Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records project - Part 8

Kenny Dorham and Max Roach must not have spent a lot of time in Paris, because here they are back in New York two weeks later, playing in a group put together by J. J. Johnson as J. J. Johnson's Boppers.

And what a group! Of the six of them, only bassist Leonard Gaskin did not go on to achieve legendary status, and he had a distinguished career, playing with all the major beboppers, including Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (he replaced Oscar Pettiford in Gillespie's band), then moving back to trad jazz in the 50s with the likes of Eddie Condon, Ruby Braff and Cootie Williams. Interesting to me -- he apparently spent at least some of the last part of his life in my home area. His Wikipedia bio says that in 2003 he worked with grade school kids at the Woodstock Elementary School in Woodstock, NY. He died in 2009.

Kenny Dorham died young, but not as young as I would have thought -- he died at 48, in 1972, of a kidney disease. His reputation is such an underground one (every serious jazz aficionado knows him, the casual listener maybe not. No albums with Dorham as leader make The New Yorker's list of 100 Essential Jazz Albums), that I had sort of assumed he'd died very young, maybe not long after his classic Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia. As his Wikipedia entry puts it, "he never received the kind of attention or public recognition from the jazz establishment that many of his peers did. For this reason, writer Gary Giddins said that Dorham's name has become 'virtually synonymous with underrated.'" My old friend J. R. Monterose said that Dorham was the best leader he ever played with.

Max Roach, of course, along with Kenny Clarke (another expatriate), revolutionized the art of jazz drumming, creating the style that propelled bebop.

The other two players on this date: John Lewis on piano, Sonny Rollins on tenor.

J. J. Johnson was 25 when he led this all-star group, and he had already become not just the premiere jazz trombonist, but the guy who did what had been thought impossible -- made the slide trombone into a solo instrument in the lightning fast, rhythmically tricky form of bebop.

Johnson has been the subject of a book-length study, The Musical World of J. J. Johnson, by Joshua Barrett and Louis G. Bourgois III. I don't know if it sells too widely -- the hardcover is a hundred bucks, and even the Kindle edition is nearly fifty. But a review by Victor L. Schermer on the AllAboutJazz website notes that when Dizzy Gillespie first heard Johnson play, in 1946, he told him, "I've always known that the trombone could be played different, that somebody'd catch on one of
these days. Man, you're elected."

This is pure bebop, played by some of its noblest practitioners. Roach cuts loose with some solos he kept in check on his Paris date. Dorham and Johnson challenge each other, and respond to the challenge. Rollins can beep and bop with the best of them, and he already has the tone that he will perfect under the Williamsburg Bridge and ride into the 21st century, becoming universally acknowledged as one of the greatest of all time.

John Lewis is in the bebop world, but not of it. He contributes greatly to this session, but you can also hear where he's going. And, in a sense, where he's been, which was (like Dorham and Roach) Paris. He contributes the composition "Elysee" to the session, and for the followup session on October 17, his classic-to-be, "Afternoon in Paris."

Dorham, Gaskin and Rollins are gone, replaced by Sonny Stitt on alto, Nelson Boyd on bass. Still bebop. and still wonderful. Of all the nonsense syllables that have come to define art movements, from dada to hip-hop, none of them, for me, have the romance of "bebop." This listening project is to revisit old friends, pick up on music I missed. These two J. J. Johnson albums fall into the latter category. For each blog entry, I download whatever I can find from Spotify onto a Prestige playlist on my phone, and play it over my Jambox Mini while driving. This has been a wonderful couple of days.

The May session numbers were released on 78 by both New Jazz and Prestige, and reissued in 1952 when Weinstock began his 10-inch LP line, as PRLP 109, along with a Kai Winding session, although the classic J.J. and Kai pairing would not come about till 1954. In 1953, Prestige started releasing 45 RPM EPs, which meant another way to buy J. J. Johnson's boppers.
And yet another way -- the short-lived 16 2/3 RPM record, suited to
play on Chrysler's Highway Hi-Fi system (thanks to Bloggerhythms for this info), but not really so great for music. This time, Prestige tossed in Bennie Green and made it three
trombonists. The session with Sonny Stitt also came out in all three formats, the 100-series LP this time backed with a Bennie Green session. All later found their way to Prestige's great 7000 series.

All of these tracks can be found on Spotify.

Here's "Afternoon in Paris," from the October session, on YouTube. You have to dig a little for these -- I found this one by searching under "J. J. Johnson John Lewis."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records project - Part 7

We're still early in 1949, but at least we're in Paris in the Spring. Well, almost. There have always been expatriate jazz musicians. One of the first was Sidney Bechet, who originally came over to France as part of a revue with Josephine Baker. Baker stayed on to become one of France's mist celebrated entertainers, while Bechet went back and forth, and did not permanently settle in France until 1951. By that time, a postwar community of jazz expatriates was developing, and a French jazz label, Vogue, was formed.

Jazz musicians went to Europe for a variety of reasons. Jazz was waning as a popular music in the USA in the 1940s and 50s, while not yet being accepted as a serious art form. Europe offered both popular and artistic recognition. Stan Getz moved to Denmark to try to kick a drug habit. But a lot of black musicians chose Europe to get away from the racism which had not ameliorated after World War II.

James Moody was one of those. He lived in Europe for three years, and recorded there. His two
sessions in the spring of 1949 were April 30 in Lausanne, Switzerland, with a group of expatriates, and two weeks later on May 15 in Paris with an all-star group of beboppers led by Max Roach.

I can't find any tunes from the Roach session, either on YouTube or Spotify. Amazon has an album called Pleyel Jazz Concert 1948/Quintet 1949, the second part of which is the Roach session, but the tracks on it aren't available for download. The group, in addition to Roach and Moody, was Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Al Haig (piano), Tommy Potter (bass). Recorded for French Vogue, various cuts of it made their way to both Blue Note and Prestige. Prestige included one number on one of their first LPs,  PRLP 113, under Kenny Dorham's name.

The Lausanne session is easier to find, on Spotify as part of a collection called "James Moody 1948-49," and I found one cut on YouTub, but when I came back to link to it, couldn't find it again. His all-expatriate combo consisted of Art Simmons (piano) Alvin "Buddy" Banks (bass) Clarence Terry (drums) Al Edwards (vocals). None of them familiar names to me, probably because their careers were almost entirely expatriate. Art Simmons (who contributes some superb piano here, solo and comp), however, belongs to yet another thread on this blog. A few years ago Peter Jones and I decided to try to make a list of every living musician who had played with Charlie Parker. Many of them are gone now, of course, but here are the names we came up with.

One we missed was Art Simmons. Here, from Wikipedia:
Simmons played in a band while serving in the U.S. military in 1946. He remained in Germany after the war, studying music, and moved to Paris in 1949. There he studied at the Paris Conservatory and the Ecole Normale de Musique, playing with Charlie Parker and Kenny Clarke at the Paris Jazz Festival; he also played with Aaron Bridgers, Don Byas, Robert Mavounzy, and Nelson Williams. He led his own group at the Ringside Club in 1951. In the early 1950s he played with Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, and toured London with singers such as Bertice Reading. As resident pianist at the Mars Club, he worked with Michel Gaudry, Pierre Cullaz, and Elek Bacsik, and accompanied touring singers such as Carmen McRae and Billie Holiday (1958). In the early 1960s he played in a duo with Art Taylor.

Simmons also did arranging work for Barclay Records. In 1971 he played in Spain; following this he returned to the United States and retired.
So unless someone has newer information, Art Simmons is still alive. Is no one interviewing him, getting his life story?

Moody is solid on the session, and the trio of expatriates (Banks played regularly with Smmons; I couldn't find anything on Terry) provide solid backup, with Simmons (and Banks to a lesser extent) taking some nice solos. Moody does that bebopper's trick of interpolating well-known phrases ("Yankee Doodle") into the middle of a solo, and he plays a couple of figures that suggest ideas he'll develop later in the year, in "Moody's Mood."

Monday, July 14, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Project - Part 6

Part of the springboard for starting this project was a series of conversations I'd had over time with my Peter Jones, about growing up in love with jazz in the 50s. Peter turned to jazz as an early teen. I came to it later, in college. I remember the night vividly. My dorm room in the World War II barracks that still served as dorms at Bard College then, no roommates around, a little too much to drink (probably - this was something else I'd just learned to do.) AM radio, middle of the night, those odd clear channel stations from all over. Twisting the dial, looking for some late night rhythm and blues. Suddenly hearing the sound I'd been waiting to hear all my life, without knowing it. Standing there, looking at the radio (we did that in those days) transfixed. It was John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio -- Paul Chambers and Art Taylor. It was the first jazz record I bought, and it was on Prestige -- as were three of my first four jazz records. The other two were Mose Allison's Back Country Suite, and King Pleasure Sings - Annie Ross Sings. The outlier was Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker on World Pacific.

That night with Trane and Red many years later became a poem, although with poetic license Trane became Miles, and I created a scene that never happened with an older brother I never had. But the poem is true to the heart of experience.


I was just fifteen when Charlie Parker died
My older brother took me aside
And said, Kid, it's a bad day
It's a sad day
Well, I didn't know why and I had to be told
Hey, but I grew up
And I learned my stuff
And I learned enough
And I'm not so old

When I was a kid just starting to move
I filled my soul with that rhythm and blues
And I listened to the Clovers
And the Coasters
And I couldn't get enough of that rock and roll
I was growing up
And the beat was mine
And it still sounds fine
And I'm not so old

Then one night I turned on the radio
Looking for some of that rock and roll
And I heard some bebop
Brought me to a full stop
Didn't know what it was but it moved my soul
I was almost grown
And they said it was Miles
I still dig his style
And I'm not so old

I saw Monk dance around the Five Spot floor
And a cat from Texas made the Five Spot roar
His sax was plastic
His sound fantastic
And I went back again to hear Ornette blow
I was all grown up
And he made jazz free
Still sounds good to me
And I'm not so old

Once they said that jazz had passed away
But I go down to hear the young cats play
They play in the tradition
They've got a mission
They play sweet and strong and free and bold
Well, I may be grown
But the cats blow on
And the music's young
And I'm not so old
Anyway, that's my particular love affair with Prestige. Shared by everyone? I'm not sure. Prestige, as I've noted before, has been somewhat the forgotten stepbrother to Blue Note. The New York Times' obituary for Bob Weinstock was a little backhanded -- " Prestige releases...weren't known for perfection. Mr. Weinstock generally set up recording sessions with no rehearsal time."

Well, perfection is overrated. And Peter Jones and I, talking about those days, have commented on what we remember as the incredible level of quality of those independent jazz labels -- it was all good.

Was it? I guess that's what I'll be finding out with this blog project. Next up, April 8, 1949, the Stan Getz Octet, including Five Brothers.

We think of the guys like Getz who became such giants in their field as having been born leading a group, playing "Desafinado" on TV, but Stan was 22 and newly graduated from the Woody Herman band, in one of his first sessions as a leader. Even at 22, he was a veteran - he'd joined the Jack Teagarden band at 16, when he was so young that Teagarden made him his ward.

An octet is big for a small jazz group, small for a big band, and this album is not big band jazz, certainly -- it's the combo format,a stated theme followed by virtuosic soloing, that was the hallmark of the bebop era. The most famous large small combo of the era -- or what came to be the most famous, since it was pretty much ahead of its time, was the Miles Davis "Birth of the Cool" nonet. Getz's octet was more straight-ahead -- I guess in the Prestige tradition of getting a bunch of guys together to blow with no rehearsal (although actually alternate takes don't seem to be so rare).

Getz was best known at this time as one of the Herman Herd's "four brothers," the four-saxophone section of Getz, Serge Chaloff, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward -- and later Al Cohn. Sims and Cohn are the carryovers from those brothers, joined now by Alan Eager (a Herman alum but not a brother) and Brew Moore -- four tenor players, with Getz choosing baritone for this session. There's actually a sixth saxophone-playing brother involved, and this one makes them stepbrothers, in a way, to Miles' nonet -- Gerry Mulligan is listed as arranger.

I am writing this blog as a fan, as an archivist, not as a music critic or musicologist. I'm not that good. I can't tell you who's soloing when. I'd be a washout on a Leonard Feather blindfold test. In his bio of Brew Moore, critic Scott Yanow suggests that as a quintet of Lester Young acolytes, they all pretty much sounded the same on that session, so maybe I'm not the only one.

I can tell you that this is real Prestige jazz, the kind that makes you glad you're a jazz fan, and you get to sit still and listen to it, or snap your fingers to it, or stand still in the middle of the night and stare at whatever your contemporary equivalent to an old AM radio is. YouTube and Spotify both have this
session completely represented, including the alternate takes.
Both takes of "Battleground" were actually released on 78, one as Prestige release and the other as a New Jazz. So I was able to listen to all of it.

All the brothers were young. Al Cohn and Zoot Sims were 24,  Brew Moore was 25, Alan Eager like Getz a junior member at 22. But all were seasoned veterans. And all the brothers were valiant. Having five brothers in a small combo means succinct solos, and they make it work brilliantly. Generally a string of solos means a cutting contest. Here it's brotherly love, and wonderful cooperation to make a unified sequence.

In "Battle of the Saxes" (the only one without an alternate take) one gets the feeling that if they'd had just a little rehearsal time, they might have learned the tune, but once they start soloing, it could matter less.

With all those horns, there's not a lot of space for solos from the rhythm section, but Walter Bishop, Jr. has a few nice moments on piano. The others are Gene Ramey (bass) and Charlie Perry (drums). I wasn't at all familiar with Perry, but research reveals he's considered one of the great teachers of drumming technique, and one of his books on jazz drumming (co-authored with Jack deJohnette) is available (excerpted) online.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Project - Part 5

Didn’t know Prestige had a Dixieland line? They did. Their entire 300 series of 78 RPM records was devoted to Dixieland. Of course, their entire 300 series was Prestige 301-304, and it consisted of four records by Jimmy McPartland, this session from March, 1949, and a second session September 21,1950. Both of them, appropriately, in Chicago, where Jimmy had cut his teeth as a musician, one of the

Austin High Gang of young white cats who got together to play in high school, discovered New Orleans jazz and Bix Beiderbecke, and never looked back.

Spotify doesn't have any of these sessions; YouTube has the first one, with Jmmy McPartland (cornet) Harry Lepp (trombone) Jack O'Connel (clarinet, alto saxophone) Marian Page (piano) Ben Carlton (bass) Mousie Alexander (drums). By the 1950 session, young Marian Turner, who had used the name Marian Page when she played jazz in Europe, so as not to disgrace her classical music-loving family, had taken the name of the dashing young hero of Normandy whom she had met and married in Europe when they were both playing USO shows.

"Royal Garden Blues" is a New Orleans standard written by Spencer Williams, and if traditional Dixieland was getting a little tired in 1949 (certainly Bob Weinstock must have thought so, as fast as he shut down this Dixieland line, you can't tell it from these cats. "In a Mist" is a Bix Beiderbecke composition, so one would think a natural to feature Jimmy, but Bix composed it for piano and played it on piano, so it becomes a very early showcase for Marian, and a lovely one.

Prestige 303 and 304 has an entirely different lineup, including Vic Dickenson. Well, entirely different if you count replacing Marian Page with Marian McPartland, the name she would use for the rest of her life, and make famous and beloved.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records project - Part 4

I'm finding out a little more about Prestige's very early days. The Bill Coleman- Don Byas recording from Paris, though it was later released on Prestige's 7000 series, was not actually a Prestige recording. The January 11, 1949, Tristano session, which was my second blog entry, was the first actual recording for then-20-year-old Bob Weinstock's label, then called New Jazz, although it appears not to have been the label's first release. It appears as New Jazz 832 -- the 800 series were mostly 78s, though some were issued on 45. Not many, I'd guess, and certainly not in 1949. The 45
RPM record was only invented that year, by RCA Victor (the 33 1/3 RPM long playing record had only debuted the year before, from Columbia). But the Tristano session did become the label's first LP release -- New Jazz 101. The great cover art that was to become one of the hallmarks of 1950s jazz -- not just on Prestige -- was still in the future.

The actual first release -- New Jazz 800 -- came from the session we're about to explore. Weinstock apparently had access to a bunch of Woody Herman's Herdsmen, and recorded them in different groupings. Perhaps the Herd was playing a series of dates at the Metropole Cafe. Bill Crow remembers a later version of the band playing there, lined up along the runway.

In any event, Terry Gibbs, Bill Swope, Stan Getz and Shorty Rogers (playing trumpet this time - he's just listed as arranger on the Serge Chaloff date) were back in the studio on March 14, 1949, four days after the Chaloff sessions, with a different but equally potent rhythm section -- George Wallingford (p), Curly Russell (b), Shadow Wilson (d).

LP records were originally thought of as a vehicle for classical music, pop (and jazz) songs being of a length that a 78 RPM record could accommodate easily. If a composition was longer, it was generally structured in such a way that it could have a break in the middle, and be presented as "part one" and "part two," sometimes with a different arrangement or emphasis. Bill Doggett's R&B classic "Honky Tonk," with the two sides showcasing, respectively, Billy Butler's guitar solo and Clifford Scott's saxophone solo.

Something similar occurs on this 1949 recording date, in "Michelle, parts 1 and 2." The first part is completely structured around Terry Gibbs on vibes, with a horn section providing an atonal cushion for him that sounds more Kenton than Herman, while the second part gives some serious solo space to Stan Getz -- which is really why these sessions are remembered today. They've been rereleased in the Concord Original Jazz classics series as "Early Stan", along with another recording date led by Jimmy Raney. The Getz solos really are the best part. This album is also available on Spotify, though not on YouTube. The Spotify release is not really well labeled -- all the cuts are listed as Terry Gibbs/Jimmy Raney.

Weinstock was famous for recording everything in one take, so what makes this session particularly unusual is the existence of alternate takes. "Michelle"and "Terry's Tune" both have two alternate takes (and the latter has an alternate title - it's also called "Terry's Blues"). Both alternate takes are of Part One, so neither has the Getz solo. The final cut from the session appears to have had alternate mentalities at work, at least for the titling of the number: "Cuddles (Speedway)."

Almost all the takes got released, though, and sooner rather than later. "T and S" and "Terry's Blues" were the first release on the New Jazz 78 RPM series (NJ 800), and "Cuddles" became one side of NJ 802 (the other was a J. J. Johnson cut, about which more later. "Michelle" parts one and two were New Jazz 804, and the first alternate take became a Prestige 78 (Prestige 729) and later part of a 45 RPM EP (PREP 1312). I still haven't figured out when Prestige started issuing 45s, but the first of the series (PREP 1301) was an Annie Ross set (actually the classic Annie Ross set, with "Twisted" and "Farmer's Market), recorded in 1952.

Terry Gibbs is not only still around, but still playing. Along with Shorty Rogers, he decamped for the West Coast (after a stint with Benny Goodman), and left the Prestige circle. Something that surprised me: he was one of the first bandleaders to employ Alice McLeod, later much better known as Alice Coltrane.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records project - Part 3

During the 1950s, when I started to become aware of jazz (actually late into the 50s for me, on a journey through rock and roll and rhythm and blues), there were two independent labels at the heart of that era: Blue Note and Prestige. Of the two, Blue Note has become the most famed, perhaps because it’s still around. Books have been written about it, its history chronicled.

The moment I turned from rhythm and blues to jazz (no, never turned—the moment I opened up to include jazz) came at two in the morning, in my dorm room at Bard College, twisting through the dial of my AM radio, looking for some R&B, and suddenly my hand stopping, my heart stopping, my world pausing to let in a sound that transfixed me. It was John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio, and it was the first jazz record I ever bought. And it was on Prestige.

To the extent that Prestige and Blue Note were the Beatles and the Stones of the 50s to a jazz fan, I was a Prestige guy. I bought many records on both labels, of course, but when I look back at my vinyl collection, it leans heavily toward Prestige.

But there’s been no history of Prestige Records. Wikipedia doesn’t have much. There’s a photo book of Prestige album covers, but that’s all I’ve been able to find. And this blog won’t be it, either, because I don’t know enough. Not unless someone who was there on the scene, like Chris Albertson or Bill Crow, can fill in some of the gaps.

I’m using as my guide through this Prestige listening project, and I’m going chronologically by recording date, starting in 1949, the year Bob Weinstock started the label, first as New Jazz, then a year later as Prestige. I’m going by jazzdisco’s session index, because I can’t really figure out any other way to do it. The most famous Prestige album line, their 7000 series, seems to have started in 1955, so what was Prestige issuing before that? I hope someone will straighten me out.

Anyway, the third 1949 session – Serge Chaloff and the Herdsmen, March 10, 1949. The group is made up of Woody Herman veterans, as Serge was, and he’s most famous as one of Herman’s Four Brothers saxophone section, and the Jimmy Giuffre composition of that name, featuring Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, and Chaloff. Of the four, Chaloff was the only baritone sax, and he was pretty close to the only baritone sax player in jazz (Ellington’s Harry Carney his precursor) until Gerry Mulligan came along and made the instrument his own.

And Chaloff had the shortest career of the four. He succumbed to Charlie Parker’s Disease – the heroin addiction that claimed so many in the bebop era. He did kick the habit, but his life was cut short anyway, as he died in 1957 of cancer. So unlike Sims and Getz, he was not able to build very much on the Four Brothers foundation, but he did make some good music.

Here’s “Bopscotch” from that session. Personnel:  Oscar Pettiford b, Red Rodney tp, Earl Swope tb, Al Cohn ts, Serge Chaloff bs, Barbara Carroll p, Terry Gibbs vib, Denzil Best d, Shorty Rogers arr.

With not a lot of rehearsal time, there was no guarantee that a group of musicians assembled for a recording date were going to mesh, though sessions like the Minton’s and Monroe’s jam sessions gave a strong common language to the beboppers. But these were a group of musicians who’d spent some time together in the Woody Herman band, and you can hear it in the seamless blend of solos on this recording.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Examiner 001: Start where you can get your foot in the door.

In 2009 and 2010, I started writing a series of columns on writing for I eventually stopped out of a conviction that no one was reading them, but the handful of people who did read them seemed to like them, so I've decided to repost them here, where once again, no one will read them.

If you’re looking to begin a career freelancing to magazines, start where you can get your foot in the door. You won't be able to march into the office of the editor of Vogue, or PC World, or Family Circle, but a smaller magazine may only have a staff of half a dozen people, and there may be only one receptionist (if that) between you and the editor.

You may even be able to walk right in, if you have the personality to pull it off. If not, who do you know? Specialized fields are small. If you know about crafts and hobbies, or fly fishing, or restoring old cars, you know people who share your interest, and somewhere you’ll find two or three degrees of separation between you and an editor.

Editors of small-budget magazines are always looking for writers. They want ideas, and most of all they want reliability. Frankly, these are more important than top-notch writing skills. They can teach you how to write for their market; they expect to. They can’t teach you to meet deadlines.

So your job in that face-to-face meeting is to exude professionalism, to inspire confidence. Come in with a can-do attitude and a list of ideas, convince the editor that you’re reliable, and you may well walk out with an assignment.