Saturday, October 29, 2022

Theodore "Fats" Navarro: 1923-1950 - A Career Retrospective

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

“Fats was a spectacular musician because, in a time when cats arrived on the scene with nothing, he came on with everything: he could read, he could play high and hold anybody's first trumpet chair, he could play those singing, melodic solos with a big beautiful sound nobody could believe at the time, and he could fly in fast tempos with staccato, biting notes and execute whatever he wanted, with apparently no strain, everything clear. And every note meant something. You know there are those kinds of guys who just play a lot of notes, some good, some bad. Fats wasn't one of those: he made his music be about each note having a place and a reason. And he had so much warmth, so much feeling. That's why I say he had everything.”
- Roy Haynes, drummer and bandleader

Fats Navarro was dead before the LP era began, officially as a result of latent tuberculosis, although the disease was abetted by heroin addiction, the real cause of his decline. His recorded legacy came entirely from the days of 78 rpm releases, and from a variety of preserved broadcasts which make up around a third of the surviving recordings on which he is heard. Even from that limited source, however, there has emerged a general consensus among musicians, critics and listeners that the trumpeter stood alongside Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis as the most significant performer on that instrument in early bebop.

Born Theodore Navarro of mixed black, Chinese and Cuban descent in Key West, Florida, on 24 September 1923, he played both piano and tenor saxophone as a youth but by the age of seventeen he was already touring in dance bands as a trumpeter. One such band dropped him off in Ohio in 1941, where he studied briefly before hooking up with the respected Indianapolis-based territory band led by Snookum Russell. In 1943, he joined Andy Kirk's nationally-known outfit, where he partnered Howard McGhee in the trumpet section, but his big breakthrough to prominence came in 1945, when singer Billy Eckstine brought him into his historically crucial bebop-inspired big band as principal trumpet, replacing Dizzy Gillespie, who left to form his own unit.

Dizzy took Eckstine along to hear Navarro (who was variously known as Fats, Fat Boy or Fat Girl, from his high voice and effeminate manner as well as his girth) play with Kirk's band, and it didn't take long for the singer to make up his mind. As he recalled later for Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff's oral history of jazz, Hear Me Talkin to Ya, he “...  went with Dizzy to the club where the band were playing, and the only thing Fats had to blow (because Howard McGhee was the featured trumpet player) was behind a chorus number. But he was wailing behind this number, and I said to myself, 'This is good enough; this'll fit.'

So I got Fats to come by and talk it over, and about two weeks after that he took Dizzy's chair, and take it from me, he came right in. Fats came in the band, and great as Diz is - and I'll never say anything other than that he is one of the finest things that ever happened to a brass instrument - Fats played his book and you would hardly know that Diz had left the band. 'Fat Girl' played Dizzy's solos, not note-for-note, but his ideas on Dizzy's parts, and the feeling was the same and there was just as much swing.”

He joined the band in January 1945, and remained with Eckstine until the autumn of 1946, when the punishing touring schedule proved too much for his already failing health. In addition, he was chafing against the restrictions of the big-band format, which he felt allowed him insufficient opportunity to develop musically. The remainder of his all-too-brief career - he died on 7 July 1950 - was spent as a freelance musician, and was given over to working with a variety of small bop groups in New York, mostly at the behest of other leaders. In that time, he left a legacy of around 150 recorded sides (including airshots) of remarkably consistent quality, a curtailed body of work which is nonetheless one of the most significant in jazz. His future employers would include swing-era giants like Coleman Hawkins and Benny Goodman, and such leaders of the bebop movement as Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke and Dexter Gordon and other important figures like Illinois Jacquet and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis. He cut an important co-led session with Howard McGhee in 1948, but his most significant partnership was the one he forged with pianist and arranger Tadd Dameron.

The earliest of his post-Eckstine small-group sessions came under the leadership of drummer Kenny Clarke, in a band which also featured a second trumpeter, the very youthful Kinny Dorham (later known as Kenny). Clarke had been the drummer most associated with the initial development of the bebop style, and if Max Roach and Art Blakey were to make even more important contributions, both would acknowledge Clarke's lead in the evolution of the form. The band cut two sessions, the first on 5 September 1946, as Kenny Clarke and His 52nd Street Boys, and the other as The Be Bop Boys the following day.

Gil Fuller, best known for his work with the Dizzy Gillespie big band, was included as arranger on both sessions, working with nine and eight-piece bands respectively, and his influence is clearly apparent in the well-groomed charts. The solo honours go to Navarro and pianist Bud Powell, and both are heard at greater length than usual on the second set of four tunes, recorded at double length for release over two sides of a 78 rpm disc.

Unfortunately, the original acetates have never been found, which means the re-mastered versions now available also have to preserve the fade in the middle, made to accommodate the change of side. 'Fat Boy' is dominated by a lengthy saxophone chase, but its nickname-sake gets in a spicy solo before the scramble begins. He is heard to even better advantage on 'Everything's Cool' and 'Webb City', where he and the pianist are allocated more generous space. These two could usually fire each other's playing, although it was often achieved in adversarial fashion in a relationship which had its dark side, as Leonard Feather's famous account in the sleeve note for The Fabulous Fats Navarro (Blue Note) will confirm.

“I remember one night during a jam session I was running at the Three Deuces on 52nd Street for which I had booked both Fats and Bud Powell, the tension between the two was aggravated as Bud chided Fats between sets. At the beginning of the next set Fats reached the bursting point. While the audience looked on in silent, terrified tension, he lifted his horn and tried to bring the full weight of it crashing down on Bud's hands. He missed, thank God, but the strength in the blow was enough to buckle the horn against the piano; Fats had to borrow a trumpet to play the set.”

That doesn't sound like the Fats described by Dizzy: 'He was sweet. He was like a little baby. Very nice.' Or by Tadd Dameron: 'He was pretty quiet, soulful, sensitive. He never found himself, really. He was always searching. I don't know what he was looking for - he had it!' The incident is testimony, perhaps, to how difficult and provocative a partner Powell could be, but Feather ends the story by pointing out that the incident failed to affect the close friendship and mutual admiration between Bud and Fats'.

Even in these early recordings, it is possible to hear how mature a stylist he had become by the mid-1940s. In an interview with Barry Ulanov for Metronome in 1947 he claimed to be uncomfortable with describing his music as bebop, a term he disliked, but set out both his artistic creed and affiliation: 'It's just modern music. It needs to be explained right. What they call bebop is really a series of chord progressions. None of us play this bebop the way we want to, yet. I'd like to just play a perfect melody of my own, all the chord progressions right, the melody original and fresh - my own.' Interestingly, his definition foregrounds melody and harmony rather than rhythm, and that is clearly reflected in his playing. Although he spiced up his work with a sprinkling of accents borrowed from the examples of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, in general he takes something of a conservative approach to rhythmic accentuation, flowing easily and smoothly along the beat at any tempo.

Navarro was back in the studios again before the end of 1946 but the eight sides he cut with Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis and His Beboppers in December are less impressive overall. At this stage, Davis was a hard-blowing, stereotypical middle-rank tenorman steeped in the honking Harlem jump-band tradition, and his riff-based compositions (all eight titles are credited to him, most of them built on the 'I Got Rhythm' changes) are functional rather than memorable. A solid rhythm section led by pianist Al Haig helps the sessions swing in meaty fashion, but their continuing musical interest lies in Navarro's contributions. Those are every bit as cogent and well-focused as his work elsewhere, both in the ensembles (employing both a cup-mute and the open horn) and when featured as a soloist - 'Stealin' Trash' and 'Red Pepper' offer typically sure-footed examples.

Coleman Hawkins made a very different tenor partner that same month. The saxophonist was intrigued by the new generation of beboppers, and Fats is heard on two selections from a session which also featured J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, and a rhythm section of Hank Jones, Curly Russell and Max Roach. The diverse musical influences meet in a half-way house between swing and bop, territory in which the trumpeter is entirely at home. He is heard in crisp, idiomatic fettle in the ensemble on “I Mean You', and takes a brief, punchy solo on 'Bean and the Boys'.

In January of 1947 he cut a rare session under his own name for Savoy, as Fats Navarro and His Thin Men. It marked the beginning of what was to be the most fruitful of his musical partnerships, with pianist and arranger Tadd Dameron. The band also featured Leo Parker on baritone saxophone rather than the standard alto or tenor, providing a conspicuous contrast of styles as well as sonority in the front line. Gene Ramey on bass and Denzil Best on drums completed the quintet which cut four tunes in the session.

If Navarro profited from the association with Tadd Dameron, so did the pianist. Dameron was born in Cleveland on 21 February 1917 (he died in 1965), and had cut his teeth on writing arrangements for a number of big bands - Dizzy Gillespie would give the premiere of his large-scale composition 'Soulphony' at Carnegie Hall the following year. Navarro was Dameron's most productive collaborator in a rather stop-start career fragmented not only by the struggle to maintain a band for any sustained period of musical development, but also by a spell in prison for drug offences from 1958.

Dameron is not a virtuoso soloist in the Powell manner. He played what is sometimes dismissively described as 'arranger's piano', concentrating his attentions on developing the harmonic form and structure of the composition. He was always primarily concerned with arranging and, increasingly, composition. Fontainebleau recorded for Prestige in 1956 may be the peak of his achievement, and one of the most successful through-composed jazz works ever written. In another 1947 interview with Barry Ulanov, also for Metronome, Dameron stressed his preoccupation with a beautiful sound  - 'There's enough ugliness in the world. I'm interested in beauty' - and the importance of personal expression, both of which he found in profusion in Navarro's playing. These qualities - always allied with a surely developed sense of overall form and attention to harmonic structure - are what lifts the whole session out of the casual blowing ethos of much of the earlier small-group material featuring the trumpeter. It was a more refined approach that was much to his liking, given his own palpable concern with the clear articulation of form within his solos. He played with a sweetness and richness of tone unmatched by any of the other bop trumpeters, and was less reliant than Gillespie and his imitators on sheer speed or dramatic flourishes of sustained high-register playing, although entirely capable of brilliantly effective use of either in building and releasing tension within a solo.

Navarro's burnished tone and his liking for carefully shaped melodic lines perhaps owe something to his admiration for swing-era players like his third cousin, Charlie Shavers, or Freddie Webster, who was also an acknowledged influence on the early development of Miles Davis. It came allied to a technical mastery of the horn which allowed him to cope with the furious tempos of bebop without ever losing his sense of poised equilibrium. His lyrical sensibility found a fine foil in Dameron, as is already clear even at this early stage.

Fats follows Parker in the solo rotation on all four tracks, and produces something engagingly different on each occasion. On ‘Fat Girl', he switches from muted horn in the introduction and ensemble chorus to deliver a delightfully relaxed, gracefully executed solo on open horn. His fleet, sharp-edged contribution to the Indiana'-based 'Ice Freezes Red’ is outdone for speed by his flying but fully controlled whirl through 'Goin' to Minton’s’ and 'Eb-Pob' allows him to show off his high-note chops at a more moderate tempo in a solo which follows a beautifully sculpted line of mounting tension, mid-way climax and gradual release. Dameron guides and prompts under all of the horn action, in what is the beginning of a beautiful (if often troubled) friendship, and takes a proficient but unambitious chorus on 'Eb-Pob', a blues with an added bridge and a title which is an anagram of bebop.

Navarro may have been an amiable, sensitive guy, but he developed the junkie's sly cunning as well. Dameron recalls a sequence of resignations from the band, followed by a return at a slightly higher salary each time as the trumpeter played on the leader's high regard for his work and his prowess scared off potential replacements. In Jazz Masters of the 40s, Ira Gitler reports Dameron's recollection that “I used to try to get other fellows to play with me, and they'd say, ‘Oh, is Fats in the band? Oh, no!’ It got to the point where I had to pay him so much money that I told him he should go out on his own. I said, "Once you start making this kind of money, you need to be a leader yourself." But he didn't want to quit. He didn't have security because of his habits.' Eventually, and inevitably, given that Dameron was never either notably overburdened with work or pulling down top dollar, Navarro priced himself out of the band altogether.

The trumpeter cut a second session under his own name for Savoy later in 1947, this time with Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone and a Dameron-led rhythm trio with Nelson Boyd (bass) and Art Blakey (drums). The session, recorded on 5 December, yielded a fine example of his style at a more deliberate tempo and gentler mood in 'Nostalgia', built on the chord progression of the standard 'Out Of Nowhere'. (Oddly, the trumpeter's studio legacy includes no ballads, although his style seems well suited to that form.)

Fats plays sweetly lyrical solos on both takes, using a muted horn; the construction of both solos is very similar, suggesting that his melodic conception for any given tune was firmly fixed in his mind when he came to commit his thoughts to the recording process. That view is partially borne out by other alternate takes, both from this session and elsewhere, in that while they reveal an acute attention to telling shifts of detail, they do not possess the kind of radical take-to-take revisions evident in Charlie Parker's legendary alternates. That consistency has led some to wonder whether the trumpeter may actually have pre-planned his improvisations before going into the studio. It seems more likely, however, that they simply indicate a firm grasp of what he wanted to produce on any given melody and progression, and perhaps provide further evidence of his concern with finding the right form and structure for the specific context in which he was playing.

Sandwiched in between his own Savoy sessions, Navarro recorded two others in 1947 in which Dameron led the band, the first for Blue Note on 26 September, and the second for Savoy on 28 October. The Blue Note recording featured the core of the band which played on Navarro's subsequent December date for Savoy discussed above, with Ernie Henry added on alto saxophone and Shadow Wilson in for Blakey in the drum seat, and will be considered shortly, along with the subsequent Blue Note sessions of 1948-49. Dameron's writing on tunes like ‘A Bebop Carol' (based on 'Mean to Me') and the amiable stroll of 'The Tadd Walk' for the Savoy session is typically sophisticated, while the trumpeter is in fine form in his contributions to the set, which also featured vocalist Kay Penton on two tunes.

Shortly after this session, Navarro cut a date under the leadership of tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, also for Savoy, with another Dameron-led rhythm section featuring Nelson Boyd (bass) and Art Madigan (drums). Navarro is heard on three of the four tunes they laid down and makes notable solo contributions to 'Dextrose', where his tone and sinuous line is characteristically lovely, and 'Index', where he opens his solo with a breath-catching extended, unbroken phrase which is a model of controlled technique and creativity.

An intriguing broadcast from this period brings the trumpeter together with Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano, in unusual circumstances. Barry Ulanov had organised a battle of the bands, split along traditional versus modernist lines, for a radio shoot-out in September 1947. Listeners were asked to vote and the victorious modernists invited to return to the studios on 8 November. The original line-up had featured Dizzy Gillespie, but for the celebration broadcast Navarro was in the trumpet chair (with his regular partner in the Dameron band, Allen Eager, on tenor saxophone). His feature, 'Fats Flats', based on his own 'Barry's Bop', based in turn on 'What Is This Thing Called Love?', is a beautifully poised piece of bop trumpet work of the kind we would by now expect from him, and he makes an equally dazzling contribution to 'KoKo'. The date has been issued on Spotlite, under the title 'Anthropology, and provides a fascinating comparison of styles when compared with Gillespie's contribution to the original session, preserved on the Lullaby in Rhythm album from the same label, worth hearing in any case for the explosive playing of Navarro and Parker, and the additional interest of Tristano's presence. The album is filled out with three poorly recorded cuts from the Dameron band, with the trumpeter marked absent.

While their work for Savoy is very fine, the Navarro - Dameron combination arguably achieved their greatest studio performances in the music they recorded for Blue Note. The September 1947 session already mentioned was followed by another on 13 September 1948, and a third on 18 January 1949. They have been collected as The Fabulous Fats Navarro in two volumes on both LP and CD, and subsequently made available in an indispensable two-CD set, The Complete Blue Note and Capitol Recordings of Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron, which also includes Dameron's recordings of 21 April 1949 with Miles Davis, and important Navarro material with Howard McGhee and Bud Powell, as well as a version of 'Stealing Apples' cut with Benny Goodman.

In addition to these classic studio takes, a valuable series of live broadcasts from the Royal Roost in 1948 has been preserved on both LP and CD in a Milestone album as Fats Navarro featured with The Tadd Dameron Band. The material includes Dameron classics like 'Good Bait', 'Dameronia', “Tadd Walk’ and 'Our Delight', as well as Navarro's own 'Eb-Pob', Charlie Parker's 'Anthropology' and Gershwin's 'Lady Be Good'. It is particularly valuable in preserving Navarro's thoughts on the relaxed, strolling theme of what is probably Dameron's best known bop tune, 'Good Bait'. It is heard in two quite distinctive takes on this set, but was not included in any of their studio sessions together. The trumpeter features on about three-quarters of the material on the album, and while the music-making (and the recorded sound) is not quite as finely focused as in the studio recordings, it has the benefit of on-stage spontaneity and longer playing time, and anyone interested in either musician should seek it out alongside the Blue Note material. In his sleeve note for the album, Stanley Crouch quotes drummer Roy Haynes's succinct appraisal of Navarro's qualities, which seems worth reiterating here.

“Fats was a spectacular musician because, in a time when cats arrived on the scene with nothing, he came on with everything: he could read, he could play high and hold anybody's first trumpet chair, he could play those singing, melodic solos with a big beautiful sound nobody could believe at the time, and he could fly in fast tempos with staccato, biting notes and execute whatever he wanted, with apparently no strain, everything clear. And every note meant something. You know there are those kinds of guys who just play a lot of notes, some good, some bad. Fats wasn't one of those: he made his music be about each note having a place and a reason. And he had so much warmth, so much feeling. That's why I say he had everything.”

Navarro never found a sweeter context to display those manifold qualities than the Dameron band, and the pianist found a soloist who could provide both the beauty and the grasp of form he needed, and do so at the highest level of creative improvisation.

The four tunes cut at the session of 26 September 1947 all have an alternate take. In the case of 'The Chase', the marked improvement in Charlie Rouse's tenor solo alone would demand the choice of the master take for release, even if everyone else were not also in slightly sharper form. Navarro turns in two strong, beautifully judged solo performances, each of which confirms his complete command of both horn and music at a fast tempo, as well as emphasising his signature tone, the fat, immaculately poised trumpet sound justly described by fellow trumpeter Joe Newman as 'one of those big butter sounds'.

Dameron had a good ear for a memorable, catchy theme, and his compositions provided plenty of scope for his soloists to develop their conceptions. In 'The Squirrel', a blues said to have been inspired by the pianist watching a squirrel in Central Park one day, the originally released take captures the ebullient spirit of the piece more fully than the slightly under-characterised alternate, and the ensemble choruses are more developed. Navarro builds his solo with a precise concern for tension and release, and a hint of the New Orleans trumpet tradition in his rolling phrases and skittering glances off the high notes at each of its peaks. The opulent 'Our Delight' is one of Dameron's best-known tunes, and both takes here find Navarro playing with a very clear conception of precisely what he wanted to say.

The trumpeter nails each of his solos conclusively, with only minor embellishments in the melody from take to take, and both are gems of lucid construction and creative phrasing. The session's final tune, 'Dameronia', with its Monk-ish echo of 'Well, You Needn't' in the theme, is another of the pianist's best. In the alternate take, Navarro uses the final note of the saxophone solo as a launch pad to roar in with a dramatic descending opening phrase, and builds a robust, muscular solo statement from it. He thinks better of that approach in the released take, opening in very different fashion, then turning in what is arguably his most functional, least memorable solo of the session.

The combination's next Blue Note session took place just under a year later, on 13 September 1948, shortly after the band began their residence at the Royal Roost. Only the leader and Navarro remain from the first recording. Allen Eager, a Dameron regular, and Wardell Gray shared tenor duties, with Curly Russell on bass and Kenny Clarke behind the drums. Cuban percussionist Chino Pozo (a cousin of the better-known Chano Pozo) contributed conga drum on two takes of 'Jabhero,’ and Kenny Hagood laid down a smooth vocal on a single take of “I Think I'll Go Away'. Dameron's chord progressions are always fascinating, and Navarro is in great form on all three of the purely instrumental tracks. They possess all the virtues we have already heard in his two previous recordings with the pianist, but, perhaps more overtly than in any of the other studio sessions, the different takes reveal him thinking hard about the detail of his performances. In the alternate takes of 'Jabhero' and 'Lady Bird', for example, he tries out double-time passages which are not included in the two released takes, while on 'Symphonette', a swinging riff tune, he interpolates some hard and fast rapid-note bop phraseology into the released take, but smooths them out considerably on the alternate.

The Dameron - Navarro studio sessions for both Savoy and Blue Note represent an important continuum in the development of bebop, as well as in the respective careers of both players. Their final visit to the studio was a Capitol session with a ten-piece band on 18 January 1949, which might have been historic (it preceded the first of the so-called 'Birth of the Cool' sessions by a couple of days), but did not yield fully satisfactory results on the two tracks in which the trumpeter is featured. There is plenty to enjoy on both 'Sid's Delight' and 'Casbah' nonetheless, but it marked the end of the Dameron - Navarro association. By the time the pianist returned to the studio to finish the session in April, he had Miles Davis in the trumpet chair.

Navarro's next studio venture remains an intriguing one. It re-united Fats with his old section-mate from the Andy Kirk band, Howard McGhee, a fine bop trumpeter from Oklahoma who cut his teeth in the big bands of Charlie Barnet and Kirk, then gigged with Coleman Hawkins before forming his own small band in Los Angeles in 1945. The Blue Note session took place on 11 October 1948, and featured the two trumpeters with Ernie Henry (alto sax), Milt Jackson (piano), Curly Russell (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). Jackson also played what became his main instrument, vibes, on two takes of Navarro's 'Boperation' (the second of which was not issued until its appearance on the Complete disc), while McGhee switched to piano.

In the sleeve notes for the various releases of The Fabulous Fats Navarro the order of the trumpet soloists is wrongly identified. In ‘The Skunk', a raunchy blues, Navarro follows Henry, while McGhee follows Jackson, and in the celebrated 'Double Talk', it is Navarro who leads the solos and trading exchanges each time. It is odd that both Leonard Feather and (at least according to Feather's sleeve note) Alfred Lion should be similarly mistaken in identifying two players with, as this fine session makes clear, such distinctive styles.

Stylistic identification can be a treacherous business, though, as Dizzy, Fats and Miles Davis demonstrated on another famous session earlier that year. The Metronome All-Stars recording on 3 January 1948 featured all three trumpet stars on 'Overtime', which Dizzy later described in his autobiography in these terms: 'I know each one of them sounded like me because we played on a record together, the three of us, and I didn't know which one was playing when I listened ... I didn't know which one of us played what solo because the three of us sounded so much alike.' Davis, in a remark quoted by Jack Chambers in Milestones I, concurs, but adds the caveat that when he and Fats played together 'We'd sound alike, but when we played separately, we didn't sound alike'. Certainly, the short solos on 'Overtime' do not reveal anything of the considerable individuality of the three players.McGhee's Eldridge-inspired approach, however, is definitely distinct from Navarro's.

In the Blue Note session, they push each other in constructive fashion, and nowhere more so than on 'Double Talk', another extended piece intended to occupy two sides of a 78 rpm release, but with the side-fades erased. The faster alternate take is the more uninhibited of the two, but the trumpet-playing from both men is scintillating on each version, with the closing sequences of sixteen, then eight, then four-bar traded choruses providing some particularly compelling responses.

Fats was back in the studio on 29 November 1948, this time at the behest of Ross Russell's Dial label, for a session accompanying the smooth vocal stylist Earl Coleman, a baritone in the popular sweet-toned style of the period. The band also featured Don Lanphere's tenor saxophone, and Max Roach on drums. The trumpeter is heard in restrained but tasty solo spots on 'Guilty' and 'Yardbird Suite', and provides a pretty if dimly-recorded obbligato (the word literally means 'necessary', and refers in music to an independent instrumental part which complements the principal melody, as distinct from an accompaniment) to Coleman's vocal lines on 'A Stranger In Town' and 'As Time Goes By'. He is caught in more characteristic manner, however, on two sizzling instrumental takes of Denzil Best's fiery 'Move' laid down by the quintet. (Guitarist Al Casey, who expanded the group to a sextet for the vocal items, sat these out.) You can practically hear their joy in being able to flex their muscles after the sweet stuff and they dig in hard on both takes, with Navarro in fleet, exuberant form, and the subtle differences he introduces in each take again gives the lie to any suspicions of preparation.

The other genuinely significant session in Navarro's discography is the one he cut with Bud Powell's Modernists for Blue Note on 8 August 1949, in a band which also featured the 18-year-old Sonny Rollins on tenor, Tommy Potter on bass, and drummer Roy Haynes. The four quintet cuts - the pianist's own 'Bouncing With Bud', 'Wail' and 'Dance of the Infidels', plus Monk's '52nd Street Theme' - laid down that day are classics, with Powell hitting sustained peaks of creativity he could not quite carry off into the two slightly routine trio cuts which completed the session, and Navarro soaring in characteristic fashion. It is almost possible to feel the crackling electric tension running between these two, especially on the charged master takes, and while Rollins acquits himself well, he is not yet the focus of attention he would soon become. The session is something of a template for the classic Blue Note horns-plus-rhythm style of the succeeding decade, as bebop transmuted into the less fluid, less frenzied derivation which would be labelled hard bop. Navarro would not survive to make a contribution to that development.

[References include Ira Gitler, Jazz Masters of the 40s, Carl Woideck’s insert notes to The Complete Blue Note and Capitol Recordings of Fats Novarro and Tadd Dameron [Blue Note CDP 72438 33373 2 3], Kenny Mathieson, Giants Steps: Bebop and the Creators of Modern Jazz, 1945-1965, Barry Kernfeld, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Leonard Feather insert notes to The Fabulous Fats Navarro [Blue Note CDP 7 815322] and Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.]


  1. Terrific article by Mr. Craig about an under-appreciated musical genius, Fats Navarro. There's enough discography here to make you go out and check out what you don't have. Long Live Fats!

  2. I've been doing some research on the genealogies of Charlie Shavers and Fats Navarro, and have been able to trace them as 2nd cousins, as opposed to 3rd cousins, which is commonly stated. However, I could be wrong. Please advise?

  3. Dizzy told me many times that Mr Navarro was the best of them all.

  4. What a wonderful profile. Thank you.


Please leave your comments here. Thank you.