Saturday, July 04, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 129: Billy Taylor

I may be forgetting something, but I think this is the first live album we've seen from Prestige. There was a Wardell Gray session recorded at the Bluebird, but never released.

The Billy Taylor trio is without regular drummer Charlie Smith. Percy Brice, the drummer on this session, did do quite a bit of work with Taylor.

We're starting to see the the generation of musicians who were born in the mid-Thirties, the Depression babies like Paul Chambers, on a more and more sessions, but Percy Brice is an old-timer, born in 1923, and already a veteran of a lot of jazz. A solid professional, he can be heard in this short interview, where he talks about following Max Roach as the drummer in Benny Carter's band. He played with a wide range of musicians, from Carter to George Shearing to Herbie Mann, and vocalists including Sarah Vaughan and Carmen MacRae, and especially Harry Belafonte, who he worked with for eight years.

Jazz in a concert hall was still a relatively rare phenomenon, and this set by Taylor was part of a larger program of jazz for that evening. For Taylor, one of the best things about was that he was able to play a 9-foot concert grand piano, which was not the standard fare for his club dates.

Taylor must have known that his Town Hall audience was going to want to hear some standards, so he mostly sticks with them. His one original on this set, "Theodora," fits right in with tunes like "A Foggy Day" and "I'll Remember April." "Theodora," dedicated to his wife, was written on the day of the concert and is basically unrehearsed.

"Sweet Georgia Brown" certainly was in 1954 most closely associated with the Harlem Globetrotters, and maybe still is. It's a staple of trad jazz, not so much of modern (although Charlie Parker recorded it), but Taylor makes it fit right in here. Taylor is mellifluous but always inventive, easy to listen to but definitely not easy listening.

Actually the odd tune out here is "How High the Moon." The others are all song length, three to five minutes. "Moon" tops 13, and features an extended drum solo by Brice. "How High the Moon" is probably most famous, in progressive jazz circles, as being the set of chord changes over which Charlie Parker fashioned "Ornithology."

All but "How High the Moon" were released on a 10-inch LP. The entire set is on the 1957 12-inch release.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 128: King Pleasure/Quincy Jones

Every King Pleasure session leaves me with more questions. How exactly did he fit into Prestige's world? How did he fit into anyone's? He has to have been one of Prestige's bestselling artists, but he seems to have been recorded as an afterthought, generally with a rhythm and blues band. This session is unusual in that he has a fantastic array of A-list musicians backing him up, but it also doesn't seem that it was exactly his session.

And we've seen this before, too. In 1952 there's a session by the Charlie Ferguson Quintet. Ferguson didn't exactly become a household word, even in jazz households, although he put together a fine group, including bassist Peck Morrison. And of the eight songs recorded that day, six of them instrumentals, Prestige only released four, and only two of them were Ferguson instrumentals. The other two that did get released featured a vocalist. Yes, it was King Pleasure, and yes, these two have become jazz classics: "Red Top" (also featuring Betty Carter) and "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid."

So here, again. That session is listed in the Prestige discography as "The Charlie Ferguson Quintet" with King Pleasure. For this one, at least Pleasure gets top billing: King Pleasure with Quincy Jones Band. But again, two cuts with vocals, two without.

This is the fifth of five sessions Pleasure would do for Prestige. They'd be collected in the now-legendary King Pleasure Sings/Annie Ross Sings LP in 1957. By then Pleasure had gone on to record a couple of singles for Aladdin (including a remake of "Moody's Mood for Love"), then Jubilee, HiFi Jazz, and United Artists ("Moody's Mood" again). Then nothing. He died in 1981, pretty much forgotten. I was only able to find one obituary, on a blog called The People vs. Dr. Chilledair, a reprint of a piece the author had written in 1981 for the LA Jazz Dispatch, and it doesn't add much to what we know about his life, which is close to nothing. But he adds this:
Postscript: Years later, after writing this, I encountered the singer’s last drummer, John Gilbert, on the internet. Here is what he wrote on his website: “This picture of me was taken in 1965 by King Pleasure at a service club in North Carolina. He was traveling through that part of the country using local rhythm sections. [Singer] Earl Coleman recommended me to King Pleasure for the gig, and it turned out to be a lasting friendship. I came to California in 1969 and we played some in L.A. until his health failed badly (emphysema). Pleasure stayed with my wife and I for a while in Sherman Oaks, Ca. My son was an infant and he would serenade him to sleep. I was also associated with Earl Coleman at the time. King Pleasure was initially impressed with the fact that I knew all of the words to 'Moody's Mood For Love' and other tunes that he had recorded. He was a sweet man and very helpful to me. Pleasure related to me that the greatest moment in his musical career came in New England. He was at a low point in his life, sitting at the back of a bus when a group of school children boarded the bus and one was chirping out 'Moody's Mood' which was a hit at the time. They had no idea that the figure in the back of the bus was the man himself. He got a big kick out of this and often happily reflected on that moment in time.”
I had wondered if Pleasure was particularly difficult, and maybe no one could stand to have him around for more than two songs at a time. When one thinks about jazz musicians of this era, one can't help but be aware that addiction is a possibility, but I'll never assume that.

Another possibility: maybe he only had so much material. Vocalese isn't exactly like instrumental improvisation. You're basically not improvising at all. You're following someone else's improvisation, so it has to be learned, and it's a little more complicated than learning a couple of verses and a bridge to standard. Plus, you have to write lyrics to that complex and often labyrinthine musical structure. Which also means finding the solo that'll work, and exposure to too much bad vocalese over the years has certainly shown us all that that's not a guarantee. Annie Ross went home one night and came back in the morning with"Twisted," but it's not that easy. Pleasure was a great singer, but he got his start performing an Eddie Jefferson lyric, and maybe putting together a successful vocalese piece didn't come easy to him.

In this case, he had some pretty serious support-- one of the hottest arrangers in the business, and two backup vocalists who were the royal court of the kingdom of vocalese, in Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks. More backing vocals were provided by the Three Riffs, who weren't a group that went on to  stardom, but they were very good (one of them, Joe Seneca, actually did go on to a distinguished career as an actor).

He also had a powerful group of musicians working under Quincy Jones's direction. J. J. and Kai were really hitting their stride as a trombone team. Lucky Thompson probably never quite the recognition he deserved. This may have been 19-year-old Paul Chambers's first recording session.

The resulting songs may never have quite gotten the recognition of Moody's or Parker's moods, but they should have. "Don't Get Scared" is a Stan Getz solo, from a recording made in Sweden with Bengt Halberg and Lars Gullin. The Getz solo is sung by pleasure, the Gullin solo sung (and written) by Jon Hendricks, whose clever vocalese lyrics once earned him the nickname "the James Joyce of Jive."

"I'm Gone" is a Quincy Jones original, and the lyrics are credited to making Pleasure, but the arranged vocal ensemble parts, to the repeated phrase "I'm gone, I'm gone I'm gone I'm gone" are as important as the solo part.

So maybe this was essentially a Quincy Jones session. Jones wasn't exactly a regular in the Prestige stable, though he had done a couple of other arrangements, and he was a rising star, and maybe he brought the vocalists in as part of it, but the vocal tracks weren't all he wanted to do.

Maybe...but the vocal tracks are the ones that are remembered from this session. King Pleasure really was that good, with the right material, and he didn't record all that much.

But the instrumental tracks are worthwhile too. There's some masterful writing and masterful playing. "Funk Junction," which is sort of a continuation of the ideas in "I'm Gone," shows what happens when this same ideas are given to a bunch of talented improvisers. Of particular note is a solo by young Paul Chambers.

"I'm Gone" came out on 78 b/w "You're Crying." "Don't Get Scared" had two different releases--on 78, b/w "Funk Junction," and on 45, b/w "Red Top."

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 127: Kai Winding/J. J. Johnson

If you were going to put together a new quintet in 1954, your reason for doing it would be (a) they were so naturally attuned to each other, or (b) you thought two trombones would be an interesting combination, and who else would you go to?

The answer pretty much has to be (b). Johnson and Winding were not automatically thought of as musically compatible. They were both modernists, but Johnson the more unequivocally modern of the two, the man who had brought the trombone to bebop and bebop to the trumpet.

But...who else would you go to? Neither of them was considered the dominant trombonist of the day. Although by 1954 the beboppers had won the day from the moldy figs, the trombone (like the clarinet) was still mostly considered a swing era instrument. The trombone greats were Kid Ory, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller. And the year-in, year-out poll winner on trombone for the last 5 years had been Bill Harris. But Harris was better known for his work with big band leaders like Benny Goodman and Charlie Ventura, although he had also been with Woody Herman, who was closer to the modern sound. The other trombonist of note at that time was Bennie Green, who had one foot in
the big band camp and one in the moderns'.

And in fact, Ozzie Cadena, a young jazz fan with aspirations to be a producer, who had thought up the two-trombone gimmick, at first wanted to pair Johnson with Green. But Winding and Johnson were the true modernists. Both had played (on different tracks) on the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions. Their approach to the trombone, and to modern jazz, was very different, but each admired the other's work, and in their hands, the two-trombone quintet became much more than a gimmick.

Cadena (who would later become a producer for Prestige) brought the duo to Savoy Records. He recorded them in August of 1954, in the Van Gelder studio, with Billy Bauer, Charles Mingus and Kenny Clarke. The recording was a success, and it led to one of the most celebrated dual-led groups of that time. And it seems that they couldn't wait to do it again. By December, they were back in Hackensack, recording for Prestige, and in between, they recorded a live session at Birdland, which was not to be released until many years later. Bob Weinstock produced the December session.

The tunes here are a mixture of originals and standards. Well, "Dinner for One Please James" was something of a minor standard--it was a 1934 tune that was something of a knockoff of Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets," but it was also a current pop tune, having been recorded in 1953 by Nat "King" Cole. It did have something of a career as a jazz standard, recorded by Dexter Gordon and Branford Marsalis (and, oddly, by Western Swingster Hank Thompson as a country song). "Hip Bones" and "Riviera" are Johnson originals, "Wind Bag" and "Don't Argue" are Winding's. "Bags' Groove," of course, is one of the great jazz standards.

The Jay and Kai version of "Bags' Groove" was also released on 78, as the flip side of "Don't Argue." And on an 45 RPM EP, along with "Don't Argue," "We'll Be Together Again," and "How Long Has This Been Going On?" The other four tunes had their own EP. The entire set was released on a 10-inch LP, and a year later, as part of a 12-inch, 7000-series LP called Kai and Jay, Bennie Green With Strings. This time Kai got first billing, and they'd continue to swap for the time they were together, which was about two years. They parted amicably, because they felt at the time that they'd taken the two-trombone idea as far as was productive, although they would reunite from time to time.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 126: Juan Tirado

Prestige had recorded Joe Holiday and Billy Taylor, separately and together, playing their own fusion of mambo and bebop, but this was their first foray into presenting a strictly Latin ensemble. There are a sprinkling of gringos (including the multitalented Don Elliott) , but this appears to have been a Latin session, aimed at a Latin market. There is one jazz tune in the session, Tirado's version of "Farmer's Market," but even that is given a subtitle, "El Baile del Campesino," or "Peasant Dance." Presumably it would have gone out to Latin markets under the subtitle -- that is, if it had ever gone out at all. "Cha Cheando" and "Shake it Easy" were released on 78 and 45, but the other two were unissued.

Which makes it ironic that the only cut from the session that still seems to exist is one of the unissued ones -- in fact, the very same "Farmer's Market Mambo," which exists on a DJ copy, and can be found on YouTube and on the Office Naps roundup of Latin jazz on Prestige.

There was a brief craze for doing mambo versions of popular standards, including Henry Mancini's jazz theme from Peter Gunn, turned by Jack Costanzo into the "Peter Gunn Mambo," but that all came later, and anyway, although "Peter Gunn" has solid jazz credentials, it was a pop hit as well, so the "Farmer's Market Mambo" may well be unique.

This is the first mambo session on Prestige that does not use a conventional jazz drum kit. All the percussion is on Latin instruments, and the beat is completely Latin. The solos by Don Elliott and Tirado, but especially the Elliott solo, are jazz. There is one other Tirado recording available, "Dorotea" on the primarily R&B Derby label, and it doesn't have the same jazz feel.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 125: Gene Ammons

Gene Ammons is back on Prestige for the first time since his flurry of activity in 1950-51, still with the septet form that seemed to appeal to him, but with a new supporting cast -- no Sonny Stitt, and no Bill Massey, the trumpeter who had been the constant in his earlier groups. But he was back to stay: there may have been no other jazz artist who made as many recordings for Prestige as Ammons. He was one of the only musicians who was still putting out new material after Prestige had been sold to Fantasy in 1972 and become mostly a reissue label.

This session appears divided into two distinct groups. "Sock" and "What I Say" (not the Ray Charles song) are, I'm guessing, Ammons originals, and they are Ammons all the way--the rhythm and blues tone and the bebop phrasing. I'm guessing these were aimed at jukeboxes, and at the new emerging jukebox market. There's a scene in Clint Eastwood's Bird in which a strung-out Charlie Parker stumbles backstage at the Apollo and hears an old competitor out on the stage, blowing a wild, theatrical, Big Jay McNeely-type solo, to wild applause. "What's he doing playing rhythm and blues?" Parker wonders, and the other musicians backstage howl with laughter. "Where you been, Bird? That ain't rhythm and blues. That is rock and roll!"

"Sock" was released on 78 b/w a tune from an early 1955 session called "Blues Roller," and then again on 45 b/w a tune from a later 1955 session called "Rock-Roll." It still looks back to the 40s of Illinois Jacquet and the swing-to-bop purveyors of rhythm and blues, rather than ahead to the rock-and-rolling 50s of tenormen like Red Prysock and Sam "the Man" Taylor. "What I Say" is similar. Both tunes have real excitement and some solid blowing. "What I Say" came out on a 78 with a ballad, "Our Love Is Here To Stay," on the flip side, and this too was characteristic of the era, covering one's commercial bets with a honker on one side and a ballad on the other, just as the early Elvis Presley singles on Sun had an R&B tune one side and a country tune on the other, and many of the urban harmony groups would pair up a ballad and a jump tune.

The other two tunes have to have been aimed at very different jukeboxes. "Count Your Blessings" and "Cara Mia," which were released as two sides of a 78, were both pop tunes of 1954, and neither has exactly gone on to become a standard of any jazzman's repertoire, although Sonny Rollins did record "Count Your Blessings." It was written by Irving Berlin for the Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye movie, White Christmas, the schmaltzy remake of the Crosby/Fred Astaire Holiday Inn. Irving Berlin certainly knew how to write a melody, and this version would go well for an end-of-the-evening slow dance, while still offering some worthwhile Ammons soloing. "Cara Mia" was credited to Tulio Trapani, which was a pseudonym. Actually, the song was written by Mantovani. It was a huge hit in England, and a top ten hit in the US. It's not as good a song as "Count Your Blessings," and I have to wonder if Ammons played it a whole lot in club dates.

The first album release of this session did not come until 1965, as Gene Ammons -- Sock! The album's title strongly suggests that it was aimed more at the traditional Ammons audience than the Ammons/Mantovani audience.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 124: Art Farmer

Art Farmer had a long, distinguished and varied career -- so much so that these sessions on Prestige have recently been reissued under the quasi-dismissive title Early Art. And it's certain that a great career was still ahead of Art. He would co-lead the legendary Jazztet with Benny Golson from 1959-62. He would be the first to popularize the flugelhorn as a jazz instrument, and introduce a new instrument: the flumpet, about which he has said:

 I hate that name, but I’m stuck with it. That was made by a trumpet-maker named David Monette, who makes trumpets for a lot of very fine trumpet players, such as Wynton Marsalis, for instance, and the principal players for the Boston Symphony and the Chicago Symphony and the Chicago Symphony, etcetera.  I asked him to make me a trumpet, and he made it, it was very fine, and I started really working on the trumpet.  Then he got the idea that it didn’t really sound like me, but he wanted to make a flugelhorn for me — so I told him to go ahead and do it.  Then he called up one day, and he said, “Well, I made it very carefully and put every part in order, made it by hand [because everything is made by hand], but it sounds like hell, and I really don’t like it.  But I have another idea.”  So I told him to go ahead and make it.  Then a couple of months later, he called  and said, “it’s ready.”  I went to Chicago, where I was booked, and he brought it on the gig — and right from the start, it sounded like the  answer to my could go one way or the other on it.  You could approximate the warmth of the flugelhorn or you could approximate the projection of the trumpet.  If you really wanted to put a note out there, you could do it, and if you wanted to be more intimate, you could do that also.  So it seemed like what I was looking for.
He would play in a wide variety of settings, from Charles Mingus to Horace Silver to Gerry Mulligan, from the big bands of Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson and George Russell, to sessions with the French composer Edgar Varèse, because of his reputation as a guy who could play anything.

But he was already that guy when he was still Early Art, in 1954. He had started out in high school in LA with schoolmates Hampton Hawes, Sonny Criss, Ernie Andrews, Big Jay McNeely, and Ed Thigpen.* He had played rhythm and blues with Johnny Otis, Kansas City swing with Jay McShann and blues with Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson (his first recording session), and the intergenerational, genre-defying jazz of Benny Carter, before his breakthrough 1952 session with Wardell Gray, the one that introduced "Farmer's Market." He had been part of the Lionel Hampton European tour that brought so many young musicians together.

And the same is true of Wynton Kelly. He's probably best known for his work with Miles Davis (including one track on Kind of Blue) during the same time period that Farmer was with the Jazztet. But Kelly had been playing since his early teens, and had actually been part of a Number One rhythm and blues hit in 1948 -- Hal Singer's "Cornbread."

Addison Farmer, Art's twin, also started young out on the West Coast, playing the house band of the R&B label Modern, and recording a bebop session with Teddy Edwards. When he and Art hooked up for this session, he had taken up residence in New York and studied at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, as well as taking private lessons from New York Philharmonic double bassist Fred Zimmerman.

This session features a lot of standards, though if the definition of a standard is one where everyone knows the melody and can sing along at least a couple of choruses, most of these barely qualify. The one solid classic is Frank Loesser's "I've Never Been in Love Before," from Guys and Dolls, to my mind the greatest musical score ever. Farmer and Kelly take it at a brisker tempo than the many ballad singers who've done it, but they still keep it a ballad, and beautiful.

But the others have attracted jazz musicians before and since -- Charlie Parker recorded "I'll Walk
Alone," Chet Baker and Paul Desmond have each done "Alone Together," and "Autumn Nocturne," by film score composer, has become something of a jazz standard.

All of them, and the one original, "Preamp," give much to love, and give plenty of reasons why this is more than "early Art," or early Wynton, for that matter.

"I'll Walk Alone"/"Autumn Nocturne" were released on 78. The session came out on a 10-inch LP in 1955, and then not again ill the reissue days many years later.

* Funny, that's two straight blog entries, two opposite coasts, two guys right around the same time hanging out with a bunch of kids who would go on to become giants of jazz. In the Monk/Rollins entry we saw the young Art Taylor with Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew and Andy Kirk Jr.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 123 - Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins

This session has Monk and Rollins recording three standards, with bebop veteran Tommy Potter and a young Art Taylor. Taylor would go on to be a mainstay at Prestige, but this was his label debut. He had recorded once for Blue Note, with Bud Powell and George Duvivier, but he had been active on the jazz scene since the late 40s--earlier, if you count his school days in Harlem with Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew and Andy Kirk Jr.

But I started listening to these recordings, and I started thinking about ballads, and jazz.

I've written before about the American Century in music, that great artistic flowering that grew out of the blues, and generated such a profusion of genius in such a range of musical styles.

And many people have written, correctly, about exploitation of black music, black culture, and especially black musicians and composers. Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a brilliant article on the case for reparations -- the argument that

America has prospered off the backs of black people, not just in wealth, but “Our policies, our social safety net, the way we think about housing in this country, social security, the GI Bill — these things would not have been possible unless we made certain compromises with white supremacists, to be perfectly honest about that.”
Sometimes left out of this argument is yet another black creation that may be America's most profound export, and one of its most financially rewarding -- rock and roll. Which is a white expropriation of a black art form.

The economics of American music have mostly flowed one way, from black creators into white pockets. And yes, I know about the empires built by P. Diddy and Jay-Z and Russell Simmons, and more power to them, but they're still the exception, and historically they're a blip. Joseph Smith, who had some success as Sonny Knight in the 50s, as a rhythm and blues performer, later wrote a scathing and underrated novel about the white-dominated music business of his era, The Day the Music Died.

But that. too, is only part of the story. The greatness of American music is in its impurity, its mongrel nature, its ability to reach out, gather in, and blend. Economically, everything may have flowed one way, but musically, there was cross-pollination. While Elvis was covering the songs of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup and Roy Brown, and recording the songs of Otis Blackwell, streetcorner groups from Harlem were finding new ways of interpreting standards like "Sunday Kind of Love" and "Over the Rainbow" and "Glory of Love." Earlier, Louis Armstrong had created a timeless classic from Carmen Lombardo's "Sweethearts on Parade." Jazz connoisseurs have chuckled indulgently over Armstrong's fondness for Guy Lombardo's orchestra, but Armstrong heard something in the Lombardo brothers that the rest of us didn't.

Much has been written about the Great American Songbook, and the songs which have become such a part of the soundtrack of our lives, and certainly those songs stand on their own. But the European tradition of composers like Gershwin was immeasurably enriched by their discovery and appreciation of jazz.

Perhaps the first European composer to fully appreciate this was the Czech Antonin Dvorak, who said:
"In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music. They are pathétic, tender, passionate, melancholy, solemn, religious, bold, merry, gay or what you will. It is music that suits itself to any mood or purpose. There is nothing in the whole range of composition that cannot be supplied with themes from this source. The American musician understands these tunes and they move sentiment in him."
I'd read Dvorak's famous pronouncement before, but I hadn't seen some of the unsurprising responses to it by conservatorians of the day:
 Dr. Dvorak is probably unacquainted with what has already been accomplished in the higher forms of music by composers in America. In my estimation, it is a preposterous idea to say that in future American music will rest upon such an alien foundation as the melodies of a yet largely undeveloped race.

Quaint as those songs may be, it is a poor fountain from which the young American composer could sip his inspirations.
 And, to be fair, those weren't the only responses.
 To the Editor of the Herald: It gives me pleasure to indorse [endorse] the ideas advanced by Antonin Dvorak. I have long felt that Americans have not appreciated the beauty and originality of our native melodies. We possess a mine of folk-song, such as few, if any nation have, and it would be well if our composers should employ those themes in writing their works. In this way we should develop a really American school of music, and find our public would gladly encourage the movement. As it is the treatment of a simple melody which evinces true musicianship, why should not our composers select such airs, instead of going abroad for their ideas?
George Gershwin was probably the first, and probably the greatest composer of his age to be profoundly influenced by jazz. Still, at least until Porgy and Bess, his songs were originally written for and sung by white singers, as were the songs of all the popular composers of the day, the ones writing what became the Great American Songbook.

But nothing lasts forever, or at least nothing lasts forever without changing. Shakespeare changes with each new generation, each new production, each new interpretation. And the songs of Gershwin and Kern and Porter and the rest might not have remained such an important part of American culture if they hadn't become part of the repertoire of black singers, who come from a different musical place, a different cultural awareness. Pop singers like Ethel Waters and Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson. Jazz singers like Billie Holiday and Ella and Sarah, Carmen MacRae, DeeDee Bridgewater, Nnenna Freelon.

But I wonder if people have thought much about the impact of modern jazz on the Great American Songbook. The great jazz improvisers added a whole new dimension to these songs, and I believe, gave them new relevance. Even the Tony Martin or Jerry Vale fan, listening to Miles or Sonny or Phil Woods (or Billy Taylor or Marian McPartland or Errol Garner) go off into an improvisation, and wishing they'd come back to playing the melody -- yeah, even the squares knew that when a great modern jazz musician did play the head, he was bringing something new and strange and wonderful to that melody. The modern jazz players, creating a new music from deep in the black experience, incorporated the songs of European-American composers (and European composers like Debussy). They took, and they gave back.  And that's American music.

Jerome Kern wrote the melody to "The Way You Look Tonight." When he played it for lyricist Dorothy Fields, she cried. There maybe aren't a lot of melodies these days that can make you cry. But it was the age of melody. Great lyricists like Dorothy Fields added something vital to a song, but the composer was king. His name always came first in the song's credits.

"The Way You Look Tonight" was written for Fred Astaire, and if a song is written for Fred Astaire, it's a good bet that it swings, and that it will be a natural for jazz musicians of any school. It's been recorded by Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, by Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck and Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson and Johnny Griffin and Herbie Hancock. And the song crossed another generational and cultural gap when it was  adopted by the streetcorner harmonizers in the style that became known as doowop. Several groups recorded it, including the interracial foursome from Los Angeles, the Jaguars, who transformed it into something different, and something beautiful, in an era when harmony was king.

Interestingly, the beboppers, in mining the Great American Songbook, didn't stop with the Gershwins

and Kerns and the other jazz-influenced composers. They recorded songs by composers who came out of an earlier tradition, who were really from the operetta era, like Sigmund Romberg and Victor Herbert. Vincent Youmans is really of that school, too, and the other two songs from this session are both by Youmans. But Rollins and Monk find gold in them, find the basis for improvisation and innovation and discovery. I can imagine Jerome Kern listening with wonder and admiration to what Monk and Rollins do with his song. It's harder to imagine Youmans having the same reaction.

Monk and Rollins are wonderful collaborators, and they work together by letting good fences make good neighbors. Each gives the other extensive solo space. There's not much in the way of duet voicing, or trading riffs. Tony Martin/Jerry Vale/square though I may be, I think my favorite part of the session is Sonny Rollins's lyrical and imaginative statement of the melody in "The Way You Look Tonight," which is enough to make anyone cry.

This session was first released on a 10-incher which  saw Sonny Rollins get top billing. "More Than You Know" was also put onto the Sonny Rollins - Moving Out LP along with the tunes recorded in August with Kenny Dorham and Elmo Hope. "The Way You Look Tonight" and "I Want to Be Happy" were grouped with the tunes from Monk's September trio session on an eponymous album in 1957, which was then rereleased as Work in 1959. This was Monk's swan song on Prestige, as he moved over to Riverside.