Friday, September 8, 2017

Art Farmer, Benny Golson and The Jazztet

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

“It's amazing when you think back about how many great musicians were working together then. You need a little mileage to see how good it was."

While reading the above statement by tenor saxophonist, composer, arranger Benny Golson in Bob Blumenthal’s notes to the booklet that accompanies The Complete Argo/Mercury Art Farmer/Benny Golson/Jazztet Sessions  [Mosaic MD7-225], it brought to mind the seemingly endless recombinations of musicians into combos that populated the New York Jazz scene in the 1950’s and 60’s.

One of my favorite combos from this era was the Jazztet. The group’s music was particularly appealing to me because it was made in the form of a sextet that added a trombone bass clef to the usual treble clef, front line of trumpet and tenor saxophone and because as Gene Lees noted in his 1960 essay for Downbeat about the Jazztet’s music:" [it offered] a balanced amalgam of formal written structure and free blowing — the long-sought Grail of jazz."

More about the Jazztet’s personnel, how the group came about and its uniqueness is contained in the following excerpts from Bob Blumenthal’s insert notes to the seven-disc Mosaic Records set which Bob has graciously allowed us to feature on these pages.

One of the musicians who seemed to be “everywhere” on the New York Jazz scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s was pianist Cedar Walton who before joining the Jazztet was with trombonist J.J. Johnson sextet. After his stint with the Jazztet, Cedar joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Not a bad five years of work. Cedar has always been one of my favorite Jazz pianists and he is featured performing Randy Weston’s Hi-Fly on the Jazztet video that closes this piece.

© -Bob Blumenthal, copyright protected, all rights reserved and used with the author’s permission.

“The three years of music in this collection represent one peak in two exceptional jazz careers. Art Farmer (August 21, 1928—October 4, 1999) enjoyed, and Benny Golson (horn January 29, 1929) still enjoys, varied and lengthy lives as musicians, with several triumphs as soloists and, in Golson's case, composer/arranger. As a team, they left a recorded trail of their collaborations that spans four decades, yet the pinnacle of that association was clearly the sextet they co-led under the name the Jazztet. While Farmer, Golson and original member Curtis Fuller revived the group 20 years after it had initially disbanded, the six original Jazztet albums included here remain at the core of the Farmer/Golson legacy.

Farmer and Golson hardly set their individual development aside during the time of their partnership. As the six additional sessions here underscore, they were making great strides as soloists — Farmer, in his shift from trumpet to flugelhorn, and Golson through a stretch of stylistic soul-searching that (his compelling performances here notwithstanding) ultimately led him to set aside the saxophone. Yet, as with many successful partnerships, the Jazztet experience allowed them to reach beyond individual glory in search of a collective goal that Gene Lees described in a 1960 Down Beat cover story as "a balanced amalgam of formal written structure and free blowing — the long-sought Grail of jazz." The band's failure to achieve sustained commercial success says much about how the jazz world revised this notion of balance as an ultimate goal during the years in question.

A soft-spoken style combined with equally determined personalities and a wealth of similar experience made Farmer and Golson natural partners. Farmer was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa and raised in Arizona. By the time he was 16, he and his twin brother, bassist Addison Farmer, were living in Los Angeles and part of a youthful coterie (also including Sonny Criss, Teddy Edwards and Hampton Hawes) that eagerly greeted the West Coast arrival of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in 1945. Work with the rhythm and blues band of Johnny Otis brought Farmer to New York, where he remained for a couple of years before returning to California for work with such modernists as Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray. A seat in Lionel Hampton's trumpet section brought Farmer back Fast in 1953. Golson, a Philadelphia native who came of age with fellow saxophonists Jimmy Heath and John Coltrane, attended Howard University for two-and-a-half years, and then traveled with various rock and roll bands before landing a job in Atlantic City with Tadd Dameron during the summer of 1953.

"My relationship with Art goes back to 1953," Golson recalled recently. "What happened was that Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Cecil Payne, Jymie Merritt, Philly Joe Jones and I were all working with Tadd, while Quincy Jones, Monk Montgomery. Alan Dawson and Art were already in Hamp's band. Quincy heard Tadd's group one night then went back and told Hamp about Clifford, Gigi and me. I would have left for that European tour that Clifford and Gigi made, but Tadd's manager made me stay so that I could tutor all of the new guys they had to bring in. I did end up in the Hampton band myself for a hot minute, although I didn't last long because Hamp and I couldn't come to terms financially. It's amazing when you think back about how many great musicians were working together then. You need a little mileage to see how good it was."

For the next few years after their Hampton experience, Farmer and Golson followed distinct yet related paths. Farmer began recording under his own name for Prestige in 1953 (an affiliation that would last three years), then
issued albums on ABC-Paramount and Contemporary; but with the exception of a few months in 1955 during which he co-led a quintet with Gryce in 1955, the trumpeter spent most of this period working as a sideman, primarily with Horace Silver and Gerry Mulligan. In addition, because Farmer was excellent as both a reader and an improviser, he became one of the most active personalities in what were still the thriving New York City recording studios. Golson made his mark as well, primarily through his writing skills. James Moody was the first to record Golson's music in 1955, and Miles Davis helped make STABLEMATES Golson's first jazz standard in that same year; but Golson's big break came when he joined Dizzy Gillespie's reorganized big band in 1956. The stint with Gillespie helped to popularize other Golson classics such as WHISPER NOT and I REMEMBER CLIFFORD, and finally brought about his recording debut as a leader on Contemporary in 1957 — BENNY GOLSON'S NEW YORK SCENE, with Farmer featured on trumpet. A year later, in a brief stint as musical director of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Golson was the primary force behind the popular Blakey recording that included Bobby Timmons' MOANIN' as well as three of Golson's own compositions. When Golson left Blakey after a European tour at the end of 1958, he got together with trombonist Curtis Fuller. "Curtis and I went into the Five Spot for two weeks, and stayed for months after that," Golson explains. It was during this period that the pair recorded four albums together under Golson's name for Riverside and Prestige/ New Jazz and three under Fuller's for Savoy. One of the latter, ARABIA, was issued under the name of the Curtis Fuller Jazztet.

At the same time, Farmer and Golson were solidifying the relationship they had inaugurated in the Hampton band six years earlier. "Art and I were thrown into each other's company in the New York studios, on albums like George Russell's NEW YORK, N.Y., and I just loved how he played," the saxophonist recalls. Oscar Pettiford, Jimmy Cleveland, Abbey Lincoln and Milt Jackson also found occasion to employ the trumpeter and tenorman on the same record dates. By the end of 1958 both Golson and Farmer were recording for the United Artists label. Golson appeared on Farmer's quintet album MODERN ART and contributed two compositions as well as all of the arrangements for the trumpeter's tentet album BRASS SHOUT. "I was interested in forming a sextet at the time," Golson says. "There were so many quintets around, and I wanted to hear one more voice in the band. When I called Art with the idea, he just started laughing, because he was ready to leave Gerry Mulligan and had been about to call me to be the tenor saxophonist in his new sextet."

The pair came up with a straightforward solution lor completing the bund. "We decided to each pick two ol the other sidemen," Golson explains. "Art picked his brother Addison as the bassist and drummer Dave Bailey, who had also been in the Mulligan quartet. I wanted Curtis as the trombonist, and this 19-year-old pianist I had worked a job with in Philadelphia named McCoy Tyner. Art had to be persuaded about McCoy because he had never heard him — not many people had at that point — but it was my choice and he ultimately went along."

Kay Norton, an executive with the United Artists label who would take producer or co-producer credit for the majority of the albums in this collection, became the manager of the new band. An official debut gig was obtained at New York's Five Spot in November 1959, on the bill that introduced the Ornette Coleman quartet to the East Coast. All that was lacking was a name for the new ensemble. "Art and I couldn't come up with anything," Golson laughs, "and we finally asked Curtis Fuller if we could use 'Jazztet,' which he had coined for one of our Savoy sessions. So while the Jazztet was always Art's and my band, it was Curtis' name."”

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