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Influences on The Band

Jazz Connections

[Peter Viney]  by Peter Viney

Copyright © 2000 Peter Viney.

Every previous article has generated comments and corrections which I'm happy to incorporate in a future revision. Please post in the Guestbook, or e-mail me directly at

This has to be read in conjunction with The Band & Blues and The Band and Ray Charles. Some blues artists might have appeared in jazz sections in stores as well as on "Jazz and Blues" festivals. I'm discounting them. I'm not going to argue the definition of jazz too far either. I'm counting jazz as what might be in the jazz section of the average record store. A lot of standards cross the line and move back and forth between jazz and easy listening. I'm not going to argue the individual merits. I'm not a jazzexpert. If I listen to jazz, it's usually at the popular end of the spectrum - Cannonball Adderley, Weather Report, Keith Jarrett.

The whole argument about improvisation and composition has been ignored. You could argue that many of Garth's instrumental pieces under the umbrella title of The Genetic Method are improvised in part and therefore veer towards jazz. But as Levon has said:

Levon Helm
He could play with Miles Davis or the Chicago Symphony or The Grand Ole Opry.

Hirth Martinez might be considered jazz - as much as Beefheart or Zappa. I've avoided this area!

Jazz was a minor element, probably more influential on Levon & the Hawks than the Band.

Levon Helm
It was a great time to launch a band in Toronto, because the place was jumping. On a weekend night on that Yonge Street Strip you could catch Oscar Peterson, Carl Perkins, Ray Charles and his band, Cannonball Adderley, Charles Mingus.

Cannonball Adderley

The Work Song (Nat Adderley / O. Brown)
Original version: Live in Belgium, August 5th 1962, now on Cannonball Adderley The Capitol Years (Capitol JazzCDP 7 95482 2)
No official version, but it appears on Levon & The Hawks Dallas 1965 collectors tape. Levon's biography reminds us that the Adderley Quintet (Featuring Josef Zawinul) was enormously influential on The Hawks, who used to go and watch them in Toronto. This standard was covered by artists ranging from Bobby Darin (an amazing vocal version with acoustic bass on Earthy) to Georgie Fame. From The Hawks, it sounds like typical blowing; filling in time on long gigs. You can hear Adderley's general influence on their live work with horns in his popular soul-jazz numbers such as Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, This Here and Sack o' Woe. The Woodstock All Stars (e.g. collectors' tape 22 July 1988) did what seems to be an Adderley cover which I can't name, though it may just be "in the style of".

Levon Helm
The Cannonball Adderley Sextet came through town in early 1964. They had a hit record, This Here, and had a profound influence on The Hawks... We loved Cannonball's band for its restraint; soon after we saw them we changed to what we called the "jazzster style"... Rick Danko still refers to 1964 as our "Cannonball period."

Mose Allison
Danko has mentioned four Gold Star studios rejects from Big Pink one of which was Sitting A Thousand Miles From Nowhere. This is the first line of Mose Allison's One Room Country Shack (Mose Allison). Allison was enormously important for British bands in the same era as Levon & The Hawks. The Who did Young Man Blues a little later. Georgie Fame based his career on him. Everyone did Parchman Farm. Then there are his covers of Eyesight To the Blind (Sonny Boy Williamson) and Baby Please Don't Go (Big Joe Williams). Allison, as a white piano playing singer who could translate the blues into a jazzier idiom is a vastly under-rated influence on early 60s rock. Against this is the fact that the reissues in 2000 only turned up one of these legendary tracks, Key to the Highway.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers?
There is an instrumental on some Levon Helm solo shows which is either a "loose" version of this, or a tighter version of something very similar by either Blakey or Cannonball Adderley.

Marion Brown
Marion Brown is a jazz altoist who has played with Coltrane, Coleman, Sun Ra, Archie Shepp. ASCAP lists a composition, Afrisa co-written by Marion Brown and all five members of The Band (sounds like an improvisation). A track to trace. A fairly recent version exists on Soul Eyes, but none of The Band are credited on the album, and this would not appear to be the first recording. Otherwise the track is not listed on any Marion Brown album on the web. On the other hand, when asked in 1997, Levon Helm had absolutely no recall of this session, nor even of who Marion Brown was. So, it could be a remix using samples?

Miles Davis
There should be a direct connection somewhere, but there isn't. Except for a little coincidence. The major Rolling Stone Robertson interviews appeared in December 1969 and November 1991. In both magazines the other major music article is about Miles Davis. When Musician interviewed Robbie in 1991 the lead article was about - you've guessed it - Miles Davis.

Miles Davis also opened for The Band at the Hollywood Bowl in 1970, an event described by Levon.

Levon Helm
We had Miles Davis open for us at the Hollywood Bowl ... we chose Miles because we all loved Sketches of Spain, right? I don't think we'd heard his more recent material.

Levon Helm
I heard Miles playing, so I went into the audience after a while, and Miles had 20,000 people crouched down. His electric band was pouring fire into the crowd, and these kids were like, cowering, under this onslaught ... he was a master, an outrageous artist. He took our crowd to a place they'd never been before. And we had to follow this. So we came out and played one of the worst shows we ever did.

Duke Ellington
Caravan (Ellington, Tizol, Mills)
This is a 1937 classic. Garth Hudson & The Crowmatix performed it at the Forum in London March 1st 1999, and subsequently.

Louis Jordan
Levon has loved Caldonia for many years, and while Louis Jordan is usually found in the jazz section, you could say that it was 1930s pop music with a pre-R&B feel. It is variously spelled Caldonia and Caledonia. The former is correct, but they get confused to the point ewhere they label Caledonia Mission as Caldonia Mission.

Caldonia (Fleecie Moore)
Original: Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five, January 1945, now to be found on Let The Good Times Roll (Cool Note, 1995).
Muddy Waters 1975 version produced by Levon Helm on The Woodstock Album and with The Band on The Last Waltz concert, available on the bootleg Complete Last Waltz.
Band version: Japan Tour; The Reunion Concert; videos plus opener on 1994 tour (and on many 1990s collector's tapes), Live in New Orleans video and laser disc.
Levon Helm version: Red Hot + Country video.
Also by Danko / Helm as a duo on collectors' tapes from 1982/ 83.

Let The Good Times Roll (Thead -Moore)
is equally well associated with Ray Charles. Jordan's version is on Let The Good Times Roll (Cool Note, 1995) Also written by Fleecie Moore.
Original: Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five, June 1946, also available on Louis Jordan: Five Guys Named Moe; later live version from Paris on Orbis / Blues Collection collection Caldonia.
Robbie Robertson version: duet with Cassandra Wilson on the Jimmy Hollywood. soundtrack, 1994,
Muddy Waters version: featuring Levon Helm and Garth Hudson on 1975's Muddy Water's Woodstock Album.

Jordan's 1940s hit Open The Door Richard inspired the Basement Tapes 'song title Open The Door Homer (Dylan).

Charles Lloyd
According to Levon's biography, Robbie first met John Simon while recording Third Floor Richard from the long-deleted 1965 jazz album Of Course, Of Course by ex-Cannoball Adderly sax player / flautist, Charles Lloyd. Lloyd was from West Memphis, and had met The Hawks after a Cannonball Adderly Sextet gig in 1964.

John Simon (quoted in Levon's biography)
In 1965 George Avakian and I coproduced an album called Of Course Of Course by a young jazz musician, Charles Lloyd. He'd been in Cannonball Adderley's band and was making a name for himself. He was working in the studio with a quartet, drummer Tony Williams, bassist Ron Carter and Gabor Szabo on guitar. One day Charles says to me, 'You gotta meet this far out guy. He's coming tonight to sit in with us.' The far-out guy was Robbie Robertson ... so Robbie came into the studio and we cut this track called Third Floor Richard. That's how I met Robbie.

On the sleeve, Robbie is not credited; Gabor Szabo is. Only one guitar is obvious, in a left stereo position, and it has no recognisable 'Robbie' sound about it. In support of John Simon, the guitar does sound a bit self-conciously 'modern jazz'. When describing the Port Dover set, Levon says that Peter Gunn had a Charles Lloyd inspired flute solo by Jerry Penfound.

Charles Lloyd visited The Band in Woodstock, and was present, watching with Levon and Rick as Garth Hudson recorded the Bengauli Bauls At Big Pink album.

Henry Mancini
Duane Eddy had had a 1960 hit with his simplification of Peter Gunne, a film soundtrack number originally written and recorded by Henry Mancini. Levon & The Hawks turned things on their head by following the jazzy Henry Mancini vision of the song with a flute solo from Jerry Penfound. This must have been slightly surprising as the Duane Eddy interpretation was a "beat group" staple at the time.
Original: many Mancini compilations, e.g. At The Movies
Levon & The Hawks version: Port Dover 1964 bootleg.

Charles Mingus
Bassist Charles Mingus was another Woodstock resident, and Levon quotes him (on heroin) in his biography. Hal Willner (who also produced the Disney tribute Stay Awake with Garth Hudson ) produced Weird Nightmare - Meditations on Mingus, a tribute album to Mingus, who had also been honoured by a Joni Mitchell album, Mingus. There is a basic group throughout including Bill Frisell. They are joined by guests Robbie Robertson, Leonard Cohen, Ray Davies, Dr. John, Charlie Watts. Robbie Robertson appears on one track with a record breaking title length : Canon (part 2) (includes 'Playing Chess with Bobby Fischer In Bellevue Reverie' from Beneath the Underdog') (Mingus).

Jaco Pastorious
Weather Report bassist who joined Danko, Hudson & Manuel on stage at the Lone Star Café in January 1985, where they performed Jimmy Reed's Honest I Do and a bizarre version of Blaze of Glory. Reed's Honest I Do is mistitled 'Stop Driving Me Crazy' on most collectors tapes of Danko shows.

Oscar Peterson
Peterson was playing Yonge Street in 64. A very remote connection here - he appears on the Canadian Live-Aid single Tears Are Not Enough, as do Richard Manuel, Ronnie Hawkins and forty others. I'd also be surprised if The Hawks never performed Night Train live. Everyone else did.

Cole Porter
Miss Otis Regrets (Cole Porter)
Standard by composer Cole Porter, associated twice with Band members: Robbie Robertson produced Libby Titus' 1977 version. Richard Manuel performed this song live, e.g. The Getaway, NYC 7 December 1985 (the same show as Before I Grow Too Old).

David Sanbourn
As We Speak (1982) is a jazz album featuring saxist David Sanborn with Marcus Miller, Omar Hakim, Paulinho da Costa, Don Freeman, Michael Sembello, George Duke. There is a long list of about fifty 'Special thanks' which includes Garth Hudson (and Gary Busey). However, Garth is not listed among the detailed musician credits. Sanbourn does a version of The Finer Things (Donald Fagen) on the King of Comedy soundtrack.

Gabor Szabo
Hungarian-American guitarist. Garth has mentioned recording with him in the studio and live in Budapest. Gabor Szabo collectors were unable to provide any information whatsoever about these sessions. I suspect that there are many Garth Hudson sit-ins and collaborations not listed on this website discography, simply because his range is so vast that we contributors are unlikely to run across everything.

Robbie Robertson compiled soundtracks

These include various jazz or jazz-tinged numbers, or "standards" that might conceivably creep onto jazz compilations.

King of Comedy (Bob James) - Bob James
Come Rain or Come Shine (Mercer / Arlen) - Ray Charles
The Finer Things (Donald Fagen) - David Sanborn

No OST album, but songs heard in the film are by Ella Fitzgerald, The Ink Spots, The Mills Brothers, Bob Crosby & The Bobcats, Ted Weems, Tony Bennett, Harry James, Gene Krupa, Nat King Cole, Louis Prima, Perry Como, Russ Colombo, Artie Shaw, Larry Clinton, Frankie Lane, Marilyn Monroe, The Hearts and Ray Charles. They couldn't sort out the permissions.

The Main Title (Robbie Robertson) Produced by Robbie Robertson and Gil Evans
Modern Blues (Robbie Robertson) Produced by Robbie Robertson and Gil Evans
Robbie has mentioned that Evans was going to do the charts for The Moon Struck One.

The In Crowd - Ramsey Lewis
Stardust - Hoagey Carmichael
What a Difference A Day Makes - Dinah Washington
Compared to What - Les McDaniels & Eddie Harris
Basin Street Blues / When It's Sleepy Time Down South Medley - Louis Prima

Don't Explain - Nina Simone
Cheek To Cheek - Ella Fitzgerald

Covers of Band Songs

These covers mean stretching the definitions of jazz . There are so many Band covers by artists I've never heard of, nor have I heard their versions.

Blood, Sweat & Tears - jazz-rock, but they covered Lonesome Suzie.

Isaac Guillory - covered The Weight.

Dr Music, a Canadian jazz group with saxist Steve Kennedy who was in a pre-Hawks group with Robertson, covered Where Do We Go From Here?.

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