Friday, February 3, 2017

Joyriding with Stanley, Oliver and Herbie

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

“The late tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine (1934-2000) was a tough musician to pin down stylistically. His playing had a timeless quality when he first established himself as a recording artist in 1960, and that timelessness marked every note he played in the ensuing four decades. Harmonically and rhythmically he was clearly of his era; yet the size of his sound and the passionate directness of his ideas were identified with the more classic tenor stylists who established themselves before bebop took hold. The end result was a personal concept that combined swagger and sultriness, and left Turrentine captive to no particular school.”
- Bob Blumenthal, Jazz writer, critic and Grammy Winner

“Turrentine’s bluesy soul-Jazz enjoyed considerable commercial success in the 1960’s and after. His forte was a mid-tempo blues, often in minor keys, played with a vibrato as big as his grin.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

Joyride [Blue Note CDP 7 46100 2]marked an auspicious turning point in the career of Stanley Turrentine: his first record date backed by a fine, funky, swinging big band propitiously arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson.

Nelson’s writing is so skillful that the big band texture of the music never loses any of the relaxed spontaneity made possible by the intimacy of Turrentine’s usual small group settings.

Oliver is a master of scoring a canonic interplay between brass and reeds that serves, along with a sterling rhythm section made up of Kenny Burrell on guitar, Herbie Hancock on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Grady Tate on drums, to boot Stanley’s solos along while generating an atmosphere of gaiety and lightness. Listening to the music does make you feel like you are at a party, one that’s full of frivolity and glee. The title of the album is reflected in the sound of the music on it.

At the time of this recording, drummer Grady Tate was rapidly becoming one of the best all-round drummers on the New York scene. He has a supple, swinging beat, good taste, superior craftsmanship, and excellent ears, and he knows what the situation requires — be it trio or big-band work, he plays for the group.

And Herbie Hancock was making studio dates as a sideman on a large number of recording dates during this period. Be it for Jean “Toots” Thielemans, Paul Desmond or for Stanley, he seemed to be everywhere before launching a career that would make him an icon of Jazz-Rock fusion. Checkout his masterful solo on the Kettle of Fish track on the video montage at the close of this piece.

Here’s what the distinguished Jazz author and critic Leonard Feather had to say about the LP in the liner notes to the recording.

“Not too many years had passed — five, to be exact — since we heard the first of what turned out to be a long and rewarding series of small-combo albums under Turrentine's leadership. But in the interim he has acquired so many more devoted followers that the impact of that original session was comparatively small. In view of this, perhaps a brief recapitulation of the basic facts of Stanley's career is called for.

He was born April 5, 1934. in Pittsburgh. His first music teacher was another saxophonist by the name of Turrentine, first name Thomas. This of course was Stanley's father, who in the late 1930s played for a while with the Savoy Sultans, the same band that featured as its bassist the father of Grachan Moncur III.

As some traits of his current performances might lead you to suspect. Stanley has had some gutty rhythm and blues training; in fact, in his first professional job he played alongside Ray Charles in the Lowell Fulson band. This was in 1951. when Stanley was fresh out of high school.

His other credits include a stint with the late Tadd Dameron in Cleveland in 1953-4 (with brother Tommy Turrentine Jr. on trumpet); Earl Bostic's band; Uncle Sam's All Stars (more specifically, the 158th Army Band); and then, soon after his return to civilian life, the gig that proved decisive in launching him on the jazz scene: a year with the Max Roach combo, which took him on to New York, record dates, and the present status level of respect and admiration in which he is held by fellow musicians.

In his years with Blue Note, Stanley has been heard in a rich variety of settings: with the Three Sounds, with Les McCann, with Mrs. Turrentine (Shirley Scott) at the organ, and with a fine rhythm section (Horace Parlan, George Tucker and Al Harewood) that provided his backing on several of the early albums.

The big band context, it seems to me, was the next logical move. Glance through the pages of jazz history and you will find that sooner or later (more often sooner) all the truly important tenor men used a large ensemble as the resilient cushion for their horns. Coleman Hawkins came out of the Fletcher Henderson band, Lester Young out of Count Basie's; Ben Webster and Don Byas, traces of whom can still be discerned in the Turrentine style, had years of big band experience to their credit.

The use of a big accompanying group, far from burying the artist on center stage or inhibiting the chances for swinging, tends to provide him with a stimulus because of the richer range of tone color, the contrasts in volume and the diversity of moods that can be achieved. And to give these qualities the broadest possible dimensions there could hardly have been a more suitable candidate for the position of arranger-conductor than Oliver Nelson.

"Oliver was a wonderful choice to work on this album with me," says Stanley. "I've known him personally for just a couple of years, but I knew of him by reputation, and from his records, for quite a while before that.

"What makes him valuable, among other things, is his consistency. He does a lot of recording, but whoever he happens to be dealing with, you can tell that he has figured out each individual's personal groove, and has written accordingly.
That s what he did for me, and I couldn't have been happier with the arrangements. He did a superb job."

A few background details may be in order at this point. Nelson is about the same age as Stanley and, like him. is both a saxophonist and a composer. Born in St. Louis June 4, 1932, of a musical family, he began studying the saxophone at the age of eleven after five years of piano. He started out professionally very young, playing in the Jeter Pillars band at 15 and the George Hudson band at 16.
He was in New York in 1950 as a member of the big band led for a while by

Louis Jordan, and it was then that I recall first meeting him, though there was to be a very long gap until the next encounter. After a couple of years in the Marines with the Third Division band, he studied extensively in the areas of classical music, composition and theory at Washington University from 1954-7 and Lincoln U. from 1957-8.

Nelson's background is extraordinary. In addition to working with the bands listed above, and with others led by Erskine Hawkins, Louis Bellson et al., he has held a number of jobs outside music. When things weren't quite as active as they are today, he ran a street car and drove a bus in St. Louis. If they ever get tough again, he can take a job in the fields of taxidermy and embalming, in both of which he is reported to be an expert; but somehow, especially after listening to these sides, I doubt seriously that the necessity will ever arise.

In recent years, though still playing saxophone from time to time. Nelson has earned a reputation in New York as a skilled creator of polychromatic settings for a number of leading soloists and singers.

One important point should be stressed in an evaluation of the setting that Nelson provided here for Stanley Turrentine. It is not a "pick-up band" in the accepted sense of the term. Nelson has worked so much with a big band in the past year or two — in the recording studios and occasionally in person—that he has a regular group of men on whom he calls for all his dates. Most of the brass and reed men, as well as the rhythm section members, have worked together in previous Nelson-conducted albums. (It is interesting to note that coincidentally almost all the brass men worked with the Basie band at one time or another, and almost all the saxophonists are Benny Goodman alumni.)

In writing his charts for this orchestra, Nelson did an attractive and sensitive job of carrying out Blue Note's objective — namely, to provide Turrentine with a basically simple and funky background, neither too "commercial" nor too self-consciously sophisticated.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.