Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Quintetto Basso Valdambrini: A Tribute

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

Having been raised in California during an era when the West Coast Jazz style of Jazz was still predominant, this approach to the music with its emphasis on composition, harmonically blended front lines, elaborate counter-melodies and easy, loping swing has always been among my favorites.

It would appear that I am not alone in this regard as over the years this style of "cool school Jazz" influenced many Jazz musicians in Scandinavia, Holland, France and Germany and was a major factor in the development of the samba-lite bossa nova music that originated in Brazil.

Because of my fondness for it, I'm always on the lookout for other groups who play Jazz in this manner.

Thanks to a close friend who hipped me to their recordings, I became aware of an Italian Jazz Quintet led by trumpeter Gianni Basso and tenor saxophonist Oscar Valdambrini that sounds as though they could have stepped in for Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars without missing a beat [bad pun intended].

There's more about the group and its music in the following review by Andrew Cartmel which appeared in the London Jazz News, Saturday, December 20, 2014

Basso Valdambrini Quintet – Fonit H602-H603
(Rearward RW154LP. Double LP. Review by )

"The small groups co-led by tenor sax player Gianni Basso and trumpeter Oscar Valdambrini were the most celebrated jazz units to emerge from Italy in the late 1950's and early 60's. First rising to prominence in Milan, under the name The Italian Sextet, Basso actually came from Asti (where they make such damn fine wine) while Valdambrini was born in Turin. They played the San Remo and Lyon jazz festivals and distinguished themselves in Armando Trovajoli’s big band before reverting to their own quintet. Working in a West Coast and hard bop idiom they held a long term residence in Milan which was successful enough to attract Verve Records in the USA, who issued a Basso-Valdambrini album in their International Series in 1959. The following year Basso and Valdambrini released a classic album Walking in the Night on RCA Italy. In 1962, operating as a sextet, they won a contest as ‘The Best Modern Jazz in Italy’ and toured the USA and recorded another RCA album under this banner. All these excellent albums went out of print and became collectors items. But in recent years they have resurfaced, first as Japanese reissues, and then in their native Italy.

While the back catalogue of Basso-Valdambrini’s most famous titles is now in pretty healthy shape, the Rearward/Schema label (based, appropriately enough, in Milan) has pulled off a real coup by unearthing some extremely rare library recordings by the Quintet. Library music, often performed by top musicians, is an anonymous genre designed to be used, uncredited, by TV and radio programs who don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of commissioning bespoke compositions. The recordings here were first released as two vinyl albums on the Milanese Fonit Cetra label, with generic covers and the inscrutable designations H602 and H603. Their subtitles are more enlightening: Stile: Pop-Jazz and Stile: Californiano (the ‘pop jazz’ is actually closer to a soul jazz feel). Recorded in 1970, these sessions are reportedly the last performances of the Basso-Valdambrini Quintet. They are certainly the rarest.

What is most striking about this music is the spirit with which Basso and Valdambrini and their rhythm section approach the project. These anonymous recordings — never, as far as they knew, destined to be linked with their names — are performed with as much conviction as anything they ever did. In fact, they play their hearts out. Plinius is reminiscent of Oliver Nelson’s classic The Blues and the Abstract Truth in the horn arrangements and the general balance of the instruments; it’s a tight knit blues vehicle with a driving, rolling beat. Subtle and deceptively complex drum patterns come courtesy of Lionello Bionda while Basso’s sax offers a taut commentary with Valdambrini shadowing him like a Siamese twin.

Maglione (‘Sweater’) also evokes Nelson’s masterwork, with gorgeous hard edged tenor which hands over to Valambrini’s virile trumpet and skirling scales on the piano from Ettore Righello. The abrupt, instant ending is audacious and breathtaking. Invertime pays homage to vintage Miles Davis in Valdambrini’s trumpet approach while on the free jazz outing El Gato (‘The Cat’), Basso conjures the spirit of Coltrane.

In the Stile: Californiano sessions, Gold Mine has a jaunty but laidback Jazz at the Lighthouse atmosphere, a mood which continues with Glaucus in its Chet Baker feel and E’ Molto Facile (‘And Very Easy’). Pick Up provides a bright barrage of trumpet, skipping piano and a Dizzy Gillespie rhythmic riffing. On The Jolly Basso’s tenor is darkly emphatic, with a lovely burnished, glowing tone. Ettore Righello contributes agile, methodical, story-telling piano cushioned by Giorgio Azzolini’s bass until unison sax and trumpet take over, waving the banner of the melody.

Behind this less than alluring title lies an exciting reissue for fans of Italian jazz. What were once impossibly rare and expensive records are available again in a fine sounding double vinyl set which comes complete with a free CD."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tony Fruscella: THE NAMES OF THE FORGOTTEN - John Dunton

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

Jazz history is full of enfant terribles, mythical characters, maudits, legendary figures who seem to have been born in order to become protagonists in hardboiled stories of the darkest nature. Outsiders destined to a mala vita, which can only be avoided thanks to an inborn talent that transforms them into all-time romantic symbols of the artist and his struggle. Tony Fruscella was one of these characters.

As a musician, Tony Fruscella led an intermediate path between Bop (Dizzy Gillespie) and Cool (Miles Davis), a style later made popular by Chet Baker (whom Tony regarded as "Chatty" Baker, by the way). His dense, muted, velvety sound expressed a sense of poetry full of "literary" references, in the low and medium registers, of a rich variety of tonalities that made his solos sensual, deep and somewhat melancholy.

- J.G.Calvados. Translated by A. Padilla

“Tony is no Bix, and for that matter, no Miles Davis, …, but it’s the rich, full whisper of his middle and especially his low register that sets him apart immediately.”

- Claude Nobs

“In the right setting, Tony’s lyrical creativity was unsurpassed.”

- John Williams, Jazz pianist

“All works of art are not produced by a handful of major poets, painters, musicians, or whatever, and at any time there are always hundreds of others active and often creating worthwhile, but overlooked, contributions to their chosen area of activity. It ought to be the duty of a critic to recognize those contributions, though too many take the easy way out and concentrate on a few famous names. This is certainly true of jazz writing, with the result that numerous musicians are virtually forgotten.”

– John Dunton

John Dunton is a past, regular contributor to the Penniless Press which is edited by Alan Dent.

I have populated the piece with photos that are not a part of the original essay. The video tribute to Tony 

© -  John Dunston/The Penniless Press, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The name Tony Fruscella may not mean much unless you have a specific interest in the modem jazz of the l940s and 1950s but the facts of his life and his few appearances on records, say a great deal about the period and the musicians he worked with. A fascinating jazz "underground" comes to life when his activities are examined, and it offers, as well, a comment on the society in which Fruscella and his contemporaries sought to function. 

Fruscella was born in Greenwich Village in 1927, though his family belonged to the Italian-American working class of that area rather than to the bohemian element. His childhood years are largely undocumented, but he was brought up in an orphanage from an early age and seems to have had little exposure to music other than as it related to the church. However, he left the orphanage when he was about fourteen or fifteen, started studying the trumpet, and came into contact with both classical music and jazz. He appears to have been quick to develop his skills and was soon playing in public. When he was eighteen he went into the army and gained more experience by playing in an army band. It was around this time that Fruscella also encountered the new modern sounds of the day, and the post-war years saw him mixing with the many young, white New York jazzmen who were devoted to bebop and cool jazz. They had an almost-fanatical belief in the music and had little time for anything else.

William Carraro recalled: "We'd jam at lofts, or flats in old tenement houses on Eighth Avenue, around 47th or 48th Street. The empty rooms were rented for a few hours, and the musicians and the 'cats' that came by just to listen would chip in whatever they could afford at the moment to help pay the rent. Brew Moore, Chuck Wayne and many other names-to-be came by." 

One of the musicians who participated in these sessions was an alto-player by the name of Chick Maures, and in 1948 he and Fruscella recorded for a small label called Century, though the records never appeared commercially until thirty years later. They are fascinating documents in terms of what they say about jazz developments. Of course, by 1946 bebop was well-established, and the music shows the influence of the famous Charlie Parker quintet of those days. But the tricky themes played in unison by the alto and trumpet also suggest an awareness of the kind of approach favored by pianist Lennie Tristano and his disciples Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, who were cooler and more careful in their improvising. And Fruscella's trumpet playing, though superficially akin to that of Miles Davis, had its own subtlety and warmth. [In my opinion,] Fruscella was more melodic than Davis

But what happened after the heady days and nights of the late1940s'? Fruscella and the others no doubt continued to play when and where they could, and a few even got to work professionally. But paying jobs, especially those involving jazz, were often hard to come by. Bob Reisner, a writer around Greenwich Village in the early1950s, recalled that Fruscella never seemed to have a permanent address:
"Short marriages, short stays in hospitals and jails, and he invented the crash pad. He walked the streets, an orphan of the world, but with incredible dignity. He never accepted anything for free. He would cook and clean and play music if you put him up."

The chaotic nature of Fruscella's life wasn't improved by his use of alcohol and drugs. He wasn't alone in this. Chick Maures, his companion on the 1948 record date, died from a drugs overdose in 1954, and Don Joseph, a trumpeter who was not unlike Fruscella in his playing and was close to him as a person, had a career that was marred by drug addiction. Both were wayward to the point of self-destruction. Bob Reisner once got them an engagement at the famous summer festival at Music Inn in the Berkshires, but Fruscella, when asked by a polite listener what he would play next, replied "We Want Whiskey Blues," and refused to carry on until a bottle was provided. And Joseph somehow managed to insult the son of the owner of the place. Bassist Bill Crow, who was around New York at the time and later wrote a fine book, From Birdland to Broadway, about his experiences, remembered Fruscella almost losing them a rare job in a club with his response to a customer's invitation to have a drink: "Well, I'm already stoned, and the bread is pretty light on this gig, so would you mind just giving me the cash?" Crow said that he "loved the way Tony played in a small group,” but noted that he didn't fit into a big-band format. His low-key style needed a small group and an intimate club setting to allow it to flourish. 

It's perhaps indicative of Fruscella's lifestyle, and his liking for a Bohemian environment that Beat writer Jack Kerouac knew him in the 1950s. In his "New York Scenes," a short prose piece included in Lonesome Traveler, Kerouac writes:

"What about that guy Tony Fruscella who sits cross-legged on the rug and plays Bach on his trumpet, by ear, and later on at night there he is blowing with the guys at a session, modern jazz." Kerouac also mentioned Don Joseph in the same piece: "He stands at the jukebox in the bar and plays with the music for a beer." 

There were a few moments of near-glory in Fruscella's career. In 1951 he was hired to play in Lester Young's group, though the job lasted only a couple of weeks and no recorded evidence of it exists. It would seem that Fruscella was ousted from the band due to some sort of rivalry which may have involved a form of reverse racism.

Pianist Bill Triglia, who worked with Fruscella over the years, tells the story:
'Fruscella was a white fellow and very friendly with Miles Davis and used to jam with him. He played with myself and Red Mitchell a lot. He had a beautiful sound. He didn't play high, he didn't play flashy, but he played beautiful low register, very modem. When Kenny Drew left and some jobs came up, John Lewis was playing with Lester. According to what I heard, and Tony Fruscella was a good friend of mine, Tony used to get drunk with Lester. Lester loved him. He didn't play the same style as Lester, but it fit nicely, it was a beautiful contrast, but John Lewis didn't like Tony. Tony said he didn't like him because he was properly white, I don't know, but John Lewis tried to get somebody else on. The next job they had Lester's manager didn't call Tony Fruscella and he was so hurt, because he loved Lester, you know. He wanted to stay with him, he was a young fellow and very tender."

It was just after this experience that Fruscella again recorded some tracks which, like those from 1948. didn't appear until many years later. In February, 1952, he joined forces with altoist Herb Geller, tenorman Phil Urso, pianist Bill Triglia, and a couple of others, to produce some music which ought to have been heard at the time and drawn some attention to Fruscella. Instead, it simply disappeared into the vaults, and Fruscella and his companions carried on struggling to play their music and earn a living. Critic Mark Gardner noted that, although the 1950s were, for many, years of affluence, the good times did not necessarily arrive for musicians, "especially those who had rejected the commercial sop dispensed over the airways and via the jukeboxes." Gardner added:" Jazzmen adapted, as they always have, and found places to play the way they wanted - in basements and cellars, seedy bars, strip clubs and coffee houses.

Surroundings were uncongenial but unimportant. The main thing was that in those varied environments were the patrons were either alcoholic/moronic or intellectual/revolutionary, nobody told you how to play or what to play.   If you were looking to dig what was happening you went to the open door in Greenwich Village or wangled an invitation to pianist Gene DiNovi's basement or to where Jimmy Knepper and Joe Maini lived  The people who passed through these underground pads and dives were the jazz underground   The life of prosperous, middle-class America was far removed from those basement jam sessions, those rehearsals and gigs in down-at-heel corner bars. Musicians, natural skeptics, turned their backs on McCarthyism and the rest."

A little steady work did come along now and then, and in 1953 Fruscella was hired to play with Stan Getz's group. Some poorly-recorded excerpts from a broadcast from Birdland do exist, and on "Dear Old Stockholm" Fruscella demonstrates all that was best in his playing as he shapes a solo that is relaxed, warm, melodically coherent, and in which the use of spaces between the notes is as important as the notes themselves. Some listeners might think there is a resemblance to Chet Baker in Fruscella's sound. He did play with Gerry Mulligan's group briefly in 1954, but it is only slight, and Fruscella very much had his own way of constructing a solo. There are interesting comparisons to be made between Baker's 1953 recording of "Imagination" and Fruscella's version from the same year. Admittedly, Baker's was a studio recording, with the disciplined format that implies, whereas Fruscella 's was from a live session at the Open Door and has a relative looseness, but even so, there is greater depth in Fruscella's playing. As Dan Morgenstern said of it: "It is music very much of its time - a time of scuffling, an inward looking time, a blue time." 

The recordings from the Open Door - and, yet again, they came to light only years later - are valuable not only for the way in which they allow us to hear Fruscella soloing at length, but also for the window they provide into the modern jazz world of New York. The Open Door was a bar and restaurant frequented by jazz musicians and which they soon began to use as a place for jam sessions. Dan Morgenstern remembered it as a "haven for jazz people with no money. It was a weird place. When you walked in off the street, you entered a room with a long bar that had a Bowery feeling to it. At one end of this bar stood an ancient upright piano, manned most evenings by Broadway Rose, a fading but spry ex-vaudevillian, her hair dyed an improbable shade of red. She knew a thousand old songs and cheerfully honored requests. From the bar, right next to Rose, a creaky door led to the huge, gloomy back room, sporting a long bandstand, a dance floor which was never used, and rickety tables and chairs."

Bob Reisner, a freelance writer who some years later produced a couple of short but lively memoirs of the 1950s, and also wrote a funny book about graffiti, hired the room for Sunday afternoon concerts at which Charlie Parker sometimes appeared.  Others spontaneous sessions appeared and drummer Al Levitt recalls musicians like Herb Geller, Gene Quill, Jon Eardley, Milt Gold, and Ronnie Singer, dropping in to play. Geller did go on to make a name for himself on the West Coast in the late 1950s and is still around, having lived in Germany for many years. Most of the others made only occasional appearances on record and those mostly in the 1950s. And the casualty rate amongst them was high. Quill was badly injured in a road accident and spent the rest of his life virtually immobilized, Singer committed suicide and Eardley had an up-and-down career due to drug addiction. 

The music produced by Fruscella at the Open Door, mostly with tenorman Brew Moore and pianist Bill Triglia, sounds relaxed almost to the point of casualness, and it is played without any concessions to non-jazz tastes. Using a few standard tunes from the jazz and popular music repertoire (the popular music of the pre-rock period, that is), the emphasis is on improvisation, and Fruscella shows how inventive he could be in such a setting. He never repeats ideas and always sounds poised, no matter the tempo. He was fond of the ballad, "Lover Man," using it at the open Door sessions and also at an engagement at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey which must have taken place around the same period (1953). "A Night in Tunisia," the classic tune from the hop era, also crops up at both places. There are moments on the ballad performances when Fruscella can sound pensive, almost hesitant, but he skillfully uses that mood to shape his solos and his emotional sound complements it.

It needs to be noted that the Ridgewood High School recordings, presumably made by one of the musicians or an interested fan, were some more that only went into general circulation twenty or so years later. Bill Triglia appears to have been the man who organized the group's appearance. Interestingly, some other live recordings from the same period and with Triglia again in the group feature Don Joseph and a good alto-saxophonist, Davey Schildkraut, who was in Stan Kenton's band in the 1950s, recorded with Miles Davis, but then drifted from sight. Memoirs of the New York scene prior to 1959 or so place him in the center of a lot of the activity at the Open Door and elsewhere. 

1955 was probably the peak year in Fruscella' s short career, and he was featured on a couple of recordings by Stan Getz and was also invited to make an LP under his own name for the Atlantic label, a well-established company. Fruscella chose Bill Triglia to accompany him on piano and he added tenor-saxophonist Allen Eager, a musician who had been highly thought of in the 1940s, when he was amongst the leading hop players, but who was by 1955 slipping into a shadowy world of occasional public appearances and even fewer recording dates. With Phil Sunkel, another little-known trumpeter, acting as composer-arranger, Fruscella came up with some of his finest work, especially on "I'll Be Seeing You" and the attractive "His Master's Voice," on which he uses some of his classical background to fashion an engaging Bach-like series of variations. Fruscella and those who admired him no doubt imagined that this album would help him widen his reputation, but it soon slid from sight and was remembered by only a few enthusiasts. The mid-1950s were reasonable years for some jazzmen provided they could be identified with bright West Coast sounds or the hard hop forcefulness associated with black New York. Fruscella's music, like so much good, white New York jazz of the 1950s, didn't fit into either category. 

What happened to Tony Fruscella after 1955? Very little, it seems, if the reference books are anything to go by. He probably still played at jam sessions and perhaps even did some club work in obscure places, but the "dogged will to fail" that Bob Reisner saw in him, and his drug and alcohol problems, must have held him back. And the 1906s were lean years for a lot of jazzmen, as pop music took over in clubs, dance halls, and on the radio. His kind of music, quiet, reflective, and requiring sympathy and understanding from the listener was hardly likely to appeal to many people. It never had, it's only fair to say, but things got even worse in the 1960s. After years of obscurity, Fruscella died in August, 1969, his body finally giving up the struggle against barbiturates and booze. Bob Reisner, in a touching elegy written for a jazz magazine just after Fruscella died, said: "If I were an artist, I would paint Fruscella in the Renaissance manner. A side portrait of him bent in concentration over the horn which produced the flowing and delicate music. The usual background landscape would be strewn with a couple of wives, countless chicks, barbiturate containers, and empty bottles. His artistic life, however, was in sharp contrast. He was completely austere and disciplined. There was not a commercial chromosome in his body."

This short survey of Fruscella's life is scattered with the names of the forgotten. What did happen to Don Joseph and Davey Schildkraut? Allen Eager is dead. And a whole world of New York jazz of the 1950s comes to mind when one listens to a few of the records by Fruscella and others. Where are Jerry' Lloyd, George Syran, and Phil Raphael and Phil Leshin? Jerry Lloyd was around in the 1940s and 1950s and recorded with Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, and George Wallington, though he never became well-known and worked as a cab driver even when he was featured on many records. George Syran was on an album with Jon Eardley which also featured trombonist Milt Gold, and the two Phils worked with Red Rodney in 1951, but what else? That fine tenor-saxophonist Phil Urso, who soloed on Woody Herman records in the early-1950s, was with Chet Baker's group a few years later, and then seems to have faded into obscurity around 1960 died in 2008. There were so many who had only a brief moment or two in the spotlight. Not all of them were necessarily as ill-fated as Fruscella. Bill Triglia. who figures so prominently in the Fruscella story, seems to have still been alive in the 1980s, though hardly in the forefront of jazz.

Nor would it be true to say that all the musicians mentioned were victims of an unjust or uncaring society. When there were casualties, they often came about through personal waywardness and self-indulgence rather than from any form of oppression. Some jazzmen may well have felt that their music was misunderstood and neglected, but that's hardly an excuse for taking drugs or drinking heavily. Dan Morgenstern may have got nearer the truth  when he said it was an 'inward-looking time." Were drugs a part of that inwardness or simply just a social fashion? 

But a lot of musicians probably just gave up playing jazz, or even playing any kind of music, and some possibly turned to commercial sounds in order to earn a living.

Compromises are often necessary if one wants to eat. The point is, though, that all those I've named, and more whose names are mentioned when people reminisce, deserve to be remembered for their contributions to jazz, even if those contributions were small ones. We do the artists and ourselves a disservice when we neglect the past. A form of "organized amnesia' takes over, as is so often evident when one listens to those radio stations which purport to cater for a jazz audience but which mostly present a non-stop procession of bland sounds. There is little or no historical sense in what they do, and certainly no place for a fine, forgotten musician like Tony Fruscella."

Monday, July 24, 2017

Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce - 2nd Ed.

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

“In the few short years Gigi Gryce lived in New York, it seemed just about every important jazz musician knew him. This was inevitable because of his ability as an alto saxophonist and an extremely creative writer. Many times, as the new boy in town, I was completely thrilled when visiting his apartment and Coleman Hawkins or Art Blakey or Max Roach or Howard McGhee or Hank Jones or others would call. I wanted to be in on the conversation so badly that the only thing I could think of to say was, "Tell him I said hello!" Of course, only a few actually knew who I was at the time. Gigi, knowing this, indulged me nevertheless.

He came to New York with bundles of music under his arms and even more in his mind. He was an organizer of the highest magnitude and quickly gained a reputation for it. When people—musicians, club owners, entrepreneurs—wanted quality jazz underscored with quality business, they often included Gigi in their calls. Although a graduate of the Boston Conservatory, he chose not to teach school in those early days because of devoting full time to writing and playing and becoming a well-informed business man in the marketplace. In fact, he and I later became partners in two publishing companies. Though he did not formally teach in any university then, he was always teaching. He was didactic by nature and could not envision life without intuitively teaching at every opportunity. I do not infer, however, that he was aggressive or arrogant in this. In a quite natural way, he lovingly and mercifully shared all the information he had stored in his capacious mind.”...

After perusing the contents of Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce, the reader will never ever find Gigi Gryce relegated to the two-dimensional medium of vinyl discs and CDs only, but he will become as real as anyone we've ever known in life. Let's be glad that there was a musician like Gigi Gryce, and let's be glad that there were people like Noal Cohen and Michael Fitzgerald who had enough conviction and vision to recall Gigi's plethoric life with the aid of their minds, hearts, and pens. Noal, Michael— I salute you.”
- Benny Golson, tenor saxophonist, composer-arranger bandleader

Noal Cohen and Michael Fitzgerald are a couple of brave guys.

Not only have these courageous explorers signed on to navigate the dangerously obscure currents of the “Sea of Jazz History,” but in seeking to uncover the hidden island that is the biographical life of one “Gigi Gryce,” they have also volunteer to compile a discography of his recordings. Each a monumental task in-and-of-itself!

All metaphorical kidding aside, given the woeful and largely anecdotal information that exists about most major Jazz figures, not only have Noal and Michael taken on the huge task of writing a Jazz biography about a musician who was not particularly well-known outside of select Jazz circles, they have somehow managed to compile an excellent discography of his recordings, many of which were made for record companies who kept poor records at best, if they kept any at all!

The musician is question is alto saxophonist and bandleader Gigi Gryce 1925-1983 and the book is entitled Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce [2nd edition.

Noal and Michael have assumed distribution responsibility for the second and subsequent editions of the book and you can locate more about them as well as order information by visiting this site.

What Noal and Michael set out to do and how they set out to do it are fully explained in the following excerpts from the book’s preface.

“THIS book is the result of nearly a decade of serious research and half a century of casual interest. It slowly came together as we became aware of Gigi Gryce's efforts, efforts scattered across many classic albums. Although his career was brief, lasting only a decade, he seemed to be associated with the greatest, most creative artists in jazz and his writing and playing were unique and readily identifiable.

Never before has there been a thorough and exhaustive look at the entire oeuvre of Gigi Gryce, which numbered over a hundred recording sessions, most of them issued commercially. During his lifetime he was the subject of a chapter in two books (Raymond Horricks's These Jazzmen of Our Time and Robert Reisner's The Jazz Titans), and since his death he has only figured as an auxiliary to the career of Clifford Brown and as one-of-many in the school of lyrical hard bop composers. Almost no writing existed that evaluated his career, his many compositions, and his place in the history of jazz. What did exist perhaps covered one aspect but ignored several others. Only when examined in full could the range of his musical development be seen and properly assessed.

Even before beginning work on this project it was apparent that there were contradictions and errors in the biographical details and in credits and titles of compositions. We worked to verify or disprove these definitively by using multiple sources. In digging deeper, we learned that Gryce's birth and death dates have regularly been misreported and that no published account of his life was without some kind of misinformation.

"So, whatever happened to Gigi Gryce?" was a frequent question we heard, not only from fans but also from some of the musicians who were close to him in the 1950s. Rumors were rampant and, if truth be told, Gryce himself contributed to the confusion. While this book cannot clear up the entire mystery, it will certainly present the clearest and most accurate account of his post-jazz life available at this time. It should be noted, however, that these years are not the focus of the book, which is concerned with the composer and performer.

Any biography of a musician must necessarily deal with that artist's recorded legacy and a complete discography was begun. This is the only comprehensive discography of Gigi Gryce ever to have been attempted, although general discographers (Raben, Bruyninckx, Lord) included the vast majority of sessions to one extent or another. Items were added and corrections made up until weeks before submitting the manuscript for publication. Items that had been issued but never documented were included and, in most cases, new information was added to amend the earlier work. An international community of record collectors supplied rare recordings and information relating to foreign issues.

One of the first thoughts regarding research strategy was to interview the musicians who knew and worked with Gryce. This logical idea led to compiling a list of survivors based on the most accurate discography. Added to this list were family members and then friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. The period with which we were primarily concerned was the years 1953—1963 and in the intervening decades a number of the participants have passed away. Even as we were conducting our research and writing the text of the first edition, we learned of the deaths of several important colleagues: Art Taylor (1995), Johnny Coles (1996), Gerry Mulligan (1996), Walter Bishop, Jr. (1998), Betty Carter (1998), Jaki Byard (1999), Art Farmer (1999), Milt Jackson (1999), Melba Liston (1999), Ernie Wilkins (1999), Al Grey (2000), Milt Hinton (2000), Alan Hovhaness (2000), Jerome Richardson (2000), Stanley Turrentine (2000), JJ. Johnson (2001), John Lewis (2001), and Makanda Ken Mclntyre (2001). Three of Gryces sisters also passed away during this time: Kessel Grice Jamieson (1997), Elvis Grice Blanchard (1999), and Harriet Grice Combs (1999). Regrettably, we were unable to communicate with some of them and, of course, these missed opportunities can never be regained. Some other subjects declined to be interviewed, and some were impossible to contact (though we certainly did try). In the end, we were fortunate to record over seventy-five conversations specifically on the topic of Gigi Gryce and his music.

Each of these presented new information and interesting anecdotes. We have tried in many cases to preserve in the text the actual words of the interviews. In the tradition of earlier books like Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya, this has elements of an oral history, but here the stories of the participants share the page with retrospection, critique, and our follow-up research which attempts to support and clarify the quotes. While neither of us ever met Gryce, we hope that through the words of those who knew him, something of him may be conveyed to future readers. (The code for each quoted interview is listed in a table.)

Another avenue of research involved going through the periodicals and literature with a fine-tooth comb. Sometimes even the smallest mention would eventually lead to a major discovery, particularly when several items were used in conjunction with each other, and with the interviews and photographic contributions. The bibliography included here does not detail all of these, but covers the publications that contain significant coverage related to Gryce s work and the world in which he operated.

Although this book is not targeted for musicians only, a great deal of examination was conducted on Gryces music, involving transcriptions and study of copyright deposits at the Library of Congress. It is hoped that any musical discussion here will be accessible to all readers. We anticipate that the printed compositions preface of Gigi Gryce will finally be made available in the near future and this will certainly generate more interest among the musical community.

We are eager to share our knowledge and enthusiasm and encourage future researchers to contact us with questions or new information. This has been a labor of love and although publication here brings some sense of finality, there will continue to be discoveries that will complete the picture of Gigi Gryce as man, musician, and teacher.

Addendum for the Second Edition

As predicted, further discoveries have indeed been made in the twelve years since the first edition was published. In many cases, these have been the result of the first edition's existence. Other new information has become known as a result of new digital research tools.

We have been able to pinpoint the timing of Gryce's mysterious trip to Paris in 1952, and we have gained access to materials that were previously unavailable to us, including unissued recordings as well as the full score of a large scale classical work that Gryce composed during his conservatory studies. Finally, having been able, at last, to identify and interview students in Gryce's classes during his twenty years as a teacher in New York City (as Basheer Qusim, the name he used during this period) has provided further insight into his methods as an educator. These discoveries and others now provide an even more complete study of this fascinating but often inscrutable individual.

The demand for Gryce's music continues to grow, and happily, it has become available. For the music student and professional, a number of Gryce's compositions have been published in lead sheet form thanks to the efforts of Don Sickler at Jazzleadsheets.

In sadness we must note that since publication of the first edition, we lost additional colleagues and family members, many of whom had provided valuable information: Valerie Grice Claiborne (2002), Henri Renaud (2002), Idrees Sulieman (2002), Mal Waldron (2002), Louis Victor Mialy (2003), Edwin Swanston (2003), Rev. Jerome A. Greene (2004), Walter Perkins (2004), Clifford Solomon (2004), Mort Fega (2005), Raymond Horricks (2005), Lucky Thompson (2005), Bruce Wright (2005), Don Butterfield (2006), Clifford Gunn (2006), Jack Lazare (2006), Bob Weinstock (2006), Art Davis (2007), Esmond Edwards (2007), Norman Macklin (2007), Cecil Payne (2007), Max Roach (2007), Harold Andrews (2008), Jimmy Cleveland (2008), Daniel Pinkham (2008), Dick Katz (2009), Mat Mathews (2009), Danny Bank (2010), Hank Jones (2010), Benny Powell (2010), Fred Baker (2011), Sam Rivers (2011), Teddy Charles (2012), Eleanor Gryce (2012), Hal McKusick (2012), Donald Byrd (2013), Donald Shirley (2013), Ed Shaughnessy (2013), Ben Tucker (2013), and Horace Silver (2014).

Lastly, we have made a significant decision regarding the revised and expanded discography and appendixes. These will not be found herein but rather online at Our reasons for doing this stem from the following considerations:

1. The files can be updated regularly as new information and corrections are discovered or reported to us.

2. Online publication allows the incorporation of more tabulated information in an easily viewable format that is impractical with a print version. In this regard, it should be noted that the discography has now been compiled using Steve Albin's BRIAN database application, a major breakthrough in the storage and display of discographical information (

So while this new approach may seem an inconvenience at first, we are confident that the reader will ultimately appreciate the advantages online publication of these sections offers in the digital age.

Noal Cohen and Michael Fitzgerald September 2014”

The following video tribute to Gigi Gryce offers a sampling of his arranging skills from his Jazz Lab association with trumpeter Donald Byrd. The tune is Horace Silver’s Speculation.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Remembering L.A.’s First Great Record Store, Wallichs Music City

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

“Bing Crosby shopped the aisles, Frank Zappa worked the floor”

In an age of instantaneous audio gratification via digital file downloads and ultra miniaturization made possible by compact disc machines, Mp3 players and cell phones with their ubiquitous ear buds, it’s hard for those who didn’t experience it first hand to relate to an era when 78 rpm acetate followed by vinyl 45 rpm EPs and 33 ⅓ LPs were the primary commercial source for recorded music as played on turntables hooked up to amplifiers and speaker systems.

Much of the way music is sampled today has its origins in the technological innovations of California’s Silicon Valley where computers, information and communications systems, massive data storage capabilities and a high level of entrepreneurship assisted by ready access to investment capital created revolutionary new ways to experience music.

But although one could describe music fitted onto records that had to be purchased in a retail outlet and brought home and listen to on an audio console or portable record player as pedestrian by comparison to the marvels of the age of digital file sharing, there was still a fair share of innovation going on in California back in the slide rule era of the 1950s and 1960s as regards ways to listen to music.

Which brings me to the lovely piece of nostalgia that forms this feature which was written by Alison Martino and first appeared in Los Angeles Magazine,  June 16, 2015.

“Before there was a Tower Records, before the Capitol Records building was the Capitol Records building, L.A.’s coolest music-industry hub was Wallichs Music City.

Glenn Wallichs opened the record store with his brother, Clyde, at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street in 1940. Until Tower Records set up on the Sunset Strip 30 years later, Wallichs Music City was the place to go for concert tickets, sheet music, LPs, 45s, tapes, 8-tracks, cassettes, and musical instruments. It’s where a friend of mine purchased a double neck guitar right off the wall, and where my mother picked up an alto recorder for my second grade music class. Maybe you remember its radio and TV jingle: “It’s Music City, Sunset & Vine!”

When Glenn Wallichs co-founded Capitol Records in 1942 with singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer and songwriter Buddy DeSylva, the record label had its offices above the store. (Dot Records moved into that space after Capitol left for Hollywood Boulevard in 1956.) On their way in and out of meetings, recording stars including Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, and Eddie Cochran browsed the aisles and signed their names on their latest hits at the display counters downstairs.

But Wallichs Music City wasn’t famous only for its clientele: It had the distinction of being the first record store to seal albums in cellophane and display them in racks. Before that, customers could listen to tracks—or record one of their own, for a small fee—in tiny chambers that looked like old wooden telephone booths.

By the mid 1960s, the area around Hollywood and Vine had become a place “to cruise” and an even more popular zone for music lovers. The Lawrence Welk Show was filmed and the “Teen-Age Fair” was held around the corner at the Hollywood Palladium. Wallichs Music City kept hip hours, staying open until 2 a.m. The store was so cool, in fact, Frank Zappa worked there part-time in 1965. I would have loved to see him in his company-issued coat and tie.

Despite its following, the Wallichs Music City lost business as record chains like Licorice Pizza, Music Plus, and Wherehouse Music & Movies popped up and then multiplied in L.A.’s suburban malls. Wallichs Music City closed in 1978 and the building was razed. Today, a Walgreens stands at its former location. Just don’t go in expecting to “try before you buy.””

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Chronicle Books - Blue Note: The Album Cover Art

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

"They were sure that with these new
artists they were introducing, so many of them
were leaders for the first time, so
maybe the public in Harlem knew about them,
but across the country they didn't . . .
and they felt it was very important to put these
mens' photos as prominently as
possible on the covers and they got a lot of flak
from distributors across the country
who felt a pretty girl would have been better."

"I would say that ninety per cent of
Frank's photos were taken at the recording sessions.
I got the pictures from Frank and I
integrated them within the design of the moment. … Frank always hated it when I cropped one of his artists through the forehead.”

"Frank tried to get the artist's real expression . . . the way he stood. Reid was more avant-garde and chic but the two together worked beautifully."

“Gosh this is different!... that’s Blue Note … that’s what we want.”

"It didn't mean you had to have full colour —
two colours didn't hurt that product at all.
The few full colour covers I did were not as
strong as the ones with black and white and red."

“Those covers look as fresh today as they did twenty years ago ….”

"Fifty bucks an album . . . they loved it, thought it was modern, they thought it went with the music . . . one or two colours to work with at that time and some outrageous graphics!" 

Jackie’s Bag ...Frank hated that. It had no photograph.”

"That Blue Note era would never have happened in the context of a large company . . . it was a personalized, individual, approach."

In its heyday, the Blue Note record company was the most successful and influential of all the classic jazz record companies.

Blue Note: The Album Cover Art provides a comprehensive, album-sized collection of some of the best Blue Note album covers ever designed.

Opening with a concise history of the Blue Note record company, the book features the cover art of Reid Miles, who designed almost 500 record sleeves for Blue Note over a fifteen-year period.  Reid's canon of work was so individual that his covers were as evocative of the jazz scene as the trumpet timbre of Miles Davis or the plaintive melodies of Billie Holiday.

The covers also promoted a way of stylistic thinking, influencing many of today's trends in graphic art with their pioneering use of typography. And by presenting sophisticated images of fashion and personal flair that mirrored the taste and integrity of the records themselves, the Blue Note label embodied one word: style. It advocated a sense of casual confidence that is given new expression here in Blue Note: The Album Cover Art.

The records shown here continue to enjoy a tremendous following among jazz enthusiasts. The book's impressive array of artists and performers will make it an indispensable collection of memorabilia for both jazz and design buff alike.

FOREWORD:  HORACE SILVER  (Blue Note Recording Star 1952-1979) and at the time of this writing in 1990, in charge of Silveto Productions / Emerald Records.

"Blue Note Records were very meticulous in every aspect of their production: they used the best vinyl, they paid for rehearsals and when I asked to be in on the other parts of my album Alfred Lion (the label's founder) gave me every opportunity. A lot of musicians in those days worked very hard to make good music and once the music was done, they let Alfred Lion go with the rest of it.

One day I went to Alfred and said, I want to sit down with you and look at the pictures you want to use and pick them together and check the sleeve notes before you print them. He agreed to that, and so I had input over a lot of things the other guys didn't bother with.

I learnt a lot from that, and what I learnt about making a record I learnt from Alfred Lion. I don't have a favourite cover of mine . . . but thinking back now you know, I kinda like the Tokyo Blues cover!"


1925: Alfred Lion, aged sixteen, experiences Sam Woodyard and his Chocolate   Dandies in concert and is profoundly affected by the wonderful music.

1930: Lion makes his first trip to the United States, purchasing over 300 records unavailable in his native Germany.

1938: Lion emigrates to the US, escaping Nazism and embracing Hot Jazz. Attends the legendary Spirituals to Swing concert  and is transfixed by boogie-woogie pianists  Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis.

1939: Ammons and Lewis are recorded by Lion at an after-hours   session. The  results are pressed up into fifty twelve-inch discs which soon sell  out. The first  brochure  is produced  detailing the  label's  intent.  Sidney Bechet records
Summertime for Blue Note giving the label a 'hit'.

1941: Francis Wolff, Alfred Lion's associate, joins  him  from Germany.

1942: Blue Note suspends production for the duration of the war. Lion is drafted into US Army.

1943: The label resumes activities, moving to 767 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY, and during the next four years records small swingtets (comprising seven or eight players).

1948: By this time Blue Note had absorbed the stylistic changes of Bop and was recording the new talents, such as Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Fats Navarro.

1951: The year that Blue Note moved from 78s to the ten-inch format, introducing as it did the need for cover art. Paul Bacon,Gil Melle and John Hermansader are the early cover designers.

1953: Gil Melle introduces Lion to Rudy Van Gelder, a recording engineer working from home in Hackensack, New Jersey. It was Van Gelder's ears that helped mould what became known as the 'Blue Note   sound'. His attention to details, such as   the audibility of the hi-hat cymbal, gave the records their definition and dimensional warmth.

1954: The Jazz Messengers are born (including Horace Silver and Art Blakey) heralding a new era of soulful, swinging and inventive jazz.

1956: Reid Miles begins working with Lion and Wolff as Blue Note's  graphic  designer. Soon-to-become legendary organist Jimmy Smith  is signed to the label, completing the cast, as Michael Cuscuna described it, with Lion, Wolff, Blakey, Silver, Van Gelder and Reid Miles.

1958: Fledgling 'Star', Andy Warhol, draws a reclining woman motif for the covers of Kenny Burrell's Blue Lights Volumes 1 and 2.

1959: Blue Note, with new A&R man Ike Quebec, move recordings to Van Gelder's new studio at Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

1963: Ike Quebec succeeded by Duke Pearson.

1964: Blue Note have two hit albums in the grooving Song For My Father by Horace Silver and The Sidewinder by Lee Morgan.

1965:  The recording  giant Liberty makes Blue Note chiefs Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff an offer to sell out. The two were becoming exhausted by their diligence to the label and accepted the offer.

1967: Alfred Lion quits Blue Note due to health problems. The label no longer has Reid Miles as graphic designer and the visual changes become disturbingly obvious.

1971: Francis Wolff dies. The label moves towards fusion and continues to have hits.

1975: A re-issue programme continues the tradition of Blue Note's heyday, with classic albums made available again. This particular programme survives until 1981.

1985: Blue Note is fully revived by Bruce Lundvall and Michael Cuscuna, at Capitol Records, with a comprehensive re-issue catalogue of old classics and previously unheard gems. New artists are signed, as well as new albums from old faces such as McCoy Tyner. The label celebrates with a party at the Town Hall, New York and the whole jamboree is committed to vinyl and video.

1990: Blue Note is afforded space in many surveys of Twentieth Century music, outlining its indelible importance.


“Reid Miles designed almost 500 Blue Note record sleeves during a period of some fifteen years: a canon of work so individually styled, that a Reid Miles sleeve was as recognizable as the trumpet timbre of Miles Davis or the plaintive phrasing of Billie Holiday.

As Blue Note embraced the musical changes of its recording artists, so Reid Miles caught the slipstream creating sleeves that transcended the mugshots and mysticism of other genres' sleeves.

Whether cropping the photographs (taken by label boss Francis Wolff) to minimal proportions or finding a funky typeface, Reid Miles made the cover sound like it knew what lay in store for the listener: an abstract design hinting at innovations, cool strides for cool notes, the symbolic implications of typeface and tones.

Though commercial artists such as Harold Feinstein and Andy Warhol were commissioned by Blue Note, it wasn't until Reid Miles took over as the in-house designer that the label could boast of a visual identity to match the 'Blue Note sound' created by Rudy Van Gelder and Alfred Lion. Though Miles considered the Warhol sleeves for Kenny Burrell's records to be wonderful, especially in their graphic simplicity, his own work still gives him a sense of tremendous pride. As with any innovator, Reid Miles could be found ahead of the pack; stylistic changes made in his work consistently re-invented themselves to prevent any sense of deja vu.

In 1958 the sleeve for Peckin' Time by Hank Mobley showed the album's acetate protective sleeve, handles and fortified corners clearly visible, with the main session details printed on the outside. In 1959 this was stripped down to a card folder for Jackie's Bag by Jackie McLean, tied in the centre by a coloured thong, with the session details printed on a label. A visual pun appears: Art Taylor is listed as Art Sailor but this is poorly concealed by a series of typed Xs. Miles considers this sleeve to be 'an incredible concept for the time'. The rakish angle of the stamp bearing the album's title combined with the humour create an informality that would only re-occur in the 'Sgt. Pepper' period.

As the label moved into the Sixties, Miles found the inspiration for what he considers his best work for Blue Note. The changes in the consumer world brought about an era of design classics, amongst them the E-Type Jaguar sports car. With its reptilian headlights and elongated, curvaceous wings it provided the perfect foil to frame the relaxed features of Donald Byrd. The album was titled A New Perspective which was triumphantly reiterated by the foreshortening effect of Miles' camera position. The fine lines combine to give a smoothness redolent of skin, not steel.

Miles' needle, despite this success, did not stick in this stylistic groove. In 1964 he produced the ultimate pared down graphics of In 'n Out for Joe Henderson. The typeface swerved to suit the implications of the title whilst the artist's photograph, so often abbreviated, became the definitive punctuation mark forming, as it did, the dot of the ‘i’.

However, Miles was to return to the car motif, almost a year to the day from the highway codes of In 'n Out, for Stanley Turrentine's Joyride. Perhaps this is the culmination of the design traits most associated with Blue Note through the Fifties and Sixties. The incorporation of the musician's face, two typefaces, a car and the abstract textures in equal measures forms a startling image. The headlight cowling puts the musician in context vis-a-vis the title; however, the swirl of undergrowth and the comparative sharpness of the musician's reflection suggest the capturing of a fleeting moment suspended in this timeless composition.

Whilst Pacific Jazz had William Claxton, with his photographic eye for 'la mode' of the medalist, and Clef had the unmistakable, quirky wit of David Stone Martin's much-copied linear drawings, Blue Note had Reid Miles. Whatever was Hank Mobley's next groove was Reid Miles' next move!”


“Consider the irony - the button-down shirt, which came to symbolize all that was hip about the Blue Note musicians, was originally English. Polo players at the turn of the century were seen by John Brooks, of Brooks Brothers, to fasten their collars with buttons to keep them from snapping in their faces. Brooks, no novice in such matters, took the idea back to New York and turned it into standard issue Ivy League.

This piece of sartorial history was of no concern to us, however; the mere fact that Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey and other Blue Note luminaries were photographed wearing these shirts, on their respective album covers, was endorsement enough.

Now I'm sure to those musicians it was just another clean shirt, but in the early Sixties, unless your taste was for home-grown, the importance of being imported applied to the clothes as much as to the records. While Modern Jazz was required listening, the desired look for any self-respecting hipster was American Ivy League.

Time not going to clubs, listening to records or just hanging out was reserved for tracking down those essential imported threads. Black and white photographs on the backs of record sleeves, copies of Esquire and Down Beat magazines helped bring the details into focus.

It was an obsession; a friend of mine was not a happy person until he owned a striped button-down identical to the Shirt Big John Patton wore on the sleeve of The Way I Feel. Eventually the obsession turned into some kind of eternal quest to score the correct items of clothing on the menu -narrow lapels to go, hold the double-breasted!

Let me tell you what we looked like. You can probably get an argument about it, but the generally accepted shirt was either plain blue or white Oxford cloth button-down, a close second was the tab collar. The necktie was knitted, narrow, very black and made by Rooster. A leather or webbing belt held up the trousers of a three-button, natural-shouldered, half-lined raised-seam suit, with the inevitable six-inch hooked vent. The purist suit was in tan needlecord, or olive or dark blue cotton. At the bottom of the narrow, plain-front trousers, beneath the one-and-a-half-inch cuffs, was a pair of long wing-tip brogues or beef-roll loafers with the lowest heels you've ever seen.

The Mecca for most of these ready made American clothes was the late, great store - Austins', situated on Shaftesbury Avenue in London. A visit to which severely dented the hard-earned folding.

Today, by way of compensation, with original Blue Note records fetching prices that Sotheby's would be proud of, you can still buy a Brooks Brothers' button-down shirt for about forty-eight dollars - plus the airfare to New York.”