Thursday, January 19, 2017

Listening to Prestige 232: Jackie McLean - John Jenkins

Jackie McLean was known, especially early in his career, as Bird's foremost acolyte, and starting off the session with a Parker tune shows that he's not quite ready to shake off that mantle. "Bird Feathers," as it turns out, did not make the cut for the album that emanated from this session (though it did eventually see vinyl), but it does set the tone.

On this session, McLean is paired with another Bird acolyte, John Jenkins, and two altos, plus LP technology (hardly a new development at this point) mean that they can do something that Bird was not able to do on his original waxing of this tune, and that's go on twice as long. More, actually. The original Parker/Miles Davis cut came in at under three minutes, 78 RPM dimensions, and McLean
and Jenkins take it to nearly ten minutes. In fact, all the cuts from this session are extended, which is why  they weren't able to fit them all on one album.

Even in Bird's late recordings, he didn't go much beyond five minutes, the exception being the live Jazz at Massey Hall. So length is one of the interesting features of this session. Not to say this gives us an insight into what Bird would have done with ten minutes or more to develop an individual piece in the recording studio, since no one can tell what Bird might have done with anything had he lived long enough to develop his genius further. And it goes without saying, not to say it gives us an insight into what if there had been two Charlie Parkers. Still, it's interesting.

The session shapes up much like a Parker session too, with one original ("Bird Feathers") and two standards, one ballad tempo ("Easy Living") and one uptempo ("The Lady is a Tramp"). The other two cuts are both John Jenkins originals, and he brings something of value to the party. In fact, his "Windy City" is probably my favorite cut. Art Taylor contributes a blazing drum solo to "Windy City," and Wade Legge is equally powerful.

We've heard Legge once before--on another Charlie Parker tribute session, that one led by Sonny Rollins. Legge himself was too young ever to have played with Bird, but he did tour and record extensively with Dizzy Gillespie. This session and two with Charles Mingus were his last on record. He would shortly return to his native Buffalo, and die a few years later at the age of 29, perhaps by his own hand.

Alto Madness was the title of this album, and "Bird Feathers" became the title cut of the New Jazz compilation album it eventually found its way to, with cuts from the March Phil Woods/Gene Quill session, and a later date with Hal McCusick and Billy Byers--which was not, oddly enough, devoted to Parker compositions.


 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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