Friday, May 19, 2017

Listening to Prestige 260: Ray Draper - John Coltrane

Bob Weinstock must have had a lot of confidence in his barely 17-year-old prodigy Ray Draper, giving him John Coltrane as a bandmate. It's tough enough playing bebop on a tuba, without being asked to play it off against one of the most advanced improvisers of the era. And to up the stakes a little more, either Weinstock or Draper decided not to go with their tried and true reliables in the rhythm section. Each of them had played on only one other Prestige session. Gil Coggins had played on a Jackie McLean session in August.  Spanky DeBrest had appeared on Draper's debut as leader, though he was already an established figure with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Larry Ritchie had also worked with Draper, on the July 12 Jackie McLean session.

All of this works. Coggins is a jagged, percussive piano player, and sets the tone that this is going to be a different kind of session. Draper and Coltrane work well together in the ensemble passages. Draper proves that he's a first rate composer on his originals, particularly "Clifford's Kappa," and he shines as a soloist.

And that's saying a lot, considering what he was up against. Everything from this session is good, better than good. But Coltrane was on fire. When he solos, everything else melts away. I've been following Coltrane's progression here, from the Miles sessions through the wide-ranging array of sideman gigs that Weinstock used him for, through his sessions as leader, looking for clues as to what he would burst forth into come the 1960s, and not really finding them. In each of his Prestige sessions, including this one, he is right there in the present moment, making the music he's brought in to make. And making all the right choices. And listening to his recording sessions in chronological order, all I can say is that he keeps getting better and better.

His solos here virtually stop time and space, and exist in their own dimension. But that doesn't mean he's ignoring what's around him. He's working with Draper and Coggins, building on what they're doing, and they're doing some very, very good stuff.

In spite of all that, it's hard to know what to do with a tuba player, and Weinstock was not going to do more. This is Draper's last session for Prestige, and it was released on New Jazz, which generally meant it was not going to get the promotional push that went behind a Prestige release. Draper would record only sporadically after that, succumbing to heroin addiction and drug-related prison time. He died in 1982, meeting an ironically grisly end for a musical prodigy: he was shot and killed by a hold-up gang led by a 13-year-old.

The original New Jazz release was called The Ray Draper Quintet featuring John Coltrane. A much later Prestige reissue was title The John Coltrane/Ray Draper Quintet.

Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Listening to Prestige 259: Red Garland

Not much more to say about this amazing collection of musicians, except to wonder if this is Donald Byrd's first pairing with John Coltrane.

Well, not quite. And once again the story goes back to Detroit, and Cass Technical High School. As Byrd remembered it in a 1998 lecture at Cornell University, one of the many institutions at which he taught,

I met him in the 11th grade in Detroit. I skipped school one day to see Dizzy Gillespie, and that’s where I met Coltrane. Coltrane and Jimmy Heath just joined the band, and I brought my trumpet, and he was sitting at the piano downstairs waiting to join Dizzy’s band. He had his saxophone across his lap, and he looked at me and he said, ‘You want to play?’
So he played piano, and I soloed. I never thought that six years later we would be recording together, and that we would be doing all of this stuff.
 And in fact, not even close. Byrd and Coltrane recorded together more than I would have guessed. Here's the best I can do for a complete list, relying on information from the amazing New York Public Library Research Desk, Wikipedia,, and Amazon:

Elmo Hope All Star Sextet, Informal Jazz (Prestige, May 1956) With Hank Mobley, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones

Paul Chambers Sextet, Whims of Chambers (Blue Note, September 1956). With Kenny Burrell, Horace Silver and Philly Joe Jones.

Art Blakey Big Band  (Bethlehem, December 1957). They were featured on two tracks as the Art Blakey Quintet, playihg a composition by Byrd and one by Trane.

Sonny Clark Sextet, Sonny's Crib (Blue Note, October 1957). With Curtis Fuller, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor

John Coltrane Quintet, Lush Life, Black Pearls (Prestige). These were both from the Coltrane compilations issued after Trane had left Prestige. Lush Life included one cut from a January 1958 session with Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Louis Hayes. Black Pearls was a May session with Garland, Chambers and Art Taylor.

Oscar Pettiford All-Stars, Winners Circle - Down Beat Poll Winners from 1956 (Bethlehem, October 1957). With Gene Quill, Al Cohn, Freddie Green, Eddie Costa, Philly Joe Jones and Ed Thigpen in various mix-and-match combinations.

And, since we were just talking, in the context of Mose Allison, about musicians getting duped out of publishing rights, here's another Donald Byrd story, this time with Byrd as the voice of experience, and Herbie Hancock as the callow youth. When Byrd gave Hancock his recording debut on a Blue Note session, Blue Note wanted to sign the young pianist to a recording contract, and Byrd warned him that under no account should he surrender the publishing rights to his music. So of course, that was the first condition Blue Note made.

A recording contract isn't  just a temptation to a young musician, it's the temptation. That's why so many young musicians give away so many rights. And it seemed inconceivable to Hancock that he could walk away from it, but he did. Blue Note caved. Hancock kept the publishing rights, and when Mongo Santamaria had a hit with "Watermelon Man"...well, the rest of the story comes not from a music publication, but from Road and Track (by way of Wikipedia). Hancock took the royalties from "Watermelon Man" and bought a Shelby Cobra, which is now renowned as the oldest production Cobra still in the hands of its original owner.

Of course, the real story here is the music. There's one new name, George Joyner, who would not have that name for long. He had come to New York after a stint playing the blues with B. B. King, and recorded first with Phineas Newborn. After converting to Islam, he became first Jamil Sulieman and then Jamil Nasser, and had a long association with Ahmad Jamal, and a career that went well into the 90s;

This was a long day in the studio, which would have come as no novelty to Garland and Coltrane, who were both on board for the Miles Davis Contractual Marathon. Ten songs, and one of them, "All Mornin' Long," went on pretty much all evening long, clocked in at 20 minutes, and made up a whole side of one of the LPs to come out of the session. And even after that, they weren't quite willing to call it a day, as they came back the next month to do five more.

"All Mornin' Long" was a Garland composition, and although it was the last piece recorded that day,
it was the first side of the eponymous first album released from the session. It holds attention all the way through, particularly the long piano solo by Garland that features some beautiful dialogue with Joyner/Nasser, leading into a bass solo that makes you understand why this guy was welcomed into the fold. Two other pretty fair composers took up the second half, George Gershwin ("They Can't Take That Away From Me") and Tadd Dameron ("Our Delight").

All Mornin' Long was a pretty quick release, in the spring of 1958. The others were a little longer in coming. Soul Junction saw the light of day in 1960, again with the Garland composition giving the album its title. Garland shared composing space with jazz giants: two by Dizzy Gillespie ("Woody'n You" and "Birks Works") and one by Duke Ellington (I've Got it
Bad"). The final composer honors for the album went in a different direction, to 1920s Broadway composer Vincent Youmans, but Youmans might not have recognized their bopped-out, uptempo, nonstop version of his "Hallelujah." It's a rousing enough tune, as performed by Glenn Miller and others, but not always this rousing.

The rest of the November session--"Undecided" (Charlie Shavers) and "What Is There to Say?" (Vernon Duke)--had to wait until High Pressure in 1962, along with three songs from the December session: "Soft Winds" (Benny Goodman / Fletcher Henderson), "Solitude" (Duke Ellington) and "Two Bass Hit" (Dizzy Gillespie/John Lewis).  When you're getting together to play that much music, without much rehearsal, it's probably a good idea to mostly choose tunes that everyone knows. Bird's "Billie's Bounce" and Garland's "Lazy Mae" were on a later 1962 LP called Dig It!, which put together numbers from three different sessions.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Listening to Prestige 258: Mose Allison

All it took was Back Country Suite to get me hooked on Mose Allison. I bought all his subsequent Prestige albums as soon as they were released, and most of his later albums, on Columbia, Atlantic and Blue Note.

So many jazz greats got their first break with Prestige, then moved on to other labels. Miles, Monk, MJQ, Sonny Rollins, Billy Taylor, just to name a few. Of course, one of the main reasons for moving from a small label to a bigger one is money. Another is creative differences and career management--Monk moved from Blue Note to Prestige to Riverside, all small labels, and stayed with Riverside for years. But money doesn't come easily to jazz musicians, and it never came easily to musicians who recorded for Prestige. I recall reading an interview with Allison some years ago, in which he said that he'd never seen a royalty from Prestige for Back Country Suite. But apparently this was not a rare experience for Mose. In a 1998 interview with Blues Access Magazine, he says that he never got royalties from any of his labels, meaning Columbia and then Atlantic, which in 1962 was an independent on the verge of becoming a major. Allison remembers the first real money he ever made from a recording:

I got a check in the mail from Jazz Editions for $7000. I thought, ‘Man, what the hell is this? This must be some mistake.’ I’d been gettin’ 20 dollars and 30 dollars, and I couldn’t figure out what had happened. I didn’t know anything about ’em [the Who]... the first time I ever made any money off a record.
 The Who had recorded Allison's vocal vignette from Back Country Suite on their album Live at Leeds as "Young Man Blues." Jazz Editions was George Wallington's publishing company, and yet another source for money that did not come to Allison. Most musicians didn't really understand the concept of publishing rights in the 50s, which is why so many of the early rhythm and blues, rock and roll and doo wop performers, as well as jazz musicians,  found that most of their money wound up in the pockets of whoever had taken the publishing rights to their songs. But Wallingford did bring Allison to Prestige, and got his career started.

Local Color was sort of like Back Country Suite, a series of pieces by Allison that reflected his own unique perspective on the blues. Back Country Suite had been short interconnected vignettes, in part inspired by
Bela Bartok. At LSU I heard him for the first time, one of his things, the piano suite, "Hungarian Sketches," or somethin’, just a piano playin’ fairly simple tunes. But they were so evocative. That gave me the idea. I said, "Well, hell, I can do that. With my background, the music I grew up with, I ought to be able to come up with somethin’ like that."
 The Local Color tunes have the same quality, but they're worked out at full length, as opposed to the vignettes of the first album. And again, the second side of the album is given over mostly to the work of other composers. There's a traditional blues credited to New Orleans musician Richard M. Jones, and songs by Percy Mayfield, Bennie Benjamin/George David Weiss, and Duke Ellington.

The blues is "Trouble in Mind," and Allison plays trumpet on it. He would record a few more trumpet pieces on subsequent albums, but eventually, as he became more and more a singer, it dropped out of his repertoire. I'm not qualified to discuss the technical merits of Mose's trumpet playing. It sounds good to me. And it sounds very much of a piece with his piano and voice.

A while back, I was teaching a course in public speaking at a New York State prison, and one of my students, who I'll call M____, was extraordinary. I had a lot of good students, but M____ had a naturally academic mind. In another, perhaps fairer world, he would have been getting a Ph.D. someplace. When he gave his last speech of the semester, I told him there was nothing I could offer in the way of criticism: subject matter, research, development of argument, delivery. Just one thing, perhaps: maybe it's time you paid attention to conventional subject-verb agreement, and got away from formulations like "he say" and "he be." That sparked a discussion, with good and thoughtful points being made on both sides. At one point, another student in the class said "I want to hear the real M____, not M_____ the intellectual." I said, "I have to disagree with you. I think M_____ the intellectual is the real M_____."

And so with Mose Allison. His trumpet, his piano, his voice -- all carried the down home authenticity of his background in rural Mississippi and the literate sophistication of his degree in English from LSU. That was Mose, and that was Mose. And there was no contradiction.

"Lost Mind" is one of the two vocal performances on the album, and it's the recording that turned me on to Percy Mayfield, known as "The Poet of the Blues." I had heard and loved "Please Send Me Someone to Love," but it was Allison's version of "Lost Mind" that really made me focus on Mayfield, who, according to Specialty Records head Art Rupe, could have been, with the right encouragement, another Langston Hughes.

"Lost Mind" is great, but it was the other vocal, Allison's own "Parchman Farm," that made his reputation as a singer and songwriter. "Blues" (later known as "Young Man Blues") from the first album had been a vignette from the suite, but "Parchman Farm" was full length, fully realized, and ready to me marketed on 45 RPM. Which it was, twice. Once with Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore (from Young Man Mose) and once with Willie Dixon's The Seventh Son. It became his most popular song, although he eventually stopped doing it, perhaps because it was criticized for being politically incorrect (although on those grounds you'd have to throw out at least three quarters of the blues), perhaps because it just stopped seeming relevant. From an interview in Nine-O-One Network Magazine, quoted in Wikipedia:

I don't do the cotton sack songs much anymore ["One Room Country Shack" also features one]. You go to the Mississippi Delta and there are no cotton sacks. It's all machines and chemicals.

The vocals are so good that sometimes people forget that Mose was first a jazz piano player, discovered and encouraged by Al Cohn and George Wallington. So I've put up one of the instrumental pieces from Local Color as my listening choice for today.

Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Listening to Prestige 257: Steve Lacy

In my last post, Paul Quinichette's Basie tribute, I talked about the 1950s in jazz as an era where the entire history of jazz coexisted, styles and eras side by side: New Orleans traditional, Kansas City blues, swing (both white and black), bebop, rhythm and blues, hard bop, cool, avant garde. And these styles overlapped and fed off each other. The break that begat bebop came from a Kansas City jump blues number: Charlie Parker's solo on Jay McShann's "Sepia Bounce." Rhythm and blues jumped out of the horn of Illinois Jacquet on Lionel Hampton's "Flying Home." Pop balladeer Billy Eckstine put together a big band that jumpstarted the careers of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Benny Goodman integrated jazz first behind the scenes by hiring Fletcher Henderson as arranger, then out front with Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. Gerry Mulligan took the ideas he had been working out with Miles Davis out to the West Coast and sparked a whole new geographically eponymous school. Veterans like Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz were developing an avant garde that would soon be taken over and pushed beyond boundaries by younger musicians like Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler.

The original beboppers came out of the swing era. Most of them had played in swing bands, and many, like Zoot Sims and Wardell Gray, carried a lot of the swing sensibility into their modern playing. That sort of progression was radical, but it was also incremental.

Steve Lacy was another story. Born in 1934, he had his first professional gig at age 16. That's 1950, when bebop had already passed its infancy and entered its mature phase, but Lacy didn't start with bebop, or even with swing. He went back to an earlier era, playing traditional New Orleans jazz with musicians like Henry "Red" Allen and Zutty Singleton. And then, in a quantum bounce, he leapfrogged over the dominant sounds of his generation and the previous generation, and landed foursquare (well, hardly square) in the avant garde, playing on Cecil Taylor's debut album, Jazz Advance, in 1956.

This Prestige session was Lacy's own debut as a leader, and it finds him somewhat more in tune with the times than the visionary work with Taylor would have suggested.  But he was playing his instrument of choice, the soprano saxophone, and that in itself set him apart. After John Coltrane took up the soprano sax, others started experimenting with it, but in 1957, it was pretty much Steve Lacy alone. So that sets him apart. He is working with the general structure of improvisation from a melody, but he's already heard the call of a muse in a different room.

If it's 1957, and you're going to be looking for new directions...well, of course, bebop was a new direction, which is why Charlie Parker was so important, and continues to be important today. In 1957, his innovations were still fresh, and people were still finding important things to say under the bebop umbrella, but there were other new directions too. And if you were searching for your own way, the path was likely to lead through Thelonious Monk, who had always been in bebop but not of it. Cecil Taylor had included a Monk tune, "Bemsha Swing," on Jazz Advance. Lacy included Monk's "Work," and it was the beginning of a long fascination with one of jazz's most original composers. He would later become the first jazz artist to record a whole album devoted to Monk's music, and would play briefly in Monk's band.

Wynton Kelly had made his Prestige debut with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis on a couple of 78s in 1950, and had appeared on an Art Farmer album in 1954. By 1957 he was seriously in demand, appearing on a couple of dozen albums in that year alone, on virtually every significant jazz label. He would appear on a handful more Prestige albums in the ensuing years, but never a session as leader. Red Garland and Mal Waldron were the label's go-to piano guys.

Kelly was the straight-ahead side of Lacy's debut sound; Buell Neidlinger and Dennis Charles were the avant garde. Both had been on Jazz Advance, and both would have long-time associations with Taylor. Niedlinger would go deeper into the avant garde later, working with composers like John Cage and George Crumb.

Reflecting the uniqueness of Lacy's instrument, the album would be called Soprano Sax.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Listening to Prestige 256: Paul Quinichette

Some jazz labels are linked with a particular style. Blue Note, though it had a long life starting in the swing era and extending to the present day, is very much identified with hard bop. Pacific Jazz lived up to its name and became identified with the West Coast sound, or the birth of white cool. Windham Hill is so closely associated with New Age jazz that "Windham Hill" is virtually a synonym for New Age.

Prestige also recorded a lot of hard bop and bebop, but because it was so much a one-man operation, Bob Weinstock was able to indulge his enthusiasms across a wide spectrum. Paul Quinichette had come under the Prestige umbrella in 1957, recording bop albums with John Coltrane, with Webster Young (perhaps he misunderstood, and thought Weinstock was saying "Come in for a session with Webster and Young"), and even one under his own name with a group of boppers. That came out as Paul Quinichette's New Stars, and they were all newer than him, for sure. Like his mentor Lester Young, Quinichette was open to new sounds and new ideas, but he was a Basie-ite at heart, so why not record him in a Basie context? Prestige was a big tent.

The album is For Basie, the tunes are all from the Basie playbook, and the musicians are Basie veterans.

Shad Collins' ties to Basie go back to the 30s, and the Lester Young days. He also played with Cab Calloway (he replaced Dizzy Gillespie), Benny Carter, Don Redman, Jimmy Rushing, and Sam "The Man" Taylor, another jazz-to-rhythm and blues cat. He had an important reputation as an arranger and considerable success as a composer, including "Rock-a-Bye Basie." He also wrote Cozy Cole's Top Forty hit, "Topsy."

No musicians are more closely identified with Basie than Walter Page and Freddie Green, In fact, Basie was a member of Page's band, the Blue Devils, in Kansas City. Page is credited with being one of the first to shift the primary rhythmic responsibility in a band to the bass, thus freeing up the drummer and piano player to improvise more. When you hear a singer, like Lonette McKee in Round Midnight, talk about the importance of listening to the bass, she has Walter Page to thank for it. This may have been Page's last recording, as he died suddenly and unexpectedly in the winter of 1957.

Freddie Green joined Basie in 1937, and stayed with him for the next 50 years. Jo Jones joined Green and Page as integral figures in the creation of the Basie sound. He played with Basie until 1948, then freelanced with others, including Duke Ellington.

Nat Pierce is best known for his work with Woody Herman, but also for having an uncanny ability to recreate Basie's piano style, so during the late 50s he led a number of groups of Basie veterans.

No one can resist the sounds of Count Basie, and it's pretty damn hard to resist these guys, either.

So...a step backward? No. There's really no backward in jazz. Some may have still been talking about hipsters and moldy figs, but this was an era when Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory were still making music, when Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton were still making music, Machito and Tito Puente, the Count and the Duke, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy. Probably no other art form has ever been so inclusive.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Listening to Prestige 255: Yusef Lateef

Yusef Lateef is, among his fellow Detroiters, a late arrival on the New York scene, and not because he represented a younger generation. Not at all. He was 37 when he first came to New York in the spring of 1957 to record for Savoy and Verve, and then to make this album for Prestige. And he wouldn't actually move Eest for good until 1960.

He had not been entirely homebound. He'd started playing professionally at 18, touring with swing bands and eventually with Dizzy Gillespie, but by 1950 concerns for his wife's health brought him off the road and home to Detroit, where he became an important figure, not only for his musicianship but also his cultural leadership. He was a founder and vice president of the New Music Society, an organization that reached out to younger jazz musicians and gave them a place to grow and develop. 1950 was also the year he converted to Islam.

His late arrival on the New York scene is part of the reason why, although he'd been an active musician for over 20 years by the time the decade turned, he is more associated with the jazz of the Sixties than the Fifties. The rest of that reason is his free-flying creativity, which seem like a Sixties thing, but was part of Lateef's creative personality even back in Detroit. Pianist Terry Pollard recalls that
He sometimes had me blow into a pop bottle. He'd fill it with get different sounds, to make the song sound like Yusef wanted it to be. And so I ended up blowing into these pop bottles. I didn't know how, and I would get dizzy every night.*
While he was still in Detroit, Lateef began to experiment with Middle Eastern music, turned on to it by a fellow assembly line worker at the Chrysler plant. He
realized I had to widen my canvas of expression. I spent many hours in the library...studying the music of other cultures. I met a man [at Chrysler] from Syria and he asked me if I knew about the rabat.
He would bring all of this knowledge, and all the instruments he was experimenting with, to his New
York recording sessions, along with his Detroit band from their regular gig at Klein's Showbar.
We were so tight we were able to go to New York on off nights and do two albums, easily...We got off Sunday nights and jumped in the...station wagon, and we would drive all the way to Hackensack, New Jersey, and record on Monday and we'd turn right back to Detroit and open up on Tuesday.
The October session with its twelve tunes would have been an impressive feat for a group motoring over from Weehawken, let alone five guys and their instruments packed into a station wagon and barreling in from Detroit. Impressive for the sheer amount of work, impressive for how good it was, and really impressive for its range.

"Playful Flute," the first tune laid down, was composed by brass player Wilbur Harden, but it embodies Lateef's love of Middle Eastern music, learned in the library, from his fellow Chrysler worker, and certainly also from his pilgrimages to Mecca. It incorporates the flute and the argol, or arghul, a two-tubed woodwind instrument that dates back to ancient Egypt.

"Taboo" is one of those tunes that's always used when a movie soundtrack wants something Latin and exotic. Either that or Margarita Lecuona's only other hit, "Babalu." Or one of the compositions of her cousin Ernesto, like "The Breeze and I" or "Malaguena." To refresh my memory, I listened to versions by Les Baxter (boring) and Cuban bandleader Jack Costanzo (not boring). But no one brings to it quite what Lateef does. From Oliver Jackson's arresting drum intro to Lateef's flute work, he turns what's generally an ersatz exotic into a genuine exotic. Which is no small feat.

And, of course, I'm not so much interested in a critique of the Lecuona cousins' oeuvre as I am in following my reactions to Lateef's range and the courage of his choices. "Taboo" is a tune that could easily be dismissed as kitsch. Not so here. And it's interesting to consider how it might have been chosen.

This was a quintet that Lateef held together for five years, working a regular five-night-a-week gig in a very hip jazz town. Five nights a week for five years means you work out a lot of material, and sometimes you're just goofing around. Hey, let's take a tune that's straight from Squaresville, and see how we can mess around with it. And if you're Yusef Lateef, and you're playing what some have described as "world music before there was world music," even goofing around can lead to new discoveries.

"Anastasia" might have been another one of those tunes. From an Oscar-nominated movie soundtrack by Alfred Newman, it had become a pop hit for Pat Boone, and you can't go much deeper into Squaresville than that. Here, Lateef does the really unexpected by staying quite faithful to the melody, but giving it a bit of a Middle Eastern twist, and a moody cast. Making it new.

Lateef's own compositions for this date are as eclectic as his covers. "Ecaps," in spite of its spacey title, is pretty much rooted on earth, with bop-influenced flute and tenor playing, and a very nice boppish piano solo by Hugh Lawson. Others range from boppish to proto-world music. And then there's "Love and Humor."

Most of the odd instruments listed in the session notes come into play here, including the balloons handed to Wilbur Harden and Hugh Lawson, for that unmistakeable sound of two balloons being rubbed together -- and Lawson is given Terry Pollard's 7-Up bottles. I couldn't help but think, as all of these unusual sounds wove their way into the mix, what kind of a challenge this session must have been for Rudy Van Gelder. The mood may be (sort of) Middle Eastern, with Lateef playing flute and argol, but the instrumentation is worthy of Spike Jones, who also knew something about love and humor. Lateef's humor is a little more subtle, and this is a very special cut, moving some distance away from jazz as we knew it, expanding our musical vocabulary. Lateef had used some of these instruments and sound effects on his earlier Savoy albums, but nothing quite like this.

I wonder if Bob Weinstock had entirely been expecting "Love and Humor." But he didn't shy away from it. It went onto his first Lateef release, The Sounds of Yusef, along with "Playful Flute," "Buckingham," "Meditation," and "Take the 'A' Train," and not only that, it was released as a 45 b/w "Meditation."

"Taboo," "All Alone," "Lambert's Joint," "Mahabs," "Minor Mood" and "Anastasia" all went onto the New Jazz album Other Sounds, released in 1959. "Ecaps" was held off until the 1960 New Jazz Cry!-Tender, the rest of which came from a later and much different session.

* This and all the other quotes -- in fact, much of the Detroit information -- from Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert's amazing book, Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Listening to Prestige 254: Prestige All Stars - John Coltrane

What to say about this session? I've already talked about the pleasures of a Coltrane-Quinichette collaboration, and they're here again in abundance, all the more pleasurable when Frank Wess is added to the mix. Wess, like Quinichette, was a Basie guy and a Lester Young guy on tenor. He also played the flute, an instrument that is finding its way more and more into Prestige sessions. The tenor saxophone is never going to go away. It's the beating heart of jazz and its rambunctious cousin rhythm and blues. But new colorations are finding their way into the music, and both the solid groove and the newer sound are featured here, as Wess plays both flute and tenor. The Basie swing of Quinichette and Wess is a part of the jazz vocabulary that Coltrane is internalizing, ready to burst forth.

And I've talked more than once about the brilliance of Mal Waldron as a composer, and as an interpreter of his own compositions. Very often, when a group is playing a Waldron tune, he'll take a late solo, or the last solo, and he'll add something that the other brilliant musicians on the take have missed -- something that goes to the heart of the song.

So what to talk about here? Well, one thing that you very rarely find on a Bob Weinstock recording, the existence of alternate takes. Weinstock, as we know, valued spontaneity and didn't encourage a lot of second and third tries on a tune. Also, as we know, he valued recording tape and didn't like to waste it, so most unused takes were taped over.

Alternate takes are often a treasure to the jazz scholar, just as often a pain in the neck to the jazz lover who just wants to hear music, not study it, and whose enjoyment of the CD version of an album he once loved is marred by having to listen to five different takes of some group's version of "Ornithology." But because they are so infrequent on Prestige, and because I am sort of pretending to be a jazz scholar in this project, they're a rare treat.

I listened to the final take of "Wheelin'" first, the alternate take second, wondering if I'd hear the difference, or get why they were dissatisfied with the first. And maybe I did. This is a very swinging group, with two Lester Young acolyte Basie-ites, and a piano player who would be tapped by Pres's soulmate Billie Holiday as her accompanist, and as great as the first version is, maybe they thought that they could swing harder.

Especially Mal Waldron. On the final take, I was blown away by his piano solo, hard as nails, played almost entirely on the topmost end of the piano. The earlier version is mellower, and it seems as though Waldron decided to trade sonority for percussiveness, not unlike what Illinois Jacquet did in his classic recording of "Flying Home" with the Lionel Hampton band, when he created the honking tenor sound, with all its emotional immediacy. Waldron is doing something a lot more complex, but no less immediate.

Other thoughts about this session: I was drawn in by the inescapable beat of the rhythm section on Mercer Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," one of the numbers that features Wess on flute. And speaking of Illinois Jacquet, his "Robbins Nest" is one of the great jazz standards, with an irresistible melody and ample room for improvisation, done proud by this ensemble. Jacquet's collaborators on "Robbins Nest" were Sir Charles Thompson and Bob Russell, a fine lyricist (Songwriters Hall of Fame) who seemed to have a penchant for writing lyrics that were rarely used, although there is a version of "Robbins Nest" by Ella Fitzgerald.

All of the final takes m this session were on the Prestige album Wheelin' and Dealin', credited to the All Stars. The two alternate takes made it to a budget Status album, The Dealers, credited to Waldron and also featuring two cuts from his April 19 session. The alternate takes inevitably made their way onto the CD reissue of Wheelin' and Dealin'. Weinstock must have been moved as I was by the irresistible beat of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," because it was released as a two-sided 45, under Coltrane's name.