A history of jazz in Detroit was waiting to be written, and it waited a long time. It wasn't until 2001 that a book-length history of Detroit jazz was published, and it was worth the wait. The book is Before Motown, by University of Michigan-Dearborn professor Lars Bjorn, with assistance from Jim Gallert, jazz DJ and journalist. I, of course, have been focused on the musicians (like Flanagan and Jones) who emigrated from Detroit to New York in the 1950s, but the book goes back to the 1920s--the society bands that morphed into jazz bands, and the contributions to music that the Motor City was making even then: Jean Goldkette's bands that were the first to feature Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer, McKinney's Cotton Pickers with their great arranger Don Redman. The book is both scholarly and readable, Highly recommended.
J. J. Johnson's European tour may not have produced the number of splinter group recordings that Lionel Hampton's 1953 tour did, but this session makes up for it quality. It is the first recording by Tommy Flanagan as a leader, but certainly not the last. In a career spanning four decades, he became one of the most celebrated and critically acclaimed musicians of his time.
Most of the cuts here are Flanagan originals, the exceptions being "Willow Weep for Me," by Gershwin protégé Ann Ronell, "Chelsea Bridge" by Billy Strayhorn, and "Relaxin' at Camarillo" by Charlie Parker. Playing a Bird composition means that you still have at least one foot planted firmly in bebop, and if you're a piano player and have that planted foot, you've done a lot of listening to Bud Powell. Flanagan has named as his chief early influences Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson, two masters of the piano, and Powell, the pianist who steered him to bebop.
I went back and listened to Bud Powell's version of "Relaxin' at Camarillo," and then to Flanagan's again. Both feature great piano, and certainly no one wrote springboards for improvisation like Charlie Parker, but the big difference between the two is Elvin Jones. Powell's "Relaxin'" was recorded at almost exactly the same time as Flanagan's, in late 1957, and with Art Taylor on drums, but Jones, who had been restrained on previous Prestige sessions, really breaks out here,
I went back and listened to some of Powell's earlier recordings, from the 40s, with Max Roach on drums. Roach was certainly one of the most important drummers in his day, one of the pioneers of modern bebop drumming, and in a club, in a trio setting, he must have been wonderful to hear, but on record, you can hear very little of him. And that makes you realize what a difference arriving on the scene in the era of advanced recording techniques pioneered by Rudy Van Gelder and others, when the bass and drums could be miked so as to show the full range of the players.
Just listen to "Beat's Up," a Flanagan composition which is a showcase for Jones, and listen to the piano, the way Flanagan provides melodic and rhythmic prods that move Jones into new directions and new innovations.
You can tell this was recorded outside of Bob Weinstock's purview because there are alternate takes. It was released as Tommy Flanagan Trio on the Swedish Metronome label, then licensed to Prestige, where it became Overseas.
Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.