Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hod O'Brien

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. [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

As was the case in the Jazzprofiles piece on Valery Ponomarev [see June 14, 2008 in the blog archives] praise is due 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.”

PETE MALINVERNI New York City

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

Friday, August 8, 2008

"The Wonder" of Philly Joe Jones - Part 2

“The drummer is generally the member of the band most underrated by the audience and least discussed in the jazz historical and analytical literature. Since drummers don’t play harmonies and melodies in the same way as other instruments, audience members and even some musicians have a tendency to deprecate the musical knowledge of the person sitting behind the drum set. Many mistakenly assume that the drummer just plays rhythm and therefore doesn’t participate in the melodic and harmonic flow of the music.” Ingrid Monson, Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction [ Chicago: University of Chicago Press , 1996, p. 51].

Not only are there many misconceptions about the role of the drummer in a Jazz combo, but correcting these is further complicated by the fact that it difficult to talk about drums in a way that a non-drummer can understand. To his credit, Burt Korall does a superb job of remedying this problem throughout his book - Drummin’ Men - The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 219-233]. [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Describing the Jazz drumming of the likes of a Philly Joe Jones represents even more of a challenge, but here again, Burt has shown that he is up to it as his descriptions of what makes “the wonder” in Philly’s drumming are articulate and expressed in words that most readers can easily understand.

He also gets a lot of assistance from Artie Shaw, Milt Hinton, Orrin Keepnews, Dick Katz, Kenny Washington, Don Sickler and Tony Scott, all of whom remember Philly with admiration and affection.
In this second part of the Jazzprofiles feature on Philly Joe Jones , Burt takes us through Philly’s early career in New York, but places his emphasis on his tenure with the classic Miles Davis Quintet of the 1950s - the highlight of Philly’s career. Included are numerous examples of various tunes on which Philly plays solos as well as things that Philly is doing behind the soloist that help make this music, as well as, his drumming so unique and special.

“The news about Philly Joe Jones spread rapidly through the New York music community. A bit of a paradox, he had great assets as a musician and an imposing number of personal limitations.

In 1951, he joined the Buddy Rich band as second drummer. Rich was one of his idols. He was proud to have been hired, and happy that the drum icon liked his playing. Rich made that unmistakable. He picked Jones up every night on the way to work - a rather uncommon thing for the super-drummer to do.

A great source of inspiration, intimidation, and frustration to Jones, Rich acted as a spur to Jones's ambition. To develop the high-level facility that would place him on the level of the freakish Rich became a major pre-occupation.

The obsession with Rich, which is shared by drummers across generations, never left him. A number of years later, after he had become an international star with Miles Davis, he still had this devil to deal with, among many others.

GEORGE WEIN: We embarked on our second tour of Japan in 1965 with four drummers: Philly Joe, Louie Bellson, Charli Persip, and Buddy. Philly done fantastically well on the first drummers' tour. He had a great following in Japan because of his records with Miles Davis. What Philly did with brushes really impressed Japanese jazz fans.

On the plane, Buddy said to Philly: "Look, Joe, you know what’s happening. You tell us how it should go down, and we'll just follow your lead." Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook were the horns. I've forgotten the names of the pianist and bass player. Anyway, all the drummers would be onstage at one time, and they'd start rhythmic patterns. One would play, then another. Then each one would do his own thing.

Out of respect, Philly insisted that Buddy close the show. In his heart, he wanted to make it tough for Buddy to follow him. He went on and did his thing and was fantastic! Then they introduced Buddy Rich.

Philly had gone down to the dressing room of the concert hall. Before long he was in the wings, watching and listening to Buddy. Because he had to follow Philly's great performance, Buddy turned it on from the outset. He made a special effort. You know Buddy's ego. Standing there with a towel around his neck, like an athlete after a big win, Philly focused on Buddy. Slowly, but surely, you could see Philly coming down, down, down. His face and body mirrored what was happening. Buddy was cutting him to bits. He turned and walked away. Obviously he couldn't take it anymore. His anger and frustration burst through. He said: "Motherfucker! "- so it clearly could be heard.

Philly Joe had been clean as a whistle. He was so excited about being in Japan, where he had enjoyed such enormous success. When Buddy him out, it destroyed him, This is my interpretation. Two days later, he went out and got busted for narcotics.”
Jones was arrested in Kobe, in western Japan. The New York Amsterdam News reported: "Narcotics officers reportedly seized 10 grams of drugs and several hypodermic needles. The type of drug was not revealed but it was stated that a search of Jones's hotel room in Kobe revealed traces of a powdered drug."

The habit and bad luck seemed to get in Jones's way. In early 1953, clarinetist Tony Scott, who had recently joined the Duke Ellington band, suggested Jones to maestro. There was about to be an opening in the band. Jones auditioned at the Bandbox, a club on Broadway next door to Birdland, where Ellington was appearing.

TONY SCOTT: Joe came in on a Tuesday and auditioned. All the older cats in the band, like Harry Carney, Russell Procope, and Hilton Jefferson, turned around and looked at him. Joe played the hell out of the Ellington things and was really swinging.

He was hired to come in on Thursday. But he didn't show. He'd gone home to Philadelphia and was arrested. The police were wrong. It was false arrest, a mistaken identity thing. But Joe was in jail for a couple of days and couldn't make the gig. When he came back to New York, it was too late. [Ed. note-Ellington hired Jones to play the score of the motion picture Paris Blues a few years down the line. There were four drummers: Sonny Greer, Max Roach, Jimmy Johnson, and Jones.]

That same year, Jones became a member of clarinetist Tony Scott's quartet - with Milt Hinton (bass) and Dick Katz (piano) - at Minton's in Harlem. Kenny Clarke was going to take the job but had become involved with the Modern jazz Quartet; he strongly recommended Philly Joe Jones. Jones brought his ample talent to bear on music that simultaneously reached into his swing roots and mirrored his bebop interests.

Scott attracted major attention with the band. He could have achieved substantial success with it had he seen fit to further season the quartet and book it throughout the country at a reasonable price. A live recording, taped by Johnny Mandel at Minton's, came out as part of Tony Scott in Hi Fi on Brunswick about four years later. It documents how good the quartet was.

One of very few clarinetists with sufficient musical know-how and warmth to deal inventively with bebop, Scott was moving toward a peak level as a player. He swung consistently and played the music in an increasingly persuasive manner.

Milt Hinton, one of the few bassists in his generation who found pleasure and challenge in modern jazz, was a source of stability, surety, and swing. Dick Katz, whose economic style mingled the past and present, fit in well.

Philly Joe Jones was the firemaker. Seemingly without breaking a sweat, he brought buoyancy and a sense of great excitement to the time, colorfully commenting, mostly with the left hand, as he proceeded. He was anything but monochromatic.

His four-bar exchanges with Scott were particularly effective because they were part of the unfolding musical story; there was no break in the continuity. He performed gracefully, moving across elements of the set - with heaviest concentration on the snare drum-adding intensity and quality to the music. Unlike so many drummers, he wasn't redundant. Try "Away We Go," an up-tempo burner, on the Brunswick LP.
TONY SCOTT: Joe had a lot of drive. He created different "sounds" that spurred you on. He came out of Sid Catlett. As a matter of fact, his hands and what he did with them reminded me of Sid. But he went way beyond that. Joe did a lot of cute show-biz things with the cymbal, dueling with it, playing little things on its underside. When you listened closely during a number or through an entire set, he often sounded like a horn player, particularly during his solos. You know, Joe was the only drummer who could play big band lead-ins or brass figures without rushing.
I used him later on a small band gig in the Village, in 1959 just before I left for Japan. Bill Evans and Jimmy Garrison were in the group. Philly came in for the last two weeks. One night, as we were playing the last number of the final set, Philly started to take down his drums. He went for the bass drum pedal first and dropped it in his case. Next he took down the snare and its stand Then the bass drum. All the while, he kept playing time on the ride cymbal. Next he took apart the hi-hat and lightly walked it over to the case. As he unscrewed the ride cymbal, we held the final note. The cymbal landed in the case just as we ended the tune. Boom! It was beautiful!

While we were at Minton's, I started announcing him as Philly Joe, so the people wouldn't confuse him with Papa Jo Jones. Later Philly had his name changed legally.
MILT HINTON: Philly Joe was a big guy with strong hands - and one of the drummers who played the modern jazz style correctly. He was doing really well at Minton's and did even better with Miles. Philly always used a lot of narcotics. But on the bandstand he was marvelous.

DICK KATZ: Philly Joe used to talk a lot about Sidney Catlett. He liked Mat Roach and Art Blakey but was far more polished than Blakey. Philly was hip and slick. He called me "Dick Dogs" and could be a totally impossible person.

A lot of musicians warned me not to do it, but I went out on the road with him once after the Minton's thing. All the bad things that you can imagine happened. We were at the Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh. There was chaos. He got a big advance for himself and didn't pay the band.

Tell you one thing: he made me play way over my head. Kicked me in the ass and forced me to do it. He could be intimidating and something a bully. But underneath he was a softie. But I wasn't ready back then to be a philosopher.

The man was totally musical and very dramatic. And he was precise. You’d better believe that! When he was given thirty-two bars, that's what he would play. If he took a few choruses, he expected you to listen, not walk off the bandstand, and come in just where you should. He didn't fool around!

Philly was very adroit with the bass drum. He used it sparingly and very tastefully. He was a virtuoso of the hi-hat. I think his greatest strengths were color and his pulse. Certainly he was instantly recognizable. And his fours were as exciting as any I've ever heard.
Jones could burn you alive with fours, eights, half choruses, and choruses. He was beyond compare when soloing up to and a bit beyond a chorus. The longer solos, however, were not on that level. Though generally musical and interesting, they were not as good as the shorter bursts. This limitation had to do with technique, control, and concentration-the ability to execute and develop ideas over the long haul. Jones was no slouch. Most drummers would give their eyeteeth to be able to do what he did. But he wasn't a virtuoso like Rich or Roach or Joe Morello or Louie Bellson, no matter how hard he tried to become one.
Kenny Washington, an excellent contemporary drummer, who knows more about Philly Joe Jones than almost anyone, insists Jones "had the best of two worlds. Legit chops, on the one hand, and what I call 125th Street/ South Philadelphia slickness -the on-the-corner stuff - on the other."

Arthur Taylor felt that "Philly encompassed everything. He had the technique, the control, He knew all the rhythms. His imagination was unbelievable. He was my favorite."

All the elements compound best on the recordings Jones made with Miles Davis for Prestige and Columbia in the 1950s. They are classic performances by a band that lived and traveled and experienced a lot-together. There was some turbulence in the band, but the recordings mirror little of that.

JONES: Working with Miles was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. The original quintet can be traced back to my hometown. Red Garland, John Coltrane, and I had this little band. We worked locally at clubs like the Blue Note. We got together with Miles, who brought Paul Chambers into the band.
It wasn't that cut-and-dried. Davis wanted Sonny Rollins, and the tenor man was in and out of the band. John Gilmore from Chicago was tried at a few rehearsals. Finally Coltrane was called by Philly Joe Jones to play the first gig by the quintet at the Anchors Inn in Baltimore. The band opened on September 28, 1955.

Chambers, an accomplished twenty-year-old bassist from Detroit, was Jackie McLean's recommendation. He had been working with Chambers in pianist George Wallington's group at the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village.

It didn't take long for the band to solidify and make an impression. By the end of its first tour, there was a great deal of talk about the quintet, though some fans were disappointed that Rollins wasn't in the band.

Davis had attracted a rush of attention a few months earlier at the Newport jazz Festival. He made an electrifying appearance, after a time in the shade. The press "rediscovered" him. Record companies pursued him. Indeed, it was Miles Davis's time.

The records tell the story. Though Jones and Coltrane were fired and rehired because of drug problems and differences with Davis, all the musicians liked one another and had in common a concept, an approach to playing music that stemmed from Davis. They had the freedom they needed to carry it out and find their own paths as well.

Coltrane, obsessive about moving ahead, practiced and tried new things all the time, on and off the bandstand. Garland sought the economy, precision, and color particular to the style of Ahmad Jamal while incorporating harmonic elements out of Erroll Garner. Chambers developed rapidly with Davis. Clearly it was a musical environment that motivated growth and continuing invention.
Philly Joe Jones again was the firemaker. He was flexible and confident. often establishing an almost strutting thrust. His solos were flowing and almost always surprising. Their shape and structure had an underlying musicality about them - a sense of inevitability. One pattern melded with the next. There was sharpness and exactness in his ensemble performances, behind the soloists, and when he spoke for himself.

Jones played what he knew and felt, often reaching beyond that. He introduced textural variety on the snare and the other drums as well. The tom-toms often took on a melodic quality, particularly when Jones put together patterns across the drums. The way Jones played the hi-hat and top cymbals gave performances delightful immediacy. Trickery on the hi-hat - crafty and rhythmically so effective - added to the quality and value of his supportive playing and solos.

Jones's playing was sophisticated and down home, loud and demanding. He generally said something and gave his colleagues what they needed. Davis relished Jones's fire and intensity, The trumpeter couldn't do without them. Though Jones often wanted to play brushes, which he did as few could, Davis preferred sticks and strength and Jones's constant comment.

JIMMY GIUFFRE: One night, I asked Philly Joe: "Don't you ever play softly? You're so busy and play so loud." "I know what you mean," Philly said. "But I can't do it in Miles's band. He wants me to play 'up there '- surround the music with the cymbal sound and play a lot of stuff on the drums." Philly thought for a minute, then made me an offer: "I'll tell you what. Come down to the club [Ed. note - I believe it was the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village on Sunday afternoon]. I'm going to play soft, down low, with the band. You watch what Miles does." Sure enough, after Philly began playing softly with brushes that Sunday, Miles turned around and, in that raspy voice of hi~. angrily made his feelings known: "What the fuck are you doing, man? Play!”

The 1950s clearly were Philly Joe Jones's most important period. He was admired and imitated. He could sweep you off your feet. As early as the January 30, 1953, Miles Davis date on Prestige with Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins (tenors), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), and Percy Heath (bass) Jones's gritty pulsation and consistently captivating and uplifting embroidery were all you could want as a player or listener.

The surge was made all the more compelling by the decisive snapping sound of the hi-hats closing on "2" and "4" of every 4/4 measure. Not only that, he used big band techniques where most effective - try "Compulsion.' He hit hard, further defining accents in the melodic line, playing linking figures, and placing bass drum accents under the right notes in the ensembles. These techniques enhanced the time flow.

The great records for Prestige (Relaxin'. Cookin’, Steamin’, Workin', and Green Haze, all recorded in 1955 and 1956) and two Columbia albums ('Round Midnight and Milestones, the first recorded in 1955 and 1956, the second in 1958, with alto saxophonist Julian " Cannonball " Adderley added to the band) have several things in common.

The repertory is a mixture of the great American standards, originals stemming from bebop, and new pieces by Jackie McLean and Benny Golson. The performances are "seasoned" - a favorite Jones descriptive. They're what could be expected of a great road band. Philly Joe Jones was the pivot around which everything rhythmically developed. He reacted strongly to Davis. The spare, powerful, thought- and emotion-provoking Davis solos played on his sensitivities. For Coltrane, he was an encouraging, assuring colleague, stimulating, laying down a carpet of sound as the saxophonist sought and searched for his own truth. Jones danced lightly behind Garland and worked well with Chambers, giving the bassist the window he needed to operate and be heard.

Jones makes really outstanding "music" on Davis's "Four," from Workin'. His cymbal playing is wonderfully light; his left hand prods and probes possibilities. His four-bar comments are a rudimental feast. "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," from Steamin', again proves how easily Jones could make his point with low-level, singing cymbal work. Each stroke is heard and perfectly spaced. But it's the emotional weight he brings to acutely defined, contributing ideas that makes all the difference. He creates a singular environment for each soloist.

"Salt Peanuts," one of his best and most integrated solo performances, is the highlight of Steamin'. As the solo develops and moves through your senses, Jones's charm, technical swiftness, and how well he works with form seduces you. You hear or sense the basic "Salt Peanuts" figure throughout; he breaks up rhythms and reactively expands on ideas.

The Davis-Jones collaborations musicians like best are two items from Milestones. The title piece, with a sixteen-bar bridge, is in AABA song form (breakdown: 8-8-16-8). Its rhythmic character encourages the drummer to play, to contribute. It's one of Philly Joe Jones's classic performances. One of the first things Davis recorded based on scales, it moves right along in medium/up-tempo incorporating what has become known as the "Philly Joe lick" - a cross-stick accent on the fourth beat of each bar. I heard Blakey play this pattern first, but Jones uses it more frequently and provocatively. Here it becomes part of the structure of the piece and gives rhythmic impetus to the performance it would not otherwise have had.

The second item, a trio treatment of a traditional song, "Billy Boy," is a matter of evocative interplay among Red Garland, Chambers, and Jones. In a tempo between medium and up, it grabs hold of you and never lets go. Garland establishes a cocktail lounge chordal sound and gives it jazz muscle. Chambers lays down the time and takes an arco solo of quality.

But it's Philly Joe Jones's party. He plays a series of four-bar exchanges with his friends that are exemplary. Each four-bar invention - brushes or sticks- is better than the one that preceded it. All the while, the intensity builds. He dances around the set and gives variety to each episode, using everything at his disposal in a classy, productive manner.

I also recommend, without reservation, "Gone," from Miles Davis and Gil Evans's Porgy and Bess (Columbia), for a highly reactive solo by Jones, a matter of one-, two-, four- and eight-bar flashes of inspiration in which the commentary is well woven within the fabric of the piece. Jones's time and technique during this performance are not quickly forgotten.

DON LAMOND: Nobody has ever played better fours than Philly Joe did on "Billy Boy." He sneaks over from brushes to sticks and doesn't miss a beat. He has the greatest sound on the top cymbal, the bass drum. He must have really gotten sober for that record date, because the things he plays are just phenomenal. He makes pure music.
ARTIE SHAW: Philly was a bitch on the Miles records - with the quintet, sextet. and with Gil Evans and the large orchestra. He knew what drums are all about. The drummer isn't supposed to make time but to keep time. He should be a propelling, motivating force. You don't want the drummer intruding on you. Helping is what it's all about. Philly took care of the job, as few could.
The nature of Jones's career after leaving Miles Davis in 1958 could have been predicted. Everyone wanted him for recording sessions, ranging from Hank Mobley to Bill Evans, from Elmo Hope to Tadd Dameron. They all yearned for that fire, that sensitivity, and all that went with it.

Jones made over five hundred albums. Among them are several of his, own on Riverside and Uptown. All speak well for him. When it came to the music, he was a very serious man.
ORRIN KEEPNEWS: Philly Joe was the greatest recording drummer I've ever known. He had an awareness of the requirements of the process and what he had to do. He would always ask about how the sound of the instrument was coming across in the booth. Philly was open to suggestions and conscious of what he had to do. He could adapt easily to situations. This was a great asset in the recording studio. Philly very easily could change the volume and intensity of his playing and still boot the band as much as ever.

Sure, he could be a pain in the ass and unreliable. His addiction was a problem for those who worked with him. He was controlled to a large extent by his habit. But his problem didn't interfere with his performances and how conscious he was of what had to happen in the studio.
Very strongly impelled by the desire to pass on what he knew, Jones had students and gruffly talked to many young drummers who wanted to know how he made miracles on the drum set. He moved around a good deal in the last phases of his career. He spent time in California. "I was on the Charlie Barnet band for a while," he said with some enthusiasm. For five years, he lived and worked and taught in England and France. In Paris, he hooked up with Kenny Clarke in a teaching situation. "Kenny knew so much; he was my man," he told me. Jones was treated as an icon abroad. In France's Jazz Magazine, a review of Jones by critic Alain Gerber at Paris Museum of Modern Art carried the headline " Le Divin Philly Joe." Jones came home to stay In 1972. He returned to Philadelphia, where he headed a jazz/rock group and freelanced. After some planning and discussion, Jones and Don Sickler, a trumpeter, composer, and student of the music, decided to present the music of Tadd Dameron to the public. Eloise Woods Jones, the drummer's wife, who worked hard to bring this project to reality, applied for and received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. It helped make possible Dameronia, a nine-piece band headed by Philly Joe Jones. Sickler was musical director. The band made a memorable debut in Philadelphia in April of 1981, then deeply impressed New Yorkers. It recorded as well, bringing into the foreground at least some of Dameron's valuable, profoundly musical legacy.

Jones's life mellowed out in the final years. He was no longer "Crazy Philly Joe. " People weren't afraid of what he might do. He became a very close friend of Don and Maureen Sickler. DON SICKLER: The old problems were no longer a threat to people who were tight with him. We found him a very sensitive, intelligent guy. He'd sit for hours in our music room, playing the piano, concentrating on Monk material. He continued practicing his rudiments, upside down and backwards. He was so serious about continuing to learn and remind himself about all a drummer needs to know. Philly retained the enthusiasm for music and his instrument.

One night on a gig with Dameronia, he said: "Can you believe we're actually up here having all of this fun, playing this great music - and getting paid for it!"Jones took only gigs he wanted in the last years. The money had to be there; the job had to be interesting and "convenient." He played, studied, and recorded with the Manhattan Transfer and vibraharpist Bobby Hutcherson, among others. He completed drum instruction books, defining his methods. He told one writer that he was still trying to perfect his roll.

Jones's health was not at all stable. Considering what he had put his body through over the years, it was a surprise he was still alive. The fire went out on August 30, 1985. The press said a heart attack was the cause. Friends indicated he had cancer. The cause of death is not important. What he did for music while he was here is.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"The Wonder" of Philly Joe Jones - Part 1


Steven Cerra [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Have you ever wondered how, in a world without today’s variety of Jazz drumming instructional aides, a drummer of the splendor and magnitude of “Philly” Joe Jones came into existence? How did this force of nature manifest itself and become one of the most dynamic drummers in the history of Jazz?

Obviously there are a host of different answers to this question and many of them can be found in the following chapter on Philly Joe from Burt Korall’s Drummin’ Men - The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 219-233].

In Baganda, one of the five Bantu kingships from which the modern state of Uganda takes its name, fathers pass down the complex poly-rhythms used to communicate messages sent by “jungle” drums by placing their hands over the hands of their young sons using “feel” to convey and transfer these rhythmic codes. This is done over a period of years until at some point in the process, the fathers’ top hands come off and the youngsters are on their own.

While not nearly as picturesque, aspiring young drummers in the 1940s and 50s who wanted to play modern Jazz were forced to learn by observing, by asking questions and by any other anecdotal means possible. There were very few formalized [let alone, ritualized] patterns of instruction, not surprisingly perhaps because their were also very few Jazz drummers who taught, or even had the ability to teach [to their credit, Cozy Cole and Gene Krupa did operate a drum school in New York for many years where modern Jazz drummers could go to “work on things,” but the instruction was mostly informal].

For those wanting to play the style of modern Jazz drumming coming into existence in the 1940s and 50s, learning how to do so became something of a enormous quest for knowledge and technique.

Jazz drumming in the preceding Traditional Jazz [Dixieland] and Swing eras was largely an outgrowth of marching band drumming so anyone schooled in snare drum rudiments could do a pedestrian job of playing drums in these styles [assuming that they also had an over-riding sense of time].

But modern Jazz drumming of the form then evolving in the hands [and feet] of Kenny Clarke, Max Roach and Art Blakey required an entirely different orientation to the instrument and a totally singular application of the drum rudiments.

Judging from the 500-600 modern Jazz albums he would play on during his career, it would appear that Philly Joe Jones’ quest to find the Holy Grail of Jazz drumming was successful.

To push the metaphor a bit more, Philly Joe Jones didn’t just find the grail of modern Jazz drumming, he also changed the shape or, in this case, the “sound of it.”

For it is inconceivable that the sound of modern Jazz drumming, particularly in the 1950s, would have been the same without the style of drumming that Philly Joe Jones so painstakingly developed.

He established himself as "Philly Joe" Jones, from the name of the city of his birth, to distinguish himself from the drumming mainstay of Count Basie’s band - Jo Jones.

But just as Jo Jones established the rhythm section standard in the 30’s and 40’s, Philly Joe would do the same in the 50’s.


“Into the 1950s - PHILLY JOE JONES (1923-1985) [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Philly Joe was the most talented, the funniest, the most versatile person I ever met." - DONALD BYRD

“Undoubtedly, Joseph Rudolph "Philly Joe" Jones was the most talented drummer to emerge in the 195os. But there was much more to him than that. During my research process, it became increasingly clear that he had rare, surprising capacities that went far beyond the instrument he played.

Jones was an appealingly facile tap dancer, a pianist, a composer, an arranger, and a songwriter. He sang ballads and scatted, improvising on standards and jazz originals. He could handle the bass violin – left handed - and skillfully deal with the tenor saxophone. Jones read and interpreted - with little apparent difficulty- transcribed solos by his friend fellow Philadelphian John Coltrane.

If that weren't enough, he was, in addition, an entertainer with unusual presence and great ability as a mimic and comedian. I commend to your attention his now famous Bela Lugosi/Count Dracula imitation (Blues for Dracula - Philly Joe Jones Riverside, OJCCD-230-2). He did it so accurately and with flair that he might well have intimidated comedian-commentator Lenny Bruce, whose Lugosi impressions inspired the multifaceted drummer to this a part of his act.
Philly Joe Jones could have been an actor - or just about anything in the area of entertainment. But drums made his heart beat faster than anything else. As is generally the case with attraction, to music or anything else, you little choice in the matter.

JONES: One day in the kindergarten room, I saw and heard a snare drum and knew drums were for me. Because my mother had to go out and work hard to take care of the family, my sister took me to school with her. Mrs. Young, the principal and my mother's friend, allowed me to spend the day in kindergarten with the older kids. I was about two years old. It was day care, long before it became a factor 'round the country.’

I started drumming when I was about nine. On May Day, another little fellow and I played snare drum around the May Pole, to help celebrate that day in Philadelphia. Most kids love any kind of drum. I was into the snare drum. [Ed. note - This became increasingly apparent as his style took form later on.]

Because it was family tradition, Jones learned about the piano. It was such a familiar, recurrent sound around the house. If he had had the patience to sit down and study and practice early on, his level of competence would have been significantly enhanced. His mother or one of his aunts or cousins - they all played the instrument - could have taught him.

JONES: My grandmother, a concert pianist, brought all of her seven daughters into music. Most of them, including my mother, focused on the piano. My Aunt Vi played the violin. Aunt Helen Scott was a tenor saxophonist. She was the tenor soloist in Vi Burnside's All-Girl Band.

"I wish I had really studied the piano," Jones said, his voice expressing regret. Continuing exposure to the instrument, however, made it possible for him to more readily understand music and what he would later have to deal with as a drummer, composer-arranger, and songwriter.

Like a number of other major drummers - Buddy Rich, Jo Jones, Louie Bellson - Jones first expressed his inner rhythm as a tap dancer. He regularly appeared on The Kiddie Show over radio station WIP in Philadelphia. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that he was drawn to show business. Jones, in fact, had a built-in spotlight, centered on himself. Clearly, Jones had "a talent to amuse," to paraphrase a Noel Coward lyric.

JONES: When I was very young, I played drums the way I felt like playing them. Didn't study, really. James "Coatsville" Harris, a great drummer in Philadelphia, got me started. After he found I had some kind of talent and a feel for the instrument, he showed me a whole bunch of things, set me up, got me going. That was the first formal instruction I had. Harris concentrated mostly on rudiments. I didn't develop any real reading ability until I studied with Cozy Cole in the 1940s.

The pattern was set during the years in Philadelphia. Too young to get into clubs, Jones would sneak out and listen to the music and drummers he admired. He asked the older musicians questions and sat in when he could. Long before Jones was tabbed "Philly Joe" by group leader-clarinetist Tony Scott during an engagement at Minton's in 1953, he did all he could to informally learn about music and the drums.

After high school, Jones went into the service. He wasn't assigned to Special Services or a band, though he spent a lot of time with musicians and often sat in with bands wherever he was stationed. When Jones returned home to Philadelphia, he became "serious." He bought his first set of drums and went into the "woodshed," practicing constantly until he felt he was ready to face the music around town.
CHARLIE RICE: I met Joe when he was a teenager, at a place called the Roseland in West Philly, at Arch and Udell streets. It was a breeding ground for musicians. We both weren't old enough to be there. That's where I learned to play drums. Jimmy Preston and a couple of other musicians worked at the place. Playing in different clubs, testing ourselves, seeing who could play the best-that was the thing at the time.

Joe always came around. He later played at the Downbeat when I was in the house band there. The guys used to talk about how talented he was. When the big guns came in from New York, he frequently was the drummer they wanted. I always seemed to be running into Joe. I could talk to him. We were straight with one another. Even though he got strung out and sick and did some really "bad" things, I couldn't get mad at him.

Joe kept things to himself, even when his life was rough. One time I saw him on South Street in front of Gertz, the department store. He had been through some tough times. He started telling me about all the big deals he had. I knew he wasn't doing well. He finally realized who he was talking to and said: "Oh, Charlie, man, you and I-we've been out here for so many years." That's the way he was. Coltrane was the same way. Neither one of them would complain or open up.

Joe was a guy with such a great personality. The things people said about him rolled off his back. When you'd see him, he'd always have something funny to do or something funny to say. Any way you look at it, he was a super player. He and Shadow [Wilson] were the most talented drummers to come out of Philadelphia.

TOM FERGUSON: The back of our place faced the house where Joe lived. It was on Blakemore Street. We were on Matthews Street in Germantown. My father was friendly with the Jones family. Joe and I got to know one another I used to run into him when I started playing the guitar.

I didn't get to know Joe as a player until I got a gig at the Downbeat which was on 11th Street, near the Earle Theater. The guys in the traveling bands that played the theater used to come by the Downbeat to sit in. Jimmy Golden, a piano player, had the band. Ziggy Vines and Al Steele were on tenor. Shrimpy Anderson played bass. Charlie Rice was our regular drummer.

Joe had a job driving a trolley car - the 21 line that extended from Chestnut Hill, at the very top of Philadelphia at the North End, all the way through the city down to South Philadelphia. That was the longest trolley ride in the city.

It ran on 11th Street, right past the Downbeat, which was on the second floor.

Joe often stopped the trolley in front of the club. He'd grab the controls, jump out, and sit in for a number or two. The people hung out the window. of the trolley, growing more and more impatient. They wanted to get home, or wherever they were going. When Joe got back to the trolley, everybody would cheer, and off they'd go to South Philly.

Joe was a gregarious guy. I always was very fond of him.

Later on, I'd see him when he played at Pep's or the Blue Note. I'd bump into him around our neighborhood or riding on the subway. It always was very pleasant.
The years in Philadelphia were important. Jones began to find his way stylistically. He loved Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Kenny Clarke. He had listened to and studied the work of Baby Dodds, Jo Jones, Chick Webb, Denzil Best, Dave Tough, Tiny Kahn, and certainly Sidney Catlett - one of his mentors. He was very fond of the playing of O'Neil Spencer, whom many of us remember warmly for his excellent performances with the John Kirby little band in the 1930s and 1940s

JONES: The exposure to the great people had a lot to do with how I came along-how I thought about music. I didn't want to sound like anyone. I wanted to have my own sound and way of doing things.

I really dug O'Neil. He came to a club in Philadelphia where I was working in 1943, I think it was, and talked to me about the hi-hat. I was using a foot cymbal, the low-hat. O'Neil was the one who invented the hi-hat. I believe that, man. [Ed. note - So many people claimed to have created hi-hat: Kaiser Marshall, Jo Jones, and others.] He suggested I close the hat on "2' and "4" when playing in 4/4 time. The idea seemed so right hadn't heard anyone do that before.

Sid Catlett took the time to show me what to do about many things including brushes. Sid had developed so many brush techniques. He helped a lot of young drummers. He was that kind of a guy. Max and Art Blakey, who were my idols, were encouraging and told me to come to New York.

I used to visit Max regularly in Brooklyn at his Monroe Street apartment. Sometimes Kenny Dennis, another drummer, came along. Max was great to me. Whenever he was in Philadelphia, he'd look me up. I remember one time, when I was driving a grocery truck, he rode around with me for an entire afternoon. We talked about just everything. He kept insisting I come to New York. I left home and went to New York in 1947, intending to stay on permanently.

Jones's need to learn and play made for some stability in what was becoming an increasingly unstable life. Like many others at that time, he went along with the philosophy "If it feels good, do it!" Drugs became central to his day-to-day life. He often behaved in a totally impossible manner - doing people out of money, taking what wasn't his, pawning whatever he could get his hands on, particularly drums - in order to keep up with the increasing demands of his habit. A lot of musicians were afraid to associate with him. This was the "Crazy Joe" side of this increasingly brilliant musician. It took a number of years before he began turning away from such behavior.

But there was his other side. The need to study, to know about music, to play better than everyone else, often kept him on a sensible level. His ability as an entertainer worked for him, giving him immediate entry into a discerning circle of musicians, comedians, actors. They appreciated his quickness, his humor and talent. The Jones charm was devastatingly effective and often deluding - a way of getting what he wanted. It could have strong elements of con.

In the late 1940s, Jones began studying with Cozy Cole, the popular Swing Era drummer. It was a very important experience for Jones.

JONES: Cozy had a studio in a building on West 48th Street across from Manny's, the popular all-around music store. Max was studying vibes with Cozy. Jo Jones was working out some stuff with him, too. I went there regularly for lessons and followed him to West 54th Street and Eighth Avenue, where he and Gene Krupa had their drum school.

Cozy was a great teacher. My reading ability, whatever I do, he's responsible for it. When I came to him, I couldn't. When I left him, I could. It's as simple as that. Cozy was very stern. He'd say: "Play that!" If you didn't play it perfectly - from top to bottom - he wouldn't let you go on. He asked a lot of his students. You had to give him what he wanted. I worked very hard on rudiments. Cozy put heavy emphasis on them. Until then, I played the best I could with a number of bands - in Philadelphia and New York - relying on my instincts
.

Jones would practice all the time, sometimes with other drummers in town. He worked on variations of the rudiments, using paradiddle, flams, triplets, all sorts of rolls, ratamacues, single strokes, and rudimental combinations in new, exciting ways, changing their sound and feeling, making them more musically meaningful. The hard work soon began to pay off. His experiments with rudiments added to his musicality. [Emphasis, mine].

Jones would carry around Modern Rudimental Swing Solos, the classic instruction book by Charles Wilcoxin, notable for difficult yet ultimately fulfilling exercises that promoted facility. He kept at them. Mastering the book became an obsessive matter. His goal was to diversify how rudiments were used and make them more jazz-effective [Emphasis, mine].

Philadelphia colleagues remember with unusual pleasure what he could do even before he went to New York and studied. Jones played with leading New York musicians but spent much of his time working with local players who were deeply into finding singular ways to treat the new music. One was Jimmy Heath, who came to be known as "Little Bird" around Philadelphia.
JIMMY HEATH: Joe was very natural. He understood music better than most drummers because he could play the piano. His drumming was meaningful and well structured. He could swing at any tempo and make you feel it - anything from a slow groove to real, real fast, the Max Roach tempo. Joe's pulse was terrific. Whatever he played had great feeling, no matter who the musicians were.

I worked with Joe a good deal back home. On one particular gig, we had Clifford Brown. You know he could play. Sugey Rhodes was on bass, and I think Dolo Coker was at the piano. It was wonderful. Joe had his problems, no doubt about that. But he always could play and, basically, was a very generous person.

BENNY GOLSON: Philly Joe was a little older than the rest of us - John Coltrane, Jimmy Heath, and the others. He had gotten started earlier than we did. As far as development, he was down the road a bit. I kind of worshipped him from afar.
A lot of us in Philadelphia came along at about the same time. We were trying to deal with bebop. Certainly Philly Joe was latching onto it. So was bassist Nelson Boyd and Red Garland, the pianist who later was so impressive with Miles [Davis]. I watched the whole thing start to change in town. Bebop created a whole new environment.

I got a gig for the summer in 1951 with Bull Moose Jackson and his Bearcats. I was just getting my feet wet. Joe came into the band. He sang. played the piano and bass, did some tap dance routines. The guy was phenomenal. He wrote music and arranged stuff. And he was a truly terrific drummer.


He was so sensitive to what was going on that things fell into the right places. He didn't use a paradiddle, a flam tap, or a ruff without an underlying reason. When he played something, it added to the moment and what was going on emotionally. That's what I liked about him.

Tadd Dameron, the great arranger, was the pianist in the Jackson band Both Bull Moose and Tadd were from Cleveland. Bull Moose convinced Tadd to come out on the road with him. When he was thinking about changing the drummer, he asked me if I knew a good one. I suggested Joe, though I wondered just how well he would fit in the band. But he worked out fine. We all sang in unison. Bull Moose, a singer, had a lot of hits. The ladies wanted to hear those love ballads.

Two years later, we worked together again. Tadd had the band at a place called the Paradise in Atlantic City. He hired great players -Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Cecil Payne. I was lucky to be in the band. Tadd wrote all the music. We didn't play any jazz, just show and dance music.
Joe handled everything so well because he was such a good musician. He cut the shows easily. By that time he was a good reader. Singer Betty Carter, "Bebop Betty," was one of the principals in the show. I remember she did "Lady Be Good," at an impossibly fast tempo. Joe and our bassist Jymie Merritt were right with her. No difficulty whatsoever. Joe could play in any tempo.

When Joe finally left Philadelphia permanently, and no longer was a local, he didn't sing or dance or play bass and only occasionally sat down at the piano. He was strictly a jazz drummer.


STAN LEVEY: I knew him in Philadelphia, in New York, and out here in Los Angeles. Joe had extraordinary talent-everything a great drummer needs. Good ears. Good hands. Good ideas. And the ability to execute and use what he knew and felt, in the right way.

But he was stoned out of his mind all the time. I'm not pointing a finger; I had more than a little difficulty with that sort of thing myself. I know it doesn't really do anyone any good. You can end up in prison or dead if you don't turn it around.

Philly Joe Jones had his own stylistic recipe. However, some of the first things he recorded with Joe Morris's band on Atlantic were essentially in an R&B groove. They didn't allow him to show what he could do. Johnny Griffin, Elmo Hope, and Percy Heath, who later would become widely known in jazz, were in the Morris band.
Jones moved through a developmental process. He took what he liked in Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Kenny Clarke; what attracted him to the work of Sidney Catlett, Chick Webb, Cozy Cole, Jo Jones, Shadow Wilson, Dave Tough, Denzil Best, O'Neil Spencer, and, later, Buddy Rich. He mixed and blended ideas and techniques and came up with something very much his own. His style and manner of performance were well applied in any context. [Emphasis, mine]

MEL LEWIS: Philly was a combination of so many good things. A swing drummer, he updated that style, giving it a very contemporary feeling. He swung and had a very distinctive sound. Philly brought back depth to drums. He used what essentially is big band drum tuning-deep bass drum, usually a little larger than the so-called hipper people generally play. His bass drum pedal had a heavy beater ball.

Philly was a fantastic brush player. He was the culmination of certain trends. There's Max in his playing, Buddy Rich, others, but all with his mark and feel. Yeah, he played strong and loud. But he deserves a special place in drumming.

To go back to the beginning, he's a combination of a lot of things ... and still much emulated.... Young drummers can learn a lot from him.

Slim Gaillard, the many-faceted entertainer, musician, group leader, and humorous jive talker, claims to have presented Philly Joe Jones for the first time in New York. Like all who aspire to come here and make it, Jones was intimidated by the enormous competition and the possibility of failure in jazz's capital city.

SLIM GAILLARD: I have a bunch of fellows that I brought out into the jazz world. Like Philly Joe Jones-I brought him from Philadelphia to New York. He was afraid to go there, because they had all the heavies in Birdland. He said: "Oh Slim, I don't think I can make it." I said: "You're going to." He said: "You think I can?" I said: "Let's go." When I brought him into Birdland, he was shaking. But when we made our appearance there, the house came down .... In interviews he always says: "Slim Gaillard brought me out of Philadelphia and got me started in the big leagues."

... to be continued in Part 2

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Maybeck Recital Hall: Treasure Hunt - Part 3


Steven Cerra [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Although Carl Jefferson [the owner of Concord Records] is listed as the producer for all of the Maybeck Recital Hall solo piano recordings, and deservedly so, the series would not have materialized as it did without the loving devotion of Dick Whittington and his partner Marilyn Ross. Aside from Whittington being the originator of the project in the first place, both he and Ms. Ross assumed some producer-related functions throughout the seven years of its duration.

From the start, all three of these principals had to deal with many unusual demands and requirements as these 42 performances were both miniature concerts, as well as, recording sessions.

The combination of performing before only 60 or so invitees and the relatively small and intimate nature of the hall itself combined to create an almost recording-studio quality for each of these recitals. This combination also places some unusual demands on the solo Jazz pianist who on the one hand doesn’t have the ‘luxury’ of watching his miscues and failed experiments go up in vapor, nor conversely, the ability to have a recorded performance played back and re-done before a publicly acceptable version is decided upon by the artist.

So not only do we have 42 pianists performing in a largely unaccustomed or, at least, infrequent solo piano setting, which is challenging under the best of conditions, but each had to do it in front of a very small, discerning audience while being recorded with no chance to correct their mistakes with re-takes afterwards!

When Bill Weilbacher began producing his Master Jazz Recordings in 1967 [see Mosaic Records – The Complete Master Jazz Piano Series – MD4-140] he described the following as the ideal circumstances for the role of the producer.

“What was evident in the studio in every recording session is that playing the piano alone is hard work. When you play solo piano there is really no place to hide. There is a fundamental difference between recording and playing live before an audience. There is no necessity to be a persona in the recording studio, nor to entertain an audience­. What is necessary is to do the job right. Because the job that must be done night will be played back for all to hear moments after the performance Is completed, and then, if released, heard by many others, the recording takes on an intensity and a seriousness that are different in kind from public performances. The recording becomes a permanent record of the performers work and, since these artists earn their living by playing piano, the recordings are extremely important to them.

No matter how we romanticize our jazz performers and their work, watching them in a recording studio gives a new and quite different view of how they earn their living.”

Unfortunately, in terms of the distinctions that Mr. Weilbacher draws between live performances and the recording studio, there’s was no such luck as far as the Maybeck Recital Hall project was concerned, both for the producers and for the performers.

Given the lack of these conditions for Carl Jefferson, Dick Whittington, and Marilyn Ross and the pianists who performed these solo recitals, it is a testimony to the creative and artistic talents and skills of all concerned how well these performances turned out.

The Jazzprofiles editorial staff has been pleased to present this overview of this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence and hopes that the reader will seek out some, if not all of the previously reviewed 28 solo piano recordings in the series as well as the following 14 that conclude this review of the Maybeck Recital Hall solo piano series on Concord.

[For some additional insights into the piano in the Jazz tradition in general, and solo piano recitals at Maybeck in particular, see Gene Lees’ opening remarks in the insert notes to Don Friedman’s performance as contained under # 33 below].

Volume 29 – John Campbell [CCD-4581]
“A grand piano and a grand pianist in the most intimate setting: the combination of these elements has placed the Maybeck Recital Hall series among the most respected undertakings in modern jazz. But while the piano and the hall remain impressive constants, the pianist John Campbell may need some introduction.

Yes, he has appeared on albums by Clark Terry and Mel Torme and the Terry Gibbs-Buddy DeFranco band; and yes, he has even released two previous dates under his own name. But in the first 30 years of his life, John Campbell followed a path familiar enough to students of jazz history, perfecting his art in the quiet and undemanding surroundings of the Midwest - as a child and college boy in southern Illinois, and then as a local legend on Chicago's savvy jazz scene - before heading east for greater exposure and acclaim. As a result, even some of the more knowledgeable followers of jazz have yet to discover his galvanic approach to the jazz tradition.

For the best introduction to Campbell, though, turn to the music - in particular, his spectacular romp on the bebop warhorse Just Friends, which opens this album. Without fuss, he quickly introduces a surprising and invigorating touch by transposing keys midway through the first chorus, and then follows that pattern throughout the song, rocking between those two tonal centers. Clever, but not smug. Upon this skeleton he drapes an improvisation filled with delightful riffs and fragments that maintain their own structural integrity - such as the ascending triplet figure that first surfaces at the end of the fourth chorus, only to re-emerge as a full-fledged melodic device leading from the fifth to the sixth.

Many listeners resist that kind of micromanaged analysis of the music they enjoy. And with Campbell, you can easily just settle back while the music carries you on its journey, happy to close your eyes and absorb the picaresque sweep of his soloing. But you do so at the risk of missing so many remarkable details. The surprising twist in a smoothly skimming melodic line, for instance. Those lightning transpositions of key. The brilliantly inserted sequence. The sudden explosion of doubled time, as if the improvised passage had built up enough tension to override the safety valve of musical meter.

Despite his other musical gifts, John Campbell is first and foremost a melodist, his music dominated by the eastern half of the piano keyboard. …” Neil Tesser

Volume 30 – Ralph Sutton [CCD-4586]
“….Fats Waller was an early idol, though Ralph says regretfully "I never saw him in person, but of course I was aware of his career on records." (Waller died when Ralph was 11.) Honeysuckle Rose includes the verse and eventually moves into stride. Although Ralph has a reputation built largely on his proficiency in ragtime and stride, he is in fact an allaround pianist whose expertise extends to the classics.

His range becomes evident as he moves from Fats Waller to Bix Beiderbecke, whose In A Mist he has interpreted for years with flawless fidelity. "I was working with Teagarden when Jack sent me over to Robbins Music to pick up a Bix folio. That was the first I knew of his compositions. I still have that folio."

Ralph returns to Waller with Clothes Line Ballet, a delightful work which Fats recorded in 1934. "1 first heard Fats when I was nine. I bought a folio of his tunes too."

In The Dark is one of the piano pieces written but never recorded by Beiderbecke. It has the same haunting quality and harmonic subtlety that marked all of Rix's works, which were decades ahead of their time.

Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin' is a melodic Waller marvel that made its debut in the revue "Connie's Hot Chocolates" in 1929. Again Ralph includes the verse, with its unpredictable harmonic line.

Echo of Spring is the most attractive of the many works left us by Willie "The Lion" Smith. Both Ralph and I recall sitting beside the Lion as he played this elegant work and following its beautiful melodic contours. That rolling left hand is an essential part of its charm, which of course Ralph retains.

Dinah, a pop hit of the 1920s, has touches of the Lion in Ralph's performance. Love Lies is probably the most obscure song in this set; Ralph learned about it during his Teagarden days. It was written by one W. Dean Rogers in 1923.

Russian Lullaby is simply a song Ralph heard around. "I never saw the music on this one. Who wrote it? Irving Berlin? No kidding - I didn't know that."

St. Louis Blues was the most famous of the W.C. Handy blues series.. Written in 1914, it starts as a regular 12 bar blues before moving into a 16 bar minor strain. Sutton starts with a series of dramatic tremolos, then takes it at an easy lope.

Viper's Drag finds Ralph again retaining the spirit of Fats Waller in a 1934 tune, the title of which was an early term for a pot smoker. It's one of Fats's relatively few numbers in a minor key.

Finally there is After You've Gone, which goes all the way back to 1918 and was originally played, as I recall, in the slow tempo with which Ralph introduces it, as a 20 bar chorus. Later he shifts gears into the now more generally accepted long-meter, 40 bar treatment.” – Leonard Feather

Volume 31 – Fred Hersch [CCD-4596] Describing music -any music -is largely a bureaucratic function. It involves categories and qualifications, not to mention paperwork. This is especially true of jazz, for which tradition lends heft to files marked "swing" and "bebop."

A higher ideal, and a truer litmus test, is improvisation. At best, the musical improviser frees us from our baggage, so we are free to explore new worlds. Pianist Fred Hersch has always recognized this truth, and that recognition combined with virtuosic technical skills - has been a liberating force fueling the development of his sound.

"When I'm playing music that I connect with," Hersch says, "the form and the changes don't limit me, they inspire me to say something original and personal." These statements have taken shape in a wide variety of settings (from jazz trio to classical orchestra) and across a broad sweep of musical territory (from Cole Porter to Scriabin to Monk, for instance). "When I play in a group, I choose musicians who will surprise me."

When the opportunity to record this live solo album arose, Hersch knew he'd need to surprise himself. Before sitting down at the grand piano beneath the wood and leaded glass of Maybeck Hall, he announced to the audience that "half of the tunes I'll play are songs I know intimately, the other half are songs I don't know that well." With that, Fred Hersch took his place alongside the thirty distinguished pianists already documented in this series. …. This was his first solo recording. – Larry Blumenfield

Volume 32 – Sir Roland Hanna [CCD-4604]
Volume Thirty-Two of Berkeley's Maybeck Recital Hall series - Concord's exalted project of recording under optimum conditions those "Poets of the Piano" mostly confined to minor labels - is the summing up of Sir Roland Hanna's career that spans nearly four decades.

This album is Sir Roland's life: the sanctified church, rhythm n' blues, classic piano literature, the grand Romantic tradition of the 19th Century, French impressionism, ragtime, Harlem stride, Tatum, bebop, Garner, the Blues, funk, avant-garde, and the explosion of song-writing genius that blessed America in the Twenties and Thirties. More than half the Maybeck recital affirms Sir Roland's love affair with George Gershwin.

What is most immediate in this recital is Sir Roland's uncanny sense of structure, his flair for drama and for breathtaking climax. Each number unfolds as a completely realized composition. A consummate mastery of the keyboard permits his fertile imagination and puckish wit to run riot. – Grover Sales

Volume 33 – Don Friedman [CCD-4608]
The keyboards are unique in the family of instruments. Keyboard instruments can function alone. So can the guitar, but in a more limited way, and keyboards, including harpsichord and organ and, later, the piano, have dominated Western music since before baroque times. Since Mozart's time, the piano has been the king of these instruments. All other instruments have an essentially ensemble character: they need friends around them to fill out the harmony. Piano doesn't.

If you listen to early jazz records, you will find that when it came to allowing the pianist a solo - Earl Hines, for example - no one knew how to go about it. So everybody stops playing while the pianist does his thing.

Eventually the piano was absorbed into the jazz ensemble by limiting the way the pianist played. But pianists can do much more than they are usually called upon to do in jazz. Secretly, Oscar Peterson has suggested, they dream of going out there and doing it alone instead of comping chords for horn players.

In 1989, JoAnne Brackeen was about to do a solo performance at Maybeck Hall, a small and exquisite location in Berkeley, California, with an excellent piano. She called Carl Jefferson to ask that he record it. Fortunately for the world, he did, and the resulting album became the first of a remarkable series of Maybeck Hall recordings.

The series has become a singular documentation of the state of jazz piano in our time. Carl has not-so-slowly been documenting in sound the astonishingly rich state of jazz piano as our century nears its end. He has let this brilliant body of pianists go into a sympathetic hall and show just what it is they can do when they play solo.

It is helpful to picture the room. It is not large; indeed it seats only about 50 persons. Those in the front row are very close to the player; there is no sense of distance between the performer and the audience. The room is beautifully wood-paneled and its acoustic properties are outstanding.

Don Friedman's is the 33rd in this series of Maybeck Hall recordings, and he reacted like everyone else before him.

"I loved the room and I loved the piano," he said. "And the audience was wonderful. I couldn't have been more comfortable."

Then, too, for Don it was a bit of a homecoming. Though he lives in New York City, he is a Bay Area boy, having been born in San Francisco in 1935.

The term "under-appreciated" gets worn with time, but there are few musicians it fits more accurately than Don. He has worked with an amazingly disparate group of jazz players, from Dexter Gordon to Buddy DeFranco, from Shorty Rogers to Ornette Coleman. He worked with Pepper Adams, Booker Little, Jimmy Giuffre, Attila Zoller, Chuck Wayne, and Clark Terry. That is flexibility, not to mention versatility. Yet this is not widely appreciated. …

If Don is indeed, as many musicians think, under-recognized, this latest album in the distinguished Maybeck Hall series should help correct this. - Gene Lees


Volume 34 – Kenny Werner [CCD-4622]
"I try to be prepared for whatever comes through me," Werner explained. "The purpose of the concert is to get to what I call an ecstatic space. Hindus call it shakti, and Bill Evans called it the universal mind."

And it's just that search for what Werner calls the ecstatic, in every concert, that draws listeners to jazz. It's that state that sets apart most of the musicians idolized today - Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk among them - not because of great virtuosity or even technique, but because they played themselves or were able to tap into that state beyond the notes. Somewhere between the discipline of technique, the structure of arrangements, and the freedom of improvisation, magic happens, and when it's over both musician and listener have taken a journey into the realm of possibilities, one that makes the everyday world seem different when they return.

That is what much of Werner's Maybeck concert was about. Trying to create a situation where the inspiration or spirit can come and work through the music.

Regardless, the choice of tunes, and Werner's approach that afternoon, led to purely beautiful music.

Sitting in casual street clothes at the Yamaha grand piano, Werner cut a figure like that of a young J.S. Bach, his large frame upright at the stool, head tilted slightly upward, ponytail hanging down his back, eyes closed as his face filled with changing expressions, as if he were unaware of other listeners, and just playing for his own pleasure. – Larry Kelp

Volume 35 – George Cables [CCD-4630] So often in jazz, pianists - like bassists and drummers -are workhorses, tirelessly providing the harmonic spine for horn players or a singer, bolstering the front-liners by fleshing out a rhythm section's sound, then occasionally delivering a solo.

Some pianists are fortunate enough to sidestep this quandary, either by focusing on the trio format, or on even smaller configurations that allow for substantial freedom: the duo, or simply solo piano.

In this regard, the continuing series of solo recordings made in the small but impressive Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, California are of great significance. Carl Jefferson, Concord Jazz' founder and president, has, to date, given close to 40 pianists the opportunity to explore the unlimited possibilities presented when performing unaccompanied.

George Cables is a 50-year-old pianist who makes the most of what could rightly be called The Maybeck Experience. A mercurial artist who has been active as a jazzman since he was 18, Cables possesses a distinctive style that has been deeply influenced by the weighty touch and chordal whammy of Thelonious Monk and the fleet line motion associated with Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Herbie Hancock.

Acclaimed for his work with Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Art Pepper, Bobby Hutcherson and Bebop and Beyond, Cables thrives in the unadorned setting of Maybeck, and his robust, lively sound has been captured as never before. He fully exploits the potential for harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic freedom that exists when the piano is the sole instrument, stretching bar-lines here to elongate phrases and ideas, cinching sections there up for more compact statements, making the tunes ebb and flow as they become truly personal performances.

This is an album of gems. – Zan Stewart

Volume 36 – Toshiko Akiyoshi [CCD-4635]
This latest recording stands out for a number of reasons. One is that it was recorded live - as Toshiko recently said to me, "...it's a one-shot deal, you take a chance, but it's exciting."

Another is her choice of material, which is always tasteful and provocative. Here she digs up a few gems that others have often ignored, such as Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's The Things We Did Last Summer, and It Was a Very Good Year - the Ervin Drake ballad made famous by Frank Sinatra, but who would have imagined it as a vehicle for a brilliant jazz solo? Toshiko's interpretation of it here is positively majestic, with a wonderful funky stop time section in the middle, and a powerfully rhythmic left hand.

Speaking of that left hand, I can't say enough about how beautifully Toshiko uses it in conjunction with her right one throughout the Maybeck concert. The opener, her own spirited composition The Village, features a fiendishly complex rhythmic figure in her left hand that makes the piece sound like a four-handed piano duet; then that impressive left hand pops up again on the driving bass line on Harburg and Lane's Old Devil Moon, on her charming composition Quadrille, Anyone?, and on Dizzy Gillespie's Con Alma, where her left hand becomes the creator of melodic lines, with the right hand joining in for a smashing finale. Most impressive is Bud Powell's challenging Tempus Fugit, with Toshiko tackling it for the first time as a solo piece, and mastering it unequivocally. "I tried to make something a little different from the traditional solo piano concert," she told me.

The ballads - Ellington's Sophisticated Lady and Come Sunday, The Things We Did Last Summer and Polka Dots and Moonbeams, are treated with a deft touch and a sharp ear for color and mood. Toshiko slides in and out of a comfortable stride, weaving melodies with her right hand, and now and then her left hand jumps out of its role as bass and time keeper to create a melody of its own.

Best of all, Toshiko plays the whole piano here, using it as an orchestra. She finds a neat balance between sections which have been thoughtfully worked out and the more open passages. I like to leave some parts really loose. Sometimes the audience helps me to do something I hadn't thought of before," she said. – Amy Duncan

Volume 37 – John Colianni [CCD-4643]
It's considered improper to give away the ending in movies, but in this recording the key to the whole album is in the relationship between the last two tunes. After the misleading setup of Tea for Two with its carefree swing rendering the listener safe and defenseless, John Colianni then slips into the dark melancholia of Gordon Jenkins' ballad, Goodbye, and concludes with the late grunge-rock star Kurt Cobain's Heart Shaped Box. Totally unexpected. And utterly devastating in its impact.

Colianni has built his reputation as a talented young pianist who has embraced and mastered jazz's pre-bebop era styles and mindset. He was 3 1 at the time he performed in front of an attentive audience at Berkeley's Maybeck Recital Hall. He had been playing with the greats since, as a teenager, he joined Lionel Hampton's band, later recording two band albums as a leader for Concord Jazz, and spending the post four years accompanying Mel Torm6 on a hundred or more dates a year. And here he was playing a Nirvana song as if it were meant to be part of the Great American Songbook. Which, in the Colianni context, is exactly where it belongs.

"The Gordon Jenkins song defines the mood of longing," Colianni explains. "It's got a haunting lyric and melodic quality. And Kurt Cobain's piece has those same qualities. It ascends in two lines together that then split and go in different directions, into a moody harmonic thing that speaks bittersweetness and longing. Those two pieces belong together. They're a perfect complement bringing out the same essence in different ways."

Colianni was watching MTV one night and saw Nirvana performing Heart Shaped Box, "and I thought 'This is great!' I bought the cassette and took it to listen to while I was on tour. Then I played my version on WNYC (the New York University radio station) and it got a big reaction, so I knew I was doing something right."

Colianni is a lover of music that ranges from Nirvana to Art Tatum. "I sometimes get bored with the limitations of bebop. I realize saying this might make some enemies, but as much as I love it, I prefer swing jazz, music that incorporates pop tunes, musical theater, and classical music that offers a greater means of expression. Actually, I like music for its own sake, which to me usually means swing.

'I look for songs that have a couple of elements, a memorable melody that haunts, that has some emotion that engages a response beyond the intellectual. And rhythmically I enjoy things that swing. The ideal is Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, who is a major influence on everything I do." But Colianni includes neither composer's tunes on this album. …

Colianni's solo recording debut is one he has long dreamed of making, and highlights his superb talent for bringing out the essence of a tune, not by stretching out and expanding on themes, but by honing and condensing ideas in often startling ways, without a single wasted note. - Larry Kelp

Volume 38 – Ted Rosenthal [CCD-4648]
As Pindar wrote: "Unsung, the noblest deeds will die."

Part of the joy of being a jazz critic is to be able to sing the praises of worthy artists, and perhaps help them get some of the recognition they deserve.

When I first saw Ted Rosenthal playing at a little Greenwich Village restaurant - this was back before anyone had signed him to make records I was so impressed by his chops, his sensitivity, and his versatility that I dashed off a review for The New York Post that opened with the words: "Quick! Give this guy a contract ......

Subtle we're not at The New York Post. We figure our readers are in a hurry and can't afford to wait to the last line to figure out whether or not we think someone has talent. And Rosenthal quite obviously did. There was such impressive clarity to his work. He deserved to be playing someplace where people have come to really listen, rather than a restaurant where they were maybe mostly interested in the food. That he was able to reach his audience anyway, even in those less than ideal circumstances, spoke well for him.

I'm glad there's now this CD, which shows his strengths so well. This is not his first recording. …. But this CD, his first strictly solo outing, provides the best showcase to date for his own abilities as a player.

It's easier here to savor that impressive clarity in his work that first struck me (a quality that has to do with both the wisdom of his choices of notes, and the precision and cleanliness with which he executes those choices). You can listen to any track and you can see what I meant by the clarity of his work. – Chip Deffaa

Volume 39 – Kenny Drew, Jr. [CCD-4653]
… this album marks … [Drew’s] recording debut for Concord jazz, his performing debut at Maybeck Recital Hall (one of his very few appearances on the West Coast), and it is his first solo piano album to be released. As distinctive as his prior recordings have been, this disc is the ultimate resum6, the one that most clearly demonstrates just who Drew is as a musician.

One can hear references to the giants on whose shoulders he stands, which is as Drew wants it. "My style came from various things, from listening to all the great recordings my dad made, from being heavily influenced by Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson; from the rock and funk things I've done. I've also always studied and listened to classical music. I like a lot of modern things, so every once in a while a little Schoenberg or Messiaen might sneak into my playing. It all sinks in and becomes a part of you."

Drew observes: "This was a much different album for me. Not only was it recorded live, but also it is solo. Without other musicians you have the freedom to change at will the tempo, the harmonies and keys, things you couldn't do so easily in a group context. But the risky part is that you're alone, and you have to work harder."

Maybe so, but Drew's performance at Maybeck is the most definitive statement on record that he has yet made. With no other musicians to turn to or collaborate with, Drew has clearly defined his style, maybe in the context of more standards than he usually tackles at one sitting, but also with a finely focused sense of what he wants to say. "Jazz isn't like classical music where you play what's written," Drew says. "Not even all classical music is like that. The point is to honor and pay respect to the people who have gone before, not to copy but to assimilate all those influences and make them a part of who you are." - Larry Kelp


Volume 40 – Monty Alexander [CCD-4658]
Since making his Concord Jazz debut in 1979, indeed virtually throughout a prolific career that dates back to the late 1950s, Monty Alexander has been heard as an ensemble player. But whether accompanying vocalists, jamming with such giants as Milt Jackson and Ray Brown, or leading his own trios, quartets, and steel drums-augmented bands, the fifty-year-old pianist has long exerted a potent individual presence in the jazz world - and on Concord jazz in particular.

It's ironic then, that this solo concert should arrive so late in the label's Maybeck Recital Hall series. The pianist explains that Carl Jefferson, the late president of Concord Jazz, had intended Alexander to be Number Four or Five in the series. "(But) I chose not to do it at that time," Alexander says. "When I came back to the label, he asked me again. It was a warm gathering of people but more importantly it was the final time I saw this man. My most treasured memory of that afternoon is that I got to spend a little time with Carl and his lovely wife Nancy."

The striking qualities of Alexander's playing - his intimate knowledge of the jazz tradition, his reverence for the pre-bebop piano legacy, his prodigious technical facility, and his resilient connection to the cultural heritage of his native Jamaica - reveal themselves as never before in this rare solo performance. He admits that the vulnerability of such an intimate setting can be daunting. 'It's not the first thing I run to do," he says. 'You don't have your bass player or drummer there. You are the bass player, you are the drummer, you become the whole band, and you just have to let it happen. Long ago I did a solo session for a French label, and it came out quite well. Over the years I've come to enjoy playing solo. But I hear the whole group, even when I'm playing by myself, so I tried to bring that feeling to this gig."

… Speak Low, Alexander explains, 'is a nice standard I've had fun with over the years," and Smile holds a special place in his heart as another Nat Cole favorite and as a Charlie Chaplin composition. 'I get this extra kick out of playing songs because of what they mean. A song like Smile really gets me, not just because of the chord changes or the melody, but through what it says - the feeling I get from it."

The personal connection Alexander makes with a song imparts a unique emotional character to even his most technically stunning exhibitions. 'I know I have my own voice as a pianist,' he grants, 'but when you talk about solo piano it's hard not to reflect on Art Tatum, Nat Cole or Oscar Peterson, the two-handed piano players who approached the instrument as an endless source of possibilities. You don't just sit down and play the piano. You're trying to take your listeners on a musical journey. The piano is the vehicle."

And here at Maybeck, Monty Alexander never leaves any doubt about who's driving. - Derk Richardson

Volume 41 – Allen Farnham [CCD-4686]
What you have here is the forty-first volume of one of the most distinctive documentations of solo piano work-the Maybeck Recital Hall series a no-nonsense, fun, enlightening, spirited collection of modern day jazz piano expression. When Joanne Brackeen made a call to Concord Records' (late) Carl Jefferson in June '89 to propose a solo piano recording at Maybeck, I don't think even he would have suspected that that phone conversation would set into motion the ongoing construction of a musical dialogue with so many dialects.

The venue for this, the Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, California is perfect. Built in warm redwoods, Bernard Maybeck's dedication to natural design carries over to many homes in the Bay area.

The family of artists recorded here is truly a Who's Who of jazz piano. What is ultimately exciting is that we can't discuss the entire body of work cause they ain't done yet!"

The latest member of the Maybeck family to lend his two hands to the mix is Allen Farnham, a 34-year-old pianist whose considerable skills (initiated at the age of 12) have previously been heard with Susannah McCorkle, Tom Harrell, Joe Lovano, Mel Torme and Arthur Blythe, as well as on three group recordings as a leader for Concord. Additional background from studies at Oberlin College in the diverse styles of classical and Indian classical music have brought Farnham a maturity essential to the solo piano setting.

The recorded piano recital can be like giving a speech in your underwear , no shirt, no shoes, no admittance, unless one is properly attired with the skills to pull it off. For his effort, Allen Farnham shows up "after six," with formal and improvisational abilities clothing the compositions of Brubeck, Evans, Porter, McPartland and Rodgers & Hart, as well as three originals tailored for this Maybeck moment. …

Allen Farnham has studied long and hard. This sixty minute solo concert adds countless hours of enjoyment to the Maybeck story. Whether a fan or a student of jazz piano, one can think of Allen Farnham's Maybeck Recital Hall concert as a gift exchange - with the listener making off with all the presents. - Gary Walker

Volume 42 – James Williams [CCD-4694]
Usually, James Williams spends his time organizing projects that involve a multitude of people. An unselfish sort, James Williams continues - almost to a fault - to put others' needs and careers in front of, or at least along side, his own. What's more, there's a driving force to the Memphian, a kind of entrepreneurial spirit, that further extends his field of jazz vision.

That's why this solo album - Volume 42 of Concord's Maybeck Recital Hall series - is such a treat. Never mind the fact that the offering represents the first of its kind in James Williams's quite distinguished and ongoing career. …

For James, this outing offers him the opportunity to solo in a live setting, and he's proud that all the selections here were done in one take. "The challenge with something like this," says James, "is clearly to be able to keep one's playing fresh and inventive. I enjoyed the instrument and the size of the hall - and the audience. People came out and were extremely responsive. I hadn't played in the Bay Area for some time." The fact that the ambiance more than met James's expectations only strengthened his performance. "To a great extent, I was inspired by the setting. I went out to play a concert, not to make a recording." Adds James, emphasizing his point: "This was a concert that happened to be a recording."

The other aspect of this session that's so rewarding is that James successfully manages to capture most, if not all, of his musical sides. "I pretty much decided to do a jazz standard program, things that I like to play." Still, notes James, there's "a wide scope and range of material." He consciously chose music that examines basic standards, takes a look at show tunes and tin pan alley, and also delves into bebop and more contemporary jazz. …

In the end, James says he feels as if he accomplished what he set out to do: "I enjoy performing and playing. I was glad it was live. (That makes it) less predictable, less contrived, more spontaneous, more fun. I didn't have to try to create an atmosphere. Maybeck offered me all the elements that are central to a good jazz setting." - Jon W. Poses

Finis.