Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ben Sidran: The Cat in the Hat [From The Archives]

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

Once a drummer, always a drummer.

It’s a different orientation, a different way of looking at and listening to Jazz.

It’s what you listen for first and then the rest of the music falls into place.

As a result of this percussive point of reference, it seems I’m always getting to other musicians through drummers: Philly Joe Jones got me to pianist Bill Evans [I bought Bill’s Everybody Listens to Bill Evans’ album because Philly is the drummer on it]; Larry Bunker got me to vibist Gary Burton; Kenny Washington got me to pianist Benny Green; Steve Gadd got me to pianist-composer arranger, Ben Sidran, et al.

“Bad” Steve Gadd came into his own as a drummer in the 1970s and, as a result, he easily absorbed and blended Rock beats and Latin accents into his style of Jazz drumming.  His drumming was as much a reflection of what was then contemporary in music as it was steeped in the traditions of Jazz drumming.

With Steve you could be listening to a marching band cadence on the snare drum one minute, a cow bell clave the next followed by a Rock backbeat; sometimes all three together.

He combined these drum rudiments, percussion “influences” and the extremely unique sound from the way he tuned his drums into a style that became instantly recognizable as “Steve Gadd;” not an easy thing to do on a drum kit. And while he was putting all of these rhythmic devices together in a new way, he constantly swung his backside off in whatever the setting he played in.

So when I came across a radio broadcast with a version of Seven Steps to Heaven that featured Steve’s inimitable drumming, I feverishly swung into my Jazz detective mode to find the source album [in other words, I called the radio station].

The track was from an album entitled The Cat in the Hat [AM CD 741] by “Ben Sidran,” whom I originally came to know as a pianist with a gift for writing lyrics to Jazz tunes and solos in the style of Jon Hendricks - what Jon refers to as “vocalese.”

You can hear both Steve’s intriguing approach to drum fills, kicks and solos and Ben’s ultra hipster lyrics on the Seven Steps to Heaven track from this album as we have used this Jazz standard by Victor Feldman and Miles Davis as the soundtrack for this video tribute to Ben. Joe Henderson is his typical first-rate self as the tenor saxophone soloist [see if you can pick-up Joe's reference to Johnny One-Note when he comes back in at 3:14 minutes].

Just in case you are in the mood to sing-along, here’s Ben’s vocalese to the tune:

© -Ben Sidran, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


One. two three, four. five, six seven
Steps to heaven
Five. six. seven, eight, see them pass
Free at last.

Trying to relate to the great masters
of our art Breaks my heart
As they depart
One. two. three, four. five. six. seven
Steps to heaven
Steps to heaven
Steps to heaven
Steps to heaven

When Miles was in style
The boys wouldn't smile
The girls wouldn't clear the aisle
Now the man’s in exile

When Trane led the pack
There was no looking back
There was no doubt about the fact
You had to catch that act

Now Charlie Parker he's a movie star
But they just wouldn't listen
When the man wasn't missin'
Now the man's gone
Say there, can you tell me where the
man's gone So long.

The record machine
t came on the scene
And closed down the nightclubs clean
It sure is mean.

They're gone for good
Free at last
They took those steps to heaven

As Michael Cuscuna explains in his insert notes to The Cat in the Hat, Ben already had eight CDs to his credit by the time of its issue in 1979 so I had a lot of catching up to do.

Fortunately for me, my awareness of Ben bridged beyond just his musical accomplishments to include the Jazz Talk program that he hosted for a number of years on National Public Radio.

The interviews that Ben conducted with Jazz greats on these NPR programs have all been issued in book form and are also all available as CDs.

Here are a few more background notes and observations about Ben and his music by Michael Cuscuna.

© -Michael Cuscuna, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

It is not surprising that a kid from MadisonWisconsin, who gigged in college with friends Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs and then went home to memorize Bud Powell and Sonny Clark records would turn out the way he did.

Ben Sidran played piano in that first Steve Miller band, but was really noted for the lyrics he wrote for many of their classic songs, including "Space Cow­boy" and "Seasons." Later, he went to England to study at the University of Sussex, and emerged with a PhD. in American Studies plus a brilliant book on American black music entitled Black Talk. He has continued to write, mostly for Rolling Stone, as well as liner notes on albums ranging from Jackie McLean and Eric Dolphy to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. He's produced records for Steve Miller. Tony Williams. Jon Hendricks, Sylvester and a few British rock bands that you've probably never heard of. As a pianist, he's done session work with the likes of Gene Clark and The Rolling Stones.

From all this, one might gather that Ben is versatile and eclectic, or that he has a multi-personality split to rival Sybil's. But the point is that his own music (documented by eight albums in as many years) is shaped by all of these diverse elements, not as in a patchwork collage, but existing simultaneously, congruently. welded together by Ben's personal vision and creativity. His is not some kind of "fusion" music: rather, it is simply Ben Sidran Music, forged through his own perceptions and detail­ing a style that's completely his own.

It you are a bebop junkie, the phrase 'the cat and the hat' will probably con­jure up images of Lester Young or Thelonious Monk, two famous knights of the lid. Or if you are a former kid. it may well remind you of the Dr. Seuss story of similar name about the feline in the striped stovepipe, who appears during the absence of adults to perform star­tling acts of turmoil and magic. That description might also apply to Lester and Monk, and not just a few other jazz masters as well, whose lyricism has that childlike simplicity and irrepres­sible inner logic. And this album could well be considered Ben's nod to all those cats who appeared, through their music, and touched him in that way. opening his soul and imagination to that which can only come from within.

The Jazz musician is the spellbinder, the consummate artist of great training who nonetheless still flies by the seat of his pants, taking chances and celebrat­ing life through the act of surprise. In his music, Ben often reminds us of the old tongue-in-cheek adage that 'in Jazz there are no mistakes, only opportuni­ties,' either through his deceptively simple lyrics, which detail the bitter­sweet ironies of life, or through his highly personal conception, which serves to reinforce the impossibility of stepping into the same stream twice, but the im­perative of trying it at least once.

Michael Cuscuna

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reprising Cool Concepts Cars and Cool Jazz – “Two of a Mind”

There are three reasons for reprising this feature on these pages: [1] Gerry Mulligan; [2] Paul Desmond; [3] the cool concept cars that populate the video that concludes this feature.

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

I’m sure that everyone from movie action heroes to deep, philosophical thinkers have used the phrase – “there are no coincidences” and whether it can be proved as a truism or not, I’ve always believe that this was the case.

So when one of my Jazz buddies sent me via e-mail attachment, a collection of photographs of concepts cars developed in the 1950s by the big three US automakers which I happen to open while listening to the Paul Desmond – Gerry Mulligan Quartet album Two of A Mind [RCA/Bluebird 0654-2-RB], I decided to go with it.

The result of this “coincidence” is the piece that you are now reading and the video montage of these concepts cars set to Paul’s and Jeru’s music that closes it.

I’ll always been indebted to Will Thornbury for making possible one of my most favorites Jazz recordings, Erroll Garner’s Concerts By The Sea [Columbia/Sony Entertainment], one of the best selling Jazz albums of all time.

As Will Friedwald explains:

“On Sept. 19, 1955, Garner … performed at Fort Ord, an army base near CarmelCalif., at the behest of disc jockey and impresario Jimmy Lyons. Martha Glaser, who served as Garner's personal manager for nearly his entire career, happened to be backstage when she noticed a tape recorder running.

As she recalled for the Wall Street Journal last week, it turned out that the show was being taped -- without Garner's knowledge -- by a jazz fan and scholar named Will Thornbury, strictly for the enjoyment of himself and his fellow servicemen. Ms. Glaser told him, "I'll give you copies of every record Erroll ever made, but I can't let you keep that tape." She took it back to New York (carrying it on her lap), where she assembled it into album form, titled it "Concert by the Sea," and then played it for George Avakian, who ran the jazz department at Columbia Records. Garner had actually left Columbia three years earlier, but, as Mr. Avakian recently told the Journal: "I totally flipped over it! I knew that we had to put it out right away."

When Columbia released "Concert by the Sea" a few months later, this early live 12-inch LP was a runaway sensation. It became the No. 1 record of Garner's 30-year career and one of the most popular jazz albums of all time. It's not hard to hear why: From the first notes onward, Garner plays like a man inspired -- on fire, even. He always played with a combination of wit, imagination, amazing technical skill and sheer joy far beyond nearly all of his fellow pianists, but on this particular night he reached a level exceeding his usual Olympian standard.”

Enter Will Thornberry again, this time as the writer of the insert notes to the Paul Desmond – Gerry Mulligan Quartet album Two of A Mind.

Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan made two albums together just as their popularity as Jazz artists was beginning to surge; one in 1957 for Verve [314 519 850-2] simply titled Blues in Time: The Gerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quartet and the other being to the Paul Desmond – Gerry Mulligan Quartet album Two of A Mind, which was recorded in 1962.

Will went on to become a successful record producer in his own right as well as an excellent writer on the subject of Jazz.

Nat Hentoff, one of the most esteemed of all Jazz authors, wrote the liner notes for the original Verve LP and Harvey Pekar penned the insert notes for the 1993 reissue as a Verve CD.

Taken in combination, Messer’s Thornbury, Hentoff and Pekar, may very well represent the most comprehensive telling of the story of how these two Jazz originals came to record together.

[Just to keep the record straight, there is a 3rd recording involving Mulligan and Desmond which they made in 1972 with Dave Brubeck entitled – We’re All Together Again for the First Time. It was issued on the Atlantic label and I have not read it’s liner notes.]

Since there is some repetitive background information in the notes that Will, Nat and Harvey wrote, I have edited excerpts together that I hope are not too redundant.

Let’s start with the senior statesman of the group, Nat Hentoff, explaining how the original Blues in Time Mulligan-Desmond recording came about.

© -Nat Hentoff, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Blues in Time:  Gerry Mulligan Meets Paul Desmond [Verve MGV-8246]

“The idea for this multi-linear playground has been bottled, like an amiably desperate jinni, in Paul Desmond's mind since 1954 when Gerry Mulligan sat in with the Dave Brubeck quartet at Carnegie Hall, and a Tea for Two resulted that convinced both Desmond and Mulligan that their ways of speaking music had what Gerry terms "a natural affinity."

Nothing and no one happened by to release the jinni until the summer of 1957 and the American Jazz Festival at New­port. During a quiet time at those assizes, Desmond again suggested the idea of a record date to Mulligan. There still seemed to be too many obstacles for liberation day to be in sight. There was, for one thorn, the matter of which record label would preserve the union. Desmond was affianced, so to speak, to one company and Mulligan preferred others. There were other problems too, and the conversation appar­ently headed towards inaction.

Norman Granz, who has a collection of bottles from which he has released jinn of this kind (one of them named Ella Fitzgerald) had been a listening bystander at the Desmond-Mulligan colloquy; and a few hours later, offered to do the date himself. He would make a trade with Desmond's com­pany to indemnify them for the loan of Paul (it is increasingly hard in present-day jazz recording to obtain the loan of a player; it is sometimes easier to borrow Kim Novak); and in general, Granz promised to untangle any other difficulties, present and possible.

In August of 1957, the bottle was opened. Mulligan had flown to California with his quartet to play a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. He had also recorded a jam session album for Granz with Stan Getz, Harry Edison, Louis Bellson, and the Oscar Peterson Trio; and at 2 A.M., after this record date, Mulligan and Desmond met for their first session. ‘About all we came in with that was planned,’ notes Desmond, ‘was a list of typewritten tunes. There were some obvious unison things written, one-chorus lines on two short tunes Gerry wrote, but everything else, including the counterpoint was off-the-cuff.’

Desmond and Mulligan are both dour self-critics, and are especially severe on their recorded work. Both, however, are quite pleased with this session. Desmond's explanation of his enjoyment in working with Mulligan is succinctly clear: "He just does all the right things."

‘I'm very proud of several things we did on the date,’ adds Mulligan, ‘like sometimes we're blowing passages in thirds, and they come off. It's a little alarming. And there are also places where Paul comes through very strongly, much more aggressively than he usually plays with Dave. He gets to swing pretty hard at times here in some contrast to the more flowing and lyrical work he does with Dave.’”

Here are some excerpts from Harvey Pekar’s notes to the reissue.

© -Harvey Pekar  copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Reissuing the Gerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quartet [Verve 314 519 850-2]

When Mulligan established himself in the L.A. area [in the early 1950’s] he formed a very popular piano-less quartet with trumpeter Chet Baker, bass, and drums. He employs the same format here, with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond substituting for Baker.

Desmond, star soloist of the Brubeck quartet for many years, is a difficult musician to evaluate. His was a fragile but considerable talent that might have been more fully realized outside the context of Brubeck's group. His main influences were Lee Konitz, Lester Young, and possibly Stan Getz. He had a small, pretty, vibrato-less tone; an excellent upper register; and at his best an inventive, lyrical, improvisatory instinct. When not in good form, however, his playing could be cloying and insipid. Mulligan seems to inspire Desmond here; in any event some of Paul's best recorded work is on this disk.

Gerry is inspired as well. He too has been influenced by Lester Young, though he is a more extroverted player than Desmond. His work can be predictable rhythmically and his choice of notes is by modern jazz standards conservative; but melodically he's ceaselessly inventive and he resolves his ideas very well, playing the kind of lines you can memorize and sing. In fact, in listening to this album again, I was surprised and delighted to find how much of it I had memorized. …

Mulligan's playing is so buoyant and infectious — you just know he's having a good time, that everything's working for him. On the slower tunes, …,  he plays with a full-bodied warmth that's hard to resist. Desmond swings harder and plays with more continuity than he usually did with Brubeck. When he uses motivic variation he does it creatively rather than by descending to coyness. The improvised counterpoint here works out very well. Each man listens to the other and reacts, seemingly effortlessly, with appropriate responses.

Kudos also go to Dave Bailey and Joe Benjamin. Their quiet but steady and resilient time-keeping gives Mulligan and Desmond just the kind of accompaniment they need, as the high quality of the saxophonists' work demonstrates.

These musicians were made for each other. July, 1993”

When the 1962 recording Two of A Mind: The Paul Desmond-Gerry Mulligan Quartet [RCA/Bluebird 9654-2 RB] was reissued on CD in 1989, Will Thornberry provided these comprehensive insert notes.

© -Will Thornbury, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The Cocoanut Grove is part of the Ambassador Hotel. Freddy Martin used to lead the band there. The hotel grounds are vast; tall palm trees stand like sentries at its edge. Across the street, in 1952, was a bungalow bar called the Haig, where Gerry Mulligan played with his quartet and where Time magazine gave him the most important review of his young career:

...in Los Angeles...a gaunt, hungry-looking young fellow named Gerry Mulligan plays the baritone saxophone....His jazz is rich and even orderly. ..sometimes the polyphony is reminiscent of tailgate blues, sometimes it comes tumbling with bell-over-mouthpiece impromptu.... He has a sleepy face and on the bandstand he keeps
his watery green eyes closed even when listen ing to Trumpeter Chet Baker, opens them only occasionally to glower at customers who are boorish enough to talk against the music....Next Mulligan objective: an enlarged band and a nationwide tour. "I've got to keep moving. I've got to grow."1

Mulligan was hired by the Haig's publicist, Richard Bock, a student attending college on the G. I. Bill.

"I conned the owner...into letting me put in a jam session on the off night," Bock said. "I met Mulligan and hired him as a soloist, then he became the leader of a regular thing. Chet Baker wandered over one night after his gig with Charlie Parker and sat in with Gerry. They hit it off. A few weeks later Red Norvo's trio, the one with Mingus and Tal Farlow, was booked for a month to play five nights a week. Red said 'I don't want the piano on the stand—we don't use piano.' The owner stored the piano in his apartment and we said 'What are you going to do, Mulligan?—you don't have a piano.' And he said 'Well, we can play without one.' He didn't want to lose the gig—at that point he was really scuffling. And so it turned out to be a piano-less quartet."

"After the third week it was magic," Bock continued. "It...gave Chet a freedom that he never would have had... he was able to play almost anything that he thought of and it didn't clash with the piano...he could really go on real flights of imagination.... With Gerry, Chet was forced to be inventive; he was forced to come up with contrapuntal lines—they had that marvelous ability to chase each other and to play what was almost Dixieland or two-part inventions."

"And it went on for months, you know," Bock concluded. "It was the biggest thing that happened on the West Coast at that time. Time magazine covered it and it became a real experience."

"I was overlooked," Paul Desmond was fond of saying, "long before anyone knew who I was." By 1953 Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond were attracting the same kind of attention as Mulligan and Baker. Brubeck had noticed earlier, while on the road, that stuck between the jazz clubs of the country were colleges. He began to contact some of them for concert bookings and developed an itinerary. The move was an important move for the group: it gave Brubeck the means to develop a generation of listeners and it gave Desmond a chance to meet girls.

Paul Emil Breitenfeld — Desmond came later, the name picked from a phone book—was born in San Francisco in 1924. His father was a theater organist and arranger who talked twelve-year-old Paul into returning the violin that he had brought home from music class at San Francisco Polytechnic High School in favor of a clarinet. Desmond played in the Polytechnic band and edited the school paper. He went into the army in 1943, switched from clarinet to alto, and spent the duration of WW II at the Presidio of San Francisco in the 253rd AGF Band. Dave Brubeck passed through town on his way overseas. "We went out to the band room for a quick session," Desmond said to Nat Hentoff, "[and] started to play the blues in B flat, and the first chord he played was a G major. Knowing absolutely nothing at the time about polytonality I thought he was stark raving mad." Not without reason, Desmond added—Brubeck was "wild haired, ferocious looking, with a pile-driver approach to the piano, and an expression of a surly Sioux. It took...several more listenings before I began to understand what he was up to."

After the war Desmond ran into Brubeck and formed a quartet. "We were making about $50 a night," Desmond told Marian McPartland. "I was splitting it with the guys and paying for the gas, too. That's when I decided I really didn't want to be a leader." Brubeck took over the quartet. Brubeck was studying with Darius Milhaud; he formed an octet comprised of other Milhaud students and Desmond, who was majoring in literature at San Francisco State. In the first six months of 1950, Desmond's only jobs were "two concerts with the octet and a Mexican wedding." Desmond joined the Jack Fina band. Fina, a pianist, had once been with Freddy Martin's orchestra; highlights of his career with Martin had been an adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto, called Tonight We Love, and a boogie-woogie rendition of The Flight of the Bumble Bee. Desmond reached New York City with the band, entertaining thoughts of settling there, but found that "all the guys I talked to wanted my job with Fina." Discouraged, Desmond returned to San Francisco. Brubeck's trio had achieved recognition beyond San Francisco and he decided to form a quartet. He hired Desmond and they never looked back. During 1953the quartet recorded albums at two colleges, Oberlin and College of the Pacific. Record producer George Avakian signed them to a contract at Columbia Records. Their first release for Columbia was another set of campus recordings, Jazz Goes to College. The album was an immediate success. On November 8, 1954Dave Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time.

A month before Time's cover story ("Desmond's eyes close, his long fingers glide over his alto's mother-of-pearl keys..."),2 Desmond recorded his first solo album. "It is my custom when listening to playbacks," Desmond wrote, "to cough loudly whenever I hear something coming that I played and don't like, and altho things have improved since the early days —  'Whispering Desmond' they used to call me, up at Sound Recorders — most editing sessions leave me a bit hoarse."3 The album had Desmond's most inspired title, Baroque... But Happy, and "a fond tribute to Gerry Mulligan," called Jeruvian.

"You remember that one," I said.

"Sure," replied Mulligan smiling. "We used to hang out together at all the festivals, hangout a lot — which was not wonderful for my liver. In fact that's how we ended up recording together. Norman Granz was always around and he'd overhear us talking about doing something. Paul would say he'd really like to do a thing with my quartet, only have it be an alto instead of a trumpet, and I'd say 'Sure, that's a great idea.' And then we'd go to another festival and say the same thing. Well, after a few years of that Granz finally said 'Would you stop that? You're driving me crazy! If you're serious about this and l set up a date will you do it?' We said 'Sure. 'So he did and we did."

The record was called Blues in Time.
"Pronounced aahn-teem, I suppose."

"Sure," said Mulligan, "we both like to fool around with words."

Desmond was epigrammatic and pun-loving, Mulligan is a master at anagrams, a composer I re-arranger: viz., "I worked out something recently for Duke, except it doesn't work with 'Duke’ -I have to use 'Edward,' Duke's real name. What do you think 'E. Ellington' works out to be?"

"I don't know."

"Gentle Lion."

His masterpiece is his anagram for Gil Evans: Svengali.

Gerald Joseph Mulligan was born in April 1927, in Queens VillageLong Island. His father was a management engineer; Mulligan was the youngest of four brothers and the only one not to enter their father's profession. The family traveled extensively during Mulligan's childhood, living in OhioNew JerseyNew YorkIllinoisMichigan, and Pennsylvania. He showed an early aptitude for music, starting clarinet and turning out his first arrangement at age ten, organizing his first combo in high school, then expanding it into a big band and writing arrangements. When he was fourteen the family moved to Philadelphia: Mulligan switched from clarinet to tenor, and put together another high school dance band. He sold his first professional arrangement to the WCAU Radio house band while still in high school; by the beginning of his senior year he had worked professionally with two local bands, had toured with Tommy Tucker's band as an arranger, had joined WCAU as staff arranger for the Elliot Lawrence Band, and had met and befriended Charlie Parker. Mulligan moved to New York in 1946 and was hired as an arranger by Gene Krupa, for whom he wrote Disk Jockey Jump. The following year he joined Claude Thornhill's band, involving himself in the development of ideas with Thornhill's chief arranger, Gil Evans, that would result in the birth of the classic Miles Davis Nonet, for which he arranged George Wallington's Godchild, and the Mulligan compositions Rocker, Jeru, Venus de Milo, and the much-later released Darn That Dream. By 1951, twenty-four-year-old Mulligan had produced memorable, and in several instances historic, compositions and arrangements. He had also abandoned the clarinet, tenor, and alto in favor of the baritone. Work was scarce that summer, money elusive.

About the time Paul Desmond left Jack Fina, Gerry Mulligan hitchhiked to L.A.
"Most of the albums Paul did apart from Dave were piano-less," I said, "but with a different conception than yours."

"Early on, I was amazed to find out that different horn players listen to different guys in the rhythm section," Mulligan said. "Some guys listen to drummers, some to piano players, but not too many listen to bass players. I always, always listened to the bass line. So when I played with a bass player who was shucking it, it really threw me a curve because I didn't hear anything. But, conversely, when I played with good players — guys with good time but also good melodic sense of the bass line — it would inspire me to better things."

Mulligan's liner notes for his first album for Dick Bock weren't exactly a Manifesto, but they contained concepts that would be discussed throughout the decade:

‘I consider the string bass to be the basis of the sound of the group; the foundation on which the soloist builds his line, the main thread around which the two horns weave their contrapuntal interplay. It is possible with two voices to imply the sound of or impart the feeling of any chord or series of chords. When a piano is used in a group it necessarily plays the dominant role; the horns and bass must tune to it as it cannot tune to them, making it the dominant tonality. The piano's accepted function of constantly stating the chords of the progression makes the solo horn a slave to the whims of the piano player. The soloist is forced to adapt his line to the changes and alterations made by the pianist in the chords of the progression. It is obvious that the bass does not possess as wide a range of volume and dynamic possibilities as the drums or horns. It is therefore necessary to keep the overall volume in proportion to that of the bass in order to achieve an integrated group sound.’

The decade of the 1950s in Los Angeles would begin and end with
quartets, Mulligan's and Ornette Coleman's, and the path from one to the
other was straight and short.

Desmond listened to piano. He spent seventeen years with Dave Brubeck. "When Dave is playing at his best," he told Hentoff in that 1952 interview, "it's completely live, free improvisation in which you can find all the qualities of the music I love....This sort of playing doesn't happen every night and hasn't happened yet on a record session. Maybe it never will, but it's worth waiting for. When I heard it happening the first time, all the other jazz I had heard and played then seemed pale and trivial by comparison." A few years later, responding to those who suggested the contrary, he said "I never would have made it without Dave. He's amazing harmonically, and he can be a fantastic accompanist. You can play the wrongest note possible in a chord and he can make it sound like the only right one." Away from Brubeck he usually worked with Jim Hall, or later Ed Bickert. He liked the guitar—the instrument once described as a piano you hold in your lap.

Mulligan and Desmond made only three records together: Blues in Time (Verve) in 1957; We’re All Together Again for the First Time, with Dave Brubeck (Atlantic) in 1972; and Two of a Mind, recorded in three sessions during the summer of 1962, exactly ten years to the season from Mulligan's original quartet sessions. "The dates," wrote George Avakian, who co-produced the album with Bob Prince, "always seemed to take place as one principal was unpacking a suitcase and the other was about to catch a plane." Much was expected of the album — "a classic-to-be collaboration by two of the greatest saxophonist of modern jazz," read the original back cover — and musically the expectations were realized.

But summer of 1962 was the season of the Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd recordings of Desafinado and One Note Samba. The Bossa Nova Craze had arrived; record companies, distributors, and promoters thought of little else, and Two of a Mind drowned in the Wave from Brazil.5

"We liked the record," Mulligan said. "We put in a lot of thought to the kind of tunes that would lend themselves to Paul and me playing together — things that would lend themselves to counterpoint playing. We came prepared for more than we thought we'd need. In a studio you never know what's going to work and what isn't."

Stardust evokes Brubeck and Desmond at Oberlin the decade before, when Brubeck and Desmond used as their opening the same descending three-note motif used by Paul and Gerry here 6 ("...prom perennial Stardust is popular with Brubeck and Desmond," wrote Time, "because its stately harmonic progressions flow as smoothly as the Mississippi..."). Desmond overdubbed an additional saxophone line on the last two choruses of The Way You Look Tonight; it and All the Things You Are are classic Jerome Kern, and Two of a Mind comes close. The song was titled by George Avakian as he drove through Central Park. Avakian also likes to fool around with words, has a good memory, and probably an umbrella.

"Judy Holliday walked in during a play back of that part where Paul and I are working through the counterpoint," Mulligan said. "She gave us one of those looks, you know, and said That sounds like the "Blight of the Fumble Bee".'" He laughed. "So that's how that got titled."

"Anything more about Paul?" I asked.

"There always is something to say about him," said Mulligan, "but I miss him, almost more than anything. It's really hard not having someone to talk to. He used to say that. Desmond and I were kids together and it gets to be important to have somebody to talk to you don't have to explain anything to. My wife said it the other day — she said that what finally hit her about this life — for all musicians — it's lonely out there, man! It's lonely out there on the road! Your friends start dying off, you're left bereft. You loose your youthful friends...bereft. He's your childhood friend — that's it! You're alone." Mulligan paused for a moment. "Anyway," he said. "My wife's calling me. We're going to go eat lunch."

The Haig has been gone for years. The Ambassador Hotel with its vast lawn and tall palm trees that stand like sentries and its Cocoanut Grove where Freddy Martin conducted while Jack Fina played Tonight We Love and the boogie-woogie rendition of The Flight of the Bumble Bee has been sold. The new owners recently laid off the staff and shut down the hotel. They plan to tear it down.”


Notes & Sources

1. Time2/8/53, p. 67.
2. Time11/8/53, p. 36.
3. The Paul Desmond Quintet, Fantasy 8082
4.  The Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Pacific Jazz PJLP 1
5. Never at a loss for irony, Desmond and Mulligan persevered. Desmond's next album for RCA was Take Ten, with Jim Hall, and featured four bossa(s)? novas, "which by now," Desmond noted, "I should call bossa antiqua." When Mulligan met Antonio Carlos Jobim, composer of Desafinado and One Note Samba, Jobim told him that the Mulligan quartet had been a prime influence on him and other young Brazilian composers.
6. Jazz at Oberlin, Fantasy 3245

And here’s the video montage of 1950’s classic concepts cars that led to the development of this feature. The tune is Mulligan’s Fall Off which is based on the changes to Let’s Fall in Love. The bassist is Joe Benjamin and the drummer is Dave Bailey.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bob Cooper, Quietly, Always There

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

“One of the major West Coast saxophonists of the 1950’s, Cooper's utter professionalism and consistency suggest a kinship with like-minded players such as Zoot Sims, although his light tone and unemphatic phrasing were in close harmony with the Californian playing of the period. A former sideman with Stan Kenton (he was also married to Kenton vocalist June Christy), he worked extensively with Shorty Rogers and Howard Rumsey, as a partnership with Bud Shank, in various big bands and in the prolific studio-session work of the 1960’s. He remained a versatile and swinging player up until his death from a heart attack in 1993….

Cooper made rather sporadic returns to the studios in the 1980’s and '90’s but he remained a guileful player, his tone deceptively languid: when the tempo picks up, the mastery of the horn asserts itself, and he gets the same kind of even-handed swing which the more demonstrative Zoot Sims or Al Cohn could muster.”
-Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“It's always amazed me since Stan's death that his fans have been so loyal; it's just unbelievable. They'll have Kenton reunion concerts and people show up from all over the place. When we had the 50th anniversary festival [Back to Balboa] in Newport Beach in the summer of '91, people came in from all over the world because they love Kenton's music. I was just up in Port Townsend, Washington with Bud Shank, Pete Rugolo, Milt Bernhart and Bill Perkins - a whole band full of ex~Kenton stars, and the auditorium was packed because of Stan's name, and the fact that we were there to play his music.

I think more so than any other bandleader, he has people so devoted to him that it will not end until they [the fans] all die. I have a lot of admiration for him because of that. Stan was like a father to everyone.

I know people hate to hear that, but the band was full of 19 year-olds like I was, and he helped us through a lot more than music, growing up and maturing. He was a good example for most of his life for people to emulate.”
- Bob Cooper, in Steven Harris, The Kenton Chronicles, p. 57.

Actually, I always thought that musically, Bob Cooper had two fathers: Stan Kenton, in whose orchestra he played from 1945-51, and later, bassist Howard Rumsey, after Bob became a regular with Howard’s Lighthouse All-Stars in 1954. He stayed with the LHAS until 1961.

During his Lighthouse years, Bob always seemed so studious as he often walked into the club carrying loads of three-ring binders along with his horns. Between sets, he’d sit in the back of the club composing on music scoring sheets in his notebooks. The horn-rimmed glasses and the Gentlemanly way that Bob comported himself always seemed to add a layer of professorial dignity to his persona.  

This description of Bob by Nat Hentoff perfectly aptly captures Coop’s demeanor:  “He is an unresting professional who does not leave all to the quixotic visits of ‘inspiration,’ but is continually working to increase and improve the skills and material with which to work when ‘inspiration’ does call and on those long days when it doesn't but work has to be done anyway.”

In The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed., Richard Cook and Brian Morton characterized Bob this way in reviewing Coop! The Music of Bob Cooper [Contemporary Records 7544 ; OJCCD-161-2]:

“Because he chose to spend much of his career away from any leadership role, Cooper's light has been a little dim next to many of the West Coast players of the 1950’s, especially since he often worked as an accompanist to his wife, vocalist June Christy. His flute-and-oboe sessions with Bud Shank are out of print, but this sole feature album, recorded for Contemporary, displays a light, appealing tenor style and arrangements which match rather than surpass the West Coast conventions of the day. The drily effective recording is typical of the studios of the period.”

In 1947, two years after Bob joined Stan Kenton, he married Kenton's singer, June Christy, whom he began to accompany on recordings.  In the late 1950s, Bob interrupted his career in the USA to tour Europe, South Africa, and Japan with his wife. Before joining the LHAS in 1954 Coop worked as a freelance musician on the West Coast, his style evolving from swing to bop. He played and recorded with Shorty Rogers, Pete Rugolo, and Bud Shank, among many others and before joining Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars,. After leaving Howard’s group, Bob began a long association with Los Angeles studio work.

In 1966 the premiere of his Solo for Orchestra was given by Kenton's Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra, which he joined in the same year. His continuing work in big bands has included recordings with Frank Capp and Nat Pierce (1978, 1981) and Bob Florence (1981); he has also played in small groups, recording with Terry Gibbs's sextet (1978), Harry Edison (1983), and Snooky Young (1985) and making occasional tours with Shorty Rogers.  [Source:- William F. Lee, III - Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz].

Always uncomplaining and usually ready with a smile and/or a word of encouragement, his professional skills as a musician, dependability and qualities of personality enabled Bob Cooper to build a stable career in music around Los Angeles.
Sy Johnson, writing in the insert notes to Kenton Presents Jazz: Bob Cooper, Bill Holman, Frank Rosolino [Mosaic Records, boxed set, MD4-185] had these comments about Coop’s style of writing.:

“The aspect of all these sides that I find most interesting is that both writers, Cooper on his own pieces, and Holman on Rosolino's as well as his own pieces, are line writers. Instead of thinking vertically, (chords, voicings), they are building a vertical structure a line at a time. Every internal voice is arrived at horizontally, with its own resolutions and logic, as opposed to being the third note from the top in a series of vertically constructed chordal voicings. We used to say, ‘thinking Bach instead of Beethoven,’ which may not be true, but gives the essence. Bach, the great line maker, whose lines ‘swing’ naturally when you add jazz time. Every jazz pianist loves the two and three part inventions.”

Given his long and fruitful association as a member of Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars,, we thought we’d feature Bob in the following video tribute along with his longtime LHAS bandmates Conte Candoli, trumpet, Frank Rosolino, trombone, Victor Feldman, piano, Howard on bass and Stan Levey on drums on Coop’s original composition - Jubilation.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hank Mobley - So Talented, So Often Overlooked

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

“There is a place in modern jazz for a music that is technically enormously sophisticated, yet retains its creator's warmth; that is as intense as the greatest contemporary works, yet presents an open, welcoming surface wherein grace, even gentle humor, appear in the stead of the conventional fierceness; that is permeated with the blues, but without sentimentality or the kind of pandering that the work "funk" has come to represent. Hank Mobley has made that place for himself.
As H.L. Mencken wrote of Beethoven, there is no place for cheapness in Mobley's art; there is no evasion of the artist's responsibility for immediate communication (indeed, the absence of the cliche in Mobley's music can only be compared to the rare likes of Bud Powell). But the whole-hearted spirit of melody and swing on these rediscovered sides is the most direct kind of invitation to the listener: "The beat, the beat, they've got to have that beat!" says Mobley, and this set is typical of his work.”
-John B. Litweiler, insert notes to A Slice of the Top [Blue Note 33582]

"One thing about Hank,he sure plays relaxed. Hank's my favorite tenor player. He plays very fluently. He's very mature in his playing. I think he's very underrated."
- Freddie Hubbard, trumpet

“The hallmark of Mobley's playing is his precise and idiosyncratic use of rhythm. Initially this led him to produce very intricate improvised melodies whose impact was sometimes jeopardized by the extreme strain they imposed on his technique and timing. But he soon evolved a style in which his harmonic and rhythmic inventiveness was matched by an immaculate adherence to the beat, a subtly expressive use of tone, and beautifully relaxed delivery.”
- Michael James, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, [p. 784]

It’s hard to think of any other Jazz musician whose recorded work was as consistently pleasing as that of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley’s efforts on Blue Note in the 1950’s and 60’s.

I’m sure the fact that Hank had a talent for composing catchy and intriguing hard bop compositions may have had something to do with this, bit I always liked the sound he got on tenor saxophone, too. Unfortunately with the likes of Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter still on the scene when Hank was at the height of his popularity, the sound he got on the big horn was difficult for some to hear over the work of the trend-setters on tenor sax.

What is remarkable, too, is the fact that while there are many tenor saxophonists who get a sound like Dex, Sonny, Coltrane and Shorter, few players today sound like Hank and that’s a shame because Hank’s purity of tone and endless ideas helped make the instrument’s sonority softer, more mellow and less angular than the tone achieved by many of his contemporaries.

In Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz, 1954-65, Kenny Mathieson puts these thoughts about Hank in a slightly different context when he writes:

“Hank Mobley occupies an odd position in the hard bop pantheon. If Lee Morgan was the quintessential hard bop trumpeter, Mobley sometimes seemed miscast within the genre, sporting a tenor saxophone sound which was almost the antithesis of everything which hard bop implied.

The confusion is a surface one - his music was fundamentally part of the movement, and he is one of its master craftsmen. He has been routinely passed over - both David Rosenthal in Hard Bop and Thomas Owens in Bebop hardly mention him other than in passing as a sideman, and Rosenthal does not include any of his records in his selected hard bop discography - or described as undervalued so often now that it has become a cliche, but his career reflects that neglect in unmistakable fashion.

Even his most ardent admirers concede that he lacked the power and individuality of the premier tenormen of the day, Coltrane and Rollins, but his contribution to the music was an important and lasting one, and he is hardly to be ignored simply because he stood in the shadow of giants. Jazz is much more than a history of its greatest figures, and Hank Mobley played his part to the full.” [p. 153]

Bob Blumenthal echoes this theme in his insert notes to Hank’s Blue Note album No Room for Squares when he writes:

“... many listeners … simply relegated Mobley to the middle of the pack — ‘solid, but not indispensable,’ as one critic recently wrote.   Such judgements, while hardly universal, were common enough to rob Mobley of deserved accolades both in life and death.

If Mobley lacked anything, it was the drive to become a "star" in the context of the jazz world; he surely was not lacking in talent. In a sense he was the quintessential sideman, particularly during the years 1954-63, when he worked for virtually every important non-tenor-playing leader on the East Coast. His own star turns were confined primarily to Blue Note record dates, where Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff recognized his strengths and made him one of the most frequently featured artists on the label. Mobley repaid this confidence by producing sessions that survive as definitive and rarely equalled examples of hard bop. Yet there were always more flamboyant or more radical musicians around to overshadow

Mobley's achievements; during the first part of the 1960s, when he reached his creative peak in sessions such as those contained on the present compact disc, his work was considered irrelevant next to the manifestos of the free players. By the end of the '60s, with rock overwhelming all styles of jazz, Mobley had sunk into an obscurity from which he never really emerged.”

Bob elaborated a bit further on some of the factors associated with Mobley’s obscurity in these comments he prepared for the Mosaic Records boxed-set The Complete Blue Note Hank Mobley Fifties Sessions [MD6-181]:

“[According to] the baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter [a patron of Jazz musicians in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s], Hank Mobley's aspirations [having] to do with the conditions performing jazz musicians seek yet find all too rarely  … [included] ‘Somewhere to play where people aren't just comparing you to someone else’....

Few musicians had greater cause to seek such a forum for their playing than Hank Mobley, who could serve as Exhibit A when building a case against the poll-driven, King of the Hill approach to jazz appreciation. Possessed of both his own conception, which made Mobley's music readily identifiable, and the equally rare inspiration that also made listening to his work eminently satisfying,

Mobley was perpetually eclipsed throughout his career by more extroverted and influential stylists. Throughout the period represented by the present collection, his work was often downgraded as a lesser version of Sonny Rollins; and in 1960 and '61, when he worked with Miles Davis and recorded what are his greatest sessions under his own name, he was dismissed for not measuring up to his predecessor in the Davis band, John Coltrane.

When the avant-garde innovators dominated the attention of jazz critics a few years later, Mobley's playing was often dismissed as old hat and irrelevant. It has only been in the years since he stopped recording (his last session, co-led with Cedar Walton, took place in 1972), and especially since his death in 1986, that the exceptional quality of his playing and writing has begun to receive a commensurate measure of respect.”

In this excerpt from his insert notes to Workout [Blue Note CDP 7 84080 2], Leonard Feather explains Hank’s distinctiveness this way:

“Perhaps the reason for this steady reputation is that Hank through all these years has remained more or less unclassifiable. Though he has worked with musicians of the hard bop school, his tone and conception scarcely qualify for the "hard" definition.

Nor is it possible for the experts to categorize him as a member of this or that school of tenor players. His only major influence has been an alto saxophonist, Charlie Parker. There is little in him of Hawkins, Young or Rollins, and not more than a trace of Coltrane, as far as I can detect.

The lack of a classification must be counted as a virtue rather than a shortcoming, since it indicates what many of us suspected all along: that Mobley has been basically his own man, with no restrictive allegiance to any one source of inspiration.”

In Roll Call [Blue Note CDP 7 46823 2], Ira Gitler states:

“Mobley has been underrated. It is more than unfortunate that certain terms generally and accurately employed to describe him; steady, reliable musicians' musician, etc. have lost the dignity of their definitions and have come to imply only mediocrity. If Mobley is too frequently ignored or relegated to the rear in discussions of modern tenor saxophonists it is probably due more to a hero-jaded public consciousness than to the real capacities or limitations of his talent.”

In his insert notes to A Caddy for Daddy [Blue Note 84230] Ira goes on to explain that regarding Hank’s output on Blue Note:

“It is instructive, and eminently enjoyable, to trace Hank's career through these recordings. His growth as a player is inextricably bound up with his development as a writer. Material dictates playing directions and Mobley has managed to find new combinations within the tradition of his chosen music to nurture his art. Remaps this does not seem like a great accomplishment but in light of the many absurdities being carried on in the name of jazz these days it certainly merits recognition and praise.”

Richard Cook,  in his The Biography of Blue Note Records offers this perspective on Mobley’s place in the history of this distinguished Jazz label:

Mobley has always been a favourite among Blue Note collectors - perhaps the favourite musician in such circles. Though a journeyman rather than any kind of ground-breaking voice, he was more influential than jazz histories have often allowed. Many British musicians of the fifties and sixties would seek out his elusive records. If a figure such as Sonny Rollins was too overpowering a voice to be useful as an influence, the more diplomatic Mobley could offer more practical material to work with. His three great records are surely Soul Station, Roll Call and Workout.

…. What swings [these] records on to the top level, though, is Mobley's extraordinary understanding of how he makes time work for him. For such a relaxed sounding tenorman, with his unruffled, lean tone and curling melody lines, the way he can handle the beat, every inflexion in the line timed to go with an aspect of the pulse, is little short of amazing. Mobley's mastery is so complete that it often deceives the ear. He might seem to be lagging behind, or staggering slightly, yet there's never any need to right himself - he had it in the pocket all along.” [pp. 146-147]

My favorite of Hank Mobley’s many Jazz compositions is his No Room for Squares, the title tune from a Blue Note LP by the same name [84149]. The tune forms the soundtrack for the following video tribute to Hank.