Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 112: Art Farmer

Art Farmer seemed to do very well with the mid-sized group, six to eight pieces. He was perhaps best known for the six-man Jazztet with Benny Golson in the late 50s - early 60s, and his work in the early 50s also tended toward that format. His early Wardell Gray session for Prestige in 1952 was a sextet, although only two of the group were front line players (the sixth was a percussionist). He led a septet in 1953 before joining the Lionel Hampton tour, and played with various mid-sized ensembles during the Hampton tour in Europe. His first two 1954 sessions were quintets - Sonny Rollins and Gigi Gryce -- but he returned to the studio again with seven pieces for this one. The group included   Horace Silver and Percy Heath, and maybe Kenny Clarke, according to the website, which has the set lists for every Prestige session. But they may be wrong. The label on the 45 says the drummer was Art Taylor, and the Art Taylor Wikipedia page credits him with both this and the quintet session with Gigi Gryce (Art Blakey was the drummer on the Rollins session). Scott Yanow's bio on puts Taylor in the Prestige studios for the second half of the decade, so 1954 would be on the cusp. Taylor's obituary in the New York Times gives a list of musicians he played with, and does not include Farmer. Your guess is as good as mine. My ear isn't good enough to choose between the drumming techniques of two modern masters (and two eventual expatriates).

Jimmy Cleveland, who had played in the earlier septet, returned for this one. The other two were
Danny Bank and Charlie Rouse, and all of these guys were veterans, with extensive experience in swing and bebop...and rhythm and blues. Jimmy Cleveland's resume would include soul jazz with Gene Ammons and funk with James Brown. Charlie Rouse, whose chief fame would come later as Thelonious Monk's right hand man, began his career with the classic Billy Eckstine band that included Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, but he also played with Bull Moose Jackson. He played big band swing with Basie and Ellington, bebop with Dizzy and Tadd Dameron. Danny Bank had a similarly varied career, playing with virtually every major swing band, with Charlie Parker, with Clifford Brown, with Ray Charles. He's probably best known, though, for his work with Miles Davis and Gil Evans on their classic collaborative albums.

And this versatility is put to use here. On "Evening in Paris," a Quincy Jones ballad, they lend support to a piece that mostly features Farmer and Silver, who also dominate "Elephant Walk," a piece which demonstrates that even elephants get the blues. "Wildwood" is a Gigi Gryce composition, as Farmer continued his close association with the two young composer/arranger stars of the Hampton tour, and it gives a wild, full romp to the whole ensemble. They give the same treatment to "Tiajuana," again a Gryce composition, which is complex and straight-ahead at the same time.

I don't want to lose the real thrust of this blog, which is the experience of listening to this music. Secondarily, it's exploring the history of jazz in this period. Finding out who Charlie Rouse was and what he did before his years with Monk. Learning about the work done by professionals like Danny Bank who didn't make a mark as leader, but contributed so much. Thinking about what an ear Art Farmer had for the great jazz composers of his era: Quincy Jones and Gigi Gryce here, Benny Golson later.

But listening to this session, it's the bluesy chording and rhythmic virtuosity of Horace Silver, and the warm, pure tone of Art Farmer. It's the ensemble work of a septet, and how if Art Farmer worked in the shadow of arrangers like Jones, Gryce and Golson, he was one hell of an arranger himself. It's the
music I love.

These were released on 45 and 78, and on a 12-inch, 7000-series LP, The Art Farmer Septet. It's the first Prestige session I've seen that didn't come out on a 10-inch LP first.

No comments: