Thursday, June 14, 2012

VeeJay Records – A Tribute

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“There’s still nothing to beat the special thrill you get when you hear somebody who is absolutely new to you, of whom you have never heard before and who just simply knocks you out.

This shock of recognition is one of the greatest kicks in jazz. Just as those rare moments when everything goes right, the whole thing falls into place and everybody is together, is what keeps the musicians going through the bad times, so the now and then discovery of a beautiful, exciting new voice in jazz is what keeps the listener plowing through all those LPs.

When I first played this LP, I recognized no one on it. After I looked at the personnel, I knew I had heard some of the men before and heard of some of the others. But what shattered me, racked me up and made me play it over and over was the work of a man I had never heard of, of whose existence I hadn't dreamt but whose music hit me with exceptional force.

His name is Frank Strozier and he plays the alto saxophone. Predictions are chance-y things at best, but I'll chance one right here. We've all been waiting for something past Bird to happen to the alto. Ornette Coleman is taking it in one direction and it is welcome news. Frank Strozier, it seems to me, is taking it in a parallel direction bowing, not to Bird directly, but to John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins and possibly to Ornette, as well. He rips into his solos with the agonized wail that Coltrane has made a specialty of; he packs each long line, breath-taking in its searing irregularity, with high-voltage emotion. To come through on record as he does, he must be something else in person. Hearing him, as I did, for the first time in the context of this LP, was an exciting and thrilling experience. I am sure we will all be hearing a lot more from this Memphis-born youngster.”
- Ralph J. Gleason, Jazz author/critic

VeeJay Records was founded in Gary, Indiana in 1953 by Vivian Carter and James Braden, a husband and wife team whose first initials gave the label its name.

The company’s Jazz recordings were a small portion of its releases as it was primarily a rock ‘n roll label.

Gratefully, however, and as you will no doubt observe from the cover art in the video tribute, it provided a number of then fledgling Jazz artists an opportunity to display their talent to a broader audience through its LP’s.

Not surprisingly, given the fact that Gary is 26 miles SE of Chicago, many of VeeJay’s Jazz recordings favored musicians who were or had been primarily based in The Windy City such as pianist Eddie Higgins, tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris and the MJT +3, although it also featured early albums by trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianist Wynton Kelly.

Chicagoans, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Walter Perkins, dubbed themselves the Modern Jazz Two [“MJT”] and the “3” is made up of Willie Thomas on trumpet, also of Chicago, and Harold Mabern on piano and Frank Strozier on alto saxophone, both born and bred in Memphis, TN.

The tune on the audio track is Ray Bryant’s Sleepy which is based on an AABA structure but the “B” bridge or release is 12-bars while each of the “A’s” is 8-bars.

The tempo is doubled during the second 6-bars of the bridge and played with a triplet feeling in 6/8 time.

Walter Perkins announces the exit from the bridge with a thunderous backbeat that he plays simultaneously with the left hand on the snare drum, the right hand on the floor tom tom and the right foot using the bass drum beater ball.

Does anyone play Jazz at this tempo anymore?