Ray Brown - Bass Hit

Ray Brown Bass Hit! (Verve 1956)

Ray Brown fronting an all-white band in 1956 was a major musical-social event. Bass Hit also happened to be a beautifully conceived hot date.

Ray Brown - Bass Hit

Personnel

Ray Brown (bass), Pete Candoli, Conrad Gozzo, Ray Linn & Harry “Sweets” Edison (trumpet), Herbie Harper (trombone), Jack DuLong & Herb Geller (alto saxophone), Jimmy Giuffre (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Bill Holman (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Rowles (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Mel Lewis & Alvin Stoller (drums), Marty Paich (arranger)

Recorded

on November 21 & 23, 1956 in Los Angeles

Released

MG V-8022 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
Bass Introduction/Blues For Sylvia
All Of You
Everything I Have Is Yours
Will You Still Be Mine
Side B:
Little Toe
Alone Together
Solo For Unaccompanied Bass
My Foolish Heart
Blues For Lorraine/Bass Conclusion


Ray Brown’s flawless technique, abundant swing and elegant interplay got him at the top of the heap, playing with Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra. The list is endless. His work with the Ray Brown Trio in the 80s and 90s – Brown intermittently worked in the Hollywood studios – is peerless and his influence on subsequent generations is everlasting. Most of all, Brown, himself influenced by the legendary Jimmy Blanton, had a great, buttery tone and a unique gift for finding the right note at the right time. Ooh wee. How many times have I listened to an Oscar Peterson record and, for all Peterson’s commanding virtuosity and swing, have felt myself being inevitably drawn to Ray Brown, like a kid to the candy store? His enormous energy was overwhelming. I saw him perform just this once in my hometown’s legendary jazz club, Porgy & Bess. Brown’s giant groove, underscored by the radiant grin on his face, drove the band through the roof.

Brown, Pittsburgh-born, came on the scene in New York in 1946 and established himself from the word go. His alliance with Oscar Peterson in 1951 led to worldwide recognition and, by his own account, made him a considerably better player. By 1956, Brown had contributed his outstanding skills and groove to, among others, Johnny Hodges’ The Blues, Count Basie’s Basie Jazz, Roy Eldridge’s Rockin’ Chair, Benny Carter’s, Alone Together, Billie Holiday’s Lady Day, Lester Young’s Prez & Sweets, Charlie Parker’s Big Band, Illinois Jacquet’s Swing’s The Thing, Dizzy Gillespie’s Diz And Getz and Roy And Diz, Hank Jones’ Urbanity, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong’s Ella & Louis and an ever-growing slew of Oscar Peterson records. Almost all of them were on the Clef and Verve labels of Norman Granz, for whom the dependable and brilliant Ray Brown was a godsend.

Come 1956. Times were rough. The Supreme Court decision of Brown vs Board Of Education was a landmark event in 1954. It established the unconstitutionality of segregation in public schools. However, the ruling, further recorded in BBE part 2, proved something of a Pyrrhus victory, as states could choose to desegregate with “all deliberate speed.” Then there was Rosa Parks, who courageously refused to give up her seat in the segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Some brave women, lest we forget – like Claudette Colvin – preceded the Montgomery Bus Boycott but it was Parks that turned into a symbol of rebellion and civil rights. Finally, the state court repealed bus segregation on November 16 – a week before the Ray Brown session. The protests nonetheless backfired considerably. Jim Crow wasn’t about to give in that easily.

The mid-50s was an era in which many black musicians still hesitated when the opportunity of touring the South arose. If they did travel south, they were not allowed in white-owned hotels and bunked at private places. Against this background, a jazz outing like Bass Hit – a black man leading a white orchestra – is significant. Jazz, like any great art form, may have been the battleground of plenty of cultural warfare but it never failed to contribute to progress and the growth of understanding, much in a fashion that Martin Luther King would have appreciated. Benny Goodman hired Teddy Wilson and Charlie Christian. Pearl Bailey was married to Louie Bellson. Miles Davis was, with sound reason, a motherfucker with an attitude, but Bill and Gil Evans were, for an eponymous time, his main men. The list of groundbreaking interracial mingling is impressive. Jazz, at its best, has no borders of any kind, is a game changer equal or arguably superior to the political process.

Bass Hit was recorded on November 21 and 23, 1956 in Los Angeles. It featured Pete Candoli on trumpet, Herbie Harper on trombone, Jack DuLong on alto saxophone, Jimmy Giuffre on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Bill Holman on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Rowles on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar and Mel Lewis on drums. Altoist Herb Geller and trumpeters Ray Gill, Conrad Gozzo and Harry “Sweets” Edison (black but a minor role) strengthen the reeds and brass. Drummer Alvin Stoller subbed for Mel Lewis on a few cuts. Marty Paich was the arranger.

I’ve always wondered how it came about that Brown fronted an all-white band, yet there’s not much in the way of recorded evidence or info. Therefore, I reached out to Jean-Michel Reisser-Beethoven from Lausanne, Switzerland, whom I came to know through the jazz forum Jazz Vinyl Lovers on Facebook. 56-year old Jean-Michel grew up with parents who were passionate lovers of jazz and befriended many visiting jazz legends. At age 3, Jean-Michel sat on the lap of Count Basie. When Jean-Michel was a young man, Ray Brown, having grown tired of managing himself, asked the young jazz buff to do his management. Jean-Michel managed Ray Brown for many years and, in the process, also worked for Harry “Sweets” Edison, J.J. Johnson, Joe Pass, Monty Alexander and many more.

Coincidentally, when we talked on the phone, it turned out that decades ago Jean-Michel had been visiting jazz club Porgy & Bess in Terneuzen regularly in his managerial role, at which time I, unbeknownst of his existence, was also present during performances of some of the jazz legends. A clear case of amazing serendipity, which warms my heart.

At any rate, here’s what Jean-Michel found out about Bass Hit through his conversations with Ray Brown and, to a lesser extent, Jimmy Rowles, Mel Lewis and Pete Candoli:

“It was Ray’s idea to do a big band album with him as a feature. Of course, a decade earlier Ray was featured on One Bass Hit and Two Bass Hit, which he wrote for Dizzy Gillespie. Ray told me that he had had in mind the idea of making a record with the bass as lead feature for many years. But his idea was too advanced for that time and in the late 40s you could hardly hear the bass. He always talked about it with Norman Granz, who approved of the concept. But the years went by, till Ray finally said it was the time to do it.

“Why did he record in Los Angeles? Well, in those days, the Oscar Peterson Trio did about 299 concerts in 300 days, it was crazy! The only way to do it was Los Angeles, because contrary to New York, they had long engagements on the West Coast, like two or three weeks at Zardy’s. So recording in Los Angeles was most convenient.

“Ray called his friends. Marty Paich. He loved the arrangements of Paich. Jimmy Rowles, Herb Ellis, Mel Lewis. Everybody was delighted to cooperate with Brown on such a special session. Ray wasn’t conscious of the fact that he was to lead an all-white band. He just called the friends that he wanted for the job. There weren’t many black people in the movie studios. Only a few, like Benny Carter. Now this record had a lot of impact. But Ray did not plan this in advance. He said: ‘Suddenly the producers and writers thought, man this guy leads, reads charts, does amazing solo’s, everything! It opened doors for black guys, they can do the job. A few months after the release, I got many offers, I couldn’t believe it! But I refused. I played jazz and wanted to travel.’ Of course, in 1966 Brown did eventually move to Los Angeles to play in the Hollywood studio bands. By then, he had cleared the path for Quincy Jones, J.J. Johnson, Benny Golson, who all made a career in the movie business.

“Oscar Pettiford had done bass-driven records but those were not arranged and organized as immaculately and not all-white. Bass Hit is the first record that showcases such an impressive lead role of the bass. At the same time, it works sublimely as accompanying force. Most of all, it is not just important on a musical level. It broke down social barriers. Jazz, like any great art form, is a force of change. Its great ambassadors definitely surpass the flawed ambitions of politicians.”

Bass Hit, the album: Brown firmly and authoritatively leads this band of top-notch contemporary white musicians. There is much to enjoy, not least the spicy muted trumpet of Pete Candoli, Herb Ellis’ earthy guitar, Bill Holman’s supple tenor saxophone and Jimmy Giuffre’s clarinet, which adds graceful coolness to Bass Hit’s essentially ‘hot’ program.

Ray Brown is boss, shading melodies, providing succinct interludes and concise melodious and strong solos, while the punchy arrangements cleverly underline Brown’s agile phrasing, as if he’s a singer, as if he’s, in a sense, Sinatra in front of the Count Basie band. Brown and the orchestra blend like strawberry and whipped cream, courtesy of Brown’s immaculate time feel, allowing him to fluently anticipate the brass and reed accents. Bass Hit is commonly called his record debut as a leader, while in fact Brown released New Sounds In Modern Music on Savoy in 1946. Bass Hit’s title alludes to that era, when Brown contributed One Bass Hit and Two Bass Hit to the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra. It presents a set of unabashed big band blues, poised balladry and mid-tempo standards.

You’ll hear a striking descending bass figure, taken from the potent Solo For Unaccompanied Bass, effectively and attractively introduce the record and segue into the opening tune, Blues For Sylvia. More blues, Blues For Lorraine and Brown’s Little Toe, firmly directed by Brown, penultimate blues groove master, ties together the threads that consist of well-known ballads of which Cole Porter’s All Of You is particularly notable. The detailed conversational level of the piece, especially the whispered staccato call and response of Brown and brass/reed, slyly heightens the tension. The booming release hits bull’s eye.

Bull’s eye, as a matter of fact, was second nature to the great Ray Brown.

Lloyd G. Mayers - A Taste Of Honey

Lloyd G. Mayers A Taste Of Honey (United Artists 1962)

It somehow slipped through the cracks. Lloyd G. Mayers’s A Taste Of Honey, major-league big band organ jazz record.

Lloyd G. Mayers - A Taste Of Honey

Personnel

Lloyd G. Mayers (organ), Clark Terry, Bernie Glow, Doc Severinsen & Snooky Young (trumpet), Britt Woodman, Paul Falise, Tommy Mitchell & Urbie Green (trombone), Don Butterfield (tuba), Barry Galbraith (guitar), George Duvivier (bass), Ed Shaugnessy (drums), Ray Barretto (bongos), Oliver Nelson (arranger)

Recorded

in 1962 in Los Angeles

Released

as UA 14018 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
A Taste Of Honey
Desafinado
The Good Life
Going Up North
Side B:
The Golden Striker
For All We Know
Jacky-Ing
Alone Together


His name may sound like a movie tycoon but Lloyd G. Mayers was a jazz cat. A swinging cat that has decidedly performed under the radar. Presumably, Mayers was based on the West Coast. He was the pianist on tenor saxophonist Sam “The Man” Taylor’s Plays The Black And The Beautiful and organist on Lou Donaldson’s Rough House Blues in 1963. He also played piano on Oliver Nelson’s Impressions Of Phaedra, issued on United Artists in 1962. Coincidentally, A Taste Of Honey was also released by United Artists in 1962. Furthermore, the personnel is virtually similar. My guess is that, when CBS commissioned Nelson to record the soundtrack to the TV movie A Taste Of Honey, the credits somehow ended up with Mayers, perhaps at the instigation of Nelson. The playing of Mayers, who switched from piano to organ for this date, is a prominent feature.

Nelson is the arranger and the band includes trumpeter Clark Terry, trombonist Urbie Green, guitarist Barry Galbraith, bassist George Duvivier and drummer Ed Shaughnessy. It is a blast from start to finish on many levels. Every track is either intriguing or a stone-cold winner. The album features a refreshing diversity of tunes, some more challenging than usually included in organ groove records: the pop tune A Taste Of Honey, Latin standard Desafinado, blues tune Goin’ Up North, The Good Life, John Lewis’s The Golden Striker, Thelonious Monk’s Jacky-Ing and the ballads For All We Know and Alone Together.

Nelson squeezes every inch out of the orchestra. The sound is booming and made all the more interesting with robust calls and responses between brass and reed and inspiring off-beat accents. Nelson also makes the orchestra breathe by occasionally dividing leading roles between drums and bass and tuba. In this respect, the high drama of Alone Together, transformed from a ballad into an exotic medium-tempo tour de force, is exemplary of the outstanding talent of Nelson as arranger.

The crunchy organ of Mayers is embroiled in a playful dance with the orchestra, bursting out of it like splatters of lava from a volcano. Mayers limits himself to concise little stories, never cheap, always with meaningful simplicity and overwhelming temperament. He is matched by Ed Shaughnessy, whose precise and absolutely crazy amount of good punches lift the session to a higher level. The tension/release device is especially effective during Nelson/Mayers’s daring take of John Lewis’s The Golden Striker. Monk’s Jacky-Ing gradually builds up tension, via a sterling drum intro, fragmentary backdrops of brass and reed to the statements of Mayers and a lurid shuffle, coming to its conclusion with unadulterated orgasm.

Production – the orchestra sounds a bit far off – may not be top-notch. However, A Taste Of Honey is on par with (in some cases on the winning side of) the high-profile big band records of Jimmy Smith on Verve, which also were arranged mostly by Oliver Nelson. It is reminiscent of the way Ray Charles plays organ and of Brother Ray’s instrumental cuts of Genius + Soul Is Jazz. A feat that completely obviates the need for recommendation.

Charlie Rouse - Takin' Care Of Business

Charlie Rouse Takin’ Care Of Business (Jazzland 1960)

Monk’s long-running sideman takes care of business on his own.

Charlie Rouse - Takin' Care Of Business

Personnel

Charlie Rouse (tenor saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), Earl May (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on May 11, 1959 at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City

Released

as JLP-19 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Blue Farouq
“204”
Upptankt
Side B:
Weirdo
Pretty Strange
They Didn’t Believe Me


Aten-year stint in the group of Thelonious Monk ain’t chicken feed. This was the accomplishment of tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and it speaks volumes about his skills, artistry and personality. Rouse was asked to join Monk at the start of 1959, the successor to the stint of Johnny Griffin and two short engagements of Sonny Rollins and former Monk associate John Coltrane. That’s a lot of tenor madness and a hell of a challenge. Nobody would’ve argued that Rouse is in the league of Coltrane and Rollins, nor would it have been easy to match the fire of The Little Giant. Indeed, for a lot of people, Charlie Rouse was a surprise pick, not least for a slew of young lions soliciting for the job, Wayne Shorter among them.

Rouse was already a veteran of sorts with a great track record, who had played in the bands of Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Tadd Dameron and was a prolific sideman in the 50s. Preceding the Monk period, Rouse co-led the sophisticated group The Jazz Modes with French horn player Julius Watkins. After a nervous start, he got off well with The High Priest. It is said that Monk was particularly enamored by the genial, relaxed Rouse, which surely was, apart from his abilities, one of the reasons they gelled so well for such a long time. Rouse quickly adjusted to Monk’s focus on melodic improvisation.

Rouse’s contribution on Monk’s 5 By 5 record, sharing the frontline with Thad Jones, is especially spicy and belies the rigorous opinion that Rouse’s solo’s better be casually accepted, criticism ventured from his start with Monk and the kind that inclines to become myth and survive for numerous decades. It would be interesting as well to take a listen to Rouse the balladeer, predominantly his lush interpretation of When Sunny Gets Blue on We Paid Our Dues on Epic from 1961, a record that is equally divided between the groups of Rouse and Seldon Powell.

Takin’ Care Of Business may not be the most inspired of titles. Who didn’t take care of it? However, it’s a strong effort from a top-notch group that further includes trumpeter Blue Mitchell, pianist Walter Bishop Jr., bassist Earl May and drummer Art Taylor. Mitchell contributed Blue Farouq, a hip blues line that also is featured on organist Melvin Rhyne’s Organ-izing and Junior Cook’s Junior’s Cookin’. Interestingly, “204” in fact is Randy Weston’s wonderful waltz Hi-Fly, the initial version with a slightly differing melody. Rouse’s Upptankt (meaning what?) and Kenny Drew’s Weirdo provide the saucy bop contrast to the jaunty take on Jerome Kern composition They Didn’t Believe Me and Randy Weston ballad Pretty Strange – which indeed is pretty strange, certainly not your usual melody with a sequence that is somehow unresolved, moving in front of the bedroom window like a thin fog and rather intriguing in its own weird way.

Solid mainstream from a punchy band, Rouse flowing and with sustained, logical ideas and slightly edgy tones opposite Blue Mitchell’s sinuous, exuberant lines and Walter Bishop Jr.’s charged bop style. Turn-of-that-decade quintet stuff that merits plenty of attention.

George Coleman - Amsterdam After Dark

George Coleman Amsterdam After Dark (Timeless 1979)

Leadership came late to George Coleman but he seized the opportunity with both hands.

George Coleman - Amsterdam After Dark

Personnel

George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Hilton Ruiz (piano), Sam Jones (bas), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on December 11 1978 at Sound Ideas Studio, New York City

Released

as SJP 129 in 1979

Track listing

Side A:
Amsterdam After Dark
New Arrival
Lo-Joe
Side B:
Autumn In New York
Apache Dance
Blondie’s Waltz


Amsterdam after dark, like many virus-ridden cities around the globe, has been looking pretty deserted these months. But it’s looking up these days as well, certainly by day, as life resumes a bit of its ‘normal’ course, at least for now, and people start roaming the streets again under the Spring sun. Well-deserved but our capital city looked stunningly beautiful without the crowd. One of the personal advantages in this general situation of misfortune has been that my fate – more precisely part of my work – has send me on the road, or better said, on the canals, which unfolded themselves in front of me like a painting of Jacob van Campen or the meandering miracle lines of Parker’s Ornitology. Even better still, Amsterdam seems to feel pretty swell. A short while ago it resembled a tiger in the zoo sauntering psychotically from one end to the other end of the cage, being gazed at enthusiastically by passersby but forgotten shortly after. Now it’s a sloth, idly hanging in a tree, scratching his armpits and taking a deep sigh of relief.

The beauty of nocturnal life in Holland’s capital city presumably was on the mind of tenor saxophonist George Coleman, who recorded his second LP as a leader, Amsterdam After Dark, in New York City – born New Amsterdam – but had been a respected guest of the Dutch scene in the late seventies. Like many of the great American modern jazz musicians such as Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Benny Bailey, you name ‘m, Coleman was enamored of The Netherlands, which at the time had a very extensive infrastructure of little towns and clubs and an appreciative jazz audience.

Amsterdam After Dark was recorded in 1978, your a-typical Flophouse review year, in fact a ‘first’ and most likely a ‘last’, but the exception had to be made for George Coleman, who should’ve recorded as a leader much earlier in his career, but rather inexplicably, considering his talent and reputation, enjoyed a belated debut release in 1977. The Timeless label from The Netherlands, responsible for Amsterdam After Dark, released ’77’s Meditation, a daring duet with the Spanish pianist Tete Montoliu, recorded while on tour in Europe.

Obviously, Coleman is best known for his association with Miles Davis, who recruited the tenor saxophonist in 1963 as part of his stellar band of young lions – Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Coleman appeared on Seven Steps To Heaven and a series of stellar live albums, notably Four & More. Allegedly, Coleman was driven away by Tony Williams, who expressed the opinion that Coleman’s style lacked edge. I wonder then why did Williams agree with the inclusion of Coleman in the first place? By the way, Coleman later said that he wasn’t aware of Williams’ grudge and that it was the meager salary of the Miles Davis band that accounted for his notice. Fact is Coleman certainly was able to rip and roar around the Ring of Saturn but more than anything is a player of balance, substance and controlled fury and evidently couldn’t be bothered with the frenzied revolutionary musical spark of the late sixties, which probably accounts for his lack of exposure.

He’s one of those supreme musician’s musicians like Hank Mobley or Warne Marsh, which perhaps for the musicians concerned is more a curse than a blessing. He’s “Big G”, a passionate weight lifter, 85 years old and a staple of the New York City scene, a big influence on contemporary top guns like Eric Alexander and our own Ben van den Dungen. The Memphis-born saxophonist, childhood friend of the late Harold Mabern, Booker Little, Frank Strozier, Charles Lloyd and Hank Crawford, quite a bunch, recorded as recently as 2019, The Quartet, with Mabern, bassist Jon Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

Coleman, who apprenticed with Ray Charles and B.B. King, came into prominence with Slide Hampton and Max Roach in the late 50’s. Apart from his work with Miles Davis, Coleman is admired for his contribution to Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, which was recorded, by the way, with Miles Davis staples Ron Carter and, hmmm… Tony Williams. Coleman furthermore divided his time between cutting edge and roots music, appearing on records by organists Jimmy Smith, Reuben Wilson, Charles Earland, Don Patterson, Brother Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott and Brian Charette. That’s a lot of groove, buster.

There’s a good groove on Amsterdam After Dark, but it’s of a different nature. It’s layered. There’s the Latin-ish rhythm of the title track, a rhythm that goes back to the classic Blue Note sessions of the early 60s, in which the drummer on this record, Billy Higgins, was predominantly involved. Of course, the Latin influence has pervaded jazz from the start. Jelly Roll Morton stated that every jazz tune needed a Spanish tinge. There’s the Coltrane Quartet-drone of New Arrival, courtesy of Higgins and bassist Sam Jones. The melodies are fantastic and the organic mingling of melody and rhythm – breaks, stop-time, straight swing – of Coleman’s Apache Dance is particularly exciting. Pianist Hilton Ruiz, in top form, warms to the challenge.

Coleman’s Amsterdam After Dark tune is a crash course in storytelling but dangerous to try at home, a precisely articulated development from a gravely introduction, sly staccato stabs against the beat and whirling sentences that sustain momentum throughout, interspersed with pungent circular breathing. The introduction is notable. The sandpaper semi-tone, reflective of the intense and secretive whispers that lovers are prone to utter, makes you highly curious of things to come. Simple but effective and definitely a masterstroke.

Dutch young lion Gideon Tazelaar, 22-year old tenor saxophonist who resides in New York most of the time and is influenced by George Coleman, told me a little story recently during an interview for another publication that is so typical of the attitude and energy of the ‘old guard’. As it happens, Tazelaar was introduced to Coleman backstage at club Smoke and since then has followed weekly lessons at ‘Big G”s place, marathon sessions of playing, talking turkey and philosophizing. One day Tazelaar was gigging at a little place with his friend Felix Moseholm and the preceding afternoon had asked Coleman to join forces. Yeah why not. Coleman had to pass as a result of a pain in his back. However, when the lights had turned low downtown, the 85-year old saxophonist finally did turn up, cain in his right hand, case in his left hand. And, as per se, played as elegantly and balanced as ever. Taking care of business.

One of the big leaders in his own right.

The Mastersounds - Play Horace Silver

The Mastersounds Play Compositions By Horace Silver (World Pacific 1960)

There has been a great number of Horace Silver tribute albums over the decades. But few if any come as crisp as one of the earliest efforts by The Mastersounds from 1960, Play Compositions By Horace Silver.

The Mastersounds - Play Horace Silver

Personnel

Buddy Montgomery (vibraphone), Richard Crabtree (piano), Buddy Montgomery (electric bass), Benny Barth (drums)

Recorded

in 1960 in Los Angeles

Released

as WP 1284 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Ecaroh
Enchantment
Nica’s Dream
Side B:
Doodlin’
Moonrays
Buhaina


The Mastersounds, consisting of two Montgomery brothers – Buddy on vibraphone, Monk on electric bass – pianist Richard Crabtree and drummer Benny Barth, recorded a string of albums on World Pacific during their all-too brief existence from 1957 till 1961. One of those, Kismet, featured their brother, the gifted, groundbreaking guitarist Wes Montgomery. The concept of the West Coast-based Mastersounds was built around the earthy, fluid vibes playing of Buddy Montgomery and was a notable playground for the pioneering electric bass style of Monk Montgomery. Monk started using the Fender bass as early as 1952 in the Lionel Hampton band and was the first to play electric bass on a jazz recording on the Art Farmer Septet recordings in July, 1953. It is generally agreed that he in effect was the first to record electric bass in any genre.

Arguably the highlight of their career, Play Compositions By Horace Silver is marked by relentless, tight-knit group swing and Buddy’s sprightly, soul-drenched vibraphone excursions. Not to mention Monk’s successful attempts of adding groove and walkin’ bass magic with the electric bass. The Mastersounds play as a bunch of young and hungry lions. Very similar to the other great West Coast soul jazz and hard bop group, The Jazz Crusaders. (Buddy and Monk were associated with some of the members of this group at regular times during their careers)

Crabtree’s finest hour occurs during Doodlin’, his probing, fleet lines gracing the group’s lively take on Silver’s down-home classic. Monk Montgomery takes an expert solo, quoting Franky And Johnny in the process. The Mastersounds’ versions of Ecaroh and Nica’s Dream are quicksilver gems. Enchantment and Moonrays are interesting choices of the Silver repertory. Enchantment leans a bit towards long-windedness. Moonrays is a gush of fresh air. Like Silver’s music, its fluid bounce effortlessly arouses a singularly jubilant feeling in the listener.

The Mal Waldron Trio - Impressions

Mal Waldron Impressions (New Jazz 1959)

Mal Waldron is like a calf breaking loose in springtime. Jumping the fence!

The Mal Waldron Trio - Impressions

Personnel

Mal Waldron (piano), Addison Farmer (bass), Albert Heath (drums)

Recorded

on March 20, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as NJ-8242 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
Les Champs-Elyseés
C’est Formidable
Ciao
Side B:
You Stepped Out Of A Dream
All The Way
All About Us
With A Song In My Heart


You can count on Mal. In 1956/57, Mal Waldron was the house pianist of Prestige Records, partaking in a string of sessions with John Coltrane, Gene Ammons, Kenny Burrell, Jackie McLean and The Prestige All-Stars. The New York City-born Waldron (1925) also was responsible for a steady supply of tunes. There seemed no end to the slight inventions on blues-based material and the chords sequences of the American Songbook by Waldron, who gave the world song titles as Anatomy and Vodka. Waldron’s best-known composition is Soul Eyes, written for Coltrane in 1957 and an instant standard. Waldron furthermore accompanied Billie Holiday during the last phase of her life.

He also worked with Eric Dolphy, which is documented on 1961’s At The Five Spot Vol. 1 & 2 and Memorial Album. A remarkable cooperation, climaxing with Waldron’s The Quest, also from 1961, bull’s eye, rocket ship whirling around Jupiter, knockout punch, crackerjack classic must-hear. So already, while working in the mainstream, Waldron’s adventurous urge had become evident. He delved avant-garde territory for the biggest part of his career. I have to confess that I’m not really familiar with Waldron’s subsequent career, excepting the odd records, which were unable to hold my attention. There will be readers of the opposite persuasion, avant-garde fans that find early Mal Waldron less charming and important, and that’s fine. Throughout, Waldron maintained a special rapport with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, beginning in 1958 with Lacy’s New Jazz album Reflections, an outstanding program of music by Thelonious Monk.

I did see Mal Waldron perform at the latter stage of his life at Bimhuis, Amsterdam, in cooperation with Lacy, trombonist Roswell Rudd and bassist Reggie Workman. (I have forgotten who held the drum chair) Waldron played an intriguing minimal style at that point of his career. Some guy in the audience, most likely inebriated, apparently was not enamored by Waldron’s minimalism and shouted: “Wake up, Mal!” Bad. Very bad and insulting. I threw my beer into his neck. It was quite an ugly scene.

That was 1999. And partying like it was 1999. Back to March 20, 1959, the last few months in the home studio of Rudy van Gelder at Hackensack, New Jersey. Waldron working out in a trio setting with bassist Addison Farmer – brother of Art Farmer – and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath. Waldron’s swing is quirky, his style angular and uncompromising. I never met anyone who cited Waldron as his favorite pianist. Perhaps understandably, Waldron is quite a willful fellow, opening the slide doors of the saloon, cigar in corner of mouth, hat tilted dangerously to the left, brooding… Creeping under your skin. But delivering the goods and definitely good at heart. Mal Waldron is a tattoo’d health care worker.

Waldron turns Hackensack into Paris – Les Champs-Elyseés, a frivolous melody seguing into bursts of notes that alternate between stubborn repetition and speeded-up percussive dives into Monk-land. Perhaps Waldron visits Brussels as well, where Waldron migrated to in the late 60s – C’est Formidable, a lovely waltz. He takes a weekend trip to Italy – Ciao – and eventually travels back to the USA with You Stepped Out Of A Dream, All The Way, With A Song In My Heart and All About Us, an original composition with a lovely loping tempo by Waldron’s wife, Elaine. Waldron’s extremely slow, darkly romantic take of You Stepped Out Of A Dream is juxtaposed with the fast and loud version of All The Way, with its booming and ringing chords, phrases hammered like bolts in a concrete wall.

Ciao is even more relentless, a Ferrari driving at top speed. Waldron’s preoccupation with repetitive motives is maddening, confusing but strangely satisfying, held in suspension by his constant variation of touch, his clipped left hand chords and underlying bass lines, going on and on, for about 5 minutes. It’s an attack and Rome most definitely is conquered. If anything, it might be defined as rock & roll jazz.

Mal Waldron died in 2002.

Miles Davis - Milestones

Miles Davis Milestones (Columbia 1958)

Milestones still stands tall as a marvel of balance and power.

Miles Davis - Milestones

Personnel

Miles Davis (trumpet, piano A2), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (alto saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on February 4 & March 4, 1958 at Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City

Released

as CL 1193 in 1958

Track listing

Side A:
Dr. Jekyll
Sid’s Ahead
Two Bass Hit
Side B:
Milestones
Billy Boy
Straight, No Chaser


There isn’t much more to ask for in mainstream jazz land than a listen to the First Great Miles Davis Quintet, augmented as a sextet with the inclusion of Cannonball Adderley on Milestones. The band, featuring John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, had been together for two years and its discography consisted of the series of Workin’, Relaxin’, Steamin’ and Cookin’ on Prestige and ‘Round About Midnight on Columbia, all classics in the hard bop canon. Milestones prefigures the most popular album of all-time, the modal masterpiece Kind Of Blue. The title track – titled Miles on the first pressings to avoid confusion with Davis’ earlier and different composition of Milestones – is the first attempt of Miles Davis at modal jazz.

The harmonic idea of using scales instead of chords is not a Miles Davis innovation – he codified and popularized it. And typically, he was involved in its inception. Pianist and composer George Russell, who wrote The Lydian Chromatic Concept Of Tonal Organization as the backbone of the innovation and co-wrote the modal-tinged Cubana Be/Cubana Bop for Dizzy Gillespie in 1947, once said that the 18-year old Miles Davis inspired him to develop the theory with a remark in 1944: “Miles said that he wanted to learn all the changes and I reasoned that he might try to find the closest scale for every chord.”

The seeds were sown and eventually developed into a big tree with the release of the modal masterpiece Kind Of Blue. However, it was preceded by the Milestones composition. And it’s the standout tune of the album. Based on two scales, the first relatively simple melody is stated fluently, while the second melody is more staccato. While offering a fresh wave of space for the soloists that was heretofore nonexistent in the chord-driven era, there also exists proper tension between the scales, keeping Cannonball, Davis and Coltrane on their toes. Plainly wonderful. Cannonball Adderley is first in line, which shows you that Miles Davis had the utmost respect for the blues-drenched, Charlie Parker-influenced alto saxophonist from Florida. Five days after Milestones, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley recorded the perennial favorite Somethin’ Else on Blue Note. It was a Miles Davis session but the Dark Prince offered leadership credits to Adderley. Adderley would, of course, be an important constituent of Kind Of Blue.

The three concise statements of Adderley, Davis and Coltrane during Milestones are marvels of economy and smooth propulsion. The way Davis uses space is especially brilliant and undoubtedly influenced the tales of his companions. His subtle and dark-blue, slight bending of notes is the finishing touch, always delivered at the exact right moment in time. Davis perfected his kind of blue-isms with the Harmony mute, but sticks to the open horn on the Milestones album – one of the reasons yours truly is particularly enamored by it. Davis continues his economy of phrasing throughout the session, quoting When The Saints Go Marching In in both Dr. Jekyll and Sid’s Ahead. Couple of saints at work right there in the studio of Columbia at 30th Street, Gotham City.

Jackie McLean’s bop tune Dr. Jekyll (Dr. Jackle on the original pressings) is distinctive for Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers’ snappy backing of the soloists. Generally accepted as a powerful battle between Coltrane and Adderley, I for one am not particularly fond of the frenzied trading of eights and fours between them. The raucous tombola of notes from Coltrane as the sole protagonist during the outstanding, tight-knit cooker Two Bass Hit is more successful, not to say spectacular. Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser – John Coltrane’s rapid development from Davis, Monk and back to Davis again is the stuff of myth – moves along at a leisurely swinging pace. Davis fluffs a note during the end sequence. The fact that Davis agreed on the release of the best take of the afternoon regardless of his imperfect ending speaks volumes about the so-called Dark Prince’s generosity and professionalism.

Sid’s Ahead is a relaxed blues reworking of Walkin’, one of the starting points of hard bop from the Davis bag from 1954. Red Garland had a beef with Davis and walked out of the session. Davis switched from trumpet to piano. Perhaps as a result of the well-worn changes Paul Chambers is daydreaming and introduces his first solo statements while Cannonball seems to obliviously move on into his next chorus of soloing. Or do they miss the expert and forceful accompaniment of Red Garland? Or were the vibes temporarily cast in gloom because of Red’s sudden absence? Perfect irony: Garland was granted a piano trio feature that made it to the release. With sound reason, because Billy Boy is vintage Garland, a swinging, fluent, coherent mix of single lines and his innovative block chords. The spectacular bowed bass part by Chambers is the cherry on top.

A gathering of giants, with top form Miles Davis at the helm.