May 21, 2024

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Warne Marsh & Kenny Drew: They performed on a Danish radio: Video

In the spring of 1980, during a swing through Norway, Sweden and Denmark, tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh ran into pianist Kenny Drew in Copenhagen. Drew had moved permanently to Paris from the States in 1961 and relocated to Copenhagen in ’64. On April 21, Marsh and Drew performed on a Danish Radio broadcast with Bo Stief on bass and Aage Tanggaard on drums. The broadcast’s recording was put out by Storyville in 1999.

Except for the title song, the tracks were a mix of American Songbook and bebop standards: Marsh’s I Got a Good One for You (based on It’s You or No One), Sophisticated Lady, On Green Dolphin Street, Sippin’ at Bells, Every Time We Say Goodbye, Little Willie Leaps, Easy to Love, Body and Soul, Ornithology, Star Eyes and Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.

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Marsh always had a soft spot for Charlie Parker and admired how the alto saxophonist could get to the point when he played. Drew, of course, played with Parker in 1950, when trumpeter Red Rodney was in the group. So a hefty helping of bop was ideal for this broadcast. As for the sidemen, Stief remains one of Denmark’s most prominent jazz bassists and has played with Drew, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Ben Webster and many other artists. Drummer Tangaard has worked with pianist Duke Jordan, Stan Getz, Ernie Wilkins, Paul Bley, Lee Konitz and plenty of others. [Photo above of Kenny Drew]

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In reading the liner notes, I had no idea Marsh was independently wealthy. His father had been a senior cameraman in Hollywood and had left money in a trust for his kids. As a result, Marsh had the luxury of playing where and what he wanted without letting financial pressures dictate the jobs he took. [Photo above of Warne Marsh by Frabs Schellekens]

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On this album, Marsh and Drew have an interesting symbiosis. Marsh’s dry tone and inclination toward cool jazz is offset by the heat of Drew’s bop chops. What’s most interesting is how little of Lennie Tristano’s influence can be heard here. Instead, the session feels more like a tribute to Bird with a few Broadway hits thrown in.

The standout exception is Star Eyes, which Marsh plays as a slow ballad. His colorless, elegiac tone is matched by Drew’s near-homesick chords and bright solo lines. It’s one of the finest versions of this song after Parker’s.

Warne Marsh died in 1987; Kenny Drew died in 1993.

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