Freddie Roach Good Move (Blue Note 1964)

Checkmate: there’s no escaping the dynamic and tasteful organ playing of Freddie Roach.

Freddie Roach - Good Move


Freddie Roach (organ), Blue Mitchell (trumpet A2, A4, B1 & B3), Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone (A2, A4, B1 & B3), Eddie Wright (guitar), Clarence Johnston (drums)


on November 29 & December 9, 1963 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as BST 84158 in 1964

Track listing

Side A:
It Ain’t Necessarily So
When Malinda Sings
Wine, Wine, Wine
Side B:
On Our Way Up
‘T Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way You Do It)
Lots Of Lovely Love
I.Q. Blues

Freddie Roach is remembered primarily by his run of LP’s on Blue Note. It was a fruitful period for the New York City-born organist. His stint of leadership dates in the early and mid-sixties, five in all, was bookended by guest appearances on Ike Quebec records in 1960 and Donald Byrd’s I’m Trying To Get Home in 1965. Jimmy Smith’s popularity was impossible to beat – The Boss had traded Blue Note for Verve in 1963 – but the Afro-American community was enamored by Roach and his singles did well on the jukebox charts, especially Mo’ Greens Please. His albums Down To Earth, Mo’ Greens Please, Good Move, Brown Sugar are perennial favorites.

Pure B3 ‘artiste’, Roach handled his gritty and greasy repertory with care, peppering it with unmistakable gospel feeling while moving his lines with elegance and a canny sense of dynamics. Although Blue Note Roach is the apex of his career, Prestige Roach – he recorded three albums for Bob Weinstock’s label in 1966/67 – is a noteworthy hodgepodge of soul jazz and Latin-tinged jazz, finished off with quirky spiritual desserts. The title of Avatar from The Soul Book speaks volumes.

Attracted to philosophy and esoterica all along, Roach was widely known among colleagues as an intellectual and playwright, even going as far as presenting plays in his garage at home in Newark. In fact, the sleeve of The Soul Book shows Roach holding one of his plays in his hands. He did bit parts in movies and relocated to Los Angeles towards the end of his life, reportedly pursuing a career in theatre. Good move? Well, Roach passed away in California in 1980 at the age of 49. But you only live once and Mr. Roach was the opposite of 9 to 5, living creative life to the full.

Speaking about good moves, Good Move is prime Roach (considering the sleeve, likely prime Roach as a chess player as well), a subtle shift away from the chitlin’ jazz of Mo’ Greens Please and stepping stone to the burned rubber of Brown Sugar. Accompanied by drummer Clarence Johnston, guitarist Eddie Wright and major-league label mates, trumpeter Blue Mitchell and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, Roach is in his element. The tunes flow elegantly, the band keeps a solid groove and there’s a unity of sound and purpose that makes these Blue Note’s Hammond heart food of the highest order, Grandma’s unforgettable apple pie putting the corner bakery to shame.

It is the second appearance of Mobley on an organ record, the first being Jimmy Smith’s A Date With Jimmy Smith Vol 1 & 2, the last being Grant Green’s I Want To Hold Your Hand with Larry Young, great company and why not merging with the hot tamales of the B3, Hank Mobley cooks and his sophisticated lines blend nicely with the artful grease of giants as Smith, Young and Roach, even if they hardly represent a Mobley career high. The other hard bop champion, Blue Mitchell, snappy here as a fox, buoyant and bluesy, was an organ combo regular. He recorded with Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Big John Patton and preceding Good Move flexed his muscles with Brother Jack McDuff on Harold Vick’s Steppin’ Out. Such a great bunch and, eventually, such a sad loss, Mitchell perishing in 1979 at age 49, Roach passing away in 1980 at age 49 and Mobley steppin’ on a rainbow in 1986 at the age of 55, destitute, burned out, sick and tired. But for many decades now living like a torch light in the hearts of jazz fans around the globe.

The beauty is in the approach of Roach, who commands the diverse components of the organ – generally acknowledged as an “awkward” instrument at heart, a beast that’s hard to tame – like a puppeteer, shifting sounds ever so slightly, tapping the pedals and the bass keyboard notes with effortless swing and letting ideas flow with logic. This man’s got class. He loves to swing on the shuffle beat, as is evidenced by Roach originals as On Our Way Up, Lots Of Lovely Love and Wine, Wine, Wine, which alludes as much to the party songs of Wynonie Harris, Floyd Dixon or Smiley Lewis than to the sermons of the preacher at the downtown church. All of them use smashed grapes to great effect one way or the other.

Varied tonal colors mark the jaunty ‘T Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It) and his succinct ballad reading of Erroll Garner’s Pastel. Roach’s workout of It Ain’t Necessarily So moves from waltz to 4/4 and finds Roach at the zenith of his ability to tell a short story. We’re just pawns in his hip and tasteful game.

Julius Watkins Julius Watkins Sextet (Blue Note 1954/55)

Nobody swung on the French horn like Julius Watkins.

Julius Watkins Sextet - Vol 1

Julius Watkins Sextet Vol. 2


Julius Watkins (French horn), Frank Foster (tenor saxophone 1-4), Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone (5, 7-9), George Butcher (piano 1, 2 & 4), Duke Jordan (5-9), Perry Lopez (guitar 1-4, 6, 8 & 9), Oscar Pettiford (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums 1-4), Art Blakey (5-9)


on August 8, 1954 and March 20, 1955 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey


as BLP 5053 in 1954 and BLP 5064 in 1955

Track listing

Linda Delia
I Have Known
Garden Delights
Julie Ann
Sparkling Burgundy
B And B

Jazz soloists on the ‘awkward’ French horn are scarcer than the four-leaf clover. The two biggies and pioneers of modern jazz are Julius Watkins and David Amram. Amram came on the scene at the legendary Five Spot Café in The Bowery in New York City in the mid-fifties and at 90-years old looks back on a career as indigenous player and composer in jazz and popular music. Julius Watkins, born in 1921, unfortunately only went as far as 1977. Regardless, the Detroit-born French horn player must’ve looked back with pride. His legacy is impressive.

Need a French horn? Call Julius. He’s omnipresent as soloist and part of big ensembles. To give you an idea, Watkins was associated with Milt Jackson, Oscar Pettiford, Thelonious Monk (Monk, Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins), Donald Byrd, Quincy Jones, Miles Davis (Porgy & Bess), Gil Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Randy Weston, John Coltrane (Africa/Brass), Johnny Griffin, Tadd Dameron, Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and McCoy Tyner. Watkins co-led The Jazz Modes with tenor saxophonist Charles Rouse from 1956 till ’59.

Isn’t it wonderful how jazz musicians managed to incorporate such oblique European instruments as French horn? I love the sound of the instrument, bittersweet, silk and satin, like thin air, like the voices of angels that have slept off their wining and dining. The horn is lovely supportive to big ensembles, providing a soft landing for the crackling brass of trumpet and trombone. It was like wax in the hands of Julius Watkins. His fluidity on the instrument was virtually unparalleled. His sound is rich and flexible, varying from cushion-soft reveries to tart calls to arms. You hear those stories about how classical music pros from the big symphonic orchestras were stunned to hear what kind of unbelievable stuff legends like Louis Armstrong coaxed from their instruments and imagine many will have been fascinated by the efforts of Julius Watkins. See what Julius was able to do with the horn in this YouTube excerpt of his hand-muted solo with Quincy Jones in 1960. Fantastic.

Watkins recorded his leadership debut on Blue Note in 1954 and ’55, two 10 inch records that were belatedly repackaged on CD in 1995. At least to my knowledge Blue Note did not re-release the sessions on the new 12 inch format soon afterwards, as it usually did with their 10inch platters like the New Stars New Sounds LP’s. Am I right? Anyway, the sessions consisted of top-notch hard bop with the cream of the crop, the first session featuring tenor saxophonist Frank Foster and drummer Kenny Clarke, the second session featuring Hank Mobley, pianist Duke Jordan and drummer Art Blakey, all of them underlined by bassist Oscar Pettiford. Pleasant surprises are provided by guitarist Perry Lopez and pianist George Butcher.

The highlight of the first session is Linda Delia, which takes us down to Mexico on a beat that’s as lively and fulfilling as the smile of a baby, engendered by Kenny Clarke’s masterful finger strokes and rolls, and includes a brilliant, clattering entrance by Watkins, who sustains the jubilant feeling with a diversity of sunny colors. Guitarist Perry Lopez, a kind of mix between Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Raney throughout the two sessions, is especially cool. All-rounder Frank Foster is another asset of this top-notch BLP 5053 record.

BLP 5064 beats this to the punch, though, Blakey unusually forceful with the brushes, Mobley’s smooth sound blending particularly well with Watkins’s sweet and sour stories, Duke Jordan laying down some of his most urgent and pleasantly bouncy lines of that era. Here, amongst the sultry Garden Delight and an early version of Jordan’s instant classic Jordu, the sprightly boppish Sparkling Burgundy stands out, a title that couldn’t have been more appropriate. This band pops the cork with some bubbly, captured beautifully by the legendary Rudy van Gelder, at that time still working from the living room of his parents in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Killer sleeve of Vol.2 as well.

Art Blakey Just Coolin’ (Blue Note 1959/2020)


Another one from the vault of Blue Note, hurray! The buoyant, invincible swing of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers infuses Just Coolin’, a 1959 session with the classic frontline of Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley.


Art Blakey - Just Coolin'


Art Blakey (drums), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Bobby Timmons (piano), Jimmy Merritt (bass)


on March 8, 1959 at Rudy van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey


as BN 64201 in 2020

Track listing

Hipsippy Blues
Close Your Eyes
Quick Trick
Just Coolin’

Shelving excellent sessions was second nature to Blue Note boss Alfred Lion. He undoubtedly had his reasons for ignoring Art Blakey’s session of March 8, 1959. On the strength of Just Coolin’, unearthed by ace producer Zev Feldman, Lion’s reasons could hardly have come from a musical viewpoint. Just Coolin’ is top-notch Blakey: hip tunes, hard and fluent swing, fiery and tasteful contributions by Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley and Bobby Timmons.

What else then would’ve been Lion’s considerations? After the unexpected hit record of Moanin’ in early 1959 Lion shelved the drum-oriented Drums Around The World session of November 2, 1958 – released in 1999 – and instead released the equally percussion-heavy session of November 9 as Holiday For Skins Vol. 1 & 2 in June 1959. Skins, furthermore, consisted not of Blakey’s successful working band but featured Donald Byrd, Ray Bryant, Art Taylor, Philly Joe Jones and Ray Barretto, among others. Presumably, the “drum” sessions were specifically stimulated by Blakey. Presumably, Lion was looking for a follow-up to the popular Moanin’ album. He put the Messengers in the studio in March not long after they had returned from a tour in Europe.

But instead of releasing that session, Lion chose to go for a live recording of April at Birdland, released as At The Jazz Corner Of The World Vol. 1 & 2. Not a bad idea, Blakey’s preceding live records, Live At Birdland and At Club Bohemia, had been good sellers, capturing The Jazz Messengers at their spontaneous best. Perhaps Lion was challenged as well by French RCA, which released Au Club St. Germain Vol 1, 2 & 3 early in 1959, beating him to a punch. Most of all, I think Lion trusted on his intuition, looking for another good Blakey seller. And Jazz Corner, showcasing Blakey as genial jazz ambassador and his Messengers as exciting young bloods, did sell properly. Lion had to make choices for his complete roster of artists all year round. He shelved the excellent November ’59 session of Africaine (released in 1981) at the expense of Big Beat. Flooding the market is of no use.

Even if you’re prepared for Blakey’s big beat, hearing his band in full bloom is still an exhilarating experience. The session is restored beautifully, coming at you as if the Messengers are playing in your room. Four tunes, Close Your Eyes, Mobley’s Hipsippy Blues, M&M and Just Coolin’, would appear on At The Jqzz Corner Of The World. Timmons’s Quick Trick and Jimerick (unknown composer) are previously unreleased tunes. Jimerick is especially noteworthy, an uptempo cooker with a jump blues-feel and catchy stop-time theme that showcases bright, energetic solo’s by Timmons, Morgan and Blakey.

Just Coolin’ is vintage Messengers, Blakey pushing the band at paced mid to up-tempos with driving shuffles, typically driving his men through hard bop avenue with the Blakey Press Roll and various lush and greasy accents and rim shots. Perhaps the records lacks an epic tune and perhaps there’s one tenor sqeak too many, but how the elegant and classy Mobley has always maintained both drive and his cool in front of Blakey is one of the joys of this particular line-up. Morgan is all chutzpah, grease, fire. At times, his notes deliriously dance on the changes, solidly landing on their feet, which combined with Morgan’s bright and brazen tone is a very gratifying experience.

The Jazz Messengers were about honesty, blues and what Mobley alluded to in his quote of a famous, emblematic Ellington piece during Close Your Eyes. There’s plenty of that on Blue Note’s latest “vault” release.

Hank Mobley Quartet (Blue Note 1955)

With a little help from his Jazz Messengers pals, Hank Mobley turned in a top form performance on his debut as a leader, Hank Mobley Quartet.

BLP 5066, USA 1955
BLP 5066, USA 1955


Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Horace Silver (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), Art Blakey (drums)


on March 27, 1955 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey


as BLP 5066 in 1955

Track listing

Side A:
Hank’s Prank
My Sin
Avila And Tequila
Side B:
Walkin’ The Fence
Love For Sale
Just Coolin’

When Hank Mobley recorded his 10inch debut album as a leader in March 27, 1955, the tenor saxophonist had six albums as a sideman under his belt. Max Roach’ Featuring Hank Mobley (Debut 1953) was followed by Dizzy Gillespie’s Afro, Dizzy And Strings and Jazz Recital (Norgran 1954), French horn player Julius Watkins’ Julius Watkins Sextet (Blue Note, March 20, 1955) and Horace Silver’s Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers (Blue Note, Feb. 6, 1955) The latter (essential) album found Mobley at the helm of the hard bop movement with pioneers Art Blakey and Horace Silver. Blakey and Silver, along with bassist Doug Watkins, assist Mobley on Quartet.

Quartet, 27 minutes of music released on 10inch, is not Soul Station, Roll Call or Workout, albums that signified Mobley as the epitome of hard bop tenor saxophone. It does already showcase a fully-formed style. The round, silken yet smoky tone, slightly behind-the-beat time, relaxed flowing stories, the tension being built up effortlessly, the inherent blues. That’s the sound and the style of a smooth operator. Women gravitate to him naturally like summer flies to a cocktail… See him sitting and chatting at the bar, a man of few words, a mix of authority and vulnerability, level-headedness and flamboyance, a far cry from machismo… a handsome cat but the anti-thesis of the placid, scrubbed clerk, instead walking around with a stub from Monday night at the Village Vanguard to Friday night at the Five Spot.

Mobley, a prolific writer of clever and catchy tunes, turns in five out of six original compositions on Quartet. The repertoire, albeit still largely grounded in bebop, benefits from the new possibilities for jazz that Silver, Blakey, Miles Davis, Lou Donaldson found in rhythm, pace, tempo and the roots of jazz. The steam of Blakey during Hank’s Prank must’ve filled up the little legendary Hackensack studio room of engineer Rudy van Gelder like the fog filling up a Tennessee back porch.

Few ride the waves of the Blakey beat with the unhurried drive of Hank Mobley. Mobley’s story is a vivacious package of phrases kickstarted by crisp, surprising entrances. The standard tune of the set, Love For Sale, has such a typically splendid entrance. Mobley’s ensuing solo swings effortlessly, resonant lines biting each other’s tales in perfectly logical fashion. The tight-knit, fiery ‘Messengers rhythm section’ flies through Walkin’ The Fence, a composition that resembles Charlie Parker’s Now’s The Time, which Horace Silver quotes in one of his tasty, sparse, down-home statements.

Why Quartet didn’t turn out to be Quintet with the logical inclusion of trumpeter Kenny Dorham, Mobley’s legendary frontline pal of the Messengers, is perhaps due to the simple fact that Dorham was out of town. Their ensemble playing was something special. But Mobley is doing ok by himself, carries his debut album with grace and authority.

Post scriptum: why did Francis Wolff, famed co-owner and photographer of Blue Note, place a pic of Hank Mobley on the sleeve with his face half-hidden in the shadow? And do it again on Horace Silver’s first epic Messengers album? (including Hank Mobley) Another BIG NERDY question: why did United Artists headquarters, which had taken over Blue Note in 1970, leave out the ‘curly smoke line-up’ coming out of Mobley’s mouthpiece on the sleeve of their 1975 pressing? It looked so awfully cool. A case, perhaps, for London Jazz Collector’s Vinyl Detective. The classic jazz and vinyl website, by the way, published a revealing article on the evolution of 10inch to 12inch in 2015, including Hank Mobley Quartet, see here.

PSII: Poor Mr. Silver’s face not only lurks in dark corners, the dog is about to chew him to pieces as well.

Hank Mobley To One So Sweet Stay That Way: Hank Mobley In Holland (Dutch Jazz Archive 2017)

To One So Sweet Stay That Way: Hank Mobley In Holland reveals a tenor saxophonist who may not display the kind of brilliance of his golden years in the late fifties and early sixties, but nevertheless remains a singular class act, especially in, surprise, a big band context.

Hank Mobley - To One So Sweet Stay That Way: Hank Mobley In Holland


Tracks 1-3: Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Pim Jacobs (piano), Wim Overgaauw (guitar), Ruud Jacobs (bass), Han Bennink (drums) Tracks 4 & 5: Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Ferdinand Povel & Sander Sprong (tenor saxophone), Piet Noordijk & Herman Schoonderwalt (alto saxophone), Joop Mastenbroek (baritone saxophone), Frans Mijts, Gerard Engelsma, Eddie Engels, John Bannet & Fons Diercks (trumpet), Rudy Bosch, Cees Smal, Bertil Voller & Erik van Lier (trombone), Frans Elsen (piano), Joop Scholten (guitar), Rob Langereis (bass), Evert Overweg (drums) Tracks 6-10: Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Rob Agerbeek (piano), Hans van Rossem (bass), Cees See (drums)


Recorded on March 20 at Theater Bellevue, Amsterdam (tracks 1-3), March 28 at VARA Studio, Hilversum (tracks 4 &5) and March 29, 1968 at Jazzclub B14, Rotterdam (tracks 6-10


as NJA 1604 in 2017

Track listing

Sonny’s Tune
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
Twenty-Four And More
Blues By Five
Like Someone In Love
Veird Blues
Three-Way Split
Autumn Leaves

Expert jazz sleuthing. The Dutch Jazz Archive unearthed ten live and studio cuts from the quintessential hard bop tenorist’s sojourn in the Netherlands in 1968. I think to myself, what a wonderful hard bop world! Mobley was a heroin addict and when he was kicking the habit resorted to booze. The classic pit fall in an all too typical jazz tragedy. Convicted twice, risking a long prison sentence due to the American three-strikes-and-you’re-out-system, Mobley had good reason to bug out for the dug out. What better way than to cross the great pond. Contrary to belief, Mobley arrived in The Netherlands instead of the U.K., touring France afterwards, where he recorded The Flip, and, subsequently, the U.K. and Denmark. The package of the CD includes great photographs and detailed liner notes including memories of collaborators pianist Rob Agerbeek and bass player Ruud Jacobs. Mobley played live with Agerbeek’s one-off trio in Rotterdam’s club B14 on March 29, with the Pim Jacobs Trio including Ruud Jacobs and guitarist Wim Overgaauw at the Bellevue Theatre on March 20, and, another studio session, with the Hobby Orkest on March 28, an orchestra of Dutch luminaries that gathered irregularly, including Dutch bop veterans and talents Piet Noordijk, Ferdinand Povel and Frans Elsen.

In his indispensable book on the sidemen of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Hard Bop Academy, Alan Goldsher offers a hip baseball analogy to illustrate the brilliance of Hank Mobley, labeling him as a five-tool player, a rare breed of all-round excellence. Mobley ‘had killer chops. He had a silky tone. He could tell the hell out of a story. He was a smokin’ composer. And he could swing you into the ground. Five tools. Six, if you count the fact that he looked great on a record cover.’ How true. Mobley’s a legend that carved out a niche during the era of the towering giants Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. The ultimate ‘musician’s musician’ – Leonard Feather’s famous appreciation of Mobley as ‘the middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone’ stems from 1960 – Mobley’s unspectacular style, unassuming personality and the fact that he never led a stable outfit perhaps prevented widespread public recognition. By 1968, media coverage of the ‘new thing’ and stars like Miles Davis overpowered attention for a more conventional player like Mobley. Short on publicity but a saint for European mainstream jazz aficionados. Sound and style-wise, Mobley’s tone, still relatively soft and, as Mobley himself defined it, ’round’, had more bite to it, while his slightly dragging beat and relaxed phrasing are ever-present. Mobley retained a good portion of his innate sense of logic and continuity but at the same time concentrated on staccato lines and had shopped at John Coltrane’s store of harmonic finesse. No summer sale there, top quality stuff all-year round.

In the live setting of club B14, Mobley also focuses on suspenseful chopped lines, but simultaneously on all-too drastic twists, turns and ad-libs, therefore drifting away from a long-lined, coherent tale. He sounds a bit fatigued. The discovery of the tapes from club B14 is a blessing, but one has to ‘read through the lines’ of the rather inferior sound quality. In general, Rob Agerbeek has the upper hand, expertly mixing modern jazz with the traditional legacy of blues and boogie-woogie in Miles Davis’ Veird Blues and Mobley’s Three-Way Split, which is the liveliest tune of the performance. On the other hand, Mobley’s work in the studio on March 20, the day Mobley stepped out of the airplane with a probable jet lag, is focused and marked by Mobley’s unique sense of rhythm and suave phrasing. The Pim Jacobs Trio is excellent, the full-bodied, walkin’ bass lines of Ruud Jacobs and Wim Overgaauw’s swift phrasing and delicate clusters of chords in Sonny Rollins’ Airegin are especially imposing. The most surprising features on To One So Sweet are Mobley’s two tunes with the Hobby Orkest, the only known recording of the tenor saxophonist with a big band. The band is lively, the arrangements are smart and Mobley, one of the kings of the hard bop quintet format, is all velvet, sensuality, glowing blocks of wood in the fireplace. Marvelous! Clearly, it’s unfortunate that no one came up with the idea of recording Mobley in a big band setting earlier in his career, nor would afterwards.

A swell idea. Like the idea of The Dutch Jazz Archive to prowl public and private vaults for Mobley material, which it acted upon superbly.

To One So Sweet Stay That Way: Hank Mobley In Holland is the fourth release in the Dutch Jazz Archive’s series Treasures Of Dutch Jazz, following releases of Boy Edgar, Ben Webster and Don Byas. You can order it on the website of The Dutch Jazz Archive here.

Rein’s Dream

At the distinguished age of 73, pianist Rein de Graaff preserves a childlike enthousiasm for his trade, which he typifies matter-of-factly as ‘bebop, ballads and blues’. As a boy of 15, De Graaff entrusted his equally jazz-crazed pals with the wish to one day play with his heroes Hank Mobley, Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon. “I never would have thought that dream to come true. But, amazingly, it did.”

They told me De Graaff had long since decorated one of his rooms in his countryside bungalow as a jazz museum. Well, make it two rooms. De Graaff has led me from one room, filled with the monumental archive of his career and hundreds of jazz magazines (e.g. all Downbeat Magazine issues up to 1970, which speaks for itself if you’ve learned to know anything about De Graaff’s tastes) to another that hosts a grand piano, walls adorned with vintage photographs, concert posters and a vast collection of original classic bebop and hardbop albums on labels as Blue Note, Prestige, Clef/Norgran, Savoy, Bethlehem and Argo. I’m the drooling kid in the candy store. Come to think of it, if it comes to collecting vinyl, Rein de Graaff transforms into a boy that has entered the Efteling amusement park as well. Collecting has been a lifelong passion. “I just got back from a Los Angeles festival. There was a record fair just outside the Capitol building. It was great!”

For De Graaff, the classic jazz of the late fourties to the late sixties that his speaker system churns out has always remained the real deal. “Jazz shouldn’t be too clean, it has to have an edge, something dirty and smoky. The music I play comes from the smoke-filled clubs, where sex often was cheap, and the blues was heard… I started out at the end of the era when New York clubs had music from 10 to 4. And then there was Slugs’. I usually went to bed at 8 in the morning. Nowadays, I’m having breakfast at 8! Naturally, there was something going on. I mean, who’s sitting at the bar? Hustlers, for instance. It was partly a criminal environment. All these things somehow ring through in the music.“

No reason for Sam Spade to stake out De Graaff’s Veendam residence, though. Just the music. A gentlemen from peat country, the north-eastern region of Groningen in The Netherlands. A man for whom a bargain is a bargain. This man has been a boy, frail and white as whipping cream, who happened to land in classic jazz paradise. That, indeed, is Rein de Graaff’s unusual, arresting story.

Partly anyway. It was clear from the outset that the young man from an upper middle-class family had a natural talent for music and playing piano that could bring him places. The boy had soaked up the sounds of Charlie Barnett, Winifred Atwell and played ragtime when one day the radio broadcasted Charlie Parker’s Shaw ‘Nuff and Stupendous. He heard Bud Powell play Tempus Fugue-It, Clifford Brown blast through All Chillun Got Rhythm. The kid was hooked, caught in ‘Webb City’. Getting involved into bebop with a cultish zeal reminiscent of its inventors, Rein de Graaff’s self-taught playing matured, under further influence of albums as Interpretations By The Stan Getz Quintet, The Jazz Messengers At The Cafe Bohemia and Griffin/Coltrane/Mobley’s A Blowing Session.

“People usually stay true to the music that makes an impression on them when they’re 15 or 16. It’s ingrained. That certainly holds true for me. Introducing Lee Morgan was and still is an all-time favorite. Hank Mobley is stunning, and the rhythm section is extremely lively. Of course, Blakey backed Mobley on some wonderful classics, like Soul Station, but the Art Taylor/Doug Watkins combi is dear to me.”

“I have most of the classic West Coast albums now, but I didn’t like West Coast jazz when I was young. The only record I liked was Shorty Rogers’ Modern Sounds. Take a listen here, that’s not cool, right, it’s hot! Great arrangements too. A bebop album that blew my mind was It’s Time For Dave Pike. Yeah man, that’s great, it’s Charlie Parker on vibes. I took it to his gig at a club in Groningen in 1967 and asked Dave Pike to sign it. I wasn’t a kid anymore but thought to give it one more go as far as signatures were concerned! I felt that our thought processes were alike. And it proved they were. Later on, when we became friends, it totally clicked. By the way, that vibraphone over there is the one that Dave used for the It’s Time For Dave Pike album.”

(From left, clockwise: Lee Morgan – Introducing Lee Morgan, Savoy 1956; Shorty Rogers – Modern Sounds, Capitol 1952; Dave Pike – It’s Time For Dave Pike, Riverside 1961)

By the early sixties, De Graaff, who didn’t fancy getting into Chopin and the like at Conservatory, gigged steadily, had won a prize at the Loosdrecht Jazz Festival, toured Germany with a swing orchestra, and even shared the stage with Sonny Stitt at the Blue Note in Paris. Back in The Netherlands, De Graaff scoured Amsterdam clubs, particularly the Sheherezade, where the expatriate tenor saxophonist Don Byas mentored young lions like De Graaff and his friends and colleagues such as saxophonist Dick Vennik, drummers Eric Ineke and John Engels and trumpeter Nedley Elstak.

But the big year for De Graaff turned out to be 1967. The pianist rises from his chair and beckons me to come up close to the photo wall. “So you’ve seen the big picture of me and Hank Mobley on stage over there, right. But look here, this one you have never seen. Hank, Evelyn Blakey (Art Blakey’s daughter) and me, we’re watching tv.”

In 1967 the 24-year old De Graaff traveled to New York. He said to his friends that he wanted to experience the jazz life of his heroes and, jokingly, added that his main goal was to play with Hank Mobley. For De Graaff, Hank Mobley was and has always remained the personification of jazz. “I got out of the subway in the Lower East Side and the first man I saw was walking with a trumpet case at the other end of the sidewalk. He looked familiar. He looked like Kenny Dorham, one of my all-time heroes. I followed him for a while and then had collected enough nerve to ask if he really was Kenny Dorham. Indeed he was! Subsequently, Dorham invited me to come up to the East Village Inn at night.” The following week, De Graaff hung out with musicians like Walter Davis Jr., Barry Harris and Evelyn Blakey, at whose place De Graaff had dinner one night. Evelyn knew of Rein’s wish to see Mobley and invited Mobley as a surprise guest for the astonished, skinny piano player from Holland. “She asked me to open the door. I obeyed. My heart burst out of my chest. There was Hank Mobley. ‘Hi, I’m Hank’, he said.”

In New York, De Graaff played with Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Elvin Jones and Joe Farrell. It was a dream come true. It was pretty devastating, however, regardless of their brilliant, swinging game, to see his heroes play sleazy bars for a nickle, while he opinioned that their stature should be of concert hall level, and to see some of them, like bassist Paul Chambers, succumb to a dreary, destructive alcoholic life style. “I saw some of that as well in Germany and The Sheherazade, it was a bit scary. I decided to follow a different path.”

The following decades would see the pianist lead a prolific but most unusual jazz life. Working by day in the electro ware wholesale company of his father (which De Graaff continued in later life and sold at the age of 56), De Graaff played at night and during days or weeks off. His popular De Graaff/Vennik quartet ventured more and more into modal jazz territories, while De Graaff also supported Americans such as Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon, Clark Terry, Arnett Cobb, Dizzy Reece, Carmell Jones and Red Rodney on their Dutch and European gigs. Great experiences, with lessons to be learned as well, like those from Griffin and Art Taylor, who played either at furious breakneck speed or extra slowly, getting into a distinctive ‘groove’, something De Graaff called ‘American Tempos’.

It was an outrageously busy lifestyle. Better to burn out than to fade away? “I didn’t drink. That helps. And I was young, able to get along without much sleep. Sometimes I got home at 4 in the morning and was at the office at 8! And for instance, when I had a business meeting far away, I would combine it with a gig the night before! Most of all, playing jazz was my high, gave me a lot of adrenaline. My work gave me a kick as well. All that keeps you on your toes!”

De Graaff’s skin has that antique porcelain quality. Aged but still quite smooth. Strands of yellow-ish hair embellish a white crop, like sheep wool. Slightly wavy hair, and always that broad curl at the back of his neck. Not too neatly trimmed. An edge. “But yes, I lived three lives. My wife and children are proficient in music and they were understanding.” Then, dryly: “I wouldn’t have married her otherwise. But indeed, I was away a lot and didn’t see enough of my little daughter. I decided to do it differently when my son was born. The kids loved it as well, though, having those Americans around. Instead of hotels, they stayed at our place. Teddy Edwards and Babs Gonzalez were housefriends. Babs always played checkers with my kid daughter,” laughs De Graaff. More laughs erupt when De Graaff recounts the extended sleepovers of Johnny Griffin and Art Taylor, who always slept in a bunk, ‘can you imagine?!’

A white boy amidst Afro-American legends, many of whom were desperate, troubled, grappling with racism, dissapointed in American society, and, like Art Taylor, quite militant about it. “You’ve read Taylor’s book Notes and Tones, right? (Ed., Art Taylor’s controversial 1982 book of interviews with fellow musicians) The thing is, these guys transformed into Europeans in a way. Don Byas spoke Dutch, Art Taylor spoke French. Life in Europe wasn’t so stressed, they were more relaxed in general. In The States, the cops were on their backs all the time and they were ripped off regularly. It wasn’t like that over here.”

“Musically, I just gave my best. At the start of my career in New York, and later in Detroit with trumpeter Louis Smith, I was sometimes the only white musician in the group. Oh, I’ve had a bassist say to me once, (De Graaff puts on a deep, gritty voice) ‘Show me how good you are’. I made sure I did. The thing is, jazz is the shared language. You communicate on that level. I remember what the emcee said when I was on stage with Hank Mobley. He said: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, how about a big hand for Hank Mobley, Herbie Lewis and Billy Higgins, and the young man from Europe. You heard the man, he’s preaching the same message as we do.’

(From left, clockwise: Dexter Gordon & Rein de Graaff; Rein de Graaff, Herbie Lewis, Hank Mobley & Billy Higgins; Art Taylor, Henk Haverhoek, Johnny Griffin & Rein de Graaff)

I mention De Graaff’s version of Gil Fuller’s I Waited For You (from Drifting On A Reed, Timeless, 1977), a classic De Graaff cut of long, flowing lines, spare blue notes, tumbling and rollicking lyrical modes and some ‘out’ phrases. “That was inspired by Joachim Kuhn, who although he didn’t really swing, was outrageously good. I was into McCoy Tyner as well, our quartet developed more of a ‘new thing’. Musicians advised me to quit bebop, start something new. It was kind of a breather for me, a liberation, really. And the quartet was so propulsive! That avantgarde stuff didn’t sit too well with the legends, though. I remember Dexter Gordon saying one night, ‘Rein, stop that Chick Corea shit, will you!’

The quartet existed until 1989, but in the late seventies De Graaff again took some advise to heart. “Now audiences said, ‘Hey Rein, you used to play such beautiful bebop, why don’t you get back into that? Of course that’s when I went to New York to record New York Jazz (Timeless/Muse, 1979) with Tom Harrell, Ronnie Cuber and the classic rhythm section Sam Jones and Louis Hayes. I used to play along with all those Cannonball Adderley albums at home, you know!”

A combination of Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Sonny Clark, Hampton Hawes and a touch of Lennie Tristano, De Graaff has made his mark as one of the premier European bebop/hardbop pianists. An ‘unpianistic’ pianist, relishing long, flowing lines that he tries to construct as horn men do. A more gentle touch, like his friend Barry Harris, in contrast to Powell’s hammering lightning bolts. “Someone in The States once said to me, ‘hey man, you blow a nice piano!’ Horns have fringes. Playing piano like Oscar Peterson is not my ambition. He was the best in the world, but I couldn’t care less. All over the keyboard, flurries of arpeggio’s, brilliant, perfect playing, but constant brilliance and perfection becomes boring after a while.”

“I think I was a fanatic. That’s crucial, you gotta have that dedication and obsession. Let me tell you a story guitarist Peter Leitch told me. He teached a class at Conservatory, there was a talented guitar player. Leitch said, ‘okay, I’ll see you at the workshop on Friday.’ The young man said, ‘No, I can’t make it, I have to hang wallpaper at my grandma’s’. You know, that’s not the right mentality. Small wonder, we’ve never heard from the gentlemen since.”

Like Barry Harris, De Graaff has been a true ambassador for bebop and hardbop. From 1986 till his 70th birthday in 2012, De Graaff gave four lecture/tours a year, playing and explaining the music that grew out of Charlie Parker et al. Essential jazz history, embellished by an endless list of acclaimed and underrated Americans: Teddy Edwards, Clifford Jordan, Johnny Griffin, James Moody, Ronnie Cuber, Charles McPherson, Harold Land, Houston Person, Frank Foster, David “Fathead” Newman, James Clay, Barry Harris, Webster Young, Bud Shank, Billy Root, Herb Geller, Al Cohn, Louis Smith, Art Farmer, Eddie Daniels, Lew Tabakin, James Spaulding, Bob Cooper, Gary Foster, Pete Christlieb, Gary Smulyan… That’s when people started nicknaming De Graaff ‘Professor Bop’. “That was the source. Guys like Johnny Griffin, he could tell how it was to play with Monk, Harold Land what Clifford Brown was about. And Teddy Edwards, come on, he invented bebop!”

Fortune’s favorite? A fullfilled man, certainly. But where have all the flowers gone? At 73, De Graaff concedes that he’s starting to become a regular visitor of the crematorium. De Graaff puts his arm in the air and moves a closed hand back and forth slowly. “It’s the Big Hand working. Here it goes, ‘swoosh’, takes a bunch of us, draws back again, only to resume its relentless work… Dave Pike passed away last year.” You can hear a pin drop. Says De Graaff, his face now a brittle mask that hides sorrow. Only human: “That really made me kind of sad. We were like bloodbrothers. But ok, we performed, made a record. Fine. At least, that’s consigned to posterity.”

“I’ve got nothing but nice memories. My favorites? The first time that I played with Hank Mobley is really dear to me. Also, my tour with Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt and Philly Joe Jones was fantastic. I knew these guys inside out from their records, but to sit beside them on stage really is something else. They play familiar phrases and licks, but the licks are theirs, original. The impact is enormous.”

His blue-grey eyes, mostly hidden behind wrinkled eyelids like ladybugs in the cracks of cobblestones, suddenly grow: clarity, earthiness, a little tenderness. “I carefully pick my recording projects, it has to be something fresh. That’s why I did duet albums and performed with two baritones, for instance. It’s still possible to be creative in bebop and hardbop, or what you’d call mainstream jazz. I will be doing my Chasin’ The Bird tour in the near future. That would give you an idea of what that tour is about, right?”

Rein de Graaff

Pianist Rein de Graaff (Groningen, 1942) recorded more than 40 albums, both as a leader and in cooperation with numerous Americans and fellow Europeans. He won the Boy Edgar Prijs in 1980 and the Bird Award at North Sea Jazz Festival in 1986. From 1986 to 2012, De Graaff organised Stoomcursus and Vervolgcursus Bebop: lectures about bebop, which included performances by a host of American and Dutch luminaries, as well as upcoming youngsters. De Graaff’s career is chronicled in Coen de Jonge’s Belevenissen In Bebop. (Passage, 1997)

Selected discography:

Body And Soul (with J.R. Monterose, Munich 1970)
The Jamfs Are Coming (with Johnny Griffin & Art Taylor, Timeless/Muse 1975)
Modal Soul (Timeless 1977)
New York Jazz (Timeless/Muse 1979)
Good Gravy (with Teddy Edwards, Timeless 1981)
Live (with Arnett Cobb, Timeless 1982)
Rifftide (with Al Cohn, Timeless 1987)
Blue Bird (with Dave Pike & Charles McPherson, Timeless 1988)
Nostalgia (Timeless 1991)
Blue Beans & Greens (with David “Fathead” Newman & Marcel Ivery, Timeless 1991)
Baritone Explosion (with Ronnie Cuber & Nick Brignola, Timeless 1994)
Alone Together (with Bud Shank, Timeless 2000)
Blue Lights The Music Of Gigi Cryce (Timeless 2005)
Indian Summer (with Sam Most, Timeless 2012)

Fried Bananas, the vinyl release of a 1972 Dexter Gordon performance with the Rein de Graaff Trio by Gearbox Records is due in November.

Hank Mobley The Flip (Blue Note 1969)

In the late sixties Hank Mobley’s round tone had become a bit rougher around the edges and his style was more hard-driving. This is evident on 1969’s The Flip, which boasts hi-voltage blowing but is short on finesse. Mobley, always the prolific songwriter, wrote all five tunes on The Flip. The compositions that turn out best are the ones that resemble Mobley’s songwriting of the late fifties and early sixties.

Hank Mobley - The Flip


Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Dizzy Reece (trumpet), Slide Hampton (trombone), Vince Benedetti (piano), Alby Cullaz (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)


on July 12, 1969 at Studio Barclay, Paris, France


as BST 84329 in 1969

Track listing

Side A
The Flip
Feelin’ Folksy
Side B
Snappin’ Out
18th Hole
Early Morning Stroll

Examples of the latter are Feelin’ Folksy, 18th Hole and Early Morning Stroll. Feelin’ Folksy swings suavely and is a coherent group effort. Mobley’s solo is a mix between his earlier bluesy style and new, more advanced bag. Clearly, Mobley is in fine form, in spite of the increasing alcohol abuse of that time in his life. Late 2014, I talked to Dutch pianist Rob Agerbeek, who toured in Europe with Mobley in 1968/69 and remembered that Mobley was playing very well indeed. Incidentally, Mobley wanted Agerbeek to play on the sessions of The Flip in Paris, but Blue Note boss Francis Wolff had already booked Vince Benedetti, so Agerbeek had to be cancelled.

18th Hole is an intricate, hard-swinging tune with great three-horn harmony. Philly Joe Jones keeps the guys on their toes, especially in Early Morning Stroll, a bop figure that makes good use of tension and release with an lengthy bridge.

Hank Mobley’s the quintessential musician’s musician. That isn’t front page news. Key words: killer chops, smart songwriting, unique round, warm tone, inventive storytelling, smokin’ hot to boot. Great storytelling, however, has become a minority on The Flip. More often than not, Mobley reaches an early climax in his solo’s, which doesn’t leave much room for a story to develop. Where to go when the gunpowder has faded?

To my pleasure, on Early Morning Stroll, Mobley cuts short his initial flurry of over-excited notes and instead tells an interesting, swinging tale. Trademark Mobley.

Snappin’ Out is a typical Latin hard bop tune and an easy head to blow on. Slide Hampton blows swift and assured. The tune is more satisfying than the title track and opener of the album, The Flip, which, arguably, is a conscious effort to reach the same popular status as Mobley’s earlier winner of 1965, The Turnaround. But conscious efforts, like femme fatales, rarely give you what you want.

The Flip swings hard and is sure to enliven a party. But unfortunately, it also swings wild and uncontrolled, favouring a strained, hi-octane tension over a sophisticated build-up. If Philly Joe Jones would be alive today to comment on The Flip, I’m sure he would agree that boogaloo wasn’t his long suit. I’m sure he would laugh and say, ‘Man, I better stick to modern jazz drumming, leave that boogaloo to Idris Muhammad!’ Jones possessed the humor and self-mockery. The drum legend faultlessly imitated Bela “Dracula” Lugosi on a 1958 Riverside album, remember.

Speaking of faultless jobs, considering Mobley’s abilities The Flip is quite a distance away from douze points.