Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Bill Perkins - "A Kind of Comet"

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

"Nobody could have been luckier" than to play with Herman and Kenton, Perkins told the Los Angeles Times."Though they were both very different, they were both forward-looking and never told you how to play. Stan especially gave me a “feeling of worth" -- a sense that "being a jazz musician was something of great value."

Here’s another “early-in-their-career” posting drawn from the same February 1956 edition of Metronome magazine as the recent “Bud Shank - Burning Brighter” feature. Not sure of the reason for the celestial references in the titles of these two pieces as Sputnik and the great space race wasn’t launched until the fall of 1957.

1956 was the year of my first exposure to tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins and it came in the form of his hauntingly beautiful saxophone solo on Bill Holman’s arrangement of Yesterdays on Stan Kenton’s Capitol LP Contemporary Concepts.

That LP also serves up alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano’s masterful solo interpretation of Stella By Starlight, another Holman arrangement.

Ironically, neither Bill nor Charlie cared much for their solos on these cuts, for as Michael Spake, the distinguished Kenton scholar, explains in his insert notes to the CD version:

“The solo pieces came along later, and because of a lack of rehearsal time, neither Mariano nor Perkins were satisfied with their recorded solos, both of which have come to be regarded as masterpieces of invention. …

"Yesterdays" is a dazzling mood piece, deep and brooding, with well-paced brass climaxes. According to Holman: "I wrote 'Yesterdays' with Perk in mind. I'd known him for several years, and I knew his playing. It was a good period for me." Perkins elaborates: "A lot of the music came in during the week we recorded, so it was cold. I mean, the first time I played 'Yesterdays' was on the record session, and I was totally befuddled by it - I was very unhappy with the way I played. But that record has done more for me than any other, so maybe people like it because I was just going on my instincts alone.

The secret of Bill's success is taste and voice-leading, but in addition 'Yesterdays' has the Holman mystique, the darkness, because Bill's personality is on the dark side - he's not the smilingest person." (Something reflected, perhaps, in Perk's own playing).”

Those of us who find Bill's solo on "Yesterdays" a classic may take comfort from [trombonist] Don Reed: "Whenever Perk got up to play, I listened, because I knew something creative and interesting was going to come out. And all the time I was on the band, I don't think I ever heard Bill play 'Yesterdays' the same way twice, and we played it every night, but none was as good as the original recording, in my opinion."

Here’s Burt  Korall’s piece on the ascendant years of Bill Perkins’ career at the conclusion of which you’ll find a video of Bill performing Yesterdays from the Kenton Contemporary Concepts album.

“Up until 1947, Bill Perkins had never planned on being anything but an engineer, and the idea had gotten as far as a few years in that course of study at Stanford University in California, where he was born. However, at this juncture in his life, the attraction for music in general, and jazz in particular, assumed grand proportions, and engineering with all its obvious long-term security was left behind for full expansion of time and mental resources on the less reliable, but more gratifying life of a jazz musician.

To sway a little from our course for a moment, it is essential to interject that this sort of move at the age of twenty-four took conviction and belief in himself, for the life of the itinerant jazz musician is not all it is painted in motion pictures and novels. The road gets mighty tortuous both on the road to the top, and on Greyhound buses between dates. The closeness of the unemployment office (two weeks notice away) plus the distance from warm, familiar surroundings becomes more than a passing thought after the glamor of the first couple of tours has worn the seat of your pants and patience thin.

For Bill, the step was taken with no reservations, and it was in his hands to prove that his course of endeavor was not mere whim or passing fancy. The formative stages were usual, but were approached with an intensity of concentration equal to making up for the lateness of his decision. (The factor of age is still a thorn in his side, for so many musicians start cutting their way through the forest at a very tender age.) He quickly acquainted himself with the main streams of influence in his field, and picked his point on the compass . . . toward individual modernity through the Lester Young School.

Development and native talent permitted him to join the Woody Herman band a few short years ago, and continual contact with other thinking musicians proved a definite incentive and catalyst for more pronounced expansion in outlook, and growth in individual self-expression. It was brought out in our pleasant get-together that association with serious minded musicians and the inspirational environment of a blowing band are indispensable spurs to this particular musician's ambition. Unlike some musicians who find peace and progress in a temporary respite from the scene, Perkins feels it can only serve to impede his development. (He has tried it, and has found it to affect him badly.) This closeness to the people who make progress in our music and thankfulness for same, was reiterated in our conversation with a special nod to a mutual favorite, altoist Davey Schildkraut, who gave much needed help and encouragement when Bill first joined the Kenton band. Happy words of admiration for many musicians permeated our talk, with unwarranted qualifications of his own talent. This very awareness of the value of others, in combination with a rare definition of purpose, are primary reasons for the great strides he has made in the last year.

A long low bow of admiration goes in the direction of the enigma for modem tenor players, Lester Young. Bill's reverence for Pres was brought to the conversational forefront when we returned to the hotel to revel in the recorded sound that was Pres at the peak of his powers. While these old Basic records were telling their story, Bill expressed his desire to be worthy of hearing them. For him, any sacrificing of time and energy would be worth the sacrificing for one night's approximation of Lester's consummate beauty of sound and idea. We shared the opinion that initial discovery of Pres for any interested person, is probably one of the most fortunate moments of jazz listening.

My first awareness of the existence and possible importance of Bill Perkins, one of Lester's most devoted disciples, came with a few airshots of the Herman band from the Hotel Statler about three years ago. This, in addition to some favorable comment about him from critic Ralph Gleason in Down Beat. It was not until the Ken ton orchestra came to town last June that I was permitted opportunity to hear Bill at length. At that time, my reaction was a forceful one, but rehearing him this trip convinced me that more people should be made aware of this musician. His shiny tenor vibrates with rhythmic vitality, and his is a playing of definitive fluency on selections of any temper or tempo.

Of course, time will give his individuality a chance for real completeness, but his position is already a strong one.”
—Burt  Korall

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