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.

Johnny Lytle - Blue Vibes

Johnny Lytle Blue Vibes (Jazzland 1960)

Blue Vibes propelled the career of the superb vibraphonist Johnny Lytle.

Johnny Lytle - Blue Vibes

Personnel

Johnny Lytle (vibraphone), Milton Harris (organ), Albert Heath (drums)

Recorded

on June 16, 1960 in New York City

Released

JLP 22 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Blue Vibes
Over The Rainbow
For Heaven’s Sake
Movin’ Nicely
Side B:
Autumn Leaves
Mister Trundel
Canadian Sunset


Mount Rushmore of vibraphonists? That would be Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Dave Pike and Bobby Hutcherson. Agree? No, I hear you say, better start grinding an extra stone for Gary Burton. There were/are a lot of great vibe players. Red Norvo (who started out on xylophone), Teddy Charles, Terry Gibbs, Buddy Montgomery, Mike Mainieri, Steve Nelson and, in The Netherlands, Frits Landesbergen. The name of Johnny Lytle now and then still crops up, deservedly so. The Springfield, Ohio-born vibraphonist, (1925-1995) like Hampton and Landesbergen also an acclaimed drummer, was a reasonably popular artist on the rosters of the Riverside, Tuba and Solid State labels in the sixties, scoring especially well with The Village Caller (1963) and The Loop (1965).

He was a professional boxer as well, battling well into the late fifties when Lytle was active as a drummer for Ray Charles, Jimmy Witherspoon and Gene Ammons. Nicknamed “Fast Hands” for his showmanship and remarkable agility, Lytle started recording steadily in 1960. It adds up. Good pugilists have a delicate sense of rhythm. And their fight is a dance, needs to swing and groove. The drums and the vibraphone share the percussive aspect, while melodic swing is paramount. Miles Davis was attracted to boxing for a number of reasons. No fights in the ring for Miles though, contrary to Jack Johnson, Red Garland, Johnny Lytle. One of Lytle’s tunes on his 1966 New And Groovy album is titled Selim. Miles spelled backwards, obviously. Lytle liked boxing and Miles Davis. Makes sense. I’m more into snooker and Miles Davis, which may seem nerdy, but that’s just what the Good Lord cued up for yours truly the Flophouse Floor Manager.

His debut album Blue Vibes, which includes Milton Harris on organ and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums, finds Lytle in straight-ahead jazz territory, less ‘soul jazzy’ than his mid-sixties efforts, and it’s a winner. Lytle offers a couple of proper ballad interpretations, Over The Rainbow and For Heaven’s Sake. The array of sounds that Lytle coaxes from the vibraphone, from dry, staccato notes, sustained bell-like sirens to eerie pre-sixties-soundtrack-ish phrases is surprising. How Lytle does it I don’t know! But the variation is effective and striking, like the unpredictable steps of Muhammad Ali. Standards like Autumn Leaves and Canadian Sunset are infested with healthy doses of groove and blues. In fact, the blues-based repertory of the Lytle compositions Blue Vibes and Mister Trundel and Milt Jackson’s Movin’ Nicely is what makes one eager to purchase this Jazzland vinyl. Or, if a quick buy is out of the question, run to the Spotify link below. The former‘s the best option. The latter, connected with Bluetooth to the speakers, might give one unsound bytes and blue vibes.

No doubt there’s something about the combination of vibes, organ and drums. Harris knows when to scream, add slices of melodrama or back off into a corner. “Tootie” Heath adds a number of crazy rolls. The trio grooves thoroughly. It’s the balance between the fire of r&b and jazz sophistication that makes Blue Vibes such an enjoyable date.

Teddy Edwards - Teddy's Ready!

Teddy Edwards Teddy’s Ready! (Contemporary 1960)

And we’re ready for Teddy. By 1960, tenor saxophonist and bebop pioneer Teddy Edwards had settled firmly into his role as prime straightforward player and delivered the excellent Teddy’s Ready for the Contemporary label on the West Coast.

Teddy Edwards - Teddy's Ready!

Personnel

Teddy Edwards (tenor saxophone), Joe Castro (piano), Leroy Vinegar (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on August 17, 1960 at Contemporary Studio, Los Angeles

Released

as Contemporary 3583 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Blues In G
Scrapple From The Apple
What’s New
You Name It
Side B:
Take The “A” Train
The Sermon
Higgins’ Hideaway


The West Coast, Los Angeles to be precise, is where the Jackson, Mississippi-born Edwards had settled in the mid-40s. Edwards made his mark with the 1947 The Duel recordings with Dexter Gordon. Like Gordon, who also lived west at that time, and Hampton Hawes, Howard McGhee, Elmo Hope, Edwards stood out as the edgy, hard-driving player among the cool Californian musicians. Around 1960, Edwards was on a hot streak. Preceding Teddy’s Ready, which was recorded on August 17, 1960, Edwards released It’s About Time, a killer session with the greasy Les McCann trio, and Sunset Eyes, a fine date that boasts the title track, the Edwards composition that became somewhat of an instant standard. Both albums were released on Pacific Jazz. Subsequent recordings were Together Again, a reunion with bop mate, trumpeter Howard McGhee and Good Gravy, released in 1961, which also comes highly recommended.

Teddy’s Ready (Together Again and Good Gravy as well) was released on Contemporary. So in comes engineer Roy DuNann, lesser-known than Rudy van Gelder but equally revered by diehard classic jazz fans, with a crisp and clear sound canvas, punchy overall group sound, and precisely audible details. A kind of lightweight vibe that totally brings out the group’s swing, the way a master stylist makes prettier a pretty girl, not with theatrics but with subtle shadings of the beaut’s personality. This group is swinging subtly but driving. It consists of: Billy Higgins, equally at home in hard bop and – he was part of Ornette Coleman’s group – free jazz surroundings, Leroy Vinegar, in-demand all-rounder with an uncanny ability to walk and Joe Castro, relatively unknown, talented West Coast-based pianist who also made the sought-after Groove Funk Soul album on Atlantic with this Teddy Edwards group.

Who needs another horn? Not me. Not Teddy. It is, in fact, a blessing that Edwards carries Teddy’s Ready (and Good Gravy) on his own. No distractors, just Teddy Edwards, flying on the wings of the trio’s nightingale, focusing on the smoky story to tell. The voluptuous, slightly husky sound of Edwards is the tenor sax tone equivalent of the Montechristo #2 cigar, contraband from Cuba, fired up with a rusty Zip lighter. There is a minimum of strain between his lips, facial muscles, breathing, and the sound that emanates from his horn. Like every serious jazz musician, Edwards must’ve worked hard, I mean, hard, at ending up with a personal tone yet, like every great jazz musician, the completely natural flow suggests it was a cinch. Why do we rarely hear tones like these, these days? Perhaps because jazz has changed along the lines that the world has changed? It’s flophouse vs zero tolerance, Bull Durham vs e-cigs. Obviously, more to the point, the classic saxophonists acquired certain techniques that enabled them to override the buzz of the crowd in the dingy jazz club, which carried no amplification.

Edwards, the bop innovator, who has faultless timing, contagious pace and a relaxed fury that is apple pie for the ear, is a bluesman at heart. The blues oozes out of him during excellent renditions of his catchy, stop-time composition You Name It and the sumptuous, mid-tempo blues line of Hampton Hawes, The Sermon. That song conjures up the imagery of gin mills and moonshine passed on at Saturday night fish fries, miles and miles of cotton fields, the suffering and cathartic wailing of the black chain gang, and what surely was a reality to Edwards still in 1960, degrading redneck remarks that fill the heart with anger one does not really want to unleash except through blowing clean and hard.

His melancholic reading of What’s New suggests that Edwards knew by heart the lyrics to that song about a meeting of former lovers. Another Bull Durham vs e-cigs situation and a lesson for contemporary players: know your lyrics. And in the first place, get down those ‘standards’ anyway before exploring new vistas. Solid ground. So much for Prof. Durham’s class. Now get outta here and blow!

Thad Jones - The Magnificent Thad Jones

Thad Jones The Magnificent Thad Jones (Blue Note 1956)

Hackensack magic on The Magnificent Thad Jones, the trumpeter’s most celebrated early career outing.

Thad Jones - The Magnificent Thad Jones

Personnel

Thad Jones (trumpet), Billy Mitchell (tenor saxophone), Barry Harris (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Max Roach (drums)

Recorded

on July 9 & 14, 1956 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 1527 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
April In Paris
Billie-Doo
If I Love Again
Side B:
If Someone Had Told Me
Thedia


The year 1956, hard bop has been gathering substantial steam for a few years now. The Magnificent Thad Jones is on some level affected also by the fresh extensions of modern jazz that Horace Silver, Miles Davis, Lou Donaldson and Art Blakey introduced. The album’s harmonic textures run along bop’s course, it includes bop-inflected phrasing, particularly by tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell and pianist Barry Harris. However, the stress is on bouncy mid-tempos typical for hard bop instead of fast, familiar bop tempos, the mood is relaxed but vivacious and Jones introduces clever writing with one of two original compositions, the blues-based Billy-Boo and, especially, Thedia. Two seldom played standards, Murray/Oakland’s If I Love Again and DeRose/Tobias’ If Someone Had Told Me, alternate with the well-known, beautiful melody, April In Paris.

It is often said that talented musicians that hailed from the same city and have come to try and conquer the jazz capital of the world, New York, often had a special rapport as a result of their mutual background. Perhaps it is still like that today. Assisted by Percy Heath from Philadelphia and Max Roach from New York, the three remaining Detroit-raised guys, Harris, Mitchell and the leader, Thad Jones, indeed gel particularly well. Harris, by then already a long-time devoted bop pianist with an encyclopedian knowledge of Monk, Powell and standard melodies, and a mentor to John Coltrane, Charles McPherson, among others, is the personification of glue, his resonant harmonies and concise tales provide refined support and sparkle. Max Roach, VIP bop veteran, incubator of the finest hard bop with Clifford Brown, balances fervent and delicate swing. His alert, melodic ear is virtually unparalleled. During the ensembles, the full, punchy sound of tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell blends well with the happy-blues-sounds of Jones, and Mitchell regularly chimes in with short, resonant, smoky statements.

To get you into this place where time stands still. Not a place that’s safe from the outside troubles, but perhaps instead a state wherein you chew on them, let them heat like hotcakes on a stove, live through them, to come out of them somehow cleansed. If that is the purpose of good jazz, April In Paris, the opening track of Thad Jones’ The Magnificent Thad Jones, is a winner. And winner takes all. There’s a loping gait to the standard of Vernon Duke and Edgar Harburg that’s exquisite, courtesy of the precise flow of bassist Percy Heath, the lush backing of pianist Barry Harris and the conversational coloring of Roach, who drives this band home with sensitive hi-hat and crystalline ride cymbal drumming.

And courtesy definitely of Thad Jones. If a diamond could blow, it would probably sound like Thad Jones on his second album for the Blue Note label. Moreover, the moving story of the trumpeter and future bandleader of the renowned Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra is a poignant amalgam of ideas strung together from series of keenly divided notes, the silence between them functioning as the apex of improvisational flow and coherence. It’s a story that runs over several choruses, and Jones keeps it simultaneously relaxed and intense, on a constant high level. His solo of Thedia, a beautiful, boppish, elongated line is longer still and an example of taste and sustained energy.

There’s something special about the trumpet sounds that Van Gelder recorded in Hackensack, New Jersey. Jones has become one of those angels blowing from the upper celestial plateau, the tone full and sensual like a female body on a Rubens painting, juicy like the flesh of the blissful orange, a perfect blend of sweet and sour. Yes, Charles Mingus said that Rudy van Gelder messed up everybody’s sound, depersonalized it through his innovative but all too strict methods. It’s a valid statement. But did Mingus mean it? This comes from a bandleader who told every sax player he worked with not to play like Charlie Parker. Yet Charles McPherson, a singular player yet more firmly steeped in the Parker tradition than most of his colleagues, played longer than anybody in the Mingus band except for drummer Danny Richmond. Regardless, the sound of ‘RVG horns’ and in this case, Thad Jones, is fantastic. The overall production is bliss. The execution, focus and mellow drive of the quintet are exceptional. The Magnificent Thad Jones is a perennial favorite for lovers of classic mainstream jazz and will undoubtedly attract newcomers for years to come.

Bill Leslie - Diggin' The Chicks

Bill Leslie Diggin’ The Chicks (Argo 1962)

Bill Leslie is diggin’ the chicks and we’re diggin’ the relaxed and intriguing style of the tenor saxophonist from Pennsylvania.

Bill Leslie - Diggin' The Chicks

Personnel

Bill Leslie (tenor saxophone, saxella B1), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Thornel Schwartz (guitar), Ben Tucker (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on October 19, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as Argo 710 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Goodnight Irene
Angel Eyes
Madge
Margie
Side B:
Lonely Woman
Got A Date With An Angel
Rosetta


Who is Bill Leslie? Well, he was born in Media, Pennsylvania in 1925 and passed away in 2003. For many years, Jennings played in the group of the popular and influential alto saxophonist and bandleader, Louis Jordan. In the early sixties, Jennings was featured on organist Larry Young’s Groove Street and guitarist Thornel Schwartz’ Soul Cookin’. Diggin’ The Chicks is Leslie’s only album as a leader. In the late sixties, Leslie led an organ combo. That’s about it as far as bio goes.

Yeah, ok. But who, really, is Bill Leslie? Here a straightforward answer won’t suffice. He’s a straightforward player, at ease in a conservative setting, yet picks notes that have one leapin’ sideways. He likes to play swing music with a breathy sound and bends notes like a country blues singer. At the same time, Leslie adds spare, effective bits of double-timing. Perhaps this kind of gelling isn’t that unusual for players who grew up in the 30s and 40s, when black popular music was still labeled as ‘race’ music and included traditional New Orleans jazz, gospel, jump blues, novelty and swing and, in the late 40s, while bebop was changing the face of jazz, black popular music with a driving back beat suddenly came to be labeled as rhythm&blues. Likely musicians (like, for instance, Gene Ammons or Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis) didn’t feel it was unusual to switch from race/jump/r&b to modern jazz. And almost as a rule, he or she’s got the blues and was raised in church. All of this is somehow reflected in his/hers style. Leslie also shows a liking for Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. Get it? Anyhow, a quirky, fascinating player which in some magical way that only seems possible in the fantasy world of jazz, holds one spellbound with highly enjoyable, original notes and tones.

On Diggin’ The Chicks, a novelty title that clouds his message, Leslie is supported by Tommy Flanagan on piano, his friend Thornel Schwartz on guitar, Ben Tucker on bass and Art Taylor on drums. Schwartz serves as accompanist, while Flanagan, a receptive supporter, adds a number of delicate, coherent solos. Leslie is addressing a lot of female creatures, presenting tunes like Madge, Margie, (Earl Hines’) Rosetta, and playing standards like Angel Eyes and Got A Date With An Angel. Making his presence known with a lot of flair too. Not a loudmouth. Instead Leslie charms his way in like a gentleman. He’s taking his time, the leisurely stroll is Leslie’s favorite walk. And he’s adept at setting a homey atmosphere, smoothly luring the listener into a cozy place, the woodblocks in the fireplace quietly whispering, the cup of hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows all set on a low mahogany wooden side table… Then again it’s unlikely that Leslie will doze off, there’s a bite to his tone and he’s got bright ideas, is shaved, ready, with tie knotted, eager for a night out into town.

How charming an album when it includes both Goodnight Irene and an Ornette Coleman tune! Leslie picked Coleman’s Lonely Woman. Leslie’s pace is slower than Coleman’s, and bassist Ben Tucker plays a key role employing an attractive descending figure. Leslie uses the saxella. The vocalized sound is highly expressive, the twists and turns haunting. But if I was to pick one highlight, it would be his version of Huddie Ledbetter’s Goodnight Irene. The waltz figure of Art Taylor gives it a gentle but probing chuck-chuck-chucking push, Leslie’s genial tone, relaxed delivery, out-of-tempo bits and surprising choice of notes stay in one’s head long after the needle has jumped and the laundry has been done. It’s an unbelievable fate that Leslie’s career as a leader was finished before it started, but that’s the way it works sometimes.

Listen to the full album of Diggin’ The Chicks here. But try to grab one if you like it, it’s a crisp and punchy Rudy van Gelder recording. If Diggin’ The Chicks was on Blue Note, considering its beautiful production and outstanding line up, it would go for 4 or 5 times the amount of $ you have to lay down for this affordable Argo release.