMP”, a tune recorded about 1941 by a small Duke Ellington group, with Johnny Hodges on slide saxophone. Nice, plain chamber jazz.
“A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK”. Duet between trumpeter Ruby Braff and pianist Dick Hyman from a MY FAIR LADY collection, very nice stride pianist and wonderful stuff from Braff, who plays amazingly in the lower register, though he is bit fruity for some tastes. They played this tune twice for the LP – this is the first, slower one.
“Y0U’RE MUCH TOO FAT AND THAT'S THAT”. 1940s rhythm and blues from Louis Jordan, who is having a bit of a revival just now – there’s a musical at Stratford East called “Five Guys Called Mo” devoted to his memory. He was happy, clever, funny and a good musician.
“YOU'D BE S0 NICE TO COME HOME TO”. A bit of Latin-flavoured jazz recorded by Gerry Mulligan in the 1950s, nice but a bit bland. Don’t really know why I stuck it in. Loss leader, maybe.
-“BOOGIE WOOGIE” – two tracks by Jimmy Yancey, a thin little old black guy who lived in Chicago earning a living as a baseball park attendant and playing at parties, occasionally recording for the black market. He played really classical boogie woogie, simple and unflorid. He sings on the second one, not very well.(Yancey stomp)
“THE GOLDEN STRIKER” by the Modern Jazz Quartet. This was the trendy group of the 1950s. Well, no, Dave Brubeck’s Quartet was the trendy group but the MJQ were better. They had a line-up of piano, vibraphone, bass and drums, pianist being John Lewis who had classical leanings which explains why a) he wrote this vaguely fugal number b) he was hired by some pretentious French film director to write the score for a pretentious French film, from which this comes.
“MARIE” by Niels Orsted Pedersen and Philip Catherine. Just bass and guitar. Pedersen’s bass playing makes me delirious with jealousy. He plays so fast and yet makes the bass sing. The rhythms these two guys get together are really dancing and quite modern.
Two old (1929) tracks by Duke Ellington. One’s called STEVEDORE STOMP, I think. The other isn’t. This was the modernist jazz in the world when it was recorded. How times changed.
“LONDONDERRY AIR” – Ben Webster on tenor saxophone, which I included because I love his languorous tone.
A short bass solo by Pedersen.
SIDE TWO“MY BABE” by Little Walter, who sings and plays harmonies, which is always called mouth harp or harp in jazz. This isn’t jazz, it’s classic Chicago blues c. 1960. The song apparently started life as a gospel song called “This Train – Don’t carry no sinners, this train…” Sic transit.
“RUBATO BLUES” by Bengt Halberg, a rather nice Swedish pianist, about 1960. Bit boring for a 6 yr old, I guess, but too late to take it off now.
A track by Dudu Pukwana , a South African alto player who came to Britain in the 1960s and sometimes played free jazz (boring) and sometimes music from his old township days (could be pretty good). This was a track he made with his South African-styled group called Spear about 10 years ago, and I like the flavour of it, the mix of jazz and slightly simple but very fetching South African rhythms.
- solo track by the amazing Django Reinhardt, the Belgian gypsy guitarist, who had only two fully working fingers on his left hand. I couldn’t play like this with twenty fingers. About 1939.
Intriguing English guy called Mick Pyne who plays really nice mainstream piano – he was with Humphrey Lyttelton for a long time – and on this record plays trumpet as well – it’s a duet with himself called “Trouble In Mind”.
Louis Jordan again. His most famous number called Choo Choo Choo Boogie, or, how many words can you think of rhyming with Jack? It’s clever stuff.
- Django again, this time with Stephane Grappelli on Liebestraum No 2. Well, that’s what they call it. I like it.
“SOME OF THESE DAYS” by the Mills Brothers. I used to be fascinated by this group when I was a kid. They really were four brothers (till one left and was replaced by father!) who sang close harmony. One of them played the guitar. All other noises are them imitating instruments. Only the muted trumpet is particularly clever, nut I was impressed. Still am.
- Another duet. I think I like duets. Red Mitchell on bass, an expatriate American living in Sweden, and Putte Wickman, a Swede on clarinet. The tune is “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the idea is to try and think of ways to stop boring the audience with just two sounds. It nearly works.
- A slow but vaguely funky tune by Niels Pedersen, the Danish bass player again, I keep thinking I’ve located the first beat of the bar in this one, then lose it again.
- Finally, sort of, two tracks by Louis Armstrong from 1927 when he really was a great trumpet player. “Alligator Crawl” is slow
and "Potato Head Blues” is fast, but his timing and his flair on both still make me gasp. I love the tuba , too. I think they used tuba then because they couldn’t hear the double bass much on the old recordings.
- A snatch of another duet with Pedersen and Catherine. Hot stuff.
Oh, blimey, I’ve just remembered one other record I put on and I don’t remember where – that will confuse you. It’s quite a fast number recorded about 1944 by Don Byas (tenor), Erroll Garner (piano), Hal West (drums) and Slam Stewart (bass). I think I put it on because Slam Stewart developed an intriguing solo technique of bowing the bass and humming in unison with his own playing. Intriguing once, dreary after a few times.
Don’t thank me – I enjoyed doing it. But I would really love to know which ones you and she hated and which ones you liked, if any. Then I could put you on the track of more stuff along the lines you seemed to like. If you don’t like any of it, there’s plenty of more stuff I can torment you with.Yours
Miles received a ‘thank you’ note in braille, saying the little girl had enjoyed Duke Ellington and Louis Jordan the best. She thought the piano music was good and she liked the saxophone. Most of all, she liked dancing to the music.