Saturday, July 26, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records project - Part 9

This is all really about listening, not music criticism, not even music history, although that comes into it a little. It's about reliving a moment in history that I was not actually a part of. Everyone's played that game of "if you could go back in time, what period would you go to?" Woody Allen's character in "Midnight in Paris" wants to go back to Paris in the Twenties, and the girl he meets in that era wants to go back to La Belle Epoque. Some choose the Renaissance, or Shakespeare's London. I'd like to go back just a short distance in time -- to be a young man in an era where I was in fact a toddler. I'd like to go to 52nd Street and Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's Uptown House, to be there when bebop was being born. To me, "bebop," as a couple of nonsense syllables given meaning, has a romance that "hip-hop" will never have.

 I was nine years old in 1949. I didn't know anything about any kind of music then. I didn't listen to Paul Williams' R&B breakout hit, "The Hucklebuck," much less the Charlie Parker riff on which it was based. I listened to a few 78 RPM record albums my parents had:  Songs of the Veldt by Marais and Miranda, Ballad for Americans by Paul Robeson, the songs from Pinocchio, all of which I could listen to again with pleasure. Later on, when I became an avid collector of rock and roll, my mother tried to distract me from destroying civilization 89 cents at a time by trying to give me some 78s of the popular music of her day (looking back, I’m amazed that she’d kept them, since was passionate about neither music nor her youth). The only one I remember is “The Broken Record” by Freddy Martin and his orchestra. You can find “The Broken Record” on Spotify, but not the Freddy Martin version. It didn’t dissuade me from my own musical odyssey.

Bob Weinstock, at age nine, was already not just a jazz lover but a jazz collector, buying "'armfuls of records' at nine cents each," according to his obituary in the Washington Post, quoted in Wikipedia.
Stan Getz was just 22, and just starting his career as a leader, and trying out various formats. We’ve listened to him with an octet on a session in April. Now here it’s June 21, and he’s back in the studio with a quartet.

The quintessential bebop combo-- the sound that defined small group jazz, as the big band era came to an end--was the quintet. And with very good reason--that was the formulation created by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. So everything else is in a sense a variation on that theme, although variations were common enough – J. J. Johnson adding a trombone to the quintet, or simply substituting a trombone for the trumpet. Stan Getz with five saxophones and no trumpet. And here, Stan Getz with one saxophone and no trumpet, which means less swapping of ideas, more time to stretch out as a soloist, more possibilities for invention. Which is a good thing, if you’re Stan Getz.
The session is June 21, 1949, in NYC. With Getz,  Al Haig (p), Gene Ramey (b), Stan Levey (d). The group is billed as Stan Getz Bop Stars.When you think of bebop piano stars, you think of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk (with an asterisk – he played on many of the great bebop sessions, but was always his own man). But Al Haig may have been the most ubiquitous. Between 1948 and 1954, the bebop years, he played on 90 recording sessions (thanks to the amazing for that, and all my recording info), including a huge number with Charlie Parker and/or Dizzy Gillespie.

Frighteningly enough, when you look up Al Haig on Wikipedia, the first person you get is this guy --the one who said "I'm in control here" the day Ronald Reagan was shot.

But when you do get to the right Al Haig, his Wiki entry has the interesting bit of information that as closely associated as he was with bebop, he was not primarily a jazz musician. The entry doesn't go on to explain that, but we'll be coming back to Al Haig often enough. I try to keep these blog entries succinct. So far, I haven't come close to succeeding.

The four tunes cut on this day are “Long Island Sound," "Indian Summer," "Prezervation," "Mar-Cia," and "Crazy Chords." This is begging for a response, and I'm too much of a gentleman not to give it: Dig those crazy chords!

They're all great, and they all show Getz's ability to handle the tricky rhythms and chord changes of bebop while at the same time playing with warmth and lyricism -- Lester Young meets Charlie Parker, prezervation of crazy chords.

They also show that at this stage, Prestige's engineering was a little slapdash. "Long Island Sound" ends rather abruptly. The others are better, but still leave you wondering if the musicians might not have taken it out a little longer.

They're all on Spotify. All but "Prezervation" are on "Stan Getz Quartets," all but "Mar-Cia" on "Cool Bebop." Less easy to find on YouTube, but here's "Long Island Sound":

"Indian Summer" was released on a Prestige 78(PR 740)  b/w "What's New" from a later session. The others were New Jazz 78s - "Long Island Sound" and "Mar-Cia" NJ 805, "Prezervation" made it to 78 (NJ 818) as the flip side of "Battleground" from the Five Brothers session, "Crazy Chords" as the flip of NJ 811, "Speedway" from Five Brothers again. All but "Prezervation" were on PREP 1310 - it was pretty much a 4-song format. "Prezervation" came out on PREP 1340 along with Terry Gibbs - people who were in the process of moving to the West Coast?

"Indian Summer" and "Crazy Chords" were on Prestige 108, showcasing Getz and Lee Konitz (thanks to the Hot Beat Jazz Blog, written in Portuguese, for these great images of the Prestige 10-inch 100 series,) along with two cuts from a 1950 Getz session."Mar-Cia" and "Long Island Sound" were added to the Five Brothers LP, all were re-released in the 7000 series.

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