Serge Chaloff - Blue Serge

Serge Chaloff Blue Serge (Capitol 1956)

A year after the passing of Charlie Parker, the influential bop baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff delivered his best album, Blue Serge.

Serge Chaloff - Blue Serge

Personnel

Serge Chaloff (baritone saxophone), Sonny Clark (piano), Leroy Vinegar (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on March 14 & 16, 1956 at Capitol Studio, Los Angeles

Released

as T-742 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
A Handful Of Stars
The Goof And I
Thanks For The Memory
All The Things You Are
Side B:
I’ve Got The World On A String
Susie’s Blues
Stairway To The Stars
How About You?


Parker’s redefinitions of the jazz language represented nothing less than an earthquake and certainly also bedazzled Serge Chaloff, who was born in Boston in 1923 from parents who were music teachers, with father Julius serving as pianist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Chaloff, who passed away in 1957, came up through the groups of Boyd Raeburn, Woody Herman (as part of the acclaimed Four Brothers reed section of the Second Herd), Georgie Auld, Jimmy Dorsey and Count Basie. His other influence beside Parker was baritone sax pioneer Harry Carney, longtime member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Both influences shine through on Blue Serge, Chaloff’s album that’s appropriately named after Duke Ellington’s composition, with a nod to the very blue Serge. The influences are incorporated into Chaloff’s remarkably fecund style, a style that locks tight with the alert, cookin’ Philly Joe Jones, the big-toned Leroy Vinegar, all-round bass class act and particularly exquisite as a ‘walker’, and Sonny Clark, master of long, horn-like lines and varied rhythmic placement.

Hi-level company: Jones on the brink of his defining role in the First Great Quintet of Miles Davis, embryonic vistas of Cool Struttin’ in the background of Clark’s mind, no other horn except baritone, Chaloff pulling it off as a distinct voice and stylist with graceful fluidity on the baritone saxophone, a feat that speaks volumes about the man’s authority. Chaloff’s sinuous, propulsive lines dance through a set of fast bop, ballads and medium tempo swingers on familiar changes. He’s a captivating balladeer that speaks to a lover both with sweet, breathy whispers and husky, sardonic, slightly vibrating comments on the one hand, a virtuoso who travels with deceptive ease through fast-paced burners on the other hand.

And whether it’s the loping tempo of A Handful Of Stars or the quicksilver pace of Al Cohn’s The Goof And I, instead of being led by it, Chaloff directs the flow of the quartet. Blue Serge is such an excellent session because that conductive quality is a talent that Chaloff shares with Clark, both possessing acute melodic rhythm and effortless flow. The mark of great players, particularly coming to the fore in receptive surroundings, and a mark we perhaps most of the time grasp intuitively, then finding it a marvel.

Chaloff was a major innovator on the baritone saxophone, paving the way for Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams and modern-day greats like Gary Smulyan, but his reputation is hampered by a concise discography, the direct result of the man’s addiction to drugs and the resulting struggles of maintaining proper work relations. Allegedly, Charlie Parker advised his disciples time and again to stay away from the stuff, most of the time to no avail, certainly in the case of Chaloff, a notorious user and rebel rouser. How tragic that, once Chaloff kicked the habit in 1957, having returned to his native city of Boston, he was diagnosed with spinal cancer and passed away on July 16. Regardless, Chaloff left us a magnificent piece of bari playing that is still fresh after all these years.

Clark Terry - Serenade To A Bus Seat

Clark Terry Serenade To A Bus Seat (Riverside 1957)

Clark Terry, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 95, was an authority with a discography of epic proportions. In 1957, already a veteran of swing who had mentored rising stars like Miles Davis in the 40s, the trumpeter made a superb hard bop album with Johnny Griffin, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, the Riverside label’s Serenade To A Bus Seat.

Clark Terry - Serenade To A Bus Seat

Personnel

Clark Terry (trumpet), Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on April 27, 1957 at Reeves Sound Studio, New York

Released

as RLP 12-237 in 1957

Track listing

Side A:
Donna Lee
Boardwalk
Boomerang
Digits
Side B:
Serenade To A Bus Seat
Stardust
Cruising
That Old Black Magic


Before turning into an internationally renowned figure through his seat in the orchestra of NBC’s The Tonight Show in the 60s, his vocal hit Mumbles, lauded appearances around the globe and a distinguished position as youth educator and (co-)founder of Jazz Mobile and the Clark Terry Jazz Festivals for the rest of his life, Terry already had a timelessness about him that is striking. He encompassed the best traits of the past while being in sync with the conception of the modernists, using his technical brilliance and vast knowledge of what one can achieve with the trumpet to the telling of meaningful stories. Not a term usually associated with the abundant Terry, he actually set a limit to himself in this regard, displaying effects and humor when it was called for by Duke Ellington for a certain compositional story to tell, or when he expressed his feelings as a sideman (Oscar Peterson Trio + One is an outrageous ball, but a structured and hi-level festivity) and leading artist, mostly feelings of distinct joy.

His long stint in the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 50s was preceded by years with Count Basie in the 40s, and Terry was a featured, singular soloist in both classic bands. Nice resume. In fact, in 1957 Terry had just left Ellington, with a number of classic recordings in his hip pocket, notably Ellington Uptown, Such Sweet Thunder and At Newport. His tenure with Riverside was interesting. Serenade, his debut as a leader on Riverside, was preceded by a feature on Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners in 1956. It was followed by Duke With A Difference in July ’57, a gem of an album, featuring mates from the Duke Ellington band including Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves and Billy Strayhorn and, as the title suggests ironically, without Duke Ellington. He would add a couple more guest roles on Riverside such as Jimmy Heath’s Really Big and Johnny Griffin’s White Gardenia, but the most notable album is his own 1958 album In Orbit with Thelonious Monk, which is the only album including Monk as a sideman and set the standard of the use of flugelhorn in jazz.

The late Orrin Keepnews, label boss of Riverside together with Bill Grauer, looked back on a number of favorite releases a number of years ago, as can be seen on YouTube here. Serenade, Clark Terry’s second foray in small ensemble jazz after EmArcy’s Swahili, was among them, representing a masterstroke of bringing together Terry with the small ensemble hot shots of the day: “I always refer to Terry as Mr. Pulled Together. He is so tremendously talented, a nice guy, and he had that big band discipline in his life. (…) It was a very relaxed, and therefore, creative atmosphere. If you bring together musicians who have in a sense been rehearsing for years by playing with each other at lots of opportunities, that’s a very good way to get around that problem (of short rehearsing time)…”.

With a distinctive tone like Terry’s, brassy, virile, tart and full-ringing, consisting of a festive, good-humored quality, the equilibrium between calling-the-children-home and chasing-the-kids-away neatly in check, contrast with the other horn is assured. In comes Johnny Griffin, maybe not such a fast gun as one always assumes, fast, yes, but on this session intent on subtle conversations. Their ensembles sparkle, lock tight during uptempo bop tunes like Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee, Terry’s Boomerang and Serenade To A Bus Seat. It would be obvious to assume that the latter’s title alludes to the bus seat Rosa Parks bravely took on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott from Reverend Martin Luther King, a painful yet effective protest that eventually led to desegregation in the state’s public transport system. Clark Terry was from St. Louis, Missouri, where the NAACP protested against segregation in war factory jobs, a case it won through Shelly vs. Kraemer in the US Supreme Court, a feat Terry surely must’ve been conscious of, having been a bandsman in the Navy during WWII. That scenario sees Terry’s jubilant trumpet doing a good job of honoring Ms. Parks, Martin Luther King and the others who’d made the boycott possible. But it’s more prosaic. The liner notes explain that the title refers to the tiresome days Terry spent in the band bus of Basie and Ellington. Still no shortage of hardships along the road in The South though, as far as racism is concerned, lest we forget.

For Griffin and Kelly, Serenade represented their first appearances on the Riverside label.
The typical hard bop set of Serenade benefits from variation in the order of soloing, for instance during Donna Lee, when Griffin takes first cue and Terry follows trading fours with Philly Joe Jones. Not a pedestrian phrase in sight, the session cooks and runs remarkably smooth, courtesy of Griffin, the tasteful Paul Chambers, who had the kind of intuitive bass genius few possessed at that age, Philly Joe Jones (one rarely hears a session involving Philly Joe Jones that isn’t gutsy and fiery!) and Wynton Kelly, whose balanced, hip and barrelhouse-y lines of the title track are a treat. The leader, Clark Terry, enlivens the I-Got-Rhythm-changes of Boomerang with phrases that dance naughtily from mid-to upper register. It’s a virtuosic, happy tale and the originality is enhanced by the delicious, sustained notes in between. Terry stresses the cooperative spirit during the easy-flowing mid-tempo Digits, ad-libbing behind Griffin and calms the stormy weather that Griffin set in motion during Serenade with just a few peaceful stretch of notes, only to regain steam for the finale, getting into the fast lane with a spontaneous wail.

Gutsy calmness also during Stardust, a sign of the exciting style of Terry, diamond in the rough with a heart of gold. He’s a bluesman too, playing poker with notes veering from high to low and back. Boardwalk is the album’s blues line with a New Orleans feel and once again Clark Terry is like honey and mustard seeping through the walls of doom, no stopping it, the redeeming quality of Terry’s blues, a blues perhaps only mildly sardonic, always residing at the forefront. Down by the Riverside, his blues resembles that of his (and everybody’s) great ancestor, Louis Armstrong.

Elmo Hope, Homecoming!

Elmo Hope Homecoming! (Riverside 1961)

Coming home to a group of hi-level colleagues as featured on Elmo Hope’s first Riverside album Homecoming must’ve been a thrill. It certainly is an exciting session of the unique, tragically underrated pianist.

Elmo Hope, Homecoming!

Personnel

Elmo Hope (piano), Blue Mitchell (trumpet A1, A3, B2), Jimmy Heath (tenor saxophone A1, A3, B2), Frank Foster (tenor saxophone A1, A3, B2), Percy Heath (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on June 22 & 29, 1961 at Bell Sound Studio, NYC

Released

as RLP 381 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Moe Jr.
La Berthe
Eyes So Beautiful As Yours
Homecoming
Side B:
One Mo’ Blues
A Kiss For My Love
Imagination


You are Elmo Hope. Born in New York City in 1927. Childhood pal of Bud Powell, spinning records of Johann Sebastian Bach all day long with the future giant of bebop, when soon after Thelonious Monk joins to complete the illustrious, mutually responsive threesome. As a young man, you catch a bullit from a white police officer, (sounds familiar?) in a hideous, disgraceful turn of events being trialed but ultimately released. You marry, have a son, who dies tragically young. Highly talented, working towards identical musical conclusions as Powell, Monk, Parker, yet in your own peculiar way, you miss out on the burgeoning bebop scene when Uncle Sam calls: ooh ooh ooh, you’re in the army now, from 1943 to ‘46. The following Korean War is settled half-heartedly in 1953 when you’re featured on Lou Donaldson/Clifford Brown’s New Faces New Sounds 10inch LP on Blue Note, which benefits from your excellent writing. (you’ll prove to leave a legacy of brillant compositions) You become a leader in your own right, recording the unforgettable albums Informal Jazz (Prestige 1956, with John Coltrane, Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd) and Trio And Quintet (Blue Note 1957, recordings from ’54 to ‘57) but public recognition keeps eluding you.

Then there’s the needle. Has been there all the while. Having lost your cabaret card in New York City, without which a musician is practically unemployed, you move to the West Coast. Its scene doesn’t exactly seems to meet your standards but you nonetheless record the first-class Elmo Hope Trio (HiFi 1959) and partake in a classic session with fellow expat Harold Land and trumpet enigma Dupree Bolton, the unbeatable, stunning The Fox, filled with world-class Hope tunes. It’s back to NYC in 1961, the Homecoming album is not to be sneezed at. Following albums on Riverside bear puzzling titles as High Hope (you mean, like a lot of hope or Hope’s always high or what?) and Hope-Full, a duo album with Hope’s wife Berthe. Perhaps Riverside Riverside hoped (no pun intented) that it would outsell Ella & Louis? There’s Sounds From Rikers Island on Audio Fidelity, an intriguing album including John Gilmore and Philly Joe Jones, ironically, recorded at the jail Hope did time in. You are performing regularly in NYC with, among others, John Ore and Billy Higgins. But it doesn’t seem to happen. Monk (Man, did he have to struggle against the odds) will make the cover of Time Magazine in 1964. You’ve been interviewed by Downbeat Magazine just once during the course of your career. This, somehow, inexplicably, sometimes happens…

The story of Elmo Hope, extraordinary, unique pianist, ended tellingly in 1967, age 43, in a hospital that specialised in addicts. Supposedly very unprofessionally, according to Berthe, as something went wrong and Hope died of pneumonia. Slowly but surely, the wheels of appreciation have been turning in Hope’s favor, slightly lacking behind the other ‘unknown’ piano giant, Herbie Nichols. Much too late, but slowly and surely. It is said Hope’s unpredictable style, focusing on the architecture of the composition instead of virtuosity, prevented broad public recognition. Might be. (the above-mentioned concise life story offers some possible clues) However, Monk was a puzzling personality, yet finally made the grade.

All things considered: a brilliant pianist. In Hope’s playing, an underlying sense of foreboding is almost always there. He’s a nervous type of guy but also light-footed, a bittersweet personality. His touch ruthless or tender, his timing floating like a bottle on the ocean waves, Hope’s unusually structured compositions move with a surprisingly natural flow. Homecoming finds Hope re-united with like-minded firebrands, drummer Philly Joe Jones being the ultimate burner. At the core of the session is the conversation between Philly Joe and the fellows – Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Blue Mitchell, Percy Heath – and Hope in particular, with four tunes consisting of the trio format. The pushing of Jones of Moe Jr.’s hi-speed changes is a treat, the way he tickles the senses of Hope with a playful torrent of rimshots – a melodic answer to Hope’s preceding questions – is the cherry on the top. Hope is close to buddy Bud here, yet as a contrast lets notes hang suspended in the air, alternating the silence with tumbling tremelos.

The trio sends the title track to the stratosphere and Philly Joe Jones drives Hope to the rail. Come on, St. Elmo, be quick, be swift, hurry home, time may await but… Hope responds, so effortlessly stretching lines over the bars, a roaring run in the upper register here, a James P. Johnson-figure with the left hand there. Yes, Philly Joe, I’m almost there… But not quite and (consciously, like Mingus, embracing shift of tempo into the bag of new means of expression?) Hope, Jones and Heath fasten the pace considerably and subsequently end with a luscious sigh. Hope takes care of the coda on his own. Peace, quietude, the road always leads…

Elmo Hope plays lines you were unlikely to come across in 1961. They pry La Berthe’s fascinating melody, which would become messy in the hands of lesser talents, running smoothly somehow via Hope’s singular route from mind to fingers. The tune asks a lot from the horn men and keeps Foster, Heath and Mitchell on their toes. A restrained use of notes by Hope benefits the melancholic Eyes So Beautiful As Yours, definitely Hope’s Crepuscule With Nellie. A somber dedication to his wife, obviously the best thing happening in Hope’s troubled life besides jazz music.

Wynton Kelly - Kelly At Midnite

Wynton Kelly Kelly At Midnite (VeeJay 1960)

When thinking about Wynton Kelly, midnight is not the first allusion that comes to mind. The pianist’s style, however bluesy, predominantly brings about images of sunshine, broad daylight, wafts of salty sea air traveling through the seams of your Hawaiian shirt… But of course, the supple blue noted set of Kelly At Midnite justifies the title. Besides, it’s a perfect hang-up for a great sleeve.

Wynton Kelly - Kelly At Midnite

Personnel

Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on April 27, 1960 in NYC

Released

as VJLP 3011 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Temperance
Weird Lullaby
Side B:
On Stage
Skatin’
Pot Luck


1960, Hard bop in full flight, most of the musicians had embraced the rejuvenated kind of jazz that grew out of bebop, blues and gospel. However, at the same time, it functioned as an umbrella for a startling diversity of styles. Take pianists. The angular, kinetic Elmo Hope, long flowing line-specialist Sonny Clark, gently boppin’ Barry Harris and gospel-drenched, percussive Horace Parlan all blossomed on the same tree. Then there was Wynton Kelly, who possessed a conspicuous, generous bounce and a delicate sense of time, built driving stories with chapters of fragmented blues licks, boppish runs and pungent block chords. Never short on ideas. Above all, Kelly swings, swang, swung abundantly. The pianist is also hailed as one of the greatest accompanists in jazz history, who, said Philly Joe Jones, ‘puts down flowers behind a soloist.’

Jamaica, Marley territory, land of hot breeze, rowdy clubs, shady hoodlums, ganja and tax shelter and probably much more than the stereotypes that yours truly the Flophouse Floor Manager conjures up, birthplace also of Dizzy Reece and Monty Alexander, is where Kelly was born in 1931, yet his family moved to Brooklyn, New York after a few years, which found the talented youngster in the capital of jazz. A look at the career path of Kelly takes your breath away: two extended stints in the Dizzy Gillespie band. Accompanist of Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. Part of the Miles Davis group from 1959 to ’63. An amazing discography as a sideman that includes: Johnny Griffin’s A Blowin’ Session, Sonny Rollins’ Newk’s Time, Dizzy Gillespie’s Birks’ Works, Cannonball Adderley’s Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago, Blue Mitchell’s Big Six, Clark Terry’s Serenade To A Bus Seat, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue (on Freddie Freeloader) and Friday Night At The Blackhawk I & II, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, James Clay & David “Fathead” Newman’s The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces, Hank Mobley’s Soul Station and Workout, Wes Montgomery’s Full House, Cecil Payne’s Zodiac. And so on. During his tenures with Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery in the sixties, Kelly recorded as a leader for VeeJay and Riverside, mostly with the guys he knew (inside out) from those groups, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers.

Kelly never hit big as a leading artist. But history has been kind, as Kelly, who perhaps grew more out of Teddy Wilson and Erroll Garner than Art Tatum and Earl Hines, is seen as a very influential player. Being influential, alas, hardly pays for a mortgage, at least not in those dark jazz ages. By 1967, ultimate sideman Kelly’s career was effectively over. Paradoxically, that year’s album Full View on Milestone is one of his best albums. Kelly passed away in 1971 following an epileptic seizure.

Here, the drum chair is held by Philly Joe Jones. Jones, who before Kelly At Midnite was featured on Kelly’s Riverside album Piano in 1958, supplies the pianist with a trademark dose of fireworks, heat and taste. His drive is matched by Paul Chambers, the young bass master, who also contributes high-level solo’s throughout. On Stage is especially enticing, the uptempo mover crackles, sizzles, boils, with Kelly’s leaping, crisp lines the icing on the cake. A typical hard bop set of blues-based, largely medium-tempo tunes and a sole ballad, Kelly At Midnite is a collection of deceptively simple snappy tales from one of those pianists that has been copied frequently but seldom matched.

Ike Quebec - Blue & Sentimental

Ike Quebec Blue & Sentimental (Blue Note 1961)

Ike Quebec’s resonant, breathy tone, deep as if coming from a velvet cave, is plainly irresistable. It’s in full bloom on Blue & Sentimental, one of Quebec’s 1961 comeback albums on Blue Note, a set of moving ballads and gutsy blues performances.

Ike Quebec - Blue & Sentimental

Personnel

Ike Quebec (tenor saxophone, piano A2, A4), Grant Green (guitar), Sonny Clark (piano B3), Paul Chambers (bass), Sam Jones (bass B3) Philly Joe Jones (drums), Louis Hayes (drums B3)

Recorded

on December 16 & 23, 1961 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4098 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Blue And Sentimental
Minor Impulse
Don’t Take Your Love From Me
Blues For Charlie
Like
Count Every Star


Quebec was a veteran of the swing era who recorded with Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Hot Lips Page, Trummy Young, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway. In the late forties, Quebec recorded for Blue Note while also serving as an arranger and talent scout, stimulating the careers of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell in the process. Both the decline of big bands and the struggle with a drug addiction kept Quebec under the radar in the fifties. At the end of the decade, Alfred Lion issued a series of Ike Quebec singles for the jukebox market, checking out if Quebec would gain audience attention after years of low visibility. The singles were well-received. Subsequently, the albums that Blue Note released in 1961 and ‘62, Heavy Soul, It Might As Well Be Spring, (with organist Freddie Roach) Blue & Sentimental and Bossa Nova Soul Samba (the latter with Kenny Burrell) were good sellers. Easy Living was released posthumously in 1987. Quebec’s comeback was cut short by lung cancer. He passed away in 1963.

Ike Quebec’s style is accesible but not plain, his sound imposing but not theatrical. A lusty mix of elegant phrasing and a tone with a slight vibrato that switches suavely from breathy whispers to solid honks. Ben Webster-ish, containing that same blend of tenderness and hot swing, with a whiff of romance borrowed from Coleman Hawkins. Do you ever put on Blue & Sentimental on a bright sunny morning? Of course not. It’s a full-blooded after-midnight album. Can’t you see yourself sunk into a battered old chesterfield chair with a 10 year-old single malt and Hajenius cigar in hand? Smoke billows upwards to the ceiling. Ponderings of the incompatible natures of Venus and Mars billow upwards to the ceiling as well, as Quebec delivers an achingly romantic version of Don’t Take Your Love From Me. The demons of a grinding working day and a general mood of nausea are driven out by the lithe, jumpin’ blues of Minor Impulse. Can’t you see? Well, I can. Battered Old Chesterfield is my middle name.

As far as ballads go, they rarely come as smoky as Blue & Sentimental. Quebec’s husky tenor carries the tune, with just the right punch to add steam. Guitarist Grant Green, finishing his first – prolific – year at Blue Note headquarters, is a perfect companion to Quebec’s warm-blooded blowing. Just slightly dragging the beat with his fat-toned, sustained Gibson licks and spicy excursions into bluesland, Green’s balladry is delightful. On the faster tunes, Green’s propulsive lines sparkle. Chambers and Philly Joe Jones also comprise an outstanding match with the veteran tenorist. No need to introduce Mr. PC. From his magnificent, allround package, Chambers chooses tasteful, chubby, blues-drenched notes for the ballads and fat-bottomed, lively walkin’ bass lines for the uptempo tunes. Philly Joe Jones provides sensitive and sprightly support, presenting a bonafide Papa Jo Jones beat in Quebec’s original tune, the lurid cooker Like.

The album ends with Count Every Star, a take from the December 23 session including Green, Sonny Clark, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes. Excellent stuff, but one wonders why Alfred Lion thought the inclusion necessary. The CD re-issue (also available on Spotify) reveals a spirited uptempo take of Cole Porter’s That Old Black Magic. Another sparse, piano-less gem that shows the fine rapport between the underrated master of the tenor saxophone and his illustrious supporting crew.

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.

Lou Donaldson - New Faces New Sounds

Lou Donaldson New Faces New Sounds (Blue Note 1954)

Lou Donaldson’s New Faces New Sounds plays a considerable part in the evolution of hard bop, not only for its introduction of future trumpet star Clifford Brown. As journalist Marc “Jazzwax” Myers suggested, something’s going on with Bellarosa, the last track of the Blue Note 10 inch, which was recorded on June 9, 1953.

Lou Donaldson - New Faces New Sounds

Personnel

Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone), Clifford Brown (trumpet), Elmo Hope (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on June 9, 1953 at WOR Studios, New York

Released

as BLP 5030 in 1954

Track listing

Side A:
Carvin’ The Rock
You Go To My Head
De-Dah
Side B:
Brownie Speaks
Cookin’
Bellarosa


Considering hard bop, you can’t get around alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. The Charlie Parker-influenced saxophonist steered jazz into different directions twice during the fifties and sixties. Donaldson is best known by the general public for his commercial output during his second stint with Blue Note in the mid and late sixties, when he recorded a string of soul jazz and jazz funk albums that not altogether met the criteria of jazz snobs but remain popular to this day. Small wonder, because they distilled a juicy, crafty brew out of black contemporary music like boogaloo and James Brown. Although Donaldson’s ‘commercial’ jazz has its occasional superficial moments, I think it has been playing an essential role in keeping jazz lively and fresh for jazz buffs and attractive for newcomers who might otherwise be scared off by the so-called ‘difficult’ art form of jazz.

Earlier on, in the mid-fifties, Lou Donaldson’s intuition for what could give jazz a lift had been spot-on as well. Instead of recording frequently, Donaldson made miles on the chitlin’ circuit, drenching his modern jazz style with r&b, a move that reached out to the urban Afro-American community, coinciding with the remarkably classy taste that community had back then. As soon as Donaldson went back into the studio in 1957, he laid down the bluesy, hard-driving results on albums as Wailing With Lou and Blues Walk, as well as organist Jimmy Smith’s Jimmy Smith Trio + L.D.

The North Carolina-born altoist was part of the second generation of bebop players that followed the footsteps of Parker, Powell, Gillespie and Monk. Donaldson recorded with Monk as early as 1947. He played in the groups of Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver and Blue Mitchell in the early fifties and recorded with Milt Jackson in 1952. Then, on February 21, 1954, Donaldson appeared on the Art Blakey Quintet’s seminal Live At Birdland I & II, including Horace Silver and Clifford Brown.

The key figures of hard bop, or mid/late fifties mainstream jazz are Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Miles Davis. Horace Silver incorporated into modern jazz catchy (but very intricate) tunes imbued with gospel and blues feeling, Art Blakey the big beat on 2/4 and effective fills/bombs as opposed to interval-filled rhythm, (meanwhile introducing a host of young, future jazz stars) and Miles Davis the stress on expression (less is more) and dark-hued colours instead of a speedy flight through astringent changes. As early as the early fifties, Silver experimented with new song structures and Davis’ recording of, for instance, Dig, hinted at things to come. The mid-fifties tunes and albums of this influential threesome, especially Silver’s compositions The Preacher and Doodlin’ (From Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers, February 6, 1955), Art Blakey’s Live At Bohemia-album (November 23, 1955), Miles Davis’ composition Walkin’ (April 29, 1954) and the trumpeter’s work with his first great quintet of 1956 (That quintet consisting of Davis, Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Philly Joe Jones is considered a key figure in itself) are defining moments and pointed the way to a music that, even if it was indebted to bebop, broke out of the straightjacket of its song structures and uptempo rhythm in favor of a mid-tempo, minor-keyed and more urban kind of jazz.

Arguably, the invention of new musical paths (and creative paths in general) is not the outcome of a ‘lightbulb’ or ‘Eureka’ moment by one or another major inventor. It’s more a gelling of spirits, the result of simultaneous experiments by like-minded artists, in this respect also including Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Clark, Cannonball Adderley et al. Hard bop wasn’t a clear-cut blueprint which everybody consciously decided to work with, it was more elusive, kind of like a coloring picture that was continuously reshaped by the distinctive colors of the modern jazz personalities. A few guys brought along the coloring picture, while the rest influenced these inventive few in the process and were essential for bringing about their visions.

Hardly a major stylistic innovator, instead Lou Donaldson is a hard bop frontrunner who colored the picture with the tastes of urban Afro-Americans while retaining the forward motion of bop. New Faces New Sounds, Donaldson’s cooperation with the burgeoning trumpet star Clifford Brown, isn’t a fully grown hard bop album yet. Even if customary breakneck speeds are largely absent, style-wise it’s bebop all the way. The group plays a faithful version of Bird’s Dewey Square and the standard You Go To My Head, is treated by Lou Donaldson the way Charlie Parker plays ballads. Lou Donaldson’s tone differs from Bird’s, it’s silky and has a slight, alluring vibrato. Donaldson’s way of phrasing possesses an attractive, sing-songy quality. A tad of charming nonchalance as well, while the inherent logic stays evident.

The years 1952-54 comprise a fascinating transitional period between bebop and hardbop. Blue Note not only introduced Lou Donaldson and Clifford Brown as ‘new faces’, the label also put a series of other players in the New Faces New Sounds-10-inch-package, such as Kenny Drew, Elmo Hope, Wynton Kelly and Gil Melle. Highly collectable jazz artifacts. New Faces New Sounds marked Clifford Brown’s recording debut, pre-dating an 11 June Prestige 10inch with Tadd Dameron (A Study In Dameronia), a J.J. Johnson date (The Eminent J.J. Johnson I & II, June 22, 1953) and his debut as a leader on August 28, New Star On The Horizon. Already very impressive, Brown was nevertheless yet to make his indelible, iconic mark with the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet in 1955.

Clifford Brown is a perfect match (if Donaldson was inspired by Charlie Parker, Brown’s indebtness to trumpeter Fats Navarro is evident) and delivers a top-notch tune, Brownie Speaks. He shines brightly on Carvin’ The Rock, which also boasts a driving Elmo Hope solo and articulate, probing and explosive drums by Philly Joe Jones.

Marc Myers, contemporary jazz ambassador without peer, conducted an enlightening interview with Lou Donaldson in 2010. I can understand that Myers enthusiastically calls Bellarosa ‘a hard bop anthem if ever there was any’, but which monicker should we then reserve for Horace Silver’s The Preacher, Miles Davis’ Walkin’, Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ or Hank Mobley’s Funk ‘N’ Deep Freeze? Bellarosa, nevertheless, definitely stands out. The tricky theme is taken at a brisk, medium tempo and the tune swings effortlessly. Donaldson’s solo, excepting a customary (excellent) flurry of Parkerisms, holds back on the usual bop embellishments and instead opts for easygoing, slightly-after-the-beat swing. Donaldson’s tale, consisting of a relaxed start, evenly arranged phrases and a long note held in suspension on the bridge is as alluring as they come. Excepting Donaldson’s tone, which is more developed and characteristic in 1953, Bellarosa is reminiscent of Donaldson’s November 19, 1952 take of Horace Silver’s Sweet Juice, which included Silver and Blakey. Sweet Juice reveals the tentative, developing working methods of Silver, while Donaldson’s statements cautiously wheedle their way off the stage of bebop’s theatre.

There’s this tune organist Charles Earland wrote that was dedicated to his former bandleader, Lou-Lou, in 1970. (recorded on Rusty Bryant’s Soul Liberation) And a while ago, the popular Dutch jazz group Bruut! performed their boogaloo tune, Lou, on national tv. Just two examples showing that Lou Donaldson was and still is a hard bop personality with a capital P. Donaldson, just shy of 90 years old and rarely performing these days, himself has been vocal enough in this respect, having repeated his mantra time and again that jazz ain’t nothing without the blues. Sure ‘Nuff! Imagining Donaldson’s shrill, frivolous voice is enough to raise a broad smile on your face.