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.
In jazz the "ballad" style is intimate, lyrical and melodic. It usually takes the standard 32-bar song form, and is performed at a 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 on Riverwalk Jazz it's the art of the jazz ballad featuring compositions by jazz musician-composers including bassist Bob Haggart, guitarist Django Reinhardt, pianist Thelonious Monk, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, cornetist Bobby Hackett and trumpeter Louis 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."
Trombonist Kenny Rupp takes center stage performing Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight." Django Reinhart's "Nuages" is given a reed treatment by clarinetist Ron Hockett. Jim Cullum and Bob Barnard offer their cornet duet on Sidney Bechet's "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere," and they perform "Michelle," a tune cornetist Bobby Hackett composed in honor of his granddaughter.
Photo credit for home page: Gerry Mulligan. Photo courtesy allaboutjazz.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2008