Giant Steps from Stanley to Ted to Plastic Alto

Stanley Jordan’s “Friends” cd, from 2011 on Grosse-Point-based Mack Avenue features he and Mike Stern (with Kenwood Dennard restricting himself to the pacing) working thru a unique arrangement of “Giant Steps”, the prodigious contribution to the canon by John Coltrane. The liner notes break it down:


(In right side of stereo or headphones)

Ist Melody (of the 4:34 minute track): melody and bass lines simultaneously (and if this is literally the first thing you have ever read about Stanley Jordan, the Gunn graduate and former Blue Note Gold Record-garnering jazz wiz, he is known for unique and nearly inimitable “touch technique, employ[ing a] fretboard tapping to allow [him] to sound like 2 or 3 guitarists {or, for example the bassist per se, a phantom sideman] playing live without overdubs” from the liner notes while Palo Alto and Stanford affiliated jazz guy, consultant and author Ted Gioia, like most others, including Charlie Hunter^2, calls it a “fret-tapping” technique^1: “touch” versus “tapping” may or may not be a critical semantic distinction in understanding, appreciating or placing Jordan in your pantheon).

1st Solo (by Mike Stern, i.e. leads, while Stanley supplicates, reducing himself to bass and chords, on the same guitar, a Vigier Arpege, meaning he plays lower tones for the rhythm and carries the melody with the chords)

2nd Solo: plays chords in his left hand, melodies in his right hand, both as leads, although Stern adds some bass lines and chords, to Stanley’s solo.

“Last Melody” I guess that means 2nd Melody, which would be like a verse if this were a singer-songwriter’s composition or from a Broadway show with lyrics, essentially a repeat in structure from the previous Melody, that opens the song: Jordan plays Melody and bass lines, while Stern plays chords.

And by the way, if this thing isn’t already 9/10ths “by the way” and only 1/10th “meat” “the way” or “story per se” — and I updated and published even to get the word count — 300 –and meant to literally count how much of this is advancing a narrative “I am listening to a cd, and reading parts of a book…and Stanley made a cd, and there are liner notes I am reading and explaining to you” the cd features 11 tracks, 5 originals and 6 covers, and 8 different combos, Jordan and Dennard, often with Charnett Moffett on bass, and 10 luminaries as guests including most notably fellow guitar gods Stern, Charlie Hunter, Russell Malone, Bucky Pizarelli. And then oddly, to my mind, and I like Stanley and recall getting along with him okay when he played Cubberley in winter, 2001, there is a piece of artwork, I think attributed to Raj Naik, that seems to show 14 people, perhaps at a party, with Stanley in the center, facing the camera, but if you look even a little bit closer, and this is much easier to discern than keeping track of who is soloing or just adding chords to what melody or solo, you see there are actually, of those 14 “people” 7 other Stanleys, in various garbs and “looks”: a dude with sunglasses and a hoodie glaring at us, from the background, a guy with a big-hair wig (or “weave”?) and a headband, wearing tie-dye and a yin-yang symbol, a guy with braids or definitely a weave or wig and colorful high plains people (Chile? Nepal?) knit chamarra and cap — there’s even a lovely lady in a black dress and long gloves with shoulders exposed but whose hair obscures most of her face and too-large smile, and not really talking to anybody else in the picture or “digital compositing” whose skin tone and approximate height makes me guess that that too is our guitarist: I mean there is some kind of pun or play with “friends” yes, he or Mack Avenue producers (Al Pryor, Gretchen Velarde) or management (Vernon Hammond III) can get luminaries and peers and “friends” to show up in New York or at least send along digital compositing (and I had left out Garrett, McBride, Carter, Payton, and Laws), but also, perhaps like Stanley tool-kit, the diversity, the uniqueness, the bit of a joke or trick to it, his “friends” or the multiple sides of his personality. And I wonder what other quasi-reviews of this session even mention the artwork?

And because I have this weird obsession with the Palo Alto angle of things, what I call a “palo-centrism”, I am tempted to bug Gioia, he of the 21K twitter followers, about what he thinks of this album or most specifically (because his time is limited, even if he appears to read, write and listen at 10 times the speed of a mere mortal, or doesn’t sleep even 4 hours per night) the “Giant Steps” track here.

Gioia as his lucky 7th book in 2012 on Oxford Press published “The Jazz Standards: A guide to the repertoire” which takes us through 253 of the most recorded or best recorded jazz songs of all time, with notes and recommended versions, plus an index. The “Giant Steps” chapter I estimate at about 600 words — and I am laughing to myself at my little joke about music being a sophisticated form of counting so writing about music is a form, for me, of “not-counting” — and then lists nine versions for our suggested perusal, enjoyment, procurement or whatever it is we do these days to “get it”. (Some people transcribe by hand all the solos; I may merely link to whatever there is of this set on Youtube, and or LISTEN).  Jordan’s cd, in the instant case — it actually comes in plastic, that I got from the Palo Alto library — came out in 2011 so presumably was too close to deadline for Gioia’s book to be considered for the list here that already had: Coltrane’s original, from 1959, Jaki Byard, Woody Herman, Toots Thielemans, Roland Kirk, WSQ, Kenny Garret (plays soprano, with Nicholas Payton, tp, Christian McBride, bass and Stanley Jordan and Kenwood Dennard, Jordan on an Ibanez LR10 and picking, with a pick(?) — i.e. not “finger-picking”, Dennard actually has drums (I presume a kit) and keyboard “simultaneously–no overdubs” they say. And there’s a tell, in addition to a crazy labyrinth of digressions, too weird to call “jazzy”, that I am guessing “on a kit” and not declaring it, since I haven’t heard the set, merely scrutinized the notes and art, and cross-referenced it with a source — or I might have even read a review, a few months back, when I was working on my “The History of Palo Alto / Jazz” treatise, and wrote a page of unpublished notes on Jordan, set by set. So this now 1,000 word spit of ideas is more a “preview” than a review, or an ode. Anyways so I read two different references to Jordan in the Gioia song book, and about “Giant Steps” by 9 others and wonder where they all fit in, or how much of my Saturday could I give to wondering about this, or could I even hear, if I spent all day or all next week, searching, the points Gioia makes.

Or does it matter if I can or cannot hear “a repeated phrase that draws on the opening four notes of the pentonic scale” or is it enough that I know that someone does, or Gioia does?

And the other thing, and this is where “Plastic Alto” is a memoir of Mark Weiss, and Earthwise Productions, as much as it is about 2,781 other things, in 601 posts — and can I bluff you into thinking I actually went back and counted or indexed? — I want to recall, or cannot repress thinking about running into Charlie Hunter after his Yoshi’s show a few weeks or months before Stanley Jordan was to appear at Cubberley and when he says “what’s new?” I mention the pending date with Jordan and the very next thing out of Charlie mouth is “Oh, he’s a ‘tapping’ technique and that’s different that what I do”. I guess a lot of people ask Charlie about the comparison. And if you are hear and now reading about Charlie for the first time I would just say that two fingers of one hand play with three fingers of another hand (he has two, of course, and only two, like the rest of us) to produce at least two parts, what you hear. So I’m curious to ask Charlie about playing with Stanley, as compared, which I would hopefully refrain from asking him, to be conscious of his time, as I claim to hypothetically be with Gioia, above, about playing with John Mayer or Ernest Ranglin and Chinna Smith. (And that also reminds me to recall whether Charlie Hunter is considered one of the 248 Palo Alto jazz memes — if not he should be. He should be two or six of 500; he did a lot for Palo Alto jazz. (edit to add: Charlie Hunter is mentioned 21 times in “Plastic Alto” and is #66 in the note quite by prominence and not quite alphabetical list of 248>>500 Palo Alto Jazz meme and is mentioned 12 times in the 20,000 piece: but, keeping with the form, he might merit another meme-number or six if you break out individual shows or incidences).

And this is how I kill an hour on a Saturday spring baseball morning — yikes, it’s 1:42 p.m. If you give me twenty more minutes, I will add a few links, for you, or me to peruse or get or transcribe or LISTEN to later.

And I have to admit I’m an idiot and wondering about, as I sample or stream a :30 bit of “Giant Steps” a little icon jumps from the page to my “download” icon: I’m still figuring out this new computer Terry and my dad got me for my 50th birthday. It has no disc drive, please note. (I can pick one up at Apple Store, which is a six block walk from my current and habitual perch, but I told Terry I would rather wait until a week day and do this as part of my day job then face the crowds there on a Saturday, and by the way today is Record Store Day, and if you are just hearing about “records” for the first time reading this post, I’m not sure what that means either). Charlie Hunter by they way plays on: “Walkin’ the Dog” a SJ original and “I Kissed a Girl” which is by Katy Perry team and not Jill Sobule.

(and pausing to catch my breath after four performances, recommended by Gioia, of various artists doing Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, 1959-1996, I found four of the first seven he lists, on Youtube, as album versions conveniently streamed to this video format; I can find bits of the other three audio only in other sources, short of ordering them up and potentially uploading them plus or minus rights rules here; note that Gioia’s etude was distinct from finding the top seven or ten Youtube performances of GS; I was tempted by the robots playing this song, mention of a Taylor Eigsti version –he being local yokel and fitting with my “palo-centrism”–, and various live performances of some of the same principals. This also calls to mind the “blindfold tests” in the back of Downbeat, especially recent era by Dan Ouellette: there are people who can identify each of these quite easily, not just the tune but the players, by their sound or they have heard and can recall the session. )

edit to add: I’ve been at this for three hours, I’m almost embarrassed to admit: there goes my Saturday. I lifted this from some discussion board, about Gerry MacDonald’s Choice Label, located in Sea Cliff Long Island (Gioia doesn’t mention the labels). And this is a weird internet plasticized step from the conversation, jumping over many more logical steps, but it’s the kind of thing I love that mixes some facts with speculation and is close enough for the internet(and not Gioia, or me even):

It was a guy on Long Island, NY. Can’t remember his name. He had a lot of nice projects in the late 70s. The recordings had the worst sound ever—-like they were recorded underwater. But he definitely recorded some worthwhile players that were practically ignored. That Al Haig date someone mentioned was actually a co-lead with the great Jimmy Raney—and nice indeed. Also there was a nice Benny Aronov date, Shadow Box, that had Bob Brookmeyer and Tom Harrell as front line. My old friend Bob Mover did his first leader date for them, On the Move, also with a young, burning Tom Harrell.I have these two. I remember the Roland Hanna record. Wistful Moment, right? Then there was Eddie Daniels/Bucky Pizzarelli, also lovely. If you can get past the sound, and jazz fans are, unfortunately, used to crap sound (money talks, etc….) there is gold in that catalogue, or anyway silver.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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