Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Listening to Prestige 446: Etta Jones

Etta Jones is back, with the same rhythm section that accompanied Betty Roché on her January 24 session for Prestige, and why not? These guys had demonstrated that they knew how to work with a girl singer, and Etta, I'm guessing, must have been very easy to work with, and a very professional singer, because she got a lot accomplished in a session -- a dozen songs in this one.

And she had material left over from her last session, in September, so six of the songs from this session were bundled with five songs from that one to make her next release, Something Nice. The rest of the September session had to wait until 1963 for Hollar!, when those songs were packaged with...five more songs from this session. The titles suggest
two different concept albums, one sweet and one wild, and that does seem to have been the logic. As I've said, making the decisions about what goes on what album, and gets released when, is way above my pay grade.

You can hear a lot of other singers in Jones's voice -- there's some Billie, there's some Dinah. Those are the main two, but maybe a little Sarah, and everyone was influenced by Ella. That was the style of the day, and it was a golden era for female jazz singers. So Jones makes the right choice, I believe, when she doesn't force herself to try to be different. She accepts her influences gratefully and graciously, and she uses them to create a sound that is wonderfully listenable. whether it's familiar standards or songs that don't get recorded all that often. She is, ultimately, her own singer, and why she isn't numbered among the first ladies of jazz is beyond me.

"And Maybe You'll Be There," the first song off the session to be placed on Something Nice, falls somewhere in between, on the scale of popularity. It hasn't been covered as much as, say, "Laura," but it certainly hasn't been ignored, either. Written by Rube Bloom with lyrics by Sammy Gallop, it's a good song to sing, and some good singers have done it, including Billie Holiday, Lee Wiley, June Christy, Dakota Staton. Frank Sinatra has recorded it, and a couple of marvelous and underrated doowop singers, Lee Andrews and the Five Keys' Rudy West. Even Bob Dylan.

Here's one more interesting comparison: Betty Roché recorded the same song, just couple of months earlier, with exactly the same musicians.

The musicians approach each session differently. Jimmy Neeley takes the lead for the Roché version, Wally Richardson for Jones.  Roché takes a more theatrical approach, and by that I don't mean grand gestures, I mean she does more to create a persona, the forlorn lover who can't help looking for something she knows she'll never find, and so is constantly torn. The quintet gives her space for little pauses of self-doubt, finds equivalents for the restraint which that self-doubt imposes. Jones sings the song, her engagement more with the melody and the musicality, and the musicians play to that.

I'm very glad we have both versions. I spent a lot of time on this song, a lot more than I'd expected, and when I got back to Etta Jones's version again at the end, it still sounded wonderful.

Composer Rube Bloom deserves a little mention. He had his share of hits as a songwriter, including "Fools Rush In" and "Give Me the Simple Life," and he had his moments as a piano player, working with Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer, and leading a group called Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys, which included such bayou denizens as Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Bloom also wrote the music for "Fools Rush In," which, with Johnny Mercer lyrics, has been a staple for pop singers, jazz singers, country singers and Elvis Presley.

"My Heart Tells Me," a Harry Warren tune with lyrics by Mack Gordon, is from a Betty Grable movie, and it can fall prey to a little over-sweetness of rendition, but not the way Jones does it. With a powerful assist from Michael Mulia and Jimmy Neeley, she swings it hard. The tune has an interesting history, in that during the war, a version was made by Glenn Miller lyrics sung in German by Johnny Desmond. This was broadcast over the American Broadcasting Station in Europe, a station set up to broadcast hopeful news to Resistance fighters and demoralizing messages to German troops. Gordon also wrote the lyrics to "Through a Long and Sleepless Night," music by Alfred Newman, also from a movie. Neither of these songs have been widely recorded, but both worth a listen from Jones. "Love is the Thing" is also pretty obscure, and also written by movie composers--Ned Washington and Victor Young-- although not, apparently, for a movie.

"Till There Was You" was the hit ballad from the hit Meredith Willson musical, The Music Man, just winding up its 4-year run on Broadway as Jones took the tune to Englewood Cliffs, so that star Robert Preston could head for Hollywood to make the movie version, which was also a hit. This was the breakout romantic ballad from the show, and it became a Top Forty hit for Anita Bryant. But its biggest success was yet to come: in 1963, when the Beatles included it on their first American album. Jones keeps the sweetness of the song, but adds just enough jazzy tartness to make it interesting. "Till There Was You" was also the 45 RPM single from the session, along with "All the Way" from her first Prestige outing.

"Give Me the Simple Life" (Rube Bloom again, with Harry Ruby) led off the March 30 session, and found its way into the groove of the uptempo swingers that make up Hollar! This kind of easy but forceful swing is most associated with Ella Fitzgerald, although she wouldn't record "Simple Life" until several years later. Jones can hold her head up proudly at a comparison with Ella--she swings it, with considerable help from Michael Mulia and a "Peter Gunn"-type walking bass.

"Looking Back" is a soulful blues from the pens of two songwriters equally at home in blues and pop, and this song has found success in both genres, and in country as well. Originally a hit for Nat "King" Cole in 1958, it was covered by country crooner Ferlin Husky in 1959, and later by Marty Robbins, Conway Twitty, and rockabilly Gene Vincent. Soul versions have been recorded by Mary Wells, Roy Hamilton, Carla Thomas, the Chambers Brothers, Otis Rush, Irma Thomas, and Johnny Adams. Jazz singers Nancy Wilson, Julie London and Ruth Brown have all recorded it. The soul singers, in particular, could have learned a lot from Jones' soulful interpretation, with great assists from Neeley and Rudy Lawless.

The songwriters were Brook Benton, no slouch as a pop and soul balladeer himself, and Clyde Otis, whose entry into the music business is one of those storybook tales. As a young marine, he became friends with fellow jarhead Bobby Troup (“Route 66”)—these were the days after President Truman had integrated the armed forces. Troup encouraged his songwriting, so after he’d mustered out, he moved to New York, where he spent the better part of a decade knocking on doors, piling up rejections, and driving a cab. One evening, he caught a fare who was going to a party given by a well-known music publisher, and he persuaded the passenger to give the publisher a song.

Reel to reel? There were no cassettes in those days. But anyway, the song was “That’s All There Is to That,” and it became a Top Twenty hit for Nat “King” Cole. Within two years, Otis was the first African American A&R executive with Mercury Records. He is credited with over 800 published songs. His work with Brook Benton yielded several hits for Benton singly and in duets with Dinah Washington in addition to “Looking Back.”

“And the Angels Sing,” by Ziggy Elman and Johnny Mercer, is another song like “Give Me the Simple Life,” made to be swung. Additionally, it has a lot of lyrics (“Suddenly the setting is strange / I can see moonlight beaming / silver waves that break on some undiscovered shore”) which require a very good singer to make them make sense, carry the emotion, and keep swinging. This takes some serious musicianship combined with some serious intelligence. And she does it all in two and a half minutes, which includes a most satisfying solo by Wally Richardson.

“Answer Me My Love” was originally a German song by Fred Rauch and Gerhard Winkler. A close English translation by Carl Sigman, a prolific lyricist, began “Answer me, my Lord,” and had the singer questioning why God had stolen his sweetie, but even when recorded by Frankie Laine, who was no stranger to addressing God (“I Believe”), it didn’t take off. Sigman tried again, and Laine had better success with the new secular version, although the big hit was Nat “King” Cole’s. Love was a good fallback theme for a song in those days. “Let Me Go, Devil,” was a song about an individual in the clutches of alcoholism, but when it was redone as “Let Me Go, Lover,” it became a number one hit for Joan Weber, a top ten hit for both Patti Page and Teresa Brewer, and a charted record for several other singers.
The tempo of “Answer Me My Love” may have been more suited to Something Nice” than Hollar!, but it’s nice to have it wherever.
“Reverse the Charges,” by Paul Francis Webster and Clarence Williams, seems not to have made much of a mark in spite of the pedigree of its composers. It was the B side of a 1946 78 RPM single by the Velvetones, a vocal harmony group in the style of the Ink Spots or the Mills Brothers. A nice save out of the remainder bin of pop history by Miss Jones, and a nice recording.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Listening to Prestige 445: Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, again with new musicians, this time including a second keyboardist (Ronnell Bright). This is a session that was shelved and then cut up for parts, becoming parts of two later releases, Workin' and Stompin'. The idea of naming albums with participles goes back to the series that came out of the Miles Davis Contractual Marathon, and in fact Workin' did double duty as a title for Miles and Shirley.  Workin' and Stompin' both came out in the same year, 1967, which is a little odd--you'd think if they were releasing both at the same time, they'd put all the songs from the sane session on the same album, but
I don't know what goes into making decisions like this. Nor do I know why a recording sits on the shelf for six years. In the case of Shirley Scott, it can't have been concern that they wouldn't sell. And it certainly doesn't appear to have been a concern for quality -- this is prime Shirley, listenable and musically rewarding. But if there is one thing I am sure of in this life, it's that I know nothing about marketing.

This new aggregation behind Scott is a solid one. Peck Morrison and Roy Haynes are as reliable as they come. Ronnell Bright is a welcome addition, and Wally Richardson is exemplary. The guitar-organ combination is getting to be a soul jazz staple, and although Richardson hadn't done any soul jazz sessions, he was certainly conversant with the blues. On Prestige, he had recorded with Al Sears and Willie Dixon, as well as jazz vocalist Betty Roché. Also during the 1950s, he had worked with blues and R&B figures as diverse as John Lee Hooker and Frankie Lymon.

Workin' was the first of the two to be released, and it included, from this session, the Scott original "Chapped Chops" and Nat Adderley's "Work Song." It was still a new tune when Scott recorded it in 1961, having just been debuted the year before, first by Nat and then in the two most famous versions: the one by both Adderley brothers, in a group led by Cannonball, and the other the vocal rendition by Oscar Brown Jr. But by the time the album was released, it had become virtually a signature song of soul jazz. Scott's version is a worthy addition to the canon. The tune sounds great on the organ, Scott's improvisation on it is compelling, and so is Richardson's solo.

Stompin' takes its name from "Stompin' at the Savoy," off of this session, and I love what Scott does with it, especially in the upper register of the organ. The rest of the session is two standards and a spiritual, and the album is mostly standards, so maybe that's why they divided the session the way they did.

Esmond Edwards produced.

Jon Richards: Pay No Attention

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Listening to Prestige 444: Jimmy Hamilton

Jimmy Hamilton spent 25 years with Duke Ellington, which should tell you something about how good he was.  He replaced Barney Bigard in 1943, and was an important part of the Ellington orchestra for many of its greatest recordings, as well as a bunch more with groups of Ellingtonians led by Johnny Hodges. He released a handful of albums as leader during the 1950s on extremely obscure labels, and then this and one more on Prestige, but neither of his Prestige albums were ever reissued by Fantasy or Concord as part of their Original Jazz Classics series. You can't call him a forgotten man of jazz, because 25
years with the Duke gave him a certain recognition, but on the other hand, you sorta can. Jazz fans--certainly Ellington fans--know Hamilton as a section man par excellence. Not many know him as a soloist, improviser, leader.

This would be a good introduction, with Ellingtonians Britt Woodman and Clark Terry joining a solid rhythm section, playing all originals by Hamilton. It seems that when Jimmy breaks loose from the Duke, he gravitates toward the blues, reflecting his early days with Lucky Millinder and Bill Doggett. There's nothing like hearing a bunch of disciplined Duke's men letting their hair down and jamming on the blues, and I could listen to this all day.

A sextet is enough to get a full, almost big band sound if you know what you're doing, and these guys certainly do. They're all great section men as
well as being great soloists, so they can play together when called for, improvise when it's their turn.

Not known as a composer, although he does have one co-composer credit with Ellington ("Sunswept Sunday," from the Anatomy of a Murder soundtrack), Hamilton does not make a mistake in assigning the tunemaking chores for this session to himself. He has a good feeling for blues riffs that will sustain a whole song.

This was the first of two Prestige sessions for Hamilton, and it was released on Swingville.  After this, no more recording on his own for a long time. In 1968, he left Ellington and retired to the Virgin Islands, if you call teaching and playing music retirement.  In the 1980s, a couple of live sessions were captured and released. He died in 1994.

Esmond Edwards produced.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Listening to Prestige 443: Joe Newman

Joe Newman is back for his second of three Swingville sessions, and it's very much like the first: Musicians drawn from the Basie extended family, solid swinging arrangements, Tommy Flanagan taking the Count's chair at the piano, Basie bassist Eddie Jones on board. This time instead of Frank Wess it's Frank Foster on tenor sax.  Non-Basie drummer Bill English replaces non-Basie-ite Oliver Jackson on the drums, but like Jackson, English can swing it. We've heard him before, in 1956, with Bennie Green.

A big difference here is the choice of material, which leaned heavily on Basie the last time out. This time, although he includes one Basie staple (Neil Hefti's "Li'l Darlin') and one Ellington number ("Just Squeeze Me"), the rest are all Newman compositions.

A small group is always going to be different from a big band. The most famous attempt to recreate a big band sound with a small combo was that of ex-Chick Webb alto saxophonist Louis Jordan--and he succeeded, instead, in creating a sound that virtually defined the rhythm and blues of the 1940s.

Newman doesn't achieve quite so revolutionary a transformation. But it's interesting to compare Basie done by Basie and Basie done by a small group of Basie-ites. "Li'l Darlin'" was first recorded in 1957, by a Basie orchestra that included Newman, Foster and Jones.

Neil Hefti went from high school to playing the triumpet with various dance bands, and starting to write arrangements. Shelley Manne was the drummer for one of them, and he recalled in an interview with Ira Gitler (quoted in Wikipedia):
We roomed together. And at night we didn't have nothing to do, and we were up at this place — Budd Lake. He said, "What are we going to do tonight?" I said, "Why don't you write a chart for tomorrow?" Neal was so great that he'd just take out the music paper, no score, [hums] — trumpet part, [hums] — trumpet part, [hums] — trombone part, [hums], and you'd play it the next day. It was the end. Cooking charts. I never forget, I couldn't believe it. I kept watching him. It was fantastic.
In 1944 he joined Woody'Herman's band, a period he describes as "the first time I sort of got into
jazz." It also brought him to New York, where he went to 52nd Street and started listening to what Dizzy Gillespie was doing on the trumpet. He loved it and was intrigued by it, but at heart he was probably always a dance band guy. In an interview with Forrest Patton, he recalls going as a boy to hear Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and others when they played in Omaha, but the bandleader who really won his heart was Britisher Ray Noble, later to gain fame as the orchestra conductor for the Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy radio show. His reaction to Noble:
After attending the show, I said to myself that if I ever became an orchestra leader, that's the kind of orchestra, I would want.
When Count Basie hired Hefti in 1950, he had built a strong reputation in the jazz world, first with Herman, then as a freelance arranger for Buddy Rich, Georgie Shaw, and others. He also led and arranged for studio bands for the various New York record labels, and this was in large part what drew Basie to him. In a changing economic world, Basie was intrigued by the idea of becoming the kind of band that would be booked regularly on shows like Ed Sullivan, perhaps even becoming a house band. His arrangements for this era, with Hefti as one of his chief arrangers, came to define the Basie sound, as described in the Patten interview:
Patten: Over the years, I've heard "the Neal Hefti format" to a number of pieces, especially those that were written during the Basie years. It usually starts with a musical phrase, then goes into a percussive break and returns to the melody again. I've heard this style imitated by a number of composers.
Hefti: Basie told me himself that when he had people writing for his band, he'd tell them to "write like Neal."
Basie's "Li'l Darlin'" is just such an ensemble piece. Not so much the percussive break. Because it's Basie, it rewards the listener, but it rewards the dancer even more--a slow, dreamy, late night melody for melting in each other's arms, and since I'm writing this on New Year's Eve, I hope and trust many couples will be doing just that.

Newman's version is more about the emotional constructs of the soloists. First Newman, then Foster, creates his li'l darlin' in sound, gives you something to think about, gives you something to feel, and yes, gives you something to tap a toe to.

The 45 RPM single from this session is one of Newman's own compositions. "Mo-lasses" has a delightfully retro title, harking back to rhythm and blues instrumental jukebox hits like "Corn Bread." It has some of that same rhythm and blues urgency, some modern virtuoso soloing, and, in fact, more of a Basie feel than "Li'l Darlin'." It has been recorded by others, most notably Woody Herman and Ray Bryant.

The album came out on Swingville as Good n' Groovy. Newman had a prolific career. In addition to his work with Basie, this was his 16th album as leader, and his second of three for Swingville. Esmond Edwards produced.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Monday, December 30, 2019

Listening to Prestige 442: Red Garland

In 1961, Red Garland went into the studio with a quintet featuring Oliver Nelson and Richard Williams. to record a number of tunes for Prestige, including "Soft Winds," and in 1961 Prestige released the Red Garland quintet's High Pressure, which included "Soft Winds."

That makes sense, right? Only thing...the version of "Soft Winds" released in 1961 had been recorded  by Garland in 1957, and featured John Coltrane and Donald Byrd.

And perhaps because of that, the new version, along with three-fifths of the session, went into the vault, not to be released until 1977 as part of a collection called Rediscovered Masters.

I listened to both versions. Conclusions:

  • "Soft Winds" is a beautiful tune. Written in 1939 by Benny Goodman, it's become a favorite of swingsters and boppers alike--interestingly, almost always as an instrumental, although Dinah Washington does an excellent vocal version. It's too tuneful to be called strictly a riff-based composition, but maybe too riffy to please most vocalists. But you could say the same about "Satin Doll," and vocalists love that one.
  • John Coltrane and Donald Byrd are jazz superstars (although in 1961, Byrd had not yet climbed onto that pedestal. It's not hard to see why Bob Weinstock decided not to release two versions of it at the same time.
  • That being said, is it a better version? Don't expect me to answer that one. There's no choosing between them. Coltrane and Byrd, superstars. Oliver Nelson...cult figure? Maybe. Not that widely known to the general public, but a legend to jazz cognoscenti. Richard Williams--only one album as leader in his career, so perhaps an easy name to forget, but if he wasn't that good, why did so many top jazz artists want him to work with them. And he was in demand for symphony orchestras as well. At nearly fourteen minutes, the Garland/Coltrane recording is a tour de force for all its soloists, very much including Garland. At just over six minutes, the Garland/Nelson version is tighter, less a vehicle for virtuoso performance--except, surprisingly enough, by bassist Peck Morrison. I'm glad we have both of them.

Also held off until rediscovery: "Skinny's Blues." a Garland composition featuring Nelson and Williams joining together on some blues that tell the concrete truth. "Avalon" is the Al Jolson vehicle that became a jazz standard, here kicked off by some powerful block chording from Garland, driven mercilessly by Morrison and Charlie Persip, and knocked off the table by Oliver Nelson. This one travels on way beyond Avalon.

The other two tracks didn't see daylight right away either, but in 1964 they were blended with an earlier session from July 1960. They are two tunes that are part of every jazz musician's repertoire, Bronislaw Kaper's "On Green Dolphin Street" and Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now." They're so widely played, and widely recorded, because they're beautiful tunes that have enough complexity to allow for a wide range of interpretation and improvisation. For a later CD reissue, one more tune was added from 1959.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Listening to Prestige 441: Jaki Byard

March of 1961 came in like a lion for Prestige. Wednesday, March 1, saw them back in the studio with one of the most important musicians of his era, Eric Dolphy, in a match made in heaven with Oliver Nelson. Then they didn't even wait a week. On Tuesday, March 7, they brought two groups out to Englewood Cliffs. First, probably their biggest star of the decade, Shirley Scott; then, a major new talent, Walt Dickerson. And the following Tuesday, they unveiled a monster talent.

Jaki Byard had recorded twice for Prestige, with Dolphy, who knew talent and who recognized the forward-thinking musicians who could keep pace with his rapidly expanding ideas.

He was not a youthful prodigy. When he made his debut as a leader with Prestige (there'd been one solo album for Candid the year before) he was 39 years old. He had actually made his first record in 1950, in Boston with Charlie Mariano, back in the days of 10-inch LPs, on the West Coast rhythm and blues label Imperial. A 1957 gig with Herb Pomeroy (he played tenor sax) was released on Roulette, but again, that was primarily a Boston audience.

Byard was to remain with Prestige throughout the decade, so I'll have a lot more to say about him as time goes on, and fortunately, there's a lot to say, because his creativity and originality was never-ending. Listening to Byard, and reading about him, makes me think of what people said about the young Sammy Davis Jr. That he was so gifted, and had absorbed -- and could reproduce -- so many styles, that he didn't really have a style of his own. Which
was wrong, of course. Byard was similar -- he could incorporate any style, or several different styles in the same piece. Nowadays, that's not so unusual. In the post-Wynton Marsalis era, young piano players have to be able to play ragtime, bebop, and Monk, just to get noticed. But Byard did it because that was who he was. He did with respect and humor at the same time, and he created a style that was unique and personal out of it.

This album contains five originals and three by other composers. The originals include "To My Wife," a tribute to a love affair that lasted four decades, and "Garnerin' a Bit," a tribute to Erroll Garner, one of his early heroes.

"When Sunny Gets Blue" was a 1956 vehicle for Johnny Mathis, and Byard shows off his own crooner chops with it, but on the alto sax. It was left off his debut album, but picked up a couple of albums down the road, on Out Front!

He takes on Gershwin in a Porgy and Bess medley, "Bess You Is My Woman Now" and "It Ain't Necssarily So."

And most interestingly, he becomes the first jazz artist to record a new version of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," from the album that had revolutionized jazz just the year before. With Ron Carter and Roy Haynes, he takes it apart, puts it back together, reimagines it for the piano, makes something new out of something that was already startlingly new, and does it all in two minutes and 22 seconds, ending so abruptly it's almost in mid-phrase.

Here's Jaki  was produced by Esmond Edwards, and brought out on New Jazz.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs