Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 91:Art Farmer Septet

A septet is an interesting alignment, not quite a big band, but big enough that it's not just two guys and a rhythm section. Even three guys and a rhythm section is still a small combo, but with a septet it's probably a good idea to have charts and an arranger, and this septet had two, by the time it was finished. The 12-inch, 7000-series LP that contains the tunes from this session is called The Art Farmer Septet Plays the Arrangements of Quincy Jones and Gigi Gryce (on the front. On the back it's "Compositions and Arrangements of...) This session seems to be the Quincy Jones, half. The composer credits are Jones and Farmer on three of the songs. The fourth, "Up In Quincy's Room," one might well expect to have been written by Jones, but in fact it was written by Gryce.

Quincy Jones was 20 years old in 1953, and he had been touring with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, that cradle for so many great jazzmen. He had shown promise as an arranger very young, and had done some arranging for Hampton. I'm trying to figure out if this was his first recording session, both as performer and arranger, and I think it may be.

Art Farmer was only 25, and this was his first session as a leader, and his first session in New York -- his breakthrough had been his West Coast recording with Wardell Gray the previous year. So these were young musicians, guys who had not been around for the birth of bebop, certainly not for the big band era. Jones had played with Hampton; Farmer had had an unsuccessful audition for Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1948, and had played briefly with Jay McShann, before joining the Hampton tour where he met Jones and Monk Montgomery; but basically these were the jazz generation of the 1950s.

Jones, of course, would follow a career trajectory that would take him beyond jazz...if one wants to look at it that way. I don't see jazz as a barrier to creativity that has to be broken through. It was what Jones wanted to do, and he probably wanted to do it from a pretty young age. His first album as a leader, in 1956, was called This is How I Feel About Jazz, which sort of implies "now I've got that out of the way, I'm going to on and tell you how I feel about other things."

It's easy to knock Quincy Jones. Sold out to money and movies and Michael Jackson. One could say of him, in the words of Michael S. Harper's poem,
A friend told me
he'd risen above jazz.
I leave him there.

But he went in the direction, or directions, that his restless talents took him. And his contribution to jazz was real, and significant. His contribution, at age twenty, to his first recording session is pretty damn significant, just as young Art Farmer's was to Wardell Gray, on his first recording session. He's not rising above jazz, whatever that means, in these tunes. He's creating a rich and exciting texture that makes full use of the seven piece band, and makes space for some amazing solos by Farmer.

The only musician over 30 on this date was Monk Montgomery, but he was really just getting started in music. His first professional gig, also with Lionel Hampton, came at age 30. Montgomery was a pioneer of the Fender electric bass, and this session may have been the first use of Fender bass in a jazz recording. "Mau Mau" has some powerful electric bass in the intro, as well as some percussion that seems to be uncredited.

Oh, and I have made a contribution, in a small way, to Oklahoma jazz history. The Oscar Estell page on the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame website says that Estell's only recording session was this one with Art Farmer. I wrote and told them that he had also recorded with Tadd Dameron, and if anyone is actively maintaining the site, hopefully that will be updated.

"Mau Mau" was released as two sides of a 78. "Mau Mau" and "Work of Art" on an EP, and the whole session on a 10-inch LP entitled Work of Art. The later 12-inch release, combined with the Gryce sessions, is described above.

1 comment:

snapple187 said...

Hey Tad, do you have an email address where I can reach you? I have a question to ask you if you don't mind. It’s unrelated to the topic of your blog, but still important.

Thank you for your time