I was sorry to learn of the passing of pianist Horace Parlan on 23 February 2017, aged 86. Over the last few years, I’ve heard and enjoyed much of his work. Since writing about him in 2014, in addition to other recordings by him, I have obtained and rate highly the two albums of traditional blues and gospel songs that he recorded with Archie Shepp and released on Steeplechase in the 1970s.
I searched for this recording for several years after I first heard the title track on Gilles Peterson’s shows sometime in the 1990’s. I can remember hunting through the CD racks every time I visited a shop with a sufficiently strong Jazz presence, in the hope that it would be released, before finally obtaining an expensive Japanese import when it came out there in 2000. I suppose I could have sought out a copy on vinyl but that was in pre-EBay days. Never mind, it came my way eventually.
The Cat Walk is an audible treat which melds Donald Byrd’s trumpet, the baritone of regular band mate Art Pepper and the piano, compositional and arranging skills of Duke Pearson.
Byrd’s musical output spanned a lengthy period from the early 1950’s through hard bop and then perhaps most notably, onto jazz funk. Although, most of my listening to Byrd as a leader has centred on his wonderful Best of Donald Byrd which features tracks from his later jazz funk Blue Note albums, it is this classic 1961 outing that we will take a look at here. We will start, without further ado. with the title track playing in the background.
To play, click on or touch the arrow
Say You’re Mine is one of four tunes on this set that Duke Pearson wrote or collaborated on. Donald Byrd opens with the theme and plays a lengthy solo on his muted trumpet before giving way to the rasping woody tones of Adams’ baritone saxophone. Pearson’s short solo is both delicate and delicious.
Duke’s Mixture is infused with the blues and strikes me as a tightly arranged tune rather than being a soloists vehicle. Although Byrd, Adams and Pearson get a chorus each, this is essentially a big band number played by a quintet.
The joint Duke Pearson and Donald Byrd composition Each Time I Think Of You sounds like an old school swing tune, with some great playing including a fluent, unmuted solo from Byrd.
Byrd’s own tune, The Cat Walk was inspired by the slinky, insouciant lope of a Tomcat. It is the very sort of tune that could have formed the soundtrack for a 1960’s modern dance piece and one wonders if it ever came to the attention of Donald Byrd’s namesake, an eminent choreographer. It is perhaps an earlier, second-cousin example of a jazz dance piece pre dating Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, which will probably make some explore further, while others recoil. I like it!
Cute was written by Neal Hefti, himself a trumpeter (although this was overshadowed by his contribution as an arranger for Count Basie). Philly Joe Jones is to the fore on this pacy rendition with Byrd laying down a deft solo before Adams comes in, playing lines on his baritone of a type and fluency we are more accustomed to hearing on the much smaller alto saxophone.
The set closes with Hello Bright Sunflower a final Byrd composition. It is a light and joyful breeze of a tune that, to my ears, is vaguely reminiscent of ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon.’
During the 1970’s and 1980’s a cohort of Jazz purists of a certain type were highly critical of Donald Byrd’s later work and this left his reputation somewhat tarnished in mainstream quarters. A re-read of the late Richard Cook’s Blue Note Records, The Biography suggests that Cook viewed Byrd as one of the lesser talents on the label and his playing is given little praise. He states: ‘Byrd’s problem was that he was nearly always going to come off second-best on a label that had trumpeters of the calibre of Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Kenny Dorham.’ I’m not going to dwell on this curiously imprecise verdict, since, surely we should appreciate each of these great artists on their own merits without attempting to impose a hierarchy. For the record, I’m confident that I’ll be returning to the later works on these pages in due course.
Mention should also be made of Donald Byrd’s great contribution as a jazz educator. He continued his academic studies throughout his career before submitting his PhD and gaining his Doctorate. Dr Byrd was the first director of a new Jazz Studies course at Howard University (where, in the 1960’s, students were forbidden to play Jazz in the Music Department and were expelled for practising on campus) before teaching in other universities. In addition to his eminence as an academic he also qualified as a pilot and as a lawyer. I’m not sure if Dr Byrd is posing next to his own Jaguar on the sleeve? If I had taken the photo I think I would shot from an angle that placed a little more emphasis on Jaguar’s symbolic ‘leaper’ on the bonnet.
Finally, the original sleeve notes were written by Nat Hentoff who passed away last week. He was responsible for numerous cover commentaries and always seemed to me to have been positive, informative and fair-minded. His Wikipedia entry offers a synopsis of the full life of a remarkable man. RIP Nat.
The band etc.:- Donald Byrd (trumpet); Pepper Adams (baritone sax); Duke Pearson (piano); Laymon Jackson (bass); Philly Joe Jones (drums). Recorded 2 May 1961. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, New Jersey. Produced by: Alfred Lion. Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photo: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 84075.
Here at downwithit.info I’ve always attempted to explode the notion that ‘jazz’ is music that listeners have to have a special understanding of before they can listen to it. It is most definitely not the case that the music is a monolithic block that you have to either fully appreciate or fully reject. You don’t have to devote yourself to the study of music and artist biographies to actually listen and decide whether you like or dislike what you hear. How you respond is up to you, the listener.
Alongside this great tide of music, however, there are lots of interesting anecdotes and stories that deserve to be known about. I wanted to learn more about Freddie Roach because it seemed that there was a risk that a remarkable man was slowly being forgotten. It was an unsatisfactory biography that set me off down the track.
As of February 2014, Freddie Roach’s Wikipedia entry still stated that, after abandoning his recording career at the end of the 1960’s, he had moved to France and was never heard of again.
This left me wondering how a recording artist of Freddie Roach’s stature could disappear, seemingly without trace, and I set out to try to find the answer. You can read about some of the information that I uncovered in my posts about FR’s work.
My internet searches led me to several places on both sides of the Atlantic. I followed a promising lead about a mystery Hammond organist, which took me to the South of France and Barcelona, before I learned that it was Lou Bennett and not FR.
The French link took us to The American Centre for Students and Artists in Paris and a 1974 performance which almost certainly featured our main man FR. You can read a little more about this information here.
My investigation returned to New Jersey, where FR had lived and I sought out information about FR’s band mates and local clubs in the hope of finding some answers. I found out that FR had a rehearsal space and studio theatre in his former home in Newark and Internet mapping and images enabled me to take a virtual walk through a neighbourhood that has now changed significantly.
Then, suddenly, the biggest breakthrough in my search happened. Somebody else had uncovered and reported the answer! Jazz broadcaster, podcaster and historian, Pete Fallico had spoken to friends of FR and had discovered that he had actually moved to California where he had suffered a fatal heart attack and died in 1980.
As Pete Fallico’s excellent piece (which he has kindly given me permission to publish here) explains, there was far more to say than that. It is with great pleasure that I have been able to publish downwithit’s first guest contributor. A mystery becomes less mysterious- what a way to start!
Earlier this week (in November 2016) there was more news. A fellow writer, the excellent Francois from FlophouseMagazine had kept his eye on the ball when mine had strayed. He informed me that Pete Fallico had recently posted a podcast which featured an interview with one of FR’s sons, Gregory Payton Roach. In an superb broadcast which runs for nearly an hour, Mr Roach graciously tells us about his father’s last years. Mr Roach confirms that FR spent time working in France and Japan before moving to California, where, by the time of his death he had established links with Smokey Robinson and others in the musical community.
I have also discovered that FR’s grandson has been in touch with downwithit recently and I will invite him to add any further information that he may be willing to share with us, provided he is willing to forgive my regrettably slow response to his message.
I’m delighted that I can inform readers of what I hope you will view as a more satisfactory account of the mysterious later years of Freddie Roach’s life, although the really hard work was completed by Pete Fallico and the willingness of Mr Roach to tell the nub of the story through the podcast.
In addition to the story as outlined above on this static page, I have posted the information above as a regular blog entry on 25 November 2016.
Perhaps one day there may be a reissue and overdue revaluation of Freddie Roach’s music or perhaps even more? For that we will have to wait, since, as Joe Strummer once said: ‘The future remains unwritten.’
To play us out, here’s a link to Freddie Roach playing One Track Mind from The Freddie Roach Soul Book set:-
Imagine. You are 19 years old and already a highly respected musician playing live and on recordings with the brightest and the best. You have already led six sessions which will be issued in your name and you are about to record your seventh. You are a trumpet player of prodigious ability and your name is Lee Morgan.
In November 1957 and February 1958 Morgan visited Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack studio to record Candy. This was the sole quartet date in his lengthy discography and the only time he was recorded without another horn in the line up.
This was Morgan’s final Blue Note recording as a leader (of a first series of six, with one outing ‘Introducing Lee Morgan’ on Savoy) before a period away from the label during which he served as a member of the Jazz Messengers before returning to Philadelphia to struggle with addiction.
The tunes chosen for the session were a range of popular crowd pleasers from the charts, Hollywood and then-current musicals. They would have been well-known at the time and would probably have tempted the wallet of the casual record store browser but nearly sixty years later most can only be regarded as lesser known entries in the list of standard tunes. That said, it was interesting to check the origins of most of the songs that make up this set.
A jaunty version of Candy opens the set. The style of trumpet playing here is somewhat reminiscent of Clifford Brown, from whom Morgan took a number of lessons while Brown was living in Philadelphia. Originally a hit in the 40’s, Big Maybelle had also belted this one out in 1956. This track has an audible flaw which has been attributed to a squeaky hi-hat pedal. I initially thought it was signalling the beginnings of a problem with my system but the well-documented fault lies on the original master recording. Many choose to try to ignore it, as I did when this review was originally published, thinking that it would be analysed to death by more extensively visited writers. On reflection, it is a comment that needs to be made about a sub-standard take that should have been scrapped and re-recorded.
Since I Fell For You is a slow and melancholy blues ballad and I have included a link below. It was later recorded by Stanley Turrentine and the Three Sounds on Blue Hour and that is the Blue Note version that I prefer. There is also a cover by Nina Simone, while a Van Morrison version from the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival is also worth seeking out, partly for his impassioned response to a heckler when the song is introduced.
To watch, click on or touch the arrow.
C.T.A. ups the tempo and takes us into bebop territory.
All The Way is a Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen number which was a current hit at the time of the recording, having been popularised by Frank Sinatra before being covered by a spectrum of artists extending from Billie Holliday via James Brown to Bob Dylan and beyond. In 1957 it received an Accademy Award for: ‘Best Original Song’, which meant that its inclusion on this album would have caught the eye and helped to boost sales. Whilst it is a pleasant enough ballad, for me, it will never rank in the pantheon of Blue Note’s finest covers.
Who Do You Love. I Hope is an Irving Berlin show tune from Annie Get Your Gun. I’m not fond of the rather trite chorus, but once Lee Morgan gets going into his solo it becomes well-worth a listen.
Personality featured in Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s ‘Road to Utopia’, a perennial TV film during my childhood and one of my favourites. Although it was filmed in colour, we had a black and white telly in those days and I can’t imagine it any other way. Dorothy Lamour performs the song in the movie
All At Once You Love Her is a bonus track on the CD release. It is the Rodgers and Hammerstein number from the musical ‘Pipe Dream’, which later became a hit for Perry Como.
The LP cover represents a sole Blue Note outing for Emerick Bronson. I assume that label stalwart, Francis Wolff was responsible for the overall image, which places a portrait of Lee Morgan, shot by Bronson, amongst an arrangement of sweet jars. It is not one of the better Blue Note sleeves and Bronson’s talents were deployed to greater effect through his career as a photographer with Vogue and Cosmopolitan. His pictures have featured in themed exhibitions in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and since he died at a fair old age in the bijoux Long Island hamlet of Sag Harbor, which was also a home from home for John Steinbeck I assume his career was a relatively lucrative one.
Candy is a snapshot of a confident young leader flexing his talents with just a rhythm section to support him and, in the additional sleeve notes which were added to the RVG series CD release, Bob Blumenthal rightly commends Lee Morgan for daring to be bold. Whilst it is interesting to hear him in this context, it seems a shame that the choice of material here draws so heavily on a mainstream popular songbook and it is an album that I listen to from time to time rather than a staple on my playlist.
Candy is currently available as 45 and 33rpm high-quality vinyl pressings from MusicMatters Jazz, but, as the above review suggests, this is not a title that I’ll be rushing to purchase.
The band etc:- Lee Morgan (Trumpet); Sonny Clark (piano); Doug Watkins (bass); Art Taylor (drums). Recorded: 18 November 1957 and 2 February 1958. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover Image of Lee Morgan: Francis Wolff. Cover photo: Emerick Bronson. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Originally issued as Blue Note 1590.
If your name is Grant Green, this album has a great cover. Indeed if anyone can direct me to a junction of Down and Withit Streets, a small reward is on offer. Street of Dreams reunites Grant Green with Bobby Hutcherson, who had made a significant contribution to the successful Idle Moments release (which I have yet to write about).
In terms of title, ‘Music for a Siesta’ may possibly have been a more apt choice. The playing on this brief set featuring four relatively short tracks, is faultless but the overall ambience is laid back and it is a sit or lie down and enjoy recording. This is a lineup who play very well together on a well-chosen series of lesser-known tunes. Following the recent passing of Bobby Hutcherson it seemed like a good time to dust this title down and write about it.
Green’s playing on I Wish You love is a an excercise in restrained self assurance. Larry Young also plays in a subdued manner, while Hutcherson contributes variety and interest on vibes.
Lazy Afternoon is perfect music for a hot day. There’s nothing to get the blood racing, just another well-developed set of ideas.
Title track, Street of Dreams features fine interplay between vibes and the Hammond with pyrotechnics from Elvin Jones on drums. There is also some passionate playing from Green when he gets into his solo, indeed it sounds like a great flow of ideas that a student guitar player could do worse than to study if they want to learn how to build excitement on this sort of track. You can listen to it via the following YouTube upload, courtesy of rogerjazzfan:-
Somewhere in the Night is notable for a workmanlike solo from Larry Young but once again there is nothing to raise the temperature.
So there we are. I like Grant Green very much but while Street of Dreams is pleasant enough, it is not a set that I play very often as it is just a little too light with a supper club mainstream feel. You may disagree of course. Idle Moments, recorded 12 months earlier, is a far stronger and more varied set which you may want to investigate first if you are not familiar with this phase of Grant Green’s discography.
The original sleeve notes were penned by that master of the waspish dismissal, Leonard Feather. However, he must have enjoyed Street of Dreams, which he describes as ‘…this gently persuasive set.’
Just for the record, the intersection of Grant and Green is in North Beach, a particularly hip part of San Francisco and the home of cafes, bookshops and clubs frequented by the Beat Generation.
Elvin Jones (9 September 1927 to 18 May 2004) would have celebrated his 89th birthday today (09 September 2016).
The band etc.: Grant Green (guitar); Bobby Hutcherson (vibes); Elvin Jones (drums); Larry Young Organ. Recorded: 16 November 1964. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recording: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photo: Jim Marshall. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Sleeve notes: Leonard Feather. Originally issued as Blue Note BST 84253 in 1966.
Vibraphone and Marimba maestro Bobby Hutcherson passed away in mid-August 2016, aged 75.
His New York Times obituary can be accessed here.
There’s an irreverent review of his Happenings set that I wrote a couple of years ago here.
London Jazz Collector has taken a look at Bobby Hutcherson’s records with recent reviews of several of his later releases.
RIP Bobby Hutcherson.
It is as a sad matter of duty that downwithit notes the passing of the man who had oversight of the most of the greatest recordings made by Modern Jazz artists.
Rest in peace RVG.
November 2 1924 to August 25 2016.
This music would not have been the same without him.
You can read Mr Van Gelder’s obituary from The New York Times here.
An extensive list of sessions recorded at his studios can be found here.
Reader, I have a confession. This started out as a review of Thelonious Monk Live At The It Club (in Los Angeles 1964) but ended up as a look at the Carnegie Hall Concert (November 1957), via a visit to The Five Spot in New York City (August 1958). There is an explanation. Firstly, although it is an excellent recording featuring a great performance by Monk, a review of The It Club set is a daunting prospect. The Colombia double CD runs to over 150 minutes and contains 19 separate compositions. I did think about writing about it over two or three posts but, somehow that didn’t seem satisfactory. Secondly, I came to realise the significance of a short period during an amazing year for two of the all time greats (if not the greatest). Thirdly, I wanted to write about the Carnegie Hall Concert, with its tale of the re-discovery of a lost treasure of incalculable value. So here we go.
At the end of November 1957, Monk was invited to play in two performances of a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall to raise funds for the Morningside Community Center in Harlem. The prospect of making a contribution to this local social action centre appealed to him because as a young person he had spent most of his free time at a youth centre across the road from his family home in Midtown New York. The rest of the bill was stellar and included Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Zoot Simms and Sonny Rollins. Ray Charles headlined with a jazz set. Two dollars, or $3.95 for the best seats and you were in.
In the four months before the concert, John Coltrane had been playing as part of Monk’s quartet at the Five Spot. This was the year in which Coltrane’s talents flowered. He had kicked heroin after being fired by Miles Davis in April 1957 and spent a great deal of time at Monk’s apartment, learning from the older master-musician. The superb and informative booklet which accompanies the CD release records Coltrane as saying:-
“I’d go by his apartment and get him out of bed (laughs). He’d wake up and roll over to the piano and start playing… He would stop and show me some parts that were pretty difficult, and if I had a lot of trouble, well, he’d get his portfolio out and show me the music…sometimes, we’d get through just one tune a day. Maybe.”
In ’57 Monk also had much to celebrate. Brilliant Corners had been released and earlier work on Blue Note and Riverside was re-released on the new 12″ long playing LPs. He had regained his Cabaret Card in May 1957 and was once again able to play in New York clubs that served alcohol. In July, he obtained a residency at The Five Spot, a small bar on the edge of The Bowery and on Tuesday July 16, he was joined by John Coltrane. The original piano was inadequate and in very poor repair but with an eye to the crowds lining up outside every night the club owner rapidly agreed to allow Monk to source a Baldwin baby grand.
The night at Carnegie Hall gave Monk the opportunity to perform in public on one of renowned venue’s concert grands. Monk’s Mood features a pianist taking great delight in the tone of an excellent piano and the fine acoustics of the hall (although he also had access to two baby grand Steinway pianos: his own rented instrument and one owned by his friend Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter). John Coltrane also approaches this beautiful ballad, that he made great efforts to learn and interpret, with great sensitivity, while Shadow Wilson’s drumming is sparse and complements the two soloists.
Evidence is angular and almost jagged with Monk giving Coltrane the space to develop a solo that contains fast phrases reminiscent of his work on the recently recorded Blue Train.
Crepuscule With Nellie had been written in the early summer of 1957 at a time when Monk’s beloved wife was facing a major thyroid operation. Monk laboured long and hard to produce music which captured his feelings and sought perfection in a piece that he usually played without improvisation or embellishment (on this version there is a brief reference to the ’52nd Street Theme’ just after Coltrane starts to play). ‘Crepuscule’ sounds like some type of seafood but it actually means ‘twilight’ and it was suggested that Monk should consider using the French word by his friend the Baroness.
This is followed by a jaunty version of Nutty, which features some fine percussion and great fluency from Coltrane.
Epistrophy is complex with some fine cymbal work. The quartet is really tight and this is superlative musicianship.
I understand that the final four tracks were recorded during the second set of the evening.
Bye-Ya is another vehicle for John Coltrane to shine on, although there is a short solo from Monk before the band moves straight into Sweet And Lovely, the standard favoured and recorded regularly by Monk.
Blue Monk is taken at a brisk pace. This tune is a classic which has become a staple of the young jazz musician’s repertoire, which means that it is regularly put through the mangle. I recently heard a sax player in a local pub who should never play this again until he can aspire to get within a million miles of how Coltrane plays here (not playing flat would be a start). You can listen courtesy of Praguedive on Youtube by touching or clicking on the arrow below:-
Finally a second truncated reprise of Epistrophy from the second set closes the recording.
Although Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane worked together during an intense period of about six months, very little was recorded by the great quartet. There were three studio tracks and a further live recording made by Coltrane’s first wife on a portable tape machine. There was an awareness that the Carnegie Hall concerts had been recorded by Voice of America and Coltrane biographer Lewis Porter had made enquiries at the Library of Congress, which was believed to be where they had been consigned to, but the tapes were lost. Then, in February 2005, Larry Appelbaum, a recording lab supervisor, found several tapes labelled ‘Carnegie Hall Jazz 1957’ and one had a box with a note labelled T Monk. A treasure had been discovered and within six months this resulting album was released. It is available on vinyl- with the Mosaic recording being the one to seek out. However, I’m delighted with the CD which comes complete with a brilliant booklet. This is a recording that I recommend without reservation and which I hope you will enjoy. Happy listening.
The band etc: Thelonious Monk (piano); John Coltrane (tenor sax); Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass); Shadow Wilson (drums). Recorded: 29 November 1957. Produced for release: T.S. Monk and Michael Cuscuna. Cover illustration: Felix Sockwell. Sleeve notes: Amiri Baraka; Ira Gitler; Ashley Kahn; Stanley Crouch; Robin D.G. Kelley; Lewis Porter and Larry Appelbaum. Released as Blue Note 35173 on September 27, 2005.
Between 1968 and 1970 Blue Note released four albums by Hammond Organ master, Dr Lonnie Smith (a fifth was recorded in 1970 but remained in the can until 1995). Dr Smith plays in a funky style and after 46 years he is now recording on Blue Note again.
The new album Evolution, produced by label supremo, Don Was, is well worthy of attention. The sound reproduction is excellent and the material covered shows that there is life and many a good tune is still to be had from the hulking Hammond
Play It Back is deeply funky. The first Hammond notes are snarls played for effect. This is a long track with plenty of time and space for improvisation. Dr Smith plays very well here- in a very controlled and disciplined way. Some may have heard him play this track before on a Blue Note release, on his superb Jam Live At Club Mozambique set (recorded 1970 in but not released until 1995). That particular version contained a duet between tenor and baritone saxes, whereas Robert Glasper’s piano is to the fore here. Come to think of it, I can’t think of many tracks that have both piano and Hammond Organ played by two separate keyboardists, so if you know of any please let us know through the comments box below. There’s some fine trumpet from Keyon Harold here too.
For the first time, it’s been difficult to find a video clip to add to this post. I suspect Blue Note are being very protective of their new signing. We will have to settle for a brief trio rendition of this track recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in early 2016. I hope you enjoy it while it is here.
To play, either touch or click on the arrow.
Afrodesia. Joe Lovano plays a special 6″ mezzo soprano here. More wonderful trumpet, this time from Maurice Brown and there’s also tenor sax from John Ellis. This was the title track of a post-Blue Note album from the Doctor, although I’ve yet to get hold of a copy.
For Heaven’s Sake is a ballad with a solo played by Joe Lovano on a handmade wooden tenor saxophone, which has to be worth listening closely to as I’ve never heard of such an instrument before.
Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser needs little introduction and is well rendered.
Talk About This once again features some impressive trumpet from Brown and is funky with some streetsound style vocals.
My Favorite Things is given a novel and dramatic introduction that is really worth hearing. Played badly this number can sound very contrived but Smith freshens it up almost to the point of transformation.
African Suite is a jaunty tune which takes us off to an imagined landscape of rolling savannahs. It is a flute led whimsy which works for me and is seemingly a piece by a musician who is willing to drop his sense of cool in the pursuit of a piece that is fun. If you could imagine a lost Miles Davis recording of Peter and the Wolf you would be stretching credibility well beyond its breaking point but that would be the territory we are in here.
As to the be-turbaned Doctor Smith, the bio’s don’t give too much away (you can read his Wikipedia entry here). I felt compelled to turn to interviews to try to get some insight into the man responsible for the music. Once again there were no great insights other than to hear from a musician who loves his music and comes across as a thoughtful and gentle individual. When pushed he says that he regrets not having photos of his performances having good times with a good sprinkling of other great performers, but he says that at least he has the memories and that they are the most important thing.
All in all, Evolution is a newish album that should be bought and listened to. I’m quietly confident that this won”t disappoint.
The band etc: Dr Lonnie Smith (Hammond Organ); Robert Glasper (Piano- track 1); Jonathan Blake (Drums- all tracks- sole drummer on 4 & 6); Joe Dyson (Drums- tracks 1-3, 5 & 7); John Ellis (Tenor Saxophone, Flute (7) & Bass Clarinet (3)); Jonathan Kreisberg (Guitar); Maurice Brown (Trumpet- tracks 2 & 5); Keyon Harold (Trumpet- track 1); Joe Lovano (Wooden Tenor Saxophone- track2 & Mezzo Soprano Saxophone- track 3). Recorded: Systems Two Recording Stdio, Brooklyn. Produced: Don Was. Mastered: Ron McMaster. Cover design Mike Joyce , Stereotype Design. Cover photos: Matthew Bitton. Released February 2016. Blue Note.
‘Play the one with the man on the cello’ is a frequent request in my home. No matter how many times I answer by saying ‘Not again! And it’s a double bass ffs!’ Bass On Top remains number one choice when something that isn’t too strident is called for. Time to take a look at this wonderful album and if you read to the end there’s a tale of crime involving a sculpture of a beautiful German woman.
The great double bassist, Paul Chambers recorded this album on July 14 1957. It was his fourth set as a leader and the third to be released on Blue Note. A member of Miles Davis’s first great quintet/sextet, Paul Chambers drew on early classical training in Detroit and became one of the first jazz bassists to play bowed (arco) sections live and on recordings. He featured on numerous key sessions with a pantheon of modern jazz greats (over 300 sessions between 1955 and 1962), including contributions to Monk’s Brilliant Corners, Oliver Nelson’s The Blues And The Abstract Truth, Coltrane’s Blue Train, Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’ and Art Pepper Meets The Rhythmn Section and of course Miles Davis. There were fourteen releases of sessions led by John Coltrane and seven led by Hank Mobley. Indeed, his work on Kind Of Blue has been praised as one of the great jazz bass performances by some people who like to quantify things like that.
The opening track here, Yesterdays, opens with three choruses that strike a subdued tone of wistfulness, or saudade as the Potuguese would say, before the tempo changes (and if I’m not mistaken, which is very likely, the key moves from minor to major). The bow is used throughout. Blue without being a blues track, Yesterday’s is a unique and much covered jazz composition both by instrumentalists and vocalists. The full lyrics are here– but these will suffice now:
Then gay youth was mine, truth was mine
Joyous free in flame and life
Then sooth was mine
Sad am I, glad am I
For today I’m dreamin’ of yesterdays.
The sense of saudade in a nutshell!
You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To follows. It is a jaunty Cole Porter number played finger-style this time (pizzicato). There is lots of space for PC to develop solo ideas as Kenny Burrell reverses conventional roles to keep time on rhythm guitar before getting his own Hot Clubesque solo as PC walks the tune towards a tasteful contribution from Hank Jones on piano.
Chasin’ the Bird by Charlie Parker offers up a neat intro on the tune’s head from Kenny Burrell (not that we’d expect anything less) before PC gets to work again. His bass solo is fluent and creative with the second solo from Jones’ piano providing another perfect element here. Burrell gets a solo too before sticksmanship from Art Taylor and a re-statement of the head, which brings this fine rendition to a close.
Dear Old Stockholm flows down deliciously in a well-ordered mainstream sort of way that is very satisfying. This is the selection from YouTube that I’ve chosen to accompany this post:
To play either touch or click on the arrow.
PC then plays Miles Davis’ The Theme. He was on the original recording in 1955 and this bebop workout sees his bow produced and used to great effect again.
Finally on the original release, Confessin’ is a lively tour de force take on the much covered standard with PC’s bass to the fore delivering a compelling interpretation until Hank Jones has a brief solo.
My copy of Bass On Top is the RVG CD version as the original Blue Note vinyl pressing is a rare find and priced well beyond what I can afford. The RVG edition has its bonuses though. Chamber Mates was not on the original release but it is an uptempo number that sounds like great fun, especially for jazz dancers. There are the usual excellent additional notes from Bob Blumenthal and three Francis Wolff photos from the hallowed Mosaic Collection. These were taken at the actual session and one of them, copied below, prompted me to undertake some additional research.
You will note that a youthful Paul Chambers (amazingly only 22 years old when the session was recorded) is playing, supervised by the sculpture of a female face on the bass head, which is as remarkable as it is unusual. I’d never seen its like before, although the power of the Internet soon introduced me to a wide range of ornate bass heads and the following:-
“Well, in growing up in New York with Bass in hand in the mid-late 60s, I just missed Paul Chambers. He died about when I joined the Union. I did however see his Bass in pictures and asked one Luthier about that carved Ladies Head on the top of the Neck/Scroll. The Bass was a Germanic Shop type Bass from the late 19th-early 20th century or so. The Head was added by him I heard but in either case, it was not part of that Bass.” (Ken Smith- see here)
There’s another story about the bass with the woman’s head possibly, apocryphal, but well worth the telling. It is said that the maestro and Doug Watkins, another great bass player and close friend (and some say, cousin) of PC were on tour in Italy in the 60’s when they saw the bass, unattended in a car belonging to a member of a classical orchestra. They helped themselves to it and subsequently shared the instrument back in the States. Then, one dark and stormy night, as they usually are in the best tales, the original owner of the bass walked into the club where PC was playing it. What happened next… …Well, he listened and listened some more before confronting PC at the interval, when he told him that he’d never heard the instrument sound so great and that he would like to give it to PC with his blessing. As somebody famous once wrote ‘The bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar.’
Now I don’t know it this is true, or not. If it isn’t, I hope that the spirits or descendants of PC and Doug Watkins will not be offended by my repetition of scurrilous tittle-tattle. In any event it’s a story too good to miss. Who knows, the bass with the woman’s head may still be out there and one dear reader may actually be its custodian as I type this? If you have it, please let us know, we’d love to hear. Was the mysterious woman ever given a name? Someone may still know. Unless I hear differently, for personal reasons, I’ll settle for Gwladys.
Part of the reason I haven’t been blogging is that it is a bit dull to just trot out my impressions of albums. I like to add a bit of extra information that’s a bit harder to find for the reader and sometimes sourcing anything new is a bit of a struggle. Hopefully, my musings about PC and Bass On Top have achieved that this time round.
If you are interested in an analysis of Paul Chambers bass style, there’s a very fine essay written by Brian Casey, which you can read here.
The band etc: Paul Chambers (double bass);Kenny Burrell guitar); Hank Jones (piano); Art Taylor (drums). Recorded: 14 July 1957. Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 1569 in 1957.
RIP Paul Chambers, Jr (April 22, 1935 – January 4, 1969).