Friday, February 20, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 84: Jimmy Raney / Stan Getz

Just as with Charlie Parker, an alias doesn't do much to hide the sound of Stan Getz. The aliases were necessary because the artists had exclusive deals with other record companies. This can't have fooled anyone. If it happened today, there'd be lawsuits, injunctions, records pulled from the shelves.

Hall Overton is back, with his other protege, Jimmy Raney, but a session with Stan Getz on it is going to be a Stan Getz session. Still, not quite like any other Stan Getz session. Do the avant-garde leanings of Raney and Overton pull Getz a little farther out into left field? I think so. He's lyrical as only he can be, but he's edgier, too.

This is an incredibly interesting session. It has the structure of a bebop blowing session, but a different dynamic. Or maybe that's not so. Maybe bebop had a lot more flexibility, a lot more nuance, a lot more room for growth than a lot of people gave it credit for. Maybe this wasn't the death throes of bebop that so many back then were predicting, and that so many since then have taken as an article of faith. Maybe this was bebop. Listen to Hall Overton's solo in "Lee." He's soloing in the bebop tradition, taking it to some strange but logical places, trading some great stuff with bassist Red Mitchell, then setting up Getz to take it out.

I've listened to this one a lot, and every time I listen, I appreciate more and more how these musicians worked with each other. Only in jazz, and maybe especially in the jazz of this era, do you find this kind of collective experimentation, and at this high level, and with this expectation of success. Putting Stan Getz together with Jimmy Raney and Hall Overton is more than just throwing a bunch of stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. It's an inspiration.

The songs are "Round Midnight" and three Raney compositions. I had thought that "Lee" might have been a tribute to Konitz, but it's named after Raney's wife.

It's damned hard, even in the age of Google, to track down composer credits for jazz tunes, unless you happen to have the record in front of you. My ability to give credit has been, and will be, spotty at best.

New to Prestige, and perhaps new to recording -- I haven't found anything earlier -- are Red Mitchell and Frank Isola, although they had been playing and making significant names for themselves since the late forties.

Mitchell came to New York in 1948, just out of the army, and was to leave for the West Coast not long after this recording, where he made most of his career, and where he became an important innovator, tuning his bass in fifths -- the tuning used on a violin or cello -- instead of the conventional fourths. He would later join the expatriate jazz community in Stockholm.

There's a great chapter on Frank Isola, who came to New York around the same time as Mitchell, but didn't stay in the jazz world for long, in a book called Fifties Jazz Talk by Gordon Jack (Scarecrow Press). I would love to have a copy of it, but it costs 50 bucks, so it's on my gift list. Meanwhile, it is excerpted at Google Books, so we can get part of the story. We know Isola walked away from the jazz scene in 1957, after having established an important reputation as a modern jazz drummer. He worked a lot with Stan Getz, which may explain his presence on this session, and was involved in some important Prestige recordings, so we'll see him again.

In 1942, at age 17, he won the Detroit division of a national Gene Krupa drumming contest, and would have gone on to the finals in New York, if he hadn't been disqualified as an amateur for having joined the union. Had he gone, he would have given stiff competition to the eventual winner of the contest -- Louis Bellson.

He seems to have made a number of recordings that didn't quite happen, before the Prestige date. He was with a group including Don Lanphere and Teddy Kotick that backed up Babs Gonzalez on a demo for Capitol. Babs got the contract, but they didn't use the group. He made some sides with Lanphere and Herb Geller for a nascent label that never got off the ground. And in 1950, he acompanied Charlie Parker on a private session that was recorded, but I can't find a record of its having been released.

Just as he was getting ready to leave the music biz behind in the late 50s, he got a call from the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, wanting to hire him. His response: "No, thanks. Tell Tommy I'm not in a sentimental mood."

These sessions -- Raney's first as leader -- seem not to have been released as singles. Strange if true, given Stan Getz's popularity, but then his name wasn't on them. They came out on an album called Jimmy Raney Plays, with cover art by David X. Young of the Hall Overton / W. Eugene Smith jazz loft fame, one of the first Prestige albums to take cover art seriously.

Today, they're most available because of Getz, appearing on a reissue package called Early Stan.

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