Sal Nistico - Heavyweights

Sal Nistico Heavyweights (Jazzland 1962)

It may not have had widespread coverage, but Heavyweights was a thoroughly convincing declaration of independence by tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico.

Sal Nistico - Heavyweights


Sal Nistico (tenor saxophone), Nat Adderley (cornet), Barry Harris (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Walter Perkins (drums)


on December 20, 1961 at Plaza Sound Studio, New York City


as JLP 66 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Seconds, Anyone
My Old Flame
Side B:
Just Friends
Au Privave

During a conversation with fellow tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes in 1966, Sal Nistico said: “A lot of cats put down bebop, and they say it’s old and it’s dated, but that music’s not easy – It’s a challenge to play.”

The debut album of Nistico, 1962’s Heavyweights, made it sound easy, always a feat of accomplished players. When Heavyweights was recorded on December 20, 1961, Nistico, born in Syracuse, New York in 1941, had just left the Jazz Brothers Band of Chuck and Gap Mangione, which he had been part of since 1959. Nistico would come into prominence in Woody Herman’s Herd from 1962 to 1965. Nistico, who would furthermore play and record with Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Curtis Fuller, Dusko Goykovich, Hod ‘O Brien, Stan Tracey, Frank Strazzeri, Rein de Graaff and Chet Baker, enjoyed regular stints with Herman throughout his career, that came to an end with his passing in 1991 in Bern, Switzerland.

The strong line-up of Heavyweights furthermore consists of cornetist Nat Adderley, pianist Barry Harris, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Walter Perkins. The ensembles of Nistico and Adderley are fresh drops of water from the Spa source. Nistico is a hot, strong player, meanwhile keeping clarity of line, keeping the beat at a slightly laid-back pace, fiery and emotional yet convinced too of the power of understatement. Nat Adderley, very successful with the funky soul jazz work of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1961, knows his bop, adding a delightful tad of sleaze to it with the muted sound of his cornet. Barry Harris, as always, is both magnificent as accompanist and soloist, contributing a number of masterful, Monk-ish statements.

Kickstarted by a fantastic mambo tune – Mamblue by Barry Harris – Heavyweights gracefully carries on the tradition of bebop, particularly Charlie Parker. The group performs Parker’s blues Au Privave, as well as My Old Flame and Just Friends, standards that are immortalized by Parker. Nistico’s Second’s, Anyone is a catchy bop line and Tommy Turrentine’s Shoutin’ a solid uptempo bebop performance. The unusual structure of the title tune, Heavyweights, penned by Frank Pullara, is reminiscent of Gerry Mulligan’s unique work. It’s a beautiful melody.

Straight-ahead excellence.

Sal Nistico


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Pike - It's Time For Dave Pike

Dave Pike It’s Time For Dave Pike (Riverside 1961)

It’s time for Dave Pike, Charlie Parker on vibes.

Dave Pike - It's Time For Dave Pike


Dave Pike (vibraphone), Barry Harris (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)


on January 30 & April 9, 1961 at Plaza Sound Studio, New York City


as RLP 360 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
On Green Dolphin Street
It’s Time
Hot House
Side B:
Little Girl Blue
Tendin’ To Business

Again, Flophouse is drawn towards the turn of that decade, a pivotal, transitional period of jazz. It’s January 1961, the past year and a half the jazz world has been shaken up by Kind Of Blue, Giant Steps and the first Ornette Coleman albums. The back-to-the-roots concept of Horace Silver and the blues-drenched organ style of Jimmy Smith are in full swing. In label-terminology: modal jazz, post-bop, free jazz, hard bop and soul jazz. To be sure, labeling is artificial, perhaps in equal measure an invention devised for explanation and marketing. But jazz is not a file that you put in a grey locker. It is a gelling of personalities and innovations.

Keyword: interconnection. However, by 1961, the label left out above, ye old bebop, was by no means exhausted, even if this was what some critics were prone to conclude at the time. You’re just a Parker-ite was a condemnation suitable for half-talents but too easily casted upon excellent players. It is not to be taken too badly. The critics had to drive through the tornado of change. We have the big picture. And in the hands of the major league, bebop was, five years after the passing of Charlie Parker, fresh as a daisy, sprightly as a little lamb in Spring. We have a number of major league personalities on It’s Time For Dave Pike. First and foremost, the leader of the date, Dave Pike. Influenced by Milt Jackson, equally virtuosic and a great interpreter of the blues, Pike went a long way to gain popularity with bossa albums and the odd psychedelic pie – The Doors Of Perception – in the sixties and experimented with other genres in the early seventies. However, Pike eventually returned to his straight-ahead roots for the remainder of his career.

Pre-eminently, Barry Harris. One would be hard-pressed to find a session where the Detroit-born pianist was involved in that didn’t quite work out. He’s like a weathered soccer player that functions as both coach and captain in the field, blessed with instinct for the perfect pass and the mental helicopter view to balance the team’s tactics. Then there’s Reggie Workman, already a strong personality on bass and drummer Billy Higgins, who was becoming an influential hard bop drummer while also being engaged in Ornette Coleman’s free extensions of the jazz language.

Well-executed bop is far from the stereotypical nerve-wracking abracadabra. Pike’s group serves well as ambassador of bop’s beauty on It’s Time For Dave Pike. Pike’s clarity of line and urgent swing do justice to Charlie Parker’s Cheryl, Tadd Dameron’s Hot House, Miles Davis’s Solar and the title tune by Pike, It’s Time. The breakneck speed of Pike’s Forward is acted upon brilliantly by Pike and Harris, On Green Dolphin Street‘s fluency and Workman’s fat, bouncy bass lines catch the ear, while Pike slows down proceedings with a lush solo reading of Little Girl Blue.

The enchantment of Cheryl remains present after repeating spins. It flows remarkably gently along, like calming waves that touch the Atlantic shore… A floating, natural rhythm. Pike takes a dive, brightly alternates front crawl with the butterfly. The chords and lines of Harris work like glue, keeping together the multi-faceted phrases of Pike, trading suggestions of harmonic direction with the receptive Workman and Higgins. Harris sneaks a wonderful, exuberant glissando in his typically thoughtful solo tale. If it weren’t for soccer, Harris would’ve become a maestro pattisiér, staying close to the recipe of his father while putting all kinds of detailed cherries on top. Perfect combination with the round, ringing sound of Pike, who audibly hums along with his crystal clear lines. A human voice wrung out of metal, the mallets harbingers of bebop soul with immaculate timing.

Dutch pianist Rein de Graaff regularly played with Dave Pike, who was discussed during his interview with Flophouse a couple of years ago. As far as De Graaff is concerned, It’s Time For Dave Pike was nothing short of “Charlie Parker on vibes!”. Bop master De Graaff, who semi-retired recently, pointed towards a vibraphone that stood beside the baby grand in his music room and said, “that’s the vibraphone Pike played on It’s Time. He gave it to me as a gift.” His friend had passed away six months before our interview.

You could hear a pin drop.

Thad Jones - The Magnificent Thad Jones

Thad Jones The Magnificent Thad Jones (Blue Note 1956)

Hackensack magic on The Magnificent Thad Jones, the trumpeter’s most celebrated early career outing.

Thad Jones - The Magnificent Thad Jones


Thad Jones (trumpet), Billy Mitchell (tenor saxophone), Barry Harris (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Max Roach (drums)


on July 9 & 14, 1956 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey


as BLP 1527 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
April In Paris
If I Love Again
Side B:
If Someone Had Told Me

The year 1956, hard bop has been gathering substantial steam for a few years now. The Magnificent Thad Jones is on some level affected also by the fresh extensions of modern jazz that Horace Silver, Miles Davis, Lou Donaldson and Art Blakey introduced. The album’s harmonic textures run along bop’s course, it includes bop-inflected phrasing, particularly by tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell and pianist Barry Harris. However, the stress is on bouncy mid-tempos typical for hard bop instead of fast, familiar bop tempos, the mood is relaxed but vivacious and Jones introduces clever writing with one of two original compositions, the blues-based Billy-Boo and, especially, Thedia. Two seldom played standards, Murray/Oakland’s If I Love Again and DeRose/Tobias’ If Someone Had Told Me, alternate with the well-known, beautiful melody, April In Paris.

It is often said that talented musicians that hailed from the same city and have come to try and conquer the jazz capital of the world, New York, often had a special rapport as a result of their mutual background. Perhaps it is still like that today. Assisted by Percy Heath from Philadelphia and Max Roach from New York, the three remaining Detroit-raised guys, Harris, Mitchell and the leader, Thad Jones, indeed gel particularly well. Harris, by then already a long-time devoted bop pianist with an encyclopedian knowledge of Monk, Powell and standard melodies, and a mentor to John Coltrane, Charles McPherson, among others, is the personification of glue, his resonant harmonies and concise tales provide refined support and sparkle. Max Roach, VIP bop veteran, incubator of the finest hard bop with Clifford Brown, balances fervent and delicate swing. His alert, melodic ear is virtually unparalleled. During the ensembles, the full, punchy sound of tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell blends well with the happy-blues-sounds of Jones, and Mitchell regularly chimes in with short, resonant, smoky statements.

To get you into this place where time stands still. Not a place that’s safe from the outside troubles, but perhaps instead a state wherein you chew on them, let them heat like hotcakes on a stove, live through them, to come out of them somehow cleansed. If that is the purpose of good jazz, April In Paris, the opening track of Thad Jones’ The Magnificent Thad Jones, is a winner. And winner takes all. There’s a loping gait to the standard of Vernon Duke and Edgar Harburg that’s exquisite, courtesy of the precise flow of bassist Percy Heath, the lush backing of pianist Barry Harris and the conversational coloring of Roach, who drives this band home with sensitive hi-hat and crystalline ride cymbal drumming.

And courtesy definitely of Thad Jones. If a diamond could blow, it would probably sound like Thad Jones on his second album for the Blue Note label. Moreover, the moving story of the trumpeter and future bandleader of the renowned Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra is a poignant amalgam of ideas strung together from series of keenly divided notes, the silence between them functioning as the apex of improvisational flow and coherence. It’s a story that runs over several choruses, and Jones keeps it simultaneously relaxed and intense, on a constant high level. His solo of Thedia, a beautiful, boppish, elongated line is longer still and an example of taste and sustained energy.

There’s something special about the trumpet sounds that Van Gelder recorded in Hackensack, New Jersey. Jones has become one of those angels blowing from the upper celestial plateau, the tone full and sensual like a female body on a Rubens painting, juicy like the flesh of the blissful orange, a perfect blend of sweet and sour. Yes, Charles Mingus said that Rudy van Gelder messed up everybody’s sound, depersonalized it through his innovative but all too strict methods. It’s a valid statement. But did Mingus mean it? This comes from a bandleader who told every sax player he worked with not to play like Charlie Parker. Yet Charles McPherson, a singular player yet more firmly steeped in the Parker tradition than most of his colleagues, played longer than anybody in the Mingus band except for drummer Danny Richmond. Regardless, the sound of ‘RVG horns’ and in this case, Thad Jones, is fantastic. The overall production is bliss. The execution, focus and mellow drive of the quintet are exceptional. The Magnificent Thad Jones is a perennial favorite for lovers of classic mainstream jazz and will undoubtedly attract newcomers for years to come.

The Other Side Of Benny Golson

Benny Golson The Other Side Of Benny Golson (Riverside 1958)

Benny Golson’s extraordinary writing skills often overshadow his gifts as a tenor saxophonist. As early as 1958, Riverside considered this fact and chose to highlight his tenor work naming Golson’s third album The Other Side Of Benny Golson. Not surprisingly though, the compositions are killer bee as well. Two birds killed by one stone.

The Other Side Of Benny Golson


Benny Golson (tenor saxophone), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Barry Harris (piano), Jimmy Meritt (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)


on November 12, 1958 at Nola’s Penthouse Sound Studio, NYC


as RLP 12-290 in 1958

Track listing

Side A:
Strut Time
Side B:
Are You Real?
Cry A Blue Tear
This Night

The significance of Golson, who turned 87 on January 27, can’t be overstated. Having learned the trade from pianist and renowned tunesmith Tadd Dameron in the early fifties, Golson developed into a striking composer. Many of Golson’s compositions became standards: I Remember Clifford, Stablemates, Killer Joe, Along Came Betty, Blues March. The latter two ended up on Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers’ classic album Moanin’. Golson, beside playing tenor, organised that band, creating a line-up of Philadelphia pals including future trumpet star Lee Morgan. He streamlined Blakey’s profile and business and as such formed the blueprint of succes for the fledgling Art Blakey. Golson’ Jazztet (Personel varied apart from key member Art Farmer; the quintessential line-up included Curtis Fuller) broadened the jazz horizon with sophisticated yet swinging stuff. They re-united in 1982. By then, Golson had been off the jazz scene for nearly 15 years. Following the footsteps of Quincy Jones and J.J. Johnson, Golson spent the latter part of the sixties as well as the seventies in Hollywood, scoring films and series.

Elegant compositions, fascinating voicings, surging but also quaintly cerebral lines: pure Benny Golson. It’s all there on The Other Side Of Benny Golson, the first recorded collaboration between Golson and Curtis Fuller. Golson sounds simultaneously smooth and gutsy and has a way of choosing interesting, odd notes all the time, cooking in understated fashion. For all his inventive composing and blowing, both feet of Golson stand firmly in the soil of tradition. The breathy sound that Golson displays, notably in his original ballad Cry A Blue Tear, reflects his admiration for swing giants like Ben Webster. Golson’s phrasing would’ve been an asset in Ellington’s orchestra.

The beautiful, often dreamy colors that Golson creates with the intriguing tenor-trombone combination account for much of the enjoyment of this album. Fuller smoothly weaves in and out of the theme of Are You Real?, another instant classic of Golson. How Golson cooks in his own way is evident in Strut Time, a lively stop-time tune in which Golson continually stacks one canny idea upon the other. Original stuff. Symptoms is an equally alluring melody, the musical equivalent of fog that hangs over a lake at the dawn’s early light. It includes a poetic trombone solo by Curtis Fuller. Then Golson opts for a contrast, stoking up the fire with fast flurries of notes, elements that Golson incorporates matter-of-factly into his sophisticated style as a tenorist.

Chasin’ The Barry

Barry Harris, grand seigneur of bebop and one of the last direct links to the music of Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, turns 86 years old today. Conviction and dedication, I guess, are words specifically designed for the personality of pianist and teacher Barry Harris.

Check the footage below. Harris, at 85, played the Detroit festival in 2014 and as you can see, is still going very strong. The interview bits by Brian Pace are both revealing and amusing. I also included my review of Harris’ 1962 album Chasin’ The Bird and some stunning footage of Barry Harris with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet at Newport, 1960.

See Pace Report
Read Review
See Cannonball

Charles McPherson - The Quintet/Live!

Charles McPherson The Quintet/Live! (Prestige 1967)

Altoist Gene Quill once walked off the stage, when a malignant member of the audience quipped: “All you do is play like Parker!” Whereupon Quill pushed his horn forward and replied: “You try to play like Charlie Parker!”* Discussions on Charles McPherson usually ran along the same lines. In the sixties, McPherson was often set aside by critics as a mere imitator of Bird. Too bad. Quills’ perky remark suggested it was far from easy to play Parker’s complex and spirited music. Yet, cats like McPherson carried on the flag of the Parker legacy eloquently and with great pride. For that, it would’ve been more than reasonable to be thankful.

Charles McPherson - The Quintet/Live!


Charles McPherson (alto saxophone), Lonnie Hillyer (trumpet), Barry Harris (piano), Ray McKinney (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)


on October 13, 1966 at the Five Spot, NYC


as PR 7480 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
The Viper
I Can’t Get Started
Shaw ‘Nuff
Side B:
Here’s That Rainy Day
Never Let Me Go

Undeniably, the influence from Bird on McPherson is evident throughout his career. Certainly on his live album The Quintet/Live!. But for all McPherson’s (articulate and furious) bebop sparks, as heard on the album’s highlight, Bird’s Shaw ‘Nuff, McPherson had grown into an alto saxophonist with a singular, vibrant style. A style appreciated by giant of jazz Charles Mingus, in whose group McPherson intermittingly played from 1960 to 1974, notably on Live At Town Hall and Music Written For Monterey 1965.

Beside being a first-class player in the bop and hard bop vein, McPherson proofs to be an outstanding balladeer as well. The attraction of Never Let Me Go lies in the combination of the altoist’s darkly lyrical mood, husky delivery and long lines alternating with swift phrasing. He also tells a sweet and sour story on Gershwin’s I Can’t Get Started, on which his interaction with pianist Barry Harris is particularly responsive. Harris nudges fellow Detroit-native McPherson into interesting directions and turns in an exquisite solo. Foremost bop interpreter Harris had mentored McPherson in the late fifties. Harris obviously pulls a lot of strings on this date, displaying sympathetic accompaniment, confident command of harmony and melodic finesse.

Drummer Billy Higgins, tasteful and propulsive, is a strong force as well. Crowd-mover The Viper has a similar vibe as Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, a hit that thanked its success for a big part to Higgins’ indomitable, fresh beat. (Barry Harris played on The Sidewinder as well) Greasy statements by McPherson and trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer (another Detroit friend and a colleague from the groups of Mingus and Barry Harris) are followed up by a percussive Barry Harris solo, who makes use of Monk-like delayed time.

The ‘Latinised’ Here’s That Rainy Day includes intriguing variations on the melody by McPherson. On the driving hard bop waltz Suddenly Lonnie Hillyer is in a Don Cherry mood. Both are fine performances. Shaw ‘Nuff, however, is of another order. McPerson cum suis set up an appropriate breakneck speed for Charlie Parker’s madly beautiful tune. It’s a lightning bolt. So fast Hillyer has trouble keeping up, both melody and solo-wise. McPherson’s solo is full of fire. Barry Harris seemingly effortlessly displays his vast knowledge of Bud Powell, brilliantly and suavely running through the complex changes. Both soloists thrive on the fierce, articulate backing of Billy Higgins and bassist Ray McKinney.

The Quintet/Live! contains varying repertoire, dynamic group interplay, a warm live atmosphere and immaculate improvisation by both leader and ‘consiglieri’ Barry Harris. An essential McPherson album.

*The little piece of jazz lore involving Gene Quill is chronicled in bassist and jazz writer Bill Crow’s wonderful and insightful book Jazz Anecdotes.

YouTube: Here’s That Rainy Day