Posted on January 31st, 2014 2 comments
Swing back to a rehearsal hall in New York City, 1943. Those words, or something close to them were very probably spoken by the young bandleader as he coaxed his musicians into playing the lilting, modulating melody with a silky smooth finesse that would become part of the band’s signature style. The tune: Eager Beaver. The band: Artistry in Rhythm. The leader: Stan Kenton.
“Eager Beaver” was a sophisticated, swinging “riff tune” that featured Kenton on solo piano, engulfed in a true jazz orchestration that set the band apart from the traditional big band sounds of Miller, Dorsey, Shaw and Goodman. It was a hit – Kenton’s first big one – with growling tenor sax solo by Red Dorris and a crazy, loud and high-reaching trumpet section. The song would become so popular that it would be part of the Kenton songbook until his death in 1979. A sleeker, cleaner, definitive version was recorded in 1956 featuring Maynard Ferguson leading those high trumpet notes, and Vido Musso laying down the swingin’ tenor solo.
“Eager Beaver” laid the roots for Kenton’s “Progressive Jazz” style. Kenton and the band’s style was influential among musicians in the modern jazz, bop, west coast jazz and other styles that were forming in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. While Kenton’s style and sound progressed, Eager Beaver remained an important and steady chart in the Kenton library.
One of the things that always intrigued me about this tune was how flawlessly the arrangement combines the sounds of the saxes, trumpets and bones against a solid rhythm section. But the big things for me are 1) the tenor solo, and 2) the modulating ending.
The tenor sax solo was kick-ass before the term kick-ass was coined. The 1943 tenor sax solo had a growling, modern sound that was at least 10 years ahead of its time, forming the basics of what would become the Rhythm & Blues – and then Rock ’n’ Roll sounds of the 1950s sax players. The 1956 version by Vido Musso went a step further, being cleaner, more sophisticated and unique in tone and composition.
Now, the ending, that’s another thing altogether. As a young musician I tried desperately to get a copy of the arrangement to see how the modulations were written. But this was back in the 1980s, before the world was laid at our fingertips with the World Wide Web. I tried like hell to figure it out by ear, but it was beyond my ability.
A few weeks ago, on a whim, out of the blue, I typed “Stan Kenton Eager Beaver” into the eBay search box. Hot damn, Sam…this arrangement featured here came up for sale, cheap. I got it, of course.
Those of you who can read music can check out the Tenor and Alto sheets below. You can see how each verse at the end steps up, integrating with the next verse in such a fantabulous way that that the listener doesn’t even realize what is happening…they just know they are hearing something cool.
For those of you who don’t follow sticks (notes), the best way I can explain what’s happening is that at the end, the melody “steps up” a note each verse, but in such a way that the last note of the first verse becomes blends in with the second, stepped up verse so you don’t even realize there’s been a modulation. Crazy, sophisticated jazz, man.
Below are two videos of the riff. The first is a “soundy” from the early 1940s, giving you an idea of the original version of the song (it sounds like it’s been sped up a little in the video.) The second is the 1956 version, clean and cool, much closer to the way Kenton would have sounded live.
The 1956 version of Eager Beaver
Below here are the sheet music pages from the 1944 Robins Music arrangement. Follow along with the saxes at the end to dig the modulation.
You can see that his sheet music was well used; someone even added their own section at the tenor sax solo (underneath are the chord progressions for the tenor solo).
This sheet music is also great because it features several ads to buy more sheet music. Talk about a captive audience!
There seems to be a cocktail recipe for every song title ever recorded. Eager Beaver has not been spared, but the recipe is kind of dull compared to the complexity of the song (It’s also probable that the cocktail was invented independently of the song, and refers to the person eager to complete a task, or a chick who is hot to trot, which no doubt is whom the song is named after.)
- 2 oz rum
– 3 oz coffee liqueur
– 1 oz orange liqueur
Mix everything together in a shaker with ice; shake and pour over cubes in a highball glass. To “jazz it up” a bit, use spiced rum, and garnish with an orange slice and cherry. Good stuff.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this jazzy trip down a road that doesn’t get nearly as much travel as it should. I hope I opened some of you up to a cool tune that was recorded at the very start of the modern jazz era, and that it will inspire you to check out more by the master musician, Stan Kenton.
-Tiki Chris reporting from the listening room at Tiki Lounge Talk
Posted on June 4th, 2013 9 comments
Fans of MAD MEN know that music plays a fairly important role in the series, but when it comes to individual characters, music generally takes a backseat.
So, I was wondering what kind of albums the character of Don Draper might have on hand. We’ve heard him play classical music at a dinner party; we know he doesn’t dig the Beatles. But that’s about it.
So what kind of music does Don Draper dig?
I think, in order to answer that question, first we need to answer, “What kind of music does Don NOT like?”
Well, lets take a look at his past: He grew up in the 30s & 40s, when big bands played the most popular music in the country. There were swing bands and sweet bands, and they dominated the music scene. It’s safe to say that big band swing and jazz were probably what Don heard most as he was growing up, along with more “localized” music that probably included country/western and folk. Since he considers his childhood a complete bust, I’m going to lay my chips on big band, jazz vocals, folk and country/western as being the kind of music that Don Draper (well, Dick Whitman, actually) hates with a passion. Hell, he might even go into a cationic fit whenever he hears “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” for all we know.
It’s also a safe bet that Don wouldn’t be into Rock ‘n’ Roll. Let’s face it – Rock ‘n’ Roll was considered “kids music” back in the 1950s, and had a very small adult following. Don was already an adult (in his 20s) when he was in Korea (somewhere between 1951 and 1953), so like most men of the era, he probably dismissed RnR as kiddie pop.
Don has never showed us a side of him where he sits and listens to sophisticated music, whether it be jazz or classical, for the pleasure of it. He sits in front of the tube a lot, but we never see him play an album (except for the Beatles song, which he completely dismissed). So it’s probably safe to say that he has never really bought a record for the enjoyment of the music. Unlike Meghan, who’s life revolves around music and acting, for his character, it’s just not that big of a deal.
Posted on January 31st, 2013 3 comments
Today’s post is just music. But not just any music – Exotica, the official music of the retro Tiki bar or lounge. Just play and enjoy.
Baia – Bill Perkins, Exotica Tiki Bar music
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on September 3rd, 2012 No comments
It’s the last weekend of the summer for many of you kats, the last chance to get in a swingin’ weekend at the beach or park or lake..or maybe the last week to surf! While you enjoy your BBQ with a Jet Pilot or Zombie, dig these tunes to get you in the surfin’ mood…
PIPELINE – The Chantays
Surfin’ Bird – The Trashmen
Surfin’ & Swingin’, Misirlou, Wedge, Dick Dale
Surf Rider, The Lively Ones
Have a happy Labor Day you ker-razy kats & kittens!
-Tiki Chris reporting from the surf shop behind Pirate’s Cove Tiki Bar
Posted on March 9th, 2012 2 comments
As most of you mix-o-matic kats and shaker shakin’ kittens know, there’s a biz-zillion ways to combo rums, fruit juices and ice to make a groovy Tropical Cocktail. Some take time, skill and a bankroll to create, some are easy and cheap, and if done right, all are really good.
The Voodoo Cooler
is a drink that you can probably whip together with stuff you usually have laying around the bar, so you can have a tropical cocktail without taking a trip to the liquor store.
Shake everything up in a shaker with ice, and pour into the coolest looking Tiki mug you can find. Garnish with fresh orange and pineapple, a cherry, and an umbrella. This drink is a little sweeter than most, but it’s refreshing and has a real “islandy” taste.
If you wanna go nutz…
Put this all in a blender with ice and do a frozen job, then top with a jigger of 151. Woo hoo! Key West style, baby!
-Tiki Chris reporting from the outdoor bar on the lanai, in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida