Monday, April 6, 2015

Introducing Jimmy Greene

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

My introduction to the tenor sax work of Jimmy Greene might not have occurred at all except for the fact that a friend who shares my high opinion of the quality of both the musicianship and the recordings that Gerry Teekins produces for his Criss Cross Jazz label sent me Introducing Jimmy Greene: The Jimmy Greene Sextet which Gerry recorded in New York in 1997 [Criss 1181 CD].

Another factor contributing to his gift of this particular CD is that he and I are great fans of the trombonist Steve Davis and Steve appears on some of the tracks of Jimmy Greene’s initial offering on Criss Cross along with John Swana on trumpet and flugelhorn, and a rhythm section made up of Aaron Goldberg on piano, Darren Hall on bass and Eric McPherson on drums.

Thanks to his thoughtfulness, Jimmy Greene’s music came into my life and I have followed his work closely ever since. You can checkout his artist page for all of the Criss Cross recordings he appears on by going here.

At the time of these recordings, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene was only 22 and fresh out of the University of Hartford's Hartt School of Music, where he was a protege of master saxophonist and jazz educator Jackie McLean. The previous year he was named first runner-up in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Saxophone Competition.

Since then, the Connecticut native has performed and/or recorded with Horace Silver, Claudio Roditi, Lewis Nash, Avishai Cohen, Omar Avital, Darren Barrett, Kenny Barron, Tom Harrell, the New Jazz Composers Octet, and the big bands of Harry Connick, Jr., as well continuing to appear with his own group.

On the CD, Jimmy performs in quartet, quintet [with John Swana] and sextet settings. The full sextet plays on Jimmy's ingenious arrangement of Cole Porter's 1942 hit, I Love You, about which Jimmy comments: “It's ironic, in a way, because if you listen to the lyric, it's kind of syrupy. And the arrangement is the opposite mood, kind of a dark, brooding, questioning vibe."

John Swana handles the melody on trumpet over rich tenor saxophone and trombone harmonies. Jimmy's three-horn voicings have a surprisingly full sound, making judicious use of overtones to fill out the sonority.

Ted Gioia has this to say about the Cole Porter tune in his The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire:

“.... performers as diverse as Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane, and Johnny Mathis ... [have offered] up interpretations over the years.

The words do not rank among Porter's best, with their string of deliberate cliches — familiar prattle about birds, daffodils, the dawn — and none of the clever turns of phrase that were his trademark. Porter reportedly wrote the piece in response to a wager with his friend Monty Woolley, who doubted that the songwriter could build an effective song out of the oft-used title phrase. The resulting lyrics retain a quasi-satirical undertone, and the song could be performed ironically — although this is not how it has been typically treated in jazz circles. Rather, jazz players have embraced I Love You for the dramatic interval leaps in the melody and its sweet modulation in the bridge, ingredients that hold enough charm to keep this song in the jazz repertoire more than 60 years after it was written.

This song often gets the "Latin treatment" — a hit-or-miss procedure that can be the jazz equivalent of cut-rate plastic surgery. Sometimes the piece ends up enhanced, but perhaps just as often the result is unintended disfigurement. I suspect that jazz players so often opt for a propulsive rhythm on this chart because Porter inserted so many long-held notes into the melody, starting in bar one and continuing throughout the song. The melody will not swing the song on its own, and actually creates a sense of stasis. Latinizing the proceedings serves as compensation.” [p.173]

The following video features Jimmy Greene’s arrangement of I Love You and his arrangement of it brings back fond memories of the sextet version of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers that featured Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax and Curtis Fuller on trombone.

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