Saturday, September 06, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records, part 29: Sonny Stitt/Gene Ammons Septet

Stitt and Ammons are back in the studio with a septet, with only a few changes. Bennie Green replaces Eph Greenlea (about whom I can find no information and no more discography), and Jo Jones is replaced by the younger and more boppish Art Blakey, who makes his presence felt immediately. The biggest change, though, is Sonny Stitt switching from tenor to baritone (he'd already, in his career, switched from alto to tenor).

I've mentioned that Gerry Mulligan, in 1950, was still better known as an arranger than an instrumentalist, and he had not yet established himself as the voice on the baritone sax. You don't hear anything in Stitt's playing to suggest he'd spent much time listening to Mulligan -- rather, that he wanted to show that he could play bebop on any saxophone. The baritone also adds a richness to the ensemble parts, and according to this jazzophile:
 He had small ensemble w/ Gene Ammons during this period where they switched on baritone-- Stitt would play bari in the section when Gene played and vice-versa.

This is an odd session. The songs are "Chabootie," "Who put the sleeping pills in Rip Van Winkle's Coffee?", "Gravy (Walkin')," and "Easy Glide." The first two are the odd ones -- the long ensemble intro in "Chabootie," longer than it probably needs to be, and the vocal, if you can call it that, on "Sleeping Pills," where it sounds as though the whole band is singing along, and they're making no attempts at harmonizing or jazz styling -- they sound like a bunch of Irishmen in a pub.

If this sounds negative, it is and it isn't. My guess is that these were aimed at jukeboxes -- the Basie-style ensemble piece and the novelty vocal. Prestige probably needed some jukebox play -- I doubt that they'd had a hit since "Moody's Mood," although they'd put out some great music.

George Benson, when he was criticized by jazz purists for his pop records, maintained he was still playing jazz -- he said that if he put strong, poppish hooks at the beginning and end, he could play anything he wanted in the middle. And that's true of both of these songs.

After the ensemble choruses on "Chabootle," Stitt enters with one of Charlie Parker's signature riffs, given a new timbre on the baritone sax, and they're off from there, with some absolutely lovely solo work, and some pepper from Blakey. The same is true on "Sleeping Pills" -- the solos on that number are definitely not the work of drunken Irishmen.

What was it with beboppers and Mrs. Murphy and her overalls? Harry "the Hipster" Gibson had a huge hit (and got himself in a lot of trouble) with "Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?"

OK, if these were meant for the jukebox crowd, and I'm betting they were, there was some serious bet-hedging on Bob Weinstock's part. "Chabootie" was put out on 78 and 45 on the flip side of Gene Ammons playing "Blue and Sentimental," "Sleeping Pills" on 78, on the flip side of "La Vie en Rose."

I can't find any of these cuts on YouTube or any of the other video sites, but you can get them all on Spotify.

No comments: