Monthly Archives: February 2014

Pee Wee Ellis & Fred Wesley: Ronnie Scott’s

I missed too many opportunities to see James Brown perform live. I thought that there would always be a next time. As we know, that opportunity has gone. So when the former JB stalwarts, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis engagement at Ronnie Scott’s was announced, I pounced for tickets.

I was pondering how good a gig it would be, especially as they were being backed by a funk allstar band from the UK. I needn’t have worried. Although both Ellis and Wesley sit down when they are performing these days, they remain capable of hosting a gripping show Their UK band was made up of musicians of the calibre of Tony Remy (guitar), Mark Mondesir (drums), Laurence Cottle (bass), Dan Moore (keyboards). A second reedsman added back-up tenor sax (sorry I didn’t catch his name- but I believe he was the singer’s cousin). The McKelle’s must be a fine musical family and we will be returning to vocaliste Robin McKelle’s presently.

Opening with a couple of instrumentals to settle the band in, the audience soon became aware of how well this lineup could play. Fred Wesley then introduced a special guest from one of his several hometowns, Rochester, New York State, to help out on the vocals.

I don’t know what your view of jazz vocalists is? I’m not normally enamoured, having heard a few too many sultry Sarah, siren of Salisbury types trying to woo an audience with their take on a seeming random selection from the Great American Songbook (no disrespect to anyone who is actually called Sarah, comes from Salisbury and sings a bit, by the way). Every so often somebody surprises but it is so rare hear a singer who turns out to be even halfway on the uphill road to goodville.

Robin McKelle has been gifted with an amazing voice, which became clear from the start of Cold Sweat. We were then invited to Bop to The Boogie before being advised that Robin, Fred, Pee Wee and co were going to Move to The Outskirts of Town. Even Bexley, Uxbridge, Purley or Barking would become bearable if this gang moved there as a domestic unit, especially if Ray Charles, who wrote this classic, lived round the corner too.

It was time for a mid-performance break and while you re-charge your drink or make a cuppa, you can listen to a version of FW PWE and Robin performing Cold Sweat in Paris a couple of years ago. This is lifted from YouTube to give you, dear readers, some idea of their excellence:-

Click on or touch the arrow to play the YouTube film.

After the break the band showed they could swing and played the sort of Benny Carter/Coleman Hawkins number that was probably playing in the background when PWE and Fred were growing up. It was time for Fred to tell us about Breaking Bread cooked in grease, on a wood stove, in a great big skillet (to paraphrase the chorus), which sounded like it would taste even better than Ronnie Scott’s in-house burger, if that could be imagined.

Robin explained that she was a pretty fair cook, that her parents had a wood stove and that if she had the ingredients she would rustle something up. This led into her tribute to Etta James. Her take on I’d Rather Go blind, which sounded even better at this Thursday night at Ronnie’s, than on the film that which you can view next. I’ll shout it loud! Robin McKelle is a world-class talent, of whom a great deal more will be heard.

A standing ovation from the audience was entirely merited.

Earlier this week I’d pulled out my aged copy of The JB’s Pass The Peas and I was delighted when the band covered that, followed by Chicken, written by Fred Wesley but turned into a real moneymaker by Jaco Pastorious. At some stage we went to a funky House Party, of the finest kind. Pee Wee then explained how his dear departed friend, Eddie Harris owed him a few quid. He soon cashed in with a Harris number, drawing repayment, with compound interest, from the bank with Freedom Jazz Dance inscribed of over the door. He certainly showed great fluency and dexterity as he ran through the theme. Unlike far too many tenor sax players, PWE can hit those lower register bass notes on the nail, every time. Fred Wesley can also play his trombone a little bit too.

The set closed with a fine, slowed down version of I Feel Good. If James Brown, himself, could have heard this he would have been getting on the good foot with us.

I’m glad I rewarded The Crusaders with a cautious 7/10 before Christmas, because this set was a notch up on that one, meriting a well-deserved 8/10.

The midnight train to the NorthWest has nearly reached its destination on another Friday night and with that, here’s another post for you.


Thembi: Pharoah Sanders


The recorded music that I write about here at downwithit Is a mixture of old favourite albums, some of which I’ve lived with for years and other sets that are much newer to my ears. This set, Thembi by Pharoah Sanders only came into my possession less than 24 hours ago.

Regular readers may have read my comments on Pharoah’s Africa here. I’ve been listening to his later albums for over 20 years now and I’ve seen this amazing performer live on a number of occasions, but for a variety of reasons I’ve not heard much of his earlier work on the Impulse label. I was put off in the case of Thembi by the cover portrait (a very poor excuse indeed). I am not very taken by Pharoah’s hat, tunic or unusual choice of instrument. How fickle and foolish can I get?After all, unusual hat choices have not stopped me listening to Monk. And I don’t suppose Pharoah would be very impressed by the clothes I chose and wore as the 1970’s progressed.

I can reveal that my fashion-led prejudice against Thembi has been exploded.

Thembi was Pharoah Sander’s 7th release and his 5th on Impulse. Some critics have noted a move away from muscular and strident free jazz on this set and have commented unfavourably on a record which Steve Huey (AllMusic) describes as being all over the map. We shall see.

The first track Astral Travelling is a gentle Lonnie Liston Smith composition. It is brought to you here on YouTube courtesy of Praguedive:-

To listen, touch or click on the arrow.

The stereo sound is most engaging with a myriad of percussion instruments adding texture and teasing the ears. I know little about studios and recording but I suspect that full use was made of the facilities for multi-tracking and over-dubbing available at The Record Plant in Los Angeles (tracks 1-3) and it’s sister Record Plant in New York City (tracks 4-6).

Red, Black & Green starts out with a minute of cacophony, which led to an unfavourable comparison to a new vacuum cleaner in my household. It soon resolves into a soundscape, albeit one overlaid with some challenging sounds, before entering the sombre yet beautiful territory that John Coltrane explored on the brief and stunning Alabama.

The title track Thembi returns to melody and light multi-layered percussion. It is a self-penned composition that charts the course that Pharoah would follow on his later albums (so much so that I just checked the six that were close at hand to see if this track had been revisited in later years. It had but only in kind).

Love offers bass player Cecil McBee a solo performance- another of Thembi’s soundscape for quiet reflection. It is the first of the three New York tracks, recorded in January 1971, 6 weeks after the LA session, and cuts into Morning Prayer. Lonnie Liston Smith’s piano is superb, on a par with that of Pharoah’s later and longstanding pianist, John Hicks. This, in turn, gives way to Bailophone Dance, a splendid closer which shows that Pharoah was listening and drawing on African music.

So there we have it, Pharoah Sanders Thembi. I should have listened to and acted on the wisdom of Bo Diddley:-
You can’t judge an apple by looking at the tree.
You can’t judge honey by looking at the bee.
You can’t judge a daughter by looking at the mother.
You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover!

Or, evidently, a Pharoah Sanders album! It needn’t have feared the outmost extremities of free jazz because they are not here. Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I have turned this around from shop to your desktop in less than 24 hours.

The band:
Tracks 1-3: Pharoah Sanders (Tenor and Soprano saxophones, bells, percussion); Michael White (Violin, percussion); Lonnie Liston Smith (Piano, electric piano, claves, percussion); Cecil McBee (Bass, percussion); Clifford Jarvis (Drums, percussion); James Jordan (Ring Cymbals track 3).
Tracks 4-6: Pharoah Sanders (Tenor and Soprano saxophones, Alto flute, brass bells, percussion etc); Lonnie Liston Smith (Piano, percussion, shouts); Cecil McBee (Bass, Bird effects); Roy Haynes (Drums); Chief Bey, Majid Shabazz, Anthony Wiles & Nat Bettis (African percussion). Recorded: Tracks 1-3: 25 November 1970: The Record Plant Los Angeles. Tracks 1-6: 12 January 1971: The Record Plant, New York City. Produced: Ed Michel & Bill Scymczyk. Recording engineer: Bill Scymczyk. Cover notes: Keorapetse Kgositsile. Originally issued as Impulse AS9206.


The downwithit playlist: Twenty great tracks for you to listen to

The downwithit playlist is a list of 20 YouTube track selections that I have used to give readers a taste of the albums that I have looked at here on downwithit. They are highlighted and form part of a full post.

They are gathered together here for your further pleasure. Click on the burnt orange title to link directly to YouTube and listen.

If you would like to read my full post for the album, each one is available to read here on downwithit

The following six tracks should open on a tablet or mobile device and a computer:-

Tommy Chase: Grove Merchant: Killer Joe
Abdullah Ibrahim: Mannenberg
Pharoah Sanders: Africa: You’ve Got To Have Freedom
The Crusaders: Hollywood: Hollywood
Don Wilkerson: Preach Brother: Camp Meetin’
John Jenkins: John Jenkins with Kenny Burrell: Sharon

The following fourteen tracks should open on a computer, but will not open on a tablet or mobile device:-

Blue Mitchell: Down With It. Hi-Heel Sneakers
John Coltrane: Blue Train: Blue Train
Horace Silver: Six Pieces of Silver: Camouflage
Horace Parlan: Movin’ n Groovin’: On Green Dolphin Street
Joe Henderson: Mode For Joe: Mode For Joe
Johnny Griffin: The Big Soul Band: Wade In The Water
Freddie Roach: Brown Sugar: Brown Sugar
Fred Jackson: Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’: Southern Exposure
Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder: The Sidewinder
Grover Washington: All The King’s Horses: Lean On Me
Kenny Dorham: Una Mas: Una Mas
Jimmy Smith: Home Cookin’: See See Rider
Freddie Roach: The Soul Book: One Track Mind
Kenny Burrell: Out Of This World: Montono Blues


John Jenkins With Kenny Burrell

John Jenkins cover

John Jenkins was a little-known Welsh saxophonist, who played an alto carved from virgin anthracite hewn from deep within the loins of the Rhondda Valley. He burned brightly during 1957.

OK, fabrications and cheap lines dispensed with now. Of course he wasn’t from Wales and I don’t believe anybody has yet been daft enough to try to make a saxophone out of coal but 1957 very definitely was his year. This set was his sole outing as a leader on Blue Note, although he had, a couple of weeks earlier, led another excellent session featuring Clifford Jordan and Bobby Timmons which was released on New Jazz.

Born in Chicago in 1931, he studied at the same High School as Clifford Jordan, Johnny Griffin and John Gilmore (later to spend much of his career with Sun Ra), before paying his musical dues and later playing for a brief period with Charles Mingus. After moving to New York in March 1957, he made his Blue Note debut as a sideman on Hank Mobley’s Hank (BN 1560).

This set offers an opportunity to hear John Jenkins supported by a stellar cast of Burrell, Chambers and Clark, with erstwhile tenor saxophonist Richmond on drums. It is a really engaging combination of hard bop and standard tracks.

Opening with a version of Cole Porter’s From This Moment On, taken at a brisk pace but with an extended solo played with control by Jenkins, the alto man sets out his stall, before Burrell and later Clark show off their refined skills.

Motif is a self-penned hard bop composition, again featuring great discipline and form from Jenkins and subtlety from Burrell.

Everything I Have Is Yours is a delicate ballad ‘…that has not been overdone’, in the sleeve note words of Ira Gitler.

Next track up is Sharon, named after John Jenkins daughter. It features a short bass solo from Mr PC, Paul Chambers. There’s a YouTube clip provided by JckDupp for you to listen to

Press or click on the arrow to play.

Chalumeau closes the original set. It is a jaunty tune, in honour of the single-reeded forerunner of the clarinet

The first bonus track on the CD is a Kenny Burrell composition, Blues For Two, with more delightful playing from Clark and Burrell and bowed double bass from Chambers. The CD also offers up stereo takes of Sharon and Chalumeau, which will, doubtless be of interest to some contributors to this linked post over at London Jazz Collector

My copy is a CD reissued as part of the Blue Note Connoisseur series, which is easy enough to get hold of, if a little more pricy than average.

John Jenkins dropped out of the active music scene after 1962, working as a messenger in New York and producing jewellery and dealing in brass objects at street markets in the 1970s. After 1983 he began practicing again and playing live on street corners. There’s an Internet comment which offers a fleeting personal impression of this artist.

I got a chance to hang & play with alto player, John Jenkins, at the old Augies, back in the early 90s, a few years before he passed away. He was a super nice guy. Always happy to be up there, playing.

After the early 1960’s, he sort of got lost in the shuffle & stopped playing music in public, for quite a while. Sometime in the 80’s, Harold Mabern ran into him at an OTB (Off Track Betting–now they are all gone, btw) & convinced him to get out & start playing again, which he did, until his death, in 1993 (I think it was 93, maybe 94)

So there we have it, one to seek out and enjoy.

The band etc: John Jenkins (alto saxophone); Kenny Burrell (guitar); Sonny Clark (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Dannie Richmond (drums). Recorded: 11 August 1957 Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recording: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Re-design: Patrick Roques. Sleeve notes: Ira Gitler. Originally issued as Blue Note 1573.


A breakthrough in the Freddie Roach story

The Soul Book Cover

Great news! Regular readers will know that I have made it my business over the last few months to try find out what happened to Freddie Roach, an undeservedly underrated Hammond organist. His Wikipedia entry records that he stopped recording in the late 1960s, went to live in France and was never heard of again.

I felt that there had to be more to it than that. FR (an abbreviation I will take the respectful liberty of using) had recorded no less than eight albums as leader, including five that were issued on Blue Note.

From reading album sleeves I discovered that, sadly, FR passed away in 1980, aged 49 years. RIP. There were also references to his work as a writer, a plausible line for exploration given FR’s inventive sleeve notes on albums such as Mo’ Greens Please, Brown Sugar, Mocha Motion and, in particular, The Freddie Roach Soul Book (I can’t comment on Down to Earth, All That’s Good and My People, Soul People, as I haven’t yet heard them yet. The notes for Good Move were written by jazz critic, Nat Hentoff).

At the turn of the year I decided to see if a couple of references to FR working in Newark, New Jersey would lead me anywhere. I came across a website dedicated to The Newark Jazz Elders and was excited to discover that artists who had played with FR were celebrated on there. I contacted them but there is still no word as yet. I hope that their archivist is in good health.

The end of 2013 arrived and my disappointment at not being able to update things by the end of 2013 only made me re-double my efforts to find out more. I would see if anything would turn up through searches of French websites. I chased a wild goose briefly, when I read of a Hammond organist who lived outside Paris, but that turned out to be Lou Bennett.

My French digging did uncover something that was more promising though. On 25 May 1974 there was a performance in Paris of ‘Africa Is Calling Me: A Modern Day Black Opera’. This was composed by Bob Reid and featured a vocal recitation from one Freddy Roach, who has to be our man. The performance was recorded and was later issued on Kwela Records in 1975. So there was substance to the references to FR being involved in dramatic performance.

The next jigsaw piece was on YouTube where in a comment on a Freddie Roach track where a respondent stated that he had lived in a house owned by FR on Clinton Avenue, Newark from 1971-72 and that he had heard FR playing the Hammond. So the disappearance to France was not to be the finale then.


On Wednesday, I was whiling away my lunch break in a regular Brixton coffee shop haunt. I read of a twitter link to the Mosaic Records website and made a visit. Mosaic licence and re-package classic modern jazz sets on high quality vinyl and preset them with excellent and informative packaging. Their website, which I have yet to fully explore, features short films. It was there that I learned of a growing Hammond organ scene in San Francisco and of DJ and Hammond organ historian, Pete Fallico, which you can read here.

I was sure that if anybody could move this story on then it would be Pete Fallico, so I crossed my fingers and emailed him. He responded and I picked up his reply yesterday. I was not the first person to strike gold in California but Pete’s eloquent article, which he forwarded to me, was the Freddie Roach Mother Lode.

Pete has very kindly allowed me to reproduce his excellent article on Freddie Roach. You will discover that FR did not disappear to France; that he is fondly remembered by fellow musicians from the Newark NJ area and that he was:- ‘…an actor, storyteller, playwright and jazz organist’.

Pete mentioned that he hopes to publish a book about the Hammond organ and the jazz artists who embraced it. I am confident that you will agree that if his article is a taste of what it would be like then he will be offering up an exquisite, treat filled feast.

Pete hosts a superb webcast, the doodlin’ lounge, which I am beginning to explore. It includes artist themed podcasts featuring interviews with some of the greatest living Hammondistas. You can visit doodlin’ lounge here.

My recent introduction to Pete Fallico means that I can only note a couple of things about him and runs the risk of missing much. But I will say that he hosted a radio version of Doodlin’ Lounge for 29 years; that he actually owns no less than six Hammond organs, which are made available to organists performing in California; that he is the driving force behind the Jazz Organ Fellowship and the Doodlin’ Records label (which we will return to) and that he has been kind enough to allow me to reproduce his article on Freddie Roach here.

Without further ado, it’s time to hand over to this Master wordsmith and get the answers to some questions about FR and read some great comments from musicians who knew him. Select to read on. Some questions remain, particularly about FR as a writer and actor but Pete’s work reveals truth previous obscured by mystery.

There’s one more thing on this post. It’s about Freddie Roach, so here is some of his music. Nada Bossa From Mo’ Greens Please appears from YouTube courtesy of Funkgarciab

To listen click on or touch the arrow


Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’: Fred Jackson

Hootin n Tootin_

Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’ is a superb Blue Note soul jazz set that deserves to be better known and praised loudly. Although it was the only recording that he ever released as a leader, on the evidence of this set it is regrettable that this was Fred Jackson’s only opportunity to shine.

I picked up this CD on a visit to Japan a few years ago and the deal clincher for me was when I realised, somewhat to my surprise, that the great Earl Van Dyke was the Hammond organist on the session. EVD was later to become the foremost keyboard player amongst the session artists who made up the Motown house band, The Funk Brothers (who, as I was once assured when I had the good fortune to see them perform in London, cut more US Number One records than Elvis, The Beatles and The Stones added together). EVD, together with Wilbert Hogan on drums and guitarist Willie Jones were amongst Jackson’s fellow members of Lloyd Price’s band.

Fred Jackson played as a member of Little Richard’s touring band in the early 1950’s, before joining Lloyd Price and making his recording debut in 1961 on a BB King set. Shortly afterwards he played on Baby Face Willette’s acclaimed Blue Note debut Face to Face (which we will return to at a later date), before making his own recording debut with this session recorded in February 1962. A note on the Allmusic database states that Jackson recorded a single featuring John Patton on piano, presumably cut by Blue Note with an eye to the jukebox market that they used to publicise the label. However, this was never released, although Jackson did play tenor sax on Patton’s Along Came John and both tenor and baritone on The Way I Feel. Jackson made one further return to the studio as a leader and recorded material for a second album. However, whether due to slow sales of Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’ or the lack of enough material for a complete album, this material was only released in 1998 on a CD reissue. Sadly, these tracks are not on the Japanese CD that is in my collection, so I will have to track them down in due course.

Dippin’ In The Bag gets proceedings off to a good start with a brisk blues with Jackson running through a few interesting ideas, with nods to tradition. On reprising this album, the excellent guitar playing made me wonder whether it was Kenny Burrell, it wasn’t, it was Willie Jones.

Southern Exposure is an incredible track. A delightful guitar intro sets the tone before giving way to a plaintive slow blues and wonderfully expressive playing from Fred Jackson. But don’t take my word for it. What do you think (courtesy of marc higgins on YouTube).

Touch or click the arrow to play

Earl Van Dyke’s accompaniment and solo has a very churchy, reedy and later sanctified sound. I am sure there are Hammondistas who could tell us exactly what settings he was using here. Sadly I can’t add anything myself.

Preach Brother features a return to the upbeat with some straight-ahead R&B saxophone from the leader. Wade in the Water (see last posting) gets a brief nod and there is another fine solo from EVD. The title track Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’ gives Jackson another chance to work out with Hogan’s cymbals providing a pulse beat to guide the feet throughout.

Easin’ On Down is a loping, pensive sort of blues offering a dialogue between saxophone and Hammond organ before Jones delivers a Grant Green, single note picking solo and EVD gets a go too. One to snap the fingers to. The sleeve notes suggest that That’s Where It’s At is “…designed to lure wayward twisters into the jazz fold”. All I can add is: ‘Come on in!’ although I’ve never been any good at doing The Twist. Listeners will note a further reference to Wade in The Water here too. Way Down Home is the closer

Although a cursory Internet search has revealed little about Fred Jackson’s later life, the good news is that I haven’t found any obituaries or record of a date of death. So if you are still with us Fred, I hope you are enjoying life in your ninth decade and thanks for a great album.

The band etc: Fred Jackson (tenor saxophone); Earl Van Dyke (Hammond organ); Willie Jones (guitar); Wilbert Hogan (drums). Recorded: 2 February 1962. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Recording: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Sleeve notes: Dudley Williams. Originally issued as Blue Note 4094.


The Big Soul Band: Johnny Griffin Orchestra

Big bands- love ’em, loathe ’em, or try to understand ’em. I was initially reluctant to give much time to what I viewed as a jazz form that lacked spontaneity featuring over-drilled musicians simply reading the dots from charts. Thankfully, my Ronnie Scott’s membership in the late 80’s / early 90’s enabled me to try out excellent artists that I had not previously seen or heard for little more than the price of a drink. Along the way I saw unforgettable big band performances from Lester Bowie and Sun Ra which convinced me that I should open my ears a little more.

Despite the benefits of my liberal education at Ronnie’s, I retain a marked resistance to purchasing big band recordings. However, I kept coming across copies of The Big Soul Band while browsing through second-hand bins for those elusive Blue Note first pressings. Eventually I bit the bullet and bought.

Johnny Griffin, or John Arnold Griffin III, was born and raised in Chicago. In the late 1940’s he befriended Elmo Hope, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, three great pianists from whom he received what he referred to as ‘my postgraduate education’. Not a man of great stature, his playing won him the nickname ‘the little giant’, while his pugnacious talents in after-hours cutting sessions where instrumentalists battled it out resulted in him gaining the title of ‘fastest tenor in the west’. He toured with Monk, following John Coltrane’s departure and later played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

By March 1960, a 31 year old Griffin was already an experienced session leader with seven recordings to his name. These included three Blue Note dates (which we will return to at a later date) although he moved to Riverside in 1958 since he did not get along with Rudy Van Gelder. At Riverside he was encouraged to realise an ambition which was to record an album with a really big sound derived from traditional spirituals or similarly structured tunes. Producer, Orrin Keepnews noted that whilst the sound that Griffin had in mind was ‘…becoming prevalent and popular in jazz circles (and quite notably on Riverside) as “soul music”…apparently no one else had yet thought of welding “soul” with a full big band sound.’ Riverside gave Johnny a Griffin the green light to proceed and The Big Soul Band set was the result.

The musical arrangements were crucial to the project and this was entrusted to Norman Simmons a young pianist and arranger, like Green, also from Chicago.

Without further ado here is the set’s opening number. It is a muscular, trombone filled Big Soul Band version of the classic spiritual Wade in The Water, brought here with interesting water-themed visuals, featuring Hollywood’s ‘Million-dollar mermaid’, Esther Williams, courtesy of Sergio Walrus on YouTube.

To watch, click or touch the arrow

Panic Room Blues is next up and offers a muted trumpet before giving way to the light and shade offered by Griffin’s tenor saxophone against a background of trumpets and a particularly engaging trombone solo from Matthew Gee.

On Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen Griffin’s introduction is played with feeling contrasted with a sophisticated ensemble sound.

I’m less keen on the flavour of Meditation Which sounds like film soundtrack music for a tale of mild mystery and marginal suspense. If the album was typified by this track it would have been on its way back to the vendor very quickly indeed- but, of course it might be your favourite (and please bear in mind I couldn’t write or arrange my way out of a musical yet metaphorical paper bag).

Holla opens Side 2 with a slinky sort of feel and a chance for Griffin to lead the way.

Bobby Timmons was also on the session and he contributes So Tired although the piano duties are given over to Harold Mabern on the recording. There is a version here from YouTube coutesy of MoodSwingerz.

To watch, click or touch the arrow

Deep River is the third traditional spiritual number and is played with reverence and feeling. Finally, Jubilation is a joyful Junior Mance composition which offers bassist, Vic Sproules an opportunity to be heard loud and clear.

The Big Soul Band is an enjoyable recording although, for me, the contrasts in both volume and tone between the soloists and the ensemble mean that it will never become everyday listening- a record that I have to be in the right mood for. My copy is a mono vinyl pressing: RLP 331. The cover is a bold one, with half the front given over to a press release, which describes the contents. It is a good piece of copy which bears reproduction here:-

The vibrant and large-scale sound heard here is one that achieves much of its dynamic and deeply-moving newness by reaching back into the roots and soul of jazz. It makes excitingly emotion-charged modren use of such fundamentals as spirituals, blues and gospel-imbued jazz. This is also big music; the rich burstingly full sound of brass and reed sections. For the very first time, a truly big-band sound has been dramatically merged with the soulful earthiness of the stirring new jazz of the 1960’s- music that combines down-home funk with the aggressive surge of the big city. This startling and unique album features the Johnny Griffin Orchestra in arrangements by Norman Simmons. It spotlights the amazingly full-throated tenor saxophone ‘preaching’ of Johnny Griffin, playing as never before in front of the fervent, larger-than-life sounds built by Norman Simmons, a young arranger whose brilliant future begins here.

The band etc: Norman Simmons (arranger); Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone); Harold Mabern (piano); Bobby Timmons (piano, celeste track 3); Clark Terry and Bob Bryant (trumpets); Charles Davis (baritone sax); Edwin Williams (tenor sax); Julian Priester and Matthew Gee (trombones); Pat Patrick and Frank Strozier (alto sax);Bob Cranshaw and Vic Sproules (bass); Charlie Persip (drums). Recorded: May 21 & 31 and June 3 1960. Plaza Sounds Studio, New York City. Produced: Orrin Keepnews. Sleeve Notes: Orrin Keepnews. Cover photos: Lawrence Shustak. Cover Design: Ken Deardoff. Issued as Riverside 331.


Movin’ & Groovin’: Horace Parlan

To date, I haven’t taken a look at any piano trios, so putting that right is overdue. Horace Parlan’s debut as a leader, Movin’ & Groovin’ from 1960 is a particular favourite that I have been enjoying since 2010 when visit to Tokyo gave me the opportunity to purchase some Blue Note titles that were then a bit harder to find in the UK.

Horace Parlan was born in Pittsburgh in 1931. Childhood polio led to lifelong partial paralysis of his right hand and I understand that a young Horace took up piano, partly as a form of therapy. Needs must, and his physical challenge was answered by greater use being made of his left hand, which set him apart from other players. In 1957 he moved to New York City and the Movin’ & Groovin‘ session was recorded for Blue Note three years later.

Movin & Groovin Cover

The album is largely made up of Parlan’s interpretations of other people’s tunes, and Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues provides the starting point. There’s just the right degree of what I, as a non-piano playing listener, perceive as building tension in his playing.

Next up is On Green Dolphin Street. Prior to hearing this LP I was most familiar with a version recorded by Miles Davis. The light and joyful optimism Of Horace Parlan’s treatment makes it a track I listen to often. It was a title tune of a film that broke UK box office records in 1947. It starred Lana Turner in what sounds like something of a rom com where a man gets drunk and writes a letter proposing marriage to one of two sisters who both love him. The wrong sister opens the letter! Oh well, there have probably been flimsier plots and it’s lasting legacy was a fine tune, which you can listen to on YouTube- clip courtesy of 1Blue1

To listen, touch or click on the arrow.

Up in Cynthia’s Room is the sole self-composed tune on this set. It has a fine strolling bass line and is strong without being too demanding to listen to. Lazy Bird is the Tad Dameron standard. It offers a chance for Al Harewood to show that he knows the way around the full range of his kit.

Bag’s Groove is a bustling tune that made me think about Hollywood and dancing as I listened. There probably isn’t such a thing as a foxtrot hustle, but if there was this would be what it could be performed to.

Stella by Starlight offers Parlan another chance to deliver a jazz standard, as does There is No Greater Love, while the set closes with It Could Happen to You. My 92 year old aunt was bouncing along to this one and smiling as it played- so thanks for that Mr Parlan.

Horace Parlan is one of the survivors. In 1971 he decided to move to Europe after being robbed and witnessing other street violence in New York City stating that: “You cannot create good music in an atmosphere full of tension with drugs and crime on the streets.” On the following YouTube clip from a documentary filmed in 2000 (courtesy of DonMcGlynnFilms) he plays a tune entitled Love and Peace and explains how essential these things are to all of us.

To listen, touch or click on the arrow.

Recent posts on London Jazz Collector’s site have looked at two recordings from 1977 and 1980 that Archie Shepp made with him, in which they revisit blues and gospel standards (you can read about them here and here). They remain a treat that I have yet to fully experience, but I can wholeheartedly recommend Movin’ and Groovin‘ as a great starting point for any exploration of Horace Parlan’s piano style.

The band etc: Horace Parlan (piano); Al Harewood (drums); George Tucker (bass). Recorded: 29 February 1960. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, New Jersey. Produced: Al Lion; Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 4028.