In a jazz ensemble, the instruments are so different from each other, and they have so many ways of interacting. Improvisation opens up the possibilities exponentially, and because the different members of the group are given space to improvise, the time it takes to play a given piece is variable, as Miles Davis found out when John Coltrane started playing his extended solos. This makes it strikingly different from a composed piece. Terry Riley's In C plays with that boundary. It is entirely composed. There are 53 separate musical phrases, and each instrument--it's written for an indeterminate number of instruments--is instructed to play each figure, in order, from beginning to end, but they don't have to start together, and each one can repeat each figure as many times as he or she chooses before going on to the next one. Still, duration is not much of a variable in most composed pieces. Even John Cage's 4'33", which involves silence, is written to last four minutes and 33 seconds.
So I'm in the car alone, my favorite way of listening to Prestige, and I've lined up the Jerome Richardson session, and "Caravan" comes on, the Duke Ellington-Juan Tizol warhorse, which has been recorded over 350 times, not always by jazz groups--sometimes just for its exotic melody. That makes it, like "Taboo" which we've recently heard recorded by both Yusef Lateef and Dorothy Ashby, just a little bit suspect: will it fall into the clichés of exotica? Which makes me particularly interested in listening to it. And this being the car, with me driving, I can't refer to the session notes, and I haven't really looked at them. I know that Richardson has Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, since brass always comes first in the personnel listing, but that's all.
It starts with a faint, exotic but not at all clichéd rhythm on the ride cymbal, but then the bass enters with the first strong voice, and it's a repeated but unnerving figure, no less unnerving when the piano joins in. Richardson enters, playing the melody, but he's distant, behind the bass and piano. So the first all-out solo goes to Jimmy Cleveland, improvising, and then it's Richardson again, out front this time, playing the melody again, sort of haunting, sort of mocking, sort of appreciative, and then they're off into uncharted territory, with Richardson beginning an extended solo, and now we're about three minutes into the piece, and we're just getting started, so this will be, yes, of indeterminate length, and the melody will be left in the desert dust. A lengthy Cleveland solo is next, followed by...what's this? Kenny Burrell? He's on this session too?
Well, yeah, since this is the Jerome Richardson Sextet, I should have remembered that there would be a third front line instrument. So we have flute, trombone guitar. not your everyday lineup, which brings me back to what I was saying about the different permutations of sound in a small jazz ensemble. The standard Bird-and-Diz quintet lineup of trumpet and saxophone is endlessly varied enough in the hands of jazz masters, but this group is very hip, and it's an instrumental lineup you don't hear that often--and it's varied even more when Richardson switches to tenor sax.. Which brings me back to duration as a unique function of jazz's uniqueness, especially in the LP era. With room for six different soloists to stretch out and create their own take on not only the melody and chord structure, but also the solos that have come before them, this version runs close to eleven minutes. A 1950s rock and roll version by steel guitar duo Santo and Johnny basically plays the melody, and clocks in and two and a half minutes. A pop instrumental by Gordon Jenkins, strictly playing the melody, is even shorter.
The rest of the group is Hank Jones on piano, Joe Benjamin on bass, and Charlie Persip on drums. Benjamin, never very far from the front, comes back after Kenny Burrell, and then there's an extended drum solo that captures the exotica of...well, of exotica, the complexity of bebop, and the excitement of a great drummer doing an extended drum solo.
We've heard Jimmy Cleveland before, with Art Farmer septets a couple of times, and as part of Gil Evans' tentet. Here he gets a more featured role, which is all to the good, particularly on "Way In Blues." Which reminds me to give a tip of the hat to another Prestige alumnus, Bennie Green, a great trombone bluesman, who would record through the 1960s on various labels, then settle in Las Vegas and hotel bands. Cleveland was one of those guys who could play with everyone, from blues (Ruth Brown) to soul (James Brown) to soul jazz (Cannonball Adderley) to big bands to bop.
Hank Jones accompanied vocalist Earl Coleman on a couple of Prestige albums, and played with Curtis Fuller on another. He'd be back for several more appearances on the label, but that was a tiny part of his prodigious output as leader and sideman over seven decades, with multiple honors including the National Medal of Arts two years before his death in 2010. He also has a unique credit for a jazzman: he accompanied Marilyn Monroe on her legendary performance of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President."
in 1954, the same year that Mercury had her record "Make Yourself Comfortable," with a syrupy orchestra led by Hugo Peretti. This was the beginning of Mercury's project to make Vaughan into a commercial success by recording insipid pop songs with insipid arrangements. "Make Yourself Comfortable" is a clever song, and she sings it wonderfully, but come on. Is this really the best way to utilize Sarah Vaughan? It worked, for what they were trying to do. "Broken Hearted Melody," in 1959, which Vaughan regarded as the worst record she had ever made, was her biggest seller.
Fortunately, they did also let her record for EmArcy, their jazz subsidiary, where she did the great Clifford Brown sessions, and the ones with Joe Benjamin. But I digress.
This is actually the second member of Sarah's trio to appear on a Prestige session in the fall of 1958. Roy (drumroll) Haynes (drumroll) had been on the Dorothy Ashby date just three weeks earlier. I wonder when John Malachi will show up? But I continue to digress.
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.
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.