Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Martin Williams Gettin’ Together with Art Pepper in Jazz Changes From the Archives]

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

"Martin Williams is perhaps the greatest living jazz critic."
- Gunther Schuller

"Martin Williams is one of the few truly distinguished commentators on jazz and one whose writing on the subject is acknowledged as a model of reflective, informed, and meaningful criticism."
- Choice

"One of the most distinguished critics (of anything) this country has produced."
Gary Giddins, The Village Voice

"Read anything of Williams you can getyour hands on....His knowledge of jazz is all but unmatched."
Washington Review

"His is a distinctively colorful style, a cogent blend of history, criticism, and personal opinion."
- Library Journal

"Williams is the most lucid writer on American jazz traditions, able in the shortest pieces to encapsulate major thoughts and present them, in com­prehensible form to the general reader."
- Kirkus Reviews

"Martin Williams persistently gets at essences, and that is why he has con­tributed so much to the very small body of authentic jazz criticism."
- Nat Hentoff

"The most distinguished critic America has produced."
-Dan Morgenstern

Whenever possible, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles tries to celebrate the work of its mentors [in the broader, more informal sense of that word] – those writers and critics who taught us all so much about Jazz and its makers over the years.

In this regard, Martin Williams has been absent from these pages far too long.

So we thought we’d rectify this omission by bringing up Martin’s thoughts about one of our favorite Art Pepper recordings by – Getting’ Together [Contemporary 7573/Original Jazz Classics CD 169-2] – on which the alto saxophonist is joined by trumpeter Conte Candoli and Miles Davis’ rhythm section at that time: Wynton Kelly, piano, Paul Chambers, bass and Jimmy Cobb, drums.

Martin wrote the original liner notes for the recording in 1960 and then re-worked them as printed below when they were published as a sub-chapter in Jazz Changes [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992]. As the notes below explain, Contemporary M/C 3573 paired Art Pepper with the Miles Davis rhythm section of early 1960.

“The square's question about jazz may not be such a bad question if you think about it. I mean the one that goes, "Where's the melody?" or "Why don't they play the melody?" We could borrow the famous mountain climber George Mallory's answer, "Be­cause it's there." But a more helpful one might be, the melody is whatever they are playing, or to put it more directly, they don't play it because they can make up better ones. And if I wanted to introduce the square to that fact, one of the people whose work I could use to show it would be Art Pepper.

Getting’ Together [Contemporary 7573/Original Jazz Classics CD 169-2] is a sort of sequel to the earlier Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section (Contemporary C3532, stereo S7018), a set I would call one of the best in the Contemporary catalog.

That one was made in 1957 and the rhythm section of the title was the very special one of the Miles Davis quintet of the time: Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums. This one is made with the (again special) Miles Davis rhythm section of February 1960. Paul Chambers is still there, Wynton Kelly is on piano, Jimmie Cobb is on drums. That former session was made under pressure, for not only was the section available only briefly, Pepper himself had not played for two weeks before the night it was done. For this one, the Davis group was again in town only briefly, and again, there was only one recording session. In fact, the last track, Gettin Together, made because Art wanted to record a blues on tenor, is just Pepper, Kelly, and the rest playing ad lib while the tape was kept rolling.

All of which obviously does not mean that either session was made with the kind of haste that makes waste.

I began by saying that I could use Art Pepper's playing to convince our square friend that jazzmen can make up better melodies than the ones they start with. (There are many others I could use, but let's stick to the subject here, Art Pepper.) And I could well begin with an Art Pepper record like Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise, for Pepper states that theme with none of its usual melodramatics and proceeds to make up melodic lines spontaneously that are superior to those he began with. And I might also use it as an example of the emotional range he can develop within a solo from a very limited point of departure, and without eccentricity or crowding.

Pepper is a lyric or melodic player (those words are vague but when you have heard him, you know what they mean). Very good test pieces for such qualities are slow ballads—and many a jazzman of Pepper's generation wanders aimlessly and apolo­getically through such tests. There are two ballads here. Why Are We Afraid? is a piece Art Pepper plays in the movie The Subterra­neansDiane is named for Art Pepper's wife; he has recorded it before but he prefers this version. So do I. It especially seems to me an emotionally sustained piece of improvised impressionism, and Kelly also captures and elaborates its mood both in his accompaniment and solo. Unlike many comparable players of his generation in jazz, Art is not so preoccupied with making a melody that is "pretty" that he falls into lushness or weakness in his melodic line. What saves him is a kind of rhythmic fibre and strength that some lyric and "cool" players decidedly lack. (Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise is again a very good example.) For that reason, it should surprise no one to hear him, particularly on the tracks where he plays tenor here, absorbing some rhythmic ideas from the better players in the current Eastern "hard" school. And to show how well they fit and are assimilated, that ad lib blues, Getting Together, is prime evidence. Surely one of the things that makes jazz so unsentimental and fluent an art is the jazzman's rhythmic flexibility, and that is something Art Pepper has always been on to.

The events of Art Pepper's biography include the fact that he took his first music lessons at nine, but had been passionately interested in music even before that. In his teens he was fully committed to jazz and playing nightly on Central Avenue in Los Angeles with Dexter Gordon, Charlie Mingus, Gerald Wiggins, Zoot Sims, and at eighteen he was a regular member of Lester Young's brother Lee's group. Subsequently he was with Benny Carter and achieved his widest recognition when he joined Stan Kenton on alto for the second time, from 1946 through 1951. When these tracks were made he was, with Conte Candoli, one of Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars at Hermosa Beach. If Bijou the Poodle (Pepper's dog, by the way) and Thelonious Monk's Rhythm-A-Ning have a somewhat more prepared air to them than the other tracks, it is because Pepper and Candoli (whose past includes trumpet chairs with Woody Herman and Kenton) were playing them regularly at Rumsey's club.

As I said, Chambers (who is surely as innately a jazz musician as any man ever was) has been with the Miles Davis groups since 1955. Wynton Kelly's past is illustrious enough to have included work with the other major trumpeter in the modern idiom, Dizzy Gillespie; he has also accompanied Dinah Washington and Lester Young, among others. Jimmie Cobb was brought into the Davis group at the suggestion of Cannonball Adderley in 1959.

It should come as no surprise that Art finds playing with a rhythm section picked by Miles Davis such a pleasure and stimulation. It is true that those two horn-men "use the time" (as musicians put it) differently; Pepper is closer to the beat in his phrasing for one thing. But Miles Davis is a unique combination of surface lyricism, concentrated emotion, and has a decided, but not always obvious rhythmic flexibility. (He has been called a man walking on eggshells; a man with his kind of inner emotional terseness would surely crush eggshells to powder.) The sections he picks for himself might therefore be ideal for Art Pepper, for, although I don't think they convey emotion in the same way, they have many qualities in common. Miles' rhythm sections have been accused of playing "too loud" by some people. I am not sure what that means exactly, but I am sure that they are never heavy and always swing at any dynamic level they happen to be using, and that is a very rare quality. Their swing always has the secret kind of forward movement that is so important to jazz. (A handy explanation of "swing" might be "any two successive notes played by Paul Chambers.")

There are several other things on this record that gave me pleasure that I would recommend you listen for. One of the first is the unity of Pepper's solo on Whims of Chambers and the way it builds. (You cannot make a good solo just by stringing phrases together to fit the chord changes—but nobody admits how many players don't try to do much more than that.) The unity is subtle, but it is not obscure, and once grasped it becomes a delightful part of experiencing the solo. For instance, if you keep the phrase he opens with in mind, then notice how much of the solo is melodically related to that phrase. And also how much of it is related to Chambers' theme. Such unity is never monotonous because Art Pepper gets inside of these melodic ideas, finds their meaning, and develops them musically—he is never just playing their notes or playing notes mechanically related to their notes.

The curve of the solo is also a delight. In a very logical way, more complex lines of shorter notes begin in Art's third chorus (that is the one where Kelly re-enters behind him). They reach a peak of dexterity in the fourth, tapering to a more lyric simplicity at its end. There is a very effective echo of those more complex melodies at the end of the fifth chorus, as the solo is gradually returning to the simpler lines it began with. (There is nothing really difficult or forbidding about following these things; if you can follow a "tune" you can follow these melodic structures, although they are far more subtle and artful than a "tune" is. And following them gives the kind of pleasure that digging deeper always does.)

Thelonious Monk's Rhythm-A-Ning may sound like only a visit to that "other" jazz standard (other than the blues, that is) which its title indicates. It isn't just that. And the best part is the "middle" or "bridge." Most popular songs are written with two melodies and if we give each a letter to identify it, the form of them comes out to be AABA. That B part of Rhythm-A-Ning is an integral part of the piece because its melody is a development of one of the ideas in the A part. The other thing is the way it is harmonized. You can easily hear that it is unusual when they play it the first time. Hearing what they do with it in the solos I leave to you to enjoy. I was also intrigued with the idea that Monk would get a smile out of Pepper's writing on Bijou.

A musician friend who had recently returned from California and was answering my questions about Art Pepper said, "I think maybe Art knows now that he plays not to win polls or be famous or any of that, but just because he has it in him to play and he just needs to."

If a man has come to that insight, I think you can hear it in the way he plays. I think I hear it here. (1960)”

The following video montage offers many images of Art Pepper and Conte Candoli as set to Whims of Chambers from Getting’ Together.

The esteemed writer Ray Bradbury once said: “You make your way as you go.”

Thanks to Martin Williams many insights and observations, our travels in the World of Jazz a far richer one.

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