Monday, October 14, 2019

Listening to Prestige 422: Coleman Hawkins

The brain trust behind Swingville, primarily Bob Weinstock and Coleman Hawkins, had a lot of good ideas, and surely pairing Coleman Hawkins and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis was one of the best. Davis cited Hawkins as one of his chief influences, which is no surprise, since Hawkins influenced everyone who came after him.

This was 1960, and stereo was still a novelty. In 1958, people had bought, and listened awestruck to, the sound of a locomotive passing from one channel to another (You can hear it! Going across the
room!)  Ornette Coleman made more creative use of the new technology with his double quartet, one quartet playing over one channel and the other over the other. Hawkins and Davis may not be as adventurous as Ornette, but they had their go at stereo separation, with one tenor saxophone in each channel.

Technology, these days, has moved in a different direction, and someone listening to a streaming service over their iPad speaker is not going to get the full effect available to the 1960 stereo buff, with his speakers placed exactly such and such many feet and inches apart, exactly so many inches off the ground, exactly at such and such an angle, standing exactly so many inches away. stooping if you were over six feet tall, getting up on a stepstool if you were...but that was rarer. Not many women were as likely to make fools of themselves over technology in those days.

And it's kinda too bad. The stereo separation of tenors was sort of a gimmick, but it was a nice one, especially on "In a Mellow Tone," which they start out with a channel-combining unison on the head, then proceed to battle stations on the right and the left for their solos. The master and the disciple, now a full-fledged star in his own right, trading solos with love and respect and lot of competitive fire.

Tommy Flanagan, at 30, was already a veteran of countless recording sessions--this made his 24th appearance on Prestige alone, playing with everyone, but especially the swing-to-bop veterans. (Certainly not exclusively--he had been the piano player on John Coltrane's groundbreaking Giant Steps.) He could always be counted on to do everything well,  Ron Carter was still at the beginning of his jazz Odyssey. Gus Johnson, for Prestige, had played the blues with Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon, swing with the Swingville All Stars, and modern with Lem Winchester. He was a decade younger than Hawkins and at least that much older than everyone else in the group, and a perfect fit.

The album was released on Swingville (and later on Prestige, with "Lover," left off the original package, added in) as Night Hawk, after its only Hawkins original. Esmond Edwards produced.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon.

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs


Listening to Prestige 421: Lonnie Johnson

Prestige used some of its jazz rhythm section regulars on a number of their Bluesville recordings,  which is one of the reasons the Bluesville recordings are so interesting. Lonnie Johnson always considered himself more of a jazzman than a bluesman--he had built a career in blues because that was where the money was--he was able to get a recording contract as a blues singer. For his first Prestige session, producer Chris Albertson put him together with tenor sax man Hal "Cornbread" Singer, pianist Claude Hopkins, bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Bobby Donaldson.

Next, he was matched with Elmer Snowden, like Johnson a Chris Albertson discovery after years of obscurity. Snowden was a master guitarist and former bandleader (Count Basie, Jimmie  Lunceford. Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge and Chick Webb all played in his band when they were starting out, and his group, the Washingtonians, formed the nucleus of the Duke Ellington Orchestra). Wendell Marshall rounded out their trio, and they played some blues songs, a standard, and a number of instrumental pieces.

This time around, with Esmond Edwards producing, it's just Johnson and his guitar (sometimes piano) and vocals. It's a good choice: Johnson alone is compelling listening, And it's still not exactly a traditional blues album--he includes a couple of standards and a rhythm and blues ballad by Buddy Johnson, and his guitar and piano work--especially his guitar work--is subtle and exciting.

Losing Game is the title of the album, but any collection by Lonnie Johnson is going to be a winning game. It was released on Bluesville.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon.

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Listening to Prestige 423: Tampa Red

These were Tampa Red's last recordings. He was 57 years old, and already not in good health, although he would live another twenty years. His best years may have been the late 1920s, when he moved to Chicago and teamed up with piano player Georgia Tom as The Hokum Boys. Hokum was a somewhat genre-bending form--there's country hokum as well as blues hokum--and its main characteristic is suggestive lyrics. Tampa Red and Georgia Tom can be said to have started the hokum craze with their 1928 hit, "It's Tight Like That." Georgia Tom, who had also been Ma Rainey's piano player and arranger, was pretty good at
writing dirty songs. In fact, he was very good. But when, a couple of years later, he got religion, reclaimed his birth name of Thomas A. Dorsey, and began writing hymns, he found his true calling, and wrote some of the most beloved songs in the American canon, including "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" and "Peace in the Valley."

Red remained in Chicago, playing the blues. He and Big Bill Broonzy formed the nucleus of the Chicago blues scene of the 1930s, but the 1930s were not a great time for the blues as a commercial venture. It was the Depression, and too many people had the blues. Still, they persevered, and became the elder statesmen of the 1940s Chicago blues scene. Red was known for helping out blues singers and musicians new in town, with a hot meal and a place to sleep. He had some successes, including a local  hit with "Black Angel Blues." written by the queen of seriously dirty blues, Lucille Bogan. But his life really fell apart in 1954, when his wife died, and he spent some time in mental institutions.
This recording doesn't display the bottleneck guitar wizardry of the performances from his prime, but his guitar work is still lovely. It does feature his kazoo, which he had first employed as a street singer in the 1920s. And it features a couple of his classic hokum songs, "Let Me Play With Your Poodle" and "It's Tight Like That." And it's a winning, endearing record.

It was recorded in Chicago, but beyond that, there's no record of where, or who supervised the recording. This, and one other Chicago session for Bluesville, marked the end of his career. He lived with a friend who took care of him until 1974, and after death he was in a nursing home until he died in poverty in 1981. Certainly not the only sad story in lives of blues greats, but our country and our culture owed these people so much more.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon.

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Listening to Prestige 420: Eric Dolphy - Booker Little

This is one of the most storied pairings in jazz lore, like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, or Clifford Brown and Max Roach, and like them, it was destined to end much too soon. Bird, of course, was destroyed by drugs. Clifford Brown died in an auto accident. And both Eric Dolphy and Booker Little succumbed to illness--Little at the age of 23, less than a year after making this recording.

During a period in which Prestige was turning a lot of its attention to the tradition, with its Swingville and Bluesville sessions, Eric Dolphy was their standard bearer for what one of Ornette Coleman's album titles had described as the shape of jazz to come. Dolphy had last been in the studio as a leader on August 31, and that album had been titled Out There. The labelsthat were taking a chance on the new jazz were not at all shy about marketing its newness. Other Atlantic titles for Coleman were Tomorrow is the Question and Change of the Century. Albert Ayler's debut was Something Different!!!!!! (yes, with all the exclamation points). Cecil Taylor, who may have been the first important jazz figure to enter the avant garde, or this particular avant garde, put out albums called Jazz Advance and Looking Ahead! John Coltrane's step into the next incarnation of jazz was a little more modestly--but absolutely accurately--called Giant Steps.

This session by Dolphy would be titled--an evocative touch, rather than a manifesto--Far Cry, but it still carries the message. This was staking out new ground, and if Little hadn't yet gone quite as far into uncharted waters, Dolphy saw something there, and Little responded. The quintet they formed together played one memorable two-week gig (also recorded by Prestige) at the Five Spot in June of 1961, but by October Little was gone, a victim of complications from uremia.

It had already been a busy day for Dolphy by the time he got to Englewood Cliffs. Earlier in the day, he had participated in a groundbreaking Ornette Coleman session for Atlantic. The Atlantic album would be called Free Jazz, and it featured a double quartet--that is, two separate quartets, each playing over a separate stereo channel: on the left, Coleman and Don Cherry, with Scott LoFaro and Billy Higgins on bass and drums; on the right, Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard, with Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. This one, like so much of the new jazz, was an opinion divider: Downbeat assigned it to two reviewers, of whom gave it five stars and the other, no stars.

Dolphy was well into the world of jazz by this album; it was a newer experience for Booker Little, but Dolphy hadn't picked him capriciously: he heard something.

The session begins with two Parker tributes: one to Charlie, one to his mother, both composed by Jaki Byard, who had also been with Dolphy on his debut album for Prestige from the previous April. "Ode to Charlie Parker" has a dirgelike quality at the head, but the soloists break free from that, each in his own way. Dolphy, playing flute, is certainly the freest. Little's solo comes next, and it gives the jazz listener who's grown up with bebop more reference points to hold onto, but it's still in keeping with Dolphy. Byard takes the third solo, and I love what he's doing too. One might say he keeps the melody a little more in mind, but then, it's his melody. When they come back to the head, it still starts with the dirge-like statement, but then, still playing it, they rise above it to a kind of exaltation, almost like the brass bands returning from a New Orleans jazz funeral. How's that for a cross-cultural reference? But that is what it feels like.

For whatever reason, Parker's mother gets the more uptempo, boppish tune. Dolphy plays bass clarinet on this one, but we don't get to him right away. The first solo goes to Little, and it'll make your head spin, for both its passion and its virtuosity. Byard keeps it up, and then Dolphy comes in and blows the roof off. This is a sound that can take you back to 1960, to the realization that the jazz torch is being passed to a new generation, and you're here to bear witness to it, and marvel at it, and if you listen closely, to tell yourself yes, this is the way it has to go.

Ron Carter dazzles with a bowed bass solo, and the number finishes with some ensemble playing that makes you rethink everything you ever thought you knew about playing together.

From there, they go into "It's Magic," a syrupy romantic ballad that was a favorite of crooners, not so much of jazz instrumentalists. In fact, this was probably the first jazz treatment of it, and there have precious few since. Little starts out with a surprisingly straight version of the melody, and then--well, you could say it's the standard bebop small group structure: head, solo, solo, solo, head. And why not? Not everyone agreed with John Lewis that jazz had to break free from that template. Musicians like Dolphy, Byard and Little were here to prove you could break free within that template. As they come back to an almost, but not quite, straightforward statement of the melody, still somewhat syrupy but not the way Little plays it, you know you've been taken a far cry from Doris Day and her Latin lover who introduced the song in a forgotten 1948 movie.

"It's Magic" featured Dolphy again on bass clarinet, and so does "Serene," a Dolphy composition that didn't make it onto the LP but was added to the CD reissue. "Serene" is the kind of title that jazz musicians often give to workouts that are anything but. However, in this case, there is a certain serenity to the tone, at least as serene as a group of avant garde musicians who are pushing limits can get. Little seems to keep taking more chances with each cut, and in this one especially, Dolphy keeps prodding him onward. Dolphy as a bandleader was famous for not giving a lot of verbal instruction to his bandmates, but it's pretty clear from this session that he didn't need to.

"Miss Ann" is a Dolphy composition which hasn't quite become a standard but has gotten its share of adherents and has been recorded several times over the years. "Far Cry" is the final Dolphy original. He plays alto sax on both of them, matching the instrumentation of the original Ornette Coleman combo with Don Cherry, but Dolphy and Little are finding their own paths to freedom, abetted by Jaki Byard (Coleman had a pianoless quartet), who is finding his own way, too.

"Left Alone" is Mal Waldron's tribute to Billie Holiday. "Tenderly" is the standard by Walter Gross, with Dolphy alone on alto sax, everyone else dropping out. It's lyrical and disturbing, respectful of the melody and willing to leave it behind at a moment's notice, It's lovely.

Far Cry became the name of the album, which was issued on New Jazz.. Esmond Edwards produced.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon.

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Monday, September 30, 2019

Listening to Prestige 420: Buck Clayton - Buddy Tate

You've heard of swing-to-bop. Well, everything old is new again, and maybe this is bop-to-swing--taking some modern concepts and swinging them hard. And it's American music, right in the heart of it, drawing from blues and swing and rhythm and blues and American song to create a sound that's timeless and modern. As I've said before, these Swingville releases, with swing veterans, are not recreations of the music of the 1930s.

These guys have great swing credentials. Buck Clayton (Basie, Ellington, Goodman, Harry James) and Buddy Tate (Andy Kirk, Basie, Goodman) we've met before on Prestige, and recently.

And great credentials in general. Sir Charles Thompson (knighted by Lester Young) covered swing (Bennie Moten, Clayton, Vic Dickenson), bop (Bird, Miles), rhythm and blues (Lucky Millinder, Earl Bostic), and everything in between (Coleman Hawkins).  He co-composed the jazz standard Robbins Nest with Illinois Jacquet when he worked in the latter's band.

Gene Ramey is a long time between Prestige appearances. In the label's very early days, he played bass on a Stan Getz date. It seems odd now to think of Getz as a Prestige artist, but a lot of the label's early artists were Woody Herman alumni, and Getz filled that bill. He had a similar background to Thompson, moving from Kansas City swing (Walter Page, Jay McShann) to bebop (Bird again, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk) to those great tenor players who seemed to exist out of time (Ben Webster, Hawkins) and, like Thompson, easily moving back and forth, continuing to play with trad ensembles as well as the

Mousie Alexander essentially worked the traditional side of the street, starting out with Jimmy McPartland (who made two 78s for Prestige--Alexander played one of them). He worked almost exclusively with traditional jazzmen (and women, an extensive stint with Marian McPartland), so I had assumed he must be the elder statesman of the bunch, but actually, born in 1922, he was a decade or more younger than the others. He did have one modern gig on his resume, with ultra-modern Lennie Tristano acolyte Lee Konitz.

Three of the tunes on the date are Clayton originals, including a tribute to the jazz Mecca where four of the five had learned their trade, "Kansas City Nights," which features inspired blowing by the two leads, and a lovely solo by Sir Charles Thompson. "When a Woman Loves a Man" is a Johnny Mercer song, and "Thou Swell" a Rodgers and Hart classic. "Can't We Be Friends," which has become a standard for jazz musicians and pop singers alike, is one of the relatively few hit tunes to be written by an investment hanker--all right, probably the only hit tune to be written by an investment banker. Lyricist "Paul James," in his banking life Paul Warburg (and a member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first cabinet), was briefly married to composer Kay Swift, and collaborated with her on this tune.

The album was entitled Buck and Buddy, on Swingville. Esmond Edwards produced.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Listening to Prestige 419: Latin Jazz Quintet

The Latin Jazz Quintet appears not to have been locked into the idea of a set lineup, not even within the same session:two different piano players are used here. And they appear not to have been locked into the notion that a quintet should have five members: Here there six, or seven if you count both piano players. There was a great rhythm and blues/doo wop group of this same era named the "5" Royales, and they, too, were not exactly committed to the idea of being limited to five members, so maybe these guys should have called themselves the Latin Jazz "Quintet," but so it goes. Conguero Juan Amalbert and bassist Bill Ellington, at least so far, seem to be the only constants, appearing on their earlier recordings with Shirley Scott and Eric Dolphy.

Alto sax player Bobby Capers was part of Mongo Santamaria's band, where he played both alto and baritone. His younger sister, pianist Valerie, came onto the scene as a pianist later in the decade, and put together a substantial career. Will Coleman, Bill Ellington and Jose Ricci seem not to have recorded beyond the Latin Jazz Quintet, and I can find no further information about them.

Ernest Phil Newsom was better known, to the extent that he was known at all, as Phil Newsum. And within the confines of the Bronx, he was quite well known. Although he and other Latin music-loving African- Americans met with resistance from some in the Latino community, they became very much a part of the Bronx Latin music scene (the lineup of the Latin Jazz Quintet is evidence of that), and it was a vibrant and thriving musical hot spot. “There was all this intermingling of musicians,” Newsum told an interviewer for the Bronx Historical Society. “I don’t think African-Americans are as involved with this now.” African American and Puerto Rican singers came together in Harlem, too, and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were the result. An amazing treasure trove of oral histories of Black and Latin music in the Bronx can be found at Fordham University's Bronx African American History Project. Newsum also recorded with Sabu Martinez.

Two of the hottest spots for Bronx Latin jazz were club 845, at 845 Prospect Street in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, and the Blue Morocco on Boston Road. A New York Times article by Manny Fernandez, recalls a
Sunday afternoon in March 1946, [when] you could have stepped into Club 845 -- admission $1.25, plus tax -- and danced to a goateed, bespectacled trumpet player named Dizzy Gillespie.
And later, in the late 1950s, the Latin Jazz Quintet's Arthur Jenkins played piano at the Blue Morocco, accompanying two African American singers--first Irene Reid, who had already made a solid name for herself but had not cracked the supper club big time of Ella Fitzgerald. The Blue Morocco's second chanteuse of the era was Nancy Wilson, who was discovered there.

The one breakout career from the Latin Jazz Quintet belonged to Arthur Jenkins, who made his recording debut here on one track (which ended up on the cutting room floor), but who was the full time piano man when the six-man quintet next gathered in May of 1961. After his stint at the Blue Morocco, and his recording debut with Amalbert, Jenkins went on to a career that touched a lot of bases. He spent nine years with pop-reggae-soul star Johnny Nash, and while working with him in Jamaica, also participated in recording Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.  He recorded, toured with, and arranged music for Harry Belafonte. He had a hand in hit recordings in the disco field (Van McCoy's "The Hustle") and cool jazz (Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers).

And as a result of being recruited to work on Yoko Ono's album Feeling the Space, he came to the attention of John Lennon. He played on Lennon's Mind Games album and on all his subsequent projects.

He worked in the Broadway theater, on commercials, and made two solo albums of jazz keyboards, which are worth a listen if you can find them. I love running across these stories of the under-the-radar lives in the music business.

The session included two originals (by Amalbert? not sure). two pop standards ("Summertime" and "Blue Moon") and two jazz standards ("Red Top" and "Round Midnight"). They're very percussion-focused, with Will Coleman's vibes the chief melody instrument. Bobby Capers's alto sax is much more sparingly used.

This and a subsequent Latin Jazz Quintet session each became part of two LPs--one on Prestige entitled Latin Soul, and the other on a short-lived Prestige budget imprint, Tru-Sound. That one was called Hot Sauce and the ensemble was billed as Juan Amalbert's Latin Jazz Quintet.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon.

And Vol. 4 is very close to completion. Watch for it!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs