Friday, January 01, 2016

Listening to Prestige part 161: Wrapping up 1955

Certainly the most significant event of 1955 was the death of Charlie Parker. Everybody knows the story: Bird died in the Stanhope Hotel suite of Baroness Pannonica de Konigswater, his body so racked with the ravages of addiction that the coroner guessed his age as 60. The story has it that Baroness Nica called her Park Avenue physician, who had never heard of Bird, to his side. The doctor asked, "Mr. Parker, do you drink?" Bird replied with a straight face, "Sometimes I take a glass of sherry after dinner,"

And legend has it that at the moment he passed away, a single white feather fell from the rafters of Carnegie Hall.

Nearly as significant, the death of Wardell Gray. And nobody knows the story, because it's unknowable. He died in Las Vegas. Perhaps he was murdered. We'll never know, because the racist Las Vegas police force couldn't be bothered to investigate the death of a black man.

Dave Twardzik, who shared a love of Bartok with Charlie Parker, and whose exploratory jam sessions with Bird went sadly unrecorded, also shared heroin addiction with Bird, and also passed away in the same year.

Other passings of note included James P. Johnson, piano great and composer of "Charleston," saxophonist Eddie Pollack, Ellington basssist Junoior Raglin.

The timeline on does a nice job with the year's highlights, including this one:

The Hard Bop style is emerging via people like drummer Art Blakey and piano player Horace Silver. Blue notes are disappearing from Jazz. They are being replaced by minor notes. For instance, the blue seventh becomes the minor seventh, etc. 
Billboard's April 23rd issue led off with a front page headline announcing that jazz record sales were up by 55 percent, and devoted a large section of its issue to jazz. The lead article:
Concert and Nitery Fields Get Shot in Arm from Jazz Boom
From Carnegie Hall to Neighborhood Hideaway, it's Loud at Cash Register
"It is," the article goes on to say, "virtually the only nocturnal attraction the younger generation will spend money for." Jazz clubs are springing up all over the country. Carnegie Hall is swamped with  requests for jazz bookings, and there's a new college circuit, thanks largely to Dave Brubeck. The legendary 52nd Street jazz clubs, by the early 50s, had mostly become strip joints, but according to Billboard, "even the one-time shrine, 52nd Street, is showing signs of forsaking flesh and returning to jazz." Credit for the boom is given to publicity in national magazines like Time, Life, Esquire and Vogue. Billboard doesn't mention Playboy, but that has to be important too. Disc jockeys are also credited for playing jazz, and an other important contributing factor is the rise of hifi recording.

And--this has to be good news for the working musician--jazz was starting to pay.
Previously, most [jazz] spots employed a trio at trio at about $350 and a pianist at $125, for an average weekly bill of $475. Now these same spots are paying $1750 and $2000 for jazz units and making money. 
Jazz labels taking large display ads in the issue included Atlantic (promoting Shorty Rogers), the Norman Granz stable (Clef/Norgran, with a huge list of artists), London (more LPs than you can imagine from Ted Heath), Bethlehem (to me, Bethlehem is always Chris Connor), RCA Victor (including Ellington, Al Cohn, Don Elliott, but not heavy on modern jazz), Pacific Jazz (including "Gerry Mulligan's latest--a truly high fidelity 12" concert LP"), Fantasy (nothing by Brubeck--he had already discovered Fantasy was ripping him off and jumped to Columbia), Columbia (a full page ad announcing "sensational news" coming June 1 from "the most famous house in jazz" -- probably the signing of Miles Davis), EmArcy ("In a matter of months...the hottest jazz line in the business!"), Capitol (Kenton and Goodman mostly, but a lot more too), and a handful of smaller ads from smaller labels, not including Prestige or Blue Note.

There's an article on the resurgence of the jazz DJ, highlighting Al "Jazzbo" Collins. who "doesn't play any 'screaming' jazz discs, but otherwise he features a wide variety of jazz discs, ranging from Dixieland to modern."  What's screaming jazz? Your guess is as good as mine. I remember, new to jazz and looking for it on the radio, tuning in Jazzbo because of his name, and being disappointed that he really wasn't playing anything I wanted to hear.

Modern jazz is what's selling, Billboard tells us.
True, the names of old-time greats garnish the list--Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Fats Waller and even Bix Beiderbecke. However, this is the hour of Brubeck, Shorty Rogers, Mulligan, Chet Baker, etc.

Billboard's jazz best seller list--and don't forget, this is only April. There's a lot of 1955 to come:

Atlantic: The Rampart Street Ramblers, Errol Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Sidney Bechet and Muggsy Spanier, Billy Taylor.

Bethlehem: Three by Chris Connor, Carmen McRae, Herbie Mann.

Blue Note: Art Blakey and Clifford Brown, Tal Farlow, Bud Powell, Miles Davis with Horace Silver, Lionel Hampton.

Capitol: Goodman, Kenton, June Christy, Marian McPartland, Woody Herman.

Clef: Basie, Hampton, Krupa, Oscar Peterson, Tatum.

Columbia: Brubeck, Brubeck, Armstrong, Brubeck, Buck Clayton.

Commodore: Dixieland Jamboree, two by Billie, Jam Session with Eddie Condon, Chicago jazz with Muggsy Spanier.

Contemporary: Two by Barney Kessel, Howard Rumsay, Shelley Manne, Lennie Neihaus.

Coral/Brunswick: Les Brown, a couple of compilation albums, Tony Scott, Terry Gibbs.

EmArcy: Sarah, Dinah, Brown/Roach, Dinah, Garner.

Epic: Lester, Bobby Hackett (it looks like Buddy Hackett in the blurred facsimile that I have, but that can't be right), Lou Stein, the Duke's men, Swingin' Trends in Chamber Sounds with the Harris Lee Woodwinds. If I had time and resources I'd listen to everything, including the Harris Lee Woodwinds, who sound interesting.

Esoteric: Charlie Christian, Jazz off the Air (with Eldridge), Al Haig, Sonny Berman, more Jazz off the Air,

Fantasy: Mulligan, four by Brubeck. He'd left Fantasy, but they still had the product.

Good Time Jazz: The Firehouse Five Plus Two, Kid Ory, Bob Scobey, the Banjo Kings, Ory.

MGM: Hampton, Max Kaminsky, Shearing, Ralph Burns, Clark Terry. This was the famous -- well, should be famous -- Cats vs. Chicks album, with Clark Terry on trumpet, Urbie Green on trombone, Lucky Thompson on tenor sax, Horace Silver on piano, Tal Farlow on guitar, Oscar Pettiford and Percy Heath swapping off on bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums for the cats, and Terry Pollard Septet (Norma Carson on trumpet, Beryl Booker on piano, Terry Pollard on vibraphone, Corky Hale on harp, Mary Osborne on guitar, Bonnie Wetzel on bass and Elaine Leighton on drums) for the chicks, and according to one reviewer on Amazon,

At first glance one would think this was a lopsided comparison that pitted world class male musicians against a group of unknown women. That would be a mistake because Mary Osborne was a renowned, world class guitarist. Terry Pollard was easily the equal of any male pianist or vibraphonist (she was a master of both instruments), who bested the great Terry Gibbs in many vibraphone duels when she was with his band as a pianist. Norma Carson was no slouch on trumpet either, giving Terry Clark a run for his money on every track.
The final track - Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better -pits Norma Carson against Clark Terry, Mary Osborne against Tal Farlow, and Terry Pollard against Horace Silver. Personally, I think the women smoked the guys here and I am not saying this to be politically correct. I honestly believe that assertion.

Nocturne: Shorty Rogers, Virgil Gonzalves, Harry Babasin, Herbie Harper, Bob Enevoldsen. The last four were unfamiliar names, so I found and played a little of Gonsalves' album, which also featured Babasin and Enevoldsen. Very nice stuff. In the 1970s, Gonsalves, a San Francisco musician, joined the rock band Pacific Gas and Electric.

Norgran: Getz, Buddy deFranco, Dizzy, Johnny Hodges, Louis Bellson.

Pacific Jazz: Mulligan, Baker, Baker, Mulligan, Laurindo Almeida.

Period: Ralph Burns, two by Teagarden, Osie Johnson, Django Reinhardt. Some of these are very obscure labels indeed. Period lasted only a few years, but was very highly regarded for its sound quality. They mostly a classical label, but did record some jazz.

RCA: Two by Sauter-Finnegan, two by Shorty Rogers (one with Andre Previn), Ellington.

Riverside: Fats Waller, Armstrong, Waller, Jazz of the Roaring 20s, Bix. I hadn't realized Riverside started out as a trad jazz label -- I associate them mostly with Monk. There's an article in this same Billboard by Riverside prez Orrin Keepnews on the jazz reissue business.

Roost: Johnny Smith, Getz, Smith, Smith, Roost 5th Anniversary.

Savoy: Bird, Jay and Kai, two by Kenny Clarke, Mingus. Amazing that this is the first mention we've seen of Bird.

Storyville: Lee Wiley, Teddi King, Lee Konitz, Jackie and Roy, Ellis Larkins.

Vanguard: Vic Dickenson, Jimmy Rushing, Mel Powell, Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, Sir Charles Thompson.

X: George Handy, Red Norvo, Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Bob Pollack, Eddie Condon.

I've saved Prestige for last. They had two lists, since New Jazz was still active in 1955.

On New Jazz: Jimmy Raney, Zoot Sims, Phil Woods, Jimmy Raney, Jon Eardley.

On Prestige: MJQ, MJQ, Billy Taylor, Kai and Jay, Miles Davis. This was still in the 10-inch period for Prestige, and these two albums, later became one, the legendary Django. The Billy Taylor album was his Town Hall concert. This was the first pairing of Jay and Kai, and Weinstock was taking a chance. It wasn't a given that these two would work well together. The Miles Davis session to make the Prestige hit parade for April was the sextet with J. J. Johnson and Lucky Thompson.

Billboard continued to follow jazz through the year. June brought a story on how jazz labels would try to build an audience for progressive jazz by issuing more DJ-friendly shortened versions of jazz cuts to selected disc jockeys. I'm guessing this wasn't a huge success. Norman Granz was touring with a Jazz at the Philharmonic show headlining Sarah Vaughan, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Jackie and Roy, and Cal Tjader, and wouldn't you like to have caught one of those? Reviews included Brubeck and Desmond's Interwoven ("This is Paul's set all the way...(the album) will find a receptive market, since Brubeck's popularity has waned but little"). Columbia's I Like Jazz album was the fastest-selling LP in the label's history.

In July, a plaint from a record store owner. He's delighted that the sales of jazz albums are doing so well, but

Customers do not buy jazz singles at all any more. This does create a problem...they often want an LP with a particular selection, and it is difficult to find it without taking down quite a few. Can't someone come up with a catalog that would help us locate selections in the various LPs?

The National Council of Churches will feature jazz on its Sunday morning TV show, as a counter to the argument that jazz promotes juvenile delinquency. Dave Brubeck is scheduled for a series of concerts with symphony orchestras.

In August, Epic Records starts a jazz division, and signs "Ray Bryant, a Philadelphia pianist who reportedly plays a strange combination of bop and spiritual styles. Count Basie has "found a fine new jazz and blues singer in Joe Williams, who captured the attention of the Rock and Rollers. Now Norman Granz has a tremendous hit single, his first, in Basie's "Every Day."

In September, we learn that Madison Avenue has discovered jazz, and "it's no longer unusual to dig jazz in an atmosphere heavy with perfume and high fashion." And in an atmosphere heavy with goatees and elbow patches, Marshall Stearns offers, for the third year, a course entitled "The Role of Jazz in American Culture." Each lecture and discussion is followed by a field trip to a local jazz spot.

In October, EmArcy announces it will unveil a "Mystery Band" sometime this fall.

November brings Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz.

Our old standby does its usual idiosyncratic list of the top 500 albums of the year, and it continues to  be a pretty good overview of the year in jazz. A competing listener-voted list,, is somewhat different, and reflects the fact that the LP market has expanded to include a wide range of popular music styles, so that of the top five albums of the year, two are by Bill Haley and the Comets, one by Hank Williams.

Rateyourmusic leads off with the 1951 Bayreuth Festival as its album of the year, then moves seriously into jazz.

2. Sarah Vaughan (EmArcy). EmArcy was the jazz arm of Mercury Records, and they had a seriously impressive cast of characters, as evidenced by the musicians on this set: Clifford Brown, Paul Quinichette, Herbie Mann, Jimmy Jones, Joe Benjamin, Roy Haynes.

3. Clifford Brown & Max Roach, Study in Brown (EmArcy)

4. Helen Merrill (EmArcy). This one with Clifford Brown, Jimmy Jones and Oscar Pettiford, with arrangements by Quincy Jones. Helen Merrill is still with us, and recorded as recently as 2003. Her website lists her most recent club date as Birdland in New York in 1903.

5. Frank Sinatra, In the Wee Small Hours (Capitol). This was the first of Sinatra's great Capitol albums (there had been two EPs preceding it). The 70s rockers seem to think they invented the concept album, but Sinatra on Capitol created the greatest series of concept albums ever recorded,

6. Louis Armstrong, Satch Plays Fats (Columbia). This actually was the first LP I ever bought. I don't count it as my first jazz LP, because I really didn't know what I was doing when I bought it, and I wasn't consciously a jazz fan yet.

7. Kenny Dorham, Afro-Cuban (Blue Note)

8. Julie London, Julie is her Name (Liberty)

9. Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Brown and Roach Incorporated (EmArcy)

12. Chet Baker Sings and Plays With Bud Shank, Russ Freeman and Strings (Pacivic Jazz)

14. Thelonious Monk Plays the Music of Duke Ellington (Riverside). Monk's first album after leaving Prestige, the material apparently chosen because Monk was stung by criticism that he couldn't play anything except his own compositions.

15. Dinah Washington, For Those in Love (EmArcy)

16. Helen Merrill With Strings (EmArcy)

19. Erroll Garner, Contrasts (EmArcy)

20. Billie Holiday, Music for Torching (Clef). Lady backed up by Harry "Sweets" Edison, Benny Carter, Jimmy Rowles, Barney Kessel, Larry Bunker.

Also on the list: Gene Krupa & Buddy Rich, J. J. Johnson, Stan Getz, Getz and Hamp, Getz and Diz--Diz also with Roy Eldridge. So we have a couple of pairings that explode the myth that this era was a constant battle between the beboppers and the moldy figs--but we know that the Hampton band, though it played trad jazz, was a fertile breeding ground for young moderns.

There were both MJQs -- Modern and Milt.

Also in the top 100, in alphabetical order, Art Farmer, Barney Kessel, Beverly Kenney, Bobby Jaspar, Cannonball Adderley, Carmen McRae, Charles Mingus & John LaPorta, Chico Hamilton Featuring Buddy Collette, Clark Terry, Dave Brubeck, Dexter Gordon, Don Shirley, Duke Ellington, Ethel Ennis, Frank Morgan, Gerry Mulligan, Gigi Gryce, Hampton Hawes, Hank Mobley, Herbie Nichols, Horace Silver, Jack Montrose, Kenny Clarke, Lee Konitz, Lennie Niehaus, Miles Davis, Nat "King" Cole, PĂ©rez Prado & Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk, The Four Freshmen, The Trio (Hank Jones, Wendell Marshall, Kenny Clarke), Tony Fruscella, Victor Feldman.

A couple of these names were unfamiliar to me, so I followed them up. Ethel Ennis's 1855 album was entitled Lullabyes for Losers, which was intriguing enough. It came out on Jubilee, with Hank Jones, and it's very, very good. Although an outspoken Democrat, she was invited to sing at Richard Nixon's 1972 inaugural. And she is still with us. Beverley Kenney recorded this album with Johnny Smith. She's sort of a cross between Annie Ross and Blossom Dearie, and a good singer, though perhaps best known in her day for hating rock and roll, and singing a song of her own composition, "I Hate Rock and Roll,"on the Steve Allen  show (Steve hated rock and roll too).

Prestige continued to roll out--some old standbys, some new faces, including some that would last and some that wouldn't quite make it. Tony Luis and Terry Morel recorded one session, four songs with piano trio and four with Morel's vocals, making two EPs, neither of which can be found today. Sanford Gold made one solo piano LP , which deserves to be better remembered than it is.

The MJQ recorded twice--in January with Kenny Clarke, in July with Connie Kay. The January session was the "La Ronde Suite," and July brought the session that became Concorde, and farewell to Prestige. Kay actually sort of joined the group earlier, for a Milt Jackson session with Horace Silver on piano.

Miles Davis had a busy year with three recording sessions--three for Prestige, that is. He had already recorded his first Columbia album, though it would have to wait for release. James Moody and Gene Ammons remained vigorously active, as did Phil Woods, Jimmy Raney and Bennie Green.

DownBeat, as was its custom, had its separate readers' and critics' polls. Readers and critics agreed on band (Basie)tenor sax (Getz), baritone sax (Mulligan), trumpet (Miles--critics made it a tie with Dizzy), trombone (J. J.), vibes (Milt), female vocalist (Ella). The readers had more categories than the critics, one of them being Hall of Fame, to which they voted Charlie Parker. One would think that was long overdue.

The readers had something called combo-instrumental, and the critics something called acoustic jazz group. Probably the same thing, but acoustic jazz group? There were electric jazz groups in 1955? Anyway, presumably the same category, different results. Brubeck for the readers, MJQ for the critics. I'll go with the critics. The readers picked Buddy DeFranco over Tony Scott on clarinet--with the readers this time. Drums, Max for the readers, Blakey for the critics. I wouldn't want to choose. If I had to, I'd go with Max. Bass was Ray Brown vs. Oscar Pettiford, and I guess I'll take Ray because I've heard more of him. The critics' category specified "acoustic bass," and there actually were a few electric bassists by then. Piano is Garner vs. Tatum. I'm a little surprised Tatum is still that big in 1955, and the critics aren't picking a more modernist like Monk or John Lewis. But of course, you have to go with Tatum. Guitar is Johnny Smith vs. Jimmy Raney, and I'm with the critics here. Male vocalist Frank Sinatra vs.Louis Armstrong. 1955 was the year of In the Wee Small Hours, the first great Sinatra/Nelson Riddle collaboration on Capitol, which makes it a really hard choice. Sinatra probably deserves it for 1955. But I can never vote against Armnstrong.

The readers also chose personalities of the year: Pop--Frank Sinatra, Jazz--Dave Brubeck, Latin--Perez Prado, R&B: Bill Haley. Leading me to believe that DownBeat readers didn't exactly know what R&B was. Tito Puente is my vote for Latin musician of the year, every year, but 1955 was the year of "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White," one of the top selling songs of the decade. Vocal group was the Four Freshmen, once again making me think the DownBeat readers didn't listen to enough R&B. This was the era of musical wars: the moderns vs. the moldy figs, and all jazz people violently anti-rock and roll. There were a number of doowop groups active in 1955 who were a lot more interesting than the Four Freshmen.

They chose accordion (Art Van Damme), miscellaneous instrument (Don Elliot--mellophone; this was before Rahsaan Roland Kirk), arranger (Pete Rugolo). The readers' poll had a long-standing category of band singers, which had become pretty irrelevant by this time. That continues to be the case with girl singers--the readers chose Ann Richards, who had appeared briefly with the Kenton band and less briefly with Kenton--he married her. The boy band singer, on the other hand, was Joe Williams.

I got interested in the acoustic bass issue. I had thought of Monk Montgomery as the first jazz electric bassist, and in fact his Prestige session with Art Farmer may well have been the first use of the electric bass in a modern jazz recording.  

Actually, Monk may have been the second. According to's  history of the electric bass

Leo [Fender] would call in at concerts and nightclubs to show off his instruments and in New York he encountered Lionel Hampton's band.
Bassist Roy Johnson tried the Precision and Lionel loved the sound. Leo told them to keep it and the Bassman amplifier as it would be good publicity for Fender. When Roy left to be replaced by Monk Montgomery (brother of guitarist Wes), Monk was asked to play the Precision.
As a well respected upright player Monk was horrified but Hampton was insistent as the bigger bass sound had become a trademark of the band.
Conventional bass players recognised it as a threat and it was referred to as 'the bastard instrument' but Monk got to grips with it and was soon making a name for himself.

With electric jazz still far in the future, on to 1956!

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