Category Archives: 1950s

What (is this thing called) Love?

Eric Dolphy

Eric Dolphy

Charles Mingus – “What Love? (live)” from Mingus at Antibes (rec. 1960)

Old-school SWR visitors might remember that I am batshit-crazy about jazz giant Charles Mingus. Some of his best work was done in the early-to-mid-1960s with alto sax/bass clarinet/flute whiz kid Eric Dolphy.

This is easily one of my favorite jazz recordings ever. The musical conversation between Mingus and Dolphy toward the end is both funny and moving, and Ted Curson’s trumpet solo kills. Drummer Dannie Richmond, as always, gives Mingus a unique rhythmic drive and texture. There’s another recording of this on the faux-live album Charles Mingus Present Charles Mingus, featuring the same lineup and much more Dolphy-Mingus interaction, but to me it doesn’t hold the same fire. Listen to it yourself:

Charles Mingus – “What Love” from Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (1960)

Mingus loosely based the chord changes of “What Love?” on the jazz standard “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Take a listen and see if you can hear the resemblance:

Clifford Brown & Max Roach – “What Is This Thing Called Love?” from Basin Street (1956)
Clifford Brown – trumpet
Sonny Rollins – tenor sax
Richie Powell – piano
George Morrow – bass
Max Roach – drums

Bill Evans Trio – “What Is This Thing Called Love?” from Portrait in Jazz (1959)
Bill Evans – piano
Scott LaFaro – bass
Paul Motian – drums

There’s some fantastic video of Mingus and Dolphy together. Start here.

Buy Mingus here

Posted by Glenn


Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Experimental, Jazz, Live



The Miles Davis Quintet – “If I Were a Bell” from Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet [1956]

Thanks to Presidents’ Day, I had today off work.   I think three days is the perfect length for a weekend; they should all be this long.  At any rate, after a long day, sometimes there is nothing better than cracking open a cold one and putting this record on the old hi-fi.   Miles’ trumpet is muted throughout the album, which gives it an especially relaxing tone.  There is also some studio banter between the tracks, which adds to the album’s informal feel.  The last sound on the album is John Coltrane asking “Where’s the beer opener?”  Classic.

This is one of four albums produced from two 1956 sessions.  The others are entitled Steamin’, Workin’ and Cookin’.

Buy Miles

Posted by Adam


Filed under 1950s, Instrumental, Jazz

“Well, all right/We’ll live and love with all our might”


Buddy Holly – “Well…All Right” single [1958], “Rave On” from Buddy Holly [1958] and “That’ll Be The Day” from The “Chirping” Crickets [1957]

Fifty years ago today, a private plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed in an Iowa cornfield, killing all three, and instantly setting the progress of rock music back by at least five years.  Listen to “Well…All Right” and you’ll see what I mean.  To say that Holly was “ahead of his time” is cliche, but it is true, and that song proves it.  The emotions expressed in that song (not to mention the music itself) are more complex than anything anyone would hear until 1965, with the release of Rubber Soul.  Blind Faith did a great cover of this song on their album.  But listen to the original first.

This event was immortalized as “The Day The Music Died” in Don McLean’s “American Pie,” an eight-minute epic that traces the history of rock ‘n roll from Feb. 3, 1959 through about 1970 and connects Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper to Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin.  Listen to Don McLean too, but listen to Buddy Holly first.

Buy Buddy

Posted by Adam

1 Comment

Filed under 1950s, Americana, Rock

This is our music

Ornette Coleman – “Peace” from The Shape of Jazz To Come (1959)

Here’s hopin’.

He really should have had Ornette play at the inauguration.

He really should have had Ornette play at the inauguration.

Buy the big O

Posted by Glenn


Filed under 1950s, Instrumental, Jazz

Country Blues

Hank Williams – “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” (1950)
Hank Williams – “Weary Blues From Waitin’” (recorded ca. 1951)

Weary. Lonesome. Long Gone. This is the sound of stately anguish. Like all the greats, Hank Williams creates a world with his music, a world that intersects with this one but also takes you a million miles away; a world that, for a few minutes at a time, renders other music unthinkable.

Paul over at Setting The Woods On Fire knows way, way more about Hank than we ever could. Check out his excellent blog for more.

Buy Hank here

Posted by Glenn

1 Comment

Filed under 1950s, Acoustic, Country

“Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?”

The Trio in their heyday. Back to front: Dave Guard, Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds

The Kingston Trio – “Sinking of the Reuben James” from Live at the Crazy Horse (1994)

I’m posting this because one of the founding members of The Kingston Trio, Nick Reynolds, has just died.  The Kingston Trio was at the forefront of the 1960’s folk music revival.  Their popularity in the late 1950’s and early 60’s (They had four top 10 albums in 1959 alone.  The Beatles are only other group to have four top ten albums in a single year) paved the way for the likes of Peter, Paul and Mary, The Byrds, and the Beach Boys, not to mention Bob Dylan and his contemporaries.

A live recording of the Kingston Trio captures the between-song jokes and banter that their studio recordings lack.  This particular recording was made in 1992 and lacks the contributions of Dave Guard, another founding member of the Trio, who died in 1991.  But 2/3 of the original Trio, Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane, are present, along with George Grove, who performed with various incarnations of the Trio for over 20 years.

Buy the Trio

Posted by Adam


Filed under 1950s, 1990s, Acoustic, Americana, Folk, Live, Traditional

“You leave me [breath sound] breathless”

Jerry Lee Lewis – “Breathless” [Single, 1958]

He grew up playing piano with his cousin, future televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, married his 13-year old cousin (Lewis was 23 at the time; she was his third wife) and goes by the nickname “The Killer.”  Jerry Lee Lewis was Rock and Roll’s first wild man.  Once, very early in his career, a Nashville producer suggested Lewis switch from the piano to the guitar.  Offended, Lewis reportedly replied “you can take your guitar and ram it up your ass!”  “Breathless” is one of the Killer’s first singles, recorded in 1958 on the venerable Sun Records label.  I love the sound of the drums and the rockabilly groove on this track.

I am interested in the origins of things, and this is a fine example of the origins of rock music.  Everyone knows “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” so I wanted to post a song that, while it was a single in 1958, is relatively unknown today.  It is songs like this and artists like Lewis that enabled today’s rock music – if not all of today’s popular music – to exist.  We as music fans have a debt to pay to these old rock and rollers; the least we can do is give them a listen every now and again.  These old songs are not lyrically or musically complex (though the Killer was/is a hell of a piano player) but in a way, that makes them more pure.  Their simplicity certainly makes them easier to enjoy.

Buy the Killer

Posted by Adam


Filed under 1950s, Rock