I think we are now living in a Fellini film.
Welcome to the circus!
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Posted by Steven Cerra at 3:23 PM
Part 3 - "1959: The Beginning of Beyond: Conceptualizing Jazz, Jazz Changes and Invisible Missiles" - Darius Brubeck
© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“ … revealing the harmonic subtlety of the popular song … [became] the defining, exclusive characteristic of jazz.”
- Darius Brubeck
Part 3 is from the Darius Brubeck’s essay - 1959: The Beginning of Beyond - which in its final form, serves as Chapter 10 in Merwyn Cooke and David Horn, The Cambridge Companion to Jazz .
As noted in the first posting, it’s a long piece, so we have used the subject headings within the essay as a means of presenting it on these pages in smaller samplings.
Keeping in mind Darius’ observation of 1959 as a pivotal year in the evolution of Jazz, this portion of his essay emphasizes how the conceptualization of Jazz influenced the manner in which musicians played the music and how this would move from a structural, stylistic approach to one that emphasized cyclical formats involving complex harmonies based on chord progressions; i.e. “Jazz changes.”
One consequence of this transition was the advent of what Andre Hodeir referred to as “the most advanced jazz … [that] launched invisible missiles toward the public of tomorrow.” Put another way, Jazz conventions based on recognizable melodies “developed [into] a way of conceptualizing music that has little to do with how it sounds in an ordinary sense of audition.” And by extension, the ordinary listener got lost [nuked by these “invisible missiles”] trying to discern what was going on in the music.
For those non-musicians, just run your eyes over the closing paragraphs that contain the more technical aspects of this part of the discussion, but while doing so, try to grasp the complexity of what a Jazz musician has to keep in mind and deal with during the process of improvising a solo.
© Copyright ® Darius Brubeck, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.
The familiar fault-lines in the generally accepted version of jazz history have always appeared immediately after an influential individual or group was in a position to articulate a conception of jazz. By this I mean defining what jazz was in their time, not a manifesto of which 'direction jazz should go in1. It is as if certain musicians in each generation, after a number of years of playing gigs and 'paying dues', gradually or suddenly find the hitherto hidden 'deep structure' of everything they have done or will ever do. These revelations, 1 believe, preceded and sometimes precipitated the new movements in jazz. Of course 'movements' or sub-genres do not have to happen consecutively and there is no reason that every new direction is inevitably 'forwards'.
Musicians have always been more concerned with ways of playing music than talking about it. Nevertheless thinking about the potential of what they do is as traditional as blue notes. In his chapter on Jelly Roll Morton in Early Jazz, Schuller uses Morton's own words (transcribed from the Library of Congress recordings made by Alan Lomax) and his own exhaustive case-study of Morton's work to show that what Morton called the 'invention' of jazz was the first conceptualisation of jazz:
To Morton the composer, ragtime and blues were not just musical styles, but specific musical forms... These were as well defined as the sonata form was to a 'classical' composer, and Morton accepted them as active continuing traditions. At this point Morton's claim to be the 'originator of jazz' begins to take on a degree of plausibility. In his mind and perhaps in actual fact Morton had isolated as 'jazz, an area not covered by the blues or ragtime. Since he applied a smoother more swinging syncopation and a greater degree of improvisational license to a variety of materials, such as ragtime, opera and French and Spanish popular songs and dances, Morton's claim to have invented jazz no longer seems so rash. [1968, 139-41]
Morton's statement that 'jazz is a style that can be applied to any type of tune' and his use of jazz' as a verb, as in 'jazzing' the 'Miserere' from Il Trovatore (see page 163), make it clear that the essence of jazz (noun and verb) is process and perhaps manner, but not content. It must be remembered that the American popular song was early, but not original, material for jazzing.
A final comment from Schuller's chapter on Morton lends some strong historical backing to the 'formalism' that was decried as infiltrating and diluting modern jazz: 'Morton's vision of jazz entailed contrast and variety-instrumental, timbral, textural; in short, structural.' This aspect of Morton's vision was de-emphasised by bebop with its formulaic head-solos-head approach to performance. (The 'structure' talked about when musicological terminology is used to explain why an improvised bebop solo is 'great' is not what Morton had in mind.)
Valid conceptualisations are holistic by implication but in practice it often seems that a disproportionate amount of attention is focused on one parameter at a time. In Morton's music, jazz was structurally complex but also harmonically primitive and improvisationally constrained compared to later styles. For soloists to soar it was found that one needed cyclical rather than additive forms and simpler arrangements. The professionally composed 'popular song' replaced traditional sources like hymns, marches and other borrowings referred to by Morton and his contemporaries and the great challenge ahead was the 'jazzing-up' of complex harmony.
Jazz changes and ‘invisible missiles’
Bebop drew on various and new sources, including modern European composers, but by far the greatest influence was the immediate past and present of jazz itself. The conventions of jazz playing had attained stability in the Swing Era, and Art Tatum and other piano virtuosi, professional arrangers working for Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, the Ellington-Strayhorn team and composers working in Hollywood were constantly pushing harmony towards greater complexity. Harmony in the 1940s was dense, functional yet richly chromatic and highly mobile. Jazz musicians, though popularly celebrated as 'rhythm cats' in the commercial media, had become chord-meisters. Just being able to play the changes', let alone improvise a coherent chorus on songs like 'Have You Met Miss Jones', 'Invitation' or 'Stella By Starlight', is still an indication of sophistication.
Playing 'standards' means creating culturally and musically transformed versions of recognised Broadway or Hollywood songs. Eventually this became the art of playing an alternative version to prior jazz versions while the non-jazz original faded from memory, leaving only the tune and chord progression. In this way, a 'standard' is infinitely re-adaptable. For jazz musicians, hearing 'the changes' is so ingrained and natural that they barely notice that it is probably only jazz musicians who automatically relate to music as being essentially 'the changes'. Most can name a tune they know well within a few seconds of hearing it, even if the excerpt starts in the middle of a solo and is played with a different feel or tempo, using different instruments from those in any previous version. In other words they have developed a way of conceptualising music that has little to do with how it sounds in an ordinary sense of audition.
Jazz musicians adapted and improved a notational system of alphabetical chord symbols, originally used as early as the 1910s for labelling ukulele or guitar tablature in sheet-copy versions of popular songs. For example, the first two measures of 'I Got Rhythm' would have four box diagrams showing frets, strings and finger position labelled thus: C6, Amin., Dmin., G7 (not indicating chord function, as in the analytical notation I, VI, II, V). Published 'stock arrangements' for dance bands included piano parts consisting of chords in staff notation, but besides being literally harder to see, staff notation seemed to require restating identical chord voicings chorus after chorus and, worse, articulating them in the same rhythm. It is difficult to think of one recording where such a part was actually played. Similarly, bass parts were notated bass parts, but players who understood how to construct bass lines by connecting chord tones usually ignored them and wrote in the chord progression according to the alphabetical system, referring to staff notation only where a specific bass line was required. Guitar parts were always in chord symbols and therefore became the lingua franca of rhythm-section players even as the traditional role of 'rhythm guitar' was becoming obsolete in the 1940s. In small combos where every player (not only the soloist of the moment) is improvising most of the time, the normal and easiest way to coordinate performance by visual means is to give every player the same information. All musicians (including poor readers and regardless of instrument) know how to work from a lead-sheet consisting of the melody in treble clef with chord symbols above the line and sometimes the lyrics.
Chord symbols consist of the letter name of the root, a symbol such as a () - for minor plus numbers if needed. F-7 therefore means F minor seventh. If F-7 occurs at the beginning of a measure of 4/4 time, it means the harmony starts on the downbeat (not that the pianist must play the chord on 'one') and if it comes near the middle of the bar, F-7 is the chord 'change' on beat three. The merit of this system is that it leaves so much up to the musician. Chord symbols do not specify register, inversion, top note, doublings or density. They do show the harmonic rhythm, in other words, the sequence and distribution of the ‘changes'. You can write 'the changes' for a tune on any scrap of paper that comes to hand - menus and napkins become bass parts between sets - or, if there isn't even a pen available, the pianist or bass player can just call them out. (Not exactly professional behaviour, but who hasn't done this once or twice?)
There was no authoritative source for chord symbols so there were inconsistencies and disagreements, especially regarding notating extensions beyond the seventh. Does F-7+9 mean add the ninth (G) or add and raise the ninth (G#)? Of course musicians could decide for themselves which sounded best and which seemed logical. (G# is A-flat enharmonically, which adds nothing to an F minor chord, so G is the right answer.) Certainly by the 1950s, jazz musicians had to know some 'theory' whether or not they thought of it as that. Composers such as Milhaud, Stravinsky, Bartok and even Schoenberg were icons of highbrow modernism to jazz musicians, but not ones to emulate on the gig. Playing changes was, at first anyway, an exploration and re-codification of the inherited tonal system before there could be an 'attack' on it. Rhythm-and-blues and urban blues used improvisation, a heavy beat and much else in common with 1940s jazz, but revealing the harmonic subtlety of the popular song was the defining, exclusive characteristic of jazz.”
To be continued ….
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Gordon Jack is a frequent contributor to the Jazz Journal and a very generous friend in allowing JazzProfiles to re-publish his insightful and discerning writings on various topics about Jazz and its makers.
Gordon is the author of Fifties Jazz Talk An Oral Retrospective and he also developed the Gerry Mulligan discography in Raymond Horricks’ book Gerry Mulligan’s Ark.
The following obituary was published in the February, 2017 edition of Jazz Journal.
For more information and subscriptions please visit www.jazzjournal.co.uk
© -Gordon Jack/JazzJournal, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.
"Throughout his short career in the nineteen fifties Tony Fruscella remained on the fringes of the jazz scene. He was one of a young school of New York-based trumpeters that included Jon Eardley, Don Ferrara, Don Joseph, Jerry Lloyd (aka Hurwitz), Dick Sherman and Phil Sunkel who managed to work occasionally in the city but had little exposure on recordings. Stylistically they were products of the bebop revolution but they retained much of the delicate lyricism of earlier masters like Harry Edison, Bobby Hackett and Charlie Shavers.
Dan Morgenstern has pointed out that contrary to most source books Fruscella was born on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village on the 14th. February 1927. Subsequently reared by nuns in a New Jersey orphanage he joined the army in 1945 playing in the 2nd. Division band. In 1947 while studying at the Hartnett Music School along with fellow students Al Haig and Phil Urso he married singer Morgana King – the marriage lasted until 1956. In 1948 he made his recording debut with a group of friends (Chick Maures, Bill Triglia, Red Mitchell and Dave Troy) on a session which was not released until 1974. His playing is remarkably mature with some of the delicate, introspection associated with Miles Davis. Chick Maures who died from an overdose in 1954 will probably be unknown to most readers (this was his only recording) but his playing is notable for some spirited Charlie Mariano-like choruses on alto.
The following year he was invited to take part on a Lennie Tristano recording with Lee Konitz that introduced Subconscious-Lee to the repertoire. In a JJ interview (December 1996) Konitz told me, “Tony was supposed to be on the date but when he came to my room to rehearse I apparently offended him in some way with a couple of suggestions so he pulled out. I had real trouble relating to him because that whole junky mentality was always a big turn-off for me. I could never identify with it and hated that aspect of my environment.”
In the late ‘40s Fruscella was often to be found playing at sessions in Teddy Charles’s loft on the corner of 55th. Street and Broadway with Phil Woods, Jimmy Raney, Frank Isola and Brew Moore. He was also a regular at Don Jose’s on West 49th. Street where Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, Brew Moore, Lester Young and their friends would chip in 50 cents each to hire the studio for the evening. The entrance was notable for a red door which became the title of a famous original co-written by Sims and Mulligan. Years later Dave Frishberg added a hip lyric to it which he called Zoot Walks In. On one occasion when there was not enough money to pay for the studio, Mulligan took Jimmy Ford, Brew Moore, Allen Eager, Steve Perlow and Nick Travis to Central Park to rehearse. Encouraged by his girl-friend Gail Madden, Gerry had begun experimenting with a piano-less quartet at Don Jose’s with either Tony, Don Ferrara or Don Joseph on trumpet, Phil Leshin or Peter Ind on bass and Walter Bolden or Al Levitt on drums.
Lester Young often worked with Jesse Drakes but in 1950 he hired Fruscella for two weeks, possibly for a Birdland engagement. Around 1951 Herb Geller arrived in New York from Los Angeles. He once told me that while he was waiting for his union card to work in the city which took six months, he started working illegally in the Nyack area with Fruscella, Phil Urso, Bill Triglia, Bill Crow and Ed Shaughnessy. A rehearsal he did with Tony was taped and released years later under Fruscella’s name on the Xanadu label. Gene Allen was on baritone and the tightly-voiced charts – possibly by Triglia – have a distinctively Birth of the Cool flavour. Apparently Herb was never paid for his performance.
Early in 1953 Robert Reisner and Dave Lambert started presenting bop sessions at the Open Door in Greenwich Village and Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were occasionally in attendance. In an elegy for Tony Fruscella which appeared in a 1970 Down Beat article, Robert said he once nominated Tony as the leader. This turned out to be a disaster. “He was so permissive that he couldn’t say ‘No’ to anyone who wanted to sit-in…what began as a quartet became a cacophonous orchestra. Worried about the union and wanting to control the mayhem I started dragging guys bodily off the stage. One tenor player put the bell of his horn next to my ear and played a flurry of notes. Tony turned to me and said, ‘See man, he’s saying something’”.
Dan Morgenstern’s sleeve-note for a Fruscella-Brew Moore recording at the Open Door painted an evocative description of the club – “The Open Door was a haven for jazz people with no money. When you walked in off the street you entered a room with a long bar that had a Bowery feel 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. She knew a thousand old songs and cheerfully honoured requests. 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.” This was where Tony Fruscella held court for most of 1953 usually assisted by Brew Moore, Phil Woods, Ronnie Singer and Bill Triglia. Often his good friend Don Joseph would join him and they would sometimes perform Bach duets during the interval. Occasionally when no other pianist was available the twenty year old Cecil Taylor was allowed to sit in. Some of the stars of the day like Charlie Parker, Monk, Mingus, Roy Haynes and Milt Jackson occasionally appeared at the club but not very often - probably because remuneration was more generous elsewhere. By 1954 the Open Door had ceased to feature jazz.
The Ertegun brothers heard Fruscella at the club and arranged for him to record for Atlantic Records. One of the titles - I’ll Be Seeing You – is probably his most famous solo and years later Red Mitchell added a lyric to Tony’s performance which he often performed at Bradley’s in New York. In June 1954 Gerry Mulligan recruited Fruscella for his piano-less quartet as a replacement for Bob Brookmeyer. They did two weeks at Basin Street followed by a set at the Newport Jazz Festival in July which was Tony’s swan-song with the group. Stan Kenton introduced the quartet to an enthusiastic audience and a tape of them performing Bernie’s Tune, The Lady Is a Tramp and Lullaby Of The Leaves has circulated for years. Tony sounds extremely tentative and lacking in confidence and in 1994 I asked Mulligan for his observations on the trumpeter. “Newport was enough for me to realise that having Tony travelling with me and being onstage together night after night would have driven me crazy. He lived in a world of his own…it was too bad it didn’t work out because he was such a lovely player.”
Bill Crow once told me what it was like to work with Tony. “Billy Triglia loved Tony and tried to use him when the job wasn’t too heavy. In other words Billy could cover for him if he didn’t show up or was too stoned to play. We were in a club in New Jersey and one customer in particular liked the way Tony was playing so he called him over and offered to buy him a drink. Tony’s response was, ’Well man, I’m already pretty stoned and the bread’s kind of light on this gig so would you mind just giving me the money?’ The club owner overheard and was furious but that was typical of Tony”. Crow went on to say that he was so introverted that the commercial world even at its most artistic was too much for him to deal with. Having to turn up at a job on time and be there for a set number of hours was something he found difficult. Robert Reisner probably summed him up best when he said, “Tony had a dogged will to fail”.
In November 1954 he took Bob Brookmeyer’s place again, this time with the Stan Getz quintet. They performed in Buffalo, Baltimore, Boston and Birdland in New York and John Williams was the pianist with the group. He was a one-man rhythm section with stimulating left hand accents and he told me, “I loved Tony because he was one of the most gentle and loving little guys. I could sit at the old upright in my New York apartment when he would come by to play and he would absolutely kill you … his lyrical creativity was unsurpassed. His problem was that he was totally out of it all the time living in another world on the end of the flower stem quite untouched by, ‘When does the gig begin?’ or ‘Intermission is over, you’re supposed to be up there ready to go’. He always seemed to be stoned on a mixture of uppers and downers combined with alcohol which made him appear so laid back that you wondered if he was really there at all, but at his best he could play so beautifully.”
Tony can be heard with Getz on a brief Birdland broadcast and two charming studio titles – Blue Bells and Roundup Time – recorded in January 1955. Their musical rapport is notable but apparently there was a conflict in their personal relationship which led to a fist-fight causing Tony to leave the group. A little later he began living with Stan’s ex-wife Beverly at her apartment. He was arrested there on a drugs possession charge in April 1957 and given a six months sentence. Throughout his life Tony was known as a ‘Street kid’ who apparently never owned a telephone or had a steady address, usually preferring to crash-out at a friend’s apartment.
Apart from a few hospital stays caused by his well-known personal problems nothing at all is known of his activities in the sixties. Tony Fruscella died on April 14th. 1969 at a friend’s apartment. The cause of death was cirrhosis and heart failure.”
Tony Fruscella – The Complete Works (4 CDs). The Jazz Factory JFCD 22808/9.
Tony Fruscella & Brew Moore Quintet – The 1954 Unissued Atlantic Session. Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD-660.
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Sixty Years after he made his first appearance on the Jazz scene in 1960 with the Newport Jazz Festival Youth Band, Ronnie Cuber is still going strong, most recently, as a recording artist for Nils Winthur’s Steeplechase label and in numerous club and concert dates both at home and abroad.
The man is a Force of Nature!
Ronnie has been such a fixture for so long that it's hard to remember where it all began for him as a recording artist under his own name.
The earliest recording by Ronnie as a leader in my collection is Cuber Libre which was recorded on August 20, 1976 on Don Schlitten’s Xanadu label [Xanadu 175].
Thank goodness for Don Schiltten as during the vast wasteland that was recorded Jazz in the 1970s and 80s, Xanadu produced over 100 LPs by such established mainstream artists as Red Rodney, Barry Harris, and Tal Farlow, among many others. The label also gave a start to artists who had been around a while but had not recorded their own albums like trumpeter Sam Noto [whose work on Xanadu was covered earlier on these pages], guitarist Ted Dunbar, and Ronnie Cuber.
As was the case earlier with Bob Weinstock at Prestige Records, the Jazz author and critic Ira Gitler became a sort of aide de camp to Don at Xanadu and helped with production and marketing duties including writing many of the liner notes.
Here’s what he had to say about Ronnie on Cuber Libre which provides an overview of the early years of Ronnie’s career as well as some keen observations about the music and the musicians on the recording.
“In 1960, while a member of down beat's record reviewing staff, I had occasion to write about Marshal! Brown's Newport Youth Band Recorded Live at the Newport Jazz Festival. I liked the band — with reservations. Various soloists were singled out for praise. One in particular was Ronnie Cuber. "Cuber's baritone solo will gas you," I wrote in the vernacular of the time. "His 'break' on Tiny’s Blues at the beginning of the solo shows a wonderful sense of time."
The ability to swing with the rhythm suspended has always been an informal, unofficial, yet revealing test for jazzmen and to hear it done so well by one so young made me mark Ronnie Cuber in my mind as a "File For the Future," as in the feature of the same title used to herald bright, up and coming musicians in the pages of Metronome years ago.
That future is now, which is not to say that Ronnie has not been an excellent, ever-deepening player from the time of Tiny’s Blues, nor that he hasn't been featured as a soloist in a variety of contexts, but that this is the first opportunity he has had to step into the spotlight as a recording leader. This did not happen overnight anymore than did his development. Don Schlitten had admired his work for a long while and when he formed Xanadu it was just a matter of finding the right time to record him.
Ronald Edward Cuber was a Christmas present to his parents in 1941, 18 days after Pearl Harbor. His father played accordion; his mother piano. In this musical atmosphere Ronnie began studying clarinet at age nine. At Alexander Hamilton High School, in his native Brooklyn, N.Y., he played tenor sax, the instrument on which he auditioned for the Newport Youth Band. There were just so many chairs to be filled and an abundance of tenor players but no baritone saxophonists. Marshall Brown obviously heard something in Cuber because he offered to buy him a bari if he would agree to anchor the reeds.
"Over the years it got to be my horn," says Ronnie whose first idol was Stan Getz. When he bought a Gerry Mulligan sextet record it was more for Zoot Sims than the leader. At 16 friends took him to the Cafe Bohemia to hear Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins. "When Sonny came up to the mike to play, that was it," he reminisces.
There were other tenor influences, too, after he was full into baritone. He liked Hank Mobley and tried to simulate some of that sound on the baritone. He also had begun listening to Pepper Adams at the time he joined the Newport Band in 1959. Adams was the new baritone man on the scene at the time and Ronnie's cohorts urged him to try to get a sound like Pepper — "more edge."
Other influences, according to Cuber, were Cecil Payne, John Coltrane and Harold Land. There Are certain places in this album when Ronnie reminds one of the late Leo Parker. Had he heard Leo? "Not very much," he replied, "but Don Schlitten played a track for me recently and it flipped me out.
"I listened occasionally to Serge Chaloff," he continued. "His dynamics were something. I heard Cecil Payne with Randy Weston and that made me go back and play his older records with Dizzy. They were tremendously spirited with a big, fat sound."
Ronnie also paid close attention to altoists, trumpeters and pianists. "In the '50s I listened a lot to Horace Silver and his type of sound. I always wanted to have or be part of a group like that."
The Newport Youth Band was a valuable learning experience for Cuber, and among the benefits derived from playing in an orchestra is the acquisition of a personal sound and a sense of shading and phrasing. Ronnie continued to develop these with Maynard Ferguson (1963-65), Lionel Hampton (1968) and Woody Herman (1969) with whom he toured Europe. He also did a couple of weeks with Kai Winding's four trombone unit except with Ronnie it was only three trombones. He played the bass trombone parts on baritone. There was much jamming in a downtown Manhattan loft with tenorman Joe Farrell, pianist Gil Coggins, bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Vinnie Ruggerio. He was around Slide Hampton's little band and, as a result, did some playing with it and its baritone saxophonist, Jay Cameron.
Although Cuber had some exposure in all these situations the jazz public really became aware of him in the George Benson quartet in 1966-67. He recorded four albums with the guitarist and received more stretching room. "We got a hard-hitting rhythm and blues feel," he explains. "Since it was an every night thing I did most of my playing on that band." It was in 1966 that he won the down beat International Critics' Poll as baritone sax deserving of wider recognition. Check out The George Benson Cookbook on Columbia.
In 1970-71 Cuber played with a jazz-rock mixture band called White Elephant and in 1972 was with King Curtis. This group evolved into Aretha Franklin's backup band. Then he jumped into another kind of experience with Eddie Palmieri from 1972, following up in the Latin-jazz vein with Bobby Paunetto in 1975.
It was also in 1972 that he studied flute with Danny Bank. This new instrument and his doubling bass clarinet has helped him to do studio work during the 70s, no small aid toward helping a serious jazzman survive. Ronnie is not afraid of being harmed by versatility. "I feel I can play disco just as well as play '50s, '60s or '70s jazz," he says.
This album is strictly for blowing, however, and it properly shows off Cuber's command of the big horn's many aspects from steam rolling forward motion to tender, throaty love calls. The supporting trio is most sympathetic.
Albert "Tootie" Heath, youngest of the illustrious Heath brothers, spends his time between the U.S. and Scandinavia. He is a young drum master capable of functioning at top level in a variety of settings. As Dexter Gordon once put it: "Tootie is very loose. You can play anything with him."
Mention Sam Jones’ name to any of the multi-factioned, hypercritical New York players and you will receive nothing but positive feedback from all quarters. The unflagging time and the quality of each note have marked him as just about everyone's favorite bassist in the Apple.
Anyone who has heard Barry Harris knows the kind of magic he can weave as leader or sideman. In the latter role he is unusually empathic and supportive. He and Cuber had never played together before but Ronnie felt "a lot of rapport with Barry. It went naturally that way."
From his very first notes on Star Eyes, the Don Raye-Gene De Paul song Charlie Parker helped immortalize, it's obvious that Ronnie's sound has that "edge" and a most attractive one it is, cutting benignly through the lovely melody and harmonies. Everyone in the group gets a chance to work out.
Cuber unleashes his tidal swing on Rifftide, the Coleman Hawkins line on Lady Be Good which Hawk first revealed as the out chorus of the Gershwin evergreen in an Asch recording with Mary Lou Williams. Ronnie's tone and intensity on this one was what prompted me to ask him if he had ever listened to Leo Parker.
Tin Tin Deo dates originally from a 1948 recording by James Moody, Ernie Henry, Cecil Payne, Dave Burns and Chano Pozo, all members of the Dizzy Gillespie band at the time. The pretty, mysterioso Latin opus is a collaboration between congero Pozo and Gillespie's chief arranger of the period, Gil Fuller. Ronnie uses a growl effectively in the theme statement and goes to create and sustain a completely effective mood.
Luiz Bonfa's Samba D'Orfeo puts him in another kind of Latin groove which metamorphoses into straight-ahead North American swing after the theme. Barry, with Tootie's help, mixes his idioms to advantage.
The ballad of the date, Erroll Garner's classic Misty, is treated languorously and lovingly before it is swung and bluesed but never bruised by the benevolent bludgeon of a baritone. Ronnie's is a mailed fist in a velvet glove.
Sudwest Funk is a down blues by Donald Byrd, first recorded by the composer in 1959 with Pepper Adams and Jackie McLean. Harris opens with some vintage bebop blues, setting the stage for an impassioned statement by Cuber that flows naturally back into the funky Sudwest.
Back in 1949 Kenny Dorham and Max Roach combined to conceive Prince Albert, a lovely, intricate line on the chords of All the Things You Are. Later, in the '50s, Art Blakey's Messengers used to play it when Dorham was a member of that quintet. It is still a very valid vehicle for improvisation as Cuber and Harris so ably demonstrate. Ronnie's out chorus utilizes All the Things You Are as well as Prince Albert.
Ronnie has put in a lot of hard work on his natural talent in the more than fifteen years since he zoomingly rumbled through that break on Tilly's Blues. Cuber Libre is Cuber free—free to pursue his natural inclinations to honest, hard-driving, beautiful music. Cuber Libre is the gateway. The door is open.”
Notes: IRA GITLER
Cover Photo: DON SCHLITTEN
Recording: PAUL GOODMAN
Produced & Directed by DON SCHLITTEN
Monday, April 27, 2020
Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Steve Wilkerson swings hard one moment and lyrically mesmerizes the next; he is beautifully showcased by the writing of Sandy Megas and nine swinging musicians. Swinging new music for the swinging new millennium. Bravo!!”
- Pete Rugolo, composer-arranger
The editorial staff at JazzProfiles has a very dear friend who lives nearby and with whom it meets periodically to have “coffee and a nosh” and to talk about Jazz.
He is a fountain of knowledge on the subject, along with being one of the nicest human beings that you’d ever want to meet.
During one such chat and chew a number of years ago, the conversation turned to Jazz baritone saxophonists.
After listing our many favorite players on this bulky piece of plumbing, my Jazz buddy brought up – “Steve Wilkerson” - a name that I had never heard associated with the instrument before.
When the look-of-the-unknown-Jazz-musician crossed my face, one of satisfied delight came over his and he said: “I’ll send you a Steve Wilkerson album.”
True to his word, a few days later, Shaw ‘Nuff, a CD that was self-produced by Steve and his Jazz vocalist wife, Andrea Baker, arrived in my mailbox.
Listening to it for the first time was a jaw-dropping experience.
During sixty plus years of listening to recorded Jazz, I’ve heard a lot of great instrumentalists.
Steve Wilkerson’s performance on this recording was right up there with the best of them.
What made listening to the album even more enjoyable were the arrangements that Sandy Megas scored for the nine-piece group accompanying Steve.
It was comparable to hearing Marty Paich’s arrangements for alto saxophonist Art Pepper + Eleven forty years later.
In other words, I experienced the equivalent of a musical feast while listening to Steve and the other fine musicians on Shaw ‘Nuff play on
’s charts. Sandy
Pianist George Shearing once said that the hardest thing about improvising Jazz was “… getting it from your head into your hands.”
Listening to Steve Wilkerson execute his ideas on the rather cumbersome baritone saxophone, you’d think that he had never heard of the difficulty that Shearing describes.
Steve’s playing just flows – idea after idea, swinging phrase after swinging phrase – an uninterrupted torrent of musical expression done at the very highest level all aided and abetted by Sandy’s beautifully crafted charts.
For fear of hyperbole, there are times when it’s best to let a musician’s playing “speak” for itself, and this is one of those times.
If you wish to garner more information about Steve and Sandy’s respective backgrounds and recordings, each has a website which you can locate by going here and here.
In the meantime, you can experience the pleasure of Steve’s artistry in the following video tribute to him featuring his performance of
’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s Nica’s Dream. Sandy
See if you can pick-up the manner in which Sandy has trombonist Greg Solomon playing trombone in unison with Steve’s baritone saxophone on the tune’s melody and then switching to playing in harmony with him –[0:53] - from the tune’s bridge and on to the closing repeat of the melody.
Pianist Marc LeBrun takes the first solo and Steve’s solo kicks in at minutes.
In addition to Steve, Greg and Marc, the other musicians in the group are Gary Halopoff [tp], Ray Reed [ss/as], Jim Quam [as/fl], Terry Harrington [ts], Andy Simpkins [b] and James Gadson [dr].