Thursday, February 02, 2017

Listening to Prestige 239: Prestige All Stars (Fuller/Hawes)

These days, of course, CD sales are a very poor guide to what music is actually being listened to, but they are documented by Amazon, so they can give some sort of a sense of relative popularity. And we know that relatively speaking, not many people are listening to jazz, although perhaps more than jazz is generally given credit for. Using the admittedly poor yardstick of CD sales on Amazon, Kind of Blue ranks (as of today) #307 on the music sales list. Kind of Blue is an outlier, of course, widely considered the most popular jazz album of all time. More typical of might be a representative album from Davis's Prestige years, like Walkin' (111,455). That means it's not exactly wearing out the folks in the mail room at Amazon, but more than a few people are still buying it, and it's over 60 years old. So, while we're on the subject, let's look at a couple of other albums that I've just finished writing about -- fairly typical albums from 1956. The Paul Quinichette-John Coltrane album comes in at #137,128. People still listen to John Coltrane. Mal Waldron'sMal-2 is #233,258. It's over 60 years old, Mal Waldron is not a household name, so it's not a huge seller, but people are still buying it--and the box set of the Complete Mal Waldron remastered recordings, going for a hefty $55, is #88,713, which means that a decent number of people are still buying it.

Curtis Fuller and Hampton Hawes with French Horns is #1,187,225, which means that no one is buying it, and maybe no one ever did. It was recorded in 1957, put on the shelf, released, according to Wikipedia, "possibly December 1964 (liner notes are dated November 1964)." So released without much fanfare, and released on the Status label, which means it was dumped in the budget racks with reissues and repackagings. Oh, yes, and it was also included on the Baritones and French Horns album, released in 1957, and if there was any format guaranteed to be less bought and less listened to than a budget-rack Status album, it would be this one: Baritones and French Horns was released on 16 2/3.

And this is a crying shame, because this is a wonderful album. It has Curtis Fuller just coming into his own. It has Hampton Hawes, who had just won the "New Star of the Year" award in Down Beat and "Arrival of the Year" award in Metronome, and was making one of his very few East Coast recordings. It has a remarkable instrumentation, with two French horns as featured front line horns.

And what else? Someone spent some time planning this album, Maybe not rehearsal time, this being a Prestige production, but some time planning the instrumental lineup, getting the soloists...and some time in choosing the tunes for the session. They aren't your typical mix of standards and originals by the guys who showed up. Bob Weinstock is listed as the producer for the session, but you have to figure Charles was pretty deeply involved, too. The Teddy Charles web site at lists this as a session supervised or produced by Charles, and the Status LP liner notes say "supervised by Teddy Charles."

Three of the tunes are by Charles. The first is "Roc and Troll," which Fuller had just recorded four days earlier on a date which Charles did produce. On that version, there are only two horns, Fuller and Sonny Red, and the tempo is a little slower. Here, the pace is picked up, and the twin lines of trombone and saxophone in the head are replaced by some intricate interplay between Sahib Shihab and the ensemble, followed by a Hawes solo, followed by lots more good stuff.

"Lyriste" was was part of a more ambitious Charles composition, Take Three Parts Jazz Suite, which would be recorded the following month by Charles and Mal Waldron. Charles takes over for Hawes on this cut.

"No Crooks" doesn't seem to have ever been recorded elsewhere, and it's a fine vehicle for Fuller and Shihab, following a dense and intriguing ensemble head.

David Amram composed "Five Spot."  Amram, a regular at the Five Spot in its glory days as a jazz hot spot of the 1950s, would become better known as a composer of modern classical music, and as one of the most eclectic figures of modern times. He has worked with Jack Kerouac (participated with Kerouac in the first poetry and jazz performances, appeared in and wrote the music for the Robert Frank Beat Generation film Pull My Daisy). He has won the Jay McShann Lifetime Award of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and the Pete and Toshi Seeger Power of Song Award, which is a fairly wide cultural stretch. He has worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Langston Hughes, Levon Helm, Willie Nelson and Raffi. "Five Spot" is a neat piece of work, with room for French horn solos and a particularly delightful finish.

For the other two tunes on the album, Charles (or whoever was picking them) called on composer Salvatore "Torrie" Zito, who ultimately was known as less a composer than as an arranger, primarily for strings, and his credentials are pretty near as eclectic as Amram's. He did jazz arrangements for Herbie Mann and James Moody, and for Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show orchestra, and for jazz singers Morgana King and Helen Merrill (his wife of many years). He did pop arrangements for Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and especially Tony Bennett, for whom he was pianist/conductor/arranger for seven years. He did string arrangements for rockers whom one doesn't associate with string arrangements, like George Michael, and especially John Lennon (the arrangements for Lennon's Imagine album). Tony Bennett, who knew one hell of a lot about music, once said that Zito "gave me the greatest musical education I ever had."

Put it all together, and you get one of the best and most interesting albums that nobody ever heard. A guy named "Rare Jazz Records" has put the whole album up on YouTube, and I guess at least a few people have heard it, because it has 52 thumbs up. Listen. Give it more. Thank you, Bob Weinstock and Teddy Charles, for recording it, but what the hell, Bob? Why didn't you give it its due?

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