Walking along the streets surrounding New York City's Broadway-Times Square area late of an evening, strollers often encounter a tall, monk-like figure of ageless quality. The man is blind and he uses a long stave, like a shepherd of Biblical times, to find his way. 'Though the night might be cold, his feet are usually encased solely in sandals. His body is wrapped in a flowing robe fashioned from rough, brown blankets. His bearded face bears a gentle, haunting look. The man is the world-famous Moondog, poet, philosopher, mendicant, musician extraordinary.
Moondog is the son of missionary parents and grew up on an Indian reservation in the west. A highly-trained musician, he has an extraordinary knowledge of serious classical music as well as of jazz and ethnic music. He has written provocative symphonic scores and he has penned "pop" melodies. Friends of his will tell you that his blanket garments are filled with cunningly-fashioned pockets very much like cubby-holes and that these pockets bulge with musical scores. His interest in primitive music has drawn him to fashion strange, beautiful instruments of his own designing - whistles and flutes and percussion instruments of unusual timbres. And these, too, fill the pockets of his robe or hang from it by cords, ready for his use in impromptu, street-corner concerts. Inevitably, too, there is his contribution box, an object he once described to a reporter for a New York newspaper as "the only instrument that really keeps me alive."
Moondog is a modern bard or minstrel, a musician who travels from crowd to crowd making spontaneous music for whatever the listener might care to pay for his entertainment. Usually, his street-corner music is improvised. He listens to the sounds around him - traffic noises, a lonely fog horn bleating wearily from the river, the rumble of a subway train under the street, the sudden drone of an airplane overhead - and these sounds form the basis for the piece he proceeds to create on the spot. His performing gifts are as phenomenal as they are virtuosic and colorful. He uses his hands and feet all at once with his percussion instruments, setting two and three and four rhythms going simultaneously and contrapuntally. He sometimes takes his titles for pieces from the locale - the address on the doorway near-by (2 WEST 46TH STREET) - or from the atmosphere (FOG ON THE HUDSON). Almost any night in mid-town New York, as you wander around,
you'll encounter Moondog - and the night around him is filled with startling, spellbinding, imaginative music.
A few years ago, some recordings of a Moondog street-corner concert were made. A tape machine and a microphone were set up right there on the sidewalk and Moondog played away in inspired fashion. You might remember the recordings - they caused quite a stir in jazz circles and many a "serious" musician was attracted to them, too. Those recordings travelled far-among other places to England. And, there, they attracted the attention of the noted British jazzman: Kenny Graham. Graham was fascinated by what he heard - whole new worlds of rhythm and tonal coloration seemed to open to his mind and ear. It was then that he decided to translate the music of Moondog to the more orthodox instruments you might encounter in a jazz combo of progressive design. Not too orthodox, however. In both sides of this recording, you'll find such instruments and combinations of instruments as vibraphone, xylophone, marimba, celeste, tubular bells, Egyptian cymbals, flute, oboe, bass clarinet, accordion and "instrumentalizing" voice. The voice belongs to the Ceylonese singer: Yolanda. The result of Graham's labor is the provocative "MOONDOG SUITE." Graham's arrangements of Moondog's original material are wonderfully idiomatic, excitingly accurate in capturing the spontaneity and vigor that had first attracted him. And, the arrangements are performed superbly in this recording by some of Britain's top instrumentalists.
To complement the unique "MOONDOG SUITE," Kenny Graham has created a suite of his own, inspired by some of the techniques of Moondog. To his delightfully imaginative composition he has applied the notinappropriate title "SUNCAT SUITE." Again, here, we enter something of a bright, evocative new world of jazz: one teeming with original instrumental colors and effects, with sharp, new rhythms, and striking, meaningful ideas. "MOONDOG SUITE" and "SUNCAT SUITE" are companion pieces that fit together with exciting perfection. You'll find them rich, lastingly-entertaining listening!
KENNY GRAHAM - One of Britain's foremost jazz composers and arrangers; a large, red-bearded, soft voiced, strong man with a penchant for spending the greater part of his free time in a loose sweater refusing to conform. Mint example of that rare character, the artist who really does have talent but who genuinely refuses to have any truck with commercialism or to write anything bad just because it pays well. Mercurial temperament which ideally suits almost surrealist life he leads in Soho and elsewhere. Born July 19th, 1924 - "At eight o'clock on a Saturday morning: the earliest I ever got up," says Kenny.
Biographical Details: Born in Kent near London. Started to study music and to learn G banjo at 5; began to learn C-Melody sax when he was 12; switched to alto at 15 - on which he played first professional job a year later. Took up tenor before going into army when 17. In 1950, demobilized, formed own revolutionary group called Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists, which he led for two years before fact that their amalgam of bebop, African and Cuban rhythms and super-modern harmonies was too far above public forced them to disband. Greatly in demand as powerful swinging tenor player, Graham then played in variety of bands, including those led by AMBROSE, NAT GONELLA, ERIC WINSTONE and NAT TEMPLE besides being starred at many concerts and in small jazz club ad recording combos. More recently, has been concentrating on writing to the exclusion of tenor playing. Has written bestselling arrangements for the TED HEATH library, and has written for and acted as M.D. at recording sessions with JOSH WHITE, BIG BILL BROONZY, Britain's FRANK HOLDER and CLEO LAINE- Has led many swinging groups providing accompaniments on disc to stars.
COVER PAINTING BY JOAN MIRO, REPRODUCED BY ARRANGEMENT WITH RAYMOND & RAYMOND, N.Y.C.
Some notes on Kenny Graham
Kenny Graham died in February (1996) at the age of 72. He was born Kenneth Thomas Skingle on July 19, 1924 in London, England. Graham was a reedman, best known for his tenor sax, clarinet and flute playing. He came from a musical family and got his start on banjo when he was 6 and was playing a C-melody saxophone by the time he was 11. He did some choir singing and later played with the bands of Jiver Hutchinson, Nat Gonella, Ambrose and Jack Parnell. Graham first garnered notice on the international jazz scene in the 50s when he formed his own group, The Afro-Cubists, one of the first band of its kind overseas. Among the musicians heard in that band were trombonists Jackie Armstrong and George Chisholm, bassist Sammy Stokes and Stan Tracey, who doubled on piano and vibes. That band worked in England and on the European continent through 1958 when ill health confined Graham to hospital for a year. He then gave up playing to concentrate on writing, composing and arranging for bands led by Humphrey Lyttelton and Ted Heath. Graham also worked as musical director on English recordings by people like Josh White and Big Bill Broonzy. He composed Beaulieu Suite for a 1959 Ted Heath appearance at the Beaulieu (England) Jazz Festival.
David Meeker's Jazz In The Movies (1977) lists some 15 films that were scored by Graham. He did The Small World of Sammy Lee (1962), Night Train To Paris (1964) and Cuckoo Patrol (1965), plus a number of shorts, mostly of the industrial variety, including the 1961 Festival of Jazz, filmed at the Richmond (England) Jazz Festival and the mid-60s Our Time No.1, where the Ronnie Scott Quartet was heard. Some of his Afro-Cuban recordings, done for England's Esquire label between 1951 and 1958, were released in the U.S. by Prestige, his Moondog and Suncat Suites appeared on MGM, while Ted Heath did Graham's Australian Suite on the London label. He also recorded with Victor Feldman in 1955.
Graham listed Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie as influences. Ernest Borneman in the 1958 (year) book, Just Jazz 2, includes Graham's Caribbean Suite, Keni B'sindika and Cuban Canon among his milestones of "Creole Jazz" recordings. In the latter part of his life Graham began concentrating on the alto sax and electronic keyboard instruments.