Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Listening to Prestige 449: Willis Jackson

It's later for the Gator, as Willis Jackson finds himself in a romantic, sentimental mood for this outing,  He's working in a quartet setting, giving him space to express this side of himself, and he does it expertly and with feeling.

His pensive mood apparently extended to meditation on religious matters, because he included two spirituals with the set, "Motherless Child" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." a later compilation of these and some other ballads, Gentle Gator, omits the spirituals. And gentle though the mood may have been, it was apparently lusty enough that selection, "Nancy (With the Laughing Face"), the tribute to Frank Sinatra's first wife written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Phil Silvers, is also include on a Prestige compilation album, Lusty Moods, the lust apparently inspired by the mention of a woman's name, since that's the common thread in all the song titles. And one of the selections,  was perhaps not moody enough, because it was saved for a Prestige LP, Really Groovin'.

Mickey Roker was raised in Philadelphia, where he was mentored by Philly Joe Jones and another Philly drummer. As he related it to Ethan Iverson in a 2011 interview:
we used to have jam sessions right here in this house [the family home in Philadelphia, where he still lived in 2011].  With a piano over there.  My uncle bought a piano.  The drums would be set up right here and the bass would be over there.  Every Sunday we would have jam sessions with cats like McCoy, Kenny Barron, Arthur Harper, Reggie Workman.  An alto player named “C” Sharpe. Odean Pope used to come. Philadelphia cats, you know.  The drummer that inspired me the most was Eddie Campbell.  Boy, that cat could play, man.  He could take an idea and just wring it out. And he would be smiling all of the time.
Roker's first New York recording was with Gigi Gryce for Prestige, three in all. He was at the
beginning of a career that would find him one of the most sought-after drummers on the scene, recording most frequently for Blue Note.

Ethan Edwards produced. The Moodsville album was called In My Solitude.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Listening to Prestige 448: Jimmy Hamilton

The second of two Jimmy Hamilton sessions finds the longtime Ellington sideman fronting just a quartet (the first had been a sextet with Clark Terry and Britt Woodman). Tommy Flanagan and Wendell Marshall are back with him, and there's a new drummer, Earl Williams.

Williams came from Detroit, which is almost all the pedigree you need to know. But there's more. His father was Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams, and he started touring with his dad right out of high school. The best biographical information on Williams comes from the web site of his son, Earl Williams Jr., a saxophone player like his grandfather. Earl Sr. played with Clyde McPhatter, among many others, and Earl Jr. is currently working with another next generation performer, Ronn David McPhatter.

Per young Earl, we learn that his father, while still in high school in Detroit,
began working with such artists as Lester Young, Barry Harris, Alice Coltrane, Della Reese, and Yusef Lateef.  While with [Paul Williams] he played with such artists as Ruth Brown, Chuck Berry, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter and Big Joe Turner. After two years with his father’s band, My Dad left to join pianist Eddie Heywood. It was during this period that he permanently moved to New York, where he found his skills as a diversified drummer to be in great demand. He began working with many different artists, including Mary Lou Williams, The Swingle Singers, Eric Dolphy, Diahann Carroll, Jaki Byard, and The Major Holly-Tommy Flanagan trio. He also worked as house drummer at New York’s famous Apollo Theatre.
My father soon became very active as a studio musician playing on all types of recording including radio and television commercials. His television credits include a year at WNET with the Reuben Phillips Orchestra on the “Soul Show”, two and a half years at NBC with Seldon Powell on the “Someone New” show with host Leon Bibb, and a year at ABC with the Charles Randolph Grean Orchestra on the “Jack Paar Show.” My dad also has several Broadway shows to his credit, among them are “Funny Girl,” “Hair,” “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope,” and “A Chorus Line.”
My father's ability to handle any musical situation has afforded him the opportunity to perform with a wide variety of artists, including Teddy Wilson, Sonny Stitt, Sy Oliver, Warne Marsh, Ron Carter, Zoot Simms, Lena Horne, Shirley Verrett, Jean Pierre Rampal, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Valerie Capers, Larry Rivers, Opera Ebony, and The Alvin Ailey Dance Company.“
Young Earl takes justified pride in his father. And we can appreciate the life and career of Earl Sr., another gift of the fertile Detroit jazz scene to the music world. Jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, pop, Broadway, classical, opera. A life well lived in the music business.

And this session has to be one he could have looked back on with some pride. Hamilton mostly plays tenor sax here, with some lovely clarinet on "Dancing on the Ceiling." With Hamilton as the only front line player, the rhythm section gets time to shine, and they do, especially the always impeccable Tommy Flanagan.

The set is evenly divided between standards and Hamilton originals. One that particularly interested me was "Route 9W," because Route 9W goes through my home town, and indeed through most towns on the west side of the Hudson River. I drove on it today, and made a point to listen to this track as I was driving. Hamilton's melody is catchy, Williams does some very nice stuff rhythmically, Flanagan is Flanagan. And Hamilton swings it, even venturing into some discreet honking.

I was interested in "Lullabye of the Leaves," because although it's an oft-recorded jazz and pop standard, I had only previously heard it by Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, recorded in 1952, when Mulligan had just brought the birth of the cool out to the West Coast. Mulligan and Baker give a master class in cool with their version. Hamilton isn't afraid to let some warmth in, and some romance. The original lyric by Joe Young (melody by Bernice Petkere) is about a lonely soul remembering a lost childhood, but romance is never out of place with a good melody.

Hamilton returned to the Ellington fold for a few more years, then retired to the Virgin Islands, and didn't make another record as leader until 1985, when he was rediscovered playing at an island club called the Buccaneer, and presented by the Who's Who in Jazz label as Jimmy Hamilton: Rediscovered Live at the Buccaneer.

Esmond Edwards produced this session for Swingville.

Listening to Prestige 447: Furry Lewis

Furry Lewis was one of the first of the forgotten folk blues singers of the 1920s to be rediscovered and recorded. Nowadays, and in fact since the late 1960s, virtually every blues performer who was put on record during the blues craze of that decade has had his or her work remastered and put on long playing vinyl, then CD, then streaming. So it's hard to imagine the impact that this would have had back in the day.

But I'm trying to. I don't remember listening to the 1959 Furry Lewis album. But what blues had I been listening to up that time? What do I remember? I had been buying records by Lead Belly for some time, and Big Bill Broonzy, and Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee, mostly on Folkways. I had a couple on Stinson, a label started by American Communists initially to distribute recordings by the Red Army Chorus, which developed an on-again, off-again relationship with Folkways. There was a record by Lead Belly, Sonny Terry and Alec Stewart, who recorded a few times with Terry but is not much remembered today. I listened to Josh White, but decided he wasn't for me. Too smooth, too much of the supper club. I had a couple of Folkways anthologies of the blues. One was called Jazz Volume 1: the South, and it didn't have a cover. I got it at Record Haven on 6th Avenue, where you could get DJ and remaindered copies, coverless, with a little hole drilled through the label, for real cheap. I still have some of them. Not that one, but I still remember it, 60 years later. It had Lead Belly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, which is probably why it caught my eye, but it had lots more, leading me deeper into the blues. It opened with a field holler--"Old Hannah," by Dock Reese, and it ended with a blues called "When a Gator Hollers, Folks Say It's a Sign of Rain." I loved the title, and I loved the song. It was by Margaret Johnson. Looking it up now on Google, I see it also featured a musician whose name meant nothing to me then: King Oliver. I had an album of work songs and field hollers by prisoners at...Angola? I think so.

 I had the Harry Smith anthology, at least a couple of volumes of it. There were six, but I don't think I had them all. They were released as three two-LP sets, originally in 1952. Dave Van Ronk once said that every folk singer on MacDougal Street knew the lyrics to every song on the Harry Smith anthology, and if he was exaggerating, it wasn't by much.  Harry Smith went in a different direction from Moses Asch of Folkways (although Folkways released the anthology) and the young Communists of Stinson, who were interested in the field recordings of pioneers like John and Alan Lomax, and capturing the real ethnic folk music. He was also different from Bob Weinstock, who came along a good deal later (but still early in the process), and who liked to record classic blues artists in Rudy Van Gelder's studio, with some of his great modern jazz musicians backing them up. Harry Smith was interested in what came to be called, in a felicitous phrase, the Old Weird America. He collected commercial recordings made by white country singers and black blues singers in the late 1920s and early 1930s. So I would have heard Furry Lewis back then, because he was on the first Harry Smith album.

 I had Blues in the Mississippi Night, Alan Lomax's 1947 recording of three blues singers swapping songs and exchanging stories of what it was like in the Deep South. The stories were too true, and too damning, for Lomax to release until ten years later, and even then it was still so incendiary that he had to withhold the singers' real names, for fear of reprisal against them. Only many years later, and after they were all dead, were the names of Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Memphis Slim attached to a CD reissue.

 And by the late 1950s, I was also collecting 45 RPM records by artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, B. B. King, Wynonie Harris. It seems strange now, but to me these records were a different part of my record collection, purchased by a different part of me. The folk blues, the country blues in Samuel Charters' phrase, were part of the grownup world of leftist intellectuals, the music of the people, authentic American folk music. This was also the world of my classmates at Bard College, the red diaper babies from Music and Art High School in New York City, kids who had read Kafka and who I knew without asking were far more worldly and sophisticated than I was. The others were...well, they weren't really a part of any milieu that I was familiar with. Just me, and my best friends Peter and Wendell Jones. And maybe just Wendy and me, because Peter was mostly in his own world of jazz. We were exploring an addiction to which rock and roll was the gateway drug, and rock and roll, even as the decade rolled over, was still a phase you were expected to grow out of. Waters and Wolf were on Chess, the label of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley (he was on Chess subsidiary Checker) and doowop groups like the Moonglows. Wynonie Harris was on King, the label of Boyd Bennett and his Rockets, Otis Williams and the Charms, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

Rock and roll. It wasn't until much, much later that blues which didn't have its origins in the 1920s entered the world of cultural significance. Discovery and rediscovery was a theme of the mid-twentieth century, because so much valuable art of the early twentieth century had been overlooked and dismissed by a racist culture. Heywood Hale Broun traveled to New Orleans in 1940 to record Kid Rena and other older New Orleans musicians, sparking a revival of interest in classic New Orleans jazz. Preservation Hall, first opened in the 1950s, was an outgrowth of this revival. John Hammond, with his 1938 Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall, was an important agent in this era of rediscovery. Harry Smith, in 1952, rediscovered the Old Weird America and its music.

Samuel Charters, with his 1959 book The Country Blues and his field work for Folkways, rediscovered Lightnin' Hopkins and a number of other blues singers. But blues was still being narrowly and often capriciously defined, as was folk music (I remember being surprised to see Hopkins, whose records I owned on 45, on rhythm and blues labels, presented as a folk blues artist.)

By the mid-1950s on, one thing that was fairly clear about the new definition of folk music was that it didn't necessarily have to be made by folk--that is, by rural musicians and singers singing the songs that had been handed down through their families or their communities. A lot of it was being made by city kids from New York, or in one particularly notorious case, from Minneapolis by way of Hibbing, Minnesota. Big Bill Broonzy, a jazz guitarist, reinvented himself as a folk singer.

And in the mid-1960s Chess Records, realizing that the market for their rhythm and blues of the 1950s had dried up, reinvented Muddy Waters and released an album called Muddy Waters, Folk Singer, followed by another called The Real Folk Blues. Waters and the other artists whose amplified instruments had left them on the outside of the folk music boom were also to be embraced by young British musicians for whom all of it: folk music (they made it into skiffle in England), rock and roll, and especially the electrified blues coming out of Chicago and Detroit, were the new world of American music which the young Britishers were using to blast the doors off the ossified class system of their country.

As this bounced back to America, it tore the doors off this country's own ossified caste system, and now B. B. King, Eddie Kirkland, T-Bone Walker, James Cotton and the electric bluesmen of the Midwest and California were playing the same folk festivals -- now called blues festivals -- as Son House, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt and Furry Lewis.

 So was I a pioneer of the blues revival? Nah, I was just a scared kid. But I was there.

Furry Lewis had pretty much given up making music when Sam Charters found him in his home town of Memphis, working for the city. He didn't even own a guitar any more. But he hadn't lost his touch, either as a singer or a guitarist.

Lewis is a blues singer who harkens back to the songster days, the entertainers on street corners or rural parties who knew a lot of songs and sang whatever their audiences wanted to hear. Willie Nelson describes growing up with a similar audience--"so country they didn't know they were country." They just knew what they liked, and were as likely to request a song by Irving Berlin as one by Ernest Tubb. Lewis sang the ballads and story songs that people knew, and he sings several of them on these two sessions: "John Henry," "Casey Jones," "Frankie and Johnny," "St. Louis Blues." Lead Belly had presented a similar mix of material, but he was never presented as a blues singer. Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry also had a wide-ranging repertoire, and they had careers that stretched far into the Blues Explosion era, but they were prolific, and their style was well established by the 1960s. Had Lewis been discovered a few years later, a young producer or record label might well have discouraged this diversity. But these songs were a part of Lewis, and in fact "Kassie Jones" had been his most popular recording back in the 1920s.

One of his own twelve bar blues, and one of the first songs recorded on April 3, is "When My Baby Left Me." The first verse of the song is also the first verse of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "My Baby Left Me," later recorded by Elvis Presley. Crudup is now venerated as one of our great blues singers, but back in those days he was still pigeonholed as a rhythm and blues singer, and rhythm and blues was considered the next cousin to rock and roll, not an authentic folk music. (Big Bill Broonzy, asked if rock and roll was folk music, famously responded, "I ain't never heard no horses singin' it.")

Crudup/Presley's "My Baby Left Me" is verse-chorus, the blues variant favored by Willie Dixon and the Midwestern blues artists who recorded for Midwestern labels like Chess. The twelve bar blues is an introspective form by nature, whereas the verse-chorus form is more communicative. The singer of the twelve bar blues repeats the first line as a gesture of reassurance to himself, a way of making sure that it's true, and that he's really saying it--"My baby left me, never said a word." The verse-chorus singer cuts right to the chase--"Was it something I done, something that she heard?" And then drives on into the chorus, which will be repeated not just once, but after every verse, to hammer it home to the listener and also to invite the listener to sing along, aloud or silently--"She left me, you know she left me / My baby even left me, never said goodbye."

Furry Lewis is a communicator, far more than many of the early bluesmen. His choice of songs, his delivery, even his guitar style, are communicative. But he's still a bluesman, and he has a lot of the bluesman's introspection, even in his ballads. He'll linger over words, following them into some private world of emotion. The best of the blues singers make it a rare privilege to be allowed to follow them into those recesses of introspection, and Lewis is one of the best.

The Charters recordings of Lewis are an important milestone in the history of the rediscovery of the blues, and Charters has been recognized as a seminal figure in this movement. Lewis went on to have the renascent career that had been denied to him earlier. He played many blues festivals. He was profiled in Playboy. He was a guest on the Johnny Carson Tonight show, and was featured in a Burt Reynolds movie.

The sessions were released on two separate Bluesville LPs, Back on My Feet Again and Done Changed My Mind. They were rereleased together on CD as Shake 'em on Down.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Listening to Prestige 446: Etta Jones

Etta Jones is back, with the same rhythm section that accompanied Betty Roché on her January 24 session for Prestige, and why not? These guys had demonstrated that they knew how to work with a girl singer, and Etta, I'm guessing, must have been very easy to work with, and a very professional singer, because she got a lot accomplished in a session -- a dozen songs in this one.

And she had material left over from her last session, in September, so six of the songs from this session were bundled with five songs from that one to make her next release, Something Nice. The rest of the September session had to wait until 1963 for Hollar!, when those songs were packaged with...five more songs from this session. The titles suggest
two different concept albums, one sweet and one wild, and that does seem to have been the logic. As I've said, making the decisions about what goes on what album, and gets released when, is way above my pay grade.

You can hear a lot of other singers in Jones's voice -- there's some Billie, there's some Dinah. Those are the main two, but maybe a little Sarah, and everyone was influenced by Ella. That was the style of the day, and it was a golden era for female jazz singers. So Jones makes the right choice, I believe, when she doesn't force herself to try to be different. She accepts her influences gratefully and graciously, and she uses them to create a sound that is wonderfully listenable. whether it's familiar standards or songs that don't get recorded all that often. She is, ultimately, her own singer, and why she isn't numbered among the first ladies of jazz is beyond me.

"And Maybe You'll Be There," the first song off the session to be placed on Something Nice, falls somewhere in between, on the scale of popularity. It hasn't been covered as much as, say, "Laura," but it certainly hasn't been ignored, either. Written by Rube Bloom with lyrics by Sammy Gallop, it's a good song to sing, and some good singers have done it, including Billie Holiday, Lee Wiley, June Christy, Dakota Staton. Frank Sinatra has recorded it, and a couple of marvelous and underrated doowop singers, Lee Andrews and the Five Keys' Rudy West. Even Bob Dylan.

Here's one more interesting comparison: Betty Roché recorded the same song, just couple of months earlier, with exactly the same musicians.

The musicians approach each session differently. Jimmy Neeley takes the lead for the Roché version, Wally Richardson for Jones.  Roché takes a more theatrical approach, and by that I don't mean grand gestures, I mean she does more to create a persona, the forlorn lover who can't help looking for something she knows she'll never find, and so is constantly torn. The quintet gives her space for little pauses of self-doubt, finds equivalents for the restraint which that self-doubt imposes. Jones sings the song, her engagement more with the melody and the musicality, and the musicians play to that.

I'm very glad we have both versions. I spent a lot of time on this song, a lot more than I'd expected, and when I got back to Etta Jones's version again at the end, it still sounded wonderful.

Composer Rube Bloom deserves a little mention. He had his share of hits as a songwriter, including "Fools Rush In" and "Give Me the Simple Life," and he had his moments as a piano player, working with Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer, and leading a group called Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys, which included such bayou denizens as Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Bloom also wrote the music for "Fools Rush In," which, with Johnny Mercer lyrics, has been a staple for pop singers, jazz singers, country singers and Elvis Presley.

"My Heart Tells Me," a Harry Warren tune with lyrics by Mack Gordon, is from a Betty Grable movie, and it can fall prey to a little over-sweetness of rendition, but not the way Jones does it. With a powerful assist from Michael Mulia and Jimmy Neeley, she swings it hard. The tune has an interesting history, in that during the war, a version was made by Glenn Miller lyrics sung in German by Johnny Desmond. This was broadcast over the American Broadcasting Station in Europe, a station set up to broadcast hopeful news to Resistance fighters and demoralizing messages to German troops. Gordon also wrote the lyrics to "Through a Long and Sleepless Night," music by Alfred Newman, also from a movie. Neither of these songs have been widely recorded, but both worth a listen from Jones. "Love is the Thing" is also pretty obscure, and also written by movie composers--Ned Washington and Victor Young-- although not, apparently, for a movie.

"Till There Was You" was the hit ballad from the hit Meredith Willson musical, The Music Man, just winding up its 4-year run on Broadway as Jones took the tune to Englewood Cliffs, so that star Robert Preston could head for Hollywood to make the movie version, which was also a hit. This was the breakout romantic ballad from the show, and it became a Top Forty hit for Anita Bryant. But its biggest success was yet to come: in 1963, when the Beatles included it on their first American album. Jones keeps the sweetness of the song, but adds just enough jazzy tartness to make it interesting. "Till There Was You" was also the 45 RPM single from the session, along with "All the Way" from her first Prestige outing.

"Give Me the Simple Life" (Rube Bloom again, with Harry Ruby) led off the March 30 session, and found its way into the groove of the uptempo swingers that make up Hollar! This kind of easy but forceful swing is most associated with Ella Fitzgerald, although she wouldn't record "Simple Life" until several years later. Jones can hold her head up proudly at a comparison with Ella--she swings it, with considerable help from Michael Mulia and a "Peter Gunn"-type walking bass.

"Looking Back" is a soulful blues from the pens of two songwriters equally at home in blues and pop, and this song has found success in both genres, and in country as well. Originally a hit for Nat "King" Cole in 1958, it was covered by country crooner Ferlin Husky in 1959, and later by Marty Robbins, Conway Twitty, and rockabilly Gene Vincent. Soul versions have been recorded by Mary Wells, Roy Hamilton, Carla Thomas, the Chambers Brothers, Otis Rush, Irma Thomas, and Johnny Adams. Jazz singers Nancy Wilson, Julie London and Ruth Brown have all recorded it. The soul singers, in particular, could have learned a lot from Jones' soulful interpretation, with great assists from Neeley and Rudy Lawless.

The songwriters were Brook Benton, no slouch as a pop and soul balladeer himself, and Clyde Otis, whose entry into the music business is one of those storybook tales. As a young marine, he became friends with fellow jarhead Bobby Troup (“Route 66”)—these were the days after President Truman had integrated the armed forces. Troup encouraged his songwriting, so after he’d mustered out, he moved to New York, where he spent the better part of a decade knocking on doors, piling up rejections, and driving a cab. One evening, he caught a fare who was going to a party given by a well-known music publisher, and he persuaded the passenger to give the publisher a song.

Reel to reel? There were no cassettes in those days. But anyway, the song was “That’s All There Is to That,” and it became a Top Twenty hit for Nat “King” Cole. Within two years, Otis was the first African American A&R executive with Mercury Records. He is credited with over 800 published songs. His work with Brook Benton yielded several hits for Benton singly and in duets with Dinah Washington in addition to “Looking Back.”

“And the Angels Sing,” by Ziggy Elman and Johnny Mercer, is another song like “Give Me the Simple Life,” made to be swung. Additionally, it has a lot of lyrics (“Suddenly the setting is strange / I can see moonlight beaming / silver waves that break on some undiscovered shore”) which require a very good singer to make them make sense, carry the emotion, and keep swinging. This takes some serious musicianship combined with some serious intelligence. And she does it all in two and a half minutes, which includes a most satisfying solo by Wally Richardson.

“Answer Me My Love” was originally a German song by Fred Rauch and Gerhard Winkler. A close English translation by Carl Sigman, a prolific lyricist, began “Answer me, my Lord,” and had the singer questioning why God had stolen his sweetie, but even when recorded by Frankie Laine, who was no stranger to addressing God (“I Believe”), it didn’t take off. Sigman tried again, and Laine had better success with the new secular version, although the big hit was Nat “King” Cole’s. Love was a good fallback theme for a song in those days. “Let Me Go, Devil,” was a song about an individual in the clutches of alcoholism, but when it was redone as “Let Me Go, Lover,” it became a number one hit for Joan Weber, a top ten hit for both Patti Page and Teresa Brewer, and a charted record for several other singers.
The tempo of “Answer Me My Love” may have been more suited to Something Nice” than Hollar!, but it’s nice to have it wherever.
“Reverse the Charges,” by Paul Francis Webster and Clarence Williams, seems not to have made much of a mark in spite of the pedigree of its composers. It was the B side of a 1946 78 RPM single by the Velvetones, a vocal harmony group in the style of the Ink Spots or the Mills Brothers. A nice save out of the remainder bin of pop history by Miss Jones, and a nice recording.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Listening to Prestige 445: Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, again with new musicians, this time including a second keyboardist (Ronnell Bright). This is a session that was shelved and then cut up for parts, becoming parts of two later releases, Workin' and Stompin'. The idea of naming albums with participles goes back to the series that came out of the Miles Davis Contractual Marathon, and in fact Workin' did double duty as a title for Miles and Shirley.  Workin' and Stompin' both came out in the same year, 1967, which is a little odd--you'd think if they were releasing both at the same time, they'd put all the songs from the sane session on the same album, but
I don't know what goes into making decisions like this. Nor do I know why a recording sits on the shelf for six years. In the case of Shirley Scott, it can't have been concern that they wouldn't sell. And it certainly doesn't appear to have been a concern for quality -- this is prime Shirley, listenable and musically rewarding. But if there is one thing I am sure of in this life, it's that I know nothing about marketing.

This new aggregation behind Scott is a solid one. Peck Morrison and Roy Haynes are as reliable as they come. Ronnell Bright is a welcome addition, and Wally Richardson is exemplary. The guitar-organ combination is getting to be a soul jazz staple, and although Richardson hadn't done any soul jazz sessions, he was certainly conversant with the blues. On Prestige, he had recorded with Al Sears and Willie Dixon, as well as jazz vocalist Betty Roché. Also during the 1950s, he had worked with blues and R&B figures as diverse as John Lee Hooker and Frankie Lymon.

Workin' was the first of the two to be released, and it included, from this session, the Scott original "Chapped Chops" and Nat Adderley's "Work Song." It was still a new tune when Scott recorded it in 1961, having just been debuted the year before, first by Nat and then in the two most famous versions: the one by both Adderley brothers, in a group led by Cannonball, and the other the vocal rendition by Oscar Brown Jr. But by the time the album was released, it had become virtually a signature song of soul jazz. Scott's version is a worthy addition to the canon. The tune sounds great on the organ, Scott's improvisation on it is compelling, and so is Richardson's solo.

Stompin' takes its name from "Stompin' at the Savoy," off of this session, and I love what Scott does with it, especially in the upper register of the organ. The rest of the session is two standards and a spiritual, and the album is mostly standards, so maybe that's why they divided the session the way they did.

Esmond Edwards produced.

Jon Richards: Pay No Attention

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Listening to Prestige 444: Jimmy Hamilton

Jimmy Hamilton spent 25 years with Duke Ellington, which should tell you something about how good he was.  He replaced Barney Bigard in 1943, and was an important part of the Ellington orchestra for many of its greatest recordings, as well as a bunch more with groups of Ellingtonians led by Johnny Hodges. He released a handful of albums as leader during the 1950s on extremely obscure labels, and then this and one more on Prestige, but neither of his Prestige albums were ever reissued by Fantasy or Concord as part of their Original Jazz Classics series. You can't call him a forgotten man of jazz, because 25
years with the Duke gave him a certain recognition, but on the other hand, you sorta can. Jazz fans--certainly Ellington fans--know Hamilton as a section man par excellence. Not many know him as a soloist, improviser, leader.

This would be a good introduction, with Ellingtonians Britt Woodman and Clark Terry joining a solid rhythm section, playing all originals by Hamilton. It seems that when Jimmy breaks loose from the Duke, he gravitates toward the blues, reflecting his early days with Lucky Millinder and Bill Doggett. There's nothing like hearing a bunch of disciplined Duke's men letting their hair down and jamming on the blues, and I could listen to this all day.

A sextet is enough to get a full, almost big band sound if you know what you're doing, and these guys certainly do. They're all great section men as
well as being great soloists, so they can play together when called for, improvise when it's their turn.

Not known as a composer, although he does have one co-composer credit with Ellington ("Sunswept Sunday," from the Anatomy of a Murder soundtrack), Hamilton does not make a mistake in assigning the tunemaking chores for this session to himself. He has a good feeling for blues riffs that will sustain a whole song.

This was the first of two Prestige sessions for Hamilton, and it was released on Swingville.  After this, no more recording on his own for a long time. In 1968, he left Ellington and retired to the Virgin Islands, if you call teaching and playing music retirement.  In the 1980s, a couple of live sessions were captured and released. He died in 1994.

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