Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bam Bam Bam !!! - Part 2

What better way to segue into this second of Ray Brown’s last-quarter-of-the-20th-century trios than to use its pianist Gene Harris’ thoughts about his predecessor Phineas Newborn, Jr. as revealed in the Blindfold Test of the June 20, 1963 edition of Down Beat magazine:

“This is the greatest thing that ever happened to jazz – [Phineas is] the greatest pianist playing today. In every respect he’s tremendous. He is just beautiful. A wonderful jazz musician.”
As was the case with his efforts in not allowing Phineas Newborn, Jr. to pass into relative obscurity, we also have Ray Brown to thank for talking Gene Harris, who had settled in Idaho in the 1970s, out of a premature retirement in 1982.

As was the case with Ray’s long association with pianist Oscar Peterson in the decade of the 1950s, Gene Harris also had a similar, lengthy musical involvement during this same period as the pianist in the Three Sounds with Andrew Simpkins on bass and Bill Dowdy on drums. With its heavy emphasis on a gospel-influenced, blues sound, the group specialized in what some have referred to a “soul-jazz” and was well-documented through its many records on the Blue Note label.

The Three Sounds (in a variety of configurations) recorded and performed into the mid-1970s when Harris decided to quit [quite suddenly, according to some sources] the music business and transition into semi-retirement at his home in Boise, Idaho.

According to C. Michael Bailey writing in

“In 1983, just when he thought he had been forgotten, bassist Ray Brown appealed to Harris to return to the studio and stage. Harris joined Brown's trio for a score of notable recordings before leading his own trios and small groups through the late 1980s, recording for the Bay Area-based Concord Jazz. At the close of that decade, Harris was approached by Andrew Whist, then president of the Phillip Morris Jazz Grant, to lead an all-star big band on a world tour. This resulted in two superb big band recordings that, added to his earlier Tribute to Count Basie mark Harris as a great large band arranger and leader.”

Strictly speaking, Gene’s first trio recording with Ray was The Red Hot Ray Brown Trio [Concord 4315] was not Gene’s first recording with Ray, but it was his first “trio” recording as a member of The Ray Brown Trio.

It is a set made up of standards such as Have You Met Miss Jones?, Street of Dreams, and That’s All, a lovely bossa nova treatment of Jobim’s Meditations and a wonderful romp through Brown’s blues original entitled Captain Bill, the trio offers polished arrangements largely based around vamps and riffs that serve to launch Harris into funk-inflected, solos escapes.

And Harris can really wind it up with huge locked-hands chordal passages, tremolos, and most importantly, his sensitive use of dynamics to build solos that attain house-rocking climaxes. The result is blues-oriented, Sunday-come-to-meetin’ soulful piano trio Jazz that has everyone in the audience at the Blue Note in New York testifyn’ its approval.

A few years after Harris joined Ray Brown to form what Leonard Feather has called – “… one of the most naturally compatible threesomes ever to go public with their creative impulses,” Ray acquired a business interest in THE LOA, a club located a few miles from the beach in Santa Monica, CA.

In 1988, not surprisingly, the trio recorded Summer Wind: The Ray Brown Trio – Live at the Loa [Concord Jazz CCD-4426]. Here’s a review of it by Ken Dryden that appeared in
`”Ray Brown has many great contributions to jazz as a leader and a sideman, but one additional way in which he helped jazz was his encouraging Gene Harris to give up his early retirement and go back out on the road. The pianist was a part of Brown's groups for several years before he formed a working quartet and became a leader for good once again. This 1988 concert at a since-defunct Santa Monica night club (co-owned by Brown) finds the two, along with drummer Jeff Hamilton, at the top of their game. A phone ringing in the background distracts momentarily from Brown's opening solo in his composition "The Real Blues," during which Harris repeats a bluesy tremolo, which may be an inside joke about the early distraction. Harris take a blues-drenched approach to "Mona Lisa" before giving way to the leader's solo, while his lyrical approach to "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" is shimmering. Hamilton's soft brushes are prominent in "Little Darlin'," but his explosive playing provides a powerful pulse to the very unusual strutting take of "It Don't Mean a Thing." This extremely satisfying CD is warmly recommended.”
And Chip Deffaa had these observations to offer about Ray, Gene and Jeff in his liner notes to the original vinyl release of this recording:

“Brown’s colleagues are Gene Harris, who plays a lot of piano – rich, full-bodied, and not so overly-refined as to have the life squeezed out of it – and Jeff Hamilton, one of the stand-out drummers of the latter-day Woody Herman Herds. Brown doesn’t hold his sidemen back. Harris notes: ‘There’s a lot of musical respect between Ray and I, on the bandstand and off. What’s important is that each musician can put as much in the song as possible.’Hamilton says Brown ‘is one of the best leaders I’ve worked for; he lets you find your own way, like Woody did. A lot of leaders will not do that. When I joined the trio, he said, ‘OK, just play; I’ll let you know when it gets in the way.’ Hamilton recalls he initially tried playing safely, conservatively. ‘Ray said: “Go ahead and play the drums. That’s what I hired you for.” Most trios have a lighter touch. At first, I was trying to play lightly. I found out very quickly, it’s a little big band.’”What I found particularly engaging about the trio’s work on this album is contained in Jeff Hamilton’s observation: “… I found out very quickly, that it’s a little big band.” As is the case in a big band setting, each tune played by Ray’s trio is framed in a very accomplished arrangement which has interludes and other motifs to add contrasts and shading between the solos, shout choruses and well-scripted finales. A little big band, indeed.

Not to take anything away from Mickey Roker, and perhaps it is because of his big band drumming experience, but Jeff Hamilton adds so many additional dimensions to the trio’s performances.

His drums are tuned to a sound that is full and deep, with cymbals that match harmonically [blend in; don’t stand out or clash with the other instruments]. He instigates unique beats such as the rock-infused, marching drum figure that forms the introduction to Duke’s It Don’t Mean a Thing. These distinctive beats serves to give many of the more familiar tunes a new lift and spirit. With an understanding of piano, he plays musically and melodically. And he swings – consistently and constantly! Jeff Hamilton is Jazz drumming at its best.

Ed Berger, Curator of The Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, has characterized Gene Harris’s style as:

“a fascinating amalgam of varied influences. Having assimilated the two-handed blues and boogie of early idols Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Freddie Slack, he added the fluidity of Oscar Peterson, and seasoned the mixture with a hint of Erroll Garner’s timing and sly humor. Above all, Harris is a master of the blues, with the tools and imagination to weave endless variations on that timeless and universal pattern.”
Harris instills the blues into everything he plays whether it’s the use of a single note, quarter note triplet phrase that impels a full chorus of his solo on Milt Jackson’s Bluesology on the Summer Wind album or in a funky gospel interpretation that completes transformed the Gershwin evergreen – Summertime – on the Bam Bam Bam CD [Concord CCD-4375] which the trio recorded live at the 1988 Fujitsu-Concord Jazz festival in Japan.

In his
www.allmusic.com overview of Gene Harris’s career, C. Michael Bailey is so impressed with Harris’ performance of Summertime that he advises the purchaser of this recording to:

“Skip directly to the seventh selection and listen to a definitive reading of the Gershwin classic “Summertime.” Harris explores all of the song's hidden treasures, breaking into a crowd-pleasing Albert Ammons boogie woogie.”
Aside from Gene’s sparkling rendition of Summertime, Bam Bam Bam also contains two very listenable [and quite remarkable] drum solos by Jeff Hamilton on Victor Feldman’s Rio and Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia. And Ray gets the solo spotlight with a lovely Arco treatment on If I Loved You.
Here are Leonard Feather’s discerning insert notes to what, in my opinion, ranks as the very best recording by the Gene Harris-version of The Ray Brown Trio:

“Ray Brown is a man of many images, a wearer of several hats. Though his primary identification remains that of a nonpareil bassist, he has also established himself as a composer (his "Gravy Waltz" won a Grammy award), an entrepreneur and a talent scout.

In this last capacity we owe him a special debt for his major role in bringing Gene Harris, surely one of the most exciting blues-oriented pianists around, out of semi-obscurity in Idaho. He had a steady job in Boise until Ray began luring him away for a series of jobs that culminated, in 1987, in his triumphant Tribute to Count Basie all star big band session (Concord Jazz CJ-337).

Carl Jefferson, of course, was the other key figure in the Brown-Harris alliance. Late in 1988 Ray, Gene and the redoubtable young drummer Jeff Hamilton were on tour in Japan, playing ten concerts of their own in addition to taking part in Jefferson's Concord Festival unit. During that time, this session took place before an audience that was exceptionally enthusiastic (needless to say, none of those applause sounds had to be amplified).

"The Kan-i Hoken Hall is a big auditorium:' Brown recalls, "around 2,000 people, and we really had them with us all the way. This was one of those nights when everything came together."

The Brown original now known as F.S.R. (For Sonny Rollins) began as a rehearsal of Rollins' own "Doxy" on a record date with Milt Jackson. "Then," Ray says, "I wrote this other theme as a sort of pre-out chorus for 'Doxy,' and it came off so well that I thought, why not make a separate tune out of it?" The basis is a 16 bar chord pattern that goes back decades before either Brown or Rollins.Put Your Little Foot Right Out is a simple piece based on just two chords (tonic and dominant), probably of traditional origin, but best known in jazz circles through Miles Davis's recording, then under the title "Fran-Dance." Note Gene's subtle behind-the-beat tactics, the perfect time and creative force of Ray's solo, and the agreeably subdued ending.

Rio is one of a group of songs sent to Brown by the late Victor Feldman. "I liked a lot of Victor's tunes," Ray says, "particularly one called 'The Haunted Ballroom' and this one, which was new to me." Rio moves from a bluesy vamp into a fast, samba-esque theme in F Minor, with Gene displaying mighty chops, Jeff and Ray trading ideas, and Jeff soloing with the discretion that has earmarked him as the most tasteful drummer of his generation (at 35, he has been in steady demand since the late 1970s, when he worked with Monty Alexander and Woody Herman).
If I Loved You is a 1945 Richard Rodgers melody, serving here as an ideal vehicle for Ray Brown's Arco bass. The spotlight then switches to Gene Harris for a version of Summertime that was embellished with enough breaks, blues moments and other touches to assure that this would suggest a funky, humid summer.

Days of Wine and Roses finds the men playing this 1962 Mancini standard in what Ray aptly calls a scaled down big band style.

Dizzy Gillespie's imperishable Night in Tunisia undergoes a transmogrification here. I designed it:' Ray says, "mainly as a vehicle for Jeff, for a marvelous hand drumming exhibition. We kept going back and forth, around rather than on the melody."

Bam Bam Bam is a blues, with Jeff's introduction suggesting the title. Gene and Ray have long been masters of the blues; certainly neither of them can recall how many blues they have recorded over the years, but it may well average out at one to a session. Again you will be transported by the phenomenal togetherness of this unit; essentially it's three minds that think as one.

During the past two years it has been my good fortune to hear Brown, Harris and Hamilton, both as a trio and in various other configurations, at the Loa Club, a Santa Monica rendezvous in which Ray was an active partner. With the release of this album, observers around and beyond this country will be able to share the exultant joy conveyed by what must be one of the most naturally compatible threesomes ever to go public with their creative impulses.”

Judging from the audience reactions on these in-performance recordings by Ray’s trio with Gene Harris, it appears as though the following comments about Gene by Scottish guitarist Jim Mullen who later toured with him in the 1990s are spot on as to how this effervescent performer “went about his business” as “an old-school jazz entertainer:”

“Gene used to say that these people have come out to see us, and it’s out job to give them a fantastic time. He used to say at the end of the evening, ‘if you leave here with a smile on your face, remember that Gene Harris put it there.’ I’ve never seen anyone turn a room of strangers into family that way. We never rehearsed. He’d do this big rubato solo piano introduction with no clue as to what’s coming up. Then he’d just start playing and you had to be ready to jump in there. That’s how he wanted it.” [From Richard Cook, Blue Note Records: The Biography, London: Secker & Warburg, 2001, p. 234].
With the issuance of 3-Dimensional [Concord CCD-4520] in 1991, Gene Harris would make his last recording as part of the Ray Brown Trio [although Gene Harris would continue to record with Ray and for Concord in a variety of settings in the 1990s].

Richard Cook & Brian Morton in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Edition [p.207] had this to say about it:

“Vintage stuff from the very best of Brown’s groups. This line-up has the easy cohesion of Oscar Peterson’s trios, and Brown’s busy lines often suggest Peterson’s approach to a melody. Following on form from an Ellington melody, Coltrane’s ‘Equinox’ … is a rare stab at a post-bop repertoire, and the group handles it comfortably.”Expanding on the tile of the disc, Fred Bouchard of Down Beat offered these apt, opening remarks in his insert notes:

The sassy triumvirate of Jeff Hamilton, Gene Harris and Ray Brown has earned the stature, cultivated the variety, and accrued the experience that make every tune they play sound multi-dimensional.”The little big band that Jeff Hamilton spoke of is out in full force on this one with kicks and fills everywhere present on the medium cookers like Ja-da and You Are My Sunshine, more of Jeff’s unique beats, this time in the form of a Gumbo Hump’s New Orleans Processional Band drum cadence that should have your hips gyrating in no time, and on a rousing Cotton Tail finale to a seven minute Ellington medley with Ray’s huge, booming bass sound driving it all home.

That three virtuoso performers on their instruments could form such a tight-knit trio is a compliment to the musical integrity and greatness of Gene, Ray and Jeff, respectively. These guys listen to one another and find ways to urge the utmost creativity out of each another’s playing. The listener comes away enthralled and stimulated having heard piano-bass-drums trio Jazz at its best. What they have to put on display is beautifully encapsulated in the 3:45 minute version of Time After Time that closes this recording – perhaps we could call it a Jazz Time Capsule?

As previously noted Gene Harris left Ray’s trio and was replaced by the young pianist Benny Green, a protégé of Oscar Peterson [was this Ray’s way of coming full circle and ending his trio Jazz career where it began?]. Before we leave Gene, perhaps these thoughts about him by C. Michael Bailey might serve well as closing remarks:

“Throughout the 90s, Harris was given free reign to record how he wished. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD opined that Harris always ended up making the same record...but that was all right. Gene Harris' music always sounded as if it had a smile on its face as big as the one Harris himself wore while performing. That type of sunshine can never be dimmed. Gene Harris died on January 16, 2000 while awaiting a kidney transplant from his daughter. His beaming personality illuminates all through his recorded legacy.”

… To be continued

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bam Bam Bam !!!

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

This was one of the earliest features on the blog and it posted in three parts beginning on 9/27/2008. I recently made this video with "Bam Bam Bam !!!" as the audio track and thought it would be fun to bring it up on the blog along with all, three parts of the original piece.

While reflecting on this piece after it had finished researching and compiling it, the editorial staff at Jazzprofiles was amazed to note that although the three, different trios it looks at spanned approximately 30+ years [1969-2002], it did not include the dozen or so years Ray spent as the bassist in the Oscar Peterson Trio!

Discussing three decades of his career without even referencing his most renowned association is just one more indication of what a Jazz giant Ray Brown was.

When I asked Ray about this period of his career one evening in June, 1993 during a break at the old Yoshi’s in Berkeley, CA, he said [with a huge smile on his face]: “Not a bad way to spend the last 25 years, huh; the Ray Brown Trio featuring Phineas Newborn, Gene Harris or Benny Green - bam, bam, bam – !!! ”

Although there were some overlaps, in the main, Ray’s trio with Phineas Newborn, Jr. took place in the 1970s, his time together with Gene Harris occurred mainly in the 1980’s and his stint with Benny Green happened primarily in the 1990s.

Each of these trios will become the focus for one part of this piece, or, one “bam!”

The first of Ray’s trios was not a regularly constituted group, but rather one that Ray put together whenever he could bring Phineas Newborn into the studios to record for Contemporary Records. For as Scott Yanow comments in
http://www.allmusic.com/, although Phineas was:

“One of the most technically skilled and brilliant pianists in jazz during his prime, Phineas Newborn remains a bit of a mystery. Plagued by mental and physical problems of unknown origin, Newborn faded from the scene in the mid-1960s, only to re-emerge at irregular intervals throughout his life. Newborn could be compared to Oscar Peterson in that his bop-based style was largely unclassifiable, his technique was phenomenal, and he was very capable of enthralling an audience playing a full song with just his left hand.”

As Scott goes on to point out, after taking New York by storm in the mid-1950s, Phineas [pronounced “Fine as” or, depending on one’s Southern accent, “Fine us”] was largely in danger of being forgotten by the Jazz world a decade later. This might have been the case had it not been for the fortuitous fact that upon moving to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, Phineas received the patronage and support of Lester Koenig, who made three albums with Newborn for his Contemporary Records label from 1961 - 1964. In addition, Ray Brown’s ongoing concern for Phineas’ welfare resulted in three successful attempts to bring him back into studios between the years 1969 – 1976.

Frankly, had it not been for Koenig and Brown, the danger of being forgotten as intimated by Scott Yanow might have turned into a realized prophesy.

Of the four recordings that were produced during the 8-years they collaborated, Brown and Newborn would release three on Contemporary and one on Pablo.

The first Brown- Newborn session took place on February 12-13, 1969 and was to result in two albums that were released ten years apart: [1] Please Send Me Someone to Love [Contemporary S-7622; OJCCD-947-2] and [2] Harlem Blues [Contemporary S-7634; OJCCD-662-2]. Ray said that he had any easy time convincing drummer Elvin Jones to make the recording date because Elvin and Phineas had scuffled together when both first came to New York in the mid-1950s.
The tray plate notes for Please Send Me Someone to Love contained the following synopsis:

“The brilliant pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr. (1931-89) found few occasions to enter a recording studio during his troubled life, though he made the most of what chances he got – especially on the half-dozen trio sessions he recorded for Contemporary between 1961-1976. This album and its companion Harlem Blues [Contemporary S-7634; OJCCD-662-2] document newborn’s initial encounter with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Elvin Jones, two players who brought a technical mastery and stylistic range to the date that matched the pianist’s.”

When he was “on” and particularly sympathetic to the artist in question, Leonard Feather could contribute comprehensive and insightful liner notes to help enhance the listener’s appreciation of the music that were second to none. This is certainly the case in what he had to say about Phineas, Ray and Elvin on their first recording together so we decided to present his comments in their entirety.

I think that this is one of the best and most empathetic reviews that Leonard ever wrote and it could not have come in the service of a more deserving artist. I also think that Ray Brown understood Phineas’ deservedness and this was the main reason that he continue to be an advocate of Phineas’ genius over the years, despite the latter’s health problems. He would just find the times when Phineas could push the demons away and play like only he could.
"For a little more than a half century, there was a series of evolutions in keyboard jazz, which originated in ragtime, then was marked by the successive advent of stride, with its volleying left hand; horn-style piano, characterized
mainly by a fusillade of octaves or long runs of single notes in the right hand; bebop piano, with its central concern for harmonic experiments and relatively limited left-hand punctuations; and a 1950s trend marked by a concern for rich, full chords and a more expansive left-hand concept.

The only pianist who succeeded in absorbing many characteristics of each of these phases, in fact the first authentic and complete virtuoso of jazz piano, was Art Tatum. His death in 1956 seemed to close the book; there was no room for development, no area to examine that he had not already explored.

Time has shown that there were indeed other directions. The atonal improvisations of Cecil Taylor were acclaimed by many observers as taking jazz forward into a freer, more abstract music. Bill Evans launched what I once characterized, in an essay on jazz piano for Show magazine (July 1963), as the Serenity School, creating new harmonic avenues, new voicings, swinging without hammering, asserting tersely yet subtly, rarely rising above a mezzo-forte. McCoy Tyner, armed with exceptional technical facility, moved along still another route with extensive use of modes as a departure from the traditional chordal basis.

All these changes during the late 1950s and throughout the '60s did nothing to demolish the theory that Art Tatum represented the ultimate. Coincidentally, it was during the year of Tatum's death that Phineas Newborn, Jr. first came to New York and emerged from Memphis obscurity (he was born Dec. 14, 1931 in Whiteville, Tenn.) to establish himself as the new pianistic pianist, in the Tatum tradition.
In the above-mentioned Show article, I wrote: "Most astonishing of the dexterous modernists is Phineas Newborn, Jr. As small, timid, and frail as Peterson is big and burly, Newborn belies his meek manner with a relentlessly aggressive style. His technique can handle any mechanical problem and he has, moreover, a quick, sensitive response to the interaction of melody and harmony." Commenting that most critics tended to be skeptical of technical perfection, I wrote of Newborn's A World of Piano album (Contemporary S-7600) that it was "the most stunning piano set since Tatum's salad days in the 1930s."
A year later, in 1964, I went out on a rare limb to declare unequivocally in Down Beat, "Newborn is the greatest living jazz pianist"

Five years later, while perfectly content to let that categorical statement remain on the record, I reflected on what esthetic, what ratiocination led me to this conclusion, Under the spell of a set by Peterson in top form I might have made a similar remark. In either case, my reaction would have been primarily emotional, but the emotions in evaluating a work of art are often guided, perhaps subliminally, by a consciousness of the craftsmanship required for its creation.

Despite the chattering of the anti-intellectuals, I cannot see how any possible advantage call be found in technical limitation. Clearly technique can be abused, or used without imagination; I can drink of a dozen popular pianists, some of them well-known via network television, who have made this point painfully clear. But a man like Newborn, who reached his present command of the instrument by practicing perhaps six or seven hours a day, automatically has an advantage over the simplistic artist, who resorts to simple figures and clichés only because that is as far as his fingers and mind will take him.
Phineas demonstrates all the virtues and none of the handicaps (if there are any) inherent in knowing how to use the piano. Taking him on his own terms, he's an involved, committed artist, for whom the instrument is virtually an extension of the man. This would not be possible if he were in any way hamstrung by not being able to execute whatever idea may cross his mind.

I won't deny that when he uses a personal device, such as the parallel lines in unison an octave apart, I am impressed by the ease with which he dashes off such passages; but even more meaningful to me is the originality and artistry of the melodic structure he has been able to build.

When Phineas plays the blues, as he does on at least three tracks in this album, it is not down-home, backwoods blues, but it's just as deep a shade of blue, and comes just as straight from the heart, as if he were a primitive trying to make something meaningful out of three chord changes and a couple of riffs. I hear in him all that is emotional, as well as all that is cerebral and virtuosic, about jazz piano in one of its most sophisticated forms.

Elvin Jones being in town, it was natural he would be sought out for this session. It has been said many times before, but is worth repeating, that as tremendously complex as Elvin can become, he is no less adept in adjusting himself to the much simpler requirements of supplying a steady pulse for a pianist. His work throughout this album, though energetic and stimulating, is a model of this kind of decorum. In order to provide Phineas with a rhythm section that would offer intuitive support to his unpredictable improvisations, it was necessary to find a bass player who would have instant empathy with the other two participants. This is an unnecessarily roundabout way of saying Ray Brown. if one can rate Phineas the greatest living jazz pianist, a similarly strong case could be made for Ray Brown as the greatest bassist, and for Elvin Jones as the greatest drummer. With three such players, things happened naturally and spontaneously, with just an occasional word of instruction or guidance from Phineas. it took very little time to make a trio of three musicians who had never before worked as a unit.
The material selected, with two exceptions ("Little Niles," and "Brentwood Blues"), all stemmed, by accident rather than design, from the 1940-50 period, when the 12- and 32- bar frameworks and the 4/4 meter still prevailed. it does not require a 7/4 or 9/8 beat, nor a theme 23 in measures long, for an improvising musician of Phineas's caliber to show that he has kept up to date.

"Please Send Me Someone to Love" offers a fine example of his ability to enrich what is, on paper, a very basic tune. The Percy Mayfield hit of 20 years ago, though 32 bars long, has much of the feeling of the blues, along with a certain intensity accentuated by the diminished chord on the fourth bar. Phineas shows immediately how effectively he can use his knowledge of the piano to convey an emotional rather than a purely intellectual message.

"Rough Ridin' " was a bop vehicle for Ella Fitzgerald, written in collaboration with her then pianist, Hank Jones, Elvin's brother. It's a simple, swinging melody used as a launching pad for Phineas's own flights. Notice the block chords ("locked hands") sequence, a style originally popularized by Milt Buckner and later mastered by George Shearing, Phineas, and others.

"Come Sunday," a religious theme from the extended Duke Ellington composition "Black, Brown and Beige," is played first unaccompanied, with a respectful, almost literal adherence to Duke's melody and harmonic pattern. As Ray and Elvin ease in for the second chorus, Newborn continues to bring out all the poignant beauty of this simple and exquisite song.

"Brentwood Blues," introduced by Ray, is an extemporized reminder that the 12-bar blues will never be out of style, in form or in feeling. I was impressed most of all by the majestic sound of the passages in chords, impeccably articulated and superbly recorded. This track brings out the points made above in the evaluation of Newborn, for while the swiftness of the hand delights the ear, so just as surely does the beauty of the thoughts.

"Real Gone Guy" could be part B of "Brentwood Blues," with the tempo doubled up, except that Nellie Lutcher's 1947 vocal line is used to open and close. Elvin, starting in a Latin groove and later taking over for a solo, is exceptionally important and prominent.
"Black Coffee," introduced by Sarah Vaughan in 1948, has since become a standard ballad, more often used vocally (with Paul Francis Webster's fine lyric) than instrumentally, though the Sonny Burke melody has an elegant, Gershwinesque quality that Phineas captures to perfection. Notice particularly his use of the left hand to fill gaps, and the dramatic impact of that A-flat 7 chord at bar 21 of the chorus.

“Little Niles" is a jazz waltz of the late 1950s, dedicated by pianist Randy Weston to his son. Noteworthy in Phineas's sensitive treatment is the group interplay. At times he seems to be playing in four against Elvin's three; the latter shows great sensitivity to changing moods and metric nuances, creating an effect not unlike that of an orchestral arrangement.

"Stay On It," though Count Basle is credited as co-composer with Tadd Dameron, was long associated with Dizzy Gillespie, for whom Tadd wrote it, and whose big band recorded it in 1947. The regular A-A-B-A tune involves a couple of typical bebop touches. For Phineas, Elvin, and Ray, it's a straight-ahead swinger all the way.

Every new Phineas Newborn album (and because there are precious few of them, these few are precious) brings with it a reminder that here we have more than a musician of outstanding talent. He is, as much as anyone around, a symbol of the importance of the piano in the evolution of modem jazz; and like jazz itself, Phineas has never stopped evolving."
- LEONARD FEATHER October 8, 1969 These notes appeared on the original album liner.
As previously mentioned, the material that was eventually released ten years later as Harlem Blues [Contemporary S-7634; OJCCD-662-2] came from this same 1969 recording session. The reasons for the delay as well as a brief annotation about each of the tracks on the album are nicely capsulated in the following insert notes by John Koenig, the son of Les Koenig, the originator of Contemporary Records.

"It's often happened when an outstanding players has recorded that more great performances than could be programmed onto one album have become fixed on tape. This was exactly the case on the mornings and afternoons of February 12 and 13, 1969, when Phineas Newborn made one of his regrettably infrequent peregrinations into the recording studio to make his album, PLEASE SEND ME SOMEONE TO LOVE (Contemporary S-7622). When there is a great quantity of worthy material front which to choose, often one merely assembles performances that complement each other by juxtaposition. These decisions are generally arrived at taking into account such ephemeral qualities as character or intensity, or such mundane considerations as length. Even simple personal predilection sometimes is a factor; while one performance is not necessarily better than another, the producer feels it might fit more appropriately or easily in sequence with others already standing. The higher the quality of the material, the more difficult and the more arbitrary these decisions become. Thus, with the intervening span of ten years for reflection, it's not surprising that the performances embodied on this disc do not suffer at all by comparison to those previously released. In fact, they add dimension to the frequently proclaimed pinnacle of -Newborn's oeuvre.

In the year preceding the recording, Phineas, due to ill health, had been relatively inactive. My father, however, would periodically devise excuses to record him, and in this case, it was the presence in Los Angeles of Elvin Jones that provided the catalyst for bringing this intention to a reality. Ray Brown being one of jazz's reigning bassists was the logical choice to round out the group.
Phineas had recorded with Ray (Teddy Edwards and Howard McGhee TOGETHER AGAIN, Contemporary S-7588), but hadn't recorded with Elvin. Ray hadn't either, but he had played with him a year or so earlier at the Monterey Jazz Festival, of which he was then the music director. The occasion was the formation of a Gil Evans band for the festival which, afterward, traveled to Los Angeles for a week long stay at Shelly's Mannehole, which was "wild" according to Ray.

The session was something of in event, both because of Phineas relative inactivity, and because it was the first session at Contemporary in almost a year and a half Despite the especial atmosphere surrounding the proceedings for some of us invoked in the project, it was, on the surface of it, a relatively unremarkable happening. When Raymond and Elvin had set up, (that is after Elvin's wife, Keiko, had assembled and tuned the drum set), Phineas quietly sat down, called off the tunes, played them through with the rhythm section once or twice, and recorded them. The results, as can be heard here, however, reveal that something remarkable actually did take place. Fifteen different tunes were recorded in the two days, and this release completes the public presentation of them all.
The session was conceived as a means to display Phineas as piano soloist with the bass and drums taking accompaniment roles, rather than as an integrated trio, where the three instruments interact on a more equal level. it underscores the genuine musicianship of Ray and Elvin in that they understood this, and despite their prodigious creative gifts, managed to contain their soloist inclinations while still maintaining he essential intimacy the musical context required. Still, neither was to be entirely denied, as is apparent when one listens to Elvin's fours on Ray's Idea, or Ray's stunning soliloquy at the beginning of Tenderly.
To be sure, Phineas was appreciative of the level of his company. I recall that after we dropped Elvin and Keiko off at their hotel on the evening of the first session, Phineas remarked to my father: "I have nothing hut the utmost respect for Elvin and Ray." Still, this was Phineas' show all the way, as is evidenced by Ray's expression of appreciation after the tape machines had stopped rolling after the first take of the first day, Sweet and Lovely, when he remarked with a certain amount of awe, "We'll dub in the applause."

The material was pretty much made up of things, as Ray Brown recalls, "Phineas kept in his back pocket that he pulls out from time to time."

Harlem Blues is a gospel oriented theme Phineas was fooling around with on the date and Ray and Elvin suggested he record it.

Sweet and Lovely was written by Gus Arnheim and introduced by him with his orchestra, which was well known as the house band at the Coconut Grove for several years. Later made famous by Bing Crosby, it hasn't often been played by jazz musicians as it has a rather complicated bridge.

Little Girl Blue, by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, is from the Broadway show JUMBO starring Jimmy Durante, and with a book by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Interestingly, the tune, My Romance, which has often been adapted by jazz players comes from the same show.

Ray's Idea was written by Ray Brown and arranged by Gil Fuller for the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in 1945 or '46. Phineas liked it - it was something he remembered from the be-bop days and so it was chosen to record.

Stella by Starlight is front the 1944 Paramount picture THE UNINVITED, directed by William Dieterle, starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, and introducing Gail Russell as Stella. The score is by Victor Young. Another Stella was later to be cinematically depicted by starlight, Stella Stevens, in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR with Jerry Lewis.

Since her earlier appearance, of course, Stella by Starlight has become a jazz standard, and one of the denizens of the aforementioned Newborn pocket.

Tenderly was suggested by my father as a vehicle for Ray Brown. Ray learned the tune when he was a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio, and worked occasionally at a now defunct club on the Sunset Strip called The Embers, where pianist, Walter Gross, who wrote the tune, worked as a single. According to Ray, he and Oscar would go into the lounge and ask Gross to play the tune between sets, and that's where he learned it. The song was introduced by Sarah Vaughan in the late '40s, when Gross, who then was music director of Musicraft Records, had her record it for the label.

Cookin' at the Continental, an early Horace Silver opus, was deemed an appropriate up-tempo number to display Phineas' dexterity, and chronologically it fit in well with the rest of the program.

Considering that with one or two brief exceptions, Phineas has remained inactive in the decade following the recording of this album, its release is all the more special to those of us who appreciate the art of piano playing, and it will remain as a document of three giants making music together in a way that, from the look of things in 1979, will stand as a milestone in the years to come."

by JOHN KOENIG, January 31,1979” -Notes reproduced from the original album liner.
....To Be Continued

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Little Blue Byrd - Part 3

Jazzprofiles concludes Little Blue Byrd with the third part of this piece as drawn from Kenny Mathieson’s Cookin’ Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954 -1965 [Edinburgh: Canongate Press Ltd., 2002, pp. 200-219]. [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Booker Little had led only four sessions under his own name prior to his untimely death from kidney failure in 1961, but he left a sharply-etched imprint on hard hop. His discography is considerably expanded by his work with drummer Max Roach (whose band had earlier featured the equally ill-fated Clifford Brown, a major influence on Little's playing), and with saxophonist Eric Dolphy. Like Donald Byrd, Little acquired a classical training which, allied with the relentless practice for which he was famous, gave him a brilliant technical foundation and a strong, lustrous sonority throughout the whole range of the horn.

While firmly rooted in hard bop, he was also a player who foreshadowed some of the directions which the jazz avant-garde would take in the 1960s, notably in his use of unusual or microtonal intervals (most conspicuously when working with the like-minded Eric Dolphy), and in his love of dissonance. In his remarkable book Thinking In Jazz, Paul Berliner notes that 'Booker Little mastered infinitesimal valve depressions for ornamenting pitches with refined microtonal scoops that added pathos and distinction to his language use', while Little himself expanded on the topic in an interview with Robert Levin for Metronome in 1961.

“I can't think in terms of wrong notes - in fact I don't hear any notes as being wrong. It's a matter of knowing how to integrate the notes and, if you must, how to resolve them. Because if you insist that this note or that note is wrong I think you're thinking completely conventionally technically, and forgetting about emotion. And I don't think anyone would deny that more emotion can be reached and expressed outside of the conventional diatonic way of playing which consists of whole notes and half steps. There's more emotion that can be expressed by the notes that are played flat. . . . I'm interested in putting sounds against sounds and I'm interested in freedom also. But I have respect for form. .. . In my own work I'm particularly interested in the possibilities of dissonance. If it's a consonant sound it's going to sound smaller. The more dissonance, the bigger the sound. It sounds like more horns, in fact, you can't always tell how many more there are. And your shadings can be more varied. Dissonance is a tool to achieve these things.”

Booker Little, Jr, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on 2 April, 1938. He played clarinet briefly before taking up trumpet at the age of twelve. As a teenager, he hung out on the Memphis jazz scene, sitting in with players like the Newborn brothers, pianist Phineas and guitarist Calvin, and saxophonist George Coleman. His obsessive practice routines started early, and his musical grounding was solidified when he attended the Chicago Conservatory of Music (he graduated with a Bachelor's degree in music in 1958). He roomed with Sonny Rollins for a time in the Windy City, and played with saxophonist Johnny Griffin and drummer Walter Perkins in their group MJT + 3.

Max Roach hired the trumpeter in June, 1958, and Little spent some eight months in his band (see Giant Steps for more on Roach). It is sometimes said that he joined as a replacement for Clifford Brown, and that Roach hired him for their similarities in sound and approach, but he did not directly replace Brown - he took over the seat vacated by Kenny Dorham. He made his recording debut with the drummer on Max Roach Plus 4 On The Chicago Scene in June for EmArcy, and turned in a fine ballad outing on 'My Old Flame'. The band, which also featured George Coleman on tenor, Art Davis on bass, and the unusual coloration of Ray Draper's tuba, used as a melody rather than bass instrument, were recorded again at the Newport Jazz Festival in July, also for EmArcy, then went into the studio to cut the Riverside session which produced one of Roach's most powerful albums, Deeds, Not Words, on 4 September, 1958.
Little left the band in February, 1959, to work as a freelance in New York, but his association with Roach was renewed on several occasions, and he is heard making memorable contributions to several more of the drummer's albums, including The Many Sides of Max on Mercury (some of Roach's Mercury and EmArcy albums have long been hard to find, but Mosaic Records issued The Complete Mercury Max Roach Plus Four Sessions at the end of 2000), and two indisputable classics, We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite for Candid in August-September, 1960, and Percussion Bitter Suite for Impulse! a year later, in August, 1961.

These albums moved Roach's music beyond the stylistic and structural norms of bop, and reveal greater use of tonal clusters and dissonant harmonies, and also of time signatures other than the familiar 3/4 and 4/4. The overall sound had also shifted toward the more visceral sonorities of the free jazz era, although that was more overtly evident in the contributions of saxophonists Clifford Jordan and Eric Dolphy than in Little's ripe sonority and subtle inflections.
The trumpeter lived only two more months after that session, and his death - coming as it did in the wake of Clifford Brown's tragic passing - shook Roach badly, and left him with the feeling that he might be a jinx for trumpet players. Little's contributions to Roach's music are an essential part of the trumpeter's recorded legacy, as is his work with the multi-instrumental reed and flute player Eric Dolphy. He first teamed up with Dolphy on record for Far Cry, a Prestige session recorded on 21 December, 1960, with a great rhythm section of Jaki Byard on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums.
They recorded again in a sextet session under Little's name in April, 1961, as we will shortly see, while a further meeting at The Five Spot a couple of months later produced a justly celebrated live album, recorded on 16 July, 1961, with a quintet which featured Mal Waldron on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and Ed Blackwell on drums. This classic date was issued as Live! At The Five Spot, Volume 1 and 2, and Memorial Album, and should be regarded as essential listening (the recordings were also collected in a 3-LP box set as The Great Concert of Eric Dolphy, and incorporated in the comprehensive 9-CD box The Complete Prestige Recordings of Eric Dolphy). Dolphy will be the subject of a chapter in a subsequent book, and I do not intend to consider them in detail here, but as with the Roach recordings, they are essential to a full picture of Little's abbreviated career.
In the course of 1959-60, Little also recorded sessions with singer Bill Henderson, trombonist Slide Hampton, and a strong date with another Memphis musician, alto saxophonist Frank Strozier, on The Fantastic Frank Strozier Plus for Vee-jay, with Miles Davis's rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. Little was also captured with vibes player Teddy Charles in concert at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on 25 August, 1960, originally released as Metronome Presents Jazz in the Garden on the Warwick label (and later as Sounds of the Inner City on Collectables, credited to Little and Booker Ervin), and in studio sessions with Teddy Charles and Donald Byrd, among others, issued as The Soul of Jazz Percussion, also on Warwick.
The trumpeter was also heard with Max Roach in a studio version of his own 'Cliff Walk' from November, 1960, as part of the Candid All-Stars' Newport Rebels album, inspired by the breakaway festival set up that year in protest at the booking policy of the Newport Jazz Festival. Little was reunited with Roach for several dates in 1961, and also recorded with Roach's then wife, singer Abbey Lincoln, but only after both he and Dolphy had participated in John Coltrane's Africa/Brass sessions, cut for Impulse! in May and June, 1961. The core of his work as a leader, however, is contained in only four albums: Booker Little 4 & Max Roach (United Artists, 1958, later reissued on Blue Note); Booker Little (Time, 1960, later reissued as The Legendary Quartet Album on Island); Out Front (Candid, 1961); and Victory and Sorrow (Bethlehem, 1961, also known as Booker Little and Friend).

His debut as a leader was cut not long after the Deeds, Not Words session, in October, 1958. Booker Little 4 & Max Roach also featured George Coleman on tenor, Tommy Flanagan on piano, and Art Davis on bass, and was originally issued by United Artists. The Blue Note CD issue in 1991 reprints the original sleeve note, in which Jon Hendricks appears to claim that Sonny Rollins introduced Little to Clifford Brown in 1957 (a year after his death), but also included two rather scrappy tracks from a blowing session with an all-Memphis band featuring Strozier, Coleman and both Newborns in 1958, in which Booker is heard alongside another trumpeter, Louis Smith, in versions of 'Things Ain't What They Used To Be' and 'Blue 'N' Boogie'. Smith recorded two solid albums for Blue Note in 1958, Here Comes Louis Smith - with Cannonball Adderley masquerading as 'Buckshot La Funke' for contractual reasons - and Smithville, and seemed set to make an impact on the hard bop scene, but turned to teaching instead, and did not record again until the late 1970s.
It was a strong (if rather indifferently recorded) debut, and Little is already identifiably an original voice in the making. The six tracks included three original tunes by the trumpeter, 'Rounder's Mood', 'Dungeon Waltz' and 'Jewel's Tempo', each allowing him and his colleagues to stretch out in exploratory fashion, always nudging outward at the boundaries of bop convention. Coleman is an excellent foil for his home town buddy, while Roach is majestic on drums.

The trumpeter's next session, though, cut for the Time label on 13 and 15 April, 1960, and issued as Booker Little, was even better. It presented him in the most unadorned setting of his brief career, a quartet with a rhythm section of either Wynton Kelly (from the 131h) or Tommy Flanagan (151h) on piano, Roy Haynes on drums, and bassist Scott La Faro, another great young musician who would also die prematurely in 1961 in a car accident.
The session provided the most concentrated example of Little's fluent, inventive, but always probing style as a soloist, and also a further showcase for his abilities as a, composer of original and engaging tunes (nor was he adverse to a spot of recycling - 'The Grand Valse' here is the same tune as 'Waltz of the Demons' on the Strozier album, and 'Booker's Waltz' on The Five Spot disc with Dolphy). His almost unaccompanied opening cadenza on 'Minor Sweet', with only Haynes's spectral drum fills shadowing the horn, is a perfect encapsulation of the rich sonority and precise articulation which was so characteristic of his playing, and the flowing solo which follows underlines the lyricism which was always intrinsic to his approach, as well as his imaginative and un-hackneyed phrasing.

Little once observed that Sonny Rollins inspired him 'to do things differently, but musically', and the trumpeter might well have adopted that comment as his own motto. Even in his most adventuresome moments, there was an elegant grace and subtle logic to everything he played (in his sleeve note for Booker's next album, Nat Hentoff neatly described it as 'a rare and stimulating combination of sense and sensibility, clarity and daring'), and the relaxed-to-brisk rather than flat-out tempos and often bittersweet mood of this album provides an exemplary illustration of those qualities.

Booker's penultimate disc as a leader was cut almost a year later in two sessions for Candid, poised midway between his studio session with Eric Dolphy on Far Cry in December, 1960, and the Five Spot recordings in July, 1961. The music on Out Front, recorded on 17 March and 4 April with a sextet which featured Dolphy on reeds, trombonist Julian Priester, Don Friedman on piano, Art Davis (March) or Ron Carter (April) on bass, and Max Roach on drums, tympani and vibes, continues to push outward in the progressive fashion evident on the earlier date with Dolphy, but also reflects Little's contention that while he was interested in freedom, he was equally interested in form.
His compositions and arrangements manipulate structure and movement in inventive fashion, as in the subtle harmonic ebb and flow between the more complex ensemble sections and the simpler solo passages on 'We Speak', the sharp harmonic contrasts underpinning 'Strength and Sanity', the alternating tempo changes of 'Quiet, Please' (inspired by a child's rapidly changing moods), or the sequentially shifting time signatures (cycling through 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4) of 'Moods In Free Time' are all indicative of a thoughtful and experimental musical mind at work.

Whatever formal challenges his music took on, however, Little's primary focus remained firmly on passionate emotional expression. Hentoff's sleeve note quotes the trumpeter's belief that jazz needed 'much less stress on technical exhibitionism and much more on emotional content, on what might be termed humanity in music and the freedom to say all that you want', and his own music is eloquent testimony to that aim. Here and elsewhere, his own sound is always more centered than Dolphy’s caustic cry, but the combination is highly effective, and if Little's use of dissonance is more discreet and insidiously inflected than would be the case in the free jazz movement, he has clearly moved beyond the conventions of bop, and is equally clearly a precursor of many of the experiments to come.

The story reached its final chapter when the trumpeter cut his last album for Bethlehem in either August or September, 1961 (the precise date has not been determined). Victory and Sorrow retained Priester and Friedman from the Candid date, and added George Coleman on tenor, Reggie Workman on bass, and Pete La Roca on drums. Little again employs more complex chorus structures, ensemble lines and chord voicings; than were customary in the unison themes of hard bop, and his ruling ethic – exercising emotional freedom within a controlled structural framework dominates the music.
All but one of the tunes, the standard ballad 'If I Should Lose You', is by Little. They include a version of 'Cliff Walk', under the title 'Looking Ahead', with its sophisticated ensemble interplay for the three horns (to confuse matters further, a CD reissue of this album retitled that track 'Molotone Music'). The title track is among his strongest and most resourceful compositions, shifting tempo in subtle fashion to delineate its changing sections, while 'Booker's Blues' plays with blues form in imaginative fashion, shuttling between 8 and 12-bar forms.

Everything on the record points forward, but there was to be no more progress for the trumpeter. He died in New York on 5 October, 196 1, of kidney failure brought on by uraemia, a blood disease which had left him in constant pain for some time beforehand. He joined the tragically long list of jazz greats dead before their time, but even at the tender age of twenty-three, he had left a distinctive legacy of lasting value

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Little Blue Byrd - Part 2

Jazzprofiles continues with the second part of this piece as drawn from Kenny Mathieson’s Cookin’ Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954 -1965 [Edinburgh: Canongate Press Ltd., 2002, pp. 200-219]. [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Blue Mitchell never made the breakthrough from well-respected professional to major artist, but his work as both leader and sideman - notably with the Horace Silver Quintet - in the peak years of hard bop have earned him a deserved place in the music's history. Mitchell went on to record in a variety of rock, rhythm and blues, fusion and pop crossover contexts in the late 1960s and 1970s, but for the purposes of this chapter, the focus of attention will be on his work for Riverside and Blue Note in the decade or so between his recording debut in 1958 and his last hard bop album for Alfred Lion in 1967.
In their publicity for the release of The Complete Blue Note Blue Mitchell Sessions (1963-67), Mosaic Records made the point that Mitchell suffered from being 'merely great at a time when the field was crowded with giants,' while Bob Blumenthal's session notes add the thought that Mitchell's relative neglect had its roots in 'his consummate professionalism. Most of the trumpeter's career was spent playing other people's music, and not always jazz in its most uncompromising form. His sense of what the circumstance called for was quite refined, which provides one explanation for why Mitchell was cherished as much by Earl Bostic and John Mayall as by Horace Silver, whose quintet featured Mitchell for nearly six years.'

Orrin Keepnews's notes for the trumpeter's debut recording for Riverside also makes strong claims for his originality, arguing that 'the individuality of Blue Mitchell's sound and approach is striking.' To contemporary ears, that sound is likely to seem less striking, but closer acquaintance with his work in the round will confirm his standing as a talented jazz craftsman, and he counted many top musicians among his admirers, including Horace Silver and Cannonball Adderley, who was responsible for introducing him to Riverside.

Like Adderley, Mitchell hailed from Florida. He was born Richard Allen Mitchell in Miami on 13 March, 1930, but did not take up the trumpet until the relatively late age (especially for a brass instrument) of seventeen, when he began to play the horn in high school, and also acquired his nickname. He made quick progress, serving a fast apprenticeship playing in local bands in the late 1940s, one of which included bass player Sam Jones. By 1952, he had arrived in New York via Detroit, and was touring with rhythm and blues artists like Paul Williams and Earl Bostic.

He recorded a couple of sides with Lou Donaldson for one of the saxophonist's early Blue Note albums in November, 1952, a session which - shades of things to come - included Horace Silver (he recorded several more albums with Donaldson in the late 1960s). He left Bostic in 1955 after two years in the saxophonist's band, and toured briefly with Sarah Vaughan. According to Keepnews, the routine of section playing began to pale after several years on the road, and he returned to Miami in 1955, where he continued to perform locally.
Mitchell had met the Adderley brothers in the late 1940s in Tallahassee, and it was Julian who suggested the trumpeter to Riverside. Orrin Keepnews heard him play in Miami, and agreed to take him on. Mitchell played as part of the group on Adderley's Riverside debut, Portrait of Cannonball and cut his own debut album for the label, Big Six, on the following two days, July 2 and 3, 1958 (Keepnews has said that the presence of Miles Davis as a spectator in the booth on the first day of recording so unnerved Mitchell that they had to do the whole thing again the next day).
It is notable for containing the first recorded version of a tune which became a hard bop anthem, Benny Golson's 'Blues March', although it is better known in Art Blakey's subsequent version. Mitchell had known Golson in the Bostic band, and the saxophonist's typically clever and effective arrangement for sextet provided fertile ground for the excellent band assembled for the date. The big six in question included Johnny Griffin on tenor, Curtis Fuller on trombone, and a rhythm section of Wynton Kelly on piano, Wilbur Ware on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

Mitchell more than holds his own in this fast company. The trumpeter paid tribute to his 'sponsor' in one of his two original compositions on the disc, the appropriately funky, hard-driving 'Brother I Ball', and impresses throughout with his rich, focused trumpet sound and coherent improvisations. He joined Horace Silver later that year, where his front-line partnership with tenor saxophonist Herman 'Junior' Cook, another strong journeyman on the bop scene, became a fundamental part of Silver's sound, and remained so until 1964.

Junior Cook, another Florida native (he was born in Pensacola on 22 July, 1934), also recorded with the trumpeter on his last album for Riverside, The Cup Bearers, and in a number of his later dates for Blue Note in 1964-69. Cook recorded very little as a leader in the period (one exception is a Jazzland album called Junior's Cookin' from April, 1961), but did make a number of recordings under his own name in the late 1970s and 1980s, the last of which, You Leave Me Breathless, was cut for Steeplechase only weeks before his death on 3 February, 1992. While his work with Silver provided his most high profile musical outlet, Mitchell also picked up his share of significant sideman dates elsewhere, working with the likes of Jimmy Smith, Jackie McLean, Elmo Hope, Tina Brooks, Johnny Griffin and Stanley Turrentine, among others. He continued to record as a leader, cutting seven albums in all for Riverside in the period 1958-62, before switching to Blue Note in 1963.

Orrin Keepnews; consistently matched the trumpeter with some of the best hard bop musicians around on the Riverside sessions, a floating roster of names which included saxophonist Jimmy Heath, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Wynton Kelly, and a fine selection of bassists (Sam Jones, Paul Chambers, Gene Taylor) and drummers (Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Tootie Heath, Charli Persip, Roy Brooks). The quality of his collaborators, allied to his own consistent level of performance, leaves little to choose between his discs for the label, although Big Six and the excellent Blue Soul are probably the pick of the bunch.
Blue Soul, his third disc for Riverside, was recorded in September, 1959, and followed Out of The Blue, another strong set laid down in January, 1959 (Mitchell also cut an obscure disc for Metrojazz that year, co-credited in a patriotic color spectrum with Red and Whitey Mitchell!). The earlier album featured Blakey on drums, adding his usual drive to proceedings, and included an unorthodox but effective outing on 'The Saints Go Marching In'. Blue Soul was split between a sextet playing arrangements by Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson, and a quartet in which Mitchell blew on three cuts with the rhythm section of Kelly and the two Joneses, Sam and Philly Joe, a sure fire combination which delivers in energized, swinging style.

It provides several fine examples of Mitchell's lyricism and his melodic invention, always the strongest aspect of his playing, as well as his ripe, finely burnished trumpet sound, which remained strong through all the registers, but hit home most tellingly in the middle range. Heath and Fuller contribute resourceful, agile solos without cramping the leader's authority, and the arrangements add some lovely touches to the material, which included originals by Mitchell, Golson and Heath, a fine version of Horace Silver's 'Nica's Dream , and a couple of standards. This is hard bop connoisseur territory, offering endless pleasure to anyone who dug the idiom, but with no real pretensions to the kind of mass appeal which the likes of Miles Davis and Chet Baker had found.
Mitchell (or more likely Keepnews) rang the changes by recording a 'with strings' session, Smooth As The Wind, cut over a couple of dates in 1960-61, which came off tolerably well, and provided a vehicle for the trumpeter's most lyrical moods, although the orchestral contribution seems as supernumerary as usual in these situations. A Sure Thing, recorded in March, 1962, also featured a bigger group, a jazz nonet with Clark Terry on trumpet, Julius Watkins on French horn, a four man reed section of Jerome Richardson (alto and flute), Jimmy Heath (tenor), and both Pepper Adams and Pat Patrick (best known as a long-term member of the Sun Ra. Arkestra) on baritones. Kelly and Sam Jones were joined by Tootie Heath, while Jimmy Heath's deft arrangements put a fresh spin on familiar standards like 'I Can't Get Started' and 'Gone With The Wind', the latter arranged just for quintet.
It was a quintet which featured on his last Riverside date, The Cup Bearers, in April, 1963. The line-up is essentially the Horace Silver group - Mitchell, saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Roy Brooks - but with Cedar Walton on piano. As Joe Goldberg explains in the sleeve note, Mitchell chose to play new compositions solicited from two up and coming jazz composers of the day, trombonist Tom McIntosh (who supplied the title track and 'Capers') and saxophonist Charles Davis ('Dingbat Blues'), alongside Walton's elegant 'Turquoise' and Thad Jones's 'Tiger Lily', all written for the session, which also contained imaginative treatments of two standards. The music has a rather deliberate air at times, as opposed to a fluid blowing feel (the title track and Davis's tune are exceptions), but it made a fine sign-off to his Riverside period.
Having recorded so often for Alfred Lion with Horace Silver, it seemed a natural enough step to cut a disc for the label in his own right. The first session they recorded, on 13 August, 1963, featured saxophonists Joe Henderson and Leo Wright and pianist Herbie Hancock (Bob Blumenthal points out the conceptual parallels between this session and Johnny Coles's Little Johnny C in the Mosaic booklet), but it did not see the light of day until 1980, when it was released as Step Lightly. By the time he returned to the studio, he had more or less inherited the Silver group, which the pianist had disbanded in March, 1964, but he had already made changes, bringing in young pianist Chick Corea and drummer Al Foster, both at the outset of their studio careers, to join Cook and Taylor. That personnel appeared on two sessions, on 30 July, 1964, and 14 July, 1965, released as The Thing To Do and Down With It! respectively.
These are all characteristic Blue Note sessions of the day, mixing stabs at a hit tune - it wasn't only Lee Morgan who was looking for another 'Sidewinder' - through funky groovers like Joe Henderson's 'Mamacita' (on Step Lightly), Mitchell's infectious 'Funghi Mama' (on The Thing To Do), or the uninspired 'Hi Heel Sneakers' (on Down With M), with the usual concoction of bop and blues originals (notable contributors of material included Jimmy Heath, Sonny Red, Chick Corea, and Melba Liston), Latin tunes, standards and ballads. The performances are never less than enjoyable, with Mitchell again underlining the sheer consistency of his playing, while the youthful Corea is already full of good ideas. The trumpeter's warmth and overtly lyrical approach is emphasized on commanding ballad performances like 'Cry Me a River' from the Step Lightly session, Jimmy Heath's elegant 'Mona's Mood' on The Thing To Do, or 'Portrait of Jenny' from his next date for Alfred Lion, Bring It Home To Me.
Recorded on 6 January, 1966, it featured two new faces, pianist Harold Mabern and drummer Billy Higgins, and was his last straight-ahead quintet date for the label. The final two sessions he cut while Alfred Lion was still in charge at Blue Note, Boss Horn (from 17 November, 1966) and Heads Up! (from the same date, 17 November, but exactly one year later) both featured larger groups, with arrangements by Duke Pearson.

They reflect little of the social, political or musical ferment of the mid-1960s, although one or two tunes suggest a more ambitious reach, as in the compositional intricacies of Corea's 'Tones For Joan's Bones' on Boss Horn or Jimmy Heath's 'Togetherness' on Heads Up!, or imply a more serious extra-musical agenda, as in Mitchell's jauntily defiant 'March On Selma' from Down With R!, although it is reflected more in the designated subject than its musical treatment. Pushing the envelope was not Blue's bag, and for the most part, these are all strong but standard issue Blue Note recordings of the period, and none the worse for it.
By the time he recorded his last two crossover-oriented albums, Collision in Black in 1968 and Bantu Village in 1969, Lion had sold Blue Note to Liberty Records (they are not included in the Mosaic set), and Mitchell had felt the cold wind blowing for hard bop in those years. Much of his subsequent work was in more commercial forms as a studio sideman, and touring or recording with artists like Jimmy McGriff, Ray Charles, Mike Bloomfield, John Mayall, Big Joe Turner, Papa John Creach, Tony Bennett and Lena Horne. He settled in Los Angeles in the 1970s, and worked with Harold Land in a bop band, drummer Louie Bellson, and bassist Ray Brown, among others. His recordings of the 1970s, made for several labels, including Mainstream, Just jazz and Impulse!, were a mixed bag of acoustic and electric, hard bop, soul and pop, and never as satisfying as his classic Riverside-Blue Note period. He died from cancer on 21 May, 1979, aged only forty-nine."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Little Blue Byrd: Part 1

The editorial staff at Jazzprofiles has long been a great fan of the efforts of Kenny Mathieson to chronicle stylistic developments in post World War II Jazz. He began his narrative with Giant Steps: Bebop and The Creators of Modern Jazz 1945-1965 [1999].

The following chapter is contained in the second work in the series: Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954 -1965 [2002]. Both books are published in Edinburgh by Canongate Press Ltd.

While certainly not as trend setting as the work of Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown or Miles Davis, over the years spanned by Mr. Mathieson’s second book, a number of enjoyable recordings were produced that featured the work of the journeyman trumpeters discussed in this piece.

Mr. Mathieson’s overview of the work of Donald Byrd, Blue Mitchell and Booker Little is a comprehensive remembrance of their music. And it will also provide those readers who are new to their work with a helpful retrospective of it. The chapter will be presented on Jazzprofiles in three parts.
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Donald Byrd won his biggest following long after the hard bop era, when he formed The Blackbyrds and capitalized on the jazz-funk fusion movement of the 1970s. Two decades before, however, he had emerged as one of the most prolific of the new young hard bop players emerging in the mid-1950s. He cut his first recording sessions as a leader in 1955, and already sounded like the finished article, although he would go on to find a more individual sound beyond his early Clifford Brown influence as the decade progressed. The ensuing two years brought him a plethora of sideman dates, and he appeared in that role on over fifty albums in that period.

The qualities which made him such an automatic first call are clear from the outset. He had a solid musical education, was a good reader, and had excellent technical command of his instrument. He had thoroughly assimilated the musical implications of the bop idiom, and while his playing was never really innovative or strikingly original, he was able to deliver consistently fluent, imaginative and well-rounded improvisations within that idiom. His reliability (and the not entirely coincidental fact that he was not a drug user) also counted in his favors, and he was unlikely to upstage the leader with too generous a flow of spectacular original ideas or virtuosity.

In short, he was the ideal sideman, especially for a pick-up style of session, and these qualities quickly brought him recognition, and regular visits to the studio. In the process, he forged an impeccable hard bop pedigree with most of the major leaders of the time, including Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Max Roach, Jimmy Smith, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, as well as the less readily classified Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus.

Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd 11 was born in Detroit on 9 December, 1932. His father, a Methodist minister and amateur musician, named him after Toussaint L'Ouverture, the freed slave who became a revolutionary leader in Haiti in the late 18th century (the same revolutionary period commemorated by Charles Mingus in his 'Haitian Fight Song'), and Byrd retained a passionate interest in the broader field of Afro-American history, anthropology and culture. He earned several academic honors, including a Bachelor in Music degree from Wayne State University in 1954, an MA from the Manhattan School of Music, and a Ph.D. from the Columbia University School of Education in 1971, and developed a deserved reputation as a scholar and teacher of Afro-American music.

Back in the autumn of 1955, though, he was a hot young trumpet star in the making, freshly arrived in New York from the jazz hot spot of Detroit. He made his mark immediately. He had already recorded a live date for Transition in August, 1955, alongside another young Detroit hopeful, Yusef Lateef, who comes across as the more advanced player (these sides were later acquired and reissued by Delmark). He made his studio debut as a leader for Savoy in September, with saxophonist Frank Foster, a session which has appeared under various titles, including Long Green and Byrd Lore.
He cut sides for Prestige in 1956, including the unusual Two Trumpets date with Art Farmer and one of his most regular collaborators of the period, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. Byrd had worked with McLean in the trumpeter's first important gig in New York with pianist George Wallington's band in 1955, and he also appeared on the saxophonist's sessions like New Soil and Jackie's Bag for Blue Note.
Byrd also recorded for Savoy again in 1957 on Star Eyes, with the seldom recorded alto saxophonist John Jenkins, a Chicagoan who made a brief but positive contribution to hard bop before disappearing from the jazz scene (although Jenkins was seldom heard from after the mid-'60s, the vibes player Joe Locke told me that he was sure he had come across him busking in New York in the mid-'90s).
Byrd's principal associations of the late 1950s, though, came in two groups: the Jazz Lab Quintet he co-led with alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce, and the bands he shared with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. The Jazz Lab Quintet was formed in 1957 to explore a more structured approach to hard bop than was generally evident in the blowing session dates of the day. They made several albums, the best known of which are on the Riverside and Columbia labels, provided the trumpeter with one of his most productive settings. In order to avoid undue repetition, I have discussed their work together in the Gigi Gryce section of this book (see Chapter 15; their recordings are also listed there), and will concentrate here on the second of these associations, with Pepper Adams.
The baritone saxophonist was born in Highland Park, Michigan, on 8 October, 1930, and raised in Rochester, New York. At the age of sixteen, he moved to Detroit, where he broke into the local jazz scene in the late '40s, working with saxophonists Lucky Thomson and Wardell Gray, among others. Adams began playing clarinet and tenor saxophone before adopting the bigger horn, inspired by the example of Duke Ellington's great baritone specialist, Harry Carney. Adams was only twelve when he first met Carney, but said later that his adoption of the instrument several years later was more down to having an unexpected opportunity to acquire one cheaply.

A stint in the army took him away from the jazz scene from 1951-3 (Byrd was in another branch of the service at the same time), but he resumed his activities on his return. Inevitably, Byrd was one of the local musicians with whom he worked, and the two formed a close alliance. It was a natural step to get together in a band in New York, which they duly did when Adams returned to the city after a spell on the west coast in 1958, a residence which inevitably created mistaken expectations that he would sound like Gerry Mulligan, a perception encouraged by the release of his debut solo album with the distinctly west coast-sounding title of The Cool Sound of Pepper Adams on Savoy in 1957.
Byrd's crisp, richly brassy, increasingly lyrical trumpet work and the fleet, sinewy, driving approach which Adams had developed on baritone were combined with their notably complementary approach to phrasing and rhythmic placement to form a highly effective front line, either with the two horns or an additional alto or tenor saxophone. They gigged and recorded together under one or the other's nominal leadership as well as in tandem, and are heard on records like Adams's classic live date 10 to 4 at The Five Spot, recorded on 5 April, 1958 for Riverside; Motor City Scene (aka Stardust), an all-Detroit date for Bethlehem in 1960; and a 1961 date for Warwick Records, Out of This World, in which Herbie Hancock made his recording debut. The core of their collaboration, however, is contained in the series of recordings they made for Blue Note between 1958 and 1961, both live and in the studio (the latter were collected by Mosaic Records in The Complete Blue Note Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Studio Sessions in 2000, which also includes a later date from 1967, belatedly issued in 1981 as The Creeper).

Their studio work in the earlier period yielded five albums. The first two, Off To The Races from 21 December, 1958 and Byrd In Hand, recorded on 31 May, 1959, both featured sextets (as did the 1967 date), with the trumpet-baritone combination augmented by Jackie McLean's searching alto and Charlie Rouse's tenor respectively. Bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor played on both albums, while Wynton Kelly was the pianist on the earlier date, and Walter Davis, Jr. filled that chair on Byrd In Hand (Byrd returned the favor in August on the pianist's excellent Davis Cup, a Blue Note album which was his only date as a leader until a flurry of activity in his last decade, starting in 1977).

Chant, recorded on 17 April, 1961, but not released until much later; The Cat Walk, laid down two weeks later, on 2 May, 1961; and Royal Flush, from 21 September, 1961, were all quintet dates, and gave early recording breaks to the respective pianists, Herbie Hancock on Chant (with bassist Doug Watkins, another old Detroit buddy of Byrd's, and drummer Terri Robinson) and Royal Flush, and Duke Pearson on The Cat Walk. While a good pianist, Pearson's real strength lay in composing and arranging, and he contributed several tunes to the band's repertoire (Byrd later played on one of the pianist's best albums as a leader, Wahoo, released on Blue Note in 1964).

While they were working very much within the constraints of the hard bop idiom rather than pushing the envelope, these remain consistently strong and engaging records, full of vibrant playing, clever but unobtrusive arranging touches, and well-chosen tunes, many written by Byrd himself. If Byrd In Hand and The Cat Walk are the pick of the bunch, there is excellent material to be found on all of them, and a dip into any of them will give a powerful impression of the group's music.
Some listeners may prefer the extra immediacy and atmosphere of the live club gig captured on At The Half Note Café, recorded on 11 November, 1960, and issued under Byrd's name (Blue Note issued the LPs in two separate volumes, but these were eventually combined on a double CD, with extra material). Both Byrd and Adams were in fine blowing form on that occasion, with a rhythm section of Duke Pearson, Lymon Jackson and Lex Humphries, and the music surges off the bandstand in sparkling fashion, although Humphries is a little four-square on drums - listen to the same group with Philly Joe Jones on The Cat Walk for an instructive illustration of just how much lift a really great drummer can add.
By the end of 1961, the leaders had broken up the band to pursue their own projects, and they reunited only for The Creeper date in 1967, with alto saxophonist Sonny Red, an old school mate of Byrd's from Detroit (his real name was Sylvester Kyner) who featured on several of the trumpeter's albums in the mid-'60s, and Chick Corea on piano. Adams went off to work with Lionel Hampton and then Thad Jones, while Byrd concentrated more fully on his own activities as a leader. He had already cut two sessions for Blue Note without his baritone partner: the rather lackluster Fuego, recorded in October, 1959, with Jackie McLean on board, and Byrd in Flight (a title that seemed inevitable at some point), made in two sessions in January and July, 1960, with either McLean on alto or Hank Mobley on tenor.

He always had a sharp ear for the commercial aspects of his music, one which would come to fruition in the 1970s, but his willingness to feed the public's appetite for funk and groove tunes is already apparent. Herbie Hancock has recalled the trumpeter advising him to fill half of his debut album with crowd-pleasing funk or pop tunes, and show off his chops on the rest (his response was to come up with one of the most successful of all soul jazz tunes, 'Watermelon Man').

Although most of his work was done for Blue Note in this period, Byrd also recorded occasionally for other labels. A two-volume live recording of a Paris concert in 1958, Byrd In Paris, with the Belgian flautist and saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, is one such record, while another, recorded in January, 1962, and released as Groovin' With Nat on Black Lion, saw him form a two trumpet front line with Johnny Coles, who also played with Gil Evans and Charles Mingus, among others, but made relatively few records as a leader (he is heard to advantage on his sole Blue Note date from 1963, Little Johnny C.) Although not as well known as Byrd's many Blue Note issues, both of these records are worth hearing.

Byrd had developed steadily throughout the late 1950s, both as a player and as a composer. Royal Flush featured the Blue Note debut of Butch Warren and Billy Higgins, a rhythm team that became a staple of Alfred Lion's stable in the early '60s, and departures like the modal scales used on 'Jorgie's' and the mobile drum pulse on 'Shangri-La' gave hints of the more experimental approach which Byrd adopted on his next session for the label, Free Form, recorded on 11 December, 1961. The original LP opened in classic hard bop fashion with the gospel beat of 'Pentecostal Feelin", and worked through three more original compositions by the trumpeter, including the subtly inflected 'Nai Nai', and Hancock's exotic ballad, 'Night Flower' (the CD release added the pianist's 'Three Wishes').
The most intriguing departure from the conventions of hard bop came in Byrd's 'Free Form', in which they extended some of the harmonic and rhythmic directions explored on Royal Flush. The tune uses a scale (based on a serial tone row) and a free pulse as a flexible framework for experiment. Byrd described the process in the sleeve note in these terms: 'We move in and out of that basic framework.... The tune has no direct relation to the tempo. I mean that nobody played in the tempo Billy maintains, and we didn't even use it to bring in the melody. Billy's work is just there as a percussive factor, but it's not present as a mark of the time. There is no time in the usual sense, so far as the soloists are concerned.' Even if the trumpeter occasionally sounds as if he is struggling to assimilate his style within the context of Wayne Shorter's oblique probings, Hancock's adventurous open chord voicings, and the flexibility of Warren and Higgins, Free Form remains one of his finest albums, although not everyone would agree, starting with the Penguin Guide. Perhaps with rather more justification, they do not think much of its successor, either, but A New Perspective broke fresh ground for Byrd in its combination of a vocal chorus of eight singers (directed by Coleridge Perkinson, who had arranged the choir on Max Roach's It's Time the previous year) and a septet which featured Hank Mobley and guitarist Kenny Burrell as well as Hancock, with arrangements by Duke Pearson.
The album was recorded on 12 January, 1963 (Byrd had spent much of the intervening time studying composition in Paris), and earned the trumpeter a minor hit with its best known track, 'Christo Redentor'. It drew on a long-standing strain of gospel-derived music in Byrd's work, but in a populist form which foreshadowed the crossover directions he would follow in an even more overtly commercial idiom in the 1970s. He repeated the experiment with less success on I'm Trying To Get Home in December, 1964 (he had made a rather nondescript album for Verve, Up With Donald Byrd, between these Blue Note dates), and recorded several more hard bop oriented sessions for Alfred Lion in the mid-'60s, released on albums like Mustang, Blackjack Slow Drag, and The Creeper (all featuring altoman Sonny Red).

The introduction of modal and even freer elements in his albums of the early- 1960s demonstrated his awareness of the new directions running through jazz, and that tension is equally evident in the music on these albums. By the time of the late-1960s sessions issued on Fancy Free, Kofi and Electric Byrd, he was moving in the direction of a more overt jazz-funk and rhythm and blues feel which would make him a star in the 1970s, a breakthrough which finally arrived with the formation of The Blackbyrds and the release of Black Byrd in 1972. It became Blue Note's biggest selling album, and took the trumpeter away from hard bop altogether, into an often forgettable fusion vein which took in smooth pop, disco, and an early entry into jazz-meets-hip hop with rapper Guru and saxophonist Courtney Pine in Jazzmatazz.

He did return to the bop idiom in the late 1980s, following a serious stroke, and recorded several albums for Orrin Keepnews's Landmark label. Getting Down To Business, recorded in 1989 with Kenny Garrett, Joe Henderson, and an excellent rhythm section, is the best of these, but that is mainly down to his collaborators. His own playing is disappointingly diffuse, and no match for the prime hard bop he laid down in his peak decade from 1955.