Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Jazz Life: A Journey for Jazz Across America in 1960 [From the Archives]

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

The following story cannot be written today. It can only be told. You couldn’t complete this trek; there’s nothing like it to be seen, anymore.

With this in mind, William Claxton and Joachim E. Berendt did the Jazz World a vital service when they left us with remembrances of their 1960 Jazz Journey as documented through their written annotations and Bill’s superb photographs.

Both new and used copies are still available of Jazz Life: A Journey for Jazz Across America in 1960 and it’s large, folio format would make a wonderful addition to your “Jazz coffee table.” Taschen is the publisher and you can locate more information about the book at www.taschen.com.

Foreword -
William Claxton

“Early in October of 1959 I received a telephone call from Germany. The person introduced himself as Joachim-Ernst Berendt, a musicologist living in Baden-Baden. In very good English, he explained that he was coming to America to do a study of "America's great art — jazz." He went on to say that he needed a photographer to work with him — a photographer who liked and understood jazz. He had seen a great deal of my work published in European magazines and on record covers and thought that I would be the perfect choice to work with him — "because your pictures have soul." He went on to explain that the book would be mainly a collection of my images to augment his writings about jazz. There would be interviews with musicians, descriptions of the various places where one hears jazz, and a look at the origins of jazz as well as the art itself. He made it all sound a bit erudite, but it seemed like a very important project, and I was thrilled by his offer.

The chance to photograph many of my jazz heroes, in addition to the many unknown and yet-to-be-discovered jazz musicians all around America, was too tempting to resist. Yes, I replied, I would very much like to do it, but please give me more details. He said he would follow up our conversation with a letter. Before hanging up, he mentioned that he would like to meet me in New York City in April and spend two weeks covering the jazz scene there. After renting a car we would then tour the entire United States exploring the world of jazz, its roots, its creators and the environments in which they thrived. We would spend some time in New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, Hollywood and a dozen other more offbeat places. And, oh yes, our work would be published as a hardcover book by the German publisher Burda Verlag in the spring of 1961.

What young photographer wouldn't be astonished by such an opportunity? I turned to my wife, Peggy Moffitt, and excitedly told her of the offer. Taking the role of the more practical person, she asked what I would be paid. Oh, my god, I'd forgotten to ask. I quickly called back Mr. Berendt, or I should say Dr. Berendt, and asked the question. He said that he was prepared to pay me $7,000 plus all expenses for working and traveling the four or five months needed to complete the task. It sounded like seven million dollars to me at the time. I hung up the telephone and told Peggy delightedly. She smiled and sadly said, "What about me?" You see, we had only been married a few months. So, a dark cloud appeared over my head with a lot of lightning flashes in the center of the storm. I was excited but depressed at the thought of leaving my bride for so long. Once again I called Berendt and told him of my marital status. "We are still young marrieds," I pleaded, and asked what the possibilities were of taking Peggy with us. He was sorry, he said, but he could not find any more room in his budget to pay for that.

So, I ask you, what is a young (and talented and ambitious) photographer to do when offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like this? After much conversation and weighing the pros and cons of my accepting this job and leaving Peggy in Los Angeles to possibly work on her modeling career, we agreed that I should accept the offer.

I shall refer to Joachim-Ernst Berendt as "Joe" from now on. Joe and I planned to meet at Idyllwild Airport (it wasn't named JFK yet) in New York on the day he arrived from Frankfurt, Germany. Peggy and her sister drove me to LAX that morning. I was not feeling well but boarded the plane anyway. Before it left the terminal, I became very ill and went into the restroom. The next thing I knew, we were landing not in New York but in San Francisco. The flight attendant explained that they had changed planes and that I was obviously on the wrong flight. I finally took another one from San Francisco into New York. I'd kept Joe waiting for five hours, but the airline had alerted him as to my new arrival time. Joe and his friend, the Hungarian jazz guitarist Attila Zoller, whisked me off in Attila's new Buick into Manhattan. I don't think that I made a very good first impression on Joe. I was pale white and feeling terrible. We checked into the Hotel Alwyn, on West 58th Street and Seventh Avenue. The place was slightly rundown (and wanted cash upfront) and was a notorious hangout for junkies. Joe remarked, "Isn't it a wonderful place? Musicians hang out here. That's good, no?"

The next morning I awoke, still very ill, to a call from Peggy. She said that she would take the next plane out of Los Angeles and would be with me later that night. Just hearing her voice made me feel better. I told Joe that I couldn't work with him on what was to be our first day together. He was very kind and understanding, explaining that he had lots of research to do and contacts to make.

With Peggy at my side, I recovered quickly. We decided that she would stay in New York while I was on the road and work on her modeling career. She had signed with the Plaza Five Agency, and she was excited about working in New York, which was still very much the center of the fashion world. Peggy arranged to stay with another model from the same agency. We thought everything was going to be just fine. More about Peggy's saga later. I introduced Joe to George Avakian, head of the jazz department at Columbia Records; Jack Lewis of RCA Victor; and Ahmet Ertegun and his brother Nesuhi of Atlantic. Joe was very impressed that I knew such important people in the jazz recording world. All of these fellows helped us make contact with the top musicians and arrangers in the New York area. I was curious as to how Joe would be accepted by the super-hip players themselves. It was soon apparent that not only had he done his homework about the music and the musicians, but that he could deal with them in a knowledgeable, sincere and authentic manner. Most of them took to him right away. It helped that he was from another country, which made him even more interesting to them. He could talk endlessly about "America's most important art form."

After several days of Joe taping interviews on his portable Nagra recording machine and my shooting pictures with my Nikon F and Leica M3 cameras (and an old used Rolleiflex camera that Richard Avedon had given me a few years earlier) with a modest assortment of lenses, and an enormous amount of fresh film, we set out in our rented 1959 Chevrolet Impala. You know the model — it had giant tail fins bent over to a flat position and big fish-like tail lights, and somehow the rental agent had managed to leave a cardboard license cover over the official plate that read "See the U. S. A. in Your Chevrolet" — how appropriate! Joe's plan for our jazz odyssey was to start in Manhattan; cover Philadelphia and Washington, D. C.; drive down the Eastern seaboard states and over to New Orleans and Biloxi; go up the run up to Boston's Berklee School of Music; and end up at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island.

Upon leaving Manhattan, we crossed the George Washington Bridge then headed for Newark, New Jersey, to meet with Professor Bradford and the choir he directed at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. We spent Sunday afternoon and most of the evening listening to, recording and photographing that wonderful, swinging group. This was the first of many church choirs we visited while grooving on the soul sounds and discovering the origins of much of the jazz we were exploring.

In Philadelphia we met Joe Williams backstage at the Paramount Theatre and had a wonderful interview and photo session with this affable and unique performer. We photographed the trumpeter Lee Morgan with his buddy, drummer Lex Humphries, in front of the city hall where the Liberty Bell was kept. I kept pointing out to my German cohort how old the various buildings and monuments were; most of them dated from the 1700s. This did not impress him. In Germany, he said, "we have so many buildings built before the year 900." He reminded me constantly of how young America was by comparison.

From the very beginning of the trip, I managed to do most of the driving. I was a good driver and enjoyed it, but I wasn't sure about Joe's driving abilities. Finally he took the wheel just outside of Philadelphia as we headed towards Washington, D. C. "Joe!" I shouted. "You're going way too fast. There's a speed limit here. And each state has its own laws. So please be careful!" "Ja, ja," he replied, "but the roads are so good here and this car is really fast." He did finally slow down, but he enjoyed giving me mini-lectures on all kinds of subjects. Joe was very knowledgeable and lectured at various universities in Germany. But he suddenly developed a peculiar habit of punctuating his sentences with either the gas pedal or the brake pedal and then swerving all over the road. Oh, God, I thought, how am I going to put up with this for the next 15,000 miles?

We had a nice photo opportunity and interview moment with Buck Hill, a jazz postman in Washington, D. C. Buck would take time out from delivering the mail to play his alto saxophone a cappella for the kids in his neighborhood. Some of the children would dance, some would sing and some jumped rope. It was a delightful and rather bizarre experience. I photographed guitarist Charlie Byrd seated under a shady tree next to the Potomac River across from the Jefferson Memorial.

Back on the road again, and Joe was at the wheel. I decided to give him a second chance at piloting the big Chevy Impala down the highway. We went through North Carolina at a fairly safe speed. But when we crossed the state line into South Carolina, Joe started going right through stoplights, barely missing other cars and cursing the other drivers. Finally I shouted out to him that he was driving through the red signals and stopping at the green ones. No, he shouted back, he was correct, because the red was on the top of the signal and the green was on the bottom. "No, Joe, it was like that in North Carolina but in South Carolina it was reversed." Then it dawned on me. "Joe, you are color blind, and what's more, you are red-green colorblind." He slowed the car down and looked over at me and said, "That's right, how did you know?" From that moment on, I drove the car for most of the journey.

The food at the restaurants on the main highways was largely pretty bad. That did not seem to bother Joe. He did, however, have a sweet tooth, as did I, so we would stop at ice-cream parlors almost every afternoon. Three o'clock was usually ice cream time. Joe's other vice was that he wanted to meet young "schwarze girls" (black girls) with the idea of dating them. He considered them so beautiful and exotic, and many are, but I warned him that this was not a good idea. The civil rights movement had not yet begun, and one had to be very careful about such relationships. Being a visiting European was not novel enough to escape a possible bad scene and put a quick end to our relatively innocent jazz-seeking trip.

We would try to entertain ourselves with the car radio, but there was no such thing as a jazz radio station once you left New York, only hillbilly and church music. At almost every little village, we would check to see if there was any local music being performed, but rarely did we find anything good except in the choirs of local churches, which seemed to be performing or practicing all day. Near Savannah, Georgia, we started to search for St. Simons Island in the Sea Islands near Brunswick. Joe had heard or read about a group of Negroes who spoke and sang in an African language dating back to the 1700s, and lived on the island. It was very difficult to find. Most of the residents were friendly at first, but then would hardly speak to us when they heard what we were seeking. The black people along the road were usually frightened by us and wouldn't speak at all. Incidentally, these are the same Sea Islands that George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward researched for their Porgy and Bess in the early 1930s. The next day was Sunday, and we found our little village of islanders just as they were coming from church. Joe was smart and brought along a couple of bottles of whisky. After the introductions and a nice visit, the islanders performed for us. They sang mostly jubilees, shouts and work songs mixed with a few religious songs. It was sheer joy for them and for us. The music wasn't jazz, but we could certainly sense the roots of jazz.

Crossing Florida, Joe and I were fascinated at having to dodge the alligators that occasionally crawled across the highway. We arrived in Biloxi and met the leading jazz musicians at Carmen Massey's music school. It was very funny to hear these young musicians speaking like New York hipsters but with a deep Southern accent.

Visiting New Orleans was like being in Dixieland Jazz heaven, if such a place existed. Lots of wonderful food and music everywhere. Striptease clubs had replaced many of the famous old jazz joints, but they had jazz musicians in the pit bands. We owed much of the success of our New Orleans visit to the young jazz musicologist, Richard Allen, who, when he wasn't teaching jazz history at Tulane University, would take Joe and me around "Orlans" and introduce us to just about every celebrity in the New Orleans jazz scene. We met almost every member of the three important marching bands: the Tuxedo Brass Band, the Eureka Brass Band and the George Williams Brass Band. We photographed two funerals and one Creole club celebration.

When a member of a band or lodge dies, his fellow band members and friends accompany the coffin from the funeral home or church to the cemetery while the band plays a dirge (a slow and solemn piece of music). After the burial ceremonies, the bands break into a joyful tune, and everyone dances and sings along with the marching bands as they head through the French Quarter to a clubhouse, where a party ensues. The young tough guys of the city, who can't play instruments, add to the gala march by dancing and swinging colorful parasols and umbrellas. They are known as the "Second Liners."

At the suggestion of Dr. Harry Oster, the folk-music specialist from Louisiana State University, we took a side trip to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. This prison was famous because it was the largest in the United States — home for over three thousand prisoners, including many blues players, dating back to the great Leadbelly in the 1930s. Dr. Oster promised that we would find many excellent musicians there. The morning we arrived at the prison gates, the guard was stern but obliging and had us ushered through to the warden's office. The warden listened as Joe explained that we wanted to photograph and record some of the jailed musicians. He took a puff on his cigar and asked which "side" we wanted to visit: "The nigger side or the white side?" Joe quickly replied, " Oh, the Negro side. Aren't there more musicians there?" The warden gave us an icy look and said, "Okay, but I can't give you a guard escort; we're short of men. You are on your own." I got a lump in my throat, but I kept quiet.

We took a long walk through high barbed-wire fences until we came to the last gate. Once inside the gate, Dr. Oster asked to see a blues singer named Hoagman Maxey. The group of black prisoners parted silently and let us through to meet Hoagman. He greeted us warmly and started to introduce us to several of the musicians. Once the music started, everyone became friendly and we photographed and recorded several of them. My fear disappeared and we actually enjoyed ourselves, as did the prisoners. After leaving the prison, I got a delayed reaction to being surrounded by a thousand or so prisoners with no guard. It was a bit unnerving. The music and stories that we heard were both depressing and inspiring, but above all authentic. All in all, we left New Orleans with a wonderful feeling. We had heard such good ol' happy jazz, dined on delicious food and met genuinely warm and friendly people.

Before leaving New York to start on our journey of jazz, pianist-singer Mose Allison had suggested that since we were planning to visit Mississippi, we should look up his parents, who lived in a town there called Tippo. We studied our road map and found Tippo, which comprised two dirt crossroads in the middle of cotton fields deep in the Delta country. On the four corners of the crossroads were the Allison Mercantile Store, the Allison Gas Station, the U. S. Post Office (Mrs. Mose Allison was Postmistress), and the local schoolhouse where Mrs. Allison was principal.

Mr. and Mrs. Allison greeted us cordially at their large, unpretentious farmhouse, which was surrounded by screened-in porches. It was very hot weather, and the air conditioners were going full blast but were hardly effective.
We were invited to stay for lunch, their big meal of the day. The menu consisted of fried chicken, ham steak with red-eye gravy, hominy grits, biscuits, and collard greens, followed by strawberry shortcake. During lunch Mrs. Allison spoke of their annual summer trips to Europe; they had just come back from Germany. She excused herself and went to hunt for snapshots to show her German guest. During that time, the black maid who had served the lunch started to collect the dishes and clear the table. As she walked past Mr. Allison, he turned and patted her on her rear. She let out a little giggle and danced out towards the kitchen. Mr. Allison said affectionately, "We love our niggers." We found this attitude prevalent throughout the South during our trip in 1960.

We drove on up the road along the Mississippi River toward Memphis, the home of W. C. Handy, the first great "composer" of jazz music. There was no traditional jazz being played there that we could find. Everything was hard bop. It was nothing like New Orleans. We visited the Handy monument and photographed Gene "Bow Legs" Miller and his combo performing while standing right next to the monument. And we lucked out and came across the Memphis Jug Band, led by a tub bass player named Will Shade.

They performed for us on the dock right next to the Memphis Queen River Boat on the Mississippi River. Workers on the boat and dock joined in with the band as though it were just an ordinary thing to do. Quite remarkable and colorful. Early one Saturday morning, we arrived in St. Louis. The city seemed dead. We met with the old trumpeter Dewey Jackson in his home, but he said, "Don't blow jazz no more, I'm a house painter now." However, I did some good photographs of him in his home against a setting of his memorabilia. We were told that St. Louis had always been a home for great trumpet players. There was a strong German community. Generations of musicians were trained in both military and classical music featuring brass instruments. And, of course, Miles Davis was from St. Louis. We heard several jazz combos that were popular there, and a nightclub called the Mellow Cellar was very much alive and kicking with modern jazz much like what we'd heard in New York.

And then, somehow, we found ourselves in a place called the Faust Club late one night. We were told that we could hear some good ragtime there. We looked forward to perhaps finding a new Scott Joplin. While seated in the dark, dingy club, we listened to a rather masculine woman singing the blues accompanied by another lady outfitted in a tailored man's suit playing a tenor saxophone. "Joe," I said quietly, "we are the only guys in the place. We're surrounded by lesbians." Joe replied, "Ja, but some are so good-looking!" We were treated very well and even had complimentary drinks sent to us. But it was not an exciting evening of music.

Being a scholar, Joe Berendt knew more about the roots of American music than I did. He announced to me, as we were driving through the Midwest, that Kansas City was, after New Orleans, probably the most important city in the history of jazz. Two great styles had originated there, swing in the 1930s and bebop in the early forties. Upon arriving in Kansas City we went immediately to the Olive Street home of Charlie "Bird" Parker's mother, Mrs. Adie B. Parker.

But our brief visit was too much for her; she was still overcome with emotion by the loss of her genius son five years earlier. It was terribly sad. Evidently many well-meaning people had knocked on her door to inquire about him. We did visit his grave, however, and I photographed it. We went to the Local No. 627 Musicians' Union, where many of the young and old players hung out. They would have impromptu jam sessions almost every afternoon, and many of them still played in the spirit of the old Kansas City.

We visited the Kismet Club where Jay McShann's group played. McShann, one of the star pianists and bandleaders of Kansas City, was the first to appreciate and hire Charlie Parker in 1937, when Bird was just developing his original and intricate style of playing. He went on to become, in my opinion, the most imitated or at least the most influential player in jazz since Louis Armstrong. The first time that I ever "discovered" a new young jazz player was during this visit to Kansas City. After all, I am a photographer, not a musician. But when Joe and I heard young bebop trumpeter Carmell Jones play, we both knew that we were hearing something special. I telephoned a good friend, Richard Bock, my former boss and partner at Pacific Jazz Records in Hollywood, and told him about Carmell. A few months later, Bock recorded him. As it frequently turns out, I was not the first to "discover" Carmell Jones; the word was already out that he was a comer.

I was looking forward to Chicago. I have always thought of it as a place of extremes — especially the brutally hot and cold weather— and a friendly big city, much friendlier than New York. What we thought of as the original Chicago 1920s-style jazz was barely present during our visit to the Windy City. Most of that kind of jazz had made its way to New York by the 1930s. What we did find was great gospel music, the blues and, of course, modern jazz. Joe interviewed Muddy Waters while I photographed him, although I got my best images of him at the Newport Jazz Festival a few months later. One of the many young blues singers we encountered called himself "Clear Waters," a nod to Muddy's fame. We also met Memphis Slim, who actually came from Memphis but was the most popular bluesman in Chicago at this time. Everybody wanted to record him. Jump Jackson gave us a blues party in his studio, which was really a large garage that he'd fixed up on the South Side of Chicago. So many musicians showed up that they had to open the garage doors.

We met the Ramsey Lewis Trio. They were all dressed for the special occasion in sharp-looking suits, ties and hats — very slick and handsome. I took them out and photographed them on Michigan Avenue with the Chicago skyline behind them. The most amusing incident that happened in Chicago was when we met up with Jack Teagarden. He was playing at the London House. He remembered that I'd photographed him while he was appearing on Bobby Troup's Stars of Jazz television show in Los Angeles a few years back. In a very friendly gesture, Mr. Teagarden invited Joe and me to have dinner with him after the show, which would end about midnight. He invited us to have some of his "famous Oklahoma chili," and he also mentioned to me quietly that he was "on the wagon now; haven't had a drink in three months."

After the last show we met him outside the club. He was very drunk but charming and polite as always. We hopped into a cab, trailed by another taxi with some of his other friends, and headed out to the South Side to have that promised chili dinner. However, the first stop was a butcher shop, which was of course closed at that hour in the morning. Teagarden woke the butcher and his wife, who lived upstairs. They reluctantly opened the meat counter and provided the special cut of beef that Teagarden specifically ordered. From there we proceeded to the place he was staying with a friend while working in Chicago. We arrived at a dark and sinister-looking apartment house in the South Side, the mostly black section of town. On the second-floor landing, Teagarden went from door to door with his key, drunkenly trying to open each one. Finally a door sprang open. Singing at the top of his voice, he staggered into a rather rundown apartment, followed by a small group of equally drunk pals and Joe and me. Bottles of cold beer were opened, and Teagarden started pulling out pots and pans and commenced cooking. I thought to myself that chili takes a long time to make... like a couple of hours, doesn't it? There was an old upright piano there, and his pianist, Don Ewell, began to play. It became a nice little party, while Teagarden cooked away. I got very tired and looked into the bedroom, hoping to take a little nap. There was only a dirty mattress on the floor. So I went back to the main room and fell asleep on the couch, which had stuffing popping out in various places.

Suddenly I was awakened by a loud noise and a man's voice shouting "Police!" Two uniformed cops and an older plain-clothesman walked in. The older officer suddenly recognized Jack Teagarden. "Teagarden, what the hell are you doin' here?" "Makin" chili!" he said. "It's about to be served, sit down and join us." The policeman replied, "We got a call about a break-in here; this isn't your house, is it?" Teagarden said, "Hell, no, this is my friend Roosevelt Sykes's place." The older cop held up his hands and said, "Roosevelt lives next door in that big apartment house. You're in the wrong house!" Teagarden chuckled and said, "Well, we might as well enjoy our grub for now, sit down." The two younger uniformed policemen were dismissed and Teagarden's old pal sat down and had a five-o'clock-in-the-morning breakfast of chili and beans with us.

Joe and I headed west to Southern California, where we were lucky to enjoy many good musical experiences: Benny Carter rehearsing his Kansas City Suite with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl; a Duke Ellington recording session; and a great deal of activity in the jazz clubs, including the long run of the Lighthouse All-Stars, who played all day Sunday at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. The band included many of Hollywood's best jazz musicians, along with such guests from the East Coast as Max Roach, Lee Konitz and Miles Davis. Joe loved the idea of swimming in the Pacific Ocean and stepping right into a jazz club with many of the customers still in wet swimming suits and sipping cold beer. It was the good life.

Joe had seen many of the LP covers for which I'd photographed jazz musicians in unlikely places—Shorty Rogers in his son's treehouse, the Lighthouse All-Stars dressed in dark suits and ties standing right on the sandy Hermosa beach, Chet Baker and his crew on a sailboat—so he expected to see musicians in an outdoor Southern California atmosphere. I explained that jazz musicians are pretty much the same the world over. They work late hours and sleep most of the day. They are truly a nocturnal breed. The Lighthouse provided an exception to this rule. So when Joe met the very congenial and gregarious vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, he got the idea of asking Terry to throw an afternoon jazz party for us at his house in North Hollywood, an area of the San Fernando Valley [north of Los Angeles]. It would be an amusing way to meet, interview and photograph the terrific jazz musicians in the Los Angeles area.

Terry agreed and did indeed host a party at his house one Sunday afternoon. Great jazz folk showed up. Most of them said that they had never been near a swimming pool in the bright sunlight at such an early hour (it was 2 P. M.) in their entire lives. The guests included Horace Silver, Wynton Kelly, Sonny Stitt, Med Flory, Herb Ellis, and about fifteen other jazz musicians. When they weren't taking a dip in the pool, they were in Terry's living room jamming while still in their wet swimsuits. It turned into a wonderful and unique party.

The great Shelly Manne was the most sought-after jazz drummer for recording sessions and live performances. Shelly invited us to his stables, where he demonstrated what a terrific horseman he was. His wife, Flip, had introduced him to horses, and he displayed as much finesse with them as he did with his percussion instruments.

A few days later we headed north on Highway 101, planning to take Highway 1 and go up the beautiful California coast to Big Sur on our way to San Francisco. We stopped at a hamburger and malt shop just north of Ventura for lunch. When we walked into the small, rather modest cafe, a middle-aged man and woman wearing white aprons were standing behind the counter. We nodded hello and sat down in a booth. We heard the man say something to his wife in German, and she smiled as she greeted us with the menus. In an attempt to be friendly, Joe spoke German to her. She just stared at him and then walked away to get our food. They were not at all friendly from that moment on. When we finished our cheeseburgers and malted milks, I stood up and walked to the cash register to pay for our lunch. Joe was standing next to me. When the man took my money, I saw his arm. It had numbers tattooed along the entire length of his forearm. I thought, "Oh, my God. He was a survivor of the Holocaust and is most likely Jewish." I took my change and thanked him. He said nothing. Joe and I walked out. Once on the sidewalk, I asked Joe if he had seen the numbers on the man's arm. He had, indeed, and was visibly shaken. We didn't speak much for the next hundred miles.

Everyone falls in love with San Francisco while driving into the city. The Golden Gate Bridge, the Oakland Bay Bridge, the beautiful peninsula with the city skyline gleaming through the fog...  It's a cosmopolitan city, an area of many intellectuals, and home to the most traditional of jazz music. This was 1960, and many of the pioneers were alive and working in the area. We came across Kid Ory, Earl Hines, Muggsy Spanier, Joe Sullivan and Darnell Howard. One could listen to the revival of New Orleans jazz, Chicago-style jazz and ragtime as well as modern jazz, all set against an 1840s Gold Rush backdrop. The Montgomery Brothers (Buddy, Monk and Wes) had left their hometown of Indianapolis and settled in the Bay Area. You could easily hear the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond, the Cal Tjader group, and the visiting Thelonious Monk at the Black Hawk club in the span of a week. Musicians loved to come to San Francisco. Jazz and poetry had not died there as they had in most other cities of America. We listened to alto sax man Pony Poindexter and some of the leftover fifties Beats reciting their poetry. We visited Cal Tjader, and he played "congas" on coffee cans aboard his boat docked in San Francisco Bay.

While traveling across the country, I'd kept trying to impress Joe with the antiquity of a town, village or some statuary. He was never phased. Europe was much, much older. But when I drove him across the Golden Gate into the redwood forests, whose trees were two and three-thousand years old, Joe was ecstatic; he could not believe what majestic trees we were seeing and touching. With all of his education and sophistication, he had never once even heard of these forests. I loved watching his wonderment. At last I had excited him with something native and singular to the United States.

The Monterey Jazz Festival wouldn't happen until fall, so we planned to meet there later for the final tour of our trip. But while in the Bay area I introduced Joe to Jimmy Lyons, the founder of the MJF; Ralph Gleason, the best-known jazz critic in the area; and the popular jazz disc jockey Pat Henry. This knowledgeable trio could answer many of Joe’s questions about the jazz history of the Bay area.

We moved on to Las Vegas, which struck Joe as the “emerald city” in the middle of the dry, sandy desert. Many musicians lived there at that time because of the great stage shows that the big gambling casinos and hotels would produce to attract patrons. On our first night we enjoyed the Marlene Dietrich show at the Sands Hotel. Louis Armstrong opened her act, and his show was almost as long and as grandly produced as Ms. Dietrich's. Most surprising was the Duke Ellington Orchestra performing from midnight to 4 A. M. in the lounge of one of the big hotels, not in the showroom — an odd sight, wonderful as they were to hear. I spoke with Duke, and he lamented the fact that his acclaimed orchestra had been relegated to the bar scene where no one except loyal fans ever bothered to leave the gaming tables and slot machines to listen.

Later I took Joe to meet the great jazz duo of Jackie Cain and Roy Krai. Not only did he enjoy their joyous music, but it was great fun to be shown Las Vegas from their musician's point of view.

When we arrived in Detroit it seemed that jazz was everywhere, and all of it was modern post-bop music. I wanted to shoot some local musicians against a background of a typical Detroit automobile-manufacturing center of the world. So Joe rounded up the alto saxophonists Charles McPherson and Ira Jackson, bassist McWilliam Wood, and trumpeter Lonnie Hellyer. I shot them in ties and jackets in front of Ford's Rouge River Plant, presumably called the Rouge River because the industrial waste dumped into it had colored the river red.

Joe and I spent some time with pianist Barry Harris and baritone sax player Pepper Adams. We photographed a group of blues musicians in front of Joe Battle's Record Shop on Hastings Street, then had a fantastic evening with J. J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard and Albert Heath, who were playing at a private birthday party for a local politician. I guess the most astonishing person we met in Detroit, or anywhere for the matter, was Roland Kirk (he hadn't yet changed his name to Rahsaan Roland Kirk). He was blind and managed to play three saxophones at once: the manzello, stritch and tenor. Kirk was remarkable, for not only did he play well, he also managed to be a comedian and storyteller during his show.

Again we visited New York City (the "Apple"). Gerry Mulligan showed me the spot in Central Park where he had rehearsed his big band when he could not afford a rehearsal studio. Up in Harlem we visited with Mary Lou Williams, who had just opened her used clothing shop for the Bel Canto Foundation, an organization formed to aid needy musicians and their families. I met a young actor named Ben Caruthers at the party; Ben had just appeared in the John Cassavetes film Shadows, which co-starred my friend, dancer Lelia Goldoni. Ben was now trying to learn to play tenor saxophone. Ben looked so much like a real and handsome jazzman holding the instrument that I wanted to photograph him. I took him and his girlfriend downtown to Times Square and shot him as a street musician. Before we were through, I was approached by three different policemen, all of whom said that if I didn't have a photo permit, I would "have to get out of there" or hand over a ten or twenty dollar bill. Luckily I had a few dollars in my pocket.

I photographed a Dizzy Gillespie recording session in a recording studio on Tenth Avenue. Dizzy was an affable and generous man. That was easy enough, but there were many other musicians whom I thought needed to be photographed against a more interesting background. I ended up shooting Charlie Mariano and Toshiko Akiyoshi posing in one of those "self-photo-for-25-cents" booths; Donald Byrd practicing his trumpet while traveling uptown on the "A" strain; the Modern Jazz Quartet in a midtown ballet studio; and Lee Konitz laughing with his pal Warne Marsh while seated on those huge rocks in Central Park.

We traveled up to Newport, Rhode Island, for the annual jazz festival. I usually don't care for jazz festivals because the atmosphere is unsuited to jazz music. The places are too big and the outdoor sound systems too blaring. I prefer small, intimate venues. But this year (1960), Newport offered a little variation that interested me. The producer of the festival, George Wein, had so many musicians to choose from that he had to leave many very interesting ones off the roster. So Charlie Mingus, being an angry activist, put together a group of artists who were left out of the big festival and called them the Newport Rebels. They performed next door to the main festival at Cliff Walk Manor. Aside from himself, his group included such important jazz personalities as Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, Ornette Coleman, Abbey Lincoln, Sonny Rollins, Allen Eager, and the great Coleman Hawkins, to name just a few. It turned out to be a small, more relaxed festival on a grassy cliff overlooking the beautiful bay. Mingus painted the signs, sold the tickets and popcorn and emceed his event, and it was wonderful. One didn't feel overwhelmed by the giant crowd and sound systems.

One hot, rainy night a riot broke out just outside the Hotel Viking, which was the official headquarters for the festival. The riot consisted mostly of drunken and bored college students raising hell. In the terribly crowded lobby of the hotel I suddenly spotted Peggy standing and looking forlorn and wet, clinging to her little overnight bag and lost in the sea of mischievous college youths. We hadn't seen each other in months. She had been living in New York City and pursuing her modeling career. During that hot summer she'd had only her winter wardrobe and not very much money. She surprised me with her sudden visit in the midst of the rain and beer-soused riot. But we were both in heaven when we saw each other. I gave her the bad news that we had to share the hotel room with Joe, as rooms were so scarce. She was near tears, but not because of that news. Rubbing her head, she told me she had been hit on the head by a bottle of beer, luckily an empty one, as she entered the hotel. So, our meeting was both divine and miserable. Later that night, tucked into our single twin bed, while Joe lay in the other one, we heard him call out in the dark: "It's okay, Peggy and Bill, I am asleep now!"

After the festival, I put Peggy on the train back to New York and continued my travels with Joe. This time we went up to Boston to visit the Berklee College of Music. The Director, Lawrence Berk, and his staff were teaching music students from all over the world to play jazz. It was such a unique place of learning. I don't think there was any school like it in the entire world teaching jazz exclusively at that time.

While we were there, Mr. Berk put together a jazz group from his classes to play for us. It consisted of students from all over the world, including Southern Rhodesia, Turkey, Canada, Yugoslavia, Hungary and of course, the U.S.A. And the group really swung. While in Boston we were interviewed by Father Norman O'Connor, known as the "Jazz Priest," on his famous Jazz with Father O'Connor television show. Gerry Mulligan was there as well, lending his musical brilliance to the show as well as his smart-alecky, bad-boy kind of charm. I'd known Father O'Connor for years; I was so drawn to him as a friend that I had asked him to marry Peggy and me. But this was not to be, for I wasn't a Catholic.

As soon as we returned to New York City, Peggy wanted to see the latest Hitchcock movie, Psycho. We caught a 10 A. M. screening at a Third Avenue movie house, and it was great. For me Psycho was an entertaining and scary diversion after traveling around the country meeting only jazz musicians. But Peggy had been living alone for months in a lonely New York apartment, and now she was afraid to take a shower. We took a few together until she felt safe enough to bathe alone.

Joe, Peggy and I spent a Sunday afternoon near the Washington Square Arch in Greenwich Village, listening to the various folk and blues singers, a few jazz players and the usual soapbox orators. It was indeed a musical cross-section of America and a very moving experience. In fact, it was a lovely way to end our journey... our jazz odyssey of 1960.”

William Claxton
Beverly Hills, California
Spring 2005

[William Claxton died in 2008]

Monday, November 28, 2016

Remembering Conrad Gozzo - 1922-1964

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

“It is certainly not everyday that a justly famous jazz trumpeter, making his solo recording debut, is given the opportunity to demonstrate such a variety of attacks, techniques and ideas as is Conrad Gozzo in the proceedings here under consideration..............................“
[Goz The Great! - Conrad Gozzo and His Orchestra - RCA LPM 1124/ CD 743221611072]
- Bill Zeitung

“Symphony trumpet players are not called on to produce the sustained evening-long power of the great lead trumpet players such as the late Conrad Gozzo, or to play the high notes routinely called for by jazz arrangers, notes once considered off the top of the instrument.”
-Gene Lees, Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman

"It was wonderful. Ralph [Burns] was arranging, and Flip [Phillips] was in the saxophone section. I always liked [trombonist] Bill Harris. Things were working out. We were doing the Wild Root show. It was a great radio show. God, Woody did a hell of a job on it. That band was the most exciting thing in the world, and more so after he got Conrad Gozzo and Pete Candoli."
- Red Norvo, vibraphonist

Conrad J. Gozzo (1922–1964) was born in New Britain, Connecticut on February 6, 1922. Gozzo was a member of the NBC Hollywood staff orchestra at the time of his death on October 8, 1964. He died at the age of 42 of a heart attack.

I got to know Goz a little when we both played in a "arranger's band" that rehearsed at the Musicians Union Hall on Vine Street in Hollywood.

Goz was one of the first musicians who helped me understand that overlaying notations from the first trumpet chair on my drum part would help me more effectively set up kicks and fills in big band arrangements. He called this giving the band more “pop and pulse.”

And speaking of “pop and pulse,” you could always tell when Goz was in a trumpet section because his juicy tone fattened-up the sound of those horns. Everything sounded fuller; even the screaming notes had a depth to them. Every phrase had a punch and was somehow made to seem rounder; each note had more texture. His sound was the personification of lead trumpet in a big band.

Although I knew that Goz was highly respected by everyone in the Hollywood studio scene, I didn’t realize at the time how significant his experience in the music was dating back to the glory years of the Swing Era.

He played with Isham Jones (1938) and Red Norvo (1940), then performed and recorded with Bob Chester (1941) and Claude Thornhill (1941-2). After working with Benny Goodman (1942) he joined the navy and played in a band led by Artie Shaw (1942-4). He rejoined Goodman in 1945, then toured and recorded with Woody Herman. Goz was the featured as a soloist on Stars Fell on Alabama, one of Woody’s earliest hits and he went on to perform with Boyd Raeburn and Ted Beneke (1947). In Los Angeles he played on Bob Crosby's radio broadcasts (1947–51).

Gozzo was highly acclaimed as a lead trumpeter and was much in demand as a studio musician; he also took part in sessions with Les Brown (1949), Jerry Gray (1949–53), Ray Anthony (1951-8), Billy May (1951–64).

Gozzo, lead trumpeter on the Glen Gray, Stan Kenton, and Harry James "remakes," and in Dan Terry's 1954 Columbia sessions, recorded extensively with arrangers Van Alexander, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Ray Conniff, Jerry Fielding and Shorty Rogers, and also with performers Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Gozzo played first trumpet on all of the recordings of composer Henry Mancini. He routinely performed on many major live television shows which were broadcast on the NBC network, including the Dinah Shore Show (1955 through 1964). Gozzo also performed on motion picture soundtracks including The Glenn Miller Story, The Benny Goodman Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Call Me Madam, Ben-Hur and Cleopatra. He also performed on the Ella Fitzgerald two-record set on Verve (Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook). Trumpeter's Prayer, was composed by Tutti Camarata for Gozzo, and Portrait of Trumpet by Sammy Nestico was written as a posthumous tribute.

Goz met Shorty Rogers when they were on Woody Herman’s band together. They became close friends. Thanks to this enduring friendship, when Shorty took over the Artists and Repertoire role for RCA’s Jazz recording on the West Coast, he gave Goz the opportunity to record an album under his own name Goz The Great! - Conrad Gozzo and His Orchestra - [RCA LPM 1124/ CD 743221611072].

Here are Bill Zeitung’s insert notes to that recording which will provide you with more insights into Goz’s special qualities as a trumpeter.

“Possessor of a pair of seemingly bottomless lungs, as well as of an embouchure which, at the least, must be fashioned of something close to cast iron, Gozzo has for a considerable period been a leading light of the West Coast, or Hollywood, school of jazz - in fact, there has hardly been a big band jazz record made in that vicinity during recent years which did not feature him on lead trumpet.

It is understandable that, with such frenzied activity, he would not have had the time -although he has always had the inclination - to record on his own. That opportunity, on the basis of these recordings, has been far too long in coming, and it now seems extremely safe to assume that in the future, in addition to Goz's sterling duties as leader of assorted brilliant brass sections, we will hear a great deal more of his stimulating work on solo horn.

Goz is by no means a newcomer to the jazz field, as a quick glance at his credentials will immediately make apparent. He spent a lengthy apprenticeship in the orchestra of Claude Thornhill and, in addition to playing with both Benny Goodman and Red Norvo, was a member of that wild Woody Herman band whose trumpet section also included Shorty Rogers, Sonny Berman, Pete Candoli and Marky Markowitz (Wow!).

And it should be remembered that in each one of these bands Goz played first horn. He is acknowledged by all and sundry to be one of the very best leads in the business but, except for a few fleeting instances, his solo capacities have never been apparent to the vast audience to which jazz has loomed larger and larger in recent years.

There is simply no parallel for Goz's bite, for his seemingly endless strength, for his zooming drive - any brass section in which he is playing is immediately recognizable, for to it he unerringly adds his own special brand of floating ease and inescapable power. In any other field of physical endeavor he would be known as a muscleman - he is certainly Goz the Great.

In the present album, Goz's horn is heard in three distinctly different settings: it is incisive and compact (and with more than a trace of Rex Stewart, especially in the plunger work) in the small band sides which feature only rhythm and an additional horn, in this instance the trombone and occasional alto of Murray McEachern; it is broad and swinging in front of the large, sixteen-piece aggregation (in one of whose selections, Remember, Goz plays all five trumpets, solo as well as section); and it is beautifully lyric in those selections to which strings have been added.

And, displaying Goz in another light, three of the small band tunes: Smooth Talker, Do That Again Daddy and Deibotch, were written by him in collaboration with Billy May, the latter of whom was also responsible for some of the arrangements.

It seems obvious, even upon first hearing, that, as Goz so readily admits, his greatest influences have been Armstrong and Berigan. Especially in the sides with strings: Black Sapphire, Come Back to Sorrento, La Rosita and In a Mellotone - there is far more than a trace of Bunny's tone and phrasing. The loose-jointed attack that characterizes Goz's work in the small and big band sides is perhaps an Armstrong heritage, but from whatever source it has been derived there is no doubt that it is now fully equipped with a personal idiom which is Goz's own.

A native of New Britain, Connecticut, and now resident in Burbank, California, Goz early began the study of the trumpet with his father - a man, by the way, who is still very much active in his profession. No doubt even his father, like the rest of us, now marvels at the inexhaustible vitality and ever-renewing strength which this trumpeter constantly demonstrates. When Goz's horn explodes it is simply because, like the principle of the steam boiler, the pressure within is entirely too great to be contained. Goz performs from what is seemingly an overflowing reservoir of force and power, but he is not content, as are others like him, merely to blow and screech - as these, his first solo records, so amply demonstrate, he also plays with enormous good taste, with a highly refined intelligence, and with a superabundance of refreshing ideas.”

Bill Zeitung

The following video montage features Goz performing the lovely ballad Black Sapphire by Earl Hagen and Herb Spencer on which the brilliance and beauty of his tone are magnificently displayed.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hod O'Brien At Blues Alley

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

These days, it’s not often that Jazz fans get to visit with a bebop piano-bass-drums trio in situ, by that I mean over a length of time in a nightclub devoted to the music.

There are many reasons for this rarity, not the least of which is the fact that there are very few practitioners of The Art of Bebop Jazz Piano still among us.

We lost another one recently with the passing of Hod O’Brien on November 21, 2016. Hod was eighty years old at the time of his death.

Although widely known and appreciated in Europe, outside of a relatively small coterie of devoted fans, Hod O’Brien, a sizzling, straight-ahead bebop pianist, has been one of the best kept secrets on the US Jazz scene for much too long.

In The Los Angeles Times, Don Heckman describes him as “a masterful bop-based improviser … his lines unfolding with an impressive blend of precision and propulsive swing. In The Montreal Mirror, Len Dobbin called him “the best bebop pianist this side of Barry Harris.” And Scott Yanow, in the L.A. Scene, wrote that Hod is the “unsung hero of Jazz … [a] master bebop pianist.”

A close listening to the three albums described in this Jazzprofiles feature which Hod and his trio of Ray Drummond on bass and Kenny Washington on drums recorded at Blues Alley in Washington, DC in July, 2004 will provide a good introduction to what the fuss is all about concerning this most impressive musician.

The context for the music released on these albums is that each represents a working set by the group, or if you will, three sets that you might have heard had you dropped by the club one night to catch the trio.

A special word should be put in about the song selection on these recordings as its rare to hear such a diversity of repertoire that ranges from Jazz originals such as Freddie Redd’s rarely played Thespian [after you listen to it you’ll understand why as it is an extremely challenging song structure upon which to improvise], Randy Weston’s Little Niles, and Sonny Rollins’ Pent-Up House, to a number of standards drawn from the Great American Songbook, to a collection of tunes by one composer – in this case, Tadd Dameron.

Since I could not improve upon them, I have included the insert notes by Pete Malinverni to describe sets one and two, and those by Hod himself to describe how and why set three came about.

Praise is also due Mark Feldman and his team at Reservoir Records for making so much of the music of this deserving artist available in recorded form.

Hod O’Brien at Blues Alley: First Set [Reservoir RSR CD 180]

“Conventional wisdom has it that the creative output of an artist more or less reflects the artist's personality. If that's the case, Hod O'Brien is a joyous and witty man, given to long explications of thought. His playing suggests that he is assertive and that his intellect is a restless one. In conversation Hod is, instead, a self-effacing, humble man who listens and processes before he speaks -good traits, to be sure, for one who works in a job where tenacious self-improvement is the prime requisite, but which traits appear, at first blush, to be at variance with the fulminating pianist heard here.

These two seemingly conflicting characters find their reconciliation in live performance, revealing themselves to be, in fact, two distinct sides of the same coin-perhaps that's what makes this recording all the more historically important.

Captured here is Hod O'Brien at his most spontaneous, free of the artificial constraints of the recording studio, and encouraged to emotional heights by the presence of a lively and supportive audience. Hod likes the "immediacy of a live date. There's nothing like it-you feel the life." One certainly can feel the life, in the risk-taking flights and surprising moments only possible before an audience.

Hod O'Brien is an artist of high order, one, surely, in firm possession of all the requisite ‘musicianly’ tools, but who employs such tools so well and so craftily as to reveal accessible, human truths. The stops and starts in his phrasing, along with his use of space and dynamics, suggest, by turns, an honest, exploratory and effusive nature.

Notice, too, Hod's brand of melodic development, his musical statements often beginning with motifs with which previous statements were concluded. His careful attention to the arrangement of each selection, which might easily go unnoticed, lends a natural pacing to the entire recital. In myriad ways, O'Brien's playing rewards the careful listener, as witness to what lends Hod's music its emotional and logical art.

A Chicago native, reared in suburban New York and Connecticut, Hod O'Brien came to New York City in the Fall of 1956 and played in many of that era's jazz clubs and lofts with the likes of Kenny Burrell, Oscar Pettiford, Gigi Gryce, J. R. Monterose, and Zoot Sims. After a six-year sojourn in the musically fecund community of Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains - home to such as Phil Woods, Bill Goodwin, Bob Dorough - he moved in 1994 with his wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian, to Charlottesville, VA, where Stephanie is adjunct professor of vocal jazz at the University of Virginia. The Northeast's loss is Charlottesville's gain, the home of Jefferson being a good fit for this gentle man of broad and erudite musical knowledge.

But he can swing, too. Listen to the ‘grooviness’ of his eighth-notes, the way he finds a hammock in Kenny Washington's crisp ride beat during his solos throughout. And he can play the blues as well, his soulfulness laid bare on Frog's Legs, the Joe Zawinul vehicle written in tribute to Ben Webster.

The selections on this recording are of the "musician's choice" variety, picked by O'Brien for their "play-ability." indeed, the first four tracks feature compositions by musicians at least as well known for their playing (and singing) careers as for their contributions as writers. Hod says he picked "interesting tunes", good songs to "blow on." And blow he does, for example, in his deft exploration of Bob Dorough's Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before. Seemingly circular in nature, the harmonic and formal framework of the tune presents a puzzle the solving of which provides some of the date's most exciting moments. Thespian, written and originally arranged for quintet by the great pianist Freddie Redd, is here reduced for piano trio with no lessening of its dramatic nature. Mel Rhyne's It's Love features a ‘Confirmation’ -like scheme that gives currency to the deep vocabulary acquired over time by these musicians while they, in turn, give the tune new breath.

The final four selections are of the "chestnut" variety, picked fresh by the trio. The joy they take in playing - and in playing together - is evident throughout, their cooperative explorations fueled, in equal parts, by skill and curiosity.

While he picked the tunes for the challenges they present the improviser, Hod hopes that his non-musician listeners will enjoy his choices, too. On this, their fourth recording together (it is the third as a trio, to go along with Hod's quintet date, OPALESSENCE) Messrs. O'Brien, Drummond and Washington embody that great tradition of jazz - unmistakable, individual voices in the service of a unified, group statement.

Ray Drummond has been doing just that for years. Always engaged and focused, "Bulldog" consistently husbands the essential, structurally supportive role of the jazz bass (Hod makes special note of Ray's "strong pulse" and "clear attack") while suggesting, in his inspired note choices, interesting and wholly individual takes on harmony. Ray is also an imposing and singularly melodic soloist, as is evident on Lullaby of the Leaves.

Kenny Washington has likewise carved a characteristic voice. "I like a drummer that complements," Hod says, and he notes Kenny's penchant for orchestration, "every time, a great fill," and says that when thinking of Kenny, the phrase "snap, crackle, and pop" comes to mind. It's true. Washington consistently contributes to every musical situation in which he takes part, with his optimistic, energetic approach, always thinking, never complacent.

So, these three - O'Brien, he of the long, searching lines, at times exploratory and at times full of twists and quirks; Drummond, providing his continually creative and strong underpinning; and Washington, with his trademark electric punctuation -combined on two evenings at Washington,  D.C.'s BLUES ALLEY. The result of those nights is two CDs[obviously, a third has been released since this writing], the first of which is in your hands. What nights they must have been.”

Pete Malinverni, New York City October, 2004

Hod O’Brien at Blues Alley: Second Set [Reservoir RSR CD 182]

“Hod O'Brien. This quiet, unassuming man makes music of far reaching import; people the world over await each new recording and attend his performances as often as they are able. Why the immense popularity of Hod O'Brien? The reasons for this phenomenon, his loyal, worldwide audience, are manifold, each person appreciating O'Brien's art from his own perspective, for his own reasons.

I'll use myself as an example.

As a pianist I marvel at Hod O'Brien's virtuosity. His single-note attack and legato phrasing and his timely and explosive use of block chords are the result of the artful blend of initial gifts with years of intense study. Consistently well articulated, each note is crafted with care and shaped lovingly to achieve maximum effect.

As an improvising musician I'm thrilled by the seemingly endless flow of O'Brien's ideas that yield melodic lines of remarkable length and complexity.

He stays with each phrase, and this tenacity allows Hod to extract every last drop of melodic truth to be found there. He chooses his collaborators well-bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Kenny Washington join again with Hod-and listens and reacts honestly, the free exchange of ideas being the hallmark of truly prepared musicians who've learned, above all, to trust.

As a jazz fan I'm gratified by the homage Hod O'Brien pays to his musical forebears, in his choice of material and in the quality of his history-deepened improvisations. He opens the present set with Sonny Rollins' Pent-Up House and likewise features the compositions of such jazz greats as Randy Weston (Little Niles), Billy Strayhorn (Snibor and Take The A Train) and Duke Ellington (In a Sentimental Mood and Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear from Me). One hears, throughout Hod's interpretations of these jazz classics as well as those of the standards included (How About You and Love Letters), many golden moments inspired by O'Brien's appreciation of those who've come before. This is what all jazz musicians are required to do. But, of course, it is the degree to which one molds one's influences to inform and buttress one's own voice that really tells the tale, and Hod O'Brien is very much his own story teller.

And, finally and perhaps most importantly, as a human being I'm moved by Hod O'Brien's optimistic world view, evident in the obvious joy Hod takes in making music. There is an unvarnished brightness in his playing that just can't be "put on". Surely there is much pianistic technique at work here, but this music is lit from within. His genial and engaging personal demeanor, caught here on the announcements made between selections, reveals the respect O'Brien has for his audience, his colleagues and the music itself.

Speaking of his audience, this particular group was fortunate to be present at the venerable Washington, DC nightspot BLUES ALLEY on the night when this, the second such live recording by Hod O'Brien's trio, was captured by the good folks at RESERVOIR MUSIC. As companion to the 2004 release, FIRST SET, this is a fitting sequel. Once again we

hear the faithful and resolute Ray "Bulldog" Drummond (listen to his tour de force performance on In a Sentimental Mood) along with the combustible and always engaged Kenny Washington (his solo on Pent-Up House is unforgettable). Together, O'Brien, Drummond and Washington give us seasoned music of intelligence, spontaneity and wit. Perhaps you and I weren't there that night, but the quality of this recording provides the next best thing.”


Hod O’Brien at Blues Alley: Third Set [Reservoir RSR CD 187]

“I'd like to preface these notes by thanking Pete Malinverni, a great jazz pianist as well as a great journalist, for doing such wonderful liner notes for my two previous LIVE AT BLUES ALLEY CDs. With all due respect to Pete, I thought it fitting to do the liner notes for this CD, and explain how the third and final set of LIVE AT BLUES ALLEY came about.

True Confessions: All the selections on this CD are ones that I initially rejected when selecting material for the first two CDs. At that time, I thought that two sets were all of what was going to be released from the Blues Alley material. In the course of the ensuing months, RESERVOIR producer, Mark Feldman mentioned several times that there was enough material in the can for another CD. I kept refusing because I didn't think that it was good enough, but he finally persuaded me to give a listen.

To my surprise, I found the music to be highly inspired in spite of several instances of flubbed notes, and flawed phrases. There is an overall sense of excitement which pervades throughout these performances, most particularly in Double Talk and Our Delight. There is one spot in the middle of an open piano alone segment in my solo in Our Delight where the time feel is impaired due to a momentary slip of the wrist. I remember thinking at the time I played it, "Well, I'm not going to be putting this one out." But on reconsideration two years later, I felt that the entire performance really held up, and was worth hearing. From the reaction of the audience, it seems that they felt the same way.

The Squirrel has a pretty strong story line going in it, and It Could Happen To You, and On A Misty Night have nice laid back feels to them which warrant their being heard too. The ballads, though far from exquisite have merit as well. They bounce along in the solos with unyielding momentum, never causing one to be bored or impatient. Dameronia is a rarely heard, up-tempo tune, and one of my favorites of Tadd's.

So, having had this reaction, I decided that it was a good idea to give Mark the go ahead to release a THIRD SET, and I hope that you will agree when you listen to it.

I'd like to thank Ray Drummond and Kenny Washington for what is clearly a vitally significant contribution to this music. It wouldn't have the excitement and energy if it were not for them. They have been with me on five recording projects, and are my rhythm section of choice. Thanks also to Jim Anderson and Allan Tucker for their expertise involved in all of the aspects of recording and mastering, and thanks to Mark Feldman for prodding me into listening again, and for releasing this CD.

Finally, thanks to my fans in the audience for their encouraging support, and enthusiastic responses, which are as integral to this recording as the music itself, and the biggest thank you to my wife Stephanie for spurring them on with her frequent whistles, and for all of the emotional support that she gave me throughout this grueling two nights (and days) session.”

Hod O'Brien

The following Art of Jazz Piano video montage features Hod, Ray and Kenny performing Freddie Redd’s Thespian as the audio track.