Monday, October 09, 2017

Listening to Prestige 276: Shirley Scott

This was the beginning of a long and fruitful association between Prestige Records and Shirley Scott, who would record for them both as leader of her own trio and in partnership with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Her other important partnership was marital as well as musical--to Stanley Turrentine, with whom she recorded a series of successful albums for Blue Note before they divorced in the 1970s;

The jazz of the 1930s that had been created by Count Basie and Jimmie Lunceford, Erskine Hawkins and Chick Webb, morphed into a style of music called swing, and swing was essentially the province of white bandleaders like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James and Glenn Miller. When they talk about the golden era when jazz was America's popular music, that's what they're talking about.

So did bebop really kill jazz's popularity? I'm not so sure. Black American music was restless in the 1940s. Black artists knew they couldn't compete in the marketplace with the white swing bands, and they were chafing at the limitations of a music they heard as growing increasingly formulaic. So they either made it gutsier and bluesier and blacker (Louis Jordan) or more inventive and more musically challenging (Bird and Diz). And maybe jazz, the music of African Americans, was still as popular as it had ever been, if you count both tines of that bifurcated style. Louis Jordan wasn't jazz? Joe Liggins and Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson and Big Jay McNeely weren't jazz, and Tommy Dorsey and Harry James were? The Ravens and the Clovers weren't jazz, and the Pied Pipers and the Hi-Los were? Gimme a break.

So then we came up to the mid-fifties, and it was happening again. The music that black artists created had morphed again, gotten whiter again, and rhythm and blues had become America's popular music under the new name of rock 'n roll. And once again black music, the creative epicenter of American culture, was moving on, and once again bifurcating.

Bebop, modern jazz, that scary new sound of the 1940s, was still not selling as many records as Benny Goodman in his prime, perhaps, but it was selling its share, and it mostly wasn't scary any more. With artists like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, but very much with white artists like Stan Kenton and Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck, it had entered the mainstream of American music. And a newer generation of black musicians, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, were finding sounds that were adventurous and challenging and once again a little scary. And the spiritual descendants of Jordan and Liggins and Jackson and McNeely were finding their way to a jazz that was funkier and bluesier and blacker.

No one person led that new sound, but it's pretty clear that Ray Charles was one of the most important figures. He pioneered a sound that embraced rhythm and blues and modern jazz, but most excitingly embraced the street and the church, blues and gospel. And that was the genesis of what became hard bop or soul jazz or jazz funk.

And if you're going to church for the new jazz sound you're going to bring into the streets, what could be more logical than wheeling an organ out the door?

That was the sound that Shirley Scott found.

Scott was born and raised in Philadephia, a hotbed of jazz rivaling Detroit in its experimentation and technical virtuosity. Her father ran a jazz club, and she grew up listening to players like Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones. She began to play piano because her brother had taken up the tenor sax and needed someone to accompany him, in much the same way that hockey Hall of Famer Tony Esposito became a goalie because his brother Phil needed someone to practice shooting at.

But Philadelphia was also home base for Jackie Davis, who was finding the jazz possibilities latent in the Hammond B-3 organ, an instrument hitherto relegated to storefront churches and roller rinks. And Davis was to inspire another Philadelphian, Jimmy Smith. And, of course, young Shirley Scott.

Scott started recording with Eddie Davis in 1953, when Davis had heard what Smith and Jackie Davis were doing with the B-3, and was looking for an organist to form a group with. Fortunately, he was able to look beyond the jazz world's male chauvinism.

The two first recorded together in 1956 for King Records, in Cincinnati. King was an interesting label. It had begun as strictly country and western, then added rhythm and blues. It was never a jazz label, though a couple of jazz artists like Hot Lips Page are on their roster. And artists like Earl Bostic and Bill Doggett who played in both jazz and rhythm and blues formats. The Scott/Davis album on King was called Jazz with a Beat, which is not a bad definition of rhythm and blues.

Count Basie was also a presence on the rhythm and blues/race records charts of the era, and Scott/Davis were also featured on a Roulette album called Count Basie Presents Eddie Davis Trio + Joe Newman. Neither of these was released until 1958, so the Prestige album may have been Scott's first exposure.

For her first session, she chose very familiar tunes: "Brazil," "Cherokee," "Ebb Tide," "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue." When you think about it, these are tunes you'd associate with a jazz popularizer/R&B bandleader like Earl Bostic. She also tackles a couple of Miles Davis originals, "Four" and the tune that Miles called "The Theme," but which becomes, in someone else's hands, "Miles' Theme." Each tune is compact, 45 RPM length, appropriate for an R&B audience, and in fact, Prestige released five 45s out of this session.

This is unquestionably jazz, and certainly jazz with a beat. It's also jazz with an organ, which was still relatively uncommon. In Down Beat's 1957 jazz poll, the organ does not rate a category of its own. There are four organists who got votes in the Miscellaneous Instruments category, and Scott was not one of them.

She announces her presence on the scene, and ensures that she won't be left out the next time, by using this session to show off her command of the instrument, pulling out all the stops -- literally, since it's an organ. She is helped by two sidemen who know what they're doing (listen to what they give her on "Cherokee"), and know the difference between jazz and rhythm and blues, or else know that there's no difference.

George Duvivier played on two previous Prestige sessions, both with Gil Mellé, whose work can be described in a number of ways, none of which have anything to do with rhythm and blues.  He could, and did play pretty much everything, from R&B (Lucky Millinder) to swing (Jimmie Lunceford) to bop (Bud Powell) to pop (Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra) to avant garde (Eric Dolphy). He was the bassist on the Basie album that featured Davis and Scott.

Arthur Edgehill  recorded for Prestige on a 1956 session with Mal Waldron. He specialized in funk and hard bop, and with Duvivier, had a long run with Scott and Davis.

Eight of these tunes were released right away on an LP titled Great Scott! More came out in 1961 (Shirley's Sounds) and 1964 (Workin'). It's harder to find release dates for 45s.




Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell




Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Listening to Prestige 275: John Coltrane

Coltrane and Donald Byrd are a great combination, back together again after a January session, so Bob Weinstock must have really liked what he heard, and what's not to like? But it's Coltrane who really holds the interest right now. The "happy young man," in Ira Gitler's words, was on a creative tear. Just five months into the year, he was already on his sixth studio session for Prestige, and that was only part of it. He had done two dates with a group led by Wilbur Harden for Savoy, and don't forget, he still had his bread and butter gig, with Miles Davis. By May 23rd, he had recorded two studio sessions and two live sessions with Miles. And when he went out to Rudy's for his Friday Prestige date on May 23rd, he had another recording scheduled with Miles for the following Monday, in New York, at Columbia's 30th Street studio.

Turning your life around, getting off drugs, gives you energy to burn, and Coltrane was burning it. But it wasn't just energy. He was burning with musical ideas, too, which is what makes this period so exciting.

The music was exciting. What Gitler called "sheets of sound," a phrase that's become firmly implanted in the jazz lexicon. It meant Coltrane playing every note associated with every variation on a given chord, more or less at the same time. Or something. It was sort of like the rapid-fire runs through variations on chord changes that the beboppers had pioneered, except that it wasn't. But it had that same questing urgency, that sense of listening for something new, just beyond the horizon. Listening to it now in the chronological order of the music being made (this session was not released until 1964), one can really feel a part of that quest.

"Black Pearls" is a Coltrane original, "Lover Come Back" is the Sigmund Romberg melody that's

become such a favorite of jazz modernists. "Sweet Sapphire Blues" is credited to Bob Weinstock as composer, and that might raise eyebrows, since it was such common practice in those days for DJs or record company executives to put their name on songs they had not in fact written. This one was a little different. They had gone through the first two tunes, and they still had studio time, and they did not yet have enough to fill out an album. This could have been OK--Weinstock wasn't planning to release the session right away anyway, and he could always have found other ways to fill it out. Or they could have done what they so often did: what Rudy Van Gelder called the "Five O'clock Blues," an impromptu improvisation on a familiar blues riff, or a half-finished idea by one of the musicians. In this case, when Weinstock asked Trane for one more tune, Trane responded, "Why don't you write one?" As Weinstock recalled, he recoiled from the idea--one thing he was sure of, he didn't know how to write a song. But Trane kept teasing him: "How about this?" and he'd play a few notes. If Weinstock said OK, he'd play a few more: "How about this?" Before long, they had strung something together, and Trane said, "OK, you wrote it."

The result is a little like the routine Steve Allen used to do on TV. He'd call up four people from the audience, have each of them strike a note on the piano, and then do a jazz improvisation based on those four notes. A little like that, except better. The melody is jagged but interesting, and five supremely gifted musicians were able to improvise on it for 18 minutes, or one full album side.

Why "Sweet Sapphire Blues"? That's lost to history, unless they'd been watching Amos 'n Andy before the session. In any case, it wasn't likely to be the title of the album, nor was the Romberg melody. So Black Pearls it was. It was also released as a two-sided 45.




Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell







Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Listening to Prestige 274: Gene Ammons

"Mal, you're playing a gig with Gene Ammons this Friday. Come up with some tunes that'll suit him."

"On it."

By 1958, jazz and rhythm and blues had gotten a divorce, and rock 'n roll was the co-respondent. Jazz had won custody of Gene Ammons, but that gritty rhythm and blues consciousness was still a part of him, a different consciousness from that which informed the newer hard-bop, jazz-funk style that was coming to be associated with Blue Note.

So Mal Waldron did contribute all four tunes to this session, and they couldn't be righter for Ammons: funky, rhythmic, great ensemble sections, loose enough to provide plenty of space for improvisation. A lot of jazz tunes are simple riffs brought in for the session, based on the changes or even the melodic hooks of other tunes, serviceable for some great blowing but not likely to enter the jazz library.

And so it is with these, but Waldron always gave you a little more, and any of these could have blossomed into a standard. "Hip Tip," smeary and bluesy and atmospheric as a smoky alleyway, could have been another "Harlem Nocturne," and maybe would have been, if it had had a more anthemic title. It has been covered, with a very different sensibility, by a Latin-jazz-funk star of the 1980s, Bobby Rodriguez.  David "Fathead" Newman made "Blue Greens and Beans" the title cut of a 1990 album, and Newman of course came from the most prestigious of rhythm and blues pedigrees: the Ray Charles orchestra of the Atlantic years. Ammons pays tribute to the blues and bebop both on this cut, throwing in one of those little unexpected quotes from an odd source, in this case "Isle of Capri."

Idrees Suleiman, Ammons, and Pepper Adams know their way around the blues, know how to construct killer jazz solos, and know how to play together. Ammons would go to a sparer sound in later albums, but this period, with his sextets and septets, produced some richly satisfying music.

Bobby Rodriguez may have come to this album, and "Hip Tip," through admiration for Ray Barretto, but it's "Scamperin'" that really showcases the conguero. It could have been a hit too, with its Latin rhythm and the all-out wildness of the horn players. "Blue Greens and Beans" was the two-sided 45 from this session, and no complaints...it deserved it. But I might have gone with "Scamperin'."

"Blue Gene" was the title track for the album, and it has some lovely soulful playing on it, and it's the time that was also included on a compilation album later on, called Gene Ammons - Biggest Soul Hits.

So in other words, you couldn't go wrong with any one of these Mal Waldron compositions, or any one of these septet treatments of them. This album is pure pleasure.


Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Listening to Prestige 273: Mose Allison

A friend asked me for help compiling a master playlist of acoustic music. I wasn't much help.

It was a question of definition. By acoustic music, he meant what Bob Dylan got booed for not playing at Newport. I kept pointing out that there was a lot more acoustic music at Newport than what was played at the Folk Festival.

Most jazz is acoustic. For that matter, up through the 1950s, nearly all if not all country music was acoustic. But he wasn't interested in adding Louis Armstrong or Jack Teagarden, Bob Wills or Spade Cooley or Hank Williams to his playlist. And so we went our separate ways (and I hadn't even gotten to classical music).

But the one artist from my bailiwick that he could accept was the genre-bending country boy/college English major from Tippo, Mississippi, Mose Allison.

That, of course, was Mose Allison the singer-songwriter, which was a label he understood, and we're not quite there yet. At Prestige, although he had been widely praised for "Blues" (later "Young Man Blues") and "Parchman Farm," which was also a blues, in the traditional 12-bar format and with a traditional prison/murder theme, the full range and individuality of his gift for lyrics had not asserted itself yet, and his gifts as a jazz composer had.

His debut on record had been Back Country Suite, a series of linked musical vignettes that captured, in a way that was witty and still basic, the flavor of the back country he had come from. The suite, instrumentals and one vocal, took up one side of the LP, and the other was devoted mostly to standards and blues, including one number that he played on trumpet. That became the pattern for the rest of his Prestige output, and was pretty much the pattern for the Columbia sessions that followed. The Allison that a second generation of fans would take to their hearts really emerged with his Atlantic recordings.

So this is a good thing. Allison the singer/songwriter was only one part of the total package. He came to New York as a working musician, a protégé of George Wallington, a piano player who was good enough, in the competitive jazz cauldron of New York, to gig and record with Stan Getz, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. Getz never recorded any of his compositions, but did play a couple in club dates. Wallington did; he was the first to record a Mose Allison tune. These albums might not get played as much as I've Been Doin' Some Thinkin' (Atlantic) or Back Country Suite, but they're significant, and  importantly, they're enjoyable.

Ronnie Free makes his wax debut on this session, and he also had what it took to make it in the cauldron of New York jazz...briefly.

In that brief time, he made people sit up and take notice. He was adopted by Hall Overton, David X. Young and W. Eugene Smith of the famous jazz loft on 6th Avenue: he slept on their couch and was the unofficial house drummer for many of their legendary loft jazz jam session. He was hired by Marian McPartland, a frequent visitor to the loft, for her long-running trio at Hickory House. "I was thrilled to have Ronnie working with me in my trio at the Hickory House," McPartland recalled later.  "He was considered the great young hope among drummers on the scene, a really wonderful player. He had a different style, more swinging, very subtle. Free is a good name for him. He didn't play bombastic solos like many drummers did. Ronnie was one of the best I ever saw."

He and Mose, one August day in 1958, walked from the pianist's 106th Street apartment up to 126th Street, where they had heard that jazz musicians were gathering for a photograph. If you don't remember seeing them in "A Great Day in Harlem," it's because they weren't there. They arrived too late.

That isn't the only place that Free wasn't. As McPartland remembers, "Then one night he just disappeared. We had a gig and he didn't show up. Nobody saw him after that. Thirty or thirty-five years later, in the early 1990s,1 was walking down the street in Columbia, South Carolina, and I couldn't believe my eyes, but Ronnie Free was walking right toward me, looking exactly the same. My first words to him were, 'What happened to you that night you didn't show up for the gig?"

A sudden disappearance is never a happy story, and it wasn't for Free. Heroin played a part in it, of course. Ronnie Free didn't make the Hickory House that night because he was in Bellevue. Maybe he had hit the jazz scene too young, too vulnerable.

When he was released, he left New York, never to return. He went home to South Carolina. He did some moving around. Mose Allison ran across him in the 1980s in San Diego, where he was driving a cab. "Ronnie hadn't been playing and didn't even own any drums," Allison recalled later. "We found him some drums, and he played the gig as beautifully as always. He hadn't lost a thing. It was amazing. He still has that great, natural touch."

But mostly, he stayed close to home, first in South Carolina and then in Virginia, leading a healthy life, playing two-man beach volleyball, hiking with his dog, playing music with a local trio. He is still with us.



"I Got a Right to Cry" is the one vocal on the album. It's by Joe Liggins, a rhythm and blues bandleader from the 1940s and 50s. Liggins had one big hit, "Honeydripper," but for the rest, while he had popularity in the rhythm and blues world, you'd have to be a real R&B fan to know his songs, which Allison clearly was. He had good ears, and "I've Got a Right to Cry" fits him perfectly.

On the other hand, everyone knew "Old Devil Moon." It was the biggest hit from the successful Broadway musical "Finian's Rainbow," and has been widely covered by both jazz and pop artists.

"Stranger in Paradise" was Allison at his most postmodern, and since there really wasn't a postmodernist movement back then, certainly not in jazz or pop music, one might call it proto-postmodern. A classical composition by the Russian Alexander Borodin, turned into a Broadway musical number by Robert Wright and George Forrest, given a blues reading by Allison.

"You Belong to Me" is one of those post-Great American Songbook numbers from the 1950s that were in the process of being overrun by rock 'n roll. Jo Stafford had the hit with it, others recorded it, but it had a more interesting pedigree than one might think. It was written as a country song by Chilton Price, who worked as a music librarian at a Louisville radio station, as a woman's plea to her soldier boyfriend not to forget her while he's stationed in exotic places around the globe. Country stars Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart heard it and told her that if she gave them co-writing credit, they'd get it recorded. They did actually tinker with it some, taking out the soldier references to give it more universality. In this, they followed the exact opposite pattern from Shirley Alston of the Shirelles, who came into the studio to record a song called "I'll Be True to You," and on the first take, ad-libbed an intro where she promises to be true to her soldier boy. "Soldier Boy" it became, and a huge hit. Price also wrote "Slow Poke," which King and Stewart also added their names to, and which became a big hit for King.

"I've Got a Right to Cry" would have made a nice jukebox single, but it was never released that way. Ramblin' with Mose came out in 1959, and some of its songs were eventually repackaged in
 various ways.



Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell










Friday, September 22, 2017

Listening to Prestige 272: Red Garland-Ray Barretto

Latin jazz never quite received the respect it was due, and Latin jazz musicians were always underutilized. Billy Taylor, during his tenure with Prestige, did one session with Candido, and stated in the liner notes that "the purpose of this album is to present a great new jazz artist." Candido would appear on a couple of other Prestige sessions around the same time. The label also made its contribution to the mambo era in jazz, especially with Joe Holiday's unique blending of mambo and bebop. But for the most part, Latin music was pigeonholed as dance music, and the jazz of the 1950s was music for listening, for contemplation of rhythmic subtleties.

In the movie version of Oscar Hijuelos' great novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, the Cuban Castillo brothers, newly arrived in New York, head straight for the Palladium to hear Tito Puente. I didn't love the movie, but I loved the mambo sequences, the spirit of celebration, and most of all the music. And I realized, I could have been there. I could have gone to the Palladium. But if anyone had suggested it, I would have scorned them. I went to the Five Spot, the Half Note, Small's Paradise. I was the real thing, a real jazz lover. Yes. I was that stupid.

This is Ray Barretto's Prestige debut, and he is to become a frequent presence over the next few years. As one of Prestige's irregular regulars, he contributed mightily to the label, but he also contributed, in an important way, to jazz of his era, so much so that he is often referred to as "the Godfather of Latin jazz."

His first gig in the New York jazz world was an auspicious one. In 1949, at age 20 and newly out of
the army, he was invited by Charlie Parker to join his band. Barretto had grown up listening to the music of Duke Ellington and the swing bandleaders, and he had worked to "develop a style that suited jazz playing--a style of playing that works in a straight-ahead swing context."

In the army, he had been exposed to bebop, and it was through bebop that he came to Latin jazz: Dizzy Gillespie's recording of "Manteca," with Chano Pozo. Having grown up in Puerto Rican New York, with its music, and the radio at night bringing him Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, when he heard the master conguero play with the pioneer of bebop, "it was like the gates opened up to heaven and the sun came in and choirs sang....all that."

A four-year stint with Tito Puente's orchestra followed (replacing Mongo Santamaria)--a time to really develop his Latin chops. He recorded with Puente. But this session with Red Garland is his first on record with a small jazz group.

There is so much good to say about this music, it's hard to know where to start. The group recorded four standards, a blues original by Garland, and, fittingly, "Manteca." So let's start by remembering the incalculable contribution Rudy Van Gelder made to small label jazz in this era. The balance between instruments is always just right for the piece that's being played. I particularly thought of
this during Paul Chambers' solo on "Exactly Like You," which Barretto punctuates with the hollow natural reverb of the conga drum.

"'S Wonderful" has a thrilling, eerie, melodic bowed bass solo by Chambers. "Manteca" is an all-out Latin explosion on the Gillespie/Pozo classic. Every cut has something special. But for a favorite, I'd have to pick "Oh, Lady Be Good," in which a Garland-Barretto-Taylor trialogue gives way to a two-way exchange between the two percussionists.

The moody, assertive "Portrait of Jennie" did not make the cut for the Manteca album, and it--unfairly--never did see the light of day until much, much later, in the Fantasy and Concord reissue days. On the Concord CD version of Manteca, it's included as a bonus track.

"Manteca" also became a two-sided 45. Its catalog number is fairly low, so I'm guessing it may have been released to Latino jukeboxes around the same time as the album release.




Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Listening to Prestige 271: John Coltrane

As the countdown to Coltrane's departure from Prestige continues, one can't help but think of this as a leadup to what followed in 1959. As important as these albums for Prestige are, they have to be looked as prelude to two albums that would change the shape of jazz as profoundly as did the records Ornette Coleman was releasing at the same time: Kind of Blue, with Miles Davis, and Giant Steps, with Coltrane himself as leader. For me, at the time. Kind of Blue was a terrific album, and I can understand and appreciate its continuing popularity. But Giant Steps was the real game changer, the one that made me rethink everything I thought I knew about jazz (and don't forget that everything I knew about jazz, I had learned over only the previous couple of years). Much of the work Coltrane did for Prestige was held back for later release, so sessions like this one would reach a public which had already been wowed by Giant Steps. Good news for Prestige in that Coltrane was hot-hot-hot, so anything with his name on it would sell some records, not so good news in that the earlier material was bound to be overshadowed by both Giant Steps and My Favorite Things.

Still, this was recognized for its quality. When four tracks were released in 1961 as Settin' the Pace, a Billboard review reminded the reader that it came from "one of Coltrane's most productive periods."

Coltrane himself saw it as a productive period. An article in Down Beat by Ira Gitler pronounced him "a happy young man," who had been "dejected and dissatisfied" with his playing, but was now feeling good about the way things were going. The bad period had been the heroin addiction that had gotten him fired from the Miles Davis Quintet. The positive stuff came after that. Rejoining Miles was part of it. Even more important, the time spent with Thelonious Monk after kicking the heroin habit, and the insights into composition and theory that he got from Monk. And nearly as important, the work he was able to do with Prestige as a leader, developing his own sound. For me, listening to this music in the order of session chronology, rather than release date, that development has been particularly interesting to follow.

I've said a lot about the invaluable service Wikipedia has provided to this jazz researcher, with many pages devoted to individual albums, including recording dates. release dates and composer credits for tunes. And I continue to be grateful. But Wikipedia can be a little snarky about Prestige. Every one of these Coltrane sessions is just a little denigrated. This one is described as "assembled from unissued results of a single recording session," and I'm not sure that you assemble something from a single recording session. Basically, a single recording session is already assembled. Other of the Prestige releases are described as "without Coltrane's input or approval," as though this were something shady. In fact, if a label books a session, the release date of the product is generally the label's decision.

None of these later releases are included in the partial discography  on Wikipedia's main Coltrane page, and that's not an accidental oversight.

But they're important albums, and this is an important session. It features three ballads that are not exactly in the mainstream of the modern jazz catalog, athough "I See Your Face Before Me" had been recorded on a 1955 Miles Davis session for Prestige, with a quartet, although this was right around the time that Coltrane was joining Miles. Trane handles "I See Your Face Before Me" in a somber ballad tempo, but the rest of the session features Trane really starting to explore the "sheets of sound." "If There is Someone Lovelier than You" begins as a ballad but takes flight from there. "Rise and Shine." actually the first cut from the session, rises and shines right from the get-go, as does Jackie McLean's "Little Melonae."  This is what Trane was starting to explore with Miles, but here it's rewarding to hear him explore on his own.

The last tune on the session did not fit onto Settin' the Pace, and was held off for yet a later release, 1965's The Last Trane. Wikipedia is particularly scathing about The Last Trane, declaring that Prestige had "used unissued recordings to create new marketable albums without Coltrane's input or approval." There was, of course, a reason why "By the Numbers" didn't make it onto Settin' the Pace: recording technology being what it was, there were only so many minutes of music you could fit onto an LP record. Presumably Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Taylor were all capable of doing the
math, and realizing that one of the cuts from this session would either remain unreleased or would be released in some other package. And presumably they did five tunes on this date because they had Rudy Van Gelder's studio booked for the afternoon, and they had the time to do one more.

Billboard, in 1965, was less shocked and dismayed by the release of The Last Trane/ Although noting that it was "an uusual reissue of Trane's work during the late 50s," their reviewer went on to say "Sonically perfect, musically inspired--it's a gathering together of Trane's best. Particularly outstanding is a beautiful blues solo by pianist Red Garland on 'By the Numbers.'"

I couldn't agree more. "By the Numbers" is not just a discarded Coltrane track dragged out without the musician's approval, at a cost to his reputation. It's a 12-minute cut, attributed to Coltrane as composer, but given over as a showcase to Garland, whose solo takes up the first five-plus minutes. Garland takes Coltrane's theme, and plays the blues, in as nice a pure blues improvisation in a modern jazz format as you're likely to hear.

Coltrane, of course, was no stranger to the blues, but as his career progressed, he was more drawn to ballads and the free stuff. So it's especially interesting to hear him on "By the Numbers," going his own way as always, but working off of Red Garland's blues base.

"By the Numbers" was also released as a 45, which must have been interesting, with Garland on one and Coltrane on the other. Much like Billy Butler's guitar solo on one side of"Honky Tonk," and Clifford Scott's tenor sax solo on the other.

The same issue of Billboard reviews another Prestige reissue of some Miles Davis tracks from the various Contractual Marathon session, and points out, quite rightly, that "this might become 'the Miles Davis Quintet album to own'...especially if the budget-minded buyer can't own them all." This may be a quaint notion to today's music-streaming aficionado, but it made a lot of sense back in 1965.
OK, enough grumping. Wikipedia does the jazz researcher a tremendous service by posting so much information about individual albums, and as far as opinions are concerned, we can always form our own.




Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Listening to Prestige 270: Dorothy Ashby-Frank Wess

Dorothy Ashby, harpist. Can a harpist swing? Can a harpist play bebop?

Before you answer, consider one other fact.

Dorothy Ashby came from Detroit.

Detroit, like most of the jazz world of this era, was male dominated, but there was enough of a meritocracy that it was possible for a woman to make it, if she was really good. Those doors didn't open easily. But then, to play in Detroit at all, you had to be ready to challenge and prove yourself with some of the finest musicians in the country. Three who
did were Terry Pollard, Alice McLeod (later Alice Coltrane) and Dorothy Ashby.

All three were pianists. There was a certain amount of gender discrimination in the instruments women were presumed able to play, just as there was racial discrimination in the positions football players were presumed able to play. There were all-girl orchestras in the 30s and 40s, so there were at least some musicians playing a variety of instruments. A couple of my favorites: drummer Viola Smith, the Hep Girl, who announced in Down Beat that women could hold their on any male bandstand, and proved it by sharing a stage with Chick Webb. And trombonist Lillian Briggs, who later became an entrepreneur and rented the pleasure yacht Monkey Business to presidential hopeful Gary Hart, who became an unhopeful when he was caught on the yacht doing
monkey business with a woman not his wife. And Terry Pollard put together a group of musicians good enough to challenge a group led by Clark Terry in the Leonard Feather-produced LP, Cats vs. Chicks.

But if you were good enough to play with the big boys in Detroit, you were good enough to challenge the ideas of who could play what. Terry Pollard moved over from piano to vibes, and it was said that when she and Alice McLeod shared the bandstand, not many musicians were man enough to sit in with them and keep up with their rapid tempi.

Dorothy Ashby made, arguably, an even gutsier move, to an instrument that may have been traditionally associated with women, but was definitely not associated with jazz. Terry Pollard had to convince the boys that she could play with them. Dorothy Ashby not only had to convince the boys that she could play with them, she had to convince the boys that a harp could play with them. The harp was associated with classical music and with polite parlors, and it was also associated with the white musicians who were granted access to classical orchestras and polite parlors.

Ashby proved all of that (and so did McLeod/Coltrane,  who would later take up the harp). Critic Tom Moon, in an essay for National Public Radio, describes her achievement:

Ashby operates in an unassuming way, leaping through intricate arpeggios that no other jazz instrumentalist could attempt. Her single lines may not be terribly fancy, but she selects her notes carefully, and plays each one with a classical guitarist's stinging articulation...sometimes snapping off chords as if the harp were just a bigger guitar, and at other times using its immense range to conjure an enveloping wash of sound in the background.

You get all of that and more on this collaboration with Frank Wess: the "more" being her considerable gifts as a composer. The four standards on the album are augmented by three Ashby originals, "Pawky," "Back Talk" and "Jollity." "Pawky" means "having or showing a sly sense of humor," and she does that. She also takes the harp out of the parlor and into...well, actually into Rudy Van Gelder's parents' parlor, but this is a parlor in which nearly every jazz great has sipped tea. She and Frank Wess complement each other on strings and woodwind as ingeniously as Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane had done a fortnight earlier in the same parlor. She also does a wonderful bass-harp duet with Herman Wright on "Back Talk" which does everything Tom Moone describes: the biting single-string notes and the enveloping sound of the harp. And Art Taylor gives the session all the propulsion it needs.

The album was released as Hip Harp, which was sort of a hard sell--in case you hadn't realized that a harp could be hip. It's had various re-releases over the years, and "Charmaine" was included on a Moodsville collection called Lusty Moods Played by America's Greatest Jazzmen. A jazzwoman, it turned out, could  be just as lusty and just as great.



Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin
An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves The listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Listening to Prestige 269: Kenny Burrell--John Coltrane

Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane are an inspired pairing, but not unique to this session. They had been part of a Prestige All Stars date a year earlier.. The two sessions had a couple of thing in common beyond Burrell and Coltrane. For one, Tommy Flanagan was on piano. For another, the session was put on the shelf for a few years and ultimately released on New Jazz.

There were some significant differences. Burrell and Coltrane were the only front line instruments, where the other session had been a sextet. Paul Chambers was on bass instead of Doug Watkins, and on drums, an up and coming player making his Prestige debut.

Jimmy Cobb was no novice at this point. He had been on two Cannonball Adderley sessions for EmArcy, He had played with Earl Bostic, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey, Clark Terry, and Dizzy Gillespie. He had already joined Miles Davis's group, and would make his first recording with Miles, Porgy and Bess, later in the year. And by the time the Burrell/Coltrane session was released, in 1963, Cobb had progressed from hot new drummer to the Olympus of jazz greats, having appeared on the classic Kind of Blue album. In fact, by 1963, he had moved on from Miles into the next phase of his career.

He's a welcome addition to the Prestige scene, and he makes his presence strongly felt from the first tune of the session, a Burrell composition, "Lyresto." He sets a groove right from the beginning, and comes in later for a dynamic solo.

(A side note: we had the honor of presenting Jimmy Cobb in concert at Opus 40 just this summer and his playing remains sublime.)

Burrell and Coltrane are no strangers to each other, and they really know how to play together, either in a quintet setting or just the two of them, on "Why Was I Born?". a ballad standard by Ted Fio Rito, a prolific if not widely known conductor, "Why Was I Born" has been a favorite of jazz singers (including an unlikely jazz singer,
Bob Dylan), and more than a couple of instrumentalists. This is an unusual and haunting cut, and different enough from the rest of the album that I'll include it as a second listening suggestion.

Tommy Flanagan contributes two originals, each a tribute to a bandmate ("Freight Trane" and "Big Paul"), and his customary precise and original piano playing. "Freight Trane" has had a few covers, some of them unlikely (not as unlikely as Bob Dylan) like the U.S. Navy Commodores Jazz Ensemble.

Once again, one wonders if this album got the distribution and acclaim that it deserves. It was held back till 1963, and then released on New Jazz. It must have gotten some sort of a push, since "Freight Trane" was also released as a two-sided 45 at what one presumes is the same time (release dates of 45s are hard to pin down). The album was title Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane. A much later re-release on Prestige was called The Kenny Burrell Quintet with John Coltrane, which is also just a little curious. It came out in 1968, a year after Coltrane's death, and one would have thought his name would get top billing at that point. Goes to show that Burrell was also held in really high esteem, or else that Bob Weinstock was running out of steam (he would get out of the business four years later) and not making carefully crafted marketing decisions.



Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin
An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves The listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Listening to Prestige 267: Prestige All Stars

The Prestige All Stars are back for their first 1958 incarnation. "Prestige All Stars" is a name that never actually appeared on the original record labels or covers, although it does in catalogs. It was the session log name given to sessions that had no nominal leader, and the original album covers have an album title, and the names of all the participants in letters all the same size (in this case not including bassist George Joyner and drummer Art Taylor). This can change on a reissue if there's a breakout star like John Coltrane on the session.

I won't run counter to Prestige's egalitarianism by anointing a first among equals (and I wouldn't want to), but Herbie Mann is of notable interest because (a) the flute is becoming a popular part of jazz small group instrumentation, and (b) he was around before it was.

And that wasn't so long ago. Jazz is unique in cultural histories for its compression, which is why during this one decade you can find virtually every past style of jazz, and many of the players who will create jazz's future. So Herbie Mann's first album, in which he more or less introduced the flute into modern jazz, came in 1955, for Bethlehem. His breakout album was probably Flute Flight, for Prestige in 1957, with Belgian flutist Bobby Jaspar, who was to die young.

Jerome Richardson came on the scene around the same as Mann. Yusef Lateef was making music, but did not leave Detroit for New York until 1957. Eric Dolphy joined the Chico Hamilton group in 1958.

So anyway, by just a couple of years, Mann was a pioneer, and while a couple of years doesn't necessarily make a difference, in this case it seems to. Yusef Lateef in many ways represents the new sound of the flute in jazz, and his influences are eclectic, very much including the Middle Eastern sound he learned from a fellow worker on the Chrysler assembly line in Detroit. Mann felt that influence too (listen to "Tel Aviv" on the Bobby Jaspar session), but he's much more mainstream, and especially much more bluesy. He's not afraid to use the lower register of the flute, and he certainly foreshadows the soul jazz sound of Memphis Undergroind that would make him a star in the 1970s.

Once again, this session proves what many Prestige sessions of this era have proved before: If you have Mal Waldron in your group, you're well advised to ask him to bring some tunes along--you can't go wrong. "Minor Groove," "Blue Echo" and "The Gospel Truth" are all Waldron.

Kenny Burrell, no slouch as a composer, contributes "Blue Dip." And he also contributes some first class playing.

"Jumpin' With Symphony Sid" is the Lester Young standard, and my favorite on the album because I'm a sucker for the classics. But for other reasons too. Burrell hooks the listener immediately with his first statement of the head, and then they go through it again with a guitar-flute duo that's if anything even catchier, then solos by all four of the principals, each of which captures the swinging qualities and the boppish qualities of the tune. Jazz aficionados listening to this track will definitely not think they're listening to Lacy.

And they wrap it all up in three and a half minutes, which should have made it a natural for release as a single, but didn't.

There is a side trip into what would come to be called World Music, with a composition by activist composer Cal Massey, "Trinidad."

Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2


Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.


Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

If you want a personalized signed copy, email me at tad@tadrichards.com. I tried to make a box for that on the paypal form, but it didn't work.



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Listening to Prestige 266: Red Garland/John Coltrane

A long day for Messrs. Garland, Chambers and Taylor. Six songs on their own, then five more with John Coltrane. Good thing Bob Weinstock didn't believe in a lot of retakes. Good thing these great professionals could make it sound so easy.

Joyously easy, starting (in the order on the released album) with "This Can't Be Love," the Rodgers and Hart standard. There was always an ironic underpinning to Lorenz Hart's work. When he says "This can't be love, because I feel so well," he kinda means it. Love does really awful things to you, and since those things haven't happened--yet--
this probably isn't it. But this version is so joyous and upbeat that it could be a Rodgers and Hammerstein song. It also a lyrical, swinging, three minute bowed bass solo by Paul Chambers that'll lift your mood if it's not there already.

"Since I Fell For You" was written as a rhythm and blues number by bandleader Buddy Johnson for his sister Ella, and it's since become a beloved standard of R&B, pop and jazz, or, if you're Dinah Washington, all three. Garland and company give it a jazz treatment here, soulful and lovely.

"Crazy Rhythm" was written by Irving Caesar, Joseph Meyer and Roger Wolfe Kahn, who didn't generally write together, but if you take all the work they did with other collaborators, and lump it
together, you have one hell of a songwriter. Even separately, they're impressive. I've written about people who left music to become charter boat skippers, to run insurance agencies, to join family air conditioning businesses, but Roger Wolfe Kahn has them all beat. He left music to become a test pilot. The Garland trio can handle all rhythms, crazy or otherwise.

Garland always had the most eclectic tastes, and the ability to pull a great session together from disparate sources. "Teach Me Tonight" is a popular song from the 50s, that era on which the book of Great American Songs was supposed to have closed. But this is another that's received quite a bit of attention cross-genre (including, again, Dinah Washington, who crossed nearly every genre). In jazz, piano players have liked it -- Garland, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson.

"It's a Blue World" was written by Bob Wright and George Forrest, best known (basically only known) for the Broadway show Kismet. If Red Garland is an eclectic song-picker, "It's a Blue World" is an eclectic song, with versions by a wide range of jazz performers, including Glenn Miller, Billy Bauer, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Coleman Hawkins. It's been a favorite of jazz singers, too, including, most recently, Amy Winehouse.

Then Coltrane showed up.

I love Red Garland's trio work, always, but Coltrane is Coltrane.

If Garland, Chambers and Taylor were having a busy day, Garland, Chambers and Coltrane were having a busy week. Don't forget that while they had stayed behind at Prestige, they had also migrated to Columbia with Miles Davis, and three days before turning up on Rudy Van Gelder's doorstep, they had been in a Columbia studio recording one of Miles's classic albums, Milestones, the one that welcomed Cannonball Adderley to the group.

Trane was now pushing forward with more urgency, and starting to separate himself from the pack even more than he had done previously. This session is credited as his first exploration of the technique that came to be called "sheets of sound." I am not musicologist enough to understand its nuances, let alone explain them. Here's fromthejazzpianosite:

As we covered in a previous lesson, to improvise vertically means to think in terms of chords and chord progressions – so your solo traces out each individual chord in the progression. While to improvise horizontally means to think in terms of scales, modes and keys – so your solo isn’t tracing out each individual chord, but rather you are just playing a particular scale over the entire progression. The end result can be very similar. A vertical solo can sound exactly the same as a horizontal solo – it’s just a different way of thinking about improvisation.
And so the Sheets of Sound technique is a vertical improvisation technique; that is, it uses arpeggios, patterns, licks and scales that trace out each chord in a progression.

The writer goes on to explain that there are a plethora of scales and arpeggios "that you could plausibly use to improvise over this chord," and lists a number of them, but points out that

If you play all of these scales/arpeggios in their entirety over [your basic chord], you are playing Sheets of Sound. Now, obviously, this is impossible so you just try squeeze in as much as you can.
 Coltrane tried to squeeze every possible harmonic implication into his solo – play every possible chord and every possible scale for each chord.
 The same website quotes Coltrane:
About this time, I was trying for a sweeping sound. I started experimenting because I was striving for more individual development. I even tried long, rapid lines that Ira Gitler termed “sheets of sound” at that time. But actually, I was beginning to apply the three-on-one chord approach, and at that time the tendency was to play the entire scale of each chord. Therefore, they were usually played fast and sometimes sounded like glisses.
 I found there were a certain number of chord progressions to play in a given time, and sometimes what I played didn’t work out in eighth notes, 16th notes, or triplets. I had to put the notes in uneven groups like fives and sevens in order to get them all in.
 I could stack up chords, say on a C7, I sometimes superimposed an Eb7 up to an F#7, down to an F. That way I could play three chords on one. But on the other hand, if I wanted to, I could play melodically…
He does play melodically on this session, especially on Tadd Dameron's beautiful "Good Bait." Dameron was what might be called a musician's musician -- revered by the jazz community, not well known outside of it, so his compositions were special, not only because of how good they were, but also because jazz owed him a special debt.

And he plays out there, especially on an Irving Berlin standard. As Bob Weinstock recalled it,
We were doing a session and we were hung for a tune and I said, "Trane, why don't you think up some old standard?" He said, "OK I got it.["]...and they played "Russian Lullaby" at a real fast tempo. At the end I asked, "Trane, what was the name of that tune?" And he said, "Rushin' Lullaby". I cracked up.
The Trio session sat on the shelf for a long time, finally released in 1970 as It's a Blue World. "Crazy Rhythm" rushed the tempo on that, appearing on Garland's 1962 release, Dig It! as well as the later album.

The Coltrane session came out in 1958 as Soultrane, although it does not include the Tadd Dameron composition of the same name that was written for Coltrane. "Good Bait" and "I Want to Talk About You" were released on separate 45s, each divided into Parts 1 and 2.




Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is very close to release. Order your advance copy from tad@tadrichards.com