Dizzy Gillespie - The Greatest Trumpeter Of Them All

The Dizzy Gillespie Octet The Greatest Trumpet Of Them All (Verve 1957)

The Greatest Trumpet Of Them All finds Dizzy Gillespie in hard bop mode, assisted by two great talents of the period, Benny Golson and Gigi Gryce.

Dizzy Gillespie - The Greatest Trumpeter Of Them All

Personnel

Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Benny Golson (tenor saxophone, arrangements), Gigi Gryce (alto saxophone (arrangements), Pee Wee More (baritone saxophone), Henry Coker (trombone), Ray Bryant (piano), Tommy Bryant (bass), Charlie Persip (drums)

Recorded

on December 17, 1957 in New York City

Released

as Verve 8352 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
Blues After Dark
Sea Breeze
Out Of The Past
Shabozz
Side B:
Reminiscing
A Night At Tony’s
Smoke Signals
Just By Myself


Perhaps we should not take the title – Verve’s uninspired effort to attract customers – too badly. To be sure, Dizzy Gillespie once remarked that Clark Terry was the greatest trumpet player he ever heard. By 1957, Gillespie had developed into one of the great ambassadors of jazz, still playing at a level most trumpeters could only dream of, yet behind him were the feats that had such a pervasive influence on America’s most original art form: Gillespie developed the modern jazz language with Charlie Parker, successfully introduced it to a wider audience, demonstrated unprecedented virtuosity on the trumpet (as direct heir to Louis Armstrong) and made a number of stunning, influential recordings with his Afro-Cuban big bands. A feat lesser-known, but not to be ignored, is his effort to sustain a black-owned record company, DeeGee Records, which was into business from 1951 to 1953.

Inevitably, Gillespie brings a smile to your face. His are happy sounds, vivid, playful, phrases that bubble with life, stories that are varnished with gladness, the promise of progress, an outlook that’s striking in a society prone to suppress the potential of his people, intent on sustaining the status quo. Sure he’s got the blues, his bends and slurs and piercing cadenzas evidently spell it out for you. Still, Dizzy Gillespie seems content. Likely, his life-long marriage to Lorraine has contributed to his well-being. But Gillespie may have been satisfied, he wasn’t complacent. His poignant, playful take on politics and discrimination speaks volumes. In 1964, Gillespie ran as an independent candidate for the Presidential Office, planning to rename The White House as The Blues House and appoint, among others, Duke Ellington as Secretary of State, Miles Davis as Director of the C.I.A. and Thelonious Monk as Traveling Ambassador!

Neither did Gillespie let anyone eat his lunch, white or black. In 1941, Gillespie sat in the trumpet chair of Cab Calloway’s band. The two didn’t get along very well, mostly on account of Calloway blaming Gillespie for his mischievous behavior and complex playing style, infamously dubbed ‘Chinese music’ by the famed singer and bandleader. During rehearsal, someone threw a spitball. Calloway blamed the innocent Gillespie, whereupon the trumpeter pulled a knife, a few minor cuts in Calloway’s leg the result. You can call it what you want, I call it messin’ with the kid

The Greatest Trumpet Of Them All was recorded on December 17, 1957. On December 11 and 19, Gillespie recorded with Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins, two sessions of powerful bebop that would be released as Duets in 1958 and Sonny Side Up in 1959, the opposite of the more mellow and restrained The Greatest. That album bears the mark of Golson and Gryce, who contribute Blues After Dark, Out Of The Past and Just By Myself (Golson) and Shabozz, A Night At Tony’s and Smoke Signals (Gryce). It is completed with Sea Breeze, a Latin-ish mood piece reminding us of ‘commercial’ Cal Tjader. Golson and Gryce were upcoming jazz men, swingin’, smokin’, but more soft-hued than Stitt and Rollins, Golson’s tenor velvet-y, the glow of warm marshmellows adding to a vibrant, comforting style, Gryce’s alto not without bite but suave, favoring fluent lines.

Fire and brimstone is not this album’s core business, instead a mellow vibe set by a responsive rhythm section soothes the soul, with Ray Bryant chiming in with rootsy, eloquent piano playing and the arrangements of Golson and Gryce adding tart harmony and precise, soulful stimulation of the soloists. Gillespie sets the pace, alternating between muted and open horn, sometimes even during the course of one tune – the truly unique composition of Benny Golson, Out Of The Past, practically impossible to fuck up, so beautiful and full of innate lyricism… Golson would record it magnificently, by the way, as a leader two days later, on December 19. So while Golson delivered it on the excellent The Modern Touch album, Gillespie was blowing hard with Sonny & Sonny… Gillespie’s playing moves so effortlessly, a marvel still, even if there is nothing to write up as ‘epic’. To be sure, for Gillespie, a driver at Le Mans, intervals are cinches like hairpins for Steve McQueen – check Smoke Signals. He dives into the abyss courageously, like an eagle in a tornado. The slurred exclamation point puts an end to meandering, meaningfully simple sentences…

Not essential, but fine Gillespie, no doubt.

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Drum Suite (Columbia 1957)

Who else than the indomitable Art Blakey was qualified to present an African drum extravaganza? Maybe not so shocking today, Drum Suite was a progressive album in the late fifties.

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Personnel

Art Blakey (drums), Jo Jones (drums A1-3), Charles ‘Specs’ Wright (drums, timpani, gong A1-3), Oscar Pettiford (bass, cello A1-3), Candido & Sabu Martinez (bongo A1-3), Ray Bryant (piano A1-3), Sam Dockery (piano B1-3), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone B1-3), Bill Hardman (trumpet B1-3), Spanky DeBrest (bass B1-3)

Recorded

on June 25, 1956 and February 22, 1957 at Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York

Released

as CL1002 in 1957

Track listing

Side A:
The Sacrifice
Cubano Chant
Oscalypso
Side B:
Nica’s Tempo
D’s Dilemma
Just For Marty


The album is made up of two sessions. Side A consists of exotic, Afro-Cuban rhythms and the flipside is a swell session of Blakey’s working band of the period consisting of alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, trumpeter Bill Hardman, pianist Sam Dockery and bassist Spanky DeBrest. The first part (as well as the classy album cover) suggests that Art Blakey was eager to put Africa back into jazz. Yet, in drummer Art Taylor’s book of interviews Notes And Tones, (Da Capo, 1982) Blakey insisted that he has always felt that ‘our music has nothing to do with Africa. (…) No America, no jazz. (…) African music is entirely different, and the Africans are much more advanced than we are rhythmically, though we’re more advanced harmonically.’ In this view, which perhaps unintentionally ignores the impact of both Afro(-Cuban) rhythm and imported European musical standards on the cradle of jazz, New Orleans, Drum Suite isn’t jazz but African music. Or better said, African music played by American men of jazz. But Blakey would know. The Pittsburgh-born drummer traveled in Africa for almost a year in 1949. By his own account, just listening, not drumming.

Tossing two sessions together on an album was a not uncommon practice in the classic jazz era. It could have a number of reasons. Sometimes, studio time ran out. And occasionally, musicians weren’t available anymore due to other obligations. Companies also might go for the easy way (and/or a fast buck), rounding out albums with sessions from the vault. Such albums usually lack coherence, an encompassing idea. Drum Suite is incoherent. But it’s a high quality affair, so who cares?

Beat happening! The Afro-Cuban tunes, wherein Blakey is assisted by drummers Jo Jones and Charles “Specs” Wright, the bongo’s of Candido and Sabu Martinez, bassist Oscar Pettiford and pianist Ray Bryant, sans horns, get you into the groove, no doubt. The aptly-titled The Sacrifice starts off with an indelible African backwoods chant, slowly but surely developing into a multi-layered rumble of toms, flavored with chubby chords and staccato lines by Ray Bryant. The tom-figure from the opening is repeated at the end. Interestingly, it’s reminiscent of the drum part in Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zaratustra, which was used to such imposing effect in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 science-fiction movie 2001 A Space Odyssee.

Ray Bryant will undoubtly have been thrilled by the re-visit of his original tune Cubano Chant. Initially, Bryant had recorded it in 1956 on the Epic LP Ray Bryant Trio, including, coincidentally, Jo Jones and Candido. The broadened palette of instruments results in a piece of tough swing, highlighting Bryant’s inventive left hand, which generally puts emphasis on the low register and down-home fills that reach back to the era of swing, blues and stride. Staccato, swinging right hand lines weave in and out of Bryant’s left hand bottom. Bryant would revisit the uplifting Cubano Chant a number of times during his career. Finally, Oscar Pettiford’s Oscalypso ends the Afro-Cuban side on a groovy note. But three tunes in, the pounding percussion sounds of the basic calypso riff might start to get up one’s sleeve.

Part of an elite jazz family that brought Afro-Cuban music to the jazz realm, including Duke Ellington, Juan Tizol, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Kenny Dorham, the Drum Suite-section is a convincing, spirited affair, and one of the first percussion-oriented jazz album sides. It’s a February 22, 1957 session. Just a while later, Blakey would expand on his percussion fetish on the Blue Note label, releasing Orgy In Rhythm, a date that was recorded in May and October, 1957, as well as Drums Around The Corner and Holiday For Skins in 1958.

Obviously, despite Blakey’s assesment of his own, ‘American’ style, Blakey’s drumming incorporated some African devices, such as the altering of pitch with the elbow, tangible rim shots, and multiple rolls on the toms: an armoury of effects to stimulate the soloists. Some of these assets, embellishing the signature Blakey style of a propulsive beat and thunderous polyrhythm, are present on the other session of Drum Suite, a date of December 13, 1956. They especially fill Bill Hardman’s fast-paced, swinging tune Just For Marty to the brim. It’s a top-rate session with vigorous blowing by Jackie McLean and a number of jubilant, fluent statements by Bill Hardman, an underestimated player with a delicious, sweet-sour tone.

Before Blakey gained widespread recognition with the Blue Note album Moanin’ in 1958, it was hard to make head or tail out of the drummer’s recording career, as Blakey recorded albums for a varying string of labels, including Vik, Jubilee, Bethlehem, Atlantic and Columbia. Yet, however disparate Blakey’s catalogue of that period between the early classic Jazz Messenger sides on Blue Note and successful comeback on the famous label in 1958 may be, it was of a continuous high level. The singular Drum Suite album is no exception.

Ray Bryant - Lonesome Traveler

Ray Bryant Lonesome Traveler (Cadet 1966)

Jazz is also for dancing and sometimes it prompts me to do just that. Honestly, do you really think I’m cookin’ on another planet when I admit that Ray Bryant got me shufflin’ through the living room like the juke joint customers of lore? You gotta be kiddin’.

Ray Bryant - Lonesome Traveler

Personnel

Ray Bryant (piano), Clark Terry (flugelhorn), Snooky Young (flugelhorn), (Jimmy Rowser (bass A2, A4, B1, B3-5), Richard Davis (bass A1, A3, B2), Freddie Waits (drums)

Recorded

in September 1966 at RCA Studios, NYC

Released

as Cadet 778 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Lonesome Traveler
‘Round Midnight
These Boots Are Made For Walkin’
Willow Weep For Me
Side B:
The Blue Scimitar
Gettin’ Loose
Wild Is The Wind
Cubano Chant
Brother This ‘N’ Sister That


Lonesome Traveler is one of pianist Ray Bryant’s grittiest recordings and his second album on Cadet – the subsidiary of Chicago blues and r&b label Chess. The other ones that fulfill Bryant’s ‘Travel’-concept trio of albums on Cadet are (the equally exciting) Gotta Travel On and (the slightly under par) Slow Freight. By 1966, Bryant, a pianist with a lot of gospel and blues feeling and an uncommonly firm, propulsive left hand had a satisfactory decade to look back upon. Appreciated by colleagues, the Philadelphian had recorded with Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach and Sonny Rollins, among others. Bryant was a noted composer of catchy tunes and a popular leader in his own right. The Madison Time (which went number 30 on the Billboard chart and number 5 on the r&b chart), Little Suzie, Monkey Business and Cubano Chant are well-known Bryant compositions.

Cubano Chant was recorded by Art Blakey and Bryant on Blakey’s album Drum Suite in 1957 and Bryant re-visits it for Lonesome Traveler. It’s one of the examples on the album of the great left hand playing of Bryant, a feature that suggests the influence of the boogiewoogie masters, highly proficient and entertaining. Coupled with a strong and fluent right hand, this album is full of gems, of which the version of Lee Hazlewood’s song These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ (of Nancy Sinatra fame) is absolutely crazy! The combination of Freddie Waits’ backbeat and Richard Davis’ bass (especially the strongly plucked, well-known ascending bass figure) is irresistable. Ray Bryant’s voicings of the theme near the ending are smart and mix well with the flugelhorns, which are added throughout the album for harmony only.

Willow Weep For Me has another fine Bryant solo, an ongoing, virile flow of ideas. Ray Bryant really likes to play. He also doesn’t shy away from transforming Monk’s great ballad ‘Round Midnight into a medium-tempo bossa tune, which builds in tension, swinging ebulliently like Oscar Peterson. Bryant reserves ballad mode for Wild Is The Wind, a tender and intricate winner. Never a one trick pony, Bryant rounds off the album with the down home mover Brother This ‘N’ Sister That. Innate tradition, a bag of blues and exciting modern jazz playing all-in-one.

Bar’s open.