The short-lived cookin’ outfit of Bill Jennings and Leo Parker was recorded for posterity on Billy In The Lion’s Den.
Bill Jennings (guitar), Leo Parker (baritone saxophone), Andy Johnson (piano), Joe Williams (bass), George De Hart (drums)
on July 6 & 7, 1954
as King 395-527 in 1957
Billy In The Lion’s Den
Sweet And Lovely
There Will Never Be Another You
Just You Just Me
Down To Earth
What’ll I do
Fine And Dandy
On the roundabout of black music, which gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, soul and jazz jointly traversed like a group of dedicated cyclists, Bill Jennings went the extra mile. He’s the kind of player that makes you realize that all Afro-American musical outings have essentially sprung from the same well. Jennings was born in Indianapolis, birthplace of his famous counterpart Wes Montgomery, where the brimming Indiana Avenue in the 1940’s was a major source of the chitlin’ circuit of black bars and clubs. He played “rhythm and blues”, “swing”, “jump blues” and “bop” with equal zest. Jennings played guitar in the band of r&b-pioneer Louis Jordan and was featured on Little Willie John’s big hit Fever. Furthermore, Jennings cooperated with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Willis Jackson and organists Wild Bill Davis, Bill Doggett and Brother Jack McDuff and in the process influenced blues giant B.B. King.
A left-handed player that played his guitar upside down, the angular and solid style of Jennings is rather special. It blends well with the booming baritone saxophone of Leo Parker, with whom Jennings formed a group in 1954. Parker was a monster bop player who shared the legendary frontline of Billy Eckstine’s band with Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. He played with Dizzy Gillespie, Wardell Gray, Illinois Jacquet and Fats Navarro. Unfortunately, Parker suffered from the typical bop disease – use of narcotics – and died from a heart attack in 1962, right after he made his excellent comeback records on Blue Note, Let Me Tell You About It and Rollin’ With Leo, which more or less constitute Parker’s claim to fame. A great and influential bop bari man.
Billy In The Lion’s Den was released by King Records, Sid Nathan’s label from Cincinnati, Ohio, essential “chitlin’” or “roundabout” company. The wide variety of artists on the roster of King and subsidiary Federal included Bill Doggett, Little Willie John, Hank Ballard, Tiny Bradshaw, Earl Bostic, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, The Ink Spots, Wynonie Harris, Freddie King, Hank Marr, Champion Jack Dupree and Swan’s Silvertone Singers. Notably, it launched the career of the Godfather of Funk, James Brown.
Readymade for the jukebox market, the record features short tunes of repertoire that was familiar to the general listener like Stuffy, Just You Just Me, Fine And Dandy and There Will Never Be Another You. The alluring blend of Jennings’s country blues-feeling and Parker’s hard-edged bop motives runs through a variety of rhythm and blues-drenched compositions. The catchy line of Wild Bill Davis’s Picadilly Circus and fiery cooker Get Hot are particularly notable. The record climaxes with Duke Ellington’s Solitude, Parker’s husky sound and booming delivery a reflection of bari pioneer Harry Carney’s epic versions in the Ellington band.
Jennings’ stretch on Planet Earth eclipsed Parker’s by more than a decade. He passed away in 1978 at the age of 59.
Listen to the album on YouTube here starting with Picadilly Circus.