Sunday, August 31, 2014

Two Compositions by Dennis Sandole

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Dennis Sandole is a prodigiously influential figure in jazz history who is generally unknown; many jazz encyclopedias don't have entries for him.  Best known as having been a teacher of John Coltrane (beginning in 1946), Sandole was a skilled guitarist, innovative composer and deep musical thinker.

Dennis Sandole
I don't have any new information to add to the life story of Dennis Sandole, so I'll just recap what you can find with a quick Google search. Sandole was born in Philadelphia in 1913. Self-taught as a guitarist, he worked as a staff musician at MGM Studios in Hollywood for several years beginning in the 1930's. In the 1940's he returned to Philadelphia where he taught at the Granoff School of Music, founded by Isadore Granoff. During that period he appeared on recordings by the Tommy Dorsey and Charlie Barnet bands. He also performed with the Ray McKinley and Boyd Raeburn bands.

The Brothers Sandole, Modern Music from Philadelphia
Fantasy 3-209
In 1955, Dennis and his brother Adolph gathered an ensemble of top New York and Philadelphia musicians to record their compositions. Featured on the recording are Art Farmer, George Barrow, Teo Macero, Milt Hinton, and others. The recordings were released by Fantasy records, a major jazz label who also had released recordings of Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, and Vince Guaraldi. The Sandole recordings came out as a 10" record called "Modern Music from Philadelphia" (which was reissued on CD by Fantasy Records in 2001 as "The Sandole Brothers & Guests").

Sandole's only other recording as a leader looks to be a record called "Compositions and Arrangements for Guitar" (1958), also released by Fantasy, but this item appears to be fantastically obscure. Mike Callahan lists the album in an exhaustive Fantasy Album Discography, and the All Music Guide makes mention of it, but neither provide any other information. WorldCat doesn't list it, and the Library of Congress doesn't have it. I haven't checked Lord's Discography yet.

In any case, after the Fantasy releases, Sandole continued to be active as a teacher, but I cannot find any recordings on which he appears, either as a leader or as a sideman. In fact, no other recordings of Sandole were commercially available until 1999, when Cadence released a compilation of Sandole's various projects, including some extremely rare quartet recordings from 1958 with pianist Al Del Governatore, bassist Wendell Marshall, and drummer Frank Young. The fidelity is poor, but the compositions are stunningly original, and I think earn Sandole a spot alongside Charlie Parker, George Russell, Thelonious Monk, and Lennie Tristano as a major figure in post-war jazz.

Sandole's composition "Dark Bayou" was recorded by Charlie Barnet's Orchestra in 1946. He co-wrote the breezy "High On An Open Mike" with fellow Philadelphian Charlie Ventura, who recorded the tune with his orchestra in 1949 and performed it live. And in the 1960's, his compositions were featured on albums by Art Farmer and James Moody.

Among Sandole's students were John Coltrane, Pat Martino, Jim Hall, James Moody, Benny Golson, Michael Brecker, Stanley Clarke, and Matthew Shipp. He wrote at least two books, one of which, Guitar Lore, has been published. Sandole died in September 2000.

Here are two of Sandole's compositions. I'm working on several more which I'll post in the future.

Wayward Plaint was recorded by James Moody in 1964, and Michael Grossman recorded it in 1997. I'm not aware of any other recordings of the tune.

To my knowledge, the only recording of Monody is on the above-mentioned Dennis Sandole Project CD, put out by Cadence in 1999. It's beautiful and strange, as you'll find out if you play it.

Additional reading:

Matthew Shipp's recollections about his studies with Sandole.

- A powerpoint presentation called "The Unique Jazz Pedagogy of Dennis Sandole" by Thomas Scott McGill, which includes scanned images of Sandole's lesson assignments.

- A blog post by a trumpeter Bart Miltenberger who studied with Sandole.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Matt,

    Great blog on a very important but sometimes overlooked figure in modern jazz . I have a few academic papers on Maestro Sandole--the links are here:

    I am doing another presentation at The Arnold Schoenberg Center in Berlin this January that discusses Schoenberg's work and it's relation to jazz which will again feature Maestro Sandole's work and there will be another publication on the way by the ASC. Best Regards Matt and I hope you are well. Scott.