Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Listening to Prestige 443: Joe Newman

Joe Newman is back for his second of three Swingville sessions, and it's very much like the first: Musicians drawn from the Basie extended family, solid swinging arrangements, Tommy Flanagan taking the Count's chair at the piano, Basie bassist Eddie Jones on board. This time instead of Frank Wess it's Frank Foster on tenor sax.  Non-Basie drummer Bill English replaces non-Basie-ite Oliver Jackson on the drums, but like Jackson, English can swing it. We've heard him before, in 1956, with Bennie Green.

A big difference here is the choice of material, which leaned heavily on Basie the last time out. This time, although he includes one Basie staple (Neil Hefti's "Li'l Darlin') and one Ellington number ("Just Squeeze Me"), the rest are all Newman compositions.

A small group is always going to be different from a big band. The most famous attempt to recreate a big band sound with a small combo was that of ex-Chick Webb alto saxophonist Louis Jordan--and he succeeded, instead, in creating a sound that virtually defined the rhythm and blues of the 1940s.

Newman doesn't achieve quite so revolutionary a transformation. But it's interesting to compare Basie done by Basie and Basie done by a small group of Basie-ites. "Li'l Darlin'" was first recorded in 1957, by a Basie orchestra that included Newman, Foster and Jones.

Neil Hefti went from high school to playing the triumpet with various dance bands, and starting to write arrangements. Shelley Manne was the drummer for one of them, and he recalled in an interview with Ira Gitler (quoted in Wikipedia):
We roomed together. And at night we didn't have nothing to do, and we were up at this place — Budd Lake. He said, "What are we going to do tonight?" I said, "Why don't you write a chart for tomorrow?" Neal was so great that he'd just take out the music paper, no score, [hums] — trumpet part, [hums] — trumpet part, [hums] — trombone part, [hums], and you'd play it the next day. It was the end. Cooking charts. I never forget, I couldn't believe it. I kept watching him. It was fantastic.
In 1944 he joined Woody'Herman's band, a period he describes as "the first time I sort of got into
jazz." It also brought him to New York, where he went to 52nd Street and started listening to what Dizzy Gillespie was doing on the trumpet. He loved it and was intrigued by it, but at heart he was probably always a dance band guy. In an interview with Forrest Patton, he recalls going as a boy to hear Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and others when they played in Omaha, but the bandleader who really won his heart was Britisher Ray Noble, later to gain fame as the orchestra conductor for the Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy radio show. His reaction to Noble:
After attending the show, I said to myself that if I ever became an orchestra leader, that's the kind of orchestra, I would want.
When Count Basie hired Hefti in 1950, he had built a strong reputation in the jazz world, first with Herman, then as a freelance arranger for Buddy Rich, Georgie Shaw, and others. He also led and arranged for studio bands for the various New York record labels, and this was in large part what drew Basie to him. In a changing economic world, Basie was intrigued by the idea of becoming the kind of band that would be booked regularly on shows like Ed Sullivan, perhaps even becoming a house band. His arrangements for this era, with Hefti as one of his chief arrangers, came to define the Basie sound, as described in the Patten interview:
Patten: Over the years, I've heard "the Neal Hefti format" to a number of pieces, especially those that were written during the Basie years. It usually starts with a musical phrase, then goes into a percussive break and returns to the melody again. I've heard this style imitated by a number of composers.
Hefti: Basie told me himself that when he had people writing for his band, he'd tell them to "write like Neal."
Basie's "Li'l Darlin'" is just such an ensemble piece. Not so much the percussive break. Because it's Basie, it rewards the listener, but it rewards the dancer even more--a slow, dreamy, late night melody for melting in each other's arms, and since I'm writing this on New Year's Eve, I hope and trust many couples will be doing just that.

Newman's version is more about the emotional constructs of the soloists. First Newman, then Foster, creates his li'l darlin' in sound, gives you something to think about, gives you something to feel, and yes, gives you something to tap a toe to.

The 45 RPM single from this session is one of Newman's own compositions. "Mo-lasses" has a delightfully retro title, harking back to rhythm and blues instrumental jukebox hits like "Corn Bread." It has some of that same rhythm and blues urgency, some modern virtuoso soloing, and, in fact, more of a Basie feel than "Li'l Darlin'." It has been recorded by others, most notably Woody Herman and Ray Bryant.

The album came out on Swingville as Good n' Groovy. Newman had a prolific career. In addition to his work with Basie, this was his 16th album as leader, and his second of three for Swingville. Esmond Edwards produced.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Monday, December 30, 2019

Listening to Prestige 442: Red Garland

In 1961, Red Garland went into the studio with a quintet featuring Oliver Nelson and Richard Williams. to record a number of tunes for Prestige, including "Soft Winds," and in 1961 Prestige released the Red Garland quintet's High Pressure, which included "Soft Winds."

That makes sense, right? Only thing...the version of "Soft Winds" released in 1961 had been recorded  by Garland in 1957, and featured John Coltrane and Donald Byrd.

And perhaps because of that, the new version, along with three-fifths of the session, went into the vault, not to be released until 1977 as part of a collection called Rediscovered Masters.

I listened to both versions. Conclusions:

  • "Soft Winds" is a beautiful tune. Written in 1939 by Benny Goodman, it's become a favorite of swingsters and boppers alike--interestingly, almost always as an instrumental, although Dinah Washington does an excellent vocal version. It's too tuneful to be called strictly a riff-based composition, but maybe too riffy to please most vocalists. But you could say the same about "Satin Doll," and vocalists love that one.
  • John Coltrane and Donald Byrd are jazz superstars (although in 1961, Byrd had not yet climbed onto that pedestal. It's not hard to see why Bob Weinstock decided not to release two versions of it at the same time.
  • That being said, is it a better version? Don't expect me to answer that one. There's no choosing between them. Coltrane and Byrd, superstars. Oliver Nelson...cult figure? Maybe. Not that widely known to the general public, but a legend to jazz cognoscenti. Richard Williams--only one album as leader in his career, so perhaps an easy name to forget, but if he wasn't that good, why did so many top jazz artists want him to work with them. And he was in demand for symphony orchestras as well. At nearly fourteen minutes, the Garland/Coltrane recording is a tour de force for all its soloists, very much including Garland. At just over six minutes, the Garland/Nelson version is tighter, less a vehicle for virtuoso performance--except, surprisingly enough, by bassist Peck Morrison. I'm glad we have both of them.

Also held off until rediscovery: "Skinny's Blues." a Garland composition featuring Nelson and Williams joining together on some blues that tell the concrete truth. "Avalon" is the Al Jolson vehicle that became a jazz standard, here kicked off by some powerful block chording from Garland, driven mercilessly by Morrison and Charlie Persip, and knocked off the table by Oliver Nelson. This one travels on way beyond Avalon.

The other two tracks didn't see daylight right away either, but in 1964 they were blended with an earlier session from July 1960. They are two tunes that are part of every jazz musician's repertoire, Bronislaw Kaper's "On Green Dolphin Street" and Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now." They're so widely played, and widely recorded, because they're beautiful tunes that have enough complexity to allow for a wide range of interpretation and improvisation. For a later CD reissue, one more tune was added from 1959.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Listening to Prestige 441: Jaki Byard

March of 1961 came in like a lion for Prestige. Wednesday, March 1, saw them back in the studio with one of the most important musicians of his era, Eric Dolphy, in a match made in heaven with Oliver Nelson. Then they didn't even wait a week. On Tuesday, March 7, they brought two groups out to Englewood Cliffs. First, probably their biggest star of the decade, Shirley Scott; then, a major new talent, Walt Dickerson. And the following Tuesday, they unveiled a monster talent.

Jaki Byard had recorded twice for Prestige, with Dolphy, who knew talent and who recognized the forward-thinking musicians who could keep pace with his rapidly expanding ideas.

He was not a youthful prodigy. When he made his debut as a leader with Prestige (there'd been one solo album for Candid the year before) he was 39 years old. He had actually made his first record in 1950, in Boston with Charlie Mariano, back in the days of 10-inch LPs, on the West Coast rhythm and blues label Imperial. A 1957 gig with Herb Pomeroy (he played tenor sax) was released on Roulette, but again, that was primarily a Boston audience.

Byard was to remain with Prestige throughout the decade, so I'll have a lot more to say about him as time goes on, and fortunately, there's a lot to say, because his creativity and originality was never-ending. Listening to Byard, and reading about him, makes me think of what people said about the young Sammy Davis Jr. That he was so gifted, and had absorbed -- and could reproduce -- so many styles, that he didn't really have a style of his own. Which
was wrong, of course. Byard was similar -- he could incorporate any style, or several different styles in the same piece. Nowadays, that's not so unusual. In the post-Wynton Marsalis era, young piano players have to be able to play ragtime, bebop, and Monk, just to get noticed. But Byard did it because that was who he was. He did with respect and humor at the same time, and he created a style that was unique and personal out of it.

This album contains five originals and three by other composers. The originals include "To My Wife," a tribute to a love affair that lasted four decades, and "Garnerin' a Bit," a tribute to Erroll Garner, one of his early heroes.

"When Sunny Gets Blue" was a 1956 vehicle for Johnny Mathis, and Byard shows off his own crooner chops with it, but on the alto sax. It was left off his debut album, but picked up a couple of albums down the road, on Out Front!

He takes on Gershwin in a Porgy and Bess medley, "Bess You Is My Woman Now" and "It Ain't Necssarily So."

And most interestingly, he becomes the first jazz artist to record a new version of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," from the album that had revolutionized jazz just the year before. With Ron Carter and Roy Haynes, he takes it apart, puts it back together, reimagines it for the piano, makes something new out of something that was already startlingly new, and does it all in two minutes and 22 seconds, ending so abruptly it's almost in mid-phrase.

Here's Jaki  was produced by Esmond Edwards, and brought out on New Jazz.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Friday, December 27, 2019

Listening to Prestige 440: Walt Dickerson

On February 24, Walt Dickerson brought a quartet into Rudy Van Gelder's studio, and recorded six songs. He had been recommended to Bob Weinstock by fellow Philadelphians John Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones.

The log for the entire session is simple. It's one word: rejected.

Why? That's lost to history. But it can't be because they didn't recognize his talent, because these were very savvy jazzmen, and no one with ears could have failed to appreciate the rare, striking gifts that this young man brought into the studio. And besides, as Bob Porter tells us, Weinstock was always a big fan of the vibes.

And it can't have been that they didn't like his musicians, or even that they didn't like the tunes he brought in with him, because a week and half later, he was back in Englewood Cliffs, with the same musicians, and the same six songs.

So it must have been some sort of rare glitch in Rudy's recording equipment.  Frustrating for a group of young musicians wondering if they'd lost their chance at the big time (Andrew Cyrille was asked to stick around, and recorded four days later with Coleman Hawkins), but redemption came quickly. I can imagine that Weinstock may have been more worried than they were, that Dickerson might slip through his fingers.

Whatever the first session may have been like, this one is a killer. Dom DeMichael, in a four-and-a-half-star review in Down Beat, described it as "experience-giving and provocative," and Dickerson's solos as "at times spiralling asymmetrically in tangled, biting swirls of notes flying like sparks from a pinwheel." Down Beat was, the following year, to anoint Dickerson as best new jazz artist, and to call him "the most important vibraphonist since Milt Jackson."

And yet Dickerson is largely forgotten today. He made four albums for Prestige and three for other labels during the first half of the 1960s decade, disappeared for ten years, came back to make a few more albums in 1975, then disappeared again, and stayed disappeared. He was in Europe for a good part, but not all of that time. Jazz writer Hank Shteamer, in 2003, got his phone number from Andrew Cyrille. He was back in his home town of Philadelphia. Shteamer called, got a long, cordial interview, with promises to talk more and to come and do a concert. He never answered the phone to Shteamer again.

Curiously, in an age where everyone on the internet feels compelled to make lists, there's really no list of greatest jazz vibraphonists. Last.fm has a sort of a list, but it's an odd one--odd in that includes Milt Jackson and the MJQ separately, even odder in that it includes Cal Tjader and the Cal Tjader Quintet separately, and full-out odd in that it includes non-vibist Marian McPartland. It does, however, include all the major vibists you can think of, with one striking exception: no Walt Dickerson.*

His quartet seems to have come with him from Philadelphia. Andrew Cyrille, who went on to have s substantial career, and is still active as of this writing, was a protege of Philly Joe Jones. Neither Bob Lewis nor Austin Crowe did any recording outside of their work with Dickerson.  Dickerson, many years later, talked about Crowe with Hank Shteamer, and in the process, gave an insight into another side of the jazz life:
Excellent pianist! Last I heard, Austin was in New York, playing classical music. Again, the scene, as it was then…Austin came from a very religious background also, so the scene did a lot to drive many great musicians away. He had a couple of things with Philly Joe Jones, and he came back and told me, "Never again, never again.” He was stranded in the Midwest, played two weeks of engagement and no way to get home. Some people can’t take those kinds of experiences, so I heard he was playing classical piano. I understood... Yes, Austin, a wonderful pianist, a wonderful person… Some of the youngsters got turned away by the scene. It happened to my son, he saw his pop go through things which he thought were totally uncalled for, and even though my son was a natural on many instruments, he didn’t want anything to do with it.
As for Dickerson himself, his on again, off again relationship with music remains a mystery which he
took with him to his grave, in 2008. In 1995 he told an interviewer, Mike Johnston, that he'd been playing a lot of solo gigs in Europe. Maybe "gigs" is the wrong word. He told Hank Shteamer that:
 I do have restrictions; yes, I have. I’ve been asked. No clubs, no smoke environment. Concert hall? Fine. Simple. I’ve seen too many suffer from it- various maladies due to those environments- smoke-filled. It’s quite a workout performing. You do take in what is around you in great amounts, and it does have an effect. I care not to expose my body or mind to those things that are going to be detrimental to my body and mind- my being.
But the music he's left behind is a treat for those who seek it out. He is unique, starting with his approach to the instrument itself. Jazz critic Francis Davis described in the liner notes to one of his Prestige albums:
Dickerson’s first step upon buying a new pair of mallets is to strip away their fur; he then soaks the exposed rubber tips in a mineral solution to get a sound he describes as “plush,” though paradoxically, it is also hard. His use of smaller mallets, gripped closer to the tip than is the custom for vibraphonists, allows Dickerson extraordinary speed on the bars.
Dickerson creates jagged clusters of sound that are reminiscent more of the piano style of Thelonious Monk than of any other vibes player. He is intense, cerebral and yet emotional; on his ballads, like "Evelyn" and "Elizabeth" (his wife, to whom he gave lifelong devotion) have a touching sweetness.

All the compositions on this album are Dickerson's. They have mostly vanished with him, perhaps because no one else could play them quite like him. I was going to say although that didn't stop Monk's compositions from being played, but for a while it did. Monk's genius as a composer was only recognized gradually. Dickerson may have set some kind of a record for length of time until a composition is discovered: "Infinite You" waited 40 years, until Mal Waldron recorded it and another Dickerson tune in 2000.

The album was titled This is Walt Dickerson! Esmond Edwards produced. It was released on New Jazz.

* Well, two exceptions. I don't see Teddy Charles either,

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Listening to Prestige 439: Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott and Duke Ellington proved an irresistible combination, so Prestige revisited it in 1961,  with a new trio and new Ellington material...with one reprise, "C-Jam Blues" made the list for both sessions.

Her new sidemen are bassist George Tucker, a Prestige veteran who had done one previous Scott session, and Mack Simpkins, whose recorded output was slender. He would accompany Scott and Stanley Turrentine on an Impulse! recording five years later, and he's listed as the drummer on a Clara Ward
Singers album, which suggests the sort of longevity on the one hand, and versatility on the other, that would result in a lot of anonymous but significant studio work.

It's interesting to compare the two C-Jams.  Both feature the bass prominently, but there seems more a partnership with longtime accompanist George Duvivier than with Tucker, and Scott's goals seem to be different. In the 1959 session, there's more freewheeling improvisation--and freewheeling improvisation is different on the organ, especially with Shirley playing it, than it is with other instruments. In those earlier recordings, she's always searching out different things that an organ can do. Come 1961, she's about finding a groove and riding it. And Ellington provides an ideal vehicle for both approaches.

Arthur Edgehill gets a brief solo in 1959. Mack Simpkins does not, but he swings and he does the job for Scott, and it's good that he does have these couple of afternoons in the limelight for future generations to get a taste of his contribution to the music of his era.

The 1959 version is shorter, 45-length, but it was the 1961 version which actually made it to a 45 RPM single, in an edited-down version, on the flip side of "Satin Doll."

"Satin Doll" also exists in an album version and a shortened 45 RPM version, both of them featuring a sudden and exciting jump into the upper registers of the organ in mid-performance.

It's interesting to a new trio after a series of albums with the old one, but basically a Shirley Scott album is Shirley, and an album of Ellington favorites is Ellington, and that's what you plunk down your $4.98 for, and it's worth the price of admission. Great tunes, interpreted by one of the giants of her era.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Monday, December 23, 2019

Listening to Prestige 438: Oliver Nelson and Eric Dolphy

This would be the last Nelson-Dolphy session for Prestige, although they would continue to work together. Dolphy was featured on Nelson's important Impulse! album, The Blues and the Abstract Truth, recorded later in the year. With two multi-instrumentalists, both of whom loved to experiment with the textures of sounds, as leads, the sonic/textural possibilities of the album are varied indeed.

Straight Ahead is the title of the album, and straight ahead has come to be the name of a branch of the jazz tree. Wikipedia defines it as:
a jazz music style from the period between bebop and the 1960s' styles of Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. It is considered the lingua franca of jam sessions, and can usually be contrasted with smooth jazz.
It has the following characteristics:
  • A walking bass
  • A swing 4/4 time signature in the drums
  • In the piano, syncopated chords in the left hand, and melodic, mostly single-note soloing in the right hand
  • A head followed by a solo by each melody instrument, and sometimes drums and bass, followed by a reprise of the head
  • However, many Latin rhythms are also sufficiently well-established to be considered straight-ahead.
 Allmusic gives a somewhat different definition. It's a lot longer, but essentially it's this: music of the 1980s and beyond that's characterized by a reaction against the jazz-rock fusion popularized by Miles Davis. They also say that " Straight-ahead musicians can be influenced by any jazz up through the 1960s, even including some early avant-garde jazz," which suggests it's also a reaction against the modal and free jazz of John Coltrane and those in his sphere of influence. Which would certainly include Eric Dolphy. But this session would fall under the heading of early avant-garde jazz, and except for the part about the 1980s, it would satisfy either definition.

I've just written about traditionalist Coleman Hawkins using avant-garde drummer Andrew Cyrille. Here it's sort of the reverse, with a couple of very progressive musicians, including one certified avant-gardist, using a much more mainstream rhythm section--particularly the bassist, George Duvivier, whose credentials are more along the lines of Gene Ammons, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Bob Wilber, Frank Sinatra.

It's hard to imagine a better choice. Duvivier keeps them to the straight ahead, and still provides inventive, mind-freeing bass lines which allow them room to wander. This is an album with much pleasure for avant-gardist and straught-aheadist alike.

With the exception of Milt Jackson's "Ralph's New Blues," all the compositions are Nelson's. They're all wonderful, but the one that's caught on and been recorded several times by other musicians is "Six and Four," so named because it moves from 6/4 to 4/4 time. It was tough choosing one for my listening pick, but I went with "Straight Ahead," a rousing five and half minutes of blowing, riffing, improvising, hitting bebop tempos, allowing room for solos by Richard Wyands and Roy Haynes, and stomping it out in style to wind up the session.

And wind it up they did. Joe Golberg, who wrote the liner notes, describes showing up at 3:30, figuring that with a one o'clock session call they'd just be getting through a quick rehearsal and ready to get down to serious recording. Instead, he found the studio empty except for Rudy Van Gelder and Esmond Edwards. The musicians had packed up and gone home. They'd played "Straight Ahead," and they'd played straight ahead, and they'd nailed it the first time through.

Was this the tune that gave the title to the movement two decades hence, or perhaps the movement that was getting under way as jazz bifurcated and trifurcated in the 1960s? It's hard to say. Compositions with the same title, one by Kenny Dorham and one by Mal Waldron, appeared right around the same time.  Maybe the name honors all three of them. This one certainly deserves all the credit it gets.

Edwards produced, and the album was released by New Jazz.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Monday, December 16, 2019

Listening to Prestige 437: Coleman Hawkins

On February 24, Walt Dickerson brought a quartet into the Van Gelder studio for a session which was rejected. It's not clear why. Certainly Bob Weinstock and Esmond Edwards hadn't decided that Dickerson was a horrible mistake. He would go on to record several albums for Prestige. And they didn't tell him to go away and come back with better material, because they brought him back to Englewood Cliffs two weeks later with exactly the same set list, and that became his debut album. Perhaps there was a mechanical failure in the recording the first time around. 

Coleman Hawkins and Kenny Burrell had recorded together a couple of times before, both in 1958, once for Atlantic and once for Prestige, and Bob Weinstock wasn't through with them--they would be paired a few more times. It's easy to see why. they were beautiful together.

And there were some newcomers to Prestige on this session, too. Ronnell Bright had already started to make a name for himself as an accompanist to singers. He had worked with Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan, and he would go on to become one of the most in-demand accompanists in jazz and pop music. In addition to extensive tours of duty with Vaughan and Nancy Wilson, he worked with Lena Horne, Gloria Lynne, Anita O'Day, Doris Day and others. But his first experience working with a singer came in 1948, when he was a young naval recruit. Truman had just integrated the armed forces that year, and Bright, stationed on an aircraft carrier, was invited to join the ship's band, where he met and befriended another young sailor who was singing with the band: Julius LaRosa.

He was able to play with the band because they had sheet music, but he had been classically trained, with no experience with jazz or improvisation, or even the concept of chord changes. That education came in the navy, too. In 1950, he was in the naval reserves and was called up to active duty for the Korean War. Scheduled to be shipped out to Korea, he walked into the Navy School of Music, told them he was a musician, and asked to have his orders changed. They auditioned him, and liked his skill, but were taken aback when they asked him to play "How High the Moon" and he didn't know it. This may have been a first for them: a young African American musician who was a classical pianist and didn't know how to play jazz. They said they'd take him if he could learn the chord changes to 25 popular songs in six months.

He was able to learn, thanks to some navy buddies who taught him a few things. They did know a thing or two about jazz. Their names were Julian Adderley, Nat Adderley and Eric Dolphy.

Andrew Cyrille is thought of more as an avant-gardist, but he got his professional start working with blues singer Nellie Lutcher. He got this Coleman Hawkins gig perhaps because he was around--as Woody Allen has said, 90 percent of the secret to success in show business is showing up. Cyrille had shown up for the shelved Walt Dickerson gig four days earlier. He would be back for the second go-around with Dickerson, and stay with him for a few years and several albums, later hooking up with Cecil Taylor for an extended partnership.

Hawkins plays ballads here. You expect Hawkins to be a beautiful balladeer, but he still manages to exceed expectations. And he does it every time. One thinks of him as the titan of the 1930s, the man who made the tenor saxophone an important instrument, and as the guy who showed he wasn't quite finished yet in the early 1940s when he led a group with Dizzy Gillespie in what is considered the first bebop recording. But in the 1950s and 1960s. the era of Coltrane, folks still couldn't get enough of the Hawk. Between 1952 and his final session in 1967 (he died in 1969) there were 59 recordings. 14 of them for Prestige/Moodsville/Swingville.

He has a group that comes up to his standards for beauty, simplicity, intelligence, originality and swing. Kenny Burrell is a perfect complement, with ideas of his own that enhance and enrich. Ronell Bright is a surprise, and a pleasant one. I particularly love his lead-in to "Just a Gigolo," my favorite cut on the album. Andrew Cyrille does a fine job.

Ron Carter had already recorded with some of the best in the business, and if the Down Beat poll voters hadn't caught up with him yet, they soon would. After researching and writing the bios of Bright and Cyrille, I had sort of forgotten who the bass player on the session was, and as I settled in for some serious listening, I kept being struck by how good the bass was--rhythmic and inventive, giving the soloists a real springboard to create from.

The album was called The Hawk Relaxes, although Ron Carter's bass must have kept him from relaxing altogether. Esmond Edwards produced, and it was released on Moodsville.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Friday, December 13, 2019

Listening to Prestige 436: Claude Hopkins

I haven't been able to find the February 17 Buddy Tate session that yielded the Swingville album, Groovin' with Buddy Tate.

Claude Hopkins had a real career revival with Prestige. Since his heyday as a bandleader in the 1930s he had worked steadily but anonymously until tapped by Chris Albertson to  appear on the rediscovery session for jazzman/bluesman Lonnie Johnson in March of 1960. Just a couple of weeks later, he was called back into Rudy Van Gelder's studio to make his debut album for Swingville. 
There would be three Swingville sessions in all, and he would go on leading groups and recording for smaller labels well into the 1970s.

He was back in the studio 11 months after his first Swingville session with essentially the same group, Joe Thomas replacing Chu Berry. Thomas had done a Swingville session once before, with Coleman Hawkins. With Esmond Edwards producing, the selections here play to the strengths of Hopkins and his group, ballads and foot-stomping blues, with an emphasis on rhythm and a strong bass line. The material is familiar to Hopkins--just how familiar can be deduced from one of his originals. "I Would Do Anything For You," his mot successful composition, was co-written with pianist Alex Hill, who died in 1937.  "Safari Stomp" is, for me, the catchiest, with a solid groove and hot solos by Tate and Thomas.

The Swingville album was called, fittingly, Let's Jam. A Prestige reissue on CD was retitled  Swing Time.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Listen to Prestige 435: Johnny "Hammond" Smith

Organ, vibes, guitar. This time the organist is Johnny "Hammond" Smith, and except for bassist Wendell Marshall, all the other musicians are new to Prestige.

And pretty new all around. Freddie McCoy, 28 years old at the time of this session, was making his recording debut. Were the vibes a good fit for the soul jazz sound? Prestige had begun to explore the possibility with Lem Winchester, but his untimely death brought an end to that. Was organ-vibes the way
to go, and was McCoy the answer? Bob Weinstock had always had a thing for vibes, according to Bob Porter, Prestige soul jazz producer and author of Soul Jazz: Jazz in the Black Community, 1945-1975. And McCoy? Perhaps the answer, but not right away. He was used on this and one other Smith session, then did no further recording until 1965, when he became one of the label's hot acts for remainder of the decade, after which he left the music scene.

Eddie McFadden, like Thornel Schwartz (with whom Smith also recorded), was a Philadelphia soul jazz guitarist who mainly worked with organ combos. He was actually one of the pioneers of the sound, having worked with Jimmy Smith and recorded 12 albums with him between 1957-58. As with McCoy, his career rose and set with the soul jazz organ combo. After his work with Johnny Smith ended in 1966, he would work some more with Jimmy Smith but not record again with him. He returned to Philadelphia, where he lived with his mother, a former jazz singer, played local clubs, and was a fixture on the Philadepphia scene. He made two small label albums in 1977 and 1978 with two other organists.

Leo Stevens came up with Johnny Smith and worked as his drummer on nearly all of his albums, and those albums are the full extent of his discography.

This was the first of two sessions that Smith and this same group recorded for Prestige in early 1961 (the second would come on on May 12), and the two sessions were combined and released on two different albums, Stimulation, which came out in 1961, and Opus de Funk, which was held back unti 1966.

During this turn-of-the-decade period, Prestige seems to not have been entirely sure what they had with Smith, in terms of packaging and marketing. Bob Porter recalls that he was considered the best ballad player among jazz organists. If the organ wasn't taken seriously as a jazz instrument until Jimmy Smith shined a spotlight on it, it had certainly developed a niche in the pop world of the 1950s, with balladeers like Lenny Dee, but that wasn't the way Weinstock and Esmond Edwards saw Johnny Smith, either. If they had, his records would have been released on Moodsville.

Instead, they were released on New Jazz, which had a very different cachet in these years: described as specializing in emerging artists, they tended toward the more experimental. less commercial. And putting him with the likes of Oliver Nelson certainly suggested that direction.

Gettin' the Message, the album pairing Smith and Lem Winchester, was the first of Smith's recording sessions to get the Prestige label, but Stimulation was actually the first to be released on Prestige, so it can be said to be the beginning of Smith's soul jazz career.

Of the four songs on this session that made it to Stimulation, three of them are ballads not normally associated with soul jazz. "Cry Me a River" is the torchiest of torch songs. "Spring is Here," by Rodgers and Hart, and "Invitation," by Bronislaw Kaper (best known in jazz circles for "On Green Dolphin Street") both became jazz standards when recorded by John Coltrane in a 1958 session for Prestige. The one Smith original is "Ribs an' Chips," and it's interesting how often food, especially soul food,  gets into the titles of funky music, from early rhythm and blues instrumentals like "Cornbread" to Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis's forays into the kitchen, and "Ribs an' Chips" has all the ingredients that went into those earlier recipes, the catchy riff, the rhythmic propulsion, the funky blues notes. It's mostly Mr. Hammond on the Hammond, as is the whole session, but Freddie McCoy really starts to get into the possibilities of soul jazz vibes.

"Autumn Leaves" and "Almost Like Being in Love," which were held back for the second album, are also ballads, so it definitely would appear that Johnny "Hammond" Smith as funkster was an idea that was slow developing.

The other funky track from this session, which became the title track of the later-released album and also a 45 RPM single, is Horace Silver's "Opus de Funk," first recorded by Silver in 1953, then by Milt Jackson for Prestige in 1954. It was widely recorded throughout the 1950s, though mostly not by groups that you'd immediately associate with funk: several Swedish combos, and a group of Nashville session musicians.

Esmond Edwards produced this and the May session. The album was released on Prestige. Later, both sessions would be conjoined in a CD reissue.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Listening to Prestige 434: Jack McDuff

Jack McDuff's second session as leader for Prestige, in July of 1960, put him with veteran tenor man Jimmy Forrest and young Lem Winchester, who had died in a freak gunshot accident just a couple of weeks before this session. Whether they had intended to keep the McDuff-Winchester pairing, it's impossible to say. But as it was, the went back to a lineup which had been hugely successful in the past. McDuff had come to Prestige as part of a quartet led by Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson, with Bill Jennings on guitar. They were putting McDuff forward for stardom now, but the sound was still a good one. Forrest, like Jackson, was a veteran tenor player with roots in rhythm and blues. For a guitarist, they
chose a young man whose career had just begun but who already had the promise of stardom--a promise on which he would richly deliver, though mostly not for Prestige.

Grant Green was 25 when this album was made. His earliest musical models were saxophonists -- Charlie Parker, Lester Young -- along with the seminal jazz guitarist Charlie Christian; as a result, he favored a single-string approach to playing. A St. Louis native, he started playing in that city with Jimmy Forrest. Lou Donaldson discovered him there, brought him to New York, and introduced him to Alfred Lion, who immediately set him up to record as a leader with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. The album went on the shelf, not to be released until the new millenium, but Green stayed with Blue Note, where he would quickly achieve stardom. He had made his second Blue Note album (guitar, organ, drums) just the week before this Prestige session. It would become Grant's First Stand, his first album released, and he would cut five more before the year was out.

McDuff and Forrest are the central figures for this session, but Green and Ben Dixon contribute too. Dixon had recorded once before for Prestige, on the 1957 Ray Draper album  that marked the debut of trumpeter Webster Young. Young and Dixon had moved to New York from South Carolina together, and Young insisted that Dixon be included on the gig. Perhaps much the same thing happened here, since he had played with Green the week before on the Grant's First Session album. He would continue to work with Green throughout the 1960s.

We are starting to hear, more and more, the development of  the soul jazz sound, and we're learning a couple of things. First, it really is a new sound. It comes from bebop and hard bop and rhythm and blues, but it's not any of them. And although it would, in time, wear out its welcome and its capacity for originality,  that certainly had not happened yet in 1961. And although everyone wanted that organ sound for their soul jazz recordings, that wasn't falling into a rut, either. A lot of very talented musicians were playing soul organ, and each was carving out her or his own stylistic niche.

McDuff also draws his music from some interesting sources. Three of the tunes on the album ("Dink's Blues" (a traditional blues here credited to McDuff),  "Blues and Tonic," "Whap!") are McDuff originals. Of the other three:

  • Henry Mancini was becoming one of the hottest composers around, having brought jazz to network TV with Peter Gunn. His theme for another TV show featuring a suave crime-solver, Mr. Lucky, never quite achieved the ubiquity of the Peter Gunn theme, but it was Mancini, and it got its share of interpretations, from the Dixieland of Jimmy and Marian McPartland, to the Latin rhythms of Jack Costanzo (mambo) and Laurindo Almeida and Mancini himself (Mr. Lucky Goes Latin), to the hard bop of Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams (with a young Herbie Hancock). It fits nicely into the soul jazz idiom too, though with the typical organ combo lineup of no bass it's hard to exactly duplicate the Mancini walking bass.
  • "The Honeydripper" was written and performed by rhythm and blues pioneer Joe Liggins. It
    was a huge hit for him on the race charts in 1945-46,  and it spawned a number of first-rate covers, mostly by blues and rhythm and blues artists. Not so much in the jazz field, although you'd think it would have been a natural for soul jazz artists. But Cab Calloway did record it in 1946, and Oscar Peterson in 1963. On this one, McDuff really does carry the walking bass part on his organ.
  • "I Want a Little Girl" was first recorded in 1930 by McKinney's Cotton Pickers. It was written by Murray Mencher and Billy Moll, two gentlemen with whom you really would not associate the authorship of a blues standard. Mencher is best known for "Merrily We Roll Along," the theme music for the Merrie Melodies cartoons, and Moll for "I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream."  The song lay dormant for a decade, had a couple of covers in the 1940s, including one by Jay McShann. In 1955 it was picked up as "I Want a Little Boy" by Kay Starr, a big band singer trying her best to stay relevant in the rock and roll era.  That wouldn't seem to be an auspicious comeback for a song with ambitions to be a blues classic, but then in 1956 and 1957 it was recorded by two of Atlantic's greatest blues singers, Joe Turner and Ray Charles, and those gave it thoroughly hip credentials. McDuff's was actually not the first jazz organ version of the tune: rhythm and blues bandleader Doc Bagby had done it in 1955.  McDuff, Forrest, Green and Dixon do a great rendition, probably my favorite cut on the album.
Esmond Edwards produced. The Honeydripper was the title of the album, and given how huge a hit the title song had once been on 78 RPM, it was chosen as a two-sided 45 RPM single.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Listening to Prestige 433: Gene Ammons

A busy couple of days for Gene Ammons, recording eight ballads on Thursday for Moodsville, and eight with soul jazz overtones for Prestige on Friday. He had a stellar crew of musicians with him--Richard Wyands, Doug Watkins and J. C. Heard, with organist Clarence "SLeepy" Anderson replacing Wyands for a couple of tunes on the second day.

If you wanted a musician who could cover both bases for you, give you two genres of music that have commercial appeal without letting down hard core jazz fans, Gene Ammons would be your guy. Starting with the first song on the Moodsville album, he shows why.

That's "Till There Was You." by Meredith Willson, from his hit 1957 musical, The Music Man, a celebration of middle America and its square, square, county fair musical tastes. Well, Miles Davis brought some spice to white bread with his versions of "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Surrey with the Fringe on Top." "Till There Was You" had had an interesting history by the time Ammons got hold of it. Its first jazz rendition was by Jimmy McPartland for an album called"The Music Man" Goes Dixieland. Jimmy McPartland was a fine musician, but by the late 1950s, Dixieland had long since lost its creative drive, and become a music of Rotarian luncheons and county fairs. It was next picked up Jonah Jones for his album Swinging on Broadway, more jazz for the tired businessman. But at the same time, Jimmy Giuffre and and Sonny Rollins were recording it, so serious jazzmen were liking its possibilities. But mostly, it was fodder for the likes of anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, Liberace, Mantovani, Ferrante and Teicher. And still later, it became the only show tune the Beatles ever recorded. So how did Ammons and Co. handle it?

Well, Gene Ammons bowed to none in his ability to capture the lyricism of a ballad, and he does that here. But that's just where he starts. If you're a jazz fan, you want more than sensitive lyricism. You want some creativity,, and Ammons delivers, as does the underrated but always hip Richard Wyands.

The difference between the two albums can be seen in the marketing. The Moodsville session you can sit down and listen to, appreciate the artistry of all four musicians, especially Ammons and Wyands. Or you can put it on your turntable as you serve a romantic dinner to your girl friend. You want to set a mood; this will do it. Moodsville, an LP.

The Friday session was released on LP under the Prestige banner and under the earthy title Jug (the Moodsville session had been Nice 'N Cool). But six of the eight tunes were also released on 45 RPM singles, and that should tell you something. They were aimed toward the jukeboxes, they were aimed toward the record hops.

This is the little secret of modern jazz, the one that everyone forgets: You could dance to it.  Yes, the image it left behind in the public perception was an audience of beatniks in berets sitting at tables in smoky boites, snapping their fingers instead of clapping to show appreciation. And in New York, on 52nd Street, there wasn't much dancing (except for the strippers) because New York City had begun levying an "cabaret tax" of 30 percent of revenues on establishments where food and drink was served and dancing was permitted. But elsewhere in the country, going out to a night club meant
going out dancing, and if the night club featured cats playing the modern stuff, well, you were young, you were hep, you danced to that. Charlie Parker once played a gig in Detroit at a club that featured a chorus line of dancing girls, and they danced to Parker. The trick was to listen to the bass for the beat.

Jug had tremendous cooking interplay between all four players. On two cuts. "Namely You" and "Let It Be You." Ammons joined the current trend, and an organist, Clarence "Sleepy" Anderson, replace Wyands. The organ was a nice touch. But Wyands was providing all the necessary propulsion, plus some great solos.

These would be Doug Watkins' last sessions for Prestige. He made his debut with the label in 1956 with Jackie McLean (he had recorded the previous year with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers for Blue Note), and later that year joined Sonny Rollins for the Saxophone Colossus album. These two Ammons sessions were his 30th and 31st for the label. He would do a session in the spring with Donald Byrd for Blue Note. and in the fall with Bill Hardman for Savoy. He would be Charles Mingus's choice for bass player on the Oh Yeah and Tonight at Noon sessions for Atlantic, where Mingus played piano, in November. And then there would be no more. He was killed in an auto accident early in 1962. A recording career of six short years, with a lot of music poured into that time.

Esmond Edwards produced both albums.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1955-56, and Vol. 3, 1957-58 now include, in the Kindle editions, links to all the "Listen to One" selections. All three volumes available from Amazon. 

And Volume 4 in preparation!

The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs