Historical Essays

Paul Desmond and the Canadians

In the last decade of his life, Paul Desmond only performed occasionally. But when he hired three exceptional Canadian musicians, (Ed Bickert, Don Thompson and Jerry Fuller) to back him for a club date, the music inspired Desmond to some of his finest performances. After years of legal entanglements, Mosaic Records has issued a 7-CD box which includes over 5 hours of unissued recordings by this outstanding ensemble. In this newly revised Historical Essay, Thomas Cunniffe explores the musical legacy of Desmond’s Canadian Quartet.

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Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Such Sweet Thunder”

Newly revised to include the premiere performance in Stratford! In 1956, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn spent a week at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival. Inspired by the performances of the Bard’s plays, Ellington promised that he and Strayhorn would write a new Shakespeare-inspired suite for the next year’s festival. The result was Such Sweet Thunder, one of the most highly acclaimed albums in the Ellington discography. In this Historical Essay, Thomas Cunniffe explores the suite in depth, offering historical and musical background for this important recording. A rare aircheck of the Ellington orchestra performing portions of the suite is also included in this extended article.

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The Sound of Jazz: An Interactive Essay

Long considered the greatest presentation of jazz on television, Robert Herridge’s “The Sound of Jazz” succeeded by just letting the musicians be themselves, and allowing them to develop their music on their own terms. This newly revised interactive essay includes the complete show and a running commentary by Thomas Cunniffe.

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Jazz Adaptations of “Porgy and Bess”

George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” lives in two disparate worlds: opera and popular music. With an award-winning, but controversial production running on Broadway, the show has never been more popular. In this Historical Essay, Thomas Cunniffe discusses several jazz adaptations of this American masterwork.

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Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts

Duke Ellington considered his three Sacred Concerts to be his most important works. Many critics disagreed, but as Thomas Cunniffe argues in this Historical Essay, Ellington was trying to spread his personal view of religion to a wide swath of listeners, and as a result, his music moved from the lofty to the commonplace with stunning frequency.

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The 1968 Bill Evans Trio with Eddie Gomez & Jack DeJohnette

For about 6 months in the middle of 1968, pianist Bill Evans led a remarkable trio featuring bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Up until now, the only recordings that existed of this group were the Grammy-winning LP Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival and a handful of bootleg recordings. In this Historical Essay, Thomas Cunniffe discusses the group’s recordings (including a newly released–and previously unknown studio session) as well as a rare TV broadcast.

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Frankie Newton: The Forgotten Trumpeter (part I)

Despite appearing on some of the greatest jazz records of the 1930s, and possessing one of the most personal sounds in jazz history, trumpeter Frankie Newton is barely remembered today. His biography is filled with contradictory information, and his discography has several mysterious gaps. Thomas Cunniffe sorts out the conflicting details and discusses all of Newton’s recordings in this special 2-part Historical Essay.

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