Julie Kelly at Catalina's Bar and Grill

Julie Kelly at Catalina's Bar and Grill

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bam Bam Bam !!! - Part 2

What better way to segue into this second of Ray Brown’s last-quarter-of-the-20th-century trios than to use its pianist Gene Harris’ thoughts about his predecessor Phineas Newborn, Jr. as revealed in the Blindfold Test of the June 20, 1963 edition of Down Beat magazine:

“This is the greatest thing that ever happened to jazz – [Phineas is] the greatest pianist playing today. In every respect he’s tremendous. He is just beautiful. A wonderful jazz musician.”
As was the case with his efforts in not allowing Phineas Newborn, Jr. to pass into relative obscurity, we also have Ray Brown to thank for talking Gene Harris, who had settled in Idaho in the 1970s, out of a premature retirement in 1982.

As was the case with Ray’s long association with pianist Oscar Peterson in the decade of the 1950s, Gene Harris also had a similar, lengthy musical involvement during this same period as the pianist in the Three Sounds with Andrew Simpkins on bass and Bill Dowdy on drums. With its heavy emphasis on a gospel-influenced, blues sound, the group specialized in what some have referred to a “soul-jazz” and was well-documented through its many records on the Blue Note label.

The Three Sounds (in a variety of configurations) recorded and performed into the mid-1970s when Harris decided to quit [quite suddenly, according to some sources] the music business and transition into semi-retirement at his home in Boise, Idaho.

According to C. Michael Bailey writing in
www.allaboutjazz.com:

“In 1983, just when he thought he had been forgotten, bassist Ray Brown appealed to Harris to return to the studio and stage. Harris joined Brown's trio for a score of notable recordings before leading his own trios and small groups through the late 1980s, recording for the Bay Area-based Concord Jazz. At the close of that decade, Harris was approached by Andrew Whist, then president of the Phillip Morris Jazz Grant, to lead an all-star big band on a world tour. This resulted in two superb big band recordings that, added to his earlier Tribute to Count Basie mark Harris as a great large band arranger and leader.”

Strictly speaking, Gene’s first trio recording with Ray was The Red Hot Ray Brown Trio [Concord 4315] was not Gene’s first recording with Ray, but it was his first “trio” recording as a member of The Ray Brown Trio.

It is a set made up of standards such as Have You Met Miss Jones?, Street of Dreams, and That’s All, a lovely bossa nova treatment of Jobim’s Meditations and a wonderful romp through Brown’s blues original entitled Captain Bill, the trio offers polished arrangements largely based around vamps and riffs that serve to launch Harris into funk-inflected, solos escapes.

And Harris can really wind it up with huge locked-hands chordal passages, tremolos, and most importantly, his sensitive use of dynamics to build solos that attain house-rocking climaxes. The result is blues-oriented, Sunday-come-to-meetin’ soulful piano trio Jazz that has everyone in the audience at the Blue Note in New York testifyn’ its approval.

A few years after Harris joined Ray Brown to form what Leonard Feather has called – “… one of the most naturally compatible threesomes ever to go public with their creative impulses,” Ray acquired a business interest in THE LOA, a club located a few miles from the beach in Santa Monica, CA.

In 1988, not surprisingly, the trio recorded Summer Wind: The Ray Brown Trio – Live at the Loa [Concord Jazz CCD-4426]. Here’s a review of it by Ken Dryden that appeared in
www.allmusic.com:
`”Ray Brown has many great contributions to jazz as a leader and a sideman, but one additional way in which he helped jazz was his encouraging Gene Harris to give up his early retirement and go back out on the road. The pianist was a part of Brown's groups for several years before he formed a working quartet and became a leader for good once again. This 1988 concert at a since-defunct Santa Monica night club (co-owned by Brown) finds the two, along with drummer Jeff Hamilton, at the top of their game. A phone ringing in the background distracts momentarily from Brown's opening solo in his composition "The Real Blues," during which Harris repeats a bluesy tremolo, which may be an inside joke about the early distraction. Harris take a blues-drenched approach to "Mona Lisa" before giving way to the leader's solo, while his lyrical approach to "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" is shimmering. Hamilton's soft brushes are prominent in "Little Darlin'," but his explosive playing provides a powerful pulse to the very unusual strutting take of "It Don't Mean a Thing." This extremely satisfying CD is warmly recommended.”
And Chip Deffaa had these observations to offer about Ray, Gene and Jeff in his liner notes to the original vinyl release of this recording:

“Brown’s colleagues are Gene Harris, who plays a lot of piano – rich, full-bodied, and not so overly-refined as to have the life squeezed out of it – and Jeff Hamilton, one of the stand-out drummers of the latter-day Woody Herman Herds. Brown doesn’t hold his sidemen back. Harris notes: ‘There’s a lot of musical respect between Ray and I, on the bandstand and off. What’s important is that each musician can put as much in the song as possible.’Hamilton says Brown ‘is one of the best leaders I’ve worked for; he lets you find your own way, like Woody did. A lot of leaders will not do that. When I joined the trio, he said, ‘OK, just play; I’ll let you know when it gets in the way.’ Hamilton recalls he initially tried playing safely, conservatively. ‘Ray said: “Go ahead and play the drums. That’s what I hired you for.” Most trios have a lighter touch. At first, I was trying to play lightly. I found out very quickly, it’s a little big band.’”What I found particularly engaging about the trio’s work on this album is contained in Jeff Hamilton’s observation: “… I found out very quickly, that it’s a little big band.” As is the case in a big band setting, each tune played by Ray’s trio is framed in a very accomplished arrangement which has interludes and other motifs to add contrasts and shading between the solos, shout choruses and well-scripted finales. A little big band, indeed.

Not to take anything away from Mickey Roker, and perhaps it is because of his big band drumming experience, but Jeff Hamilton adds so many additional dimensions to the trio’s performances.

His drums are tuned to a sound that is full and deep, with cymbals that match harmonically [blend in; don’t stand out or clash with the other instruments]. He instigates unique beats such as the rock-infused, marching drum figure that forms the introduction to Duke’s It Don’t Mean a Thing. These distinctive beats serves to give many of the more familiar tunes a new lift and spirit. With an understanding of piano, he plays musically and melodically. And he swings – consistently and constantly! Jeff Hamilton is Jazz drumming at its best.

Ed Berger, Curator of The Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, has characterized Gene Harris’s style as:

“a fascinating amalgam of varied influences. Having assimilated the two-handed blues and boogie of early idols Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Freddie Slack, he added the fluidity of Oscar Peterson, and seasoned the mixture with a hint of Erroll Garner’s timing and sly humor. Above all, Harris is a master of the blues, with the tools and imagination to weave endless variations on that timeless and universal pattern.”
Harris instills the blues into everything he plays whether it’s the use of a single note, quarter note triplet phrase that impels a full chorus of his solo on Milt Jackson’s Bluesology on the Summer Wind album or in a funky gospel interpretation that completes transformed the Gershwin evergreen – Summertime – on the Bam Bam Bam CD [Concord CCD-4375] which the trio recorded live at the 1988 Fujitsu-Concord Jazz festival in Japan.

In his
www.allmusic.com overview of Gene Harris’s career, C. Michael Bailey is so impressed with Harris’ performance of Summertime that he advises the purchaser of this recording to:

“Skip directly to the seventh selection and listen to a definitive reading of the Gershwin classic “Summertime.” Harris explores all of the song's hidden treasures, breaking into a crowd-pleasing Albert Ammons boogie woogie.”
Aside from Gene’s sparkling rendition of Summertime, Bam Bam Bam also contains two very listenable [and quite remarkable] drum solos by Jeff Hamilton on Victor Feldman’s Rio and Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia. And Ray gets the solo spotlight with a lovely Arco treatment on If I Loved You.
Here are Leonard Feather’s discerning insert notes to what, in my opinion, ranks as the very best recording by the Gene Harris-version of The Ray Brown Trio:

“Ray Brown is a man of many images, a wearer of several hats. Though his primary identification remains that of a nonpareil bassist, he has also established himself as a composer (his "Gravy Waltz" won a Grammy award), an entrepreneur and a talent scout.

In this last capacity we owe him a special debt for his major role in bringing Gene Harris, surely one of the most exciting blues-oriented pianists around, out of semi-obscurity in Idaho. He had a steady job in Boise until Ray began luring him away for a series of jobs that culminated, in 1987, in his triumphant Tribute to Count Basie all star big band session (Concord Jazz CJ-337).

Carl Jefferson, of course, was the other key figure in the Brown-Harris alliance. Late in 1988 Ray, Gene and the redoubtable young drummer Jeff Hamilton were on tour in Japan, playing ten concerts of their own in addition to taking part in Jefferson's Concord Festival unit. During that time, this session took place before an audience that was exceptionally enthusiastic (needless to say, none of those applause sounds had to be amplified).

"The Kan-i Hoken Hall is a big auditorium:' Brown recalls, "around 2,000 people, and we really had them with us all the way. This was one of those nights when everything came together."

The Brown original now known as F.S.R. (For Sonny Rollins) began as a rehearsal of Rollins' own "Doxy" on a record date with Milt Jackson. "Then," Ray says, "I wrote this other theme as a sort of pre-out chorus for 'Doxy,' and it came off so well that I thought, why not make a separate tune out of it?" The basis is a 16 bar chord pattern that goes back decades before either Brown or Rollins.Put Your Little Foot Right Out is a simple piece based on just two chords (tonic and dominant), probably of traditional origin, but best known in jazz circles through Miles Davis's recording, then under the title "Fran-Dance." Note Gene's subtle behind-the-beat tactics, the perfect time and creative force of Ray's solo, and the agreeably subdued ending.

Rio is one of a group of songs sent to Brown by the late Victor Feldman. "I liked a lot of Victor's tunes," Ray says, "particularly one called 'The Haunted Ballroom' and this one, which was new to me." Rio moves from a bluesy vamp into a fast, samba-esque theme in F Minor, with Gene displaying mighty chops, Jeff and Ray trading ideas, and Jeff soloing with the discretion that has earmarked him as the most tasteful drummer of his generation (at 35, he has been in steady demand since the late 1970s, when he worked with Monty Alexander and Woody Herman).
If I Loved You is a 1945 Richard Rodgers melody, serving here as an ideal vehicle for Ray Brown's Arco bass. The spotlight then switches to Gene Harris for a version of Summertime that was embellished with enough breaks, blues moments and other touches to assure that this would suggest a funky, humid summer.

Days of Wine and Roses finds the men playing this 1962 Mancini standard in what Ray aptly calls a scaled down big band style.

Dizzy Gillespie's imperishable Night in Tunisia undergoes a transmogrification here. I designed it:' Ray says, "mainly as a vehicle for Jeff, for a marvelous hand drumming exhibition. We kept going back and forth, around rather than on the melody."

Bam Bam Bam is a blues, with Jeff's introduction suggesting the title. Gene and Ray have long been masters of the blues; certainly neither of them can recall how many blues they have recorded over the years, but it may well average out at one to a session. Again you will be transported by the phenomenal togetherness of this unit; essentially it's three minds that think as one.

During the past two years it has been my good fortune to hear Brown, Harris and Hamilton, both as a trio and in various other configurations, at the Loa Club, a Santa Monica rendezvous in which Ray was an active partner. With the release of this album, observers around and beyond this country will be able to share the exultant joy conveyed by what must be one of the most naturally compatible threesomes ever to go public with their creative impulses.”


Judging from the audience reactions on these in-performance recordings by Ray’s trio with Gene Harris, it appears as though the following comments about Gene by Scottish guitarist Jim Mullen who later toured with him in the 1990s are spot on as to how this effervescent performer “went about his business” as “an old-school jazz entertainer:”

“Gene used to say that these people have come out to see us, and it’s out job to give them a fantastic time. He used to say at the end of the evening, ‘if you leave here with a smile on your face, remember that Gene Harris put it there.’ I’ve never seen anyone turn a room of strangers into family that way. We never rehearsed. He’d do this big rubato solo piano introduction with no clue as to what’s coming up. Then he’d just start playing and you had to be ready to jump in there. That’s how he wanted it.” [From Richard Cook, Blue Note Records: The Biography, London: Secker & Warburg, 2001, p. 234].
With the issuance of 3-Dimensional [Concord CCD-4520] in 1991, Gene Harris would make his last recording as part of the Ray Brown Trio [although Gene Harris would continue to record with Ray and for Concord in a variety of settings in the 1990s].

Richard Cook & Brian Morton in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Edition [p.207] had this to say about it:

“Vintage stuff from the very best of Brown’s groups. This line-up has the easy cohesion of Oscar Peterson’s trios, and Brown’s busy lines often suggest Peterson’s approach to a melody. Following on form from an Ellington melody, Coltrane’s ‘Equinox’ … is a rare stab at a post-bop repertoire, and the group handles it comfortably.”Expanding on the tile of the disc, Fred Bouchard of Down Beat offered these apt, opening remarks in his insert notes:

The sassy triumvirate of Jeff Hamilton, Gene Harris and Ray Brown has earned the stature, cultivated the variety, and accrued the experience that make every tune they play sound multi-dimensional.”The little big band that Jeff Hamilton spoke of is out in full force on this one with kicks and fills everywhere present on the medium cookers like Ja-da and You Are My Sunshine, more of Jeff’s unique beats, this time in the form of a Gumbo Hump’s New Orleans Processional Band drum cadence that should have your hips gyrating in no time, and on a rousing Cotton Tail finale to a seven minute Ellington medley with Ray’s huge, booming bass sound driving it all home.

That three virtuoso performers on their instruments could form such a tight-knit trio is a compliment to the musical integrity and greatness of Gene, Ray and Jeff, respectively. These guys listen to one another and find ways to urge the utmost creativity out of each another’s playing. The listener comes away enthralled and stimulated having heard piano-bass-drums trio Jazz at its best. What they have to put on display is beautifully encapsulated in the 3:45 minute version of Time After Time that closes this recording – perhaps we could call it a Jazz Time Capsule?

As previously noted Gene Harris left Ray’s trio and was replaced by the young pianist Benny Green, a protégé of Oscar Peterson [was this Ray’s way of coming full circle and ending his trio Jazz career where it began?]. Before we leave Gene, perhaps these thoughts about him by C. Michael Bailey might serve well as closing remarks:

“Throughout the 90s, Harris was given free reign to record how he wished. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD opined that Harris always ended up making the same record...but that was all right. Gene Harris' music always sounded as if it had a smile on its face as big as the one Harris himself wore while performing. That type of sunshine can never be dimmed. Gene Harris died on January 16, 2000 while awaiting a kidney transplant from his daughter. His beaming personality illuminates all through his recorded legacy.”

… To be continued

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bam Bam Bam !!!

- Steven A. Cerra, [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

This was one of the earliest features on the blog and it posted in three parts beginning on 9/27/2008. I recently made this video with "Bam Bam Bam !!!" as the audio track and thought it would be fun to bring it up on the blog along with all, three parts of the original piece.


While reflecting on this piece after it had finished researching and compiling it, the editorial staff at Jazzprofiles was amazed to note that although the three, different trios it looks at spanned approximately 30+ years [1969-2002], it did not include the dozen or so years Ray spent as the bassist in the Oscar Peterson Trio!

Discussing three decades of his career without even referencing his most renowned association is just one more indication of what a Jazz giant Ray Brown was.

When I asked Ray about this period of his career one evening in June, 1993 during a break at the old Yoshi’s in Berkeley, CA, he said [with a huge smile on his face]: “Not a bad way to spend the last 25 years, huh; the Ray Brown Trio featuring Phineas Newborn, Gene Harris or Benny Green - bam, bam, bam – !!! ”

Although there were some overlaps, in the main, Ray’s trio with Phineas Newborn, Jr. took place in the 1970s, his time together with Gene Harris occurred mainly in the 1980’s and his stint with Benny Green happened primarily in the 1990s.

Each of these trios will become the focus for one part of this piece, or, one “bam!”

The first of Ray’s trios was not a regularly constituted group, but rather one that Ray put together whenever he could bring Phineas Newborn into the studios to record for Contemporary Records. For as Scott Yanow comments in
http://www.allmusic.com/, although Phineas was:

“One of the most technically skilled and brilliant pianists in jazz during his prime, Phineas Newborn remains a bit of a mystery. Plagued by mental and physical problems of unknown origin, Newborn faded from the scene in the mid-1960s, only to re-emerge at irregular intervals throughout his life. Newborn could be compared to Oscar Peterson in that his bop-based style was largely unclassifiable, his technique was phenomenal, and he was very capable of enthralling an audience playing a full song with just his left hand.”

As Scott goes on to point out, after taking New York by storm in the mid-1950s, Phineas [pronounced “Fine as” or, depending on one’s Southern accent, “Fine us”] was largely in danger of being forgotten by the Jazz world a decade later. This might have been the case had it not been for the fortuitous fact that upon moving to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, Phineas received the patronage and support of Lester Koenig, who made three albums with Newborn for his Contemporary Records label from 1961 - 1964. In addition, Ray Brown’s ongoing concern for Phineas’ welfare resulted in three successful attempts to bring him back into studios between the years 1969 – 1976.

Frankly, had it not been for Koenig and Brown, the danger of being forgotten as intimated by Scott Yanow might have turned into a realized prophesy.

Of the four recordings that were produced during the 8-years they collaborated, Brown and Newborn would release three on Contemporary and one on Pablo.

The first Brown- Newborn session took place on February 12-13, 1969 and was to result in two albums that were released ten years apart: [1] Please Send Me Someone to Love [Contemporary S-7622; OJCCD-947-2] and [2] Harlem Blues [Contemporary S-7634; OJCCD-662-2]. Ray said that he had any easy time convincing drummer Elvin Jones to make the recording date because Elvin and Phineas had scuffled together when both first came to New York in the mid-1950s.
The tray plate notes for Please Send Me Someone to Love contained the following synopsis:

“The brilliant pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr. (1931-89) found few occasions to enter a recording studio during his troubled life, though he made the most of what chances he got – especially on the half-dozen trio sessions he recorded for Contemporary between 1961-1976. This album and its companion Harlem Blues [Contemporary S-7634; OJCCD-662-2] document newborn’s initial encounter with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Elvin Jones, two players who brought a technical mastery and stylistic range to the date that matched the pianist’s.”

When he was “on” and particularly sympathetic to the artist in question, Leonard Feather could contribute comprehensive and insightful liner notes to help enhance the listener’s appreciation of the music that were second to none. This is certainly the case in what he had to say about Phineas, Ray and Elvin on their first recording together so we decided to present his comments in their entirety.

I think that this is one of the best and most empathetic reviews that Leonard ever wrote and it could not have come in the service of a more deserving artist. I also think that Ray Brown understood Phineas’ deservedness and this was the main reason that he continue to be an advocate of Phineas’ genius over the years, despite the latter’s health problems. He would just find the times when Phineas could push the demons away and play like only he could.
"For a little more than a half century, there was a series of evolutions in keyboard jazz, which originated in ragtime, then was marked by the successive advent of stride, with its volleying left hand; horn-style piano, characterized
mainly by a fusillade of octaves or long runs of single notes in the right hand; bebop piano, with its central concern for harmonic experiments and relatively limited left-hand punctuations; and a 1950s trend marked by a concern for rich, full chords and a more expansive left-hand concept.


The only pianist who succeeded in absorbing many characteristics of each of these phases, in fact the first authentic and complete virtuoso of jazz piano, was Art Tatum. His death in 1956 seemed to close the book; there was no room for development, no area to examine that he had not already explored.

Time has shown that there were indeed other directions. The atonal improvisations of Cecil Taylor were acclaimed by many observers as taking jazz forward into a freer, more abstract music. Bill Evans launched what I once characterized, in an essay on jazz piano for Show magazine (July 1963), as the Serenity School, creating new harmonic avenues, new voicings, swinging without hammering, asserting tersely yet subtly, rarely rising above a mezzo-forte. McCoy Tyner, armed with exceptional technical facility, moved along still another route with extensive use of modes as a departure from the traditional chordal basis.


All these changes during the late 1950s and throughout the '60s did nothing to demolish the theory that Art Tatum represented the ultimate. Coincidentally, it was during the year of Tatum's death that Phineas Newborn, Jr. first came to New York and emerged from Memphis obscurity (he was born Dec. 14, 1931 in Whiteville, Tenn.) to establish himself as the new pianistic pianist, in the Tatum tradition.
In the above-mentioned Show article, I wrote: "Most astonishing of the dexterous modernists is Phineas Newborn, Jr. As small, timid, and frail as Peterson is big and burly, Newborn belies his meek manner with a relentlessly aggressive style. His technique can handle any mechanical problem and he has, moreover, a quick, sensitive response to the interaction of melody and harmony." Commenting that most critics tended to be skeptical of technical perfection, I wrote of Newborn's A World of Piano album (Contemporary S-7600) that it was "the most stunning piano set since Tatum's salad days in the 1930s."
A year later, in 1964, I went out on a rare limb to declare unequivocally in Down Beat, "Newborn is the greatest living jazz pianist"

Five years later, while perfectly content to let that categorical statement remain on the record, I reflected on what esthetic, what ratiocination led me to this conclusion, Under the spell of a set by Peterson in top form I might have made a similar remark. In either case, my reaction would have been primarily emotional, but the emotions in evaluating a work of art are often guided, perhaps subliminally, by a consciousness of the craftsmanship required for its creation.

Despite the chattering of the anti-intellectuals, I cannot see how any possible advantage call be found in technical limitation. Clearly technique can be abused, or used without imagination; I can drink of a dozen popular pianists, some of them well-known via network television, who have made this point painfully clear. But a man like Newborn, who reached his present command of the instrument by practicing perhaps six or seven hours a day, automatically has an advantage over the simplistic artist, who resorts to simple figures and clichés only because that is as far as his fingers and mind will take him.
Phineas demonstrates all the virtues and none of the handicaps (if there are any) inherent in knowing how to use the piano. Taking him on his own terms, he's an involved, committed artist, for whom the instrument is virtually an extension of the man. This would not be possible if he were in any way hamstrung by not being able to execute whatever idea may cross his mind.

I won't deny that when he uses a personal device, such as the parallel lines in unison an octave apart, I am impressed by the ease with which he dashes off such passages; but even more meaningful to me is the originality and artistry of the melodic structure he has been able to build.


When Phineas plays the blues, as he does on at least three tracks in this album, it is not down-home, backwoods blues, but it's just as deep a shade of blue, and comes just as straight from the heart, as if he were a primitive trying to make something meaningful out of three chord changes and a couple of riffs. I hear in him all that is emotional, as well as all that is cerebral and virtuosic, about jazz piano in one of its most sophisticated forms.

Elvin Jones being in town, it was natural he would be sought out for this session. It has been said many times before, but is worth repeating, that as tremendously complex as Elvin can become, he is no less adept in adjusting himself to the much simpler requirements of supplying a steady pulse for a pianist. His work throughout this album, though energetic and stimulating, is a model of this kind of decorum. In order to provide Phineas with a rhythm section that would offer intuitive support to his unpredictable improvisations, it was necessary to find a bass player who would have instant empathy with the other two participants. This is an unnecessarily roundabout way of saying Ray Brown. if one can rate Phineas the greatest living jazz pianist, a similarly strong case could be made for Ray Brown as the greatest bassist, and for Elvin Jones as the greatest drummer. With three such players, things happened naturally and spontaneously, with just an occasional word of instruction or guidance from Phineas. it took very little time to make a trio of three musicians who had never before worked as a unit.
The material selected, with two exceptions ("Little Niles," and "Brentwood Blues"), all stemmed, by accident rather than design, from the 1940-50 period, when the 12- and 32- bar frameworks and the 4/4 meter still prevailed. it does not require a 7/4 or 9/8 beat, nor a theme 23 in measures long, for an improvising musician of Phineas's caliber to show that he has kept up to date.

"Please Send Me Someone to Love" offers a fine example of his ability to enrich what is, on paper, a very basic tune. The Percy Mayfield hit of 20 years ago, though 32 bars long, has much of the feeling of the blues, along with a certain intensity accentuated by the diminished chord on the fourth bar. Phineas shows immediately how effectively he can use his knowledge of the piano to convey an emotional rather than a purely intellectual message.

"Rough Ridin' " was a bop vehicle for Ella Fitzgerald, written in collaboration with her then pianist, Hank Jones, Elvin's brother. It's a simple, swinging melody used as a launching pad for Phineas's own flights. Notice the block chords ("locked hands") sequence, a style originally popularized by Milt Buckner and later mastered by George Shearing, Phineas, and others.

"Come Sunday," a religious theme from the extended Duke Ellington composition "Black, Brown and Beige," is played first unaccompanied, with a respectful, almost literal adherence to Duke's melody and harmonic pattern. As Ray and Elvin ease in for the second chorus, Newborn continues to bring out all the poignant beauty of this simple and exquisite song.

"Brentwood Blues," introduced by Ray, is an extemporized reminder that the 12-bar blues will never be out of style, in form or in feeling. I was impressed most of all by the majestic sound of the passages in chords, impeccably articulated and superbly recorded. This track brings out the points made above in the evaluation of Newborn, for while the swiftness of the hand delights the ear, so just as surely does the beauty of the thoughts.

"Real Gone Guy" could be part B of "Brentwood Blues," with the tempo doubled up, except that Nellie Lutcher's 1947 vocal line is used to open and close. Elvin, starting in a Latin groove and later taking over for a solo, is exceptionally important and prominent.
"Black Coffee," introduced by Sarah Vaughan in 1948, has since become a standard ballad, more often used vocally (with Paul Francis Webster's fine lyric) than instrumentally, though the Sonny Burke melody has an elegant, Gershwinesque quality that Phineas captures to perfection. Notice particularly his use of the left hand to fill gaps, and the dramatic impact of that A-flat 7 chord at bar 21 of the chorus.

“Little Niles" is a jazz waltz of the late 1950s, dedicated by pianist Randy Weston to his son. Noteworthy in Phineas's sensitive treatment is the group interplay. At times he seems to be playing in four against Elvin's three; the latter shows great sensitivity to changing moods and metric nuances, creating an effect not unlike that of an orchestral arrangement.

"Stay On It," though Count Basle is credited as co-composer with Tadd Dameron, was long associated with Dizzy Gillespie, for whom Tadd wrote it, and whose big band recorded it in 1947. The regular A-A-B-A tune involves a couple of typical bebop touches. For Phineas, Elvin, and Ray, it's a straight-ahead swinger all the way.

Every new Phineas Newborn album (and because there are precious few of them, these few are precious) brings with it a reminder that here we have more than a musician of outstanding talent. He is, as much as anyone around, a symbol of the importance of the piano in the evolution of modem jazz; and like jazz itself, Phineas has never stopped evolving."
- LEONARD FEATHER October 8, 1969 These notes appeared on the original album liner.
As previously mentioned, the material that was eventually released ten years later as Harlem Blues [Contemporary S-7634; OJCCD-662-2] came from this same 1969 recording session. The reasons for the delay as well as a brief annotation about each of the tracks on the album are nicely capsulated in the following insert notes by John Koenig, the son of Les Koenig, the originator of Contemporary Records.

"It's often happened when an outstanding players has recorded that more great performances than could be programmed onto one album have become fixed on tape. This was exactly the case on the mornings and afternoons of February 12 and 13, 1969, when Phineas Newborn made one of his regrettably infrequent peregrinations into the recording studio to make his album, PLEASE SEND ME SOMEONE TO LOVE (Contemporary S-7622). When there is a great quantity of worthy material front which to choose, often one merely assembles performances that complement each other by juxtaposition. These decisions are generally arrived at taking into account such ephemeral qualities as character or intensity, or such mundane considerations as length. Even simple personal predilection sometimes is a factor; while one performance is not necessarily better than another, the producer feels it might fit more appropriately or easily in sequence with others already standing. The higher the quality of the material, the more difficult and the more arbitrary these decisions become. Thus, with the intervening span of ten years for reflection, it's not surprising that the performances embodied on this disc do not suffer at all by comparison to those previously released. In fact, they add dimension to the frequently proclaimed pinnacle of -Newborn's oeuvre.

In the year preceding the recording, Phineas, due to ill health, had been relatively inactive. My father, however, would periodically devise excuses to record him, and in this case, it was the presence in Los Angeles of Elvin Jones that provided the catalyst for bringing this intention to a reality. Ray Brown being one of jazz's reigning bassists was the logical choice to round out the group.
Phineas had recorded with Ray (Teddy Edwards and Howard McGhee TOGETHER AGAIN, Contemporary S-7588), but hadn't recorded with Elvin. Ray hadn't either, but he had played with him a year or so earlier at the Monterey Jazz Festival, of which he was then the music director. The occasion was the formation of a Gil Evans band for the festival which, afterward, traveled to Los Angeles for a week long stay at Shelly's Mannehole, which was "wild" according to Ray.

The session was something of in event, both because of Phineas relative inactivity, and because it was the first session at Contemporary in almost a year and a half Despite the especial atmosphere surrounding the proceedings for some of us invoked in the project, it was, on the surface of it, a relatively unremarkable happening. When Raymond and Elvin had set up, (that is after Elvin's wife, Keiko, had assembled and tuned the drum set), Phineas quietly sat down, called off the tunes, played them through with the rhythm section once or twice, and recorded them. The results, as can be heard here, however, reveal that something remarkable actually did take place. Fifteen different tunes were recorded in the two days, and this release completes the public presentation of them all.
The session was conceived as a means to display Phineas as piano soloist with the bass and drums taking accompaniment roles, rather than as an integrated trio, where the three instruments interact on a more equal level. it underscores the genuine musicianship of Ray and Elvin in that they understood this, and despite their prodigious creative gifts, managed to contain their soloist inclinations while still maintaining he essential intimacy the musical context required. Still, neither was to be entirely denied, as is apparent when one listens to Elvin's fours on Ray's Idea, or Ray's stunning soliloquy at the beginning of Tenderly.
To be sure, Phineas was appreciative of the level of his company. I recall that after we dropped Elvin and Keiko off at their hotel on the evening of the first session, Phineas remarked to my father: "I have nothing hut the utmost respect for Elvin and Ray." Still, this was Phineas' show all the way, as is evidenced by Ray's expression of appreciation after the tape machines had stopped rolling after the first take of the first day, Sweet and Lovely, when he remarked with a certain amount of awe, "We'll dub in the applause."

The material was pretty much made up of things, as Ray Brown recalls, "Phineas kept in his back pocket that he pulls out from time to time."

Harlem Blues is a gospel oriented theme Phineas was fooling around with on the date and Ray and Elvin suggested he record it.

Sweet and Lovely was written by Gus Arnheim and introduced by him with his orchestra, which was well known as the house band at the Coconut Grove for several years. Later made famous by Bing Crosby, it hasn't often been played by jazz musicians as it has a rather complicated bridge.

Little Girl Blue, by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, is from the Broadway show JUMBO starring Jimmy Durante, and with a book by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Interestingly, the tune, My Romance, which has often been adapted by jazz players comes from the same show.

Ray's Idea was written by Ray Brown and arranged by Gil Fuller for the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in 1945 or '46. Phineas liked it - it was something he remembered from the be-bop days and so it was chosen to record.

Stella by Starlight is front the 1944 Paramount picture THE UNINVITED, directed by William Dieterle, starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, and introducing Gail Russell as Stella. The score is by Victor Young. Another Stella was later to be cinematically depicted by starlight, Stella Stevens, in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR with Jerry Lewis.

Since her earlier appearance, of course, Stella by Starlight has become a jazz standard, and one of the denizens of the aforementioned Newborn pocket.

Tenderly was suggested by my father as a vehicle for Ray Brown. Ray learned the tune when he was a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio, and worked occasionally at a now defunct club on the Sunset Strip called The Embers, where pianist, Walter Gross, who wrote the tune, worked as a single. According to Ray, he and Oscar would go into the lounge and ask Gross to play the tune between sets, and that's where he learned it. The song was introduced by Sarah Vaughan in the late '40s, when Gross, who then was music director of Musicraft Records, had her record it for the label.

Cookin' at the Continental, an early Horace Silver opus, was deemed an appropriate up-tempo number to display Phineas' dexterity, and chronologically it fit in well with the rest of the program.

Considering that with one or two brief exceptions, Phineas has remained inactive in the decade following the recording of this album, its release is all the more special to those of us who appreciate the art of piano playing, and it will remain as a document of three giants making music together in a way that, from the look of things in 1979, will stand as a milestone in the years to come."

by JOHN KOENIG, January 31,1979” -Notes reproduced from the original album liner.
....To Be Continued

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stan Kenton at Newport

The first time I met Stan Kenton was in 1959 when I was in a big band that played the Hollywood Palladium as part of an annual series of fund-raiser concerts sponsored by Musicians’ Union, Local 47’s in an effort to raise money to support its continuing grants-in-aid programs.

I had just stepped down off a stage riser, and before disassembling my drum kit, I decided to have a smoke which I was in the process of lighting when I heard this booming baritone voice say from behind me: “Hey, kid, you play good; can I bum one of those?”

When I turned around, I thought that the distinguished looking, gray-haired man in the perfectly tailored gray suit had stepped right out of a “Stan Kenton Capitol LP” album cover. I gave him a cigarette, lit it for him, and we exchanged some pleasantries during which I tried not to make a total fool of myself.

He finished the smoke, excused himself and went over to join his band manager as his orchestra was up next.

Ironically, the lead alto, lead trombone and jazz trumpet chair in the band I performed with that afternoon at the Palladium were occupied by Ray Reed, Dick Shearer and Warren Gale, respectively, all of whom would go on to assume similar chairs with Stan’s orchestra later in the decade of the 1960’s.

I think that brass players and drummers have always had a particular fascination with Stan’s music. Kenton’s preferences in Jazz always seemed to emphasized power, volume and strength and these elements can all be characteristic of playing brass and percussion instruments. It also seems to me that these tendencies are particularly welcomed and reinforced by those brass and percussion players who are young [although I still find the power and majesty of Stan’s music appealing today during an age that I would be hard-pressed to describe as “youthful”].

Stan Kenton’s music has been the subject of a continuing controversy, both pro and con, but mostly “con.” I could care less as I just love the stuff, although I must admit to not listening to much of it from the band’s rock-infused period, which I always thought was the beginning of Stan’s losing his way. This attempt by Stan to blend in with the “flavor of the times” seemed to gather momentum just after the 1971 appearance by the band at the Newport Jazz festival.

The controversy about the Kenton Orchestra is neatly summarized by Ted Gioia in his West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-60 [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 144-45; paragraphing modified]:

“The emerging consensus … is that the Kenton output was, as a whole, neither as terrible as its critics insisted nor as celestial as its devotees pretended. At times, of course, it could be either of the extremes, but the plain truth about the Kenton orchestra was that it was so much else as well. One should speak of the ‘Kenton sound’ only with trepidation; it is better to refer to the Kenton ‘sounds.’ …

The band’s range of expression was, in fact, nothing short of awe-inspiring. There may have been better big bands, certainly there were more consistently excellent big bands, but for sheer expressiveness, none could match the Kenton ensemble of the postwar years.”

Perhaps, because of the controversy linked to it, and many other factors usually associated with a pervasive form of Jazz criticism that is negative for the sake of being negative, not a great deal of attention is paid to the Stan Kenton Orchestra these days.

In a small effort to rectify that, the editorial staff of Jazzprofiles thought perhaps a retrospective of the band spanning three decades of its appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival [NJF] might be well-received by those readers who enjoy the band and those who may be new to its music.

In support of this purpose, it turned to the insert notes from two recordings that document the orchestra’s appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival.

Chronologically, it might be more appropriate to begin with Bob Gordon’s insert notes to the 1957 appearance by the band contained in Stan Kenton Orchestra: Stompin’ at Newport [Pablo PACD-5312-2], but we will start with those that Tony Cox wrote for the Jasmine Records NJF retrospective – The Stan Kenton Orchestra, Live at Newport 1959-1963-1971 [Jasbox 1-3] because Tony’s narrative also does an excellent job of providing a brief history of the festival in all its manifestations. [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“The Newport Jazz Festival was always something of a paradox. It was not the first jazz festival, it was not always the biggest jazz festival, nor was it necessarily the most star-studded jazz festival. Sometimes it was held at locations other than Newport (including a mountain top near Tokyo) and sometimes the music presented was not even jazz. Despite all that, indisputably Newport was THE jazz festival.

Stan Kenton's association with the Festival began at the very beginning. It was early in 1954 that wealthy Newport residents, Louis and Elaine Lorillard, began wondering whether a jazz festival would be feasible. A tad nervously, two days in July were set aside and, with the Lorillards' backing, the operator of Boston's Storyville Club, pianist George Weir, was named director of the Festival. A temporary stage was set up in the grounds of the Newport Casino, musicians were booked and Stan Kenton accepted an invitation as principal Master of Ceremonies.

The Lorillards need not have worried. July came and some 13,000 jazz buffs invaded Newport population then only 35,000. The Newport Jazz Festival - mission statement: "to encourage America's enjoyment of jazz and to sponsor the study of our country's only original art form" - was under way. Food was in short supply and if accommodation was a problem, which mostly it was, somehow it didn't seem to matter: they slept anywhere - in cars or in trucks or on the beach. What did matter was that Narragansett beer was on sale under blue-and-white striped awnings and, above all, the jazz was great. The musicians blew and the audiences cheered; even a downpour on the second day did little to dampen the enthusiasm. The first N.J.F was a resounding success and, in George Wein's words, "This is just a beginning - these two nights were only part of my dream." An important new date had been permanently inked into the jazz calendar.

From that time on, whenever the subject of jazz festivals came up, somehow Newport would be the first name to spring to mind. Record labels taped their artists at Newport, radio stations broadcast the Newport concerts, either live for Stateside listeners and or recorded, via the Voice of America, for the rest of the world. Films were shot there - remember "Jazz On A Summer's Day'? - and, once in a while, jazz history was made there, as witness Duke Ellington's renascence following his barn-storming late night performance of "Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue" at the 1956 Festival. Without a doubt, Newport was where it happened.
At the time of the first N.J.F there was no Stan Kenton orchestra. Stan himself was vacationing in Los Angeles and supervising recordings for the new KENTON PRESENTS JAZZ label. No doubt his Festival ‘emceeing' was effective - Stan was rarely lost for words - but the only Kenton music to be heard was his piano on "I Got Rhythm" in a midnight jam session. However, the absence of a Kenton orchestra at that first Newport would be remedied many times over the years and it is his sets from the Festivals of 1959, 1963 and 1971 (recordings that have never before been released) that JASMINE Records are proud to present in this three-CD set.

As the 1959 Festival began there was confusion behind the scenes - the management was embroiled in three major lawsuits. However, the musical menu included, among others, Gene Krupa, Dizzy Gillespie, George Shearing, John Dankworth, the MJQ, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck and the Four Freshmen, as well as Stan Kenton, so as far as the audiences were concerned the legal hassles were strictly for the birds. During those four days of beautiful summer weather, they were there for the music.

Kenton's set opened that Sunday evening in Freebody Park with two contrasting Bill Holman swingers; the contrapuntal "Theme And Variations" - ensemble all the way - and "Kingfish " (named for the famous Amos 'n Andy character) which bristled with fine solos. Both numbers were familiar to Kenton buffs from the 1954 "Showcase" LP, although the four staccato chords with which the recording of "Kingfish " had opened had by this time been dropped. Having had nearly ten minutes of swinging mightily, the musicians were probably glad of the breather afforded by the leader's rhapsodic piano variations before he led them into a full-blooded performance of the theme that more than any other will forever mean Stan Kenton, 'Artistry In Rhythm.” Marty Paich's powerful "The Big Chase " followed, another opportunity for most of the jazz soloists to show their form, after which Stan invited Charlie Mariano to step into the spotlight.

The first piece chosen to feature the star altoist was Bill Holman's 1955 arrangement of Victor Young's beautiful "Stella By Starlight", from the 1945 film "The Uninvited". In Holman's words: "That was for my man Charlie Mariano. I wanted to write something nice so I came up with this intro that became sort of famous. I loved what he did with it." Naturally, Mariano was completely at home and, despite the swinging middle section, his reading of Holman's writing brilliantly sustained the overall dark mood of the score. Vintage Kenton, this, and a delightful contrast to Gene Roland's light-hearted approach to Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me" which followed, with Charlie's articulate alto swinging all the way home. Next up was "Intermission Riff", a mainstay of the Kenton book since 1946; and if the men in the orchestra sometimes got tired of playing it, - well, nothing of that showed through in this spirited performance.
1946 was also the year in which Kenton had first pioneered the blending of big band jazz with Latin musical elements and the first of two such pieces in the Newport program came next - Gene Roland's carefree "Mexican Jumping Bean", which was to be recorded for the "Viva Kenton!" album a few weeks later This performance is particularly notable for the sparkling interplay between drummer Jimmy Campbell and Mike Pacheco on timbales, developing an almost conversational rapport between the two men. Nearly forty years later, when speaking of his Kenton days, Pacheco was to recall: "There were many drummers, the best one was Jimmy Campbell." "My Old Flame" which follows dates back to 1934 and the Mae West film "Belle Of The Nineties", which featured Duke Ellington. Marty Paich's unrelenting design captures the sad mood of the song, with Bill Trujillo's tenor sax and Rolf Ericsson's trumpet effectively portraying a sense of regret for things lost.
The evening's finale was "La Suerte De Los Tontos", one of the six movements of Johnny Richards' 1956 magnum opus, "Cuban Fire!". At the time of its composition Stan Kenton had said: "We've experimented with Latin instruments and instrumentals in the past and sometimes we've misused them. This music is authentic. We've made sure here."

In his search for the real thing, Richards visited weddings, dances, festivals and immersed himself in every aspect of the burgeoning Latin-American musical scene that was such a feature of New York City of the period. This virtuoso Newport performance of "La Suette De Los Tontos" ("The Fortune of Fools'), differs from the familiar recording in two ways: there are no French horns but, as compensation, there is a piano solo that was not part of the original recording. The haunting nanigo rhythm and spirited brass vividly convey a sense of celebration and dance that brought Stan Kenton's 1959 Newport set to a fitting climax. After the orchestra had filed off the stage to make room for the Dave Brubeck quartet, Stan himself, perhaps in an effort to combat some inevitable sense of anti-climax, settled himself on the steps beside Brubeck's piano, listening intently.

Four years later America's smallest state again welcomed America's biggest jazz outfit and it is the Stan Kenton orchestra's set from the 1963 N.J.F. that makes up the second of these CDs. By this time Stan had added a four-man mellophonium section and a singer, so it was twenty-two men and a woman who took the stage in Freebody Park towards the end of the Festival's first evening. It was Independence Day, and it was up to Stan to provide some musical fireworks, so the orchestra led straight off with a sparkling "Waltz Of The Prophets", with soloists Gabe Baltazar and Jiggs Whigham fully meeting the demands of Dee Barton's challenging composition. The mandatory 'Artistry In Rhythm" followed, the well-loved and familiar arrangement enhanced by the mellophonium sound before the orchestra revisited Dee Barton's music, this time the intriguing "Turtle Talk", again spotlighting the improvising talents of Baltazar and Whigham.

As Jiggs made his way back to the lead trombone chair, Stan had Gabe stay centre stage for "Stairway To The Stars", in which the altoist's playing ranged from warm and graceful to swinging like mad. Bill Holman's arrangement provided a near-perfect frame for Hawaiian-born Baltazar's fluent improvisation - if a touch Parker-ish in places, none the worse for that, and his own man from start to finish. A new slant on "Intermission Riff "followed, unusual in that the only soloists featured were Stan himself and bass player John Worster. Worster, whose sterling playing was apparent throughout the concert, shows himself to be both an inventive improviser and a fine time-keeper. Back from Japan just for the Festival was Kenton alumnus Charlie Mariano, who joined forces with his old boss for two features, "My Funny Valentine" and "Stompin' At The Savoy", Bill Holman arrangements which gave the altoist ample space for his fertile imagination to stretch out. Seemingly without effort, Charlie imposed his highly distinctive stamp on the performances – prime Mariano all the way.

And there was yet more alto to come, as Stan invited Cannonball Adderley to join Charlie on stage (Cannonball's sextet had played one of the evening's earlier sets) and motioned Gabe Baltazar to join them at the solo mike. The music chosen to feature the three altos was an extended version of Gene Roland's slow tempo blues mood "The Blues Story" ' Kick-started by Stan's blues-style piano (a style of playing at which, for my money, he excelled but for which he never received much credit) and Jiggs Whigham's plangent trombone, a solid foundation was laid down against which each soloist recounted his own tales of the blues, each in his own personal way until, some eight minutes later, the end of the story was written by the full might of the Kenton brass. All three men rose magnificently to the occasion, producing solos which were modern in concept but which had their roots way back in jazz history.

After the story came the songs - by Jean Turner, who had been part of the Kenton organization for a little over a year. The four items she offered to the Newport audience that night were all, as it were, being broken in for a recording session scheduled for a couple of months later. In addition to Jean's fine singing, notable here are the lazy Latin beat of "Sleepy Lagoon" and the sensitive Lennie Niehaus arrangement of the moody Ellington ballad "Day Dream", to which Jean responded quite beautifully.

Sounding as fresh and enthusiastic as if they were playing the first number of the evening, not the last, the Kenton orchestra came up with a lusty, 'follow that' performance of "Malaguena" to close the set. Bill Holman's bravura arrangement of the familiar Ernesto Lecuona song and the excitement it generated must have sent the audience away into the warm July night fully satisfied, their ears still happily ringing with the famous Kenton wall of sound. Stan mentioned in his introduction that the album "Adventures In Jazz", which included "Malaguena", had won a Grammy award; after hearing this performance it is easy to see why. Burt Goldblatt, in his fine book Newport Jazz Festival, says of the evening: "Stan Kenton appeared with one of the best-sounding bands he had ever put together." No argument.

The first-ever N.J.F. had been Stan-sans-orchestra; in 1971 the wheel had turned full circle - it was the Kenton orchestra without Stan. A few weeks later, Stan was to write: "The current band has been together for nearly a year and a half with only a few personnel changes. As a result, the band is very close - both in sound and in personal involvement. The high regard each musician has for the other was never more in evidence than during my recent hospitalization. The band was conducted by Dick Shearer and Mike Vax and never missed an engagement during the four months of my absence, including a performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. It was a remarkable display ... I am grateful to them." When it was put to Stan that this was a tribute to his personal leadership qualities he, typically, said: "I thank you for that. I think it's a tribute to them." So it was that on the third of these CDs George Wein sets the scene for Mike Vax's introduction of the Stan Kenton Orchestra.
In contrast to Stan's 1959 and 1963 N.J.F. performances, both of which had opened with swingers, the 1971 set began slowly, with Johnny Richards' lyrical arrangement of the haunting "Maria" from "West Side Story" - incidentally, Stan's other Grammy-winning album. Richards' original orchestration had included the mellophonium section but sadly, by 1971, these horns were a thing of the past. Despite this, the revised score heard here brilliantly captures the poignancy of Leonard Bernstein's beautiful ballad, not least owing to the rich-toned trombone of Dick Shearer, who fully justifies his place in the roster of great Kenton lead trombonists.

Shouting brass and a driving rhythm section punctuate Quin Davis's punchy alto and Gary Pack's articulate trumpet work in "Hank's Opener", one of Hank Levy's most successful forays into the realms of unusual time signatures and very much jazz of the seventies. Some years later, in an interview for Dr. William Lee's biography Stan Kenton –Artistry in Rhythm, Hank was to recall: "Those odd meters are hard to get into every time I came near the band the guys would cringe. Here comes Levy - and that means rehearsal, a new time chart or two, disastrous confusion! After about five years of this, Stan put his arm around me one day and said: 'You finally got them on your side.' But, believe me, it was only through his efforts." Willie Maiden's imaginative design on the "Theme From 'Love Story"' which followed is a rare chance to hear a pianist other than Stan soloing with the Kenton Orchestra. Claude Sifferlin acquitted himself well, not least when supporting Quin Davis's extended improvisation with some un-Kentonian but highly effective chording.

The highlight of the evening's concert was a performance of Ken Hanna's program music "Macumba Suite", a work which was, and which remains, far from being 'easy listening'. The fact that it was in the Kenton book, and was presented publicly on a number of occasions, says much about Stan's musical credo - and his courage. It is challenging, dissonant, disturbing and, at first hearing, inaccessible; above all, it quite clearly goes well beyond what would then, or even now, be regarded as jazz norms. However, Stan had faith in Hanna's personal creative vision and integrity and that, for him, was enough. Although the Newport audience was essentially made up of jazz lovers, Mike Vax felt no need to apologize for this performance; just a few useful words of explanation, then straight into the music. Some twenty years on, I had the good fortune to discuss "Macumba "with Richard Torres and Dennis Noday; both still believed that this was important music. After the torrid moods of the "Macumba Suite", Bill Holman's flag-waving "Malaga" effectively cleared the air, giving free rein to the solo talents of Jamieson, Torres, Noday, Von Ohlen and Lopez, and storming the Kenton Orchestra's set to a close, clearly delighting the crowd in the Festival Field that night.
Sadly, within twenty-four hours, the 1971 Festival came to an abrupt and premature end in a welter of screaming, smashing wood and teargas canisters. It was not the first riot in N.J.F. history, and probably few Festival-goers realized that it would be the last straw, but the sad fact was that the Festival was no longer welcome at the Rhode Island resort. The next N.J.F. would be staged in New York City, so it was farewell to the salty Atlantic sea breezes and the seagulls' screeches and welcome to petrol fumes and the wail of police sirens echoing through Manhattan's canyons of steel.

There have always been those who questioned Stan Kenton's jazz credentials. A review of his 1959 Newport appearance conceded, a touch grudgingly, that: "There is a place for Kenton in jazz, if only as an example of the many directions in which this music can wander." A similar point was made, more generously, by Voice Of America commentator Willis Conover, who said that Kenton had "expanded the dynamic horizons of American music". Kenton himself, in a 1963 BBC radio interview, said: "I will no longer argue with people as to whether it is jazz or not. We use jazz constantly - there are many improvised solos throughout the arrangements - and I also believe that jazz music for big bands can be written, but I'm truly not concerned any more whether people think it's jazz or not. I'm extremely concerned with what they feel about the music."

He need not have worried. Jazz or not, enough people cared to enable him to pursue his dream and continue as a creative musician until ill-health finally forced him off the road fifteen years later

By chance, the day on which I am completing this note marks the twentieth anniversary of Stan Kenton's death and yet, during the last decade, more of his recordings than ever before have come onto the market. As the Twentieth Century - Kenton's century - draws to a close, there can be no doubt that there are still many people for whom the music that Stan Kenton caused to happen was important and who, by their love of that music, will keep it alive.

Tony Cox, 25th August, 1999.”



“We Jazz fans are, by and large, a patient lot. We have to be. As I've noted elsewhere, jazz recordings go in and out of print with breathtaking regularity. A favorite recording might be found in the record or CD bins for an all too brief month or two and then vanish without a trace. Worse, some recordings that are "known" to have occurred have the discouraging habit of not being issued for years or perhaps even decades... if ever. By now most of us have resigned ourselves to the fact that the long-rumored Buddy Bolden cylinder recording will never be recovered -assuming of course that it ever existed in the first place. But from time to time we're pleasantly surprised to find our hopes and dreams really have been answered. The Dean Benedetti wire recordings of Bird in flight did prove to be fact, not fantasy, and were finally (a half century after the fact!) made available to the general public. The CD revolution has helped, as out-of-print LPs get reissued on the new media after years of obscurity. So if any of us harbor hopes that a cherished album will be reissued, or that a concert that we suspect "had to have been recorded" will at last be made available, chances are that sometime - not necessarily anytime soon, mind you - our wishes have a chance of coming true.

Which leads us to the CD you hold in your hand. In 1957, Norman Granz was
approached by the Lorillard family (sponsors of the Newport Jazz Festival) to run that year's event. Granz agreed, subject to the proviso that he would be in charge of all recording and that he would release on his own Verve label only material recorded by artists already signed to that label. Apart from the obvious business advantages of such an arrangement, Granz was truly concerned that the pace of the program would be slowed down if various other labels, each with their own engineers and recording equipment, went through the preliminaries necessary to recording their artists. As a result, while Verve artists such as Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald were well represented by albums taped at the concert, other artists represented by companies such as Columbia, Capitol, and Blue Note were not so fortunate.

Eric Miller, currently a tireless producer and researcher at Fantasy, Inc., first came across tapes of material recorded by some of these other artists at the 1957 Newport Festival while working as an assistant to Norman Granz some 30 years ago. He wondered at the time why other labels didn't approach Granz to buy the rights to issue their artists' music. Recently, Fantasy made arrangements with EMI (parent company of Capitol Records) to bring to the jazz public the marvelous concert by the Stan Kenton band recorded at the 1957 festival.
But first, a disclaimer. Lest I be accused of preaching to the choir, let me note that much of what follows will be old hat to the legions of Kenton fans who have long been anticipating the release of these recordings and who no doubt know the tunes, arrangements, and soloists by heart. For those of you who haven't followed the Kenton band's progress over the years in such detail, however, the following comments might help with your enjoyment of the album.

The band opens (appropriately enough) with Bill Holman's chart "The Opener," which had been in the book since 1954. Kent Larsen takes the first solo on valve trombone (he solos on slide trombone on all other occasions), followed by Lennie Niehaus on alto sax and Sam Noto on trumpet. "Artistry in Rhythm" is next, and drummer Jerry McKenzie is helped along with Latin rhythm instruments played by various other members of the band. Not that he needs much help. McKenzie, who had recently joined the band when another drummer failed to work out, boots the band along on this and the other numbers in a commanding manner.

The next two selections, both Holman arrangements, had first been introduced to the public on Kenton's Contemporary Concepts album, arguably one of his finest albums.
"Stompin' at the Savoy" features solos by Stan, Sam Noto, and Bill Perkins on tenor sax. Perk was - at the time - deeply under the spell of Lester Young, and from his opening phrase, a flurry of alternate fingerings, it shows. The next number, "Yesterdays," is all Bill Perkins, who spins a nostalgic story backed by Holman's beautiful yet moody arrangement. The climax of the chart features lead trumpeter Ed Leddy soaring to a high concert F, a moment that never fails to bring chills to this listener.

Next comes "Intermission Riff," de rigueur at a Kenton concert, which swings throughout and has meaty solos by Perkins and Kent Larsen. Another oldie, Bill Russo's "23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West" celebrates the rhythms of Cuba. (The title pinpoints the map coordinates of Havana.) Kent Larsen and Lennie Niehaus solo over a fascinating background of pulsating riffs.

Sam Noto's featured number is "Everything Happens to Me," and the Matt Dennis standard (and Bill Holman arrangement) is beautifully rendered. Noto must have just gotten seated when he and the rest of the trumpet section were given a taxing workout on "The Peanut Vendor," another warhorse of the Kenton book. Kent Larsen and Stan Kenton himself solo, but the real star of the arrangement is the band itself, as the various sections build pyramid style to a climax. To calm things down, the following number is a ballad vehicle: Lennie Niehaus soloing on his own arrangement of "The End of a Love Affair."

Gerry Mulligan's "Young Blood" gets a swinging and respectful treatment, with solos by Noto, Perkins, and Larsen, followed by Johnny Richards's "La Suerte de Los Tontos" (Fortune of Fools), which had been featured on the album Cuban Fire! Lennie Niehaus and Sam Noto take appropriately fiery solos. The concert comes to a fitting climax with a Marty Paich original, "The Big Chase." (Sans, however, the drum chase that would become an integral feature of the number.) The arrangement features a near traditional cannon, with the saxes first stating the theme, followed by the trombones and then trumpets. Perkins, Noto, Niehaus, and Larsen all solo.

This release is indeed welcome. Most of Kenton's landmark Capitol albums have already been reissued on CD, albeit some only in completist boxed sets designed for the avid collector. There have also been many bootleg releases of the Kenton band made available, recorded surreptitiously at various venues over the years, and most betray their origins immediately through miserable fidelity. (And let's face it, not all editions of the Kenton band were equally good; some aggregations were more equal than others.).


This album, on the other hand, is the real thing. It features a first rate edition of the band, complete with superior soloists and playing before an appreciative audience, and the whole has been captured on state-of-the-art (at the time) recording equipment. It's an event that should immediately catch the attention of all Kenton fans, while other big band aficionados and fans of jazz of the 1950s in general should welcome it as well. It's musically satisfying, aurally enjoyable, and most of all it's fun. What more could you ask?”

-ROBERT GORDON - January 2002

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Little Blue Byrd - Part 3

Jazzprofiles concludes Little Blue Byrd with the third part of this piece as drawn from Kenny Mathieson’s Cookin’ Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954 -1965 [Edinburgh: Canongate Press Ltd., 2002, pp. 200-219]. [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Booker Little had led only four sessions under his own name prior to his untimely death from kidney failure in 1961, but he left a sharply-etched imprint on hard hop. His discography is considerably expanded by his work with drummer Max Roach (whose band had earlier featured the equally ill-fated Clifford Brown, a major influence on Little's playing), and with saxophonist Eric Dolphy. Like Donald Byrd, Little acquired a classical training which, allied with the relentless practice for which he was famous, gave him a brilliant technical foundation and a strong, lustrous sonority throughout the whole range of the horn.

While firmly rooted in hard bop, he was also a player who foreshadowed some of the directions which the jazz avant-garde would take in the 1960s, notably in his use of unusual or microtonal intervals (most conspicuously when working with the like-minded Eric Dolphy), and in his love of dissonance. In his remarkable book Thinking In Jazz, Paul Berliner notes that 'Booker Little mastered infinitesimal valve depressions for ornamenting pitches with refined microtonal scoops that added pathos and distinction to his language use', while Little himself expanded on the topic in an interview with Robert Levin for Metronome in 1961.

“I can't think in terms of wrong notes - in fact I don't hear any notes as being wrong. It's a matter of knowing how to integrate the notes and, if you must, how to resolve them. Because if you insist that this note or that note is wrong I think you're thinking completely conventionally technically, and forgetting about emotion. And I don't think anyone would deny that more emotion can be reached and expressed outside of the conventional diatonic way of playing which consists of whole notes and half steps. There's more emotion that can be expressed by the notes that are played flat. . . . I'm interested in putting sounds against sounds and I'm interested in freedom also. But I have respect for form. .. . In my own work I'm particularly interested in the possibilities of dissonance. If it's a consonant sound it's going to sound smaller. The more dissonance, the bigger the sound. It sounds like more horns, in fact, you can't always tell how many more there are. And your shadings can be more varied. Dissonance is a tool to achieve these things.”

Booker Little, Jr, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on 2 April, 1938. He played clarinet briefly before taking up trumpet at the age of twelve. As a teenager, he hung out on the Memphis jazz scene, sitting in with players like the Newborn brothers, pianist Phineas and guitarist Calvin, and saxophonist George Coleman. His obsessive practice routines started early, and his musical grounding was solidified when he attended the Chicago Conservatory of Music (he graduated with a Bachelor's degree in music in 1958). He roomed with Sonny Rollins for a time in the Windy City, and played with saxophonist Johnny Griffin and drummer Walter Perkins in their group MJT + 3.

Max Roach hired the trumpeter in June, 1958, and Little spent some eight months in his band (see Giant Steps for more on Roach). It is sometimes said that he joined as a replacement for Clifford Brown, and that Roach hired him for their similarities in sound and approach, but he did not directly replace Brown - he took over the seat vacated by Kenny Dorham. He made his recording debut with the drummer on Max Roach Plus 4 On The Chicago Scene in June for EmArcy, and turned in a fine ballad outing on 'My Old Flame'. The band, which also featured George Coleman on tenor, Art Davis on bass, and the unusual coloration of Ray Draper's tuba, used as a melody rather than bass instrument, were recorded again at the Newport Jazz Festival in July, also for EmArcy, then went into the studio to cut the Riverside session which produced one of Roach's most powerful albums, Deeds, Not Words, on 4 September, 1958.
Little left the band in February, 1959, to work as a freelance in New York, but his association with Roach was renewed on several occasions, and he is heard making memorable contributions to several more of the drummer's albums, including The Many Sides of Max on Mercury (some of Roach's Mercury and EmArcy albums have long been hard to find, but Mosaic Records issued The Complete Mercury Max Roach Plus Four Sessions at the end of 2000), and two indisputable classics, We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite for Candid in August-September, 1960, and Percussion Bitter Suite for Impulse! a year later, in August, 1961.

These albums moved Roach's music beyond the stylistic and structural norms of bop, and reveal greater use of tonal clusters and dissonant harmonies, and also of time signatures other than the familiar 3/4 and 4/4. The overall sound had also shifted toward the more visceral sonorities of the free jazz era, although that was more overtly evident in the contributions of saxophonists Clifford Jordan and Eric Dolphy than in Little's ripe sonority and subtle inflections.
The trumpeter lived only two more months after that session, and his death - coming as it did in the wake of Clifford Brown's tragic passing - shook Roach badly, and left him with the feeling that he might be a jinx for trumpet players. Little's contributions to Roach's music are an essential part of the trumpeter's recorded legacy, as is his work with the multi-instrumental reed and flute player Eric Dolphy. He first teamed up with Dolphy on record for Far Cry, a Prestige session recorded on 21 December, 1960, with a great rhythm section of Jaki Byard on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums.
They recorded again in a sextet session under Little's name in April, 1961, as we will shortly see, while a further meeting at The Five Spot a couple of months later produced a justly celebrated live album, recorded on 16 July, 1961, with a quintet which featured Mal Waldron on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and Ed Blackwell on drums. This classic date was issued as Live! At The Five Spot, Volume 1 and 2, and Memorial Album, and should be regarded as essential listening (the recordings were also collected in a 3-LP box set as The Great Concert of Eric Dolphy, and incorporated in the comprehensive 9-CD box The Complete Prestige Recordings of Eric Dolphy). Dolphy will be the subject of a chapter in a subsequent book, and I do not intend to consider them in detail here, but as with the Roach recordings, they are essential to a full picture of Little's abbreviated career.
In the course of 1959-60, Little also recorded sessions with singer Bill Henderson, trombonist Slide Hampton, and a strong date with another Memphis musician, alto saxophonist Frank Strozier, on The Fantastic Frank Strozier Plus for Vee-jay, with Miles Davis's rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. Little was also captured with vibes player Teddy Charles in concert at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on 25 August, 1960, originally released as Metronome Presents Jazz in the Garden on the Warwick label (and later as Sounds of the Inner City on Collectables, credited to Little and Booker Ervin), and in studio sessions with Teddy Charles and Donald Byrd, among others, issued as The Soul of Jazz Percussion, also on Warwick.
The trumpeter was also heard with Max Roach in a studio version of his own 'Cliff Walk' from November, 1960, as part of the Candid All-Stars' Newport Rebels album, inspired by the breakaway festival set up that year in protest at the booking policy of the Newport Jazz Festival. Little was reunited with Roach for several dates in 1961, and also recorded with Roach's then wife, singer Abbey Lincoln, but only after both he and Dolphy had participated in John Coltrane's Africa/Brass sessions, cut for Impulse! in May and June, 1961. The core of his work as a leader, however, is contained in only four albums: Booker Little 4 & Max Roach (United Artists, 1958, later reissued on Blue Note); Booker Little (Time, 1960, later reissued as The Legendary Quartet Album on Island); Out Front (Candid, 1961); and Victory and Sorrow (Bethlehem, 1961, also known as Booker Little and Friend).

His debut as a leader was cut not long after the Deeds, Not Words session, in October, 1958. Booker Little 4 & Max Roach also featured George Coleman on tenor, Tommy Flanagan on piano, and Art Davis on bass, and was originally issued by United Artists. The Blue Note CD issue in 1991 reprints the original sleeve note, in which Jon Hendricks appears to claim that Sonny Rollins introduced Little to Clifford Brown in 1957 (a year after his death), but also included two rather scrappy tracks from a blowing session with an all-Memphis band featuring Strozier, Coleman and both Newborns in 1958, in which Booker is heard alongside another trumpeter, Louis Smith, in versions of 'Things Ain't What They Used To Be' and 'Blue 'N' Boogie'. Smith recorded two solid albums for Blue Note in 1958, Here Comes Louis Smith - with Cannonball Adderley masquerading as 'Buckshot La Funke' for contractual reasons - and Smithville, and seemed set to make an impact on the hard bop scene, but turned to teaching instead, and did not record again until the late 1970s.
It was a strong (if rather indifferently recorded) debut, and Little is already identifiably an original voice in the making. The six tracks included three original tunes by the trumpeter, 'Rounder's Mood', 'Dungeon Waltz' and 'Jewel's Tempo', each allowing him and his colleagues to stretch out in exploratory fashion, always nudging outward at the boundaries of bop convention. Coleman is an excellent foil for his home town buddy, while Roach is majestic on drums.

The trumpeter's next session, though, cut for the Time label on 13 and 15 April, 1960, and issued as Booker Little, was even better. It presented him in the most unadorned setting of his brief career, a quartet with a rhythm section of either Wynton Kelly (from the 131h) or Tommy Flanagan (151h) on piano, Roy Haynes on drums, and bassist Scott La Faro, another great young musician who would also die prematurely in 1961 in a car accident.
The session provided the most concentrated example of Little's fluent, inventive, but always probing style as a soloist, and also a further showcase for his abilities as a, composer of original and engaging tunes (nor was he adverse to a spot of recycling - 'The Grand Valse' here is the same tune as 'Waltz of the Demons' on the Strozier album, and 'Booker's Waltz' on The Five Spot disc with Dolphy). His almost unaccompanied opening cadenza on 'Minor Sweet', with only Haynes's spectral drum fills shadowing the horn, is a perfect encapsulation of the rich sonority and precise articulation which was so characteristic of his playing, and the flowing solo which follows underlines the lyricism which was always intrinsic to his approach, as well as his imaginative and un-hackneyed phrasing.

Little once observed that Sonny Rollins inspired him 'to do things differently, but musically', and the trumpeter might well have adopted that comment as his own motto. Even in his most adventuresome moments, there was an elegant grace and subtle logic to everything he played (in his sleeve note for Booker's next album, Nat Hentoff neatly described it as 'a rare and stimulating combination of sense and sensibility, clarity and daring'), and the relaxed-to-brisk rather than flat-out tempos and often bittersweet mood of this album provides an exemplary illustration of those qualities.

Booker's penultimate disc as a leader was cut almost a year later in two sessions for Candid, poised midway between his studio session with Eric Dolphy on Far Cry in December, 1960, and the Five Spot recordings in July, 1961. The music on Out Front, recorded on 17 March and 4 April with a sextet which featured Dolphy on reeds, trombonist Julian Priester, Don Friedman on piano, Art Davis (March) or Ron Carter (April) on bass, and Max Roach on drums, tympani and vibes, continues to push outward in the progressive fashion evident on the earlier date with Dolphy, but also reflects Little's contention that while he was interested in freedom, he was equally interested in form.
His compositions and arrangements manipulate structure and movement in inventive fashion, as in the subtle harmonic ebb and flow between the more complex ensemble sections and the simpler solo passages on 'We Speak', the sharp harmonic contrasts underpinning 'Strength and Sanity', the alternating tempo changes of 'Quiet, Please' (inspired by a child's rapidly changing moods), or the sequentially shifting time signatures (cycling through 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4) of 'Moods In Free Time' are all indicative of a thoughtful and experimental musical mind at work.

Whatever formal challenges his music took on, however, Little's primary focus remained firmly on passionate emotional expression. Hentoff's sleeve note quotes the trumpeter's belief that jazz needed 'much less stress on technical exhibitionism and much more on emotional content, on what might be termed humanity in music and the freedom to say all that you want', and his own music is eloquent testimony to that aim. Here and elsewhere, his own sound is always more centered than Dolphy’s caustic cry, but the combination is highly effective, and if Little's use of dissonance is more discreet and insidiously inflected than would be the case in the free jazz movement, he has clearly moved beyond the conventions of bop, and is equally clearly a precursor of many of the experiments to come.

The story reached its final chapter when the trumpeter cut his last album for Bethlehem in either August or September, 1961 (the precise date has not been determined). Victory and Sorrow retained Priester and Friedman from the Candid date, and added George Coleman on tenor, Reggie Workman on bass, and Pete La Roca on drums. Little again employs more complex chorus structures, ensemble lines and chord voicings; than were customary in the unison themes of hard bop, and his ruling ethic – exercising emotional freedom within a controlled structural framework dominates the music.
All but one of the tunes, the standard ballad 'If I Should Lose You', is by Little. They include a version of 'Cliff Walk', under the title 'Looking Ahead', with its sophisticated ensemble interplay for the three horns (to confuse matters further, a CD reissue of this album retitled that track 'Molotone Music'). The title track is among his strongest and most resourceful compositions, shifting tempo in subtle fashion to delineate its changing sections, while 'Booker's Blues' plays with blues form in imaginative fashion, shuttling between 8 and 12-bar forms.

Everything on the record points forward, but there was to be no more progress for the trumpeter. He died in New York on 5 October, 196 1, of kidney failure brought on by uraemia, a blood disease which had left him in constant pain for some time beforehand. He joined the tragically long list of jazz greats dead before their time, but even at the tender age of twenty-three, he had left a distinctive legacy of lasting value
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