Category Archives: Alto Sax

A Man With A Horn: Lou Donaldson

2017 has dawned. The World is still spinning. I’m delighted to declare that after an abstemious Festive Season, my head isn’t. So, Happy New Year everybody and let’s hope it turns out to be much less ‘interesting’ (in the sense of the Chinese curse) than 2016. Here’s a fresh post to get matters underway at downwithit.

Over the last two months A Man With a Horn has been the most played album on my system and it has led me to an even greater respect for Lou Donaldson.

It is not one of Donaldson’s better-known albums, mainly because it was not released in the early sixties. The two sessions that make up this recording were from 1961 and 1963 and they remained in the vaults until 1999. It was over 35 years before they were dusted down as part of the Blue Note Connoisseur CD series, a conduit for rare and previously unissued material. As far as I am aware, this set has never been issued on vinyl but that does not mean it should not merit attention.

Both sessions featured guitarist Grant Green who was encouraged to move to New York and introduced to the Blue Note label by Donaldson. The earlier session utilises Jack McDuff on Hammond organ in a rare Blue Note outing, whilst John Patton, another Donaldson protege, plays the keyboard on the 1963 date. McDuff is used as an accompaniest, playing understated swirling chords on the five ballads from ’61, while John Patton is given more space to solo.

The CD alternates between songs from each of the sessions and I have marked 1961 tunes with a single asterix (*) and 1963 with double asterixes (**). I initially wondered why the set had been sequenced in this way. I eventually grouped and played through the tracks in the two discrete sessions. This leads me to the conclusion that while the 1961 session, which consists of mellifluous ballads is strong, the tunes benefit from being interspersed with the more uptempo offerings from 1963. As presented there is the variety and texture to turn this CD into a more rewarding listening experience.

The Errol Garner standard Misty* is given a lush rendition as opener. The purity of tone from Lou Donaldson’s alto sax is exceptional and is well-matched by the sensitive contributions from the other three musicians, especially Grant Green. It is currently on Youtube courtesy of Zateuz and you can watch here:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Hipity Hop** starts off in the manner of a 1950’s swing tune before John Patton plays an incredible solo starting with a Morse code like trill held for a full 24 bars. It certainly catches the attention. This Donaldson composition is an uptempo and funky toe-tapper and he plays an assertive and exemplary alto sax solo before Grant Green and Patton contribute to a rich confection flavoured by Irvin Stoke’s wah-wah muted trumpet.

It is then back to 1961 for Please*, a second delicate romantic ballad on which all four musicians acquit themselves well.

On My Melancholy Baby** Lou Donaldson builds on riffs that owe much to Charlie Parker’s school of soloing, with an engaging contribution delivered from the trumpet of Stokes.

Man With A Horn* features more delectable and sensitive playing from the 1961 quartet in a track that is a bit of a smoocher.

Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White** is delivered over a playful cha cha rhythm and contains a solid portion of Grant Green’s ever-tasteful guitar.

Prisoner Of Love* is a standard which was in the charts courtesy of James Brown and The Famous Flames (If still on YouTube this is too good to miss) when this was recorded.

Then it is off to the church of funk with Soul Meetin’**, the second Donaldson composition here and one of those great finger-snapping ‘Baptist Beat’ numbers. I’m very fond of them when they occasionally appear on Blue Note sets. As a New Year bonus this is the second YouTube post courtesy of The Nada73

To play, touch or click on the arrow

The set closes with Star Dust*, a fifth ballad that maintains the high standards of the other four. In his excellent and informative ‘The Jazz Standards’ Ted Gioia refers to it as’…the song to which their parents and grandparents courted, romanced and wed’ and traces the history of this formally much-loved song which is slowly fading into obscurity (in the way of all things).

If you come across this set on CD (and it is relatively rare) don’t hesitate to purchase it as it captures Lou Donaldson playing on the ballads with a very clear and intense tone and also includes a good balance of more uptempo tunes from the 1963 date. Grant Green is on great form, as is John Patton on this very worthwhile jewel from the vaults.

The band etc: Tracks marked * Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); Jack McDuff (organ); Joe Dukes (drums). Recorded: 25 September 1961
Tracks marked ** Irvin Stokes (trumpet); Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 7 June 1963.
Both session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Ed Hamilton. Cover design: Patrick Roques. Cover photo: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 21436.

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Nippon Soul: Cannonball Adderley Sextet

CA Nippon Soul

Japanese audio equipment and studios have earned an enviable reputation and a multitude of artists have recorded there. However, the first American jazz artist to make a live recording in the Land of the Rising Sun is believed to be Cannonball Adderley, as recently as the summer of 1963. Orrin Keepnews, obviously unaware of the sonic standards aspired to in Japan when he penned his original sleeve notes, writes: ‘Through the cooperation of Philips Records of Japan, obviously the possessors of equipment and engineering skills fully up to American standards, Sankei Hall became the scene of what is probably the first recording of American jazz artists in that country.’

These Tokyo concerts feature Cannonball and his brother Nat appearing with an excellent sextet alongside Yusef Lateef and Joe Zawinul with Sam Jones and Louis Hayes on bass and drums.

The performance opens with the title track, Nippon Soul, a fresh strolling blues composition written for the Japanese by Cannonball, who is on fine form on alto. Yusef Lateef then comes in on flute, which is overblown to great effect as his solo ends. Joe Zawinul offers a neat piano solo before the band reprise the head of the piece.

Easy to Love is an uptempo reading of the Cole Porter standard played hard bop style. Porter originally wrote the song for the hit musical Anything Goes but it was dropped due to the high notes which were difficult for male artists to hit. It was recycled into the 1936 film Born To Dance, where it was sung by Jimmy Stewart and Eleanor Powell. The original lyrics contained a couplet involving “…sweet to waken” and “sit down to eggs and bacon” but the likely implications of breakfast shared by an unmarried couple was too rich for the Hollywood censor and it was struck out to prevent outrage in middle-America. Billie Holliday recorded a notable version and it also appears on Charlie Parker with Strings.

The Weaver is the first of two Yusef Lateef compositions. The track is a blues dedicated to Lee Weaver, a close childhood friend of the Adderley’s. To these ears, this has a very early-60’s New York City feel and it is hard to imagine it having been written without that location in mind. By July 1963 Lateef had been working in Adderley’s band for nearly two years, a period which he later wrote of as allowing him the necessary time to aspire to lead in his own right again and to further develop his own musicianship.

The concise driving jazz tango that is Tengo Tango was recorded prior to the release of the album as a single and the sleeve confirms that the band liked to play it as a short piece without lengthy solos.

Come Sunday is a section from Duke Ellington’s seminal Black, Brown and Beige suite arranged by Joe Zawinul and it is a sensitive and relaxed number featuring a delicate duet between the pianist and bass player Sam Jones.

Finally on the original album version, Brother John is dedicated to John Coltrane and features composer Lateef on an Oboe played in a free sounding manner which melds sweet with sour flavours. The following YouTube file was uploaded by Brother John:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

My vinyl copy has the appearance of an original first pressing but closer examination of the sleeve and label reveal that it is actually a release made and sold by Fontana records. The guide to Riverside pressings on the London Jazz Collector website confirms that my copy was made at Philips’ Dutch plant and may well be of lower audio quality than one pressed in the UK. Caveat emptor as those crafty old Latin linguists used to write. I wonder how many original American pressings were imported to the UK prior to local release. Not a massive number, one would suppose?

CD copies also includes a brisk live version of Nat Adderley’s Worksong, which Cannonball introduces as a tune in the set by popular demand in acknowledgement of its local popularity.

Nippon Soul is a live recording that is well worth seeking out. The sextet are caught in the delivery of two excellent sets with both Lateef and Zawinul provided with a showcase for their talents courtesy of a very generous leader, whose own contribution is outshone by those of these two band members.

The band etc: Julian ‘Cannonball Adderley (alto sax); Nat Adderley (cornet); Yusef Lateef (flute, oboe & tenor sax); Joe Zawinuul (piano); Sam Jones (double bass); Louis Hayes (drums). Recorded: 14 & 15 July 1963. Live in Sankei Hall, Tokyo. Produced & recorded: Junat Productions. Sleeve Notes: Orrin Keepnews. Cover painting: Tom Daly. Cover design: Ken Deardoff. Issued as Riverside RLP 477 in 1963.

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Good Gracious: Lou Donaldson

Good Gracious Lou Donaldson cover

Stuff happens and time has flown by since the last post on downwithit.info but it is anticipated that the site will benefit from more frequent updates from now on. I’ll kick off, on the first day of August 2015, with a quick look at this relatively straightforward set from Lou Donaldson. At 18.30 on 1st August 2015, just under two years after starting downwithit.info, I’ve finally received 10,000 visits to the site, so I’ll drink to that later.

I haven’t posted about one of Lou’s albums before, mainly because I’m not the greatest fan of alto sax. Without trotting out a whole series of prejudices, suffice to say that my introduction to playing tenor sax was in a Jazz workshop where all the other sax players were on alto and the tunes that we were handed were frequently Charlie Parker classics, most of which start with fast and fluent phrases, requiring the altoist to play with both alacrity and dexterity. Of course, they were in the key of E Flat and since tenor is in the key of B Flat and my transposing skills were poor, I was onto a loser (or a very steep learning curve, if you like) from the b of the bang.

Couple my own nonsense with the standard response to Lou Donaldson, which is that his music is generally light, unsophisticated with little technical adventurousness and there is a case explaining why I’ve not given his recordings much of a listen. However, over the next year or so, I will attempt to give him a fair hearing.

Donaldson joined the New York jazz scene in the late 1940’s. Although his love of blues and pre-bop stylings was never lost and was to serve him well throughout his career, Charlie Parker was a very strong influence. He played alongside his idol and had many conversations about music with him. He is quoted in Kenny Mathieson’s ‘Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65′ as saying: “He made a big, big impression on me, at least in a musical sense”. His next statement, a sober comment on Parker’s heroin addiction, suggests that he successfully avoided the then common fallacy that abuse of narcotics was what gave Parker his edge as a musician and the route to be followed if he was to be emulated.

Joe Goldberg’s sleeve notes offer some explanation of the musical course that Donaldson was charting at this stage. He notes the importance of the club circuit ‘… where patrons are laughing, talking, drinking; enjoying themselves rather than listening to the music with solemnly exclusive attention.’ He then says that Donaldson has attempted to offer something different in the social lounge setting: ‘His playing evidences more reserve and control than the emotion-dispensers whose honking and shrieking has tended to label anyone who works in this format.’ So LD was seeking the middle ground between the club and the concert hall and perhaps that captures the dilemma. By being neither in one genre or the other, he is easy for the critic to pass over ((for example Richard Cook barely mentioned this stage of LD’s career in ‘Blue Note Records: The Biography’). LD, however, was candid in his view that he was happy with regular live work and steady album sales and that he had not wish to be a starving, though unheard and unrewarded, cutting-edge genius.

Good Gracious was recorded on 24 January 1963. It finds Lou Donaldson presiding on alto over a trio of Hammond organ, guitar and drums, featuring early appearances in the careers of Patton and Green, who, as well we know were to become Blue Note stalwarts.

Bad John sets a bright opening fast blues tempo. Although Donaldson starts off with a light intro, the piece becomes a vehicle for first, John Patton on Hammond and then Grant Green’s guitar. Lou’s own solo is fluent, yet unchallenging, though easy on the ear.

The sanctified organ on the slow gospel blues The Holy Ghost takes us off to the land where it is perpetually Sunday morning. Lou’s alto sound here is melodic, shading towards the saccharine.

Cherry, a Don Redman tune harks back to an earlier era of 30’s swing and Donaldson’s solo quotes but does not launch into detailed exploration of a series of bebop phrases.

Caracas is, as the name suggests, a nod to bossa nova. LD had recorded an earlier version, years earlier, in the mid-50s during his well-regarded sextet date with Kenny Dorham and Art Blakey from 1954. I’m not familiar with that incarnation, yet, so I can’t currently comment on it.

Good Gracious is finger-snapping jump jazz featuring some gorgeous guitar from Grant Green. If ever a tune was calling out for a blistering solo from a saxophonist, this is one. LD’s is fast and fluid but again a little thin on excitement. What do you think?

Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me, a ballad made famous as part of Billy Holliday’s songbook and written by Rube Bloom and Ted Koehler (incidentally, Koehler wrote the lyrics to the great standard song, Stormy Weather). Once again, Grant Green takes a memorable solo, played with exquisite restraint that is matched by Lou Donaldson’s own contribution.

As our quick tour through Good Gracious has shown, the set is one of those Blue Notes which attempts to cover all bases and on a cursory listen fails to impress as it shifts from juke box to standard to Bossa to ballad, although the six tracks do include four LD original compositions. Despite that it is an album which you may consider to repay a little extended listening, in which the variety it offers eventually becomes a virtue. That said, it is probably one for the seasoned collector rather than a stand-alone purchase for somebody new to the genre. As I’ve said above, well return to consider other Lou Donaldson sets in the not too distant future.

Cover photography was by Ronnie Braithwaite, brother of Strich specialist George Braith. Some will view it as an image, which is inexcusably sexist, while others may chose to interpret it differently. While a full consideration of its semiotics would perhaps be of interest, I’ve got to get this blog post out now and I’ll not offer up my tuppence worth now.

The band etc: Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 23 January 1963. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Joe Goldberg. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Ronnie Braithwaite. Model: Rose Nelmes (Grandasssa Models). Issued as Blue Note 84125.

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Gilad Atzmon live at East Side Jazz Club. 3 June 2014

Acting on a hot tip that I would probably enjoy the performance on offer at East Side Jazz Club, I rushed from a late visit to the dentist to watch Gilad Atzmon. It was a good job that I had just had a brand new filling as I spent the show grinning from ear to ear.

For me, great jazz involves musicians sparking off each other and creating an aural delight (sometimes visual too) that is a unique passage of time, never to be repeated in exactly the same manner. That happened in Leytonstone last night.

Gilad Atzmon is best known for his work on Alto saxophone but he also played soprano and clarinet here (apparently he is also a good baritone saxophonist and plays other less well known instruments too).

I got there a little late, towards the end of a beautiful ballad but was able to experience the complete renditions of Giant Steps and The Way You Are Tonight. Atzmon’s strong build offers him the option of playing with great power and this is supplemented with tremendous dexterity up and down the keys combined with an appreciation of playing with subtlety when that is required too.

I had seen Gareth Williams play in a trio as a support (to The Rebirth Brass Band, last September) at Ronnie Scott’s and tonight gave me a better opportunity to focus on his piano playing. His solos and accompaniments complemented the leaders work. In last night’s show I thought I heard numerous chords played by somebody who had benefitted from listening to Horace Silver for an extended period (maybe I’m wrong). However, I’m not saying that his keyboard work was derivative. It wasn’t- it was just very, very good.

There was a little less space for Simon Thorpe on double bass but when he did solo briefly his work was excellent. Hats off, as ever to house drummer Clive Fenner too.

After the interval there was one particular number which seemed to bring together all of the strengths of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, with passing references to A Love Supreme too. There’s a hard bop classic that sounds a little like the Postman Pat theme and that was dropped in too. Jess the cat would have loved it (PostScript: 24 hours later I’ve just realised that the tune was Mingus’s Boogie Stop Shuffle– shame on me, I call the excellent house Guinness in my defence!).

Although Gilad did not engage in a great deal of chat it was apparent that he is a character with great charisma who must be an amazing raconteur. It is quite rare to watch a musician who is selling his book alongside performanceCDs. If you want to know more about him, take a look on Wikipedia here, where you will read of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Robbie Williams, a novelist and a man who has courted major political controversy.

An evening of first-class playing closed with a rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, which Gilad supplemented with what sounded like a tall story about the sad demise of trumpeter Woody Short.

A great night at ESJC gets a rating of 8/10 from me without hesitation. If you can catch a performance given by Gilad Atzmon in your neighbourhood, get yourself down there. I don’t think he will disappoint.

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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

http://youtube.com/watch?v=GqVH1WoVIPY&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DGqVH1WoVIPY

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.

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