Thursday, September 03, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 141: Jon Eardley

Before we get to Eardley, a mention of a couple of sessions lost to the haze of time. On March 10, the Tony Luis trio cut four tunes, which were released on EP format only, and four more tunes backing up vocalist Terry Morel (also EP only). I can find nothing at all on Luis anywhere. I did find one mention of his drummer, Hank Nanni, in the autobiography of a Wall Street trader turned vagabond, who briefly went to work for Nanni, who was playing drums in a Las Vegas lounge. But not as a musician. Nanni had also opened up a business selling vacuum cleaners door to door.

Terry Morel apparently had two recording sessions in 1955, the one for Prestige which sank without a trace, and one for Bethlehem, which has survived. All I know about her I found on a German Wiki page -- there's no Wiki entry in English for her. Herbie Mann and Ralph Sharon played on the Bethlehem album, which is a live recording. She made one more live album with Gerald Wiggins in 1957, and appeared on a TV show with Bud Shank and Gary Peacock in 1962. Nothing else, although she lived until 2005. The Bethlehem sides are very good.

Jon Eardley had cut a quintet session in the Van Gelder studio a month earlier with Phil Woods, under Woods's name. This session features the same rhythm section, but with J. R. Monterose's tenor replacing Woods's alto.

Monterose is a favorite of mine, and was a good friend. He came out of that hotbed of jazz that was Detroit, but he didn't have much time to absorb that city's influences. When he was only a few months old, his family moved to Utica, New York, and upstate New York would always exert its pull on him. His first major gig was with the Buddy Rich band, but after six months he decided it wasn't the music he wanted to play, so he went back to upstate New York, where, he says, he "spent the next couple of years working in little joints but with good men."

J.R. worked with some more good men on his return to New York, including Claude Thornhill, Teddy
Charles, Kenny Dorham and Charles Mingus. But the jazz scene in New York changed in the late 60s and early 70s, with more of a racial divide than there had been previously--a situation with which he was not comfortable. He retreated to Europe, and then back to upstate New York, where he became a legend in his own time with a long-time engagement (the better part of a decade) at the Lark Tavern in Albany. He was back playing little joints with good men, including Teddy Kotick. The others in his most frequent ensemble were pianist/attorney Walter Donnaruma and drummer Eddie Robinson.

This is Jon Eardley's session, though, with Monterose as an able partner. There's one Eardley original ("Demanton") and two by Tadd Dameron, one of the finest composers in the jazz idiom. Dameron once said that he strove for beauty above all else in his composition, and he certainly achieves it here, especially in "If You Could See Me Now," which also has a haunting solo by George Syran.

The fourth piece, "Hey There," is by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and comes from the 1954 musical "The Pajama Game." It was a pop hit in 1955, for both Rosemary Clooney and Sammy Davis Jr.

The pages had pretty well been turned on the Great American Songbook by the mid-Fifties. There were still crooners like Eddie Fisher, and band singers from the Forties like Jo Stafford and Perry Como and even Bing Crosby, but the great songs had pretty much all been written, which is why pop singers like Margaret Whiting and Tony Bennett were covering Nashville songs, particularly those by Hank Williams.  But the news hadn't quite reached Broadway yet, and the Fifties were actually a pretty strong decade for Broadway musical scores. "Hey There" is a very lovely melody, and if it didn't quite become a jazz standard, it had some very good jazz interpretations by Grant Green and Phil Woods. It was recorded by a number of jazz as well as pop singers, most notably Sarah Vaughan, who was given an arrangement involving a weird and not entirely successful Danish choir, but still managed to create one the great jazz vocals.

"Hey There" was written as a moody, torchy ballad, and is generally played that way, but Eardley and Monterose take it uptempo and urgent, and it's a good change from the expected.

These tunes were released on a 10-inch from Prestige, and a 12-inch from New Jazz.

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