Hank Crawford - The Soul Clinic

Hank Crawford The Soul Clinic (Atlantic 1962)

Hank Crawford’s landmark 1962 album The Soul Clinic boasts the saxophonist’s unique, ‘singing’ tone, the swinginest (Ray Charles) band in the land and a mind-boggling trumpet solo by the unknown Philip Gilbeau to boot. Bingo.

Hank Crawford - The Soul Clinic

Personnel

Hank Crawford (alto saxophone, piano), David “Fathead” Newman (tenor saxophone), Phil Gilbeau (trumpet), John Hunt (trumpet), Leroy “Hog” Cooper (baritone saxophone), Edgar Willis (bass), Bruno Carr (drums), Milt Turner (drums)

Recorded

on October 7, 1960, February 24 & May 2, 1961 at Atlantic Recording Studio, NYC

Released

as SD 1372 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Please Send Me Someone To Love
Easy Living
Playmates
What A Difference A Day Makes
Side B:
Me And My Baby
Lorelei’s Lament
Blue Stone


Pick a winner: Crawford’s More Soul, The Soul Clinic or From The Heart. Good luck. Not that it matters, saxophonist Hank Crawford’s first three albums for Atlantic are equally impressive. It depends on your mood. Bennie “Hank” Crawford, who played alto and baritone saxophone in the Ray Charles band and served as its musical director from 1958 to 1963, went on and recorded more excellent albums for Atlantic in the sixties like True Blue and Mr. Blues Plays Lady Soul and churned out hip, down-home tunes as Skunky Green and Whispering Grass. Between his Atlantic period and the latter stages of his career spent at the Milestone label with the likes of Houston Person and organist Jimmy McGriff, Crawford switched to a more polished approach on the CTI imprint Kudu. Kudu highlights are We Got A Good Thing Going On and Wildflower.

Well, highlights… Sales-and-solo-wise for sure. Wildflower climbed the charts. Crawford’s highly personal style remained largely intact. But production-wise, get a break. His Kudu albums might be your cup of tea but it’s a bottle of snake piss for the Flophouse Floor Manager. Producer Creed Taylor devised a smart formula, which he should be given credit for, but those albums lack exactly what makes the Atlantic albums jewels to be treasured for the ages: the sound of Crawford’s seven-piece band which did much to steer Ray Charles to unforgettable heights.

That sound wasn’t devised out of thin air. The albums feature steady members of the Ray Charles band, a tight-knit group if ever there was one. Crawford coming aboard in 1958 gave the Ray Charles group a big boost, first by his indelible sax playing, soon after by his arranging skills. Consequently, the indirect impact of Crawford on popular music cannot be overstated. The sound of two trumpets, alto, tenor and baritone that Crawford arranged has lingered on in the memories of music lovers as the Ray Charles period to-go-to and became the trademark Crawford sound in the sixties. Effectively, the sound of a modern blues band, one of the last in a line that had been developed onwards from the forties by Illinois Jacquet, Louis Jordan, Arnett Cobb and Bull Moose Jackson. Irresistable outfits.

Up until the 1960 and 1961 sessions of The Soul Clinic, Crawford had appeared on iconic Ray Charles hit singles on Atlantic such as What I’d Say and LP’s as the illustrious Ray Charles At Newport. Crawford shared many duties with David “Fathead” Newman, who went a bit further back with Ray Charles to 1957’s recordings like Doodlin’. Crawford, Newman, trumpeter John Hunt, drummer Milt Turner and bassist Edgar Willis cooperated on the What I’d Say LP, as well as the live album In Person. (minus Turner) Genius Hits The Road includes Crawford, Newman, baritone saxophonist Leroy “Hog” Cooper, Hunt and Turner. Thus, these guys had played, lived and breathed together both in the studio and on the road.

Trumpeter Philip Gilbeau was a newbie in this bunch, who would get his chance to stretch out on Ray Charles’ Impulse album Genius + Soul = Jazz. Drummer Bruno Carr would be part of Ray Charles’ working band on and off in the early sixties. The career of the unknown Carr reveals some interesting associations with, among others, Crawford, Newman, Nat Adderley, Herbie Mann, Dave Pike and Roy Ayers. Finally, Crawford and other members of this line up are also featured on David “Fathead” Newman’s Atlantic albums Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David “Fathead” Newman and Fathead Comes On. The reason why I go at length to explain the various connections between these musicians is because I feel that the colleagues of Crawford, Newman and Ray Charles are unsung heroes of r&b and soul jazz. Take a deep breath, look at the titles of the before-mentioned albums and singles and let it sink in for a while… Got it?

The way the group builds up a tune is extraordinary. Perhaps by shaking their hips, drummer Bruno Carr and bassist Edgar Willis faultlessly guess the exact amount of small change residing in each other’s side pockets. Locked tight. Fish, hook and line. Ever so slightly, like for instance in the Crawford composition Blue Stone, Carr and Willis stoke up the fire once Crawford’s tenor is getting ready to gain momentum. Much of the album’s charm is brought about by the sonorous arrangements of Crawford. The warm-blooded, transparant production of Tom Dowd chips in magnificently. Except Please Send Me Someone To Love, that includes piano comping by Crawford, the album’s repertoire is piano-less. That worked out beautifully, creating room for the lucid voices of the group’s hard-working gentlemen from the South.

Where can I find a contemporary saxophonist with the kind of one-of-a-kind sound as Hank Crawford? You tell me. Wish me luck. I’d have to take off my pince nez and borrow the looking glass of Sherlock Holmes. Highly unlikely that Hank Crawford is part of the curriculum of the contemporary conservatories. Should be elemental, Hank presents a how-to-find-your-voice course without peer. Off course, not everybody is born in Memphis, main cradle of blues and r&b. But background only doesn’t account for Crawford’s peculiar style. With every repeated listen, awe, hearthy laughter and joy builds up and builds up, until the balloon bursts and tears of joy spray all over the floor. He’s such a stubborn man, doggedly making his point! So convinced of his method and message! Crawford, heard on alto on The Soul Clinic, generally stays close to the melody, points out the bare essentials of the tune, puts it through the wringer until the last drop. Assumingly, Crawford is conscious of every word of the tunes. He tackles the themes with his probing tone and delicate vibrato. A sparse use of fluid bop runs, spicy asides, enhance the bigger picture of his blues-drenched message. Because, essentially, Crawford’s voice is the voice of a blues singer. Not exactly hollering on the fields, Crawford nevertheless unburdens his heart, slightly sweating, sensuously. The sense of hurt is there, he’s been assisting Brother Ray, which obviously must’ve had its effect. But while Brother Ray, when singing the blues, chops out his liver to bleed on the table in front of us, Crawford passes his troubles on a rusty copper plate.

Charlie Parker, the greatest alto saxophonist in the history of jazz, did a thousand things with the blues. The ambidextrous monster musician Steve Coleman, reportedly, dubbed it ‘space blues’. On the other side of the spectrum, Hank Crawford focuses on the core of the blues. But how!

The repertoire is evenly divided between merrily bouncing swingers like the Crawford original Playmates and Horace Silver’s Me And My Baby, gorgeous ballads like Robin/Grainger’s Easy Living and the popular tune What A Difference A Day Makes, which was a hit for Dinah Washington in 1959. The latter is a vehicle for trumpeter Philip Gilbeau. As if Hank isn’t enough to drive you wild, the angels of swing sent down brother Phil Gilbeau. Brash, jubilant, linking Satchmo to crisp modern jazz, Gilbeau’s tale reveals the feelings of a man who loves his woman, which nevertheless left him stranded at a roadside diner after a heated argument. You see him standing outside at the parking lot, one heel on the springboard of his 1958 Packard, swinging a fist, a sudden act of mad laughter that can hardly conceal the yearning, the tenderness, the joy of life. This couple is bound to make up, will be back soon in a barbecue joint, ribs and fries, chili in a bowl, hashbrowns over easy, the whole shebang except candlelight… You hear him think, ‘might be steppin’ into that phonebooth, be callin’ Hank in a minute, just to say I keep-a-rollin’ with my baby…’ Hank understands. The band understands. The guys all sing that song. Not only seperately, but also as the entity that made those albums like The Soul Clinic beautiful, essential, deep blue as the ocean.

The 3 Sounds - Feelin' Good

The Three Sounds Feelin’ Good (Blue Note 1960)

Basic and bluesy mainstream jazz was the recipe of piano trio The Three Sounds, led by Gene Harris. Delicate group interplay was its forte.

The 3 Sounds - Feelin' Good

Personnel

Gene Harris (piano), Andrew Simpkins (bass), Bill Dowdy (drums)

Recorded

on June 28, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4072 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
When I Fall In Love
Parker’s Pad
Blues After Dark
I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
Side B:
Straight No Chaser
I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
It Could Happen To You
Two Bass Hit


The original line up of The Three Sounds of Gene Harris, bassist Andrew Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy recorded prolifically and very succesfully for Blue Note (and Limelight) between 1958 and 1965, until Dowdy dropped out to concentrate on teaching. The Three Sounds lasted till 1971 in various combinations, up to the Blue Note album The Three Sounds, which was essentially a Gene Harris album, as none of the original members were present. Highlights include the outfit’s debut Introducing The Three Sounds, their involvement with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, LD + 3, Black Orchid and Live At The Lighthouse. Their cooperation with Stanley Turrentine, Blue Hour, is a crowd favorite. Probably on account of Turrentine’s bluesjazz brilliance. The accompaniment is rather unremarkable.

Once pianists like Gene Harris had a song or album that did well on the charts, it was a logical step for both the label and artist to stay in that bag and see if a follow-up would sell equally well as well. Generally, soul jazz was music for Average Jimmy & Josie from the bowels of the black neighbourhood. Before having ribs at Hot Barbecue, the couple might go to the local record shop (or even barbershop or gas station) and fetch a record of their favorite artist, afterwards they might visit a bar and put a nickle in the jukebox. Jimmy & Josie musn’t be confused with the 21st century average couple, which listens to whatever Warner Bros puts on their plate. At that time, before the corporate world began to reign supreme and the inner cities desintegrated due to the introduction of crack and the subsequent criminality, couples like Jimmy & Josie not only dug r&b but also chose jukebox tunes from Gene Ammons, Willis Jackson, Jimmy Smith, Cannonball Adderley and pianists like Les McCann, Ray Bryant and Ramsey Lewis. Besides tapping their feet, they might even discuss the differences in styles. True, no jive.

Harris is not in the league of McCann, Bryant and Lewis. While they score goals, Harris warms the bench. Soul jazz at its best is brought with distinctive traits. Where, for instance, McCann brings the roar of a sermon, Bryant a brilliant left hand full of jazz tradition, Harris perseveres his blues clichés without adding anything suprising or peculiar. To be sure, Harris contributed suavely to trumpeter Nat Adderley’s Branching Out, tenorist and flutist James Clay’s Double Dose Of Soul and organist Melvin Rhyne’s Organ-Izing. In the eighties, Harris’ longest run was with the tasteful genius of the upright bass, Ray Brown, from 1984 to 1991. Once out of the soul jazz context, Harris fulfilled his potential as an excellent modern jazz pianist.

Feelin’ Good must be added to the list of top-rank Three Sounds albums. At its best, the trio responds to each other’s archetypical blues and r&b accents like trapeze artists that have practised their tricks longer than Nurejev did his ballet moves. Extremely tight-knit. This groove is most apparent in the mid-and uptempo tunes like Two Bass Hit, Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser and Parker’s Pad, a Harris original that brings to mind Things Ain’t What They Used To Be. These tunes slowly but surely pick up steam and climax not so much with abandon but a confident bounce that suggests a longing to gently nudge the audience into the hands of the angels rather than the lap of God with fire and brimstone. Excellent trio interaction. At its worst, Harris placidly mumbles his way through a ballad, leaving one cold with series of forgettable, formulaic phrases. A bummer sandwiched between the songs that make up a set of flawlessly executed, unambitious, groovy soul jazz.

Gene Ammons - Bad! Bossa Nova

Gene Ammons Bad! Bossa Nova (Prestige 1962)

Throughout his spectacular career, tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons had several big hits, both singles and albums. One of those albums, Bad! Bossa Nova, paved the way for soulful players intent on exploring Latin music.

Gene Ammons - Bad! Bossa Nova

Personnel

Gene Ammons (tenor saxophone), Hank Jones (piano), Bucky Pizzarelli (acoustic guitar), Kenny Burrell (acoustic guitar), Norman Edge (bass), Oliver Jackson (drums), Al Hayes (bongo)

Recorded

on September 9, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7257 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Pagan Love Song
Ca’ Purange
Anna
Side B:
Cae, Cae
Moito Mato Grosso
Yellow Bird


After organist Jimmy Smith, who was second to none as far as popularity and record sales was concerned, Gene Ammons was another very succesful artist of the soul jazz era. Ammons started out in the bands of King Kolax and Billy Eckstine in the mid-forties, the latter a playing ground for the burgeoning bebop generation of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Wardell Gray, Fats Navarro and Art Blakey. And Ammons, who knew his share of bebop. During his tenure with Eckstine, Ammons’ colleagues in the reed chair were Dexter Gordon, Leo Parker and Sonny Stitt. As a leader, Ammons gained a lot of public acclaim with the jumpin’ blues theme Red Top in 1947. The tenor saxophonist subsequently struck gold with the ballad My Foolish Heart in 1950, one of the tunes in the borderland of r&b and jazz (the distinction wasn’t as evident then as it is now) that many jazz artists of the day specialized in. During the years 1950-52, Ammons made up an explosive sax battle team with Sonny Stitt, whom he would keep recording with on and off through the sixties.

Ammons, the Chicago-born son of boogiewoogie master Albert Ammons, wasn’t about to slow down, if only by long, intermittent stints in jail for possession of drugs. Ammons has recorded for Savoy, VeeJay, Argo, but was part of the Prestige roster early on, an association that would continue throughout his career. His ‘HiFi’ jam albums of the late fifties with the likes of John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Mal Waldron and Art Taylor were attractive but curtailed the playing time of the big-toned tenorist. His style would come fully to the fore on the big-selling Boss Tenor in 1960, which spawned another jukebox hit, Canadian Sunset, as was Exactly Like You from 1961’s Jug album. The fruitful period 1960-1962 secured Ammons’s top ranking in soul jazz history. Bad! Bossa Nova is the last in line, since Ammons was convicted again, now also for selling drugs. It looked like the authorities wanted to set an example by sentencing the black jazz musician to seven years in jail. A great tragedy for Ammons and an utter disgrace which black people, unfortunately, have been all too familiar with. His comeback on Prestige in 1969 would be very successful. But his conditions worsened and Ammons passed away in 1974 at the age of forty-nine.

Unabashed emotion. A big sound that fills the (bar-)room. Excuse me? A soccer stadium! Great storytelling abilities. A tough tenor that wails with the best of ‘m but with controlled power. A prime balladeer. And a great entertainer. The title of Bad! Bossa Nova sounds about right. Bad it is. Ammons wholeheartedly funkifies the set of Latin-tinged tunes. If it doesn’t exactly consign Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd’s Jazz Samba album, containing the hit Desafinado, released half a year earlier, to the litter bin, after a back-to-back spin Getz/Byrd’s album certainly comes across as shopping mall muzak. Both albums were big sellers, Jazz Samba foremost, but Bad! Bossa Nova sold large quantities in black neighbourhoods. A couple of years later, while Ammons was doing time, it was re-issued by Prestige as Jungle Soul and again sold extremely well!

Highlights are Ca’ Purange and Cae, Cae. Ca’ Purange (Jungle Soul), a simple recurring Latin figure, is a perfect canvas for Ammons’ bold strokes. His tone fills the sky, sparse, long lines and staccato honks stoke up the fire, which threatens to overrun the swamps, where Gene Ammons’ greasy, hypnotic soul groove is pulling you in anyway. A dense rhythm section including Kenny Burrell as acoustic rhythm guitarist lays down a colorful groove for Ammons, with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, also on acoustic guitar, occasionally chiming in with spicy licks. Hank Jones is an extra treat. The masterful pianist delivers deliciously swinging, delicate miniatures, pulling out all the happy-go-lucky stops with locked-hands technique and notes tumbling over each other like kittens reaching for the milk at the nipples of pussy mom in Cae Cae particularly. Hank Jones, early bebopper, modern jazz giant probably best known for his role on Cannonball Adderley’s Something Else, knows how to play popular music, having operated in the shadowlands of jazz and r&b in the early fifties, notably on organ. Gene “Jug” Ammons is a true master of blending sophistication with entertainment which Bad! Bossa Nova makes abundantly clear.

Walter Davis Jr. - Davis Cup

Walter Davis Jr. Davis Cup (Blue Note 1959)

A wide-ranging stunner, pianist Walter Davis Jr.’s debut as a leader in 1959, Davis Cup, deserves its rightful place among the classic hard bop albums on Blue Note at that time.

Walter Davis Jr. - Davis Cup

Personnel

Walter Davis Jr. (piano), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on August 2, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4018 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
’S Make It
Loodle-Lot
Sweetness
Side B:
Rhumba Nhumba
Minor Mind
Millie’s Delight


From the immaculate six Davis-penned compositions, the hi-powered energy, the stellar line-up, the singular style of Walter Davis Jr. and, last but not least, the wicked title, Davis Cup is an allround, pure-bred hard bop package easily taken for granted in the era of classic jazz albums. In 1959, the following albums, among others, were released on Blue Note along Davis Cup: Horace Silver’s Finger Poppin’ and Blowin’ The Blues Away, Sonny Clark’s My Conception, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messenger’s At The Jazz Corner Of The World and Africaine, Donald Byrd’s Byrd In Hand, Kenny Burrell’s On View At The Five Spot and Jackie McLean’s New Soil and Swing Swang Swingin’. Pleasant company.

Not just an innocent bystander either, Mr. Davis. The Richmond, Virginia-born pianist was featured on New Soil, (and, later on, McLean’s avant-leaning Let Freedom Ring) Byrd In Hand and Africaine. Obviously, Blue Note label bosses Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff were convinced of the abilities of Davis, who went as far back as playing alongside and recording with Charlie Parker at the turn of the previous decade and was known as a major interpreter of Bud Powell. By 1959, Walter Davis Jr. had cemented a position as a delicate juggler of traditional and adventurous styles, underlined by his composer’s sense of continuity, off-kilter twists and turns that pleasantly throw you off balance, a strong percussive touch and chubby, dense, driving clusters of chords. In the slipstream of Horace Silver in the late fifties, Davis is concerned not only with gritty yet elaborate compositions, but also with providing extra motives beside the melody line, creating simultaneously complex and easy-flowing tunes in the process.

Great tunes. Most of them are mid-tempo compositions, like ’S Make It (not to be confused with Lee Morgan’s ’S Make It, which was recorded by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers in 1964) Loodle-Lot and Minor Mood, alternated with the ballad Sweetness and the uplifting exotica of Rhumba Nhumba. Medium tempo, minor moods, blues inflections, the lone ballad and an Afro-Cuban exercise: a typical hard bop bag. However, Davis passes his exam cum laude, not in the least as a consequence of Art Taylor and Sam Jones’ responsive, propulsive support, the swift, lyrical lines of Donald Byrd and acerbic, suspenceful contributions of Jackie McLean.

In the sixties, Davis dropped out for a while and worked as a (assumedly very skilled!) tailor before returning to the scene with a guest role on Sonny Rollins 1973 album Horn Culture. His second album as a leader was released as late as 1979, the first of a series until his passing in 1990 at the age of 57.

Wynton Kelly - Kelly At Midnite

Wynton Kelly Kelly At Midnite (VeeJay 1960)

When thinking about Wynton Kelly, midnight is not the first allusion that comes to mind. The pianist’s style, however bluesy, predominantly brings about images of sunshine, broad daylight, wafts of salty sea air traveling through the seams of your Hawaiian shirt… But of course, the supple blue noted set of Kelly At Midnite justifies the title. Besides, it’s a perfect hang-up for a great sleeve.

Wynton Kelly - Kelly At Midnite

Personnel

Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on April 27, 1960 in NYC

Released

as VJLP 3011 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Temperance
Weird Lullaby
Side B:
On Stage
Skatin’
Pot Luck


1960, Hard bop in full flight, most of the musicians had embraced the rejuvenated kind of jazz that grew out of bebop, blues and gospel. However, at the same time, it functioned as an umbrella for a startling diversity of styles. Take pianists. The angular, kinetic Elmo Hope, long flowing line-specialist Sonny Clark, gently boppin’ Barry Harris and gospel-drenched, percussive Horace Parlan all blossomed on the same tree. Then there was Wynton Kelly, who possessed a conspicuous, generous bounce and a delicate sense of time, built driving stories with chapters of fragmented blues licks, boppish runs and pungent block chords. Never short on ideas. Above all, Kelly swings, swang, swung abundantly. The pianist is also hailed as one of the greatest accompanists in jazz history, who, said Philly Joe Jones, ‘puts down flowers behind a soloist.’

Jamaica, Marley territory, land of hot breeze, rowdy clubs, shady hoodlums, ganja and tax shelter and probably much more than the stereotypes that yours truly the Flophouse Floor Manager conjures up, birthplace also of Dizzy Reece and Monty Alexander, is where Kelly was born in 1931, yet his family moved to Brooklyn, New York after a few years, which found the talented youngster in the capital of jazz. A look at the career path of Kelly takes your breath away: two extended stints in the Dizzy Gillespie band. Accompanist of Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. Part of the Miles Davis group from 1959 to ’63. An amazing discography as a sideman that includes: Johnny Griffin’s A Blowin’ Session, Sonny Rollins’ Newk’s Time, Dizzy Gillespie’s Birks’ Works, Cannonball Adderley’s Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago, Blue Mitchell’s Big Six, Clark Terry’s Serenade To A Bus Seat, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue (on Freddie Freeloader) and Friday Night At The Blackhawk I & II, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, James Clay & David “Fathead” Newman’s The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces, Hank Mobley’s Soul Station and Workout, Wes Montgomery’s Full House, Cecil Payne’s Zodiac. And so on. During his tenures with Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery in the sixties, Kelly recorded as a leader for VeeJay and Riverside, mostly with the guys he knew (inside out) from those groups, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers.

Kelly never hit big as a leading artist. But history has been kind, as Kelly, who perhaps grew more out of Teddy Wilson and Erroll Garner than Art Tatum and Earl Hines, is seen as a very influential player. Being influential, alas, hardly pays for a mortgage, at least not in those dark jazz ages. By 1967, ultimate sideman Kelly’s career was effectively over. Paradoxically, that year’s album Full View on Milestone is one of his best albums. Kelly passed away in 1971 following an epileptic seizure.

Here, the drum chair is held by Philly Joe Jones. Jones, who before Kelly At Midnite was featured on Kelly’s Riverside album Piano in 1958, supplies the pianist with a trademark dose of fireworks, heat and taste. His drive is matched by Paul Chambers, the young bass master, who also contributes high-level solo’s throughout. On Stage is especially enticing, the uptempo mover crackles, sizzles, boils, with Kelly’s leaping, crisp lines the icing on the cake. A typical hard bop set of blues-based, largely medium-tempo tunes and a sole ballad, Kelly At Midnite is a collection of deceptively simple snappy tales from one of those pianists that has been copied frequently but seldom matched.

Shirley Scott - Shirley Scott & The Soul Saxes

Shirley Scott Shirley Scott & The Soul Saxes (Atlantic 1969)

Shirley Scott’s dressed up for the rock age. The musical garments don’t really suit the experienced, tasteful organist.

Shirley Scott - Shirley Scott & The Soul Saxes

Personnel

Shirley Scott (organ), Ernie Royal (trumpet A1 & A2 & B1-B4), King Curtis (tenor saxophone A1 & A2 & B1-B4), Hank Crawford (alto and baritone saxophone A1 & A2 & B1-B4), David Newman (tenor saxophone, flute A1 & A2 & B1-B4), Richard Tee (piano A1 & A2 & B1-B4), Eric Gale (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass A1 & A2 & B1-B4), Jerry Jemmott (bass A3), Bernard Purdie (drums A1, A3 & B1, B2), Jimmy Johnson (drums A2 & B3, B4)

Recorded

on September 10, 1968 in Atlantic Studios, NYC and July 9 & 10, 1969 in Regent Sound Studios, NYC

Released

as SD 1532 in 1969

Track listing

Side A:
It’s Your Thing
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
You
Side B:
Stand By Me
Get Back
More Today Than Yesterday


From the mid-fifties to the early seventies Shirley Scott was one of the most successful and prolific organ jazz players around, presenting a cocktail of standards and bluesy jazz either with her trio or with the addition of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Scott’s husband, tenorist Stanley Turrentine. Her fairly traditional work, perhaps more in the mould of Milt Buckner than Jimmy Smith, is recorded on King, Prestige, Impulse and (with Turrentine) Blue Note. Near the end of the decade Scott signed with Atlantic. Let’s try for something hip, Scott presumably must’ve thought. Her soul-heavy album Shirley Scott And The Soul Saxes sold reasonably well and is sandwiched between her Atlantic debut Soul Song and final release, the less succesful Something. In 1971 Scott switched to Chicago’s Cadet label, adding some challenging originals to her sets of evergreens and contemporary pop and soul. Shirley Scott And The Soul Saxes is not only soul-heavy, but rock-heavy as well. That’s the bad part.

But first the good part. Scott turns in tasty performances, she really ‘sings’ on (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman – the Goffin/King classic written for Aretha Franklin – and her gospel intro on I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free is enticing foreplay to a vibrant solo. This bouncy, medium-tempo tune is the album’s highlight. Coincidentally, it’s the only song on the album without horn parts. More Today Than Yesterday – a 1969 hit by The Spiral Staircase – is also one of the better performances. The vibe is relaxed and understatement is the main objective.

The album benefits from a tight-knit group of gifted sidemen. However, there are a couple of downsides. Despite the non-pareil funk qualities of drummers Bernard Purdie and Jimmy Johnson, the beat remains mechanic. Moreover, the promising repertoire suffers from bombastic production and arrangements. The sax section does its fair share of harmony, but sax solo’s are few and concise. Ain’t that peculiar? After all, King Curtis, Hank Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman – some heavy artillery there! – are prominently billed on the front cover. It’s a waste of talent. The bits they do contribute are excellent, especially Curtis’ solo on The Isley Brothers hit It’s Your Thing.

Guitarist Eric Gale had talent in abundance, but it seems he ended up at the wrong session. Considering Gale’s overdrive guitar sound and distorted licks, a sparring date with Jimmy Page of label mates Led Zeppelin would be more on target. The low point of the album is The Beatles’ Get Back. Its ridiculously fast tempo and over-excited ambience overshadows the solid statements by Shirley Scott.

That Atlantic Records lay heavy stress on a rock sound is unfortunate. A more sparse, earthy and less frenzied approach such as the label used for soul stars like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett would’ve benefited Shirley Scott much more. Sometimes dressing up an artist for the new age can only go that far.

Joe Gordon - Lookin' Good

Joe Gordon Lookin’ Good (Contemporary 1961)

Trumpeter Joe Gordon’s second and last album as a leader, Lookin’ Good, is a major league hard bop album from the West Coast.

Joe Gordon - Lookin' Good

Personnel

Joe Gordon (trumpet), Jimmy Woods (alto saxophone), Dick Whittington (piano), Jimmy Bond (bass), Milt Turner (drums)

Recorded

on July 11, 12 & 18, 1961 at Contemporary Records Studio, Los Angeles

Released

as Contemporary 3597 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Terra Firma Irma
A Song For Richard
Non-Viennese Waltz Blues
You’re The Only Girl In The Next World For Me
Side B:
Co-Op Blues
Mariana
Heleen
Diminishing


Number three, four or five wasn’t to be. Tragically, Gordon died in a house fire in 1963. If only the Boston-born trumpeter could have lived a long life of fulfillment and succes. Or, if that wasn’t meant to be, at least been invited over by the Dutch pianist Rein de Graaff, whose fame in his home country is partly due to the bebop/hard bop courses that he organised from 1986 to 2012, presenting numerous jazz legends and unsung heroes to responsive crowds, like Teddy Edwards, Johnny Griffin, James Clay and Webster Young. As one of the ‘lost heroes’, prime source Gordon would have undoubtedly instructed us with accounts of cooperating with Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk, who were, right then and there, creating jazz history.

Gordon did some high-profile side dates: Thelonious Monk’s At The Blackhawk, Dizzy Gillespie’s World Statesman, Art Blakey’s Blakey, Donald Byrd’s Byrd’s Eye View and Shelly Manne’s Live At The Blackhawk I-V. It’s easy to see why Gordon was a highly valued trumpet player. He grabs the listener by the tail from the first note, constructs carefully crafted tales, his buoyancy in mid-and uptempo tunes is contagious while his muted trumpet playing in ballad mode, definitely influenced by Miles Davis, possesses intense, introverted lyricism. A nice pairing with alto saxophonist Jimmy Woods who gives Lookin’ Good that extra, brilliant edge. Woods exploits the limits of the alto, jumps into a lot of mystic corners of the melodies, sets fire to fire without ever loosing a sense of continuity. What a player!

More surprises. At least a couple of tunes swing hard like, say, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, built on a fiery groove by drummer Milt Turner, otherwise known as one of the drummers of the Ray Charles band during Brother Ray’s legendary Atlantic period of the mid-and late fifties, and bassist Jimmy Bond. A question mark as well: who’s playing that nimble piano with shades of Horace Silver and McCoy Tyner? Dick Whittington. Dick who? A feature on Whittington in Berkeleyside explains that the pianist, who still resides on the West Coast these days, started out in the mid-fifties, leading a band including future influential players like Don Cherry, Charles Lloyd, Billy Higgins, Scott LaFaro and Charlie Haden. His career, a mix of far-reaching educational achievements and regular performances in the Bay area, took off in the late fifties and early sixties under the guidance of saxophone legends Sonny Criss and Dexter Gordon.

Crisp, transparent production by pioneering engineer Roy DuNann is a bonus. Lookin’ Good is a thoroughly enjoyable hard bop album and another piece of evidence (think Shelly Manne’s At The Blackhawk, Harold Land’s The Fox, Carl Perkins’ Introducing Carl Perkins) making clear that the genre wasn’t strictly an East Coast phenomenon.