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


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


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


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.

Kenny Dorham Quiet Kenny (New Jazz 1960)

Less is more on Kenny Dorham’s Quiet Kenny, more or less the trumpeter’s most beautiful record as a leader.

Kenny Dorham - Quiet Kenny


Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Art Taylor (drums)


on November 13, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as NJ 8225 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Lotus Blossom
My Ideal
Blue Friday
Side B:
Alone Together
Blue Spring Shuffle
I Had The Craziest Dream
Old Folks

An anecdote that Rein de Graaff once told me concerned his first ever visit to New York City in 1967. The first thing that the burgeoning Dutch pianist and hard bop aficionado noticed when he stepped out of the subway station in the East Village was a fellow with a trumpet case that was the spitting image of Kenny Dorham. As a matter of fact, after politely inquiring, it turned out to be the one and only Kenny Dorham. Dorham invited the dumbfounded De Graaff to a gig the following night. The rest is history in the case of De Graaff, who stepped into a dream and subsequently met and played with Dorham, Hank Mobley, Barry Harris, Paul Chambers and Billy Higgins. Nice career boost.

Most people would not have recognized Dorham, one of the great modern trumpeters of a form of art whose geniuses like Parker and Monk eluded mass recognition for so long, let alone superb disciples as Kenny Dorham. Dorham is part of a great pack whose members were dubbed ‘musician’s musician’, which signifies esteem from colleagues and critics which equals poverty so must’ve been terminology that left the pack disgusted. Go to hell with your musician’ musician stuff, I need to pay my bloody rent! Dorham was a major league musician’s musician, a BADDASS musician’s musician, one of the iconic musician’s musicians. Too bad for Kenny. At least he was never described as ‘best kept secret’, which also spells disaster and a lavish portion of vomit.

Dorham was active in the bop era, colleague of Parker and Gillespie, a charter member of the first Jazz Messengers incarnation (Art Blakey introduced him nightly as the “the uncrowned king of the trumpet”) and enjoyed a particularly fruitful cooperation with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson in the early ‘60s. Blue Bossa is his best-known composition. His discography is a hard bop playground and Afro-Cuban, Quiet Kenny, Whistle Stop, Round About Midnight At Cafe Bohemia, Una Mas and Trompetta Toccata are essential LP’s. They ooze with Dorham’s tasteful trumpet playing, the opposite of flashy bop, crystal clear weaving of lines anchored by a distinctive balancing act of bittersweetness and sleaze and a tone that I once overheard someone, I forgot whom, describe as ‘sweet-tart’. That it is.

Quiet Kenny is remarkable for the fact that Dorham is the sole horn. Plenty of space for Kenny’s cushion-soft but poignant lyricism. Dorham displays the gift of carrying one to a special zone, where the spine tingles and melancholia is barely suppressed by the bright side of life. Dorham strings together beautifully balanced phrases with apricot, peach and tangerine transformed into sound, all of this flowing on the flexible bedrock of Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor.

All tunes flow with elegance and purposeful movement, whether warhorses like Old Folks or blues-based originals like Blue Friday and Blue Spring Shuffle. Lotus Flower, also known as Asiatic Raes as performed by Sonny Rollins on Newk’s Time in 1957, is an undeniable highlight; a lovely amalgam of the nursery rhyme-ish, Chinese-tinged melody and Dorham’s supple melodic variations. Dorham’s delightful reflection of desire of My Ideal is the other potential poll winner, signifying a trumpeter of compassion and restraint, the latter unique element described in the title as ‘quiet’.

The enjoyment of Quiet Kenny equals eating perfect sushi, savoring every bite of the little Japanese pieces of tuna, seaweed, rice. Dorham is master chef and Mr. Delicate, adding a dash of wasabi here and there. Beautiful record.

Lem Winchester Lem’s Beat (New Jazz 1960)

Lem Winchester’s career was cut short by tragedy but his concise discography showed plenty of promise. Lem’s Beat is one of his finest efforts, not least because of the presence of Oliver Nelson.

Lem Winchester - Lem's Beat


Lem Winchester (vibraphone), Oliver Nelson (tenor sax), Curtis Peagler (alto saxophone), Billy Brown (piano A1, B1), Roy Johnson (piano A2, A3, B2, B3), Wendell Marshall (bass), Art Taylor (drums)


on April 19, 1960 at Rudy van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as NJLP 8239 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Eddie’s Dilemma
Lem & Aide
Friendly Persuasion
Side B:
Your Last Change
Lady Day
Just Friends

Aswinging vibraphonist in the tradition of Milt Jackson, Lem Winchester started playing professionally in the late 50’s after giving up his job as police officer in Wilmington, Delaware. The sleeve of his debut recording New Faces At Newport on Metro Jazz, split with pianist Randy Weston, showed Winchester wearing his police officer hat. Poor Lem. It’s a pity no one came up with the idea of coupling him with tenor saxophonist Buck “The Wailing Postman” Hill from Washington D.C.

On a musical level, the results of a partnership of these rather obscure but outstanding players would have been a boon. As a matter of fact, the short career of Winchester is marked by interesting and fruitful cooperations. Argo placed the Ramsey Lewis Trio by his side. On Prestige and its subsidiary label New Jazz, Winchester recorded with Benny Golson and Hank Jones as a leader and organists Brother Jack McDuff, Johnny “Hammond” Smith and Shirley Scott as a sideman.

As well as Oliver Nelson. In 1960, Winchester played on Nelson’s Taking Care Of Business (New Jazz) and Nocturne. (Moodsville, Prestige’s other subsidiary label) Likely, after the March session of Takin’ Care Of Business, Nelson returned the favor, appearing on the April session of Lem’s Beat. Another session in the pocket, another bill paid.

Typical and excellent quintet stuff from the early 60’s, Lem’s Beat has Oliver Nelson as arranger and on tenor saxophone, an underrated player and confident individual who crafts stucturally sound solo’s, rich with varied blues motives and a strong hard sound from the Dexter Gordon school. It has Curtis Peagler on alto saxophone – Who??? Anyone? – boppish and bouncy and occasionally phrasing against the grain; solid and fluent Wendell Marshall on bass, Art Taylor on drums and alternating pianists Billy Brown and Roy Johnson. Again, who, anyone?

And the leader, Lem Winchester, taking the vibraphone, curious mixture of melody and percussion, by the horns, swinging with effortless grace and wit, not much that will rattle the bones of dead Downbeat critics but entertaining and stylish. Lem’s beat was solid and whether he was beat (the hipster slang of the jazz-loving Beat Writers – “Man, I’m beat” was a way of saying one was down and out, which was uttered by middle-class boys turned greasy hipsters from Frisco to New York but was uttered initially by Herbert Huncke in the mid-40’s, the über-Beat that likely picked it up in Afro-American quarters and, by the way, was a big fan of Charlie Parker), who knows. Lem’s Beat is a funny title, but the title of the sole composition by Winchester, Lem & Aide, is even better.

Nelson was an outstanding arranger whose ensembles for small groups gave the impression of a bigger band than was the case and he does the trick on Lem’s Beat’s blues-based repertoire. Two tunes stand out: the seldom-played Tionkin/Webster composition Friendly Persuasion gets a MJQ-ish treatment. Lady Day is a sensitive homage to Billie Holiday by pianist Roy Johnson.

The tragedy of Lem Winchester’s life, former cop, was that he died from a hand gun accident, allegedly during a game of Russian Roulette. He passed away in 1961 at the age of thirty-three.

Buddy Tate Tate-A-Tate (Prestige/Swingville 1960)

Nobuddy, well at least few from the swing era, nurtured such a long career as tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate. Tate-A-Tate, smokin’ cooperation with young lions and Clark Terry, is one of his finest efforts.

Buddy Tate - Tate-A-Tate


Buddy Tate (tenor saxophone), Clark Terry (trumpet, flugelhorn A1), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Larry Gales (bass), Art Taylor (drums)


on October 18, 1960 at Rudy van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as SVLP 2014 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Snatchin’ It Back
Side B
All Too Soon
Take The A-Train
#20 Ladbroke Square

Listening to Buddy Tate feels like watching a movie starring John Wayne. Wayne’s gruff, spitting, punch-you-in-the-gut cowboy characters hold no bars, they are a hybrid of horse sense gumption and primitive emotions shimmering under the surface, likely to explode any minute. His presence on the screen is lethal. Yet there’s something of the likeable teddy bear uncle in him as well. One of Wayne’s finest movies is True Grit and true grit – Wayne’s left lung was removed in 1964 but he managed to complete more than 175 movies in a career that spanned more than 50 years before succumbing to cancer in 1979 – was his middle name.

It is terminology well suited for Buddy Tate, perhaps not such a heavy smoker in a literal sense, but definitely figuratively speaking. And like Wayne, Tate enjoyed a long career. During his life most of the major innovations in jazz history had been developed. Born in Sherman, Texas, Tate played in the territory bands in the Southwest in the late 20s. He was the tenor saxophonist in the Count Basie band from 1939 to 1948, an impressive ten-year stint in the hardest swinging big band in the world, which partly coincided with the tenure of Lester Young. Tate was hired by Basie after the sudden death of Hershel Evans, one of Tate’s major influences alongside the father of jazz tenor, Coleman Hawkins. The following decades, Tate recorded prolifically with, among others, Buck Clayton and Illinois Jacquet. And who doesn’t fondly remember the exciting Very Saxy album with Coleman Hawkins, Arnett Cobb and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis? Tate passed away in 2001.

Tate is a real blues man and a “tough tenor” as they say, an accessible player that blows honest stuff that comes deep from the gut, marked by smears and elongated mischievous utterings. The kind of player that devours a riff. He stands for entertaining stories and an architecture that is made up of sure-shot entrances, well-structured middle parts and sustained excitement to the end. In a sense, swing-based musicians like Tate are precursors to the soul jazz practitioners, playing music of the people for the people.

So by 1960, the year of his Tate-A-Tate record, Tate was already a veteran. Tate was part of a select club of swing players whose shop rarely closed down, not even during summer holidays. He had already enjoyed a 10-year residency at the Celebrity Club in Harlem, NYC and would continue to perform there until 1974. He also made a couple of solid records with a mixture of old pals and the new breed on Prestige, instigated cleverly by label boss Bob Weinstock and A&R man Esmond Edwards, who realized that jazz styles are by no means totally opposite entities but just different enough to put an edge to the results. The top-notch Tate’s Date with bop pianist Sadik Hakim preceded Tate-A-Tate, which featured trumpeter Clark Terry, his former colleague from the Basie band – Terry went with Ellington in the mid-40s – and the modernists Tommy Flanagan, Larry Gales and Art Taylor.

Tate-A-Tate – pun intended, don’t you love that good-old jazz word play? – is the kind of simultaneously relaxed and driving record that makes you all warm inside, as if cubicles of roasted marshmallows have just taken a rest at the bottom of your belly. It’s dedicated to fast, medium and slow-tempo blues. Tate and Terry do thorough workouts on two pieces from the Ellington book – swinging madly and gaily on (Billy Strayhorn’s) Take The A-Train. Tate reminds us of his delicious balladry on All Too Soon, all glowing coal on the BBQ and aromatic whiskey flavor.

It’s the little details of this spontaneous recording that reveal the greatness of old-school masters like Buddy Tate and Clark Terry. Tate’s sensuous vibrato and thunderous low-register honk put the dot on his perfectly developed sentences of the slow-medium blues tune #20 Ladbroke Square – a Tate composition. Terry’s wondrous out-of-time entrance of the frivolous blues line, Snatchin’ It Back, kick starts the kind of dynamic, ebullient solo the trumpeter had a patent on during his long and brilliant career – unbelievably, Terry played both trumpet and flugelhorn during the course of A-Train and the slow blues Groundhog, one in the left hand, other in the right hand. No use being a master if you don’t once in a while deliver the goods grandiosely, right.

Terry’s Tate-A-Tate builds on the pun of the title, a “jumpin’ blues” with solid breaks and lovely, interweaving tenor sax and trumpet lines. It’s a high-level conversation of smoky Tate and extravert Terry, underscored by rollicking rolls from Art Taylor, omnipresent drummer in the jazz scene of the late 50s and early 60s. The balanced but booming responses of Tate and Terry not only to pianist Tommy Flanagan’s elegant stories and sensible accompaniment but also to Taylor’s cracks from the hip constitute some of the biggest enjoyments of the thoroughly entertaining and sophisticated Tate-A-Tate session.

Listen below. Spotify wrongly credited the record to Tate & Claude Hopkins. Tate-A-Tate starts at number 8.

Charlie Rouse Takin’ Care Of Business (Jazzland 1960)

Monk’s long-running sideman takes care of business on his own.

Charlie Rouse - Takin' Care Of Business


Charlie Rouse (tenor saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), Earl May (bass), Art Taylor (drums)


on May 11, 1959 at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City


as JLP-19 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Blue Farouq
Side B:
Pretty Strange
They Didn’t Believe Me

Aten-year stint in the group of Thelonious Monk ain’t chicken feed. This was the accomplishment of tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and it speaks volumes about his skills, artistry and personality. Rouse was asked to join Monk at the start of 1959, the successor to the stint of Johnny Griffin and two short engagements of Sonny Rollins and former Monk associate John Coltrane. That’s a lot of tenor madness and a hell of a challenge. Nobody would’ve argued that Rouse is in the league of Coltrane and Rollins, nor would it have been easy to match the fire of The Little Giant. Indeed, for a lot of people, Charlie Rouse was a surprise pick, not least for a slew of young lions soliciting for the job, Wayne Shorter among them.

Rouse was already a veteran of sorts with a great track record, who had played in the bands of Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Tadd Dameron and was a prolific sideman in the 50s. Preceding the Monk period, Rouse co-led the sophisticated group The Jazz Modes with French horn player Julius Watkins. After a nervous start, he got off well with The High Priest. It is said that Monk was particularly enamored by the genial, relaxed Rouse, which surely was, apart from his abilities, one of the reasons they gelled so well for such a long time. Rouse quickly adjusted to Monk’s focus on melodic improvisation.

Rouse’s contribution on Monk’s 5 By 5 record, sharing the frontline with Thad Jones, is especially spicy and belies the rigorous opinion that Rouse’s solo’s better be casually accepted, criticism ventured from his start with Monk and the kind that inclines to become myth and survive for numerous decades. It would be interesting as well to take a listen to Rouse the balladeer, predominantly his lush interpretation of When Sunny Gets Blue on We Paid Our Dues on Epic from 1961, a record that is equally divided between the groups of Rouse and Seldon Powell.

Takin’ Care Of Business may not be the most inspired of titles. Who didn’t take care of it? However, it’s a strong effort from a top-notch group that further includes trumpeter Blue Mitchell, pianist Walter Bishop Jr., bassist Earl May and drummer Art Taylor. Mitchell contributed Blue Farouq, a hip blues line that also is featured on organist Melvin Rhyne’s Organ-izing and Junior Cook’s Junior’s Cookin’. Interestingly, “204” in fact is Randy Weston’s wonderful waltz Hi-Fly, the initial version with a slightly differing melody. Rouse’s Upptankt (meaning what?) and Kenny Drew’s Weirdo provide the saucy bop contrast to the jaunty take on Jerome Kern composition They Didn’t Believe Me and Randy Weston ballad Pretty Strange – which indeed is pretty strange, certainly not your usual melody with a sequence that is somehow unresolved, moving in front of the bedroom window like a thin fog and rather intriguing in its own weird way.

Solid mainstream from a punchy band, Rouse flowing and with sustained, logical ideas and slightly edgy tones opposite Blue Mitchell’s sinuous, exuberant lines and Walter Bishop Jr.’s charged bop style. Turn-of-that-decade quintet stuff that merits plenty of attention.

Dizzy Reece Soundin’ Off (Blue Note 1960)

The pieces of the puzzle fell into place for trumpeter Dizzy Reece on his third Blue Note album Soundin’ Off from 1960.

Dizzy Reece - Soundin' Off


Dizzy Reece (trumpet), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), Art Taylor (drums)


on May 12, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as BLP 4033 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Ghost Of A Chance
Once In A While
Eb Pob
Side B:
Our Love Is Here To Stay
Blue Streak

Mr. Reece is still active these days at the ripe old age of 88. What’s more, performances of Dizzy Reece’s music, Routes In Jazz, have been held last January under the leadership of Trevor Watkins in the United Kingdom to much acclaim. 2019, Cool Britannia caught in the stereotypical web of contemporary polarization, a world away from 1948, when the young Kingston, Jamaica-born Reece set foot first in liberated Paris then the rebuilding war victor, the U.K., where fish and chips was everyone’s requested Last Meal and Stoke-On-Trent a place that played hide and seek with Sheffield under clouds of factory smoke. The talented Reece somehow caught the attention of Blue Note and recorded his debut as a leader, Blues In Trinity, with Donald Byrd, Art Taylor and a British crew including powerhouse tenorist Tubby “Tubbs” Hayes.

Reece moved to New York City in 1959 and, winning fans like Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, soon found himself in the studio of Rudy van Gelder at Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Initially, Reece recorded with a quintet including Hank Mobley, a session that spawned Star Bright. Then Blakey was behind the kit, Stanley Turrentine on tenor saxophone, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jimmy Merritt on bass. The result: Comin’ On, recorded in 1960 but not released until 1999. Great album. Great line-up. In fact – in case you haven’t figured it out yet – Reece and Turrentine fronted a bonafide Jazz Messengers rhythm section. The explosive Blakey regularly pushes the guys to the brink, Reece holding his own pretty darn well.

However, I have warmer feelings for Soundin’ Off. The relaxed but probing rhythmic flow of drummer Art Taylor, bassist Doug Watkins and pianist Walter Bishop Jr. and the fact that Reece is the sole horn gives the trumpeter ample opportunity to let his true voice ring. A voice gay here, mournful there, tender, witty, sexy. Sexy enough to seduce audiences in the Big Apple, yet because of lack of opportunities Reece re-settled in jazz-minded Europe eventually. In a 2004 Jazz Times interview Reece said that he also got negative feedback on his integrated marriage.

Reece favors expressive statements over speed trials, wrapping his loving arms around ballads like Ghost Of A Chance, ridin’ on the blue notes of Once In A While with sleazy slurs, swinging smoothly on medium-tempo tunes like the Monk-ish Reece original Eb PobEcaroh, Airegin, Eb Pob… Those modern jazz guys knew their way with wordplay. The nimble and occasionally locked-hands-lines of Bishop Jr. and the jubilant Reece make Yesterdays absolutely irresistible.

Sweet but with a lot of spunk. The way we like our hard bop artists from the Blue Note roster.

The album is part of a compilation package on Spotify, starts with track 13, up to 18. Listen below.

Bill Leslie Diggin’ The Chicks (Argo 1962)

Bill Leslie is diggin’ the chicks and we’re diggin’ the relaxed and intriguing style of the tenor saxophonist from Pennsylvania.

Bill Leslie - Diggin' The Chicks


Bill Leslie (tenor saxophone, saxella B1), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Thornel Schwartz (guitar), Ben Tucker (bass), Art Taylor (drums)


on October 19, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as Argo 710 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Goodnight Irene
Angel Eyes
Side B:
Lonely Woman
Got A Date With An Angel

Who is Bill Leslie? Well, he was born in Media, Pennsylvania in 1925 and passed away in 2003. For many years, Jennings played in the group of the popular and influential alto saxophonist and bandleader, Louis Jordan. In the early sixties, Jennings was featured on organist Larry Young’s Groove Street and guitarist Thornel Schwartz’ Soul Cookin’. Diggin’ The Chicks is Leslie’s only album as a leader. In the late sixties, Leslie led an organ combo. That’s about it as far as bio goes.

Yeah, ok. But who, really, is Bill Leslie? Here a straightforward answer won’t suffice. He’s a straightforward player, at ease in a conservative setting, yet picks notes that have one leapin’ sideways. He likes to play swing music with a breathy sound and bends notes like a country blues singer. At the same time, Leslie adds spare, effective bits of double-timing. Perhaps this kind of gelling isn’t that unusual for players who grew up in the 30s and 40s, when black popular music was still labeled as ‘race’ music and included traditional New Orleans jazz, gospel, jump blues, novelty and swing and, in the late 40s, while bebop was changing the face of jazz, black popular music with a driving back beat suddenly came to be labeled as rhythm&blues. Likely musicians (like, for instance, Gene Ammons or Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis) didn’t feel it was unusual to switch from race/jump/r&b to modern jazz. And almost as a rule, he or she’s got the blues and was raised in church. All of this is somehow reflected in his/hers style. Leslie also shows a liking for Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. Get it? Anyhow, a quirky, fascinating player which in some magical way that only seems possible in the fantasy world of jazz, holds one spellbound with highly enjoyable, original notes and tones.

On Diggin’ The Chicks, a novelty title that clouds his message, Leslie is supported by Tommy Flanagan on piano, his friend Thornel Schwartz on guitar, Ben Tucker on bass and Art Taylor on drums. Schwartz serves as accompanist, while Flanagan, a receptive supporter, adds a number of delicate, coherent solos. Leslie is addressing a lot of female creatures, presenting tunes like Madge, Margie, (Earl Hines’) Rosetta, and playing standards like Angel Eyes and Got A Date With An Angel. Making his presence known with a lot of flair too. Not a loudmouth. Instead Leslie charms his way in like a gentleman. He’s taking his time, the leisurely stroll is Leslie’s favorite walk. And he’s adept at setting a homey atmosphere, smoothly luring the listener into a cozy place, the woodblocks in the fireplace quietly whispering, the cup of hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows all set on a low mahogany wooden side table… Then again it’s unlikely that Leslie will doze off, there’s a bite to his tone and he’s got bright ideas, is shaved, ready, with tie knotted, eager for a night out into town.

How charming an album when it includes both Goodnight Irene and an Ornette Coleman tune! Leslie picked Coleman’s Lonely Woman. Leslie’s pace is slower than Coleman’s, and bassist Ben Tucker plays a key role employing an attractive descending figure. Leslie uses the saxella. The vocalized sound is highly expressive, the twists and turns haunting. But if I was to pick one highlight, it would be his version of Huddie Ledbetter’s Goodnight Irene. The waltz figure of Art Taylor gives it a gentle but probing chuck-chuck-chucking push, Leslie’s genial tone, relaxed delivery, out-of-tempo bits and surprising choice of notes stay in one’s head long after the needle has jumped and the laundry has been done. It’s an unbelievable fate that Leslie’s career as a leader was finished before it started, but that’s the way it works sometimes.

Listen to the full album of Diggin’ The Chicks here. But try to grab one if you like it, it’s a crisp and punchy Rudy van Gelder recording. If Diggin’ The Chicks was on Blue Note, considering its beautiful production and outstanding line up, it would go for 4 or 5 times the amount of $ you have to lay down for this affordable Argo release.