Thursday, October 19, 2017

Listening to Prestige 277: Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis connected with Shirley Scott in 1953, when he went looking for a jazz organist to form a group with. Which is interesting, because this wasn't exactly a common lineup at that time. Count Basie had recorded on organ with his big band, but the more usual formation, the one favored by Jimmy Smith, was a trio. Bill Doggett's recordings in the early 50s were trio recordings. Perhaps he got the idea of the organ-saxophone combo that shook the world with "Honky Tonk" from Davis and Scott.

It certainly turns out that Davis was onto something. This was a powerful sound for the nascent movement that would come to be known as soul jazz, and given an added richness with the presence of Jerome Richardson.

Differences between this and the previous week's trio session: for a start, while Scott  went for the under-three-minute format best suited to 45 RPM discs for the pop market, the quintet stretched out in the way that jazz groups became accustomed to as soon as it was clear that the LP revolution was here to stay.

There was a new producer in the Van Gelder control room and on the Prestige roster. Esmond
Edwards had been hired as a photographer in 1954, and he had done significant work in that role, contributing to a number of album covers. But his musical acumen combined with Bob Weinstock's readiness to ease up a bit on the production reins, brought him into the actual recording process. He would remain a prolific producer for Weinstock over the next decade, before moving on to Verve, Chess, and other labels. He would also continue his career as an important jazz photographer. And it's worth noting that he was one of the first African-American producers in the New York jazz recording world.

"In the Kitchen" became one of Davis and Scott's best known recordings, and it sparked the culinary theme that was announced with the release of this album as The Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis Cookbook. It would be the first of three. Davis would get top billing on their Prestige releases;
later, when she teamed with Stanley Turrentine both at the altar and in the recording studio, she would be listed as leader on their Prestige recordings, he on their Blue Note discs.

"In the Kitchen" came out as a two-sided 45, as did "But Beautiful" (like Gene Ammons, Davis had two sides, funkmeister and sensitive interpreter of ballads.) "In the Kitchen" also was the B side of a 45 RPM release of "Misty," from a later session. "The Chef" and "Three Deuces" made for another single 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


Monday, October 09, 2017

Listening to Prestige 276: Shirley Scott

This was the beginning of a long and fruitful association between Prestige Records and Shirley Scott, who would record for them both as leader of her own trio and in partnership with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Her other important partnership was marital as well as musical--to Stanley Turrentine, with whom she recorded a series of successful albums for Blue Note before they divorced in the 1970s;

The jazz of the 1930s that had been created by Count Basie and Jimmie Lunceford, Erskine Hawkins and Chick Webb, morphed into a style of music called swing, and swing was essentially the province of white bandleaders like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James and Glenn Miller. When they talk about the golden era when jazz was America's popular music, that's what they're talking about.

So did bebop really kill jazz's popularity? I'm not so sure. Black American music was restless in the 1940s. Black artists knew they couldn't compete in the marketplace with the white swing bands, and they were chafing at the limitations of a music they heard as growing increasingly formulaic. So they either made it gutsier and bluesier and blacker (Louis Jordan) or more inventive and more musically challenging (Bird and Diz). And maybe jazz, the music of African Americans, was still as popular as it had ever been, if you count both tines of that bifurcated style. Louis Jordan wasn't jazz? Joe Liggins and Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson and Big Jay McNeely weren't jazz, and Tommy Dorsey and Harry James were? The Ravens and the Clovers weren't jazz, and the Pied Pipers and the Hi-Los were? Gimme a break.

So then we came up to the mid-fifties, and it was happening again. The music that black artists created had morphed again, gotten whiter again, and rhythm and blues had become America's popular music under the new name of rock 'n roll. And once again black music, the creative epicenter of American culture, was moving on, and once again bifurcating.

Bebop, modern jazz, that scary new sound of the 1940s, was still not selling as many records as Benny Goodman in his prime, perhaps, but it was selling its share, and it mostly wasn't scary any more. With artists like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, but very much with white artists like Stan Kenton and Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck, it had entered the mainstream of American music. And a newer generation of black musicians, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, were finding sounds that were adventurous and challenging and once again a little scary. And the spiritual descendants of Jordan and Liggins and Jackson and McNeely were finding their way to a jazz that was funkier and bluesier and blacker.

No one person led that new sound, but it's pretty clear that Ray Charles was one of the most important figures. He pioneered a sound that embraced rhythm and blues and modern jazz, but most excitingly embraced the street and the church, blues and gospel. And that was the genesis of what became hard bop or soul jazz or jazz funk.

And if you're going to church for the new jazz sound you're going to bring into the streets, what could be more logical than wheeling an organ out the door?

That was the sound that Shirley Scott found.

Scott was born and raised in Philadephia, a hotbed of jazz rivaling Detroit in its experimentation and technical virtuosity. Her father ran a jazz club, and she grew up listening to players like Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones. She began to play piano because her brother had taken up the tenor sax and needed someone to accompany him, in much the same way that hockey Hall of Famer Tony Esposito became a goalie because his brother Phil needed someone to practice shooting at.

But Philadelphia was also home base for Jackie Davis, who was finding the jazz possibilities latent in the Hammond B-3 organ, an instrument hitherto relegated to storefront churches and roller rinks. And Davis was to inspire another Philadelphian, Jimmy Smith. And, of course, young Shirley Scott.

Scott started recording with Eddie Davis in 1953, when Davis had heard what Smith and Jackie Davis were doing with the B-3, and was looking for an organist to form a group with. Fortunately, he was able to look beyond the jazz world's male chauvinism.

The two first recorded together in 1956 for King Records, in Cincinnati. King was an interesting label. It had begun as strictly country and western, then added rhythm and blues. It was never a jazz label, though a couple of jazz artists like Hot Lips Page are on their roster. And artists like Earl Bostic and Bill Doggett who played in both jazz and rhythm and blues formats. The Scott/Davis album on King was called Jazz with a Beat, which is not a bad definition of rhythm and blues.

Count Basie was also a presence on the rhythm and blues/race records charts of the era, and Scott/Davis were also featured on a Roulette album called Count Basie Presents Eddie Davis Trio + Joe Newman. Neither of these was released until 1958, so the Prestige album may have been Scott's first exposure.

For her first session, she chose very familiar tunes: "Brazil," "Cherokee," "Ebb Tide," "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue." When you think about it, these are tunes you'd associate with a jazz popularizer/R&B bandleader like Earl Bostic. She also tackles a couple of Miles Davis originals, "Four" and the tune that Miles called "The Theme," but which becomes, in someone else's hands, "Miles' Theme." Each tune is compact, 45 RPM length, appropriate for an R&B audience, and in fact, Prestige released five 45s out of this session.

This is unquestionably jazz, and certainly jazz with a beat. It's also jazz with an organ, which was still relatively uncommon. In Down Beat's 1957 jazz poll, the organ does not rate a category of its own. There are four organists who got votes in the Miscellaneous Instruments category, and Scott was not one of them.

She announces her presence on the scene, and ensures that she won't be left out the next time, by using this session to show off her command of the instrument, pulling out all the stops -- literally, since it's an organ. She is helped by two sidemen who know what they're doing (listen to what they give her on "Cherokee"), and know the difference between jazz and rhythm and blues, or else know that there's no difference.

George Duvivier played on two previous Prestige sessions, both with Gil Mellé, whose work can be described in a number of ways, none of which have anything to do with rhythm and blues.  He could, and did play pretty much everything, from R&B (Lucky Millinder) to swing (Jimmie Lunceford) to bop (Bud Powell) to pop (Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra) to avant garde (Eric Dolphy). He was the bassist on the Basie album that featured Davis and Scott.

Arthur Edgehill  recorded for Prestige on a 1956 session with Mal Waldron. He specialized in funk and hard bop, and with Duvivier, had a long run with Scott and Davis.

Eight of these tunes were released right away on an LP titled Great Scott! More came out in 1961 (Shirley's Sounds) and 1964 (Workin'). It's harder to find release dates for 45s.




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




Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Listening to Prestige 275: John Coltrane

Coltrane and Donald Byrd are a great combination, back together again after a January session, so Bob Weinstock must have really liked what he heard, and what's not to like? But it's Coltrane who really holds the interest right now. The "happy young man," in Ira Gitler's words, was on a creative tear. Just five months into the year, he was already on his sixth studio session for Prestige, and that was only part of it. He had done two dates with a group led by Wilbur Harden for Savoy, and don't forget, he still had his bread and butter gig, with Miles Davis. By May 23rd, he had recorded two studio sessions and two live sessions with Miles. And when he went out to Rudy's for his Friday Prestige date on May 23rd, he had another recording scheduled with Miles for the following Monday, in New York, at Columbia's 30th Street studio.

Turning your life around, getting off drugs, gives you energy to burn, and Coltrane was burning it. But it wasn't just energy. He was burning with musical ideas, too, which is what makes this period so exciting.

The music was exciting. What Gitler called "sheets of sound," a phrase that's become firmly implanted in the jazz lexicon. It meant Coltrane playing every note associated with every variation on a given chord, more or less at the same time. Or something. It was sort of like the rapid-fire runs through variations on chord changes that the beboppers had pioneered, except that it wasn't. But it had that same questing urgency, that sense of listening for something new, just beyond the horizon. Listening to it now in the chronological order of the music being made (this session was not released until 1964), one can really feel a part of that quest.

"Black Pearls" is a Coltrane original, "Lover Come Back" is the Sigmund Romberg melody that's

become such a favorite of jazz modernists. "Sweet Sapphire Blues" is credited to Bob Weinstock as composer, and that might raise eyebrows, since it was such common practice in those days for DJs or record company executives to put their name on songs they had not in fact written. This one was a little different. They had gone through the first two tunes, and they still had studio time, and they did not yet have enough to fill out an album. This could have been OK--Weinstock wasn't planning to release the session right away anyway, and he could always have found other ways to fill it out. Or they could have done what they so often did: what Rudy Van Gelder called the "Five O'clock Blues," an impromptu improvisation on a familiar blues riff, or a half-finished idea by one of the musicians. In this case, when Weinstock asked Trane for one more tune, Trane responded, "Why don't you write one?" As Weinstock recalled, he recoiled from the idea--one thing he was sure of, he didn't know how to write a song. But Trane kept teasing him: "How about this?" and he'd play a few notes. If Weinstock said OK, he'd play a few more: "How about this?" Before long, they had strung something together, and Trane said, "OK, you wrote it."

The result is a little like the routine Steve Allen used to do on TV. He'd call up four people from the audience, have each of them strike a note on the piano, and then do a jazz improvisation based on those four notes. A little like that, except better. The melody is jagged but interesting, and five supremely gifted musicians were able to improvise on it for 18 minutes, or one full album side.

Why "Sweet Sapphire Blues"? That's lost to history, unless they'd been watching Amos 'n Andy before the session. In any case, it wasn't likely to be the title of the album, nor was the Romberg melody. So Black Pearls it was. It was also released as 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







Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Listening to Prestige 274: Gene Ammons

"Mal, you're playing a gig with Gene Ammons this Friday. Come up with some tunes that'll suit him."

"On it."

By 1958, jazz and rhythm and blues had gotten a divorce, and rock 'n roll was the co-respondent. Jazz had won custody of Gene Ammons, but that gritty rhythm and blues consciousness was still a part of him, a different consciousness from that which informed the newer hard-bop, jazz-funk style that was coming to be associated with Blue Note.

So Mal Waldron did contribute all four tunes to this session, and they couldn't be righter for Ammons: funky, rhythmic, great ensemble sections, loose enough to provide plenty of space for improvisation. A lot of jazz tunes are simple riffs brought in for the session, based on the changes or even the melodic hooks of other tunes, serviceable for some great blowing but not likely to enter the jazz library.

And so it is with these, but Waldron always gave you a little more, and any of these could have blossomed into a standard. "Hip Tip," smeary and bluesy and atmospheric as a smoky alleyway, could have been another "Harlem Nocturne," and maybe would have been, if it had had a more anthemic title. It has been covered, with a very different sensibility, by a Latin-jazz-funk star of the 1980s, Bobby Rodriguez.  David "Fathead" Newman made "Blue Greens and Beans" the title cut of a 1990 album, and Newman of course came from the most prestigious of rhythm and blues pedigrees: the Ray Charles orchestra of the Atlantic years. Ammons pays tribute to the blues and bebop both on this cut, throwing in one of those little unexpected quotes from an odd source, in this case "Isle of Capri."

Idrees Suleiman, Ammons, and Pepper Adams know their way around the blues, know how to construct killer jazz solos, and know how to play together. Ammons would go to a sparer sound in later albums, but this period, with his sextets and septets, produced some richly satisfying music.

Bobby Rodriguez may have come to this album, and "Hip Tip," through admiration for Ray Barretto, but it's "Scamperin'" that really showcases the conguero. It could have been a hit too, with its Latin rhythm and the all-out wildness of the horn players. "Blue Greens and Beans" was the two-sided 45 from this session, and no complaints...it deserved it. But I might have gone with "Scamperin'."

"Blue Gene" was the title track for the album, and it has some lovely soulful playing on it, and it's the time that was also included on a compilation album later on, called Gene Ammons - Biggest Soul Hits.

So in other words, you couldn't go wrong with any one of these Mal Waldron compositions, or any one of these septet treatments of them. This album is pure pleasure.


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


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Listening to Prestige 273: Mose Allison

A friend asked me for help compiling a master playlist of acoustic music. I wasn't much help.

It was a question of definition. By acoustic music, he meant what Bob Dylan got booed for not playing at Newport. I kept pointing out that there was a lot more acoustic music at Newport than what was played at the Folk Festival.

Most jazz is acoustic. For that matter, up through the 1950s, nearly all if not all country music was acoustic. But he wasn't interested in adding Louis Armstrong or Jack Teagarden, Bob Wills or Spade Cooley or Hank Williams to his playlist. And so we went our separate ways (and I hadn't even gotten to classical music).

But the one artist from my bailiwick that he could accept was the genre-bending country boy/college English major from Tippo, Mississippi, Mose Allison.

That, of course, was Mose Allison the singer-songwriter, which was a label he understood, and we're not quite there yet. At Prestige, although he had been widely praised for "Blues" (later "Young Man Blues") and "Parchman Farm," which was also a blues, in the traditional 12-bar format and with a traditional prison/murder theme, the full range and individuality of his gift for lyrics had not asserted itself yet, and his gifts as a jazz composer had.

His debut on record had been Back Country Suite, a series of linked musical vignettes that captured, in a way that was witty and still basic, the flavor of the back country he had come from. The suite, instrumentals and one vocal, took up one side of the LP, and the other was devoted mostly to standards and blues, including one number that he played on trumpet. That became the pattern for the rest of his Prestige output, and was pretty much the pattern for the Columbia sessions that followed. The Allison that a second generation of fans would take to their hearts really emerged with his Atlantic recordings.

So this is a good thing. Allison the singer/songwriter was only one part of the total package. He came to New York as a working musician, a protégé of George Wallington, a piano player who was good enough, in the competitive jazz cauldron of New York, to gig and record with Stan Getz, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. Getz never recorded any of his compositions, but did play a couple in club dates. Wallington did; he was the first to record a Mose Allison tune. These albums might not get played as much as I've Been Doin' Some Thinkin' (Atlantic) or Back Country Suite, but they're significant, and  importantly, they're enjoyable.

Ronnie Free makes his wax debut on this session, and he also had what it took to make it in the cauldron of New York jazz...briefly.

In that brief time, he made people sit up and take notice. He was adopted by Hall Overton, David X. Young and W. Eugene Smith of the famous jazz loft on 6th Avenue: he slept on their couch and was the unofficial house drummer for many of their legendary loft jazz jam session. He was hired by Marian McPartland, a frequent visitor to the loft, for her long-running trio at Hickory House. "I was thrilled to have Ronnie working with me in my trio at the Hickory House," McPartland recalled later.  "He was considered the great young hope among drummers on the scene, a really wonderful player. He had a different style, more swinging, very subtle. Free is a good name for him. He didn't play bombastic solos like many drummers did. Ronnie was one of the best I ever saw."

He and Mose, one August day in 1958, walked from the pianist's 106th Street apartment up to 126th Street, where they had heard that jazz musicians were gathering for a photograph. If you don't remember seeing them in "A Great Day in Harlem," it's because they weren't there. They arrived too late.

That isn't the only place that Free wasn't. As McPartland remembers, "Then one night he just disappeared. We had a gig and he didn't show up. Nobody saw him after that. Thirty or thirty-five years later, in the early 1990s,1 was walking down the street in Columbia, South Carolina, and I couldn't believe my eyes, but Ronnie Free was walking right toward me, looking exactly the same. My first words to him were, 'What happened to you that night you didn't show up for the gig?"

A sudden disappearance is never a happy story, and it wasn't for Free. Heroin played a part in it, of course. Ronnie Free didn't make the Hickory House that night because he was in Bellevue. Maybe he had hit the jazz scene too young, too vulnerable.

When he was released, he left New York, never to return. He went home to South Carolina. He did some moving around. Mose Allison ran across him in the 1980s in San Diego, where he was driving a cab. "Ronnie hadn't been playing and didn't even own any drums," Allison recalled later. "We found him some drums, and he played the gig as beautifully as always. He hadn't lost a thing. It was amazing. He still has that great, natural touch."

But mostly, he stayed close to home, first in South Carolina and then in Virginia, leading a healthy life, playing two-man beach volleyball, hiking with his dog, playing music with a local trio. He is still with us.



"I Got a Right to Cry" is the one vocal on the album. It's by Joe Liggins, a rhythm and blues bandleader from the 1940s and 50s. Liggins had one big hit, "Honeydripper," but for the rest, while he had popularity in the rhythm and blues world, you'd have to be a real R&B fan to know his songs, which Allison clearly was. He had good ears, and "I've Got a Right to Cry" fits him perfectly.

On the other hand, everyone knew "Old Devil Moon." It was the biggest hit from the successful Broadway musical "Finian's Rainbow," and has been widely covered by both jazz and pop artists.

"Stranger in Paradise" was Allison at his most postmodern, and since there really wasn't a postmodernist movement back then, certainly not in jazz or pop music, one might call it proto-postmodern. A classical composition by the Russian Alexander Borodin, turned into a Broadway musical number by Robert Wright and George Forrest, given a blues reading by Allison.

"You Belong to Me" is one of those post-Great American Songbook numbers from the 1950s that were in the process of being overrun by rock 'n roll. Jo Stafford had the hit with it, others recorded it, but it had a more interesting pedigree than one might think. It was written as a country song by Chilton Price, who worked as a music librarian at a Louisville radio station, as a woman's plea to her soldier boyfriend not to forget her while he's stationed in exotic places around the globe. Country stars Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart heard it and told her that if she gave them co-writing credit, they'd get it recorded. They did actually tinker with it some, taking out the soldier references to give it more universality. In this, they followed the exact opposite pattern from Shirley Alston of the Shirelles, who came into the studio to record a song called "I'll Be True to You," and on the first take, ad-libbed an intro where she promises to be true to her soldier boy. "Soldier Boy" it became, and a huge hit. Price also wrote "Slow Poke," which King and Stewart also added their names to, and which became a big hit for King.

"I've Got a Right to Cry" would have made a nice jukebox single, but it was never released that way. Ramblin' with Mose came out in 1959, and some of its songs were eventually repackaged in
 various ways.



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, September 22, 2017

Listening to Prestige 272: Red Garland-Ray Barretto

Latin jazz never quite received the respect it was due, and Latin jazz musicians were always underutilized. Billy Taylor, during his tenure with Prestige, did one session with Candido, and stated in the liner notes that "the purpose of this album is to present a great new jazz artist." Candido would appear on a couple of other Prestige sessions around the same time. The label also made its contribution to the mambo era in jazz, especially with Joe Holiday's unique blending of mambo and bebop. But for the most part, Latin music was pigeonholed as dance music, and the jazz of the 1950s was music for listening, for contemplation of rhythmic subtleties.

In the movie version of Oscar Hijuelos' great novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, the Cuban Castillo brothers, newly arrived in New York, head straight for the Palladium to hear Tito Puente. I didn't love the movie, but I loved the mambo sequences, the spirit of celebration, and most of all the music. And I realized, I could have been there. I could have gone to the Palladium. But if anyone had suggested it, I would have scorned them. I went to the Five Spot, the Half Note, Small's Paradise. I was the real thing, a real jazz lover. Yes. I was that stupid.

This is Ray Barretto's Prestige debut, and he is to become a frequent presence over the next few years. As one of Prestige's irregular regulars, he contributed mightily to the label, but he also contributed, in an important way, to jazz of his era, so much so that he is often referred to as "the Godfather of Latin jazz."

His first gig in the New York jazz world was an auspicious one. In 1949, at age 20 and newly out of
the army, he was invited by Charlie Parker to join his band. Barretto had grown up listening to the music of Duke Ellington and the swing bandleaders, and he had worked to "develop a style that suited jazz playing--a style of playing that works in a straight-ahead swing context."

In the army, he had been exposed to bebop, and it was through bebop that he came to Latin jazz: Dizzy Gillespie's recording of "Manteca," with Chano Pozo. Having grown up in Puerto Rican New York, with its music, and the radio at night bringing him Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, when he heard the master conguero play with the pioneer of bebop, "it was like the gates opened up to heaven and the sun came in and choirs sang....all that."

A four-year stint with Tito Puente's orchestra followed (replacing Mongo Santamaria)--a time to really develop his Latin chops. He recorded with Puente. But this session with Red Garland is his first on record with a small jazz group.

There is so much good to say about this music, it's hard to know where to start. The group recorded four standards, a blues original by Garland, and, fittingly, "Manteca." So let's start by remembering the incalculable contribution Rudy Van Gelder made to small label jazz in this era. The balance between instruments is always just right for the piece that's being played. I particularly thought of
this during Paul Chambers' solo on "Exactly Like You," which Barretto punctuates with the hollow natural reverb of the conga drum.

"'S Wonderful" has a thrilling, eerie, melodic bowed bass solo by Chambers. "Manteca" is an all-out Latin explosion on the Gillespie/Pozo classic. Every cut has something special. But for a favorite, I'd have to pick "Oh, Lady Be Good," in which a Garland-Barretto-Taylor trialogue gives way to a two-way exchange between the two percussionists.

The moody, assertive "Portrait of Jennie" did not make the cut for the Manteca album, and it--unfairly--never did see the light of day until much, much later, in the Fantasy and Concord reissue days. On the Concord CD version of Manteca, it's included as a bonus track.

"Manteca" also became a two-sided 45. Its catalog number is fairly low, so I'm guessing it may have been released to Latino jukeboxes around the same time as the album 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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Listening to Prestige 271: John Coltrane

As the countdown to Coltrane's departure from Prestige continues, one can't help but think of this as a leadup to what followed in 1959. As important as these albums for Prestige are, they have to be looked as prelude to two albums that would change the shape of jazz as profoundly as did the records Ornette Coleman was releasing at the same time: Kind of Blue, with Miles Davis, and Giant Steps, with Coltrane himself as leader. For me, at the time. Kind of Blue was a terrific album, and I can understand and appreciate its continuing popularity. But Giant Steps was the real game changer, the one that made me rethink everything I thought I knew about jazz (and don't forget that everything I knew about jazz, I had learned over only the previous couple of years). Much of the work Coltrane did for Prestige was held back for later release, so sessions like this one would reach a public which had already been wowed by Giant Steps. Good news for Prestige in that Coltrane was hot-hot-hot, so anything with his name on it would sell some records, not so good news in that the earlier material was bound to be overshadowed by both Giant Steps and My Favorite Things.

Still, this was recognized for its quality. When four tracks were released in 1961 as Settin' the Pace, a Billboard review reminded the reader that it came from "one of Coltrane's most productive periods."

Coltrane himself saw it as a productive period. An article in Down Beat by Ira Gitler pronounced him "a happy young man," who had been "dejected and dissatisfied" with his playing, but was now feeling good about the way things were going. The bad period had been the heroin addiction that had gotten him fired from the Miles Davis Quintet. The positive stuff came after that. Rejoining Miles was part of it. Even more important, the time spent with Thelonious Monk after kicking the heroin habit, and the insights into composition and theory that he got from Monk. And nearly as important, the work he was able to do with Prestige as a leader, developing his own sound. For me, listening to this music in the order of session chronology, rather than release date, that development has been particularly interesting to follow.

I've said a lot about the invaluable service Wikipedia has provided to this jazz researcher, with many pages devoted to individual albums, including recording dates. release dates and composer credits for tunes. And I continue to be grateful. But Wikipedia can be a little snarky about Prestige. Every one of these Coltrane sessions is just a little denigrated. This one is described as "assembled from unissued results of a single recording session," and I'm not sure that you assemble something from a single recording session. Basically, a single recording session is already assembled. Other of the Prestige releases are described as "without Coltrane's input or approval," as though this were something shady. In fact, if a label books a session, the release date of the product is generally the label's decision.

None of these later releases are included in the partial discography  on Wikipedia's main Coltrane page, and that's not an accidental oversight.

But they're important albums, and this is an important session. It features three ballads that are not exactly in the mainstream of the modern jazz catalog, athough "I See Your Face Before Me" had been recorded on a 1955 Miles Davis session for Prestige, with a quartet, although this was right around the time that Coltrane was joining Miles. Trane handles "I See Your Face Before Me" in a somber ballad tempo, but the rest of the session features Trane really starting to explore the "sheets of sound." "If There is Someone Lovelier than You" begins as a ballad but takes flight from there. "Rise and Shine." actually the first cut from the session, rises and shines right from the get-go, as does Jackie McLean's "Little Melonae."  This is what Trane was starting to explore with Miles, but here it's rewarding to hear him explore on his own.

The last tune on the session did not fit onto Settin' the Pace, and was held off for yet a later release, 1965's The Last Trane. Wikipedia is particularly scathing about The Last Trane, declaring that Prestige had "used unissued recordings to create new marketable albums without Coltrane's input or approval." There was, of course, a reason why "By the Numbers" didn't make it onto Settin' the Pace: recording technology being what it was, there were only so many minutes of music you could fit onto an LP record. Presumably Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Taylor were all capable of doing the
math, and realizing that one of the cuts from this session would either remain unreleased or would be released in some other package. And presumably they did five tunes on this date because they had Rudy Van Gelder's studio booked for the afternoon, and they had the time to do one more.

Billboard, in 1965, was less shocked and dismayed by the release of The Last Trane/ Although noting that it was "an uusual reissue of Trane's work during the late 50s," their reviewer went on to say "Sonically perfect, musically inspired--it's a gathering together of Trane's best. Particularly outstanding is a beautiful blues solo by pianist Red Garland on 'By the Numbers.'"

I couldn't agree more. "By the Numbers" is not just a discarded Coltrane track dragged out without the musician's approval, at a cost to his reputation. It's a 12-minute cut, attributed to Coltrane as composer, but given over as a showcase to Garland, whose solo takes up the first five-plus minutes. Garland takes Coltrane's theme, and plays the blues, in as nice a pure blues improvisation in a modern jazz format as you're likely to hear.

Coltrane, of course, was no stranger to the blues, but as his career progressed, he was more drawn to ballads and the free stuff. So it's especially interesting to hear him on "By the Numbers," going his own way as always, but working off of Red Garland's blues base.

"By the Numbers" was also released as a 45, which must have been interesting, with Garland on one and Coltrane on the other. Much like Billy Butler's guitar solo on one side of"Honky Tonk," and Clifford Scott's tenor sax solo on the other.

The same issue of Billboard reviews another Prestige reissue of some Miles Davis tracks from the various Contractual Marathon session, and points out, quite rightly, that "this might become 'the Miles Davis Quintet album to own'...especially if the budget-minded buyer can't own them all." This may be a quaint notion to today's music-streaming aficionado, but it made a lot of sense back in 1965.
OK, enough grumping. Wikipedia does the jazz researcher a tremendous service by posting so much information about individual albums, and as far as opinions are concerned, we can always form our own.




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