Bill Crow - bassist, author and all-round good guy, has a rule-to-live-by, one which he stresses over-and-over again, and it is that - “Jazz is supposed to be fun.”
To my ears, no one better exemplifies this approach to Jazz than does pianist Roger Kellaway.
But please don’t misunderstand this to mean that Roger isn’t serious about his music or that he is in any way belittling Jazz.
Roger’s music is full of joy, happiness and unexpected adventure and, as such, is full of the fun of finding new wonders in Jazz. Listening to Roger play is like being let into the funhouse at the amusement park. For Roger, as for Bill Crow, Jazz is fun. That’s the point of the whole thing.
The first time I heard Roger Kellaway with Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer’s quintet [talk about two guys who knew how to have fun with Jazz], I burst out laughing. It was the laughter of delight based on the thrill and disbelief of what I’d just heard him play.
Whenever Roger soloed during this first hearing, it was the musical equivalent of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” - Walt Disney’s famous cartoon adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind and The Willows.
Roger was all over the place: dense bop lines followed by stride piano licks; dissonance followed by melodically beautiful phrases; propulsive rumbling out of the lower register that led to cat-running-along-the-piano-keys tinkling in the high notes.
Not surprisingly, given his predisposition to stride, Roger made an LP for World Pacific Jazz … wait for it … Stride! [WP-1861].
John William Hardy wrote these informative liner notes for the recording.
“When pianist Roger Kellaway made his playing debut on records about three years ago [1963 A Jazz Portrait of Roger Kellway, Regina Records reissued as Fresh Sound CD 147] , it was, to say the least, an awe-inspiring event. For like no artist in the history of jazz, this man Kellaway had a deep and personally abiding ability to play, not only in a uniquely modern way, but in a driving two-handed stride piano style. Beyond that, he showed a familiarity with the compositional roots of traditional and modern jazz that allowed him on the same album to invoke the stride and in an obscure Sidney Bechet ditty called Broken Windmill, to deal out a gang of highly original originals in the beyond Bill Evans bag. It is completely safe to say that the world had never before encountered a pianist like Roger Kellaway. He is one of a handful of the most original modern improvisors, and he is one of the best stride pianists in the history of that interesting and difficult style. This album is built around Roger's love for the older facets of his musical personality, and for the kind of happy, carefree melody that seems to lay best with the striding medium-tempo feel. To top things off, the album offers us Kellaway's debut as a conductor and arranger. He has provided simple, uncluttered, but highly effective arrangements to augment the sound of the piano, bass and drums.
The music, as you will hear, has historical importance and contemporary value that should be assessed. So, like, what is stride piano and where does it fit in the history of jazz? Stride piano grew out of ragtime. Jelly Roll Morton was a ragtimer but only occasionally showed evidences of stride methods. Some of the later ragtime pianists, who had been largely followers of Morton in their earlier formative years, became the most prominent stride players.
Contrasting stride to ragtime, one may note the greater independence of the rhythmic left hand and the largely melodic right hand (ragtime found the two hands working in unison both rhythmic and melodic). Also, stride, as contrasted to ragtime, revealed greater rhythmic flexibility and a tendency for linear improvisation in the right hand while the left hand maintained the rhythmic drive playing a single note on the first and third beats and a chord on the second and fourth. While this is the basic form of the style, no stride pianist worth his salt ever held rigidly in that pattern but found infinite variation of the roles of his hands and the general feel of the music. Friends, I'd be more than happy to tell you that Roger Kellaway was a natural outgrowth of his vast experience with all the old striders... if it were true. "We could," says Kellaway, "get all involved in historical data that would nicely lead to such a conclusion, but it would be a pack of lies. I play stride piano because I want to play all of the piano and because this is a way of exploring the instrument that no other pianistic form will allow. Actually, in developing my abilities in stride, I began with listening to only a smattering of old Waller records to get the basic idea of it. Since then, I've relied totally upon my personal development of the style — plus my love for and interest in older forms of jazz in the most general way. Specifically, I like looking for older compositions of worth and beauty to which I can address myself in the older stride style, tunes like Lazysippi Steamer Going Home."
Kellaway continues: "Stride piano is happy piano and that feeling, plus the method itself, was the original basis for this album. We've tried to retain the feeling but we've diverged somewhat in the end result in the method. Stride still pervades most of my playing and when I do diverge from it as In Your Own Sweet Way, or a couple of other places. I still try to keep the same feeling and simple charm of the playing
I like contrasts in my playing —in fact, you can say that in any performance I give-any tune —I hope there'll be at least two quite diametrically opposed feelings involved. But in transition from one to the other, even within a few minutes as in these tunes, I've tried to remain as graceful and natural as possible. Eclecticism is fine, but when an eclectic such as I chooses to incorporate various styles from many eras into his work, he can truly speak of developing an original style from these parts only if he is successful in achieving the blend.”
As for the selections: Side One begins with the top 40's Sunny. That, in itself," says Roger, "was not the reason for playing it. It's a beautiful song. I've really looked forward to recording it for some time. Just like I fell for a couple of Beatle tunes that I've recorded. Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here! is from "On A Clear Day," the Broadway musical. Again a song I've wanted to do for some time. In fact, I recorded the original demo records of it for Lerner and Burton in New York. Lazysippi Steamer is an old Louis Armstrong tune that is one of the prettiest songs I've ever heard. I never play it without getting a great feeling inside, and I try to play it on every gig. It's become one of my most requested tunes. I never fail to announce its origin. It's beautiful, but I'm afraid a little puzzling to some people to know that you can find such great material in the jazz archives that is just aching to be played now. Porkette, My Love is light-hearted, but sad. Porkette was —darn it —a pet Guinea Pig that died. This is In Memoriam. Cherry is the Dizzy tune that Mulligan and Chet Baker did earlier on Pacific Jazz. This one illustrates what I meant about two moods, in the things I do.
Side Two begins with Cabaret from the musical of the same name. This is a... a fun tune. I superimposed the stride over the strings in the first chorus. The second chorus gets more sophisticated and then we move to a humorous ending. Ain't Misbehavin' is pure stride material of course, and one of Waller's favorites. This is one of the first tunes I ever played professionally— 13 years ago. Shows you how long I've been into this thing. In Your Own Sweet Way is probably Dave Brubeck's most famous composition and one that is performed by almost all jazz players. This is our most serious divergence from the general feel of the album. Dick Bock [owner of World Pacific Records] suggested it abruptly just to see what I would do with it in a spontaneous situation. To My Way Of Thinking incorporates more than one mood again, but in a more complex interrelationship. It incorporates the prepared piano and uses the time signatures of 3/4, 5/4 and 4/4. It is the most sophisticated and important piece in the album, from the standpoint of my own development."
Throughout all of this album, Roger Kellaway plays like a long lost legend of the stride piano, composes and arranges and even conducts like the fresh and markedly humorous young artist, with an understanding and respect for the past, that he is. He provides us with a musical sum total that won't let our minds wander or our feet keep still. Surely, that is what most of this music is supposed to be about.”
You can sample Roger’s stride stylings on the following video which features him playing Pops’ Lazysippi Steamer Going Home.
Lazysippi Steamer Going Home - Roger Kellaway - YouTube
One bright, sunny day “when the world was young,” a business luncheon found me in Pasadena, CA.
Located a few miles northeast of Los Angeles, CA., and because of this proximity, always considered a part of “old” California, the city is nestled in a valley just below the majestic San Gabriel Mountains.
The site for the meeting was The Athenaeum Club which is adjacent to the California Institute of Technology [Cal Tech] campus.
The Athenaeum is a members-only club that offers dining and lodging privileges to Cal Tech faculty, students and alumni, as well as, to employees of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and at the Huntington Museum/Library, both of which are also in Pasadena.
I was early for the meeting and the maître d'hôtel welcomed me to visit the club’s inner courtyard and gardens while I waited for my party to arrive.
Upon entering these areas, I noticed a vaguely familiar face seated on a bench in a shaded alcove. He was hunched over with this hands on his knees looking at an LP cover.
At his feet was a bag with the distinctive logo of Poo Bah's a record store that for many years was situated in an old house in Pasadena at the corner of Wilson and Walnut.
As I walked in his direction, it dawned on me that the man starring so intently at album cover was saxophonist Bill Perkins.
I had met Bill many years earlier during the making of his Quietly There LP as Victor Feldman and Larry Bunker, both of whom I studied with, invited me to a few of its recording sessions in the fall of 1966.
Bill looked up as I approached where he was sitting, smiled and with a brief nod in my direction, went back to examining the album.
I caught enough of a look at the album cover to recognize it as Benny Carter’s Aspects [United Artists 4017/5017S].
My recognition of it startled me into saying to him: “I have that record and you are Bill Perkins.”
To which he smiled, nodded and ask me to sit down.
I had forgotten that Bill had an engineering degree from Cal Tech which granted him alumni privileges at The Athenaeum. If I remember correctly, he was there to attend some sort of forum on acoustics that was scheduled to take place in one of the club’s small conference rooms. Bill had a long-standing interest in recording music.
After exchanging a few brief pleasantries, Bill looked down at the LP that he was still holding in his hands and said: “I was supposed to play on this date, but couldn’t make it, so Buddy Collette took my place.”
During the course of our brief conversation, I was struck by the respect that Bill evidenced for Benny Carter. I had always known of “Perk’s” fondness for the playing of tenor saxophonist Lester Young, but his knowledge of Benny’s career and his appreciation for his gifts as a musician was something that I hadn’t expected from such a “modern” musician.
When I said as much, Bill commented that while Benny’s first arrangements dated back to those he did for the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in the late 1920s, the charts on the Aspects album prove that his writing was up-to-date and current. “You might think that you were listening to Hefti or Mancini.”
Bill also offered that much of what Benny wrote during his career went unnoticed because it wasn’t recorded under his own name or because he wrote it for others while not calling attention to himself. “The man was such a Pro: he just did his job and went on to the next one.” [I was almost tempted to say, “Just like you, Bill,” but had the good sense not to]
Bill then looked at me over his reading glasses and said: “Do you realize that Benny Carter has been around since the very beginning of Jazz?”
What neither of us realized when Bill made this statement was that Benny was to also be around for another twenty years! He lived from 1907-2003!!
My luncheon guests arrived and I said goodbye to Bill and thanked him for the nice chat.
When I came across the Aspects CD recently, I remembered this brief visit with Bill and the memory of it also served to remind me that I had been remiss about not honoring Benny Carter – one of the Founding Fathers of Jazz - and his eight-decade contributions to its development with a piece on JazzProfiles plus a tribute video.
What follows is the editorial staff at JazzProfiles efforts to remedy this oversight.
The audio track to this video is Benny Carter’s arrangement of June is Busting Out All Over which features solos by trumpeter Joe Gordon, Frank Rosolino on trombone, Benny on alto saxophone and Shelly Manne on drums.
Benny Carter - 1907-2003: A Tribute - YouTube
And here are the insert notes that Ed Berger of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University prepared for the CD release of this recording. Ed is also the author of Benny Carter: A Life in American Music.
“In a seven-decade recording career as notable for its sustained creativity as for its unprecedented longevity, Benny Carter has created masterpieces in several eras and many different genres. Yet even amidst this monumental body of work, Aspects is a landmark. Apart from its considerable intrinsic musical value. Aspects attests to Carter's continued mastery of a genre he helped pioneer: big band Jazz. Carter, of course, was a prime architect of the swing era through his prescient arrangements for Fletcher Henderson and others in the late 1920s and earlv 1930s. as well as for his own legendary orchestras beginning in 1933.
By 1958, when Aspects was recorded. Carter was deeply ensconced in the Hollywood studios as an arranger, composer, and player, dividing his time between many diverse film and television assignments and occasional Jazz recordings. The latter included several memorable small group sessions but, apart from a few isolated tracks. Aspects was the only big band recording by Carter as leader from 1946 (when he disbanded his last regular orchestra) to 1987 (the year of his epic encounter with the American Jazz Orchestra).
Despite this four-decade hiatus, Carter had by no means divorced himself from big band arranging and composing. In addition to jazz-influenced film and television scores, he wrote material for two Basie albums, Kansas City Suite (1960) and The Legend (1961), which became milestones of the "New Testament" Basie orchestra.
Carter's activities as arranger/conductor for many top vocalists yielded big band gems for Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong, among others. But Aspects stands virtually alone as documentation of his unique orchestral approach during a transitional period for jazz in general and for Carter in particular.
The "jazz calendar" concept might at first glance seem a contrived and limiting marketing department gimmick. Indeed, when the album was repackaged only a couple of years after its release, its title was changed from Aspects to Jazz Calendar to further underscore the theme. But the idea yielded some fine material, and for those months for which no appropriate pieces existed Carter (and in one case Hal Schaefer) provided attractive originals.
The musicians Carter assembled for Aspects included many big band veterans who formed the pool of versatile Hollywood studio players. While not a working band, they played together on a daily basis in various combinations and permutations in the exacting world of studio work, often under Carter's baton. What the band may have lacked in individual character it more than made up for in precision and polish.
Furthermore. Carter's writing is so distinctive that any orchestra performing his work—from a college stage band to top-flight professionals such as these — immediately takes on some of the musical character of the arranger.
The reed section is the signature of any Carter-led orchestra, and Aspects is no exception. The saxes serve as a cushion for the soloists, provide melodic counterpoint to the brass, and leap to the fore in the patented solo passages for which Carter is famous. But here Carter achieves a balance among the sections which was not always present on his early arrangements. Although this orchestral symmetry is evident throughout, it is perhaps best demonstrated by the remarkable "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" where Carter ingeniously alternates melodic, harmonic, and even rhythmic roles among the saxes, trumpets, and trombones.
The unifying clement throughout is Carter's sublime alto. While Carter shines on every track, high points include his two quintessential choruses on his own "March Wind," the way he integrates his solo work into his arrangement on "June Is Bustin...", his brief melody statement and solo on -September Song," and his work on the two small group performances: "One Morning In May" and "August Moon." (Incidentally, some 35 years later Carter incorporated the latter's haunting theme into his Tales Of The Rising Sun suite.)
Among the other fine soloists, Frank Rosolino and the underrated Joe Gordon stand out. The spark supplied by Shelly Manne must also be noted. His swing, drive, and taste show why he was so in demand as a big band drummer before concentrating on small group settings.
The discovery that the mono and stereo issues of Aspects contain different takes for four tracks is a fascinating discographical anomaly. In the early days of stereo, separate recording setups were used for the stereo and mono versions. Apparently, during mastering, different takes were inadvertently used. Although the routines arc the same, there are slight differences in the performances. For example, the tempos are faster on the stereo versions of "June Is Bustin..." and "Swingin" In November." Another discographical oddity: Leonard Feather, who wrote the original liner notes, points out that it is Carter who plays the sleigh bells that open and close "Sleigh Ride In July" — yet another double for the multi-instrumentalist!
Almost forty years have passed since the recording of Aspects. By 1958, at age 51, Benny Carter was already being viewed as a historic figure if not an elder statesman of jazz. Incredibly, in 1996, as this album is being prepared for reissue, Carter has just completed two major commissions: one for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and one for the Library of Congress. Both involved extended works, with Carter himself as the featured soloist. With a constant flow of classic reissues such as Aspects and ambitious new recording projects, this is indeed a fortuitous time for Benny Carter fans.
- Ed Berger
Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University (Co-author, Benny Carter: A Life in American Music)”
Noal Cohen maintains a Jazz history website replete with a number of discographies of important Jazz artists and he is also the co-author along with Michael Fitzgerald of Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce that is now available in a second edition.
You can locate more information about both via the following links:
Although saxophonist Herb Geller (1928-2013) is remembered mainly for his significant contributions to the 1950s West Coast jazz scene, he actually spent the bulk of his professional career living and performing in Europe. A native Californian, he gained recognition through recordings with Shorty Rogers, Chet Baker, Maynard Ferguson, Clifford Brown and a series of highly regarded sessions for EmArcy Records under his own leadership, often in the company of his wife, the pianist Lorraine Walsh Geller. (They married in 1952.)
But the tragic death of Lorraine in 1958 at the age of only 30, due to complications of asthma, sent him into an emotional tailspin from which it would take years to recover. Their one year-old daughter Lisa, born with serious health problems, was adopted by his sister, an additional traumatic event that, at least, allowed Geller to continue to work. At the suggestion of Stan Getz, and while living temporarily in Sao Paulo, Brazil following a tour with Benny Goodman, he made the decision in 1961 to give Europe a try and initially landed in Paris; however, it would be Germany, Berlin (SFB (Radio Free Berlin) Orchestra) and finally Hamburg, where Geller would settle, eventually carving out an enviable career with the North German Radio Network (NDR). Although Geller had not planned to permanently relocate, the financial security and benefits the NDR position offered were too generous to turn down. He remarried and had two children, Olivia and Sam, with his second wife, Christine, whom he had met shortly after arriving in Germany.
Wolfgang Schlüter, Birdland Club, Hamburg, Germany – unknown date
Geller performed with the cream of European musicians including Friedrich Gulda, George Gruntz, Peter Herbolzheimer, Ack and Jerry van Rooyen, Rolf Kühn and Nils Lindberg as well as visiting Americans such as Art Farmer, Slide Hampton, Chet Baker, Johnny Griffin, Stan Getz, Phil Wilson, Joe Pass and Bill Evans. There were also some notable fellow ex-patriots with whom he collaborated, namely Kenny Clarke, Kenny Drew, Jiggs Whigham, Charlie Mariano, Walter Norris and Al Porcino. And the NDR ensembles – the “Bigband,” “Studioband” and “Dance and Entertainment Orchestra” – were populated with some of Europe’s most talented jazz artists and writers. Among these, mention must be made of vibraphonist/percussionist Wolfgang Schlüter (b. 1933), highly regarded in Germany but little known in the US and a frequent session-mate of Geller’s over the years.
It was at the beginning of his NDR tenure in 1965 that Geller added additional woodwind instruments to his armamentarium including piccolo, flutes, oboe and English horn. While this was an effort to increase his versatility in the new work environment, his jazz flute turned out to be a major complement to his established saxophone skills. The soprano saxophone was added in 1968 and he would frequently alternate the higher pitched horn with the alto in the years following, applying his rich tone and sparkling conception to a very difficult instrument.
Unfortunately, many of Geller’s European recordings have never been issued. The INA (French National Audiovisual Institute) in France has made some of his Paris appearances in the early 1960s available as audio and video downloads from their website; however, few of the countless sessions he participated in during his 28-year stint at the NDR studios in Hamburg (1965-1993) as performer, composer, arranger, and conductor have seen the light of day except for unauthorized recordings made by collectors dubbing radio broadcasts.
Regrettably, but not surprisingly, Geller’s decision to become an ex-patriot and devote the bulk of his musical efforts to largely unissued radio and television studio sessions has caused him to be somewhat forgotten in his home country. It is the purpose here to present some of the highlights of his European years that may not be well known or sufficiently appreciated. But before getting into that, let me say a few words about my personal experience with him and how our relationship developed.
My first exposure to him occurred through the US recordings mentioned above, now 60 years old, although like all great music, they stand the test of time well and still sound fresh and creative. Among the many “West Coasters” in vogue at the time, his playing had a special attraction for me because of its fluidity, solo construction and emotional appeal. I also appreciated his stylistic ties to both Charlie Parker and Benny Carter, an approach that, in my opinion, set him apart from other saxophonists of the 1950s. There was a fire in his early playing that remained a recognizable attribute right up to his final performances in 2012.
In 2011, I decided to compile a detailed discography of Geller as part of my effort to shine light on certain artists I have always felt were worthy of greater recognition. As a point of reference, my subjects also include saxophonists Gigi Gryce, Lucky Thompson, Frank Strozier and Bob Mover. Unfortunately, I never got to interview Geller, but during the course of my work, we exchanged many emails that often contained amusing and enlightening comments and I have taken the liberty of quoting several of them herein (his words in italics). During the period of our electronic correspondence, Geller suffered several bouts of pneumonia, some of which required hospitalization.
In placing Geller’s European career in perspective, it should be noted that he often accepted work in musical genres well outside the jazz realm including pop, rock, klezmer, cabaret and even some electronic sessions. About some of these, he commented: I did several recording sessions with various rock groups. They usually consisted of me alone with earphones. They were strictly ‘take the money and run’ affairs. Usually I did not know if I was playing with musicians or machines.These recordings, details of which are nearly impossible to obtain, are not included in the discography nor are they discussed here.
Geller’s European professional history is immense and space limitations preclude a thorough examination of his oeuvre; however, I have selected a number of sessions that while somewhat under the radar, in many cases are commercially available (although I make no guarantee finding them will be easy). The complete discography covering this period can be found here.
The Jazz aux Champs-Élysées (JACE) All Stars – Paris, April-July 1962
Before moving to Germany, Geller made a number of radio appearances on the RTF (Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française) radio show Jazz aux Champs-Élysées hosted by pianist Jacques “Jack” Diéval (1920-2012). In all of these, the pianist’s trio mates, bassist Jacques Hess and drummer Franco Manzecchi, were present and a frequent guest, in addition to the saxophonist, was the trumpeter Sonny Grey (1925-1987). Originally from Jamaica, Grey spent most of his career in Paris as a capable hard bop player. He organized a big band for which Geller contributed an arrangement of his own composition “Scotch Squatch.” The few extant recordings of Grey’s ensemble have been reissued by Fresh Sound Records. Grey can also be heard on the recently issued (2016) Larry Young in Paris: The ORTF Recordings (Resonance Records) from 1964 and 1965.
Other participants on these broadcasts included trumpeter Bernard Vitet, tenor saxophonist Francois Jeanneau and vibraphonist Dany Doriz. The material performed was largely familiar standards and some bebop/hardbop chestnuts like Jimmy Heath’s “C.T.A.,” “Crazeology” by Charlie Parker and Benny Harris and Bobby Timmons’s “Moanin’.” The quintet with Grey, however, covered a relatively infrequently heard Thelonious Monk composition, “Brake’s Sake,” which debuted on a 1955 Signal Records session led by Gigi Gryce.
Geller offered these comments on his work with Diéval and more: We were doing a show called Musique des Champs Élysées and presenting it over several major cities in Europe. We also did a radio studio production once a week. We always played as a quintet. There was a fine trumpet player named Sonny Grey in the group. I also did some things in the Blue Note in Paris where I played with Kenny Drew, René Thomas (guitarist), Lou Bennett, Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke. I have a videocassette of a TV recording there. Also I did a recording for the West Berlin SFB (where I played for three years before Hamburg). I was the leader for a session, did the writing and the band consisted of Donald Byrd, Dexter Gordon, Francy Boland, Joe Harris, Ake Persson and Juergen Ehlers (bass) and it is possible it is in the archives of SFB. It was 1964 or 1965. I did an arrangement of Hoagy’s ‘Blue Orchids’ featuring Dexter.
None of Geller’s recordings with Diéval has been issued on CD but can be downloaded from the INA website as audio files after an account has been established.
NDR Jazz Workshops 1962-1982
The NDR broadcasts included a series of “Jazz Workshops.” This long-running series was established in 1958 by Hans Gertberg, a theatrically trained radio personality and director. Austrian saxophonist Hans Koller was the program’s first musical director. Over the years, an impressive list of European and American musicians participated in the broadcasts, many of which featured original compositions and arrangements and covered a broad range of genres, some of the material being quite adventurous. Unauthorized recordings of many of these programs have circulated among collectors for years. Herb Geller participated in nine of the workshops representing a diversity of musical settings, the first two taking place before he was formally employed by NDR:
June 29, 1962
March 27, 1963
June 24, 1966
March 28, 1969
Albert Mangelsdorff & Charles Tolliver
November 28, 1969
April 30, 1971
76 (see below)
February 14, 1972
Herb Geller & Bill Evans
December 12, 1980
April 2, 1982
*Geller contributed an arrangement of one his compositions to this workshop: “Feeling Certain,” based on the chord changes of George Gershwin’s “That Certain Feeling.” On composing, he offered the following: I wrote several songs based on chord sequences: I did one on ‘High On a Windy Hill,’ on ‘Deep In a Dream’ and on ‘You Go to My Head,’ all of which have interesting progressions. When composing one has to start somewhere – a rhythm, a melodic motif, a title or a chord sequence.
**Geller contributed a suite to this workshop entitled “Let Me Play the Lion Too” which is made up of several familiar themes. About this he commented: I had several productions in my first contract with the NDR. For the small group sets I was asked by the producer (Michael Naura) to do some American folk songs. I found a book with many choices and found 8 songs that were doable with some new harmonies. These were recorded. Later I was asked by the producer (Hans Gertberg) of the Jazz Workshop series to write a suite where I would play 8 different instruments (four flutes, oboe, English Horn and 2 saxes); somehow I ignored the clarinet. That suite [“Let Me Play the Lion Too”] was the result using the previous songs. It was almost a circus act. I don’t know where the animal title came from.
Early Bird Jam Session – June 7, 1965
Jacques Diéval Trio at the Early Bird Jam Session
In an unusual and for the time, technologically challenging session, Jacques Diéval assembled an international aggregation of horn players joining his Paris-based trio in a performance of Lester Young’s blues “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid.” The novel feature here involved the guests all performing in different locations (listed in solo order): Geller (alto sax) in Berlin, Jacques Pelzer (flute) in Brussels, Dino Piana (valve trombone) in Rome, Johnny Dankworth (alto sax) in London, Luc Hoffmann (alto sax) in Geneva and Billy Byers (trombone) in New York City. The television broadcast was part of the Jack Diéval Presents show. Video of this performance is available from the INA website.
In response to a question about this unconventional gig Geller commented: I do remember that. I think we did that gimmick a couple times while I was in Berlin. That was the same rhythm section [Diéval, Hess, Manzecchi] we used for all my associations with Diéval.
Art Farmer – Hamburg Souvenirs: People – December 1, 1965
This radio broadcast comprises an appealing collection of standards and, in a reflection of pop trends of the time, versions of “People” by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill from the show Funny Girl and Lennon and McCartney’s “Hard Day’s Night.” The program was performed by a sextet led by Art Farmer (1928-1999) on flugelhorn, with Geller on alto sax and flute, Wolfgang Schlüter, vibraphone, Michael Naura, piano, Eberhard Leibling, bass and Jimmy Pratt, drums. All of the arrangements are by Geller who commented: The Art Farmer production was the first thing I wrote for the NDR after taking the job. This session is not commercially available but unauthorized recordings have circulated.
Baden Powell – Grandezza on Guitar – December 10-11, 1971
CBS 80 141
Geller’s only encounter with the Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell de Aquino (1937-2000) finds him only on flutes, but the music is samba at its best. Except for Ervin Drake’s “It Was a Very Good Year” (an alto flute/guitar duet), all the material was composed by Powell. The accompanists are Eberhard Weber on bass and Joaquim Paes Henriques on drums. About these sessions Geller commented: I remember I played flute and alto flute and Eberhard Weber was on bass and neither Baden nor the drummer could speak English or German, so it was a little complicated. The LP that resulted, Grandezza on Guitar, was issued on the European CBS (80 141 (1974); 22026 (1976)) and Japanese Epic (ECPM 107 (1974)) labels, but there seem to be no US releases and no CD reissues.
The Bill Evans Encounter – February 12 & 14, 1972
Bill Evans and Herb Geller, NDR Studio, Hamburg, Germany, Feb. 12, 1972
The only documented collaboration of Geller and piano master Bill Evans (1929-1980) took place as part of the NDR Jazz Workshop series mentioned above. Of great interest here is the filming of the rehearsal for the actual live performance two days prior to the event at the NDR studios by director Werner Schlichting and cinematographer Klaus Brix. According to Geller: They [Bill Evans Trio] arrived in Hamburg from New York, checked in at their hotel and [were] brought immediately to the Funkhaus. Geller (on flutes) is observed rehearsing his compositions “Sao Paulo,” “Northern Trail,” “Quarter Tone Experiments” and “Waltz of Dissension” with Evans, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell. There is also an incomplete version of “What Is this Thing Called Love” with Geller on alto sax. The video has been issued on Jazz Shots (Sp.) 2869088 (2009 DVD) and the audio on Turning Point TUP 133282 (2012 CD).
The concert (NDR Jazz Workshop No. 76) took place on February 14, 1972 with the Evans trio playing several pieces before being joined by Geller on flute and alto flute. All the Geller compositions on the rehearsal video are performed along with another of his works entitled “Stockenhagen.” The concert has been issued on the Turning Point CD but no video of it seems to exist. In view of the quality of the music produced at this event, it seems a shame that Geller and Evans never again recorded together.
Dusko Gojkovic and the NDR Studio Band with guests Dexter Gordon, Slide Hampton and Horace Parlan – May 18, 1974
Here is the NDR Studio Band in live concert at the Fabrik club in Hamburg. Serbian-born trumpeter Dusko Gojkovic (b. 1931) is the leader with tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon (1923-1990), trombonist Slide Hampton (b. 1932) and pianist Horace Parlan (b. 1931) on board as featured artists. Gojkovic, Hampton and George Gruntz contribute arrangements as does Geller who is responsible for a chart on the Jule Styne-Sammy Kahn standard, “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears out to Dry,” a feature for Gordon. Geller himself solos on alto sax on Gruntz’s “Drinking Song,” soprano sax on Duke Ellington’s “Saturday Night Function” and Luis Russell’s “Jersey Lightning” and flute on Gojkovic’s “Latin Haze.” This concert has been issued on Gambit (Sp.) 69304_2 (2008 CD) as Dexter Gordon: The Complete Hamburg Concert 1974.
Herb Geller – An American in Hamburg: The View from Here – January 13, 1975
Geller’s only excursion into fusion and electronic music was undoubtedly inspired by trends of the 1970s and resulted in his first album as a leader since the Gypsy recording for the Atco label in June of 1959. With overdubbing, synthesizers and funk rhythms, it was certainly a major departure from the bebop/hard bop settings he had favored up to this point and, as it turned out, a stylistic approach he never returned to as a leader. All of the writing is his and four of the titles feature vocals with politically charged lyrics, three handled by the wonderful Mark Murphy and one by a singer named Earl Jordan, at the time a member of the Les Humphries Singers, a Hamburg-based vocal ensemble. This seems to be Jordan’s only appearance on a jazz recording. He made one LP under his own name, Jordan, on the British Sovereign label.
The international band that Geller assembled for this project was an impressive one with Palle Mikkelborg on trumpet, Wolfgang Schlüter on vibraphone, Philip Catherine on guitar, Rob Franken and Gottfried Boettger on keyboards, Lucas Lindholm on bass and Alex Riel on drums. Geller himself is heard on soprano, alto and tenor saxophones as well as flute and alto flute. The four vocal tracks “Rhyme and Reason Time” (the Jordan feature), “Sudden Senility,” “The Power of a Smile” and “Space al la Mode” were also recorded as instrumental versions. One other instrumental, entitled “Title Wave,” would surface on other recordings as “Cosmopolitan Meetings.” As one would expect, the performances are all flawless but at the same time frustrating because the fusion genre feels inconsistent with the leader’s more traditionally oriented attributes.
The results of this session were issued in Germany as a double LP on Nova (Ger.) 6.28332DX (1975) which included both the vocal and instrumental tracks. In the US, five of the titles were issued on Atlantic SD 1681 (1975) and later, Discovery DS 874 (1983), as Rhyme and Reason, single LPs lacking the instrumental versions of the vocal tracks. The full session is also available on Tramp (Ger.) TRCD 9024 (2013).
Herb Geller Quartet live in Siegen – November 24, 1984
By the mid-1980s, Geller began to appear more often on his own, away from the NDR studios. He appeared at the Jazzclub Oase in Siegen, a city 440 km. south of Hamburg, at the end of 1984, with a capable trio led by pianist Hartmut Sperl including Bernd Wolf on bass and Achim Bräuer on drum. Geller leads the group through a couple of sets of standard material this night that were recorded and issued on two Circle (Ger.) LPs, Hot House(241184/30) and Fungi Mama(241184/34). The twelve tracks, with the leader stretching out on alto sax in a relaxed atmosphere, are definitely worth a listen if the LPs can be found. There appear to be no CD reissues.
Herb Geller and Nils Lindberg – How ‘Bout It – November 11, 1985
"Dans The Broadway Bit, I Get Boot Of You et What's New, il remet tranquillement en cause la conception usuelle du grand orchestre, car «pourquoi ne pas se servir d'une petite formation à l'intérieur d'une grande ? » Mulligan esquissait déjà cette position avec son tentette. Sections ou ensembles se voient ramenés au second plan : ils lient les solos, exposent parfois les thèmes, relancent brièvement la tension, puis s'effacent pour laisser le champ libre aux solistes supportés par la seule rythmique. Ces derniers sont des familiers de Marty Paich : Art Pepper, Jack Sheldon, Vie Feldman et Jimmy Giuffre. La précision des jonctions petite formation / grand orchestre garantissent l'équilibre de l'ensemble. L'arrangeur applique cette même formule lorsqu'il a en charge la célébration de deux solistes, Art Pepper et Ray Brown. Pour l'alto, il construit de véritables concertos : «Je voulais lui apporter une source d'inspiration différente de celle à laquelle il était habitué avec son quartette. Je voulais qu'Art sente derrière lui l'impact d'un orchestre.» Soutenir, mais ne pas étouffer. Une fois les choses mises en route, l'alto se retrouve bien souvent seul devant Russ Freeman, Joe Mondragon et Mel Lewis."
- Alain Tercinet, West Coast Jazz [Marseille, Parenthesis/Epistrophy, 1986]
"In The Broadway Bit, I Get Boot Of You and What's New, he [Paich] quietly questions the usual design of the great orchestra because "why not use a smaller group inside a big one? Mulligan already sketched this position with his tentette. Sections or ensembles are brought to the background: they link the solos, sometimes expose the themes, briefly relaunch the tension, then fade to leave the field free to the soloists borne by the rhythm section alone. The latter are familiar with Marty Paich: Art Pepper, Jack Sheldon, Vic Feldman and Jimmy Giuffre. The precision of the junctions small formation / large orchestra guarantees the balance of the ensemble. The arranger applies this same formula when he is in charge of the celebration of two soloists, Art Pepper and Ray Brown. For the alto, he built real concertos: "I wanted to bring him a source of inspiration different from the one he was used to with his quartet. I wanted Art to feel the impact of an orchestra behind him. "Support, but not stifle. Once started, the alto often finds himself alone in front of Russ Freeman, Joe Mondragon and Mel Lewis."
I wanted to re-post this piece on Marty from the earliest days of the blog to clean-up some line breaks, correct some typos [wanna bet more than a few remain?], and to add the opening quotation from Alain Tercinet's West Coast Jazz [I did not own a copy of this work when I was writing the original piece] and the video at the end that feature Marty's work on alto saxophonist Art Pepper classic album.
But most of all, I wanted to re-read it myself as a way of remembering how much pleasure Marty's skills as an arranger have given me over the years.
His writing takes me back to the ebullience of my youngest days in the music when I was surrounded by the melodic and rhythmic sounds of West Coast Jazz. Marty provided a "voice" for a lot of the artists who became closely associated with this style of Jazz: the big bands of Stan Kenton and Terry Gibbs, vocalists like Mel Torme, and the small groups of Shorty Rogers and Art Pepper.
Extended pieces or "profiles" such as this one is what helped set my course when I first started blogging about my Jazz heroes eight years ago [has it really been that long?]
My motivation then, as it is now, was to pay tribute to my Jazz "inspirations" and "teachers" with lengthy narratives, hopefully well-researched in the Jazz literature at my disposal, as a way of commemorating them. After all, our immortality rests in the mind of others.
It is hard to disagree with Ted Gioia’s claim that “Marty Paich is one of the unsung heroes of West Coast Jazz.” [West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960: [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992]
As revealed by Charles Barber, curator of the Marty Paich website, this anonymity may in part be due to the fact that Marty “… took little interest in self-promotion, never acquired a personal agent, happily saw his business affairs managed by his capable first wife Huddy, and as soon as finances permitted decamped Los Angeles for a ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara.” Or as Gioia’s asserts: “His personal lifestyle had none of the flamboyance and eccentricity of his long-time friend and collaborator Art Pepper’s, and his years of extended labors in the studios make it all too easy to overlook his contributions to jazz.” And yet, Marty Paich was a prodigious talent: a pianist, composer, arranger, conductor, producer, and musical director whose career spanned half a century, and included work with such Jazz artists as Shorty Rogers, Buddy DeFranco, Anita O’Day, Shelly Manne, Stan Kenton, Art Pepper, the Terry Gibbs Dream Band, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, as well as, popular music artists including Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt, Stan Getz, Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson, and many more. Not a bad resume for a name that is largely unknown outside of professional circles.
Born in Oakland, California on January 23, 1925, Martin Louis Paich came from a non-musical family which may explain why his first instrument was an accordion! He would be asked to play it on picnics and family special occasions. Although his earliest music lessons were on the accordion, he also took instruction on the piano.
As Charles Barber details: by age 10, Marty had formed the first of numerous bands, and by age 12 was regularly playing at weddings and similar affairs. While attending McClymonds High School, Marty also took up trumpet.
After graduating from McClymonds High School, Paich attended a series of professional schools in music, including Chapman College, San Francisco State University, the University of Southern California, and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music where he graduated (1951) magna cum laude with a Master's degree in composition.
In a 1988 interview with Ted Gioia, Marty explained that during his service career following WW II:
“There was no pianist in the band that I was attached to, an air force band. And being that I was an accordion player, closest to the keyboard, they said, ‘Paich, sit at the piano.’ My right hand was all right, but I had no left hand at all.”
Gioia goes on to state that Marty developed into a first-rate pianist as can be heard on his Mode trio LP [105, reissued on CD as VSOP #64], “… a talent that has been overshadowed by his greater recognition as an arranger.”
I have always thought that Marty played what musicians’ refer to as “arranger’s piano” which has less emphasis on single note runs and horn-like phrases and uses more chords played with one or both hands to develop rhythmic motifs. Or as Joe Quinn states in the liner notes to the Mode trio LP:
“Marty’s arranging and composing talents are as much in evidence in this LP as his playing technique which is an added bonus in this interpretive collection.” Joe goes on to explain that “Marty’s prominence as an arranger has grown so during the past five years [c. 1952-57] that he has had little opportunity to purvey his talents as a pianist on record. In fact, although he has worked as a sideman on several dates, this is the first recorded set [along with red Mitchell on bass and Mel Lewis on drums] which has appeared under his own name.” Following his discharge from military service, Marty took some classes at San Francisco State before ultimately receiving a master’s degree in composition with high honors in 1951 from the Los Angeles Conservatory of music. Additionally, he was able to use the GI Bill to study with composers outside the faculty at the conservatory and Marty applied these funds to work under Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. As told to Gioia during their interview: “I spent four years with him being my composition and orchestrations teacher. And that’s how I got ninety percent of my formal knowledge.”
And yet, the beginning of his involvement in composition and arrangement pre-date his formal study as Marty “… started arranging when I was about twelve years old. … By the time I was sixteen years old I was actually selling my arrangements, I think for about $20 or $25.” [Gioia interview] Marty sold these early charts to Gary Nottingham since his orchestra provided his earliest paying work as arranger; together with Pete Rugolo he wrote some of that band's best-known charts.
What Gioia refers to as “street smart” arranging skills probably came about in the following manner as described by Charles Barber, curator of Marty’s website:
“From the beginning of his professional career, he also learned music in the time-honored ways: he transcribed countless tunes and charts from recordings, he attended innumerable concerts, and he sat-in on a thousand jams. And from the beginning Paich had an extraordinary ear for style, and tremendously eclectic taste. These gifts would serve him well in his career and provide the opportunity to work in an amazingly large circle of musicians.”
Although most of his small group recordings with The Giants would feature either Pete Jolly or Lou Levy on piano, two of Shorty Rogers earliest quintet LPs would include Marty on piano. These were the 1953 tracks on the seminal Cool and Crazy LP [RCA BMG 74321610582] and the RCA Bluebird compilation released on CD as Shorty Rogers – Short Stops [5917-2-RB]. In addition to working with Shorty’s small group primarily in 1953, Paich took a series of jobs in the Los Angeles music and recording industry. These included arranging (and playing) the score for the Disney Studio's full length cartoon film The Lady and The Tramp, working as accompanist for vocalist Peggy Lee [who was also heavily involved in developing the music for the Disney animation], touring with Dorothy Dandridge, and providing arrangements for many local bands in Los Angeles.
In 1954, and perhaps as an extension of his time with Shorty Rogers, Marty began his writing experiments for larger small groups or what he would ultimately call “a band within the band.” Octets and dek-tettes [10-piece groups] would become the vehicle for such arranging platforms beginning with Marty Paich Octet: Tenors West Vol. No. 10, GNP-153. Paich's work on this recording reflected one of his greatest strengths as an arranger: making relatively small groups sound like full-size orchestras. Employing Bob Enevoldsen on everything from valve trombone to vibes to tenor saxophone, Harry Klee on bass as well as alto flute using the piano’s upper register to play unison lines in the upper horn or trumpet register, Paich develops orchestral colors that are reminiscent of everything from the Woody Herman four brothers sound [from which, no doubt, the name – “Tenors West” – is derived] to the yet-to-come Henry Mancini hip, slick and cool Peter Gunn resonances. A trumpet plays under a baritone sax, a bass plays “lead” in a “choir” made up of trumpet, flute and piano, and rhythmic riffs and motifs punctuate backgrounds everywhere. On this recording, Marty is the musical equivalent of a kid in a toy store trying everything in every combination.
In addition to eight originals, Paich especially employs the “four brothers tenor sound” using three tenors and either Harry Klee’s flute or a baritone sax played by Jack Dulong to create beautiful renditions of three standards: There’s No You, Take the “A” Train, and Mulligan’s Line for Lyons, breathing new life into these familiar melodies with his intriguing arrangements. Incidentally, Conte Candoli on trumpet has never sounded better as his usual, fiery self. Also, if you’ve ever wondered what the “Chet-Baker-side” of Conte would sound like, this is the album to checkout.
Throughout the decade of the 1950's, Paich was active in West Coast Jazz performance while also working intensively in the studios. He not only played on, but arranged and produced, numerous West Coast jazz recordings, including albums by Ray Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Terry Gibbs, Stan Kenton, Shelley Manne, Anita O'Day, Dave Pell, Art Pepper, Buddy Rich, Shorty Rogers, and Mel Tormé. His professional and personal association with Tormé, "though occasionally a difficult one," would last decades. Many jazz critics feel their work together with the Marty Paich Dektette to be the high point of their respective careers.
One of Marty enduring contributions to the “West Coast Sound” was the development of arrangements that “… are gems of control and restraint; they boot the musicians along without unduly distracting attention from the soloists.” [Bob Gordon, Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s, London: Quartet Books, 1986, p. 177]. Marty also became quite adept at voicing his arrangements to accentuate the signature sound of some of the more notable West Coast Jazz instrumentalists such as Jack Sheldon’s puckish trumpet and the full, mellow alto saxophone tone of Art Pepper. Charles Barber described Marty’s skills as a composer arranger as follows:
“The music of Marty Paich is characterized by a wide-ranging catholicity of style, a tremendous sense of color, and impeccable taste. He was never a musical braggart, and never put himself first. His dedication was to the music he wrote and arranged, to the text it endorsed, and to the artists with whom he worked. Although notoriously perfectionist and demanding in the studio and onstage, Marty was a man of uncommon humility.
He was influenced by many forces: his classical training gave him skill and superb technique. His experience in jazz created a sense of driven pulse and easy improvisation. ...
And he was fast. What composer-conductor John Williams described as “the best ears in the business” could work with terrific speed, hearing instantly what was needed, and what was possible. He was often called upon to bail out others who had gotten stuck in muddy waters. In that regard, a fair amount of his music went un-credited.”
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the chronological emphasis for this piece, whether Marty was writing for Ray Brown, Stan Kenton, Terry Gibbs, Art Pepper or Mel Tormé, he always wrote in the context of the signature sounds of these musicians or groups.
It would be difficult to find a better example of this strength than Ray Brown’s Bass Hit [Verve 314 559 829-2] as arranged and conducted by Marty for as Don Heckman states in his insert notes :
“Bass players have rarely appeared as soloists with a big band. … Ray Brown has never been one to avoid a challenge. … Holding everything together are the arrangements of Marty Paich. … Although Paich’s charts, for the most part, have the sprightly rhythmic uplift one associates with West Coast, he also brings a Count Basie-like sensibility to several numbers, perhaps most notably “Blues for Sylvia” [co-composed by Brown and Paich].” On Bass Hit, Paich surrounds Brown with his “small” big band, a format, as has been noted, that Paich was becoming quite expert at. This one included such distinctive soloists as trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, Herb Geller on alto sax, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre with his signature lower and mid range sound, guitarist Herb Ellis along with pianist Jimmy Rowles and the always-present-on-Marty-Paich-led-dates, Mel Lewis on drums, to round-out the rhythm section. Ray Brown and the stellar players joining him on this recording all benefited from Marty’s “gift” of writing arrangements that allowed them to put their personality into the music.
To paraphrase Don Heckman: “In a sense, the real question about Bass Hit was how well Brown would fit into the kind of orchestral context provided by Paich, in association with these soloists – both stylistically and as a lead instrumentalist. The answer, best stated by the music itself, is testimony to the great adaptability that [both Paich] and Brown have demonstrated throughout their careers.” During this period, Marty also prepared arrangements for what many considered the most swinging version of the Stan Kenton orchestra as co-led by lead trumpeter Al Porcino and drummer Mel Lewis. This swinging emphasis was no doubt due to the fact that the band performed arrangements written by Gerry Mulligan, Bill Holman, Johnny Richards and Marty. In 1957, Marty contributed two charts to the Kenton book that were recorded in January of the following year for Stan’s Back to Balboa album [Capitol Jazz 7243 5 93094 2]. These were the furiously up-tempo The Big Chase and an absolutely stunning arrangement of My Old Flame. Michael Sparke, the noted expert on all-things-Kenton when its comes to his studio recordings had this to say about Marty’s association with Stan and these arrangements:
“Marty Paich was never a regular member of the arranging staff, but was one of the few writers that Stan entrusted to submit the occasional chart, and ‘My Old Flame’ became a classic in the book. In [Kenton trumpeter] Phil Gilbert’s view, ‘Marty Paich was one of Hollywood’s great arrangers. He wrote lush, rich charts for dozens of the best singers. His ballads were unique in their harmonies and extraordinary originality. I still remember the feeling I got when we first rehearsed ‘My Old Flame’ at Zardi’s [a Beverly Hills, CA supper club]. After all the moving moods throughout, came the classical climax. I said, ‘My God, that’s gorgeous. Everyone was stunned." … Nothing could better portray Paich’s versatility or be a stronger contrast to ‘Flame’ than ‘The Big Chase,’ which sweeps all before it in an exciting surge of sound. “Playing’ The Big Chase’ felt like the number for a circus high-wire act,’ continued Phil Gilbert. ‘Maybe Stan said, “Marty, write something at 150 miles an hour.”’ In 1991, Marty was to conduct The Big Chase and My Old Flame along with reprisals of his Body and Soul arrangement for the Kenton band and his original composition Neophonic Impressions 65 done in 1965 for Kenton’s 1960’s Neophonic Orchestra. The occasion would be a four day-celebration involving alumni members of the Kenton band organized by Ken Poston, then of jazz radio station FM88.1 KLON, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kenton Orchestra’s debut at the Rendezvous Ballroom on Balboa Island, CA.
In the four CD Stan Kenton Retrospective [Capitol CDP 7 97351/52/53/54 2] Ted Daryll comments: “Two sessions in January of ’58 delivered, among others, Marty Paich’s gorgeous idea on ‘My Old Flame’ that featured the equally beautiful sound of Bill Perkins’ tenor [saxophone].” A few years later at another of Ken Poston’s four-day festivals dedicated to Jazz on the West Coast, this time under the auspices of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, I asked Bill Perkins for his recollections about playing on Marty’s arrangement of My Old Flame and he had this to say:
“It was a wonderful work, but I really had to concentrate or I’d be swept away by all the beauty that was going on around me. Everybody on the band loved to play that chart; it was so moving and beautiful. I must have played it a hundred times and it was a relief each time it was over because I didn’t want to mess up what Marty had done with it.” Also in 1957, Marty continued his band-within-band love affair with the release of nine of his original compositions on the Cadence Records Marty Paich Big Band [CLP-3010] which was issued on CD as Marty Paich: The Picasso of Big Band Jazz [Candid CCD 79031].
According to Frankie Nemko-Graham’s insert notes for the Candid CD:
“During the past years Paich has written many small band arrangements for such groups as the Dave Pell Octet, Shelly Manne, and several vocalists, using the trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, trombone, baritone sax and the French Horn.
With this instrumentation he was able to run the gamut of color. Which gave him an idea. ‘Why not,’ he thought, ‘use this small band with a big band?’ So when Albert Marx asked him to write an album he decided to practice his theory. To the six instruments mentioned [Jack Sheldon, Herb Geller, Bob Cooper, Bob Enevoldsen, Marty Berman, Vince De Rosa] he added two trumpets [Pete Candoli and Buddy Childers], another trombone [Herbie Harper], another sax [Bill Perkins] and a rhythm section [Marty on piano, Joe Mondragon, bass and Mel Lewis on drums].
He wasn’t trying for a big band sound. He wanted, instead, to help swing and excite the small band in front. The results are something new and different. In the first track “From Now On,” for instance, the five brasses are playing the melody while the small band is supplying the harmony. When the trumpet solo starts, the background would usually be the standard sax section. Instead, Paich wrote a figure in the brass. With this he used the remaining front line to play in unison.
Paich says he can’t give enough credit to the soloists on this album. To Jack Sheldon on trumpet for his tasty conception of “From Now On.” Bob Enevoldsen on valve trombone on almost every track. Bob Cooper on tenor sax playing his usual best. Vince De Rosa for his wonderful French Horn and Marty Berman on baritone.” [All of whom are featured in a significant way to help create the trademark Paich small-band-sound-within-a-larger-band sound].” Paralleling Marty instrumental work during the mid-1950s, Marty also employed his developing arranging skills and small band within a big band format to..
"As far as I'm concerned, no one in the world plays the guitar better than he. They might play it differently, but nobody plays better. Johnny could easily overplay because he's got chops unlimited, but his musical taste would not allow him to make an overstatement. As a result, he makes beautiful music."
- Barney Kessell, Jazz guitarist
The few times I was in his presence – mainly accompanying friends to the guitar clinics he was conducting – Johnny Smith, who died on June 12th at the age of ninety-five - struck me as a quiet and dignified man.
He was universally adored by Jazz guitarists.
Although he reappeared on the Jazz scene from time-to-time, most of his now-legendary recordings were made in the 1950s.
Before opening a guitar store in Colorado Springs, CO in 1958, Johnny was very active in the New York studios.
Fortunately for Jazz fans, and notwithstanding their commercial aspects, in what has become an almost customary act of conscience and consideration, Michael Cuscuna and his fine team at Mosaic Records have assembled Johnny’s classic recordings into an 8 CD set and issued it as The Complete Roost Johnny Smith Small Group Sessions [MD8-216].
The highlights of Johnny’s career, the reasons for his relocation to Colorado and his own thoughts about his music are covered in detail in the accompanying booklet to the Mosaic set which were written in 2002 by Vincent Pelote of the Institute of Jazz Studies which is on the campus of Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, NJ.
Here are excerpts from the introduction [paragraphing modified].
“Johnny Smith hasn't been a household name since his hit single Moonlight in Vermont in 1952. There is the occasional magazine or newspaper article, but it is largely the guitar community (a rather clannish bunch) who still sings the praises of this titan of the guitar. Guitarist Barney Kessel once said about Smith: "As far as I'm concerned, no one in the world plays the guitar better than he. They might play it differently, but nobody plays better. Johnny could easily overplay because he's got chops unlimited, but his musical taste would not allow him to make an overstatement. As a result, he makes beautiful music." Kessel's comments are indicative of the universal respect that Smith enjoys among his fellow guitarists. While Smith himself steadfastly maintains that he does not consider himself a jazz player, critics and musicians alike continue to hail him as a giant among the jazz guitar elite.
John Henry Smith, Jr. was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on June 25, 1922. His father, a foundry worker, played five-string banjo on which the young man got to "plunk around a bit" whenever his dad's musical friends dropped by the Smith household. When the Depression closed down the foundries in Birmingham, the Smiths had to leave to find work. After stays in New Orleans and Chattanooga, the family finally settled in Portland, Maine. It was during this time that Smith's love for the guitar began to grow and he eventually taught himself how to play. He worked out a deal with the local Portland pawnshops: in exchange for keeping their guitars in tune, they let him hang around and play the instruments.
Smith diligently practiced and progressed to the point where, by age 13, he had a number of adults studying under him. In fact, one of those adults gave Johnny his first guitar while the young man was a sophomore in high school. Some of his early influences included Django Reinhardt, Andres Segovia, Charlie Christian and Les Paul. Smith listened to a wide spectrum of music and musicians on radio and records, but was really drawn to the freedom, spontaneity and creativity of jazz and wholeheartedly appreciated the musicianship and improvisational skill it demanded. Smith played for a short time in the Fenton Brothers dance band, then joined Uncle Lem & His Mountain Boys, a local hillbilly band. The Depression was still going strong, but young Smith was earning as much as $4.00 a night — good money at that time. He eventually dropped out of high school to concentrate on his music.
At 18, Smith left the Mountain Boys to form his own group, the Airport Boys (an early indicator of his lifelong love of flying). The trio used the interesting instrumentation of two guitars and a stringed bass for which Smith wrote arrangements. When World War II broke out, the guitarist enlisted in the Army Air Corps, but faulty vision in one eye forced him out of flight school. Smith then joined the Air Corps band. Since his favored instrument was not suited to a military band, Smith was given a cornet and an Arban method book and told to lock himself in the latrine for two weeks and practice until he could play it. Faced with the prospect of either learning the cornet (he couldn't read music at the time) or being shipped off to mechanics school, he practiced intensely and became accomplished enough to join the band. He even advanced to first chair in the 364th Air Corps Band out of Macon, Georgia.
The following year he was reassigned to the 8th Air Corps in Montgomery, Alabama, and was ordered to form a jazz band. Smith managed to assemble a quartet from the available talent with the unusual instrumentation of two guitars, a mandolin and a bass. Glenn Miller (at that time an Air Corps major) heard Smith with his group and tried to "requisition" him for his own band, but the Air Corps nixed it.
After the war, Smith returned to Portland and became a staff musician at the NBC radio affiliate there. He also played guitar in the local nightclubs and trumpet in the pit band of a Portland vaudeville theater. In 1946, conductor Eugene Ormandy invited the guitarist to join the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, an offer he declined.
That same year Smith's boss at the Portland station sent a demo recording of Smith's playing to Roy Shields, the music director at NBC in New York City. Shields was sufficiently impressed and hired the guitarist as a staff musician. Smith's well-known reluctance to consider himself a jazz guitarist may have its roots in his tenure at the network, where he was often called upon to play everything from classical to polkas. This was an extremely busy time for Smith. Besides performing on as many as 35 radio (and later television) programs a week for NBC, he also played jobs with the New York Philharmonic (under Dimitri Mitropoulos), the Philadelphia Symphony (under Ormandy), and the NBC Symphony Orchestra (under the legendary Arturo Toscanini).
In an interview with Bob Campbell in 2001, Smith talked about his tenure with the volatile maestro: "Toscanini was a genius, but he was a tyrant with a nasty temper. He'd fly into towering rages. One time in rehearsal he jerked his beautiful gold watch from out of his vest pocket and slammed it down on the podium, sending parts spraying all over the stage. I walked on eggshells playing under his direction. I was very careful not to set him off."
In 1950 and '51, Smith served as guitarist for Benny Goodman's orchestra and sextet, which also included Terry Gibbs. His only high-profile recording from this period is an April 1, 1951 Goodman broadcast on WNEW which was issued on Columbia as the Benny Goodman trio plays for the Fletcher Henderson Fund to benefit the then critically ill arranger. Buck Clayton, Lou McGarity, Smith and Eddie Safranski joined the trio of Goodman, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa in various combinations. The guitarist is featured on After You've Gone, Honeysuckle Rose and One O'clock Jump.
Smith signed with Roost Records in 1952 and struck gold on his first session as a leader with his beautiful rendition of Moonlight in Vermont with Stan Getz. He talked about the piece in an interview with Edward Berger in 1990 (for the book on Teddy Reig: Reminiscing in Tempo: The Life and Times of a Jazz Hustler): "Why Moonlight in Vermont took off I really don't know. Other guitar players have told me that they were intrigued by my use of closed voicings in harmonizing the melody. On a piano, you can play a closed-voiced chord while keeping your fingers together. But on the guitar, you really have to spread out and, to my knowledge, no other guitar player had used this approach before."
Whatever the reason for its success, Moonlight in Vermont was voted Jazz Record of the Year 1952 in Down Beat. Besides garnering praise by critics and musicians, it went on to become one of the bestselling instrumental singles of all time. It was the first of many outstanding recordings that established the guitarist's tasteful trademark style of lush, complex, legato chordal voicings, interspersed with lightning-fast runs, all executed perfectly with a clear, rich sound and clean articulation.
Moonlight also began a long and successful association with producer Teddy Reig, who owned the Roost label. Smith told Bergen "My first impression of Teddy Reig was of a hard-nosed businessman. Neither one of us had any high expectations of having a big hit. One thing I will say for him: he never pushed me to change my name! With a name like John Smith, everybody I talked to about becoming a professional musician would advise me to adopt a more distinctive name. It got to the point that I decided to keep it just out of spite!" Reig was more than just Smith's record producer. He also acted as the guitarist's manager and arranged tours for Smith with both Stan Kenton's and Count Basic's orchestras.
During the '50s, Smith was also a frequent headliner at Manhattan's jazz clubs, especially Birdland, where he would appear up to 22 weeks a year. But he rarely recorded as a sideman. Notable exceptions are the first Jazz Studio session for Decca in October 1953 with Joe Newman, Bennie Green, Frank Foster, Paul Quinichette, Hank Jones, Eddie Jones and Kenny Clarke, a Hank Jones Trio date with Ray Brown for Clef two months later and Johnny Richards' ambitious annotations of the muses on February 22, 1955 for Legende, a subsidiary of Roost. When his quartet backed up Ruth Price, Beverly Kenney and Jeri Southern on Roost/Roulette albums, he received co-leader billing as he did on the 1962 Art Van Damme album A Perfect Match for Columbia.
In 1958, Smith's second wife died, leaving him with the responsibility of raising their four-year-old daughter, Kim. Smith realized that in order to do this properly he would have to seriously cut back on his playing and recording activities. He also felt he had to find a more conducive setting for raising a daughter than New York City, so he moved to Colorado Springs in February 1958 and opened his own guitar center. He flew back to Manhattan only when record dates required it.
In 1965, Teddy Reig left Roulette, the company to which he'd sold Roost in 1958. He made a production deal with Verve, which resulted in three more Johnny Smith albums in 1967—68. Smith's last commercially released recording, solo performances originally recorded in February 1976, were coupled with 1994 George Van Eps solos on a Concord Jazz CD entitled LEGENDS.
When Joe Bushkin called Smith in 1976 for a Bing Crosby tour with dates in the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway, the guitarist couldn't say no. "I had backed Bing on some orchestra dates years ago, but I wanted to get to know him. I had tremendous respect for him and we had a lot of common interests like hunting and fishing. So I said yes." Milt Hinton was the bassist and Jake Hanna the drummer. A Bushkin album 100 Years of Recorded Sound on United Artists came out of that tour.
Smith has lived happily in Colorado for the past 44 years [55 years until his death in 2013], dividing his time between operating the center, teaching, playing and enjoying life. He retired the guitar in the mid '80s. Today, he lives with Sandy, his wife of 42 years, in the same house he bought in 1958. Though retired from playing, Smith is far from forgotten. Awards and accolades continue to come his way. In 1998, the guitarist received the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal, which is awarded annually by the Smithsonian Institution for distinguished cultural contributions in public service, the arts, science or history. In 1999, the JVC Jazz Festival in New York honored Smith with a gala tribute featuring a pantheon of jazz guitar greats, both veterans and rising stars.
When introduced, Smith, who made a rare trek to Manhattan, said with characteristic modesty: "I never considered myself a jazz player — just a guitar player who tried to supply what was missing." The beautiful recordings in this set, regardless of the labels, are a testament to the legacy of a brilliant musician.”
Johnny Smith Quintet - Moonlight in Vermont - YouTube
“What I am about to do really can't be done at all, and that is to do justice to Sarah Vaughan in words. Her art is so remarkable, so unique that it, sui generis, is self-fulfilling and speaks best on its own musical artistic terms. It is—like the work of no other singer—self-justifying and needs neither my nor anyone else's defense or approval.
To say what I am about to say in her very presence seems to me even more preposterous, and I will certainly have to watch my superlatives, as it will be an enormous temptation to trot them all out tonight. And yet, despite these disclaimers, I nonetheless plunge ahead toward this awesome task, like a moth drawn to the flame, because I want to participate in this particular long overdue celebration of a great American singer and share with you, if my meager verbal abilities do not fail me, the admiration I have for this remarkable artist and the wonders and mysteries of her music.
No rational person will often find him or herself in a situation of being able to say that something or somebody is the best. One quickly learns in life that in a richly competitive world—particularly one as subject to subjective evaluation as the world of the arts—it is dangerous, even stupid, to say that something is without equal and, of course, having said it, one is almost always immediately challenged. Any evaluation — except perhaps in certain sciences where facts are truly incontrovertible — any evaluation is bound to be relative rather than absolute, is bound to be conditioned by taste, by social and educational backgrounds, by a host of formative and conditioning factors. And yet, although I know all that, I still am tempted to say and will now dare to say that Sarah Vaughan is quite simply the greatest vocal artist of our century…."
- Gunther Schuller’s tribute to Sarah Vaughan which preceded a Vaughan concert at the Smithsonian Museum in 1980.
Too much of a good thing?
Never when it comes to Sarah Vaughan.
I had heard her on records, but nothing prepares you for the astounding brilliance that comes across when you hear her in person.
In Sarah’s case, “astounding brilliance” is not hyperbole; if anything, it is an understatement!
In the summer of 1962, I was working a piano-bass-drums trio gig in the North Beach area of San Francisco, just down the street from Sugar Hill where Sarah was appearing with her trio [the Jazz Workshop was also nearby].
On my first break, after the first set of the first night on the gig, I headed down the street to checkout what was happening at the Jazz Workshop when I past the entrance of Sugar Hill and heard Sarah doing her thing.
I explained to the person collecting the cover charge at the door that I was a musician working up the street and asked if I could step inside for a minute to hear Sarah.
It was the most generous off-handed “gift” that anyone ever gave me as I found myself utterly dumbfounded by being in the presence of Sarah Vaughan.
She was just sensational in every way. What she did with her voice in a pure, acoustic setting was spell-binding.
There’s a reason why all you have to say is “Sassy,” because to try to “say” anything else descriptively about Sarah’s music borders on the ineffable, especially when her music is “in performance” [I prefer that expression to “live”].
Needless to say, I caught her every chance I had while she was at Sugar Hill and took every opportunity thereafter to catch her “in performance.”
I thought the following remembrance of Sarah by bassist Andrew Simpkins would make a nice sequel to our recent posting about the recent release on Resonance Records of a CD capturing Sarah’s 1978 performance at Rosy’s Jazz Club in New Orleans, LA.
It appeared as a published interview conducted by Gene Lees in the November, 1997 edition of his Jazzletter.
“Richmond, Indiana, present population about 38,000, lies barely west of the Kentucky border and 68 miles due east of Indianapolis. Indianapolis was a hotbed of jazz, the birthplace of Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, the Montgomery Brothers, and a good many more, some of them known only regionally but excellent nonetheless. Wes Montgomery never wanted to leave Indianapolis, and ultimately went home.
Richmond is on a main east-west highway. It was Highway 40 in the days before the Eisenhower presidency, but now it is Interstate 70. No matter: as it passes through town, it is inevitably called Main Street. Richmond was early in its history heavily populated by anti-slavery Quakers, and continued its sentiments right into Copperhead days. Copperhead was the name applied to southern sympathizers in Indiana, formerly a Union state during the Civil War.
Andy Simpkins, one of the truly great bass players, whether or not he turns up in the various magazine polls, was born in Richmond on April 29, 1932. His father therefore was born within short memory distance of slavery itself. A black Chicago cop who was working on his degree in sociology taught me an important , principle: that a black man in any given job is likely to be more intelligent than a white man in the same job, for had he been white he would by now have risen higher in the system. This may not be a universal verity, but I have found the principle to be sufficiently consistent that I trust it. Andy's father illustrates the point. He was a janitor; that's what the society in his time would allow him to be. His private existence was another matter.
"My father did a lot of things in his life," Andy said. "In his younger years he played saxophone and clarinet a little bit. He worked for many years on the janitorial staff of the school system of Richmond. His real life — all through the years he worked for them — was growing plants. He grew vegetables and beautiful flowers and sold them to people in the area. He was a wonderful horticulturist. He had greenhouses, and his plants were famous.
"My father was an only child, I'm an only child, and I have one son, Mark, who is in radio in Denver, Colorado." Andy laughed. "The Simpkins family line runs thin!"
Andy combines formidable facility with a deep sound, beautiful chosen notes, long tones, and time that hits a deep groove. Those are some of the reasons he spent ten years with Sarah Vaughan.
In spite of occasional clashes, she adored him, and she did not suffer fools gladly or second-rate musicianship at all. Andy also worked for her arch-rival and close friend Carmen McRae, and mere survival with either of those ladies, let alone both of them, is perhaps the ultimate accolade for a jazz musician. They were prime bitches to work for. I merely wrote for Sass; I never had to work for her. I just loved her, and so did Andy. He remembers mostly the good times, and it was inevitable that we would talk about her.
Andy first came to prominence with a trio called the Three Sounds, whose pianist was Gene Harris. The drummer was Bill Dowdy. They made more than twenty albums for Blue Note. Andy toured for a long time with George Shearing, worked with Joe Williams, and recorded with Clare Fischer, Stephane Grappelli, Dave Mackay, and Monty Alexander.
He never forgets the role of his parents. For, as in the cases of most of the best musicians I have known, strong parental support and encouragement were critical elements in his development.
"My mother was a natural musician," Andy said. "She never had a lesson. She played piano by ear, and she had the most incredible ear. She played in our church for forty years, all the hymns and all the songs. She used to hear things. When my Mom would hear something playing on the radio she'd hum along, not the melody, like most people, but the inside harmony. I'd hear her humming those inside parts of the chords, any song she heard. It was incredible. I think that's where most of my musical talent comes from.
"But my Dad was really instrumental in seeing that I studied music and learned the theory, and to read, all the things you really need beside just your ear — although a lot of people have made it just on the ear. He saw I had a great ear and he started giving me lessons at an early age. And he made a lot of sacrifices to do that. To this day I think of my Dad making all kinds of sacrifices, doing extra jobs, picking up trash that he could sell for metal, just working so hard to make sure I had lessons, to see that I could study.
"Clarinet was my original instrument for a couple of years, and then I started studying piano. I had a great piano teacher, Norman Brown. Along with teaching me legitimate piano studies, and exercises, he also taught me about chord progressions and harmony. And that was very unusual at that time. Every week at my lesson, he would bring me a popular tune of the day, written out with the chords. So all the time I was studying with him, I was learning chords. And you know what else he did? He was a wonderful legitimate, classical player, but he also played for silent movies.
"I was fortunate: my mother and father lived long enough to see that I was successful. They were alive through the time I was with George Shearing. I was with George from '68 to '76. And before that the Three Sounds. We accompanied all sorts of people, and my Mom and Dad were in on that. Any time I was close enough that I could pick them up and take them, they would go to my gigs. Even when I was much younger, playing my jobs, my Mom sometimes would even nod out and go to sleep, but she would be there! She wanted to be there.
"I started out playing with a nice little local band in Richmond, a kind of combination of rhythm and blues and jazz. We used to play around Richmond and Muncie and a lot of little towns around there. When the band first started, we didn't have a bass player. I was playing piano. With the ear I had, I always heard bass lines, and I was playing the bass notes on the piano. A few months after we were together, a bass player joined us, from Muncie.
"I had listened to the bass before that. I had listened to the big bands. I was already hooked on jazz music. But I wasn't taken with the bass. There were all the great bass players working with those bands at that time. I guess it was the sound they got. It was the way bass was played at that time. They got kind of a short sound. The sound wasn't long and resonant.
"And this player joined the little band that we had. His name was Manuel Parker. He had this old Epiphone bass, it was American-made but it had a wonderful sound. He got this long, resonant sound that I'd never heard. I said, Wow! He could walk, and had that great groove, and this wonderful big fat resonant sound along with it. I was awestruck.
"We used to rehearse at my house a couple of times a week. I was probably eighteen, nineteen. He lived in Muncie, which was forty miles away from Richmond. Say we'd rehearse Tuesday and Thursday. So on Tuesday, he used to leave the bass at my house. I just started getting his bass out and playing with records. I knew the tunes. I'd tune the bass up, because the turntable ran a little fast. I heard all those lines. And I got hooked. No technique, I didn't know the fingering or any of that. But I heard the notes and I found them on the bass. And from that point on, that was it. I guess the other instruments were the route to the bass. This is where I was supposed to be, because it felt so totally natural.
"I was competent on the other instruments. I read well. In fact, when I went into the service I auditioned on clarinet and got into the band. I played them okay. People said I was a fairly good player. But I felt about the bass: this is the instrument that's been waiting for me.
"I was drafted into the Army in '53. Went through eight weeks of basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I auditioned. The orders came down: I didn't make it. I had to take another eight weeks of basic. After the second eight weeks, I was accepted in the band. At that time, they had just started to desegregate the bands. But at the beginning, they were still segregated. After a few short months, I was transferred up to Indianapolis, to Fort Harrison — sixty miles from my home town! I played clarinet in the concert and marching band, bass in the big swing jazz band that we had within the band, and piano in a couple of small combos. That's when I really got around to studying.
"In the band there was a legit bass player, a wonderful classical player. He started to just teach me, on his own -legitimate, correct technique. I could read the bass clef, of course, from playing piano. He started teaching me correct classical fingering and approach to the instrument.
"I spent two years in the army, in the band the whole time, and fortunately was in Indianapolis. At the time, Indianapolis was swinging. It was live. J.J. Johnson might have left by then, but the Montgomery Brothers were there. I think Wes was still there. This was '53. I was going into town at night and hanging out, and not getting much sleep. I was playing at night with a lot of guys. [Drummer] Benny Barth was still there. I played a lot with Benny Barth. Al Plank was there. This town was rockin'. I went to one gig that went till midnight, and then I'd play an after-hours thing that went till three, then had to get up at six.
"And in the daytime, I played in the army band. I was submerged in music. I was really blessed. I didn't have to go and shoot at anybody and get shot. A lot of my friends in basic training went to Korea. Most of them didn't make it back. The 'police action', as they called it. I was in Indiana through 1955. I was discharged in '55.
"After the Army, I joined a little rhythm and blues band. The leader was from Chicago. His name was Jimmy Binkley. In the band that I played with back in Richmond, we had a sax player who called himself Lonnie 'The Sound' Walker. He was one of these rockin' tenor players. I sort of grew up around him. That's where we got the name for the Three Sounds. When we first formed, we were four: Gene Harris, Bill Dowdy on drums, myself, and Lonnie Walker. We called ourselves the Four Sounds. We went on from 1956 to '58. He left and we had a couple of different saxophone players. We went on as a trio and recorded our first record for Blue Note as the Three Sounds.
"The review in Down Beat ripped us asunder. It was by John Tynan. Here we are, our very first record, kids, fledglings, all optimistic excitement, and he tore us apart."
That review appeared in the April 16, 1959, issue of Down Beat, the second to have my name on the masthead as editor. Tynan — John A. Tynan to the readers, Jack or Jake Tynan to all of us who worked with him — presented the subject as the transcript of a court case in which a prosecutor says, "Here we have, beyond doubt, one of the worst jazz albums in years. The performances speak for themselves — horrible taste, trite arrangements, out-of-tune bass, an unbelievable cymbal, ideas so banal as to be almost funny."
The judge says, "Why was it ever released, then? Who would buy such a record as this?"
It must have been devastating to the members of that trio. Tynan became, and remains, one of my best friends. He left Down Beat to write news for the ABC television station in Los Angeles, a post at which he worked until his retirement. He lives now in Palm Desert, California. I called him, to see if he could lay his hands on that moldering review. He thought that he might, if he looked long enough. Nor could Andy readily provide a copy of it. So I undertook a little archaeology of my own and found it.
"In later years, on reflection," Andy said, "I thought there was some validity to what he said, but at that time he could have given us a little bit of a break. I guess that's not the way it is, if you're gonna be out there in the world. But at the time, we were really hurt. We went to see him. We were all over two hundred pounds, big strapping country boys. I guess we just looked at him real hard. I don't know what we had in mind."
Apparently nothing more violent than glowering. The Down Beat west coast office at that time was on Sunset Boulevard at Gower. Tynan remembers their visit only vaguely. Reconstructing the events, I found myself chuckling over the incident, all the more because just over four months later — in the September 3, 1959, issue of the magazine — the group received a glowing four-star review.
Andy said, "The three of us lived in Cleveland at first. Coming from a little town, I thought, Cleveland! I was really in the big town, after Richmond, Indiana. We went to Cleveland because Gene had an aunt there, and we could stay with her. There was an old club called the Tijuana, which I guess in the '40s was a big-time show club. It had been closed. It was just up the street from Gene's aunt's house. They were getting ready to reopen. They wanted fresh new talent. So we went and auditioned for the guy. They didn't even have a piano on the stage. The stage was surrounded by the bar, one of those deals. The piano was in the corner. The three of us got the piano and lifted it on the stage to do this audition. And we got the gig. We started out at $55 a week. We stayed two years and ended up getting $60. We got people coming in there.
"We met a guy who had a recording studio in his basement. He would record us when we rehearsed. Our idols at the time were Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Max Roach, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, and all the people from that era. We had all their things down. We knew their charts!
"There was a jazz club downtown in Cleveland. We used to go there on Sundays, our night off, and hear all our idols. Gene was a very aggressive guy. He'd ask them if we could sit in. And they'd let us do it! We'd sit in with the horn players, and play their charts. It was very tolerant on their part. But we had those charts down.
"And by our doing that, the word began to filter back to New York about us.
"We had that gig at the Tijuana for a couple of years, and then finally it ended. Bill Dowdy says, 'My sister lives in Washington, D.C. Let's go to Washington. We can stay with her.' Bill and Gene are both from Benton Harbor, Michigan. They played together as kids long before I met either of them. They were in high school together. Bill's now in Battle Creek, Michigan. He's teaching there, privately and in one of the schools and he produces concerts. We're all still in touch. Gene lives in Boise, Idaho. I talk to Bill more than I do Gene.
"So we went to Washington. We got a lot of help from a guy who was a union representative. He took us around. He told us about one place that had been closed and was going to open again. It was called the Spotlight. We auditioned. The manager liked us, and we played there a month or so. Then we played in a restaurant in Washington for about nine months.
"A good friend of the manager of the place was Mercer Ellington. He came to listen and was just taken aback by us. Mercer was really the one who actually discovered us. A club in New York needed another group. Stuff Smith was playing there. They wanted a young group, new faces, to play opposite him. Mercer talked to them and they hired us.
"We'd been in Washington about a year when we went to New York. As I said, the word had filtered back from Cleveland about us — to Blue Note Records, Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff. They were wonderful people. They came to hear us at this club and loved us right away and signed us. At the same time, Jack Whittemore from the Shaw booking agency, little Jack, came in too. He was a wonderful man. Golly moses."
There was a radiance in his voice when Andy mentioned Jack Whittemore. One hears much, and much of it derisive, about the businessmen of jazz, particularly agents. But Jack was loved. He was kind, good, honorable, funny, feisty, tiny, stocky and argumentative. I used to call him the Mighty Atom. Once, in Brooklyn, he got into an argument and then a fist-fight with the owner of a jazz club, over the issue of the acts Jack had been booking in there. The bartender separated them and told them to cool off. Jack asked the owner if business was really that bad. He said it was. "Then why don't you come to work for me?" Jack said, and that's how Charlie Graziano became Jack's second in command and one of his best friends. Jack was like that.
Jack had been an agent for GAC and MCA before becoming president of the Shaw agency, which in the 1960s was the primary jazz booking agency; later he went on his own, and the acts he booked included Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Art Blakey and the Jazz
Messengers, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, McCoy Tyner, Phil Woods, Horace Silver, and many more. When Jack died at sixty-eight in 1982, the professional jazz community was devastated. There was no one to replace him, and no one has turned up since to fill his shoes. After his death, all the musicians he booked paid Jack's estate the commissions they owed him, with a single exception — and everyone in the business knew it — Stan Getz.
This precis of Jack's career will explain the warmth in Andy's voice on mention of his name. Jack could make a career; Horace Silver credits Jack with establishing his.
"Jack came to hear us," Andy said. "He liked us, and he signed us with Shaw. From that point, we started to record for Blue Note. We did quite a few albums for Blue Note.
"And a funny thing happened. The Down Beat review was so scathing that I think it made people curious. They started buying our albums and got us off the ground. I really believe that. How could anything be that bad? People said, I've gotta hear this! I believe that to this day.
"We started recording in '58. I stayed with the Three Sounds until '66. At that point, we'd made twenty albums or so together. In the meantime, we did some records for other companies — Limelight, which was a subsidiary of Mercury. Jack Tracy was our producer. I saw Jack recently! We did one with Nat Adderley for Orrin Keepnews at Riverside. It was a wonderful record, called Branching Out. We recorded some for Verve, too."
“This is a series of reissues that can be described as largely centered on my incredibly long (even to me) career as a jazz producer. Each of them is of special Importance to me — some because of the initial impact they made, others because they have particular personal meaning or may present a performer whose value has no! been fully appreciated. Above all they are expressions of the talent — not infrequently the genius — of their featured artist. But I feel no need to downplay the several roles I have had in bringing them into being and in contributing to the careers of some of the most significant jazz performers of our day. For more than a half-century in this incredibly unstable age of jazz activity I have frequently succeeded in finding, recognizing, coddling, arguing with, and collaborating with a great variety of talented and occasionally difficult people. On the whole, I am unreasonably and unshakably proud of the results.
The series follows a specific set of ground rules. In each case the original product is preserved — cover art, the notes, and the entire initial recorded content, in the exact original sequence — and it is now presented with the sonic benefits of 24-bit remastering from the original master tapes. Alternate takes or originally unissued numbers, when available, appear as bonus tracks. In some instances I've added to the total lineup a never-used version that may have been recorded forty or more years ago. When that occasionally allows you to hear for time first time a "new" performance by a long-departed artist, be aware that I join you in considering this a truly wonderful addition. Finally, I have written a complete set of new commentaries, digging back into my memories of those often very good old days to tell a few more stories about this remarkable music and its people.”
- Orrin Keepnews
Despite my clumsy attempt to use it cleverly in the title of this piece, Art Blakey’s Caravan recording is worthy of your attention should you wish to include another of the Jazz Messengers’ hard bop treasures to you library without the Blue Note imprimatur on it.
Orrin Keepnews, the owner-proprietor of Riverside Records, the first of a number of Jazz-oriented labels that he would be associated with during his long and distinguished career as a record producer, explains how it all came about in the above annotation to the CD version of Caravan by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers.
And the significance of the recording at the time of its issuance as an LP on Riverside is underscored and elaborated upon by Ira Gitler in the following notes which appeared on the original album liner.
“This is on event: the Riverside debut of Art Blakey's assertive and stimulating band, in an album that finds the group celebrating its new affiliation by performing at top-level form. The name "Messengers" has been an apt description of Art's several groups down through the years to this sextet. For the ability to communicate directly to an audience — to deliver the message — is and always has been a Blakey hallmark.
The name was actually first used in the mid-1940s, when Art led a big band in New York known as the Seventeen Messengers, but its current history began in '55, when he used the "Jazz Messengers" handle for the quintet that included Horace Silver, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, and Doug Watkins. Until mid-1961, Blakey continued to lead five-piece groups with periodically shifting personnel, groups to which new flavors were frequently introduced by such composer-members as Bobby Timmons, Benny Golson, and Jackie McLean.
Then in 1961, several key changes took place. Timmons and Lee Morgan stepped out on their own and were replaced by Cedar Walton and Freddie Hubbard. Wayne Shorter remained, and perhaps his new status as the band's "veteran" sideman has accelerated his rapid growth as both performer and writer. Most significant, however, was the addition of Curtis Fuller, not merely because of the trombonist’s great individual ability, but also because this made the group a sextet for the first time. The three-horn lineup immediately presented the opportunity for more tonal colors and voices in motion. The most recent change, the 1962 shift to Reggie Workman as bassist, completes the current Blakey band, a group with more room for musical depth and with no lessening of the outpouring of spirit that has been at the center of all Messenger units.
The unmistakable solo power of the front line is very much in evidence here. Significantly, Shorter, Hubbard, and Fuller have in recent years each been voted a New Star award in the Down Beat International Critics' Poll. By now, although all are still young men, the word "new" no longer applies, but the description "star" certainly does. The rhythm section is a "tough" one: Walton, the solid camper with a personal solo style; Workman, the firm bassist whose playing takes his name seem on inevitable one; and Blakey, the swinging strong man. In the hands of a lesser artist, Art's style might easily become blast and bombast. But as Miles Davis has said, in discussing precisely this point: "Art's got so much talent."
The three horn men and Walton are all contributors to the band's overall book, but only Shorter and Hubbard are represented here. The first of Shorter's two pieces leads us to recall that long ago, the combination of Wayne and waltz could only mean orchestra leader Wayne King “The Wallz King," a sort of predecessor of Lawrence Welk. Today, a jazz waltz is by no means a rarity — which does not mean that there is anything commonplace about the artful construction and general effectiveness of this Wayne's waltz,
"Sweet 'n' Sour," which takes its name from its use of musical contrasts.
Shorter's other number, “This Is for Albert," is harmonically provocative, with a notably rich ensemble sound. (It is dedicated to Bud Powell — although standard reference work: don't list it, Wayne says Art and other contemporaries of Powell insist that the pianist's actual first name is Albert.) Hubbard's original, Thermo," is a darting minor-key theme, as hot and explosive as its title, that moves right along with an absence of strain in theme and solo sections alike.
The ballad performances, "Skylark" and "Wee Small Hours," belong for the most part to respectively, Hubbard and Fuller. Freddie is singing and soaring on the former; Curtis is warm full-toned, and more ruminative on his featured number.
Actually, Blakey is (for him) relatively subdued through most of the album. This is not to say that one is unaware of his presence. His sticks and feet accent imaginatively; his brushwork behind piano solos is masterful; his general vitality is always felt. And on the album's lead track and title tune, "Caravan," he is really in high gear. From his opening salvos, leading into the North African motifs that precede the theme, through his volatile accompaniment to the horn choruses and his excitingly polyrhythmic solo, to the rumbling, dramatic ending, Blakey is consistently the master drummer. There is technique galore in his solo, but you're much too concerned with what he is saying to stop and marvel at it from any academic standpoint. The band responds marvelously throughout, and especially delightful is the mercurial counterline that Hubbard and Shorter play against Fuller's line during the bridge.”
Caravan Revisited by Orrin Keepnews
“The first time I heard Art Blakey, I did not know who I was listening to. For that matter, if I had been told the name of the drummer on the test pressing that was being played for me, the information would not have meant anything to me at that time. Under the circumstances, I remain rather proud of the fact that I was quickly aware of what his function was supposed to be on that record and how well he was accomplishing it!
Blakey, who of course was the drummer on Thelonious Monk's first Blue Note session in the fall of 1947, had been one of no more than three East Coast drummers who were recognized by the players around them as thoroughly understanding the underlying rhythmic patterns of the new music. About five years younger than Kenny Clarke and roughly that much older than Max Roach, he was actively involved in the music by the end of his teens, so that some of his earliest jobs were with leaders from the swing era, like Fletcher Henderson and Mary Lou Williams, and by the mid-1940s he was anchoring the legendary early-modern big band of Billy Eckstine. So it is easy to understand why this squat, powerful, super-energetic man seemed to have always been at the center of activity on the bandstand as far back as anyone was able to remember Rather amazingly, he actually was leading various versions of his Jazz Messengers for a full thirty-five years.
I have remained deeply impressed by the fact that listening to Art was an important (if almost subliminal) part of the action on what quite possibly was the most significant music-appreciation event of my life — the evening when I sat in Alfred and Lorraine Lion's living room and listened. Blakey, as I first heard him then, was engaged in providing essential rhythm support for his friend and colleague, Thelonious Monk. Playing behind Monk was an important activity that Art engaged in on quite a few occasions over the years. So, even though it was several years before I had an opportunity to pay serious professional attention to his work, I have no hesitation in saying that on mat first disembodied listening occasion early in 1948 I began to eventually become a die-hard Blakey fan.
(The full story of my first encounter with Monk is best appreciated in a quite different context: Early in 1948, when I had just become the virtually-unpaid managing editor of an esoteric jazz record collectors' magazine called The Record Changer, I was invited to spend an evening in the home of the founder of Blue Note Records. I largely occupied myself that night with interviewing Thelonious for an article that would appear in the magazine. Seven years later these circumstances would lead to a situation in which I, having become one owner of Riverside Records, was able to sign Monk to a contract and could spend several years as the producer of some of Monk's most significant recordings. But one unexpected valuable sidelight of the evening was my opportunity to hear advance test copies of the records that the pianist, supported by Blakey prominently among others, had recently made for Blue Note.)
It was not until the beginning of 1955, a couple of years after Riverside came into existence, that I had on opportunity to deal directly with Blakey. By this time he was quite firmly established as a major drummer; we were moving into the era in which the style took on its more powerfully developed shape as "hard bop," and Art was beginning to be involved in a cooperative quintet, not quite permanently organized, but pretty consistently using the group name "Jazz Messengers." At the very beginning of that year I had my very first studio experience with the man. It was a simple and easy trio session and an example of how warm and good-hearted a human being he could be. It was one of my very first record dates, with a young pianist named Randy Weston, who can be considered Riverside's first "discovery," although we accomplished very little for him. He has had o long and still-ongoing career, and has for many years been a major link between jazz and world music, but back then Randy did not even have a drummer working with him with any regularity. Blakey knew the young man and liked him, and said to count on him as the drummer for the album. So we all inevitably went out to Van Gelder's studio and rather quickly and easily cut a half-dozen numbers.
That was all we needed. Although this turned out to be an important transitional year, ending with everyone making 12-inch albums, this project was one of the last of the 10-inchers. I already knew that our competition, particularly the extremely cost-conscious Bob Weinstock at Prestige, worked whenever possible by paying in terms of recorded time. The musicians union labor agreement allowed a record company to issue up to fifteen minutes of music to be paid for as one session, plus a further overtime payment of one-third of union scale for each additional five minutes of music. Scale, in those far-off days, came to $41.25 per three-hour session. Thus if you worked efficiently, sideman scale for the just-under-forty minutes of music on a ten-incher came to two sessions and two overtimes, a total of exactly $110. Mr. Blakey, when I gave him a check for that amount, informed me that he was doing us a considerable favor by working for scale, that il was being done entirely on behalf of Randy, and that at least I could be enough of a gentleman to not cut all the corners and pay him three full sessions worth of scale! It was a quietly delivered lesson, immensely valuable to receive at such an early point, and one for which I remained forever grateful. (The next time he worked for me was with Thelonious on the tremendously important 1957 Monk's Music album, which eventually drew a lot of its strength from him, even though it is best remembered for teaming Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane. He was paid over scale for that one; he was worth it.)
Although a handful of full-size orchestras may have stayed continuously in existence for longer periods of time, I can think of no other, large or small, with such a massive cumulative roster of major talent (except perhaps the constantly self-renewing Duke Ellington orchestra). There is a certain amount of vagueness about their actual starting point, since apparently there was first a shifting 17-man group simply called The Messengers, and the origins of the long-lived quintet and sextet were in on attempted cooperative band fronted by Horace Silver, which also seems to have basically involved Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, and Art. Donald Byrd and Clifford Brown were other early members. By 1956, Horace and the rest of the original cast were gone, and until the end, which was not until 1990, the leader was Blakey and the band was named the Jazz Messengers.
The drummer seems to have maintained a simple formula throughout his career: he hired highly promising young players, gave them much opportunity to express themselves and a beat that never seemed to stop. A brilliant, endless roster of young players served as "musical directors" — most, but by no means all, were tenor players. They did the bulk of the writing. Basically, it always seemed that there were excellent replacements in the wings whenever they were needed. To some extent because of his constant association with young players, Blakey found himself not really accurately cast in the role of a father figure. I remember sitting between sets in the backstage area at San Francisco's Keystone Korner with what must have been one of his last bands, although it was very much in the earlier pattern, a youthful group built around the young-but-mature New Orleans trumpet player and composer, Terence Blanchard. With total apparent seriousness, Art began lecturing these kids on the virtues of being on time. I listened silently as long as I could, but eventually it was all too much for me. "Art," I interrupted, "you should let these young men know thai this theory you are advocating is not one you always personally follow. In my case, if I should somehow be able to regain all the time I have spent in record studios in my lifetime, waiting for you to show up, I'd still be a young man today." This was followed by a truly awful moment of silence — Art was obviously evaluating how to respond to a truly off-the-wall comment that I somehow had not been able to avoid making. Then, without warning, he burst into a heavy wave of all-out laughter, throwing me an airborne punch in an obviously friendly gesture. But I really should learn to be more careful about some of my off-hand comments!
[Sometime before reaching the 1960s, Art had spent some time in West Africa— or at least claimed to have done so — and to a substantial extent openly identified himself thereafter by the Muslim name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. That in turn led to the frequently used nickname "Bu." Since I can neither confirm nor deny the origin of the name, it is hard for me to figure out the best place to insert this probable fact into this narrative, so I'll settle for just bluntly presenting it right here, to be used however each reader finds it most helpful.]
Like a number of his hard-bop contemporaries, he was primarily thought of as belonging to Blue Note, but in the late 1950s, I had close associations with a couple of key band members. Benny Golson, the arranger for the 1958 band, made a couple of albums for Riverside and did a lot of valuable small-group charts for various record dates of ours. Bobby Timmons was Art's pianist at that time and wrote their biggest individual hit, the classic "Moanin'," but in '59 he joined the new Adderley band and wrote their breakthrough hit, 'This Here," and later made several trio albums for us.
Then, during one early-1960s period, the Messengers were actually under contract to Riverside. We were able to steal them for entirely non-musical reasons. Between 1962 and the start of '64, at the peak of our sales success with Cannonball Adderley and a couple of others, we were in a brief period of quite untypical financial strength. Blue Note presumably was not; Blakey definitely wasn't. As I recall, the IRS was breathing heavily in his direction; we were able not only to offer a healthy advance but arranged for it to be in the form of regular monthly installments paid directly to the government on his behalf.
The record business, however, can swiftly create some very bitter ironies. The contract would not be renewed. This initial album was recorded in the fall of 1962; the third and last one in February 1964. That was nearly two months after the sudden heart-attack death of my partner had revealed that we were in even worse shape than imagined; we were out of business by the end of June.
It was an excellent Messengers band, as can readily be heard on this album. Everyone was quite young, but several of them were already finding an early musical maturity. Of the three albums we made, I find this one still holds up as an exceptionally pulled-together effort. Ira Gitier's original liner notes, reproduced here, are particularly worth paying attention to for what they have to say about young Wayne Shorter — and please bear in mind that they are referring to Wayne's writing and performing skills of forty-five years ago! Unfortunately, the second album was recorded in performance at Birdland; it was my only such attempt. I have a very good track record at venues like the Five Spot, the Village Vanguard, and San Francisco's Jazz Workshop, but 52nd Street and Broadway in New York was too much for me.
Coda: In writing about this band, I have inevitably had to insert more than a few additional names, but I remain aware of how many really significant players of the whole bop-to-hard bop era have been to some extent graduates of the Art Blakey School. Since the Blakey "school" remained in session through the 1980s, I would run out of space long before doing a complete review, but I simply cannot conclude these notes without indulging in at least a very partial drum-roll's worth of name-dropping.
1 Right at the start of things, I had been given an invitation I could not ignore. Thelonious Monk, following a brief working trip to Chicago, had returned home thoroughly enthusiastic about Johnny Griffin. Johnny made his way to the Big Apple shortly thereafter, becoming part of a Messengers sextet whose horns included an incredible saxophone duo— Jackie McLean on alto, Griff on tenor—and for years thereafter a major mainstay at Riverside.
2. Walking into an East Village club one night, I found myself unable to figure out what thought process had led Blakey to hire at about the same time two such aggressively incompatible stylists as Keith Jarrett and Chuck Mangione, Don't get me wrong; each an admirable player in his own way, but hardly born bandmates. I never did figure out what if anything he had in mind, but it surely was clear that he was a man who would never avoid trying something just because it was different.
As Victor Feldman recounted to John Tynan in a 1963 interview for Downbeat, “I was newly married and Cannonball had called me about a month before I went back to England in 1960 to introduce my wife to my family and friends. He called me to make a record with Ray Brown, Wes Montgomery, Louis Hayes and himself. [Cannonball Adderley and the Poll Winners Riverside S-9355; Landmark LCD-1304-2].”
While we were in England, I got a cable from him with a definite offer as a pianist-vibist with his group.”
In my 1999 interview with Orrin Keepnews of Riverside Records when we were both residing in San Francisco, I asked him about how Victor Feldman came to be on Cannonball’s “Poll Winners” in May, 1960.
According to Orrin, he and Cannonball had decided to use guitarist Wes Montgomery and bassist Ray Brown on the album and this led them to think further about “unusual instrumentation.” Although there was some talk about Les McCann, the feeling was that he was primarily blues player, but more importantly, Cannonball just didn’t want to use a piano player.The rest of the conversation went as described by Orrin in the album’s liner notes:
“With all the established musicians (including the regular Adderley drummer, Louis Hayes) living fully up to expectations, the surprise element was provided by the then-unknown Victor Feldman.
In view of the unconventional feeling of guitar and bass, Cannon had wanted something less routine than just a piano player. West Coast friends recommended a highly skilled young L.A. studio vibraphonist, recently arrived from England; figuring that we only need him for coloration, we took a chance and invited him up [to San Francisco where the album was being recorded by Wally Heider at Fugazi Hall near North Beach].
At rehearsal, Victor sat down at the piano to demonstrate a couple of his compositions. I can still clearly visualize all of us standing there, open-mouthed and thunderstruck, as we listened to a totally unexpected swinging and funky playing of this very white young Britisher.
Finally one of us, struck by an apparent facial resemblance, expressed our mutual amazement. “How can the same man,” I asked, “look like Leonard Feather and sound like Wynton Kelly?”
“The Man I Love” by George and Ira Gershwin tune has always been among my favorite Great American Songbook standards, especially the version by Victor Feldman which accompanies the video tribute to the Gershwins that concludes this feature.
It would appear that the tune is also a favorite of many Jazz musicians as there are over 80 versions of it in my LP, tape and CD collection.
While with Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet and living in New York, Victor had the opportunity to record his own album on Riverside, Merry Olde Soul [Riverside RLP-9366; OJCCD-402-2] which was recorded in December, 1960 and January, 1961.
As Orrin Keepnews, the co-owner and producer for Riverside Records recalled: “There was no question of using Sam Jones and Louis Hayes on it as by now they had formed quite a rhythm section in Cannonball’s quintet; I think I was the one who suggested Hank Jones on piano for one session to free up Vic to play vibes on three tracks.”
Ira Gitler was selected to provide the liner notes to Merry Olde Soul and he had this to say about some aspects of the recording:
“There are not many albums where all the tracks deserve some comment. Here, each one has something to offer and bears mention. Various influences on Feldman’s style are in evidence, yet because of his own strong personality, he does not emerge as a mere eclectic. There is a great difference between intelligent absorption and imitation.”
Although all of the nine tracks are the album show off various aspects of Victor’s developing style and technique, here are Ira’s comments about four of the tunes. I would only add that Victor’s vibes solo on The Man I Love is one for the ages – an absolute marvel of building tension and release brought about by a musician with an incredible sense of syncopated rhythm, a well-developed feeling for melody and an ever deepening knowledge of harmony.
“Victor opens on piano with ‘For Dancers Only,” a happy, swinging interpretation of the Sy Oliver tune immortalized by the old Jimmie Lunceford band. His chording seems to show a Red Garland influence. Sam Jones has a strong solo and the integration of the trio is perfect: they literally dance. ‘Lisa’ is a collaboration between Feldman and Torrie Zito; its minor changes cast a reflective but Victor’s touch here on vibes still swings. …
‘Bloke’s Blues’ is a rolling line that I find somewhat reminiscent of Hampton Hawes. There is an easy natural swing and much rhythmic variety in Feldman’s single line. His feeling is never forced.”
“In this album, his first for ‘Riverside’ as a leader, the spotlight is really on Victor. His piano and vibes are both given wide exposure, and there is a substantial taste of his talents as a composer (of blues and ballads in particular). He proves more than equal to the task of filling a large amount of space with music that consistently sustains interest.”
On ‘The Man I Love’ (the only no-piano vibes number), Feldman starts out with a light touch similar to his work on ‘Lisa.’ Then he intensifies into a more percussive attack that wails along Jacksonian lines, in a spirit that may put you in mind of Milt’s solo on Miles Davis’ famous version of the tune, but without copying Jackson. He builds and builds into highly-charged exchanges with Hayes before sliding into a lyrical tag.
As to the song itself, here’s some background about its evolution and information about notable recorded versions by Ted Gioia from his The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire [New York: Oxford University Press, 2012].
“This song had a long, troubled history before becoming a hit. "The Man I Love" initially appeared in the 1924 musical Lady Be Good, where it served as a feature for Adele Astaire — but only lasted a week before getting yanked from the show. The tune was recycled in 1927 for Strike Up the Band, but that production never made it to New York, and when the musical was retooled and revived in 1930 the song was no longer part of it. "The Man I Love" was next assigned to the 1928 Flo Ziegfeld show Rosalie but was cut before opening night (and, if Ira Gershwin can be believed, wasn't even heard in rehearsals before getting axed). At this point, the Gershwins' publisher Max Dreyfus, in a desperate gesture, convinced the composers to take a one-third reduction in their royalty rate as an incentive for bandleaders to release "The Man I Love" on record.
This last-gasp strategy worked, and four different recordings of "The Man I Love" — by Marion Harris, Sophie Tucker, Fred Rich, and Paul Whiteman — were top 20 hits in 1928. The latter version features a dramatic arrangement by Ferde Grofe and includes a sax interlude by Frankie Trumbauer, best known for his collaborations with Bix Beiderbecke but here delivering one of his better solos from his stint with the Whiteman orchestra. The composition also became closely associated with torch singer Helen Morgan, and Gershwin himself gave her much of the credit for its eventual popularity; but, strange to say, she made no commercial recording of this signature song.
Benny Goodman brought the piece back into the limelight almost a decade later, enjoying a hit with his 1937 quartet recording of "The Man I Love." Goodman continued to feature the work in a variety of settings — with a combo at Carnegie Hall in 1938, in an Eddie Sauter big band arrangement from 1940, with his bop-oriented band from the late 1940’s, with symphony orchestra in the 1950’s, with various pick-up bands in later decades — for the rest of his career. But equally influential in jazz circles was Coleman Hawkins's 1943 recording, which finds the tenorist constructing a harmonically expansive solo that ranks among the finest sax improvisations of the era. Over the next 18 months, more than two dozen cover versions of "The Man I Love" were recorded — more than in the entire decade leading up to Hawk's session.
This song's popularity has never waned in later years. The hand-me-down that couldn't find a home in a Broadway show eventually became one of Gershwin's most beloved and recorded compositions. British composer and musicologist Wilfrid Mellers would extol "The Man I Love" as the "most moving pop song of our time." Others have been equally lavish in their praise. "This is the music of America," proclaimed Gershwin's friend and patron Otto Kahn. "It will live as long as a Schubert lieder."
In truth, the melodic material employed here is quite simple — many of the phrases merely move up and down a half or full step before concluding up a minor third. Gershwin employs this device no fewer than 15 times during the course of a 32-bar song. Yet the repetition of this motif contrasts most markedly with the constant movement in the song's harmonies. The contrast gives added emphasis to Gershwin's repeated use of the flat seven in the vocal line, an intrinsically bluesy choice that transforms what might otherwise sound like a folkish 19th-century melody into a consummate Jazz Age lament.”
Paul Whiteman (with Frank Trumbauer), New York, May 16,1928
Benny Goodman (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa), live at Carnegie Hall, New York, January 16,1938
Billie Holiday (with Lester Young), New York, December 13,1939
Coleman Hawkins, New York, December 23,1943
Lester Young (with Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich), Los Angeles, March-April 1946
Art Tatum, live at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, April 2,1949
Miles Davis (with Thelonious Monk and Milt Jackson), from Miles Davis and the
Modern Jazz Giants, Hackensack, New Jersey, December 24,1954
Art Pepper (with Red Garland), from Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Los Angeles, January 19,1957
Mary Lou Williams, from Live at the Cookery, live at the Cookery, New York, November 1975
Fred Hersch, from Heartsongs, New York, December 4-5,1989
Herbie Hancock (with Joni Mitchell and Wayne Shorter), from Gershwin's World, New York (March-April 1998) and Los Angeles (June 1998)
George and Ira Gershwin - "The Man I Love" - Victor Feldman - YouTube
“During the fifties, when the jazz media spotlight shone brightly on Los Angeles, Jack Montrose's writing and playing were very important ingredients in what became known as West Coast Jazz.”
- Gordon Jack
“For a time in the mid-fifties, Jack Montrose's reputation as an arranger threatened to eclipse even that of his former instructor Shorty Rogers. As 'staff arranger' for Pacific Jazz in 1953 and 1954, he had gained favored attention for his writing on the Chet Baker and Clifford Brown ensemble albums, as well as the initial ten-inch LP of his favorite playing companion, baritonist Bob Gordon. In 1955 Montrose was offered his own album by Dick Bock, and the resulting LP was entitled The Jack Montrose Sextet.Joining the tenor saxophonist were Gordon, Conte Candoli and the rhythm section of pianist Paul Moer, bassist Ralph Pena and Shelly Manne.
Shortly following the Pacific Jazz session, Montrose was again recorded - this time by Atlantic. The line-up for this date was a quintet with Bob Gordon, Paul Moer, Shelly Manne and bassist Red Mitchell. The quintet format must have felt more congenial to Montrose, for this Atlantic session produced his finest work. Again every tune on the album was either composed or arranged by the leader.
With these two albums Jack Montrose seemed about to be recognized as a major jazz writer, but tragedy struck before either album was even released. On the way to an out-of-town concert with Pete Rugolo, Bob Gordonwas killed in a car accident. Montrose and Gordon had been close friends offstage as well as in performance, and the loss seems to have hurt Montrose creatively as well as personally. Whatever the reason, Jack Montrose never again produced any recorded work comparable to the Pacific Jazz or especially the Atlantic album.”
- Bob Gordon
« J'aime ecrire dans le style "musique de chambre" a cause de son intimite. Rien n'y est superflu ni ne peut 1'etre [...]. En ecrivant en vue de cet album, aucun instrument n'a ete neglige. Mon but est d'utiliser chacun dans son registre propre. » Comme par ailleurs Montrose proclamait hautement que le blues etait la forme musicale la plus fantastique qui puisse etre et qu'un bon interprete du blues ne pouvait etre qu'un bon jazzman, on voit a quel confluent se situe sa musique.
“I enjoy composing in a ‘chamber music’ style because of its intimacy. Nothing is superfluous nor can it be […]. While writing for this album, I tried not to neglect any of the instruments and to blend them with one another. My goal was to use each one in its proper tonal range ” In addition, Montrose proclaimed his high regard for the Blues as a musical form and that it was difficult to be a good Jazzman if one was not a good interpreter of the Blues. One hears such a confluence in Montrose’s music.
- Alain Tercinet
“Born December 30, 1928, in Detroit, Montrose had attended high school in Tennesseebefore journeying west to study music at Los AngelesState. In addition to being a leading saxophonist on the Southern California scene, Montrose also distinguished himself as a composer and arranger with a flair for the indigenous contrapuntal sound so popular in Californiajazz in the 19505. His writing credits grace record dates for, among others, Clifford Brown, Chet Baker, and Bob Gordon. For a brief period Montrose seemed on the verge of establishing himself as a major force in West Coast jazz, but instead his career went into a tailspin after the mid-1950s. Relegated to playing the LA strip club circuit and odd studio gigs, Montrose decided to resettle in Nevada. There he has kept himself busy in the financially secure surroundings of the casino entertainment world.”
- Ted Gioia
Prior to his passing in 2006, I had a brief conversation with Jack Montrose at one of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute’s semi-annual, four-day events.
We had met years before in Las Vegaswhen both of us worked a gig for singer-dance Juliet Prowse. Jack played tenor saxophone in the pit band and also took over the nominal leadership of the group when her regular arranger couldn’t make it out of Hollywood.
After the usual, conversational asides and hair loss references, I asked Jack, whom I had lost track of when I moved to another career, how he had managed to stay involved with music “all these years.”
Jack said: “Well, as far as my work in Jazz was concerned, it was over before it began, wasn’t it?”
He then went on to essentially provide me with the highlights of his career as detailed in the following interview with Gordon Jack which can be found in Fifities Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective [Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2004].
“One thing is for certain,” he said: “It may have been short, but I had a ball while it lasted.”
I always considered Jack one of the most talented cats I’d ever met and his loss to the Jazz world as a tragedy. But then, the loss of Jazz itself from its halcyon days was no less so.
“I was born in Detroit on December 30, 1928, which of course was during the Depression, and although we were very poor, I was never unhappy. I thought that everybody was like us and all kids had one pair of pants per semester. To escape the poverty, we moved to Chattanooga when I was about five years old, where we lived in a black ghetto called Onion Bottom. Thanks to a relative who financed my Dad in a grocery store which had a jukebox, I heard my first records by people like Lionel Hampton, Johnny Hodges, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington, and I was thrilled by it all.
Nobody in my family was musical, but I acquired a metal clarinet when I was about twelve, and a couple of years later, I worked a whole summer in a pawnshop to buy a C melody sax for $20.1 was completely self-taught because we couldn't afford a teacher, and by the time I was fourteen, I had joined the union and played my first professional job on alto. Although I didn't really know what I was doing, I had also begun writing arrangements by ear—and right away discovered the bottom line: whatever sounds right is the truth. I switched to tenor when I heard Don Byas and Joe Thomas, and for the next couple of years I played with bands down South. By 1946 I moved with my family to Los Angeles and started doing one-nighters around town with people like Lennie Niehaus, Jack Sheldon, and Russ Freeman. Russ always knew more tunes than anyone else and was very generous with his harmonic knowledge. He helped us all and influenced my progress to a great degree, and I have always loved him for that. He lives in Las Vegas now, and it never ends, because he still knows tunes that I don't.1 The only other person who may know as many tunes as Russ is Herb Geller.
It was around 1948 that I first met Bob Gordon. He was with Alvino Rey's band, and we used to play together whenever he was in town. I never knew him to play anything except the baritone, which was the perfect instrument for him because he played it so well, with an absolutely beautiful sound. I have heard some guys play very effectively, but nobody sounded like Bob; he was unique. He and Gerry Mulligan both played Conn’s, because they made the best baritones, and although Gerry had a great sound, Bob's was even better. He had a natural mind-to-hand coordination that gave him fast fingers, which was unusual on the baritone at that time.
Incidentally, Paul Desmond was also in Rey's band, and I enjoyed his playing very much, even though it was a little one-dimensional. He was very poetic and melodic, but his intensity never seemed to change. He actually sounded better on recordings than in person, because he didn't have a big sound, so he was hard to hear in clubs. The only time I ever worked with him was when we played with Jack Fina for about a month. Jack had been Freddy Martin's pianist, and he had a band at the Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel with three tenors: me, Paul, and Herb Geller.
For a lot of us growing up in the late forties in Los Angeles, Herbie Harper's jam sessions at the Showtime on West Ventura Boulevard were an important part of our musical education. They were like a postgraduate study in jazz for guys like Bill Perkins, Shorty Rogers, Chet Baker, Art Pepper, and myself. Art of course was always one of my heroes, and I was unashamedly influenced by him and Chet Baker. One of the first things I notice about a player is his sound, and I think that Art had the loveliest sound on alto, outside of Johnny Hodges. He admired Zoot Sims very much, and he even sounded like Zoot to me. I adored his playing, and still do, but I think he lost it for a while when he became too influenced by John Coltrane towards the end of his life. He lost what was valuable, because a great artist should search within himself without copying, and Art fell into that hole. As Lennie Niehaus told you, Art lost his honesty and played in a style that didn't suit him; he was just not playing "Art" anymore.
Chet was always an outstanding player. He immediately grabbed your attention, and just like a comet blazing through the sky, he wouldn't be denied. Gerry Mulligan in his wisdom really nailed it when he said that Chet knew everything about chords except their names, because he had the best ears of anyone I have ever encountered. The other myth about Chet not reading music is quite untrue. He played my charts, which were far from easy, as well as anyone.
In 1949 I played in Tom Talbert's Jazz Orchestra, which included Art Pepper and Claude Williamson. I loved that band and, funnily enough, four or five years ago Sea Breeze reissued one of our albums and Tom sent me a check for $41.25, which was scale for a record session at that time. There were a lot of very talented players in the band who were never heard of again, like Steve White, who was a marvelous tenor player. He was one of the greatest white Prez-influenced players I have ever heard and could have been one of the "Four Brothers" without any trouble. His ears were so good that he could play anything, and he had all the makings of becoming a legend.2
I also did a lot of playing with Shorty Rogers, and around 1952 Bob Gordon and I worked in John Kirby's last group at the 5-4 Ballroom, on 54th and Broadway. It was a sextet that played for dancers, and that is where I first met Gerry Mulligan. His girlfriend, Gail Madden, was a photographer at the ballroom, and he used to sit in with us every night when he came to pick her up. I had already become aware of him from the "Birth of the Cool" sessions, which was the only jazz writing that influenced me at that time. Those charts were wonderful, and the arrangers seemed to be affected by something that was quite unearthly. Gerry was a genius, and when he and Chet were at the Haig, I used to visit two or three nights a week. It was an unbelievably stimulating experience, hearing them play together, and the rest is history, because that is one of the best jazz groups ever. This was around the time I had a seven-piece rehearsal band, which included at different times Bob Gordon, Bill Perkins, Stu Williamson, and Dave Madden, and for a while we worked the off-nights opposite Gerry's group. Dave isn't too well known, but he was a very talented tenor player and one of my best friends.3 When Chet left Gerry, Dick Bock wanted to do something different with him, so he recorded him with my band on an album called The Chet Baker Ensemble in December 1953.4 "
By this time I was studying for my degree in music and composition at L.A. State College, and one day between classes, I went down to CBS on Sunset Boulevard to audition for Jerry Gray's band. I got the gig, which was the jazz tenor chair, and I stayed with Jerry off and on for about five years. We were resident on the Bob Crosby radio show, and we played at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. Bob Gordon also had a steady gig, working around town with George Redman, who was the drummer with the Harry Zimmerman orchestra on the Dinah Shore T.V. show. George had a great following, and it was a very hip little group, usually one horn and rhythm, so there was a lot of jazz. Whenever I was free, I used to sit in with them at places like the Bombay club, and later on, Bud Shank and Maynard Ferguson were with the band. One way to keep busy when things were slow in the music business was to work in one of the many strip joints around L.A., so I started playing at the Body Shop on Sunset Boulevard. Herb Geller was the first real jazz player I knew to work those clubs, and it kept his head above water when times were hard. I used to sub for him there if he had other work.
In May 19541 arranged and played on Bob Gordon's only date as a leader, and we used his friend Billy Schneider from St. Louis on drums.5 We had been working in clubs like the Purple Onion, Peacock Lane, and Peacock Alley, and at the time of the recording, one of my original ballads was untitled. Bob asked if I would dedicate it to his wife, which I was happy to do, and I think "For Sue" came out very nicely. Another title, "Onion Bottom," was a reference to the area that my family had lived in when we first moved to Chattanooga.
I was also playing a lot with Art Pepper at the Angel Room on South Crenshaw Boulevard and Esther's on Hermosa Beach, and that summer our quintet appeared opposite Max Roach and Clifford Brown at the Tiffany club. Dick Bock wanted to record them with some West Coast musicians, and I was booked to write the arrangements, but I didn't play, despite what Ira Gitler has written, although I would have loved to.6 Dick decided the instrumentation and personnel, and it was his choice to do "Blueberry Hill" and "Gone with the Wind," not Brownie's. Clifford had an old studio upright at his motel in the West Adams district, and I used to visit him every day to work on the music, which was written with Max in mind, because he was supposed to be on the session. Unfortunately he got into a money hassle with Dick and bowed out at the last minute, so Shelly Manne was called, and he played just beautifully, bless his heart. I spent about two months writing the charts, and we rehearsed the band three or four times over at my place. As you can hear on the record, everyone jelled immediately and it was a very friendly date.7
I have already said that Chet Baker was an unsurpassed "ear" player with no theoretical knowledge. Clifford Brown on the other hand had Chet's ears, but he was also a thoroughly schooled musician who would have practiced all day if he could. He was an absolute giant, very advanced in theory and totally immersed in music. He was also a sweet person, without a drink or drug problem, living a perfectly clean lifestyle. Along with Stu Williamson and Bob Gordon, Zoot Sims was the other horn on the Brownie date, and for a while he caused me the same problem that Pepper had with Coltrane. I loved his playing so much that I couldn't imagine it any other way, and I had a rough time until I discovered myself again. Zoot was a marvel, and still is. He may no longer be with us, but as John O'Hara said about Gershwin's death, "I don't have to believe it if I don't want to."
While I was working with Clifford, Art Pepper and I recorded an album with our own group which we used to refer to as Art's "Spice Suite."8 This was because it featured a number of his originals like "Nutmeg," "Cinnamon," "Thyme Time," and "Art's Oregano." I don't know the significance of the other titles, but nutmeg was something inmates in confinement used to get high on. After the record release we planned to go East with our quintet, but as so often happened, Art got busted and disappeared off the scene. Being a junky, he was not the most reliable person in the world, but he loved playing so much that I can only remember him missing a couple of nights at the Tiffany club. When it came time to play, nothing else existed for him. He was one of my very best friends, easy to get along with, and marvelous to make music with.
In 1954 I spent six months with Stan Kenton, but truthfully I didn't like the band, although I adored the man. We were on different musical paths; that is not to say he was wrong, but his muse was not my muse. He actually hired me to write for him, and I was going to submit some of my originals like "Credo," "Pretty," "Speakeasy," and "Listen, Hear." I sketched them out on the long Kenton bus rides, but I changed my mind because the band was just too loud for my material. "Credo" was very ephemeral and delicate, but they would have destroyed it, totally losing the inner voices. "Listen, Hear" was a double fugue, and I couldn't imagine Stan playing it the way I wanted. Until you play in one, you have no idea how damned loud a big band can be, and Stan's could be pretty overwhelming.9
I rearranged all those numbers for my 1955 sextet album with Conte Candoli and Bob Gordon.10 Paul Moer was the pianist, and Bob and I liked his playing so much that he did three albums with us. I have never found anyone else who could play those sextet charts as well as he could. He came from Florida, and I first met him at the Cottage Italia, where they used to have marvelous jam sessions.
Shelly Manne was on the date, and he was a prince of drummers, but Bob Gordon didn't like his playing at all. Bob preferred the New York school, like Philly Joe Jones and Art Mardigan, because he was an aggressive player and he liked aggressive drummers. We had both played with Philly Joe when he had come out to the Coast, and Bob especially liked the way he used his hi-hat on two and four, something Shelly didn't always do, which occasionally led to arguments on record dates. It's strange how some people don't get along. Bob and Art Pepper didn't like each other, and as far as I know, they never worked together. As Herb Geller told you, Joe Maini and Art actually hated each other, and I was there the night they nearly came to blows.
A few weeks after we recorded the last titles for the sextet album, Bob was killed in a car accident. I met his parents at the funeral, which is when I discovered that his real name was Bob Resnick, and I don't know why he changed it. His wife, Sue, wanted some of us to play at the service, so Jack Sheldon, Bob Enevoldsen, Joe Maini, and I played my arrangement of "Goodbye," which under the circumstances was very difficult to perform. If he hadn't died, things would have been a lot different in my life, because we were only just beginning. We had great plans for the future and would have certainly carried on playing together; I actually had another album already written for us. We were a partnership, and I have never missed anyone as much as I missed Bob Gordon.11 Sue eventually went to live on Staten Island, and she died a few years ago.
In 1956 Art Pepper and I were supposed to make an L.P. called "Blues and Vanilla."12 We rehearsed it, but I think he got busted again, so I called Joe Maini, and he was bebop incarnate, doing it so well and so naturally. I played a lot with Joe, and he was great fun and a wonderful player who didn't get recorded enough. We did studio sessions together when Marty Paich hired us for some Mel Torme recordings, but Joe was on lead alto, so he didn't get any solos. Mel Torme of course had the best phrasing, the best ears, and the best breath control; he was just superb, and I think Marty's writing for him and that little band was excellent. Marty had a way of understanding singers very well, and although it was not my kind of writing (I would have done it differently), those records still sound very good. I know that Corky Hale told you that Mel was hard to get along with, but I never saw it. I was on many dates with him and found him to be pleasant, and everything was as efficient and musical as could be.
All through the fifties I did a lot of writing for Dick Bock at Pacific Jazz, and he had a considerable input regarding players and repertoire, but he could not have been easier to get along with. He was a marvelous man in the right place at the right time to be part of the regeneration of jazz on the West Coast. However by 1960 something happened, because suddenly all the recording stopped and jazz seemed to be out of favor. I was still working in jazz clubs and strip joints where the girls were all jazz fans, so it was great practice. I also did some rock 'n' roll dates, but I don't want to talk about them at all—they were painful. That music started edging us out, although some of the jazz guys had a lot to do with turning off their audiences with their terrible arrogance. They started turning their backs on the customers, for instance, and I don't just mean Miles; a lot of lesser players were doing it. Also the avant-garde movement was too inaccessible and tough to take, and probably still is. Tastes were changing, but not being a social scientist, I could do nothing except suffer the results. I tried the Hollywood scene, but I couldn't make the deadlines; they just debilitated me. An agent would call and want three arrangements for the next day, and that isn't how I like to work. I'm not suited to turning out material without regard to its quality, so I was ready to quit by that time.
I decided to move to Las Vegasin 1971 because, if I had to do commercial work, Vegas provided a more relaxed atmosphere. I started playing in the shows, which were first class at the time, and acts like Sinatra, Steve and Eydie, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, and Tony Bennett were certainly as good as the music could get in show business. I didn't rail against it, and I didn't mind going to work every night. This is when I met my wife, Zena, who was a violinist in house bands, and we still work together sometimes. Although I was embroiled in making a living in show business, I didn't stop playing jazz. The union had a rehearsal hall with a bar that stayed open all night, and after the second show, everyone would go down there to play. That carried on until about 1985, when we lost the musicians' building during a strike. There is not much work left in the casinos now, because most of the acts we used to accompany are no longer there.
Don Byas was the man who made me want to play the tenor, but Charlie Parker has..
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