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


Barry Harris Chasin’ The Bird (Riverside 1962)

An important part of the spirit of jazz, writer and critic Nat Hentoff once wrote, is the independent character of the jazz musician. Improvising involves taking risks while simultaneously holding on to one’s particular style and ideas. It, ideally, takes a seizable amount of stubbornness and discipline many laymen cannot help but find admirable. A classic example of such endurance is Thelonious Monk. It took the great pianist about fifteen years of struggle, poverty, misunderstanding and denunciation before Monk’s ‘brilliant corners’ were finally part of jazz’ main route. A lesser known example of stubborn dedication is pianist Barry Harris.



Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Clifford Jarvis (drums)


on May 31 and August 23, 1962 at Plaza Sound Studios, NYC


as RLP 345

Track listing

Side A:
Chasin’ The Bird
The Breeze And I
Around The Corner
Just As Though You Were Here
(Back Home Again In) Indiana
side B:
Stay Right With It
‘Round Midnight
Bish Bash Bosh
The Way You Look Tonight

Nowadays, the elderly Harris is an authority on the works of Monk and Bud Powell. In the seventies Harris lived alongside Monk at the residence of the legendary jazz mecenas, baroness “Pannonica” de Koenigswarter in New York and from the mid-fifties onwards fervently studied and interpreted Monk, Powell and Charlie Parker. It says a lot about his background. Believing bebop to be synonymous with jazz more than any other development, Harris made it his mission over the years to talk about its meaning and teach its theory to new generations in universities and music colleges around the world and in the Jazz Cultural Theatre Harris has founded in the eighties. It took some perseverance, and little financial rewards. But as friend and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath said a couple of years ago in The Guardian: “We started because we loved this music. Harris’ students pay very little because Barry is more concerned about spreading the music around than financial gain.”

Harmonically, Harris keeps in line with his examples Monk, Powell and Parker. His solo’s sound a lot like Powell, but are less frenzied and angered. Instead, Harris concentrated on a lithe yet occasional gutsy swing. An unusual bebop approach seldom found among second-generation colleagues. (Tommy Flanagan comes to mind) Chasin’ The Bird is Barry Harris’ sixth solo album and his fifth for Riverside. Furthermore, in 1962 Harris had built up an excellent resume as sideman with Cannonball Adderley, Donald Byrd, Johnny Griffin and Sonny Stitt. Nothwithstanding Harris’ faithful bebop tactics, there are touches in his style, notably his firm, bluesy left-hand accompanying of soloists, that he would use to effect thereafter in a number of hardbop sessions, chief among them Lee Morgan’s smash hit recording of The Sidewinder.

Chasin’ The Bird sports, among others, one Parker composition (Chasin’ The Bird), two standards famously injected with bebop logic by Parker (Indiana, The Way You Look Tonight), one classic Monk tune (‘Round Midnight) and a couple of bop originals by Harris himself.

On the title track Harris shows remarkable technique on the theme, creating elaborate voicings with both right and left hand running along swiftly. It sounds like Bach and it sounds like Bach-influenced Bud Powell. Harris’ solo has a great flow and is cleanly executed; he doesn’t play fast for fast’s-sake. Ballad Just As Though You Were Here is constructed of dizzying, cascading runs mixed with sweetly romantic statements. It’s followed up by Indiana. It goes at breakneck speed and Harris puts a lot of juice in a coherent solo.

Harris’ approach is controlled and is proof of a lot of thought. The Breeze And I, for instance, was constructed around a Latin rhythm without the common release into 4/4 time. It gives Harris the possibility to concentrate on and dig deeper into the percussive piano style he utilizes. Its percussive effect and relaxed but effective use of space reminds me of Duke Ellington’s combo work with Max Roach and Charles Mingus on the rare gem Money Jungle.

Harris uses a lot of Monkisms – rollicking scales and dissonance – on Monk’s ‘Round Midnight, but also creates mellow harmony. The Harris originals come off nicely. Bish Bash Bosh, particularly, is a contagious tune including a smart stop-time theme and repetitive, fiery sparks. The supporting group – bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Clifford Jarvis – really get into the groove here. They create a solid bottom as well as place sureshot accents throughout the album.

Bebop is not an easy music to perform meaningfully, let alone correctly. Barry Harris was well capable of handling bop’s legacy, and in the process embraced it with his own gentle and swinging flavour.