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Jazz Ballads This Week On Riverwalk Jazz

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Jim Cullum Jr.
This week on Riverwalk Jazz, it's “Gentle Giants: The Beauty of The Jazz Ballad."

The program is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM satellite radio and can be streamed on-demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website. You can also drop in on a continuous stream of shows at the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound.

Jazz musicians, far better known as performers than composers, have turned their talents to writing jazz ballads—guitarist Django Reinhardt, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and trumpeter Louis Armstrong, to name only a few.

It was Armstrong who brought ballad singing and playing into the jazz world during his close association with Bing Crosby in Los Angeles in 1930. That year, often only weeks after Bing recorded them, Louis recorded his versions of “Body and Soul, “I'm Confessin," “One Hour Tonight" and “Mem'ries of You."

In jazz, the “ballad” style is intimate, lyrical and melodic. typically, ballads use the standard 32-bar song form and are taken at a slower, relaxed tempo. In the best jazz ballad instrumental playing, you can hear a story unfolding even without lyrics being sung. Tenor saxophonist legend Lester Young said that knowing the words to a song helped him “create the right mood” in playing instrumental ballads. And Frank Sinatra said he learned his vocal phrasing by listening to Tommy Dorsey play trombone.

This week's show features compositions by jazz musician-composers including: bassist Bob Haggart, guitarist Django Reinhardt, pianist Thelonious Monk, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, cornetist Bobby Hackett and Armstrong.

Australian cornetist Bob Barnard, a master of the jazz ballad, is our guest. According to Bob—whose style recalls the soaring lyricism of Bobby Hackett—the ballad is “especially challenging because the player is completely exposed, both technically and emotionally.”

This week, trombonist Kenny Rupp soars on Thelonious Monk’s “'Round Midnight” and clarinetist Ron Hockett gives an affecting reading of Django Reinhart’s “Nuages,” written in Paris during the Nazi occupation of WWII. Jim Cullum Jr. and Bob Barnard offer their cornet duet version of Sidney Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere,” and they perform “Michelle,” a tune Bobby Hackett named for his granddaughter.

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