Grant Green, Grantstand

Grant Green Grantstand (Blue Note 1961)

Grantstand ranks among guitarist Grant Green’s finest dates. A gathering of aroused spirits in Rudy van Gelder’s famed Englewood Cliffs studio.

Grant Green, Grantstand

Personnel

Grant Green (guitar), Yusef Lateef (tenor saxophone A1, B1, B2, flute A2), Brother Jack McDuff (organ), Ben Tucker (bass), Al Harewood (drums)

Recorded

on August 1, 1961 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4086 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Grantstand
My Funny Valentine
Side B:
Blues In Maude’s Flat
Old Folks


Green, the most prolific Blue Note artist of the early and mid-sixties, was just shy of his second year as a new guitar man on the NYC block. He was in great company. Tenor saxophonist and multi-horn player Yusef Lateef would join Cannonball Adderley’s group in late december of 1961, staying till 1964. Green is further assisted by organist Brother Jack McDuff, the second time they cooperated, the first being McDuff’s The Honeydripper, recorded half a year earlier on February 1 on Prestige. Drummer Al Harewood was regularly featured on straightforward Blue Note recordings, notably as a member of the in-house trio Us Three which further consisted of pianist Horace Parlan and bassist George Tucker.

Good vibrations. Sparkling shreds of fire shooting upwards, curling around the beams of the RVG Studio’s high-domed, temple-like ceiling. A set of smokin’ blues tunes alternated with a melancholy ballad and a sprightly standard. Wrap it in shiny paper, lace it up and send it to your closest jazz pal with best wishes. Grantstand, the title track, bubbles, sizzles like a copious amount of ribs on a Saturday night BBQ. Hungry men. They tackle the uptempo, catchy blues riff like wolves jumping the lamb. The band catapults Green into action and stimulates the blues-drenched, former St. Louis citizen to fire off razor-sharp lines, adding slightly slurred, repeated phrases for dramatic effect. Green provides crunchy chords and plucky bass lines behind Yusef Lateef, who excels with a relaxed, down-home and layered tale, the chapters are recited without hurry, slowly but surely gathering momentum.

And the sound of these guys! Green: sustained, shimmering, fluid gold. Lateef: resonant, full-bodied, grandaddy-puffs-on-a-cigar-sound. McDuff chimes in with the roar of the minister, spitting a sermon into the faces of the flabbergasted flock. Intriguingly, McDuff succeeds to marry the gospel with the spirit of pure-bred rock&roll.

A bouncy version of Old Folks and a classy take on My Funny Valentine add variety to Green’s repertory, while Blues For Maude’s Flat continues the dip into bluesland. After hours vibes. The juices are flowing, the bottle of moonshine’s nearly empty. It could very well be that Green, Lateef, and McDuff arrived in New Jersey fresh from a gig in one of those dingy clubs the giants of jazz made their money in back then, like Chicago’s Theresa’s Lounge, Newark’s Front Room or Lennie’s On The Turnpike in Peabody, Massachussets. Blues In Maude’s Flat is a slow walk with a canny intermezzo of tension and release that serves as a springing board for the vibrant bunch of Lateef, Green and McDuff. Tenor/organ combo stuff of the grittiest and highest order, with the propulsive, already very authoritative leader on top of his game.

True Grit

A while ago, a friend sent me this fantastic footage on YouTube of organist Brother Jack McDuff at the Antibes Festival in France in 1964. At the time, Jack McDuff’s quartet consisted of tenor saxophonist Red Holloway, guitarist George Benson and drummer Joe Dukes. (Read the recent review of The Soulful Drums Of Joe Dukes here)

The popular organists of the sixties, like Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff were both true entertainers and true musicians. They entertained but not with cheap tricks. If you played with cats like that, you had to have game. In his autobiography, George Benson tells a number of exciting and insightful stories about his time with McDuff.

Benson joined McDuff in 1963. It was his first break. Benson was still basically an r&b guitarist, dreaming of the high standard of his predecessors in McDuff’s group, Grant Green, Eddie Diehl and Kenny Burrell, but as McDuff would soon acknowledge, a ‘baaaaaad’ picker. Benson slowly but surely developed into a jazz player, absorbing the music of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers on the road, who traveled the same circuit. Plenty time to learn, because McDuff’s quartet was playing nightly for two years time around the East Coast and Mid-West.

By 1964, the group fired on all cylinders. McDuff and Joe Dukes were excellent teachers but tough customers. McDuff regularly shouted obscenities to Benson on stage, ‘if he had just the right (or wrong) amount of booze or weed.’ Joe Dukes, ‘such a magnificent drummer that there were times I thought he was one of the greatest things that ever happened to mankind’ was especially hard on the 19-year old prodigy, who alledgedly picked up too many girls for the taste of the envious drummer.

“Finally, after a particularly nasty rant, I snapped: ‘If y’all don’t lay off, I’m gonna take y’all outside and beat y’all old men up! I’m nineteen years old! Y’all can’t take me! We’re going out in the alley, right now! McDuff and Dukes just stared at me for a second, then they both pulled out switchblades. But that didn’t stop me: “I don’t care! Y’all don’t scare me! Bring your switchblades into the alley! I’ll beat y’all up anyhow!” Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed: nobody went into the alley, and nobody got beaten up. But it got them off my back.”

“In retrospect, I’m glad they stayed on my back; granted, their methods were barbaric, but for the most part, it was about making me a better musician so we’d be a better band.”

Nice story. Great music.

Joe Dukes - Soulful Drums

Joe Dukes The Soulful Drums Of Joe Dukes (Prestige 1964)

Joe Dukes is one of the quintessential organ combo drummers in the history of jazz. A master of the greasy, syncopated backbeat, Dukes was a precursor to many of today’s top-notch drummers like Steve Jordan, who owe debt to Dukes when they get down to the nitty-gritty of jazz funk drumming.

Joe Dukes - Soulful Drums

Personnel

Joe Dukes (drums), Brother Jack McDuff (organ), Red Holloway (tenor saxophone), George Benson (drums)

Recorded

on May 14, 1964 in NYC

Released

as PR 7324 in 1964

Track listing

Side A
Soulful Drums
Two Bass Hit
Greasy Drums
Side B
Moohah The DJ
Moanin’ Bench
My Three Sons


Dukes was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He spent the major part of his career in organist Jack McDuff’s quartet. It included the new brilliant kid on the block George Benson and smoky tenorist Red Holloway and is, arguably, McDuff’s hottest group of all time. Prestige boss Bob Weinstock was equally impressed. Weinstock and McDuff agreed on granting each member a leadership date. Red Holloway’s Cookin’ Together and George Benson’s The New Boss Guitar were followed by The Soulful Drums Of Joe Dukes. It’s the only album of Joe Dukes as a leader. There are no known recordings involving Dukes after 1970. Dukes passed away in 1992.

Dukes isn’t involved in an ego trip but instead limits himself to solo’s backed by the band. When displayed in basic, slow blues riffs like Soulful Drums and Moohah The DJ, these solo’s are more gutsy than suave and have a good groove. There’s a great moment at about three minutes into Soulful Drums, (listen here) when the quartet veirs into double time like a wild bunch of libertine torpedos.

The highlights of the album concern Dukes’ usual business of effective, hi-voltage group support. Dukes goes charmingly berserk on the uptempo, Afro-Cuban-ish My Three Sons. (Does tune scribler McDuff refer to His Three Beloved Bandmembers?) Everything a funky organ combo needs is laid out by Dukes: a ‘pocket’ of a rock solid hi-hat and bass kick as a touchstone for the organist and group; announcements of new solo’s and choruses and different tune sections by a variation of effective fills and turnarounds; and an inspired amount of pushing and pulling of the soloists. The great thing about Joe Dukes is that he not only displays elemental organ jazz drumming, but adds alluring extras like (Art Blakey-like) single-stroke rolls. Clearly, the man had jazz drum history running through his blood. In My Three Sons, George Benson’s quicksilver runs are crazy! At the start of his career, Benson is eager as a fox on the loose, trying to meaningfully incorporate all his fast-fingered blues chops in a jazz context.

Good organ jazz drumming usually suggests big band experience. I’m not sure if Dukes had played in big bands, but certainly Joe Dukes’ voicings and explosive style, locked in with McDuff’s big sound, bring forth a big band atmosphere with Dizzy Gillespie’s classic Two Bass Hit. Another highlight, Two Bass Hit’s stew pot boils over, while Benson and McDuff subsequently contribute cracklin’ and sharp-as-a-tack solo’s. Greasy Drums (listen here) is a fine groove jam. Moanin’ Bench is pure, slow-dragging gospel-soul, a Ray Charles-Atlantic-era type of thing. Brother McDuff sermonizes with obvious authority.

Joe Dukes’ art of organ jazz drumming can be found on numerous McDuff albums. Live! (Prestige, 1963) and Hot Barbecue (Prestige, 1965) are essential. Dukes also recorded with Hank Crawford, Lou Donaldson and Lonnie Smith. Smith’s Live At Club Mozambique (Blue Note, 1970/1995) is another album on which Dukes is particularly stunning. Note on the liner notes of The Soulful Drums: isn’t it a bit weird that, on an album dedicated to the group’s drummer, most of the back cover info deals with the career history of Brother Jack McDuff? Assumingly, listeners would’ve liked to hear more about the relatively unknown Joe Dukes. I would’ve liked to have more biographical info!

That said, praised be Weinstock for providing us with Dukes’ delicious, greasy organ jazz goody.

Brother Jack McDuff - Moon Rappin'

Brother Jack McDuff Moon Rappin’ (Blue Note 1969)

Have you ever heard anybody rappin’ on the moon? It sounds really muffled, so the story goes.

Brother Jack McDuff - Moon Rappin'

Personnel

Brother Jack McDuff (organ), Jerry Byrd (guitar), Bill Phillips (tenor sax, flute), Unknown (baritone sax), Richard Davis (electric bass), Joe Dukes (drums)

Recorded

on December 1, 2, 3 & 11, 1969 at Soundview Recording Studio in Kings Park, NY

Released

as BST 84334 in 1969

Track listing

Side A:
Flat Backin’
Oblighetto
Side B:
Moon Rappin’
Made In Sweden
Loose Foot


Of course, the real story involves the Blue Note label’s policy circa 1969. “Brother” Jack McDuff’s Moon Rappin’ is just a wacky title of a wacky concept album. Included in the gatefold sleeve is a wacky poem about Brother Jack and Brother Moon. Although the album luckily doesn’t include equally wacky entertainment by McDuff, it nevertheless mostly consists of a travesty of McDuff’s typically earthy and churchy soul jazz style. That style is ostracised in favour of a series of mildly disappointing compositions characterised by a superficial sound too ‘rock’ for my taste. This kind of production might’ve satisfied a hip crowd, but because of that production the 4/4 time sections in between funky bookends sound rather clumsy. One almost feels sorry for drummer Joe Dukes, whose red hot, dynamic style blended so well with McDuff on mid-sixties recordings such as Hot Barbecue and Live!.

I have to admit the melody of the opening funk-blues tune Flat Backin’ easily nestled in my mind after a hide-out in my record cabinet for about seventeen years and continued to stay there for days on end. It is affective. McDuff succeeds to put pepper into his solo but lacks stimulation from his group. Punches of wah-wah guitar that would do well on a blaxploitation movie soundtrack fit right into the picture. But the only real highlight on Moon Rappin’, really, is the middle section of Oblighetto, wherein Joe Dukes finally lays down an exciting groove that seduces McDuff and group to partake in brittle and fiery exercises. Curiously, these sections start after a recurring series of Lorelei-like female vocal parts.

After the departure of Blue Note founder Alfred Lion, co-founder Francis Wolff produced a string of both artistically and commercially succesful groove-oriented albums in the late sixties and around 1970 by, among others, Lonnie Smith, Grant Green, Reuben Wilson and Lou Donaldson. Smith’s Move Your Hand, Green’s Green Is Beautiful, Reuben Wilson’s Love Bug and Lou Donaldson’s Midnight Creeper are cases in point. Moon Rappin’ doesn’t belong to that league of expert jazz funk recordings. “Brother” Jack McDuff strayed too far from his r&b and church grounds to deliver a really satisfying album in this genre.

SN325256

“Brother” Jack McDuff Hot Barbecue (Prestige 1964)

I once saw Hot Barbecue, the 1965 album of popular organist “Brother” Jack McDuff, recommended as perfectly suitable as background music for a BBQ party. It wasn’t a joke. I thought it was hilarious.

SN325256

Personnel

“Brother Jack McDuff (organ), George Benson (guitar), Red Holloway (tenor sax), Joe Dukes (drums)

Recorded

October 19, 1965

Released

as PR 7422 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
Hot Barbecue
The Party’s Over
Briar Patch
Hippy Dip
Side B:
601 ½ North Popular
Cry Me A River
The Three Day Thang


Admittedly, Hot Barbecue is a party record. Try standing still in front of the grill. Virtually impossible. And that’s cool; indeed, the so-called BBQ-factor, or should we say danceability, is a profound aspect of jazz. On closer inspection, moreover, one cannot help but stumble upon a related, underlying level of profound meaning of the soul jazz McDuff brings: the fact that it is part of, and creates, a communal experience.

Something of a ‘working class hero of soul jazz’, Jack McDuff was always specifically intent on entertaining audience and listeners. Deeply rooted in both secular entertainment (profanity included) and church morals – that peculiar mix that lies at the heart of black culture – McDuff was the kind of guy who is firmly part of the community; as the record cover shows, tastin’ that spicey ribs just like fellows on the ball. His exciting live performances were ‘gefundenes fressen’ for folks to let their hair down after a tough working day and as such dealt with the connection between music and everyday life, between artist and community. His records often touched a nerve. And consequently sold really well.

Hot Barbecue swings all the way through. After the kickstart of the uplifting, riotious title track, that’s quite a feat. The group gets into the groove with a rollicking drum pattern that tastefully combinates snare and toms and an organ and guitar rhythm accent on the second and fourth bar. Sandwiched between the recurring, contagious theme that is topped off with happy, unpolished and joyful shouts of the group – “Hot Barbecue Today!” – are short and swift solo’s by McDuff, Benson and Holloway.

Not easy to top. Yet the set of concise soul jazz outings that follow maintain the same excitement; burners resplendent with affective themes, stop choruses and ‘screaming’ organ fills by McDuff such as 601 ½ North Popular, The Three Day Thang and Briar Patch alternate with the medium-tempo, frisky ditty Hippy Dip. McDuff also transforms two standards into soul jazz staples utilising a cleaner, sharp organ sound – The Party’s Over and Cry Me A River. The latter is the ‘churchiest’ of the set. Through McDuff’s carefully crafted storytelling the tension grows and the high spirits of a congregation are invoked.

For bringing this kind of sizzling stuff, McDuff happily relied on a group of soulful sidemen. The tag of ‘new man in town’ that George Benson, heir to the precursor in McDuff’s band Benson’d been so in awe of, Grant Green, wore, was worn off by now. On Benson’s fifth release with McDuff, the guitarist shows that his development from the cocky rock&roll-player in 1963 to one that delivers quicksilver jazz phrasing, using glissandos, pull-offs and such guitar trickery for added pleasure, was fulfilled. To be sure, in Benson’s style there’s brittle r&b abound. A highlight of his juicy amalgam of r&b and jazz on Hot Barbecue is The Three-Day Thang.

Both tenorist Red Holloway and drummer Joe Dukes, reliable constituents of McDuff’s entourage in the mid-sixties, cook up a spicey dish. Dukes tackles 601 ½ North Popular and Briar Patch as if he’s supporting Bill Haley and he might as well be! Besides incorporating the flair of rock&roll it should be obvious Dukes is also a very tasteful and smart drummer. His charming and sharp-as-a-razor way of embellishing the theme of Hippy Dip is but one example of Joe Dukes’ unforgettable, soulful style.

Hot Barbecue is a showcase for the hottest group of McDuff’s career. It involves an exciting, ‘screaming’ organ. It also involves sophistication and a fun atmosphere. As such, it doesn’t leave much to be desired.

Brother Jack McDuff - Somethin' Slick!

Brother Jack McDuff Somethin’ Slick! (Prestige 1963)

The work of organ-based groups in the late fifties and sixties, I feel, have somehow functioned as a counterbalance to a music that at times became too academic or pretentious. Its down home morals, its dance-ability and entertainment value reminded jazz of its origins, which jazz sometimes tended to forget at its own peril.

Brother Jack McDuff - Somethin' Slick!

Personnel

Brother Jack McDuff (organ), Harold Vick (tenor saxophone A1, A2, B2), Eric Dixon (tenor saxophone A2, B2), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Joe Dukes (drums)

Recorded

on January 8, 1963 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7265 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
Our Miss Brooks
Somethin’ Slick
Side B:
Smut
How High The Moon
It’s A Wonderful World


Given this scheme of happenings, Brother Jack McDuff was a key figure in keeping the flame burning. They didn’t nickname him ‘Brother’ for nothing. There is an element of church in his music that is hard to overlook. McDuff always swings and the quality of his recorded output is of a consistent, high level.

Somethin’ Slick sits well amidst a string of early career records that brought McDuff to the fore as an organist that carefully builds intense solo’s that occasionally (the title track comes to mind!) border on uncut rock&roll. It is music that kept the joint jumpin’ and the feet-a-tappin’; carefree, yet sophisticated.

A plus of this album is that certain themes are played in unison by tenor saxophonists Harold Vick and Eric Dixon. It has a nice ring to it.