Category Archives: Blue Mitchell

Bring It Home To Me: Blue Mitchell

Four years have passed since my first post was published here at downwithit.info on 19 September 2013.

The first recording that we listened to was Blue Mitchell’s ‘Down With It!’, for reasons that were self-explanatory.

In the meantime, 166 individual items have been posted. Long-cherished albums have been aired alongside sessions that were new to my ears and occasional new releases. A sprinkling of sites and blogs are concerned with similar modern jazz territory, though most centre on vinyl treasures that I have recently acquired or chosen to write about. Here at downwithit, there is rather more freedom available to me, since recordings on CD are devoured and commented on. Without CD issues my collection would be relatively small and the vinyl equivalents would have cost a sizeable fortune.

Although Bring It Home To Me was recorded a mere six months after Down With It! it seems to represent a step forward for Mitchell’s band who seem to be facing the future rather than delving into the past. That is not to suggest that a contemporary free sound is to be found here and the album remains firmly within the soul jazz spectrum. There were significant personnel changes and Harold Mabern replaced Chick Corea on piano with Billy Higgins in place of Al Foster on drums.

The title track is a pleasing blues that seems to suggest signs of a transition to a funk sound. Junior Cook takes the first solo. Mabern’s piano accompaniment is simple yet effective and he gives us a stylish soul jazz solo. Although some may be inclined to dismiss this as a ‘Sidewinder’ inspired piece, Mitchell charms with an engaging solo and it is perfect opener as you can hear via the following Youtube link:-

To play, click on or touch the arrow

Blues 3 for 1 is, as its title suggests, a jazz waltz and a jaunty, enjoyable one too, with Mabern delivering a memorable solo.

Time for the Latin mélange of Port Rico Rock, which fits in well here.

By January 1966 Mitchell’s friend and collaborator, Jimmy Heath’s, Ginger Bread Boy was an emerging standard. Mitchell’s version is more conventional than the sparse, edgier and far looser though better known recording that Miles Davis released a year later on Miles Smiles. There’s definitely a place for both and Mitchell’s soul-tinged trumpet tone heard here is more expressive and richer than the driving mumbled rumble originality that Miles was later to present.

Blue changes the pace with a gentle and sophisticated ballad Portrait of Jennie, a late 1940’s Hollywood theme which had previously been popularised by Nat King Cole and Clifford Brown.

The set closes with Blue’s Theme, which is an uplifting hard bop workout based on the I Got Rhythm chord changes. The sleeve notes recount that this was the band’s closing number when they played club performances.

The cover illustration is by George Wright. It has a superficial resemblance to Johnny Griffin and Kenny Burrell covers painted by Andy Warhol. Wright was a regular designer for Blue Note during this period and is credited with cover art direction for Freddie Roach’s Good Move and Stanley Turrentine’s Rough ‘N’ Tumble. I’ve not uncovered anything further so if you can add information please don’t hesitate.

Bring It Home to Me is the fourth of Blue Mitchell’s recordings as a leader at Blue Notes and it is a thoroughly enjoyable outing. My CD is a Japanese Blue Note 75th anniversary edition released in 2014.

The band etc:-  Blue Mitchell (trumpet); Junior Cook (tenor sax); Harold Mabern Jr (piano); Gene Taylor (bass); Billy Higgins (drums).  Recorded 6 January 1966.  Recorded by: Rudy Van Gelder, Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Ira Gitler.  Cover Drawing: George Wright.  Issued as Blue Note BST 84228.

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An update: Down With It!: The Blue Mitchell Quintet.

No prizes for guessing that my first post here at downwithit.info in September 2013 took a look at the Blue Mitchell set entitled… …Down With It! You can read what I thought about this fine set here.

Shortly after writing the post I bought what at the time I thought was an original first stereo pressing of the LP. It didn’t break the bank and I was a little dissatisfied with the sound quality. It was good but I was expecting a lot more. Then a little research confirmed that what I had was indeed an early issue- but not a first pressing. There was no Plastylite ‘ear’ for a start. I was disappointed but determined to obtain a good quality mono first pressing without paying silly money.

Over the last year or so I’ve bid for a number of copies on eBay, without success. I took another look on New Year’s Day, not particularly expecting to find what I wanted.

Oh me of little faith! I was wrong. An American dealer was auctioning a copy which he advertised as a conservatively graded VG+/Ex stereo copy, but which clearly had the mono serial number (BLP 4214, not the BST 84214 that a stereo copy would have on the label) in the accompanying photo. Everything else indicted that this was the first pressing that I was after.

The entry price was moderate and the cover was fully intact but a bit discoloured (I’d grade it as VG).

I was successful and paid well under the not over-large sum that I had set my snipe at. It arrived today and I’m delighted. It has all of the presence and clarity that I’d hoped for first time round and an independent listener confirmed in a blind test that it sounded better than my stereo copy. Indeed, things may get even better as it is off to the vinyl shop for a spin on their high-quality disc washing machine tomorrow.

So there’s much rejoicing tonight in the land of downwithit.info and as there’s currently a version of the excellent Hi-Heel Sneakers from the set on youtube (courtesy of Antonio Jiminez) you can have a listen (until it gets removed from youtube again):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAoLPw-Fh0c

To listen, touch or click on the arrow.

I really should add that March On Selma and Alone, Alone and Alone are superb tracks which you really should make time to listen to.

In 2014 I took a look at 26 classic Jazz albums. There’s a shortcut to a summary page here.

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Macc Record Club. 10 September 2014

One of the great delights of building a music collection is when the opportunity arises to play selections for other people and it can be even better if they introduce you to some of their favourites too.

Book groups have flourished up and down the country, offering interested people the chance to get together to explore new titles and discuss the merits, or otherwise, of what’s on offer.

Recorded music hasn’t received much of this sort of attention. Although, apparently there’s a Duke Ellington Society in London who get together to listen to the great man’s records and occasionally play other jazz titles.

In the spring I glanced at a HiFi magazine which told of a record club in deepest Derbyshire, where people got together to play vinyl recordings and talk about them. What a great idea and such a pity it wasn’t on my doorstep. I mentally filed it away in the ‘Good idea…But…’ section of my mind.

Luckily, somebody else also decided that what they had read about was a great idea. But, in their case, they were prepared to do something about it. In my home town of Macclesfield there was (in September 2014- as of January 2016 it now operates online only or by appointment) independent business where you can chose from great retro furniture and accessories. Simon, the proprietor, has a background in hi-fi, DJing and ultra high-end audio installation. So it was only a small leap for him to start to sell records and then to add simple retro record players to his stock.

Over time, local music lovers passed through the store, DMJ Vintage, enjoying entertaining conversation and, in my case, purchasing a Matmos Jelly Light. Simon had read the same article and decided to host a record night in the comfortable upstairs room of Mash Guru, an excellent and stylish local bar.

I was delighted to be able to attend the inaugural meeting last week.

Macc Record Club was advertised by word of mouth and text of Twitter. Like the Booker Prize, a few records were short listed and a main title was selected by public ballot, to be played in its entirety at 8pm sharp. Prospective attendees were encouraged to bring at least one track of their choice, of about 5 minutes in length, to play to everybody else.

Although it would have been relatively easy to put together a very high-end hi-fi, Simon, wisely in my view, decided to use a relatively simple and extremely affordable system based around Rega’s entry level turntable, arm and cartridge.

7.30pm arrived and five people had assembled. As I’d come quite a long way I was invited to play a tune. So it came to pass that the first record played at The Macclesfield Record Club was Blue Mitchell’s version of Hi-Heel Sneakers from his Down With It set. You may perhaps wonder why I chose that? Or perhaps not!

After that, we had Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited before all ears tuned to the album of the night, which was The Stone Roses first album. Drinks flowed, the conversation was rich and Scandinavian House, Steppenwolf, Now That’s What I Call Music Vol 35, Dr Dre, a track from a compilation of computer games backing tracks and Kenny Burrell’s Montono Blues (which you can listen to here) merged seamlessly. One by one we played our tracks and the first-night attendees swelled to about a dozen.

A memorable night was had. Unfortunately, time came for the closing tracks. Wigan Casino had the amazing three before 8 but Macc Record Club had its own show stopper: a selection from an ancient compilation of bands from Milton Keynes.

To that point an entire genre of music hadn’t featured- Country- but Simon put that right with the ballad of a father who baked a banana birthday cake for his lil (sic) son.

The narrative ran something like this: The said son thought that his dad had forgotten his birthday and ran out of the house, slipping on a banana skin (from the cake) into the path of a juggernaut, which ploughed into the house killing his mother too. What an amazing confection the cod cowboys of MK had conjured, presumably while tending their stone cows (next to Stone Roses?). Now that’s what I call country.

The format worked wonderfully and Simon and his co-producer, Peter did a brilliant job in turning a good idea to tangible reality. Macc Record Club deserves to flourish and I’ll be back from time to time. I had a dead good night and made sure the jazz flag flew proudly amidst the cornucopia of tunes. There was ‘No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones’ in 2014 Macclesfield and sadly no Clash either, but The Modern Lovers and Patti Smith did make an appearance.

If you like the idea of what you just read about, why not start your own record club at a venue of your choice? The only requirement was set out by the sage of Hampstead, George Michael: a willingness to LISTEN WITHOUT PREDJUDICE. Men and women of the world, it’s time to get out of our sheds and dens and share those big tunes.

You can read about the continuing adventures of Macc Record Club here.

DMJ Vintage can currently as of July 2016 be found here.

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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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Down With It!: The Blue Mitchell Quintet

Why should I bother with this?  There’s the great trumpet playing of Blue Mitchell; engaging piano from a young Chick Corea; a varied set from hot jukebox to cool Latin and bossa, and a fine ballad.  The whole package is complemented by exceptional sleeve notes from Phyl Garland, who offers up a counterblast to elitist critics and writers who seek to confine the music to a cerebral ghetto (and who ain’t got an iota of funk in ’em).

The band etc:-  Blue Mitchell (trumpet); Junior Cook (tenor sax); Chick Corea (piano); Gene Taylor (bass); AlFoster (drums).  Recorded 14 July 1965.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Phyl Garland.  Cover photo: Reid Miles.  Issued as Blue Note 4214.

This was Blue Mitchell’s second session to be released on Blue Note (although his earliest Blue Note session as leader, from 1963, was released in 1980 as ‘Step Lightly’).  Junior Cook and Gene Taylor has previously been in Horace Silver’s Quintet with BM.

The music:-  ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ was originally recorded by Tommy Tucker.  To date it has been recorded by over 1,000 bands and artists and it is hard to imagine a better version (though Grant Green and Ramsay Lewis both come close with slightly different stylings).  Blue Mitchell heard it being performed by an RnB group in a Pittsburgh club and decided to give it a soul jazz makeover.  Junior Cook solos first before Blue takes things on over a tight rhythmic background.  Chick Corea plays a delightfully restrained solo before the band return to the head.  ‘Perception’ exudes Latin-tinged cool with Chick Corea getting space and time after BM and Cook.  ‘Alone, Alone and Alone’ was written by a Japanese trumpet player, Terumasa Hino who gave the tune to BM when he was playing in Tokyo.  For me it inhabits the same territory as ‘After The Rain’ and ‘Central Park West’ and conjures up images of a lazy Sunday in Manhattan.

Side Two opens with ‘March on Selma’.  Phyl Garland noted that this was not directly linked to the civil rights movement and this intrigued me.  Her comment led me to Google because I thought this striding theme may have been about a sassy 60’s metropolitan woman.  I was wrong.  The three civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama represented a watershed in the fight for black voter registration in the southern states.  The first march was broken up with great viciousness on ‘Bloody Sunday’ 7 March 1965 by State Troopers deploying tear-gas and truncheons.  Within 48 hours solidarity demonstrations took place in 80 American cities and Dr Martin Luther King flew to Selma to lead a second and finally third successful march to Montgomery.  The resulting Voting Rights Bill became law within a month of this recording session.  Linked or not, the tune has an irrepressible sense of optimism and momentum.  ‘One Shirt’ is a gently paced Latin workout ahead of the closing Bossa Nova of ‘Samba de Stacy’, both tunes written by William Boone, an old friend of Blue Mitchell’s from his hometown of Miami.

I was delighted to get my hands on a near mint stereo early pressing of this LP on 25 October 2013, for a fair auction price from a nice American who sells records on eBay. The absence of a Plastylite ‘ear’ confirmed that I do not have a first pressing and I was expecting the sound to have a little more presence and brightness. Given the title of the blog I had to get it and I may even seek out a mono version in due course (see post dated 8 January 2015 here).

Sadly, the YouTube link to ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ has been blocked (however, you may find a working link with my update on this post here). However, as of 4 Sept 2014 the link to ‘March on Selma’ posted by on YouTube by Roger rogerjazzfan is still available.

Phyl Garland’s sleeve notes really spell out where I will attempt to go in this blog, so no apologies for closing with an extensive quote:-

 “Of late, a certain dangerous myth has sprung up around this country’s most original and underrated art form.  It is that jazz, in order to be good, must be separate, exclusive and decidedly inaccessible, except for those few who approach it with a mystic’s vague abstraction.  This brand of thinking has been perpetuated by a cerebral cult that has all but analyzed the life out of the music and has tended to downgrade a musician once he has made the mistake of becoming too popular… …Fortunately the music has continued to thrive, far from the hue and cry created around it; and there remain enough eager listeners who refuse to be frightened away by all the bugaboo, selecting their sounds with open minds and uncluttered ears.

 Yes, its about time someone started extolling those whose music CAN readily reach a great many people, easily enveloping them in its warm spirit, inciting them to spells of foot-tapping and finger-popping.”

 

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