Thursday, January 29, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 78: Teddy Charles / Hall Overton

 I finished up 1952 with a curious but oddly satisfying "Best of" list from The rateyourmusic raters had a lot of jazz for their best of the year in music, a lot of classical, some ethnic folk, some spoken word. No rhythm and blues. Their list of best singles of 1952, on the other hand, was full of rhythm and blues, full of country. And eventually it struck me: of course. Who was putting out rhythm and blues LPs in 1952?

My own 1952 on Prestige was full of wonderful surprises. I had never really listened to George Wallington or Teddy Charles. Or Hampton Hawes, who blew me away. I had never heard of Joe Holiday, and I loved his mambo jazz. I revisited King Pleasure and Annie Ross, two all-time favorites. I got reacquainted with the great Wardell Gray (and with his daughter, on Facebook), with Zoot Sims. I got to hear more of Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, and they continued to give pleasure. I heard the first recordings by the Modern Jazz Quartet (I'd played this one many times on vinyl), the first recordings of some of Thelonious Monk's greatest compositions, the first really extensive recording sessions by Billy Taylor.

I finished up my first four years of listening to Prestige Records, session by session, and came into 1953 ready to revisit old favorites and encounter new surprises. And my first 1953 session was very new, and very much a surprise.

My first thought in listening to this remarkable session of four original compositions was to wonder if Teddy Charles had been influenced by electronic minimalist composers like LaMonte Young. My chronology was a little vague, so I looked up Young, and discovered that if anything, it was just the reverse. Young, and Steve Reich and Philip Glass and Terry Riley, all came later, so if there was an influence--and I think there must have been -- it was in the other direction. My guess is that every avant-garde musician coming along in the 1950s listened to Teddy Charles's New Directions album.

 I wasn't familiar at all with Hall Overton, so I did some research there, and found that he is most famous for orchestrating Thelonious Monk's piano compositions (Monk chose him for the job) for a groundbreaking Town Hall concert. But in the early 1950s, Overton was an incredibly influential figure, though virtually as little known then as he is now.

 Did he influence electronic music? Well, as it turns out, yes. Steve Reich was a student of Overton's at Juilliard.

 And so were Teddy Charles and Jimmy Raney. It must have been a thrill for Charles to make this album with his mentor, and he must have known he was about to go in even newer directions.

 Almost all of what anyone knows about Hall Overton, beyond the Monk concert, can be found in a Internet article by Art Lange, written in 2009, because Lange was frustrated by the fact that basically, no one knew anything about Overton. So here, thanks to Art Lange, is what I know about Hall Overton (I do recommend reading his piece). He shared the weird and notorious 6th Avenue loft with David X. Wilson, which I've written about briefly before. Photographer W. Eugene Smith also lived at the loft, and (this and all subsequent quotes are from the Lange article, and you should really read the whole article):

Between 1957 and ’65 he made approximately 4,000 hours of surreptitious tape recordings at the loft, everything from hours of cats meowing and random street sounds to historically invaluable jam sessions, rehearsals, and conversations – most importantly, those in preparation for the Town Hall concert...the tapes of Monk and arranger/orchestrator Overton discussing the music and sounding out details at two pianos reveal just how much of a collaboration it was, and the intimate and thorough working relationship the two shared.
Lange also gives a detailed description of the New Directions session, which is so much better than anything I could write that I'll quote from it at length here.

remarkable because they’re not really jazz, but constructions that explore new methods
of organization from an improvisational perspective, equally informed by classical procedures. (You can’t call them Third Stream, Gunther Schuller wouldn’t coin the term for several years.) Though all four pieces are attributed to Overton, liner note annotator Ira Gitler said that one, “Metalizing,” was devised by Charles. None of the pieces “swing” in a conventional way; the rhythms are sometimes regulated by a snare drum pattern or predetermined melodic material, but for the most part jostle through freely phrased development of motifs, which provides momentum. Typically, the piano (Overton) and vibes (Charles) engage in complimentary linear counterpoint; in “Antiphony” their lines take on a modal cast, with the kind of large intervals favored by Webern and Eric Dolphy, and in “Decibels” the three-part interaction never resolves into a single-minded composition, but maintains its jazz identity as a trio conception. “Metalizing” includes timbral juxtapositions – the piano is pedaled so chords resonate, Shaughnessy focuses on cymbal washes, Charles switches from vibes to xylophone and glockenspiel to alter colors. Nothing in jazz was comparable at the time.
I don't know that anything in jazz has ever been comparable. This music is mesmerizing, difficult, intellectual, and somehow straight to the gut. This from Prestige, the label that gave us hard bop, the early Miles, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, King Pleasure and Annie Ross (and which started out with Lennie Tristano). This from Ed Shaughnessy, who spent 30 years providing rimshots for Johnny Carson and Doc Severinsen (and engaging in titanic drum battles with Buddy Rich). This is the vast richness of American music.

On Hall Overton's Wikipedia page, there's this quote from Overton about his music.

Since I am both a composer and active jazz musician, my work reflects both of these sources of musical experience. As a composer, my main interest has been in the exploration of non-systematic, intuitive harmony, both tonal and dissonant from which other elements—melody, counterpoint and form—can be derived. I am not particularly concerned whether this places me in the middle of the road, left or right. Or even if there is such a thing as a road to be on or off. There are only individual expressions for which we must find the right language. Some are good, some are bad. My attitude towards jazz is one of deep respect. Having attempted to master this difficult and exacting art for several years, with some small degree of success, I feel that I have come to know it in a way that is possible only through actually performing and creating in this idiom. Jazz has had a strong influence on my compositional style, but purely on a subconscious level. For I am opposed to the practice of trying to make jazz respectable through the unnatural imposition of classical forms or materials.

These were released on a 10-inch LP, New Directions, Vol 2, and then not again until a much later reissue with volume 1 as simply New Directions.

All these selections are on Spotify, and deserve to be listened to. They represent an important and influential direction in modern music. None are on YouTube.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 77: Wrapping up 1952

Prestige recorded a bunch of blues singers during the year. They don't seem to have kept the same meticulous records for their blues sessions, because there are no dates on any of them. Rudy Ferguson and Bobby Harris were both in for two more songs each. They were released on 78, but no trace of them now. No information on the session musicians. Piney Brown, who took his name from the legendary Kansas City speakeasy proprietor remembered in a classic Big Joe Turner blues, was a legend in his adopted home town of Dayton, Ohio, and was remembered fondly when he died in 2009.

Bob Kent was another bluesman who seems to have left little trace behind, and might have left even less, except that his session for Prestige actually did have one musician whose name was recorded on the session notes -- a young tenor sax player from Lionel Hampton's road band who had just just arrived in New York to try and make a living as a session musician. His name was King Curtis. So this one can be found on a compilation album called Wail, Man,Wail -- all of Curtis's recordings from the 1950s, from well-known tunes like those of the Coasters to obscure artists like Bob Kent to surprising choices like Waylon Jennings. Kent's "Korea, Korea" is one of many blues songs about that war, perhaps because it was the first to be fought since the armed services had been integrated. Good blues, good King Curtis.

What else?, an always interesting site for user-voted lists of this and that, has a number of jazz albums on their list of best albums of 1952. I can't exactly figure out how the ratings on rateyourmusic are calculated, and I can't begin to figure out who does the rating. They're jazz fans -- 21 of their top 50 records are jazz. But who else are they? The others are some classical, some ethnic folklore from Mexico, Africa, Europe and Haiti, Dylan Thomas, some folk blues (no rhythm and blues), and Charity Bailey singing for first graders. Nonetheless, it's an interesting reflection of jazz in the year, so here it is -- the jazz selections from their top 50.

3. Nat "King" Cole

4. Milt Jackson
Wizard of the Vibes 
Blue Note

5. Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday Sings 

8. Stan Kenton
City of Glass 

12. Erroll Garner
Body & Soul 

14. Gerry Mulligan and Allen Eager
The New Sounds 

15. Milt Jackson Quartet 
Dee Gee

16. Charlie Parker
South of the Border 

18. Nat "King" Cole
Penthouse Serenade: Nat 'King' Cole at the Piano 
21. Louis Armstrong
Satchmo Serenades 

23. Miles Davis
The New Sounds 

24. The Fabulous Sidney Bechet and His Hot Six
The Fabulous Sidney Bechet 
Blue Note

28. Norman Granz
Norman Granz' Jam Session #1 

20. Stan Getz
Jazz at Storyville 

30.Lee Wiley
Sings Irving Berlin 

31. Anita O'Day
The Lady Is a Tramp 

39. Peggy Lee
Rendezvous With Peggy Lee 

42. Sidney Bechet & Mugsy Spanier

44. Jeri Southern
You Better Go Now! 

45. Howard McGhee's All Stars
Howard McGhee 
Blue Note

47. Sidney Bechet
Ambiance Bechet 

48. Anita O'Day
Singin' and Swingin' 

These, of course, are 1952 releases, and my list is of recording dates. I'm a little surprised that Prestige isn't represented more vigorously, but you can't really complain about what is there. Other artists further down on the list are Art Pepper, Art Hodes, Ralph Burns, George Wallington, Sonny Rollins, Wardell Gray, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Barbara Carroll, Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington and Johnny Hodges.

Billboard called 1952 the best year for jazz, economically, since the '30s, as evidenced by

the increasing number of jazz platter served up by the established and new diskeries, the great success of the jazz road packages, and the healthy grosses racked up by top jazz artists as night club attractions.
Billboard notes that new club, the Bandbox, has opened in midtown in competition with Birdland, that an Illinois Jacquet album, straddling jazz and rhythm and blues, has sold over 100,00 units, Benny Goodman's newest has sold over 75,000, and "the average 78 RPM jazz release of quality can now sell between 5,000 and 10,000 a year, a much better figure than a number of years ago."

So maybe the story of bebop killing jazz as a viable commercial form were a little exaggerated. Of course, the story of the decline of the big bands seems to carry more weight. From Billboard again:

What is most important here, to the record company on one side and the dealer on the
other, is that most jazz platters use a small group and the diskery can get off the nut quickly, and that jazz disks continue to sell for many years.
I miss that old show biz journalism. Where are the diskeries of yesteryear? Billboard notes the success of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic and other package tours, and the advent of the LP record.

A second article heralds the arrival of the Bandbox as neighbor and rival to Birdland.The Band Box is featuring JATP stars Flip Phillips, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Charlie Ventura, Oscar Peterson with Ray Brown and Barney Kessel, Charlie Shavers, Hank Jones and Teddy Napoleon. Or you could walk over to Birdland and catch the Lester Young Quintet, the Stan Getz Quintet and the Dave Brubeck Quartet...on the same bill. Think you could afford it? The Bandbox offered free admission and a $1.25 minimum. Birdland had a $1.25 admission and no minimum.

Bring on 1953.

Listening to Prestige Records Part 76: Hampton Hawes

In 1953 Prestige was to have more of a presence on the West Coast, as Bob Weinstock sent Teddy Charles out to act as his A&R man, but in 1952, not much. So there's this one session some time in December -- exact date uncertain -- with Hampton Hawes as leader, and Larry Bunker, Clarence Jones and Lawrence Marable.

They recorded eight songs, which were released on a 10-inch LP. None of the selections made it to either Spotify or YouTube, but I was able to find them and listen to them. This is almost certainly not one of Teddy Charles's sessions -- although there's no specific date on it, it is labeled as December 1952, and Charles didn't go out to the Coast until late January of '53. But it may well have been one of the things that made Bob Weinstock decide he needed a West Coast presence.

Thoughts on this session: (a) this is the third straight session we've had featuring vibes, and what are the odds of that? (b) with all the talk by John Lewis and Teddy Charles about how it's time to move away from the head-solos-head format, not everyone agrees, and thank goodness for that. This is the structure that modern jazz was built on, and it allows for great freedom, great improvisation, great listening.

This is Hampton Hawes's second recording for Prestige, and his first as a leader. He had played on the Wardell Gray/Art Farmer session that introduced "Farmer's Market," and he had opened my eyes on that one. I knew of Hampton Hawes, but had never sat down and listened to him closely. My loss. My gain now, and my delight. Hawes was a unique piano player. intense and playful, musically advanced, a solid swinger.

Here he's with Larry Bunker, equally well-known on drums and vibes. He had only come to the vibes fairly recently, but it hadn't taken him very long to master them. From a 1994 interview with Mal Sands:

It was 1950. I was 21 or 22 and I was playing drums with a trio that included the Hammond organ and the guitar. The organist, who was the leader, asked me if I’d ever played the vibraphone and I said, “No, I’ve never played one in my life.” He said, “Well, the fact that you know harmony and are an improvising player and know the keyboard and drums, it’s a natural for you. I’ve got an old set of vibes in my garage. Why don’t you take it home and work out a couple of tunes and we’ll see what happens.” Now I was aware of Lionel Hampton and just beginning to get into Milt Jackson. So I took the thing home, figured out how to put it together and spent three days just doing exercises and playing scales.

So I went on the job and did the first set on drums and then the guys asked: “What have you worked out?” I said that I had worked out a solo on a song and when he asked me what I wanted to play I said just play anything. So we played a couple of standard ballads and then some up-tempo things and got screaming applause from the audience. We came off the bandstand and there were people in the audience, musicians I had worked with who came up to me and said: “Geez, Larry, I didn’t know you played the vibes. How long have you been doing that?” I said: “Three days.”

Also interestingly, and unexpectedly for two West Coast musicians, both of them played with Bird. At 19, Hawes played an 8-month gig at the Hi-De-Ho Club in LA, for Howard McGhee's quintet with Charlie Parker. And Bunker? Well, let him tell it (from the same interview):

I did actually get to play once with Charlie Parker when I played a couple of tunes on piano at a dance job with him in L.A. at a place called the “Five-Four Ballroom. Some guys I knew where playing with them so I went down to catch the gig. There was a tune they wanted to play and the piano player didn’t know it. Larance Marable saw me and called me up to the stand and said: “You know that tune, don’t you?” I said: “Sure.” So I sat in and comped for Bird.
Every tune from this session is a treat, with two virtuosos trading solos, running up each other's backs, never missing a beat or a cue or a challenge. It's hard to single out one, but what about "Move," the Denzil Best composition made famous by Miles Davis, John Lewis and Co. on the Birth of the Cool album. The Davis nonet, escaping from the strictures of bebop, plays it at about two and a half minutes. Hawes and Bunker, making it into their own speed-dialed bebop classic, play about the same number of notes and choruses, and bring it home in a minute and half.

Prestige put this out on a 10-inch, and later on a 7000-series 12 inch LP, the latter combined with a Freddie Redd session as Hampton Hawes/Freddie Redd -- Piano: East/West. How's that for an orgy of overused punctuation marks?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 75: Teddy Charles

By the end of 1952, Teddy Charles Cohen had heeded his booking agent's warning that he couldn't book a jazz act with a Jewish name, and had become Teddy Charles full time.

This didn't exactly mean that he was going all out for popular approval. You don't name your latest tune "Composition for Four Pieces" if you're looking to compete on the jukeboxes with "Open the Door, Richard." And if you title another tune "Edging Out." you aren't sending a message that you intend to place yourself square in the center.

On two consecutive days, Bob Weinstock went into the studio with vibraphonists, and for the second straight day, with musicians who were edging out of the bebop orbit, but in different directions. Teddy Charles was lighting out for a territory close to that staked out by Lennie Tristano -- cool, cerebral, imaginative, the work of a serious and innovative composer. Wait a second -- that does sound like John Lewis, doesn't it? And in fact Charles's biographer, Noal Cohen, describes his approach to jazz very much the way Percy Heath described John Lewis's -- "he had developed a compositional approach to jazz performance that attempted to transcend the standard theme statement/solos/theme restatement format." But it's different.

A lot of people were ready to bury bebop by the closing days of 1952, but it was still more than just the musical innovation that had transformed American culture: it was still a vibrant and vital force, deeply influencing even those who were edging out of it. There's no John Lewis, no Teddy Charles, without bebop, and there's still plenty of bebop in what they're playing -- in Charles's case, the lightning fast tempi. As Chuck Berry was to say, "I have no kick against modern jazz / Except they try to play it too darn fast." But speed is exciting, especially when it's executed with the virtuoso precision of a Teddy Charles.

There are three originals here (two by Charles and one, "Composition for Four Pieces" by Jimmy Raney), and one standard -- a bebop standard, that is: Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia." As with the recent Monk outing and the very recent MJQ outing, the mixture of the familiar with originals by three of the most original composers in jazz serves to ground the session, and give new insight into the compositional abilities of each.

The interplay between Charles and Raney is wonderful, with Charles edging Raney further out, and
Raney keeping Charles in touch with his inner bebopper. Dick Nivison seems to have no other recording credits besides those with Teddy Charles, but Charles must have really liked him, because when Bob Weinstock, in 1953, sent Charles out to La-la-land to be his West Coast A&R man, he seems to have taken Nivison with him.

Ed Shaughnessy might have been the kind of drummer that everyone in the business wants, but no one outside of the business remembers. He did a lot of anonymous studio work for TV personalities like Steve Allen and Garry Moore. But then one of those TV studio gigs became 30 years as perhaps the most visible drummer on television, when Doc Severinsen hired him for the Tonight Show orchestra.

The tunes for this session were released on the appropriately named 10-inch LP New Directions, Vol 1, and also on a 45 RPM EP with the same title.

No selections from this session have been posted on YouTube.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 74 --: The Modern Jazz Quartet

The first sound you hear, on the first tune of the first recording session by the Modern Jazz Quartet, is the driving walking bass of Percy Heath, punctuated explosively by  Kenny Clarke's drums. And there's a surprise, not just because Clarke was the only musician to leave the group, but because you don't exactly think of the MJQ as a drum-dominated group. But here's Clarke, front and center on "All The Things You Are" - and perhaps, even more so on "La Ronde," the second tune to be recorded that historic day. Does that mean that the MJQ didn't start out as the ensemble-driven sound that we associate with them? Not at all. But they were, first and always, an ensemble of individuals. A lot of critics of the MJQ in later years, those who,complained that the group was too stodgy, too careful, too polite, tended to except Milt Jackson from this criticism, and say that he was a real individual, and what was he doing letting himself be tied down? Let's Bags be Bags! But they were all individuals, all powerful players all creators and improvisers and strong personalities.

Percy Heath, in an interview by Mike Zwerin in Paris in 2003, recalled the founding of the Modern Jazz Quartet from four musicians who had come together as the rhythm section of Dizzy Gillespie's big band. Gillespie had featured them separate from the band, and they had also started playing club gigs as the Milt Jackson Quartet (originally with Ray Brown on bass).

In 1951 the Milt Jackson Quartet - Heath, John Lewis and Kenny Clarke (soon replaced by Connie Kay) - was driving home to New York after performing in some sad and disagreeable outlying club. All four of them - they were big men - were squeezed into Milt Jackson's tired old gilded Cadillac, which they had named the "golden dragon." Lewis said he was weary of this kind of life, and of the same old head-solos-head rhythm section format that went with it. He wanted to form a band that would be like a chamber group with four independent contrapuntal lines going simultaneously and be accepted in theaters and concert halls where jazz had never before been heard. The Modern Jazz Quartet was named then and there in the golden dragon.
So this was a powerful zeitgeist as the 40s turned into the 50s. Miles Davis, who had been a protege of Charlie Parker, was feeling it. John Lewis, playing in the Dizzy Gillespie big band, was feeling it. There had to be more than just the same old head-solos-head formula. It was time to break out of bebop.

As it turned out, bebop had a lot more life, and a lot more creativity, to share with the world, but these questing musicians were right too. John Lewis had been an integral part of the music that came out of those all-night sessions at Gil Evans's apartment, had played on the Birth of the Cool sessions and contributed three tunes. The nonet had failed commercially, but the idea that jazz could move in new directions was still a vivid one.

The quartet recorded two standards and two Lewis originals on that first session, both of which were to become staples of their repertoire. "La Ronde" was expanded into "La Ronde Suite," about which more later. "Vendome" is perhaps the most representative of the direction the group would become famous for, classical in structure and tightly arranged.

All four songs were released on 78 RPM and on a 10-inch LP -- one of the first Prestige LPs to take cover art seriously.The cover was designed by David X. Wilson, noted not only for his jazz album art, but for jam sessions at his illegal loft. From his obituary in the New York Times:

The loft, in an industrial building at 821 Avenue of the Americas, near 28th Street, became a gathering place for the greats of jazz, including Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as for utter unknowns who simply yearned to play.
Known simply as ''the Sixth Avenue loft,'' it was one of maybe a half-dozen places where musicians gathered at a time when various strains of jazz -- mainstream, bebop and cool, among others -- were percolating. Situated in the heart of the flower district, it was the epicenter of what became known as loft jazz.
''By most accounts, it drew the biggest names, showcased the latest talent and lasted the longest,'' said an article in the fall 1999 issue of Double Take magazine.
''Guys played with people they'd never seen before,'' Bob Brookmeyer, a trombone player, said in the article. ''Whites, blacks, old guys, young guys. Nobody cared about that stuff. We were all outlaws. Our profession wasn't considered respectable. There was a sense we were all in it together.''
There was no lock on the loft's front door, and it was considered bad form to arrive before 11 p.m. There always seemed to be many pretty young women present, and ample bourbon and marijuana. It was a spot where Salvador Dali, Norman Mailer or Willem de Kooning might show up, entourage in tow. ''The locus of mad freedoms,'' Mr. Young once called the scene that his rent bargain made possible.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 73: Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk back in the studio with the same instrumentation as the October 15 date, with Max Roach replacing Art Blakey on drums -- and in my previous entry, I seem to have gotten a whole bunch wrong. I rely for my discographic information on, a Japanese website that has done a fantastic job of compiling information, and I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude -- I would never even have been able to begin this blog project without them. And I have to apologize to them -- I believe I misread or misunderstood part of their notation system. On their record label pages, they list session by session, chronogically, and every release from each session, from early 78s through 45s through 10 and 12-inch LPs to later reissues. But on their artist pages, which is where I went for the Monk/Blue Note information, they only list album releases, which is why I mistakenly said that Blue Note did not seem to have released Monk's 1947 sessions till years later.

In the jazzdisco page for Blue Note's 78 RPM releases, the information is there; it's also on the Blue Note page of another website,

Bob Weinstock, in an interview with musician James Rozzi, recalls how he got interested in modern jazz -- and how he decided to start his own label.

I had a record store before I started recording, and I carried every jazz artist you could think of. One day Alfred Lion, who ran Blue Note Records, came in and said, “I have something new: Thelonious Monk.” I said, “What the hell's that?” Alfred said, “It's bebop.” I listened to it and the more I listened, I realized it had a charm to it. It was interesting. I was strictly into swing at the time. Beboppers were calling people like us moldy figs. The next thing I knew, I became obsessed with bebop.
And a side note, from the same interview -- what was the relationship between Bob Weinstock and Alfred Lion, these two giants of jazz recording in their era?

I loved those Blue Note records. Even before I was in the business, Alfred Lion was my hero. The man was a giant. He had integrity. He made a fine product...
Anyway, Thelonious Monk is an extraordinary introduction to bebop. An extraordinary talent, and extraordinarily unlike anyone else. Which may explain why, when Weinstock arranged his first session, he chose Lennie Tristano, someone else who was unlike anyone else, but in a different way. Which, I suppose, goes without saying. If you're unlike anyone else, you're going to be unlike anyone else who's unlike anyone else. But I digress.

Weinstock, with his "let 'em play" recording philosophy, lets Monk play. With just a trio, so it's all Monk. And nearly three quarters of a century later, Monk still has the capacity to startle. This session has three originals and a standard, and it feels like just the right mix. Monk was such a brilliant composer. And listening to him create an improvisation around "These Foolish Things" gives a real insight into how he approaches a tune.

This is really a continuation of the October session, and a brilliant continuation.These Prestige sessions were the first recordings of a number of Monk classics. "Bemsha Swing" has become a jazz standard, recorded by a galaxy of jazz stars -- and even a rock group, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in a version that's not bad. For a moment, I thought there was an even more unlikely version, when I read the name of Peter Weniger, the German tenor sax man, as "Porter Wagoner." I haven't been able to find out what "Bemsha" means, although I have found several websites where people complain that they can't find out what "Bemsha" means.

"Trinkle Tinkle" and "These Foolish Things" were released on 78, and all four cuts on the 10-inch LP that also contained the tunes from the first session.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 72: King Pleasure

Strange, but this is the session that was. You'd have thought, perhaps, that after having a hit record off of the first King Pleasure session, Weinstock would have planned a whole recording session around him, and gotten him some serious A-list musicians, led by someone better than Teacho Wiltshire. But instead, he seems to have been a sort of afterthought on a session led by someone who wasn't as good as Teacho Wiltshire--although not bad.

The Charlie Ferguson Quintet recorded eight songs that day, six of them without King Pleasure. Of those six, only two ("When Day is Done" and "Stop Talkin', Start Walkin'" were ever released, although their version of "Christmas Song," with the Mello-Moods singing pretty good backup vocals to a sort of Earl Bostic-type sax solo by Ferguson, has showed up on YouTube. Prestige had Ferguson back a few months later to record six more songs, none of which were released.

So, let's start with the band. Ferguson had some solid rhythm and blues credentials, having played with Arnett Cobb and Jimmy Liggins. Most of his work in the 50s was in the house band for Apollo Records. But he couldn't make that breakthrough, and today he's probably best known, if at all, for the two King Pleasure songs. He's also, for what it's worth, the third Ferguson to record for Prestige in 1952. I don't know if he's related to either Rudy or H-Bomb. He has an extended solo at the end of "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid," which cooks.

Ed Lewis's credentials go back to Bennie Moten in Kansas City, who played for many years with Basie, although he never soloed, and was considered by Harry "Sweets" Edison to be, along with Snooky Young, one of the two greatest first trumpets he ever played with. Ed "Schubert" Swanston actually worked extensively with the Mello-Moods, which may have been what brought him to the gig. He also had gotten around the jazz world, playing with Louis Armstrong from 1943-45, and also with such as Gene Krupa, Andy Kirk, Oran "Hot Lips" Page, Lucky Millinder, Art Blakey, Erskine Hawkins and Jimmy Rushing.

Peck Morrison would have a few turns in the Prestige studios, with Zoot Sims, J.J. and Kai, and Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson. He also recorded with Horace Silver, Gigi Gryce, and Art Farmer, and played with pretty much everyone: Gerry Mulligan, Carmen McRae, Tiny Bradshaw, Eddie Jefferson, Duke Ellington, Lou Donaldson, Mal Waldron, Randy Weston, Red Garland...I know I'm going on about these guys, when the real news about this session is King Pleasure and Betty Carter, but that's part of my pleasure in doing this blog. Jazz rode on the backs of guys like Ed Lewis and Peck Morrison...and Herbie Lovell, for many years house drummer at the Savoy Ballroom, who started with Hot Lips Page, then worked with Hal Singer, Johnny Moore's Three Blazes, Earl Hines,  Lucky Thompson, Jimmy Rushing, Arnett Cobb and pianist Teddy Wilson. Which is a lot of versatility, but there's more. He also played drums on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and on albums bv John Denver, B. B. King, and...the Monkees?

King Pleasure broke through with Eddie Jefferson's magnificent treatment of "Moody's Mood," and came back this time with his own vocalese versions -- of Gene Ammons's "Red Top" (a really good start) and Lester Young's "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid" (has become a classic).

Carmen MacRae once said, "There's really only one jazz singer – only one: Betty Carter." Carter's improvisational gifts are legendary, but here on her one cut ("Red Top") she's mostly singing harmony with Pleasure, although she does get to let loose on one chorus. And again, you have to wonder. "We can get Betty Carter for this date." "OK, we'll use her for one song on the Charlie Ferguson session."

And what can you say about King Pleasure? He should have recorded more. But we have what we have, and these two are right up there with his best. And maybe it wasn't so much an afterthought to the Ferguson session -- maybe these were the only two songs Pleasure had at that time. Annie Ross may have tossed off "Twisted" in one night, but this stuff really isn't easy to write.

This may have been listed as a Charlie Ferguson session, but the records came out under King Pleasure's name (with Betty Carter given credit). "Red Top" was on three different Prestige 45 RPM releases, b/w "Don't Get Scared" (from a later session), "I'm in the Mood For Love" (from an earlier session) and "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid" (from this session). "Symphony Sid" also had a second 45 RPM release, b/w "Parker's Mood," Pleasure's masterpiece, about which more later, when we get to it.

Listening to Prestige Records Part 71: Billy Taylor

I've been using Spotify as my source for these recordings, and as a place to refer anyone who's actually following me along on this Odyssey. And I've been putting up YouTube links to at least one song from each session, for the same reason. No luck with Spotify on this one, so you're on your own, but I have downloaded it, and can report on it.

We tend to think of Dr. Billy Taylor (he got his doctorate from UMass Amherst in 1975, and has more honorary degrees than most of us have college credits), jazz ambassador and educator, founder of Jazzmobile, contributor to CBS Sunday Morning. But before he was Dr. Billy, he was a young college graduate (Virginia State College) who headed straight for 52nd Street, got his first gig playing with Ben Webster, learned from Art Tatum, and was the house pianist at Birdland.

He started his recording career as leader right away, too, doing his first trio session for Savoy in 1945. By the time Weinstock brought him in, he was already a veteran, but the series of trio recordings he did for Prestige, starting with this one, were a major showcase.

Not actually his first Prestige date, though. He appeared on one of those odd Prestige vocal group sessions that never quite made it, but have become sought-after collector's items in the doowop world -- The Cabineers, with Mercer Ellington.

Earl May, who would be Taylor's bassist for 12 years, joins him for the first time on these sessions (replacing Charles Mingus). There's an immediate rapport between them. Charlie Smith is probably best known for sessions with Bird and Diz, and although he's not one of the big names in the bebop world, he's much admired by other drummers.

These are standards -- "Accent on Youth" only barely qualifies as a standard because Duke Ellington recorded it, but it was a hit record in the 30s, and the theme from a movie. It was written by Tot Seymour and Vee Lawnhurst, noted for being the first successful all-girl songwriting team, and noted for having a string of hits all of which are forgotten today, but were recorded by a dizzying variety of performers -- Louis Prima, Rudy Vallee, Fats Waller, Ozzie Nelson and Billie Holiday among them. But I digress. "Accent on Youth" was chosen by Taylor in part because

This was the very first song I heard heard the flatted fifth used. I never noticed that device in a melody before I heard this tune. I didn't know what it was, but sat down and figured it out, liked it. Many years later, it was used extensively in bebop
 Also from Taylor's website, his comment on "Lover," from the same session:

The version of Lover that we played here was one of the swingingest things we did with the Trio. A number of years later, I was talking to Earl May about this, asking he remembered how we played this song. And he said, 'I never played that fast in my life."
These are great for listening. Taylor is boisterous and introspective in turn. He plays like a man who knows what he's doing.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 70: Forgotten Rhythm and Blues

Bob Weinstock may not have been all that deeply invested in rhythm and blues, but to the extent that he was, he didn't have the track record of betting winners the way he did in jazz. Maybe he didn't have the song plugger necessary to get a record out to black radio. But I suspect that he had pretty damn good taste. And to some extent this is speculation, because a lot of these R&B recordings deserved better than they got.

On November 6, he had Teacho Wiltshire (with unidentified musicians) in the studio with two singers -- one male, one female -- and a vocal group. The woman was Paula Grimes. She recorded four songs, and I can find none of them anywhere, but there is one 45 RPM record by her on YouTube -- You Move Me So / It's Happenin' Baby on Turf Records. It is great stuff -- Paula Grimes deserves to be much better known than she is. In the comments section for one of the YouTube cuts, someone pleads to have the Prestige sides posted, but the comment is four years old, so I guess that's not happening any time soon. I tried to find out more about the label, but when I Google "Turf Records" I get links to Secretariat and Seabiscuit.

Rudy Ferguson cut four songs, and only two of them were released -- Cool Goofin' / Baby, I Need You So. The titles of the other two may give some hint as to why they weren't released: Goofin' and Jivin' and Goofin' in a Goofball Way. Followups to Cool Goofin' if it became a hit, but it didn't.

It had some competition. In the week of its release, February 14, 1953, Billboard has it listed as number 5 in their pick rhythm and blues selections, behind records by Roy Brown, Amos Milburn, Fats Domino and Nat "King" Cole.

And it is on YouTube. And it's a really nice song...I like it a lot. It's in the jump blues/swing tradition that Lionel Hampton and Louis Jordan developed, and that Count Basie and Joe Williams were to bring to perfection. It has some of the King Pleasure/Eddie Jefferson feel to it, except that it's not following a jazz soloist -- except for one place in the middle, where he interpolates "There I go there I go there I go..."

The third act to be stuck in front of Teacho that day was a group of young teenagers singing the sort of music that had begun to be popularized by groups like Sonny Til and the Orioles, and would much, much later come to be known as doo-wop. I'm going to spend a little time on the Mello-Moods, because I love this kind of music, and because their story has an unexpected jazz connection.

A few years after the Mello-Moods, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers would take the pop music world by storm, and they would dress in high school letter sweaters and sing about teenage love and not being a juvenile delinquent, but the Mello-Moods, led by Ray "Buddy" Wooten, were competing with the Orioles, the Cardinals, the Clovers -- the early harmony groups that were taking African-American harmony away from the smooth pop sound of the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers, and more in the direction of rhythm and blues. The Mello-Moods had had a regional hit for Robin Records, one of the very few black-owned record labels, started by Harlem record store owner Bobby Robinson.

Doowop chronicler Marv Goldberg has a nice story about their early days:
They entered the Apollo amateur show. They were in the basement practicing, and a little guy came over to listen to them. After hearing them, he said that they were so good he wouldn't even bother to appear on the same show with them. However, he somehow got over his nervousness and went on to "tear the stage up" and win first prize that night. His name? Otis Blackwell. The Mello-Moods had to settle for second place.
They had a hit record for Bobby Robinson, one of their songs, How Could You, reaching the Rhythm and Blues top ten.

But, they were young. And they lived in a world that didn't worship youth. Marv Goldberg again:

With a hit record to their credit, you'd think that the Mello-Moods would have been swamped with personal appearances. However, remember that they were young and their parents watched them like hawks. School was the most important thing, and anything that stood in its way was to be squashed. Also, they couldn't appear at any place that sold alcohol. As James says, "Our parents wouldn't let us out of their sight. They fought tooth and nail with [manager] Joel Turnero and Bobby Robinson."
Good for the parents. Education matters. And very few of the doowoppers were able to make lifelong careers in music.

In the fall of 1952, they left Robinson and signed with Prestige, making this first recording with Teacho Wiltshire's band. There's a YouTube underground of doowop fanatics, so you can hear all of these songs there -- and also the one song that they did in a second session on December 12, which was never released -- a version of Mel Torme's The Christmas Song, can be found on YouTube.

Again, this shows a certain measure of disappointment. You don't have a group record a Christmas song unless you're expecting them to have a certain measure of popularity, and you don't not release it unless that popularity hasn't happened.

Or it could be that the recording was too late for Christmas 1952, and by Christmas 1953, the group had pretty much broken up. Marv Goldberg again:

 Says James [Bethea], "We had the feeling that Joel [Turnero] was trying to hold us back...None of us were happy with the music we were singing; we wanted real R&B. We enjoyed our singing, but there was a personality conflict. We were doing his tunes and we wanted to do other stuff. He was trying to make a Mills Brothers act out of us. Joel wouldn't release us. We realized that the group was going to break up; we had to stop singing in order to break the contract with Joel."

Also, the Christmas Song cut is not exactly a Mello-Moods song. They're on it, but basically they're just singing background vocals for an extended solo by sax player and session leader Charlie Ferguson (Rudy's brother? No information here).

We'll get to the December 12 Prestige session shortly, but one last mention of the Mello-Moods' role in it. Sadly, not even the doo-wop freaks of YouTube have been able to find these. They sang backup on early takes -- not the ones that were ultimately used -- of King Pleasure's "Red Top" and "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid."

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 69: Thelonious Monk

Monk was first recorded in 1941, at age 24...probably. He's listed as being on a live recording at Minton's with Charlie Christian, but some Charlie Christian sources say Monk wasn't there that night. Also on a bunch of other recordings from Minton's, all of which he certainly was on, most of them featuring Joe Guy, at least a few with Billie Holiday -- all of them only released fairly recently, as near as I can figure out.

He had a reputation for going his own way -- some say he was never exactly a bebopper -- but he worked steadily, and was recorded in 1944 with Coleman Hawkins and 1946 with Dizzy Gillespie, all not released till later.

His first sessions as leader were with Blue Note in 1947, and they were substantial. In October and November of 1947, and again in July of 1948 he recorded a total of 12 songs, including some of his greatest compositions -- Ruby, My Dear, Well, You Needn't, In Walked Bud, 'Round Midnight, Misterioso and Epistrophy. But as near as I can make out, they weren't released on 78, and didn't come out on LP until some time later - as a two-volume set called Thelonious Monk: Genius of Modern Music (two LPs because unlike Bob Weinstock, Alfred Lion of Blue Note did save alternate takes). I can't tell exactly when, but the catalog number just before the Monk sessions goes to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at the Cafe Bohemia, recorded in 1955.

So it looks as though these Prestige sessions were, if not Monk's first recordings, at least his first records. Little Rootie Tootie / Monk's Dream came out on 78, Sweet And Lovely / Bye-Ya on both 78 and 45, and all four of them on a 45 RPM EP. They were also included on a 10-inch LP, and on a number of later LPs.

It's hard to say, from this perspective of time, how much of Monk's reputation was still underground. It's hard to imagine him as ever having been anything but a towering figure. But it wasn't until 1958 that he won a DownBeat critics' poll, and Oscar Peterson totally dominated the readers' poll throughout that era. Why didn't Alfred Lion release any of those sessions that Monk cut for Blue Note until nearly a decade later? He was at least as hip as Bob Weinstock -- hip enough to bring Monk into the studio. But he must have surmised, and probably correctly, that there was no demand at all for Thelonious Monk records in 1947.

I can find nothing on Gerry Mapp other than his presence on two sessions with Monk, and this never seems right to me. A guy that was good enough to be tapped for a recording session with Monk - there ought to be more about him.

Art Blakey is another story. By 1954, he would form the Jazz Messengers, and become one of the greatest bandleaders in the history of modern jazz, and a star of the Blue Note stable. In 1952, he was still one of the two go-to guys for every recording Bob Weinstock could get him on. Blakey, Max Roach and Kenny Clarke were the pioneers of bebop drumming, and it was Blakey and Roach for Prestige. Max Roach was to describe Blakey years later, in a eulogy:

Art was an original. He's the only drummer whose time I recognize immediately. And his signature style was amazing; we used to call him 'Thunder.' When I first met him on 52d Street in 1944, he already had the polyrhythmic thing down. Art was the perhaps the best at maintaining independence with all four limbs. He was doing it before anybody was. And he was a great man, which influenced everybody around him.
 Monk went on to become recognized and recorded widely. Monk's Dream  was the title track for his first album for Columbia. Bye-Ya and Little Rootie Tootie have become jazz standards. It's a thrill for me as a jazz lover to hear them in this chronological context, in their first recorded versions.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 66: Annie Ross

There's so much to say about this session that I scarcely know where to start.
I decided to undertake this blog project -- well, on a whim, mostly, but because Prestige Records played such an important role in my learning about. and coming to appreciate, jazz. So many of the first records upon which I built my jazz collection were from Prestige. So I first thought that this would be a way to revisit some of my favorite sounds.
It's turned out to be three different experiences:
  • Revisiting sounds I've loved.
  • Discovering sounds I've never heard.
  • Discovering artists I've never heard of, or barely heard of.
In the third category, Joe Holiday and Chubby Jackson, for sure. George Wallington, up till now only a name I vaguely knew as a sideman. Charlie Mariano.

In the second category, so much. Early Stan Getz. Tristano recordings I hadn't heard. Miles Davis and Lee Konitz. Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Mulligan before he decamped for the Left Coast. Zoot Sims (there's a Zoot session for Prestige on September 8 with George Wallington on piano. Also Al Cohn, Kai Winding, Percy Heath, Art Blakey. Spotify doesn't have it, and neither does YouTube, so I couldn't write about it, more's the pity).

In the first category -- I've talked before (and even earlier) about how important the King Pleasure/Annie Ross album was to me when I first started listening to jazz.

So let's talk about this session, starting with the incredibly fortuitous chance meeting between Annie Ross and Bob Weinstock.

Annie was a show business kid, and an early talent. She played Judy Garland's sister in a movie, and age 14, she won a songwriting contest judged by Dinah Shore and Johnny Mercer, and her winning entry, "Let's Fly," was recorded by Mercer and the Pied Pipers. You can find it on YouTube, and it's a pretty darn good song by any standards -- incredible, for a 14-year-old.

She has said in a recent Downbeat interview that what she looks for in a song is "good lyrics. I can’t sing stupid words." And even at 14, she was starting to find a way with lyrics.

Let's fly away to lands strange and unknown
Where love's free and there's no such thing as a mailman, doorbell, telephone

So...Bob Weinstock had his runaway jukebox hit with "Moody's Mood," and he was looking for something similar. In the same Downbeat interview, she describes it:

I was introduced to Bob Weinstock, head of Prestige Records. He asked me if I’d ever heard of King Pleasure. And he asked if I could do the same thing he was doing: write lyrics for solos. I was desperate, so I said, “Sure.” If he’d asked me if I could learn how to fly, I would have said “Sure.” He gave me some records and said, “Pick a tune and come back when you’re ready.” I was there the next morning with the lyrics to “Twisted.”
The thing about this session is -- every decision made, all along the line, was perfect, starting with Weinstock's decision to ask Ross if she could do it. Because this was brand new -- nobody had done it except Eddie Jefferson, and King Pleasure recording Jefferson's lyric. There was no way of knowing who could do it well and who couldn't -- or even what doing it well meant.

Then there was the decision of what records to give Ross to listen to. Obviously, he gave her a stack of Prestige 78s, because who wouldn't?  If I were a record label owner/producer, and I were becoming a midwife at the birth of a new jazz form, I'd be damn sure it was happening with artists and records from my label. I'm guessing he gave her some Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt -- and King Pleasure was later to make a classic version of Ammons's recording of the Lionel Hampton tune, "Red Top." And he gave her the Wardell Gray/Art Farmer session.

And she picked it out -- another exactly right decision. "Twisted" is a great composition, a great solo by Wardell Gray, and a title that suggested...well, as Ross put it, "the title was infinite possibilities. You could marry anything to it." And she was in analysis at the time.

I'm guessing that one listen to Annie's version of "Twisted" and Weinstock set up a recording session as fast as he could -- giving her time to write one more song, again choosing from the same session, this time Art Farmer's "Farmer's Market."

What else for the session? An Annie Ross composition, "The Time Was Right," and a wordless scat ballad, "Annie's Lament" -- improvised by Annie right in the studio? Could be. I couldn't find any information on it.

Anyway, let's get to the session itself, and some more exactly right decisions. "Twisted" and "Farmer's Market" are recorded with a group led by Teacho Wiltshire, and that turns out to have been the right decision. "Twisted" has become such an iconic song, covered by singers from Bette Midler to Joni Mitchell to Amy Winehouse, that the song, the lyric, and Annie's vocal are indelibly stamped on our memories. But listen to the whole thing. Listen to the rhythm-and-bluesy riff from Teacho that opens the track, kicked and twisted by an amazing drum pattern from Blakey. Then Teacho wisely stays outta the way. Listen to how Blakey answers Annie's rhythmic swirls and tricks all the way through. And don't forget that Weinstock didn't rehearse his sessions, and didn't do a lot of takes. And don't forget that Ross wrote these lyrics to Wardell Gray's solo, but she's singing it as a jazz musician. She's making it her solo.

The same can be said of Percy Heath  -- and there is a bass solo here, right near the end, a powerful one. I'm assuming what we're hearing on Spotify is from the album, so it may have been remastered by Rudy Van Gelder to bring out the bass more vividly, but to be honest, I don't know how much you can remaster a monaural session with one mike. Anyway, you can hear the bass, and it's Percy Heath, and 'nuff said.

And who thought of adding Roger "Ram" Ramirez to this session? Ramirez was mostly a piano player who had just recently taken up organ. He had worked with female vocalists in the past, notably Helen Humes and Ella Fitzgerald, as a pianist. Again, a dead perfect decision. Listen to what Ramirez does at the beginning, at the end, and adding emphasis and coloration all the way through.

Listen to the incredibly fast part in the middle, between the fifth of vodka part and the double decker bus part. Listen to what Annie does, and what the rhythm section does. Hell, just put the song on
repeat and listen to it straight through about four or five times. It won't stop rewarding you.

I could say all the same things about "Farmer's Market." Wonderful stuff from Ram Ramirez. Teacho getting more space here, and doing it proud. How about listening to Annie's fast-paced rhymes, which would many hip-hop wordsmith sit up and take notice? And a nice shout-out to the guy who mentored Art Farmer, and pulled everything together on the "Farmer's Market" session, when the crew-cut kid with the crazy goatee goes out on tour with Wardell Gray.

OK, then what? We have these two tunes by Annie - not the same thing as this new sound that doesn't have a name yet but pretty soon everyone will be calling vocalese. Not the same thing at all. Maybe a rhythm and blues bandleader isn't quite the right guy for the job.

Hey, I know! We'll call George Wallington. He's been doing everything for us this summer, and he's still in town.

I like to think that's how it happened. A quick call to George, and he shows up just in time to take over on piano. In any event, another exactly right decision. Wallington doesn't get outta the way here, and he and Annie complement and inspire each other.

Why isn't "The Time is Right" one of the great pop music standards? I don't know of anyone else who's recorded it. Annie Ross wrote it, and brought it to the session with her. It is a beautiful song, worthy to be put alongside Johnny Mercer or anyone else you can name.

Was "Annie's Lament" written, or improvised in the studio? It's wordless, it's haunting, it's beautiful, and again it's Annie Ross and George Wallington.

Annie must have learned something from Bob Weinstock, because here she is, more than half a century later (same Downbeat interview), talking about her most recent album, a tribute to Billie Holiday, cut with Bucky and John Pizzarelli:

 How much pre-production did you do?

None! [laughs] They’re real musicians. I made a list of songs, we looked ’em over and then we recorded ’em. With real musicians, you don’t need to rehearse. That’s where the creativity comes in. We did one or two takes, no more than that. The level of trust between musicians and singer has got to be implicit, and it was with John and Bucky. The arrangements were done as we felt them, in the moment. It was pure joy; you know when you’ve got something good. 

Annie owed her first break in New York, in a way, to Billie Holiday:

I’d been working in France with James Moody and Kenny Clarke and I’d just come back to America. The morning after I signed with Joe Glaser—who was Billie Holiday’s agent—I got a call to get up to the Apollo. Joe asked me, “Do you have a piano player? Do you have a gown? Do you have music?” I said yes to all three and he told me to get up to the Apollo by 8:30. “You’re replacing Billie Holiday.” I was 20 or 21. It was my baptism by fire. She later became a good friend.

20 or 21 would make it 1950 or '51, a year or two before meeting Bob Weinstock and writing "Twisted" in one night.

"Annie's Lament" / "Twisted" came out on 78; "Farmer's Market" / "The Time Was Right" on both 78 and 45. All four songs were collected on a 45 RPM EP. And, of course, the 1957 release of the King Pleasure/Annie Ross LP.  The records won her DownBeat's New Star award for 1952.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 65: George Wallington

How hard is it to be a jazz musician? George Wallington was one of the original beboppers, one of the most respected and sought-after bebop piano players, and in 1960, worn down by the grind and the constant scuffling for money, he quit to go into the family's air conditioning business. And he was lucky to have a family business to go into. Who knows how many other great musicians of this era would have made the same choice, had they been able to? Who knows for how many heroin was an alternative to the family air conditioning business?

Wallington was retired from music for a quarter century, finally returning in 1984 to record three albums before he died in 1993.

In 1952, Wallington was 28 years old and a veteran of the jazz world. He had been a part of the first band that Dizzy Gillespie brought to 52nd Street, in 1944. And even then, at 19, he was a seasoned veteran. He had grown up in an Italian immigrant family (his birth name was Giacinto Figlia - "Wallington" was a schoolyard nickname because he dressed like a British swell). His father had introduced him to opera, and gotten him started on piano and solfeggia (sight singing); Lester Young (heard on the radio with Count Basie's band) inspired him to turn to jazz. By 16 he was playing in clubs in New York, including a spot called George's, where he accompanied Billie Holiday.

About that first bebop gig with Dizzy, at the Onyx Club, Wallington said:

Dizzy used to take me to his house and we'd play and he showed me his songs. Then he and Oscar Pettiford started the band at the Onyx. Charlie Parker was supposed to join us but he couldn't get a cabaret card. Anyway we had Don Byas, then Lester Young. Billie Holiday used to sing with us sometimes and Sarah Vaughan used to come in too.
I don't know if we thought of what we were doing at the Onyx as something historic, but we did know we were doing something new and that no one else could play it.
OK, this is why, when anyone asks me "If you could go back in time to another era, what would it be?" my answer is always the same. New York, 1940s. 52nd Street, Minton's, Monroe's.

Max Roach said of Wallington'a role in that first band at the Onyx that his great virtue was knowing how to stay out of the way.
We didn't need a piano player [like Bud Powell] to show us the way to go. Piano players up to that point played leading chords. We didn't do that because we were always evolving our own solo directions. We needed a piano player to stay outta the way. The one that stayed outta the way best was the best for us. That's why George Wallington fitted in so well with us, because he stayed outta the way, and when he played a solo, he'd fill it up; sounded just like Bud.
Leading his own group, Wallington didn't need to stay outta the way, and Roach was still propelling him on, and the sidemen on these two sessions give some idea of how much respect Wallington had garnered by this time -- even from Oscar Pettiford, whom Roach remembers as not being entirely won over by Wallington when the Onyx Club gig came together:

 Every now and then, George would miss a chord, and Oscar would jump all over him, "White muthafucka can't play -- shit!" I had to spend a lot of time protecting him from Oscar.
 "Sounded just like Bud" is something you hear a lot in discussions of George Wallington. They were two of the most important pianists in the development of bebop -- and, Wallington's ability to stay outta the way notwithstanding, two of the most accomplished and daring virtuosi. But there's a lot of difference, too. Wallington's early classical training shines through, and you can hear the sorts of romantic flourishes you'd associate with a Vladimir Horowitz. But when Wallington takes on an unabashedly romantic tune like "Laura" or "Tenderly," those same flourishes become dry, ironic, brilliantly anti-romantic.

Speaking of romanticism and "Tenderly," here's a story told to me by the great pop singer Margaret Whiting, who was a close friend when I lived in New York in the 70s. She and songwriter Walter Gross had been an item, but she'd had to break it off because of his drinking. But then one night he showed up at her house about two int he morning, drunkenly banging on her door and demanding to be let in. She had no choice - she opened the door before he could wake the whole neighborhood.

He confronted her: "You fucking ruined my life, you fucking cunt. So I came by to tell you just what I thought of you, you fucking bitch." He staggered over to the piano. "I wrote this to show you what I think of you, you fucking bitch." And he played "Tenderly."

Margaret was a romantic, but also a realist. She got some coffee into him, and immediately called...who but a lyricist? Jack Lawrence came over, and they finished the song.

On the first of these sessions, Chuck Wayne joins the group on mandola, which is an unusual instrument -- slightly larger than a mandolin, it bears the same relation to a mandolin that the viola has to the violin. It's also an unusual instrument for a bebop ensemble in that it uses the same tuning as the tenor banjo, an instrument associated with the early Dixieland bands.

But Wayne was an unusual jazz guitarist -- for one thing, he may well have been the only jazz guitarist ever to play the banjo on bebop recordings.. Like Wallington, he was the son of immigrant parents (Czech, in his case -- he was born Charles Jagelka), and his musical start was playing the mandolin in a balalaika band.

He had switched to jazz, and to the guitar, by the time he met George Wallington. They were both playing in a Dixieland group led by Joe Marsala, and Wallington introduced him to bebop. They're a good pairing on these quartet sessions.

And tossing this in -- Wallington composed "Godchild," one of the tunes on Birth of the Cool.

The trio and quartet sessions were all released on 78, and all on the same 10-inch LP (as George Wallington Trio).