Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Ed Bickert and Lorne Lofsky Ah-Leu-Cha [From the Archives]

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

“I first heard Ed Bickert on a record with Paul Desmond and I immediately thought, ‘Wow! Who’s is that? It was such great harmonic playing.’”
- Lorne Lofsky, Jazz guitarist

“Edward Isaac Bickert in never one to blow his own horn – figuratively – he is one of the most modest and unassuming men in Jazz. But literally – he blows up a storm ….”
- Frank Rutter, The Vancouver Sun

“Bickert’s self effacing style masks a keen intelligence. His deceptively soft tone is the front for a shrewd, unexpectedly attacking style that treats bebop tempos with the same equanimity as a swing-styled ballad.”
-Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Lorne Lofsky is a talented cool-toned guitarist in the tradition of Jimmy Raney and his fellow Canadian Ed Bickert ….”
- Scott Yanow,

I have no idea why, but Charlie Parker’s Ah-Leu-Cha has always been among my favorite Bebop compositions.

With its theme stated as a staggered interaction between the two horns – what might be considered as countermelody phrasing – the tune is as much fun to play on as it is to listen to.

It’s a tune that is only rarely heard and not often recorded. lists 89 versions of Ah-Leu-Cha many of which are alternate versions by Charlie “Bird” Parker and Miles Davis, who was a member of Bird’s group in 1948 when the tune was first recorded.

Jack Chambers, in his seminal work, Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis [NY: William Morrow, 1983/85] explains that Ah-Leu-Cha was included as one of four tunes recorded in October 1955 when the Miles Davis Quintet consisting of Miles, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones made their recording debut for Columbia Records.

Jack goes on to explain:

“Ah-Leu-Cha is Parker's tune, recorded by Davis and Parker in the last days of the original Parker quintet, in 1948; it had hardly been played at all since then by anyone, and Davis seems to have removed it from his quintet's repertoire after the first few months. It deserved a better fate, probably, because it is an affecting up-tempo melody based on a counterpoint chase by the two horns. On this version, Philly Joe Jones plays the melody at the bridge, and Davis solos coolly while the rhythm blasts around him.” [p. 224]

The next time I heard Miles play Ah-Leu-Cha was on a recording that Columbia made in performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival with his famous sextet that included Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on alto sax, Coltrane on tenor, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.

Remarkably, this stellar group’s performance of Ah-Leu-Cha at the 1958 NJF was a disappointment mainly because Miles counted it out at a ridiculously fast tempo that made a hash of the intrinsic qualities of the tune.

As Jack Chambers describes it: “The sextet’s performance is substandard. Davis’ most conspicuous contribution comes in tapping out overzealous tempos on all tunes, including a breakneck tempo on Ah-Leu-Cha that reduces the ensemble to shambles.” [p. 288]

Miles would make a habit of such “overzealous tempos;” witness what he did over the years with the tempos he counted out to So What, first heard with a slow, lopping beat on the classic Kind of Blue album.

Ah-Leu-Cha needs room to breath. Although it is structured around a basic, 32-bar AABA format, with the “A’s” based on the changes to Honeysuckle Rose and the “B” using I Got Rhythm changes, the counterpoint manner in which the melody is fashioned has to have room for the countermelodies to be expressed.

Over the years, I heard a few other versions of Ah-Leu-Cha, most notably one which has Art Farmer on trumpet on Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi’s Isis CD, but I pretty much left the tune alone after Miles trashed it at the 1958 NJF.

Much to my delight, I recently rediscovered its allure while revisiting Ed Bickert’s playing of it with fellow guitarist Lorne Lofsky on their This is New Concord Jazz CD [4414] with Neil Swainson on bass and Jerry Fuller on drums.

Ed and Lorne play Ah-Leu-Cha at a medium tempo that allows its intricacies to nicely come together while, at the same time, setting up a platform for some interesting improvisations on the tune’s familiar changes.

Have a listen and see what you think of Ah-Leu-Cha as I’ve included Ed and Lorne’s interpretation of this all-too-infrequently heard bebop tune as the audio track on the following video [Ed takes the first solo each time around].