Thursday, October 21, 2021

Sam Jones - Down Home with the Soul Society and The Chant

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

Recorded from 1960 - 1962 with arrangements by Ernie Wilkins, Jimmy Heath and Victor Feldman these largely forgotten sessions present bassist Sam Jones in a variety of orchestral and large groups settings with a host of marvelous musicians including his mates from Cannonball Adderley's quintet, plus Frank Strozier and Blue Mitchell and the likes of either Louis Hayes, Ben Riley and Vernel Fournier booting things along from the drum chair.

Jones was the bassist with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s quintet and Julian served as an informal musical advisor to Orin Keepnews who was co-owner of Riverside and the producer for its recordings.

At the time, it wasn’t unusual for a bassist to be a leader for a recording date - let alone three - but it was uncommon.

Not surprisingly, Cannonball, who was articulate in writing as he was in speaking before an audience at a club or a concert at which his group was performing, provides the following insert notes for the first of these recordings - Sam Jones - The Soul Society [Riverside - OJCCD 1789-2; RLP 1172].

As they contain a wealth of information about both Sam’s background and what went into the making of the album, I thought I’d share them with you “as is.”

Incidentally, Sam Jones - The Soul Society along with its successors - Sam Jones Plus 10 - The Chant and Sam Jones & Co. - Down Home - is still available on CD, both individually and in a combined format of three LPs on two, remastered CDs.

A word in passing. Given how little actual primary source documentation there is available to accompany much of recorded Jazz history, as the years move along, these anecdotal notes from the back of LP sleeves have become an invaluable repository of information.


“It is a special pleasure for me to write the notes to this SAM JONES album. As everyone should know, Sam is my bass player (by which I mean a lot more than just that he is the bassist in my band), and I am happy to have a connection with his first album. As I realized when I showed up at the recording studio for one of the sessions, everyone on the date was obviously also very happy to be a member of this particular "Soul Society." This pleasure and affection for Sam can very easily be heard (and, I'm sure, will be shared) by everyone listening to the album.

During the past two years, Sam has become the most sought-after bass player for recording in New York. This situation is simply a testament to the general awareness of the universal feel in his playing and to the fact that a great many of the best modern drummers choose Sam as the most relaxed section-mate they can find.

"Home," as he is affectionately known to his friends, was tagged with that name in much the same way as Lester Young became known as "Pres" — for Sam refers to everyone else as "Home"! Although born in Jacksonville, Florida (in 1927), he considers Tampa as his home town, for his family moved there when he was three years old. "Home" played bass drum in the Middleton High School band; however, he was always fascinated by the string bass, and began his professional career on that instrument in Ralph Duty's local band while still a Tampa high school student.

Sam's reputation preceded him to New York by quite a few years, via musicians who travelled through Florida, while "Home" himself was gathering experience in the Southern states. (Some of that experience was non-musical, including most of the fabled circumstances encountered by itinerant musicians. Certainly his having been stranded in Texas and arrested in Florida are among the factors that contribute to his earthy soul.) He was leader of a swinging quintet in Miami that included Blue Mitchell on trumpet; and he played in numerous rhythm-and-blues and commercial bands, including those of Tiny Bradshaw and Paul Williams. His introduction to big time jazz, however, was in Illinois Jacquet's band. "Home" then became a member of my previous band in 1956, replacing Keter Betts (who is also effectively displayed in this album). He later worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk before re-entering my present quintet when it was formed in the Fall of 1959.

Sam lists as his favorite bassists the veterans Ray Brown and Israel Crosby. Among the younger players he is particularly fond of Betts and Paul Chambers. "Home" also notes that "I never heard Jimmy Blanton in person, but his record of Jack the Bear with Duke Ellington influenced my direction more than any other bass performance."

Everyone's initial reaction to Sam Jones' playing is respect for his big sound and "choice" notes. Orrin Keepnews, Riverside's A & R chief, says: "Probably the best favor ever done for me by Miles Davis is that I was first introduced to Sam by him." Sam is now Riverside's first-call bassist and although I haven't actually counted, it is my distinct impression that he has appeared on nearly half the label's releases since mid-1958 when he made his debut with Riverside on a Clark Terry date on which the rest of the rhythm section was only Thelonious and Philly Joe!

But this album is no mere gift to reward a faithful performer. Says Keepnews: "This LP was planned as a showcase for Sam's neglected solo abilities on both bass and cello — 'neglected' even though he has of course had lots of solo spots on both instruments, because neither one gets too much attention from listeners unless you really make a point of shining the spotlight on it. And Sam has so much to say on both." Neither instrument dominates here, with Sam playing each on four of the eight tracks. 

Incidentally, "Home's" cello-playing talent was first revealed on one number in a Riverside album by my brother Nat Adderley (Much Brass: RLP 12-301) and has since been featured throughout another of Nat's albums (Work Song: RLP 12-318).

The opening track here, Some Kinda Mean, is a minor piece written for cello by Keter Betts. It is highlighted by a Belts bass solo that will be talked about for some time. All Members is a blues-format composition by Jimmy Heath. The Old Country is an adaptation of an Israeli folk tune, written by Nat. Outstanding here is a walking bass solo by Sam and Blue Mitchell's open-horn sound. (Nat and Blue divide the trumpet spot on this album, by the way, in recognition of both being just about equally close and long-standing friends of Sam's.) The side closes with Jimmy Heath's big-band-styled arrangement of Just Friends, on which Sam plays remarkable cello throughout.

The second side opens with a tune of mine, entitled Home. The melody is played by arco bass and is accompanied by a repeated rhythmic figure based on two chords. Deep Blue Cello, written by Sam himself, is a swinging medium blues. No Greater Love opens most effectively with unaccompanied cello playing a rubato melody; later the rhythm section joins in, swinging lightly. Finally, So Tired is a funky Bobby Timmons work featuring a melody played by pizzicato bass.

Since most of the performers here are well-known as among the most able around, it should be pointed out in particular that this album marks the Riverside debut of Charlie Davis, who demonstrates that he is a man to be reckoned with on baritone sax.

Notes reproduced from the original album liner.”

“It is one of the jazz world's frustrations that bassist Sam Jones [1924-1981] is more valued over a decade after his passing than in his lifetime; and one of its saving graces that labels like Riverside were recording such underrated musicians at their peak. This 1961 session was Jones's second, and clearly much more than an informal blowing date. With a big band constructed around the Cannonball Adderley quintet of the time plus such stellar additions as Blue Mitchell, Jimmy Heath, and Wynton Kelly; and with Heath and Victor Feldman providing arrangements of bluesy original tunes and jazz and pop standards, Jones found an exceptional setting for his bass and cello mastery.”

Fortunately, there was to be a 1961 sequel to Sam’s first Riverside Sam Jones Plus 10 - The Chant [Riverside OJCCD - 1839-2; RLP-358] and Orrin Keepnews explains how it came about in the following notes:

“The second meeting of the "Soul Society" is hereby called to order!

In other words, the impressively talented bassist and cellist named SAM JONES, whose first recording as a leader was the Riverside album entitled "The Soul Society," is back in the spotlight. And once again he is in the company of a group of his good friends, all of whom share such important qualities as: 1) exceptional jazz skills; 2) strong admiration and affection for the remarkable Mr. Jones, who happens to be one of the best-liked men in the business; and (3 the ability to create notably soulful music.

This time much of the emphasis is on a bigger and fuller sound than on Sam's previous album. A good-sized ensemble, performing unusual scores by two of the very best of the younger jazz arrangers, provides a suitably rich orchestral background for the leader's bass and cello. And the group also includes a number of first-rank blowers to share solo honors with Sam.

Rhythm-section members are not often given albums of their own—even when they reach status such as Jones has achieved ("New Star" bassist in the 1960 DownBeat Critics' Poll; constantly in demand for record dates; a key member of the high-flying Cannonball Adderley Quintet; and regarded with something like awe by most fellow-musicians). One possible reason for this scarcity is the problem of figuring out just how to go about featuring a drummer or bassist, other than the not-particularly-satisfying idea of giving him a long solo on each number. But in the present case the initial problem can't really be said to have existed at all. For one thing, Sam has (if you'll pardon the expression) an extra string to his bow: in addition to being a bassist of unsurpassed firmness and inventiveness, he is a uniquely intriguing pizzicato cellist, providing legitimate instrumental variety right from the start. Furthermore, he is a musician of considerable taste and imagination, which led him to specifically request from tenorman Jimmy Heath and from Victor Feldman, the British-born pianist and vibist who is the newest member of the Adderley group, arrangements designed to showcase the melodic properties of both cello and bass.

The result is an album in which the leader's playing is strikingly integrated into the overall framework. Feldman scored his own deeply earthy The Chant and Benny Golson's Blues on Down for the bass session, and arranged Charlie Parker's Blue Bird and a Sam Jones original dedicated to Ray Brown, In Walked Ray, for the cellu date. Heath built versions of Miles Davis' Four and young composer Rudy Stevenson's Off-Color to feature bass, and arranged two standards for the cello session: the Harold Arlen ballad, Over the Rainbow; and the old Al Jolson vehicle Sonny Boy (Sam's performance of which is intended as a tribute to the late Oscar Pettiford).

The formation of the literally all-star group here was simply a matter of selecting from among friends and co-workers. It's easy enough to spot in the personnel listing the other members of the tight-knit Adderley group—Cannonball and Nat, Vic Feldman, Lou Hayes. Blue Mitchell has been a friend since they worked together as 'teen-agers in Florida; Nat, Lou, Blue. Jimmy Heath and Keter Betts (who plays bass on Sam's cello selections) were all present on the first Jones LP. Wynton Kelly shares the piano spot with Feldman for the simple reason that the two men share a top place in Sam's opinion- both as soloists and as invaluable accompanists. Les Spann, whose guitar is added for fuller rhythm support on numbers where bass is featured, worked alongside Sam in Dizzy Gillespie's Quintet. And so on ...

Born in Jacksonville. Florida, in November of 1924, our Sam Jones is not to be confused with the basketball Boston Celtics' Sam Jones (who is the same height but jumps higher} or the San Francisco Giants pitcher of the same name (whose right arm is probably stronger but certainly no more supple). This Jones was with Cannonball's original quintet, then with such top stars as Gillespie and Thelonious Monk before rejoining Adderley when he formed his present group in the Fall of '59. Perhaps aided by the vast amount of attention paid to the sensational Adderley band, Sam has of late begun to receive deserved recognition as one of the most important of today's bassists: an impeccable rhythm-section member and an increasingly forthright soloist. As noted previously, he is in demand for more record dates than one man could possibly get to with particular emphasis on the fact that — by the specific insistence of a great many Riverside artists — he appears on as many of this label's albums as is possible.

Among the horns, the solo emphasis here is on Mitchell, Nat Adderley and Jimmy Heath (Cannonball, feeling that the spotlight belongs on his sideman, solos only on Blues on Down, otherwise functioning as leader of the sax section). In those cases where there might be room for confusion, note that Nat solos on The Chant, Blue on Down, Sonny Boy and Off-Color. Both play on Blue Bird (Nat is first) and on Blues on Down (Mitchell playing the opening melody and taking the first trumpet solo). The piano solo on Sonny Boy is by Kelly; on Blues on Down and Off-Color by Feldman.”

—Orrin Keepnews Notes reproduced from the original album liner.

Thankfully, Orrin once again assembled Sam and his cohorts in June and August of 1962 to produce the third in the series -  Sam Jones & Co. - Down Home [Riverside OJCCD 1864-2 RLP-9432] which DownBeat rated as four stars in its review.

Bassman's Holiday could be the subtitle for Sam Jones's third Riverside album. It includes a version of Ray Brown's "Thumbstring," Jones's own "O.P." in tribute to bass/cello pioneer Oscar Pettiford, and six tracks where Jones is supported by his peers Ron Carter and Israel Crosby. This particularly well conceived collection features four tracks by a nonet/tenet playing Ernie Wilkins arrangements with the leader heard on bass, and a like number of quintet titles with flute and Jones's cello providing the lead voices. With assists from old working partners like Les Spann and Joe Zawinul, and a sampling of solos from the other all-stars heard in the ensemble, the entire program shows once again that the man they called "Home" was one of the most down bassists (and cellists) in jazz history.

“In a 1957 Down Beat interview, the late Oscar Pettiford described the bass as "one of the most important — if not the most important — instruments in any orchestra. You can take just a bass and somebody can sing to it or play to it. You don't need piano or drums. The bass can be much more of a horn than it often has been in the past. When I finish, the bass will be right down front where it belongs."

Pettiford's death in 1960 unfortunately robbed us of undoubtedly important future contributions from him. But his prophecy had already begun to come true; the scope of the bass in general has broadened, and in particular its importance as a solo instrument has greatly increased. One of the strongest illustrations of this growth is the series of albums that bassist SAM JONES has made for Riverside.

Jones is a highly regarded sideman with Cannonball Adderley's group and on many a record date, but in his sets for this label he has been given opportunities to really express his own musical personality. In "Down Home", as before, he makes the most of the situation — as a remarkable bassist and cellist; as leader of an outstanding, hand-picked supporting cast; and as a composer. In the present album there is heavier emphasis than previously on this last quality; three of the eight selections, including the title tune, were written by Jones.

Throughout this album, Sam is "right down front" — as Pettiford put it. As on his previous LPs, he divides his time between bass and cello, with four tracks devoted to each instrument. And, also as before, he is joined here by some of the finest sidemen available. Sam is one of the best-liked musicians around, and his colleagues seem always to make that extra effort towards ensuring the success of his records. Jones' regular boss, Cannonball, does not participate as a musician this time, but he did lend his services as A & R man for the session that produced 'Round Midnight, "O.P.", and Falling in Love with Love. That, by the way, was probably the last record date for Israel Crosby, the vastly respected veteran bassist, in recent years a cornerstone of the Ahmad Jamal trio. (When Crosby died, of a heart ailment, on August 11, 1962, his last leader, George Shearing, paid him a supreme compliment. Asked who would take Israel's place, Shearing replied: "I don't

think anybody   is   going  to  take  his  place;   nobody  took Art  Tatum's  place.  .  .   .")

Bassists and references to bassists abound in this album. Sam plays cello on the three tracks noted above, with Crosby in the rhythm section behind him; on Down Home, his cello is backstopped by Ron Carter on bass. Carter, one of the most impressive of the great new crop of young bassists, is also on Strollin' and Come Rain or Come Shine. Here Jones' bass is voiced with the horns in a melody part on the ensembles, with Ron functioning as the rhythm man. Sam is the soloist on both, but there is a bit of a bass duet near the end of the latter tune.

According to his "Encyclopedia of Jazz" biography, Sam's preferred bassists are Al Hall, Milt Hinton, Jimmy Blanton, Pettiford and Ray Brown. This list gives a clear indication of where he stands: squarely in the middle of a great tradition which he is continuing and enriching. And there are direct references in the material here to the last two names on the list. 

Thumbstring was written by Brown, who has explained that the title refers to the fact that the bass parts are "done with the thumb only, and going in the opposite direction from the normal way of playing" the instrument. Sam does this expertly, and a captivating strummed blues sound is the result. "O.P." is, of course, in honor of Petti-ford, who pioneered jazz cello in 1949, and is a suitably bright and joyous line.

Ernie Wilkins is responsible for the fine, functional arrangements on the four band-and-bass tracks. (The first of these, the irresistibly swinging Unit 7 — composed by Jones — has for some time now been heard in clubs as the closing theme for each set. by the Adderley group.) Ernie's ensemble passages are full of good ideas and voicings. Especially effective are the backgrounds that perfectly set off Sam's strong, sure and well-developed solos. There are also other fine choruses sprinkled through the album, by Jimmy Heath, Blue Mitchell, Frank Strozier, Les Spann (on flute), and pianists Joe Zawinul and Wynton Kelly.

Down Home is a title with several ramifications. First of all, it well describes the mood of that blues piece and, for that matter, the feeling of the album as a whole. Secondly, "Home" is Sam's nickname (he calls a lot of other people "Home'', too, the way baseball pitcher "Bobo" Newsom used to call everyone "Bobo"); and since he is a very "down" and soulful cat, this interior pun contains a strong element of accuracy.

In the interview quoted at the start of these notes, Oscar Pettiford also said: "The bass, after all, is the root of the whole thing." And certainly, after all, Sam Jones has some pretty strong roots.”


Notes reproduced from the original album liner.

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