Mosaic with Musicians

Mosaic with Musicians


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Unknown Musicians of a Wandering Race

A remarkable concert reintroduces three Jewish composers who fled fascist Europe to America, where two of them pioneered a new art form—the symphonic film score.


The ARC Ensemble, who performed in Pro Musica Hebraica’s “Before The Night: Jewish Classical Masterpieces of Pre-1933 Europe” at the Kennedy Center in May 2015. The ARC Ensemble via Facebook.

Edward Rothstein is Critic at Large at the Wall Street Journal. His essays in Mosaic include “The Problem with Jewish Museums” and “Jerusalem Syndrome at the Met.”

In his program notes to the Pro Musica Hebraica concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington earlier this month, the historian James Loeffler points out that in 1927—just before the period in which the music on the program was written—a Russian-born musician by the name of Gdal Saleski published a “classic, biographical lexicon” under the title Famous Musicians of a Wandering Race.

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Welcome to Mosaic

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The Complete Atlantic Studio Recordings of the Modern Jazz Quartet (Mosaic 249)

In 1946, Dizzy Gillespie’s big band was playing incendiary bop classics like “Things to Come”, “Our Delight”, “Emanon” and “One Bass Hit” on their nightly gigs. It didn’t take long for Gillespie to realize that his trumpeters needed more than the usual 15-minute breaks to recuperate, so he asked his star soloist and his rhythm section to play short intermission sets to extend the horn player’s time off the stand. The quartet—Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Ray Brown and Kenny Clarke—became popular on their own and created their own repertoire for their nightly spots. In 1951, when they recorded their only session with the original personnel, they were billed under Jackson’s name, but by the end of the next year—with Percy Heath replacing the already overbooked Brown—they were a cooperative unit called the Modern Jazz Quartet. Clarke left the group in 1955, replaced by the remarkable percussionist Connie Kay, and with that change, the MJQ personnel remained intact until Kay’s death in 1994. A few months after Kay joined the group, the MJQ changed record labels from Prestige to Atlantic, and under the guidance of Atlantic’s co-founder Nesuhi Ertegun, the MJQ made some of their finest recordings. Mosaic’s 7-CD box set, “The Complete Atlantic Studio Recordings” collects 14 albums from the MJQ’s first nine years with the label, which was arguably the group’s most influential period.

The Mosaic set includes an astounding range of music and repertoire. There are the MJQ’s famous experiments with Third Stream music, Lewis’ first (and possibly best) film score, collaborations with Jimmy Giuffre, Sonny Rollins and Laurindo Almeida, explorations of music by George Gershwin, Ornette Coleman and Gary McFarland, two extended Lewis compositions based on the Commedia dell’arte, and definitive versions of MJQ classics like “Django”, “Vendome”, “The Golden Striker” and “Bags’ Groove”. However, many listeners may be surprised to see that the set includes just a single Bach fugue, and only two albums with music entirely composed by Lewis. There’s an abundance of standards on the set, and the beautifully crafted arrangements make these pieces stand out from the rest of the selections. While I admire Lewis’ 11-minute suite “Fontessa”, my favorite track on that album is “Over the Rainbow”, which for most of its length is a tender and understated duet by Lewis and Jackson. The second album recorded at Music Inn has a wonderful canonic treatment of “Yardbird Suite”, and the ”Porgy and Bess” album has a powerfully emotional setting of “My Man’s Gone Now” and jaw-dropping tempo shifts on “It Ain’t Necessarily So”. On the LPs “The Sheriff” and “Collaboration”, the MJQ examines Brazilian music. While no one would ever mistake the MJQ’s renditions for authentic sambas, Kay does a credible job playing subtle variations on the clave beat, and on the second album, they find a close medium between their blues-saturated swing grooves and Almeida’s rather inflexible rhythmic conception.

That same rhythmic incompatibility plagues the Third Stream works. Gunther Schuller’s original theory was that Third Stream music that would combine elements of classical and jazz. Unfortunately, the orchestras of the time seemed unable to perform jazz rhythms, and that prevented the Third Stream composers and performers from creating a true musical fusion. Instead, there were endless compositions that contrasted the standard eighth-note pulse of classical music with the free-swinging sounds of jazz rhythm. To be fair, it’s doubtful that an orchestra of 100 jazz musicians could create convincing swing, let alone classically trained musicians, and pieces like André Hodeir’s “Around the Blues”, Werner Heider’s “Divertimento” (both on “MJQ and Orchestra”) and Lewis’ “Sketch” (from “Third Stream Music”) do what they can to bridge the inevitable rhythmic gap. Schuller’s pieces, “Conversation” and “Concertino for Jazz Quartet” work better in this regard by not emphasizing the rhythmic differences. On rehearing Lewis’ “Exposure”, I agree with Martin Williams’ original assessment that the main theme was weak in that light, it is hardly surprising that Lewis’ best loved work for MJQ and orchestra was “England’s Carol”, a piece based not on an original theme but the Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. Of all the Third Stream experiments, the collaborations with Giuffre hold up the best, both in his appearances as a soloist with the MJQ (“Fun” and “A Fugue for Music Inn” from the first Music Inn LP) and with the combined forces of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 and the MJQ (“Da Capo” and “Fine” from “Third Stream Music”). On these pieces, the musicians switch between straight time and swing with ease, and the music has an easier path in approaching Schuller’s original model.

The best moments on this 9-hour collection occur whenever the MJQ launches into a deeply swinging jazz groove. Happily, those moments are frequent, and they are not restricted to when the group is playing standards or jazz originals. Lewis’ album-length suite “The Comedy” was criticized in its day because of its connection to Commedia del’arte, but it’s hard to reconcile those thoughts when listening to the album’s many passages of vibrant swing and the brilliant solos by Jackson and Lewis. The closing minutes of the Schuller “Concertino” offer a thrilling example of the MJQ in full swing, as does the sparkling version of “The Golden Striker” from “One Never Knows”. And while Jackson apparently hated the practice, the vibraharpist never sounded more inspired than when Lewis accompanied him with contrapuntal lines and riff patterns instead of orthodox comping (Jackson was not the only beneficiary of Lewis’ accompaniments, either—listen to Sonny Rollins’ fascinating solo on “Bags’ Groove” on the second Music Inn album, where Rollins and Lewis play an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with Jackson’s theme).

Mosaic’s presentation of this material lives up to their usual high standards. Engineer Ron McMaster has finely-tuned the sound from the original master tapes, making them sound better than they ever before. While all of the albums were originally issued in mono and stereo editions, Mosaic used the mono masters for the first two albums in the set, “Fontessa” and “Music Inn, Volume 1”. The wisdom of that choice becomes clear when listening to the stereo takes of “Bluesology”, “Woody’n You” and “Sun Dance”: it’s hard to believe that these muddy, undefined recordings came from the same sessions as their clear vibrant mono counterparts (Most of the alternate and rejected takes from the MJQ sessions were lost in a warehouse fire during the late 1970s the six alternates in the Mosaic set represent cases where the mono and stereo versions of the LPs carried different takes). Doug Ramsey’s notes are breezy and informative, but listeners desiring more detailed discussions of the music may want to find or keep copies of the original Atlantic liner notes.

While the present set is a superb collection of classic MJQ recordings, it only tells part of the story. The Modern Jazz Quartet was amazing when they performed live, and I believe that someone—preferably Mosaic—should produce a companion box set with the MJQ’s best live recordings. It might be best for such a set to go beyond the Atlantic recordings, so as to include the group’s Newport Jazz Festival sets (particularly the 1956 set), the 1957 performances at the Chicago Opera House and the Donaueschingen Music Festival (both currently owned by Universal), plus the Atlantic live albums, “European Concert” (currently only available on CD with reversed stereo channels and minus Lewis’ spoken introductions), “Dedicated to Connie”, “Blues at Carnegie Hall” and “Live at the Lighthouse”. We may never hear another group that captures the MJQ’s unique balance of supremely executed ensemble passages and riveting solos. If the recordings provide our only viable connection to these masters, they need to be available for many years to come.


“THE COMPLETE LOUIS ARMSTRONG COLUMBIA & RCA VICTOR STUDIO SESSIONS, 1946-1966” (Mosaic 270)

Highly anticipated and severely delayed, Mosaic’s new collection “The Complete Louis Armstrong Columbia & RCA Victor Studio Sessions, 1946-1966” has finally arrived, showcasing three remarkable albums, “Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy”, “Satch Plays Fats” [Waller] and “The Real Ambassadors”, along with singles and collaborations. The music is thematically distributed across the 7 discs, with the singles and collaborations appearing on discs 1 and 2, “Handy” spread over discs 3 and 4, with “Fats” and “Ambassadors” splitting discs 5-7. The accompanying booklet is massive, with much of its 44 pages holding Ricky Riccardi’s exhaustive 30,000-word essay and an impressively detailed discography, both of which guide us through the creation and editing of each performance (The latter feature is particularly helpful for the sessions originally produced by George Avakian, which will be fully discussed below).

From the very beginning of disc 1, it is readily apparent that Armstrong is in top form, both as a trumpeter and singer, and that the sound quality of the set exceeds Mosaic’s usual high standards. The opening session is the 1946 Esquire All-Star Band. Duke Ellington verbally introduces “Long Long Journey” and then Armstrong takes over, with gorgeous instrumental and vocal lines. There is no audible surface noise, nor any distortion to shift our attention from the music—and that remains true throughout most of the set. Armstrong’s big band appears on the following session, and while the arrangements seem a little too modern for Armstrong, both the leader and the band perform the charts with considerable enthusiasm. RCA was clearly looking for hit records with Armstrong, but they didn’t supply inspiring songs for him to record. What did inspire Armstrong was playing with a small group. After he was signed to play a leading role in the film “New Orleans”, Armstrong gathered the band who would share the screen with him for a session for Charles Delaunay’s Swing label. Delaunay was unable to attend the session in person, and he made the unfortunate decision to ask Leonard Feather to supervise. Feather, a born meddler, replaced two members of the band, and apparently limited the group’s improvised counterpoint. Feather also brought two of his own compositions to the date, and replaced Charlie Beal at the piano for those tracks (Feather claimed that Zutty Singleton encouraged him to sit in). Delaunay was furious at Feather’s inappropriate actions, and it was nearly 40 years before the two critics mended fences. At the following session—with Feather notably absent—Armstrong recorded four songs from the score to “New Orleans”, two with his big band, and the other two with the reconstituted combo from the movie. There was time for the small group to play another tune, so Armstrong called “Mahogany Hall Stomp”, which was certainly a highlight of the session. After another session with the big band, we skip ahead three months to June 1947, with Armstrong leading the first edition of his All-Stars, the small combo he would front for the rest of his life. Happily, Jack Teagarden is present on this session, and the two soulmates collaborate on a dynamic “Jack-Armstrong Blues”, and a good—if rushed—performance of “Rockin’ Chair”. A reduced big band arrangement accompanies Armstrong’s debut recording of “Someday You’ll Be Sorry”, and the disc ends with another dull Feather opus, “Fifty-Fifty Blues.”

Disc 2 starts off well enough with another All-Stars date for Victor, featuring two more exquisite Armstrong/Teagarden duets on “A Song Was Born” and “Please Stop Playing Those Blues, Boy”. The energy level drops considerably on the session’s two remaining tracks, “Before Long” (composed by the All-Stars’ drummer, Sid Catlett) and “Lovely Weather We’re Having” (written by pianist Joe Bushkin). We then skip ahead to 1954, and the last session for Columbia’s W.C. Handy album. The track was Trummy Young’s feature on “’Tain’t What You Do”, which Armstrong and Avakian term an “audition”. Another forward jump takes to 1955 and a special single session for Columbia which yielded another “Back O’Town” and three different versions of “Mack the Knife” (We’ll return to these songs momentarily). The next three items are ephemeral, but oddly enlightening. A 1956 single session for RCA includes two completely forgettable songs from a television play. The 1959 “Music to Shave By” featured Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and the Hi-Lo’s hawking an electronic razor. It was issued as a flexible record inside Look magazine, and it must be heard to be believed. Next, comes an uninspired 1966 Columbia single of “Canal Street Blues” and “Cabaret”. If the fatigue of Armstrong and his band is not immediately obvious, just wait until the track changes after the end of “Cabaret”, when we skip backwards 12 years to catch the alternate take of Trummy’s “’Tain’t What You Do”. At the outset of the track, Armstrong is playing a few notes on his trumpet just to keep the horn and his lips warm. In and of itself it’s nothing special, but this innocent noodling has more passion than anything on the 1966 date. After a little good-natured ribbing between Armstrong, Young and Avakian, they launch into a take which is almost more energetic than the “master”. The rest of disc 2 is a fascinating look at the All-Stars at work in the studio. It is the “Back O’ Town”/“Mack the Knife” session, and after a 6-minute rehearsal take on the blues, the band turns to the Kurt Weill theme. Faced with an arrangement filled with bizarre modulations, the group pares down the chart. Mosaic includes about 20 minutes of rehearsal takes and alternates, allowing us to hear how the final All-Stars version was assembled. Weill’s widow, Lotte Lenya, who was playing Polly Peachum in a Broadway production of “The Three Penny Opera” at the time, came to the studio on Avakian’s invite. The duet of Lenya and Armstrong did not come off too well, due to Lenya’s throbbing vibrato and lack of swing. Armstrong coached Lenya gently, and eventually she nailed down a troublesome spot in the arrangement. However, the duet recording remained in the vault until the CD era. After all of that work (and the All-Stars just two days away from a month-long European tour) Avakian asked for an instrumental version of “Mack”, just in case radio stations balked at the violent lyrics (It should be remembered that Armstrong’s version was the first American pop recording of the song with English lyrics). The instrumental—with even less energy than the 1966 “Cabaret” session—remained unissued until 1982.

Like a film editor, George Avakian created master takes by freely assembling portions of all available takes. Riccardi notes that there were so many splices in Armstrong’s vocal chorus on “Mack the Knife” that the assembled Mosaic crew could not count them all! Apparently, the All-Stars’ recording was available intact in digital form, so that Mosaic could simply copy the existing cut rather than recreating it from scratch. However, in the cases of the Avakian-produced albums, “Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy” and “Satch Plays Fats”, the unsuitable condition of the master tapes made a total reconstruction of Avakian’s edits an absolute necessity. Adding to the general puzzle were the 1980s reissues of these albums, produced by Michael Brooks. Because the master tapes were missing at that time, Brooks was forced to create new versions of these recordings using alternate takes. The production team of Riccardi, Scott Wenzel, David Ostwald and Richie Noorigan, along with engineers Matt Cavaluzzo and Andreas Meyer, assisted by restoration/mastering engineers Noelle Byer, Nancy Conforti and Jenn Nulsen, went through these recordings with meticulous care, successfully locating and recreating every one of Avakian’s edits through a combination of studio reels and commercial discs. The splices are virtually inaudible, making the music flow just as Avakian intended. Most of the Brooks versions are included here as well, but usually as complete alternate takes, rather than the edited versions. Riccardi had Avakian’s original session notes to work from, courtesy of jazz historian Chris Albertson, but in a sad irony, Avakian, Albertson and Brooks all died while this set was in planning and production. Riccardi explains the editing puzzles in the booklet notes, but it’s much more fun to watch his videos here, here and here. (One of the videos also tells of the handful of previously issued items not included in the Mosaic set. Best suggestion is to double-check the Mosaic against the earlier discs, and decide if you need the scraps that are left.)

By the time of Armstrong’s 1947 recordings of “A Song Was Born” and “Please Stop Playing Those Blues, Boy”, both Armstrong and his manager Joe Glaser decided to have the trumpeter change labels again. Decca had been a good home for Armstrong, and so—after the 1948 recording ban—he signed a five-year contract with them. When that contract ran out in 1954, Avakian was eager to have his favorite jazz icon on the Columbia roster, so he threw a double-barreled strategy at Armstrong and Glaser: royalties paid on the classic Armstrong recordings Avakian was reissuing on Columbia, and a magnificent idea for a concept album: “Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy”. The extra income appealed to Glaser, and Armstrong jumped at the chance to do the Handy album, offering to create and rehearse arrangements while on tour. The album was a golden opportunity to celebrate Handy, who was blind and in poor health. Armstrong was easily the most-celebrated musician in jazz, and the one person who could bring out the inner qualities of Handy’s music. Armstrong and Avakian both seemed fairly sure that the Handy album could lead to a long-term Columbia contract.

Most of the 1954 All-Stars—Young, Barney Bigard, Billy Kyle, Arvell Shaw and Velma Middleton —had been with Armstrong for several years. The set lists stayed the same for most of Armstrong’s live appearances, and for the most part, the band members played set solos. The Handy repertoire offered a welcome release from the routine by allowing the All-Stars to play music that was, at once, new and familiar. They were free to improvise, and to try out fresh ideas. Kyle sketched out settings of the tunes, never forgetting that he was creating an album. Thus, he deliberately added variety to the charts, varying keys, tempos and approaches, so that the resulting LP—including 8 of 11 songs with the word “blues” in the title—would retain interest throughout its running time. To boost the band’s excitement to a higher level, Armstrong hired a new drummer for the All-Stars, Chicago veteran Barrett Deems. Deems was far from subtle, but he could spark a band’s inspiration with a powerful backbeat or a swinging cymbal pattern. The Handy recording was recorded in the Windy City, which allowed Deems to debut on his home turf. All of these elements combined, as the band re-discovered the finely-crafted chemistry between its members, and its innate musicianship.

Once the All-Stars were in the studio, Avakian let the musicians develop and polish the arrangements. There was no sense of panic when he realized that the album’s opening track, “St. Louis Blues,” was nearly nine minutes long—even though a cut would be necessary to release the cut on a 45rpm EP. The arrangement had an organic flow, and it built steadily through its extended duration. After the first take, Armstrong and Middleton started looking for alternative lyrics, as they were afraid that the words they had just recorded might be offensive. One of those stanzas is indeed troublesome—certainly to modern ears—but Avakian waved off the problem fairly quickly. When Avakian made suggestions, they came from a listener’s perspective, such as proposing a longer ride-out section to an arrangement, adding an ad hoc chorus to emphasize the title phrase of “Long Gone”, or eliminating a voice to clarify an important lyric. I’m not sure if the entire band knew of Avakian’s creative editing techniques (certainly Armstrong did) but regardless, the All-Stars produced enough musical gold in the 3 Handy recording sessions for Avakian to assemble a masterpiece.

The individual highlights of the Handy LP have been noted by many: the majestic version of “St. Louis Blues” with outstanding solos by Bigard, Young, Middleton and Armstrong Young’s two raucous solos on “Long Gone” Armstrong’s triumphant high E-flats in the final chorus of “Chantez Le Bas” the soulful ride-out on “Yellow Dog Blues”, the light-hearted vocals of Armstrong, Middleton and the chorus on “Long Gone”, and Armstrong’s astonishing overdubbed trumpet and vocal obbligatos on “Atlanta Blues”. The Mosaic set adds to the treasure with 100 minutes of alternate takes, warm-ups, rehearsals and studio chatter (About 20 minutes of this material was issued on the 1997 Columbia CD of this album virtually all of those takes are on the Mosaic, save for Avakian’s interview with Handy). Riccardi pinpoints Avakian’s major edits in his notes, but it is still a shock while listening to the original unedited takes when the music suddenly moves from the familiar to the new! More instructive are the long rehearsal sequences: the arrangements coalesce in front of our ears ideas are suggested and tried out, decisions are made and implemented on the spot, mistakes are made and corrected, and—as we can hear now—some superb music was left on the cutting room floor. To be clear, Mosaic did not include every scrap of unissued tape from these sessions, but I have enough faith in the musical sensibilities of the Mosaic production team to believe that we are hearing all of the worthy material from these sessions.

The follow-up to the Handy album, “Satch Plays Fats” had the potential to match or top its predecessor, but a number of factors hindered its success. One issue was the repertoire. Armstrong had suggested several of Waller’s great instrumental pieces, including “Zonky”, “Minor Drag” and “Stealin’ Apples”. Avakian wrote that “we decided against doing any instrumentals, agreeing that they would break the mood we both felt the album should create.” It is assumed that “we” referred to Avakian and Armstrong, but it sounds like a decision emanating from over Avakian’s head (possibly Mitch Miller?). The instrumentals hardly broke the mood on the Handy LP, and including Waller instrumentals might have reminded listeners that Waller was primarily a great jazz pianist and composer. Waller’s vocal records were strictly a commercial enterprise, and the idea of making Armstrong’s Waller tribute an-all vocal affair sounds like a disingenuous ploy to squeeze as much money out the project as possible. As it turned out, the All-Stars were exhausted when they recorded “Satch Plays Fats”, having just concluded a tour and about to face another engagement which would break up the string of recording sessions. The All-Stars had the same personnel as on the Handy album, but changes would happen a few months after “Satch Plays Fats”. The problem was Barney Bigard, whose alcoholism was getting worse. Apparently, alcohol made him more of an introvert, and throughout the album, we can hear that Bigard virtually disappears within the ensembles. On some of the tracks, the rhythm section audibly holds back behind the clarinetist, and as the soloist who usually followed Bigard, Young showed his flexibility by playing in a calmer manner. Eventually, someone (perhaps Avakian?) decided that the band need not maintain the lower volume after Bigard’s solos, allowing Deems to raise the dynamics with powerful backbeats. Would a push of new material have encouraged Bigard to recover his well-known fluency? Probably not, as the tunes that were recorded seem to have been all the challenge Bigard and the band were willing to face.

Mosaic’s discography shows a preponderance of false starts, breakdowns and alternate takes for the Waller project (most of which stayed in the vault). Only the album closer, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, was presented on the original LP in one unedited take, and the rest were pieced together by Avakian in the editing room. Avakian’s studio techniques had Armstrong doing everything from the superhuman (the immediate switch from vocal to trumpet on the magnificent “Blue Turning Grey Over You”) to the completely impossible (Armstrong’s overdubbed trumpet obbligato on “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” and the vocal duet with himself(!) on “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling”) but Avakian’s greatest feat was assembling masterpieces from the very good—but usually flawed—raw takes.

For his part, Armstrong arrived prepared and inspired. The previously unissued takes reveal Armstrong in prime form, improvising new solos on nearly every take, including some that were equal to Avakian’s edited creations (When the Brooks-produced CD of “Satch Plays Fats” appeared in 1986—with alternate takes subbing for the still-missing masters—British trumpeter and jazz historian Humphrey Lyttelton declared that he preferred the alternate to the master). If there was ever a prime example of latter-day Armstrong regaining the artistic heights he reached in the 1920s, “Satch Plays Fats” is it. As in the old days, the listener is riveted to the rich tone of his trumpet and his expressive voice. For examples of the latter, listen to his vocal choruses on this album. Armstrong assumes that his listeners either know the lyrics, or can predict the rhymes…so he leaves them out, inserting a break for a scat fill rather than simply finishing the line. And while we’re on the subject of vocals, the perpetually under-rated Velma Middleton deserves credit for her fine singing and musicianship on this album. The first take of “Squeeze Me” finds Middleton struggling with the verse’s melody (Avakian even sings it to her at one point!) She still doesn’t quite have it down on that take, but she corrected the problem between takes and nailed it on the master. Middleton was no Ella Fitzgerald, but she possessed a similar drive for musical excellence. Middleton died in 1961 while on tour with Armstrong, so she was dedicated, too.

From 1955-1959, all of Armstrong’s recordings for Columbia (save the sessions discussed above) were live performances, which were eventually collected on Mosaic’s now out-of-print live Armstrong set. Avakian remained Armstrong’s producer until he left Columbia in 1957. When Armstrong returned to the Columbia studios in September 1961 for a spectacular collaboration with Dave Brubeck, he had a nearly-new edition of the All-Stars (only Young and Kyle remained from the earlier Columbia studio sessions) and a new producer, Teo Macero. In time, Macero would become even more deft with the editing razor blade than Avakian, but on the Armstrong/Brubeck LP, “The Real Ambassadors”, many of the tracks were released as they went down in the studio, with many fewer inserts and splices than on an Avakian project. Mosaic’s presentation of this album is slightly different than the other LPs: instead of presenting complete takes which were partially used by Avakian, the supplemental section for “Ambassadors” includes takes that have never been heard before, even in part. There are several interesting episodes in this section, including a couple of naughty tags for “Good Reviews”, extra trumpet spots for Armstrong on several tunes, and a wonderful 8-minute composite of Armstrong’s heart-rending vocal on “Summer Song”.

Dave and Iola Brubeck started writing the script of “The Real Ambassadors” in 1957, shortly after Armstrong rebuked President Dwight Eisenhower for his stand on the Little Rock integration crisis. Armstrong was involved in the US State Department’s Jazz Ambassadors program, but he cancelled a tour of the USSR in protest. “The Real Ambassadors” was designed as a Broadway show starring Armstrong which would strongly support Armstrong’s stance on civil rights, as well as his importance as a jazz icon and musical ambassador. The cast eventually included Carmen McRae as Armstrong’s band singer and love interest, Trummy Young as an advisor, and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross as a Greek chorus. The Dave Brubeck Trio and the Armstrong All-Stars provided instrumental backup. Unfortunately, the show was never staged in Armstrong’s lifetime, and the sole concert performance at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival went unrecorded (Historians still argue whether Joe Glaser or Dave Brubeck was at fault for not hiring the video crew already in place at the festival). The only tangible remnant of the show was the Columbia LP and a vocal score published years later.

Columbia gave the album the deluxe treatment, but it did not include a synopsis or lyrics in the gatefold package. While Iola Brubeck’s witty lyrics give the basic plot points, many of the words go by so fast that they are lost to the casual listener (part of that problem is due to the tongue-twisting nature of the words, and the rest is the sloppy diction of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross). To guide the listeners, Riccardi provides a thumbnail synopsis (those looking for more plot details should refer to Philip Clark’s Brubeck bio, “A Life in Time”) and Mosaic’s engineers have made some improvements to the overall sound.

Armstrong and the Brubecks had corresponded with ideas and newly composed music since Dave’s initial meeting with Armstrong in 1959. There’s not a lot of Armstrong’s trumpet on the set, but what’s there is spectacular (specifically an upper-register rendition of “The Duke”—here re-titled “You Swing Baby”—and the series of high F’s in the finale). Apart from a few lyric fluffs here, Armstrong is in very good voice as he carries the weight of the show. Carmen McRae is also in fine form, and her duets with Armstrong demonstrate true chemistry, despite a considerable age difference. Trummy Young steps into a role probably designated for the late Velma Middleton, but years of watching the Armstrong/Middleton act prepared him for the role. The weak links are Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, which was always more of a collection of soloists rather than a true vocal group. As a trio, they showed no sense of ensemble (even for basic tasks, like starting and stopping together) and their intonation was dreadful. Down Beat had named LH&R the “hottest new group in jazz”, and Columbia used the quote as the title for the trio’s debut album, so I understand the desire to use them for this project. However, they just couldn’t sing this music (their attempt at singing religious chant on “They Say I Look Like God” is just painful) and Columbia could have easily hired any of the many professional vocal groups of the time to perform this music.

With its companion live set, Mosaic’s collection of Armstrong’s Victor and Columbia studio sessions offers undeniable proof of Ricky Riccardi’s theory that Louis Armstrong was a major creative force throughout his career. Riccardi’s unfettered enthusiasm for his subject has revived interest in Armstrong’s music from his later years. Now that Riccardi has been hired to complete a three-volume biography of Armstrong, he will continue to illuminate listeners of the many wonders of Armstrong’s discography. Armstrong has found his Boswell, even though they never met in person.


The history of San Pedro is being glued, tile by tile, onto a 200-foot wall on 25th Street

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Nickie Burrell gets her hands a little dirty volunteering her time on a mural in San Pedro on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is rich with historic and artistic detail. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

From left, Susan Vought, Sue and John Gleason, volunteer working on a mural in San Pedro on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is rich with historic and artistic detail. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. This tile work depicts the Point Fermin Lighthouse. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender gives instructions to a volunteer in San Pedro on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is rich with historic and artistic detail. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Hannah Burrell and her mom Nickie Burrell volunteer on a mural in San Pedro on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is rich with historic and artistic detail. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. This chefs tiles have the names of local restuarants in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

A skate boarder passes the whale portion of a mural in progress, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing by October. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

Artist Julie Bender is creating a 200-foot long tiled mural on the north side of 25th Street at Patton Avenue. The mosaic is such a sight that people honk as they drive by and shout out encouraging words. Every nook and cranny will be filled, with the goal of finishing in October, in San Pedro on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG)

By Deborah Paul

Contributing writer

The story of San Pedro’s history is being glued, tile by tile, onto a 200-foot-long wall on 25th Street.

This mosaic is a feast for the eyes whether you’re just driving by or taking the time to stop.

But, oh, what a treat, if you stop. There are whale barnacles and star fish painted with individual cute, little faces. There are cut-out houses labeled with family names. Every conceivable historical, or pertinent factoid about San Pedro is intricately covered in hand-painted clay tiles, decorative pins, buttons, medals, beads, mirrors, broken china — just about any noncorrosive item imaginable.

One passerby said muralist Julie Bender’s masterpiece is “the most complete history of San Pedro” she had ever seen.

And so goes the intricate, but fun-generating project that Bender, a mother, artist, visionary and former firefighter has created for the community. At least 300 people have participated in making clay tiles or gluing the cut-outs to the 10-foot high, 200-foot-long mural.

More tiles, grouting and baubles are still being added with the hope the project will be completed around October.

Bender said the motivation behind the 25th Street project, which started more than a year ago, was to have something to do as an empty nester. But as the work picked up momentum, it became a personal quest for historical preservation.

“The history of San Pedro is being lost,” Bender said. “The town is in a transition stage, and we’re losing some fabulous things that have happened and are happening.”

To begin the work, Bender had to jump though numerous bureaucratic hoops.

First, she visited homeowners living above the wall and was met with unanimous and enthusiastic approval for the project. She worked for months to satisfy requirements from Cultural Affairs, Building and Safety, the Los Angeles mayor’s office, and the Coastal Neighborhood Council. She also held six meetings with the public where eventually all participants agreed upon a final wall sketch.

Bender and her squad of volunteers has managed to capture the essence of life in San Pedro.

Subjects like mermaids, angels and pelicans include lots of symbolism with themes such as the military, oceanography, medical fields, fishing, restaurants, small and large businesses, historical buildings, surfing, boats, arts and entertainment and care facilities. Bender has included even odes to occupations such as teaching, science and journalism.

“The most fun is working with all the people,” said Bender, who’s married to a firefighter, has two sons in the Navy and two grown daughters. Her daughters modeled for her and are the inspiration for the mermaid and angel faces depicted in the wall.

Bender’s other mosaics can be seen at White Point School, Point Fermin, Peck Park and at the Cabrillo Beach Youth Waterfront Sports Center, where she and her Girl Scout troop once tiled five, 1,500-pound, blue butterfly-themed benches.

Volunteers and interested art lovers can still contribute small, personal or historical items they would like to see embedded in the wall. All workers have to do is follow directions, have a willingness to work and be creative, the muralist said.

“The first thing volunteers say is, ‘I’m not an artist,’ Bender said. “I tell them ‘you don’t have to be,’ but they end up being an artist by the end of the day. My husband Dave, pressure-washed — along with three other people — to get the paint that covered graffiti off the wall.”

In the past, Bender has funded many of her projects herself, but she said the community spirit behind the San Pedro mosaic wall has been contagious. Most of the tiles, clay, glue, and other artwork set into the wall sketch has been donated by art-loving individuals.

On Saturday, July 28, a Beer and Wine tasting fundraiser with music is being held at The Corner Store in San Pedro. The band, The Rumble, is not only volunteering for the event, but have generously offered to raffle themselves off for a party event to the highest bidder.

Bender will sell tiles for $10-$50 that can be personalized. Then she’ll take them home to bake in her kiln. Later, they’ll become part of the mosaic.

San Pedro resident Bonnie Keilbach recently stopped by the wall to buy a 25th Street Mosiac T-shirt from Bender and observe the mural’s progress.

“I’ve seen people of all ages working on the project,” said Keilbach, a photographer and quilter who works in the attendance office at Palos Verdes High School. “I think Julie has captured the true spirit of San Pedro.”


Jimi Hendrix Mosaic Made of Guitar Picks

Jimi Hendrix is often described as the greatest electric guitarist in history, and he’s certainly been an influential figure in the development of various genres of popular music. This mosaic made entirely out of guitar plectrums is a tribute to his musical achievements.

This piece of art was made from over 5000 Fender guitar picks, a brand commonly associated with Hendrix, as he often played their guitars at the peak of his career. Having died at the age of 27 from an accidental overdose, Hendrix is often viewed as a tragic figure in music history. This aspect of him is reflected in the fact that this art piece was actually made to be auctioned off for Cancer Research UK – in fact, it ended up selling for £23,000, surpassing its guide price of £12,000-16,000 by a considerable amount.

The mosaic captures the familiar look of the black and white glamour photographs that documented his early career. However, it goes beyond the typical black and white spectrum by using picks that come in a wide range of colours for an overall look that is subtly colourful and richly textured. For example, instead of just using black for the hair, the artist used a mix of navy blue, green and purple, with some vibrant magenta, cyan and even pink picks thrown in as highlights.

While evoking a distinctly modern look, this mosaic draws heavy inspiration from the pointillism movement of the late 1880s, where contrasting dots of colour are placed side by side to trick the mind of the viewer into seeing a full range of tones. When seen from up close, the guitar pick mosaic doesn’t look like much of anything, but from a distance, the figure of Jimi Hendrix clearly emerges.

For wannabe musicians, this collection of 23 incredible guitar mods is sure to inspire you to pick up an instrument and start playing, though playing Rock Band with the Fender guitar controller might be an easier way of easing yourself into the world of music. If playing doesn’t interest you at all, you might prefer to make your own papercraft model of an electric guitar instead.


Principles of design

Between mosaic and painting, the art with which it has most in common, there has been a reciprocal influence of varying intensity. In colour and style the earliest known Greek figurative mosaics with representational motifs, which date from the end of the 5th century bce , resemble contemporary vase painting, especially in their outline drawing and use of very dark backgrounds. The mosaics of the 4th century tended to copy the style of wall paintings, as is seen in the introduction of a strip of ground below the figures, of shading, and of other manifestations of a preoccupation with pictorial space. In late Hellenistic times there evolved a type of mosaic whose colour gradations and delicate shading techniques suggest an attempt at exact reproduction of qualities typical of the art of painting.

In Roman imperial times, however, an important change occurred when mosaic gradually developed its own aesthetic laws. Still basically a medium used for floors, its new rules of composition were governed by a conception of perspective and choice of viewpoint different from those of wall decoration. Equally important was a simplification of form brought about by the demand for more expeditious production methods. In the same period, the increasing use of more strongly coloured materials also stimulated the growing autonomy of mosaic from painting. As a means of covering walls and vaults, mosaic finally realized its full potentialities for striking and suggestive distance effects, which surpass those of painting.

The general trend towards stylization—that is, reduction to two-dimensionality—in late antique Roman painting (3rd and 4th centuries ce ) may have been stimulated by experimentation with colour in mosaic and particularly by the elimination of many middle tones for the sake of greater brilliance. The central role played at that time by mosaic in church decoration, for which it is particularly well suited, encourages the assumption that the roles had shifted and painting had come under its influence. The strong, sinuous outlines and the absence of shading that came to characterize painting during certain periods of Byzantine and western European art of the Middle Ages may have originated in mosaic technique and use of materials. It is notable, however, that from the Renaissance to the 20th century mosaic was again wholly dependent on painting and its particular forms of illusionism.

In modern mosaic practice, the main tendency is to build on the unique and inimitable qualities of the medium. Although not a few of the works created in the 20th century reveal the influence of painting, figurative or abstract, the art came a long way toward self-realization. By and large the modern mosaic makers share with their medieval predecessors the conviction that there are functions to which the materials of mosaic lend themselves with particular appropriateness.


4 Unknown General Mosaic

An ancient mosaic on the floor of a ruined Roman-era synagogue in Huqoq, Israel, is proving very mysterious. Dating to the fifth century AD, the work depicts a meeting between two high-ranking men&mdashboth of whom are unknown. It&rsquos rare not to have mosaic figure labeled. Most believe the bearded figure in white is Jerusalem&rsquos high priest. The identity of the other figure, a general, is more contentious.

The mysterious general may be Antiochus VII. Elephants in the scene evoke the Jewish Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the second century BC. Descendants of Alexander&rsquos generals, the Seleucids were famed for their battle elephants.

Others believe the general in the mosaic is none other than Alexander the Great. If so, this would be the first time a non-Biblical figure has been depicted in a synagogue mosaic. After Alexander&rsquos death in 323 BC, it became fashionable to associate with his &ldquogreatness.&rdquo


Technique

There are three techniques used to make Greek mosaics. The byzantine technique involves sketching a design onto wood that has black clay on top of it. The artist arranges the stones, pastes a thin cloth over the mosaic and leaves it to dry. Once dry, the artist sets the wood side in cement and removes the cloth.

The direct technique is commonly used for floors and the ground, such as a path. The artist makes a wood or metal frame, then fills it with a cement mixture into which she places the tesserae. This technique can also be employed on a wood base affixed to the floor.

The indirect technique is used to make large tiles and artworks. The artist stretches paper over a piece of wood and glues the tesserae face-down onto the paper. He constructs a frame around the mosaic's edges, covers the tesserae with a grout mixture and fills the rest of the frame with cement, topped with chicken wire and plastic, for stability, and another piece of wood. The artist turns over the mosaic, peels off the paper and allows the mosaic to dry.


Mosaic with Musicians - History

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