Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Henry "Red" Allen

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


I met Henry “Red” Allen before I ever heard him play a note on trumpet. The venue was the luncheon buffet at The Viking Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island. The date was July 4, 1957. The occasion was the birthday celebration being held that night for Louis Armstrong at the Newport Jazz Festival.


Many of the musicians performing that evening were at the buffet including “Pops” himself. I never heard so much “Hey Daddy,” “Hey Gate” and “Hey Pops” before or since. These were all terms of endearment that Louis Armstrong used for his best buddies; they were also substitute greetings that Pops and friends used to greet people whose names they’d forgotten or never knew in the first place.


It was all so heartwarmingly informal: the feelings of respect and genuine affection that all of these fabulous musicians felt toward one another just hung in the air of that fan-cooled hotel banquet room and the joyousness would continue well into the hot and humid night on the bandstand that was temporarily erected in Freebody Park.


I didn’t know who “Red” Allen was but as I was to observe about many “big guys” over the years, I was impressed by his gentleness and kindness. He seemed to go out-of-his-way to ask me questions about my nascent interest in the music. The usual questions about “favorites” came up and when he asked me who my favorite drummer was I mentioned Krupa, Papa Jo Jones [whom I’d met earlier that day on the hotel’s veranda] and Davy Tough.


“Where did you hear those guys,” he asked. “On Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Woody Herman records,” I replied. And when he asked about my favorite trumpet player and I answered “Harry James,” he just threw back his head, howled with delight and said to no one in particular: “This young man really knows his trumpet players.” Little did I know at the time that Harry James idolized both Pops and Red.


Later that evening, after hearing his performance at the festival, I added another trumpet player to my list of favorites - Henry “Red” Allen. I’ve been collecting his records ever since that first meeting.


Man could that guy bring it!


Henry “Red” Allen was born in 1907 New Orleans, LA. His flamboyant and exploratory trumpet style was among the leading alternatives to Louis Armstrong's in the early and mid-1930s. His continuity of line, rhythmic flexibility, and harmonic conception were ahead of their time. In fact, Red's restless ear led contemporaries to accuse him of playing wrong notes, many of which would in later years be considered appropriate. His influence on other trumpeters was limited by the fact that he played in the shadow of Armstrong for much of his career although Roy Eldridge who influenced Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis is said to have been an admirer of Red’s. In addition to his interpretive skills as a trumpeter, Allen also possessed an "engaging baritone voice" and was a competent jazz singer.


After studying various instruments, including violin and E-flat alto horn (a miniature tuba), Red took trumpet lessons from his father, Henry senior, leader of the renowned Brass Band of Algiers (a neighborhood in New Orleans). He also listened to several New Orleans trumpeters, including Bunk Johnson and King Oliver, rehearse in his living room. At ten years old, Red was marching in his father's band. He played his first steady job with saxophonist John Handy at age seventeen (1925). In 1927 King Oliver invited Red to New York to join his new band, which soon failed, so Red returned to New Orleans to work on riverboat bands with Fate Marable.


In 1929 Allen was again invited to New York as Victor Records' answer to Louis Armstrong, who was recording for Columbia. Red was hired by Luis Russell, the pianist who had taken over the King Oliver band, and recordings both for Russell and under his own name established Allen's reputation. "Biffly Blues" reveals that although Allen was obviously influenced strongly by Armstrong, he possessed a clearer, more polished sound and slower vibrato, as well as a personal sense of time. In contrast to his sensitive instrumental and vocal reinterpretation of the ballad "Roamin'," Allen displays the confident bravura of a Swing Era lead trumpeter on "Shakin' the African."


Fletcher Henderson enticed Allen to join his band in the summer of 1933, and Allen's agile, flowing solos with Henderson would influence trumpeter Harry James's work on the Henderson charts later commissioned by Benny Goodman. After he left Henderson's group in 1934, Allen's popularity peaked. From 1934 to 1937, while he was employed in the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, he also free-lanced extensively, recording over eighty sides in three years for the Vocalion label.


In 1936 Red performed in the Eddie Condon—Joe Marsala group, one of the first racially integrated bands on Fifty-second Street. In 1937 Allen joined the Luis Russell Orchestra, which was an organization built around the popularity of its featured soloist, Louis Armstrong. Allen had to serve as Armstrong's warm-up act, a somewhat demeaning role considering Allen's originality and technical mastery of the trumpet. Allen endured this role— while also freelancing around Fifty-second Street — until 1940, when the Russell Orchestra was fired by Armstrong's manager.


In 1940 Allen formed his own sextet and opened at Cafe Society. As a leader Allen proved to be good-natured, professional, and a good showman without compromising his music. The sextet featured a fellow Russell and Armstrong alumnus, trombonist J. C. Higginbotham. From the mid-1940s to the early 1950s, Allen was forced to travel extensively as the appeal of bebop reduced his popularity in New York. Occasionally, he juxtaposed traditional New Orleans — influenced phrases and bebop-flavored figures ('The Crawl").


Following the breakup of his sextet, Allen became the house bandleader at the Metropole in New York (1954), which remained his musical headquarters until 1965. On a 1957 recording of "I Cover the Waterfront" with Coleman Hawkins, Allen displays a more deliberate, mature approach than is evident in his 1930s work, employing fewer notes and adroitly exploring his trumpet's extreme lower register. In 1965 modernist Don Ellis praised Allen's unflagging inventiveness and mastery of various moods and tonal effects: "[He] is the most creative and avant-garde player in New York . . . a true improviser." After a tour of Great Britain, Allen died of cancer in 1967.


Whitney Balliett, one of the preeminent writers on the subject of Jazz was a great fan of Henry “Red” Allen and visited him often at the Metropole Cafe’ while writing about him frequently for The New York Magazine.


You can read one of the shorter pieces that Whitney did on Red below and locate a lengthier profile on Allen in Whitney’s American Musicians: 56 Portraits in Jazz [Oxford].



Cheers for Red Allen
Dinosaurs in the Morning: 41 Pieces on Jazz [Lippincott]


“THE PRE-EMINENCE of Louis Armstrong from 1925 to 1935 had one unfortunate effect: it tended to blot out the originality and skill of several contemporary trumpeters who, though they listened to Armstrong, had  pretty  much  gone their own  way by  1930. These included, among others, Bobby Stark, Joe Smith, Jabbo Smith  (no relation), Bill Coleman, and Henry (Red) Allen. Stark and Joe Smith are dead. Jabbo Smith, a scarifying musician, lives in Milwaukee and performs rarely. Coleman, in Europe, still displays much of his grace. But Allen, the most steadfast of the three, and a distinct influence on Roy Eldridge, who taught Dizzy Gillespie, who taught Miles Davis, and so forth, is playing (usually in New York) with more subtlety and warmth than at any other time in his career. This is abundantly evident in two fairly recent and rather odd releases, Red Allen Meets Kid Ory  and We've Got Rhythm: Kid Ory and Red Allen (Verve), in which Allen, lumped with second- and third-class musicians, plays with a beauty and a lets-get-this-on-the-road obstinacy that transform both records into superior material.


A tall, comfortably oval-shaped man of fifty-four, with a deceptively sad basset-hound face, Allen, born in Algiers, Louisiana, has had a spirited career, despite the shadows he has been forced to work in. He played briefly with King Oliver in 1927, and two years later he joined Luis Russell, another Oliver alumnus. Russell's band was possibly the neatest, hottest, and most imaginative group of its time. It was also, thanks to Russell's arrangements and rhythmic innovations and to Allen's already exploratory solos, a considerably advanced one.


In 1933, Allen joined Fletcher Henderson, with whom he continued his avant-garde ways, and after a period with the Blue Rhythm Band he came face to face in 1937 with Goliath himself when he had become a practically silent member of Louis Armstrong's you-go-your-way, ril-go-mine big band, a group kept afloat by Sid Catlett, J. C. Higginbotham, Charlie Holmes, and the leader. Since 1940, Allen has led a succession of often excellent small groups, which have included Higginbotham, Edmond Hall, Don Stovall (alto saxophone), and Alvin Burroughs.


Allen's recording activity has been prolific; he was particularly active during the thirties, when he set down fifty or sixty numbers with small groups, some of which were unabashed attempts to make money ("The Miller's Daughter Marianne," "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down," "When My Dream Boat Comes Home") and some of which were, and are, first-rate jazz records ("Why Don't You Practice What You Preach," "There's a House in Harlem for Sale," "Rug Cutter's Swing," "Body and Soul," and "Rosetta"). Lamentably, only two or three of these, along with two classic sides made in 1939 with Lionel Hampton, are now available.


Allen's style had just about set by the time he joined Russell. There were traces in it of Oliver and Armstrong, but more apparent were its careless tone, its agility, and a startling tendency to use unprecedentedly long legato phrases and strange notes and chords that jazz musicians hadn't, for the most part, had the technique or courage to use before. Allen's playing also revealed an emotion and a partiality to the blues that often seemed to convert everything he touched into the blues. But his adventurousness and technique weren't always in balance; he hit bad notes, he blared, and he was ostentatious. Once in a while he would start a solo commandingly and then, his mind presumably going blank, would suddenly falter, ending his statement in a totally different mood and tenor, as if he were attempting to glue parts of two unmatchable solos together.


By the mid-forties, Allen's work had, in fact, turned increasingly hard and showy — he fluttered his valves, used meaningless runs, and affected a stony tone — and this peculiar shrillness continued into the fifties. Then, six or so years ago, Allen made a pickup recording with Tony Parenti, the clarinetist, for Jazztone, and, not long after, one for Victor with Higginbotham, Coleman Hawkins, and Cozy Cole, and a remarkable new Allen broke into view. Perhaps sheer middle-aged physical wear—a reluctance to blow so hard, a reluctance to try and prove so much — was the reason. Or perhaps he had been listening to younger and milder trumpeters like Miles Davis and Art Farmer. For his tone has become softer and fuller, he shies away from the upper register (he spends a good deal of time inflating sumptuous balloons in the lowest register), his customarily long figures are even longer, his sensuous, mid-thirties affection for the blues has again become dominant, and he often employs harmonies that would please Thelonious Monk.


In short, he gives the impression not of hammering at his materials from the outside but, in the manner of Lester Young and Pee Wee Russell, of transforming them insistently if imperceptibly from the inside, like a mole working just under the grass. The results, particularly in slower tempos (the old shrillness sometimes recurs at faster speeds), can be unbelievably stirring. An Allen solo in a slow blues may go like this: He will start with a broad, quiet, shushing note, pause, repeat the note, and, using almost no vibrato, fasten two more notes onto it, one slightly higher and one slightly lower, pause again (Allen's frequent use of silences is another new aspect of his work, as is his more expert use of dynamics), repeat and enlarge the second phrase a little way down the scale, and, without a rest, get off a legato phrase, with big intervals, that may shatter into a rapid run and then be reformed into a dissonant blue note, which he will delightfully hold several beats longer than one expects; he then finishes this with a full vibrato and tumbles into a quick, low, almost under-the-breath flourish of half a dozen notes. Such a solo bears constant re-examination; it is restless, oblique, surprising, lyrical, and demanding. It seizes the listener's emotions, recharges them, and sends them fortified on their way.


The pairing of Allen with the venerable Kid Ory is curious, to say the least. Allen is a modernish swing musician, and Ory is one of the last representatives of genuine New Orleans style. His solos are gruff paraphrases of the melody, while Allen's are intricate temples of sound. Moreover, Allen's leisurely, independent melodic lines are far too spacious to fit within the limitations of the New Orleans ensemble. But perhaps all this is to the good. Ory's sandpaper tone and elementary patterns tend to set off Allen's housetop-to-housetop swoops, and since Allen can't, or won't, adapt himself to the ensemble, he simply solos throughout most of the recordings, which gives us twice as much of him. By and large, the first of the Verve records is the better. Of the seven numbers, all standards, three—


"Blues for Jimmy," "Ain't Misbehavin’ and "Tishomingo Blues"—present Allen at his peak. In fact, his single-chorus solo in the slow "Blues for Jimmy" is faultless. This is nearly true of his work on the Waller tune, which is full of blue notes and wind-borne figures. (Puzzlingly, neither of the two vocals is by Allen, who, in addition to his other merits, is one of the handful of true jazz singers. His voice is in between Armstrong’s and Jelly Roll Morton's, and because of its almost feline, back-of-the-beat phrasing it has long foretold his playing of today.) The second session contains seven more standards, which are notable for Allen's playing in "Some of These Days," in which he tries a few teetering but generally successful auld-lang-syne upper-register handstands; for, in "Christopher Columbus," his muted chorus, which is followed by an open-horn one that begins in his lowest, or trombone, register; and for his three remarkably sustained choruses in the medium-tempo "Lazy River." The rest of the band stands around and watches, so to speak, and only the drummer, Alton Redd, gets in the way.”


The following video feature Red with Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in a 1934 version of Fletcher’s original composition Wrappin’ It Up.



Sunday, March 29, 2015

Don Byas

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


Don Byas was one of the few musicians of his era to strike a compromise between swing and bebop. In addition to the rhythmic feeling of modern jazz, he incorporated elements of Coleman Hawkins's harmonic advances and Lester Young's lyrical style. He often played with a relaxed subtone embroidered with gentle vibrato, reserving the boisterous "Texas tenor" sound for the climax of his solos. Lucky Thompson and Benny Golson claim him as an influence, and most modern tenor players are aware of his work as a bebop pioneer. The Byas influence of Golson’s phrasing is particularly strong.

Born to musical parents, Don studied violin and clarinet prior to the alto sax. In his teens, he worked in territorial bands based in Oklahoma City and then led his own band at Langston University (1931—32). After switching to tenor, Byas left Oklahoma in 1933 for California and spent four years in Los Angeles working for Lionel Hampton and Buck Clayton, among others.

In 1937 Byas traveled to New York City, where he worked as an accompanist for Ethel Waters. He next worked for Don Redman, Lucky Millinder, and Andy Kirk. Following tours with Benny Carter, Byas joined the Count Basie Orchestra (1941-43) as a replacement for Lester Young. On his most celebrated tune of this period, Harvard Blues, Byas proved that he could work in the twelve-bar form and that he shared the Basie sense of understatement (Blues by Basie, Columbia).

After jamming with the modernists at Minton's, Byas joined the innovative Dizzy Gillespie—Oscar Pettiford band in 1944. Over the next three years, he performed in many modern groups on Fifty-second Street. He was featured on numerous titles recorded for Savoy through the mid-1940s, but his best small-group work was done in the animated company of Gillespie (The Greatest Hits of Dizzy Gillespie, RCA Victor).

Another example of Byas's best playing occurred during a pair of impromptu duets on "Indiana" and "I Got Rhythm," recorded with bassist Slam Stewart, as the two waited for a 1945 Town Hall concert to begin. "I Got Rhythm" appears on The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz (Smithsonian) and is a virtuoso performance that reveals both excitement and restraint. Byas explores every harmonic nook and cranny in his memorable eighth-note lines, which do not swing as easily as bebop, but at the same time do not ride as closely to the leading edge of the beat as Hawkins's aggressive phrases.

At his artistic peak in 1946, Byas left for France as a member of Don Redman's band. He later settled in Holland with his family, appearing regularly at European jazz festivals, and recording. Another Byas trademark, the patient, soothing ballad, is included in Jazz at the Philharmonic in Europe (Verve).

During the 1960s, Byas was intrigued by the innovations of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, although he did not alter his own style in response. In 1970 he returned to the United States for the Newport Jazz Festival, but he returned to Europe shortly afterward because he felt more I abroad than at home.

He died in Amsterdam in 1972 at the age of sixty [60]. Sadly, his passing garnered little attention in the Jazz press.

The following video tribute features Don Byas and bassist Slam Stewart on their classic treatment of I Got Rhythm.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

"I Remember Bill" - Don Sebesky's Tribute to Bill Evans

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


"...I wasn't striving to be an identifiable stylist — I was really only striving to make music and to put it together in some way of my own."   
- jazz pianist Bill Evans

Considering how beautiful all aspects of the late pianist Bill Evans music is, I’m surprised that there have not been more efforts to reconstitute it in other settings.

“Reconstitute” is the key word here in the sense of building something up from its parts; reconstruct in another setting might be another way of putting it.

Guitarist John McLaughlin had a go at is when he along with the members of the Aighetta guitar quartet recorded the Verve CD Time Remembered: John McLaughlin Plays Bill Evans which we posted about here.

But for the most part, orchestrators and arrangers have shied away from reconstituting Bill’s compositions and improvisations in other musical formats.

Perhaps, as was the case with the work of the late pianist, Michel Petrucciani, they seem to be near perfect as performed in Evans’ preferred setting of a piano-bass-drums trio. Perhaps, too, they feel unequal to the task of trying to match Bill’s brilliance.

When such attempts do come along, they seem to be “here today and gone tomorrow,” or at least that’s my impression of one such effort, Don Sebesky’s 1998 CD -  I Remember Bill: A Tribute to Bill Evans [RCA BMG Classics 09026 68929-2].

Although Don’s arrangement of Waltz For Debby won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Arrangement, I doubt that many Jazz fans in general and Bill Evans fans in particular have ever heard of the recording. [It has been removed from distribution by the label and is only available from third-party sellers on Amazon. The site does not offer a digital download.]

In her insert notes to the recording, Stephanie Stein Crease, the author of the definitive Gil Evans: Out of the Cool: His Life and Music and whose writings about Jazz have appeared in The New York Times and Down Beat, offers these insights into Bill and his music and Don Sebesky efforts at reconstituting it on I Remember Bill: A Tribute to Bill Evans.

"...I wasn't striving to be an identifiable stylist — I was really only striving to make music and to put it together in some way of my own,"   said the jazz pianist Bill Evans, in his talk that closes this tribute. Nonetheless, the Bill Evans sound has been a persistent force in modern jazz since word about Evans —   quiet and introspective, never a self-promoter — started humming through the New York jazz  scene during the mid-1950s.

Evans followed in the wake of Bud Powell, the pianist who'd forged a dazzling hornlike approach to bebop piano. The young Evans had an awesome grasp of the intricate language of bop and its harmonic possibilities. He had the ability to express, with dazzling clarity, a musical whole along with a range of subtleties. And he developed a sound on the piano — each note rounded from within, his playing fiery at times, uniquely understated at others — that was as full of warmth and individuality as that of Erroll Garner or Arthur Rubinstein.

The cumulative effect? An upturning of every musical idea or chord voicing or standard song into something never quite heard before. Evans' music flowed from his profound and analytic intelligence. His playing was often tinged with a deep melancholy, and was always illuminated with a rare beauty.

Evans, who died in 1980 at the age of fifty-one, started studying piano formally at the age of six, the violin at age seven, and the flute at thirteen. He was all of twelve when he started subbing for his older brother Harry in a no-name dance band in New Jersey, with its book of stock arrangements. It was in this setting, fooling around with standard dance tunes, that he experienced the first thrill of musical freedom: the insertion of a chord change, a melodic variation, or a short improvisation all started pointing Evans towards jazz. His first real jazz gigs were occasional summer jobs with the guitarist Mundell Lowe (another master of supple understatement), who Evans met in the late 1940s while attending Southeastern Louisiana University in New Orleans. After an army stint in Korea from 1951 to '54, the pianist settled in New York. By 1956, he had made his debut recordings as the leader of his own trio.

The following year, he performed one of his most brilliantly developed solos ever in George Russell's extended work All About Rosie, a virtuosic vehicle designed for Evans (who performed it in concert and recorded it). After a relentlessly creative eight months with Miles Davis in 1958 (which resulted in Kind of Blue), Evans steadfastly pursued his own muse, for the most part in a trio with bass and drums, making the piano trio a viable and vibrant setting for jazz.

Interplay/intuition was key, in Evans' relationships with bassists and drummers, in his duets with Jim Hall, in virtually all his musical collaborations and even with himself (as in his Conversations With Myself). This sensibility, as well as Evans' dedication to musical exploration, helped generate this tribute, a project that the acclaimed arranger Don Sebesky has brought to fruition after five years. Sebesky has artfully reconstructed Evans' elliptical compositions such as Peace Piece and Epilogue, and transformed Evans' subtle deliberations and piano voicings for jazz orchestra on such standards as So What and Autumn Leaves. Bill Evans was an arranger too: reharmonizations, rhythmic development, well-defined contrapuntal lines, and Evans' extraordinary voice-leading — his unique way of spelling out emotions —   were part and parcel of his work.”

And Don Sebesky added his own thoughts about Bill’s music and this recording in these excerpts from the insert notes to I Remember Bill: A Tribute to Bill Evans.

I Remember Bill

“Rarely does a day go by without my feeling the influence of Bill Evans. Bill didn't just strive for perfection. He, like all true geniuses, was incapable of putting forth less than his very best: the best note, the truest chord, the richest voicing, creating a balance between head and heart which characterizes his music and makes it so fresh and interesting every time we listen. He set a standard of excellence to which we all aspire, and by which we all measure ourselves, and our work. In this album, I pay tribute to him in gratitude for his having enriched us all with his remarkable gift.

After much thought, I've selected a mix of tunes which Bill composed (Waltz for Debby, Very Early, T.T.T.T., Peace Piece, Epilogue, Blue in Green); standards which he liked to play (Autumn Leaves, All the Things You Are, I'm Getting Sentimental Over You); and a couple of pieces I've written and dedicated to him (I Remember Bill, Bill Not Gil).

The first time I ever heard Bill play was on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, arguably the most influential recording of the last fifty years. From that album, I've selected two tunes. Blue in Green has new lyrics by Gene McDaniels, which encompass not only the tune, but also Miles' and John Coltrane's solos. I've also included So What, in which I've doubled the original tempo and built the arrangement around an orchestration of Bill's solo.

I've inserted orchestrated versions of excerpts from Bill's improvisations into All the Things You Are, Autumn Leaves and I'm Getting Sentimental Over You as well — treating the ensemble as if it were a giant piano instead of limiting it to a traditional big band role. Being especially fond of Bill's solo playing, I arranged and orchestrated his elegant improvised adagio, Peace Piece. In this version, you'll hear echoes of Copland, Bartok, and probably a few other classical composers, though the actual notes are Bill's.

In the opening choruses of All the Things You Are and I'm Getting Sentimental Over You, I've treated the band in a way that I imagine Bill might have, had he been an arranger, creating contrapuntal interplay between lines and allowing the rhythmic aspect of the tunes to be carried by the horns only — no rhythm section.

We were fortunate to have been able to reach out all over the world to musicians who played and recorded with Bill over the years. Two of his rhythm sections, Eddie Gomez with Marty Morell and Marc Johnson with Joe LaBarbera provide the support for the brass and string ensembles which surround them. Alumni Lee Konitz, Bob Brookmeyer, Toots Thielemans, and Tom Harrell (who was on Evans' last recording) all demonstrate their own remarkable musicianship here, as do Larry Coryell, Joe Lovano, Eddie Daniels, Hubert Laws, Dave Samuels, John Pizzarelli, Jeanie Bryson and New York Voices. My heartfelt thanks to them all for contributing their artistry to this project.

-Don Sebesky”

My favorite reconstitution by Don of Bill’s work is his string arrangement of Quiet Now, an original by fellow-pianist Denny Zeitlin that Bill played often. It features clarinetist Eddie Daniels and vibraphonist Dave Samuels and you can check it out on the following video.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Ike Quebec

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


Alfred Lion and his partner Francis Wolff pretty much had fairly set beliefs regarding the music they recorded for their now iconic Blue Note Records label, but, from time to time, they allowed a few. select associates to offer guidance and direction.

One of the key influences on the company's movements was the presence of Ike Quebec. Just as Quebec had sidled Thelonious Monk into Lion's hearing a decade and a half earlier, so he began a significant involvement with the next wave of Blue Note artists. Perhaps his most important move was to assist in bringing to the label one of his contemporaries, the giant, wayward tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon . Thirty-eight years old when he made his Blue Note recording debut on May 6, 1961, Gordon was emerging from a wretched spell. Ira Gitler's sleeve note for the album, Doin' Allright, is discreet: “Veteran listeners will certainly remember him but younger fans probably will not although he was intermittently active during the Fifties.” Gordon had served two separate prison terms during the previous decade, and had hardly figured in the recording studios. Pensive but swaggering, the record is close to a Blue Note classic.

Gordon was an anachronism for the Blue Note of the sixties, akin to Sidney Bechet and George Lewis recording for the label in the fifties. Ike Quebec's patronage of the artist was perhaps born of a sentimental affiliation which has been mirrored in the critical reaction to the recordings ever since. Next to Quebec's own sessions for the label, Gordon's albums can sound almost tame.

Ike Quebec had himself matured into a musician of almost apologetic grandeur. He was five years older than Gordon, and his tone and delivery were less affected. With no real career or reputation to speak of, his records garnered little attention, yet remain enormously satisfying examples of Blue Note's releases in the period.

As with several of the most artistically successful of Blue Note's roster - Andrew Hill, Wayne Shorter, Larry Young - Ike was untypical of many of his colleagues. He was one of the oldest leaders to record for Blue Note in the sixties and basically belonged to a generation before his label peers. He would not have been out of place with such Count Basie sidemen as Eddie Lockjaw Davis, but there were threads in his style which would anticipate the soul-jazz movement of the sixties.

Even his album titles - Heavy Soul, Blue And Sentimental - suggest a truce between those old and new approaches. They were unambitious records, filled with standards and blues, and the most striking thing about them is the preponderance of slow tempos: most Blue Notes were upbeat for most of the time, but Quebec took a different path.


When he cut a few singles at his return session in 1959, Lion saw them “as a sort of trial balloon, and I was delighted to find not only that many people still remembered Ike, but also that those who didn't know him were amazed and excited by what they heard. So recently I decided to jump into a full album session with new material to give Ike a complete new start.”

Some of that sounds like record man's banter, and it did take well over a year before Lion booked Quebec for another full session. But the resulting record, Heavy Soul, is a superb vindication. Although they used an organist, Freddie Roach, rather than a pianist, they still had Quebec's old friend from the Cab Calloway band, Milt Hinton, on bass, with Al Harewood on drums given little to do other than tick off the time. The leader chose some old-fashioned material: I Want A Little Girl, The Man I Love and even Brother Can You Spare A Dime. The minor Acquitted is an interesting original. But the power is in the playing.

Roach is used sparingly, almost as a colourist, and he frequently drops out altogether. There's lots of space and air around the solos and Quebec plays the ballads at not much above a crawl. Yet the fat, sometimes bleary tone carries a suggestion of strength in reserve along with the gutsiness of the improvising. Only days later, the same team returned to cut It Might As Well Be Spring, and repeated the trick. Ol' Man River sees Quebec rather lose himself in formula R&B riffs, but elsewhere the authority goes hand in hand with a certain desolation - Willow Weep For Me is a very bleak reading. A week later, with a different line-up (guitarist Grant Green, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones), Lion recorded what might be Quebec's masterpiece, Blue And Sentimental. The title song opens the record at a desperately slow tempo, and though Like offers some uptempo relief, most of the session is deep, deep blue. Somehow, Quebec gets through it without sounding tired or overweight, the deadly flaw of so many ballad-oriented records.

Quebec cut six more sessions in 1962, but only one was issued at the time, Soul Samba, a Latin-coloured session which suited him surprisingly well (he admired Stan Getz, though he sounded nothing like him, and some of this material was the kind of thing Getz was about to take on so successfully). A date in January with Bennie Green and Stanley Turrentine was something of a potboiler (and was eventually released as Congo Lament in 1980) and another ballad-oriented session with an undistinguished group was similarly held back by Lion. On January 16, 1963, though, Ike Quebec succumbed to lung cancer. Lion, who had grown close to the saxophonist, was deeply affected by his passing. His brief sequence of albums is a memorial which should be far better known and acknowledged, hence the reason for this piece.

[Quebec was not the only casualty of that month. Pianist Sonny Clark died a few days later.]

The following video tribute features Ike on Blue and Sentimental along with Grant Green on guitar, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Jazztet - Hard Bop at Its Refined Best

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


“The Jazztet was formed in 1959, and evolved from a series of associations in several contexts involving trumpeter Art Farmer, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson and trombonist Curtis Fuller. Two of these players, Golson and Fuller, also put in time in the ranks of Art Blakey's outfit, but The Jazztet is not consistently identified as a group in quite the same way as the Jazz Messengers these days (both the All Music Guide to Jazz and the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD simply list their records under Art Farmer, presumably on the rather non-analytical basis of alphabetical order).

Nonetheless, and despite considerable fluctuation of personnel around the core pairing of Farmer and Golson, The Jazztet created their own sophisticated sound within a basic hard bop framework. Farmer and Golson had worked briefly together in 1953 in Lionel Hampton's band, and again in 1957 with Oscar Pettiford. The trumpeter played on Golson's New York Scene (Contemporary) in 1958, and the saxophonist returned the compliment on Farmer's Modem Art (United Artists) the same year.

All three backed Abbey Lincoln on her It's Magic album for Riverside in 1958, and Golson and Fuller made several recordings together, including Golson's The Other Side of Benny Golson (Riverside), Gone With Golson, Groovin’ With Golson and Gettin’ With It (all Prestige New Jazz), and Fuller's Blues-ette (Savoy), as well as a date with Philly Joe Jones on Drums Around The World (Riverside), and Farmer's Brass Shout (United Artists), a brass tentet session for which Golson supplied the arrangements. Farmer also played on Fuller's third date for Blue Note in December, 1957.

The trombonist assembled a sextet with Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley for Sliding Easy (United Artists) in March, 1959, with some Golson arrangements. The Jazztet name first appeared on record on a Curtis Fuller album for Savoy, Curtis Fuller Jazztet featuring Benny Golson, recorded on 25 August, 1959, but with Lee Morgan on trumpet (a second Savoy session in December, Imagination, also featured a sextet, but not under the Jazztet name this time, and with Thad Jones on trumpet).

The official debut of The Jazztet took place three months later on 16 November, 1959, playing opposite the Ornette Coleman Quartet at the Five Spot in New York. Curtis Fuller, who would leave the band within months, recalled the circumstances of its formation in a Down Beat interview in March, 1981: 'Benny Golson and I had a quintet. That's how it started. He was leaving the Messengers and I was leaving Quincy Jones's band. Anyway, we formed this group and I called it The Jazztet; but there was a little shakeup there. Art Farmer and Benny Golson, being older and the two real musicians of the group, were the power brokers. We got McCoy [Tyner] out of Philadelphia and that made it a sextet. Before that, Lee Morgan and I had been playing in the John Coltrane sextet, so this was in the works anyway - the jazz sextet.'

The Coltrane sextet which he mentions here had recorded the saxophonist's classic Blue Train in 1958, his only date for Blue Note. Miles Davis's great sextet with Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley was also active at this time, but with a front line of trumpet and two saxophones rather than trombone (Miles had dabbled with a trombone in several short-lived bands, including a line-up which briefly included Fuller). Golson had already featured a sextet on his album The Modern Touch for Riverside in 1957 (with Kenny Dorham and J. J. Johnson as the brass players), and the idea of a new working unit in that format was in his mind when he left The Jazz Messengers in 1959, having played a major role in restructuring both the band and its book.

He had been playing regularly in a quintet with Fuller, and the pieces fell neatly into place for the new band, as he described in a Down Beat interview in May, 1960: 'It was very sudden. I was planning to start a sextet last fall. And I heard that Art was leaving Gerry Mulligan. I planned to ask him to join the sextet, In the meantime, unknown to me, he was planning a quintet, and he was thinking of asking me to join him. When I called him, he started laughing. So we got together and consolidated our plans.'


The new band made their studio debut for Argo in February, 1960. Meet The Jazztet featured the three horn men with a rhythm section of McCoy Tyner on piano, Art Farmer's twin brother, Addison Farmer, on bass, and Lex Humphries on drums, but the band was never to achieve much stability of personnel beyond the key Farmer-Golson association at its heart (a reality already reflected in their more prominent billing on the cover).

As the All Music Guide suggests, this album is a genuine hard bop classic. It included three of Golson's best known compositions, the first recorded version of Killer Joe, and the band's takes on I Remember Clifford and Blues March. The principal soloists are in disciplined but inventive mood throughout, while Golson's arrangements add interest beyond the routine ensemble heads of the period, but without tying up the music in overly elaborate fashion. The overall effect is both less driving and more thoughtful than the general run of hard bop.

By their second date for Argo in September, 1960, only Farmer and Golson remained from the earlier line-up. Fuller had left the band in not entirely amicable fashion in June (Down Beat reported that the trombonist 'pulled out without giving notice at the end of a one-day engagement at the Brooklyn Paramount theater'), to be replaced in quick succession by Willie Wilson, Bernard McKinney and, by the time of the record date, Tom Mclntosh.

McCoy Tyner had joined John Coltrane (Golson has told the story of how his old Philadelphia buddy had helped rescue a stranded Tyner when he broke down en route to New York to join The Jazztet, then promptly 'stole' him for his own band, although Coltrane had the pianist in mind prior to his arrival in New York in any case), to be replaced firstly by Duke Pearson, then Cedar Walton. Tommy Williams had taken Addison Farmer's place on bass, and Tootie Heath, another Philadelphian, occupied the drum seat.

That version of the band recorded Big City Sounds in September, and the game of musical chairs settled down long enough for the same personnel to record two more albums for the label. In December, 1960, they met up with pianist John Lewis for a session released as The Jazztet and John Lewis. It featured six of Lewis's own compositions which he had arranged specifically for the date, including versions of Django, Milano and 2 Degrees East, 3 Degrees West. They closed their account at Argo with The Jazztet at Birdhouse, a live set recorded at the Chicago club of that name on 15 May, 1961.

Big City Sounds again foregrounded Golson's skills as a composer and arranger, including four of his own tunes, The Cool One, Blues on Down, Bean Bag, and the evocative Five Spot After Dark. His subtle harmonies and voicings again lent a sophisticated air to the music, providing both attractive ensemble passages and a productive framework for the soloists. Golson described his aims as a composer in the original sleeve notes for the record: ‘I don't want to venture too far out. I don't want to be too complex. Basically I'd like to stay simple. I'd like to write melodically, and pretty harmonically. I'm not looking for anything that's going to revolutionize music. I like, most of all in writing, beauty.'

Farmer, on the other hand, was an infrequent composer - he had contributed one tune, Mox Nix, to Meet The Jazztet (it had previously appeared on Modern Art), but none on this session. The other selections include a sparkling version of Randy Weston's Hi-Fly, with Walton in scintillating form, their interpretations of Dizzy Gillespie's Con Alma and J. J. Johnson's Lament, and the standards My Funny Valentine and Wonder Why.

Mclntosh is not Fuller's equal as a soloist, but holds his own, while Farmer and Golson vie with one another to produce the most fluent, lyrical soloing, and trade glowing exchanges in Five Spot After Dark. The live setting on the Birdhouse disc allows the band to stretch out, notably on an extended version of Farmer's Farmer's Market and Monk's ‘Round Midnight, both arranged by Golson, and an arrangement by J. J. Johnson of his own Shutterbug.


At their best, The Jazztet leavened the visceral, earthy appeal of hard bop with a more sophisticated approach to arranging, and achieved a highly effective balance between the two. While their command of uptempo material was exhilarating, one of the most vivid examples of their approach is found in their live version of ‘Round Midnight from the Birdhouse set.

Golson's arrangement opens unexpectedly, with a single declamatory brass note. Walton begins an atmospheric introduction which glides into Farmer's opening statement of the melody on flugelhorn, eventually harmonised by a lovely voicing on the other horns. Golson comes in with a warm, romantic tenor statement, quickening the pace in deft fashion just ahead of another declamatory ensemble statement. Farmer's bold second entry is on trumpet, again supported by delicate horn fills, and provides a striking contrast with his earlier contribution.

Golson's tenor solo is the centrepiece of the performance, a buoyant, lyrical creation which gradually deepens and darkens, growing in both invention and emotional intensity. It is as good a statement of his gifts as a soloist as exists on record. Farmer returns on flugelhorn, imposing a reversion to a gentler mood, and generating an evocative late-night atmosphere within another impeccably controlled narrative.

Walton opts for a bluesy feel in keeping with Farmer's mood, expanding his original idea in a short but inventive solo. Mclntosh is more prosaic in his own solo, but retains the evolving feel of the piece, and the other horns again weave subtle background statements around his trombone, leading into the concluding ensemble finale, which supplies a quietly dramatic ending to a quietly epic performance. As an example of the way in which they were consistently able to marry imaginative soloing with meticulous structural integrity, it can hardly be bettered.

The band made only two more records in this first phase of their existence, both for Mercury. Here and Now was recorded in February and March, 1962, and Another Git Together followed in May and June. Both featured another new version of the group, in which Farmer and Golson were joined by Grachan Moncur III on trombone, Harold Mabern on piano, Herbie Lewis on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums. The other notable change on these discs is the increasing use of flugelhorn, an instrument which Farmer quickly came to favour over trumpet.

Both these sessions produced strong albums, but The Jazztet did not succeed in making any real financial success, and the co-leaders decided to call it a day. The two principals went in contrasting directions.”   [Sources Argo and Mercury LP insert notes and Kenny Mathieson’s Cookin’].”