Sunday, September 13, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 144: Art Farmer/Gigi Gryce

After making his commitment to 12-inch LPs and his soon-to-be-legendary 7000 series, Bob Weinstock backtracked a bit with this session, releasing it only as a 10-inch, entitled Art Farmer Quintet. It became a 12-inch LP, along with the earlier Farmer-Gryce session for Prestige, as When Farmer Met Gryce, but that was a while later.

Actually, Farmer had met Gryce a while earlier, when they had both been part of the Lionel Hampton European tour of the summer of 1953--a tour that had kickstarted the careers of two brilliant arrangers, Gryce and Quincy Jones. Jones would go on to a legendary career as arranger and producer; Farmer would go on to a legendary career as an instrumentalist. Gryce would cut his carer short, essentially retiring from the public eye by the end of the 1950s, for a number of reasons, not the least of which may have been disillusionment with the music industry.  David Griffith, who maintains the Gigi Gryce web page, points out:
It is often overlooked that Gryce was one of the first black musicians to form his own publishing company in order to have control over his and fellow musicians' creative output - many of the prominent black jazz musicians of the day were with Gryce's Melotone publishing company. It became clear, however, that Gryce couldn't buck the deeply ingrained system of record companies controlling (at least in part) music publishing rights as part of recording deals.
The first Farmer/Gryce session had featured a familiar Prestige rhythm section of Horace Silver, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke. This one brings in some newer faces. Freddie Redd had made his Prestige debut in February, leading a trio. Farmer's brother Addison was also making his second session: he had played with Art in a quartet the previous November. Art Taylor may or may not have recorded with Art Farmer in June 1954; he definitely appeared on Thelonious Monk's last session for Prestige.

Gryce was an important composer, and his compositions take center stage here. "Social Call" probably became the best known. With lyrics by Jon Hendricks, it was a hit at least in jazz circles for Betty Carter, and has been covered by Dianne Reeves among others. It's also become a favorite with instrumentalists, including Donald Byrd, Cal Tjader, Art Blakey and the Jazz messengers, Cannonball Adderley and Wes Montgomery. If I were picking one tune from this session to write lyrics to, I'd pick "Social Call" too.  It's melodic, structured, and expressive.

But Gryce's other two tunes are nearly as good, perhaps just as good. "Capri" has been recorded by J. J. Johnson, Clifford Brown and Benny Golson. Here it moves from a brief but intriguing vamp by red to a swinging head by Farmer, to some nimble torch-passing between the two soloists. "Blue Lights" begins with a blue fanfare, and then stays bluesy and driving. It numbers Coleman Hawkins, Hank Jones and Clifford Jordan among its interpreters. Art Farmer's contribution, "The Infant's Song," is a particularly beautiful melody. All in all, this is a very strong group of originals to bring to one recording session.

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