Monday, September 12, 2016

The Couriers of Jazz - "England's Greatest Jazz Combo" - by Ralph J. Gleason

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

In his review of the recent publication of Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews by Yale University for the September 2016 edition of Downbeat, Peter Margasak comments that:

“Although the Internet has wrought dramatic changes in journalism, there are still more people than ever writing non-classical music criticism. It's easy to forget—or to never realize—that once upon a time there was a serious dearth of serious jazz criticism.

Few figures helped change that situation as much as Ralph J. Gleason, who was arguably the first writer to cover jazz and pop music for a mainstream daily newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, beginning in the early 1950s. He had tastes that extended beyond mainstream jazz—he interviewed Frank Sinatra and Fats Domino, and he was one of the first critics to recognize the genius of Lenny Bruce. He composed dozens of jazz album liner notes and he co-founded the Monterey Jazz Festival. He was also an associated editor and critic for DownBeat.

Gleason had a deep love and understanding of jazz, bringing a scholarly rigor to his work. Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews (Yale University Press) collects fourteen in-depth interviews with legendary musicians he conducted from his home in Berkeley, California, between 1959 and '61—with the exception of his talk with Duke Ellington, which occurred as part of a TV broadcast.”

And Ted Gioia in his Foreword to the book offers these observations:

“DID RALPH GLEASON REALLY leave us forty years ago? It certainly doesn't feel that way. Even today, you will find Gleason's name on the masthead of each issue of Rolling Stone, the magazine he helped launch back in 1967. His trademark trench coat hangs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, almost as if Gleason just stopped by a moment ago to check out the scene. The Monterey Jazz Festival, a bright idea Gleason had back in 1958, continues to thrive even as other music events and venues come and go. Every day, a music fan somewhere reads his liner notes to some classic album, whether Miles Davis's Bitches Brew or Frank Sinatra's No One Cares or Simon & Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

I know that a car company has already usurped the motto "Built to Last" to sell pickup trucks, but I insist that Ralph Gleason has a better claim to the phrase. He might have earned a living writing for a daily newspaper [San Francisco Chronicle], but he disdained the ephemeral and championed the timeless. And Gleason's knack for tapping into the Zeitgeist went far beyond the jazz world. Even today, anyone probing the great causes and upheavals of the mid-twentieth century—the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War protests, Summer of Love happenings, beatniks, censorship trials, Altamont, you name it—will eventually encounter his name and legacy. In many instances, Gleason not only reported on the scene, but helped shape it.

Yet Ralph Gleason will always be remembered, first and foremost, as a Jazz writer. Jazz was always his first love and like many early attachments, remained the most passionate. And that sense of intimate attachment comes across again and again on these pages.”

Not only did Ralph J. Gleason write liner notes for internationally famous musicians with throngs of adoring fans, he also wrote them for home-grown European musicians, little known beyond their native countries who were just making their way in local Jazz circles.

And it was in this context - the obscure and the unknown - that thanks to RJG I came to appreciate and understand the significance of The Couriers of Jazz - “England’s Greatest Jazz Combo” through the liner notes that he wrote for this exciting LP.

The Couriers of Jazz was recorded in 1958 as a Carlton Stereo LP and was issued in 1989 on CD by Fresh Sound Records.

It featured a two tenor saxophone front-line of Ronnie Scott and Edward “Tubby” Hayes with a rhythm section made up of Terry Shannon, piano, Jeff Clyne, bass and Bill Eyden, drums.

It’s a terrific album that features three originals by Tubby and four standards and a tune entitled In Salah by Mose Allison that a group I worked with loved to play on because of the way the changes [chords] fell.

RJG’s insights about The Couriers of Jazz helped place the group in a context that helped me appreciate what they represented on the English Jazz scene at the time this recordings was released and his notes also provided me with helpful information about the background of each musician as well as the music on the album.

“Every year it becomes more and more obvious that jazz musicians outside the United States are getting closer and closer to the feeling of real jazz in their playing.

Twenty, even ten years ago, it was obvious when it was a band from Europe. Frequently today one cannot tell.
George Shearing, the blind British jazz pianist, recently remarked: "When I went back to England in 1955 and turned on the B.B.C., I was surprised by the strides that had been made over there and the fact that they're now coming so much closer to the American.conception. I suppose it's because of proximity. American records are once more available in England, British musicians work on the boats and get to New York and the union is opening up on exchange so that there are American groups playing in England."

There is no better example of the effect of this on the jazz scene than this album by THE COURIERS OF JAZZ.

Ronnie Scott, the dark-haired, taciturn co-leader of the group, who would just as soon talk about auto racing as music, has been in the U. S. several times. He brought his own group over once on an exchange deal; on two other occasions he worked his way across on the big ocean liners to dig jazz in New York—on the Big Apple. On one of his visits Scott even took a bus trip out to California, stopping off on the way to visit his old friend, vibraphonist Victor Feldman, then playing with Woody Herman's band at Lake Tahoe. Scott sat in with the Herman group that summer and was immediately offered a saxophone chair in the Herman band. Scott, however, wanted to return to England and reform his own group.

This, of course, he did and later joined forces with Tubby Hayes, also a tenor man, in THE COURIERS OF JAZZ, since the sensation of British jazz — the first British modern jazz group to be voted into top place in the Melody Maker poll.

England's musical taste is apparently changing  —  at least in jazz. Not too long ago the favorite British jazz units were all traditional. It is no small tribute to the talent of Scott and Hayes that THE COURIERS OF JAZZ were the first to break the ice for modern jazz with a two-tenor combo, by no means an easy unit to work with. There has been but one other such successful two- tenor unit in recent years, that of tenors Al Cohn and Zoot Sims which excited jazz fans during its brief existence.

THE COURIERS OF JAZZ not only boasts of two of the top solo horn players in Europe in Scott and Hayes, but have the advantage of Hayes' ability to double on vibes, plus a swinging rhythm section. European horn players have long been ahead of their rhythm section teammates in jazz capability. European rhythm men tend to be stiff. Not so THE COURIERS. They cook along as though Piccadilly Circus was only a block and a half from Birdland or just down the block from the Bohemia.

In listening to this album, it is intriguing to watch the ways in which the tenor saxophone playing of Scott and Hayes are similar and the ways in which they are different as they follow one another on the same tune. It is also fascinating to hear their approach to ballad interpretation, as on "Star Eyes" and "My Funny Valentine."
"The Monk," by the way, is an original composition by Tubby Hayes and a tribute to Thelonious Monk, two of whose favorite sequences are utilized and which recalls his moody presence throughout. Hayes, incidentally, did all the arrangements except "In Salah," Mose Allison's tune which was arranged by bassist Jeff Clyne, and "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!" written and arranged by Scott. Hayes also contributed the originals, "Mirage," "After Tea" and "The Monk."

A word about the musicians: Ronnie Scott was bom in London, January 28, 1927, switched from soprano to tenor when he was 15 and has played with Ted Heath, Ambrose, Vic Lewis, Jack Parnell and has led several bands of his own. He was one of the early leaders of the modern jazz movement in England, once was one of the organizers of a musicians-manager club [Of course, Ronnie would go on to own and operate “Ronnie Scott’s,” the world famous Jazz club still going strong in London]. His main influences include Charlie Ventura, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins.

Tubby Hayes was born in London, January 30, 1935, the son of a violinist who started him on that instrument. He switched to tenor when he was 12, began playing in jazz clubs when he was 14. He also played with Ambrose, Vic Lewis, Jack Parnell and Kenny Baker. He doubles on vibes, baritone and flute and his influences include Parker, Stitt, Getz, Rollins and Hank Mobley.

Terry Shannon was born in London, November 5, 1929, began playing piano in 1955 and has been appearing in British jazz clubs ever since. He likes Horace Silver, John Lewis and Tommy Flanagan. Jeff Clyne, born in London on January 29, 1937, has worked with numerous British jazz groups and has visited New York to hear jazz at its source. His influences include Oscar Pettiford, Doug Watkins, Paul Chambers and Ray Brown. Bill Eyden, born in London on May 4,1930, joined Tubby Hayes band in 1955 after a career as a drummer with several big bands. His favorites are Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Kenny Clarke, Art Taylor and Max Roach.

Ralph J. Gleason

Produced by Tony Hall and Mannie Greenfield”

The following video features the group on In Salah.

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