The Ramsey Lewis Trio - In Chicago

The Ramsey Lewis Trio In Chicago (Argo 1960)

Before he hit big nationwide with 1965’s The In-Crowd, pianist Ramsey Lewis had delivered a string of Argo albums to an already notable fan base in the Mid-West. Among those albums is In Chicago, a typically dynamic and entertaining performance of the Ramsey Lewis Trio.

The Ramsey Lewis Trio - In Chicago

Personnel

Ramsey Lewis (piano), Eldee Young (bass), Red Holt (drums)

Recorded

on April 30, 1960 at the Blue Note club, Chicago

Released

as Argo 671 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Old Devil Moon
What’s New
Carmen
Bei Mir Bist Du Schön
I’ll Remember April
Side B:
Delilah
Folk Ballad
But Not For Me
C.C. Rider


There’s soul jazz and soul jazz. In the late 50s and early 60s, artists like Jimmy Smith and Gene Ammons spearheaded a movement of artists that presented both excellent and entertaining blues-based jazz to a largely Afro-American audience. Then Ramsey Lewis covered Billy Page’s The In-Crowd, which was a hit for Dobie Gray in 1963. His version, recorded at Bohemian Caverns in Washington D.C. in 1964, climbed the Billboard charts to #5 in 1965. From then on, coming immediately and in droves, colleagues followed his footsteps and interpreted a variety of contemporary soul songs and hits. Suddenly soul jazz, having taken ‘soul’ quite literally, also appealed to the white market place, with Ramsey Lewis at the helm. The pianist scored subsequent hits with Hang On Sloopy and Dancing In The Street.

With the exception of his early seventies output and mingling with the electric piano – Lewis focused on electric piano-driven fusion of smooth funk and jazz, releasing the Grammy Award-winning Sun Goddess featuring Stevie Wonder in 1974 – the style of Lewis more or less stayed the same throughout his career. And he cherished the foundation of long-running rhythm sections – first Eldee Young and Red Holt (1956-65), then Cleveland Eaton and Maurice White (1965-75). Never change a winning team and/or format. These duos, a bunch of steam locomotives, in constant motion, either holding back responsively or driving the tune through a brick wall, perfectly underlined the trademark style of Lewis. It’s a dynamic style imbued with gospel and blues feeling, propulsive but rarely if ever overcooked. It’s filled with lithe, rippling teasers that slowly but surely develop into Sunday sermon storms. Groove but with a bit of sensitivity that Lewis borrowed from influences like Ahmad Jamal. Lightweight? Yes, if one unjustly compares Lewis with Jaki Byard or Herbie Nichols. No, because when Lewis plays, the floor threatens to sag under the heavy toe-tapping of the audience.

In the late 50s and early 60s, the audience was also bound to go home with a smile after an evening of Ramsey Lewis music. Smiles abound, surely, on April 30, 1960, at the Blue Note club in Chicago. The Ramsey Lewis Trio played Old Devil Moon, What’s New, Carmen, Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, I’ll Remember April, Delilah, Folk Ballad, But Not For Me and C.C. Rider. A mix of standards, popular music and original blues-based compositions, practically each one of them marked by tension and release, effective devices from r&b and a lot of quiet thunder. Old Devil Moon is a lesson in how to begin a set. The piano introduction is lavish, then the band kicks in, pang! Such a tight-knit, urgent groove. That’s how to state your intentions! The trio’s version switches regularly between keys, which perhaps is a bit cheap but definitely keeps the listener on its toes. You think the gent and dame at the table noticed the changes of keys? Don’t underestimate the Afro-American jazz lover of the 50s and 60s, they knew their stuff, but they wouldn’t have cared less, as long as the stuff swings.

This was Chicago, hometown of Ramsey Lewis, and obviously the pianist would’ve had to strain to fuck up, in the city that up until that time had spawned the careers of Jimmy Yancey, Roosevelt Sykes, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, J.P. Leary, Otis Spann, Walter Shakey Horton, Kokomo Arnold, Eddie Boyd, Willie Dixon, Jazz Gillum, Earl Hooker, Little Walter, Fred Below, Syl Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind John Davis, Magic Same, Otis Rush, Elmore James, Sunnyland Slim, Buddy Guy, Willie Mabon, James Cotton, Koko Taylor, Dinah Washington, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, Otis Clay, Etta James, Sam Cooke and many others. Most of them had migrated from the South, just like the audience, that was working hard by day in the big city factories, enjoying their night out as hard as they could. A tune like C.C. Rider, generating a lot of heat pretty much equivalent to the temperature that is developed from the blow of a hammer on a steel girder, sits well with such an audience. It probably was a request. At the end of the set, Ramsey Lewis humbly says that the trio, unfortunately, wasn’t able to play all of the requested tunes.

The In-Crowd was something else, a roaring, sure-shot mender of Ramsey Lewis’s destiny. But as In Chicago reveals, the particular Lewis swing during live performance was there from the beginning.

PS: Any doubt that this is the essential Ramsey Lewis record cover? It’s beautiful. Argo art is either beautiful, solid or plain silly. Look at those Johann Sebastian Bach sweaters. Only thing one can say is, they picked the right dude.

The 3 Souls - Soul Sounds

The 3 Souls Soul Sounds (Argo 1965)

Soul sounds, r&b sounds, jazz sounds, and whatnot on The 3 Souls album Soul Sounds.

The 3 Souls - Soul Sounds

Personnel

Sonny Cox (alto saxophone), Ken Prince (organ), Robert Shy (drums), Louis Satterfield (electric bass A1, 2 & 4, B1), Gerald Sims (guitar A1, 2 & 4, B1)

Recorded

on Februari 12, 1965 at Ter Mar Studio, Chicago

Released

as Argo 4044 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
You’re No Good
I Don’t Want To Hear No More
Dear Old Stockholm
Walk On By
Big Jim
Side B:
A House Is Not A Home
Black Nile
Chitlins Con Carne
Armageddon


It is a most gratifying experience to delve into the Argo catalogue. It includes modern jazz artists like James Moody, Ahmad Jamal, Sonny Stitt, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Gene Ammons and Lou Donaldson. On the r&b market, the subsidiary of Chess Records from Chicago was a strong player with Etta James. Soul jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis secured a high profile and considerable revenues for the label, which changed its name to Cadet in 1965. The 3 Souls weren’t out of place in a roster that also, at one time, included Baby Face Willette and Bunky Greene. Chicago and the Midwest had a large, receptive audience for hip and groovy jazz.

As it happens, The 3 Souls had Chicago as a base of operations in 1965, enjoying a residency at the Hungry Eye. The 3 Souls consisted of organist Ken Price, drummer Robert Shy, both from Kentucky, and alto saxophonist Sonny Cox, a native of Cincinatti, Ohio. The group released three albums, The 3 Souls in 1963, Dangerous Dan Express in 1964, which spawned a minor hit with their version of Hi-Heel Sneakers, and Soul Sounds in 1965. On the 1966 Cadet album The Wailer by Sonny Cox, Ken Prince plays organ. On Soul Sounds, the trio is assisted on a number of tracks by bassist Louis Satterfield and guitarist Gerald Sims.

Cox is a peculiar player and Soul Sounds a quirky album. The alto saxophonist, born in 1938, backed Jackie Wilson, Solomon Burke, Jerry Butler and LaVern Baker in the 50s. He proved to be the sporty type as well. In the 70s Cox switched careers and became a successful baseball and basketball coach on Chicago high schools. Undoubtedly, coach Cox was aware that it’s essential for a team to have a number of capricious players, often the creative ones who pull the chestnuts out of the fire. Cox the alto player possesses creative unpredictability himself. That’s good. Yet, his playing isn’t wholly convincing, uneven at times, short on meaningful ideas, we’re not talking Cannonball Adderley here, or Frank Strozier, or Sonny Criss… But it’s edgy, animated. And his tone has something of the ‘singing’ sound of Hank Crawford, though more vulnerable, thin.

Soul Sounds is a hodgepodge of sorts that includes Randy Newman’s I Don’t Want To Hear Anymore, Stan Getz’ Dear Old Stockholm, Burt Bacharach’s Walk On By and, yep, Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile ánd Armageddon. During the r&b, pop and soul tunes, also including You’re No Good and Bacharach/David’s A House Is Not A Home, Cox focuses on the melody with slight variations of timing and bending of notes. The meaty Dear Old Stockholm is enlivened by a boppish whirlwind entrance and a spirited continuation of furious licks and belligerent twists and turns. Cox holds on, perhaps to dear life, to these procedures during Shorter’s Armageddon, coloring his emotional solo with lurid ‘out’ notes.

Albeit a bit stiff on Kenny Burrell’s Chitlins Con Carne, the organ/drums sound is gutsy, certainly on the Cox/Prince original composition Big Jim, a hefty, Brother Jack McDuff-style cooker. The outfit seems most comfortable cooking in this vein. However, the liner notes explain that the group liked to perform the music they like, be it jazz, soul or pop. Something of that attitude certainly rubbed off on the recording of Soul Sounds, coherence be damned, a frame of mind we should perhaps appreciate more than we’re initially inclined to.

Soul Sounds is not available on Spotify unfortunately, so hunt for a copy to hear the highlights, or listen on YouTube to Chitlins Con Carne and A House Is Not A Home.

BLP 5066, USA 1955

Hank Mobley Quartet (Blue Note 1955)

With a little help from his Jazz Messengers pals, Hank Mobley turned in a top form performance on his debut as a leader, Hank Mobley Quartet.

BLP 5066, USA 1955
BLP 5066, USA 1955

Personnel

Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Horace Silver (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), Art Blakey (drums)

Recorded

on March 27, 1955 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 5066 in 1955

Track listing

Side A:
Hank’s Prank
My Sin
Avila And Tequila
Side B:
Walkin’ The Fence
Love For Sale
Just Coolin’


When Hank Mobley recorded his 10inch debut album as a leader in March 27, 1955, the tenor saxophonist had six albums as a sideman under his belt. Max Roach’ Featuring Hank Mobley (Debut 1953) was followed by Dizzy Gillespie’s Afro, Dizzy And Strings and Jazz Recital (Norgran 1954), French horn player Julius Watkins’ Julius Watkins Sextet (Blue Note, March 20, 1955) and Horace Silver’s Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers (Blue Note, Feb. 6, 1955) The latter (essential) album found Mobley at the helm of the hard bop movement with pioneers Art Blakey and Horace Silver. Blakey and Silver, along with bassist Doug Watkins, assist Mobley on Quartet.

Quartet, 27 minutes of music released on 10inch, is not Soul Station, Roll Call or Workout, albums that signified Mobley as the epitome of hard bop tenor saxophone. It does already showcase a fully-formed style. The round, silken yet smoky tone, slightly behind-the-beat time, relaxed flowing stories, the tension being built up effortlessly, the inherent blues. That’s the sound and the style of a smooth operator. Women gravitate to him naturally like summer flies to a cocktail… See him sitting and chatting at the bar, a man of few words, a mix of authority and vulnerability, level-headedness and flamboyance, a far cry from machismo… a handsome cat but the anti-thesis of the placid, scrubbed clerk, instead walking around with a stub from Monday night at the Village Vanguard to Friday night at the Five Spot.

Mobley, a prolific writer of clever and catchy tunes, turns in five out of six original compositions on Quartet. The repertoire, albeit still largely grounded in bebop, benefits from the new possibilities for jazz that Silver, Blakey, Miles Davis, Lou Donaldson found in rhythm, pace, tempo and the roots of jazz. The steam of Blakey during Hank’s Prank must’ve filled up the little legendary Hackensack studio room of engineer Rudy van Gelder like the fog filling up a Tennessee back porch.

Few ride the waves of the Blakey beat with the unhurried drive of Hank Mobley. Mobley’s story is a vivacious package of phrases kickstarted by crisp, surprising entrances. The standard tune of the set, Love For Sale, has such a typically splendid entrance. Mobley’s ensuing solo swings effortlessly, resonant lines biting each other’s tales in perfectly logical fashion. The tight-knit, fiery ‘Messengers rhythm section’ flies through Walkin’ The Fence, a composition that resembles Charlie Parker’s Now’s The Time, which Horace Silver quotes in one of his tasty, sparse, down-home statements.

Why Quartet didn’t turn out to be Quintet with the logical inclusion of trumpeter Kenny Dorham, Mobley’s legendary frontline pal of the Messengers, is perhaps due to the simple fact that Dorham was out of town. Their ensemble playing was something special. But Mobley is doing ok by himself, carries his debut album with grace and authority.


Post scriptum: why did Francis Wolff, famed co-owner and photographer of Blue Note, place a pic of Hank Mobley on the sleeve with his face half-hidden in the shadow? And do it again on Horace Silver’s first epic Messengers album? (including Hank Mobley) Another BIG NERDY question: why did United Artists headquarters, which had taken over Blue Note in 1970, leave out the ‘curly smoke line-up’ coming out of Mobley’s mouthpiece on the sleeve of their 1975 pressing? It looked so awfully cool. A case, perhaps, for London Jazz Collector’s Vinyl Detective. The classic jazz and vinyl website, by the way, published a revealing article on the evolution of 10inch to 12inch in 2015, including Hank Mobley Quartet, see here.

PSII: Poor Mr. Silver’s face not only lurks in dark corners, the dog is about to chew him to pieces as well.

Leon Spencer Jr. - Sneak Preview

Leon Spencer Jr. Sneak Preview (Prestige 1970)

If you like your groove greasy as kidney stew and gritty as a walk with dinosaurs on a gravel path, Leon Spencer Jr.’s Sneak Preview is the way to go.

Leon Spencer Jr. - Sneak Preview

Personnel

Leon Spencer Jr. (organ), Grover Washington Jr. (tenor saxophone), Virgil Jones (trumpet), Melvin Sparks (guitar), Idris Muhammad (drums), Buddy Caldwell (conga)

Recorded

on December 7, 1970 at Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 10011 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
The Slide
Someday My Prince Will Come
Message From The Meters
Side B:
First Gravy
5-10-15-20
Sneak Preview


The Slide will take you for a ride. Leon Spencer’s opening tune, just like his album on which it was presented early in 1971 on the Prestige label, Sneak Preview, is a vintage gritty Hammond B3 killer. Recorded at Rudy van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Van Gelder not only shaped modern jazz with his engineering for Blue Note and other labels, he was also a fundamental force in making organ jazz an viable musical experience and an accessible, marketable product, initially through his cooperation with Jimmy Smith in 1956. Managing to tame the monster machine’s belligerent tendencies and bringing to the fore crisp, clear lines while retaining the church-rooted feeling, sonority and indomitable oscillating sounds, Van Gelder set the standard for future engineers to follow. In the late sixties and early seventies, RVG was still at it, taking care of virtually all the Prestige funk jazz releases.

Such as Sneak Preview, the sound of molasses, chili in a bowl and ham-on-rye on master tape, which is transferred to the black gold that is still to be enjoyed here and now, in 2018, preferably on original wax, though the OJC reissue is doing a job well done, thank you. Forget the screen of your iPhone for a minute, put the disc on the turntable, kick yourself into gear and slide into the world of sensual, chubby thighs exposed at the stools of sleazy, sweaty bars, of hallelujahs shouted from tiny BBQ joints, of the unstoppable toes that wear out the streets of Baltimore, Harlem’s Lenox Avenue, the wooden floors of Lenny’s-On-The-Turnpike until nothing’s left but dusty remains not unlike the bones of long-gone Victorian maidens… Chill. The Zen Of Turntable Maintenance.

Leon Spencer Jr. gets you to that place. Spencer’s discography is rather concise, but the level of excellence and deep groove is on par with contemporary colleagues like Lonnie Smith and Charles Earland. Spencer came into prominence a few years later. He was born in Houston, Texas in 1945, started out on piano and performed with his friend David “Fathead” Newman as a young man. Spencer studied engineering at Texas Southern University and the University Of Houston and subsequently toured with Army bands. Like many organists, he took up the organ after seeing Jimmy Smith and soon backed Peggy Lee and Lou Rawls. He made his debut in 1969 on guitarist Wilbert Longmire’s Revolution album on World Pacific while living in Los Angeles. Spencer played on guitarist Melvin Sparks’ Sparks and was featured on Lou Donaldson’s Pretty Things album on Blue Note in 1970, which made his reputation as a bonafide jazz funkateer. After Sneak Preview, Spencer would perform on another Donaldson album, Cosmos, another Sparks album, three Sonny Stitt albums and Rusty Bryant’s Fire Eater. As a leader, Spencer followed up Sneak Preview with Louisiana Slim, Bad Walking Woman and Where I’m Coming From.

Sneak Preview used the same line up as Sparks. And the group would work together on Stitt’s Turn It On as well. Some of the members had already cooperated here and there, like Muhammad, Virgil Jones, Melvin Sparks and Buddy Caldwell on Muhammad’s Black Rhythm Revolution on November 2, 1970, or Muhammad, Jones and Sparks on Rusty Bryant’s Soul Liberation on June 15, 1970. I’ve grown accustomed to your face… Standard Prestige procedure (and Blue Note, of course, for that matter): The more tight-knit a group of like-minded fellows and dames become, the smoother the session will develop. This group, consisting of Spencer, trumpeter Virgil Jones, tenor saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., guitarist Melvin Sparks, drummer Idris Muhammad and conga player Buddy Caldwell, has no trouble getting to the nitty-gritty before the lights go out. Idris Muhammad’s drive, as usual, is relentless. There really can be no end to the amazement for the listener of Muhammad’s snappy single snare strokes before-the-one and his firm accompaniment with bass pedal, hi-hat and cymbal. We hear Grover Washington before the saxophonist hit the big time with smooth jazz in the early seventies, and he’s keeping it real and rootsy. And small wonder that A&R man Bob Porter regularly called Virgil Jones for sessions like these, he’s virile, acute, excellent. Virgil Jones is a player who’s all but forgotten, undeservedly.

The group performs Spencer’s funky blues The Slide, shuffle groove First Gravy and the tacky, modal vamp Sneak Preview, Someday My Prince Will Come, the hit from The Presidents 5-10-15-20 and a funk groove from The Meters, Message From The Meters. The latter’s the highlight, a crazy funky affair with intense storytelling from Spencer. Spencer’s bass work (presumably a mix of left hand and a bit of feet) is striking, not only during Message, but also during the popsoul gem 5-10, weaving snappy lines in the middle register into the mix.

Leon Spencer passed away in 2012.

Listen to the full album on YouTube here

Jerome Richardson - Midnight Oil

Jerome Richardson Midnight Oil (New Jazz 1958)

Perhaps Jerome Richardson ‘burnt the midnight oil’ at the Hackensack, New Jersey studio of Rudy van Gelder and hence came up with the title for his excellent debut as a leader on the New Jazz label.

Jerome Richardson - Midnight Oil

Personnel

Jerome Richardson (flute, tenor saxophone), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Hank Jones (piano), Joe Benjamin (bass), Charlie Persip (drums)

Recorded

in 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as NJLP 8205 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
Minorally
Way In Blues
Delirious Trimmings
Side B:
Caravan
Lyric


Acursory look at the recordings made during the classic age of hard bop and mainstream jazz cannot but reveal the name of Jerome Richardson. The Oakland, California-born flutist and saxophone player (1920-2000), who was in the bands of Lionel Hampton from 1949-51 and Earl Hines from 1954-55, is on plenty hi-profile albums by Kenny Clarke, Cannonball Adderley, Gene Ammons, Randy Weston, Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell, Quincy Jones, Jimmy Smith, Johnny Hodges, Dizzy Gillespie, George Benson and Oliver Nelson. Richardson was featured on Charles Mingus’ Town Hall Concert, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus and Black Saint And The Sinner Lady. A sought-after, versatile gentleman, who was accomplished on flute, alto flute, piccolo, clarinet and bass clarinet, tenor, soprano, alto and baritone sax. Perhaps his striking versatility is the reason why Richardson was occasionally bereft of a solo spot. However, once Richardson had a go, everyone obviously knew what was the score.

Unfortunately, recordings as a leader by Richardson were few and far between. Midnight Oil was followed by the equally impressive Roamin’ With Richardson in 1959. In the sixties, Richardson made two albums, the concept album Goin’ To The Movies and the groovy soul jazz album on Verve, Groove Merchant. His final release in 1996, Jazz Station Runaway, saw Richardson cooperating with Russell Malone, George Mraz, Lewis Nash and David Hazeltine. His two albums from the late fifties are hi-calibre affairs. Perhaps Midnight Oil has the edge on Roamin’. Immediately obvious is its excellent writing. Side A is filled with three Richardson originals, the uptempo hard bop gem Minorally, sly blues line Way In Blues and Delirious Trimmings, a fluent piece reminiscent of the crafty Mulligan tunes that he wrote for his celebrated Mulligan/Baker outfit.

Few dig the blues on flute as convincing as Jerome Richardson. This has become evident on, for instance, his contributions to Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis’ Cookbook Volume 1-3 albums. Moreover, the effects that Richardson creates with his abundant technique, guttural or breathy sounds, expand his natural blues feeling. On tenor, he’s a diamond in the rough, blowing hard and gutsy, a combination founded on excellent skills. At the time – 1958 – Richardson seems clearly impressed by John Coltrane and also possesses a bit of the urgency and bare, honest emotions of Booker Ervin.

Side B contains Caravan, marked by a hefty treatment of the rhythm during the melody and a fluently swinging B-section, and a bouncy, lithely swinging take on the frolic Artie Shaw melody Lyric. During the biggest part of the session, the combination of flute, trombone and guitar provides a pleasant, dense and cushion-soft texture, underscored by the elegant, ever-so-right phrases of Hank Jones, tasteful, spicy licks of Kenny Burrell and the tight-knit rhythm section of Joe Benjamin and Charlie Persip. Special mention of Persip, whose concise work on the New Jazz label is strikingly crisp, clever and energetic. Midnight Oil is fine Persip, but one hasn’t lived the jazz fan’s life without hearing his drumming on Mal Waldron’s The Quest!

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet - Country Preacher

Cannonball Adderley Quintet Country Preacher (Capitol 1969)

The hefty stew of boiling groovy thickness and powerful prayer meeting that is The Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s Country Preacher – Live At Operation Breadbasket is the climax in their book of epic live performances it began a decade earlier with In San Francisco and At The Lighthouse.

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet - Country Preacher

Personnel

Cannonball Adderley (alto saxophone, soprano saxophone), Nat Adderley (cornet, vocals), Joe Zawinul (electric piano), Walter Booker (bass), Roy McCurdy (drums)

Recorded

in October, 1969 in Chicago

Released

as Capitol 404 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
Walk Tall
Country Preacher
Hummin’
Oh Babe
Side B:
Afro-Spanish Omelet
a.Umbakwen
b.Soli Tomba
c.Oiga
d.Marabi
The Scene


The fundamental premise of Operation Breadbasket was equal economic opportunity for the black community. Founded by Leon Sullivan in Philadelphia in 1962 and further developed by Martin Luther King in Atlanta, it negotiated jobs for people in the ghetto and strived to correct the perverse fact that industries sold product in black neighbourhoods but seldom offered decent positions besides menial labor. Boycotting companies was but one of the strategies of the persuasive core of black ministry. King appointed Jesse Jackson as leader of the Chicago department, which fell under the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. (SCLC) Chicago Breadbasket was a success, winning many new jobs. It also became a cultural event, inspired by the weekly Saturday sermons by Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jackson became the national director of Operation Breadbasket in 1967.

It was tangible. There was something in the air tonight. Cannonball, his voice a bit hoarse from a cold, his stomach presumably still digesting a copious meal, is up for the task. The band, simultaneously charged and relaxed, sits at the knees of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has provided a focused and fiery sermon, and subsequently is basking in the pleasure of hearing another exciting performance at an Operation Breadbasket meeting, in church in Chicago, and surely the most sizzling to date. The heat is on.

The Reverend, or the Country Preacher (the second tune of the album, Joe Zawinul’s Country Preacher, is dedicated to Jackson), was in full bloom in 1969, as can be heard on the quintet’s album on the Capitol label. Walk Tall is preceded by a spirited bit of sermonizing from Jackson, who can’t help spouting some painful, redeeming truths during his introduction of the band: ‘The most important thing of all is that, not matter how dreary the situation is, and how difficult it may be, that the storm really doesn’t matter until the storm begins to get you down, so I advice to you, the message The Cannonball Adderley Quintet brings to us, is that it’s rough and tough in this getto, a lot of funny stuff going down, but you gotta walk tall!, walk TALL!!, WALK TALL!!!’ Whereupon McCurdy, Booker and Zawinul put down a lurid boogaloo-ish groove, acted upon by the roaring unison brass and reed of Nat and Cannonball Adderley, a perfectly attuned imagination of the cathartic mirror Jackson held forth to the evening’s audience. The eloquent Cannonball, who also puts in a few strong-willed words, and the ambitious orator Jesse Jackson are a challenging match.

It is a match that raises questions too. Ever since the killing of Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, candidate for the Democratic presidential campaign in 1984 and 1988, has been a popular but controversial figure, perhaps never more so than immediately after that horrible event in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. Although evidence was feeble, Jackson has always maintained the claim that he’d held the dying King in his arms, hence the blood on his turtleneck sweater. The turtleneck sweater controversy was born. A day after the murder of Reverend King, prime national spearhead of the black cause, Jackson appeared in a television show, wearing the bloody sweater and telling his story. King’s wife and close King associates, especially Ralph Abernathy, the former leader of the SCLC, were shocked and a schism in the SCLC and black power movement was a fact. The survivors and successors of the cause are fighting to this day, a shameful page in the story of black unity. Naturally, let there be no mistake, nothing should be taken away from Cannonball Adderley, who participated in the musical and socio-cultural event with the zest and goodwill we’ve come to associate with the amiable alto saxophonist. One keeps wondering though if Cannonball realized that, by embracing Jesse Jackson, the coldshouldering of Abernathy-and-friends was a logical consequence?

He definitely was conscious of his musical heritage. Prime ambassador for jazz, Cannonball had always been introducing the group’s music in humorous and insightful fashions, the initial introductions ten years earlier on the Live In San Francisco album functioning as a catalyst for soul jazz, or jazz for Chuck Chitlin & Big Mary (Bobby Timmons’ funky This Here the tune that got feet tappin’). In 1969, Cannonball again is the perfect host, elaborating concisely on the content of the compositions and the value of black music. As he succinctly and matter-of-factly explains during his introduction of the roaring 12-bar blues Oh Baby, ‘a soulful excursion into the past, the present AND the future of our music.’ It oozes pride for a truly American art form, a music born out of enslavement, degradation and misery, with a cast of legends that were unfortunately still unknown to most Americans. Perhaps he is not saying it very loud like James Brown, or anguished like Nina “Mississippi Goddamn” Simone, but the message is clear.

However, for the message to be clear, one has to think a bit further. Cannonball talks about black music. Assumingly, Cannonball, a streetwise, genial and intelligent personality, was of the opinion that black music is potentially inclusive, that at least a number of white men/women were able to play black music. One member of his group, Joe Zawinul, comes from Austria. Past member Victor Feldman was praised by Cannonball for his blues-infested skills. Cannonball’s cooperation with Bill Evans for the album Know What I Mean was one of his most gratifying experiences, not to say a major artistic achievement. In Evans’ case, surely Cannonball felt that something very distinctive was added to the music that had its origins in New Orleans. I’m guessing that Cannonball wouldn’t dispute the idea that whites had a distinct role in the development of jazz from the beginning. But he realized that the black experience intensifies the music, and that once you take away the core of jazz – the blues – you’re left with lifeless notes and tones. It was 1969, jazz had suffered blows, rock and pop reigned supreme, obviously Cannonball wanted to keep jazz real, fresh and energetic. Good job too!

By the way, not only the gig, all funk, sleaze, slow drag, tough swing and sparkling Afro-Jazz, is a wonderful exercise in rhythm, even these speeches by Cannonball move with a smooth, danceable beat. This way they have a penchant of seguing into the tracks, of which Spanish Omelet, an Afro-Cuban ‘suite’, is the longest by far, taking up most of side B. Structure-wise, it may not be so interesting, as it’s low on coherent motives, yet it’s the expressive force that somehow makes five parts a whole, from the lilting melancholy of Nat Adderley’s flamenco-ish Umbakwen, the singing, bended notes of bassist Walter Booker’s a capella Soli Tomba, Joe Zawinul’s hard modal funk of Oiga to the uplifting swingbop of Cannonball’s showstopper Marabi. Spanish Omelet is home cookin’, lively chatter in Erotic City, the brooding presence of hard-boiled Romeo, who stands on the corner, unfazed, bleeding from his elbow… It’s this kind of soul fusion (Adderley would delve deeper into bonafide fusion with 1971’s The Black Messiah and 1974’s Pyramid) that reduces the languid Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, recorded a couple of months before Country Preacher, to background music for spliff smokers.

Good news. The rest is just as sizzling. Jammin’ on one chord has seldom been brought to the fore so successfully as during Nat Adderley’s Hummin’. A slow groove built up by very heavy percussion and bass, Nat Adderley plays with the sureness of a customer who ends a bar row and subsequently has couples dancing with his tipsy singsong, spitting, coughing, growling, while Cannonball, on soprano, is like a fellow working the cottage doors with sandpaper, sweat on his back and brows, a couple of hours away from a refreshing bottle of beer. Oh Baby finds Nat Adderley in the limelight again, takin’ care of business singing the blues with a lurid sense of self-mockery.

Zawinul’s Country Preacher, a slow soul tune, is an exercise in tension and release, and the audience goes berserk, not unlike the responses Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Sam & Dave, Ike & Tina or Aretha Franklin brought about. That’s the piece of land these fellows had staked out for themselves in jazz country. Country Preacher: Live At Operation Breadbasket is expressive, eloquent soul power. It’s pleasantly un-programmatic, possesses a let’s play in the sunshine-ish innocence, yet it’s solid as a rock. It doesn’t come any sleazier and real. A serious party.

Serge Chaloff - Blue Serge

Serge Chaloff Blue Serge (Capitol 1956)

A year after the passing of Charlie Parker, the influential bop baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff delivered his best album, Blue Serge.

Serge Chaloff - Blue Serge

Personnel

Serge Chaloff (baritone saxophone), Sonny Clark (piano), Leroy Vinegar (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on March 14 & 16, 1956 at Capitol Studio, Los Angeles

Released

as T-742 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
A Handful Of Stars
The Goof And I
Thanks For The Memory
All The Things You Are
Side B:
I’ve Got The World On A String
Susie’s Blues
Stairway To The Stars
How About You?


Parker’s redefinitions of the jazz language represented nothing less than an earthquake and certainly also bedazzled Serge Chaloff, who was born in Boston in 1923 from parents who were music teachers, with father Julius serving as pianist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Chaloff, who passed away in 1957, came up through the groups of Boyd Raeburn, Woody Herman (as part of the acclaimed Four Brothers reed section of the Second Herd), Georgie Auld, Jimmy Dorsey and Count Basie. His other influence beside Parker was baritone sax pioneer Harry Carney, longtime member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Both influences shine through on Blue Serge, Chaloff’s album that’s appropriately named after Duke Ellington’s composition, with a nod to the very blue Serge. The influences are incorporated into Chaloff’s remarkably fecund style, a style that locks tight with the alert, cookin’ Philly Joe Jones, the big-toned Leroy Vinegar, all-round bass class act and particularly exquisite as a ‘walker’, and Sonny Clark, master of long, horn-like lines and varied rhythmic placement.

Hi-level company: Jones on the brink of his defining role in the First Great Quintet of Miles Davis, embryonic vistas of Cool Struttin’ in the background of Clark’s mind, no other horn except baritone, Chaloff pulling it off as a distinct voice and stylist with graceful fluidity on the baritone saxophone, a feat that speaks volumes about the man’s authority. Chaloff’s sinuous, propulsive lines dance through a set of fast bop, ballads and medium tempo swingers on familiar changes. He’s a captivating balladeer that speaks to a lover both with sweet, breathy whispers and husky, sardonic, slightly vibrating comments on the one hand, a virtuoso who travels with deceptive ease through fast-paced burners on the other hand.

And whether it’s the loping tempo of A Handful Of Stars or the quicksilver pace of Al Cohn’s The Goof And I, instead of being led by it, Chaloff directs the flow of the quartet. Blue Serge is such an excellent session because that conductive quality is a talent that Chaloff shares with Clark, both possessing acute melodic rhythm and effortless flow. The mark of great players, particularly coming to the fore in receptive surroundings, and a mark we perhaps most of the time grasp intuitively, then finding it a marvel.

Chaloff was a major innovator on the baritone saxophone, paving the way for Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams and modern-day greats like Gary Smulyan, but his reputation is hampered by a concise discography, the direct result of the man’s addiction to drugs and the resulting struggles of maintaining proper work relations. Allegedly, Charlie Parker advised his disciples time and again to stay away from the stuff, most of the time to no avail, certainly in the case of Chaloff, a notorious user and rebel rouser. How tragic that, once Chaloff kicked the habit in 1957, having returned to his native city of Boston, he was diagnosed with spinal cancer and passed away on July 16. Regardless, Chaloff left us a magnificent piece of bari playing that is still fresh after all these years.