Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Listening to Prestige part 163: George Wallington
There's a lot more to say about Donald Byrd, and I'll save most of it, since he would be very active on Prestige before signing an exclusive deal with Blue Note in 1959. But I will mention the quintet he led with Pepper Adams, another Detroiter, from 1958-1961, because it had such a profound effect on me. This would have been 1959, me living in New York for the first time, starting my own transition from scared kid to having an actual sense of myself as a person, with jazz playing a major part in that. And finding my way up to 135th Street, to Smalls Paradise (the picture is from a few years later, when Wilt Chamberlain had bought the club). The Byrd/Adams Quintet was playing there, and there was no minimum, and you could get a beer for 75 cents and nurse it all night. I was still mostly scared kid, and not at all sure I had a right to be there with the real hip cats, but the music drew me in, and I'll never forget it.
That quintet would make several albums, including one live at the Half Note. No live at Smalls, but always in my heart.
Gershwin is next, with "Our Love is Here to Stay." It's fascinating to follow the range of composers, noted and obscure, from early 20th Century operetta to Fifties pop, who have caught the attention of modern jazz improvisers. But Gershwin remains the gold standard.
"Five O'Clock Blues." "Together We Wail" is aptly titled, as Byrd and Woods wail together, separately, and closely conjoined., For that matter. so is "But George," which has more Byrd/Woods work, but also allows Wallington a large open space to make the most of.
"What's New" is a showcase ballad for a vocalist, with notable recordings by Linda Ronstadt and Frank Sinatra among others, and I hadn't realized it was written by dixieland bass player Bob Haggart. It makes a fine moody showcase for Wallingford.