Saturday, June 30, 2018

Harold Land - The Hard Bop Legacy [1928-2001]

© -  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.

down beat
June 6, 1960
John Tynan

“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.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Papa Jo Jones, 1911-1985, The Man Who Played Like The Wind

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

Papa Joe Jones … “the man who played like The Wind.”

“Jo Jones discovered that he could play the flow of the rhythm, not its demarcation.” – Martin Williams

“… if you listen to Elvin Jones first, you’ve got a problem. He was an original, but behind that originality lays every great drummer in Jazz. … many young people are trapped in the mystique of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and never get any farther than that. Trying to play like Elvin is the worst thing you can do if you haven’t checked out his sources.” – drummer Kenny Washington

“The cruel fact is that a drummer’s fate rises or falls with the musicians around him. If no one listens to Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Tommy Dorsey, Roy Eldridge, or Lester Young, no one will hear the drummers behind them. They become stranded in recent history – that zone of cultural memory that lays just beyond the frontiers of nostalgia where scholars begin to outnumber witnesses.” – John McDonough

“One thing for sure. Anyone who plays drums or supposedly appreciates drumming should experience Jo Jones.” – Buddy Rich

Thanks to a fortuitous meeting on July 4, 1957, I didn’t make the mistake of overlooking Papa Jo Jones when I reached out for my formative influences as an aspiring, young Jazz drummer.

The setting for this happenstance was the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival.

In those early days of its existence, the event was called the “American Jazz Festival at Newport, Rhode Island” and the gathering place for most of the musicians and dignitaries participating in the festival was Newport’s Hotel Viking.

Both sides of the entrance to the hotel are adorned with covered porches and it was there on that sweltering Independence Day in 1957 that someone sitting in a oversize, white rocking chair called out to me as I was walking up the stairs to enter the hotel: “Hey, little Mister, do you like Jazz music?”

The man calling out this inviting salutation had a broad smile that seemed to engulf his entire face. His eyes appeared to be gleaming with the joy of life and his manner of dress was, in the parlance of the time, swanky.

And so it was that I got to shake hands with the great Jo Jones and f
rom that moment on, the drumming of Papa Jo Jones entered my life and it has never left; forever imparted in my psyche. For as Dr. Bruce Klauber has so aptly stated.

“If Max Roach and Kenny Clarke are considered the fathers of modern drumming, then Jonathan "Jo" Jones has to be the godfather. By way of his work with Count Basie's band from 1936 to 1944 and 1946 to 1948, Jones redefined the concept of a drummer. He lightened up on the four-beats-to-the-bar standard of bass drum playing, was possibly the first to use the ride cymbal as the main timekeeping accessory, and did things with the hi-hats that are still being studied today. Jones' ability as a melodic and humorous soloist reminds one of a virtuoso tap dancer who makes everything look easy. Jones continues to be a major influence on everyone who played--and plays--drums.”

At the time of my first meeting with him, I didn’t realize that Jo Jones was no longer the regular drummer with Basie’s Band and hadn’t been since leaving the Count in 1948.

In the late 1950s, the drummer with the Basie Band was Sonny Payne. He played on all of the wonderful charts that composer-arranger Neal Hefti was then writing for the band, including providing the marvelous brushwork on “Cute,” which became one of his drum features. Sonny was also on the Basie Band the night I heard them, but he gave way to Jo Jones and several other illustrious alumni of the band during a portion of the Sunday, July 7th concert at Newport, including Lester Young [whom I later found out was nicknamed ‘The Pres,’ short for The President of the Tenor Saxophone’].

Some of the recordings from the era when Jo played with the band were beginning to be released on LP and this provided me with more opportunities to listen to him closely.

At this early age, Buddy Rich and Joe Morello had techniques that were unattainable by most, mere mortals [they still are] and Gene Krupa was too much of a showman for a quick-to-be-embarrassed teenager. But Jo Jones’ style of drumming was something that I could get on with during the copying and emulating periods in my development as a drummer, because Jo kept it all so simple.

The year following my meeting with Jo at the Newport Jazz Festival, we moved to Southern California.

Soon thereafter, I met Victor Feldman who had eschewed playing drums and was instead playing piano and vibes as a member of Howard Rumsey’s All-Stars at the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach, CA. Perhaps he took pity on me or needed the money, or both, but Victor agreed to offer me drum lessons. [One of the little known facts about Victor was that as a drummer he was the equal of Rich and Morello].

During one of our first instructions in a practice room at Roy Harte’s Drum City in Hollywood, CA, he suggested that I play time around the instrument using brushes on the snare, sticks on the ride cymbal and then sticks on the hi-hat while he observed.

Once I got to the hi-hat, Victor stopped me and asked: “Where’d you learn to play the hi-hat like that?” In answered: “From listening to Jo Jones on records with the Basie band.”

Victor smiled and said: “Don’t ever lose that feeling.”

Here’s more about Jo Jones as expressed in this brilliant short essay by the peerless Whitney Balliett from his Dinosaurs in the Morning. [Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1962, pp 61-67].

© Whitney Balliett, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Jo Jones, dms.”
“ONE of the minor legends of jazz, which has a mythology as busy as the Greeks', credits Jo Jones, the forty-eight-year-old Chicago-born drummer, with single-handedly setting off, in the late thirties, the revolution in drumming since blown forward by Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, and Elvin Jones. This theory holds that Jo Jones was the first drummer to use his bass drum for accents as well as for a timekeeper, the first to shift his other accompanying effects to his cymbals, and, all in all, the first to develop a whistling-in-the-morning attack that made most previous drumming resemble coal rattling down a chute.

Nonetheless, several contemporary drummers were doing many of the same things, and not necessarily because they knew Jones's work. (A highly regarded legendizing process in jazz is the convenient device of linking musicians with similar styles. Thus, John Lewis was once firmly informed that he resembled the late Clyde Hart, an economical and original pianist who was an indirect founder of bebop. Lewis replied that be had never heard Hart, in the flesh or on records.) Among these drummers were Chick Webb, whose work on the high-hat and the brushes is among the permanent ornaments of jazz; Alvin Burroughs, an adept, clean, nervous performer, who played as if on springs; O'Neil Spencer, who had much in common with Burroughs; Sidney Catlett, whose cymbal patterns, singular snare accents, and free-floating foot pedal were neater and snappier than Jones's; and Dave Tough, who often implied even more than Jones and whose cymbals, in particular, had a splashing clarity. But any disagreement with the theory about Jones's supposed pioneering is leveled not at him but at his admirers, who, like all jazz appreciators, are full of imagination. One of the handful of irreplaceable drummers, he stands -since Webb, Catlett, Burroughs, Spencer, and Tough are dead and most of the rest of his contemporaries are either inferior or in decline - as the last of a great breed.

One reason for Jones's over-glorification as a pioneer was his membership, from 1936 to 1948, in the Count Basie rhythm section, which included - in addition to Basie and Jones - Freddie Greene and Walter Page. This Basie rhythm section was classic proof of the powers of implication, for it achieved its ball-bearing motion through an almost Oriental casualness and indirection, as if the last thing in the world it wanted was to supply rhythm for a jazz band. The result was a deceptive sailing-through-life quality that was, like most magic, the product of hard work and a multi-layered complexity that offered the listener two delightful possibilities: the joint less sound of the unit as a whole, or, if one cared to move in for a close-up, the always audible timbre of each of its components.
And what marvelously varied timbres they were! At the top was Basie's piano, which, though most often celebrated for its raindrop qualities, attained its relaxed drive from a skillful pitting of loose right-hand figures against heavy left-hand chords. On the next rung came Greene, a peerless rhythm guitarist, whose Prussian beat, guidepost chords, and Aeolian harp delicacy formed a transparent but unbreakable net beneath Basie. Page, who had a generous tone on the bass and a bushy way of hitting his notes, gave the group much of its resonance, which was either echoed by Jones's foot pedal and snare or diluted by his cymbal work.

But the group's steady tension also derived from the way its members counteracted each other's occasional lapses. When Page's sense of dynamics or harmony gave way to overly vibrant or bad notes, Basie might blot them up with his left hand or release a spray of upper-register exclamations. When Greene's perfection seemed tediously precise, Jones's accents or Basie's unpredictability offset it. And when Jones occasionally grew heavy, slowed down, or raised the beat, Page, Basie, and Greene would head resolutely in the opposite direction. Most important, the Basic rhythm section dedicated itself to the proposition that each beat is equal, and, knee-actioned, wiped out both its own bumps and those handed down by all past rhythm sections. Although the group broke up more than a decade ago (only Greene remains with Basie), its low-key drive continues to seep into the four comers of jazz. And Jones, who has since worked with all types of jazz musicians, has been particularly pervasive.

Jones's style, which has not changed appreciably in the past twenty-five years, except for some sporadic, and pardonable, middle-aged heaviness, is elegant and subtle. As an accompanist, he provides a cushion of air for his associates to ride on. Primarily, this is achieved by his high-hat technique. His oarlocks muffled, he avoids the deliberate chunt chunt-chunt effect of most drummers by never allowing the sound of his stick striking the cymbals to be audible, and instead of ceaselessly clapping his cymbals shut on the traditionally accented beats he frequently keeps them open for several beats, producing a shooshing, drifting-downstream quality.

Jones's high-hat seems alternately to push a soloist along, to play tag with him, and-in the brief, sustained shooshes-to glide along beside him. His high-hat also varies a good deal according to tempo. At low speeds the cymbals sound like quiet water ebbing. At fast tempos they project an intensity that is the result of precision rather than the increase in volume displayed by most drummers. The rest of the time, Jones carries the beat on a couple of ride cymbals, on which - as opposed to the tinsmith's tink tink-tink of many drummers - he gets a clean, pushing ring. All of Jones's cymbal-playing is contained by spare and irregular accents on the bass drum and the snare, the latter of which he employs for rim shots that give the effect of being fired at the soloist's feet to keep him dancing. On top of all this, these devices form an unbroken flow; each number - pneumatically supported - comes through free of the cracks and breaks that drummers often inflict in the belief that they are providing support. Jones's brushes have been equaled by only a few drummers. They are neat, dry, and full of suggestive snare-drum accents, and when used on cymbals often seem an embellishment of silence rather than a full-blooded sound.

Jones is the embodiment of his own playing. A handsome, partly bald man whose physique resembles a tightly packed cigar and who moves in a quick, restless way, he smiles continually when he is at work, in a radiant, everything-is-fine-at-home fashion. Although he sits very still behind his drums (remember the demonic posturing of Gene Krupa?), his hands, attached to waving undersea arms, flicker about his set and his head snaps disdainfully from side to side, like a flamenco dancer's.

His solos, which have recently increased in length and variety but without losing any of their structure, sometimes begin with the brushes, which tick and polish their way between his snare drum and his tom-toms in patterns frequently broken by punching pauses. (Jones's solo brushwork - stinging and nimble - suggests, in sound and figure, that ideal of all tap-dancing, which great tap-dancers always seem headed for but never quite reach.) After a while Jones may joggle his high-hat cymbals up and down with his foot, while switching to drumsticks, and launch into riffling, clicking beats on the rim of a tom-tom as well as on its head (he may muffle it with one hand, achieving the sound produced by kicking a full suitcase), interspersed with sudden free tom-tom booms. He will then drop his sticks, under cover of more high-hat joggling, and go at the tom-toms with his hands, hitting them with a finger-breaking crispness. More high-hat, and he will fall into half time and, sticks in hand again, tackle the snare drum, at which he is masterly, starting with a roll as smooth as hot fudge being poured over marble. Gradually loosening the roll with stuttering accents, he will introduce rim shots - a flow of rolling still intact beneath - spacing them with a breath-catching unevenness, and then, in a boomlay-boom fashion, begin mixing in tom-tom strokes until the tom-toms take over and, in turn, are broken by snippets of snare-drum beats. Jones will slowly subside after returning to the snare for a stream of rapid on-beat strokes, and - an eight-day clock running down - end with a quiet bass-drum thump. There have been no cymbal explosions, repetitions, or dizzying, narcissistic technical displays. One has the feeling, in fact, of having heard distilled rhythm.

Three of Jones's recent efforts - "The Jo Jones Special" (Vanguard), "Jo Jones Trio" (Everest), and "Jo Jones Plus Two" (Vanguard) - are sufficient samplers of his work. The first record is valuable largely for two takes of "Shoe Shine Boy," in which the old Basie rhythm section is reassembled, along with Emmett Berry, Lucky Thompson, and Benny Green. (Nat Pierce is on piano in four of the five other numbers, and for the last there is an entirely different group, composed of - among others - Pete Johnson, Lawrence Brown, and Buddy Tate.) The two versions are done at medium-up tempos, and are just about equal in quality. Thompson and Berry are in commendable form, but the rhythm section is priceless. Listen, in the first take, to the way Jones switches from joyous high-hat work behind Basie's solo to plunging, out-in-the-open patterns on his ride cymbal when the first horn enters; to Basie's down-the-mountainside left hand near the end of Thompson's first chorus; and to Jones's four-bar break on his snare drum at the close of the number, done with sharply uneven dynamics that make the prominent beats split the air. There is also a rendition of "Caravan," by the alternate group, in which Jones takes a tidy solo, complete with mallets on the tom-toms, bands on the tom-toms (here, a plopping sound like that achieved by hooking a finger into one's mouth, closing the lips, and drawing the finger abruptly out), and oil-and-water patterns on the snare with sticks.

Jones is accompanied on the trio records by Ray and Tommy Bryant. Although the first record is crowded with twelve numbers, which seem, be cause of their brevity (the kind of brevity that smacks of the nervous a.-and-r. man), more like suggestions than complete numbers, there are brilliant instances of Jones's brush work. These occur in a fast blues, "Philadelphia Bound," into which Jones injects some fine high-hat work, particularly behind the bass solo; in the slower "Close Your Eyes," in which his first four-bar break is taken in a startling and absolutely precise double time that conveys to the listener that sense of pleasant astonishment unique to good jazz drumming; and in the leisurely "Embraceable You," in which Jones washes discreetly and ceaselessly back and forth on his snare. On the second trio record, which, surprisingly, is far inferior acoustically to the Everest L.P. (Vanguard's production methods are usually impeccable), Jones develops his "Caravan" solo, in a hundred-miles-an-hour version of "Old Man River," by taking a four-minute excursion in which be uses the brushes, sticks on muffled tom-toms, sticks on open tom-toms, hands on tom-toms, sticks on snare and tom-toms, and a soft ending with sticks on the snare. Jones is exemplary in the remaining eight numbers, both in briefer solos and in his accompaniment. He also allows a good deal of space to Ray Bryant, lending him the same heedless, sparkling force he grants everyone.”

The recordings reviewed by Whitney involving the Bryant Brothers and Jo have all been released on CD entitled The Essential Jo Jones [Vanguard 101/2-2], a compilation that also contains six tracks from the Vanguard LP The Jo Jones Special that features many of Jo’s buddies from the Basie Band such as trumpeter Emmett Berry, trombonist Benny Green, and tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson. Freddie Green on guitar and Walter Page on bass, is old rhythm section mates, are on these cuts and Count Basie makes an appearance on Shoe Shine Boy.Here are excerpts from John Hammond’s insert notes to the Vanguard CD release that indicates the high esteem that Hammond, a noted Jazz impresario, held for Jo:“Jo Jones is not only one of the great drummers of jazz but also a major original artist who has left a permanent mark on jazz history and development. The word "great" is one that this writer always feels a little embarrassed about using in connection with a jazz musician; not that the term isn't justified, but that it jars so painfully when one thinks at the same time of the insecure existence that is the lot of practically every such performer, including those long celebrated as "geniuses" in books and treatises. When a man is publicly recognized as "Great" it should earn him, one thinks, an opportunity to keep producing his best with an untroubled mind. But such a Utopia has not yet arrived. And still, it is one of the miracles that out of the blind and insane commercial musical world to which jazz is inextricably bound, a world that blows hot one year and cool the next, that hands out bonanzas and blanks according to the caprices of fashion, so much comes forth that is a continual testament to the power of the creative imagination.

In this jazz world Jonathan 'Jo" Jones, born in Chicago, has worked for many years. He has been a star of undiminished brightness from the years (1936-1948) in which he sparked the incomparable rhythm section of the famous Count Basic band, through his subsequent performances with various combos, and demand appearances on radio, television and record sessions, to today. when he presents his hearers with a jazz of solid integrity, and effervescent flow of fresh ideas.

There are many outstanding drummers in jazz, and each has his devoted admirers. But all would agree that Jo Jones belongs among the elect, and there is no list of the drummers who have made jazz history that would not put him at the top or close to it. He combines an incredible technique with lightness, humor and imagination. He single-handedly changed the entire concept of jazz percussion. Great drummers like Chick Webb, Gene Krupa and even Sid Catlett had provided the rhythm section and the entire band with a driving power and beat. Jo relaxed the drive of the right foot, using it for just the necessary accents, reminding the listener of the beat rather than insisting on it, realizing that one note in the right place could have more effect that a flurry of sound. He added a variety of timbres, establishing the jazz battery of drums as a musical instrument of genuine beauty. It was the perfect counterfoil to the new approach to jazz piano introduced by Basie.

Jones and Basie, with inspired collaboration of Freddie Green on guitar and Walter Page on bass, brought richness of sound and subtlety to jazz rhythm, providing at the same time an unequaled lift and support for the soloists.”
Thankfully, Burt Korall has included a 46-page chapter on Jo in his Drummin’ Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz – The Swing Years [New York: Schirmer Books, 1990, pp. 117-163]. And while this is far too much information for the purpose of this profile, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has used Burt’s chapter to put together the following brief synopsis of Jo’s career and some of the qualities of mind and manner that made him unique.
© Burt Korall, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Pictures of Jo Through the Years
“Jonathan David Samuel Jones was born October 7, 1911, in Chicago, the son of Samuel and Elizabeth Jones.

Jo always wanted to learn, to be able to give more and more of himself. Because he was by nature a curious and highly sensitive person, with a capacity for absorbing what he saw and heard, Jones assimilated and integrated what he experienced musically. The process was never-ending; that's why Jones never got "old" as a player. He also used what he learned in his own way. He wasn't a copy.

Growing up during the 1920s, Jo Jones was on intimate terms with the growth and development of multiple types of popular music and entertainment, He was there, taking it all in, participating: he traveled around the country in carnivals and vaudeville, medicine shows and circuses; later, with bands and groups, he added to the sum of his knowledge. Responsive to and respectful of those who really knew the field, he became an informed, increasingly colorful figure-sure of his ground, seemingly always putting others to the test.

An artist who knew how to manipulate audiences, Jo Jones was a performer. How he dressed, how he carried himself-everything was part of the impression made, he said.

He and his contemporaries were "show business" because that's the way it was when they were coming along. Though many things about Jones changed with the years, the way he "performed" in front of an audience remained unchanged.

Like Count Basie, his great friend and longtime employer, Jones was completely and thoroughly stage-struck. He enjoyed being around musicians and performers, theaters, clubs, and concert halls, and loved anything that had to do with music and entertainment. He relished talking shop. More than most, he cared for and nurtured young players. Jones was deeply proud of being a musician and realized his responsibility to up and coming musicians.

Despite protestations to the contrary, he never really thought seriously about being anything but a performer. His fascination with the business was permanent. His need to play and be a part of music never left him-even as life came to a close.

He once said: "I want to play twenty-six hours a day, even though I know I need sleep. I don't want to go near music when I can't play. I sit there and the palms of my hands are perspiring. It's a real feeling of frustration."” [p. 126] …

“It was Jones' feeling that other musicians missed a lot by not having the benefit of widespread experience. At the close of his life, he often said that Roy Eldridge was one of the few remaining players who had "gone to the same school." Only Eldridge had shared with Jones the wonder of travel and the diversity of show business. The others "never saw the people ... they didn't hit the forty-eight states-villages and hamlets," he declared. "After World War II, it got so they could get an airplane and they never saw nothing!"

As vaudeville, carnivals, circuses, and other traveling shows felt the effect of talking pictures, radio, and recordings, it became apparent to Jones that the future was elsewhere. Because of the change in the entertainment business and the response of people to it, Jones became increasingly involved with drums and the performance of music with bands.

From the late 1920s until linking up with Count Basie in Kansas City in 1934, Jones played his way through a number of bands. He traveled a good deal of the time, using Omaha as his center of operations, all the while becoming immersed in what was happening in music through the Midwest and Southwest.

Jones set a pattern that he followed to the end of his life. Wherever there was a prospect of great music being made, he turned up. He found out, or instinctively knew, where the great sessions would be held in any city or town. He played piano, vibraphone and drums, depending on what was necessary and how he felt. He soon realized that he could be most expressive on the drum set. By the time he joined Basie, Jones had forsaken the other instruments for the most part. Besides, "being a drummer paid better."

Jones didn't talk much about playing with the pre-Basie bands. But he indicated that performing with the Ted Adams Band, Harold Jones' Brown Skin Syncopaters, the Grant Moore Band, the Jap Allen Band, the famed Bennie Moten Ensemble, and Lloyd Hunter's Serenaders-with whom he made his first record in 1931-helped him develop his distinctive manner of playing.

The style he brought to the Basie band was a product of "the people he rubbed elbows with" and the parts of the country in which he did his performing and listening. The Midwest and Southwest, where his activity was centered during the pre-Basie years, were geographically open areas. It is not incidental that the way bands and individual players from these two sections of America expressed themselves often reflected the spaciousness of the areas. The rhythm was generally looser and lighter than in other places. Drummers allowed the beat to flow, so the rhythmic line straightened out, and ultimately became a rolling 4/4 in the Basie band.” [p. 134]

“The performers of the Midwest and Southwest were noted for their rhythmic invention and change. rhythmic invention and change. During the 1920s and the first years of the 1930s, there was a progressive modification of the pulse of Midwestern and Southwestern bands. One has only to listen to the early Bennie Moten recordings on Victor--cut in the 1920s-and the 1932 session for the same label by this premier Kansas City band. The time feeling moves from two beats to the measure to straight four. Other influential bands within this general territory, such as the much-admired ensemble led by Alfonso Trent, and certainly Walter Page's Blue Devils, were going in the same direction as Moten. They were starting to relax and swing.

Jo Jones was in the midst of the turbulence and creativity in these areas, moving as he did from band to band. What was being experimented with in the Midwest and Southwest would, within a few years, affect the entire musical community from coast-to-coast. On a recording by the Grant Moore band, "Mama Don't Allow No Music Playing Here" (Vocalion, 1938) are bass drum "bomb" patterns (by Harold Flood) that became common in the mid-1940s. Willie McWashington, the drummer who preceded Jo Jones in the Bennie Moten band, was also experimenting. "He played 'stumbles' they now call them bombs. He made that connection between the interlude and the out chorus. Nobody could drop it in the bucket like him," Jones said. Though Roy Eldridge said that Chick Webb was among the first to "shoot bombs," and others claim Kenny Clarke was a primary pioneer when it came to bombs and snare and bass drum coordination, it was in the bands of the Midwest and Southwest that this rhythmic idea initially took form.” [p. 135]

[Quoting drummer Cliff Leeman]: Jo was sitting up there above the band, smiling and cooking. The band was on fire. Basie had found the recipe and Jo was a key part of it.

Let me tell you, the band became unbelievable. You never felt anything like that! Jo scared the life out of me. I had never heard anyone play that way in my entire life.

Jo Jones had a great influence on every drummer who heard him, particularly in those early years. He played the high-hat with so much finesse. He did so much on it that he turned it into an independent instrument. So many techniques and touches for the hat are his creations. Jo was the first person I ever heard keep time on a closed high-hat while developing counterpoint-in-rhythm with his left hand on the high-hat stand. So many things: the feeling of variation he brought to high-hat playing-how he changed the accents and the feel of the dotted eighth and sixteenth rhythm without interrupting the flow. His little kick beats on the bass drum behind Basie's piano-so unusual for the time. The way he tuned his drums, to intervals, also was a plus. His drums had an open, un-muffled sound. This sort of tuning is difficult for many drummers because it demands great control of the hands and the right foot. The tuning worked well for him; he found he could get out what he wanted to say because the situation was so challenging.

One of Jo's most charming bits of business was a thing he did with his right heel. He kept time with it on the floor, combining this sound with what he did on the high-hat. Frequently he would take his foot off the bass drum pedal and use the clicking of the right heel on the floor, alone, as an extra bit of color.

While playing brushes, he'd sweep with the left hand and play a shuffle beat with the right. it was a particularly powerful technique when the tempo was up there-real fast. The beat became so strong. It wasn't the kind of shuffle beat you associate with bands like Jan Savitt; it had the feeling of a triplet while retaining something of the shuffle. It made you think of a tap dancer. So many great drummers have been tap dancers and come from that tradition: Jo, Big Sidney [Catlett], Buddy [Rich], Louie Bellson.

It's hard to believe that Jo did all that great stuff on drums [that were] held together with ropes and on cymbals that were just awful. Until Jo became more widely known, and replaced them, he had a rag-tag bunch of drums and cymbals. Still he made them sound.

His ideas and some of the things he played had a base in the past. But a large number of his techniques, patterns, concepts did not come from any place or anyone. They were original with Jo Jones. I can only say about Jo what you have often written about Buddy Rich, "There will never be another like him."” [pp. 142-43]

“Jo knocked out a lot of people. One of the most important was music man John Hammond. He was so impressed that he used his influence to thrust Jo, Basie, and the rest onto a larger stage, bringing them to a nationwide audience.” [p. 140]

“’The All-American Rhythm Section’ of Basie, Page, Green, and Jones had its own recipe. Relaxing, being natural, responding consonantly and with feeling to the music-all of this gave the section distinction. The section blended flow and interaction, flexibility and freedom, bringing to the Basie music a lightness and a provoking sense of pulsation that carried one along.

Very simply, the section swung as none had before, providing a potent example of what could be done if rhythm players moved in the same direction. The beautiful part, though, was that each person in the section never forgot who and what he was, or what a variegated role his instrument could play.” [p. 146]

“The years with Count Basie formed the core of his musical life. Subconsciously, he compared everything before and after with the Basie experience.

In many ways, Jones never left the band. Until the end of his life, there was that link with Basie. In the mind of the public and many of his colleagues, Jones remained Basie's drummer, despite the fact he played so well with others and on his own.

In spirit, Jo and Basie were together until the pianist's death in 1984. The love and respect Jones had for his old friend and former employer often were quite touching. As Basie wound down his life, encumbered by illness, Jo kept at him to slow down, in his typically gruff manner: "All the man has to do is maybe ten concerts a year. He could get Pep [Freddie Green], a bass player, and me and not work so hard," the drummer insisted. "But he has to have that band and travel all the time. No need for that at this point!" Every time he discussed Basie's schedule, Jo revealed his concern for what might happen to his buddy, his deep voice sharpening into an exclamation point.

Jo found it difficult to view Basie in a mechanical wheel chair. He only wanted to remember the glory years when everything was in a good groove.” [p. 149]

Less than a year later, on September 3, 1985, Jo was gone, too.

JOHN LEWIS [pianist, composer-arranger, funding member of the Modern Jazz Quartet]: “You heard the time but it wasn’t a ponderous thing that dictated where the phrases would go. The band played the arrangements and the soloists were free because the time didn’t force them into any places they didn’t want to go.”

GEORGE WEIN [pianist, impresario who was responsible for producing the Newport Jazz Festival, record producer]: “Jo Jones may have been the most important drummer in the history of jazz.”

IRV KLUGER: “Jo created colors, laid down the down beats and up beats, and brought the [Basie] band in. A revolutionary change had taken place. The Basie feeling was so different from the 4/4 thumping of other sections. Jo’s cymbals, the guitar and the bass walking together, the plinking of Basie and the way he edged in his left hand once in a while – it just lightened everything up and made the jazz rhythm section come to the fore. What these guys did was very difficult to imitate. You had to be so fine. You had to know why you were there.

GUS JOHNSON [drummer]: “I never saw anything like it, the way he was with those brushes. It was smooth as you’d want to hear anybody play, and it was just right easy. He was smiling, doing little bitty things, and he wasn’t working. Jo’s personality and everything knocked me out!”

DAN MORGENSTERN [Jazz writer, Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University]: “The effortless grace of the movements, on or off the stand, bespeak his early days as a dancer, just as his solo work may sometimes remind of the fascinating patterns created by the masters of the vanishing art of jazz tap dance.”

LOUIE BELLSON [drummer, composer-arranger, big band leader]: “ As Buddy Rich said – and I agree – if you have to choose one guy it would be Jo Jones. When he came out with the Basie Band, it was if we had been waiting for him. Drummers listened and said: ‘Yeah, that’s where it is. That’s the way a drummer should sound.’ Jo brought fluidity – a musical, legato feeling – to drumming. He also showed us how to set up a band for the finale – the shout chorus. When he played that four bars it was like saying, “Here it is!”

EARL WARREN [lead alto player with Count Basie 1937-45]: “During the heyday of the Basie Band, it was essential – certainly when you played theaters – for the drummer to play an extended, interesting solo – not a lot of noise. Jo came up with some of the sharpest drum solos I ever heard. His vehicle was ‘Prelude in C Sharp Minor,’ a Rachmaninov thing. Jimmy Mundy made an arrangement together for him.

Jo put together a composition each time he played that feature. What he did was tasteful and very rarely did he go over the same ground twice. His solos could begin on any part of the set. He moved all around. I particularly liked what he did on the tom-toms.

When he got to the high-hat and the cymbals – that was the climax. He worked the high-hat, made it talk, then went up on the cymbals, mixing colors and patterns.”

MEL LEWIS [drummer, co-leader of the Thad Jones Mel Lewis Orchestra later to become the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, both forerunners of the current Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra]: “Of course, Jo played the high-hat for Pres. But he did something else for him … and only for him. He did what he called his ‘ding, ding-a-ding’ on a small, heavy cymbal sitting on a spring holder that was mounted very low on the right side of the bass drum. It had a sound that carried and surrounded Pres.

Jo said that it was really the beginning of ride cymbal playing for him. There might have been others, maybe Dave Tough, who played time on a cymbal this way. But I think that Jo was the first one who loosened things up. He was a pioneer when it came to playing what is now called a ‘ping’ cymbal. The dotted eight and sixteenth rhythm was clearly stated and felt, yet floated, the shimmer of the cymbal providing a cushion for the player or the band. I had never heard anyone do that before Jo. It knocked me out.”

JOE NEWMAN [trumpeter who came to fame as a featured soloist with the Basie Band]: “As a player, Jo had extraordinary style – so much personality. That million-dollar smile of his would light up a stage. What he did went far beyond showmanship. He really knew how to fire up the band. And he did it his own way.”

“Jo Jones was like Louis Armstrong. He did a lot of things first. Techniques and attitudes that today’s musicians take for granted Jo developed.”

ROY ELDRIDGE [one of the most influential trumpet players in the history of Jazz who was featured with a number of Swing Era Big Bands]: “You know one thing that people overlook about Jo’s playing in the Basie Band? His bass drum. He didn’t stop playing it, as some say. He kept a light four going, giving a bottom to the rhythm. Drummers in those days used to tune their drums to a G of the bass fiddle. And the way they used their bass drum didn’t come out boom, boom, boom, but just blended with the bass. The guitar was also playing four, right? So everything was going along the same course, together!

EDDIE DURHAM [trombonist, guitarist, composer-arranger who performed with a variety of Swing Era Big Bands]: “Jo was a master at setting tempos. I think that Basie learned a lot from Jo Jones.”

HARRY EDISON [Known as “Sweets” for the beautiful tone he got on the trumpet was a long-time member of the Basie Big Band, Jazz At The Philharmonic Tours and leader of his own groups]: “It used to send chills up me every night when I’d hear that rhythm section. The whole band would be shouting, you know. And we’d go to … the middle part, the bridge, and all of a sudden … everybody would drop out but the rhythm section. Oh, my goodness, I’ve never heard a band swing like that.”

JOHN HAMMOND [legendary Jazz impresario, talent scout and the man responsible for bringing Count Basie from Kansas City and establishing him in New York]: “All kinds of drummers came to hear Jo at Roseland [the ballroom in NYC where the Basie band was performing] in 1936 and, later, in 1938 and 1939 at the Famous Door on 52nd Street. And he was as much a sex symbol as Gene [Krupa]. Handsome, a shade arrogant, a man with a great smile. Jo had the chicks just falling over him.”

JAY McSHANN [long-time, Kansas City resident band leader who gave Charlie Parker’s career an earlier start]: “Jo Jones had that thing, that swing that everybody dug so much. All the drummers ‘round town learned from him. Jo could play with sticks and then brush you into bad health. Like the other drummers out there who could really play, Jo was relaxed and not too technical.
His rhythm was light and natural. It was there, easy to feel. It got you going. See, it wasn’t ‘right to it, right to it, right to it,’ you understand? It was somewhere between tight and loose. KC rhythm might seem straightforward. But it’s really sophisticated and subtle.”

LOUIE BELLSON: “I remember one of the last jazz festivals in Newport, George Wein decided to get all the drummers he thought were top echelon at the time. Buddy [Rich] was there Mel Lewis, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, maybe two or three other players [including Louie]. Buddy did his thing, pulling out all the stops. I did everything I could with two bass drums. Elvin played real well. Everybody just – boom! – played hard and creatively.

Came time for Jo Jones; he went out with a high-hat and pair of sticks and tore everybody apart. We all threw up our hands and said, ‘Okay, you got it, man. That’s all.’ No drum set. Just the high-hat. And he broke it up.”

BOB BLUMENTHAL [Jazz writer and historian]: “To put Jo Jones in perspective, how many others in jazz history, both epitomized their own era and made essential contributions to the next?”

[All of these reminiscences are drawn from Burt’s book, the Drummers World website and other conversations with Irv Kluger, Mel Lewis and Louie Bellson.]

In 1976, not the best decade for Jazz on records, Norman Granz brought Jo and a bunch of old [and some new] friends together at the RCA Studios in New York and, as a fitting tribute to Jo, recorded Jo Jones: The Main Man [Pablo 2310-799; OJCCD-869-2]. On it Jo is joined by former Basie-ites Harry “Sweets” Edison, Vic Dickenson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Freddie Green. Roy Eldridge partners with “Sweets” to form a brass section and Tommy Flanagan and Sam Jones pair up with Green and Jones in the rhythm section.
The group performs six tunes including a measured, slow take on “Goin’ to Chicago Blues and toe-tapping versions of “Dark Eyes” and “Old Man River.” 

Producer Norman Granz had this to say about the recording in his insert notes:
“This all-star date was led by the drummer universally regarded as the dean, the daddy, the doyen, the main man. Jo Jones is the source of modern drumming. He was the man who imparted his celebrated ball-bearing smoothness to the All-American rhythm section that he inhabited with Count Basie, Walter Page and Freddie Green. His way of playing drums led to the rhythmic freedom not just for drummers but the soloists who depended on them.”
In August, 2008 the Veterans Committee elected Jo Jones to the Downbeat Magazine Jazz Hall of Fame. And while we are grateful to them for doing so, it would seem that their timing is not nearly as good as Jo’s.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Search for Roy DuNann

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

For those Jazz fans who came of age with the LP, the name Rudy van Gelder is a familiar one as the engineering force behind many of the classic Blue Note, Prestige and Savoy Jazz recordings from the 1950s and 60s. Because of his skill, Rudy was able to give those recordings a unique sound while capturing the brilliance of many iconic performers and performances.

Those of us on the Left Coast shared a similar indebtedness to Roy DuNann and his audio engineering work at Les Koenig's Contemporary Records.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles spent the time looking for a source for this piece on Roy because we thought it was the least we could do to keep the information available on the internet about a recording engineer who brought so much pleasure into the lives of so many Jazz fans through his skill and his devotion to high standards.

Given many of today’s recording techniques with their emphasis on loudness to the point of distorting the music [let alone also helping to destroy the ears of its listeners], it's certainly interesting to contrast this approach with that of the recording style used by Roy DuNann.

Ironically, the humble and self-effacing Mr. DuNann, who did so much to preserve the audio quality of the music on so many of the 1950s Contemporary Records that he recorded wasn't even a Jazz fan!

Our thanks to the writer Thomas Conrad whose initial quest to know more about the pioneering and resourceful Mr. DuNann led to this article which was originally published in the April 2002 edition of Stereophile.

© -Thomas Conrad/Stereophile, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The Search for Roy DuNann By Thomas Conrad

I don't remember the year, but I remember the moment when I first became intensely curious about Roy DuNann. It must have been about 1975, right after I moved to Seattle. I bought a Sonny Rollins LP called Way Out West, took it home, cued it up on my Thorens turntable, dropped the tonearm, and suddenly I was in a room with Rollins and Shelly Manne and Ray Brown. It was a shipping room with records stacked on shelves all around the musicians, but I wouldn't know that until many years later.

The song was, improbably, I'm an Old Cowhand, and it began with Shelly Manne striking a woodblock in the right channel, and the blows carried in a perfectly defined acoustic space that included me. Then Rollins' tenor sax came in, so real in the left channel that I believed I could walk up and touch it. Deadpan, Rollins bit off the notes of Johnny Mercer's cowboy melody, the details of his pronunciation audible in his reed, now raspy, now clarion-clear.

The label was Contemporary, and the back of the album jacket said, "Recorded at Contemporary's Studios, Los Angeles. Produced by Lester Koenig. Sound by Roy DuNann." What made the sound truly astonishing was the recording date: March 7, 1957.

I found other Contemporary albums, and discovered some extraordinary music, such as Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders and Teddy Edwards' Teddy's Ready. The sound of these albums had a naturalness and sense of space that I had never heard before — except in live music. And that purity of sound was achieved in the very early days of stereo, in 1957 and 1958 and 1960. Who the hell was this Roy DuNann?

It was not easy to find out. Lester Koenig, owner of Contemporary and producer of all of its sessions, died in 1977. He had typically provided voluminous liner notes for each album, but none of them talked about recording techniques or the engineer. Reliable reference works and histories, such as Jazz: The Essential Companion by Carr, Fairweather, and Priestley, and the scholarly West Coast Jazz by Ted Gioia, never mention DuNann, though the latter repeatedly affirms the historical importance of Lester Koenig and his label.

The most comprehensive reference work of all, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, contains no entry on DuNann, though it covers the Contemporary label in detail, even praising Koenig's "high standards" and "concern for quality" — without ever mentioning sound. It was easy to find references to Rudy Van Gelder. Van Gelder's quantity certainly exceeded DuNann's, since he engineered hundreds of famous sessions for the Blue Note label in the 1950s and '60s, and has remained active to the present day. But the quality of Van Gelder's early recordings, with their fuzzy pianos and flat soundstages, is not in the same class with Roy's.

The only people with whom I could share my enthusiasm for DuNann's work were jazz engineers and producers. Jim Anderson knew about Roy DuNann. He's one of the most respected engineers on the current scene, responsible for the lick-your-ear sound of Patricia Barber's recordings, and he absolutely lit up (over the phone) when I mentioned DuNann. Anderson remembered his college days at Duquesne, when he first heard some of the DuNann Contemporaries in a friend's dorm room and was stunned by their "beautiful golden round bloom."

Joe Harley knew all about Roy — or rather, Roy's sound. Harley is the producer of several dozen sonically exceptional recordings for labels like AudioQuest and Groove Note and Enja. He had been a DuNann fan since he was in high school in the late '60s. But, like everyone else who admired Roy's work, Harley mused, "I wonder whatever happened to him. I wonder if he's still alive." Harley was the first to tell me that DuNann's last known whereabouts were Arizona.

My respect for DuNann's achievements reached a new level in spring 2001, when I received a batch of Contemporary titles on the JVC XRCD label. They included classics like Art Pepper + Eleven, André Previn's West Side Story, and, yes, Way Out West.

For the XRCD reissue program, JVC engineers Akira Taguchi and Alan Yoshida micromanage every element of the mastering and manufacturing processes in order to get the highest-quality transfer from the original master tape. In its XRCD version, Way Out West was sublime. Another title in the batch was Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, and it made me laugh out loud. No recording from January of 1957 had any right to hit me in the face like that — Pepper's alto fiercely alive and dancing on air, Paul Chambers' bass hitting deep and hard. I had to find Roy DuNann, and ask him how he'd done it.

It was not easy. There was, as far as I could discover, not a single DuNann living in the state of Arizona. There were DuNanns in southern California, but no Roys. Fantasy, Inc. in Berkeley, California, current owner of the Contemporary catalog, couldn't help.

The breakthrough came by way of Bernie Grundman, the well-known mastering engineer who runs the BGM mastering studio in Los Angeles. I learned from Joe Harley that Grundman had briefly worked under Roy at a Phoenix recording studio in the mid-1960s. When I reached Grundman, he had some interesting things to say about Roy, and one stopped me cold. He said that Roy had moved to the Seattle area many years ago because his children lived there. "I'm pretty sure he's still in Seattle...if he's still alive."

I called Seattle Directory Assistance and got his number immediately. A high, clear, rather inflectionless voice answered on the second ring. I asked to speak to Roy DuNann.


"Is this Roy DuNann, the audio engineer?"

There was a moment of silence. "I used to be."

I suddenly did not know what to say next. "I've been looking all over for you," I finally told him.

"I've been right here," he responded in his dry, logical engineer's voice.

Roy DuNann lives about 20 miles from me, up a long, curving, gravel driveway in a log-cabin house surrounded by tall conifers and leafy trees, in Bothell, Washington, a northern suburb of Seattle. On a Saturday afternoon in the late summer of 2001, I sat with him and his wife, Dorothy, around their dining-room table while Roy talked into my portable Sony tape recorder.

Roy and Dorothy are both 81. Dorothy is neatly turned out in sweater and slacks, with beautiful hair and a warm smile. The fact that someone from a magazine (even one whose name she does not know) is there to write about Roy makes her smile frequently. Roy is more skeptical — virtually no one has asked him about his work at Contemporary for at least three decades — but willing to make his best effort to remember those years because, on the phone, he has agreed to do so. Roy is compact and light on his feet, with hearing aids in both ears, dressed in clean jeans and a western shirt. His blue eyes sparkle with alertness. He gathers his thoughts before he answers each question, and a smile plays around the corners of his mouth when he encounters certain memories.

Roy was born in Oakland, California, and went through high school in Piedmont, an Oakland suburb. He got interested in electronics in the early 1930s, when he was in junior high school. The fact that he was a ham radio operator plays into this story in several ways.

"That's probably one thing that blew out my ears — wearing headphones all the time," Roy speculates in his matter-of-fact tone. He attended the University of California at Berkeley but joined the Navy before graduating. "Pearl Harbor came along shortly after I signed up," he remembers. Along with 10 other American hams, Roy was sent to England to learn about a radical new technology called radar.

After the war, one of Roy's Navy buddies (Warren Birkenhead, also a ham) got him a job with a young company in Los Angeles called Capitol Records. Roy's first job was in quality control — not with recordings, but with the Packard-Bell 78rpm record players (including one crank-up model) that Capitol was providing to record stores for demonstration purposes. They needed a QC guy, Roy relates, because the Packard-Bells "had many problems." All day, Roy "listened to one chorus of Peggy Lee and some test tones."

He was rescued by Capitol's decision to set up its own recording facilities. Capitol had been using independent studios, but by 1947 they were selling a lot of records, and they wanted their own. They needed some technical types to outfit the new studio and set it up for them, and Roy and his friend Warren Birkenhead were drafted.

More than 50 years later, when I talked to Bernie Grundman, he remembered Roy as a "natural engineer" who "could look at a circuit and intuitively know what change to make to create a desired response." Roy's experience at Capitol was typical of a pattern that applied to his entire career. He was given a challenge, not because he had prior experience in technologies like radar or recording, but because, somewhere up the chain, someone believed that this "natural engineer" would figure it out. Through rare engineering instincts and old-fashioned American ingenuity, Roy always did. But these are not virtues Roy would claim for himself. He is the most humble of men, genuinely puzzled by the interest in his work of so many years ago.

Roy and Warren set up four lathes for lacquer mastering in Capitol's new studio on Melrose Boulevard in Hollywood. They designed an innovative system connecting two lathes with a 12" aluminum bar, which could record two originals simultaneously. Roy remembers that, even before they were finished setting up the studio, Capitol acquired an Ampex single-track tape recorder, serial no. 3.

The first engineer whom Roy saw use a lot of mikes for a session was John Palladino. Roy "thought it would be fun" to work in the studio because he liked country and western music, and Capitol had artists under contract like Tex Ritter, Tex Williams, and, later on, Tennessee Ernie Ford. From Palladino, Roy "picked up how to mike different things" and also how to operate Capitol's 10-channel tube console.

In those days, Roy emphasizes, "The engineer did everything. I set up the studio, put the chairs out, put the mikes out, punched the “Record” button on the tape machine, mixed the session, edited the tapes, cut the master...everything. The console had nothing in it but mixing controls. We did very little modification of the signal in any way except volume-wise. The final tape would be it — you couldn't modify it. Except with a scissors."

Roy became Capitol's studio manager, and in the days before engineers were identified on record sleeves, he did hundreds of sessions. He recorded Nat "King" Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin (including That's Amore), Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Jo Stafford, and Stan Kenton. He says, "I never heard anything louder than standing out in front of the Kenton band. No wonder I developed hearing problems."

Capitol rented its recording facilities to other labels, and also cut masters for them. One was a Dixieland label called Good Time Jazz, owned by Lester Koenig. "Lester was a very fussy guy, a perfectionist, and he thought Capitol was the best mastering facility," Roy remembers. It's easy to understand why Koenig would want to hire Roy away from Capitol, but it's more difficult to understand why Roy would accept the offer. But life as studio manager for a large label was becoming stressful. "The business guys" at Capitol were starting to come around the studio too much. Roy liked Lester and liked Dixieland — almost as much as Tex Ritter.

Almost immediately after Roy went to work for Koenig in 1956, two things changed. Koenig decided to begin recording modern jazz, and he decided to set up his own studio. Roy knew little about the former and a lot about the latter, but his experience at Capitol had not prepared him to set up a studio in the absence of money and space. Once again, he had to figure it out.

Koenig had an office in a little building on Melrose Place, a short street off Melrose Boulevard, and in the back was a little shipping room where "a couple guys worked shipping out Good Time Jazz records." Right off the shipping room, across a narrow hall from one another, were two tiny offices, one vacant, one occupied by a publicist who wrote a monthly newsletter. In a corner of the shipping room was an Address-O-Graph machine, for the newsletter.

"Lester decided he wanted to try recording jazz groups in the shipping room," Roy remembers. "There were records stacked all over the place on shelves. We needed a little control room so we could listen on loudspeakers without feedback into the studio. So we set it up in the office across from the publicist's. Lester had a German friend who had worked at Telefunken with an engineer named Neumann. This friend had brought a Telefunken condenser microphone with him from Germany. It was named after the most famous German World War II U-boat, the U-47. Later there was a Neumann U-47, of course. It may have been the same microphone.

"The recording studios at the time were using broadcast microphones — RCAs, Western Electrics — ribbon-type dynamic mikes. This Telefunken really sounded different. Lester liked it so much he bought a few condenser mikes out of Germany and Austria, including a couple of Austrian AKGs, C-12s, that were really expensive. Lester had these AKGs and Telefunkens when I got there. They were about all he had. He was using them when he was still recording in other studios. He would bring them with him to the sessions."

Roy explains that "Lester wanted to set up the studio as cheap as possible, and make it sound as good as possible." Lester's expensive condenser mikes had high output because of the tube preamps built into their heads. When Lester took them into a recording studio (like, for example, Capitol's, which was set up for a variety of microphones, primarily dynamic), the signal coming off Lester's mikes had to be attenuated so that they did not overload the equipment.

"So," Roy continues, "it was my idea — why attenuate the microphones and then amplify the signal again? Why don't we just take the signal out of the microphones and run it through variable attenuators, and we wouldn't need any amplifiers? So that was the original console. Nothing to it. I probably had eight attenuators. That was before they had sliders, even. Couldn't find any decent sliders. Didn't even want one. We did all our mixing by turning knobs. We went from the attenuators right into the tape machine — no other equipment."

Forty-five years later, Bernie Grundman reflected that "Roy was making the best sound in the business by cutting corners. It was such a clean signal path. All the gain that was needed for the mixing function came right off the microphone preamps. Roy could mix like that, on the fly."

The 45-year-old picture begins to clarify: In a tiny shipping room, whose acoustics are a miraculous accident, often in the middle of the night after the musicians have finished their regular gigs, Roy DuNann goes to work. The drums are in one corner. There are no baffles, but a piece of acoustical material is draped on wires about 4' over the drummer's head. The musicians are as far apart as they can get, which is not far, and those superb microphones are up close on each instrument in order to minimize leakage. Forty-five years later, Joe Harley says, "Simple is better." You cannot get any simpler than this.

Today, few would be interested in the purity of the DuNann sound if the music were not so strong. Lester Koenig had taste. He brought the hottest jazz musicians on the West Coast into his "studio," and also matched them up with the best East Coast players, like Sonny Rollins, when they were in town. He created conditions in which they were able to do some of their finest work.

Koenig even had the vision to record Ornette Coleman when Coleman could not get a gig anywhere in California. Coleman's historic first two albums, Something Else! and Tomorrow is the Question, were recorded by Roy for Contemporary in 1958 and 1959, respectively.

Among the many ironies and paradoxes attached to Roy's career is the fact that modern jazz was for him, at best, an acquired taste. At one point I asked him a rather breathless interviewer's question: "What was it like, in 1958, to come in and set up a session for some new musician you didn't know, and hear Ornette Coleman play like that? Jazz was changed forever from that moment. It must have been incredible. You were there, Roy. What did you think?"

In his inflectionless voice, Roy said immediately, "I would have sent him home."

"You would have sent him home."

"Yeah. I got so I could listen to a lot of the jazz stuff and know where one chorus was going to end and the next one begin. It was important for knowing where to make a splice. But with Ornette, you couldn't tell where you were. It just started out and it ended. It wasn't music at all for me."

Shortly after Roy started at Contemporary, Koenig bought a very early Ampex two-track recorder. Roy remembers, "We put up two Altec coaxial speakers in the control room, and we started hearing things come out of two different speakers."

Koenig wanted to begin cutting his own stereo masters for stereo LPs, and bought one of the very first Westrex stereo cutting heads. In a Los Angeles junk store, Roy found a Western Electric cutting lathe that had been used on the Al Jolson film The Jazz Singer in the 1920s, and bought it for $200. He convinced a colleague from his days at Capitol, Howard Holzer, to come over to Contemporary, and together they set up the lathe in what had been the publicist's office. The publicist moved "down the street."

Their first stereo masters cut with the Westrex head "sounded terrible," and technical assistance from Westrex was not helpful. So Howard and Roy built their own 100W tube amplifier.

"Those tubes would get red-hot," Roy remembers. "Fiddling around with condensers and resistors and coils and whatnot, we were able to EQ this terrible-sounding signal so that the finished track sounded almost like the original."

Reverb was added during mastering, with a 4' by 8' EMT reverb plate that stood in the shipping room "in the big padded box it came in." Many years later, some CD reissues of Contemporary recordings sounded oddly dry and sterile because they used the masters as-is, with no reverb added. For JVC's XRCD series, Akira Taguchi added the reverb digitally.

Another step that Roy took during mastering was to roll back the 6dB high-frequency wide-curve boost that he had tweaked into the Ampex during recording. Long before Dolby, Roy was figuring out his own methods for reducing tape hiss.

Contemporary began putting out some of the first stereo LPs on the West Coast. It is only with the perspective of history that we now recognize them as some of the best-sounding LPs ever made. Contemporary also started doing mastering for other people — at first, just for friends. One of Howard Holzer's friends was Herb Alpert, who was just starting a label called A and M to record his band, the Tijuana Brass.

Roy left Contemporary and moved to Phoenix in the early '60s. His first wife's asthma was an important factor in the move. Once again he set up a studio, this time for "a guy with money who wanted to get into the music recording business." But the studio, called Audio Recorders, ended up doing radio commercials.

It was here that Bernie Grundman went to work when he got out of the army, because he knew Roy's Contemporary recordings and "idolized" him. Grundman relocated to Los Angeles, briefly worked at Contemporary himself, then moved over to A and M to run the rapidly growing label's mastering studio. Howard Holzer also worked at A and M by this time, and the two of them persuaded Roy to move back to Los Angeles and join Alpert's label. Roy was put in charge of equipment: finding it, maintaining it, rebuilding it.

He did not record any sessions for A and M — by this time he wore hearing aids in both ears. Over the years, while he cared for the equipment used to record groups like the Carpenters, those late nights in Lester Koenig's shipping room faded into the shadows of history for almost everyone, including Roy.

When his first wife died, he retired and moved to Seattle because all three of his children lived in the area. He met Dorothy at a square dance and married her in 1987.

It seems fitting that Roy DuNann's hearing aids are remote-controlled, with adjustable EQ and balance, and directional mikes. But he cannot hear today what makes his Contemporary recordings so special. When he left Contemporary, he took none of the LPs with him. He was unaware that there had been audiophile reissues of his albums, such as the Analogue Productions LP of Way Out West. He had never heard of the JVC XRCD series. Roy is embarrassed when extravagant praise of his work is read to him. When I point out that, over and over, such audio authorities as Joe Harley and Jim Anderson mention how Roy's recordings "put you in the room" with the musicians, Roy just smiles.

“It doesn't compute. We never tried for anything like that. We just tried to balance the instruments, to keep separation so people would think it was stereo."

Roy's modesty cannot obscure his achievement. Eric Dolphy once said, "When you hear music, after it's over, it's gone in the air. You can never capture it again." Until the mid-'50s, that was pretty much true. Music, especially improvised music, is a very different art form from painting or literature. Its preservation beyond the moment is dependent on its delivery system — the recording. Charlie Parker died in 1955, and those of us who never heard him live will never know much about what he sounded like.

But thanks to Roy DuNann — thanks to his genius for mixing on the fly at 3am, thanks to his intuitive respect for a clean signal path, thanks to his willingness to set up the studio fresh for each session, thanks to his constant fussing over his equipment, checking, tweaking, rebiasing — we possess vivid knowledge of what Sonny Rollins sounded like when he was 27. And Art Pepper in his prime. And Ornette Coleman as he sounded before he came East and turned New York on its ear.

Before I put away my Sony portable recorder and gather up the CDs spread over the dining-room table, I read Roy and Dorothy a quote from Bernie Grundman: "Roy did a lot for this industry. He showed us all how good it could be. His best recordings are not just good for their era. They are some of the best-sounding recordings of all time."

Roy shakes his head, but Dorothy, smiling to hear her own convictions confirmed, says, "I always knew my Roy was smart."

Sidebar: A Selected Roy DuNann Discography

Originally released on Contemporary, reissued on JVC XRCD
Barney Kessel/Ray Brown/Shelly Manne, The Poll Winners, JVCXR-0019-2 (1957)Art Pepper, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, VICJ-60087 (1957/1997)Art Pepper + Eleven, Modern Jazz Classics, VICJ-60245 (1959/1998)Andr;ae Previn/Red Mitchell/Shelly Manne, West Side Story, JVCXR-0209-2 (1956/2000)André; Previn/Leroy Vinnegar/Shelly Manne, My Fair Lady, VICJ-60216 (1956/1998)Sonny Rollins, The Contemporary Leaders, VICJ-60244 (1958/1998)Sonny Rollins, Way Out West, VICJ-60088 (1957/1997)
Originally released on Contemporary, reissued on the Fantasy/Original Jazz Classics
Ornette Coleman, Something Else!, OJCCD-342-2 (1958)Ornette Coleman, Tomorrow Is the Question, OJCCD-342-2 (1959)Bob Cooper, Coop! The Music of Bob Cooper, OJCCD-161-2 (1957)Curtis Counce, Sonority,* CCD-7655 (1956–58)Curtis Counce, You Get More Bounce with Curtis Counce, OJCCD-159-2 (1956–57)Teddy Edwards, Teddy's Ready!, OJCCD-748-2 (1960)Victor Feldman, The Arrival of Victor Feldman, OJCCD-268-2 (1958)Hampton Hawes, All Night Session, Vols. 1–3, OJCCD-638-2, -639-2, -640-2 (1956)Hampton Hawes, Four!, OJCCD-165-2 (1958)Barney Kessel, Easy Like, OJCCD-153-2 (recording date uncertain)
* Not in Original Jazz Classics series