Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ronnie Cuber - Boffo Baritone Saxophonist

After our recent postings on baritone saxophonists Rik van den Bergh and the late, Bob Gordon, an internet friend wrote me and suggested that I continue in this vein with a feature on Ronnie Cuber.

I had published a piece about Ronnie in September, 2010, but it languished in the blog archives due to a series of technical problems that have now been corrected; hence its re-posting.

As both my Jazz buddy and Scott Yanow have noted [see below], Ronnie made a number of recordings for Xanadu in the 1970's. Unfortunately, it does not appear as though these have been reissued on CD.

I've used a track from one of Ronnie's Xanadu LP's on our video tribute to the art of Jazz baritone saxophone which I have embedded in this profile.

Each time I hear Ronnie’s baritone playing, I am impressed with his easy facility in getting around such a cumbersome instrument and how fluid he is in being able to express his ideas on such a gigantic "axe" [musician speak for instrument].

I have always found him to be a joy to listen to.

After reviewing this profile about him, I hope you’ll get to know his music so that you can feel that way, too.

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

“A powerful baritonist in the tradition of Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber has been making excellent records for over 20 years. He was in Marshall Brown's Newport Youth Band at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival and was featured with the groups of Slide Hampton (1962), Maynard Ferguson (1963-65) and George Benson (1966-67). 
After stints with Lionel Hampton (1968), Woody Herman's Orchestra (1969) and as a freelancer, he recorded a series of fine albums (both as a leader and as a sideman) for Xanadu and performed with Lee Konitz's nonet (1977-79). 

In the mid-'80s Cuber recorded for Projazz (in both straight-ahead and R and B-ish settings), in the early '90s he headed dates for Fresh Sound and SteepleChase and Cuber performed regularly with the Mingus Big Band.”
 - Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide

I have been intrigued by the sound of the baritone saxophone ever since I first discovered it while listening to Harry Carney growl out a few notes on it during a Duke Ellington arrangement of Indian Summer.

However, Harry didn’t solo much and if he did, these were not on my meager holdings of Ellington records.

The first time I heard the instrument extensively soloed was on the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet Pacific Jazz recordings of the early 1950s that featured Chet Baker on trumpet. Because of them, I became accustomed to hearing the lighter, more airy or reedy sound that Mulligan produced on the baritone saxophone.

As a result, it was quite a shock when I first encountered the deeper and more dense tone that Pepper and other baritone saxophonists whom he influenced such as Gary Smulyan, Nick Brignola and Ronnie Cuber, to name only a few.

In a way, the sound they achieve on the baritone saxophone is a throwback to Harry Carney’s gravely tone wherein the notes seem to be barked and blurted out of the instrument as compared to being airily nudged out in the Mulligan sound.

Given the vast amount of air that has to be pushed through this huge horn to make a sound, listening to the rapid flow of improvised ideas that they produce on the baritone sax, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that these guys are an amazingly talented bunch of musicians.

To give you a taste of Ronnie's playing during his formative years, I’ve used his version of Dizzy Gillespie's Tin Tin Deo from his Xanadu Cuber Libre LP [#135] as the audio track to the following video dedicated to The Art of the Baritone Saxophone. Ronnie's playing on this track is an excellent example of his take-no-prisoners approach to Jazz improvising. He is joined by Barry Harris on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums.

And here’s another video that will afford you with the opportunity to hear more of Ronnie’s terrific baritone saxophone work.  This time the context is The Netherlands Metropole Orchestra’s tribute to the music of the late Charles Mingus. The tune is Mingus’ O.P.which is dedicated to the famous bassist, Oscar Pettiford.  Randy Brecker on trumpet and Conrad Herwig on trombone join with Ronnie as key soloists. The arrangement is by Ilja Reijngoud and John Clayton conducts the orchestra. The concert, which took place in Amsterdam on April 25, 2009, unfortunately has not been released as a commercial CD.

We thought that you might also be interested in this more detailed overview of Ronnie's career as excerpted from the Concord Music Group’s website.

© -Concord Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Ronnie Cuber’s name has drifted in and out of prominence over the past three decades, but the distinctive sound of his baritone sax has never been out of earshot. From his early, high-profile role in guitarist George Benson’s quartet in the mid-1960s, through gigs with King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, and Eddie Palmieri at the dawn of the ‘70s, Cuber first fashioned a solo recording career with a pair of sterling straightahead albums for Xanadu in 1976 and ‘77. Since then, his own recordings—for such labels as Dire, King, Electric Bird, SteepleChase, and ProJazz—have been less readily accessible than the work he has done with other musicians, including Steve Gadd, Mike Mainieri, Frank Sinatra, Lee Konitz, the J. Geils Band, Paul Simon, Donald Fagen, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, Curtis Mayfeld, and the Saturday Night Live Band.

All of that adds up to the proverbial Talent Deserving Wider Recognition, a Down Beat award that the reed virtuoso won early in his career; the release of his Milestone debut, The Scene Is Clean, should refocus that recognition on this hard-working, relentlessly creative musician.

Cuber’s musical odyssey began in 
Brooklyn, where he was born on Christmas Day, 1941, into a large family in which virtually everyone was a musician. His uncle played drums and violin, his mother played piano, and his father played accordion at Polish weddings. At the age of seven, Ronnie was learning clarinet, leading to training at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. He switched to tenor saxophone in high school and took up baritone almost by accident in 1959, when he auditioned for the Newport Youth Band. The orchestra needed a baritone player and director Marshall Brown felt Cuber could handle the job, so he bought the young musician his first bari and settled him into a band that also featured Eddie Gomez, Nat Pavone, and Larry Rosen (later the “R” in GRP).

“I didn’t begin with a strong identification with the instrument,” Cuber recalls, “but it wasn’t like I had a powerful association with the tenor at that time, either. When I did get the offer to play baritone, I had been hanging out with kids who were all into the hard-bop, Blue Note kind of sound—Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins, early John Coltrane, Pepper Adams with Donald Byrd—so I kind of modeled myself after Pepper. It was a couple of years later on down the line that I realized that I had my own thing going, that I was developing my own voice.”

Cuber’s baritone gifts were immediately in demand. In the early ‘60s, he hit the road with the big bands of Lionel Hampton and Maynard Ferguson. He was jamming frequently with such players as Dannie Richmond, Henry Grimes, Chick Corea, and Walter Davis, Jr., when the invitation came to play with George Benson, who had just brought his organ trio from 
Pennsylvania to New York. “There were a lot of organ groups with tenor, guitar, and drums,” Cuber remembers, “but it was different to have a baritone in the front line. I was getting more solo space and much more freedom than I’d had playing in the big bands and I kind of stood out.”

After two years with Benson, Cuber forged a pair of affiliations with lasting impacts on his career. His association with soul tenor giant King Curtis not only put him on stage with the contemporary giants of R and B, but led to consistent studio recording work, a bread-and-butter facet of Cuber’s career ever since. And his close relationship with Latin music legend Eddie Palmieri imparted an indelible influence on Cuber’s music, an influence that can be heard throughout The Scene Is Clean—in the crackling Latin percussion of Manolo Badrena and Milton Cardona, and on the authoritative version of Palmieri’s famous composition “Adoración.”

Throughout this eclectic history, Cuber was always honing a style that has given him a unique, identifiable sound on his main horn, including an unusual facility in the upper “altissimo” register. “A lot of my blowing actually comes less out of Pepper Adams and other bari players and more out of a mixture of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane,” be explains. “Some of it even goes back to Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ 
Davis.” Because of Cuber’s virtually nonstop work with other people (add Bobby Paunetto, Mickey Tucker, Sam Noto, Rein de Graaff, and innumerable commercial sessions to the credits mentioned above), his sound has only occasionally exploded onto his own recordings. “Back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s,” he says, “disco was at its height and I was in the studio six or seven hours a day, and a minimum of three times a week. Disco drying up kind of forced me into doing more of my own thing, including getting a group together to play the Newport Kool Festival in 1980, and touring Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong.”

Although he still answers the calls for his highly sought-after studio skills, Cuber relishes the idea of making his presence felt again as a recording and performing artist in his own right. He conceived of The Scene Is Clean as “a combination of everything that I like to do,” from the return to the organ combo sound (with Joey DeFrancesco appearing on “Flamingo” and the Richard Tee tribute “Tee’s Bag”) through the updated hard-bop jazz bossa of “The Scene Is Clean” (“I did a lot of research to find a tune that had not been overdone from that era and I happened to hear it on an old Max Roach–Clifford Brown album”), to the impassioned “Song for Pharoah” and the bountiful servings of Afro-Cuban rhythms and colors, as on Eddie Palmieri’s “Adoración”: “It has a very beautiful melody that I always thought would be great to play on my horn as an instrumental,” Cuber says. “It turned out to be a great tune for the album.”

And The Scene Is Clean will undoubtedly turn out to be another big boost for Cuber’s identification as a major figure in modern jazz. “If I had gone straight ahead and done my own thing and turned down all the studio work that came my way,” he acknowledges, “I probably would have been much further along the way as a leader. So I’ve kind of picked up where I left off, and it feels great.”

Here's Ronnie's interpretation of Eddie Palmieri's Adoración. I dare you not to shake your booty on this one.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bob Gordon – Baritone Blues

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

Bob Gordon, another sideman on the [Clifford] Brown sessions for Pacific Jazz, also might have made a major impact on West Coast jazz under different circumstances. A driving and creative baritone saxophonist, Gordon had created a distinctive style that stood out from the then predominant influ­ence of Gerry Mulligan. Indeed, Gordon drew mostly on influences out­side the baritone tradition. When he was asked by Leonard Feather, as part of the latter's research for his Encyclopedia of Jazz, to cite his favorite musicians on his instrument, he mentioned session mates Zoot Sims and Jack Montrose.

Born in St. Louis on June 11, 1928, Gordon came to Los Angeles in 1948 to study at the Westlake College of Music. In the early 19505 he participated in a series of successful recordings as a sideman for various West Coast jazz luminaries, including Chet Baker, Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers, Red Norvo, Pete Rugolo, Bill Holman, and Maynard Ferguson. In May 1954, only a few weeks before the sessions with Clifford Brown, Gordon recorded as a leader for Pacific Jazz.

The resulting album, Meet Mr. Gordon, showed that the young baritonist was on the brink of emerg­ing as a major voice in the Southern California jazz scene. A short while later Downbeat awarded him its New Star Award on baritone sax. On August 28, 1955, Gordon was killed in a car accident while driving to San Diego to appear in a concert with Pete Rugolo's band.”
- Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960

“The accidental death of Bob Gordon, August 29, 1955, … left a huge void [on the West Coast Jazz scene]. Gordon had from St. Louis to study at Westlake College in Hollywood. He started on alto sax because his first influence had been Charlie Parker.

But after listening to Miles Davis Capitol [aka Birth of the Cool] sessions with Gerry Mulligan these led to his discovery of the baritone, sax.

In adopting the baritone he had the wisdom not to disavow what he loved: ‘I can still find new things in the old records of Parker. Zoot Sims is also very important to me.’

Bob Gordon, whose sound was to remain very close to that of Mulligan, was certainly, by his ideas on the instrument, the best baritone of the time.”
- Alain Tercinet, West Coast Jazz [translation from the French is mine]

Bob Gordon was an inspiration to every jazz musician or aspirant who ever heard him play or was, perhaps, fortunate enough to share the bandstand with him; fortunate enough to partake of the fire that roared and the sparks that flew and the proclamations of the gods that sounded when he put his big horn to his lips and made the world abound with life and zest and unbounded love. For the world was a better place to live in when he played and perhaps this singular ability to make it so was in itself his greatest gift.

Bob Gordon was a natural musician and not the least bit revolutionary, at least intentionally. He gave not a hang for those whose prime objectives are to affect or deliberately perpetrate change. For his sole purpose in life was to express himself. To give forth with that power and perception which surged within him. These truly are the power and perception which surged within him. These truly are the seeds of progress and he knew it-I mean really knew it. It was not necessary for Bob Gordon to learn music for he was born with such equipment as one not so fortunately endowed could not hope to acquire in three lifetimes.

… The union of Bob Gordon and the baritone saxophone must have been decreed in Heaven for never have I viewed such rapport between the natural tendencies of a musical instrument and the mind of the man using it. I cannot imagine Bob Gordon using any other instrument-I mean any other instrument as a vehicle for expressing himself. He was a true baritone player not a converted alto or tenor or clarinet or what have you player: but a man who found that the low pitched, earthy, funky sound inherent in the horn suited him.

For Bob too, was earthy and funky and natural and honest.
For me Bob Gordon was more than just an inspiration—he was my other half and together we formed a musical whole. Our partnership has not ended, however, for his part is indelibly stamped upon my soul and the task is mine to carry on. For we understood one another and agreed completely. I am fortunate to have loved and been loved in return by one such as Bob Gordon. I also realize that the companionship and artistic rapport which we enjoyed were of such a nature as is not commonly experienced. I am fortunate and a better man for having known and loved Bob Gordon.”
—Jack Montrose, tenor saxophonist , composer, and arranger
(original liner notes Pacific Jazz 10” LP #12)

Lately, the editorial staff has had the pleasure of working with Gordon Jack who is the author of  – Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective [Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004].

It is a book which grows in importance as a primary reference for West Coast Jazz with each passing decade along with Bob Gordon’s Jazz West Coast and the books on the subject by Ted Gioia and Alain Tercinet cited in the opening quotations.

Gordon writes regularly for Jazz Journal and he granted the editorial staff at JazzProfiles copyright permission to use the following essay on baritone saxophonist Bob Gordon which first appeared in that publication.

Gordon Jack’s writings about Bob along with the opening statements about Bob Gordon’s significance by authors Ted Gioia, Alain Tercinet and his close musical associate, Jack Montrose, will help you place Bob Gordon in the context of this style of music should you be unfamiliar with him.

These comments will also shed some light on why I subtitled this piece about Bob – “Baritone Blues.”

Order information regarding Jazz Journal is available at

© -  Gordon Jack/Jazz Journal, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Many baritone players gravitate to the instrument via the alto saxophone possibly because the transposition - one and half tones below concert pitch - is the same.

Bob Gordon’s instrumental journey was a similar one and his decision to concentrate on the larger horn was celebrated by his long-time colleague and friend Jack Montrose - “The union of Bob and the baritone saxophone must have been decreed in heaven. I cannot imagine him using any other instrument as a vehicle for expressing himself. I have never seen such rapport between the natural tendencies of a musical instrument and the mind of the man using it”. When they met in the late forties Gordon’s association with the baritone had become a permanent feature of the Californian jazz scene, although his high-school instrument had been the alto.

He was born in St .Louis, Missouri on June 11th. 1928 and moved to Los Angeles 20 years later where he graduated from the Westlake College of Music. After hearing Gerry Mulligan with the Miles Davis nonet he bought a Conn baritone and started sitting-in at clubs around town like the Showtime on Ventura Boulevard where trombonist Herbie Harper held court. For the next three years he worked in Los Angeles and San Francisco with Alvino Rey’s band which for a time included Harper, Jerry Dodgion, Paul Desmond, Dick Collins and Herb Barman. (Dodgion who played lead alto remembered Gordon as an “Excellent jazz baritone player who also sang.”)

For a few months early in1952 he and Jack Montrose were members of John Kirby’s final group, a sextet playing for dancers at the Five-Four Ballroom on 54th. and Broadway. Mulligan’s girl-friend Gail Madden worked as a photographer there and he used to sit-in with them every night when he came to pick her up. Montrose once told me, “Gerry had a great sound but Bob’s was even better.”

In the early part of 1953 Montrose was leading an experimental seven piece group which included Gordon, Herb Geller, Bill Perkins, Stu Williamson and a somewhat forgotten tenor player Dave Madden who had worked with Woody Herman and Harry James. (He and Gail Madden had previously been an ‘item’ although they never married. Gail also had a long-term relationship with arranger Bob Graettinger). They occasionally worked opposite Mulligan’s quartet at the Haig and in December 1953 Dick Bock recorded Chet Baker with Jack’s group for Pacific Jazz. The album has subsequently been reissued with five alternate takes including additional Gordon solos on Bockhanal and A Dandy Line (Pacific Jazz 7243 5 79972). 1953 was also the year he made a very brief appearance in the film ‘The Glass Wall’ which had music by Leith Stevens and Shorty Rogers.

George Redman was the drummer with the Harry Zimmerman orchestra on the Dinah Shore TV show. He also had a very popular small group that played six nights a week in dance halls like The Summit and The Madelon on Sunset Strip. It was usually one horn plus rhythm and Bob Gordon alternated with Bill Perkins or Bud Shank as the soloist. A fine example of Redman’s work can be found on a 1954 album where he fronts a group featuring Harper, Gordon, Maurey Dell and Don Prell (LHJ 10126).  Pianist Maurey Dell will be unfamiliar to many in a jazz context because he worked almost exclusively with singers and comedians like George Burns. Bassist Don Prell eventually joined the San Francisco symphony but Redman who was also a well known pool shark mysteriously disappeared from the Hollywood scene in the mid fifties.

In February 1954 Bob was part of an all-star group including Bud Shank, Bob Cooper and Maynard Ferguson that recorded two titles for the Emarcy label. It is an extrovert blowing session with Bob’s longest solos on record – Night Letter and Somebody Loves Me (FSR CD 383). In an interview for Jazz Journal Shank told me that Bob Gordon was his closest personal friend and whenever Bud recorded on baritone which was quite often in the fifties, his sound and approach seemed to reflect Gordon’s. I find Shank’s baritone playing more expressive and satisfying than his alto work at that time probably because of Gordon’s influence.

Three months later he recorded the only album under his own name for Pacific Jazz – Meet Mr. Gordon (Pacific Jazz 7243 4 93161 2 6). Montrose arranged all the material and the rhythm section featured Joe Mondragon, Paul Moer and Bob’s friend from St. Louis, Billy Schneider on drums. The latter is an obscure figure now but he had studied and worked with Lennie Tristano in New York. One of many highlights here is Bob’s tender statement on For Sue, a moving ballad dedicated to his wife.

In July 1954 he was selected with Zoot Sims, Stu Williamson, Russ Freeman and Mondragon to record with the brilliant young trumpeter Clifford Brown (Pacific Jazz 5 32142 2 CD). Once again all the charts were written by Montrose who by this time was almost Dick Bock’s house arranger. Max Roach had been booked but he got into a money dispute with Bock, so master percussionist Shelly Manne took his place although this would not have gone down too well with Gordon. Apparently he did not care for Manne’s playing which sometimes led to arguments on record dates. Bob was a powerful and aggressive player and he preferred powerful and aggressive drummers like Philly Joe Jones and Art Mardigan. Someone else he did not get along with was Art Pepper who was unpopular with others too. Pepper and Joe Maini nearly came to blows once at an after-hours club on Hollywood Boulevard where Bill Holman had the resident group.

By 1955 he was established as the first-call baritone player in L.A., benefiting from all the recording activity created by the popularity of the new school of West Coast Jazz. Gerard J. Hoogeveen’s excellent 1987 discography lists 23 record dates for the year in what was a busy and productive time as he performed with Pete Rugolo, Zoot Sims, Lennie Niehaus, Duane Tatro, Dave Pell, Maynard Ferguson, Jack Millman, Don Fagerquist, June Christy, Tal Farlow and Jack Montrose. It was also the year DownBeat recognised his immense talent when the magazine voted him the ‘New Star’ on baritone.

He thrived whatever the context - extrovert blowing sessions with George Redman, Herbie Harper and Maynard Ferguson, dance albums with Dave Pell’s octet and
especially in the interpretation of Jack Montrose’s complex charts with their academic but swinging explorations of fugues and canons. Given the opportunity his huge, ebullient and at all times soulful sound would have been particularly effective in the give-and-take of a Mingus ensemble.

On Sunday August 28th. 1955 Bob Gordon was killed in a traffic accident while on his way from Hollywood to San Diego for a Gene Norman concert featuring Pete Rugolo’s orchestra, Nat King Cole and June Christy. At the funeral Jack Montrose was told by Bob’s parents that his surname was actually Resnick although jazz reference books make no mention of this and it is unclear why he changed it. His widow wanted a band for the occasion so Jack Sheldon, Joe Maini, Bob Enevoldsen and Montrose performed Jack’s arrangement of Gordon Jenkins’s Good-Bye. Enevoldsen told me that under the circumstances this was almost impossible to perform. Montrose confirmed that he never missed anyone as much as he missed Bob Gordon.

The following year Leonard Feather commissioned a poll of leading musicians who were asked to nominate their favourite instrumentalists. The following voted for Bob in the ‘Baritone’ category - Georgie Auld, Al Cohn, Tal Farlow, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, Bill Holman, Howard Roberts, Frank Rosolino, Pete Rugolo, Bill Russo, Bud Shank and Cal Tjader.

Another example of how highly Bob Gordon was thought of by his fellow professionals can be found on the late Danny Bank’s website. Bank was probably the most recorded baritone player in history with over 400 sessions on Lord’s discography during a 53 year career. Danny included him along with Harry Carney and Jack Washington in a long list of personal favourites on the instrument.

Bob Gordon should never be forgotten and had he lived I feel he would have become the music’s primary voice on the baritone saxophone.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gary Foster: Revelations

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

In an earlier life, when the World was young, I wrote woodwind and reed player extraordinaire Gary Foster a “fan letter.”

It was occasioned by my attendance at a rehearsal of a community college big band. Gary was the orchestra’s musical director and my letter commented on the considerate and courteous way in which Gary put the band through its paces.

During the practice, he took the time to help individual players and/or sections of the band who were struggling with various parts of an arrangement, made numerous suggestions to improve the band’s attack and dynamics, and did so many other, little things to bring out the best in the band’s performance.

Most importantly, especially with young minds and personalities, Gary went about his business with a demeanor that was the epitome of civility.

Don’t get me wrong, Gary challenged the students. He didn’t put up with sloppy phrasing, bad intonation or inattention to detail [Did I mention that these were “young” musicians?].

But when he did make corrections and adjustments in their playing, he did so with explanation, direction and instruction and not with ridicule or mocking and abrasive criticism.

As a result, boy did that band roar.

Here’s this mild-mannered, Father Christmas looking guy holding this tiger by the tail.

Any of us who ever played in a big band should have been so lucky as to have Gary for a director and teacher.

In yet another, even earlier life, which I’m sure he’s forgotten about along with the fan letter, I played a few gigs with Gary.

I had returned from a year long visit to Asia courtesy of the US government and was working fairly regularly in a quartet led by alto saxophonist and flutist Fred Selden. The group also included pianist Milcho Leviev.

Around this time, Fred and Milcho were quite busy with the Don Ellis Orchestra and it was becoming increasingly common for them to send substitutes to gigs when they were out-of-town with Don’s band.

I was very impressed with Gary’s tone the first time I heard him play as it sounded much like the sub-tone used by Lee Konitz and Paul Desmond and less like the Bud Shank or Art Pepper tones I was used to while working with “West Coast” musicians.

Desmond kiddingly once described his tone as having “the sound of a dry martini.”

Not surprisingly, given Konitz’s and Desmond’s penchant for working with harmonically-oriented pianists such as Lennie Tristano and Dave Brubeck, respectively, Gary would become great chums with similarly oriented pianists Clare Fischer and Alan Broadbent over the course of his career.

Ever since I started the JazzProfiles blog, I’ve had it in mind to do a feature on Gary, but I just could not find a starting point.

In talking with a friend about Gary’s performance on a new Mark Masters CD – Everything You Did - a tribute to the music of Steely Dan [about which more in a future review] over coffee recently, he said: “Of course, you must be familiar with Gary’s recordings on the Revelation label?”

I said: “John William Hardy’s old label; the one that was based in Glendale, CA?”

To which my friend replied: “Yup, the very same.”

Gary, it seems, made five LP’s for Hardy’s label including one with Warne Marsh [Ne Plus Ultra Revelations #12], one on which he shares the leadership with Warne and Clare Fischer [Report of the 1st Annual Symposium on Relaxed Improvisation Revelation 17], and three under his own name: [1] Subconsciously [Revelation #5]; [2] Grand Cru Classe’ [Revelation #19]; Kansas City Connections [Revelation #48].

When I sheepishly admitted that I hadn’t heard any of Gary’s recordings for Revelation, my buddy offered to “… bring them to you the next time we get together for coffee.”

And so he did.

And in so doing, he finally unlocked a way that I was comfortable with for doing a feature on Gary and that is to take selected excerpts from John William Hardy’s liner notes to Gary’s Revelation recordings and to present them as a chronicle of highlights from Gary’s early career.

Let’s begin at the beginning with Subconsciously [Revelation #5]. Here are some are some of the things James William Hardy had to say about Gary work on this recording.

“GARY FOSTER, the 32 year old multi-instrumentalist whose work is the subject of this long-play recording, is not overdue as a jazz leader-soloist on record. Born in 1936 in Leavenworth. Kansas, his musical training and jazz experience have led him through a complex maze of developmental stages, esthetic re­organizations, and maturational crises. These might, in the past 10 years, have been recorded on phonograph disc to some discographical and musicological profit for the listener, but I think, having known and heard the artist through this period, that the present recording would have been the first one really worth owning and continuing to hear over a long period of time. Because Foster in the past few years has finally begun to stabilize his musical philos­ophy after a period of self-doubt and eclectic experimentation with sounds and forms not true to his innerself.

As a result, he now emerges as in important jazz voice, and one of only two saxo­phonists, the other being Jerry Coker, who has developed a thor­oughly personal expression that stems from the joint influences of Les Konitz, Warne Marsh (the Tristano School) and Clare Fischer. Like Coker, Fischer, and the Tristanoites, Foster is a thoroughly grounded classicist, as a clarinetist, whose jazz ex­perience dates from hit earliest musical activities and are an immutable part of the man's entire personality and art. Like them, he believes in a freedom of improvisational form that is under­pinned with discipline and a strong relationship to compositional structure. And tike them, he practices the production of a musk that is full of warmth, love, and grace, but that is simultaneously alive with a pulsing swing and the poignancy of a truly basic jazz feeling. There is economy in his work, but it often fairly bursts with ebullience in its multi-noted passages that does not in any way finished quality, a full, whole, confident character that belies its spontaneity.

I first met Gary Foster at the University of Kansas, where he transferred after two years at Central College, Fayette, Missouri. At Kansas Foster was enrolled in the music department, majoring in clarinet and in music education. I did not meet him in this capacity, but as a jazz musician who, along with tenorist Nathan Davis (now a popular ex-patriot musician in Germany), Carmell Jones, and pianist Jay Fisher (now a Chicago-based musician), was making the music scene in and around Lawrence a lively one indeed. That was in 1957. Graduated from Kansas, he had a year of teaching while attending graduate school, in which, in his second year he studied saxophone and clarinet while pursuing music his­tory studies. In 1961, Foster and family moved to the Los Angeles area during the short-lived rise in interest that jazz was to have there following the popular West Coast school reign in the fifties. The early 60"s were not the best years for a young white saxo­phonist to establish himself in an active jazz life.

Many people had just discovered Rollins and Trane. and the long overdue rise from obscurity for the L. A. negro jazz artist was in full progress. As justified as that was, it ironically sent to or kept many a promising white musician in the underground, unless he hustled himself into a harder form of playing that took advantage of the new interest in overt soul music and the extroverted proclamation of the blues. There was a short time when, without satisfactory employment. Gary experimented with "hardening" his approach. But as he and others knew, Foster was in no way suited to that style. Fortunately, he secured a position teaching music with Berry & Grassmueck Music Co. in Pasadena (where he now administrates the studios, conducts with Warne Marsh and others a subdivisional unit for jazz-oriented students, and teaches privately). And even more fortunately, he met, in 1962, pianist-composer Clare Fischer.

Shortly thereafter, he became a student of Fischer, who re-es­tablished the flagging confidence of his pupil in the validity of his approach to jazz and at the same time helped to formulate a more sensitive and intricate approach to improvisation which no previous influence had been able to accomplish. Fischer was an enthusiastic student and scholar of the Tristano saxophonists aforementioned, as well as a well-spring of compositional and executional theory that Gary soaked up like a sponge. Besides the student-teacher relationship, Fischer also occasionally offered Foster opportunities to record and play in public that he had been almost denied for his first year on the coast

The present record is not Foster's first, although it is the first to feature his extended jazz playing. Gary has been a mainstay of the reed sections on several Fischer big band recordings. For the discographer (almost he alone) Foster's very first appearance on LP was as a member of the college all-stars led by trumpeter Don Jacoby in I960 (MGM LP E3881— see Gary in the red sweater?) on which recording he plays all tenor solos. Gradually, in the mid-1960's Foster has become a sought after player in the studios and on Jazz and dance gigs alike, and, as these notes go to press, he spends important playing time in the quintet of Jimmy Rowles and a group led by Fischer.”

Next up for Gary on Revelation was an appearance with tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh on his LP entitled Warne Marsh [Ne Plus Ultra Revelations #12] about which John William Hardy had this to say.

“In the late 1940's. a couple of years after I had been run­ning through the stylistic influence of the late Bud Powell, I happened to be listening to a jazz program on radio. I had turned on the program in the middle of a recording and was completely taken aback by a cascading line of such utter complexity played by two saxophones that my jaw dropped in astonishment. This was Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, and what I heard represented to me a new level of development in jazz that I was soon to plunge into. It was a development that manifested a high degree of melodic construction and harmonic usage that seemed such a logical development of what had just proceeded it. Often the melodic involvement, with displaced accents, cross meters and the like, would be so complex that the idea of playing it in a strict sense of time would go out the window.

The average reaction of the Lick player at that point would be: ‘Well, — they play a lot of notes, but man, they don't swing!’ — Which might have been part of my reaction except for the fact that I loved the notes they were playing. (Nobody seems to get bugged with the opposite: ‘He sure swings, but he keeps playing the same licks or someone else's vocabulary.’)

About four years back. Warne Marsh moved back home to Los Angeles and shortly thereafter we started working to­gether in my band. Sometimes in the course of the evening our rhythm section would be roaring to the point that he would be forced to play over it. The Warne Marsh that came out then was something very different! In this album on Subconscious-lee I think you'll find him approaching this. You almost feel like accusing him of swinging. Heaven For­bid! If Warne is not listened to for the sheer sake of Warne, then relative judgment will get in your way and you'll miss the point.

Gary Foster joined all this as a second generation orienta­tion and as a result you will find his playing much more metrically oriented. Still, together the two have honed these lines, these fingerbusting lines, to the point that in many in­stances they are played at a faster tempo than the originals. I think the best examples of Gary's playing are contained in the free piece that follows Subconscious-Lee and on 317 E. 32nd (based on the chord changes of "Out of Nowhere").

Many might mutter, ‘His tone is Konitz oriented’ and con­sider that a criticism. I find that irrelevant considering how well he plays und that I've had to listen for over twenty years to dozens of alto saxophonists trying to sound like Charlie Parker. Few succeeded…..”

Gary’s third recording for Revelation was in essence a leaderless session entitled Warne Marsh, Clare Fischer and Gary Foster Report of the 1st Annual Symposium on Relaxed Improvisation [Revelation 17]. In his notes, John William Hardy explains the title’s context this way:

“Here is a session—in the best sense of the word. What is occasionally known as ‘Live!’ is usually no liver-er than a studio. The program is preplanned and the formality of the hall (or studio) establishes a context to be conformed to. The situation on 9 May 1972, in Clare Fischer's living room in Van Nuys, was much different. The music was allowed to create its own context. There was no leader—only an agree­ment that all participants would arrive about 7:00 p.m. and enjoy themselves—eating, drinking, playing, talking and re­laxing. Pete Welding and I set up the little Stellavox Sp-7 recorder, distributed some microphones and set forth to moni­tor the musical proceedings as they occurred. We made only a general effort to turn on the tape when the music started and nobody worried whether we had or not or whether a selection would finish before the tape ran out. There were certainly no second takes—or takes at all in the accepted sense. Just players, playing. Sometimes selections were dis­cussed and sometimes somebody just started playing, the chords were spelled out obviously for those unfamiliar in the first chorus, and then the thing went forward.”

Mr. Hardy steps aside as the annotator for Gary’s fourth Revelations LP - Grand Cru Classe’ [Revelation #19]- in favor of Michael James who in 1973 was described on the liner notes as a “… distinguished British Jazz Critic and frequent contributor to The Jazz Monthly.

Of Gary’s music, Mr. James observed:

“… Foster, both in this collection and the one which preceded it, indicates certain cardinal features of his approach.  … Foster has evinced a strong commitment to ortho­dox if complex chordal structures, and, as J.W. Hardy notes, thinks chordally better than most wind instrumentalists.  … [One of] Foster's [preferred] methods of expres­sion is a type of melodic density that sets them in a class apart from hackneyed blues riffs or ostensible originals hasti­ly thrown together just for economic convenience. As an illustration of this quality can be found in Foster's own comments on Bill Evans's Tune for a Lyric. ‘Melodically and harmonically it appeals to me,’ he says, ‘in the way it seems to evolve in a “through” composed man­ner. The repeat scheme is not so purely geometric as it is in many jazz tunes and the end of the song keeps delaying its inevitability in a way I really find enticing.’

Foster, then, in his continuing affiliation to established methods of extemporization and in his enthusiasm for melodically intricate lines braced by harmonic structures of con­siderable substance, may be viewed as something of a musical conservative in an era which has seen numerous players dis­carding, sometimes, one feels, in too doctrinaire a manner, conventions that had governed jazz improvising, until 1960 or thereabouts, for upwards of three decades. Yet in so far as that description evokes a hidebound, unadventurous spirit rather than an artist who seeks to retain and build upon the distilled wisdom of earlier generations, it is hopelessly inac­curate in Foster's case.

Not only has this been made plain by his occasional involvement in group improvisations not guid­ed by the usual harmonic precepts, … , but, more to the point, it becomes transparently clear as soon as he embarks upon his first solo chorus in the opening item of the present set. His improvisation flows naturally out of the song, devel­oping impetus as it progresses, and building, without false artifice or even any marked increase in tonal emphasis, towards its logical conclusion.

In fact the solo's communica­tive power derives mainly from the controlled accumulation of melodic interest within a predetermined rhythmic and har­monic continuum, rather than from any sudden shifts in phrase patterns or tonal coloring. Such an amalgam of grace­fulness and steadily gathering music intensity proclaims Fos­ter's allegiance to what might loosely be termed the Lester Young aesthetic, a school of thought which embraces such diverse stylists as Zoot Sims and Lee Konitz, placing as it does greater emphasis on melodic resourcefulness and con­tinuity of line man upon the more visceral stratagems of abrupt changes in volume or tone.

Foster, I believe, owes something to all three of these players, but his work never­theless possesses a truly personal flavor, transmitting a sunlit lyricism which, whatever their other qualities, is not an at­tribute one would readily associate with any of the other musicians named. In drawing this distinction one is reminded of the very individual use which, in a rather different area, the pianist Barry Harris has made of Bud Powell's vocabulary. …

For his fifth album with Revelation, Gary took matters into his own hands [so to speak] and wrote these comments for the liner notes:

Kansas City Connections [Revelation #48].

In 1951, as a junior high school student in Leavenworth, Kansas, 35 miles from Kansas City, I first heard improvised jazz music at the hands of Olin Parker, my school hand director and musical inspiration. Olin brought jazz records and magazines about jazz to the band room and organized a small school jazz hand that hooked me to the music forever. I soon learned that, geographically, Kansas City had its own important place in the history of jazz and that, long before my ears were opened to the music, Charlie Parker, Jay McShann, Lester Young and Count Basic had put Kansas City on the jazz map.

In the following years I lived and studied near Kansas City. In the middle and late 1950's, Bob Brookmeyer, Carmell Jones, Jimmy Lovelace, Charlie Kynard and Frank Smith were the names I mast associated with the continuing tradition of Kansas City jazz. In recent years I have been fortunate to teach at the University of MissouriKansas City and to play in the area many times, under various circumstances, most often with the musicians heard on this recording.

The playing of my colleagues here is proof that jazz in Kansas City is in good health today. Carmell Jones (back home again), Herman Bell, Arch Martin, Kim Park, Mike Ning and many others help to keep the music alive there.

This recording came about through the eagerness and encouragement of Jim Nirschl. Jim is a valued friend and Kansas City nerve ending for jazz musicians from all parts of the world. A Kansas City connection.

Roots, family, friends and music are all Kansas City connections. Not to mention Kansas City barbecue!

Gary Foster, 1985”

Although my view of him is informed largely from impressions, in general, I couldn’t agree more with his long-time friend, Dick Wright’s description of Gary when he writes:

“Over the years, I have seen and heard Gary grow from an outstanding young Stan Getz-influenced tenor saxophonist to, today, a consummate artist on alto, tenor and soprano saxes, as well as clarinet (his first instrument) and flute. He is truly a ‘musician's musician’ who is held in the highest regard by fellow musicians as well as jazz lovers and jazz students of all ages. Gary … is equally at home in the recording studios, the class room and on the concert stage. …”

Somewhat ironically, I didn’t select a track from any of Gary’s wonderful recordings on Revelation Records to feature on the accompanying video montage.

Perhaps when you listen to his spellbinding performance on Some Other Time from his Make Your Own Fun CD on Concord [CCD-4459] you’ll understand why.

In all the years that I have been listening to this music, I never heard it played more beautifully by anyone.

Gary Foster is a very special musician.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Edward “Kid” Ory: 1886-1973

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

“There is no confusion these days about what New Orleans "tailgate" trombone playing is all about. Most modern practitioners of that venerable style tend toward an exaggerated down-home aesthetic: screaming yawps, wild-man growls, howling blasts, blaring gutbucket smears. That is, all the unsubtle tricks and tropes that make people think of the trombone as a carnival novelty act.

If the current state of trad jazz trombone is any indication, then the philosopher was right-history does repeat itself as farce. But the first time around, New Orleans slip-horn playing was not the self-parody it has become. All the proof you could ever need is to be found in a new box set from Mosaic records: The Complete Kid Ory Verve Sessions. Recorded in the late 1950s, when Ory was in his early 70s, the Verve sides compiled by Mosaic demonstrate that Kid Ory's Creole trombone playing may not have been particularly complex or harmonically challenging, but for all its rambunctiousness, his music is nonetheless subtle and lyrical.”
- Eric Felten, JazzTimes review of The Complete Kid Ory Verve Recordings [Mosaic Records]

“Kid Ory is neither celebrity nor myth. He was a flesh-and-blood jazzman who arrived on the scene in New Orleans at the same time as the music itself. The man and the music came up together, reached maturity together and, ultimately, faded from the scene together.”
- John McCusker

“Then Jack Teagarden introduced the daddy of the tailgate trombonists, Edward “Kid” Ory. This septuagenarian strolled on stage looking extremely dapper in his white jacket and performed as though he might have been a “kid” for real.

His featured number was the great old standard he himself wrote about 40 years ago – “Muskrat Ramble” – and just to show he was riding with the times, he even shouted out a vocal using the lyrics written just a few years ago by Hollywood writer, Ray Gilbert.

Then Higginbotham and Teagarden joined Ory for a three-‘boned blast at that other perennial favorite – “High Society.”
- Bill Simon, liner notes to the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival appearance by Red Allen, Kid Ory, & Jack Teagarden with J.C. Higginbotham, Buster Bailey and Cozy Cole [Verve MGV-8233].

I had no idea who Kid Ory was when I first encountered him on the evening of July 4, 1957 at the Newport Jazz Festival.

But that wasn’t unusual in those days as I was still finding my way through Jazz. [Frankly I still am.]

The only familiar member of the group Kid Ory played with that night was fellow trombonist Jack Teagarden, whom my father idolized and was probably the reason why he picked that night for us to attend the NJF.

Perhaps another reason was that all of the groups appearing that evening were doing so in celebration of Louis Armstrong’s 57th birthday.

I found out much later that there was a strong connection between Kid and Pops as Ory had been a member of Armstrong Hot Five when it produced the monumental records that ignited the Jazz world in 1925-1927.

I gather, too, that all of the other musicians on the stand that night in Freebody Park had played in one of the many bands that Pops had over the years including New Orleans-born trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen who had always idolized Louis.

J.C. Higginbotham on trombone, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Claude Hopkins on piano and Cozy Cole on drums all had historical connections to Pops and bassist Arvell Shaw was a member of Pops’ current band in 1957.

Kid Ory’s performance that night was the first time I saw and heard the “tailgate” trombone style that had developed when the first Jazz bands were towed around New Orleans in a horse-drawn wagon and the trombonist was seated at the end of the wagon with its tailgate down to allow clearance for the trombone slide to reach the lower positions on the horn.

By comparison, it was fascinating to watch Teagarden whose trombone slide rarely extended beyond the bell of the horn as Jack had developed a technique that allowed him to lip the lower positions without extending the slide at arms length. This technique involved less slide movement in general and allowed Jack to play the trombone easier at faster tempos.

A year or so after the concert I was a fortunate to find a Verve LP of this concert which was simply entitled Red Allen, Kid Ory, & Jack Teagarden with J.C. Higginbotham, Buster Bailey and Cozy Cole [MGV-8233].

Over the years, I picked-up a little information about Kid Ory from Gunther Schuller’s Early Jazz and Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff’s Here Me Talkin’ To You, but I didn’t really understand his significance in terms the development of Jazz from the death of Buddy Bolden until the advent of the first Jazz recordings by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917.

Before he left New Orleans for the West Coast in 1920, Kid Ory maintained one of the hottest bands in the Crescent City which was responsible for giving many young players their start in the music, including giving Louis Armstrong his first gig.

Kid Ory, then, was a trombonist, composer, recording artist, and early New Orleans jazz band leader. Creole Trom­bone: Kid Ory And The Early Years Of Jazz tells his story from birth on a rural sugar cane plantation in a French-speaking, ethnically mixed family, to his emergence in New Orleans as the city’s hottest band leader.

In 1925 Edward “Kid” Ory moved to Chicago, where he made records with King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton that captured the spirit of the jazz age. His most famous composition from that period, “Muskrat Ramble,” is a jazz standard. Retired from music during the Depression, he returned in the 1940s and enjoyed a reignited career.

In Creole Trom­bone: Kid Ory And The Early Years Of Jazz (University Press Of Mississippi), author John McCusker tells the story of a jazz musician arriving on the scene in New Orleans at the same time as the music itself. The man and the music came up together, reached maturity together and, ultimately, faded from the scene together.

The tale covers the years between 1900 and 1933 and that period is the book’s main focus. Kid Ory’s remembrances carry the story only to this point, and it would have been difficult to fill the remaining years without his voice. While the tale of his career revival in the forties is interesting, it is far less so than the earlier period and less relevant to the historical question:

“Who was Kid Ory?”

By way of background on the writer of the book that attempts to answer this question, John McCusker spent nearly 30 years as a staff photographer for The Times-Picayune. He was part of the team that shared the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism for coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its immediate aftermath. He was recently hired as staff photographer of the New Orleans bureau of The Advocate. Throughout his career, John has documented the people and places that gave New Orleans one of its many nicknames – The Cradle of Jazz.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles found this insight review of John McCusker’s Creole Trom­bone: Kid Ory And The Early Years Of Jazz (University Press Of Mississippi) in the June 2013 edition of Downbeat.

© -  Jennifer O’Dell/Downbeat, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

 Life of an Overlooked Bandleader

“The way the story of early New Orleans jazz is often told, there's a gap between Buddy Bolden, whose brief career ended with his institutionalization in 1907, and the recordings made by Joe "King" Oli­ver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong in the early '20s. What gets glossed over are key facets of the music's development: With Bolden suddenly out of the picture, how did his danceable blues and gutbucket wails continue to inspire bands to play "hot," polyphonic music interspersed with so­los? What made that music catch on and spread beyond race lines and outside of the Crescent City? What legacies from this early period later contributed to the death of the Jazz Age?

As John McCusker writes in Creole Trom­bone: Kid Ory And The Early Years Of Jazz (University Press Of Mississippi), the life of one largely overlooked bandleader is a testa­ment to this turning point in jazz that helps an­swer these questions. McCusker states, this is the "story of a jazz musician arriving on the scene at the same time as the music itself. The man and the music came up together, reached maturity together and, ultimately, faded from the scene together."

A longtime photojournalist for the New Or­leans Times-Picayune who moonlighted as a jazz history tour guide, McCusker's pursuit of infor­mation about Ory began in the mid-'90s after someone in his group challenged his dismissive remarks about the trombonist's importance. Mc­Cusker consulted with Bruce Raeburn at Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archive, who agreed with the tourist, positing that Edward "Kid" Ory's ca­reer was vital to the development of jazz. Raeburn's suggestion prompted a 15-year research odyssey for McCusker, who worked through— and in part, inspired by—the loss of his home and possessions in 2005, and of his wife just a few years later.

Using oral histories, recordings and what he describes as "loose pages" from an unfinished Ory autobiography, McCusker pieces together the story of a driven young musician who helped usher in the era of so-called "hot" playing, cher­ry-picked and nurtured the talents of Armstrong and Oliver, and eventually made the first record­ings by an all-black New Orleans jazz band. Ory's early recordings, both as a leader and in bands led by Armstrong and Morton, are covered here (along with an in-depth discography), as is his role in the 1940s revival of traditional New Or­leans jazz. But the picture McCusker paints of Louisiana's music scene from 1900-1919 is the book's highlight.

An early follower of Bolden and an astute student of both the music and the music busi­ness, Ory's path was self-determined. He formed a band in his rural hometown of LaPlace, La., with homemade instruments and wrangled gigs at fish fries and picnics until he could buy real in­struments for his young group, who frequently stole off into the night in search of visiting bands such as those led by Bolden or John Robichaux.

Ory showed leadership skills from the out­set, taking careful notice of variances in style, set-building techniques and, in McCusker's words, the "cutthroat and bargain basement" na­ture of New Orleans' music scene. He combined the most successful elements of everything he learned and plowed ahead with a business acu­men as sharp as his musicianship.

During "cutting contests," where wagons carrying bands to advertise shows would battle one another with music, Ory became notorious for pushing his group to win. He promoted his own shows, finding crafty ways with few resourc­es to cut out competition. His tenacity in playing for diverse audiences helped him create what Armstrong called "one of the hottest jazz bands that ever hit New Orleans." (Giving Satchmo his first steady gig didn't hurt.)

McCusker also offers an honest picture of the murky meanings of the term "Creole" from one parish or one New Orleans neighborhood to another during that time. Sight-reading Cre­ole musicians in places like the Seventh Ward, for example, played a different style than the Up­town players Ory identified with, despite his own mixed-race heritage.

Creole Trombone fills a needed hole in re­search about one of the period's most important bandleaders. But the story of Ory's success — and, after his move to California in 1919, his slow movement out of the picture until the 1940s — tells as much about the artist as it does about the development of the music and of New Orleans as a cultural center, making it a crucial text in the canon of Crescent City jazz history.”
You can order copies directly from the publisher ay

The following video tribute to Edward “Kid” Ory features two performances from the concert that took place at the Newport Jazz Festival on the evening of July 4, 1957 when Kid was joined by Red Allen, Jack Teagarden, J.C. Higginbotham, Buster Bailey, Claude Hopkins, Arvell Shaw and Cozy Cole.  The first tune is Kid’s very own Muskrat Ramble and it is linked to High Society which gives the video eight plus [8+] minutes of continuous music.

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