Capital Hill

BUCK HILL MURAL –

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

A CANNONBALL ADDERLEY PRESENTATION –

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

Personnel

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)

Recorded

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

Released

as MGS 27027 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
J&B
Sophisticated Lady
You Turned The Tables On Me
Passionova
Side B:
Tamra
Automation
Just Waiting
Siam


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.

Behind The 8 Ball

BABY FACE WILLETTE –

Journalist Bobby Tanzilo published an extensive and thoroughly researched biographical sketch of the life and career of organist Baby Face Willette on onmilwaukee.com on September 11. Willette periodically resided in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

September 11 is the date of birth of Baby Face Willette.

Baby Face Willette is the much-admired but enigmatic organist who released two albums on Blue Note in 1961 – Face To Face and Stop And Listen and two albums on Argo in 1964 – Mo’ Rock and Behind The 8 Ball. He was also featured on Lou Donaldson’s Here ‘Tis and Grant Green’s Grant’s First Stand in 1961. Willette was rooted in gospel and r&b and loved Charlie Parker, a combination that resulted in a unique, groovin’ and single-line style most everybody just feels from the first beats is the real thing.

(Baby Face Willette’s legacy as a jazz artist: six records.)

Like a mine digger with the eye on diamonds, Tanzilo put together Willette’s story from various sources, including Willette’s son Steven. Yes, Willette resided in Milwaukee but the sharp-dressed cat with the youthful demeanor was all over the place, traveling the country in spells that led him from his gospel-infused youth, career as r&b-artist to the famous Blue Note headquarters and, finally, to the obscurity of Mid-Western clubs and his early demise in 1971. The article’s design is a treat and includes fantastic previously unreleased picture material.

Do yourself a favor. Stop and read.

Howard McGhee - The Return Of Howard McGhee

Howard McGhee The Return Of Howard McGhee (Bethlehem 1956)

Howard McGhee returned to Bethlehem. A glorious entrance.

Howard McGhee - The Return Of Howard McGhee

Personnel

Howard McGhee (trumpet), Sahib Shihab (baritone saxophone, alto saxophone), Duke Jordan (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on October 22, 1956 in New York City

Released

as BCP 42 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
Get Happy
Tahitian Lullaby
Lover Man
Lullaby Of The Leaves
You’re Teasing Me
Transpicious
Side B:
Rifftide
Oo-Wee But I Do
Don’t Blame Me
Tweedles
I’ll Remember April


By 1956, trumpeter Howard McGhee already was a veteran of bebop and one of the earliest collaborators of Charlie Parker, The One, The Kick Start of modern jazz. More than a colleague, he was a friend. Howard McGhee was born in 1918 and two years the senior of Charlie Parker. Now and then, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-born trumpet player helped out Parker, saxophoniste maudit, who continuously ran into trouble.

Sign of the (ominous) times: In 1946, Charlie Parker had completed his first recordings for Ross Russell’s Dial label in Los Angeles. McGhee lived in Los Angeles with his wife Dorothy. They were a mixed couple that was continually harassed by the L.A. police force. At one time, the vice squad planted drugs in their apartment and promptly arrested McGhee. Parker was in bad shape, living in a garage on McKinley Avenue, his daily diet solely consisting of port wine. The McGhee’s took him to their apartment. Howard and Dorothy, against the grain, opened a little jazz club on the premises of the defunct Finale club and booked Charlie Parker.

The first thing one notices is that The Return includes Lover Man and Don’t Blame Me, two standard ballads identified by influential renditions by Charlie Parker. Lover Man, Dial 1946, was a sinuous exercise – notwithstanding the fact that Parker was sick and close to a nervous breakdown, awoken just in time by the sounds of his colleagues to pick up on the melody, which perhaps was one of the reasons Parker abhorred this version. McGhee, himself a trumpeter who inspired many of the up-and-coming players of the hard bop era, was the trumpeter on that recording and continued to perform Lover Man for the rest of his life.

Furthermore, McGhee’s group includes pianist Duke Jordan. Jordan was part of one of Parker’s most steady groups of 1947-48, which also included Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. The bop-oriented The Return Of Howard McGhee – McGhee had been off the scene a while as a consequence of his use of narcotics – also featured alto and baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Both Shihab and Jones had occasionally played with Parker.

The chemistry – no pun intented – is striking. The group performs as a bunch of buoyant teenage pals at play in the lake, two diving from the bridge, one showing his prowess as a crawler in clear sight of nearby feminine onlookers, another shouting crazy things to fly-over goose. Not a wild bunch of hooligans, but charged and charming. So Get Happy makes perfect sense. And the old warhorse is exemplary of a great album that is too easily overlooked. There’s the rare sparkle and bite of Philly Joe Jones. The smooth blend of McGhee’s exuberant, sinuous trumpet and Shihab’s pretty spectacular baritone sax. The spry and gracefully fashioned solo’s of Duke Jordan.

The group performs eleven tunes, including the soft-hued, hypnotic Lullaby Of The Leaves, the catchy, Latin-ish and uptempo I’ll Remember April and the sizzling flagwaver Rifftide. Lover Man is excellent, the coupling of McGhee’s sly variations on the melody and delicate bittersweet comments with the bright and full-bodied tone that’s reminiscent of Louis Armstrong is very attractive. The long life already lived, from his stints with Count Basie and Charlie Barnet, to the laboratory of Minton’s Playhouse and ‘carvin’ with the bird’ signifying a weathered and stellar jazz artist.

A set of eleven tunes that rarely stretch beyond four minutes – unfortunately – suggests that Bethlehem was aiming at radio airplay, perhaps inspired by the success of the Mulligan/Baker group of Pacific Jazz. Bethlehem wasn’t strictly a jazz label. Nonetheless, its jazz discography has slowly but surely turned into a special place for jazz freaks, like that little superb Juarez burrito joint for Texan lovers of hot Latin cuisine. The great engineering can compete with Rudy van Gelder as well as Roy DuNann from Contemporary, the label on which McGhee recorded two more successful albums in 1960. To boot: you ever seen such a beautiful sleeve? In the words of Babs Gonzales: exboopident!

Steamin’

DUTCH JAZZ HISTORY – STOOM & VERVOLGCURSUS BEBOP

Just for the fun of it I checked all the classic (hard) bop albums I reviewed over the past four years that featured musicians who participated in Stoomcursus & Vervolgcursus Bebop. Stoom & Vervolgcursus Bebop is the series of lectures on modern jazz and performances that the renowned Dutch pianist Rein de Graaff organized in The Netherlands from 1987 to 2012. De Graaff invited over American legends and unsung heroes for performances with contemporary European and Dutch counterparts. Almost without exception, the musicians were accompanied by his regular trio of bassists Koos Serierse (1936-2017) and Marius Beets, and the extraordinary drummer Eric Ineke.

The lectures and performances have been enormously valuable to the Dutch and European jazz landscape. De Graaff delivered his insightful introductions with understated humor. Season after season, Dutch jazz fans were treated to performances by legendary American jazz men and women that they never would have experienced in such an intimate setting would not the now semi-retired Rein de Graaff have taken great pains to locate them from practically all the States that do not begin with an ‘I’. He has been a straight-forward and acclaimed organizer. Plays mean piano too.

Here’s my check. Quite the list:

Marcus Belgrave, James Clay, Al Cohn, Junior Cook, Ronnie Cuber, Eddie Daniels, Charles Davis, Teddy Edwards, Art Farmer, Frank Foster, Curtis Fuller, Johnny Griffin, Barry Harris, Red Holloway, Clifford Jordan, Harold Land, Charles McPherson, James Moody, David “Fathead” Newman, Dave Pike, Julian Priester, Billy Root, Doug Sides, Louis Smith, James Spaulding and Art Taylor.

(Advertising poster 1987/88; Buck Hill, Teddy Edwards and Von Freeman 1991/92); Marchel Ivery, David “Fathead” Newman and the Rein de Graaff Trio 1989/90; Source: Coen de Jonge’s Belevenissen In Bebop. (Passage, 1997); Photography Anko Wieringa)

They usually performed at Vredenburg in Utrecht, Oosterpoort in Groningen and at small venues around the country. Many of these jazz greats stayed at De Graaff’s place in the village of Veendam, Groningen, where they were treated by their friendly host to a hearty breakfast and a view on the flat, wide and open spaces of the Northern countryside…

Coming season at the Flophouse Theatre: Billy Mitchell and Sal Nistico. Both Stoomcursus alumni. I’m not doing it on purpose. Those cats just keep wanderin’ through the backdoor!

Rein de Graaff

Pianist Rein de Graaff (Groningen, 1942) recorded more than 40 albums, both as a leader and in cooperation with numerous Americans and fellow Europeans. De Graaff played with Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Clark Terry, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Sonny Stitt, Philly Joe Jones and many others. He won the Boy Edgar Prijs in 1980 and the Bird Award at North Sea Jazz Festival in 1986. Rein de Graaff semi-retired this year, adding a salute the end of his career with a widely publicized and successful farewell tour.

Read my interview with Rein de Graaff here. And my interview with his longtime companion Eric Ineke here.

The Rein de Graaff Trio featuring tenor saxophonist Sjoerd Dijkhuizen performs at Café Pavlov in The Hague on Sunday 8 September at 16:00.