Friday, July 01, 2016

Listening to Prestige 192: Phil Woods / Donald Byrd

Donald Byrd was apparently a contract player with Prestige at this tine, as he appears on several of the Prestige All-Stars sessions, but he was hardly exclusive with the label, and he was in demand. 1955 had been his breakthrough year, and by this time in 1956, he had already recorded on Prestige with George Wallington, Jackie McLean (three different sessions), Elmo Hope, Phil Woods, Gene Ammons, Hank Mobley, and the Prestige All-Stars. Art Farmer and Jackie McLean were also featured on that date, but on subsequent re-releases, leader credit was given to the two trumpeters and then to Byrd alone. Here are Byrd's other record dates from that same year.

For Savoy: three sessions with Kenny Clarke, one with Hank Mobley.        

For ABC-Paramount: Billy Taylor. ABC-Paramount, started in 1955, released a lot of jazz in its early years, which surprises me. I had never thought of it as a jazz label at all.

For Columbia: Several sessions with Art Blakey, some instrumental, others backing Dutch singer Rita Reys. I had never heard of Reys, so I listened to a little of this session, and she's very, very good. There's also some great solo work by Byrd.  Reys primarily performed in Europe, where she was known as "Europe's First Lady of Jazz." She continued performing and recording into this millennium. She died in 2013.   Also a couple of sessions with Horace Silver on Columbia subsidiary Epic.      

For Blue Note, with whom he would become most closely associated over the next decades, he appeared on Paul Chambers' first album as leader, which also featured John Coltrane. By the end of the year, he seemed almost constantly in Rudy Van Gelder's studio for either Prestige or Blue Note, recording for the latter label with Horace Silver, Hank Mobley and Sonny Rollins, As a leader, he recorded a session in Boston for Transition Records, a label founded by Tom Wilson, later to gain fame as Bob Dylan's producer, and a second session under Doug Watkins' leadership.;So these were formative years for Byrd, playing with a wide range of musicians, absorbing a lot. He was 24 years old in 1956, and this session, with Phil Woods, represents a wide range of ages and musical experience all by itself.

Woods was 25, like Byrd really coming into his own in the mid-50s, like Byrd destined to go on to significant commercial success--Byrd in the jazz fusion field, Woods most famously with Billy Joel -- while retaining the respect of the jazz world.

Al Haig was only 34, but pretty much at the end of his jazz career, at least during this period. This was close to his last recording (there'd be one with Chet Baker in 1958) until he experienced a renaissance in the mid-70s. According to jazz historian Brian Case,
Jazz pianism, ever more percussive in a crass simplification of [Bud] Powell's methods, had no room for the crystalline touch and swift, logical turnover of ideas. Haig got by with semi-cocktail piano in New York bars.
Teddy Kotick had been around since the birth of bebop, but jazz generations can turn over swiftly, and although he was only 28 years old at the time of this recording, he already seemed to belong to a previous generation. He dropped out of music for a while--I understand he returned to his native Massachusetts and worked as a mailman. I presented him in several concerts at Opus 40 in the 1980s with J. R. Monterose.

Charli Persip, only a year younger than Kotick, was at the beginning of his career (and was still spelling his name "Charlie"). He had spent several years with Dizzy Gillespie's big band, and had appeared on a couple of albums with Dizzy's band, but this was his first recording with a small ensemble.

Persip was known for his proficiency at sight reading music, and he explained in an interview in All About Jazz how he developed that skill:
  Mainly because I objected to the word that was going around that jazz drummers couldn't read well. Then it translated into black drummers couldn't read well. I totally took umbrage to that. I said OK I'm gonna be the best reader in the land—I'll fix you. I spent many hours practicing, I took music books to bed with me to read instead of novels. I was fighting the fight for the good name of black jazz drummers.
The grizzled old-timer of 28 and the young pup of 27 come together to lay down a fine rhythm foundation for this album. As with many bassists of his generation, like Curly Russell or Tommy Potter, Kotick wasn't much for soloing, although he does take a couple of solos on this session, modest but excellent. As with many drummers of his generation, Persip is assertive when it's called for, and knocks out some less modest but also excellent solos.

The early 50s were marked by artists like John Lewis and Miles Davis trying to get away from the head/solos/head formula, but Lord knows Miles came back to it, and Lord knows it didn't go away, nor should it have, although artists like the MJQ and Gil Melle, and Miles as his career progressed and Birth of the Cool finally gained wider release, blazed new and important trails.

This is the dichotomy of many art forms. Some poets find working in 14 lines, with a regular meter and rhyme scheme, artificial and confining. Others find it infinitely subtle and flexible. When, in the 1940s, virtuoso soloists became the center of jazz, this format proved to be the one most suited for those soloists to create in. That remained true through the 40s and 50s, and like the sonnet, it has never gone away altogether.

Phil Woods is the main composer here. "Lover Man" is a standard and "Dewey Square" a Charlie Parker composition, but the rest are all Woods. "House of Chan" is a tribute to Charlie Parker, who used "Charlie Chan," taking his wife's first name, as a pseudonym when he needed one for contractual reasons. But then, everything Woods did is to some extent a tribute to Charlie Parker. But even more than that, it's dedicated to Chan Parker, Bird's widow, whom Woods had grown close to, and whom he would marry in 1957.

Prestige released this as The Young Bloods, with co-leader credit given to Woods and Byrd. It would later be rereleased as House of Byrd.

 Order Listening To Prestige Vol. 1, 1949-1953 here.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tad--Thanks for that link to the Rita Reys YouTube video.
She cooks.
Bob B.