ZZCD 9820 – Bebop Bassoon
Daniel Smith Bassoon, Martin Barejo Piano, John Sullivan Bass, Ludwig Afonso Drums
The bassoon is an instrument that isn’t a total stranger to jazz. Some have doubled on bassoon at times, but even that isn’t often. Others have incorporated it into their compositions and arrangements. (See Michael Rabinowitz tear it up as part of the Mingus Orchestra some time). But it’s reaching new places and new audiences with the “arrival,” as it were, of Daniel Smith, a Brooklyn-born musician who reached acclaim with the instrument in the classical world and is taking it strongly into jazz.
He says, in spite of the accolades he received as a classical musician, learning the intricacies of jazz (an arduous task, he admits), he now enjoys its challenges and its potential more than he does the classical side.
“For me,” he says, “it is jazz and improvisation that I find much more rewarding. There is simply no limit as to how high your skills can take you with constant improvement via a lot of hard work and focus. And you are always caught by surprise with new ideas which suddenly pop out and catch you by surprise.”
His playing in jazz is still developing, he says, but progress can be seen in the growing audiences for his gigs in the U.S. and Europe that are enjoying the music of his jazz quartet, and can be measured in a pair of recordings Bebop Bassoon (2006) and Swingin’ Bassoon (2007) on the Zah Zah label that, between them, cover a wide variety of standards and styles, from Miles and Monk to Basie, Duke, Bird, Dizzy and more. With him is his trio of Martin Bejerano on piano, John Sullivan on bass and Ludwig Afonso on drums. The disks have gotten some attention. Both “are heard world-wide in many countries stretching from North to South America, all of Europe, Asia and as far as Moscow,” he says.
His long-appreciated classical work also goes strong. In 2005, composer/arranger Robert Farnon dedicated his final composition to Smith. “Romancing the Phoenix” is a three-movement bassoon concerto for solo amplified bassoon with rhythm section and full symphony orchestra in a jazz-oriented style crossed with symphonic. Warner Chappell recently published the score and parts with Robert Farnon’s dedication to “The American virtuoso Daniel Smith” on the title page.
“Robert Farnon was a legendary figure in the world of arranging, orchestration and composing. This bassoon concerto was his very last composition before his untimely death in early 2005. His third symphony was set to be premiered in Edmonton, Canada, and Edinburgh, Scotland, that year. After these premieres, the plan was to follow with premieres of the bassoon concerto, which Farnon himself was going to arrange. His idea was to have a number of premieres worldwide including with Andre Previn in Oslo, the Royal Philharmonic and the Proms in the UK, orchestras in Canada, the USA,” says Smith.
He says it appears that a United Kingdom world premiere will be held in 2009, “with two orchestras combining forces … there will be extensive publicity worldwide about the premiere, followed by what we hope will be premieres in the USA, Canada and throughout Europe.” His performances have included other firsts: The American West Coast premiere Gunther Schuller’s “Concerto for Contrabassoon and Orchestra,” the world premiere of Steve Gray’s “Jazz Suite For Bassoon,” with the Welsh Chamber Orchestra and solo concerts at New York’s Lincoln Center and the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, among other prestigious dates.
The achievements are significant. But perhaps even more so in light of the fact that Smith’s interest in music wasn’t appreciated by his parents. It was stifled. But his interest and talent still rose to the fore. The persistence required to overcome that obstacle served him well. It extended into a keen focus on learning music and various instruments that have vaulted him into a successful and decorated career.
Being pushed away from music caused him to actually forge toward it, he contends. And hearing Benny Goodman as a teenager perhaps cinched his life’s direction.
There were “pressures put on me to conform and do something ‘normal,’ like being an accountant, teacher, dentist, post office worker, whatever. I was a very different sort of child and no one in my family knew what to make of me. My mother was determined to stop me in my tracks when I took up clarinet lessons and took me for an aptitude test,” he says. “I did, in fact, score highest for accountancy, but the second highest score was music. My mother felt she was now vindicated and said to the examiner, ‘So you do agree that he should be an accountant.’ To which the examiner said, ‘Well no. He really should be a musician.’ Having had a discussion beforehand with him, he gave his professional opinion to my mother with the ‘wrong’ answer of music—so I was now damned for life.”
Smith was sixteen year old when he saw a New Year’s Eve special with the original Benny Goodman trio re-united (Goodman, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa) on TV. “I was totally mesmerized by the music and felt a powerful urge there and then to learn the instrument that Benny Goodman was playing. I went to a local music store and said I wanted to learn how to play the trumpet. The owner asked me why. I told him I saw a Mr. Goodman playing it on TV. The owner asked: what did his trumpet look like? I said it was long and black, and was then told it was a clarinet and not a trumpet. So much for musical sophistication in my background.”
He jumped into music, still with opposition on the home front. “My father was horrified when I went to enroll at the Manhattan School of Music and claimed that my sax teacher—Bill Sheiner, the same teacher who taught Stan Getz one generation earlier—was deliberately trying to ruin my life. One night when practicing in our basement, my father physically dragged me upstairs to look at the TV. On the screen was Elvis Presley jumping around while doing one of his hit tunes. My father yelled, ‘That’s a real musician, he makes lots of money.’ So much for culture in my upbringing.”
“It is interesting how much of the world’s cultures value the arts while here in the USA, so much of the population is devoted to making money and materialism,” Smith notes. “I have lived in Europe off and on for over twenty years and see very clearly the different values in European societies in regard to having a career in the arts. Hardly anyone thinks you are strange or asks how much money you make or what do you really do for a living. It is an important part of the values and priorities within many societies and artists are well respected and often well compensated for their achievements.”
Smith took up extensive musical training on many instruments. He started clarinet at sixteen, then added the saxophone a year later. He took up flute lessons the next year, entered the Manhattan School of Music as a clarinet major, switched in his second year to being a flute major, eventually earning three degrees there. “I studied each and every instrument quite seriously and had some of the best teachers on each of them,” he says, including Bill Sheiner, Eddie Meyers and Joe Allard on sax; Bill Sheiner and Leon Russianoff on clarinet; Harold Bennett, John Wummer and Francis Blaisdell on flute; William Polisi, Harold Goltzer, Sherman Walt, Lenny Hindell and Bernie Garfield on bassoon; and Bert Bial and Richard Plaster on contrabassoon.
He even studied the violin, piano and oboe for short periods. He honed skills in all kinds of musical situations on various instruments, show bands and Latin bands, concert bands, Broadway bands, symphony orchestras and more. Once he took up the bassoon, he played a season with the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera Orchestras as a substitute or extra player, two seasons with the New Jersey Symphony, The National Ballet orchestra on tour, four seasons on fellowship with the National Orchestral Society, a fellowship at Tanglewood, The New York Virtuosi Chamber Symphony, and quite a few other orchestras as a free-lance bassoonist or contrabassoonist.
“But everything came very late in life for me in regard to learning music and playing various instruments, especially the bassoon,” says Smith.
His teachers and the classical repertoire he heard on recordings or played as a member of various orchestras were his musical influences in the classical realm. “Then once I started to record, the bassoon concertos and music of such as Vivaldi, Gordon Jacob, Elgar, Bach, as well as pieces on bassoon adapted from the music of Scott Joplin, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Mozart, and countless others. And last but not least, several well-known bassoon soloists from various countries.”
As for jazz, a friend introduced him to those sounds during his high school days in the Bronx. He heard the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie on Dial and other labels. He went to hear jazz at Birdland and other clubs, using a fake draft card to get in.
“I was first in line at Birdland, and for $1.80, purchased a ticket and sat in the peanut gallery right next to the piano. There I heard so many of the jazz greats. Count Basie’s band many times, Stan Getz, Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, Dinah Washington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Cannonball, Coltrane, Zoot Sims, Gerry Mulligan and so many others. This was just about the time I was learning the clarinet, so from my teens onwards, I was not a stranger to jazz,” he says.
Smith’s early jazz idols included Getz, Parker, Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Miles, the Basie, Ellington, Woody Herman and other bands, Lee Morgan, Cannonball Adderley and Mulligan. Even when he began to focus on an instrument not associated with jazz, he was undeterred.
For whatever reason, once I got the ‘bug,’ I never doubted I could do it,” says Smith. “But I instinctively knew from the start it would not be easy and with no short cuts, given the difficulties of the bassoon. All my already achieved skills as a virtuoso in classical music were of no help whatsoever when I started to plunge into jazz and improvising. It was only after three or four years of mastering all the jazz scales and chords and learning in stages how to improvise that the technique I already had from before clicked in and joined up with my newly learned jazz skills.”
Smith puts Charlie Parker on par with Mozart’s musical genius. “Talent and genius are often attained via sheer hard work and dedication, and the same jazz talent might very well have been a fine composer of classical music and vice versa,” he says. Which genre is more difficult? Smith doesn’t hesitate.
He says it is “several times more difficult to pull off convincing jazz. For instance, the saxophone jumps the octave with a single key and the fingerings mostly stay the same, except for the very top and bottom notes. The clarinet has a register key which makes a jump of a twelfth—again the fingerings remain mostly the same other than being different pitches. With the flute, you jump the octave with the use of the lip while using many of the same fingerings.
“The bassoon is a bit more than a three octave instrument. Once you move upward from the middle-low register, you have multiple problems to deal with. This includes completely different fingerings for many notes in the upper registers, extreme care with diaphragm and breath control to get the higher pitches in tune and passages which require extreme dexterity. Examples range from many of the Vivaldi bassoon concertos, up-tempo pieces of Charlie Parker and Dizzy, and the release of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Well You Needn’t’ with its fast-moving, descending chromatic seventh chords. Not for the faint hearted.”
Smith’s years of study have paid off. But there’s more to learn; he best yet to come.
“I just did a concert in England at the Thame Concert Jazz Club with the Jonathan Gee trio filling out my ‘Bassoon and Beyond’ jazz quartet with wonderful piano, bass and drum accompaniment,” he says in December of 2007. “This trio performed many times at Ronnie Scotts in London with the likes of Joe Lovano and Benny Golson, so it was important that I do my best with them. I came well-prepared and was able to do the entire concert from memory with no music stand on stage and never missed a note. My solos were light years beyond my jazz album solos and the evening just got better and better. I attribute this to a lot of hard work, and by leaving nothing to chance in preparing for this concert. The lesson here is that one can attain higher and higher levels in jazz and continually improving with hard work and dedication.
JAZZIMPROV MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2007
Is it a trombone, a baritone sax or perhaps a bass clarinet? When one hears the first notes of Bebop Bassoon, as Daniel Smith starts swinging on “Killer Joe,” the sound is a bit ambiguous and disconcerting. As Smith solos, it becomes apparent that this is a sound rarely heard before — an improvising bassoonist.
In the 1920s, there were two jazz bassoonists of note although both were better known for their work on other instruments. Frankie Trumbauer, master of the C-melody saxophone, an instrument that became largely extinct in jazz when he retired, took an occasional rare solo on bassoon, showing that he was quite fluent. Garvin Bushell, a clarinetist who played with Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds in 1921 and recorded with John Coltrane (a few numbers on Live At The Village Vanguard) 40 years later, was a superior musician who also played tenor, alto, soprano, and oboe in addition to clarinet and bassoon. He took a fine bassoon solo with the Louisiana Sugar Babes (a recording group with both Fats Waller and James P. Johnson) in 1928 and was occasionally featured in the late 1950s playing bassoon with Wilbur DeParis’
New New Orleans Jazz Band.
But other than its use in Paul Whiteman’s band and on dates with string orchestras, the bassoon remained 100% associated with classical music for decades. A few West Coast cool jazz sessions in the 1950s used a bassoon but no major jazz bassoonist emerged from those projects. In the 1960s, several tenor-saxophonists explored the bassoon a little. Veteran
Illinois Jacquet surprised many by occasionally switching to bassoon for a ballad. Yusef Lateef, best known for his work on tenor, flute and oboe, once in awhile also played bassoon as did Ken McIntyre. In later years Frank Tiberi with Woody Herman’s orchestra
also had spots on bassoon.
It has only been in recent times that a few fulltime jazz bassoonists emerged. Karen Borca, who was associated with the late altoist Jimmy Lyons, plays bassoon in avant-garde settings. Janet Grice was featured in some unlikely pop/jazz crossover projects on bassoon. And perhaps the most significant, Michael Rabinowitz, has shown on numerous occasions that
the bassoon can take a saxophonist’s place in straight ahead jazz.
Daniel Smith is believed to be the most recorded bassoon soloist of today. While many of his projects are in classical music (including a six-CD set of all 37 Vivaldi bassoon concertos), he is a true rarity in that he is equally skilled in jazz. When he plays jazz, he does not come across as a classical stylist who is moonlighting or slumming but as an improviser who digs into the material.
Bebop Bassoon and The Swingin’ Bassoon, both released by Zah Zah, are logical places to begin in exploring Daniel Smith’s conception of the jazz bassoon.
Accompanied by the tasteful rhythm section of pianist Martin Bejerano, bassist John Sullivan and drummer Ludwig Afonso, Smith is cast in the role of a tenor-saxophonist, usually stating the melodies and taking the bulk of the solo space although there are plenty of spots for Bejerano and occasionally Sullivan.
One might think that the former date is beboporiented while the latter looks towards swing, but both sets actually feature similar music. Other than Dexter Gordon’s “Sticky Wicket,” Sammy Nestico’s “Hay Burner” and Hank Mobley’s “Home At Last,” each of the selections are well-known standards.
Once one gets past the novel sound of a bassoon in this format, the music comes across as much more conventional. Smith has done a fine job of mastering the bebop vocabulary and sounding like a fulltime jazz musician, not an easy feat. Nor is it simple to play the bassoon in a jazz setting with the facility of a masterful saxophonist. However it would be an exaggeration to call his solos innovative. Smith’s improvisations are boppish and a bit conservative, never venturing outside the chord structures. No special arrangements were used and the overall music sounds more like an informal run-through of tunes than an attempt to say something new, beyond the featuring of a bassoon. Certainly these versions of “Killer Joe,” “Sister Sadie” and “Doxy” from Bebop Bassoon, and “Well You Needn’t,” “Mood Indigo” and “A Night In Tunisia” on The Swingin’ Bassoon would never be considered definitive or as significant as the recordings by the Jazztet, Horace Silver, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington or Dizzy Gillespie.
But the music is certainly enjoyable, swinging and very well played. These two CDs serve as proof that the bassoon can fit comfortably into jazz, and that Daniel Smith is a brilliant musician.
‘Bebop Bassoon’ with Daniel Smith – a CD you’ll definitely want to order’
Don Albert/ Tonight magazine, South Africa
…’You can only marvel at Daniel Smith’s awesome command of the bassoon….undeniable virtuosity….a must for bassoonists everywhere’. P. M. JAZZ UK
‘ a welcome new sound’ .
Playing the bassoon might not be considered quite as “cool” as playing the saxophone – at least not in a jazz context. But the bassoon fits in quite comfortably in this context too. It’s register is similar to that of the tenor sax and with ample volume characteristic of such a wind instrument. His ease of execution is at all times present, even in the low register. If jazz within the be-bop idiom is part of your musical tastes, then this performance should definitely interest you.
The featured track “Killer Joe” is one of the standards of the jazz world. Originally written and performed by tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, it has been subjected to a variety of jazz settings throughout the years. Daniel Smith’s contribution may well be seen as a welcome new sound.
‘Album is a masterpiece’
What would say about an album of jazz masters with music ranging from Duke Ellington to Sonny Rollins, and which contains some of their best compositions? Such pieces as ‘In A Sentimental Mood’, ‘Blue Monk’, ‘All Blues’ and so forth. You would say that you have already heard these pieces many times before. But you would be making a big mistake, as I did myself. You would not have known that you would be hearing all these classics performed on one of the most difficult wind instruments and one not thought of as a jazz instrument. In the past, other musicians have tried to play jazz on this instrument, but with much less success.
The album we are speaking of is ‘Bebop Bassoon’, a truly unique album on the Zah Zah label which belongs to the Swiss firm Guild Music.
We are dealing here with Daniel Smith, one of the best bassoonists in the classical music world as well as jazz. He has the distinction of having recorded all the 37 bassoon concertos of Antonio Vivaldi as well as other albums with some of the best orchestras in the world.
In jazz, his preferred setting is with small ensembles. His playing makes these pieces into new and original sounding musical interpretations, and with a very distinctive sound.
The album is interesting from the opening piece to the last, your own choice as to a favorite selection depends on personal taste. For me, I would choose ‘Sister Sadie’ as my favorite piece.
All in all, the album is a masterpiece which certainly deserves your attention.
‘Bebop Bassoon is something special’
The Bebop-Bassoon album of Daniel Smith is something special. The insertion of the bassoon into the world of jazz is in itself new. With this album, Daniel Smith makes it clear that the sound of the bassoon fits wonderfully with bebop jazz.
A jazz band with a bassoonist has not only become a reality, it also opens up realms of sound previously unfamiliar to the listener.
”great musician, great jazz. Listeners loved it-so did I’
“Jazz on a bassoon? No way. That’s what I thought before listening to Daniel Smith’s CD “Bebop Bassoon”. I was wrong. Great arrangements – great musician – great jazz. Listeners loved it – so did I.
Nancy MacLarty, Dimensions in Jazz, #3 in Jazz on internet radio Live365British Columbia, Canada”
‘Great musicianship…Smith has transformed the bassoon from it’s usual role in classical music to that of a soloist in a jazz quartet’.
How many of you are familiar with the bassoon? I’d guess not too many. And how many of those few have ever heard improvisation on bassoon? Very few for sure. ‘Bebop Bassoon’, the latest recording by the award-winning American classical bassoonist Daniel Smith, has incredible material. A pioneering effort which demonstrates on this double reed instrument his virtuosity, accompanied by wonderful musicians from the American jazz scene such as pianist Martin Bejerano and bassist John Sullivan from Roy Haynes’ band and New York drummer Ludwig Afonso from Spyro Gira. The album includes works by the greats of bebop, from Parker’s ‘Anthropology’ to Gillespie’s ‘Birk’s Works’, which turn out surprisingly well given the difficulty in phrasing on this instrument. It is truly impressive to see the way the bassoon has been transformed from it’s usual function of accompaniment in classical music to the role of soloist in a quartet that plays 1950’s bebop.
All in all, thumbs up for this recording with a unique sound, where the bassoon, thanks to Smith’s great musicianship, can completely express it’s hidden soul as a jazz solo instrument
Fausto Vedova Altri Suoni
‘Enthusiastic Likeable effort from the hard swinging Smith’
The bassoon has never been one of jazz’ more prominent wind instruments-not in bop, not in swing or Dixieland, not in fusion, not in the avant-garde. In terms of recognition as a jazz instrument, the bassoon has paled in comparison to the tenor sax, the trumpet, the clarinet and even the trombone and flugelhorn. And for jazz bassoonist Daniel Smith, that’s a very good thing. since it means he has more room for individual expression on ‘Bebop Bassoon’. This 2004 date is in some respects, a very traditional hard bop-oriented outing of the 40’s and 50’s variety. Smith and his acoustic rhythm section- Martin Bejerano on piano, John Sullivan on bass, and Ludwig Afonso on drums-play bebop changes in a 40’s and 50’s minded fashion, and their choice of material such as Charlie Parker’s ‘Anthropology’ , Thelonious Monk’s ‘Blue Monk’, Sonny Rollin’s ‘Doxy’, and Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Birk’s Works’ are warhorses. But they aren’t warhorses that have a long history of being played on the bassoon-not by any means-and Smith has no problem keeping the intrigue factor high. It isn’t as though the bassoon had no history as a jazz instrument before Smith, but it’s a limited history, which means that no one is going to hear this CD and say, ‘Dear God, not another version of ‘Anthropology’ played on the bassoon! Haven’t we already been down that road 5,000 times?’ One hopes that the warhorse element won’t be as strong on subsequent Smith projects; bassoon or not, there are plenty of great but lesser-known pieces that Smith and other improvisers shouldn’t ignore. Nonetheless, this is an enthusiastic, likable effort from the hard-swinging Smith.
‘Bebop Bassoon’, what a great recording! ‘You really have to check this out! Orchestra of the University of Kobe bulletin board
As a leading solo artist of the bassoon. Daniel Smith’s ‘Bebop Bassoon’ is a very valuable album, especially since Smith is the only solo bassoonist performing in both the jazz and classical fields. Excellent performance and very interesting to listen to.
OCTOBER 20, 2006 – ‘Perhaps the most important bassoon player of our time’
THE BASSOONIST’S ENVY
All of you already know of my fixation for the bassoon, that very unusual and antique looking instrument utilized by the great classical music orchestras. On this third review about such a curious instrument ( I have written about Michael Rabinowitz and the Bassoon Brothers), this time I bring to my friends in search of the best: A musician that plays the kind of music that pleases me a lot: – A light and intelligent post-bop jazz. Daniel Smith perhaps is the most important bassoon player of our time, navigating in both the classical and popular worlds with equal achievements. I will leave you with the track “Killer Joe” of the cd “Bebop Bassoon” recorded in 2004 with Martin Bejerano (piano), John Carver (Bass) and Ludwig Alfonso (Drums). Excellent!
John Lester – GRAMOPHONE JAZZSEEN (Portugal)
“Smith possesses an imagination and musicality capable of splashing new colors and tonalities on jazz standards”
Jacques Aboucaya, Pour Jazz Magazine, France
Radio Adelaide 101.5 FM
“What a great player!!!! ‘Bebop Bassoon’ ….It is excellent!
Will start including the music in July and the following months.”
Peter Kuller, Jazz Presenter
O’S Place Jazz Newsletter
O’s Notes; this is a very unusual application with Dan Smith playing his bassoon on jazz tracks! Dan is typically a classical musician. He ventured into jazz some time ago recording Bebop Bassoon but holding up on the release until it was perfected. What we hear on the finished product is excellent strating with “Killer Joe” and moving through jazz classics. The accompanying musicians are tight as well forming a quartet. Bassist John Sullivan, Ludwig Afonso (d) and Martin Bejerano (p) provide strong support as well as some good solos of their own. We non’t need to excuse Smith as a jazz rookie at any time as he races through the changes on Parkers “Anthropology” without skippint a beat. Takd a listen hear, you’ll enjoy it!
Style: BeBop / Hard Bop
Musicians: Daniel Smith (bassoon), Ludwig Afonso (drums), John Sullivan (Bass), Martin Bejerano (piano)
Starting about fifteen years ago the jazz community felt a resurgence of retrospective reflection on the jazz of the 60’s and the years leading up to that era of jazz expressionism. Perhaps the fervent attraction comes from the way the musicians expressed strong emotions and feeling, expressing their views and experiences of the world in which they lived, and their push to explore new forms of music (jazz).
Daniel Smith has been a part of this retrospective movement, with obvious study of the swing and be-bop era, and Smith is fluent in the language of that time. However, Smith is still pushing the boundaries today by his instrument choice- the bassoon! Granted this is not as boundary breaking as Miles’s Kind of Blue, but it does expand the roster of jazz instruments.
The fist question in the readers mind is probably; “What does jazz bassoon sound like?” The simplest answer; like a reed trombone. The sonic quality is rich and similar in range and shape as the trombone, but with a fuzzier reed sound and much more agility (similar to that of a saxophone).
Smith’s new release entitled Bebop Bassoon is a collection of ten well known standards that are designed to showcase Smith’s ability on the bassoon. As the most recorded bassoon soloist in the world, Smith’s repertoire ranges from Baroque concerti to contemporary music including jazz, ragtime and crossover. Presently Smith is the only bassoonist performing and recording in both the jazz and classical fields. Playing both worlds is a very challenging thing to do, and has only be successfully accomplished by a select few musicians- Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Eddie Daniels might come to mind the quickest.
Smith’s interpretation of Ellington’s beautiful ballad, “In a Sentimental Mood,” really lets the listener hear the sound of the bassoon and enjoy the wonderful colors and moods the instrument gives forth, that until now have been savoured primarily in a symphonic setting. Pianist Martin Bejerano uses the hauntingly beautiful countermelody that Duke used with Coltrane, giving a nice addition to overall texture of the track
“Sister Sadie” is another highlight with Smith displaying the ability and agility of the bassoon with a nice solo over a swinging groove provided by bassist John Sullivan and Ludwig Afonso on drums. The arrangement is also worth mentioning, with an obvious nod to the great Gil Evans.
Bebop Bassoon expresses strong emotions and feeling, Smith and his cohorts seem to feel the urgency to express their views and experiences of the world in which they live, and Smith is pushing to expand the horizon of what is considered a legit jazz instrument. That said, Bebop Bassoon is a welcome addition to the saga of jazz and any CD collection.
Tracks: Sister Sadie, Blue Monk, Anthropology, In A Sentimental Mood, Killer Joe, All Blues, Up Against The Wall, Doxy, Stickey Wicket, Birk’s Works
H. Allen Williams
CD Review: New Music Box from The American Music Center
Thought you heard the last word on neo-bop, guess again. Bebop Bassoon! No, really. Sounds funny right? Actually it’s not a totally unprecedented jazz instrument. Ken McIntyre did some fascinating lower double-reed work from time to time, and a quick Google search on jazz bassoon will take you to the website of sometime Bela Fleck and Paul Dresher sideman Paul Hanso–located at, where else, jazzbassoon.com! Now along comes Daniel Smith, who ups the ante on all of them by putting out an album of covers of classic tunes by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and even Miles Davis’s “All Blues” from Kind of Blue! You’ve gotta hear this to believe it. But IMHO, it’s on Dexter Gordon’s “Sticky Wicket” that Smith’s alternative horn most fully commands center stage. So, what’s next, bebop contrabassoon?
Jazz Weekly Review
Zah Zah Records
By George W. Harris
This guy has guts. What else can you say for a guy that takes the most unyielding of instruments, the double reed bassoon, and takes it on a journey of bebop and hard bop standards? And you thought Buddy Defranco had it tough with the clarinet? As a reed player myself, all I could do was listen in awe of the mastery of Smith. He just takes apart pieces like “Anthropology” and “Sister Sadie” as if they were nursery rhymes. Even as daunting a piece as Coltrane’s “Up Against the Wall” is deftly handled.
This beast was definitely tamed by Daniel Smith.
Anima Jazz Friday June 16 2006
‘A recording of “classic” Be-Bop tunes, but played on a very unusual instrument: the bassoon, which the talented Daniel Smith plays with great fluidity.’
Roberta on the Arts Tuesday June 06 2006
This is a fascinating new recording, with Daniel Smith on bassoon, in numerous jazz works, that would otherwise feature trumpet or sax. He chooses the best of the best, pieces by Coltrane, Gillespie, Golson, Monk, (Miles) Davis, Rollins, Parker, and more. Daniel Smith showcases the bassoon, out of its more common, classical milieu, and he presents a new and refreshing sound.
#3 –Blue Monk – Composed by Thelonius Monk. Martin Bejerano opens this track with a melodic solo, closely joined by Daniel Smith. Bejerano is fast rising in the jazz scene, with versatility and breezy blending. Bejerano and Smith switch and combine leads, while the melody meanders to a close.
#5 –In a Sentimental Mood – Composed by Duke Ellington. In this song, one of my favorite tracks, Smith towers over the band with moody bliss. The clarity of the deep bassoon is noteworthy, and Ludwig Afonso, on prominent percussion, joined by John Sullivan, on bass, provide a strong, resonant backup.
#6–All Blues – Composed by Miles Davis. John Sullivan opens this well known Miles Davis standard. Smith carries the theme, while Sullivan plays a contrasting rhythm, before Bejerano turns it into a contemporary riff.
#8 –Up Against the Wall – Composed by John Coltrane. This track is notable for an extended drum riff by Afonso, amidst Smith’s prominent and powerful bassoon lead. Coltrane’s piece is jumping and kicking and never sounded quite like this.
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
FONET Finland Thursday June 08 06
“I do not think I have heard anything like this before. Way back Yusef Lateef made a LP with all kinds of flutes and – I think – oboe – but never bassoon. I also think Dan Smith is the real thing. The record is well worth listening to. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to listen to my first bebop bassoon! Keep swinging!”
“Daniel Smith, bassoon, with Martin Bejerano, piano, John Sullivan, bass, Ludwig Alfonso, drums, Bebop Bassoon (Guild GmbH Zah Zah). Smith makes clear the challenge faced by the bebop bassoonist: he has few role models, the instrument is tougher than the sax, and “one would have to shed all preconceived notions as to how to play jazz on the instrument.” Jazz could use a few novel instruments. Too many jam sessions are ruined by a glut of saxophones. So I welcome Smith’s efforts, which include a bluesy “Doxy,” a frenetic “Anthropology” and a surprisingly suave “Killer Joe.” Smith’s tone is light and fluid and his sidemen, especially blues-tinged pianist Bejerano, have an eloquent touch. Three stars.”
Mary Kunz Goldman
An Impressive Multitalented Musician, June 7, 2006
Until this recording, BEBOP BASSOON, this listener knew the name Daniel Smith only as related to his prodigious gifts as a classical bassoonist: his recording of the Vivaldi Bassoon Concerti is a stunning achievement and ranks him among the finest classically trained bassoonists today.
And then here comes BeBop Bassoon! Not being familiar with this aspect of Smith’s gifts (I haven’t heard his other jazz recordings) made listening to this unique CD a welcome discovery. Not only does Daniel Smith negotiate treacherous territory in the jazz idiom, he plays in such a centered fashion that the music feels as though it is coming directly from his soul. He is extremely well supported by his colleagues: Martin Bejerano on piano, John Sullivan on bass and Ludwig Afonso on drums. Each is a pro and seems to understand the dark sound of the bassoon playing jazz and find just the right equivalent of tone in their own instruments that makes this set of fine songs move into the pinnacle of jazz performance.
Works on the CD include favourites from Thelonious Monk (‘Blue Monk’), John Coltrane (‘Up Against the Wall’), Duke Ellington (“In a Sentimental Mood’), Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Charley Parker, Dexter Gordon, Horace Silver and Benny Golson. It is the cream of the crop and served with flavours you may have never tasted! Highly recommended.
All about Jazz May 2006
Daniel Smith has invested a lot of time and energy to bring the repertoire of the bassoon into ragtime, jazz and contemporary music. Smith has recorded such titles as Bassoon Bon Bons, Bravo Bassoon and The Swinging Bassoon, as well as performances of Gunther Schuller’s “Concerto for Contrabassoon and Orchestra” and Steve Gray’s “Jazz Suite For Bassoon and Orchestra.” As a result of his many and diverse bassoon recordings, he has received considerable media attention for his efforts. In 2005, composter/arranger Robert Farnon dedicated his final composition to Smith: “Romancing the Phoenix,” a three-movement bassoon concerto with rhythm section and symphony orchestra in a jazz setting.
In working with a jazz piano trio in order to adapt the bassoon to an all-jazz standards setting, Smith is extremely comfortable with the concept and the results, even if the instrument does not treat all of the titles equally. For example, on Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk,” the mournful sound of the bassoon is just perfect to demonstrate how well the concept works. However, when he tackles Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie,” the funky classic sounds too artificial. The ballad and blues entries, like the Miles Davis “All Blues” or the Ellington piece “In a Sentimental Mood” are sympatico with the use of bassoon as a lead instrument—as is the case with such bebop classics as “Killer Joe,” the Parker/Gillespie tune ”Anthropology” and Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy.”
In an interesting departure from this format, Daniel Smith provides an experiment in adapting Coltrane’s “Up Against the Wall” to fit a piano-less group of bassoon, bass and drums. Otherwise, Smith is well supported by the trio of Martin Bejerano (piano), John Sullivan (bass) and Ludwig Afonso (drums).
Michael P Gladstone
Pour JAZZ MAGAZINE (France).
Le basson est ordinairement associé à la musique symphonique. En faire un instrument soliste de jazz relevait donc de la gageure. Pari engagé et tenu par Daniel Smith, dont le répertoire habituel, du baroque à la musique contemporaine avec des incursions dans le ragtime et le « crossover », pousse ici un pseudopode vers le jazz. Plus précisément vers le bop et le hard bop dont il revisite les classiques signés Golson, Parker, Monk, Gillespie, Miles, Rollins, Coltrane, Silver ou Dexter Gordon, avec une incursion dans l’univers ellingtonien. Il est soutenu dans cette entreprise par un trio des plus homogènes d’où émerge le pianiste Martin Bejerano, particulièrement stimulant et qui se révèle soliste accompli. On appréciera la cohérence et le swing de son improvisation dans Sister Sadie où le batteur Ludwig Afonso se met aussi en valeur. Le bassiste, pour sa part, donne sa pleine mesure dans l’introduction et dans son chorus de All Blues. Quant à Smith lui-même, il fait preuve d’un bout à l’autre d’imagination et d’une musicalité qui, le premier moment de surprise passé, emporte l’adhésion. Mieux, les standards passés au creuset de son basson en sortent transformés au point d’acquérir des couleurs nouvelles.
All about Jazz Friday May 26 2006
The bassoon is rarely heard in jazz. The big, deep-toned double reed instrument is much more at home in the classical world. When encountered in a jazz setting, it’s usually in larger ensemble recordings, painting dark colors in the harmonies. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s classic Alegria (Verve, 2003) is a good example of the more common usage in the genre.
Daniel Smith’s Bebop Bassoon takes the instrument into uncharted territory—out front, with a piano/bass/drums rhythm section in support, like a Dexter Gordon outing. Smith makes the horn switch on a set of classic bebop tunes from the pens of bop masters Benny Golson, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington (not quite bebop, of course), Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon.
You could say it’s a way to get out of the comfort zone, but bassoonist Daniel Smith apparently isn’t a “comfort zone” kind of guy. He has recorded the Complete 37 Vivaldi Concertos, a disc that was selected by the Music Industry Association as Best Concerto Recording of the Year, in addition to pushing his instrument’s repertoire into ragtime, jazz and contemporary music.
Bebop Bassoon works surpisingly well, a unusual and idiosyncratic treat for the ears. Smith navigates the bassoon’s rich, woody tone through saxophonist Benny Golson’s slinky gem “Killer Joe,” making the tune sound as if were written for the instrument. He also plays Charlie Parker’s “Anthropolgy,” Monk’s “Blue Monk,” Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” John Coltrane’s “Up Against the Wall” and more.
You could give the disc extra credit for the novelty of the approach, but it doesn’t need any. This is an excellent jazz outing—familiar territory traversed in style.
The bassoon is “known for its distinctive tone color, wide range, variety of character, and agility.” (Wikipedia)
You know from the first notes of the first track that this is not a typical jazz recording. What is that sound? A tuba at the top of its range? An oddly muted trombone? A bari sax under water? It’s a bassoon, a bassoon playing a great bop standard from Benny Golson, “Killer Joe.” Daniel Smith has given this long hollow tube a new purpose—to sing melody and improvise as if it was truly a jazz instrument. And so it becomes, as delightfully illustrated on Bebop Bassoon, released this month on Swiss-based ZahZah Records.
Daniel Smith and the Jazz Bassoon
Simultaneously dubbed the “Gerry Mulligan of the Bassoon” in jazz circles and the “Rampal of the Bassoon” in the classical realm, Daniel Smith is above all a versatile pioneer when it comes to this great double reed. With recordings and performances that stretch from Baroque to ragtime to bop, Smith has turned the bassoon repertoire upside-down and inside-out, resulting in a much greater appreciation of this unique and difficult-to-master instrument. Smith appears to be the only bassoonist today who is performing and recording both classical and jazz, although the first appearance of the bassoon in a jazz context goes back to the 1920s and Paul Whiteman’s orchestra. In the 1960s, both Yusef Lateef and Chick Corea incorporated some bassoon into their recordings, and saxophonists Illinois Jacquet and Frank Tiberi occasionally doubled on the bassoon. A few contemporary jazz artists exclusively play bassoon (Karen Borca, Michael Rabinowitz). Yet only Smith, who has enjoyed a highly successful classical career, has managed to actively span both genres, and particularly bring public attention to the bassoon as a solo jazz instrument as well as ensemble playmate.
Daniel Smith’s career in music did not have an auspicious beginning. Growing up in The Bronx with aspirations to be a visual artist, his first real exposure to music came at age 16 when he saw Benny Goodman perform on a televised New Year’s Eve special. So unfamiliar with the music was Smith that he identified the wonderful instrument he heard as a trumpet rather than clarinet. Nevertheless inspired by Goodman, Smith first sought clarinet lessons, then studied saxophone and flute. He initially enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music as a clarinet major, later switching his emphasis to flute. After completing his military obligation as a clarinet/flute player with the West Point Army Band, Smith decided to learn the bassoon to increase his options for studio work and as a Broadway pit musician.
Despite his classical training and expertise, Smith notes that his background is atypical of both classical and jazz musicians, “…although I did study eventually with some of the best players and teachers, including the principal players from the NY Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Boston Symphony and even from Toscanini’s NBC Symphony.” At one time or another, Smith played with the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and other leading classical ensembles. “However, along the way, I also did many things in music that a strictly classically trained bassoonist would never experience and certainly not which you would associate with someone known as a solo classical or jazz bassoonist,” such as playing sax and flute with Latin bands in New York clubs. Eventually, Smith found himself gravitating more and more toward work as a bassoon soloist, and seeking “to plunge into areas of music where the bassoon had never gone before—crossover, ragtime, popular music, and of course jazz.” While his “double life” is unique, Smith has also displayed some unusual efforts strictly within the classical tradition, such as recording the complete (37!) bassoon concerti of Vivaldi (voted “Best Concerto Recording of the Year” by the Music Industry Association and awarded the Penguin Guide’s coveted *** rosette rating). In 2003, Smith was designated as “Ambassador for the Bassoon” by Youth Music in the United Kingdom.
Smith has previously released recordings of jazz bassoon with his quartet “Bassoon and Beyond,” including Baroque Jazz (jazz renditions of Baroque classics) and Jazz Suite for Bassoon (a commissioned work by Steve Gray). A follow-up to Bebop Bassoon will be released in fall 2006 on ZahZah Records as The Swinging Bassoon.
For this quartet release, Daniel Smith has brought together a rhythm section of 20-somethings that define “young lions.” Martin Bejerano is still in his 20s but his tenure with Roy Haynes’ Fountain of Youth band turned him into a seasoned veteran. He can swing at any tempo and his embellishments are filled with spiraling lines and melodic chords. John Sullivan, a partner of Bejerano as bassist for Haynes, is a master at walking around the melody and pushing the pulse. Cuban native Ludwig Afonso was well versed in Latin grooves before enrolling at the University of Miami and playing with Ira Sullivan, Nestor Torres and Sammy Figueroa. Now he manages the drum kit for Spryo Gyra.
The playlist reads like a “best of bop” with classic tunes from Parker, Monk, Silver, Ellington, Davis, Rollins, Gillespie and Gordon. The one uncommon track is from the back pages of John Coltrane’s songbook, “Up Against the Wall.” It’s not an inventive selection, but perhaps that works to the advantage of the unique instrumentation—it’s a kick to hear tunes we know well with a totally new sound. If the CD title alone doesn’t make you smile, the first few bars of Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” should be sufficient. Bejerano gives a bouncy introduction before the bassoon sounds the melody and makes clear that the set will offer a lot more than a run through jazz standards. There’s a slight vibrato, a slightly growly tone, legato phrases and more staccato pops, or maybe burps in the case of the bassoon. Bejerano provides an angular swinging solo, Sullivan walks with authority, and Afonso manages the pulse with occasional bursts of energy. Smith opens Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology” in perfect tandem with Sullivan and Afonso, and with the addition of Bejerano, it sounds more like a choir of horns. Bejerano and Sullivan take the first improvisational chorus and their duet is charming, particularly Sullivan’s hearty swinging line. Smith takes over, this time sounding more like a muted trombone with a bubbly tone that evokes the sonic image of a yodeling bullfrog—not exactly a beautiful sound but one that brings a smile. Sullivan’s solo echoes the bassoon’s tone, and Smith manages to articulate a quick run to the finish.
An off quadrant introduction from Bejerano introduces “Blue Monk” before Smith sounds the melody with a buzzy vibrato. He climbs to the very top of the bassoon with twists and slides over some heavy marching basslines, chordal figures from the piano, and steady flow from Afonso. Bejerano provides one of his most enjoyable and quirky solos of the set before Smith returns playing off Sullivan’s minor diversions. Even Smith’s closing tremolo makes it sound as if Monk actually had a bassoon in mind all along, and certainly one has to assume that Monk would have enjoyed this translation.
Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie” is one of my favorites in this set, as the bassoon becomes an instrument of fleet-fingered funk. Smith slides along the melody as easily as if this was just an “ordinary” sax. The rhythm section has a field day, Sullivan burning up and down the box while Bejerano shows off his articulate post bop chops and Afonso reels off some dandy popping combinations. Smith closes with a flutter worthy of any saxman. While even Smith’s bassoon is no match for the buttery tone of a tenor sax on a ballad such as “In a Sentimental Mood,” he nevertheless delivers a version that preserves the emotion of Ellington’s classic; the bassoon is well suited to evoke melancholy if not traditional balladic beauty. Again the pairing of Bejerano and Sullivan is a heavenly match, with Sullivan creating avibrato that mimics the bassoon. Smith’s phrases move smoothly and his closing cadenza and final stretched note leave a wistfully sweet buzz lingering in the air.
Miles Davis’ “All Blues” features the bassoon’s soaring message over Sullivan’s skipping bassline. Smith covers the full range of the bassoon here, but largely Sullivan is the star of this track, executing a gnarly solo and, like the leader, is a master at pulling endless variations of sound from his instrument. The ensemble’s rendition of the Rollins’ classic, “Doxy,” swings with heft from the first phrase, the bassoon doing its best to speak the tenor language while always maintaining a distinctive voice. Again, Sullivan is a perfect foil, carrying on much in the same tone in support of Bejerano’s swinging romp, as well as letting loose on his own solo turn. The last chorus is just the two bottom lines, as Sullivan and Smith play off each other with delight. Coltrane’s “Up Against the Wall” is one of the sax legend’s seldom-heard masterpieces. Bejerano sits out on this track, leaving the bassoon as the primary melodic force. This one comes far closer to the edge than any other track and forces one to really listen to the way Smith delves into melody and improvisation. Afonso’s contributions are more readily apparent as well, and he engages in a solo that shows off his broad palette of sonic devices.
Dizzy Gillespie’s “Birks Works” gives the rhythm section plenty of space, Bejerano exploring the intricacies of the minor blues form with steadily marching support from Sullivan and subtle but firm accents from Afonso. Smith responds in a similar vein, the hollow tone of the bassoon fitting the mood perfectly. Sullivan reveals his melodic sense, setting up Smith’s vibrant return to the head. The closing track, “Sticky Wicket” (Dexter Gordon) is another sax classic that translates well to the bassoon. And again Sullivan proves himself a compatible soloist, almost like a second horn (especially when the first horn is a bassoon!), while Afonso’s contribution here, as throughout, is more to inject comments than to carry the conversation. Although the shortest track, everyone has a moment in the sun, an appropriate finale to a set that is equal parts lead instrument and ensemble interplay.
I have plenty of good jazz ensemble recordings on my shelves, but none surpass Bebop Bassoon for pure fun. And none provide such an in-depth introduction to an unlikely instrument’s potential to bring yet one more new sound to jazz performance. I hope to hear a lot more from Daniel Smith’s bassoon “and beyond.”
“Just as a beautiful melodic line or a well-shaped phrase is what you are aiming for in classical music, the same can be said about jazz. As you improvise, always try to play something that expresses an emotion, be it one of joy, sadness, excitement, or whatever the piece calls for.“
Daniel Smith (Music Teacher, 1999)
Audiophile Audition May 2006
Web Magazine for Music, Audio and Home Theatre
Bassoonist Smith is equally at classical and jazz genres and proves it on this swingin’ CD
Daniel Smith – Bebop Bassoon (Smith, bassoon; Martin Bejerano, piano; John Sullivan, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums) – ZahZah ZZCD 9820, 45:11 (Distr. by Albany) ****:
What a kick is this CD! It should appeal to both chamber jazz lovers and chamber music fans. Though recorded in NYC and mixed at Big Dog/Fat Cat Studios in Florida, it somehow fits that a Swiss CD label picked this unique session to release commercially.
Smith holds the claim to being the world’s most-recorded bassoonist. He did all 37 Vivaldi bassoon concertos for the ASV label, and is the only bassoonist performing and recording in both the jazz and classical fields. Smith has been written up in papers and magazines worldwide, including The New York Times, and has been referred to as the “Gerry Mulligan of the Bassoon.” Last year composer/arranger Robert Farnon dedicated his final work to Daniel Smith: a three-movement bassoon concerto titled “Romancing the Phoenix.”
I recall fondly the jazz oboe excursions of Bob Cooper from the 50s, and the bassoon is really the same thing except going down an octave or so. The task of playing jazz on the bassoon is not an easy one, though. The instrument is the hardest member of the woodwinds to play (although the French horn is no picnic either). Playing concert music is difficult enough, but jazz phrases are much more difficult to play on a bassoon than on, say, a saxophone. Smith sounds like he has no trouble at all – but isn’t that the secret of great performing ability – to make it look or sound like it’s not difficult? Smith says in his introduction in the notes that he has to wear “two hats” – one keeping a conservatory-trained concept in place when playing with an orchestra or ensemble, and then switching completely to another way of thinking and playing in the world of jazz.
After a track or two of these jazz standards I began to get past the oddity of the bassoon in jazz and was just thinking of the soloist as being an unusual sort of bass clarinet or sax. Thoughts of the opening of The Rite of Spring came to mind hearing Smith’s high register treatment of Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie, and the low end comes to the fore in several other tracks, mixing beautifully with the drums and bass. For me the highlight track was Miles Davis’ All Blues. What a different version of this classic which we’ve all heard so many many times! Smith sounds even more mournful than Miles! Hey, now I gotta pick up on this cat’s earlier two CDs: Bassoon and Beyond, and The Swinging Bassoon. Groovy to the max!
Tracks: Killer Joe, Anthropology, Blue Monk, Sister Sadie, In a Sentimental Mood, All Blues, Doxy, Up Against the Wall, Birk’s Works, Stickey Wicket
EJAZZ NEWS POSTED TUESDAY MAY 16 2006
Daniel Smith has created an unusual sound on an instrument that is primarily used in the symphonic mode.
“Anthropology” The bassoon holds it’s own on this fast tempo bop classic. Martin Bejerano’s Powellesque piano solo goes right to the heart of hip.
Dexter Gordon’s “Sticky Wicket” is the final track on this CD and the bassoon solo is cool in it’s own strange way.
For those in search of a new sound. This is it.
JOHN GILBERT3 Stars