Thursday, May 17, 2018

Listening to Prestige 333: Wrapping up 1959, Part 1

 1959 is considered by many to be jazz's apex. A BBC documentary called it The Year that Changed Jazz. Nathan Holoway, writing for the AllAboutJazz website, posits that 1959 was the most creative year in the history of jazz, and he makes a pretty good case for it, starting with Kind of Blue, which is particularly interesting in that it really is a creative breakthrough, while at the same time being listener friendly enough to make it the best selling album of all time. Modal jazz had been played before, going back to Miles himself in 1949, but Kind of Blue really brought it front and center as the new standard in jazz playing.
Holoway puts Coltrane’s Giant Steps second on his list, although it’s generally considered a 1960 album. Still, it was actually recorded in December of 1959, so one can argue that that makes it part of 1959’s creative frenzy. Although no Prestige albums are included in Holoway’s list of creativity champions (Blue Note and Riverside make it), surely Bob Weinstock deserves credit for nurturing Coltrane right up to the borderline of the promised land.
Giant Steps has always sold respectably, but Holoway’s next choice, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, goes very nearly right alongside Kind of Blue for popularity, and it’s impossible to question its creativity, with Brubeck exploring hitherto unheard-of time signatures. On the other hand, the innovative genius of Ornette Coleman in The Shape of Jazz to Come was wildly unpopular in 1959, and has acquired at best a niche audience since. Still, it is one of the most influential jazz albums ever made.
Those four are the cream, and really all you’d need to make Holoway’s case. But the rest of his list is not chopped liver. Bill Evans changed the way we listen to piano trios with his Portraits in Jazz (released in 1960, but recorded as the sands were running out on 1959). Horace Silver was ushering in the soul jazz movement that would be so important in the next decade. Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington (a new era in movie jazz with Anatomy of a Murder), and Ella Fitzgerald would enhance the creativity of any year.
I’d put the work Yusef Lateef was doing for Prestige down as further proof of the year’s innovative creativity, even if it didn’t make the same kind of public splash as did the aforenamed.
Some of the biggest jazz news of 1959 was sad news. Lester Young and Billie Holiday died within weeks of each other. Miles Davis made news outside of his musical contributions, and indeed outside of a music venue, when he stepped into the alley behind Birdland between sets, and was beaten and arrested by cops. With all the news stories over the past year of police and African Americans, we can despair of things getting better.

Here’s the Down Beat poll for the year.

Hall of Fame:

     The Hall of Fame inductee is Lester Young. Hard to argue that one. Following him, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis. Plenty of time for Brubeck and Davis to be honored, too bad Pres (and Lady) didn’t get it in their lifetimes.

Personality of the year: Jazz

1.    Miles Davis
2.    Duke Ellington
3.    Lambert, Hendricks and Ross
4.    Dave Brubeck
5.    Count Basie
6.    Maynard Ferguson
7.    Thelonious Monk
8.    Ella Fitzgerald
9.    Gerry Mulligan
10.  Julian “Cannonball” Adderley
11.  Stan Kenton
12.  Ahmad Jamal
13.  Dizzy Gillespie
14.  Gil Evans
15.  Modern Jazz Quartet
16.  Oscar Peterson
17.  Andre Previn
18.  Jonah Jones
19.  Errol Garner
20.  Louis Armstrong
21.  Shelley Manne
22.  Frank Sinatra
23.  Nina Simone
24.  John Coltrane
25.  Harry James
26.  Stan Getz
27.  Hank Mancini
28.  Joe Williams
29.  Coleman Hawkins
30.  Annie Ross

What’s a jazz personality? I couldn’t come up with a definition, and I doubt that none of those who made the poll, or who took the poll, could manage one either. So who’s to criticize? Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong were the biggest international personalities, our Ambassadors of Jazz. But who’s to criticize?
Given that, what are the surprises in the poll? For me, the big one is that Coltrane is so low. Tied with Harry James for 24th, with 36 votes.
It's surprising that Lambert, Hendricks and Ross are that high. Sing a Song of Basie was 1957, and I would have thought of that as their big splash. “Twisted” was their biggest hit, but I think that may have been 1960. Maynard Ferguson wouldn’t be in the top ten today, even if you were trying to guess who made it back then, but he’s not really a surprise—he was very popular then.
A big surprise—that Ornette Coleman did not make the list at all. I know no one liked him back then (I did!) but everyone was talking about him. He was the big controversy of 1959.
And as hot as soul jazz is becoming, it apparently hasn’t spawned any personalities yet, not even Horace Silver or Jimmy Smith. Unless you count Cannonball Adderley.
Maybe the biggest surprise about Mr. Mancini is that anyone ever called him Hank. Not so surprising that the composer of “Moon River” and “The Pink Panther” made a list of jazz personalities—1959 was the year of Peter Gunn. Given that no one knows exactly what a jazz personality is, shouldn't Craig Stevens and Lola Albright be jazz personalities of the year?

Personality of the Year: Pop

1.    Frank Sinatra
2.    Johnny Mathis
3.    Kingston Trio
4.    Bobby Darin
5.    Nat Cole
6.    Peggy Lee
7.    Ella Fitzgerald
8.    Keely Smith
9.    Louis Prima-Keely Smith
10.  Perry Como

This is certainly the Pop Personality list as defined by Listeners to Lacy. Otherwise, Elvis would have to be at the top. I wonder how Down Beat worded the instructions for voting on this one?
And if it’s strictly the sort of pop singers who were around in the 1940s or at least would have felt home back then (Mathis, Darin), what are the Kingston Trio doing there, and so high? And if they were going to carve out an exception for a folk act, why the Trio and not Harry Belafonte (#20 on the list with 28 votes)? Belafonte had played the Village Vanguard, and was a regular in the high class supper clubs that featured this sort of act.
If good ol’ Hank Mancini is a jazz personality, what’s the story with Steve Allen, who really did bring jazz to TV, but here gets votes as a pop personality (#17, behind Patti Page and Nina Simone), although he was never a figure in pop music, but no mention in jazz, although he was a legitimate jazz presence.

Personality: Rhythm and Blues
1.    Ray Charles
2.    Fats Domino
3.    Joe Williams
4.    Dinah Washington
5.    Bobby Darin
6.    Jimmy Witherspoon
7.    Lloyd Price
8.    Joe Turner
9.    Elvis Presley

The editors and readers of Down Beat can’t bring themselves to say “Rock and Roll.” Still, Elvis does squeak into the top ten. Chuck Berry (#14) and Little Richard (no votes at all????) do not.


1.    Dave Brubeck Quartet
2.    Modern Jazz Quartet
3.    Miles Davis Sextet
4.    Oscar Peterson Trio
5.    Gerry Mulligan Quartet
6.    Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers
7.    Ahmad Jamal Trio
8.    Horace Silver Quintet
9.    Jonah Jones Quartet
10.  Chico Hamilton Quintet

Hard to argue with any of the choices here. Jonah Jones is pretty much forgotten today, but he was huge back then, although not with jazz purists. And I’m sometimes hard on jazz purists (freely admitting that I was one), but they were probably right about Jonah. He was sort of the Chuck Mangione of his day. Still, he had some huge albums around this time, with 1958’s Swingin’ on Broadway probably the biggest. His 1959 album, I Dig Chicks! (do you suppose you could name an album that today?) won a Grammy award for Best Instrumental Jazz Album, which is a bit of a shocker, considering the competition.

Best Male Vocalist

1.    Frank Sinatra
2.    Joe Williams
3.    Johnny Mathis
4.    Jon Hendricks
5.    Jimmy Rushing
6.    Mel Torme
7.    Nat Cole
8.    Ray Charles
9.    Bobby Darin
10.  Billy Eckstine

Sinatra, of course. Joe Williams, a great choice for second. Who ever thought of Johnny Mathis as a jazz singer? The movie Diner, set in this period, features a serious debate over who’s the best singer to make out to, Sinatra or Mathis? And he certainly fits in that category. Jazz singer, not so clear.
Of course the best jazz singer of this year, any year, any decade, any millennium, is Louis Armstrong (#12 in the poll). But Armstrong’s star was not in the ascendant. He was thought of as a relic of another era, now a mere entertainer. He was thus thought of by the same people who made Johnny Mathis #3 in the jazz world. But Billy Eckstine’s time had certainly passed by 1959, and he still made the top ten.
Mose Allison (#15) was starting to get recognition.
And if pop superstar Johnny Mathis gets 380 votes and third place as a jazz singer, what is pop superstar Sammy Davis, Jr. (#22, 21 votes)? Chopped liver?

Best Female Vocalist

1.    Ella Fitzgerald
2.    Anita O’Day
3.    Annie Ross
4.    Sarah Vaughan
5.    June Christy
6.    Dakota Staton
7.    Chris Connor
8.    Peggy Lee
9.    Nina Simone
10.  Eydie Gormé

I’d put Sarah higher. She’s my all-time number one. But this was the year of “Broken Hearted Melody”—not her best year. I’d put Nina higher, but I wouldn’t put anyone lower. Dakota Staton’s reputation may not have endured like some of the others, but she was flying high in 1959, and she deserved it. There are certainly vocalists I’d rank ahead of Eydie Gormé on a jazz list. Come on…this was Dinah Washington’s “What a Difference a Day Makes” year. What more could you ask? She was #12. And what about Carmen McRae (#14) and Lena Horne (#15)?

Best Vocal Group

1.     Lambert, Hendricks and Ross
2.    Four Freshmen
3.    Hi-Los
4.    Kingston Trio
5.    King Sisters

Lambert-Hendricks-Ross dominated this category decisively. The Four Freshmen and the Hi-Los kept getting votes because until LHR came along, there was really no one to vote for, and the rest of the list proves it. The Kingston Trio again. The King Sisters, who had been tangentially connected to jazz in the 1940s, and who were still around, and as it turns out, would always be around. In the 60s, they had their own TV variety show. They morphed into the King Family, which included the King Cousins, one of whom played the love interest for one of the Douglas clan on My Three Sons. And now Luise King’s grandsons, Win and William Butler, head up indie-rock stars Arcade Fire.
So slim pickings on the jazz vocal group scene, but there needn’t have been. The Platters made the list (#10), but no other rhythm and blues/doowop groups, and many of them were keeping the Great American Songbook flame alive, with cool and clever harmonies, and often saxophone breaks by solid jazz musicians.

Jazz Band

1.    Count Basie
2.    Maynard Ferguson
3.    Duke Ellington
4.    Harry James
5.    Herb Pomeroy
6.    Gil Evans
7.    Terry Gibbs
8.    Woody Herman
9.    Johnny Richards
10.  Ted Heath

Dance Band

1.    Les Brown
2.    Les Elgart
3.    Count Basie
4.    Maynard Ferguson
5.    Harry James

A big year for Maynard Ferguson, my continued surprise that Harry James is still so popular. And my continued amazement that nowhere, on either list, will you find a Latin band.


1.    Miles Davis
2.    Dizzy Gillespie
3.    Maynard Ferguson
4.    Art Farmer
5.    Ruby Braff
6.    Jonah Jones
7.    Harry James
8.    Chet Baker
9.    Lee Morgan
10.  Clark Terry

No surprises at the top. Ruby Braff wasn’t exactly cutting edge, but he was his own man. We can’t escape Jonah Jones and Harry James. The Down Beat readers continue not to know what to do with Louis Armstrong, so he comes in at #12. Kenny Dorham is #19, should be higher. Don (not Donald) Byrd is last on the list at #24, should be a lot higher. Freddie Hubbard doesn’t make the list at all, and he was making a name for himself in jazz circles by 1959—he’d recorded with Trane for Prestige in 1958—but he hadn’t recorded much yet. Chuck Mangione is #16, and what’s that about? He was still in Rochester at the Eastman School in 1959.


1.    J. J. Johnson
2.    Bob Brookmeyer
3.    Kai Winding
4.    Frank Rosolino
5.    Jimmy Cleveland
6.    Urbie Green
7.    Jack Teagarden
8.    Curtis Fuller
9.    Bennie Green
10.  Bill Harris

Curtis Fuller is new to the list this year; expect him to move up. Last year I complained that Bennie Green had been shut out of the top ten. Perhaps I somehow went back in time, and the voters listened to me.

Alto Sax

1.    Paul Desmond
2.    Julian “Cannonball” Adderley
3.    Johnny Hodges
4.    Lee Konitz
5.    Art Pepper
6.    Sonny Stitt
7.    Bud Shank
8.    Phil Woods
9.    Paul Horn
10.  Benny Carter

Cannonball Adderley continues to rise in the charts. He’s now number two with a bullet, except that Paul Desmond will likely never be dislodged from the top spot, and he certainly deserves the accolades. Again, the most conspicuous absence is Ornette Coleman, and he’s really absent this year. Last year he had a handful of votes and just made the last spot on the list. This year he appears to have gotten no votes at all.
In 1958 he may have been an interesting curiosity, someone new on the scene that people didn’t quite know what to make of. In 1959 he was the most controversial figure in jazz. So the way I look at is this. Desmond and Adderley got their votes because people loved what they did. But for most of the rest of the list, the vote meant a conscious decision to vote against Ornette Coleman.

Tenor sax:

1.    Stan Getz
2.    Sonny Rollins
3.    John Coltrane
4.    Coleman Hawkins
5.    Zoot Sims
6.    Benny Golson
7.    Bill Perkins
8.    Ben Webster
9.    Al Cohn
10.  Paul Gonzalves

Benny Golson is the significant name on the list. Otherwise virtually nothing changes.
It’s impossible to find fault with this ranking. Every one of the top ten votegetters deserves to be there. Stan Getz number one and Sonny Rollins number two? It’s reasonable, it’s not unfair. Rollins number one and Getz number two? Every bit as reasonable. But looking at the numbers, and seeing that Getz outpolled Rollins by two to one, and you can’t help but think: most of the Down Beat voters are white.

Baritone Sax

1.    Gerry Mulligan
2.    Pepper Adams
3.    Cecil Payne
4.    Harry Carney
5.    Jimmy Giuffre

Gerry Mulligan gets more votes than the rest of the field put together, outpolls Pepper Adams by about six to one, and after the first five—after the first three, really—the votes dwindle down to a precious few.


1.    Tony Scott
2.    Jimmy Giuffre
3.    Buddy DeFranco
4.    Jimmy Hamilton
5.    Paul Horn

Both his Wikipedia page and his New York Times obituary say substantially the same thing: Tony Scott was the best-known clarinet player of his day, but no one has ever heard of him, because no one listened to clarinet players in his day.


1.    Herbie Mann
2.    Bud Shank
3.    Frank Wess
4.    Buddy Collette
5.    Paul Horn
6.    Sam Most
7.    Jerome Richardson
8.    Moe Koffman
9.    James Moody
10.  Bobby Jaspar

No new names in the flute voting, and one missing who was on the list last year, and who will become an important figure in the 1960s, as the flute comes into new prominence: Yusef Lateef.


1.    Milt Jackson  
2.    Lionel Hampton 
3.    Terry Gibbs 
4.    Red Norvo
5.    Cal Tjader

Nothing to report here, either.


1.      Art Van Damme
2.      Pete Jolly
3.      Mat Matthews
4.      Leon Sash
5.      Dick Contino
6.      Angelo DiPippo
7.      George Shearing

I asked last year why the accordion still got a separate category, and the organ was still lumped in with miscellaneous instruments. I thought maybe there were still more accordion players than organists on the national scene, but that didn’t make sense. People were voting for Lawrence Welk and Myron Floren just to have someone to vote for. That didn’t happen this year, but only seven accordionists got any votes at all, and it’s hard to take Dick Contino or Angelo DiPippo too seriously in a jazz context. Clifton Chenier was already making records, but Down Beat readers can be forgiven for not knowing about him.
Meanwhile, two of the hottest new musicians in jazz, Jimmy Smith and Shirley Scott, were blazing a new trail, or the trail pioneered by Wild Bill Davis, for the organ as one of the most prominent instruments of the new soul jazz. Richard “Groove” Holmes, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Charles Earland, and many more were already loping down that trail. Fine jazz organists like Bill Doggett and Doc Bagby were playing the rhythm and blues side of the street. Piano players like Count Basie had a serious organ presence. Down Beat was running a little behind the curve on this one.


1.    Barney Kessel
2.    Herb Ellis
3.    Charlie Byrd
4.    Kenny Burrell
5.    Jim Hall
6.    Freddie Green
7.    Johnny Smith
8.    Tal Farlow
9.    Mundell Lowe
10.  Wes Montgomery

I commented last year that Wes Montgomery had just missed the top ten, and this year he’s just made it. But he’s not the prodigy of the year, by any means. Charlie Byrd was number 20 last year, with 33 votes. Well, in 1958 he was playing at a club in Washington, DC, quite removed from the New York scene, and recording for Savoy. Whereas in 1959, he was…still playing at a club in Washington, DC, still quite removed from the New York scene, and recording for an even smaller label. He wouldn’t make his big splash until a few years later, the 1962 release of Jazz Samba, with Stan Getz.  So why the sudden recognition? Beats me.


1.    Oscar Peterson
2.    Thelonious Monk
3.    Dave Brubeck
4.    Errol Garner
5.    Andre Previn
6.    Bill Evans
7.    Horace Silver
8.    Red Garland
9.    Ahmad Jamal
10.  Bud Powell

There are so many great piano players that if you lopped off the top ten and started the list with the second ten (John Lewis, George Shearing, Teddy Wilson, Wynton Kelly, Count Basie, Hank Jones, Lou Levy, Duke Ellington, Russ, Hampton Hawes) there’d be no appreciable dropoff in quality.
Looking back, I see I said much the same for 1958. Well, it remains true.
The order of the top four shuffled from 1958 (then it was Garner-Monk-Peterson-Brubeck). Bill Evans is new to the top 10, with Everybody Digs Bill Evans (Riverside) and Kind of Blue propelling him into the spotlight. André Previn would eventually go on to the career as a symphony orchestra conductor for which he is probably better remembered, but he still had a lot of jazz in him, throughout much of the 1960s.


1.    Ray Brown
2.    Paul Chambers
3.    Red Mitchell
4.    Charles Mingus
5.    Percy Heath
6.    Leroy Vinnegar
7.    Oscar Pettiford
8.    Milt Hinton
9.    Arvell Shaw
10.  Israel Crosby

Here’s the weird thing about this list. Louis Armstrong doesn’t make the top ten in anything—jazz personality, combo, male vocalist, trumpet—but his bass player does. Otherwise, everything almost exactly the same as last year. It’s also interesting that Ron Carter, the bassman of the future (believed to have made more recordings than any other bassist) is on the list at #15, ahead of veterans like Wilbur Ware (top ten last year), Slam Stewart and Scott LoFaro. There must have been quite a buzz about him, because he was just out of school and new in town, and wouldn’t record until the following year.


1.    Shelley Manne
2.    Max Roach
3.    Joe Morello
4.    Philly Joe Jones
5.    Art Blakey
6.    Jo Jones
7.    Chico Hamilton
8.    Buddy Rich
9.    Gene Krupa
10.  Mel Lewis

Again, no quarrel. The white guy gets the most votes, but he’s a great drummer, and you can’t say he doesn’t deserve it. Still, I can’t help but think that if it was just drummers voting, Max Roach would come out on top. But, if it was just drummers voting, Buddy Rich might well be higher, too.

Miscellaneous Instrument

1.    Don Elliot (Mellophone) 
2.    Jimmy Smith (organ)
3.    Miles Davis (flugelhorn)
4.    Toots Thielemans (harmonica)
5.    Julius Watkins (French horn)
6.    Shorty Rogers (flugelhorn)
7.    Bob Cooper (oboe)
8.    Fred Katz (cello)
9.    Clark Terry (flugelhorn)
10.  Shirley Scott (organ)


1.      Gil Evans
2.      Duke Ellington 
3.  John Lewis         
4.  Quincy Jones
5.  Benny Golson
6.  Thelonious Monk

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