Sunday, December 26, 2010

Don Redman's Park Avenue Patter

Don Redman, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and band leader, was perhaps the first performer to ever engage in rap vocalizing. Check out his "I Heard" if you are in doubt. Unknown photographer
Here's another Golden Crest recording for all you fans of jazz obscurata.

Don Redman, as Fletcher Henderson's chief arranger in the mid-1920s, was instrumental (ha!) in creating the modern big band sound. Proficient on most reed and brass instruments from an early age, Redman was one of those extraordinarily talented pioneers who has essentially been forgotten by jazz enthusiasts today. He led his own band after getting the call in 1927 from Jean Goldkette to go to Detroit and take over an outfit called McKinney's Cotton Pickers (none of the band's members had likely ever seen a cotton field). Redman made such a success of what was essentially a pick-up group that by 1931 he was able to form his own orchestra and proceeded to record a string of hits for Brunswick. After making a number of short films in Hollywood (the image above comes from a 1934 Vitaphone soundie), Redman retired from band leading and concentrated on writing and arranging. He was Pearl Bailey's music director in the '50s.

This record is an anomaly in the Redman catalog, coming as it does long after his heyday on the jazz scene. Recorded in 1957, it features Redman chiefly as an arranger but also as a soloist in places on a number of fairly pedestrian tunes. Though the performances are tame and unremarkable for the most part, there are exceptions – most notably, Coleman Hawkins' solo on "Black Velvet." It's the rarity of this recording and Redman's place as a prominent figure in jazz history that caused me to want to share it. Leonard Feather's contemporary Downbeat review of the LP (above left) gives a good overview of what you can expect for your downloading trouble.

By the way, the cover of "Park Avenue Patter" is a favorite among kitsch collectors. Philip E. Pegler was a leading fashion photographer in the 1950s, and Golden Crest must have licensed his image from Vogue or some other high-gloss publication of the period. Sparing no expense, I guess – penance for the Plonsky cover (see below) ...

As always, the music in this posting was ripped from the original vinyl with no enhancement other than a mild cleaning up of minor clicks and pops.

Don Redman, as, ss; Coleman Hawkins, ts; Seldon Powell, fl, ts; Danny Bank, bar; Red Press, fl, as, cl; Bobby Byrne, tbn; Tyree Glenn, vbs, tbn; Joe Wilder, tp; Hank Jones, p; Barry Galbraith, g; George Duvivier, b; Osie Johnson, d; Melvin Moore, v. 
New York, NY; April 11, 1957 and other unknown later dates
Golden Crest CR 3017 

1. Park Avenue Patter
2. Good Boog Di Goodie
3. Black Velvet
4. Ballade de Ballet
5. Lydia
6. Mad Minuet
7. My Confectionary Baby
8. My Girl Friday
9. Looney
10. The Blame's On You
11. Penthouse Alley
12. Seedless Grapefruit

Find it here:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cool Man Cool: John Plonsky

Here's a record whose cover I've seen posted around the jazz bloggosphere and on collector sites, but no one seems to have uploaded the music. I have a copy, so here's what the John Plonsky Quintet sounded like.

John Plonsky was a journeyman trumpet player, composer and arranger from the West Coast who had recorded with Ray Bauduc and Nappy Lamare in the '40s, starting out in traditional and swing styles. He later switched to a more bop-oriented approach after coming to the East Coast with Alvy West's Little Band. This recording was only his third time in the studio during his career, and it was his first time as a leader. It would be his last. What happened to John Plonsky after this is unknown, at least to me.

There are several aspects to this record that make it stand out. The first is purely cosmetic, but I confess it is the sole reason I picked this record up: its decidedly unhip cover. An apotheosis of bad concept, design and execution, the album front has the band, looking tentative and uncomfortable, superimposed over a snowy background. These guys are cool, get it? Golden Crest, the album's label, is the outfit that produced all those bright red and yellow children's records that I remember from my youth. Clearly jazz was a stretch for them, despite the fact that they issued a number of good jazz LPs. "Cool Man Cool" made me laugh, and I laid out four bits for it at my radio station's music sale a few years ago.

The second standout feature of "Cool Man Cool" is the band's instrumentation. With an electric accordion and a baritone saxophone backing up the trumpet's lead, you'd think the sound would be quite annoying. But no – it is remarkably coherent and nuanced. Plonsky talks about how accordionist Dominic Cortese muffles his instrument to "eliminate the reedy sound." He does and the result is very interesting.

Two additional notes. Dizzy Gillespie recorded as a sideman for a vocalist back in the mid'-40s and, because he was under contract to Victor, used a pseudonym on the label. They name he chose? "John Plonsky."

The bassist on "Cool Man Cool" is Chet Amsterdam. I knew him briefly when I hosted a weekly live jazz program over WJFF in the '90s. Chet would occasionally play in the show's rhythm section, but was in poor health, suffering from what one of my other musician friends describe as the "habit" that afflicted so many great players from the '40s and '50s. He was, at one time, an excellent player with much promise. See the review from the July 1957 issue of Metronome above.

As always, these files were ripped from the original vinyl with only a very minor cleaning up of pops and crackles.

John Plonsky, trumpet
Carl Janelli, baritone saxophone
Dominic Cortese, electric accordian
Chet Amsterdam, bass
Mel Zelnick, drums
New York, NY; March 5, 1957
Golden Crest CR 3014 

1. Laurel and Hardy (Plonsky)
2. The Lady Is a Tramp
3. But Not for Me
4. Putting on the Ritz
5. Just in Time
6. Calico Shoes (Plonsky)
7. Angel Hair (Plonsky)
8. How About You?
9. Funkier Than Thou (Plonsky)
10. I'll Take Romance
11. Blonde Caboose (Plonsky)
Find it here:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

John Williams Trio

Emarcy A&R man Bob Shad (later owner of the Flying Dutchman label) offers
advice to John Williams
during the pianist's trio date. Bob Parent photo

Another in our piano series ...

Vermont native John Williams has has long been eclipsed by his classical and pop namesake, but at the time of this recording – 1954 – he was a rising young star with real promise in the jazz idiom. A tasteful soloist and occasional composer, he had joined Charlie Barnet's big band in 1951 after a stint in the Army (where he played baritone horn!) and then moved on to Stan Getz's quartet, his steady gig at the time of this Emarcy recording. This EP contains four of the eight tunes that eventually comprised Williams' first recording as a leader, but they give a good sampling of John's skill as a soloist – nothing flashy, just thoughtful and swinging. Williams would go on to make a second record for Mercury (Emarcy) and record as a sideman with such luminaries as Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Cannonball Adderley. The critics applauded this first effort, as can be seen in the Metronome review from May 1955 above (of the complete LP).

While John Williams still plays (or at least did up until 2004), he dropped out of sight in the 1960s to become a full-time banker and eventually became a city commissioner in Hollywood, Florida. This little EP I picked up at a church rummage sale a couple decades back and always liked it, so even though you can get the complete John Williams on Emarcy for a stiff price at Amazon (an import), I thought it was worth sharing with other inquiring jazz minds.

As always, the music in this posting was ripped from the original vinyl with no enhancement other than a mild cleaning up of minor clicks and pops.

John Williams, piano
Bill Anthony, bass
Frank Isola, drums
New York, NY; 1-3: July 1954; 4: August 13, 1954
Emarcy EP-1-6092 (10" extended play record) 

1. I'll Take the Lo Road
2. Out of the World
3. Railroad Jack
4. For Heaven's Sake
Find it here:

Gold Standard

A 1952 ad for Les Paul's answer to Fender's Telecaster. 
In the early '50s, Gibson made an effort to woo jazz players away from its competitor Fender by hiring Les Paul to develop a solid-body electric. They promoted their new instrument with full-page ads in various jazz magazines, touting its "wonderful tone" and featuring inventor Lester (and occasionally the long-suffering Mary Ford) along with the instrument. Jazz string players were not impressed (with the single exception of Jim Hall, as far as I can determine), and Gibson soon switched its promotion to the emerging rock 'n' roll field. If you were prescient enough in 1953 to pick up a "Goldtop" for its asking-price of $250, you could pull down a cool $25K for it in today's collectors's market. Now that's a sensation!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Man of Sound Mind

The man in all the tape is the late Bill Savory, recording engineer, jazz enthusiast and creator of a fascinating and important archive of jazz airchecks. Unknown photographer
Earlier this year, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, New York, acquired a fabled trove of recordings made from radio broadcasts originally aired in the 1930s. The collection was long rumored to exist but its whereabouts was unknown until recently. Now the collection of William Savory – a Columbia recording engineer with an enthusiasm for recording live jazz – is in good hands and is slated to be made available to the public (assuming copyright issues can be resolved). Savory recorded radio broadcasts at 33-1/3 rpm using huge 16-inch discs and was thus able to capture extended performances at a time when conventional technology limited jazz pieces to three minutes. A fine pianist in addition to everything else, Savory was a big fan of Benny Goodman's, and was responsible for transferring BG's famed Carnegie Hall concerts to LP in 1953. The gag photo above was taken right around the time he was working on the project. Savory was such a fan of Benny's, he eventually married Goodman's vocalist, Helen Ward. He died in 2004.

To learn more about the archive and about Savory, visit the National Jazz Museum.

Piano Moods: Teddy Wilson

The Benny Goodman Quartet circa 1938, jazz's first publically integrated group (originally a trio). The happy foursome is, from left, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson and the Ray, Goodman himself. Photo by unknown, from Metronome magazine
This was Teddy Wilson's first recording session under his own name in three years. In the early '40s, Teddy had recorded extensively for the Musicraft label, but with the emergence of bebop his elegant swing improvisations were less in demand. His date for Columbia comprised one of the company's first extended-play "Piano Moods" sessions, and it featured a quick succession of familiar tunes rendered in Wilson's impeccable style. Teddy reportedly only listened to classical music in his off hours and it certainly shows here. The recording makes an interesting compliment to the Earl Hines "Piano Moods" record further down this page. Wilson rounds edges and straightens the way where Hines prefers to keep the listeners guessing (though less so on "Moods" than on other recordings).

You'll note that the folks at Columbia made a hash of the sidemen's names and instruments, but I've corrected them here. I've forgotten where I picked this LP up, but it is in excellent shape for a record two years shy of retirement age.

As always, the music in this posting was ripped from the original vinyl with no enhancement other than a mild cleaning up of minor clicks and pops.

Teddy Wilson, piano
Arvell Shaw, bass
J.C. Heard, drums
New York, NY; June 29, 1950
Al McKibbon, bass
Kansas Fields, drums
New York, NY; August 25, 1950
Columbia CL 6153 (10" extended play record) 

1. Just One of Those Things
2. Just Like a Butterfly
3. Runnin' Wild
4. I've Got the World on a String
5. Fine and Dandy
6. Ghost of a Chance
7. Honeysuckle Rose
8. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
9. Bess, You Is My Woman Now
10. I Can't Give You Anything But Love
11. After You've Gone

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Piano Moods: Earl Hines

Earl Hines and stogie perform in a New York City club in 1952. Photo by Tom James

Here's Earl Hines after he'd abandoned the big band and had quit Louis Armstrong's first all-star group. He was working mostly in trio and quartet settings at the time and, judging by trade magazines from the period, was keeping a pretty low profile.

Columbia Records was experimenting with long-playing 33 1/3-rpm records, and decided to issue a series of "extended play" albums – 10-inch discs – featuring pianists. Hines was one of them. What was unusual about these records was that there were no pauses or separations between tunes – each side of the EP was one continuous performance.

In keeping with the marketing angle, the performances on these albums are unchallenging and fairly perfunctory. But there are stellar moments, and Earl Hines demonstrates his great skill on "I Hadn't Anyone But You" and breaks into some surprising Latin rhythms on "Diane."

This album is a thrift shop find, one of several interesting records discovered among hundreds crammed into a shopping cart doing duty as a record rack. It was hell to look through but well worth the effort, as it turned out.

As always, the music in this posting was ripped from the original vinyl with no enhancement other than a mild cleaning up of minor clicks and pops.

Earl Hines, piano
Al McKibbon, bass
J.C. Heard, drums
New York, NY; July 17, 1950
Columbia CL 6171 (7" extended play record) 

1. Rosetta
2. When I Dream of You
3. You Can Depend on Me
4. Diane
5. Velvet Moon
6. I Hadn't Anyone But You
7. These Foolish Things
8. Deed I Do

Poster Boy Prez

Ad from Metronome magazine, 1953

A saxophone playing friend of mine says Dolnet horns were "cheap with bad intonation." But Lester played one – or at least posed with one for the camera. Don Byas, too. I suppose it's not so much the instrument, it's the player ... 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Piano Styles of Ken Kersey

Kenny Kersey performing at Cafe Society in New York City around the time these Savoy sides were recorded. Photo by Bill Gottlieb; from Wikipedia

This posting starts off our Piano Series.

Like Oscar Peterson a generation later, Kenny Kersey was a Canadian pianist who was quite active on the American jazz scene. From the mid-thirties to the late fifties he worked with the orchestras of Lucky Millinder, Andy Kirk and Cootie Williams, and backed singers of quality like Billie Holiday. As a sideman, he made innumerable small group recordings for independent labels, playing with many of the jazz greats. Oddly though, he recorded only a handful of sessions under his own name. This very rare Savoy date was the first of those.

Kersey's playing here is very much in the Teddy Wilson/Art Tatum mold, showing none of the influence of bebop. Though Kersey is often given credit – along with Clyde Hart – for being a stylistic bridge between swing and modern piano playing, his performance on these sides are solidly in the swing tradition. Jack Foster's guitar work is fleet and complimentary, evoking the styles of Oscar Moore and Al Casey. Ironically, this date is his only known recording session – and nothing more is known about him. Billy Taylor is perhaps best known for his stint with Duke Ellington where he was one of two bass players – the other being the great Jimmy Blanton. 

This 45-rpm record came from a trove of LPs – mostly jazz – that a friend of a friend who cleans out homes for extra income found stored in an attic. She knew I was a jazz maven and offered to sell me the lot for a pittance. I, of course, took her up on the deal, and this Kersey disc was one of the more interesting items included in it. I'll be featuring other gems from the lot in upcoming posts.

As always, ripped from the original vinyl with no enhancement other than a mild cleaning up of minor clicks and pops.

Kenny Kersey, piano
Jack Foster, guitar
Billy Taylor, bass

New York, NY; July 30, 1946
Savoy XP 8094 (45-rpm 5" extended play record) 

1. Oh, Lady Be Good
2. Mohawk Boogie
3. Sweet Lorraine
4. Never Can Tell