Sunday, April 23, 2017

Listening to Prestige 256: Paul Quinichette

Some jazz labels are linked with a particular style. Blue Note, though it had a long life starting in the swing era and extending to the present day, is very much identified with hard bop. Pacific Jazz lived up to its name and became identified with the West Coast sound, or the birth of white cool. Windham Hill is so closely associated with New Age jazz that "Windham Hill" is virtually a synonym for New Age.

Prestige also recorded a lot of hard bop and bebop, but because it was so much a one-man operation, Bob Weinstock was able to indulge his enthusiasms across a wide spectrum. Paul Quinichette had come under the Prestige umbrella in 1957, recording bop albums with John Coltrane, with Webster Young (perhaps he misunderstood, and thought Weinstock was saying "Come in for a session with Webster and Young"), and even one under his own name with a group of boppers. That came out as Paul Quinichette's New Stars, and they were all newer than him, for sure. Like his mentor Lester Young, Quinichette was open to new sounds and new ideas, but he was a Basie-ite at heart, so why not record him in a Basie context? Prestige was a big tent.

The album is For Basie, the tunes are all from the Basie playbook, and the musicians are Basie veterans.

Shad Collins' ties to Basie go back to the 30s, and the Lester Young days. He also played with Cab Calloway (he replaced Dizzy Gillespie), Benny Carter, Don Redman, Jimmy Rushing, and Sam "The Man" Taylor, another jazz-to-rhythm and blues cat. He had an important reputation as an arranger and considerable success as a composer, including "Rock-a-Bye Basie." He also wrote Cozy Cole's Top Forty hit, "Topsy."

No musicians are more closely identified with Basie than Walter Page and Freddie Green, In fact, Basie was a member of Page's band, the Blue Devils, in Kansas City. Page is credited with being one of the first to shift the primary rhythmic responsibility in a band to the bass, thus freeing up the drummer and piano player to improvise more. When you hear a singer, like Lonette McKee in Round Midnight, talk about the importance of listening to the bass, she has Walter Page to thank for it. This may have been Page's last recording, as he died suddenly and unexpectedly in the winter of 1957.

Freddie Green joined Basie in 1937, and stayed with him for the next 50 years. Jo Jones joined Green and Page as integral figures in the creation of the Basie sound. He played with Basie until 1948, then freelanced with others, including Duke Ellington.

Nat Pierce is best known for his work with Woody Herman, but also for having an uncanny ability to recreate Basie's piano style, so during the late 50s he led a number of groups of Basie veterans.

No one can resist the sounds of Count Basie, and it's pretty damn hard to resist these guys, either.

So...a step backward? No. There's really no backward in jazz. Some may have still been talking about hipsters and moldy figs, but this was an era when Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory were still making music, when Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton were still making music, Machito and Tito Puente, the Count and the Duke, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy. Probably no other art form has ever been so inclusive.

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