A Holiday Gift Guide For The Jazz Lover Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead picks CDs, books and a DVD for the jazz lover on your list this holiday season. His selections include a book of Sonny Rollins photographs and music from the first season of the HBO series Treme.


Music Reviews

A Holiday Gift Guide For The Jazz Lover

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For the jazz lover on your gift list, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has some ideas, which includes CDs, books and a DVD.

(Soundbite of song, "TV is the Thing This Year")

Ms. DINAH WASHINGTON (Jazz Artist): (Singing) If you want to have fun, come home with me. You can stay all night and play with my TV. TV is a thing this year, this year. TV is the thing this year. Radio was great, now it's out of date. TV is the thing this year. Last night...

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Dinah Washington, 1953, when bongos were also a thing. The gospel-trained�singer doesn't have the cachet of her contemporaries Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, but Washington's records had an earthier, scrappier feel. Her emotional delivery and ironic detachment influenced singers as diverse as Aretha Franklin and Nancy Wilson.

Washington could sing anything with conviction, and her producers made her prove it, chasing hits in every niche market they could think of. On the new four-CD set, "The Fabulous Miss D! The Keynote, Decca and Mercury Singles 1943 to 1953," she sings about bawdy encounters with her TV repairman and dentist, and does ballads with strings, slick big-band blues, early rock and roll, a calypso in Jamaican dialect, "Silent Night" and a little Hank Williams.

(Soundbite of song, "Cold, Cold Heart")

Ms. WASHINGTON: (Singing) In anger, unkind words are said that make the teardrops start. Why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?

WHITEHEAD: There aren't so many blockbuster jazz reissues this season, but there are a couple of worthy coffee table books to give a jazz fan, or ask for yourself. The esteemed, recently deceased photographer Herman Leonard's book, simply called "Jazz," showcases his sharply focused, high-contrast black-and-white pictures. They include iconic images of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker and the young and older Miles Davis, all crisply reproduced. In an interview, Leonard talks about the technical problems of shooting dark-skinned musicians in dim, smoky rooms, and also how much of his success relied on gaining musicians' trust.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Photographer John Abbott has developed that kind of rapport with Sonny Rollins since the early '90s. The book, "Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins," spotlights Abbott's bright color photographs of the saxophonist as white-bearded patriarch. But it's worth having just for Rollins-ologist Bob Blumenthal's extended essay, which looks at the 1956 LP "Saxophone Colossus" as a microcosm of Sonny's career. The text and images, surveying Rollins in two time periods, create a kind of musical counterpoint. Sonny's playing in the '50s was a marvel of brash authority and pithy wit. To give a curious listener a quick intro, try this year's double CD, "The Definitive Sonny Rollins on Prestige, Riverside and Contemporary." This is "Blues 7."

(Soundbite of song, "Blues 7")

WHITEHEAD: If you know a young drummer who needs a push in a creative direction, there's the DVD, "Billy Martin's Life on Drums" where Medeski, Martin and Wood's percussionist talks less about specific techniques than how to think about the drums as an instrument and part of an ensemble. The DVD's method is part of a message: Talking with his teacher Allen Herman, Martin demonstrates how to take time to develop your main themes and how you've got to listen and leave room. There's a winning moment when he catches himself hogging the conversation. And Martin's solos contain a wealth of good ideas and visual information.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: In the first episode of HBO's "Treme," a character rails against yet another New Orleans music anthology that's just like all the others. That set the bar a little higher for "Treme's" own satisfying, shaggy soundtrack CD. There's some music by actors performing in character, Mardi Gras Indians singing on the street and songs by local luminaries, from Louis Prima to Kermit Ruffins. New Orleans brass bands are where diverse musical strains really flow together. The post-Katrina Free Agents Brass Band brings together marches, jazz, R&B, gospel and more.

(Soundbite of music)

POST-KATRINA FREE AGENTS BRASS BRAND: (Singing) Take me that water. Take me that water. That muddy, muddy water. That muddy, muddy water. Take me that water.

(Rapping) Hey, Jack, let's make some music right here.

(Singing) That muddy, muddy water. That muddy, muddy water.

(Rapping) How bad how they had us on that bridge? Told us get it how we live, why we did what we did. When I lost my city, almost lost my mind, in and out of hotels, feeling like I'm doing time. Please, Mr. Officer, don't shoot, 'cause 98(ph) days I was stuck up on that roof. Ain't trying to make an excuse, but they running from the truth. We know they blew those levees, man, but we ain't got no proof. Wherever they...

WHITEHEAD: On the "Treme" soundtrack, as in New Orleans music generally, you can trace the roots of American vernaculars way back to West Africa and old Europe. The city's contemporary music speaks to the universal siblinghood of humanity, and the power of faith in new beginnings. And aren't those the messages we need to hear this time of year?

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz columnist for eMusic.com.

Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews the new ballet thriller "Black Swan." This is FRESH AIR.

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