Johnny Lytle - Blue Vibes

Johnny Lytle Blue Vibes (Jazzland 1960)

Blue Vibes propelled the career of the superb vibraphonist Johnny Lytle.

Johnny Lytle - Blue Vibes

Personnel

Johnny Lytle (vibraphone), Milton Harris (organ), Albert Heath (drums)

Recorded

on June 16, 1960 in New York City

Released

JLP 22 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Blue Vibes
Over The Rainbow
For Heaven’s Sake
Movin’ Nicely
Side B:
Autumn Leaves
Mister Trundel
Canadian Sunset


Mount Rushmore of vibraphonists? That would be Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Dave Pike and Bobby Hutcherson. Agree? No, I hear you say, better start grinding an extra stone for Gary Burton. There were/are a lot of great vibe players. Red Norvo (who started out on xylophone), Teddy Charles, Terry Gibbs, Buddy Montgomery, Mike Mainieri, Steve Nelson and, in The Netherlands, Frits Landesbergen. The name of Johnny Lytle now and then still crops up, deservedly so. The Springfield, Ohio-born vibraphonist, (1925-1995) like Hampton and Landesbergen also an acclaimed drummer, was a reasonably popular artist on the rosters of the Riverside, Tuba and Solid State labels in the sixties, scoring especially well with The Village Caller (1963) and The Loop (1965).

He was a professional boxer as well, battling well into the late fifties when Lytle was active as a drummer for Ray Charles, Jimmy Witherspoon and Gene Ammons. Nicknamed “Fast Hands” for his showmanship and remarkable agility, Lytle started recording steadily in 1960. It adds up. Good pugilists have a delicate sense of rhythm. And their fight is a dance, needs to swing and groove. The drums and the vibraphone share the percussive aspect, while melodic swing is paramount. Miles Davis was attracted to boxing for a number of reasons. No fights in the ring for Miles though, contrary to Jack Johnson, Red Garland, Johnny Lytle. One of Lytle’s tunes on his 1966 New And Groovy album is titled Selim. Miles spelled backwards, obviously. Lytle liked boxing and Miles Davis. Makes sense. I’m more into snooker and Miles Davis, which may seem nerdy, but that’s just what the Good Lord cued up for yours truly the Flophouse Floor Manager.

His debut album Blue Vibes, which includes Milton Harris on organ and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums, finds Lytle in straight-ahead jazz territory, less ‘soul jazzy’ than his mid-sixties efforts, and it’s a winner. Lytle offers a couple of proper ballad interpretations, Over The Rainbow and For Heaven’s Sake. The array of sounds that Lytle coaxes from the vibraphone, from dry, staccato notes, sustained bell-like sirens to eerie pre-sixties-soundtrack-ish phrases is surprising. How Lytle does it I don’t know! But the variation is effective and striking, like the unpredictable steps of Muhammad Ali. Standards like Autumn Leaves and Canadian Sunset are infested with healthy doses of groove and blues. In fact, the blues-based repertory of the Lytle compositions Blue Vibes and Mister Trundel and Milt Jackson’s Movin’ Nicely is what makes one eager to purchase this Jazzland vinyl. Or, if a quick buy is out of the question, run to the Spotify link below. The former‘s the best option. The latter, connected with Bluetooth to the speakers, might give one unsound bytes and blue vibes.

No doubt there’s something about the combination of vibes, organ and drums. Harris knows when to scream, add slices of melodrama or back off into a corner. “Tootie” Heath adds a number of crazy rolls. The trio grooves thoroughly. It’s the balance between the fire of r&b and jazz sophistication that makes Blue Vibes such an enjoyable date.

Teddy Edwards - Teddy's Ready!

Teddy Edwards Teddy’s Ready! (Contemporary 1960)

And we’re ready for Teddy. By 1960, tenor saxophonist and bebop pioneer Teddy Edwards had settled firmly into his role as prime straightforward player and delivered the excellent Teddy’s Ready for the Contemporary label on the West Coast.

Teddy Edwards - Teddy's Ready!

Personnel

Teddy Edwards (tenor saxophone), Joe Castro (piano), Leroy Vinegar (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on August 17, 1960 at Contemporary Studio, Los Angeles

Released

as Contemporary 3583 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Blues In G
Scrapple From The Apple
What’s New
You Name It
Side B:
Take The “A” Train
The Sermon
Higgins’ Hideaway


The West Coast, Los Angeles to be precise, is where the Jackson, Mississippi-born Edwards had settled in the mid-40s. Edwards made his mark with the 1947 The Duel recordings with Dexter Gordon. Like Gordon, who also lived west at that time, and Hampton Hawes, Howard McGhee, Elmo Hope, Edwards stood out as the edgy, hard-driving player among the cool Californian musicians. Around 1960, Edwards was on a hot streak. Preceding Teddy’s Ready, which was recorded on August 17, 1960, Edwards released It’s About Time, a killer session with the greasy Les McCann trio, and Sunset Eyes, a fine date that boasts the title track, the Edwards composition that became somewhat of an instant standard. Both albums were released on Pacific Jazz. Subsequent recordings were Together Again, a reunion with bop mate, trumpeter Howard McGhee and Good Gravy, released in 1961, which also comes highly recommended.

Teddy’s Ready (Together Again and Good Gravy as well) was released on Contemporary. So in comes engineer Roy DuNann, lesser-known than Rudy van Gelder but equally revered by diehard classic jazz fans, with a crisp and clear sound canvas, punchy overall group sound, and precisely audible details. A kind of lightweight vibe that totally brings out the group’s swing, the way a master stylist makes prettier a pretty girl, not with theatrics but with subtle shadings of the beaut’s personality. This group is swinging subtly but driving. It consists of: Billy Higgins, equally at home in hard bop and – he was part of Ornette Coleman’s group – free jazz surroundings, Leroy Vinegar, in-demand all-rounder with an uncanny ability to walk and Joe Castro, relatively unknown, talented West Coast-based pianist who also made the sought-after Groove Funk Soul album on Atlantic with this Teddy Edwards group.

Who needs another horn? Not me. Not Teddy. It is, in fact, a blessing that Edwards carries Teddy’s Ready (and Good Gravy) on his own. No distractors, just Teddy Edwards, flying on the wings of the trio’s nightingale, focusing on the smoky story to tell. The voluptuous, slightly husky sound of Edwards is the tenor sax tone equivalent of the Montechristo #2 cigar, contraband from Cuba, fired up with a rusty Zip lighter. There is a minimum of strain between his lips, facial muscles, breathing, and the sound that emanates from his horn. Like every serious jazz musician, Edwards must’ve worked hard, I mean, hard, at ending up with a personal tone yet, like every great jazz musician, the completely natural flow suggests it was a cinch. Why do we rarely hear tones like these, these days? Perhaps because jazz has changed along the lines that the world has changed? It’s flophouse vs zero tolerance, Bull Durham vs e-cigs. Obviously, more to the point, the classic saxophonists acquired certain techniques that enabled them to override the buzz of the crowd in the dingy jazz club, which carried no amplification.

Edwards, the bop innovator, who has faultless timing, contagious pace and a relaxed fury that is apple pie for the ear, is a bluesman at heart. The blues oozes out of him during excellent renditions of his catchy, stop-time composition You Name It and the sumptuous, mid-tempo blues line of Hampton Hawes, The Sermon. That song conjures up the imagery of gin mills and moonshine passed on at Saturday night fish fries, miles and miles of cotton fields, the suffering and cathartic wailing of the black chain gang, and what surely was a reality to Edwards still in 1960, degrading redneck remarks that fill the heart with anger one does not really want to unleash except through blowing clean and hard.

His melancholic reading of What’s New suggests that Edwards knew by heart the lyrics to that song about a meeting of former lovers. Another Bull Durham vs e-cigs situation and a lesson for contemporary players: know your lyrics. And in the first place, get down those ‘standards’ anyway before exploring new vistas. Solid ground. So much for Prof. Durham’s class. Now get outta here and blow!

Thad Jones - The Magnificent Thad Jones

Thad Jones The Magnificent Thad Jones (Blue Note 1956)

Hackensack magic on The Magnificent Thad Jones, the trumpeter’s most celebrated early career outing.

Thad Jones - The Magnificent Thad Jones

Personnel

Thad Jones (trumpet), Billy Mitchell (tenor saxophone), Barry Harris (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Max Roach (drums)

Recorded

on July 9 & 14, 1956 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 1527 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
April In Paris
Billie-Doo
If I Love Again
Side B:
If Someone Had Told Me
Thedia


The year 1956, hard bop has been gathering substantial steam for a few years now. The Magnificent Thad Jones is on some level affected also by the fresh extensions of modern jazz that Horace Silver, Miles Davis, Lou Donaldson and Art Blakey introduced. The album’s harmonic textures run along bop’s course, it includes bop-inflected phrasing, particularly by tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell and pianist Barry Harris. However, the stress is on bouncy mid-tempos typical for hard bop instead of fast, familiar bop tempos, the mood is relaxed but vivacious and Jones introduces clever writing with one of two original compositions, the blues-based Billy-Boo and, especially, Thedia. Two seldom played standards, Murray/Oakland’s If I Love Again and DeRose/Tobias’ If Someone Had Told Me, alternate with the well-known, beautiful melody, April In Paris.

It is often said that talented musicians that hailed from the same city and have come to try and conquer the jazz capital of the world, New York, often had a special rapport as a result of their mutual background. Perhaps it is still like that today. Assisted by Percy Heath from Philadelphia and Max Roach from New York, the three remaining Detroit-raised guys, Harris, Mitchell and the leader, Thad Jones, indeed gel particularly well. Harris, by then already a long-time devoted bop pianist with an encyclopedian knowledge of Monk, Powell and standard melodies, and a mentor to John Coltrane, Charles McPherson, among others, is the personification of glue, his resonant harmonies and concise tales provide refined support and sparkle. Max Roach, VIP bop veteran, incubator of the finest hard bop with Clifford Brown, balances fervent and delicate swing. His alert, melodic ear is virtually unparalleled. During the ensembles, the full, punchy sound of tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell blends well with the happy-blues-sounds of Jones, and Mitchell regularly chimes in with short, resonant, smoky statements.

To get you into this place where time stands still. Not a place that’s safe from the outside troubles, but perhaps instead a state wherein you chew on them, let them heat like hotcakes on a stove, live through them, to come out of them somehow cleansed. If that is the purpose of good jazz, April In Paris, the opening track of Thad Jones’ The Magnificent Thad Jones, is a winner. And winner takes all. There’s a loping gait to the standard of Vernon Duke and Edgar Harburg that’s exquisite, courtesy of the precise flow of bassist Percy Heath, the lush backing of pianist Barry Harris and the conversational coloring of Roach, who drives this band home with sensitive hi-hat and crystalline ride cymbal drumming.

And courtesy definitely of Thad Jones. If a diamond could blow, it would probably sound like Thad Jones on his second album for the Blue Note label. Moreover, the moving story of the trumpeter and future bandleader of the renowned Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra is a poignant amalgam of ideas strung together from series of keenly divided notes, the silence between them functioning as the apex of improvisational flow and coherence. It’s a story that runs over several choruses, and Jones keeps it simultaneously relaxed and intense, on a constant high level. His solo of Thedia, a beautiful, boppish, elongated line is longer still and an example of taste and sustained energy.

There’s something special about the trumpet sounds that Van Gelder recorded in Hackensack, New Jersey. Jones has become one of those angels blowing from the upper celestial plateau, the tone full and sensual like a female body on a Rubens painting, juicy like the flesh of the blissful orange, a perfect blend of sweet and sour. Yes, Charles Mingus said that Rudy van Gelder messed up everybody’s sound, depersonalized it through his innovative but all too strict methods. It’s a valid statement. But did Mingus mean it? This comes from a bandleader who told every sax player he worked with not to play like Charlie Parker. Yet Charles McPherson, a singular player yet more firmly steeped in the Parker tradition than most of his colleagues, played longer than anybody in the Mingus band except for drummer Danny Richmond. Regardless, the sound of ‘RVG horns’ and in this case, Thad Jones, is fantastic. The overall production is bliss. The execution, focus and mellow drive of the quintet are exceptional. The Magnificent Thad Jones is a perennial favorite for lovers of classic mainstream jazz and will undoubtedly attract newcomers for years to come.

Marius Beets This Is Your Captain Speaking (Maxanter 2018)

NEW RELEASE – MARIUS BEETS

The Dutch-American crew of bassist and composer Marius Beets delivers the outstanding This Is Your Captain Speaking.

Marius Beets - This Is Your Captain Speaking

Personnel

Marius Beets (bass), Eric Alexander (tenor saxophone), Joe Cohn (guitar), Peter Beets (piano), Willie Jones III (drums)

Recorded

on February 27 & 28, 2016 at Studio Smederij, Zeist, The Netherlands

Released

as Maxanter 74607 in 2018

Track listing

Dextro Energy
Brother Julian
El Capitano
The One And Only
Emandem
Tafkamp Is Still On The Scene
Carpe Diem
This Is Your Captain Speaking
The End Of The Affair
Moody’s Groove


Hypes come and go and boundaries are being crossed every time a Chinese tourist says cheese. It is easy to overlook that around the world real jazz albums also keep appearing with the regularity of the clock. Also in The Netherlands, which has a solid mainstream jazz scene, a great history of welcoming American musicians and, in the guise of Marius Beets, one of its most prominent bass players. Beets released This Is Your Captain Speaking on his Maxanter label. The album includes tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, pianist (and brother of Marius) Peter Beets, guitarist Joe Cohn and drummer Willie Jones III. They perform ten original compositions by bandleader Marius Beets.

So there’s the cream of the crop delivering high-level improvisation, swing and a healthy dose of blues, inspired by the catchy and challenging tunes of Marius Beets. Eric Alexander is a master of execution who loves to explore the sonic extremes of his instrument. His seemingly effortless integration of these idiosyncracies in his stories, in themselves an ongoing evaluation of the work of Alexander’s heroes like George Coleman and John Coltrane, is striking. He enlivens the boppish The End Of The Affair and the Latin-type line of Dextro Energy with hip twists and lurid fragments of scales. The ending of his remarkably crafty solo during This Is Your Captain Speaking, a clever, blues-based Horace Silver-ish tune, is a bossy bark that must’ve cracked up people in the studio.

62-year old Joe Cohn, the son of saxophonist Al Cohn, who uses a prickly yet full sound, is never short on ideas, which he strings together with staccato notes and supple single lines. He sets fire to Tafkamp Is Still On The Scene, a funky vamp that segues into a driving 4/4 section. The interaction of Marius and his brother Peter, internationally acclaimed pianist, is special, perhaps not surprising considering their life-long association. Emandem especially reveals their subtle interplay of bass lines.

The abundance of hard bop/post bop makes This Is Your Captain Speaking highly enjoyable. The funky ode to Cannonball Adderley, Brother Julian, boogaloo-based Moody’s Groove and The One And Only, an album highlight in the tradition of mid-sixties avant-leaning Blue Note point out the group’s versatile use of the mainstream jazz language. Besides, the group also plays sweet and light – El Capitano, Carpe Diem. The overall sound is, in fact, pleasantly light without becoming lightweight. The crisp and clear sound of the crackerjack drummer Willie Jones III’s ride cymbal underlines that particular canvas. It is a contemporary sound, but also has a foot in the past, the early 70s Muse/Strata-East ‘feel’ in particular. The album is recorded at the studio of Beets, who partakes in myriad musical activities beside bass playing.

You can count on Marius Beets, the bass player. He’s a tasteful, highly skilled accompanist with a tremendous bottom groove. Beets also delivers a number of melodic solos with sustained momentum. Not only did he write an album of superb tunes, he also picked a world-class crew. Not a trace of hesitation by these gentlemen. Dig those solo entrances, time and again! Those are a joy to listen to, as much as the excellent development of their stories.

Check out album info and the website of Marius Beets here.

Frank-ly Speaking

FRANK KOULEN – Porgy In de Polder is the compelling story of Frank Koulen, founder of jazz club Porgy en Bess in Terneuzen, The Netherlands.

Tjeu Strous - Porgy In De Polder

Journalist Tjeu Strous carefully maps out the life of Koulen, who grew up in poor conditions in heady, colonial Surinam, landed in Dutch Flanders in the latter stages of the Second World War, parading into Terneuzen with the Allied Forces. The only brown-skinned man in Terneuzen never looked back, fell in love, married and started lunchroom Porgy en Bess in 1957, which slowly but surely, and with many ups and downs, developed into a center for traditional New Orleans jazz, Dixieland and modern jazz. When one visited Porgy en Bess, one went to the welcoming host ‘The Negro’, renowned for shaking hands with every customer who entered his picturesque public house. It’s a nickname which nowadays would be viewed as unacceptable, instilled rather mixed feelings in the hearts of some of Koulen’s heirs but back then was a fairly innocent and endearing way of embracing the liberating spirit of the exotic entertainment guru.

Porgy In De Polder is a biography underlined by socio-cultural history. It is also, of course, the story of jazz club Porgy en Bess, a haven for the libidinous, restless youngsters in the sixties which brought the swing to the small harbor town of Terneuzen that it until then lacked. In Koulen’s lifetime ‘Porgy’ staged, among others, Jimmy Witherspoon, Cecil Payne, Eddie Boyd, Nathan Davis, Don Byas, Dave Pike, Ted Curson, Booker Ervin, Paul Bley, Chet Baker, Art Blakey and Boy Edgar with Johnny Griffin, Slide Hampton and Art Taylor. After Koulen died in 1985 and friends, with the help of investors and the municipal and provincial departments re-built the club from scratch, Porgy en Bess grew in stature and hosted, among others, Arnett Cobb, Lou Donaldson, Phil Woods, Toots Thielemans, Jimmy Cobb, Al Cohn, George Coleman, Ray Brown, Ray Bryant, Lee Konitz, Charles McPherson, James Moody, Cedar Walton, Betty Carter, Astrid Gilberto, John Handy, Horace Parlan, Danilo Perez, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride and Ambrose Akinmusire.

Porgy In De Polder by Tjeu Strous is published by Uitgevery Den Boer/De Ruiter. It is available here. Dutch language only.

Bill Leslie - Diggin' The Chicks

Bill Leslie Diggin’ The Chicks (Argo 1962)

Bill Leslie is diggin’ the chicks and we’re diggin’ the relaxed and intriguing style of the tenor saxophonist from Pennsylvania.

Bill Leslie - Diggin' The Chicks

Personnel

Bill Leslie (tenor saxophone, saxella B1), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Thornel Schwartz (guitar), Ben Tucker (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on October 19, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as Argo 710 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Goodnight Irene
Angel Eyes
Madge
Margie
Side B:
Lonely Woman
Got A Date With An Angel
Rosetta


Who is Bill Leslie? Well, he was born in Media, Pennsylvania in 1925 and passed away in 2003. For many years, Jennings played in the group of the popular and influential alto saxophonist and bandleader, Louis Jordan. In the early sixties, Jennings was featured on organist Larry Young’s Groove Street and guitarist Thornel Schwartz’ Soul Cookin’. Diggin’ The Chicks is Leslie’s only album as a leader. In the late sixties, Leslie led an organ combo. That’s about it as far as bio goes.

Yeah, ok. But who, really, is Bill Leslie? Here a straightforward answer won’t suffice. He’s a straightforward player, at ease in a conservative setting, yet picks notes that have one leapin’ sideways. He likes to play swing music with a breathy sound and bends notes like a country blues singer. At the same time, Leslie adds spare, effective bits of double-timing. Perhaps this kind of gelling isn’t that unusual for players who grew up in the 30s and 40s, when black popular music was still labeled as ‘race’ music and included traditional New Orleans jazz, gospel, jump blues, novelty and swing and, in the late 40s, while bebop was changing the face of jazz, black popular music with a driving back beat suddenly came to be labeled as rhythm&blues. Likely musicians (like, for instance, Gene Ammons or Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis) didn’t feel it was unusual to switch from race/jump/r&b to modern jazz. And almost as a rule, he or she’s got the blues and was raised in church. All of this is somehow reflected in his/hers style. Leslie also shows a liking for Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. Get it? Anyhow, a quirky, fascinating player which in some magical way that only seems possible in the fantasy world of jazz, holds one spellbound with highly enjoyable, original notes and tones.

On Diggin’ The Chicks, a novelty title that clouds his message, Leslie is supported by Tommy Flanagan on piano, his friend Thornel Schwartz on guitar, Ben Tucker on bass and Art Taylor on drums. Schwartz serves as accompanist, while Flanagan, a receptive supporter, adds a number of delicate, coherent solos. Leslie is addressing a lot of female creatures, presenting tunes like Madge, Margie, (Earl Hines’) Rosetta, and playing standards like Angel Eyes and Got A Date With An Angel. Making his presence known with a lot of flair too. Not a loudmouth. Instead Leslie charms his way in like a gentleman. He’s taking his time, the leisurely stroll is Leslie’s favorite walk. And he’s adept at setting a homey atmosphere, smoothly luring the listener into a cozy place, the woodblocks in the fireplace quietly whispering, the cup of hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows all set on a low mahogany wooden side table… Then again it’s unlikely that Leslie will doze off, there’s a bite to his tone and he’s got bright ideas, is shaved, ready, with tie knotted, eager for a night out into town.

How charming an album when it includes both Goodnight Irene and an Ornette Coleman tune! Leslie picked Coleman’s Lonely Woman. Leslie’s pace is slower than Coleman’s, and bassist Ben Tucker plays a key role employing an attractive descending figure. Leslie uses the saxella. The vocalized sound is highly expressive, the twists and turns haunting. But if I was to pick one highlight, it would be his version of Huddie Ledbetter’s Goodnight Irene. The waltz figure of Art Taylor gives it a gentle but probing chuck-chuck-chucking push, Leslie’s genial tone, relaxed delivery, out-of-tempo bits and surprising choice of notes stay in one’s head long after the needle has jumped and the laundry has been done. It’s an unbelievable fate that Leslie’s career as a leader was finished before it started, but that’s the way it works sometimes.

Listen to the full album of Diggin’ The Chicks here. But try to grab one if you like it, it’s a crisp and punchy Rudy van Gelder recording. If Diggin’ The Chicks was on Blue Note, considering its beautiful production and outstanding line up, it would go for 4 or 5 times the amount of $ you have to lay down for this affordable Argo release.

Eric Alexander

Take Three with Eric Alexander

Eric Alexander picks some of his favorite recordings. “Do you want to go on a two-month vacation to discuss?!

Alexander, artist-in-residence at the Rabobank Amersfoort Jazz Festival from May 24-27, strolls through the square on a blistering hot Sunday evening, crisp and booming sounds from Henk Meutgeert’s Youth Orchestra emanating from the stage. He’s talking to the promising pianist Timothy Banchet, who listens intently. Erect posture, dark sunglasses, black suit. One could easily mistake Alexander for Vic Vega from Quinten Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The tenor saxophonist means business. But he also has a soft spot as the family man that he is at heart. “Playing acoustic jazz is a tremendous joy. If what I feel strongly about makes someone step out of his everyday routine, that’s a blessing. The greatest joy in my life other than being with my family.”

Now Alexander is backstage, buried in his chair. In between the festival’s Sunday jam sessions. “Then I’ll fly home on Tuesday and get to work on kicking this Grolsch habit. So, let’s focus on the records that I like and maybe a lot of people haven’t heard. Of course I can say I love A Love Supreme, but everybody will, and does. I’m going with the weird ones.”

Good idea. Join in?

“You know that record of Eddie Harris with Jimmy Smith, live at Keystone Corner? (All The Way Live, 1981, FM) The first tune (Alexander hums the line) is a blues in F, I forget the title. (You’ll See, FM) Eddie’s solo is outrageous. Most young players don’t even know who Eddie Harris is. That’s ridiculous. The man is a combination of sorts. He plays bebop, like Sonny Stitt at points. He plays so bluesy it hurts, he’s a real blues player. Then he is funky. And plays ‘out’. This blues in F might be one of the greatest blues-in-F-solos at this tempo ever.”

“Most people don’t know about Clifford Jordan’s Glass Bead Games. (Strata-East 1974) It’s epic. It eschews musical bullying, it’s totally organic. No musician is more important than the other one. They’re floating around like pals on a magic carpet. That’s interesting, because most groups aren’t like that.”

“Sonny Stitt? He did so many records, literally hundreds. Take the money and run. So there’s bound to be some lesser-known gem. Probably the greatest alto saxophone solo of an uptempo tune is I Know That You Know from the album New York Jazz. It includes Ray Brown and Papa Jo Jones (Verve 1956: it also includes pianist Jimmy Jones, FM) Ray Brown is challenging Sonny Stitt to see who’s going to rush, who’ll be more on top of the beat. Papa Jo is a bit freaked out and a little behind. That’s not his fault, he’s playing it where he wants it, but it’s Ray Brown and Sonny Stitt off to the races. It doesn’t matter though. The solo that Stitt plays… He never misses, does he? We’re talking about a hard tune to play, for a variety of reasons. The fast tempo is one of those. Stitt’s articulation and conception, the way he plays through the changes and his creativity are incredible.

“To this day, a lot of people talk Stitt down. I don’t understand it. They say, ‘well, he just plays perfect, that’s not hard and boring.’ Really? Well, you do that! I want to hear one of these people play four bars at this tempo like that. Opinions like these constitute one of the great, disgusting injustices perpetrated in jazz music. A lot of the time, the musicians are opinionated. They cold-shouldered Phineas Newborn, for instance. Cold music, supposedly. Well, you try it. Everything he plays is improvised. Same with Stitt, he’s improvising. Sure, he has pet phrases. Who hasn’t? But he never purposely played a wrong note, then fixed it, like Herbie Hancock. But I don’t give a shit. That’s not the way he played. His version of I Know That You Know is a masterpiece. This is sacrilegious: it’s an improvement of Bird. Well, nobody’s better than Bird. Bird is number one. But that solo is right up on Bird.”

Eric Alexander

Eric Alexander (49) is one of the most outstanding (hard) bop and post bop tenor saxophonists of his generation. Ever since finishing 2nd at the 1991 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition (behind Joshua Redman, in front of Chris Potter) and his apprenticeship with organ masters like Charles Earland, Brother Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff in the early 90s, Alexander has been performing and recording very prolifically. He has released more than 40 albums as a leader, is featured on at least 100 albums as a sideman and has cooperated with, among others, Harold Mabern, George Coleman, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Cecil Payne, Cedar Walton, Junior Mance, Melvin Rhyne, Charles Earland, Idris Muhammad, Pat Martino, Rein de Graaff, Mike LeDonne, David Hazeltine, Grant Stewart and Jim Rotundi. The New York-based Alexander regularly performs abroad and is a mainstay in The Netherlands.

Selected discography:

As a leader:
Straight Up (Delmark 1992)
The First Milestone (Milestone 1999)
Wide Horizons (with One For All, Criss Cross 2002)
Dead Centre (HighNote 2004)
Song Of No Regrets (HighNote 2017)

As a sideman:
Charles Earland, I Ain’t Jivin’, I’m Jammin’ (Muse 1992)
Pat Martino, Stone Blue (Blue Note 1999)
Jimmy Cobb, Cobb’s Groove (Milestone 2003)
Mike LeDonne/The Groover Quartet, Keep The Faith (Savant 2011)
Harold Mabern, To Love And Be Loved (Smoke Sessions 2017)

Go to the website of Eric Alexander here.