Monday, April 30, 2018

Bam Bam Bam !!!

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

While reflecting on this piece after it had finished researching and compiling it, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles was amazed to note that although the three, different trios it looks at spanned approximately 30+ years [1969-2002], it did not include the dozen or so years Ray spent as the bassist in the Oscar Peterson Trio!

Discussing three decades of his career without even referencing his most renowned association is just one more indication of what a Jazz giant Ray Brown was.

When I asked Ray about this period of his career one evening in June, 1993 during a break at the old Yoshi’s in Berkeley, CA, he said [with a huge smile on his face]: “Not a bad way to spend the last 25 years, huh; the Ray Brown Trio featuring Phineas Newborn, Gene Harris or Benny Green - bam, bam, bam – !!! ”

Although there were some overlaps, in the main, Ray’s trio with Phineas Newborn, Jr. took place in the 1970s, his time together with Gene Harris occurred mainly in the 1980’s and his stint with Benny Green happened primarily in the 1990s.

Each of these trios will become the focus for one part of this piece, or, one “bam!”

The first of Ray’s trios was not a regularly constituted group, but rather one that Ray put together whenever he could bring Phineas Newborn into the studios to record for Contemporary Records. For as Scott Yanow comments in, although Phineas was:

“One of the most technically skilled and brilliant pianists in jazz during his prime, Phineas Newborn remains a bit of a mystery. Plagued by mental and physical problems of unknown origin, Newborn faded from the scene in the mid-1960s, only to re-emerge at irregular intervals throughout his life. Newborn could be compared to Oscar Peterson in that his bop-based style was largely unclassifiable, his technique was phenomenal, and he was very capable of enthralling an audience playing a full song with just his left hand.”

As Scott goes on to point out, after taking New York by storm in the mid-1950s, Phineas [pronounced “Fine as” or, depending on one’s Southern accent, “Fine us”] was largely in danger of being forgotten by the Jazz world a decade later. This might have been the case had it not been for the fortuitous fact that upon moving to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, Phineas received the patronage and support of Lester Koenig, who made three albums with Newborn for his Contemporary Records label from 1961 - 1964. In addition, Ray Brown’s ongoing concern for Phineas’ welfare resulted in three successful attempts to bring him back into studios between the years 1969 – 1976.

Frankly, had it not been for Koenig and Brown, the danger of being forgotten as intimated by Scott Yanow might have turned into a realized prophesy.

Of the four recordings that were produced during the 8-years they collaborated, Brown and Newborn would release three on Contemporary and one on Pablo.

The first Brown- Newborn session took place on February 12-13, 1969 and was to result in two albums that were released ten years apart: [1] Please Send Me Someone to Love [Contemporary S-7622; OJCCD-947-2] and [2] Harlem Blues [Contemporary S-7634; OJCCD-662-2]. Ray said that he had any easy time convincing drummer Elvin Jones to make the recording date because Elvin and Phineas had scuffled together when both first came to New York in the mid-1950s.
The tray plate notes for Please Send Me Someone to Love contained the following synopsis:

“The brilliant pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr. (1931-89) found few occasions to enter a recording studio during his troubled life, though he made the most of what chances he got – especially on the half-dozen trio sessions he recorded for Contemporary between 1961-1976. This album and its companion Harlem Blues [Contemporary S-7634; OJCCD-662-2] document newborn’s initial encounter with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Elvin Jones, two players who brought a technical mastery and stylistic range to the date that matched the pianist’s.”

When he was “on” and particularly sympathetic to the artist in question, Leonard Feather could contribute comprehensive and insightful liner notes to help enhance the listener’s appreciation of the music that were second to none. This is certainly the case in what he had to say about Phineas, Ray and Elvin on their first recording together so we decided to present his comments in their entirety.

I think that this is one of the best and most empathetic reviews that Leonard ever wrote and it could not have come in the service of a more deserving artist. I also think that Ray Brown understood Phineas’ deservedness and this was the main reason that he continue to be an advocate of Phineas’ genius over the years, despite the latter’s health problems. He would just find the times when Phineas could push the demons away and play like only he could.
"For a little more than a half century, there was a series of evolutions in keyboard jazz, which originated in ragtime, then was marked by the successive advent of stride, with its volleying left hand; horn-style piano, characterized
mainly by a fusillade of octaves or long runs of single notes in the right hand; bebop piano, with its central concern for harmonic experiments and relatively limited left-hand punctuations; and a 1950s trend marked by a concern for rich, full chords and a more expansive left-hand concept.

The only pianist who succeeded in absorbing many characteristics of each of these phases, in fact the first authentic and complete virtuoso of jazz piano, was Art Tatum. His death in 1956 seemed to close the book; there was no room for development, no area to examine that he had not already explored.

Time has shown that there were indeed other directions. The atonal improvisations of Cecil Taylor were acclaimed by many observers as taking jazz forward into a freer, more abstract music. Bill Evans launched what I once characterized, in an essay on jazz piano for Show magazine (July 1963), as the Serenity School, creating new harmonic avenues, new voicings, swinging without hammering, asserting tersely yet subtly, rarely rising above a mezzo-forte. McCoy Tyner, armed with exceptional technical facility, moved along still another route with extensive use of modes as a departure from the traditional chordal basis.

All these changes during the late 1950s and throughout the '60s did nothing to demolish the theory that Art Tatum represented the ultimate. Coincidentally, it was during the year of Tatum's death that Phineas Newborn, Jr. first came to New York and emerged from Memphis obscurity (he was born Dec. 14, 1931 in Whiteville, Tenn.) to establish himself as the new pianistic pianist, in the Tatum tradition.

In the above-mentioned Show article, I wrote: "Most astonishing of the dexterous modernists is Phineas Newborn, Jr. As small, timid, and frail as Peterson is big and burly, Newborn belies his meek manner with a relentlessly aggressive style. His technique can handle any mechanical problem and he has, moreover, a quick, sensitive response to the interaction of melody and harmony." Commenting that most critics tended to be skeptical of technical perfection, I wrote of Newborn's A World of Piano album (Contemporary S-7600) that it was "the most stunning piano set since Tatum's salad days in the 1930s."
A year later, in 1964, I went out on a rare limb to declare unequivocally in Down Beat, "Newborn is the greatest living jazz pianist"

Five years later, while perfectly content to let that categorical statement remain on the record, I reflected on what esthetic, what ratiocination led me to this conclusion, Under the spell of a set by Peterson in top form I might have made a similar remark. In either case, my reaction would have been primarily emotional, but the emotions in evaluating a work of art are often guided, perhaps subliminally, by a consciousness of the craftsmanship required for its creation.

Despite the chattering of the anti-intellectuals, I cannot see how any possible advantage call be found in technical limitation. Clearly technique can be abused, or used without imagination; I can drink of a dozen popular pianists, some of them well-known via network television, who have made this point painfully clear. But a man like Newborn, who reached his present command of the instrument by practicing perhaps six or seven hours a day, automatically has an advantage over the simplistic artist, who resorts to simple figures and clichés only because that is as far as his fingers and mind will take him.
Phineas demonstrates all the virtues and none of the handicaps (if there are any) inherent in knowing how to use the piano. Taking him on his own terms, he's an involved, committed artist, for whom the instrument is virtually an extension of the man. This would not be possible if he were in any way hamstrung by not being able to execute whatever idea may cross his mind.

I won't deny that when he uses a personal device, such as the parallel lines in unison an octave apart, I am impressed by the ease with which he dashes off such passages; but even more meaningful to me is the originality and artistry of the melodic structure he has been able to build.

When Phineas plays the blues, as he does on at least three tracks in this album, it is not down-home, backwoods blues, but it's just as deep a shade of blue, and comes just as straight from the heart, as if he were a primitive trying to make something meaningful out of three chord changes and a couple of riffs. I hear in him all that is emotional, as well as all that is cerebral and virtuosic, about jazz piano in one of its most sophisticated forms.

Elvin Jones being in town, it was natural he would be sought out for this session. It has been said many times before, but is worth repeating, that as tremendously complex as Elvin can become, he is no less adept in adjusting himself to the much simpler requirements of supplying a steady pulse for a pianist. His work throughout this album, though energetic and stimulating, is a model of this kind of decorum. In order to provide Phineas with a rhythm section that would offer intuitive support to his unpredictable improvisations, it was necessary to find a bass player who would have instant empathy with the other two participants. This is an unnecessarily roundabout way of saying Ray Brown. if one can rate Phineas the greatest living jazz pianist, a similarly strong case could be made for Ray Brown as the greatest bassist, and for Elvin Jones as the greatest drummer. With three such players, things happened naturally and spontaneously, with just an occasional word of instruction or guidance from Phineas. it took very little time to make a trio of three musicians who had never before worked as a unit.
The material selected, with two exceptions ("Little Niles," and "Brentwood Blues"), all stemmed, by accident rather than design, from the 1940-50 period, when the 12- and 32- bar frameworks and the 4/4 meter still prevailed. it does not require a 7/4 or 9/8 beat, nor a theme 23 in measures long, for an improvising musician of Phineas's caliber to show that he has kept up to date.

"Please Send Me Someone to Love" offers a fine example of his ability to enrich what is, on paper, a very basic tune. The Percy Mayfield hit of 20 years ago, though 32 bars long, has much of the feeling of the blues, along with a certain intensity accentuated by the diminished chord on the fourth bar. Phineas shows immediately how effectively he can use his knowledge of the piano to convey an emotional rather than a purely intellectual message.

"Rough Ridin' " was a bop vehicle for Ella Fitzgerald, written in collaboration with her then pianist, Hank Jones, Elvin's brother. It's a simple, swinging melody used as a launching pad for Phineas's own flights. Notice the block chords ("locked hands") sequence, a style originally popularized by Milt Buckner and later mastered by George Shearing, Phineas, and others.

"Come Sunday," a religious theme from the extended Duke Ellington composition "Black, Brown and Beige," is played first unaccompanied, with a respectful, almost literal adherence to Duke's melody and harmonic pattern. As Ray and Elvin ease in for the second chorus, Newborn continues to bring out all the poignant beauty of this simple and exquisite song.

"Brentwood Blues," introduced by Ray, is an extemporized reminder that the 12-bar blues will never be out of style, in form or in feeling. I was impressed most of all by the majestic sound of the passages in chords, impeccably articulated and superbly recorded. This track brings out the points made above in the evaluation of Newborn, for while the swiftness of the hand delights the ear, so just as surely does the beauty of the thoughts.

"Real Gone Guy" could be part B of "Brentwood Blues," with the tempo doubled up, except that Nellie Lutcher's 1947 vocal line is used to open and close. Elvin, starting in a Latin groove and later taking over for a solo, is exceptionally important and prominent.
"Black Coffee," introduced by Sarah Vaughan in 1948, has since become a standard ballad, more often used vocally (with Paul Francis Webster's fine lyric) than instrumentally, though the Sonny Burke melody has an elegant, Gershwinesque quality that Phineas captures to perfection. Notice particularly his use of the left hand to fill gaps, and the dramatic impact of that A-flat 7 chord at bar 21 of the chorus.

“Little Niles" is a jazz waltz of the late 1950s, dedicated by pianist Randy Weston to his son. Noteworthy in Phineas's sensitive treatment is the group interplay. At times he seems to be playing in four against Elvin's three; the latter shows great sensitivity to changing moods and metric nuances, creating an effect not unlike that of an orchestral arrangement.

"Stay On It," though Count Basle is credited as co-composer with Tadd Dameron, was long associated with Dizzy Gillespie, for whom Tadd wrote it, and whose big band recorded it in 1947. The regular A-A-B-A tune involves a couple of typical bebop touches. For Phineas, Elvin, and Ray, it's a straight-ahead swinger all the way.

Every new Phineas Newborn album (and because there are precious few of them, these few are precious) brings with it a reminder that here we have more than a musician of outstanding talent. He is, as much as anyone around, a symbol of the importance of the piano in the evolution of modem jazz; and like jazz itself, Phineas has never stopped evolving."
- LEONARD FEATHER October 8, 1969 These notes appeared on the original album liner.
As previously mentioned, the material that was eventually released ten years later as Harlem Blues [Contemporary S-7634; OJCCD-662-2] came from this same 1969 recording session. The reasons for the delay as well as a brief annotation about each of the tracks on the album are nicely capsulated in the following insert notes by John Koenig, the son of Les Koenig, the originator of Contemporary Records.

"It's often happened when an outstanding players has recorded that more great performances than could be programmed onto one album have become fixed on tape. This was exactly the case on the mornings and afternoons of February 12 and 13, 1969, when Phineas Newborn made one of his regrettably infrequent peregrinations into the recording studio to make his album, PLEASE SEND ME SOMEONE TO LOVE (Contemporary S-7622). When there is a great quantity of worthy material front which to choose, often one merely assembles performances that complement each other by juxtaposition. These decisions are generally arrived at taking into account such ephemeral qualities as character or intensity, or such mundane considerations as length. Even simple personal predilection sometimes is a factor; while one performance is not necessarily better than another, the producer feels it might fit more appropriately or easily in sequence with others already standing. The higher the quality of the material, the more difficult and the more arbitrary these decisions become. Thus, with the intervening span of ten years for reflection, it's not surprising that the performances embodied on this disc do not suffer at all by comparison to those previously released. In fact, they add dimension to the frequently proclaimed pinnacle of -Newborn's oeuvre.

In the year preceding the recording, Phineas, due to ill health, had been relatively inactive. My father, however, would periodically devise excuses to record him, and in this case, it was the presence in Los Angeles of Elvin Jones that provided the catalyst for bringing this intention to a reality. Ray Brown being one of jazz's reigning bassists was the logical choice to round out the group.
Phineas had recorded with Ray (Teddy Edwards and Howard McGhee TOGETHER AGAIN, Contemporary S-7588), but hadn't recorded with Elvin. Ray hadn't either, but he had played with him a year or so earlier at the Monterey Jazz Festival, of which he was then the music director. The occasion was the formation of a Gil Evans band for the festival which, afterward, traveled to Los Angeles for a week long stay at Shelly's Mannehole, which was "wild" according to Ray.

The session was something of in event, both because of Phineas relative inactivity, and because it was the first session at Contemporary in almost a year and a half Despite the especial atmosphere surrounding the proceedings for some of us invoked in the project, it was, on the surface of it, a relatively unremarkable happening. When Raymond and Elvin had set up, (that is after Elvin's wife, Keiko, had assembled and tuned the drum set), Phineas quietly sat down, called off the tunes, played them through with the rhythm section once or twice, and recorded them. The results, as can be heard here, however, reveal that something remarkable actually did take place. Fifteen different tunes were recorded in the two days, and this release completes the public presentation of them all.
The session was conceived as a means to display Phineas as piano soloist with the bass and drums taking accompaniment roles, rather than as an integrated trio, where the three instruments interact on a more equal level. it underscores the genuine musicianship of Ray and Elvin in that they understood this, and despite their prodigious creative gifts, managed to contain their soloist inclinations while still maintaining he essential intimacy the musical context required. Still, neither was to be entirely denied, as is apparent when one listens to Elvin's fours on Ray's Idea, or Ray's stunning soliloquy at the beginning of Tenderly.
To be sure, Phineas was appreciative of the level of his company. I recall that after we dropped Elvin and Keiko off at their hotel on the evening of the first session, Phineas remarked to my father: "I have nothing hut the utmost respect for Elvin and Ray." Still, this was Phineas' show all the way, as is evidenced by Ray's expression of appreciation after the tape machines had stopped rolling after the first take of the first day, Sweet and Lovely, when he remarked with a certain amount of awe, "We'll dub in the applause."

The material was pretty much made up of things, as Ray Brown recalls, "Phineas kept in his back pocket that he pulls out from time to time."

Harlem Blues is a gospel oriented theme Phineas was fooling around with on the date and Ray and Elvin suggested he record it.

Sweet and Lovely was written by Gus Arnheim and introduced by him with his orchestra, which was well known as the house band at the Coconut Grove for several years. Later made famous by Bing Crosby, it hasn't often been played by jazz musicians as it has a rather complicated bridge.

Little Girl Blue, by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, is from the Broadway show JUMBO starring Jimmy Durante, and with a book by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Interestingly, the tune, My Romance, which has often been adapted by jazz players comes from the same show.

Ray's Idea was written by Ray Brown and arranged by Gil Fuller for the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in 1945 or '46. Phineas liked it - it was something he remembered from the be-bop days and so it was chosen to record.

Stella by Starlight is front the 1944 Paramount picture THE UNINVITED, directed by William Dieterle, starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, and introducing Gail Russell as Stella. The score is by Victor Young. Another Stella was later to be cinematically depicted by starlight, Stella Stevens, in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR with Jerry Lewis.

Since her earlier appearance, of course, Stella by Starlight has become a jazz standard, and one of the denizens of the aforementioned Newborn pocket.

Tenderly was suggested by my father as a vehicle for Ray Brown. Ray learned the tune when he was a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio, and worked occasionally at a now defunct club on the Sunset Strip called The Embers, where pianist, Walter Gross, who wrote the tune, worked as a single. According to Ray, he and Oscar would go into the lounge and ask Gross to play the tune between sets, and that's where he learned it. The song was introduced by Sarah Vaughan in the late '40s, when Gross, who then was music director of Musicraft Records, had her record it for the label.

Cookin' at the Continental, an early Horace Silver opus, was deemed an appropriate up-tempo number to display Phineas' dexterity, and chronologically it fit in well with the rest of the program.

Considering that with one or two brief exceptions, Phineas has remained inactive in the decade following the recording of this album, its release is all the more special to those of us who appreciate the art of piano playing, and it will remain as a document of three giants making music together in a way that, from the look of things in 1979, will stand as a milestone in the years to come."

by JOHN KOENIG, January 31,1979” -Notes reproduced from the original album liner.

What better way to segue into this second of Ray Brown’s last-quarter-of-the-20th-century trios than to use its pianist Gene Harris’ thoughts about his predecessor Phineas Newborn, Jr. as revealed in the Blindfold Test of the June 20, 1963 edition of Down Beat magazine:

“This is the greatest thing that ever happened to jazz – [Phineas is] the greatest pianist playing today. In every respect he’s tremendous. He is just beautiful. A wonderful jazz musician.”

As was the case with his efforts in not allowing Phineas Newborn, Jr. to pass into relative obscurity, we also have Ray Brown to thank for talking Gene Harris, who had settled in Idaho in the 1970s, out of a premature retirement in 1982.

As was the case with Ray’s long association with pianist Oscar Peterson in the decade of the 1950s, Gene Harris also had a similar, lengthy musical involvement during this same period as the pianist in the Three Sounds with Andrew Simpkins on bass and Bill Dowdy on drums. With its heavy emphasis on a gospel-influenced, blues sound, the group specialized in what some have referred to a “soul-jazz” and was well-documented through its many records on the Blue Note label.
The Three Sounds (in a variety of configurations) recorded and performed into the mid-1970s when Harris decided to quit [quite suddenly, according to some sources] the music business and transition into semi-retirement at his home in Boise, Idaho.

According to C. Michael Bailey writing in

“In 1983, just when he thought he had been forgotten, bassist Ray Brown appealed to Harris to return to the studio and stage. Harris joined Brown's trio for a score of notable recordings before leading his own trios and small groups through the late 1980s, recording for the Bay Area-based Concord Jazz. At the close of that decade, Harris was approached by Andrew Whist, then president of the Phillip Morris Jazz Grant, to lead an all-star big band on a world tour. This resulted in two superb big band recordings that, added to his earlier Tribute to Count Basie mark Harris as a great large band arranger and leader.”

Strictly speaking, Gene’s first trio recording with Ray was The Red Hot Ray Brown Trio [Concord 4315] was not Gene’s first recording with Ray, but it was his first “trio” recording as a member of The Ray Brown Trio.

It is a set made up of standards such as Have You Met Miss Jones?, Street of Dreams, and That’s All, a lovely bossa nova treatment of Jobim’s Meditations and a wonderful romp through Brown’s blues original entitled Captain Bill, the trio offers polished arrangements largely based around vamps and riffs that serve to launch Harris into funk-inflected, solos escapes.

And Harris can really wind it up with huge locked-hands chordal passages, tremolos, and most importantly, his sensitive use of dynamics to build solos that attain house-rocking climaxes. The result is blues-oriented, Sunday-come-to-meetin’ soulful piano trio Jazz that has everyone in the audience at the Blue Note in New York testifyn’ its approval.

A few years after Harris joined Ray Brown to form what Leonard Feather has called – “… one of the most naturally compatible threesomes ever to go public with their creative impulses,” Ray acquired a business interest in THE LOA, a club located a few miles from the beach in Santa Monica, CA.

In 1988, not surprisingly, the trio recorded Summer Wind: The Ray Brown Trio – Live at the Loa [Concord Jazz CCD-4426]. Here’s a review of it by Ken Dryden that appeared in
`”Ray Brown has many great contributions to jazz as a leader and a sideman, but one additional way in which he helped jazz was his encouraging Gene Harris to give up his early retirement and go back out on the road. The pianist was a part of Brown's groups for several years before he formed a working quartet and became a leader for good once again. This 1988 concert at a since-defunct Santa Monica night club (co-owned by Brown) finds the two, along with drummer Jeff Hamilton, at the top of their game. A phone ringing in the background distracts momentarily from Brown's opening solo in his composition "The Real Blues," during which Harris repeats a bluesy tremolo, which may be an inside joke about the early distraction. Harris take a blues-drenched approach to "Mona Lisa" before giving way to the leader's solo, while his lyrical approach to "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" is shimmering. Hamilton's soft brushes are prominent in "Little Darlin'," but his explosive playing provides a powerful pulse to the very unusual strutting take of "It Don't Mean a Thing." This extremely satisfying CD is warmly recommended.”
And Chip Deffaa had these observations to offer about Ray, Gene and Jeff in his liner notes to the original vinyl release of this recording:

“Brown’s colleagues are Gene Harris, who plays a lot of piano – rich, full-bodied, and not so overly-refined as to have the life squeezed out of it – and Jeff Hamilton, one of the stand-out drummers of the latter-day Woody Herman Herds. Brown doesn’t hold his sidemen back. Harris notes: ‘There’s a lot of musical respect between Ray and I, on the bandstand and off. What’s important is that each musician can put as much in the song as possible.’Hamilton says Brown ‘is one of the best leaders I’ve worked for; he lets you find your own way, like Woody did. A lot of leaders will not do that. When I joined the trio, he said, ‘OK, just play; I’ll let you know when it gets in the way.’ Hamilton recalls he initially tried playing safely, conservatively. ‘Ray said: “Go ahead and play the drums. That’s what I hired you for.” Most trios have a lighter touch. At first, I was trying to play lightly. I found out very quickly, it’s a little big band.’”What I found particularly engaging about the trio’s work on this album is contained in Jeff Hamilton’s observation: “… I found out very quickly, that it’s a little big band.” As is the case in a big band setting, each tune played by Ray’s trio is framed in a very accomplished arrangement which has interludes and other motifs to add contrasts and shading between the solos, shout choruses and well-scripted finales. A little big band, indeed.

Not to take anything away from Mickey Roker, and perhaps it is because of his big band drumming experience, but Jeff Hamilton adds so many additional dimensions to the trio’s performances.

His drums are tuned to a sound that is full and deep, with cymbals that match harmonically [blend in; don’t stand out or clash with the other instruments]. He instigates unique beats such as the rock-infused, marching drum figure that forms the introduction to Duke’s It Don’t Mean a Thing. These distinctive beats serves to give many of the more familiar tunes a new lift and spirit. With an understanding of piano, he plays musically and melodically. And he swings – consistently and constantly! Jeff Hamilton is Jazz drumming at its best.

Ed Berger, Curator of The Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, has characterized Gene Harris’s style as:

“a fascinating amalgam of varied influences. Having assimilated the two-handed blues and boogie of early idols Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Freddie Slack, he added the fluidity of Oscar Peterson, and seasoned the mixture with a hint of Erroll Garner’s timing and sly humor. Above all, Harris is a master of the blues, with the tools and imagination to weave endless variations on that timeless and universal pattern.”
Harris instills the blues into everything he plays whether it’s the use of a single note, quarter note triplet phrase that impels a full chorus of his solo on Milt Jackson’s Bluesology on the Summer Wind album or in a funky gospel interpretation that completes transformed the Gershwin evergreen – Summertime – on the Bam Bam Bam CD [Concord CCD-4375] which the trio recorded live at the 1988 Fujitsu-Concord Jazz festival in Japan.

In his overview of Gene Harris’s career, C. Michael Bailey is so impressed with Harris’ performance of Summertime that he advises the purchaser of this recording to:

“Skip directly to the seventh selection and listen to a definitive reading of the Gershwin classic “Summertime.” Harris explores all of the song's hidden treasures, breaking into a crowd-pleasing Albert Ammons boogie woogie.”
Aside from Gene’s sparkling rendition of Summertime, Bam Bam Bam also contains two very listenable [and quite remarkable] drum solos by Jeff Hamilton on Victor Feldman’s Rio and Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia. And Ray gets the solo spotlight with a lovely Arco treatment on If I Loved You.
Here are Leonard Feather’s discerning insert notes to what, in my opinion, ranks as the very best recording by the Gene Harris-version of The Ray Brown Trio:

“Ray Brown is a man of many images, a wearer of several hats. Though his primary identification remains that of a nonpareil bassist, he has also established himself as a composer (his "Gravy Waltz" won a Grammy award), an entrepreneur and a talent scout.

In this last capacity we owe him a special debt for his major role in bringing Gene Harris, surely one of the most exciting blues-oriented pianists around, out of semi-obscurity in Idaho. He had a steady job in Boise until Ray began luring him away for a series of jobs that culminated, in 1987, in his triumphant Tribute to Count Basie all star big band session (Concord Jazz CJ-337).

Carl Jefferson, of course, was the other key figure in the Brown-Harris alliance. Late in 1988 Ray, Gene and the redoubtable young drummer Jeff Hamilton were on tour in Japan, playing ten concerts of their own in addition to taking part in Jefferson's Concord Festival unit. During that time, this session took place before an audience that was exceptionally enthusiastic (needless to say, none of those applause sounds had to be amplified).

"The Kan-i Hoken Hall is a big auditorium:' Brown recalls, "around 2,000 people, and we really had them with us all the way. This was one of those nights when everything came together."

The Brown original now known as F.S.R. (For Sonny Rollins) began as a rehearsal of Rollins' own "Doxy" on a record date with Milt Jackson. "Then," Ray says, "I wrote this other theme as a sort of pre-out chorus for 'Doxy,' and it came off so well that I thought, why not make a separate tune out of it?" The basis is a 16 bar chord pattern that goes back decades before either Brown or Rollins.Put Your Little Foot Right Out is a simple piece based on just two chords (tonic and dominant), probably of traditional origin, but best known in jazz circles through Miles Davis's recording, then under the title "Fran-Dance." Note Gene's subtle behind-the-beat tactics, the perfect time and creative force of Ray's solo, and the agreeably subdued ending.

Rio is one of a group of songs sent to Brown by the late Victor Feldman. "I liked a lot of Victor's tunes," Ray says, "particularly one called 'The Haunted Ballroom' and this one, which was new to me." Rio moves from a bluesy vamp into a fast, samba-esque theme in F Minor, with Gene displaying mighty chops, Jeff and Ray trading ideas, and Jeff soloing with the discretion that has earmarked him as the most tasteful drummer of his generation (at 35, he has been in steady demand since the late 1970s, when he worked with Monty Alexander and Woody Herman).
If I Loved You is a 1945 Richard Rodgers melody, serving here as an ideal vehicle for Ray Brown's Arco bass. The spotlight then switches to Gene Harris for a version of Summertime that was embellished with enough breaks, blues moments and other touches to assure that this would suggest a funky, humid summer.

Days of Wine and Roses finds the men playing this 1962 Mancini standard in what Ray aptly calls a scaled down big band style.

Dizzy Gillespie's imperishable Night in Tunisia undergoes a transmogrification here. I designed it:' Ray says, "mainly as a vehicle for Jeff, for a marvelous hand drumming exhibition. We kept going back and forth, around rather than on the melody."

Bam Bam Bam is a blues, with Jeff's introduction suggesting the title. Gene and Ray have long been masters of the blues; certainly neither of them can recall how many blues they have recorded over the years, but it may well average out at one to a session. Again you will be transported by the phenomenal togetherness of this unit; essentially it's three minds that think as one.

During the past two years it has been my good fortune to hear Brown, Harris and Hamilton, both as a trio and in various other configurations, at the Loa Club, a Santa Monica rendezvous in which Ray was an active partner. With the release of this album, observers around and beyond this country will be able to share the exultant joy conveyed by what must be one of the most naturally compatible threesomes ever to go public with their creative impulses.”

Judging from the audience reactions on these in-performance recordings by Ray’s trio with Gene Harris, it appears as though the following comments about Gene by Scottish guitarist Jim Mullen who later toured with him in the 1990s are spot on as to how this effervescent performer “went about his business” as “an old-school jazz entertainer:”

“Gene used to say that these people have come out to see us, and it’s out job to give them a fantastic time. He used to say at the end of the evening, ‘if you leave here with a smile on your face, remember that Gene Harris put it there.’ I’ve never seen anyone turn a room of strangers into family that way. We never rehearsed. He’d do this big rubato solo piano introduction with no clue as to what’s coming up. Then he’d just start playing and you had to be ready to jump in there. That’s how he wanted it.” [From Richard Cook, Blue Note Records: The Biography, London: Secker & Warburg, 2001, p. 234].
With the issuance of 3-Dimensional [Concord CCD-4520] in 1991, Gene Harris would make his last recording as part of the Ray Brown Trio [although Gene Harris would continue to record with Ray and for Concord in a variety of settings in the 1990s].

Richard Cook and Brian Morton in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Edition [p.207] had this to say about it:

“Vintage stuff from the very best of Brown’s groups. This line-up has the easy cohesion of Oscar Peterson’s trios, and Brown’s busy lines often suggest Peterson’s approach to a melody. Following on form from an Ellington melody, Coltrane’s ‘Equinox’ … is a rare stab at a post-bop repertoire, and the group handles it comfortably.”Expanding on the tile of the disc, Fred Bouchard of Down Beat offered these apt, opening remarks in his insert notes:

The sassy triumvirate of Jeff Hamilton, Gene Harris and Ray Brown has earned the stature, cultivated the variety, and accrued the experience that make every tune they play sound multi-dimensional.”The little big band that Jeff Hamilton spoke of is out in full force on this one with kicks and fills everywhere present on the medium cookers like Ja-da and You Are My Sunshine, more of Jeff’s unique beats, this time in the form of a Gumbo Hump’s New Orleans Processional Band drum cadence that should have your hips gyrating in no time, and on a rousing Cotton Tail finale to a seven minute Ellington medley with Ray’s huge, booming bass sound driving it all home.

That three virtuoso performers on their instruments could form such a tight-knit trio is a compliment to the musical integrity and greatness of Gene, Ray and Jeff, respectively. These guys listen to one another and find ways to urge the utmost creativity out of each another’s playing. The listener comes away enthralled and stimulated having heard piano-bass-drums trio Jazz at its best. What they have to put on display is beautifully encapsulated in the 3:45 minute version of Time After Time that closes this recording – perhaps we could call it a Jazz Time Capsule?

As previously noted Gene Harris left Ray’s trio and was replaced by the young pianist Benny Green, a protégé of Oscar Peterson [was this Ray’s way of coming full circle and ending his trio Jazz career where it began?]. Before we leave Gene, perhaps these thoughts about him by C. Michael Bailey might serve well as closing remarks:

“Throughout the 90s, Harris was given free reign to record how he wished. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD opined that Harris always ended up making the same record...but that was all right. Gene Harris' music always sounded as if it had a smile on its face as big as the one Harris himself wore while performing. That type of sunshine can never be dimmed. Gene Harris died on January 16, 2000 while awaiting a kidney transplant from his daughter. His beaming personality illuminates all through his recorded legacy.”

[C] Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

As we begin this last phase, or “bam,” perhaps we might add three “C’s” as being characteristic of this period in the history of The Ray Brown Trio - “change,” “consistency” and “creativity”:

[1] the “change” involved a move to the Telarc label from Concord Jazz, as well as, changes in personnel with Benny Green replacing Gene Harris on piano and the later change of Gregory Hutchinson replacing Jeff Hamilton on drums;
[2] the “consistency” is in the manner in which the trio was “mic-ed” and recorded by Telarc, as well as, the constancy in having Donald Elfman [himself, a musician] as the writer of the insert notes for just about all of these Telarc recordings;
[3] the [continued] “creativity” not only in the manner in which the selected repertoire is arranged and performed, but also, in the way which Ray expands the trio to accompany guest guitarists, horn players and vocalists.

During the decade of the 1990s, the first major change was Benny Green assumption of the piano chair from Gene Harris.
Fortunately for me, I lived in San Francisco for most of this period and I was able to hear this version of The Ray Brown Trio with its Bay area, native-son pianist many times when it performed at the Old Yoshi’s Jazz club in Berkeley, CA.

With Phineas Newborn, Jr. and again with Gene Harris, Ray had worked with pianists of his own generation. Benny Green was thirty years his junior when Ray turned to him to front this version of his trio; someone who was closer in age to Jeff Hamilton.

While the principal focus of this piece is Ray Brown’s trios, both Phineas Newborn, Jr. and Gene Harris were well known Jazz personalities before they joined Ray’s group. Benny Green, on the other hand, was just turning 30-years of age so it might prove informative at this point to turn to Stanley Crouch’s insert notes to Prelude, Benny’s first album for Criss Cross [CD 1036] made in 1985 in which he offers an interesting description of the evolution of a young Jazz musician in a contemporary American society that in no way prizes the music.
Green's interest in them music was natural and began very early. Born April 4,1963 in New York City but reared in Berkeley, California, he heard Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk records through his tenor saxophonist father. 'I didn't know that it was called jazz. It was just music which I loved from when I first heard it, 'he recalls. Green was envious of his sister who started getting piano lessons and he began improvising with determination at the age of six or so when an instrument was brought into his home. His parents decided that he should learn the piano correctly if the boy was so interested in playing, so he, too, took classical piano lessons. 'My family has always been behind me all the way about playing music,' Green says. The lessons went on for about three years.

Green was very fortunate when he went into the fourth grade because he came in contact with a jazz ensemble of student musicians directed by a man named Phil Hardymon. 'It was kind of unique because there aren't too many student jazz courses throughout the country. Though I had been inspired listening to the music around the house and hearing my father play, this was a different kind of inspiration because I was hearing my peers do it. That made it seem more possible to me.' That possibility was given more thorough grounding when Green's father told his son when he was twelve that if he was going to improvise, he should get serious and start studying the records around the house, start listening to jazz radio, and go out of his way to learn what the masters, whether living or dead, were doing.

'I began studying with a teacher named Carl Andrews, who was instructing me in jazz harmony. I studied with him for about two years. 'Green would try to get in jam sessions and play jazz whenever he could. 'l would go hear pianists Bill Bell and Ed Kelly, who taught me a lot at that time. Dick Whittington was also a big help and Smith Dobson gave me some important pointers. I was starting to understand the music much better and could see how much more is needed to learn.'
At about sixteen, Green was hired by a singer named Faye Carroll and began performing with her frequently. He learned a lot while with the singer because she gave him a lot of room to play, which is how jazz musicians really develop their skills. No matter how many classes they might take or how many improvisations they might memorize or techniques they might work out, unless those materials are brought to the level of performance function, they are largely academic. It is within the sweating demands of the moment, when everything is in motion and every decision has to count, that the jazz player must be able to create musical logic expressive of the emotional qualities that define the individual sensibility. Aware of that, Green would sit in with the best musicians he could, which he did with trumpeter Eddie Henderson after meeting him in San Francisco.
'I sat in with Eddie whenever it was possible, and a few months later he called me to work with him. He was working with a tenor player named Hadley Calliman. Both of them encouraged me a lot. I learned so much being around Eddie. He played me tapes of live gigs with Herbie Hancock that were fascinating to me because of the way the music moved through so many forms, and how one performance could slide through many colors. It was very inspirational and added to what I was already trying to learn. My father had turned me onto Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Monk. I was trying to get a scope of all the eras, so I was listening to a lot of musicians, particularly Red Garland, Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner'
By the time Green got out of high school, he was doing trio jobs of his own, which allowed him to work at making the things he was listening to and discovering function within his own improvisational efforts. He was listening to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers when they would come to town and he was noticing that there was something different going on in the music of the musicians who were from New York. He could hear a more powerful level of swinging, a deeper groove, a more substantial grasp of rhythmic components that fuel the phrasing of jazz. He knew he had to move east.' l had that on my mind for the last few months that I was in California, regardless of what I was doing. I worked for those months with a band led byt he bassist Chuck Israels, which was about twelve pieces. Then I got to play with Joe Henderson for one night before I left. I knew if I was going to be serious about this music, I had to go where the sound I was hearing from the musicians in New York was coming from. I knew I was missing a lot being in California. There was a focus to swinging I heard coming from New York, which was more definite, more disciplined. In the Bay Area, a lot of the musicians played with a very loose feeling. So I moved to New York when I was nineteen, in 1982'

Shortly after Green got to New York, he heard Walter Bishop with Junior Cook and Bill Hardman. He approached Bishop about studying with him and became a student of the older pianist, who helped him a great deal. 'He showed me a lot about comping because I was impressed by the big sound he got out of the instrument.' Bishop was the link to Bud Powell and he was willing to show Green how he voiced his chords. But, most importantly, Bishop encouraged Green to look for his own music, not just emulate somebody else. 'Walter said that there are three stages of development: imitation, emulation, innovation. Not to say that a musician gets to all three, but those are the logical stages of development. He got me to think about the extensions of the tradition of the piano that have come since Bud Powell'.

At that time Walter Davis and John Hicks also gave Green valuable instructions. Bishop introduced Green to alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, who eventually hired the pianist. While working with Watson, he met pianist James Williams, who also encouraged him to work on his music and stick with it. Williams' encouragement was in line with the assistance and inspiration the young pianist had received from Mulgrew Miller, whom he had heard with Woody Shaw just before leaving the Bay Area. Green was strongly impressed by the sense of tradition and the personal approach within Miller's piano work. Miller also pointed him in productive directions by giving him specific and useful advice. Johnny O'Neil was also very helpful. O'Neil had just joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and was willing to share his knowledge with Green.' I had heard Donald Brown with Art when the band recorded live in San Francisco. Hearing such a fresh voice was enlightening. I'm grateful to Donald, Mulgrew and James for being at once so inspirational and supportive.’
Green free-lanced around New York for about a year, then was called to audition for Betty Carter, who had heard him on a job on Long Island. Green started working with the singer in April of 1983 and remained in her group a few weeks short of four years. 'Betty is a great musician and you learn from her in every possible way. She is a master of pacing. She understands rhythm and tempo and how they fit with harmony and melody perfectly. And most of all Betty Carter swings! Her gig is very challenging because she has very precise things she wants to achieve but she is also very spontaneous. She also helps to heighten her musicians' awareness of their role within an ensemble. That was a very good job for me and it is a very good job for any young musician. Like Art Blakey because she's always finding young musicians, giving them work, teaching them a lot of music, and encouraging them to dedicate themselves. Betty Carter is a great musician and a great person.'

In April of 1987, Green left the singer's band for the Jazz Messengers. 'Playing with Art Blakey has been, by far, the greatest experience of my life. I never have before and I'm sure I never will again come in contact with a greater musical spirit. When Art comes on the bandstand, whatever else is going on in life is forgotten and the music takes over. Art truly practices what he preaches in washing away the dust of every day life with music. And this is certainly the musician's job. As I mature, I hope to come closer to being able to achieve this on my own.'”
The first album by Ray’s new trio, BassFace [Telarc CD-83340], was recorded live at the Kuumbawa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, CA on April 1-2, 1993 and it is an absolute corker!

One simply has to hand it to Ray. How in the world do you follow the likes of Phineas Newborn, Jr. and Gene Harris, why, with Benny Green, of course. And, as is in evidence on this album, this “kid” can play [not to mention the fact that he swings his backside off].

What is also in evidence on this recording is that Ray Brown is becoming quite a polished performer: whether it is in the form of introductions to or interacting with the audience or in the thought give to how the tunes are sequenced or in the imaginative way in which the music is arranged and played.

Another aspect of Ray’s approach to each set is to intersperse a showcase for each member of the trio and on BassFace this takes the form of solo spotlights for Ray on Kenny Burrell’s title track, for Benny Green it is Taking a Chance on Love [prefaced by Ray remarking to the a heartily approving audience – “I guess by now you’ve noticed that we have a new piano player!”] and for Jeff it’s a workout on the seemingly odd choice of Irving Berlin’s Remember [“odd” only until you hear what Jeff does with it].

The Kuumbwa set begins and ends with Milestones and Ray’s original Phineas Can Be, both of which are up-tempo cookers. Ray usually includes in each performance tunes by or associated with Duke Ellington and/or Dizzy Gillespie and in this instance the latter gets the nod with the trio’s version of Tin Tin Deo. And to finish off the typical Ray Brown Set Recipe, it most always includes a blues and a ballad with CRS – CRAFT [another Brown original] sufficing for the former and In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning taking the tempo down for the set.
Donald Elfman concludes his insert notes to BassFace with these observations:

“The piano trio format has always been a showcase for an almost theatrical approach to jazz, and the Ray Brown Trio is undeniably a performing group. But these three distinct musical personalities, each with innate ability and a beautiful desire to communicate, keep the music paramount. Here, they offer poetic and always inviting readings of standards from the jazz and popular music songbooks as well as Ray’s originals. Each player shines brightly, thanks in large part to the formidable example and presence of the one and only Ray Brown.”
Next up for this engaging and entertaining trio was the 1994 CD Don’t Get Sassy [Telarc CD-83368] and contrary to the admonition contained in its title, the trio gets very sassy indeed on this marvelous CD which was to be their last together as a unit.

Along with a striking rendition of Con Alma, the Dizzy acknowledgement on this CD is a blistering version of Mario Bauza’s Tanga that offers some dazzling two-handed, octaves apart piano work by Benny Green and enough Jeff Hamilton kicks and licks to once again demonstrate that “the little, big band” is back.

The Duke Ellington tribute is in the form of a three tune medley that concludes the set which includes Rain Check [whose melody is played as a waltz before moving into an fast tempo drum feature for Jeff], In A Sentimental Mood, and Squatty Roo. Ray also contributes When You Go, a beautiful, original ballad that deserves greater recognition as it would be interesting to hear other Jazz musicians “play on it.”
Here’s Donald Elfman’s “take” on the album:

“The spontaneity of a live jazz setting often, when we're lucky, viscerally and excitingly affects the immediacy of the artist's performance. It is a give-and-take affair in which the musicians communicate with the audience which, in turn, responds in such a way as to spur the artist to even greater heights. Telarc and Ray Brown have each done their share of live recordings, working together on this trio's debut for the label (Bassface) and other special recordings with Oscar Peterson and Andre Previn.

For this new album, the artist and the label have decided to alter the nature of the live recording so as to have the best of both worlds: to involve the audience in a creative and interactive fashion and to have more control over the recorded performance. The members of the trio invited guests for each night of recording, and the audience was made up of enthusiastic friends, relatives, and selected notables. Signet Studio in Hollywood became a jazz club, but one where the audience could often hear from the control room and from the "stage" elements of the process that make a recording. The give-and-take was thus transformed into a situation where three distinct groups participated; the experience was instructive and enjoyable for all involved.

The three members of the Ray Brown Trio and the production staff of Telarc are long-standing professionals who have been involved in the art of recording countless times before. This time they added the audience into the equation in a way that retained the vividness of classic live recordings skillfully blending control and freedom.

Under no circumstances, of course, could this trio give anything less than an electric, immediate performance. Ray, Benny, and Jeff combine extraordinary rich experience in many settings with breathtaking technique and an overwhelming desire to reach an audience. They transform the standards of this and other popular music and make it impossible not to share in the moment. Ray Brown has been doing that for over fifty years, and his partners here have learned his valuable lessons well.

The crowd quickly becomes part of the experience. They take audible delight in the magic the players work on tunes by some of Ray's old bosses, by giants of jazz and popular music and from the vast store of classic song.

You can hear Ray's special affection for the late Dizzy Gillespie in two compositions with an Afro-Latin influence - Con Alma and Tanga. The brilliant Ellington medley includes a moving Arco solo by Ray on the popular In a Sentimental Mood and some striking and varied tones and colors on the lesser known Rain Check and Squatty Roo.

Of special interest from the pop songbook is a gorgeous rendition of a tune that Tony Bennett popularized, The Good Life, with the great piano playing of Benny Green leading us. Great tunes, even ones that are played frequently, sound new every time when masters like these improvise on them.

In a collection of terrific performances, the reading of Thad Jones's Don't Get Sassy is a standout. Ray understands the essence of the late trumpeter-composer-bandleader's music and his continuing importance -particularly to jazz writing. The trio works out with abandon on this powerfully funky tune from the Jones repertoire.

From Ray's own pen comes a new blues entitled, appropriately, Brown's New Blues. Ray again shows how and why he's a master in every way - soloist, accompanist, composer, leader, showman.

It is a credit to the artistry involved here that many of the audience members returned for both nights. They understood that great jazz takes on new colors every time out - even if some of the songs remain the same. And they obviously are thrilled in being part of the team that helped to create the right environment for the level of invention that the Ray Brown Trio delivers.”
Don’t Get Sassy was Jeff Hamilton’s last album with Ray before moving on to form his own trio.
Ray’s next Telarc release - Seven Steps to Heaven [CD-83364] - introduced Gregory Hutchinson as the group’s new drummer. Also making an appearance ois the fine Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius. A brief review of the musical resumes of both Hutchinson and Wakenius is contained in the following Don Elfman album insert notes along with are fine summary of the album’s highlights.
“Ray Brown is in the process of joining the pantheon of major jazz players who have also become great bandleaders. He has, like such illustrious predecessors as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Art Blakey, created groups that have forged distinctive signature sounds through the discovery of burgeoning talent with the spirit to both communicate as part of a group and develop an individual sound. What's particularly noteworthy about Ray is that for years, it seems he has been one of those soloists - first with the Modern Jazz Quartet in the late 1940s, then with the Oscar Peterson trios of the' 50s and '60s, and throughout in an unbelievable variety of ensembles and in a vast assortment of musical styles and types. After this expansive and extensive preparation, Ray Brown is, and has been, a leader.

For over ten years he has stood solidly at the helm of the Ray Brown Trio, a group which has lived and maintained the solid blues traditions of basic jazz and established environments where soloists can shine. In the piano chair, first Gene Harris (formerly of The Three Sounds) and now Benny Green have happily found the place where past and present meet, where dazzling virtuosity and an urgency to entertain join up with a solid sense of musical architecture and a need to communicate. And, as a matter of fact, drummers, Jeff Hamilton and now Gregory Hutchinson demonstrate the same mix of sensibilities. It's curious but no real surprise that Green and Hutchinson, both at first associated with the young lion new breed, have chosen to go into the roots and create new explosions in a much more traditional vein. These solid digs have taken place in the rich atmosphere - inventive and joyous - created by Ray Brown.

That brings us to the album at hand, a sparkling set of mostly old favorites and a couple of Ray's originals. All are done with the verve and spirit that have come to define any venture connected with Ray Brown, yet it's another tune still that points us to the sound picture that this set calls to mind. The Thumb is a soulful celebration of the unique talent that was its composer, Wes Montgomery. Here, and throughout the album, with the Wes-like playing of Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius, we are in the world of the classic Montgomery plus trio recordings. That Ray and his men should have feeling for Wes is perfectly fitting, since the late guitarist's recordings had the same beautiful blend of extraordinary invention and audience appeal that, no matter how broad, never compromised the scope of the invention or the depth of the feeling. And that, of course, is what we have here in this newest Ray Brown recording.
A word, first, is in order regarding Ulf Wakenius. It's no easy task to take on the role, even unspoken, of one of the greatest soloists in the history of the music. But Ulf seems undaunted by the challenge, primarily, its seems, because he does not take it as a challenge. With a steady assurance and bold confidence, he sends the music from his heart and head to his fingers and thus quietly, but most assertively, assumes the guitar chair by just playing. Working with players from Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette to Niels-Henning Orstedt Pedersen ( in whose group he currently performs), he is what Jazz Journal called "a new breed of guitarist," combining "a formidable technique with a rare sense of dynamics, a multitude of influences with a precise, driving individualism." The aforementioned Montgomery tune shows right away all of the qualities that make a top-notch player incredible dexterity, a sense of what to include and when, and an exhilarating spirit that sends his playing and, in fact, the tune, soaring skyward.

The other "new" player here is drummer Gregory Hutchinson. He's sharpened his musical axe in the bands of Betty Carter, Joe Henderson (both of whom have done things original and new with the tradition) and alongside new stalwarts of rhythm Christian McBride, Geri Allen and Marc Cary, so he's made it clear that he knows the prevailing jazz currents. What's also clear is that he thinks about where this music has been, and he is now able to live those questions with Ray Brown, who has never stopped questioning. And there is the awesome, ever-growing Benny Green leading us to new worlds with his pianism.
What this album, then, is all about is a sense of "the groove." These players have certainly found it together and sound like a unit, even though this is the first time they've all recorded together. Each has his own voice and finds an individual groove without hogging the spotlight, but as a group these men find the place to lock together and stay there throughout. They make these old gems sparkle - even if you've heard In a Sentimental Mood or Stella By Starlight countless times, the mastery of this group, the power of Ray's arrangements and the vitality of the tunes help make this a new first time.

As always, Ray provides the solid rock from which the other players build. He seems both a father and a brother to these young players, offering a warm nesting place as well as an encouraging and instructive push. And what's finally amazing is that they give him lessons, too.”

As a point in passing, while at Telarc, Ray’s trio was used as the rhythm section for a number of CDs issued under the rubric “Some of My Best Friends Are ….” This phrased was completed with everything from “Piano Players” to “Sax Players” to “Vocalists,” all of which are outside the range of this piece [but well worth listening to hear more of Benny Green and the two pianists who followed him with Ray – Geoff Keezer and Larry Fuller – neither of whom is included in this feature].
Which brings us to the last of the Benny Green recordings – The Ray Brown Trio: Live at Scullers [Telarc CD-83405]. Recorded on location at the Boston club on April 17-18, 1996, Richard S. Ginell had this to say about the recording on

“Staying young by working with the young, Ray Brown and cohorts Benny Green (piano) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums) laid down a set of jazz and pop standards at a club in a Boston Double Tree Hotel. Though Brown is the leader and anchor of the date, quite obviously the pianist is going to dominate the act — and Green definitely puts on a show, wiping everyone out with the pyrotechnics of "You're My Everything," engaging in a gentle stride opening to "But Not for Me," and coming logically to a bombastic climax. Hutchinson is capable, swinging, and occasionally volatile, and Brown mostly steps back and gives these guys a firm underpinning, with a sly solo now and then ("Bye, Bye Blackbird.") There are few surprises or deviations from the mainstream here, but a good time will be had by anyone who gives this a spin.”
And the ever-present and “consistent” Donald Elfman provided the following well-scripted and astute insert notes to the recording:

“One of the beautiful ways we as humans show maturity and growth is in how we stand in a spotlight. When we're young we desperately need attention at center stage, and if it means showboating or speaking louder or other garish displays, we do those things because they're necessary for our sense of self. But as we age and become more confident with just who we are and what we've accomplished, we can, hopefully, generously and with assurance give the room and space to others without any loss of our own individuality or distinct personality. It's truly revelatory to see this process in people, because it also shows us what we ourselves can become.

Musicians who choose the performing life act out this process before the public - in person or on record - and it is a quietly breathtaking experience for an audience to watch artists grow in this way. Since Louis Armstrong first made jazz a soloist's art, the individual's statement has tended to be more dazzling and exploratory, and thus the link to that spotlight must be harder to break. So it is even more amazing to see a modern jazz musician fully grow into the music, making all his personal expression an organic part of a larger whole.

As witness by the performance recorded here-and in fact by all he does-Ray Brown has magnificently mastered this maturation process and become a jazz Everyman who still says as much or more than anyone. Of course one might make the case that as a bass player Ray had to learn from the start to make his voice a more supportive and quiet one, and there's some truth to that. But Ray Brown was always a player with his own personality, backing some of the greatest names in music but always in such a way that you always knew he was there and you wanted to hear what he had to say. So it's a nice surprise to know that this master, after years of playing and leading his own groups, has managed to put everything he does at the service of greater communication.

The Ray Brown Trio has become one of the most emotionally rewarding and entertaining working groups in all of jazz. Mr. Brown is clearly the leader - and as a mentor, as a rock-solid foundation, and as the senior member of the group he has given his young partners focus, direction, and somehow even greater freedom. But in so doing he has ably presented an unselfish personality that means that he has earned the role of leader. And what he has given has helped his sidemen towards that greater development as mature players.

From his earliest days as Betty Carter's pianist, Benny Green demonstrated dazzling, showstopping virtuosity at the keyboard. Work with the Ray Brown Trio, however, has defined and directed his technique, rounding out and synthesizing the way he holds attention. On Bye Bye Blackbird, for example, it's certain he begins with a notion of the classic Red Garland performance from the Miles Davis days, but he transforms the bravura of that recording and even the knock-'em-dead approach of some of his own work into a more rich understanding of the song and how to tell its story with other players at your side.

Gregory Hutchinson began his musical career as one of the "young lions," next to such current raves as Christian McBride, and thus he was thrust into a spotlight in which his volcanic drumming was broadly evident. He's always seemed to have a full command of his instrument but his work in this splendid trio seems to have given birth to a more complete range of expressive capability. On the gently pulsing En Estate, his subtle presence says as much about the song and its feeling as can be expressed by any instrument. And in combination with the dark but vitally immediate sounds of the Brown bass, and the sensitive lyricism of the pianist, he is able to beautifully urge the music forward.

The Ray Brown Trio performances are a finely drawn mix of incisive and thoughtful improvising and crowd-pleasing virtuosity. As a member of the classic Oscar Peterson trios, Ray seems to have learned how best to affect that blend and really make it work. The choice of tunes and Ray's arrangements here are further evidence of Ray's unselfishness - he gives himself to the richness of the standard and jazz repertoire. Mr. Brown is a leader, but these are true group performances with each member helping to give them shape.”
Mike Hennessey, a writer about Jazz whose work is often represented on Jazz Profiles has elsewhere posed the question as to “Where are the Gillespies, Parkers, Rollinses, Getzes, J.J. Johnsons and Miles Davieses of the new Jazz generation? [To which he answers] “There aren’t any.”

Hennessey goes on to explain that the insinuation of this question and answer is that it is “… intended to imply that the general level of [Jazz] artistry and creativity today is in a state of decline.”

To this charge, Hennessy offers two pertinent quotations, taken appropriately from members of today’s Jazz generation.

The first is from trumpeter Terence Blanchard: “The real problem is that people keep looking for new Dizzys, Birds and Tranes instead of judging the new generation of musicians on their own terms and evaluating their music objectively. Why should they be expected to be clones of other musicians?”

Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, Blanchard’s partner at the time of this writing continues the sentiment by adding: “The general standard of playing among today’s young Jazz musicians is getting higher and higher all the time.”

Any doubt about the merit contained in these assertions by Blanchard and Harrison is further swept away by listening to the playing of current generation musicians like Benny Green and Gregory Hutchinson.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that many of the players from Jazz’s earlier generations were very limited in what they had to offer both technically and creatively. Which is another way of saying that they weren’t all giants, by any means.

From this standpoint, it is exasperating to listen to earlier generations of Jazz followers extol the work of obviously limited piano players who couldn’t play two notes with their right hand before slipping into the keyboard’s cracks over the precision, pianism and un-ending inventiveness of a Benny Green.

But for those listeners [from any generation] who are willing to open their ears and give youth its due - solely on the basis of creative merit - their patience and generosity will be amply rewarded with some great Jazz as played by some terrific young Jazz musicians who are every bit the equal of their idols and then some. To his credit, Ray Brown instinctively understood that if he wanted to continue to play with musicians of the highest ability, he had to do his part in cultivating their growth and development from among a younger crop of players.

In this regard, one can’t say enough about all that he did to help advance the cause of young Jazz musicians although his reasons for doing so weren’t entirely altruistic. For as he also said to me that night at Yoshi’s 15 years ago: “This is where and how I make my living and I want to make it as enjoyable as possible. Besides helping them mature keeps me young.”
Whatever his motivation, for we Jazz fans, there is the legacy of all the great trio Jazz music Ray left us through his loving devotion to Phineas Newborn, his urging and ultimately bringing Gene Harris out of retirement and his helping to further develop Benny Green’s career so he could carry the torch of Jazz in the current generation.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Louie Bellson Interview by Monk Rowe - 4/12/1996 - Sarasota, FL

Shorty Rogers - Chances Are ... It Swings

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

At the time of its issuance in 1959, I took the personnel on Shorty Rogers’ RCA album Chances Are It Swings [RD-27149 MONO; LSP-1978 Stereo] for granted.

I mean doesn’t every studio big band recording have the likes of Shorty, Don Fagerquist, Conte Candoli, Pete Candoli, Al Porcino, Ollie Mitchell and Ray Triscari in its trumpet section?

Can you imagine, seven, 7, SEVEN! first call trumpet players - with four of them bona fide lead trumpet players - made that album and that doesn’t include Conrad Gozzo, lead trumpet player par excellence.

The rest of the band reads like a Who’s Who of Los Angeles based studio-Jazz musicians including: Bob Enevoldsen on valve trombone, Harry Betts and Dick Nash, trombone, Kenny Shroyer, bass trombone; Paul Horn and Bud Shank, clarinet flute, alto sax, Richie Kamuca and Bill Holman, tenor sax and Chuck Gentry on baritone sax; Howard Roberts and Barney Kessel, guitar; Gene Estes on vibes [replaced by Red Norvo on 4 tracks]; Pete Jolly, piano; Joe Mondragon, bass [replaced by Monty Budwig on 4 tracks]; Mel Lewis, drums.

Wow - quel band!

And then there’s Shorty’s absolutely magnificent big band charts with their pleasing to the ear and very original voicings [in some places, the melodies are carried on flugelhorn, clarinet and vibes in unison].

The arrangements are full of surprises - bombastic trumpet “chords” used as short phrases to punctuate and pop the music, perfectly placed drums fill, kicks and licks and lopping sax soli - all in the cause of emphasizing continuous swing in the music.

Dating back to his work with Woody Herman in the mid-1940’s through to his association with Stan Kenton in the early 1950s, Shorty had accumulated a wealth of experience writing for a big bands.

But after leaving Kenton and joining Howard Rumsey’s All-Stars at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, CA and concurringly forming his own quintet - The Giants - Shorty primarily concentrated on writing for small groups. Chances Are It Swings marked Shorty’s return to big band arranging, this time fronting his own band.

Obviously, with the lineup listed above, everyone in town wanted to be in it.

And why not? Shorty’s music was fun to play.

The music on Chances Are It Swings is drawn from a single composer - Robert Allen. Allen wrote a number of popular songs following  performed by Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Durante, Kate Smith, the Shirelles, the Four Lads and many other singers in the 1950's and 60's, and some became pop standards.

John Tynan describes more of the Rogers and Allen connection in the following liner notes to Chances Are It Swings after which you’ll find a video featuring Shorty’s band performing Chances Are.

“That fickle lass, Jazz, is a volatile wench of multicolored moods. She can be broadly bluesy or subtly cool, rubbing elbows with disparate sources from the guitar-strumming Mississippi cotton picker to the urbane Cole Porter. Though her demands may be finicky at times "La Jazz" imposes one basic prerequisite on those who would court her: the music on which she swings must be high caliber. This alliance of arranger-trumpeter Shorty Rogers and songwriter Robert Allen proves a happy combination of brilliant arranging and hit songs. Allen's songs pear melodic witness that real talent, no matter how long its incubation period, must express itself.

"I've been writing songs for only about six years" Allen explains, "Before 1952, I played jazz piano in New York night clubs. Nothing very far out. Certainly nothing to cheer about." After a half dozen years on the club circuit, the constant urge to write became a nagging ache. "I found myself thinking about writing all the time," says Allen. "It was bugging me. And I found myself losing the incentive to play. All I could think about was writing songs... it became an obsession." Allen's obsession turned out to be magnificent. In the past three years alone some 80 per cent of his tunes have been hits. There are no less than seven "smashes" in this album.

Of Rogers' work in adapting his songs to big jazz band interpretation, Allen waxes lyrical. "This album is today," he exults. "It's revolutionary in concept when you consider the popular music picture today. Unlike so much jazz being currently produced, this set is not living in yesterdays music... I'm firmly convinced that Shorty has established twelve standards with his treatment of my tunes." Positive that"... it's impossible lor things ready to swing unless you understand the material," the composer declares that Rogers has succeeded in revealing facets of his songs never before revealed. "You know," Allen muses, "when songs become popular hits, most people don't think of their chordal structure in jazz terms. They're played on the neighborhood jukeboxes, people whistle and hum them—but there's where their musical interest ends." Yet, in Allen's opinion, the heyday of big bands was marked by successful, valid jazz treatments of then current popular songs. He cites Jimmie Lunceford's "Ain't She Sweet," Count Basie’s "Cheek to Cheek" end Duke Ellington's "Caravan" and points out that some of the best jazz of the Thirties was blown on a pop song by Fats Waller — "Honeysuckle Rose."

The composer contends a similar approach should apply to good contemporary popular songs. "When the public hears an album of familiar pop songs with good jazz treatment," Allen conjectures, "maybe they'll like it well enough to buy it. And m passing they just might learn a thing or two about good music This worked in the old days; no reason why it shouldn't again." As Shorty Rogers' imaginative arrangements demonstrate, jazz can be written into and improvised on most music of real merit. As vehicles for the driving solos of both Shorty and some of the best jazz horn men in Hollywood (necessarily uncredited), the album turns out to be mighty creditable jazz indeed.

Shorty's tightly controlled modern trumpet style, born of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, had its genesis in the early days of the bebop era even before Shorty became one of the star soloists in Woody Herman's First Herd. Today he is no more a "typical bebopper" than is writer Allen. Domesticated in Southern California since 1947, the 34-year-old trumpeter is one of the busiest arrangers on the Coast. From the cluttered workroom behind his Van Nuys home, Shorty turns out arrangements for a wide variety of RCA Victor recordings— from commercial pop vocal singles to his own big band jazz albums such as CHANCES ARE IT SWINGS.

Needless to say, chances that this album swings are better than even. In fact, grins Shorty, the element of chance that it would not never once entered his mind.
—John Tynan”