Saturday, January 21, 2017

Listening to Prestige 233: Irrelevant musings and a lost session

The small group isn't entirely a modern jazz phenomenon: look at Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven. But it's a jazz structure that came to be associated with the beboppers in the wake of the jazz revolution that succeeded the big band era. Well, and also the rock and rollers, from Louis Jordan to the Beatles, but that's another story.

But staying with the moderns, where did the splinter phenomenon of a quartet led by two practitioners of the same instrument come from? My guess is J.J. and Kai, and if that's so, starting with a pair of slightly offbeat instruments.

What are slightly offbeat instruments? Well, the core of traditional jazz instrumentation could be said to be the trumpet and clarinet, the core of modern jazz instrumentation the trumpet and tenor saxophone. And the piano, but as Professor Longhair observed to documentarian Stevenson J. Palfi, "piano players rarely ever play together." Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, two tenormen, may well have been the very first leaders of a paired-instrument quintet. The legendary epicenter of bebop was Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and the saxophone-trumpet quintet has always been a staple, and a beloved one.

J.J. and Kai may have set some kind of record for number of different labels for one small group, They were first put together for a session on Savoy by producer Ozzie Cadena, and they clicked so well that they stayed together for three years, then reunited periodically, They recorded for Savoy, Prestige, "X"/RCA, Bethlehem, Columbia, Impulse, A&M/CTI and A&M/CTI (Japan).

But Bob Weinstock must have liked what he heard, because he would come back to it briefly in 1956, on a Sonny Rollins quartet session, on which John Coltrane came aboard for one memorable cut, the legendary "Tenor Madness."

And he really picked up on in it in 1957, starting in January with not just two, but three trumpets and a rhythm section. The three were Donald Byrd, Art Farmer and Idrees Suleiman, and the resulting album was called Three Trumpets. And if three weren't enough, what about four? And if tenor madness wasn't enough, what about alto madness? Gene Quill, Hal Stein, Sahib Shihab and Phil Woods were the entire front line for another Prestige All Stars session, in February.

In March, Herbie Mann and Bobby Jaspar led a sort of twinned instruments session. Both played flute, both played tenor sax, and both occasionally played the same instrument at the same time. And alto madness returned with Phil Woods and Gene Quill. Phil and Quill would record together more than once, and if they weren't J.J. and Kai (though they shared rhyming names with them), they were still a significant duo.

I don't know if you can count the April three-sax session with John Coltrane, Cecil Payne and Pepper Adams, since that was a tenor and two baritones. It came out on an album called Baritones and French Horns, which also featured a session with two French horns, but they weren't the only lead instruments. Anyway, I'll get to that one shortly.

And in May, alto madness became "Alto Madness" with Jackie McLean and John Jenkins.

The purpose of all this? Partly, I just like to explore digressions like this. I like thinking about music, and going where my thoughts take me. Partly, it has to do with a session I can't find, and I have gotten to the point of obsession with this project where any session that I can't write about cuts me deeply. If I ever get an advance to do this series of books, I will invest in the collector's-item prices for the vinyl discs that got away.

On May 10, Kenny Burrell and Barry Galbraith went into Rudy Van Gelder's studio to record four tunes, with Leonard Gaskin and Bobby Donaldson. One of them was never issued, and even its title is lost to posterity. The other three came out on a compilation album of Burrell sessions released on Prestige's budget line, Status, and again on a much later release called The Best of Kenny Burrell. This is unfortunate, among other reasons, because although Barry Galbraith was one of the most in-demand session musicians (Marc Myers on JazzWax gives the figure as 594 recording sessions, and says that he was recording virtually every other day), he did very little as a leader, co-leader or even featured sideman. Myers interviewed Galbraith's friend Hal McKusick, and got this
Barry was content to be busy doing all the dates he did. A wise a&r man would have been wise to capture his talent on many albums, in different settings, but sadly it was not to be.
Barry was very organized with his time. He would go home after a day of recording, with a night gig added in some cases, and practice classical and other pieces in his basement. He was a truly dedicated musician, quiet, efficient and a great sight-reader. He also had the finest taste in phrasing, articulation and voicings.
We spent many hours at his home (when he lived on Long Island) exploring songs and working out ensemble sounds with guitar and alto. That was the beginning of my recording career as a leader, utilizing what we had discovered together.
Barry is one of the great unsung heroes in music, known and respected by those who are aware of his contribution and terrific musical ability.
Back again next time with a session I can actually discuss, rather than just mourning its absence.

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