The Facts About Fats


Remember Fats Theus? Bet you do if you’re deeply into tenor/organ grooves. Otherwise, the tenor saxophonist has been largely under the radar. Even admirers of the CTI catalogue – his sole album Black Out was released on CTI in 1970 – often are not aware of this recording. I wrote a review of Black Out a couple of years ago. It’s a gritty record, definitely out of step with the crafty, smooth CTI approach of producer Creed Taylor.

I received a comment on the Theus review on our Instagram page from Mark Cathcart. Cathcart devotes a website – ctproduced – to the work of Creed Taylor and mentioned his latest post on Black Out. The post is made up entirely of a piece by guest writer and connoisseur Douglas Payne, who sheds light on the career of the elusive Theus and provides context to the origins of his sole leadership date which included funk jazz stalwarts of the period, guitarist Grant Green and drummer Idris Muhammad.

(From l. to r, clockwise: Fats Theus’s Black Out and his sideman dates on records by organists Billy Larkin and Jimmy McGriff)

While I highly esteem Creed Taylor for his many top-notch and important endeavors in jazz production and admire the high-level musical and unique visual concept of CTI, I have never been a big fan of the label, fatigued by its slick sound and fun package of instruments including synths, strings, bongos, triangles and what not. Different strokes for different folks.

Having said that, kudos to Cathcart for developing his document on CTI and Douglas Payne for the insightful piece on the enigmatic Fats Theus.

Bobby Hutcherson - The Kicker

Bobby Hutcherson The Kicker (Blue Note 1963/99)

It can only be attributed to the risk of market overflow that Blue Note didn’t release vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s de jure debut album The Kicker in 1964, a superb date including Joe Henderson, Duke Pearson and Grant Green.

Bobby Hutcherson - The Kicker


Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Grant Green (guitar B1-3), Duke Pearson (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Joe Chambers (drums)


on December 29, 1963 at Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


BST 21437 in 1999

Track listing

Side A:
If Ever I Would Leave You
For Duke P.
Side B:
The Kicker
Step Lightly

HHutcherson & Henderson. Sounds like the misfits of the insurance business have joined forces in a run-down office on the outskirts of town. But the late Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Henderson are regarded as towering figures of mainstream and avant-leaning jazz now, and as burgeoning class acts back then at the tail end of 1963, when they were really hitting their stride. Hutcherson had built a reputation first on the West Coast, subsequently in NYC, he had played on front-line beauties as Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond and Grachan Monchur’s Evolution. Henderson had recorded two albums as a leader, Page One and Our Thing. The Kicker was left on the shelves, seeing release as late as 1999. It is puzzling why Lion and the Wolff decided against release. They probably figured they had enough quality sessions to promote. Perhaps Joe Henderson was the kind of perfectionist disgruntled by the rough edges around a phrase or two. It doesn’t have to perfect, Joe. Coming with your package of supple, soaring post bop, we just might come to like that extra bite.

Regardless, there’s a pairing of talent attuned to each other’s needs and shining brightly during a set of original compositions and one standard, a sprightly mid-tempo take of Lerner and Loewe’s If Ever I Would Leave You. The crystalline, ringing vibes of the versatile modernist Bobby Hutcherson. Joe Henderson, already a strong-willed counterpart of a yes-man. Duke Pearson, inspiring accompanist, weaver of mellifluous lines. Grant Green, featured on side B’s three tracks, the prolific in-house guitarist of the Blue Note label, a class act in both hardboppin’ and modal contexts. Around that time, November 4 and 15 to be exact, 1963, Green, Henderson, Pearson and bassist Bob Cranshaw had cooperated on one of Grant Green’s career highs, Idle Moments. The mutual understanding is evident.

Hutcherson was a major contributor to Eric Dolphy’s free jazz classic Out To Lunch on February 5, 1964. He would venture into more front-line territories soon, recording his de facto debut Dialogue, and subsequently, the avant-garde LP side of Joe Chambers tunes on Components and the Happenings album with Herbie Hancock in 1965. A travel into uncharted territory. A balancing act of simplicity of expression and complex context. New vistas for vibraphonists ever since, the guys spellbound by Hutcherson’s siren-like cadenzas, the move into dark-hued corners of the mind, the zing of his angelic sound.

Already apparent on The Kicker is Hutcherson’s alert ear for group dynamics and controlled, conversationalist approach to the development of his expertly meandering lines. The great mood piece by Joe Chambers, Mirrors, suits Hutcherson to a tee. Throughout the set, which also consists of Henderson’s The Kicker and Step Lightly, Hutcherson’s For Duke P. and Pearson’s Bedouin, the rhythm section flawlessly and in uplifting fashion underscores Hutcherson’s vibe abacadabra and Henderson’s playful imagery. Henderson’s notes form fine-tuned blue and odd clusters, placed with a keen, floating sense of timing.

Though the title track, The Kicker, doesn’t thrive on the background riffs that propel the soloists into action as convincing as the classic take of Horace Silver on the Song For My Father album (including Henderson) and Henderson’s own version in 1967, it is a smokin’ affair, benefiting from the addition of Green in the ensemble and the guitarist’s propulsive, vivacious statements. Perhaps the moving, succulent phrases of Hutcherson and Henderson during Step Lightly should be attributed to the presence of Green, blues master at heart.

Surely Dialogue made up for a more distinct debut. But The Kicker remains a winner, having earned its rightful place among the hard bop cookies that rolled off the assembly line of the Blue Note label in the early sixties.

The Last Time He Saw Paris


Reader Toine Metselaar sent this footage of guitarist Grant Green on YouTube. Supposedly, it’s recorded in a TV studio in Paris in 1969. A most welcome addition to the familiar footage of Green, Barney Kessel and Kenny Burrell, performing for the Jazz Scene television show at Ronnie Scott’s, London on December 26, 1969. Both performances are with the rhythm section of Larry Ridley and Don Lamont.

By 1969, Green had had some rough years. The most prolific recording artist of Blue Note in the early and mid sixties, Green – one of those supreme musician’s musicians – nonetheless failed to gain broad public recognition and was at a low ebb. Struggling with drug addiction, Green had also spent some time in jail. However, in December 1969 Green was back on the Blue Note roster. Convinced by his friend, organist Reuben Wilson to focus on funk and popular tunes, Green was featured firstly on Wilson’s superb, well-received Love Bug album including Lee Morgan, George Coleman and Idris Muhammad, and then released his Blue Note comeback album as a leader, Carryin’ On. Love Bug was recorded on March 21, Carryin’ On on October 3. Preceding those albums, Green was also featured on two soul jazz albums of the Prestige label: Rusty Bryant’s Rusty Bryant Returns (February 17) and organist Charles Kynard’s Soul Brotherhood. (March 10) Thus, Green was back at Rudy van Gelder’s famed Englewood Cliffs studio, and desperately seeking recognition.

So Green’s appearance in London (it’s unclear whether Paris was broadcasted) came at the right time. It came about, however, quite by happenstance. As Sharony Andrews Green (Green’s daughter-in-law) tells in her biography of Green, Rediscovering The Forgotton Genius Of Jazz Guitar, Green wasn’t first choice: ‘He was determined to give it one last try. So he did the unthinkable. Realizing he needed an international reputation, he overcame his fear of flying and got on a plane to attend the London Jazz Expo. He shared the stage with Kenny Burrell and Barney Kessel. It was actually a fluke that he even participated. Tal Farlow had been promised as the third man, but Farlow canceled and Grant stepped in. The fact that his name wasn’t advertised on the marque outside made him play “that much harder,” Grant would tell an interviewer.’

To see Green play that much harder as the only soloist in Paris, to witness the master at work for longer than the snippet that has heretofore been available, is something many fans are extremely thankful for, yours truly included. Green, employing his unique single-note line style, horn-like approach and sizzling, singing tone, plays, among others, I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing, (the James Brown tune that is featured on Carryin’ On, the trio setting isn’t really appropriate for funk but it’s a pleasure to see Green play it), Sonny Rollins’ Airegin and Sonnymoon For Two. And note the intense manner in which Green recovers from some loose ends in his beautiful version of a Brazilian tune (Manha de Carnival? Or?) and his fireworks intro and coda of a down-home 12-bar blues excursion.

Only after a rediscovery by break-beating aficionados in Great-Britain in the late eighties and the subsequent re-issues of his Blue Note catalogue, long after Green’s death in 1979, did fame finally came to the indomitable guitarist.

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


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


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


as BLP 4086 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
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.

Fats Theus - Black Out

Fats Theus Black Out (CTI 1970)

A deviation from the polished jazz catalogue of Creed Taylor’s CTI label, saxophonist Fats Theus’ Black Out is a gritty funk jazz session with the overpowering presence of hard bop and funk jazz heavyweights Grant Green and Idris Muhammad.

Fats Theus - Black Out


Fats Theus (tenor saxophone), Grant Green (guitar), Clarence Palmer (organ), Chuck Rainey (bass), Jimmy Lewis (bass), Idris Muhammad (drums)


on July 16 & 22, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as CTI 1005 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
Black Out
Light Sings
Bed Of Nails
Side B:
Stone Flower
Moonlight In Vermont
Check It Out

Afootnote of the soul and funk jazz era, the life story of saxophonist Arthur James “Fats” Theus remains largely obscure. Originating from the West Coast r&b scene in the fifties, as a logical outcome Arthur James “Fats” Theus cooperated with jazz organists the following decade, including Reuben Wilson. A concise discography reveals (to the knowledge of Flophouse) recordings with organist Billy Larkin And The Delegates (Hold On! – World Pacific, 1965; Ain’t That A Groove! – World Pacific, 1966), organist Jimmy McGriff (I’ve Got A New Woman – Solid State, 1968; The Worm – Solid State, 1968 and Step One – Solid State, 1969) and guitarist O’Donel Levy (Black Velvet – Groove Merchant, 1972). The blues lick The Worm, which Theus wrote for the McGriff date, was a succesful single.

Black Out is one of the earliest CTI sessions (CTI was an imprint of A&M and went independent in 1970) and cousin to the late sixties/early seventies funk jazz sessions on Prestige and Blue Note. Green had made his comeback on Blue Note after his first prolific stint from 1960 to 1965, this time in funk jazz vein, the first being Carryin’ On in 1969. That album also included the organist who’s present on Black Out, Clarence Palmer. Muhammad was a Blue Note and Prestige staple. Green and Muhammad carry the album. The grit and sleaze is in Muhammad’s bones and his funky beat is hypnotic. Green fine-tunes the basic changes with red-hot, articulate phrasing. Theus, albeit clearly operating in their shadow, occasionally does away with his formulaic phrases and jumps from one corner of a tune’s fabric to the other, notably on the title track. Theus embellishes the funky bossa tune Stone Flower with mean staccato phrases and whirling arpeggios.

Theus employs a smooth, high-pitched sound one usually doesn’t associate with late sixties funk jazz. Sound and style-wise, comparing Theus’ leadership date with the saxophonist’s side dates has intriguing results. On the three crackerjack McGriff albums, the Billy Larkin affairs as well as O’Donel Levy’s easy listening funk album Black Velvet, by and large, Theus consistently uses his slightly metallic sound. One is led to consider for a minute that the saxophonist plays the electric Varitone sax, following the footsteps of Eddie Harris and Sonny Stitt. At any rate it has become evident that it’s the signature tone of Fats Theus. Style-wise, Theus fluently adjusts to the bluesy and funky surroundings, yet also throws in a number of excellent, bop-inflected phrases, notably on Easter Parade of McGriff’s big city blues fest Step One LP.

Uplifting funk galore, perhaps Light Sings is the highlight on Black Out. Palmer plays with gusto without being overbearing, Muhammad’s driving beat and propulsive single strokes cause a stir, Green’s liquid silver notes sizzle, his phrases bite and bark. Black Out was Green’s sole appearence on CTI. Much greasier than the slick A&M/CTI albums that star guitarist George Benson was turning in at that time.

Ike Quebec - Blue & Sentimental

Ike Quebec Blue & Sentimental (Blue Note 1961)

Ike Quebec’s resonant, breathy tone, deep as if coming from a velvet cave, is plainly irresistable. It’s in full bloom on Blue & Sentimental, one of Quebec’s 1961 comeback albums on Blue Note, a set of moving ballads and gutsy blues performances.

Ike Quebec - Blue & Sentimental


Ike Quebec (tenor saxophone, piano A2, A4), Grant Green (guitar), Sonny Clark (piano B3), Paul Chambers (bass), Sam Jones (bass B3) Philly Joe Jones (drums), Louis Hayes (drums B3)


on December 16 & 23, 1961 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as BLP 4098 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Blue And Sentimental
Minor Impulse
Don’t Take Your Love From Me
Blues For Charlie
Count Every Star

Quebec was a veteran of the swing era who recorded with Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Hot Lips Page, Trummy Young, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway. In the late forties, Quebec recorded for Blue Note while also serving as an arranger and talent scout, stimulating the careers of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell in the process. Both the decline of big bands and the struggle with a drug addiction kept Quebec under the radar in the fifties. At the end of the decade, Alfred Lion issued a series of Ike Quebec singles for the jukebox market, checking out if Quebec would gain audience attention after years of low visibility. The singles were well-received. Subsequently, the albums that Blue Note released in 1961 and ‘62, Heavy Soul, It Might As Well Be Spring, (with organist Freddie Roach) Blue & Sentimental and Bossa Nova Soul Samba (the latter with Kenny Burrell) were good sellers. Easy Living was released posthumously in 1987. Quebec’s comeback was cut short by lung cancer. He passed away in 1963.

Ike Quebec’s style is accesible but not plain, his sound imposing but not theatrical. A lusty mix of elegant phrasing and a tone with a slight vibrato that switches suavely from breathy whispers to solid honks. Ben Webster-ish, containing that same blend of tenderness and hot swing, with a whiff of romance borrowed from Coleman Hawkins. Do you ever put on Blue & Sentimental on a bright sunny morning? Of course not. It’s a full-blooded after-midnight album. Can’t you see yourself sunk into a battered old chesterfield chair with a 10 year-old single malt and Hajenius cigar in hand? Smoke billows upwards to the ceiling. Ponderings of the incompatible natures of Venus and Mars billow upwards to the ceiling as well, as Quebec delivers an achingly romantic version of Don’t Take Your Love From Me. The demons of a grinding working day and a general mood of nausea are driven out by the lithe, jumpin’ blues of Minor Impulse. Can’t you see? Well, I can. Battered Old Chesterfield is my middle name.

As far as ballads go, they rarely come as smoky as Blue & Sentimental. Quebec’s husky tenor carries the tune, with just the right punch to add steam. Guitarist Grant Green, finishing his first – prolific – year at Blue Note headquarters, is a perfect companion to Quebec’s warm-blooded blowing. Just slightly dragging the beat with his fat-toned, sustained Gibson licks and spicy excursions into bluesland, Green’s balladry is delightful. On the faster tunes, Green’s propulsive lines sparkle. Chambers and Philly Joe Jones also comprise an outstanding match with the veteran tenorist. No need to introduce Mr. PC. From his magnificent, allround package, Chambers chooses tasteful, chubby, blues-drenched notes for the ballads and fat-bottomed, lively walkin’ bass lines for the uptempo tunes. Philly Joe Jones provides sensitive and sprightly support, presenting a bonafide Papa Jo Jones beat in Quebec’s original tune, the lurid cooker Like.

The album ends with Count Every Star, a take from the December 23 session including Green, Sonny Clark, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes. Excellent stuff, but one wonders why Alfred Lion thought the inclusion necessary. The CD re-issue (also available on Spotify) reveals a spirited uptempo take of Cole Porter’s That Old Black Magic. Another sparse, piano-less gem that shows the fine rapport between the underrated master of the tenor saxophone and his illustrious supporting crew.

Sam Lazar - Space Flight

Sam Lazar Space Flight (Argo 1960)

Very little is known of organist Sam Lazar’s life. The liner notes of his early sixties Argo releases represent about the only information available. He hailed from St. Louis and played piano in the groups of Ernie Wilkins and Tab Smith, when a gig he attented of modern organ jazz progenitor Jimmy Smith inspired him to take up the Hammond B3.

Sam Lazar - Space Flight


Sam Lazar (organ), Grant Green (guitar), Willie Dixon (bass), Chauncey Williams (drums)


on June 1, 1960 at Ter-Mar Studio, Chicago


in 1960 as Argo 4002

Track listing

Side A:
Dig A Little Deeper
We Don’t Know
Gigi Blues
Side B:
Space Flight
Mad Lad
Funky Blues
Big Willie
My Babe

Liner note writer of Lazar’s Argo debut Space Flight, DJ E. Rodney Jones, praises Lazar as ‘the best organist now playing jazz’, which is goofy, considering his mention of master Jimmy Smith. Biased or perhaps intent on sales, Jones ignores the facts that Wild Bill Davis was generally acknowledged as a pioneer of pre-modern organ jazz and that the start of the sixties brought a batch of top notch, tasteful players such as Shirley Scott and Jimmy McGriff, who were more advanced than Lazar.

It’s not a put-down of Jones, who was an important black radio pioneer. It’s just to be taken with a grain of salt. And though Lazar may not be part of the Hammond major league, he deserves his place in organ jazz history. Of his three Argo releases – the other ones being Playback and Soul MerchantSpace Flight is the most alluring, containing snappy, unpolished r&b-type tunes and furthermore, remaining relevant for including fellow St. Louis musician Grant Green, the unsung hero of modern jazz guitar.

Space Flight was Green’s second recording. (following Jimmy Forrest’s All The Gin Is Gone of December 1, 1959) Green was part of Lazar’s working band. Just a while later alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson would introduce Green to Alfred Lion and Green’s Blue Note and New York career would be underway. A little research proves my point that, in contrast to general opinion, the late fifties 45rpm single that the tiny label Cawthorne released of Sam Lazar, Space Flight part 1/part 2, was Green’s recording debut instead of the Jimmy Forrest album. (Space Flight part 2, by the way, is represented on the album titled Big Willie)

Green delivers a series of fleet, blues-drenched solo’s, that make it easy to imagine why he was already making such an impression on fellow musicians. The flagwaver Gigi Blues, Mad Lad and the heavily shufflin’ title track are cases in point.

The line-up also includes blues icon and bassist Willie Dixon, which also explains the overriding blues atmosphere of Space Flight. The group plays Dixon’s classic My Baby.

Argo was a subsidiary of Chess Records, Phil and Leonard Chess’ legendary Chicago label that trusted heavily on Dixon’s input. The overall sound of the session is pretty distorted, not unlike that of the era’s Chicago blues music. The kind of raucous music that grew out of and boosted black neighbourhood life. Grant Green’s sophisticated playing style contrasts well with the straight-laced surroundings.

Lazar puts in a couple of solo’s that sound-wise place him in the realm of swing rather than modern jazz. Style-wise, Lazar shows some signs of modernity, particularly in the album’s highlight, the dynamic and fleetly phrased Mad Lad.

However, generally Sam Lazar’s playing style stayed close to the blues, as Space Flight proves convincingly.