Thursday, December 10, 2020

Joe Newman - A Relaxed and Poised Trumpeter

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

In 1955 and 1956, trumpeter Joe Newman made a series of recordings for RCA that I want to commend to you for their musicianship, their easy, relaxed swing and their superb arrangements.

At the time they were made. Joe was a member of the Count Basie band and the bluesy, bouncy swing of the Basie Band was a favorite of Jazz musicians everywhere.

All of the recordings were done at Webster Hall in New York City which is famous for its fabulous acoustics.

The musicians that Joe assembled for these recordings dates reads like a Who’s Who of prominent Jazz musicians on the New York scene. Three of the LP’s featured small groups that included trombonists Frank Rehak or Urbie Green, alto saxophonists Ernie Wilkins or Gene Quill, tenor saxophonist Al Cohn, flutist Frank Wess, guitarists Barry Galbraith and/or Freddie Green, pianists Nat Pierce or Hank Jones, bassists Eddie Jones or Milt Hinton and drummers Ross “Shadow” Wilson and Osie Johnson

The fourth LP in the series is a big band "Salute to Satch” on which the trumpet section alone consists of Joe, Nick Travis, Conte Candoli, Joe Ferrante and Bernie Glow!!!

To bring it all together, Joe enlisted the help of three of the finest arrangers in Jazz - Ernie Wilkins, Manny Albam and Al Cohn.

All four of the original LP’s have been reissued on CD.

About Joe’s style and approach Richard Cook and Brian Morton have commented in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed,:

“A deep-thinking musician with a reflective sound in an age when lead trumpeters were supposed to sky-write in every solo, Newman was - mutatis mutandis - the Johnny Hodges of the Basie band. He also had stints with Illinois Jacquet and with Benny Goodman and continued to record under his own name until quite late in life [1922-1992] Newman was a passionate Jazz educator.

Newman was never a whole-hearted modernist. His sharp attack and bright sound were derived almost entirely from Louis Armstrong and, though he was chief cadre of the 'Basie Moderns' in the 1950s, he maintained allegiance to the Count's music over any other. That's perfectly obvious from the scaled-down arrangements on All I Wanna Do Is Swing and I'm Still Swinging, which sounds very much like what it is, a mid-size ensemble working at the sharp end of the Basie idiom. Though not, significantly enough, with Basie material. Joe’s solos are well developed, favouring the middle register, and rhythmically steady, though the trumpeter's ability to drift at will across the bar lines suggests a player of a later generation.

While Newman was still Basie's trumpet star he seems to be hamstrung between two idioms, offering a slightly ironic slant to Leonard Feather's famous characterization of the trumpeter as 'neutralist modern'.”

Here are the insert notes for each of the recordings.

All I Wanna Do Is Swing [RCA BMG 74321609842]

“The Joe Newman Story has, like all good stories, (1) a beginning, (2) a plot motivation, and perhaps surprisingly for one so young, (3) an already happy conclusion - and although the conclusion presented here must be admitted to be only one of a series, a series which may very well never produce results greater or happier than those evident in this album, it is one which will certainly continue to progress on this same high level of inspiration and musical excitement. And, like all well- constructed narratives, Joe's is relatively simple in outline. In connection with the components mentioned above, it may be summarized in the following terms: (1) he is a swinging, remarkably astute trumpet artist from the Count Basie band; (2) he wants,-in the final analysis, only to swing; and (3), he has here collected one of the most thoroughly integrated of modern groups, plus three of the day's most arresting arrangers, in whose midst he displays his wide range of talents, swinging through an amazing variety of material.

The band Joe has assembled here is remarkable not merely for its cohesive unity, but for the individual brilliance which each one of its members demonstrates in his solo work - solo work which is, happily, given to them at frequent intervals. On tenor, there is the magnificent stylist, Al Conn, who must truly be said to be one of the major influences in modern jazz, and his solo work here - subtle and overwhelming by turn, always progressing far beyond mere virtuosity - is certainly among the very greatest he has ever put on record. On alto is Ernie Wilkins, another present member of the Count's band, who has been busy these past few years writing what amounts to practically the entire Basie book - and his alto work here displays an attack and imagination equally as varied as his arranging. And, completing the horns, is Frank Rehak, ex-Herman sideman, who here blows some of the most fantastically ingenious trombone in recent annals. But equally as important as the combination of horns is the rhythm section put together for this date - sometimes driving, sometimes floating, but always carrying the proceedings on a sure and solid footing. This is a rhythm rarely heard in modern jazz, built to such enjoyable proportions by the interplay of Basieman Freddie Green's unamplified guitar and Milt Hinton's bass. But they, of course, are not the only members. Too much praise cannot be bestowed upon Nat Pierce of the Herman Herd and his tasteful, intelligent piano - a piano liberally sprinkled with the Basie flavor, but maintaining a unique individuality - or upon the unwavering beat laid down by Shadow Wilson's drums.

Arrangements for this session are the work of Manny Albam, Al Cohn and Ernie Wilkins, all of whom have turned out scores in a great variety of tempos which serve to showcase the multitudinous talents of Joe and of each one of his colleagues. Manny was responsible for Soon, It's a Thing of the Past, Topsy and the Joe Newman original, Leonice; Al turned out two originals, Captain Spaulding and Jack's Wax, as well as If I Could Be with You and Limehouse Blues; while Ernie came forth with I Could Have Told You, Dream a Little Dream of Me, an original of Freddie Greene's entitled Corner Pocket, and an original of his own known as Pretty Skinny Bunny.

Whether on mute or open horn, Joe's work is a delight to the ears - not merely because it is sane jazz in the midst of much that today is either overwritten or vacuous, but because it is always fresh, always swinging, always blown from the top-drawer of inspiration. And it is a remarkable tribute to all involved that this session, which ran from midnight to 10 A.M. - and which was, incidentally, captured by engineer Dick Gardner on one mike, around which all the musicians formed a circle, rising only to take their solos - produced jazz of this highly infectious sort. But in reality, it is undoubtedly true that regardless of the time of day or night, these men, in the midst of such telling arrangements, could not but blow wonderfully - and in these recordings, led and sparked by Joe Newman, they have all obviously engraved some of their most sincere, and jazzdom's most sparkling, efforts.”


I’m Still Swinging [RCA BMG 74321609852]

“A label or a catch phrase can be a convenient thing, but it rarely tells a rounded story. In the Thirties, in the Swing Era, Benny Goodman was called "King of Swing." As pat labels go, this one was pretty accurate, for it was Goodman who brought on the Swing Era and it was Goodman who, to the general public, was the pre-eminent figure of that era. But Goodman, at that time, was a mover and shaker, not a polisher. It was Count Basie's band, riding onto the scene in the wake of Goodman (and with Goodman's ardent support), which became the epitome of the swing band and turned out ro be the most influential band of the period.

The strength of Basie's influence, after two decades, is widely evident in the playing of numerous small groups today, particularly in recording-groups which have access to genuine, Grade A Basie sidemen. One reason - and a rather basic reason - for the continuing appeal of the Basie manner was aptly summed up by Joe Newman when he was considering the approach to be taken on these numbers.

"I want them to have a swing to them," he said, "to be easy, to be good listening. I want to try to reach the mass of people, and I think the way to do it is with things I'd want to listen to if I were a listener."

There can be little question of what Joe Newman would listen to if he were a listener. For many years he has been an outstanding member of Count Basie's band. He is steeped in the Basie tradition and so are most of the men in his octet.

Freddie Green, a member of the original Basie band who was of enormous importance in creating what has come to be recognized as the typical Basie attack, is generally considered the greatest rhythm guitarist working today. Shadow Wilson has served two stints as Basic's drummer, while Eddie Jones is Basic's current bassist. Al Cohn, though a man of parts of the jazz world, has never achieved Basiedom, but his approach to the tenor sax is patterned to a large degree on that of Basie's Lester Young.

The octet's recruits from the non-Basie world are Urbie Green, a trombonist of such versatility that he has played successfully with Frankie Carle, Jan Savitt and, most notably, Woody Herman; Gene Quill, a rising young alto star who has worked with Claude Thornhill and Charlie Barnet; and Dick Katz, a pianist closely associated with Tony Scott, who effects a remarkable adaptation of his normal, sharply modern style to fit the mood of these performances.

There are other influences besides that of Basie at work here. Joe Newman has a pungent personality of his own which constantly makes itself felt. There are lines reaching out to Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Mildred Bailey. There is even, as we shall see, a badly shredded skein attached to SJ.Perelman.

TOP HAT, WHITE TIE, AND TAILS - Once a song and a dance for Fred Astaire, this bouncing tune has been fitted out by Manny Albam with a counter-melody which dances gaily behind the ensemble and, between choruses, vamps till the soloists are ready.
YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME - Earl Hines wrote and popularized this number, which later provided one of Basie's early successes on records. Now it turns up as Joe Newman's favorite tune in a Manny Albam arrangement that gives everyone a chance to solo.
WE'LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN - Newman's pretty, soulful side comes to the fore in Ernie Wilkins' arrangement of this Frankie Laine composition.
IT'S BAD FOR ME - A Cole Porter contribution to an English revue, which has lain fallow for almost a quarter of a century, moves into the jazz scene in an arrangement by Al Cohn.
EXACTLY LIKE YOU - The early Basie version of this McHugh-Fields tune was one of the great performances of the Thirties, and Al Cohn's arrangement catches the spirit and tone of that performance. "On a tune like this," says Cohn, "there's nothing you can do but swing."
SHAMEFUL ROGER - This is probably the first jazz interpretation of an S. J. Perelman character, the villainous Shameful Roger Esterhazy. As Manny Albam originally conceived the shameful one, he crept onto the scene disguised as a muted trumpet but, in performance, Joe Newman resorted to the plunger instead. The result is an Ellington sound over a Basie beat - the headiest kind of jazz mixture.
THE DAUGHTER OF MISS THING - Newman picks up Harry Edison's muted trumpet bit from Basie's old stampede, Miss Thing, to provide a theme which Ernie Wilkins amplifies in his arrangement.
SOMETIMES I'M HAPPY - Manny Albam gives the Vincent Youmans standard an unusual slow ballad treatment, inspired by Mildred Bailey's version and reflecting (unconsciously, Albam says) some suggestion of the Fletcher Henderson arrangement that Benny Goodman used to play.
SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE - A fast, swinging version of a number that is identified equally with Carmen Lombardo, who wrote it, and Louis Armstrong, who loved it. The speed in Al Cohn's arrangement is logical, he says, because a tune like this - made up mostly of whole notes and half notes - lends itself to a fast tempo.
SLATS - An extension, by Ernie Wilkins, of an exclamation point riff dreamed up by Newman which provides a varied solo spree for Urbie Green, running from strangulation to open-throated gusto.
LAMENT FOR A LOST LOVE - An obscure but typically lovely Ellington tune arranged by Al Cohn.
PERFIDIA - Shadow Wilson's drums are an important element in Ernie Wilkins' arrangement of this south-of-the-border standard.”


Salute to Satch: Joe Newman and His Orchestra [RCA BMG 74321609862]

“SALUTE TO SATCH revolves around the first of the two prime influences that jazz has known so far - Louis Armstrong. It was Armstrong who gave jazz breadth and scope in the Twenties and many of the tunes in this set, all associated with him, date from that period of his career. But there is also evidence in these performances of the second great influence, Charlie Parker, who opened up jazz in the Forties even more than Armstrong had twenty years before and whose spirit has tinged the work of almost every jazz musician who has followed him.

These Armstrong-hallowed numbers are played and arranged by musicians who are vitally alive to today's jazz, to the new directions set out by Parker and to the refinements that have developed since he plowed his new ground. For the most part, the tunes have been placed in contemporary settings in the arrangements written by Manny Albam, Ernie Wilkins and Al Conn, although in a few cases (West End Blues and When It's Sleepy Time Down South are instances) the original Armstrong approach proved to be so unshakably definitive that no other version seemed valid.

In planning this tribute to the inimitable Louis, the three arrangers determined to avoid any attempt at imitation. After all, why try to imitate the inimitable? Instead, their goal was to write with only the requirements of Joe Newman and his band in mind. As a result, these sturdy old tunes come out glowing as brightly as newly minted pennies. Yet the memory and even the sound of Armstrong pervade them, for, despite the arrangers best intentions, Newman frequently slips - often almost involuntarily - into powerful displays of Armstrong-derived trumpet playing.

The band which Newman leads is, to put it calmly, star-studded. The piano solos are all by Hank Jones, a discriminating and imaginative pianist who is just beginning to receive the recognition he deserves. Al Cohn, the peer of today's swinging tenor men, takes the tenor sax solos. The driving alto work is by Phil Woods, and Urbie Green and Jimmy Cleveland share the trombone solos. The vocals are all by Joe Newman and, although he has never been noted as a vocalist before, his singing on these numbers gives additional backing to a frequently proved point: almost any good jazz instrumentalist, no matter how limited he may be vocally, can sing effectively by relying on his feeling for jazz phrasing.

Newman unveils his Armstrong-tinged trumpet on the time-honored When the Saints Go Marchin' In and shows that, even though he sings differently from Louis, he can shout just like him. Al Cohn, who wrote the arrangement, and Jimmy Cleveland take the other solos.

Ernie Wilkins' arrangement of Chinatown My Chinatown starts off with a chorus which is straight out of Armstrong's version, but Cleveland, Cohn and Hank Jones give it a different coloration before Newman comes back for an Armstrong ending.

Four trumpets are assigned to Armstrong's classic introduction to West End Blues, leading to Newman's opening solo. On the bridge, arranger Manny Albam again goes for quadruples, using four trombones over Nat Pierce's apt piano fills. Rare event here: Freddie Green takes a brief solo break on guitar.

Jeepers Creepers brings on two new soloists, Al Epstein on baritone sax and Urbie Green on trombone in Wilkins' lightly swinging arrangement.

Dipper Mouth, a standby since Armstrong's days with King Oliver, is put in modern dress by Albam, probably the first time this two-beat favorite has been given this treatment. Even the traditional shout, "Oh, play that thing!" is brought subtly up to date by Newman. Soloists are Cohn and Woods.

Albam's evocative arrangement of When It's Sleepy Time Down South, Armstrong's familiar theme, manages to be completely in the Armstrong spirit and tradition without being imitative. On the other hand, on Struttin' with Some Barbecue, a number just as closely associated with Louis, Albam writes almost entirely in modern terms and Woods and Cohn follow suit on their solos.

Pennies from Heaven, an Albam arrangement, is practically all Newman as is Wilkins' arrangement of Sweethearts on Parade, a tune which came out of a band Armstrong has always admired - Guy Lombardo's. For Basin Street Blues, Albam has managed to cross-breed Armstrongisms and post-Parker harmonics with tellingly moody effect and to inspire Newman to one of his most moving solos. Phil Woods has the other solo spot.

A traditional Dixieland front line - trumpet, trombone (Urbie Green), clarinet (Al Cohn) - with untraditional ideas is featured on the Wilkins-arranged Back o' Town Blues. And, for a swinging finale, Wilkins has decked out You Can Depend on Me, which was written by Armstrong's co-star of both the Twenties and Forties, Earl Hines, in a solid arrangement which spots a lot of Newman and a little Cohn.”                       


The Midgets: The Joe Newman Septet [RCA BMG 74321609872

“The Midgets marks a significant step in the progress of the flute as a jazz instrument. It has been on its way for a long time. The flute got its initial jazz impetus back in the middle 1930s when Wayman Carver, a saxophonist in Chick Webb's band, introduced it in a small group within the Webb band, the Little Chicks. Then more than fifteen years passed before any further jazz use was made of the instrument. Since 1953, however, there has been a splurge of jazz flute playing. As a rule it has been used either as a solo instrument or paired with another woodwind.

These selections by Joe Newman's band mark the first time, so far as pertinent inquiry and fallible memories can disclose, that the flute has been joined with a brass instrument—in this case, Newman's brisk, muted trumpet. The combination originated at the testimonial dinner to Count Basie at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in 1954. The Basie band performed at this function and Newman, then as he still is today, was one of the most engaging elements of that very personable group.

Joe was warming up offstage at the Basie testimonial when he stumbled onto the idea for an appealing riff. Frank Wess, the Basie saxophonist who is also one of the best of the jazz flutists, happened by, found Newman's riff both seemly and fetching, pulled out his flute, pursed his lips and joined in. The subsequent backstage duet, which has been developed into the tune now known as The Midgets, was soon moved onstage to become one of the Basie band's most popular showcased items.

Among those who were charmed by the combination of Newman's muted horn and Wess' sparkling flute was Jack Lewis, who produces Vik's jazz sessions. He thought the collaboration should be expanded and so he commissioned Ernie Wilkins, another old Basie hand, to write some more pieces in a similar vein. Wilkins responded with the seven original compositions and arrangements of two standards which supplement the original The Midgets in this album.

That title, The Midgets, also grew out of an incident involving the Basie band. During the concert tour of the Birdland Stars of 1956, Lester Young, who is a man of devilish turn of mind in addition to being the President of the Saxophone, started a running feud between the smaller members of the band, who were inevitably branded as the Midgets, and the larger ones, who assumed the title of the Bombers. The battle was carried on with water guns of every description -  machine guns which machined water, ack-ack guns which acked water, and pistols. The war reached its climax in the railroad station in Omaha. Because of icy roads, the touring group's bus had been sent on to Kansas City empty. While the playing personnel waited for a train, the Midgets and the Bombers had it out all over the Omaha station, much to the alarm, distress and liquidation of other would-be travelers. The final outcome, according to Midget sources, was a victory for the Midgets.

For Newman, these selections are a more modern type of jazz than he has recorded before. Previously he has concentrated on Basie oriented swing. On these numbers, he foregoes his open horn style, playing everything with a mute so as to stay tonally close to Frank Wess' flute. Other members of his band are Barry Galbraith, electric guitar; Freddie Green, rhythm guitar; Hank Jones, piano and organ; Eddie Jones, bass; and Osie Johnson, drums.

The Late Late Show, one of the two standards in the set, is highlighted by Hank Jones' first appearance on records as an organist (he plays piano on all the other selections). The other standard is No Moon at All. All the remaining selections, except for The Midgets, which started the whole thing, were composed by Ernie Wilkins. The melodic Scooter is named for Joe Newman's little boy; Valerie, appropriately haunting, immortalizes Wilkins' wife; and the light, humorous Mv Dog Friday honors copyist Emile Charlop's canine associate. Really? Healy? was designed by Wilkins to give the musicians an opportunity to loosen up and blow the blues. The dangers involved in Living Dangerously are the chord changes, especially on the bridge, and even the cute and tuneful She Has Red Hair has its own danger of the C minor eleventh chord with which Eddie Jones winds it up.”                                                                                                                                   

1 comment:

  1. Great article. Joe's work on Prestige and Mercury are outstanding as well. A cool guy and a great jazz musician with a hip yet graceful style.


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