Tag Archives: Phyl Garland

The Sound of Soul- Phyl Garland

The Sound of Soul was published in 1969.  It was written at a point when Stax and Motown had broken through and were well established in the charts.  Phyl Garland questions how deeply ‘…soul music has penetrated the core of modern America and how did it all come about?’


The first half of this short and very readable book is concerned with the origins of the soul sound.  Phyl Garland is explicit in stating that she is not presenting a ‘…scholarly treatise in sociology or musicology’.  Rather, she seeks to entertain and inform those who like soul music and who want to know more of where it emerged from and of the ‘… gifted people who create and perform it.’  As a black woman, she states that she is not attempting to achieve ‘Olympian Objectivity’ but that she writes from a black perspective and concentrates on the work of black musicians because she views them as ‘the most vital factor’ in the development of the music.  She is well aware that many white and British groups drew heavily from soul but makes a strong case for concentrating on the originators rather than the partial popularisers.

The second half of the book presents contemporary late 60’s examples of a living and developing music with longer feature pieces on BB King; a fascinating visit to the Stax Studio in Memphis on a working day; an in-depth and illuminating interview with Nina Simone and an appraisal of Aretha Franklin.  Garland then turns to soul in jazz, interviewing Billy Taylor (perhaps best known as the composer of ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free’ but also as a prolific jazz pianist and educator) before offering an appreciation and requiem for John Coltrane.

Published in Chicago by Regenery, The Sound of Soul is long out of print but you will be able to obtain a copy from AbeBooks or Amazon without breaking the bank.

I first came across Phyl Garland earlier this year when I started to think about this blog.  Having selected Down With It! for the first posting (and blog title) I read the sleeve notes.  I wasn’t expecting much.  Blue Note sleeve notes are a mixed bag.  Leonard Feather’s musings on the back of Lee Morgan’s ‘The Sidewinder’ are informative if you are into musicianly technicalities but are bone-dry and out of keeping with the excitement of the album contained within.  So it was without any great expectation that I started to read her clarion call to listen carefully and enjoy but not to over-analyze or seek to confine jazz to an exclusive cerebral gated community.

Further research confirmed that Professor Phyllis Garland was a remarkable and inspirational person.  She was the first woman and the first African American to gain tenure at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.  This followed on from a distinguished career as a journalist and writer with Ebony Magazine and as a reporter and editor on The Pittsburgh Courier from 1958 to 1965.  She was also a participant activist in the civil rights movement.  There’s a full obituary at: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/obituaries/obituary-phyllis-garland-journalism-professor-at-columbia-university-458744/  and her enthusiasm for the music was indicated by her annual listening parties, held for her students at her Eighth Avenue apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village where she played music from her massive collection of jazz and other genres.

Phyl Garland also wrote sleeve notes for Let ‘Em Roll by Big John Patton and Jackie McLean’s Right Now which were both released on Blue Note and for Booker T and the MGs 1969 album- The T Set. In addition, I understand that a Phil Garland may have written the notes for a Smokey Robinson set that Freddie Roach may have contributed one of his last recordings on. I must check that one out in due course.



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.”