Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Swinging Guitar of Howard Roberts The Swinging Guitar of Howard Roberts

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

“In his prime, Howard Roberts played more than 900 studio dates annually and recorded the hippest guitar records of the era. His legion of fans still revere his incalculable influence and musical legacy.

Vesta Roberts, who grew up in a family of lumberjacks, gave birth to Howard just three weeks before the Wall Street Crash in October of 1929. Howard’s dad, a cowboy, wasn’t happy about the boy’s affinity for music.

But his mother prayed for her baby to be a musician. And Howard Roberts often told the story about, “When I was about eight years old, I fell asleep in the back seat of my parents’ car one very hot summer afternoon. When I woke up I just blurted out, ‘I have to play the guitar!’” So when his dad saw the youngster’s attempt to build one from a board and bailing wire, he acquiesced. For Christmas, he bought young Howard an $18 Kalamazoo student-model acoustic manufactured by Gibson.

By age 15, Roberts’ guitar teacher, Horace Hatchett, told the boy’s dad, “Howard has his own style of playing and there’s nothing else I can show him. He plays better than I do.” Howard was already playing club dates in their hometown Phoenix area – usually blues and jazz gigs on which he would gain playing experience and develop his improvising skills. He was receiving an extensive education in the blues from a number of black musicians, one of whom was the brilliant trumpeter Art Farmer. Journalist Steve Voce, in his 1992 article in The Independent Newsletter, quoted Roberts on those nightclub gigs, “I came out of the blues. I started in that scene when I was 15 and it was the most valuable experience in the world for me.”

Roberts had created an heroic practice regimen with his roommate, guitarist Howard Heitmeyer. The two would practice three or four hours in the morning, catch an afternoon movie, then return to practice until it was time to hit the clubs, gig or not. Heitmeyer would remain Roberts’ lifelong friend, and someone with a comprehensive talent Roberts found staggering.

At age 17, Roberts was drawn to a class created by composer/theorist Joseph Schillinger, whose students included George Gershwin, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Oscar Levant. Noted musician Fabian Andre was commissioned to teach.

Schillinger’s system of applying mathematical principles to art piqued Roberts’ curiosity, so he arranged a deal with Andre; he’d sweep the floors after class to defray his tuition. That attitude was indicative of the teenager’s precocious intellect and passion for music and science. ...

“Howard really blurred the lines among guitar players, and reached so many of them,” Ted Greene said in 2003. “Jazz guys, country players, and rockers all loved him because he played with such feeling and authenticity. Those first two Capitol albums were no doubt an introduction to jazz guitar for hundreds – maybe thousands – of young players. He didn’t water anything down, but it was all still accessible. And he had a recognizable sound. You immediately knew it was Howard.”
-Jim Carlton, Vintage Guitar Magazine

I always thought of guitarist Howard Roberts [1929-1992] as the Left Coast equivalent of Tal Farlow: long, knuckle-busting runs executed in a lightning fast manner, inflected, here-and-there with a heavy dose of the blues, and played with phrases that were framed in a relentless swing.

When I was a part of the music studio scene in Hollywood in the late 1950s and 1960s, Howard seemed to be everywhere. Maybe that’s because he was  - everywhere.

His Jazz recordings from this period are hard to find and not all of them have made it to digital, but thanks to Jordi Pujol at Fresh Sound Records, two of his dates, one under his own name which he made for Norman Granz at Verve and another on the same label but as a sideman in Swedish drummer Bert Dahlander quartet have been made available on CD as The Swinging Guitar of Howard Roberts [Fresh Sound Records, FSR CD 963].

The Fresh Sound recording can be had as an audio CD and in an Mp3 format, and you can locate order information on the Fresh Sound website by going here. You can also sample the album via that link.

More information about Howard and these recordings can be found in the following always informative sleeve notes by Jordi Pujol.

“When Howard Roberts (1929-1992) decided to teach himself guitar, he visited every black jazz club in his native Phoenix, Arizona. "All we did was play the blues. And that's what I came out of—the blues." Roberts, however, felt the need to learn more about the complexities of the profession, and so he started studying harmony and composition. Looking for more musical activity, he moved to Los Angeles in 1950, where he gigged around the city in jam sessions at after-hours clubs. There, he developed his dazzling technique and fine harmonic sense. Having played with the best instrumentalists and composers, he started getting calls for session work.

He established his reputation with the Bobby Troup trio, which appeared on TV from coast to coast, and consolidated the fame of Troup's group with some brilliant playing of his Gibson guitar, so much so that the Down Beat jazz critics accorded Roberts the New Guitar Star Award of 1955. In the years following, he continued recording with top jazz singers and instrumentalists, and eventually made his first albums as a leader for Verve.

In 1959 Roberts started getting more and more work on TV and film, but not content with settling down in the Hollywood studios in a kind of prosperous obscurity, he kept very active in the jazz scene, playing concerts and recording his own albums.

Howard Roberts was a skilled guitarist with a fondness for direct and unencumbered jazz playing, his tone always bright and penetrating, never twangy. A fine technician, he was able to execute difficult passages cleanly and forcefully. He forged a sound of his own. fiery and hard-swinging, creative and unpretentious. These sessions are an example of his jazz work, as a sideman and as a leader.

Born October 2, 1929, guitarist Howard Roberts was pretty much self-taught. His roots were in the blues, which he got while gigging at black jazz clubs in his native Phoenix, Arizona. "I first began playing in those clubs, and all we did was play the blues. And that's what I came out of—the blues."

By the time he was sixteen, his superb artistry and technical proficiency started attracting aspiring guitar players, who watched him play with the likes of Art Farmer and Pete Jolly. Howard, however, felt the need to learn more about the complexities of the profession, so at 17 he became associated with Howard Heitmeyer, and started seriously studying the larger formal and technical problems of music and guitar—including the Joseph Schillinger method—as well as composition with Albert Harris and Fabian Andre. In the meanwhile, he continued to delight audiences with the best jazz he could perform in any and all gigs he could find near his hometown.

It wasn't enough though, so late in 1950 Roberts, looking for a more active musical community, moved to Los Angeles carrying only his guitar and amp. In the early days he lived a vagabond life, subsisting on chocolate chip cookies, sleeping in cars, and jamming in after-hours clubs. But after about a year of trying to find a job, he was engaged to work on "The Al Pierce Show," a radio broadcast that a prescient 10-year-old Howard had told his mom he'd be on someday. It was the first folding money he was to make in L.A.

By 1953 he had become the director of Guitar Curriculum at the Westlake College of Music the first accredited vocational music school in the U.S.A. That same year he also joined Bobby Troup's Trio which included Bob Enevoldsen on bass. It seems that the jazz backgrounds of Enevoldsen and Roberts rubbed off on Troup with excitingly salutary effects.

With the encouragement and assistance of Johnny Mercer, the trio became a permanent panelist on the CBS-TV musical quiz-variety show "Musical Chairs." One of the reasons for the success of this television musical panel was the steady stream of fine music turned out by Troup's group.

That is where Roberts developed his rich style of chordal playing, which in turn was instrumental in creating a "new" trend in jazz that replaced the use of piano. The first album to present this "new sound" would be the Chico Hamilton Trio, a recording which featured Chico, Howard and bassist George Duvivier.

Roberts helped Troup's group reach fame with some brilliant playing on his Gibson guitar, so much so that the Down Beat jazz critics accorded Roberts the New Guitar Star Award of 1955. In December 1955, he was playing with Troup and Enevoldsen regularly at Pasadena's Huntington club.

Between 1954 and 1955, Roberts made several recordings with Pete Rugolo's orchestra, and with a septet led by composer and French horn player John Graas. The latter was a forerunner in the intellectual circles of the modern sounds, particularly in Graas' Jazz Studio and Jazz Lab albums for Decca records where they played in 6/4 time in jazz for the first time. Roberts, along with bassists Red Mitchell or Curtis Counce, and drummer Larry Bunker, managed to make that meter swing.

He also appeared on several albums by Bobby Troup, and others by such greats as Bob Cooper, June Christy, Terry Pollard, Bobby Scott, Pete Jolly, Frank Morgan, Helen Carr, Bob Enevoldsen, Jack Millman, Dennis Farnon, Elmer Bernstein, John Towner Williams, and Russ Garcia.

In August 1956, Roberts joined the Buddy DeFranco quartet to play at Zardi's, sharing the stand with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Then in November, they went to NYC, and after a stint at Basin Street, moved on for a tour of the East Coast, with Jim Gannon, bass, and Bill Bradley, drums.

The guitarist was gaining some traction and was a regular face in record and TV dates. This caught the attention of Norman Granz, who signed him to an exclusive contract with Verve to record his first album as a leader. It came out with the title "Mr. Roberts Plays Guitar." Early in 1957, he was also the featured guitarist on Joe Morello's first album, and not long afterwards he appeared on recording sessions led by Bud Shank, the Candoli Brothers, Herbie Harper, Herbie Mann, Rusty Bryant, and in the album "Skal" by the Swedish drummer Bert Dahlander.

His studio recording activities continued intensively throughout 1958 and 1959, recording with Claude Williamson, Buddy Collette, Marty Paich, Shorty Rogers, and singers Ruth Olay and Julie London. In January, he also recorded his second album for Verve, called "Good Pickins," where he was joined by Bill Holman, Pete Jolly, Red Mitchell and Stan Levey.

That same year. Roberts moved into the TV and motion picture field. By then, his friend and mentor Jack Marshall was set to score the classic TV series "The Deputy," starring Henry Fonda, Searching for an artist who, on the spot, could improvise jazz-guitar against more traditional orchestrations, he thought of Roberts and offered him the job. He quickly became a first-call session player who would eventually, and later routinely, log more than 900 sessions per year.

Still, not content with settling down in the Hollywood studios — in a kind of prosperous obscurity — he kept very active in the jazz scene, playing concerts and recording. He signed a new record deal as a leader with Capitol Records, and released an excellent and eclectic series of albums for the label during the 60s.

Roberts, like many of the Hollywood studio musicians, grew up playing jazz. Many of them made solid professional reputations as jazzmen before succumbing to the lure of the lucrative livelihood that was certainly not to be found in playing only jazz for a living. Yet most continued to kid themselves that they hadn't lost their jazz touch. Some played jazz clubs whenever available. That was the case of Roberts, one of the most capable jazz guitarists.

Roberts was a skilled guitarist with a fondness for direct and unencumbered jazz playing. His tone is bright and penetrating but never twangy. A fine technician, he was able to execute difficult passages cleanly and forcefully. He forged a sound of his own, fiery and hard-swinging, creative and unpretentious.

In 1970 Howard became more deeply involved with groundbreaking educational programs, and wrote an innovative series of instruction books, as well as organized seminars. That was a rewarding labor that he continued to develop until his death on June 29, 1992, at the age of 62.”
—Jordi Pujol

Monday, March 25, 2019

Hoagy Sings Carmichael With The Pacific Jazzmen

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

Hoagy Sings Carmichael With The Pacific Jazzmen [Pacific Jazz CD 0777 7 46862 2 8] has sat in my collection for a long time, but I never knew its origins until I read the following in Richard M. Sudhalter’s Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael [Oxford/2002].

Sadly, like Bing Crosby, Hoagy Carmichael and the impact he had on American popular music, especially during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, is pretty much lost to 21st century music listeners.

But if you do have an interest in the life and music of Hoagy Carmichael, as his son, Hoagy Bix Carmichael states on the book’s dust jacket: “There’s nobody on the face of this musical earth better suited to write a book about my father than Dick Sudhalter. And as expected, he has done a wonderful job.”

“Toward the end of 1956, Hoagy’s Decca recording contract, in force since 1938, finally expired. …

However inauspicious a way it might have been to end so long and fruitful an association, it also formed a prelude to one of Hoagy Carmichael's finest moments on record. Richard Bock, owner of World Pacific Records, had been a fan for years; now, with Hoagy free of record-company commitment, nothing prevented him from recording the songwriter in a new and challenging setting.

New Yorker Johnny Mandel had done his band business apprenticeship toying trombone with, and arranging for, Jimmy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw's short-lived 1949 bebop band, and — perhaps most telling of all — Count Basie. He'd worked as a radio staff arranger in New York, studied at Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, contributed scores to NBC television's Your Show of Shows, arranged an album for singer Dick Haymes.[Mandel’s career as a composer of many beautiful songs including Emily, Close Enough for Love, The Shadow of Your Smile, et al was yet to come].

Bock's idea was simple: feature Carmichael singing his own songs, backed not by slick studio bands, tack-in-hammer pianos, or warbling vocal trios, but by a tightly knit group of ranking modern jazzmen, playing carefully textured and swinging arrangements.

"We went out to visit him," said Mandel. "Forget now whether it was in Hollywood or Palm Springs. Found him there behind the bar, mixing drinks; really hospitable and gracious. We just got right to talking. He had pretty clear ideas of what he wanted to do, and what he didn't want to do. He realized he wasn't a straight ballad singer, didn't want to do things like 'One Morning in May,' that had all sorts of sustained notes and big intervals. He didn't try to sing 'I Get Along Without You Very Well,' for instance. But he could always do the character-type ballads, like 'Baltimore Oriole,' 'Georgia,' and the rest."

Mandel, in the process of winning respect as a master songwriter in his own right, chuckled at the memory of those first "brainstorming" sessions. "Hoagy hated bebop ... I remember he came to hear Woody's band when it was really hot, and said something like, 'Aw, give me an old bass horn any time.' He meant it, too.

"When I was with Basie, around 1953 or so, we came to town and Hoagy was there — he was doing this TV show, Saturday Night Revue. He just kinda walked around thinking, with his tongue in his cheek, looking kinda glum, and I took him for just a kind of moody guy. Also, some of the guys on the band had told me he was a real far-right Hoosier-type Republican, kind of an Indiana cracker. Johnny [Mercer] was a bit like that too, I guess-though I never saw it in either of them."

Hoagy Sings Carmichael was recorded at three sessions, September 10,11, and 13, 1956 — with a band full of outstanding jazzmen: trumpeter Don Fagerquist had been in Les Brown's brass section for the 1955 "Hong Kong Blues" date; Harry "Sweets" Edison was an honored Basie veteran, then enjoying a career renaissance through his muted obbligato work on the arrangements Nelson Riddle was using to showcase Frank Sinatra; Jimmy Zito, another Brown alumnus, had ghosted the "Art Hazard" solos for Young Man With a Horn.

Alto saxophonist Art Pepper was new to Hoagy, as were pianist Jimmy

lowles and drummer Irv Cottler. An old Carmichael friend, Nick Fatool, replaced Cottier on drums for the third session. Said Mandel: "I spotted his vocals wherever I thought they'd be most effective, stuck 'em in the middles, usually. Remember, I didn't have a big band there — rather, a small band trying to sound big. So voicings were important.

"As a singer? He was a natural. Knew what to keep and what to throw away. Didn't try to be a capital-S singer: more often he approached the songs conversationally, like an actor, like Walter Huston doing 'September Song.' And you know, those are really the most effective readings for those sorts of things, rather than somebody doing something with a straight baritone. You never knew beforehand how he was gonna sing something: when be was going to talk it, where he was gonna leave spaces."

He not only leaves spaces, but on several songs confines his vocals to a decidedly secondary role, giving the major melody expositions to the band. Again and again, his vocals strike the ear as measured, thoughtful, Carmichael taking his time, never pushing his vocal resources beyond their limits, He opens "Two Sleepy People" with only Al Hendrickson's unamplified guitar; carries "Rockin’ Chair" away from its familiar role as a piece of quasi-vaudeville material and returns it to its origins as an end-of-life valedictory, with Rowles, on celeste, underscoring its reflective, pastoral quality.

Art Pepper gets most of the solo space and is particularly distinctive on "Ballad in Blue" — incredibly, the song's first vocal treatment on record since its publication twenty-two years before. "Two Sleepy People" teams him with a cup-muted Fagerquist for a closely intertwined duet, distantly echoing the long-ago "chase" choruses of Bix and Frank Trumbauer.

But the saxophonist's — and perhaps the album's — most stirring moment belongs to "Winter Moon," newly published at the time, with one of Harold Adamson's most affecting lyrics. Pepper establishes the melody, a heartfelt cry in icy emptiness:

Where is love's magic?
Where did it go?
Is it gone like the summertime.
That we used to know?
(The song remained in his mind. Twenty-two years later, his life shattered by heroin addiction and a decade in prison, Pepper recorded it again.
Though cushioned by strings and rhythm, it is a performance of almost unbearable intensity, glowing in a clear, glacial light, hypnotic, agonized.)

The line of descent from "Ballad in Blue" to "Winter Moon" is clear. The desolation of love lost shadows both lyrics, casting both melodies in minor-mode darkness. But unlike its predecessor, "Winter Moon" allows no ray of light to penetrate its interior. Melodically and harmonically sophisticated, emotionally complex, it is a work of its composer's maturity, a regretful backward look at a brighter past, "a kind of art song," in singer Barbara Lea's words. "Not at all what you'd think of as 'typical' Hoagy Carmichael except in its air of longing, something once had and now lost."'

Mandel concluded Hoagy Sings Carmichael with a swinger, a Basle-inflected recasting of "Lazy River" with a sassy, strutting trumpet solo by Sweets Edison. Again, Hoagy rises to the task. "You could tell from that, especially, that he would have been a great jazz musician," the arranger said. "In singing 'Lazy River,' he ... didn't try to sing the line exactly, [because] he realized what would fit his range and vocal quality, especially at that tempo. He was very smart about that, [and] his approach was very jazzy."

George Frazier's sleeve essay spoke for all concerned in declaring that

“...it strikes me as enormously reassuring that an individual who in bygone years made music with men of approximately his own age, background and attitude should be sufficiently uninstitutional to record with a group of musicians (with one exception) so lately undiapered that some of them had not yet been born when Star Dust was becoming the theme song of a whole era. To me, the results of this collaboration sound absolutely marvelous.''

Here are the rest of George Frazier’s excellent sleeve notes with the above excerpt placed in the larger context of his essay on the album.

The trouble with most institutions is that they're too institutional. In their resolute resistance to change, their anachronistic aversion to progress, and their almost insular insistence upon continuing, so to speak, to stock high-button shoes, they permit themselves to become period pieces — often, to be sure, redolently recherche du temps perdu period pieces, but, nevertheless and notwithstanding, almost always very, very aging ones as well. Providentially, no such indictment can be brought against Hoagland (Hoagy) Carmichael, who, institution though he he, has neither a closed mind nor, rather more pertinently, a closed ear.

At any rate, here, in Hoagy Sings Carmichael, a man approaching the ordinarily stodgy, look-before-you-leap age of 58, a man whose earliest musical inspiration was the silvery explosiveness of Bix Beiderbecke's cornet; whose "Lazy Bones" was a delight as long ago as the summer dusks of the '30s, when, with the waters slapping against the shores of the Glen Island Casino, the Casa Loma (ave atque vale) used to play it, as the radio announcer so quaintly phrased it,"for your dancing pleasure"; and whose "Riverboat Shuffle" remains, after all these fickle years, the rousing anthem of the chowder and marching societies that gather nightly in unsolemn conclave in such Dixieland mosques as Jazz, Ltd. in Chicago and Eddie Condon's Sign of the Pork Chop in New York — here, in Hoagy Sings Carmichael this man, or, if you will, this institution, this tradition, this living legend — joins with some of the more explorative spirits in contemporary jazz to achieve fresh interpretations of a batch of his most appealing compositions.

I do not think it either maudlin or churlish to say that Carmichael — his croaky voice, casual manner, diminutive, wizened figure, and bulging songbag — is somehow part of all of us who love worthwhile popular music — the way, for instance, that Tommy Dorsey was, part of us, which is to say that when Tommy died, the part of us that had responded to his "Marie, Song of India," "I'll Never Smile Again," and all those other untarnished treasures died a little too. Carmichael, who was horn in Bloomington. Indiana, on November 22, 1899, has been part of us for quite a while.

Although he spent considerable extracurricular time playing piano with school and college bands. Carmichael would probably have become a practicing attorney (an occupation for which he prepared himself at Indiana University) had it not been for the fact that the Wolverines, a group he admired prodigiously, dazzled him by recording his first composition. "Riverboat Shuffle," for the Gennett label. Subsequently, when the Paul Whiteman Victor of his "Washboard Blues" sold far beyond his most youthfully intemperate expectations, he made up his mind to become a full-time songwriter. It was a salutary decision, for since then he has composed the music to such memorabilia as "Stardust," "Lazy Bones," "Georgia on My Mind," "Rockin' Chair," "One Morning in May," "Snowball,""Lazy River,""Small Fry," "In the Still of the Night," "Judy," "Two Sleepy People," "Skylark," "The Nearness of You," "Old Buttermilk Sky," "Doctor, lawyer, Indian Chief,""Ivy," "Memphis in June,""Blue Orchids,""Hong Kong Blues," "I Get Along Without You Very Well," "New Orleans," "Baltimore Oriole," "Winter Moon" and "Ballad In Blue." As if that were not enough, though, he has managed to bolster his reputation by being a fairly ubiquitous (and almost invariably engaging) performer, not only on radio, television and phonograph records, but also in such motion pictures as Young Man with a Horn, Canyon Passage. The Best Years of Our Lives, Johnny Angel and To Have and Have Not (in which, by the way, he miraculously succeeded in lending individuality to a role almost infringingly in direct apostolic succession to Dooley Wilson's Sam in Casablanca).

Everything considered, it strikes me as enormously reassuring that an individual who in bygone years made records with men of approximately his own age, background and attitude should be sufficiently uninstitutional to record with a group of musicians (with one exception) so lately undiapered that several of them had not yet been born when "Stardust "was becoming the theme song of a whole era. To me, the results of this collaboration sound absolutely marvelous. How they will sound to Hugues Panassie*, however, may be rather a different story. [*Panassie was a French Jazz musician/critic who basically had little use for modern Jazz.]

I wonder what Hugues Panassie's reaction will be to the lovely, understated instrumental stuff behind and between Carmichael's singing — to Art Pepper's alto saxophone, Don Fagerquist's trumpet. Jimmy Rowles's piano, Harry Klee's flute and Johnny Mandel's arrangements. (I omit mention of Harry Edison, one of the chief participants, because once upon a time he played with Count Basie and I would therefore imagine he could be faulted by Panassie only on the grounds of the company he keeps in this album.) I hasten to state that this is no gratuitous crack, which is why I should probably explain that I was a Panassie man even before Bullets Durgom was a band-boy and just about the time that Le Poivre Martin was running the bases like no other wild horse of the Osage in history. As a matter of fact, if memory serves me, it was in 1931 that the monsieur himself persuaded me to abandon the Harvard backfield and become a regular contributor to a wilful little French periodical called Jazz-Tango-Dancing could not have cared less whether the hell I punted on third clown or not. As its guiding light, its father confessor, its raison d'etre really, M. Panassie was simply superb — sensitive, informed, communicative, dedicated, stimulating, and, above all, not the slightest bit tactful. Indeed, in those headstrong years, he was, I think, as provocative and, more often than not, as competent a jazz critic as has ever raised his voice in a Down Beat poll. And as time went by and his book, Le Jazz Hot (literal translation: Le Jazz Chaud), was published in this country and (without any connection whatsoever) people started shagging shamelessly in the aisles of a movie cathedral in Times Square, he — M. Panassie, naturellement! — became an institution. That was all to the good, and, God wot, it still would be if only he had not allowed himself to become so damned institutional! I think somebody should inform mon capitaine that we employ the T-formation these enlightened days.

A week or so ago I received a copy (complimentary!) of a hook called Guide to Jazz ("Valuable information," says the jacket blurb, "on every aspect of jazz, by Hugues Panassie. author of Le Jazz Hot, and Madeleine Gautier.") Inasmuch as I was soon to commence setting down these observations, I thought I'd better have a look at what Papa Panassie had to report about Art Pepper, Johnny Mandel, Jimmy Rowles. Harry Klee and Don Fagerquist. As it turned out, my old squadron leader seems never to have heard of them. At any rate, their names do not appear in Guide to Jazz or, as the expression goes, Sonny Tufts! I do not mind saying that I find this appalling. There is, of course, line upon line about the likes of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, which is as it should be, for the Ellington band, after all, is as incandescent as they come and Louis is a perpetual pure blue flame and, to my ears, no jazz record of the past decade was any more exciting and enduring than his "Mack the Knife." Still and all, though, a guide — a truly eclectic and informative guide — should be mindful of the fact that any art form progresses and that, as it does, it breeds bright new voices. I think that Panassie should realize, at infuriatingly long last, that many of the new, even the experimental, forms are now being absorbed into the mainstream of jazz and that Gerry Mulligan and Pee Wee Russell have more to say to each other than he, Panassie, would like to believe. In any event, it is true that the progressives — the moderns, the cool ones, or what you will — have modified their radicalism and, in doing so, grown close to the basic jazz. In the course of this, they have broadened, enriched and revitalized an art form that, like any other, cannot endure by remaining stagnant, by sitting back and preserving the status quo.
Hoagy Sings Carmichael, which utilizes eleven musicians and Carmichael, was recorded in Los Angeles at the Forum Theatre, a large legitimate house with excellent acoustics. Carmichael feels that the background in the modern idiom — the fresh instrumental voices and the imaginative Mandel arrangements — stimulated him to sing differently and perhaps better than ever before. The highly contemporary accompaniment, he says, made him feel younger, a fact that I think will be immediately obvious to anyone acquainted with his records of other years. I also think that it is equally obvious that he might have done much to inspire the boys in the band, as the saying goes.

There is great, great beauty and talent in this album. For one thing, the Mandel arrangements are marvels of unobtrusiveness designed to highlight the singing. Indeed, subtle is the word for the whole enterprise. Although I dislike programmatic album notes — notes, that is, that inform you, rather patronizingly, what you should like, and so forth — I'm afraid that I cannot resist a few observations along such lines. One is that Art Pepper, who has been away from music for much too long a time, is simply superlative, with bite to his attack, body to his tone and a disciplined architecture to his improvisation. He is, mon capitaine Panassie notwithstanding, a great alto saxophonist. As for Harry Edison, well, there has never been a time when his playing failed to move me deeply. But the other trumpeter, Don Fagerquist, who takes solos in "Skylark," "Winter Moon," "Rocking' Chair" and "Ballad In Blue," was new to me. I think he's simply fine. And so, for that matter, is Jimmy Rowles, who plays so sensitively in, among other things, "Two Sleepy People."

But enough of this sort of thing. I'm beginning to sound as dogmatic as Pappa Panassie.”
— George Frazier
Original liner notes

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Elmo Hope: A Jazz Composer Of Significance

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

“… Hope had a strong gift for melody, enunciating themes very clearly, and was comfortable enough with classical music to introduce elements of fugue and cannon [in his compositions], though always with a firm blues underpinning.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.:

“… [Elmo]Hope … received far more recognition posthumously than during his abbreviated career. … [He] was dead before his mid-forties, leaving behind only a handful of recordings to testify to .. his potent re-workings of the jazz tradition. … Hope's visionary style came to the fore on recordings made, both as a leader and sideman, in New York during the mid-1950s, but the revocation of his cabaret card due to drug problems limited his ability to build on these accomplishments. After relocating to California, Hope undertook sessions under his own name, as well as contributed greatly to the success of Harold Land's classic recording The Fox. Like Monk, Hope found his music branded as ‘difficult,’ and few listeners seemed willing to make the effort to probe its rich implications. He continued to work and record sporadically after his return to New York in the early 1961 until his death six years later, but never gained a following commensu­rate with the virtues of his steely and multifaceted music.”
- Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz [p. 248, paraphrased]

If you are a fan of the music of Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, and Benny Golson, then the music of Elmo Hope will also strongly appeal to you.

Frustratingly, however, as Ted Gioia states in the opening remarks to this piece, few people know anything about Elmo’s music, for the reasons he explains and because his recorded legacy was poorly treated for many years following his death in 1967 at the age of forty-four.

Thankfully, a number of CD and Mp3 reissues by Orrin Keepnews [Riverside and Milestone Records], Michael Cuscuna [EMI/Blue Note] and Jordi Pujol [Fresh Sound] have helped to make the music of this skillful composer available for wider dissemination.

Hope’s career was the subject of the following, brilliant recapitulation by J.R. Taylor, the former curator/director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University who was later to become a principal at the Smithsonian Institution Jazz Program.

© -J.R. Taylor, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Despite performing and composing talents that draw painfully near to the first rank of jazz, pianist Elmo Hope seems destined to remain virtually unknown.

He was born in New York of West Indian par­ents on June 27, 1923, and fully named St. Elmo Sylvester Hope, after the patron saint of sailors. Growing up in Harlem, he studied piano from his seventh year, and by 1938 he was winning solo recital contests. Even in the face of the over­whelming contemporary prejudice against blacks, he might have tried for a career as a "classical" performer, but other forces were already drawing him in a different direction. By now his circle of friends included two other young pianists who would wholly alter the course of their instrument in the next decade-Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. The three were often together in those years, their chords and lines rubbing off of one another in informal cutting/learning sessions. Bob Bunyan, another pianist-associate from this period, recalled "Bud had the powerful attack, and Elmo got into some intricate harmonies." Thirty-five years after the fact, we can hardly say who influenced whom among these rising talents, but in light of his later work it seems reasonable to con­clude that Hope contributed his share to the emer­ging modern piano style.

By the mid-1940s, Monk and Powell were beginning to establish themselves at the center of the jazz scene with Coleman Hawkins, Cootie Williams, John Kirby, Dizzy Gillespie, and other major leaders; later they would move on to jobs of their own.

But Hope remained on the fringe, away from the pinspot illumination of 52nd Street, working the dance halls and clubs of the Bronx, Coney Island, and Greenwich Village with such as Leo "Snub" Mosley, a capable trombonist who had taken to doubling on a bizarre hybrid instrument, the slide saxophone. Later still, his contemporaries stayed around New York, recording and building up their reputations; but Hope spent a great deal of time on the road, often with the rhythm and blues band of ex-Lionel Hampton trumpeter Joe Morris, or with singer Etta Jones. Though the musical fare of these groups was surely not what Hope would have chosen for himself, his 1948-51 Morris band-mates were stylistically sympathetic, and many of them—saxophonist Johnny Griffin (another ex-Hamptonite), Percy Heath, Philly Joe Jones-remained friends and associates throughout his life.

In June of 1953, Hope got his first important recorded exposure on a Lou Donaldson date for Blue Note. He was somewhat overshadowed, how­ever, by the presence of another newcomer-trumpeter Clifford Brown. A string of records fol­lowed in the next three years. There was another Donaldson date for Blue Note, and two ten-inch LPs for the same label under the pianist's own name. Prestige followed suit, recording Hope as the leader of a trio (still available, as The Elmo Hope Memorial Album, Prestige 7675), and as co-leader (with Frank Foster) of a quartet-quintet date. There were also sideman appearances with Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean. And there was the all-star date presented here.

None of this helped Hope to advance beyond the level of a capable sideman, scuffling from one job to the next. He seemed to be overshadowed at every turn. Reviews fairly observed that he sounded rather like Bud Powell—and in the mid-1950s there was no lack of pianists who resembled Powell to some degree.

Then, too, he had the inconvenient habit of recording with young musicians who were first hitting their strides, and thus were apt to outshine him in reviewers' eyes. This is emphasized in past reissues of the first of the enclosed albums. It originally and briefly appeared under Hope's name as Informal Jazz, but subsequent issues were en­titled Two Tenors, stressing the presence of John Coltrane and Hank Mobley.

By 1957, record companies were losing interest in him and opportunities for live performance in New York were severely limited. Specifically, at that time a performer with a felony conviction was unable to obtain a New York City "cabaret card," a necessary police authorization to work in clubs that sold alcoholic beverages. So Hope must have been glad to accept trumpeter Chet Baker's offer of a road tour. When they reached Los Angeles, he decided to remain. The southern California climate eased his persistent upper respiratory infections, and the easier pace of California living may have seemed refreshing after years of New York's hustle to survive.

But if Hope thought to establish himself as a bandleader or composer in Los Angeles he missed his guess. He got a foothold in the group of musi­cians around tenor saxophonist Harold Land-drummers Frank Butler and Lawrence Marable; bassists Curtis Counce, Jimmy Bond, Red Mitchell, and Herbie Lewis; trumpeters Dupree Bolton, Stu Williamson, and Rolf Ericsson. But the late 1950s was a bad time for jazz in Los Angeles, with few clubs open to uncompromising groups, particularly if they were local and predominantly black. Hope was developing rapidly as a composer, and it was painful for him to lack a regularly performing group that was familiar with his work. His only extensive interview (with John Tynan, printed in Down Beat, January 5, 1961) reflected this deep frustration: "The fellas out here need to do a little exploring. They should delve more into creativity instead of playing the same old blues, the same old funk, over and over again. . . . There's not enough piano players taking care of business. . . . Matter of fact, after Thelonious and Bud-and I came up with those cats over 15, 16 years ago-I haven't heard a damn thing happening. Everybody now is on that Les McCann kick. And he's getting his action from Red Garland. I'm not lying. ... If any of them who read this think I'm jiving, let 'em look me up and I'll put some music on 'em. Then we'll see who's shuckin'."

Despite these acerbic remarks—particularly blunt in light of the typical musician's tendency to over­praise colleagues—Hope is remembered by Los Angeles associates as a warm friend, generous with encouragement and musical knowledge, and pos­sessed of a warm sense of humor that only dis­appeared completely when the time came to rehearse and perform his music. Nor was his Cali­fornia period entirely without its satisfactions. In 1959, he met his wife-to-be. Bertha, a professional pianist of several years standing who was trying to learn some of his compositions. They were married soon after; and Monique, first of their three child­ren, was born the next year. There were also recordings: several tracks that cropped up on World Pacific samplers; a Curtis Counce date for Dootone; and two records produced for HiFiJazz by David Axelrod (now an active composer, ar­ranger, and producer)—a quintet date led by Land, and a trio session.

The HiFiJazz albums made Hope's critical repu­tation, but otherwise had little effect on his diffi­cult situation. During a 1960 trip to California, Riverside producer Orrin Keepnews had expressed interest in recording the pianist; he was mildly nonplussed when Hope unexpectedly returned to New York in the following year, but the second of the two albums in this package resulted, as did a Riverside album that combined solo piano with some duets between Hope and his wife. In the same year, there were also a couple of trio albums for the obscure but related Celebrity and Beacon labels. But after this initial surge of activity, New York gave few new opportunities to Hope. There was some work with Johnny Griffin, but the pianist was still legally restricted from fully follow­ing his trade. He compensated by selling some of his compositions as arrangements to various estab­lished groups, and by doing some outright commer­cial arranging. In 1963, he had his final chances to record, on sextet and trio albums for Audio-Fidelity. The sextet album, Jazz from Riker's Island, traded heavily on its assertion that most of its musicians had past narcotics problems. The pro­ducer of that session delivered himself at length in his liner notes on such problems, observing that some musicians "become easier victims because of the places where they're forced to make a living— and they don't even make a good living." This same producer also awarded himself co-copyright of the six Hope compositions on the album-presumably with an eye toward bettering the pianist's living.

By 1966, Hope's health had slipped badly, and he was rarely able to perform. Late in April 1967, he entered a hospital for treatment of pneumonia. Three weeks later, he seemed on the way to recovery, and his release was planned. But his heart stopped without warning on the 19th of May. …”

You can checkout Elmo's composition So Nice on the following video as performed by the Curtis Counce Group with Rolf Ericsson [tp], Harold Land, [ts], Elmo [p], Curtis [b] and Frank Butler [d].