Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Blue Note Years of Dizzy Reece by Tony Hall, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler and Michael Cuscuna

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

“Reece is the opposite of the performer who aims only for effects he is certain of attaining…his fondness for wide intervals and the grasp of dynamics gives his lines true dramatic strength.”
- British critic Michael James, in reviewing Dizzy’s Blues In Trinity LP (Blue Note 4006),

In case you haven’t looked at it in a while, the subheading for the JazzProfiles blog reads - “Focused Profiles on Jazz and its Creators while also Featuring the Work of Guest Writers and Critics on the Subject of Jazz.  [Emphasis mine].

I’ve been learning about Jazz from a wide variety of Jazz musicians, authors and critics for over 60 years, so why stop now - right?

As is our wont, when the editorial staff at JazzProfiles decides on a feature, it generally makes a search of the Jazz literature in an attempt to offer you a number of different opinions and perspectives on the subject at hand.

Such is the case with this profile of trumpeter, composer and bandleader Dizzy Reece for which we’ve enlisted the aid of Tony Hall, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler and Michael Cuscuna. Not coincidentally, they are also the composers of the liner/insert notes for the four recordings that Dizzy made for Blue Note from 1958 - 1960.

I first heard Dizzy on Suite Sixteen: The Music of Victor Feldman - Big Band/Quartet/Septet [Contemporary C3541/OJCCD 1728-2] which was a 1958 LP that Lester Koenig, always a big fan of Victor’s, released in 1958 made up of recordings by Feldman’s various groups that Mike Butcher and Tony Hall had produced in London in 1955.

Through a longstanding association with Victor, beginning in the years when he was the resident pianist and vibraphonist at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, CA he made me aware of other recordings that he made with Dizzy in London some of which have been released on Jasmine CD reissue of Tempo LPs including Victor Feldman Departure Dates [Jasmine JASCD 609], Victor Feldman in London Volume I [Jasmine JASCD 622] and Victor Feldman in London Volume II [Jasmine JASCD 625].

The first thing that struck me about Dizzy Reece’s playing - notwithstanding his nickname [his given first name is Alphonso] - is that he doesn’t sound like anyone else.

Or as Richard Cook and Brian Morton state in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.: “Reece wasn’t a bruising player, he kept the fireworks under restraint, even as snapping little phrases suddenly broke out of his line of thought. … [His playing] has lots of rough edges …. Reece is difficult to pin down stylistically. Thought he can play skyrocketing top-note lines, there’s something curiously melancholy about his work. … [He is] a dedicated practitioner whose work has been unjustly neglected in recent years.”

Tony Hall, the producer who more than anyone was responsible for bringing Dizzy to the attention of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff and the resulting four LPs that Dizzy would make for the label between 1958-1960 as leader said of Dizzy’s approach:

“When discussing a musician new to the American record-buying public, it’s customary for the annotator to write at length about his various influences.  I find this very difficult with Diz. I’ve been listening to him for five years now. I’ve watched his technique improve. At one time, it was a question of digging what he was thinking more than what he played.  But now his thoughts are coming out of the bell of his horn with clarity. To me, he has always sounded like just himself. “Sure I’ve listened to lots of trumpet players” he says. “But I just feel my music this way.  My playing is like my way of life. It’s a religion”.

He’s basically a “hot” player.  Sometimes his lines are simple: at others, naggingly multi-notedly complex.  “But if people are looking for something mysterious or sensational in my playing they won’t find it.  I just like to play”. He has a tremendous – often starkly dramatic – feeling for dynamics. This sense of drama in his playing is accentuated by his use of unusual intervals and accenting of notes. “- Blues in Trinity [Blue Note BST 84006 - B2 32093]

Writing in Dizzy’s second Blue Note recording - Star Bright [BST 84023 TOCJ-4023] - Leonard Feather offered these quotations from Dizzy about the source of his original approach to trumpet:

"My father was a pianist; he played in silent movie theatres, but I hardly ever got to hear him play.  My inspiration came from the street parade bands in Kingston.  I was only three years old when I started running out trying to follow them - I would disappear for hours until they had to send the police for me.  Then when I was about seven I would stay out late at night just to listen to a trumpet player called Gabriel, who was working in a club.  I would wait around just to be able to pack up his instrument for him. Just to get hold of the trumpet.

"I wished I could explain how I felt the first time I heard the sound of the trumpet.  The uncanny part about it is hearing the trumpet in a brass band.  Coming from a brass band it is usually loud and brassy, but I didn't hear it like that at all.  I have been trying ever since to play it the exact way.  I hear it, but it's still a long way from perfection.  The first stylist I really listened to was Buck Clayton on the old Basie records, but I always tried to get my own sound; you have to be your own man."

Leonard went on to proffer:

“The emergence of Dizzy Reece as an important new name in jazz should help to draw further attention to the fact that good jazz music and be produced by a person born to do so, regardless of latitude or longitude. 
Subjected to the environment he could find during the past few years in London or Paris, there was no obstacle to the development of a completely mature jazz style on the part of any musician with the soul, the technique and the desire for self-expression.  Dizzy Reece has these qualities in abundance, and even in the rat race of the New York jazz world he now faces, there isn't a chance in the world that they will be neglected or lost.”

Ira Gitler stepped up for the notes to Soundin’ Off [BST 84033, TOCJ-9513] and offered these comments about Dizzy’s style:

“Although his direct musical lineage comes down from Gillespie, Navarro and Clifford Brown, Dizzy Reece is an individual.  “I can only say the things I live”, is his credo. When Dizzy uses the word “say” in regard to his trumpet playing, it is extremely appropriate because he does talk through his horn.  He is further proof that certain instruments are a continuation of the human voice. “The saxophone gets the fluidity. It’s harder to do on the trumpet – the circle…”, he says, referring to a continuous flow of sound, running back into itself, that saxophonists can achieve.

“The only thing that is bugging me is the mastery of the horn and you never really get that up to the grave.”  I might add that this is a relative mastery because Reece is so conversant with his trumpet that he is able to evoke sounds which are not found in any exercise book.  Sometimes he gets a bubbling, gargling sound that seems to emanate from underwater. It bears no relation to Shep Fields. This and other “vocal” effects make Dizzy’s style very personal.

Dizzy states, philosophically, “Sometimes you speak fluently, sometimes you don’t.  But every effort must be conscious. I can sit back and play the same things I played before and be asleep.  But I don’t think that way.” …

There are places where Reece appears to be hitting wrong notes.  This was my reaction when I first listened to the album. Then I thought, “An intelligent, conscientious musician wouldn’t let mistakes like these pass.  Could he be playing these notes on purpose?” When I asked him, he bore out my second contention.

“I’m working on quarter tones and eighth tones between the notes.  I can see the relativity between Eastern music and jazz”, was Dizzy’s comment.”

Which brings us to Comin’ On, Dizzy’s fourth Blue Note recording which is made up of sessions recorded in April and July of 1960, but not released until October 7, 1999 as BN B2-22019, CD 526721.

In the following insert notes which he prepared for the Mosaic Select Dizzy Reece boxed set, Michael explains how Comin’ On came about and also provides a succinct recapitulation of the highlights of Dizzy’s recording career.

© -Michael Cuscuna/Mosaic Records; copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with permission.


“Dizzy Reece came to jazz the long way around. Born in Kingston, Jamaica on January 5, 1931, Dizzy was exposed to music early on. His father was a pianist for a movie theatre that showed silent films. Hearing parade brass bands at an early age, the sound of the trumpet captured his soul. Eventually records by Basie with Buck Clayton and Don Byas drew him to jazz. He took up the baritone horn at 11, switching to trumpet three years later. In 1948, the desire to play jazz and the growth of the new music known as be-bop drew him to a larger playing field, Europe.  By 1954, with a well-developed style of his own very much and a big, brilliant tone, he settled in London.
Jazz dj, journalist and producer Tony Hall, a man who still has incredibly open and interested ears, began producing an excellent series of albums by Reece (as well as Victor Feldman, Tubby Hayes and others) for the Tempo label in 1955. Some of Reece's Tempo masters were issued in U.S. on Imperial and Savoy and an album of Feldman’s sessions with Reece came out on Contemporary, but with little impact. Tony sent records to friends in America. At least two, Miles Davis and Alfred Lion, were impressed. Lion arranged for Hall to produce a Reece session for Blue Note with label regulars Donald Byrd and Art Taylor in the line-up. Because of inflexible, protectionist laws enacted by the British musicians' union, the August 24, 1958 session held at Decca Studios in London had to be portrayed as being done in Paris.  The great reception that the album Blues In Trinity received gave Reece the courage to move to New York, a place where he'd been yearning to make music, where he'd find rhythm sections that could not only keep up, but also challenge him.
He arrived on October 21, 1959 and was at Rudy Van Gelder's studio, making his second Blue Note album, Star Bright on November 19. Taylor was again on drums and the group was completed by Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers. A few days prior, Reece recorded with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, playing congas on two tunes for a date that was ultimately released in 1980 as Africaine; it was Wayne Shorter's first session. Blue Note even staged a welcoming party at Well's in Harlem for the new arrival to these shores, a rather extravagant gesture for a struggling, independent label.
Dizzy's next session on April 3, 1960 produced the first 5 tracks on this CD, issued here for the first time. It was also the first Blue Note appearance by Stanley Turrentine, then with Max Roach and soon to become a Blue Note artist. The rhythm section belonged to the Jazz Messengers of that time: Bobby Timmons, Jymie Merritt and Art Blakey.  Reece's originals show a jazz composer with an unusual gift for melody. The Case Of The Frightened Lover is particularly memorable. Achmet, which opens with Reece on congas and Blakey trading solos and engaging in dialogues, is a minor tune that's derived from an Algerian melody. Ye Olde Blues is just that. Reece has a marvelous sense of construction, letting Turrentine's tenor solo lead things off before the theme is played. It might have been this tenor solo that inspired Lion to use Turrentine on Jimmy Smith's Back At The Chicken Shack/Midnight Special session three weeks later. The non-originals are a bright treatment of Tenderly and the Spanish song The Story Of Love.
A month later, Dizzy did a quartet date with Walter Bishop, Doug Watkins and Art Taylor, which was promptly issued as Soundin' Off.
Then on July 17 came the session that closes this CD. Stanley Turrentine returns, but tenor saxophonist Musa Kaleem is added to the front line. The rhythm section is Duke Jordan, Sam Jones and Al Harewood. While these proceedings probably led to Reece and Turrentine as the front line for Duke Jordan's Flight To Jordan the following month, nothing from this date was issued until now.
Musa Kaleem, who'd played with Mary Lou Williams and Fletcher Henderson as Orlando Wright in the early '40s, was on the original Art Blakey's Messengers date for Blue Note in 1947. After years away from music, he played flute on a Tiny Grimes-Coleman Hawkins album for Prestige in 1958 and then toured and recorded with James Moody. After this Reece session, little is known of his professional activities except that Horace Silver recorded his Sanctimonious Sam in 1963 (the track remained unissued until 1978).
Kaleem plays flute on the melody of Goose Dance and is the first tenor soloist on that tune and Comin' On. He has a bigger, more hollow sound than Turrentine, who solos first on Reece's sensational  Sands. Both lay out for the quartet reading of The Things We Did Last Summer.
Clearly, the April 3 session had come into doubt as worthy of release by this time. Reece tried Achmet and The Case Of The Frightened Lover with this sextet, but the results were frayed, truly rejected performances.  The first attempts proved far more successful.

Dizzy's association with Blue Note faded after 1960. In 1962, he made Asia Minor for Prestige, re-recording Achmet and The Story Of Love. Lack of steady work in New York made him a transoceanic commuter by necessity. In 1968, Reece was a member of Dizzy Gillespie’s Reunion Big Band, which toured Europe and made an album for MPS. 1969 was a particularly active year for recording, he was on Dexter Gordon's A Day In Copenhagen, also for MPS, in March, Hank Mobley's The Flip, done in Paris, in July and on the recently-released Andrew Hill nonet date Passing Ships at Van Gelder's studio in November. The Mobley and Hill dates were his last appearances on Blue Note.
Despite his considerable talents as a player and composer, Reece has only made four albums as a leader since the sixties: From In To Out with John Gilmore for Futura in Paris in 1970, Possession, Exorcism, Peace for Honey Dew in the early '70s, Manhattan Project for Bee Hive in 1978 and Blowin' Away with Ted Curson for Interplay in the same year. He was also featured on Clifford Jordan’s Inward Fire on Muse in 1978. In 1991, he toured and recorded with Jordan’s big band.

The paucity of recorded music by this unique trumpeter makes these unissued Blue Note sessions all the more valuable. And tunes like The Case Of The Frightened Lover and Sands remind us what a talented composer he is as well.”

  • Michael Cuscuna, 1999 & 2003

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