Thursday, December 07, 2017

Listening to Prestige 293: Red Garland

Everyone loves a piano trio. Mark Feldman, who ran Reservoir Records, had most of his sales in Japan, and he told me once that piano trios were what his audience wanted. If one of his artists wanted to do a vocal on one cut, and he couldn't talk him/her out of it, he knew he was saying goodbye to the profits on that album.

Even if a piano trio isn't very good, they can still make nice background music. Sometimes, even if they are very good, they can be relegated to the status of
background music, which is what happened to Ahmad Jamal until Miles Davis pointed out that people who didn't take him seriously were missing an important musician.

Even if they are very good, they can still make background music, albeit very good background music, for your hip cocktail party or whatever people have these days instead of cocktail parties, or your Christmas party, which I'll get to in a moment. But if they are very good--as good as Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor, for example--you would do well to cancel the cocktail party and just sit and listen to them.

Garland, Chambers and Taylor visited Hackensack on two consecutive weeks in November of 1958, the second date falling on Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps they also shared a Thanksgiving dinner with the Van Gelders, but in any case, even if they weren't in a holiday mood, they were certainly in a seasonal mood. The session encompassed all four seasons and a couple of weather conditions, or perhaps ("Rain" and "Stormy Weather") a couple of variations on the same weather condition. This is, if one is in a generous holiday mood, a thematic album, and if one is feeling churlish, a gimmicky album.

I go with the former. I think it's kinda fun to gather a session around a theme, especially when you can gather tunes like these by composers like these. On the weather front, "Rain" is the most obscure, by composer Eugene Ford, who seems to be known for nothing other than this song, but "Stormy
Weather" is a certified classic from the pen of one of the greats, Harold Arlen. The seasons are equally well represented, with spring from Frank Loesser, summer from George Gershwin, autumn from hipster extraordinaire Henry (the Neem) Nemo, last heard from in a Prestige context in Davis and Scott's version of "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart," and..."Winter Wonderland"? Well, maybe it is a little gimmicky.

Gimmicky maybe, but who says jazz musicians aren't allowed to have a little fun? This Christmas chestnut was composed by Felix Bernard, who was prolific and successful in his day, but is really only remembered for one song. And this should certainly make your mix tape for that Christmas party.

It's fun to listen to. Garland goes through the verse and bridge a couple of times, playing the melody, keeping the chirpy gaiety of the song with just enough dissonance and syncopation to keep it interesting, but just as you're starting to think "Well, even Red Garland couldn't figure out a way to improvise on this one," he takes off, and his improvisation is imaginative and rewarding, while still staying true to the essential chirpiness of the melody. Then when Paul Chambers steps in with his bowed bass statement of the melody, you know they made the right decision including this one.

Gimmick or no, thematic or no, you can always count on Red Garland for eclectic and unerring taste in his song selection.

We get that again in the other, earlier session. The seasonal album was released right away, the other one held off until 1960, when Prestige launched its Moodsville label. And if Moodsville was meant to be piano trio-type background music (it wasn't) they might have asked Garland to do a little "Tea for Two" or "Autumn Leaves." And he does do a couple of ballads -- the lovely Ziggy Elman/Johnny Mercer "And the Angels Sing," and "I'll Never Stop Loving You," not one of my favorites, but mostly because of the dumb lyric, which does not get in Garland's way. However, he also does two originals, including "Bassment Blues," and if you thought "Bass Blues" was low, wait'll you get down to the
bassment. This one starts with a lengthy, show-stopping solo by Paul Chambers. He makes his stop in rhythm and bluesville with Bullmoose Jackson's "I Love You Yes I Do," and in down home traditional bluesville with "'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do," a staple of Bessie Smith's repertoire.

 The Moodsville Session was called simply Red Garland Trio. The seasonal smorgasbord is All Kinds of Weather, and it was produced by Esmond Edwards.

Oh, yes, and at this holiday season, if you google "Red Garland," you will be sent in a completely different direction. So red garlands to you all, and greetings of the season, even if a 45 degrees and sunny day in upstate New York is not exactly a winter wonderland..


Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2


Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell

Monday, December 04, 2017

Listening to Prestige 292: Roy Haynes

Paul Chambers practically lived in the Van Gelders' living room in Hackensack. Roy Haynes had done a few sessions for Prestige, most recently the Dorothy Ashby-Frank Wess session of September 19th. Phineas Newborn was making his Prestige debut. Together, they made an album put out under Haynes as leader, but the title, We Three, says it all. These are three players who mesh to make a perfectly attuned ensemble, working together seamlessly and supporting each other's solos.

And they weren't three guys who had worked a whole lot together. If they'd worked gigs, I can't say, but this is their first and only recording as a unit. Newborn would work a couple of other dates with Haynes, and a couple of others with Chambers, but no more than that. And don't forget that this is Prestige, so there's little if any rehearsal time.

There's so much to say about Roy Haynes, who is 92 as of this writing and still going strong. There's one lengthy interview with Christian McBride, which basically consists of McBride saying "Tell us about when you played with..." It goes through the history of jazz.

So let's look instead at Phineas Newborn, who is playing what I believe to be his only session for Prestige, and of whom Oscar Peterson once said, “If I had to choose the best all-around pianist of anyone who’s followed me chronologically, undoubtedly I would say Phineas Newborn Jr.”

He's Phineas Newborn Jr. because his father, Phineas Sr., was a drummer who led a family band that included young Phineas and his brother Calvin on guitar, and who had some very decent gigs in the south, including working as the studio band for Sam Philllips' Sun Records, in the early pre-Elvis days, where they backed up B. B. King on his first recordings. Calvin Newborn, who played on Phineas's first couple of records as a leader, for Atlantic and RCA Victor, has some very cool credentials, including teaching Howlin' Wolf how to play the guitar and Elvis Presley how to dance. He played with many of the major bands, then returned to Memphis, where he still gigs around the south.

Phineas Newborn creates another strong case to be made in the "rhythm and blues is jazz" argument. He recorded with B.B. King, toured with Jackie "Rocket 88" Brenston, and was a member of Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson's band. And on a different barrier-breaking front, after making his New York recording debut for Atlantic with brother Calvin, Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke, he would make a record the following year for RCA Victor with a symphony orchestra.

As with Mal Waldron, his career would be interrupted by mental illness, and further by having several fingers broken in a mugging. He was able to make a substantial comeback before his death in 1989.

It's hard to choose a "Listen to One" for this session, but I'm going to go with "After Hours," which like all of them has sterling work by all three, but I particularly fell in love with "Blackout," covered not long before by Red Garland). "After Hours seems to have become particularly beloved by organists. In the early 1960s it was covered, in short order, by Jimmy McGriff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Brother Jack McDuff and Earl Grant--and later by Fats Domino with Reggie Hall on organ.
Newborn's piano. "After Hours" was written by Avery Parrish, and remains his principal legacy; his career as a piano player was cut short by a paralyzing injury suffered in a bar fight (he also wrote

We Three was released on New Jazz. If you're looking for it on Spotify, you'll find it as Sneakin' Around by Paul Chambers.



Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2



Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell

Listening to Prestige 291: Coleman Hawkins

This recording shows how jazz can transcend generations, bringing together two performers in their twenties (Kenny Burrell and Ray Bryant), two pushing forty (Wendell Marshall and Osie Johnson),and one of the grand old men of American music, Coleman Hawkins, born in 1904.

There are all kinds of grand old men in jazz. Louis Armstrong revolutionized American music, and still remains the greatest artist, any medium, that America has ever produced. And he continued to be great, although not breaking new ground. Wendell Marshall and Osie Johnson could have played in his group, and could have fit in--in fact, Johnson did play with Armstrong cohort Earl Hines.. Kenny Burrell, not so much. Benny Goodman was intrigued by the new music, and even put
together a bebop group, but his audiences wouldn't stand for it, so he went back to doing what he did best.

Coleman Hawkins very nearly transcended time. He was the first important tenor saxophone player in jazz. He actually played with Armstrong in Fletcher Henderson's band, and he played with Goodman, and he even played with Glenn Miller (not in the famous orchestra; this was Miller's first known recording, with the Mound City Blowers). And he goes back farther than that, to Mamie Smith, whose 1920 "Crazy Blues" is credited with being the first blues record.

And he led a group with Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Pettiford in Max Roach in what is generally considered to have been the first bebop recording, in 1944. So wherever jazz was at, whoever the young Turks were who were making it, Coleman Hawkins could make the scene.

He played with nearly everybody, and he recorded on nearly every label, from majors like RCA Victor and Decca (his breakthrough recording, "Body and Soul," was for Victor's Bluebird subsidiary) to tiny obscure ones. The 1950s saw him on a Cook's tour of the finest independent jazz labels in the East, from Savoy to Riverside to Verve to Atlantic and thence to Prestige, where the Hawk would alight for a few years and a few albums.

I mentioned that he and Shirley Scott, recording two weeks earlier, shared a tune in common: "Until the Real Thing Comes Along." They are two wonderful recordings, and in spite of jazz's reputation
for merciless cutting contests at jam sessions, this is a musical form with many wonders and many approaches, and "who's better?" doesn't enter into it. One thing that both versions have in common is that they're star turns. Scott on the one and Hawkins on the other take pretty much all of the solo space.

Well..."who's better" doesn't enter into it, but...this is Coleman Hawkins. Everyone stopped and listened to him.

If "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" is all Hawkins, that is not the case with the rest of the session.
The ageless titan and the young Turk meet on equal ground, trade solos, and do some really remarkable ensemble playing. The blues are always a good meeting ground between styles and generations, as are familiar ballads, and we have all of that here: two standards ("I Hadn't Anyone Till You" and "Until the Real Thing Comes Along"), two originals by Hawkins ("Soul Blues" and "Sweetnin'") and two by Burrell ("Groovin'" and "Sunday Mornin'"). And an ancient traditional ballad, "Greensleeves," that may or may not have been written by Henry VIII.

Burrell and Hawkins play the melody pretty straight on this one. If you mixed it in with your Robert Shaw Chorale numbers on your Christmas tape no one would freak out, and yet it's some very tasty jazz playing. I'll always associate playing the melody of a very old tune with Thelonious Monk's "Abide With Me," and this has the same feeling, and gives the same pleasure.

Perhaps they were using "Greensleeves" to warm up. It's their second tune of the day, after "I Hadn't Anyone Till You," and then they shed their minuet shoes and get down and dirty. You can tell they're getting down and dirty from the fact that they drop G's at the end of their titles. You can also tell from the playing.

Soul music dates from around the turn of the decade, with some placing its first use in 1961. According to Solomon Burke, he is personally responsible. He was signed to Atlantic when they lost Ray Charles, and they told him he would be their next rhythm and blues star. Nope, he said. His mama was a good church-going woman, and he had promised her he would never sing rhythm and blues. This was a potential problem, but for the time being they ignored it, and they brought him into the studio. Everyone was pleased with the results, and Atlantic brass were predicting it would climb up the rhythm and blues charts. Nope again. He had promised his mama, and she was a good church going woman. It wasn't rhythm and blues. So...what to call it? What's a name for the music that won't upset Solomon's mama? It needs to be a good church going name, something that speaks from the soul...that's it!

Well, if Henry VIII can write "Greensleeves," and Robert Johnson can find his genius in a midnight deal at the crossroads, Solomon Burke can invent soul music. I'll buy all of it. This is jazz, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Soul jazz would seem to be a linguistic subset of soul music, but in fact it seems to have come first. The term was at least sufficiently floating around by the late 1950s that Riverside Records would attach it to the promotions for its 1959 release, The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, a promotional gambit that did not entirely thrill Adderley. He told jazz historian Roy Carr:
We were pressured quite heavily by Riverside Records when they discovered there was a word called 'soul'. We became, from an image point of view, soul jazz artists. They kept promoting us that way and I kept deliberately fighting it, to the extent that it became a game.
This Coleman Hawkins release must have been one of the first to put "Soul" in the title of a jazz album, though not quite the first. The earliest I've found belongs to one of the other members of the Holy Trinity of jazz tenormen, Ben Webster (Lester Young being the third). Verve put out a Webster album called Soulville in 1957, and another called The Soul of Ben Webster in 1958. Both Webster and Hawkins had soul to burn, and neither of them could be called "soul jazz" artists, as both of them defied categorization.

He also put "Soul" into the title of one of his originals, pairing it with blues, and this one has everything you could ask for. It's got soul, it's got blues, it's got great contributions from everyone in the group, it's got Burrell at his bluesiest, and it's got Hawkins as delectable as you could ask. So "Listen to One" becomes two today, "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" as promised, and "Soul Blues" because it's impossible to resist.

Soul was the name of the album, and "Soul Blues" was a two-sided 45. Also on 45, "I Hadn't Anyone Till You" / "Greensleeves."




Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2 


 

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell

Friday, December 01, 2017

Listening to Prestige 290: Shirley Scott

Prestige is still pointing Shirley Scott toward the jukebox market, just as they did were her first trio session in May. Several songs are 45 RPM length, running counter to the trend of jazz in the LP era. And why not? Scott was fulfilling their expectations as a good seller. Prestige had even had a hit with the Scott-Davis number "In the Kitchen." Billboard, a few years down the road, would point to Scott and Gene Ammons as Prestige's most commercially successful acts.

The organ is an interesting instrument. Scott was drawn to it, she said, because "on the organ, no one knows how many different sounds you can get. It's an infinite number of tones. The only problem is taste."

It has its admirers and its detractors. The admirers are legion. Scott was one of Prestige's big sellers, Jimmy Smith was one of Blue Note's huge sellers. Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff and Richard (Groove) Holmes all did well, and all had followers beyond the hard core jazz set. Moving over to the rhythm and blues side of jazz, Bill Doggett made one of the most successful instrumental records of all time in "Honky Tonk," as did Booker T. a little later with "Green Onions." Doc Bagby had chart hits, and was a sought-after session musician. On the pop side of things, Dave "Baby" Cortez soared to the top of the charts with his roller-rink anthem, "The Happy Organ."

Which leads us to the detractors. Your true jazz fan (kidding here, folks) doesn't like anything, especially anything popular. And for some, the organ can never escape its ancillary associations: church and the roller rink, particularly the latter.

To some extent I share the roller rink prejudice, which, when you think about it, is a little odd. Why should a roller rink raise instant prejudice? They're kinda fun, especially if you're a teenager, and besides, I doubt very much if today's roller rinks are playing a lot of Dave "Baby" Cortez. It would be different if organs were played a lot at dentists' offices.

You probably could roller skate to Shirley Scott. She's got a good beat, helped immeasurably by George Duvivier and Arthur Edgehill. But it's certainly music to listen to. When Scott is playing as part of a quartet or quintet, she tailors her playing to the group. Her husband and musical partner Stanley Turrentine said of her:
She didn't try to overpower you like a lot of other organists.... She played with you.... And when she played, she could sound like a big band at times and then [at other] times she would sound like a trio or whatever we wanted to sound like.
But leading a trio, she does reach out to explore as much of that infinite variety of tones as she can. She's still being or romantic or upbeat, whatever the song calls for, but she's always looking for different things the organ can do, and--fitting for an infinte number of tones--no two are alike. In this session, as the last, she does three-minute-and-under pieces that are suitable for 45 RPM release, and more extended pieces which are still relatively short for the era, generally clocking in at less than five and a half minutes. She does standards from the likes of Irving Berlin and Vincent Youmans, a contemporary Broadway show tune ("Mr. Wonderful" again), jazz standards from Don Redman and Percy Mayfield, and two original compositions, "Hong Pong" and "Takin' Care of Business."

Esmond Edwards produced the date. Most of the songs appeared on an album entitled Scottie. Four The Shirley Scott Trio. A 1961 release, Shirley's Sounds, was mostly later material, but included "Can't See for Lookin'" from this session. The last to see daylight were  "Out of This World" and "That's Where It's At," which were held off for a much later release, 1967's Now's the Time, featuring songs left over from a number of sessions.
songs -- "Sweet Lorraine," "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," "That's Where It's At" and "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" were held back for a 1960 release on one of Bob Weinstock's new labels, Moodsville, about which I'll have more to say when the label actually debuts. The Moodsville LP was simply titled

Songs from this date made it onto five different 45s, the first one being a two-sided "Please Send Me Someone to Love," the Percy Mayfield ballad being the one exception to the shortness rule. "Diane" / "Cherry" followed almost immediately: one is number 135 in the Prestige 45 RPM records catalog, and the next is 136. So either "Please Send Me Someone to Love" flopped, which I find hard to believe, or there was a real demand for Scott product. "Hong Pong" / "Time on My Hands" and "Summertime" / Takin' Care of Business" were too far behind, at 145 and 147. And don't forget this is Scott's second trio session for the label, so they had done this hurry-up release pattern once before, with catalog singles 117 and 118. And two tunes from the first session were released as 156, so yes, definitely, there was a demand for Scott product. "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You" was held off to be paired with Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'" from a later session.

If you like to compare different versions of a tune, as I do, you have some interesting Prestige pairings from right around this time -- Red Garland did "Can't See for Lookin'" and "Mr. Wonderful."

In "Until the Real Thing Comes Along," and a couple of others, Scott sets the organ to play percussive pianolike notes as the lead instrumental sound, with the sonorous sustained sound of the organ providing a kind of backing sound, until the point where the organ swells up and takes over. But of course, that's a manufactured sound, since an organ is not a percussion instrument like the piano, which works when a hammer strikes a string, causing it to vibrate. So how does an organ make a sound? I realized I didn't know. Told you I don't know anywhere near enough about music.

A pipe organ is one of those wind instruments that you don't blow through. The air is forced through the pipes by some sort of bellows. I knew that. An accordion, the same. A wind instrument that you don't blow through. So the Hammond B-3 similar?

Not so. Just as the sweet potato and the potato are unrelated, so the pipe organ and the Hammond B-3, which generates sound " by creating an electric current from rotating a metal tonewheel near an electromagnetic pickup, and then strengthening the signal with an amplifier so it can drive a speaker cabinet (Wikipedia)." So it's more closely related to the theremin than the pipe organ.

Anyway, "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" is my "Listen to One" selection partly because it's really good, and partly because we have another comparison coming up. Coleman Hawkins is about to go into the studio and play it on the next session we'll be listening to.

Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2


Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Listening to Prestige 289: Steve Lacy

This is Steve Lacy's second album as leader, both for Prestige. As long and productive as Lacy's career would go on to be, he's not immediately thought of as a Prestige artist, but Weinstock's label is where he got his start, first with Gil Evans and then under his own name.

This one is particularly noteworthy for two things. First, his quartet personnel has changed. Buell Neidlinger returns as bassist, Elvin Jones is the new drummer. Most significantly, he is put together with the Prestige "house pianist," Mal Waldron, a pairing that was to be of great significance to both men when they reconnected years later in Europe.

Second, the entire album is devoted to the compositions of Thelonious Monk. Lacy was an admirer and champion of Monk's work, and tried to include at least one Monk composition on every recording he made, but this is the first time an entire album has been devoted to this great composer's work.

It's an article of faith among many, myself included, that Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington are good candidates for the two most important 20th Century American composers, but that awareness has been slower in coming than you might think. Sure, "Round Midnight" became an instant classic, and so did several of his other works, but Lacy dug deeper into the catalog, and found pieces for which recognition came much slower, if at all.

Secondhandsongs.com is a fascinating website which tracks the cover versions of songs. It doesn't list every song ever composed, though they keep adding to it, and there's no guarantee they're going to catch every cover, but they are a wonderful resource. Here's what they have on the tunes from this album:
  • Hornin' In: Recorded for Blue Note in 1952 and released in 1956. After Lacy's version, no one paid attention to this tune for 40 years, until Sonny Fortune in 1994. Since then, very little. Sphere, the group founded after Monk's death and devoted to his music, recorded it, as did two European jazz groups, and that's it, except for an unusual interpretation by rockers Terry Adams and NRBQ in 2015. YouTube offers a couple more recent live versions, and there is no reason why this wonderful piece of music should not be a jazz standard except that it's in competition with so many other classics from this composer.

  • Skippy was recorded by Monk in 1952 for Blue Note, and seems to have only been released on a 78 RPM single. It's complex, stirring, uptempo. Lacy's version features a terrific solo by Mal Waldron, among other delights. Lacy recorded it once more two decades later with a different quartet (Roswell Rudd, Henry Grimes, Dennis Charles), and then it lay fallow until 1988, when Buell Neidlinger recorded his own version, and Anthony Braxton covered it. In 1994 it was picked up by Paul Motian among others, and this millennium it's been rediscovered by a number of young jazz esnembles, both European and American, to the point where it can legitimately be called a standard. But 'twas not always thus.
      Monk's own version features Kenny Dorham, Lou Donaldson and Lucky Thompson, from the same session that produced "Hornin' In."

  • Reflections is Steve Lacy's title cut. It is an absolutely beautiful melody, from an early Prestige trio session. It captures both Lacy and Waldron at their most lyrical. Monk was an important influence on Waldron, but not an early influence. Certainly this session with Lacy must have affected him deeply.

      "Reflections" is certainly a standard, covered four times as often as Holland-Dozier-Holland's same-titled song for the Supremes.. J. J. and Kai (Savoy) and Sonny Rollins (Blue Note) both recorded it before Lacy. But then it also was pretty much forgotten until 1982, when Chick Corea, Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes did it. Since then, it's become ubiquitous, with secondhandsongs listing 66 versions. But a tune this important in the monk canon went a long time ignored.

  • Monk's version of Four in One (Sahib Shihab, Milt Jackson, Al McKibbon, Max Roach) was
    released by Blue Note in 1952 on 78 and on the Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 2 album. Lacy's version features some driving Elvin Jones work along with the solos by Lacy and Waldron. Then again, a long period of neglect. Monk's death in 1982 brought about a renewed interest in his music, and one of the first stirrings of this was a very odd album in 1984, That's the Way I Feel Now, a tribute to Monk by an eclectic bunch of musicians, most of them rockers. "Four in One" was covered by Gary Windo, a British avant-gardist who played his own brand of music, more often lending it to rock than jazz performers, and Todd Rundgren. Windo played alto sax, Rundgren supplied synthesizers and drum machines, for a performance that's manic, chaotic, geared to a rock-steady beat, and still recognizable as Monk.
      Since then, it too has entered the Monk mainstream, with 33 versions listed by secondhandsongs.

  • Bye-Ya is one of the pieces that Monk and Coltrane performed on their 1957 Carnegie Hall concert, a recording of which was only recently rediscovered and released. It's such a familiar tune that it seems impossible that it, too, could have languished throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but it did. This started to make me curious, and I checked secondhandsongs for some of Monk's best-known compositions, starting, of course, with "Round Midnight." Composed in 1940, first recorded by Cootie Williams (who took co-composer credit), it became an instant classic when Blue Note released Genius of Modern Music, Volume 1 in 1951. Since 1955, scarcely a year has gone by without several recorded renditions of it. "Blue Monk," first released on Prestige in 1954, has proved nearly as popular, with "Straight No Chaser" and "Ruby, My Dear" not far behind. So at least Monk was getting royalties from some of his classics during his lifetime. "Bye-Ya" has five lifetime, 48 posthumous, and secondhandsongs has somehow missed the Carnegie Hall concert.

  • Ask Me Now has had a similar fate. Steve Lacy, PeeWee Russell and Ronnie Mathews during Monk's lifetime, 91 posthumous versions.
Secondhandsongs doesn't have information on "Let's Call This."

Reflections was released on New Jazz in 1959.


Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2






Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell

Friday, November 24, 2017

Listening to Prestige 288: Jerome Richardson

The fullness and power of orchestral music, with its sections and soloists, is undeniable, as is the energy and vitality of big band music. But there's something uniquely entrancing about music made by a small ensemble, where each instrument has its own kind of clarity, and the melds are shifting and subtle. This is true of chamber music, but it's perhaps especially true of small group jazz, for all kinds of reasons, some of them obvious, some less so.

I've talked before about getting my first hi-fi, and suddenly realizing that there was more going on than just Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker. I could suddenly hear Larry Bunker, and especially Chico Hamilton, and I suddenly had a whole new appreciation of the complexity of the music I was starting to love.

In a jazz ensemble, the instruments are so different from each other, and they have so many ways of interacting. Improvisation opens up the possibilities exponentially, and because the different members of the group are given space to improvise, the time it takes to play a given piece is variable, as Miles Davis found out when John Coltrane started playing his extended solos. This makes it strikingly different from a composed piece. Terry Riley's In C plays with that boundary. It is entirely composed. There are 53 separate musical phrases, and each instrument--it's written for an indeterminate number of instruments--is instructed to play each figure, in order, from beginning to end, but they don't have to start together, and each one can repeat each figure as many times as he or she chooses before going on to the next one. Still, duration is not much of a variable in most composed pieces. Even John Cage's 4'33", which involves silence, is written to last four minutes and 33 seconds.

So I'm in the car alone, my favorite way of listening to Prestige, and I've lined up the Jerome Richardson session, and "Caravan" comes on, the Duke Ellington-Juan Tizol warhorse, which has been recorded over 350 times, not always by jazz groups--sometimes just for its exotic melody. That makes it, like "Taboo" which we've recently heard recorded by both Yusef Lateef and Dorothy Ashby, just a little bit suspect: will it fall into the clichés of exotica? Which makes me particularly interested in listening to it. And this being the car, with me driving, I can't refer to the session notes, and I haven't really looked at them. I know that Richardson has Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, since brass always comes first in the personnel listing, but that's all.

It starts with a faint, exotic but not at all clichéd rhythm on the ride cymbal, but then the bass enters with the first strong voice, and it's a repeated but unnerving figure, no less unnerving when the piano joins in. Richardson enters, playing the melody, but he's distant, behind the bass and piano. So the first all-out solo goes to Jimmy Cleveland, improvising, and then it's Richardson again, out front this time, playing the melody again, sort of haunting, sort of mocking, sort of appreciative, and then they're off into uncharted territory, with Richardson beginning an extended solo, and now we're about three minutes into the piece, and we're just getting started, so this will be, yes, of indeterminate length, and the melody will be left in the desert dust. A lengthy Cleveland solo is next, followed by...what's this? Kenny Burrell? He's on this session too?

Well, yeah, since this is the Jerome Richardson Sextet, I should have remembered that there would be a third front line instrument. So we have flute, trombone guitar. not your everyday lineup, which brings me back to what I was saying about the different permutations of sound in a small jazz ensemble. The standard Bird-and-Diz quintet lineup of trumpet and saxophone is endlessly varied enough in the hands of jazz masters, but this group is very hip, and it's an instrumental lineup you don't hear that often--and it's varied even more when Richardson switches to tenor sax.. Which brings me back to duration as a unique function of jazz's uniqueness, especially in the LP era. With room for six different soloists to stretch out and create their own take on not only the melody and chord structure, but also the solos that have come before them, this version runs close to eleven minutes. A 1950s rock and roll version by steel guitar duo Santo and Johnny basically plays the melody, and clocks in and two and a half minutes. A pop instrumental by Gordon Jenkins, strictly playing the melody, is even shorter.

The rest of the group is Hank Jones on piano, Joe Benjamin on bass, and Charlie Persip on drums. Benjamin, never very far from the front, comes back after Kenny Burrell, and then there's an extended drum solo that captures the exotica of...well, of exotica, the complexity of bebop, and the excitement of a great drummer doing an extended drum solo.

We've heard Jimmy Cleveland before, with  Art Farmer septets a couple of times, and as part of Gil Evans' tentet. Here he gets a more featured role, which is all to the good, particularly on "Way In Blues." Which reminds me to give a tip of the hat to another Prestige alumnus, Bennie Green, a great trombone bluesman, who would record through the 1960s on various labels, then settle in Las Vegas and hotel bands. Cleveland was one of those guys who could play with everyone, from blues (Ruth Brown) to soul (James Brown) to soul jazz (Cannonball Adderley) to big bands to bop.

Hank Jones accompanied vocalist Earl Coleman on a couple of Prestige albums, and played with Curtis Fuller on another. He'd be back for several more appearances on the label, but that was a tiny part of his prodigious output as leader and sideman over seven decades, with multiple honors including the National Medal of Arts two years before his death in 2010. He also has a unique credit for a jazzman: he accompanied Marilyn Monroe on her legendary performance of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President."

Joe Benjamin makes his Prestige debut, but his name is forever imprinted on my brain because he's one of the musicians Sarah Vaughan introduces in her live recording of "Shulie-a-Bop," arguably the greatest bebop vocal ever, made for Mercury Records in 1954, the same year that Mercury had her record "Make Yourself Comfortable," with a syrupy orchestra led by Hugo Peretti. This was the beginning of Mercury's project to make Vaughan into a commercial success by recording insipid pop songs with insipid arrangements. "Make Yourself Comfortable" is a clever song, and she sings it wonderfully, but come on. Is this really the best way to utilize Sarah Vaughan? It worked, for what they were trying to do. "Broken Hearted Melody," in 1959, which Vaughan regarded as the worst record she had ever made, was her biggest seller.

Fortunately, they did also let her record for EmArcy, their jazz subsidiary, where she did the great Clifford Brown sessions, and the ones with Joe Benjamin. But I digress.

This is actually the second member of Sarah's trio to appear on a Prestige session in the fall  of 1958. Roy (drumroll) Haynes (drumroll) had been on the Dorothy Ashby date just three weeks earlier. I wonder when John Malachi will show up? But I continue to digress.

Artie Shaw's "Lyric" joins Ellington's "Caravan," and the other three tunes are Richardson originals. I've commented before that I miss the bad puns and other plays on words in the early bebop recordings, like "Ice Cream Konitz" and "Flight of the Bopple Bee." Richardson brings the word play back with rather more sophistication on "Minorally" and "Delirious Trimmings," which I hope is not a reference to anything that anyone in the band is going through.

The album was released on New Jazz as Midnight Oil.



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Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell