Saturday, January 09, 2016

Listening to Prestige part 162: Jon Eardley

The thing to remember about mainstream or straight ahead jazz is that it's never really mainstream, and never really straight ahead. I'd always usd the terms pretty much imterchangeably, to refer to,the music of the time period I'm writing about. Wikipedia says there's a difference, "Mainstream" refers to players like Buck Clayton who continued to perform and record after the big bands broke up, but never  embraced bebop. "Straight ahead" refers to,the music made after the Charlie Parker era and before the Dolphy-Coltrane-Coleman era. Music such as was made by guys like Jon Eardley. I suspect I'll comtinue to use them interchangeably.

You can put it on as background music because, let's face, any kind of music can be background music. You put on something you like, even if it's Charlie Parker or Ornette Coleman or Igor Stravinsky or Gustav Mahler, and you're doing something else, whether it's an architectural rendering or washing the dishes, it's background music. If you're writing a blog about jazz, and your whole point is that this music is important, and you should set yourself down in a quiet room with no distractions and listen to it, and you're writing this at the same time the music is playing, then it's background music.

But mainstream or straight ahead are words that seem to describe music that can easily fade into the background as you concentrate on your rendering or dishwashing or jazz blogging, and it never can. With the kind of player that Bob Weinstock brought into the studio, and Rudy Van Gelder recorded, it never gets predictable, These guys played jazz because they came, consciously or not, out of modernism, out of Pound's dictum to "make it new." They came out of Louis Armstrong, who made it new, and Charlie Parker, who made it new, and they were inspired to keep building on that, to keep searching for the new.

John Eardley was to pretty much fade into oblivion after this album, and in fact, when it was rereleased in the 60s, it would be under Zoot's name.. He wouldn't record again as a leader until some sides for European labels in the late 70s. He'd be remembered, if at all, as one of those guys who played hard bop, just as if "one of those guys" was a phrase that had any meaning at all. As if those guys were minnows swimming straight ahead down a main stream. This album is none of that. It's full of surprises, full of inventiveness, full,of musical ideas and inventiveness, of phrasing, of time, of creative flight. And you don't get guys like Phil Woods and Zoot Sims for a session unless you're well respected.

"Koo Koo" is an Eardley composition (as are "On the Minute" and "Ladders"), and it's the gem of an excellent lot. It became the title track for the Zoot Sims reissue, and I'm surprised that it hasn't become more of a standard. Maybe because there are so many songs named "Koo Koo." "Eard's Word," interestingly, is a Zoot composition.

Milt Gold played with Kenton, and later in a three-trombone ensemble led by Bill Harris. When you're playing in a group with Eardley, Sims and Woods. you're not going to get a lot of solo time, but Gold sounds great when he does get a horn in edgewise.
There are so many great Zoot Sims stories, it's hard to resist putting them in every chance I get. This is David Amram reminiscing about the old Five Spot.

One time Larry Rivers was playing. Larry loved to play as much as anybody in the world
and he had a great band with Freddie Redd and Elvin Jones and all these tremendous musicians. But Larry was so busy painting, I don’t think he ever practiced in 30 years. He was blasting away, hitting a lot of clinkers. Zoot Sims was sitting at the bar and Zoot was the most big-hearted person. As Larry was playing more and more clinkers, Zoot was quietly sinking down in his bar stool, waiting for it to be over. I said, “Zoot, wasn’t that something?” He looked up very quietly and said, “Man, I think I’m gonna take up painting.”

The Jon Eardley Seven was released on 12-inch LP. which was now the standard.

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