Red Rodney - Superbop

Red Rodney Superbop (Muse 1974)

Red alert.

Red Rodney - Superbop

Personnel

Red Rodney (trumpet), Sam Noto (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jimmy Mulidore (alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto flute), Dolo Coker (piano), Ray Brown (bass), Shelly Mann (drums)

Recorded

at Wally Heider Recording Studio in Los Angeles

Released

as MR 5046

Track listing

Side A:
Superbop
The Look Of Love
The Last Train Out
Side B:
Fire
Green Dolphin Street
Hilton


The crook or the outlaw does everything that you and I don’t dear dream of. He roams the country with a bunch of thieves and gypsies. Beats up a guy that throws plastic baskets from McDonalds out the window of his SUV on the freeway. He’s down and out and sleeps off hangovers on the beach. Understanding everything and nothing at the same time, he’s liable to brooding between stretches of high action. It’s what you would call ADHD nowadays, but in his world, the realm of Attila the Hun and Mickey Spillane, ADHD is just another painkiller on the market.

His whole life is a statement about the illusion of freedom. He’s hard as a brick except when it comes to animals. He lives by his wits and the sorrow of the world hangs on his lapels as backpacks on the coat racks in school. His life is a crust of blood on the forehead. Honor is his middle name. To the point of madness. He sometimes travels with his stepson. He says he’s the happiest man on earth and that’s the one thing that bothers his stepson’s mother. What bothers hím is that the further away he is from reality, the better he understands it.

Red Rodney knew all this. He lived a life that transcends the absurd. It is a life story that is well-known by the serious jazz fan, written down unforgettably by Gene Lees in his seminal book Cats Of Any Colors. Born Robert Roland Chudnick in Philadelphia in 1927, Rodney played in the bands of Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman before breaking through in the band of Charlie Parker. It was all bebop from that point on. As the only white member of the group, Rodney was billed as “Albino Red” during stints below the Mason Dixie line. Unfortunately, he also committed himself to the lifestyle of Bird and became a heavy user of heroin and assorted substances.

(Red Rodney; Charlie Parker & Red Rodney watching Dizzy play; Sam Noto, Rodney’s frontline partner on Superbop)

Beboppers were the cultural outlaws of the 1940’s. Often derided by conservative colleagues or critics, their music was not only an extreme jazz evolution, it also reflected the signs of the times, its seemingly frenzied but highly complex and structured sounds in sync with war and post-war upheaval and the acceleration of developments in American society. They were the underdog, people that were rock & roll before the term existed, people that, to paraphrase an evergreen, ‘couldn’t go home again’ although the one that formalized it, Dizzy Gillespie, ultimately was a dedicated family guy.

Rodney was far from home. Luckily, the trumpeter succeeded to survive while other boppers like Dick Twartzik, Serge Chaloff and Sonny Clark fatally overdosed, but after his long and successful stint with Parker, Rodney gradually dropped out of sight. He made a couple of records in the late 1950’s but generally took to theft to sustain his habits. Rodney immersed himself in swindling and fraudulent activities and took no half measures. At the height of his crookdom, Rodney conned various insurance companies for major sums of money and impersonated as a doctor in order to obtain and sell prescriptions. Grand schemes, as if the crew from Ocean Twelve was united in one person.

Rodney’s most outlandish adventure in the 1960’s was his impersonation as a USA Army general and robbing money and secret documents from the vault of an army base. It was only a matter of time before Rodney got caught, no matter how ingenious his games of hide and seek with the law. Rodney served several jail sentences, although his uncommonly special rapport with prison managers and other servants of the law stood him in good stead. Often, the disadvantaged institutions didn’t care for the publicity and confined to deals with the red-headed stranger. Note that the ‘gentle crook’ eschewed from robbing his fellow man/woman but instead focused on the anonymous establishment.

Rodney spent years in the pit bands in Las Vegas, while his teeth were in horrible condition, and this looked like the end of his jazz career, until he met a fine lady in the late 1970’s in New York City. She cleaned him up and Rodney obtained new dentures, enjoying a highly unexpected, minor comeback, functioning as an older and wiser mentor to many young lions and recording frequently until his death of cancer in 1994.

He apparently was in bad shape in the 1970’s. So, it’s quite surprising that Rodney did manage to make a couple of excellent records. His first album in 14 years in 1974, Bird Lives, was fine though had its share of weaker moments, but the follow-up from the same year, Superbop, was flawless from start to finish. Hi-octane, to boot. It coupled Rodney with fellow trumpeter Sam Noto, saxophonist Jimmy Mulidore, pianist Dolo Coker and the heavyweight rhythm section of bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne.

Of course, it would be hard to find a weak session when Ray Brown is aboard, giant of the double bass and the Big Boss Mann of the studio. So, that might be one of the main reasons that Superbop worked out so well. Rodney and Noto work together on the sparkling ensembles as Siamese twins and hunt each other in the choruses as foxes and rabbits. Interestingly, Noto is the first soloist on five of six tunes, which reveals the generosity of the veteran to the underrated Kenton and Basie-ite. This is fish in a barrel for Brown and Manne. Brown particularly, and typically, is a forceful presence, now and then walking in duet with Rodney, and providing great suspense to boot.

Superbop, a line that’s derived from the solo by Clifford Brown from Daahoud, thrives on the vitality of Rodney and Noto’s trumpet stylings. The vibe of Burt Bacharach’s The Look Of Love, featuring muted Rodney, is pleasantly reminiscent of Miles Davis. Dolo Coker seizes his Bud Powell-ish opportunity on the fast-pased Last Train Out, a Sam Noto tune. Rodney and Noto’s Fire is a rapidly expanding forest fire and it’s a line that reminds of Salt Peanuts. Plenty salty but predominantly oozing with the sharpness of chili pepper. The Latin-tinged treatment of Green Dolphin Street is no slouch either.

This is superbop indeed, fusion and synths and odd meter be damned. Though the modal mid-tempo Hilton, written by Mulidor, points out that Rodney was not stuck in rigid traditionalism. He’s just doing what he does best, thrivin’ on an unbeatable and rather riveting riff.

Listen to Superbop on YouTube here.

Eddie Harris - The In Sound

Eddie Harris The In Sound (Atlantic 1966)

Folk hero in his prime.

Eddie Harris - The In Sound

Personnel

Eddie Harris (tenor saxophone), Ray Codrington (trumpet A1, B1, B2), Cedar Walton (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on August 9 & 25 in New York City

Released

as Atlantic 1448 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Love Theme From “The Sandpiper” (The Shadow Of Your Smile)
Born To Be Blue
Love For Sale
Side B:
Cryin’ Blues
‘S Wonderful
Freedom Jazz Dance


“El Cheapo.” That’s how Eddie Harris apparently called himself in the mid-1980’s. The tenor saxophonist was recording in the studio of engineer Max Bolleman in Monster in The Netherlands and Max was thinking that this was kind of weird. Harris introduced and continued to define himself as “El Cheapo.” His toying with various electronical devices, especially when broken down due to faulty wiring, was accompanied by self-deprecating remarks. “Oh yeah that figures, I’m ‘El Cheapo’”.

It is weird. Perhaps best ranked in the realm of irony? Chicago-born Eddie Harris started out with a big bang and enjoyed a major hit with his version of the theme song from the movie Exodus in 1960. A beautiful, breezy tune that showcased Harris’s upper register sounds of the tenor saxophone. He changed course in the mid-1960’s and followed his own path on the Atlantic label, recording a series of gritty avant-soul jazz records featuring amplified saxophone. Another unlikely hit was scored with the live Swiss Movement LP with pianist Les McCann in 1971. Okay, but to get back to irony, Harris subsequently released various surprising albums with r&b and vocals, among those the comedy album The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit. His best-known tune from the period is Eddie Who? Seriously funny tune. And ambiguous, mentioning various contributions of Harris to jazz. I remember when you used to play with Count Basie / That was Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis / My name is Eddie Harris / I’ve got one of your videos jack / That was Eddie Murphy / My name is Eddie Harris.

We haven’t forgotten you, Eddie. On the contrary. Which jazz musician has enjoyed two major hits in his career? He may have been under the radar in the latter part of his life. But various people have sung praise during his lifetime and since his death in 1996. Just a few examples, staying close to the premises of Flophouse Magazine. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander considered Harris’s solo on You’ll See on Jimmy Smith’s All The Way as the ‘best blues solo in F ever’. Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz recorded a different version of Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance on every issue of his twelve-LP saga Conversations. Finally, Dutch alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman praised Harris courageous crossover mentality, mentioning Mean Greens as one his favorite records.

Freedom Jazz Dance was featured on The In Sound, released in 1966. It was the first record after his mainstream period on VeeJay and Columbia that demonstrated a will to experiment, albeit not yet with ‘electric sax’ or various amplified instruments. It was the first album that put Harris’s thorough understanding of Coltrane’s playing in the limelight. The LP featured Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Billy Higgins. Major-league company, in its prime.

Evidently, Freedom Jazz Dance is the album’s high-profile and lasting composition. It was famously covered by Miles Davis on Miles Smiles in 1967. It is still marvelous and fresh. If only for the tremendous groove, kickstarted by the gritty counter beats of Carter, Walton and Higgins, which is strengthened by the churchy pattern of the tambourine. Carter’s booming sound and long notes ring through the breaks like school bells. On top of all this is the playful, Ornette Coleman-ish melody. It’s hypnotic, it’s like being at a party that grows more cheerful and intense by the hour, like being among people with uncommonly good, uplifting vibes, merging in a trance in a dance in a buffalo stance.

Eddie blows a fuse. It’s the climax of a record that started with Harvey Mandel’s The Shadow Of Your Smile from The Sandpiper, Harris was asked to add another movie theme song and says in the liner notes that he said why not, making it his own with his typically punchy, no-nonsense tone and down-to-earth, well-paced phrasing. He blows a meaty ballad and a roaring blues and goes Gershwin, everything vivid and accessible. He’s pushing the envelope but giving people their money’s worth. A wild man, a kind of Rufus Thomas on sax.

He goes Porter with the hard-hitting Love For Sale, marked by an overwhelming tornado of notes, as if the sound of the heavy tread of the heavy feet from the lonesome cop that introduces the nocturnal endeavors of the tale’s world-wary prostitute in the red light district is washed away by the frenzied footsteps of a dozen violent gnomes.

Eventful transitional record by El Cheapo. Nothing cheap about it, mind you.

Eddie Higgins - Soulero

The Eddie Higgins Trio Soulero (Atlantic 1965)

Fine pianist from the periphery of the jazz landscape recorded his third album on the incomparable Atlantic label.

Eddie Higgins - Soulero

Personnel

Eddie Higgins (piano), Richard Evans (bass), Marshall Thompson (drums)

Recorded

in 1965 at Universal Recording Corporation, Chicago

Released

as Atlantic 1446 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
Tango Africaine
Love Letters
Shelley’s World
Soulero
Side B:
Mr. Evans
Django
Beautiful Dreamer
Makin’ Whoopee


Eddie? You mean, the Eddie? Sure, man, you don’t have to tell me who is who. Eddie is a fine pianist, we used to hang at the Brass Rail, colorful guy.

Perhaps this is the question-and-answer query of quite a few jazz dinosaurs. Not mine though, to be honest. It was only after discovering Eddie Higgins on an online jazz forum that I started to listen to him and finally acquiring some of his records, including Soulero. And it was only after I started to dig into his career info that I found out, oh, it’s thís Eddie, I heard him but it somehow didn’t register. Because Mr. Higgins played on Lee Morgan’s Expoobident, Wayne Shorter’s Wayning Moments and Wes Montgomery’s One Night In Indy. That’s right. Not bad. By the way, the late Wayne Shorter asked him back for 2002’s All Or Nothing At All and 2013’s Beginnings.

It all started in Chicago for the Cambridge, Massachusetss-born Higgins. A pianist that was versed in swing and bop and led various bands in The Windy City opposite fellows like Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie and Wes Montgomery. He played with the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Oscar Peterson and Sonny Stitt and was the house pianist at the high-profile London House from 1957 to the late 1960’s. He made quite a few records in the USA with Milt Hinton, Rufus Reid, Ray Drummond. It seems that he was very popular in Japan, having released 20+ records on the Venus label with, among others, Scott Hamilton from 2000 till 2008. Where was I? I don’t have a clue. Probably, as cult country star and the world’s funniest whodunnit-writer Kinky Friedman would say, out there where the buses don’t run.

I was alert enough, though, to notice an online comment on Higgins by jazz buff and reviewer Randy L. Smith. Smith, based in Japan, saw him perform in Fukusaki in 2006 and 2007. He provided me with an interview with Higgins in Cadence, written by Dan Gould. Interestingly, Higgins, who lived in Florida by the time of the interview, tells of his surprising refusal to act upon the request of Art Blakey to join his band in 1960. It was just after Higgins’s feature on the Morgan album on October 14, 1960, which included the famed Buhaina. In theory, Higgins would join the then-current line-up of Morgan, Shorter and Jimmy Merritt and would be the replacement of Bobby Timmons. But he refused, seeing one huge plus – immediate acclaim and world-wide touring – but a lot of negatives: (with kind permission of Dan Gould)

“First of all I’ve got a great job here in Chicago in the London House and my kids were very little at that point. And the idea to be on the road all the time and not seeing my children grow up is a negative. Number two, this is pretty much an all-junkie band and I’m not only nót a junkie, I don’t even drink or smoke pot or anything at all. I would be out of the loop as far as the social life of the band, plus the fact that I’m the only White guy in the band. And at that time in jazz history there was a very strong Crow Jim feeling that if you’re White, you couldn’t play. And obviously they knew I could play or I wouldn’t be on these record dates or asked to join the band, but still there’d be a… definite racial bridge to cross there working with the Jazz Messengers and playing in probably mostly Black clubs for mostly Black audiences and so forth. And third, I heard by the grapevine that when payday came the first guy that got the money was the connection for the heroin, and not just Blakey but the rest of the band, too. And if there’s any money left over then they pay the hotel bill and if there’s anything left over from that then maybe the guys will get a few bucks. I had a family and rent to pay and insurance payments.”

Blakey replied: ‘You’re kidding’. Because as Higgins says, to get an offer from The Jazz Messengers is like being touched on the shoulder by God. In the end though, it seems a perfectly logical decision.

Atlantic somehow got wind of Higgins. Perhaps, Ahmet or Nesuhi Artegun were conscious of the fact that Higgins served as producer for Chess Records. Anyway, they got him in the Universal Recording Corporation studio in Chicago with his long-standing rhythm section of bassist Richard Davis and drummer Marshall Thompson.

Soulero was the end result. Hip sleeve. The look of love sells, doesn’t it. Atlantic was pushing Higgins in the direction of soul jazz. There is a decidedly Ramsey Lewis-style vibe. Richard Evans and Marshall Thompson were worthy and prolific contenders in the jazz business. They are sophisticated while working up quite a storm. There is a notable diversion of groove, divided between Higgins’s Tango Africaine, the ‘bolero’ of Soulero and the bass-driven swinger Mr. Evans. Folk melody Beautiful Dreamer and Bill Traut’s Shelley’s World represented the lighter touch of Higgins. A baroque introduction defines Love Letters. Higgins intriguingly works his way through the bridge of the iconic, John Lewis’s Django. Makin’ Whoopee is made into a nifty and entertaining flagwaver and is developed from nice ‘n’ easy to fast and, finally, furious Speedy Gonzales-tempo.

Certainly not a waste of time. The Ertegun Bros seemed to agree, as they released The Piano Of Eddie Higgins the following year, even going to the expense of adding an orchestra. They knew he was a fine pianist. But there are many fine pianists out there and Higgins seemed to have a knack of flying under the radar.

Listen to Soulero on YouTube here.

Stan Getz - Dynasty

Stan Getz Dynasty (Verve 1971)

And the Bentley driving guru is putting up his price, anyone for tennis… wouldn’t that be nice?

Stan Getz - Dynasty

Personnel

Stan Getz (tenor saxophone), Eddy Louiss (organ), René Thomas (guitar), Bernard Lubat (drums)

Recorded

on January 11 and March 15-17 at Ronnie Scott’s, London

Released

as V6-8802 in 1971

Track listing

LP1 Side A:
Dum Dum Dum
Ballad For Leo
LP1 Side B:
Our Kind Of Sabi
Mona
LP2 Side A:
Theme For Emmanuel
Invitation
LP Side B:
Song For Martine
Dynasty


By 1970, Stan Getz had plenty reason to be proud of an already very successful career of approximately twenty years. To be sure, Getz had led a turbulent life of drug addiction and jail sentences. I remember reading an apology of his behavior by Getz in a Downbeat issue of the late 1950’s, which is decent or odd, depending on your view or mood. Contrary to general opinion, the withdrawal symptoms of cold turkey are not horrible or a hellish hurdle. Nasty, for sure. But the thing is, it’s harder to stay clean and Getz struggled all his life. Not least during his second marriage with Swedish Monica, who was his manager for many years. Quite the task. Getz was a tough customer. Few if any colleagues sang praise of his personality or were liable to break into my buddy your buddy misses you… On the contrary. When Getz had heart surgery later in life, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer commented: “Did they put one in?” Ouch.

Let there be no mistake that in the first place though, Getz was a gorgeous tenor saxophonist who released top-notch records as early as the early 1950’s on Norman Granz’s Norgran label and became the incredibly successful frontman of the bossa nova craze in the early 1960’s. What are your favorite Getz albums? Mine? Sweet Rain (1967) is something else. I think Live At Storyville 1 & 2 (1951) with Jimmy Raney is indispensable. Classic stuff. His ‘with strings’ album Focus is intriguing and groundbreaking. I’m crazy about The Steamer. (1956) But I’m even more crazy about Dynasty. Not only underrated and essential Getz, but a masterpiece of organ jazz as well.

The early summer of 1970 found Getz in Paris, where he visited the tennis tournament of Roland Garros. Why not? A bit of relaxation won’t hurt. Getz may have seen Czechoslovakian Jan Kodes beat Yugoslavian Zeljko Franulovic in the finals. Remember? Nope. There is no doubt that these cats hit a mean ball, otherwise they wouldn’t have come this far. But their match could hardly have been comparable to John McEnroe-Björn Borg or Nadal-Djokovic. At any rate, while in Paris, Getz also went to the Blue Note club. There he saw the trio of French organist Eddy Louiss, Belgian guitarist René Thomas and French drummer Bernard Lubat. As Getz put it in the liner notes of Dynasty: “I had been told that jazz in France was dead, and sure enough the club was almost empty. I walked in and my mouth fell open. I heard some hard core swinging jazz, everybody was dipping in, really taking their piece.” Getz arranged a couple of unannounced rehearsal engagements at the Chat Qui Pêche. “I decided then and there to present these musicians to the rest of the world.”

And so it came to pass. That is, after a short while. Getz had to hurry back to the USA when his father passed away in the fall. Back in Europe, the band was recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in London in March, enough material to fill a double LP set, though it is said that a small part was recorded in the studio. It’s an enchanting, hypnotic release. Don’t we all have big favorites? Don’t we all share stories of records that we never tire of hearing and that have found a special place in our hearts? Usually, these are the kind of albums that we discovered in our youth, making an indelible impression, mingling with the confusing and liberating forces of adolescence… It’s a kind of magic. Later in life, we still cherish and listen to these favorites. We can dream them up in a flash. They take you back to the innocence of youth, the internalization of hurt… You with me? You play any big favorites?

Musicians are aficionados and listeners as well. And vice versa, occasionally. Musicians know all about magic. And the absence of it. They love to be in a zone and work a bit of magic, to approach that feeling of innocence and internalize hurt, feelings that are recognized by the audience. I think that some people at the three nights at Ronnie Scott’s from March 15-17 definitely were in a zone. To begin with, Stan, Eddy, René and Bernard. I think that the audience at Ronnie Scott’s was damn lucky. Getz is flying like an eagle, swift and flexible, eyes on its prey, swooping from the edge of a breeze, winner taking all… He’s sweet, a father caressing his son. His tone is velvet, candlelight, golden earrings on a Parisian brunette. He hasn’t been nicknamed The Sound for nothing.

Getz was impressed by these European cats with good reason. Actually, René Thomas was relatively known in the United States. Getz may not have been familiar with him but the acclaimed guitarist from Liège in Belgium had made a big impression in New York and Montréal from 1958 till 1961. Collaborators Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins had expressed their admiration of Thomas. Thomas recorded one album for Riverside in the USA – Guitar Groove. It seems to me that Thomas is involved to no end, always playing as if his life is depending on it, always brimming with ideas. Then there’s the unmistakable gypsy-feeling of the legendary stylist from Wallonia, same area where Django Reinhardt was born and raised. And Toots Thielemans, from Les Marolles in Brussels. Lots of brilliant poets of sound out there.

Born on the island of Martinique and formerly a singer in the popular group Les Double-Six, Eddy Louiss was a pianist and organist that strayed from the Jimmy Smith-style and came into his own as a challenging player that crossed genres and peppered his lines with exotic twists and turns. His sounds veer towards the solid tones of Brian Auger and Keith Emerson. The band plays strong tunes by Louiss, one cooperation between Louiss and Thomas, two by René Thomas, one by Albert Mangelsdorf – Mona – and one standard by Bronislau Kaper – Invitation. The CD reissue includes Benny Golson’s I Remember Clifford.

None by Mr. Getz. Always the supreme interpreter, Getz delivers some of the finest tenor stories of his career… a snake charmer of the tantalizing Dum! Dum! Dum! and a Neo-Lestorian King of modal-bop-latin-funky-ish Our Kind Of Sabi, both highlights that feature classic Eddy Louiss… immaculate bass lines, subtle accompaniment, moving from satin cushion to church to brick wall sounds and swinging with swirling, chili pepper lines… the European answer to Larry Young. Getz stuck to his word. Plenty of room for ses amis to stretch out. Plenty of absolutely killer songs that are captivating from start to finish.

Dynasty is like waking up in the wee hours of the morning, drowsy, or as we say around here, sleepdrunk, realizing that you had the coolest dream, striving to return to it immediately, if only… Getz provides, Getz was in a zone. Did Jan Kodes found himself in a zone in his final match on Roland Garros? His zone perhaps, but not the zone. You have to ask Roger Federer for that kind of zone. How is it to be in that zone and how is it when it’s absent and is it something you can ignite? Who knows what the answer by Federer will be? What the answer of Getz would’ve been? Hard to tell. But we can take a wild guess.

Wild guessing also applies to the question why this band broke up. It is said that, when Getz wanted to take this European group to the USA, union disagreements put a stop to this. The other story though is that Getz had a beef with Lubat and wanted to add Roy Haynes to the group. Thomas and Louiss stood behind Lubat. More likely. End of a fantastic band.

Zoot Sims - If I'm Lucky

Zoot Sims If I’m Lucky (Pablo 1977)

Go back to when you started discovering this thing that they called jazz. Pablo records like If I’m Lucky featuring Jimmy Rowles by Zoot Sims would serve as a perfect introduction.

Zoot Sims - If I'm Lucky

Personnel

Zoot Sims (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Rowles (piano), George Mraz (bass), Mousie Alexander (drums)

Recorded

on October 27 & 28, 1976 at RCA Recording Studio, New York City

Released

as Pablo 2310-803 in 1977

Track listing

Side A:
(I Wonder) Where Our Love Has Gone
Legs
If I’m Lucky
Shadow Waltz
Side B:
You’re My Everything
It’s Alright With Me
Gypsy Sweetheart
I Hear A Rhapsody


Zoot is like a big brother that protects you from the bullies in class. Jimmy is a rascal, the interim teacher’s worst nightmare.

Zoot Sims gained notoriety as part of the Four Brothers section in the Woody Herman band in the late 1940’s. The tenor saxophonist, influenced by Lester Young and Ben Webster, recorded prolifically on various labels and was an admired presence on the American scene and European festivals till the end of his life in 1985. Why “Zoot”? Contrary to what you may think, it has nothing to do with the ‘zoot suit’. (Of course, somebody would inevitably play with the words, see the album Zoot Suite, a live registration with the same line-up as If I’m Lucky that you can listen to below on Spotify) It was because of a nonsense word that was written on his music stand in the band of the long-forgotten Kenny Baker when he was 15 years old. Real name is John. Can’t beat Zoot, sorry John.

If there is any artist a jazz aficionado should recommend to a newcomer that has to date shied away from that ‘nervy’ thing called jazz, it should be Zoot Sims. That guy had the loveliest and finest of velvet sounds. His sound was big, round, a bit smoky, a cross between a field of roses and a Cuban cigar. He was a lyrical player and a giant swinger, balancing his phrases with the ease and passion of a Japanese oldie that works away at his bonsai tree. Major-league ear candy.

From John to Jimmy. No nickname as far as I know. Could be “Billie’s Boy”. Why not? Rowles was the favorite accompanist of virtually all great singers: Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Diane Krall. The Peacocks, recorded with Stan Getz in 1977, is his signature tune. A strikingly original and perennially underrated giant.

They were buddies-in-jazz that made six albums together, three of those on Pablo, the label of impresario Norman Granz, legendary organizer of the pioneering Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts in the 1940’s and label boss of Norgran/Verve. Pablo was a haven for the giants of jazz, founded at a time when mainstream jazz was at a low point in the USA. Europe and Japan were the places to find work. Many legends who recorded on Pablo, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Joe Pass, profited from the continental fascination with jazz.

Throughout If I’m Lucky, Zoot Sims hypnotizes us with his soothing sounds. He thrives on medium tempos and the ballad form. To be sure, he’s a reliable uptempo player, spreading his mighty wings and flying like an eagle through the changes of It’s Alright With Me. Rowles is teasing him with lingering chords and a sudden burst of trillers. The pianist lets his accompanying sounds of surprise segue into his solo, which, developing from a bold run of descending lines to sparse staccato chords and ‘out’ notes that sound alright with me, is like an abstract painting. The way Rowles defies the laws of harmony yet continues to tell a beautiful, strangely balanced story is wholly enticing.

The kind of pianist that makes you jump from your seat. Neal Hefti’s Legs is another fantastic Cubist painting by Rowles. Rowles knew more tunes from the Great American Songbook than anybody. Which likely is why the obscure Gypsy Sweetheart was included. Ever heard another version of this tune? Not me, to be honest. Please do chime in. Plenty sessions have benefited from The “Rowles Songbook”.

This is a great session. Zoot and Billie’s Boy make up for quite an irresistible duo.

Listen to If I’m Lucky on YouTube here.

Bobby Pierce - Introducing Bobby Pierce

Bobby Pierce Introducing Bobby Pierce (Cobblestone 1972)

He should have been better known but he should have known better than to sing on his debut album.

Bobby Pierce - Introducing Bobby Pierce

Personnel

Bobby Pierce (organ), Bobby Jones (tenor saxophone), Pat Martino (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (electric bass, A2, B2), Roy Brooks (drums)

Recorded

in New York City in 1972

Released

as Cobblestone 9016 in 1972

Track listing

Side A:
Think
Here, There And Everywhere
I Remember Ray
Side B:
Mr. PC
Wichita Lineman
To Newport With Love


TIt was rather late to introduce a Hammond organist in 1972. The glory days of the organ jazz circuit in the 1960’s were over and electronic organs and synthesizers surpassed the Hammond organ as a beacon in popular music. Of course, Bobby Pierce couldn’t be blamed for not being in the right place at the right time. Growing up in the late 1960’s, he had woodshedded in New York City, California and Chicago with the likes of Sonny Stitt, James Moody and Gene Ammons. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Pierce was influenced by local giant and perennial Flophouse favorite, Don Patterson. All this indicates that Pierce was ready and able.

According to the liner notes of Introducing Bobby Pierce, the obscure gentleman was part of the soul jazz group Clarence Wheeler & The Enforcers from Chicago at the time of his recording. The session was set up by Cobblestone’s label boss Don Schlitten and included tenor saxophonist Bobby Jones, guitarist Pat Martino and drummer Roy Brooks. Class acts. Pierce’s debut album is a weird stew with a couple of superb highlights. Obviously an accomplished player and writer, Pierce presents I Remember Ray, based on a thing that he heard from John Coltrane. It feels like a chord-heavy outtake from the Giant Steps-sessions, good news, all the more so because of Pierce’s fluent and fierce phrasing.

More Coltrane. The band swings Mr. PC to the ground, particularly Pat Martino, whose attack and single line runs hit you in the eye like Sugar Ray Robinson’s fists, crushes trees like lightning bolts. Too bad Pierce (or Schlitten) didn’t come up with the sane idea of completing his introduction with similar modern jazz compositions. That would’ve really sealed his reputation. Instead, the repertoire further consists of so-so funk jazz (Aretha Franklin’s Think) that lacks the excitement of the Idris Muhammad-driven funk jazz of the Prestige and Blue Note catalogue and a stab at great pop songs as McCartney’s Here, There And Everywhere and Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman that demonstrate that Pierce is just not a really good singer.

One of the joys of collecting, though, is picking some exceptional stuff from an uneven oddity. Two years later, Pierce recorded New York on the Muse label. Pete Fallico, the great organ jazz ambassador from the West Coast, brought Pierce back on the scene in 2008 and released The Long Road Back on his Doodlin’ label.

Listen to Introducing Bobby Pierce on YouTube here.

Phil Woods - Rights Of Swing

Phil Woods Rights Of Swing (Candid 1961)

Admirable adherence to a major Amendment of the Jazz Constitution ends the first part of bop alto maestro Phil Woods’s career on an adventurous note.

Phil Woods - Rights Of Swing

Personnel

Phil Woods (alto saxophone), Benny Bailey (trumpet), Sahib Shihab (baritone saxophone), Curtis Fuller (trombone A1-3, B1), Willie Dennis (trombone B2), Julius Watkins (French horn), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Buddy Catlett (bass), Osie Johnson (drums A1-3, B1), Mickey Roker (drums B2)

Recorded

on January 26 & February 10, 1961 at Nola Penthouse Studios, NY

Released

as Candid 9016 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Prelude And Part I
Part II (Ballad)
Part III (Waltz)
Side B:
Part IV (Scherzo)
Part V (Presto)


Phil Woods, baby. Yeah. Major voice on the alto saxophone. Woods started out as one of many disciples of Charlie Parker. Like the finest of ‘m such as Jackie McLean and Cannonball Adderley, he shook off imitation and developed his own sound and style. His conception was fierce, charged, but melodic and tasteful at the same time. He married Chan Parker, former common-law wife of Charlie Parker, and became stepfather to her daughter Kim. Wonderful twist of fate.

He wasn’t one to burn out or fade away. Withstanding trends and fashions, Woods remained true to the source while carefully building on the tradition, stretching it to the limits of his exceptional skills. One such stretching is Musique de Bois, mid-career masterpiece with Jaki Byard, Richard Davis and Alan Dawson from 1974. The furthest that Woods traveled out there was with his avant-leaning collective of Phil Woods & The European Rhythm Machine, when he lived in Europe for four years, not to mention its Asian counterpart Phil Woods & The Japanese Rhythm Machine in the mid-seventies. Woods was consistently excellent throughout his career, a poll-and prizewinning jazz artist with an enormous output, check out the discography on his website here.

In 1961, Candid released Woods’s most ambitious album to date after his string of bop-oriented releases on Prestige from the mid to late 1950s. Candid was the brainchild of bandleader Archie Bleyer, founder of Cadence Records. Bleyer recruited jazz writer Nat Hentoff as A&R executive. Charles Mingus was its big-name draw. The idea of Hentoff was to give well-known artists opportunities to release stuff that wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed by other labels and limelight artists who deserved to be better-known. This year, a slew of albums from the Candid catalogue has been reissued, including Max Roach’s We Insist!, while other records are slated for release in the future.

One of the latest installments of the reissue program is Rights Of Swing. At the time, Woods was part of the big band of Quincy Jones. In total, he would be featured on eight Quincy Jones albums from 1959 to ’65. (Woods scarcely recorded as a leader in the 1960’s, took all the work that he could get as sideman in various bands and commercial projects) In 1961, the Quincy Jones band was back from Europe and its ill-fated tour as backing of the musical show Free And Easy. The show, based on the music of Harold Arlen, was a financial fiasco and the band had to hustle its way through the continent. A disastrous affair, which Jones blamed on the Algerian crisis in 1960. It was noted by several band members that Jones left out the fact that he had invested a considerable amount of money in the Free And Easy show, greenbacks that disappeared in thin air. In his autobiography, Jones admitted that his efforts to keep the band together left him in a serious state of depression.

It seems that Jones and Woods remained on good terms though. Jones has a lot of good things to say about Woods in the liner notes of Rights Of Swing, functioned as musical adviser and conducted the ensemble, which also included other Free And Easy-cats such as trumpeter Benny Bailey, baritone saxophonist and flautist Sahib Shihab, French horn player Julius Watkins and bassist Buddy Catlett. The thing with liner notes is that, how valuable they may be, once you’ve read them it is hard to get them out of your system and enjoy an open-minded listening experience. That’s why there will always be people spreading the opinion that liner notes are superfluous. Understandable, but, for what it’s worth, I am not one of them. Liner notes have always been part of the serious fun of record collecting. Expertise and information can’t hurt. Back in the day, as old-timers regularly explain, it was all the information you could get. As far as liner notes go, digest them like eggs and sausage but keep using your own ears is my advice.

At any rate, it is explained on the back cover of Rights Of Swing that Woods loves Stravinksy (and the Rite Of Spring, of course, which accounts for the witty title; note that Stravinsky’s title for his ballet work is singular, not plural) and there’s a lot of fanfare about chords and chord progressions, which made me think about the scholarly notes of some MJQ albums by Gunther Schuller. With all due respect, reading those notes was like being struck by nausea from recurring, unsolicited visits of an obnoxious neighbor.

As Woods explains: “I tried for a sense of movement uniting the whole framework although each section was meant to be self-sufficient.”

Woods wasn’t going to stay in the blowing session bag. Brave attempt. It was 1961, okay, new developments across the USA, Coleman had worked his way up from the Left Coast, Coltrane blasted through the stratosphere on the Right Coast. You had guys like Teddy Charles, Bob Brookmeyer and Jimmy Giuffre doing all sorts of interesting things. Just to name a few. Add Phil Woods to the list, whose brave attempt at new jazz is not a masterpiece but an intriguing piece of music, no doubt about it. No love at first sight. No butterflies in your belly. It’s like someone that you had doubts about but turned into a good friend. Regular get-togethers, good talks, bottles of wine.

Continuous ebb and flow, rides with a surfboard on solid gulfs, refreshing cold showers on a hot day, these are the sensations of Rights Of Swing. Woods provides surprising twists and turns, crafty compositions and his preludes, prestos, scherzos segue into one another like honey into a cup of tea.

The up-tempo Part I (Prelude) and Part IV (Presto) are uplifting pieces, the latter sparkling with a classy entrance of Tommy Flanagan after the tune’s various shifts in key, rhythm and colors, which oozes natural swing and says: here I am. That’s the way to do it, on top from note one. Benny Bailey – Candid had released his top-notch Big Brass album a couple of months before Rights Of Swing, featuring Woods, Flanagan, Watkins and Catlett, among others – is a fine trumpeter. He succinctly leads the melody of Part II (Ballad) and is an excellent and jubilant contributor to the album’s most conservative tune Part IV (Scherzo). It seems to be the case though, with so many soloists fighting for a spot in Woods’s scored program, that most participants lack the time to develop continuously spontaneous ideas. That’s the downside to Woods’s anti-blowing session program.

Woods had created an enticing mélange of voicing, making the most of the off-beat combination of alto, trumpet, baritone, trombone (Curtis Fuller) and French horn. Julius Watkins is something else. Making the most of a cumbersome jazz instrument, he’s the velvet and satin touch among his section mates and, when he takes solos, it sounds so sweet and natural, it’s like watching a baby sucking the breast. Mother’s milk and all that jazz. Nice contrast to Woods, who takes the longest solos and is on top of his game and scares off the fire brigade. For all his zest though, he lets his flowing lines breathe, often tagging them with a moan and a cry.

He would moan and cry beautifully to the end of his life in 2015 at the venerable age of 83.