Sunday, June 17, 2018

Listening to Prestige 339: Coleman Hawkins

This is a Moodsville session, and it can legitimately be described as mood music: Coleman Hawkins and a rhythm section, a selection of well-chosen ballads, all of them familiar, none of them over-familiar. Two of them ("While We're Young" and "Trouble is a Man") were composed by Alec Wilder, who, if he didn't coin the phrase "Great American Songbook," can certainly be accorded credit for popularizing the concept with his 1972 book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950.

The cover art for the Moodsville series makes it clear what they're selling: the mood. But the musicians don't go into the studio to make mood music, and with Coleman Hawkins, you know you're getting a lot more.

And that's not to put down mood music. Music as background is sometimes unfairly derided. It's part of our lives when we don't necessarily want it to be, in elevators or supermarkets or when we're on hold. But it's the background to our lives when we choose it, to read, to work out or make love, to paint or sculpt or clean out the garage. But that background has to be foregroundable. It has to be music that you can stop sculpting for a few minutes, wipe your brow, take a breath, and shift your attention to what you're listening to. It needs to be something good, something that's every bit as challenging and absorbing as it is relaxing and soothing.

Hawkins fits all of those requirements. So does Tommy Flanagan, who is a very good match for Hawkins.

The album is called At Ease With Coleman Hawkins. Esmond Edwards produced.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Listening to Prestige 338: Jack McDuff

Two weeks after Bill Jennings, Jack McDuff, Wendell Marshall and Alvin Johnson had gone to Englewood Cliffs to record as the Bill Jennings Quartet, they were back again, this time under McDuff's name. He was the third of the trio that had been signed on to Prestige as Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson's group to record as leader, though he probably ended up as the most commercially successful of the three.

McDuff and Jennings make a great combination. It turns out that if the organ-tenor sax quartet is a great new idea, and the organ-tenor sax-guitar quintet is another great idea, the organ-guitar quartet is an equally great idea, if you have two players like these.

So, about the music. The set begins with "Organ Grinder's Swing," written by Will Hudson (best known for "Moonglow"), a swing era tune from the 1930s that originally celebrated that figure of Depression-era mythology, the organ grinder and his trained monkey. In the soul jazz era, it got picked up by virtually everyone who played that more sophisticated type of organ, the Hammond B3. Shirley Scott was the first to take it on, on an album with Joe Newman, and Jimmy Smith would record it a few years later with Kenny Burrell. But McDuff and Jennings were the first to give it the guitar-organ treatment, and if there's ever a number that demonstrates how perfectly these two long-time partners work together, it's this. There are also lyrics written by Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish, probably best forgotten these days, because they include the verse "Eeny meeny miney mo, Catch a monkey by the toe."

"Drowsy" is the first Brother Jack composition on the album, and it is something different, starting with with notes sustained as only an electric organ can, to the point of eeriness,  and if you're looking for eerie, how about the next sound you here, which is Bill Jennings bending one blue note at a time, with some fairly impressive sustaining himself, and that's basically what happens throughout. If a slow tempo is enough to make something a ballad, then this is a ballad. Except it's not. Is it jazz? Well, sure it is. It's on a jazz album, and it's being played by two jazz masters, so what else do you want?

"Noon Train" is another original, uptempo, riff-based, blues-drenched, with some serious work by Wendell Marshall and especially Alvin Johnson, some flights of creativity from McDuff and a guitar solo that -- not for the first or last time -- makes you stop and ask yourself why Jennings isn't on everyone's list of greatest jazz guitarists. And he's not. Not even on Ranker's list, which has 131 guitarists on it (well, he is now). Which shows you that people can be wrong. Or perhaps that I'm wrong--but that's not possible. This is one hell of a guitarist. Am I right, Larry (the Fluff) Audette?

"Mack 'N' Duff" and "Brother Jack" are two that he named after himself, and all of these together lead one to the inescapable conclusion that if McDuff wasn't one of the great jazz composers, he surely was the greatest composer of original music for Jack McDuff, and it is every bit of that: original, and designed to show his considerable range, and with great parts for his pal Bill Jennings. Jennings is co-composer on the final original, "Light Blues," and it's a nice showcase for him, a lazy swinging blues.

"Mr. Wonderful" certainly had its heyday as a jazz piece in the late 1950s, especially with organists (Shirley Scott and Johnny "Hammond" Smith took it on too), and not much after that, which shows the clout that Sammy Davis, Jr., had in those days, but it's also not a bad tune, and it's hard to fault this version. "You're Driving Me Crazy" is a certifiable standard. Written by the prolific Walter Donaldson, it's never gone very long without provoking a new rendition, either jazz or pop (most recently Van Morrison and Joey DiFrancesco). McDuff and Jennings take it at a relaxed tempo, and do some cool things with it.

"Organ Grinder Swing" was the single, b/w "Brother Jack." Brother Jack was also the name of the album, although it would be a while before the brother would add "Brother" to his name full time. I had a tough time choosing a "Listen to One" for this session. So many different sounds competed for my attention. Listening to all would not be a bad idea at all.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Listening to Prestige 337: Mildred Anderson

Bob Weinstock continues his streak here: finding wonderful blues singers, putting them together with first rate musicians, and not really achieving the kind of success one would hope for.

Mildred Anderson had recorded a couple of sides in the 1940s and a couple more in the 1950s. This session, and a followup for Prestige, are generally considered to be her best work, but they didn't bring her much fame. She faded into obscurity--in fact, into oblivion. There appears not even to be a record of her death. Or her birth, for that matter.

Anderson had worked with first rate musicians before. She'd had a minor hit with Albert Ammons ("Doin' the Boogie Woogie"), and had recorded with Hot Lips Page and Bill Doggett. But "Doin' the Boogie Woogie" really wasn't a very good song, although it had a nice solo by Ammons. And on the Prestige session, she gets the label's stars, plus Esmond Edwards' producing talents, and, of course, Rudy Van Gelder engineering the session.

She has a full day of studio time. And she has an interesting collection of songs.

Here again, we've moved into a new era. Edwards and Anderson, or whoever picked out the songs for this session, are not looking back at the composers who compiled the Great American Songbook, now closed, gift-wrapped, and sent to Ella Fitzgerald. Those songs aren't necessarily appropriate for a contemporary blues singer, anyway. This is a different and a motley bunch, but professionals with some interesting hits to their resumes.

"I'm Gettin' 'Long Alright" and "Connections" were written by Charles Singleton (who also wrote "I'm Free" and Bobby Sharp. Sharp, who grew up in a two-room Harlem flat where his parents entertained the likes of Roy Wilkins, Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington, wrote "Unchain My Heart." Singleton wrote "Strangers in the Night."

Rhythm and blues great Chuck Willis wrote "Don't Deceive Me (Please Don't Go)." Anderson herself wrote the two blues numbers, "Hello Little Boy" and "Cool Kind of Poppa," and they're both solid songs, well suited to her style. Another blues legend, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, wrote "Kidney Stew Blues," along with Leona Blackman, who wrote a number of R&B tunes for artists like Big Maybelle, but "Kidney Stew," as originally performed by Vinson, was her biggest hit.

"Person to Person," which became the title song of the album, was written by Wally Gold, who had a bunch of hits, including  "It's Now or Never" and "Good Luck Charm" for Elvis Presley, and a song he was called in on to finish up for a part time songwriter, who had been inspired by a tantrum thrown by his teenage daughter, when informed she had to invite her grandparents to her Sweet Sixteen. When he tried to calm her down, she retorted "It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to."

Mildred Anderson is a terrific singer who deserved more recognition than she got. The musicians backing her up, Scott and Davis and their regular rhythm section, George Duvivier and Arthur Edgehill, are amazing. I commented before, regarding their session with Al Smith, that "Shirley Scott's understated but impassioned organ work, on every cut, really pulls the album together. It makes you wish she'd done a lot more work with singers." That's as true, and more, on this session, but if I singled out Scott that time, I might not be able to do it this time. She and Davis are equally impressive. They do wonderful work backing up the singer, accenting her and bringing out the best in her, and they move from that into solos that take on their own importance, yet never stop being part of the song. I can't say more than that, because every time I try to single out one of them, and one cut off the album, so many others jump out and demand equal time.

Maybe Davis and Scott were born out of their time. In the 1930s, the bandleaders were the stars, and the singers were just part of the show. By the 1950s, that only worked for Johnny Otis. But if Davis and Scott could have added a vocalist and put together a package like Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller...

"Person to Person," b/w "Connections," is the 45 RPM single. "Connections" was not included on the album. Nor was "Ebb Tide," and neither of them are listed on the CD reissue, either, although you can find "Connections" on YouTube, which is all to the good. It's a nice raunchy song. Unfortunately, the single didn't make much of a dent. Maybe if they could have gotten a different Wally Gold song, like It's My Party." Well, maybe not.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Listening to Prestige 336: Bill Jennings

In spite of being a prolifically recorded guitarist over a range of styles, and the musician B. B. King has called one of his biggest influences, Bill Jennings remains remarkably obscure. He played with Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan, King Curtis and Ella Fitzgerald. He played guitar on Little Willie John's "Fever."  But he's not much remembered, and all that remains in print are the early sides for the King and Gotham labels, available as an import--none of the Prestige recordings. He had come to Prestige with Willis Jackson and Jack McDuff, and the three of them recorded in various combinations. This and the earlier Enough Said were issued under his leadership, although Wikipedia's discography for Jennings lists him as a sideman to Jack McDuff for this session.

The date includes a number of tunes that Jennings had previously recorded, and one that Prestige must have hoped for some radio and jukebox action from. "Cole Slaw" was a Jesse Stone composition that had originated under a different title. It had been recorded in rhythm and blues and swing versions by "Doc" Wheeler and Jimmy Dorsey in 1942 as "Sorghum Switch." When it was resurrected in 1949 by Frank "Floorshow" Culley as "Cole Slaw/Sorghum Switch," it became a hit, and Louis Jordan covered it as simply "Cole Slaw." But you weren't going to get much nostalgia value out of a 1949 Atlantic recording. Their early rhythm and blues instrumentals had been eclipsed by their mid-1950s hitmakers like Ray Charles and LaVern Baker, and the early stuff wouldn't even be rereleased on LP till years later, with the big Atlantic box sets.

And if this had been planned as a jukebox hit, no one seems to have told the Jennings brothers and Jack McDuff, because their recording runs more than eight minutes, and probably had to be cut down considerably for the 45 RPM release. I'm guessing they cut out the intro and first solo by Al Jennings on vibes, although Al comes back much stronger later, and there's some powerful three-way interplay between Al, Bill, and McDuff. It's a fine recording, and so is the straight-ahead blues that made the flip side of the 45, "Billin' and Bluin'."

Also featured on the set is a song variously called "Miss Jones" and "Hey, Mrs. Jones," which is not to be confused with "Have You Met Miss Jones" or "Me and Mrs. Jones." "Cole Slaw"/"Billin' and Bluin'" was the only single release; the album was Glide On.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Listening to Prestige 335: Coleman Hawkins

Not much new to say about Coleman Hawkins by this time. It seems almost beside the point to write anything. Better to turn the volume to just the right level (not all the way up to eleven), sit back, and enjoy sound that is so smooth you could spread it on Wonder Bread without ripping up big hunks.

Except you would never spread it on Wonder Bread. This is the real thing, the blues, the real America, three-dimensional and full-toned and flavored like Huck Finn's stew. Unlike the Widow Douglas's white-bread cuisine where "everything was cooked by itself," you have "a barrel of odds and ends," where "things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better."

So this is music for pure enjoyment,  but isn't that what it's all for? As Hawkins and his group were in Englewood Cliffs cutting this session, Ornette Coleman was at the Five Spot making music that hurt the ears of many, but to my 19-year-old ears it was pure bliss, thrilling new, complex and simple, challenging and direct. And that's what you look for from art. The doors open where you find them, sometimes where you were looking, sometimes where you least expected, and each door that you go through broadens your range of appreciation, so that your capacity for enjoyment keeps expanding.

Hawkins has brought some old friends to this session, Osie Johnson has some swing credentials, having spent three years with Earl Hines, Tommy Flanagan and Wendell Marshall have young hands and timeless ears. But his horn players have the kind of time-tested chops that the Hawk himself brings.

Vic Dickenson kept a fairly high profile for a traditional player during the modern jazz era. A Down Beat International Critics Poll in 1963 placed him third among trombonists, tied with Lawrence Brown. And there were still plenty of great trombonists around. J. J. Johnson was still leader of the pack, Curtis Fuller and Slide Hampton were at the peak of their careers, Kai Winding was making hit records, Urbie Green and Bennie Green were still active, and Dickenson was pushing 60. But he  kept busy throughout the 1950s and 1960s, recording with Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Dicky Wells, Buster Bailey, Budd Johnson and, interestingly, Langston Hughes. He was a member of the outfit called The World's Greatest Jazz Band, which played the style of traditional jazz somewhat uncomfortably referred to as Dixieland, and which had a good enough lineup to justify the name.

Much less well-known, but regarded with reverence by those familiar with him, was trumpeter Joe Thomas. One such is Michael Steinman of the Jazz Lives blog, who has said of Thomas:
Joe knew how to structure a solo through space, to make his phrases ring by leaving breathing room between them.  Like Bix or Basie, Joe embodied restraint while everyone around him was being urgent.  His pure dark sound is as important as the notes he plays — or chooses to omit...

A simple phrase, in Thomas’s world, is a beautifully burnished object.  And one phrase flows into another, so at the end of the solo, one has embraced a new melody, resonant in three dimensions, that wasn’t there before, full of shadings, deep and logically constructed.
And more:
 Joe’s tone, dark and shining, makes the simple playing of a written line something to marvel at, and each of his notes seems a careful choice yet all is fresh, never by rote: someone speaking words that have become true because he has just discovered they are the right ones for the moment.

I've commented on this before, but it's worth repeating: What Coleman Hawkins, and other artists who recorded for Bob Weinstock's Swingville label, played was not traditional swing (as opposed, for example to The World's Greatest Jazz Band, which essentially did play traditional Dixieland). Swing was big band jazz, essentially an arranger's art form, and what followed it was a small group music with emphasis on the soloist. Of course, there had always been small groups. Louis Armstrong's Hot Five was one of the most important, and they preceded swing.

Hawkins played his own kind of music. He had virtually invented the modern improvised solo with his 1939 recording of "Body and Soul," and though his music at this stage of his career had a mellow nostalgic feeling to it, it was definitely the music of the guy who had recorded "Body and Soul" and had played on the first bebop recording.

And his traditionalist partners, Thomas and Dickenson, were right there with him. They could play traditional Dixieland when it was called for, but they could play with Hawkins, doing what Hawkins did, as well. As Dickenson once said:
I like to play the melody, and I want it still to be heard, but I like to rephrase it and bring out something fresh in it, as though I were talking or singing to someone. I don't want to play it as written, because there's usually something square in it.

Of course, the center of the Kansas City swing that Hawkins grew up with, and the center of bebop as well, is the blues, and all of these cats know how to play the blues, and it infuses even their Tin Pan Alley pop standards like "I'm Beginning to See the Light." It's part of what knits them together. The rest is a shared musical understanding that allows for solo to build on solo, in a most satisfying way.

The Swingville release was entitled Coleman Hawkins All Stars .

Monday, May 21, 2018

Listening to Prestige 334: Wrapping up 1959, Part 2

And it’s time for our annual look at the quirky and always interesting voters at the RateYourMusic website. Jazz, as usual, dominates the list, but it’s not exclusive, so we’ll just look at the jazz. As always, this is a snapshot of a moment in time. The site’s followers keep voting, so although the records at the top have amassed enough votes to remain pretty stable, lower down there’s volatility. I like the list because it gives a complete picture of the year in music (they list something like 500 albums) and because it gives an interesting perspective on what albums continue to hold the jazz connoisseur’s interest.
The top of the list pretty much duplicates Nathan Holoway’s choices, except that Giant Steps and Portrait in Jazz are considered 1960 albums and therefore not included: Kind of Blue, Mingus Ah Um, The Shape of Jazz to Come, Time Out.
Here’s what follows.

5.    Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (Blue Note). “Moanin’” is what makes this album rate so high. The administrators of the RateYourMusic site even put the song’s name in parentheses after the album title.
6.    Nina Simone, Little Girl Blue (Bethlehem). If I were making a case for 1959 as jazz’s most creative year, and I wanted to include a singer, I think I’d make it Nina Simone rather than Ella Fitzgerald. Simone was really the cutting edge, as contemporary listeners have come to appreciate more than did the Down Beat readers of the time.
7.    The Miles Davis Quintet, Workin’. From the Contractual Marathon.
10.  Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins, Sonny Side Up (Verve)
11.  The Cannonball Adderley Quintet featuring Nat Adderley in San Francisco (Riverside)
12.  The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall (Riverside). This should have been included as an example of the creative power unleashed in 1959, with a ten-piece orchestra and arrangements by Hall Overton.
15.  Joao Gilberto, Chega de saudade (Odeon). This is the album that made Gilberto a star in South America, though it would take a few more years, and Stan Getz, for Norteamericano audiences to appreciate him. Chega de saudade was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001, and contemporary listeners seem to have caught up with it. It is pure bossa nova.
18.  Sun Ra, Jazz in Silhouette (Saturn). Another figure overlooked by Down Beat readers at the time, particularly as composer (24 got votes, Ra was not one of them). This isn’t a knock on the 1959 audience. Tastes change, and there’s no reason to suppose that one generation’s tastes are better than another’s. Still, the 1959 reader’s poll does not represent the most adventurous jazz spirit.
19.  Miles Davis, Porgy and Bess (Columbia)
20.  Champion Jack Dupree, Blues from the Gutter (Atlantic)
21.  Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (Verve). My kind of encounter. With Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Alvin Stoller
22.  Ella Fizgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook (Verve). Norman Granz had a knack for picking performers who had already stood the test of time, so it’s small wonder so many of his recordings have continued to stand the test of time.
23.  Jimmy Smith, The Sermon (Blue Note)
24.  Finger Poppin’ with the Horace Silver Quintet (Blue Note)
25.  Sonny Rollins, Newk’s Time (Blue Note)
26.  Bill Evans Trio, Everybody Digs Bill Evans (Riverside). Evans’ debut album.
27.  The Lester Young – Teddy Wilson Quintet, Pres and Teddy (Verve). A 1956 recording, released in 1959. What I said about Verve.
28.  Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Porgy and Bess (Verve)
29.  Horace Silver Quintet, Blowin’ the Blues Away (Blue Note). I love the cover art here, by Paula Donohue. Blue Note rarely used graphic artists. Most of their covers were photographs by the label’s co-founder, Francis Wolff, a fine photographer. I can’t find anything else by Donohue. Too bad.
32.  Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago (Mercury)
33.  T-Bone Walker, T-Bone Blues (Atlantic)
34.  Charles Mingus, Jazz Portraits (Mingus in Wonderland) (United Artists)
35.  Back to Back: Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges Play the Blues (Verve)
36.  Nina Simone at Town Hall (Colpix)
37.  Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges, Side by Side (Verve)
39.  Henry Mancini, Music from Peter Gunn (RCA Victor)
40.  Chet Baker. Chet (Riverside)
44.  Frank Sinatra, No One Cares (Capitol)
47.  Thelonious Monk Quintet, 5 by Monk by 5 (Riverside)
48.  Roy Haynes, Phineas Newborn, Paul Chambers, We Three (Prestige)
49.  Wynton Kelly, Kelly Blue (Riverside)
50.  Billie Holiday, All or Nothing at All (Verve)

Others on the list: Lou Donaldson, Abbey Lincoln, Bud Powell, Chico Hamilton, Blue Mitchell, Dizzy Reece, Gerry Mulligan, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jimmy Giuffre, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, Idrees Suleiman, Steve Lacy, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Jackie McLean, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Michel Legrand, Dorothy Ashby, Frank Wess, Memphis Slim, Cecil Taylor, Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, George Shearing, Larry Williams, Wes Montgomery, George Russell, Huey “Piano” Smith, Ahmed Abdul Malik, Donald Byrd, Little Richard, Julie London, Lee Konitz, Gil Evans, the Flamingos, Blossom Dearie, Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen, Keely Smith, Johnny Griffin, Red Garland, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Mickey Baker, Paul Quinichette, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt, Anita O’Day, Charlie Shavers, Tiny Grimes, Paul Desmond, Modern Jazz Quartet, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Benny Golson, Milt Jackson, Ahmad Jamal, Booker Little, Sarah Vaughan, David “Fathead” Newman, Yusef Lateef, Jimmy Heath, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, the Three Sounds, Shirley Bassey, Chico Hamilton, Carmen McRae, Ernestine Anderson, Wilbur Harden,Fats Domino, Jerome Richardson, Ray Bryant, Oliver Nelson, Benny Carter, Ruth Brown, Herbie Mann, Jimmy Rushing, Oscar Pettiford, Ramsey Lewis, Barney Kessel, Lem Winchester, Mose Allison, June Christy, and that’s just a few.

This was more a year of recommitment to the tradition for Prestige than it was of innovation, but innovation was there. Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Shirley Scott pioneered the organ-tenor sax combo. And Yusef Lateef bringing his Eastern influenced sounds into modern jazz.
But also noteworthy to Prestige’s year were its Swingville and Bluesville labels, bringing jazz masters from Coleman Hawkins to Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson into the fold, with a marketing tool to get them noticed. Bob Weinstock would keep these subsidiary labels going for several years, and jazz would be the richer for it.
On to 1960!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Listening to Prestige 333: Wrapping up 1959, Part 1

 1959 is considered by many to be jazz's apex. A BBC documentary called it The Year that Changed Jazz. Nathan Holoway, writing for the AllAboutJazz website, posits that 1959 was the most creative year in the history of jazz, and he makes a pretty good case for it, starting with Kind of Blue, which is particularly interesting in that it really is a creative breakthrough, while at the same time being listener friendly enough to make it the best selling album of all time. Modal jazz had been played before, going back to Miles himself in 1949, but Kind of Blue really brought it front and center as the new standard in jazz playing.
Holoway puts Coltrane’s Giant Steps second on his list, although it’s generally considered a 1960 album. Still, it was actually recorded in December of 1959, so one can argue that that makes it part of 1959’s creative frenzy. Although no Prestige albums are included in Holoway’s list of creativity champions (Blue Note and Riverside make it), surely Bob Weinstock deserves credit for nurturing Coltrane right up to the borderline of the promised land.
Giant Steps has always sold respectably, but Holoway’s next choice, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, goes very nearly right alongside Kind of Blue for popularity, and it’s impossible to question its creativity, with Brubeck exploring hitherto unheard-of time signatures. On the other hand, the innovative genius of Ornette Coleman in The Shape of Jazz to Come was wildly unpopular in 1959, and has acquired at best a niche audience since. Still, it is one of the most influential jazz albums ever made.
Those four are the cream, and really all you’d need to make Holoway’s case. But the rest of his list is not chopped liver. Bill Evans changed the way we listen to piano trios with his Portraits in Jazz (released in 1960, but recorded as the sands were running out on 1959). Horace Silver was ushering in the soul jazz movement that would be so important in the next decade. Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington (a new era in movie jazz with Anatomy of a Murder), and Ella Fitzgerald would enhance the creativity of any year.
I’d put the work Yusef Lateef was doing for Prestige down as further proof of the year’s innovative creativity, even if it didn’t make the same kind of public splash as did the aforenamed.
Some of the biggest jazz news of 1959 was sad news. Lester Young and Billie Holiday died within weeks of each other. Miles Davis made news outside of his musical contributions, and indeed outside of a music venue, when he stepped into the alley behind Birdland between sets, and was beaten and arrested by cops. With all the news stories over the past year of police and African Americans, we can despair of things getting better.

Here’s the Down Beat poll for the year.

Hall of Fame:

     The Hall of Fame inductee is Lester Young. Hard to argue that one. Following him, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis. Plenty of time for Brubeck and Davis to be honored, too bad Pres (and Lady) didn’t get it in their lifetimes.

Personality of the year: Jazz

1.    Miles Davis
2.    Duke Ellington
3.    Lambert, Hendricks and Ross
4.    Dave Brubeck
5.    Count Basie
6.    Maynard Ferguson
7.    Thelonious Monk
8.    Ella Fitzgerald
9.    Gerry Mulligan
10.  Julian “Cannonball” Adderley
11.  Stan Kenton
12.  Ahmad Jamal
13.  Dizzy Gillespie
14.  Gil Evans
15.  Modern Jazz Quartet
16.  Oscar Peterson
17.  Andre Previn
18.  Jonah Jones
19.  Errol Garner
20.  Louis Armstrong
21.  Shelley Manne
22.  Frank Sinatra
23.  Nina Simone
24.  John Coltrane
25.  Harry James
26.  Stan Getz
27.  Hank Mancini
28.  Joe Williams
29.  Coleman Hawkins
30.  Annie Ross

What’s a jazz personality? I couldn’t come up with a definition, and I doubt that none of those who made the poll, or who took the poll, could manage one either. So who’s to criticize? Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong were the biggest international personalities, our Ambassadors of Jazz. But who’s to criticize?
Given that, what are the surprises in the poll? For me, the big one is that Coltrane is so low. Tied with Harry James for 24th, with 36 votes.
It's surprising that Lambert, Hendricks and Ross are that high. Sing a Song of Basie was 1957, and I would have thought of that as their big splash. “Twisted” was their biggest hit, but I think that may have been 1960. Maynard Ferguson wouldn’t be in the top ten today, even if you were trying to guess who made it back then, but he’s not really a surprise—he was very popular then.
A big surprise—that Ornette Coleman did not make the list at all. I know no one liked him back then (I did!) but everyone was talking about him. He was the big controversy of 1959.
And as hot as soul jazz is becoming, it apparently hasn’t spawned any personalities yet, not even Horace Silver or Jimmy Smith. Unless you count Cannonball Adderley.
Maybe the biggest surprise about Mr. Mancini is that anyone ever called him Hank. Not so surprising that the composer of “Moon River” and “The Pink Panther” made a list of jazz personalities—1959 was the year of Peter Gunn. Given that no one knows exactly what a jazz personality is, shouldn't Craig Stevens and Lola Albright be jazz personalities of the year?

Personality of the Year: Pop

1.    Frank Sinatra
2.    Johnny Mathis
3.    Kingston Trio
4.    Bobby Darin
5.    Nat Cole
6.    Peggy Lee
7.    Ella Fitzgerald
8.    Keely Smith
9.    Louis Prima-Keely Smith
10.  Perry Como

This is certainly the Pop Personality list as defined by Listeners to Lacy. Otherwise, Elvis would have to be at the top. I wonder how Down Beat worded the instructions for voting on this one?
And if it’s strictly the sort of pop singers who were around in the 1940s or at least would have felt home back then (Mathis, Darin), what are the Kingston Trio doing there, and so high? And if they were going to carve out an exception for a folk act, why the Trio and not Harry Belafonte (#20 on the list with 28 votes)? Belafonte had played the Village Vanguard, and was a regular in the high class supper clubs that featured this sort of act.
If good ol’ Hank Mancini is a jazz personality, what’s the story with Steve Allen, who really did bring jazz to TV, but here gets votes as a pop personality (#17, behind Patti Page and Nina Simone), although he was never a figure in pop music, but no mention in jazz, although he was a legitimate jazz presence.

Personality: Rhythm and Blues
1.    Ray Charles
2.    Fats Domino
3.    Joe Williams
4.    Dinah Washington
5.    Bobby Darin
6.    Jimmy Witherspoon
7.    Lloyd Price
8.    Joe Turner
9.    Elvis Presley

The editors and readers of Down Beat can’t bring themselves to say “Rock and Roll.” Still, Elvis does squeak into the top ten. Chuck Berry (#14) and Little Richard (no votes at all????) do not.


1.    Dave Brubeck Quartet
2.    Modern Jazz Quartet
3.    Miles Davis Sextet
4.    Oscar Peterson Trio
5.    Gerry Mulligan Quartet
6.    Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers
7.    Ahmad Jamal Trio
8.    Horace Silver Quintet
9.    Jonah Jones Quartet
10.  Chico Hamilton Quintet

Hard to argue with any of the choices here. Jonah Jones is pretty much forgotten today, but he was huge back then, although not with jazz purists. And I’m sometimes hard on jazz purists (freely admitting that I was one), but they were probably right about Jonah. He was sort of the Chuck Mangione of his day. Still, he had some huge albums around this time, with 1958’s Swingin’ on Broadway probably the biggest. His 1959 album, I Dig Chicks! (do you suppose you could name an album that today?) won a Grammy award for Best Instrumental Jazz Album, which is a bit of a shocker, considering the competition.

Best Male Vocalist

1.    Frank Sinatra
2.    Joe Williams
3.    Johnny Mathis
4.    Jon Hendricks
5.    Jimmy Rushing
6.    Mel Torme
7.    Nat Cole
8.    Ray Charles
9.    Bobby Darin
10.  Billy Eckstine

Sinatra, of course. Joe Williams, a great choice for second. Who ever thought of Johnny Mathis as a jazz singer? The movie Diner, set in this period, features a serious debate over who’s the best singer to make out to, Sinatra or Mathis? And he certainly fits in that category. Jazz singer, not so clear.
Of course the best jazz singer of this year, any year, any decade, any millennium, is Louis Armstrong (#12 in the poll). But Armstrong’s star was not in the ascendant. He was thought of as a relic of another era, now a mere entertainer. He was thus thought of by the same people who made Johnny Mathis #3 in the jazz world. But Billy Eckstine’s time had certainly passed by 1959, and he still made the top ten.
Mose Allison (#15) was starting to get recognition.
And if pop superstar Johnny Mathis gets 380 votes and third place as a jazz singer, what is pop superstar Sammy Davis, Jr. (#22, 21 votes)? Chopped liver?

Best Female Vocalist

1.    Ella Fitzgerald
2.    Anita O’Day
3.    Annie Ross
4.    Sarah Vaughan
5.    June Christy
6.    Dakota Staton
7.    Chris Connor
8.    Peggy Lee
9.    Nina Simone
10.  Eydie Gormé

I’d put Sarah higher. She’s my all-time number one. But this was the year of “Broken Hearted Melody”—not her best year. I’d put Nina higher, but I wouldn’t put anyone lower. Dakota Staton’s reputation may not have endured like some of the others, but she was flying high in 1959, and she deserved it. There are certainly vocalists I’d rank ahead of Eydie Gormé on a jazz list. Come on…this was Dinah Washington’s “What a Difference a Day Makes” year. What more could you ask? She was #12. And what about Carmen McRae (#14) and Lena Horne (#15)?

Best Vocal Group

1.     Lambert, Hendricks and Ross
2.    Four Freshmen
3.    Hi-Los
4.    Kingston Trio
5.    King Sisters

Lambert-Hendricks-Ross dominated this category decisively. The Four Freshmen and the Hi-Los kept getting votes because until LHR came along, there was really no one to vote for, and the rest of the list proves it. The Kingston Trio again. The King Sisters, who had been tangentially connected to jazz in the 1940s, and who were still around, and as it turns out, would always be around. In the 60s, they had their own TV variety show. They morphed into the King Family, which included the King Cousins, one of whom played the love interest for one of the Douglas clan on My Three Sons. And now Luise King’s grandsons, Win and William Butler, head up indie-rock stars Arcade Fire.
So slim pickings on the jazz vocal group scene, but there needn’t have been. The Platters made the list (#10), but no other rhythm and blues/doowop groups, and many of them were keeping the Great American Songbook flame alive, with cool and clever harmonies, and often saxophone breaks by solid jazz musicians.

Jazz Band

1.    Count Basie
2.    Maynard Ferguson
3.    Duke Ellington
4.    Harry James
5.    Herb Pomeroy
6.    Gil Evans
7.    Terry Gibbs
8.    Woody Herman
9.    Johnny Richards
10.  Ted Heath

Dance Band

1.    Les Brown
2.    Les Elgart
3.    Count Basie
4.    Maynard Ferguson
5.    Harry James

A big year for Maynard Ferguson, my continued surprise that Harry James is still so popular. And my continued amazement that nowhere, on either list, will you find a Latin band.


1.    Miles Davis
2.    Dizzy Gillespie
3.    Maynard Ferguson
4.    Art Farmer
5.    Ruby Braff
6.    Jonah Jones
7.    Harry James
8.    Chet Baker
9.    Lee Morgan
10.  Clark Terry

No surprises at the top. Ruby Braff wasn’t exactly cutting edge, but he was his own man. We can’t escape Jonah Jones and Harry James. The Down Beat readers continue not to know what to do with Louis Armstrong, so he comes in at #12. Kenny Dorham is #19, should be higher. Don (not Donald) Byrd is last on the list at #24, should be a lot higher. Freddie Hubbard doesn’t make the list at all, and he was making a name for himself in jazz circles by 1959—he’d recorded with Trane for Prestige in 1958—but he hadn’t recorded much yet. Chuck Mangione is #16, and what’s that about? He was still in Rochester at the Eastman School in 1959.


1.    J. J. Johnson
2.    Bob Brookmeyer
3.    Kai Winding
4.    Frank Rosolino
5.    Jimmy Cleveland
6.    Urbie Green
7.    Jack Teagarden
8.    Curtis Fuller
9.    Bennie Green
10.  Bill Harris

Curtis Fuller is new to the list this year; expect him to move up. Last year I complained that Bennie Green had been shut out of the top ten. Perhaps I somehow went back in time, and the voters listened to me.

Alto Sax

1.    Paul Desmond
2.    Julian “Cannonball” Adderley
3.    Johnny Hodges
4.    Lee Konitz
5.    Art Pepper
6.    Sonny Stitt
7.    Bud Shank
8.    Phil Woods
9.    Paul Horn
10.  Benny Carter

Cannonball Adderley continues to rise in the charts. He’s now number two with a bullet, except that Paul Desmond will likely never be dislodged from the top spot, and he certainly deserves the accolades. Again, the most conspicuous absence is Ornette Coleman, and he’s really absent this year. Last year he had a handful of votes and just made the last spot on the list. This year he appears to have gotten no votes at all.
In 1958 he may have been an interesting curiosity, someone new on the scene that people didn’t quite know what to make of. In 1959 he was the most controversial figure in jazz. So the way I look at is this. Desmond and Adderley got their votes because people loved what they did. But for most of the rest of the list, the vote meant a conscious decision to vote against Ornette Coleman.

Tenor sax:

1.    Stan Getz
2.    Sonny Rollins
3.    John Coltrane
4.    Coleman Hawkins
5.    Zoot Sims
6.    Benny Golson
7.    Bill Perkins
8.    Ben Webster
9.    Al Cohn
10.  Paul Gonzalves

Benny Golson is the significant name on the list. Otherwise virtually nothing changes.
It’s impossible to find fault with this ranking. Every one of the top ten votegetters deserves to be there. Stan Getz number one and Sonny Rollins number two? It’s reasonable, it’s not unfair. Rollins number one and Getz number two? Every bit as reasonable. But looking at the numbers, and seeing that Getz outpolled Rollins by two to one, and you can’t help but think: most of the Down Beat voters are white.

Baritone Sax

1.    Gerry Mulligan
2.    Pepper Adams
3.    Cecil Payne
4.    Harry Carney
5.    Jimmy Giuffre

Gerry Mulligan gets more votes than the rest of the field put together, outpolls Pepper Adams by about six to one, and after the first five—after the first three, really—the votes dwindle down to a precious few.


1.    Tony Scott
2.    Jimmy Giuffre
3.    Buddy DeFranco
4.    Jimmy Hamilton
5.    Paul Horn

Both his Wikipedia page and his New York Times obituary say substantially the same thing: Tony Scott was the best-known clarinet player of his day, but no one has ever heard of him, because no one listened to clarinet players in his day.


1.    Herbie Mann
2.    Bud Shank
3.    Frank Wess
4.    Buddy Collette
5.    Paul Horn
6.    Sam Most
7.    Jerome Richardson
8.    Moe Koffman
9.    James Moody
10.  Bobby Jaspar

No new names in the flute voting, and one missing who was on the list last year, and who will become an important figure in the 1960s, as the flute comes into new prominence: Yusef Lateef.


1.    Milt Jackson  
2.    Lionel Hampton 
3.    Terry Gibbs 
4.    Red Norvo
5.    Cal Tjader

Nothing to report here, either.


1.      Art Van Damme
2.      Pete Jolly
3.      Mat Matthews
4.      Leon Sash
5.      Dick Contino
6.      Angelo DiPippo
7.      George Shearing

I asked last year why the accordion still got a separate category, and the organ was still lumped in with miscellaneous instruments. I thought maybe there were still more accordion players than organists on the national scene, but that didn’t make sense. People were voting for Lawrence Welk and Myron Floren just to have someone to vote for. That didn’t happen this year, but only seven accordionists got any votes at all, and it’s hard to take Dick Contino or Angelo DiPippo too seriously in a jazz context. Clifton Chenier was already making records, but Down Beat readers can be forgiven for not knowing about him.
Meanwhile, two of the hottest new musicians in jazz, Jimmy Smith and Shirley Scott, were blazing a new trail, or the trail pioneered by Wild Bill Davis, for the organ as one of the most prominent instruments of the new soul jazz. Richard “Groove” Holmes, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Charles Earland, and many more were already loping down that trail. Fine jazz organists like Bill Doggett and Doc Bagby were playing the rhythm and blues side of the street. Piano players like Count Basie had a serious organ presence. Down Beat was running a little behind the curve on this one.


1.    Barney Kessel
2.    Herb Ellis
3.    Charlie Byrd
4.    Kenny Burrell
5.    Jim Hall
6.    Freddie Green
7.    Johnny Smith
8.    Tal Farlow
9.    Mundell Lowe
10.  Wes Montgomery

I commented last year that Wes Montgomery had just missed the top ten, and this year he’s just made it. But he’s not the prodigy of the year, by any means. Charlie Byrd was number 20 last year, with 33 votes. Well, in 1958 he was playing at a club in Washington, DC, quite removed from the New York scene, and recording for Savoy. Whereas in 1959, he was…still playing at a club in Washington, DC, still quite removed from the New York scene, and recording for an even smaller label. He wouldn’t make his big splash until a few years later, the 1962 release of Jazz Samba, with Stan Getz.  So why the sudden recognition? Beats me.


1.    Oscar Peterson
2.    Thelonious Monk
3.    Dave Brubeck
4.    Errol Garner
5.    Andre Previn
6.    Bill Evans
7.    Horace Silver
8.    Red Garland
9.    Ahmad Jamal
10.  Bud Powell

There are so many great piano players that if you lopped off the top ten and started the list with the second ten (John Lewis, George Shearing, Teddy Wilson, Wynton Kelly, Count Basie, Hank Jones, Lou Levy, Duke Ellington, Russ, Hampton Hawes) there’d be no appreciable dropoff in quality.
Looking back, I see I said much the same for 1958. Well, it remains true.
The order of the top four shuffled from 1958 (then it was Garner-Monk-Peterson-Brubeck). Bill Evans is new to the top 10, with Everybody Digs Bill Evans (Riverside) and Kind of Blue propelling him into the spotlight. André Previn would eventually go on to the career as a symphony orchestra conductor for which he is probably better remembered, but he still had a lot of jazz in him, throughout much of the 1960s.


1.    Ray Brown
2.    Paul Chambers
3.    Red Mitchell
4.    Charles Mingus
5.    Percy Heath
6.    Leroy Vinnegar
7.    Oscar Pettiford
8.    Milt Hinton
9.    Arvell Shaw
10.  Israel Crosby

Here’s the weird thing about this list. Louis Armstrong doesn’t make the top ten in anything—jazz personality, combo, male vocalist, trumpet—but his bass player does. Otherwise, everything almost exactly the same as last year. It’s also interesting that Ron Carter, the bassman of the future (believed to have made more recordings than any other bassist) is on the list at #15, ahead of veterans like Wilbur Ware (top ten last year), Slam Stewart and Scott LoFaro. There must have been quite a buzz about him, because he was just out of school and new in town, and wouldn’t record until the following year.


1.    Shelley Manne
2.    Max Roach
3.    Joe Morello
4.    Philly Joe Jones
5.    Art Blakey
6.    Jo Jones
7.    Chico Hamilton
8.    Buddy Rich
9.    Gene Krupa
10.  Mel Lewis

Again, no quarrel. The white guy gets the most votes, but he’s a great drummer, and you can’t say he doesn’t deserve it. Still, I can’t help but think that if it was just drummers voting, Max Roach would come out on top. But, if it was just drummers voting, Buddy Rich might well be higher, too.

Miscellaneous Instrument

1.    Don Elliot (Mellophone) 
2.    Jimmy Smith (organ)
3.    Miles Davis (flugelhorn)
4.    Toots Thielemans (harmonica)
5.    Julius Watkins (French horn)
6.    Shorty Rogers (flugelhorn)
7.    Bob Cooper (oboe)
8.    Fred Katz (cello)
9.    Clark Terry (flugelhorn)
10.  Shirley Scott (organ)


1.      Gil Evans
2.      Duke Ellington 
3.  John Lewis         
4.  Quincy Jones
5.  Benny Golson
6.  Thelonious Monk