Monday, October 27, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 45: The Cabineers

I can only find the Cabineers' Prestige sessions on YouTube, but they're worth checking out there.

In 1951 Bob Weinstock announced that Prestige was starting a rhythm and blues line, and this session was its premiere offering -- unless you count the Gene Ammons session of few days before?

What's the line between bebop and rhythm and blues? But then, why draw lines at all?  The genius of American music is the way it colors outside the lines, and dances between the lines--and in a second line.Here's a  quote from an interview with Bob Weinstock that I just discovered.

JR: Tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons must have had an impact on the soul jazz market.

BW: Gene Ammons was the father of soul and funk. He started that music in 1950. I liked R&B. I heard a lot of bands play and I knew there had to be room for an update, a modernization of Rhythm and Blues with a jazz flavor. Black people needed something to relate to besides all the singers and vocal groups. Everything we did had a good rhythm section and swung. Nothing was ever phony to make sales. Even when we got heavy into the funk, with organ groups and guitar and all of that, they were like the blowing sessions we did before but with a different groove. They cooked.
Nice that Weinstock thought the same way that I did about R&B -- that it was an important part of jazz, including modern jazz. As much as bebop may have sounded strange and discordant to many listeners at the time -- including Nancy of the comic strip with her reaction to Sluggo's "beep-bop" -- it doesn't sound that way now. Jazz of the 20s may be labeled "trad" jazz, but as Arthur Blythe put it in the title to one of his postmodern albums, it's all "in the tradition."

Classic rhythm and blues instrumentals like Red Prysock's "Hand Clappin'" show the influence of Lester Young. Ray Charles' musicians like David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford made important contributions to the jazz canon. Paul Williams popularized Charlie Parker's "Now's The Time" as "The Hucklebuck."

So Weinstock, who famously did not rehearse before sessions because he thought jazz should have the spontaneity of a live session, put the Cabineers together with a pretty impressive group of jazz musicians, led by Duke Ellington's son Mercer.

Billy Taylor had played with Ben Webster, Machito and Don Redman before becoming the house pianist at Birdland, and had written a book on bebop piano. He would go on to get his doctorate in music from UMass Amherst, thus shattering any myths that you can't be an academic and also swing.

Sal Salvador's birthdate is variously given as 1925 and 1928, but certainly this is early in his career -- the first mention I can find of him on a small group session, although he became part of the house band for Columbia Records and Radio City Music Hall in the late 40s. Like Dr. Taylor, he would go on to an academic career.

I could find nothing on Sam Bell -- finally, a listing for Aaron Bell, full name Samuel Aaron Bell, who must be the same guy. As Aaron Bell, he has a pretty impressive career -- here's his Wiki entry in full.

Samuel Aaron Bell (April 24, 1922, Muskogee, Oklahoma - July 28, 2003) was an American jazz double-bassist.

As a child, Bell played piano, and learned brass instruments in high school. He attended Xavier University, where he began playing bass, and graduated in 1942; following this he joined the Navy, completing his service in 1946. He was a member of Andy Kirk's band in 1946 but enrolled at NYU in 1947. After completing a master's degree he joined Lucky Millinder's band and then gigged with Teddy Wilson.

In the 1950s, Bell appeared on Billie Holiday's album Lady Sings the Blues and with Lester Young, Stan Kenton, Johnny Hodges, Cab Calloway, Carmen McRae, and Dick Haymes. In 1960 he left Hayes' band after being offered a position in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, opposite drummer Sam Woodyard. He left in 1962, spending time with Dizzy Gillespie before taking jobs on Broadway as a pit musician. He and Ellington collaborated once more in 1967, on a tribute to Billy Strayhorn.

Bell held a residence at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City from 1969 to 1972. He also began teaching at Essex College in Newark in 1970, remaining there until 1990. Later in the 1970s he toured with Norris Turney, Harold Ashby, and Cat Anderson; in the 1980s he returned to piano playing, and retired from active performance in 1989. He died in 2003.

I thought this was going to be a short entry -- silly me. And I haven't even gotten to the Cabineers yet. Bob Weinstock, in the interview linked to above, says that Prestige had its best sales with vocal records, and names them as one of his commercial successes. The most complete bio I could find for them is from Marv Goldberg, noted for his profiles of R&B and doowop groups. The Cabineers are one of those 1940s groups who were bluesier than the Ink Spots or Mills Brothers, but didn't last long enough to be part of the doowop scene. Their Prestige recordings were pretty much their last, and boy, do they deserve to be better known.

Jazz or rhythm and blues? Billy Taylor is playing figures that are much more inventive than the triplets that Stan Freberg mocks on his parody of "The Great Pretender," but "Each Time" (lead vocals on all the cuts except "Lost" by Maggie Furman)would be not out of place in any doowop or R&B collection. Sal Salvador contributes some great figures on "My, My, My," where the harmonies are reminiscent of The Clovers.

Of course, a lot of jazz greats played on R&B recordings, but they
weren't always given as free a hand as Weinstock allowed this group.

"Baby. Where'd You Go" is much closer to a Mills Brothers-style harmony. "Lost," which has a lead vocal by Bill Westbrook, is closer to an Ink Spots lead and a Modernaires harmony. I like Maggie's leads better, but I love all of it.

These were released on 78 and 45 by Prestige, and the label reads "Rhythm and Blues Series." The songs are attributed to "The Cabineers - vocal quartet accompanied by Mercer Ellington Quartet." Marv Goldberg offers a more complete discographical history:

 "My, My, My" and "Baby Where'd You Go" were paired for a July 1951 release. When this failed to take off, Prestige released the pretty "Each Time," backed with "Lost" on its Par Presentation subsidiary in September; it was re-issued on Prestige in early October. "Each Time" was rated "good" and "Lost" was given a "fair" the week of October 20, when other reviews went to Charles Brown's "Seven Long Days," Dinah Washington's "Be Fair To Me," and the Red Caps' "Boogie Woogie On A Saturday Night."

This is the first reference I've seen to a Par Presentation subsidiary. Jazzdisco has a brief list of Par Presentation 78s, all R&B, none of them by the Cabineers.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 44: Gene Ammons

Not many bebop-era tunes have the word "blues" in the title, and even fewer have the word "boogie." The beboppers came from a deep tradition steeped in the blues, but standards, and original compositions often based on standards, were more their steady fare.The standards offered more complex chord structures, more possible improvisatory variations. So one blues and one boogie (the only two tunes from this session available on Spotify or YouTube) is an indication of the direction that Gene Ammons is moving in -- to that fascinating fuzzy area between bebop and rhythm and blues.
"Ammons Boogie" was actually written for Gene Ammons by his trumpet-playing right hand in the Septet recordings, Bill Massey, but the words "Ammons" and "Boogie" go together like Ellington and Strayhorn -- Gene's father, Albert Ammons, was one of the legendary boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons. 

This version of the septet has a couple of new names. Once again, a new trombonist, Eli Dabney, who doesn't seem to have done any other recording with major groups, but who fills Ammons's septet sound nicely. 

Rudy Williams takes Sonny Stitt's place on baritone saxophone. Williams played with many of the greats. Here's a partial list: Hot Lips Page, Luis Russell, Tadd Dameron, Illinois Jacquet, Howard McGhee, Don Byas, Babs Gonzales, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Eddie Vinson, Bennie Green, and Johnny Hodges. Almost as interesting -- his lineage. His father was swing-era bandleader Fess Williams, and his cousin was Charles Mingus, who wrote and recorded "Eulogy for Rudy Williams" when the sax player died in a drowning accident in 1954.

Clarence "Sleepy" Anderson is on piano, and I can't find much about him, either, except that jazz fans can be a snotty bunch. On a jazz organ discussion forum, someone asks if anyone knows anything about Anderson, and someone else responds, "You can find out about him on Google" (which you can't). If Guy #2 knows something about Anderson, why not help Guy #1 out?
Nice tribute to bassist Earl May here, including the information that he was a left-handed bassist playing a right-handed bass.

One of the tracks I can't find has a vocalist, Sally Early, about whom I can find absolutely nothing. She doesn't even get a mention on Which makes me curious, but I'm afraid that way lies frustration. In any event, it seems that Weinstock may have thought adding a vocalist to Ammons might help with the jukeboxes, but he didn't seem to try very hard to find the top names -- at least not in 1951.

All four of these were issued on 78 by Prestige. The vocal cut appears to have been one of the B sides, so perhaps Weinstock's commitment to attracting the rhythm and blues nickels with a vocal was less than 100 percent. They were also issued on a 10-inch, but then not again until the 24000-series reissue package.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 43b: Lee Konitz

Finishing up the March Lee Konitz session, Konitz was back in the Prestige studios five days later, this time with only Billy Bauer.

Specialized listeners may have different experiences, but for the jazz generalist and all-purpose fan, listening to a jazz ensemble primarily means listening to the soloist. There'll be exceptions -- you'll here a punctuating note from the second horn, an arpeggio from the piano, a sudden distinctive riff from the bass or a succession of paradiddles from the drums. And as you listen to a piece over and over, as I've been doing on my Prestige Odyssey, you'll start to hear more and more of these. But essentially, you're listening to the soloist, and there's a reason for that. He's the soloist, and the rest of the ensemble is there to provide support for him, not to compete with him.

A duo is a whole different story, especially when the duo is two Lennie Tristano acolytes, each a master of his instrument, each coming from one of the most advanced musical schools of the day. Then you listen to both. You listen to how they play around each other, with each other, moving apart and coming together like two strands in a double helix, making up a new and unique DNA molecule.

"Duet for Saxophone and Guitar" is a Konitz composition, and Konitz was one of the best composers in his idiom. "Indian Summer" is by Victor Herbert.

It's not unusual that the bebop masters went so often to the Great American Songbook. Composers from Kern and Gershwin on were influenced by jazz, and really became part of that distinctive American patchwork of music that all goes back to the blues and ragtime. It's a little more surprising that they were able to craft jazz masterpieces out of the work of operetta composers whose roots are solidly European, like Sigmund Romberg ("Lover Come Back"). Or, in this case, Victor Herbert. "Indian Summer" was composed in 1919, and was a staple of village orchestras and the like. In 1939 Glenn Miller picked it up, but it really entered the jazz canon in 1940, when Sidney Bechet made it swing harder than anyone could have imagined. Duke Ellington's recorded it, Dave Brubeck's recorded it (and Paul Desmond recorded it on his own, in one of the definitive versions). And it works. And here, Konitz and Bauer. Delicious.

On the subject of what we hear when we listen to music, no one ever captured it better than Marcel Proust:

At first he had appreciated only the material quality of the sounds which those instruments secreted. And it had been a source of keen pleasure when, below the delicate line of the violin-part, slender but robust, compact and commanding, he had suddenly become aware of the mass of the piano-part beginning to emerge in a sort of liquid rippling of sound, multiform but indivisible, smooth yet restless, like the deep blue tumult of the sea, silvered and charmed into a minor key by the moonlight. (I,294)
Then they were silent; beneath the restless tremolos of the violin part which protected it with their throbbing sostenuto two octaves above it–and as in a mountainous country, behind the seeming immobility of a vertigious waterfall, one descries, two hundred feet below, the tiny form of a woman walking in the valley–the little phrase had just appeared, distant, graceful, protected by the long, gradual unfurling of it transparent, incessant and sonorous curtain. (I,374-375)
When, after that first evening at the Verdurins’, he had had the little phrase played over to him again, and had had sought to disentangle from his confused impressions how it was that, like a perfume or a caress, it swept over and enveloped him, he had observed that it was to the closeness of the intervals between the five notes which composed it and to the constant repetition of two of them that was due that impression of a frigid and withdrawn sweetness; but in reality he know that he was basing this conclusion not upon the phrase itself, but merely upon certain equivalents, substituted (for his mind’s convenience) for the mysterious entity of which he had become aware, before ever he knew the Verdurins, at that earlier party when for the first time he had heard the sonata played. He knew that the very memory of the piano falsified still further the perspective in which he saw the elements of music, that the field open to the musician is not a miserable stave of seven notes, but an immeasurable keyboard (still almost entirely unknown) on which, here and there only, separated by the thick darkness of its unexplored tracts, some few among the millions of keys of tenderness, of passion, of courage, of serenity, which compose it, each one differing from all the rest as one universe differs from another, have been discovered by a few great artists who do us the service, when they awaken in us the emotion corresponding to the theme they have discovered, of showing us what richness, what variety lies hidden, unknown to us, in that vase, unfathomed and forbidding night of our soul which we take to be an impenetrable void. Vinteuil had been one of those musicians. (I,496-497)
How beautiful the dialogue which Swann now heard between piano and violin, at the beginning of the last passage! The suppression of human speech, so far from letting fancy reign there uncontrolled (as one might have thought), had eliminated it altogether; never was spoken language so inexorably determined, never had it known questions so pertinent, such irrefutable replies. At first the piano complained alone, like a bird deserted by its mate; the violin heard and answered it, as from a neighbouring tree. It was as at the beginning of th world, as if there were as yet only the two of them on the earth, or rather in this world closed to all the rest, so fashioned by the logic of its creator that in it there should never by any but themselves: the world of this sonata. (I,499-500)
 This is just the tip of the iceberg of what Proust says about listening to music, as inspired by the "little phrase" of the fictional Vinteuil - perhaps its real-life counterpart was Camille Saint-Saens' Sonata #1, perhaps Cesar Franck's Sonata in A Major, or some combination of the two. No one wrote about the experience of listening to music -- or, indeed, anything -- like Proust.

The two Konitz-Bauer cuts were released on both New Jazz and Prestige 78s, each with cuts from the March 8 session on the other side. Interestingly, the two standards -- "Indian Summer" and Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" -- are paired with two challenging originals -- "Duet" and "Odjenar." They also came out on the Konitz 1o-inch mentioned in the last blog entry, and on an EP combined with two Stan Getz tunes.

Just for a change, and to highlight the assertion that jazz, like Vinteuil and his little phrase, has entered the serious repertory of classical music, here's a version of "Duet For Saxophone and Guitar" by a contemporary duo, Anastasiya Dumma and Jessi Lee. They're very good, and they make us understand what a good piece of music "Duet" is. But they don't play like Konitz and Bauer. The originals are avaliable from Spotify.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 43a: Lee Konitz with Miles Davis

The guy in the bar in Harlem, or 18th and Vine in Kansas City, putting his nickels into a jukebox, was most likely going to be playing Amos Milburn or Louis Jordan – or the Ink Spots or Nat “King” Cole or Mr. B. if his tastes ran smoother – but there’d be nickels for Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, too.  Jazz was no longer America’s popular music, but it was hip, and it was hot, and once you got used to the rapid tempi and counterintuitive melodic twists (as Chuck Berry was to put it a few years later, “I have no kick against modern jazz / Except they try to play it too darn fast / And change the beauty of the melody / Until it sounds just like a symphony”), it sounded good. And today, to the jazz lover at least, that music is mainstream. It remains fresh and inventive, but it’s familiar, just like home.

On those same jukeboxes, very  few nickels would summon up Lee Konitz and Miles Davis. Over sixty years later, this music still presents a challenge to the ears.

Don’t forget, while the Birth of the Cool recordings had been made two years earlier, they didn’t get widely heard until Capitol released the album in 1958, and even then the music sounded advanced. Don’t forget that Miles was not able to keep his nonet together, to get more club dates or recording sessions, because their gig at the Royal Roost was not a big draw.

And this session, with Lee Konitz and the Lennie Tristano gang (Sal Mosca playing the Tristano role), is actually even harder to listen to than Birth of the Cool, which itself sounds mainstream these days. Possibly the difference is no Gerry Mulligan arrangements. Possibly Davis and Konitz, stung by the rejection of what is now generally regarded as their masterpiece, decided to go for an even more intensely challenging experience.

In any case, one has to be fairly certain that Bob Weinstock knew he was not getting a Gene Ammons jukebox toe-tapper when he brought these guys into the studio, so more credit to him. Anyway, if Weinstock had been looking to make money more than he was looking to make jazz, he would have been out signing up the next Amos Milburn, or maybe some of these new vocal harmony groups like the Orioles or the Clovers.Or maybe it came to him in a dream that Miles was shortly to form a quintet with John Coltrane and make music that was advanced and intoxicatingly listenable all at the same time.

Digressing once again, and back to the jazz and race topic I’d been addressing in a couple of these blog entries, I was thinking about my first experience hearing jazz in a club – the Donald Byrd-Pepper Adams Quintet at Small’s Paradise in Harlem --  and I started wondering how many other jazz ensembles had been co-led interracially. J. J. and Kai were the first that came to mind. The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. The Clarke-Boland Big Band, if one extends the search to France. And those were all I could think of. Certainly there has never been a shortage, at least since Benny Goodman broke the color barrier, of groups made up of both black and white musicians, but not many, that I could come up with at least, with a black-white co-leadership.*

This one is under the nominal label of Lee Konitz Sextet, so maybe it shouldn’t count either, but certainly Miles is a coequal partner. The tracks from this session have also been released, at varying times, under the Davis name, and lists it as the Miles Davis / Lee Konitz Sextet. In fact, Konitz and Davis collaborated a lot -- the 1948 nonet sessions are sometimes listed as the Miles Davis/Lee Konitz Nonet, and they also recorded some sides in '48 as the Lee Konitz/Miles Davis Quintet. 

Anyway, the music. On my blog entry for the January 17 Miles Davis Sextet, I noted that it seemed to me that Miles, although playing on an essentially bebop-oriented session, he was introducing something different, something more from the “Birth of the Cool” tonality. I wasn’t exactly sure how to describe that, and I’m still not, but I found this master’s thesis  online, from Leonardo Camacho Bernal, a student at the University of North Texas (noted for its jazz program). I learned a lot from reading it, and I  plan to go back and read more of it. It’s called MilesDavis: The Road to Modal Jazz, and it traces the development of the sound that would come to fruition on the Kind of Blue album. Here’s what Bernal has to say about Birth of the Cool:

 At the end of the 1940s, the Miles Davis nonet unified all the experimental approaches in the 1949-50 recording sessions that later became the album Birth of the Cool (1954). Davis brought together some of the most talented and vanguard jazz musicians, such as Gil Evans,Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Lee Konitz, to create the new style.

Most of the bases of the cool style were not common in jazz small ensembles: the
classical Western music influence; the instrumentation and orchestration; the fusing of variedtones of the instruments. The influence of classical composers such as Stravinsky and Debussy helped Evans, Mulligan and Lewis, arrangers on this project, to create that sound density and color richness in their arrangements that started to be identified as the sound of the cool style.

Moreover, all the musicians who performed in this project had their particular and personalfeatures, which were extremely important to the creation of a new jazz style. Each had his own tone color, articulation, rhythm, and an individual approach to improvisation. Their playing also featured the plain sound with no vibrato, smoother timbre, and dry tone. Most of the players had been formed by Thornhill’s and Herman’s bands, and had been influenced by musicians like Young and Tristano, which gave them the perfect tools to start a new style.

On the other hand, Miles Davis came from the best of the bebop school. After being in
New York for a while, he started working with Parker’s quintet where he was playing trumpetwith some of the masterminds that created and developed bebop: the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. They taught him how to approach the virtuosic features of the style. At the same time, Davis was jamming and hanging out with musicians such as Evans, Mulligan, and George Russell, a theorist and composer who started introducing Davis to classical Western music. At that time, Davis’s project was the best approximation of cool style. “Davis’s nonet was originally seen as the smallest unit capable of reproducing the flavor of Thornhill’s big band of the mid-1940s,” according to Mark Gridley. This was the starting point for Davis to pull together musicians and concepts to create a new way to play jazz in his quest for new colors, textures, and a new sound.

So, we're not at the modal point yet -- that's still a few years away -- but we're starting out on the road to it, with a way of combining sounds that's new and groundbreaking, with Miles's unique and visionary approach to music -- he's not quite 25 at this point, but that's well past prodigy age and into his mature period as a jazzman -- and the influence of Gil Evans, of Lennie Tristano, and of the composer of two of the tunes recorded on this session, George Russell.

Russell composed "Odjenar" and "Ezz-Thetic," the latter of which became one of Konitz/s signature
pieces. Konitz composed "Hi-Beck," and the fourth song, "Yesterdays" (Max Roach sitting this one out) is a Jerome Kern standard.

The interplay between Konitz and Davis is intense, intricate and in a way simple, with one of them taking the sort-of-boppish melody line, and the other playing a somewhat discordant and always compelling harmony. The contributions of Tristano protege Sal Mosca and Billy Bauer are also notable.

They may not have been prime jukebox fodder, but they were released on 78 under both the Prestige and New Jazz labels, mixed in with Konitz/Bauer duo sides. Also on a 10-inch (as Lee Konitz with Miles Davis), and as part of a Prestige 7000 / New Jazz 8000-series LP (as Lee Konitz and Miles Davis).

* Afterthought -- you'd probably have to include the "Mulligan meets..." sessions - Monk. Ben Webster.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 42: Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists

Well, this is a surprise. Not only someone I'd never heard of, but a musical style that I didn't know existed: British bebop. I had always thought that British jazz of this era and well beyond it was strictly neo-trad -- Johnny Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttleton, Chris Barber. But here's a guy not only playing bebop, but playing Afro-Cuban -- and doing it well. I found out a lot about him from this obituary (he died in 1997), all of it impressive -- he was commissioned, in 1960, to write a series of pieces which were performed by a group of Ellingtonians, led by Harry Carney and Paul Gonsalves.

These two cuts showcase Graham as writer and arranger. I wish he'd showcased his own tenor playing a little more -- he sounds good. And one could wish the session had been engineered a little better. Still, another unexpected pleasure from Prestige's vaults. The two songs were released on 78 under both the Prestige and New Jazz labels, and on a 10-inch showcasing Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt along with Graham, and titled "Mambo Jazz."

You can find a nice selection of Graham on Spotify, including the two Prestige cuts. Neither tune is on YouTube, but here's a movie score by Graham from 1960, in which he out-Mancinis Mancini.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 41: Sonny Stitt - Gene Ammons

Prestige must have gotten a lot of jukebox play out of Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons to keep bringing them back into the studio, and why not? They had the bebop chops, and they had the popular touch. Nowadays, bebop and its offspring are mainstream jazz, the sounds we know and love. Back then, it was still new, still controversial, still associated with shades and berets and goatees and jokes about the square who walks up to a hipster and says "Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?" It was right around this time that Nancy,as she washed the dishes, was muttering to herself that Sluggo was driving her crazy listening to beep-bop. Just then, she dropped a huge armload of dishes on the floor, and Sluggo called out from the next room, "Hey! Play some more of that beep-bop!"

 So you had to be hip to love beep-bop, but maybe you needed a little help, too, and these guys were as hip as they come, and as good as they come, but also user-friendly. Stitt started out the end of January with his quartet, cutting three tunes, then joined Ammons and the septet for three more. He was back the next day with the quartet (Teddy Stewart replacing Blakey on drums). The first quarter session featured three ballads, one slow ("Can't We Be Friends?") and two medium tempo. "Liza" utilizes the upper register of the tenor sax,* "Friends" the middle, and "Can't Be Love" the lower register.

All are beautiful. "Can't We Be Friends," a 1929 song by Paul James and Kay Swift, is an especially beautiful melody. Kay Swift was the first woman ever to write the entire score for a Broadway musical. She was George Gershwin's protege and lover, and after his death she was chosen to complete and arrange some of his unpublished works. She also composed music for George Balanchine's first American ballet.. The lyrics to "Can't We Be Friends" were written by her husband, James Warburg, using a pseudonym so as not to embarrass his very proper banking family, and they contain one of my favorite unintentionally risque lyrics: "I thought I'd found a girl I could trust...what a bust..."

But the rich, deep tones of Stitt's saxophone on "This Can't Be Love" may the the best of a very good lot.

The second session that day, the septet session, adds weight to the speculation that these were jukebox favorites. You don't release "New Up and Down Blues" so soon after "Up and Down Blues" unless you've gotten some solid play on the first one.

The septet is essentially the same. The one new face is Chippy Outcalt on trombone, another guy about whom I can find out nothing except that he also did a stint in Dizzy Gillespie's big band. And again, goes to show that there have always been a hell of a lot of good musicians in New York who don't make the record dates, and aren't well known, but other musicians know them, and know they can call on them in a pinch. When I lived in Manhattan in the '70s, I would often walk home down Broadway from the upper West Side to my apartment on East 23rd Street, and when I passed through Times Square at two in the morning, there was always a guy playing saxophone under the marquee of of the movie theaters -- always the same one, though I forget now which one it was. And I would always stop and listen, because he was that good. And if one waited there long enough, musicians from the Broadway shows or the supper clubs or wherever there were paying gigs would stop on their way home to jam with him, because he was that good.

Larry Townsend is back on vocals again, so there must still have been a demand on the jukeboxes for Mr. B. acolytes. He's not bad, although it's a style that hasn't lasted, and he's singing two songs that didn't quite become standards. If "The Thrill of Your Kiss" was recorded by anyone else, I can't find it. The song was written by Richard Carpenter -- not the 60s songwriter with the sister, but, according to the jazz blog Jazz Portraits, " the OTHER Richard Carpenter, a noted jazz shyster, who according to James Gavin, ripped off Chet Baker so badly that Chet literally wanted to kill the man."

The next day's session is Stitt with quartet again, this time with Teddy Stewart on drums, redoing "This Can't Be Love," and one other tune. I only knew ".P.S. I Love You" from the syrupy Jimmy  Sacca and the Hilltoppers version from the mid-50s, and I confess I couldn't imagine it as the basis for a great jazz improvisation. Stitt proves me wrong.

Oddly, no luck with these on YouTube, although they have a lot of Stitt. You can find all these selections on Spotify. All of these were released on 78 by Prestige, some with songs from different sessions on the flip sides.As near as I can make out, there were two alternate pressings of Prestige 831, each using a different version of "This Can't Be Love." I have no idea which one I was listening to.

* Hold everything. The Jazzdisco information on this session may have been wrong. Ebay has the 78
of "Liza" for sale, and it's possible that the upper register of the tenor sax was in fact an alto sax -- that's the information on the label of the 78, which also lists Teddy Stewart as the drummer. On the other hand, the label from Prestige 739, also offered for sale on Ebay, has Stitt listed as playing alto on "Can't We Be Friends," where he's certainly playing tenor -- and it misspells Charles Bateman's name, so maybe there was some carelessness on the part of whoever designed the labels for Prestige.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 40a: Roy Eldridge

Jazz musicians wintering in Sweden in 1951. My choice would be Mexico, and that's where I actually will be this January, but I guess if you're planning a January in Stockholm, not much else to do except hit the recording studio, and that's what James Moody and Roy Eldridge seem to have done. Several Moody sessions in January, none of which I can find on Spotify, and then Eldridge back again, with a different group, still including Charles Norman on piano. I wondered if he was another American expat in Sweden, so I looked him up, and it turns out only his name is non-Swedish -- changed from Karl-Erik Albert Norman. According to his Wiki page, he was Sweden's foremost boogie-woogie piano player, and he also had a sense of humor that has been compared to Victor Borge. Maybe a part of the session was spent listening to Charlie Norman's wry humor, because only two songs were cut. This time two instrumentals, Eldridge in excellent form. They were released on a Prestige 78, but not on LP -- that was reserved for EmArcy.

Listening to Prestige Records Part 40: Roy Eldridge

Back to Sweden, this time with Roy Eldridge, one of the swing era greats to still command respect in the modern era. There's a bit of an oompah feeling to the Swedish rhythm section, especially on "Echoes of Harlem," but they give Little Jazz a chance to play, and that's always worth listening to.

Once again, what was it with the jazz musicians of the 40s and nursery rhymes? Was it to prove that they were so hip that they could even make nursery rhymes sound cool? I don't know, but cleverness doesn't always stand the test of time, and this isn't just an interpolated quote from a nursery rhyme -- the whole number is Eldridge singing one nursery rhyme after another. As usual, I had my Spotify Prestige playlist on for auto trips -- you can listen to everything through a couple of times on one trip to Sam's Club and back, and usually this is perfect -- some quiet alone time for serious listening, a chance to really focus on the music, and fifteen or twenty minutes each way of sheer pleasure. But this time, after about the first three listens, I found myself skipping over "School Days."

"Saturday Night Fish Fry" is Eldridge on vocals again, this time with a great Louis Jordan novelty number, and Eldridge handles it just fine, although the trumpet solo after the vocals is really the best part. The Swedish backup vocalists do an interesting and not unpleasant job with a phonetic reading of "It was rockin'."

"The Heat's On" is back to a solid instrumental, great Little Jazz, and the best work by the Swedes. Excellent cut, and one hopes the heat was on, in Stockholm in January,

Two days later, the same group recorded two blues numbers with Eldridge in fine form both on vocals and trumpet, and one blistering instrumental cut.

 These were released on the Swedish Metronome label, and Prestige put them out on 78, concentrating on the vocals -- "School Days" was the A side of one, and "Saturday Night Fish Fry," in two parts, on both sides of the second. The two sessions were also released on a Prestige 10-inch as Roy Eldridge in Sweden, and apparently at pretty much the same time by EmArcy, Mercury's jazz label, as Roy's Got Rhythm.

 No one seems to have posted videos for any of these, but they're all on Spotify in a collection called The Heat's On.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 39: Miles Davis / Sonny Rollins

There's a reason why Ken Burns followed up his Civil War documentary with documentaries about baseball and jazz, even though he was an authority on neither subject, and he pissed off a lot of aficionados on both subjects because he made rookie mistakes, but there was a reason why he chose baseball and jazz to follow the Civil War, because his real subject was always race.

And even if your subject is purely music, as mine is, you can't talk for very long about jazz without talking about race. I put up a litle quiz on Facebook a few days ago, asking anyone interested to take a guess as to the Down Beat Readers Poll winners for 1950, the year we've just finished listening to.It was an interesting time for jazz. Bebop was solidly established, but there were still plenty of moldy figs who didn't dig it. A lot of the players we think of as titans of modern jazz were just starting to establish themselves -- or had yet to establish themselves. Anyway, the winners:

Big Band - Stan Kenton
Trumpet -- Maynard Ferguson
Alto - Charlie Parker
Tenor -- Stan Getz
Baritone-- Serge Chaloff
Trombone -- Bill Harris
Clarinet -- Buddy deFranco
Piano -- Oscar Peterson
Bass -- Eddie Safranski
Drums -- Shelley Manne
Vibes -- Terry Gibbs
Guitar -- Billy Bauer

One interesting thing about that list is how white it is. And this is not just by chance. According to the book Race Music: Black Cultures From Bebop to Hip-Hop,by Guthrie P. Ramsay, Esquire Magazine created something of a firestorm in 1943, when it began its Critics' Poll, because it made the unusual move of including black critics on its panel. Their winners included Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, Billie Holiday and Cootie Williams. They had a fair selection of white winners too, but even so, they were attacked. One publication, Jazz Record, accused them of practicing reverse Jim Crow,and added that "the top men for small hot-jazz band work today are predominantly white men!" And Stan Kenton, of all people -- he who won far more polls than he probably deserved to -- complained that the 1956 Down Beat critics' poll had created "a new minority group, white jazz musicians."

The 1956 Readers' Poll was still heavily white, although Kenton was no longer winning. One example of the difference -- Critics' sax section Benny Carter, Lester Young, Harry Carney. Readers' section Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan. No argument at all with either set of selections, but one can't help but note the difference, At least it's not the Playboy jazz poll, where Doc Severinsen regularly beat out Miles and Dizzy.

Back to January of 1951. Last I looked at the New Yorker's jazz listings in their Goings On About Town section, They only listed Eddie Condon's and Jimmy Ryan's. Now they include Birdland, but none of the other modern jazz spots like the Royal Roost. They do include the Village Vanguard,but it was not an exclusively jazz spot in those days. Their feature that week was arty-folky tenor Richard Dyer-Bennett. Birdland was featuring a Dizzy Gillespie Sextet, a Lester Young quartet, and Dinah Washington, in what their commentator described as "what may be the death throes of bebop" It's hard to figure out exactly what he meant by that, but I'm guessing this was not a forward-looking jazz savant who had heard the Miles Davis Nonet and seen the future. More likely the wishful thinking of a moldy fig who would really rather have been in the company of Jimmy Ryan or Eddie Condon, who famously said, referring to one of bebop's more adventurous chordal variations, "We don't flat our fifths -- we drink 'em."

And in the Apex Studios in New York - not Prestige's home studio - two groups, mostly the same musicians, one with Miles Davis as leader and one with Sonny Rollins.

As bebop was bopping its last throes at Birdland, Miles Davis was in the studio, doing his bit to help
it along. Now, it is not my intention to draw a series of lines in the sand -- bebop here, hard bop here, cool school here. I couldn't if I wanted to, and I wouldn't want to anyway. My belief is that the great strength of the American Century in music lay in its blurred lines. The dialog was ongoing and insistent, the voices sometimes clashing, sometimes harmonizing, but always in the family. That's why Paul Williams was able to take Bird's "Now's the Time" riff and interpret it as the rhythm and blues classic "The Hucklebuck," why Ornette Coleman would learn his trade playing rhythm and blues, why the subtle drum master of the MJQ, Connie Kay, was able to propel the rock 'n roll sessions at Atlantic Records, why Charlie Parker could play with Machito, Danny Barker could play with everyone from Eubie Blake to Charlie Parker and Garvin Bushell from Fletcher Henderson to Eric Dolphy, In this session, Rollins is playing solidly within the bebop tradition -- and so are the others, even John Lewis, who had been with Miles for Birth of the Cool and was shortly to chart his own independent course. But Miles, particularly on "Morpheus," is going very much in the direction he had started to chart with the nonet.
And this doesn't make for a mismatch. All these musicians are on the same page, albeit with sometimes different calligraphy. That's the beauty of a small group framework with strong individual soloists -- each can add a different voice. And one would be remiss not to comment on the work of  yet another important hand on Morpheus -- Roy Haynes.

Even in jazz, where the melody gets left behind quickly for the uncharted roads of improvisation, a good melody matters a whole lot. "The Blue Room" is a 1926 composition by Rodgers and Hart, most notably recorded before this by the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman and Perry Como, is given a new look by Miles (no Rollins on these two cuts), and he makes it achingly beautiful on both takes. He goes back even farther in time for "Whispering," a 1920 composition by Vincent Rose (best known for "Avalon" and "Blueberry Hill"), and brings it beautifully into the modern era, too.

The last cut on the January 17th session (at Apex Studios rather than Prestige's home base, where Tom Dowd was an engineer, though it's not known if he did this session) featured Sonny Rollins as leader of a quartet with Heath and Haynes, and Miles Davis on piano. A side thought -- who else has recorded on both trumpet and piano? Mose Allison comes to mind...any others?

It seems to have just been tossed in, although it's a terrific recording. Prestige never released it as a single, but included it later on a 10-inch LP, PRLP 137, which is basically an entirely different session which we'll get to later.

The Davis tunes were released on two 78s,734 and 742; on an EP, PREP 1320, on a couple of 10-inch LPs, one a trumpet compilation and one called Miles Davis Blue Period. All of these cuts appeared later on 7000-series LPs, including "The Blue Room" on an LP called Miles Davis and John Coltrane Play Richard Rodgers.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 38: Gene Ammons / Sonny Stitt

Well, here's one reason why Prestige might have scheduled so many Ammons-Stitt sessions: They weren't standing still. They must have kept this septet together for a while, no easy feat in those days. 1950 was the year that both the Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie big bands were to disband for financial reasons. The Jazz Tour Database website has them playing at Birdland on March 10, 1951.

And they kept developing the septet sound. There's no arranger listed for this date -- presumably it's either Ammons or Stitt, or both -- but the arrangements are the best I've heard, and I've been listening to a lot of this band. "Wow!" is almost all ensemble work. It is tight and adventurous."Jug" does amazing call-and-response work between the soloists and the ensemble, at that breakneck pace that only the top beboppers could handle -- and the pace is just as fast, the changes just as tricky, when the ensemble is playing. And don't forget these are Prestige sessions, so Weinstock was paying for no rehearsal time, and precious few retakes.

How do you sing bebop? Well, here's one answer, from the unnamed singer on "Around About One A.M." -- with no evidence one way or another, I'll guess it's Gene Ammons. You just sing the blues. "One A.M." is a basic 12-bar blues, sung more or less straight, but with a jazzman's edge. And it's great.

In Clint Eastwood's "Bird," Forrest Whittaker, as Charlie Parker, tells white trumpeter Red Rodney (Michael Zelniker) that when they play in the segregated South, he'll be billed as Albino Red, the World's Greatest Blues Singer. "But I don't know how to sing the blues," Rodney says. "Don't worry," Parker says with a laugh, "anyone can sing the blues."

Well, not quite. But Gene Ammons -- or whoever it is -- sings the hell out of the blues on this one, and he is most likely not a professional singer, or he'd be credited, as Larry Townsend was on the last session.

Off the subject, I don't know if Red Rodney could actually sing the blues, but to play alongside Bird he surely had to play the blues. Which brings up an interesting aside, on the place of race in jazz in the 1940s -- an era in which segregation was still very much the norm. Benny Goodman was able to break the color barrier because he had such clout in the entertainment industry at that time -but a good part of the reason why he had such clout is that he was white. White musicians like Bix Beiderbecke and Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman played jazz because they loved it, but their commercial success went way beyond the success of equally talented blacks because of their race.

For that reason -- and because blacks were often forced to clown and play the "coon show darkie"-- young African American musicians like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and others found themselves drawn to playing a music that was so difficult that whites couldn't play it, and so intellectually and aesthetically challenging that it could not be associated with clowning. That having been done, Bird and others were then remarkably welcoming to whites who loved the music and wanted to play it -- and could keep up. Musicians like Al Haig, Stan Levey, Teddy Kotick and Red Rodney all played with Parker, and all played bebop, at the same time that musicians like Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton and Billie Holliday were being integrated into Benny Goodman's swing band.

The American Century in music is one of the greatest cultural flowerings the world has ever known -- right up there with Elizabethan drama, Renaissance painting, the Victorian novel. And it is different from all of those in its mongrel nature. There's nothing pure about American music. The blues had a baby, Muddy Waters tells us, and they called it rock and roll. The blues had lots of babies, and lots of mistresses, and lots of fathers and sons and daughters, a wild orgy of miscegenation and crossbreeding like no other artistic renaissance has ever seen. And we were there. We were so fortunate.

This time, no hits on YouTube or Grooveshark, but you can get all these cuts on Spotify, and you  should.