Monday, November 14, 2016

Listening to Prestige 215: Bobby Jaspar

A star-crossed session, with two wonderful players destined to die far too young. Vibraphonist Eddie Costa would die in an auto accident in 1962, leader Bobby Jaspar of a heart attack in 1963.

This was Jaspar's recording debut, and the American debut for the Belgian-born musician. He was probably better known as a saxophonist in Europe, but most of his American recording, and therefore most of his reputation, was on the flute.

Jaspar came to the US in 1956. The Swedes like Lars Gullin and Bengt Hallberg had paved the way for acceptance of European jazz musicians, and Jaspar arrived with a reputation as a cat who could play.

He also arrived with an American wife. He had married semi-expatriate Blosssom Dearie in Paris in 1955 (they would divorce in 1957, around the time he was making these Prestige sides).

Eddie Costa, also making his Prestige debut with this session, was really hitting his stride in 1957, the year that he was named the Down Beat new star of the year on both piano and vibes, the first time a musician had ever won two categories in the same year. He first hit New York in 1949, with his older brother Bill. It wasn't a long drive from his home town in central Pennsylvania--only 150 miles--but culturally, it might as well have been a moon shot. Atlas, PA, was a coal mining town, and not much modern jazz made it there. But brother Bill played piano, and had a taste for swing, which he passed on to Eddie. The two of them hit the big city together, where Eddie first heard Bud Powell, and found his true musical love. He recorded with Sal Salvador in 1954, and made his first recording as a leader in 1956, a trio session with Vinnie Burke and Nick Stabulas that was released by two primarily rhythm and blues labels, Jubilee and its subsidiary Josie.

Bobby Donaldson was also new to Prestige, but hardly new to the music business. He went back to the swing and jump blues days in the 1940s, but by this time he was a sought-after session drummer in virtually any genre you'd care to name.

If you were going to assign signs of the zodiac to musical instruments, flute would be an air sign, vibes and piano water signs. Bass and drums, of course, would be earth signs. So minus the fire sign of a saxophone, this session is earth, wind and water, and a very cool combination it is. I was particularly struck by the compositions, which I guessed might be all Bobby Jaspar tunes, but I was wrong. "Flute Bob" is Jaspar's, but "Flute Bass Blues" is by Doug Watkins and "Solacium" by Tommy Flanagan. Which says something about how many talented composers there were in the jazz world of the 1950s, even though many of these compositions were caught in flight at the one session they were brought to, and then soared on into the jazz ionosphere. "Flute Bass Blues" was recorded in a very different era as a duet for Jeremy Steig and Eddie Gomez, where it becomes much more a vehicle for bass virtuosity, although Watkins does have a short and effective solo on this cut; and "Solacium" became best known as a vehicle for John Coltrane, on album that showcased Tommy Flanagan's compositions.

Interestingly, "Solacium" is the cut that has the least of Flanagan for this session. It's very much a flute-vibes duet. It's the first cut of the session (although the last of the subsequent album) and establishes the chemistry between the two soloists.

These three tunes became part of an album called Flute Flight, with a second session that featured Herbie Mann and Joe Puma taking Costa's place, and Mann and Jaspar sharing leader billing.

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