Monk moves!

Monk moves!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sons of Miles - "Barney Wilen: If You Are Good At It, Do It" by Mike Zwerin




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



Here’s another profile from the 41 chapters in Mike Zwerin’s fine series Sons of Miles which he posted to Culturekiosque Jazznet. 

“After a solo with Miles Davis' band in the Club Saint Germain during the winter of 1958, 21-year-old Barney Wilen unhooked his saxophone, came to the bar, ordered a double and said: "You know what Miles just said to me? He said: 'Why don't you stop playing those terrible notes?'" Not having a low insecurity threshold, Wilen immediately went back to the bandstand to play some more of whatever you call them. It would take more than words to kill Barney. 

His healthy ego can be traced in part to inheritance. His father, an American, was a dentist before becoming an inventor. He collected big royalties on patents covering flippers, goggles and other underwater gear just before the demand for them went way up.

Born in Nice in 1937, Barney grew up "right in the middle of that F. Scott Fitzgerald French Riviera scene. My father was Suzanne Langlen's tennis manager for a while." The family left to escape the war but "we were on the first boat back after it was over."

In addition to his father's strong personality, Wilen can look back much further on his French mother's side of the family for ancestral inspiration. Talking about ancient relatives, he said: "Pierre Josef de Tremblay was Richelieu's secretary. And the Michaux brothers were counsellors to Czar Nicholas during the Napoleonic wars. These were the guys who had the brilliant idea to burn down Moscow.

"Blaise Cendrars, the poet, who was a friend of my mother's, was the one who convinced me to be a musician," Wilen continued. "My mother used to hold regular literary teas to bring people together. I remember particularly various friends of Marcel Proust and Consuelo de Saint-Exupery [widow of the writer/airman] and so on. 

"My father wanted me to be a lawyer or go into real estate and he you might say ‘sequestered' the alto sax my uncle Jesse had given me just before I was going to take part in a contest sponsored by the Hot Club de France. I hustled like mad and eventually found a baritone sax, which I had never played before. 

"Everybody said I sounded like Gerry Mulligan. Gerry was big that year, so I didn't mind. Our band won the contest. 

"'Do what you want,' Cendrars told me. 'Don't think about what other people say. If you like it and feel you can be good at it, do it.'"

In the early 1950s, teenager Wilen opened a youth club featuring jazz. Family connections combined with energy and talent coaxed help from the city of Nice, and from his father's friend Jacques Medecin; then a journalist. After that he was the mayor of Nice and since then he's been in and out of exile in Uruguay. 

Playing every night, he got better fast. Wilen, which comes from Wilensky and is "either Polish or Russian, I'm not sure," moved to Paris in 1957. He was one of the few European born players that Americans were willing to play with. He accompanied Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk on the soundtrack of Roger Vadim's film "Les Liaisons dangereuses," and was very strong being featured with Miles on the soundtrack of Louis Malle's movie, "Lift to the Scaffold." 

Inherited money and a multi-talented free spirit occasionally took Wilen away from jazz. After hearing some recorded pygmy music in the Musee de l'Homme in Paris, he arranged financing, put a team of filmmakers, technicians, journalists and musicians in four Land Rovers and left in 1970 to "go to Africa and look for and record these people."

Moving back and forth several times with revolving personnel, the project preoccupied him for a total of six years. Because of an accumulation of problems like the war in Biafra, a plethora of land mines, a period in prison, some bad planning and intense social pressure, they never did record (or find) the pygmies. "All the pygmies seem to have left by the time we got there," Wilen said.

He was the model for the central character in a six-part story called "Barney," about a jazz musician, which ran in the French adult comic magazine "A Suivre" (To Be Continued). The story was collected into a hard- covered album. 

The hero is insecure, a "loser," a scowler, a womanizer, moody, strung out on heroin, and usually needs a shave. It is neither flattering nor, according to Wilen, accurate. When he asked: "Why me?" the editors replied: "Because you're the rockiest jazz musician we know."

Wilen described himself as a "putter together." Although he worked regularly, and his name was well known in French jazz circles, his reputation gradually faded as a new generation of fine players came of age. His pale, emotionally drained face did not smile easily. Despite an impressive reserve of positive energy, he tended to duck his fate. 

He moved back to Nice. He put together, managed and played with a punk rock band called Moko. He also put together a "Jazzmobile" organization, which, like its New york namesake, took music to people in outlying districts on flatbed trucks. 

Then he brought the same concept to Paris, renamed "Zapmobile" because of trademark restrictions. The debut concert, called "Me and My Friends," was played on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Followed by a month-long series of concerts on a barge. 

Wilen also put together a musical comedy, a series of sketches about "looking for Charlie Parker's saxophone." The project was not helped by the fact that he'd been "dodging finance companies who were after me for 200,000 francs for three years as an aftermath of my last theatrical production. 

"But I'm not worried," he said at the time. "I've been existing more than living lately. I've got nothing to lose - no houses, no automobiles, no major appliances. The moment I do accumulate some belongings they seem somehow to go suddenly down the drain."

PS: Barney Wilen had accumulated more and more critical success and musical knowledge and by the mid 90s, he was stronger than ever and he had a wonderful band with the Franco/Americano Laurent de Wilde on piano. So Barney had become so strong once more that when he died just shy of 60 it was a shock. A loss. 

Going suddenly down the drain one way or another seemed to be his karma.” 


Saturday, June 29, 2019

New Cool Collective Live at the Festival Jazz International Rotterdam 2005

Jack Teagarden: The Man with the Blues in His Heart by Otis Ferguson

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


The JazzProfiles blog is as much a tribute to Jazz writers as it is an homage to the music and its makers. Jazz authors, editors and critics provide us with insights and information that helps enrich our listening experience.


Although we have previously featured his work on the blog, the name “Otis Ferguson” may still be an unfamiliar one


Malcolm Cowley, his closest friend at The New Republic, the magazine that published much of Otis Ferguson’s writings, had this to say about him:


“Ferguson's name is legendary in the field of jazz. He has been called "the best writer on jazz who ever lived" and "the most brilliant of them all." One of the first critics to write seriously about this native American music, he brought an understanding and appreciation of jazz to an audience far wider than the original small group of aficionados. Professional jazz musicians have been among his most ardent admirers.” [The Otis Ferguson Reader, p. 1].


Malcolm also offered these observations about Otis in his Foreword to The Otis Ferguson Reader:


“I find with regret that the work and even the name of Otis Ferguson are generally unknown to readers under sixty. Older persons are likely to remember the work with pleasure. Much of it dealt with swing bands or unpretentious, well-crafted films and, by extension, with the revival of popular culture during the 1930s, an aspect of the period that is often neglected. Otis—I can't address him coldly as "Ferguson"— approached those subjects freshly, accurately, with lyrical enthusiasm and with contempt for anything faked. Everything he wrote was attentively read in its time, besides leaving echoes in the work of later critics. But the author, who had volunteered as a merchant seaman, was blown up by a German bomb in the Gulf of Salerno, and soon his writing became hard to find except in the back flies of magazines, chiefly The New Republic. Now, after forty years, it is good to learn that the best of the writing, in many fields, is being collected as an Otis Ferguson Reader.”


If you haven’t read Otis Ferguson, you are in for a treat. The following appeared in The New Republic on July 14, 1937.


“Jack Teagarden (otherwise Jackson, Mister Jack, Mister T., Big Gate, etc.) is one of the really high men in the jazz collection, I'll tell you more about it. At the outset it should be said that he has been playing around half his lifetime in a business that sets the most grueling pace of any. On the stand, off the stand, on the train, and up on another stand night after night after night, rehearsals and recording dates, a different hotel and different babes but the same arrangements and iron routine. And the same bottle. Yet a man is supposed to bring it out clean and inspired every time his number is called, and it is a mortal truth that playing it that way in jazz means playing as though you had a fire under you. Teagarden has been on this griddle a long time. Though still a fine musician, he seems tired and cynical, his creation a bit shopworn-which knowing gentlemen have not hesitated to remark or less knowing gentlemen to echo, which in itself is enough to embitter a fellow and make him listless.


Word about him is always going around. He was with Whiteman in the long stretch when they were playing Jumbo and it was getting him down and he was taking more heavily to drink and just about on his deathbed. Then it was over and the word was that Jack was sitting in with the Boys in the Spots and this was a new lease on life. Then he went to Texas and then he and a few others were playing nightly at the Hickory House in a very weary and dispirited jam combination, and it was common knowledge that Jack was taking more heavily to drink and practically on his, etc. Then they were on the road for months, and I saw them in Miami, where they were playing a slew of marches for the greyhound races, and it struck me that Jack did not like marches or greyhounds either, and it didn't help any when he put a dollar on a dog out of sheer boredom and the pooch would stop and go to work on a flea somewhere around the back stretch. Then this spring the Goodman band was playing that New York sweatbox with the odd name of Roseland, crowds bulging the walls out and all, and when the boys finally got away from the stand in the first intermission, the word was that Jack was sitting right on the edge of the platform and his eyes were bugging out, and he was very happy and he had a jug. The new-lease-on-life idea, of course. Now he is down in Texas with Whiteman again and I presume the word is still going around. Well, the point is that a man's bones get weary after a while, and if he doesn't want to go on forever playing it as though it were being torn out of him, and playing for practically marbles, why all right, then. Jack could stop playing as of today and still have more splendor behind him than the latest fourteen-year-old wonder will pick up in the next ten years. Happy is he, in this game, who dies before his time.

Jack Teagarden was born in Texas a little over thirty years ago, with two brothers to follow in the family (Charles plays trumpet beside him in the Whiteman band today). When he was fifteen, he was playing trombone with a brass band, and after that he had jobs with cowboy bands, etc. By the time he was twenty-one, he had come up from Texas and was playing in the Ben Pollack orchestra, which had Benny and Harry Goodman, Jimmy McPartland, etc., and was one of the high-water marks of its time. His face was round, his hair was black and he parted it in the middle and slicked it back. He had a lazy baritone voice that was musical even in speech and Texas all over the place, strong-fibered and rich for singing-though in the early days he made his way wholly on his instrument, which up to his time had been a sort of sliding musical joke.


If there is less doubt today that the trombone is a beautiful horn, full of color and ring and deep power—its high notes played against such exciting resistance, its lows so broad, dark, and hoarse—it is thanks to Jack, along with Jimmy Harrison, Charlie Green, Higginbotham and (with more mechanical verve) Miff Mole, Tommy Dorsey, Bill Rank. I mention these names because no one has quite done for the trombone what Bix Beiderbecke did for the cornet, mastering the instrument completely as a medium for the gusty winds of music that brewed within him. Mole and Rank had that explosive round perfection of each note as hit; Dorsey has a truer singing quality on the "sweet" side than anything recorded; the Negroes (Harrison, etc.) had the raw creative strength. But as an all-around man, Teagarden for me comes nearest to that high spirit in brass. There is the same singing strength and style of his own, the same feeling that this was the instrument with just the timbre and interval to suit him best and he the best suited to it.

He will hit fuzzy ones sometimes, sometimes crowd his horn too much, and often bring back the same variation for a supposedly different theme; but taken at his best, he has that clear construction in melodic lines, that insistent suggestion through complexity of the simple prime beat. And in both tonal and rhythmic attack there is that constant hint of conquest over an imposed resistance which is peculiar to jazz and therefore indefinable in other terms. Something like the difference between driving a spike cleanly into a solid oak block and the hollow victory of sinking it in lath and plaster. Something like what it takes to hold a note and make it build powerfully, or hammer it back in at intervals to dominate a chorus, or come out of a whole burst of notes with three deliberate tones, mounted (as it were) in a sudden ringing silence. Not what it takes, certainly, to play in perfect unison and proper blare a march for Jumbo or the Biscayne Kennel Club—Jack does that, too, as he must to live, but there both instrument and man are merely the highly perfected instrument for somebody else's music —Sousa or whoever. Every man his own composer is the rule in jazz, which is demonstrated once more in the work of Teagarden, building up behind those single-tone vibrato attacks and tortured triplets, running clear in the wide long open beauty of the blues, the lazy rest and slur; every note true to its inner laws of pitch and overtone, true in its relation to the harmonic structure and mood of the piece; the man leaning back against the iron signature or riding it easily, or rampaging on against the van of it like some great brass bull.


Jack has been everywhere, but I suppose the time with Pollack, the first taste of real fame and flush of power were the best for him (his recordings with the Red Nichols outfits are really the best for us). After Pollack he went on the fierce grind of the Mai Hallett organization, along with Gene Krupa and others; and while he has been with Whiteman for years, it is hard to keep track of the men he has played or recorded with meanwhile. He played with the great Louis Armstrong orchestra that recorded "Knockin' a Jug," he is to be heard on some of the works of the Chicago group, he did a lot of jobs with Benny Goodman's recording bands (Someone once remarked that the Goodman family had everything but a trombone. "What do you mean?" one of them said. "We've got Jack"); he was in the movies, has always been featured by Whiteman and Trumbauer, and has made some records under his own name. When Hoagy Carmichael gathered all the stars to put some of his songs on wax, there was Mr. Jackson at the end of "Georgia" playing five or six phrases in as beautiful a mood of invention as you will hear; and when the Venuti-Lang team gathered an "all-star" group to make four sides, there he was again, prominent all the way through, particularly in the best of his recorded "Beale Street Blues";he played one date behind the great Bessie Smith.


And all the time he has been turning out music with a warmth and incessant play of the unexpected that you could never describe, but never confuse with anyone else's. He can take a group of notes in three simple progressions and make them a source of repeated surprise and delight by managing to shift the emphasis, invert the expected order, surge ahead and then hold all and then suddenly bring all out into one of those full measured tones he gets, true in the center and edged with a fine coarse vibrato (the controlled shake of the instrument, the pressure of air to the lips and lips to the mouthpiece—embouchure, if you wish). And, in the measure of his chorus, he always uses the savage velvet of a good trombone, the beat of jazz and lilt of the phrases to arrive at something that is terrific on a leash or sad, or gorgeous, or enchanting with echoes of a better day. His music all through has a true singing quality (though there are many heroes who can be just terrific or technically amazing, those who can throw out a line of notes that will make a kind of song are few and stand at the top) and indeed he can put away his instrument at any time and sing a chorus like an angel. But an angel from Texas, gone a little maverick. They delight to use him for kidding numbers, as witness the classic they did on "The Sheik," but his singing voice goes best with the blues and is a clue to the penetrating, lazy kind of sadness that hangs in his best overtones. I mentioned the "Georgia" number, and there are countless others where nostalgia might be explained by fidelity to content, but when you take the solo (as finely constructed a piece of work, incidentally, as he or anybody else has managed) in a number called "I'm Just Wild about Harry," and hear the phrases drop like an instinctive sorrowing for the sins of the race—then you can tell where he came from and where his heart lies. Running through all his work, singing or playing-“I was born down in Texas, raised in Tennessee” —you can catch the echo of it almost as distinctly as though someone had said it: the heritage, the true lift and music of the blues.

“Said I was born in Texas, raised in Tennessee.” It is an American form, peculiar and beautiful, and its naive turns are never foolish except in the mouths of those who burlesque it without knowing or seeing the enduring strength of its simplicities.


“And there ain't no one woman
Going to make a fat-mouth out of me.”


You have to have it early and have it plenty, it has to come from some reservoir of native experience, combining that expression of the world's sadness with that fine derision for the facts of common life.


(I said a fat-mouth out of me.)


So that old Beale Street jive ("New York might be all right, but Beale Street's paved with gold") seems to lie just behind this man's best work. And I am not joking or filling out an article when I say that Mr. Teagarden's best work is one of those things that has about its edges the strange and awful air of pure creation, something that was brought out because it was born in him like a gift and had to get out. It would be a far far better thing to be Jack Teagarden today, I think sometimes, blowing it out listlessly with Whiteman and perhaps hung over like a chimney full of bricks—and have that much behind you, irrevocable and accomplished—than to be any one of twenty young geniuses breaking out into no matter what art with no matter what talents. For a man lives best by the best that he has done, and so there can hardly be any premature burials of Jack Teagarden, because he has already done pretty fine.”


The New Republic, 14 July 1937


Friday, June 28, 2019

Sarah Vaughan - "You've Changed"

Reeds and Deeds - Third Time's The Charm

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


"We have similar concepts," he says, "but at the same time they're different.  Eric has all the things that I lack; and I might have something that isn't in his playing, and that complements his playing. And for that reason it's not really a cutting session.  It's almost like apples and oranges, which is nice because a lot of times cats end up playing so similar."


"We have a lot of similar influences," Grant offers. "Eric has more of a certain period of Trane in his playing, and a heavy George Coleman influence. I have a heavy Sonny Rollins influence. But we were both influenced by Dexter and Stitt and Bird." Alexander concurs and adds more wrinkles: "We are both coming out of the bebop language, but Grant from the Hawkins/Rollins side and I'm more from the Young/Gordon/ Coltrane side. Grant is more likely to make use of quotes and motivic development and I'm more likely to play some things that one would associate with modal and free jazz."


"I think our styles are so different that it's not as much of a cutting session as it could be," explains Stewart. "Eric definitely raises the bar pretty high and we're definitely trying to push one another to play better. We're coming out of some of the same people more or less, but we think differently. [Still,] there are enough similarities that we get a cohesive sound, but we're different enough that it's still interesting." As for Alexander, while the camaraderie is an obvious factor in making this kind of situation musically stimulating, he also admits to some healthy rivalry. "When you're going head to head," Eric affirms, "you've really got to jump all over the tunes or else you sound like you're getting blown away by the other cat."


Would you be surprised to learn that the title of this piece has three meanings?


The first and most obvious is that to date, the Reeds and Deeds quintet that tenor saxophonists Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart formed in 2004 has made three recordings, all for the Criss Cross label.


The second is that it was in the third CD that I found the key description to distinguish what was different about the styles of each player to differentiate them beyond the two tenor pairings that date back to Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray who were followed by Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Johnny Griffin, and in England with Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes.


What I was hearing in Eric and Grant’s performance on the Reeds and Deeds CDs were the influences of the two major tenor saxophone stylists of the second half of the 20th century - Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane - but I didn’t know how to differentiate them until I came across this description in the insert notes to Tenor Time, their third CD:


"We have a lot of similar influences," Grant offers. "Eric has more of a certain period of Trane in his playing, and a heavy George Coleman influence. I have a heavy Sonny Rollins influence. But we were both influenced by Dexter and Stitt and Bird." Alexander concurs and adds more wrinkles: "We are both coming out of the bebop language, but Grant from the Hawkins/Rollins side and I'm more from the Young/Gordon/ Coltrane side. Grant is more likely to make use of quotes and motivic development and I'm more likely to play some things that one would associate with modal and free jazz."


And the third “three meaning” implied in the title of this posting, besides the two principals, pianist David Hazeltine is a constant “secret source” on all three recordings despite the bass and drums changes from Peter and Kenny Washington on the first CD - Wailin’ - to John Webber and Joe Farnsworth on the second and third CDs - Cookin’ and Tenor Time - respectively.


If you like your Jazz in the straight-ahead mode with cleverly constructed arrangements of Jazz Standards and tunes from The Great American Songbook, brilliantly developed tenor sax improvisations, underscored by a pianist who accompanies with sensitivity while suggested interesting harmonic alternatives, all of which is propelled by two ever-swinging rhythm sections, then I urge you to give these recordings by Reeds and Deeds a listen.


Some of the other reasons why you might enjoy these recording are suggested in the insert notes to each of them authored by very knowledgeable Jazz writers so I’ve included them in their entirety to further make my case.


Incidentally, the group takes its name from a 1963 Rahsaan Roland Kirk recording for Mercury Records.


And lastly, was is singularly impressive about the work of Reeds and Deeds is on these recordings is well-stated in the following excerpt from C. Andrew Hovan’s notes to Cookin’, the group’s second recording for Criss Cross:


Although the program here does not include any originals, Alexander and Stewart have managed to dig deep for an agreeable selection that includes bossa nova, quicksilver bebop, the blues lexicon, and a ballad feature for both tenor men. Each number goes for a particular feel and utilizes the two horns in a way that most complements the melody. The pair approaches unison passages with an especially well-developed precision, the technical proficiency needed to accomplish such a feat not to be taken for granted. Like the ideal club set, much thought has been given to the pacing and flow of each track with plenty of blowing space for Stewart, Alexander, and Hazeltine to boot.


Wailin' [Criss Cross 1258] David A. Orthmann allaboutjazz.com


“The Criss Cross Jazz imprint has earned an enviable reputation for producing a substantial body of recorded music by a cadre of gifted youthful players.  Producer Gerry Teekens resides thousands of miles from the music's ferment in the New York City area, yet he stays in the loop and seldom misses the chance to record new and novel configurations of his longtime charges.


Moreover, despite the fact that the label generally stays inside the stylistic parameters of the modern jazz mainstream, there's nothing staid or predictable about the steady stream of Criss Cross releases.


Teekens shuns marketable formulas (like trendy theme records, or superficial tributes to venerable figures in the jazz pantheon) in favor of catching these vital musicians doing what they do best in the here and now. The label's artists share a willingness to explore the jazz tradition, as well as an insistence on establishing their own identities.


A case in point is Wailin' by Reeds and Deeds, a new quintet co-led by tenor saxophonists Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart. A rising international star who frequently tours with his band throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan, Alexander has appeared on dozens of Criss Cross sessions, as a leader and sideman, as well as in the cooperative sextet One For All.


Stewart is a fixture in New York City clubs like Fat Cat and Kavahaz, and regularly plays in Europe and Japan.  He made his debut recording, Downtown Sounds, for the label in the early-1990s at the age of twenty-one, and followed a few years later with More Urban Tones.


Not unlike many successful Criss Cross releases, the impetus for Wailin' came from the musicians' live performances.  Last year Alexander and Stewart played an engagement in Philadelphia at Chris’ Jazz Cafe. Trumpeter John Swana a Criss Cross artist and mutual friend "came down and sat in, and it was a lot of fun," Stewart recalls.  "It was a real free, blowing gig." One of Alexander's students made a bootleg and gave it to Swana, who liked it so much he promptly sent it to Teekens. After receiving the tape, Teekens (who had already heard about the gig) proposed a two-tenor recording.


Pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Kenny Washington (no relation), make up an ideal rhythm section.  Rapidly moving into the elite of New York City jazz circles, Hazeltine is equally valued as a composer, arranger, and accompanist. Aside from the five sessions he's led for the label, Hazeltine's talents have graced numerous other Criss Cross sides, such as Alexander's Two Of A Kind, and [the sextet] One For All's five releases, including the recent Blueslike, named after one of his compositions.


Peter and Kenny Washington are the premier bass and drums team in jazz.  Able to handle all manner of grooves and change direction on a moment's notice, they're best known for playing in the trio of pianist Bill Charlap. Together and separately Peter and Kenny have worked on scores of Criss Cross dates. In particular, they lit a fire under Alexander's seminal New York Calling, and were essential to the success of Stewart's Downtown Sounds.


Because of the players' familiarity and mutual respect for one another, Wailin' impresses the listener as a recording of a real band with a two-tenor front line, rather than a series of jousts between two hard-blowing, egotistical players. One reason for this temperance, Stewart suggests, is the differences between his and Alexander's approach to the instrument. "We have similar concepts," he says, "but at the same time they're different.  Eric has all the things that I lack; and I might have something that isn't in his playing, and that complements his playing. And for that reason it's not really a cutting session. It's almost like apples and oranges, which is nice because a lot of times cats end up playing so similar."


Busy and conflicting schedules prevented extensive preparation for the date. After Alexander and Stewart made decisions regarding the material, rehearsals consisted of a single session with Stewart and the rhythm section while Alexander was out of town, and a hour-long run through of the tunes by the two horns on the day before the recording, during which they came up with ideas for arrangements. Despite the limited practice, the band sounds tight and focused. In particular, the blend of Alexander and Stewart's saxophones is smooth on the medium tempo tracks, and they handle a couple of jagged, up-tempo heads as if having played the lines together for years.


Somewhere In The Night is a Billy May composition, which served as the theme for the classic 1960s television show, Naked City.  Stewart and Alexander agreed to do this one after it fortuitously "just kind of popped out" of a folder of lead sheets. Kenny Washington's brushes keep things moving beneath the horns' rendering of May's elegant melody, and he switches to sticks for solos by Alexander, Stewart, and Hazeltine. Alexander displays his trademark long spiraling phrases and alterations in timbre, while Stewart stays closer to the ground, at times pausing to reflect on portions of May's song.


Dedicated to [guitarist] Pat Martino, Alexander's up-tempo Stand Pat originally appeared several years ago on his recording for Milestone that featured the venerable guitarist. While Peter Washington locks in a steady pulse, Hazeltine, Stewart, and Alexander each take four choruses. Stewart is particularly memorable as he roars through 16 bars while the rhythm section goes out of tempo.  Before the whole band returns, Kenny Washington sounds positively punchy in a series of eight bar exchanges with the horns.


Big RC is a swaggering blues from the pen of Eric Alexander. Riding Hazeltine's penetrating support, the composer's 6 choruses have an epic feel as he weaves together sounds ranging from whispers to thickset banshee wails.  After Hazeltine and Stewart take their turns, Peter Washington enters for one of his two solos on the recording, an introverted meander that's in sharp contrast to everything that went before.


Mel Torme and Robert Wells' Born To Be Blue is Stewart's ballad feature. "When I was a kid, my father wrote out a fake book of all the great standards," Stewart explains. "And that was one of the tunes we used to go through as part of my practice routine." Regarding his approach to ballads, Stewart says "my thing is to try to sing it like a song and make the melody a showcase for my sound. The improvising is more for the solo, and I try to always keep the melody in mind."


Stewart and Alexander employed a standard arrangement of That's Earl, Brother, Dizzy Gillespie's beguiling bebop tune from the mid-1940s. The two saxophonists and Hazeltine find the changes and the medium tempo to their liking, each taking two choruses.  Inspired by Hazeltine's knowing accompaniment and Kenny Washington's pithy accents, Stewart's ideas travel far and wide, ranging from song-like phrases, to brief declarations, to expansive, rapid fire lines. The horns trade fours with Kenny Washington before the band takes the theme out.


Taken at a punishing pace reminiscent of John Coltrane's version on his near-classic Soultrane recording, the band's rendition of Irving Berlin's Russian Lullaby is the closest thing to a tenor battle on the disc. The co-leaders collectively came up with the arrangement, "including this little tag thing we did at the end," Stewart says. Though they did a few takes in order to get one in which "we were both relatively happy with our solos at that tempo," slowing down the pace was out of the question. "We like to drive fast."


Alexander's ballad interpretation breathes new life into Johnny Mandel and Paul F. Webster's warhorse, The Shadow Of Your Smile.  His short rubato introduction is somewhat isolated from the song. The rhythm section joins in for Alexander's lovely, reflective version of the melody. The improvisation that follows is of a somewhat different character, buzzing with activity and
containing digressions galore, yet he never completely strays from the song's melancholy disposition.


Stewart originally wrote Scotch Thing for a recording made in 1998, in which he was the sole horn.  Having conceived of the piece for two horns, Stewart decided to revisit the tune. "I always write stuff that's not really conducive to improvising," he says. "It's kind of a long form. I like the way it sounds but when you get to the blowing it's tricky to play on." Despite his reservations, both Stewart and Alexander negotiate the changes with ease and have something substantial to say throughout their solos.


Reeds and Deeds has succeeded in making a recording that's greater than the sum of the individual contributions. Taking into consideration various other studio projects and live performances over the past few years, as well as Wailin', I believe the best is yet to come.  It's clear that each of these artists thrives on challenging themselves and their audiences. For Alexander, Stewart, Hazeltine, Peter and Kenny Washington, playing jazz in the company of musicians of the same stature is much more than a means of making a living—it's a way of life.”


Cookin' [Chris Cross 1283] C. Andrew Hovan, All About Jazz, The Jazz Review, Downbeat,  August 2006


“Chances are that if you're reading these notes right now you're more than a bit familiar with the talents of tenor saxophonists Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart and might even have picked up Wailin' (Criss 1258), their first effort together leading a quintet billed as Reeds and Deeds. As such, it would probably be redundant to go into detailed biographical sketches of each of these men. Suffice it to say that Alexander just might be one of the most recorded jazz musicians of his generation, appearing on an impressive number of albums since making his debut on Criss Cross back in 1993, regularly leading his own groups, and remaining a vital member of the hard bop collective One For All. Stewart, who also recorded his maiden voyage for Criss Cross, may not be as thoroughly documented on recordings but remains an in demand performer in New York City and a regular at Fat Cat and Smalls.


So with the credentials of our two leading men well defined, it might be interesting to ponder the lineage of the quintet's moniker and the titles of their two discs. For starters, Reeds and Deeds also names a 1963 album on Mercury Records by multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk, a recording that just so happens to feature pianist Harold Mabern, a regular collaborator in groups led by Alexander. Now, with album titles like Wailin' and Cookin' there's more than a tip of the hat to those classic 1956 recordings by the Miles Davis Quintet that led to a series of Prestige releases, namely Workin', Steamin', Cookin', and Relaxin'. Finally, one must consider that this pair follows in the footsteps of other iconic two tenor cohorts such as Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons or Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin.


Now while this modest lesson suggests that these guys have done their homework, it should not be considered a foregone conclusion that the group is simply rehashing previous glories or engaging in the kind of cutting contests that were so popular in the '50s. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as Alexander and Stewart have fashioned a collaborative ensemble that benefits strongly from the combined efforts and varied experiences of our front line partners.


"I think our styles are so different that it's not as much of a cutting session as it could be," explains Stewart. "Eric definitely raises the bar pretty high and we're definitely trying to push one another to play better. We're coming out of some of the same people more or less, but we think differently. [Still,] there are enough similarities that we get a cohesive sound, but we're different enough that it's still interesting." As for Alexander, while the camaraderie is an obvious factor in making this kind of situation musically stimulating, he also admits to some healthy rivalry. "When you're going head to head," Eric affirms, "you've really got to jump all over the tunes or else you sound like you're getting blown away by the other cat."


Returning from the group's first effort is pianist David Hazeltine, a veteran of many Criss Cross dates and leader of a half dozen sessions of his own for the label including the recent Perambulation (Criss 1276). "He's a great accompanist and he's always listening," says Stewart. "It's one of those things where you know someone is a great accompanist when you play better when they're comping." Further commenting on Hazeltine's many talents, Alexander interjects, "He's a fine composer and arranger and he brings that kind of structure to every musical situation."


Another lock tight rhythm team steps up to spell Peter and Kenny Washington, who performed the bass and drum duties on Wailin'. Regular collaborators John Webber and Joe Farnsworth have worked with Harold Mabern, Jimmy Cobb, and Michael Weiss, in addition to teaming together with Alexander on numerous gigs and record dates such as Summit Meeting and Dead Center. Their hookup can also be heard to great advantage on Farnsworth's A Beautiful Friendship (Criss 1166). Speaking of Webber, Stewart says, "He's one of my favorite bass players [because] he gets such a beautiful sound out of the bass and he's also an incredible soloist." As for Joe, he states unequivocally, "I don't think there's anyone out there who can play some of the stuff that he plays. He's just a real force on the drums." To which Eric adds, "He's my favorite drummer to play with and we've known each other for so long that everything we do is really second nature at this point."


Although the program here does not include any originals, Alexander and Stewart have managed to dig deep for an agreeable selection that includes bossa nova, quicksilver bebop, the blues lexicon, and a ballad feature for both tenor men. Each number goes for a particular feel and utilizes the two horns in a way that most complements the melody. The pair approaches unison passages with an especially well-developed precision, the technical proficiency needed to accomplish such a feat not to be taken for granted. Like the ideal club set, much thought has been given to the pacing and flow of each track with plenty of blowing space for Stewart, Alexander, and Hazeltine to boot.


Not as well known as his other signature numbers, "Conception"and "Lullaby of Broadway," George Shearing's She is seldom performed these days but is destined to be picked up now that Stewart and Alexander have revisited this beguiling composition. "I discovered that tune one night after a gig at Fat Cat," explains Stewart. "Pianist Sacha Perry showed it to me and Joe Cohn and then the following week he and I started playing it at our steady Tuesday night gig at Smalls." The piece boasts the standard AABA form of eight bars each section, with a contrasting Latin groove that distinguishes the bridge. Grant is the first soloist and for terms of identification can be heard on the left channel throughout the date. Eric is up next, followed by a brief turn from Hazeltine.


Tight unison passages and a brisk tempo help make So in Love a lesson in survival of the fittest. Grant is up first again, cleverly utilizing the tune's melody as a springboard for his mercurial statement. Eric then comes on strong, eating up the changes and utilizing the full range of his horn in a
way that has always set him apart from his peers.


"I've always wanted to record this beautiful tune," says Alexander of Never Let Me Go. While he sticks to the ballad tempo at first, his ideas start flowing in such a way that in order to allow them unfettered development he jumps into double time for much of his solo statement. Hazeltine then gets a turn before Eric's return, a closing gambit that further illuminates the saxophonist's considerable maturity and confidence.


Several years before the smooth tenor of Stan Getz met the cool strains of bossa nova or Walter Wanderley hit the charts with "Summer Samba," there was the film Black Orpheus, loosely based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. Putting Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa on the musical map, the songs they penned for the soundtrack still provide fodder for jazz musicians today. Alexander supplies a fresh arrangement that "filled the need for a Latin number" while providing for "a nice variety of tunes to keep the album interesting."


Saxophonist Gene Ammons had more than his share of run-ins with the law and just prior to a lengthy prison stay that would keep him off the scene for much of the mid to late '60s he would record Boss Tenor, arguably one of his best albums. The centerpiece of that set is the blues anthem Hittin' the Jug, heard here in an Alexander arrangement that boasts its own share of rewards. "You can't be a tenor player in Chicago and not learn this one," he says while speaking from experience. Note the way the pair voices that descending run in unison, then alternates solo turns at the arpeggiated lick that ends each two bar phrase. A clever stop-time device also launches the solos of both Alexander and Stewart.


Grant's ballad feature, Trouble is a Man, is a lovely Alec Wilder piece that reminds us of the unique melodic gifts of this oft-neglected composer. As Stewart explains, “That's on At Ease with Coleman Hawkins, one of my favorite Hawk records. There's [also] a video of Carmen McRae singing it on that Jazz Casual series. She sings it with the verse and after hearing that I decided I wanted to include the verse as well."

Who Can I Turn To comes from the collaborative team of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, penned for the 1965 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd. Commenting on the sagacious idea to take this one at a quicker pace than usual, Eric acknowledges, "I like taking tunes that are generally done as ballads and swinging them."
Agreeable to this arrangement, Grant says, "I used to play it quite a bit, but hadn't played it in awhile. I used to do it in E flat, but we do it [here] in F."


One of the many Charlie Parker lines based on the chord changes to "I've Got Rhythm," Passport actually turned out of to be a stand-in for another piece in a fortuitous turn of serendipity. "We had something else we had planned to do, but that ended up being a last minute decision," says Grant. In addition to powerhouse solos from Grant, Eric, and David, the two tenor men trade fours before returning to the head. "Those Bird heads are so strange and unconventional," Grant later asserts. "You get so used to hearing them that you forget how abstract they really are. They're beautiful, but really avant garde."


The obvious merits of their first effort notwithstanding, I think both Eric and Grant would have to agree that further time spent on the bandstand after the release of Wailin' has helped to make this sophomore effort an even stronger statement. Throughout the session, you can hear that the pots were on, with the pair cookin' up a most fortifying musical feast.”


Tenor Time [Criss Cross 1332] David R. Adler, New York, January 2011


“Saxophonists Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart know all about the value of partnership, as their consistently fulfilling work under the Reeds and Deeds banner makes clear. It's part of a rich tradition of two-tenor pairings in jazz — deep and focused, informed by something beyond cutting-contest dynamics and showmanship.


Tenor Time is the third Reeds and Deeds outing, following up Wailin’ [Criss 1258] and Cookin’ [Criss 1283]. And that's the tip of the iceberg — Eric Alexander has appeared on over 30 Criss Cross titles either as a sideman or leader, dating back to 1992. Grant Stewart, with his copious vocabulary and heavier, darker-hued tenor sound, can trace his Criss Cross lineage back to 1992 as well. As individuals, these are two of the most accomplished and compelling tenor voices in the idiom today.


"We have a lot of similar influences," Grant offers. "Eric has more of a certain period of Trane in his playing, and a heavy George Coleman influence. I have a heavy Sonny Rollins influence. But we were both influenced by Dexter and Stitt and Bird." Alexander concurs and adds more wrinkles: "We are both coming out of the bebop language, but Grant from the Hawkins/Rollins side and I'm more from the Young/Gordon/ Coltrane side. Grant is more likely to make use of quotes and motivic development and I'm more likely to play some things that one would associate with modal and free jazz."


What unites them is a deep connection to the older masters of the music. Grant is quick to mention his experience with great drummers: Jimmy Cobb, Bobby Durham and Roy McCurdy among them. Eric draws on formative experiences with George Coleman, Charles Earland, John Hicks and others, and maintains an ongoing bond with piano great Harold Mabern (a Reeds and Deeds rhythm section member on various international tours).


Another key to Reeds and Deeds' success is the rest of the band on Tenor Time: pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth make their second appearance on an R & D date. These vibrant, rock-solid players, among the most sought-after straight-ahead jazz musicians in New York, are all well represented individually in the Criss Cross library, and they happen to be Eric's colleagues in the present incarnation of One for All (a supergroup sextet with its own history on Criss Cross dating back to 1999). Hazeltine plays a double role as consummate accompanist and co-soloist, breaking up the dominant tenor sound.

"It's basically Eric's rhythm section," Grant says, "though I've worked with them all in different settings. It's such a great band — you can't really go wrong." Eric notes how musicians of this caliber "play for you, not with you. That's a foreign concept to a lot of young players, but an essential one if we're going to be able to do our thing. Grant and I need space, but also creativity from [the band]."


And creativity is what they get. There's a sense of motivated swing and drive on these eight pieces, each perfectly chosen to highlight the co-leaders' simpatico as melodic interpreters and improvisers.


Omicron is a Donald Byrd composition that leads off Whims of Chambers, the classic 1956 album by bass legend Paul Chambers. Given that the tenor saxophonist on that recording is a fellow named John Coltrane, the inclusion of this Woody n' You variant makes perfect sense. "I called this one," says Grant, "because it's a [progression] we've all played on forever, and it's good to let loose on." Eric adds, "I've always felt it's a real challenge to play all of those half-diminished chords back to back." Their version retains the Latin tinge — and bass solo on the bridge — of the original, but increases the tempo. The two horns play steady unisons in lower and higher registers before breaking out into their respective statements (Eric, then Grant). It's just this sort of effortless blend of timbres, and flair for instinctive, off-the-cuff arrangements, that we hear throughout the album.


Cryin 'Blues, by Eddie Harris, has a laid-back, almost rock-like feel with twisty syncopation in the turnaround. Grant solos first, deep in the pocket; Eric takes an edgier, more multiphonic route and a broken-up rhythmic approach, at least initially. Hazeltine's solo features crisp, perfectly placed double-time lines and two choruses framed by classic hard-bop backgrounds from the saxes. "I suggested this tune," says Eric. "Eddie Harris came up with all of these funky tunes before anyone really knew what funk was. He was a borderline genius."


Eric's ballad feature comes with a twist: It's a duo with Hazeltine on Tenderly, the 1946 standard, and it gives us a sense of the warmth and blues feeling underlying Eric's more biting tone and angular ideas. Eric and David begin the piece rubato but ease into tempo, maintaining a slow 4/4 (the song was originally a waltz). "David and I really enjoy playing duos," Eric says. "We've explored that setting many times on gigs, and it was good for variety on this session."


Jule Styne's Make Someone Happy, from the 1960 Broadway production Do Re Mi suits Eric and Grant well as a mid-tempo cooker, with piquant harmonizations and obbligato on the head. "I've been playing this one for the last year or so," Grant remarks. I've always loved the Tony Bennett-Bill Evans duo version." The form is 40 bars: 16 and 16 with an eight-bar melodic tag. Grant swings authoritatively out of a stop-time break, threading melodies throughout his complex line playing (catch the surprise quote from Rollins' Freedom Suite about midway through the first chorus). Hazeltine offers two focused choruses and then yields to Alexander, who takes a busier and more fragmented rhythmic approach.


Amsterdam is an alluring melody by George Coleman, "my favorite tenor man in the world today and a tremendous human being," says Eric. "Grant, however, was the one who suggested it for the date." "We played it on the road in Japan," Grant explains, adding: "It's a fun tune to blow over, in E flat minor — you don't play that many tunes in E flat minor." Again the two tenors apportion the melody with an ear toward timbral variance and nuance. Following solos by Grant and then Eric, Hazeltine uncannily seizes on the propulsive, Latin-tinged rhythm to go McCoy Tyner-esque for about four bars, quoting subtly from A Love Supreme. Coltrane's influence rears its head, but this time from the piano bench.


Grant chooses Irving Berlin's Isn't It a Lovely Day as a ballad feature, omitting the opening verse. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong have a famous version, although according to Grant, "there's a Billie Holiday version that I used to listen to all the time." Farnsworth's brushes, Webber's patient walking, Hazeltine's sophisticated harmonic touches, Grant's way with that hair-raising cadence in the 14th bar, not to mention his soulful cadenza — this is how it's done at slow tempos.


Hazeltine reportedly wrote R and D Bossa just a day before the date. The pace is upbeat and there's a wealth of harmonic movement. The A section has a certain familial resemblance to the Horace Silver classic Nica's Dream. "Dave writes great tunes," says Stewart. "All of his pieces have a nice hook and he writes great melodies." Eric, Grant and the composer all have their say, and the two horns blow softly and simultaneously on the outro.


Rise 'n' Shine is a raging swinger from Coltrane's 1958 Prestige classic Settin' the Pace, and here it becomes the closest thing to an outright tenor duel we'll hear from Reeds and Deeds. But even if the pressure is on right away, with a round of trading eights, then fours and even twos, you can't afford to look over your shoulder and think about the other guy. "At that tempo, you're just thinking survival," Grant quips. But everyone makes it through — Grant peels off after the trading with a few stand-alone choruses, followed by Eric and then out. The abrupt downbeat at the end says it loud and clear: That's a wrap.’”