Friday, April 29, 2011

Art Van Damme

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

“Art Van Damme, in his prime years, played so many gigs in clubs, hotels and concert stages across the USA and Europe that it is said that he never needed to do any practice. He was constantly in action, developing and honing his skills and repertoire, pioneering the use of the accordion as a jazz lead instrument.

So influential was Art’s playing style that he has influenced most of the western world’s jazz accordionists. One musicologist made the following neat comment: ‘The hippest cat ever to swing an accordion, Art Van Damme dared go where no man had gone before: jazz accordion.’”
- Rob Howard

In an earlier JazzProfiles two-part profile of guitarist Peter Bernstein which you can locate by going here and here, we shared how the guitar and the accordion seemed to be everywhere present during our growing up years in an Italian-American household in Providence, RI.

The world-class accordionist Angelo DiPippo was a graduate of LaSalle Academy in the near-by Elmhurst section of that city and often gave performances in various local venues.

Also available courtesy of my Dad’s record collection were the Capitol recordings that accordionist Ernie Felice made with Benny Goodman’s small groups.

Every so often, Art Van Damme would make an “appearance” at our house in the form of NBC radio programs, television shows hosted by Dave Garroway and Dinah Shore and long-playing records on the Columbia label.

The Columbia LP’s featured Art’s quintet which, because of his use of vibes and guitar and the way many of the groups arrangements were “voiced,” reminded me of pianist George Shearing’s combo.  A few of these albums also featured guest artists such as vocalist Jo Stafford or legendary Jazz guitarist, Johnny Smith.

Whatever the setting, Art’s music was always very melodic and featured arrangements that were very hip and swung like mad. Lasting little more than three minutes in most cases, each tune was a musical gem: the epitome of taste and perfection.

As was the case with Shearing’s quintet, nobody took long solos, but when Chuck Calzaretta played one on vibes, or Fred Rundquist took one on guitar or Art improvised on accordion, one knew immediately that they were good players who knew what they were doing on their respective instruments.

Because I was so accustomed to hearing accordion and, more importantly, to hearing it played well, I could never understand why the instrument became the object of so many jokes that unmercifully ridiculed it.

That is until I started gigging on a regular basis and ran into so many terrible accordionists which only served to make me appreciate the like of an Art Van Damme even more.

However, even among those who held most accordionists in contempt, the mere mention of Art’s name brought a grudging approval that he was “… a class act although I can’t stand the sound of the thing.”

Although you would be hard-pressed to find anything about him in any of the manuals about Jazz, in a conversation that I once had about him with pianist and composer Mel Powell at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA, Mel referred to Art as “one of the most-talented musicians I’ve ever heard – regardless of the instrument.”

Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of information about Art in publications, blogs and websites that cater to accordion. In such circles, he has rightfully assumed legendary status as one of the instrument’s greatest performers.

It was to one such publication that we went in search of the following overview of Art’s career. It also contains particular reference to many of Art’s recordings. A number of these are available should you wish to seek them out.

At the conclusion of Steven Solomon’s article on Art, you’ll find a video tribute to him as developed by the ace graphics teams at CerraJazz LTD. The audio track is Art’s quintet with guitarist Jimmy Smith performing “Gone With the Wind.”

© -Steven H. Solomon/Accord Magazine, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Written by: Steven H. Solomon 
Publication: Accord
Magazine, USA. Reprinted courtesy of owner/editor Faithe Deffner. Back copies available. 
Date written: Spring 1983

"At first glance, Art Van Damme seems like countless other successful West Coast residents. He is married, has three children and six grandchildren, and heads for the golf course every chance he gets. What makes his career unusual, however, is that he earns his living by playing the accordion.

Hold on a minute, you say. Since the accordion was invented about 150 years ago, thousands of musicians have put bread on the table by playing professionally. What is it that makes Van Damme so special?

It's simple. Van Damme is among an elite group of only about a half-dozen virtuosos who have been able to find just the right blend of technical and creative ability needed to be successful on the international level. This is what places Art Van Damme in a league all by himself.

Instead of playing just local clubs and whatever casual work is available, Van Damme routinely jets overseas for concert tours that draw thousands of fans. For those not lucky enough to get a seat at one of his sold out performances, he can be heard on European television and radio.

"Most of my work now is in doing concerts and clinics," Van Damme said recently when asked about his gigs. "This I enjoy more than doing club work, because the audience is more attentive and listens more intensely."

Van Damme prefers to be in front of the crowds, especially large ones, rather than while away his time in small clubs or in front of cameras and microphones. He believes that it all boils down to creativity.

"For recordings to be played on the radio, time is a very big factor. It is preferred that recordings be in the two or three minute category," Van Damme explained. "So when I do a concert I get a chance to stretch out, as they say. I get a chance to play quite at length."

To see a list of the countries Van Damme has visited with his accordion, you would think he was some kind of career diplomat making the rounds. He has toured in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia, France, Belgium and Switzerland, in addition to his considerable work in the United States.

Asked about his appearances in 1982, Van Damme replied, "I did the Grand Prix in France, a concert seminar and a radio show in Geneva, two concerts in Colorado and a month long tour back in Sweden. This included concerts, television and another album called "And Live at Tivoli with Quintet". By the way, that was my 20th tour and trip to Europe!"

Not bad for someone who was nine years old before he heard an accordion for the first time, on his parent's Victrola. He asked for and received lessons on an instrument not nearly as flashy as the ones played by his idols Ray Brown, Buddy Rich and Benny Goodman.

At an age when most boys like to play nothing but ball, Van Damme liked to play nothing but the accordion, up to four or five hours a day. He landed his first paying job, a not-too-prestigious booking at his home town theatre (but nothing to be ashamed of either), when he was a seasoned 10 year old pro!

"When going to high school I started a trio with accordion, guitar and bass, and worked with this group in night clubs for a couple of years and then added a fourth man," Van Damme said. "We did many things with two accordions but I preferred the sound of accordion, vibes, bass and guitar, so I discontinued using the two accordions and added drums a short time later. I felt this was the sound to go with."

His group covered the Midwest for several years when they were booked into the Sherman Hotel in Chicago for what turned into a six month job. NBC must have recognized a sure thing when they heard it, because the quintet landed a contract for radio and TV that was to be the start of a long term relationship.

"Besides doing our own shows, we worked with many top name entertainers of the time on programs like the Dave Garroway Show, Ransom Sherman Show, Bob and Day Show to name but a few," Van Damme said.

"And besides doing solo spots, we did a lot of background playing for top singers and instrumentalists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Dizzy Gillespie and Buddy DeFranco."

It was during this time that Van Damme had a record contract with Capitol Records, releasing "Cocktail Capers" and "More Cocktail Capers". Columbia Records signed Van Damme from 1952 to 1965, releasing no less than a dozen albums, among which were "The Van Damme Sound", "Martini Time" and "The Art of Van Damme".

"I left NBC in Chicago in 1960 after working for them for 15 years," Van Damme said. "Live TV and radio had been on the downgrade or downward trend. Sure, I've done TV and radio shows since then, but only on a guest artist appearance basis."

Van Damme opened a music studio and store in suburban Chicago after he left NBC, and appeared with the quintet as guests on the Today Show, Tonight Show, Mike Douglas Show and Lawrence Welk Show. It was at this point that Van Damme realised he no longer wanted the headaches of leading a band.

"I personally don't care to have the responsibility of having a regular group anymore. Original men from the quintet are all still situated in Chicago and I do work with them on occasions when in that territory," Van Damme said. "But as of now, I am not carrying a regular quintet. My work takes me all over and I use local men who I am familiar with."

In 1965 Van Damme signed with MPS Records of Germany and has recorded 16 albums during that time. He has been voted top jazz accordionist for ten consecutive years in the annual Downbeat poll and for four consecutive years in the annual Contemporary Keyboard poll. His radio and TV appearances, seminars, tours and clinics in the United States and Europe since then number in the hundreds.

What this rich background means is that Van Damme is today considered a top jazz accordionist. Some of his feelings on the subject provides much food for thought. For example, he thinks the accordion is not the ideal jazz instrument.

"The fact that we have two separate keyboards, as such, controlled by one force, is a problem. I refer to the bellows, which is the source for both sides, and should be used in the same vein as a trumpet player or sax man as a breathing device," Van Damme explained. "A pianist is free to use either hand as he pleases, but not the accordionist. This naturally only scratches the surface, but I feel this is a basic problem in playing jazz."

Van Damme is equally outspoken when it comes to assessing his field. He is not afraid to name names. "(Leon) Sash, Mat Mathews, Pete Jolly, (Ernie) Felice, (Tommy) Gumina, they are all good friends of mine I'm happy to say and each in his own style is great. They all have something to say on their instruments, helping to take the polka sound out of the accordion," Van Damme said. "Unfortunately, there are not too many really good jazz accordionists, but I do feel we are progressing." 

For the future, Van Damme seems likely to be just as busy as ever. He recently completed a pilot for a one hour live radio show with quintet and Roberta Sherwood on vocals that he expects to be syndicated. Plans call for a guest vocalist each week.

"After 38 years I'm going back to radio, which shows that if you live long enough, anything can happen," Van Damme said."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kenny Dorham: Underrated, Unnoticed and Unseen

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

“… Dorham’s solos are models of grace and tact, always giving an impression of careful construction and development, and an unfailing sense of texture.”
Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Kenny Dorham’s harmonic inventiveness influence trumpet players and sax players alike.”
-Randy Sandke, in Bill Kirchner, Ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz

“Kenny Dorham is firmly and flowingly himself. He has evolved into one of the most lyrical improvisers in Jazz, but that lyricism is also unusually incisive. There is a consistent clarity and definiteness in Kenny’s playing that makes his work tensile as well as sensitive.”
- Nat Hentoff, insert notes, Una Mas [verb tense changed]

“Dorham’s velvety tone and inventive, incisive solos make him among the most unique trumpeters and gifted melodic improvisers to emerge in the 1950s.”
- Len Lyons, Jazz Portraits” The Live & Music of the Jazz Masters

“It seems that every time you read about Kenny Dorham, someone is referring to him as ‘a greatly underrated trumpeter.’ I’ve probably been guilty of this myself. I say guilty because if all the energy expended by Jazz writers and commentators in lamenting Kenny’s lack of proper recognition  , was turned toward a more positive extolling of his many virtues, perhaps he would be much further ahead in his career. Certainly, he is one of the very best trumpeters in Jazz.”
- Ira Gitler, insert notes, Whistle Stop

“His peers and knowledgeable listeners never ignored Dorham’s accomplishments. Indeed trumpet players as diverse as Randy Brecker and Byron Stripling have acknowledged their debt to him. But until some of the young musicians of the [nineteen] nineties spread the work, his work had received little general attention for a couple of decades. If the emerging generation of players will use Kenny Dorham as a model not for imitation, but to inspire the hard work of making their own artistry blossom, his spirit will brighten the future of Jazz as it illuminated the past.”
- Doug Ramsey, insert notes, Savoy Jazz Original, Kenny Dorham, Blues in Bebop

While doing a bit of research recently on tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, the thought came to mind that his frequent front-line partner, trumpeter Kenny Dorham, was an often overlooked figure in Jazz circles, then and now.

Dorham was somehow considered a “second-tiered” trumpeter when compared to the life of Dizzy, Miles, Clifford Brown and other modern Jazz trumpet luminaries.

Kenny’s name is still rarely mentioned today which is surprising given the number of high profile groups that he performed with, the huge discography he was involved with both under his own name and with other significant Jazz musicians, and the fact that he created a style or sound on the trumpet that is as instantly recognizable as Diz’s, Miles’ or Brownie’s.

Rummaging around our collection of Jazz recordings and books only served to further heighten the question of why Kenny is so often ignored because when one looks for it, there is quite a bit of information available about Dorham’s career and his music.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be fun to gather some of these writings about Kenny into a feature as a way of remembering him or, if you will, memorializing him.

To further this effort, the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD. has even put together a video tribute to Kenny which is located at the end of this piece.

© -Mark Lescovic/, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Kenny Dorham has been scandalously undervalued in the jazz trumpet lineage. His breathy tone was not the immediate warmth of Clifford Brown, and his airy attack was less piercing than Lee Morgan, but careful listeners will hear him to be one of the more gifted trumpeters of the bebop and hard bop eras.

Dorham possessed a rare, soft and vulnerable sound that is soothing and instantly identifiable. Eschewing the typical trumpeter's showmanship and flashiness, Dorham instead relied on his economical melodic logic in constructing poetic, lyrical improvisations with meaningful beginnings, middles, and ends.

His technique is also unique: Dorham chose to attack notes with his tongue, where most of his bebop contemporaries would slur for a more continuous flow. His clearly articulated lines had a singular running quality to them that fleetly pushed ahead of the time.

At mid-tempos, Dorham distinctly articulated an exaggerated staccato swing feel, greatly contrasting his double-timed legato phrases. On ballads, Dorham would not stray far from the melody, his minimalist approach exposing the innate beauty of each melody he touched. His idiosyncratic use of grace notes, varied attacks on single notes, such as scooping underneath or bending above the pitch, and stuttering repetitions of notes were some of the personal nuances that decorated his deceptively complex improvisations.

Paradoxically, the fact that Dorham was nearly always the first-call replacement in all-star groups, which should be a testament to his talents, has led to a perception that he was a second-tier trumpeter, when nothing is farther from the truth. Dorham replaced Fats Navarro in Billy Eckstine’s band in 1946, Miles Davis in Charlie Parker’s quintet in 1949, and Clifford Brown in Art Blakey and Horace Silver’s Jazz Messengers in 1954 and again in the Max Roach group in 1956.”
- Matt Leskovic,

© -Ian Carr, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Dorham started the piano at age seven and took up the trumpet in high school. From 1945-8 he played with Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton and Mercer Ellington. He replaced Miles Davis in the Charlie Parker quintet from 1948-50, playing with Parker at the Paris jazz festival in 1949. He freelanced in New York during the early 1950s, and in 1954 was a founder-member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Dorham was a star soloist on the great 1954 album which was the blueprint for the Messengers, Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers. From 1956-8 he replaced Clifford Brown in the Max Roach quintet, and played superlatively on another classic album of the 1950s, Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker. During the late 1950s and the 1960s he led various groups of his own, composed and played music for some films, worked with Joe Henderson and Hank Mobley, toured internationally and played major festivals. Dorham recorded with Parker, Coltrane, Monk, Oliver Nelson, Tadd Dameron, J.J. Johnson and Sonny Rollins, and some of his finest playing was done on other people's albums. He died of kidney failure in 1972.

Dorham was one of the first bebop trumpeters, and had something of the fleetness of Gillespie and the sonority of Miles Davis. By the beginning of the 1950s he had absorbed his influences and found his own individual voice on trumpet. He was a brilliant player who was never glib, and could project great lyricism even at fast tempos, producing astonishingly long lines of fluid triplets. He was also a magnificent blues play­er, because his fluidity of execution was accompanied by all the tonal inflexions of the vocal blues tradition. Dorham influenced and inspired countless trumpeters all over the world, but never himself broke through to a wider audience or got all the recognition he was due, because he was overshadowed by Davis and Fats Navarro in the 1940s and Clifford Brown and others in the 1950s and 1960s. He was a fine composer, and one of his pieces, "Blue Bossa", has become part of the general jazz repertoire.”
- Ian Carr, Jazz:  The Rough Guide [p. 176]

© -Kenny Mathieson, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Kenny Dorham was one of those musicians fated to be always the bridesmaid, never the bride when it came to handing out the trumpet honors. Throughout his career, he stood in the shadow of more mercurial talents like Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown or Lee Morgan, and, for that matter, less virtuoso but more popular masters like Miles Davis and Chet Baker - Kenny couldn't win either way. The extra luster reflected from these great horn men should not dazzle us into underestimating Dorham's own considerable capabilities. He was highly adept technically, had a fine sense of swing, and deep roots in a blues sensibility. His sound was generally dark and a little astringent, and he liked to develop his melodic ideas in a lucid, carefully structured, and often understated fashion (David Rosenthal calls it 'austere') which depended more on subtle nuances of tone and rhythmic accent than on pyrotechnics.

He was the perfect example of the musician's musician, and the high regard of his peers is reflected in his credits as a sideman. He cut his teeth with the seminal bebop big bands of Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie, recorded with Fats Navarro and Bud Powell for Savoy, and took Miles Davis's place in Charlie Parker's quintet in 1948 (he is heard on some of the saxophonist's live sessions from the Royal Roost - there is a good solo on the version of 'Hot House' from 15 January, 1949 - and the Verve studio set Swedish Schnapps among others).

The distinguished roster of leaders who gave Dorham a call also included Lionel Hampton, Art Blakey, J. J. Johnson, Stan Getz, Milt Jackson, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Lou Donaldson, Tadd Dameron, Gil Melle, Phil Woods, Ernie Henry, Hank Mobley, Matthew Gee, Herb Geller, Benny Golson, Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, Cecil Taylor, Randy Weston, Oliver Nelson, Harold Land, Clifford Jordan, Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson, Andrew Hill, Cedar Walton, and Barry Harris. He was a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and was part of Max Roach's group for two years. He worked frequently throughout his career with baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne. The baritone was an instrument which appealed to him, and he incorporated it frequently in his own groups. Space prevents consideration of his work as a sideman here, but no understanding of Dorham's music would be complete without hearing at least some of it.

He was born McKinley Howard Dorham in Fairfield, Texas, on 30 August 1924, into a musical family. He vacillated between music and boxing through high school and as a science student at Wiley College, Texas (where he played in the Wiley Collegians band which also included pianist Wild Bill Davis and drummer Roy Porter), but finally opted for a career in music in 1945. He moved to New York (where he was initially known as Kinny) after his military service, and took advantage of the GI Bill to study composition and arranging at Gotham School of Music in 1948. A useful compilation of Dorham's scattered contributions as a sideman in the late 1940s was issued as Blues in Bebop in 1998.

He began the 1950s as a freelance, and played on Thelonious Monk's classic Genius of Modern Music for Blue Note in 1952, then made his debut as a leader with a session cut on 15 December, 1953, for Debut, the label run by Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Kenny Dorham Quintet featured Jimmy Heath on tenor and baritone saxophones, Walter Bishop on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums. The trumpeter came up with some very pleasing arrangements on the six tunes, including his own uptempo swinger 'An Oscar For Oscar' (the dedicatee is Oscar Goodstein, the owner of Birdland) and tunes like Monk's 'Ruby, My Dear' and Osie Johnson's 'Osmosis'. A couple of previously unreleased blues outings were added to the CD issue.

Just over a year later, Dorham replaced Clifford Brown in the band which became The Jazz Messengers, and was still a Messenger when he cut his first Blue Note date. Afro-Cuban eventually featured material from two sessions, but was initially released as a 10-inch LP with four tunes featuring the Cuban percussionist Carlos 'Potato' Valdes, recorded on 29 March, 1955. The session featured the first studio recordings of three of Dorham's best compositions, 'Afrodisia', the lovely 'Lotus Flower', and 'Minor's Holiday', named for another trumpeter, Minor Robinson (an excellent alternate take is included on the CD issue), and a Gigi Gryce chart, 'Basheer's Dream'.

The trumpeter adopts unusually punchy single note lines, a strat­egy which led the Penguin Guide to note that 'Dorham never sounded more like Dizzy Gillespie than on Afro-Cuban', an impression enhanced by the rhythmic concept. The octet featured J. J. Johnson on trombone, fellow Messenger Hank Mobley on tenor and Cecil Payne on baritone saxophone, and a rhythm section of Horace Silver on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass, and Art Blakey on drums. The remaining selections on the first 12-inch LP release, all by Dorham, came from a session on 30 January, featuring a sextet with Mobley, Payne, Silver, Blakey, and bassist Percy Heath. The CD issue now includes an additional track released as 'K.D.'s Cab Ride', but later discovered to have been given the somewhat more romantic title 'Echo of Spring' by the composer.

Dorham contributed to Tadd Dameron's classic Fontainebleau for Prestige in March, 1956, and was back in the studio as a leader on 4 April. He had decided to set up his own group along similar lines to The Messengers, to be known as Kenny Dorham and The Jazz Prophets, with J. R. Monterose on tenor, Dick Katz on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Arthur Edgehill on drums. He cut a session under that name for Chess, with the optimistic addition of Volume 1 to the title, a gambit which proved less than prophetic, since there was no follow-up. The Prophet' is the outstanding track of the five cut that day, a surging minor key workout which follows the initial statement of the catchy theme with a delicate staccato trading of thematic material between Dorham and tenor saxophonist J. R. Monterose, then opens out into expansive solos and a return to the theme.

'Tahitian Suite', also in the minor, shifts from the 6/8 of the theme to standard 4/4 for the solos, and is the first of several tunes inspired by distant places. Dorham adopted a mute on 'Blues Elegante' and 'Don't Explain', but succeeded in not sounding like Miles in the process, while 'DX', is an up-tempo workout.

Monterose, an interesting but relatively neglected saxophonist from Detroit who played with Charles Mingus on the classic Pith­ecanthropus Erectus (although it was not a happy experience for him), is in fine form on this session, apart from an intermittently squeaking reed, notably on 'Tahitian Suite'. His subsequent debut as leader for Blue Note, J. R. Monterose, recorded on 21 October, 1956, is worth seeking out.

A version of the Jazz Prophets band is featured on Dorham's 'Round About Midnight at The Cafe Bohemia, with Bobby Timmons replacing Katz on piano, and Kenny Burrell added on guitar. Recorded for Blue Note over a single long night on 31 May, 1956, it captures the band in fine fettle, while underlining the quality of his writing in two additions to his exotic travelogue, 'Monaco* and 'Mexico City', as well as the bop fundamentalism of 'The Prophet', 'Riffin" and 'K.D.'s Blues'. His original and engaging melodies and marked structural awareness have won him a fair amount of critical praise as a composer, but with the exception of the ubiquitous 'Blue Bossa', that admiration has not really been reflected in the take-up of his tunes by other players (Don Sickler's Music of Kenny Dorham on the Uptown label in 1983 was an obvious exception).

Dorham joined Max Roach's band as a replacement for Clifford Brown following the trumpeter's tragic death in June, 1956, and remained with the drummer for two years, avoiding the jinx which Roach feared afflicted his trumpet players in that era (both Brown and Booker Little suffered premature deaths). He cut several albums with Roach during that association, and also continued to record as a leader.

Jazz Contrasts, made for Riverside on 21 May, 1957, is one of his strongest statements on record. The contributions of harpist Betty Glamman on three carefully arranged ballads will not suit all tastes, although the instrument is effectively employed to complement the rhythm section of Hank Jones on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass (Glamman was a member of his big band), and Max Roach on drums, with Sonny Rollins as the second horn. Dorham is a fine ballad player in any setting, and shines on Gigi Gryce's arrangements of 'My Old Flame' and Clifford Brown's 'Larue', a heartfelt tribute to the late trumpeter, as well as his own arrangement of 'But Beautiful'.

Both Dorham and Rollins are in fiery mood on the up-tempo material. Dorham negotiates the skittering eighth notes and flying triplets of a manic 'I'll Remember April' and his own equally energized 'La Villa' (a tune first recorded on Afro-Cuban) with real poise and command. His lines are clean, sharply articulated and accurately pitched even at these tempos, but the speed of execution does not deflect his attention from the unfolding shape of his solo. Their version of 'Falling In Love With Love' is taken at a more relaxed clip, and features a lovely melodic solo from Hank Jones, long the most unsung of the famous trio of Detroit siblings completed by his brothers Thad and Elvin. Like Tommy Flanagan, another Detroit native, Jones was equally at home in swing or bop settings, but both these great pianists only really made their mark as leaders later in their careers.

Dorham's next album for Riverside, cut on 13 November and 2 December, 1957, took a different tack. 2 Horns, 2 Rhythm dispensed with piano for a date which featured the ill-fated alto saxophonist Ernie Henry, with either Eddie Mathias (in the earlier session) or Wilbur Ware on bass, and G. T. Hogan on drums. Dorham had worked with Henry before, including the saxophonist's 1956 debut for Riverside, Presenting Ernie Henry, but this date was to be the saxophonist's last before his premature death on 29 December, 1957. He made only two other albums as a leader, Seven Standards and A Blues and the posthumously issued Last Chorus, both of which date from September, 1957. Henry also participated in the mammoth sessions for Monk's Brilliant Corners, although he often seemed out of his depth in that demanding music. His own records, and his contribution here, provide better evidence of his unfulfilled potential.

Dorham made good use of the spare instrumental textures. A piano less quartet was not a new innovation (Gerry Mulligan was enjoying great success with that format, and Dorham had been partly responsible for its adoption in Max Roach's group), but it was still fairly unusual, and posed special challenges to players used to a reassuring carpet of chords running beneath their work. The horn players revel in the extra space, with the trumpeter in excellent creative shape on five standards and three original compositions, including another 'Lotus Blossom' and an evocation of classical counterpoint in 'Jazz-Classic'. The standards included a very solemn version of Gershwin's 'Soon', with minimal piano interjections by Dorham, and an exhumation of 'Is It True What They Say About Dixie?', a selection which suggests some of Sonny Rollins's predilection for unlikely vehicles may have rubbed off on the trumpeter.

Although Dorham had doubled as a blues vocalist with Dizzy Gillespie's band, and claimed that he saw his singing as an integral aspect of his overall musical identity, he made only one record featuring his voice, and that at a time when Chet Baker was racking up big sales with his own combined efforts. His vocals are agreeable enough, but the lack of any sustained follow up makes the album, This Is The Moment, something of a curiosity in his output. It was recorded in July and August, 1958, for Riverside, and marked the recording debut of pianist Cedar Walton. …

Dorham taught at the jazz school organized by pianist John Lewis at Lenox, Massachusetts in 1958 and 1959. He contributed characteristically well focused trumpet playing to a famous but ultimately disappointing session featuring John Coltrane and pia­nist Cecil Taylor in October, 1958, although the disappointment stems largely from the very high expectations such a combination generates. It was originally Taylor's date, and appeared as Stereo Drive on United Artists, but was later reissued as Coltrane Time on Blue Note. Dorham's 'Shifting Down' and bassist Chuck Israels' 'Double Clutching' are more interesting than the two standards, neither of which quite catches fire.

His final Riverside date, Blue Spring, was recorded on 20 January and 18 February, 1959, and combined four of his own compositions on that theme ('Blue Spring', 'Poetic Spring', 'Spring Is Here', and 'Spring Cannon') with two tunes by Richard Rodgers, 'It Might As Well Be Spring' and 'Passion Spring'. In a reversal of the sparse textures he had chosen for his previous album, Dorham assembled a septet, with Cannonball Adderley on alto saxophone alongside Cecil Payne on baritone and the more unusual timbre of David Amram's French horn, and a rhythm section of Cedar Walton on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and either Jimmy Cobb or Philly Joe Jones on drums. Dorham's solos are characteristically purposeful and inventive, while his deftly handled arrangements make expressive use of the contrasting sonority of the alto with the darker shadings of baritone and horn in another strong, thoughtful album.

Dorham's style was well set by the end of the decade, and he had developed a more refined approach to tone and sonority. He was soon recording again, this time for Prestige's New Jazz imprint. Quiet Kenny, recorded on 13 November, 1959, with a rhythm trio of Tommy Flanagan on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and drummer Art Taylor, is one of his most consistently achieved records. Despite the title, this is not primarily a ballad album, although it contains beautiful interpretations of 'My Ideal' and 'Old Folks', as well as another 'Lotus Blossom'. Rather, the title implies a measured deliberation. It was the first time he had recorded without another horn, and while he relished the freedom of that context, his statements are made sotto voce, and impress with their discipline, authority and sheer musicality rather than any more brash means of point-scoring. Flanagan is a perfect foil, and the whole disc is a polished gem.

Flanagan was present again on 10 January, 1960, with Charles Davis on baritone saxophone, Butch Warren on bass and Buddy Enlow on drums. The results have been issued under contrasting titles as Kenny Dorham Memorial Album on Zanadu and The Arrival of Kenny Dorham on Fresh Sounds. It included Tm An Old Cowhand', a tune forever associated with Sonny Rollins, and an elegant 'Stella By Starlight'. Davis's baritone was also promi­nently featured on a session on 11 February, 1960, released as Jazz Contemporary on the Time label, which included versions of 'Monk's Mood' and Dave Brubeck's ‘ln Your Own Sweet Way', as well as Dorham's 'Horn Salute'. Showboat, recorded for Time on 9 December, 1960, featured a quintet with Jimmy Heath on tenor saxophone and pianist Kenny Drew, and was devoted entirely to the music of Oscar Hammerstein. In between, he had taken part in the alternative Newport Rebels festival arranged by Charles Mingus and Max Roach as a protest against the commercialization of the Newport Jazz Festival, which ended in chaos that year.

Dorham rejoined the Blue Note stable, and cut Whistle Stop on 15 January, 1961. Although it would have been difficult to guess at the time, and impossible to deduce from the powerful trumpet playing and strong compositions on this excellent and still rather undervalued album, Dorham's career was now in its final phase. He would do little of any real significance after 1964, and some of the music which he did make in this three year period shows occasional signs of strain. Conversely, much of it is amongst the strongest work of his career, both on his own albums and as a sideman with two of the newer generation, saxophonist Joe Henderson and pianist Andrew Hill.

Whistle Stop reunited the trumpeter with an old front line partner, saxophonist Hank Mobley, as well as his favored rhythm twins, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. Pianist Kenny Drew completed the quintet which laid down one of his most overtly straight-ahead sessions, led by the energized title track, and dipping into the familiar well-springs of the blues on 'Philly Twist' and funk on 'Buffalo', as well as more recent modal directions in 'Sunset'. 'Sunrise In Mexico' and 'Windmill' aimed at colorful musical evocations of their subjects, and swung furiously into the bargain. The album closed with 'Dorham's Epitaph', a brief melancholy theme which, according to Ira Gitler's sleeve note, the trumpeter had apparently worked up into a large scale orchestral piece, which to my knowledge has never been performed.

The inspiration behind Matador, made for Richard Bock's Pacific Jazz, was a tour of South America with Monte Kay's First American Jazz Festival in June, 1961. His response to Brazil and its music was swift and immediate. He was drawn to its emotional power (he described the tour as 'an exciting, wild, new, unforgettable experience' and the music as shattering), but also to its structural variety and time signatures. The album, and in particular his own 'El Matador', is a vivid response to the experience, and includes his arrangement of the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos's 'Prelude'.

Matador was later combined on CD with his other Pacific Jazz release, the live set Inta Somethin,’ recorded at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco in November, 1961, which included the title track of Dorham's next Blue Note disc, 'Una Mas'. Matador was recorded in New York on 15 April, 1962, and also featured an intense version of Jackie McLean's 'Melanie'. The saxophonist played alto on both sessions, with two entirely different rhythm sections, and has remained a prominent booster of the trumpeter's reputation. Dorham also recorded several sessions as a sideman in 1961, two of which were later reissued by Black Lion under his name as West 42nd Street and Osmosis, although they were really led by saxophonist Rocky Boyd and drummer Dave Bailey respectively.

His most significant musical relationship of the period was the one which developed with the up and coming young saxophonist Joe Henderson, newly signed to Blue Note in 1963. It spanned six albums in 1963-64, all for Blue Note: Dorham's Una Mas and Trompeta Toccata, Henderson's Page One (which featured the first recording of 'Blue Bossa'), Our Thing and In ‘n Out, and Andrew Hill's Point of Departure, a key record of the era. Both Henderson and Hill will be dealt with in the next book in this sequence, and space does not permit a detailed consideration of these albums here, but they are essential to a full picture of the trumpeter's music in the last decade of his career. He was clearly well aware of the new currents flowing through jazz, and adapts comfortably within the more progressive frameworks generated by musicians like Hill and Eric Dolphy on Point of Departure, and McCoy Tyner, Pete LaRoca and Elvin Jones on the Henderson albums.

The session for Una Mas on 1 April, 1963 was Joe Henderson's first ever record date. Dorham had taken the saxophonist under his wing, and Henderson remained a staunch admirer when I spoke to him about his big band album in 1996, a project which had its roots in a rehearsal band he co-led with Dorham three decades earlier. Henderson acknowledged the trumpeter's role in his own development, placing him alongside Horace Silver and Miles Davis in that regard, and added that'Kenny was one of the most important creators around, and yet you hardly ever hear his name anymore'. The quintet also featured Herbie Hancock on piano, Butch Warren on bass, and drummer Tony Williams, in a solid session which contained three original tunes by Dorham, the Brazilian influenced 'Una Mas' and 'Sao Paulo' and the more boppish 'Straight Ahead', as well as a tender evocation of Lerner-Loewe's 'If Ever I Would Leave You'.

Short Story and Scandia Skies, made in Copenhagen for Steeple­chase in December, 1963, are less impressive, although the label gathered an interesting group of musicians for the dates, including the mercurial Catalan pianist Tete Montoliu and bassist Niels-Henning 0rsted Pedersen, as well as a second trumpet or flugelhorn (Allan Botschinsky on Short Story, Rolf Ericson on Scandia Skies) rather than saxophone. Dorham's playing often sounds routine, both in technical terms and degree of emotional commitment.

His final date for Blue Note, Trompeta Toccata, was made nine months later, on 4 September, 1964, with Henderson on tenor, Tommy Flanagan on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and Albert 'Tootie' Heath on drums. The long title track moves away from standard song form entirely, using a rubato introduction followed by a 20-bar structure in flowing 6/8 time, which the players treat freely in terms of phrase lengths. The music is also distant from hard bop, but reflects Dorham's interest in both classical and Latin music, as well as something of the new harmonic freedoms current in the jazz of the time, led by John Coltrane, whose approach is echoed in Henderson's solo. Both 'Night Watch' and 'The Fox' are framed in more conventional jazz structures, while Henderson supplied his infectious Latin groove tune 'Mamacita'. The album has some fine moments, but it is arguably the least compelling of his records for the label.

It is ironic that Leonard Feather's sleeve note concludes with Dorham saying that there is 'more and more I feel I can do. And these days, it strikes me that the sky's the limit.’ Despite that confident assertion, Trompeta Toccata was his last significant outing as a leader. Although he was only forty, the long anticipated major breakthrough had not arrived, and jazz fashions were set to change again as the decade progressed, leaving him swimming against the tide.

He co-led a rehearsal big band with Joe Henderson for a year or so from mid-1966, but his later work was mainly as a sideman, including dates with Cedar Walton and Detroit pianist Barry Harris for Prestige, and an intriguing session led by Cecil Payne in Decem­ber, 1968, issued as Zodiac: The Music of Cecil Payne on Strata East. Dorham's contributions to an excellent date dispel any notion that he was even remotely a spent force, and the prompting of a band which included pianist Wynton Kelly alongside Wilbur Ware on bass and Tootie Heath on drums drive the trumpeter to the most impressive playing on disc of his later years.

Dorham also did some reviewing for Down Beat, and, as he told Art Taylor in 1971, planned to concentrate his energies on education rather than performing. He died from kidney disease on 5 December, 1972, in New York. Art Blakey described him as the uncrowned king of modern jazz, and if not quite that, his best work is conclusive evidence of his right to be regarded as one of the finest players and composers of his era.”

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maybeck Redux

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

As a complement to the earlier three-part feature developed by the editorial staff at JazzProfiles on the solo piano recordings done in performance at beautiful Maybeck Hall in Berkeley, CA which you can locate, here, here and here. the ace graphics team has put together this video remembrance of the marvelous series of CD’s issued by Concord Jazz in the 1990s to commemorate and, in some cases, memorialize these recitals.

With the music from over 40 solo piano albums to choose from, it was very difficult to narrow our choice down to one track for the video.

But after listening to Allen Farnham’s lovely rendition of Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way, the choice almost made itself.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Valery Ponomarev - “On the Flip Side of Sound” – An Autobiography

“If I had collected only one cent for each time I had to answer the questions: ‘How did you join Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers?,’ ‘How did you escape from Russia?,’ and ‘How did you learn to play Jazz like that in Moscow?,’ I would be a billionaire by now. So I have decided to answer these questions once and for all [with this autobiography]
- Valery Ponomarev

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

If you’ve read any of Martin Cruz Smith’s wonderful stories featuring Investigator Arkady Renko of the Moscow Police Force [Gorky Park is probably the most famous of these], then you already know that Moscow can be a very strange place.

The city seems to be a microcosmic reflection of Russia itself, a country once described by Winston Churchill, the distinguished British statesman -from an era when there still were “distinguished statesmen” – as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Jazz trumpeter Valery Ponomarev describes Russia this way:

“One-sixth of all of the earth's land mass, Mother Russia - loved, hated, richest, poorest, the most ingenious, stupidest, generous, miserly, master, slave, forgiving, vindictive, the strongest, the weakest, God-fearing, atheistic, beautiful, ugly, loving parent, Cinderella's stepmother, drunk, sober, insane, sensible, sick, healthy, heroic, cowardly, treacherous, loyal, violent, peaceful, cruel, kind, vulnerable, secure, saint, sinner, criminal, lawful, transparent, mysterious, naive, sophisticated, backwards, in the space age, polluted, pure, vile, honorable, ruined, forever young and beautiful, its turbulent history, all 12 time zones of it, no longer yours, left behind.”

The quotation is taken from p. 52 of Valery’s book entitled On The Flip Side of Sound - one of the most unique Jazz autobiographies ever written.

Journey-of-a-soul books have always fascinated me for as Aristotle once said: “We are all different with regard to those things we have in common.”

So while we all have Life in common, we all live it differently.

And no Jazz musician that I’m familiar with has ever lived anything resembling the life of Valery Ponomarev.

Its easy to summarize the book as it deals with Valery adventures in attempting to leave the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, come to “The Jazz Headquarters of the World” [AKA – New York City] and become a member of the legendary drummer Art Blakey’s “Jazz Messengers.’”

In an earlier profile on Valery entitled Valery Ponomarev’s Muscle Jazz which you can locate in the JazzProfiles archives by going here, we shared many of the details of how Valery was inspired to become a Jazz trumpet player by Clifford Brown recordings and Willis Conover’s Voice of America Jazz radio programs.

Our essay on Valery also contains descriptions of the recordings that he has made under his own name for Dr. Mark Feldman’s Reservoir Records dating back to 1985.

But what is especially pleasing about On The Flip Side of Sound is learning Valery’s story by reading it in his own words.

“From the very beginning Art treated us sidemen like members of his own family, like we were his children. So many times he would stick up for us, go far out of his way to help us or protect our interests, sacrifice his own time or rest, I knew there was more to it than just joining a band and being able to play the music. Many of the worlds greatest musicians at different times had worked in the band; that alone had a profound significance,

"You joined a family," kept ringing in my ears. That was it. Now, for the first time on foreign soil I realized I was not alone, I had a family. And what a family at that: Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, etc were all my uncles and brothers, and, of course, with Art the father of us all.

He gave musical life to so many artists, young and unknown at first! Who else but a father can do that? [p. 121]

Or these words from Valery describing a “chance” encounter with a “… beautiful lady” after concluding a set with Art’s group at The Parisian Room in Los Angeles:

"I didn't quite get your name. What is it exactly?" I introduced myself and she made me repeat it several times, so she could learn to pronounce it correctly

"May I have your name"? I tried to sound as elegant as the lady, being prepared to repeat her name several times too, if necessary, so I could pronounce it properly,

"LaRue Brown "

"Excuse me "

"You heard me right"

"You're Clifford Browns wife?"


I knew their story very well. My hero's untimely death made me contemplate time and again: "Why is it that such geniuses die very often young?"

Pushkin, Lermontov, Mozart, Gagarin you name it, Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, What is it? Maybe God calls them back because they are too good for this world.

What if they themselves, perfect minds, don't want to adapt to the imperfect world of ours and find a way out somehow leaving us here on our own devices? Who knows?

I told LaRue how her husband’s music inspired me to become a jazz musician, how I studied and practiced, how I escaped.” [pp. 195-196]

The following excerpt on the late Willis Conover is heartbreaking. Valery knew first-hand the value of a man who did more than anyone to spread the music of Jazz throughout the world in the 2nd half of the 20th century:

"[Maria Ciliberti, a long-time associate of Willis Conover explains]

Oh, Valery, if you only knew how hard it was for Willis all this years. They were attacking him from all sides: some using influences, some threatening to close the program. When I came back from the Soviet Union in the early 1960s and told people how popular Willis's JAZZ HOUR was over there, I found out from Willis that at that time, the bigwigs were talking about taking his program off the air with the excuse that it wasn't the VGA's job to "entertain" the listeners. Over the years, they would say to him: don't play this, don't play that, why are you playing this, play this one or that one. He never wavered. Willis used to call them the "bureaucraps". One reason these government bureaucraps opposed him is that no one could take credit for creating him or the program. Thankfully, Willis always had the support of the U.S. Information Agency directors all through the years as well as help on Capitol Hill. That's what kept the program alive, that as well as the fact that foreign service officers knew of the amazing popularity of Willis's programs overseas. And he was on contract and not a staff employee. Only a couple of years before he died they left him alone." I was in shock. 'Don't tell me who should play in my band' kept pulsating in my head.

Can you believe this - if not for Willis Conover all these boring protégés would have flooded the airwaves and I would've never heard Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, I would've never become a Jazz musician. Half the world wouldn't have a clue as per what real jazz was, would've been saying 'I don't like Jazz.' I am not the only one to tell you how much people around the world loved America and its spirit in those years. And that's largely because of Jazz…. [p 295].

The book is available from the Author House Press which you can locate by going here.

Some other comments about the book and its author are as follows:

"Valery Ponomarev’s story is electrifying and inspiring. Most of all, its living proof that dedication to truth and beauty can and must triumph over artificially imposed impediments ,"
- Bob Bernotas   (Jazz journalist, author, and radio host)

"I thought I knew this man — a great friend and colleague with whom I've often toured over the past 15 or so years — pretty well, but after reading this memoir, my eyes were really opened! Fascinating! Valery Ponomarev’s skill with storytelling nearly matches his prowess with the trumpet, and the content of his remarkable stories — and of course his outstanding playing — is rich, intelligent, humorous, and naturally, always swinging. Enjoy this book, then go listen to his music!"-
- Don Braden
Jazz Musician/Composer/Educator/Music Director, Wachovia Jazz
For Teens, the Litchfield Jazz Camp Visiting Professor, Prins Glaus Conservatoire

“… I learned of the people's of the USSR passionate love of jazz brought to them by the Voice of Americas jazz radio programs hosted by the inimitable Willis Conover, What would their impressions be, thought I? My answer came in Valery Ponomarevs wonderful book "On the Flip Side of Sound", Written with the same zest and inventiveness that Valery brings to his trumpet solos, this is an amazing saga of a musician's journey, marvelous adventures and unbelievable dream. As Valery s feet are firmly planted in both America and Russia, he brings the fabric and intricacies of both societies into sharp focus”
 - Maria Ciliberti
Retired VOA Russian-language broadcaster
Special Assistant, VOA USSR Division
Co-host of VOA jazz program "Conversations with Conover"
Coordinator, Worldwide VOA Listeners' Clubs

“’Paramon’ as his Russian peers affectionately call him belongs to a select group of musicians who also possess the ability to communicate through the written word. In this book he tells us, with humor and wisdom, about his interesting life.”
- Paquito D’Rivera

"Valery Ponomarev, in addition to being a great trumpeter, is a colorful storyteller with an impressive memory and a memorable and unique life story* From his days growing up in the Soviet Union through his tours as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers up to the current day, Ponomarev has experienced quite a bit. His frank memoirs balance wit with drama and contain many fresh tales that add to the history of jazz. Get this book!”
 - Scott Yanow (Author of ten jazz books including Trumpet Kings, Jazz On Film, The Jazz Singers and Jazz On Record 1917-76)

The crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD has developed the following videos to help provide a basis for an appreciating Valery’s sparkling, Jazz trumpet playing.  If you like your Jazz full of “juice and flavor,” then Paramon’s music will certainly peak your appetite.