Sunday, July 6, 2014

Lenny McBrowne and the 4 Souls

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

There once was a time in the Land of Jazz when it seemed like everywhere you looked, small Jazz combos came together, played a few club gigs, made a record and then were gone.

The cats who made up these groups were young, enthusiastic and very good musicians, but the main reason they disbanded was usually due to a lack of work.

Some were married and had wives who supported them through day gigs. You could usually spot these caring and loving women in the club audience as they sat there beaming with pride and nursing a Brandy Alexander all night.

Occasionally, some of these young bloods would hook up with a touring big band and live out of a suitcase while traveling for a few weeks on a bus playing one-nighters “east of the Rockies” or “west of the Appalachian Mountains.”

Or, if they were musicians with special qualities, say a trumpet player like Carmel Jones or a tenor sax and fluitist like Yuseef Lateef or a pianist like Cedar Walton, they might land a gig with a Jazz combo with a national following like the groups led by Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley and Art Blakey, respectively. But such gigs were the rare exception.

One such here-today-gone-tomorrow group that I was particularly fond of was the quintet led by drummer Lenny McBrowne. The band was known as “Lenny McBrowne and the 4 Souls.”

“Soul” was a big word in the Land of Jazz for awhile and the best Jazz musicians were the “soulful” ones who were signifying and testifying in their music. The style was an amalgam of the music then prevalent in the Southern Baptist Church and a little New York-Chicago-Detroit-Philadelphia hipness.

Lenny’s quintet got into the act with their band name which is also the title of their Pacific Jazz LP [PJ-1].

I heard Lennie McBrowne and the 4 Souls in various venues in and around Hollywood and on each occasion,  I was always impressed with the very high level of musicianship on display by each soloist and the great arrangements that pianist Elmo Hope wrote for the group.

Some of Elmo’s arrangements were included on the quintet’s Pacific Jazz LP along with the following liner notes by Tillie Mitchell, who managed the quintet and brought them to Dick Bock’s attention at Pacific Jazz.

Jazz is a fleeting medium of expression and it is made no less so by the transient nature of many of the combos that perform it.

“LEONARD LOUIS McBROWNE was born in Brooklyn, New York. Following in the footsteps of his father, Arnold who was also a drummer, Lenny began playing drums in street marching bands between the ages of 12 and 15 and took lessons on bass besides. After graduation from high school, a lifelong friend of his father's gave him a complete set of drums. From then on, his career was decided. He was, at that time, fortunate to study for a year with his idol, Max Roach.

Lenny's first professional job was with saxophonist Pete Brown, a wonderful musician and teacher. Paul Bley was also in the group. Lenny came to California after a Midwestern College Tour in 1956. He has worked and recorded with Tony Scott, Billie Holliday and Sonny Stitt. Most recently, he has worked with Harold Land, Sonny Rollins, Benny Golson and Curtis Fuller.

Throughout the last year, I have listened to Lenny and observed his tireless effort in search for new creative avenues of expression and to please his audience at all times. My knowledge of his sincerity and honesty as a man and his love for the beauty in music as well as his artistry on his instrument, made me realize that he should be heard with his own group. This feeling within me was justified while he was working with Sonny Rollins at a club in California. Miles Davis was in the room. He got up from his seat and walked up to the bandstand, spoke to Sonny, then stood in front of Lenny, feet propped "ala Miles Davis" for nearly five minutes. As he passed me, returning to his seat, he asked me "Where did he come from?" Knowing Miles as long as I have, this was quite a compliment.

About a month later, after leaving Sonny Rollins to stay in for one night. I brought in Terry Trotter, Herb Lewis and Walter Benton, saxophonist, as they had worked together before. The people at the club liked the group so much that the owner gave them two nights a week for the next eight weeks. This was a year ago. After the engagement, Terry and Herbie decided to stay with Lenny to form the quintet. Teddy Edwards recommended Daniel Jackson who in turn recommended Donald Sleet. They went into endless daily rehearsals to prepare for any club dates or recordings I could get them. I brought Lenny and the group to the attention of Richard Bock, President of World Pacific Records who heard the beauty and jazz feeling of the group and signed them for recordings.

Lenny has a deep respect for the jazz talent of Elmo Hope and was very happy that he was in California to write and arrange for this date. He composed "McBrowne's Galaxy" especially for the date and arranged "Dearly Beloved" and "Invitation." "I Married An Angel," Lenny dedicates to his wife. The other compositions are by Daniel Jackson.

TERRY TROTTER was born in Los Angeles and sang before he talked. Born to a musical family, his mother and sister play piano and his father a reed instrument. He started playing piano at the age of six and has had a thorough classical training. His teachers were Earl Voorhies and Pete DeSantos, from whom he learned jazz harmony starting at the age of twelve. He and Herbie have played together since high school. His major influences are Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Bill Evans and Bud Powell. He has worked with Teddy Edwards and Buddy DeFranco.

DONALD SLEET was born in San Diego. He started playing trumpet at the age of ten. Donald also has studied piano for three years. He won the outstanding trumpet award at the Lighthouse' Festival in 1956. He returned and repeated in 1957 while leading the group that won the title. His major influences are Kenny Dorham and Miles Davis.

DANIEL L. JACKSON was also born in San Diego and started playing the "C" Melody saxophone at twelve years of age. He played in the high school band where he switched to tenor and learned to play piano with the help of his brother, Fred. He joined the Air Force in 1955 and played with the band throughout his four year hitch. He received an Honorable Discharge in 1959 whereupon he joined Lenny for his first professional job. His major influences are Harold Land, Bud Powell and Horace Silver.

HERBIE LEWIS was born in Pasadena. His musical family includes Uncles Wesley Prince (original King Cole Trio, bass) and Peppy, drummer and band leader. Herb first played trombone and then baritone horn, but couldn't feel either. Between
fluences, he began playing bass at the age of fifteen. He credits learning music to Terry Trotter, his high school chum. He has worked with Teddy Edwards and recorded previously with Harold Land.                                              

 -Tillie Mitchell”

Here are two videos which will help you experience the music of this fine band. Both tracks feature arrangements by Elmo Hope.

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