Monday, September 29, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 36: Sonny Stitt - Gene Ammons

1950 seems to have been the year of Sonny and Jug, and no complaints here. We're fortunate to have so much from these two guys whose different styles melded so well. Ammons is taking his turn on the baritone in the first of these two sessions. On the second, it's two tenors on "Stringin' the Jug," parts 1 and 2, then Jug alone on the last two, "A Lover is Blue" and "When I Dream of You," both of them romantic ballads in the Earl Bostic mode of R&B-tinged pop, except a lot more musically original.

The session credited to Ammons is really an Ammons session. "Stringin' the Jug," with Stitt  and Junior Mance (his first professional gig was in Ammons's band, in 1947) providing magnificent support, is pure Jug -- Ammons proving you don't have to be from Texas to blow a Texas tenor.

The septet session, with Ammons taking his turn on the baritone, has four songs: "After You've Gone," "Our Very Own," "'S Wonderful" (not on Spotify) and "To Think You've Chosen Me." The last has a vocal by Larry Townsend, about whom I can find no information. Townsend, like so many of the vocalists chosen by beboppers in the late 40s (think Kenny "Pancho" Hagood on the Birth of the Cool sessions), was from the Billy Eckstine school, and that was style that was going to prove to fade from fashion very soon. The rich, mellifluous baritone gave way, as the voice of male sex appeal, to the soulful tenor, as epitomized by Sam Cooke. That's why you can find next to nothing (well, nothing, actually) about a middle-of-the-pack Mr. B like Larry Townsend, and relatively easy to find information on a middle-of-the-pack rhythm and blues singer like Larry Darnell.

But why reach out to singers like Townsend and Hagood? There were other vocalists around in the late 40s who were more attuned to the bebop idiom. Dave Lambert was one -- he was one of the pioneers in the development of a style of singing that used bebop chord changes and inversions. Sarah Vaughan was the quintessential bebop singer -- she had a contract with Columbia in 1950, and they were trying to turn her into a pop singer, so she probably wasn't available. Jackie and Roy were already starting to make a name for themselves in the late 40s. Jackie Paris had done some major work with Charlie Parker and others, and he continued to be committed to jazz, as opposed to pop singing, which is probably why he's now considered a cult figure rather than a major singer.

The Kenton singers -- June Christy, Chris Connor, and especially Anita O'Day -- were around. Blossom Dearie had not yet moved to Paris.Dinah Washington was singing both jazz and R&B in the 40s, and in 1954 she would make one of the greatest bebop vocal albums ever, "Dinah Jams," with a band led by Clifford Brown and Clark Terry.

King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson and Annie Ross were creating their own kind of bebop vocals, but they were all working musicians, and certainly would have stepped in to record with musicians like Stitt and Ammons if asked.

So why did beboppers choose the vocalists they chose? Or why did their producers choose them? Here's a theory -- because Mr. B, in addition to still being hugely popular, was the guy who became a kind of godfather of bebop with his mid-40s band featuring Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, so although he was never really a bebop singer, he was still closely associated with the music.

A friend of mine who was there back in the day, told me why he stopped going to Amateur Night at the Apollo in the late 40's -- "All the girls were trying to sound like Sarah, and all the boys were trying to sound like Billy Eckstine."


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 35: Dizzy Gillespie Sextet


Another rough one to find. Nothing at all on Spotify, and only one track -- "She's Gone Again" -- is available on YouTube. You can find them on iTunes, on a collection called Dizzy Gillespie 1949-50, but there's something wrong with my iTunes connection, and I can't download them. Amazon doesn't have them at all. Grooveshark does. All of which means the wrong balance between digging for the music and digging the music.

And this must have been some kind of a session. No two tracks are remotely alike. Dizzy sings on two of them, and those two songs are not remotely alike."She's Gone Again"is a robust rhythm-and-bluesy vocal that without missing a beat sails into a series of burning bebop solos by some masters you know well (Dizzy, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Heath), and some masters you may never have heard of, at least I hadn't (Jimmy Oliver). The beboppers for some reason loved nursery rhymes, and here we have the complete "One, two, buckle my shoe" as part of the lyric. "She's Gone Again" made it to YouTube as part of a collection called "The Bebop Singers," but while the instrumental part is bebop of the highest order, the vocal isn't, particularly. I'm not sure the beboppers quite knew what to do with vocals, but I'll dwell on that more in my next blog entry. Stay tuned.

The second vocal track is "Too Much Weight," and it's a pure calypso number, although I haven't yet found a pure calypso version. In fact, the only other version of it that I have found is by Mickey and Sylvia, who give it a rhythm and blues touch. Presumably they recorded it in the late 50s, when Harry Belafonte had ushered in the calypso craze, and presumably they found in on this record of Dizzy's.

The Gillespie version is rhythmically amazing. Dizzy was, of course, a pioneer of Afro-Cuban jazz, and he had long been working with Latin rhythms. The star of this song is drummer Joe Harris, another artist I was unfamiliar with, but he did a lot of work with Dizzy in the 1940s, was the drummer for the house band at the Apollo, and worked steadily through the decades. YouTube has a live Sonny Rollins date from 1959 in Sweden. And as recently as last year, in his late 80s, he was still playing. Harris is also the subject of a play, Clean Drums, by Pittsburgh playwright Joe Penny, which was originally performed with Harris playing himself, and more recently revived with Dennis Garner (Errol's nephew) playing Joe.

I'm guessing that Harris has to make the "Played with Bird" list that Peter Jones and I put together, of living musicians who played with Charlie Parker.

Jimmy Oliver, who burns up "She's Gone Again," recorded very little. He was a Philadelphia resident, and he preferred to stay in Philly, where he played with nearly everyone, but he rarely made it to New York. For this session with Dizzy, he made an exception, subbing for a young friend from the Philly jazz scene (and a musician very much influenced by Oliver at the time), who had gotten sick and couldn't make the date. The younger musician's name was John Coltrane.

The two instrumental tracks also go off in different directions -- :"Nice Work If You Can Get It" boisterous, "Thinking of You" pensive,

Prestige put out "She's Gone Again" b/w "Nice Work if You Can Get It" on a 78, and "Thinking of You" on the flip side of a Sonny Stitt 78. All four cuts were on a New Jazz LP which also featured Miles Davis and Fats Navarro, and the same album was also reissued as a Prestige 16000 series, of which there were only a handful in the early 60s. The Gillespie session was also included on Prestige (J) SLP 47   Various Artists - Early Prestige Sessions 1949/50. I can't quite figure out when it was released.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 34: Zoot Sims Quartet

We're coming to a bit of a dark night of my Prestige soul, where I'm starting not to be able to find things. The very next session listed on Jazzdisco.org's discography is Oscar Pettiford with his Cello and Quartet, featuring Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Lloyd Trotman and Jo Jones, so I guess that means Oscar Pettiford plus a quartet. It's one of those not-really-Prestige sessions, only released on their 24000 series reissues. But I listened to it anyway, because I'd be crazy not to.

The next real Prestige session is this one with Zoot Sims. Four tracks -- "My Silent Love," "Jane-O," "Dancing in the Dark" and "Memories of You." Only "Jane-O" is on Spotify, and that's because it was included on the soundtrack of a short film called Bottle Rocket. YouTube has both "Jane-O" and "Memories of You." They're both pure delight -- Zoot at his lyrical best.

Lewis was still two years away from forming the Modern Jazz Quartet, although he was already working a lot with Ray Brown and original MJQ drummer Kenny Clarke. He does some nice but limited soloing here.



Saturday, September 20, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 33: Wardell Gray - Dexter Gordon



This one really shouldn't be hard to find. Who doesn't want to hear Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, one of the legendary tenor sax pairings of all time, in their natural element, Los Angeles, and with a great supporting cast? But they're nowhere to be found on Spotify, and only sparsely on YouTube.

Which means no quiet listening time in my car, which is part of the reason for the delay in getting this entry up. The other part is that I've been going through a fairly painful period of writer's block, during which the only thing I could really write was this blog. Now I've broken through, at least a little, so this is competing with the writing I actually have to do.

So this is a live album, which is perhaps a first for Prestige (not sure about all their European albums). Wardell Gray did a live recording in Detroit, but it seems never to have been released. Certainly the first West Coast recording -- who knows what Weinstock's deal was on this one? -- and unquestionably an all-star session. Dexter Gordon is on board for "Jazz on Sunset," not for "Kiddo."

Sonny Criss, and especially Clark Terry, are stars in the jazz firmament, although Criss arguably never got the recognition he deserved. Jazz Profiles has an excellent appreciation of him as an "overlooked giant," including this assessment from early cohort and R&B giant Big Jay McNeely:

 Sonny Criss and I played together quite a while until I went to study with Joseph Cadaly [a first chair saxophonist at RKO Studies who taught reeds, harmony and solf├Ęge]. That’s when Sonny and I split up. He continued into progressive Jazz, and I went and studied.

When we split, he started going all up and down the Coast playing and going to Europe. But I don't know, it just didn't happen. He'd get records. People said he was great. They played his stuff. But it just didn't happen for him, and I think that kind of disturbed him. Especially when you put your whole soul and your whole life and just wrap up everything into something and it doesn't happen.

He was pioneering and when you're pioneering, it's kind of more difficult to get recognition …. You have to suffer when you're a pioneer. So that's what hap­pened, really, I think, with Sonny. He was just early.

Criss stayed on the West Coast, and West Coast jazz
was not a scene he fit into. It had moved away from bebop to the explorations of Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck, the orchestrations of Henry Mancini and Andre Previn. And it was mostly white.

At the peak of his creative genius in the mid-50s, he recorded three albums for Imperial. But Imperial was mostly a rock and roll label (Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson), and secondarily a country label(SLim Whitman), and it didn't have the expertise or the inclination to do any serious marketing of modern jazz.

He did record for Prestige again, so we'll meet him again -- but much later.

In 1977, suffering from stomach cancer, he killed himself.

Jimmy Bunn, who also played piano on the famous Dexter Gordon/Wardell Gray recording of "The Chase," was arrested on drug charges, served hard time in San Quentin (where he played in the prison jazz band with Art Pepper), and was never able to restart his career.

Billy Hadnott, I find from the great rhythm and blues blog Bebop Wino, was very active on the West Coast R&B scene, playing with T-Bone Walker and Lloyd Glenn.

Chuck Thompson played in Hampton Hawes' great trio in the mid-50s.

This is wonderful music, with three great soloists (four when Gordon is added) challenging each other in the way only live recording allows. They're all individual as hell, they all surprise the listener (and, one would guess, each other) and they come together.

"Jazz on Sunset" is a reworking of Denzil Best's "Move," and "Kiddo" a version of Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple," itself deriving from a mashup of "Honeysuckle Rose" and "I Got Rhythm."

The YouTube recordings are full of surface noise, but for those of us who collected vinyl -- and collected it to play, and play again, not as an investment -- this is not really a drawback.


Here's parts one and two of "Kiddo":



And here's parts three and four of "Jazz on Sunset":


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 32: Leo Parker

On July 20, 1950, baritone saxophonist Leo Parker went into the Prestige studios with an all-star rhythm section of Al Haig, Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach. He recorded six tunes, and came away with almost nothing. The first, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," was never released. "Mona Lisa," "Who's Mad" and "Darn That Dream" only saw the light of day in the 1970s, as part of the Fantasy/Prestige 24000 series, which was theoretically all reissues, even though in this case the initial issue never happened. We aren't counting 24000-series releases in this history, but these were originally recorded for Prestige, so they'd count. "I'll Cross My Fingers" and "Mad Lad Returns" were released as a 78 RPM single, so they would definitely count, but for one small detail. None of them are available on Spotify or YouTube, or any of the other video sites, so I wasn't able to listen to them.
Leo Parker made his first recording in 1944, at age 18, with Coleman Hawkins, on alto. After that, it was baritone all the way. Some say he abandoned the alto when he joined the legendary Billy Eckstine big band, so as not to be confused with the better-known alto player named Parker in the same organization. More likely, Eckstine needed a baritone player, handed the instrument to Leo, and said "You're it."

If that was the way it was, Eckstine made a wise decision, but Parker was not able to build the career his talent merited. The heroin scourge of the Fifties claimed him. He did make a comeback in 1961, making two albums for Blue Note -- one of which, one again, went unissued until 1986. Parker died of a heart attack in 1963, at the age of 38.

Searching Spotify for the Prestige sides, I entered "Leo Parker Darn That Dream," and came up with something that deserves a side excursion, which I was more than willing to make: a road trip to the intersection of Bebop and Rhythm and Blues Avenues, one of the neighborhoods that interest me most.
Bill Jennings made a whole series of recordings for King Records in Cincinnati in the 1950s. King was one of the great indie labels of the Fifties, recording rhythm and blues (James Brown, Wynonie Harris), country (Grandpa Jones, Cowboy Copas), and rock and roll (The 5 Keys, the "5" Royales, even the Platters' first records). Very little jazz.

And not all that many people share my enthusiasm for this first fusion music, so Bill Jennings has languished in obscurity, but you have got to listen to this stuff. It's been collected in a 2-CD set called Bill Jennings - Architect of Soul Jazz 1951-57. His band includes Leo Parker, Bill Doggett and Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson.
You can also find "Mad Lad Returns" on Spotify and YouTube, but it's from the 1961 Blue Note, not 1950 Prestige session. It's worth a listen to--talk about rhythm and blues meets bebop...and beyond. Wow.

Here's Leo Parker with Bill Jennings:

 And here's the 1961 version of "Mad Lad Returns":


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records, Part 31: Sonny Stitt -Gene Ammons

Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, three-piece rhythm section...a quartet? Is this one of those odd numerical quirks, like the great R&B/Doowop group the "5" Royales, who rarely had five guys in their lineup? No, as it turns out, the June 28 session was a quartet, though not always the same quartet -- Jug on two cuts, Sonny on the rest.

Stitt's tunes: "Count Every Star," "Nice Work if You Can Get It," "There Will Never Be Another You," and "Blazin'." Ammons had two: "I Wanna Be Loved" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," but only the latter is included on Spotify.

Why? Lost to history. Maybe they couldn't both show up at the same time. Maybe they weren't talking to each other that day. Maybe Weinstock was only paying for four musicians at a time. Maybe each of them wanted the full length solo space. Not unlikely, listening to the tunes. Each of them solos all the way through. Stitt barely gives Duke Jordan a vamp at the beginning -- no vamp at all on "Count Every Star."

And he's quite sufficient to satisfy. Generally the bebop paradigm is play the melody for one or two choruses, then take off on improvisatory flights. As Ronny Graham says in his comedy routine about a commencement address to a school for progressive jazz musicians, "When you cats came here, all you could play was the melody. Now you wouldn't know a melody if it hit you in the mouthpiece." But Stitt stays around the melody in his improv, especially on "Count Every Star

I would have thought of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" as more of a 1920s vo-de-o-do kind of song, more suited for a raccoon coat and ukulele (or for Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn to sing to a leopard) than a gutbucket, blues-based bebopper like Gene Ammons. In fact, it was written in 1928, by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, for their Broadway hit musical Blackbirds of 1928. McHugh and Fields had already made their major contribution to Prestige Records history -- they wrote the original "I'm in the Mood for Love." At any rate, Ammons takes it over and does what he wants with it -- jaunty and rakish, but in the style of 52nd Street, not Broadway.
They gathered the septet again a week later for another session -- Bill Massey again on trumpet, this time Matthew Gee on trombone.

It's hard to find much about Bill Massey, who anchored all of these septet recordings. "Bill Massey Jazz" on Google mostly brings up references to the classic Jazz at Massey Hall album, but adding to the confusion, there's another jazz musician named Bill Massey,who gets the Google hits because he's more contemporary and has a website. 

Replacing Duke Jordan on piano is Charlie Bateman. There's not much on him, either, but a 2004 obituary from the Orlando Sentinel tells us that he played with Louis Armstrong at Carnegie Hall in 1947, moved to Orlando to play bridge, and moved there permanently after the World Trade Center bombing. More on Charlie here. He does get some solo space with the septet, and the cat can play.

Stitt is listed on baritone again for this session, but we're told that both Stitt and Ammons would double on baritone in larger ensemble settings, while the other was soloing, and I think that may be happening here.

There's another vocal -- on "Sweet Jennie Lou." On this one, there's a lead vocalist, uncredited, and I can only guess as to who it is, so I'll guess Gene Ammons. The rest of them sound not so much like drunken Irishmen as like drunken Irishmen trying to imitate the Modernaires. Actually, they sound a little like Dooley Wilson's band doing the call-and-response with him in "Knock on Wood" at Rick's Cafe Americain.

Their "Seven-Eleven" is not the same as Buddy Lucas' R&B classic "7-11," with the Gone All-Stars, but it rocks. Charlie Bateman is hot on this one, as is drummer Wes Landers (another two-generation drum family -- his son was jazz/soul drummer Wally "Gator" Watson).

They did "La Vie en Rose" on this session, and I'd love to hear it, but I can't find it on Spotify. A Google search for "Gene Ammons la Vie en Rose" says that it is on Spotify, but clicking through leads to a dead end.

Songs from all these Stitt/Ammons sessions were mixed and matched on various 78s, and on several different 10-inch LPs, Surprisingly, no 45s, though you'd have thought many of these cuts would have been naturals.

There's really no such thing as a representative track from these sessions, so I'll use "Count Every Star," because I love it.




Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records, Part 3o: Zoot Sims

Zoot Sims continued his European swing with a recording session in Paris, this one kicked ahead by the drumming of Kenny Clarke, house drummer at Minton's during the original bebop days, and a longtime Paris expat, although in 1950 he was not yet a full-time resident -- he would be back in New York in 1952 to become the original drummer for the Modern Jazz Quartet. And here's something I didn't know -- he and Annie Ross had a child, Kenny Clarke, Jr., himself now a drummer.

Anyway, Zoot Sims in Paris -- a notable session, but one that's only tangentially related to Prestige. Certainly Bob Weinstock had close relationship between Vogue Records in Paris and Metronome Records in Stockholm (I've leapfrogged over a couple of all-Swedish sessions to get to Zoot), but he
seems for some unaccountable reason to have given this session short shrift. Nine songs were cut that day -- "Night and Day," "The Big Shot," "Slinging Hash," "I Understand," "Tenorly," "Don't Worry 'Bout Me," "Crystal's," "Zoot and Zoot," and "Toots Suite." Of those, none were released on 78, 45 single, 45 EP, or 10-inch LP. Only "Night and Day"(two takes), "Slingin' Hash" (two takes), "I Understand," "Tenorly" and "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" made it to a Prestige 7000-series reissue.

But...on a couple of occasions, Edgar Villchur, the genius behind the contemporary loudspeaker, reminded me of why he did what he did, and why he didn't spend a lot of time talking about it: "I'm not a technology lover...I'm a music lover." And in this blog, I'm using a historically accurate timeline (as far as I can) as a structure for listening to a lot of good music, which is the main goal, after all. And making up the rules as I go along. I didn't include the Charlie Parker 1949 session because that was only put out on the Prestige 24000 series, long after Prestige had been sold to Fantasy and had become purely a reissue label. The Zoot Sims Paris sessions are 7000-series, which is still the real Prestige.

It's not clear what Gerald Wiggins (Gerry Wiggins on this session) was doing in Paris in 1950. A graduate of New York's Music and Art High School with classical training, he was Los Angeles-based -- he is probably the only serious jazz musician to have worked with both Stepin Fetchit and Marilyn Monroe. He wasn't touring Europe with Sims -- this is their only recording together. Best guess -- he was there with Lena Horne. He was her accompanist in 1950-51, and she made a number of European tours.

Zoot Sims was probably the second most famous of the Four Brothers. He didn't achieve the superstardom of Stan Getz, and there's no signature song that's associated with him, but he had an outstanding career over four decades, recording swing, bebop, cool jazz, backing up singers (and Jack Kerouac!), playing with virtually everybody, recording prolifically as leader and co-leader with Al Cohn, and if he ever made a bad record, I haven't heard it.