Billy Mitchell - This Is Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell This Is Billy Mitchell (Smash 1962)

It is, indeed, tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell, delivering a mellow mainstream album with more than a few surprises.

Billy Mitchell - This Is Billy Mitchell

Personnel

Billy Mitchell (tenor saxophone), Dave Burns (trumpet A3, A4, B1, B2, B4), Billy Wallace (piano A3, A4, B1, B2, B4), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Clarence “Sleepy” Anderson (organ A3, B1, B2, B4), Herman Wright (bass), Otis “Candy” Finch (drums)

Recorded

on October 29 & 30, 1962 at Universal Studios, Chicago, Illinois

Released

as MGS 27027 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
J&B
Sophisticated Lady
You Turned The Tables On Me
Passionova
Side B:
Tamra
Automation
Just Waiting
Siam


The tenor saxophone is a special cat. Essential jazz instrument since the introduction of its potential by Coleman Hawkins, extension of the body of popular honking men like Big Jay McNeely, fulfilling the attractive role that would later only be surpassed by the guitar in rock & roll. Very saxy… The tenor sax is the woman with guts, Lauren Bacall firing one-liners, high ball leaning in her lean fingers, it’s the woman with curves, Raquel Welch bursting from the screen, half-naked and whip in hand… It’s the boy in the hood, dunking day and night on the square, and it’s Killer Joe, stepping from the board of his Cadillac, right in front of Birdland… The burning of rubber on a dirt road. Biceps and beer belch all in one. And smoke, don’t forget the smoke…

The tenor saxophone gels particularly well with the toms and ride cymbal of the drums, the middle register of the piano. Its sound burst out of the big bands and plays a pivotal role in the small ensemble setting of the 50s and beyond. It was the chosen instrument for many of the burgeoning reed men that followed the bright light of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. In the slipstream of the giants – Hawkins, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane – a slew of great stylists emerged. A sample of last year’s review pages of Flophouse Magazine reveals the names of tenor saxophonists Cannonball Adderley, Jerome Richardson, Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin, Eddie Chamblee, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Forrest, King Curtis, Clarence Wheeler, Buddy Terry, Harold Land, Wayne Shorter and Hank Bagby. Suits all mainstream jazz tastes!

And now Billy Mitchell: dark horse coming in from the stretch, a thoroughbred bound for a solid run on the racetrack of Flophouse, place your bets, keep your eye on the tote board, 9 to 2 shot, there he comes, there he comes… run! goddamit! run!… bingo. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, across the border line from Charlie Parker – who saw the light in Kansas City, Kansas – raised in Detroit, city of countless outstanding jazz artists, Mitchell apprenticed at the Blue Bird Inn, sharing the stage with incoming modernists like Miles Davis. He was a long-time member of the Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie big bands. Mitchell maintained a special relationship with trombonist Al Grey, with whom the bop-oriented tenorist released a number of albums in the early 60s.

Bonafide leadership dates were scarce. Snap Your Fingers on Argo was the first in 1962, This Is Billy Mitchell followed soon after that year and A Little Juicy was the final solo album by Mitchell featuring Thad Jones in the sixties – 1964. Both albums were released on Smash, subsidiary of Mercury Records. His next record came out in 1977. For reasons unknown, Mitchell dropped out of the scene in the 80s, coming out of hiding only occasionally, for instance with singer Deborah Brown and Rein de Graaff Trio during Vervolg Cursus Bebop in The Netherlands in 1991, the legendary series of lectures and performances with American legends and unsung heroes that was organized by pianist Rein de Graaff. The face of death finally appeared in Mitchell’s rear view mirror in 2001.

And now This Is Billy Mitchell: epic sleeve, smoke, pockmarked face of ruminative jazz man, graceful lettering that says… Mitchell is the most exciting tenor sax in jazz… Well, hyperbole reared its ugly head… Nonetheless, Mitchell is a real good’n, offering mellow mainstream jazz, a warm, full-bodied tone and smooth phrasing that keeps us fairly hypnotized in our easy chair. Mitchell fluently embeds the weathered artistry of the great swing tenor men in his background of bebop. He carries his original composition J&B, a smooth, smoky song that bounces merrily behind Mitchell’s relaxed but imposing, big-sounding phrases, Buddy Tate-ish, Jimmy Forrest-ish, you name it. Simply wonderful.

A similar swing era-smoothness instills the mid-tempo You Turned The Tables On Me and the ballad Sophisticated Lady, once a showcase for Harry Carney’s pioneering, booming baritone sax and a demonstration of skilled artistry by Mitchell here, whose proficiency provides wholehearted support for understated drama and imaginative, fully articulated ideas: the mark of a great jazz man. Boppish swing infuses a surprising set of rarely performed compositions: Gene Kee’s Siam, Melba Liston’s Just Waiting, John Hines’s Passionova. Automation is an original composition by trumpeter Dave Burns, the album’s most furious affair.

Obviously, the unusual sound palette of This Is Billy Mitchell is a big part of the attraction. Piano by Billy Wallace, the Wild Bill Davis-type organ injections and unobtrusive background of Clarence “Sleepy” Anderson, the ringing, balanced notes and tones of early-career Bobby Hutcherson all together now for 1/3 part of the album. The sprightly and pesky trumpet of Dave Burns and husky tenor of Billy Mitchell tiptoeing on the easygoing bounce of bassist Herman Wright and drummer Otis “Candy” Finch. The variety of piano/vibraphone, vibraphone/piano. It somehow works, a meshing that serves as the backdrop to very enjoyable tenor playing by Billy Mitchell.

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

Personnel

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

Recorded

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

Released

as BLP 1527 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
April In Paris
Billie-Doo
If I Love Again
Side B:
If Someone Had Told Me
Thedia


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.