Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 151: Miles Davis

Does Miles already have one foot out the door? Certainly he's thinking about it. He must at least have a couple of toes out. It's just a couple of weeks since the Newport Jazz Festival jam session after which he was approached by George Avakian, wooing him for Columbia Records.

Avakian wanted Miles to put together a group that he'd work with consistently. Today, using one of the words I've grown to loathe, this would be called a brand. It was opposite from the approach Bob Weinstock had taken, having Miles record with different musicians in different combinations.

So if Miles had those couple of toes out the door, he had to have been at least to some degree auditioning young musicians. He obviously wasn't going to recruit Milt Jackson or Percy Heath, but the others were all possibilities.

Miles had kicked his heroin habit by this time, and he was understandably impatient with young musicians who had not. That meant young Jackie McLean, then 24, would not make the cut. Miles said of him later,
Jackie was so high at this session that he was always scared he could not play anymore. I don't know what's the shit was all about, but I have never hired Jackie after this session.
McLean only appears on two cuts "Dr. Jackle" and "Minor March." Miles would have the same problem with the saxophonist he did choose, John Coltrane, and they went through some rough patches, with Miles at one point firing Trane and disbanding the quintet, then putting it back together.

Art Taylor, at 26, was beginning a long association, not with Miles, but with Prestige. He may have been the drummer on a 1954 session with Art Farmer (this is up in the air), but he was definitely on this session. He would work off and on again with Miles over the years. but we would become known as the "house drummer" for Prestige, working on many sessions. Unlike Miles, he would also record again with Jackie McLean--and he had worked with him before. The two of them, and Sonny Rollins, had grown up in the same Harlem neighborhood, and had played music together as teenagers.

For 24-year-old Ray Bryant, 1955 was his breakout year, but he had actually first recorded at age 14.

This was in his native Philadelphia, in a band that included John Coltrane (on alto) and Benny Golson. And continuing my policy of never meeting a digression I didn't like, especially when it involves the twisting careers of working jazz musicians. the band was led by drummer Jimmy Johnson, who must have kept working and getting his name known in jazz circles, because 15 years later he was hired by Duke Ellington.

Trombonist Gino Murray later worked with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, but doesn't seem to have recorded with them,

Bassist Tommy Bryant didn't quite achieve the renown of his younger (by one year) brother, but he had a solid career, playing and recording with both his brother and Benny Golson from the 1944 session, and also with Dizzy Gillespie, Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, and may others.

But the really interesting career out of this aggregation belongs to trumpeter Henry Glover. In the mid-1940s, that burgeoning time for independent jazz and rhythm and blues labels, he was touring with Lucky Millinder, and met Syd Nathan, who had recently started King Records as a country label, but was discovering that there was a market for the sort of jazz that bands like Millinder's played, which was soon to be called rhythm and blues.

Nathan hired Glover to build a rhythm and blues presence on his label, and, incidentally, to build him a studio. But Glover ended up doing more than that. Originally from Arkansas, Glover had grown up listening to country music on the radio, and -- like his contemporaries Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino-- loving it. So Glover found himself producing country artists like Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins (those two would die int he plane crash that killed country legend Patsy Cline), Grandpa Jones, and the Delmore Brothers, with whom he co-wrote "Blues, Stay Away From Me," which became their signature song and a country music standard. Glover was almost certainly the first successful African American producer in the country field.

He had his first rhythm and blues hit with Bull Moose Jackson, and went on to record Lucky Millinder, Tiny Bradshaw, Wynonie Harris, Bill Doggett, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Little Willie John, and Jame Brown. Later moving to Roulette, he came back into the jazz fold, producing records for Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Sonny Stitt, as well as creating a rock 'n roll presence on Roulette with the k\likes of Ronnie Hawkins. He became close to Ronnie Hawkins' backup band, later to become The Band, and in the 1970s moved to Woodstock where he helped Levon Helm found his own independent label. As a songwriter, he wrote "Drown in My Own Tears," a hit for Ray Charles, and one of the biggest hits of the 60s, "Peppermint Twist."

The record that Glover, Bryant and the gang made was never released, and the personnel list for the session comes from the memory of Benny Golson.

Bryant would go another four years before getting a record date, this time with Tiny Grimes' Rockin' Highlanders. Grimes was another one of those cats who made music at the intersection of jazz and R&B. I know that tenor sax great Red Prysock, who was on this session, quit Grimes shortly thereafter because of the bandleader's insistence that his band members all wear kilts. So...Ray Bryant in a kilt? Or Philly Joe Jones?

Then nothing till 1955, Bryant's breakout year. Before the Davis session, he had recorded with Toots Theilemans on Columbia, with Betty Carter on Columbia subsidiary Epic (the label for which he would record most often, and then with the same trio (Wendell Marshall, Jo Jones) under his own name. He would record again for Prestige in December, with Sonny Rollins.

Miles and Milt Jackson had played together before, on the notorious Miles/Monk session, They play off each other beautifully here, and so does Jackie McLean. Although he's only on two tracks. "Dr. Jackle" and "Minor March." He gets composer credit on both, and fairly extensive solo space. "Bitty Ditty" is a Thad Jones composition that's been widely recorded; "Blues Changes," also known simply as "Changes," is Ray Bryant's. All the cuts are extended--from 6 1/2 to 9 minutes long -- giving plenty of room for improvisational experimentation.

Again, we have to grateful to Weinstock and Prestige for giving Miles this kind of exposure, in different settings and with different musicians. And, as in the case of this session, with different musicians bringing different material.

The session was planned for a 12-inch LP, with just over 15 minutes on each side, but the album wasn't released right away, for whatever reason. It came out as Prestige PRLP 7034, and is variously known as a Miles Davis or Miles Davis/Milt Jackson album (see the typefaces on the album cover.

The cover art is that muted color photo reproduction which would appear on a lot of Prestige covers; the photo is by Bob Weinstock.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 150: Jim Chapin

Even if you're a pretty serious jazz fan, you may never have heard of Jim Chapin. He played with the Casa Loma Orchestra, with Woody Herman and Tommy Dorsey, and with Flip Phillips at New York's Hickory House, but he only made one recording as a leader: this ten-incher on Prestige, which Prestige or its successors never reissued in any other format, although it was included, with another short session, on a 12-inch LP that was released in 1977 on the Classic Editions label. Both LPs are extremely rare, and I wasn't able to listen to them, which makes it hard to justify including this session in a blog called "Listening to Prestige."

But if you're a musician, particularly a drummer, you've heard of Jim Chapin, as perhaps the greatest of all teachers of jazz drumming. His textbook,  Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, Volume I, Coordinated Independence as Applied to Jazz and Be-Bop, published in 1948, is still considered the gold standard in its field., and he followed it three decades later with Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, Volume II, Independence–The Open End.  According to his obituary in Drum Magazine (Chapin died in 2009). "Independence," in Chapin's terminology, meant making one hand independent of the other. As he described it,
"Pianists and organists as far back as Bach had used independence to play a line with one hand and a counter-line with the other," Chapin says. "So why did drummers have to play everything hand-to-hand?"
The book's importance was recognized as soon as it was first published.
His exercises and concepts caused such a stir among drummers that he had to have a pair of drumsticks in his back pocket at all times in case he was called upon to demonstrate a particularly difficult passage and to prove that he truly could play every pattern in the book. 
Who benefitted from what came to be known as the Chapin book?  You'd best believe there were a few. Max Roach for one: "He beat a lot of drummers up with that book. We were all stumbling on it. But he made a significant contribution to conceptualizing what the drumset is all about, explaining it so clearly in his book."

Chapin, like Mike Cuozzo, moved away from the demands of the road and the jazz life to raise a family. In later years, he would play some gigs with his sons Tom and Harry, as they made their mark in the music world.

I'm hoping to find the sextet album, still. It features some wonderful musicians, including Phil Woods. Meanwhile, here's one of his instructional videos:

And here is the man, in his 80s, on the drums:

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 149: Elmo Hope

We're on a run of piano players here, from the almost completely forgotten (Sanford Gold) to the Olympian (John Lewis) to somewhere in between.

Elmo Hope is an elusive creature in jazz lore, like the yeti, or like B. Traven. Or B. Traven in reverse -- no one knows who he was, but everyone has seen Treasure of the Sierra Madre. With Elmo Hope, the opposite. I'd certainly heard of him -- tortured soul, short life, heroin, underground reputation. WBGO, the nation's premier jazz station, remembers him on his birthday, and plays him one or two times a month, but he's not a part of their regular rotation to the degree that his contemporaries like Thelonious Monk or his lifelong friend Bud Powell are. And this is actually a good job by WBGO, keeping a flame flickering, but alive, that otherwise might be completely extinguished.

His Wikipedia entry theorizes that "he remains little known, despite, or because of, the individuality of his playing and composing, which were complex and stressed subtlety and variation rather than the virtuosity predominant in bebop." But that doesn't sound right. Hope had plenty of virtuosity, and neither Monk nor Powell was a stranger to subtlety and variation.

The jazz life is a hard one. I mentioned Mike Cuozzo in my last entry, on the MJQ, who left music to become a building contractor. Mark Myers of Jazzwax wrote glowingly of Cuozzo's abillity, and later received a letter from Michael Cuozzo, Jr., explaining that while his dad loved music, he loved his family more, and made the decision to provide for them.

John Ore, who played bass on this session, and who later spent three years as Thelonious Monk's bassist, was the subject of a 2004 profile by Reil Lazarus on the All About Jazz web page. Lazarus, reflecting on the musicians who created jazz in the 40s and 50s, noted that
today, those youngsters are aging men - gifted masters who have long since paid their dues - and many, especially those with failing health, find themselves victims of past exploitation and failure to plan....
 “I haven’t had much work,” says Ore. “In the last five or six years, I’ve had glaucoma, and that’s cut down on my ability to [find work].” This, paired with a dwindling number of venues currently catering to jazz, has made it more and more challenging for him to perform. 
“I don’t get out there to play very often,” Ore laments, “And that’s the main thing. Playing at home all by myself just isn’t the same. A musician should be playing at least two, three to four times a week with other musicians.” 
Add to this the absence of proper benefits and pensions plans for veteran musicians, and the road to a relaxed retirement appears muddier by the day. Organizations like the Jazz Foundation of America, whose monthly jam sessions Ore participates in, have worked ceaselessly to ease these unfortunate fiscal woes. Nevertheless, the lack of a substantial safety net for aging artists like Ore continues to be a major problem in jazz. 
And these are the guys who survived. Ore told Lazarus:
Not too long before Elmo Hope died, I saw him on Seventh Avenue. And he was walking in the rain with no hat on, someone else’s shoes, and he was sick. Now I don’t blame that on anyone, but there should be something, someone, somewhere we people can go.
The music remains, and this album is beautiful. I was awed by Hope's piano playing, but I was also struck by the way he uses the potential of all three instruments, bringing bass and drums to the fore in a way that not every piano session leader does. "I'm in the Mood for Love" is a little over four minutes long, and how do you do "I'm in the Mood for Love" after James Moody and King Pleasure/Eddie Jefferson have taken ownership of it? Hope does something completely unexpected. He gives the first two minutes to John Ore, who does a solo bass interpretation of "Moody's Mood." Then, with the bass still audible in the mix, and the echo of Ore's Mood still pulsing through, Hope creates his own solo, and makes the song his own.

In "Blue Mo," he brings Willie Jones to the front, with hard-edged stick work on the ride cymbal.

I was surprised to see "It's a Lovely Day Today" in the set list. It's a sprightly and hummable Irving Berlin tune, best known for a perky, optimistic rendition by Doris Day, but I wouldn't have thought of it as a bebop vehicle, and in fact I can't find any other instrumental jazz version, although Ella Fitzgerald, Astrud Gilberto and Jackie and Roy have all sung it. Hope takes it at a breakneck bebop tempo, and tears it up.

This became the fourth made-for-12-inch Prestige session, and was released as PRLP 7010 - Elmo Hope--Meditations.

PRLP 7008 and 7009 were the Wardell Gray memorial albums. Gray died on May 25, 1955, in Las Vegas. He was probably murdered, but the case was never investigated. No one cared what happened to a black man in 1950s Vegas.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 149: Modern Jazz Quartet

This is the first MJQ album with Connie Kay, and the last for Prestige, before they decamped for their long and fruitful association with Atlantic.

Kenny Clarke was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic within the strict confines of the MJQ. One of the pioneers, and one of the most prolific drummers of the bebop era,  He was the original house drummer at Minton's, which means he played with everyone -- and as the modern jazz decade progressed, everyone wanted him, or Max Roach or Art Blakey, to play with them.

In 1955, after severing his ties with the MJQ, Clarke made fouralbums for Savoy as leader of co-leader:a septet session with Ernie Wilkins;  The Trio, in which all three players--Clarke, Wendell Marshall and Hank Jones--go co-credit; Telefunken Blues, for which he enlisted MJQ-mates Jackson and Heath, along with a front line of Henry Coker, Frank Morgan and Frank Wess; and a third album featuring a rhythm section of Horace Silver (Hank Jones on one track) and Paul Chambers, and a front line of Donald Byrd on trumpet and Jerome Richardson on tenor sax and flute. He also gave two young brothers their first exposure on record: a trumpeter and alto sax player named Nat and Julian Adderley. It's safe to say that Cannonball made an impressive debut--impressive enough that Bohemia After Dark has often been re-released under his name.The session was successful enough that two weeks later the same two brothers and the same rhythm section recorded under Cannonball's name, and two weeks after that under Nat's name, with Jerome Richardson replacing Nat's brother.

He also recorded with Gene Ammons (Prestige), Eddie Bert (Savoy), Donald Byrd (Savoy),Milt Jackson (three albums on Savoy), Hank Jones (two more on Savoy in addition to The Trio), Duke Jordan and Gigi Gryce (Savoy),  Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh (Atlantic), Charles Mingus (Savoy), Thelonious Monk (Riverside), and Little Jimmy Scott (Savoy).

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. He also  recorded with:

  • Johnny Mehegan, best remembered for his seminal books on jazz improvisation. 
  • Wally Cirillo (Cirillo's album, also featuring Mingus and Teo Macero, included what is probably the first recorded jazz composition written in a 12-tone scale).
  • Johnny Costa, whom Art Tatum dubbed "the white Art Tatum" and who later became musical director of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. It's nice to remember, in this day of disappearing live music, that Fred Rogers employed a live jazz trio, which played (per Wikipedia), "the show's main theme, the trolley whistle, Mr. McFeely's frenetic Speedy Delivery piano plonks, the vibraphone flute-toots as Fred fed his fish, dreamy celesta lines, and Rogers' entrance and exit tunes."
  • Chuz Alfred, who made two albums as leader in 1955, then gave up jazz to play with Ralph Marterie's dance orchestra, then returned to Columbus, Ohio, where he became a charter member of the Columbus Musicians' Hall of Fame. And you thought the only musicians' hall of fame in Ohio was the one in Cleveland.
  • Johnny Coates, who as Jazz King of the Poconos, employed the young Keith Jarrett as a drummer.
  • Mike Cuozzo, described by Marc Myers of Jazzwax as "a gifted player... a Lester Young sound with a Lennie Tristano vibe." He gave up music to become a building contractor in New Jersey, but not before making an album with Mort Herbert, who would become deputy district attorney of Los Angeles,
  • Al Caiola, who branched out from jazz to record hit versions of the themes from The Magnificent Seven and Bonanza, and who recorded with  Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Percy Faith, Buddy Holly, Mitch Miller, and Tony Bennett, among others.
Not only is that just 1955, that's just Savoy.

Clarke might have been able to keep up this prodigious schedule and still make dates with the MJQ, but he was also feeling claustrophobic about America, By 1956, he was a full-time resident of France, where he could make more money and deal with less racism. He played many sessions with visiting American musicians, and led the Clarke-Boland Big Band with Belgian pianist Francy Boland.

Connie Kay had followed Kenny Clarke before he followed him into the Modern Jazz Quartet. He became the house drummer at Minton's.

Before that, as a teenager, he had worked at a club called Ann's Red Rose in his Bronx neighborhood, getting the gig a week after he had bought his first drum kit. The house drummer for the Red Rose had quit suddenly, and someone at the bar said "Well, there's a drummer around the corner because I hear him practicing every night as I come home from work." So he played for comedians, singers, tap-dancers and chorus girls (from the NY Times obituary and a NY Times profile).

He moved from there into the jazz world, playing behind every major figure at Minton's, and also in Lester Young's band for several years. He was also putting his Ann's Red Rose experience to good use as the drummer for various rhythm and blues ensembles, including that of Frank (Floorshow) Culley, who had had a hit for Atlantic Records with "Cole Slaw." Culley brought him in to Atlantic in early 1951 to record a demo for The Clovers, who had just signed with the label. The song was "Don't You Know I Love You," and the bass player didn't show up for the session, so Kay had to double his part on the bass drum. He got paid for the gig, and thought no more about until a couple of weeks later, when "I'm driving my car and hear the tune and I say, 'Wait a minute, that sounds like the tune we made a demo of.' A week later I went to Atlantic and I went into Ahmet Ertegun's office and he said: 'Man, I'm glad to see you. We've been trying to find you. I like the beat you used on that record.' From that time on they kept calling me for record dates. When I couldn't make record dates, they'd postpone them.''

Supposedly, the "concept album" began with Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which began with a vague idea by the Beatles to make an album that would represent a collection of songs by a fictitious village band, an idea which got discarded pretty quickly, but floated around the album sufficiently that "concept album" became the goal of mostly some pretty pretentious rock groups. If you wanted a real concept album, what about My Fair Lady Loves Jazz or Dave Digs Disney, or for that matter any Broadway show original cast album? Or Louis and the Angels? Or Birth of the Cool, which wasn't even made as an album but is still one of the greatest concept albums of all time?

Anyway, Concord is a concept album in that the concept was that it would be an album. It was the third recording session scheduled by Prestige to produce a full 12-inch LP's worth of music: in this case, six selections, and over 36 minutes worth of music.

It's an album that's mostly standards. Perhaps in Lewis's mind, the group already had one foot out the door, so they were saving original material for Atlantic--although in fairness, the MJQ tended to be standard-friendly until later in its career, and the first Atlantic album only had three originals. The originals are Jackson's "Ralph's New Blues" and Lewis's title track. I'd wondered if "Ralph's New Blues" was a tribute to Ralph Ellison -- I'd sort of hoped it was -- but appears to be for jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason, which is pretty good too. It's built on an irresistibly bluesy riff, and is the catchiest number on the record.  "Concorde" is another Francophile nod from Lewis, and inspired the Eiffel Tower cover of the album. It has a richness of tone, a catchy melody, and an uptempo swing.

Lewis and Jackson know how to sustain a note for dramatic effect, and they know how to let loose a torrent of notes. But as always, the the MJQ is a quartet, not a leader and sidemen, and you're always aware of the contribution each member is making to the sound.

"Softly as a Morning Sunrise" was released as a two-sided 45. The album's initial release, as noted, was the 12-inch LP.