Julius Watkins Sextet Vol. 2

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

Personnel

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)

Recorded

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

Released

as BLP 5053 in 1954 and BLP 5064 in 1955

Track listing

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


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.

Johnny Griffin - Change Of Pace

Johnny Griffin Change Of Pace (Riverside 1961)

The Little Giant broadened his horizon on Riverside Records.

 

Johnny Griffin - Change Of Pace

Personnel

Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Julius Watkins (French horn), Larry Gales & Bill Lee (bass), Ben Riley (drums)

Recorded

on February 7 & 16, 1961 in New York City

Released

as RLP 368 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Soft And Furry
In The Still Of The Night
The Last Of The Fat Pants
Same To You
Connie’s Bounce
Side B:
Situation
Nocturne
Why Not?
As We All Know


As far as unity of vision, style, sound and sleeve design is concerned, Blue Note of course is the max. But Riverside had tastes of her own as well. Regardless of occasional complaints of vinyl pressings by monophiles and stereophiles, Riverside’s value as a front-line jazz label, largely due to founder Orrin Keepnews, is widely acknowledged. Take the case of Johnny Griffin. The bop and hard bop tenor saxophonist traveled from Argo and Blue Note to Riverside, for which he recorded a series of diverse albums between 1958 and ’63. Part of those were as co-leader on subsidiary Jazzland with his hard-blowing tenor colleague Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.

So, on the one hand, Griffin swung straightforward and hard, occasionally with “Jaws”, and on the other hand explored his fascinations in agreement with Keepnews, who was already a concept-minded boss. Keepnews had started Riverside as a company of traditional jazz compilations, provided history of jazz narratives on wax and let Thelonious Monk debut on his label with repertory of Duke Ellington – controversial and surprising move dividing Monk geeks to this day. Griffin’s records were top-notch. The folk song hodgepodge of The Kerry Dancers and gospel-drenched The Big Soul Band are considered Griffin classics. Studio Jazz Party is a hot little date – here Keepnews repeated the idea of recording artists in the studio in the presence of a small live audience, which had proved extremely successful in the case of The Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s In San Francisco in 1959.

Change Of Pace is another odd man out. Tasteful dish. Safe to say, like a refined bouillabaisse from Marseille. The recipe consists of Griffin’s tenor saxophone, Julius Watkins’s French horn, Larry Gales and Bill Lee’s upright basses and Ben Riley’s drums. (Gales and Riley played on Griffin/Lockjaw Davis records and would eventually become the rhythm section of Thelonious Monk from 1964-67) Pretty unusual ingredients that flavor Change Of Pace’s refreshing and sophisticated repertoire. Excepting Cole Porter’s In The Still Of The Night, which flows gracefully in spite of its breakneck speed, the excellent songwriting is on account of Griffin, while Watkins, Bill Lee (film director Spike Lee’s father) and Consuela Lee (no relation!) each provided one tune.

The absence of piano makes the music breathe with peppermint breath. The combination of arco and bowed bass fills in harmonic gaps equally effective as Watkins’s soft-hued alternate lines behind Griffin’s supple and strong tenor. As a rule, Griffin is fiery, playing as if he devoured a couple of red hot chili peppers. But here he has found a particularly strong balance between bop and lyricism, exemplified very well by Soft And Furry, a remarkably tender song and irresistible Griffin classic. The restrained and fluent approach of prime French horn player Julius Watkins, who was rivalled only by David Amram in the 50s, reveals a true master at work. At once bossy and vulnerable, Watkins plays as if he’s constantly serenading his lover.

The sound palette of Change Of Pace is curiously enchanting and mesmerizing. A warm bath. Fulfilling, akin to the feeling you have when letting yourself fall down on a hotel bed after a long walk in a strange and beautiful city. It sounds as hip and modern today as it did in 1961.

Curtis Fuller and Hampton Hawes

Curtis Fuller And Hampton Hawes With French Horns (Status 1964)

Credited to trombonist Curtis Fuller and pianist Hampton Hawes, With French Horns really hasn’t a definite leader. It shouldn’t bother anyone. In fact, the French horn pioneers Julius Watkins and David Amram play an important and equally fulfilling role as Fuller, Hawes and altoist Sahib Shihab, not only delivering first-rate solo’s but also adding a unique texture to the group’s harmony.

Curtis Fuller and Hampton Hawes

Personnel

Curtis Fuller (trombone), Sahib Shihab (alto saxophone), Julius Watkins (French horn), David Amram (French horn), Hampton Hawes (piano A1-3, B2, B3), Teddy Charles (piano B1), Addison Farmer (bass), Jerry Segal (drums)

Recorded

on May 18, 1957 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as ST 8305 in 1964

Track listing

Side A:
Ronnie’s Tune
Roc And Troll
A-Drift
Side B:
Lyriste
Five Spot
No Crooks


If something like it exists, the session is a ‘prepared’ blowing session, the result of a studio afternoon of relaxed but carefully crafted, intelligent and bluesy playing. (Teddy Charles’s Lyriste is the elegiac, moody exception on the rule) It was recorded as part of the 1957 16inch record Baritones And French Horns, which credited Watkins and Amram as leaders, but was re-released in 1964 by Status, a subsidiary label of Prestige. By then, Fuller and Hawes were better known than Watkins and Amram, which, marketing-wise, explains their co-leadership on this album. (The A-side consisted of a Pepper Adams date including John Coltrane. It was reissued, for obvious but not necessarily honorable reasons, under Coltrane’s name as Dakar in 1963)

All members contribute equally concise statements. Bookended by tasteful, sometimes witty themes, they craft fine-tuned vignettes, remarkably devoid of clichés. Amram’s Five Spot is the most frivolous theme, sure to engender a smile from any kid in the crib, yet very intricate under the surface; a total of a suave, langurous blues line, interpersed with clever, descending and quirky, multi-note alto lines and short-note, claxon-type figures divided between all horns. Even drummer Jerry Segal joins the harmonic party with a snappy snare roll contribution. A question and answer extravaganza which Amram wrote as the outro-theme for a gig he’d had at the legendary Five Spot Café at 5 Cooper Square in the Bowery, NYC.

There are wonderful Sahib Shihab moments, like the elegantly constructed story in Ronnie’s Tune. Shihab, a Parker-influenced player with a distinctive, slight vibrato and alluring, sing-songy lines, also proves to be a master of the entrance; the wail that slowly rises in volume in Ronnie’s Tune and the forward and backward flips of Five Spot are delightful. Hampton Hawes contributes a flawless blend of sparse, well-placed blue notes and interval-filled, fluent bop runs.

From the trombonists that emerged in the slipstream of modern jazz trombone pioneer J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller was one of the major talents in 1957 and already a very sought-after player. He would appear on Coltrane’s instant classic Blue Train a few months later, on September 15. Fuller’s swift double-timing on both Roc & Troll and Five Spot is one aspect of his indisputable craftsmanship.

Watkins is the relatively more outgoing player who delights in edgy little bursts of pleasure; Amram a more cerebral hornist who favors the middle register. Considering the difficulty in adapting French horn to jazz surroundings, both men play exceptionally fluid French horn. Watkins was much in demand, appearing regularly on a variety of labels, notably on Thelonious Monk’s 1954 Prestige recording Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins. Watkins’ debut as a leader on Blue Note in 1955, The Julius Watkins Sextet, is an immaculate cooperation with Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Frank Foster and Hank Mobley. Honestly, I’m less enamoured of The Jazz Modes, the Watkins/Charlie Rouse outfit which recorded for Dawn and Atlantic from 1956 to ’59, which has always sounded too formal to me. David Amram recorded with Kenny Dorham as early as 1953, among others, and developed into a more classical-oriented composer in the early sixties. Composing and conducting has been his much admired trade ever since.

The soft-hued, silky yet husky sound, occasionally sweet-sour as if flavoured with drops of citrus and a tad of cane sugar, is a great asset of Curtis Fuller And Hampton Hawes With French Horns. An intriguing date which deserves wider attention.