Saturday, September 14, 2013

Brew Moore – More Brew

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

Gordon Jack, author of one of our favorite books – Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective [Lanham, MD.: Scarecrow Press, 2004] - recently “stopped by” and granted the editorial staff at JazzProfiles copyright permission to use his essay on Brew Moore which appeared in the May/2013 edition of The Jazz Journal.

We thought we’d combine it with our earlier feature on the late, tenor saxophonist, hence the title of this piece.

Order information regarding The Jazz Journal is at

© -Gordon Jack/Jazz Journal, May/2013, copyright protected; all rights reserved. Used with the author’s permission.

“BREW MOORE by Gordon Jack
On the 8th. April 1949 five of the best young Prez-influenced tenors assembled in a New York studio to record original material by Al Cohn and Gerry Mulligan. Allen Eager, Al Cohn, Stan Getz and Zoot Sims were already well known but the fifth man, Brew Moore was destined to remain under the jazz radar throughout a fairly brief career. As if acknowledging his low profile he is the only one to have one of the titles recorded that day dedicated to him - Four And One Moore by Mulligan.

Milton Aubrey Moore Jnr. was born in Indianola, Mississippi on the 26th. March 1924. After briefly attending Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi) he started playing in Memphis and New Orleans burlesque clubs like the Puppy House and the Kitten Club. He was making $23.00 a week which was good money for the time playing behind exotic dancers like Kalema And Her Pythons. He once said that he was 21 years old before he saw a naked woman from the front.

By 1948 he made his way to New York where he had to wait six months for his Local 802 union card which would allow him to work in the city. He was one of the regulars though along with Mulligan, Sims, George Wallington, Kenny Drew and Warne Marsh who played in private sessions at Don Jose’s studio, a fourth floor walk-up on West 49th. Street. The studio was characterised by a red door which became the title of a well known Sims/Mulligan original and much later Dave Frishberg added a very hip lyric (Zoot Walks In). He did manage to get the occasional booking in Brooklyn strip clubs with the young Mike Zwerin who described him as one of the ‘White Presidents’.

In 1949 Brew worked briefly with Claude Thornhill who he said, “Was some kind of freak genius. He could take the worst, out of tune piano and make it sound in tune.” The band loved his playing but apparently found him hard to handle because of his heavy drinking which nevertheless did not affect his playing. Ironically, Serge Chaloff who had his own personal demons was warned by his mother (the celebrated Madam Margaret) to keep away from Brew because of his extreme behaviour. She thought he was a bad influence!

By now he was playing regularly at the Royal Roost and Bop City in a Kai Winding group which included Mulligan, Wallington, Curley Russell, and Max Roach or Roy Haynes. They worked as far afield as Tootie’s Mayfair in Kansas City where Bob Brookmeyer sat in and they recorded no less than 14 titles in 1949. Occasionally trumpeter Jerry Lloyd (aka Hurwitz) was added. He had played with Charlie Parker and was highly regarded by his colleagues but his recordings never seemed to do him justice as a soloist. He composed two fine originals for the group – Mud Bug and Igloo – but by the late fifties he had dropped out of music and was driving a cab in New York to make ends meet. Some enterprising label (Fresh Sound perhaps?) should reissue all the material Moore recorded with Kai Winding because titles like Sid’s Bounce, Night On Bop Mountain and Lestorian Mode feature some of his finest work.

In the late ‘40s he began a long romance with Arlyne Brown (songwriter Lew Brown’s daughter) which continued until 1953 when she became Mrs. Gerry Mulligan. Arlyne once described him to me as, “A soft, sweet, southern boy with an enormous talent looking like a combination of Leslie Howard and James Dean”.

He often performed with Machito’s Afro-Cuban orchestra at Birdland and the Apollo and he can be heard on their recording of Cubop City. Harry Belafonte once sat in with the band at Birdland and Brew has a solo on the singer’s debut recording Lean On Me with Howard McGhee’s orchestra. Soon after yet another Birdland engagement this time with Miles Davis, JJ Johnson and Charlie Parker, he returned home to New Orleans where he apparently lived in a ‘dive’ with Joe Pass and writer William S. Burroughs. While he was working there he drove up to Baton Rouge for a two week engagement at the Flamingo with Mose Allison. The pianist told me that he had heard Brew in many situations, “But even on the dumbest gig with people that could barely play he always sounded terrific. He was a very bright, sensitive character who could also write poetry. He was something of a hero to all the southern guys because he was the first one of us to work and record in New York”.

He continued working in the south but early in 1953 he was booked to appear with Charlie Parker in Montreal for a TV performance on CBFT’s ‘Jazz Workshop’. Returning to New York he recorded with Chuck Wayne and then re-joined Kai Winding at Birdland. The arrangements were by Tom Talbert and Winding’s group included Phil Urso, Cecil Payne, Walter Bishop Jnr., Percy Heath and Philly Joe Jones. In an enthusiastic Metronome review George T. Simon said, “The soloists are all good notably Kai and Brew Moore who blows some mighty exciting, moving, well-toned horn. Urso keeps up with him some of the time (the two engage in cutting sessions now and then) but he has neither Brew’s ideas nor his drive.”

Brew worked fairly steadily at the Open Door in Greenwich Village usually with Don Joseph or Tony Fruscella along with Bill Triglia and Teddy Kotick. There were always a number of drummers available like Nick Stabulas, Al Levitt or Art Mardigan and Freddy Gruber kept his kit there when he was not working. Charlie Parker was often the featured attraction and on one occasion he and Brew ‘goosed’ each other as they slowly ambled around the dance floor. They finished up serenading a large piece of chewing gum stuck to the floor. Another of Brew’s favourite haunts in Greenwich Village was Arthur’s Tavern where Parker often held forth. Once when the great man didn’t have his alto, he borrowed Brew’s tenor. Arthur’s Tavern opened in 1937 and is still going strong – no cover charge, minimum one drink per set.

Some time in 1955 folk singer Billy Faier drove through Washington Square shouting “Anybody for the coast?”. Brew’s gig book was anything but full so he joined Billy who also had Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Woody Guthrie in the car. Brew left them in Los Angeles and took the bus to San Francisco which was to become the centre for the new beat culture.

The years spent in California were busy and productive ones. He worked regularly at the Black Hawk and the Jazz Cellar where Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth gave poetry readings. It was probably at one of these clubs that Jack Kerouac heard him because he mentions listening to Brew in his book Desolation Angels. He had a popular two-tenor group with Harold Wylie at The Tropics and he recorded with Cal Tjader for Fantasy. He also appeared at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival with trumpeter Dickie Mills and he sat in for a set there with Gerry Mulligan.

He always said, “I go where the work is” and in 1961 he emigrated to Europe. He did six months at The Blue Note in Paris with Kenny Clarke and appeared at the Berlin Jazz Festival with Herb Geller who told me, “He was a wonderful, natural player like Zoot. It was strictly talent and intuition with both of them. I was very fond of Brew”. He worked extensively in Sweden and Denmark throughout the sixties but often returned to the States doing casuals in Manhattan. He played at the Half Note with Bill Berry and on one occasion there Anita O’Day and Judy Garland were also on the bill. He was featured at Newport in a jam session in 1969 which was the year he played Danny’s Restaurant and The Scene with Dave Frishberg. John Carisi sat in at Danny’s and Dan Morgenstern’s Downbeat review said, “Brew is incapable of playing a dishonest note. His music is just pure and loving and a joy to hear.” Ira Gitler was similarly impressed at The Scene, “Moore’s brand of emotional, romantic, hard swinging music captivated the waitresses and bartenders as well as the regulars. Brew was beautiful.”

The story of how Brew Moore died in Copenhagen in 1973 has become an established part of jazz folk lore but not all the details are well known. He gave a party to celebrate an inheritance and during the festivities fell down some stairs and broke his neck. Mose Allison filled in the gaps for me a few years ago – “Brew had been staying at Carmen Massey’s house in Biloxi when he heard he had inherited all this money. He had been scuffling on the fringes of the jazz world all his life and never made much at all. He left for Europe and discovered he had lost a good luck charm he had been carrying around for years. He wrote to Carmen asking him to check if he had left it at the house. The next thing Carmen hears is that Brew had died and a few days later they found Brew’s lucky charm. That story sounds like something out of Truman Capote.” As Herb Geller once said, “It could only happen to a jazz musician.”

Brew Moore: A Wandering, Soulful Tenor Saxophonist

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

“Moore was a terrific, but star-crossed tenor player, at his best as good as Getz and Sims, but never able to get a career together as they did. He left only a small number of records behind him ….”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

If, as Louis Armstrong’s states – “Jazz is only who you are” – then the inventiveness and spontaneous nature of tenor saxophone Brew Moore’s music was certainly reflective of his wandering and constantly searching lifestyle.

Mark Gardner, the distinguished Jazz author offered these insights about Brew in the liner notes to Brothers and Other Mothers [Savoy Records SJL2210].

“Milton A. Moore Jr. was a drifter, a born loser, a hero of the beat generation and a brilliant saxophonist. Yes, he once remarked that any tenorman who did not play like Pres was playing wrong-that was the extent of his admiration.

Moore was born in Indianola, Mississippi, on March 26, 1924, and his first musical instrument was a harmonica given to him by his mother as a seventh birthday present. He played in his high school band and at 18 got a job with Fred Ford's dixieland band. He arrived in New York during 1943 and heard what bebop was all about. He would return to New York several times in the late forties to lead his own quartet, work with Claude Thornhill (an unlikely environment), swing his tail off in front of Machito's Afro-Cubans, gig with Gerry Mulligan and Kai Winding at the Royal Roost and Bop City.

Moore was never around one place for too long. He would take off for Memphis or New Orleans, playing all kinds of weird jobs ("I go where the work is"). Around 1953-54 he was on the Greenwich Village scene, a frequent jammer at Bob Reisner's Open Door where other cats playing mostly for kicks and little bread included Thelonious Monk. Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus and Roy Haynes. It was at the Open Door that Bird and Brew once serenaded a piece of chewing gum stuck to the floor. Recently discovered recordings also found Parker and Moore together on 1953 sessions in Montreal, Canada.

One day in the 'fifties Brew casually took off for California. As Moore told it, "Billy Faier had a 1949 Buick and somebody wanted him to drive it out to California and he rode through Washington Square shouting 'anyone for the Coast?' And I was just sitting there on a bench and there wasn't s*** shaking in New York so I-said 'hell, yes,' and when we started off there was Rambling Jack Elliot and Woody Guthrie." After Woody heard Brew play at the roadside en route he refused to speak again to the saxophonist.

Guthrie didn't dig jazz. "But we were the only juice heads in the car so Woody would say to Jack or Billy, 'Would you ask Brew if he'd like to split a bottle of port with me, and I'd say, 'You tell Woody that's cool with me.' Then they let me off in L.A. and I took a bus up to San Francisco."

Before that fantastic journey. Brew had worked around with his buddy Tony Fruscella, a beautiful trumpeter who was also over-fond of the juice. Allen Eager was also a regular playing partner of Fruscella's. Brew stayed in Frisco for about five years, played all over town, made a couple of albums under his own name, recorded with Cal Tjader and drank a lot of wine. He was seriously ill in 1959 but recovered and in 1961 moved to Europe and for three years drifted around the Continent.

Twice in the 1960's he returned to the States but there was still no s*** shaking and nobody bothered to record him properly (a date as a sideman with Ray Nance was the only evidence of the final, unhappy return). His parents were very old and his mother sick. Brew was far from well and didn't look after himself. Friends kept an eye on him and tried to ensure that he ate regularly but Moore was almost past caring.

When he decided to split back to Scandinavia via the Canary Islands where he played at Jimmy Gourley's Half Note Club in Las Palmas, some of his admirers in New York produced a four-page newspaper called "Brew Moore News," in which Brew wrote a touching little verse:

Love I feel, but longing much;
Thy face I see, but cannot touch.
Your presence in heart is good, I know,
but hand in hand-it's greater so.

Time was running out for Brew. There was one more album - a great set made at a Stockholm club [Stampen] where Moore really grooved. Then came the news that he had died after falling down a flight of steps in a restaurant.

The final irony: Brew, who had scuffled and scraped for cash almost all his life, had just been left a substantial sum of money, to give him genuine security, by a relative who had died. It happened too late.”

“Scuffling” is very much the byword when talking about Brew as one has to jump here and there to find the few scraps of information and opinion that has been written about him in that Jazz literature.

Jazz author and critic, Ralph J, Gleason, had this to say about him in the insert notes to one of Brew’s best recordings – The Brew Moore Quintet [Fantasy 3-2222 –OJCCD 100-2]:

Mainly main idea is to get back to simplicity.' says Brew Moore of his work these days. "I like a small group—such as the quintet we have on this album—where there is no other front line and I can let myself go. The biggest kick to me in playing is swinging-freedom and movement. And with a small group, I can do this more easily.

"Music must be a personal expression of one's own world and way of life. When every­thing else gets to be a drag there is music for forgetfulness and also for memory and or a reminder that there is more good than bad in most things. The idea of playing for me is to compose a different, not always better I'm afraid, melody on the tune and basis of the original song, rather than construct a series of chord progressions around the original chords. I feel that in several spots in this group of tunes we attain the rapport necessary for good jazz. I hope so."

And when you listen to these numbers, you will agree that Brew … has done what he set out to do. These all swing and even Brew, who is most critical of his own work ("I guess I never have been happy with anything I did") had to say of this album, "It swings. You can say that."

Brew has two absolutely golden gifts. He swings like mad and he has soul. These are things you cannot learn by wood-shedding [practicing], or in any conservatory. You have to be born with them or learn them by living. Brew had them and he also has a priceless gift for phrasing.

"Everything he plays lays just right," one musician put it. It certainly does. …  When Brew says it, he says it simply, but it rings true. That's the best way there is.”

Ted Gioia, in his definitive West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 encapsulates the essence of Brew and his career when he writes:

“After high school Moore began a peripatetic career that brought him little fame but gave him a heady taste for life on the move. …

By the time he moved to San Francisco [1954], Moore had achieved a reputation for excellence among Jazz insiders …. Jack Kerouac depicts a Moore performance in Desolation Angels, where Brew (or Brue, as Kerouac spells it) starts his solo with, the beat prosodist tells us, "a perfect beautiful new idea that announces the glory of the future world.”

This future glory eluded Moore to the end. His quartet and quintet albums on Fantasy, made during his California years, were his last commercial recordings in the United States. These along with his sideman re­cordings with Tjader, find the tenorist at absolutely top form, stretching out over standards with an impressive melodic and rhythmic inventiveness. In 1961, he moved to Europe, where, except for intermittent appearances in the United States, he lived until his death in 1973 as the result of a fall.”

To give you a sampling of what’s on offer in Brew Moore’s music, with the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD, we put together the following video tribute to Brew on which he performs You Stepped Out of a Dream with Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin [who also did the arrangement], Bent Axen [p], Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen [b] and William Schioppfe [d]. The music was recorded in Copenhagen in 1962.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting read about Brew Moore. Made me search my racks and I found a compilation with radiorecordings from jazzclubs from Stockholm broadcasted by radio Sverige in the years 1961 and 1971.


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