Friday, May 01, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 105: Art Farmer

There are the trumpet players who one listens to with reverence. The ones who changed the face of American music with their vision and their talent. Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis. They would be pretty much everyone's list. Then there are the trumpet players who seem to capture the essence of jazz music: the ones you listen to and say "yes, that's what I love about jazz." A jazz fan will have her/his own list here, but a whole lot of those lists would include Bix Beiderbecke. And Roy Eldridge. And Clifford Brown.

And Art Farmer.

And all I can think, listening to this oddly forgotten session (released on a 10-inch and then buried, not included on any of the 7000-series Prestige releases of the 50 sort of brought out on the less-distributed New Jazz label in 1961, then not again until the 7600 reissue series in 1969, pretty much the end cycle for Prestige) is what a wonderful session this is. It's everything that makes me love jazz.

Art Farmer broke in with Wardell Gray on the session that introduced "Farmer's Market." He did the septet session with Quincy Jones arrangements for Prestige in the summer of 1953, then headed for Europe on the Lionel Hampton tour that produced a series of recordings. This was his first session back in the States, as a leader, and it should have been his breakthrough to jazz stardom, and maybe it was. He certainly was back in the studio a number of times in 1954.

Sonny Rollins was with him on this date, and Rollins is another of those everything that makes me love jazz guys.

If there's ever an artist whose name is synonymous with a jazz label, it's Horace Silver and Blue Note.
He had actually started with Blue Note in 1952, first with Lou Donaldson and then as leader, and Blue Note kept him pretty busy, but during 1953-54 he also found time to record with Lester Young (released on the Italian Philology label and on Ambrosia), Sonny Stitt (Roost), Al Cohn (Savoy), both Art Farmer and Miles Davis on Prestige, and a few others. He had already started what became one of Blue Note's most famous groups, the Jazz Messengers, with Art Blakey. Blakey was to lead the group for years, but originally it was Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers.

The session kicks off with "Wisteria," an achingly beautiful ballad (I believe an Art Farmer original) that has wonderful work by everyone, but perhaps especially Horace Silver. "Soft Shoe," again by Farmer (there's a Gerry Mulligan composition called "Soft Shoe," but it's different) picks up the tempo, with the boppish ensemble riffing and inspired soloing that presages Farmer's work with Benny Golson in the Jazztet.

"Confab in Tempo" confabs in a blistering set by Kenny Clark, followed by some great high-octane bebop, with Clarke pushing it all the way and coming back for a wild drum solo.

"I'll Take Romance" was written by Ben Oakland (also known for the Ink Spots' great novelty "Java Jive"), with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. It's probably best known in the pop rendition by Eydie Gorme. There's a hipper version by June Christy, but Eydie did right by the song. Its cool passion and flowing lyricism make it a great choice for jazz improvisation, and it's been recorded by Max Roach, Bud Shank, Kenny Dorham, McCoy Tyner and others. It's a good way to end the set.

This is the second session to be recorded in Rudy Van Gelder's studio. I wonder if it was difficult to cajole musicians into trekking out to Hackensack in the middle of January. It certainly wouldn't have been difficult to get them to go a second time, once they'd heard the results.

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