Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 47: Zoot Sims

A  busy day for Bob Weinstock, with this Zoot Sims set following Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons -- and they weren't short sessions,either. This one has six songs, and at least three different versions of "Trotting" were kept -- one released on 78, and the other two saved in the vaults until they were finally released by Fantasy in one of their Prestige reissue packages.

And not these easiest session to sift through, because Zoot recorded most of these songs more than once, and while it was pretty clear that some of them -- like the 11-minute version of "Zoot Swings the Blues" -- were not from 1951. it was sometimes not so easy to figure out which ones were definitely from that session. I did finally find a couple I was sure of, on YouTube--"I Wonder Who" and "It Had to Be You," and one on Spotify -- "Trotting." Whether it's the 78 RPM original release or one of the alternate takes, I can't say.

Sims spent a lot of time in big bands, from the swing units of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw to the modern sounds of Woody Herman and the Four Brothers to the ultra-progressive stylings of Stan Kenton, and perhaps the Goodman and Shaw experiences give him that swinging assurance, but it's his own lyricism and musical vision that allowed him to develop the extended solos that made him such a great leader of small groups over such a long period of time.

I'm interested, too, in what Weinstock was doing in the studio on August 14,1951. We're still a few years away from Rudy Van Gelder's engineering genius, but Weinstock is learning a few things. I said in my last entry that I hadn't yet heard a bass solo on a Prestige recording, and now here -- still historically on the same day -- we're finding, if not quite a lengthy solo, at least some strong bass presence.

The bassist is Clyde Lombardi -- like Sims, a swing-to-bop veteran, and a guy who could really play this kind of music. The pianist is Harry Biss, who sounds great, and has next to no biography. His Wikipedia entry states that "he performed and recorded with Georgie Auld, Billie Rogers, George Shaw, Herbie Fields, Buddy Rich, Brew Moore, Gene Roland, Zoot Sims, Terry Gibbs, Allen Eager, and Eddie Bert." That should be an impressive enough list of credentials, but the one reference listed on the Wiki page is to a 2007 Jazz Journal International article called "The Forgotten Ones," which seems to sum him up pretty well. Wiki also says that his career flourished between 1944 and 1952, and that he died in 1997, making him another one of those guys who should have been interviewed a lot more than he was.

If anyone should be irrepressible on drums,, it would be Art Blakey, but we've heard him featured on several Prestige recording sessions already, and he's been pretty repressed -- no bravura drum solos.

I know that drumming was historically hard to record. Baby Dodds was one of the great innovators on drums, but when he was recording in the Twenties, he could only use a wooden block, because the reverberations of a real drum kit would knock the stylus out of the groove of a wax cylinder recording. He was able to record his drum solos as a demonstration in the 1940s, but the issue of recording drums was far from solved.

I found this history of drum recording techniques online. In 1950, it says, there existed "very basic techniques when it comes to recording drums, most of the time positioning all instruments around one mic leaving the drums at the back as ambient sounds."

Here's a much more detailed history of the recording of drums, but what interests me right now is Bob Weinstock scheduling three recording sessions on August 14, 1951, and beginnings of new sound mixtures. Blakey doesn't take off into extended drum improvisations here, but he has his moments, just as Clyde Lombardi has his. And as we move forward into the 1950s, we'll see how this affects recorded small group jazz.

That sounds ridiculously formal. I'm not giving a lecture, I'm finding stuff out as I go along, and listening to music, and sometimes wondering and making guesses about what things were like back then.

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