Thornel Schwartz - Soul Cookin'

Thornel Schwartz Soul Cookin’ (Argo 1962)

Guitarist Thornel Schwartz was in the frontline of the organ combo scene. A typical sideman, he only recorded one album as a leader, the 1962 Argo album Soul Cookin’, which presents a bonus in the guise of Hammond organ giant Larry Young, who performs under the pseudonym Lawrence Olds.

Thornel Schwartz - Soul Cookin'

Personnel

Thornel Schwartz (guitar), Bill Leslie (tenor saxophone), Lawrence Olds (Larry Young, organ), Jerome Thomas (drums A2-A3, B1, B2, B4), Donald Bailey (drums A1, B3)

Recorded

on September 4, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as Argo 704 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Soul Cookin’
Brazil
You Won’t Let Me Go
Side B:
Theme From Mutiny On The Bounty
Blue And Dues
I’m Getting Sentimental Over You
Don’t You Know I Care


Isuppose Thornel Schwartz realised soon enough that his path wasn’t going to resemble that of Grant Green, George Benson, Pat Martino or Joe Pass, amazing guitarists that also woodshedded in r&b and soul jazz but, unlike Schwartz, became leaders in their own right. Nevertheless, Schwartz, born in Philadelphia on May 29, 1927, and no doubt a solid, characteristic guitarist, could look back at the end of his life (he died prematurely at the age of 50 in 1977) on a career in the frontline of the popular soul jazz genre. Schwartz was a sideman to many leading organists of the day, beginning with the pioneering master of the Hammond B3, Jimmy Smith.

Schwartz, who was associated with Philadelphian singer Don Gardner (at the same time as Jimmy Smith) and singer/pianist Freddie Cole from 1952 to 1955, hooked up with Jimmy Smith in 1956. Bullseye. Schwartz found himself featured on Smith’s albums that made the organ a viable modern jazz instrument and were extremely popular to boot. Schwartz appeared on Smith’s A New Sound A New Star – Jimmy Smith At The Organ Vol. 1 & 2, The Incredible Jimmy Smith At The Organ Vol. 3 and At Club Baby Grand Vol. 1 & 2. After a stint with Johnny “Hammond” Smith in the late fifties, Schwartz joined the group of another revolutionary organist, Larry Young, in 1960. Still working as a soul jazz musician, Young nonetheless showed potential as an innovator on the sessions Schwartz partook in, Testifyin’, Young Blues and Groove Street. Subsequently, Schwartz worked with Jimmy McGriff, Reuben Wilson’s early career group Wildare Express and Charles Earland in the sixties and Richard “Groove” Holmes in the seventies. Schwartz from Philly. With Smith, McGriff and Earland from Philly, organ jazz city without parallel. To say the least, Mr. Schwartz knew where the action was at!

Solely responsible for the modern organ jazz revolution, Jimmy Smith did have an expert companion in Thornel Schwartz. The uptempo tunes in Smith’s book (The Way You Look Tonight and The Champ from A New Sound A New Star, Sweet Georgia Brown and Get Happy from At Club Baby Grand) show that Schwartz played his role in setting the standard for future organ combo’s. His boppy comping, supported by deft accents on the bass string, clipped notes and the propulsive, relentless groove Schwartz and Smith generate, which suggests a liking for Django Reinhardt’s tight-knit gypsy swing, set the standard for playing in the organ combo. The method is commented upon by Babs Gonzalez in the liner notes of A New Sound A New Star, which further illustrates the relevance of Schwartz: ‘They were always singing new arrangements in the car while traveling.’ That is, when Babs wasn’t intervening with some lengthy, expoobident recitations of bopswing poetry.

A proficient blues player who talks the bop language without really, like better guitar players, stretching long lines over the familiar changes, Schwartz accompanies his short clusters of prickly, staccato notes with driving octave playing. The blues tunes on Soul Cookin’ benefit from Schwartz’ more crude than refined approach, although the entrance in the title track, lame as a duck with the flu, nearly kills the tune, but he regains his posture with simultaneously down-home and boppish statements. His peculiar, overdriven tone might get on your sleeve, yet gives that extra edge and is instantly recognizable. Soul Cookin’ was released six years after Schwartz’ stint with Jimmy Smith and Thornel’s sound hadn’t changed one bit. A jazzy creature of habit!

Soul Cookin’ presents not only blues but exotic grooves like Brazil and standards and popular song like Theme From Mutiny On The Bounty. Bill Leslie, a lively, original tenor saxophonist whom Schwartz cooperated with on Leslie’s Diggin’ The Chicks, lures The Bounty to the shore of Rio with some hot and quixotic blowing. Larry Young, or Lawrence Olds (the off-beat pseudonym that precedes the wordplay of Young’s 1973 Lawrence Of Newark album) comps tastefully and makes the most of his few solo spots, elevating You Won’t Let Me Go to a song you wouldn’t want to let go, spicing his excellent blues lick bag with frivolous runs up the scale. Schwartz is duly stimulated, sends his car into the grind, only to regain speed for a commoving ride around the track. A moment that’s reminiscent of the chemistry between Jimmy and Thornel in 1956.

Listen to the Soul Cookin’ album here.

James Moody - Another Bag

James Moody Another Bag (Argo 1962)

While working prolifically with the Dizzy Gillespie band in the sixties, James Moody kept recording as a leader as well. His string of Argo albums are in line with the Chicago label’s policy of releasing attractive, blues-based jazz but, like Another Bag, have a lot more to offer.

James Moody - Another Bag

Personnel

James Moody (tenor saxophone, flute), Paul Serrano (trumpet), John Avant (trombone), Kenny Barron (piano), Ernest Outlaw (bass), Marshall Thompson (drums), Tom McIntosh (arranger)

Recorded

on January 30, 1962 at Ter-Mar Studios, Chicago

Released

as Argo 695

Track listing

Side A:
Sassy Lady
Ally (parts 1, 2, 3)
Spastic
Side B:
Minuet In B
Cup Bearers
The Day After
Pleyel d’Jaime


Moody is best known for his long associations with Dizzy Gillespie in the sixties and eighties, that’s probably why his solo work is sometimes taken for granted. But Moody had worked with the bop pioneers Gillespie and Max Roach as early as the late forties and early fifties, scored an unusual hit with 1952’s Moody’s Mood For Love and, besides being a smokin’, articulate tenorist and altoist that inspired John Coltrane, was one of the major flutists in jazz history.

Another familiar composition from Moody is Last Train From Overbrook, which instantly became a standard, from the Argo album of the same name from 1958. There are no future evergreens on Another Bag. It is, however, filled with varied repertoire which is presented with gusto and intelligence.

Sassy Lady is a delicious, mid-tempo blues, driven by the smooth and hot drum rolls of Marshall Thompson. The three-horn line-up injects it with an alluring bar room feeling, contrasted effectively by Moody’s staccato tenor runs. Moody’s tenor is strongly featured in Ally as well. It’s a swingin’ affair bookended by classical themes in which Moody’s contemporary sound and style also suggest the influence of Lester Young and Wardell Gray.

The seemingly effortless group interplay of Playel d’Jaime is reminiscent of the iconic 1956 Miles Davis group that recorded the Workin’-series on Prestige. The depth and harmonic finesse of Moody’s tenor work is considerable. Minuet In D employs a tacky waltz drum figure set against a walkin’ bass, a lithe, suspenceful bounce that triggers spirited solo’s from Moody and the young Kenny Barron. Trombonist Tom McIntosh arranged many of Moody’s tunes during the late fifties and early sixties and does a fine job on Another Bag as well.

Another Bag suggests that Moody & Co enjoyed themselves very much incorporating intelligent design into a solid hard bop book. As a consequence, the listener is in for a very rewarding listening experience.

The Jazztet And John Lewis

The Jazztet The Jazztet And John Lewis (Argo 1961)

The coupling of John Lewis, the king of chamber jazz music, as a composer and arranger with The Jazztet in 1958 wasn’t as strange as it looked on the surface. Although co-leaders Benny Golson and Art Farmer lead a cookin’ hard bop ensemble, it was acknowledged for its elegant tunes and meticulous arrangements. The smart arrangements of Lewis fit The Jazztet like a glove. Yet I’m sure that Lewis had not foreseen that the group would deliver the hardest swinging version of Django ever put on wax.

The Jazztet And John Lewis

Personnel

Benny Golson (tenor saxophone), Art Farmer (trumpet), Tom McIntosh (trombone), Cedar Walton (piano), Tommy Williams (bass), Albert Heath (drums), John Lewis (composer, arranger)

Recorded

on December 20 & 21, 1960 and January 9, 1961 at Nola’s Penthouse Studio, NYC

Released

as Argo 684 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Bel
Milano
Django
New York 19
Side B:
2 Degrees East, 3 Degrees West
Odds Against Tomorrow


Lewis, the leader of the amazingly popular Modern Jazz Quartet, always had to tolerate a lot of vitriol. Jazz policemen condemned the group’s stiff concert hall appearances, deeming their hybrid of jazz, classical and third stream music unappropriate, often meaning decidedly ‘unblack’. They hated to see Lewis put the ball and chain on vibraphonist Milt Jackson, who was supposedly bereft of his sparkling blues playing.

If you’re as controversial as John Lewis, you’re bound to be at the right track.

Things were not that simple in the real world, outside policing dreamland. Charles Mingus worked with the ‘suite’-concept regularly. Bud Powell played and incorporated Bach. Many hard boppers had received thorough formal training. And in spite of their classical approach, the elaborate themes of Lewis and pristine solo’s of Jackson revealed their firm roots in bebop and blues.

Hank Mobley’s my main man but is that a reason to put the lid on MJQ? Of course not. My doctor advised me to take it in small doses, though. I once tried to spin MJQ albums back to back while working nine to five at home, but around 2 o’clock I started suffering from an annoying itch all over my body and a mildly disconcerting shudder of the pancreas.

All tunes except Bel were from the MJQ book. Lewis wrote Bel especially for The Jazztet And John Lewis. It’s a sweeping opening statement, consisting of a theme of staccato horn stabs that work like melodious claxons: here’s The Jazztet! The three-horn line-up sounds tremendously powerful. Its propulsive, brassy interludes coupled with the cracklin’ rolls by Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath catapult the soloists into fervent motion.

Django has the same virile, robust edge. It’s taken at a faster tempo than usual, and it’s pandemonium from there. The great asset of Django beside the glorious melody – the tension-release section – is played out by the group to full effect, inspiring Golson and Farmer to the core. It seems Farmer can’t wait as he enthousiastically announces himself at the end of Golson’s solo, weaving in and out of Golson’s sublime, understated swinging statements before his own swift, suave contribution. Another immaculate solo is by Cedar Walton, who plays very fluently in a bag that suggests the influence of both Bud Powell and Bill Evans.

Pastoral tunes like Milano and New York 19 benefit from the warm, breathy sound of Golson and the lyrical style of Farmer. They’ve got plenty of serene background harmony to work with. Odds Against Tomorrow, a composition that Lewis wrote for the movie of the same name (a Robert Wise crime flick from 1959 starring Harry Belafonte), is typical MJQ. Its slow, melancholy introduction, held together by a can’t-get-out-of-your-head four note figure, fugues into an effortlessly swinging, Ellingtonian mid-tempo movement, buoyantly introduced by Art Farmer. The tune returns to a slow outro, leaving us bucked and satiated.

Lewis’ stylish blues tune, 2 Degrees East, 3 Degrees West, is the right material for The Jazztet. Golson tackles the mid-tempo groove with flurries of glorious, off-centre notes. Trombonist Tom McIntosh (a fine arranger in his own right), less virtuosic and imaginative than his forerunner in the Jazztet, Curtis Fuller, contributes a more swing-type solo with an attractive, round, soothing tone.

Musically, it’s a superb album. Production-wise, it’s splendid as well. My copy is on the Dutch Funkler label, released in the same year as the Prestige original. The overall sound is sprightly and upfront. The fat, ‘together’ sound of drums and bass is a gas. Tommy Nola and Kay Norton of Nola’s Sound Studio in NYC did an outstanding job.

John Lewis and The Jazztet did an outstanding job, upping the ante as far as bringing swing to thoroughly written-out material is concerned.

Sam Lazar - Space Flight

Sam Lazar Space Flight (Argo 1960)

Very little is known of organist Sam Lazar’s life. The liner notes of his early sixties Argo releases represent about the only information available. He hailed from St. Louis and played piano in the groups of Ernie Wilkins and Tab Smith, when a gig he attented of modern organ jazz progenitor Jimmy Smith inspired him to take up the Hammond B3.

Sam Lazar - Space Flight

Personnel

Sam Lazar (organ), Grant Green (guitar), Willie Dixon (bass), Chauncey Williams (drums)

Recorded

on June 1, 1960 at Ter-Mar Studio, Chicago

Released

in 1960 as Argo 4002

Track listing

Side A:
Dig A Little Deeper
We Don’t Know
Caramu
Ruby
Gigi Blues
Side B:
Space Flight
Mad Lad
Funky Blues
Big Willie
My Babe


Liner note writer of Lazar’s Argo debut Space Flight, DJ E. Rodney Jones, praises Lazar as ‘the best organist now playing jazz’, which is goofy, considering his mention of master Jimmy Smith. Biased or perhaps intent on sales, Jones ignores the facts that Wild Bill Davis was generally acknowledged as a pioneer of pre-modern organ jazz and that the start of the sixties brought a batch of top notch, tasteful players such as Shirley Scott and Jimmy McGriff, who were more advanced than Lazar.

It’s not a put-down of Jones, who was an important black radio pioneer. It’s just to be taken with a grain of salt. And though Lazar may not be part of the Hammond major league, he deserves his place in organ jazz history. Of his three Argo releases – the other ones being Playback and Soul MerchantSpace Flight is the most alluring, containing snappy, unpolished r&b-type tunes and furthermore, remaining relevant for including fellow St. Louis musician Grant Green, the unsung hero of modern jazz guitar.

Space Flight was Green’s second recording. (following Jimmy Forrest’s All The Gin Is Gone of December 1, 1959) Green was part of Lazar’s working band. Just a while later alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson would introduce Green to Alfred Lion and Green’s Blue Note and New York career would be underway. A little research proves my point that, in contrast to general opinion, the late fifties 45rpm single that the tiny label Cawthorne released of Sam Lazar, Space Flight part 1/part 2, was Green’s recording debut instead of the Jimmy Forrest album. (Space Flight part 2, by the way, is represented on the album titled Big Willie)

Green delivers a series of fleet, blues-drenched solo’s, that make it easy to imagine why he was already making such an impression on fellow musicians. The flagwaver Gigi Blues, Mad Lad and the heavily shufflin’ title track are cases in point.

The line-up also includes blues icon and bassist Willie Dixon, which also explains the overriding blues atmosphere of Space Flight. The group plays Dixon’s classic My Baby.

Argo was a subsidiary of Chess Records, Phil and Leonard Chess’ legendary Chicago label that trusted heavily on Dixon’s input. The overall sound of the session is pretty distorted, not unlike that of the era’s Chicago blues music. The kind of raucous music that grew out of and boosted black neighbourhood life. Grant Green’s sophisticated playing style contrasts well with the straight-laced surroundings.

Lazar puts in a couple of solo’s that sound-wise place him in the realm of swing rather than modern jazz. Style-wise, Lazar shows some signs of modernity, particularly in the album’s highlight, the dynamic and fleetly phrased Mad Lad.

However, generally Sam Lazar’s playing style stayed close to the blues, as Space Flight proves convincingly.