Sunday, December 27, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 160: James Moody

Steve Allen used to a bit on his TV show where he would invite four people up from the audience, have each of them play one note on the piano, and then do a jazz improvisation based on the resulting 4-note melody. The results weren't bad, but they were sort of like Dr. Samuel Johnson's description of "a dog walking on its hind legs: it is not done well; but you are surprised to see it done at all." Allen wasn't a gifted improviser, and obviously, the 4-note melodies weren't very good to start with.

The routine served Allen's purposes: to show off, which he had every right to do, it being his show and all; and to draw some of his vast TV audience into jazz, which was a good thing to do. And this anecdote has almost nothing to do with a rumination on James Moody and his septet and their Decmber session, which closed out 1955.

But it does say something about melody, and its importance. You can maybe make a jazz improvisation out of anything, but you're a lot better off starting with a good melody, and better yet, with a great melody.

But can you make effective and inspired jazz out of just any melody. Jazz musicians certainly seemed to think so,,and time and again, they proved their point. Kai Winding, on an early Prestige waxing, turned Mussorgsky's most famous composition into "A Night on Bop Mountain." John Lewis and the MJQ, with an assist from Laurindo Alameida, on Bach's "Fugue in A Minor." Wayne Shorter took on Sibelius; Eddie Daniels gave us his version of Satie. And Moody himself, in his Swedish days, gave us "Flight of the Bopple Bee."

A Swedish folk song became "Dear Old Stockholm." Sonny Rollins made jazz classics out of Jamaican calypso melodies. The beboppers even swung nursery rhymes (not always with satisfying results).

And more than once, the beboppers turned to operetta for imspiration: the ultimate Hip City meets the ultimate Squaresville. And more than once they made it work.

In this case, the operetta composer was Rudolf Friml, and the operetta was The Firefly, which was
supposed to have been composed by Victor Herbert, but he got furious with the diva around whom the show was being written, and stormed off the project, so the producers, in desperation, tapped the unknown Friml, and a star was born. Friml, that was, not the diva, Emma Trentini, who was already a star (and who seems to have gotten along better with Friml than with Herbert -- she was named as co-respondent in his first divorce).

When the 1912 operetta became a 1937 all-talking, all-singing vehicle for Jeanette MacDonald, the producers decided they needed one more boffo number, so they took a Friml orchestral piece, Chanson, added lyrics to it, and came up with one of Friml's biggest hits, if an unlikely source for bebop: "The Donkey Serenade."

Which brings us back to James Moody, and this recording session, with this particular bit of boperetta. Friml's music was a bit of a joke by the 1950s. Tom Lehrer, in his send-up of old Vienna, wrote "Your lips were like wine, if you'll pardon the simile / The music was lovely, and quite Rudolf Friml-y." But you don't choose to play a piece of music just to make fun of it, unless you're Weird Al Yankovic or Spike Jones (and even he was hip to the musical value of the songs he murdered). Moody starts out with a raucous approach to "The Donkey Serenade," including some nice braying by baritone sax player PeeWee Moore. But then Moody gets down to it, and what he gets down to is some incredible bebop improvisation on the alto, gutsy and adventurous, and you don't do that without some good, gutsy music to improvise from.

The rest  of the session is great, too. "The Nearness of You" is beautiful, with Moody at his ballad best.

The days of the four-song session, yielding two 78s, are behind us now. The goal of a session, whether it took one or two days to complete, was a full 12-inch LP, although it didn't always work out that way. Like a hostile takeover by Gordon Gekko, this session was broken up and sold for parts, appearing on a couple of different albums. In any event, the new philosophy meant longer sessions, and Mark Feldman, owner of the admirable jazz label Reservoir Records, passed on to me this story from Rudy Van Gelder, about those sessions. Often, Van Gelder remembered, when five o'clock came around, and they still needed material to fill out the album, they'd swing into what Van Gelder came to call "The Five O'Clock Blues." an improvised jam on a blues riff. Generic blues? Well, maybe. But maybe not. The blues, in the hands of the musicians who made the trek to Hackensack, was rarely generic. Certainly not with this bunch, although happy hour may have come early and lasted late. There are two extended blues jams, "Wail, Moody, Wail," and "Moody's Blue Again." There are three, if you count "The Strut," a Benny Golson tune. Golson composed "Blues March,"
and this one is in the same vein.,

Too much blues? Decidedly not. Each number is different, and each is satisfying. I think my favorite is "Moody's Blue Again," which opens with the sort of riff one heard in the great rhythm and blues instrumentals of the era, and then becomes a vehicle for two guys, Moody and Burns, who know something about the blues, and know more than a little about bopping the blues.

"Wail, Moody, Wail," became the title cut of the album, and at 14-plus minutes, became most of the album. "The Strut" and "A Sinner Kissed an Angel" were pushed over to a later album, James Moody's Moods, and ultimately all were reunited on a CD reissue.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 159: Sonny Rollins

Nowadays, the recording of jazz drummers is a master craft, and if you're interested in trying it, the Internet has any number of sources that will tell you how. But it was not always so. Baby Dodds was one of the all-time great jazz drummers, but what he could do on record was severely limited. Recording in those days was done directly onto a wax master, and the crash of drumsticks on a drum head could make the needle jump out of the groove, so Dodds was limited to playing on a wooden block.

By the 1940s, recording techniques had made major advances, or where would Gene Krups's career be? By the time Bob Weinstock started recording jazz artists in 1949, a drummer was able to use a whole kit, but unless he was Krupa he still wasn't heard much. With one mike, the horns that would be doing the soloing were placed closest, the piano farther back, and bass and drums off to one side. The musicians heard them, the record buying public not so much.

That changed with Rudy Van Gelder, and other great jazz recording engineers who followed. But this is the first recording on Prestige, though not the first ever, to make the drum solo so central to the sound.

Max Roach had paired with Clifford Brown to form one of the most memorable quintets of the era, and his full partnership in solo space can be heard on their albums for EmArcy. A website called Twelve Great Moments in Modern Jazz Drumming highlights his contribution to their recording of Cherokee:
Max blurred barlines, interacted with soloists, and added deceptively complex ideas and polyrhythms to the bebop drummer s vocabulary -- and all with impeccable cleanliness. After years of landmark recordings and performances with Bird and Diz, Max's two-year partnership with Clifford Brown marked one of the essential collaborations in jazz. Max's drum solo on  "Cherokee"  brilliantly represents the idea of a melodically constructed drum solo with a beginning, middle and end.
One of the highlights of my jazz listening life came in 1977, when I heard Max Roach play in a club in New York, and I experienced, indelibly, a melodically constructed drum solo with a beginning, middle and end. It was right after the jazz world had heard the news of the death of Paul Desmond, and Max announced a tribute that he called "Five for Paul." It was his unaccompanied drum solo version of "Take Five." I still get goosebumps remembering.

Sonny Rollins had joined the Brown-Roach Quintet not long before this recording, and not long after his recovery from heroin addiction. Rollins credits the clean-living Brown as one of his inspirations:  "Clifford was a profound influence on my personal life. He showed me that it was possible to live a good, clean life and still be a good jazz musician." And this was something that Rollins had feared. Like so many other young musicians of his era, he had come to connect heroin use with creativity -- young people thinking they were imitating Charlie Parker, although Bird himself warned that there was no connection.

For this Prestige date under his own name, Rollins brought along not only Max Roach but also bassist George Morrow. Morrow had played with many of the important West Coast jazz musicians (including Charlie Parker during his coastal sojourn). He later accompanied Anita O'Day, and then, in the mid-1970s, tired of life on the road, he joined one of the house bands at Disney World. So the next time you're taking your grandkids on an Orlando vacation, and you hear a band playing "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off to Work We Go," or "I Wanna Be Like You," or "Happy," before you scoff, consider: there may be someone in that band who played with Sonny Rollins. Or Max. Or Bird.

I kept trying to pick a favorite drum solo from this session, and I can't. Every one I listen to becomes my favorite.

"There's No Business Like Show Business" announces its anthemic theme with a drum roll, but this is no ordinary drum roll. Its syncopation sets the tone: driving yet complex. Which is what Rollins delivers. He belts the melody in a manner worthy of Ethel Merman, preserving its anthemic qualities, but letting the listener know that this is the bebop business, and in the hands of Rollins, Roach and Ray Bryant, there really is no business like the bebop business. And Roach's extended solo does all of the above, including the melodic part.

"Raincheck" would be another choice. Building on an irresistible tune by Billy Strayhorn, Rollins and Roach trade off percussion and melody in a role-bending way that's also irresistible.

Or the way the delicate stickwork behind Ray Bryant on "It's All Right With Me" explodes into a call-and-response duet with Rollins.

In other words, all of it.

This session, which was Rollins's return to recording with his own group after the recovery from addiction, must have showed him--certainly showed the world--that Clifford Brown's lesson was the right one: you could be clean and sober, and have all the creative inspiration, plus a lot more energy. The album was released by Prestige as Worktime, and it was. Time to get back to work. It was later rereleased as Worktime! but the music itself is its own exclamation point.

Rollins would continue to play with the Brown-Roach quintet until the deaths of Brown and pianist Richie Powell, in a 1956 auto accident, put an end to it. He would continue to stay clean, and to produce, to this day, some of the best jazz ever made.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 158: Phil Woods

I hope the two John Williamses who were playing piano in New York in the mid-50s at least had different answering services. Otherwise who knows what confusion might have ensued? Suppose Phil Woods had called for the guy who'd played dates with Stan Getz, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, and would later play with Cannonball Adderley, and by mistake he'd been connected to the other John Williams, the Juilliard student who was also playing a lot of club dates around town, and doing a lot of studio work, much of it with a rising young composer. What if Woods had gotten the wrong John Williams for this gig, and the wrong John Williams had done so well on the session that he never would have made it out to LA with his his composer friend Henry Mancini, and never would have become a composer himself? No Jaws, no Star Wars?

But Woods did get the John Williams he was looking for, along with Teddy Kotick and Nick Stabulas, for a heck of an album.

"Be My Love" is best known as the signature song for pop-operatic tenor Mario Lanza, and it seems an unlikely vehicle for a jazz quartet. But actually, it's proven to be a surprisingly versatile warhorse. Composed by Hungarian emigre Nicholas Brodszky, it's gotten the full-out dramatic treatment from Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras,and by Lanza fan Jackie Wilson, singing in the operatic style for which he was trained--and by Sammy Davis, Jr., doing an uncanny impression of Lanza (and of Louis Armstrong on the same tune--file under "Only Sammy").

But it's been taken up by a surprising number of jazzers--Keith Jarrett, Earl Klugh, Kenny Drew and Howard McGhee, Hubert Laws and Nancy Wilson. Stranger still a rock version by NRBQ, a country rock version by Rick Nelson, and a Ray Charles version by Ray Charles. Mario Lanza might be spinning  in his grave, except that he grew to hate the song, and his spirit is probably just as glad to see it separated from him. 

Phil Woods does a terrific version of it, taking it at a tempo that would have surprised Lanza, with some fine solo work by the right John Williams, and beautifully balanced drum accents by Nick Stabulas, who provides them at just the right spots throughout the album.

We know that the classic composers who created the Great American Songbook drew much of their inspiration from jazz, and the modern jazz musicians mined the Great American Songbook for melodies. But it's interesting to me how often they went outside the Great American Fakebook of those jazz-influenced composers. Back to an earlier time, taking melodies from the operetta composers like Victor Herbert and Rudolf Friml. To European folk melodies like "Dear Old Stockholm" (and we know how much of an influence Debussy was on Charlie Parker and others). And to composers like Brodszky, who were also working out of a strictly European tradition.

The white male pop singers of this era fell broadly into two categories: the jazz-influenced singers like Sinatra, who came from the influence of Bing Crosby, who was the first white singer to understand Louis Armstrong. And the guys who were pretty much untouched by Armstrong, like Vic Damone and Jerry Vale, who came out of the tradition of bel canto, which was the pop side of operatic voices like Lanza and Ezio Pinza. And of course, the original great pop idol in American music was a pure opera singer: Enrico Caruso.

And you might not think that this would be a direction toward which jazz musicians would lean, but they were amazing. They had ears that were active and questing. Louis Armstrong loved Guy Lombardo. David "Fathead" Newman loved Michael Bolton. You don't get it? You're probably wrong, and they're probably right.

"Slow Boat to China" is a Frank Loesser tune, and Loesser is certainly a master in the tradition that flows from Gershwin. It's an irresistibly catchy melody, which also appealed to Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, to the MJQ and Sonny Rollins, to Stan Getz, to Diz and Bird. To the masters, and Phil Woods is one of those masters. And catchy as the melody is, it could resolve itself in sort of a cliched way, unless you're one of those masters, and are never going to settle for the obvious.

"Woodlore" and "Strollin' with Pam" are two strong Woods originals. Teddy Kotick is a veteran of the early days of bebop recording, where bassists didn't solo. Well, they mostly couldn't, being set too far back from a single mike, but they didn't. Kotick takes a solo on "Strollin' with Pam," and shows that he can.

We lost Phil just a couple of months ago, and what a loss for jazz.

This was only released as a 12" LP (and years later on Original Jazz Classics). And the whole session was on that LP. This is a new trend -- one session, one album. So the four-song session is on its way out.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 157: Miles Davis

I woke up this morning thinking "The one thing that this blog/book series is going to be judged on is whether I got Miles Davis right."

Well, you think a lot of strange things when you're waking up, but there's no overestimating how important Miles was in the history of American music.

We're at a crucial juncture in the Miles Davis/Prestige Records story: that is, the end of the story. Miles jumps to Columbia, has to finish his obligation to Prestige, does it in two marathon sessions that maybe should have sounded rushed and perfunctory but instead produced some of Miles's best-loved albums.

I had somehow thought that this was done all at once--two days, two marathon sessions, in and out, so long Bob. But actually, it was a little more spread out than that. One session in the summer of 1956, one in the fall. And this one, near the end of 1955.

 Why am I suddenly so self-conscious about writing about the Prince of Darkness? It's not as though I haven't covered him before. And it's not as though Miles is the central figure in this fragmented narrative. I'm just  as interested, if not more so, in learning about Lawrence Wheatley, who made a passionate commitment to live jazz, and chose never to record again. Or Freeman Lee, who left the road to become a beloved junior high school science teacher. I'm just as interested in trying to find out if the Junior Parker who recorded with Stan Getz is the same one who made "Mystery Train." Or finding out that Teddy Charles' professor at Juilliard later taught Steve Reich, and wondering if the inventive jazz musician influenced the celebrated modern composer.

I suppose it's because so much has been written about Miles, and so may people have read it. And I mostly haven't. There are biographies. There's an autobiography, There are even specialized books, like the one on the making of Birth of the Cool. I actually have read that one. I have so much better chance of being found wrong, in writing about Miles.

So I woke up this morning thinking maybe I ought to read a biography of Miles before going on. And I probably will, before I finish up with him in 1956. But not just yet. Now I want to stay in my head, and float a few hypotheses, wrong though they may be.

Miles's transition to Columbia was far from overnight. By the fall of 1955, he had signed with Columbia, and he had even made his first Columbia recording, though it wouldn't be released right away. That was the deal--he could record for Columbia, but the records could not be released until after he had completed his obligation to Prestige.

And altogether, the Prestige obligation was completed in three sessions: the two marathons in 1956 and this one mini-marathon from November, 1955.  

So the Columbia date in October was actually the first recording session for what came to be known as the First Quintet: Miles, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones. They did four songs, and the rhythm section did a fifth.

The Prestige session of November was long but not quite as grueling as the later ones. The group recorded six songs, which were released as Miles in April of 1956.

The first Columbia album, Round About Midnight, came out in 1957, and was not all that well reviewed. Critics found it wanting in comparison to the Prestige albums, though this judgment was to change over time, and Round About Midnight would become a classic and beloved jewel in the Davis crown. But the first response to it was tepid, and this strikes me as interesting.

First off, had I been George Avakian, and had I had the benefit of my own hindsight, I would have told Miles not to record his long Prestige swan song with the quintet. "Come on, Miles, do what you've always done with Bob. Put together a pickup group with whoever' around. You can use that piano player, Lawrence Yardley. He just played on an Ammons session and I bet he'd love to get more recording work. Maybe get Ammons, too, or how about James Moody?  Throw in a vocal -- Prestige has that guy King Pleasure, and they're not using him much. Save the quintet for the big Columbia unveiling."

But what really interests me here is the possibility that the passing of time may have led to a changing of tastes. Today, there's a lot more awareness of the evils of conglomerates and mega-corporations than there was in the 50s, and an indie label, or no label at all, might get a more sympathetic ear from critics, especially indie critics. But back then, I don't think this would have been an important issue. 

The 50s were marked by the advent of Rudy Van Gelder and a new era in jazz music recording. But
recording equipment continued to evolve, and big studios were able to constantly upgrade to the newest state of the art. Tape made editing simpler. So did multitracking and, eventually, digital recording. Today we have AutoTune, and you can virtually make the Singing Dogs sound like Pavarotti. 

Even in 1956 at Columbia, they were starting to push the possibilities of studio recording. "Two Bass Hit" took six takes, and the finished version splices the beginning of take two to the end of take five. Artists (including Miles) would come to take it for granted that if they missed a high note, they could come back into the studio and hit just that one note, and have it spliced in.

Today some critics, perhaps many of them born and raised in the in the era of studio perfection, are a little snarky in assessing the Prestige catalog. Ragged, they say. Bob Weinstock preferred quantity to quality, rushed his sessions, didn't allow his musicians to rehearse, never did more than a couple of takes. But maybe back then, that ragged edge was more appealing, more authentic. Maybe the critics of 1957 were put off a little by the studio-perfected sound.

Miles was the LP from this session, and it came out in April of 1956. "Sposin'" and "Just Squeeze Me" were released on 45.,

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 156: Gene Ammons

This is another one of those What Were They Thinking? sessions. Not the musicians -- they were there to play, they delivered as promised: a beautiful ballad, a blues, and a rhythm and blues stomper that's so close to rock and roll that you could even call it that. And, in fact, they did. The tune is titles "Rock-Roll."

No, it's more a question of what was management thinking? They hired seven musicians, led by one of their most popular leaders, plus a singer, Earl Coleman, and they seem to have done very little with it. "Ghost of a Chance" seems never to have been released until many, many years later by Original Jazz Classics on an Earl Coleman CD reissue, at a time when there was very little interest in Earl Coleman. "Rock-Roll" was the flip side of a 45 that featured "Sock!" as the A-side, and it was the A-side of a 78 that had the other Earl Coleman vocal, "Haven't Changed a Thing," on the flip. Nothing from this session made it to an LP until the 1965 release of Gene Ammons--Sock! and then it was only the two instrumental numbers.

"Rock-Roll" was written by the great jazz composer/ arranger/ bandleader Chico O'Farrill, and it's a powerful recording--the kind of tune that used to open up a 1950s Alan Freed stage show, stirring up the audience and allowing space for a solo by one of the brilliant tenor sax players employed by Freed, Red Prysock or Sam "the Man" Taylor or Big Al Sears. In this case, it's Gene Ammons, with strong ensemble backing and some tasty licks by Cecil Payne.

Ammons brought a lot of new musicians into the studio with him. His previous session in June, while also very rhythm and blues-based date, had featured top name jazz musicians. Before that, in February, he'd led a group of excellent but unsung R&B cats, plus Earl Coleman, but the only holdover from that group to this was drummer George Brown.

Which meant it was kind of too bad for these guys that this session was so thoroughly buried, because most of them didn't get much more of this kind of exposure. Cecil Payne, of course, had a noteworth career. But I can't find anything about trumpeter Nat Woodyard, not even whether he was related to Ellington drummer Sam Woodyard. Edwin Moore not only played trombone here, he also contributed a really nice bluesy tune, "Blues for Turfers," but I can find no other mention of him anywhere.

George Brown went the expat route, and became a legend in Paris jazz circles, but before that he had fashioned a strong career in US jazz circles, most notably with Wes Montgomery.

Ernie Shepard was an expat of a different sort, eschewing the recording centers of New York and LA for most of his career, staying in Chicago, where there was lots of music, but not much or it committed to wax (or vinyl). In the mid-60s he toured and recorded with Duke Ellingon. Steve Wallace describes his playing on Ellington's live album, The Great Paris Concerts,, thus:
His sound is massive and vibrant, his beat irresistible and there’s a lot of interplay between the ideas he plays (even while simply walking) and the rest of the band and the soloists.
Which is pretty good description of his playing on "Rock-Roll."

Just because I can't find any discographies for Nat Woodyard or Edwin Moore doesn't mean that they didn't get work. Rhythm and blues session men are rarely noted. But I can absolutely guarantee that this was 20-year-old Lawrence Wheatley's only recording, and not because there was no demand for him. Wheatley was passionately committed to live jazz, and refused to record. Instead, for 40 years he led a weekly live jam session in Washington, DC, where he was revered as a "local musical godfather" and mentor to generations of Washington jazz musicians.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Listening to Prestige part 155: Art Farmer-Gigi Gryce

This is the second and last album by the Farmer-Gryce quintet. Like John Lewis and Miles Davis, Farmer and Gryce wanted to take jazz in new directions, and like Lewis, they wanted to establish an ensemble that would stay together and grow together.

Unlike Lewis, they weren't quite able to manage it. They were able to scuffle as jazz groups do, picking up gigs in clubs, but it wasn't enough. Gryce in particular was starting to compose a different kind of music, one that probably required a different kind of listening framework, like the one Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet were beginning to find. Between the May session for Prestige, which
produced the When Farmer Met Gryce album, and this one five months later, they had lost Freddie Redd and Art Taylor. Duke Jordan and Philly Joe Jones were great replacements, but they were also just passing through. Jones, who already had a strong connection with Miles Davis, was about to join the group that Miles was putting together to jump to Columbia with. Jordan was moving in the direction of leading his own group, and unfortunately also moving in the direction of heroin addiction, which would derail his career for a number of years. I tend to think of Jordan mostly in terms of the 40s, and his days with Charlie Parker, but actually he had a prolific later career. He moved to Denmark in the 1970s, and would record a prodigious number of albums for the Danish Steeplechase label.

By early 1956 Farmer and Gryce had to give up on their vision, though Farmer was to realize it several years later with another composer/saxophonist, Benny Golson, in the Jazztet.

Art Farmer, in a recent blog interview with Ted Panken, shared some memories of Gigi Gryce:
 Gigi was a great composer, a great arranger, and a great saxophone player, and he’s one of the people that we lost too early.  The music has lost a lot because he wasn’t around.  He was from the generation of Quincy and myself, and his contribution was lost, other than a very few things that he did for me, and, oh, yes, he had a group with Donald Byrd, but this didn’t show his full capacity as a player or a writer.  If he had just been able to hang on a bit longer, then I think he would have had a great influence on the music.  Just like Freddie Webster; I think he would have had a great influence on the music if he had been able to hang around longer.  Some people just leave too early.
Gryce didn't leave as some did, succumbing to illness and addiction and dying young. As I've written before, he withdrew from the music business, disillusioned by racism and other factors. So with a relatively small recorded output, he is remembered mostly today as a composer. And on this session, Art Farmer, no mean composer himself, turned the tunesmithing chores over to Gryce, with one
composition by Duke Jordan: "Forecast," which kicked off the session and is first on the album. Ira Gitler, in his liner notes, describes this as a tune "which got everyone loose," and that sounds about right. Jordan was a talented composer--his "Jordu" remains a jazz standard--working in a style that allowed for some spirited hard bop improvisation.

"Evening in Casablanca" is described by Gitler as having been inspired by a North African swing on the Lionel Hampton tour that became such an important springboard for so much modern jazz of the 50s, and that sounds about right, too. The music has an Arabic feel to it. And it's not likely to have been inspired by the Bogart film. As iconic as that movie has become today, back then it was just an oldie, a popular war movie from the 40s, somewhat tainted by the HUAC investigation of its screenwriter Howard Koch.  In
1957 it would begin a run at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA, which lasts to this day as an exam week tradition, and begin its ascent into legend. "Shabozz" comes from the same influence.

"Evening in Casablanca," "Satellite" and "Nica's Tempo" are all excursions into experimental, longer forms by Gryce, "Nica's Tempo," in particular, has become part of the jazz repertoire, recorded by Art Blakey, Oscar Pettiford, Tito Puente and Johnny Griffin among others.

This session was issued on a Prestige LP as Art Farmer Quintet Featuring Gigi Gryce, and later as a New Jazz LP just under Farmer's name, as Evening in Casablanca. This was a 1963 release, when the Jazztet had made Farmer's name a lot bigger, and the movie Casablanca had become a cult and late-night TV favorite. It was also released in the mid-60s on Britain's Esquire label, somewhat bizarrely, as Music for that Wild Party. The liner notes are Ira Gitler's original Prestige notes, with a little preface added urgiong you to take this record to any wild parties you're invited to, and more or less suggesting that if you do, you'll be invited to more and wilder parties.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Listening to Prestige part 154: Elmo Hope - Frank Foster

There probably isn't any time in the troubled life of Elmo Hope that can really be described as good, but these couple of years in the mid-50s, when he recorded first for Blue Note and then for Prestige, were at least productive.

Hope's youth included a brush with the law that rings a sadly familiar bell in the context of today's headlines: young black man shot in the back by the cops.

He was 17. He was treated for a bullet that narrowly missed his spine, and when he was released from the hospital six weeks later, he became the scapegoat of the incident, as he was arrested for assault, attempted robbery and violation of the Sullivan Law . He was charged with having participated in a mugging of three whites. Hope claimed in court that he had not been involved in any way with the mugging, but had been nearby, and, like others at the scene, had started running when the police started shooting. All charges were dismissed.

He served in the army in World War II, then returned to New York, where he was part of an emerging generation of bebop musicians. One was Johnny Griffin. who reminisced to Peter Watrous of the New York Times (quoted in Wikipedia):

We'd go to Monk's house in Harlem or to Elmo's house in the Bronx, we just did a lot of playing. I played piano a bit, too, so I could hear what they were all doing harmonically. But if something stumped me, I'd ask and Elmo would spell out harmonies. We'd play Dizzy's tunes or Charlie Parker's.

This was the second of three sessions for Prestige, and it's a strong showcase for Hope as pianist, leader and composer. His originals here are "Wail, Frank, Wail" and "Yaho." "Zarou" gets co-composer credit for Hope and Foster.

Freeman Lee plays on the first three tunes; the last two are a quartet.

Lee (also known as Charles Freeman Lee) had some good gigs during the bebop/hard bop era, playing with Snooky Young (on piano), with Sonny Stitt, Joe Holiday, James Moody and others on trumpet, and as a member of a vocal group backing up Babs Gonzalez. After his music career ended, he returned to the Midwest and joined his two schoolteacher sisters, teaching junior high school science. I hope is career as a teacher was as rewarding as his music career. It certainly was for his students. Here's a tribute from a student, at the Find a Grave website:

Mr. Lee was my Science teacher. He was a great educator. This was in the 70's in Michigan City Indiana, where his sister, Mrs Mary White, also lived and taught. He was a great and famous trumpeter and played with Duke Ellington. He used to tell us stories about his jazz days. He passed away in Ohio where his other sister, the famous educator Jane Lee Ball lived.
- donna shindler 
I got interested in the sister, and I discovered that she was an educator of some note: she had a thirty year career as a professor and chair of the humanities division at Wilberforce University in Ohio And from her 2011 obituary:
As much as she loved education, Mrs. Ball enjoyed fiction and non-fiction writing as well. Despite the demands of career and family, she found time to turn her lively imagination and teaching gifts into words on paper. She wrote more than 100 articles for Salem Press, which publishes award-winning reference works, and also published five books: Toole, Arrigo, A Flea in the Ear, After the Split and ­Glorious to View — the latter two being carefully researched histories of her beloved Wilberforce University. At the time of her death, she had put the finishing touches on her memoir, Ebony Sweet, or Growing Up Colored Before Black Got Beautiful.
This was a family that gave much to the world.

Elmo Hope's life was short and painful. I don't begin to know the reasons why people become addicted to heroin, but I'm sure that masking pain must be one of the main ones. So I can't help but be struck by how much joy there is in this music. With Foster (and Lee) the joy is boisterous and celebratory. In Hope's playing, it's very close to pure and unalloyed. especially on "Zarou," but really throughout.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Listening to Prestige part 153: Bennie Green

About the only thing I have to say about this session is how good it is, so I'll get down to it.

This is an extension of the June session, minus Candido, and it appears, along with the June session on the album variously titled Bennie Green Blows His Horn and  Bennie Green Blows His Horn in Hi-Fi.

It begins with the aptly titled "Groovin' the Blues," in which the band lays down a great groove, particularly the young Paul Chambers on bass, and Green and Charlie Rouse play the hell out of the blues. There are two different versions of this, one clocking in at 5:31 and the other at 3:13. Both of them appear on the album, and one was also released as a single, presumably the shorter one. The longer version seems to have been recorded first, so I'm guessing that it sounded so good that they decided it had to be a single, and they should cut it down to 45 RPM length. Good choice as far as I'm concerned, because I get to listen to both. Both versions are that R&B-to-bebop that I love, with the shorter leaving out a little of the extended beboppery, but still enough to be extremely pleasing.

"Travelin' Light" is the one standard, and the one ballad, in the set. It's a beautiful composition by Harry Akst, who was completely unfamiliar to me, but who began his career during World War I, writing a song with fellow doughboy Irving Berlin, and went on to write some great songs, including "Am I Blue?", "Dinah," and "Baby Face," as well as composing countless movie scores. "Travelin' Light," in 1937, was his last hit. He lived until 1973, and if I hadn't heard of him, my loss. He was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1973. Bennie Green does this lovely melody justice, and more.

Maybe Forest Whitaker as Charlie Parker was right, "anyone can sing the blues." But maybe not. Bennie Green certainly makes it sound easy. But anyone who's really good can make it sound easy. As W. B. Yeats said, "A line may take us hours maybe / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught." And so with Bennie Green. Just when you thought he could do everything, he turns around and makes you realize you were even more right than you knew. Green shows on "Hi-Yo Silver" that if he'd decided to drop the trombone and make a career as a rhythm and blues singer, he could have been one of the good ones.

"On the Track" is bebop, and everyone on it is good. Great work by Paul Chambers. by Cliff Smalls, by Osie Johnson, by Charlie Rouse. And by Bennie. And it works as rhythm and blues, too.

"Hi-Yo Silver" was the flip side of the short version of "Groovin' the Blues." All the tunes appeared on the album.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Listening to Prestige part 152: James Moody

I had not known that James Moody was partially deaf--and that as a child, he was put in a school for retarded children because school administrators didn't believe he was deaf. Fortunately, his mother moved him to a different school district, and fortunately, he didn't let hearing loss stand in the way of his love for music, or his desire to play it. It also wasn't enough to keep him out of the Air Force, in which he served during World War II. The Air Force had a band, but it was whites only. Moody has spoken in a video interview of his experiences in the segregated Air Force.

He found the unauthorized "Negro Air Force Band" led by trumpeter Dave Burns, with whom he remained close, first in the postwar Dizzy Gillespie band and then in the septet he organized, which played these Prestige dates among others. Burns is heard to good effect in these two sessions.

I've written a lot about James Moody, first in relation to his Swedish sessions for Metronome/Prestige, then in these septet sessions in Hackensack at the Van Gelder studio, and I'm not sure I have much more to say, which is one of the reasons I've held off writing a blog entry for a couple of weeks--the other being that I've gotten caught up gathering my first five years' worth of entries into book form, and that's almost ready.

But I was struck by this quote from Jimmy Heath, about a somewhat older Moody:

Over the years, Moody has become so free--not in a random fashion, but a scientific freedom--that he can do anything he wants with the saxophone.... He has true knowledge. He is in complete control.
I think this is a great distinction...scientific freedom vs. random freedom. I remember hearing Steve
Allen introducing Miles Davis on his tv show, and saying that Miles was not, as your grandmother might say, "just blowin' a lot of notes." Steve's grandmother must have had a somewhat different vocabulary than mine did, but we'll pass over that. Steve went on to say that "every note has a precise musical meaning and, uh, you could prove it with mathematics if need be." Well, I suppose you could, although mathematics might not be the best proof. But for sure, there's freedom and there's freedom. The scientific freedom, the kind that you could prove with mathematics if you needed to, is the kind of freedom that allowed Shakespeare to probe every shading and subtlety of human emotion, within the confines of iambic pentameter. The geniuses of free jazz, like Coleman and Coltrane and Dolphy, found their own kind of scientific freedom, even though Allen's mother might have said they were just blowin' a lot of notes. But as for random freedom...

There's a story abut Buck Clayton playing a Jazzmobile concert in New York. A young guy hopped up on the stage next to him, said he'd like to jam with him. Clayton said OK, let's play a little blues in B-flat. He started playing, the kid started screeching and caterwauling, blowin' a bunch of notes all over the map, never mind the scale.

"What's that?" Clayton demanded.

"Man, I'm just playing what I feel."

"Well, feel something in B-flat, motherfucker."

In 1955, Moody is already a master of scientific freedom, and he and his septet of Gillespie alumni feel plenty, and they feel it all in the same key. Eddie Jefferson joins them again for one number -- "Disappointed" -- and he meshes brilliantly. He doesn't make it a band backing up a vocalist, he adds one more instrument to a brilliant ensemble.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 151: Miles Davis

Does Miles already have one foot out the door? Certainly he's thinking about it. He must at least have a couple of toes out. It's just a couple of weeks since the Newport Jazz Festival jam session after which he was approached by George Avakian, wooing him for Columbia Records.

Avakian wanted Miles to put together a group that he'd work with consistently. Today, using one of the words I've grown to loathe, this would be called a brand. It was opposite from the approach Bob Weinstock had taken, having Miles record with different musicians in different combinations.

So if Miles had those couple of toes out the door, he had to have been at least to some degree auditioning young musicians. He obviously wasn't going to recruit Milt Jackson or Percy Heath, but the others were all possibilities.

Miles had kicked his heroin habit by this time, and he was understandably impatient with young musicians who had not. That meant young Jackie McLean, then 24, would not make the cut. Miles said of him later,
Jackie was so high at this session that he was always scared he could not play anymore. I don't know what's the shit was all about, but I have never hired Jackie after this session.
McLean only appears on two cuts "Dr. Jackle" and "Minor March." Miles would have the same problem with the saxophonist he did choose, John Coltrane, and they went through some rough patches, with Miles at one point firing Trane and disbanding the quintet, then putting it back together.

Art Taylor, at 26, was beginning a long association, not with Miles, but with Prestige. He may have been the drummer on a 1954 session with Art Farmer (this is up in the air), but he was definitely on this session. He would work off and on again with Miles over the years. but we would become known as the "house drummer" for Prestige, working on many sessions. Unlike Miles, he would also record again with Jackie McLean--and he had worked with him before. The two of them, and Sonny Rollins, had grown up in the same Harlem neighborhood, and had played music together as teenagers.

For 24-year-old Ray Bryant, 1955 was his breakout year, but he had actually first recorded at age 14.

This was in his native Philadelphia, in a band that included John Coltrane (on alto) and Benny Golson. And continuing my policy of never meeting a digression I didn't like, especially when it involves the twisting careers of working jazz musicians. the band was led by drummer Jimmy Johnson, who must have kept working and getting his name known in jazz circles, because 15 years later he was hired by Duke Ellington.

Trombonist Gino Murray later worked with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, but doesn't seem to have recorded with them,

Bassist Tommy Bryant didn't quite achieve the renown of his younger (by one year) brother, but he had a solid career, playing and recording with both his brother and Benny Golson from the 1944 session, and also with Dizzy Gillespie, Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, and may others.

But the really interesting career out of this aggregation belongs to trumpeter Henry Glover. In the mid-1940s, that burgeoning time for independent jazz and rhythm and blues labels, he was touring with Lucky Millinder, and met Syd Nathan, who had recently started King Records as a country label, but was discovering that there was a market for the sort of jazz that bands like Millinder's played, which was soon to be called rhythm and blues.

Nathan hired Glover to build a rhythm and blues presence on his label, and, incidentally, to build him a studio. But Glover ended up doing more than that. Originally from Arkansas, Glover had grown up listening to country music on the radio, and -- like his contemporaries Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino-- loving it. So Glover found himself producing country artists like Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins (those two would die int he plane crash that killed country legend Patsy Cline), Grandpa Jones, and the Delmore Brothers, with whom he co-wrote "Blues, Stay Away From Me," which became their signature song and a country music standard. Glover was almost certainly the first successful African American producer in the country field.

He had his first rhythm and blues hit with Bull Moose Jackson, and went on to record Lucky Millinder, Tiny Bradshaw, Wynonie Harris, Bill Doggett, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Little Willie John, and Jame Brown. Later moving to Roulette, he came back into the jazz fold, producing records for Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Sonny Stitt, as well as creating a rock 'n roll presence on Roulette with the k\likes of Ronnie Hawkins. He became close to Ronnie Hawkins' backup band, later to become The Band, and in the 1970s moved to Woodstock where he helped Levon Helm found his own independent label. As a songwriter, he wrote "Drown in My Own Tears," a hit for Ray Charles, and one of the biggest hits of the 60s, "Peppermint Twist."

The record that Glover, Bryant and the gang made was never released, and the personnel list for the session comes from the memory of Benny Golson.

Bryant would go another four years before getting a record date, this time with Tiny Grimes' Rockin' Highlanders. Grimes was another one of those cats who made music at the intersection of jazz and R&B. I know that tenor sax great Red Prysock, who was on this session, quit Grimes shortly thereafter because of the bandleader's insistence that his band members all wear kilts. So...Ray Bryant in a kilt? Or Philly Joe Jones?

Then nothing till 1955, Bryant's breakout year. Before the Davis session, he had recorded with Toots Theilemans on Columbia, with Betty Carter on Columbia subsidiary Epic (the label for which he would record most often, and then with the same trio (Wendell Marshall, Jo Jones) under his own name. He would record again for Prestige in December, with Sonny Rollins.

Miles and Milt Jackson had played together before, on the notorious Miles/Monk session, They play off each other beautifully here, and so does Jackie McLean. Although he's only on two tracks. "Dr. Jackle" and "Minor March." He gets composer credit on both, and fairly extensive solo space. "Bitty Ditty" is a Thad Jones composition that's been widely recorded; "Blues Changes," also known simply as "Changes," is Ray Bryant's. All the cuts are extended--from 6 1/2 to 9 minutes long -- giving plenty of room for improvisational experimentation.

Again, we have to grateful to Weinstock and Prestige for giving Miles this kind of exposure, in different settings and with different musicians. And, as in the case of this session, with different musicians bringing different material.

The session was planned for a 12-inch LP, with just over 15 minutes on each side, but the album wasn't released right away, for whatever reason. It came out as Prestige PRLP 7034, and is variously known as a Miles Davis or Miles Davis/Milt Jackson album (see the typefaces on the album cover.

The cover art is that muted color photo reproduction which would appear on a lot of Prestige covers; the photo is by Bob Weinstock.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 150: Jim Chapin

Even if you're a pretty serious jazz fan, you may never have heard of Jim Chapin. He played with the Casa Loma Orchestra, with Woody Herman and Tommy Dorsey, and with Flip Phillips at New York's Hickory House, but he only made one recording as a leader: this ten-incher on Prestige, which Prestige or its successors never reissued in any other format, although it was included, with another short session, on a 12-inch LP that was released in 1977 on the Classic Editions label. Both LPs are extremely rare, and I wasn't able to listen to them, which makes it hard to justify including this session in a blog called "Listening to Prestige."

But if you're a musician, particularly a drummer, you've heard of Jim Chapin, as perhaps the greatest of all teachers of jazz drumming. His textbook,  Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, Volume I, Coordinated Independence as Applied to Jazz and Be-Bop, published in 1948, is still considered the gold standard in its field., and he followed it three decades later with Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, Volume II, Independence–The Open End.  According to his obituary in Drum Magazine (Chapin died in 2009). "Independence," in Chapin's terminology, meant making one hand independent of the other. As he described it,
"Pianists and organists as far back as Bach had used independence to play a line with one hand and a counter-line with the other," Chapin says. "So why did drummers have to play everything hand-to-hand?"
The book's importance was recognized as soon as it was first published.
His exercises and concepts caused such a stir among drummers that he had to have a pair of drumsticks in his back pocket at all times in case he was called upon to demonstrate a particularly difficult passage and to prove that he truly could play every pattern in the book. 
Who benefitted from what came to be known as the Chapin book?  You'd best believe there were a few. Max Roach for one: "He beat a lot of drummers up with that book. We were all stumbling on it. But he made a significant contribution to conceptualizing what the drumset is all about, explaining it so clearly in his book."

Chapin, like Mike Cuozzo, moved away from the demands of the road and the jazz life to raise a family. In later years, he would play some gigs with his sons Tom and Harry, as they made their mark in the music world.

I'm hoping to find the sextet album, still. It features some wonderful musicians, including Phil Woods. Meanwhile, here's one of his instructional videos:

And here is the man, in his 80s, on the drums:

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 149: Elmo Hope

We're on a run of piano players here, from the almost completely forgotten (Sanford Gold) to the Olympian (John Lewis) to somewhere in between.

Elmo Hope is an elusive creature in jazz lore, like the yeti, or like B. Traven. Or B. Traven in reverse -- no one knows who he was, but everyone has seen Treasure of the Sierra Madre. With Elmo Hope, the opposite. I'd certainly heard of him -- tortured soul, short life, heroin, underground reputation. WBGO, the nation's premier jazz station, remembers him on his birthday, and plays him one or two times a month, but he's not a part of their regular rotation to the degree that his contemporaries like Thelonious Monk or his lifelong friend Bud Powell are. And this is actually a good job by WBGO, keeping a flame flickering, but alive, that otherwise might be completely extinguished.

His Wikipedia entry theorizes that "he remains little known, despite, or because of, the individuality of his playing and composing, which were complex and stressed subtlety and variation rather than the virtuosity predominant in bebop." But that doesn't sound right. Hope had plenty of virtuosity, and neither Monk nor Powell was a stranger to subtlety and variation.

The jazz life is a hard one. I mentioned Mike Cuozzo in my last entry, on the MJQ, who left music to become a building contractor. Mark Myers of Jazzwax wrote glowingly of Cuozzo's abillity, and later received a letter from Michael Cuozzo, Jr., explaining that while his dad loved music, he loved his family more, and made the decision to provide for them.

John Ore, who played bass on this session, and who later spent three years as Thelonious Monk's bassist, was the subject of a 2004 profile by Reil Lazarus on the All About Jazz web page. Lazarus, reflecting on the musicians who created jazz in the 40s and 50s, noted that
today, those youngsters are aging men - gifted masters who have long since paid their dues - and many, especially those with failing health, find themselves victims of past exploitation and failure to plan....
 “I haven’t had much work,” says Ore. “In the last five or six years, I’ve had glaucoma, and that’s cut down on my ability to [find work].” This, paired with a dwindling number of venues currently catering to jazz, has made it more and more challenging for him to perform. 
“I don’t get out there to play very often,” Ore laments, “And that’s the main thing. Playing at home all by myself just isn’t the same. A musician should be playing at least two, three to four times a week with other musicians.” 
Add to this the absence of proper benefits and pensions plans for veteran musicians, and the road to a relaxed retirement appears muddier by the day. Organizations like the Jazz Foundation of America, whose monthly jam sessions Ore participates in, have worked ceaselessly to ease these unfortunate fiscal woes. Nevertheless, the lack of a substantial safety net for aging artists like Ore continues to be a major problem in jazz. 
And these are the guys who survived. Ore told Lazarus:
Not too long before Elmo Hope died, I saw him on Seventh Avenue. And he was walking in the rain with no hat on, someone else’s shoes, and he was sick. Now I don’t blame that on anyone, but there should be something, someone, somewhere we people can go.
The music remains, and this album is beautiful. I was awed by Hope's piano playing, but I was also struck by the way he uses the potential of all three instruments, bringing bass and drums to the fore in a way that not every piano session leader does. "I'm in the Mood for Love" is a little over four minutes long, and how do you do "I'm in the Mood for Love" after James Moody and King Pleasure/Eddie Jefferson have taken ownership of it? Hope does something completely unexpected. He gives the first two minutes to John Ore, who does a solo bass interpretation of "Moody's Mood." Then, with the bass still audible in the mix, and the echo of Ore's Mood still pulsing through, Hope creates his own solo, and makes the song his own.

In "Blue Mo," he brings Willie Jones to the front, with hard-edged stick work on the ride cymbal.

I was surprised to see "It's a Lovely Day Today" in the set list. It's a sprightly and hummable Irving Berlin tune, best known for a perky, optimistic rendition by Doris Day, but I wouldn't have thought of it as a bebop vehicle, and in fact I can't find any other instrumental jazz version, although Ella Fitzgerald, Astrud Gilberto and Jackie and Roy have all sung it. Hope takes it at a breakneck bebop tempo, and tears it up.

This became the fourth made-for-12-inch Prestige session, and was released as PRLP 7010 - Elmo Hope--Meditations.

PRLP 7008 and 7009 were the Wardell Gray memorial albums. Gray died on May 25, 1955, in Las Vegas. He was probably murdered, but the case was never investigated. No one cared what happened to a black man in 1950s Vegas.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 149: Modern Jazz Quartet

This is the first MJQ album with Connie Kay, and the last for Prestige, before they decamped for their long and fruitful association with Atlantic.

Kenny Clarke was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic within the strict confines of the MJQ. One of the pioneers, and one of the most prolific drummers of the bebop era,  He was the original house drummer at Minton's, which means he played with everyone -- and as the modern jazz decade progressed, everyone wanted him, or Max Roach or Art Blakey, to play with them.

In 1955, after severing his ties with the MJQ, Clarke made fouralbums for Savoy as leader of co-leader:a septet session with Ernie Wilkins;  The Trio, in which all three players--Clarke, Wendell Marshall and Hank Jones--go co-credit; Telefunken Blues, for which he enlisted MJQ-mates Jackson and Heath, along with a front line of Henry Coker, Frank Morgan and Frank Wess; and a third album featuring a rhythm section of Horace Silver (Hank Jones on one track) and Paul Chambers, and a front line of Donald Byrd on trumpet and Jerome Richardson on tenor sax and flute. He also gave two young brothers their first exposure on record: a trumpeter and alto sax player named Nat and Julian Adderley. It's safe to say that Cannonball made an impressive debut--impressive enough that Bohemia After Dark has often been re-released under his name.The session was successful enough that two weeks later the same two brothers and the same rhythm section recorded under Cannonball's name, and two weeks after that under Nat's name, with Jerome Richardson replacing Nat's brother.

He also recorded with Gene Ammons (Prestige), Eddie Bert (Savoy), Donald Byrd (Savoy),Milt Jackson (three albums on Savoy), Hank Jones (two more on Savoy in addition to The Trio), Duke Jordan and Gigi Gryce (Savoy),  Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh (Atlantic), Charles Mingus (Savoy), Thelonious Monk (Riverside), and Little Jimmy Scott (Savoy).

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. He also  recorded with:

  • Johnny Mehegan, best remembered for his seminal books on jazz improvisation. 
  • Wally Cirillo (Cirillo's album, also featuring Mingus and Teo Macero, included what is probably the first recorded jazz composition written in a 12-tone scale).
  • Johnny Costa, whom Art Tatum dubbed "the white Art Tatum" and who later became musical director of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. It's nice to remember, in this day of disappearing live music, that Fred Rogers employed a live jazz trio, which played (per Wikipedia), "the show's main theme, the trolley whistle, Mr. McFeely's frenetic Speedy Delivery piano plonks, the vibraphone flute-toots as Fred fed his fish, dreamy celesta lines, and Rogers' entrance and exit tunes."
  • Chuz Alfred, who made two albums as leader in 1955, then gave up jazz to play with Ralph Marterie's dance orchestra, then returned to Columbus, Ohio, where he became a charter member of the Columbus Musicians' Hall of Fame. And you thought the only musicians' hall of fame in Ohio was the one in Cleveland.
  • Johnny Coates, who as Jazz King of the Poconos, employed the young Keith Jarrett as a drummer.
  • Mike Cuozzo, described by Marc Myers of Jazzwax as "a gifted player... a Lester Young sound with a Lennie Tristano vibe." He gave up music to become a building contractor in New Jersey, but not before making an album with Mort Herbert, who would become deputy district attorney of Los Angeles,
  • Al Caiola, who branched out from jazz to record hit versions of the themes from The Magnificent Seven and Bonanza, and who recorded with  Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Percy Faith, Buddy Holly, Mitch Miller, and Tony Bennett, among others.
Not only is that just 1955, that's just Savoy.

Clarke might have been able to keep up this prodigious schedule and still make dates with the MJQ, but he was also feeling claustrophobic about America, By 1956, he was a full-time resident of France, where he could make more money and deal with less racism. He played many sessions with visiting American musicians, and led the Clarke-Boland Big Band with Belgian pianist Francy Boland.

Connie Kay had followed Kenny Clarke before he followed him into the Modern Jazz Quartet. He became the house drummer at Minton's.

Before that, as a teenager, he had worked at a club called Ann's Red Rose in his Bronx neighborhood, getting the gig a week after he had bought his first drum kit. The house drummer for the Red Rose had quit suddenly, and someone at the bar said "Well, there's a drummer around the corner because I hear him practicing every night as I come home from work." So he played for comedians, singers, tap-dancers and chorus girls (from the NY Times obituary and a NY Times profile).

He moved from there into the jazz world, playing behind every major figure at Minton's, and also in Lester Young's band for several years. He was also putting his Ann's Red Rose experience to good use as the drummer for various rhythm and blues ensembles, including that of Frank (Floorshow) Culley, who had had a hit for Atlantic Records with "Cole Slaw." Culley brought him in to Atlantic in early 1951 to record a demo for The Clovers, who had just signed with the label. The song was "Don't You Know I Love You," and the bass player didn't show up for the session, so Kay had to double his part on the bass drum. He got paid for the gig, and thought no more about until a couple of weeks later, when "I'm driving my car and hear the tune and I say, 'Wait a minute, that sounds like the tune we made a demo of.' A week later I went to Atlantic and I went into Ahmet Ertegun's office and he said: 'Man, I'm glad to see you. We've been trying to find you. I like the beat you used on that record.' From that time on they kept calling me for record dates. When I couldn't make record dates, they'd postpone them.''

Supposedly, the "concept album" began with Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which began with a vague idea by the Beatles to make an album that would represent a collection of songs by a fictitious village band, an idea which got discarded pretty quickly, but floated around the album sufficiently that "concept album" became the goal of mostly some pretty pretentious rock groups. If you wanted a real concept album, what about My Fair Lady Loves Jazz or Dave Digs Disney, or for that matter any Broadway show original cast album? Or Louis and the Angels? Or Birth of the Cool, which wasn't even made as an album but is still one of the greatest concept albums of all time?

Anyway, Concord is a concept album in that the concept was that it would be an album. It was the third recording session scheduled by Prestige to produce a full 12-inch LP's worth of music: in this case, six selections, and over 36 minutes worth of music.

It's an album that's mostly standards. Perhaps in Lewis's mind, the group already had one foot out the door, so they were saving original material for Atlantic--although in fairness, the MJQ tended to be standard-friendly until later in its career, and the first Atlantic album only had three originals. The originals are Jackson's "Ralph's New Blues" and Lewis's title track. I'd wondered if "Ralph's New Blues" was a tribute to Ralph Ellison -- I'd sort of hoped it was -- but appears to be for jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason, which is pretty good too. It's built on an irresistibly bluesy riff, and is the catchiest number on the record.  "Concorde" is another Francophile nod from Lewis, and inspired the Eiffel Tower cover of the album. It has a richness of tone, a catchy melody, and an uptempo swing.

Lewis and Jackson know how to sustain a note for dramatic effect, and they know how to let loose a torrent of notes. But as always, the the MJQ is a quartet, not a leader and sidemen, and you're always aware of the contribution each member is making to the sound.

"Softly as a Morning Sunrise" was released as a two-sided 45. The album's initial release, as noted, was the 12-inch LP.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 148: Sanford Gold

Sanford Gold only made this one album under his own name, and it's been pretty much forgotten. Too bad. It's a nice listen--the guy definitely knew his way around a piano. Since I know so little (read nothing) about him, and since whoever wrote his Wiki entry obviously did know, and cared, and was a good writer, I'll quote it here:
Gold was one of the premier jazz piano teachers of his time. His self-published book, "A Modern Approach to Keyboard Harmony and Piano Techniques," distills the complexities of jazz and classical harmony down to a simple yet far-reaching system of pianistic and harmonic exercises, and has become an underground classic for serious students of the instrument. One of his biggest fans was Bill Evans, who often steered students his way.
His students have also remembered him on YouTube, where they've posted cuts from his album--and even the whole album. Some reminiscences:
 I was 3 yrs. old when Sanford Gold recorded this. I had my first lesson with him 12 years later in a seedy old building on 49th St and 7th Ave, full of jazz musicians like Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, Tony Aless, Ross Tompkins and the musicians from The Tonight Show band all hanging out at his studio, where there was a card game going on that never seemed to end. I thought he wasn't listening, but he would call out "3rd finger, Dummy!' from the next room.
 When I was a kid, I would sit in the waiting room while my dad was taking a lesson. By then the lessons were in a building at 58th street, and there was no room for dudes to hang out... Calling Sanford Gold a "character" is an understatement. He could be hear yelling "play that fuckin' chord" from the next room like Erik says.
 And another:
 I was a student of Sanford Gold in the mid-70s in New York.  The best piano teacher I ever had. He did once pull a machete on me, but I know he did it with love.
So we have to be grateful that Prestige brought him in for this session, although he did record with Don Byas, Stan Getz, Johnny Smith, Al Cohn, Vic Dickenson and Coleman Hawkins. And grateful to his students for keeping his memory alive.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 148: Bob Brookmeyer

Bob Brookmeyer, during this time period, was somewhat bicoastal. He had replaced Chet Baker in Gerry Mulligan's famous pianoless quartet, and he was still making dates in New York. This is another four song, 10-inch recording date, perhaps because Prestige already had one such session (with Teddy Charles), and needed one more to fill out a full length LP.

This New York session is also a pianoless quartet, except when it isn't. On two of the tunes, Brookmeyer plays piano. Actually, Brookmeyer had started as a pianist, with the Tex Beneke and Ray McKinley bands, before switching to valve trombone full time. This was actually true of the Mulligan-Brookmeyer quartets, as well--they were pianoless except when they weren't, since both Mulligan and Brookmeyer played piano.

To my ears, there's no falling off in technique or imagination when Brookmeyer switches to piano. He's great on both instruments, and the four tunes together, with the piano and trombone alternating, make a cohesive unit.

The quartet makes a cohesive unit, too. I believe this is Mel Lewis's debut on record. His first
important professional gig had come in just the previous year, when he had joined Stan Kenton's orchestra. Teddy Kotick had also played on the Teddy Charles session.

I continue to be impressed with Jimmy Raney, who's been on several Prestige sessions before this. His solos are beautiful, and his duet exchanges with both Brookmeyers, the trombonist and the pianist, are dazzling. He does a very cool duet with Teddy Kotick, as well, on his own composition,  "Potrezebie," the title of which tells me that in addition to his other accomplishments, Raney was an early fan of Mad comics. Mad's resident genius, Harvey Kurtzman, had run across the word in a set of Polish instructions for a bottle of aspirin (and who among us hasn't read aspirin labels in Polish?) and decided he liked thesound of it as a nonsense word (it actually means "need"). Looking on to see if anyone else had recorded "Potrezebie," I discovered that although it hasn't been picked up by any other Mad-loving jazzmen, there are a number of Polish songs that use it in the title. The Polish songs spell the word correctly: Potrzebie, with no "e" between the "r" and the "z." Actually, the root word is an inflected noun, and "potrzebie" is the dative case of the noun. The various Polish songs usually use "potrzebuje" or "potrzeba," which, as near as I can make out, are verb forms. "kilkanaScie przedsiEbiorstw potrzebuje nowych dochodOw"  translates as "Over a dozen of enterprises need new incomes," which seems somehow appropriate for a discussion of jazz. I like to think that Jimmy Raney was a real Mad fan, and knew the correct spelling, but was done in by the label maker for Prestige's pressing plant.

The original 10-inch release in 1955, and the later 12-inch release, were both titled The Dual Role of Bob Brookmeyer, referencing two different sessions with two different Hall Overton students, or more likely Brookmeyer as trombonist and pianist. The same album was also given a New Jazz release, as Bob Brookmeyer -- Revelation!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 147: Gene Ammons

This is a curious session, and I'm trying to puzzle it out. It's certainly not designed to produce a 12-inch LP--they only cut two tunes that day. So...a 45, maybe? One for the jukeboxes? But this isn't exactly a rhythm and blues aggregation. It's a whole new group. None of them have recorded with Ammons before, and they're all serious modern jazz musicians, the cream of the crop.

But that's OK. All these cats can play rhythm and blues. Addison Farmer may have studied at Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music, but he also played in the house band for the Bihari brothers' Modern Records, one of the premier R&B labels on the West Coast. Lou Donaldson became famous for playing the funky side of jazz, and as he said in a recent interview with jazz blogger Larry Appelbaum , "If you can’t play the blues, you can’t play no jazz, I don’t care who it is or how much you study."

But no, that doesn't seem to be the case, either. No rhythm and blues here. These are jazz cats playing straight ahead jazz, and very tasty stuff at that. With soloists like Donaldson and Art Farmer filling out the front line with Ammons, there's a lot of jazz to play, and both selections run long - "Juggernaut" checks in at 10:31, "Woofin' and Tweetin'" at 15.06. Plenty of time for extended solos, and enough music to fill up both sides of a 10-inch LP. So who needs to worry about a 45 for the jukeboxes?

Except...they did release "Woofin' and Tweetin'" as a 45. And not an EP, apparently. How? I have no
idea. Maybe they did two versions, one for the album and one for the single. But then there'd be an indication of that on the session record. Maybe they just truncated it. I looked for playing time on the 45's label, but no such luck.

I'm pleased to see that the bebop trope of punning on the artist's name (or in this case nickname) hasn't disappeared altogether: hence, "Juggernaut." And I also like "Woofin' and Tweetin'." It has the suggestion of an old time rhythm and blues title, like "Rockin' and Rollin'" or "Rollin' and Tumblin'" or "Shuckin' and Jivin'," updated to the new jargon of the hi-fi world.

This session did eventually make it to 12-inch, but here again there's a curiosity. Prestige did often rerelease material, but in this case it doesn't seem to be so much a rerelease as a release of the same thing twice. Gene Ammons All-Star Sessions and Gene Ammons - Woofin' and Tweetin' are both PRLP 7050, same catalog number. But they have two different names and two different covers.

The 45 RPM seems to have been released more or less at the same time as the album. The label reads From the 12" LP 7050 "Woofin' and Tweetin'." So maybe it went something like this:
Hey, why don't we put out a 45 on this one. It's not exactly rhythm and blues, but it is Gene Ammons. I bet we can get it on a few jukeboxes.
Isn't it a little long?
We'll just cut it down some. On the jukeboxes, who'll care? But you know...if we're putting out the 45, maybe we should change the name of the album, so if someone hears it on a jukebox and likes it, they'll know what album to buy.
Sure, why not? In that case, let's change the album cover too. I never liked that original art much.
Actually, it wasn't unusual for Prestige to put out an album with alternate covers -- in fact, there's a whole website devoted to just that. Often the difference was just one of a different color scheme, less often a whole different design. Two different names is rarer yet, although not quite unique.