Saturday, September 26, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 148: Sanford Gold

Sanford Gold only made this one album under his own name, and it's been pretty much forgotten. Too bad. It's a nice listen--the guy definitely knew his way around a piano. Since I know so little (read nothing) about him, and since whoever wrote his Wiki entry obviously did know, and cared, and was a good writer, I'll quote it here:
Gold was one of the premier jazz piano teachers of his time. His self-published book, "A Modern Approach to Keyboard Harmony and Piano Techniques," distills the complexities of jazz and classical harmony down to a simple yet far-reaching system of pianistic and harmonic exercises, and has become an underground classic for serious students of the instrument. One of his biggest fans was Bill Evans, who often steered students his way.
His students have also remembered him on YouTube, where they've posted cuts from his album--and even the whole album. Some reminiscences:
 I was 3 yrs. old when Sanford Gold recorded this. I had my first lesson with him 12 years later in a seedy old building on 49th St and 7th Ave, full of jazz musicians like Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, Tony Aless, Ross Tompkins and the musicians from The Tonight Show band all hanging out at his studio, where there was a card game going on that never seemed to end. I thought he wasn't listening, but he would call out "3rd finger, Dummy!' from the next room.
 When I was a kid, I would sit in the waiting room while my dad was taking a lesson. By then the lessons were in a building at 58th street, and there was no room for dudes to hang out... Calling Sanford Gold a "character" is an understatement. He could be hear yelling "play that fuckin' chord" from the next room like Erik says.
 And another:
 I was a student of Sanford Gold in the mid-70s in New York.  The best piano teacher I ever had. He did once pull a machete on me, but I know he did it with love.
So we have to be grateful that Prestige brought him in for this session, although he did record with Don Byas, Stan Getz, Johnny Smith, Al Cohn, Vic Dickenson and Coleman Hawkins. And grateful to his students for keeping his memory alive.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 148: Bob Brookmeyer

Bob Brookmeyer, during this time period, was somewhat bicoastal. He had replaced Chet Baker in Gerry Mulligan's famous pianoless quartet, and he was still making dates in New York. This is another four song, 10-inch recording date, perhaps because Prestige already had one such session (with Teddy Charles), and needed one more to fill out a full length LP.

This New York session is also a pianoless quartet, except when it isn't. On two of the tunes, Brookmeyer plays piano. Actually, Brookmeyer had started as a pianist, with the Tex Beneke and Ray McKinley bands, before switching to valve trombone full time. This was actually true of the Mulligan-Brookmeyer quartets, as well--they were pianoless except when they weren't, since both Mulligan and Brookmeyer played piano.

To my ears, there's no falling off in technique or imagination when Brookmeyer switches to piano. He's great on both instruments, and the four tunes together, with the piano and trombone alternating, make a cohesive unit.

The quartet makes a cohesive unit, too. I believe this is Mel Lewis's debut on record. His first
important professional gig had come in just the previous year, when he had joined Stan Kenton's orchestra. Teddy Kotick had also played on the Teddy Charles session.

I continue to be impressed with Jimmy Raney, who's been on several Prestige sessions before this. His solos are beautiful, and his duet exchanges with both Brookmeyers, the trombonist and the pianist, are dazzling. He does a very cool duet with Teddy Kotick, as well, on his own composition,  "Potrezebie," the title of which tells me that in addition to his other accomplishments, Raney was an early fan of Mad comics. Mad's resident genius, Harvey Kurtzman, had run across the word in a set of Polish instructions for a bottle of aspirin (and who among us hasn't read aspirin labels in Polish?) and decided he liked thesound of it as a nonsense word (it actually means "need"). Looking on to see if anyone else had recorded "Potrezebie," I discovered that although it hasn't been picked up by any other Mad-loving jazzmen, there are a number of Polish songs that use it in the title. The Polish songs spell the word correctly: Potrzebie, with no "e" between the "r" and the "z." Actually, the root word is an inflected noun, and "potrzebie" is the dative case of the noun. The various Polish songs usually use "potrzebuje" or "potrzeba," which, as near as I can make out, are verb forms. "kilkanaScie przedsiEbiorstw potrzebuje nowych dochodOw"  translates as "Over a dozen of enterprises need new incomes," which seems somehow appropriate for a discussion of jazz. I like to think that Jimmy Raney was a real Mad fan, and knew the correct spelling, but was done in by the label maker for Prestige's pressing plant.

The original 10-inch release in 1955, and the later 12-inch release, were both titled The Dual Role of Bob Brookmeyer, referencing two different sessions with two different Hall Overton students, or more likely Brookmeyer as trombonist and pianist. The same album was also given a New Jazz release, as Bob Brookmeyer -- Revelation!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 147: Gene Ammons

This is a curious session, and I'm trying to puzzle it out. It's certainly not designed to produce a 12-inch LP--they only cut two tunes that day. So...a 45, maybe? One for the jukeboxes? But this isn't exactly a rhythm and blues aggregation. It's a whole new group. None of them have recorded with Ammons before, and they're all serious modern jazz musicians, the cream of the crop.

But that's OK. All these cats can play rhythm and blues. Addison Farmer may have studied at Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music, but he also played in the house band for the Bihari brothers' Modern Records, one of the premier R&B labels on the West Coast. Lou Donaldson became famous for playing the funky side of jazz, and as he said in a recent interview with jazz blogger Larry Appelbaum , "If you can’t play the blues, you can’t play no jazz, I don’t care who it is or how much you study."

But no, that doesn't seem to be the case, either. No rhythm and blues here. These are jazz cats playing straight ahead jazz, and very tasty stuff at that. With soloists like Donaldson and Art Farmer filling out the front line with Ammons, there's a lot of jazz to play, and both selections run long - "Juggernaut" checks in at 10:31, "Woofin' and Tweetin'" at 15.06. Plenty of time for extended solos, and enough music to fill up both sides of a 10-inch LP. So who needs to worry about a 45 for the jukeboxes?

Except...they did release "Woofin' and Tweetin'" as a 45. And not an EP, apparently. How? I have no
idea. Maybe they did two versions, one for the album and one for the single. But then there'd be an indication of that on the session record. Maybe they just truncated it. I looked for playing time on the 45's label, but no such luck.

I'm pleased to see that the bebop trope of punning on the artist's name (or in this case nickname) hasn't disappeared altogether: hence, "Juggernaut." And I also like "Woofin' and Tweetin'." It has the suggestion of an old time rhythm and blues title, like "Rockin' and Rollin'" or "Rollin' and Tumblin'" or "Shuckin' and Jivin'," updated to the new jargon of the hi-fi world.

This session did eventually make it to 12-inch, but here again there's a curiosity. Prestige did often rerelease material, but in this case it doesn't seem to be so much a rerelease as a release of the same thing twice. Gene Ammons All-Star Sessions and Gene Ammons - Woofin' and Tweetin' are both PRLP 7050, same catalog number. But they have two different names and two different covers.

The 45 RPM seems to have been released more or less at the same time as the album. The label reads From the 12" LP 7050 "Woofin' and Tweetin'." So maybe it went something like this:
Hey, why don't we put out a 45 on this one. It's not exactly rhythm and blues, but it is Gene Ammons. I bet we can get it on a few jukeboxes.
Isn't it a little long?
We'll just cut it down some. On the jukeboxes, who'll care? But you know...if we're putting out the 45, maybe we should change the name of the album, so if someone hears it on a jukebox and likes it, they'll know what album to buy.
Sure, why not? In that case, let's change the album cover too. I never liked that original art much.
Actually, it wasn't unusual for Prestige to put out an album with alternate covers -- in fact, there's a whole website devoted to just that. Often the difference was just one of a different color scheme, less often a whole different design. Two different names is rarer yet, although not quite unique.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 146: Bennie Green

The Prestige commitment to 12-inch LPs was not yet complete. This session did eventually get included in a full-length album, but its initial release was one of the last of the 200-series 10-inchers (there'd be four more), and even more surprisingly, one of the last of their 78 RPM releases (there'd be four more of them, including another by Green from a later 1955 session).

Which means that a recording session is changing. This Bennie Green session is four songs, totalling about 20 minutes of music, or just enough for a 10-inch LP, or a couple of singles. Not exactly perfect for singles, but the two cuts that were released on 78 and 45 ("Say Jack!" and "Sometimes I'm Happy") were the shortest ones.

Compare that with the Miles Davis session of a few days earlier, which produced about 36 minutes of music, and an entire 12-inch LP. Or the MJQ's session of a few weeks later, the same. Or the first Prestige 12-inch, recorded by Billy Taylor the previous April. All of Taylor's tunes were single-length, in the three minute range, but there were 12 of them, adding up again to about 36 minutes, and none were ever released as singles.

And compare all of those to this 1949 session by Stan Getz,  which produced four songs, all of them in the 3 1/2 minute range, all of them released on 78.

And, of course, even with Bob Weinstock's famous no-rehearsal, few-alternate takes philosophy, one wasn't always going to be able to record a whole album in one day. But great jazz didn't necessarily require endless studio time. Kind of Blue was recorded in two days. Compare that with some of the 70s rockers with endless budgets and endless studio time. accounting for tastes...but compare the results.

Anyway, back to Bennie Green. As I've noted earlier, Green could play anything, and he continues to demonstrate it. And he could do it on the trombone. Here he takes on three ballads, including "Body and Soul," which Coleman Hawkins pretty much owns as one of the definitive tenor sax solos. But Green manages to get the same depth of emotion on the trombone. "Laura" as a jazz standard is probably most closely associated with Charlie Parker with strings. Green gives it his own delicacy and sensivity.

"Laura" also features an unexpected and utterly entrancing solo by Cliff Smalls, hitherto unknown to
me, but a veteran of some ensembles with strong pedigrees, including Jimmie Lunceford and Erskine Hawkins. Perhaps he had a particular rapport with Green because he was also a trombonist. He had played trombone in the Earl Hines band that also featured Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and he was the backup pianist for Hines. Actually, Hines used several backups, including Teddy Wilson, Jess Stacy and Nat "King" Cole, but Smalls was reportedly his favorite.

On "Say Jack!" Green's trombone takes on the job of a rhythm and blues tenor sax man -- and also vocalist, leading the ensemble in a ragged-but-right rhythm-and-bluesy chorus, which is not repeated anywhere else in the song, as the group gradually forgets that it's playing R&B, and moves into bebop territory -- particularly Charlie Rouse's solo.

Rouse and Smalls get a lot of solo time on "Sometimes I'm Happy," but what really kicks that number into high gear is the conga playing of  Candido, whom Rudy Van Gelder moves to the forefront, and a good move it is.
The 10-inch LP was simply titled Bennie Green Sextet. When the session found its way to 12-inch, a year or so later, it was called Bennie Green Blows His Horn in Hi-Fi; by the time it was reissued as part of a 7100-series LP a couple of years later, perhaps Hi-Fi was no longer quite such an exciting new technology, because the album became simply Bennie Green Blows His Horn.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 145: Miles Davis

This is an interesting period in Miles's career. This session was recorded in June of 1955, and he was still working with Bob Weinstock's philosophy:
So, our basic idea was just to make records with different people, to record with the best people around...we would sit down and talk about it. Miles would mention who was in town, who he would like to record with. I'd say who I'd like to hear him record with.
 That was about to change. Miles was healthy by this time, free from heroin addiction, working out regularly. Although he did not mix it up with Thelonious Monk during their session of the previous December, as was rumored at the time, he was working out in the gym regularly, including sessions on the light punching bag.

In July, he played the Newport Jazz Festival with an all-star group, including Thelonious Monk, although they would never record together after the December dustup. The rest of the group was Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, Percy Heath and Connie Kay, who had just joined the Modern Jazz Quartet to replace expatriate-to-be Kenny Clarke. Miles doesn't appear to have been a part of the official festival lineup, but Columbia producer George Avakian heard him and his group jamming on Monk's "Round Midnight," and immediately recruited him for Columbia. Avakian had exactly the opposite to Weinstock's philosophy. He wanted Miles to put together a regular and recognizable group. Avakian's idea turned out to be the stroke of genius that put Miles over the top, but we can only be grateful, as well, for Weinstock's "jam with Miles" sessions.

It appears that, without necessarily planning it that way, Miles was already assembling that regular group. Oscar Pettiford wouldn't remain--reportedly his personality clashed with Miles's--but Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones would.

Jones had only recorded once before with Miles, but the two had spent time on the road together during Miles's self-imposed exile from New York. Garland had played on various dates with Billy Eckstine, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson (John Coltrane was also in Vinson's band), but he was pretty much unknown when Miles tapped him. They had boxing in common as well as music--Garland, as a welterweight, had actually fought Sugar Ray Robinson.

Ira Gitler, in preparing the liner notes for the Prestige album from this session, talked to Miles about musicians he admired. This must have been after Newport, so Miles must already have been thinking about who he wanted in the group he'd be forming.
I asked Miles who his current favorites were. On his own instrument he quickly named Art Farmer and Clifford Brown as the new stars and Kenny Dorham as one who has come into his own. Then he spoke lovingly of Dizzy Gillespie. "Diz is it, whenever I want to learn something I go and listen to Diz." In the piano department two Philadelphia boys, Red Garland (heard to good advantage in this LP) and Ray Bryant were mentioned along with Horace Silver, Hank Jones, and Carl Perkins, "a cat on the Coast who ploys bass notes with his elbow'. The talk shifted to saxophone and to Sonny Rollins and Hank Mobley who are carrying on the tradition of Charlie Parker. This naturally started us talking about Bird. Miles credited his most wonderful experiences in jazz to his years with Bird. He stared slowly ahead *Like Max said, New York isn't New York anymore without Bird." Max's name being mentioned directed the conversation to drummers. "Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones; Max For brushes." Miles is very conscious of drummers. Many times he will sit down between the drummer and bass player and just listen to what the drummer is doing.
Miles did actually play with Kenny Dorham once, in a 1949 all-star big band in Paris, Le Festival International de Jazz All-Stars.

He recorded a few times with Dizzy Gillespie, first on a 1945 session with Charlie Parker, but Diz mostly played piano on that session. He was supposed to strictly play piano, but the youthful Miles was so nervous about playing with his idols that he broke down completely on "Ko-Ko," and Dizzy had to step in. He played in a trumpet session with Dizzy and Fats Navarro in 1949. Fats was gone, of course, by the 1955 conversation with Gitler. This was the 1949 edition of the Metronome Allstars, a group of Metronome Magazine's poll-winners that was gathered for a recording annually throughout most of the Forties and well into the 50s. Metronome would gather together as many of the poll winners as they could, and fill in the rest with runners-up. 1949's group was more than a little impressive: Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro (trumpet); J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding (trombone); Buddy DeFranco (clarinet); Charlie Parker (alto saxophone); Charlie Ventura (tenor saxophone); Ernie Caceres (baritone saxophone); Lennie Tristano (piano); Billy Bauer (guitar); Eddie Safranski (bass); Shelly Manne (drums).  There was another session with Bird in 1953, and then nothing until 1989, where they appeared as the trumpet session on a very strange Quincy Jones recording that features vocals by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and rappers Big Daddy Kane and Kool Moe Dee. I'm not certain it's an entirely successful experiment, but I'm sure as hell not certain it isn't.

But he wasn't looking for another trumpet player to round out his new quintet. He was looking for a tenor sax, and actually, Sonny Rollins was his first choice. Rollins played with the new quintet in July, right after Newport, but the arrangement wasn't to last. Sonny had his own heroin habit to kick. John Coltrane was not yet on Miles's radar. Hank Mobley would play with the quintet, but not until years later.

Miles would use Ray Bryant on piano a month later, in another one of his Prestige pickup groups, but
Red Garland was to be his man. At the time of this recording, and this interview, Garland was the least-known of the piano men that Miles admired--even including Carl Perkins, who would die too young to establish much more of a reputation, and who really did play bass notes with his elbow, his left arm having been crippled by polio. But Miles clearly had his eye on Garland already.

When you think of answer songs, you're more likely going to think of country ("It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels") or rock ("Sweet Home Alabama" answering Neil Young's "Southern Man," and then Warren Zevon's "Play it All Night Long" answering Lynyrd Skynyrd), or even blues (Rufus Thomas's "You Ain't Nothin' But a Bearcat"). But here's one turning up in jazz: Miles's "I Didn't" as an answer to Monk's "Well You Needn't" (a tune that Miles also recorded). "I Didn't" is sharp, crisp and sardonic. You have to be awfully good to take on the premier composer of his generation, but Miles is up to the task.

"A Night in Tunisia" is one of the most famous of all bebop standards, and "Green Haze" a Davis original that showcases Garland, his new piano discovery. The others are all odd choices that Miles puts his indelible stamp on. "Will You Still Be Mine" was written by pop singer and swing era tunesmith Matt Dennis. The other two are by composer Arthur Schwartz, and were both songs that one would not have chosen to be present at the birth of the cool, or even at its confirmation. "I See Your Face Before Me" was best known in versions by Guy Lombardo and Glen Gray. Coltrane and Brubeck would both record it later.

"I've Got a Gal in Calico," written by Schwartz and Leo Robin for a movie musical, is one of those completely cornball, white-bread numbers, like "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," that no one could consider as the basis for a hipster jazz improvisation. But Miles worked the same magic with "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," didn't he?

Both "Green Haze" and "A Night in Tunisia" were released as two-sided 45s. The Musings of Miles became Davis's first 12-inch LP, Prestige PRLP 7007. Before it were two reissues, PRLP 7004,  Lee Konitz With Tristano, Marsh And Bauer, from four sessions (1/11/49, 6/28/49, 9/27/49, 4/7/50) in 1949-50; and PRLP 7006, Mulligan Plays Mulligan (original session 8/27/51). In between was an MJQ session recorded after Miles, but released before.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 144: Art Farmer/Gigi Gryce

After making his commitment to 12-inch LPs and his soon-to-be-legendary 7000 series, Bob Weinstock backtracked a bit with this session, releasing it only as a 10-inch, entitled Art Farmer Quintet. It became a 12-inch LP, along with the earlier Farmer-Gryce session for Prestige, as When Farmer Met Gryce, but that was a while later.

Actually, Farmer had met Gryce a while earlier, when they had both been part of the Lionel Hampton European tour of the summer of 1953--a tour that had kickstarted the careers of two brilliant arrangers, Gryce and Quincy Jones. Jones would go on to a legendary career as arranger and producer; Farmer would go on to a legendary career as an instrumentalist. Gryce would cut his carer short, essentially retiring from the public eye by the end of the 1950s, for a number of reasons, not the least of which may have been disillusionment with the music industry.  David Griffith, who maintains the Gigi Gryce web page, points out:
It is often overlooked that Gryce was one of the first black musicians to form his own publishing company in order to have control over his and fellow musicians' creative output - many of the prominent black jazz musicians of the day were with Gryce's Melotone publishing company. It became clear, however, that Gryce couldn't buck the deeply ingrained system of record companies controlling (at least in part) music publishing rights as part of recording deals.
The first Farmer/Gryce session had featured a familiar Prestige rhythm section of Horace Silver, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke. This one brings in some newer faces. Freddie Redd had made his Prestige debut in February, leading a trio. Farmer's brother Addison was also making his second session: he had played with Art in a quartet the previous November. Art Taylor may or may not have recorded with Art Farmer in June 1954; he definitely appeared on Thelonious Monk's last session for Prestige.

Gryce was an important composer, and his compositions take center stage here. "Social Call" probably became the best known. With lyrics by Jon Hendricks, it was a hit at least in jazz circles for Betty Carter, and has been covered by Dianne Reeves among others. It's also become a favorite with instrumentalists, including Donald Byrd, Cal Tjader, Art Blakey and the Jazz messengers, Cannonball Adderley and Wes Montgomery. If I were picking one tune from this session to write lyrics to, I'd pick "Social Call" too.  It's melodic, structured, and expressive.

But Gryce's other two tunes are nearly as good, perhaps just as good. "Capri" has been recorded by J. J. Johnson, Clifford Brown and Benny Golson. Here it moves from a brief but intriguing vamp by red to a swinging head by Farmer, to some nimble torch-passing between the two soloists. "Blue Lights" begins with a blue fanfare, and then stays bluesy and driving. It numbers Coleman Hawkins, Hank Jones and Clifford Jordan among its interpreters. Art Farmer's contribution, "The Infant's Song," is a particularly beautiful melody. All in all, this is a very strong group of originals to bring to one recording session.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 143: Milt Jackson

Again the other MJQ, with Horace Silver instead of John Lewis, and yes, it's a very different sound. Not necessarily funkier, however, even though the session was rereleased in 1962 on album called Soul Pioneers. Silver had not yet made the fists-first commitment to funk that would bring him his greatest acclaim, and this was a session heavy on ballads, composed by some impressive balladsmiths.

"I Should Care" was co-composed by orchestra leaders Axel Stordahl and Paul Weston, with lyrics by Sammy Cahn.. Stordahl had been an arranger for Tommy Dorsey when Frank Sinatra joined the band, and he became the arranger and orchestra leader for Sinatra's Columbia recordings. The Modern Jazz Quartet would later record the same tune, so it's interesting to look at the differences. The MJQ's arrangement is, unsurprisingly, the more intricate, with some very closely worked-out duet work between John Lewis and Milt Jackson. The version by the other MJQ is much more built around Jackson, and he explores different territories, with a lot more reverb and a lot more pushing the upper register.

One significant difference between the Milt Jackson Quartet and the Modern Jazz Quartet is the part given to Percy Heath. Heath certainly gets solo time with Lewis's MJQ, but he seems more assertive here, particularly on Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine." "Valentine," as well as Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You," are very familiar tunes, and with good reason. There are two ways a jazz player can handle a melody like this, both with value. You can get outta the way, and give the melody a chance to express itself. Or, like Jackson and Silver, you can count on everyone knowing the melody, and just use it as a point of departure and a point of reference.

The group gets more uptempo, too, for instance in "Stonewall," with a lot of walking bass and and lot of  virtuoso vibing. I do love the ballads, but I might take "Stonewall" as a favorite from this session.

"Stonewall," in two parts, was released as a 45. Milt Jackson Quartet was Prestige PRLP 7003. Before it (PRLP 7002) came a Stan Getz reissue, featuring one session from 1949 and two sessions from 1950.