TONY ALLEN – On May 19, Blue Note will release A Tribute To Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers by drummer Tony Allen, a digital EP consisting of four Messengers classics including Moanin’. (see here) It’s a teaser for Allen’s forthcoming album dedicated to the indomitable Art Blakey or as he also came to be known, Buhaina. The legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who together with Fela Kuti is widely acknowledged as the pioneer of Afrobeat, was strongly influenced by American drummers such as Max Roach and Art Blakey. Which comes as no surprise, since Blakey is often seen as the most African of the modern jazz drummers. Although Blakey, who resided in West Africa in the late forties, always insisted that jazz was a purely American music, the similarities of Blakey’s style and African drums are striking. Seen in this light, percussion-heavy Blakey albums as Drum Suite, Orgy In Rhythm and Holiday For Skins might best be viewed as American interpretations of African rhythm. Allen, who has been living in Paris for twenty years, will be performing the music of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at Jazz Middelheim in Antwerp, Belgium on August 5, (see here).
Who else than the indomitable Art Blakey was qualified to present an African drum extravaganza? Maybe not so shocking today, Drum Suite was a progressive album in the late fifties.
Art Blakey (drums), Jo Jones (drums A1-3), Charles ‘Specs’ Wright (drums, timpani, gong A1-3), Oscar Pettiford (bass, cello A1-3), Candido & Sabu Martinez (bongo A1-3), Ray Bryant (piano A1-3), Sam Dockery (piano B1-3), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone B1-3), Bill Hardman (trumpet B1-3), Spanky DeBrest (bass B1-3)
on June 25, 1956 and February 22, 1957 at Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York
as CL1002 in 1957
Just For Marty
The album is made up of two sessions. Side A consists of exotic, Afro-Cuban rhythms and the flipside is a swell session of Blakey’s working band of the period consisting of alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, trumpeter Bill Hardman, pianist Sam Dockery and bassist Spanky DeBrest. The first part (as well as the classy album cover) suggests that Art Blakey was eager to put Africa back into jazz. Yet, in drummer Art Taylor’s book of interviews Notes And Tones, (Da Capo, 1982) Blakey insisted that he has always felt that ‘our music has nothing to do with Africa. (…) No America, no jazz. (…) African music is entirely different, and the Africans are much more advanced than we are rhythmically, though we’re more advanced harmonically.’ In this view, which perhaps unintentionally ignores the impact of both Afro(-Cuban) rhythm and imported European musical standards on the cradle of jazz, New Orleans, Drum Suite isn’t jazz but African music. Or better said, African music played by American men of jazz. But Blakey would know. The Pittsburgh-born drummer traveled in Africa for almost a year in 1949. By his own account, just listening, not drumming.
Tossing two sessions together on an album was a not uncommon practice in the classic jazz era. It could have a number of reasons. Sometimes, studio time ran out. And occasionally, musicians weren’t available anymore due to other obligations. Companies also might go for the easy way (and/or a fast buck), rounding out albums with sessions from the vault. Such albums usually lack coherence, an encompassing idea. Drum Suite is incoherent. But it’s a high quality affair, so who cares?
Beat happening! The Afro-Cuban tunes, wherein Blakey is assisted by drummers Jo Jones and Charles “Specs” Wright, the bongo’s of Candido and Sabu Martinez, bassist Oscar Pettiford and pianist Ray Bryant, sans horns, get you into the groove, no doubt. The aptly-titled The Sacrifice starts off with an indelible African backwoods chant, slowly but surely developing into a multi-layered rumble of toms, flavored with chubby chords and staccato lines by Ray Bryant. The tom-figure from the opening is repeated at the end. Interestingly, it’s reminiscent of the drum part in Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zaratustra, which was used to such imposing effect in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 science-fiction movie 2001 A Space Odyssee.
Ray Bryant will undoubtly have been thrilled by the re-visit of his original tune Cubano Chant. Initially, Bryant had recorded it in 1956 on the Epic LP Ray Bryant Trio, including, coincidentally, Jo Jones and Candido. The broadened palette of instruments results in a piece of tough swing, highlighting Bryant’s inventive left hand, which generally puts emphasis on the low register and down-home fills that reach back to the era of swing, blues and stride. Staccato, swinging right hand lines weave in and out of Bryant’s left hand bottom. Bryant would revisit the uplifting Cubano Chant a number of times during his career. Finally, Oscar Pettiford’s Oscalypso ends the Afro-Cuban side on a groovy note. But three tunes in, the pounding percussion sounds of the basic calypso riff might start to get up one’s sleeve.
Part of an elite jazz family that brought Afro-Cuban music to the jazz realm, including Duke Ellington, Juan Tizol, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Kenny Dorham, the Drum Suite-section is a convincing, spirited affair, and one of the first percussion-oriented jazz album sides. It’s a February 22, 1957 session. Just a while later, Blakey would expand on his percussion fetish on the Blue Note label, releasing Orgy In Rhythm, a date that was recorded in May and October, 1957, as well as Drums Around The Corner and Holiday For Skins in 1958.
Obviously, despite Blakey’s assesment of his own, ‘American’ style, Blakey’s drumming incorporated some African devices, such as the altering of pitch with the elbow, tangible rim shots, and multiple rolls on the toms: an armoury of effects to stimulate the soloists. Some of these assets, embellishing the signature Blakey style of a propulsive beat and thunderous polyrhythm, are present on the other session of Drum Suite, a date of December 13, 1956. They especially fill Bill Hardman’s fast-paced, swinging tune Just For Marty to the brim. It’s a top-rate session with vigorous blowing by Jackie McLean and a number of jubilant, fluent statements by Bill Hardman, an underestimated player with a delicious, sweet-sour tone.
Before Blakey gained widespread recognition with the Blue Note album Moanin’ in 1958, it was hard to make head or tail out of the drummer’s recording career, as Blakey recorded albums for a varying string of labels, including Vik, Jubilee, Bethlehem, Atlantic and Columbia. Yet, however disparate Blakey’s catalogue of that period between the early classic Jazz Messenger sides on Blue Note and successful comeback on the famous label in 1958 may be, it was of a continuous high level. The singular Drum Suite album is no exception.
Manager Maja Lemmen (70) has been taking care of business at the Dutch jazz club and cultural theatre Porgy & Bess ever since Eve bit the apple. She started out in 1960, when she had moved in with the family of Porgy founder, Frank “De Neger” Koulen. “But when I was 17, I wanted out. I was going crazy, you know how it goes, puberty! But Frank said, ‘you? You’ll never get out of this place!’ He was right. I was holding on to dear life, working hard and getting involved with the beautiful music called jazz.”Early summer sun. Saturday’s shopping crowd is leisurely strolling in De Noordstraat, which, like many streets of our brave new civilisation, puts best foot forward to guard off the gulf of retail stores in favor of small enterprises. Clothing, shoes, household appliances, books, delicatessen… And, right in the middle, Porgy & Bess. The vintage bar, self-made floor, the painting of exotic black girls, pictures of jazz legends and the portrait of Frank Koulen on the wall. A jukebox underneath, tables in front of it. Terracota walls, various brass instruments hanging on the ceiling. The dark nightclub interior at the back of the club, the performance area, where the Steinway grand piano is hidden under a black sail cloth. Right in the middle of that area, Maja, Miss Porgy & Bess.
In 2017, the club will celebrate its 60th Anniversary. Quite a feat for a jazz club, to say the least. A cult hero of mythic proportions ever since he passed away in 1985, the Suriname-born Frank Koulen arrived in Dutch Flanders with the Allied Forces in 1944, married Vera van den Bruele and transformed their tearoom into a jazz cafe. With it, Koulen, the only dark-skinned person in town, hence “De Neger”, forever changed the cultural life of the medium-sized harbour city Terneuzen and the Benelux jazz landscape. Koulen, eternally short of cash but always brimming with ideas and socially conscious visions, introduced streetparades, staged Dixieland and modern jazz, as well as various cultural festivities. Lively entertainment for the youngsters of the day. After his passing, a dedicated army of volunteers and passionate sponsors rebuilt Porgy & Bess (also literally) from scratch and made Porgy & Bess what it is today, a world-wide known, highly acclaimed jazz club.
But what if Maja’s mother hadn’t taken a cab to fetch a ball of wool at Van den Bruele’s wool and linnen shop? One can only guess. “That shop was right in front of future tearoom and jazz club Porgy & Bess. We had recently arrived from Rijswijk. My mother had heart problems so she took a cab. Frank was working in the store and, curious as he was by nature, asked about her un-Flemish, big city accent. A friendly talk. Then, in that charming, pleading tone of his, Frank asked, couldn’t her daughter help out on Friday nights? That’s where I get into the picture.”
When did jazz come into the picture? Maja, adding a stirring touch to the story in the way old sailors recount a legendary shipwreck, explains: “Well, the Koulen family, including seven kids, was great, but it was quite a transistion of course. Then Santa Claus gave me a transistor radio. I had this sparsely furnished room, just a bed and a table, a footstool. So I took the little radio under my blanket, couldn’t sleep, it was about three in the morning and suddenly, I heard something…. Afterwards the announcer said it was John Coltrane. Dizzy spells, heart beating! That beat of Coltrane, and the inherent blues, amazing. It was Radio Brussel. The man said, ‘dear listeners, until next week.’ Yes! From that moment on, I was hooked. In an odd turn of events, I seemed to be taken by an invisible hand. And a voice that said, ‘come, come with me, you’re not alone anymore…’”
“When I got older, I started thinking about the background of jazz. About, for instance, Strange Fruit. I’ve heard it being performed countless times here, by Lillian Boutte for instance, but I never really thought about it, until one day it clicked. The hanging, the drama… It was a protest song at heart. An eyeopener for me. I think it also took Frank a while until he realised where he came from. From black men who’d had a hard time in a white world, essentially. That’s why he felt close to the black performers who came over. Initially, Frank was a straight New Orleans Jazz guy. One day Piet Noordijk played in Porgy. He had a row of saxes lined up on stage. Frank said, ‘Hey, you’re not going to experiment, right?!’” Maja laughs. “But when people like Hans Zuiderbaan and Frans de Ruyter programmed modern jazz, Frank also veered towards that style eventually. Improvisation, melody, but still recognisable mainstream jazz. The emotion of it, Frank dug that.”
Practically every musician I’ve met celebrates Porgy’s striking hospitality. Many compliments are written down in Porgy’s monumental series of guestbooks. Not a hint of hesitation on Maja’s part when she’s asked about its origins. Clearly, the good-natured, creative, fanatic import Terneuzen fellow, Frank Koulen, instilled a sense of pride and joy that remains in the minds of Porgy’s people to this day. “O yeah, that comes out of Frank. That’s an un-Dutch thing, you know. Frank is notorious for shaking the hands of every incoming customer. Talking about a welcome! As far as food and lodging go, it wasn’t a case of plainly setting up a table of cheese sandwiches. No, Frank cooked exotic meals for the guys, took them out and invented all kinds of ways to make them feel comfortable. It’s a matter of ‘giving’, you know. He raised and trained us in this respect, definitely.”
A good student, Maja, cum laude for sure. But it takes a responsive, giving soul as well, to keep it up for so many years. Lemmen turned into a true jazz ambassador, a temperamental host to both musician and audiences. At heart, it’s a family affair. “You may be right. Porgy, and the group of people attached to it, is like having a family. A sense of pride is involved. I keep meeting people who say that they’ve discovered the jazz life at our place. That’s wonderful! You know, a man named Joop van Tatenhove walked in here years ago. He had a father who was a regular visitor in the sixties and seventies. Joop, a seaman, had moved to Terneuzen, came in and said, ‘I would like to offer my services as a volunteer as a way to offer my gratitude for the fact that Porgy & Bess enriched the life of my father.’ Now, if that ain’t the power of music, right?!”
To say that Roy Hargrove would settle for an apartment near the Westerschelde sea is overstating, but the trumpeter’s kinship with the Porgy family is evident. He performed in Terneuzen as a young lion in the mid-nineties. Since then, Hargrove has made sixteen appearances at Porgy & Bess. “The European tours of Roy, and of other Americans as well, usually start or started in Terneuzen. It is a way for them to start off in a relaxed matter, settle down for a few days. Take bicycle tours along de Schelde. It reminds them of the Hudson, I think. Then they rehearse in the afternoon. That’s cool, here I’m tending business, filling fridges, making phone calls, and meanwhile listening to their music. That’s why I’m so rich!”
And, as an afterthought: “There might be a jam on Saturday before the official gig on Sunday afternoon.”
That’s a fact. Yours truly once attended an unforgettable jam, with Hargrove and Gregory Hutchinson leading a pack of local young heroes till the dawn’s surly light. It’s one of many great Porgy experiences. As a Terneuzen native, I spent many hours in Porgy & Bess and although up north for years now, drop in regularly. I’m grateful that the generous Maja and crew provided me and my friends with a great, warm-blooded place to hang out; with a stage for jam sessions, performances as a singer and the release party of a novel. Moreover, I have fond memories of performances of, to name but a few, Benny Golson, Rein de Graaff with David “Fathead” Newman and Houston Person, and Chicago blues outfit The Red Devils.
Indeed, the list of performers at Porgy & Bess is impressive and ranges from legends like Arnett Cobb, Freddie Hubbard and Archie Shepp to modern luminaries as Danilo Perez, Christian McBride, Joe Lovano and European top musicians as Toots Thielemans, Philip Catherine and Jesse van Ruller. And, of course, Art Blakey in 1982 and Chet Baker in 1985. “To hear Chet play and sing was like being in heaven. Otherwise, Chet was on his own, soft-spoken and, you know, classy in a sleazy way. There was this regular customer, a strong-willed fellow, who came back from the toilet. He said (raspy voice), ‘Hey Maja, you gotta take a look in the john, there’s this junkie fellow, I wonder did this guy buy a ticket?’ It was Chet, of course. Slender, greasy hair, his woodchopper’s shirt…”
Art Blakey was another lasting experience. Maja: “Before his show, Art Blakey was sitting behind the drum kit for a long time. The group, (including the young Terenche Blanchard and Donald Harrison, ed.), was upstairs. There were two little girls milling about the stage, giggling, humming, having fun. Blakey had a broad smile on his face, sat enjoying that scene the whole time. Then, when the band came on, Blakey set off a long sermon about the merits of jazz, it was exciting. You know that deep voice… And he and the band swung like mad, of course. That groove was out of sight!”
Warm-hearted memories. Decades ago. We’re writing 2016 on the wall of the world now. Terra could use some uplifting jazz vibes. Will Maja ever retire? “Ah, they don’t put musicians in nursery homes from the moment they’ve turned 65, right? As long as I’m not too feeble, I’ll go on. Excluding local events, programming is not on my plate anymore, I’m tending daily business, dividing tasks between Pascal and me. I’m, as I often say, the ‘multi-functional household tissue’. The prospect of continuous household activities means I’m keeping close to where it’s at!”
Maja Lemmen (Lexmond, 1945) is the manager of jazz club and cultural venue Porgy & Bess. Porgy & Bess celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2017. It has been host to Nat Adderley, Rob Agerbeek, Monty Alexander, Chet Baker, Art Blakey, Paul Bley, Ray Brown, Ray Bryant, Don Byas, Betty Carter, Philip Catherine, Jimmy Cobb, Al Cohn, George Coleman, Johnny Copeland, Ronnie Cuber, Lou Donaldson, Dr. John, John Engels, Fapy Lafertin, Hein van de Geyn, Astrid Gilberto, Wolfgang Haffner, Slide Hampton, John Handy, Benjamin Herman, Jimmy Knepper, Lee Konitz, Diana Krall, Lazy Lester, Harold Mabern, Charles McPherson, James Moody, The Paladins, Horace Parlan, Cecil Payne, Nicholas Payton, The Red Devils, Rod Piazza, Dave Pike, Art Porter, Rita Reys, Arturo Sandoval, James Spaulding, Lew Tabackin, Rene Thomas, Cedar Walton, Kenny Werner, Mark Whitfield, Nils Wogram, Phil Woods and many others. Porgy & Bess also stages classical music matinees, roots music, and much acclaimed literary evenings.
Pick anyone of Hank Mobley’s extended string of Blue Note albums of the late fifties and the early sixties and you’re in for a treat. Soul Station (1960) is widely regarded as the tenor saxophonist’s masterpiece. It’s hard to disagree! However, 1957’s Hank Mobley Quintet also ranks among’s Hank Mobley’s finest efforts. At its centre is Mobley’s unique silky sound.
Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Art Farmer (trumpet), Horace Silver (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), Art Blakey (drums)
on March 8, 1957 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey
as BLP 1550 in 1957
Funk In Deep Freeze
Wham And They’re Off
Fin De l’Affaire
Startin’ From Scratch
Base On Balls
Mobley once described his tone as ‘round’. Veteran Dutch pianist Rob Agerbeek, who toured Europe with Mobley in 1968-69 and whom I talked to a year ago for Flophouse Magazine, succinctly put it like this: “It came out naturel, like breath, ‘whooosh!’”
Tone wasn’t Mobley’s sole asset. The man possessed first-rate chops and a gift for writing unconventional, smoky tunes. The way Mobley embraced a melody and spun lyrical, flowing lines is exceptional. What more could one ask for?
There’s the famous remark of legendary critic Leonard Feather, who dubbed Mobley ‘the middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone’ in the liner notes of 1961’s Workout. Feather believed, in terms of both fame and style, that Mobley belonged neither to the heavyweight category of Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, nor to the lightweight school of Stan Getz. Feather suggested that Mobley’s uncommon, relaxed but driving phrasing unjustly kept him under the radar.
But among musicians and label bosses Mobley was indisputed and in constant demand. The tenorist from Philadelphia recorded with, among others, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Cedar Walton, Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, Kenny Drew, Elvin Jones, Grant Green… The list is endless. His well-known cooperation with fellow original Jazz Messengers Art Blakey and Horace Silver is of the utmost historic value. Mobley’s subtle methods gelled surprisingly well with the explosive approach of Blakey. It’s a rather mysterious but inspiring blend that’s showcased on the landmark albums that were quintessential in spawning hard bop, Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers and At The Bohemia I and II. The line-up of Hank Mobley Quintet constitutes the original Messengers line-up of the above-mentioned albums minus Kenny Dorham.
Mobley’s Soul Station is remarkable for the fact that the relaxed but insistent swing of Mobley seems to nurture a gentler Blakey attack: a quiet storm. Blakey places more pushy accents, press rolls and cymbal crashes on Hank Mobley Quintet. That’s pretty swell too. Wham And They’re Gone sizzles, boils and, like a jolly giant, threatens to tear out of its turtleneck sweater. Mobley goes about his business of stacking breathy flurries of notes while retaining a sense of elegance and sophistication. Cuts like Funk In Deep Freeze, a twisty-turny melody taken at medium tempo, are gems of a group of players that know each other inside out.
Mobley knew how to handle ballads. His original ballad, Fin De l’Affaire, is a gorgeous melody that leans heavily on the dark-hued bass of Doug Watkins, and which Mobley graces with understated pathos. Horace Silver plays ‘full of silence’, a beautific way of giving substance to a solo that’s both romantic and bluesy. Art Farmer is an authoritative presence on the album, alternating between open horn and mute. These guys are pioneers of hard bop that lift more average material like Stella-Wise and 12-bar blues Base On Balls to a higher level. Hank Mobley functions as suave leader of the pack.
What a refined player, nary a corny phrase around.
A working day that sucks the soul out of me. An argument with the woman that hangs suspended in the air like a radioactive snowflake on the leaf of a tree. Many of you know the drill. Or don’t. Me and my wife, we’ll catch up. But for the moment, what better cure than a good piece of music? Bobby Timmons’ classic cut This Here certainly qualifies. Lasting a mere 3:31 minutes, its forceful, gospel-driven beat and style is enough for at least a temporary driving out of demons. It comes upon me like a strong but gentle wave. I jump for joy. Am moved by its groove and feeling.
Bobby Timmons (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums)
on January 13 & 14 at Reeves Sound Studio, NYC
as RLP 1164 in 1960
The Party’s Over
Prelude To A Kiss
My Funny Valentine
Prelude To A Kiss
Cannonball Adderley used to introduce the tune, that became part of his set when Timmons joined his quintet in 1959, as ‘simultaneously a shout and a chant.’ Jazz waltzes often have a lithe, airy quality. Not This Here. It has relentless drive. Indeed, all tunes on Timmons’ solo debut on Riverside, This Here Is Bobby Timmons, swing from start to finish. Even ballads like My Funny Valentine. At the time, Timmons’ version of the tune, as Orrin Keepnews reveals in the liner notes of the album, was commonly referred to by Timmons’ colleagues as My Funky Valentine. Obviously, Timmons put a lot of church influence in his music. Timmons was raised in church, played church organ and his father was a minister.
Timmons had been part of major groups like those of Chet Baker, Sonny Stitt and Art Blakey, with whom he recorded his signature tune, Moanin’ in 1958. By the fall of 1959 Timmons had become part of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. Their live album The Cannonball Adderley Quintet In San Francisco, recorded on October 18 & 20, 1959, was a smash (jazz) hit, largely due to their exciting rendition of This Here. Three months later, on January 13 and 14, Timmons recorded his first solo album with fellow Adderley member, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Cobb had been an Adderley member at various recordings from Winter 1957 to Spring 1959. By January 1960 Timmons had decided to return to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He would record Dat Dere with Blakey on March 6, 1960.
Dat Dere is longer than its ‘churchy’ cousin This Here, but the fire cracks almost as hard. Yet its playful, rollicking theme also has a moody quality. After Timmons states the theme in rootsy, Ray Charles-like fashion, the groove gets going. Then follows a Sam Jones intermezzo, whereafter the tune builds to a climax with a terrific shout chorus and a clever modulation that leads back to the theme. Timmons’ version has a rawer quality than ‘Blakey’s’ equally immaculate version. That version boasts Blakey’s inspiring accompaniment and great solo’s by Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter. In ‘Cannonball Adderley’s’ version on Them Dirty Blues of February 1, 1960, Timmons jumps into locked four-hands playing almost immediately. It’s a great solo but different.
‘Art Blakey’s’ iconic version of Moanin’ is powerful at the core. Timmons’ take isn’t short on power either. Sam Jones’ deep sound and strong beat and Jimmy Cobb’s uplifting style coupled with Timmons’ tough yet playful left hand create an unmistakably groovy piece of hard bop. The piano sound of Timmons – tough, slightly feeble – ignites the atmosphere of a barrelhouse. The whole album benefits from this atmosphere. Intricate jazz loaded with feeling and a barrelhouse sound. It’s too good to miss.
This Here, Dat Dere and Moanin’ are iconic hard bop cuts that refreshed the jazz world of the late fifties and early sixties and inspired generation after generation thereafter. One thing they have in common is that they never wear me out. Should we consider Joy Ride a fourth classic of Timmons’ Riverside album? Not a bad idea. It’s a piece of blistering bebop soul. Jimmy Cobb opens the uptempo tune with a series of cocky firecrackers and Timmons’ solo is a spirited mix of blues, Art Tatum and Bud Powell.
The tender Prelude To A Kiss shows the delicate side of Timmons’ personality. Lush Life’s dramatic flourish is enticing. Yet even in these tunes Timmons sneaks in bold, accurate blues lines. They make complete Timmons’ quintessential album This Here Is Bobby Timmons: a gospel-tinged, extremely swinging and articulate affair that’s imbued with a joyful sense of discovery. It kills me time and again.
At the time of Milt Jackson’ recording of Plenty, Plenty Soul, the group that he was part of, The Modern Jazz Quartet, was a major force in the jazz world. It had recorded their blend of modern jazz and chamber music on albums as Concorde, Fontessa and Django, which included the famous title track. With more time on his hands for the blues away from MJQ, Plenty, Plenty Soul showcases a freewheelin’ Milt Jackson.
Milt Jackson (vibes), Joe Newman (trumpet), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone A1-A3), (Cannonball Adderley credited as Ronnie Peters, alto A1-A3), Frank Foster (tenor saxophone A1-A3), Lucky Thompson (tenor saxophone B1-B4), Sahib Shehab (baritone saxophone A1-A3), Horace Silver (piano), Percy Heath (bass A1-A3), Oscar Pettiford (bass B1-B4), Art Blakey (drums A1-A3), Connie Kay (drums B1-B4)
on January 5 & 7, 1975 at Atlantic Studio in New York City
as SD 1269 in 1957
Plenty, Plenty Soul
Blues At Twilight
Side A has the upper hand. The opener and title track is a long blues that includes an abundance of funky and virtuoso Milt Jackson phrases. The rhythym section of Art Blakey, Horace Silver (Silver had parted ways with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers half a year prior to this session) and Milt Jackson’s colleague form the MJQ, bassist Percy Heath, is especially exciting on the joyful Boogity Boogity. Jackson is stimulated considerably by Blakey’s amalgam of press rolls, tom attacks and nifty use of the snare drum’s metal ring. Ending side A, Jackson’s radiant sound and lyrical twists and turns are at the core of the ballad Heartstrings.
The uplifting arrangements of the first three tracks are by Quincy Jones. The solo’s by Jackson’s sidemen are excellent. Part of the all-star cast is altoist Cannonball Adderley, (credited as ‘Ronnie Peters’ for legal reasons) whose solo on Boogity Boogity is one of the album’s highlights.
In comparison to this session, the one that culminated in side B is less spiritedlacks. Milt Jackson’s other colleague from the MJQ, drummer Connie Kay, is much less energetic than Art Blakey. It’s why tunes like Nat Adderley’s pretty, infectious melody Sermonette, don’t really take off. Less exceptional than side A, side B nevertheless presents a couple of highlights. Firstly, the abundant church feeling Milt Jackson brings to his performances, especially in The Spirit Feel, makes the heart skip a beat. Secondly, Jackson demonstrates both outstanding technique (utilising the four mallet-approach) and a feeling for the blues in the slow blues Blues At Twilight. Finally, tenorist Lucky Thompson’s round tone and articulate style are responsible for the session’s merry atmosphere.
In my opinion, both sides of Milt Jackson – the ‘blowing’ kind and the MJQ-kind – deserve equal attention. The downgrading of John Lewis has been a favourite sport of Milt Jackson fans. Reportedly, Jackson hated his guts and in spite of being fed up with the quartet periodically, stayed in it for the money. Yet, Jackson fans tend to forget that Lewis’s writing and arranging skills and understated (quietly swinging) piano backing brought masterful play out of Jackson.
Obviously, we should be very glad that Milt Jackson also kept recording in his own right. As his second solo foray on Atlantic using a top-notch all-star cast, Plenty, Plenty Soul foreshadowed other exciting collaborations with Ray Charles (Soul Brothers, Soul Meeting), Coleman Hawkins (Bean Bags) and John Coltrane. (Bags & Trane)
A big band record from Art Blakey – drummer and bandleader who upped the ante for small jazz combo’s from the mid-fifties onwards – might’ve looked like an unorthodox move in 1957. But Blakey possessed a lot of big band experience, having played in the groups of Fletcher Henderson, Lucky Millinder and Billy Eckstine in the fourties. The Eckstine band was particularly renowned as a playground for the future bebop innovators, among them Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and Fats Navarro. What Big Band lacks in the subtlety of arrangements is duly compensated by Blakey’s spirited delivery and the prescence of trumpeter Donald Byrd and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.
Donald Byrd (trumpet), Idrees Sulieman (trumpet A1, A2, B1–B4), Bill Hardman (trumpet A1, A2, B1–B4), Ray Copeland (trumpet A1, A2, B1-B4), Melba Liston (trombone A1, A2, B1-B4), Frank Rehak (trombone A1, A2, B1-B4), Jimmy Cleveland (A1, A2, B1-B4), Sahib Shihab (tenor saxophone A1, A2, B1-B4), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Al Cohn (tenor saxophone A1, A2, B1-B4), Bill Slapin (baritone saxophone A1, A2, B1-B4), Walter Bishop (piano), Wendel Marshall (bass), Art Blakey (drums)
December 1957 in NYC
as Bethlehem BCP 6023
Ain’t Life Grand
El Toro Valiente
The Kiss Of No Return
The Outer World
Big Band represents the end of a string of recordings on different labels before Blakey turned in the iconic Moanin’ and came home at Blue Note headquarters for his second fruitful period. 1957 was the most productive recording period in Blakey’s career, ending on an impressive figure of eleven releases. (and we’re not even counting a session for Cadet – Tough! – which was released in 1966 and this album, which was released a couple of months later in 1958)
Big Band is an intriguing album. A diversity of players have room to solo or turn in a couple of short bits, which keeps the listener on its toes. Chief among that batch of sidemen are John Coltrane and Donald Byrd. Byrd delivers one song – Tippin’ – and a string of uplifting statements. Then there’s ‘Trane. For one thing, Coltrane has seldom recorded with Art Blakey. They played on Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Music and Johnny Griffin’s A Blowing Session, both in 1957. Therefore, Big Band is an interesting record for Coltrane and/or Blakey-geeks. You might as well count me in.
It wasn’t only a rarity to hear Blakey in a big band context, for Coltrane it also represented a step into new ‘recording’ territory. He tackles it with characteristic confidence and passion. His soaring solo in opening tune Midriff, overflowing with ideas and an abundance of double time scales, grabs you by the throat. It’s a reminder of the ever-developing late fifties Coltrane, creating a stir, controversy and boundless admiration, all brewing in one big steaming pot of stew. Just as Donald Byrd, Coltrane turns in a composition for quintet. Pristine resembles Moment’s Notice from Coltrane’s classic album Blue Train; the first two notes are identical and the chord structure partly runs along the same lines. A peculiar incident? Presumably not. Blue Train was recorded in the same period as Big Band, on September 15, 1957, to be precise. Big Band was recorded approximately eight weeks later. Pristine isn’t as forceful as Moment’s Notice, but it’s a fine composition and performance.
Pristine and Tippin’ are two quintet tunes, yet don’t sound out of place between big band festivities. They sound grand as well. On the whole, Blakey employs the same dexterous method for either big band of small combo playing. He’s more involved with a shifting of accents than changing his style entirely. Midriff kicks ass, Basie-style. Blakey introduces certain tunes with the drummer’s typical rumble and spurs on his crew with fatter-than-fat rolls or a well placed cymbal crash. A number of compositions include heavy breaks, sometimes combined with short, stabbing horn arrangements. It worked on side A’s Ain’t Life Grand, but being repeated on El Toro Valiente as well as The Outer World, that game becomes a bit repetitious. Those relatively crude arrangements represent the least exciting side of Big Band.
Blakey’s sidemen Donald Byrd, Frank Rehak and arranger Melba Liston expressed their joy of playing with Blakey in a big band context and would’ve liked to see the inimitable drummer and bandleader continue these procedures. So what was Art Blakey’s view on the subject? Adamant, and down-to-earth as usual, he expressed himself as follows:
“In small combo work, you’re free, you get to play. In a big band, nobody has freedom. And the drummer has to stay right with the rhythm section; he can’t leave. There are kicks though if you have the time to build a big band. The guys have to grow together. What makes a good big band drummer? Aside from keeping time, all you can do is try to interpret the arrangements and fill in the holes.”
Thus, it was impropable that a future in big band drumming would materialize. Indeed, it didn’t. We’re just glad to make do with Big Band, with Blakey filling in the holes in his incomparable manner, adroitly, furiously.