Thursday, May 21, 2020

Harold in the Land of Jazz

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The “Harold” in the title of this piece is tenor saxophonist Harold Land [1928-2001]. If you were an Los Angeles based Jazz fan or musician, “Harold” would have been enough as he was a widely-respected player in this city’s Jazz scene for over half-a-century, although, sadly, not as well known outside of it.

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

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 the Gerald Wilson Big Band. 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.

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.

Sadly feature articles about Harold in Jazz publications were a rarity, but I did find this in -

down beat
June 6, 1960
by 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.”

Fortunately Harold does have a considerable discography and I thought it might be fun to focus on Harold in the Land of Jazz Contemporary 162-2, OJCCD 162-2 one of his earliest recordings as its always been among my favorites for a variety of reasons including [1] his front line pairing with Swedish-born trumpeter Rolf Ericsson, [2] a hard-driving rhythm section made up of Carl Perkins, piano, Leroy Vinnegar, bass and Frank Butler, drums, [3] six intriguing original compositions by Harold, Carl Perkins and pianist Elmo Hope, [4] some sophisticated hard bop arrangements by Harold and Elmo, including their take on the standards Speak Low and You Don’t Know What Love Is, and last but not least, [5] the following informative and instructive liner notes by Nat Hentoff, whose collective writings were one of my earliest sources of information about Jazz.

As an added feature, I’ve posted individual videos of the 8 tracks in the order that they appear on the CD version of the recording at the end of Nat’s notes so that you can sample the music on this recording at your leisure.

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.

Harold's reputation among musicians has been increasing rapidly in the past three years, and most jazzmen returning East after a Western campaign would agree with John Tynan of Down Beat that "Land ... of current California tenorists, consistently proves his leadership in the realm of ideas and uninhibition." British critic Tony Hall extends his accolade beyond state lines when he describes Land as "one of the most satisfying, soulful, exciting, inventive and highly personal tenors in jazz today."

It's to be hoped that this beginning chorus of international hosannas — and this, his first LP as leader — will finally bring Harold some of the wider public recognition and attendant gigs his jazz quality merits. Several months ago, Vic Feldman wrote to me his conviction that Land "is for my money the best tenor on any coast. The other day he told me that he is seriously thinking of taking a day job if nothing more happens soon," Some weeks later, during a time when his future didn't seem quite as bleak, I asked Land what advice he might have for a young musician, and his quick answer nonetheless was: "Be a plumber." Yet, when you hear him play, it will become insistently evident, I feel, that were Land given a chance to start life again, he'd wind up with some kind of horn, if only a vocationally, because jazz is so unselfconsciously essential a part of his self-expression.

Harold was born December 18, 1928, in Houston, Texas, but from the age of five, he was raised in San Diego. His interest in music didn't become activated until high school, "Colernan Hawkins and Body and Soul had a lot to do with drawing me in," he recalls. When he was about 16, his family bought him a saxophone; he took private lessons for a little over half a year; and "ever since, I've learned it on my own." In 1946, as he came out of high school, Land started playing professionally around San Diego. "I played clubs, casuals, every type of gig —picnics too." Lucky Thompson meanwhile became a strong influence because of "his fluidity and his beautiful, big, round sound," Around 1948, Land heard Charlie Parker and was intensely drawn to his "completely new approach in terms of phrasing, sound and harmonic conception, and yet I also realized that all this was just his inner voice - there was no way for it to come out any other way."

In 1954, Land moved to Los Angeles and "it was crackers and peanut butter for quite a while." Later that year, however, Clifford Brown brought Max Roach to a jam session in Los Angeles because he'd heard a tenor he liked. Max hired Land, and Harold stayed with the Roach-Brown unit a little over two years. He left the group and returned to the Coast when his grandmother, to whom he was closely attached, was stricken with what turned out to be a fatal illness.

Land feels his time with Roach and Brown was valuable in broadening his scope. "Working side by side with such a tremendous musician as Clifford Brown," explains Land, "was inspiring each night. He was such a master of phrasing." Back in Los Angeles, Land has worked with the Curtis Counce unit (with whom he appears along with Carl Perkins and Frank Butler on Contemporary CS 526 and CJ 559) and has headed his own group intermittently.

The late Carl Perkins (born August 16, 1928 in Indianapolis, died March 16, 1958 in Los Angeles) is described by his childhood friend, Leroy Vinnegar, as "the kind of musician who played right with you; who played the things you heard. He not only played the chords, he played the beauty in the chords — his own way. And his time was perfect. In that respect he was what you'd call a rhythm section pianist. A man with time like Carl's was so important to a bassist, because you're supposed to play those changes together.”

Harold Land, who selected Perkins, as he did all the musicians for this set, spoke of Carl as "a completely individual player who was also able to provide such warmth in his accompaniment. His chord constructions were beautiful; his solos were always interesting; he knew how to use space so that his phrasing too was beautiful. And there was no end to the funk in his playing."

Bassist Leroy Vinnegar, who has appeared frequently on Contemporary and whose first album as a leader is Leroy Walks! (Contemporary C542) was born July 3, 1928, in Indianapolis; has been in Los Angeles since 1954; and has worked with Barney Kessel, Art Tatum, Stan Getz, a year and a half with Shelly Manne, as well as heading his own units.

Drummer Frank Butler, whose initial recording appearance was on the first volume of The Curtis Counce Group (Contemporary C3526) was born February 18, 1928, in Wichita, Kansas; was raised in Kansas City; worked in San Francisco for a time from 1949. playing with Dave Brubeck and Billie Holiday, among others; moved to Southern California and a stay with Edgar Hayes; traveled the country with his own trio; played with Duke Ellington in 1954; and later worked with Perez Prado and Curtis Counce. "Frank," notes Land, "is completely relaxed at all tempos and at the same time, provides a constant spark. He's an authentic individualist."

Trumpeter Rolf Ericsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden, August 29, 1927, and came to the United States in 1947 where he worked with Benny Carter, Charlie Barnet, Elliot Lawrence, Charlie Ventura and Woody Herman. He was back in Sweden from 1950-1952; and during his second American stay, he played with Charlie Spivak, Stan Kenton, Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars, Harry James, and Les Brown. He toured Sweden with an American combo in the summer of 1956, and has been working in the States since. "I like the way Rolf plays," says Land, "because of his conception and the fact that he too plays with a spark."

Speak Low is a song that Land has liked for a long time, and he used to play it often with the Max Roach group.

Delirium is by Harold, and its title was suggested to him by the seemingly unending flow of sixteen bar phrases. There is, then, a quality of corybantic "delirium" to this concept of phrases into infinity.

You Don't Know What Love Is is one of Harold's favorite ballads. His interpretation, for this listener, is a moving experience in controlled intensity and in a jazzman's ability to make the most familiar standard an urgently personal statement.

Nieta is by Elmo Hope, the pianist-composer-arranger, who collaborated with Land on the arrangements for the album. The song intrigues Land because "the chords in the channel are like the surrounding eights, but he changes the melody so it doesn't sound that way. Hope is another man who hasn't yet been sufficiently recognized. You'll hear in this song how differently lie can set his progressions from most other writers,"

Carl Perkins' ironically titled, Grooveyard, Land feels, "expresses a great deal of the essence of Carl's style — the voicings of the chords, the way the melody is constructed, and the way he phrases." Perkins' work in this, his last composition, is a particularly cogent example of how thoroughly a player can be rooted in jazz tradition — and in the current "soulful" extension of that tradition — and yet be strikingly personal. The same is true of Land. "After all," says Land, "what 'soul' means is the expression of your own soul through everything you've lived and felt."

Lydia's Lament, also by Land, is named for his wife. "I guess it refers to her sadder moments. The idea of the song was that I just wanted to try to portray a mood of some depth and sadness."

Smack Up, another by Land, received its title because the first phrase brought the words "smack up" to Harold's mind. All he feels is necessary to say about its structure is that "the middle goes into a sort of minor movement. His playing here, as throughout the set, indicates his continuing search for what he terms "a freer way of playing tenor, one that's more emotionally stimulating and more adventurous than, let's say, the 'four brothers approach." Land would not call either his playing or the collective work of the group an example of any "hard school" of jazz. "The term has no meaning to me," he adds, "because I can't think of any approach that's warmer than what we believe in."”

[N.B.: Promised Land the 8th track on the CD was not included on the original LP]

By NAT HENTOFF May 10, 1958
Nat Hentoff is the well-known jazz critic and author, He writes regularly on both jazz and non-jazz subjects for a host of magazines, has also co-authored two books: Hear Me Talkin' to Ya & The Jazz Makers (with Nat Shapiro) both published by Rinehart. 

Cover photo hy Walter Zerlinden         
Cover design by Guidi/Tri-Arts

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