Ray Brown - Bass Hit

Ray Brown Bass Hit! (Verve 1956)

Ray Brown fronting an all-white band in 1956 was a major musical-social event. Bass Hit also happened to be a beautifully conceived hot date.

Ray Brown - Bass Hit


Ray Brown (bass), Pete Candoli, Conrad Gozzo, Ray Linn & Harry “Sweets” Edison (trumpet), Herbie Harper (trombone), Jack DuLong & Herb Geller (alto saxophone), Jimmy Giuffre (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Bill Holman (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Rowles (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Mel Lewis & Alvin Stoller (drums), Marty Paich (arranger)


on November 21 & 23, 1956 in Los Angeles


MG V-8022 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
Bass Introduction/Blues For Sylvia
All Of You
Everything I Have Is Yours
Will You Still Be Mine
Side B:
Little Toe
Alone Together
Solo For Unaccompanied Bass
My Foolish Heart
Blues For Lorraine/Bass Conclusion

Ray Brown’s flawless technique, abundant swing and elegant interplay got him at the top of the heap, playing with Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra. The list is endless. His work with the Ray Brown Trio in the 80s and 90s – Brown intermittently worked in the Hollywood studios – is peerless and his influence on subsequent generations is everlasting. Most of all, Brown, himself influenced by the legendary Jimmy Blanton, had a great, buttery tone and a unique gift for finding the right note at the right time. Ooh wee. How many times have I listened to an Oscar Peterson record and, for all Peterson’s commanding virtuosity and swing, have felt myself being inevitably drawn to Ray Brown, like a kid to the candy store? His enormous energy was overwhelming. I saw him perform just this once in my hometown’s legendary jazz club, Porgy & Bess. Brown’s giant groove, underscored by the radiant grin on his face, drove the band through the roof.

Brown, Pittsburgh-born, came on the scene in New York in 1946 and established himself from the word go. His alliance with Oscar Peterson in 1951 led to worldwide recognition and, by his own account, made him a considerably better player. By 1956, Brown had contributed his outstanding skills and groove to, among others, Johnny Hodges’ The Blues, Count Basie’s Basie Jazz, Roy Eldridge’s Rockin’ Chair, Benny Carter’s, Alone Together, Billie Holiday’s Lady Day, Lester Young’s Prez & Sweets, Charlie Parker’s Big Band, Illinois Jacquet’s Swing’s The Thing, Dizzy Gillespie’s Diz And Getz and Roy And Diz, Hank Jones’ Urbanity, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong’s Ella & Louis and an ever-growing slew of Oscar Peterson records. Almost all of them were on the Clef and Verve labels of Norman Granz, for whom the dependable and brilliant Ray Brown was a godsend.

Come 1956. Times were rough. The Supreme Court decision of Brown vs Board Of Education was a landmark event in 1954. It established the unconstitutionality of segregation in public schools. However, the ruling, further recorded in BBE part 2, proved something of a Pyrrhus victory, as states could choose to desegregate with “all deliberate speed.” Then there was Rosa Parks, who courageously refused to give up her seat in the segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Some brave women, lest we forget – like Claudette Colvin – preceded the Montgomery Bus Boycott but it was Parks that turned into a symbol of rebellion and civil rights. Finally, the state court repealed bus segregation on November 16 – a week before the Ray Brown session. The protests nonetheless backfired considerably. Jim Crow wasn’t about to give in that easily.

The mid-50s was an era in which many black musicians still hesitated when the opportunity of touring the South arose. If they did travel south, they were not allowed in white-owned hotels and bunked at private places. Against this background, a jazz outing like Bass Hit – a black man leading a white orchestra – is significant. Jazz, like any great art form, may have been the battleground of plenty of cultural warfare but it never failed to contribute to progress and the growth of understanding, much in a fashion that Martin Luther King would have appreciated. Benny Goodman hired Teddy Wilson and Charlie Christian. Pearl Bailey was married to Louie Bellson. Miles Davis was, with sound reason, a motherfucker with an attitude, but Bill and Gil Evans were, for an eponymous time, his main men. The list of groundbreaking interracial mingling is impressive. Jazz, at its best, has no borders of any kind, is a game changer equal or arguably superior to the political process.

Bass Hit was recorded on November 21 and 23, 1956 in Los Angeles. It featured Pete Candoli on trumpet, Herbie Harper on trombone, Jack DuLong on alto saxophone, Jimmy Giuffre on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Bill Holman on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Rowles on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar and Mel Lewis on drums. Altoist Herb Geller and trumpeters Ray Gill, Conrad Gozzo and Harry “Sweets” Edison (black but a minor role) strengthen the reeds and brass. Drummer Alvin Stoller subbed for Mel Lewis on a few cuts. Marty Paich was the arranger.

I’ve always wondered how it came about that Brown fronted an all-white band, yet there’s not much in the way of recorded evidence or info. Therefore, I reached out to Jean-Michel Reisser-Beethoven from Lausanne, Switzerland, whom I came to know through the jazz forum Jazz Vinyl Lovers on Facebook. 56-year old Jean-Michel grew up with parents who were passionate lovers of jazz and befriended many visiting jazz legends. At age 3, Jean-Michel sat on the lap of Count Basie. When Jean-Michel was a young man, Ray Brown, having grown tired of managing himself, asked the young jazz buff to do his management. Jean-Michel managed Ray Brown for many years and, in the process, also worked for Harry “Sweets” Edison, J.J. Johnson, Joe Pass, Monty Alexander and many more.

Coincidentally, when we talked on the phone, it turned out that decades ago Jean-Michel had been visiting jazz club Porgy & Bess in Terneuzen regularly in his managerial role, at which time I, unbeknownst of his existence, was also present during performances of some of the jazz legends. A clear case of amazing serendipity, which warms my heart.

At any rate, here’s what Jean-Michel found out about Bass Hit through his conversations with Ray Brown and, to a lesser extent, Jimmy Rowles, Mel Lewis and Pete Candoli:

“It was Ray’s idea to do a big band album with him as a feature. Of course, a decade earlier Ray was featured on One Bass Hit and Two Bass Hit, which he wrote for Dizzy Gillespie. Ray told me that he had had in mind the idea of making a record with the bass as lead feature for many years. But his idea was too advanced for that time and in the late 40s you could hardly hear the bass. He always talked about it with Norman Granz, who approved of the concept. But the years went by, till Ray finally said it was the time to do it.

“Why did he record in Los Angeles? Well, in those days, the Oscar Peterson Trio did about 299 concerts in 300 days, it was crazy! The only way to do it was Los Angeles, because contrary to New York, they had long engagements on the West Coast, like two or three weeks at Zardy’s. So recording in Los Angeles was most convenient.

“Ray called his friends. Marty Paich. He loved the arrangements of Paich. Jimmy Rowles, Herb Ellis, Mel Lewis. Everybody was delighted to cooperate with Brown on such a special session. Ray wasn’t conscious of the fact that he was to lead an all-white band. He just called the friends that he wanted for the job. There weren’t many black people in the movie studios. Only a few, like Benny Carter. Now this record had a lot of impact. But Ray did not plan this in advance. He said: ‘Suddenly the producers and writers thought, man this guy leads, reads charts, does amazing solo’s, everything! It opened doors for black guys, they can do the job. A few months after the release, I got many offers, I couldn’t believe it! But I refused. I played jazz and wanted to travel.’ Of course, in 1966 Brown did eventually move to Los Angeles to play in the Hollywood studio bands. By then, he had cleared the path for Quincy Jones, J.J. Johnson, Benny Golson, who all made a career in the movie business.

“Oscar Pettiford had done bass-driven records but those were not arranged and organized as immaculately and not all-white. Bass Hit is the first record that showcases such an impressive lead role of the bass. At the same time, it works sublimely as accompanying force. Most of all, it is not just important on a musical level. It broke down social barriers. Jazz, like any great art form, is a force of change. Its great ambassadors definitely surpass the flawed ambitions of politicians.”

Bass Hit, the album: Brown firmly and authoritatively leads this band of top-notch contemporary white musicians. There is much to enjoy, not least the spicy muted trumpet of Pete Candoli, Herb Ellis’ earthy guitar, Bill Holman’s supple tenor saxophone and Jimmy Giuffre’s clarinet, which adds graceful coolness to Bass Hit’s essentially ‘hot’ program.

Ray Brown is boss, shading melodies, providing succinct interludes and concise melodious and strong solos, while the punchy arrangements cleverly underline Brown’s agile phrasing, as if he’s a singer, as if he’s, in a sense, Sinatra in front of the Count Basie band. Brown and the orchestra blend like strawberry and whipped cream, courtesy of Brown’s immaculate time feel, allowing him to fluently anticipate the brass and reed accents. Bass Hit is commonly called his record debut as a leader, while in fact Brown released New Sounds In Modern Music on Savoy in 1946. Bass Hit’s title alludes to that era, when Brown contributed One Bass Hit and Two Bass Hit to the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra. It presents a set of unabashed big band blues, poised balladry and mid-tempo standards.

You’ll hear a striking descending bass figure, taken from the potent Solo For Unaccompanied Bass, effectively and attractively introduce the record and segue into the opening tune, Blues For Sylvia. More blues, Blues For Lorraine and Brown’s Little Toe, firmly directed by Brown, penultimate blues groove master, ties together the threads that consist of well-known ballads of which Cole Porter’s All Of You is particularly notable. The detailed conversational level of the piece, especially the whispered staccato call and response of Brown and brass/reed, slyly heightens the tension. The booming release hits bull’s eye.

Bull’s eye, as a matter of fact, was second nature to the great Ray Brown.

Jimmy Smith - Root Down

Jimmy Smith Root Down (Verve 1972)

Organist Jimmy Smith had been preoccupied with funk jazz before, but none of his releases matched Root Down, released on Verve in 1972.

Jimmy Smith - Root Down


Jimmy Smith (organ), Arthur Adams (guitar), Steve Williams (harmonica A3), Wilton Felder (bass), Buck Clarke (congas), Paul Humphrey (drums)


on February 8, 1972 at the Bombay Bicycle Club, Los Angeles.


as V-8806 in 1972

Track listing

Side A:
Sagg Shootin’ His Arrow
For Everyone Under The Sun
After Hours
Side B:
Root Down (And Get It)
Let’s Stay Together
Slow Down Sagg

By 1972, Jimmy Smith, the modern organ jazz pioneer who had been the most popular Hammond B3 player from his explosive start on Blue Note in 1956, was still ridin’ high. He was the biggest seller among his colleagues and toured the European circuit to much acclaim, notably the Montreux Jazz Festival. But none of his late sixties albums contained the grit and grease that was so essential to the output of the rivaling company, the independent Prestige Records, a style that was developed by the special talents of groove monsters like Charles Earland, Charles Kynard, Rusty Bryant, Idris Muhammad and Bernard Purdie. The Champ was challenged and a good fight was on.

And Root Down, recorded live on February 8 at the Bombay Bicycle Club in Los Angeles, was devoid of sucker punches. There were no bicycle races that night either. It was more like a gathering of tonewheels on the outskirts of town. Burning metal, lightning fast drawbars, bass pedals crossing the finishing line with the street crowd going berserk… Arthur Adams was featured on guitar, Steve Williams on harmonica, Wilton Felder on bass, Paul Humphrey on drums and Buck Clarke on percussion. A rock-solid, charged group that pushed maestro Smith to the edge of the circuit, an inch away from the bales of hay, which is the place where the best works of arts are usually created.

Let’s jam, y’all, let’s jam. This is music that speaks to the gut and the groin. The uptempo funk blues of Sagg Shootin’ His Arrow, Root Down (famously – or infamously depending on your view – sampled by The Beastie Boys in 1994) and Slow Down Sagg stimulates Smith to travel beyond his trademark style. Here Smith, who stands on the shoulders of the blues pianists, Charlie Parker, Count Basie and Wild Bill Davis, allows his long lines to segue into stretches of dissonance. His pitch is unwavering, his attack ferocious. Smith’s lurid funk tales are commented upon by the blistering wah-wah guitar of Arthur Adams. Fire meets fire.

Smith hurls himself into the notes of the soul tunes For Everyone Under The Sun and Al Green’ Let’s Stay Together like a tiger on a deer. Adams’ spiky (non-wah-wah) stuff mirrors The Meters’ indelible New Orleans Funk picker, Leo Nocentelli, albeit less behind the beat, more speedy. The tandem of drummer Paul Humphrey and bassist Wilton Felder bounces but never wobbles, makes myriad U-turns but never gets lost. Felder, saxophonist and co-leader of the successful funk jazz and crossover group The Crusaders in everyday life, offers a solo that is well worthwhile.

A great show in the hip pocket of Jimmy Smith. The atmosphere is electric. Obviously, the music reaches out beyond the confines of the Bombay Bicycle Club. Smith and his relatively younger lions are talkin’ to the boyz in da hood, who loved and understood the messages of Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Gil Scott-Heron. Root Down is ghetto music, it’s Watts on fire and wax, a victory of rhythm miles away from the tepid world of Ed Sullivan. The astounding grit that the group displayed crawled out of the womb of the asphalt jungle, over depressed tenement buildings, mingles with addicts that crowd around fire pits at night… Root Down’s a reflection of turmoil but at the same time a display of force, a celebration of survival, and offers redemption in the form of smooth and sweaty soul that pinned Marvin Gaye to the wall and forced him to say sorry for that sexual healing bit.

Victory is all over the sleeve as well. The stretched arm and pointed finger clearly signify who’s boss!

The original album cut down the longer tracks to the 12inch format. Spotify offers the CD version with the complete performances. Listen below.

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


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)


on December 17, 1957 in New York City


as Verve 8352 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
Blues After Dark
Sea Breeze
Out Of The Past
Side B:
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.

Jimmy Smith - The Cat

Jimmy Smith The Cat (Verve 1964)

During the sixties organ star Jimmy Smith, who single-handedly turned the Hammond B3 organ into a viable modern jazz instrument in the mid-late fifties, recorded a string of generally very popular big band albums under the guidance of Verve’s succesful producer Creed Taylor.

Jimmy Smith - The Cat


Jimmy Smith (organ), Kenny Burrell (guitar), George Duvivier (bass), Grady Tate (drums), Lalo Schifrin (arranger, conductor) and a big band including Thad Jones, Jimmy Cleveland, Ernie Royal and Snooky Young


on April 27-29 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as V-8587 in 1964

Track listing

Side A
Theme From ‘Joy House’
The Cat (From The MGM Motion Picture ‘Joy House’)
Basin Street Blues
Main Title From ‘The Carpetbaggers’
Side B
Chicago Serenade
St. Louis Blues
Delon’s Blues
Blues In The Night

The first tentative effort, Bashin’ (side B was dedicated to trio work only) was an immediate smash hit. The best of those albums, like Hobo Flats, Any Number Can Win and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf involved meaty brass and reed support that stirred up the organist’s inimitable bebop and blues runs to fiery heights. A couple of albums suffered from mediocre, overproduced arrangements and the organist’s wish to put his ‘singing’ abilities in the limelight. Stay away from 1968’s Stay Loose would be my advice, unless you need to chase away the neighbour’s pet alligator.

1964’s The Cat finds Smith at the height of his popularity. The title track is what you’d call a mod classic. Meaning a bunch of English geeks got hip to it in the eighties and started spinning it in the big city’s burgeoning underground clubs, to much acclaim. Understandably, since The Cat’s a blast from start to finish, an uptempo swinger with a firm backbeat and full-bodied, sweeping Lalo Schifrin arrangements which are cut through by boiling Smith phrases.

Old warhorse Basin Street Blues is another highlight, taken at a brisk pace with funky Chicago blues support by drummer Grady Tate and sparse orchestral blasts. Theme From ‘Joy House’ and Main Title From ‘The Carpetbaggers’ are uptempo gems as well, more satisfying in the end than solid but more commonplace slow blues tunes like Delon’s Blues and Blues In The Night.

The Cat is part of the proof that, when in the right surroundings, Jimmy Smith raised the mixing of organ and orchestra to another level.