Monday, February 09, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 81: Eddie Jefferson and Irv Taylor

What was it with Prestige and King Pleasure? Was he really difficult to work with? Did Bob Weinstock just not like him very much? Maybe it was the former. He never had the success that a singer of his caliber should have. He had given Prestige its biggest hit, but there seemed to be no hurry to get him back into the studio to record more, or to surround him with A-list musicians. The King Pleasure Sings / Annie Ross Sings album is a jewel of my collection, and I wouldn't change a song on it, but it exists because Prestige didn't have enough Pleasure, or enough Ross, to fill awhole 12-inch album.

Instead, they brought in singers like Billy Valentine, who was good in the Charles Brown, although not quite Charles Brown (and the demand for Brown's style of music was fading by 1953). Valentine's records, like so many of Prestige's vocal blues albums, faded into obscurity.

Then, this session with Eddie Jefferson. Jefferson is by any measure a giant of modern jazz. He invented vocalese. He wrote many songs that have become classics, including "Moody's Mood for Love."

This session of duets with otherwise unknown vocalist Irv Taylor yielded one single -- "Stop Talkin', Start Walkin' / Strictly Instrumental" on both 78 and 45. The other songs weren't released till much later, on a compilation album called The Bebop Singers.

Jefferson would record more for Prestige, but this one wouldn't make much of a mark. I was only able to listen to "Strictly Instrumental," which shows Jefferson's brilliance in all sorts of ways. First, how about his choice of material? There's a certain sauciness, not to say chutzpah, in choosing to put lyrics to a song called "Strictly Instrumental." And what an interesting choice! Instead of going with Miles, or Bird, or Kenton, or whoever had the hot modern jazz record out at the time, he chose a swing-era tune by Jimmie Lunceford, vocalesed it, bebopped it, and turned into what certainly should be a bebop vocal classic. Second, who's Irv Taylor? I don't know. Google doesn't know. Probably not many people around today do know. But Eddie Jefferson knew, and he was right. Their voices mesh wonderfully in what has to be a two-voice arrangement.

Again, the vocalist is given less than A-list musicians, but as we know, New York has never lacked for talent. I once interviewed Valery Pomonarev, and asked him what surprised him most when he first came to New York. He said that of course he knew about the greats like Art Blakey and Bobby Timmons, but he was absolutely floored by the number of brilliant, talented, dedicated musicians that no one had ever heard of. There's a sax solo on this number by Seldon Powell, primarily an R&B player who'd worked with Tab Smth and Lucky Millinder,. Later, in the 60s, when soul jazz became a hot sound, he worked with jazz leaders like Clark Terry and Lou Donaldson. He's given solo space here, and is completely satisfying.

No comments: