Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Clark Terry - Bob Brookmeyer Quintet and The Power of Positive Swinging

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

It is true that at the Half Note, the staff refers to Terry and Brookmeyer as "Mumbles and Grumbles." "Mumbles" is the title of a widely popular Terry recording, and "Grumbles" alludes to Brookmeyer's occasionally sardonic view of the world and the foibles of its inhabitants, including his own. Yet I wonder if at base, the two are actually that disparate.

Both are the antithesis of pretentiousness off as well as on the stand. Both have never regarded jazz as so "serious" that it cannot also be unabashed fun. And both are very much themselves. Beneath Terry's gentleness and open good will and beneath Brookmeyer's wry (and sometimes self-deprecating) wit are an insistence on going their own ways. Each has resisted being compressed into any one "bag" and accordingly, the two together are — to use a favorite Duke Ellington commendation — beyond category.
- Nat Hentoff, Distinguished and Esteemed Jazz author and critic

When I acquired my copy of Clark Terry-Bob Brookmeyer Quintet: The Power of Positive Swinging [Mainstream LP 56054] in 1965, I never gave the subtitle much thought.

From the vantage point of the 20 years preceding 1965, Modern Jazz, to use the term collectively and inclusively, had experienced a surge of both stylistic growth and popular approval and it seemed that this would continue to be the case going forward.

Unfortunately, the music and many of its musicians took themselves too seriously, not to mention, taking the music in directions that caused it to lose its future audiences to Rock ‘n Roll.

Looking back on the post 1965 Jazz World many years later, a re-reading of the following insert notes by Nat Hentoff, this time as they appeared in the CD version of Clark Terry-Bob Brookmeyer Quintet: The Power of Positive Swining [Mainstream JK 57117], helped the subtitle of the recording become more understandable.

Sadly so because in many ways, 1965 was a year when Jazz began its descendancy as music and its ascendancy as an art form, and an ever-increasingly obscure one at that.

“EVER since critics and other verbalizers began to involve themselves with jazz, categorizations have grown through the music like weeds. And also like weeds, these stylistic labels are often difficult to cut down so that you can experience the music directly. One index of the singular pleasures to be had from the music of the Clark Terry & Bob Brookmeyer Quintet is that it not so much defies categories but rather ignores them. Their invitation to simply make contact with the music itself is so immediate and infectious that only the most rigidified academic would try to sort this combo and the music it plays into some constrictingly neat niche.

"That," observes Mr. Brookmeyer, himself chronically reluctant to verbalize about music, "is what our music is for - pleasure, not historical diagnosis. We all enjoy each other personally, and perhaps it's that mutual enjoyment that comes out in the music." As of August, 1965, Brookmeyer and Terry will have been together four years. They are not together all the time, of course, because their multiple skills often occupy them in other assignments. But their nights as co-leaders of this unit usually add up to about three months a year, with New York's Half Note their basing point. And in addition, they play other locations and cities from time to time.

Heightening the evident pleasure which Brookmeyer and Terry absorb from this association is their pride in the group. "This," Brookmeyer notes, "is ours. Clark and I have always worked for other people and whatever renown -or notoriety, if you will - we've accumulated has been with other people. After all that time, it's a continuing enjoyment for us to shape our own band."

As you can hear on this set, the relaxed cohesion of the co-leaders is buttressed by a similar collective flow of skills in the rhythm section. Dave Bailey and Bill Crow have been with the group for two and a half years and are also colleagues of Brookmeyer in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Pianist Roger Kellaway, the most recent of a series of resourceful pianists with Brookmeyer and Terry, blends into the section with attentive resiliency.

"Roger," notes Brookmeyer in a rare surge of adjectives, "is one of the most impressive, versatile talents I've heard in recent years. He can play any way; and no matter what way it is, it's clear he's not jiving. He really is able to become part of a wide range of contexts."

The initial "Dancing On The Grave" by Brookmeyer has become the combo's theme song. It is a cheerful kind of "walpurgisnacht," and Brookmeyer considers it unnecessary to be specific about what the title implies. Each listener is left to his own connotations. The "Battle Hymn Of The Republic" is a particular favorite at the Half Note, especially for Frank Canterino, the chef-in-chief of the establishment. "We refer to the song," says Brookmeyer, "as getting Frank out of the kitchen." In this head arrangement, incidentally, the musicians sound as if the battle has already been won and all that's left to do is to celebrate.

"The King," a number written by Count Basic, is a distillation of the verb "to swing" - both in its original manifestation and in this version. "Ode To A Flugelhorn" points up Clark Terry's brisk mastery of this instrument which seems particularly attuned to his qualities of wit, lithe grace and concern for textural values.

Brookmeyer arranged the vintage "Gal In Calico" having been attracted to the song because it allowed the combo to explore yet another nuance of mood. "Green Stamps," by Brookmeyer, is an ebullient event, marked by a series of exchanges between the co-leaders which turns into a circle of wit. "Hawg Jawz" is Clark Terry's and it particularly reflects Clark's antic humor. It also is an illustration - by Terry and Brookmeyer - of the art of breakmanship. Their dialogue of breaks here is consistently fresh, pointed, and relevant.

"Simple Waltz" is by Clark and in this song too, there are quick-witted ripostes by the two leaders as well as solos by them that reveal their easy - and unerring - sense of swing. The final "Just An Old Manuscript," a Don Redman/Andy Razaf collaboration, is a model of how a combo can achieve a wholly relaxed, organic unity.

In recalling the nearly four years of his association with Terry, Brookmeyer observes that "It was a pleasure from the very beginning, from the first rehearsal-talk over in my apartment." "And yet," Brookmeyer adds, "we're very disparate personalities."

It is true that at the Half Note, the staff refers to Terry and Brookmeyer as "Mumbles and Grumbles." "Mumbles" is the title of a widely popular Terry recording, and "Grumbles" alludes to Brookmeyer's occasionally sardonic view of the world and the foibles of its inhabitants, including his own. Yet I wonder if at base, the two are actually that disparate.

Both are the antithesis of pretentiousness off as well as on the stand. Both have never regarded jazz as so "serious" that it cannot also be unabashed fun. And both are very much themselves. Beneath Terry's gentleness and open good will and beneath Brookmeyer's wry (and sometimes self-deprecating) wit are an insistence on going their own ways. Each has resisted being compressed into any one "bag" and accordingly, the two together are — to use a favorite Duke Ellington commendation — beyond category.

What does, then, link their personalities is independence. And it is an independence secure enough in itself to be flexible. They are flexible in terms of music and flexible with regard to their ability to respond fully to each other and to the rest of the musicians in the combo so that this unit is an egalitarian meeting of compatible spirits. It gives pleasure because it takes pleasure in itself.

Clark Terry distills the essence of the Terry/Brookmeyer fusion: "It seemed to me there's too much put-down music, put-on music, hurray-for-me music and the-hell-with-everybody-music. So we thought we'd have some compatible music."

Nat Hentoff Original sleeve notes from 1965

The following video tribute to The Clark Terry-BobBrookmeyer Quintet features Clark, Bob, Roger, Bill and Dave on Count Basie’s The King.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

George Shearing and Leonard Feather

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Leonard Feather has dedicated his life to the development and propagation of jazz, mainly as a distinguished journalist and critic. This book, compiled from his diaries, documents his varied experiences in the jazz business as musician, songwriter and record producer. We are all fortunate that he has chosen to share his rare experiences with us."
— Benny Carter, Jazz saxophonist, composer-arranger, bandleader

I recently came across a copy of Leonard Feather’s The Jazz Years: Eyewitness To An Era. The paperback version was published by DaCapo Press in 1987. Over the years, I had misplaced mine and I found a very fine used copy on offer at a local bookstore.

The young clerk who helped me complete my purchase asked me if “He was anyone important like Bing Crosby?” “How did you learn about Bing?,” I asked. “Oh, he was featured on TV program that was broadcast on public television recently," he replied. "Whad'ya think of him?," I asked. "He was a pretty cool dude," he said. He smiled at the look of stunned amazement that must have come over my face at his response.

My reply to his question about Leonard Feather was something along the lines of this quotation by the distinguished Jazz author Gene Lees:

"Leonard Feather is the most important critic and chronicler jazz has had. He has written about the music longer—uninterruptedly since 1934—and more consistently than anyone else in the world.”

I think my description of Leonard’s importance in the world of Jazz had about as much impact on the bookstore clerk as the viewing of the Bing Crosby TV program that he had viewed as part of his studies, but I was glad to have Leonard’s book in my library so I could re-read it and share some of his singular memories with you on these pages.

I was fortunate to be in Los Angeles when Leonard was hired in 1965 by Charles Champlin, the Entertainment Editor of The Los Angeles Times, and charged with contributing regular features about Jazz to the newspaper. It was always a delight to read Leonard’s columns which appeared in that paper twice weekly and in the expanded Sunday edition as his writings were insightful and instructive. If Jazz can, as some say, be learned and not taught, then I learned a lot about Jazz from Leonard.

In addition to contributing many articles about Jazz to select periodicals beginning in the 1930’s, Leonard Feather was the author of numerous books on the subject, including his standard reference work Encyclopedia of Jazz [which has since become co-authored by Ira Gitler], Laughter from the Hip (with Jack Tracy, the former editor of Downbeat and record producer for Argo, Emarcy and Mercury), and Inside Jazz, all published by Da Capo Press.

Leonard Feather's autobiography - The Jazz Years: Eyewitness To An Era - is also the story of jazz over the last half-century. Since arriving in New York from London in 1935, he has managed to distinguish himself as a producer, composer, pianist, and one of the music's most acute critics. He was one of the first to champion the innovations of bebop in the pages of Esquire and Downbeat, also an ardent campaigner against racial barriers, and a friend to dozens of musicians. There are stories here about Feather's relationship with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Dizzy Gillespie, George Shearing, Joe Williams, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and many others. Filled with information about the recording business and the tricky art of criticism, this earwitness account of a lifetime in jazz caps a career that has been dedicated to the best that American culture has to offer. Leonard died in 1994 at the age of eighty [80]

Regular visitors to these pages will no doubt recall that the editorial staff at JazzProfiles are huge fans of the late pianist George Shearing.

As the following remembrance from Leonard’s autobiography makes clear, those of us who are fans of George and what came to be known as “The Shearing Sound” owe a huge debt of gratitude to Leonard.


“The end of the 1940s produced irreversible changes in the course of jazz and, consequently, in the pattern of my activities.

The blues as I had known the idiom in the early to middle 1940s had begun to fade. Dinah Washington and many others were phasing out most of their blues repertoire and moving into pop songs or R & B.

Big bands also were beginning to pass their peak; by the end of the decade several of the most valuable ensembles would disband, some temporarily like Basie's, others for ever.

Overshadowing both these trends was the second Musicians Union recording ban. After experiencing, during 1946 and 1947, my most active and enjoyable years in the studios, I found it a serious blow to be shut out during all but the last two weeks of 1948.

The year was far from a total loss. I had a new radio series on WHN in addition to working, during the summer, on Duke's programmes. I presented two concerts with Dizzy Gillespie (the first including Charlie Parker) at Carnegie Hall. Bird, Joe Newman, J. J. Johnson, John Lewis, Tommy Potter, Jimmy Jones and Max Roach all played in the first of a series of jam sessions I produced on Tuesday nights at the Three Deuces.

Best of all the events that year was my final citizenship hearing: I became an American at 9.15 a.m. 26 April 1948 after duly recalling the correct answers to a number of questions about the country's history, most of which might stump me if I were asked them again today.

Unhappily, I was involved for some time in a rather disagreeable job. Late in 1947 I had been hired as a programming consultant for a daily record show hosted by Tommy Dorsey. It was one of the very few times in my life when I had to report for work at a certain hour and stay all day. This would not have mattered if I had had even a token measure of artistic freedom, but on the occasions (fortunately few) when I had to deal directly with Dorsey, he would quench whatever enthusiasm I might have mustered with some remark such as: Take out that Dizzy Gillespie record. You know I don't want any of that bebop shit on my show.' Musical opinions aside, Dorsey was one of the least pleasant people I ever worked for.

Consequently, it came as a source of relief when, later in the year, I stopped working for Dorsey and was hired to write for a similar show with Duke Ellington as the host. There were no problems with Duke except for the minor one that because he was too vain to wear glasses and had trouble reading the scripts, they had to be transferred to a machine with extra-large type. Duke's show did not enjoy as much commercial success as Dorsey's, but he and I enjoyed the process of putting it together.

Undoubtedly the most auspicious event during those last two years of the decade, in terms of the gratification it gave me rather than the financial reward, was the slow but inexorable rise to prominence of George Shearing.

George and I had first met late in 1938, when I was conducting a meeting of the No.l Rhythm Club in London. After some of my recently imported American records had been played, the time arrived for a session of live music, and someone brought in the nineteen-year-old alumnus of Claude Bampton's band, all of whose members were blind except the leader.

In a country where live jazz from America was almost nonexistent and even records were in relatively short supply, one did not look to domestic talent for creativity or originality; but when this blind teenager began to offer his impression of how jazz should sound - clearly inspired by the records of Meade Lux Lewis, Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Joe Sullivan, Teddy Wilson and whoever else he had heard on imported records - there was a minor commotion in the room. Here was a young man clearly wise beyond his years. I also found out a little later that he was an accomplished jazz accordionist. Since I had been recently engaged in a running battle with the magazine Accordion Times, claiming that 'jazz accordion' was a contradiction in terms, I felt obliged to write a follow-up confessing that George Shearing had proved me wrong.

It might have been better if I had left it at that; instead, when I was able to set up a Decca recording session for George a few weeks later, one of the tunes was an ad lib accordion solo, 'Squeezin' the Blues', for which I provided the very inept piano accompaniment.* [*I was not the first record to George. Vic Lewis, an old friend with whom I co-produced a session in 1937, had him at the piano on several small-group dates in 1938-9, released on Lincoln Rhythm Style and Days Rhythm Style 78s.]

George soon established himself solidly in England, playing on his own radio series, working often with Vic Lewis and Stephane Grappelli, and appearing as a guest with the popular Ambrose orchestra. By the time he had won the Melody Maker poll for several years, it began to become clear to him that there was no place to go above the top, except by moving to the US.

We had kept in touch, and by 1946 George's wife, Trixie, wrote to tell us that they and their daughter, Wendy, would come to New York, strictly for a visit, later in the year.

The Shearings' first visit was purely exploratory. George's records had not been released here, which meant that he was totally unknown in this country. Much of the time during this three-month visit was taken up inspecting the New York jazz scene, particularly along 52nd Street. One night we ran into Teddy Reig, of Savoy Records, who arranged to produce a date in February 1947, with Gene Ramey on bass and Cozy Cole on drums.

Having tested the water, the Shearings returned home. He worked a variety of jobs (in London that summer, to my surprise, I found him playing accordion in a band led by Frank Weir), but before the year was out he came back to New York, this time for good, and Teddy Reig gave him another date, using Curly Russell and Denzil Best.

Once again, though, George found that the assurance he had been given in London that the American public would greet him with open ears was wildly exaggerated. At least one club owner whom I approached told me that a blind artist would be too depressing a sight (this despite the huge success of another British artist, also blind and now living in the States, Alec Templeton). George played a Monday off-night at the Hickory House, then settled in for a long run at the Three Deuces, where the scale was $66 a week.

At the club George slowly built a local following, working at first solo, then with Oscar Pettiford or John Levy on bass, J. C. Heard on drums and, for a while, Eddie Shu on alto sax and trumpet. By late 1948 he was hired for the Clique Club, on the site of what later became Birdland. With him were John Levy, Denzil Best and the incomparable clarinettist Buddy De Franco.

The recording ban, which had begun 1 January, ended 15 December, and I at last succeeded in landing a date for George with his own group, for Discovery Records, run by Albert Marx, whose Musicraft company had brought so much durable jazz to the studios.

We planned to use the Clique Club personnel, but a hitch developed: De Franco was under contract to Capitol.

Some years earlier I had experimented with a quintet sound, using piano, vibes and guitar, first at a Slam Stewart session using Johnny Guarnieri, Red Norvo and Chuck Wayne, then in 1946 on the all-woman Mary Lou Williams date with Margie Hyams on vibes. 'Why not,' I suggested to George, 'get Chuck and Margie, and try out a group along the same lines?'

George liked the idea. We set a studio for 31 January 1949; but meanwhile, MGM Records had expressed interest in signing George to an exclusive contract.

Preferring to save his own music for this major record label, George had me write most of the originals for the Discovery date.

That maiden voyage came off remarkably well. George displayed his locked-hands technique in my 'Life with Feather' and 'Midnight in the Air', played accordion on 'Cherokee' and a blues, and distinguished himself throughout this auspicious day.

By the time we were due to make the first MGM recordings on 17 February, George had developed a new and unprecedented blend for this instrumentation. He would play four-note chords in the right hand, with the left hand doubling the right hand's top-note melody line, the guitar doubling the melody, and the vibes playing it in the upper register. This was the basis for 'September in the Rain', the big hit of the first session, as well as for Til Remember April', 'Ghost of a Chance' and most of the other ballads.

For the jazz instrumental the formula would usually consist of a unison theme statement, followed by guitar and vibes solos and a two-stage statement by George, beginning with rapid single-note lines and evolving into sumptuous, brilliantly executed 'locked-hands' or block-chord improvisation.

Though this sound remained essentially unchanged through the years, the personnel underwent many changes. In 1953 George began adding Latin percussion. But the 'Shearing Sound' by now was so well established that the group became one of the most popular in jazz, with a reputation that was soon worldwide.

With Harry Meyerson of MGM, I produced all the sessions for the first two years of the five-year Shearing contract. The pattern for the group had been so firmly set, and in such continuous demand, that George was reluctant to make any changes. Not long after I had moved to Los Angeles, the Shearings also decided to make their home on the West Coast, where we lived only five minutes apart.

At one point I tried to interest George in a new concept, using two horns and accordion; we even made some trial tapes, but nothing came of it. The quintet went on its way, occasionally with such illustrious sidemen as Joe Pass, who toured with George from 1965-7. On the twentieth anniversary of the quintet's formation, George was working at the Hong Kong Bar in Century City, which gave me an opportunity to spring a surprise on him. I called several former members of the group to drop in at the room. During one number Colin Bailey quietly eased on to the bandstand and took over from Stix Hooper; Al McKibbon replaced Andy Simpkins on bass; Dave Koonse turned over his guitar to Joe Pass, and Charlie Shoemake handed his mallets to Emil Richards.

'I knew something strange was going on,' George said later, 'and when I heard the vibes played in octaves, which was Emil's style, I had a pretty good idea of what had been happening. That was one of the nicest surprises of my life.'

Another nine years elapsed before George finally decided that enough was enough. He began phasing out the quintet in 1978; the time had come to work within a more intimate framework, a duo that would leave room for more freedom of expression. 'I said when I gave up the quintet,' he told me recently, 'that I'd never do it again except for Frank Sinatra or Standard Oil. Well, Standard Oil never came through, but Sinatra wanted a quintet for two weeks at Carnegie Hall in 1981, and I did it. That was all.'

During the early years of the quintet George was often treated with disdain, or at best faint praise, by many of the critical establishment. Ironically, today he is enjoying more acclaim than ever; in his mid-sixties, he seems to have reached a new level of creativity. It's an encouraging thought that this is the same artist whose very appearance was once considered 'too depressing' even for a one-night stand on 52nd Street.

A few years ago George moved back to New York, where he lives on the upper East Side with his second wife, Ellie, a group singer. He records for Concord Jazz, and was teamed with Mel Torme, his frequent concert partner, for a Grammy award-winning album. Almost forty-eight years after he sat in at that Rhythm Club session in London, our friendship survives.

Not long ago I was a guest on his WNEW radio programme; we played four hands for a couple of minutes, and George said 'Let's play "Mighty Like the Blues".' That was the theme song on his British radio series. Who said nostalgia isn't what it used to be?”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Joe Morello - In A Big Band Setting

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The music on this album represents Joe Morello at his peak, and shows off some sides of his playing that have been relatively undocumented. Here was a drummer who was equally at home with small combos and big bands; a drummer who could handle the most complex time signatures and who was equally adept at straight-ahead swing; a drummer who had as much technique as any drummer who has ever lived, but who always put the music first.”
- Rick Mattingly, insert notes to [Joe Morello RCA Bluebird- 9784- 2 RB]

By any standard of measurement and without the need for any hyperbole, Joe Morello was a phenomenal musician who happened to express his genius on drums. And despite the incomprehensible derision he endured from some members of the East Coast Jazz Establishment  - “He didn’t swing.” [?!] - he was an exceptionally brilliant drummer who swung his backside off.

Anyone who has ever had anything to due with the instrument in a Jazz environment, simply understand this - Joe was incomparable.

While we are fortunate to have many recorded examples of his playing in small groups, especially those he made during a three years association with pianist Marian McPartland’s Trio [1953-1956] and those made as a member of the “classic” Dave Brubeck Quartet [1956-1968], sadly, there are too few recordings of his extraordinary drumming in a big band setting.

The following insert notes by Rick Mattingly to Joe Morello [RCA Bluebird- 9784- 2 RB] provides some explanations for this void.

“It was the early '60s, and the hottest jazz group going was the Dave Brubeck Quartet, who had achieved the rare distinction of having a number-one hit on the pop charts. The tune was called "Take Five," and its two main points of interest were the 5/4 time signature and the drum solo, played by Joe Morello. The record epitomized the "cool jazz" of the period, and Morello was the ideal drummer for that era. His style was firmly rooted in the swing and bebop traditions, but Joe was also a schooled performer who had studied with George Lawrence Stone of Boston and Billy Gladstone, snare drummer at Radio City Music Hall. Morello's polished technique, combined with the odd-meter time signatures favored by the Brubeck group, gave his playing an intellectual quality that fit right in on the college campuses where the Brubeck Quartet enjoyed much of their success. With his glasses and generally studious expression, Joe even looked somewhat like a college professor.

Among drummers, Morello was highly respected. When he first arrived in New York in the mid-'50s, his first order of business was to check out all of the local drummers. Stories are still told about how he would approach a drummer and ask about some little technical trick he had seen that drummer pull off. The other drummer, often with a patronizing air, would demonstrate his lick for Joe, who would then say, "I think I see what you're doing. Is this it?' — thereupon playing the drummer's lick back at him faster and cleaner.

When Morello began a three-year stint with Marian McPartland at New York's famed Hickory House in 1952, it gave all the other drummers in town the chance to check out Joe. Many still recall sitting with him at a back table between sets, where he would demonstrate his techniques by playing on a cocktail napkin. But while Morello quickly proved that he had all the chops of a Buddy Rich, he became noted for his restraint, only pulling off his pyrotechnics when it was musically appropriate to do so.

Morello joined Dave Brubeck in 1955, for what was to become a 12-year association. About the same time, he had offers from both Benny Goodman and
Tommy Dorsey, but he turned them down to go with Brubeck. "At the time," Joe says, "it looked to me as if big bands were on the way out. So it seemed to make more sense to go with Dave." It was a wise decision, as history has borne out. The Brubeck Quartet was the perfect setting for Morello to develop and display his unique approach, and during those years he repeatedly won the "best drummer" award in down beat, Metronome, and Playboy jazz polls.

During his tenure with Brubeck, Morello also became involved with the Dick Schory Percussion Pops Orchestra, with whom he recorded a couple of albums on RCA. After one of those sessions, Schory remarked to Morello, "It's about time you made your own record." The RCA executives agreed, and sessions were set up in June 1961.

"We took the title of the album, It's About Time [LPM-2486] from Schory's comment," Morello recalls. "Then we decided that we would only do songs that had the word 'time' in the title." Interestingly enough, despite the title of the album and the reputation Joe had for his expertise with unusual time signatures, there was very little of that type of playing on the record. "I wanted to do straight-ahead things on my album," Joe explains, "because I was doing so much of that other stuff with the Quartet. I wanted this album to be a whole different concept."

Because Morello was on the road so much with Brubeck, composer/arranger Manny Albam was enlisted to prepare the music and book the musicians. One player that Morello specifically requested, though, was saxophonist Phil Woods. "Phil and I grew up together in Springfield, Massachusetts," Joe says. "We played together as kids. He would be listening to Charlie Parker, I would be listening to Max Roach, and we would get together and try to imitate them. Phil and I always dreamed of having a group together, and although that never happened, we did make a few records together over the years. He's such a great player."

Another notable player on that album was Gary Burton, who was still a teenager at the time. "I met Gary through Hank Garland," Joe recalls. "I had worked with Hank at the Grand Ole Opry when I was 17. Then, after I was with Brubeck, I did a record with Hank, and he had this kid playing vibes. It was Gary, and that was his first album [Hank Garland, Jazz Winds from a New Direction, [Columbia LP 533]. When Gary came to New York, he stayed with me for a while, and then he stayed with Manny Albam after that. We did my album about a year after we had done Hank's record, and Gary had really improved a lot." Morello had also gotten Burton involved in Schory's Percussion Pops Orchestra, where they recorded together, and when Burton did his first solo a I bum for RCA [LPM 2420], New Vibe Man In Town, Morello was the drummer.

It's About Time did well enough that RCA invited Morello back to do a second album a year later. A few of the tunes on the first album had featured a brass section along with Phil Woods on sax, so this time it was decided to do a full-out big band record. Again, Manny Albam was enlisted to write the charts and hire the musicians, and again Phil Woods and Gary Burton were involved. But the album was never released. "RCA wanted me and Gary to have a group together," Joe remembers. "We had played on each other's albums, and RCA said that if we started a group together, they would really get behind it and publicize us. But I was too comfortable with Dave, so I wouldn't do it. And RCA couldn't see putting all this promotion behind my solo albums if I was still going to be doing all of that recording with Dave on Columbia. So they just didn't release the second album."

Those tapes remained in the RCA vaults for 27 years. But Morello had a copy, and he would occasionally play it for people. One person he played it for was Danny Gottlieb, a student of Joe's who has had a distinguished career of his own, working with such notables as Gary Burton, the Pat Metheny Group, John Mclaughlin, and the Gil Evans Orchestra, and who now has his own group, Elements. Gottlieb subsequently brought a copy of the tape to producer John Snyder,along with It’s About Time, and the results are contained herein [Joe Morello RCA Bluebird- 9784- 2 RB]

This collection kicks off with "Shortnin" Bread," from the unreleased big band album. "This was a little drum feature that we used to do with the Quartet," Joe recalls. "It always went over well, so I wanted to do it on my album." Morello's melodic approach to the drums is well represented here, as is his ability to kick a big band. "I think I could have been a good big band drummer if I'd had the chance to play with one for any length of time," Joe says. Judging by this, he certainly could have.

Next up is "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," featuring Morello's brush playing. Playing precise military-style figures with brushes is no mean accomplishment, and it is a good example of how Morello utilized his considerable technique in a subtle way. On the surface, Morello's drum breaks and rhythmic figures are rather basic ("l just played simple little things tha tfit with the band," he says), but when one considers the technical difficulties involved in achieving crisp articulation with brushes, one begins to appreciate Morello's degree of control.

Morello's control of fast tempos is evident on "Brother Jack," also from the unreleased big band sessions. "That's a pretty good tempo for a big band," Joe says. "Manny didn't want it to be that fast, but I wanted to take it up." Joe shows off his blazing single-stroke roll technique during the drum breaks in the middle, and ends the tune with a more thematic solo. Phil Woods is also featured on this tune.

"Every Time We Say Goodbye" is from It's About Time, and utilizes a brass section to enhance the core quintet. Morello concentrates on supporting the soloists, Woods, Burton, and Bob Brookmeyer.

Also from the first album, "Just in Time" is a quintet tune with spirited solos by Woods, Burton, and bassist Gene Cherico. "I had pretty good hands back then," Joe says of his four-bar breaks, which display his sense of phrasing, as well as his sense of humor.

"It's Easy" comes from the big band sessions, and Joe remembers it as the last thing that was recorded. "I didn't have a drum chart for this, and we only had time to do a couple of takes," Morello recalls. "When the first drum break came up, I didn't know what was going on," he laughs. Nevertheless, by the second break, Morello sounds as if he had been playing the tune for years. Colorful hi-hat work
adds to the mood of this piece.

"Shimwa," is a piece that Morello wrote for the Brubeck Quartet. "We didn't play it that much, though," Joe says, "so I had Manny arrange it for the big band album. It's basically a showcase for the drums. I wanted an African-type motif, and I tried to get the effect of a couple of drummers playing." The effect is achieved by Morello's use of polyrhythms, and by his ability to set up an ostinato pattern with his left hand, leaving his right hand and bass drum free to play contrasting rhythms.

Another "time" tune, "Summertime" was arranged by Phil Woods, and features solos by Woods, Burton, and pianist John Bunch, who was no stranger to working with good drummers; he had recently been with Buddy Rich's band. Morello concentrates on straight-ahead, supportive playing here. "I didn't want to do too many drum solo things," Joe explains. "On a lot of albums by drummers, every tune has a drum solo, and let's face it, too many drum solos are boring. I wanted to be more musical."

"A Little Bit of Blues" is another big band chart by Manny Albam, and features distinctive solos by Hank Jones and Clark Terry. No technical fireworks from Morello here, just great feel.

"It's About Time" was the title tune from th first album, and is basically a setup for Morello's drum solo. All of the Morello trademarks are here: the speed, the polyrhythms, the left-hand ostinatos, the phrasing. Another feature of the tune is its changing time signature; it goes into 6/4 for Phil Woods' solo.

The quintet from the first album is featured on "Every Time "which displays the smoother side of Morello's brush playing. Joe has high praise for Burton's contribution to this piece. "Gary had really learned to phrase well," Joe comments. "When I first heard him, he was playing everything right on the beat, but by the time we recorded this, he was really adept at back-phrasing." Bunch and Cherico also have solo spots here, and Morello adds a melodic drum break.

Phil Woods wrote "MotherTime"for the first album,an uptempo 12-bartune
that features solos from Bunch, Cherico, Burton, and Woods, followed by fours between Morello and Woods. Joe's breaks include his use of space and his famous left-hand ostinato.

"Time After Time" is a ballad that features Phil Woods, backed by Morello's sensitive brush playing. Unlike a lot of drummers, Morello always disengaged his snares when playing brushes, which produced a drier, more defined sound, "Phil has such a nice feel in this tune," Morello comments, "especially during the double-time section."

Considering the tempo of "My Time Is Your Time," not to mention the large ensemble, most drummers probably would have used sticks. But Morello pulls out his brushes, driving the band with intensity rather than volume. Burton and Woods solo, and Morello takes several breaks in which he shows again that he can be as articulate with brushes as most drummers are with sticks.

This collection concludes with a Dave Brubeck composition, "Sounds of the Loop," from the unreleased big band album. During the ensemble section of the tune, Morello displays a more "open" style of big band drumming, only catching the major figures and concentrating more on keeping the time moving forward. The chart is primarily a vehicle for Morello's drum solo, and it is a definitive example of melodic, thematic drumming.

The music on this album represents Joe Morello at his peak, and shows off some sides of his playing that have been relatively undocumented. Here was a drummer who was equally at home with small combos and big bands; a drummer who could handle the most complex time signatures and who was equally adept at straight-ahead swing; a drummer who had as much technique as any drummer who has ever lived, but who always put the music first.


Check out how Joe swings a big band using brushes [!] on the following video with his big band performing Manny Albam’s arrangement of When Johnny Comes Marching Home featuring Jimmy Maxwell on trumpet, Hank Jones on piano and Al Cohn on tenor saxophone.