Whiskey & Bananas Presents: “The Art of Jazz,” A Playlist by Keith Reinhard
Our favorite advertising legend’s classic jazz selections
Listen to “The Art of Jazz” on Spotify
You might know Keith Reinhard as one of the legends of advertising’s “golden era” that inspired “Mad Men.” We — or at least our Chief Creative Officer and co-founder Matt Reinhard — just call him “dad.” Keith is the curator of this month’s guest “Whiskey & Bananas” playlist, with a focus on upbeat and exciting jazz classics that span the 20th century. He goes into fascinating detail and context for why he chose each song below — along with his choice of Henri Matisse’s Jazz cut-out series to complement the music.
We know you’ll dig it!
I’ve been a jazz fan since my teens, although growing up in a small Mennonite community seriously limited my exposure to the music. Later, working long hours every night at a commercial art studio in Chicago, home of so many jazz greats, I was schooled in the music by legendary jazz aficionado Mike Rapchak and his all-night radio show on WCFL. Rapchak was known as the “dean of the big bands” and, along with playing the music, he interviewed the important jazz musicians of the day.
Over the years, I came to realize that jazz does more than entertain us, it brings us together, teaches us about our history, and, more than any other artistic expression, represents a perfect model of American democracy — each individual improvising within a well-understood framework, and working together with other players to produce a swinging, and uplifting, result. I hope you enjoy my selections.
And I hope you like the visuals, all inspired by the famous Jazz cut-out series created by Henri Matisse in 1947. He viewed jazz as a “chromatic and rhythmic improvisation” which evoked, for Matisse, the idea of a structure of rhythm and repetition broken by the unexpected action of improvisations. As the artist wrote to a friend: “There are wonderful things in real jazz, the talent for improvisation, the liveliness, the being at one with the audience.”
— Keith Reinhard
Leave Me Alone — Johnny Griffin
When people ask what jazz is all about, I always quote the great Chicago-born tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin who said: “Jazz is created by and for people who have decided to feel good, regardless of conditions.” His Chicago “tough tenor” sound on this recording makes me feel good regardless of what else is going on. I hope you feel the same.
Intermission Riff — Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton was coming onto the jazz scene about the time I was graduating from high school. Back then his sound was considered very avant-garde. I like a lot about Kenton’s music, but especially his five-trombone section that growls in close harmony on this recording. These same trombones inspired a jazz vocal quartet at Butler University in my home state of Indiana. They became famous as The Four Freshmen, with a unique sound achieved by vocalizing Kenton’s trombone charts.
Take the “A” Train — Duke Ellington
I live very close to a subway station in Manhattan, and every time I pass by it or descend into it, Duke Ellington’s theme song starts playing in my mental hum box. The song was written by his composing companion Billy Strayhorn when the young composer was invited to visit Duke at his apartment in Sugar Hill, Harlem. “How do I get there?” asked Billy. “Take the A Train to Sugar Hill,” said Duke. “It’s the quickest way to Harlem.” This recording is by the Ellington orchestra, conducted by Duke’s son Mercer, and featuring an impeccable tenor sax solo by Branford Marsalis.
Moten Swing — Count Basie
When Benny Moten played this song with his Kansas City Orchestra back in the thirties, his orchestra included Count Basie on the piano. Since then, Moten Swing has become most associated with Basie. I love the way the brass section surprises us by shouting out, in sharp contrast to Basie on piano who, as one reviewer put it, “plays little notes but gives them lots of meaning.” Moral of the story: You don’t have to be loud to be meaningful.
Stompin’ at the Savoy — Benny Goodman
When listening to jazz, I like to think of the different instruments and sections as being engaged in a conversation. Jazz people refer to this as “call and response.” One section “calls,” the other “responds.” This song is a great example of such dialogue. First the horn section calls “pah pah,” then the reed section responds, “bah da de da da dah.” A few bars later the call and response is reversed with the reed section calling and the horns responding. Soaring above this delightful conversation, Benny Goodman lifts our spirits with his clarinet solos. Goodman was another jazz great born in Chicago. The son of poor Jewish immigrants, he grew up to form, during an era of racial segregation, the first racially integrated jazz group.
Watermelon Man — Poncho Sanchez
Talk about Feelin’ Good! How can you feel any other way when you listen to Poncho Sanchez, the Mexican-American conguero (conga player) play Herbie Hancock’s composition about a watermelon vendor? Hancock, yet another Chicago-born jazz legend, composed the tune based on the men who drove their melon wagons over Chicago’s cobblestone streets and sang out about their juicy wares. Now that you know the story, you can almost hear the words “Hey, Wa-ter-mel-on man” in the five-note melodic figure that repeats through the song. Thanks to Poncho Sanchez and other Latin band leaders, this song became a bridge between Afro-Cuban and Afro-American music.
Drum Boogie — Gene Krupa
My high school buddy, Don Neuen, and I were both percussionists in our high school band and orchestra. We both admired the great drummer Gene Krupa, who was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, and who became a handsome teenage idol. We wanted to look like him and play like him, neither of which ever happened. My friend Don, however, did become a distinguished musician as a faculty member of the Eastman School of Music and later, director of choral music at UCLA. Lacking Don’s (or Gene Krupa’s) talent, I went on to be just a music lover. But when I hear Krupa on the drum breaks in songs like “Drum Boogie,” it brings back those high school days when I was trying to master drum rudiments like flamadiddles and paradiddles. At least I remember their onomatopoeic names.
Boplicity — Miles Davis
Jazz people often talk about the color of notes. You can even do a Google search to find color wheels assigning different colors to different notes. I’m not that sophisticated. But I respond to what Miles Davis and his nonet (nine-person group) are doing in this recording — experimenting with a less aggressive style of playing, and what is described as warm tonal colors, even though the album title is about the birth of cool. On the subject of color, I’ve always liked what Miles Davis himself said about the relationship between music and paintings: “A painting is music you can see. Music is a painting you can hear.”
Big Butter and Egg Man — Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis is an internationally acclaimed musician, composer, bandleader, educator and a leading advocate of American culture. I’m also proud to say he is my friend. We met in 1992 in São Paulo, Brazil and we’ve been friends ever since. Wynton is a multi-Grammy winner and the first jazz musician ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. I love his trumpet solo on this recording of a song that takes its title from a 1920’s slang term for a big spender — a traveling businessman who spent big bucks in nightclubs. Presumably the voice of the trumpet is the voice of a woman who would like to connect with a Big Butter and Egg Man. Wynton is very wise. I once asked him how he feels if people don’t like a brave new composition. His response: “You can’t just be weird man, people gotta dig it.” What great advice for all of us. I hope you dig Wynton on this track along with his father Ellis who is on piano.
Four on Six — Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery is one of the most influential guitarists ever in jazz. A product of my home state, Wes was born in Indianapolis, the middle and most celebrated brother of a family of musicians. He recorded with brothers Buddy, a vibraphonist, and Monk, who played the electric bass. I like the fact that, as a guitarist, Montgomery is said to have introduced many people to jazz — people who knew they liked guitar but didn’t know they liked jazz.
Indiana — The Modern Jazz Quartet
First recorded in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, “Indiana” (aka “(Back Home Again in) Indiana”) soon became a jazz standard. For years, Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars would open each public appearance with this number. As a native Hoosier, it always brings back good memories of my growing up days. This recording is a good example of one of the basic elements of jazz — improvisation or spontaneous composition. The tenor sax plays the familiar melody, followed by a series of soloists improvising on the basic tune structure. In the last :30 of the track, the vibraphonist brings us “Back Home Again” to Indiana and the original tune.
Cottontail — Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
I’ve been privileged to serve on the Board of Jazz at Lincoln Center for lots of years, and so I’ve been able to see and hear the best of the genre up close and personal. Under the masterful direction of Wynton Marsalis, the organization’s managing and artistic director, every member of this 16-piece orchestra could be a headliner on their own. Each musician is a composer, arranger and performer. In this closing track of my jazz playlist, the orchestra is joined by the famous tenor sax player, Illinois Jacquet. The recording is live and I hope you’ll join in the applause.