Monday, February 13, 2012

Deconstructing Jazz

No, not the ghost of Jacob Marley. It's French jazz critic and author Andre Hodeir, a bit more advanced in years than when he had his portrait taken for the Savoy release below. From

They say that those who have talent play jazz, and those who have no talent write about jazz. (I don't know if they really say that, or if it's even true, but it seems like a nice smart-alecky way to start off this posting.)

When I was first getting into this music back in the '70s, a jazz pal introduced me to the work of Andre Hodeir. He had written a wonderful book immodestly titled "Jazz: It's Evolution and Essence" and I plowed through its chapters on Bird and the Cool players, thoroughly enjoying (though not always understanding) his analyses. He had a very hip, improvisatory lilt to his prose (courtesy of his translator David Noakes, perhaps) and I thought he read like jazz sounded. Not like Leonard Feather or the guys who wrote for Downbeat. Hodeir swung.

Many years later I was digging through the miscellaneous bin in a great used record store that used to be on Congress St. in downtown Portland, Maine. I came across a mint Savoy recording, one of those '50s records with a heavy boards and a color photo laminated in glossy plastic on the cover. This one featured some all-stars from the Savoy roster playing the music of – whad'ya know? – Andre Hodeir. I had no idea the guy wrote music, and here was a full LP of his compositions. Theory meets praxis.

The record seemed worth the three bucks they were asking, so I bought it and took it home for a listen. Since Hodeir's prose was so hip, I thought it was a cinch the guy's tunes would be tres cool. Wrong.

What we have here are nine very dense, occasionally unmanageable pieces that are consistent largely in the fact that not one of them swings. There are good solos, and some fine moments, but overall Hodeir's music falls flat. If you read his notes on the back cover, you see that he was at pains to meld concept with composition. But he seems to have left out the most salient element of all – the swing. To paraphrase Duke, these numbers don't mean a thing. On that level anyway.

So why offer this LP here? Well, for one reason, you'll never see it on i-Tunes, or anywhere else for that matter. And for another, any record with Hal McKusick and Annie Ross is of interest. But mostly I'm curious to hear what you think of Hodeir's tunes. Don't get me wrong – the music is well played and the compositions are thoughtful (perhaps overly thoughtful). I just think that if you know Hodeir's texts, you might want to check out his tunes.

As always, these files were ripped from the original vinyl with only a very minor cleaning of the sound.

American Jazzmen Play Andre Hodeir's "Essais"
Savoy 12104

Idrees Sulieman, Donald Byrd, tp; Frank Rehak, tbn; Hal McKusick, as, b cl;
Bobby Jaspar, ts, fl; Jay Cameron, bar; Eddie Costa, vbs; George Duvivier, b;
Bobby Donaldson, d; Annie Ross, v.
New York, NY; March 5, April 4*, 1957

1. On a Standard
2. On a Riff
3. Criss Cross
4. Paraphrase
5. On a Blues
6. The Alphabet*
7. Esquisse I
8. Paradoxe II*
9. Esquisse II*


  1. There's a marvelous colaboration betweem the MJQ & Hodeir registered on an Atlantic LP; in fact there is Gunther Schuller & Werner Heider on it. But for me the most beautiful piece is Hodeir's theme, Around the Blues.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. I just looked through the stacks and found that LP – "The MJQ & Orchestra," Atlantic 1359 – and listened to the Hodeir piece. Very cerebral and controlled, just like the tunes on the Hodeir Savoy LP I posted. But perfect for the MJQ! To my ear, this piece is more successful than those others because of John Lewis and Milt Jackson (and the understated Connie Kay). Thanks for the tip, cvllos!

  2. Is there anything wrong with the link?

    1. I'll check and reload it if necessary. Give me a day or two ...

    2. This link says it's OK, pp. Give it another try and see if it downloads. If not, lemme know ...

  3. The link works, but you have to copy and paste to your browser
    Thanks a lot for the jazz gems here.

  4. Your link that's supposed to be mediafire is actually just a repeat of this page.

    Shoot! ;-)

    1. Fixed! You should be able to grab Andre with no troubles now, Scraps. Link above, or here: