Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Prestige was famous for not doing too many takes, but they must have really breezed through these tunes, because they got seven done in one session. Perhaps it made a difference that they're mostly Wallington originals ("I Married an Angel" is Rodgers and Hart, "Ours" is Leonard Feather), so he was familiar with the material. And it was less complicated, perhaps, with only three instruments and basically only one soloist, but good jazz is never uncomplicated.
Still, the floor belongs to Wallington here, because that's the kind of music it is--a setting for Wallington's stylish piano. No real space for Max Roach to stretch out, and Curly Russell never soloed.
And I wonder if that's part of the reason Russell's star started to fade. He would play one more session with Wallington, and a few more sessions on other labels, but by the mid-50s he was mostly gone from the jazz scene and into rhythm and blues, and then he retired from music altogether. The role of the bass was changing. Charles Mingus, of course, was in a category all his own: leader, composer, soloist. But other virtuoso bass players like Paul Chambers and Ray Brown were also changing the role of the instrument, making it more melodic, taking solo space.
Was this partly because recording techniques were changing, and the bass could be picked up better? Could be. And the mechanisms for playing music were changing, too. The long playing record made longer cuts possible, with more room for a variety of solos. And sound reproduction was better. I remember when I got my first high-fi record player, and a set of good--not great--speakers. The first album I put on was Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, the famous Mulligan experiment with a pianoless quartet. And I was entranced. Wow...I could hear all the instruments! I could hear what Larry Bunker and Chico Hamilton were doing, all the way through.
In this session, you actually can hear what Curly Russell is doing. Max Roach less so, but you know he's there, providing the rhythmic propulsion and complexity for Wallington's virtuoso work.
These were released on a 10-inch LP, and then on much later reissues.
Monday, February 23, 2015
A ballad session with Miles Davis and a group of great musicians. What more is there to say? There's a quote from Miles somewhere, which I can't find, to the effect that what he loved most was playing ballads, and he would have been happy to spend his whole life playing them. Which, of course, is why he couldn't. Miles had a restless, searching genius which was never about being happy or comfortable.
When I lived in New York in the late 70s, WKCR, the Columbia Univeraity station, did a week-long Miles Davis marathon, in which they played everything that Miles had ever recorded, in chronological order. I made it my business to stay home and listen to all of it, so you can see that this blog isn't the first crazy jazz-related thing I've ever done. I didn't totally succeed -- I'm not that crazy -- but my girl friend at the time, who'd been out of town, came back in the middle of the week and called me, and I told her she could come over if she wanted to, but that I was preoccupied.
So...I didn't listen to all of it, but I listened to enough that I got a real sense of Miles's progression. I felt like I could understand how bebop with Bird led to the Nonet sessions to the quintet to Kind of Blue to Filles de Kilimanjaro to On the Corner to Big Fun, and I could understand how he had to do all of it, even if I wasn't going to listen to Big Fun as often as I listened to Dig or Relaxin'.
And I could listen to this session many times, which of course I have, because that's how I'm doing this blog, immersing myself in each session, but I could listen to it many times more. Miles playing ballads, a Benny Carter tune and three originals, with a group of great musicians. "Tune Up" is credited to Miles, "Miles Ahead" to Miles and Gil Evans, "Smooch" to Miles and Charles Mingus. Mingus appears on "Smooch," replacing John Lewis on piano rather than Percy Heath on bass. Lewis is on the first three cuts, Heath and Max Roach on all four.
Bob Weinstock, in an interview, talked about those early Miles sessions:
So, our basic idea was just to make records with different people, to record with the best people around. That's what we did until the end, when he had the quintet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. But everything up to that point developed from where we would sit down and talk about it. Miles would mention who was in town, who he would like to record with. I'd say who I'd like to hear him record with.
Yes, I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for those cpnversations. Fly on the wall? Hell, I would have loved to be a part of the,. "Hey, Miles and Bob, why don't we get..."
These were released on singles, on an EP, and as part of a 10-inch LP. And of course, in many reissue packages.
The LP cover is by David X. Young.
The LP cover is by David X. Young.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Have you noticed that the fun has gone out of names in the jazz world? No more bop-punning titles like "Flight of the Bopple Bee." No more group names like "J. J. Johnson's Boppers" or "Terry Gibbs New Jazz Pirates" (oh...Terry and the Pirates. I just got it!) Now if anyone even thought of calling this group "Billy Taylor and his Mambo Maniacs" ... but no. Nobody did.
Billy Taylor was a good choice for Prestige's latest mambo jazz entry. There's the fact that he could play anything, from bop to swing and all points in between. More to the point, much of his early background had been Latin, with Candido and Mario Bauza.
It's very hard to find any of this album to listen to on the Internet. Spotify nothing, although Taylor's later Latin work is represented. YouTube is better. I found one track -- "Early Morning Mambo" -- on a site called Office Naps, which has a whole page on Prestige and Latin jazz, and it's a very good page, although the guy does stoop to giving the inevitable backhanded compliment to Bob Weinstock (Prestige "operated on a dizzyingly prolific schedule, occasionally at the expense of quality and fidelity"). He also mildly chastises Prestige for its commercial aspirations:
Prestige Records had an eye attuned to commercial markets from the start, perhaps more than any other jazz-oriented label in its day, with many bop singles issued, a handful of them – including sides by King Pleasure (“Moody’s Mood for Love,” 1952), Stan Getz (“Four and One More,” 1949), Sonny Stitt (“All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm,” 1949) and Annie Ross (“Twisted,” 1952) – achieving some modest chart success.Come on. In the first place, commercial success is not a bad thing. It was a healthy thing for American popular music that great jazz of the bebop era made the charts. In the second place, this
Anyway, thanks to Office Naps for some good information, and most of all for "Early Morning Mambo," and the cover art.
These four sides were released as two singles, and as an EP. Once again, all great stuff. I suppose if I were stuck on a desert island and could only take one, I'd go with "Mambo Azul" (below, from YouTube). Hard to choose, though.
A little disagreement on the personnel. The Japanese site jazzdisco.org, which I'm using as my Bible for this whole project, lists the three percussionists as Chico Guerrero, Jose Mangual, and Ubaldo Nieto (bongos, congas). The YouTube uploader credits the group as "Billy Taylor Trio with Machito's Rhythm Section," and lists the three percussionists as Joe Mangual (Bongos), Uba Nieto (Timbales ), Machito (Maracas ). Looks as though the YouTube guy was right. a faded 45 RPM lists Mangual Nieto, and "Chicho" on maracas (undoubtedly Chicho was a cousin of Charlie Chan and Sven Coolson). The record label and the EP cover omit both "Trio" and "Sextet" and simply go with Billy Taylor Mambos.
Friday, February 20, 2015
Hall Overton is back, with his other protege, Jimmy Raney, but a session with Stan Getz on it is going to be a Stan Getz session. Still, not quite like any other Stan Getz session. Do the avant-garde leanings of Raney and Overton pull Getz a little farther out into left field? I think so. He's lyrical as only he can be, but he's edgier, too.
This is an incredibly interesting session. It has the structure of a bebop blowing session, but a different dynamic. Or maybe that's not so. Maybe bebop had a lot more flexibility, a lot more nuance, a lot more room for growth than a lot of people gave it credit for. Maybe this wasn't the death throes of bebop that so many back then were predicting, and that so many since then have taken as an article of faith. Maybe this was bebop. Listen to Hall Overton's solo in "Lee." He's soloing in the bebop tradition, taking it to some strange but logical places, trading some great stuff with bassist Red Mitchell, then setting up Getz to take it out.
I've listened to this one a lot, and every time I listen, I appreciate more and more how these musicians worked with each other. Only in jazz, and maybe especially in the jazz of this era, do you find this kind of collective experimentation, and at this high level, and with this expectation of success. Putting Stan Getz together with Jimmy Raney and Hall Overton is more than just throwing a bunch of stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. It's an inspiration.
The songs are "Round Midnight" and three Raney compositions. I had thought that "Lee" might have been a tribute to Konitz, but it's named after Raney's wife.
It's damned hard, even in the age of Google, to track down composer credits for jazz tunes, unless you happen to have the record in front of you. My ability to give credit has been, and will be, spotty at best.
New to Prestige, and perhaps new to recording -- I haven't found anything earlier -- are Red Mitchell and Frank Isola, although they had been playing and making significant names for themselves since the late forties.
Mitchell came to New York in 1948, just out of the army, and was to leave for the West Coast not long after this recording, where he made most of his career, and where he became an important innovator, tuning his bass in fifths -- the tuning used on a violin or cello -- instead of the conventional fourths. He would later join the expatriate jazz community in Stockholm.
There's a great chapter on Frank Isola, who came to New York around the same time as Mitchell, but didn't stay in the jazz world for long, in a book called Fifties Jazz Talk by Gordon Jack (Scarecrow Press). I would love to have a copy of it, but it costs 50 bucks, so it's on my gift list. Meanwhile, it is excerpted at Google Books, so we can get part of the story. We know Isola walked away from the jazz scene in 1957, after having established an important reputation as a modern jazz drummer. He worked a lot with Stan Getz, which may explain his presence on this session, and was involved in some important Prestige recordings, so we'll see him again.
In 1942, at age 17, he won the Detroit division of a national Gene Krupa drumming contest, and would have gone on to the finals in New York, if he hadn't been disqualified as an amateur for having joined the union. Had he gone, he would have given stiff competition to the eventual winner of the contest -- Louis Bellson.
He seems to have made a number of recordings that didn't quite happen, before the Prestige date. He was with a group including Don Lanphere and Teddy Kotick that backed up Babs Gonzalez on a demo for Capitol. Babs got the contract, but they didn't use the group. He made some sides with Lanphere and Herb Geller for a nascent label that never got off the ground. And in 1950, he acompanied Charlie Parker on a private session that was recorded, but I can't find a record of its having been released.
Just as he was getting ready to leave the music biz behind in the late 50s, he got a call from the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, wanting to hire him. His response: "No, thanks. Tell Tommy I'm not in a sentimental mood."
These sessions -- Raney's first as leader -- seem not to have been released as singles. Strange if true, given Stan Getz's popularity, but then his name wasn't on them. They came out on an album called Jimmy Raney Plays, with cover art by David X. Young of the Hall Overton / W. Eugene Smith jazz loft fame, one of the first Prestige albums to take cover art seriously.
Today, they're most available because of Getz, appearing on a reissue package called Early Stan.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Others tried different approaches,and in the early '50s, in what was coming to be known as the poat-bebop era, perhaps the most influential sound of a group that was larger than a sextet was the Miles Davis nonet, which I know I keep coming back to, but you can't help it. And although there were several arrangers for the Birth of the Cool sessions, including John Lewis, who take his search for the new sound in a different direction, perhaps the most influential were two of the greatest arrangers jazz has ever produced: Gerry Mulligan and Gil Evans.
So it's hard to hear a group of this size without thinking of the nonet, and ruminating on what they took from that seminal sould. Joe Holiday, of course, had taken jazz in his own direction, back toward dance music, with his mambo jazz, but this was different. He was coming back toward the mainstream, and although the general public didn't know it yet, that mainstream was flowing from the Royal Roost in 1948, and the records that Ira Gitler described as "the sound heard 'round the world," that were still four years away from being released on an LP by Capitol. I loved the Joe Holiday mambo stuff, but it's easy to see why any jazz musician would want to try putting together this sort of small big band. I hear an Evans influence more than Mulligan in these arrangements.
An octet is an ambitious undertaking, the more so when you remember Bob Weinstock's prohibition on rehearsal time. You have to be be pretty good to hold it together, and Holiday proves himself pretty good, especially when you consider the disparate group of musicians he put together.
It helps to start with Max Roach, the consummate drummer of the era, and a mainstay of many a Prestige recording session. And one of the fathers of bebop.
John Acea was of Cuban ancestry, but not a mambo man. He was born in Philadelphia, and grew up in that city's musical scene. He was gifted on nearly every, but settled on piano after he got out of the army, and played on a wide range of sessions, behind vocalists from Dinah Washington to Patti Page, with jazz groups from Cootie Williams to Zoot Sims. He was one of those guys you're glad to get for a session.
I can't find much on Franklin Skeete, but he was on the scene. There's a Lester Young session with Horace Silver and Connie Kay, a session with Cecil Payne. They're earlier, and it could be that after this session he sort of faded out of the scene.
Payne played up and down the sax scale, but when he settled on baritone, he became one of the leading boppers on the instrument. He was essentially a child of the bebop era, getting his start with J. J. Johnson and Dizzy Gillespie, although he did play a stint with Roy Eldridge, and made some hot R&B sides (with Franklin Skeete) for Decca in 1949.
Idris Sulieman was one of the first jazz musician/Islam converts, with Art Blakey (Abdullah Ibn Buhaina) being the most famous. His early credits show the range in a jazzman's life: studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music, then got his first professional experience with the Carolina Cotton Pickers. Like Cecil Payne, he came up in the bebop era of the 40s, became an important figure in the hard bop era of the 50s. Like Payne, he is treasured by jazz enthusiasts, not really known to the casual listener.
Earle Warren (misspelled on the session list) was from a different source altogether. He was a longtime member of the Basie band, and played some rock and roll with Alan Freed.
So how indebted is Joe Holiday to the Birth of the Cool nonet? I think a lot, especially in the two ballad numbers, "And Now it is Love" and "My Funny Valentine," in their exploration of the tonal and textural possibilities of a medium sized band. I confess I was a little disappointed on first listening not to hear more mambo jazz, and I responded more to the uptempo numbers, "Cotton Candy" and "Martha's Harp." But on repeated listenings, the ballads grew on me, and the disappointment fled.
These came out on 78, 45, and 45/EP; not in album form till many years later, in the reissue days.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Why Teddy Charles? Why expand to the West Coast? Probably because the jazz world was small and close-knit, and people did things because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Probably because Weinstock liked Charles, and Charles had mentioned that he'd love to go out to California. The other alternative is that Weinstock thought it through carefully, and said to himself, "I know! I'll take the most avant-garde musician I can find, and send him out to California! After all, look how well that worked seven years ago, the last time the most advanced musician of his day went out to California!"
In this case, unlike Charlie Parker's ill-fated West Coast debut at Billy Berg's, the world was probably ready for this incarnation of Teddy Charles, and Charles could hardly have put together a better group of West Coasters--including one musician who'd recorded with Bird during that West Coast sojourn, after Parker had relaxed at Camarillo.
This would be Wardell Gray's last recording session for Prestige. Two years later he was dead, his body found alongside a highway several miles outside of Las Vegas. It's quite possible -- probable -- that he was murdered, but the viciously racist Vegas of the 50s, no one cared. There was no investigation.
But this was an active period in Gray's life, and since we're saying goodbye in this blog to one of my favorite jazz artists, let's look at some of the recording gigs he made in the last part of '52 and '53, for an idea of his range and versatility.
- A gig with Dexter Gordon, his partner on the famous "The Chase" recording.
- A live recording at The Haig with Art Farmer, Hampton Hawes and Shelley Manne,
- A Shorty Rogers big band concert at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, with June Christy on vocals, and a band that included Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Gerry Mulligan, and Hampton Hawes. 21 songs were recorded on an Ampex reel to reel by Rogers's wife, and according to the Wardell Gray web page, they have only recently been released on 2 CDs available only to members of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute. A couple more dates with Baker, Pepper, Mulligan and Hawes were recorded during the fall. One has been issued but is, according to the website, of poor quality; the other unissued. It would have been a treat to follow that band around.
- A four-song date for Norman Granz with a Louis Bellson big band, including Harry "Sweets" Edison, Maynard Ferguson, Benny Carter and Barney Kessel.
- A Norman Granz jam session which included Benny Carter, Sweets Edison, Buddy DeFranco, Stan Getz, Count Basie, Freddie Green and Buddy Rich.
- A Little Willie Littlefield R&B date for Federal.
- A Billy Eckstine session for MGM, with an orchestra that included Gray and Harry "Sweets" Edison.
A line that has stuck in my head for years: Annie Ross, in her vocalese rendition of Art Farmer-composed, Wardell Gray-influenced "Farmer's Market," sends her heroine from the sticks and her crew-cut cat with the crazy goatee off "touring the country with Wardell Gray." Somewhere, in some better place, they are still touring.
Back to Teddy Charles.
This was Frank Morgan's first recording session.
Most of Morgan's career took place late in his life, after he had finally overcome more than 30 years of addiction, Between his first arrest in 1955 and his final release from prison in 1986, he spent much of his time behind bars, and pretty much all of it in the clutches of heroin. And his late career was such a productive one, it's pretty much overshadowed his brief early days, including his very early days.
I had known that Morgan, like every alto player of his generation, was deeply influenced by Charlie Parker, but I hadn't known that he was actually a protege of Bird's. At age seven, his guitar playing father (sometime accompanist for the Ink Spots) had already started him on guitar, but when they went to hear Jay McShann's orchestra play in Detroit, and he heard Charlie Parker play the alto, that was all he wanted to do in life.
Not many 7-year-olds have that kind of epiphany, but even fewer have the followup. As a musician with some reputation, Stanley Morgan was able to go backstage with his son, where little Frank was introduced to Charlie Parker, and where Bird took an immediate interest in the boy. He arranged to meet him at a music store the next day, and picked out an instrument for him--a clarinet, as better suited to develop a 7-year-old's embouchure. He and Parker remained in touch.
Morgan was precocious in more ways than one. When he was 14, and living with his grandmother in Milwaukee, he was caught smoking pot,and sent to live with his father in Los Angeles -- presumably because his grandmother felt she couldn't handle him, not because LA was thought to be a more drug-free environment. There, he immediately was thrown into jam sessions with the likes of Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon, and age 15 was offered Johnny Hodges's spot in Duke Ellington's Orchestra, but his father decided he was too young to be touring with a band, For the next several years, his credentials are stellar. And in 1955, the same year Charlie Parker died, the 22-year-old's career was shut down.
This may have been a tough session for Teddy Charles to put together. Wardell Gray was sinking into addiction, after resisting it for a long time. 20-year-old Frank Morgan and 22-year-old Sonny Clark were already addicted. Morgan finally overcame it; Clark never did. Ten years later he was dead. The Paris Review, in 2011, ran a two-part profile of Clark which is beautiful, devastating, and complete, so I'll refer you to it.
And move on to the music, which is inspired. Who knows what Bob Weinstock had in mind when he sent Teddy Charles out to Los Angeles, but what he got was a meld of talent and style between New York's most intellectual and avant-garde stylist this side of Lennie Tristano, and the West Coast's equally intellectual but earthy and crowd-pleasing giant of the tenor sax. The cover of their 45 RPM EP is posed, of course, but the way it shows all of them gathered around Charles, discussing a point of music, rings true.
I love all the songs on this session, but let me linger for a bit on "The Man I Love." I have a special weakness for bebop treatments of ballads from the Great American Songbook, and this one is no exception. Sonny Clark starts it off with a dense and moody piano intro, heavy on the sustain pedal, Wardell Gray comes in on top with an emotional statement of the melody, and then Teddy Charles comes in, under the piano at first, then above the piano but under the sax, then the two of them, Gray and Charles, improvising in tandem, one or the other of them taking the lead, or neither of them, with the tempo increasing, until it's time for a very young alto player, his head and heart full of Charlie Parker, to come an joyously take us into heart of Bebop Nation. There's no restatement of theme at the end--the tempo and the mood have gone too far beyond the aching plea for Mr. Right to come along. These guys are Mr. Right.
I could listen to this all day. In fact, I did. For the last couple of days.
"So Long Broadway" was released as a single b/w a tune from a later West Coast session. All four tunes came out on a 45 RPM EP, and later on the Wardell Gray Memorial LP, Much later -- 2006 -- all the Teddy Charles California sessions were gathered on an CD, Adventures in California, but not issued by Prestige.
Monday, February 09, 2015
Instead, they brought in singers like Billy Valentine, who was good in the Charles Brown, although not quite Charles Brown (and the demand for Brown's style of music was fading by 1953). Valentine's records, like so many of Prestige's vocal blues albums, faded into obscurity.
Then, this session with Eddie Jefferson. Jefferson is by any measure a giant of modern jazz. He invented vocalese. He wrote many songs that have become classics, including "Moody's Mood for Love."
This session of duets with otherwise unknown vocalist Irv Taylor yielded one single -- "Stop Talkin', Start Walkin' / Strictly Instrumental" on both 78 and 45. The other songs weren't released till much later, on a compilation album called The Bebop Singers.
Jefferson would record more for Prestige, but this one wouldn't make much of a mark. I was only able to listen to "Strictly Instrumental," which shows Jefferson's brilliance in all sorts of ways. First, how about his choice of material? There's a certain sauciness, not to say chutzpah, in choosing to put lyrics to a song called "Strictly Instrumental." And what an interesting choice! Instead of going with Miles, or Bird, or Kenton, or whoever had the hot modern jazz record out at the time, he chose a swing-era tune by Jimmie Lunceford, vocalesed it, bebopped it, and turned into what certainly should be a bebop vocal classic. Second, who's Irv Taylor? I don't know. Google doesn't know. Probably not many people around today do know. But Eddie Jefferson knew, and he was right. Their voices mesh wonderfully in what has to be a two-voice arrangement.
Again, the vocalist is given less than A-list musicians, but as we know, New York has never lacked for talent. I once interviewed Valery Pomonarev, and asked him what surprised him most when he first came to New York. He said that of course he knew about the greats like Art Blakey and Bobby Timmons, but he was absolutely floored by the number of brilliant, talented, dedicated musicians that no one had ever heard of. There's a sax solo on this number by Seldon Powell, primarily an R&B player who'd worked with Tab Smth and Lucky Millinder,. Later, in the 60s, when soul jazz became a hot sound, he worked with jazz leaders like Clark Terry and Lou Donaldson. He's given solo space here, and is completely satisfying.