Sunday, October 13, 2019

Carmell Jones: Remarkable and Resilient

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

“… Carmell had the ability to blow everyone out of the studio, but it was not his nature….”
- Todd Selbert

“… he was a native of the Jay Hawk StateKansas City, Kansas, to be exact – and his melodically engaging, hard-swinging style is firmly grounded in the grand Jazz tradition that was nurtured across the border in Kansas City, Missouri.”
- Orrin Keepnews

“Jones had a lovely take-my-time way about his trumpet playing, even though he could play an almost old-fashioned hot style when he chose – a legacy of his KayCee roots – and he was a more than capable member of a Horace Silver front line, engaging in superb interplay with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

Everything you need to know about Carmell is on view in the above photograph by Francis Wolff.

Carmell was a sweet, gentle man and a brilliant trumpet player.

While on the subject of Jazz trumpet players as a result of our recent feature on Ryan Kisor, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be nice to spend a little time reflecting on the music of the late, Carmell Jones [1936-1996].

At the urging of John William Hardy, Carmell came to California from his native Kansas City in 1960.

Around this time, the German Jazz critic Joachim Berendt was making his way across the country from Los Angeles to New York along with photographer William Claxton. Berendt’s written account of this journey along with a series of Claxton’s stunning photos documenting their stops along the way would be published by Taschen in a compilation entitled Jazz Life.

Along the way, Berendt and Claxton had met Carmell and they, too, urged him to head West.

Claxton introduced Carmell to Dick Bock at Pacific Jazz Records and Jones became involved in a series of recordings for the label both as a leader and as a sideman. John William Hardy would write some of the liner notes for Carmell’s  Pacific Jazz LP’s.

Once in California, Carmell’s remarkable talents as a Clifford Brown-inspired trumpet player found him gigs-a-plenty for as his close friend and confidant John William Hardy said: “Carmell loves, really loves, to play anywhere and anytime, with anyone and everyone.”

During his relatively short stay on the Left Coast from 1960 to 1964, Carmell would work with saxophonist Bud Shank’s quintet, the quintet that was co-led by tenor saxophonist Curtis Amy and drummer Frank Butler, the big band led by Onzy Matthews, Harold Land, Dexter Gordon, Med Flory, Shelly Manne, Gary Peacock, Dennis Budimir, Gerald Wilson, Frank Strazzeri, among many others.

As John William Hardy wrote in the liner notes to The Remarkable Carmell Jones:

“The long and short of it is this: Carmell Jones did come west and, during the past year, has enjoyed the first chapter in a success story that should continue on and on. For this rather ingenu­ous young man has not only impressed his fellow jazzmen and listeners with his playing, but perhaps as importantly has captured their friendship and support with his quiet integrity, his modesty, sincerity, dependability and all round solidity of character. Carmell has grown immensely as a musi­cian….”

Michael Cuscuna at Mosaic Records obtained the rights to reissue a number of Carmell’s recordings for Bock’s label and has made them available in his limited edition Mosaic Select CD series.

In the booklet notes to the Mosaic set, Michael made these observations about Carmell:

"In the spring of 1964, Carmell Jones came to New York to join Horace Silver's new quintet. He made a strong impression on a town overflowing with great talent. He made impressive appearances on Booker Ervin's The Blues Book, Charles McPherson's Bebop Revisited (both for Prestige) and, of course, Horace Silver's most celebrated album Song for My Father (Blue Note).

The following year he recorded his own Jay Hawk Talk for Prestige. But in August, he quit Silver's band and moved to Germany where he remained until 1980. Carmell was by all account a very sweet person; one can even hear it in his playing. Horace Silver once told me that Carmell had a hard time adjusting to the faster, harder style of people on the East Coast; he believed that the main reason for the rejected live session he made with the quintet in August, 1964 at Pep's Lounge in Philadelphia was hecklers at the bar, calling out to Carmell, "Let's see what this California boy can do!" and the like. Horace said that Joe Henderson's lone-wolf aloofness would drive Jones crazy, especially when he would knock on Joe's hotel room door and get no answer when he knew full well the saxophonist was there.

Germany provided a calmer life style, a steady income in radio orchestras without a lot of travel and opportunities to pursue a modest jazz career. When he finally returned to the U.S. in 1980, he eschewed the coasts and return to his birthplace Kansas City. His last recording in 1982 was then Florida-based Revelation Records, founded by John William Hardy, the man who had urged him to come to Los Angeles and written the liner notes for the first albums in this set.

If it weren't for the lasting impact of Song for My Father, Carmell might have been written out of jazz history. These three discs revive an important body of work by an extraordinary musician.

October 2002”

We were on the Left Coast when Carmell stopped by in the early 1960’s.

Sure glad we were.

The following video features Carmell on his original composition Somara which he performed as a member of bassist Red Mitchell and tenor saxophonist Harold Land's Quintet with Frank Strazzeri, piano and Leon Petties, drums.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Reflectory: The Life and Music of Pepper Adams by Gary Carner

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Looking back, my journey has been an extraordinary blessing. On one level, Pepper Adams’ music has immeasurably enriched me. Moreover, writing about him has satisfied my inveterate wish to contribute something tangible to Jazz, the music that I love more than anything. But on a deeper level, my work has morphed from a passionate hobby to a raison d’etre. Along the way I’ve gotten to know so many Pepper Adams admirers, for whom he was a sage and musical beacon. Their friendship and support have given me a profound sense of interconnectedness with the world for which I am truly grateful.” 
- Gary Carner

Visitors to these pages may be familiar with author and discographer Gary Carner’s earlier efforts on behalf of the late, stellar baritone saxophonist in the form of his Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography.

Now comes notification of his full-length biography on Pepper - Reflectory - which ideally will be available for download on his website by Christmas or early 2020 at a price of $9.99 for Chapters 1-3, and a year later, $9.99 for Chapters 4-10. As you read, both halves will include links to all the music examples. 

Gary commented that “Interested buyers can purchase the book at for sure. I haven't selected the publisher yet, so I don't know where else it may be available. Amazon is a possibility.”

Gary has very kindly allowed the editorial staff at JazzProfiles to share the following introductory chapter on these pages.


“On September 28, 1986, our first wedding anniversary, my wife Nancy and I attended Pepper Adams’ memorial service at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City. Adams had waged a courageous battle against an aggressive form of lung cancer that was first diagnosed in March, 1985 while he was on tour in Sweden. On that somber yet bright Sunday afternoon St. Peter’s ash-paneled, multi-tiered sanctuary, tucked under the 915-foot-tall Citicorp Center, was packed with friends, musicians and admirers. The Reverend John Garcia Gensel presided over the service and many jazz greats performed and paid their final respects. 

Pepper Adams was a friend of mine but, sadly, I knew him only during the last two tumultuous years of his life. At that time, still recovering from a horrible leg accident that kept him immobilized for six months, Adams was separated from his wife and diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him. Although it was an undeniably miserable time for him it was, conversely, quite a fascinating ride for me. I was a 28-year-old grad student; a passionate jazz fan and record collector who was trying to find a jazz musician interested enough to participate with me on an oral history to satisfy my thesis requirement. 

Fortunately, because Adams was still recuperating at home, he had time to indulge me. What an ideal subject! Here was a major soloist who played with virtually everyone in jazz from the late 1940s onward yet hadn’t received the acclaim that he deserved. At our first interview in June, 1984 he was so gracious and prepared, so articulate and engaging, when retelling the events of his life. 

We met several times at his home in Brooklyn that summer. Eventually I amassed eighteen hours of tape-recorded interview material. Because Pepper’s recollection of his childhood and early career was so stunning in its depth and historical sweep I strongly felt that I had the makings of a valuable co-authored autobiography. 

Then, seven months later, Adams’ cancer was diagnosed. I visited him at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan, when he began his chemotherapy regimen, and I saw him perform whenever he had a gig in New York. On one occasion, between sets at the Blue Note, I saw him bark at a pianist whom he misperceived was harassing him for a job. At Far and Away, a club in nearby Cliffside Park, New Jersey, I heard the suffering pour out of him during a stunning ballad performance that brought me to tears. 

Because his medical treatments and international travel schedule made our autobiographical project an impossibility, I decided that writing a full-length Pepper Adams biography would be the more appropriate undertaking. When Adams was home, either convalescing or in between gigs, I watched football games with him while going through documents and dubbing copies of his tapes. Although I was trying to gather as much information as I could in the little time that was left, it was improper for me to pry about the minutiae of his life. Despite my youthful curiosity I had to respect the fact that his cancer treatments made him feel awful and he was fighting to stay alive. 

In the summer of 1985 I moved three hours away to Boston. No longer able to visit with him nor catch any of his gigs we stayed in touch by telephone. Late that year I somehow learned that he had an upcoming four-night stint in bitterly cold Minneapolis. Concerned about his well-being, I urged a friend to attend as a courtesy to me. Thankfully, Dan Olson caught one of the performances and also taped both sets. During intermission he said hello for me, bought him a beer, and the two had a chance to chat at the bar. 

My final conversation with Pepper took place in August, 1986, only a few weeks before his death. Bedridden at home and under the watchful eye of a home-health aide, I called to see if there was anything I could do for him. His hospice caretaker answered and asked me to hold on for a moment. While I paced anxiously for at least five minutes, Adams somehow found the energy to drag himself to the telephone. In a sentence or two he acknowledged that time was short, thanked me for calling, said a final goodbye, and hung up. That was right around the time that Dizzy Gillespie called Adams on Mel Lewis’ behalf to say that one of Pepper’s dearest friends, the trumpeter Thad Jones, had just died of cancer in Copenhagen. 

About a year later, once I began interviewing Adams’ colleagues for this book, I spent a very memorable afternoon with the pianist Tommy Flanagan, Ella Fitzgerald’s longtime music director. I was meeting him for the first time and was completely star-struck. One of the last people to see Pepper alive, Flanagan especially wanted me to know that the transcripts of my Adams interviews were stacked high on Pepper’s nightstand just days before he died. At one point, while sitting next to Adams on the edge of his bed, Flanagan told me, Pepper awoke and tried feebly to push my interview materials towards him. As if he was brushing crumbs off a tabletop with the backside of his fingertips, Flanagan intensified his story by imitating Pepper’s debilitated attempt to move the heavy pile of papers in Flanagan’s direction. 

As you can imagine I was completely stunned by the many implications of Adams’ gesture. At first I was astounded, something that I must have readily expressed to Flanagan by my astonished gaze and frozen expression. Then my heart sagged and my eyes watered as I became increasingly aware that our months of work together somehow comforted Pepper at the very end of his life. 

During the next few weeks, as Flanagan’s story continued to wash over me, I noticed that I was taking my role as Pepper’s biographer a lot more seriously. As the proud guardian of Adams’ legacy, acutely aware of how important it was to Adams that his work carry on after him, my research acquired renewed vigor. Surely my resolve to do this book and all the other Pepper Adams projects that have preceded it was strengthened. But truth be told I’ve wanted to tell his story since that memorable Saturday afternoon when I conducted my first interview with him that completely changed my life for the better. 

Flanagan’s interview was one of more than 250 that I conducted, mostly in the late 1980s before my daughter was born. Over and over again my interviewees affirmed Adams as a complex individual — a hero, a genius, a model of grace, an intellectual, a virtuoso musician and stylist — yet someone also very hard to calibrate. The contradictions that they depicted equally fascinated me. Adams, they said, was an unworldly looking sophisticate, a white musician who sounded like a black one, and a dynamic, commanding saxophonist who was soft-spoken and mild-mannered off the bandstand. 

Many told me of his unprecedented agility on the baritone, how he “played it like an alto.” Before Adams the baritone sax was a cumbersome, fringe instrument rarely played outside of a big band. Today, because of his innovations, the baritone with a rhythm section is commonplace and no longer viewed as a novelty. 

Throughout his career Adams told radio interviewers that the pitch of the baritone was similar to his speaking voice. He felt that this to a certain extent explained his affinity for the instrument. But much more about him can be divined from his adoption of the baritone sax. For one thing, he greatly prized originality. Becoming a baritone saxophonist in the late 1940s gave him an opportunity to create a completely unique style on an infrequently heard instrument. Like Duke Ellington, whom he greatly admired, Adams could similarly stand way apart from everyone else. 

Paradoxically, despite enhancing the idiom and securing his place in history Adams’ fealty to his instrument also hurt him. The public’s inherent bias against low-pitched instruments and his status as a sideman stood in the way of him fronting a band or recording far more albums as a leader, particularly any with widespread distribution. As the pianist Roland Hanna once asked, Who knows what Pepper might have achieved had he instead chosen the tenor saxophone? 

Throughout his career Adams was exclusively a baritone saxophonist for hire. Refusing to double on the bass clarinet disqualified him from studio work that could have helped him immeasurably during the 1960s, when jazz gigs were sporadic. He never experimented with other instruments nor taught the saxophone (except an anomalous lesson here and there, or master classes sponsored by educational institutions). Always the fierce individualist, Adams’ lack of pragmatism interfered with other aspects of his life. 

When I began collaborating with Pepper Adams I knew that he was a superb instrumentalist but I had little idea of the breadth of his contribution, how much his colleagues adored him, or the degree to which his life intersected with so many of the greatest poets, writers, painters and musicians of his time. Much to my delight, because of our working relationship, the door to the international arts community burst open for me right after his death. I have had the remarkable privilege of speaking with so many of his esteemed colleagues, all of whom honored my interest in such a deserving artist. 

Undoubtedly, excerpts from my 250 taped interviews with Adams’ associates are the heart and soul of this book. You will read some of them speaking, at times with surprising tenderness, of their fondness and profound admiration for Pepper Adams. His death was a significant loss for them, and their remembrances of his last few years in particular are filled with sentimental accounts, sometimes with them breaking into tears. 

It was my interviewees who helped me answer so many of my pressing questions and, ultimately, grasp the totality of Adams’ character and many achievements. Their thoughtful responses — respectfully given quite a bit of space throughout Part One — allowed me to fill in many of the gaps left over from my interviews with Pepper. Despite his eagerness to share many aspects of his life he was reluctant to discuss his personal relationships, his time in the U.S. Army, or his heartfelt feelings about himself or others. Though Adams’ radio appearances and the magazines articles about him were of some help about his career, they too were of little use about his private life. For the most part I had to start from scratch. 

Thus, much like a fine Bordeaux, bringing this book to maturity took many years. To unravel the complexities of such a very private, enigmatic individual, put into perspective a lifetime of work, conceptualize a narrative structure that suited his life, and then transfer my mountain of data and personal observations about him into prose took me 36 years. I intentionally waited until I was finally ready to write the kind of book that I felt he deserved. That began in April, 2017 after I gave a series of lectures about him in Utah. 

Before I began writing, many years of research allowed me to finally comprehend Detroit’s jazz culture and socio-economic history. I was especially interested in understanding the growth of its automobile economy, its profound racial problems, and its illustrious jazz history dating back to the 1920s. As a friend of the underdog, I wanted to exhume some of the Detroit musicians who contributed significantly to its jazz scene but remain completely unknown. I was most curious about what it was that produced the extraordinary, postwar “band of brothers”: that clique of world-class jazz musicians who descended on New York City in the mid-1950s and so thoroughly reinvigorated the music. 

Regarding Rochester, New York, where Adams grew up, I wanted to know how the city came to be, how its economy was much better off than the rest of the country during the Great Depression, and what took place there during World War II when Adams was a teenager. I was equally curious about its jazz culture and the influence of the Eastman School of Music. The New York City jazz scene of the 1950s of course intrigued me too. More than just recounting Adams’ gigs and living arrangements, I wanted to understand how jazz cross-pollinated with the other arts, and define Pepper’s place within it. 

Mostly, however, I wanted to understand my subject: his personality traits, his strengths and weaknesses, how he filled a room, how he behaved with others, and what myths he created or believed about himself. I wanted to penetrate the veil of secrecy about his mother and his time in the army. I wanted to learn about his childhood, research his genealogy, and get my arms around his relationship with women. I wanted to grasp why, despite his exceptional musical gifts and the universal respect that he received from his colleagues, he wasn’t financially successful. Was it mainly because of the instrument that he played or was it due to the way he conducted himself or other factors? 

Looking back, my journey has been an extraordinary blessing. On one level, Adams’ music has immeasurably enriched me. Moreover, writing about him has satisfied my inveterate wish to contribute something tangible to the music that I love more than anything. But on a deeper level, my work has morphed from a passionate hobby to a raison d’etre. Along the way I’ve gotten to know so many Pepper Adams admirers, for whom he was a sage and musical beacon. Their friendship and support have given me a profound sense of interconnectedness with the world for which I am truly grateful. 

Knowing Adams personally and working on this demanding project has brought me as close to genius as I’m likely to experience in my lifetime. 
After researching his life, collecting his recordings, overseeing, and unearthing his wonderful compositions for six recording sessions, in 2012 I produced a five-CD box set of Adams’ entire oeuvre. Featuring newly commissioned lyrics to his seven magnificent ballads, it was co-branded with my book Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography. Now, with this companion volume I at long last fulfill my promise to him and myself. 

Half biography and half musical study, this book is the culmination of more than 45 years of work. I’m extremely fortunate that John Vana, an alto saxophonist and ardent Pepper Adams fan, agreed to co-author Part Two. We first met in late 2013 at Western Illinois University, where he invited me to speak. Soon after my visit I asked him to write a major piece on Pepper’s early style for a proposed anthology. Not long afterwards John started requesting that I send him, bit by bit, every Pepper Adams LP, cassette and videotape in my collection. Clearly, listening only to Adams’ early recordings wasn’t enough. He wanted to examine Pepper’s entire output. Eventually, on a long drive from Atlanta to Orlando it occurred to me that John’s piece would likely cover some of the same terrain that I’d be exploring. Considering the demands of my day job, wouldn’t it be better for me to focus exclusively on the biography and have John (with my input and editorial oversight) write the second half? The anthology might not even happen, I pointed out, so what better place for his study? 

Our twofold aim, dear reader, is to showcase an important person who lived an extraordinary life and to contextualize his many unique contributions to Twentieth Century music. As you work your way through the book we urge you to listen to Pepper’s glorious saxophone playing. For the most part Chapters Five, Seven and Eight discuss what I consider to be Adams’ greatest recorded achievements. Additionally, a few of his early pre-1956 recordings are covered in Chapter Three. Eventually you will likely discover that some of my favorites diverge from those covered in Part Two that John Vana felt best illustrated important aspects of Pepper’s style. This independent approach was designed to extend the breadth of our study and give both of us a chance to more thoroughly express our points of view. Whether you are encountering Pepper Adams for the first time or are already hip to his career, be sure to enable the music links that are embedded throughout the text. Many of these extraordinary performances have never before been made available to the public. As always, thanks so much for your interest in Pepper Adams.” 

Gary Carner 
Braselton, Georgia 2020

Friday, October 11, 2019


Boppin' and burnin' on JazzProfiles with Mike on alto saxophone and Joe Farnsworth on drums.

The 80th Anniversary of Coleman Hawkins' Out-of-Body Experience

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“This is the granddaddy of jazz ballads, the quintessential torch song, and the ultimate measuring rod for tenor sax players of all generations. Even in the new millennium, this 1930 composition continues to serve as a cornerstone of the repertoire. Yet "Body and Soul" could easily have missed the mark, fallen out of favor and never established itself as a standard, let alone achieved this pinnacle of success. Coleman Hawkins, who did more than anyone in validating the composition's jazzworthiness and will forever be associated with the song, expressed puzzlement over its popularity. "It's funny how it became such a classic," he later mused. "Even the ordinary public is crazy about it. It's the first and only record I ever heard that all the squares dig as well as the jazz people, and I don't understand why or how. ... I didn't even bother to listen to it afterwards.” ...

Although Louis Armstrong made a recording at the time of the song's release, "Body and Soul" most often showed up in the repertoire of white dance bandleaders, such as Paul Whiteman (who had a number one hit with the song in the fall of 1930), Leo Reisman, and Jack Hylton. …

Hawkins was late to the party, and didn't start playing the song until toward the end of the decade, sometimes using "Body and Soul" as an encore, or stretching out with chorus after chorus …

The song has hardly lagged in popularity in more recent years. Certainly its appeal among saxophonists is well documented, and one could easily chart a history of the tenor sax through the various recordings of" Body and Soul" over the decades.  …

For all that, something cold and almost clinical comes across in many performances of this piece. I suspect this may be the lingering after-effect of Cole-man Hawkins's transformation of "Body and Soul" from a romantic ballad to a showpiece for advanced saxophony. Soloists nowadays often tackle "Body and Soul" with something to prove—and that proof may have little to do with exploring the emotional insides of the song johnny Green bequeathed to us. For better or worse, this ballad has become more than a ballad, rather a testing ground where aspirants to the jazz life prove their mettle …”
- Ted Gioia, The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire

One Take, and on to Immortality

Coleman Hawkins helped establish the tenor saxophone as an esteemed instrument for jazz expression—and then made ‘Body and Soul’ a must-play for musicians.

By John Edward Hasse
Oct. 4, 2019 The Wall Street Journal 

Eighty years ago next week, tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins made a recording of “Body and Soul” that stood musicians on their ears and became one of the most celebrated improvisations in American music.

“For me it’s one of the greatest works of music of any kind from any era,” said pianist Randy Weston. “When I first heard it, I played it note-for-note on the piano…it was something that blew my mind.”

Composed in 1929, “Body and Soul” is the best-known song by composer Johnny Green —then a 21-year-old Harvard graduate who had worked briefly on Wall Street. He was commissioned to write the song by the British actress Gertrude Lawrence. According to writer and Wall Street Journal contributor Will Friedwald, when Green was asked if he had known, while writing it, that it would become the most-recorded torch song ever, he would reply, “No, all I knew was that it had to be finished by Wednesday.” Journeying through five keys, the song’s harmonies make it challenging to play. And the tricky chord changes in the bridge—its third eight-bar phrase—make it unlike any other.

The lyrics are credited to the trio of Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton. Their bold, sensuous words—“I’ll gladly surrender to you, body and soul”—were sexual enough that in the 1930s, some radio stations banned the song. Louis Armstrong’s trumpet-vocal recording of October 1930 entered it into the jazz tradition.

But it was Coleman Hawkins’s Oct. 11, 1939, saxophone rendition that made it a must-play for jazz artists and placed the piece firmly in the history books. During his 10 years (1924-34) with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, Hawkins had helped establish the tenor saxophone as an esteemed instrument for jazz expression. Then he spent five years performing in Europe, honing his style. By the time of this recording, he had defined a personal sound with a sensual, rich tone, full-bodied vibrato, and emotional conviction.

With no rehearsal and just one take, Hawkins captured musical lightning. “His eyes were closed,” his pianist Gene Rodgers recalled, “and he just played as if he was in heaven.”

After the first two bars, Hawkins never renders the melody as written, departing into paraphrase and then pure invention. Through two slow choruses, he takes us on a dramatic, thrilling journey through musical valleys, plains and a mountain, methodically building—with more intense tone, louder volume, and higher notes — to the peak. He compared the storyline to a love-making session. Full of ideas, his virtuosic extemporization ranks as one of the most renowned jazz solos ever, along with Armstrong’s “West End Blues” and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”

This disc was an extreme outlier: Very rarely did a successful jazz recording — unless of a pianist — feature only one musician throughout, or omit a song’s melody. It’s as if, after a few words, an actor performing a Shakespeare soliloquy swerved to improvise an alternate rendering so sublime that countless others memorized it. And as if that very version became an enduring hit with the public.

Hawkins’s magnificent recording challenged musicians to more purposefully mine their own creativity and inspired them to think in unfamiliar ways. His approach on “Body and Soul”—making fresh melodies from the chords of an old piece—opened up prospects leading toward a new modernism and paradigm in jazz, which came to be called bebop.

Hawkins’s “Body and Soul” instantly established him as a star soloist. Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins said the record was “ubiquitous in Harlem.” 
Hawkins was as surprised as others by the success of the record, remarking “It’s the first and only record I ever heard of that all the squares dig as well as the jazz people. I don’t understand how and why.” Credit goes to the public for so warmly embracing such a maverick performance. I suspect most listeners sensed the story arc and its carnal climax.

The disc’s popularity led to reported sales of one million copies and kept it on jukeboxes into the 1950s. It’s been honored in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the National Recording Registry, and “Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology.”
Legions of musicians and fans memorized Hawkins’s inspired solo. Singer Eddie Jefferson set new words to it—a “vocalese” version—which both he and the Manhattan Transfer recorded.

The song popularized the phrase “body and soul,” which has been used as the title of a dozen movies, several hundred CDs, and more than 60 books, including Frank Conroy’s hauntingly musical 1993 novel. But it’s Coleman Hawkins’s triumphant transformation of the song that, above all, will keep it alive for another 80 years. And another. And another.”

— Mr. Hasse is curator emeritus of American music at the Smithsonian Institution. His books include “Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington” (Da Capo) and “Discover Jazz” (Pearson).

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Wynton Kelly: 1931-1971 - “A Pure Spirit”

“Wynton’s situation … is worth noting as a startling example of the strange irrelevance of merit to fame in Jazz.”
- Orrin Keepnews, Jazz Producer and Writer

“Nothing about his playing seems calculated .. there was just pure joy shining through his conception.”
Bill Evans, Jazz Pianist

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

Amazingly, given his background, Wynton Kelly is an often overlooked figure in modern Jazz circles.

One would think that a pianist who had worked with Lester Young, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie’s 1950s big band, Dinah Washington, Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery, let alone with his own trio made-up of Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums, would be more widely known and respected.

But such is not the case for Kelly who is sometimes more acknowledged because he has a first name in common with the phenomenal trumpet player and leader of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – Wynton Marsalis – whose father, Jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, named him after Kelly.

The editorial staff thought it might be fun to spend some time developing a JazzProfiles feature about Wynton, Kelly that is, as a way of paying tribute to his memory.

In the liner notes that he wrote for Kelly at Midnight, one of the earliest album’s that Wynton made under his own name [VeeJay VJ-03], Nat Hentoff commented:

“Miles Davis was being asked one afternoon for a verbal analysis of Wynton Kelly's musical worth. Miles character­istically scoffed at using such imprecise tools as words to describe what happens in jazz; but finally he said: ‘Wynton's the light for a cigarette. He lights the fire and he keeps it going. Without him there's no smoking.’

Another judicious tribute came from Cannonball Adderley who had worked with Wynton in the Miles Davis band. ‘He's a fine soloist, who does both the subdued things and the swingers very well. Wynton is also the world's great­est accompanist for a soloist. He plays with the soloist all the time, with the chords you choose. He even anticipates your direction.’

Somewhat earlier, I'd been talking to King Curtis, a Texan now in New York and a specialist in rhythm and blues. ‘Wynton worked with me for a while, and naturally I've heard him with Dinah and with Miles. What struck me was that wherever Wynton worked, he fitted in. He's not limited to one kind of playing. With Dinah, he had the taste and supportive power of a superior accompanist. With me, he had the fire and the straightaway swinging my bands have to have. And with Miles, he can be as subtle as Miles requires.’

As is usually the case, Wynton was being discussed enthusiastically by musicians before there was much atten­tion paid him in the public prints. …”

And in another of Wynton’s VeeJay LP’s, Kelly Great [VeeJay VJ-06], Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, the great alto saxophonist and, as noted previously, Wynton’s bandmate in the Davis group, said this about Kelly:

“When Sid McCoy of VeeJay Records asked Frank Strozier (phenomenal young alto saxophonist) who did he wish to play piano on his VeeJay record date, Frank immediately said Wynton Kelly. So answered Bill Henderson and Paul Chambers. It is next to impossible to evaluate the role played by Wynton Kelly in a band, for he has a ‘take charge’ quality in a rhythm section such as a Phil Rizzuto or Eddie Stanky had on a baseball team.

Many jazz listeners are unaware that such intangible qualities as fire and spirit make the margin between greatness and ‘just good’. Leading jazz musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis (Wynton's current employer), are cognizant of this fact. A short time ago Miles Davis made an album using another pianist, who at that time was a member of his band, but added Wynton for one selection, explaining, ‘Wynton Kelly is the only pianist who could make that tune get off the ground.’

What does Wynton have that is so different?”

Perhaps the difference lies in what Richard Cook and Brian Morton have described in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.  as “… his lyrical simplicity or uncomplicated touch… [or] the dynamic bounce to his chording …,” or because, as Cannonball Adderley, asserted: “Wynton combined the strength of pianists Red Garland and Bill Evans, his predecessors with Miles Davis.”

Or maybe this difference lies in the following description of Wynton’s playing by fellow pianist Bill Evans as quoted in Jack Chambers, Milestones:

“When I first him in Dizzy’s big band [in the mid-1950s], his whole thing was so joyful and exuberant, nothing about it seemed calculated. And yet with the clarity of the way he played, you knew that he had put this together in a carefully planned way – but the result was completely without calculation, there was just pure spirit shining through the conception.”

Like Bill, Brian Priestley may have also identified the essence of what made Wynton Kelly so unique as a pianist in the following description of his style in Jazz, The Rough Guide: An Essential Companion to Artists and Albums:

“An important stylist, but largely unrecognized except by fellow pianists, Kelly’s mature style was hinted at in his earliest recordings. He combined boppish lines and blues interpolations with a taut sense of timing quite unlike anyone else except his imitators. The same quality made his equally individual block chording into a particularly dynamic and driving accompanying style that was savored by the many soloists that he backed.”

More about Kelly’s special qualities as a pianist can be found in the following paraphrase from Peter Pettinger’s biography of pianist Bill Evans – How My Heart Sings:

“Evans held Kelly’s bright and sparkling style in high regard since hearing him in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, responding to Wynton’s particular blend of clarity and exuberance. This reaction was typical of Evans’s appreciation of the work of his fellow pianists; from Oscar Peterson to Cecil Taylor, he was full of admiration for their diverse talents and generous in his praise.”

As detailed in Groovin’ High,  Alyn Shipton’s life of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, the unique character of Kelly’s piano style may have been the result of combining years of experience in playing in rhythm and blues bands with a fine Jazz sensibility.

Of his work with his own trio, John A. Tynan had this to say in a Down Beat review:

“It is one of the most cohesive and inventive rhythmic groups in small-band Jazz today.”

Musicians commenting about Wynton’s work on their recordings state: “The presence of Kelly may account for the difference …,” “… the album would not have been excellent without Wynton Kelly’s sterling support,” and “… he is disarmingly pleasant to work with, the very model of a mainstream pianist.”

The Jazz writer and critic, Barbara J. Gardiner closed her insert notes to the 1961 VeeJay 2-CD compilation Wynton Kelly! [VeeJazz-011] with the declaration that “You would expect Wynton Kelly to be comprehensive as well as creative. Hasn’t he always been?”

Although she was referring to the material on these CDs “… tried and proven, mixed in with a bit of the fresh …,” this could also serve as an apt way of describing Wynton’s approach to Jazz piano: wide-ranging and inventive.

One is never far away from the Jazz tradition when listening to Wynton Kelly, but what he plays is himself; he has incorporated his influences into his own musical “personality” and recognizably so. Four [4] bars and you know its him.

Wynton is not a pianist who overwhelms the listener with startling technique or originality of conception.

But what he does offer is playing that is full of joy, funk and a feeling for time that fills the heart with happiness, sets the feet tapping and get the fingers popping the beat.

Wynton Kelly is the pianistic personification of swing, or if you prefer: “smokin’,” “cookin’” or “boppin’.” 

When Wynton plays Jazz piano, you feel it.

Nothing cerebral here in any deep or complicated sense, just – “Clap hands, here comes, Wynton.”

Hear it for yourself in the following tribute to Wynton that features him along with Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones. The tune is Rudolph Stevenson’s On Stage” from Kelly at Midnight [VeeJay-03] and it displays vintage performances by all three members of one of the greatest rhythm sections in modern Jazz history.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Mitchell-Ruff Trio - The Catbird Seat

I’m always asking Jazz musicians and Jazz fans what they are listening to or for their opinions about my current listening and/or favorite recordings.

It’s a fun way to get differing opinions about the music.

But when I asked Italian Jazz pianist Dado Moroni what he thought of Dwike Mitchell’s performance on The Catbird Seat from the Atlantic album of the same name, I was momentarily surprised by his answer.

“I cried,” he said.

Although I was taken aback for an instant, I intuitively understood why Dado would react this way to Dwike’s playing on this piece on which he is joined by bassist Willie Ruff and drummer Charlie Smith.

As George T. Simon describes it on the album’s sleeve notes:

The Catbird Seat, a slow, swinging blues, gets its title because, as bassist Willie Ruff  points out, ‘it has such a groovy feel­ing. There's an old Southern ex­pression, “sitting in the catbird seat” which means you're sitting pretty and everything is groovy, and that's how we felt on this number. In fact, it's how we feel most of the time when we're at home in the club [Dwike and Willie owned The Playback Club in New HavenCT].’ The piece projects a tremendously funky feel, but it's also full of musical polish, such as Willie's marvelous articulation, Dwike's tremendous technique and Charlie's beauti­fully controlled brush shadings. Note too the contrast between the long, tremulous, two-chorus build-up into the lovely, relaxed statement of the theme.”

The Catbird Seat is a slow burn all the way.  The very unhurried tempo at which it is played is one that is rarely heard today and very tricky to execute because there is a tendency to rush or drag.

The intensity is there but you have to let it quietly capture you. The track builds and builds and builds until it reaches an exciting climax. And just when you think it is finished, Dwike offers a different ending from the one that “your ears” are expecting.