Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jazz Repertory - The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette

This feature is a continuation of the Jazz Repertory theme initiated on Jazz Profiles with an earlier piece on The Raymond Scott Chesterfield arrangements commissioned and performed by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1937-38 and recently recorded by the Metropole Orchestra with The Beau Hunks Saxtette [see June 2008 archives].

Jazz Profiles now focuses exclusively on The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette involving their two beautifully recorded BASTA CDs that deserve to be heard and appreciated by the widest possible audience.

It may also be helpful to keep in mind that during the early decades of the 20th century, the saxophone may have been the equivalent of today’s electric guitar in terms of popularity or to put it another way:” During roughly four decades, the saxophone evolved from a rather cumbersome marching band instrument into a hugely popular and versatile Jack of all Trades.”

As was explained in the earlier piece, in searching for a context in which to highlight this music, the editors at Jazzprofiles came across the phrase “Jazz Repertory” as used by Jeffrey Sultanof in his essay of the same name that appears in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 512-521].

According to Mr. Sultanof: “The phrase ‘jazz repertory’ has many definitions and dimensions. Perhaps the most basic is: the study, preservation and performance of the many diverse musical styles in jazz. In recent years, the phrase most often applies to big bands and jazz ensembles performing classic and new music written for reeds, brass, and rhythm section in various sizes and combinations.” [p.512]

And, as was the case with the earlier Dutch Metropole Orchestra and Beau Hunks Saxtette performance of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra’s Raymond Scott Chesterfield arrangements, the two retrospectives by the Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette would seem to fit precisely into this definition.

A close listening to these two discs will also serve to reinforce Will Friedwald’s assertion to wit:

“We Yanks are long accustomed to the irony that it often requires Europeans to tell us what's best about our own culture.”Here are the insert notes to The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette BASTA CD [30-9089-2] as written by Robert Veen, one of the group’s members [pictured second from the left, above] as well as graphics taken from the insert booklet. Following these will be the notes and illustrations to Contrasts, the Soctette’s sequel BASTA CD [30-9128-2]. [C] Copyright protect ed. All rights reserved.Another Musical Crusade for THE BEAU HUNKS SAXOPHONE SOCTETTE

THE BEAU HUNKS are a project band or “documentary orchestra." They began their crusade to preserve the works of forgotten pioneers of American music in 1992. The first project was devoted to the music of Leroy Shield and Marvin Harley, who composed music for the films of Laurel & Hardy, The Little Rascals and many other comedies from the Hal Roach Studios. Because no original sheet-music or recordings of this music were available, our arrangers had to make note-for-note transcriptions from tapes provided by Piet Schreuders, who had somehow managed to reconstruct Shield's compositions on tape from the soundtracks of countless Hal Roach talkies.

Between 1992 and 1995, this resulted in 4 CDs:

The Beau Hunks play the Original Laurel and Hardy Music, Vols. 1 & 2 [Basta 99003, 990251]
The Beau Hunks play the Original Little Rascals Music, Vols. 1& 2 [Koch Screen 8702, 89021].
In 1994, we directed our attention to the works of composer Raymond Scott [1908-1994] with the Beau Hunks Sextette. Scott's compositions for his Quintette from the 1930’s were, again, transcribed from archive recordings by our staff of arrangers and recorded on 2 CD's: Celebration on the Planet Mars [Basta 30-9056-21]
and Manhattan Minuet [Basta 30-9036-2].
The most ambitious project to date materialized in 1997 when the band was expanded to a 35-piece outfit for the purpose of performing Ferde Grofe’s symphonic Suites as composed for the Paul Whiteman band in the 1920s. This was the first project where we could actually use the composer's original scores and parts which were retrieved in the collections of Williams College and the Library of Congress by the Hunks' leader, Gert-Jan Blom. The results of this project are available as The Modern American Music of Ferde Grofe [Basta 30-9083-21].
The present album introduces the Beau Hunks in yet another setting. For this project the brass, strings and piano were omitted, while the woodwind and saxophone sections were dramatically expanded. The aim of this project was to pay tribute to the various saxophone bands from the first four decades of this century, when the saxophone was still a 'new' instrument.

The idea for this CD originated when we discovered the original arrangements for the Paul Whiteman Sax Soc-tette and Woodwind Ensemble in the Paul Whiteman Collection at Williams College, Massachusetts.

During the 1938/39 season, the Whiteman band had a weekly job on The Chesterfield Program, a very popular radio show sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes. In these shows Whiteman presented the various sections of his large orchestra as independent groups. He had special arrangements made for "The Bouncing Brass," "The Singing Strings," "The Swing Wing," "The Woodwind Ensemble" and the "Sax Soc-tette."
The extremely virtuoso arrangements for this Soc-tette were made by Nathan Van Cleave for a lineup of nine saxes doubling on clarinets, accompanied by two guitars, bass and drums. Four of these Soc-tette recordings were released on 78rpm discs: "Blue Skies"/"What'll I Do?" [Decca 2698] and "I Kiss Your Hand, Madame"/"After You've Gone" [Decca 2467, both recorded 4/7/39]. Van Cleave also arranged Irving Berlin's "Tell Me, Little Gypsy" and "Crinoline Days" [Decca 2694] for the Woodwind Ensemble with a lineup of clarinets, bass clarinets, flutes, oboe, bassoon and rhythm section.

While rehearsing the original charts we noticed that various cuts had been made, due to either the limited duration of a 78rpm disc or the available airtime on the Chesterfield Program. On this CD you'll hear the complete, uncut versions as originally intended by Nathan Van Cleave.

Nathan Lang Van Cleave was born in 1910 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Together with Lynn Murray and George Gershwin, he studied composition with Joseph Shillinger. He started out as a trumpet player with Charlie Burnet, but concentrated mainly on writing and arranging. He was a staff arranger for Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, for Andre Kostelanetz, and for CBS New York. In 1945 he went to Hollywood to become head arranger at Paramount.

His numerous film scores include:
· Conquest of Space [1955]
· The Colossus of New York [1958]
· The Space Children [1958]

He also composed music scores for the TV series The Twilight Zone, Gomer Pyle USMC, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Perry Mason, Hogan's Heroes, I Dream of Jeannie, and Rawhide. He died in 1970.

During our research at Williams College we came across a woodwind arrangement of Raymond Scott's most popular tune, "The Toy Trumpet," by Irving Szathmary, another arranger from the Whiteman organization. This was never recorded commercially by Whiteman but used for radio broadcast only.

There are several interesting connections between Scott and Whiteman. Scott's Quintette and Whiteman' Orchestra were both regulars on the Chesterfield Program. (During 1938/'39 Whiteman had 17 arrangements made of Scott compositions for his band. These arrangements are now safely in our library and were recorded for CD release in January of 1999 by the Metropole Orchestra featuring the Beau Hunks Sextette.)

When Whiteman guitarist Artie Reyerson left the Whiteman band in 1940 he joined Raymond Scott's Orchestra and worked with him for many years. When Raymond Scott became A&R manager for Everest Records in 1957, he employed Van Cleave as the label's staff arranger. In this capacity, Van Cleave led an orchestra backing Scott's then wife Dorothy Collins on her 1958 album Won't You Spend Christmas With Me?On the original Soc-tette recordings one can hear some outstanding soloists. We dedicate this CD to all of them - but especially to the Soc-tette's first alto and clarinet virtuoso, Alfred Gallodoro.
Over the past three years, Al Gallodoro has become a dear friend, Our saxophone players had worshipped Al's impressive recordings for many years and were surprised to find out that he was still alive. At the initiative of Robert Veen, Al Gallodoro, performed with the Beau Hunks at the 1996 Breda Jazz Festival before a flabbergasted audience. Mr. Gallodoro - who had to obtain a passport for his first trip ever outside the U.S. - moved several audience members to tears with his playing and impressed the musicians with his incredibly accurate memory and wonderful stories about his career and the people he had worked with, including Whiteman, Scott, Grofe, Shield, Toscanini and many others. Al is a living encyclopedia of American music history.
The following year, by public demand, Al returned to Holland for a series of concerts, TV & radio appearances and several Master-classes at music colleges. A funny thing occurred when Beau Hunks' sax players Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer and Robert Veen drove Al to the Hilversum Conservatory where he was to give a Master-class. Robert played the new Beau Hunks recording of the original Nathan Van Cleave arrangement of "Blue Skies" over the car stereo. Hearing the introduction and the first chorus, and believing he was listening to the Whiteman original, Gallodoro remarked, "Yeah, we were great in those days..." As the music continued, he "recognized" Artie Reyerson [guitar], Sal Franzella [clarinet], Art Drelfinger [tenor sax], and even his own virtuoso cadenza in the coda! Having played a couple of our recordings, Robert stopped the car and told Al that what they were hearing was not the original Soc-tette but the Beau Hunks' renditions of the same arrangements. Al couldn’t believe it and was raving about it for the remainder of the trip, thus giving us the best compliment we could have dreamed of. Along with Nathan Van Cleave’s Soc-tette and Woodwind arrangements from the late ‘30’s you’ll find some pre-thirties material to illustrate the history and evolution of saxophone bands.

As a special tribute to John Philip Sousa, Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer wrote an arrangement of Anchors Aweigh for seven saxes, based on a transcription of an original solo by Rudy Wiedoeft who started the saxophone craze in the 1910s.

Clyde Doerr led a saxophone ensemble for more than 10 years. We included its greatest hit “Down Home Rag” from 1923, performed by nine saxophones and a banjo.

Ruben Bloom was a pianist/composer who worked with several jazz greats of the 1920s [Beiderbecke, Lang, Venuti, Dorsey, Trumbauer and other]. Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer arranged Bloom’s enchanting composition “Soliloquy” for seven saxophones.

Legendary cornetist Leon Bix Beiderbecke composed a Modern Suite for the Piano in Four parts: “In a Mist,” “In the Dark,” “Flashes,” and “Candlelights.” Since Bix recorded “In a Mist” as a piano solo in 1927, it has been recorded by a great variety of artists: Jess Stacey, Bunny Berigan & His Men, Ralph Sutton, The Swingle Singers, Ry Cooder, Lew Davies and Michel Legrand to name just a few. To our knowledge, this is the first arrangement of “In a Mist” for nine saxophones.

Mr. Jansen Heijtmajer scored “In a Mist” and “Candlelights” for the whole range of saxes, from the bass sax all the way up to the little soprano.["In the Dark" and "Flashes" are included on the sequel CD - Contrasts]

Tenor saxophonist Merle Johnston, well known teacher and performer on the instrument, led a saxophone quartet in the 1920s & 30s and had a column in the prestigious Metronome Magazine in the 1930s where he wrote articles and answered questions about saxophone playing. Only four sides were ever recorded by his magnificent group; listening to those recordings today it seems hard to imagine that they were recorded back in 1929. Robert Veen transcribed three of those four sides so they could be included on this album [Baby, Oh Where Can You Be?; Always in All Ways; Do Something].

In a way, this CD is the companion of Fingerbustin’ by Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer and the Beau Hunks [Basta 30-9058-2] from 1995, an exploration of the development and history of saxophone music before 1940 with repertoire taken largely from Mr. Jansen Heijtmajer’s extensive collection of novelty pieces for alto saxophone and piano.
We hope that these recordings will contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of the pioneers of saxophone playing and arranging.
-Robert Veen, September, 1998
As one would imagine, in the interests of authenticity, special provisions were made in the making of these retrospective recordings and they are described in the insert notes as follows:

“About the recording … This album was recorded with pioneering back-to-basics technology, employing vintage microphones. Equipped with the low noise Telefunken triode AC 701k, the NEUMANN M49 condenser microphone works as a node amplifier feeding a transformer which is astatically wound to avoid hum pickup. The capsule consists of two sections, each with a vacuum gold-plated plastic diaphragm. Each half of the capsule works as a pressure gradient transducer with a cardioid characteristic. They can be switched to omni-directional, cardioid, or figure-of-8 on the power supply unit. The microphone capsule is rubber mounted on a Perspex cover. Underneath this cover is the microphone amplifier which, in turn, is mounted on a rubber plate. Due to this construction, the microphone is insensitive to low frequency disturbances such as floor vibrations due to walking.”

Perhaps the above falls under the heading of too-much-information, but it is interesting nonetheless as a classic definition of “labor of love.”
In 2003, Contrasts was issued by the Beau Hunks on BASTA CD [30-9128-2] and this sequel carried the following introductory explanation.

The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette was formed in 1997 after we discovered Nathan Van Cleave’s original “Soc-tette” arrangements in the collection of the Paul Whiteman Archives. Written half a century after the invention of the saxophone, the recordings of the Paul Whiteman Sax Soc-tette from 1938-’39 stand out as a landmark achievement in the development of saxophone music.
During roughly four decades, the saxophone evolved from a rather cumbersome marching band instrument into a hugely popular and versatile Jack of all Trades. In its early years, vaudeville groups, circus bands, novelty acts and early dance bands incorporated the relatively new instrument into their programs. Some of these ensembles, like The Six Brown Brothers, were offered recording contracts, which helped spread the growing popularity of the instrument even further.

In the 1920’s, Rudy Wiedoeft [1893-1940], a professional clarinetist who had deliberately made the switch to the saxophone several years earlier, crafted the first specialized compositions and arrangements for the instrument.
In collaboration with the Frank Holton Co. from Elkhart, Indiana, he modified the saxophone to facilitate higher action and smoother projection of the lower notes in order to accommodate his virtuoso style. Thanks to the pioneering contributions of Wiedoeft, the saxophone finally gained the respect of professional musicians as its voice became more mature. By the late 1920s a veritable “saxophone craze” was underway and there was an increasing demand for saxophones of all shapes and sizes, which were eagerly supplied by a rapidly growing industry.
Our previous album [BASTA 30-9089-2] includes all of Van Cleave’s original arrangements for the Paul Whiteman Sax Soc-tette and Woodwind Ensemble. This new album is a further exploration of the history and development of saxophone music in a wide variety of musical dialects and formats. You’ll hear the entire range of the saxophone family, from bass sax to sopranino, including the extremely rare Swanee-sax!”
In closing this Jazz repertory retrospective of early saxophone music by the Beau Hunks, Jeff Sultanof offers these further thoughts about the relevance and importance of such efforts [paragraphing modified].
“Jazz repertory represents and important direction and challenge for the future: to acknowledge the creative gifts of the men and women who created ensemble music for listening and dancing, and to prepare usable performance materials so that ensembles can easily play and study it.

Just imagine if materials from the baroque and classical eras of music had been allowed to collect dust in attics and languish in special collections and colleges and archives without editing and publication; by this time, they would have probably ceased to exist.

We are only now accepting that the music of the big band era is unique and warrants saving, not just in terms of American cultural history but of world music as well. It is imperative that this work continue for the sake of indigenous American music. Perhaps wide interest in this music is still several years away; yet the time to save it is now.”
[p. 521] 




Friday, October 17, 2008

Conrad Herwig - Part 2

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

With his Criss Cross recording [1254] of Que Viva Coltrane in 2003 which he co-lead with trumpeter Brian Lynch, Conrad returns to and expands upon the “Latin-side” theme albums that he began in 1996 with The Latin Side of John Coltrane. As we shall see, this is the beginning of a concerted effort by Herwig to re-cast the music from a number of trend setting recordings from Jazz’s Golden Age in the 1950’s and 1960’s into Latin Jazz as a way of allowing the listener to hear this music from a fresh and different perspective.
Terrell Kent Holmes writing in
www.allaboutjazz.com explains more about the context for this recording and its music:

“The world will never pay enough homage to the music of John Coltrane. Having his music translated into the Latin idiom isn't a huge stretch, considering that many of his tunes had strong Afro-Cuban roots.

Placing Trane en clave was a challenge that trombonist Conrad Herwig and trumpeter Brian Lynch happily accepted when they conceived Que Viva Coltrane , a humble offering to the immortal saxophonist in which they successfully translated some of Trane's most famous tunes into the Latin idiom.

"Lonnie's Lament" showcases the chops of flautist Mario Rivera, Herwig and Lynch, all of whom play excellent solos. The intricate arrangement of "Miles' Mode" is played in mambo rhythm, with Rivera's baritone sax leading the brass charge. Robby Ameen and Richie Flores solo on drums and congas, respectively, before Herwig and Lynch's spirited exchange take the song out on high.

Pianist Edsel Gomez states the melody on "Wise One," with Herwig's lovely solo leading into the doubling of the rhythm and crisp soloing by Lynch and Gomez. John Benitez' wicked electric bass at the beginning of "Countdown" may recall Coltrane's blistering opening, but it certainly has its roots laid down in Jaco Pastorius. The brass picks up the baton and races to the finish, with Trane's signature at the end declaring victory.

Lynch's flugelhorn is the standout among the fine brass arrangement of "Central Park West," and "Grand Central" features another mean bari solo by Rivera. The breezy, arrangement of "Straight Street" evokes the warmth of a Caribbean island, providing a relaxing respite before "Locomotion" brings things to a rousing end.

Although Coltrane inspired this fine disc, the arrangements and overall spirit owe as much to Tito Puente and Machito as they do to Trane. It's almost a certainty that somewhere, all three men are beaming like proud parents.”
And in a separate review from the same source, C. Andrew Hovan had these comments about the recording:

“In recent years, trumpeter Brian Lynch and trombonist Conrad Herwig were part of one of Eddie Palmieri’s better late period ensembles, proving to be an incendiary addition to a high-octane ensemble dedicated to the fiery hybrid most folks refer to as salsa. It’s perfectly logical then for the pair to team up for a recent project fashioning Latin jazz treatments of several John Coltrane classics. Wisely, they have chosen to bring on board a crew of musicians steeped in the tradition, with pianist Edsel Gomez and drummer Robby Ameen being particularly integral to the overall success of the music.

On the whole, Herwig and Lynch have chosen well, and each arrangement grooves with its own identity, still retaining the essence of the original….”

In 2004, Conrad was back at Systems Two Recording Studios again for Gerry Teekens and Criss Cross this time to produce Obligation [1268] which was essentially produced around a Hammond B-3 Organ trio sound with Seamus Blake [ss/ts] back to help form the front-line. Mark Whitfield is on guitar and he is joined by relative newcomer Kyle Koehler on Hammond and drummer Gene Jackson who is back again after appearing on Hieroglyphia. With Conrad’s opening track original Forget About Me, there’s even a boogaloo-gospel-soul-funk sound to evoke memories of Blue Note’s classic recordings done in this style.

Not-to-be-missed is the outstanding ‘dual’ between Herwig and drummer Jackson on the upper tempo title track that demonstrates the incredible techniques of some of today’s young players on their respective instruments.
In his insert notes, C. Andrew Hovan points out many aspects about this album’s qualities so incisively that I thought it best to share them in their entirety. Mr. Hovan has written so often and so well about Conrad’s music that it would appear that he has become an authority on the subject and worthy of such deference and respect.

"Jazz fans tend to be fanatical about those artists that most directly speak to their own musical tastes. Over time, a sense of familiarity with the musical personalities of their iconic favorites becomes entrenched, followed by categorization based on style and genre. Those already familiar with Conrad Herwig's musical endeavors over the past 20 years are likely to speak to his great versatility, at home in both jazz and Afro-Cuban musical circles as he is in leading his own varied projects. Then there's the undeniable technical proficiency he has attained that puts him in a class by himself, a valuable asset for the kind of advanced hard bop that serves as foundation for his usual modus operandi.

All the foregoing is to suggest that Herwig fans who think they know his methodology quite well will be somewhat surprised by the revelations offered with Obligation, essentially an organ combo record within the soul-jazz continuum. On closer consideration however, the genesis for this venture can be traced via other projects that have included Herwig, most notably time spent with Don Braden in an organ group documented on the saxophonist's album The New Hang.

"This was a project I've wanted to do for a long time because I'm a B3 fanatic," Herwig says with a palpable degree of satisfaction. "My grandmother played organ in church and she always had an organ in her house. We used to play hymns together when I was a little kid. Of course, coming up I collected records by Jimmy Smith, Big John Patton, Jimmy McGriff, and all the heavy cats. Then, when I first came to New York, I was playing with Jack McDuff."

Over the course of seven previous Criss Cross discs, Herwig has challenged himself by changing up the ensemble groupings and tailoring his compositions to the talents at hand. "What I try to do with every record is have a different combination of instruments or play with musicians I've wanted to record with on my own but haven't had the chance to," Herwig says. "In thinking of what I wanted to do with this disc, I shot some ideas at [producer] Gerry [Teekens] and suggested an organ quintet because I wanted to do something with the combination of tenor and bone."

In assembling the cast of characters for this new undertaking, Herwig had no problem in putting together a cohesive unit with individual talents that he's developed a musical history with over time. "It's an organic thing in that we're playing around the city in different projects," the trombonist explains. "Then we go into the studio and it sort of picks up from there because you feel familiar with all the cats."

As for Mark Whitfield, making his debut appearance on Criss Cross, Herwig first encountered the precocious guitarist while on the previously mentioned McDuff gig. "Dave Stryker was in that band and then when he left Mark Whitfield started with the group and that's how I first met Mark, which was over 20 years ago," states Herwig. "One of the great things about Mark is his versatility because he approaches the guitar like he was a horn player, but at the same time he can approach it from the totally traditional role."

A Criss Cross veteran with four of his own sessions as a leader for the label, Seamus Blake has recently spent some time of his own working in organ combos. He's gigged with Project 0 featuring Ingrid Jensen and up and coming organist Gary Versace and on Wycliffe Gordon's Dig This! (Criss 1238) the saxophonist was part of an ensemble that included Sam Yahel. "Seamus and I have played together so much that there's a trust level that allows us to experiment, but know that there's a safety net there," says Herwig about his front line partner.

Both Gene Jackson and Kyle Koehler have previously shared the stage with Herwig, the former appearing with the trombonist on Hieroglyphica (Criss 1207) and the latter making "the new hang" with Don Braden's organ group. "Gene and Kyle are both from Philly and so we got a Philly sound and groove going," Herwig says. "Of course, Mark is from Manhattan and Seamus is from Canada and I'm an Army brat, so it was a great experience to have all these guys come together."
Coming as no surprise to those familiar with his gifts as a composer, Herwig set out to avoid the clichés associated with your run-of-the-mill organ record. As he explains, "I told the guys I didn't think I was going to have any traditional fatback organ stuff on the record and then I ended up writing some because I think it's impossible to escape that sound because it's in the tradition. But the other tunes are more of my kind of thing in the post '60s harmonic language, but transmuted onto the organ. In fact, I would really be remised not to talk about Larry Young, who is one of my all-time heroes. Larry really made the breakthrough on organ by taking John Coltrane's harmonic language and putting it on the B3. So that's the kind of thing that we humbly try to emulate, [but] with the modern harmonic language."
Starting things out with a catchy line that nonetheless has all the substance you'd expect from a Herwig original, Forget About Me speaks with deceptive simplicity. "This is one of the more traditional tunes on the record, with an Eddie Harris vibe," says Herwig. "It's blues like, but without being a blues." Keep an ear out for Whitfield's stinging contribution and some heated exchanges between Herwig and Blake before the tune's conclusion.

By contrast, Solid Ground is a buoyant waltz that hits a gentler stride and a more relaxed groove. "One of the concepts that I went for here was that less is more," Herwig asserts. "I had actually written several different versions and arrangements of these tunes with more complicated harmonies and then as I played through them I gravitated towards more simplicity. There are not many musicians like Seamus that I would feel comfortable playing with in unison. In fact, it's sometimes easier to play in harmony than it is to actually be simple and explore the melody like we do on this one."

Lazy Bones is a title that essentially seems to match the languid feel of the tune's serpentine melody. "That repeated figure and vamp [in the beginning] is an Elvin Jones-like figure, but it's basically an E flat minor blues," says Herwig. "I have this theory that all successful jazz musicians can play the blues on any tune at any time. The thing is, they don't necessarily have to play the blues, but they give you the feeling that they could and that's one of the qualities of jazz that I totally love." Whitfield's solo includes some cutting single-line runs in the Grant Green tradition to match Koehler's Larry Young vibe.

A reflective composition of great beauty, Herwig calls Lua Flora "a piece that is very close to my heart." The tune's namesake is the daughter of guitarist Jose Netto, a close friend of Conrad's. "Tragically she was taken from us in an automobile accident at a very young age. The first part is really a reflection of sadness and then the second part of the tune that goes into the major vamp is about being uplifted and providing affirmation. Seamus' whole solo is magical, with Gene playing pandeiro and Mark playing acoustic guitar."
Containing its share of heated exchanges, Obligation is notable for a remarkable conversation between Herwig and Jackson that finds both men at the peak of their abilities. "Playing with Gene is just amazing," enthuses Herwig. "But then when you listen back to it, you wonder how you had enough energy to come up with your own solo."

For those who have been following Herwig since his early days, you might find something familiar about Tell Me a Riddle, a line that was featured on the trombonist's first recording. "It's a journey through a complex set of changes," boasts Herwig. "it has some surprise resolutions and different kinds of chord qualities. It's one of the first tunes that I ever wrote and I still play it a lot, so I figured it would be a fun thing to play with Seamus because he tackles changes so well."

The session concludes on a thoughtful note with The Blue Shore of Silence, a title taken form a collection of poems about the sea by Chilean author and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda. "My wife is from Argentina and so we read a lot of the South American authors," Herwig says about the inspiration for the piece and the reverence he has for Neruda's work, a man that he calls "arguably one of the greatest poets of all time."

Thus comes to a close the latest chapter in the ongoing musical adventures of Conrad Herwig. It's a disc that the trombonist rightly feels is "very listenable," a quality that he finds particularly gratifying these days. "I'm overjoyed with the guys in the band. They're all virtuoso players and good friends too. When you're able to communicate and have a feeling of trust, you can take chances and [then] it's really a dream come true."

C. Andrew Hovan - All About Jazz, Jazz Review, Down Beat

2004 was to be a banner year for Conrad as during it he also released Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis [Half Note Records 4530] which would be followed a couple of years later by Sketches of Spain Y Mas [Half Note Records 4539]. The music for both came from the same week-long stint at the Blue Note in New York by an all-star that Herwig put together expressly to play and record the music that appeared on these two CDs.
Reviewing a concert performance by Conrad’s group of the music from Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis that took place on January 31, 2004 at the University of Missouri, Kansas City Conservatory Jazz Festival sponsored by Down Beat, Michael Shutts noted:

"Conrad Herwig is going Latin again. And no one's complaining

Herwig, the 43 year old trombone extraordinaire and winner of the 2002 Downbeat Critics' Poll for Jazz Trombonist of the Year, has always had an affinity for Latin jazz. He's a veteran of the bands of Mario Bauza, Paquito D'Rivera and Eddie Palmieri, and his 1996 release, The Latin Side of John Coltrane was nominated for a Grammy. Herwig's latest project, Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis, features Brian Lynch on trumpet, Mario Rivera on bari saxophone, Pedro Martinez on hand percussion, Robbie Ameen on drums, Ruben Rodriguez on bass, and Edsel Gomez on piano. The group played in front of a sold-out Pierson Auditorium at the University of Missouri-Kansas City
Conservatory of Music to close the 2004 Downbeat/UMKC Conservatory Jazz Festival on January 31st.

The septet opened with their take on the Miles Davis classic tune “Seven Steps to Heaven.” This particular arrangement stayed close to Miles' original interpretation of the tune from the album of the same name. Herwig quickly revealed why his staccato, rhythmically inventive style lends itself well to Latin jazz, taking an energetic turn at the mic after Lynch and Rivera had finished blowing. One could easily identify the trombonists in the audience; most of them were already shaking their heads in disbelief.

After an interesting version of “Solar,” Herwig introduced legendary altoist Bobby Watson, who currently heads up the jazz program at UMKC. Watson is a beloved figure in Kansas City; after his warm reception, Herwig jokingly suggested that Mr. Watson consider a run at the presidency.

Truly a saxophonist's saxophonist, Watson never seems to mail in a solo. Almost irrevocably, Watson's solos reach a boiling point, a whirlwind of yelping altissimo and quarter-tone laced licks, that stoke some sort of fire deep within the listener. This performance was a prime demonstration, as Watson quickly stole the show.

The band continued with some tunes from their latest CD, which includes the five tunes from Miles' Kind of Blue album and “Petits Machins” from Filles de Kiliminjaro. One of the highlights was the group's rendition of “Freddie Freeloader.” One could wonder how such a simplistic tune could be transformed into a hot Latin piece, but Herwig's gang managed to do it. Instead of taking their solos after the original melody statement, Miles' trumpet solo from the original album was harmonized for four horns and played as an extension of the melody.

The band's version of “So What” really grooved, almost violently, evolving from Afro-Cuban, to funk and rock rhythms at the discretion of the aforementioned Ameen and Martinez. Another highlight was Watson's soprano solo on “Blue in Green.” Herwig opened the tune with some soulful, almost wailing, trombone work, and then it was the saxophonist's turn. Watson's soprano sound and tone has drastically improved since his early days as a leader (i.e. “And Then Again” from his album entitled “Jewel”). Although no group has ever rivaled the emotional power of the original recording, this interpretation of the tune was still magnificently beautiful.

The group proceeded with “Flamenco Sketches,” which opened with a vocal/percussion feature for Cuban percussionist Pedro Martinez on congas. Martinez was a bright spot all night long, showing why he is one of the hottest up-and-coming latin players in the world today. Finally, the set closed with “Petits Machins” which provided a fitting end to a great night of music."

And Bill Milkowski, a regular contributor to Jazz Times and Jazziz magazines offers the following description of the context and the music that appears on these recordings.
“It was back in March of 2003 that trombonist-bandleader Conrad Herwig brought a stellar nine-piece ensemble into the Blue Note for a weeklong engagement billed as "The Latin Side of Miles Davis." Three nights were recorded, subsequently yielding 2004's Grammy-nominated Another Kind of Blue, documenting the group's reinvention of Miles' landmark work from 1959, Kind of Blue, within the framework of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Volume 2 focuses on another Miles masterwork, Sketches of Spain, his stunning 1960 orchestral collaboration with Gil Evans that has remained an enduring jazz classic.

The centerpiece of this vibrant live outing is a stirring, 25-minute Sketches of Spain suite that incorporates Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" with elements of the Gil Evans compositions "Saeta" and "Solea." Following an opening flurry of churning Afro-Brazilian hybrid rhythms, guest soloist Paquito D'Rivera settles into a marvelous clarinet improvisation over the hauntingly beautiful Rodrigo theme. Herwig follows with an expressive trombone solo, eventually delving into multiphonics as the band drops out. Percussionist Richie Flores then explodes with a whirlwind, unaccompanied conga solo that lights up the bandstand. Trumpeter and co-musical director Brian Lynch makes a beautiful homage to Miles with his mellow Harmon mute solo on this dramatic Rodrigo passage, then switches to bold open horn playing for the trumpet call on Gil's "Saeta." D'Rivera returns for a sensuous alto sax solo over the moving "Solea" section, followed by some exceptional playing by the exciting young Puerto Rican pianist Edsel Gomez, who runs the gamut from classical introspection to turbulent, Cecil Tayloresque abstraction in the course of his dynamic and unpredictable solo.


The Y Mas portion of this inventive Afro-Latin collection includes an infections and eminently danceable son montuno of the classic Miles vehicle "Solar," a kinetically-charged jazz mambo rendition of "Seven Steps to Heaven" (the title track to a 1963 Miles recording) and a concluding percussive blowout on "Petit Machins" (from Filles de Kilimanjaro) that turns both drummer Robbie Ameen and conga maestro Flores loose for some heated Afro-Cuban jamming.

The music from Sketches of Spain is not something that you would normally find in a Fake book on the campuses of North Texas State or Berkley College of Music. In fact, it's very rarely ever played by working jazz ensembles. "Never before had I ever had a chance to improvise on those forms," says the world class trombonist who apprenticed in big bands led by Buddy Rich, Clark Terry, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Mel Lewis and also spent the past 20 years working with master salsa musician Eddie Palmieri. "It's not lead sheet type tunes that we're playing here, but rather we're using the themes as a vehicle for improvisation. So playing this music gave us a chance to freely express ourselves, to use different textures and put our own slant on it."

Interpreting Miles' music through an Afro-Cuban/Afro-Caribbean prism was not only an inspired concept, it was also a personally rewarding experience for the band leader. "The thing I feel really blessed about with this project is that all the musicians who played on it are people that I've known and musicians that I've performed with for years," says Herwig. "Robbie Ameen is a great friend of mine. We've known each other and have been playing together since we were 15 years old. Paquito is someone I started playing with in 1984 and then played with later in his Havana-New York Connection band and in the United Nations Band, which he took over the leadership of after Dizzy passed. Brian Lynch and I have been playing together in Eddie Palmieri's band for 20 years. Dave Valentin played with us in Eddie's La Perfect II band a few years ago. And Mario Rivera, who is one of the icons of Afro-Cuban music, has also played in Eddie's band over the years, as did John Benitez and Richie Flores. So Eddie was a kind of catalyst for this project."
The group empathy of this extended family of bona fide salseros can be heard from start to finish on this riveting take on Miles.
—Bill Milkowski

The year 2007 found Conrad [enjoyably] once again hard at work in the recording studios preparing A Jones for Tones Bones, a Criss Cross disc [1297] whose title is a pun on Chick Corea’s tune – Tone for Jones Bones.

Back again with Conrad for this recording is Steve Davis to provide a two trombone front line along with newcomers Orrin Evans [p], Boris Kozlov [b] and Donald Edward [d]. To my ears, the most enjoyable track on the recording is a blues tribute to Frank Rosolino entitled 24 for Frank. All of the other tracks on the recording are dedicated to trombonist that Conrad has a high regard for as detailed in the following www.allaboutjazz.com review as provided by none other than – C. Andrew Hovan.

“Easily one of the most technically brilliant jazz trombonists in the history of the music, Conrad Herwig continues to establish a superb catalog of releases that document him in a variety of settings and musical genres. From quartet dates to his Latin projects, the key ingredients to any of Herwig's endeavors are a desire to keep the music moving forward and his skills as a brilliant arranger and gifted composer. Such marks his latest Criss Cross Jazz side, A Jones for Bones Tones, his second two-trombone set shared with Steve Davis and a unique forum for original pieces that pay tribute to some of Herwig's key bone influences.

Utilizing friends from the Mingus Big Band, Herwig gains superb support from pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Donald Edwards. Of course, there's much to be gained by the complementary styles of Herwig and Davis. While the former is clearly identifiable by his overt and filigreed approach, the latter is just as distinguished, with a more melodic style and burnished tone. The wide variety of material here makes for a delightfully enjoyable recital that is well paced and just the right length.

Based on hybrid Brazilian grooves are the two numbers “Eje's Dream” and “Raulzinho's Ride,” the former piece written for Swedish trombonist Eje Thelin and the latter dedicated to Raul De Souza. Tapping the Afro-Cuban mood that Herwig greatly favors, “Que Viva Barry” references Barry Rogers, a key member of salsa legend Eddie Palmieri's ensembles in the '60s. “For Albert” is the ringer of the set, providing a showcase for Herwig's chops, while paying homage to avant garde stylist Albert Mangelsdorff. The other pieces strike a balance between medium and up-tempo swingers with dedications to Frank Rosolino, Slide Hampton, J.J. Johnson, and Curtis Fuller.

Herwig has come up with the perfect way to honor the legacies of several of jazz music's most important trombone stylists and in a way that is fresh and original. He could have easily pulled tunes or standards associated with these men and engaged in a mere nostalgia trip. Instead, his own compositions speak to his individuality, but also recall some of the distinguishing qualities of each honoree. Herwig and Davis certainly sound like they're having fun with the material and drummer Donald Edwards proves to be an interesting new find for this reviewer, his creative comping and refined sound adding immensely to the overall fine results.”.

And, to close this retrospective on Conrad Herwig’s recording career over the past fifteen years or so, in 2008, he released another of his theme titles – The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter [Half Note [924535]. Here again, the music was drawn from a “live” performance by the band at the New York Blue Note on May 19, 2008.
Appearing with Conrad on this date were old friends Brian Lynch [tp] Ronnie Cuber [bs], newcomer Luis Perdomo [p], Ruben Rodriguez [b], Robbie Ameen [d], and Pedro Martinez [congas]. Eddie Palmieri is the guest star on this date, but as described in Jeff Stockton’s
www.allaboutjazz.com review, he has a major impact on the proceedings.

"Luis Perdomo is the regular pianist in Conrad Herwig's septet. He delivers a sterling, elegant solo on “Ping Pong,” the opening cut on The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter, recorded live at the Blue Note in New York. He anchors the first five songs with such skill that at the end of “This Is for Albert,” Herwig singles him out for the audience's applause. Unfortunately, it's to say goodbye. When salsa legend Eddie Palmieri takes over on piano, the concert is sent into orbit. Perdomo never stood a chance.

”Adam's Apple” may not be Shorter's greatest composition, but Palmieri makes a convincing case with syncopated montuno vamps that drive drummer Robby Ameen's funky backbeat and inspire baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber's sly comments and robust soloing. Palmieri taps into “Masquelero”'s heart of darkness and Herwig's tone on trombone is elusive and introverted, before trumpeter Brian Lynch takes a note-bending solo that slides itself into the piano's rhythms like mortar. Herwig and Lynch's simpatico playing is the highlight of “Footprints,” each of them winding similarly smooth and uncluttered solos around Pedro Martinez' congas.

This is the third installment in Herwig's Latin Side series (following interpretations of Coltrane and Miles) and features silky virtuosic musicianship applied to intricate, intelligent, original compositions. Shorter's tunes are well-known and highly regarded as being flexible enough to suit a variety of instrumental lineups. Since he's gathered his own multi-horn groups in the past, the sound of these arrangements doesn't stray too far from his initial conceptions. But if you know a person who thinks jazz is difficult to get, lacks melody, or you can't dance to it, this is a CD that will change their mind."

As those of you who have been following the pieces that appear on Jazz Profiles may recall, the editorial staff has continued with its concerted effort to highlight the work of players on the current Jazz scene whom it deems excellent in answer to a question rhetorically posed by Mike Hennessey, an esteemed writer on Jazz subjects whose work appears often on these pages.

Mike’s rhetorical question is – “Where are the Gillespies, Parkers, Rollinses, Getzes, J.J. Johnsons and Miles Davises of the new Jazz generation? [To which he answers]. There aren’t any.”

Hennessy goes on to explain that this question and answer is “… intended to imply that the general level of [Jazz] artistry and creativity today is in a state of decline.”

To this charge, Hennessy offers two pertinent quotations, taken appropriately from members of today’s Jazz generation.

The first is from trumpeter Terence Blanchard: “The real problem is that people keep looking for new Dizzys, Birds and Tranes instead of judging the new generation of musicians on their own terms and evaluating their music objectively. Why should they be expected to be clones of other musicians?”

Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, Blanchard’s partner at the time of this writing continues the sentiment by adding: “The general standard of playing among today’s young Jazz musicians is getting higher and higher all the time.”

Any doubts about the merit contained in these two assertions by Blanchard and Harrison should be further swept away by listening to the supremely gifted trombone playing of Conrad Herwig and the many excellent musicians who join with him on the recordings reviewed in this piece.

There is of course no way that these innovators and creators of the music will ever be replaced, after all, they had a colossal influence on the evolution of Jazz. But if in their larger-than-life-ness, they have served to inspire others to excel in their own Jazz skills and interpretations, then a close listening to Conrad Herwig and his musical colleagues on these discs will indicate that these Giants have done their job well.

Another consideration in closing is that, if Conrad will permit the immodesty on my part, perhaps Clark Terry was right and a new Giant is with us!?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Conrad Herwig - Part 1

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

Conrad Herwig is one of the leading trombonists on today’s Jazz scene. This piece explores his work from two perspectives: [1] the Criss Cross Jazz recordings that he has made under his own name and also with groups led by tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and trumpeter Greg Gisbert and [2] the theme albums that he has developed both as a tribute to Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter and as a way of interpreting their music in Latin Jazz contexts.

These Criss Cross and theme recordings span a 15 year period – 1992-2008. Not only do they provide a vehicle to hear the evolution of Conrad’s playing over this period, but they also serve as a platform for becoming familiar with the work of the many excellent contemporary who populate these sessions as sidemen.

Herwig is an alumnus of North Texas State University in Denton, Texas (where he performed in its renown One O’clock Jazz Lab Band), and currently Professor of Jazz Trombone, Jazz Improvisation, and Jazz Composition/Arranging at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Conrad began his professional career in 1980 with the Clark Terry Big Band and later joined the Buddy Rich Orchestra for tours of the US and Europe.

After setting-up a permanent residency in New York, he performed with Slide Hampton’s World of Trombones and Mario Bauza’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, as well as, with the orchestras of Toshiko Akiyoshi, Mel Lewis, Bob Mintzer, Henry Threadgill, the Mingus Big Band and Eddie Palmieri.

In small groups, Herwig also performed and recorded with Red Garland, Dave Liebman, Max Roach, Bob Stewart, Danilo Perez, David Sanchez, Greg Gisbert, Brian Lynch and Walt Weiskopf.

In The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, Sixth Edition, Richard Cook & Brian Morton comment that “Herwig is an exemplar of trombone technique. … He’s fast, he likes the high register, …, he only rarely sounds like Jay Jay, and he’s so sure-footed that you can’t imagine him knocking one over.” Clark Terry has commented about Conrad that we should “be on the lookout for a new giant” and Eddie Palmieri has labeled Conrad “the best trombonist on the planet.”

Let’s begin this retrospective with Walt Weiskopf’s 1992 Criss Cross recording entitled Simplicity [Criss 1075 CD] on which he uses an unusual tenor sax, alto sax and trombone front line [Weiskopf-Andy Fusco-Herwig] although there is some precedence for this grouping in the Lighthouse All-Stars sound with Bob Cooper-Bud Shank- Frank Rosolino or Benny Golson’s New York Scene sound with Benny-Jimmy Cleveland-Gigi Gryce.
In his insert notes, Neil Tesser offers this explanation as to what Weiskopf was looking for in terms of the sound of the music on this album and Herwig’s role in helping to produce it.

“In the past, Weiskopf has issued his songs in the classic format of a saxophone-led quartet. On Simplicity, though, he leads an unusually instrumented sextet. The 34-year-old saxist has been toying around with the idea of a larger group for some time, in hopes of satisfying his desire to write for several instrumental voices. But his actual choice of horns involved other criteria. First, he knew that he wanted his tenor to play the featured role in the ensembles; for Weiskopf, this meant no trumpet (since that instrument usually takes the lead). But he also knew the importance of that slippery commodity called "chemistry," the invisible bonds that make Musicians A and B sound so much better together than A and C.
So Weiskopf called upon trombonist Conrad Herwig and the little-known alto saxist Andy Fusco, both of them such good and longstanding friends that they really serve as surrogate brothers to the tenorist. Fusco, a dozen years older, played with Weiskopf in Buddy Rich's big band of the early 80s. "He was my mentor then," says Weiskopf. "For years, I could never understand why he was so under-recorded, and I wanted to do something about that on this project." Fusco, who teaches extensively, boasts an especially expressive tone, and his solos reveal the relaxed excitement of a jazz veteran. As for Herwig another veteran of the Rich band, who now sits behind Weiskopf in the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra - he and Weiskopf first met at the Interlaken Music Camp in Michigan, when both were 16. (But while they have maintained their friendship for nearly 20 years, this album marks their first recording together, other than one project with the Akiyoshi band.) Herwig has produced several of his own albums, on which he exhibits a well-grounded yet often exploratory musical personality.”

Rounding out the group is an excellent rhythm section made up of Walt’s brother Joel on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. In addition to his wonderful section work on Weiskopf’s arrangements, Herwig distinguishes himself with facile and inventive solos on the seven originals by Walt [out of 9 tunes] which is not an easy thing to do given his limited exposure to their structure before the recording date.
The same assemblage came together four years later on Walt Weiskopf’s 1996 album for Criss Cross [1147] entitled Sleepless Nights. Here again, with the exception of Harold Arlen’s evergreen, Come Rain or Come Shine, all of the tunes are originals with plenty of room for Walt, Andy and Conrad to “stretch out.” Sid Gribetz comments as follows in his inserts notes about the nature and the quality of the music on the album:

“More than just a feature for the musicians on this album, who all display great artistry and sensitivity, the album is a setting for Weiskopf's great writing. Weiskopf as a player is firmly rooted in tradition but appears totally unique and undeniably identifiable. As a writer, he has managed to transcend the hard bop idiom and compose in a bright, fresh contemporary manner. However, unlike others who ply more ethereal contemporary airs, Weiskopf's writing retains the hard drive, swing, and emotional intensity of the best in jazz, while stretching the forms to more sophisticated compositions.”
In 1996, Conrad released The Latin Side of John Coltrane [Astor Place TCD4003], the first of his “theme” albums. Its Latin version of Blue Train alone based as it is on sustaining and expanding the whole notes that make up the melody as played over a cooking 6/8 Latin rhythm is worth the “price of admission” with Ronnie Cuber’s cookin’ baritone sax solo on the tune thrown in as a bonus. The interplay between Brian Lynch and Conrad is magnificent on this track [and throughout the recording] as they trade fours bar solos over a montuna that indicates what kindred spirits they had become as band-mates in Eddie Palmieri’s orchestra before this album was issued.

Douglas Payne offered this analysis of the recording on
www.allaboutjazz.com:

“A great idea beautifully executed by New York trombonist Conrad Herwig. The trombonist/arranger/musical director chooses Coltrane's most accessible material from a period that arguably spawned his best, most memorable work (1958-1964), devised simple, exploratory frameworks for each (recalling veteran Chico O'Farrill), then assembled an outstanding collection of musicians.

In addition to Herwig's sinewy trombone, there's Brian Lynch on trumpet, Dave Valentin on flutes, Ronnie Cuber on baritone, Richie Beirach (who contributed to some of the arrangements), Danilo Perez and Eddie Palmieri on piano, Andy Gonzalez (from the Fort Apache Band) on bass and Milton Cardona on vocals and percussion. Selections are outstanding: “A Love Supreme,” “Blue Train,” (where Lynch trades fours with Herwig), “Afro Blue” (great flute solo by Valentine), “Naima” (beautifully featuring Beirach), “After The Rain,” “Impressions” and “India.”

Throughout, Herwig solos flawlessly, with a sensitivity and fire that's reminiscent of the source of his tribute. Herwig's record, more than Joe Henderson's recent big-band event, sounds like a natural conclusion. The arrangements and performances work well together and the Latin environment seems a logical foundation for Coltrane's passions. One last note: Astor Place has done a beautiful job packaging The Latin Side of John Coltrane , sparing no expense for trendy art direction that recalls some of the very expensive covers Limelight Records put out in the mid 60s. Recommended.”

Also in 1996, Conrad made another guest appearance on Criss Cross, this time with his Akiyoshi-Tabackin and Buddy Rich Big Band mate, trumpeter Greg Gisbert on the latter’s The Court Jester [1161].

Gisbert who lists both Clark Terry and Bobby Shew as “my trumpet role models” approached this album from his more recent tenure as a member of Maria Schneider’s orchestra with an emphasis on a four-horn treatment which created sounds and textures that were different in a small group setting.
Joining Gisbert and Herwig on the front-line are Jon Gordon [ss/as] and Tim Ries [ss/as/fl] and they are supported by Janice Friedman [p], Jay Anderson [b] and Gregory Hutchinson [d],

The following excerpt from Ted Panken’s insert notes to the recording demonstrate the thought and effort that Gisbert and Friedman put into the title track of the disc:

"Gisbert and Friedman co-composed and arranged The Court Jester, the title track, a rousing modal tune with a pentatonic feel. "I conceived basically the form of the tune and wrote the little 8-bar melody, while Janice contributed the changes we blow over and came up with a middle part. Conrad Herwig blows in E-flat minor, then there's a contrapuntal improvisation by Janice and Jon Gordon in which they blow on an B7, then Tim Ries blows with just the drums, then I play over the changes. Each solo section has a completely different form."

1997 saw the debut of Heart of Darkness [1155], Conrad’s first album for Criss Cross under his own name. Joining him to form the front-line is Walt Weiskopf [ts/ss] and Stefon Harris on vibes along with a terrific rhythm section made up of Bill Charlap [p], Peter Washington [b] and Billy Drummond [d].
Bob Bernotas offered these insights into Conrad’s exciting conception for this recording in the following excerpts taken from his insert notes:

At first glance, this new recording by trombonist Conrad Herwig … might bring to mind a venerable jazz tradition: "the blowing date."

But, as Conrad insists, if this is a blowing date at all (and that's an awfully big if), then it's a blowing date for the '90s-and beyond. "It's all live to two-track, it was recorded in one day, it's basically semi -impromptu," he explains, "and I guess that's what I consider a blowing date. But there is more writing on this recording, although everybody is such a good musician they made it sound natural, organic. So maybe the definition of a blowing date has changed from just calling standards to presenting more original material. But it's still very spontaneous and very reactive." In other words, this disc offers the best of both worlds-the immediacy of a classic blowing date presented through meticulously conceived original compositions.


The disc opens with the selected works of Conrad-the trombonist-composer (Herwig) and the writer (Joseph). "There are two short stories of Joseph Conrad's, Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer, that I've been familiar with for several years and really enjoyed, and I had come back to when both of these pieces were composed. I do a lot of reading, I do a lot of introspective studying of books, and that's, sometimes, how I come up with titles."

The first of this pair, Heart of Darkness, is, as Conrad describes it, "a through-composed melody. The soloing is what I call 'interactive jazz expressionism.' I like the twists and turns time-wise, and the interaction between the soloists and the rhythm section. It's not just straight-ahead blowing. It's an exchange of kinetic energy, stretching the forms, improvising with a pulse, reacting to what is happening at the moment." That sort of fluid expressionism is readily apparent throughout the track, and especially so, Conrad notes, in Wait Weiskopf's mysterious, almost surreal, tenor saxophone statement. …

Conrad's The Secret Sharer, the second of his literary-inspired pieces, is a straight-eight, medium-tempo tune ignited by trombone-soprano saxophone counterpoint. "Believe it or not, I wrote this after listening to Bartok's String Quartet No. 6," he explains. "I used that as a reference." Conrad's solo rises and falls in an arch-like pattern that peaks in a stunning sonic display, not of pyrotechnics for its own sake, but of improvisational daring and depth. Walt plays soprano sax in the heads here."

And Conrad had this to say about pianist Bill Charlap’s contributions to the date:

"Bill's not only a phenomenal virtuoso of the instrument," Conrad remarks with admiration, "but his conception and his musicality are great-and the way he comps. You know, 'comp' is short for I accompaniment,' but I think in his case it's short for 'compliment.' He's always listening, he's always reacting, and he's always spontaneous."

Next up for Conrad on Criss Cross [1176] was the 1998 release of Osteology [the study of bones - more puns!]] on which Herwig is joined by fellow trombonist Steve Davis, pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist James Genus and drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts.
Dating back to the J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding trombone duo that was together for a few years in the mid-1950s, I’ve always been a fan of front lines made up of multiple trombones, and the Herwig and Davis duo as heard on this album does not disappoint. David Adler had this to say about Herwig and the album in his www.allaboutjazz review:

“A jazz guitarist with a penchant for provocation once called the guitar “the lamest jazz instrument? besides the trombone.” The big horn, with its awkward slide and low, nasal sound, is certainly a jazz underdog. Its important role in big bands is indisputable, but it is generally not thought of as a front man instrument. In other words, there’s never been a Charlie Parker or John Coltrane of the trombone. Thanks to the unwieldy mechanics of the instrument, trombonists typically haven’t been able to negotiate chord changes and fast tempos as fluidly as a sax or trumpet or piano player can. As a result, the trombone has not achieved the kind of iconic status in jazz that we associate with, say, the tenor saxophone.

But Conrad Herwig threatens to demolish all that. His technical facility is astounding. On his second Criss Cross release, Osteology, he recruits fellow trombonist Steve Davis of Chick Corea & Origin fame to complete his frontline. He didn’t name the record “osteology” — the study of bones — for nothing. The session comes across as a kind of trombone manifesto. If you’re thinking that two trombones up front might sound clunky and colorless, think again. This record is burning; it sounds more like a live show than a studio date. David Kikoski is on piano, James Genus is the bassist, and Jeff “Tain” Watts is behind the kit.
It’s remarkably easy to tell Herwig and Davis apart. Herwig is the more flamboyant of the two, tending toward the higher register and brandishing a brighter tone. Davis, favoring lower and fewer notes and a mellower tone, usually solos after Herwig. The disc opens with a seldom-played Coltrane number, “Syeeda’s Song Flute.” Other non-originals include Joe Henderson’s Caribbean-style “Fire”; a clever and unusually brisk 6/8 reading of “It Ain’t Necessarily So”; the oft-played but wonderful ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is”; and a blindingly fast “Devil May Care,” on which Kikoski solos with only his right hand, in the manner of Herbie Hancock on Miles Smiles.

Three Herwig originals complete the program. A contemplative Latin groove grounds “Kenny K.”, a moving tribute to the late Kenny Kirkland. Fittingly, piano is front and center, with Kikoski soloing first. “First Born,” which gets my vote for best track, is a medium blues that recalls Wayne Shorter and McCoy Tyner on Blue Note. Genus and Tain lock in and swing furiously. And “Osteology” closes the record with a fleet dual-trombone line over a breakneck swing tempo; Herwig and Kikoski solo at the peak of their respective powers.

There’s nothing too out of the ordinary here in terms of material; it’s as straightforward a hardbop/postbop menu as can be imagined. But the performances are outstanding and the energy is consistently high. The two trombonists surpass, to a startling degree, the supposed limitations of their instrument, supported by one of the most explosive rhythm sections I’ve heard on record in a while. Interestingly, Kikoski and Tain did not gel as well on Kikoski’s own Criss Cross effort The Maze. This time the ferocity just doesn’t let up.”

The Kikoski-Genus-Watts rhythm section is back Conrad’s 1999 release on Criss Cross entitled Unseen Universe [1194], but he moves to Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor to help create his most densely-voiced recording to date.

Turning to David Adler, once again, this time in a review for www.allmusic.com:

“Conrad Herwig's dazzling trombone chops and intelligent compositions make Unseen Universe, his third Criss Cross release, a stirring success. His sextet can maneuver around tight corners and yet attack with the force of a band twice its size. With Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Seamus Blake on tenor and soprano sax, David Kikoski on piano, James Genus on bass, and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums, Herwig can be sure of the group's ability to bring lushly orchestrated charts to life and improvise with sterling clarity and brilliance. Conceptually, with the title track and also with pieces called "The Tesseract," "From Another Dimension," "Triangle," and "The Magic Door," Herwig seems preoccupied with geometry and some of its metaphysical implications. Even as he draws heavily on the '60s Blue Note sound as established by figures like Joe Henderson and Herbie Hancock, Herwig stretches the limits of modern mainstream jazz with this all-original set.”

After a one year lay-off, Conrad returned to Criss Cross and released Hieroglyphia [1207] in 2001. Also returning for this date is Bill Charlap whose consummate skills as a Jazz pianist seem to grow immeasurably with each passing year, and James Genus on bass. Gene Jackson is the newcomer on drums.
C. Andrew Hovan provided this complimentary and perceptive review of the recording for the readers of
www.allabout jazz.com:

“It is without taking away anything from the founding fathers of this music to suggest that some of today's practitioners might be the most technically gifted lot to come along. Of course, they now have the entire rich history of jazz at their fingertips and slews of recordings for inspiration, yet there's no denying the talent at hand. Such is the case with 43-year-old trombonist Conrad Herwig. Hardly a Johnny Come Lately, Herwig has been on the scene for some 20 years playing in the bands of such legends as Buddy Rich and Eddie Palmieri, but has to be considered one of the most innovative players to come along since the days of J.J. Johnson and Curtis Fuller.

Herwig's fourth and most recent date for the Dutch Criss Cross label, Hieroglyphica is a no holds barred quartet set of all originals that finds everyone working at full throttle. Without other horns to get in the way, this is the best place to experience Herwig at his most incendiary. Starting with a low moan and then breaking into wild glissandos through the upper register, Herwig kicks off the title track with a dazzling display that then builds to a frenetic climax with drums wailing and the rest of the ensemble participating in the collective frenzy.

It's time for a quick cool down with the Latin-tinged 'The Orange Dove,' a breathy melody that is supported beautifully by pianist Bill Charlap's comping. And speaking of Charlap, for those of you only familiar with his demure and most recent trio dates, you'll be surprised at how much the pianist seems to step outside of the box here. In fact, some reckless abandon breaks forth on 'Island of the Day Before' as Herwig builds the tension before giving way to Charlap, who ushers in the calm before the storm and then hits with some heavy stuff of his own. And to get an idea of Herwig's range and the full complement of devices, look no further than a bluesy 'The Intruder.' Technically accomplished and still filled with communicative appeal, Hieroglyphica just may be Herwig's most brilliant recital to date.”

A year later in 2002, producer Gerry Teekins brought Conrad back into the Systems Two Recording Studio in Brooklyn, NY for the recording of Land of Shadow [1230]. Incidentally, the purity of sound on all Criss Cross recordings is due to the outstanding skills of its recording engineer, Max Bollerman. Gerry Teekins has formed a working relationship with Max similar to the one that was in effect between Alfred Lion and Rudy van Gelder, the engineer who supervised the recording of the classic Blue Note albums of the 1950s and 1960s.

On this recording, Conrad [with support no doubt from, Gerry Teekins, himself an accomplished Jazz drummer] demonstrates his appreciation of how special the affinity of rhythm section mates can be for the success of a recording by bringing back Dave Kikoski [p], James Genus [b] and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts [d] as participants on this date.

In an effort to keep himself fresh through the use of new voices, Conrad turns to Tim Hagans on trumpet and relative newcomer, Ben Schachter on tenor saxophone.
Dave DuPont on the recording in
www.allmusic.com:

"Conrad Herwig is a musician on a mission to bring trombone into the front rank of jazz horns. And over his two-decade long career he's succeeded admirably in demonstrating the horn's flexibility. Still, his playing sometimes seems weighted down by that sense of mission. At his best, as he is consistently on Land of Shadow, he lets it rip, with the trombone's natural voice, complete with its slight slurs and slides, coloring the relentless torrent of notes.

Though, as on most of his sessions, this date is devoted to his own originals, Herwig opens with a high-powered take on the standard "Lullaby of Leaves," which sets the tone and introduces his sidemen. Pianist David Kikoski is especially impressive here, stretching the tune's harmonic structure to its limits. His more lyrical side is shown on the date's only other cover, Duke Ellington's "Gypsy Without a Song."

Trumpeter Tim Hagans complements the leader's ethos, evoking such progressive boppers as Booker Little and Ted Curson. The trumpeter, Hagans, charges through the harmonic mazes with the urgency of a fullback trying to gain a few more yards. Saxophonist Ben Schachter is a new voice. An educator from Philadelphia he plays with a tone like a fine carving knife — buffed and burnished and sharpened to a fine edge. Drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts slashes across the beat, dealing out rhythmic wisecracks at every turn. Bassist James Genus, like his rhythm section mates a regular participant in Herwig-led sessions, plays the straight man, helping guide the ensemble with an insistent throb on the bottom. This helps the listener as well to negotiate Herwig's intriguing originals. The pieces range from the complex structures such as "The Dream Master" to the open jam on the minor-key blues, "Land of Shadow." Another shining entry into Herwig's impressive body of work."

to be continued in Conrad - Part 2

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Grant Green

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

I know I’ve shared this view before, but it bears repeating. Over the years, my enjoyment of Jazz has been considerably enhanced by the wise and thoughtful liner notes that graced the back of LPs or by the more recent insert notes that can be found in CD jewel cover booklets.

Initially, these liner notes made up for the dearth of books as a source of knowledge on the subject of Jazz when I first began listening to the music in the 1950s. Holding the jacket cover in hand while listening to the album, my eyes poured over what Ira Gitler or Nat Hentoff or Leonard Feather, to name only a few of my early “mentors,” had to say about the music that was filling my ears and my heart with pleasure.

Since I was also a student of the music for the purpose of wanting to become a Jazz musician myself during those early days, I was especially intrigued by writers that explained song structures, chord sequences and, especially, anything to do with rhythmic patterns or time signatures since these were particularly important to an aspiring, young Jazz drummer.

It is safe to say that I owe an immense debt of gratitude to Doug Ramsey, Whitney Balliett, Jack Tracy and others for helping me to learn and to appreciate more about the music that I have been in love with since I first heard it over 50 years ago.

And because my appreciation of Jazz benefited so greatly from the information and knowledge that I gleaned from the writers of the annotations, comments and explanations that appear on album covers and CD booklets, I have decided to repay the favor with the inclusion of and reliance on these materials in many of the pieces that are prepared for Jazz Profiles.
So when, to my immense delight, I found that the insert notes to the Grant Green: Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark [Blue Note CDP 7243 8 57194 2 4] had not one, but three different sets of insert notes, and that these were by the likes of Ben Sidran, Michael Cuscuna and Bob Porter, the decision to prepare a piece using their remarks on this recording became axiomatic.

As a point in passing, for reasons explained in these notes, Grant Green recorded so often and produced such an abundance of riches for Blue Note that these sides with Sonny Clark were not issued until 1979 – 1980, when most of the music on this 2 CD set was released as three, separate LP’s.

First up are Ben Sidran’s notes to that portion of these tracks that comprised the 1980 Blue Note album Nigeria [LT 1032].
“TIME passes. What was fresh and important recedes under the collected weight of new fresh and important stuff. Enough time has passed since this collection was recorded that a lot of people reading these notes and hearing this music weren't even born on that winter day in 1962 when Grant Green went into the studio.

Back in 1962, Grant's guitar voice was one of the sparkling new additions to a musical universe that seemed to be expanding exponentially. It's hard to imagine-or even to remember- just how explosive the jazz scene was then, particularly in light of the mechanical music which has flourished these last ten years. One indication of the scene then might be the wealth of previously unreleased material, such as this record which is only now showing up in the stores. When Grant came to New York, he walked on to a stage crowded with stars. And he shone with the best of them.

He didn't blaze a trail to the city. He followed a more comfortable path, arriving to join Lou Donaldson's band in 1960. Some compared his hollow-bodied guitar style to that of the earliest pioneer, Charlie Christian. One also hears touches of that other great popularizer, Les Paul. For while Grant was not a radical player, he excelled at the basics and subtleties: he could swing like crazy and he played the prettiest phrases. Grant Green made esoteric music easy for the average listener to get to, just as jazz singers have done for years. Grant Green was a popularizer and a singer on his instrument.

Perhaps the greatest testament to his musical gift was that at a time when the guitar had fallen out of favor, suddenly, Grant Green could be heard everywhere, recording with several of the finest rhythm sections in New York. Within a year of his arrival in the city, he recorded three albums as a leader, featuring a rhythm section of Sonny Clark on piano. Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. Those albums, "Gooden's Corner," 'Oleo,” and "Born To be Blue," have only recently been released on Blue Note in Japan. This album, "Nigeria," falls in the middle of that period of time and has Art Blakey in place of Louis Hayes. It is the only time that Blakey and Green ever recorded together.
Grant was a simple, elegant stylist. When he played a melody, with that kind of dressed-up strut, it was a reminder of just how classy bebop could sound. His interpretation of the title track "Airegin" (ingeniously encoded backwards to ward off the uninitiated) is no exception. It is interesting to note that in the early sixties, Grant performed and recorded an unusually large number of Sonny Rollins tunes, including "Solid ' " "Oleo " "Sonnymoon For Two," and, of course, "Airegin." After Grant states the head Sonny Clark hits one of his patented full keyboard slides and then strolls for a chorus while Blakey gets the groove settled Yawn. Sonny 's solo is a swinging compliment to Grant's, ignoring Green’s reference to 'When Lights Are Low" and turning the spotlight full up on the flowing snakes that were his specialty. Sonny, who had worked with both Rollins and singer Dinah Washington during the late fifties, is able to play both sides of the street here; he acts as the ideal accompanist to Grant's vocalized guitar work.

For my money, the highlight of the album is the stylized arrangement of "It Ain't Necessarily So." Blakey puts down a 12/8 Latin feel, and Grant plays the head in a totally unexpected series of phrases, altering the original melody to such an extent that he might well have called the song "So It Ain't Necessarily" and taken the publishing for himself. But it is the endlessly good groove that is the star of the cut. Interspersed with Blakey's press rolls, this fat-back groove - like those Art played on innumerable Jimmy Smith jam session dates - gets Grant all the way up on his toes. His tone is singing six different ways to Christmas, until he finally gets Blakey singing, for it is the drummer you hear shouting “whoa!” and grunting in response to Grant's precise preaching. By the time Sonny's solo arrives, Blakey is putting as much vocal into the overhead mikes as the cymbal. Clark seems to goad him on, and finally, when he’s taken is ninth chorus and seems read to turn it back to Grant, Blakey won’t let him go. You can hear Art laughing and shouting to Sonny, "No, go ahead, go ahead.” And go ahead he does, until Blakey finally turns him loose with an escalating series of strokes. As the song fades behind that Latin feel, I'm ready to do it all over.
Side two sounds as if it will open with Miles Davis' "Four" but after the classic bebop introduction, the song abruptly half-steps into a very polite "I Concentrate On You." The tension between the tip-toe lounge groove and the powerhouse bebop minds that are playing it is never really resolved, and that is part of the charm of the piece. Grant is so sweet when he plays the melody, but his choruses become bittersweet fast, and soon, he's skipping down some dark memory lane, concentrating hard on some private "you." The song goes out with a vamp reminiscent of a neither the introduction nor the song itself; altogether, a very curious arrangement.

"The Things We Did Lost Summer" also opens with a rather bizarre waltz section, but then settles down into a very delicate ballad. The attitude Grant maintains playing the melody - particularly the little chromatic insertion he uses at the end of the first bridge - is a lovely balance of the benign and the mischievous. This is Grant's power, as a soloist or stating a theme, and it is something great jazz singers like Johnny Hartman are also known for: there is no better way to grab a listener than to lull him into bliss and then grab him by what Lord Buckley used to call 'your most delicate gear."

The record closes with a flag-waver, 'The Song Is You," in which we are reassured that straight ahead is the direction to go. Blakey is once again singing in his mikes, and Sam Jones, God bless him, is walking and shaking his head, There are few things in life more pleasant than walking along with Sam Jones shaking your head.
Down home. Just folks. Kind of corny at times, but very hip. Grant Green was a perfect candidate for what today is called "cross-over hype," but back then was probably not called anything at all. Perhaps it was only natural that record companies would try to make Grant Green into a commercial product, a sow's ear out of a silk purse, as it were. I don't know how or why he turned from the hard, low life grooves he used to spark, towards the cocktail lounge which surely sealed his obscurity by the time he died in early 1979. Often, commercial pressures overwhelm players. After all, they are only musicians,, not lawyers and accountants that's why we buy records. If lawyers and accountants made records, nobody would buy them. At least, that used to be true, and it may be part of the reason why Grant didn't make a major mark on the music scene during the lost years of his life.

I, for one, kept looking for him around every corner, particularly as various guitar players, like Gabor Szabo, or George Benson, or even Eric Gale, would pop into prominence. I kept waiting for Grant to make his move. Unfortunately, his best recorded moves are those from more than fifteen years ago, when he truly was a fresh and important face on what may be the wildest contemporary jazz scene we'll ever know.”

-BEN SIDRAN 1980, original liner notes from "Nigeria”

And here are Michael Cuscuna’s comments from the 1980 Japanese Blue Note release – Gooden’s Corner.
“THE tragedy of Grant Green's death in early 1979 was compounded by the fact that his recorded output for the last decade or more of his life was, for the most part, commercial, uncreative and lacking in individuality. He deserved better, but the economics of keeping a bond working and holding down a record contract forced him into situations far below his talent.

Fortunately, Blue Note thoroughly documented his artistry on a number of sessions under Grant's leadership in the early sixties. Moreover, he was the resident guitarist for Blue Note's stable of premier organists such as Jimmy Smith, John Patton and Larry Young and participated in dates by Lee Morgan, Horace Parlan, Don Wilkerson, Lou Donaldson and others.

Unknown outside of his hometown St. Louis except through his Delmark recordings with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, Grant was brought to the label and to New York in 1960 by Lou Donaldson. Blue Note always operated on a family basis, developing an impressive, cross-fertilizing repertory group of musicians. Grant was quickly and fully instated in mid 1960.

Green represented not only a fresh, vibrant new voice on an instrument that had become rather sleepy in style in the fifties, but he was also a major link with the all too often neglected pioneer of the hollow body electric guitar in jazz, Charlie Christian. Grant executed bright, clean lines that never fully abandoned the melody, emphasized concise, linear, single note improvisations and possessed a unique rhythmic momentum that remains unmatched. He absorbed Christian, then bypassed such heroes of the day as Tal Farlow, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery and moved directly to the formation of his own identity.

This album "Gooden's Corner", recorded on December 23, 1961, features a beautifully compatible quartet of Grant, pianist Sonny Clark', bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes. Ike Quebec joined the group for one tune 'Count Every Star", which was then extracted and used on Quebec's album “Blue And Sentimental” (Blue Note BST 94098). The rest of the session, previously unissued and without Quebec, is presented here in its entirety.

This particular quartet had a run of sessions for Blue Note under Grant's name, all they all remain unissued. On January 13, 1962, the band with Art Blakey subbing for Hayes recorded. On January 31 the quartet with Hayes back again recorded yet another album. And finally on March 1, 1962, the same group, this time with Quebec playing throughout the session, made yet another album's worth of material. Why these dates were never issued will never be known. Most likely, it is because Grant, like other Blue Note artists, recorded prolifically during these years, and there was just no way to get everything released.
As this set bears out, the Green-Clark-Jones-Hayes combination is completely compatible and comfortable. Each man has an easy, natural sense of swinging that interlocks perfectly with his fellow musicians.

Sam Jones has been previously present on a handful of Blue Note dates, led for the most part by another guitarist Kenny Burrell. Louis Hayes was a familiar face at the label through his long term membership in Horace Silver's quintet and his frequent sideman appearances with Curtis Fuller and other Blue Note artists. From the fall of 1959 well into the mid sixties, Jones and Hayes were the pivot of Cannonball Adderley's successful band. They had been together in that capacity for more than two years when this album was recorded, and their empathy is clearly evident.

Although none of the Green dates with Sonny Clark at the piano have ever been issued, their pairing was a natural. Both men possessed the ability to swing hard in an effortless, instinctive manner. Clark is his usual brilliant self here, adding richly to the group texture and urging Grant on with some inspired comping. His solo work is typically two-handed, cooking and always interesting.
It is a testament to Grant Green that he can breath such life into On Green Dolphin Street and What is This Thing Called Love as well as the overdone Henry Mancini hit of the day Moon River. He swings on What Is This Thing ... like no one else on his instrument could. And Moon River is a perfect example of his ability to construct a solo using the tune's melody as the substance of his variations. His rhythmic sense is best illustrated on Shadrack.

Grant contributes two originals, Gooden's Corner and Two For One. Gooden's Corner is a solid blues, given an irresistible performance by the entire group. Two For One, not to be confused with the Sonny Clark tune of the same name, is based on Miles Davis' modal So What, but after the theme, Grant breaks into some straight ahead playing.

This album is a lovely freeze frame in the career of one of the foremost guitarists of modern jazz, a man whom we lost to the commercial world in the late sixties and whom we lost forever in 1979.

-MICHAEL CUSCUNA 1979, original liner notes from "Gooden’s Corner"

We close this piece with Bob Porter’s 1980 original liner notes from Oleo.

“THE business of jazz is extremely difficult to describe to someone not involved in it. Most fans are aware of the qualities that make a great jazz musician: an individual sound; the ability to improvise melodically ("telling a story," in Lester Young's phrase); to swing, etc. There are any number of great jazz musicians who may be deficient in one of these areas, but generally they make up for it by doing one of the other things much better than other players. Yet in all this discussion, there has been no mention of playing melody. Name me a great jazzman who couldn't take a melody and make it uniquely his own.

Grant Green was widely known for his ability to play melodies. It didn't really matter what kind of melodies because Grant could do Latin tunes (see Blue Note 84111 - The Latin Bit); Gospel songs (Blue Note 84132 - Feelin' The Spirit); Western melodies (Blue Note 84310- Goin' West) as well as standards, blues, or jazz tunes. he had a great guitar sound and knew instinctively how to make melodies come alive.

Grant really arrived in 1961. He had made records in 1959 with his hometown friend, Jimmy Forrest, for Delmark and the following year he recorded with organist Sam Lazar, another St. Louis musician, for Argo. but when Lou Donaldson heard him playing in East St. Louis, he convinced Grant and clubowner Leo Gooden to come to New York and talk with Alfred Lion of Blue Note. From 1961 through 1965, Grant Green made more Blue Note lps as leader and sideman than anyone else. Clearly, he was a favorite, not only of Lion, but of Ike Quebec who did much of the A&R work for Blue Note until his death in 1963.

Considering Grant's versatility, it is not unusual that Blue Note used him in a variety of contexts: Herbie Hancock, Lee Morgan, John Patton, Lou Donaldson, Ike Quebec.

At a time when Down Beat was still giving New Star awards, Grant won in 1962. but critical raves have never helped in earning a living. Grant worked often with Jack McDuff during those early years, and was really scuffling for money. In addition to everything else, Grant had a narcotics habit. Now it may be hard to understand in the jazz world of 1979 when musicians, have generally learned to avoid the excesses of heroin and get their business together, but jazz players were very low in the economic strata of the early 60s, and one consistent source of revenue was the record company. It seems likely that Blue Note recorded Grant frequently during those years because he was always drawing money from Blue Note. Grant did at least six LP sessions under his won leadership for Blue Note in 1961. The furious recording pace continued right into 1965, and try as they might, Blue Note could never issue the LPs as fast as Grant could record them!

In a sense, Grant's situation and that of Sonny Clark were similar. They had the identical problems and each was a Blue Note favorite.
The initial pairing of these two talents came just before Christmas, 1961, and resulted in the album, Gooden's Corner. Sam Jones and Louis Hayes were still members of Cannonball Adderley's band at the time, and their appearance together is another reminder of Blue Note's care in assembling rhythm sections. Alfred Lion's choice of bass and drums almost always reflected an ability to play together in support of the leader, rather than to demonstrate individual brilliance.

The tunes played here are not unusual for Grant, although it should be noted that he had an attraction for Sonny Rollins lines. He also recorded "Solid' and "Sonnymoon For Two" during this period. A later version of 'My Favorite Things" was issued on the Matador album.

Grant never does get the tricky theme of "Oleo" exactly right, but it doesn't deter him from fashioning a solo of lightening-like inventiveness. Sonny Clark has always been considered a disciple of Bud Powell and perhaps the chief reason for that is the dynamic flow of his ideas. When playing standards, he sometimes would adopt a lighter touch (reminding one of Hank Jones in his delicacy), but his work throughout this session is in the cooking Powell mode.

If Grant has problems with "Oleo", he has none with "Tune Up." The melody, introduced and long-credited to Miles Davis, was actually written by saxophonist-bluesman Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, who gave the tune to Davis during a period when he – Vinson - was not recording. Virtually the some thing happened with another Vinson compositions, "Four."

Green was always at home with the blues and "Hip Funk" is his adoption of the classic form that was definitely hip (meaning fashionable) for 1962. Sonny Clark was also a blues master as his work ably demonstrates.
Hearing the music on this album (and Gooden's Corner) makes one immediately interested in hearing more. Alas, there is no more by the quartet, but a bit more than a month later, these same four players joined forces with Ike Quebec for an album that will be forthcoming on Blue Note [Blue and Sentimental].

Between 1965 and 1968, Green was still active as a performer, but his recorded appearances were few. When he returned to Blue Note in 1969, he had rid himself of the narcotics problem, but had acquired a new attitude toward music. The huge success of Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, and George Benson was very much on his mind. He considered himself the musical equal of all of them, yet he was the only one not to have made a significant commercial breakthrough.

His repertoire tended more toward rhythm & blues during his late Blue Note period. He would use repetitive vamps rather than chord changes as harmonic underpinning and his attention to phrasing melodies (always an outstanding feature of his work) become even more pronounced. And the commercial break happened for him! From 1969 to mid-1974, his Blue Note LPs were consistent best sellers and he was a popular attraction at clubs across the USA. He split with Blue Note shortly thereafter and made an LP for Kudu and another for Versatile.

Grant spent much of 1978 in the hospital with a variety of ailments, and he was not a well man when released in December, 1978. His doctors advised him to rest, but there were expenses to meet, so he went back on the road almost immediately. He died of a heart attack on January 31, 1979 - seventeen years to the day of this recording.

During 1969 and 1970 when I was producing records for Prestige, I got to know Grant Green well. He played on albums with Rusty Bryant, Don Patterson, Charles Kynard, and Houston Person which I supervised. I used to marvel at the ease with which this man with enormous hands could make that guitar sing. At one session, during a break, he treated everyone to a solo rendition of "Oleo" which was stunning. After his death, I thought many times of how his career would be judged by historians, since so much of his later recordings were in a commercial vein. But with albums such as Matador, Gooden's Corner, and now Oleo, his stature is assured. Without question, Grant Green was one of the major artists on the guitar during his lifetime. His friend, Lou Donaldson, put it best when he said:

"All the top guitarists who came later - like George Benson and Pat Martino - they've got some of Grant's stuff."

BOB PORTER 1980, original liner notes from “Oleo"