Miles Davis - My Funny Valentine

Miles Davis My Funny Valentine (Columbia 1965)

As the development of the Civil Rights Act reaches its climax in 1964, Miles Davis records My Funny Valentine, sophisticated masterpiece of his Second Great Quintet.

Miles Davis - My Funny Valentine

Personnel

Miles Davis (trumpet), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Tony Williams (drums)

Recorded

on February 12, 1964 at Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center, New York City

Released

as CL-2306 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
My Funny Valentine
All Of You
Side B:
Stella By Starlight
All Blues
I Thought About You


Elation and awe fight for first row. You know what I mean what happens when listening to My Funny Valentine, Miles Davis speakin’ his piece in 1964 with his Second Great Quintet, which features tenor saxophonist George Coleman (the ‘iconic’ 2nd would include Wayne Shorter), pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. In the year of 1964, on the day of February 12, two days after the long-awaited Civil Rights Act was set in motion, Miles Davis, significantly, records for release My Funny Valentine, not his first and not his last beautiful example of black jazz, a statement at once refined and sleazy, haunting and down-to-earth, entertaining and thoughtful. It is commonly overlooked that the performance at The Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center in New York City was co-sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality.

At the milestone date of February 10, the Civil Rights Act was passed by the House of Representatives. Delayed by a filibuster (the democratic right to oppose against a proposal by means of endless strings of speeches in the Senate – Frank Capra’s great movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington starring James Stewart gives an enlightening and riveting view of the filibuster process), the Act was finally approved by the Senate on June 19 and on July 2 was signed into law by President Johnson, who had taken office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the fall of 1963.

The Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin and constituted a defense mechanism against voter discrimination, racial segregation in schools and public places, and employment discrimination. It was an extension of CRA 1957, which powered by the case of Brown vs Board of Education rendered segregation in schools unconstitutional and protected voting rights.

Legends goes that John F. Kennedy was a driving force of change. President Kennedy was admired by the Afro-American community. Musicians paid homage. Alto saxophonist Andy White named his band The JFK Quintet. Booker Ervin lamented his passing on A Day To Mourn on his Freedom Book record. Even Miles Davis, usually not so generous with applause, remarked in 1962: “I like the Kennedy brothers. They are swinging people.”

Why put cigarette paper between those two sentences by the Dark Prince? If anything, the young and energetic Kennedy’s indeed had plenty of style. However, the truth is that it was only after severe pressure – the Birmingham Campaign, protests, lobbies, the March on Washington – that JFK became supportive of new legislation. Moreover, there actually is very little evidence that Kennedy showed any sign of action on his part concerning the betterment of the standard of living for Afro-Americans in the years preceding his presidential career. He may not have been a bad cat but fact is he slept through the major part of the afternoon. The Afro-American love for JFK is sincere but speaks volumes about the standard of alternative political leadership.

To think that, during the tense zeitgeist of the mid-sixties, no one took care to pay Davis’s young crew of George Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams for their services on the special night of February 10. Nada, zip, zero!

Two LP’s were culled from the Miles Davis Quintet’s performance: Four & More and My Funny Valentine. Four & More is fast and furious, My Funny Valentine is slow to medium-slow and supple. Both are killer achievements, though the former album, consisting of up-tempo tunes (taken up a notch) offers no relief and that is one of the reasons I prefer My Funny Valentine.

No album titled My Funny Valentine could consist of breakneck speeds. The only tune with a reasonably fast tempo is the Davis staple All Blues. It is a typically organic group effort and includes a solo climax by Miles Davis that makes the children jump off their stools in the circus tent. Does not somehow this music of the Second Great Quintet prefigure that great flexible band of Woody Shaw featuring Carter Jefferson, Larry Willis and Stafford James in the mid-1970’s? Just a thought.

The ballad readings of the flexible Davis quintet are exquisite. Listening to the quintet is like following a sailboat in an Olympic event that anticipates the differing weather conditions, which range from calm to breeze to gusty wind. Captain and crew are quite the match on the gulfs of Stella By Starlight, All Of You and I Thought About You, all of which are developed, interestingly, without unisono ensembles and Captain Davis stating the melody. Tension between vulnerability and chutzpah is a Davis forte and developed to the max during All Of You, which is marked by ever-so-slight trumpet whispers and Davis’s patented pastel colors. The captain invites an eager response from the crew and climaxes with an upward, fearless cadenza.

The thoughtful but solid lines of George Coleman contrast nicely with the brooding fantasies of Miles Davis. It was said that Tony Williams felt that Coleman’s style was too polished and conservative and that was the reason Coleman hit the dust. Coleman always maintained that it was him that flew the coop and that it was only after reading the Miles Davis autobiography that he learned about Williams’s opinion. In his autobiography, Davis by the way stated that Coleman was damn well able to play rough and free if he felt like it and once sustained a wild avant ride during the total course of a concert just to thumb his nose to the young lions in the band. Coleman eventually integrated some avant techniques but only if they were to the advantage of his purely melodic and balanced style. That is why I love George Coleman. Eventually, his style has proved rather influential.

Coleman’s ending of his solo of the title track, the pièce de résistance of this great quintet, sounds like a violin, a touching tag to a lovely, balanced story. No small feat, considering that he followed one of the finest Davis solos on wax. Davis’s kaleidoscopic colors and bends stay close to the melody but at the same time are played in such a way that you see My Funny Valentine in a new light. You hear at work not someone who plays changes but an architect of sound and emotion.

Instead of smashing his notes through the wall of the fortress, Miles Davis seduces the gatekeeper such that he opens the gates totally bedazzled and entranced.

Funny Valentine’s looks are laughable, unphotographable. Yet, she’s his favorite work of art. Brave high notes end the impressionist painting of Miles Davis, full horn climax that ignites subtle and smooth and propulsive swing. Special evenings require special bands and this eager incarnation of the Second Great Quintet beautifully performed its duties.

Sam Taylor - The Bad And The Beautiful

Sam Taylor The Bad And The Beautiful (Moodsville 1962)

Sam “The Man” Taylor’s serenades to various dames are of the gutsy variety.

 

Sam Taylor - The Bad And The Beautiful

Personnel

Sam Taylor (tenor saxophone), Wally Richardson (guitar), Lloyd G. Mayers (piano), Art Davis (bass), Ed Shaughnessy (drums)

Recorded

on February 20, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as MV-24 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
The Bad And The Beautiful
Anna
Ruby
Suzy Wong
Side B:
Gloria
Laura
Anastacia
Song Of The Barefoot Contessa


You’ve heard him without perhaps knowing his name. Sam “The Man” Taylor was omnipresent in the rhythm and blues field, contributing lurid tenor sax to countless songs by artists on the Atlantic and Savoy labels, among those myriad Ruth Brown hits and Big Joe Turner’s Shake, Rattle & Roll, where “The Man”’s husky backing complemented the luscious lyrics “I’m like a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store / Well I can look at you till you ain’t no child no more” …

Lexington, Tennessee-born Taylor was the kind of musician that took different turns on the roundabout of black music. He played in the bands of Lucky Millinder, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles and Buddy (not Budd) Johnson. From the mid-50s to the mid-60s, Taylor recorded a string of both commercial and jazz records, the former bearing titles as Rockin Sax & Rollin’ Organ, Blue Mist, More Blue Mist and, hell why not, Mist Of The Orient. The latter included Jazz For Commuters, a satisfying swing record with Thad and Hank Jones, Budd (not Buddy) Johnson and Milt Hinton. In a fortunate and curious turn of events, Taylor became very popular in Japan in the 70s, recording albums like Hit Melodies From Shi Retoko To Nagasaki. Sayonara, Sam.

Prestige/Moodsville, in the guise of the clever A&R man Esmond Edwards, coupled Taylor with guitarist Wally Richardson, pianist Lloyd G. Mayers, bassist Art Davis and drummer Ed Shaughnessy. The result was The Bad And The Beautiful, an accessible record of show tunes that center around the luscious sax playing of Taylor, whose in-your-face strong sound, distinctive note-bending wails and meticulously calculated honk sequences are thoroughly entertaining. Good-old fashioned arpeggios link his breathy introductions to restrained climaxes.

Some may argue that Taylor’s style is built on gimmicks. I feel Taylor’s trick bag is the essence of his “people’s art”. It’s his characteristic bag and I think it would benefit the playing of many serious contemporary saxophonists if they’d pull some witty tricks out of it. There’s nothing in his playing, which strives for the middle ground between Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, that reeks of cheap sensationalism. Besides, “The Man” has some awfully nasty, bouncing licks to offer.

The Bad And The Beautiful contains a number of excellent ballads, notably the meaty Gloria and the blues-inflected Ruby. Anna swings Caribbean-style, The Barefoot Contessa bounces merrily. Nothing wrong with a “commercial” record that features a smooth and killer jazz band, suave and to-the-point guitar lines and, best of all, a couple of sublimely timed descending bass figures by the great Art Davis that silence The Bad and overwhelm The Beautiful.

Sam Taylor passed away in 1990.

Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else

Cannonball Adderley Somethin’ Else (Blue Note 1958)

Can’t you hear those rustling autumn leaves?

Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else

Personnel

Cannonball Adderley (alto saxophone), Miles Davis (trumpet), Hank Jones (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Blakey (drums)

Recorded

on March 9, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 1595 in 1958

Track listing

Side A:
Autumn Leaves
Love For Sale
Side B:
Somethin’ Else
One For Daddy-O
Dancing In The Dark


Hyperbole may not be a strictly postmodern disease – as a matter of fact it all kind of started with the headlines in the Hearst papers in the 1930’s – but it is prevalent in the contemporary media-saturated society, excepting serious journalism. Perhaps I’m not entirely free from guilt. Most of us have our personal favorites that are in dire need of canonization. We live in a world of so-called ‘classic’ records. However, few records were instant classics in their lifetime. For instance and for various reasons, Duke Ellington’s Ellington At Newport (on the strength of the stellar 27 choruses of Paul Gonsalves during Diminuendo In Blue), Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters and Pat Metheny’s Still Life (Talking) are regarded as bonafide classics nowadays and though they were recognized as special back then, there was some lag time involved. Usually, as far as game-changing art goes, the dust needs to settle down. No doubt, it needed to settle down in Ornette Coleman’s case.

Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else is a classic record, one of those “100 must-hear records”. It also arguably is, like Ellington’s Newport and Morgan’s The Sidewinder, a classic on the strength of one tune, Autumn Leaves. In its time, it was regarded as exceptional. A.B. Spellman typified it as “near perfect”, a record with “not a wrong note nor throwaway song in its grooves.” That, regardless of the sublime highlight Autumn Leaves, is very true. One of the great things about Somethin’ Else, which paired Cannonball Adderley with Miles Davis, Hank Jones, Sam Jones and Art Blakey, is the consistent high quality of playing and a vibe all of its own. Hard to describe, easy to feel. Organic.

Big boost for Cannonball. The alto saxophonist from Tampa, Florida had joined Miles Davis in 1957, favoring the request of the Dark Prince over the invitation from Dizzy Gillespie. He had disbanded his quintet with Nat Adderley, who did not begrudge his big brother’s decision. After all, their stint in the roster of EmArcy had not been a financial pleasure. Cannonball was frustrated by EmArcy’s lack of support.

Not only was financial security and musical interaction with Miles Davis a boost, the pairing with John Coltrane, who had returned to Davis’ group after kicking the habit, proved influential for Cannonball. Following a series of performances that enabled Cannonball and Coltrane to perfect their ensembles and indulge in spirited battles, the band record the eponymous Milestones in February and March – March 4 saw Cannonball contributing to Dr. Jekyll and Sid’s Ahead. Afterwards, Cannonball hurried to Bell Sound Studio to fulfill his obligations to EmArcy and record Cannonball’s Sharpshooters. Busy day. Then came March 9 and Somethin’ Else. Busy week. This period eventually was a stepping stone to the Miles Davis masterpiece Kind Of Blue in 1959. And 1959 was the year that Cannonball signed with Riverside. His association with the emphatic label boss Orrin Keepnews reunited the Adderley brothers and gave the genial alto saxophonist the widespread recognition that he so well deserved.

So yeah, Somethin’ Else. Somethin’ else… Ain’t that the truth. Lovely vibe. It seems Cannonball was thoroughly affected by Miles Davis, maestro of economy and restraint, sideman on this date but omnipresent and the one that allegedly turned on Alfred Lion to the idea of recording Cannonball – “Is this what you wanted, Alfred?” is the raspy voice of Davis coming through the mic at the end of the title track. Davis had found a good mate in Hank Jones, Mr. Elegance, who hadn’t recorded with the trumpeter since a 1947 Aladdin session of Coleman Hawkins. And Blakey’s adjustment to Davis is sensitive, while not without steadily increased intensity. Balance and propulsion.

It was a great idea to contrast Davis’s handling of some of the melodies – muted lyricism – with the ebullient and unrestrained variations of Cannonball – delicious side streets and blues-drenched note-bending. How everyone is focused on the big picture, all nuance, delicacy and seemingly casual, lightly spicy swing, is marvelous. This is the overriding asset of the title track, which boasts swell interplay between Davis and Cannonball, the Nat Adderley 12-bar blues One For Daddy-O and the ballad Dancing In The Dark, which puts the leader in the limelight.

Autumn Leaves is every jazz musician’s wet dream. Everybody had a hard year. Everybody had a good time. Everybody had a wet dream. Everybody saw the sunshine. And everybody with an ounce of feeling in his gut feels the autumn leaves falling. This tune is the essence of the feeling that you want to present as a gift to the listener. You want the invited to succumb to a dream state and these guys are the combined epitome of transmogrification. They make sure that you softly land on a cloud. No, not even land. You are weightless, float in space.

Autumn Leaves hadn’t been interpreted in this way before and the idea of weightlessness is likely what was intuitively brought in by Miles Davis, who at the time was inspired by Ahmad Jamal, harbinger of seemingly ephemeral but meaningful harmonies. A five-note piano-bass intro is the bedrock for a dramatic Spanish-tinged brass and reed introduction, starting point for the plaintive melody by Miles Davis, underscored by Blakey’s subtle brushes. You feel satin cloth. Hear mice nibble. Then there’s Cannonball’s sermon, a merging of sleaze and clarity. Wonderfully dynamic. Of many colors, in the slipstream of Davis. Blakey switches to snappy sticks, till the return of Davis, who makes his mark with an extreme minimum of notes, one magenta, one pigeon grey, one slightly left from crimson. Hank Jones is last in line, and Mr. Elegance also prefigures the recurrent five-note figure with a stately a-capella bit. Lastly, the tune ends on a steadily slower tempo, Jones jingling modestly, Davis putting in a few cautious notes. Briefly, you savor the mystery of nature, are at peace with mortality… the autumn leaves gently fall on moss, fungi, kipple.

You don’t want it to end.

Lou Blackburn - Jazz Frontier

Lou Blackburn Jazz Frontier (Imperial 1963)

Lou Blackburn’s Jazz Frontier is another example of solid and edgy West Coast hard bop.

Lou Blackburn - Jazz Frontier

Personnel

Lou Blackburn (trombone), Freddie Hill (trumpet), Horace Tapscott (piano), John Duke (bass), Leroy Henderson (drums)

Recorded

on January 25 & 31, 1963 at United Recorders, Los Angeles

Released

as Imperial 12228 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
New Frontier
Perception
I Cover The Waterfront
17 Richmond Park
Harlem Bossa Nova
Side B:
Luze Blues
The Clan
Scorpio
Jazz-A-Nova
Stella By Starlight


Contrary to myth, West Coast does not solely consist of polished and cool jazz. Besides, though all participants in Jazz Frontier resided in Los Angeles in the ‘60s, Lou Blackburn was born in Rankin, Pennsylvania, Freddie Hill in Jacksonville, Florida and Horace Tapscott in Houston, Texas, though the latter was raised in the City of Angels. Birthplace of John Duke and Leroy Henderson unknown. Duke played in the Basie band (I love the sound of this) in the ‘70’s. Henderson enjoyed a stint with organist Richard “Groove” Holmes in 1961-62.

Who knows along which route the journey of their ancestors went from the starting point of Africa? (Blackburn’s preoccupation with his roots shows through his fusion of blues and African music of his band Mombasa in the ‘70s) One of the main routes started on the mainland on the East Coast, from where pioneers went to cross the Appalachian mountain region, into the heart of the country, Westbound to the sunny shores of the Pacific, while, to paraphrase Jim Morrison, Indians were scattered on dawn’s dusty road, bleeding.

Blackburn & Hill. Sounds like a real estate firm on Madison Avenue but in reality it’s a configuration of outstanding jazz cats that found themselves scattered on the star-paved streets of Hollywood. A tight-knit pair that cooperated regularly as session men for radio, tv and the movies and ran into each other in the big bands of Gerald Wilson, Onzy Matthews and Oliver Nelson, who recruited them for dates by Carmen McRae, The Three Sounds and Thelonious Monk. (Monk’s Blues) A highpoint in Blackburn’s career: Mingus At Monterey.

Opportunities to record the real stuff were few and far between but Blackburn temporarily found solace at the headquarters of Imperial Records, the rhythm and blues-label that had rarely released jazz other than a few (excellent) records by Sonny Criss. Two releases constituted the limit for Blackburn: Jazz Frontier and Two Note Samba. Similar line up. Easily on par with productions on the independent labels on the East Coast but, not surprisingly considering Imperial’s core business, not particularly selling in high quantities.

Belated kudos to Michael Cuscuna, vault scavenger sui generis, who saved these records from obscurity by compiling and annotating them for the ultimate East Coast label, Blue Note, on the two-fer CD The Complete Imperial Sessions in 2006. Yep, that’s the deal the Flophouse Floor Manager remembers having once made in a little charming store in the big city of Barcelona. No vinyl but freedom of travel no less. And the joy of offline shopping-no-shipping, rabbits in the record store hat, chit-chat with knowledgeable Record Store Manager, late afternoon glasses of Cava, bites of mushroom croquettes, manchego and olive skewers, garlic shrimp and churro chips. Remember when.

Hip and varied Blackburn tunes like the Horace Silver-ish New Frontier and Perception alternate with the sprightly bossa Harlem Bossa Nova. The band swings Curtis Fuller’s The Clan into the ground and Blackburn plays an affectionate I Cover The Waterfront. Blackburn & Co. cover all bases. The fluent and tart Blackburn, buoyant Hill and remarkably spicy on-top drummer Leroy Henderson guarantee a well-above average affair. Then there’s Horace Tapscott, future cult hero of The Giant Is Awakened album and his Pan African Peoples Arkestra, whose angular rhythmic surprises, including a daring tinge of cocktail lounge, pulls it up a notch.

Both Blackburn and Hill bid farewell to Los Angeles in 1971. Blackburn passed away in Berlin in 1990. Hill allegedly wandered in desert towns until his demise at the tail end of the ‘70s. Tapscott died in 1999.

Benny Bailey - Soul Eyes

Benny Bailey Nathan Davis Mal Waldron Soul Eyes: Live At The Domicile (SABA 1968)

Superb congregation of expats opens new club in Münich, Germany.

Benny Bailey - Soul Eyes

Personnel

Benny Bailey (trumpet), Nathan Davis (tenor saxophone, flute), Mal Waldron (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass), Makaya Ntshoko (drums), Charly Campbell (conga)

Recorded

on January 11, 1968 at The Domicile, Münich

Released

as SABA 15 158 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Prompt
Soul Eyes
Side B:
Ruts, Grooves, Graves And Dimensions
Mid-Evil Dance


Late 90’s, the funky and avant-leaning Zaal 100 in Amsterdam’s Spaarndammerbuurt. This very cool and happy black old-timer was playing the trumpet. Lovely jam and bright, punchy trumpet playing. Little did I know, a young student who was into blues, sixties, alt-pop and about five years into discovering the giants of jazz and Hammond groovers, that this Benny Bailey, born Earnest Harold Bailey in Cleveland, Ohio in 1925, was one of the jazz realm’s many unsung heroes. He lived just around the corner.

About a year later, in 1999, I saw pianist Mal Waldron perform at the original Bimhuis. The band also consisted of soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, trombonist Roswell Rudd and bassist Reggie Workman. I have forgotten who held the drum chair. Waldron had traveled northbound from his hometown of Brussels, Belgium. He seemed an intriguing cat that I knew from his feature on the Five Spot records of Eric Dolphy and collaborations with John Coltrane. (One of numerous pop tunes that I co-wrote in those days with my buddy from The Jeffersons sparked the line “put the B-side on / Coltrane & Waldron count from five till dawn” – sheer genius that prompted the sum total of sixteen vestal virgins that visited our show in Porgy & Bess to henceforth pronounce Mal’s surname as ‘Waldrawn’)

At the Bimhuis, Waldron was in his late career ‘minimal’ phase, playing very softly and sparingly. I loved it. Contrary to an obviously inebriated guy in the audience, who shouted from the balcony into that typically deep and concrete pit, “Wake up, Mal!”. Which rather pissed me off. Quite ‘pissed’ as well, I poured a beer down his neck.

Turned into a rather nasty situation.

These cats were long-standing expatriates. As I would come to learn, Europe had been crowded with Americans particularly since the ‘50s. Ben Webster, Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, Rhoda Scott, Johnny Griffin, Steve Lacy, Horace Parlan, Idrees Sulieman, Sahib Shihab, Betty Carter, Art Farmer, among others. Nice big band that would make. Everybody agrees that Europe is where the gigs and serious appreciation were, and less virulent and pervasive racism. However, some eventually returned homesick, while some were not able to shake off a certain feeling of alienation, such as Johnny Griffin, who says in drummer Art Taylor’s book of interviews Notes And Tones:

“It’s all a mess. I’m here in Europe because it’s a little lighter on me than it is in America. But it’s the same thing. You don’t have forty million black have-nots over here like you have in America. But you have them here, because I see them sweeping the streets of Paris and Holland. It’s the black man’s ass up in the air. He’s stooping down picking up the dirt everywhere. The main thing is I’m here because I did something wrong on my planet. I’m not really from this planet. I did something wrong on my planet and they sent me here to pay my dues. I figure pretty soon my dues should be paid, and they’re going to call me back home so I can rest in peace.”

It wasn’t all fun and games, that’s for sure.

How would Benny Bailey and Mal Waldron and Nathan Davis (expat) have felt on the evening of January 11, 1968 at The Domicile in Münich, Germany? Pretty good, considering the generous rounds of applause and hurrays on the live album Soul Eyes: Live At The Domicile, released on the collectable SABA label that same year, a couple of months before Martin Luther King was assassinated and students revolted in Paris. These Scarlati’s, Grieg’s and Dowland’s of America’s original art form were honored, as the announcer brings to the fore, to present the first-ever concert at The Domicile, assisted by bassist Jimmy Woode (expat), conga drummer Charly Campbell and drummer Makaya Ntshoko. Refugee from the Land of the Rising Sun?

Nothing wrong with this gig. Prompt is a hard Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers-type cooker. Waldron’s Soul Eyes (a standard ever since John Coltrane’s version in 1962) is hardly unforgettable but properly Latinized. Ruts, Grooves, Graves And Dimensions and Mid-Evil Dance (contestants for greatest jazz tune titles of 1968) fall in the category “Coltrane drone” or Mingus/Dolphy coop, hefty and energetic grooves. The crystal clear and buoyant trumpet of Bailey is smoothly embedded in the differing textures, Davis is lightly turbulent on tenor and his flute playing commands attention. High-quality suspenseful cats.

Waldron underlines their parts teasingly and firmly and his ratatouille of dense chords and tumbling licks and lines hints at his near-future excursions into free jazz territory: mid-career maximalism. His repetitive blasts on the lower keys of Ruts, Grooves, Graves And Dimensions are especially hallucinating. Best to enjoy the boisterous Waldron in small doses? Perhaps. Powerful vaccine, minor side effects.

Luminous aside: engineer Max Bolleman reflects on the playing of Mal Waldron in his memoirs I’m The Beat. Waldron was sound checking in Bolleman’s Studio 44 in 1990, participating in Barney Wilen’s French Story album. Bolleman said that the Steinway, which usually sounded crystal clear, suddenly sounded like a honky-tonk piano, as if the snares had broken. Bolleman says: “I stood for a while beside Mal, scratching my head. But when Mal lay down some chords, I immediately realized what the issue was. Mal Waldron’s touch is pretty rough, almost rigid, which explained the sound of the piano. A pianist can make or break the sound of the piano, which I had learned from ten years of recording experience. I had to deal with Mal’s touch.”

Nothing honky-tonky here. Instead, a lively live performance of top-rate Americans-in-Europe.

Benny Bailey passed away in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 2005, Nathan Davis in 2018 in Palm Beach, Florida and Mal Waldron in 2002 in Brussels, Belgium.

Gene Ludwig - This Is Gene Ludwig

Gene Ludwig This Is Gene Ludwig (GeLu Records 1965)

No doubt one of the finest disciples of Jimmy Smith, organist Gene Ludwig tried to make his mark with This Is Gene Ludwig in 1965.

 

Gene Ludwig - This Is Gene Ludwig

Personnel

Gene Ludwig (organ), Jerry Byrd (guitar), Randle Gelispie (drums)

Recorded

in 1965 in Pittsburgh

Released

as GL-1415 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
Night In Tunesia
We’ll Be Together Again
Something Happens To Me
Side B:
Softly As In A Morning Sunrise
Summertime
No Blues


Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania had a large community of German descent. Immigrants from Germany entered the region at the start of the 20th century, where they often found work in the steel mills, competing with the flood of Afro-Americans from the rural South. Art Blakey is from Pittsburgh. Organist Gene Ludwig hails from Twin Rock, Pennsylvania and grew up in Steel City, which developed a strong base of black music clubs. At the Hurricane club, Ludwig saw a performance of the daddy of modern organ jazz, Jimmy Smith.

Gene Ludwig made no bones about it. He was hooked. In the liner notes to This Is Gene Ludwig, he says: “Jimmy Smith is my soul and my inspiration.” With evident zest, Ludwig pursued his instincts on his third album as a leader, recorded independently by Ludwig for “GeLu” Records in Pittsburgh in 1965 in the company of guitarist Jerry Byrd and drummer Randle Gelispie, at that point a cooperative unit for already six years.

This, indeed, is serious organ combo stuff. The trio gets into a relaxed groove on Something Happens To Me, Summertime and Miles Davis’ No Blues, while Ludwig balladeers nicely on We’ll Be Together Again. Undoubtedly, the hottest meal consists of Night In Tunesia and Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, bop tune and bop vehicle respectively, that has Ludwig burnin’ down the house with ever-growing intensity. Jerry Byrd, who also is featured on Don Patterson’s Satisfaction, finds a fiery balance between bop and blues. Randle Gelispie regularly adds some fuel to the fire.

Below par production, especially the distant sound of Byrd, is unfortunate. In hindsight, you would wish for Ludwig to have been recorded at least once in Rudy van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio. Or Bell Sound. Or Ter-Mar. Surely, Ludwig would have made an even better impression.

Two albums preceded This Is Gene Ludwig: Organ Out Loud and The Educational Sounds Of Gene Ludwig. Ludwig played on Sonny Stitt’s Night Letter and cooperated with guitar wizard Pat Martino, as can be heard on the 2016 High Note release Young Guns 1968-70. Good company. Ludwig’s next stop was Now’s The Time on Muse in 1980. While settling as a respected performer in Pittsburgh and on the East Coast, Ludwig recorded for smaller independent labels in the ‘00s.

Again, from the liner notes, we have Ludwig answering matter-of-factly the question if there have been any financial rewards so far: “No.” Not enough room at the top. This however can’t hide the fact that Ludwig was an outstanding exponent of modern organ jazz.

Gene Ludwig passed away in 2010.

The Diamond Five - Brilliant

The Diamond Five Brilliant! (Fontana 1964)

The Diamond Five showed all the young Dutch aspiring cats, hey, there’s no limit to swingin’ the American Way.

The Diamond Five - Brilliant

Personnel

Cees Smal (trumpet, flugelhorn & valve trombone), Harry Verbeke (tenor saxophone), Cees Slinger (piano), Jacques Schols (bass), John Engels (drums)

Recorded

on May 12 & 30 in Hilversum

Released

as Fontana 650 520 TL in 1964

Track listing

Side A:
Johnny’s Birthday
Ruined Girl
Lutuli
Side B:
Lining Up
Newborn
Monosyl


In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, European musicians started to get the hang of it as far as hard bop was concerned. The Jazz Couriers of Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott raised the bar in the Ol’ Country. Lars Gullin and Ake Persson pushed the Scandinavian envelope. Drummers Daniel Humair from France and Franco Manchezzi from Italy kicked many visiting Americans into action. And The Diamond Five was Holland’s finest, part of developments that deepened the feeling for jazz, which included landmark events like the Concertgebouw concerts of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.

The Diamond Five formed in late 1958, when pianist Cees Slinger was asked by the management of Sheherazade (“De Zade”) to form a band. Slinger recruited trumpeter Cees Smal and tenor saxophonist Harry Verbeke from The Diamonds, bassist Dick van de Capelle – who soon suffered an injury that would throw him off the scene for a number of years and was replaced by Jacques Schols in 1959 – and drummer John Engels.

The band enjoyed a great run in Sheherazade, which it co-owned till 1962, for approximately four years. Many visiting Americans shared its stage, among others Stan Getz, Elvin Jones, Don Byas, J.J. Johnson and players from Quincy Jones’s Free & Easy touring band like Benny Bailey, Phil Woods and Jerome Richardson. “De Zade” was the place to be, virtual jazz center of The Netherlands, where like-minded spirits as Piet Noordijk, Nedly Elstak, Rob Pronk, Rob Madna and Cees Kranenburg also made their mark.

The Diamond Five toured extensively and made a series of EP’s preceding their full-length record Brilliant in 1964, the final year of the band’s existence. (Excluding its comeback period in 1973-75) First of all, isn’t that cover of Brilliant brilliant? Catchy, classy, unconventional, one that stares at you seductively from the bins. And once the needle has settled into the grooves, everyone will most likely have agreed that The Diamond Five was a seductive quintet that put just the right amount of sleaze in a polished set of hard bop. Three cooking tunes by Cees Smal – Johnny’s Birthday, Lining Up and Monosyl – alternate with the intriguing Lutuli and mellow Newborn by the hip arranger Ruud Bos and the ballad Ruined Girl by future avant-garde musician Theo Loevendie.

Smal and Verbeke move smoothly through their book of songs, Smal with vivid lyricism on trumpet, flugelhorn and the most welcome addition of valve trombone on Johnny’s Birthday, Verbeke with generous big tones and extended notes and wails that bring to mind Dexter Gordon. Verbeke is modern yet down to earth and witty in a swing-era kind of way. Like a rotund, frivolous uncle teaching his nephew to shoot pool or catch wild salmon. Slinger thoroughly swings, incited by Schols and Engels, who finally had put his fervent trademark kick starts and fiery and alert backing on a big platter of wax.

Not surprisingly, all members enjoyed fruitful careers. Smal and Schols alternated freelance work with solid engagements for radio and tv. Verbeke was a prime tenorist for many years, Slinger a dedicated modern jazz soloist who accompanied many visiting American legends. Schols was bandmate of Engels on popular recordings by Louis van Dijk and Wim Overgaauw. John Engels is the last man standing. Internationally acclaimed drummer who played with Chet Baker, Teddy Edwards, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, you name it. Alive and kicking at the age of 85.

Hard to find LP of a legendary Dutch outfit. Great re-issue (as shown) out there.