Sunday, December 11, 2016

Listening to Prestige 220: Phil Woods and Gene Quill

Phil Woods is a jazz icon today, and Bobby Jaspar is pretty much forgotten, so there's a lot to be said for longevity. There are some careers that were pretty short, but they burned with such a brilliant flame that they'll never be forgotten. Charlie Parker is the obvious one. Bud Powell. There were some whose careers were very short, and they may not be remembered by the casual fan, but they are revered by the serious aficionados. Charlie Christian, Chano Pozo. There are some who had brief, blazing careers and are remembered vividly, some with much the same brief blazing careers and not so vivid: Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro.

Gene Quill had a long and productive life, but except for these recordings with Phil Woods, he mostly settled for the job security and relative anonymity of studio and section work, playing with some of the great jazz orchestras.

All of these, remembered or semi-forgotten, wrote their names in the Book of Jazz, and deserve to be remembered..deserve to be cherished.

These musings come at a time when Bob Dylan has just been awarded the Nobel Prize, and many are saying, "Aren't there other singer-songwriters who deserved it more?" And that's a foolish question. There is no "deserved it more." You either deserve it, whether it's the Nobel Prize or the respect of your peers, or you don't deserve it. Bobby Jaspar, Gene Quill, Fats Navarro, Elmo Hope, Wardell Gray, J. R. Monterose...they all deserve it.

And Phil Woods absolutely deserves it.

For this session, Woods brings back the rhythm section he used for his 1954 Prestige session with Jon Eardley (another not-so-remembered player, for a common reason: because he moved to Europe early on and spent the rest of he career there): George Syran, Teddy Kotick and Nick Stabulas. But this is 1957, and things are different. Certainly they're different for bass players. Teddy Kotick is a veteran of the birth of bebop days, one of Charlie Parker's favorite bassists. Like others of his generation, he was valued for his ability to handle the tricky tempos and improvisational leaps of the great bebop soloists, but was not expected to solo much, partly because in the pre-Rudy Van Gelder era it was hard to mike the bass in such a way as to feature it as a solo instrument. Players like Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers changed all that, and some of the standout bebop bassists like Curly Russell essentially called it a career. In this session, Kotick steps up for some serious bass solos, and he delivers.

This is very much a bebop session. You don't name a tune "Altology" unless Charlie ("Ornithology") Parker is very much on your mind.

Woods and Quill feature a couple of modern jazz standards: "Solar," attributed to Miles Davis or perhaps Chuck Wayne, and "Airegin," written by Sonny Rollins and originally recorded by Sonny with Miles. "Airegin" came from a time when it became fashionable to name tunes with words spelled backwards, a trend that I don't miss nearly as much as I miss titles with bop puns, like "A Night on Bop Mountain" or "Flight of the Bopple Bee."

Speaking of titles, two of the originals on this session are "Creme de Funk" and "Nothing but Soul," and they are fine bebop cuts, but not especially characterized by funk or soul, neither looking backward to the rhythm and blues/bop fusion of the late 40s and early 50s, or the funk/soul jazz that was trending in the late 50s and would become ubiqiitous in the 60s. This style would become linked with Blue Note, and its stars like Art Blakey (whose pianist Bobby Timmons would write the classics of the genre, "Moanin'" and "Dat Dere"), and Horace Silver (who would use Teddy Kotick on two Blue Note albums in 1957/58).

But the real progenitor of the movement was probably someone who is now revered as a jazz immortal, but was back then rejected by jazz snobs: Ray Charles. Rhythm and blues and bebop may have been soul brothers, but the exploding popularity of rock and

roll, and especially white rock and roll, had led jazz purists to build a wall even solider than the one Donald Trump plans for Mexico. But that didn't mean musicians weren't listening, and Charles' fusion of blues and gospel resulted in a whole new definition of the blues that changed both jazz and popular music irrevocably.

But I digress. Phil Woods and Gene Quill made a successful pairing because of their musical compatibility, and also because of the marketing gimmick suggested by their names. This album came out as Phil and Quill with Prestige, later released under Woods's name as his reputation continued to grow. There were only two Phil-and-Quill labeled recordings, the other for Epic, although they performed often as a quintet in clubs during this era.

 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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