Draper's debut as a leader is noteworthy for a couple of reasons: (a) there aren't all that many jazz combos led by a tuba player, and (b) Draper was still only 16. But he had leadership qualities, and if he hadn't lost so many years to heroin addiction (it must have been tough to handle being 16 and being thrust into the cauldron of the New York jazz life), he could have done a lot more. As it is, he is credited with being the first musician (even before Miles) to form a jazz-rock fusion group
There are a bunch of faces new to Prestige here. Except for McLean and Mal Waldron, this is a new mix, which once again leads to the speculation on how a group is put together for a session. Sometimes musicians who grew up together will coalesce to make a record, like the various Detroiters, or Harlem high school pals Sonny Rollins, Kenny Drew, Jackie McLean and Art Taylor. But Ray Draper certainly wasn't calling on guys his age from the old neighborhood, because there weren't any other guys his age playing jazz on this level. Webster Young, Spanky DeBrest and Ben Dixon were all in their early twenties, but there's a big gap between that and 16.
But we know a certain amount about this session, from a reminiscence by Webster Young in Jazz and Blues Musicians of South Carolina, by Benjamin Franklin V. Young was living in Brooklyn and mostly playing with a bunch of guys in Brooklyn, although he would come in to Manhattan to informally apprentice with Miles Davis, and occasionally sit in with him on gigs. Miles, he said, would encourage him but keep him in check:
If you wanted to show off, Miles would say, "You got a Cadillac outside?" In other words, "What's wrong with you?" I dug it, I needed that.Ray Draper would occasionally show up at the Brooklyn jam sessions.
He'd been playing at some sessions in New York and some competitions at Birdland...He was a nice cat [but] full of himself. I was a little bit older, and I helped him to be serious...Ray came up with a proposal. If he could play with us, he'd get us to the New York competitions. I said "No." And I didn't want a tuba player. But the other cats said if we did it, we'd be doing something. So I thought if we didn't do it, I'd lose the band. We let Ray play with us, and we had the competitions. Nat Hentoff...was one of the judges. We played three competitions. We won them all.Young was invited to meet Jackie McLean and hang out during Draper's first recording session with McLean, and
...during intermission, Bob Weinstock came over to Ray and said he was going to record him and Webster. He didn't even know me.So that's how Young got on the session. He was also the one who recommended drummer Ben Dixon, a fellow South Carolinian. The two had moved to Washington and then Brooklyn together, and Young had told Draper that "I'd make the date as long as we had Ben Dixon on drums."
Dixon would go on to a substantial career in New York, becoming a sought-after drummer especially for Blue Note's soul jazz recordings, working a lot with Lou Donaldson and Grant Green. Young played on several Prestige dates in 1957, and that was pretty much the end of his recording career, although he continued to be in demand as a working musician. He told Franklin that he had reservations about doing a lot of recording because he didn't want to be tied down to a day job, although he eventually did take a day job, becoming a respected educator.
Jackie McLean is the veteran here. Although only 25 himself, he was already considered a major jazz star, and one of the most recorded jazz musicians of his time. There were a couple of reasons for this. First, that he was really good and really versatile. Second, that his situation was almost exactly the opposite of Webster Young's: he was largely limited to day jobs. He battled heroin addiction throughout the '50s, and his arrest and conviction for heroin possession meant that he could not get a cabaret card to work in New York City clubs. As Young recalls in his taped reminiscence, Jackie "was the cat," but because of his ubiquitous exposure and his innate generosity, he gave much of the solo space to the younger musicians.
Draper and Young each contributed two songs to the set, each of them paying tribute to a mentor, Young with "House of Davis," and Draper with "Jackie's Dolly," dedicated to McLean's young daughter. And Webster paid tribute to another idol with his suggestion of "You're My Thrill," one of his favorite Billie Holiday recordings.
Mal Waldron's "Pivot" had previously been done on the Jimmy Raney / Kenny Burrell version of the Prestige All Stars, and here it shows Waldron's piano chops as well as his compositional skills.
Jazz instrumentalists were doing amazing things with unlikely instruments during this era. J. J Johnson and Kai Winding had shown that fast, complex bebop figures could be played on the trombone. The bass had become a flexible solo instrument in the hands of players like Paul Chambers and Oscar Pettiford, and Ray Draper was ready, at 16, to step out front and make the tuba a significant solo instrument. And to show just how much can be done in those lower registers, he played some exciting bass-tuba duets with Spanky DeBrest (best known for his work with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers).
The session was released as Tuba Sounds, with "introducing Webster Young" as part of the front cover text.
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