Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Ed Bickert & Lorne Lofsky Estate

Ed Bickert and Lorne Lofsky Ah-Leu-Cha [From the Archives]

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

“I first heard Ed Bickert on a record with Paul Desmond and I immediately thought, ‘Wow! Who’s is that? It was such great harmonic playing.’”
- Lorne Lofsky, Jazz guitarist

“Edward Isaac Bickert in never one to blow his own horn – figuratively – he is one of the most modest and unassuming men in Jazz. But literally – he blows up a storm ….”
- Frank Rutter, The Vancouver Sun

“Bickert’s self effacing style masks a keen intelligence. His deceptively soft tone is the front for a shrewd, unexpectedly attacking style that treats bebop tempos with the same equanimity as a swing-styled ballad.”
-Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Lorne Lofsky is a talented cool-toned guitarist in the tradition of Jimmy Raney and his fellow Canadian Ed Bickert ….”
- Scott Yanow,

I have no idea why, but Charlie Parker’s Ah-Leu-Cha has always been among my favorite Bebop compositions.

With its theme stated as a staggered interaction between the two horns – what might be considered as countermelody phrasing – the tune is as much fun to play on as it is to listen to.

It’s a tune that is only rarely heard and not often recorded. lists 89 versions of Ah-Leu-Cha many of which are alternate versions by Charlie “Bird” Parker and Miles Davis, who was a member of Bird’s group in 1948 when the tune was first recorded.

Jack Chambers, in his seminal work, Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis [NY: William Morrow, 1983/85] explains that Ah-Leu-Cha was included as one of four tunes recorded in October 1955 when the Miles Davis Quintet consisting of Miles, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones made their recording debut for Columbia Records.

Jack goes on to explain:

“Ah-Leu-Cha is Parker's tune, recorded by Davis and Parker in the last days of the original Parker quintet, in 1948; it had hardly been played at all since then by anyone, and Davis seems to have removed it from his quintet's repertoire after the first few months. It deserved a better fate, probably, because it is an affecting up-tempo melody based on a counterpoint chase by the two horns. On this version, Philly Joe Jones plays the melody at the bridge, and Davis solos coolly while the rhythm blasts around him.” [p. 224]

The next time I heard Miles play Ah-Leu-Cha was on a recording that Columbia made in performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival with his famous sextet that included Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on alto sax, Coltrane on tenor, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.

Remarkably, this stellar group’s performance of Ah-Leu-Cha at the 1958 NJF was a disappointment mainly because Miles counted it out at a ridiculously fast tempo that made a hash of the intrinsic qualities of the tune.

As Jack Chambers describes it: “The sextet’s performance is substandard. Davis’ most conspicuous contribution comes in tapping out overzealous tempos on all tunes, including a breakneck tempo on Ah-Leu-Cha that reduces the ensemble to shambles.” [p. 288]

Miles would make a habit of such “overzealous tempos;” witness what he did over the years with the tempos he counted out to So What, first heard with a slow, lopping beat on the classic Kind of Blue album.

Ah-Leu-Cha needs room to breath. Although it is structured around a basic, 32-bar AABA format, with the “A’s” based on the changes to Honeysuckle Rose and the “B” using I Got Rhythm changes, the counterpoint manner in which the melody is fashioned has to have room for the countermelodies to be expressed.

Over the years, I heard a few other versions of Ah-Leu-Cha, most notably one which has Art Farmer on trumpet on Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi’s Isis CD, but I pretty much left the tune alone after Miles trashed it at the 1958 NJF.

Much to my delight, I recently rediscovered its allure while revisiting Ed Bickert’s playing of it with fellow guitarist Lorne Lofsky on their This is New Concord Jazz CD [4414] with Neil Swainson on bass and Jerry Fuller on drums.

Ed and Lorne play Ah-Leu-Cha at a medium tempo that allows its intricacies to nicely come together while, at the same time, setting up a platform for some interesting improvisations on the tune’s familiar changes.

Have a listen and see what you think of Ah-Leu-Cha as I’ve included Ed and Lorne’s interpretation of this all-too-infrequently heard bebop tune as the audio track on the following video [Ed takes the first solo each time around].

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Tommy Dorsey - I'm Getting Sentimental Over You

Big Band Bonanza – The Way We Were

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

It would be unfair to say that Jazz today is bereft of big bands.

They abound, it seems, on every college campus that offers a Jazz education program and in a number of European venues, as well [including – as shared here in a previous JazzProfiles feature – the island of Sardinia!].

But there was a time when big bands were the source for most popular music in the United States, Great Britain and much of its Commonwealth and the more cosmopolitan cities in Europe.

The predominance of this big band era is described in the following excerpt from the venerable Jazz author Gene Lees’ chapter on the formation of “… the first true Woody Herman band” in his Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman [Oxford].

© -Gene Lees/Oxford University Press, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The Swing Era cannot be dated precisely, since its roots go back to the Paul Whiteman band in the 1920s. It is generally considered to have lasted from the time of Benny Goodman's first big success in 1935 through to the late 1940s, a little more than ten years. Before Goodman, however, there were the Casa Loma orchestra, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, the Dorsey Brothers orchestra, and the bands of Duke Ellington, Bennie Moten, Jimmie Lunceford, Cab Galloway, and Fletcher Henderson. But Goodman set a national fashion, lofting the fortunes of those whose bands had existed before his was born, excepting that of Fletcher Henderson, who failed as a leader and became Goodman's most valuable arranger. Soon the booking agencies, slow at first to recognize the trend, were signing up seemingly anyone who could front a band that purported to "swing.' Three sidemen from the Goodman band alone became successful bandleaders, vibraharpist-drummer Lionel Hampton, drummer Gene Krupa, and trumpeter Harry James. Trumpeter Sonny Dunham left the Casa Loma orchestra to form his own band.

Eventually there were scores of these bands making records, playing on radio, and touring North America, among them those of Georgie Auld, Charlie Barnet, Count Basie, Will Bradley, Les Brown, Benny Carter, Bob Chester, Larry Clinton, Bob Crosby, Sam Donahue, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Jan Garber, Glen Gray, Erskine Hawkins, Earl Hines, Hal Kemp, Stan Kenton, Ray McKinley, Lucky Millinder, Teddy Powell, Boyd Raeburn, Alvino Rey, Jan Savitt, Artie Shaw, Bobby Sherwood, Claude Thornhill,

Jerry Wald, and Chick Webb, all of which were of what we might call the jazz persuasion and featured excellent soloists. Then there were what the hip (in those days hep) fans called the "sweet" bands, despised by the jazz fans as "corny," a term reputedly coined by Bix Beiderbecke to suggest the back­ward and bucolic. These included Blue Barron, Gray Gordon, Eddy Duchin, Shep Fields, Freddy Martin, Vaughn Monroe, Dick Stabile, Tommy Tucker, Horace Heidt, Richard Himber, Art Kassel, Wayne King, Johnny Long, and Lawrence Welk.

Guy Lombardo repeatedly won the Down Beat readers' poll in the King of Corn category. This was a little unfair. What the Lombardo orchestra was until its leader's death was a museum piece, an unaltered 1920s tuba-bass dance band, quite good at what it did and admired by such unlikely persons as Louis Armstrong and Gerry Mulligan. Usually included in the corn category were the orchestras of Kay Kyser, Sammy Kaye, and Ozzie Nelson, though all three were capable of playing creditable big-band jazz, and the Nelson orchestra was a very good band, again one that Mulligan admires. Trombonist Russ Morgan led what was considered one of the corny bands, and few fans realized he had been a pioneering jazz arranger.

The "big-band era," probably a better term than "swing era," since a lot of successful bands not only didn't swing but didn't even aspire to, reached its peak during World War II, despite the problems bandleaders had in finding personnel when so many young musicians were in military service. As we have noted, the fortunes of the bandleaders and their sidemen and singers were followed avidly in Down Beat and Metronome, but even the lay press got into it when the sequential polygamy of Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet made news, along with the marriages of Harry James to actress Betty Grable and of Woody's old friend Phil Harris to Alice Faye. These bandleaders were not only treated as movie stars, but sometimes were movie stars—Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Harry James, and Woody among them—appearing in feature films. Almost all of them were at least in short subjects. In some cases, the movies were about the band business, including Second Chorus, in which Shaw uncomfortably portrayed a bandleader named Artie Shaw, and Orchestra Wives, in which the Miller band was prominently featured.

The jazz bands were substantially supported by dedicated young dancers referred to condescendingly if not contemptuously as jitterbugs. Shaw, whose aspirations to high culture were never disguised, particularly de­spised them, and said so publicly. Newsreels of the period—the movie theaters each week featured short news films, precursors of television news broadcasts—from time to time would show the gyrations of the participants in dance contests. There was a patronizing tone about these observations, particularly when they showed black dancers in Harlem, as if the camera and commentator were examining the rites of a primitive tribe. The inference was inescapable. But the best of these dancers were remark­able, and their athleticism—the men spinning the women at arm's length, throwing them into the air and catching them or slinging them under their legs and over their shoulders, the gyrations wild but controlled—was imag­inative and skilled. Combining elements of gymnastics and ballet, this kind of dance was also risky, and we can only imagine how many sprained shoulders and broken ankles were suffered when dancers botched some of their most hazardous maneuvers. Today only a handful of trained profes­sional dancers can do what seemingly half the adolescent populace of North America did as a matter of course in the 1940s. …

Nostalgic fans will tell you that the jazz connoisseurs crowded close to the bandstand to listen with enraptured concentration to the bands and their soloists, while the superficial admirers danced in the back of the ballroom, but the division was not that strict. Some fans alternated the two activities. Nor was the line clear between the "sweet" and the "swing" bands. All bands played for dancers, including those of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and Basie, who probably never gave a thought to whether jazz was an art form, was considered something of a genius for his anticipation of what dancers desired. Even some of the "sweet" bands allowed space for improvised solos. The Les Brown band, generally considered a dance band, featured intelligent and subtle arrangements by writers such as Ben Homer and Frank Comstock and some first-rate jazz soloists.

And so they traveled, platoons of musical gypsies, unpacking their in­struments and music stands and setting up camp in hotel ballrooms in the cities or in the open-air pavilions of small towns and lakeside and riverside amusement parks, even in armories, churches, and skating rinks, bringing evenings of glamour, romanticism, and excitement to audiences, and then packing up and piling into cars or buses at evening's end to travel the two-lane highways of America for yet another in a string of jobs. It must have been a lonely life, but I have never met a musician who regretted having lived it. These men were musical pioneers, as were a few women, like trumpeter Billie Rogers and the vibraharpist Marjorie Hyams, both of whom played in the Herman band.

Once upon a time it was doubted that track athletes would ever run a four-minute mile. Now it is so routine that one has to be able to do it even to qualify for some events. Thus it was with brass and saxophone playing in those dance bands. Trumpet and trombone players, particularly lead play­ers, were called on to play sustained difficult material and to keep it up for hours on end. No symphony woodwind players have ever been required to show the kind of endurance a jazz or dance band demands of saxophone players. This was exploratory music, and Tommy Dorsey, for one, altered the tessitura of trombone forever; now even some symphony players have that kind of technique. Louis Armstrong irreversibly altered trumpet play­ing, but many symphony players even now cannot do what Harry James, Dizzy Gillespie, and Maynard Ferguson established as norms for that in­strument. Symphony trumpet players are not called on to produce the sustained evening-long power of the great lead trumpet players such as the late Conrad Gozzo, or to play the high notes routinely called for by jazz arrangers, notes once considered off the top of the instrument. Harry James with Goodman pushed the instrument higher than it had been before.

The form of the orchestra by then had been defined. In later years some writers would add French horns—Claude Thornhill was the first to do this—and expect the saxophone players to double flutes or other wood­winds. But the basic form had been set, a classic musical unit, like the string quartet or the symphony orchestra, and Woody had built the Band That Plays the Blues up to that configuration as it entered its last days to create the first true Woody Herman big band.”

Monday, October 19, 2020

Dave Brubeck Trio spec. Guest Paul Desmond & Gerry Mulligan all the thi...

Woody Herman, Bruce Johnstone "Sunrise Lady"

A great arrangement and feature for Bruce Johnstone. Dennis Dotson and Birch Johnson on trumpet and trombone. And Jay Sollenberger on lead trumpet
3-1978 Woody Herman and The Herd/Meadowbrook Personnel (thanks to Gary Anderson, John Fedchock, Mike Brignola, Dennis Dotson) L-R: TPTS: Dennis Dotson, Bill Byrne, Jay Sollenberger, Nelson Hatt, Ross Konikoff - - BONES: Larry Farrell, Birch Johnson, Jim Daniels - - SAXES: Gary Anderson, Frank Tiberi, Joe Lovano, Bruce Johnstone - - P: Pat Coil, B: Marc Johnson, D: John Riley

I Wanna Blow / Benny Green and his Quintet

Bennie Green: An Appreciation by Gordon Jack [From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved

Gordon Jack “stopped by” the editorial offices of JazzProfiles recently and absolutely insisted that we take some time off from our efforts at maintaining the blog and generously offered this fine article about the late trombonist Bennie Green as a means of doing so.

Who were we to argue?

Gordon’s Bennie Green feature first appeared in the February 2013 issue of JazzJournal.

For order information, please go here.

© -Gordon Jack/JazzJournal, copyright protected; all rights reserved

“I first heard the distinctive sound of Bennie Green’s trombone around 1960 in Dobell’s jazz record shop in London’s Charing Cross Road. I was buying a copy of ‘Kind Of Blue’ when one of the assistants started playing ‘Walkin’ And Talkin’ – Green’s latest Blue Note release with Eddy Williams and Gildo Mahones. His velvet sound and relaxed delivery was infectious and totally different to the bebop masters of the day like J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Jimmy Cleveland and Frank Rosolino.

Bennie Green was born on April 16th. 1923 in Chicago and his family was a musical one. With his brother Elbert who later played tenor saxophone with Roy Eldridge he attended the famous DuSable High School whose musical director was the celebrated Walter Dyett. The list of famous musicians who studied with Dyett is a long one but includes Gene Ammons, Julian Priester, Wilbur Ware, Dinah Washington, Johnny Griffin, Richard Davis and Nat Cole who once said, “We learnt everything there – jazz, gospel and classical music from Bach to Rachmaninov.”  In these early formative years Bennie’s acknowledged influences were Trummy Young, Lawrence Brown, J.C.Higginbotham, Tommy Dorsey and Bobby Byrne. Much later of course J.J.Johnson was added to the mix.

Thanks to a recommendation from Budd Johnson, Bennie joined Earl Hines’s band in the summer of 1942 just as James Petrillo’s AFM announced a strike preventing union members from recording for major labels. This was a great pity because that particular edition of the band boasted Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Harris, Charlie Parker, Shadow Wilson and Sarah Vaughan among its members. ‘Bird’s Diary’ by Ken Vail shows a photograph of them at an Apollo Theatre engagement on the 23rd. April 1943. Sitting next to Bennie in the section is Gus Chappell and an ‘unknown’ trombone who I think might be Cliff Smalls who joined the band at the same time as Bennie on trombone and relief pianist.

Cliff Smalls was a man of many talents. He played piano on Earl Bostic’s huge 1951 hit, Flamingo and often accompanied Green during the fifties as well as working with singers like Brook Benton, Ella Fitzgerald and ‘Smokey’ Robinson. A fine example of his work in a trio setting with Oliver Jackson and Leonard Gaskin can be heard on Caravan BB 935 recorded in 1978.

Green became very friendly with Dizzy Gillespie often visiting him at the trumpeter’s house where Dizzy would accompany him on the piano. These sessions were invaluable insights into the new harmonic and rhythmic discoveries and Bennie later described them as “Going to school”. Drafted into the military he was discharged in 1946 and later that year he recorded with Charlie Ventura for the first time on a big band date playing Neal Hefti and Stanley Baum arrangements. Ventura whose big influence was Chu Berry is a somewhat forgotten figure now but he was a virtuoso on the tenor, baritone and bass saxophones.

Green returned to Hines again until 1948 when he joined the legendary Gene Ammons who had just had a big hit with Red Top which was his wife Mildred’s nickname. Ammons was so popular in his home-town of Chicago that he was playing three gigs a night there until the union stopped him – each one climaxing with his hit. (Red Top was memorably revisited by King Pleasure and Betty Carter in 1952 – OJC CD217-2.)

In the summer of 1948 Charlie Ventura invited Bennie to join the new group he was forming to be called ‘Bop For The People’. Roy Kral was responsible for many of the arrangements that cleverly blended the often wordless vocals of Jackie Cain and Kral himself with a front-line of Conte Candoli, ‘Boots’ Mussulli, Green and Ventura. With this high profile group making regular radio broadcasts and concert appearances Bennie’s reputation as a superior soloist was now established.

Drummer Ed Shaughnessy told me that he became very friendly with the trombonist who was his room-mate when they were on the road with Ventura. One of Bennie’s many delightful characteristics when playing a blues for instance was to remain on one note –often the tonic - for a chorus or more while maintaining interest with numerous and very subtle rhythmic variations. Ed found this particularly inspiring and he used to call him ‘Mr. Rhythm Trombone’. He also told me how upset he was when the group once stopped at an Ohio diner for some hamburgers. Bennie had to remain in one of the cars because of his colour – which he did without complaining. Ed said he was a “Lovely man”.

Ventura’s group was breaking attendance records at the Royal Roost and was voted the No.1 bebop group by the readers of Down Beat and Metronome magazines. They ultimately recorded no less than 61 titles (some on obscure labels) and their brilliant but quite outrageous interpretation of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles became something of a commercial success. The leader disbanded a few months after their famous Pasadena concert in May 1949 where they shared the bill with Erroll Garner, Jimmy Witherspoon and Roy Eldridge.

Later that year on the 24th. December Green was part of a ‘Stars Of Modern Jazz’ concert at Carnegie Hall compered by Symphony Sid with Sarah Vaughan and the Charlie Parker quintet as headliners. The show was broadcast by the Voice Of America and Bennie appeared with Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Serge Chaloff, Bud Powell, Curly Russell and Max Roach playing Move, Hot House and Ornithology. As far as I know this marked the only time the trombonist worked with Serge Chaloff.

In 1950 he recorded four titles with Gene Ammons and a seven piece group featuring Sonny Stitt on baritone who sounds pretty sensational on the instrument – such a pity he didn’t record on it more often. The date included an amusing band vocal on Who Put The Sleeping Pills In Rip Van Winkle’s Coffee? proving there should always be a place for humour in jazz. Bennie has a typically smooth chorus on what was originally titled Gravy and credited to the infamous Richard Carpenter although it was actually written by Jimmy Mundy. This has been confirmed by Junior Mance who worked a lot with Ammons and was staying at Mundy’s house when he wrote and arranged Gravy for the tenor-man. It became better known as Walkin’ when Miles Davis recorded it in 1954 with Carpenter still shown as the composer. Just to add to the confusion, Miles with Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane recorded his own Sid’s Ahead in 1958 which bears a strong resemblance to Gravy aka Walkin’.

Carpenter was a former accountant and writer James Gavin has pointed out that his speciality was persuading musicians to surrender the rights to their original compositions and record royalties. Sonny Stitt who was managed by him for a time (as was Jimmy Mundy) once said to Phil Urso, “Richard Carpenter’s a motherfucker – don’t go near that guy, he’ll burn you.”

In 1952 Bennie recorded four titles with strings demonstrating elements of Jack Teagarden especially in his immaculate control of the upper register on Embraceable You and Stardust.

In 1953 he recorded an extrovert, foot-tapping date for Decca with Cecil Payne and Frank Wess where they pulled out all the stops on a simple but very effective Blow Your Horn. It has elements of rhythm and blues with one of his favourite call and response devices and became quite a juke-box hit. Two years earlier in a session with Eddie Davis, ‘Big Nick’ Nicholas, Rudy Williams and Art Blakey he had explored similar ‘down home’ material on Tenor Sax Shuffle and Sugar Syrup which probably introduced him to a new audience but wasn’t as popular as Blow Your Horn. Rudy Williams who died a year later in a fishing boat accident and was better known for his alto and tenor work has some impressive baritone outings on Flowing River and Sugar Syrup. The success of Blow Your Horn allowed Bennie to start working and recording regularly with his own quintet performing a repertoire of standards, ballads and blues which appealed to both jazz and R’n’B fans.

One man who often played with him at this time was Billy Root who I met a few years ago in Las Vegas. Billy was one of the ‘House Tenors’ at the Blue Note in Philadelphia along with John Coltrane and Buddy Savitt. The owner Jackie Fields booked visiting stars like J.J Johnson, Roy Eldridge, Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham to play with the local rhythm section and one of the tenors which was cheaper than bringing them from New York with their own groups. Bennie Green was a guest in 1953 and he invited Billy to go to New York with him to play in a big band backing Ella Fitzgerald at the Apollo Theatre. The band included Ernie Royal, Thad Jones, Earle Warren, Charlie Rouse, Gene Ammons, Sahib Shihab, John Lewis, Paul Chambers and Osie Johnson and later they moved onto the Royal Theatre, Baltimore and the Howard Theatre, Washington D.C.

There is a picture of Bennie Green, Benny Harris, Charlie Rouse, Sahib Shihab and Gerry Mulligan with Charlie Parker at the Apollo Theatre Harlem in Chan Parker’s book, ‘To Bird With Love’. She gives no date for the performance but Ken Vail confirms the booking was for a 17-piece band accompanying Parker for one week commencing August 12th.1954.

Later that month J.J.Johnson recorded his first two-trombone album with Kai Winding for Savoy Records although Bennie had apparently been Jay Jay’s first choice. He was busy so after Eddie Bert also turned him down, Jay Jay turned to Winding to form a group that had a life long after the initial recording session. 1954 was the year Green came fifth in Down Beat’s annual poll for ‘Best Trombone’ achieving 16% of the vote, his highest ever placing. The winner was Bill Harris.

By now Billy Root had left and he had this to say about his time with the quintet – “Bennie was a peach of a fellow. He had a beautiful tone on the trombone and when I first went with him we had a nice relationship. He was very straight and we played real well together. His only problem was drugs. When we were in Buffalo the police came and checked everybody’s hotel room and of course they found what they were looking for in Bennie’s room so they arrested him. His wife who was a lovely woman was also an addict. He got more and more strung out, missing rehearsals and getting nasty which was not like him at all. I couldn’t stand seeing this nice man get so messed up so I left. He had a booking in Cincinnati which was when I told him I wouldn’t go because he was destroying himself.”

The following year in 1955 he recorded ‘Bennie Green Blows His Horn’ with Charlie Rouse together with the redoubtable Cliff Smalls and Candido in the rhythm section. Rouse sounds far more energised than he sometimes did later with Monk and the CD features one of the best recorded versions of Laura with a gem of a contribution from the pianist.

He recorded ‘Walking Down’ with Eric Dixon in June 1956 but there is an unexplained gap in his activities during 1957. Writer and broadcaster Bob Porter has said, “He was off the scene” at that time which would seem to be confirmed by his next album in March 1958 titled - ‘Back On The Scene’. With Leonard Feather’s sleeve-note referring to his “Recent absence from the spotlight” the release obviously celebrated a return to the music business reuniting him with Charlie Rouse. Bennie was always an immaculate ballad performer with a beautifully controlled vibrato as he demonstrates on You’re Mine You and Melba’s Mood which is surely one of Melba Liston’s finest compositions. There is also a stunning version of Just Friends with the horns in fifths which was an unusual voicing for Bennie’s groups.

Eight months after ‘Back On The Scene’ he recorded ‘Minor Revelation’ with the excellent Chicago-born tenor-man Eddy Williams, who was a hard-swinging member of the no-nonsense Dexter Gordon school. One of the titles – Encore - has the inimitable Babs Gonzales singing his own melody based on Illinois Jacquet’s Flying Home solo. In a clear reference to Green the lyric includes the line, “I’m glad that you’re back in town”. Just as an aside, there is a mystery concerning Eddy (aka Eddie) Willams. He recorded two albums with Green and one with Johnny Griffin but after his own ‘Makin’ Out’ LP in 1961 for Prestige he disappeared as a recording artist.

In 1959 the trombonist recorded ‘Bennie Green Swings The Blues’ with Jimmy ‘Night Train’ Forrest and Sonny Clark. As the title implies the repertoire mostly consists of jazz music’s most basic harmony but with such gifted performers there is no chance of monotony. It does include though one of Bennie’s favourite standards – Pennies From heaven – which had been his feature with Charlie Ventura back in the forties.

He only made one further LP as a leader in 1961 because the sixties was a difficult decade especially for his generation of jazz musicians. Clubs like Birdland were closing and the emergence of the Beatles and Rolling Stones reflected a definite change in popular music taste. The revolutionary concepts of the jazz avant-garde movement didn’t help matters either.

Bennie was always popular in his home-town of Chicago and he continued to lead small bands there throughout the sixties as well as travelling as a single, sitting-in with house rhythm sections. He had a particularly memorable booking at McKie’s DJ Lounge on the South Side in 1961 where he was joined by James Moody, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon. (The club was owned by McKie Fitzhugh, a local disc-jockey on WVON. Just like a number of Chicago musicians he was also a DuSable High School graduate.)

He was still heard on the occasional recording and a 1964 date with Sonny Stitt as the leader was notable for an early jazz version of the lovely Our Day Will Come. It had been a big hit for Ruby And The Romantics the year before – their only one actually – and just like Ruby they perform it as a gentle bossa nova. George Benson’s appropriately titled ‘Cookbook’ CD from 1966 finds Green featured on two tracks with the giant of the baritone sax - Ronnie Cuber. Always a master of the blues his eight choruses here on that perennial jam session favourite Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid are quite outstanding.

In 1968 and ’69 he was a member of Duke Ellington’s orchestra occasionally sitting in the section with one of his original inspirations, Lawrence Brown. They were two of as  many as six trombones that Duke occasionally called on at this time the others being Buster Cooper, Chuck Connors, Benny Powell and Juilian Priester. One live date at Atlantic City’s Steel Pier - unfortunately not recorded - featured him singing and playing his speciality, I Wanna Blow. However when the band came to tour Europe towards the end of 1969 Duke was only using Brown and Connors with Norris Turney transposing third trombone parts on alto. In a recent posting to a jazz research site Dan Morgenstern speculated that Green, “Either failed to show or more likely had passport problems, maybe due to a prison record”.

In the ‘70s he moved to Las Vegas and just like a number of other jazz musicians - Carl Fontana, Carson Smith, Bill Trujillo, Jack Montrose, Billy Root and Red Rodney etc. - he found work in the hotel bands there.

After a long illness Bennie Green died of cancer on March 23rd. 1977. in San Diego.

I would like to acknowledge the help received from John Bell, Mark Gardner, Bob Weir and Val Wilmer in researching Bennie Green’s career. Val interviewed him in 1967 for Jazz Monthly and remembers him as a very gentle, gentleman.


As leader

Go Ahead And Blow! (OCM0023)
Bennie Green Blows His Horn (OJCCD-1728-2)
Walking Down (OJCCD 1752-2)
Bennie Green Mosaic Select (MS-003)
Bennie Green Swings The Blues (BMCD 1618)

As sideman

Charlie Ventura Bop For The People (Properbox 41)
Gene Ammons (PR 7823)
Sonny Stitt My Main Man (Gambit 69212)
George Benson Cookbook (Columbia CK 52977)

Here are the details about the music on the following video tribute to Bennie:

Trombonist Bennie Green with Gene Ammons and Billy Root, tenor sax, Sonny Clark, piano, Ike Isaacs, bass and Elvin Jones, drums performing "We Wanna Cook Now" from SOUL STIRRIN'.