Sal Nistico


In the early sixties the line-up of The Herd, Woody Herman’s big band that had spawned such groundbreaking editions as the First Herd with Bill Harris, Pete Candoli and Flip Philips and The Second Herd with the famous Four Brothers section of Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, Serge Chaloff and Stan Getz, was one of the most exciting to date. It included trumpeter Bill Chase, trombonist Phil Wilson and drummer Jake Hanna. As well as a thickset fellow from Italian ancestry who regularly jumped off the blocks to deliver a hot explosive story. That was Sal Nistico.

See some of Nistico’s lively playing on The Herd’s rendition of Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie on YouTube here.

Nistico was an outstanding straightforward tenor saxophonist who was born in Syracuse, New York on April 2, 1941. He played in the Jazz Brothers band of Chuck and Gap Mangione from 1959 to 1961 and came into prominence in the big band of Woody Herman. He was part of The Herd from 1962 to 1965 and would have regular stints with the bandleader throughout his career. Nistico also played and recorded with Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Curtis Fuller, Dusko Goykovich, Stan Tracey and Chet Baker, spending a big part of his career in Europe.

Fiery in the big band context, Nistico had no shortage of fire as a leader of small group dates, yet leaned towards a more balanced, bop-oriented approach, most likely the environment he enjoyed most. With his strong tone, fluency and slightly-behind-the-beat timing, Nistico fronted straight ahead groups on records with Nat Adderley, Barry Harris, Benny Bailey, Roy Haynes, Frank Strazzeri and Hod ‘O Brien.

From left to right: Heavyweights, Jazzland 1962; Neo/Nistico, Beehive 1978; Hod ‘O Brien & Sal Nistico, Live In The Netherlands, Porgy & Bess, Terneuzen 1986, HodStef Music 2017

Nistico sheds a light on his approach and feelings about modern jazz in a conversation with English saxophonist Tubby Hayes that was published in Cresendo Magazine’s Anglo-American Exchange in 1966 by Les Tompkins. See here.

Tubby Hayes: “there seem to be a lot of younger musicians here (in New York, FM) who are trying to be different for the sake of being different, without actually knowing the roots.”

Sal Nistico: “It’s like — I talked to Coltrane. He used to dig Arnette Cobb, Illinois Jacquet. Those guys have a firm foundation for what they’re doing. A lot of cats put down bebop, and they say it’s old and it’s dated, but that music’s not easy — it’s a challenge to play.”

Nistico was married to singer Rachel Gould. One of five children, their daughter Miriam – theatre maker and musician – shares memories of her background and artistic goals here.

She says: “Sal (…) looked like a gladiator, with a stocky Southern Italian physique, thick curly black hair and a crumpled forehead. People judge books by their covers and most people assumed that Sal was a man with a thick skin, a tough guy. In fact, as is so often the case, he was incredibly sensitive. He had a child’s hatred of cruelty and injustice (…) and he struggled with the machismo and bravado of men on tour.”

Sal Nistico passed away on March 3, 1991 in Bern, Switzerland.

Ted Curson - Fire Down Below

Ted Curson Fire Down Below (Prestige 1963)

Ted Curson revealed himself as a breathtaking interpreter of rarely performed standards on his second album as a leader in 1963, Fire Down Below.

Ted Curson - Fire Down Below


Ted Curson (trumpet), Ronnie Matthews (piano), George Tucker (bass), Roy Haynes (drums), Montego Joe (congas)


on December 10, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as PRLP 7263 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
Fire Down Below
The Very Young
Baby Has Gone Bye Bye
Side B:
Show Me
Falling In Love With Love
Only Forever

Interesting species, the type that switches smoothly from mainstream to avant surroundings. Perhaps because the type realizes that avant is a hollow shell without a link to the roots? Trumpeter Ted Curson felt comfortable in both spheres. Curson, who was born in Philadelphia in 1935, matured during the period when hard bop was developed from bop, blues and gospel. In 1955, Miles Davis stimulated Curson to move to New York City. Curson, a thoroughly schooled modern jazz player, played with avant-gardist Cecil Taylor around the turn of the decade, appearing on Taylor’s 1959 album Love For Sale.

In 1960, Curson joined the group of Charles Mingus. He appeared on four Mingus albums: Mingus, Mingus Revisited, Mingus At Antibes and Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus. A lot of Mingus. Well, Mingus could never be accused of austerity. The experience of Curson of playing with Mingus and sharing the frontline with Eric Dolphy left an indelible impression. After the passing of Dolphy – the reed and woodwind giant died of a diabetic seizure in Berlin on June 29, 1964 – Curson wrote Tears For Dolphy, a beautiful melody and Curson’s masterwork. A big part of Curson’s career was spent in Europe to much acclaim. He passed away in 2012.

The title of Curson’s Atlantic album from 1963, The New Thing & The Blue Thing, speaks volumes about his jazz personality. Preceding it, Curson debuted with Plenty Of Horn on the Old Town label in 1958. The follow-up, Fire Down Below, is the LP that begs to be added to the ever-growing mainstream jazz collector’s record cabinet. Curson is assisted by pianist Gildo Mahones, bassist George Tucker, drummer Roy Haynes and percussionist Montego Joe. It is testimony to the enormous wealth of standards that Curson could pick a whole set of rarely performed songs, excluding the well-known Hart/Rodgers composition Falling In Love With Love. Of the lesser-known tunes, Fire Down Below, The Very Young and My Baby Has Gone Bye Bye are gems of the first order.

The Carribean rhythm of Lee/Washington’s Fire Down Below is sustained throughout, eschewing a 4/4 release, which is hypnotizing, you feel the splendid exotic groove in your body, soul, toes. And your ass will be wiggling before you know it! Haynes draws on his Afro-Bop legacy from the late 40s, Gildo Mahones chimes in with a lively, percussive story that pretty much comes natural, considering his upbringing by parents of Puerto-Rican descent. Montego Joe had roots in Jamaica. Curson sounds pretty Carribean too.

Little/Sacker’s The Very Young is a beautiful blues ballad. Curson plays it like a song, holding notes like he’s telling it like it is, the feeling is overwhelming and his tart sound elevates it to a bittersweet symphony. Perfect pitch, the duality of bended notes that refer to both the moan of the country blues performer and the yowl of the country singer, plus the striking clear lines Curson sustains, complete the architecture of this brilliant performance. Clearness of line and orderly placing of phrases also mark the mid-tempo Allen/Roberts tune Baby Has Gone Bye Bye. Trumpet as good as it gets, like someone breathing, without effort, no strain. Curson’s heart is big and soft and beckoning for everyone to come and dance, rejoice, and praying for his people to overcome, overcome. Cherish the album that runs a mere 31 minutes with three such performances. Length of time is not the essence!

Roy Haynes - Cracklin'

Roy Haynes Cracklin’ (New Jazz 1963)

Cracklin’ is as good a title as any for an album by drummer Roy Haynes, also known as ‘Snap Crackle’.

Roy Haynes - Cracklin'


Roy Haynes (drums), Booker Ervin (tenor saxophone), Ronnie Matthews (piano), Larry Ridley (bass)


on April 6, 1963 at Rudy van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as NJLP 8286 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
Sketch Of Melba
Side B:
Under Paris Skies
Bad News Blues

You can’t miss Snap Crackle. Let us pick a ‘few’ groundbreaking and/or iconic albums on which the currently 93-year old drummer appeared: Bud Powell’s The Amazing Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins’s The Sound Of Sonny, Thelonious Monk’s Thelonious In Action and Misterioso, Eric Dolphy’s Outward Bound and Out There, Oliver Nelson’s Straight Ahead and Blues And The Abstract Truth, Andrew Hill’s Black Fire, John Coltrane’s Impressions and Newport ’63 and Jackie McLean’s Destination Out. This series spans fifteen years (1949-63) of the seven decades in which Haynes has been active.

Haynes was part of Charlie Parker’s regular group from 1949 till 1952. A different time and place. Flyin’ with Bird, The One, in angst-ridden post-war USA, which saw The Russians marching. Uncle Sam, great Allied Force that had liberated Europe, had at the same time dropped The Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing thousands of innocent yellow-ish fellow human beings, and back home kept the black ‘citizen’ locked up in a cage. Astonishingly, lynchings were still not completely extinct below the Mason-Dixie line. Black men and women had to sit in the back of the bus. Job discrimination was commonplace, as were lower salaries. The elites feared a loss of the status quo and protected their privileges to the bitter end. Some said it was fear for and jealousy of abandon and sex that troubled them. That’s the old and worn paternalistic view that implies the only thing the black man and woman stand out with is swing. Instead, the elite felt discomfort with life as hollow men. The hollow man looks in the mirror and sees The Other, a free spirit! And suddenly is scared shitless.

Against the odds, Bird and his musical buddies, ibis birds, storm petrels and nightingales like Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, rare birds indeed, preached Beauty, Communion, Understanding, Empathy, through the unique art of spontaneous improvisation. They were musical masters with the kind of intuitive intellect that stuck a finger in the bloody wound of racism and said ‘Dear Lady, how do you do?’. Moreover, they were on a daring enterprise that the average American still knows nothing of. That’s probably because in the ensuing years, TV send him up to the couch, where he could watch Johnny Carson hide the miserable truths about life on the other side of the track. Was it any better in Europe? Yes, for a while Europe was keener in its appreciation of the (black) jazz message. And it takes better care of its professionals – white or black – that immerse themselves in the art of improvisation. But here too, few see the whole picture, here too Starbucks has won over more fans than Charlie Shavers. Rather silly. A flat cup of coffee may still give you a buzz. But jazz feeds the soul: it stimulates independence and interaction. One has to be his own man/woman and at the same time listen closely to the other. The most democratic of arts that crosses racial, age and gender boundaries and is not about division but inclusion and unity!

So Haynes flew business class with Bird and, stimulated by the innovations of Kenny Clarke, strayed away from the 4/4 beat on the hi-hat, going for a ‘ride’ cymbal accompaniment in sync with the Parker/Gillespie-intervals, with hectic life under the White Umbrella. (Parker, obviously, never hectic or nervous, instead revealing remarkable clarity and order at outrageous tempos) They acted upon their growing sense of melodic swing, Haynes creating many intriguing drum patterns particularly, a package that is or should be a benchmark for aspiring drummers to this day. As a logical consequence of his authority, Haynes recorded prolifically as a leader. His first album, Busman’s Holiday, was released in 1954 on Emarcy. His 1960 album on Impulse, Out Of The Afternoon, featuring Roland Kirk, Tommy Flanagan and Henry Grimes, is a perennial favorite of jazz fans around the globe. The sizzle and responsiveness of his playing on the 1968 Chick Corea classic, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, is so beautiful it, well, is liable to bring tears. Late in life, Haynes made not one but two Grammy-winning albums: Fountain Of Youth (2004) and Whereas (2006).

Cracklin’ was released on New Jazz in 1963. It featured tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin, pianist Ronnie Matthews and bassist Larry Ridley. The date of the session is April 6, 1963. It is interesting to note that in that period, Haynes played with John Coltrane on the Newport Jazz Festival, on July 7 to be precise. While Cracklin’ smoothly stears along the coasts of hard bop, post bop and modal jazz, Haynes was cookin’ on another planet with Coltrane, replacing Elvin Jones, who was out for a snack on Alphabet Street. Both sessions rely on the Haynes specialty of snare rolls, Newport ’63 more heavily, spirited and sharp as a tack, an interesting change of vibe in contrast with the broader scope of Elvin Jones.

The Haynes snare is a superhero, Cracklin’ the blockbuster movie. In the winter, the drummer uses up the firecrackers of the stock that was left from New Year’s Eve and on summer camp Haynes is the leader that produces a light from stone and wood. From the word go, the light sets Scoochie in motion, a composition by Booker Ervin. Ervin thrives on the hard swing of Haynes. Haynes responds to the growing fire of “Book”, dancing through it like a dervish. Booker Ervin is a stimulating presence on any session, Cracklin’ is no exception. Generally, Ervin has been compared with John Coltrane. This doesn’t make much sense. There are shades of Coltrane in Ervin, but Ervin’s style, albeit thoroughly modern and obviously not without a certain amount of harmonic prowess, is less complex and has an emotional directness that reminds us of the Tough Tenors from Texas. Ervin was born in Denison, Texas in 1935. His indelible blues wail lands in your gut like a saucy and hefty kidney stew.

Then there’s pianist Ronnie Matthews, adding nimble lines that parade through downtown Dorian like supple jumping horses. Dorian is a tune by Matthews. It might refer to a lady, it might refer to a scale, either way it makes use of a ‘Trane-ish drone kept up vigorously by Haynes. Haynes also makes something special of the lovely melody by Hubert Gireaud, Under Paris Skies. His beat behind the piano solo of Matthews is ‘jungle’ at its most sizzling and groovy. His breaks on one of the album’s blues tunes, Ronnie Matthews’s Honeydew, are the drum equivalent of the soul shout ‘sock it to me!’

The message is loud and clear.

Jackie McLean - Destination Out!

Jackie McLean Destination… Out! (Blue Note 1963)

Nowadays, in a download, post-LP and virtually post-CD world, the order of album tracks has become devoid of meaning. Toying with eternal ‘favorite’ playlists is cool. but track order was an important factor defining the succes and artistry of an album. Clearly, what would’ve made stand-out alto saxophonist Jackie McLean’s progressive album Destination… Out! more significant than it already is, is a reversal of the opening tune, the telling, macabre mood piece Love And Hate, with the album’s up-tempo winner Esoteric.

Jackie McLean - Destination Out!


Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Grachan Monchur III (trombone), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Larry Ridley (bass), Roy Haynes (drums)


on September 20, 1963 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NYC


as BLP 4165 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
Love And Hate
Side B:
Kahlil The Prophet
Riff Raff

Esoteric is an intriguing piece that pushes the group to put its best foot forward. With the bulk of it consisting of short, stabbing breaks, solo space included, the group balances on a tight rope. Only experienced, smart and original cats are able to pull off such a thing and this group succeeds convincingly. Jackie McLean incorporates piercing, passionate hard-bop phrases into a characteristic modal structure.

Veteran and innovative drum legend Roy Haynes, who dates back to the era of Charlie Parker and was well-versed in swing as well as avantgarde, and who played on a staggering number of high-profile recordings, responds well to the ‘new thing’ trombonist and composer of three tunes out of four, Grachan Monchur III sets up. Haynes (nicknamed ‘Snap Crackle’) fervently includes a wealth of his trademark crisp snare rolls and demonstrates his mastery of the cymbal.

After writing as prolifically as Monchur III did during that period, it was inevitable that the trombonist found himself amidst avantgarde royalty and was given the chance to record as a leader. Monchur III’s Evolution, with both Jackie McLean and Bobby Hutcherson in tow, was recorded two months after Destination… Out! and is nowadays regarded as a royal achievement in its own right. His improvisations on the trombone on McLean’s album are uncommingly swift.

If the title of Esoteric gives you a clue to what kind of feeling this group likes to convey, McLean’s sole original Khalil The Prophet decidedly puts a lid on that puzzle. Although I, personally, regard writer and thinker Khalil Gibran, of which McLean apparantly, as well as millions of others, has been under the spell of, as a charlatan spouting nothing but quite infantile, easily digestible, pseudo-wise clichés, (what we Dutch commonly say, ‘selling fried air’) the result of that particular inspiration, I gladly admit, is pleasantly ethereal. The group sound, a peculiar and original mix of instrumentation, is lithe, conveying a buzz in the head of the listener on par with the joy of spring or lover’s goosebumps, whichever direction your senses’ antennae are pointing at.

The direction Jackie McLean took in the early sixties – mixing hard bop with modality – placed him squarely in the front line department of Blue Note as one of the major forces behind that label’s much admired stretch of hip-to-the-tip releases.