Junior Mance - Junior's Blues

Junior Mance Junior’s Blues (Riverside 1962)

Things do not always happen as they should. To be sure, they rarely if ever do! However, pianist Junior Mance, one of the greatest blues pianists in jazz, was destined to record an album of blues tunes. That album was Junior’s Blues, released by Riverside in 1962.

Junior Mance - Junior's Blues


Junior Mance (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Mickey Roker (drums)


on February 14, 1962 in New York City


as RLP 447 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Down The Line
Creole Love Call
Rainy Morning Blues
Yancey Special
Gravy Waltz
Side B:
In The Evening
Blue Monk
The Jumpin’ Blues

As a blues man among modern jazz pianists, Mance is perhaps equaled only by Gene Harris and Ray Bryant. Les McCann is a favorite of personal assistants, runners and restroom ladies of Flophouse Corp. and, last but not least, yours truly, head honcho of the Flophouse Magazine headquarters, which some of you may consider plainly an attic, but for me is nothing short of the main boardroom, resplendent with everything the modern-day (or old-fashioned, depending upon your view) chief editor needs. Because it really is not plain. There’s a lovely wooden desk. A side table that carries glasses and a bottle of 12 year-old Red Breast pot still whiskey from Ireland. A weathered Chesterfield chair for comfortable listening purposes. And records of course, the weight of which threatens to destroy the town house’s construction, much to the dismay of two of its main occupants, my wife and kid daughter, undeniably the most kindred and faithful souls I have had the pleasure to encounter in this earthly existence. Three if you count the cat. Wife and child can’t help it and aren’t into jazz. Cat couldn’t care less. She’s a country girl. Mice and kibble is her main concern, notes and tones are phenomena from another dimension.

It goes without saying, we’re not running a blues competition. McCann’s earthy, driving style, Gene Harris’ subtle variations on a theme, Ray Bryant’s striking incorporation of the tradition are all contagious. I’m sure there are a number of pianists that you feel shouldn’t be left out. Oscar Peterson perhaps, or Mose Allison. And Junior Mance? Man, there’s just no end to the enjoyment of the long, clever and exciting lines that he spun!

Mance was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1928, learned to play stride and boogie-woogie from his father, spent his youth in Chicago. By the late forties, Mance had recorded with Gene Ammons on Alladin and Lester Young on Savoy. Cannonball Adderley, ever the keen organizer even at a young age, recruited Mance for his Army band in the early 50s. Mance was part of the house band of Chicago’s Beehive club and backed Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins. Trusting the advice of Bird, Mance moved to New York City in the mid-50s. He accompanied Dinah Washington for two years. Mance subsequently hooked up again with Cannonball Adderley and cooperated fruitfully with the recently arrived alto saxophonist on the New York scene on many albums on EmArcy. Mance’s features on the Riverside albums of the Johnny Griffin/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis outfit in the early 60s are notable as well.

The debut of Junior Mance was on Verve in 1959. Mance was part of the Dizzy Gillespie group and producer Norman Granz granted Mance the opportunity to record a solo album: Junior. Mance subsequently recorded five albums for Riverside/Jazzland: The Soulful Piano Of Junior Mance, At The Village Vanguard, Big Chief, The Soul Of Hollywood, Junior’s Blues and Happy Time. Definitely the series that made his name and kick started his career, a very fruitful one at that. All of them contain a mixture of standards and lesser-known standards imbued with blues feeling as well as pure blues tunes. Great stuff. I decided to highlight Junior’s Blues. It is a set of relatively straightforward blues music. Because of its simple harmonic framework, there’s no place to hide for the performer thus takes some doing and daring.

Mance succeeds summa cum laude, no sweat. The set list contains Mance originals Down The Line, Rainy Morning Blues and Cracklin’, Duke Ellington’s Creole Love Call, Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk, Leroy Carr’s In The Evening, Jay McShann/Charlie Parker’s The Jumpin’ Blues, Steve Allen/Ray Brown’s Gravy Waltz and Maede Lux Lewis’ Yancey Special. Mance treats us to layered stories punctuated by his unfailing beat, flawless articulation and confident attack. It is surprising how much ideas the pianist produces chorus after chorus. His phrases are skilled but not studied and his bold lines stretch bars and are underlined by witty, decisive bass figures. His playing is simultaneously from the gut, the heart and the brain!

The lithe groove of Down The Line and The Jumpin’ Blues and the roar of Yancey Special are standout moments of pleasure. I’m particularly enamored by the eloquent Gravy Waltz. Mance’s soft-hued lyricism equates to the growth of roses and dahlias from your chest. The crisp, unfettered backing by Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker solidifies Mance’s flamboyant and tasteful art of the blues. Not a note or accent is wasted.

Junior Mance suffered from a stroke in 2012, which led to Alzheimer’s Disease and gradual mental decline. There has been a documentary in the making about Mance and his wife Gloria for quite a while now, Sunset And The Mockingbird, produced by Jyllian Gunther and Adam Kahan. The project needs more funding for its completion. You can donate on Kickstarter here.

Harold Ousley


Get your hands together, let’s give a warm applause for Harold Ousley. The tenor saxophonist, born in Chicago in 1929, worked under the radar for much of his professional life. The names Ousley is affiliated with nonetheless say a lot about his capabilities. Ousley played with Billie Holiday, Gene Ammons, Miles Davis and Bud Powell. He operated in the r&b field in the 50s, recording with Dinah Washington and cooperating with Ruth Brown, Billy Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis. Ousley is featured on a couple of records by organist Brother Jack McDuff in the 60s and made a notable appearance on drummer Grassella Oliphant’s The Grass Roots in 1967, contributing no less than five tunes. He debuted as a leader on Bethlehem in 1960 with Tenor Sax, featuring baritone saxophonist Charles Davis, a solid album of mainstream jazz. See my review here.

It took Ousley twelve years to record a sophomore effort. Ousley added greasy funk to his mainstream jazz menu on The Kid (Cobblestone 1971) and Sweet Double Hipness (Muse 1972/80), which display a remarkable ability to sustain the pocket. All in all, Ousley’s discography consists of six albums as a leader. During the 1970s, Ousley was subsequently part of the Lionel Hampton and Count Basie bands. Ousley’s style is soulful, flexible and witty. His resonant and husky sound is very attractive. Attractive is a term that’s not inappropriate for some of Ousley’s record sleeves as well:

All joking and wanking apart, there has always been plenty of competition in the tenor sax department, which might have been one of the reasons why Ousley made a career switch in the 80s. He hosted the cable tv show Harold Ousley Presents and developed music therapy formats for the educational system.

Although his book isn’t extended, Ousley’s writing skills stand out. Both Oliphant and McDuff took a liking to his tunes, respectively recording five (on one album) and four Ousley compositions. He effectively combined quirky blues lines with stop time on One For The Masses and Mrs. O from Grassella Oliphant’s The Grass Roots. Ousley wrote a couple of nifty, danceable Latin-flavored tunes. Haitian Lady appeared on both Oliphant’s album and McDuff’s Walk On By, which also features the lively Carribean groove For Those Who Choose. Also from Oliphant’s album is the avant-leaning The Descendant, which wouldn’t have been out of place on some of the progressive records on Blue Note in the mid-sixties.

Ousley recorded his final album Grit-Gittin’ Feelin’ on Delmark in 2000. He passed away in 2015.

Eddy Louiss - Eddy Louiss Trio

Eddy Louiss Eddy Louiss Trio (Cy 1968/73)

Get ready for a post bop bomb by the powerhouse trio of organist Eddy Louiss, guitarist René Thomas and drummer Kenny Clarke.

Eddy Louiss - Eddy Louiss Trio


Eddy Louiss (organ), René Thomas (guitar), Kenny Clarke (drums)


in 1968 at Studio Davout, Paris


as Cy 3004 in 1973

Track listing

Side A:
No Smoking
You’ve Changed
Don’t Want Nothin’
Side B:
Blue Tempo
Groovin’ High

Eddy Louiss came up in the early sixties as a pianist in Paris, France, soaking up the music of American expatriate legends like Bud Powell, apprenticing in modern jazz like like-minded, passionate European jazz freaks as Daniel Humair, Rein de Graaff, Pierre Courbois, Gunther Hampel. Louiss mainly focused on playing the Hammond organ in the mid-sixties. His thorough grasp of the bebop language is evident. That, in itself, is notable. The great ones in the USA – pioneer Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, Jimmy McGriff, Groove Holmes, Eddie Baccus, Lonnie Smith, Melvin Rhyne – mastered essential bop melodies. The average soul jazz organist would perhaps include a bit of bop in his song book, but would prefer to play a blues lick like Now’s The Time instead of Scrapple From The Apple. Nothing wrong with that, long live the groove. Just not bebop scales and the integration of upper intervals in the harmonic groundwork of standards.

Louiss was no stranger to the golden feathers of Bird. However, there’s more to Eddy Louiss, who was born in Paris in 1944 to a French mother and a father from the colony of Martinique. His father was a trumpet player and enrolled young Eddy in his band, who was exposed to all kinds of exotic rhythm that underlined the repertoire of his dad’s popular music outfit like the rumba, cha cha cha and paso doble. In Paris, melting pot of cultures, skin colors, scents, fashions… Louiss accompanied French chanteurs and chanteuses. In later life, Louiss played duets with such diverse personalities as pianist Michel Petrucciani and accordionist Richard Galliano. Undoubtedly, this colorful background contributed immensily to the multi-faceted, original playing style of Eddy Louiss.

The association of Louiss with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz in the early 70s put the French organist squarely in the limelight. Getz formed one of his finest but underrated groups of his career, also including drummer Bernard Lubat and the Belgian guitarist René Thomas. The group recorded the outstanding live album Dynasty in 1971. By then, Louiss had been cooperating with René Thomas for a number of years, a very fruitful bond, especially in combination with Kenny Clarke, expatriate drummer in Paris, France since the 50s, legendary inventor of bebop rhythm, major inspiration for European musicians to push their boundaries.

In 1968, Louiss, Thomas and Clarke recorded Eddy Louiss Trio at Studio Davout, Paris. It would enjoy a belated release in 1973. It’s a set of extraordinary, hard-driving organ jazz. No Smoking is a catchy bop line thriving on the stop-time device, Blue Tempo a modal burner that brings to mind John Coltrane’s Impressions. Both are compositions by Eddy Louiss. The trio performs Dizzy Gillespie’s Groovin’ High, Miles Davis’s Nardis, Kenny Clarke’s sleazy, mid-tempo blues line Don’t Want Nothin’ and the wonderful ballad by Bill Carey and Carl Fischer, You’ve Changed.

Louiss, whose bass figures are fat-bottomed and hi-level at any pace, fast or slow, and the group play a heavy Nardis. It definitely spells 1968 and one imagines Brian Auger scratching his chin, relieved he’s playing at another festival. Nardis features typical long, boppish Louiss lines, swirling in directions to the Near-East and Carribean Islands. Kenny Clarke, effortlessly and with abundant detail underpinning the driving force of the Louiss organ, is hors category. The way his concise solo segues back into the Spanish-tinged outro of Blue Tempo is so good it makes you laugh.

You’ve Changed features extraordinary playing by René Thomas, a guitarist of note who, let’s be honest, would be counted among the greats would he have been of American descent. His story of You’ve Changed is intense. No doubt in my mind that the guitarist from Liège, Belgium knew the lyrics by heart… You’ve changed.. that sparkle in your eyes is gone… your smile is just a careless yawn… you’re breaking my heart… you’ve changed… you’ve forgotten the words, I love you… each memory that we’ve shared, you ignore… every star above you, I can’t realize you’ve ever cared… you’ve changed… you’re not the angel that I once knew… no need to tell me that we’re through… it’s all over now, you’ve changed… Thomas reflects the lover’s resignation, but his double time, staccato and poetic phrases add a layer, they’re hitting the spot, bidding farewell but adding the afterthought that the lady is worse off without Monsieur Thomas.

Eddy Louiss is more level-headed. His explosive solo says: ok, so it’s over. Soit! Gotta move on! Period. Their stories comprise one of the nicest contrasts of this imposing set of organ jazz.

Capital Hill


I’m a big fan of tenor saxophonist Buck Hill. The rather obscure tenor saxophonist from Washington D.C. flavored his thorough grasp of modern jazz with flexible phrasing and delicious edgy accents.

While playing professionally in the late 40s and 50s, Hill kept his job as a mailman in his birthplace of Washington D.C. He worked for the postal office for thirty years and became known as “The Wailin’ Postman”. Hill recorded outstanding albums for Steeplechase and Muse from the late seventies to the nineties.

Hill passed away in 2017. On August 27, 2019, D.C. unveiled a tribute mural of Hill at the historic U Street Corridor, where many jazz legends performed in the past. It is designed by Joe Pagac from Tucson, Arizona. See below, great tribute!

Mike LeDonne

Funk You Too!

Mike LeDonne’s love affair with the organ goes back to his childhood. “I love to make people dance. Well, at least make them feel like dancing.

For a hard-working jazz musician from New York that has just finished a tightly scheduled tour in The Netherlands and Germany, Mike LeDonne (62) looks remarkably sprightly. His prickly grey beard underlines clear brown eyes. The baritone voice signifies warmth, the smooth flow of his speech plenty of confidence. Aside from his acclaimed career as a pianist and organist, LeDonne runs the Disability Pride Parade, raising funds and creating awareness for the cause of the disabled in the USA. The benefit was inspired five years ago by Mary, LeDonne’s daughter, who is non-verbal and legally blind. LeDonne speaks about her candidly and affectionately.

LeDonne, modern-day piano master who worked with legends such as Milt Jackson, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, Benny Goodman, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie, sustains a career as both pianist and organist. LeDonne’s Groover Quartet – including the alternating line up of Eric Alexander, Vincent Herring, Peter Bernstein and Joe Farnsworth – has been enjoying a residency of 15 years at New York City’s club Smoke. A remarkable feat, considering the required differing approach of playing acoustic piano and the electric, tone-wheel-driven Hammond B3 organ.

LeDonne talks about the beginning of his fascination with the organ and funky music while hanging out endlessly at the music store of his father in Bridgeport, Connecticut, how Brother Jack McDuff inspired him to add the organ to his professional life, about heroes like Wild Bill Davis and Don Patterson and some of the organ jazz records that inspired LeDonne to fulfill his calling as premier jazz organist.

FM: “When did you start playing organ?”
MLD: “My father was a jazz musician and he owned a music store. He had a lot of classic jazz records and organ jazz records. I loved the sound of the organ. I listened to Tower Of Power, who had Chester Thompson on organ, Sly Stone and James Brown. Sly and James Brown played organ too, of course! I started out on the Farfisa organ when I was 10. I had a little band going. We did gigs. And we rehearsed in the basement of my father’s store. That’s how I got seriously hooked on making music. One summer a crowd of neighborhood kids were dancing in front of the window. That felt so good! It got me thinking, ‘this is what I wanna do, make people dance!’ As a matter of fact, that’s still how I feel. I love to make people dance. Well, at least make them ‘feel’ like dancing.”

FM: “You grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. What was it like?”
MLD: “It was an industrial town and benefited from the World War II industry. But in the fifties, urban renewal passed by Bridgeport. It had good neighborhoods, but pretty funky parts as well. I loved it. There were a lot of clubs and good r&b bands.”

FM: “Sounds like a good breeding ground for soul jazz.”
MLD: “I don’t like that term. It’s about the commercial side. It’s patronizing for all-round, hard-working musicians. All jazz is soul jazz. But I do understand what it tries to convey. It’s about music that comes from experience. In my case, instead of playing How High The Moon, I’ll play Natalie Cole’s This Will Be An Everlasting Love, because it is a great tune that I grew up with. At Smoke I’ll play Michael Jackson’s Rock With You. Our crowd is a mix of old and young. The youngsters know the tune and they go, ‘hey, I didn’t know jazz could be like this!’. I’ve instilled it with swing, of course. My music is underlined by the black American aesthetic. It’s hard to explain. A certain kind of soulfulness. I played with both Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. Two extremes of vibraphone playing, same aesthetic… It’s a kind of magic. It’s the feeling Miles Davis describes when he listened to Billy Eckstine’s band with Charlie Parker: ‘It gets all up inside your body’.”

FM: “The groove.”
MLD: “Yeah, groove causes energy, people are attracted to the rhythm. The hard rhythm is a first for me, either on piano or organ, then comes the melody, the solo’s, from there everything has to go up and up.”

FM: “The Groover Quartet – what’s in a name – has been playing at club Smoke for almost 15 years. Plenty of time to polish the pocket.”
MLD: “That’s right! We’re a bit like the Blue Note groups of lore that played together constantly, with the rhythm sections that swing like mad. What we’re doing is not going to re-invent the wheel, but playing together is almost like telepathy and people respond to that, I think.”

FM: “You first made a name for yourself on the piano, the organ came later on.”
MLD: “Brother Jack McDuff is the reason that I play organ at all. I had stopped playing organ in college. I had become your typical idiot college kid immersed in ‘complex’ piano stuff. Then I moved to New York. My friend Jim Snidero, the saxophonist, played with McDuff. He took me to a gig and told McDuff that I played organ. So Jack asked me to sit in. Oh my God! I hadn’t played organ in five years. On drums was the legendary organ jazz drummer, Joe Dukes. I played a blues and McDuff liked it. He said that I was a good organ player and urged me to pursue a career as an organist. You better listen to the man! So I went and bought a new organ. That was the beginning of my career in organ jazz.”

FM: “What’s your secret? I mean, the piano and organ require a very different touch and approach.”
MLD: “I’ve been doing it for so long, it just feel natural. There is a difference, of course. You don’t control the sound with your fingers on the organ, the power is built-in. The piano requires subtle muscle control and needs power. My touch is pretty percussive on the piano and I love to belt out the bass lines on the organ pedals. But at the same time the walking figures on the organ keyboard have to be relaxed to stay in tempo. I probably play incorrectly, because I’m self-taught on the rather complicated organ. You need about four brains to play it!”

FM: “There is such a lot of different stuff going on in your style, on recordings but live especially. The orchestral sweep of Wild Bill Davis, the bebop approach of Jimmy Smith and Don Patterson. And you go from whispers to clusters of crazy notes that make me think of what they infamously called Coltrane’s sheets of sound.”
MLD: “I love the whole history of styles. I’m fond of the orchestral approach of Wild Bill Davis, I love to shout! The other guy I have to give it up to as someone who inspired me to explore is Lonnie Smith. He covers all bases. That made me think, why not? Why get stuck in one bag? I think my life with my daughter also has something to do with that. I come from a humbler place. I serve the music and love to give the audience the whole gamut. It’s not easy, I can tell you that! It has taken a lot of practice and experience. You have to be fully committed if you want to, for instance, incorporate that full drawbar orchestral stuff into your playing. There’s no place to hide.”

FM: “Who are some of your other influences besides Jimmy Smith?”
MLD: “You mentioned Don Patterson. He’s the guy that Jimmy Smith said was the greatest new organist he’d heard. His run of Prestige records is fantastic. It’s a shame that those records aren’t properly re-issued. Patterson had a great understanding with drummer Billy James. That was a unique combination. Patterson is underrated, he really was an innovator. He did things like crossing over the left hand while the right played the melody. The left might be switching chords around or even flutter a chord, a weird effect. I love that stuff. It’s churchy in a way, it has that black American aesthetic I mentioned earlier.”

“I love Melvin Rhyne. He probably was the greatest bebop organ player of all time. He was Milt Jackson’s favorite organist. And Milt didn’t like the organ! Rhyne doesn’t wham you in the head. He’s a horn-like player, stays in the middle register. His sound is dry. He’s all about substance. A big influence on me. I love Charles Earland. I heard his records on the radio but that was nothing compared to Earland live. I became a complete devotee. I once saw Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff and Charles Earland on the same bill. McDuff and McGriff were in their prime and they were swinging their butts of, believe me. But I have to say, the swing of Earland was of another level. He belted out that bass line. My bass line is primarily influenced by Charles Earland. I like that heavy, in-the-pocket line.”

FM: “What are your favorite organ jazz records?”
MLD: “Let me think, there are a lot of them. The Prestige records of Don Patterson are high on the list. Wild Bill Davis and Johnny Hodges did tons of great stuff. And the way Davis plays on Blues For New Orleans from Duke Ellington’s New Orleans Suite record is fantastic. He was also a great accompanist of singers. That blues record with Ella Fitzgerald (These Are The Blues, FM) is great. Man, Wild Bill Davis was such a deep artist. Much more than just a good-time big band guy.”

“There’s Jimmy Smith of course. The record that hooked me as a kid was Live At The Village Gate. To me, I Got A Woman and The Champ sounded like they came from a James Brown record! The sounds he got out of the organ intrigued me. I spent hours figuring them out.”

FM: “You played with the late Grady Tate, who was featured on many of Jimmy Smith’s albums.”
MLD: “Yes. Fantastic drummer. By the way, I also had a steady gig with saxophonist Percy France.”

FM: From the Home Cookin’ album.
MLD: “That’s the one.”

FM: “Really? Jazz fans have always wondered what happened to him after his sole performance on that album.”
MLD: “A great player, not just a groover. He was a hip harmonist and great bebop player. I played with him many times in New York. He had a stroke of ridiculous bad luck. France suffered from cancer but recovered. Then, in a twisted turn of events, he got hit by a car and passed away.”

FM: That’s very tragic.”
MLD: “Yes, it is.”

Mike LeDonne

One of the most talented pianists and organists of his generation, Mike LeDonne (62) has worked with a who’s who of legends and contemporary class acts as Eric Alexander, Peter Bernstein, Ron Carter, Doc Cheatham, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, George Coleman, Benny Golson, Benny Goodman, Tom Harrell, Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson, Hank Jones, Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine and Cedar Walton. He’s on more than 100 albums as a sideman and has recorded prolifically as a leader since 1988. The Groover Quartet documents LeDonne’s lifelong fascination with the Hammond organ. LeDonne has teached at Juilliard School Of Music and is one of the founders of the Jazz For Teen program in Newark, New Jersey.

Selected discography:

As a leader:
‘Bout Time (Criss Cross 1988)
To Each His Own (Double Time 1998)
Smokin’ Out Loud (Savant 2004)
The Groover (with The Groover Quartet – Savant 2009)
From The Heart (with The Groover Quartet – Savant 2018)

As a sideman:
Milt Jackson, Sa Va Bella (Qwest 1997)
Benny Golson, Remembering Clifford (Milestone 1998)
Gary Smulyan, The Real Deal (Reservoir 2002)
Jim Snidero, Tippin’ (Savant 2007)
Cory Weeds, Condition Blue: The Music Of Jackie McLean (Cellar Live 2014)

Go to the website of Mike LeDonne here.

Read about Disability Pride Parade here.

Cannonball & Keepnews


In 1960, saxophonist and bandleader Cannonball Adderley was ridin’ high. Adderley had found a record label – Riverside – that wholly supported his vision and further nurtured his considerable talents. His previous label, Mercury/EmArcy, was slow in releasing and promoting his recorded output. Although it had been a major step upwards after his rise on the scene in 1955, Adderley thoroughly regretted his signing a contract with that company in 1956.

The pieces of the puzzle fell into place when pianist Bobby Timmons, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes joined Cannonball and his brother Nat. During a tour on the West Coast, Cannonball, delighted by audience responses, suggested to label boss Orrin Keepnews to record a live performance. Keepnews gave the green light and the resulting record, In San Francisco, was a big seller, the gospel-tinged This Here by Bobby Timmons a hit. This Here represented Cannonball Adderley’s first steps on the path of his exploration of soul jazz.

Cannonball’s witty and insightful introductions of the compositions on In San Francisco hit the mark. Introducing his work was second nature to the genial alto saxophonist. In general, Cannonball was a busy bee, a vocal supporter of black jazz and the civil rights movement. Even before he made his name, Cannonball had been the organizer of the Army band in the late 40s.

He had a special rapport with Keepnews and soon acted as the A&R man of sorts. At the instigation of Cannonball, Riverside released a number of records of young talent/current colleagues that Cannonball thought deserved wider attention, the so-called A Cannonball Adderley Presentation albums. They were released over the course of two years, 1960-61.

Cannonball “presented” a number of cookin’ outfits, no surprise considering the Florida-born altoist’s impeccable taste and preference for blues-based jazz. The Paul Serrano Quintet’s Blues Holiday is a real groover. Trumpeter Paul Serrano is assisted by, among others, alto saxophonist Bunky Green and drummer Pete LaRoca. The J.F.K. Quintet’s New Frontiers From Washington D.C. (a lot of black musicians had high hopes of John F. Kennedy’s Presidency) is reminiscent of the soulful Jazz Crusaders. The group included bassist Walter Booker Jr., who would become the Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s bassist in the late sixties. Drummer Lenny McBrowne’s Eastern Lights is West Coast hard bop featuring fine writing by tenor saxophonist Donald Jackson. The Mangione Brothers’ – future heavyweights Chuck and Gap – got their first break on Riverside. The Jazz Brothers presents fresh, hot hard bop and features the fiery Sal Nistico on tenor saxophone.

Cannonball chose a couple of great tenor saxophonists. Veteran Buddy Johnson went as far back as the 20s, is best known for his long association with Earl Hines, served with Ellington, Basie and introduced bop players to the Hines and Coleman Hawkins bands. And The Four Brass Giants (line-up!) is pretty spectacular. The wonderful Clifford Jordan hadn’t recorded as a leader since his excellent stint on Blue Note in 1957 and after Spellbound would record three more records on Riverside’s subsidiary label Jazzland. Bluesy Don Wilkerson made his high-profile debut with Nat Adderley, Barry Harris, Sam Jones/Leroy Vinegar and Billy Higgins. Wilkerson’s style matured on Blue Note in the early sixties. Last but not least, Adderley coupled James Clay with David “Fathead” Newman for The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces!!!!!, a hard-driving classic reviewed by Flophouse here.

The unknown pianist Roosevelt Wardell delivered The Revelation, a kind of gospel-tinged Bud Powell-influenced trio album. Flophouse also reviewed that album, see here. Finally, there’s At The Showboat by pianist Dick Morgan, another trio album, and a meaty session by Morgan, who has tinges of Les McCann, Ray Bryant, Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson, but whose hellhound-on-his-trail-ish, propulsive style is all his own.

Recommended diggin’!

Billy Mitchell - This Is Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell This Is Billy Mitchell (Smash 1962)

It is, indeed, tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell, delivering a mellow mainstream album with more than a few surprises.

Billy Mitchell - This Is Billy Mitchell


Billy Mitchell (tenor saxophone), Dave Burns (trumpet A3, A4, B1, B2, B4), Billy Wallace (piano A3, A4, B1, B2, B4), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Clarence “Sleepy” Anderson (organ A3, B1, B2, B4), Herman Wright (bass), Otis “Candy” Finch (drums)


on October 29 & 30, 1962 at Universal Studios, Chicago, Illinois


as MGS 27027 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Sophisticated Lady
You Turned The Tables On Me
Side B:
Just Waiting

The tenor saxophone is a special cat. Essential jazz instrument since the introduction of its potential by Coleman Hawkins, extension of the body of popular honking men like Big Jay McNeely, fulfilling the attractive role that would later only be surpassed by the guitar in rock & roll. Very saxy… The tenor sax is the woman with guts, Lauren Bacall firing one-liners, high ball leaning in her lean fingers, it’s the woman with curves, Raquel Welch bursting from the screen, half-naked and whip in hand… It’s the boy in the hood, dunking day and night on the square, and it’s Killer Joe, stepping from the board of his Cadillac, right in front of Birdland… The burning of rubber on a dirt road. Biceps and beer belch all in one. And smoke, don’t forget the smoke…

The tenor saxophone gels particularly well with the toms and ride cymbal of the drums, the middle register of the piano. Its sound burst out of the big bands and plays a pivotal role in the small ensemble setting of the 50s and beyond. It was the chosen instrument for many of the burgeoning reed men that followed the bright light of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. In the slipstream of the giants – Hawkins, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane – a slew of great stylists emerged. A sample of last year’s review pages of Flophouse Magazine reveals the names of tenor saxophonists Cannonball Adderley, Jerome Richardson, Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin, Eddie Chamblee, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Forrest, King Curtis, Clarence Wheeler, Buddy Terry, Harold Land, Wayne Shorter and Hank Bagby. Suits all mainstream jazz tastes!

And now Billy Mitchell: dark horse coming in from the stretch, a thoroughbred bound for a solid run on the racetrack of Flophouse, place your bets, keep your eye on the tote board, 9 to 2 shot, there he comes, there he comes… run! goddamit! run!… bingo. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, across the border line from Charlie Parker – who saw the light in Kansas City, Kansas – raised in Detroit, city of countless outstanding jazz artists, Mitchell apprenticed at the Blue Bird Inn, sharing the stage with incoming modernists like Miles Davis. He was a long-time member of the Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie big bands. Mitchell maintained a special relationship with trombonist Al Grey, with whom the bop-oriented tenorist released a number of albums in the early 60s.

Bonafide leadership dates were scarce. Snap Your Fingers on Argo was the first in 1962, This Is Billy Mitchell followed soon after that year and A Little Juicy was the final solo album by Mitchell featuring Thad Jones in the sixties – 1964. Both albums were released on Smash, subsidiary of Mercury Records. His next record came out in 1977. For reasons unknown, Mitchell dropped out of the scene in the 80s, coming out of hiding only occasionally, for instance with singer Deborah Brown and Rein de Graaff Trio during Vervolg Cursus Bebop in The Netherlands in 1991, the legendary series of lectures and performances with American legends and unsung heroes that was organized by pianist Rein de Graaff. The face of death finally appeared in Mitchell’s rear view mirror in 2001.

And now This Is Billy Mitchell: epic sleeve, smoke, pockmarked face of ruminative jazz man, graceful lettering that says… Mitchell is the most exciting tenor sax in jazz… Well, hyperbole reared its ugly head… Nonetheless, Mitchell is a real good’n, offering mellow mainstream jazz, a warm, full-bodied tone and smooth phrasing that keeps us fairly hypnotized in our easy chair. Mitchell fluently embeds the weathered artistry of the great swing tenor men in his background of bebop. He carries his original composition J&B, a smooth, smoky song that bounces merrily behind Mitchell’s relaxed but imposing, big-sounding phrases, Buddy Tate-ish, Jimmy Forrest-ish, you name it. Simply wonderful.

A similar swing era-smoothness instills the mid-tempo You Turned The Tables On Me and the ballad Sophisticated Lady, once a showcase for Harry Carney’s pioneering, booming baritone sax and a demonstration of skilled artistry by Mitchell here, whose proficiency provides wholehearted support for understated drama and imaginative, fully articulated ideas: the mark of a great jazz man. Boppish swing infuses a surprising set of rarely performed compositions: Gene Kee’s Siam, Melba Liston’s Just Waiting, John Hines’s Passionova. Automation is an original composition by trumpeter Dave Burns, the album’s most furious affair.

Obviously, the unusual sound palette of This Is Billy Mitchell is a big part of the attraction. Piano by Billy Wallace, the Wild Bill Davis-type organ injections and unobtrusive background of Clarence “Sleepy” Anderson, the ringing, balanced notes and tones of early-career Bobby Hutcherson all together now for 1/3 part of the album. The sprightly and pesky trumpet of Dave Burns and husky tenor of Billy Mitchell tiptoeing on the easygoing bounce of bassist Herman Wright and drummer Otis “Candy” Finch. The variety of piano/vibraphone, vibraphone/piano. It somehow works, a meshing that serves as the backdrop to very enjoyable tenor playing by Billy Mitchell.