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.


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