Saturday, June 06, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 117: Jimmy Raney

Jimmy Raney was last seen in Hackensack with Hall Overton, his Juilliard professor who was also Teddy Charles's mentor. Charles and Overton, to me, represent a school of musical experimentation in the early '50s that falls more or less on the same side of the street as Lennie Tristano, though Raney might not agree with me. Here he is reminiscing about his early days in Chicago:
 There were a lot of talented young musicians, and they all played bebop. They didn’t get paid for it though. Nobody liked bebop. Not the jazz fans, not the older musicians, not even the Downbeat writers. We mostly played for free in a B-Girl joint on South State Street called the “Say When.” They didn’t like bebop either, but they let us play there to make the place look like a real club, instead of a clip-joint that rolled drunks who were looking for some action...There was another style going on at the time in Chicago. This was the Lenny Tristano style. We boppers didn’t think much of Lenny, and viceversa. As far as I could figure out, nobody liked Lenny’s music except Lee Konitz and his mother. (Lenny’s mother, not Lee’s.) He hated our music and we hated his, and everyone else hated all of us. Lee and Lenny left for New York City soon afterward, so we had the unpopular music scene all to ourselves.
It would be nice to think that Lee's mother liked it, too. And I suspect that Raney did, as well. In any event, his style is often compared to that of Tristano acolyte Billy Bauer, and he recorded with another Tristano student, Ted Brown.

But here, he's slipping away from those Juilliard/Tristano moorings, and recording a straight-ahead bebop session with Phil Woods, who...uh oh...graduated from Juilliard and studied with Tristano.

But his apprenticeship with Tristano was only six lessons in the summer of 1946, when he was 15, and he learned "that I didn’t know anything and that I had a lot of work to do." And by 1954, he thrown off the mantle of Juilliard, but that's another story, for another blog entry.

This quintet starts its session with a standard, probably a good idea given Weinstock's "no rehearsal" practice, to get their legs under them, and then goes off into three originals, which do get a little farther out, but I loved all of it. It's a session clearly aimed at the album market -- all the tunes are from four to six minutes.

It's the only time Raney ever recorded with Woods, Bill Crow or Joe Morello, although he did do a couple of other sessions with John Wilson. But Morello and Crow were certainly familiar with each other: they were two thirds of the Marian McPartland trio that played at the Hickory House on 52nd Street during the waning years of Swing Street, and they mesh tightly here. In fact, it's hard to say enough about any of the musicians on this gig, but Crow and Morello are always there, the central nervous system.

Something of a surprise here for me is Joe Morello, whom I had always though of as a West Coast musician, but actually, he was mostly an Easterner, born in Springfield, MA, died in Irvington, NJ, 82 years later.

His first major exposure as a musician came at age 9, when he was a featured violinist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but after meeting Jascha Heifetz, he threw in the towel on the violin and switched to drums. When he signed on with McPartland, he was only 25, but already a veteran of the New York scene, having played with Johnny Smith, Gil Melle and Stan Kenton, Sal Salvador. He would leave New York and McPartland in the year after this session to play a short gig on the West Coast -- a scheduled two-month series of dates with a California piano player named Dave Brubeck. Morello accepted Brubeck's offer on a sort of tentative basis. As Brubeck recalled it, Morello said “I’m interested in your group, but your drummer’s out to lunch. I want to be featured.”  The New York Times obituary writer adds that "by this, Mr. Brubeck said, Mr. Morello meant that he wanted to be allowed to play solos and experiment." It's safe to say that he got that chance over the next dozen years and some of the most famous drum solos in jazz.

In later years, back on the East Coast, Morello became a noted teacher.

There were no singles, as I've said before, but "Stella by Starlight" and "Back and Blow" were issued as an EP. All four songs were on a ten-inch issued by both New Jazz and Prestige. Later reissues gave leader credit on the session to Phil Woods.

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