Kenny Burrell Blue Lights Volume 1 & 2 (Blue Note 1958)

Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights Vol. 1 & 2 consist of a bunch of tasteful, blues-infested tunes. A lively, relaxed jam session.

Kenny Burrell - Blue Lights Volume 1

Kenny Burrell - Blue Lights Volume 2


Kenny Burrell (guitar), Louis Smith (trumpet), Junior Cook (tenor saxophone A1, A2 & B1 on Vol. 1, A1, A2 & B1 on Vol. 2), Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone A2, A3 on Vol. 1, A1, A2 & B1 on Vol. 2), Duke Jordan (piano, Vol.1), Bobby Timmons (piano, Vol. 2), Sam Jones (bass), Art Blakey (drums)


on May 14, 1958 at Manhattan Towers, NYC


as BLP 1596 and BLP 1597 in 1958

Track listing

Blue Lights Vol. 1
Side A:
Yes Baby
Side B:
Scotch Blues
The Man I Love
Blue Lights Vol. 2
Side A:
Side B:
Rock Salt
Autumn In New York

Kenny Burrell, 86 years old, is one of the great mainstream jazz guitarists, who has been consistently successful ever since he made his debut with Dizzy Gillespie in the early fifties and hit his stride on the Blue Note label in 1956. On the Blue Lights albums, recorded in 1958, Burrell is coupled with other major league players. Drummer Art Blakey, bassist Sam Jones, pianists Duke Jordan/Bobby Timmons, trumpeter Louis Smith and tenor saxophonists Junior Cook and Tina Brooks provide plenty of sparks and a meaty hard bop bottom for Burrell to work with. Fleet, snappy lines, a lot of fresh ideas, articulation best likened to the pop of a champagne bottle, are all in evidence in a set that is comprised of blues-based affairs like Burrell’s r&b groove Rock Salt, the uptempo cooker Phinupi, slow blues Yes Baby, Duke Jordan’s lively riff Scotch Blues, Sam Jones’ choo-choo-boogie-type Chucklin’ and the standards The Man I Love, Caravan and Autumn In New York.

Burrell’s capacity to set the atmosphere, which feels as if he’s wrapping you in velvet drapes, and sustain it consistently, is one of his greatest gifts. His playing is relaxed, but rooted in the blues and not without a topping of sizzle. Vintage Burrell. Perhaps inevitably considering his extremely long discography, I feel Burrell also delivered less inspired affairs that showed a tendency to run through the repertory with safe cliché patterns of phrases. However, especially in the company of hi-level colleagues, like John Coltrane, Sonny Clark or Kenny Dorham, Burrell is at his best. His playing, in those cases, has that extra bit of flair and bite.

Burrell was no stranger to Art Blakey, who drives everybody to the edge of the cliff. Blakey’s ride, it goes without saying, is roaring, a hard drive, a lurid mélange of bombs, cymbal crashes and tom rolls either meant to stimulate the soloist or introduce the subsequent storyteller. Besides Blakey’s boss accompaniment, the drummer’s plush tom variations on the theme of Caravan are striking. The fat texture of brass and reed combines well with Blakey’s forceful style. Smith, Brooks and Cook have ample room to stretch out, and Smith’s gait is sprightly, and he sprinkles his happy blues juices with drops of vinegar.

Perhaps more tenor contrast would make Blue Lights more exciting. Both Brooks and Cook are intent on swinging clean, flowing, tasteful, much like master Mobley, Brooks with a tidbit of wear on his notes, Cook somewhat more soft-hued. But who’s to complain? Brooks, who faded into obscurity after a concise stretch of Blue Note appearances, demonstrates the cliché-free, resonant, swinging storytelling that has made him a legend among hard bop aficionados around the world. Junior Cook, who would join Horace Silver late in 1958, provides the tenor sax highlight of the set during Phinupi, the steamy tale and unhurried flow a real treat.

Care to purchase original first pressings of these twin beauties? Good luck. They’re not only at the tail end of the famed and collectable 1500 series of Blue Note, but the covers were illustrated by Andy Warhol, who not only created postmodern mayhem by churning out his screen printings of Campbell Tomato Soup and Marilyn Monroe on the assembly line, but also did his fair yet modest share of record sleeve design. Without a doubt, the Warhol/Blue Lights LP’s are unattainable artifacts for the average collector. Unless, of course, that average collector decides to skip his family trip to Rome and put up a figure of about 1750. A piece. Don’t get any ideas, now.

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.