Friday, January 18, 2019

Listening to Prestige 373: Etta Jones

There are some songs--pop songs, art songs, theater songs--that don't necessarily benefit from a jazz treatment, and I would say "On the Street Where You Live" would be one of them. But nobody much agrees with me, and everyone wants to take a crack at a good song, so many jazz singers have covered this classic from My Fair Lady, even some soul singers like Ben E. King (I liked his version--maybe the right singer can make anything sound soulful). but Etta Jones took a shot at on this session, and acquits herself quite well. It does sound a little forced, or it would, except for one thing: Frank Wess.

I'll obviously be devoting a lot of space in this entry to the wonderful Etta Jones in her breakthrough album, so I'll start off with Wess and get him out of the way. Every jazz singer who ever lived should have been breaking down his door to get him to work with them, and a lot of them did: his bio lists Mel Tormé, Ernestine Anderson, Johnny Hartman, Helen Merrill, Dakota Staton. His fills enhance and inspire, and his solos...well, you can imagine.

This is Jones' breakthrough album at age 32, which is not exactly doddering, but it did take her the better part of two decades to become an overnight success. She began her professional career as a 15-year-old with Buddy Johnson. She had performed at amateur night at the Apollo -- "I did not win," she told interviewer Monk Rowe in 1998,"in fact, they almost booed me off the stage at first." But she finished her song, and afterwards the male vocalist with Buddy Johnson's band approached her and told her Buddy was looking for a girl singer--his sister Ella was off having a baby. She was terrified, sure she wasn't ready, but she went for the audition, which was right there, on the spot, backstage. Another singer was there to audition too, but she knew the lyrics to Johnson's songs, and the other woman did not, so she got the gig. Two days later she was on the road.

Ella came back, but Etta wasn't turning around. At 16, in 1944, she made her first recordings, with Barney Bigard and Georgie Auld--Leonard Feather on piano, Chuck Wayne guitar, Stan Levey drums. She was a blues singer back then, and could stand comparison with the best of them, but the era of classic blues was over, and that was the way producer Feather chose to present her. Feather, who wrote the songs as neo-classic blues, was a traditionalist who did not recognize the artistic potential of the new field of rhythm and blues, which is sort of too bad. Jones might have had more commercial success that way. Nevertheless, the early recordings are terrific. She also recorded "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman," with a band headed by J. C. Heard, as a haunting blues ballad. Gene Ammons recorded an instrumental version for Prestige in 1961, and it would become a huge R&B hit for Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells in 1962.

The singer she reminds me of most is Dinah Washington, and Washington did cover all bases--blues, pop, rhythm and blues, jazz. In fact, she covered three of the four Leonard Feather tunes from Jones' first session, and did well with them.

After the 1940s, Jones worked--she spent a few years with Earl Hines--but no more recording, until she re-emerged as a jazz singer, singing standards, on an album in 1957 for Cincinnati-based King Records. King was heavily into rhythm and blues and country, and did not really get behind its occasional jazz releases.

That all changed with this Prestige release. Suddenly, she was a star--an overnight success. The bestselling single from the album, "Don't Go to Strangers." went gold, something not too common for records from small jazz labels. She would record several more albums for Prestige, then for other labels with various musical accompaniments, then finally make a very successful partnership with saxophonist Houston Person, with whom she would tour and record for more than thirty years. But this would remain her best-known recording, and her greatest commercial success.

Why did it take so long for her to break through? Jones' own explanation for her late success: she wasn't ready for it earlier. Citing Billie Holiday, Thelma Carpenter and Dinah Washington as early influence, she told Billy Taylor in an interview that:
I took about twenty years to really not be afraid of what I was doing, and to know what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go.
 If that was the case, the results were worth waiting for. This album was deservedly praised, and Jones, working with a premier group of musicians, proves herself ready to join the top echelon of jazz singers. I can't find a producer credit for this session, but it was most likely Esmond Edwards. I've mentioned  the brilliance of Frank Wess, who takes the lion's share of the solos, but Richard Wyands' contribution is also stellar, and so is a newcomer to Prestige, the veteran guitarist Skeeter Best.

Best's career goes back to 1935. He was with Earl Hines for a few years before joining the Navy in 1942, so his stay with Hines did not overlap Jones's. But he had kept busy during three decades before being tapped for this session, evolving with the times. He had played with modernists like Sonny Stitt and Sir Charles Thompson, and he'd done the guitar part on Little Willie John's R&B hit "Fever."

Along with them are George Duvivier and Roy Haynes, for whom "always reliable" doesn't begin to do them justice.

She tackles an interesting mix of songs here. She has always said, in various interviews, that what interests her most in a song is a good lyric, and she finds them in a variety of sources, from the hot-cha-cha glitz of the Roaring Twenties to a contemporary hit, and even a new song.

The Twenties are covered by "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" and "Bye, Bye Blackbird," both songs that have had many lives. "Yes Sir" has been covered by country artists (Roy Acuff) and doowoppers (the Clovers and--one of my favorite versions, the Sensations, with the relatively unusual doowop feature
of a female lead), less often by modern jazz ensembles--this may have been the first such version, and they make it work, with some inspired playing by Frank Wess. "Blackbird" has always been more conducive to a modern approach, especially after Miles Davis blew it wide open on his first Columbia album. Peggy Lee, Julie London and Carmen McRae had all contributed versions of it before Jones picked it up, but she takes a back seat to no one, not even Frank Wess, with improvisational stylings that prove you can still find surprises in an old chestnut.

She gives us the classics--Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. With "Fine and Mellow," she starts out by channeling her idol, Billie Holiday, but then moves into territory that is pure Jones (she gets some great Wyands piano on this one, and fine solo by Best). She sings a current hit, Frank Sinatra's Top Ten hit "All the Way," and introduces a new one, "Don't Go to Strangers," that would become her biggest hit.

"Don't Go to Strangers" was released twice on 45 RPM, once with "If I Had You" on the flip side, the other time with "Canadian Sunset." "All the Way" was the B side to a song from a later session, "Till There Was You." Don't Go to Strangers was also the title of the album.
generation gap (Ammons was 36, Smith 28 at the time 
of this session, but that was enough to put them in different eras--that's how fast jazz evolved). Ammons may not have been the first tenor man to record with an organ, but he certainly knew how to do it, and Wess's flute fits in perfectly too. They draw on a variety of 
composers (including originals by Ammons and Wess) and play some first rate jazz, wild and soft, pensive and gutsy.

This session was split over two discs, both released later, when Ammons was serving a second, and longer, prison term. Velvet Soul was the title track of a 1964 release that also featured "In Sid's Thing," and the other tunes came out on Angel Eyes in 1965. "Angel Eyes" as a two-parter saw two different 45 RPM releases, some years apart, and "Velvet Soul" came out on 45 along with "A Stranger in Town" from a later session.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 3, 1957-58 is now available!

and also:

Listening to Prestige, Vol. 2, 1954-56

Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 1949-53

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Listening to Prestige 372: Gene Ammons

A pleasure to have Gene Ammons back, but he's never far away. One of Prestige's most prolifically recorded artists is back after a hiatus of a couple of years (sadly due to drug bust and prison term) to host back-to-back sessions on consecutive days. One might have thought putting Ammons together with an organ would be a no-brainer, and Bob Weinstock and Esmond Edwards seem to have thought so too, because Johnny "Hammond" Smith shows up on the second day (he would also record, later, with Richard "Groove" Holmes).  Putting anyone together with Ray Barretto
is clearly a good idea, and that happens on the first day, along with an all star rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan, Doug Watkins and Art Taylor.

I'm always drawn to Barretto and his unique ability to bring conga rhythms to straight-ahead, and he's heard to good advantage here in every track, starting with "Close Your Eyes," the tune by "Queen of Tin Pan Alley" Bernice Petkere that's a favorite of pop singers and jazzers alike, and had an especial period of popularity after Tony Bennett's swinging 1955 hit version. We've heard in on one other remarkable Prestige album, the two guitars of Jimmy Raney and Kenny Burrell, assisted by Donald Byrd and Jackie McLean.

Ammons favors standards on this session, and he knows how to play them. Next up "Stompin' at the Savoy," another swing era classic that's had some great bebop interpretations, and this is one of them, starting out with an arresting vamp by Doug Watkins. Since Ammons is--unusually for him--the only horn on the session, he has to carry the weight of improvisation, and he does some lovely stuff, always swinging, always melodic, always interesting. Flanagan is strong with his solo, Watkins shines throughout, and both Taylor and Barretto contribute strongly.

The two Ammons originals, "Blue Ammons" and "Hittin' the Jug," deliver the down home blues that he does so well. As much as I'm drawn to Barretto, it's not at the expense of Art Taylor, who delivers throughout, and who delivers a short but wonderful solo on "Blue Ammons." Tommy Flanagan is at his bluesy best on "Hittin' the Jug," which is a particularly strong composition that's had a few other versions in spite of being so closely associated with Ammons.

"Confirmation" is the Charlie Parker tune, taking Ammons and company more to the bebop side of Jug's swing-to-bop, and all of these guys know how to do that. Watkins shines, and so does Taylor. Rodgers and Hart's "My Romance" is pure ballad, and "Canadian Sunset" a chestnut that's given new sparkle by Barretto. It's most familiar in the original version by Eddie Heywood with Hugo Winterhalter's orchestra, and Ammons turns it nicely into a saxophone piece.

The album was entitled Boss Tenor. The session produced two singles. "Hittin' the Jug" was backed with "Canadian Sunset," and a later 45 RPM release saw "Canadian Sunset" become the A side, joined by "Seed Shack" from a later session. Bob Weinstock produced this one, Esmond Edwards was in the studio the next day.

The session with Smith, also featuring Frank Wess, is definitely a meeting of like minds, despite a bit of a generation gap (Ammons was 36, Smith 28 at the time
of this session, but that was enough to put them in different eras--that's how fast jazz evolved). Ammons may not have been the first tenor man to record with an organ, but he certainly knew how to do it, and Wess's flute fits in perfectly too. They draw on a variety of
composers (including originals by Ammons and Wess) and play some first rate jazz, wild and soft, pensive and gutsy.

This session was split over two discs, both released later, when Ammons was serving a second, and longer, prison term. Velvet Soul was the title track of a 1964 release that also featured "In Sid's Thing," and the other tunes came out on Angel Eyes in 1965. "Angel Eyes" as a two-parter saw two different 45 RPM releases, some years apart, and "Velvet Soul" came out on 45 along with "A Stranger in Town" from a later session.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 3, 1957-58 is now available!

and also:

Listening to Prestige, Vol. 2, 1954-56

Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 1949-53

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Listening to Prestige 371: Gigi Gryce

Two of the tunes on this Gigi Gryce album were written by Norman Mapp, a new name to me. His Wikipedia entry mostly quotes from his obituary, and most of what people have to say about him is what a great guy he was. This is standard fare for an obituary, of course, and maybe Gryce recorded two of his tunes out of friendship (or maybe Gryce has signed him to his back-owned, musician-friendly publishing company).

Or maybe the tunes were really that good. I listened to
Mapp's original of "Blues in Bloom" (with Clark Terry, Seldon Powell, Tommy Flanagan, George Duvivier, Dave Bailey) and I was impressed. More than impressed. I've added it to my 100 Songs for Driving playlist. Mapp has a voice reminiscent of Joe Williams and King Pleasure, but his songs are the real attraction. They're so fluid, the long looping lines and sudden changes of direction reminiscent of vocalese, but "Blues in Bloom" seems to be entirely a Mapp composition. It's no wonder that Gryce decided to record it. It's a wonder that it hasn't become a jazz
standard. Or that Mapp didn't become a star in the jazz world. I guess he was working the same side of the street as Joe Williams and Jon Hendricks. But surely there was room for one more.

That being said, Gigi Gryce does a wonderful job with "Blues in Bloom." He's working again with the group he's had together for the last few albums, and if there's something to be said for throwing guys together and letting them (see my Lem Winchester entry, just before this one), there's also a lot to be said for musicians working together and developing a rapport. I love the way Gryce and Richard Williams work together. And Richard Wyands--listening to the way three of them parcel out the head to the other Mapp composition, "Monday Through Sunday," is a treat. And they keep that closeness as they head into the improv and get farther out.

The Bryce compositions are excellent, not among his best known. "The Rat Race Blues" is a tour de force. If you think Wyands is playing fast on his first solo, wait'll you hear Gryce and Williams. And this isn't bebop fast; it's something different. It's rat race fast--bursting with nervous energy. "Boxer's Blues" is a lovely blues, at back to a more normal tempo.

The final cut, "Strange Feelin'," is by Sam Finch, about whom I could find nothing at all except a mention in a 1959 Billboard that Sam Finch is starting his own record label, Finch Records, and its first release would be a recording by Sam Finch. The search was complicated not only by the fact that there's a contemporary musician named Sam Finch, but there's also another label called Finch Records, started in Cincinnati in 1957, with quite a decent catalog of gospel music, and a handful of blues, including one by a Prestige alumnus, H-Bomb Ferguson. So maybe Sam ran into copyright problems and couldn't get his label off the ground.  Perhaps he was a publishing client of Gryce's. It's a decent tune, very mainstream bebop, and a satisfying listen.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 3, 1957-58 is now available!

and also:

Listening to Prestige, Vol. 2, 1954-56

Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 1949-53

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Listening to Prestige 370: Lem Winchester

Bob Weinstock's philosophy of the best jazz being from a spontaneous jam session hasn't found many adherents in recent years, with perfection being the goal. perfection achieved by multi-tracks and multi-takes, and laying in patches. But it made for some great jazz.

Part of that spontaneity came from Weinstock's commitment to fooling around with combinations of musicians. You'll recall that he deliberately did not set Miles Davis up with a regular group. That happened when Miles moved to Columbia.
It was a marketing move that brought him wealth and glory, and resulted in some great music, but he made some great music with Prestige too, and we have a legacy of Miles in different settings which is priceless.

Weinstock wouldn't mess around with an artist like Yusef Lateef, who had his familiar group that he brought in with him from Detroit. But Lem Winchester had already outgrown his Wilimington bandmates, and Weinstock set him up with a series of different partners: Benny Golson on his debut album, then Oliver Nelson and Johnny "Hammond" Smith, then Nelson again with Curtis Peagler. And for this, his third album as leader, Frank Wess came aboard, and this was another solid choice. Golson and Nelson were sax players; Wess is a tenorman, too, but here he concentrates on the flute, and to good advantage.

This album cover is a striking piece of art, and it's offered for 
sale as a print at a number of sites (including Walmart!), but
nowhere is the artist credited. There's a signature running
along the lower left, and it's Esmond Edwards'. He did a lot
of photography for Prestige album covers even before he 
began producing, so it's quite likely the art work is his. 
Talented guy.
Winchester has a new rhythm section, too. Hank Jones had lent his piano mastery to a variety of different Prestige settings: with Jerome Richardson, Curtis Fuller and vocalist Earl Coleman. And this, of course, barely scratched the surface of the catalog of this jazz master. Eddie Jones was not one of his brothers, but a heckuva bassist anyway. He worked with Count Basie for years, and was frequently on call for sessions with Countsmen like Frank Wess. He would go on, like so many jazzmen before him, to become vice president of an insurance agency. Gus Johnson also played briefly with Basie; his previous Prestige work had been a swing session and a blues session (with Willie Dixon).

The menu on this album features three tunes by Winchester, one by Oliver Nelson, and one standard. My two favorites on the set are Winchester tunes. "Another Opus" opens with a bass vamp by Eddie Jones turns into a moody Jones-Wess duet, a mood that's picked up and carried by Winchester, who never loses it even
as his playing gets more intricate. It's easy to kid around with the title of my other favorite--Lem and Frank let you have it with both barrels--but given that Winchester was to die far too soon from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, maybe not. This one is much more experimental, and much faster. Eddie Jones, whose bass is very much on display throughout this set, whips into steeplechase speed for this one, and Wess and Winchester both step outside the comfort zone. Listening from the perspective of 1960, you'd come away wanting to hear a lot more from Lem Winchester. Listening from the perspective of the new millenium, one can only grieve that there was to be precious little more.

Another Opus came out on New Jazz, Esmond Edwards producing. 

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Listening to Prestige 369: Betty Roché

Betty Roché didn't do a lot of recording, but some of that wasn't her fault. Of her two most famous recordings, one was never issued, and the other not for forty years. Both of them came during her first sojourn with the Ellington orchestra, which she joined in 1942, replacing Ivie Anderson. Her first big gig with Ellington was a movie, Reveille with Beverly, which also featured the Count Basie Orchestra, Frank Sinatra, the Mills Brothers, and the *** with Ella Mae Morse.  Her rendition of "Take the A Train" from the movie is considered by many to be the definitive vocal treatment of the song.

It's actually sort of hard to find on YouTube--it won't come up in a search for "Betty Roché Take the A Train," although you will get an excellent later recording. You have to search under "Reveille with Beverly."

It's worth the search. Ellington and the boys are pictured jamming on a train that seems more likely to be headed for Acheson, Topeka and Santa Fe than Harlem, but they sound great, and young Betty is at the top of her form. I certainly wouldn't argue too vociferously against those who see this as the definitive version.

So why wasn't it released? Roché had the misfortune to join the Ellington band in 1942, just in time for the Petrillo strike. The labor action, organized by union president James C. Petrillo, only covered phonograph recordings, not motion pictures. So they could record it for the movie soundtrack, but they couldn't release it separately. The same was true of her next triumph: the historic 1953 Ellington concert at Carnegie Hall. It was historic because they were the African American ensemble to play Carnegie Hall (in those days it took more than practice), and it was the world premiere of Ellington's ambitious Black, Brown and Beige, for which Roché was tabbed to sing the "Blues" section. In 1952, after some time off from the band, she did record "Take the A Train," and that version was so good that when she left the band again, Ray Nance would essentially sing her "A Train."

Early in her career, Roché was primarily known as a blues singer, although "A Train" certainly shows her versatility. She had won amateur night at the Apollo as a blues singer, and gone from there to her first professional gig. with the Savoy Sultans.  But over the course of her career, she would reposition herself as a jazz singer.

What makes a jazz singer/ My definition is someone who can sing with jazz musicians and not get lost, and by that measurement, Betty Roché is a solid sender. She sang with Lester Young, with Hot Lips Page, with Earl Hines and Clark Terry and Charles Brown. What she did not sing with was any degree of consistency. She was known for having a somewhat desultory commitment to her career, and an even more desultory approach to showing up on time; and as a result, her recorded output is sparser than it should have been, She only made three solo albums, the first for Bethlehem in 1956 (with Conte Candoli and Eddie Costa), then this one and one more for Prestige, before apparently losing interest in the music business once again.

There's not much blues on this album. The singin' and swingin' of the title announces torchy ballads alternating with uptempo swinging and scatting. "September Song," a little surprisingly, is one of the latter.

Jack McDuff is the primary guiding instrumental force on the ballads, smoky and enveloping; Forrest and Jennings provide swinging breaks for the uptempo material.

Singin' and Swingin' was a Prestige release, Esmond Edwards producing. "A Foggy Day" and "Come Rain or Come Shine" comprised the single, one swingin' and the other singin'.

Duke Ellington said this, describing Betty:
She had a soul inflection in a bop state of intrigue and every word was understandable despite the sophisticated hip and jive connotations.
Which says it all. Or says something, Or maybe nothing. Anyway, it was the Duke.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 3, 1957-58 is now available!

and also:

Listening to Prestige, Vol. 2, 1954-56

Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 1949-53

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Listening to Prestige 368: Ken McIntyre

Boston is an interesting jazz hub, and if I haven't mentioned it much recently, I did back at the beginning of this blog, in the very early days of Prestige. A few musicians who claimed Boston as their home base made some very nice records for Bob Weinstock. Pianist Al Vega never left Beantown, but everyone who played a club there, from Charlie Parker to Billie Holiday to Stan Getz wanted him in their band. Charlie Mariano recorded for Prestige in Boston with a big band of Bostonians, including Dick Twardzik, a brilliant pianist lost too soon to the heroin epidemic.

Boston now, of course, is a jazz hub, with the Berklee School of Music, which has become the largest and probably the best known school of jazz and contemporary music in the world. Berklee has recently annexed the even older Boston Conservatory, which was a place for the study of classical music, and really did not have a jazz program. But it did produce Ken McIntyre (and Gigi Gryce, Slam Stewart, Don Redman and Sam Rivers), although after he graduated he set aside a lot of his classical training, looking for notes that were not in the score of any classical piece. "I was a singer before I played," he told Joe Goldberg, who  interviewed him for the liner notes on this album,
but I stopped when I took up the saxophone. There are many notes other than the ones a piano is capable of - quartertones and semi-quarter tones that the voice can sing. The ear is not accustomed to hearing them all, but that's only a matter of training. They can be played on the saxophone.
But he continued to make Boston his home, and when he came to New York and Englewood Cliffs to make his first recording, he brought with him the musicians with whom he had been playing in clubs and developing his craft.

But the business end of the recording industry is sometimes a little weird (well, so is the music end, but it's supposed to be). McIntyre was brought into the studio in May to record a session with his guys, and then four weeks later, in June, with a group of some of New York's top musicians, including fast rising star Eric Dolphy, But the June session was released first, so it ended up being McIntyre's debut album, and Joe Goldberg was left to try and make sense of the apparent order--why go back to his Boston pals after playing with New York's elite?

McIntyre answered the question just as though that were really the situation:
Ken McIntyre's... previous Prestige/New Jazz release, Looking Ahead... featured Eric Dolphy, and a top-flight New York rhythm section made up of Walter Bishop Jnr., Sam Jones, and Arthur Taylor. It is often the case on a new musician's first recording, that he will be put with such a group: professionals who are sympathetic to the newcomer's style, and whose names, it might be added, will help the record to sell. This practice can work out well, as I think it did in McIntyre's case; but sometimes the presence of old pros on a new musician's first date, plus the possibly awesome surroundings of the recording studio, can serve to inhibit whatever talent the newcomer has to the extent that is never made apparent on the record.
With this new release, McIntyre has now recorded in both situations. His associates on this record are all from Boston, as is Ken, and were, for a while, a regular working group. It is inevitable that this new record is a more complete statement of his music than was the other.
As he puts it, "The musicians on Looking Ahead were all marvelous musicians, but I was in no position to dictate to them. On this record, I was the leader."
That we are truly in a new era in jazz can be seen in the critical treatment of new alto players. For two decades, they had been described in terms of their stylistic proximity to, or distance from, Charlie Parker. Now it's Ornette Coleman. Goldberg rejects the comparison to Ornette, and I think he's right. To me, McIntyre seems closer in approach to Yusef Lateef, with his explorations of different tonalities. He doesn't share Lateef's passion for Arabic sounds, but in his later career he would come to that in his own way, becoming more and more interested in African music, and ultimately choosing a new name that would reflect that: Makanda Ken McIntyre. He described one facet of his sound this way to Goldberg:
 I like the sound of alto and trombone, and particularly of flute and trombone. But you have to have exactly the right trombone player to compliment you, and I think I found him. Take Brubeck and Desmond, for instance. Paul plays very melodic, and Dave is rhythmic and harmonic. If either one of them played like the other, they'd have nothing. In our group, John Lewis, the trombonist, plays a few notes, staccato, and my style is to play many notes, legato. That way, we compliment each other.
John Mancebo Lewis shared the same multicultural leanings, which is undoubtedly part of why they fit together so well. Lewis was shortly to embrace Islam and become Daoud Haroon, and to become an African and Middle Eastern percussionist as well as a jazz trombonist. Haroon went on to a distinguished career as a musician, but also as an author, scholar and educator--he would teach both American History and Islamic Studies at colleges in Texas. He passed away just this past year.

Pianist Dizzy Sal had more of a connection to Ornette. The previous summer, he had taken a workshop at the Lenox School of Music in the Berkshire Mountains, yet another Massachusetts
institution and fellow participants had been Ornette and Don Cherry. The three of them were part of the Max Roach-John Lewis Ensemble whose live performance was recorded as a benefit for the school. He had multicultural credentials as well. He was an ethnic Indian, born in Rangoon, Burma. His three brothers, also musicians, played in a band in Kuwait. He came to the United States on a scholarship to Berklee.

Drummer Bobby Ward is hard to find out much about. Most of the Google links, even if  you search on Bobby Ward, drummer, are to another Bobby Ward, this one a British drummer in punk bands. There are a few more to Robert Ward, blues guitarist. But no links at all to a young jazz drummer from Boston. No Wikipedia page. One comes away with the feeling that Bobby Ward never amounted to much, although he certainly sounds good here.

One might feel that way, that is, until one looked on YouTube. There, one would find two videos of the Henry Cook Band, featuring Boston jazz legend Bobby Ward on drums. And there's also a video of a "Bobby Ward Amazing Drum Solo," and in the notes that video one would find that:
Bobby has played with Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea and Cat Anderson among others, and has recorded with Makanda Ken McIntyre, Wallace Roney, Bob Mover, Salim Washington and Henry Cook.
 All the compositions except for "I'll Close My Eyes" are McIntyre's. Stone Blues was a New Jazz release, Esmond Edwards producing.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 3, 1957-58 is now available!

and also:

Listening to Prestige, Vol. 2, 1954-56

Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 1949-53

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Listening to Prestige 367: Oliver Nelson

Billboard made this album their jazz pick of the week when it was released in 1961, saying "Here are six selections that fairly jump out of the grooves with drive and vitality." It featured two young musicians who were poised to write significant chapters in the story of jazz. \

Oliver Nelson was 28 years old. This was his third session for Prestige, and he had also appeared on Lem Winchester's Lem's Beat album, as both tenor saxophonist and arranger. He would go on to make five more albums for Prestige in 1960 and 1961, each one with a different lineup and a different
spirit. He would also be asked to contribute arrangements to other Prestige albums, as he began to be recognized as one of the most important composer-arrangers of his day. But in the middle of that already prodigious burst of creativity, he took a side trip to Impulse! to record what is generally recognized as his masterpiece and one of the most important albums of the decade, the wonderfully titled The Blues and the Abstract Truth, featuring Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Roy Haynes.

I went back and reacquainted myself with The Blues and the Abstract Truth. It really is as good as everyone has said. "Stolen Moments," in particular, has breathtaking solos by Hubbard, Dolphy and Evans. "Hoe Down" is a tour de force, on the cutting edge of jazz experimentation and at the same time conveying the down-home spirit of fun of a hoedown.

Eric Dolphy, to my surprise, was a good deal older. At 34, he was just making his first serious mark in the jazz field. He had been a member of Chico Hamilton's group for two years and five albums--and in a really unlikely credit, he had joined the Count Basie orchestra for a 1955 session backing up Sammy Davis Jr.), but he had not generated enough attention to get a single vote in Down Beat's 1959 poll, either for flute or alto. It's still amazing to consider how short Dolphy's career was, and how much he accomplished.

He had recorded one album for Prestige as a leader, which only began to show what he was capable of. This was his second outing for the label that would be his home. It was May 27. By the end of the year, he would be a breakout major star.

So how far along that path are they with this album? They are in a very good place. The tunes here are robust, aggressive and exciting. Dolphy is really beginning to emerge. His voice isn't as personal as it would become leading his own sessions, but his solos soar and bewitch within the context of Nelson's leadership. Dolphy clearly liked working with Nelson. They  would come together for a session with a big band led by Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and one more small group session led by Nelson, both for Prestige, and of course for Blues and the Abstract Truth.

Nelson covers a lot of bases here. "Screamin' the Blues" hits not only blues but rhythm and blues, and like "Hoe Down" from the Abstract Truth album manages to be both rootsy and experimental at the same time. "The Meetin'" does the same for gospel. "Alto-itis" with its Charlie Parkeresque title, sort of does the same for bebop.

Producer Esmond Edwards contributed one tune, "March On, March On," which I believe is a first.

Screamin' the Blues was a New Jazz release, and the title track was a two-sided 45 for New Jazz.