Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Listening to Prestige 266: Red Garland/John Coltrane

A long day for Messrs. Garland, Chambers and Taylor. Six songs on their own, then five more with John Coltrane. Good thing Bob Weinstock didn't believe in a lot of retakes. Good thing these great professionals could make it sound so easy.

Joyously easy, starting (in the order on the released album) with "This Can't Be Love," the Rodgers and Hart standard. There was always an ironic underpinning to Lorenz Hart's work. When he says "This can't be love, because I feel so well," he kinda means it. Love does really awful things to you, and since those things haven't happened--yet--
this probably isn't it. But this version is so joyous and upbeat that it could be a Rodgers and Hammerstein song. It also a lyrical, swinging, three minute bowed bass solo by Paul Chambers that'll lift your mood if it's not there already.

"Since I Fell For You" was written as a rhythm and blues number by bandleader Buddy Johnson for his sister Ella, and it's since become a beloved standard of R&B, pop and jazz, or, if you're Dinah Washington, all three. Garland and company give it a jazz treatment here, soulful and lovely.

"Crazy Rhythm" was written by Irving Caesar, Joseph Meyer and Roger Wolfe Kahn, who didn't generally write together, but if you take all the work they did with other collaborators, and lump it
together, you have one hell of a songwriter. Even separately, they're impressive. I've written about people who left music to become charter boat skippers, to run insurance agencies, to join family air conditioning businesses, but Roger Wolfe Kahn has them all beat. He left music to become a test pilot. The Garland trio can handle all rhythms, crazy or otherwise.

Garland always had the most eclectic tastes, and the ability to pull a great session together from disparate sources. "Teach Me Tonight" is a popular song from the 50s, that era on which the book of Great American Songs was supposed to have closed. But this is another that's received quite a bit of attention cross-genre (including, again, Dinah Washington, who crossed nearly every genre). In jazz, piano players have liked it -- Garland, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson.

"It's a Blue World" was written by Bob Wright and George Forrest, best known (basically only known) for the Broadway show Kismet. If Red Garland is an eclectic song-picker, "It's a Blue World" is an eclectic song, with versions by a wide range of jazz performers, including Glenn Miller, Billy Bauer, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Coleman Hawkins. It's been a favorite of jazz singers, too, including, most recently, Amy Winehouse.

Then Coltrane showed up.

I love Red Garland's trio work, always, but Coltrane is Coltrane.

If Garland, Chambers and Taylor were having a busy day, Garland, Chambers and Coltrane were having a busy week. Don't forget that while they had stayed behind at Prestige, they had also migrated to Columbia with Miles Davis, and three days before turning up on Rudy Van Gelder's doorstep, they had been in a Columbia studio recording one of Miles's classic albums, Milestones, the one that welcomed Cannonball Adderley to the group.

Trane was now pushing forward with more urgency, and starting to separate himself from the pack even more than he had done previously. This session is credited as his first exploration of the technique that came to be called "sheets of sound." I am not musicologist enough to understand its nuances, let alone explain them. Here's fromthejazzpianosite:

As we covered in a previous lesson, to improvise vertically means to think in terms of chords and chord progressions – so your solo traces out each individual chord in the progression. While to improvise horizontally means to think in terms of scales, modes and keys – so your solo isn’t tracing out each individual chord, but rather you are just playing a particular scale over the entire progression. The end result can be very similar. A vertical solo can sound exactly the same as a horizontal solo – it’s just a different way of thinking about improvisation.
And so the Sheets of Sound technique is a vertical improvisation technique; that is, it uses arpeggios, patterns, licks and scales that trace out each chord in a progression.

The writer goes on to explain that there are a plethora of scales and arpeggios "that you could plausibly use to improvise over this chord," and lists a number of them, but points out that

If you play all of these scales/arpeggios in their entirety over [your basic chord], you are playing Sheets of Sound. Now, obviously, this is impossible so you just try squeeze in as much as you can.
 Coltrane tried to squeeze every possible harmonic implication into his solo – play every possible chord and every possible scale for each chord.
 The same website quotes Coltrane:
About this time, I was trying for a sweeping sound. I started experimenting because I was striving for more individual development. I even tried long, rapid lines that Ira Gitler termed “sheets of sound” at that time. But actually, I was beginning to apply the three-on-one chord approach, and at that time the tendency was to play the entire scale of each chord. Therefore, they were usually played fast and sometimes sounded like glisses.
 I found there were a certain number of chord progressions to play in a given time, and sometimes what I played didn’t work out in eighth notes, 16th notes, or triplets. I had to put the notes in uneven groups like fives and sevens in order to get them all in.
 I could stack up chords, say on a C7, I sometimes superimposed an Eb7 up to an F#7, down to an F. That way I could play three chords on one. But on the other hand, if I wanted to, I could play melodically…
He does play melodically on this session, especially on Tadd Dameron's beautiful "Good Bait." Dameron was what might be called a musician's musician -- revered by the jazz community, not well known outside of it, so his compositions were special, not only because of how good they were, but also because jazz owed him a special debt.

And he plays out there, especially on an Irving Berlin standard. As Bob Weinstock recalled it,
We were doing a session and we were hung for a tune and I said, "Trane, why don't you think up some old standard?" He said, "OK I got it.["]...and they played "Russian Lullaby" at a real fast tempo. At the end I asked, "Trane, what was the name of that tune?" And he said, "Rushin' Lullaby". I cracked up.
The Trio session sat on the shelf for a long time, finally released in 1970 as It's a Blue World. "Crazy Rhythm" rushed the tempo on that, appearing on Garland's 1962 release, Dig It! as well as the later album.

The Coltrane session came out in 1958 as Soultrane, although it does not include the Tadd Dameron composition of the same name that was written for Coltrane. "Good Bait" and "I Want to Talk About You" were released on separate 45s, each divided into Parts 1 and 2.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is very close to release. Order your advance copy from

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Listening to Prestige 265: Mal Waldron

It's hard to say how many compositions came from the imagination of Mal Waldron, but they certainly numbered in the hundreds. Any session that hired Waldron as pianist was more than likely to want one or more original compositions from him, and he wrote most of the material on the albums he recorded as leader. If you're that prolific, one of two things is likely to happen. You're going to start repeating yourself -- not necessarily bad thing, if you're finding new ways to do things you've done before. Or you're going to keep finding new ground.

Waldron wasn't one to stay still. He had a wide range of passions and influences. He was still part of that generation, slipping away as the 50s played themselves out, that got its start in rhythm and blues. He was a lover of classical music, and recorded several pieces by classical and modernist composers. He worked with beboppers and the avant garde, and he was Billie Holiday's accompanist during the last two years of her life. And he brought all of that experience, and his own restless genius, to bear on his work as a composer.

When one starts to categorize music, one immediately runs into the futility of categorizing music. A jazz recording session in 1957-58: is it bop? Hard bop? Cool? Neo-swing? Third stream? The lion lies down with lamb, Mulligan meets Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie plays a duet with Louis Armstrong. And that's just jazz. What do we call that other music that was composed earlier in the 20th century by Charles Ives and Aaron Copland, later on by John Cage and Philip Glass and LaMonte Young? Contemporary classical music? That's not only moronic, it's oxymoronic. What else? Composed music? Duke Ellington composed his music, and so did film scorers from Korngold to Elmer Bernstein, not to mention Leonard Bernstein. Cage and Glass were avant garde, but so was Ives in his day, and nobody stays avant garde. So we're probably stuck with contemporary classical music.

And how is that different from what Mal Waldron is doing in this early 1958 session? It must be jazz,
because it's got that swing without which, the Duke tells us, it don't mean a thing? Elvin Jones, on drums, had that swing, and Waldron was already teamed up with Billie Holiday, who out of the era for which Swing was the name, not just a characteristic. But listen to the beginning of "Tension." The number will move into jazz improvisation, with great solos by Art Farmer and Eric Dixon, but the opening section -- I'm not even sure you'd call it a head -- has a lot of the tonality and feeling that we associate with what we call classical, oxy and moronic though we may be, and not just in what Waldron and Farmer and Dixon are doing -- Jones is very much a part of that stance.

"Ollie's Caravan" has a head that's very much in the bop tradition--and an arresting melody--but then it goes different places. Putting a caravan in the title can't help but make one think of Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol, but while Eric Dixon's flute solos have an Eastern tinge, they make one think of Yusef Lateef's experiments more than "Caravan." And all the above ingredients come together again in "The Cattin' Toddler" -- a striking drum intro by Jones, a catchy riff head, Eastern-tinged flute by Dixon, plus a wonderful extended solo by Farmer and the kind of work one expects of Waldron in improvising off one of his own compositions--which is to say, something completely unexpected.

"Portrait of a Young Mother" provides a space for a wordless vocal by Waldron's wife Elaine, although the piece is by no means a song, or even primarily a vehicle for voice. At ten minutes long, it gives room for solos by everyone, including a wonderful pizzicato cello by Caio Scott. This and "The Cattin' Toddler" suggest a devotion to family life that Waldron, sadly, was not able to entirely sustain. In 1963, a heroin overdose led to a major breakdown that finally responded to shock treatments and a spinal tap. His marriage to Elaine did not last. But perhaps there was a happy ending after all, for which I am very glad. These folks give so much to us, it's good to know when they get some happiness back. Mal and Elaine had two children. He had five more with his second wife, and in 1995, to celebrate his 70th birthday, he took both wives, all seven children, and two grandchildren with him on a three week tour of Japan.

These were released on New Jazz as Mal/3 -- Sounds.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is very close to release. Order your advance copy from

Friday, August 11, 2017

A-Tisket, A-Tasket

A digression -- back to Prestige shortly. Thinking about a friend's comment that she hates gimmicky songs and can't stand Ella Fitzgerald's "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," I felt this unaccountable urge to defend it, and to make the case that it's not gimmicky at all.

The old joke is that the most important thing is sincerity, and once you learn how to fake that, you've got it made. That's sort of what Ella Fitzgerald accomplishes in "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" -- using the most sophisticated technical skill to create not just the illusion, but the actual presence, of pure innocence.

Which means it is an illusion, of course. Real pure innocence is something like Rebecca Black's "Friday." But the illusion is complete. There's no knowing wink. Well, maybe there is from Chick Webb's band, but even the band succumbs to Ella's innocence.

How difficult is this to achieve? Well, consider the era. We always look back at any era as "a more innocent time," but times are never innocent. This was a complex moment in time. It was the Depression, and people were longing for innocent optimism. The biggest star of the decade was Shirley Temple, of whom her distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "It is a splendid thing that for just fifteen cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles." Shirley Temple's appeal was that she tried to be smart and sassy and grown-up (i.e., sexy), but she couldn't be anything else but innocent.

But there'll always be a reverse side to the coin of innocence.  As Tex Avery pointed out, what everyone really wants to see is Red Riding Hood in bed with the wolf. And just as repressed Victorian England produced some of the most elaborate pornography, the era that made icons of Shirley Temple and the chaste romances of Fred and Ginger also did its best to get Red Riding Hood in bed with the wolf.

And as society's outcasts are also society's id, the escutcheons of hot sex and sexual innuendo were borne by African Americans, whether they liked it or not. Bessie Smith wasn't crazy about continually being asked to sing songs of sexual innuendo, but that was what the public, and the record companies, wanted. And jazz was associated with sex. If the stories of jazz being the music of whorehouses were overblown, that was still the perception. So the presupposition was that anything sung by a black jazz singer would carry a subtext of sexual availability.

It's been said that any object can be a metaphor for sex, and I should know. I've used most of them. And any concave object, a purse or a pocket, can be a metaphor for the vagina: viz., Bessie Smith's "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl." And Ella sings a song about losing her basket, which a girlie picks up and puts in her pocket. Imagine Alberta Hunter singing that lyric. Imagine Lucille Bogan singing it.

And you can start to get an idea of Ella's accomplishment. Never mind her incredible musical skills, her ability to use her voice as an instrument, her overall understanding of music that enabled her to take over the leadership of Chick Webb's band after his death. In this song, she breaks through a nearly unbreakable stereotype. She makes innocence swing. She doesn't get in bed with the wolf.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Listening to Prestige 264: Mose Allison

I had sort of remembered Creek Bank as being the third Mose Allison album for Prestige, creating a sort of Back Country Trilogy of what would later be called concept albums, and would suddenly be thought of as a daring innovation in music when 60s rockers made them. But there were a couple of albums in between, and in fact there was a fourth concept album, The Transfigutration of Hiram Brown. But that was a little different in that Hiram Brown leaves the back country and comes to his city home. And it was on Columbia, which meant that the cover art was markedly different, so it felt different.

My first thought was that maybe Prestige didn't exactly know what to do with Allison. Why suddenly come out with an album of standards and sort-of-standards, with only one Allison original? But I think they did know what to do with him, and his Prestige years are an important part of his legacy. Young Man Mose shows off his roots as much as Back Country Suite does, but a different set of roots. This is the Mose Allison who came to his city home in New York, the serious jazz musician, influenced by Bud Powell and George Wallington, who played gigs with Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan and Phil Woods, recorded with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.

For all the different musical emphasis, Young Man Mose follows a pattern set out in his first two albums: a bunch of piano trio instrumentals, a couple of vocals, and one cut featuring him on trumpet. As his recording career went on, he would lose the trumpet, start featuring more vocals, and develop a reputation as one of the important songwriters of his era, combining witty, sophisticated lyrics with his rootsy piano and vocal style -- a sort of funky Dave Frishberg. He was already becoming known as a songwriter from his first two albums, but those songs--"Blues" and "Parchman Farm" were both blues, and didn't even really hint at the range he would develop.

So what about these songs? I started, in a recent entry on Gene Ammons, musing about the body of material that in literature is known as the canon, and in popular music has come to be called The Great American Songbook, and which was mostly being kept alive by jazz musicians during the 50s.. In the top forty radio era, otherwise known as the rock 'n roll era, certain artists and songs came to be pigeonholed as "one-hit wonders," and there was always a derogatory edge to this, though there shouldn't have been. If someone produces one memorable song, that's one more than most of us will ever do.

But there are one-hit wonders in the Great American Songbook, too. Those songs weren't all written by Gershwin and Kern and Porter. Allison touches on a few of them here.

"Somebody Else Is Taking My Place" was a trio effort: bandleader Russ Morgan, who contributed to one other notable song ("You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You"), and (Bob Ellsworth  and Richard Howard, who had none, unless you count Howard's "Shut the Door, They're Coming Through the Window."

Fred Hamm was a cornet player who took over the leadership of the Edgar Benson Orchestra, and neither Hamm nor Benson is much remembered today, though the Benson Orchestra did hire the young Frankie Trumbauer and Gene Krupa. Hamm and three bandmates wrote "Bye Bye Blues," which is remembered.

"I Told Ya I Loved Ya, Now Get Out" isn't exactly a standard, but it's had a few covers, and was written by three Jimmy Dorsey orchestramates, one of whom was Herb Ellis. "I Hadn't Anyone Till You" is by Ray Noble, probably mostly remembered as a radio bandleader, but his contribution to the GASB is not negligible: it also includes "Cherokee" and "The Very Thought of You."

Ellington, the Gershwins and Richard Whiting represent the Olympians. The GASB is circumscribed by time: the 20s, 30s and 40s. Ray Charles falls outside its purview, and not many progressive jazz musicians would have added him to the canon in 1958, but time has shown that he's second to none in importance. Good call by Mose to include him.

If I'm going to choose a favorite on this album, I guess it'll be Messrs. Morgan, Ellsworth and Howard. It's not the best song on the album, but I love what Mose does with it.

"Don't Get Around Much Any More" was issued as a single, on the flip side of the iconic "Parchman Farm," and it was also tapped for double duty on LP when Prestige put together a compilation album of Mose's vocals, titled, appropriately enough, Mose Allison Sings.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is very close to release. Order your advance copy from

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Listening to Prestige 263: John Coltrane

This became a chop shop Prestige session, dismantled and used for parts. The five tunes recorded on this date eventually found their way onto three different albums. Both John Coltrane and Donald Byrd would go on to stratospheric careers--Coltrane as avant-garde icon, frequently called the most important jazz artist of his generation, Byrd to record BlackByrds, one of the best selling jazz albums of all time. But even in 1958, they stood out as two of the best young talents around, so it's not clear why this would have happened. Maybe Prestige was simply, during these growth years, more than they could press, distribute and promote,
Maybe Weinstock knew that, like Miles, Trane possessed a reputation that would only grow, and he figured it couldn't hurt to have some product to release at a later time. Anyway, in the 21st century, it mox nix. Music is streamed now, and the whole concept of albums is becoming obsolete.

The session featured two pop standards (Arlen and Mercer, Rodgers and Hart), one jazz standard ("Lush Life," composed by Billy Strayhorn when he was 16!), and two originals, each with an interesting pedigree. The assembled talent represented an intertwining of two of the most prolific feeder streams to New York jazz. Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers and Louis Hayes were all from Detroit. John Coltrane had spent his formative years in Philadelphia, where he had worked with Texas-born Red Garland. When Coltrane came back to New York from his second Philadelphia sojourn, this one to kick his heroin habit, he brought some musicians with him, and, for this session, some composers. "Nakatini Serenade" was written by Philadelphian Cal Massey, whose talent was known within the jazz community, but whose militant political stances would lead him to be shunned, in later years, by some white-owned record labels.

"The Believer" is the work of a 20-year-old, as-yet-unknown Philadelphian named McCoy Tyner. Tyner was two years away from making his recording debut with the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, and the beginning of his work with Coltrane which would include "A Love Supreme." But clearly Trane was already listening to him.

Tyner's title presages, in different ways, the directions that each of the principals were to take. "The Believer" could fit in with the mystical/spiritual direction of the Coltrane school, which produced such titles as Trane's "A Love Supreme" and Pharaoh Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan." Or it could belong with the funk-gospel jazz that Byrd and others were to make for Blue Note, like Horace Silver's "The Preacher" or Jimmy Smith's "The Sermon." It's neither, but it's a great, riff-based melody, and it gives both soloists, and the other members of the group, space to create.

"Lush Life" was the first track to see vinyl, in the 1961 album of the same name. It was also
released on 45, which must have taken considerable editing, since the original is 14 minutes long--especially when you consider it only took up one side. "I Love You" was the other. "The Believer, in its turn, became the tittle of an album, released in 1963 and also containing "Nakatini Serenade." These two releases coincided with the beginning of Coltrane's fruitful years with Impulse! Records. "The Believer" was also released on 45, b/w "Dakar.".

The Last Trane left the Prestige station in 1965, and included "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "Lover" from this session.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is very close to release. Order your advance copy from

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Listening to Prestige 262: Gene Ammons

The question of jazz's popularity, or lack of it, comes up about as often in music discussions as the "death of poetry" does in literary discussions, which is to say, you can't get away from it, and no one really has anything new to add to it. Including me, but that doesn't stop me from going back to it. I finished up 1957 with a reference to an article in Billboard asking once again why jazz should be so popular abroad, and still fail to reach a mass audience at home. Billboard was always a cheerleader for the business of selling music, and their writers and editors had some very sharp insights. Music editor Paul Ackerman, one of the sharpest, suggested that people really liked jazz when they heard it, but they didn't hear it enough, and he suggested that people in the jazz world should work harder at educating America's
disk jockeys. People in other countries were hearing plenty of jazz because of the popularity of Voice of America disk jockey Willis Conover, but there was no one like Conover on the home front air waves. The Voice of America, of course, was manipulated by the CIA, and the CIA was selling its own brand of culture wars -- America was the home of abstract expressionist art and modern jazz. daring art forms that were anathema to the communists. This might have been a tougher sell at home, where artists were generally suspected of being communists.

But the idea that DJs should be educated about jazz was an interesting one. Looking at another Billboard issue, this one from 1954, radio jocks were asked about their favorite jazz artists, and they couldn't come up with many. Their lists ran to dance bands like Les Brown, pop acts like Les Paul and Mary Ford, novelty acts like Jerry Murad's Harmonicats. They didn't seem to know exactly what jazz was.

It should be pointed out that the Top Forty charts of the 1950s were reasonably hospitable to instrumental music, and all kinds of instrumental music. You had perky-poppy hits like Les Baxter's "Poor People of Paris," Latin hits like Perez Prado's "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White," lush big band swing like Jimmy Dorsey's "So Rare," TV themes like Ray Anthony's "Dragnet," syrupy hits like Percy Faith's "A Summer Place," gutsy rhythm and blues like Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk," and novelty rock and roll like the Champs' "Tequila." There was even some near-jazz, like Cozy Cole's "Topsy," or Red Prysock bringing his Lester Young influence to "Hand Clappin'" and "Cloudburst," which was also given a jazz cover by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

So maybe the jazz labels should have listened to Ackerman a little more closely. If one goes back to those 1954 disc jockey lists of favorite jazz musicians and jazz albums, one can't help but notice that they are virtually all from major labels. The only independent who makes a dent is Norman Granz, so maybe he understood the game a little better than some of the other indie impresarios.

Radio was a lot different in 1954, and here's one of the big differences. From Billboard, again:
Who selects the records played on your show?
Myself                 492
Program manager    1
Music librarian        9
Assistant                 1
Today virtually no DJ does his or her own programming. But back then, they did. Country legend Loretta Lynn got her start by driving around to every little radio station in the South with a crate full of copies of her first 45, meeting the DJs, schmoozing them, giving them the record. Today, no one would let her in the door. When I wrote The New Country Music Encyclopedia, back in the early 90s, I asked a record company executive, "What if it's not a kid? What if it's a veteran like Charley Pride, with a new recording, but no major label support?" "They'd let him in, because he's Charley Pride. But they wouldn't play his record."

Back then, you didn't have to do it yourself with a dusty old station wagon and a crate full of 45s. Song pluggers were an important part of the industry, and they did it for you. And you could even pay a little under the table to get your record on the air.

When people found out that was happening, it became a major scandal. Disc jockeys were fired. Congress launched a much-publicized investigation of payola. As a young person passionately in love with music, payola never seemed much of a problem to me. The assertion that Alan Freed took money under the table for playing records didn't bother me in the slightest. I loved the records he played, and I was much more bothered by the fact of his being forced off the air.

But anyway, it was 1958, and here you were. There was the persuasive power of song pluggers, and Nelson George profiles a few of them and discusses their importance to black radio in his brilliant study, The Death of Rhythm and Blues. For a little more of an investment, there was the power of greased palms. How much of an investment? I don't know, but Alan Freed played records by some pretty small independent labels, so it had to have been somewhat negotiable.

All of which brings us back to the independent jazz labels, and their apparent invisibility to disc jockeys, be they the smooth pop purveyors like Jack Lacy and William B, Williams on WNEW, the rock and rollers like Alan Freeds on WINS, the black radio jocks like Jocko, your Ace from Outer Space, on WOV. What if the song pluggers, with a little extra scratch in their wallets, had been working for Prestige or Blue Note or Riverside, or the jazz division of Atlantic?

They could have done worse than to start with Gene Ammons, and an album like this one. It features five horns, for a full-throated big band sound. It has Ammons’s rootsy connection to the blues, and some solid rhythms. I can imagine a cut like “Ammon Joy,” with its echoes of both swing and rhythm and blues, finding a place in a number of radio formats. “Ammon Joy is 13 minutes long, so it would have to have been edited fairly severely, but that was a not uncommon practice by jazz labels when the issued a cut on 45. And, in my reimagined world of 50s music, how about that? Give the Top Forty or R&B or Make Believe Ballroom audience a taste of the swinging head, the beautiful Jerome Richardson solo, a bit of John Coltrane on alto, and your reimagined listeners put their nickel in the jukebox, like what they hear, plunk down 79 cents for a 45, listen to it a few times, get interested enough to shell out $3.98 for the LP, and wow! Didja hear this? There’s a whole lot more to this song that we got on the 45! And Paul Ackerman is right—if people are exposed to jazz, they’ll like it.

Or maybe Prestige decides to try and sell the radio jocks on a familiar tune from the Great American Songbook, like the Ammons take on Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” (quintet, with some playful work by Richardson) or Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It Might as Well be Spring” (again a quintet, this time with Coltrane).

Or maybe not. Much as we revere the Great American Songbook today, the 50s were not its finest decade. I don’t have any sources on this, but I’m fairly certain the term had not been coined them. The songs from the 30s and 40s were known as “standards,” and they weren’t the songs that song pluggers and payola providers were pushing. So during the decade when traditional pop songs and pop singers duked it out with the rock and rollers, the popsters were not going with their heavy artillery. They were leading the charge with songs like “Ricochet Romance” and “Cross Over the Bridge” and “The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane” and “Chances Are.” Some of them were pretty good songs, some of them weren’t. Frank Sinatra recorded standards on his great Capitol albums with Nelson Riddle and Billy May, but his singles, his Top Forty releases, were newly minted songs like “High Hopes” and “Young at Heart.”

The standards were left to the jazz musicians, and, interestingly, the rock and rollers. Elvis recorded Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon,” doowoppers recorded the Kern/Fields “The Way You Look Tonight” (the Jaguars), Louis Prima’s “Sunday Kind of Love” (the Harptones), the Benny Goodman standard “Glory of Love” (the Five Keys) and many others.

It was left to jazz musician with a pop following, Ella Fitzgerald, to call new attention to the songs of the cream of American popular composers, with Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook, the first of several such albums, and quite probably the inspiration for whoever coined the phrase “Great American Songbook.”

So maybe a better choice for an Ammons release for the song pluggers and payola merchants would have been a pop song of the Fifties, “That’s All,” a 1953 hit for Nat “King” Cole.

In any event, none of that happened, and jazz floated along with its niche audience. One song from the session, “Blue Hymn” (quintet with Jerome Richardson) was released on 45, but much later. It’s hard to precisely pin down, It’s hard to precisely pin down the release dates of Prestige 45s, but it probably was in conjunction with the Bluesville compilation album, Soul Jazz, Vol. 2.

“Ammon Joy,” “Jug Handle” and “It Might As Well Be Spring” were all on a 1958 release of which the title tune was “Groove Blues.” “Blue Hymn,” “The Real McCoy” (Mal Waldron composition), “Cheek to Cheek” and “That’s All” made up a second album, The Big Sound, also released in 1958, so even if they didn’t get a Top Forty single, the folks at Prestige got their money’s worth out of this session.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Wrapping up 1957, just one more once

I can’t quite seem to let 1957 go, so here, thanks to the music division of the New York Public Library, still the researcher’s best friend ever, is the Down Beat reader’s poll for 1957, with some thoughts.


1 Duke Ellington

2 Modern Jazz Quartet

3 Dizzy Gillespie

4 Erroll Garner

5 Count Basie

6 Dave Brubeck

7 Jimmy Giuffre

8 Shelly Manne

9 Louis Armstrong

10 Gerry Mulligan

If you were going to take Paul Ackerman’s advice about jazz needing better marketing, what better place to start than with personalities? Whatever that means. I actually like the idea of a poll based on a really amorphous topic, because the respondents have to figure out for themselves what it means.

Whatever it means, it can’t be any surprise that Duke Ellington, he of the outsized personality and musical genius, is at the top of the list.  But interesting that the MJQ is second when, except for Milt Jackson, none of them placed especially high in the polls for individual instruments. I guess the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

It surprises me that Louis Armstrong isn’t higher. He may not have been in an ascendant point in his career just then, but he’d recently appeared in a hit movie, and if jazz fans had a criticism of him, it was generally too much personality.

And the real surprise for me is Jimmy Giuffre. Was he really considered an outsize personality in 1957?

Jazz Band - Count Basie

Dance Band - Les Brown


1.       Herbie Mann

2.       Bud Shank

3.       Frank Wess

4.       Buddy Collette

5.       Sam Most

6.       Jerome Richardson

7.       Bobby Jaspar

8.       Paul Horn

9.       James Moody

10.   Dick Healey

11.   Yusef Lateef

12.   Billy Slapin

13.   Moe Koffman

Down Beat listed all the vote getters in its readers' poll, which was kinda nice for some hard working musicians who otherwise would not have seen their names in the Bible of jazz. Herbie Mann (1344 votes) and Bud Shank (1199) were the big vote getters, with Jerome Richardson the last one to get at least 100. The lower rungs of the ladder represented votes in the low two figures, so while some of them, like Yusef Lateef, represented the vision of a tiny handful of forward-thinking jazz fans, others could conceivably have made the list if they had large families. In any case, these are all folks who’ve given something to jazz, and deserve some recognition back.

Canadian Moe Koffman will probably show up better in next year’s poll. He released an album on Jubilee in ’57, but it didn’t gain much attention until the label took one of his compositions, “Blues a la Canadiana,” changed its name to “Swingin’ Shepherd Blues,” and released it as a single in 1958, where it became a hit, rising to #23 on the Billboard charts, and inspiring over 300 covers, including Count Basie, Herbie Mann, and Mantovani, so there was room for a range of interpretation there. Ella Fitzgerald and Natalie Cole recorded vocal versions. I hope Moe kept the publishing.

Dick Healey was the American member of the Australian Jazz Quartet/Quintet, which had achieved some popularity in the mid-fifties. I can find little about Billy Slapin, except that he did make one recording in 1959 with Billy Taylor.


1.       Duke Ellington    

2.       John Lewis          

3.       Jimmy Giuffre

4.       Bill Holman

5.       Quincy Jones

6.       Shorty Rogers

7.       Pete Rugolo

8.       Horace Silver

9.       Johnny Richards

10.   Stan Kenton

11.   Gerry Mulligan

12.   Bill Russo

13.   Thelonious Monk

14.   Dave Brubeck

15.   Benny Golson

16.   Ernie Wilkins

17.   Andre Previn

18.   Johnny Mandel

19.   Jack Montrose

20.   Billy Strayhorn

21.   Ralph Burns

22.   Manny Albam

23.   Charlie Mingus

24.   John Graaf

25.   George Wallington

26.   George Russell

27.   Gigi Gryce

28.   Marty Paich

29.   Al Cohn

30.   Gil Evans

As long as this list is, it has some surprising omissions, and it says something about what jazz fans of the 50s thought of when they thought of composers. It goes without saying that Ellington should lead the list, or maybe it doesn’t. He got 876 votes (most poll winners got at least 1000) and was closely challenged by John Lewis with 789, and 28 more composers were thought of more highly than the Duke by at least a few people. Johnny Richards was the end of the 100+ list, which means that Stan Kenton came up just short, but being associated with Kenton made the reputation of several composers: Richards, Pete Rugolo, Bill Holman, Bill Russo.

If people were voting today, Quincy Jones might well be right behind Ellington, but even then, his reputation was solid. Or Thelonious Monk, and what’s he doing down at #13? It took a while for jazz fans to catch up to Monk, but 1957 was already a while. George Russell, Gigi Gryce and Gil Evans are shockingly low, but where’s Mal Waldron? He was writing some great tunes at this time.

With jazz making its presence felt in the movies, and movies being the epicenter of American popular culture, I’m a little surprised that Elmer Bernstein didn’t catch the attention of the jazz public. The Man with the Golden Arm had come out just two years ago, and Sweet Smell of Success, with the Chico Hamilton Quintet playing Bernstein’s score, was hot in 1957. Gil MellĂ© would play an important role in movie scoring, but that was yet to come.

Chico O’Farrill was doing very important work in the fifties, and he’s completely overlooked, but I’ll have more to say about that later.


1.       Milt Jackson   

2.       Terry Gibbs    

3.       Lionel Hampton  

4.       Red Norvo

5.       Don Elliott

6.       Cal Tjader

7.       Eddie Costa

8.       Teddy Charles

9.       Larry Bunker

10.   Vic Feldman

11.   Terry Pollard

12.   Joe Roland

13.   Johnny Rae

14.   Emil Richards

One of the big landslides. The MJQ gave Milt Jackson visibility, and his star power within the MJQ translated into 2344 votes, more than triple those of Terry Gibbs. Terry Pollard was one of the very few women in instrumental jazz of that era, and it’s good to see her getting some recognition. Johnny Rae and Emil Richards might not have gone on to headline careers, but they both were in demand during this era. Richards went on to a career as one of the most sought-after percussionists in Hollywood, and both are still with us.

Miscellaneous Instrument

1.       Don Elliot (Mellophone)  1105

2.       Fred Katz (Cello)

3.       Bob Cooper (oboe)

4.       John Graas (French horn)

5.       Julius Watkins (French horn)

6.       Shorty Rogers (fluegelhorn)

7.       Jimmy Smith (organ)

8.       Candido (conga drums)

9.       Cy Touff (bass trumpet)

10.   Sidney Bechet (soprano sax)

11.   Oscar Pettiford (cello)

12.   Toots Thielemans (harmonica)

13.   Stuff Smith (violin)

14.   Ray Draper (tuba)

15.   Steve Lacy (soprano sax)

16.   Lee Strand (organ)

17.   Dick Cary (alto horn)

18.   Joe Venuti (violin)

19.   Dorothy Ashby (harp)

20.   Dave Amram (French horn)

21.   Erroll Buddle (bassoon)

22.   Ray Nance (violin)

23.   Eddie South (violin)

24.   Cal Tjader (bongos)

25.   Bill Doggett (organ)

26.   Jack Costanzo (bongos)

27.   Count Basie (organ)

Today, many of these instruments are no longer miscellaneous: soprano sax, organ, violin, percussion. And one instrument that had a category of its own, accordion, has been downgraded to miscellaneous. It’s hard to see why it had its own category even then. Art Van Damme was the landslide winner, but after that the field was so slim that Lawrence Welk, Dick Contino and Myron Floren all got votes.

Women have always found it hard to break into jazz, but even more so back then. The harp was one of the few instruments they were allowed to claim, and while Dorothy Ashby makes this list, other jazz harpists like Adele Girard and Corky Hale get short shrift. Alice McLeod was not yet on the scene—she had just moved from Detroit to Paris, to study with Bud Powell. She would make a name for herself in the 60s, but it would be her married name: Alice Coltrane.

Women don’t make much of a dent in this list, partly because there weren’t very many of them. But there’s another group of musicians who were plentiful, who were great, and are completely overlooked: the Latin jazz musicians.

I’ve already cited Chico O’Farrill as an overlooked composer. Percussionists are relegated to miscellaneous, and even so, Candido is the only Latin percussionist to be named at all. Where is Sabu Martinez? Ray Barretto? Mongo Santamaria? Chino Pozo? Where are two of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, Machito and especially Tito Puente? The only other percussionists on this list are Swedish-American Cal Tjader, and Chicagoan Jack Costanzo, who at least studied in Cuba.


1.       Ray Brown   

2.       Oscar Pettiford  

3.       Leroy Vinnegar

4.       Paul Chambers

5.       Red Mitchell

6.       Charlie Mingus

7.       Percy Heath

8.       Milt Hinton

9.       Chubby Jackson

10.   Eddie Safranski

11.   Carson Smith

12.   Teddy Kotick

13.   Ralph Pena

14.   George Duvivier

15.   Norman Bates

16.   Arvell Shaw

17.   Slam Stewart

18.   Wendell Marshall

19.   Johnnie Pate

20.   Max Bennett

21.   Walter Page

22.   Don Bagley

23.   Bill Crow

24.   Wilbur Ware

25.   Curtis Counce

26.   Bob Haggart

27.   Red Kelly

28.   Al Hall

29.   Doug Watkins

30.   Ed Jones

Ray Brown (752 votes) and Oscar Pettiford (734) virtually neck and neck. As a Prestige fan, I would have rated Doug Watkins higher. And two interesting omissions. While older, swing era players like George Duvivier, Slam Stewart, Arvell Shaw and Bob Haggart got votes, two of the bassists most associated with bebop -- Tommy Potter and Curly Russell—are completely overlooked.


1.       Shelly Manne

2.       Max Roach

3.       Joe Morello

4.       Jo Jones

5.       Chico Hamilton

6.       Gene Krupa

7.       Art Blakey

8.       Buddy Rich

9.       Philly Joe Jones

10.   Louie Bellson

11.   Roy Harte

12.   Osie Johnson

13.   Don Lamond

14.   Kenny Clarke

15.   Mel Lewis

16.   Stan Levey

17.   Sam Woodyard

18.   Connie Kay

19.   Cozy Cole

20.   Sonny Payne

21.   Art Taylor

22.   Zutty Singleton

23.   George Wettling

24.   Frank Isola

25.   Chuck Flores

26.   Gene McCarthy

27.   Larry Bunker

28.   Ray Bauduc

29.   Joe Dodge

30.   Ed Thigpen

Lots of good drummers.


1.       Jimmy Giuffre     

2.       Tony Scott   

3.       Benny Goodman   

4.       Buddy deFranco

5.       PeeWee Russell

6.       Woody Herman

7.       Jimmy Hamilton

8.       Buddy Collette

9.       Edmond Hall

10.   Pete Fountain

11.   Sam Most

12.   Artie Shaw

13.   Peanuts Hucko

14.   Rolf Kuhn

15.   Barney Bigard

16.   Buster Bailey

17.   Bobby Jones

18.   John LaPorta

19.   George Lewis

20.   Sol Yaged

21.   Gene Quill

22.   Bob Wilber

23.   Lester Young

For all of Jimmy Giuffre showing up as one of jazz’s top personalities of the year and one of the top composers of the year, he doesn’t win his instrument by all that much, 1522 votes to Tony Scott’s 1391. Benny Goodman is almost an afterthought with 454 votes. I never knew that Lester Young had played the clarinet. He did, although not in 1957.

Alto Sax

1.       Paul Desmond   1414

2.       Art Pepper   726

3.       Sonny Stitt

4.       Lee Konitz

5.       Johnny Hodges

6.       Bud Shank

7.       Julian Adderley

8.       Phil Woods

9.       Jacki McLean

10.   Zoot Sims

11.   Benny Carter 

12.   Lennie Niehaus

13.   Gene Quill

14.   Charlie Mariano

15.   Gigi Gryce

16.   Willie Smith

17.   Lou Donaldson

18.   Herb Geller

19.   Hal McKusick

20.   Ernie Henry

21.   Buddy Collette

22.   Ronnie Lang

23.   Al Belletto

24.   Earl Bostic

25.   Al Cohn

26.   Pete Brown

27.   Charlie Ventura

28.   Dick Johnson

29.   Lennie Hambro

30.   Frank Morgan

These polls, especially the readers’ polls, whether the more musically sophisticated Down Beat or the Hefner-philosophizing Playboy voters, tend to skew a little white. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the alto sax category. Yes, after the death of Charlie Parker, a clear consensus choice for king of the alto saxophone would be Paul Desmond. And all the other white guys are good and deserving, too. But lists are lists, voters are voters, and bias is bias. In 1943, Esquire magazine brought some African-American music critics on board for its critics’ poll, and for the first time, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, Billie Holiday and Cootie Williams were poll winners. And there was a backlash, led by Stan Kenton, crying “reverse racism,” as though it would take reverse racism to elevate Armstrong, Hawkins or Lady Day.

Who’s completely missing from the poll? And don’t forget the poll goes down to about 15 votes.

Sahib Shihab (he does make the baritone list), Sonny Red (was no one in Detroit voting?), John Jenkins, Curtis Porter (Shafi Hadi), Romeo Penque, David Newman, and for that matter, Ray Charles, who was playing some alto in those days.


1.       Errol Garner   

2.       Oscar Peterson   

3.       Dave Brubeck 

4.       Horace Silver

5.       Andre Previn

6.       Thelonious Monk

7.       John Lewis

8.       Bud Powell

9.       Billy Taylor

10.   Hampton Hawes

11.   Teddy Wilson

12.   George Shearing

13.   Russ Freeman

14.   Hank Jones

15.   Count Basie

16.   Lou Levy

17.   Phineas Newborn

18.   Duke Ellington

19.   Lennie Tristano

20.   Pete Jolly

21.   Eddie Costa

22.   George Wallington

23.   Red Garland

24.   Dave McKenna

25.   Mary Lou Williams

26.   Claude Williamson

27.   Stan Kenton

28.   Marian McPartland

29.   Toshiko Akiyoshi

30.   Earl Hines

Among the missing, just from the Prestige catalog, Mal Waldron and Freddie Redd,  and I don’t really understand the omission of either of them. And, most astounding, Mose Allison.


1.       Barney Kessel    

2.       Tal Farlow  

3.       Jim Hall

4.       Johnny Smith

5.       Herb Ellis

6.       Kenny Burrell

7.       Jimmy Raney

8.       Sal Salvador

9.       Laurindo Almeida

10.   Les Paul 

11.   Howard Roberts

12.   Mundell Lowe

13.   Eddie Condon

14.   George Van Eps

15.   Billy Bauer

16.   Joe Puma

17.   Chuck Wayne

18.   Don Hund

19.   Barry Galbraith

20.   Bill Harris

21.   George Barnes

22.   Dick Garcia

23.   Jean Thielemans

24.   Steve Jordan

25.   Tony Rizzi

26.   Wilbur Wynne

Barney Kessel was ubiquitous in those days, and very good, and got double the votes of Tal Farlow.

Baritone Sax

1.       Gerry Mulligan  

2.       Harry Carney   

3.       Pepper Adams

4.       Cecil Payne

5.       Jimmy Giuffre 

6.       Ernie Caceres

7.       Gil Melle

8.       Bud Shank

9.       Charlie Ventura

10.   Al Cohn

11.   Lars Gullin

12.   Danny Bank

13.   Sahib Shihab

14.   Charlie Fowkes

15.   Virgil Gonsalves

16.   Jack Nimitz

Gerry Mulligan basically was the baritone sax in 1957, and he dominated the poll even more than Milt Jackson on vibes, 2960 to Harry Carney’s 495.

Tenor Sax

1.       Stan Getz     

2.       Sonny Rollins  

3.       Zoot Sims

4.       Bill Perkins

5.       Coleman Hawkins

6.       Lester Young

7.       Lucky Thompson

8.       Al Cohn

9.       Bob Cooper

10.   Bud Freeman

11.   John Coltrane

12.   Ben Webster

13.   Jimmy Giuffre

14.   Charlie Ventura

15.   Flip Phillips

16.   Paul Gonsalves

17.   Hank Mobley

18.   Sonny Stitt

19.   Dave Pell

20.   Bobby Jones

21.   Georgie Auld

22.   Richie Kamuca,

23.   Illinois Jacquet

24.   J.R. Monterose

25.   Johnny Griffin

26.   Paul Quinichette

27.   Sandy Mosse

28.   Warne Marsh

29.   Freddy Martin

30.   Erroll Buddle

You can’t argue with the choice of Stan Getz as tenor sax man of the year. You couldn’t have argued with Sonny Rollins, either. What you might argue with, if you were wondering about a racial bias, is whether Getz (1903 votes) was more than three times better than Rollins (652). Jazz fans were a little snobbish in the 50s, and rock and roll got more and more of the record sales and the airplay, and they snubbed some very good players like Red Prysock, Sam (The Man) Taylor, Al Sears, David “Fathead” Newman.


1.       Miles Davis    989

2.       Dizzy Gillespie   950

3.       Chet Baker

4.       Louis Armstrong

5.       Shorty Rogers

6.       Maynard Ferguson

7.       Harry James

8.       Roy Eldridge

9.       Donald Byrd

10.   Art Farmer

11.   Conte Candoli

12.   Ruby Braff

13.   Kenny Dorham

14.   Harry Edison

15.   Don Fagerquist

16.   Joe Newman

17.   Don Elliott

18.   Clark Terry

19.   Charlie Shavers

20.   Thad Jones

21.   Wild Bill Davison

22.   Buck Clayton

23.   Ray Anthony

24.   Lee Morgan

25.   Jack Sheldon

26.   Cat Anderson

27.   Billy Butterfield

28.   Johnny Windhurst

29.   Stu Williamson

Miles was on the ascendant, Dizzy definitely not on the descendent, and they were still neck (989 votes) and neck (950) in 1957.

Percussionists weren't the only great Latin jazz musicians overlooked in the fifties. Mario Bauza played in Machito's band throughout this era, and he was one of the greatest jazz trumpeters who ever lived.


1.       J. J. Johnson    

2.       Bob Brookmeyer  

3.       Kai Winding

4.       Bill Harris

5.       Frank Rosolino

6.       Jack Teagarden

7.       Jimmy Cleveland

8.       Carl Fontana

9.       Urbie Green

10.   Buddy Morrow

11.   Milt Bernhardt

12.   Vic Dickenson

13.   Frank Rehak

14.   Trummy Young

15.   Eddie Bert

16.   Ray Sims

17.   Benny Green

18.   Kid Ory

19.   Willie Dennis

20.   Melba Liston

21.   Tyree Glenn

22.   Wilbur de Paris

23.   Eddie Hubble

24.   Lawrence Brown

25.   Abe Lincoln

26.   Tommy Turk

27.   Britt Woodman

28.   Bob Enevoldsen

29.   Herbie Harper

30.   Lou McGarrity

Melba Liston and Terry Pollard are the only women to make a list on an instrument other than the harp or piano, and Pollard was a pianist first. They weren’t the only deserving ones, but most women instrumentalists in that era were relegated to all-girl orchestras. Terry Pollard led a group that took on Clark Terry in a 1953 blowing session, Cats vs. Chicks, and the chicks held their own.