Hampton Hawes - This Is Hampton Hawes

Hampton Hawes This Is Hampton Hawes (Contemporary 1956)

This, indeed, is Hampton Hawes. The coolest smokin’ cover. Immaculate, intense bebop. The pianist in full flight, a few years before the life of the addicted Hawes would take a tragic turn.

Hampton Hawes - This Is Hampton Hawes

Personnel

Hampton Hawes (piano), Red Mitchell (bass), Chuck Thompson (drums)

Recorded

on December 3, 1955 and January 25, 1956 at Contemporary Studio, Los Angeles and June 28, 1955 at Los Angeles Police Academy, Chavez Ravine

Released

as C3515 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
You And The Night And The Music
Stella By Starlight
Blues For Jacque
Yesterdays
Side B:
Steeplechase
Round About Midnight
Just Squeeze Me
Autumn In New York


Now here’s a pianist that warrants more copy than is usually dedicated to him. On par with likeminded players from the generation that followed Bud Powell, Hampton’s jail sentence from 1959 to 1963 was an obstacle to the road to recognition. The vintage years of hard bop went by him, by and large. To name a few, Sonny Clark burnt bright, didn’t fade away, becoming one of the legends of jazz music after he tragically overdosed. Horace Silver set the vintage years in motion, delivering one catchy, clever tune after another. Red Garland’s claim to fame involved his stint with the First Great Miles Davis Quintet.

That is not to say that the playing of Hawes hasn’t find its way to jazz fans around the globe and to many contemporary musicians somehow. Neo-boppers, as expected. On the other side of the spectrum, there are fans like Matthew Shipp. And Ethan Iverson. Here’s what the eclectic pianist with the unwavering curiosity in and broad knowledge of the tradition and anything musically challenging has to say about Hawes: ‘Even though Hampton Hawes had a strong and urgent touch, there was always air around his lines. He seemed to breathe his bluesy bebop into the piano. Along with many others, Hawes took Bud Powell and Charlie Parker and blended it with the pastel colors found in California, although Hawes’ unpretentious virtuosity and perfect jazz beat stood out among his West Coast brethren.’

It is also not to say that Hawes isn’t, on some level, ‘famous’. Or, was. On the contrary. Hawes was born in Los Angeles in 1920 to a father that was a minister and a mother that was a church pianist of the Presbyterian Church. Like so many beboppers, he was seriously addicted to heroin. In 1958, undercover Feds arrested Hawes, white supremacy everywhere, the jazz musician a ‘degenerate evil to society’, who refused to snitch on fellow users and dealers. Hawes got an unbelievable 10-year sentence. In between his trial and sentence, the pianist recorded The Sermon, a telling reflection of the man’s fear, desperation, and what seemed idle hope of better days. Regardless, during his third year in jail, seeing the new President in office, the good looking, emphatic John F. Kennedy, Hawes decided to request for a pardon. Lo and behold, as one of very few, a mere 43 that year, he was released by JFK in 1963.

Mr. Hawes subsequently reaped what he sowed, playing to admiring crowds in Europe and Asia, deepening his modern jazz conception on, for instance, superb Enja albums, and delving into electronic (Fender Rhodes) playing in the process. His biography Raise Up Off Me, published in 1974, is classic jazz literature, perhaps best likened to Art Pepper’s Straight Life. Hawes passed away untimely in 1977.

Hawes’ series of Contemporary albums in the mid-and late fifties are among the period’s finest bop and hard bop releases, not least the All Night Session Volume 1-3 live LP’s. Hawes began the series in 1955 with his debut The Trio Volume 1. His second album This Is Hampton Hawes, recorded in December 1955 and January 1956, is subtitled The Trio Volume 2. Same trio – Hawes, bassist Red Mitchell, drummer Chuck Thompson – same procedures: a remarkably fresh, original take on standards, ballads, blues and a few self-penned compositions. The latter’s list consists of You And The Night And The Music, Stella By Starlight, Yesterdays, Autumn In New York, Monk’s Round About Midnight, Parker’s Steeplechase, Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me and the Hawes composition, Blues For Jacque.

Like the masters of bop, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, often Hawes is pure energy, dashing off streams of notes that dart this way, that way, seldom ending up in a rot, instead tied together in bundles that reveal the quickest harmonic mind. Long, spirited sentences. Immaculate pace. The gospel, so prevalent in his youth, is definitely under the surface of a style that is carried out with a decisive touch, the touch of a carpenter with a passion for the craft. Bits of bebop’s mid-and post-war angst, the cultish, dedicated stress on beauty and sophistication as the antidote to the black man’s struggle still shining through. But never, like the less talented players, panicky. As Iverson says: air. In a sense, Hawes might be called one of few players who played the Bud Powell stuff that, because of his mental problems, Bud Powell himself wasn’t able to anymore in the post bop era.

The piano as a horn. Hawes blows, his refreshing breeze and gusty winds are still fresh after all these years.

Joe Gordon - Lookin' Good

Joe Gordon Lookin’ Good (Contemporary 1961)

Trumpeter Joe Gordon’s second and last album as a leader, Lookin’ Good, is a major league hard bop album from the West Coast.

Joe Gordon - Lookin' Good

Personnel

Joe Gordon (trumpet), Jimmy Woods (alto saxophone), Dick Whittington (piano), Jimmy Bond (bass), Milt Turner (drums)

Recorded

on July 11, 12 & 18, 1961 at Contemporary Records Studio, Los Angeles

Released

as Contemporary 3597 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Terra Firma Irma
A Song For Richard
Non-Viennese Waltz Blues
You’re The Only Girl In The Next World For Me
Side B:
Co-Op Blues
Mariana
Heleen
Diminishing


Number three, four or five wasn’t to be. Tragically, Gordon died in a house fire in 1963. If only the Boston-born trumpeter could have lived a long life of fulfillment and succes. Or, if that wasn’t meant to be, at least been invited over by the Dutch pianist Rein de Graaff, whose fame in his home country is partly due to the bebop/hard bop courses that he organised from 1986 to 2012, presenting numerous jazz legends and unsung heroes to responsive crowds, like Teddy Edwards, Johnny Griffin, James Clay and Webster Young. As one of the ‘lost heroes’, prime source Gordon would have undoubtedly instructed us with accounts of cooperating with Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk, who were, right then and there, creating jazz history.

Gordon did some high-profile side dates: Thelonious Monk’s At The Blackhawk, Dizzy Gillespie’s World Statesman, Art Blakey’s Blakey, Donald Byrd’s Byrd’s Eye View and Shelly Manne’s Live At The Blackhawk I-V. It’s easy to see why Gordon was a highly valued trumpet player. He grabs the listener by the tail from the first note, constructs carefully crafted tales, his buoyancy in mid-and uptempo tunes is contagious while his muted trumpet playing in ballad mode, definitely influenced by Miles Davis, possesses intense, introverted lyricism. A nice pairing with alto saxophonist Jimmy Woods who gives Lookin’ Good that extra, brilliant edge. Woods exploits the limits of the alto, jumps into a lot of mystic corners of the melodies, sets fire to fire without ever loosing a sense of continuity. What a player!

More surprises. At least a couple of tunes swing hard like, say, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, built on a fiery groove by drummer Milt Turner, otherwise known as one of the drummers of the Ray Charles band during Brother Ray’s legendary Atlantic period of the mid-and late fifties, and bassist Jimmy Bond. A question mark as well: who’s playing that nimble piano with shades of Horace Silver and McCoy Tyner? Dick Whittington. Dick who? A feature on Whittington in Berkeleyside explains that the pianist, who still resides on the West Coast these days, started out in the mid-fifties, leading a band including future influential players like Don Cherry, Charles Lloyd, Billy Higgins, Scott LaFaro and Charlie Haden. His career, a mix of far-reaching educational achievements and regular performances in the Bay area, took off in the late fifties and early sixties under the guidance of saxophone legends Sonny Criss and Dexter Gordon.

Crisp, transparent production by pioneering engineer Roy DuNann is a bonus. Lookin’ Good is a thoroughly enjoyable hard bop album and another piece of evidence (think Shelly Manne’s At The Blackhawk, Harold Land’s The Fox, Carl Perkins’ Introducing Carl Perkins) making clear that the genre wasn’t strictly an East Coast phenomenon.

Harold Land Quintet - The Fox

Harold Land The Fox (HiFi Jazz 1960)

Hold on tight when the fox is loose! The Fox, tenorist Harold Land’s greatest solo album, contains a title track that in my opinion is one of the all-time classic hard bop cuts. The rest of the album is filled with fine originals mainly written by pianist Elmo Hope. It’s also memorable for the appearance of trumpet enigma Dupree Bolton.

Harold Land Quintet - The Fox

Personnel

Harold Land (tenor saxophone), Dupree Bolton (trumpet), Elmo Hope (piano), Herbie Lewis (bass), Frank Butler (drums)

Recorded

on August 1959 at Radio Recorders, Los Angeles

Released

as HiFi Jazz SJ-612 in 1960 and Contemporary S7619 in 1969

Track listing

Side A:
The Fox
Mirror-Mind Rose
One Second, Please
Side B:
Sims-A-Plenty
Little Chris
One Down


Land moved to Los Angeles in 1955 because of illness in his family, cutting short his engagement with the Max Roach/Clifford Brown Quartet. (Sonny Rollins took his place) When Elmo Hope left NYC for the West Coast after losing his cabaret card due to a drug bust, the bop piano wizard soon checked out Land. Planning a recording and in search of a trumpeter, they were adviced the unknown Dupree Bolton. A great pick, as Bolton surprised everyone with quicksilver phrasing and a fiery, cocksure tone. He also turned out to be a smart reader of Hope and Land’s deceptively straighforward tunes.

The driving rhythm section also handles the pretty and characteristic changes of the composers Hope and Land very well. They kickstart the title track, written by Harold Land, at breakneck speed, pushed along by a string of boisterous, descending runs from Elmo Hope. Harold Land delivers a fluent, crackerjack solo. Dupree Bolton is in staccato mood. His blend of virtuosity and buoyancy is on par with Clifford Brown. Elmo Hope’s solo is stunning. He’s ‘out there’ and makes intelligent use of dynamics, alternating between soft/hard and low/high, yet his brainy statements never lose the sense of harmonic stability. The horn bits behind Hope stimulate his proceedings considerably near the end. The Fox is a very tricky tune and the way the group succeeds at letting it flow unaffectedly is fantastic.

Hope’s Mirror-Mind Rose (Hope contributes four tunes to The Fox, Land two) is an exquisite, warm-hearted ballad. Land’s tone can be both pleasantly round and sweet-tart and his sound is forceful without excessive strain. Hope’s impressionistic solo is pure comfort, evokes the image of a warm glow that embraces you in front of the fireplace. It has tinges of both Monk and Bill Evans.

Another Hope tune, the uptempo One Second, Please, evolves from a Night In Tunesia-type intro into a nice, long flowing theme. Harold Land’s tale is relaxed but strong and reveals a special feeling for melody. Dupree Bolton’s statements are out of sight. The Fox turned out to be the prime studio achievement of one of jazz’ most obscure top-notch cats; nobody knew where he came from and nobody knew what happened to him afterwards. Bolton’s only other recording is Curtis Amy’s Katanga! (1963)

Both Sims A-Plenty and Little Chris are uptempo, intriguing tunes that possess a good sense of groove. Harold Land’s ability to construct series of coherent, rich ideas catches the ear in particular in Sims A-Plenty. His approach is simultaneously cerebral and temperamental and strikes me as similar to the style of Benny Golson. Hope is outstanding, injecting ‘trinkle tinkles’ and Middle-Eastern accents into swift changes. Bolton’s flair, meanwhile, is highly contagious.

The album is rounded off with the latin-type composition One Down. It’s a solid ending of a session of great teamwork, remarkable performances of leader Land and virtual co-leader Hope and, last but not least, the rabbit that was pulled out of the hat, Dupree Bolton.