Category Archives: Prestige

Whatever happened to Freddie Roach?

freddie-roach-portrait

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:-

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The Cats: Tommy Flanagan, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Idrees Sulieman

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“The cats? Which cats?”
“John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Idrees Sulieman, Louis Hayes and Doug Watkins.”
“Oh, those cats. Any good?”

This is another of the recordings that was on my list to write about when I was initially planning downwithit

This set recorded in April 1957 brings together John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell and Tommy Flanagan. Essentially, this was Flanagan’s session and four of the five compositions were written by the pianist. The resulting release is an engaging listen, without breaking through into new territories.

Minor Mishap opens matters. Whilst it sounds conventional and straightforward it survives as an opportunity to hear John Coltrane and Kenny Burrell playing together. It is a foot-tapper that you can hear on the following YouTube clip:

Next up, How Long Has This been Going On is a delightful piano centred version of the George and Ira Gershwin ballad (with sax, trumpet and guitar sitting out). Flanagan shows a real delicacy of touch and the accompaniment from drums and bass has a suitably light feel to it.

Eclypso combines a 5/4 introduction, followed by a longer 4/4 main section. Idrees Sulieman sounds somewhat brash and abrasive and his trumpet style throughout the album is not one that I particularly like. However, matters are redeemed by some sunny sounding guitar from Kenny Burrell, which brought a smile to my 92 year old aunt’s face, although she said that she does not think she will ever match KB’s playing, due to a wrist injury. She joked that maybe she would have to settle for the trumpet. There’s not too much to say about Solacium, other than it allows space for the playing of Coltrane and Burrell, while Tommy’s Time gives Flanagan nearly 12 minutes to show off his talents and include a good bass solo from Doug Watkins.

Four of the band are from. Detroit and provide evidence of a strong cohort of musicians who travelled from Motown to New York City to ply their trade. There’s more from Watkins and Hayes to be heard on fellow Detroit man Yusef Lateef’s Jazz Mood, an account of which follows below.

Tommy Flanagan spent 20 years as Ella Fitzgerald’s Musical Director, a testament to the silky elegance of his piano playing. He also contributed to two of the all time greatest sessions led by saxophonists, Sonny Rollins Saxophone Colossus and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. The genius of of those ground breakers is not matched by The Cats, but it is an enjoyable session nonetheless. The New York Times obituary of Tommy Flanagan is to be found here.

The band etc: Tommy Flanagan (piano); John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); Idrees Sulieman (trumpet); Kenny Burrell (guitar); Louis Hayes (drums); Dough Watkins (bass). Recorded: 18 April 1957. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Bob Weinstock. Recording Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photos & design: Don Schlitten. Cover notes: Ira Gitler. Issued as Prestige 8217. Released 1959.

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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.

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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

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New information about Freddie Roach

My interest in finding out what happened to Freddie Roach after he stopped recording continues. I’m not satisfied with the current Wikipedia entry which reads “…he moved to France, after which he was not heard of again.” FR deserves better than that.

By the end of last year what I had found out was that Freddie Roach died in 1980 (from Bob Blumenthal’s notes when taking ‘a new look’ at Ike Quebec’s ‘Heavy Soul’, which featured FR). There is also a line from the notes to So Blue so Funky, a Blue Note Hammond organ compilation album released in 1991, which claim that Freddie enjoyed a second career as a movie actor. These were penned by Roy Carr, who had undertaken UK publicity work for Blue Note in the 60’s and is regarded as being very knowledgeable about the label and its artists.

As the year ended more internet mining resulted in what I thought was a great lead when I found something that linked his name with clubs in Barcelona but on opening it up I discovered that this was actually about another Hammond organist, Lou Bennett. I was disappointed.

Here’s a bit more of FR: Tenderly from Soul Book, courtesy of SuperXavier30 on YouTube

To play the clip touch or click on the arrow.

There was nothing new to report here until last week when a search on Freddy Roach (sic) + Paris unearthed a link to The American Centre for Students and Artists, Paris. This was a Foundation located on the Boulevard Raspail, Montparnasse, which promoted Franco-American cultural exchange hosting language courses and music and theatre performances. Although it was initially set up in 1931 by the American Episcopalian congregation in Paris to keep young visitors away from ‘the evil influences of the Parisian Cafes’s’ by the late 60’s it had become a centre for the avant-garde. By the early 70’s there is declassified documentary evidence that the CIA were keeping a close watch on members of the Black Panthers who were meeting there.

On 25 May 1974 there was a performance 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. I haven’t got a copy…yet!

The eagle-eyed will note that the FR YouTube link contains a comment from Steven McCormack which says that he rented an apartment from FR in Newark, New Jersey from 1971-72 and that one of FR’s sons lived next door to him during this period and that he worked with his other son. He says that he knew that FR played well as he would sometimes hear him playing.

A further bit of digging informed me about a publicly funded feature-length documentary about the Hammond Organ entitled Killer B3. There’s a not to be missed link here.

To play the clip touch or click on the arrow.

It looks like a must-see film and I hope we get the opportunity of a screening here in London very soon. The film website is at:

http://www.killerb3.com

So if you know any more about FR, please let us know. My research will continue.

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Out of This World: Kenny Burrell

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Every so often an unexpected gem is discovered.

This magnificent album arrived the other week as a makeweight purchase in with another LP which I tracked down on eBay. When I was looking for something to add to my purchase of Yusef Lateef’s Detroit Latitude 42 30 Longitude 83, I hit on this. Kenny Burrell’s credentials as a jazz guitarist are out there for all to see (nearly 100 albums to his name) and it is great that he is still with us. In all the time I used to play tenor sax (very badly), I had never listened to Coleman Hawkins, although I was aware of him as an early great. I had long wondered about his legendary sound. Shame on me! This LP would give me the opportunity to rectify that. If it was a good listen, that would be a bonus.

First released in 1962 on the Prestige Moodsville imprint, and originally entitled Bluesy Burrell, my copy was re-released in 1968 with the new title, Out of This World, and a fresh cover. This pairing of Kenny Burrell, 31 years old at the time and Coleman Hawkins then aged 58 brought together two extremely proficient musicians.

The band etc:- Kenny Burrell (guitar); Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax); Tommy Flanagan (piano); Major Holley (bass); Eddie Locke (drums); Ray Barretto (conga). Recorded 1962 by Rudy Van Gelder at Rudy Van Gelder Studio. Sleeve Notes (Re-release edition): Chris Albertson. Cover art: Irving Riggs. Cover Design: Don Schltten. Re-released as Prestige 7578.

The track that you need to hear lives at the end of Side 1. Without further ado- Montono Blues brought to you courtesy of grooveaddict on You Tube.

This would have been the opener on many a set. Here it just makes me go ‘Wow, wtf is this!’

What of the rest of the set? Tres Palabras (Three Words- guess which three, it isn’t too hard) is a Latin ballad played on acoustic guitar with plenty of evidence of Hawkins’s robust reedy sound and an elegant solo from Tommy Flanagan. Coleman Hawkins sits out the next two tracks. No More is a short solo guitar piece while Guilty is a much recorded American standard, a version of which by Al Bowlly is featured in Amelie– a great French film from 2001. Then its time for Montono Blues. Its got the feel of Green Onions several years before Green Onions was written. The bass player sings a dialogue with his bass and it sounds as though a bow is used. Coleman Hawkins plays low down and funky. It gets my hips swaying and my fingers clicking. I would love to see a good jazz dancer or two hoof it to this. A wonderful track.

Side Two’s I thought about you is essentially a duet between Hawkins and Burrell while Out of This World is a bit polite but showcases interplay between Kenny Burrell and the percussion. Finally, It’s Getting Dark gets us out of the bar and on route to the edgy night town jazz club of your imagination. Actually, I’ve never been to an edgy jazz club- I’m not sure if they exist in unsanitised form anymore (please advise us all if you can recommend one).

So there you have it. A makeweight purchase (once the initial US postage and the packaging has been paid for, an extra album in the parcel will only add its purchase price plus another couple of dollars to the postage) but I want to tell all my friends about it and encourage them to track it down and buy it.

My copy is vinyl, on the Prestige label, sounds wonderful, is near mint and cost me less than a fiver. The original Moodsville release (Bluesy Burrell) is likely to cost a fair bit more but has a superb abstract art cover that you can find on Google. I want to listen to more Coleman Hawkins- any recommendations? Don’t forget that you can sign up for email notifications of new posts on this site below.

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…he moved to France, after which he was not heard from again.

The Soul Book Cover

‘…and they lived happily ever afterwards’ isn’t a conclusion to the Wikipedia entry for any of the great jazz musicians of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that I have ever seen. OK we are not visiting the land of fairy tales here anyway but you will probably be well aware of numerous stars who died at an early age, often in sad circumstances. In the case of Freddie Roach, it seems to be a case of moving from the USA to Europe and staying far away from the limelight. The few short biographies that I have seen tend to end along the lines of ‘…he moved to France, after which he was not heard from again.’ A little bit more digging discloses that he spent a few years in Paris and Bob Blumenthal’s notes written when taking ‘a new look at Ike Quebec’s Heavy Soul session for the RVG Edition records the year of his death as 1980. The notes to So Blue so Funky, a Blue Note Hammond organ compilation album released in 1991, even state that Freddie enjoyed a second career as a movie actor but I haven’t been able to trace anything about this yet.

It’s sad that his career is now thought of as little more than a footnote. I like the way Freddie plays the Hammond although many reviewers feel obliged to damn him with faint praise. I’m not quite alone in my appreciation. There is another, perhaps unexpected, fellow enthusiast in Freddie’s army. The oftentimes acerbic Leonard Feather described him as ‘…one of those rare organists whose taste and techniques are capable of keeping pace with one another’. Well done Leonard!

I first heard Freddie Roach playing a track entitled Brown Sugar (same title but different from the one recorded by the Rolling Stones) on So Blue, So Funky. Born into a musical family, Freddie started with tentative steps at the age of 8 when he started to play church organ. Although he gained a place at the Newark Conservatory of Music, he left after one term to play professionally, eventually jamming and playing solo at Newark’s Club 83, before being engaged by Ike Quebec to play on the two late 1961 sessions which resulted in Heavy Soul and It Might as Well be Spring. After that, he was signed by Blue Note and recorded five LP’s as leader before releasing a further three albums on Prestige.

Although we will return to the Blue Note sessions in due course, it is his first Prestige set The Soul Book that I’m starting with. This album came my way almost by default. I had successfully bid on ebay for his better known Blue Note recordings Mo Greens Please. Postage and packing from the USA starts off from a steep entry level of about $16 but the additional charge for one or two additional LPs is then miniscule. The seller also had a copy of this album which was going for a song, so I added that on the off chance that it would be good. It was (and that was made all the sweeter by subsequently seeing a copy in a West End record store priced at over ten times what I paid)!

Without further ado, here’s a track from YouTube courtesy of groove addict, One Track Mind, which opens the second side of the album

Freddie wrote his own sleeve notes for at least three of his albums including Brown Sugar and Mo Greens Please (although Blue Note regular Nat Hentoff penned those for the Good Move set). He says: “One Track Mind is dedicated to those who like to dance. It is geared for soulful shufflin’.” There’s great support from Buddy Terry on tenor sax and guitarist Vinnie Corrao. Although I hit a blank with Freddie Roach’s own biography, a brief internet search indicated that Buddy Terry was active and was still playing as one of the Newark Jazz Elders in 2009, while Vinnie Corrao is also still gigging. Jackie Mills, the drummer had a long and varied career before finally passing away in March 2010.

The most extraordinary track closes side 2. Entitled The Bees, In the words of Freddie Roach “…so named because of the resemblance to the flight of the hive. And The Bees buzzing off in their search for the sweet honey.” There’s a blistering R&B sax solo, although it gets a bit ragged towards its conclusion. Meanwhile, Tenderly is a great fast paced stretch-out for the whole band and a potential set closer that would demand an encore. It is a track that calls on soloists to get up and show what they can do and saxophonist Buddy Terry certainly did it here.

The Soul Book is well worth tracking down. If anyone out there knows anything more about Freddie Roach’s life and career, the floor is yours. There’s lots of space for comments.

The band etc:- Freddie Roach (Hammond organ); Edlin (Buddy) Terry (tenor sax); Vinnie Corrao (guitar); Jackie Mills (drums). Recorded 13 -28 June 1966. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Cal Lampley. Sleeve Notes: Freddie Roach. Cover photos: Ronnie Braithwaite. Cover Design: Don Schlitten. Issued as Prestige RE 7490.

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