Guido Tazelaar

Gideon’s Bible

Saxophonist Gideon Tazelaar, 19 years old, is one of Holland’s major jazz talents. Leaving his options open for the next five years, Tazelaar at least is positively sure of one next step. “Next year, I’m going back to New York.”

Tazelaar stayed in New York once before in 2015, joining sessions, held spellbound by the remaining legends of modern jazz like Harold Mabern, Jimmy Cobb and Jimmy Heath. “I saw Roy Haynes twice. That was magical. I’ve never seen anything like it. He played with his quartet plus Pat Metheny. But I only watched Haynes behind his drumkit. Everything he did was so spot-on. I was often wondering where he was, time-wise. But I’ve come to the conclusion that, really, what Haynes played was the time. Somehow, Haynes was the music. He went into a tapdance routine, which, astonishingly, revealed the entire jazz tradition. And of course it was special to see someone perform who goes way back to Charlie Parker, Monk, Coltrane… Even to Lester Young.”

With a hesitant timbre in his voice, as if ashamed of his good fortune: “And I had breakfast with Lee Konitz. He’d been my teacher once in Germany and said to call me whenever I was in town. That was awesome. We were at his place. I got a little quiet… But he kept talking, so that was perfect! Konitz said that he felt uneasy recording Motion, because it was his first encounter with Elvin Jones. But in hindsight he thought the results were rather satisfying… I’ve learned lots of things from Konitz. Musical stuff, because he’s a genius, but also about attitude. He doesn’t seem to have an all-encompassing explanation of his musical choices, except that they develop from a search for beauty. He really gives you the idea that the purpose is to follow up on what you love and dig deep into that well.”

“I’m really looking forward to another stay in New York. I will be going for about one year and maybe study at some music college, check out older musicians. Men like Reggie Workman and Charlie Persip still teach. The division between styles is less astringent than here. I’ve noticed this during some sessions with Ben van Gelder and American colleagues, they blew me away playing stuff ranging from blues to Bud Powell to avant-leaning compositions. In The Netherlands, people sometimes encounter me as that supposedly ‘promising musician’. They are friendly, responsive. That’s ok, for sure, people have helped me out a lot. But I haven’t really been at the bottom of the ladder, you know what I mean? And I think it would be beneficial to my musicianship if colleagues kick me in the butt now and then. And they will in New York, regardless of my age, I’m sure! I’m looking forward to it.”

Meanwhile, Tazelaar performs as much as possible. “I try to do my bit of study as well. My mindset changes continuously, so I press myself to study with focus. I like so many things, therefore I have to structure things to really get to the heart of the matter and not be distracted. I’m making schemes for two months in advance.”

Tazelaar grins, his downy, dark-brown moustache twists. He pulls himself from his couch, finds a notebook between the rubble on his desk, sits down and proceeds to read his upcoming scheme. If anything, an intriguing hodgepodge of activities. Among other things, Tazelaar is going to practice clarinet again, learn a Bud Powell solo on piano, read the biography of Sidney Bechet, finish an original Tazelaar tune, study the theory of Schönberg, harmonize chorals in Bach style and, last but not least, learn 3 solo’s of Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong each. Monomania. Eagerness. A young man enthralled by the beauty of America’s sole original art form as well as the works of classical composers who often were admired by the jazz legends.

Recognition for Tazelaar has come early. Already playing saxes as a kid and adding clarinet in the process, Tazelaar has been in the limelight ever since. He played at The Concertgebouw at the age of 8, enrolled at the Conservatory of Amsterdam when he was 14, passing maxima cum laude at 18. If he may choose to, Tazelaar can put a nice rack of prizes on his mantle and has been a regular fixture in the club circuit and at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Sitting under a framed portrait of John Coltrane, the eyes of the bright college student-type Tazelaar twinkle when looking back upon his contribution to a tenor summit at the Bimhuis last March, including Rein de Graaff, Eric Ineke, Eric Alexander, Sjoerd Dijkhuizen and Ferdinand Povel. “So inspiring to play with the elders. And especially great to share the stage with Ferdinand, who has been my teacher for a long time. He teached me a lot just by talking about jazz, and especially about harmony. He plays so beautifully. I think I nicked quite a few of his phrases.”

Asked about his playing style, the contemplative, even-tempered Tazelaar is cautious to ill-define matters. He patiently weighs his words on a scale, much like the way a thrift store owner would count the coins that a bunch of candy-buying kids have scattered on the counter. Lots of ‘umms’ and ‘aaahs’. The sound of a brain cracking. “Tough question. I don’t think I play in one style. I experience it as versatile, depending on the people I play with. It puts the big picture of a group in perspective, I don’t feel the need to deliberately go against the grain in a group, style-wise. Arguably, it’s all part of my development. I might one day stick to something that feels destined to be played. In general, I have my influences as well, of course.”

Aside from Povel, Tazelaar is fond of saxophonist Benjamin Herman, having thrown himself headlong into the weekly sessions at Amsterdam’s De Kring. “Basically, I’m a very critical and self-critical guy. Genes, I guess. That’s ok, critique’s a constructive asset. But it tends to stress negative aspects as well. Benjamin focuses on good things, he’s able to find interesting, quirky aspects in different kinds of music. That’s positive. And better for your mental health.”

Tazelaar has been picking some positively quintessential influences at an early age. “I’m listening to a lot of classic bop and hard bop saxophonists, but up until now I’ve always come back to my main men: Bechet, Parker and Coltrane.”

“I’m always interested in the transitional periods in the careers of musicians. Those recordings of Bechet in France in the late forties are great. (Tazelaar refers to Bechet’s May 1949 recordings with either the Claude Luter Orchestra or Pierre Braslavsky Orchestra) He’s playing New Orleans-style, of course, but hints at things to come as well. He would be an influence on Coltrane.”

“I really like both early and late Coltrane. Early or late, the integrity and inspiration are always there. Lately I’ve been listening to Coltrane with Miles Davis in 1960, near the end of Coltrane’s stay with Miles Davis. There’s this live version of ‘Round Midnight, it was on bootlegs I think. Coltrane goes from one extreme to the other, but keeps referring to the melody in between, it’s fantastic.”

“Parker’s playing on Dizzy Atmosphere (February 28, 1945, Savoy MG12020, FM) is also a good example of tension between old and new. Swing and bop, in this case. There’s this swing rhythm section including bass player Slam Stewart (and Clyde Hart, Remo Palmieri and Cozy Cole, FM) that swings like mad. Parker and Gillespie are inventing the bop language on top of it. But the thing is, Parker blends well with that old style, because he lived in that period as well, naturally. He knew where it was at. In these performances, Parker constitutes the best of two worlds, he fits.”

Gideon Tazelaar

Gideon Tazelaar (Hilversum, 1997) has been performing from age 8, appearing at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Prinsengracht Concert. Since his early teens, Tazelaar has been a sought-after player, performing with the Dutch Jazz Orchestra and the Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw as well as at The North Sea Jazz Festival, and has been cooperating with, among others, Benjamin Herman, John Engels, Peter Beets, Ben van Gelder, Dick Oatts, Eric Alexander and, in the summer of 2016, organist Lonnie Smith. Tazelaar won the Composition Award of NBE in 2006, the Prinses Christina Jazz Concours in 2012 with his quartet Oosterdok 4 and the Expression Of Art Award in 2016. Nowadays, Tazelaar regularly plays with his Gideon Tazelaar Trio, which includes bass player Ties Laarakker and drummer Wouter Kühne.

Check out Gideon Tazelaar’s website here.

Miles Davis Quintet - Workin'

The Miles Davis Quintet Workin’ (Prestige 1956/59)

The first two cuts on Workin’ immediately show the impact of Miles Davis (and his First Great Quintet) on the evolution of jazz in the mid-fifties. Davis put the showtune It Never Entered My Mind in a moody package by way of his subdued, husky trumpet. The instant classic Four swings effortlessly but insistently. With a focus on expression, Davis distinctly shaped the kind of jazz labeled as mainstream or hard bop.

Miles Davis Quintet - Workin'

Personnel

Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on May 11 and October 26, 1956 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7166 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
It Never Entered My Mind
Four
In Your Own Sweet Way
The Theme (take 1)
Side B:
Trane’s Blues
Ahmad’s Blues
Half Nelson
The Theme (take 2)


When I was young, stupid, sloppy drunk and just about to metamorphose into a giant insect, I used to propagate the opinion that Miles Davis sounded like a door who had trouble creaking. I wasn’t quite fond of his (Harmon) mute sound. In hindsight, I’m sure it was also my cheeky, cynical way of questioning the overdone worship of the ‘Miles’ disciples. Guys in front of the stage begging for the styrofoam cup that Miles Davis drank from after finishing his take on Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time. Guys that wouldn’t have minded if Miles Davis’d filled it with some of his urinal artistry.

Regardless of the swagger, that door obviously did make a tentative attempt at showing off its creaking prowess. Arguably, the term ‘ugly beauty’, like the title of the Thelonious Monk tune, appropriately defines the muted Miles Davis sound as opposed to his open horn sound. Sometimes it hurts the ear. But that, perhaps, was the inevitable consequence of the goals that Davis set for himself. His acerbic, thin trumpet voice brings about a distinctive feeling. There’s more than a touch of hurt in the playing of Miles Davis, mingling with a distinct soft spot. Understated drama. Simultaneously, his sound has the utmost seductive quality as if it’s the voice of a loose woman peeping from behind a red velvet curtain… A slightly shabby woman, streetwise like any one con man on the corner. So there’s hurt, tenderness and a touch of seediness. More than anything else, listening to Miles Davis at his husky best is like being involved in a conversation of the utmost intimate level. Davis at his thinnest still annoys me from time to time. I wonder if anyone else has been having a beef with the nasal Miles Davis sound? At any rate, I do pretty well today as far as the muted Miles Davis is concerned. (Someday My Prince Will Come!) Times-a-changin’, people-a-changin’ and opinions and feelings seem to change by the minute nowadays. About the only thing that doesn’t change is the quality of Italian espresso.

Not being taken in immediately by the muted sound of Miles Davis, when Clark Terry, Donald Byrd or Dizzy Gillespie were somehow more accesible, the admiration for the notes and vision consequently took some time coming. There’s something to be said for a slowly developing admiration, ripening year after year, like the timbre of a grand piano. The clarity of his ‘voice’ and the way Miles Davis shaped phrases and usually concentrated on fewer, expressive notes, thereby cleverly making use of his strong, individual points, is enough to make one look back in awed wonder. In the mid fifties, starting off with 1954’s recording of Walkin’, Miles Davis breathed musical life into the motto of ‘less is more’ (which was first posed by modernist architect Mies van der Rohe in the 1930s), opening up jazz in an original, interesting direction for the second time in his career. Davis later claimed that he changed the course of jazz five or six times. Which makes sense but wasn’t entirely accurate.

The first milestone would be the Birth Of The Cool-session of 1949. Thereafter, the modal Kind Of Blue, the albums of his Second Great Quintet in the mid-sixties, the fusion of Bitches Brew, jazz rock of Jack Johnson and eighties crossover album Tutu are influential classics. They’re also cases in point that Miles Davis didn’t shake all this innovative stuff out of his sleeve as the sole master for all those years, but instead also relied on such brilliant vanguard colleagues like Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, Teddy Charles, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Marcus Miller. It’s a notion that matches well with the theory that jazz innovations usually don’t come out of the blue, but are the result of a gelling of jazz spirits influencing one another with their simultaneous experiments. Furthermore, often some of these musicians got their ideas from cats they had never even met in (or outside) the studio, like for instance George Russell, or (modernist) classical composers. A valid theory. Superimposing his one-of-a-kind style over the contemporary developments, Miles Davis was crucial to let such profound changes in jazz come to full fruition. He was a catalyst with guts and vision. At the same time, due to his stardom, Davis became the face of that change for the general public.

Long before these kind of elaborate and almost stupefying discussions, in 1956, the one major upset was the signing of Miles Davis to major label Columbia. A big deal not only for Miles Davis but for the Afro-American community in general. Davis, under contract to Prestige, had the agreement that he could record for Columbia and get albums released once his Prestige contract expired. (The first Columbia release would be the Quintet’s 1957 album ‘Round About Midnight) To fulfill his obligations, Davis and Prestige label boss Bob Weinstock agreed to get it over with and record a couple of spontaneous cuts. The sessions of May 11 & October 26, 1956 led to the release of Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’ and Steamin’. Great blowing sessions that showcased the exceptional abilities of everyone involved.

Although an easy way out, Bob Weinstock did took care of structuring the hodgepodge of tunes into a logical order of tracks. He included studio chatter, which was symbolic of the loose atmosphere. (the usage of the two short ‘Themes’, a common jazz practice to start and finish live performance sets, also contribute to that atmosphere) It’s impossible to subdue a smile when Miles Davis announces Trane’s Blues with his gruff, raspy voice. Davis and Coltrane have different ways of dealing with the blues. I feel that Coltrane’s confidence in this tune overshadows the tentative steps of Davis. Nevertheless, Davis’ blend of stacked blue notes and deadpan off-center turns is intriguing.

Davis had recorded Four for the first time two years earlier. It was released on the 10-inch Miles Davis Quartet (Prestige, 1954) and the 12-inch Blue Haze. (Prestige, 1956) The solo on that version is the one people have been crazy about ever since, and small wonder! (Listen Here) Miles Davis is also in very good form on the Workin’-version. Coltrane blows tough tenor, eschewing fast flurries of notes in favor of a more relaxed approach, undoubtly under the influence of Davis. Davis re-visits another tune, Half Nelson. It was initially recorded in 1947 under the guidance of Charlie Parker by the Miles Davis All Stars on a 78rpm Savoy single. (and subsequently under Charlie Parker’s name) The group suavely and swinging flies through the infectious uptempo bop tune.

Ahmad’s Blues – a tune by pianist Ahmad Jamal, who was a big influence on Davis at the time – is a showcase for the rhythm trio. Red Garland stretches out ebulliently on the 32-bar blues with his singular long lines and innovative block chord playing. Miles Davis was enamoured of the tune of another pianist, Dave Brubeck, and seized the opportunity to record In Your Own Sweet Way. Davis initially recorded the tune in March 1956. (Collector’s Items, Prestige) Brubeck recorded it in April, a month after Davis, a solo take on Brubeck Plays Brubeck (Columbia 1956) and a live quartet version appeared on Jay & Kay And Dave Brubeck At Newport. (Columbia 1956) Davis recorded the Workin’-version on May 11. He favored a minor mood over Brubeck’s classical approach and delivered an introspective, smoothly flowing take.

Of the sessions that were released as the Workin’/Relaxin’/Steamin’/Cookin’-albums Miles Davis coolly said: ‘We just came in a blew.’ That’s watertight. It wouldn’t be too much to add, however, that Miles Davis came in and blew in fresh, unique fashion.

Trane, Lee & Helen

Lee and Helen Morgan

It seems that nowadays every three months or so a jazz movie is released. What’s happening? Must be something in the Kentucky Bourbon. First Whiplash, then Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead, Robert Budreau’s Chet Baker movie Born To Be Blue, and documentaries on both John Coltrane and Lee Morgan. For decades we had to make do with Bertrand Tavernier’s ‘Round Midnight (starring Dexter Gordon, who’s largely responsible for making it the best jazz movie ever) and Clint Eastwood’s Bird, now jazz pictures roll off the assembly line like chocolate letters during Santa Claus season.

Lots of talking heads crowd the Coltrane biopic, John Scheinfeld’s Chasing Trane, including the former saxophone colossus of the White House, Bill “Slightly Drawling Behind The Beat” Clinton:

Chasing Trane

A lot of unreleased studio photography and footage seems to appear in Kasper Collin’s I Called Him Morgan, tickling the senses of hard bop aficionados around the globe:

I Called Him Morgan

To this day, the story of how Lee Morgan took a slug at Slugs’ from his common-law wife Helen in 1972 has remained a dramatic, horrible and hyper-real slice of classic jazz history. Let’s go back to a revealing, detailed account from drummer Billy Hart in his interview with Ethan Iverson of 2006. (The interview itself is one of many truly fascinating, long Iverson interviews on his Do The Math blog) Scroll to about three/fourths of the page:

Billy Hart about the death of Lee Morgan

Below are listed three albums from the Flophouse vault: Coltrane and Morgan’s sole cooperation on wax, Blue Train (Blue Note 1577, 1957); Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder (Blue Note/United Artists 84157, 1972-75, France); Coltrane Time (Solid State 7013, 1970; previously issued on United Artists in 1963 and as Cecil Taylor’s Hard Driving Jazz (United Artists, 1959)

Red Garland - High Pressure

Red Garland High Pressure (Prestige 1957/62)

The Red Garland sessions of November 15 and December 13, 1957 spawned a number of Prestige releases. Initially, only All Mornin’ Long was released. Soul Junction came out in 1963 and High Pressure a year earlier, in 1962. High Pressure is a top-notch blowing session, memorable for Red Garland’s influential piano playing and our understanding of the rapid, exciting evolution of John Coltrane.

Red Garland - High Pressure

Personnel

Red Garland (piano), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Donald Byrd (trumpet), George Joyner (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on November 15 and December 13, 1957 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as PRLP 7209 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Soft Winds
Solitude
Side B:
Undecided
What Is There To Say
Two Bass Hit


At the time, Red Garland and John Coltrane were colleagues in Miles Davis’ group, which included Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers. It was Davis’ first great quintet that recorded the landmark hardbop albums Miles, Workin’, Cookin’, Relaxin’ and Steamin’. These albums were scheduled to let Davis fullfill his contract with Prestige, whereafter the group could record Davis’ Columbia album ‘Round About Midnight. Red Garland was fired by Davis, who alledgedly had enough of Garland’s narcotics abuse and erratic behavior, but Garland returned for the session of Milestones. There was a musical conflict during the recording of Straight, No Chaser and Garland walked out for good.

Soft Winds, taken at a brisk medium tempo, is essential Red Garland. Garland’s solo is a sumptuous blend of bop and blues, distinctive for Garland’s trademark block chord technique and extended, imaginative right hand lines. Never a dull moment in a five minute solo, of which the groove that Garland sustains through locked-hands playing on the three minute mark is especially enticing. Coltrane fires off phrases that attack the mind like lightning bolts hit a roof top antennae. His famous (and back then, infamous) ‘sheets of sound’ are backed powerfully by five note bombs of Garland and Art Taylor. Donald Byrd contributes a nicely contrasting, buoyant bit. The band trades fours before returning to the robustly swinging theme.

Of the two ballads Solitude and What is There To Say, Solitude stands out. The tempo remains slow throughout this rendition, double timing is avoided. It is the hardest way to play a ballad and, arguably, the greatest way. One has to show what he’s got, naked, no trickery. The band does a badass job, both interactively and solo-wise.

Garland stays close to the swing feeling of Robin & Shavers’ 1938 tune Undecided while adorning it with intricate, rollicking phrases. The group blasts through it like a quintet of Joint Strike Fighters.

Two Bass Hit, the Gillespie/Lewis composition, is also the opposite of lame, including a fiery opening (the theme is stated by the trio only) and contributions from the soloists that are evidence of mutual understanding and suggest that there was a relaxed studio atmosphere.

Two and a half months later, Two Bass Hit was recorded for the beforementioned Columbia album of Miles Davis, Milestones. That band (including Cannonball Adderley alongside a no less imposing, more subdued and structured Coltrane) delivers a crispy, coherent and slightly amended take. In which, lest we forget, the wayward leader didn’t contribute a solo.

The association of Red Garland with Miles Davis ended on a sour note. However, sessions like High Pressure make abundantly clear why Davis wanted to play with Garland in the first place.

YouTube: Soft Winds

John Coltrane - Lush Life

John Coltrane Lush Life (Prestige 1957/58/1961)

When Prestige released the mid ‘57/early ’58 sessions that comprise Lush Life in 1961, John Coltrane, ever the restless seeker, had already moved into very different directions. But that doesn’t take anything away from the great material contained within these sides.

John Coltrane - Lush Life

Personnel

John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Donald Byrd (trumpet B1), Red Garland (piano B1-2), Earl May (bass A1-3), Art Taylor A1-3), Paul Chambers (bass B1-2), Louis Hayes (drums B1), Albert Heath (B2)

Recorded

on May 31 & August 16, 1957 and January 10, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7188

Track listing

Side A:
Like Someone In Love
I Love You
Trane’s Slo Blues
Side B:
Lush Life
I Hear A Rhapsody


Coltrane had gained recognition and notoriety with his second stint with the Miles Davis Quintet and the recordings of Giant Steps and My Favorite Things on Atlantic. Prestige, eager to capitalise on Coltrane’s fame, released a string of LP’s up to 1965 containing material from the vaults. (Other tracks of the May/August ’57 and January ’58-sessions were released on Coltrane and The Last Trane) At the time of the Lush Life-sessions, people were still catching their breath after Coltrane’s tenures with Miles Davis (the first tenure) and Thelonious Monk, and after the recording of the classic hard bop album Blue Train.

Regardless of Lush Life’s haphazard nature, it includes a number of interesting and exciting moments, as one might expect from someone of Coltrane’s calibre. A great moment is the way Coltrane imaginatively deals with the straightforward chord sequence of Trane’s Slow Blues, wringing notes out of his tenor the way wrestlers tend to do with each other’s torso. Art Taylor’s insistent beat and Earl May’s big-sounding bass constitute a perfect vehicle for Coltrane’s forceful style. Included as well is a spirited stop-time section.

The other two trio tunes on side A lack dynamic rhythm work and Earl May’s bass sounds a bit muddy. But Coltrane turns Like Someone In Love inside out, utilizing melodic inversions (opening the tune with the bridge, in true bebop fashion, is just the starter) and cluster bombs of notes typical of early Coltrane. Furthermore, I Love You is a tale with beautiful lines and firmly placed blue notes. There wasn’t a particular artistic strategy to leave out the piano for this date, as Joe Goldberg states in the liner notes. The reality was prosaic: the piano player didn’t show up. The absentee probably was either Red Garland or Mal Waldron, frequent early Coltrane collaborators.

Red Garland is part of the other session, which resulted in a haunting rendition of Lush Life, in which the rhythm section of Paul Chambers and Louis Hayes responds well to Coltrane’s changes of mood, and a hard-swinging version of I Hear A Rhapsody. Young lion Donald Byrd, Coltrane’s sideman on this session, feels at home in the charged atmosphere of the reworked standard and his phrases have a floating quality not unlike the trumpeter that influenced many of the modern young trumpeters, Fats Navarro.

Prestige didn’t have the decency to consult Coltrane in the matters of organising a record release. However, as both a longtime Coltrane fan and vinyl freak, I’m glad those ‘crumbs’ of Coltrane saw the light of day in 1961. I’m not disputing the merit of listening to remastered jazz albums on that tiny, horrible absurdity they call the compact disc. Moreover, vinyl re-issues are pleasant commodities. But the vintage vinyl experience is priceless. The chills and feelings of surprise aroused by the crackling mono LP sounds of Trane’s Slow Blues still reverberate after all these years. Imagine what groundbreaking cuts like My Favorite Things (from My Favorite Things) and Dahomey’s Dance (from Ole) do to one’s nervous system. I guess you can.

blakeybigband-cover-1600-2

Art Blakey Big Band (Bethlehem 1958)

A big band record from Art Blakey – drummer and bandleader who upped the ante for small jazz combo’s from the mid-fifties onwards – might’ve looked like an unorthodox move in 1957. But Blakey possessed a lot of big band experience, having played in the groups of Fletcher Henderson, Lucky Millinder and Billy Eckstine in the fourties. The Eckstine band was particularly renowned as a playground for the future bebop innovators, among them Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and Fats Navarro. What Big Band lacks in the subtlety of arrangements is duly compensated by Blakey’s spirited delivery and the prescence of trumpeter Donald Byrd and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.

blakeybigband-cover-1600-2

Personnel

Donald Byrd (trumpet), Idrees Sulieman (trumpet A1, A2, B1–B4), Bill Hardman (trumpet A1, A2, B1–B4), Ray Copeland (trumpet A1, A2, B1-B4), Melba Liston (trombone A1, A2, B1-B4), Frank Rehak (trombone A1, A2, B1-B4), Jimmy Cleveland (A1, A2, B1-B4), Sahib Shihab (tenor saxophone A1, A2, B1-B4), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Al Cohn (tenor saxophone A1, A2, B1-B4), Bill Slapin (baritone saxophone A1, A2, B1-B4), Walter Bishop (piano), Wendel Marshall (bass), Art Blakey (drums)

Recorded

December 1957 in NYC

Released

as Bethlehem BCP 6023

Track listing

Side A:
Midriff
Ain’t Life Grand
Tippin’
Pristine
Side B:
El Toro Valiente
The Kiss Of No Return
Last Date
The Outer World


Big Band represents the end of a string of recordings on different labels before Blakey turned in the iconic Moanin’ and came home at Blue Note headquarters for his second fruitful period. 1957 was the most productive recording period in Blakey’s career, ending on an impressive figure of eleven releases. (and we’re not even counting a session for Cadet – Tough! – which was released in 1966 and this album, which was released a couple of months later in 1958)

Big Band is an intriguing album. A diversity of players have room to solo or turn in a couple of short bits, which keeps the listener on its toes. Chief among that batch of sidemen are John Coltrane and Donald Byrd. Byrd delivers one song – Tippin’ – and a string of uplifting statements. Then there’s ‘Trane. For one thing, Coltrane has seldom recorded with Art Blakey. They played on Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Music and Johnny Griffin’s A Blowing Session, both in 1957. Therefore, Big Band is an interesting record for Coltrane and/or Blakey-geeks. You might as well count me in.

It wasn’t only a rarity to hear Blakey in a big band context, for Coltrane it also represented a step into new ‘recording’ territory. He tackles it with characteristic confidence and passion. His soaring solo in opening tune Midriff, overflowing with ideas and an abundance of double time scales, grabs you by the throat. It’s a reminder of the ever-developing late fifties Coltrane, creating a stir, controversy and boundless admiration, all brewing in one big steaming pot of stew. Just as Donald Byrd, Coltrane turns in a composition for quintet. Pristine resembles Moment’s Notice from Coltrane’s classic album Blue Train; the first two notes are identical and the chord structure partly runs along the same lines. A peculiar incident? Presumably not. Blue Train was recorded in the same period as Big Band, on September 15, 1957, to be precise. Big Band was recorded approximately eight weeks later. Pristine isn’t as forceful as Moment’s Notice, but it’s a fine composition and performance.

Pristine and Tippin’ are two quintet tunes, yet don’t sound out of place between big band festivities. They sound grand as well. On the whole, Blakey employs the same dexterous method for either big band of small combo playing. He’s more involved with a shifting of accents than changing his style entirely. Midriff kicks ass, Basie-style. Blakey introduces certain tunes with the drummer’s typical rumble and spurs on his crew with fatter-than-fat rolls or a well placed cymbal crash. A number of compositions include heavy breaks, sometimes combined with short, stabbing horn arrangements. It worked on side A’s Ain’t Life Grand, but being repeated on El Toro Valiente as well as The Outer World, that game becomes a bit repetitious. Those relatively crude arrangements represent the least exciting side of Big Band.

Blakey’s sidemen Donald Byrd, Frank Rehak and arranger Melba Liston expressed their joy of playing with Blakey in a big band context and would’ve liked to see the inimitable drummer and bandleader continue these procedures. So what was Art Blakey’s view on the subject? Adamant, and down-to-earth as usual, he expressed himself as follows:

“In small combo work, you’re free, you get to play. In a big band, nobody has freedom. And the drummer has to stay right with the rhythm section; he can’t leave. There are kicks though if you have the time to build a big band. The guys have to grow together. What makes a good big band drummer? Aside from keeping time, all you can do is try to interpret the arrangements and fill in the holes.”

Thus, it was impropable that a future in big band drumming would materialize. Indeed, it didn’t. We’re just glad to make do with Big Band, with Blakey filling in the holes in his incomparable manner, adroitly, furiously.