Bill Leslie - Diggin' The Chicks

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

Personnel

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

Recorded

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

Released

as Argo 710 in 1962

Track listing

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


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.

The Art Of Taylor

ART TAYLOR – I don’t know about you but every time I discover a piece of vintage footage or oral history on YouTube I get all excited, over the moon really, like a kid receiving presents from Santa Claus. I’m sure those fascinated and spellbound by the classic age of jazz have similar feelings.

So here’s Art Taylor in 1994, talking with fellow drummer Warren Smith at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. The vivacious, self-proclaimed hardliner looks back on an amazing career and life as an expat in Europe with a lot of flair and humor and points out the value of the democracy of jazz. Taylor boldly tackles taboos as race, prostitution and the American Nightmare. He also demonstrates his style on the drumkit, with special emphasis on the all-important ride cymbal. A priceless piece of oral history that should be viewed as a platform for discussion at conservatories around the world.

Watch the interview here.

Taylor, born in 1929 in New York City, was probably the most prolific drummer in modern jazz history (“I NEVER was late!”) who played with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan and countless others. A legend, who also published the controversial book of interviews Notes And Tones in 1977. Below are some of the albums that featured Taylor.

Art Taylor passed away within a year after the interview, on February 6, 1995.

Walter Davis Jr. - Davis Cup

Walter Davis Jr. Davis Cup (Blue Note 1959)

A wide-ranging stunner, pianist Walter Davis Jr.’s debut as a leader in 1959, Davis Cup, deserves its rightful place among the classic hard bop albums on Blue Note at that time.

Walter Davis Jr. - Davis Cup

Personnel

Walter Davis Jr. (piano), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on August 2, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4018 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
’S Make It
Loodle-Lot
Sweetness
Side B:
Rhumba Nhumba
Minor Mind
Millie’s Delight


From the immaculate six Davis-penned compositions, the hi-powered energy, the stellar line-up, the singular style of Walter Davis Jr. and, last but not least, the wicked title, Davis Cup is an allround, pure-bred hard bop package easily taken for granted in the era of classic jazz albums. In 1959, the following albums, among others, were released on Blue Note along Davis Cup: Horace Silver’s Finger Poppin’ and Blowin’ The Blues Away, Sonny Clark’s My Conception, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messenger’s At The Jazz Corner Of The World and Africaine, Donald Byrd’s Byrd In Hand, Kenny Burrell’s On View At The Five Spot and Jackie McLean’s New Soil and Swing Swang Swingin’. Pleasant company.

Not just an innocent bystander either, Mr. Davis. The Richmond, Virginia-born pianist was featured on New Soil, (and, later on, McLean’s avant-leaning Let Freedom Ring) Byrd In Hand and Africaine. Obviously, Blue Note label bosses Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff were convinced of the abilities of Davis, who went as far back as playing alongside and recording with Charlie Parker at the turn of the previous decade and was known as a major interpreter of Bud Powell. By 1959, Walter Davis Jr. had cemented a position as a delicate juggler of traditional and adventurous styles, underlined by his composer’s sense of continuity, off-kilter twists and turns that pleasantly throw you off balance, a strong percussive touch and chubby, dense, driving clusters of chords. In the slipstream of Horace Silver in the late fifties, Davis is concerned not only with gritty yet elaborate compositions, but also with providing extra motives beside the melody line, creating simultaneously complex and easy-flowing tunes in the process.

Great tunes. Most of them are mid-tempo compositions, like ’S Make It (not to be confused with Lee Morgan’s ’S Make It, which was recorded by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers in 1964) Loodle-Lot and Minor Mood, alternated with the ballad Sweetness and the uplifting exotica of Rhumba Nhumba. Medium tempo, minor moods, blues inflections, the lone ballad and an Afro-Cuban exercise: a typical hard bop bag. However, Davis passes his exam cum laude, not in the least as a consequence of Art Taylor and Sam Jones’ responsive, propulsive support, the swift, lyrical lines of Donald Byrd and acerbic, suspenceful contributions of Jackie McLean.

In the sixties, Davis dropped out for a while and worked as a (assumedly very skilled!) tailor before returning to the scene with a guest role on Sonny Rollins 1973 album Horn Culture. His second album as a leader was released as late as 1979, the first of a series until his passing in 1990 at the age of 57.

James Clay & David "Fathead" Newman - The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces

James Clay & David “Fathead” Newman The Sound Of The Wide And Open Spaces!!!! (Riverside 1960)

Some sessions just seem to swing harder than others. The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces!!!! by co-leaders James Clay and David “Fathead” Newman is such an album. A blast from start to finish.

James Clay & David "Fathead" Newman - The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces

Personnel

James Clay (tenor saxophone, flute B2), David “Fathead” Newman (tenor saxophone, alto saxophone B2), Wynton Kelly (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (blues)

Recorded

on April 20, 1960 in NYC

Released

as RLP 327 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Wide Open Spaces
They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Side B:
Some Kinda Mean
What’s New
Figger-Ration


Think of the combi’s Johnny Griffin/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Dexter Gordon/Wardell Gray, Arnett Cobb/Buddy Tate or of the Clifford Jordan/John Gilmore album Blowing In From Chicago. The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces!!!! (the use of multiple exclamation marks is hyperbolic fancy, but I like the way it looks on the jacket) fits into that high calibre category. Clay and Fathead, two ‘tough’ Texan tenors (and alto’s, flutes) battle it out with the hard-driving support of Art Taylor, Sam Jones and Wynton Kelly. The album was supervised by Cannonball Adderley. Adderley, who had signed with Riverside in 1960 and recorded the highly succesful and influential live album In San Francisco, struck up a good rapport with label owner Orrin Keepnews, immediately getting into fruitful A&R territory.

James Clay is still a relatively unknown saxophonist and flute player. Born in Dallas, Texas in 1935, Clay played with fellow Texan tenorist Booker Ervin, but moved to the West Coast in the mid-fifties. By 1960, Clay had recorded with drummer Lawrence Marable (Tenorman, Jazz West 1956), bassist Red Mitchell (Presenting Red Mitchell, Contemporary 1957) and Wes Montgomery (Movin’ Along, Riverside 1960). As a leader, Clay followed up The Sound with A Double Dose Of Soul, which boasts a great line-up of Adderley alumni Nat Adderley, Victor Feldman, Louis Hayes and, again, Sam Jones. A concise but impressive discography. After contributing to Hank Crawford’s True Blue in 1964, Clay disappeared from the scene, only to enjoy a modest comeback in the late eighties.

Clay’s sound is edgy, his style is reminiscent of bop pioneers like Teddy Edwards. A great match with the better-known David “Fathead” Newman. Newman, the big-toned tenorist from Corsicana, Texas, put his highly attractive, blues-drenched style to good use in the Ray Charles band from 1954-64 and ’70-’71, starring on landmark tunes as The Right Time, Unchain My Heart and albums like Ray Charles In Person and At Newport. Newman was an Atlantic recording artist in his own right. On my deathbed, I’m damn sure I will be remembering Ray Charles Presents David “Fathead Newman (Atlantic 1958) as one of the most soulful albums in modern jazz.

Newman takes the first solo on the furiously swinging opener Wide Open Spaces, taking care of business from note one. He sings, spits, guffaws, presenting a lengthy, driving discourse of blues and bop. Meanwhile, Newman’s phrasing is articulate, fluent, and the full-bodied round tone is intact, and his flow is spurred on by clever, unisono figures of Kelly and Taylor. Clay’s tone is more edgy, thinner. Clay finds solace in darkblue, faraway corners, letting loose occasional gutsy, halve-valve sounds and spices a lively tale with labyrinthian clusters of bop phrases, in a sardonic mood, putting you on, enjoying himself. Then he emerges from the shadows with sudden, belligerent wails. Clay’s a more unpredictable player than Newman. Both take zillion choruses to have their say. Never a dull moment.

Wide Open Spaces is a tune written by the legendary bebop singer and poet, Babs Gonzalez. Figger-Ration, an uptempo, tacky bebop showstopper, is also by Gonzalez. The interpretation of Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me is hard-swinging. Keter Betts’ blues-based tune Some Kinda Mean starts with the coda, a raucous figure of snare drums and piano, and develops into a mid-tempo, Ray Charles-type mover. Supported by the responsive, burning rhythm trio of Taylor, Jones and Kelly, the latter occasionally chiming in with ebullient bits on the slower tunes and frivolous strings of high notes on the uptempo tunes, Clay and Newman speak confidently on tenor throughout. For What’s New, Newman switches to alto, Clay to flute. It’s a solid rendition of the well-known ballad.

While a current of pivotal game-changing outings (Davis’ Kind Of Blue, Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Coleman’s Free Jazz) was released in ’59 and ‘60, gospel and blues-based hard bop/mainstream jazz, while not always liked by the critics, was at a peak and admired by audiences around the country and abroad. Hard bop albums rolled off the Blue Note, Prestige and Riverside assembly lines like fortune cookies. That turn of the decade was really something! Something of such all-round excellence which might easily cause such marvelous albums like The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces!!!! to be lightly snowed under. But it aged well. To this day, Clay and Newman’s bopswinging sax festivities leave one breathless with every new turn on the table.

Tina Brooks - True Blue

Tina Brooks True Blue (Blue Note 1960)

In spite of being the Einstein and Heisenberg of the modern jazz recording business, Blue Note label bosses Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff occasionally seemed to suffer from a black out. Why else did they release only one album – True Blue – out of four excellent sessions of tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks?

Tina Brooks - True Blue

Personnel

Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Duke Jordan (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on June 25, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Inglewood Cliffs, NJ

Released

as BLP 4041 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Good Old Soul
Up Tight’s Creek
Theme For Doris
Side B:
True Blue
Miss Hazel
Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You


Fifty-five years after the fact, one can only speculate. Jack Chambers, in a May 2005 Coda issue, suggested that Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff effectively killed the career of Brooks. (Who Killed Tina Brooks? – read here) A lot of conjecture. I’m sure that The Lion & The Wolff couldn’t be bothered with the fact that Brooks, a reserved, shabby-dressed, corner bar jazz cat, didn’t look as good on a record cover than Hank Mobley. They used Brooks on only a handful of sessions, but Jimmy Smith’s The Sermon, Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights Vol 1 & 2 and Freddie Hubbards’s Open Sesame were notable albums, not cautious try-outs destined to be shelved. Whatever the reasons, it definitely is a pity that a career as a leader for Blue Note didn’t work out for Brooks in his heyday of 1958-61.

Another mystery though: why didn’t Brooks, seeing that Blue Note apparently had other priorities, tried to find a place in the roster of related companies like Prestige?

If it weren’t for ace producer Michael Cuscuna, whose influential re-issue company Mosaic released The Complete Recordings Of The Tina Brooks Quintets in 1985, (which in turn led to seperate re-issues of his albums by Blue Note in the nineties) we wouldn’t have known that not only True Blue showed potential, but that other sessions displayed a mature instrumentalist with a sinewy yet edgy tone and ability to string together cliché-free line after line. Brooks was also a prolific writer.

And stood his ground amidst a bunch of top-notch figures of the day, like Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Lee Morgan and Paul Chambers. 1958’s Minor Move, 1960’s Back To The Track and 1961’s The Waiting Game were mastered, numbered and designed but, ultimately, shelved.

It’s hard to pick a winner. I would say the quintessential Tina Brooks-statements were ignited by Philly Joe Jones’ blistering sparks on The Waiting Game.

True Blue was recorded a week after Freddie Hubbard’s Open Sesame, the debut album of the promising trumpeter, which depended significantly on the input of Tina Brooks as composer and sideman. Brooks had functioned as Hubbard’s mentor for some time.

Fitting the company’s hard bop aesthetic like a velvet glove, the album boasts such almost inexplicably charming, blues-based, minor key tunes as Good Old Soul (including a great off-centre solo by Brooks) and True Blue. (the tune is upbeat, catchy and the employment of tension without release is nifty) There’s the langourous, beautific melody of Miss Hazel, wherein Brooks and Hubbard are right on the money and Art Taylor puts in stunning rolls, and the moody but sprightly Theme For Doris.

Brooks may not have been a pioneer like Dexter Gordon or an innovator like Joe Henderson. But his all-round package of chops, authority, melodic panache and gift for writing should’ve led to more than just one album as a leader. Addicted to heroin and suffering from liver damage, Brooks passed away at the age of 42 in 1974.

Dexter Gordon - One Flight Up

Dexter Gordon One Flight Up (Blue Note 1964)

Dexter Gordon’s marvelous stretch of early and mid-sixties Blue Note recordings occured both in the US and in Europe. As one of an increasing number of American jazz expatriates in the sixties, the tenorist had settled in Copenhagen, Denmark. When back in the US for short periods, Gordon recorded at Rudy van Gelder’s studio. Our Man In Paris – obviously – was recorded in Paris, just as Gordon’s outstanding, daring 1964 album, One Flight Up. Gordon beautifully explores new (partly) modal grounds.

Dexter Gordon - One Flight Up

Personnel

Dexter Gordon (tenor saxophone), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Kenny Drew (piano), Niels Henning Orsted-Pedersen (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on June 2, 1964 at CBS Studios, Paris, France

Released

as BLP 4176 in 1964

Track listing

Side A:
Tanya
Side B:
Coppin’ The Haven
Darn That Dream


Just over 19 minutes long, the free-flowing Tanya, a Donald Byrd composition, occupies the whole of side A. It has an easygoing yet urgent swing from start to finish. During the two opposing sections of tension and release that comprises the song’s structure, Dexter Gordon carefully builds his solo, phrasing assertively and fluently. He displays strong, wailing lines. Gordon’s standard is incredibly high. Obviously, his extended engagements at Copenhagen’s foremost jazz club, Club Montmartre, had given him the opportunity to further hone his already impressive craft.

Kenny Drew and Donald Byrd alternate well between atmospheric and pungent playing. But the key to Tanya’s succes undoubtly is the work of Art Taylor and Niels Henning Orsted-Pedersen. They keep the extended groove going not only by keeping steady time, but also by their free-spirited playing. Basically their voices are as important as that of the front row. Orsted-Pedersen was only 18 years old and already one of Europe’s prime bass players. A great technician, his strongly plucked notes are perfect companions to Art Taylor’s snap-crackling, syncopated, powerful drum rolls. Art Taylor – also an expatriate at the time – had always been in great demand and recorded with almost all the major jazz figures of the fifties and sixties. His work on One Flight Up, especially on Tanya, is definitely one of his greatest achievements on record.

The Paris production of Taylor’s drums is amazing; lively, spacious. Indeed, the whole album benefits from excellent engineering. No worries for Rudy van Gelder at the other side of the big pond. Kenny Drew’s Coppin’ The Haven has a similar structure as Tanya. Gordon’s immaculate execution and long phrases are the pillars of a fullfilling tenor tale. Kenny Drew delivers a good mix of inside and outside phrases, alternating between the impressionism of McCoy Tyner in the modal section and funky, fiery lines in the swinging part. Gordon finishes the set with a lush, vigourous interpretation of the DeLange/Van Heusden standard, Darn That Dream. It’s on par with the like-minded ballads of his previous Blue Note albums, such as Dexter Calling and A Swingin’ Affair. Because of the coherence in sound and high quality interplay, Darn That Dream blends well with Gordon’s forays into modal jazz.

Thus ends a courageous, mesmerising classic album in the catalogue of the great Dexter Gordon.

John Coltrane - Lush Life

John Coltrane Lush Life (Prestige 1957/58/1961)

When Prestige released the mid ‘57/early ’58 sessions that comprise Lush Life in 1961, John Coltrane, ever the restless seeker, had already moved into very different directions. But that doesn’t take anything away from the great material contained within these sides.

John Coltrane - Lush Life

Personnel

John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Donald Byrd (trumpet B1), Red Garland (piano B1-2), Earl May (bass A1-3), Art Taylor A1-3), Paul Chambers (bass B1-2), Louis Hayes (drums B1), Albert Heath (B2)

Recorded

on May 31 & August 16, 1957 and January 10, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7188

Track listing

Side A:
Like Someone In Love
I Love You
Trane’s Slo Blues
Side B:
Lush Life
I Hear A Rhapsody


Coltrane had gained recognition and notoriety with his second stint with the Miles Davis Quintet and the recordings of Giant Steps and My Favorite Things on Atlantic. Prestige, eager to capitalise on Coltrane’s fame, released a string of LP’s up to 1965 containing material from the vaults. (Other tracks of the May/August ’57 and January ’58-sessions were released on Coltrane and The Last Trane) At the time of the Lush Life-sessions, people were still catching their breath after Coltrane’s tenures with Miles Davis (the first tenure) and Thelonious Monk, and after the recording of the classic hard bop album Blue Train.

Regardless of Lush Life’s haphazard nature, it includes a number of interesting and exciting moments, as one might expect from someone of Coltrane’s calibre. A great moment is the way Coltrane imaginatively deals with the straightforward chord sequence of Trane’s Slow Blues, wringing notes out of his tenor the way wrestlers tend to do with each other’s torso. Art Taylor’s insistent beat and Earl May’s big-sounding bass constitute a perfect vehicle for Coltrane’s forceful style. Included as well is a spirited stop-time section.

The other two trio tunes on side A lack dynamic rhythm work and Earl May’s bass sounds a bit muddy. But Coltrane turns Like Someone In Love inside out, utilizing melodic inversions (opening the tune with the bridge, in true bebop fashion, is just the starter) and cluster bombs of notes typical of early Coltrane. Furthermore, I Love You is a tale with beautiful lines and firmly placed blue notes. There wasn’t a particular artistic strategy to leave out the piano for this date, as Joe Goldberg states in the liner notes. The reality was prosaic: the piano player didn’t show up. The absentee probably was either Red Garland or Mal Waldron, frequent early Coltrane collaborators.

Red Garland is part of the other session, which resulted in a haunting rendition of Lush Life, in which the rhythm section of Paul Chambers and Louis Hayes responds well to Coltrane’s changes of mood, and a hard-swinging version of I Hear A Rhapsody. Young lion Donald Byrd, Coltrane’s sideman on this session, feels at home in the charged atmosphere of the reworked standard and his phrases have a floating quality not unlike the trumpeter that influenced many of the modern young trumpeters, Fats Navarro.

Prestige didn’t have the decency to consult Coltrane in the matters of organising a record release. However, as both a longtime Coltrane fan and vinyl freak, I’m glad those ‘crumbs’ of Coltrane saw the light of day in 1961. I’m not disputing the merit of listening to remastered jazz albums on that tiny, horrible absurdity they call the compact disc. Moreover, vinyl re-issues are pleasant commodities. But the vintage vinyl experience is priceless. The chills and feelings of surprise aroused by the crackling mono LP sounds of Trane’s Slow Blues still reverberate after all these years. Imagine what groundbreaking cuts like My Favorite Things (from My Favorite Things) and Dahomey’s Dance (from Ole) do to one’s nervous system. I guess you can.