Saturday Night Tunes: Roy and Diz

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I feel like we’ve been covering a lot of saxophone music lately, so for a little change of pace here’s a sextet with two trumpets and no saxes. Dizzy Gillespie I assume doesn’t need any introduction, but some of you might not be as familiar with Roy Eldridge, which is a shame. Eldridge is best known for his swing-era career, when his high level of skill on the horn and the harmonic inventiveness in his improv made him kind of the trumpeting bridge between Louis Armstrong and Gillespie (although he was only about six years older than Gillespie, so that might be overstating things a little). He was one of the earliest jazz trumpeters to really explore the upper limits of the horn, for example. Because Armstrong and Gillespie are so famous, in comparison Eldridge unfortunately doesn’t get the attention he deserves, but he was an important figure in the development of jazz trumpeting.

Eldridge and Gillespie were very familiar with each other from the New York jazz scene, and Eldridge was constantly compared to Gillespie because of the similarities in their styles (even hearing them side by side it can sometimes be difficult to tell them apart), even though Eldridge had started his career before Gillespie did. It was only natural that they’d be paired together on an album. The 1954 session that produced Roy and Diz also produced enough material for a second album, called, um, Roy and Diz volume 2. I’m working off of my CD copy, which contains both albums, for a total of nine tracks, but here we’ll stick to the first album only (a more manageable five tracks). Along with Eldridge and Gillespie on trumpet and the occasional vocals, the album includes Herb Ellis on guitar, Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Louis Bellson on drums.

First up is “I’ve Found a New Baby,” a standard written by Jack Palmer and Spencer Williams in the 1920s. It starts out rhythmically before shifting into a quick bop feel for the solos, with the two trading fours towards the end:

“I Can’t Get Started” is a ballad written by Vernon Duke in the 1930s. Eldridge (I’m pretty sure) takes the melody and first solo while Gillespie plays the tune out, with a Peterson piano solo in the middle:

Eldridge and Gillespie wrote “Trumpet Blues,” which is–brace yourselves–a blues. For trumpets. They helpfully stay in different mutes for this one: Gillespie is in the rougher-sounding cup mute, Eldridge in the mellower Harmon mute. The highlight is obviously the trumpet battle, the second one of the album so far, in the second half of the tune:

“Algo Bueno” is Gillespie’s tune and again features some wonderful trading between the two (this time Gillespie is in the Harmon mute and Eldridge in the cup mute) in the tune’s second half:

Last up is “Pretty Eyed Baby,” a standard written by Mary Lou Williams, Snub Mosley, and William Luther Johnson. This is a vocal showcase for both trumpeters. First Eldridge, then Gillespie, take scat solos backed by the other’s trumpet noodling. They get into another trumpet battle toward the end though:

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Saturday Night Tunes: What Is There to Say?

Friends, without making this All About Me, I’m scrambling right now. I forgot to put this in the queue before I left town, and I’ve been stymied in most of my efforts to grab a bit of internet while I’ve been away, which is why you’ve gotten a total of one (1) post since Wednesday that I hadn’t already scheduled before I left. Sorry. My problems also mean that we’re going to go straight to the music this evening without a lot of chatter.

Baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan is perhaps best known for his collaboration with Miles Davis on Birth of the Cool, but he did some very interesting piano-less quartet work throughout the 1950s, of which 1959’s What Is There to Say? is the last. Good name for the last album in a series, if you ask me. I decided on this one because tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and this album includes one of the coolest renditions of the overplayed “My Funny Valentine” that you’ll ever hear, featuring Art Farmer on trumpet. So it seemed appropriate.

Mulligan was kind of a specialist at recording ultra-cool versions of this one particular tune, featuring whatever trumpet player he happened to be collaborating with at that time. This 1952 version, featuring Chet Baker on trumpet, is actually in the Library of Congress for being so awesome (that’s a technical term). I like it slightly better than the version on this album, but they’re both quite good (and similar in a lot of respects):

Farmer and Mulligan are joined by Bill Crow on bass and Dave Bailey on drums. Now, before I lose my connection again and/or drive myself crazy in some other technology-related way, here’s the full album:

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Saturday Night Tunes: Boss Tenors

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boss_tenors

Although the premise isn’t all that different from Tenor Madness, the 1956 Sonny Rollins album that featured a sax duel between Rollins and John Coltrane on the title track, 1961’s Boss Tenors is actually more of a collaboration than a competition. The boss tenors in question, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, were friends and had even, according to AllMusic.com, already co-led a group several years earlier. But it’s a fun album driven by the strengths of the two saxophonists.

I sometimes think of Sonny Stitt (d. 1982) as the Joe Frazier to Charlie Parker’s Muhammad Ali (ask your parents grandparents). If there hadn’t been a Muhammad Ali, people today might think of Frazier as the greatest heavyweight of all time. Similarly, if there hadn’t been a Charlie Parker, it might have been Sonny Stitt who was credited with inventing bebop and changing jazz forever. People who hear Stitt’s earlier alto work after already being familiar with Parker often assume that Stitt was copying Parker’s sound and style, and there is a pretty strong resemblance. But the story goes that Parker and Stitt met each other in 1943 for the first time and Stitt already sounded uncannily like Parker, because that’s just the way he played. Stitt started playing more tenor in the late 1940s, then made tenor his primary horn after doing time in prison for selling drugs, partly to lessen the comparisons with Parker.

Gene Ammons (d. 1974) was always a tenor player, one of the key figures in the heavily blues and R&B-inflected “Chicago style” of tenor playing and a leader in the soul jazz movement. While he was technically proficient and quite capable of playing in the bebop style, Ammons is known more for his big, expressive tone and his ability to emote through his music.

In addition to the two leads, Boss Tenors features John Houston on piano, Buster Williams on bass, and George Brown on drums.

“Blues Up and Down” kicked off the LP version of this album. Anybody who has the Verve CD, like I do, will wonder why the first track is “There Is No Greater Love.” That’s because, for some reason, the CD starts with side 2 of the record. “There Is No Greater Love” is a fine tune but a lousy opener for this particular album, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute, so we’re starting with “Blues Up and Down” the way the LP did. Stitt and Ammons wrote this one together, a fast blues that serves mostly as a vehicle for the tenor cutting contest that had to be on this album somewhere:

Next up is “Counter Clockwise,” a slower (except in the double-time sections), soulful showcase for Williams’s meaty walking bass line:

The Isham Jones standard “There Is No Greater Love” opened side 2 of the LP (per the liner notes) but it’s the first track on my CD. The thing is, Stitt is on alto for this one, which is an extremely odd choice for kicking off an album called Boss Tenors, so I’ve decided to go by the LP order. “No Greater Love” is usually covered as a ballad, but here it gets a medium-tempo treatment. The call-and-response stuff that Stitt and Ammons get into towards the end is the highlight:

The melody of “The One Before This,” written by Ammons, might be the simplest one ever written (you’ll see), but it leads into some great solos from Ammons, Stitt, Houston, and Williams:

I never get tired of hearing covers of “Autumn Leaves,” the Joseph Kosma classic, even though it’s one of the most exhaustively covered tunes in jazz history. It’s a great choice to close the album. Here Stitt and Ammons trade bars in both the opening and closing statements of the melody, which makes for a cool effect:

 

Saturday Night Tunes: Free for All

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It’s been a while since we covered a Jazz Messengers album around here, which is amazing considering how prolific they were. Free for All was recorded in 1964, with a lineup of Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Cedar Walton on piano, and Reggie Workman on bass, plus leader Art Blakey of course. That is a heavyweight sextet, and while nothing here is necessarily breaking any new ground in jazz, it’s all pretty damn good.

The title track, written by Shorter, is really a wonderful tune, one of the quintessential Jazz Messengers-style tracks. As the title suggests, it starts to feel like free jazz, or at least as close to free jazz as the ultra-hard bop Messengers were going to get. The highlight is Hubbard’s trumpet solo leading into Blakey’s drum solo:

The soulful “Hammer Head,” also written by Shorter, is the Jazz Messengers in their wheelhouse. Fuller’s solo stands out to me, although I am a huge fan of jazz trombone and it’s actually rarer to encounter than you’d think, so maybe that’s why I appreciate it here so much.

Freddie Hubbard wrote “The Core” as a dedication to the Chicago-based Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of the country’s largest civil rights organization. But the title works on two levels–as Hubbard says in the liner notes, “I think we got at some of the core of jazz–the basic feelings and rhythms that are at the foundation of the music.” It’s a toss up whether this or “Free for All” is the best tune on the album:

“Pensativa” is the album’s one cover. Originally written by bossa nova pianist and composer Clare Fischer in 1962, it was arranged for this group by Hubbard after he’d heard it performed live. It ends this otherwise pretty intense album on a light note:

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Saturday Night Tunes: The Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1943

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On the one hand, we’re currently buried under about 2 feet of snow here in Virginia. On the other hand, our electricity hasn’t gone out. On the other hand, even though the electricity hasn’t gone out I kind of forgot about our regular Saturday engagement, and it’s already after 8 PM. On the other hand, today just happens to be the anniversary of Duke Ellington’s first concert at Carnegie Hall, in 1943, so that kind of eliminates the need for me to stand in front of my CD collection puzzling over which album to highlight this week. On the other hand, the recording of Duke Ellington’s 1943 Carnegie Hall concert is, as you might imagine for a live recording from 1943, a bit rough. On the other hand (last one), this concert gave us one of maybe two (and it there may not even be that many) recordings that exist of Ellington’s band performing the full version of his Black, Brown, and Beige jazz suite, so that’s worth hearing even if the quality isn’t so hot.

Ellington composed Black, Brown, and Beige for this concert, and he only performed it in full twice–here and the following night in Boston. He called it (you’ll hear him say it at the beginning of the first track, “a parallel to the history of the American Negro,” and its movements powerfully take the audience through that history. “Black,” the first movement, is divided into three parts: “Work Song,” “Come Sunday” (a spiritual), and “Light.” “Brown,” the second movement, is divided into “West Indian Dance,” “Emancipation Celebration,” and “The Blues.” Finally there’s “Beige,” which is not split into separate movements. Ellington frames each movement with a little talk about the music and what it represents.

The piece is ambitious not just musically, but in its choice of subject, but then Ellington was something of a master at talking about race without alienating the people who needed to hear his message the most. Here he takes advantage of his cross-over appeal, which is what got him the invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall, to tell his audience about African-American history, using an implicitly African-American style of music, but in a framework that would be familiar to an audience more accustomed to European classical music.

Black, Brown, and Beige is a remarkable piece of jazz composition, and how cool is it that we can give it a listen on the anniversary of its first performance. I hope you enjoy.

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Saturday Night Tunes: Una Mas

Trumpeter Kenny Dorham is one of those guys who doesn’t get nearly the recognition that his skills as a jazz artist command. A bebop trumpeter who was talented enough to replace the almighty Clifford Brown in the Brown-Roach quintet upon Brown’s tragic death, he was also one of the original Jazz Messengers. Along the way he recorded with greats like Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk, and his own groups should be celebrated as much for the young talent they produced–people like Hank Mobley, Bobby Timmons, Kenny Burrell, Tony Williams, and Herbie Hancock–as for the music they produced. Like Brown, Dorham also died too young, of kidney disease in 1972 at the age of 48, and you have to wonder if he’d be more famous today if he’d lived long enough to become one of jazz’s elder statesmen, like his frequent collaborator Joe Henderson.

Una Mas was recorded in 1963 and was one of Dorham’s last albums as a leader before obscurity and his illness caught up to him. Apart from Dorham on trumpet, the quintet includes Henderson on tenor sax, Hancock on piano, Butch Warren on bass, and Williams on drums. It was recorded a little over a month before Hancock and Williams, along with bassist Ron Carter, came together to form the rhythm section of what is now known as Miles Davis’s “Second Great Quintet.”

“Una Mas” is a long (15 minute-plus) jam on a 16 bar bossa nova with at times a heavy blues feel. Dorham, then Henderson, then Hancock take extended solos:

Next is “Straight Ahead,” a 32 bar swinger that features drumming by Williams that’s so good, you’d never believe the guy playing it was 17 years old at the time. Henderson’s solo steals the show for me, although I am admittedly a huge Joe Henderson fan:

“Sao Paulo” returns us to the title track’s bossa feel, inspired as it was by Dorham’s tour stop in São Paulo, Brazil a few years prior. The tune then switches gears in the solos, where it moves fluidly between bossa, swing, and something kind of approaching funk. I really like this one because of the constant textural changes:

The last tune on this short album is the only one not written by Dorham: the Loewe-Lerner ballad “If Ever I Would Leave You,” from their 1960 musical Camelot. If you just rolled your eyes a little, I wouldn’t blame you, but it actually kind of works, mostly thanks to Dorham:

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Saturday Night Tunes: Crescent

It feels like it’s been a while since we did a real one of these, so let’s go with something meaty. Crescent was recorded by John Coltrane and his quartet (McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums) in April and June, 1964, about six and seven months, respectively, before they recorded the landmark A Love Supreme. The progression of the group’s sound and cohesion, leading up to Love Supreme‘s climax, is fully evident throughout this remarkable album. It catches Coltrane at a time when he was really beginning to transition from hard bop to the freer, more spiritual form that characterized his later work.

The title track is first, and it’s really one of my favorite recordings of anything ever. Opening as a ballad, the group flows freely into a swinging middle and then back to a ballad feel at the end. Coltrane’s experimentation with time and sound is infused throughout:

“Wise One” follows a similar structure as the preceding track, though in this case the ballad feel gives way to a more Afro-Cuban middle, then back to the ballad. Coltrane’s treatment of the ballad sections is simply gorgeous, and he just tears into the more up-tempo middle section:

The short, swinging “Bessie’s Blues” is kind of a shocking contrast to the previous two freer, more contemplative tracks. Tyner gets a chance to really show off here:

We already heard “Lonnie’s Lament” on a previous album, but this version is different in one major way: Coltrane doesn’t take a solo on this one. Instead, Tyner takes a piano solo and then Garrison takes a lengthy and quite excellent bass solo:

“The Drum Thing,” is, well, a drum thing. Coltrane, along with a minimalist bass line from Garrison, state the melody at the front and back, but the middle is entirely Jones (with a little bass for color). One of the cool things about Crescent is that everybody in the quartet gets their chance to shine, and this is Jones’s:

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