Monday, January 23, 2017

Listening to Prestige 234: Paul Quinichette

The name of the group, on the session list, is Paul Quinichette's New Stars, and it lives up to its billing. Even Quinichette, while not altogether a new star, is new to Prestige, and pretty much new to recording in a bebop context. He's not new to recording, having led his first session in 1951, and even when he was new in that context he wasn't altogether new, being 35 years old and with a fairly impressive career behind him, from Jay McShann to Johnny Otis, Louis Jordan, Lucky Millinder, Hot Lips Page, and most notably with Count Basie, where he became known as the Vice President, because of his stylistic similarities to Lester Young, and of course because of taking the lead tenor sax chair in the Basie band. And his debut album with Prestige, with a new label and really a new approach, came when he was 41.

You don't play with bandleaders like McShann, Otis and Jordan without learning something about the importance of entertaining people, and as Quinichette began his association with boppish Prestige, he brought that background with him. Prestige had been started by 21-year-old Bob Weinstock after he had been jolted out of his trad jazz fandom by a Thelonious Monk 78, and his first recording session featured Lenny Tristano, so he was no stranger to the cutting edge of jazz experimentation. But he wasn't afraid of feel-good music either, and both of these tastes are what gave Prestige its vitality and importance for so many years.

Quinichette, on this and subsequent sessions with Prestige, worked in that genre that I've called, writing about artists like Zoot Sims, swing-to-bop (which was also the title of a classic cut by perhaps the original swing-to-bopper, Charlie Christian). The early boppers, of course, came out of the swing bands, but by this time, the young modern players had grown up on bebop. So it's interesting, instructional, and basically just plain delightful to hear a veteran like Quinichette with this group of New Stars.

Of the new stars, the rhythm section isn't entirely new, but is of the bebop-bred generation.

Mal Waldron was the oldest at this point, at 32, but his whole career had been with the moderns. He did begin with Ike Quebec in 1952, but soon moved to Charles Mingus, and aside from a very important stint with Billie Holiday (1957-59) always worked in a modern and even free jazz idiom.

Ed Thigpen was five years younger than Waldron, but came from a traditional background--his father was the longtime drummer for Andy Kirk's Clouds of Joy, and he was perhaps best known for his work with Oscar Peterson, Billy Taylor and Ella Fitzgerald.

Doug Watkins was still only 23, and had made his Prestige recording debut just a year earlier, with Jackie McLean (and in 1955 on a live album with Art Blakey), but he was already a veteran of some 20 sessions on Prestige alone.

John Jenkins had played on a couple of recent sessions (and was also brought up modern, starting out with Art Farmer and Charles Mingus), but he was still a pretty New Star, and Curtis Fuller and Sonny Red were the newest of the New.

Sonny Red was 25, and this seems to have been his debut on record. He was active through the 50s and 60s, never really breaking through as a major figure, but doing some good work. Curtis Fuller was two years younger, one of the Detroit guys, and did go on to make a significant name for himself. They would both come back the day after this session to record under Fuller's name, so I'll hold off saying much more about them, except to note that each of them were at one point caught up in the twin-instruments thing I got into in my last post. Well, not really. Sonny Red is featured on an album called Two Altos, and it has a picture of two altos on the cover, and the names Art Pepper and Sonny Red, but it's actually two completely different sessions, done at different times on different sides of the country. Curtis Fuller...another J.J. and Kai? Blue Note apparently thought so. They recorded him and Slide Hampton as the co-leaders of a quintet in 1958. And then apparently thought better of it, as the session went unreleased until 1980 in Japan, and 1996 in the USA.

So here we have veteran Paul Quinichette with the young cats, and with a young composer - three tunes by Mal Waldron, along with two standards, and the results are uplifiting. Someone calling himself GastonBulbous has posted "Blue Dots" on YouTube, and describes it as "a head by Mal Waldron that cleverly bridges Quinichette's origins as a Basie-ite with the more beboppish ambitions of his sidemen." It's that and more. The head is Waldron's modern-style take on a McShann or Otis-type head, and solo work, taking Quinichette's cue, is joyous swing-to-bop. All of it wonderful, but you can't help but be particularly caught up in Quinichette's solo, and Waldron's brief one at the end.

Bob Weinstock must have been as struck as I was by the infectiousness of "Blue Dots," because he released it as a 45. The album was called Paul Quinichette on the Sunny Side. The British Esquire release has the same title and the same frying pan, but adds "the Vice Pres" to Quinichette's name. The 45 changes the listing of New Stars to the familiar Prestige All Stars. It was released later, so presumably the stars weren't quite so new any more.


 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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