Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gerald Wilson - Then and Now: Part 1

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

"The story of West Coast big bands from the 1950s, especially those featuring black leaders, was largely one of neglect. …
Despite the excellence of his earlier ensembles, [Gerald] Wilson’s recording career was, except for a few brief interludes, deferred until the 1960s.” – Ted Gioia

The “Then and Now” subtitle for this JazzProfiles feature about the soon to be 91-year old Gerald Wilson is correct, even though the more accustomed phrase is “Now and Then.” Explanation to follow.

Thanks to the very same high school trumpet playing friend who dragged me all over Hollywood and the Sunset Strip [The Summit, The Sundown Club and The Seville] in the late 1950’s to hear what has since become know as the Terry Gibbs Dream Band, I also got to hear the 1960’s version of the Gerald Wilson Orchestra that recorded for Pacific Jazz during that period.

Only this time we were students in college and the venues had changed to Shelly’s Manne Hole, The Memory Lane Supper Club, a Local 47 Musicians Union Picnic for members and their families [we were both card carrying members of that AFL-CIO affiliate] and Marty’s on the Hill on Slausen Avenue in Los Angeles.

In those days, my buddy worked at the Benge Trumpet Factory on Victory Blvd. in Burbank, CA and many of the Hollywood studio and West Coast Jazz players had a preference for Elden Benge’s exquisitely crafted trumpets.
As a result, my friend got to meet the likes of Al Porcino, Ray Triscari, John Audino, Stu Williamson and Frank Huggins, all of whom became his heroes and all of whom played Benge trumpets at one time or another as members of Terry Gibbs’ big band; hence the reason for of weekly “pilgrimages” to hear them perform.

In the 1960s, the group of Benge playing trumpeters was broadened to include Jimmy Zito and Jules Chaikin and they along with Al Porcino and Ray Triscari formed Gerald Wilson’s trumpet section [usually with either Freddie Hill and/or Carmel Jones in the Jazz solo chair] of Gerald’s Orchestra; hence the reason for the musical equivalent of a “new place of worship.”
There were no Jazz classes in those days; no university Jazz curriculums; no band camps; no instructional videos; no Master classes: if you wanted to learn how to play Jazz at the highest level, you practiced every day, listen to records and then went to the clubs and the concerts to observe and listen to how the pros did it.

Before I heard him perform with Buddy Collette’s quintet at Jazz City in 1958-59, I had no idea who Gerald Wilson was. After listening to him play for the first time, I thought he was a Jazz trumpet player with a modest tone who meshed nicely with Buddy’s alto sax and flute. Buddy’s quintet at that time also included Al Viola on guitar, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass and Earl Palmer on drums.
That was my first “Then” experience with Mr. Wilson. It was soon to be followed by my first “Now” occurrence as he seemed to come-out-of-nowhere to lead a roaring big band that issued 8 LPs on the Pacific Jazz label in the 8 years from 1961-1969!

How could it happen that a musician with the unpretentious abilities I had heard Mr. Wilson display as a trumpet player with Buddy Collette transform himself into the principal arranger and composer of one of the most striking sounding big band that I have ever heard – then or now!?

And this “Then and Now” cycle has been a part of my travels with Mr. Wilson’s music ever since as I’ve worked my way backward and forward with the music that he has made, and continues to make, over his long and distinguished career.

It boggles the mind to think that it has been 70 years since Mr. Wilson joined the Jimmie Lunceford band in 1939 as a trumpet soloist and an arranger. Having been born in Shelby, Mississippi on September 4, 1918, Mr. Wilson was only 21 years old at the time that he took on these awesome responsibilities with one of the top big bands in the country.
As Mr. Wilson recalls: “When I got a chance to join them, I was thrilled to death. The Jimmie Lunceford band was at the top of the heap at the time and they could outdraw everyone. They had such creative arrangements by Edwin Wilcox, Sy Oliver and Eddie Durham, and their musicians were very good. I made my first arrangements for them, “Yard Dog Mazurka” and “Hi Spook.”Aside from the unbridled confidence of youth, the reason for this self-assurance was that Mr. Wilson knew from an early that he was going to be a musician. As a result of this awareness, while living in Detroit, he studied harmony and orchestration at Cass Tech in addition to working on his trumpet chops. So when the call came to become a member of the Lunceford band, he was ready, much to the amazement of all concerned.

In his own, non-ostentatious way, Mr. Wilson has never ceased to amaze ever since.
The reason for my unawareness of Mr. Wilson’s substantial, earlier career in Jazz until I “discovered” him in the late 1950s and 1960s on the Los Angeles Jazz scene could be chalked up to my overall youthful naiveté coupled with my relative newness to Jazz.

And yet, I wasn’t the only Jazz fan who thought that after Mr. Wilson left the Lunceford band in 1942 that he toiled in relative obscurity until his Jazz career was re-launched thanks largely to the records of his 1960s big band that Richard Bock at Pacific Jazz put out.
In looking back to the “then” portion of Mr. Wilson’s musical journey from when he left Lunceford to the re-formation of the 1960s version of his orchestra, Mr. Wilson was hard at work on the vibrant Los Angeles Jazz scene. He also led a band in San Francisco during this period as well as touring with and writing for a number of famous Jazz performers including Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Billie Holiday.Thankfully this hitherto obscure period in Mr. Wilson’s career is richly detailed in an Oral History Project under the supervision of Steve Iosardi and UCLA. The project has been published under the title of Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998] and the book is authored collectively by the project’s principal interviewees, including Mr. Wilson.The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought that reading Mr. Wilson’s description of what it was like to be a part of the Jazz World in Los Angeles during and after the 2nd World War would provide a unique look at a time in the history of Jazz that would never come again.It also provides a captivating look at the vibrant musical world that Mr. Wilson created for himself and how what blossomed in his music in the 1960s when I first really became aware of it is really a natural extension of his continued growth and development that has made him one of the Giants of Jazz.

Part 2 of the piece will begin with a retrospective of Mr. Wilson’s career by the imminent Jazz writer – Doug Ramsey – and then follow with an in-depth look at the more significant recordings in his discography.

© Copyright protected; all rights reserved.Gerald Wilson
“Trumpeter, composer, arranger, and educator, Gerald Wilson has been at the top of his profession since joining the Jimmie Lunceford band in 1939 at the age of twenty. He has performed with and written for most of the top bands, including Count Basie and Duke Ellington, as well as Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, and Billie Holiday. The Gerald Wilson Orchestra has been a mainstay for decades and is still performing and recording.

Gerald's talent for composing and arranging has taken him beyond the jazz field. He has written and scored for films and TV shows. His compositions have also been performed by the Los Angeles, Israel, and New York Philharmonics.

A long-time educator, Gerald has been a faculty member at several southern California universities. He is currently on the faculty at UCLA, where he teaches a course on the history of jazz. He has also been a musician in residence at colleges and universities throughout the country. Of the many awards that have come his way, one of the more recent is a National Endowment for the Arts American Jazz Masters Fellowship.

Gerald was born in Shelby, Mississippi, on September 4, 1918. His mother, Lillian Wilson, was a schoolteacher at the Shelby Grammar School a position she held for some forty years.”

“My mother was educated and she graduated from Jackson College, which is now Jackson State University. She was also a musician. She played piano. She taught some of the early classes in music in Shelby. And then she also played in the church. So I got my beginning in music with my mother, who started all of us. The Wilson kids, my brother [Shelby James Wilson] and sister [Mildred Wilson] - we all got a start in music very young. So being around music all my life, it was easy for me to pick up on it and begin to like it.

My sister was a fine classical pianist. I had already heard her play compositions by Mendelssohn, Paderewski, Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Beethoven. In my early days I knew of these composers, besides being interested in the music of the day, which was jazz coming out of New Orleans. When I was a child around five or six, I was already hearing Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver and Papa Celestin. Before I left Shelby I already knew of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines and Duke Ellington and Jimmie Lunceford. I was already listening to jazz before I left Mississippi.

I left Mississippi at the end of the eighth grade because there was no other place to go there. So I went to Memphis. I attended Manassas High School, where Jimmie Lunceford had once been a teacher. I started trumpet lessons there with Mr. Love, who was one of the pioneer music teachers of Memphis. But I had started playing trumpet before I left Shelby, only because it was a shiny instrument, I guess. I really should have stayed on the piano. It is the master instrument to my mind, because it has everything there.

Then my mother arranged for me to study in Detroit-had friends there from Shelby. When I started attending school in Detroit in 1934, mostly all of the schools were integrated. And besides, they had such a great music department where I attended, Cass Technical High School, which is one of the greatest music schools in the world even to this day. So I enrolled there, and I stayed in Detroit for five years, where I studied.
I played in the area with different orchestras and different musicians. I learned so much playing with members of McKinney's Cotton Pickers, members of bands that had been led by Don Redman and Benny Carter. And many of the fine bands they had in Detroit: Stutz Sanderson's band, Gloster Current, Harold Green, Bob Perkins-these were all bands that were very musical. It was a place to really learn about music.

Gerald remained in Detroit for five years, until 1939, when a wire arrived from Jimmie Lunceford, the leader of perhaps the most popular black band in the country. Sy Oliver - Lunceford's long-time arranger, composer, and trumpeter - had left to join Tommy Dorsey, and Gerald was asked to take his place.

Jimmie Lunceford had been to our school, Cass Tech, to hear our jazz band, and he had met me there. However, I had people in the band that knew me because I used to hang around the band every time they would come to Detroit, which would be two or three times a year. Sy would sit me up on the bandstand beside him at the Graystone, just let me sit there. I knew Eddie Tomkins and Paul Webster and Willie Smith and Joe Thomas, Earl Carruthers, Dan Grissom.

I received a wire asking me if I would like to join the Jimmie Lunceford band. I said yes. I just went down the next morning, picked up my ticket, some money, on the train, and I went to New York. Then, from that time on, I was on top because they were on top. They were not a struggling band. They were on the very top. June Of 1939. They were at the height of their fame. But the Lunceford band went higher after Snooky Young and I joined the band. He came six months after I did. We stayed there almost three years.
We made the film Blues in the Night here in Los Angeles for Warner Brothers in 1941. We played the Casa Mañana in 1940, the Paramount downtown, the Shrine Auditorium, where they had so many people they had to stop the dance. We were the biggest draw in the United States at that time, the Jimmie Lunceford band.

I was twenty-one years old. But you must remember, we were coming up at a different time. I was coming up out of Cass Tech. I could already read music, I could already write music. I was already into the modern things going around at that time in jazz because I was an aficionado besides. I had already met Dizzy Gillespie in 1938. 1 already knew Lester Young and Count Basie. So this gives you an idea of what we had to draw on as young musicians. You're right there with people that are doing it, and they're doing the very best.

The Jimmie Lunceford band, besides being an outstanding musical organization, had everything else. They had made it to the top. They knew what the top was supposed to be. Our costumes would take half of this room we're sitting in here to hold them. If we did seven shows, we changed seven times, from top to bottom. So you can see what kind of an organization the Jimmie Lunceford band was. But they were strictly on their music. They were a tough band to reckon with. You had to be really tough to get past us. [laughter] Yes. We would really tell you the real deal. You can go and listen to our records now. That proves it. Go and listen to their records today, and you will see how far ahead they were at any time during that period. The first number that they recorded of mine, "Yard Dog Mazurka," is just as vibrant today as it was then, and just as modern. You can see how far ahead I was.

My harmonic techniques at that time were very far ahead. When I left Detroit from Cass Tech, they were barely into four-part harmony. I'm still the only person that's very deep into eight-part harmony. I'm an orchestrator and an arranger and composer. That's my business. Of course, I'm one of the innovators of that. Much of my stuff you have to use if you're in modern music. If you're in orchestral music, you must use some of my inventions. Colleges don't even know what we're talking about here. They have an idea of what we're talking about, but they don't really know. I know all of the people that teach at colleges. We know what they do. They're not out here, they're not competing in the world. We know how much they know.

My band today is far ahead. I don't have just a band. I have an orchestra, really. A band is a commercial business. I'm not in it for the commercial business. I'm a musician. The music is what is important to me. That is my central drive. That is really what it's all about with me. I know that I have one of the greatest bands in the world. I don't know anybody in jazz today that would want to come up against me in writing. If he does, he's a strong man, and he's got a tough row to hoe. [laughter] And I don't know any you can find out there who will tell you that he wants to go up against me. And if you do, tell him to come on. [laughter] But that's not for an egotistical purpose. That is what I have done. I have studied all my life. I'm still studying.
Seduced by Sunshine
In February Of 1940 1 came to Los Angeles with the Jimmie Lunceford band. We had just finished playing a week at the Regal in Chicago, and we boarded the train there. By the way, it was like eighteen degrees above when we left. We had a Pullman and everything. Big-time band. I'll never forget that day in February. As I looked out the window of my bunk in the sleeper, I see this beautiful sunshine. We were somewhere like San Bernardino. And I said, "Well, this is going to be the place for me." [laughter] And when I got to Los Angeles and I saw how pretty it was, I said, "This will be my home." I was very impressed with Los Angeles. I made up my mind that day that I was going to live in Los Angeles.

I got off the train there at Union Station. They had a parade for us. This is how big we were. They had a parade from the station to the Dunbar Hotel, where we were going. to stay. Snooky Young and I, we didn't follow along with the parade. We were just milling around at the station and looking around. The parade was moving on, and there was this white guy who came up to us and said, "Are you guys with the Jimmie Lunceford band?" We said, "Yeah. We play with the Lunceford band." He introduced himself. "My name is Carlos Gastel." He managed Stan Kenton, he managed Benny Carter, he managed Nat King Cole. Later. Right then, he was just booking some little dances, so he had been the booker for us at a dance at the Glendale Civic Auditorium. So he was just looking for some guys in the Lunceford band to talk to. He had missed Jimmie, but he offered to drive us to the hotel, which he did. He drove us up Central Avenue to the Dunbar Hotel, where we registered. That was my first day in Los Angeles.

Central Avenue. I didn't think about it as anything so special other than the fact that it's where I can stay. It's the only place I can sleep. [laughter] Having been everywhere in the United States, I had seen all the black streets. Central Avenue is like Saint Antoine in Detroit or like South Park in Chicago or like 125th Street in New York or like Central in Cleveland. So at that time I didn't realize what it would mean to me later. Los Angeles would become my home, and Central Avenue would become an integral part of me.

The Dunbar was a very fine hotel, coffee shop, bar, dining room. The rooms were impeccable. The Nelson's, who owned it and ran it, saw to it that you had to be right on top of everything. You couldn't come in there with a lot of loud behavior. So it was a place of class. I enjoyed staying there. And it was near everything. It was right in the center. A couple of doors down was the Alabam; a couple of doors from that was the Downbeat; across the street was the Last Word; over here on the other side was the Memo; the Five and Ten was there; down a few blocks, Dynamite Jackson's; the Lincoln Theatre was up a few blocks. All of these places - the Elks. This is all Central Avenue. This was our place to go.
The first job we played was the Civic Auditorium in Glendale. Our next date was at the Shrine Auditorium down on Jefferson. Packed and jammed. Couldn't get in, there were so many people. And then we played a return engagement there before we left. But then we played the Paramount Theatre downtown for a week. We even went to the Casa Mafiana out in Culver City, where we played for six weeks. That was located on Washington Boulevard right out near the Helms Bakery. It was the old Sebastian's Cotton Club and was a big place. It would hold about, oh, I'd say fifteen hundred or two thousand. Then we'd stay here while we'd play San Diego. And we may go to Bakersfield, Fresno-because we'd play everywhere.

During this first trip, I went into the Alabam. It was a beat-up club. I said, "Why would anybody want to come in here, anyway?" [laughter] And I went in. But I heard some fine musicians that night. I went in and I heard Marshal Royal, his brother Ernie Royal, Lloyd Reese. Reese was playing trumpet and alto sax. [laughter] He was playing both of them and was recognized as being one of the finest musicians around the country. They were all playing with Cee Pee Johnson's band.

They had little groups playing at different clubs. Lorenzo Flennoy and his trio. A lot of trios around. Lee Young, Lester's brother. They had their group. They were working with Billie Holiday at the Trouville, which was in Hollywood. The Memo Club-they'd have some kind of maybe a piano player, a trio, a duo, or something like that. That was across the street from the Dunbar, like catty-corner. Lovejoy had a place where they used to have jam sessions. Upstairs place on Vernon Avenue and Central. All the guys would go there to jam-Art Tatum, the heavies. Duke's band came in town while we were here one time. I saw Jimmy Blanton, and he was up there jamming.

There were bands around Los Angeles. There was George Brown's band, Phil Carreon, and other groups that were playing at different clubs around. Of course, Red Callender-he was very popular at that time. He was a fine bass player. He was playing with Lee Young's group, Lester Young had joined them, and they were playing with Billie Holiday out at the Trouville.

So it was a lot of musical things going on during that period. Benny Carter was in town with a band. Les Hite had a band. Lionel Hampton formed his band in '40. I think it was '40. We were all talking down in front of the Dunbar there with Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet, Ray Perry - this kid with Chick Carter's band. Dexter was very young. He was just joining Lionel's band.

We played our first engagement here in 1940. We came back again during the early part Of 1941. And this time, I believe we played the Orpheum Theatre. We made a movie for Warner Brothers, Blues in the Night. We were in that movie with Lloyd Nolan, Richard Whorf, Rosemary Lane, and Elia Kazan. We played the Casa Manana, because that's where Ray Heindorf, who was one of the music directors at Warner Brothers, used to come to see us every night.
I left the Lunceford band in April 1942. It was the time of World War II. I was 1-A, and I knew I was going to be called soon. I wanted to spend a little time kind of relaxed. I'd been with him a long time and needed a little time to kind of get ready for the service. And that's what I did. I came here.

But I didn't go for a while, so I went with Les Hite. I stayed with him for about six months. We played a long engagement at the Wilshire Bowl, which had become the Louisiana Club. The Wilshire Bowl was a fine nightclub that changed its name in the early forties to the Louisiana Club. It was on Wilshire near the Miracle Mile. But the Miracle Mile was nothing but open space in there. We played there for like two or three months. Every night. Big show. Big, big, big chorus line, big acts, big-time acts. All white acts, like the Rio Brothers and different kinds of singers. They had a black band, though; we were the black band. Mingus played with us there. And then Snooky was in the band. He joined Les Hite, too. He moved out to the coast, and he moved in.

Les Hite was always recognized as having a good band. He had good music. I did a lot of writing for him while I was in his band, and Gil Fuller did a lot of arrangements for him. He had been successful, and he knew how to front a band. And he was very popular. We toured, we played all up the coast here. Finally, he just gave it up. After all those years, he probably just really got tired of it.

And then we went with Benny Carter. Our whole trumpet section from that band, we just went into Benny's band one night. We were tough. In fact, those four trumpets-we also went out and played the music for the special dance that the black dancers did in This Is the Army with this huge orchestra, Warner Brothers orchestra. And the four trumpet players were black: it was Snooky Young, myself, a fellow named Jack Trainor, and another kid named Walter Williams. We were the only trumpets in the band. But we guaranteed that we could play anything. [laughter] We could play anything you had between the four of us. We handled it all. So we went into Benny's band one night. And from that night on, his band was lifted from here to here. Do you understand what I'm saying? From here to here. [laughter]

J. J. Johnson was in the band. They had Teddy Brannon and Bumps Myers. Oh, he had some good guys. He had Shorty Horton, J. J., "Big" Matthews, trombone. These were guys right out of New York. That was the trombone section. And he had Kurk Bradford. We had taken him from Les Hite's band.
We went on back up the coast with Benny. Then we were playing at Hermosa Beach, a place called Zucca's Terrace. It was right in front of the Lighthouse. Upstairs. Benny played out there a couple of weeks, I think. I was drafted, inducted, while I was there. I was inducted into the navy. It would have been probably June of 1943. June, maybe July. In fact, some of the guys in the band took me to the induction center down on Main Street. I thought I was going to be rejected, but they took me. [laughter]

Anyway, I was off to the navy, which was a fine experience, by the way. I was lucky. I got in the ship's company band at Great Lakes. It's just about, I'd say, thirty-five or forty miles from Chicago. We were very privileged people. We lived in Chicago. Come at eight in the morning and leave at four in the evening unless you were performing that night. And then whenever you finished, you could go. In fact, I never slept another night on the base after I got out of boot camp.

My friend Willie Smith from the Lunceford band was there. Clark Terry was there. It was a band of fine musicians, so it was a great experience. It was good for me because it was another chance to just study and do music, because we did music all day. That was it. We played for things: graduation, we played for happy hours, we played for colors. Then we had our jazz band. And we broadcast every week, every Saturday night, over CBS, so it kept us busy. A lot of writing. We had some fine writers there: Dudley Brooks, who was from Los Angeles, a great writer. He
worked out at MGM, many of the studios. He was a fine pianist. He also did a lot of work with Elvis Presley.

So it really was a fine time at Great Lakes, because all I had to do was write and play. It gave me a great chance to study, experiment all of the experiments you wanted because we had like five trumpets in the band, five trombones, French horn, six reeds. That's the jazz band I'm talking about. Of course, our marching band was very large, and we did everything. They had handpicked all of the musicians.

But anyway, I only spent a year in the navy. I had a very bad sinus infection, so I had a medical discharge.

Then I came back to L.A. Oh, that was about July or August of 1944. When I got back, Central was getting into full swing. The Lincoln Theatre - they were starting to have stage shows every week. Before it was mostly movies. They had a pit band, they had acts, chorus girls, and they would change the shows every week. They had some great performers there like Pigmeat Markham, Bardu Ali. Bardu was the leader of the band, too. By the way, let me tell you some people that were playing in that band. Charles Brown, the great blues singer. He played piano. Yeah, he's a fine piano player. And Melba Liston was playing trombone in the band. She was very young. About sixteen or seventeen. Floyd Turnham, fine alto player that had been with Les Hite.
Bardu, he was a performer. He was like a straight man, and he would direct the band. He had been in New York, and he did the same thing in New York. He had a brother, also, who was in show business. He was a dancer. They used to call him the Beachcomber. And that was his deal. He was a showman.

The Alabam was now really looking good, had been remodeled. Curtis Mosby had it. Curtis was a nice man. He had been in the business. You know, he was a musician and had a band. And he had fixed the club up real nice. They were having regular shows in there. The Downbeat was coming on the scene. Across the street, the Last Word was happening then. In all, there were a lot of things going on now on Central Avenue and things were looking good. They were really looking good. You could tell that things were in good shape, because you could tell by how the clubs looked-real nice clubs, nice acts playing in the club, nice groups.

I played in the Downbeat with Lee Young during that period, Lee Young and one of the Woodman brothers. We called him Brother Woodman. He's the one that plays sax and the trumpet. And Joe Liggins was the piano player, and I was the trumpet player. In fact, we were the first people to do "The Honeydripper." Joe Liggins wanted us to do his number, "The Honeydripper," which later became a nationwide hit.

So Central was looking real good. The Dunbar was still nice. All the bands still came there. Duke and Count, Jimmie Lunceford. Joe Morris owned the Plantation. Oh, a beautiful club. Large place. They'd have shows, acts. I finished out an engagement with Billie Holiday with my band, which was a little later on. It was in '45. And Shepp's Playhouse was not on Central, but it was on First and Los Angeles, where the New Otani Hotel is. I played more than one engagement there.

From the Plantation to the Apollo

I organized my band in October of 1944. I was not really ready yet to form my band, but the opportunity came. Actually, I was going to join a band. I did a lot of work during that period with Phil Moore as trumpet player. I made many recordings with Phil on his own records. And he was also Lena Horne's musical accompanist and director, and I did all of her dates with Phil. He worked at MGM all the time. He did work for Nathaniel Schildkret. It's like ghostwriting. I've never seen his name on the screen. They did him really a bad deal. I kicked because they didn't put my name in Where the Boys Are and the other movies that I scored for. I kicked. That was even in the late fifties. But this guy was already writing music for MGM and other studios, too. Not only him - Calvin Jackson wrote many scores at MGM, many. I'm not speaking like one or two or three. I'm talking like ten or fifteen. Heavy, heavy scores, you know.

So I was very busy when I first got back from the navy. But, as I said, the opportunity came for me to get my band. From the time that I was ten years old, I knew that I was going to be a bandleader. I knew that. And I knew that I was going to be a bandleader that wrote music for my band to play, because I was already a great admirer of Duke Ellington. And listening to their records and listening to them on the radio, I knew that I was going to be a bandleader and I was going to be an orchestrator, an arranger, composer.

So my opportunity came, and I didn't let it pass. Herb Jeffries wanted to have a band, so he asked me to form his band. And I did. And things were going so good for Herb, I guess, that at that time he really didn't have time to be fronting a band. So there I was with the band. So Leonard Reed, who was the producer at Shepp's Playhouse, booked us in there. So that's how I got started with the band.
It was very good, because we broadcast two or three times a week over the radio. Had a fine show there. They had chorus girls and acts. And they had a lounge there, too, which was downstairs. It was like a bar. And Eddie Heywood's band was there while we were there, the band that had such great success with "Begin the Beguine," which was a big hit record for him and his band. That was in 1945. And we also played the Orpheum Theatre that year together, Eddie Heywood and I. We played a lot of things, a lot of dances and club dates over at the Elks Auditorium, which is on Central Avenue.

Now, my band, we were all from California. We had some fine players. We had Melba Liston; Jimmy Bunn was on piano, a fine young artist; Henry Green, who later became the mainstay drummer with the Treniers. We had some fine trumpeters: Snooky Young came with my band; we had Jack Trainor, who had been with Hite's band and Benny Carter's band. So we really had a fine band.

Melba was a fine trombone player. She was such a good trombone player, she could play it all. She could play lead, she could play solos, too-usually play it better than the guys. She joined my band in 1944, so she was maybe about seventeen. She was with my band when it disbanded, and she was with all of my other bands at that time. Really a fine musician. Still a fine musician. She's one of the finest writers that I've ever heard. In fact, I recorded a couple of her arrangements in 1945. I had another girl in my band too. Her name was Vivian Fears. She was a fine pianist. I had picked her up in Chicago. She had been playing with Fletcher Henderson's band. She was from Saint Louis. Another fine pianist, played real great jazz.

I played at the Plantation, which was on Central but way out in Watts. It was a large place with a lot of tables and chairs and a dance floor. It attracted big crowds, all different kinds of people, but you must remember that the bulk of the people that came there were black. And all the big bands played there: Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Erskine Hawkins, Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine. Billie Holiday sang there - I played there with Billie Holiday. I finished out the engagement she had there when Billy Eckstine left. As I say, it was a very, very nice place, a very nice place. Joe Morris owned it.

And also I played with my big band at the Downbeat club. I was the first big band to ever play in the Downbeat. I think it was owned by Hal Stanley, whom I knew very well, and Elihu McGhee. Now, Hal Stanley was also at one time managing Kay Starr. Hal was managing Kay when I worked at the Casbah Supper Club as a trumpet player with Benny Carter.

The Downbeat was a small club. I'd say it would maybe seat 125 people. As you walk in, to your left there's this fine bar. You'd walk around, and you could stand at the end. Because I remember when I played there, Art Tatum used to come in every night and stand right over there to hear my band. He loved my band. He would come in every night. He wanted me to play some of my numbers that at that time were considered to be far ahead, because I was already using harmonies that no other bands were actually utilizing. I was deep into six at that time. Yeah, deep into six-part harmonies. Anyway - we're getting technical here now - but yeah, you'd see that bar and then the tables and chairs. And the bandstand was in the center of the building over on the right side, and there were tables all out from there.

We played all kinds of things and throughout the West over the next couple of years. We went to New York in 1946. We played the Apollo Theatre, and we were sensational there. I followed Duke Ellington at the Apollo, and Jimmie Lunceford followed me. So we were in top company. But we were very good. At that time we had recordings. I had about, oh, I'd say twenty or twenty-five sides by that time. I recorded my first recording date in 1945 on the Excelsior label. That's Otis Rene's label, the same label that Nat King Cole was on at the time. So my records were going very good. I had a couple of mild hits.

We left the Apollo, went to Pittsburgh, and then we went on into Chicago and we played there at the El Grotto for ten weeks. They built the whole show around my band. Marl Young, who's now on the board at the union [Local 47], he came in and subbed in my band for a few nights while we were in Chicago. This is before he came to L.A. I did six weeks at the Riviera in Saint Louis with Ella Fitzgerald. Joe Williams was my singer. And we packed this club - it would hold about twelve hundred people-every night for six weeks. And to really top it off, they had a special night there, I remember, where Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong battled my band. [laughter] And people were lined up around the corner.
Walking Away from It

While I was in Saint Louis, I realized that I had already hit the top. I was already on top now. It was getting to be that way. My time was getting so that I would hardly have any time. The band was very popular. I had these weeks already signed with Louis Jordan, and then Eddie "Rochester" Anderson wanted me to tour with him. So everything was happening. I realized that I had hit the top too soon. I was not even near where I wanted to be as a musician, and I knew this. And, of course, when I said this to people, they said, "Well, what's wrong with the guy?" They just don't understand what you're trying to say.

Anyway, I made up my mind during the engagement in Saint Louis. I realized that this was not it. This was not it. And, of course, many people thought I was making a very big mistake, especially my booking office. I made up my mind that I was going to disband and return to Los Angeles, and I did just that. I paid off my men, and we came back to L.A., and I disbanded.

And then I started working with Phil Moore again, other people around town. I still had a lot of work to do musically. I started writing for a lot of people and studying, just studying and writing and playing just doing all kinds of stuff, and studying, as I said, studying very hard. I studied the classics, Stravinsky, Shostakovich,, Prokofiev, Khachaturian,, d'Indy, Bartok, Manuel de Falla, Villa-Lobos. I'm looking for everything. I'm looking for music to broaden my knowledge of music. I wasn't studying them to be classical. I was studying them to broaden my knowledge so that I could broaden my jazz. But as far as jazz writers, who was I going to study with? I was just about one of the best then and I knew it. Of course you're going to say, okay, there's a guy bragging. But I was doing it.

So I'm studying. I played with Benny Carter, with his small group. We played eight weeks out on Figueroa near Manchester at the Casbah with Kay Starr. Then we went into the Million Dollar [Theatre] with Nat King Cole. I played the Avedon Ballroom with Nat King Cole. That was downtown on Spring Street, right in back of the Orpheum Theatre. Fine ballroom. All the bands played there. And after that, I joined Count Basie in 1948, at the end Of 1948. But in between this time, I'm making recordings and playing all kinds of record dates, blues dates with people, artists, writing arrangements for different people, rhythm and blues, too. I was doing it all. So in 1948, about near the end of the year, Snooky Young had to leave to go back east, so I joined Count Basie.

Well, here was another opportunity. Here's Count Basie's band, and I was already writing. In fact, I made my first arrangement for Duke Ellington in 1947 that they recorded here on Columbia Records. So my first orchestrations for Duke Ellington [ "You've Got to Crawl Before You Walk" and "You're just an Old Antidisestablishmentarianismist" ] were in 1947, which came off very well. Billy Strayhorn and I were great friends. He's one of my-I would say, a mentor, because he is one of the few people that actually helped me. That was way back in the early forties. You know, showing me things, how to do some things. Anyway, that started an association with Duke for me. He actually wanted me to join his band. Duke asked me to join his band the minute I got back from disbanding my band, at the Dunbar Hotel. [laughter]
Anyway, Count Basie needed someone to fill in for Snooky until Snooky would come back. He was supposed to come back right away. But I ended up leaving town with the band. They were at the Lincoln at the time. I played the Lincoln Theatre with him, and I left with him. I stayed with Count until way up into-that was '48, '49. 1 returned to Los Angeles in '49. So I did a lot of writing for Count during that period. I wrote a whole show, a theater review, for him. I did some other stuff for him that we played on dances. And when we went to New York, we did some recordings for Victor. I did most of the writing for all of the dates.

The Amalgamation
So when I got back in '49, Central Avenue was still hopping. And the union, of course, that's when they were getting into the amalgamation. So Buddy Collette and Red Callender-you know, they were my friends, my dear friends. And I remember they asked me to go with them and get in on the amalgamation thing. I joined their group. And I remember we went out to Los Angeles City College that first night that I went with them. We went out getting white musicians to sign the petition.

Hey, you know, I was from Detroit. There's no segregated unions in Detroit. And besides, what we were going for, I'm really for. So there was no problem there. So I joined their group and then I left, went back with Basie and finished out the year, '49, with Basie. In fact, I was with Basie when he disbanded. Nineteen fifty. So I stayed in New York, and I worked with Illinois Jacquet, and then I joined Dizzy Gillespie's band. I was with Dizzy when he broke up to get his small group. So big bands were folding. I went out on a tour with Billie Holiday. And then, after that, I came back to Los Angeles -that was 1950 - and did some things around town here, played, and then I -decided to do a show. I wrote a show called the "California Frolics Revue." We presented it at the Riverside Rancho. We were rehearsing at the union, over at 767.
Anyway, while I was doing this rehearsing, I said to Buddy, "How are things going with the union?" He said, "Well, we're not doing too much right now." So I took it upon myself- I had a friend of mine, I ran into him, he was a lawyer. His name is Calvin Porter, still in business here. He was a friend of mine from Detroit when I was going to school. So I ran into him one night, we were just talking. And I said, "You know what? Calvin, I'm with a group of people. We're trying to get these unions amalgamated. We've been getting petitions signed and trying to get it going."

So he said, "Well, it sounds to me like there's something you're not doing. Obviously, the people who are in power at the union are running the union just as they want to, because there's nobody to stop them. First you've got to go in there and get this thing on the floor at the union. You slip in there on a day, on a general meeting, but you don't let them know you're coming. You go in. You will say, 'I move to make a motion that there will be a special meeting called for the specific purpose of discussing the amalgamation of Local 767 to Local 47."'

I immediately told Buddy what we had to do. We immediately got in touch with everybody that was concerned with the movement and people that we knew would be for the movement. But we didn't have too much to worry about, because my band was already big enough to outvote them-the band that we were rehearsing upstairs. So we went about it exactly like that. The next general meeting, they didn't know what was happening. All of a sudden, all of these people come walking in. We picked up people in automobiles.

As the meeting got started and things were moving, I held up my hand to make a motion. I stood up and made it to the president-Leo McCoy Davis was his name-and I made that motion. "I would like to make a motion that a special meeting will be called for the specific purpose of discussing the amalgamation of Local 767 to Local 47." 1 was talking with Bill Douglass recently, who recently was the treasurer here [at Local 47]. He says he seconded it, but I don't remember. I thought it was Percy McDavid. It could have been Bill.

Now, what did this do? This enabled the amalgamation people to be able to go in and then vote their people into the Local 767 leadership, where Bill Douglass, I believe, became the vice president. Now, the reason I'm getting into this is because this has all been forgotten. I don't remember seeing Marl there that day, and I don't remember seeing Benny Carter there that day. I didn't remember Benny into it at any time until later, because we all wanted Benny to be with us. We wanted Marl because of his ability and his legal background at the time. But that was the day that happened.

I fought for the amalgamation. When I sit here [at Local 47] tonight, I know that I am the one that made the motion for the first special meeting called for the amalgamation of Local 767 and Local 47. 1 know that I said those words because I found out what to do to give us another spur in that movement, although you never heard of it. That was an important battle in the battle.

And then, later, after that show that I did, I got a job with the Joe Adams Show on KTTV, and my band was working that. Buddy was in it, and Red Callender was my assistant on it. I was the music director for the show. We were on TV every week with the Joe Adams Show. And I played a benefit to raise money to support the amalgamation movement at the Humanist Hall on Union Avenue. And you couldn't get in the place that day.

Then I left. I went to San Francisco, so I don't remember how they went on from there. I went to San Francisco, where I stayed for a couple of years. I had a band up there before I came back in 1954.

Those were the years that the Avenue really declined. By the time I got back in 1954, things had moved. The Oasis was the big thing. It was on Western Avenue. When I got back the blacks had gotten over to Western Avenue and over in there, Exposition and Figueroa. And Central Avenue, I guess, just kept declining. The theaters were gone, the Lincoln and all of that stuff was kind of just going down, and it was not happening anymore. Everything had moved west.
"There's no place like Central Avenue."
Central Avenue was a place where my people lived. So the point is that Central Avenue was just like 125th Street in New York, that's where all the black people were. They couldn’t go any other place. Where were they going to go? They could work at a couple of places out here, but they couldn't go in the front door. So they were all there together, just like that. They had to stay here, they had to live here. Duke Ellington: you'd catch him right there at the Dunbar. Count Basie, right there. [laughter] We all had the same thing in New York. No different in New York.

Central has a lot to do with me. You must remember that I organized my first band here. It was here that I had a chance to determine which way I wanted to go, and I had inspiration here. As I say, Phil Moore was one of my biggest inspirations as a writer. And Calvin Jackson, who later moved here. I didn't mention it, but Calvin Jackson also wrote arrangements for Jimmie Lunceford when I was with Jimmie Lunceford's band. That's when he was just a freelance piano player and writer around New York. He later joined Harry James. Wrote a lot of stuff for Harry James. Then he went to MGM and did so much work over there for them. But all these people were here. And the other people were coming in and out all the time. Count's band was coming in and out. In fact, I rehearsed my first number with Count Basie here at the Aragon Ballroom when they were playing out there on the beach-Venice somewhere-another ballroom that blacks couldn't even go into.

Central is just as important as 125th Street in New York City, or South Park in Chicago, Cedar Street, I think, in Pittsburgh. They all have it. All of the cities have a street. It's the street where the black people live. And I think it's important to Los Angeles, no matter what color you are. And it was very important to the music, jazz, because it was a place where it lived. And everyone came there, all of the biggest. You don't come any bigger than Duke Ellington. You don't come any bigger than Jelly Roll Morton. He died here. He's right out there in the Calvary Cemetery on the Eastside here.
So jazz is very important in Los Angeles, and Central Avenue - There's no place like Central Avenue. Because I'd rather come here. When I got here that beautiful day, and there was this beautiful street with a beautiful hotel to stay in, the Dunbar, which I didn't have in New York City They didn't have a decent hotel for you to stay in there. But Los Angeles had the Dunbar Hotel and had that nice street, beautiful street. That's all I can say about it.

I would like to see a lot of my people into this [music] today. I'm not seeing that. In fact, I'm seeing less and less as I go about the United States lecturing on orchestration and composing and arranging. And I look up in a class of a hundred, and I only see one black, or I see no blacks. Two weeks ago, at the Grove School of Music, I lectured to the arranging class, and there was not one black there. That disturbs me. Where are we going to be, then? What are we going to do? Will there be one day that there will be no more?

But I'm talking about these things because I'm trying to explain to you what music, jazz, means to me and my people. Where are my people now? I'm a member of the board of governors of NARAS [National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences], the Grammy people, for the second time. I had two nominations. I have two first-place Down Beat [magazine] awards. I have many awards. But where are my young people that are coming up to carry on the thing for these people? We are a people here. As much as we can be swallowed up, we are still a people. Where are we going? What are we doing? These are the things I'm thinking about now.”

…. To Be Continued in Part 2

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

David Hazeltine: Part 2 - The Combos

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

“WHILE THE 1980s saw a profound change in the direction of jazz, it ,was not the result of the sort of startling evolution that had periodically traumatized it in the past. This time there was no Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman or Miles Davis to grab it by the scruff of the neck and send it hurtling in a new direction. Surprisingly, for the first few years of the decade, there was no extremism and little innovation; instead a number of young, highly talented musicians reasoned that for jazz to move forward, some sort of rapprochement with the past was necessary.

It was a trend that critic Gary Giddins called 'neo-classical' conservatism; a return to the basic principles of hard-bop championed by the Blue Note label of the '50s and the acoustic Miles Davis. There was to be no musicological trauma that heralded the arrival of bop or free or the artistic quandary posed by fusion. Instead developments would be measured in terms of individual interpretation and re-combinations of existing knowledge.

Since the mid-1960 the techniques of hard-bop had been taught in colleges and universities and educators such as David Baker, Jamey Aebersold and Jerry Coker had, by the 1980s, written exhaustive text books based on its methodology that were de rigueur for the study of jazz improvisation. In place, therefore, was an underlying set of standards, a community of belief with shared ideas of good and bad.

However, in the face of a rampant avant-garde during the '60s and the popularity of fusion during the '70s such notions seemed conservative and old-fashioned. Yet the methods of hard-bop remained the basis of contemporary jazz improvisation (even the best free jazz relied on its musicians knowing the rules first, before breaking them). Mastery of the tenets of bop had long become the basic requirement for a musician to participate in jazz, tangible evidence of his instrumental and theoretical proficiency; “Bebop,’ said David Liebman, ‘is the calisthenics of jazz improvisation.’”

– Stuart Nicholson, Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence [New York: DaCapo Press, 1995, pp. 221-222].

© - Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

When describing David Hazeltine’s music in settings other than the Jazz trio, or what Andrew T. Lamas referred to in Part 1 of this feature as the – “smallest prime number for complete artistic expression in America's classical music” – the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has opted to limit the basis of this review to his association with the sextet One for All and a few of the individual albums that he has made with the group’s principal horn men – trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander.

This decision is purely one of self-defense as the scope and the depth of Mr. Hazeltine’s recorded, combo work is daunting even with such an artificial delimitation. For as was noted in the earlier segment of this piece, the amount of recorded music that Mr. Hazeltine and his One for All band mates has put out over the last 15 or so years is quite an astonishing large quantity.

I’m certain that Jazz musicians everywhere, today and in the past, would agree that this profusion of recording work is a nice problem to have.

And while it is always great fun to make music with someone new and different, when one does find the bass player who’s time meshes perfectly with the drummer’s cymbal beat, or a pianist whose ‘comping’ [accompaniment] helps move the soloist [comfortably] in new and unexpected direction, or trumpet, trombone, and tenor sax players whose unison sound sends a chill up your spine because they fit so well together, there’s no better feeling than making music with musicians who over a period of time have become like an extension of yourself.

I suspect that this is the case with Mr. Hazeltine and the musicians who form One for All. For all intents and purposes, they have become a musical family who build on one another’s strength and offset their weaknesses.

The extended quotation by Stuart Nicholson at the outset of Part 2 provides a broad context for understanding and appreciating Mr. Hazeltine and One for All for the music of this sextet fits very nicely into the neo-classical, hard bop mode as described above.
Strictly speaking in its post World War II environment, modern Jazz in whatever its manifestation – bop, hard bop, Jazz on the West Coast, et al. – was more often than not a music based on and played by quintets.

Perhaps this was because so many of the combos during this era took their cue from the archetypal bop quintet that was co-led by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker.

The blend of instrumentation based around the treble clef keys that were usually used for instruments such as the trumpet, alto saxophone and tenor saxophone may have also had something to do with the numerous quintets that populated the post-war modern Jazz movement.

It may also have had something to do with the unwieldiness of bass clef instruments such as the trombone and baritone saxophone and the dexterity required to manipulate them to play these modern forms of Jazz. Of course, this point is made with all due deference to trombonists J.J. Johnson and Frank Rosolino and baritone saxophonists Pepper Adams and Gerry Mulligan who had more than enough “chops” to keep up with the new form of the music.

I’m sure that a variety of other explanations can be conjured up, but the fact remains that Jazz sextets were the exception rather than the rule until around the mid-1950’s and shortly thereafter.

On the West Coast, the Lighthouse All-Stars under Howard Rumsey had Shorty Rogers along with trombonist Milt Bernhart and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre, a sextet tradition that was sometimes continued with a later group that included trumpeter Conte Candoli, trombonist Frank Rosolino and tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper.

Baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan formed a piano-less sextet that allowed room on the front line for tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims in addition to trumpeter Jon Eardley and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer.

When financial woes afflicted the first quintet that alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley co-led with his cornetist brother Nat, these circumstances brought about the formation of notably the most famous sextet in modern Jazz history when trumpeter Miles Davis welcome Cannonball to the front line with he and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane for a couple of years in the late 1950’s.

Cannonball must have liked this ensemble so much that when he reformed his second, and this time successful, quintet, he expanded it for a couple of years to include flutist and tenor saxophonist Yusef Lateef.

From the standpoint of hard bop, however, arguably its most proto-typical sextet had its origins in the one formed by trombonist J.J. Johnson which included Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone [Cedar Walton, one of Mr. Hazeltine’s major inspirations, was the pianist with this group].

However, while the roots for the hard bop sextet proto-type may have been secured with the imminent J.J.’s group, they really blossomed when drummer Art Blakey converted his long-standing Jazz Messengers quintet into a sextet with either Lee Morgan or Freddie Hubbard in the trumpet chair, Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone and Curtis Fuller on trombone [with Cedar Walton once again ensconced on the piano bench].

Blakey’s sextet with a passing reference to J.J. and to The Jazztet co-led by trumpeter Art Farmer and tenor saxophonist Benny Golson with Curtis Fuller, Tom McIntosh and Grachan Moncur III all holding down the trombone chair at various times [the ubiquitous Cedar Walton also performed with the group on its live at the “Birdhouse” Argo recording] is the group that I think One for All most patterns itself after in the neo-classical sense as defined by authors Nicholson and Giddins as noted above.

Highlighting the role of David Hazeltine within One for All is in no way is intended to diminish the contributions of the group’s other members; the aforementioned Jim Rotondi, Steve Davis and Eric Alexander along with Mr. Hazeltine’s mates in the rhythm section – John Webber on bass [a chair previously occupied by Peter Washington or Ray Drummond or David Williams] and Joe Farnsworth on drums.

While the group is a “collective,” or perhaps better still, a collaboration, Mr. Hazeltine is worthy of being the focal point or nominal leader for a variety of reason not the least of which is due to his maturity and because as the pianist, he literally has the entire theory of music in front of him in black and white [pun intended].
Or as Joe Farnsworth, the group’s drummer puts it about Mr. Hazeltine place in One for All:

“He gives us and our music a greater sense of maturity and history. He is straight from the tradition of Barry Harris, Buddy Montgomery and Cedar Walton …. From hearing him, we get a glimpse of what it was like to be in the heyday of the music. He has his own sounds – a modern sound with the foundation of his heroes.”

However, let me once again be very clear on this point, emphasizing Mr. Hazeltine’s role with One for All for the purpose of this feature is in no way intended to minimize the contributions of any other member of the group.

Since the group’s inception in early 1997, One for All has issued almost one recording a year. And as was the case with Mr. Hazeltine’s trio recordings, these have been produced primarily on the Sharp Nine [New York], Criss Cross [Holland] and Venus [Japan] labels.

As was the case with the tradition of the Jazz trio, Mr. Hazeltine finds himself once again, but this time along with his One for All cohorts, confronted with the question of how to go beyond simply copying, imitating and emulating the institution of the hard bop sextet to expanding it so as to make their own, distinctive contribution to it.

Let’s spend a bit of time with a dozen or so of One for All albums as recorded over the last dozen year or so [how’s that for symmetry?] and try to identify what is unique and special about the group’s evolution in general and the special musical features on each of the reviewed albums in particular.

To begin at the beginning, for a group that had only formed about six months before its February 25, 1997 recording date, One for All’s initial Sharp Nine CD had the appropriate title of Too Soon To Tell [Sharp Nine CD-1006-2].
Peter Margulies’ insert notes give the following background information about the group and this album’s inception:

“UPTOWN. The word connotes celebration, as in, ‘Let Me Off Uptown.’ But it also suggests sophistication, as the be-bop pioneers demonstrated when they developed their emerging art at Minton’s and Monroe’s in Harlem. The members of One for All play just about every week for a teeming house at Augie’s, a bar on Broadway just below Columbia University on Manhattan’s upper west side. The band incites shouts of approval from its youthful audience with just the combination of sophistication and celebration which the word ‘uptown’ evokes in the jazz tradition.

The specific locus in that rich tradition which serves as a point of departure for these crowd-pleasers is the hard bop of Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers.”

Well, that takes care of the roots and the context, but what about One for All’s music?

First of all, on any and all the tracks on this maiden voyage recording, the sterling musicianship of the group and each of its members is notable. These guys are all technically sound musicians who know their way around their horns as well as the compositional aspects of Jazz and how it is made through improvisation. In a word, they are well-schooled.

If one is going to play Jazz at the highest level, one is going to have to take getting around the instrument for granted so as to leave the mind free to think about the musical stories [substituted melodies] to tell while the tune and the chords [the original song structure and the arrangements of the notes upon which it is based] go flying by. No time to dither here. You either can do it or you can’t and these guys definitely can.

And although the closing tune on the disc is entitled Captain’s Song, an original by Mr. Hazeltine, the role of “captain” is one that he aggregates to himself from the opening tune, Too Soon to Tell, an original by Jim Rotondi whom Mr. Margulies describes as a “fiery and fluent trumpeter.”

What is also striking from the outset, is how well these guys phrase together to achieve a beautifully blended sound between trumpet, trombone and tenor sax [sometimes with Mr. Hazeltine underneath or at the top to add a fourth “voice” to secure some four-part harmony].

The execution of the arrangements is by the group is flawless whether attacking a phrase or smoothly enunciating it, the harmonies that they chose are tight and easy on the ears and the attention to dynamics gives character to and builds suspense in the charts. And, to use a phrase by author Richard Cook, their solos show “… acute control and a good deal of thinking ahead ….”
While it may have been “too soon to tell,” Marc Feldman, Sharp Nine Records’ owner had the group back at Rudy van Gelder’s almost a year to the day later in February, 1998 to record Optimism [CD-1010-2]. Writing for, Joel Roberts had this to say:

“This is the second album by One for All, an all-star sextet of young jazz veterans totally steeped in the hard bop tradition and group dynamic of Art Blakey and Horace Silver’s classic ensembles. … all the band's members are respected figures on the New York scene with long lists of impressive credits. And these guys really know what they're doing, whether it's reworking standards like "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and "These Foolish Things," or tearing through a number of fine neo-hard-bop originals.”

One of the “fine neo-hard-bop originals” is Mr. Hazeltine’s Pearl’s which appears to be comprised of two 16-bar segments with the last four bars of the second segment played as a Latin vamp that serves as a sort of turnaround back to the initial sixteen. Despite the somewhat unusual construction, the tune gives rise to some of the group’s best blowing on the date not the least of which is Mr. Hazeltine’s beautifully constructed opening solo on Pearl’s that seems to set the pace inspire the other players.

Gerry Teekens, owner of the Criss Cross label which is based in Holland, and Max Bollerman his fine recording engineer came to town the following year and this resulted in the 1999 release on his label of One for All’s Upward and Onward [1172 CD].
Mr. Teekens and Criss Cross appears intent on carrying on the tradition of immaculately produced, recorded and designed albums established by Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff [and Reid Miles] at Blue Note Records, particularly in the 1950’s and the finished product involving this initial One for All CD for the label is certainly no exception.

Sid Gribetz offered these thoughts about the group in his insert notes:

“One For All is a cooperative group of some of the hot young veterans of the New York jazz scene. The group has been together for several years now, and during this time, while the members have each gained individual prominence, this sextet remains the bedrock of their musical endeavors. There is a crispness to this ensemble, and the chemistry of their intuitive camaraderie radiates to the listener.

The members of One For All, all good friends, often play together in different combinations, or in other groups. They come together regularly as a full unit, schedules permitting, for rehearsals, performance engagements, and a couple of recordings. Individually, and together in small pairings, the band members all are prolific artists in Gerry Teekens' Criss Cross stable. This album is their first opportunity to record for Criss Cross as the group.

There was a time when working groups in jazz could stay together regularly. Through the regimen of such steady performance, bands, and the individual soloists within, could develop distinctive sounds and conceptions. In recent decades, various social and economic forces have curtailed the ability of such bands to flourish, or even survive. One For All is the closest that we have today. The band hopes that with the greater exposure brought by albums like this, they can entertain more opportunities to tour as a group.

One For All celebrates the hard bop sound, bringing to mind the classic ensemble constructions of the genre. However, unlike the more staid and static presentations of some others (labeled by some critics as neo-traditionalist), this group does not merely recreate this sound. These artists have distilled its swinging and soulful essence, and, while retaining a respectful sense of history, they have utilized this exuberant structure as a platform from which to delve into more contemporary explorations. Indeed, the music on this record is more open and less confining than similar efforts. Yet while the music may be more sophisticated in this regard, One For All aims to keep things catchy and accessible for the regular listener.

Each member of the group brings a special perspective to the table, that adds the right admixture to the tasty blend.”

Mr. Hazeltine contributed two originals to this date: We All Love Eddie Harris and Blues for Joe Don. The former with its characteristics dotted 16th note cymbal beat with Mr. Farnsworth playing on all four beats of each bar with stick crossed over the rim of the snare drum while Mr. Hazeltine punches in a 4-note vamp as a counter-accent will rekindle in the listener thoughts of Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance. Everyone has a ball bopping along on this one.

And as for Blues for Joe Don, as described by Sid Gribetz, it “… is a slow blues composed by [Mr.] Hazeltine that affords an opportunity for the band to play something decelerated, but soulful and in the pocket. It’s a standout performance that should draw popular attention.” Mr. Hazeltine does some nice playing over the extended tag that ends the tune in a fade-out.

What is also on display here is One for All’s members ability to pass the acid-test of all excellent Jazz players – a talent for playing the blues.

The Dutchmen at Criss Cross were back again in 2000 to record One for All for the date released as The Long Haul [1193 CD].
Mr. Hazeltine offered these comments about the band and some of its members in Ted Panken’s insert notes:

"Eric is always fresh, he's always playing very different ideas, and he's freed up his playing a lot, but there's always a structure - you can anticipate what he's doing and work with him. With Joe Farnsworth, the feeling will always be there; whatever I do, he'll support it. His impeccable sense of time and swinging feeds me. He plays the part of the beat that I like particularly; I'd describe it as time with an edge on it."

Hazeltine contributes the evocative Summer Nights and The Poo, a C-minor opus dedicated to Cedar Walton. Both tunes embody OFA's hard-won ethos of paring down without dumbing down. "I tried to compose something majestic-sounding to represent my admiration for Cedar," Hazeltine reveals of the latter. "It's a through-composed blues scale with different variations each time playing through the scale; the improvisational section has a form and some chord changes, but they're in a simple, open format for us to stretch out over, as opposed to a complicated bebop tune.

"I like having opportunities to write for this band. Everyone is involved, and all of us bring our compositions and our improvisational styles. We've formulated our conceptions of music similarly, but the different influences manifest themselves differently in our playing - you can't say that anyone has the same style."

Those of you who are familiar with Cedar Walton’s composition Bolivia, will find Mr. Hazeltine’s tribute to him done very much in the style and spirit of Cedar’s composing and playing and the rumbling bass introduction and subsequent vamp that underlies Summer Nights may evoke memories of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low.

Criss Cross certainly indicated its pleasure at having One for All on its roster with a departure from its usual studio based recordings and the release of One for All: Live at Smoke Volume 1 [1211].
On the Live at Smoke Volume 1, Mr. Hazeltine’s solo on Betcha By Golly Wow is about as adventurous and adventuresome as I’ve ever heard him on record. He was certainly “on” that night and it’s wonderful to have such a brilliant solo by him on record to play over and over again as a reminder of what the possibilities are when he really decides to “stretch out.” There’s just something about playing Jazz in front of an audience and Mr. Hazeltine’s solo on this track captures the ineffable essence of such an experience.

Because of their very active and diverse individual schedules, One for All has on average only a dozen or so in-person performances a year. Additionally, but because of their three label relationship with Criss Cross, Sharp Nine and Venus Records, respectively, they have been able to continue their one recording a year into the 21st century.
Their first for Venus occurred in 2001 with the release of The End of a Love Affair [TKCV-35153] which features one original by Mr. Hazeltine entitled How Are You?. It’s played a at a crisp medium tempo with a Latin beat and it’s unique, repeated 16-bar structure is configured with rhythmic vamps and tags that make it very reminiscent of a vintage Horace Silver tune. The group also turns the heat down a bit with very reflective and sensitive renderings of Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments, Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Corcovado.
The group was back at Criss Cross the following year for Wide Horizons [1234] on which Mr. Hazeltine contributes two more originals: Central Park South and The Conformist. David Orthmann insert notes to the CD contained these comments by Mr. Hazeltine:

“We’re all coming from the same kind of sounds in our heads. We all like most of the same people. We've been doing it together for so long that we know what to expect of each other. A lot of bands can play together all the time, but they don't necessarily come together on the bandstand the same way, because their heads aren't in the same place. And I think that for us it's just the opposite.” Because each member has a full schedule of other commitments, this recording was made in one session after a single rehearsal. To avoid bringing in similar kinds of material, they exchanged ideas and delegated responsibilities by phone and email. "Mostly I think we all just trust each other," Davis says. "We know what everybody's strengths are and try to tailor the music to that. But we also challenge ourselves and challenge one another."…

The process of writing Central Park South, an elegant, medium-to-up tempo swinger that is one of Hazeltine's two compositions for the session, was not a matter of a single burst of inspiration and energy, but rather a disciplined effort that took some time to complete. "I wrote it as a challenge for myself," he explains. "Trying to make something out of the opening several notes - not in the introduction, but once the tune starts. It's kind of like 'Take The Coltrane.' But it's not the same series of notes. The way it starts out, the melody notes are related to the chord. It was something I played one day at the piano and thought, 'I wonder if I could make a tune out of this? So over the course of a few months I developed it into a song."

A thirty-six measure structure that includes sections of sixteen, twelve, and eight-bars, Hazeltine's The Conformist was named quite awhile after it was written. The pianist notes that "I was struggling for a long time trying to think of what to call it. And I started to think about the ways it's unconventional sounding for a jazz tune. But it conforms to certain kinds of musical and structural principles. And I thought, 'Well, why not call it The Conformist?"' Interacting with single-chorus solos by all of the horns and piano, Washington and Farnsworth lock in a funky, straight eighth-note groove in which the level of intensity rises and falls.” …

And trumpeter Jim Rotondi, who arranged Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes for the date, made the decision to do it as a feature for Mr. Hazeltine because as he explains: “The ballads we’ve done in the past have always featured one horn player or another. And I think that this kind of showed another side of Dave. He’s been compared to Cedar Walton and Barry Harris, but this is a different sort of way that he might approach a song – because it’s one of Wayne’s tunes, of course.”
2003 would see the equivalent a veritable bonanza of recordings by the group –[okay, so its only two CDs, but that’s better than just one] – with No Problem on Venus Records [TCVC- 35176] that contains a terrific arrangement of Duke Jordan’s title tune and Blueslike [1256] the group’s last recording for Criss Cross which gets its name from an original composition by Mr. Hazeltine.
C. Andrew Hovan talks about tune’s evolution, structure and how some members of the band view it in his insert notes:

“Serving as the album's title track and centerpiece, the expansive Blueslike is a Hazeltine composition that can also be heard on the pianist's Good-Hearted People (Criss Cross 1210). With a repeated bass riff serving as the foundation, this 32-bar structure contains elements of the blues style but is more intriguingly built than the standard 12-bar form. "That tune has been in our book for a long time and for some reason we never recorded it, but it's one we do play on most gigs," Rotondi says. Alexander validates that it's one of the group's favorites and a typically refined piece from Hazeltine's pen. "Dave is truly a wizard arranger and composer and this tune has his signatures all over it with the rhythm section hits and the odd, yet logical movement of dominant 7th chords." Don't miss a particularly incendiary statement from Rotondi, his closing phrase swiftly picked up by Hazeltine who uses it along with his own sagacious quote of Wayne Shorter's "Witch Hunt."”

Mr. Hazeltine when on to offer these comments about Peter Washington [b] and Joe Farnsworth, his rhythm section mates on this recording:

"They're my favorite guys to make music with just because of the swing feeling they have." As for Farnsworth, who seems to be a ubiquitous member of the 'first call' list these days, David adds, "He's very good at what he does and he's a very good accompanist. In fact, he's one of my favorite cats all around, able to do everything and play in a very supportive role so there's never a war about where the time is." The band was once again back at Venus Records in 2006 to record Killer Joe [TKVC – 35194]. In addition to Benny Golson’s “killer” title track, the group also offers excellent performances on another Golson classic – I Remember Clifford – as well as more Jazz standards as penned by Tadd Dameron [Mating Call], J.J. Johnson [Say When], Ahmad Jamal [Night Mist Blues] and Duke Jordan [You Know I Care].

The disc also contains a terrific original by Steve Davis entitled Hot Sake which really keeps drummer Joe Farnsworth busy as he switches from mallets to sticks every four bars to push the tune along with a heavily accented, shuffle rhythm. The tune’s bridge harkens back to the structure of and the beat from Benny Golson’s Blues March. There are a number of fine riffs behind each of the solos and Mr. Hazeltine does a bit of down-home, testifyin’ before the 10.33’ track draws to a close.
2006 also saw One for All back where it all began with a new CD for Sharp Nine Records entitled The Lineup [1037-2]. The title track is an original by Mr. Hazeltine which, through the clever use of modulations and changes in where the accents fall [syncopation], takes the basic AABA 32-bar structure of the tune and makes it sound as though it is configured as and ABCD 32-bar tune.

The group recorded again for Venus in 2007 with What’s Going On [TKVC-35411] and C. Andrew Hovan wrote this review of the album in .

“Going on ten years now, the hard bop collective One For All has proven that you can sometimes have your cake and eat it. While each of the gifted group members can boast active careers as leaders and valuable sidemen in their own rights, they have managed to keep this group together and keep the albums flowing while providing evidence that working ensembles make the best music together. The group’s latest for the Japanese Venus label explores classics from the soul genre and iconic numbers associated with Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and Earth, Wind & Fire. The arrangements stay true enough to the originals while providing adequate jazz fodder. David Hazeltine and Jim Rotondi get the lion’s share of the writing chores and all hands on deck get plenty of space to speak their piece.”
And, most recently in 2008, the band returned to by now what might be considered home base with their next Sharp Nine CD – The Return of the Lineup [1042] which Ken Dryden review for as follows:

One for All is a band of New York-based veterans who've played with one another in various combinations, as well as making a number of CDs together under this name with little change in personnel, and of whom all but one are founding members. Featuring tenor saxophonist
Eric Alexander, trombonist Steve Davis, and trumpeter Jim Rotondi in the front line, plus a rhythm section with pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. While each of them (save Webber) works and records often as an individual bandleader, there is an incredible blend of inspired solos, fresh compositions, and arrangements, along with a spirit of cooperation where no egos get in the way of great music. Hazeltine's peppy "Treatise for Reedus" is an uptempo salute to the talented drummer, who died suddenly at the premature age of only 49 a few days prior to this recording session. Alexander's Latin-flavored "Road to Marostica" features tight ensemble work and invigorating solos, while he was also responsible for the updated treatment of George Gershwin's "But Not for Me." This is a rewarding date by a sextet that is always ready to give their all.

When it comes to choosing from Mr. Hazeltine’s recordings outside the context of One for All and his own trip recordings, it is difficult to know where to start as there’s such a wealth of material.
Mr. Hazeltine’s The Inspiration Suite, will serve nicely as a purely arbitrary starting point for this portion of the profile dealing with his work. Recorded in April/2007 on Sharp Nine Records [1039-2] as the CD’s title would imply, this album

“… pays explicit homage to Buddy Montgomery and Cedar Walton, his most consequential musical fathers. Under their influence, he relates, he developed strategies to digest vocabularies drawn from the main pillars of jazz piano modernism [Tyner, Corea, Hancock, Monk, Barry Harris, for starters], and to synthesize his own idiosyncratic ideas about improvisation, composition and arranging.” [paraphrased from Ted Panken’s insert notes to the CD].

Joining Mr. Hazeltine for this date is vibraphonist Joe Locke along with some of his One for All band mates - Eric Alexander [ts], John Webber [b] and Joe Farnsworth [d]. According to Mr. Hazeltine, the “inspiration” for this instrumentation was the quintet co-led at the end of the 1960’s by tenor saxophonist Harold Land and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Mr. Hazeltine explains the reason for this juxtaposition of this instrumentation with the musical influence of Buddy Montgomery and Cedar Walton this way to Mr. Panken:

“I saw Buddy play in many contexts as a young kid – solo piano and trio, and also with a larger group with percussion instruments. I heard him manipulate harmony and other elements of music both in his own compositions and in his reworking of standards. He's great at creating little hooks, familiar sections of the tune - a tag, or an introductory harmonic area that he gets into and brings back at the end of the head or the end of each solo chorus, or a rhythmic idea that he adds onto, say, a Cole Porter tune. It pulls things together. He doesn't read music, and his playing and writing have all sorts of little jagged edges; they're ultra-hip, but so off-the-cuff that you can’t guess what's going to happen next."

Mr. Hazeltine first discovered Cedar Walton on records, also in his mid-teens, and discussed him Will Green, a blind pianist with whom he studied.

"Mr. Green's approach was a lot like Cedar’s. He Would improvise fugues on the organ in the style of Bach, with perfect, cleanly articulated eighth notes, in the baroque manner that characterizes the way Cedar plays the piano. Cedar appeals to the side of my personality that needs things to be precise and exact. Everything is crystal clear, well thought through, delivered with the highest degree of musical intention in terms of phrasing, articulation and re-harmonization. You can expect things from him on the highest level and he is going to give them to you."

As to his choice of instrumentation for the recording, Mr. Hazeltine explained it this way:

“Although Buddy and Cedar differ in the ways I mentioned, they both write extremely poignant melodies. Instead of harmonizing the melodies with three horns, as with One for All, I brought them into focus with one melodic line backed up with the vibraphone. Joe’s four-mallet technique enables him to also strengthen the harmonies underpinnings and match my piano voicings – so I get my One for All feeling after all.”

After spending time with Mr. Hazeltine’s approach to music, what become distinctly clear is that he is constantly thinking about ways to perpetuate the qualities that first impressed him about Jazz while adding to them by expanding on their foundation. A compositional case in point in his arrangement of Angel Eyes on trumpeter Jim Rotondi’s Excursions CD [Criss Cross 1184] on which Mr. Hazeltine appears along with the other members of One for All with the exception that Kenny Washington replaces Joe Farnsworth in the drum chair.

His conception for Matt Dennis’ well-known standard was to develop an arrangement that broght it forward as an up-tempo, take-no-prisoners, flag waver. Who but someone with a fertile mind such as Mr. Hazeltine’s could even conceive of transforming the tune in this fashion an opinion that Jim Rotondi validates when he comments:

“[This is] classic Hazeltine. He’ll take a standard and slightly alter the harmony or chord changes, which makes the tune more interesting to solo on. …[He] likes to have everything worked through without leaving anything to chance."
Mr. Hazeltine performs on trombonist Steve Davis’ Systems Blue disc [Criss Cross 1218] on which he arranges Who Can I Turn to and is once again assigned the responsibility for arranging the Nash-Weill evergreen, Speak Low.

As Steve Davis comments:

“Whenever I ask Dave to make a date with me, he got to arrange something for it, because it’ll be so good that I can’t wait to play it.”
To close our time with Mr. Hazeltine and his music, let’s spotlight his album Blues Quarters Vol. 1 [Criss Cross 1188] which features him with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, the remaining front-line member of One for All and because as Mr. Hazeltine states:

“I have to say that quartet playing is my favorite format.”

Aside from the sparkling music on the recording, Mr. Hazeltine is quoted extensively in Ted Panken’s insert notes and this affords us the opportunity to end this JazzProfiles feature about him in his own words.

But before we get to his comments, perhaps a larger context for them might be derived from what Eric Alexander has to say about Mr. Hazeltine:

“I really feel like I could recognize a Dave Hazeltine composition or arrangement at this point. I'm not sure exactly what it is. It's definitely a modern sound. But it holds on to all the elements of the tradition that I love and, that I think everyone else in the group loves, and that we try to maintain. His arrangements are sort of the quintessential sound of One For All. Dave likes to pick classic standards, or even new Pop standards, and re-harmonize and rearrange them so that they fit into our hard-blowing context. But what's funny is that Dave has tempered our sound. His arrangements, which can be really fiery and exciting, all have a tender side. It's hard to explain. He uses beautiful colors, and makes wonderful use of the three horns."

And Mr. Hazeltine has this to say about his band mates and his music:

"I like an arranged presentation, and in a quartet you can integrate arrangements, just like in a trio setting. Quartet is less restrictive than with three horns, where I have to synch up the harmony exactly to what I wrote for the horns. Since the saxophone is playing the melodies, I have a chance to experiment behind it. I like to play a supportive role as well as being out front in the solo role. I think it sets me up mentally to play looser solos, to play freer than in a trio format, where I am the only solo voice."

The more frequently you play with people, the more predictability there is. Now Eric is not predictable in the sense of, 'oh, I've heard him play that before.' It's more like I know instinctively and immediately that he's going to play something high or something a little out there. Eric is always fresh, he's always playing very different ideas, but there is a structure -- you can anticipate what he's doing and work with him.

"What's predictable with Joe is that it's going to feel right, that the feeling always will be there, that whatever I do, he'll support it. There's give-and-take, but mainly his impeccable sense of time and swinging feeds me. You can have impeccable time in all different parts of the beat; Farnsworth plays that part of the beat that I like particularly. I think it's the same part that the great drummers in the history of jazz, like Philly Joe Jones and Louis Hayes, have always played. I'd describe it as time with an edge on it."

[Commenting on his original composition A Touch of Green], “I wrote this for Will Green, who gave me some insights into the fundamentals of jazz in my teen days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I know this tune sounds a lot like Cedar Walton, but Mr. Green's approach was a lot like Cedar’s. In fact, I started listening to Cedar just after I stopped studying with him, when I was 15 or 16. Will Green would improvise fugues in the style of Bach on the organ. You know how Cedar plays the piano in an almost baroque manner, with eighth notes that are so perfect and exact and cleanly articulated and precise? That's how Will Green played, too. Being used to his approach is what allowed me such easy access to Cedar.”

[Commenting on how he became familiar with Cry Me a River – a feature for Eric Alexander on the recording – as a result of his tenure as vocalist Marlena Shaw’s musical director] "Playing with singers deeply influenced my ability to accompany people," Hazeltine claims. I did it since I was very young, beginning with a woman named Penny Goodwin, with whom I played a lot of high profile gigs in Milwaukee. She was a very talented, gifted singer, but she didn't know a lot about music, so the things you played behind her influenced the way she was going to sing on any given night. I had to play so that her melody notes were always at the uppermost part of my chords. Otherwise, she'd sing out of tune, or sing something completely different and then blame me. So early on I knew that when playing behind singers, I had to be very accurate and be aware of what the melody is while playing chords. I think that started me on the path of comping melodically, which is the quality of my comping that I think people like."

[Reflecting on what the future holds for he and his colleagues, Mr. Hazeltine offered these thoughts about his generation of Jazz musicians] "New York is so demanding, you get so involved in writing and arranging and recording and doing your own thing and trying to find your voice, that it's easy to forget about your roots. By roots I mean what I grew up with, who I liked listening to, who influenced and inspired me. Playing with these guys has this magical quality of taking me back there, only now I'm doing the playing. I remember listening to James Moody when I was 13 and being very struck by how he played, trying to figure out some of the things he was doing. I have his sound in my head, and when I get to play gigs with him it takes me back into this very simple, 'I really like that music; I really like the way this sounds,' as opposed to being all wrapped up into my own forward motion.

It's a unique thing we have as jazz musicians, that in playing with these guys, we are interacting with history. You're actually getting a chance to create music with people who have created and are continuing to create such great music over the years."

More than anything else, it is this awareness coupled with his talent, hard work and dedication that will insure that we all have a lot more enjoyable and interesting music to look forward to from Mr. Hazeltine in the years to come.