Saturday, January 20, 2018

Listening to Prestige 303: Mal Waldron

Left Alone (Bethehem) and Impressions were the two albums that Mal Waldron made in 1959 to commemorate his two-year association with Billie Holiday, who would enter the hospital for her final illness on May 31, and die on July 17. Left Alone was recorded on February 24, Impressions on March 20.

Holiday's death was famously chronicled in Frank O'Hara's poem, "The Day Lady Died," in which O'Hara recalls a moment at the Five Spot when:

She whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing
The memory of the song, and the moment that took O'Hara's breath away comes back to him the news of Holiday's literal last breath. But in the poem, that transcendent moment reaches Mal Waldron first, before it spreads to everyone else in the club and finally to O'Hara, leaning on the door to the john. An perhaps more than that. To Waldron, her closest collaborator in art at that moment, and through him to Lester Young, her soulmate in art, dead just a handful of weeks earlier, and to all artists touched by art as perhaps no one else can be, and then to everyone in the club, and then to everyone, touched and moved and changed by art being in the world whether they know it or not, whether they care or not, whether they've heard of Billie Holiday or not, and finally to Frank O'Hara, who can only record that she stopped breathing on an ordinary day, and stopped breathing because for a moment her artistry made the universe stand still.

In O'Hara's poem, Mal Waldron is the conduit, and as his two-year-association with Billie Holiday drew to a close, Waldron was thinking, musically, about that that meant.

Both Left Alone and Impressions are unique as tribute albums in that they don't, on the surface, have very much to with the artist they're paying tribute to. Left Alone has one song, "You Don;t Know What Love Is," associated with Holiday. Impressions has three songs that were written for vocalists, but only one of them, "All the Way," was recorded by her, on her strings album with Ry Ellis, but surely that song would fit more comfortably onto a Frank Sinatra tribute album.

Trumpeter Webster Young recorded a Holiday tribute album that was all songs she had made famous,  but Waldron's approach really makes as much sense. Jazz is jazz. Once Young has played the melody of "Don't Explain," he's off into his own improvisation, and the version quickly becomes his.

Waldron is thinking about what he's learned from his two years with Holiday, and in fact one track of Left Alone is Teddy Charles interviewing Waldron about precisely that.

One thing, Waldron stresses in the interview, is that he learned from Holiday to listen to the words. This is advice passed down to the younger musician from an older one, with Holiday as the conduit: Lester Young said that he always had the words to a song in his mind when he played. I've always wondered if this could also be retrofitted--did Lester think of King Pleasure's lyrics to "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid," written to his solo, when he played it?

A bit of transient whimsy, but interesting to consider in that Waldron was one of the best composers of his era, and as such played a lot of original material that had no words. But I have to believe that Holiday's influence was strong here, too: the way that she listened to, and sang, and created musical patterns for words.

Three of the pieces on Impressions are a suite: "Les Champs Elysées," "C'est Formidable," and "Ciao," inspired by a European tour that he and Holiday took together. You can actually hear the spectre of lyrics in "Ciao," the frenzied conversations, trying to get everything in before departing for America. Waldron would return to Europe to live, after losing a few years to a heroin overdose triggering a near-total mental breakdown, and he would often say in interviews that if Holiday had been able to make the break to expatriate living, it could have added years to her life.

The other non-original songs that Waldron includes on Impressions are "With a Song in Heart" by Rodgers and Hart, and "You Stepped Out of a Dream" by Nacio Herb Brown and Gus Kahn. "All About Us" is credited to Elaine Waldron, Mal's wife. She's received composer credit on his work before, and it may be some sort of publishing thing.

When John Coltrane came back to New York from Philadelphia, clean and sober and ready to record again, one of the players he brought with him was drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, who stayed in the Big Apple and returns to Prestige here.

As of this blog entry, "Tootie" is still with us, and he talked about jazz then and now in a recent interview:
 I come from an era where...“jazz” was not considered a music that was sophisticated. It was always happening in some place where everybody was drunk, the room was full of smoke, and it wasn’t on the concert stage.

Once jazz was presented on the concert stage and introduced to festivals all over the world, the people that play it don’t necessarily represent people from my era anymore because we’ve died out.

I consider myself one of those people who came from the area where the blues was important and the RnB was important, and church gospel music was important. It’s not a part of what people call “jazz” anymore. People ignore that, they are not intellectual forms of music. That is not taught at the universities, they don’t teach you nothing about no blues. How to play an 8 bar or 12 bar blues, they don’t teach you that at the universities.

They teach you about sequences and how to go from this kind of change to that kind of change. We didn’t even know what that was, most of us.

Duke Ellington said, “one foot in the future, and one foot in blues would make the music unique.”
I started this project partly on a whim, partly out of the realization that this was an important era in American culture, and the idea that I could maybe get a sense of the totality of it through looking at one record label. Prestige because I thought it had been a little overlooked in jazz history, and because it was such an important part of my early jazz record collecting.

Bob Weinstock said that he sold the label in 1971 in part because the jazz he loved was no longer the jazz that was being made. Choosing Prestige meant starting to look at jazz in 1949, which is good because there's no right date, and this way the choice was made for me.

The music of these two decades was made by musicians born in the teens, in the 20s, the 30s, the 40s--musicians who matured and made their mark in the heart of the American Century in Music, that unparalleled artistic flourishing that came from the blues and developed in so many astounding ways. Maybe jazz, building from " the area where the blues was important and the RnB was important, and church gospel music was important," is the fullest expression of that music. Not the best, because there is no best, but the fullest, and the music that so many who started in more basic forms aspired to.

There are lots of reasons why the American Century wound down, or maybe just one reason. Because things do. No one is composing baroque music any more, or writing Elizabethan drama. That doesn't make the interpretive art of a Yo-Yo Ma or an Ian McKellen any less wonderful. But maybe "Tootie" has his finger on it.

There's another explanation, and that is that I'm wrong. That the Duke is right, and we still have one foot in the blues, and the other in the future. That "Tootie" got old, and I got old, and it's natural for us to live in the past.

Impressions was released on New Jazz. In spite of being hailed at the time as Waldron's best work to date, it seems to have never made it over, in whole or part, to a Prestige release.




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, January 19, 2018

Listening to Prestige 304: Coleman Hawkins

As Prestige roars into its tenth anniversary year, new ideas are taking shape, and everything old is new again. The 19-year-old who as a youngster had gone out with his father collecting traditional jazz 78s by the bushel, who had experienced the epiphany of Thelonious Monk and begun a new label to become an apostle of bebop, was 29 now, and looking around at the music scene on the cusp of a new decade.

Ten years as president of a record label will also give you new ideas about marketing, and as 1959 rolled on, Bob Weinstock was preparing to unleash three new subsidiary labels, Moodsville, Swingville and Bluesville.

These were not the "budget" labels that a lot of record labels put out in those days: LPs that were repackagings of earlier recordings, or masters that had been bought up from defunct labels. The budget labels were cheaply pressed and cheaply packaged, and were a way that companies tried to squeeze a few last nickels out of music that they probably weren't going to see a payday any other way. It's not widely known, but in 1977 RCA Victor was planning a massive budget rerelease of the music of one of its declining stars, Elvis Presley. That, of course, was the year that Elvis achieved true immortality by dying, and RCA changed its plans in a hurry.

New Jazz was sort of a budget label for Prestige, although its catalog feature some of Prestige's best artist doing some of their best work. The London Jazz Collector notes that some New Jazz titles:
 are sometimes marred by “hissy vinyl”, due to the raw vinylite being bulked up with recycled vinyl (containing minute detritus and fragments of paper label, which the stylus picks up as a continuous hiss) . Some pressings are ok, others have the dreaded hiss throughout, sometimes minor, on  other copies quite prominent. There is no consistency – even the same title can be found with hissy copies and not hissy copies. Perhaps it all depended on whether the vinylite stock delivered to the XYZ pressing plant that week had been bulked up with recycled vinyl or not. I have not encountered the problem with any other labels than Prestige, and does not occur with pre-Bergenfield [Prestige moved from New York City to Bergenfield, NJ, in the mid-1960s] label pressings or those from Abbey Manufacturing, so the finger points to reckless cost-cutting or dubious quality at some plants.
But for the most part, New Jazz records had pretty good quality control. Status was the real budget label, and even there, according to the London Jazz Collector, it's
difficult to see what was budget apart from saving on ink, providing minimal information saved nothing, but made it look budget. Working in Marketing in the Seventies, the big fear was always “cannibalisation”. You wanted all the sales you could get at the premium price, and extra sales at the budget price, without losing the one to the other. Extra effort was incurred to make things look less attractive. More marketing genius from Weinstock.
Swingville, Bluesville and Moodsville do not appear to have been budget labels at all. There's a lengthy discussion of this question online at the Organissimo jazz forum, and Chris Albertson, jazz historian and producer of many a Prestige session, weighs in with this:
I really don't think there was any serious marketing decision involved in the creation of the Bluesville, Swingville, Moodsville, etc. series. Remember, these were not stand-alone subsidiary labels--it was always Prestige Moodsville, Prestige Swingville, etc. I don't recall if the pricing was different--if so, that may have been a factor. As a dj when these first came out, and later as a Prestige employee, I never thought of them as anything but Prestige albums with a series name.
Sometimes I think that consumers/collectors make more out of such details than the facts call for. When I produced a session, it was a Prestige session--whether it came out on Prestige, Prestige Bluesville or Prestige Swingville, made no difference.
If Bob Weinstock was, as the London Jazz Collector suggests, a marketing genius, perhaps he was also by this time pretty savvy about accounting, and maybe there was a tax advantage to these subsidiary labels.

Or maybe it was just about the music. I'll deal with Bluesville and Moodsville later, but Weinstock, who had grown up on swing, and whose Times Square offices were still within hailing distance of the Metropole, was already assembling quite a collection swing era veterans, to the extent that he could have created a whole new line of Prestige All Stars or Prestige Blues Swingers. Because All Stars these gents certainly were, starting with one of the all stars of all of jazz history, Coleman Hawkins, who is gracing the ten-year-anniversary halls of Prestige and the Van Gelder Studio with his larger than life presence. And here, joined by:
  • Charlie Shavers, 42 years old, first recruited by Prestige for the February 20 Hal Singer session. Swing credentials include Tommy Dorsey, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Jazz at the Philharmonic, Count Basie, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, Budd Johnson, and his own band with Terry Gibbs and Louis Bellson. He is the composer of  "Undecided," which had its origin in a tune that Shavers liked enough to send off to his publishers. They liked it too, and asked for a title. Shavers was trying to decide between  a couple of catchy titles, but hadn't made up his mind yet, so he wrote "Undecided." The publishers immediately sent it off to lyricist Leo Robin, and the rest is history--and some 200 recordings.
  • Ray Bryant, the kid of the group at 28, but a kid who felt perfectly at home sitting in with the old guys at the Metropole in the afternoon, then heading downtown to play with the moderns in the evening.
  • Tiny Grimes, 43, veteran of three earlier Prestige sessions, including a swinging soirée with J. C. Higginbotham, would be a Swingville staple. Played with Slam Stewart, Art Tatum, Billie Holiday. He had a hit with a swing version of the Scottish folk song "Loch Lomond." On the strength of that, he organized  Tiny Grimes and his Rocking Highlanders, which featured Red Prysock until Red quit because he refused to wear a kilt.
  • George Duvivier, 39, made his mark with the Shirley Scott and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis sessions, but his first Prestige gig had been two years earlier, with Gil Melle, of all people. He played with Lucky Millinder, Cab Calloway, Louis Bellson, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Anita O’Day, and lots of moderns too. Pretty nearly everyone.
  • Osie Johnson, 36, played with Earl Hines, Zoot Sims, Dinah Washington, Paul Gonsalves. He first hit Prestige in 1955 with Bennie Green, and stuck around over the next four years to back up Barbara Lea, Tiny Grimes and J. C. Higginbotham, 
Coleman Hawkins was 55 when he stepped the studio with this aggregation and in the middle of yet another career renaissance.

So what are these Swingville all stars playing? It’s nothing that you would have heard from a Benny Goodman radio broadcast on a Saturday night high atop the Rainbow Room. It’s nothing like the jump, jive and wail you would have heard from an old Louis Prima record or from a contemporary group like the Stray Cats when swing music and swing dancing had a renaissance among the kids in the 1990s. This is small group jazz from New York musicians in the 1950s, guys who have been around long enough to remember when jazz was dance music, but who know that today’s listeners want to hear inventive solos that’ll take them someplace new. You’d go to a Swingville album, as the label established itself, to hear music that would give you a certain traditional feel, but would also give you the modern jazz you’d come to expect from Prestige.

Coleman Hawkins, the architect of the saxophone sound in jazz, the guy who played with Fletcher Henderson, who gave new meaning to the improvised jazz solo with “Body and Soul,” who played with Dizzy on 52nd Street, who was still playing, the amalgam of everything he ever knew, was the perfect choice to build a new label around. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that signing the Hawk to Prestige was what gave Weinstock the idea for Swingville.

Hawk Eyes' first release was on Prestige, but it soon became one of Swingville's early releases.








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, January 15, 2018

Listening to Prestige 302: Phil Woods

Phil Woods is back for a Prestige session after a couple of years absence, and this will be his last session for Prestige. In fact, for someone who is remembered as one of the most prolific jazz recording artists of all time, he did very little recording for most of the 1960s. So it’s a shame that this session was put on the shelf, and never actually released until the late 1960s, by which time he was back on the recording scene again,with a pace that never slackened.

It’s a shame because it’s a wonderful recording, and also because it’s a rather unusual group of musicians.

Dick Hyman, who is recognized as one of the masters of jazz piano (quite literally: he was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2017),and who rivals Phil Woods for a prolific catalog, did very little recording in the widely preferred small group setting. He could play anything, and did. He played tribute albums in the style of everyone from Jelly Roll Morton to Thelonious Monk. He worked extensively in radio and television, including stints as musical director for Arthur Godfrey and Sing Along With Mitch, two gigs you might not want on your resume if you were trying to show how hip you were, but Hyman didn’t care much about that. However, another one of his TV gigs was as the piano player on Charlie Parker’s only television appearance. In 1955, he recorded “Moritat: Theme from the Threepenny Opera,” and his mournful instrumental version sold a million copies, making it the most successful recorded version of the tune until Bobby Darin swung it, with Doc Severinsen on trumpet, as “Mack the Knife.”

Hyman had done another small group recording for Prestige in 1956, backing vocalist Barbara Lea, under the pseudonym Richard Lowman (he was under contract to MGM at the time).

Howard McGhee is one of the premiere bebop trumpeters. When Charlie Parker made his ill-fated West Coast tour in 1945, McGhee was one of the few artists who understood him and were able to play with him.

Because of McGhees 1946-47 sessions with Parker, I’d always thought of him as a West Coast musician, but in fact he spent very little time on the West Coast. Addiction problems meant that he didn’t work or record much in the 1959s, but his career would have a renaissance in the 1960s.

With McGhee, Teddy Kotick and Roy Haynes, who can play some bebop, and Dick Hyman, who can play anything, there’s some terrific music here, none of which I can share with you on Listen to One, because no one has put it up on YouTube.  This may have been Kotick’s last New York recording session, with the exception of one he did with Helen Merrill in the mid-1960s. Here’s a poem I wrote about him (recently published in the online journal Verse-Virtual):


TEDDY KOTICK

I deliver the mail

in Needham Mass

middle aged white

guy in blue shorts

Fridays I drive

three hours to Albany

bass in the back

play for the door

back to the route where

everyone knows me

even the dogs

who sniff at my ankles

but no one

would know what it meant

if someone told them

I’d played with Bird


It’s a short session: four songs, the kind you used to see when they were still making 78s. When it was finally released, it made up side of an LP. The other side was a session with Jimmy Ramey--actually a Jimmy Ramey ssesion--from 1954. it had been released on New Jazz and on the odd formats they
were experimenting with back then: 16 2/3, 45 RPM EPs.

This album was released as Early Quintets, and the cover art suggests even earlier quintets than they actually are: it looks like something from the early days of LPs, back in 1952. Makes you wonder about the marketing: did Weinstock expect people to see it in the bins and say, "Wow! Phil Woods from back in the day! Wonder how I missed this?"

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, January 13, 2018

Listening to Prestige 301: Arnett Cobb

If you’ve got that soulful, bluesy sound on the tenor sax, and you want to make a record in 1959, you’re going to need an organ.

You’re not going to be able to get Jimmy Smith. He’s way too big, way too much in demand. And he's signed to Blue Note. Shirley Scott’s made a bunch of recordings for your label, but she’s not available either. And your old pal Wild Bill Davis, who just sat in on your debut album for your new label, was just passing through and is out for this one.

So who you gonna call?


Or...this being 1959, and a jazz organist being what you require, here’s a better question: Where you gonna call?

Philadelphia!!!

It's amazing how one city can be so much the hot center of the newest craze to be sweeping jazz. Jimmy Smith took up the Hammond B-3 because its tones were generated electronically, so unlike the piano, it never went out of tune. This can be a big deal for a keyboard player who's on the road a lot, playing Lord knows what instrument in Lord knows what state of repair.

What keyboard instruments have in common is that if you press down one key you get a note, and if you press down a few keys at the same time, you get a chord. Beyond that, not much. So Smith, with his Hammond B-3 organ, really had to create a whole new sound, and the sound that he created inspired a generation of keyboard players.

Shirley Scott was one of the first. and we've listened to her exploration of the whole range of the two 61-key keyboards on the Hammond, and the excitement of finding new voicings and new sounds. But she would not be the only one. Jimmy McGriff, a Philadelphia cop, gave up walking his beat for a different beat, studied with Smith, and went on to make his own mark. Richard "Groove" Holmes was another. Charles Earland followed him, as did a second generation Philadelphia organist, "Papa John" deFrancesco's son Joey.

Philadelphia and the organ go even farther back. Bill Doggett was from Philadelphia, as was Doc Bagby, jazz veteran who hit the rhythm and blues charts with "Dumplin's." And many more who may not have left town, but continued to play the Philly jazz clubs and give the city its rich organ heritage.

One such was the gentleman who for decades needed only to be known in his home town, and up and down Catherine Street,  as "Mitchell at the Hammond Organ," but when he made the two hour drive to Hackensack, New Jersey, to be the organ guy on Arnett Cobb's second Prestige recording, he used his full name, Austin Mitchell.

There's no typical sax-organ sound, any more than there's a typical sax-trumpet sound. Austin Mitchell is very much influenced by Jimmy Smith, but he's his own man, too. And here's something that particularly interested me, in listening to this session. Mitchell for most of his professional career was an organ trio guy, leading his own groups around Philadelphia. But with Arnett Cobb, though his solos are consistently interesting and inventive, I found myself particularly interested in the work he did behind Cobb when Cobb was soloing. Never intrusive, but always important. In every Cobb solo, from the sensitive ballad work in "Ghost of a Chance" to the rhythm and bluesy honking on "Smooth Sailing," to the melodic ("Charmaine"), to the uptempo beboppery of "Let's Split," to the blues ("Blues at Dusk"), Mitchell is enriching, deepening, going from comp to counterpoint at just the right moment.

Buster Cooper has been on one previous Prestige session, the first Prestige Blues-Swingers, which was essentially a big band session, so this is his first small group recording. Not every trombonist, especially those who have thrived in a big band setting, is going to be a bebop virtuoso. Cooper is more the old school, playing with gusto, with humor, with that down home dirty blues sound.


After listening to a few sessions of what George Duvivier can do with this sort of music, you really wouldn't want anyone else playing bass for you. Cobb and producer Esmond Edwards agree, and Edwards has let Rudy Van Gelder know that he wants the listener to hear what Duvivier is doing, Duvivier also contributes one original composition ("Cobb's Mob").

Osie Johnson takes Arthur Edgehill's accustomed seat behind the drums, and he does just fine. Johnson was one of the drummers that Prestige would call on for its bluesy sessions, and with good reason.

Smooth Sailing was the name of the album, and the title tune plus "Ghost of a Chance" were the 45 RPM release.

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, January 12, 2018

Listening to Prestige 300: Hal Singer

Hal Singer had his moment in the sun in 1948 when his 78 RPM single, "Corn Bread," went to Number One on the rhythm and blues charts, or rather the Race Records chart, because Billboard didn't start using the appellation "Rhythm and Blues" until 1949. "Corn Bread" has a solid blues riff, builds on it with energy and humor and some clever interplay between Singer's saxophone and a trombone. The two work closer and closer together on an improvisation that gets wilder and more intense. It would have been great to dance to. It still is. And of course, it was ignored by the jazz critical establishment, hiosters and moldy figs alike. It wasn't abstract like Lee Konitz. It didn't swing like Harry James. And it didn't have real jazz musicians playing.

No identification of individual musicians on the Savoy record label, as was common with R&B, because no one was reviewing them or writing think pieces about them. But we know who they were. The trombone was Milt Larkin. Wynton Kelly was on piano, Franklin Skeete bass, Heywood Jackson, drums. Jazz enough for you?

"Corn Bread" wasn't all that Singer wanted to do. He said in an interview years later that the thing he was most proud of about the recording was giving Wynton Kelly his first chance on record. That, and that it led to his joining the Duke Ellington band a few years later, so the Duke knew jazz where he heard it.

Singer's followup, "Beef Stew," went nowhere, and so did his career, for a while. He still had work (a beloved Number One hit will do that for you), but he couldn't recapture the magic on a few more singles for Savoy and some smaller labels.

By the time of the Prestige session he had joined the Ellington Orchestra and left it to work with his own  small groups again--a tough decision, but maybe the right one.

This was his first ever booking to make a whole LP record. He was teamed with another jazz veteran, Charlie Shavers. The two were about the same age, Shavers 42 and Singer 40. They had similar backgrounds, although Shavers had always managed to stay on the respectable side of the swing/rhythm and blues divide, playing with Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday and Jazz at the Philharmonic.

He was always in demand. His 1950s had been marked by recordings with Louis Bellson, Coleman Hawkins, Count Basie, Woody Herman, and Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich (together).

This session includes one standard ("With a Song in My Heart") and a bunch of originals. You can hear stylistic difference between Singer and Shavers--rhythm and blues and swing are not exactly the same--but the mesh together to create an exciting and organic music.

The difference between record like "Corn Bread" and a record like "Blue Stomping" -- "Corn Bread" is three minutes long. That's a little long for a 78 RPM record, but it's within the limits, which is how you made a record in 1948. And as a result, it's essentially an extended saxophone solo. There's nothing in it that would confuse or slow down a dancer.

"Blue Stomping" is Hal Singer stretching out to LP length, at six and a half minutes, so the full-out excitement of "Corn Bread" is there, but now it's part of a larger picture, with solos traded off between Shavers and Singer, not so much ensemble work, and a piano solo by Ray Bryant, including some give and take with Wendell Marshall and Osie Johnson, which you would not hear in a rhythm and blues recording, or a swing record either, for that matter.

Shavers died in 1971, within days of his friend Louis Armstrong; his last request was that his mouthpiece be buried atop Armstrong's coffin.

Singer's career was revived with this session. He would make one more record with Prestige. Then not long after, on a European tour, he would become yet another jazzman to fall under the spell of Paris skies. He stayed there, becoming an important part of the European jazz scene. He was awarded the title of Chevalier and later Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, along with T. S. Eliot, Audrey Hepburn and Marcel Marceau, and of course, this being France, Jerry Lewis.

This album was released as Blue Stompin' on Prestige, and was a later Swingville rerelease. The title track became a two-sided 45.

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, January 06, 2018

Listening to Prestige 299: Mose Allison 

I wonder if Bob Weinstock didn’t exactly know what to do with vocalists. In a late interview, looking back at his career, he mentions in passing that vocals were always the records that sold best, and he gives King Pleasure and H-Bomb Ferguson as examples. But he only produced one session with Ferguson, and only released one 78 from that session. 

His history with Pleasure is perplexing. “Moody’s Mood” was one of his biggest hits, but he didn’t make an effort to get behind Pleasure’s career. The “Moody’s Mood” session consisted of a band led by Teacho Wiltshire, playing some instrumentals and backing a couple of singers—Pleasure happened to be one of them.

And OK, he may not have known Pleasure was something special going into the session, but he surely knew coming out of it, especially as “Moody’s Mood” began to climb the charts, eventually reaching number two in rhythm and blues. But Weinstock’s next session with him was listed in the session log as the “Charlie Ferguson Quintet,” and it was mostly an instrumental session, with Pleasure called in to do a couple of vocals.

Obviously Weinstock knew he had something good with “Moody’s Mood” (it’s hard not to noice when your record reaches number two on the charts) because he ran into the young Annie Ross at a party and asked her if she could do something like it. She came back the next day with two classics, “Twisted” and “Farmer’s Market,” But that was the only session he ever booked with her. When the LP era came into its own, and jazz labels were re-releasing collections of their old 78s, Prestige did not have enough of either Pleasure or Ross to make a full 12-inch LP.

And what about the two young female vocalists that Pleasure brought in with him to help out—Blossom Dearie on “Moody’s Mood” and Betty Carter on “Red Top”? Didn’t he see the promise there?

This is not really a criticism. If Weinstock had focused on following the hits, Prestige would have been a very different, and likely much less interesting, label.

And how does this connect to Mose Allison? I’m not sure, really. Allison had a long and brilliant career in a field he almost invented for himself: jazz singer/songwriter. He could be called a cult favorite. If that term has negative connotations for you, then he wasn’t. If it has positive connotations, he was. His albums were never huge sellers, and I don’t believe he ever scored very high on Down Beat’s male vocalist poll. But the people who loved him, loved him passionately.

I loved him, and passionately, from the first time I heard Back Country Suite. But the most passionate fandom probably came from the later singer/songwriter work. So why wasn’t he exploring this side of his talent in his early Prestige albums? Or for that matter, in his Columbia albums? He really didn’t become the quirky, funky, literate troubadour until he began with Atlantic in 1962. Was it Weinstock’s limited vision when it came to the possibilities of jazz vocals, or an unwillingness to mess with a formula that was working pretty well? Or did it really take Allison another five years to find that voice? Could be.

  In any event, vocals were always a part of what Allison did on Prestige, and the vocals were the ones that Weinstock released on 45. And Weinstock certainly liked what he was doing enough to bring him back over and over. We have five albums over two years, and people are still listening to them, even though they’ve been somewhat eclipsed by the later work, and the Mose Allison Sings double LP compilation is by far his best seller on Prestige.

There are three vocal tracks on Autumn Song. Two are Chicago blues, one is Ellington. All become Allison.

“That’s Alright” was written by Muddy Waters’ guitar player Jimmy Rogers. Recorded by Rogers in 1950, it became a hit for Little Junior Parker in 1957, and has since become a beloved blues standard. Rogers, who retired from the music business right around the time that Parker’s version of “That’s Alright” was breaking, would mount a comeback in the 1970s, and shortly before he died in 1997 would record his own cover of his own song, with Eric Clapton.


It’s not hard to see the continuing appeal of the song, the bittersweet aching loss of a lover who insists that everything is all right, and forgives his faithless lover. Allison’s wry reserve only deepens the emotion.

Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind” is another blues that’s gone on to become a classic, this one with an unusual twist.

Williamson recorded “Eyesight to the Blind” in 1951, and a doowop cover version by the Larks came out the same year on the Apollo label, making a a strong showing on the R&B charts. The Larks put another Williamson song, “Fattening Frogs for Snakes,” on the flip side. One can tell just from these two titles how imaginative Williamson was as a songwriter, and that had to appeal to Allison. In his version of “Eyesight,” he picks up the tempo and gives it his own crisp piano styling.

The unusual twist to “Eyesight to the Blind”? The Who’s Pete Townshend, always an Allison fan, took the lyric, created his own melody, and  made the song a part of his rock opera Tommy, about a deaf, dumb and blind kid. He gave Williamson full credit for the composition.

If there was ever a lyric suited to Allison’s fine-tuned sense of irony, it’s Bob Russell’s “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” to a tune by Duke Ellington, in which a lover vows his fidelity to his distant partner while more or less admitting that he’s fooling around on her. From the plaintive melody of Rogers’s betrayed lover to the Ellington sophistication of Bob Russell’s cad, Allison gets an opportunity to show his range.

Allison’s final Prestige album was released as Autumn Song. “Do Nothin’ Till You Heat From Me” was the first single release from the session, as the flip side of “Seventh Son.” It would be followed by “That’s All Right” / “Eyesight to the Blind.”  Then there’d be the three albums for Columbia (the third on Epic) before the long association with Atlantic, where his first album included “I Don’t Worry About a Thing” and “Your Mind is on Vacation.” Whether he had only just started writing this way, or whether the Ertegun brothers saw a side of him that had always been there, and encouraged him to express it, who knows?

But we’re grateful for what we have. Bob Weinstock might not have realized that Miles Davis could be a superstar I f he put together an identifiable quintet and created a brand, but because of that, we have all those fascinating recordings of Miles in different contexts. And the Allison albums on Prestige give us Mose the important composer-piano player, with a little trumpet, a little singing. We can only be grateful.


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



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Monday, January 01, 2018

Listening to Prestige 298: The Prestige Blues-Swingers

This is mostly a new edition of the Prestige Blues-Swingers from the previous August. Jerome Richardson, Pepper Adams and Ray Bryant are back, and perhaps most importantly arranger Jerry Valentine, the central figure behind both dates. This time, Valentine is given Coleman Hawkins to work with, which has to be a good thing.

One would think Hawkins would be most closely associated with the 1920s, when he changed jazz irrevocably by making the tenor saxophone a jazz instrument, or the 1930s when he changed improvisation irrevocably with his 1939 recording of “Body and Soul.”

But then you’d have to take into account the 1940s, when a new revolution swept jazz, leaving earlier innovators like Hawkins in its wake, except that it didn’t. Hawk led a group on 52nd Street with Monk, Miles Davis, Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach, and led a group with Dizzy Gillespie in what many consider to be the first bebop recording, in 1944.

But Hawk never slowed down, and the 1950s were probably his most prolific recording decade. It’s hard to keep track, but in 1958 and 1959 alone he appeared on close to twenty albums as leader, and several more as sideman. Everyone wanted to play with Hawkins. And a couple of lesser known names are getting their chance here.

The LA Times obituary for Walter Bolden, who died in 2002, was entitled “Drummer Played With Jazz Greats,” and there are certainly worse ways to be remembered.

Here’s how that started. Sometimes a touring musician will go it on his own, generally for economic reasons, and work a date with local musicians. That was the case in 1950 when Stan Getz played a club date in Hartford, which was home to the Hartt School of Music, so Getz could count on getting some competent guys. But if Getz was planning on saving money by not hiring a band, economy gave way to the chance to snatch up some very good players. He left town with a drummer, Walter Bolden, and a piano player, Horace Silver. When he got back to New York, he used them on a couple of recording sessions for Roost.

Bolden may not have gone on to have the impact that Horace Silver did, but he stayed in New York and became a solid go-to drummer, recording with Gerry Mulligan, J. J. Johnson, Junior Mande, Howard McGhee and others. He toured with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and ultimately returned home, where he took a place on the faculty of the University of Hartford.

23-year-old Roy Gaines’s is strangely omitted from the session log as posted on the always-reliable jazzdisco web page. But there's definitely a guitar on the session, and it's definitely Gaines. He's listed on a couple of other sources. And a German reissue of the album gives leader credit to Hawkins-Bryant-Gaines.

Gaines had been playing professionally since his mid-teens, When admiration for T-Bone Walker had led him to leave Texas for the West Coast, where he found work in the touring bands of Roy Milton and Chuck Willis, and some gigs with his idol, Walker. He probably played on Willis's 1952 recording of "Loud Mouth Lucy," because he would cover the song on his own in 1956.

The thirty years between the early 1950s and the early 1980s are the history of the unsung working musician, which is to say no history at all, but he apparently did spend some time up and down the East Coast. "Loud Mouth Lucy" was recorded for Miami-based Chart Records, and 1958 seems to have found him in New York recording for "Skippy is a Sissy" for RCA Victor, which had some minor success. His later blues albums are terrific, but so are the 50s R&B records, and must have played a gig somewhere to catch the ear of Jerry Valentine, who was certainly looking for a blues sound for this session. In 1982 the one-nighters and smoky rooms finally paid off for him, as he got a recording contract for a traditional blues album, and he went on to record several more through the end of the millennium and into the next, winning a W. C. Handy Award and the Living Blues Comeback of the Year Award. One of his albums, fittingly, was a tribute to T-Bone Walker.


Valentine has chosen an interesting group of tunes for the session. There are two of his own, “Stasch” and “Skrouk.”

There are three blues tunes, each generally associated a vocalist, and three very different sorts of vocalists. Well, “Since I Fell For You,” with its sweet, bluesy, romantic melody, has proved a natural for almost every kind of vocalist. Originally written by bandleader Buddy Johnson for his sister Ella, it’s been recorded by jazz singers (Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Morgana King, Arthur Prysock, Shirley Horn), pop singers (Doris Day, Jack Jones, Eydie Gorme), doowoppers (the Harptones, the Spaniels, the Dells), rhythm and blues singers (Lloyd Price, Wilbert Harrison), soul singers (the Righteous Brothers, Fontella Bass, Barbara Lewis, Barbara George, Aaron Neville), country singers (Ketty Lester, Con Hunley, Willie Nelson). It’s been recorded over 200 times.

“Roll ‘em Pete” and “My Babe” are each associated with only one version: The former with Big Joe Turner’s vocal over Pete Johnson's boogie woogie piano, and the latter Little Walter's harmonica-and-vocal treatment of a song by Willie Dixon, one of the great blues songwriters, for Chess Records.

Hawkins gives the crooner treatment to “Since I Fell For You,” and it’s beautiful. Valentine gives a little more bite to the ensemble sections, and there are brief solos by all concerned. They’re all good, and all can’t help but remind one that in a really important sense, all modern improvisation comes from Coleman Hawkins and “Body and Soul.” This is still true in 1959, and will be until the free boys take over, which they're starting to.

Nobody is going to do what Big Joe Turner did with “Roll ‘em Pete,” but Jerry Valentine takes it back to Kansas City. Hawkins knows how to do that: he was there. And Valentine was close: his first important arranging gig was with Earl Hines. The Hawk shows everything he learned back then, and everything he’s learned since. And we can stop to appreciate what a perfect choice Ray Bryant is for this session. He can play anything, including an updated but pulsing take on Pete Johnson’s riffs.

Roy Gaines’s web page concentrates on his post-1980s work, and this session isn’t mentioned. You’d think he’d be prouder of it, but probably his web page was built by young guys. At any rate, he delivers a solo on “Roll ‘em Pete” that should, yet again one more once, clinch the argument as to whether rhythm and blues is jazz.

And Gaines’s solo on “Roll ‘em Pete” is his strongest and most personal, although you’d think that “My Babe,” from the guitar-dominated Chess Records library, might have been the one. But Valentine writes a real big band arrangement for “My Babe,” and Gaines plays a Charlie Christian-influenced solo.

 Valentine’s own two tunes are big band swing, as well. If you name your compositions “Stasch” and “Skrouk,”you’re probably not expecting them to have a long shelf life, but they’re good tunes.

"Trust  in Me," the one tune from the standards repertoire, was written by Jean Schwartz, already a veteran ("Trust in Me" would be one of his last) and Ned Wever. It was originally recorded in 1937 by Wayne King, the Waltz King (although a fox trot), and almost immediately covered by Mildred Bailey, setting up a schmaltz-hip dichotomy that would endure, with the likes of Eddie Fisher in one camp, and Louis Jordan, Clyde McPhatter and Thelonious Monk in the other, not to mention Beyoncé and Rolling Stone Bill Wyman.

Wever was better known as an actor than a composer, starring on radio as Dick Tracy and Bulldog Drummond. Jerome Richardson walks right down that street like Bulldog Drummond in thie recording, and so does Ray Bryant.

Bob Weinstock was gearing up to start his Moodsville and Swingville subsidiary labels by the end of the year, and Stasch, credited to the Prestige Blues Swingers featuring Coleman Hawkins, was one of their first Swingville releases, in 1960. It would later be released as part of a Prestige CD package (Prestige as a subsidiary of Concord) called Coleman Hawkins--Bean and the Boys.



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