Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Listening to Prestige 245: Jackie McLean

This is around the time when Bob Weinstock stops being the hands-on guy in the studio (although his idea of hands-on was mostly hands off), and starts turning some sessions over to other producers. He's had Teddy Charles produce a few, but those were really Teddy Charles projects.

Here he gives over some of his regulars to a new guy, Don Schlitten. And this is, in fact, a session that makes up part of an album begun back in February, with Weinstock at the helm. Schlitten was a young guy -- at 24, four years younger than Weinstock, and at the beginning of a long career in jazz. Like Weinstock, he had started his own label at a young age,

but perhaps had not had the business acumen, or perhaps just hadn't found his focus yet. His label, Signal, which he formed with Ira Gitler, did some significant work, recording Duke Jordan, Gigi Gryce, Red Rodney, Cecil Payne, and a live tribute to Charlie Parker from the Five Spot. They also put out an interesting series called Jazz Laboratory, which was sort of similar to Music Minus One. It featured quartets led by pianists like Duke Jordan and Hall Overton, with one horn player. On the reverse side of the album, the horn player dropped out, and the remaining trio did the same songs.

After a couple of years, Schlitten sold the label to Savoy, and went into independent production. He would go on to form other labels, and make a major contribution to jazz.

He brings a few faces to this session in the rhythm section. Jon Mayer didn't make much of a name for himself in the 1950s (and the name he did make was not entirely his own, if this session is an indication), but that would  change several decades later. He made one other album (with Coltrane), played on gigs with Ray Draper (who may have recommended him here, as he did earlier with Webster Young), Kenny  Dorham, Tony Scott and others, and in the 60s he performed with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band, and accompanied Dionne Warwick, Sarah Vaughan and the Manhattan Transfer. Then he dropped out of sight until the 1990s, when he made a series of highly regarded albums, including a couple with Mark Feldman's Reservoir Records, out of Kingston, NY. He is still active.

Bill Salter is probably best known for his years as bass player and musical director for Miriam Makeba, but he picked an odd route into jazz--his first professional job was with Pete Seeger. Salter sort of passed through jazz. It was only part of what he did. His folk music credentials included Harry Belafonte and John Prine as well as Seeger. He was in the pit for Broadway shows. He wrote hit songs for Shirley Bassey, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, Grover Washington, Jr. and Rod Stewart.  But as he passed through, he left a mark: recordings with Sabu, Herbie Mann,Yusef Lateef, David "Fathead" Newman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He currently plays traditional black vaudeville music with his own group, the Ebony Hillbillies.

Like Gil Melle and Larry Rivers, Larry Ritchie was torn between painting and music, and over time he drifted more into painting. He would be back in Hackensack one more time in 1957, recording with Ray Draper and John Coltrane.

Draper and Webster Young make up the rest of the sextet part of the session, and Draper contributed one tune, the oddly named  "Disciples Love Affair." McLean pairs down to a quartet for the final number of the day. "Not So Strange Blues" is sort of a companion piece to "Strange Blues," from the earlier session, and it may not be strange, but it sure is the blues.

If Schlitten was looking for instant recognition from his first Prestige session, he was doomed to disappointment. Strange Blues, which included these three tracks, would not be released for another ten years. But Weinstock was satisfied enough to hand him more assignments. And this whole McLean project was pretty weird. The long February session, which included "Strange Blues," would be released in dribs and drabs on New Jazz starting in 1959.

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