Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Original Paul Horn Quintet Revisited

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

“The Paul Horn album, entitled Something Blue, was obviously influenced by the Miles Davis album, and indeed the Paul Horn group was one of the first fully to explore the new territory opened by Miles.

Paul Horn's 'Dun-Dunnee', for instance, is a forty-bar AABA tune with but one chord or scale for the eight-bar A sections. (It can be thought of as either one long G7 chord or a mixolydian scale; that is, a scale starting on G using the white keys of the piano.)”
- Bob Gordon, Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950’s

“Though the Paul Horn Quintet has a readily identifiable sound through the blending of the leader's alto saxophone or flute with Richards' vibraphone, it is the writing rather than the instrumentation that lends these performances their most personal quality. Paul and his sidemen alike, instead of relying on horizontal melodic values alone, tend to create compositional structures in which the harmonic setting, and often the metric variations, are striking characteristics that give these works much of their originality of color and mood.”
- Leonard Feather, The Sound of Paul Horn

“One final word: if you are not a musician and can't tell a bar from a saloon, don't let this deter you. As Paul cogently observed: ‘Any layman could listen to this music and tap his foot to it without knowing there is anything so different about our approach to time or meter.’ Then he thought a moment, smiled, and added a postscript: ‘Except, of course, the layman might wonder once in a while why his foot was out of step.’"
- Leonard Feather, Profile of a Jazz Musician

Some of this has been previously posted on these pages, but I just realized that this is a 50th anniversary year in my life and I wanted to revisit some of these memories on the blog.

Or to put it another way, my goodness, where have the last 50 years gone?!

In  April, 1962 during what was then called "Easter Week", I was the drummer in a quintet that won the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival which was held annually at The Lighthouse Cafe located in Hermosa Beach, CA.

Much of the music that our quintet played was inspired by and/or derived from the Paul Horn Quintet. Although it was formed in 1959, our quintet didn't catch-up to Paul's group until 1961 when Paul started to make a regular mid-week gig at Shelly's Manne Hole in Hollywood. Once we heard Paul's group, its music was to have a huge and lasting impression on us.

The original group consisted of Paul Horn [alto sax/flute], Emil Richards [vibes], Paul Moer [piano], Jimmy Bond [bass] and Billy Higgins [drums], although by the time it made the gig at Shelly's, Billy Higgins was in New York making all of those wonderful Blue Note recordings and Milt Turner had replaced him as the drummer.

The quintet that I performed with at the 1962 Lighthouse Intercollegiate Jazz Festival had the same instrumentation as Paul Horn's quintet except that guitar replaced vibes.

By 1962, nearly every Jazz fan was familiar with the modal Jazz played by the Miles Davis Sextet in the Kind of Blue album,  and with "unusual" time signatures immortalized by the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time Out! album.

Modal Jazz uses scales instead of chord progressions as the basis for its themes [melodies] and improvisations. For “unusual time signatures” think the 5/4 of Paul Desmond’s Take Five or Dave Brubeck’s Blues Rondo a la Turk which is in 9/8 time but counted as 2-2-2-3 . In other words, those in other than the more standard 2/4 and 4/4 time.

What made the Paul Horn Quintet particularly appealing to our us was that it was playing modal Jazz in combination with unusual time signatures, just the thing to peak the musical interest of 5 young lads ranging in ages from 18-22.

So there we were for almost a year, spending our Wednesday nights [or was it Thursdays?] straddling chairs with their backs turned toward the stage, nursing Coca Colas for over four hours while we soaked in this wonderfully different music. On many nights, the five of us made up half the crowd at the opening set and the entire crowd by the closing set!

Of course, none of these tunes were available as published music so we had to memorize them and later notate them, correcting any flaws through subsequent listening at the club.
To their credit, both Paul and Emil, who composed all of the group's original music, were extremely helpful in correcting mistakes and explaining alternatives how their music worked.

And they couldn't have been nicer about stopping at our table when a set had concluded to answer any questions before going out for a smoke or to visit the den of metabolic transmigration.

Sometimes we had so many questions that they didn't get treated to a break between sets. I guess our enthusiasm and energy was contagious and they were pleased to be with others who shared their musical interests.

We listened to this music so often that thinking and playing modal Jazz in complex time signatures became almost second-nature to us.

By the time of our 1962 performances at the Lighthouse Intercollegiate Jazz Festival no one in our group needed to count the unusual time signatures - we just felt them!

We effortlessly breezed through Count Your Change, a blues in 4/4 time for the first 8 bars of the theme followed by six measures in 5/4 time concluding with two measures again in 4/4.  I mean, your basic 16 bar blues, right!?

Or how about Half and Half with its two introductions, the first centered around the piano and bass improvising on two chords and the second introduction consisting of a 12-bar section in 6/8 time with the tune breaking down into three phrases: [1] the first 12-bar phrase in 4/4 and is made up of 8 bars of ensemble or horn solo and 4 bars of drum solo, [2] an 8-bar phrase in 6/8 and [3] a final 8-bars in 4/4.

I particularly liked this one because as the drummer I got to finish the last four bars of every one's solo in the first 12-bar phrase. :)

By the time we started playing Paul Moer's Fun Time it was imperative that we "felt" the time instead of having to count it as the measures in the choruses run 3/4,3/4,/5/4 [repeated 4 times] followed by a chorus of 5/4,5/4,3/4,3/4.5/4!

I could continue with many more of these musical roller coaster rides contained in the quintet's musical repertoire, but I hope you get the idea from these brief descriptions about how intriguing and adventurous this music was and how proud we felt to be able to accomplish it.

I think perhaps the uniqueness of the music that our group featured at the 1962 Lighthouse Intercollegiate Jazz Festival may have played a major role in our wining the competition both as a group and on all of our individual instruments, respectively; another reason for us to be indebted to the Paul Horn Quintet.

Much of this wonderful and intriguing music is preserved on the Collectibles two-fer CD that includes the Columbia albums Profile of a Jazz Musician and The Sound of Paul Horn [Collectibles COL-CD-7531, Sony AZ 61328] and Something Blue [HiFijazz J-615 reissued on CD as OJCCD 1778-2].

The Paul Horn Quintet will always have a special place in my heart for making this musical journey possible in my life.