Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 122 - James Moody

James Moody is back in the studio with essentially the same band he used in his January and February sessions for Prestige, the first named having particular significance as the first session engineered by Rudy Van Gelder in his parents' newly remodeled living room in Hackensack. The only new face in this session is drummer Clarence Johnston.

This is a band of musicians, who, like Moody, were Dizzy Gillespie big band alumni. They didn't all go on to record as leaders, or even appear on many small group recordings, but as Rudyard Kipling said, referring to the schoolmasters who are often the butt of pranks in his semi-autobiographical Stalky and Co., 
"Let us now praise famous men"--
     Men of little showing--
For their work continueth,
And their work continueth, 
Broad and deep continues,
    Greater then their knowing!
These guys played in big bands, and in small clubs, and they taught, and their legacy runs deep, and deserves to be remembered.

When trumpeter Dave Burns passed away in 2003, other trumpeters whose lives he had touched remembered him on a website.
I studied jazz improv with Dave for a couple of years. He was a real gentleman and a great, if underrated, player. I used to listen to him years ago at Sonny's Place out on Long Island. Classic bop style player. I'm glad to have known him.

I'm a drummer who had the honor of working with Dave in LI clubs in the late 80's early 90's. I was a youngster and he treated me with the respect you would give to other old timers. Peck Morrison often was the bass player and so the breaks were as much fun as the sets. I only wish I could remember all the stories they told. Rest in peace Dave, you gave me some of the greatest experience and memories of my life. I brought my Dad Ted Brown (tenor) to sit in one night and Dave hired him as a regular too. Now I will go look for the recordings we sometimes made.

I was Dave's 2nd student, back in 1970 when he was living in Malverne with his wife Judy. His first Student was Randy Andersen. To say that Dave was a phenomenal player is an understatement. I studied with him on and off for 20 years,and I have never heard incredible playing like his in my life. He was also the same way on the piano and taught you from the piano. He was also the kindest , warmest man you'd ever want to meet. His students always came first. I miss him greatly.

This just breaks my heart- I was a student of Dave's in the '90s and he was one of the finest people/ teachers/ trumpeters I have ever been around. So many good memories of him at the fender rhodes teaching me tunes and phrases. He wasn't playing at all by the time I took lessons from him but one day I finally convinced him to play for me....YIKES! WOW! I still have the recording- it is 16 bars of bebop heaven.
Clarence Johnston is still with us, as of this writing, as far as I can tell.This is from a 2011 interview:
At the age of 86, Clarence Johnston is too busy living in the present to talk much about
his past.  As a world-renowned jazz drummer he has played over 50 years, traveling and performing with jazz artists Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Dinah Washington among many others.  As an Army and Air Force veteran of WWII and growing up in an era where jazz was burgeoning, Mr. Johnston has some colorful stories to share.  But because he remains an active professional musician, teacher, storyteller and intergenerational drum circle facilitator, our conversation focused instead on his current enterprises.

Laura Swett: Given all of your current projects, does your age affect you?
Clarence Johnston: I’ll be a bit frank with you.  Age is not in my mind at all.  I’m a professional musician.  All I think of is the next day.  I don’t think of age.  All I do is work to keep up with what’s going on!  I like going from one thing to the next. I still teach, and I still play.  And some weeks are better than others.

LS: What do the drums mean to you?
CJ: What I get out of it is a world of happiness.  How many people can go through life and do exactly what they feel like doing? You [do] have to discipline yourself for that.  Jazz is the hardest music in the world to play; it takes a lot of time and patience.  It takes years before you learn it.  It’s a particular art, a particular sound and feeling.  It took me about 10 or 11 years before I even got that sound right.  I was playing but I knew the sound I wanted, and it took time.  If you want the instrument to sound the way you want it to, you have to practice.  [When you do] it makes you feel good and is a real accomplishment.  When you don’t practice you can still play, but you get real slow.


LS: How long do you practice?
CJ: I have a studio where I practice. I go four hours a day. Sometimes I work a particular piece and need more time and feel I should be doing this for 8 hours.`
This session begins with a lovely version of a particularly lovely ballad, "It Might as Well Be Spring." Two takes were preserved. I've only been able to listen to the first, which is Moody at his romantic best.

"Blues in the Closet" is particularly interesting. It opens with a lengthy, bluesy, boppy duet between Johnston and bassist John Latham. Maybe they were the only ones who could fit in the closet. Then the closet door opens to let in a blast from the ensemble, then back to the duet, then another ensemble fanfare, and Moody doesn't start soloing until past the two minute mark of a four minute song. The second half is Moody and the ensemble, taking off from the groove Latham and Johnston have laid down for them.

The jazzdisco website lists the final cut as "Moody's Mood for Love," but Moody was moody, and had lots of moods, and this is Moody's Mood for Blues, and yes, this cat, and this group, can play the blues. Oh, my, yes. This one also begins with a great walking bass line.

Quincy Jones did the arrangement for the septet, and composed this Moody's Mood.

"Moody's Mood for Blues" was issued on both sides of a 78, and so was "It Might As Well Be Spring." "Blues in the Closet" and "Moody's Mood" were part of an EP entitled James Moody/Eddie Jefferson: James Moody and the Blues. The whole session was on a 10-inch LP, and it was part of a 7000-series LP called Moody, released in 1956 -- and rereleased in 1959 as a 7100-series LP called Workshop. "It Might as Well Be Spring" was included on a 7000-series LP called James Moody's Moods, rereleased as 7100-series Moody's Workshop.

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