Chet Baker expressed his admiration for the compositions of Bob Zieff in an interview with the Italian journalist, Francesco Forti, on July 25, 1959, that was published in Jazz di Ieri e di Oggi. Chet stated, “There is a young composer who lives in New York, his name is Bob Zieff. He writes music that is so advanced that nobody wants to buy it. Some time ago in Paris I recorded some of his compositions for Blue Star (…) In that LP the pianist was Dick Twardzik, who died shortly afterword. The music on that album can give you an idea of what I intend to do in the near future. I have this music at heart; it is very different from anything that has been played up to now.”
The Zieff compositions that Chet Baker recorded in Paris at the Pathe-Magellan Studios at 14 rue Magellan on October 11, 1955 [Rondette, Mid-Forte, Sad Walk, Re-search, Just duo] and October 14, 1955 [PieceCaprice, Pomp, Brash] were issued on a Barclay LP, 84009, in France.
Chet had recorded exclusively for Dick Bock’s Pacific Jazz label and Bock requested permission from Eddie Barclay to reissue some of Chet’s French recordings for Barclay on a Pacific Jazz release. Barclay sent four 10” studio reels, two contained compositions by Bob Zieff with Dick Twardzik on piano, and the other two tapes contained a series of standards with Gerard Gustin on piano replacing Dick Twardzik and Bert Dahlander on drums replacing Peter Littman. Bock selected five of the latter for side one of Pacific Jazz PJ-1218 [Summertime, You Go To My Head, Tenderly, Autumn In New York, There’s A Small Hotel], and five of the Zieff tunes for side two, [Rondette, Piece Caprice, Mid-Forte, Pomp, Sad Walk].
Seven of the Zieff compositions that Chet Baker recorded for Barclay had been performed by Dick Wetmore on violin with piano, bass, and drum accompaniment for Bethlehem. An eighth composition, Shiftful, was included on the Bethlehem album but was not among the charts adapted for Baker as Zieff felt it did not lend itself to trumpet. Baker’s recording for Barclay included an eighth composition by Zieff that was not on the Wetmore album, Mid-Forte. It was not included on Wetmore’s Bethlehem session although it had been written and was around during the recording session. It did not fit within the concept of a “suite” with the other eight compositions on the album and its inclusion would have exceeded the limits of the planned ten inch LP release.
One morning a few weeks ago, Dick Wetmore and Bob Zieff came up to the offices of Bethlehem with some demonstration records they had cut in someone’s basement back in Boston. Bob told me that “a group of musicians (who weren’t working together) started rehearsing for a record date. I was asked by Dick to write some music for the rehearsing group. A mixture of passivity, antagonism and enthusiasm (among other things) helped and hindered this venture. At least ‘four and one’ persons should be strongly aware of this.”
I would like to change that to ‘four and two’ persons since it was with the same sort of feelings that I sat down to hear the sides at first. Not being particularly well-versed in some of the newer techniques of composition, I felt that at first hearing I would be left almost wholly in the dark and would not be able to form any honest opinion. Admittedly, I as yet haven’t been able to fully piece together all of the compositional aspects of the pieces, not having had the opportunity to listen more than once or twice since the first day. At the very beginning, however, I could see that the deeper understanding was not prerequisite to the enjoyment of the music since the prime requirements were here in abundance.
Although some of the compositions do not fall into the familiar four, eight, twelve or sixteen-bar patterns, and none (with the possible exception of Rondette) adhere to any commonly-used harmonic structure, there is no noticeable effect on the manner in which the quartet swings together. There is none of the uncomfortableness here that accompanies most “experiments” of this kind, wherein the performers are unable to successfully overcome the obstacle of familiar patterns and venture onto unconventional ground without making the listener tensely conscious of it. There is none of the affected kind of blowing that creeps into the majority of these performances. All four members are jazzmen first, Jimmy Zitano and Ray Santisi have worked with many jazz groups around the Hub and both are currently featured with trumpeter Herb Pomeroy’s group at the Stable in Boston. Ray has previously recorded with Boots Mussulli. Bassist Bill Nordstom has been doing studio work in addition to his jazz activities. Leader Dick Wetmore has been playing violin since the age of six and has worked around Boston with jazz groups, including his own, for the past several years. Dick’s record debut is rather a timely one. The jazz scene hasn’t had an important violinist since Eddie South and Stuff Smith and Dick could very well fill this gap.
Bob Zieff, who is responsible for the eight compositions, holds a bachelor’s degree in Musicology from Boston University. His writing displays a firm knowledge of traditional techniques as well as the newer devices. His pieces often show humor and wit and always an intimate feeling for the jazz idiom. As an additional aid to the listener, I will include below a technological description of each piece, written by Bob at my request.
- Piece Caprice: A A’ B A form. The A’ section develops the A section. The top and bottom parts are built around typical jazz-styled inner-voice parts.
- `Just Duo: a broken form consisting of the measure-grouping: 2+1+(2+2)+2.
- Pomp: of blues orientation. Its first four-measure phrase lacks the usual fourth measure; i.e., a measure order resulting: 1+2+3+5+6, etc. Its overall phrase grouping is: 3+2+(2+2).
- Sad Walk: A A’ B A form as in Piece Caprice. Now the B section is “free” for the performer to improvise upon.
- Brash: A A’ B A form again. Here used are less familiar harmonic progressions and melodic movement.
- Re-Search: A A B A form. The title alludes to its feeling of jazz in the ’30’s.
- Shiftful: phrases are abbreviated more noticeably here than elsewhere. The opening four-measure phrase is extended by a varied repetition of the fourth measure; i.e., 4+1. The next four-measure phrase is “robbed” of its fourth measure. The complete A section is: 4+1+3. The last measure of the repeated A is at the same time the first measure of the bridge. The phrase structure of the bridge is: 3+2+4+(2+2). This is thematically related to Just Duo.
- Rondette: a twice repeated twelve-measure section. This alternates with different B material. B appears in the following order: original; inversion; original played simultaneously with the inversion (mirrored) and original followed by inversion forming one continuous phrase.
For various reasons, the above order of selections could not be followed. However, Bob suggests that they be listened to in that order since they form a unit: the suite.
The eight compositions on the LP had to be presented out of intended listening order in order to fit the limitations imposed by the 10″ LP format. The total timing for Piece Caprice, Just Duo, Pomp, and Sad Walk is 19:24. Brash, Re-Search, Shiftful, and Rondette total 15:25 (Zieff’s preferred order of listening). The excuse offered regarding the order of the compositions on the LP is curious as the tunes could have been ordered so that each side of the LP contained a little over 17 minutes. The final presentation puts the four tunes on side one at 18:06 and the four tunes on side two at 16:43.
The circumstances behind the Bethlehem album of Bob Zieff’s compositions interpreted by the Dick Wetmore quartet are related in the following excerpt from Jack Chamber’s essay, REVENGE OF THE UNDERGROUND JAZZ COMPOSER, published in the 2004:2 edition of SIRENA, a publication of The Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA. © 2004, Dickinson College.
Word spread that Zieff’s music for the experimental quartet was “advanced,” and rehearsals became public events in the Boston jazz community. Sometimes the rehearsals took place afternoons at the Stable, where Twardzik was working nightly as intermission pianist. Other times they took place at 905 Boylston Street, a rooming house around the corner from Berklee that had been taken over by jazz musicians. For two or three years, 905 Boylston was a legendary commune. One musician told me they had a saying: “When you get to the top floor at 905,” he said, “you know you’re getting high.” There, under a potted tree growing upside-down from the ceiling and chickens pecking in the halls, Wetmore and his sidemen worked through the intricacies of the charts under Zieff’s watchful eye. His tunes “Rondette” and “Re-Search” move briskly over the scales, and “Mid-Forte” and “Piece Caprice” include rapid exercise-like sequences with occasional octave leaps. The moods are brooding on “Sad Walk,” “Just Duo” and “Brash,” and winsome with minor drags on “Rondette,” “Sad Walk” and “Pomp.” There is no sense in Zieff s writing for the ensemble that some instruments belong in the foreground and others in the background. Roles shift, and Zieff’s conception of the string bass is especially flexible, sometimes playing arco counterpoint with the horns and other times providing the basic walking rhythm. The ensemble writing is almost idealistically democratic.
For all its technical complexity, the main impression of the music is elegance. “Although some of the compositions do not fall into the familiar four, eight, twelve or sixteen-bar patterns, and none adhere to any commonly-used harmonic structure,” says the author of the liner note on the Bethlehem recording that was eventually issued under Wetmore’s name, “there is no noticeable effect on the manner in which the quartet swings together.” Each note seems to be placed exactly where it has to be, and the musicians obviously relish the parts Zieff has assigned to them in the four-part invention.
By the time the musicians had mastered the compositions to Zieff’s satisfaction, the group had changed. “The quartet we put together was a fabulous group,” Wetmore recalled with a sigh. “It really was an excellent group, but those things change as people move around.” The original bassist, Jimmy Woode, accepted an offer to join the Duke Ellington orchestra, and Richard Twardzik had to leave Boston to avoid heat from narcotics officers. Only the principals involved can possibly know how much better the recording might have been with the original band members, but the recording that resulted, substitutes and all, was (and is) wonderful enough. Musically, it deserved a better fate, but the producers at Bethlehem were leery about its lack of commercial potential and held onto it for over a year before releasing it, almost apologetically, without publicity or promotion. To be fair to the producers, it fit no convenient niche. There were only 35 minutes of music, eight tracks of three to five minutes each, just enough for a 10″ LP. It quickly went out of print and was not reissued for 45 years, when Japanese Toshiba brought it out in a kind of boutique virgin vinyl facsimile.
Richard Twardzik, having missed the chance to make the record, was full of regrets, but he found an ingenious way of making up for it. In fall 1955, he was invited to join Chet Baker’s quartet for a tour of Europe, and even though he was almost completely unknown outside Boston he had the temerity to tell Baker that if he joined he expected the band to play something more challenging than ballads and jazz standards. A few months earlier, Twardzik had tried to persuade his previous bandleader, Serge Chaloff, to get hold of some Zieff scores. Chaloff was interested, but the only pay-off for Zieff was an oblique compliment. “Serge said I must be good because Dick (Twardzik) didn’t seem to like anything,” Zieff told me, and then he laughed and said, ‘This surprised me because I found Dick much more open to things than I was!” Twardzik found Baker more receptive. He told Twardzik he would welcome some original music, and Twardzik turned immediately to Zieff and got him to re-arrange the Wetmore charts for Baker.
© 2004, Jack Chambers
The full essay is available online.
Chet Baker’s desire to record additional compositions by Bob Zieff was partially realized when he returned to the U.S. from Europe. Two Zieff compositions, Slightly Above Moderate and Medium Rock, were included on PJ-1224, Chet Baker & Crew. Four additional compositions by Bob Zieff were recorded in New York during a December 1957 recording session, Twenties Late, A Minor Benign, Ponder, and X. Twenties Late was licensed to Playboy for a release on a record album promoting the Playboy Jazz Festival and Jazz Poll. The other three Zieff compositions would languish in the vault until a 1993 CD release celebrating Chet Baker’s Pacific Jazz years. But Chet kept one Zieff composition alive during the twilight of his career, Sad Walk. He would record it numerous times, and perform it in concert and radio broadcasts.
The Chet Baker Quintet [Jacques Pelzer, reeds; Michel Herr, piano; Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, bass; Alex Serra, conga] performed Sad Walk during a radio broadcast in Bordeaux, France on November 5, 1976.
The Chet Baker Sextet [Jacques Pelzer, reeds; Gianni Basso, Tenor; Bruce Thomas, piano; Lucio Terzano, bass; Giancarlo Pillot, drums] recorded Sad Walk for Carosello (Italy) in March of 1977.
The Chet Baker Quartet [Phil Markowitz, piano; Scott Lee, bass; Jeff Brillinger, drums] performed Sad Walk in a concert in Nürnberg, Germany, on November 15, 1978.
The Chet Baker Quartet [Phil Markowitz, piano; Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, bass; Jeff Brillinger, drums] performed Sad Walk in a concert in Stockholm, Sweden, on December 11, 1978.
The Chet Baker Quartet [Horace Parlan, piano; Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, bass; Aage Tanggaard, drums] performed Sad Walk at “Jazzhaus Montmartre”, Copenhagen, Denmark, on June 20, 1979.
The Chet Baker Trio [Doug Raney, guitar; Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, bass] performed Sad Walk at “Jazzhaus Montmartre”, Copenhagen, Denmark, on October 4, 1979 and this performance was released on SteepleChase SCCD 31180, Someday My Prince Will Come.
The Chet Baker Quintet [Wolfgang Lackerschmid, vibes; Larry Coryell, guitar; Frank Tusa, bass; Alphonse Mouzon, drums] performed Sad Walk in a concert in Villingen, Germany, on November 17, 1980.
Chet’s next recorded performance of Sad Walk was with a trio [Michel Graillier, piano; Ricardo del Fra, bass] at the “Club 21” in Paris, France, on September 2, 1983. The recording was released on Philology W56.2.
The Chet Baker Quintet [Nicola Stilo, flute; Michel Graillier, piano; Ricardo del Fra, bass; Leo Mitchell, drums] performed Sad Walk in a concert at Johns Hopkins University, Bologna, Italy, on October 26, 1983.
The Chet Baker Quintet [Phil Urso, tenor; Ruth Holloway, piano; Larry Holloway, bass; Nat Yarborough, drums] performed Sad Walk at a concert in the “Oxford Hotel”, Denver, Colorado, on March 9, 1985.
The Chet Baker Trio [Philip Catherine, guitar; Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, bass] recorded Sad Walk for Criss Cross, Monster, Holland, on June 6 & 25, 1985.
The same trio performed Sad Walk at the 7th Jazz Festival, Münster, Germany, on June 21, 1985. It was recorded and released on Enja Records.
Chet’s trio with Michel Graillier, piano; Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, bass; was in Stockholm, Sweden, the following week, June 30, 1985, where Sad Walk was recorded for release on Sonet Records.
The cited performances of Sad Walk have been documented by Thorbjørn Sjøgren in his 1993 publication, CHET – The Music of Chesney Henry Baker, JazzMedia, Copenhagen, Denmark. Gratefully acknowledged by the author.
© 2004, Bob Zieff, The Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA. © 2004, Dickinson College.