Some blindfold tests, reprinted from various forums and web sources.

Miles Davis 3rd

Miles Davis 4th (part 1)

Miles Davis 4th (part 2)

Elvis Costello

Branford Marsalis

Maynard Ferguson

3rd Blindfold Test Miles Davis

By Leonard Feather, first published by Down Beat, June 1964.

Miles Davis is unusually selective in his listening habits. This attitude should not be interpreted as reflecting any general misanthropy. He was in a perfectly good mood on the day of the interview reproduced below; it just happened that the records selected did not, for the most part, make much of an impression.

Clark Terry, for example, is an old friend and idol of Davis' from St. Louis, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra has always been on Davis' preferred list.

Davis does not have an automatic tendency to want to put everything down, as an inspection of his earlier Blindfold Tests will confirm (DB, Sept. 21, 1955 and Aug. 7, 1958).

The Cecil Taylor item was played as an afterthought, because we were discussing artists who have impressed critics, and I said I'd like to play an example. Aside from this, Davis was given no information about the records played.


The Records
1. Les McCann-Jazz Crusaders
All Blues
(Pacific Jazz)
Wayne Henderson, trombone; Wilton Felder, tenor saxophone; Joe Sample, piano; McCann, electric piano; Miles Davis, composer.

What's that supposed to be? That ain't nothin'. They don't know what to do with it - you either play it bluesy or you play on the scale. You don't just play flat notes. I didn't write it to play flat notes on - you know, like minor thirds. Either you play a whole chord against it, or else . . . but don't try to play it like you'd play, ah, Walkin' the Dog. You know what I mean?

That trombone player - trombone ain't supposed to sound like that. This is 1964, not 1924. Maybe if the piano player had played it by himself, something would have happened.

Rate it? How can I rate that?

2. Clark Terry
Cielito Lindo
(from 3 in Jazz, RCA Victor)
Terry, trumpet; Hank Jones, piano; Kenny Burrell, guitar.

Clark Terry, right? You know, I've always liked Clark. But this is a sad record. Why do they make records like that? With the guitar in the way, and that sad fucking piano player. He didn't do nothing for the rhythm section - didn't you hear it get jumbled up? All they needed was a bass and Terry.

That's what's fucking up music, you know. Record companies. They make too many sad records, man.

3. Rod Levitt
Ah! Spain
(from Dynamic Sound Patterns, Riverside)
Levitt, trombone, composer; John Beal, bass.

There was a nice idea, but they didn't do nothing with it. The bass player was a motherfucker, though.

What are they trying to do, copy Gil? It doesn't have the Spanish feeling - doesn't move. They move up in triads, but there's all those chords missing - and I never heard any Spanish thing where they had a figure that went

That's some old shit, man. Sounds like Steve Allen's TV band. Give it some stars just for the bass player.

4. Duke Ellington
(from Money Jungle, United Artists).
Ellington, piano; Charlie Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums.

What am I supposed to say to that? That's ridiculous. You see the way they can fuck up music? It's a mismatch. They don't complement each other. Max and Mingus can play together, by themselves. Mingus is a hell of a bass player, and Max is a hell of a drummer. But Duke can't play with them, and they can't play with Duke.

Now, how are you going to give a thing like that some stars? Record companies should be kicked in the ass. Somebody should take a picket sign and picket the record company.

5. Sonny Rollins
You Are My Lucky Star
(from 3 in Jazz, RCA Victor).
Don Cherry, trumpet; Rollins, tenor saxophone; Henry Grimes, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.

Now, why did they have to end it like that? Don Cherry I like, and Sonny I like, and the tune idea is nice. The rhythm is nice. I didn't care too much for the bass player's solo. Five stars is real good? It's just good, no more. Give it three.

6. Stan Getz - Joao Gilberto
from Getz-Gilberto, Verve
Getz, tenor saxophone; Gilberto, vocal.

Gilberto and Stan Getz made an album together? Stan plays good on that. I like Gilberto; I'm not particularly crazy about just anybody's bossa nova. I like the samba. And I like Stan, because he has so much patience, the way he plays those melodies - other people can't get nothing out of a song, but he can. Which takes a lot of imagination, that he has, that so many other people don't have.

As for Gilberto, he could read a newspaper and sound good! I'll give that one five stars.

7. Eric Dolphy
Mary Ann
(from Far Cry, New Jazz).
Booker Little, trumpet; Dolphy, composer, alto saxophone; Jaki Byard, piano.

That's got to be Eric Dolphy - nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I'm going to step on his foot. You print that. I think he's ridiculous. He's a sad motherfucker.

L.F.: Down Beat won't print those words. [But I do!]

M.D.: Just put he's a sad shhhhhhhhh, that's all! The composition is sad. The piano player fucks it up, getting in the way so that you can't hear how things are supposed to be accented.

It's a sad record, and it's the record company's fault again. I didn't like the trumpet player's tone, and he don't do nothing. The running is all right if you're going to play that way, like Freddie Hubbard or Lee Morgan; but you've got to inject something, and you've got to have the rhythm section along; you just can't keep on playing all eighth notes.

The piano player's sad. You have to think when you play; you have to help each other - you just can't play for yourself. You've got to play with whomever you're playing. If I'm playing with Basie, I'm going to try to help what he's doing - that particular feeling.

8. Cecil Taylor
(from Live at the Café Montmartre, Fantasy).
Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Taylor, piano.

Take it off! That's some sad shit, man. In the first place, I hear some Charlie Parker cliches. . . . They don't even fit. Is that what the critics are digging? Them critics better stop having coffee. If there ain't nothing to listen to, they might as well admit it. Just to take something like that and say it's great, because there ain't nothing to listen to, that's like going out and getting a prostitute.

L.F.: This man said he was influenced by Duke Ellington.

M.D.: I don't give a shit! It must be Cecil Taylor. Right? I don't care who he's inspired by. That shit ain't nothing. In the first place he don't have the - you know, the way you touch a piano. He doesn't have the touch that would make the sound of whatever he thinks of come off.

I can tell he's influenced by Duke, but to put the loud pedal on the piano and make a run is very old-fashioned to me. And when the alto player sits up there and plays without no tone. . . . That's the reason I don't buy any records.

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4th Blindfold Test Miles Davis - Part 1 of 2

June 13, 1968, by Leonard Feather for Down Beat

Four years ago, the last time Miles Davis was blindfold-tested, I remarked that he was "unusually selective in his listening habits." The only record that drew a favorable reaction was one by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, which brought a five-star rave. Everything else was put down in varying degrees: Les McCann, Rod Levitt, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, Cecil Taylor; even his early favorite Clark Terry and his idol Duke Ellington.

Looking back at earlier interviews with Miles, I am reminded that he was not always such a tough sale. In his first test (September 21, 1955), he gave four stars to Clifford Brown, four to a Metronome All-Stars track, and five to a record featuring Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, and Jack Teagarden. Ellington elicited a twenty-five-star rating - or at least, the wish that there were such a rating. (He now abstains from using the rating system.)

Recently, visiting Miles in his Hollywood hotel suite, I found strewn around the room records or tape cartridges by James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett, the Byrds, Aretha Franklin, and the Fifth Dimension. Not a single jazz instrumental. More about this in the next installment. Meanwhile, here is the first half of a two-part test.


The Records
1. Freddie Hubbard
On the Que-Tee
(Backlash, Atlantic)
Hubbard, trumpet, composer.

I don't dig that kind of shit, man, just a straight thirty-two bars, I mean whatever it is. The time they were playing was too right, you know. It's formal, man, and scales and all that. . . . No kind of sound, straight sound - no imagination. They shouldn't even put that out.

Freddie's a great trumpet player, but if he had some kind of other direction to go . . . if you place a guy in a spot where he has to do something else, other than what he can do, so he can do that. He's got to have something that challenges his imagination, far above what he thinks he's going to play, and what it might lead into, then above that, so he won't be fighting when things change.

That's what I tell all my musicians; I tell them be ready to play what you know and play above what you know. Anything might happen above what you've been used to playing - you're ready to get into that, and above that, and take that out.

But this sounds like just a lead sheet.

Feather: Do you think he's capable of more than that?

Davis: Yes, if he's directed, because he must have other imagination, other than this. I wouldn't even put that shit on a record.

2. Thad Jones and Mel Lewis
(Live at the Village Vanguard, Solid State)
Jones, flugelhorn; Garnett Brown, trombone, composer; Joe Farrell, tenor saxophone; Roland Hanna, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Lewis, drums.

It's got to be Thad's big band. . . . I don't understand why guys have to push themselves and say "wow! wee!" and all that during an arrangement to make somebody think it's more than what it is, when it ain't nothing. I like the way Thad writes, but I also like the way he plays when he writes. I like when he plays his tunes, without all that stuff - no solos, you know. It's nothing to play off of.

Feather: There was a long tenor solo on that.

Davis: Yes, but it was nothing; they didn't need that, and the trombone player should be shot.

Feather: Well, who do you think wrote that?

Davis: I don't really know, but I don't like those kind of arrangements. You don't write arrangements like that for white guys . . . [humming]. That ain't nothing.

In the first place, a band with that instrumentation fucks up an arrangement - the saxophones particularly. They could play other instruments, but you only get one sound like that. On that arrangement, the only one that rates is the piano player. He's something else. And Richard Davis. The drummer just plays straight, no shading. I couldn't stand a band like that for myself. It makes me feel like I'm broke and wearing a slip that doesn't belong to me, and my hair's combed the wrong way; it makes me feel funny, even as a listener.

Those guys don't have a musical mind - just playing what's written. They don't know what the notes mean.

Feather: Have you heard that band much in person?

Davis: Yes, I've heard them, but I don't like them. I like Thad's arrangements, but I don't like the guys pushing the arrangements, and shouting, because there's nothing happening. It would be better if they recorded the shouts at the end - or at least shout in tune!

3. Archie Shepp
The Funeral
(Archie Shepp in Europe, Delmark, recorded 1963)
Don Cherry, cornet; John Tchicai, alto saxophone; Shepp, tenor saxophone.

You're putting me on with that! . . . I know who it is - Ornette, fucking up the trumpet and the alto. I don't understand that jive at all. The guy has nice rhythm on saxophone.

People are so gullible - they go for that - they go for something they don't know about.

Feather: Why do you think they go for it?

Davis: Because they feel it's not hip not to go for it. But if something sounds terrible, man, a person should have enough respect for his own mind to say it doesn't sound good. It doesn't to me, and I'm not going to listen to it. No matter how long you listen to it, it doesn't sound any good.

Anyone can tell that guy's not a trumpet player - it's just notes that come out, and every note he plays, he looks serious about it, and people will go for it - especially white people. They go for anything. They want to be hipper than any other race, and they go for anything ridiculous like that.

Feather: Actually, you got that one wrong - it wasn't Ornette. It was an Archie Shepp date with John Tchicai on alto and Don Cherry on trumpet.

Davis: Well, whoever it is, it sounds the same - Ornette sounds the same way. That's where Archie and them got that shit from; there sure ain't nothing there.

4. Fifth Dimension
Prologue, the Magic Garden
(The Magic Garden, Soul City).
Jim Webb, composer, arranger.

That record is planned, you know. It's like when I do things, it's planned and you lead into other things. It makes sense. It has different sounds in the voicing, and they're using the stereo - they can sure use stereo today, coming out from different sides and different people making statements and things like that. That's the way you should record!

Yeah, that's a nice record; it sounds nice. I liked the composition and the arrangement. It's Jim Webb and the Fifth Dimension. It could be a little smoother - they push it too hard for the singers. You don't have to push that hard. When you push, you get a raggedy edge, and an edge gives another vibration.

I liked the instrumental introduction too. We did things like that on Porgy and Bess - just played parts of things.

I told Diahann Carroll about an idea I had for her to record, based on things like that. There are certain tunes - parts of tunes - that you like, and you have to go through all that other shit to get to that part - but she can just sing that part. She could sing it in any kind of musical form - eighteenth century, today's beat, and she can say the statement over and make the background change the mood and change the time. They could also use her as an instrument; instead of the strings under her, she could be in the strings, and have her coming out from each side of the stereo. She told me to set it up for her, and I was trying to do it for her.

Jimmy Webb would be great for her. I think Wayne could do it for her, too; but I told her to get a guy like Mel to put the story together.

Feather: Which Mel?

Davis: Mel Tormé. And you could have the music in between, to change the mood to whatever mood she wanted to sing in. She was interested and insisted that I produce it, but I don't want to get involved in that end of it.

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4th Blindfold Test Miles Davis - Part 2 of 2

June 27, 1968, by Leonard Feather for Down Beat

As I pointed out in the first part of this test [June 13, 1968], Miles Davis's hotel room was cluttered with pop vocal records. Why? There are several explanations, but the simplest and most logical, it seems to me, is that when you have reached the aesthetic mountaintop, there is no place to look but down.

Instead of judging other artists in terms of their own ideas and ideals, Miles looks for every other trumpet player, every other combo leader, to achieve what he has achieved.

Clearly this must lead to disappointment, for not every pianist today can be a Herbie Hancock, not every drummer a Tony Williams, or every saxophonist-composer a Wayne Shorter. Finding nothing that measures up to the standards he has set and met, Miles turns to other idioms. He relies on pop music for entertainment and classical music for serious listening.

There is nothing unprecedented about this. Walking into Charlie Parker's apartment, you were more likely to find him listening to Bartók than to some contemporary saxophonist. Similarly, there was nothing Art Tatum could learn from other pianists.

The taped interview was slightly censored; otherwise it represents Davis's precise comments on the records, about which he was given no information.


The Records
1. The Electric Flag
Over-Lovin' You
(A Long Time Comin', Columbia)
Barry Goldberg, Mike Bloomfield, composers.

Who was that? Leave that record here, it's a nice record. I like guys that get into what they're supposed to be singing, and the guys that play behind it really get into what they're doing - when the mood changes they go right in it. It makes the record smooth; makes it mean something.

It's a pleasure to get a record like that, because you know they're serious no matter what they do. . . . I liked the rhythm on that. I mean, if you're going to do something like that, man, you've got to do it. You know what I mean? If you're going to play like that - good - but don't jive around.

I like to cop myself - I don't like to miss. I like to get into the meat of things, and sometimes it don't happen and sometimes it does; when it does, it feels great, and it makes up for the times when it doesn't. But if you know it's going to happen one night, it keeps you going.

2. Sun Ra
(Sun Song, Delmark, recorded in 1956)
Dave Young, trumpet; Sun Ra, composer.

That's gotta come from Europe. We wouldn't play no shit like that. It's so sad. It sounds funny to me. Sounds like a 1935 arrangement by Raymond Scott. They must be joking - the Florida A. & M. band sounds better than that. They should record them, rather than that shit. They've got more spirit than that. That ain't nothing.

Why put that on record? What does that do? You mean there's somebody around here that feels like that? Even the white people don't feel that sad.

Feather: Do you think that's a white group?

Davis: The trumpet player didn't sound white. . . . I don't know, man. You know, there's a little thing that trumpet players play to make a jazz sound, that if you don't have your own sound, you can hear an adopted jazz sound, which is a drag, especially in the mute. I mean you can tell when a guy's got his own thing.

People should have good friends to tell them. "Man, that ain't it, so don't play trumpet." you know what I mean? Or, "Don't play drums, 'cause you don't have anything." I'd rather have that said to me than to go on playing trumpet when it doesn't sound like I want it to sound. I know he doesn't want it to sound like that, so he should work at it, or play another instrument - a lower instrument.

When an arrangement's tight like that, you have to play every chord, because the background parts when they record, like they play them single, instead of making it smooth - and it's hard to play like that. You have to play each chord, then play the other chords or you never connect anything, and in between it's just blank.

3. Don Ellis
(Electric Bath, Columbia)
Ellis, trumpet; Hank Levy, composer.

Who's that supposed to be? It's too straight, man. You know, You'd be surprised, this trumpet player probably can play, he sounds all right, but with a strong rhythm like that - if you have a straight rhythm like that, the band has to play against the rhythm, because the rhythm is never gonna change, and that's very hard to do. The best way to do that is for the rhythm to play real soft.

You don't need a trumpet in something like that. It was just one of those major, minor, major. . . .

It's a kind of mood tune. I would play it slower and have the band way down, so they could have got some kind of feeling into it. You could tell they don't feel like playing this. Somebody was impressed with 5/4 time, but what difference does that make? What's so great about a whole number in 5/4? In our group we change the beat around and do all kind of things with time, but not just to say, "Look at me, I'm playing 5/4!" There's nothing there, but I guess the critics will have something to write about.

Feather: It was Don Ellis. Have you ever heard him?

Davis: Yeah, I heard him. He's no soloist. I mean, he's a nice guy and all that, but to me he's just another white trumpet player. He can't play in a chord, can't play with any feeling; that's the reason I guess they use all that time shit.

Anybody can make a record and try to do something new to sell; but to me a record is more than something new, and I don't care how much it sells. You have to capture some feeling - you can't just play like a fucking machine. You can't even turn on with any kind of dope and get any feeling to play if you don't have it in your heart. No matter what you do, it won't make you play any better. You are what you are, no matter what you do. I can be loud and no good, soft and no good, in 7/8 and no good. You can be black and no good, white and no good. . . . A guy like Bobby Hackett plays what he plays with feeling, and you can put him into any kind of thing and he'll do it.

4. Al Hirt
Goin' to Chicago Blues
(Live at Carnegie Hall, RCA).
Hirt, trumpet.

It's Al Hirt. I think he's a very good trumpet player. For anyone that feels that way, I guess he hits them. He's a good trumpet player, but that's some corny-ass shit he plays here.

They want him to be fat and white and funny and talented, but he ain't. They want something that looks good on television; fat, with a beard, and jovial and jolly. He's like a white Uncle Tom. And he's a nice guy; it's a drag. You know, white folks made Negroes tom a long time ago by giving them money. To do this in front of some white people, to play you to have that kind of personality, like him, it's tomming. I can't see why a guy like Al Hirt . . . I guess if he was thin he wouldn't do it.

Harry James is a good trumpet player, and he never did tom or no shit like that. Harry had some feeling.

For a guy to shake his unattractive body and think somebody thinks it's funny - it ain't funny, it's disgusting. He can't entertain me like that; he can entertain some corny ofays, but all the colored folks I know would say, "Oh, fuck! I don't want to hear that!"

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Elvis Costello

Downbeat, November 1994

By Dan Ouelette

When Elvis Costello launched his punk-charged brand of new wave in 1977
with the album My Aim Is True, it marked the beginning of an adventurous
career as one of the best songwriters in the pop world. Born in 1955 in
Liverpool as Declan MacManus, he was influenced by his parents' love of
music -- his father a singer in a big band and his mother a clerk in record
stores, including one owned by Beatles manager Brian Epstein.

While angry, guilt-ridden rock songs filled his early albums, Costello's
eclectic musical interests inspired him to explore soul, r&b, country,
classical, even opera. He has collaborated with a broad range of artists,
including Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney, and the Brodsky Quartet, and
contributed to Hal Willner's remarkable Charlie Mingus tribute, Weird

Yet his most potent work has been in the company of the Attractions, the
superb band that backed him on all but one of his first dozen albums.
Costello's most current release, Brutal Youth (Warner Bros), finds him
reunited with the group for the first time in seven years. Meanwhile,
Costello is overseeing Rykodisc's ambitious reissuing of his entire
Columbia catalog.

This was Costello's first Blindfold Test.

1. Johnny Cash - "The Beast in Me" (from American Recordings, American
Recordings, 1994) Cash, acoustic guitar, vocals.

[Two chords into the song] It's Johnny Cash. I know this song well because
Nick Lowe wrote it. Nick, who was married for several years to John's
stepdaughter Carlene, tells a funny story about writing it. They lived in
England and Johnny was spending some time with them. Nick stayed up all
night once to write a song for him and by 3 or 4 in the morning he was
convinced he could hear Johnny singing it. The next morning, somewhat
chastened, he played it for him in a small, wimpy voice. And that was
that. John put it away for years until it surfaced on this new album,
which is terrific, wonderful. The sound is great. Johnny's got such a
recognizable style. I'll give this 53 stars. One for every state, one for
the moon, and two for the outer galaxies.

2. Latin Playboys - "Same Brown Earth" (from Latin Playboys, Slash, 1993)
David Hidalgo, vocals, guitar; Louie Perez, drums; Mitchell Froom,
keyboards; Tchad Blake, bass.

I play this record all the time. I love it. I'll give this one 10 stars.
David HIdalgo has such a great imagination. He could very well be a Duke
Ellington someday. These songs are about real things, like people eating
too much food and getting a bellyache. I also like the messing around with
distorted sounds on this album. It's like getting somebody's home demo
before the producer gets a hold of it and ruins it. This album proves
there's hope for the corporate music industry, which was willing to
bankroll this. Michael Bolton should be locked in a room and forced to
listen to this record for 10 years. No, I take that back. He should just
be locked in a room and kept away from any other soul records he might cover.

3. NRBQ - "I Want to Show You" (from Kick Me Hard -- The Deluxe Edition,
Rounder, 1989/rec. 1975) Terry Adams, keyboards, vocals; Al Anderson,
guitar, vocals; Joey Spampinato, bass, vocals; Tom Ardolino, drums; Donn
Adams, trombone; Keith Spring, tenor saxophone.

It's NRBQ, isn't it? Oh, this is great! Terry Adams is a wonderful
musician. Inside that track, there's so much going on. The vocal
harmonies sounded like The Band. The saxophone could have been from the
Neville Brothers or Ornette Coleman. Plus Al is working on a Bob Wills
guitar sound. It's terrific to get all that in one piece without shoving
any of it in your face. NRBQ is probably the greatest group in America.
They defy all attempts to categorize them. They don't obey any of the
rules. They're in that same alternative universe as the Grateful Dead.
Did I give them any stars yet? They deserve 5,006.

4. John Coltrane - "Giant Steps" (from The John Coltrane Anthology,
Atlantic Jazz/Rhino, 1993/rec. 1959) Coltrane, tenor sax; Tommy Flanagan,
piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Art Taylor, drums.

This sounds like it was made yesterday. It has an incredibly clean sound.
It's not a new record, is it? If it is, then the sax player is doing
something similar to what was recorded in the late 50s, early 60s.

DO: I'll give you a clue. It's remastered.

It's been incredibly remastered. That's not fair, especially after playing
the Latin Playboys record, which was made to deliberately sound murky. So,
I'd say it's Coltrane. It was disconcerting at first because it sounded
too clean. I thought maybe this was a trick question, where there was
something weird going on like when a Charlie Parker solo was taken off a
record and a new backup band was used. Stars? Can I give 49 for this one?
Coltrane was one of the few people who could play as many notes as this
without becoming boring. When guitar players do this, I just want to shoot

5. Charles Brown - "B&O Blues" (from The Swingtime Records Story,
Capricorn 1994/rec. 1948) Brown, piano, vocals; other band members unlisted.

This is Charles Brown. It's an old one. His voice has gotten deeper as
he's gotten older. It's wonderful. He's a terrific piano player, and he's
got great style. His music is real, and it's got humor. I love his voice.
He's been an inspiration to me. I've gone to a number of his live shows,
and I love him. For this piece, I'll give 75 stars.

6. Charles Mingus - "Don't Be Afraid, The Clown's Afraid, Too" (from Let
My Children Hear Music, Columbia/Legacy, 1992/rec. 1972) Mingus and ensemble.

Nine million stars for this one. It's Mingus. I love the tuba, and I love
the burlesque element in his music. His work is the greatest. It's a
bottomless well of music. I can't think of a composer since the 40s who is
as imaginative as Charles Mingus. There's such a freedom in his music that
allows for spontaneity. It's mind-boggling. Jazz is such a limiting name
for what he did. It's truly American classical music. It's a great shame
he wasn't as recognized as he should have been.

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Branford Marsalis - Blindfold Test

Down Beat , July, 2003 by Ted Panken

"You remember me in the old days," Branford Marsalis remarked in my hot Brooklyn office about two hours into the "Blindfold Test." "I spoke with complete absolutes. I'm wiser now."
At 42, and having recently launched a signature label, Marsalis Music, the saxophonist enters middle age as loquacious as ever, ready to launch an opinion at a moment's notice. In the middle of a move from the New York suburbs to the south last summer, he took a break from packing up his home studio for a marathon listening session.

James Moody
"That Old Black Magic" (from Young At Heart, Warner Bros., 1996) Moody, tenor saxophone; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Todd Cootman, bass; Billy Drummond, drums.
(piano intro) Thelonious Monk! No, the eighth notes are too even to be Monk. The bass player is using one of those irritating pickups, where you hear the bass sound, but not the instrument's characteristics. The saxophone player is playing on the chord structures. It's harmonically correct, but the solo has no shape. I prefer to play a solo that has an arc from beginning to end, on the structure of the chords, where it's singable. He sets up a motif, and then goes elsewhere. Lew Tabackin? Clifford Jordan? But Clifford never really played that fast. Mulgrew Miller on piano for sure. The bass player walks lines like Peter Washington. Who is the saxophonist? (after) I don't remember Moody's sound being that mellow. 5 stars.

Tim Garland
"I'll Meet You There" (from Storms/Nocturnes, Sirocco, 2001) Garland, soprano saxophone; Geoff Keezer, piano; Joe Locke, vibes.
That's a thin sound. The higher up they go, the thinner it gets, a la Jan Garbarek. It's a beautiful piece; I started thinking about Rachmaninoff's "Third Piano Concerto." The chords are changing like crazy, but the melody line is almost more mathematical than melodic. But it's a popular writing style. The saxophone could be Mark Turner, Chris Potter or Stefano Di Battista--a lot of cats play that way. Everybody's playing great. Joe Locke is bad! 5 stars.

Steve Coleman
"Embryo" (from The Ascension To Light, BMG-France, 1999) Coleman, alto saxophone; Shane Endstey, trumpet; David Gilmore, guitar; Anthony Tidd, electric bass; Sean Rickman, drums.
Steve Coleman, one of the great thinkers of jazz. I don't always agree with his outcomes, but what I love about him is that we can have an earnest dialogue about the history of jazz, and it never gets into, "I'm trying to get my own thing, and not listen to those old cats." He doesn't intentionally disregard 60 years of history out of fear. His intellectual curiosity is fantastic. Steve changed his style. When he was doing M-Base, the band was always shifting. The bass lines and drams weren't constant. Now it's more like Afro-Cuban, moreso even African, or even Sumatran. I didn't buy into the whole M-Base thing. Most of the musicians didn't have the same historical expertise as Steve, and their records don't withstand the test of time. They seemed to go the path of less homework rather than more. Steve's never gone the path of less homework, and his music withstands the test. 5 stars

Jerry Bergonzi
"Paul Gauguin" (from Nando Michelin's Art, Double-Time, 1998) Bergonzi, tenor saxophone; Michelin, piano; Fernando Huergo, bass; Steve Langone, drums; Sergio Faluotico, percussion.
A great piece. The entire compositional structure is Wayne Shorter-like, even to the point where he drops off when he hits the low note. But then the solo is real Coltrane-esque. Even when he hits the upper register notes, he growls and makes them lighter the way Coltrane used to. Who is this? (after) Bergonzi sure did change up his stuff. He has such a fat sound. 5 stars. I don't know the composer, but I want to check out this record.

Don Braden
"Fried Bananas" (from The Fire Within, RCA, 1999) Braden, tenor saxophone; Christian McBride, bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts, drums.
The saxophone player went with a theme and sat on it through the chord changes. It's good to hear Sonny Rollins get his due. But I have no idea who he is. The drummer is either Tain or somebody biting off Tain. It's Tain. The bass player isn't [Eric] Revis, because he doesn't play like that. Christian McBride. Nobody else can play that. This is technical prowess. But it's like having a center who can run a 40 in 4.2 seconds. It's good, but ultimately his job is to sit in the trenches. (after) Don's changed his playing a lot. If you put on one of his early records or the stuff he did with Wynton, he sounds nothing like that. 5 stars.

Joe Lovano
"Tarantella Sincera" (from Viva Caruso, Blue Note, 2002) Lovano, tenor saxophone; Byron Olson, conductor.
They had such a beautiful thing going, and then they mined it with that waltz. Is Gil Goldstein the arranger? It's Lovano. One of my favorites. I prefer less notes on ballads. Joe is always doubling. 5 stars.

Sonny Stitt
"I Never Knew" (from The Complete Roost Sonny Stitt Sessions, Mosaic, rec. 1959/2001) Stitt, tenor saxophone; Jimmy Jones, piano; Roy Haynes, drums.
He's got the Gene Ammons and the Charlie Parker, which equals Sonny Stitt. Go ahead, Sonny! The vibrato was like that Chicago blues swinging funky-gritty thing, and there's that Kansas City kickin' jump blues feeling. My dad played with Sonny in 1975, when I was 15. I was a Louisiana boy, respectful of my elders. He said, "Come here! Let me hear you play. Oh, that's all right. You're working on the shit." I said, "Well, you know what that shit is, Mr. Stitt." He goes, "No, son. I can curse. You can't." I went, "Yes, sir." Wynton was teasing me: "Trying to be one of the big boys, huh?"
I love this. It's an amalgam, it's all one thing, and it eventually codifies into a personality. But you never escape your influences. Unless you make sure you don't have any, then you don't have to worry. 5 stars.

Seamus Brake
"Children And Art" (from Echonomics, Criss Cross, 2000) Brake, tenor saxophone; Dave Kikoski, piano; Ed Howard, bass; Victor Lewis, drums.
Whoever it is, is talking. This is beautiful. I love restraint. I don't know the tune. Is it a jazz composer? They're playing it great, too. Oh, giveaway. Seamus Blake. He's a bad cat. But I'm not a fan of that echo. That's how I knew it was him. As soon as that started, it lost its timeless quality. It throws me in another place. It's all ear candy when you do effects. Band sounds great. The digital delay gets a one star deduction. 4 stars.

Evan Parker
"Winter VI" (from The Two Seasons, Emanem, 1999) Parker, tenor saxophone; John Edwards, bass; Mark Sanders, drums.
Sometimes playing out has a purpose, and sometimes it's just playing out. To me, this is just playing out. The saxophone player has all this technique at his disposal. It's formidable. It took a lot of practice to get together. But versus someone like David Ware, who is definitely influenced by what his band does, this band meanders. It seems like they're not playing what he's playing, and he's not playing what they're playing. They don't build as a group. The volume gets louder, but the intensity doesn't change. You know the Coltrane record, the Olatunji Sessions? It hits you immediately. This doesn't do that for me.

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Blindfold Test: Maynard Ferguson

Originally printed in Down Beat, June 1995.
By Dave Helland

Ferguson is a member of the Down Beat Hall of Fame, and has been touring internationally for more than 40 years. He expresses admiration for the recordings of Randy Brecker, Paul Smoker, Wynton Marsalis, Wallace Roney, Steven Bernstein, and Shorty Rogers.
Elected to Down Beat's Hall of Fame by his fans in 1992, Maynard Ferguson is one of jazz's remaining road warriors, playing 200-plus dates a year. His career began in his native Canada as a teenager leading a big band and playing the trumpet hits of the day. A stint with Stan Kenton in the early '50s brought him to the attention of jazz fans everywhere.
"There's so many great young trumpet players out there now," says Ferguson. "A lot are coming out with the predominant influence--which is a great combination--of Miles and Wynton. You hear it in what classical trumpet players refer to as the 'missed' notes. They're not really missed, that's just the way they're playing them."
Ferguson's latest release is These Cats Can Swing (Concord Jazz). His The Complete Roulette Recordings of Maynard Ferguson And His Orchestra is available from Mosaic.

Randy Brecker
"When it Was" (from Brecker Brothers' Out Of The Loop, GRP 1994) Brecker, trumpet, Michael Brecker, tenor sax; Robbie Kilgore, Maz Kessler, rhythm programming.
I love that kind of thing--the pulsation is great. The drummer was not showing off the most incredible display of technique in the history of modern American drumming--instead of that he gave us the groove.
The trumpet had a nice lyrical feel to it. Sometimes, especially guys like me that have a certain amount of technique, we have to be careful that we don't display too much of that on tunes that really don't warrant it. The tenor player has his upper harmonics together. 3 1/2 and I have a hunch if I heard a different cut I would have liked that even better.

Paul Smoker
"Caravan" (from Alone, Sound Aspects, 1988) Smoker, trumpet, Phil Haynes, drums, Ron Rohovit, bass.
That was an amazing display of technique, first of all. There's a lot of confidence in his playing. This reminds me of things going on in Europe where a lot of classical musicians were into the freedom forms of jazz as it was called. Classical pianists got into it because they found it hard to play "One O'Clock Jump," but they could really buzz and smoke on technically demanding things. Free thought allowed them to create their own changes pretty much when they wanted to, though this is based on the beginning and end of "Caravan." To rate this technically, everybody, the drummer included, has a lot of chops, and I feel sometimes you have to rate things higher because of what the artists was saying and wanting to do. I give it 4 stars. I had terrific admiration for what was played rather than any great love for it. These guys obviously love the direction they're taking, and I respect that--I enjoyed listening to it. I'll tell you what, he was really pumping those valves and has an extremely good double-tongue technique.

Wynton Marsalis
"I Can't Get Started" (from Tune in Tomorrow, Columbia, 1990) Marsalis, trumpet.
I love that way of playing. This was lovely and very lyrical. The genius of Ellington sounds through once again with the chords and voicings they're using. It reminds me of Slide Hampton or Benny Golson's writing in terms of getting into beautiful changes, although not the original changes. Still, you're not taking it out so far you're turning it into a scholastic exercise. 3 1/2 stars for the writing, and for the trumpet playing at least 4 because it is so clean and lovely.

Wallace Roney
"Muerte" with an excerpt from "The Art Of The Fugue" (from Misterios, Warner Bros., 1994) Roney, trumpet.
Very nice mood, especially at the end. The trumpet player really has great ears. He runs beautifully through changes; obviously, has a very fine jazz player. He goes into some out chords, then it feels very classical toward the end--almost like a different writer. The instrumentation being used gives a classical feeling not unlike [Miles Davis'] Sketches of Spain. 4 stars.

Shorty Rogers
"Chances Are" (from Swingers, RCA/Bluebird, 1958) Rogers, trumpet, Mel Lewis, drums.
Here is the old-fashioned concept of letting everybody blow. Probably, the leader is a nice guy. I'd like to hear two soloists on a tune, yet I'm a funny guy to talk that way because we have long solos in our band. We're more like Ellington's concept of not worrying about everybody getting to play and shortening everybody up. Give it 3 1/2 stars, 3 stars. Incidentally, the music is better than the way they made the drums sound. We hear some thuds there I would like to have heard recorded better.
DH: This is Shorty Rogers.
Shorty and I were together in Stan Kenton's band. He was a great jazz trumpet player and a marvelous composer/arranger. I said this was a nice guy--Shorty was one of the sweetest guys you'd ever meet.

Steven Bernstein
"Bemsha Swing/Lively Up Yourself" (from Medeski Martin & Wood's Its A Jungle In Here, Gramavision, 1993) Bernstein, trumpet.
I really like this. Along with the outness, they're really pumping some rhythmic content. The trumpet player feels comfortable in this context, whereas in some other out things we hear, the soloist is really uncomfortable. Sometimes you feel the pay-attention-or-I'll-play-the-wrong-changes feeling from a great player, which makes him a mediocre player. I'll give it 3 1/2 because they made the effort to do something besides playing "Tiny's Blues."


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