Monday, December 26, 2011

Charlie Parker at Home

This is the first photographic evidence of the great genius of the alto saxophone to appear in Downbeat Magazine (that I can find, at least). How 25-year-old Charlie Parker got included in this junket shall forever remain a mystery, but there he was with Trummy, Errol, Slam, Doc and the rest of the boys. Wouldn't we all love to hear an aircheck of that CKEY broadcast? From Downbeat, December 15, 1945.
Here's another treat from one of those '70s bootleg LPs I mentioned a while back. I only saw this one once, but I snatched it pronto before someone else nabbed it. I was working in Boston at the time, driving a delivery truck for Discount Records (that's another story) which meant I had access to a half-dozen first-rate record stores and all their remainders and overstock. A bunch of Boris Rose boots were dumped on the Harvard Square store, and this recording was in the pile.

What we have here is Charlie Parker at home in his apartment on West 52th Street with his partner, Chan Richardson, and Chan's three-year-old daughter, Kim. Bird is being interviewed by music historian and professor Marshall Stearns for a book he was working on – the landmark "The Story of Jazz" (Oxford Press, 1956). With Stearns is his friend, Jim Maher. They are questioning Bird about his (then) mysterious past as a teen musician in Kansas City, and the conversation is casual and free-ranging. If you know Parker's story, in this clip you'll hear where some of the now-accepted truths about his early days come from.

The date is May 1, 1950 (thanks to Phil Schaap for that), and you'll occasionally hear the traffic in the street – a window must have been open. An intriguing reference is made to rehearsal sessions that Bird had participated in a few weeks prior to the interview. Chan brings up Gene Roland's massive big band – eight saxophones in the reed section alone –  and Bird describes it as sounding "wild!" Parker researcher and historian Tony Williams dug up the reels made during those legendary sessions back in the '70s and issued them on Spotlight. So, for your listening pleasure, I've included a brief excerpt of the Roland band's version "Stardust" with some soloing by Bird.

As always, these were ripped from the vinyl with no modification whatsoever (in this case).

Charlie Parker interview with Marshall Stearns:

Gene Roland Orchestra, "Stardust," April 3, 1950:

All the Best!

A seasonal message from the Kid from Redbank and his men. From Downbeat Magazine, December 15, 1943.

Happy holidays and a swinging New Year from all of us here at Gems to all of you!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Unsounded Beat

The Jimmy Giuffre Trio in 1957 included bassist Ralph Pena and guitarist Jim Hall. The leader's distinctive clarinet and tenor style gave the group its trademark cerebral sound, a sort of ascetic chamber jazz. Photo by William Claxton
Can music sans improvisation be considered jazz? This album may be a case in point.

Jimmy Giuffre, the guy with the unpronounceable surname, was an exponent of – what? – third stream music in the 1950s. Originally an arranger for Woody Herman, Giuffre secured a place in jazz history by composing (and playing on) "Four Brothers," and then made his mark as a soloist of substance with Shorty Rogers' Giants. But it was with a series of trios and quartets that the reedist really found his musical voice. Not exactly cool, not really chamber jazz, maybe a blend of classical and jazz approaches, the music produced by his groups remains unlike anything before or since. Only the MJQ and perhaps Art Farmer's quartet with Jim Hall capture a similar quiet, introspective intensity. Giuffre's music, though, had limited appeal, and many of his recordings have eluded collectors for decades.

I came across this record at an online auction site and knew I had to have it. I normally pay a buck or less for such treasures, but I ponied up considerably more for this Capitol disc. I don't know why – I'm not a huge fan of Jimmy Giuffre or the school of music he represents (if he can be said to represent any school at all). But Giuffre records are like hen's teeth, and a clean one is a true rarity, so I PayPal-ed my way to ownership. Because Jimmy's music is often very quiet with lots of silent spaces, vintage discs of his can often have distressingly bad sound quality. But this mono LP is cleaner than clean.

So here is "Tangents in Jazz," an odd work even for the Giuffre oeuvre. The liner notes describe its distinguishing characteristic as music with "no audible beat." Jimmy himself says it's "jazz, with a non-pulsating beat." To my ears, the beat's there all right – it's the improvisation that's lacking. As far as I can tell, only the trumpeter, jazz man and comedian Jack Sheldon, gets any real solo space. The rest is written out.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the music here is that it was produced at a time when groups like the Jazz Messengers were forming and hard bop was emerging as the dominant jazz style, at least on the East Coast. Giuffre was clearly in a different place. His compositions, despite their formal quality, are tuneful and compelling, and the record works well as a coherent whole. See what you think of it.

As always, these files were ripped right from the vinyl with only a very minor cleaning of the sound.


Tangents in Jazz
Capitol T634
Jimmy Giuffre, cl, ts; Jack Sheldon, tp; Ralph Pena, b; Artie Anton, d.
Hollywood, CA; June 1955

1. Scintilla I
2. Finger Snapper
3. Lazy Tones
4. Scintilla II
5. Chirpin' Time
6. This Is My Beloved ((Vernon Duke)
7. The Leprechaun
8. Scintilla III
9. Rhetoric
10. Scintilla IV

All compositions except 6 by Jimmy Giuffre

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

BG Goes Modern

The guitarist from Oklahoma seems momentarily stunned as BG whistles the melody of a Jerome Kern tune. Photo from Metronome magazine, oddly attributed to one "S. Kierkegaard."
The first time I heard Charlie Christian was when I bought an Everest budget LP at the Harvard Coop in Cambridge. It contained disc recordings made by Columbia student Jerry Newman at Minton's Playhouse on 118th St. in Harlem back in 1941. But I didn't know that then, and nothing about the recording's genesis appeared on its cover. I just was amazed by the playing.

Back in those days (the hoary '70s), there was very little by Charlie Christian available. The Everest and several other companion volumes on that label were pretty much it. But bootlegs – fan-made LPs made from tapes and radio airchecks – were around if you looked. Many of them came from the endless reels of radio broadcasts recorded by recluse and legend Boris Rose, but many others were of unknown origin. If you went to specialty record stores in any of the big jazz cities, you could find them. In New York I found one that featured rare performances by Charlie Christian.

On these bootleg recordings (a few of which are seen left) there was often little or no discographical information. There was just the music – magnificent, mysterious and maddeningly obscure. The Charlie Christian LP I found featured the guitarist with big band leader Benny Goodman – Charlie's employer for nearly all of his professional career. Any time you heard Christian on the radio back in 1939, '40 or '41, you heard him as part of the BG Sextet. And that's the case here. I didn't know it until much later, but these recordings also featured some superb guest artists. Like Mary Lou Williams and Red Norvo.

But there's more. Charlie Christian was the featured artist with Benny Goodman on the first side of the bootleg. On Side 2, it was modernist tenor player Wardell Gray who soloed with The Ray. When I bought the record back in 1974, I'd never heard of Wardell. I was looking for Charlie because I was learning to play guitar and wanted the cop some licks (ha!). But the smooth, fluid stylings of the tenor player, below, on the second side caught my ear right away. And Goodman's ensemble sounded nothing like it did on the 78-rpm discs my Dad had – this was modern music. Bop!

So here are Charlie Christian and Wardell Gray performing as members of various Benny Goodman units, and lending a distinctly modern sound to the clarinetist's music. The arrangements on many of the Wardell tunes are by the visionary Mary Lou Williams and tenorist Georgie Auld is featured on the Christian sides. You'll see the album's cover has a nonsensical title with incorrect tune titles in some cases, replete with Swedish translations. This sort of malarkey was typical of bootlegs from that period. Also, there's no image of the back cover because it was blank.

A blog note: I might do a series of these bootleg records in upcoming months. I have an interview with Charlie Parker by Marshall Stearns that I think you'd enjoy (I don't believe it's available anywhere else on the web). And Boris Rose, the source for much of the '70s bootleg material, has a certain fascination for amateur hoarders like myself.

BG Goes Modern • With Charlie Christian & Wardell Gray
(“Tribute from Sweden” bootleg; Fran Staterna Stereo)

Benny Goodman, cl; Lionel Hampton, vbs; Fletcher Henderson, p; Charlie Christian, g;
Artie Bernstein, b; Nick Fatool, d. Aircheck, New York, NY; November 22, 1939
1. Soft Winds

Benny Goodman Orchestra w/Charlie Christian; Jimmy Mundy, arr. Aircheck, New York, NY; April 7, 1941
2. Air Mail Special
Benny Goodman, cl; Cootie Williams, tp; Georgie Auld, ts; Johnny Guarnieri, p;
Charlie Christian, g; Artie Bernstein, b; Dave Tough, d. Aircheck, New York, NY; April 14, 1941
3. Song of the Islands
Personnel as 2; Aircheck, New York, NY; Feb.-April, 1941
4. My Daddy Rocks Me
Personnel as 2, add Red Norvo, xyl; Aircheck, New York, NY; Feb.-April, 1941
5. Flying Home
Personnel as 5; Aircheck, New York, NY; Feb.-April, 1941
6. Wholly Cats
Personnel as 2; Aircheck, New York, NY; Feb.-April, 1941
7. Breakfast Feud
Personnel as 2; Aircheck, New York, NY; February 24, 1941
8. Gone with What Draft?
Benny Goodman, cl; Wardell Gray, ts; others unk; unk. location, 1948(?)
9. Wardell’s Riff
10. Jumpin’ at the Woodside
Benny Goodman, Stan Hasselgard, cl; Wardell Gray, ts; Mary Lou Williams, p, arr; Billy Bauer, g; Clyde Lombardi, b; Mel Zelnick, d. Aircheck, White Plains, NY; June 26, 1948
11. Indiana (Donna Lee)
Personnel as 11; Aircheck, White Plains, NY; July 3, 1948
12. Bye, Bye Blues
13. Blue View (Blues form Sweden)
Personnel as 11; Aircheck, White Plains, NY; June 26, 1948
14. Mary’s Idea (Stompin’ Slow)
15. Swedish Pastry (Swedish Sweets)

Find it here:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

By Request

As a protege of George Wein, Ruby Braff was a frequent attraction at the Newport Jazz Festival. Here he is on stage in 1956 blowing trad with Chicagoan Bud Freeman. Below, he waits for his moment before the mic, with Wein at the piano. Above photo by Terry Martin
As the host of a jazz radio program, I occasionally get calls from listeners requesting to hear a particular artist or tune. As a rule, I don't play requests because they are often repeats of tunes or artists I've already featured. I love the hits, but there's only so many times I can spin "Take Five" or "Kind of Blue."

But in response to my last posting, visitor Baron asked if I had any Ruby Braff on Jazztone. When I responded in the affirmative, he asked that I upload a copy here. So ... I guess on do take requests online. With a library of about 10,000 recordings to choose from, it's likely that I have something you'd like to hear. Let me know.

So here's Ruby. In my younger days, I didn't much care for the cornetist from Boston. It seemed inconceivable to me that a horn player in the modern era could look backward for inspiration. But now I know better – Mr. Braff, though not progressive by any measure, was a paragon of taste and swing. And he really knew the tradition.

This recording is not a reissue of a prior LP as so many of the Jazztones were. Jazztone produced this session expressly for its club members, and it was the first time that Ruby Braff was allowed to choose his own sidemen and tunes. The results are excellent, with fellow Bostonian Sam Margolis the standout. His Lester-inspired tenor really has depth here – a pleasant surprise as I was previously unfamiliar with his work. Billy Byers, a skilled composer, arranger and bebop soloist, fits the traditional style so well you'd never know he regularly worked with enfants like Phil Woods and Hal McKusick. Papa Jo is, of course, a swinging delight.

As always, these files were ripped from the actual LP, with only a minor cleaning up of the sound.

Swinging with Ruby Braff, Jazztone J-1210
Ruby Braff, tp; Sam Margolis, ts; Billy Byers, tbn; Marty Napoleon, p; Milt Hinton, b; Jo Jones, d.
New York, NY; April 25, 1955

1. Only a Blues
2. I'll Never Be the Same
3. In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree
4. Deep River
5. I'm Shooting High
6. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
7. Lonesome Road
8. 'Deed I Do
9. Flakey
10. Love Me or Leave Me

Find it here:

Friday, September 30, 2011

Requiem for a Collector

Here's just a small sampling of the many records included in what turned out to be a wonderful collection of '40s and '50s mainstream jazz. Yowzah! Photo by Gems of Jazz 
Like most citizens in this day and age, I have a day gig. Only, because I work for a newspaper, my day gig is frequently on the night shift. The news never sleeps, especially in the digital age. So that's me, driving back and forth to work, trying not to doze off long enough to wake up in a ditch at 1 a.m.

Every now and then I try to do something interesting to make the commute a bit more palatable. I'll take a different route or pick up something tasty for the ride or visit a local thrift store (if I can get off early). There's one shop I pass every day that's a bargain hunter's paradise. I've been in it several times over the years, and never have had the patience to see it all. Stuff everywhere. Too much stuff.

One day I was early for the job and the weather was right and I was in the mood. I pulled over in front of "Ye Olde Anything Store" and plunged in. "Any new records?" I asked its corpulent, grubby proprietor. "Records? Yeah, right out back, in the shed. Here's a light bulb for the lamp. It's pretty dark out there. Just screw it in."

Screw it in? He was right – it was dark. And musty. And FULL of records. The chicken coop-sized shed out back was a repository for vinyl. The bulb helped a little, and after my eyes adjusted I could see pretty well. I went through several stacks without much luck. Mostly those annoying LP-sized disco singles. And record jackets with no records.

On the floor amid the piles was one of those big blue plastic recycling tubs that we have here in New York. Sticking up from one end of the tub was something that got my attention. It was the corner of a pink Mylar sleeve – the kind of sleeve that American Recording Society LPs came in. Jazz LPs.

I pulled it out and checked. "Billie Holiday Sings," ARS G-409. In mint condition. Lucky me! Then I noticed that there were 50 or 60 more just like it in that blue tub. Hoo-boy.

I pulled what I could and settled up with the grubby fellow out front. The score amounted to 57 records, all American Recording Society sides, all with their accompanying booklets. All great jazz. The man wanted a buck a piece for them, but took $55. I went off to work, thinking of other things.

A week later I went back to "Anything" and really went through everything. Not only did the guy have records in the shed, he had some in the cellar of the main house and farther out back under a big tent. I found several hundred additional sides, nearly all in pristine shape. And all, it turned out, from a single collection.

How did I know? Nearly every one of the records I pulled from the pile had a name stamped on the back cover. "J.J. Chambers" it said. Mr. Chambers clearly loved traditional jazz, and he took special care of his records. Judging by the nearly complete set of ARS sides, he must have belonged to a few record clubs. American Recording Society albums were repressings of Verve discs, all sanctioned by Norman Granz and only available by mail. And they all had liner notes in booklet form – something the originals lacked. Mr. Chambers' collection also included a large quantity of Jazztones LPs – another '50s record club product. There was also a nearly complete set of George Shearing records, evidence that J.J. may have belonged to a Capitol record club as well.

The backs of several of the records had address stickers attached  – the kind you get with junk mail solicitations. J.J. Chambers clearly lived nearby the "Anything" store. In fact, he lived on a side street that was on my route to work. I'd been going by his house every day for nearly seven years. It was an unassuming box-like structure, sided in baby blue aluminum clapboards with overgrown boxwood bushes out front. An inauspicious abode for a swinging jazz fan ...

One of my editors lives on the same street, and it turned out she vaguely remembered J.J. Chambers. He was as an elderly man she'd see occasionally out in front of the house. She thought he may have died several years ago. His son was now caring for the place and slowly cleaning it out. That's when the "Anything" store entered the picture. And yours truly soon after.

So ... as a tribute to a fellow collector and to the fine body of American jazz he amassed and was at pains to preserve, I offer these recordings from his trove for your listening pleasure.

Both of these discs are 10-inchers. One is on the cheapo Royale label, usually a budget label of dubious quality. But this one features all six sides from Earl Hines' very first session under his own name, originally recorded for QRS in Chicago. I know of no other issue for these historic sides other than the original 78s and this budget 10-inch pressing. Fabulous stuff, recorded just six months after Hines and Louis Armstrong waxed their superb Hot Five titles. You won't find these tunes anywhere else today.

The other LP is a sampler on the Jazztone label – the only 10-inch record they ever issued. It's as rare as hens' teeth, and though the music is mostly all available today in other forms, it's too cool not to include here. Plus the tunes make for great listening. One interesting note – the Rex Stewart cut features one "Herb Nichols" on piano, better known as Herbie Nichols. Nichols was, of course, the modernist whose recordings for Blue Note were later very influential, but whose lack of financial success forced him to earn a living playing in trad bands. Here he is, doing just that.

As always, these sides were ripped from the original vinyl, with only a minor cleaning of the sound.

Great Jazz Piano Solos, Royale 18166
Earl Hines, p.
Chicago, IL; December 8, 1928 (Originally on QRS)

1. Stowaway
2. Just Too Soon
3. Chicago High Life
4. A Monday Date
5. Off Times Blues
6. Panther Rag

Jazz Sampler, Jazztone J-SPEC 100
(Personnel in download)

7. Darling Nellie Gray (Sidney Bechet with Wally Bishop)
8. Slam Slam Blues (Red Norvo w/Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie)
9. Relaxin' at Camarillo (Charlie Parker)
10. Dark Eyes (Art Tatum)
11. B.C. Blues (Buck Clayton)
12. Honeysuckle Rose (Coleman Hawkins)
13. Bad Actin' Woman (Jack Teagarden)
14. Trio (Erroll Garner)
15. Moon Burns (Woody Herman Woodchoppers)
16. Basin Street Blues (Rex Stewart Dixieland Band)

Find them here:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Soulful Horn

Bennie Green's beautiful tone and affinity for the blues made him the perfect foil for the pyrotechnic style of pal Sonny Stitt. Here he jokes with Sonny at a 1960 Argo session in Chicago. Photo by Don Bronstein
Bennie Green was a member of  Earl Hines' swinging orchestra when Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughn also happen to be in the band. A Chicago native and DuSable High School graduate, Bennie later joined Charlie Ventura's "bop for the people" outfit and put the lessons he learned in sessions at Dizzy's house to good use. A solid improviser, Green's playing might be thought of as a link between the fluid swing style of Trummy Young and the ear-opening articulations of modernist J.J. Johnson. But Bennie's style, while exhibiting the superior technique and facility required of bop players, remains rooted in the fundamentals of the blues.

This record proves that point.

Recorded for Bethlehem December 1960, "Hornful of Soul" teams Bennie up with underrated tenorist Jimmy Forrest and alto player Lem Davis (who provides a nice original composition). Mal Waldron, a steady-working session man at the time, plays on a number of the selections and also contributes an original. His familiar ostinato-style soloing offers an interesting contrast to the bluesy work of the horn players.

A word about Jimmy Forrest. He had a big hit with a vamp blues called "Night Train," which many heard as a none-to-subtle reworking of Ellington's "Happy Go Lucky Local." His career seemed to falter following that early success, but he issued a number solid records on Prestige and later teamed up with Al Grey, recording some marvelous sides with that former Basie sideman. Jimmy seemed to have an affinity for trombonists. He's in excellent form here with Bennie.

The Bethlehem label, by the way, was issuing jazz sides willy-nilly around this time. Just why is a mystery, but many of them have since become classics. The company folded several years later, and when they did their catalog contained talents as diverse as Ruby Braff, Jerri Southern, Herbie Nichols and Charles Mingus. Some of Coltrane's formative work was documented on Bethlehem.

Where did I find this record? Back in the early '70s, I worked in a record store to earn rent money while I was in college. My store was part of a chain – Discount Records it was, owned by CBS – but our competition down the street was a locally-owned platter shop. They had a great selection of cut-outs there, and one day a truckload of deleted Bethlehem sides appeared. "Hornful of Soul" was one that caught my eye, and I laid down 69 cents plus tax to take it home. I've been digging it ever since, and now you can, too.

As always, these titles were ripped from the original vinyl with only a slight cleaning up of minor pops and clicks.

Hornful of Soul, Bethlehem BX 4019
Bennie Green, tbn; Jimmy Forrest, ts; Skip Hall, org; Wyatt Ruther, b; Art Taylor, d.
1, 5, 6: Add Lem Davis, as; Mal Waldron, p, replaces Hall.
New York, NY; December 1960

1. Summertime
2. Groove One (Green)
3. Lowland-ism (Babs Gonsales)
4. Dibblin' and Dabblin' (Babs Gonsales)
5. Foolish Heart
6. Indiana
7. Catwalk (Waldron)
8. Dee Dee (Lem Davis) 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jazz Funny Papers

What better way to sell horns than with a few good pictures, just like in the Sunday funnies? John Birks' career in panels, that outstanding Martin artist. Ad from Metronome Magazine

By the end of the forties, Dizzy Gillespie was the embodiment of modern music. The "king of bebop," he was the toast of the jazz trades with his big band, his JATP appearances and his antics. The Martin instrument company enlisted him in its roster of star trumpet players, and in 1949 featured him in a comic strip bio ad. Here it is, the first and last time (to my knowledge) a jazz artist got the graphic treatment. Note that Diz and "a few others" created bop at Minton's – did anyone say Charlie Parker? By the way, who the heck is Frank Fairfax?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Chicago Jazz

"Chicago Jazz," a 1952 rareity on Decca, looked like this had happened to it when I found it a rain-soaked carton of disco singles at the Revere Drive-in Flea Market north of Beantown a decade ago. I'll never understand why some folks seem to get real pleasure out of mistreating records. Photo illustration by Gems of Jazz
The recordings that I post here on Gems are, as frequent visitors know, ripped from the original vinyl or shellac. I try not to fool with the sound beyond getting rid of the most egregious pops and clicks. That's not to say that the sound is funky on these offerings – quite the opposite. If you've availed yourself of any of them, I think you'll agree they pass muster sonically.

That said, this latest upload is an exception.

"Chicago Jazz," an LP issued from 78 rpm discs that were released by Decca in April 1940, attempts to recreate jazz from the post-King Oliver period when a bunch of high school kids – white kids – adapted Papa Joe's New Orleans-style jazz to their own purposes. Called the Austin High Gang, these roustabouts adored the two-beat ensemble style that was played at the Lincoln Gardens on Chicago's South Side. They were truants with a single purpose – to play music like the King and his protege, Louis Armstrong.

By 1939, the Chicago style of jazz propagated by the Austin High crew was old hat, yesterday's news. But a young producer and jazz fan, George Avakian, felt that contemporary audiences needed to hear it in all its glory. So he organized a series of sessions for the Decca label specifically to recreate its hoary style. His efforts not only resulted in a fine series of jazz recordings, they also sparked a minor revolution in the jazz industry.

Seeing that there was a burgeoning market for classic jazz styles and historic recordings, Columbia, Victor and other record companies began reissue programs. Soon discs that long unavailable – fabulous sides by Armstrong, Oliver, Ellington, Jellyroll Morton and countless others – could again be found in local record stores.

This is the record album (or at least the LP version) that started it all. And as such, it's a natural candidate for a Gems posting.

Trouble is, the LP is in horrible – and I mean horrible – condition. It's something I would never have dreamed of uploading here. Until a bit of serendipity intervened, that is.

I recently acquired a nearly complete set of Jazz Information magazines. This publication was short-lived – around for only two years – but it is credited with being one of the first music publications to concern itself exclusively with jazz (Down Beat was more of a pop music rag at the time). It is usually credited to Ralph J. Gleason, later the influential critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and jazz publications, but it really was the brainchild of one Eugene Williams (Gleason was relegated to an associate editor after half a dozen issues).

In one of the issues of JI was a lengthy review of the sides waxed for the "Chicago Jazz" album. When I saw that, I decided I had to post the LP, scratches be damned! Here's the complete JI review from April 1940:
I've done considerable work to clean up the record's pitiful sound and though there are crackles here and there, one can now hear the music clearly. And great playing it is – especially the Bix-like trumpet work of Jimmy McPartland and the unusual alto sound of Boyce Brown, a stylist without antecedent (at least, to these ears). If you're in downloading doubt, here's a sample of the quality you'll get (Jimmy McPartland's "Sugar"):

Chicago Jazz, Decca DL 8029
Full personnels, dates are icluded in download.

Eddie Condon and His Chicagoans
New York, NY; August 11, 1939
1. Nobody's Sweetheart
2. Friar's Point Shuffle
3. There'll Be Some Changes Made
4. Someday Sweetheart

Jimmy McPartland and His Orchestra
Chicago, IL; October 10, 1939
5. China Boy
6. Jazz Me Blues
7. Sugar
8. The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise

George Wettling's Chicago Rhythm Kings
New York, NY; January 16, 1940
9. Bugle Call Rag
10. Sister Kate
11. Darktown Strutter's Ball

Tone Groove

Lucky Thompson always had marvelous tone, a quality that made him instantly recognizable as a soloist. Could his reed's patented parallel tone grooves have been the secret? This ad from a 1957 edition of Jazz Today would have us believe it was so.

Whatever the case, here's Lucky demonstrating that tone on Triumph 904, a side recorded in New York in 1950 with Pritchard Chessman and Shahib Shihab on reeds, Ray Copeland on trumpet, trombonist Ted Kelly and a rhythm section of Ed Swanston, Peck Morrison and Al Walker on piano, bass and drums. Its title is "Coolin' for Collins," a dedication by Lucky to a local DJ. As always, this music was ripped from the (srcatchy) original 78.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Two Charlies

In a 1951 edition of Metronome magazine, King took out a two-page ad featuring two stars of jazz who used their product. The "Two Charlies" at the top of the spread refers to Bird, seen here, and tenorist Charlie Ventura who was featured on the facing page. But we know Bird also played the bigger horn. Whether it was a King is anybody's guess. Photo by Gems of Jazz 
The king of the alto saxophone played a King. So proclaims this ad from an old Metronome magazine. Of course, jazz fans know that Bird's horn was often a thing of the moment – if not a King, than any alto that was available, including – once in Toronto – a white plastic marching band horn. It didn't seem to matter what Charlie Parker used to play his music – the result was always the same. Genius.

But Bird didn't always play alto. With Earl Hines in 1942 he held down the tenor chair. To disguise his sound for contractual reasons, he also played the bigger horn on a date with Miles Davis in 1953 for Prestige. And here's Bird at an unknown club date some fifteen months before his tragic passing, soloing on tenor.

Two Charlies indeed!

Charlie Parker was playing tenor on this gig, probably from late 1953 in New York City. The photo appeared in the February 1954 edition of Metronome magazine, accompanying a squibb about a recent rerelease of some of his Dial material. Wonder whose horn it was? Photo probably by Bob Parent 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sims Swings Sambas

A journeyman tenor player who, according to those who know, never played a false note. John "Zoot" Sims in the '70s, about a decade after he recorded for Colpix. Unknown photographer 
I never thought much of Zoot Sims in my early days of collecting, mostly because I'd never really heard him. There were no records available, or very few anyway. I was into Archie Shepp, Coltrane, Booker Ervin, Dolphy and Ornette – the avant garde. Their LPs were hard to find too, but Zoot was all but invisible when it came vinyl. In the early '70s anyway.

But later on – much later on – I met and got to know some dedicated veterans of the jazz life, and to a man they all worshipped Mr. Sims. One in particular, a tenor player who had worked in Lionel Hampton's big band and maybe in Kenton's too, never went anywhere without his case of Zoot records. This guy – Milt Hissler was his name – never really lived anywhere, camping in hotels mostly, on the road constantly, everything he owned fitting into several neatly packed suitcases. But he took the trouble to have Sims with him always. A real testament.

What inspired Zoot Sims' colleagues to hold him in such high regard? I suppose it was because of his selfless dedication to his art form, and to the unmatched quality and consistency of his work. A disciple of the President, Zoot was no "repeater pencil." His interpretation of Lester's laconic, endlessly inventive Kansas City choruses was his own. And because he was no enigma, more approachable than Lester could ever be, he attracted a following of those who would be like Basie's star soloist but who lacked the requisite talent (and that would be nearly everybody).

In the early '60s, an unknown kid named Paul Winter sold a lot of Columbia records with jazz in a style from Brazil called "bossa nova." Stan Getz picked up its cool, sophisticated slink and hit big on the pop charts with "Girl from Ipanema" in 1964. In between, Zoot Sims was enlisted in an effort to sell the "new beat" to jazz fans by a non-jazz label called Colpix.

An imprint of Columbia Pictures, Colpix featured pop artists, many of whom worked for the parent company in movies or on TV. The label's jazz output, though often of high quality, was minimal, and sales may have suffered due to somewhat indifferent jacket graphics and liner notes. But in August of 1962, Colpix invested heavily in a session by Zoot Sims, and the results were excellent. Classic Zoot: melodic, flawlessly executed and swinging.

Here are Vols. 1 and 2 of "New Beat Bossa Nova," a Zoot Sims release featuring arrangements by Manny Albam and Al Cohn (Zoot's musical alter-ego). Guitarist Jim Hall isn't mentioned on the front covers, but he deserves second billing – the albums feature him as much as they do Zoot. One LP consists of Brazilian originals, the other of familiar jazz and pop numbers given the samba treatment. Note that Zoot pays tribute to Lester with an unlikely bossa treatment of Prez's "Tickle Toe."

As always, these tunes were ripped from the original LPs with no enhancement other than a light cleaning up of minor surface noise.

New Beat Bossa Nova, Colpix CP 435
Zoot Sims, ts; Jim Hall, g; Spencer Sinatra, pic, fl, al fl; Phil Woods, cl; Gene Quill, cl, b cl; Ronnie Odrich, fl, cl; Kenny Burrell, g; Art Davis, b; Sol Gubin, Ted Sommer, Willie Rodriguez, perc; Manny Albam, Al Cohn, arr.
New York, NY; August 20, 1962

1. Recado Bossa Nova, Pt. 1
2. Recado Bossa Nova, Pt. 2
3. Cano Canoe
4. Contando a Orquestra
5. Ciume
6. Maria Ninguen
7. Sem Saudades de Voce
8. Barquinho de Papel 

New Beat Bossa Nova, Vol. 2, Colpix CP 437
Zoot Sims, ts; Jim Hall, g; Jerry Sanfino, fl; Spencer Sinatra, pic, fl, al fl; Phil Bodner, fl; Sol Schlinger, b cl; Ronnie Odrich, fl, cl; Barry Galbraith, g; Milt Hinton, b; Sol Gubin, Ted Sommer, Willie Rodriguez, Tommy Lopez, perc; Manny Albam, Al Cohn, arr.
New York, NY; August 1962

9. Bernie's Tune
10. Poquito Cantando
11. Tickle Toe
12. Lonesome Road
13. Instant Samba
14. They Call the Wind Maria
15. Lover Come Back to Me
16. Nature Boy
17. Reaching for the Moon
18. Don't Fool with Love

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Jukebox Jazz: Tenors

The year is 1953, it's July and it's hot in New York City. Especially in your third-floor walk-up aprtment in a Harlem brownstone at 129th and Fifth Avenue. Too hot to even hang out on the stoop. So you stroll four blocks down to 125 and slide into the Lenox Lounge around the corner. They've got air-conditioning, cold beer and, best of all, a hot jukebox. The sides aren't the latest, and they're a little worse for wear – especially the hits – but each one jumps more than the last. You drop a nickle in the slot, punch up A-12, and straddle a stool at the bar as the opening chords to "Robbin's Nest" fill the room. That feels better!

I've been collecting 78 rpm records since about 1970, and sometimes I like to think of them in context. Like the scenario above. Perhaps one or two of these sides actually was in a jukebox in a joint in Harlem, or on South Central, or Cottage Groove and Indiana. So, since the warm months are coming up, I thought it might be nice to assemble a set of lounge-type sides for your summer listening. Each tune features a tenor player – though not always as the leader. They all come from the decade 1944 to 1953, so they mostly qualify as bop-inflected jump blues, precursors to rock 'n' roll. There are some stellar moments, like Lucky Thompson's accompaniment to Lips Page's vocalizing and Georgie Auld's soprano work on "Heaven." And then there's 26-year-old Billy Taylor comping with an organ player while John Hardee takes a chorus – unusual to say the least!

Some of these recordings are available elsewhere, but most are not. You can find the McVeas and Jacquets if you look, but the Ben Webster sides (actually a Tony Scott date) are real rarities (they feature Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie). So you may decide this jukebox set is worth your downloading efforts. When the temperature hits 90 degrees, they may be just hot enough to cool things down.

As always, these tunes have been ripped from the original discs with only a bit of sound cleaning. Be forewarned that there is some surface noise.

(Personnel, dates and labels are included with the download.)

Illinois Jacquet
1. Robbin’s Nest
2. Jacquet’s Mood
3. Blow, Illinois, Blow
4. Illinois Blows the
5. Jacquet Bounce
6. Jumpin’ at Apollo
7. Jacquet in the Box
8. Jacquet and Coat

Georgie Auld
9. Airmail Special
10. Here Comes Heaven Again

Lucky Thompson
11. The Lady in Bed
12. It Ain’t Like That
13. Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?

Ben Webster
14. All Too Soon
15. Ten Lessons with Timothy

John Hardee
16. Take the A Train
17. The Bug

Eddie Lockjaw Davis
18. Chihuahua
19. I Only Have Eyes for You

Jack McVea
20. Don’t Blame Me
21. O-kay for Baby
22. Play It Over
23. My Business Is C.O.D.

Find it here:

Jack McVea and his jumping band, including drummer Rabon Tarrant (next to Jack who is opening the bus door), about to embark on a tour to promote their Black & White hit, "Open the Door Richard." Photo from "Harlem of the West: Fillmore Jazz Era"