Sunday, April 24, 2016

Listening to Prestige Part 181: Hank Mobley

For the rest of the summer, Fridays at Rudy's is scaled back to one session a week, and Hank Mobley is back for this one, with partly changed supporting cast -- Doug Watkins and Art Taylor are still there, and still showing why they're there--Art Taylor's playing on "Message From the Border" is one of the major highlights of this session.

Kenny Dorham was an active presence on Prestige recordings in 1956—with Tadd Dameron in March and Phil Woods in June. He would be back again with Gil Melle in August.

Barry Harris had perhaps decamped for Detroit, because Walter Bishop, Jr., is here on piano. I had wondered if Harris might have left a couple of songs to remembered by, since two of the cuts fro this session are credited to "Harris" as composer, but it turns out to have been two other guys. "These Are the Things I Love" has lyrics by Lewis Harris, and for all I can discover this may have been the only song he ever wrote. The lyrics actually aren't much, but the melody is what counts to a jazz player,
and the melody is a nice one. It's by Harold Barlow, who parlayed his music knowledge into a second career as a consultant on plagiarism. Since one of his clients was George Harrison, you have to wonder how good at it he was.

The other Harris was Benny Harris, who wrote "Crazyology." He has some excellent jazz credentials, including being the guy who convinced Dizzy Gillespie to partner up with Charlie Parker. As a composer, he was favored by Parker, and as a composer, he seemed drawn to the "ology" suffixes. He also wrote "Ornithology" (who knew what wasn't a Bird original?)

So let's get back to Walter Bishop, Jr., whose father. Walter Bishop, Sr., was no slouch as a composer either, with tunes including "Jack, You're Dead," a number one hit for Louis Jordan in 1947, the year that his son got out of the army and into his first gig with Art Blakey. Bishop survived heroin addiction to become an important educator as well as a significant jazz musician. He studied at Juilliard with Hall Overton in the 1960s, taught music theory at several colleges, and wrote a book on jaazz improvisation, A Study in Fourths. He can be seen explaining his theory of fourths in some excellent videos, available on YouTube.

This was Mobley's second Prestige album as leader, and was titled Mobley's 2nd Message (somewhat more formally, on rerelease, as Hank Mobley's Second Message).

Here's something I wrote a few years ago. It's from a series of poems about a young woman, the daughter of an obscure jazz musician, who has left her husband and is trying to understand who she is, finding much of that understanding in jazz.


A front of warm air reached our region 
around noon today. During
the afternoon, it will ooze on in,
probe with sticky, eighty degree fingers,
so that, she supposes, she could drive
in and out between yesterday’s clammy cold
and the oozing certainty of muggy heat,
like a county with local option on daylight saving,
or the sound from her rain-drenched speakers,
a few bars of Hank Mobley’s reassuring bebop,
then silence. She imagines the missing solo,
how Walter Bishop might have picked it up,
brought it to where the sound kicks in again.
Kenny Dorham is a harder read. Lost,
she moves inside to the weather channel.
The front is squatting now, threatening
impossibly heavy storms – or did he say
possibly heavy storms? A guy calls,
she met him last week. He just wants
to make sure she has candles on hand.
Hurricane lanterns are better. She asks him if
he could fill in the missing parts of a Hank Mobley solo.
Sure, he says. How about Kenny Dorham?
Sure, he says. Him too.

No, you couldn’t, she says.

Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 from Amazon.

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