© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Lateef never settles for bebop cliches, however. Like that of his boyhood friends Mitchell and Thompson, his tenor saxophone work is steeped in older sources, particularly in the brawny approach of patriarch Coleman Hawkins and in that of swing-to-bop giant Don Byas. Consequently, there is a gravity and an assertiveness to Lateef's playing that sets it apart from his contemporaries', plus a familiarity with scales not commonly employed by jazz soloists at the time. What is most impressive about Lateef is the great variety he brings to his performances ….”
- Bob Blumenthal, Jazz author, journalist and critic
“Five years older than John Coltrane and eight years older than Sonny Rollins, Lateef. born William Evans, entered jazz in the Swing Era, working with Lucky Millinder's big band and with trumpeters Hot Lips Page and Roy Eldridge. His sound on tenor and the momentum of his phrasing betray those pre-bop roots. Yet throughout his career he has experimented and innovated, displaying a mind more open than those of many musicians half his age.”
- Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records, Jazz author and critic
With his deep-textured sound, Yusef Lateef remained in the Detroit tenor saxophonist tradition while making a lifelong commitment to assimilate other musical forms, particularly non European scales.
He also made a concerted effort to master instruments not usually associated with Jazz such as the oboe, the bassoon, and a variety of Middle Eastern instruments.
So Lateef headed east in April, 1957 with his working band on its day off to produce Before Dawn [Verve 314 557 097-2] - his sole outing for that label - and until its reissue on CD in 1997, one of the rarest of the 1950s Jazz recordings.
Bob Blumenthal wrote the insert notes to the CD and has graciously granted JazzProfiles copyright permission to reproduce them below.
© -Bob Blumenthal, copyright protected, all rights reserved and used with the author’s permission.
“This is one of the most elusive albums of the postbop period. It contains particularly eloquent playing by Yusef Lateef, in a program that casts a clear light on the origins of his innovative style; but rt was overlooked during the two LP reissue booms, of the Seventies and the Eighties- There were reissues in those decades, on the Savoy and Prestige labels, of Lateef's efforts that were contemporary with Before Dawn, as well as of his later work on Riverside, Impulse, and Atlantic. His lone album for Verve was so neglected, though, that Walter Bruyninckx's Modern Jazz Discography (Copy Express, Mechelen, Belgium, 1982-1985) fails to include it.
Yet Before Dawn is mentioned in Modern Jazz: The Essential Records (Aquarius Books, London, 1975), in which five British critics compile a list of two hundred albums that comprise a basic jazz collection. The authors do not place Before Dawn among the two hundred, opting instead for Lateef's Eastern Sounds (Prestige, 1961), which includes examples of his oboe work as well as that of his tenor saxophone and flute, which are heard here. In the cogent essay on Lateef in Modem Jazz 1945-1970, however, Jack Cooke notes that Lateef's consistency was such that "it is possible to name seven or eight LPs as being among Lateef's best." He then says, "Lateef's most impressive single asset, his immensely powerful tenor playing, is perhaps better demonstrated on the earlier Before Dawn —"
Lateef at the time of this record was beginning to emerge as a singular and quite prescient voice. It would be mistaken to call Before Dawn the beginning for Lateef, though. Just shy of his thirty-eighth birthday when he made these tracks, he had patiently practiced and studied to arrive at the distinctive sounds that make this music so compelling.
Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston on October 9, 1920 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When he was five, his family relocated to Detroit and his father changed the last name to “Evans.” The move to Detroit placed the youngster now known as Williams Evans in the center of an environment as nurturing for young African-American musicians as any north of New Orleans and east of Kansas City. Starting with a drum pad, then moving to the alto saxophone, Evans received instruction at Sidney D. Miller High School, where vibraphonist Milt Jackson was one of his classmates, and began hanging out with such other future stars as saxophonists Billy Mitchell and Lucky Thompson. The live music these teenagers heard at such places, as the Arcade Theater, the Graystone Ballroom, and the Paradise Theatre made a lasting impression, as did the many recordings they studied. Lateef has recalled being particularly struck by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, whom he heard for the first time on Jay McShann's 1941 big-band recording, "Hootie Blues".
Thompson, who became Evans's friend, was pivotal in helping the Tennessee native to get work with the 'Bama Slate Collegians and with Lucky Millinder’s orchestra when he was ready to leave Detroit. Evans then played in the small groups trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Hot Lips Page and in the big band of Ernie Fields. He also played in Chicago with tenor saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt before a chair opened up in Dizzy Gillespie’s 1949 big band; Evans spent a productive year in that band. By 1950 he was back in Detroit and had begun using his Muslim name, having converted to Islam during his years on road.
Family responsibilities initially brought Lateef home, but coming off the road also provided him with an opportunity to return to the serious study of music. Lateef was particularly impressed by the example of the young guitarist Kenny Burrell, who had recently received a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University, and who encouraged Lateef to take up the flute, which became his major when he enrolled in college in 1951.
For the remainder of the decade, Lateef studied and played locally and, over time, gained wider recognition through his recordings. A band that he formed in 1954 became a mainstay of the Detroit scene, and at various times it included Burrell, trumpeter Donald Byrd, pianist Barry Harris, and two of the musicians heard here, Curtis Fuller and Louis Hayes. In 1957, Lateef's group began making the quick trips to the East Coast recording studios that resulted in Before Dawn as well as in the more familiar titles issued on Savoy and Prestige. "We were working six nights a week in Detroit," Lateef recalled in a 1994 interview, "and when a record session came up, we would finish the Sunday night performance; immediately drive to Hackensack, New Jersey; record in Rudy Van Gelder's studio on Monday; and then drive back on Monday night, which was our night off. That's the way it went until 1960, when everyone in the band moved to New York together."
Before Dawn captures Yusef Lateef's band early in this traveling regimen, being preceded in his discography by two April 1957 Savoy sessions with the same personnel. Two of Lateef's sidemen had previously left Detroit and were making names for themselves in New York: Hayes, barely out of his teens, had been the drummer in pianist Horace Silver's quintet for nearly a year at this point, and Fuller was building his own multi-label discography as J. J. Johnson's heir-apparent, with sessions for Prestige, Blue Note, and Savoy already under his belt. Hugh Lawson and Ernie Farrow, still in Detroit and working nightly with Lateef, continued making important contributions to his music over the decade Before Dawn.
The influence of African and Indian music is less overt here than on Lateef's other recordings of the period, a result perhaps of Norman Granz's preference for straight-ahead jazz. Touches that today are called multicultural dominate only on the title track where, in the introduction, Farrow plays a one-stringed rabab to create a harmonic drone while Lateef blows the double-reed arghul. The composition is a dose cousin to "Morning", one of Lateef's most enduring (and covered recently by trombonist Steve Turre on Rhythm Within, Verve 314 527 159-2). The structure is modal and the mood raga-like, and Lateef and Fuller improvise ideas rather than mere effects.
Elsewhere, the settings are more familiar, with the inspiration of Charlie Parker particularly strong: Constellation is one of Parker's variations on the chord sequence of "I Got Rhythm"; "Parker's Mood" is echoed in the introduction to the driving blues Chang, Chang, Chang (a tune that Turre finds ideal for his choir, which plays sea conches); and Pike's Peak is based on another of Parker's favorite chord sequences, that of "What Is This Thing Called Love?".
Lateef never settles for bebop cliches, however. Like that of his boyhood friends Mitchell and Thompson, his tenor saxophone work is steeped in older sources, particularly in the brawny approach of patriarch Coleman Hawkins and in that of swing-to-bop giant Don Byas. Consequently, there is a gravity and an assertiveness to Lateef's playing that sets it apart from his contemporaries', plus a familiarity with scales not commonly employed by jazz soloists at the time. What is most impressive about Lateef is the great variety he brings to his performances (Twenty-five Minute Blues and Chang, Chang, Chang) explore the twelve-bar form tn distinctly different ends) and his ability to incorporate "Eastern" phrases in the flow of his solos without their sounding calculated or gratuitous.
In tins regard, his ballad playing on Love Is Eternal deserves special mention. Everything Lateef plays is heartfelt, yet the emotion in this performance is especially hard to ignore. Slow tempos present special challenges to the improvisor, and Lateef meets those challenges here without resorting to double-time or obvious licks. The track cries out with mature feeling, the very "Passion" acknowledged in the title of the first track.
The only example of Lateef's flute playing, Open Strings, is also notable for Lawson's use of celeste, the instrument employed in jazz most famously by pianist Meade Lux Lewis, when he recorded with clarinetist Edmond Hall's Celeste Quartet in 1941 (for Blue Note). Pianist Thelonious Monk also recorded on the instrument, on his own "Pannonica", a year before Lawson did here. "Open Strings" is another boppish opus, and it captures what is arguably the richest flute sound in jazz, then or now - a sound that Lateef's Detroit mentor, Larry Teal, once felt was too big. Yet it is clearly of a piece with Lateef's enveloping tenor saxophone tone.
So now, finally, we have this nearly forgotten chapter from the formative years of Yusef Lateef. I've been scouring auction lists and used-record stores for twenty years in search of this one and - unlike far too many tantalizing entries in rare-LP catalogs - it lives up to expectations.”
- Bob Blumenthal March 1998
Although it was issued on two albums on Impulse! Records as Live at Pep’s and Live at Pep’s Volume 2, all of the music on these two recordings was recorded live at Pep’s Lounge in Philadelphia, PA on June 29, 1964.
The reasons for this bifurcation as well as the background for how this music came into being are contained in the following insert notes by Michael Cuscuna to the CD issued at Yusef Lateef, Live at Pep’s Volume Two [Impulse! 314 547 961-2].
LIVE AT PEP'S, VOLUME TWO YUSEF LATEEF
“It was the earthiest of jazz, it was the most exotic of jazz.
Yusef Lateef is an artist of extremes. When he approaches the blues on the tenor saxophone, it growls from the gut with a century of cultural history in every note. At the same time, he plays a variety of exotic reeds and incorporates melodies, scales, and rhythms from what is now called world music. He has also been known to incorporate European classical pieces, like Eric Satie's first "Gymnopedie", into his performances.
Five years older than John Coltrane and eight years older than Sonny Rollins, Lateef. born William Evans, entered jazz in the Swing Era, working with Lucky Millinder's big band and with trumpeters Hot Lips Page and Roy Eldridge. His sound on tenor and the momentum of his phrasing betray those pre-bop roots. Yet throughout his career he has experimented and innovated, displaying a mind more open than those of many musicians half his age.
Lateef’s mix of swing, blues, bop, and exotica made quite a splash when he brought his Detroit group (trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Hugh Lawson, bassist Ernie Farrow, and drummer Louis Hayes) to New York in 1957 to record for Savoy and Verve. He commuted between New York and Detroit for several years, establishing himself with a series of fine albums for Prestige, Savoy, and Chess's Argo label.
After moving to New York in 1960, he worked with bassist Charles Mingus and percussionist Olatunji. But the gig that helped establish him throughout the jazz world was his two-year stint (1962-63) with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley's sextet. Adderley featured Lateef’s tenor, flute, and oboe generously, and added several of his compositions to the band's book. Lateef in turn added depth and dimension to the group, expanding its palette and giving it a creative jolt.
After leaving Adderley, Lateef started a quintet with trumpeter Richard Williams in the front line and signed a deal with Impulse!, which had rapidly become an important jazz label, thanks in large part to John Coltrane. Live at Pep's, recorded on June 29, 1964 before a very appreciative audience, was Lateef’s second album for the label.
Pep's Lounge was a very hip Philadelphia club located on South Broad Street in what is known locally as Center City, where several neighborhoods met. Given the atmosphere and the enthusiastic crowds, it's surprising that there wasn't more live recording done there. But Lateef’s appearance and an
unsuccessful recording six weeks later with Horace Silver's new quintet for Blue Note, both engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, seem to be the only professional tapings at the club.
Live at Pep's introduced a new edition of Lateef’s quintet, with New Zealand pianist Mike Nock and New Orleans drummer James Black, and is considered by many (this writer among them) to be his finest recording. Here was a sparkling, flexible ensemble that could move creatively and empathetically with Lateef no matter what musical direction he chose to pursue. And he brought the full range of his music to the bandstand on this incredible night.
The band's repertoire was a mixture of old and new. Lateef and producer Bob Thiele chose seven performances for Live at Pep's and targeted another ("I Loved") for one of the label's Definitive Jazz Scene compilations, though it was never used. In 1976, when Esmond Edwards became the recording director for Impulse!, he immediately delved into the vaults to find more material from this session (and from Coltrane's 1961 Village Vanguard dates). He unearthed six more tunes for an album called Club Date. In 1978, this writer went back to the well to retrieve another six (including the aforementioned "I Loved") for release on a double album. The Live Session, along with the original seven.
When Live at Pep's was finally issued on CD (Impulse! GRD-134), three tunes from Club Date ("Oscarlypso", "Gee! Sam Gee" and "Rogi") were added to the original album. Here, as Live at Pep's — Volume Two. is the rest of Club Date plus the six selections that first appeared on the double album.
"Brother John" and "P-Bouk", like "The Weaver" from the original album, had been recorded by the Adderley sextet, though "P-Bouk" first appeared on a Lateef date for Prestige in 1961. The hypnotic 6/8 piece "Brother John", written in tribute to John Coltrane, primarily features Lateef on oboe. This version of "P-Bouk" offers a compact tenor solo that moves freely from gutbucket growls to Eastern scales to avant garde cries.
"Yusef’s Mood" and "Delilah", both of which date back to Lateef’s 1957 Savoy sessions, illustrate the extremes of his approach. "Yusefs Mood" is basically a blues shuffle that digs deep into his pre-bop roots, while his arrangement of "Song of Delilah", the quintet's theme song, is an exotic flute feature.
"Listen to the Wind" and "Gee! Sam Gee" were new at the time and recut in the studio the following year with Nock, Black, and bassist Reggie Workman for Lateef’s album 1984. "Wind" is a very contemporary-sounding piece with dark harmonies and shifting meters.
James Black's "Magnolia Triangle" is a harmonically dense, riveting composition in 5/4 that the quintet pulls off with remarkable ease. This alternative version is different from the take that appears on the original album.
Three tunes here appear nowhere else in Lateef’s discography. "Nu-Bouk" is a slow, sensual blues for flute. Benny Golson's classic "I Remember Clifford" is primarily a vehicle for Richard Williams. "I Loved", a beautiful original, is a ballad feature for Yusef’s tenor.
We are fortunate that the chemistry of these five musicians on this random night in a Philadelphia club was caught on tape by Rudy Van Gelder. The breadth of Lateef’s music, with the soulful blues always at its core, is truly captured on these recordings.”
- Michael Cuscuna
Before Dawn and Live at Pep’s have long been among my favorite recordings. Here are samplings of the music on each.