The Cedar Walton Trio featuring Clifford Jordan A Night At Boomers Vol. 1 & 2 (Muse 1973)

Mainstream jazz at its most fluent, refreshing and adventurous. That is A Night At Boomers Vol. 1 & 2 by The Cedar Walton Trio featuring Clifford Jordan.

The Cedar Walton Trio - A Night At Boomers Vol. 1

The Cedar Walton Trio - A Night At Boomers Vol. 2


Cedar Walton (piano), Clifford Jordan (tenor saxophone Vol. 1 A1, A3, B1-4; Vol. 2 A2, B1-3), Sam Jones (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)


on January 4, 1973 at Boomers, New York City


as Muse 5010/5022 in 1974

Track listing

Volume 1
Side A:
Holy Land
This Guy’s In Love With You
Side B:
The Highest Mountain
Down In Brazil
St. Thomas
Bleecker Street Theme
Volume 2
Side A:
Stella By Starlight
All The Way
Side B:
I’ll Remember April
Blue Monk
Bleecker Street Theme

Gary Giddins: “Where is jazz going?”
Cedar Walton: “It’ll go wherever we take it. We’re the masters of it. And wherever my colleagues and I feel like going tomorrow.”

The time is January 4, 1973, the place is Boomers in Greenwich Village, NYC, the club that, by all accounts, overflows with knowledgeable jazz fans. The paranoiac and grumpy Republican, Richard Nixon, is in the Oval Office. The burglaries at the headquarters of the Democratic Party take place in May 1972. Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein sink their teeth into the case. It’s a pressure cooker. The termination of the Vietnam War is long overdue. The number of casualties has been highest among blacks. The army is still segregated. Blacks here, whites there. And here means low in the hierarchy – straight from the assembly line of the Ford factory to the battlefields. Few if any black men wear stripes and play cards in the mess. It’s still, well, a mess.

James Brown is now singing that crack is ruining the hood. The seeds of gangsta rap are sown. White rock is fed to the general public, the corporate smile grows broader and broader by the minute. In jazz, fusion is the big thing, Miles Davis and Weather Report the big names. Living jazz giants are doing fine: Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz. Dave Brubeck is a star. In general, straight-ahead jazz is having a hard time. Regardless of the passionate promotional and educational efforts of Cannonball Adderley, John Lewis, critics, and the occasional write-up in Time Magazine, Average Joe has by and large been (kept?) ignorant of jazz, the beautiful musical art form that, though not exclusively of black origin, can’t be separated from the tormented past and lively culture of the black race and would have been void without it. Amidst the general turmoil, a group of outstanding innovators and stylists, either in the USA or as expatriates in jazz-minded Europe, keep the flame of classic jazz burning: Kenny Clarke, Dexter Gordon, Clark Terry, Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Griffin, Zoot Sims, Art Pepper, Benny Bailey, Phil Woods, Slide Hampton, Jim Hall, Joe Pass, Art Farmer.

And pianists like Tommy Flanagan, Ray Bryant, Kenny Barron. Cedar Walton. Walton, born in Dallas, Texas, was supposed to play on his friend John Coltrane’s landmark album Giant Steps. But while he was out of town, Tommy Flanagan got the call. Walton came into prominence as the pianist of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. A gifted writer, Walton penned future standards as Mosaic, Ugetsu, Bolivia, Mode For Joe and Holy Land. Now it’s 1973. Walton, already a very accomplished player in the 60s, matured into a commanding maestro – it has slowly but surely dawned on me that the work of the Flanagans, Bryants, Barrons and Waltons gained considerable depth in the second phase of their careers. Much to our delight.

Crew of Boomers: Walton, craftsman with amazing skills, skills subservient to flexible, rich lines, unceasing drive and phrases crusted with the grit of the honky-tonk floor. Bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes. Extraordinary rhythm engine since The Cannonball Adderley Quintet. Hayes the former drummer of Horace Silver’s group, who elevated ‘small ensemble’ hard bop drumming to its ultimate level. Tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, who matured from Rollins-styled player to volatile Mingus associate and individual personality that delivered the remarkable Glass Bead Games eight months after the Boomers gig.

Glass Bead Games – extension of John Coltrane’s music – tapped into mankind’s subconscious longing for beauty and unity. It’s uniquely organic. A Night At Boomers, regardless of progressive tinges, is more concerned with redefining mainstream jazz. It does, however, possess a wholesome vibe, perhaps because everybody felt it, musicians and audience alike. If this was an exemplary performance of the Cedar Walton Trio featuring Clifford Jordan, and there is not much room for doubt, I envy those who were able to experience it night after night. The Baby Boomers comprised a lucky crowd.

Boomers bristles with invigorating interpretations of standards, All The Way, Down In Brazil and Charlie Parker’s Cheryl among them. Stella By Starlight and I’ll Remember April are souped-up Kreidlers suddenly taking swift turns like the slickest of Kawasakis. The first four minutes of April are reserved for Sam Jones’s meaty and lyrical bass story, the second part for Clifford Jordan’s fiery tenor playing. Clifford Jordan’s balanced but potent blues playing is the topping of Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk’s leisurely pace. The archetypical juxtaposition of the Carribean rhythm and uptempo 4/4 sections of Sonny Rollins’s St. Thomas are handled just that extra specially, the Latin part boisterous, the 4/4 part lightning fast and crisp as crackers on Sunday morning. Walton reacts accordingly, switching smoothly from percussive variations to a quicksilver update of Bud Powell.

A joy. The best, however, is yet to come. At least, the tracks that I usually have been immediately drawn to are Holy Land, The Highest Mountain, This Guy’s In Love With You and Naima. The composition of Holy Land is a stroke of genius. The simple and lovely melody – you can hear a child humming it in the playground – is introduced and ended by Walton’s glamorous Bach-like outlay of the chords, which flows smoothly in and out of the tune’s mid-tempo bounce. Whatever the holy land means from Walton’s perspective – Israel for the chosen ones that fled from Egypt, the promised land of Dr. Martin Luther King – Walton obviously had good hopes of discovering it one day.

Perhaps he also longed to reach The Highest Mountain, an equally beautiful, modal-tinged composition. He’s assisted on his travels by Clifford Jordan (Led by Joshua, the tribes of Israel crossed the river Jordan…), who tells one of his all-time great stories. Jordan gives pleasures in measured doses. His tone doesn’t push you against the wall, it’s relatively thin, light as a day in early Spring. His phrasing is agile like the movements of the antelope and his smooth but forceful message is interspersed with sudden, emotionally charged grunts and growls. One hears him searching, investigating, wondering, smiling, pondering and, finally, finding something he deems worthy for a new search. A great artist.

Cedar Walton reaches new levels of trio playing. There’s an endless stream of long lines and ideas during This Guy’s In Love With You, which is started in a funky vein, developed into a crisp groove. Walton is exuberant and his superlative skills are balanced by commanding blues figures. John Coltrane’s Naima never fails to touch my heart, Walton’s voicing and lines a rare, heartbreaking thing of beauty. I have to go with Gary Giddins, who says in the liner notes that Walton is ‘meshing softness with command. It has the cumulative effect of a rose unfolding its pedals.’

This group with near-telepathic synergy effortlessly moulds contemporary jazz to its feelings and highly developed aesthetic.

Roosevelt Wardell Trio The Revelation (Riverside 1960)

It really comes close to a revelation, the obscure Roosevelt Wardell’s only album as a leader, The Revelation. The work of a very original pianist which has been neglected for much too long.

Roosevelt Wardell Trio - The Revelation


Roosevelt Wardell (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)


on October 5, 1960 at United Recording Studios, Los Angeles


as RLP 350 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Like Someone In Love
Autumn In New York
Max The Maximum
Side B:
Elijah Is Here
Willow Weep For Me
The Revelation

The mystery remains. Info on the net close to nada. With the liner notes from Chris Albertson to go on, the following story is revealed: While Baltimore-born Roosevelt Wardell (1933 –1999) was playing jazz piano from an early age, he initially pursued a career as an r&b pianist and singer, accompanying others as well as recording a couple of singles as a leader. Wardell spent the first part of the fifties in the Army. As early as 1953, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, while in the Army at Fort Knox, saw him play in Louisville, Kentucky, and occasionally thereafter. Said Cannonball: “He was more than adequate even then (…) and I sympathized with him as I did with all those who were basically jazzmen but were forced to play that way to make a living.” Cannonball got Wardell a place in the Army Band. Once out of service in 1955, Wardell subsequently played with Bull Moose Jackson, Max Roach and Joe Turner in 1957 and occasionally sat in with Cannonball’s group.

In 1960, Wardell played with Dexter Gordon in the on-stage band of the (in-)famous play The Connection. The Cannonball Adderley Quintet was in L.A. as well. (the Wardell date of October 5 preceded the quintet’s At The Lighthouse gig and album recording session of October 16) Adderley, who by then was not only recording artist but also A&R man for Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer’s Riverside label, responsible for a series of ‘Cannonball Adderley Presentation’-albums, seized the opportunity to record Roosevelt Wardell at United Recording Studio, engineered by Wally Heider. For the occasion, Roosevelt Wardell picked Cannonball’s tight-knit rhythm section of bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes, a now legendary team that proved perfectly suitable for this job of blues-infested bop.

Mr. Wardell’s not the type of kid that lurks in the background. No fly on the wall. More like a stinging bee. Quite the attack! Like one of his greatest influences, Bud Powell, his touch is relentless. While the keys threaten to jump off the balcony, he continues to bring clarity of line, dashing off one dazzling run after the other. The pianist’s not to be overshadowed by the rumble of the crowd at the bar and loves to entertain as well, following up jolly tremolos with mean, stuttering blues riffs. Perhaps a residu from his chitlin’ circuit days. Yet, for all his swagger, Wardell’s modern jazz conception is a textbook example of intelligence and finesse.

Reminiscent of the diverse lot of Bud Powell, Carl Perkins, Ray Bryant, perhaps influenced by the orchestral brilliance of Art Tatum, Wardell nonetheless resides in a universe totally his own. While the pianist’s tasteful, muscular takes on a ballad – the Vernon Duke tune Autumn In New York – and a blues – Willow Weep For Me – satisfy the customer, the bop-inflected tunes are most arresting. The romantic opening cadenzas of Like Someone In Love are followed by a whirlwind of phrases that together comprise a staggering wall of sound, accompanied by meaty, stride-like bass lines. Cherokee’s percussive, chant-like beginning by the trio is very cool, the speedy, powerful story of Wardell leaves nothing to be desired. The Revelation, a tune written by his childhood friend Yusef Salim, is fast-paced badaaas bop.

Roosevelt Wardell wrote some nifty, blues and gospel-drenched tunes, based on familiar changes. Three were featured on The Revelation. Max The Maximum’s a funky little tune, a fast-paced chord progression interspersed with a tacky stop-time section. The notes that Wardell plays in the loping, mid-tempo Elijah Is Here tumble over one another like chipmunks over a little heap of chestnuts. Roosevelt Wardell could be likened to the original cats of modern literature, those singular personalities and stylists like Frederick Exley or Maarten Biesheuvel, whose deceptively messy, long and winding paragraphs always somehow land on their feet. Looks easy, isn’t. Wardell’s tale of Lazarus is high drama, a Speedy Gonzalez-exercise of I Got Rhythm-changes, the total sum of his solo seemingly consisting of one long, furious line. A kind of invention of a new genre perhaps best labeled as BEBOP ROCK.

The comments of Roosevelt Wardell comprise the anti-thesis of drama. About the session, the pianist level-headedly remarked: “Nice, very nice.” Too bad that Wardell disappeared into obscurity soon after and The Revelation remained the only album release the characteristic pianist commented on.

(The album is on Spotify on a twofer including Evans Bradshaw, scroll down for Roosevelt Wardell)

Walter Davis Jr. Davis Cup (Blue Note 1959)

A wide-ranging stunner, pianist Walter Davis Jr.’s debut as a leader in 1959, Davis Cup, deserves its rightful place among the classic hard bop albums on Blue Note at that time.

Walter Davis Jr. - Davis Cup


Walter Davis Jr. (piano), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (drums)


on August 2, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as BLP 4018 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
’S Make It
Side B:
Rhumba Nhumba
Minor Mind
Millie’s Delight

From the immaculate six Davis-penned compositions, the hi-powered energy, the stellar line-up, the singular style of Walter Davis Jr. and, last but not least, the wicked title, Davis Cup is an allround, pure-bred hard bop package easily taken for granted in the era of classic jazz albums. In 1959, the following albums, among others, were released on Blue Note along Davis Cup: Horace Silver’s Finger Poppin’ and Blowin’ The Blues Away, Sonny Clark’s My Conception, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messenger’s At The Jazz Corner Of The World and Africaine, Donald Byrd’s Byrd In Hand, Kenny Burrell’s On View At The Five Spot and Jackie McLean’s New Soil and Swing Swang Swingin’. Pleasant company.

Not just an innocent bystander either, Mr. Davis. The Richmond, Virginia-born pianist was featured on New Soil, (and, later on, McLean’s avant-leaning Let Freedom Ring) Byrd In Hand and Africaine. Obviously, Blue Note label bosses Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff were convinced of the abilities of Davis, who went as far back as playing alongside and recording with Charlie Parker at the turn of the previous decade and was known as a major interpreter of Bud Powell. By 1959, Walter Davis Jr. had cemented a position as a delicate juggler of traditional and adventurous styles, underlined by his composer’s sense of continuity, off-kilter twists and turns that pleasantly throw you off balance, a strong percussive touch and chubby, dense, driving clusters of chords. In the slipstream of Horace Silver in the late fifties, Davis is concerned not only with gritty yet elaborate compositions, but also with providing extra motives beside the melody line, creating simultaneously complex and easy-flowing tunes in the process.

Great tunes. Most of them are mid-tempo compositions, like ’S Make It (not to be confused with Lee Morgan’s ’S Make It, which was recorded by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers in 1964) Loodle-Lot and Minor Mood, alternated with the ballad Sweetness and the uplifting exotica of Rhumba Nhumba. Medium tempo, minor moods, blues inflections, the lone ballad and an Afro-Cuban exercise: a typical hard bop bag. However, Davis passes his exam cum laude, not in the least as a consequence of Art Taylor and Sam Jones’ responsive, propulsive support, the swift, lyrical lines of Donald Byrd and acerbic, suspenceful contributions of Jackie McLean.

In the sixties, Davis dropped out for a while and worked as a (assumedly very skilled!) tailor before returning to the scene with a guest role on Sonny Rollins 1973 album Horn Culture. His second album as a leader was released as late as 1979, the first of a series until his passing in 1990 at the age of 57.

James Clay & David “Fathead” Newman The Sound Of The Wide And Open Spaces!!!! (Riverside 1960)

Some sessions just seem to swing harder than others. The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces!!!! by co-leaders James Clay and David “Fathead” Newman is such an album. A blast from start to finish.

James Clay & David "Fathead" Newman - The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces


James Clay (tenor saxophone, flute B2), David “Fathead” Newman (tenor saxophone, alto saxophone B2), Wynton Kelly (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (blues)


on April 20, 1960 in NYC


as RLP 327 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Wide Open Spaces
They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Side B:
Some Kinda Mean
What’s New

Think of the combi’s Johnny Griffin/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Dexter Gordon/Wardell Gray, Arnett Cobb/Buddy Tate or of the Clifford Jordan/John Gilmore album Blowing In From Chicago. The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces!!!! (the use of multiple exclamation marks is hyperbolic fancy, but I like the way it looks on the jacket) fits into that high calibre category. Clay and Fathead, two ‘tough’ Texan tenors (and alto’s, flutes) battle it out with the hard-driving support of Art Taylor, Sam Jones and Wynton Kelly. The album was supervised by Cannonball Adderley. Adderley, who had signed with Riverside in 1960 and recorded the highly succesful and influential live album In San Francisco, struck up a good rapport with label owner Orrin Keepnews, immediately getting into fruitful A&R territory.

James Clay is still a relatively unknown saxophonist and flute player. Born in Dallas, Texas in 1935, Clay played with fellow Texan tenorist Booker Ervin, but moved to the West Coast in the mid-fifties. By 1960, Clay had recorded with drummer Lawrence Marable (Tenorman, Jazz West 1956), bassist Red Mitchell (Presenting Red Mitchell, Contemporary 1957) and Wes Montgomery (Movin’ Along, Riverside 1960). As a leader, Clay followed up The Sound with A Double Dose Of Soul, which boasts a great line-up of Adderley alumni Nat Adderley, Victor Feldman, Louis Hayes and, again, Sam Jones. A concise but impressive discography. After contributing to Hank Crawford’s True Blue in 1964, Clay disappeared from the scene, only to enjoy a modest comeback in the late eighties.

Clay’s sound is edgy, his style is reminiscent of bop pioneers like Teddy Edwards. A great match with the better-known David “Fathead” Newman. Newman, the big-toned tenorist from Corsicana, Texas, put his highly attractive, blues-drenched style to good use in the Ray Charles band from 1954-64 and ’70-’71, starring on landmark tunes as The Right Time, Unchain My Heart and albums like Ray Charles In Person and At Newport. Newman was an Atlantic recording artist in his own right. On my deathbed, I’m damn sure I will be remembering Ray Charles Presents David “Fathead Newman (Atlantic 1958) as one of the most soulful albums in modern jazz.

Newman takes the first solo on the furiously swinging opener Wide Open Spaces, taking care of business from note one. He sings, spits, guffaws, presenting a lengthy, driving discourse of blues and bop. Meanwhile, Newman’s phrasing is articulate, fluent, and the full-bodied round tone is intact, and his flow is spurred on by clever, unisono figures of Kelly and Taylor. Clay’s tone is more edgy, thinner. Clay finds solace in darkblue, faraway corners, letting loose occasional gutsy, halve-valve sounds and spices a lively tale with labyrinthian clusters of bop phrases, in a sardonic mood, putting you on, enjoying himself. Then he emerges from the shadows with sudden, belligerent wails. Clay’s a more unpredictable player than Newman. Both take zillion choruses to have their say. Never a dull moment.

Wide Open Spaces is a tune written by the legendary bebop singer and poet, Babs Gonzalez. Figger-Ration, an uptempo, tacky bebop showstopper, is also by Gonzalez. The interpretation of Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me is hard-swinging. Keter Betts’ blues-based tune Some Kinda Mean starts with the coda, a raucous figure of snare drums and piano, and develops into a mid-tempo, Ray Charles-type mover. Supported by the responsive, burning rhythm trio of Taylor, Jones and Kelly, the latter occasionally chiming in with ebullient bits on the slower tunes and frivolous strings of high notes on the uptempo tunes, Clay and Newman speak confidently on tenor throughout. For What’s New, Newman switches to alto, Clay to flute. It’s a solid rendition of the well-known ballad.

While a current of pivotal game-changing outings (Davis’ Kind Of Blue, Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Coleman’s Free Jazz) was released in ’59 and ‘60, gospel and blues-based hard bop/mainstream jazz, while not always liked by the critics, was at a peak and admired by audiences around the country and abroad. Hard bop albums rolled off the Blue Note, Prestige and Riverside assembly lines like fortune cookies. That turn of the decade was really something! Something of such all-round excellence which might easily cause such marvelous albums like The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces!!!! to be lightly snowed under. But it aged well. To this day, Clay and Newman’s bopswinging sax festivities leave one breathless with every new turn on the table.

Freddie Hubbard Open Sesame (Blue Note 1960)

Freddie Hubbard’s celebrated debut as a leader on Blue Note, Open Sesame, is as much a Tina Brooks album than a Hubbard album.

Freddie Hubbard - Open Sesame


Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone), McCoy Tyner (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Clifford Jarvis (drums)


on June 19, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as BLP 4040 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Open Sesame
But Beautiful
Gypsy Blue
Side B:
All Or Nothing At All
One Mint Julep
Hub’s Nub

Aweek later, Hubbard played on True Blue (read review here), the only album by Tina Brooks released during the undervalued tenorist’s lifetime. At the start of Hubbard’s career, Brooks proved to be a suitable springboard for the young trumpet player from Indianapolis. In later life, Hubbard lovingly commented on his mentor to Michael Cuscuna. “I loved Tina. He would write shit out on the spot and it would be beautiful. He wrote Gypsy Blue for me on the first record, and I loved it. I just loved it. Tina made my first record date wonderful. He wrote and played beautifully. What a soulful, inspiring cat.” (From: the liner notes of The Complete Blue Note Recordings Of Tina Brooks, Mosaic) Yet, Hubbard never used Brooks again for other sessions.

Gypsy Blue is a readily recognisable melody with a real gypsy jazz feeling and a cookin’ 4/4 section. Brooks wrote Open Sesame as well, a purebred hard bop tune. Great vehicles for Hubbard’s vital trumpet playing. At 22, Hubbard is buoyant and confident. On his debut, as modern jazz-minded Hubbard may be in the tradition of Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro, the newly arrived trumpet star, perhaps surprisingly, also brings to mind Louis Armstrong: the unabashed joy that speaks from his frivolous, virtuoso phrases, the exceptional range, the powerful notes that carry from one village to another, calling the children home. Imposing, and the audience hadn’t as yet seen a fully grown Hubbard. 1961’s Hub Cap, Ready For Freddie and Hub-Tones showcase a progressively mature Hubbard with adventurous choices of notes and more dark-hued phrasing. Surely, Hubbard’s pairing to many of Blue Note’s top-rate artists as well as Art Blakey in the fall of 1961 (Hubbard played with Blakey from 1961-64, appearing on, among others, Mosaic and Ugetsu) certainly have helped him find his own voice. So rapid was Hubbard’s evolution, that by late ’60 and early ’61 both Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane were happy to be assisted by the trumpeter on, respectively, Free Jazz and Ole Coltrane.

The fact that the immaculate Tina Brooks never reached the recognition that others off his day received, amazes to this day. Brooks certainly was tough competition for Hank Mobley, Junior Cook and Jimmy Heath. In any case, he’s an essential hard bop player. As the title track Open Sesame shows especially, Brooks threads unexpected paths where ordinary tenorists would opt for safe coda’s, either holding a long, gutsy note in suspension, or jumping to an off-centre triplet, meanwhile dropping meaningful pauzes in between. Brooks has a sinewy tone, a little rough around the edges for extra flavour and slighty drags behind the beat. His smokin’ stories brim with fresh ideas and slowly but surely pick up steam, sometimes by means of a churning out of notes deep from the inner parts of his fragile body, notes that traveled a long way and are just dying to jump out into the woods.

Open Sesame also features McCoy Tyner. The promising pianist had appeared on many recordings as a sideman, his debut as a leader on Impulse, Inception, followed in 1962. In 1961, Tyner completed John Coltrane’s eponymous group including Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison. Tyner’s comping brings a sense of urgency, his lines are lyrical and move rapidly in the upper register. Completing the line up are drummer Clifford Jarvis and bassist Sam Jones. Jarvis was 19 years old. Imagine how it must’ve felt to participate in one of those countless sessions at Rudy van Gelder’s magical Englewood Cliffs studio! Wet behind the ears, Jarvis nevertheless is unperturbed, swinging propulsively and providing resonant, well-placed accents. The 36-year old Sam Jones, one of the most sought-after bassists in possession of great walkin’ bass abilities and a definite down home bounce, was part of The Cannonball Adderley Quintet, with the landmark live album The Cannonball Adderley Quintet In San Francisco and his debut as a leader on Riverside, The Soul Society, under his belt. Freddie Hubbard couldn’t have asked for a better outfit to assist him in his rise to prominence as a new star on the trumpet.

Tina Brooks True Blue (Blue Note 1960)

In spite of being the Einstein and Heisenberg of the modern jazz recording business, Blue Note label bosses Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff occasionally seemed to suffer from a black out. Why else did they release only one album – True Blue – out of four excellent sessions of tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks?

Tina Brooks - True Blue


Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Duke Jordan (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (drums)


on June 25, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Inglewood Cliffs, NJ


as BLP 4041 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Good Old Soul
Up Tight’s Creek
Theme For Doris
Side B:
True Blue
Miss Hazel
Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You

Fifty-five years after the fact, one can only speculate. Jack Chambers, in a May 2005 Coda issue, suggested that Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff effectively killed the career of Brooks. (Who Killed Tina Brooks? – read here) A lot of conjecture. I’m sure that The Lion & The Wolff couldn’t be bothered with the fact that Brooks, a reserved, shabby-dressed, corner bar jazz cat, didn’t look as good on a record cover than Hank Mobley. They used Brooks on only a handful of sessions, but Jimmy Smith’s The Sermon, Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights Vol 1 & 2 and Freddie Hubbards’s Open Sesame were notable albums, not cautious try-outs destined to be shelved. Whatever the reasons, it definitely is a pity that a career as a leader for Blue Note didn’t work out for Brooks in his heyday of 1958-61.

Another mystery though: why didn’t Brooks, seeing that Blue Note apparently had other priorities, tried to find a place in the roster of related companies like Prestige?

If it weren’t for ace producer Michael Cuscuna, whose influential re-issue company Mosaic released The Complete Recordings Of The Tina Brooks Quintets in 1985, (which in turn led to seperate re-issues of his albums by Blue Note in the nineties) we wouldn’t have known that not only True Blue showed potential, but that other sessions displayed a mature instrumentalist with a sinewy yet edgy tone and ability to string together cliché-free line after line. Brooks was also a prolific writer.

And stood his ground amidst a bunch of top-notch figures of the day, like Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Lee Morgan and Paul Chambers. 1958’s Minor Move, 1960’s Back To The Track and 1961’s The Waiting Game were mastered, numbered and designed but, ultimately, shelved.

It’s hard to pick a winner. I would say the quintessential Tina Brooks-statements were ignited by Philly Joe Jones’ blistering sparks on The Waiting Game.

True Blue was recorded a week after Freddie Hubbard’s Open Sesame, the debut album of the promising trumpeter, which depended significantly on the input of Tina Brooks as composer and sideman. Brooks had functioned as Hubbard’s mentor for some time.

Fitting the company’s hard bop aesthetic like a velvet glove, the album boasts such almost inexplicably charming, blues-based, minor key tunes as Good Old Soul (including a great off-centre solo by Brooks) and True Blue. (the tune is upbeat, catchy and the employment of tension without release is nifty) There’s the langourous, beautific melody of Miss Hazel, wherein Brooks and Hubbard are right on the money and Art Taylor puts in stunning rolls, and the moody but sprightly Theme For Doris.

Brooks may not have been a pioneer like Dexter Gordon or an innovator like Joe Henderson. But his all-round package of chops, authority, melodic panache and gift for writing should’ve led to more than just one album as a leader. Addicted to heroin and suffering from liver damage, Brooks passed away at the age of 42 in 1974.

Kenny Drew Undercurrent (Blue Note 1961)

Kenny Drew’s Undercurrent isn’t called Undercurrent for nothing. The opener and title track is the pièce de résistance of the album in which every member of the band is on fire. Following it up with a set of excellent hard bop is quite an achievement.

Kenny Drew - Undercurrent


Kenny Drew (piano), Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Sam Jones (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)


on December 11, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as BLP 4059 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Lion’s Den
Side B:
The Pot’s On
Groovin’ The Blues

That hard bop was a development from bebop to more expressive playing of the down-home kind is true, but there was more to it. Near the end of the fifties, there were many different tastes. Pianist Kenny Drew, who played with Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and Howard McGhee, among others, possessed his share of ‘funk’, but his touch was light as a feather, as opposed to the more common percussionist approach. Drew spun precise, logical but animated lines and was a fine accompanist, who worked extensively for Dinah Washington.

Drew’s blues tunes – Funk-Cosity and Groovin’ The Blues – are medium tempo groovers, distinctive for articulate, swinging Drew solo’s. The Pot’s On is a Horace Silver-type tune with an attractive old timey feeling. Lion’s Den (Obviously, Blue Note boss Alfred Lion’s pad) is a happy swinger that makes use of trademark hard bop interludes of suspended rhythm that boost the soloists considerably.

Ballade is a-typical for the period, eschewing double time or louder four/four-sections, instead opting for balanced, sweet and sour balladry. It’s charming.

Not only Kenny Drew, who wrote all six tunes, is in top form, Hank Mobley and Freddie Hubbard are spot-on as well. At the time, Hank Mobley, a young veteran of classic Art Blakey groups, had completed future classic albums Soul Station, Roll Call (including Hubbard) and Workout. Freddie Hubbard was a young, versatile lion who’d made a big impression on colleagues, recording his first two Blue Note albums in 1960 (Goin’ Up including Mobley) and appearing on dates of Tina Brooks and Eric Dolphy. He would appear on Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz ten days later on December 21 and join Art Blakey in 1961 for a stunning stretch of Blue Note and Riverside albums.

To complete the Blakey pedigree in this respect, Kenny Drew also played with the famed drummer and band leader, albeit for the shorter time of two months in 1957. However, Drew’s most renowned effort in that year is his work on John Coltrane’s imposing Blue Train album. Drew was part of many other sessions of the period, among them those of Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Kenny Dorham. Drew struck up a long association with Dexter Gordon onwards from the early fifties (Daddy Plays The Horn, Dexter Callin’, One Flight Up) and, like Gordon, became a longtime, widely acknowledged expatriate in Paris and, especially, Copenhagen. In a weird twist of fate Drew and Gordon even appeared in a Swedish, hippy-ish soft porn movie called Pornografi!

By then, about a decade had passed since Drew recorded the title track of this album. The partly modal theme includes the swirling arpeggios that aptly explain the sea-image title, which give an otherwise noteworthy composition even greater distinction. Best of all, the band is inspired almost beyond belief, with the essential inclusion of drummer Louis Hayes and bassist Sam Jones. Their experience as a rhythm tandem of many sessions of the day and Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet in particular stands them in good stead. They’re red hot, with a controlled intensity that would keep many a devil at bay. Louis Hayes’s temperature especially surpasses that of Lucifer with more than a few degrees!

The title tune is not only crisp and driving, it’s also full of immaculate solo work. Kenny Drew’s ideas keep flowing, his lines stretching over bars extensively. Mobley and Hubbard, triggered by Drew, Hayes and Jones, work up a sweat, and there are no parttime choruses. Mobley’s smoky sound and Hubbard’s buoyant style contrast pleasantly.

Undercurrent was Drew’s last album in the United States before he went to Paris in 1961 and settled in Copenhagen in 1963. Not a bad way to say goodbye to the American jazz life.