Howard McGhee The Return Of Howard McGhee (Bethlehem 1956)

Howard McGhee returned to Bethlehem. A glorious entrance.

Howard McGhee - The Return Of Howard McGhee


Howard McGhee (trumpet), Sahib Shihab (baritone saxophone, alto saxophone), Duke Jordan (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)


on October 22, 1956 in New York City


as BCP 42 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
Get Happy
Tahitian Lullaby
Lover Man
Lullaby Of The Leaves
You’re Teasing Me
Side B:
Oo-Wee But I Do
Don’t Blame Me
I’ll Remember April

By 1956, trumpeter Howard McGhee already was a veteran of bebop and one of the earliest collaborators of Charlie Parker, The One, The Kick Start of modern jazz. More than a colleague, he was a friend. Howard McGhee was born in 1918 and two years the senior of Charlie Parker. Now and then, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-born trumpet player helped out Parker, saxophoniste maudit, who continuously ran into trouble.

Sign of the (ominous) times: In 1946, Charlie Parker had completed his first recordings for Ross Russell’s Dial label in Los Angeles. McGhee lived in Los Angeles with his wife Dorothy. They were a mixed couple that was continually harassed by the L.A. police force. At one time, the vice squad planted drugs in their apartment and promptly arrested McGhee. Parker was in bad shape, living in a garage on McKinley Avenue, his daily diet solely consisting of port wine. The McGhee’s took him to their apartment. Howard and Dorothy, against the grain, opened a little jazz club on the premises of the defunct Finale club and booked Charlie Parker.

The first thing one notices is that The Return includes Lover Man and Don’t Blame Me, two standard ballads identified by influential renditions by Charlie Parker. Lover Man, Dial 1946, was a sinuous exercise – notwithstanding the fact that Parker was sick and close to a nervous breakdown, awoken just in time by the sounds of his colleagues to pick up on the melody, which perhaps was one of the reasons Parker abhorred this version. McGhee, himself a trumpeter who inspired many of the up-and-coming players of the hard bop era, was the trumpeter on that recording and continued to perform Lover Man for the rest of his life.

Furthermore, McGhee’s group includes pianist Duke Jordan. Jordan was part of one of Parker’s most steady groups of 1947-48, which also included Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. The bop-oriented The Return Of Howard McGhee – McGhee had been off the scene a while as a consequence of his use of narcotics – also featured alto and baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Both Shihab and Jones had occasionally played with Parker.

The chemistry – no pun intented – is striking. The group performs as a bunch of buoyant teenage pals at play in the lake, two diving from the bridge, one showing his prowess as a crawler in clear sight of nearby feminine onlookers, another shouting crazy things to fly-over goose. Not a wild bunch of hooligans, but charged and charming. So Get Happy makes perfect sense. And the old warhorse is exemplary of a great album that is too easily overlooked. There’s the rare sparkle and bite of Philly Joe Jones. The smooth blend of McGhee’s exuberant, sinuous trumpet and Shihab’s pretty spectacular baritone sax. The spry and gracefully fashioned solo’s of Duke Jordan.

The group performs eleven tunes, including the soft-hued, hypnotic Lullaby Of The Leaves, the catchy, Latin-ish and uptempo I’ll Remember April and the sizzling flagwaver Rifftide. Lover Man is excellent, the coupling of McGhee’s sly variations on the melody and delicate bittersweet comments with the bright and full-bodied tone that’s reminiscent of Louis Armstrong is very attractive. The long life already lived, from his stints with Count Basie and Charlie Barnet, to the laboratory of Minton’s Playhouse and ‘carvin’ with the bird’ signifying a weathered and stellar jazz artist.

A set of eleven tunes that rarely stretch beyond four minutes – unfortunately – suggests that Bethlehem was aiming at radio airplay, perhaps inspired by the success of the Mulligan/Baker group of Pacific Jazz. Bethlehem wasn’t strictly a jazz label. Nonetheless, its jazz discography has slowly but surely turned into a special place for jazz freaks, like that little superb Juarez burrito joint for Texan lovers of hot Latin cuisine. The great engineering can compete with Rudy van Gelder as well as Roy DuNann from Contemporary, the label on which McGhee recorded two more successful albums in 1960. To boot: you ever seen such a beautiful sleeve? In the words of Babs Gonzales: exboopident!

Harold Ousley Tenor Sax (Bethlehem 1960)

Tenor saxophonist Harold Ousley combined relaxed, flowing, bluesy lines with a rich, resonant sound. Tenor Sax is his only album as a leader in the sixties.

Harold Ousley - Tenor Sax


Harold Ousley (tenor sax), Charles Davis (baritone sax), Julian Priester (trombone), Philip Wright (piano), Thomas Williams (bass), Walter Perkins (drums)


in 1960 in NYC


as Bethlehem 6059 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Paris Sunday
At Last
Lush Life
Side B:
Struttin’ To Truckin’
Porter’s Groove

Ousley died of unknown causes last year, on August 13, 2015. Born in Chicago, Ousley turned professional in the late fourties, working in circus bands. In the fifties and sixties, Ousley played with Gene Ammons, Billy Holiday, Howard McGhee, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Dinah Washington and organist Jack McDuff. With the reign of fusion and rock in the early seventies, work for tenor saxophonists like Ousley had become quite scarce. Ousley nevertheless held chairs in the big bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton, while recording a few albums as a leader of jazzfunk ensembles. Ousley continued working in r&b and blues for the rest of his career, playing with Big Maybelle, Ruth Brown, Percy Mayfield, George Benson, Jimmy Witherspoon and organist Bill Doggett.

Ousley also teached jazz programs in schools and developed a method of ‘music as therapy’. Alledgedly, Ousley appeared in the (depending on your taste, silly or wryly funny) blaxploitation movie Cotton Comes To Harlem in 1970. But Ousley is difficult to detect. Not to say, impossible. He isn’t credited. I’m beginning to suspect that the journalists who reported Ousley’s supporting role in their eulogies of Ousley last summer have been putting on the Flophouse Floor Manager. (So if you’ve watched the movie and have found the appearance of Ousley, please report and bust this utterly important jazz myth…)

More work in showbiz followed, as Ousley hosted a cable tv show in the early nineties, Harold Ousley Presents, joining the ranks of fellow musicians Johnny Cash, Tom Jones and Ernest Tubb, who all hosted shows at one time or another in their careers.

I’m really fond of Ousley’s marshmellow sound. He’s a gentle player with sly humour, who stays in the middle register for most of the time and favors a slightly dragging beat. Ousley is comfortable with rapid, multi-note lines as well. Of his scarce work as a recording sideman, his appearance on drummer Grassella Oliphant’s The Grass Roots (Atlantic 1965) is easily his best, a successful symbiosis of sound and style. He also contributed five tunes for that album, among them Haitian Lady and One For The Masses, which Ousley would re-visit later on; the contagious, bossa-fied hard bop tune Haitian Lady would appear on Brother Jack McDuff’s Walk On By (Prestige 1966). (Ousley contributed three tunes to that album and played on a number of McDuff sessions for Prestige, probably as a sub for Red Holloway) One For The Masses returned on both Ousley’s jazzfunk albums from 1972, The Kid and Sweet Double Hipness.

Ousley’s elegant, lush playing style is already present on Tenor Sax. His tenor mixes nicely with the other two reed instruments, resulting in a warm, full-bodied group sound. The rhythm section keeps a good groove. But they are playing it pretty safe, accenting the basic formula of theme-solo’s-theme as if they’re fresh out of music college, careful not to step on anyone’s toes.

Priester, one of the most promising trombonists at that time in his career, is swift and imposing. Charles Davis speaks huskily, eloquently. Surprise lurks around the corners of Ousley’s lines, and he embellishes the mid-and uptempo tunes with patiently executed, bluesy phrases. Those attractive mid-and uptempo tunes, like Paris Sunday, are set opposite a most satisfactory, intimate, breathy version of the classic ballad Lush Life.

Nice tenor work. It’s quite incomprehensible that it took the tenor saxophonist twelve years to follow up Tenor Sax with another album under his own name.