Webster Young For Lady (Prestige 1957)

Webster Young found the right touch of melancholy and heartburn on his tribute record to Billie Holiday, For Lady.

Webster Young - For Lady


Webster Young (cornet), Paul Quinichette (tenor saxophone), Joe Puma (guitar), Mal Waldron (piano), Earl May (bass), Ed Thigpen (drums)


on June 14, 1957 at Rudy van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey


as PLP 7106 in 1957

Track listing

Side A:
The Lady
God Bless The Child
Moanin’ Low
Side B:
Good Morning Heartache
Don’t Explain
Strange Fruit

Never heard of Columbia, South Carolina until I read that it is the birthplace of trumpeter Webster Young. He was born there in 1932 but raised in Washington D.C., more familiar jazz terrain, not a major historical jazz center, though the fact that it, besides Leo Parker, Buck Hill, Charlie Rouse, Ira Sullivan and Billy Hart spawned Duke Ellington is significant. New York City is the quintessential modern jazz hub and that is where Young traveled to in the mid-1950’s and hooked up with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean.

Most jazz fans likely discovered the under-recorded Young on the Prestige All-Stars record Interplay For Two Trumpets And Two Tenors, which is routinely sectioned under the name of tenor giant John Coltrane. He’s heard on four records by McLean in 1957/58, among those A Long Drink Of The Blues. While hot shots like Lee Morgan were defining the hard bop field, Young preferred the understated lyricism of Miles Davis, in particular the period of 1954, when Davis recorded Walkin for Prestige and Bag’s Groove for Blue Note. Young’s indebtedness to Davis is furthermore revealed by his composition House Of Davis, featured on Ray Draper’s Tuba Sounds. Moreover, 1961 recordings by Young in St. Louis were released as Plays The Miles Davis Songbook in 1981.

From Columbia, Washington, army band stint with Hampton Hawes, his arrival and recording activity in NYC to For Lady, the story is relatively clear. Thereafter, Young disappeared from the scene. But in 1992, the trumpeter surprisingly found himself on a bill in The Netherlands, touring with fellow unsung trumpet hero Louis Smith and the Rein de Graaff Trio featuring bassist Koos Serierse and drummer Eric Ineke as part of De Graaff’s acclaimed Bop Courses, which included such diverse legends and unsung heroes as Johnny Griffin, Dave Pike, Red Holloway and Marcus Belgrave. De Graaff (on the phone) explains: “The way that I understood, Young left New York because it was such a mess. Back then a big part of New York was very criminal and infested with narcotics. Young was afraid that his life would spiral out of control because of drugs.”

“It all started a year before the gigs in Holland when I was in the US. Trumpeter Tom Kirkpatrick gave me a hint of Young’s wherabouts in Washington D.C. He had moved to Washington because he wanted to earn a living to support the study of his son. Tom told me that Webster was still playing. We met and worked out an understanding for the performances in The Netherlands. He was fragile but played really well and was flabbergasted by all the attention. Fans approached him with LP’s and his music came out of the speakers in clubs, which blew his mind. Unlike Smith, who together with his wife was culturally savvy, Young was overwhelmed by some of our castles and fortresses. He really was like, what is this!”

“At the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, Young started to play When Lights Are Low on his own. That was like hearing Miles Davis in 1954. You could hear a pin drop.”

Young’s excellent playing is confirmed by Eddy Determeyer in JazzNU’s issue of April 1992: “Snow white, tiny and suffering from arthritis, Young focuses on the middle register, a terrain filled with honey notes, soft and warm like lover’s embraces. His timing is challenging and Young fills his choruses with fresh melodies.”

(Left: Rein de Graaff, Louis Smith, Webster Young and Eric Ineke, 1992)

For Lady suggests the same pin-dropping power that is referred to by De Graaff. Unlike the bop and hard bop blowing sessions that made up the Prestige catalogue, Young’s sole album as a leader is subdued and moody. Young’s got a great feel for Billie Holiday’s world-weary drama and his performance on For Lady is at similarly stately and blues-drenched. His delivery is at once mournful and defiant. Two of Young’s colleagues are entitled to present a tribute to Lady Day: tenor saxophonist Paul “Vice-Prez” Quinichette and pianist Mal Waldron, both Holiday alumni on stage and in the studio. As a matter of fact, Waldron was Holiday’s accompanist at the time of this recording and would remain so till her death in 1959. Waldron’s own tribute to Holiday, 1959’s Left Alone, is a nice companion piece to For Lady.

Singing the blues is Young’s business and bop is by and large left at the gate. Understatement is key and his tone (on cornet here and incidentally the French cornet that he borrowed from Miles Davis) has the innocence of a young man that’s startin’ out of the gate of big city life, simultaneously vulnerable and assertive. It’s a pleasant mix and one, if you come to think of it, not at all so easily to attain and follow through.

Although Young sounds a bit wobbly on Moanin’ Low, his conception fits God Bless The Child, Strange Fruit, Good Morning Heartache, Don’t Explain and the Young original The Lady like a glove. The inviting opening tune of The Lady is a catchy melody and features typically quirky phrases by Waldron and full-toned, deft contributions by guitarist Joe Puma. Throughout, the smooth and smoky sax of Quinichette effectively turns up the heat a notch after Young’s plaintive stories.

Strange Fruit is a test of sorts. Light swing does not do justice to this story of a lynching, neither does overstated drama, as Nina Simone unfortunately proved much later on. The band’s elegiac treatment is spot on, foreboding drum figures – ‘executioner’s drums’ as liner notes writer Ira Gitler aptly calls it – gradually heighten the tension of Young’s stately homage to Holiday’s natural emotive power. Middle ground is Young’s terrain and he skirts the borders of blues and sophistication very nicely, thank you.

Benny Bailey Nathan Davis Mal Waldron Soul Eyes: Live At The Domicile (SABA 1968)

Superb congregation of expats opens new club in Münich, Germany.

Benny Bailey - Soul Eyes


Benny Bailey (trumpet), Nathan Davis (tenor saxophone, flute), Mal Waldron (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass), Makaya Ntshoko (drums), Charly Campbell (conga)


on January 11, 1968 at The Domicile, Münich


as SABA 15 158 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Soul Eyes
Side B:
Ruts, Grooves, Graves And Dimensions
Mid-Evil Dance

Late 90’s, the funky and avant-leaning Zaal 100 in Amsterdam’s Spaarndammerbuurt. This very cool and happy black old-timer was playing the trumpet. Lovely jam and bright, punchy trumpet playing. Little did I know, a young student who was into blues, sixties, alt-pop and about five years into discovering the giants of jazz and Hammond groovers, that this Benny Bailey, born Earnest Harold Bailey in Cleveland, Ohio in 1925, was one of the jazz realm’s many unsung heroes. He lived just around the corner.

About a year later, in 1999, I saw pianist Mal Waldron perform at the original Bimhuis. The band also consisted of soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, trombonist Roswell Rudd and bassist Reggie Workman. I have forgotten who held the drum chair. Waldron had traveled northbound from his hometown of Brussels, Belgium. He seemed an intriguing cat that I knew from his feature on the Five Spot records of Eric Dolphy and collaborations with John Coltrane. (One of numerous pop tunes that I co-wrote in those days with my buddy from The Jeffersons sparked the line “put the B-side on / Coltrane & Waldron count from five till dawn” – sheer genius that prompted the sum total of sixteen vestal virgins that visited our show in Porgy & Bess to henceforth pronounce Mal’s surname as ‘Waldrawn’)

At the Bimhuis, Waldron was in his late career ‘minimal’ phase, playing very softly and sparingly. I loved it. Contrary to an obviously inebriated guy in the audience, who shouted from the balcony into that typically deep and concrete pit, “Wake up, Mal!”. Which rather pissed me off. Quite ‘pissed’ as well, I poured a beer down his neck.

Turned into a rather nasty situation.

These cats were long-standing expatriates. As I would come to learn, Europe had been crowded with Americans particularly since the ‘50s. Ben Webster, Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, Rhoda Scott, Johnny Griffin, Steve Lacy, Horace Parlan, Idrees Sulieman, Sahib Shihab, Betty Carter, Art Farmer, among others. Nice big band that would make. Everybody agrees that Europe is where the gigs and serious appreciation were, and less virulent and pervasive racism. However, some eventually returned homesick, while some were not able to shake off a certain feeling of alienation, such as Johnny Griffin, who says in drummer Art Taylor’s book of interviews Notes And Tones:

“It’s all a mess. I’m here in Europe because it’s a little lighter on me than it is in America. But it’s the same thing. You don’t have forty million black have-nots over here like you have in America. But you have them here, because I see them sweeping the streets of Paris and Holland. It’s the black man’s ass up in the air. He’s stooping down picking up the dirt everywhere. The main thing is I’m here because I did something wrong on my planet. I’m not really from this planet. I did something wrong on my planet and they sent me here to pay my dues. I figure pretty soon my dues should be paid, and they’re going to call me back home so I can rest in peace.”

It wasn’t all fun and games, that’s for sure.

How would Benny Bailey and Mal Waldron and Nathan Davis (expat) have felt on the evening of January 11, 1968 at The Domicile in Münich, Germany? Pretty good, considering the generous rounds of applause and hurrays on the live album Soul Eyes: Live At The Domicile, released on the collectable SABA label that same year, a couple of months before Martin Luther King was assassinated and students revolted in Paris. These Scarlati’s, Grieg’s and Dowland’s of America’s original art form were honored, as the announcer brings to the fore, to present the first-ever concert at The Domicile, assisted by bassist Jimmy Woode (expat), conga drummer Charly Campbell and drummer Makaya Ntshoko. Refugee from the Land of the Rising Sun?

Nothing wrong with this gig. Prompt is a hard Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers-type cooker. Waldron’s Soul Eyes (a standard ever since John Coltrane’s version in 1962) is hardly unforgettable but properly Latinized. Ruts, Grooves, Graves And Dimensions and Mid-Evil Dance (contestants for greatest jazz tune titles of 1968) fall in the category “Coltrane drone” or Mingus/Dolphy coop, hefty and energetic grooves. The crystal clear and buoyant trumpet of Bailey is smoothly embedded in the differing textures, Davis is lightly turbulent on tenor and his flute playing commands attention. High-quality suspenseful cats.

Waldron underlines their parts teasingly and firmly and his ratatouille of dense chords and tumbling licks and lines hints at his near-future excursions into free jazz territory: mid-career maximalism. His repetitive blasts on the lower keys of Ruts, Grooves, Graves And Dimensions are especially hallucinating. Best to enjoy the boisterous Waldron in small doses? Perhaps. Powerful vaccine, minor side effects.

Luminous aside: engineer Max Bolleman reflects on the playing of Mal Waldron in his memoirs I’m The Beat. Waldron was sound checking in Bolleman’s Studio 44 in 1990, participating in Barney Wilen’s French Story album. Bolleman said that the Steinway, which usually sounded crystal clear, suddenly sounded like a honky-tonk piano, as if the snares had broken. Bolleman says: “I stood for a while beside Mal, scratching my head. But when Mal lay down some chords, I immediately realized what the issue was. Mal Waldron’s touch is pretty rough, almost rigid, which explained the sound of the piano. A pianist can make or break the sound of the piano, which I had learned from ten years of recording experience. I had to deal with Mal’s touch.”

Nothing honky-tonky here. Instead, a lively live performance of top-rate Americans-in-Europe.

Benny Bailey passed away in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 2005, Nathan Davis in 2018 in Palm Beach, Florida and Mal Waldron in 2002 in Brussels, Belgium.

Mal Waldron Impressions (New Jazz 1959)

Mal Waldron is like a calf breaking loose in springtime. Jumping the fence!

The Mal Waldron Trio - Impressions


Mal Waldron (piano), Addison Farmer (bass), Albert Heath (drums)


on March 20, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey


as NJ-8242 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
Les Champs-Elyseés
C’est Formidable
Side B:
You Stepped Out Of A Dream
All The Way
All About Us
With A Song In My Heart

You can count on Mal. In 1956/57, Mal Waldron was the house pianist of Prestige Records, partaking in a string of sessions with John Coltrane, Gene Ammons, Kenny Burrell, Jackie McLean and The Prestige All-Stars. The New York City-born Waldron (1925) also was responsible for a steady supply of tunes. There seemed no end to the slight inventions on blues-based material and the chords sequences of the American Songbook by Waldron, who gave the world song titles as Anatomy and Vodka. Waldron’s best-known composition is Soul Eyes, written for Coltrane in 1957 and an instant standard. Waldron furthermore accompanied Billie Holiday during the last phase of her life.

He also worked with Eric Dolphy, which is documented on 1961’s At The Five Spot Vol. 1 & 2 and Memorial Album. A remarkable cooperation, climaxing with Waldron’s The Quest, also from 1961, bull’s eye, rocket ship whirling around Jupiter, knockout punch, crackerjack classic must-hear. So already, while working in the mainstream, Waldron’s adventurous urge had become evident. He delved avant-garde territory for the biggest part of his career. I have to confess that I’m not really familiar with Waldron’s subsequent career, excepting the odd records, which were unable to hold my attention. There will be readers of the opposite persuasion, avant-garde fans that find early Mal Waldron less charming and important, and that’s fine. Throughout, Waldron maintained a special rapport with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, beginning in 1958 with Lacy’s New Jazz album Reflections, an outstanding program of music by Thelonious Monk.

I did see Mal Waldron perform at the latter stage of his life at Bimhuis, Amsterdam, in cooperation with Lacy, trombonist Roswell Rudd and bassist Reggie Workman. (I have forgotten who held the drum chair) Waldron played an intriguing minimal style at that point of his career. Some guy in the audience, most likely inebriated, apparently was not enamored by Waldron’s minimalism and shouted: “Wake up, Mal!” Bad. Very bad and insulting. I threw my beer into his neck. It was quite an ugly scene.

That was 1999. And partying like it was 1999. Back to March 20, 1959, the last few months in the home studio of Rudy van Gelder at Hackensack, New Jersey. Waldron working out in a trio setting with bassist Addison Farmer – brother of Art Farmer – and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath. Waldron’s swing is quirky, his style angular and uncompromising. I never met anyone who cited Waldron as his favorite pianist. Perhaps understandably, Waldron is quite a willful fellow, opening the slide doors of the saloon, cigar in corner of mouth, hat tilted dangerously to the left, brooding… Creeping under your skin. But delivering the goods and definitely good at heart. Mal Waldron is a tattoo’d health care worker.

Waldron turns Hackensack into Paris – Les Champs-Elyseés, a frivolous melody seguing into bursts of notes that alternate between stubborn repetition and speeded-up percussive dives into Monk-land. Perhaps Waldron visits Brussels as well, where Waldron migrated to in the late 60s – C’est Formidable, a lovely waltz. He takes a weekend trip to Italy – Ciao – and eventually travels back to the USA with You Stepped Out Of A Dream, All The Way, With A Song In My Heart and All About Us, an original composition with a lovely loping tempo by Waldron’s wife, Elaine. Waldron’s extremely slow, darkly romantic take of You Stepped Out Of A Dream is juxtaposed with the fast and loud version of All The Way, with its booming and ringing chords, phrases hammered like bolts in a concrete wall.

Ciao is even more relentless, a Ferrari driving at top speed. Waldron’s preoccupation with repetitive motives is maddening, confusing but strangely satisfying, held in suspension by his constant variation of touch, his clipped left hand chords and underlying bass lines, going on and on, for about 5 minutes. It’s an attack and Rome most definitely is conquered. If anything, it might be defined as rock & roll jazz.

Mal Waldron died in 2002.

Gene Ammons Angel Eyes (Prestige 1965)

Tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons was incarcerated on drugs charges from 1958-1960 and 1962-1969. As record companies often did when one of their leading artists was absent, Prestige released a series of albums throughout the sixties to keep the musician in the picture. Angel Eyes, culled from two earlier sessions, is such an album. Arguably because of the circumstances, it lacks a consistent feel and at times sounds run-of-the-mill.

Gene Ammons Angel Eyes


Gene Ammons (tenor saxophone), Frank Wess (tenor saxophone, flute A1, A2, B1, B2), Mal Waldron (piano A3, B3), Johnny “Hammond” Smith (organ A1, A2, B1, B2), Wendell Marshall (bass, A3, B3), Doug Watkins (bass A1, A2, B1, B2), Ed Thigpen (drums A3, B3), Art Taylor (drums A1, A2, B1, B2)


on June 17, 1960 and September 5, 1962


as PR 7369

Track listing

Side A:
Gettin’ Around
Blue Room
You Go To My Head
Side B:
Angel Eyes
Water Jug
It’s The Talk Of The Town

At these particular sessions from 1960 and 1962, a wild bunch of seven musicians earned their day’s pay. Among them is Frank Wess, whose flute arrangements seem out of place and whose considerable talents have been put to better use in Prestige’s catalogue.

Tenor great Gene Ammons is central to proceedings that almost offer a retrospective to the swing era, a feeling sufficiently enhanced by organ player Johnny ‘Hammond’ Smith, whose playing might be modern here and there, but whose open registered organ sound dates back to the days when Jimmy Smith was just a highschool kid.

High point on this album is the ballad artistry of Ammons, who lends his own particular flavor to the style of such luminaries as Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. That slow, lenghty workout on Angel eyes and smoky stuff on the two non-organ cuts from 1962’s session just might make you forget the leaky faucet of fate, if just for a while.