Monday, May 23, 2022

Bix Beiderbecke - Indiana Twilights by Richard Sudhalter

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

This piece appeared in the February 1983 edition of Gene Lees’ Jazzletter which he began writing and publishing in August 1981.

Without going into details, Gene was frustrated and was considering aborting the publication. [And not for the first time, either, in the almost 30 year history of the publication.]

Of course, this solicited many “Say it isn’t so ‘Letters to the Editor’” which took many forms, one of which was the following from Richard Sudhalter, a distinguished Bix Beiderbecke scholar and a fairly adept cornet player who would later go on to write full length biographies of Bix, Hoagy Carmichael and the seminal Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945.

The decade of the 2020s marks the 100th year anniversary of many of the earliest developments in the formalization of Jazz as we have come to know it including the advent of the leading voices in the music - trumpeters Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke.

Bix’s short-lived career barely survived the decade and, as a result, a great deal of “Young Man with a Horn Dies Young” hagiography became associated with it.

Richard Sudhalter would have none of that nonsense. Instead, he spent years in research documenting who Bix really was, both as a person and as a musician, and the following piece is an example of the quality of his efforts.

Sudhalter’s letter also contains some interesting reflections of some rarely observed or discussed influences on early Jazz from some unlikely sources which makes it a fascinating read from this perspective alone.

Sadly, the passing of both Sudhalter [2008] and Lees [2010] is a reminder that Jazz is rarely discussed in such erudite terms these days.

Indiana Twilights By Richard M. Sudhalter, New York.

“I suppose it was inevitable that I would want to discuss Bix with you [Gene Lees]. A crucial point is sometimes missed — that Bix never stopped being his parents’ son, a product of that upper-middle class environment and ethic so clearly expressed through the Beiderbecke family and their life in Davenport. Yes, he coveted parental approval and never got it. But at root he didn't want that approval for being a jazz cornet player. Far from it. He was awed and intimidated, impressed to tears, with what he found in Whiteman's orchestra - with virtuosity and theoretical excellence and compositional skills. For him, on the testimony of friends and acquaintances, most of them long gone now, Bix had kind of grown outside his infatuation with hot jazz by 1925. He came more and more to consider it a manifestation of adolescence. In his view, the people who clung to it were either musically stunted or, as in the case of Louis Armstrong, “native geniuses.” 

Bix saw himself — wanted to see himself - as a “legitimate" or “respectable" musician, a composer, someone who could create something musically enduring and, in his view, worthwhile. His solos on the records? He liked some of them, didn't like others. Some — particularly the early Wolverines efforts — embarrassed him. It was a very revealing moment, that meeting with Sylvester Ahola which we describe in the book. Hooley remembered with lasting astonishment Bix's demeanor: looking at the floor and mumbling, “Hell, I'm just a musical degenerate.” He meant it. To him, the writing of Ferde Grofe and Gershwin and Bargy and the rest was class. It was accomplishment, Kultur, if you will. Not for nothing did he all but forsake the cornet in the last year of life. He just didn't give a damn about it anymore. He wanted to compose, to excel as a “real" — his quotation marks more than mine —- musician. 

But that was half a century ago. No dropping out to take a few courses at Berklee or Julliard or Manhattan. No chance to get his primal scream out of his system with some Park Avenue shrink. No “support system" of friends to whom he could talk. Just Hoagy and Challis, both of them wrapped up in their careers, plus a bunch of jazz guys whose adolescent mentality would remain rooted in their systems far into old age. Imagine discussing inner aesthetic and socio-musical conflicts with Wild Bill Davison, Eddie Condon, or George Wettling. Dave Tough, maybe — but then he was off in Europe somewhere playing Bohemian. “Hell, there are only two musicians I'd go across the street to hear now," Bix said to Richardson Turner. “That's Louis and LaRocca." LaRocca for auld lang syne and Armstrong because Bix recognized him for the apocalyptic figure he was. By then jazz seemed almost irrelevant to him. Yet he was caught very securely in a classic trap. If he dropped out, went home, took any kind of left turn, he'd lose the prominence, the adulation of the musicians and the kids who formed the core jazz audience of the time. It would have constituted a loss of face and of what small self-esteem his quick rise to prominence had granted him. He had to hang on, to keep proving and proving and proving - to himself as well as to the rest. “I'm not worthless," he might have said, had he had to express it verbally. 

Eddie Miller [tenor sax and clarinet] tells of a date he worked at Yale with Bix, Bunny and Bill “Jazz" Moore — a light-skinned black working in white bands — as the brass team. Eddie was just a kid then. He said he had looked forward with anticipation and wild surmise to working with his idol. Yet Bix not only didn't play all that well; he seemed alternately indifferent to the music and sullen. It was Eddie's impression that he regarded [Bunny] Berigan as a threat (and in one sense, if you subscribe to the jazz adversary system, the polls and tallies and other gladiatorial paraphernalia, he was) and resented his energy and dash and sheer strength. It is one of the more piquant ironies of that phase of the jazz story. Bix was not a revolutionary, a jazz rebel. He was a nice, middle class boy who never succeeded in bringing his prodigious musical gifts and aspirations into line with the realities of his life. Had he lived — ah, the eternal teaser! — had he lived, I am convinced he'd have ended up either writing for the movies, if the commercial lures had snared him; a significant American composer, following through what Gershwin wanted to do but couldn't because of his imperfect grasp of the native American jazz idiom; or out of music entirely.

By the way, I have always doubted the authenticity of the story wherein Louis takes out the mouthpiece and hands his horn to Bix. By then Louis was playing trumpet. Cornet — and Bix never played anything else takes a different— sized mouthpiece. His wouldn't have fit Louis's horn. It makes good legendry, but sober considerations of fact suggest that it never happened. Your [Gene Lees] discussion of French Autumn Syndrome prompts thought. 

[In the preceding October, November and December edition of the 1982 Jazzletter, Gene ran a three part piece entitled “The French Autumn Syndrome” by which he meant the unquestioned conviction held by the French that their country culture and language are stylistically superior to all others. Any discussion of art is freighted by a vast complex of unexamined assumptions that one might call the French Autumn Syndrome. Praise one musician and someone will take up the heated advocacy of another one as his better.]

And that's all to the good. No matter how heated the disagreements that such writing arouses, it has performed an invaluable service by stimulating thought and feeling. How much writing within what we rather foolishly called “jazz criticism" even approaches doing that? Strip away the opinion-mongering and what generally is left? Onanism [self-gratification], elevated through sheer energy to the level of art. Life and love, taste and emotion and style, seem to be matters of infinite gradation -  the crowd as usual made up of individuals. 

Language is at best an approximation, an arbitrary method for identifying things, concepts, feelings to be communicated and shared. The danger is built in. Who's to say that our own understandings of the things we try to express will correspond to the understandings of others? They seldom do, especially in those areas of experience which rely heavily on subjective response and emotional involvement. Music especially sets up all sorts of snares. Why do we enjoy what we enjoy? What penetrates the walls, scales the battlements of daily defenses and how? Each response is custom built, formed out of a lifetime of experiences. Consensus helps a little — but its aid is deeply suspect. In the end, music is one of the eternal mysteries, reliant on personal chemistry, perception, need, and all the other variables that make us a planet of quirks and accidents. With that in mind, can you defend your case for the nature and/or politics of the traditional jazz audience? Would you want to have to furnish corroborative proof that the “admirer of ‘modern’ jazz is inclined to respect the earlier styles of the music," while the lover of the earlier styles displays only contempt for latter-day developments? . Not that all those attitudes don't exist. Of course they do. 

But to draw such general inferences from your experience with them puts you and I on rather shaky turf. Consider this. Consider one man's view. It's that of a man who doesn't belong to the Flat Earth Society, doesn't know any cops or rednecks, doesn't vote Republican (as a matter of fact usually doesn't vote, but that's another story), and loves to be challenged by life. He argues: It is possible to perceive the jazz which emerged from this culture ‘during the '20s and '30s as a final expression of late Nineteenth Century Romanticism. Its aesthetic foundation, manner of harmonic and melodic organization, sound, and sonorities, all seem less a part of what we've come to identify as Twentieth Century motivation than echoes of an earlier time. Indeed, the very yearning quality which finds its most explicit form in Bix, but is by no means confined to him, bespeaks lavender, lilacs, and fin-du-siecle twilight. 

What about Bix, with his layering of jubilation and melancholy, the bittersweet after echoes and temps-perdu atmosphere of his work both on cornet and at the piano? Its sound and emotional atmosphere are redolent immediately of the French Impressionists — and more directly of the salon piano idiom of this century's first two decades, themselves warmed-over Romanticism, Nineteenth Century thoughts and feelings viewed through a soft-focus lens. 

Listen, with these thoughts in mind, to the large body of popular and light-classical piano music written in the 1920s, including Eastwood Lane's Adirondack Sketches, Willard Robison's Rural Revelations, and such Rube Bloom confections as Soliloquy and Suite of Moods. They provide a context within which Beiderbecke's ruminations at the piano seem very much the expression of a Zeitgeist. What is most remarkable about In a Mist and the rest, I think, is not what they are viewed objectively, they are charming but in some respects unremarkable — but who wrote them and how. The notion that a self-taught hot cornet player brought these pieces into being says much about him, even more about American music in the early Twentieth Century. 

Armstrong. What did Louis really do? What made him so extraordinary? At least one man's answer comes readily: he created a distinctive, individual model for a solo style, both on his instrument and all others, a style with its own integrity and logic, aesthetic coherence and emotional arc. Yes, but listen to bel canto singing, especially in the tenor repertoire, throughout French and Italian opera of the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth. Play a record of Pavarotti singing Gelida Manina from Boheme back to back with Armstrong's final chorus on the Okeh When You're Smiling. Compare the gathering intensity and the inner cry of Willie the Weeper or the bravura stop-time chorus on Potato Head Blues with climactic moments in Turandot, Tosca, Norma, Lucia, and the rest. The language, the frame of reference, is the same. 

At one minute after midnight on January 1, 1900, nobody closed a door, lowered a trunk lid, or erased a blackboard. Things went on as usual, with all sorts of expressions of hope that the new century would improve on the old and usher in some kind of golden age which would wed the accumulated wisdom of ages and the wonders of technological progress. No one knew what to expect, and it took, I would submit, a couple of decades or more for the character of the new century, in particular the effect of burgeoning technology, to assert itself. In the meantime, music of all sorts simply continued to do what it had always done: to express aspirations, strive for excellence and beauty. 

Why should jazz have been any different? If anything, it was slower than many other forms to explore the implications of a technologically-dominated world. Jazz musicians during the 1920s were still fooling with whole-tone scales and parallel ninth chords fifteen years or more after Stravinsky unveiled Le Sacre and The Firebird. In sum, I believe that the Nineteenth Century and its aesthetic priorities saturate early jazz. And I would submit that there are many, many people who listen to that music, love it, lobby for it, and for just that reason. Whatever their individual reasons, many of them (or us, since I would include myself) respond more vigorously to the stimuli and aspirations of that age — identify with, as they say nowadays, values and ideas rooted in those times. We still perceive a coherent and enduring set of aesthetic standards in the music of those years, a set of standards which seem to look better and better as the Twentieth Century grinds its angry, violent way along.  

We are discussing an age which had not yet shifted from idealizing life to reflecting it, an age which asked art to stimulate imagination, to reach out and up. In the context of those values, that age, it is possible to ask, “Why should art simply reflect life? Isn't life (reality, if you like) prosaic and demoralizing enough, frustrating and downright ugly enough, without being reflected and projected again through music, painting and literature?" It is a basic philosophic difference that pervades every level of this culture. It's Webster's International (prescriptive) vs. Webster's Third International (descriptive); Fred and Ginger (idealized) vs. Taxi Driver (descriptive). I believe it took jazz close to forty years to catch up to the heartbeat of the Twentieth Century. I believe that bebop was the result. It said, in essence, “Why waste your time mooring and dreaming? That's not life, this is life. Life is full of tension and nervousness and angst. Life shatters dreams into fragments, then reassembles them according to the moment and the mood." 

For a long time, romanticism all but disappeared from modern jazz (or whatever else one feels like calling the jazz which grew out of the war years). Without reaching too far for a point, it is possible to conclude that World War II really dragged popular art kicking and screaming at last into the Twentieth Century. The first war, the Great War, the “war to end war" — had been endured; the nation heaved a vast sigh of relief on Armistice Day and vowed that now we knew better and it would never happen again, not like that. Let us not forget the ability of music to move us. For many years, jazz — and I think part of the grievance of many traditional jazz lovers can be traced to this —— seemed to have collectively forgotten this. Or rejected it. The music impressed its listeners: no dearth of complexity, technical mastery, harmonic and melodic inventiveness, sheer ingenuity. But there is something quite else in the ability to play a note, a phrase, and bring  tear to the eye of the guy sitting at the corner table. Remember that feeling, when you ache and exult and tremble and suffer, all at once, because of something somebody played or sang? A lot of us live for those moments, the moments that allow us to leave the scene of the experience just a bit different from what we were when we arrived. Far from wanting not to be challenged, this in a sense is the ultimate challenge — not to the head but to the heart, not to knowledge and skill, which we acquire at no cost to ourselves, but to our innermost reservoirs offeeling; the things we guard and keep secret and defend. Bix Beiderbecke reached me on that level the first time I ever heard him on a record. For all my years of hearing and growing and broadening and understanding my world, he still does. And I'm very very glad of it. Eddie Condon and his close associates suffered now and then from a kind of selective musical myopia. And their pronouncements — especially Eddie's, in that he was among the most vocal and compulsively articulate of them —— occasionally did harm. Red Nichols is a case in point. Few — least of all Red, were he still living — would make a case for him as a jazz soloist of towering resourcefulness and originality. What he was, however, deserves recognition. He was a superb, well-disciplined trumpet player, an organizer of excellent bands, and an energetic promulgator of good jazz. He managed to get work, good record opportunities, and exposure for good musicians. He was responsible for a large and still impressive body of fine recorded music, in a sense the modern jazz of its day — musically literate, harmonically and melodically varied, and sometimes fascinating in its ingenuity. It didn't swing much. But, as has been proven again and again, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. It had its own integrity, and established a standard. The efforts of Mole, the Dorseys, Livingstone, Schutt, Rollini, McDonough, Vic Berton, and the rest — and of Red himself — were a model to an entire generation, black and white. It was not, as many have claimed with the luxury of hindsight, merely wrong-headedness. Nichols and the musicians with whom he surrounded himself were far and away the most accomplished jazz musicians of their time. Some day, when racial parochialism from both camps has spent itself and the guilt paroxysms of the 1960s and '70s have subsided, perhaps we'll be able to enjoy a balanced, comfortable, and fair appraisal of the roles of white and black musicians in the formative jazz years. Artie Shaw, for example, is quite right: the Casa Loma Orchestra was indeed the pioneer force among white swing bands. More than that, it is interesting to listen to records by the Mills

Blue Rhythm Band and others of that period, to hear how very influential the Casa Loma band was. ' Two decades after the war to end war, it not only happened again but it happened worse. No more time for dreams and backward looks. Too much grubby reality staring us all in the face. No wonder the jazz of those days said “Screw you, Jack," in almost its every note and phrase. There are no absolute realities, no truths save perceived ones. If our century has adopted, at last, an aesthetic quite different from that of the century that preceded it, let us remember it is only that: different. Not better or worse, only different. It's only too comprehensible. Not the full story, of course. Nothing's ever that simple. But as you fill in the details, they all seem to fall in place. l Yet humanity always confounds the experts. Despite the times, despite the realities and the atmosphere and the prevailing attitudes, people insist on growing up listening to the voices within their heads. How else to explain a middle-class boy from Newton, Mass., who spends his teen years full of dreams of Hoagy and Willard Robison, Bix, Tram, Red, and Miff, Indiana twilights and country lanes and the scent of lilacs in summer dusk. I apologize for running on so long. But that, my friend, is the effect the Jazzletter has. And you want to hang it up?  —RMS

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Revisiting The Hod O'Brien Trio at Blues Alley

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

Although widely known and appreciated in Europe, outside of a relatively small coterie of devoted fans, Hod O’Brien, a sizzling, straight-ahead bebop pianist, has been one of the best kept secrets on the US Jazz scene for much too long.

In The Los Angeles Times, Don Heckman describes him as “a masterful bop-based improviser … his lines unfolding with an impressive blend of precision and propulsive swing. In The Montreal Mirror, Len Dobbin called him “the best bebop pianist this side of Barry Harris.” And Scott Yanow, in the L.A. Scene, wrote that Hod is the “unsung hero of Jazz … [a] master bebop pianist.”

A close listening to the three albums described in this Jazzprofiles feature which Hod and his trio of Ray Drummond on bass and Kenny Washington on drums recorded at Blues Alley in Washington, DC in July, 2004 will provide a good introduction to what the fuss is all about concerning this most impressive musician.

The context for the music released on these albums is that each represents a working set by the group, or if you will, three sets that you might have heard had you dropped by the club one night to catch the trio.

A special word should be put in about the song selection on these recordings as its rare to hear such a diversity of repertoire that ranges from Jazz originals such as Freddie Redd’s rarely played Thespian [after you listen to it you’ll understand why as it is an extremely challenging song structure upon which to improvise], Randy Weston’s Little Niles, and Sonny Rollins’ Pent-Up House, to a number of standards drawn from the Great American Song Book, to a collection of tunes by one composer – in this case, Tadd Dameron.

Since I could not improve upon them, I have included the insert notes by Pete Malinverni to describe sets one and two, and those by Hod himself to describe how and why set three came about.

The editorial staff at Jazzprofiles continues to sing the praises of Mark Feldman and his team at Reservoir Records for making so much of the music of this deserving artist available in recorded form.

Hod O’Brien at Blues Alley: First Set [Reservoir RSR CD 180]

“Conventional wisdom has it that the creative output of an artist more or less reflects the artist's personality. If that's the case, Hod O'Brien is a joyous and witty man, given to long explications of thought. His playing suggests that he is assertive and that his intellect is a restless one. In conversation Hod is, instead, a self-effacing, humble man who listens and processes before he speaks -good traits, to be sure, for one who works in a job where tenacious self-improvement is the prime requisite, but which traits appear, at first blush, to be at variance with the fulminating pianist heard here.

These two seemingly conflicting characters find their reconciliation in live performance, revealing themselves to be, in fact, two distinct sides of the same coin-perhaps that's what makes this recording all the more historically important.

Captured here is Hod O'Brien at his most spontaneous, free of the artificial constraints of the recording studio, and encouraged to emotional heights by the presence of a lively and supportive audience. Hod likes the "immediacy of a live date. There's nothing like it-you feel the life." One certainly can feel the life, in the risk-taking flights and surprising moments only possible before an audience.

Hod O'Brien is an artist of high order, one, surely, in firm possession of all the requisite ‘musicianly’ tools, but who employs such tools so well and so craftily as to reveal accessible, human truths. The stops and starts in his phrasing, along with his use of space and dynamics, suggest, by turns, an honest, exploratory and effusive nature.

Notice, too, Hod's brand of melodic development, his musical statements often beginning with motifs with which previous statements were concluded. His careful attention to the arrangement of each selection, which might easily go unnoticed, lends a natural pacing to the entire recital. In myriad ways, O'Brien's playing rewards the careful listener, as witness to what lends Hod's music its emotional and logical art.

A Chicago native, reared in suburban New York and Connecticut, Hod O'Brien came to New York City in the Fall of 1956 and played in many of that era's jazz clubs and lofts with the likes of Kenny Burrell, Oscar Pettiford, Gigi Gryce, J. R. Monterose, and Zoot Sims. After a six-year sojourn in the musically fecund community of Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains - home to such as Phil Woods, Bill Goodwin, Bob Dorough - he moved in 1994 with his wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian, to Charlottesville, VA, where Stephanie is adjunct professor of vocal jazz at the University of Virginia. The Northeast's loss is Charlottesville's gain, the home of Jefferson being a good fit for this gentle man of broad and erudite musical knowledge.

But he can swing, too. Listen to the ‘grooviness’ of his eighth-notes, the way he finds a hammock in Kenny Washington's crisp ride beat during his solos throughout. And he can play the blues as well, his soulfulness laid bare on Frog's Legs, the Joe Zawinul vehicle written in tribute to Ben Webster.

The selections on this recording are of the "musician's choice" variety, picked by O'Brien for their "play-ability." indeed, the first four tracks feature compositions by musicians at least as well known for their playing (and singing) careers as for their contributions as writers. Hod says he picked "interesting tunes", good songs to "blow on." And blow he does, for example, in his deft exploration of Bob Dorough's Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before. Seemingly circular in nature, the harmonic and formal framework of the tune presents a puzzle the solving of which provides some of the date's most exciting moments. Thespian, written and originally arranged for quintet by the great pianist Freddie Redd, is here reduced for piano trio with no lessening of its dramatic nature. Mel Rhyne's It's Love features a ‘Confirmation’ -like scheme that gives currency to the deep vocabulary acquired over time by these musicians while they, in turn, give the tune new breath.

The final four selections are of the "chestnut" variety, picked fresh by the trio. The joy they take in playing - and in playing together - is evident throughout, their cooperative explorations fueled, in equal parts, by skill and curiosity.

While he picked the tunes for the challenges they present the improviser, Hod hopes that his non-musician listeners will enjoy his choices, too. On this, their fourth recording together (it is the third as a trio, to go along with Hod's quintet date, OPALESSENCE) Messrs. O'Brien, Drummond and Washington embody that great tradition of jazz - unmistakable, individual voices in the service of a unified, group statement.

Ray Drummond has been doing just that for years. Always engaged and focused, "Bulldog" consistently husbands the essential, structurally supportive role of the jazz bass (Hod makes special note of Ray's "strong pulse" and "clear attack") while suggesting, in his inspired note choices, interesting and wholly individual takes on harmony. Ray is also an imposing and singularly melodic soloist, as is evident on Lullaby of the Leaves.

Kenny Washington has likewise carved a characteristic voice. "I like a drummer that complements," Hod says, and he notes Kenny's penchant for orchestration, "every time, a great fill," and says that when thinking of Kenny, the phrase "snap, crackle, and pop" comes to mind. It's true. Washington consistently contributes to every musical situation in which he takes part, with his optimistic, energetic approach, always thinking, never complacent.

So, these three - O'Brien, he of the long, searching lines, at times exploratory and at times full of twists and quirks; Drummond, providing his continually creative and strong underpinning; and Washington, with his trademark electric punctuation -combined on two evenings at Washington, D.C.'s BLUES ALLEY. The result of those nights is two CDs[obviously, a third has been released since this writing], the first of which is in your hands. What nights they must have been.”

Pete Malinverni, New York City October, 2004

Hod O’Brien at Blues Alley: Second Set [Reservoir RSR CD 182]

“Hod O'Brien. This quiet, unassuming man makes music of far reaching import; people the world over await each new recording and attend his performances as often as they are able. Why the immense popularity of Hod O'Brien? The reasons for this phenomenon, his loyal, worldwide audience, are manifold, each person appreciating O'Brien's art from his own perspective, for his own reasons.

I'll use myself as an example.

As a pianist I marvel at Hod O'Brien's virtuosity. His single-note attack and legato phrasing and his timely and explosive use of block chords are the result of the artful blend of initial gifts with years of intense study. Consistently well articulated, each note is crafted with care and shaped lovingly to achieve maximum effect.

As an improvising musician I'm thrilled by the seemingly endless flow of O'Brien's ideas that yield melodic lines of remarkable length and complexity.

He stays with each phrase, and this tenacity allows Hod to extract every last drop of melodic truth to be found there. He chooses his collaborators well-bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Kenny Washington join again with Hod-and listens and reacts honestly, the free exchange of ideas being the hallmark of truly prepared musicians who've learned, above all, to trust.

As a jazz fan I'm gratified by the homage Hod O'Brien pays to his musical forebears, in his choice of material and in the quality of his history-deepened improvisations. He opens the present set with Sonny Rollins' Pent-Up House and likewise features the compositions of such jazz greats as Randy Weston (Little Niles), Billy Strayhorn (Snibor and Take The A Train) and Duke Ellington (In a Sentimental Mood and Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear from Me). One hears, throughout Hod's interpretations of these jazz classics as well as those of the standards included (How About You and Love Letters), many golden moments inspired by O'Brien's appreciation of those who've come before. This is what all jazz musicians are required to do. But, of course, it is the degree to which one molds one's influences to inform and buttress one's own voice that really tells the tale, and Hod O'Brien is very much his own story teller.

And, finally and perhaps most importantly, as a human being I'm moved by Hod O'Brien's optimistic world view, evident in the obvious joy Hod takes in making music. There is an unvarnished brightness in his playing that just can't be "put on". Surely there is much pianistic technique at work here, but this music is lit from within. His genial and engaging personal demeanor, caught here on the announcements made between selections, reveals the respect O'Brien has for his audience, his colleagues and the music itself.

Speaking of his audience, this particular group was fortunate to be present at the venerable Washington, DC nightspot BLUES ALLEY on the night when this, the second such live recording by Hod O'Brien's trio, was captured by the good folks at RESERVOIR MUSIC. As companion to the 2004 release, FIRST SET, this is a fitting sequel. 

Once again we hear the faithful and resolute Ray "Bulldog" Drummond (listen to his tour de force performance on In a Sentimental Mood) along with the combustible and always engaged Kenny Washington (his solo on Pent-Up House is unforgettable). Together, O'Brien, Drummond and Washington give us seasoned music of intelligence, spontaneity and wit. Perhaps you and I weren't there that night, but the quality of this recording provides the next best thing.”


Hod O’Brien at Blues Alley: Third Set [Reservoir RSR CD 187]

“I'd like to preface these notes by thanking Pete Malinverni, a great jazz pianist as well as a great journalist, for doing such wonderful liner notes for my two previous LIVE AT BLUES ALLEY CDs. With all due respect to Pete, I thought it fitting to do the liner notes for this CD, and explain how the third and final set of LIVE AT BLUES ALLEY came about.

True Confessions: All the selections on this CD are ones that I initially rejected when selecting material for the first two CDs. At that time, I thought that two sets were all of what was going to be released from the Blues Alley material. In the course of the ensuing months, RESERVOIR producer, Mark Feldman mentioned several times that there was enough material in the can for another CD. I kept refusing because I didn't think

that it was good enough, but he finally persuaded me to give a listen. To my surprise, I found the music to be highly inspired in spite of several instances of flubbed notes, and flawed phrases. There is an overall sense of excitement which pervades throughout these performances, most particularly in Double Talk and Our Delight. There is one spot in the middle of an open piano alone segment in my solo in Our Delight where the time feel is impaired due to a momentary slip of the wrist. I remember thinking at the time I played it, "Well, I'm not going to be putting this one out." But on reconsideration two years later, I felt that the entire performance really held up, and was worth hearing. From the reaction of the audience, it seems that they felt the same way.

The Squirrel has a pretty strong story line going in it, and It Could Happen To You, and On A Misty Night have nice laid back feels to them which warrant their being heard too. The ballads, though far from exquisite have merit as well. They bounce along in the solos with unyielding momentum, never causing one to be bored or impatient. Dameronia is a rarely heard, up-tempo tune, and one of my favorites of Tadd's.

So, having had this reaction, I decided that it was a good idea to give Mark the go ahead to release a THIRD SET, and I hope that you will agree when you listen to it.

I'd like to thank Ray Drummond and Kenny Washington for what is clearly a vitally significant contribution to this music. It wouldn't have the excitement and energy if it were not for them. They have been with me on five recording projects, and are my rhythm section of choice. Thanks also to Jim Anderson and Allan Tucker for their expertise involved in all of the aspects of recording and mastering, and thanks to Mark Feldman for prodding me into listening again, and for releasing this CD.

Finally, thanks to my fans in the audience for their encouraging support, and enthusiastic responses, which are as integral to this recording as the music itself, and the biggest thank you to my wife Stephanie for spurring them on with her frequent whistles, and for all of the emotional support that she gave me throughout this grueling two nights (and days) session.

Hod O'Brien

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Gretsch Drum Night At Birdland [From the Archives]

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

Anyone who has been a casual visitor to these pages know that I have a bias toward Jazz drumming, what I think of as the heartbeat of Jazz.

Among the current crop of Jazz drummers, Kenny Washington has long been among my favorites principally because he plays a style of drumming that I also favor - the Philly Joe Jones approach to drumming.

Kenny is a student of the music so much so that he refers to himself as The Jazz Maniac.

Whatever he chooses to call himself, Kenny knows what he talking about, particularly when it comes to Jazz drumming as his following notes to the Roulette LP Gretsch Drum Night At Birdland will attest.

Since he wrote these insert notes to the EMI/Blue Note CD reissue of this LP in 1991, many of the musicians referenced in them have passed away. Oh, and Gretsch is once again making Jazz drum kits.

Kenny’s respect and enthusiasm for the drummers featured on this album are infectious, but considering the iconic status that each of them have assumed in Jazz lore, he’s certainly in good company.

“Imagine being able in see four master drummers at the lop of their games all an one great stage! This all took place April 25. I960, it was billed "Gretsch Night" at the "Jazz: Corner of the World", Birdland. The CD that you are now holding is the only time these percussion personalities ever recorded together. Of course the idea of percussionists playing together is not new: It goes back to the motherland Africa where people played drums for entertainment as well as different kinds of communication. In more modern times, it's interesting to note that throughout the history of Jazz there are not that many recordings of drummers playing together on record. The first recordings that made the public take notice were the 1946 Jazz at the Philharmonic drum battles between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. There were a few studio recordings that came out in the 50s which included such greats as Mel Lewis, Osie Johnson. Charlie Persip, Louis Hayes. Don Lamond and a few others. Although these recordings are good, they didn't do justice to these masters. In fact, they were a bit over arranged, and the record company seemed to boast more about hi-fi sound rather than music. The man really responsible for seeing the possibilities for recording drum ensembles was An Blakey, fusing Latin jazz percussionists with jazz multi-percussionists. These were ideas that were no doubt inspired by Dizzy Gillespie's fascination with Afro-Cuban sounds in the 40s. Art recorded with legendary conga drummer Chano Pozo on a James Moody record date for Blue Note in I948. He also recorded a drum duet with Sabu Martine: on a Horace Silver record date. Blakey recorded no less than six albums with different drum ensembles. It is indeed Art who is the ringleader of the "Gretsch Drum Night" session here.

Without gelling too deep into drum equipment, Gretsch was a drum company who endorsed these percussionists. Owned by Fred Gretsch, this company was the drum set for Jazz drummers. There were other companies to be sure, but none of them had that sound like Gretsch. A lot of top drummers of the day used them. When I was a child of seven. I would read publications such as Downbeat and I would see pictures of Gretsch endorsee's like: Max Roach. Tony Williams. Philly Joe. Elvin and Art. I remember my father getting mad at me because before lie could read the magazine I'd cut out the pictures of my idols and hang them on my wall! Gretsch still exists nowadays but. they have next to no interest in Jazz drummers. They have very few Jazz endorsees if any. Even more of a pity is that they don't make their drums like they used to (it was so good while it lasted).

Putting four drummers on stage together can he a horrific experience. There's always the tendency for drummers to want to outplay each other. Also, it can do a number on your eardrums. On this CD. you'll hear friendly competition done in a musical way.

Art Blakey [1919-1990] was horn in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. He was basically self-taught on the drums, but took a few informal lessons from his idol Chick Webb (if if you listen to early Blakey big band recordings you can hear how he imitated Webb right down to the tuning of the snare drum). He played with one of the pioneers of big band jazz, Fletcher Henderson for about a year. Art then joined the legendary Billy Eckstine band from 1944 until the band’s demise in 1947. Blakey became associated with the bebop movement, recording and performing with such greats as Charlie Parker. Fats Navarro and Dexter Gordon. Blakey organised the Seventeen Messengers, which were scaled down to a octet for a Blue Note record date in 1947. In 1955. Blakey and pianist Horace Silver formed a cooperative as the Jazz Messengers. Front that point until his death, Blakey had many classic Messenger groups and helped to groom musicians for the future of Jazz. I should also point out that An took the Bebop innovations of drummers like Kenny Clarke and Max Roach to another level. With his raw gutsy solos and his hard-driving swing. Blakey changed the role of modern Jazz drummers.

Joseph Rudolph Jones (1923-I985) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He started playing drums and piano at an early age. He got serious about the drums in his late teens, About thai time. Joe became one of the first black streetcar conductors in Philadelphia. He commuted to New York to study with swing drummer Cozy Cole. In 1947, he came to New York permanently working as the house drummer at Cafe Society. He gained experience working with Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron and many others. Around this time he got the name Philly Joe so as not to be confused with veteran Count Basie drummer Jo Jones. A year later, he made his first recordings with the Joe Morris band playing rhythm and blues. Later on he worked with guitarist Tiny Grimes and his Rocking Highlanders, wearing a kilt no less. His best known association was with the classic Miles Davis Quintet from 1955 to 1958. After leaving Davis, he became the most sought after session man, recording for Prestige, Riverside, Blue Note and a host of other labels from the late 50s into the 60s. He lived in Europe from 1969 to 1972. When he returned to Philadelphia, he formed his group Le Grand Prix. In 1981, he formed Dameronia a group put together for the sole purpose of playing the music of pianist-composer, Tadd Dameron. Philly Joe took the best from masters like Max Roach. Sid Catlett, Jo Jones. Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey and made it his own. His playing had everything; technical virtuosity, slickness, humour and most of all he could swing you into bad health.

Charlie Persip (1929) was born in Morristown, New Jersey. He's a master of both big and small band playing. He's best known for his work with Dizzy Gillespie (1953-58), Persip along with a few others helped to dispel the myth among white contractors and producers at that time that black drummers couldn't read music. Charlie has always been a fantastic musician who didn't put up with a lot of nonsense. Punctuality is usually the rule with Persip, but he once overslept for an early morning recording session. When he finally got to the session, the rest of the musicians were rehearsing. The minute he finished setting up.  they put the music in front of him and rolled lite tape. He sight-read the music as if he hail been playing it for a year. The producer couldn't believe what he had just witnessed and later wrote Charlie a letter Mating stating that he had never seen that kind of musicianship in his life, Incidentally, that session was a Bill Potts' The Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess. Persip was much in demand for studio work recording with everyone from Jackie and Roy to Eric Dolphy. These days Charlie is the principal drum instructor for JazzMobile. has his own big band which he calls Persipitation and has even written a very good hook titled "How Not To Play The Drums".

Elvin Ray Jones (1927-) was born in Pontiac. Michigan, the youngest of the illustrious Jones brothers. Elvin began his professional career as the house drummer in saxophonist Billy Mitchell's band at the famed Bluebird Club in Detroit. This engagement gave him a chance to play with all the great jazzmen who came through town. Elvin’s style of drumming met with some resistance from musicians and critics alike. The innovations of Kenny Clarke and Max Roach in the 40s seemed like the logical step from what drummers before them like Jo Jones and Sid Cutlet! were doing. When Elvin came on the scene, he was outrageously different from anything that came before him. His time feel and use of complex polyrhythms were something that had never been done before. I might also point out that he completely revolutionized 3/4 time playing. Elvin would plav over the bar lines putting accents on the (and) of two rather than playing on the downbeat of one. This made his time much smoother and sort of made it float along. Philly Joe wax actually one of Elvin's earliest fans. He knew right from the beginning thai Elvin had something special. He used to send Elvin in on jobs and recordings he couldn't make. The two of them even recorded an album together for Atlantic. The world caught on. and he toured and also recorded with J J Johnson, Barry Harris, Donald Byrd. Harry Edison among others. Elvin joined the Joint Coltrane Quartet in 1960. He was a perfect match for Trane's journey into modality and his open form style of this period. After leaving Coltrane in 1966. he spent a brief time with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Since that time Elvin lias been leading his own groups.

The other musicians on this dale contribute short but strong solos. Tlte frontline consists of an interesting instrumentation of aim trombone.

Sylvester Kyner better known as Sonny Red, hailed from Detroit. At the time of this live session, he had already recorded one album for Blue Note as a leader. Seven months after this recording he was signed to Riverside Records where he made four dales as a leader. He is best known for his recordings as a sideman on Blue Note with his junior high school buddy Donald Byrd. Red was a player who could cover all the bases. He could play gut bucket blues, but had  a strong harmonic conception, played lyrical ballads and was a 'from scratch' improviser. You never knew where he would go next. Red died in 1981.

Charies Greenlea toured and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie's Bebop Band of the 40s. He went on to record with Archie Shepp and played off and on with Philly Joe Jones in the 60s. I first met him in the seventies when he was playing with the C.B.A. (Collective Black Artists) big hand.

Ron Carter was twenty-three at the lime of this recording made and was commuting back and forth from New York in Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where he was in the process of getting his Masters Degree. It's interesting to hear him playing with these drummers. There are very few recordings of Ron playing with Blakey or Philly Joe. It's too had because listening to this CD, you'll hear that they play well together. Persip was instrumental in getting Ron on a lot of studio dates when he first came to the Big Apple. He was also part of Persip's group The Jazz Statesmen. Then as now. Ron is still taking care of serious bass business.

Tommy Flanagan, also a product of Detroit, can fit into any situation. A year before this date, he had recorded the now classic John Coltrane "Giant Steps" session. During this period, he was working and recording with Coleman Hawkins. Art Farmer. Clark Terry and many others. I had the opportunity to work with Tommy's trio for two years. He is truly a joy to play with,

I've sketched out some notes to help the listener to identify the drummers. On Wee Dot and Now's The Time there are only two drummers - Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey. The way to tell them apart is Philly Joe's drums are tuned higher than Blakey's (incidentally Joe is using Persip's drums and cymbals).

Wee Dot is a JJ Johnson composition that Blakey recorded for Blue Note six years earlier live at the same club. It is he who starts with a 8 bar intro and plays through the melody. Philly Joe steps right in accompanying Red for seven choruses. Dig how Joe uses his left hand behind him. Art plays behind Creenlea's short trombone solo and Flanagan's piano choruses . Philly Joe plays the four bar exchanges with the horn as well as the extended drum solo. Art is keeping time on the ride cymbal. The roles then reverse, Joe plays time and Art solos. Check out how Art goes from a whisper to a roar on his solo.

Charlie Parker's Now's The Time starts with a four-bar intro from Philly Joe. You can hear at the ninth bar of the melody how they both punctuate the melody together. Check out how Art plays one of his dynamic press rolls to begin Greenlea's solo. At the third chorus of the solo. Philly Joe steps in with a typical conga beat that he plays between his two toms for almost two choruses. Philly Joe lakes charge during Red's solo. I'm sorry, but there's no one that could swing harder than Philly Joe at that tempo. There's a tape splice right after the fourth chorus of Red's solo that switches us back to Blakey's accompaniment. During Flanagan's solo, you can hear Philly Joe trying in step in musically as if he's saying "May I cut in on this dance?" There's another sudden splice, and there's Philly Joe again showing us how slick he was. Philly Joe plays a full chorus drum solo with backing from Blakey’s ride cymbal. Art's solo reminds us of the Chick Webb influence. Art sure had a big drum sound.

Another drum set is brought out on the stage of Birdland and we hear Art, Elvin and Charlie for the next tune El Sino. Art and Elvin play the theme together. Sonny Red has the first solo backed by Art. Persip accompanies Creenlea's solo. Talking to Persip, he told me that he and Elvin were roommates at the time. He felt that listening and talking to Elvin was a big inspiration for him. It helped to free up his whole rhythmic conception. It's Elvin that plays brushes behind Tommy and Ron's solos. Few people know that Elvin is a master of brushes. The four-bar exchanges start off with Art, Charlie and Elvin in that order. There's a drum interlude right after the last exchange which is a Blakey rhythm phrase played by the three before each of the drum solos. Elvin has the first solo. Persip is next, playing everything sharp and clean. He always had chops io spare. His bass drum work sounds as if he's using two bass drums, although he's only using one. They repeat the interlude once more, and the hums lake it out.

Tune Up is actually the next number but because of time considerations on the conventional LP Roulette decided tn start from the 8-bar drum exchanges. Reissue producer Michael Cuscuna and I were disappointed that there were no extra session reels. We had hoped thai we would be able fix the edlts and restore the music to its original form. What you hear is all that appeared on the original LP. The 8-bar exchanges start with Philly Joe, Charlie and Elvin in that order. The first extended solo is by Philly Joe. Persip takes over with a 6/8 time feeling. Later he shows off his independence by actually playing four different rhythms with each limb. Elvin is the next soloist playing a quasi-free solo. Next the percussionists pull out their brushes starring with Philly Joe. As he's playing you can hear Art egging him on. Philly Joe was a master showman, and you can hear that he had the audience in the palm of his hands. It's too bad there's no film of this performance. Charlie and Elvin both tell their stories with the brushes before the ensemble comes in with the melody of Tune Up.

The session reels say that the last piece is titled A Night In Tunisia. Again because of time considerations they cut all the horn solos. The three percussionists start with intricate Afro-Cuban rhythms. The first soloist is Persip. After the ensemble playing Persip is heard again. Elvin takes another extended solo. The Afro-Cuban rhythms come back before they switch to a 6/8 time feel and then the big finale.

Like saxophones or trumpets, drummers can also play together and he just as musical. The proof is here to hear.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Harold in the Land of Jazz [From the Archives]

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

The “Harold” in the title of this piece is tenor saxophonist Harold Land [1928-2001]. If you were an Los Angeles based Jazz fan or musician, “Harold” would have been enough as he was a widely-respected player in this city’s Jazz scene for over half-a-century, although, sadly, not as well known outside of it.

At a round-table discussion on West Coast jazz held in 1988, Buddy Collette offered a few words about fellow saxophonist Harold Land:

"Harold"s been one of the finest tenor players I've heard and I have hardly heard a write-up about what this man has been doing through the years. . . . I've known him for 30 years, 35 years, and he's been playing jazz morning, noon and night. ... In New York he would have gotten more."

"It is all too telling that Harold Land is best remembered in the jazz world for the brief time he was performing on the East Coast with the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet. Land's thirty-five years of exceptional work since that time are often treated as an elaborate footnote to this early apprenticeship. The recordings, however, tell no lies. They document Land's major contributions to jazz both during and after his work with Brown and Roach. They reveal that he was one of the most potent voices on the West Coast scene throughout the period.

Those aware of Land's origins in Houston, Texas, where he was born on February 18, 1928, often hear a lingering Texas tenor sound in his playing. In fact, Land and his family spent only a few months in the Lone Star State. Soon his family moved to Arizona, and just a few years later they settled in San Diego. At an early age Land began taking piano lessons, at the instigation of his mother, but switched to tenor after hearing Coleman Hawkins's influential 1939 recording of "Body and Soul.""
- Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz, Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960

After gaining experience with local bands in San Diego he moved to Los Angeles, where he joined the quintet led by Clifford Brown and Max Roach as a replacement for Teddy Edwards. He was with this band for 18 months, but left to play with Curtis Counce (1956-8). Land then led his own groups, or shared leadership with Red Mitchell (1961-2) and Bobby Hutcherson (1967-71); in the 1950s and 1960s he also worked with the Gerald Wilson Big Band. From 1975 to 1978 he led a quintet with Blue Mitchell, and thereafter has worked as a freelance, mainly in California but also touring overseas.

It seems that the only two people who did not lament tenor saxophonist Harold Land’s continuance with the initial version of the legendary quintet led by drummer Max Roach and trumpeter Clifford Brown were Harold and me.

When I asked Harold about his decision to quit the group and return to Los Angeles for family reasons, he said: “Do you know how often I get asked that question? I have no regrets. For the last 45 years I’ve been in the California sunshine near my family and friends. Going on the road is a drag, nothin’ but hard times. The work here has been all right over the years and I’m happy sleepin’ in my own bed at night.”

I really enjoyed having Harold’s unique tenor sax sound, a sound that was so different than many of the Lester Young inspired tones on the West Coast Jazz scene, within driving distance and it was always a gas to hear him play in Jazz clubs or concert venues as a member of Gerald Wilson or Oliver Nelson’s big bands or as the co-leader in groups he fronted with trumpeter Red Mitchell, vibist Bobby Hutcherson and trumpeter Blue Mitchell.

Sadly feature articles about Harold in Jazz publications were a rarity, but I did find this in -

down beat
June 6, 1960
by John Tynan

“Harold  Land, one of the  towering figures on contemporary-jazz tenor saxophone and standard-bearer of the new jazz on the west coast, isn't out to prove a thing to anybody but himself.

Living in Los Angeles since he left the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet some four years ago, the quiet, serious Land has been content to take his chances with the rest of the jazz branch of Local 47, AFM, and take his gigs where he finds them. Currently leading a quintet at Los Angeles' Masque club, he is decidedly optimistic about the present state of modern jazz in the southern slice of the Golden State.

Since his Roach-Brown days, Land said, the music and the musicians in the L.A. area have taken an upward turn. "It has improved," he commented, "especially in recent months. The few new jazz clubs that have opened have helped a lot; also the jazz concerts we've had recently have done much to re-stimulate interest."

During the last couple of years Los Angeles has become notorious among musicians as a jazz graveyard where night-club work is concerned. Land, however, somehow has managed to work with reasonable consistency in this drought.

"Having a place to play makes a world of difference to the musician — because just playing at home just doesn't make it at all," he commented dryly. "The musicians of Los Angeles have had so few places to play jazz; that's been one the biggest holdbacks. It meant that the few sessions that were going on would be dominated by just the few cats who showed up early and this made the sessions less enjoyable for the rest.

"Also, this situation made it very hard to keep a group together."

Land is frank in admitting his inclination to take things for granted in the development of jazz in Los Angeles. "There have been important changes in the playing of local musicians," he said, "but being so closely involved with my own playing, possibly I've been inclined to take these changes in stride."

In Land's view, Los Angeles musicians generally "seem  more conscientious than they were five years ago." Why? "It's rather hard to say, but for one
thing, there are countless musicians being influenced by what they hear from the east coast."

And is this increasing influence restricted only to the Negro jazzmen?
"No, I can hear this influence in the playing of both white and colored musicians."

In Land's view, Miles Davis and his more recent associates have been the most important influences on jazz musicians generally in recent years, "Miles, 'Trane, Cannonball and the 'Rhythm Section' (Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers, and Red Garland) have been the main influence," he said.


"For one thing, it's in the way they work as a unit. This is outstanding. Then, too, each individual's playing is important. As a matter of fact, the individuals' influence has been the most important factor, in my opinion.

"You could possibly say that these are the most influential men in jazz today, as I see it."

While not exclusively signed with any record company, Land can count albums under his own name on Contemporary Records (Harold in the Land of
Jazz) and High Fidelity Records (The Fox). Moreover, he has played as side-man on more jazz LPs than he can count.

Today he sums up his aim succinctly: "I want to get said as much as I possibly can on the instrument in my own group or in any group where I could be happy. Or to be playing in a group where all the musicians would be completely in accord; to me this is the ultimate in playing."

"Yet," Land added with more than a suggestion of wistfulness, "that's only happened once—with the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet. That was the happiest musical family I've ever been in. With Max, Clifford, Richie Powell, and George Morrow, every night was more exciting than the one before.

"It can happen again. But it hasn't happened completely as yet with the musicians I've been working with."

Land's search for the perfect empathy may well be as elusive as he contends, but observers have noted a remarkable musical rapport between the tenorist and the drummer with whom he apparently prefers to work, Frank Butler. Still, Land refuses to commit himself on this point for fear of offending other musicians.

Since his days with Roach and Brown, Land now feels that he has matured. "I have more to offer," he said. "I've learned a bit more since then."

For all his love of big-band sounds, he is happiest, he said, playing with small groups because of the blowing freedom this affords. But "a serious big band is beautiful," he remarked, "and I guess Gil Evans, Ernie Wilkins, and Quincy Jones are among my favorite arrangers. And don't leave out Gil Fuller and John Lewis and their charts for Dizzy Gillespie's big band years ago. This has been a long time ago, but age doesn't make any difference. They were good then, and they're still good."

Land is a typically west coast jazz son. Born in Houston, Texas, 31 years ago, he was reared and schooled in San Diego, Calif., which he left for Los Angeles eight years ago to seek his fortune. While pecuniary fortune may have eluded him thus far, he ranks today among the highest artistic earners in the top tenor bracket.”

Fortunately Harold does have a considerable discography and I thought it might be fun to focus on Harold in the Land of Jazz Contemporary 162-2, OJCCD 162-2 one of his earliest recordings as its always been among my favorites for a variety of reasons including [1] his front line pairing with Swedish-born trumpeter Rolf Ericsson, [2] a hard-driving rhythm section made up of Carl Perkins, piano, Leroy Vinnegar, bass and Frank Butler, drums, [3] six intriguing original compositions by Harold, Carl Perkins and pianist Elmo Hope, [4] some sophisticated hard bop arrangements by Harold and Elmo, including their take on the standards Speak Low and You Don’t Know What Love Is, and last but not least, [5] the following informative and instructive liner notes by Nat Hentoff, whose collective writings were one of my earliest sources of information about Jazz.

As an added feature, I’ve posted individual videos of the 8 tracks in the order that they appear on the CD version of the recording at the end of Nat’s notes so that you can sample the music on this recording at your leisure.

IN VIEW OF THE CURRENT VOGUE among musicians of such terms as "earthy" and "roots" when appraising the authenticity of a jazzman, I cannot resist noting the aptness of Harold Land's name in this alfresco context. His playing is as deeply rooted in jazz tradition as anyone's now in jazz. His capacity for communicating the blues, his wholeness of pulsation and his insistence on "keeping the emotion free" when he plays — all these elements make him a modernist whose language would not be alien to Sidney Bechet or Tommy Ladnier or Speckled Red.

Harold's reputation among musicians has been increasing rapidly in the past three years, and most jazzmen returning East after a Western campaign would agree with John Tynan of Down Beat that "Land ... of current California tenorists, consistently proves his leadership in the realm of ideas and uninhibition." British critic Tony Hall extends his accolade beyond state lines when he describes Land as "one of the most satisfying, soulful, exciting, inventive and highly personal tenors in jazz today."

It's to be hoped that this beginning chorus of international hosannas — and this, his first LP as leader — will finally bring Harold some of the wider public recognition and attendant gigs his jazz quality merits. Several months ago, Vic Feldman wrote to me his conviction that Land "is for my money the best tenor on any coast. The other day he told me that he is seriously thinking of taking a day job if nothing more happens soon," Some weeks later, during a time when his future didn't seem quite as bleak, I asked Land what advice he might have for a young musician, and his quick answer nonetheless was: "Be a plumber." Yet, when you hear him play, it will become insistently evident, I feel, that were Land given a chance to start life again, he'd wind up with some kind of horn, if only a vocationally, because jazz is so unselfconsciously essential a part of his self-expression.

Harold was born December 18, 1928, in Houston, Texas, but from the age of five, he was raised in San Diego. His interest in music didn't become activated until high school, "Colernan Hawkins and Body and Soul had a lot to do with drawing me in," he recalls. When he was about 16, his family bought him a saxophone; he took private lessons for a little over half a year; and "ever since, I've learned it on my own." In 1946, as he came out of high school, Land started playing professionally around San Diego. "I played clubs, casuals, every type of gig —picnics too." Lucky Thompson meanwhile became a strong influence because of "his fluidity and his beautiful, big, round sound," Around 1948, Land heard Charlie Parker and was intensely drawn to his "completely new approach in terms of phrasing, sound and harmonic conception, and yet I also realized that all this was just his inner voice - there was no way for it to come out any other way."

In 1954, Land moved to Los Angeles and "it was crackers and peanut butter for quite a while." Later that year, however, Clifford Brown brought Max Roach to a jam session in Los Angeles because he'd heard a tenor he liked. Max hired Land, and Harold stayed with the Roach-Brown unit a little over two years. He left the group and returned to the Coast when his grandmother, to whom he was closely attached, was stricken with what turned out to be a fatal illness.

Land feels his time with Roach and Brown was valuable in broadening his scope. "Working side by side with such a tremendous musician as Clifford Brown," explains Land, "was inspiring each night. He was such a master of phrasing." Back in Los Angeles, Land has worked with the Curtis Counce unit (with whom he appears along with Carl Perkins and Frank Butler on Contemporary CS 526 and CJ 559) and has headed his own group intermittently.

The late Carl Perkins (born August 16, 1928 in Indianapolis, died March 16, 1958 in Los Angeles) is described by his childhood friend, Leroy Vinnegar, as "the kind of musician who played right with you; who played the things you heard. He not only played the chords, he played the beauty in the chords — his own way. And his time was perfect. In that respect he was what you'd call a rhythm section pianist. A man with time like Carl's was so important to a bassist, because you're supposed to play those changes together.”

Harold Land, who selected Perkins, as he did all the musicians for this set, spoke of Carl as "a completely individual player who was also able to provide such warmth in his accompaniment. His chord constructions were beautiful; his solos were always interesting; he knew how to use space so that his phrasing too was beautiful. And there was no end to the funk in his playing."

Bassist Leroy Vinnegar, who has appeared frequently on Contemporary and whose first album as a leader is Leroy Walks! (Contemporary C542) was born July 3, 1928, in Indianapolis; has been in Los Angeles since 1954; and has worked with Barney Kessel, Art Tatum, Stan Getz, a year and a half with Shelly Manne, as well as heading his own units.

Drummer Frank Butler, whose initial recording appearance was on the first volume of The Curtis Counce Group (Contemporary C3526) was born February 18, 1928, in Wichita, Kansas; was raised in Kansas City; worked in San Francisco for a time from 1949. playing with Dave Brubeck and Billie Holiday, among others; moved to Southern California and a stay with Edgar Hayes; traveled the country with his own trio; played with Duke Ellington in 1954; and later worked with Perez Prado and Curtis Counce. "Frank," notes Land, "is completely relaxed at all tempos and at the same time, provides a constant spark. He's an authentic individualist."

Trumpeter Rolf Ericsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden, August 29, 1927, and came to the United States in 1947 where he worked with Benny Carter, Charlie Barnet, Elliot Lawrence, Charlie Ventura and Woody Herman. He was back in Sweden from 1950-1952; and during his second American stay, he played with Charlie Spivak, Stan Kenton, Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars, Harry James, and Les Brown. He toured Sweden with an American combo in the summer of 1956, and has been working in the States since. "I like the way Rolf plays," says Land, "because of his conception and the fact that he too plays with a spark."

Speak Low is a song that Land has liked for a long time, and he used to play it often with the Max Roach group.

Delirium is by Harold, and its title was suggested to him by the seemingly unending flow of sixteen bar phrases. There is, then, a quality of corybantic "delirium" to this concept of phrases into infinity.

You Don't Know What Love Is is one of Harold's favorite ballads. His interpretation, for this listener, is a moving experience in controlled intensity and in a jazzman's ability to make the most familiar standard an urgently personal statement.

Nieta is by Elmo Hope, the pianist-composer-arranger, who collaborated with Land on the arrangements for the album. The song intrigues Land because "the chords in the channel are like the surrounding eights, but he changes the melody so it doesn't sound that way. Hope is another man who hasn't yet been sufficiently recognized. You'll hear in this song how differently lie can set his progressions from most other writers,"

Carl Perkins' ironically titled, Grooveyard, Land feels, "expresses a great deal of the essence of Carl's style — the voicings of the chords, the way the melody is constructed, and the way he phrases." Perkins' work in this, his last composition, is a particularly cogent example of how thoroughly a player can be rooted in jazz tradition — and in the current "soulful" extension of that tradition — and yet be strikingly personal. The same is true of Land. "After all," says Land, "what 'soul' means is the expression of your own soul through everything you've lived and felt."

Lydia's Lament, also by Land, is named for his wife. "I guess it refers to her sadder moments. The idea of the song was that I just wanted to try to portray a mood of some depth and sadness."

Smack Up, another by Land, received its title because the first phrase brought the words "smack up" to Harold's mind. All he feels is necessary to say about its structure is that "the middle goes into a sort of minor movement. His playing here, as throughout the set, indicates his continuing search for what he terms "a freer way of playing tenor, one that's more emotionally stimulating and more adventurous than, let's say, the 'four brothers approach." Land would not call either his playing or the collective work of the group an example of any "hard school" of jazz. "The term has no meaning to me," he adds, "because I can't think of any approach that's warmer than what we believe in."”

[N.B.: Promised Land the 8th track on the CD was not included on the original LP]

By NAT HENTOFF May 10, 1958
Nat Hentoff is the well-known jazz critic and author, He writes regularly on both jazz and non-jazz subjects for a host of magazines, has also co-authored two books: Hear Me Talkin' to Ya & The Jazz Makers (with Nat Shapiro) both published by Rinehart. 

Cover photo hy Walter Zerlinden         
Cover design by Guidi/Tri-Arts