Howard McGhee - The Return Of Howard McGhee

Howard McGhee The Return Of Howard McGhee (Bethlehem 1956)

Howard McGhee returned to Bethlehem. A glorious entrance.

Howard McGhee - The Return Of Howard McGhee

Personnel

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

Recorded

on October 22, 1956 in New York City

Released

as BCP 42 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
Get Happy
Tahitian Lullaby
Lover Man
Lullaby Of The Leaves
You’re Teasing Me
Transpicious
Side B:
Rifftide
Oo-Wee But I Do
Don’t Blame Me
Tweedles
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 an earthquake – notwithstanding the fact that Parker was completely out of it, sick and close to a nervous breakdown, 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!

Tina Brooks - True Blue

Tina Brooks True Blue (Blue Note 1960)

In spite of being the Einstein and Heisenberg of the modern jazz recording business, Blue Note label bosses Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff occasionally seemed to suffer from a black out. Why else did they release only one album – True Blue – out of four excellent sessions of tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks?

Tina Brooks - True Blue

Personnel

Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Duke Jordan (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on June 25, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Inglewood Cliffs, NJ

Released

as BLP 4041 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Good Old Soul
Up Tight’s Creek
Theme For Doris
Side B:
True Blue
Miss Hazel
Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You


Fifty-five years after the fact, one can only speculate. Jack Chambers, in a May 2005 Coda issue, suggested that Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff effectively killed the career of Brooks. (Who Killed Tina Brooks? – read here) A lot of conjecture. I’m sure that The Lion & The Wolff couldn’t be bothered with the fact that Brooks, a reserved, shabby-dressed, corner bar jazz cat, didn’t look as good on a record cover than Hank Mobley. They used Brooks on only a handful of sessions, but Jimmy Smith’s The Sermon, Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights Vol 1 & 2 and Freddie Hubbards’s Open Sesame were notable albums, not cautious try-outs destined to be shelved. Whatever the reasons, it definitely is a pity that a career as a leader for Blue Note didn’t work out for Brooks in his heyday of 1958-61.

Another mystery though: why didn’t Brooks, seeing that Blue Note apparently had other priorities, tried to find a place in the roster of related companies like Prestige?

If it weren’t for ace producer Michael Cuscuna, whose influential re-issue company Mosaic released The Complete Recordings Of The Tina Brooks Quintets in 1985, (which in turn led to seperate re-issues of his albums by Blue Note in the nineties) we wouldn’t have known that not only True Blue showed potential, but that other sessions displayed a mature instrumentalist with a sinewy yet edgy tone and ability to string together cliché-free line after line. Brooks was also a prolific writer.

And stood his ground amidst a bunch of top-notch figures of the day, like Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Lee Morgan and Paul Chambers. 1958’s Minor Move, 1960’s Back To The Track and 1961’s The Waiting Game were mastered, numbered and designed but, ultimately, shelved.

It’s hard to pick a winner. I would say the quintessential Tina Brooks-statements were ignited by Philly Joe Jones’ blistering sparks on The Waiting Game.

True Blue was recorded a week after Freddie Hubbard’s Open Sesame, the debut album of the promising trumpeter, which depended significantly on the input of Tina Brooks as composer and sideman. Brooks had functioned as Hubbard’s mentor for some time.

Fitting the company’s hard bop aesthetic like a velvet glove, the album boasts such almost inexplicably charming, blues-based, minor key tunes as Good Old Soul (including a great off-centre solo by Brooks) and True Blue. (the tune is upbeat, catchy and the employment of tension without release is nifty) There’s the langourous, beautific melody of Miss Hazel, wherein Brooks and Hubbard are right on the money and Art Taylor puts in stunning rolls, and the moody but sprightly Theme For Doris.

Brooks may not have been a pioneer like Dexter Gordon or an innovator like Joe Henderson. But his all-round package of chops, authority, melodic panache and gift for writing should’ve led to more than just one album as a leader. Addicted to heroin and suffering from liver damage, Brooks passed away at the age of 42 in 1974.