Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records project -- part 2

I've decided to take this by recording date, because with reissues, partial issues, compilations, anything else is too complicated. The major Prestige album series, the 7000 series, begins in 1955, but Prestige was around since 1949, first as New Jazz, then very soon after as Prestige. The Bill Coleman - Don Byas date was recordedon January 5, 1949, but the first to be actually recorded in Prestige's studios was a Lennie Tristano session,  on January 11 . I haven't been able to find out where those first sessions were recorded - the Rudy Van Gelder era came later. The company's offices were located on W. 50th Street, and grew from a record store Bob Weinstock owned next to the Metropole Cafe (my Wikipedia entry).

The date is listed as the Lennie Tristano Quintet, but Warne Marsh wasn't there for the January ll session -- it's Lee Konitz on alto and Billy Bauer on guitar, two Tristano mainstays. Shelley Manne is the drummer, but he'll be taking off for the West Coast shortly. Arnold Fishkind, here known as Arnold Fishkin, is on bass.

It's interesting to note where these guys came from. Billy Bauer had a swing and big band background, having played with Jerry Wald, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden -- as did most of the beboppers, really. That was their apprenticeship. Shelley Manne started in a big band, then played and recorded with a number of Ellington sidemen, as well as with Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas. Arnold Fishkind played with Jack Teagarden, Bunny Berigan, even Les Brown, who was more dance music than jazz. And even during the years of his association with Tristano, he was also playing with Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman.

Tristano and Konitz came to modern jazz pretty much straight on. Konitz grew up admiring Benny Goodman, but his first big band job, as a temporary replacement for Charlie Barnet in the Teddy Powell orchestra, reportedly made Barnet bang his head against a wall in anguish when Konitz started playing. He was not cut out to be a swing musician. And Tristano really was always the cerebral, difficult modernist he's famous for being.

So in a way Bauer, Fishkind and Manne had to learn not to swing, or not to rely on swinging.

This session isn't as far out as Tristano's famous next session, in May of 1949, when the group was joined by Warne Marsh, and they recorded :"Intuition," arguably the first free jazz piece, played with no charts at all -- no prearranged melody, harmony, or rhythm.  But that came out on Capitol.

The Prestige session is represented on YouTube by "Subconscious-Lee," by its title a vehicle for Konitz, but it would be hard to explain that to a Billy Bauer fan. Bauer, whose ideas are as advanced as anyone's, still swings hard on his solo. Konitz has that cool sound that he would bring to the more famous Miles Davis nonet sessions.

Tristano has a reputation for being unapproachably difficult, that he's never really shaken. I'm only the 22nd person to like this cut on YouTube. Perhaps that comes from playing free jazz over a decade before Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, brought it into the mainstream. I've never felt he got the acclaim he deserved, and he's not remembered as much as some of his contemporaries, though he's good enough to be.

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