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Leonard Feather Jazz Collection

 Part of the International Jazz Collections at the University of Idaho Library


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Leonard Feather's Blindfold Tests

Introduction | Sample Test | Sample Transcription (Basie and Weed) | Browse All


While primarily known for his jazz critiques and silver-tongued writing style on the jazz scene, Leonard Feather also played a pivotal role in helping to break down many gender and racial preconceptions in the Jazz world. For his "Blindfold Tests," Feather would invite artists and well-known participants in the Jazz community to listen to a series of songs without telling them who was playing or any details about the record. Often, artists would think they heard one musician, claiming that the way they played sounded one color or one gender, only to find out that they were wrong. Several of these blindfold tests were printed in both Metronome and DownBeat magazines.

Leonard Feather Studio Portrait
(Photo taken from our collection)

Feather documented the lives and opinions of Jazz artists in many ways. In 1955, he published the first edition of his Encyclopedia of Jazz, which offered not only biographies of thousands of artists but also musical analyses and studies of jazz's relationship to classical music. De Capo Press published four volumes of his Encyclopedia, and condensed his two yearbooks (featuring record industry trends and demographics as well as biographies of critics and DJs) into a single volume. His Encyclopedia is still referenced to this day as an invaluable educational tool for jazz enthusiasts and performers, and Feather was working on a comprehensive Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz with Ira Gitler up until his death in 1994. While some of the articles had minor flaws (mostly birthdates), Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz and his earlier Inside Bebop, solidified his place in the jazz world as an acclaimed composer and evenly fair jazz critic.

Blindfold Test Collection

We present below a collection of Leonard Feather's Blindfold Tests. There are 41 tests in total; each is about an hour in length. We've also found transcriptions for one of the tests that Feather performed on two people, Count Basie (pictured to the right with Joe Williams) and Buddy Weed. Their guesses are published below, along with the answers for each of 13 prompts. Unfortunately, we do not have a recording of this test.

Below is an example of one of the Blindfold Tests, given to Dizzy Gillespie in 1958.

Count Basie (right) talking to Joe Williams.
More images of Count ....

Portrait of Buddy Weed, ABC studio, New York, N.Y.(?), ca. May 1947. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. (Public Domain).

All 41 Blindfold Tests may be browsed below.

The Blindfold Tests of Buddy Weed and Count Basie, June & July 1947

The original introductions . . .

In this month’s and next month’s issues, The Blindfold Test is making a departure which should prove interesting. The same set of records has been played to two musicians—both of them jazz pianists, but far removed from each other in the spheres in which they work and in the music to which they generally listen.

Next month you will be able to read what Count Basie thinks of the records reviewed on this page. The comments below represent the reactions of Buddy Weed, the talented young pianist and singer that you know through his broadcasts over ABC with his own trio as well as with Paul Whiteman, and through his MGM records. Here’s what Buddy had to say:

If you read last month’s issue, you know that what follows is the second half of a special pair of blindfold tests. The same group of records was played to two musicians: Buddy Weed, radio network pianist and trio-leader, who listens only to classical records in his spare time; and Count Basie, jump pianist and traveling band-leader who listens to plenty of jazz.

Buddy’s comments on the records appeared last month. Below you can see what happened when I spun the same discs for the bland, easy-going Count, who hates to say a bad word about anybody — not for professional courtesy or shrewd business relations, but simply because he’s an exceptionally kind-hearted guy who likes al kinds of music and all kinds of people.

Buddy Weed Record Reviewed (Answers) Count Basie
1. That's got to be Dizzy… sounds cleaner here than in most of his large band numbers. Bass very good; ensemble execution better than most I've heard of that kind. If it's Dizzy on trumpet, I've heard him play better… Bebop? Let's eliminate classifications - either music is good or it isn't. Three stars. 1. Dizzy Gillespie, One Bass Hit, Part II (Musicraft). Ray Brown, bass; Gillespie, trumpet; Arr. Ray Brown. 1. Bass is really wonderful . . . reed section very outstanding… trumpet solo, great performance. That's true bebop, the record in general. That's a whole bebop record, isn't it? 'Cause I really don't know what bebop is. I'd like to know what band that was - sounds like the boss, Dizzy. But Red Rodney plays terrific like that too. Arrangement very interesting - tells a story from start to finish. Four stars.
2. Sam Donahue - I heard his V Disc of this arrangement, and it was very much more impressive played by his navy band than it sounds with this band… pretty sloppy here, doesn't get a beat. . . I like the taste of the trombone, piano good - is that Rocky Coluccio? Others nothing to rave about. Two Stars 2. Sam Donahue, Dinah (Capitol). 2. Now there's a real nice simple record . . . I go for things that are real simple like that. Easy to listen to, easy to dance to, pat your feet to; one of my favorite tunes - first time I ever heard it treated like that. Solos are relaxed, easy. A solid record - no idea who it is. Four stars.
3. Not impressed at all. Full of a lot of clichés. Pianist is handicapped by lack of technique; others are not too inspired. One star. 3. Dexter Gordon, Dexter Digs In (Savoy). Gordon, tenor; Leonard Hawkins, trumpet; Bud Powell, piano; Curley Russell, bass. 3. I hope the guys will forgive me for this-that first chorus is messed up. They're not together. Piano nice; trumpet fairly good - tenor plays like Pres. Conversation between the trumpet and tenor didn't hold up too well. I think if they'd made it over, they'd have done this better. The best thing on it is the fine bass work. Two stars.
4. Oh yes, the METRONOME All Stars . . . opening baritone solo not too impressive. I like the way Nat sings; other singer is the girl from Kenton's band; I've heard her much better . . . there aren't two pianists on that date, are there? Play that piano-drum answer passage again . . . no, guess I was mistaken. I liked the bass; and naturally Buddy Rich needs no introduction -- has as much flash as anybody in the business today. I heard Shavers, Rogers, and some others. Altogether there's no excuse for the whole record. It's unfair to throw all those star men in together and try to cram too many solos in. Two stars. 4. Metronome All Stars, Nat Meets June (Columbia). Harry Carney, baritone; Nat Cole, June Christy, vocals; Buddy Rich, drums; Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Johnny Hodges, alto; Lawrence Brown, trombone. 4. Everything is wonderful about this. Harry Carney; Lawrence Brown; sounds like one of those Buddy Rich breaks . . . In a way that male vocal sounded like King. No idea who the girl was; or the trumpet. Alto sounded like Johnny Hodges. Fine record-four stars.
5. Barnet isn't it? Bill Miller on piano . . . sounds as though this was written as a piano solo number and he's trying to play it as originally written; no ideas of his own come through. This must have been made some time ago; I recognize it but don't know the name. Doesn't sound too good to me now - lack of cleanliness in the band and section work . . . let me hear the trumpet again . . . I like that. I'll be good and say two stars. 5. Charlie Barnet, Birmingham Breakdown (Bluebird). Bill Miller, piano; Bobby Burnet, trumpet; Duke Ellington composition. 5. This sounds like an old shout I used to hear years ago; something Duke did. Sounds very heavy, very solid. I like the solos. Arrangement varies just a little from the original, still it's the next best to Duke. Whoever played the piano sounded almost like Duke. Three stars.
6. Is this Ventura with Krupa? . . . no, that was only guess . . . that baritone solo is very cute, very characteristic of baritone sax. I like the trombone; reminiscent of Bill Harris. The band is very unclean; tenor was very exciting. First part might have been an old record until it got to the solos, then you could tell it was recent. Might be Basie's band. Record as a whole not so hot, but for the tenor solo it's worth three stars. 6. Illinois Jacquet, Jivin' With Jack The Bellboy (Aladdin). Jacquet, tenor; Leo Parker, baritone sax; Dickie Wells, trombone; Shadow Wilson, drums. 6. Sounds like my boy on tenor. To me he's always good. Of course people will talk about those high notes, but you know, there's tricks to everything . . . though Jacquet can play as much solid horn as anybody else . . . he must have put this band together just for the record-like building a house; but it does the best job possible under the circumstances. Rhythm section sounds fine; drums are in my taste. Baritone is real great, and that wonderful trombone knocked me out. Record ends just as I expected. For the soloists this would be worth four, but on the whole, three stars.
7. Wow! . . . that's just not my kind of music, I guess. I just don't like it. There are probably people who think that because it's old it's good - there must be some reason for them to keep the record around this long and re-press it. Wrong chord changes, bad recording, everything . . . clarinet player has a little originality. Stars? How few can you give it? Zero. What? Recorded only five years ago? . . . oh, no! . . . make it minus zero! 7. Bunk Johnson, When I Leave The World Behind (Jazz Information). Bunk, trumpet; Lawrence Marrero, banjo. 7. Do you have to play this all the way through? . . . Well, I won't stick my neck out; this music stands for something, but as it is now, it seem quite a bit webby. Do I hear a banjo? . . . there's no comparison with the kids playing today - time has just walked right by these guys. It's like comparing a 1904 automobile with a new model. Back when this music was really played, it was great; but anybody who can see it now is just kidding himself - just wants to have something to say. I won't rate this one.
8. Tenor is wonderful. Piano sounded like Count, though I've heard Johnny Guarnieri play that much like him. Trumpet not too great. Clarinet - let me hear him again . . . sounds to me like Hank d'Amico, but he has much more fluency today. Rhythm sounds good. For what this is - just a bunch of solos - it stands up well. Three stars. 8. Johnny Guarnieri, Basie English (Savoy). Guarnieri, piano; Lester Young, tenor; Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Hank d'Amico, clarinet. 8. Sounds like my boy Johnny . . . that was real cute . . . I can close my eyes and almost say that tenor was Pres . . . trumpet fine, clarinet wonderful. A good record - it tells a little story. Four stars.
9. I don't know. I'm just not partial to those styles. The record does seem to move, in its own Dixieland fashion. Piano has good drive; I just don't like what he plays. Very loud drummer… sounds like a soprano sax; could be Bechet - I don't know the styles of that school too well. Two stars. 9. Joe Sullivan, Panama (Disc.) Sullivan, piano; Bechet, soprano; Geo. Wettling, drums. 9. Sounds like Zutty . . . and that must be fine old man Sidney Bechet; I have an awful lot of respect for him - he always sounds interesting to me. Piano sounds like Basie-very webbish-very corny. He and I should play a duet together- we can't keep up with the modern kids . . . rhythm section fits, for the type stuff they're playing. The old man rates four, but for the record, two stars.
10. It's always a source of amazement to me that people could hear Louis play like that and still have their adoration for things like Bunk Johnson. Louis always played with as much drive, originality, freshness and smoothness as anything you'd want to hear today; it doesn't pall even today, while these other inferior musicians, whose work has palled so badly, are being worshipped. I don't know how old this is - not too new judging from the rhythm section. Clarinet is definitely dated; trombone better, but overshadowed by Louis's great playing and singing. Assuming it's old, and for what it was then, four stars. Recorded only a year ago? . . . well, it's still great, but make it three stars. 10. Louis Armstrong, Sugar (Victor). Louis, trumpet and vocal; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Vic Dickenson, trombone. 10. That sounds like little Vicky there on trombone . . . Barney's there too. And Pops, of course. How does he sound? Well, how does he always sound? Four stars.
11. Piano very strongly influenced by Tatum . . . it wouldn't be that mythical Dodo Marmarosa I've heard so much about but never heard? Nobody else ever came this close to Tatum. . . is the tenor man playing the tune purposely or couldn't he think of anything else to play? I didn't like the clarinet . . . guitar fairly interesting . . . hearing that Tatum run was the most interesting thing on this . . . rating? . . . now I'm beginning to see the difficulty of being a critic . . . two stars. 11. Esquire All Stars, Esquire Bounce (Commodore). Tatum, piano; Coleman Hawkins, tenor; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Al Casey, guitar. 11. Cute little theme . . . sounds like the boss on piano - Teddy Wilson. Clarinet boy is my boy Ed Hall- he always plays fine. Guitar wonderful . . . there's the old man, Coleman, or a carbon copy, which is very fine . . . only thing, I didn't care for what was going on behind the solos. It would have been just as good without them. Three stars.
12. Guitar very unusual; play that bit again; I like his use of the lower strings . . . like the trumpet too; a little like Shavers, but doesn't knock himself out as much as Charlie . . . tenor good; not too impressed by the piano . . . bit like the Count, but he does things he wouldn't. I take it that was Zutty on drums; play the introduction again - oh, of course! Fats. There are a lot of good parts in this; I'd give it three stars. 12. Fats Waller, Moppin" and Boppin' (Victor). Benny Carter, trumpet; Zutty Singleton, drums; Fats Waller, piano; Gene Porter, tenor; Slim Moore, trombone. 12. I heard this in the picture, didn't I? . . . Starts out real great . . . Fats and Zutty and Slam . . . who's that wonderful trumpet? . . . that trombone in the last ensemble knocks me out. Give that four stars, please!
13. That's Fats . . . trumpet good; don't know who it is. Was this made before the era of the electric guitar? Interesting guitar, anyway . . . I used to think a great deal of Fats, listened to all his stuff faithfully, but somehow listening now I think a lot less of him . . . two stars. 13. James P. Johnson, Hot Harlem (Stinson-Asch). Johnson, piano; Frank Newton, trumpet; Al Casey, guitar; Eddie Dongherty, drums. 13. Ragtime piano player - patterned on Fats. Idea is cute, especially the real Fats introduction and piano. Nice drum break . . . trumpet sounds like Sidney de Paris. Guitar okay. Nothing terrific here. Two stars.

Buddy Weed's Afterthoughts

You know, I haven’t bought a single jazz record since way before the war . . . most of my listening is classical. I listen to WQXR and WNYC; there’s very little good jazz on the air and I’m very interested in classical music. Stravinsky, Hindemith; Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe affects me as deeply as anything I can think of.

Maybe you wonder how I can reconcile being a jazz pianist with listening to the classics. Well, I do hear jazz sometimes, but anyway I notice the trend today among dance musicians is that they’re being strongly influenced by Stravinsky and Hindemith, so apparently others have been doing the same kind of listening. Once you’ve absorbed a certain technique and knowledge in jazz there’s no need to listen constantly to it, though of course if you don’t listen at all and don’t know what’s going on, you do lose track of trends.

But I so seldom run across anything good in jazz today; it’s depressing. And so are the 52nd Street spots where you have to go to hear jazz.

I like Bill Harris, though I’ve had bad luck when I’ve heard him in person. On piano, Ralph Burns interests me as much as anyone I’ve heard — he has a new approach. Art Tatum is the greatest all around; or I should say, he and Teddy Wilson and others express their own ideas in their own different ways; no one person is the greatest. Each has his own handicaps, and his own mode of expressing himself. Yes, on second thought, I retract that statement about Tatum.

Count Basie's Afterthoughts

I’m from the old school. I’ll take the settled old swing with less notes, things that are really simple— but I like to listen to other types. The youngsters in my band support the modern part of the music. And I definitely approve of the way jazz is going. As far as bebop, it’s real great if it’s played right, and I think it’s really taking effect. I have records that I play all the time, trying to understand. Diz and Parker and Jay Jay and Red Rodney — kids like that are really doing it. You’ve got to have that life, that youth— the music has got to carry on, you can’t just go through your career with a bunch of old-timers in your band; the younger ones think faster. But sometimes the kids fall back on the less frantic old-timers — don’t forget, experience counts too!

Next month Duke Ellington’s Blindfold Test. The results are surprising. . . .

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