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LaFaro: a very short career that has influenced every bass player.
A long history of the double bass, even if you only look at what the Augustan instrument has written in jazzy. The Ellington Jimmy Blanton (1918-42) is a particularly revered hero, as is the one who was able to pass on the cumbersome "cabinet" from the mere metronome of the orchestra to the soloist in every respect. True, but what influenced the bassists we hear today was Scott LaFaro (one of the few non-African American innovators), whose fate gave him a life almost as short as that of Blanton.
Born in Irvington, New Jersey, on April 3, 1936, Rocco Scott LaFaro's parents Joe and Helen had found a home to be closer to New York, with more opportunities for him to work as a good violinist, often serving famous personalities: Paul Whiteman and also Dorsey.
At the age of thirteen, Scott attended the New York All State Music Festival with the clarinet, which was his instrument along with the saxophone throughout high school. He watched the specialists at jazzy concerts and learned about finger positions and other technical tricks from Gail Brown, the young bassist in the orchestra of the music school.
In 1955 trombonist Buddy Morrow (1919-2010) offered the post of bassist to one of Scott's teachers, Nick D'Angelo, who refused to mention the boy instead. Morrow's was a great rhythm'n'blues group, and Scott LaFaro was an engine for exactly a year. In Detroit Morrow the group was in the same hotel as the Modern Jazz Quartet and as always in the afternoon LaFaro had locked himself in his room for his exercises.
With these ideas firmly rooted between his brain and fingers, Scott felt unfulfilled (Morrow repeated what he rightly thought all his life), and when he landed in California, he suddenly discovered the world he had dreamed of because he had decided to be a musician: creative groups, spectacular concerts, playing nights, after work, with colleagues he could compare new things to.
Scott was fascinated by the lyricism of Chet Baker, who included him in his quartet, along with pianist Bobby Timmonse and drummer Larance Marable. Openly accusing his behavior, he considered him a waste of Chet's great talent, and complained about it, agonizingly, every time he called home. Only the value of the music and the co-équipiers made him stay; but also the partnership with Baker did not last longer than a year, despite the success on the scene in New York, where Scott was immediately received with great interest.
In 1958 and 59 on a west coast in great jazz ferment, the two worked together several times, but LaFaro was increasingly in demand by the great musicians working there: A discography on which you can follow Scott LaFaro's various recordings can be found on the web (jazzdisco.org/scott-lafaro/discography/). But above all, as he had done in New York, LaFaro was tireless with clubs, especially the lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, looking for useful contacts (e.g. with Charles Lloyd) and new experiences.
For two weeks Sonny Rollins held him in his quartet at the San Francisco jazz workshop. Towards the end of this two-year period and after his return to New York, Scott LaFaro had the most concise and lasting encounter that would only have stopped fate: with Bill Evans. The dominator of the new style of pianism at the time complained about not finding a suitable bass player, but in the wonderful interaction with LaFaro, who immediately introduced another genius to the drums: Paul Motian.
The first recording of the threesome ("Sung Heroes", Sunnyside, 28-10-59) was recorded by Italian-American clarinettist Tony Scott, and exactly two months later Riverside recorded the three "Portrait In Jazz", the first of a series of albums that, as the other authors of this supplement explain, remain fundamental.
But it was not only this privileged partnership that highlighted the brightest period of Scott LaFaro's career and increased our regret at his tragic brevity. Alongside the Booker Little Quartet, he appeared in 1960 in "Jazz Abstractions", an experimental work for Atlantic by John Lewis directed by Gunther Schuller and directed mainly by Jim Hall.
Ornette Coleman also took part, and the day after the last session she wanted LaFaro in the one that recorded her epochal "Free Jazz" on December 21st. Two quartets faced each other on the audio channels, so that LaFaro stood in front of Charlie Haden, who had always been so interested in him, and also an impressive "guitar" duet of double basses was born.
While Coleman brought LaFaro back to "Ornette!", with which he opened in 1961, the year in which Scott was quite stable in Stan Getz' quartet (which valued him and had him recorded since 1958), above all he committed himself to continue this golden record with Bill Evans: on February 2nd "Explorations" came and finally the twenty or so tracks recorded on a long Sunday, June 25th, in the Village Vanguard.
His tracks in the threesome are all in the very latest Bill Evans box from the Italian National. The agony angered the entire jazzy community. For six months Evans did not play in public and for almost a year he did not play. Someone recovered in pieces the double bass (a Prescott from 1825) with which Scott LaFaro had enchanted everyone: patiently restored, he returned to playing in 2008 in the hands of Marc Johnson, in a record by Eliane Elias dedicated to Bill Evans.
In the twentieth century, Rocco Scott LaFaro went through a flash of lightning in music: a few years of career, about twenty records as a side man, and yet nobody like him could change the role and possibilities of the instrument in and beyond the world of jazz. In his hands, the bass has become a kind of guitar for lovers of bass, tuned to the tones of the bass and capable of offering previously unimaginable possibilities".
Before him, perhaps only Jimmy Blanton - who also died early at the age of 23 - had successfully tried to free the instrument from the simple role of rhythmic-harmonic support. Alain Tercinet writes in Carles' Dictionary of jazz, Clergeat and Komolli that "with the same interest, the listener can follow the bass and piano parts that offer melodic lines whose speed is reminiscent of pianists and post-bop guitarists.
Interesting fact: Scott worked with many other leaders who were completely different in poetry and in their relationship to tradition, from Stan Getz to Ornette Coleman. A few months later LaFaro recorded with Ornette Coleman two masterpieces, "Free Jazz" (21.12.60) and "Ornette! The same file contains C. & D.
and this heartbreaking theme does not coincide with Ornette and Don Cherry, so the only bass this time with the bow and here is an impressive variety of solutions that have probably also influenced Barry Guy and the string writing of the second half of the twentieth century: Double strings, natural and artificial overtones, microtones, trills and jumps, gliissando, sudden register jumps, accelerations and decelerations, an approach that is not only melodic but, I would say, definitely timbral in order to achieve an idea of density and materiality unparalleled in classical music.
There is a precise strategy in these improvisations, beyond the deliberate or unconscious character, a mature ability to penetrate into the structure of the compositions, be it as a yardstick in Evans' threesome or in Coleman's emerging forms (as Pareyson puts it), capable of self-generation through expansion, a pure attempt, a cognition through action.
a 10-measure section (A) with two identical movements of 5 bars each and a 10-measure section (B) with a far-reaching melody and a surprising chord sequence; all solutions are aware of the modal shift discovered by Evans and Davis.
LaFaro's touch is a sign of deep freedom, allowed not only by his instrumental mastery (Gunther Schuller defined him as "one of the great bassists - classical and jazzy - of our century"), but also by an unusual musical intelligence, especially in relation to the musical time; certainly impressive are the melodic solutions, the beauty of the extended lines of the deep cantabile (Italian?) and the refined selection of notes to support the solos of others.
But what is most disturbing is his anomalous time travel, be it in majorstream contexts like tonal swings or adventures in open forms, without chords and where the beats are hinted at or inhaled with the wise use of agogic, which is not uncommon in those days of classical music, except perhaps only Mingus.
Be that as it may, LaFaro loved to build time, not to suffer, and perhaps that's why Ornette often let him improvise in solitude: feeling freedom folds that could surprise him and take his music somewhere else. Let us now analyze the solo in Autumn Leaves, from "Portrait In Jazz" (28-12-59), a tune that is a lofty example of interaction within a particular form, in this case the tune Les feuilles mortes by Joseph Kosma.
The version of the Evans, LaFaro and Motiv trios presents many interesting elements that have long been the subject of studies in the Department of Music of the Department of Music that I lead at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome and that include excellent artists. My thanks go to guitarist Luigi Masciari, a recent graduate of the subject "jazz and audio-tactile music" and valuable and competent author of the very detailed transcription of Scott LaFaro's solo.
And it cannot ignore the interplay of the musicians, so LaFaro's solos should be read again to hear what happens around the bass, especially in the dense polyrhythmic interweaving of Motivan and his sudden long silence, opening up unprecedented glimpses and unexpected spaces in the playing piano/bass. This is a 32 beat track in G minor tones.
The theme consists of A', 8 bars, A", 8 bars, B", 16 bars; it is preceded by a written introduction of 8 characters in which the agreements of sections A' and A" are compressed, two for each line. In the intro, bass and drums play homorhythmically in half the time, with the bass touching only the tonic of the chords.
Our analysis concerns exclusively the bass line in the accompaniment of the theme and in the solos, until the end of the choir (C). In our symbology, after the introduction of 8 bars, each choir is marked with a letter of the alphabet and lasts 32 characters. Therefore, (A) means the entire first choir with the representation of the theme; while (B) and (C) represent the two choruses of the bass solos.
After the introduction of 8 bars, Evans releases the theme in the choir (A), while the bass moves in 4/4 time, with a syncopated division clearly influenced by the written part of the intro. Starting with a C1, and going up in steps up to F2, the 5th bar goes back diatonic and draws a wavy melodic profile that concentrates more on melodic continuity than on the need to hear the tonic or main chord degrees: already in the second bar of (A), on a chord of FL7, the bass plays 13th, 7th minor, tonic and 9th of the chord.
The syncopated course is held until bar 16, from bar 17 on a regular going pass which retains the same wave characteristics, appears at bar 22 a si, fourth, raised by the underlying chord of key 7 (choice already made at bar 17 with the top on the chord of A13/b5,) by which Evans replaces the canon Am7/b5.
Meanwhile, a chord arrow had appeared for the first time on Bat. 21 (Cm7), while on Bat. 23 there are two successive fourth intervals (re/sol and fa/sib), already evoked in Bat. 15 and 16. On the last two bars of (A) there is a stop choir with piano and drums, which are silent together, and the bass, which begins the solo, in glorious solitude.
B18 by letting Scott and Bill speak for more than half a choir with virtually no rhythmic support. At the beginning of (B) there is an arreggio derived from C47, then a chromatic movement with the use of altered notes, chromaticisms and (B)5 the insistence of tone 2, which ends at (B)10 with a movement almost identical to the one exposed in (B)2: on the same chord as FC7, the bass begins the solos of R1, slips on the blues tone si, and rises again in mode by common degrees.
Here the exchange between bass and piano is very intense; the latter seems to follow the bass with octave colors in arpeggios or scales characterized by chromatism and changes and the surprising do-reb-do chromatism on the chord of D7. The piano canon in (B)18 is precious in comparison to the chromatic playing of the bass in (B)17, the melodic, moving and articulated drawing is splendid, starting from (B)21 he explores the middle lute range of the instrument, up to a point of view of a vocal string (sib2), in order to arrive at a dilution of the phrasing towards the end of the choir, perhaps through the entrance of the choir in two and then in fast half-coloured triplets.
The chromatic movement is resumed in (C), the second choir of the solo, with a diatonic ascending - descending movement, while the drums continue the play of sound and silence that is so moving and pregnant. The phrasing in (C)8, after a persistent flute on the chromatic fragment mib/re, dares to reach the high part of the bass, whereby the melody begins from the fourth to the chord of E-flat in (C)12 raised and reaches the re3.
A fragment of a changed scale appears in (C)24, while the piano is counteracted by a descending chromatic passage. It ends with a phrasing of the chroma on the modes or on the arpeggio of the chords, while the piano begins on the last two bars of the choir (C), just like the bass on the last two bars of the choir (A).
There is a unique atmosphere, as unique as the ability to interpret the sound space and move in the writing of time, the unrepeatable time that a half century ago was pure jazz. The Evans LaFaro Motianrio is one of the most impressive specifically weighted formations in the history of the jazz genre, especially considering the small amount of material actually recorded.
It was a very rapid maturation that was achieved in the short time of the duration of the trip and crystallized in the three basic phases: "Portrait In Jazz", "Explorations" and the last, wonderful recordings in the Village Vanguard in June 1961, just before the death of LaFaro. A talent like LaFaro, endowed with exceptional technical resources and unbridled imagination, had to find these limits frustrating, and the technological advances in microphone recording finally came to meet the new expressive needs.
Saxophonist was a rapist of rules, concerned with overcoming boundaries and stakes by attacking the rigidity of structures and established harmonic concatenations, renewing metrical and rhythmic notions; Evans was more of a revolutionary despite himself. It can be seen as the ideal bridge between two musical approaches that have been far apart up to now. It is thanks above all to him that he has led Evans to an experimental field that is one of the great turning points in the history of the jazz.
Portrait In Jazz" begins to appreciate the first fruits, along with other episodes that are astonishing for the quality of the music, but are nevertheless placed in a more traditional context. The size of the introduction Come Rain Or Come Shine, for example, lies not so much in the interplay of the three instruments (quite classical, about four times the line, notwithstanding all the freshness and taste of Motian and LaFaro), but in Evans' choice to paraphrase the theme completely, never explicitly disclosed, but used in its great story-telling possibilities.
Peris Scope, the pianist's composition, is even a masterful example of traditional performance with bass and drums pressed in a swinging accompaniment in 4, while Evans's right hand marks phrases of infectious vitality and the left marks a series of accents that match the work of Motian's snare drum.
But already in Witchcraft something else happens: While the drummer ensures a calm accompaniment of the brushes in medium time, as usual with the character tone accentuating two and four of the line, and Evans plays, always circumscribing, the theme, here LaFaro begins to avoid the default accompaniment on the four quarters of the line.
It seems that the time is not yet ripe for a constant collective improvisation, but within (and this is the fundamental difference to other free jazz) the structure of the song. The next masterpiece, "Explorations", is another masterpiece that marks a new stage in the development of the threesome and increasingly frees laFaro from the clichés of accompaniment.
The record begins with a wonderful Israel in which the inner mechanisms of formation are already very refined. The bassist is Evans' privileged interlocutor and uses a characteristic of his instrument that pianists know well: each chord played on the piano completely changes color and harmonic sense depending on the bass note of the double bass.
The latter only realizes in real time that the chord he thought was bigger is actually less because the bass played a different foundation, or that a voice that wanted to be harmless and reassuring has turned into a disturbing dissonance. Here is another revolution: the double bass player of the Jazzyri regains this power, he can manipulate the meaning of the music with a single note.
The charming play of collective improvisation, the constant shifting of bass accents, is proposed again in Israel, so that the moment LaFaro finally begins in 4/4 time, it is perceived as the liberating explosion of a restrained energy. The double bass in Nardis develops a solo according to the theme suggested by the pianist, in which the true potential of an instrument that has always been played in supporting roles is finally satisfied.
He travels on strings and creates beautiful melodies, without the fear of silence (the Horror Vácui is one of the mistakes of mediocre musicians), which are highlighted thanks to Evans' telepathic abilities in the accompaniment phase. The Village Vanguard recordings are the highest point of the trio's growth, all the more impressive when you consider that this is a groundbreaking live recording without the possibility of manipulation or endless repetitions in search of the perfect recording.
It is difficult to choose the most representative of the trio's incredible maturation from among the pieces played on 25 June. The first one deals with the theme of a wonderful harmonization and then the young colleague, in daring explorations in which the rhythmic virtuosity of the pianist explodes, lets himself be carried away by his taste for shifting accents of the phrases.
Now, completely free of any convention, always in search of a line in which every note has its weight, you never hear a bassist accompanying you and a pianist improvising, but two exceptional creatives who are engaged in a dense, beautiful dialogue. Since the 4/4 accompaniment of the double bass is forbidden, it is a very sensitive Motian that holds the delicate musical building together for the whole recording, sometimes with a more soothing accompaniment, sometimes with interventions of nuances and punctuation, sometimes with interventions of nuances and punctuation, or even with an effective use of the pauses that can reinforce some passages of interaction between piano and double bass.
Evans' sound and harmonies have a disarming emotional power, to which LaFaro adds his choice of heavy tones and rhythmic unpredictability, while Motian continues the fire with a whirlwind drum and laughs. The piece contains spectacular piano and double bass solos (although it is difficult to determine when LaFaro accompanies and when it is solo).
And we should also mention the wonderful ballads that the three of them played on that day, including two real jewels: I Love's You Porgy and Myoolish Heart, which are destined to teach and influence the aesthetics of many of the big following trios. But the Village Vanguard recordings also remain in history because they contain two original compositions by Scott LaFaro that reveal another aspect of a fascinating musical personality.
The absence of the classical metric regularity of groups of four bars (typical of many structures such as the blue or the 32 bars AABA) gives the music a sense of circularity and weakens the perception of the beginning and end of the period. The impression, especially in the improvisations, is rather that of an indeterminate flow of suggestions: the choir continues to rule the song, but seems to dissolve, as in a magic game.
The other song by LaFaro, Jade Visions, is also a jewel, curious and seductive. Building on a difficult alternation of 5/4 and 4/4 measures, it begins with the deep and atmospheric sound of the double bass, on which Evans begins to work in his own way around an almost non-existent theme, while here and there he leaves colour sketches.