J.J. Johnson - A Touch Of Satin

J.J. Johnson A Touch Of Satin (Columbia 1962)

J.J. Johnson and Cannonball’s rhythm section. Ergo: hard bop bone-ology of the highest order.

J.J. Johnson - A Touch Of Satin

Personnel

J.J. Johnson (trombone), Victor Feldman (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

Recorded

on December 15 & 21, 1960 and January 12, 1961

Released

as CL 1737 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Satin Doll
Flat Black
Gigi
Bloozineff
Side B:
Jackie-ing
Goodbye
Full Moon And Empty Arms
Sophisticated Lady
When The Saints Go Marching In


Though hardly the greatest recording by J.J. Johnson, it couldn’t go wrong. Simply and curtly stated by Johnson in the liner notes of A Touch Of Satin: “Last year while touring in Europe I had the pleasure of appearing as soloist with accompaniment by Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s rhythm section. To say the least, I enjoyed the experience the most. So much so that with Cannonball’s approval, we recorded this LP immediately upon returning from Europe.”

By 1960/61, the date of these recordings, the leading modern trombone player, born in 1924 in Indianapolis, had been on the scene for almost twenty years. He went through the bands of Benny Carter and Count Basie and the famous Jazz At The Philharmonic tours from Norman Granz before turning into the pioneer of trombone playing in bebop, an up-until-then unmatched virtuoso that set the template for future modern trombonists. Johnson was a pivotal presence on historic recordings: Charlie Parker’s On Dial in 1947, Stitt/Powell/Johnson in 1949, Miles Davis’s Birth Of The Cool in 1949 and Walkin’ in 1954, Dizzy Gillespie’s Afro in 1954, Kenny Dorham’s Afro-Cuban in 1954 and Sonny Rollins’s Volume 2 in 1957. Meanwhile, Johnson struck up a co-leadership with fellow bone boss Kai Winding, a much-acclaimed duo that recorded successfully from 1954-60 and 1968/69.

A series of Johnson compositions became instant standards, notably Wee Dot and Lament. Among his records as a leader, The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson Volume 1-3 on Blue Note from 1953-55 are unbeatable, coupling the best of the best as Clifford Brown, Kenny Clarke, Wynton Kelly, Charles Mingus, Hank Mobley and Horace Silver. Johnson found a home at Columbia Records in the mid-fifties and turned out a lot of excellent records for a period of seven years, notably First Place with Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers and Max Roach.

A Touch Of Satin isn’t a satin affair at all, nor velvet and neither flannel, but named so because Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll is part of the repertoire. It’s more like a sturdy cotton shirt and a thick wool sweater. He’s certainly reveling in the company and though Johnson maintains his trademark clean and bright tone and would never sound as gritty and greasy as Ellington trombonists or Al Grey, his sound is unusually big and broad and his style features plenty ‘blooziness’, perhaps that the reason why Johnson named one of the tunes on this album Bloozineff.

He adds fresh melodic ideas to Monk’s Jackie-ing, riding the waves of Feldman’s hip and deceptively loose-jointed bundle of chords. Feldman lets notes ring like Christmas bells. Satin Doll is a great group effort, a jolly, big-sounding festivity and Johnson’s slyly timed accents and fabulously structured solo are the icing on the cake. Johnson’s Flat Black, the most “Adderley Quintet-ish” cut, finds him on fire and supple and fast like a leopard on the savannah. Bop and hard bop alternates with a couple of nice ballads, featuring Feldman on celeste, and the party goers are waved goodbye with a sassy and hard-swinging version of jazz anthem When The Saints Go Marching In. Party’s over but we don’t mind the headache, it’s been serious fun.

Johnson also turned his attention to Third Stream music, rather successfully one might add, onwards from the early 1960’s, a contender to John Lewis and Gunther Schuller. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Johnson worked almost exclusively for cinema and television in Hollywood. Although he returned to jazz performance thereafter and earned several Grammy nominations during the last part of his career, it seems Johnson was not entirely fulfilled. He had his share of bad luck. His first wife suffered a stroke and Johnson cared for her until her death three and a half years later. Johnson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the late 1990’s.

Apparently, Johnson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2001. A tragedy that is mentioned in all available sources online. Is it true or just conjecture after some kind of ill-fated event? Old friend and former manager of Ray Brown, Jean-Michel Reisser-Beethoven, says: “I first met him in 1980 when he was touring in Europe with Nat Adderley. I saw him many times in L.A. He was very joyous but at the end of his life he became very negative. He was not the same anymore, I think he was not very happy about his career in general. He wanted to do things in other ways, but he didn’t. I don’t know why exactly he was not happy, because he had a great career. He was a fabulous musician. He lived in Hollywood for almost forty years but went back to Indianapolis a couple of years before the end of his life. He stopped playing and writing and giving news to people around him.”

“It is true. He killed himself. He couldn’t handle the fact that there was nothing that could be done after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He asked his wife to go and buy some books for him. When she came back, she found him. A very sad way to leave this earth and a very sad story.”

Too bad. Still, only one occurrence in an exceptional life lived in the jazz realm.

Listen to A Touch Of Satin on YouTube here

Freddie Robinson - Hot Fun In The Summertime

Freddie Robinson Hot Fun In The Summertime (Liberty 1970)

Typically versatile exponent of black music got on the good foot in the early 1970’s.

Freddie Robinson - Hot Fun In The Summertime

Personnel

Freddie Robinson (guitar), Bobby Bryant & Freddie Hill (trumpet), Bill Green (tenor saxophone), Tom Scott (alto saxophone), Unknown (piano), Al Vascovo (guitar), Wilton Felder (bass), Paul Humphrey (drums), Sid Garp’s String Section (strings), Clydie King, Darlene Love & Edna Wright (vocals)

Recorded

in 1970

Released

as LST-11007 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
Caprice’s Green Grass
Moonglow
I Want To Hold Your Hand
I’m In Love
Side B:
Hot Fun In The Summertime
Someday We’ll Be Together
Becky’s Rainbow
The Creeper


All you mouse folk, take heed. Special cat sneaked into the Flophouse domain. I remember thinking many moons ago, this guy is way cool! A friend of mine shared the sentiment. We were 17 years old and had just listened to a fellow play hip and funky guitar on a 1972 live record by John Mayall: Blues Fusion. My talented friend copied some of his phrases. The guitarist was Freddie Robinson.

Now here I am writing about Freddie. Freddie’s dead. He passed away in 2009. Seventy years before, Robinson was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1939, growing into a musician that traveled the roundabout of black music, any other path in a town that spawned as diverse a lot as B.B. King, Ike Turner, Booker T. Jones and George Coleman was highly unlikely. You can hear Mr. Robinson play on Chicago blues classics by Howlin’ Wolf as Spoonful, Back Door Man and Wang Dang Doodle. He was part of the Ray Charles band in Los Angeles. Furthermore, Robinson worked with jazz funk stalwarts The Crusaders and tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. His is a tantalizing blues and funk style with plenty jazz feeling.

Along the way, in 1975, Freddie got religion, muslim faith to be exact, not uncommon in the jazz fraternity, and changed his name to Abu Talib. Still sporting the initials of F.R. in 1970, Robinson recorded his finest solo album Hot Fun In The Summertime, a delicious slice of deep and smooth pop and funk jazz. Both Robinson’s Caprice’s Green Grass and The Creeper bear the mark of the era’s recordings by The Meters, while his Becky’s Rainbow builds on the example of Curtis Mayfield, just so you know what you’re in for.

You’re in for a soulful and crafty album that preeminently ties together good groove, horns, female vocals and strings and highlights a distinctive guitar style, bossy without being arrogant, marked by repetitive blues licks that stoke up the fire, not to mention the sly wah wah and overdrive sound of Sly & The Family Stone’s vivacious pop-funk classic Hot Fun In The Summertime and the sharply articulated licks of The Beatles’ I Want To Hold Your Hold Your Hand. Both covers surpass evergreen Moonglow, which is fine though veers towards easy listening. The fat-bottomed bass of (Jazz) Crusaders saxophonist Wilton Felder deserves special mention.

Not much left to be desired after a working week, standing at the kitchen counter on a Friday evening, pouring a drink, this sophisticated and bluesy axe man’s silky and down-home sounds spilling from the speaker cabinet, you dig…

Listening to Hot Fun In The Summertime on YouTube here and 1972’s At The Drive-In on Spotify below.

Sahib Shihab - And The Danish Radio Group

Sahib Shihab And The Danish Radio Group (Oktav 1965)

Da-da di-da-da-da, the crosseyed cat sang.

Sahib Shihab - And The Danish Radio Group

Personnel

Sahib Shihab (baritone saxophone, flute, cowbell), big band featuring a.o: Palle Mikkelborg (trumpet, flugelhorn), Bent Jædig (tenor saxophone, flute), Niels Husum (soprano saxophone, bass clarinet), Bent Nielsen (baritone saxophone, flute, clarinet), Bent Axen (piano), Louis Hjulmand (vibraphone), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (bass), Alex Riel (drums)

Recorded

in 1965 at Danmarks Radio

Released

as Oktav 111 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
Di-Da
Dance Of The Fakowees
Not Yet
Tenth Lament
Side B:
Mai Ding
Harvey’s Tune
No Time For Cries
The Crosseyed Cat


It’s about time to spotlight Sahib Shihab, who creeped in the Flophouse premises as a sideman on Philly Joe Jones’s Drums Around The World, Milt Jackson’s Plenty Plenty Soul, Curtis Fuller/Hampton Hawes’s With French Horns and Howard McGhee’s The Return Of Howard McGhee. Plenty sizzling sidemen jobs. He played on records by Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk and spent a decade in the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band.

Relatively unknown in his homeland probably because of his move to the European continent in 1965, Shihab nonetheless managed to make some slaps of vinyl as a leader in his own right. Jazz Sahib on Savoy in 1957, Sahib’s Jazz Party on Debut in 1963 and Seeds on Vogue Schallplatten in 1970 are, well… Sahib Highlights. Shihab lived in Denmark for ten years. A lot of recognition, a lot of work, a lot of good food and great women. And (almost) no discrimination and hostility. Hampton Hawes agreed but in his poignant autobiography Raise Up Off Me also expresses his doubts: “What are beautiful cats like this doing in European capitals? They should be back blowing at Shelly’s and the Half Note close to the source where the music was changing and evolving – things happening that might not reach Europe for years. If they stayed over here much longer they were in danger of becoming local.”

Sahib Shihab went back to the States in 1973 for three years, where he was born as Edmund Gregory in Savannah, Georgia and turned into one of the early boppers on baritone, alto and soprano saxophones and flute. Among those that comprised the source where the music was changing and evolving, Mr. Gregory was one of the first black artists to convert to Islam faith, an act that served as the most politically outright manifestation of the inherently progressive music that was bebop. Though we should be careful to address it as mere protest.

That was in 1947. Post-war frenzy. Commies the new enemies. Two decades later, with JFK shot through the head, Lyndon Johnson the new B-boy battling the Vietcong, The Beatles breaking through across the pond, Shihab was living in Copenhagen. That was the year of 1965. The year of, yes… another Sahib Highlight. Thé highlight? We’re talking Sahib Shihab And The Danish Radio Group, one American, a big bunch of Danish cats. Hell yeah, can’t get any better.

Tremendously swinging stuff. Without any reservation, a blast that oozes Ellington and Mingus, consisting of eight sassy compositions by Shehab. It kicks off with a solid walking bass and staccato horns, it’s Di-Da and a tenor saxophone says da-da-di-da-da. A vibraphone is added, someone plays a killer trumpet solo, someone quotes St. James Infirmary Blues. First thing one might notice is that this Danish platter sounds crazy good.

Second thing one might notice when we’re waltzing in Dance Of The Fakowees is that Sahib recruited a group of Denmark’s finest: Palle Mikkelborg on trumpet and flugelhorn, Bent Jædig on tenor saxophone and flute, Bent Axen on piano. Not to mention the greatest Danish bass player of all time, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and superb drummer Alex Riel. The clarinet player is a first-class snake charmer. Someone plays killer trombone, a muted three-trumpet team returns to the Fakowees theme after a superb display of soft/loud horn section dynamics. Sophisticated but sleazy. Here’s one of the references to Ellington/Mingus. Did Sahib play with Mingus? Not on wax. He listened. Better said, heard. No doubt.

We have the breakneck speed of Not Yet, built around sparkling and booming drum melodizing. We have the balladry of Tenth Lament, vaguely resembling, ahum… Goodbye Porkpie Hat, showcasing a bold and terribly hot baritone story. Leader Sahib at work. More splendid and husky baritone in No Time For Cries and the polyrhythm party of Mai Ding, which links Africa, Cuba, Dizzy’s big band of the late 1940’s and the blues. Pandemonium.

Vocalized breathy flute plays the leading role of the lithe Harvey’s Tune. Finally, the big band goes modal and finishes off the session with The Crosseyed Cat in good spirits. Nineteen fellows dangling like puppets on the magical string of Sahib Shihab. Lasting a mere 37 minutes, And The Danish Radio Group is as short as they came in the LP market, but nobody is dealt short here. One only wishes contemporary artists in the CD/download era would limit themselves to half hours of coherent programs instead of hour-long expressions of the ego.

This little big band platter’s on fire.

Check out Shihab’s masterpiece on YouTube here.

The Mangione Brothers Sextet - The Jazz Brothers

The Mangione Brothers Sextet The Jazz Brothers (Riverside 1960)

Young lions rip and roar.

The Mangione Brothers Sextet - The Jazz Brothers

Personnel

Chuck Mangione (trumpet), Sal Nistico (tenor saxophone), Larry Combs (alto saxophone), Gap Mangione (piano), Bill Saunders (bass), Roy McCurdy (drums)

Recorded

on August 8, 1960 at Bell Sound Studios, NYC

Released

as RLP-335 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Something Different
Secret Love
Alice
Side B:
Struttin’ With Sandra
Nemesis
The Gap
The Girl Of My Dreams


Literally, the debut album by the sextet of Chuck and Gap Mangione is a family affair. But considering the enormous drive and zest of their band, it seems as if all six young guns have strong family ties. Their Cannonball Adderley-produced record showcases a tight-knit unit comfortably shifting gears in the lanes of its blues-drenched hard bop highway, while all concerned deliver strong, buoyant solos.

All concerned meaning: trumpeter Chuck Mangione, pianist Gap Mangione, tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico, alto saxophonist Larry Combs, bassist Bill Saunders and drummer Roy McCurdy, Chuck being the youngest at age 19, Gap two years older, Roy McCurdy the oldest at age 23. There’s nothing new under the sun, these gentlemen operate in the omnipresent mainstream format of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s but like Cannonball tackle blues, ballads and Songbook-based changes with gusto.

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet-coincidence is rather striking. It’s in the way that you use it and, in the slipstream of CAQ, hard bop is like a sparkling and shiny Ford Mustang in the hands of the Mangione outfit. Let me remind you as well that Cannonball would recruit the terribly swinging drummer Roy McCurdy in 1965, who would be a member of the quintet till the passing of his bandleader in 1975.

The Jazz Brothers doesn’t let up, maintaining high energy from the long bop line and fat shuffle of Nemesis, delicious and uplifting swingers Girl Of My Dream and Alice, ballad Secret Love and uptempo burner The Gap to the r&b-drenched stop-time affair Something Different. As we can see on the cover photo, The Mangione Sextet is an enthusiastic bunch. Take a good look at Gap, short-cropped hair, boyish grin, and Chuck, wider grin and the set of eyes of the sextet that mesmerized the photographer. The spikiest of crew-cuts. Back home in Rochester, New York, Chuck was taught by his mother to treat women with respect and he has learned with trial and error, having had plenty of flings already, that the core business of girls isn’t plain penetration. He plays sweetly and adds a tad of lemon, his lines of youth crack jokes to one another and reminisce about illegal entries into local jazz clubs, the overwhelming magic of brass, reed and pigskin bombs.

Sal Nistico is more heavy-set. Dark brows, South-Italian rugged aura, playful gaze. Could it be that The Jazz Brothers contains some of Nistico’s best statements on wax? He’s a solid-sounding boss, risk-taker and fire-eater. Him and the band clearly enjoyed an afternoon at Bell Sound Studios in New York City. Session in the pocket, picture taken, where to? Place to go, says McCurdy, is Jim & Andy’s. That’s where the big boys are. Might give Cannonball a ring. Stay put, I’ll hail a cab.

Clifford Jordan & John Gilmore - Blowing In From Chicago

Clifford Jordan & John Gilmore Blowing In From Chicago (Blue Note 1957)

Upcoming Chicagoans blend effortlessly with mighty New Yorkers for what has become one of the hard-swinging Blue Note classics.

Clifford Jordan & John Gilmore - Blowing In From Chicago

Personnel

Clifford Jordan (tenor saxophone), John Gilmore (tenor saxophone), Horace Silver (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), Art Blakey (drums)

Recorded

on March 3, 1957 at Rudy van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 1549 in 1957

Track listing

Side A:
Status Quo
Bo-Till
Blue Lights
Side B:
Billie’s Bounce
Evil Eye
Everywhere


Although the title couldn’t have been more straightforward, I have always felt a sense of mystique regarding Blowing In From Chicago. See them coming, black cowboys on horseback, axe in hand, towering over the potholes of Broadway. Of course, in reality, someone drove Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore through the Lincoln tunnel, via the New Jersey Turnpike to one of the prime places of jazz recording history, Rudy van Gelder’s studio in the house of his parents in Hackensack. Benevolent couple, keen and self-willed optometrist-turned-engineer son, who spent more tape that toilet paper.

Blue Note label boss Alfred Lion had coupled the two Chicagoans with stalwarts Horace Silver, Curly Russell and Art Blakey, reunion group of Jazz Messengers. After all, although not strictly a Messenger, Russell had been bassist on Horace Silver’s Horace Silver Trio in 1953 featuring Blakey and on Art Blakey Quintet’s A Night At Birdland Volume 1-3 in 1954 featuring Horace Silver, among other associations with Silver and Blakey in the bop-to-hard bop-period. Jazz Messengers-founder Horace Silver had struck out on his own in 1956, leaving the baton to booming Blakey.

Happy reunion, success guaranteed. How did Lion come up with the idea of getting Jordan and Gilmore into the recording studio on March 3 in 1957? Likely at the advice of Johnny Griffin. Griffin had recorded his Blue Note debut album Introducing Johnny Griffin in April 1956 and had been high school mates of Jordan and Gilmore at DuSable in Chicago under the tutorage of famed teacher “Captain” Walter Dyett. Blowing was Jordan’s first session for Blue Note. The same year, he reappeared as co-leader (John Jenkins, Clifford Jordan & Bobby Timmons) and leader (Clifford Jordan, Cliff Craft).

Surprise pick John Gilmore is best known for his long association with Sun Ra from 1953-93. The Summit, Mississippi-born Chicagoan predominantly played clarinet in Army bands from 1948-52 and subsequently joined the Earl Hines band on tenor in 1953. One of the figureheads of Sun Ra’s quirky and esoteric big ensemble realm, Gilmore rarely recorded in the small ensemble format.

However, a closer look reveals that Gilmore delivered high-quality, original contributions to small bands, Blowing being the excellent starter. After a long silence, Gilmore added his tenor flavors to Freddie Hubbard’s The Artistry Of Freddie Hubbard (1962), McCoy Tyner’s Today And Tomorrow (1963), Elmo Hope’s Sounds From Ryker’s Island (1963), Paul Bley’s Turning Point (1964), Art Blakey’s ‘S Make It (1965), Andrew Hill’s Andrew (1964) and Compulsion (1966), Pete LaRoca’s Turkish Woman At The Bath (1967) and Dizzy Reece’s From In To Out (1970). His versatility is striking. He’s at home in the post-bop environment but also excellently contributes, clipped phrasing and off-beat developments of motives and all, to avantgarde recordings, notably Hill and Bley. His playing on LaRoca’s Turkish Woman is very powerful and in sync with the drummer’s exotic concept.

No doubt, certainly after all these years where Blue Note has become synonymous with jazz, Blowing is his best-known small band recording. In the liner notes, Joe Segal mentions that both Jordan and Gilmore were influenced by Lester Young, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins. On another record, namely Johnny Griffin’s Blowing Session, Leonard Feather simply classifies Jordan and Gilmore as respectively influenced by Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. At that phase in his career, Jordan, who would become the revered creator of such original works as Glass Bead Games, surely professed a preference for the Rollins sound and style. But Gilmore and Coltrane? In 1957? Seems unlikely and seems more likely that Gilmore was influenced by the above-mentioned cats that blew in from elsewhere or simply came from Chicago like Gene Ammons.

The early 1960s is another matter entirely. Sources like the Coltrane bio Chasin’ The Trane and Coltrane’s interview with Frank Kofsky in 1966 reveal that there has been mutual influence between Gilmore and Coltrane. They met at Monday night sessions at Birdland in 1960, where Gilmore teached Coltrane techniques to reach high notes and Coltrane showed his tenor colleague the ropes of unique harmonies. It is well-known that Coltrane was inspired by Sun Ra. Reportedly, Coltrane had listened extensively to Gilmore, whose playing style on Ra’s records of the late 1950’s directly influenced Coltrane’s new direction of his Chasin’ The Trane recording. It is much harder to pinpoint the influence of Coltrane on Gilmore, which Feather, in his revised 1970’s edition of the famed Encyclopedia of Jazz, reluctantly admits. It’s much more difficult to push the Little Man Influences Little Big Man story down people’s throat than vice versa.

So much for jazz influences and jazz popes, here it is March 3, 1957, stormy weather of swing, a couple of hip tenors aboard the Blakey Boat, captain Art, helmsman Horace and boatswain Curly delivering the goods of a well-documented classic. As producer and writer Michael Cuscuna wrote in the liner notes to Blowing’s 2003 CD reissue, the balance between tunes is perfect, the set being divided between hard swinger (Chicagoan John Neely’s Status Quo) and Latin-tinged tunes (Jordan’s Bo-Till) that are based on familiar changes, contemporary standard and minor-key blues (Gigi Gryce’s Blue Lights and Jordan’s mellow Evil Eye), typically keenly structured Silver original (Everywhere) and major-key bop romp (Charlie Parker’s Billie’s Bounce).

Admirably unperturbed by the gusty winds of Blakey, Jordan and Gilmore acquit themselves very well, Jordan employing a smooth tone and semi-lazy beat, Gilmore working with a harder sound and vertical, dynamic lines. The secret of Blowing’s success, could it be anything else, lies in the presence of Art Blakey. Ever heard a sizzling ride beat as in Status Quo? Ain’t no status quo! Major sea changes in the time frame of merely 5 minutes, incited by furious rolls and tacky rimshots, right on the dot. Blakey’s intro of Billie Bounce, too, is unforgettable and, lest we forget, followed up by sustained, hard groove. It also features a long, fervent solo by Silver.

Made 63 years ago, Blowing In From Chicago remains an unbeatable record, perfect kick start of the day or evening, like a strong and hot cup of Portuguese espresso.

Sonny Cox - The Wailer

Sonny Cox The Wailer (Cadet 1966)

From the depths of the Argo/Cadet archives, a wailer from The Windy City.

Sonny Cox - The Wailer

Personnel

Sonny Cox (alto saxophone), Ken Prince (organ), John Howell, Arthur Hoyle and Paul Serrano (trumpet), John Avant (trombone), Rubin Cooper or Lenard Dross (baritone saxophone), Bobby Robinson or Roland Faulkner (guitar), Cleveland Eaton (bass), Maurice White (drums)

Recorded

in January 1966 at Ter-Mar Studios, Chicago

Released

as Cadet 765 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Come Rain Or Come Shine
I’m Just A Lucky So And So
Soulero
The Retreat Song (Jikele Maweni)
Side B:
Berimbau (The Girls From Bahia)
The Wailer
For Sentimental Reasons
Hoggin’


In keeping with the policy of mother company Chess and Chicago’s taste for the real stuff ever since Afro-Americans had migrated north from the Delta, Argo/Cadet focused not so much on new developments as accessible jazz. Excepting Ahmad Jamal (though Argo likely considered Jamal as accessible in his own right), it released blues and bop-driven and groove-oriented albums by Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Budd Johnson and organists Sam Lazar and Baby Face Willette. The popular Ramsey Lewis was the main attraction.

When Argo changed its name to Cadet because of complaints by a similarly named company in the UK, it concentrated almost solely on soul jazz, especially after The In-Crowd by Lewis had become a million-selling record. Its roster included Ray Bryant and Brother Jack McDuff as well as promising unknowns as Bobby Bryant, Bill Leslie, Gene Shaw and Odell Brown. Another newcomer was Sonny Cox, part of The 3 Souls, which had released Dangerous Dan Express in 1964 and Soul Sounds in 1965. Cadet saw fit to release a solo effort in 1966: The Wailer.

Thereafter, the saxophonist disappeared from the scene altogether. Mr. Cox was a guidance counselor in Chicago public schools and coach of several Illinois state basketball teams. Apparently, Cox was somewhat of a legend that spotted talent and masterminded championship teams. Much akin to “Captain” Walter Dyett, the famed high school teacher that coached and strongly influenced future jazz heavyweights as Nat King Cole, Milt Hinton, Gene Ammons, Benny Green, Johnny Griffin, Eddie Harris, Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore in their formative years in Chicago.

Cadet didn’t take the easy way out. Variety on Cox’s swan song is key and the repertoire of standards, bossa, ballad, Ellingtonia, Miriam Makeba (yessir/lady) and soul/r&b is arranged expertly by Richard Evans, who perks up our ears using big brass and a low-end buzz of trombone and baritone saxophone and well-placed and timed Basie-ish riffs. Nothing wrong, to say the least, with the inclusion of bassist Cleveland Eaton and drummer Maurice White, who would join The Ramsey Lewis Trio in June. Just so in case you failed to notice, that’s White of Earth Wind & Fire fame.

They stoke up the fire of highlight Soulero, a composition by Richard Evans that develops from bolero to blues groove and is marked by Ken Prince’s sole Hammond solo, a punchy and gritty one at that. It has to be said that the dubious alto sound of Cox is a point lost, annoyingly out of tune. His solos are lively though rather uneven as well. I’m Just A Lucky So And So’s lines resemble the path of a sheep that broke out of the herd and shuffles panic-stricken through the dunes. Admittedly, he strongly fills the breaks on Hoggin’, a gritty copy paste from Hi-Heel Sneakers, courtesy of the leader.

So, to conclude, a one-time leader that made a hip and soulful record in spite of himself.

Only partly available on YouTube, here’s The Wailer and Berimbau (The Girls From Bahia). There’s a task here for (reissue) labels, let’s say the one and only Fresh Sound Records…

George Wallington Quintet - Jazz For The Carriage Trade

George Wallington Quintet Jazz For The Carriage Trade (Prestige 1956)

Pushing down stuff down the throats of the well-to-do is all fine and dandy but the true elite of course is Wallington & Co themselves.

George Wallington Quintet - Jazz For The Carriage Trade

Personnel

George Wallington (piano), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Phil Woods (alto saxophone), Teddy Kotick (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on January 20, 1956 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as PLP 7032 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
Our Delight
Our Love Is Here To Stay
Foster Dulles
Side B:
Together We Wail
What’s New
But George


Here’s a rare bird, try to catch him and off he goes… What with the overwhelming presence of Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson and the constant introduction of sassy newcomers as Horace Silver and Sonny Clark, it isn’t particularly weird, if unfortunate, that George Wallington is rarely mentioned. He’s an interesting pianist, born Giacinto Figlia in Sicily in 1924, raised in New York City from 1925, a flashy dresser as a kid, which is why kids in the hood would shout, “hey, look at Wallington!”. Hence the switch from Figlia to Wallington.

An important contributor to the development of bebop in the mid-1940’s, Wallington played with Dizzy, Bird, Serge Chaloff, Allen Eager, Al Cohn and Gerry Mulligan. Wallington is noteworthy not just because he was a plainly exceptional pianist, but because the development of his style is contrary to that of most of his colleagues. Most everybody, of course, was hit by thunderbolt Bud Powell. It seems that the style of precursors as Earl Hines greatly influenced Wallington’s playing. Strong left hand bass lines, cross-rhythm and chunky and brittle phrases are dominant. While Powell is thunder and lightning, a kite surfer riding the waves, not falling once (when in top form and not marred by mental issues) with gusts up to force 8, Wallington is blue skies and fat cumulus clouds and a sneaky breeze that blows the hat from your head.

His interaction with the proto-typical ‘bombs’ from the drummer showcase a penchant for the percussive qualities of the 88 keys. Check out, for instance, his feature on Brew Moore’s Mud Bug from 1949 and Escalatin’ with Charles Mingus and Max Roach in 1952 (wild ride on down, bell boy’s going crazy). Lest we forget, Wallington was an excellent writer. Godchild, initially recorded on the eponymous Birth Of The Cool record by Miles Davis & Co, is his best-known composition, followed closely by Lemon Drop, which had a spot in the book of Woody Herman.

Paradoxically, when many colleagues started to look for an escape from the constraints of the bop changes, Wallington delivered some Powellesque records in the mid-1950’s. Here’s Busman’s Holiday from 1954’s Variations. Thereafter, Wallington peaked with a couple of original performances, suggesting the influence of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. This while still generally playing in a bop context, check out Ornitology from Leonard Feather Presents Bop from 1957, featuring Idrees Suliman, Phil Woods, Curley Russell and Denzil Best.

One of his best albums, Jazz At The Carriage Trade, features Wallington’s working quintet of newcomers Donald Byrd and Phil Woods, pal from the early bop days Teddy Kotick and Art Taylor. Lord Wallington put his sword on the shoulders of his bandmates, tapping each shoulder twice, to indicate that they had collaborated on a superb hard bop date. It’s smooth, it’s hot, it’s relaxed and propulsive.

Wallington’s use of space is striking, his hanging on a note like a kid on momma’s sleeve is rather enchanting and the occasional focus on black keys hypnotic. Subtle left hand lines crawl into the fabric of the quintet’s program. Whatever the pace, whatever the tune – Dameronia, Fosteronia, Gershwin and a couple of boppish originals make up for satisfying repertoire – there is something definitely ego-less about the way Wallington accompanies his men. Smart and stimulating.

Some of the best work of Woods, young Woods still, is to be found on Carriage Trade. Parker-ish and supple as honey dripping from a spoon. Donald Byrd is a bright and sassy teammate. A Prestige date that reveals good preparation. Excellent RVG soundscape.

A couple of years later, Wallington flew the coop. Apparently tired from the biz, the pianist got into air-conditioning, a family affair. Wallington eventually returned to the scene shortly in the mid-1980’s and recorded three solo piano records for Interface and VSOP.

Wallington passed away in 1993.