Saturday, March 28, 2009

StLJN Saturday Video Showcase:
Previewing "The Genius of Eddie Jefferson"

Today, we've got a wealth of material related to "The Genius of Eddie Jefferson", a tribute to the late jazz singer starring vocalists Allan Harris and Carla Cook and pianist Eric Reed that will be performed here in St. Louis starting Wednesday, April 1 through Saturday, April 4 at Jazz at the Bistro.

Jefferson, who was born August 3, 1918, first gained wide public recognition thanks to "Moody's Mood For Love," a lyric he wrote to a solo improvised by saxophonist James Moody on a recording of the standard "I'm In The Mood For Love." Although Jefferson didn't get a hit record out of it - the version recorded in 1952 by Clarence "King Pleasure" Beeks had a greater initial impact - the idea of writing lyrics to pre-existing jazz solos and compositions caught on, eventually becoming known as "vocalese."

Performers such as Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, the Manhattan Transfer, Al Jarreau, George Benson (who recorded "Moody's Mood"), and many others certainly owe a major creative and conceptual debt to Eddie Jefferson, who, after periods of relative inactivity during the 1960s, enjoyed something of a career renaissance during the 1970s. Tragically, Jefferson was shot and killed in May, 1979 after leaving a gig at Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit; a suspect in the murder was tried and acquitted, and the case officially remains unsolved.

In addition to his legacy as one of the creators of vocalese, Jefferson left behind a number of fine recordings showcasing his rough-hewn vocal timbre and energetic, hard-swinging style; for a discography of his work, go here. And for even more on his life and career, check out "Music Makes the World Go Round: A Tribute to Eddie Jefferson," a program originally aired in 1980 by KPFA radio in Berkeley, CA and now available online in both downloadable and streaming forms via

As for Harris, Cook and Reed, they did a similar tribute to Jefferson last year for Jazz at Lincoln Center in NYC, and it was the subject of one of JALC's audio "jazzcasts," which you can still hear online in streaming form here. You can even follow along with the script, in either HTML or .pdf format. (If you can't get the audio to stream from the link above, go to JALC's podcast archive page here and look for the program from 8/28/08.)

Alas, there doesn't seem to be any video online of Harris, Reed and Carr's JALC performances, instead, we've got some other relevant clips for you, starting up top with a extended excerpt from one of Eddie Jefferson's last performances.

This footage was recorded on May 6, 1979 at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, just three days before Jefferson was shot and killed. It runs just under 50 minutes, and features Jefferson singing a number of songs from his then-current repertoire. He's accompanied by saxophonist Richie Cole, a frequent touring and recording partner in Jefferson's later years, and a rhythm section of Joel Spencer (drums), Kelly Sill (bass,) and John Campbell (piano).

(The video of this show was originally issued years ago on VHS by Rhapsody Films, but apparently has gone out of print. There are a number of shorter excerpts and individual songs from this show posted online at YouTube, Google Video and elsewhere, but this is the longest and most complete version I could find.)

Down below, we've got clips of the three performers who will be in St. Louis to pay tribute to Jefferson, starting with Carla Cook, seen in the first embedded video window singing "The Way You Look Tonight." This live-in-the-studio clip was put out to promote Cook's CD It's All About Love by her record label, St. Louis-based MAXJAZZ.

Next up is Allan Harris, in a video recorded in September 2007 at the Blue Note in NYC, where he was celebrating the release of Long Live The King, a CD paying tribute to Nat "King" Cole. The video features snippets from several Cole songs, as performed by Harris, Jesse Jones Jr. on sax and flute, Dan Kaufman on piano, Paul Beaudry on bass, and Ulysses Owens on drums.

Last, but not least, is pianist Eric Reed, who, like Cook, may be familiar to St. Louis listeners from his recordings for MAXJAZZ. This clip was made at the NYC club Smoke, and feature Reed in a trio setting playing a tune called "Why?"

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