Dick Morgan Trio - At The Showboat

Dick Morgan Trio At The Showboat (Riverside 1960)

Crowd-pleasing is not a dirty word.

Dick Morgan Trio - At The Showboat

Personnel

Dick Morgan (piano), Keter Betts (bass), Bertell Knox (drums)

Recorded

on May 4, 1960 at The Showboat, Washington D.C.

Released

as RLP-329 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
For Pete’s Sake
I Ain’t Got Nobody
Misty
The Gypsy In My Soul
Side B:
Will You Still Be Mine
Big Fat Mama
Like Lois
It’s All Right With Me


To the list of Lee Morgan and Frank Morgan – no relation – we now add Dick Morgan. Not as iconic as the trumpeter from Philadelphia, who was fatally shot by his common-law wife Helen, nor as hardboiled as alto saxophonist Frank Morgan, who spent approximately thirty years in jail in the “middle” part of his career and made a minor comeback in the late ‘80s, the unknown pianist Dick Morgan nonetheless put in his five cents of jazz lore. Morgan, born in Petersburg, Virginia and a mainstay in Washington D.C. until his death in 2013, recorded approximately a dozen albums, among which three records for Orrin Keepnews’s Riverside label.

The lore’s starting point is 1960, when alto star and officious A&R executive Cannonball Adderley saw a performance of the Dick Morgan Trio in D.C. and duly impressed called Keepnews and requested that Riverside record the promising pianist. The result was At The Showboat, the second album in the “A Cannonball Adderley Presentation” series, following James Clay/David “Fathead” Newman’s The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces. Tough nut to crack that space, but Morgan gave it a good shot.

The liner notes mention the influence of Oscar Peterson. Understandably, since Morgan plays “much” (well, “very much”) piano, combining blues phrasing, striking tremolos and heated turnarounds and cadenzas all over the keys with hard, increasingly intense swing. Yet, the comparison is a little too far-fetched. Not as virtuosic and not as perfect and clean, Morgan instead has a more raw and funky edge. The feeling of Les McCann, some of the skills of Red Garland. Suits me to a T.

To be sure, “Star” is way too far-fetched, but “Exciting” definitely is a fitting description. If you can’t hold the attention of the audience, why bother, and Morgan is a pure-bred performer. Enthusiastic grunts accompany the lines of his blues, blues-based, standard and ballad tunes For Pete’s Sake, Big Fat Mama (credited to Morgan “by fault”), I Ain’t Got Nobody, The Gypsy In My Soul, Misty, It’s Alright With Me and Like Lois. Mid-to up tempo is the natural pace for Morgan and his trio, a unity of hard swing and effective rhythm and blues-devices yet subtly dynamic in Misty and ballad mode.

The Gypsy In My Soul, written by Moe Jaffe and Clay Boland for Penn University’s Wig Show in 1937 and an evergreen since, is exemplary of Morgan’s style. He’s like an inexhaustible Yorkshire Terrier running after the ball, a faultless jazz player but not one for genteel recitations. Crowd-pleaser but never bland. Down to earth and flexible. In short, a welcome addition to the Morgan jazz family.

Johnny Griffin - Change Of Pace

Johnny Griffin Change Of Pace (Riverside 1961)

The Little Giant broadened his horizon on Riverside Records.

 

Johnny Griffin - Change Of Pace

Personnel

Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Julius Watkins (French horn), Larry Gales & Bill Lee (bass), Ben Riley (drums)

Recorded

on February 7 & 16, 1961 in New York City

Released

as RLP 368 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Soft And Furry
In The Still Of The Night
The Last Of The Fat Pants
Same To You
Connie’s Bounce
Side B:
Situation
Nocturne
Why Not?
As We All Know


As far as unity of vision, style, sound and sleeve design is concerned, Blue Note of course is the max. But Riverside had tastes of her own as well. Regardless of occasional complaints of vinyl pressings by monophiles and stereophiles, Riverside’s value as a front-line jazz label, largely due to founder Orrin Keepnews, is widely acknowledged. Take the case of Johnny Griffin. The bop and hard bop tenor saxophonist traveled from Argo and Blue Note to Riverside, for which he recorded a series of diverse albums between 1958 and ’63. Part of those were as co-leader on subsidiary Jazzland with his hard-blowing tenor colleague Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.

So, on the one hand, Griffin swung straightforward and hard, occasionally with “Jaws”, and on the other hand explored his fascinations in agreement with Keepnews, who was already a concept-minded boss. Keepnews had started Riverside as a company of traditional jazz compilations, provided history of jazz narratives on wax and let Thelonious Monk debut on his label with repertory of Duke Ellington – controversial and surprising move dividing Monk geeks to this day. Griffin’s records were top-notch. The folk song hodgepodge of The Kerry Dancers and gospel-drenched The Big Soul Band are considered Griffin classics. Studio Jazz Party is a hot little date – here Keepnews repeated the idea of recording artists in the studio in the presence of a small live audience, which had proved extremely successful in the case of The Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s In San Francisco in 1959.

Change Of Pace is another odd man out. Tasteful dish. Safe to say, like a refined bouillabaisse from Marseille. The recipe consists of Griffin’s tenor saxophone, Julius Watkins’s French horn, Larry Gales and Bill Lee’s upright basses and Ben Riley’s drums. (Gales and Riley played on Griffin/Lockjaw Davis records and would eventually become the rhythm section of Thelonious Monk from 1964-67) Pretty unusual ingredients that flavor Change Of Pace’s refreshing and sophisticated repertoire. Excepting Cole Porter’s In The Still Of The Night, which flows gracefully in spite of its breakneck speed, the excellent songwriting is on account of Griffin, while Watkins, Bill Lee (film director Spike Lee’s father) and Consuela Lee (no relation!) each provided one tune.

The absence of piano makes the music breathe with peppermint breath. The combination of arco and bowed bass fills in harmonic gaps equally effective as Watkins’s soft-hued alternate lines behind Griffin’s supple and strong tenor. As a rule, Griffin is fiery, playing as if he devoured a couple of red hot chili peppers. But here he has found a particularly strong balance between bop and lyricism, exemplified very well by Soft And Furry, a remarkably tender song and irresistible Griffin classic. The restrained and fluent approach of prime French horn player Julius Watkins, who was rivalled only by David Amram in the 50s, reveals a true master at work. At once bossy and vulnerable, Watkins plays as if he’s constantly serenading his lover.

The sound palette of Change Of Pace is curiously enchanting and mesmerizing. A warm bath. Fulfilling, akin to the feeling you have when letting yourself fall down on a hotel bed after a long walk in a strange and beautiful city. It sounds as hip and modern today as it did in 1961.

Merl Saunders - Soul Grooving

Merl Saunders Soul Grooving (Galaxy 1968)

Organist Merl Saunders’ debut album from 1968, Soul Grooving, definitely is hot. Seems like the fellow from Frisco swallowed a chunk of chili pepper.

Merl Saunders - Soul Grooving

Personnel

Merl Saunders (organ), Jimmy Daniels (bass), Eddie Moore (drums), unidentified orchestra, Ray Shanklin’ (arranger)

Recorded

in 1968

Released

as Galaxy in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Soul Roach
Lonesome Fever
I Pity The Fool
Up, Up And Away
Ode To Billy Joe
Side B:
My Train
Angel Eyes
Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby
Tighten Up
Soul Groovin’


The liner notes of the raucous Soul Grooving tell that Merl Saunders was based in his birthplace of San Francisco, where he started out on piano and attended the University of California. During his stint in the army in Germany in the mid-fifties, Saunders studied music at the University of Mainz and appeared in the Ed Sullivan Show. He took up the organ in 1959 and accompanied, among others, Dinah Washington.

His trio consists of bassist Jimmy Daniels and drummer Eddie Moore. Daniels boasts experience of playing with Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Moore with Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery. Nice resumé. Saunders piqued the interest of the Flophouse Detective Agency a couple of years ago and it found out that the organist cooperated with Jerry “Grateful Dead” Garcia in the late 60s and early 70s. It makes sense. Perhaps a Pinkerton sleuth spotted Saunders and Garcia on the day when they first met in Haight-Ashbury, amidst the daydreamin’ flower children, secretly planning all sorts of musical experimentation. You can trust it your Pinkerton man knows his dandelion masquerades.

Nothing of the Frisco vibe, however, rubbed off on Soul Grooving, not even a whiff of incense. No LSD but straight shots of Cutty Sark. And pork chops with lots of gravy. Soul Groovin’ is 24 carat chitlin’ circuit music, groove tailor-made and born out of the circuit of clubs that tended to the black audience. It is part of the universe of ‘race’ music, which was the name for black music until Alan Freed dubbed it ‘rhythm & blues’: same thing, gospel rhythm-based music with profane lyrics, except that with Freed’s package festivals, the white audience came into the equation and soon we’d have rock & roll, Chuck Berry, Bobby Womack, Bo Diddley etcetera, who inspired pale white and blue collar cats from Britain like Jagger and Richards and the Davies brothers, and then there was rock. Rock would not have existed without race music.

And Soul Grooving has its modest place in the pantheon, which runs from Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Smith, B.B. King to Jimi Hendrix, who paid his dues in the circuit playing with Little Richard and Curtis Knight, among others. Soul Grooving was released in the late sixties, the tail end of the circuit’s existence. As a result of the disintegration of the black neighborhoods, which was hastened by the incoming, havoc-reaping flood of hard drugs, and the rise of disco music, the circuit more of less perished, and with it the communal aspect that lay at the heart of the music’s vitality and strength. Rap and Hip Hop would eventually revitalize the community, in an extremely different way and not in a circuit of clubs but on the basketball court and in the barren streets of New York.

At the time of Soul Grooving, Merl Saunders enjoyed a residency at club Jack’s of Sutter in San Francisco. The album consists of trio performances and tunes that are enhanced with big band scores by arranger Ray Shanklin. The combination of big ensembles and Hammond organ had been tried before, quite successfully, by Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Groove Holmes and Shirley Scott. Merl Saunders is a superb addition to the niche. Big brass collides with the crunchy organ on the blues-soul shuffle Tighten Up, a Saunders/Shanklin original that reaches for the sexy, sweaty vibe of the Ike & Tina Turner Soul Revue, steadily working towards orgasm.

Soul Grooving is littered with such wild rides, including the title track, a boogaloo burner lighted by a rebellious, honking tenor sax solo. My Train, also by Saunders & Shanklin, is a copy of This Train, which, as we know from various sources including Big Bill Broonzy, carries no gamblers. With admirable originality, Saunders does not take a level-headed approach to ballads, including them as mere breathers or filler, but, picking different sounds out of the keyboard, lends an eerie film noir quality to Angel Eyes and Lonesome Fever, the latter another Saunders tune that is enlivened by excellent double-timing of the guitarist.

The band is of all-round quality and raises a number of relatively simple tunes to another level. The funky drumming of Up, Up And Away is wild and would’ve made Idris Muhammad smile broadly. For that matter, though I don’t know about the Pinkerton fellows, it has the Flophouse Sleuths grinning from ear to ear.

Miles Davis - My Funny Valentine

Miles Davis My Funny Valentine (Columbia 1965)

As the development of the Civil Rights Act reaches its climax in 1964, Miles Davis records My Funny Valentine, sophisticated masterpiece of his Second Great Quintet.

Miles Davis - My Funny Valentine

Personnel

Miles Davis (trumpet), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Tony Williams (drums)

Recorded

on February 12, 1964 at Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center, New York City

Released

as CL-2306 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
My Funny Valentine
All Of You
Side B:
Stella By Starlight
All Blues
I Thought About You


Elation and awe fight for first row. You know what I mean what happens when listening to My Funny Valentine, Miles Davis speakin’ his piece in 1964 with his Second Great Quintet, which features tenor saxophonist George Coleman (the ‘iconic’ 2nd would include Wayne Shorter), pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. In the year of 1964, on the day of February 12, two days after the long-awaited Civil Rights Act was set in motion, Miles Davis, significantly, records for release My Funny Valentine, not his first and not his last beautiful example of black jazz, a statement at once refined and sleazy, haunting and down-to-earth, entertaining and thoughtful. It is commonly overlooked that the performance at The Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center in New York City was co-sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality.

At the milestone date of February 10, the Civil Rights Act was passed by the House of Representatives. Delayed by a filibuster (the democratic right to oppose against a proposal by means of endless strings of speeches in the Senate – Frank Capra’s great movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington starring James Stewart gives an enlightening and riveting view of the filibuster process), the Act was finally approved by the Senate on June 19 and on July 2 was signed into law by President Johnson, who had taken office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the fall of 1963.

The Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin and constituted a defense mechanism against voter discrimination, racial segregation in schools and public places, and employment discrimination. It was an extension of CRA 1957, which powered by the case of Brown vs Board of Education rendered segregation in schools unconstitutional and protected voting rights.

Legends goes that John F. Kennedy was a driving force of change. President Kennedy was admired by the Afro-American community. Musicians paid homage. Alto saxophonist Andy White named his band The JFK Quintet. Booker Ervin lamented his passing on A Day To Mourn on his Freedom Book record. Even Miles Davis, usually not so generous with applause, remarked in 1962: “I like the Kennedy brothers. They are swinging people.”

Why put cigarette paper between those two sentences by the Dark Prince? If anything, the young and energetic Kennedy’s indeed had plenty of style. However, the truth is that it was only after severe pressure – the Birmingham Campaign, protests, lobbies, the March on Washington – that JFK became supportive of new legislation. Moreover, there actually is very little evidence that Kennedy showed any sign of action on his part concerning the betterment of the standard of living for Afro-Americans in the years preceding his presidential career. He may not have been a bad cat but fact is he slept through the major part of the afternoon. The Afro-American love for JFK is sincere but speaks volumes about the standard of alternative political leadership.

To think that, during the tense zeitgeist of the mid-sixties, no one took care to pay Davis’s young crew of George Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams for their services on the special night of February 10. Nada, zip, zero!

Two LP’s were culled from the Miles Davis Quintet’s performance: Four & More and My Funny Valentine. Four & More is fast and furious, My Funny Valentine is slow to medium-slow and supple. Both are killer achievements, though the former album, consisting of up-tempo tunes (taken up a notch) offers no relief and that is one of the reasons I prefer My Funny Valentine.

No album titled My Funny Valentine could consist of breakneck speeds. The only tune with a reasonably fast tempo is the Davis staple All Blues. It is a typically organic group effort and includes a solo climax by Miles Davis that makes the children jump off their stools in the circus tent. Does not somehow this music of the Second Great Quintet prefigure that great flexible band of Woody Shaw featuring Carter Jefferson, Larry Willis and Stafford James in the mid-1970’s? Just a thought.

The ballad readings of the flexible Davis quintet are exquisite. Listening to the quintet is like following a sailboat in an Olympic event that anticipates the differing weather conditions, which range from calm to breeze to gusty wind. Captain and crew are quite the match on the gulfs of Stella By Starlight, All Of You and I Thought About You, all of which are developed, interestingly, without unisono ensembles and Captain Davis stating the melody. Tension between vulnerability and chutzpah is a Davis forte and developed to the max during All Of You, which is marked by ever-so-slight trumpet whispers and Davis’s patented pastel colors. The captain invites an eager response from the crew and climaxes with an upward, fearless cadenza.

The thoughtful but solid lines of George Coleman contrast nicely with the brooding fantasies of Miles Davis. It was said that Tony Williams felt that Coleman’s style was too polished and conservative and that was the reason Coleman hit the dust. Coleman always maintained that it was him that flew the coop and that it was only after reading the Miles Davis autobiography that he learned about Williams’s opinion. In his autobiography, Davis by the way stated that Coleman was damn well able to play rough and free if he felt like it and once sustained a wild avant ride during the total course of a concert just to thumb his nose to the young lions in the band. Coleman eventually integrated some avant techniques but only if they were to the advantage of his purely melodic and balanced style. That is why I love George Coleman. Eventually, his style has proved rather influential.

Coleman’s ending of his solo of the title track, the pièce de résistance of this great quintet, sounds like a violin, a touching tag to a lovely, balanced story. No small feat, considering that he followed one of the finest Davis solos on wax. Davis’s kaleidoscopic colors and bends stay close to the melody but at the same time are played in such a way that you see My Funny Valentine in a new light. You hear at work not someone who plays changes but an architect of sound and emotion.

Instead of smashing his notes through the wall of the fortress, Miles Davis seduces the gatekeeper such that he opens the gates totally bedazzled and entranced.

Funny Valentine’s looks are laughable, unphotographable. Yet, she’s his favorite work of art. Brave high notes end the impressionist painting of Miles Davis, full horn climax that ignites subtle and smooth and propulsive swing. Special evenings require special bands and this eager incarnation of the Second Great Quintet beautifully performed its duties.

Sam Taylor - The Bad And The Beautiful

Sam Taylor The Bad And The Beautiful (Moodsville 1962)

Sam “The Man” Taylor’s serenades to various dames are of the gutsy variety.

 

Sam Taylor - The Bad And The Beautiful

Personnel

Sam Taylor (tenor saxophone), Wally Richardson (guitar), Lloyd G. Mayers (piano), Art Davis (bass), Ed Shaughnessy (drums)

Recorded

on February 20, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as MV-24 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
The Bad And The Beautiful
Anna
Ruby
Suzy Wong
Side B:
Gloria
Laura
Anastacia
Song Of The Barefoot Contessa


You’ve heard him without perhaps knowing his name. Sam “The Man” Taylor was omnipresent in the rhythm and blues field, contributing lurid tenor sax to countless songs by artists on the Atlantic and Savoy labels, among those myriad Ruth Brown hits and Big Joe Turner’s Shake, Rattle & Roll, where “The Man”’s husky backing complemented the luscious lyrics “I’m like a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store / Well I can look at you till you ain’t no child no more” …

Lexington, Tennessee-born Taylor was the kind of musician that took different turns on the roundabout of black music. He played in the bands of Lucky Millinder, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles and Buddy (not Budd) Johnson. From the mid-50s to the mid-60s, Taylor recorded a string of both commercial and jazz records, the former bearing titles as Rockin Sax & Rollin’ Organ, Blue Mist, More Blue Mist and, hell why not, Mist Of The Orient. The latter included Jazz For Commuters, a satisfying swing record with Thad and Hank Jones, Budd (not Buddy) Johnson and Milt Hinton. In a fortunate and curious turn of events, Taylor became very popular in Japan in the 70s, recording albums like Hit Melodies From Shi Retoko To Nagasaki. Sayonara, Sam.

Prestige/Moodsville, in the guise of the clever A&R man Esmond Edwards, coupled Taylor with guitarist Wally Richardson, pianist Lloyd G. Mayers, bassist Art Davis and drummer Ed Shaughnessy. The result was The Bad And The Beautiful, an accessible record of show tunes that center around the luscious sax playing of Taylor, whose in-your-face strong sound, distinctive note-bending wails and meticulously calculated honk sequences are thoroughly entertaining. Good-old fashioned arpeggios link his breathy introductions to restrained climaxes.

Some may argue that Taylor’s style is built on gimmicks. I feel Taylor’s trick bag is the essence of his “people’s art”. It’s his characteristic bag and I think it would benefit the playing of many serious contemporary saxophonists if they’d pull some witty tricks out of it. There’s nothing in his playing, which strives for the middle ground between Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, that reeks of cheap sensationalism. Besides, “The Man” has some awfully nasty, bouncing licks to offer.

The Bad And The Beautiful contains a number of excellent ballads, notably the meaty Gloria and the blues-inflected Ruby. Anna swings Caribbean-style, The Barefoot Contessa bounces merrily. Nothing wrong with a “commercial” record that features a smooth and killer jazz band, suave and to-the-point guitar lines and, best of all, a couple of sublimely timed descending bass figures by the great Art Davis that silence The Bad and overwhelm The Beautiful.

Sam Taylor passed away in 1990.

Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else

Cannonball Adderley Somethin’ Else (Blue Note 1958)

Can’t you hear those rustling autumn leaves?

Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else

Personnel

Cannonball Adderley (alto saxophone), Miles Davis (trumpet), Hank Jones (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Blakey (drums)

Recorded

on March 9, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 1595 in 1958

Track listing

Side A:
Autumn Leaves
Love For Sale
Side B:
Somethin’ Else
One For Daddy-O
Dancing In The Dark


Hyperbole may not be a strictly postmodern disease – as a matter of fact it all kind of started with the headlines in the Hearst papers in the 1930’s – but it is prevalent in the contemporary media-saturated society, excepting serious journalism. Perhaps I’m not entirely free from guilt. Most of us have our personal favorites that are in dire need of canonization. We live in a world of so-called ‘classic’ records. However, few records were instant classics in their lifetime. For instance and for various reasons, Duke Ellington’s Ellington At Newport (on the strength of the stellar 27 choruses of Paul Gonsalves during Diminuendo In Blue), Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters and Pat Metheny’s Still Life (Talking) are regarded as bonafide classics nowadays and though they were recognized as special back then, there was some lag time involved. Usually, as far as game-changing art goes, the dust needs to settle down. No doubt, it needed to settle down in Ornette Coleman’s case.

Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else is a classic record, one of those “100 must-hear records”. It also arguably is, like Ellington’s Newport and Morgan’s The Sidewinder, a classic on the strength of one tune, Autumn Leaves. In its time, it was regarded as exceptional. A.B. Spellman typified it as “near perfect”, a record with “not a wrong note nor throwaway song in its grooves.” That, regardless of the sublime highlight Autumn Leaves, is very true. One of the great things about Somethin’ Else, which paired Cannonball Adderley with Miles Davis, Hank Jones, Sam Jones and Art Blakey, is the consistent high quality of playing and a vibe all of its own. Hard to describe, easy to feel. Organic.

Big boost for Cannonball. The alto saxophonist from Tampa, Florida had joined Miles Davis in 1957, favoring the request of the Dark Prince over the invitation from Dizzy Gillespie. He had disbanded his quintet with Nat Adderley, who did not begrudge his big brother’s decision. After all, their stint in the roster of EmArcy had not been a financial pleasure. Cannonball was frustrated by EmArcy’s lack of support.

Not only was financial security and musical interaction with Miles Davis a boost, the pairing with John Coltrane, who had returned to Davis’ group after kicking the habit, proved influential for Cannonball. Following a series of performances that enabled Cannonball and Coltrane to perfect their ensembles and indulge in spirited battles, the band record the eponymous Milestones in February and March – March 4 saw Cannonball contributing to Dr. Jekyll and Sid’s Ahead. Afterwards, Cannonball hurried to Bell Sound Studio to fulfill his obligations to EmArcy and record Cannonball’s Sharpshooters. Busy day. Then came March 9 and Somethin’ Else. Busy week. This period eventually was a stepping stone to the Miles Davis masterpiece Kind Of Blue in 1959. And 1959 was the year that Cannonball signed with Riverside. His association with the emphatic label boss Orrin Keepnews reunited the Adderley brothers and gave the genial alto saxophonist the widespread recognition that he so well deserved.

So yeah, Somethin’ Else. Somethin’ else… Ain’t that the truth. Lovely vibe. It seems Cannonball was thoroughly affected by Miles Davis, maestro of economy and restraint, sideman on this date but omnipresent and the one that allegedly turned on Alfred Lion to the idea of recording Cannonball – “Is this what you wanted, Alfred?” is the raspy voice of Davis coming through the mic at the end of the title track. Davis had found a good mate in Hank Jones, Mr. Elegance, who hadn’t recorded with the trumpeter since a 1947 Aladdin session of Coleman Hawkins. And Blakey’s adjustment to Davis is sensitive, while not without steadily increased intensity. Balance and propulsion.

It was a great idea to contrast Davis’s handling of some of the melodies – muted lyricism – with the ebullient and unrestrained variations of Cannonball – delicious side streets and blues-drenched note-bending. How everyone is focused on the big picture, all nuance, delicacy and seemingly casual, lightly spicy swing, is marvelous. This is the overriding asset of the title track, which boasts swell interplay between Davis and Cannonball, the Nat Adderley 12-bar blues One For Daddy-O and the ballad Dancing In The Dark, which puts the leader in the limelight.

Autumn Leaves is every jazz musician’s wet dream. Everybody had a hard year. Everybody had a good time. Everybody had a wet dream. Everybody saw the sunshine. And everybody with an ounce of feeling in his gut feels the autumn leaves falling. This tune is the essence of the feeling that you want to present as a gift to the listener. You want the invited to succumb to a dream state and these guys are the combined epitome of transmogrification. They make sure that you softly land on a cloud. No, not even land. You are weightless, float in space.

Autumn Leaves hadn’t been interpreted in this way before and the idea of weightlessness is likely what was intuitively brought in by Miles Davis, who at the time was inspired by Ahmad Jamal, harbinger of seemingly ephemeral but meaningful harmonies. A five-note piano-bass intro is the bedrock for a dramatic Spanish-tinged brass and reed introduction, starting point for the plaintive melody by Miles Davis, underscored by Blakey’s subtle brushes. You feel satin cloth. Hear mice nibble. Then there’s Cannonball’s sermon, a merging of sleaze and clarity. Wonderfully dynamic. Of many colors, in the slipstream of Davis. Blakey switches to snappy sticks, till the return of Davis, who makes his mark with an extreme minimum of notes, one magenta, one pigeon grey, one slightly left from crimson. Hank Jones is last in line, and Mr. Elegance also prefigures the recurrent five-note figure with a stately a-capella bit. Lastly, the tune ends on a steadily slower tempo, Jones jingling modestly, Davis putting in a few cautious notes. Briefly, you savor the mystery of nature, are at peace with mortality… the autumn leaves gently fall on moss, fungi, kipple.

You don’t want it to end.

Lou Blackburn - Jazz Frontier

Lou Blackburn Jazz Frontier (Imperial 1963)

Lou Blackburn’s Jazz Frontier is another example of solid and edgy West Coast hard bop.

Lou Blackburn - Jazz Frontier

Personnel

Lou Blackburn (trombone), Freddie Hill (trumpet), Horace Tapscott (piano), John Duke (bass), Leroy Henderson (drums)

Recorded

on January 25 & 31, 1963 at United Recorders, Los Angeles

Released

as Imperial 12228 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
New Frontier
Perception
I Cover The Waterfront
17 Richmond Park
Harlem Bossa Nova
Side B:
Luze Blues
The Clan
Scorpio
Jazz-A-Nova
Stella By Starlight


Contrary to myth, West Coast does not solely consist of polished and cool jazz. Besides, though all participants in Jazz Frontier resided in Los Angeles in the ‘60s, Lou Blackburn was born in Rankin, Pennsylvania, Freddie Hill in Jacksonville, Florida and Horace Tapscott in Houston, Texas, though the latter was raised in the City of Angels. Birthplace of John Duke and Leroy Henderson unknown. Duke played in the Basie band (I love the sound of this) in the ‘70’s. Henderson enjoyed a stint with organist Richard “Groove” Holmes in 1961-62.

Who knows along which route the journey of their ancestors went from the starting point of Africa? (Blackburn’s preoccupation with his roots shows through his fusion of blues and African music of his band Mombasa in the ‘70s) One of the main routes started on the mainland on the East Coast, from where pioneers went to cross the Appalachian mountain region, into the heart of the country, Westbound to the sunny shores of the Pacific, while, to paraphrase Jim Morrison, Indians were scattered on dawn’s dusty road, bleeding.

Blackburn & Hill. Sounds like a real estate firm on Madison Avenue but in reality it’s a configuration of outstanding jazz cats that found themselves scattered on the star-paved streets of Hollywood. A tight-knit pair that cooperated regularly as session men for radio, tv and the movies and ran into each other in the big bands of Gerald Wilson, Onzy Matthews and Oliver Nelson, who recruited them for dates by Carmen McRae, The Three Sounds and Thelonious Monk. (Monk’s Blues) A highpoint in Blackburn’s career: Mingus At Monterey.

Opportunities to record the real stuff were few and far between but Blackburn temporarily found solace at the headquarters of Imperial Records, the rhythm and blues-label that had rarely released jazz other than a few (excellent) records by Sonny Criss. Two releases constituted the limit for Blackburn: Jazz Frontier and Two Note Samba. Similar line up. Easily on par with productions on the independent labels on the East Coast but, not surprisingly considering Imperial’s core business, not particularly selling in high quantities.

Belated kudos to Michael Cuscuna, vault scavenger sui generis, who saved these records from obscurity by compiling and annotating them for the ultimate East Coast label, Blue Note, on the two-fer CD The Complete Imperial Sessions in 2006. Yep, that’s the deal the Flophouse Floor Manager remembers having once made in a little charming store in the big city of Barcelona. No vinyl but freedom of travel no less. And the joy of offline shopping-no-shipping, rabbits in the record store hat, chit-chat with knowledgeable Record Store Manager, late afternoon glasses of Cava, bites of mushroom croquettes, manchego and olive skewers, garlic shrimp and churro chips. Remember when.

Hip and varied Blackburn tunes like the Horace Silver-ish New Frontier and Perception alternate with the sprightly bossa Harlem Bossa Nova. The band swings Curtis Fuller’s The Clan into the ground and Blackburn plays an affectionate I Cover The Waterfront. Blackburn & Co. cover all bases. The fluent and tart Blackburn, buoyant Hill and remarkably spicy on-top drummer Leroy Henderson guarantee a well-above average affair. Then there’s Horace Tapscott, future cult hero of The Giant Is Awakened album and his Pan African Peoples Arkestra, whose angular rhythmic surprises, including a daring tinge of cocktail lounge, pulls it up a notch.

Both Blackburn and Hill bid farewell to Los Angeles in 1971. Blackburn passed away in Berlin in 1990. Hill allegedly wandered in desert towns until his demise at the tail end of the ‘70s. Tapscott died in 1999.