Harold Vick: Steppin’ Out

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In the jazz universe, some stars appear brighter than others, while others are not even visible to the naked eye. In pondering this, I began to read about cosmology, Hipparchus, Norman Pogson and perceived brightness. Then the hard maths formulas started to appear and I decided it was time to get back to the music here at downwithit.

Harold Vick barely registers as a footnote these days and, doesn’t even make the index in Cookin’, Kenny Mathieson’s superb book about hard bop.

I first became aware of HV through his tenor playing on Big John Patton’s Along Came John and then became determined to get hold of his sole Blue Note set as a leader. The CD is not difficult to track down, though it can attract a premium price.

Steppin’ Out is well worth the search since it features performances from John Patton and drum partner Ben Dixon as well as the great Blue Mitchell and Grant Green. All are on fine form.

Featuring five self-penned numbers and only one standard (Laura), Steppin’ Out represented a great opportunity for Vick. Our Miss Brooks is a blues with something of a burlesque quality that a gifted fan dancer could flutter her feathers to (I gather burlesque is almost respectable these days and taught through the medium of evening classes in some places). HV, the dexterous Grant Green and John Patton on Hammond, really contribute to the ambience.

Our Miss Brooks from YouTube follows:-

To play, press or click on the arrow.

Trimmed in Blue is a hard bop tune with a saxophone line that confirms that Harold Vick played alto before he played tenor and that he was well-versed in Charlie Parker’s styling. Blue Mitchell’s trumpet is bright and clear, indeed, the very epitome of clarion clarity.

Laura, a Raskin / Mercer composition follows. It is one of those melancholy sax and organ outings that could provide a soundtrack to a slow autumnal midnight walk along The Albert Embankment, while contemplating something sweet, yet lost. Then it goes into double time and new hope rises like the sun- or at least that’s one way you may imagine this piece perhaps? (The Editor says: “Shut up, immediately!”).

Dotty’s Dream is an organ-fuelled hard bop strolling tune with a fine finger-picking solo from Grant Green. The ending, when the horns return is nicely arranged. Next up, Vicksville is a bluesy soul-jazz lope with Blue Mitchell showing his skills and Harold Vick discretely exploring the full range of his tenor. Finally, Steppin’ Out, the title track, is a blues which sounds like it was a joy to play on. There are some tunes that bring a smile to the face and I feel sure the musicians were having a great time playing on this one.

Harold Vick went on to work, largely in a hard bop and soul-jazz context. He recorded seven other albums away from Blue Note as a leader, which I have yet to hear. Amongst them, his Caribbean Suite seems, perhaps, the most promising from the reviews I’ve read.

He also had another axe in his sack, having studied to degree level in Psychology, with a view to further training as a Clinical Psychologist. However, as far as I am aware, his musical career meant that he never realised that ambition. He also appeared in a couple of films, including Spike Lee’s School Days (and playing on the sound track of She’s Got To Have It). Sadly, he died of a heart attack, aged only 51, in 1987.

So there we are. Harold Vick was a gifted tenor saxophonist who has been overlooked but who still deserves to be listened to- especially in such stellar company as on Steppin’ Out.

The band etc: Harold Vick (tenor saxophone); Blue Mitchell (trumpet); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 27 May 1963. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Joe Goldberg. Cover photos and design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 84138.

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