© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
At a round-table discussion on West Coast jazz held in 1988, Buddy Collette offered a few words about fellow saxophonist Harold Land:
Harold"s been one of the finest tenor players I've heard and I have hardly heard a write-up about what this man has been doing through the years. . . . I've known him for 30 years, 35 years, and he's been playing jazz morning, noon and night. ... In New York he would have gotten more.
It is all too telling that Harold Land is best remembered in the jazz world for the brief time he was performing on the East Coast with the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet. Land's thirty-five years of exceptional work since that time are often treated as an elaborate footnote to this early apprenticeship. The recordings, however, tell no lies. They document Land's major contributions to jazz both during and after his work with Brown and Roach. They reveal that he was one of the most potent voices on the West Coast scene throughout the period.
Those aware of Land's origins in Houston, Texas, where he was born on February 18, 1928, often hear a lingering Texas tenor sound in his playing. In fact, Land and his family spent only a few months in the Lone Star State. Soon his family moved to Arizona, and just a few years later they settled in San Diego. At an early age Land began taking piano lessons, at the instigation of his mother, but switched to tenor after hearing Coleman Hawkins's influential 1939 recording of "Body and Soul."
- Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz, Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960
"IN VIEW OF THE CURRENT VOGUE among musicians of such terms as "earthy" and "roots" when appraising the authenticity of a jazzman, I cannot resist noting the aptness of Harold Land's name in this alfresco context. His playing is as deeply rooted in jazz tradition as anyone's now in jazz. His capacity for communicating the blues, his wholeness of pulsation and his insistence on "keeping the emotion free" when he plays — all these elements make him a modernist whose language would not be alien to Sidney Bechet or Tommy Ladnier or Speckled Red."
- Nat Hentoff, Jazz author, critic and educator
"Harold Land is one of the most satisfying, soulful, exciting, inventive and highly personal tenors in jazz today."
- Tony Hall, British Jazz critic
“Looking back, it seems the quality and fervor of the music created a decade ago in Los Angeles was more significant than many of us then realized. Despite opportunities to hear some of these vigorous happenings via records, important musicians of the time were ignored partly because of a geographical handicap, and partly because lack of popular acceptance had driven much of their music underground. That the excitement of the period is not merely an hallucination induced by retrospect or nostalgia is proved beyond doubt with this reissue of The Fox [Contemporary S-7619;OJCCD-343-2]
In 1959, when it was recorded, Harold Land was one of the underrated, underground musicians gigging around Los Angeles. A soft-spoken man whose personality rarely suggests the incandescence of his instrumental sound….
His early influences were the big, warm tones of Coleman Hawkins and Lucky Thompson; later Charlie Parker's new concepts helped determine his direction....
Harold decided in 1954 to try his luck in Los Angeles. For several months there
were various odd jobs, none very rewarding.
The turning point came one night when Clifford Brown took his combo-leading partner, Max Roach, to hear Harold play in a session at Eric Dolphy's house. "Eric had known me since the San Diego days, and after I moved to L.A. we became good friends" Harold says. "He was beautiful. Eric loved to play anywhere, any hour, of the day or night. So did I. In fact, I still do!'
The unofficial audition led to Harold's being hired by Brown and Roach. As jazz night club audiences around the country were exposed to the freshness and vitality of Land's playing, he seemed to be well on his way; but in 1956 he had to leave the quintet and return to Los Angeles because of illness in the family.
If, during the balance of the 1950s, he had continued to tour with name groups, there is little doubt that his reputation would have been established sooner and much more firmly on an international level. Land is philosophical about it. "We were making progress in Los Angeles, even if nobody was aware of it. There wasn't much money, but we were having a lot of beautiful musical moments!'”-
- Leonard Feather, Jazz author, critic, record producer, insert notes to The Fox [Contemporary S-7619;OJCCD-343-2]
It seems that the only two people who did not lament tenor saxophonist Harold Land’s continuance with the initial version of the legendary quintet led by drummer Max Roach and trumpeter Clifford Brown were Harold and me.
When I asked Harold about his decision to quit the group and return to Los Angeles for family reasons, he said: “Do you know how often I get asked that question? I have no regrets. For the last 45 years I’ve been in the California sunshine near my family and friends. Going on the road is a drag, nothin’ but hard times. The work here has been all right over the years and I’m happy sleepin’ in my own bed at night.”
I really enjoyed having Harold’s unique tenor sax sound, a sound that was so different than many of the Lester Young inspired tones on the West Coast Jazz scene, within driving distance and it was always a gas to hear him play in Jazz clubs or concert venues as a member of Gerald Wilson or Oliver Nelson’s big bands or as the co-leader in groups he fronted with trumpeter Red Mitchell, vibist Bobby Hutcherson and trumpeter Blue Mitchell.
Harold Land was born in Houston, TX in 1928 but grew up in San Diego, and became interested in music while in high school; he began playing saxophone when he was about 16 years old. After gaining experience with local bands in San Diego he moved to Los Angeles, where he joined the quintet led by Clifford Brown and Max Roach as a replacement for Teddy Edwards. He was with this band for 18 months, but left to play with Curtis Counce (1956-8). Land then led his own groups, or shared leadership with Red Mitchell (1961-2) and Bobby Hutcherson (1967-71); in the 1950s and 1960s he also worked with Gerald Wilson. From 1975 to 1978 he led a quintet with Blue Mitchell, and thereafter has worked as a freelance, mainly in California but also touring overseas.
According to Mark Gardner in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz: “Land is a fluent modern stylist whose dry tone and individual manner of improvising at first owed little to the work of other musicians. In the late 1960s, however, his playing changed dramatically when he came under the influence of John Coltrane. His tone hardened and his phrasing became more brusque and jagged. His ability and daring are best displayed on his recordings as the leader of small groups including Carl Perkins (1958) and Elmo Hope (1959), and as a sideman with Thelonious Monk.”
We wanted to remember Harold on these pages with the following article by John Tynan who for many years was the West Coast regional editor for Downbeat magazine, because it is one of the earliest features written about Harold for a major Jazz magazine.
Sadly feature articles about Harold in Jazz publications were a rarity.
June 6, 1960
A VOICE IN THE WESTERN LAND
“Harold Land, one of the towering figures on contemporary-jazz tenor saxophone and standard-bearer of the new jazz on the west coast, isn't out to prove a thing to anybody but himself.
Living in Los Angeles since he left the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet some four years ago, the quiet, serious Land has been content to take his chances with the rest of the jazz branch of Local 47, AFM, and take his gigs where he finds them. Currently leading a quintet at Los Angeles' Masque club, he is decidedly optimistic about the present state of modern jazz in the southern slice of the Golden State.
Since his Roach-Brown days, Land said, the music and the musicians in the L.A. area have taken an upward turn. "It has improved," he commented, "especially in recent months. The few new jazz clubs that have opened have helped a lot; also the jazz concerts we've had recently have done much to re-stimulate interest."
During the last couple of years Los Angeles has become notorious among musicians as a jazz graveyard where night-club work is concerned. Land, however, somehow has managed to work with reasonable consistency in this drought.
"Having a place to play makes a world of difference to the musician — because just playing at home just doesn't make it at all," he commented dryly. "The musicians of Los Angeles have had so few places to play jazz; that's been one the biggest holdbacks. It meant that the few sessions that were going on would be dominated by just the few cats who showed up early and this made the sessions less enjoyable for the rest.
"Also, this situation made it very hard to keep a group together."
Land is frank in admitting his inclination to take things for granted in the development of jazz in Los Angeles. "There have been important changes in the playing of local musicians," he said, "but being so closely involved with my own playing, possibly I've been inclined to take these changes in stride."
In Land's view, Los Angeles musicians generally "seem more conscientious than they were five years ago." Why? "It's rather hard to say, but for one
thing, there are countless musicians being influenced by what they hear from the east coast."
And is this increasing influence restricted only to the Negro jazzmen?
"No, I can hear this influence in the playing of both white and colored musicians."
In Land's view, Miles Davis and his more recent associates have been the most important influences on jazz musicians generally in recent years, "Miles, 'Trane, Cannonball and the 'Rhythm Section' (Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers, and Red Garland) have been the main influence," he said.
"For one thing, it's in the way they work as a unit. This is outstanding. Then, too, each individual's playing is important. As a matter of fact, the individuals' influence has been the most important factor, in my opinion.
"You could possibly say that these are the most influential men in jazz today, as I see it."
While not exclusively signed with any record company, Land can count albums under his own name on Contemporary Records (Harold in the Land of
Jazz) and High Fidelity Records (The Fox). Moreover, he has played as side-man on more jazz LPs than he can count.
Today he sums up his aim succinctly: "I want to get said as much as I possibly can on the instrument in my own group or in any group where I could be happy. Or to be playing in a group where all the musicians would be completely in accord; to me this is the ultimate in playing."
"Yet," Land added with more than a suggestion of wistfulness, "that's only happened once—with the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet. That was the happiest musical family I've ever been in. With Max, Clifford, Richie Powell, and George Morrow, every night was more exciting than the one before.
"It can happen again. But it hasn't happened completely as yet with the musicians I've been working with."
Land's search for the perfect empathy may well be as elusive as he contends, but observers have noted a remarkable musical rapport between the tenorist and the drummer with whom he apparently prefers to work, Frank Butler. Still, Land refuses to commit himself on this point for fear of offending other musicians.
Since his days with Roach and Brown, Land now feels that he has matured. "I have more to offer," he said. "I've learned a bit more since then."
For all his love of big-band sounds, he is happiest, he said, playing with small groups because of the blowing freedom this affords. But "a serious big band is beautiful," he remarked, "and I guess Gil Evans, Ernie Wilkins, and Quincy Jones are among my favorite arrangers. And don't leave out Gil Fuller and John Lewis and their charts for Dizzy Gillespie's big band years ago. This has been a long time ago, but age doesn't make any difference. They were good then, and they're still good."
Land is a typically west coast jazz son. Born in Houston, Texas, 31 years ago, he was reared and schooled in San Diego, Calif., which he left for Los Angeles eight years ago to seek his fortune. While pecuniary fortune may have eluded him thus far, he ranks today among the highest artistic earners in the top tenor bracket.”
On the following video, Harold is joined by Rolf Ericsson, trumpet, Carl Perkins, piano, Leroy Vinnegar, bass and Frank Butler, drums performing his original composition Smack Up.