Behind The 8 Ball


Journalist Bobby Tanzilo published an extensive and thoroughly researched biographical sketch of the life and career of organist Baby Face Willette on on September 11. Willette periodically resided in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

September 11 is the date of birth of Baby Face Willette.

Baby Face Willette is the much-admired but enigmatic organist who released two albums on Blue Note in 1961 – Face To Face and Stop And Listen and two albums on Argo in 1964 – Mo’ Rock and Behind The 8 Ball. He was also featured on Lou Donaldson’s Here ‘Tis and Grant Green’s Grant’s First Stand in 1961. Willette was rooted in gospel and r&b and loved Charlie Parker, a combination that resulted in a unique, groovin’ and single-line style most everybody just feels from the first beats is the real thing.

(Baby Face Willette’s legacy as a jazz artist: six records.)

Like a mine digger with the eye on diamonds, Tanzilo put together Willette’s story from various sources, including Willette’s son Steven. Yes, Willette resided in Milwaukee but the sharp-dressed cat with the youthful demeanor was all over the place, traveling the country in spells that led him from his gospel-infused youth, career as r&b-artist to the famous Blue Note headquarters and, finally, to the obscurity of Mid-Western clubs and his early demise in 1971. The article’s design is a treat and includes fantastic previously unreleased picture material.

Do yourself a favor. Stop and read.



Just for the fun of it I checked all the classic (hard) bop albums I reviewed over the past four years that featured musicians who participated in Stoomcursus & Vervolgcursus Bebop. Stoom & Vervolgcursus Bebop is the series of lectures on modern jazz and performances that the renowned Dutch pianist Rein de Graaff organized in The Netherlands from 1987 to 2012. De Graaff invited over American legends and unsung heroes for performances with contemporary European and Dutch counterparts. Almost without exception, the musicians were accompanied by his regular trio of bassists Koos Serierse (1936-2017) and Marius Beets, and the extraordinary drummer Eric Ineke.

The lectures and performances have been enormously valuable to the Dutch and European jazz landscape. De Graaff delivered his insightful introductions with understated humor. Season after season, Dutch jazz fans were treated to performances by legendary American jazz men and women that they never would have experienced in such an intimate setting would not the now semi-retired Rein de Graaff have taken great pains to locate them from practically all the States that do not begin with an ‘I’. He has been a straight-forward and acclaimed organizer. Plays mean piano too.

Here’s my check. Quite the list:

Marcus Belgrave, James Clay, Al Cohn, Junior Cook, Ronnie Cuber, Eddie Daniels, Charles Davis, Teddy Edwards, Art Farmer, Frank Foster, Curtis Fuller, Johnny Griffin, Barry Harris, Red Holloway, Clifford Jordan, Harold Land, Charles McPherson, James Moody, David “Fathead” Newman, Dave Pike, Julian Priester, Billy Root, Doug Sides, Louis Smith, James Spaulding and Art Taylor.

(Advertising poster 1987/88; Buck Hill, Teddy Edwards and Von Freeman 1991/92); Marchel Ivery, David “Fathead” Newman and the Rein de Graaff Trio 1989/90; Source: Coen de Jonge’s Belevenissen In Bebop. (Passage, 1997); Photography Anko Wieringa)

They usually performed at Vredenburg in Utrecht, Oosterpoort in Groningen and at small venues around the country. Many of these jazz greats stayed at De Graaff’s place in the village of Veendam, Groningen, where they were treated by their friendly host to a hearty breakfast and a view on the flat, wide and open spaces of the Northern countryside…

Coming season at the Flophouse Theatre: Billy Mitchell and Sal Nistico. Both Stoomcursus alumni. I’m not doing it on purpose. Those cats just keep wanderin’ through the backdoor!

Rein de Graaff

Pianist Rein de Graaff (Groningen, 1942) recorded more than 40 albums, both as a leader and in cooperation with numerous Americans and fellow Europeans. De Graaff played with Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Clark Terry, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Sonny Stitt, Philly Joe Jones and many others. He won the Boy Edgar Prijs in 1980 and the Bird Award at North Sea Jazz Festival in 1986. Rein de Graaff semi-retired this year, adding a salute the end of his career with a widely publicized and successful farewell tour.

Read my interview with Rein de Graaff here. And my interview with his longtime companion Eric Ineke here.

The Rein de Graaff Trio featuring tenor saxophonist Sjoerd Dijkhuizen performs at Café Pavlov in The Hague on Sunday 8 September at 16:00.



The Gabriel Mervine Quartet consists of trumpeter Gabriel Mervine, guitarist Alex Heffron, organist Tom Amend and drummer Alejandro Castano. The Denver-based soul jazz outfit released their new single Quickie on Color Red on August 27.

Quickie is unadulterated boogaloo jazz, modern but strongly rooted in the classic organ and soul jazz format of the mid/late sixties, particularly the commercial Blue Note affairs of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan et. al. It’s a catchy, clever melody and arrangement and a strong effort with vigorous statements by all four members.

I love the way Mervine, accomplished trumpeter who cooperated with Terenche Blanchard, Christian McBride, Maceo Parker, Houston Person and was part of funk outfit The Motet, glides over the funky backbeat, a greasy slur here, a surprising backflip of high notes there. Mervine displays a rewarding, balanced vitality.

Color Red confirmed the release of new tracks by the band in the near-future.

The Gabriel Mervine Quartet

Gabriel Marvin Quartet - Quickie

Find Quickie on the Color Red label here.

Scone Cash Players As The Screw Turns (Flamingo Time 2019)


Organist Adam Scone guarantees hot, dynamic and hi-level funk and soul jazz.

Scone Cash Players - As The Screw Turns


Adam Scone (organ), Dave Guy (trumpet), Ian Hendrickson-Smith (tenor saxophone), Alex Chakour (guitar), Caito Sanchez (drums), Naomi Shelton (vocals #3), Jason Joshua (vocals #2, 5 & 6), John Dokes (vocals #7)


in 2015 at Galaxy Smith Studio, New York City


as Flamingo Time 105 in 2019

Track listing

As The Screw Turns
Bokum Hi
My House Is Small (But I Dream Big)
Dr. Red Teeth
The Opportunist
Canned Champagne
They Say It’s Christmas Time
Smoke And Nails
Brass Tacks
The Crown Divide

Adam Scone came up in the late 90s and has been much in demand since. He played with Lou Donaldson, George Braith, Ben Dixon, Melvin Sparks, Lee Fields, Charles Bradley and Naomi Shelton. A specialist of gritty organ grooves, Scone assisted the front-running funk jazz outfit Sugerman Three as well as Hot Pants, The Macktet and J.J. Grey & Mofro.

Scone released five albums, partly under the monicker Scone Cash Players. His latest offering (also on wax) involves a sly funk groove with myriad treats: fantastic vocal cameos by singers Naomi Shelton, Jason Joshua and John Dokes, meaty and sharp arrangements and, foremost, the no-holds-barred organ playing of Adam Scone, who possesses the trance-inducing storytelling ability that we’ve come to appreciate so much in masters like Lonnie Smith and the late Charles Earland. Furthermore, Scone tastefully carries a song with different tonal directions and various degrees of tension and release.

Care to produce a neo-blaxploitation flic? Here’s your soundtrack. That’s an obvious reference. But to be sure, the calibre of musicianship on the best of the classic blaxploit albums couldn’t be overestimated. Bokum Hi, featuring the raw gutbucket voice of Jason Joshua, is the heaviest of the album’s JB’s-type grooves. They Say It’s Christmas Time may be out of season but John Dokes delivers it with zest and sophistication, the lyrics about Brooklyn are in sync with the album’s New York City vibe. Scone vehemently stamps his layered, percussive mark on the boogaloo-ish Brass Tacks. The Q&A between Scone and saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith during the show stopping ballad The Crown Divide is deft and charming.

Then there’s the deep soul of My House Is Small (But I Dream Big), a melancholy song of hard-won hope and togetherness, with the brittle and sagacious voice of Naomi Shelton drifting through the cracks of the back room. If the song is a carriage, the organ of Adam Scone is the horse pulling it to its destination. On the dirty side of the street.

Scone Cash Players

Find As The Screw Turns here.

Check out Scone Cash Players featuring Naomi Shelton with My House Is Small (But I Dream Big) on YouTube here.

Sal Nistico


In the early sixties the line-up of The Herd, Woody Herman’s big band that had spawned such groundbreaking editions as the First Herd with Bill Harris, Pete Candoli and Flip Philips and The Second Herd with the famous Four Brothers section of Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, Serge Chaloff and Stan Getz, was one of the most exciting to date. It included trumpeter Bill Chase, trombonist Phil Wilson and drummer Jake Hanna. As well as a thickset fellow from Italian ancestry who regularly jumped off the blocks to deliver a hot explosive story. That was Sal Nistico.

See some of Nistico’s lively playing on The Herd’s rendition of Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie on YouTube here.

Nistico was an outstanding straightforward tenor saxophonist who was born in Syracuse, New York on April 2, 1941. He played in the Jazz Brothers band of Chuck and Gap Mangione from 1959 to 1961 and came into prominence in the big band of Woody Herman. He was part of The Herd from 1962 to 1965 and would have regular stints with the bandleader throughout his career. Nistico also played and recorded with Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Curtis Fuller, Dusko Goykovich, Stan Tracey and Chet Baker, spending a big part of his career in Europe.

Fiery in the big band context, Nistico had no shortage of fire as a leader of small group dates, yet leaned towards a more balanced, bop-oriented approach, most likely the environment he enjoyed most. With his strong tone, fluency and slightly-behind-the-beat timing, Nistico fronted straight ahead groups on records with Nat Adderley, Barry Harris, Benny Bailey, Roy Haynes, Frank Strazzeri and Hod ‘O Brien.

From left to right: Heavyweights, Jazzland 1962; Neo/Nistico, Beehive 1978; Hod ‘O Brien & Sal Nistico, Live In The Netherlands, Porgy & Bess, Terneuzen 1986, HodStef Music 2017

Nistico sheds a light on his approach and feelings about modern jazz in a conversation with English saxophonist Tubby Hayes that was published in Cresendo Magazine’s Anglo-American Exchange in 1966 by Les Tompkins. See here.

Tubby Hayes: “there seem to be a lot of younger musicians here (in New York, FM) who are trying to be different for the sake of being different, without actually knowing the roots.”

Sal Nistico: “It’s like — I talked to Coltrane. He used to dig Arnette Cobb, Illinois Jacquet. Those guys have a firm foundation for what they’re doing. A lot of cats put down bebop, and they say it’s old and it’s dated, but that music’s not easy — it’s a challenge to play.”

Nistico was married to singer Rachel Gould. One of five children, their daughter Miriam – theatre maker and musician – shares memories of her background and artistic goals here.

She says: “Sal (…) looked like a gladiator, with a stocky Southern Italian physique, thick curly black hair and a crumpled forehead. People judge books by their covers and most people assumed that Sal was a man with a thick skin, a tough guy. In fact, as is so often the case, he was incredibly sensitive. He had a child’s hatred of cruelty and injustice (…) and he struggled with the machismo and bravado of men on tour.”

Sal Nistico passed away on March 3, 1991 in Bern, Switzerland.

New West Quartet - East & West

New West Quartet East & West (Fresh Sound New Talent)


Quirky rhythm is the business of the New West Quartet.

New West Quartet - East & West


John Gunther (tenor saxophone), Ricardo Pinheiro (guitar), Mike del Ferro (piano on 1, 3, 5, 7 & 8), Massimo Cavalli (bass), Bruno Pedroso (drums)


on June 8, 2017 at Estúdio Vale de Lobos in Lisbon, Portugal


as FSNT 576 in 2019

Track listing

The New West
Pó Dos Dias
Boulder Blues
Don’t Forget Ornette
Moment’s Notice
Que Falta
Poka Blues

The New West Quartet consists of tenor saxophonist John Gunther, guitarist Ricardo Pinheiro, bassist Massimo Cavalli and drummer Bruno Pedroso, featuring pianist Mike del Ferro on a number of tracks. Pinheiro and Pedroso are from Portugal, Cavalli from Italy. They met the American saxophonist and woodwind player Gunther in 2003 in Denmark and Dutchman Del Ferro in South Africa in 2014 through their work for the International Association of Schools Of Jazz. East & West is their debut album.

An unconventional but unmistakable groove runs level with impassioned musical conversations and a rapacious concern with melodic rhythm. Gunther’s The New West, for instance, is reminiscent of, just to give you an idea, John Scofield’s A Go Go, without the Hammond organ. Except Pinheiro and Gunther break out of the grease, in fact travel out there in space, two alien creatures absorbed by a lively evaluation of that peculiar animal, the earthling.

Four fellows (indeed five, counting Del Ferro) speak both individually and as a unit. The group’s edgy interpretations of the blues – Cavalli’s Boulder Blues and Pinheiro’s Poka Blues – leave plenty of room for the lyrical Cavalli, who evidently, and to our great pleasure, highly esteems the value of the upright bass not only as a time-keeper but also as an independent voice. Simultaneous improvisation pops up here and there and is at the core of Cavalli’s Don’t Forget Ornette, obviously a reference to the late Mr. Coleman. The bassist’s humorous quote of Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water is at the tail end of the challenging, captivating tune of sparse harmonic movement and shifting tempo. Pinheiro’s Pó Dos Dias and Gunther’s Que Falta are sensuous slow and medium-slow songs, dripping with hot Mediterranean sunlight and humid nights, the web of twisty alleys barely noticeable through the fog… Enjoyable side dishes to the grand improvisational boeuf of East & West.

The melody of John Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice is a funky kind of polka, the remaining changes are taken in gritty 4/4. Gunther – on tenor saxophone – is an archeologist who patiently looks for ancient clues in a cave. He develops a story with measured grace, injecting a husky bended note here, a vivid U-turn there. Gunther’s got a lithe tone and a fluidity reminiscent of Clifford Jordan. Del Ferro expresses similar elasticity. Thelonious Monk’s Bye-Ya has been more of less cha cha cha-fied. Pinheiro works around the beat with much aplomb. He has found a fascinating balance between angular phrasing, sinuous, exotic lines and crunchy, repetitive licks.

Weirdly, The New West Quartet wouldn’t be out of place in a little bar in Havana, Cuba or Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Without a doubt, the rowdy and thoroughly entertained crowd would intuitively grasp the group’s excellent and refreshing re-evaluation of mainstream jazz.

New West Quartet

Find East & West on Fresh Sound Records here.


Radio Ga Ga. For the generation of post-war jazz fans, radio was the predominant means of discovering jazz artists, besides the odd purchase of a record or dive into the collection of a parent or relative.

Few radio shows were as enchanting as The Voice Of America’s Jazz Hour, hosted by Willis Conover. It wasn’t strictly on air in the United States. The waves went as far as Western Europe, where music lovers added the show to their favorite diet, that also included shows of the legendary Radio Luxembourg station.

No one who recounts the enjoyment of the show leaves out the recollection of Conover’s stately delivery. His warm baritone voice would, for instance, introduce Freddie Freeloader from Kind Of Blue . The speed of the voice slow as a turtle walk: “On trumpet, Miles Davis, on tenor saxophone, John Coltrane, on alto saxophone, Cannonball Adderley, on piano… Winetone Kelly.

(From left to right: Wynton Kelly; Willis Conover; The Cannonball Adderley Quintet, Plus)

You can see the smile on Kelly’s face. Ergo the title of one of Kelly’s tunes: Winetone. (here) It’s a medium-tempo blues tune that appeared on The Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s Plus album from 1961. That’s plus Wynton Kelly. Well, Winetone.