Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Betty Bebop's Best

Betty Carter in the mid-'80s, going full bore at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco: Movin' on indeed! Tom Copi photo

Every recording that has been posted here at Gems has artistic merit – at least, I believe they do. Some are unjustly obscure, others offer examples of extraordinary musicianship, some are simply fascinating curiosities. This album, though, is different from those. It not only has merit. I think I can say without qualification that it is, from start to finish, an absolute masterpiece.

"Inside Betty Carter" ranks right up there with "Kind of Blue," "Blue Train," "Blues and the Abstract Truth" and any other contemporary jazz classic you might think of. Why "Inside" has never received its due – and why it remains generally out of print – is one of jazz's great mysteries. In an effort to rectify this egregious oversight, Gems offers this download for your delectation and enjoyment. 

James Moody and Betty Carter at the Chicago
Jazz Festival in 1982. Marc Pokempner photo
Recorded by the enigmatic Alan Douglas, a producer who had worked with Eric Dolphy and who later got into hot water for altering masters made by Jimi Hendrix, this album originally came out on the United Artists label in 1965. Ms. Carter was known among hipsters at the time as an extraordinary jazz vocalist, but she was largely unknown to the record-buying public. Several albums on ABC and Epic in the late 1950s and early '60s hadn't improved her visibility, and even a duet recording with Ray Charles did little for her career. It wasn't until she started her own label that Betty began to be recognized for the giant that she was. 

"Inside Betty Carter" was her last album before going out on her own, and it's a first sign of great things to come.

At a total length of 27 minutes, the record's entire program is shorter than some of the tunes Ms. Carter would sing on stage. But each of these performances is a flawless wonder, filled with nuance, brilliant improvisation and delightful surprises. The backing trio of Harold Mabern – not normally thought of as an accompanist – Bob Cranshaw and Roy McCurdy swing hard and push Betty as much as she pushes them. 

The standards here are deconstructed and revitalized as living things – you can suddenly hear the lyrics and the emotion behind them. A Carter original, "Open the Door," one of her signature tunes, is debuted on "Inside," and the singer's reworking of "My Favorite Things" is a 90-second encounter with genius. 

Betty Carter never had the instrument that Ella or Sarah had. Her voice was high and her sound was sometimes breathy and thin, but her range and musician's ear led her to develop a style that was stunningly adventurous and purely expressive. That style gets its start with this recording. If you've never heard it before, get thee to Rapidshare!

As always, these files come from the original vinyl, no cleaning of the sound required. A word of warning: these are wav files and are much bigger than our usual mp3s. The download time may be rather long ...

Inside Betty Carter
Betty Carter
United Artists UAS 5639
Betty Carter, v; Harold Mabern, p; Bob Cranshaw, b; Roy McCurdy, d.
New York, NY; April 1964

1. This Is Always
2. Look No Further
3. Beware My Heart
4. Something Big
5. My Favorite Things
6. Some Other Time
7. Open the Door (Betty Carter)
8. Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Greetings of the Season

Happy holidays to one and all of Gems' visitors. Here's a souvenir from the heyday of swing, given to me by a jazz friend a few decades back. I don't know where he got it, but he knew lots of musicians so I suspect it may have come from one of them. I know most of the 28 signatories (I think there's 28), but I don't know all of them. Who's Sonny Kendis? Or Basil F-something? If you know, fill me in. In the meantime, best wishes for the season, and prosperous New Year to all of you from all of us here at Gems!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Land of Folk

Mr. Land in action at an Emarcy session in Los Angeles with Clifford Brown and Max Roach. Photo by William Claxton

When I think of the great tenors of the 1950s, Rollins, Dexter Gordon and Coltrane immediately come to mind. Somehow, I always overlook Harold Land. His participation in the Max Roach/Clifford Brown quintet should at least earn him an honorable mention in any list of reed notables from that period. And his work with long-time partner, Bobby Hutcherson, extended his legacy well into the '70s and '80s. If you want proof, you only have to sample this offering.

Land came from Texas, but he made California his home. Even though he'd recorded as a leader in 1949 (for Savoy) and had his own group, he joined Max Roach's band in 1954. That led to national exposure, and though he was overshadowed by trumpet star Clifford Brown, he was generally regarded as an excellent hard bop soloist. He eventually left Roach before Brown's death in 1956 and gigged around Los Angeles, making numerous recordings for the Pacific Jazz, Jazzland and Contemporary labels. His work with Curtis Counce and with his own groups from the early '60s is some of his best.

Which leads us to the present download. Imperial was making jazz records on the West Coast at the time, notably with Sonny Criss, but they also got Harold Land into the studio for a few sessions. In 1963, college students were going gaga over the sounds of folk music (the Dave Brubeck craze had faded), and the A&R guys at Imperial hit upon a brilliant scheme to revive jazz's popularity on campus. They would assemble an excellent hard bop quintet and have the boys play ... folk songs. Yes, that's the hook.

It sounds like a recipe for some pretty lame music, right? Bad folk, worse jazz. Well, not so in this case. Don't let the selections put you off. "Jazz Impressions of Folk Music" is a superb album. The arrangements, which are uncredited, take these hoary melodies, deconstruct them and reassemble them into intelligent and hip vehicles for jazz blowing.

The brilliant trumpeter Carmell
Jones, ax in hand.
The standout soloist, aside from Land, is the trumpeter, Carmell Jones. Originally from Kansas City, Jones had to come Los Angeles only three years before this session, and had been working with numerous other West Coast bands. He was a featured soloist with the Gerald Wilson big band at the time, and his lines here are exceptional. Clifford Brown comes to mind. 

Harold himself demonstrates his complete mastery of the horn, evoking Sonny Rollins at times, and running the changes with the fluidity of Sonny Stitt. John Houston, on piano, is the least well known of these players, but he'd worked numerous sessions with, among others, John Coltrane. Jimmy Bond is a familiar figure from his many Pacific Jazz recording dates, and Mel "Lee" is perhaps better known as Mel Lewis. I don't need to tell you about him.

So here are eight folk chestnuts, transformed into jazz classics. I think I found this obscure album in a used record store many years ago, but it's in pristine shape so no cleaning of the sound was required. As always, the tunes are ripped right from the original vinyl. 


Jazz Impressions of Folk Music
Harold Land Quintet
Imperial LP-12247

Harold Land, ts; Carmell Jones, tp; John Houston, p; Jimmy Bond, b; Mel Lewis, d.
Los Angeles, CA; 1963

1. Tom Dooley
2. Scarlet Ribbons
3. Foggy Foggy Dew
4. Kisses Sweeter Than Wine
5. On Top of Old Smokey
6. Take This Hammer
7. Blue Tail Fly
8. Hava Nagila

Find it here: https://www.mediafire.com/?7chc11tpow4c5pp

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Thin Man

Just a bunch of masters playing Just Jazz: Wardell Gray at the Gene Norman concert, offered below, on April 29, 1947. With him are, from left, Irving Ashby, Charlie Drayton, Benny Carter and Howard McGhee. Photo from "Black Beauty, White Heat"

Here's another sampling of from one those "other JATP concerts." It comes from two Gene Norman "Just Jazz" shows at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and the Shrine Auditorium, one from April and the other from December of 1947. These selections – three of them, actually – feature the immortal Wardell Gray, one of my favorite tenor players and I assume one of yours, too. 

Wardell's on stage with the gents above plus Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Jackie Mills and Vido Musso for several of these tunes, but the showstopper is a feature for the tenorist with Erroll Garner at the keyboard on "Blue Lou." Gray's superb tone and cool control are on display throughout the six minute performance and his ease with melody and improvisation evoke Lester Young in modernist guise. According to a very informative Wardell Gray website, Benny Goodman heard "Blue Lou" and was impressed enough to hire Gray for his band, saying, "If he's bop, that's great. He's wonderful!"

Benny and sideman Wardell in 1948 or '49.
We featured a Boris Rose bootleg of Goodman/Gray airchecks a while back, and I thought it was time to give Wardell his own posting. These concerts have been issued in many forms on numerous different LPs, and were initially released by the producer on his own label, GNP. The version here comes from a Crown reissue, but it also came out on Modern and United, and is not currently in print (as far as I can determine). The sound is very good, considering the recordings were made some 65 years ago.

It's unfortunate that Wardell died in Las Vegas in 1955 just as the technology was shifting away from the 3-minute, 78-rpm format to long-playing microgroove records. One would have liked to hear him stretch out in the studio as he does on these concert recordings. As it was, he died mysteriously, either by accident or at the hands of gangsters, several months after his former employer, Charlie Parker, expired in Baroness Nica's New York apartment. Both Bird and Wardell were 34 at the time.

So here is some first-rate Wardell Gray, accompanied by several other giants of the music. The great Benny Carter is on alto, as fluid and suave as ever, and Howard McGhee crackles on trumpet, hitting all the highs and bursting with ideas. There's the Elf, too, Errol Garner, comping along and soloing in his distinctive style. "Tenderly" is all his, one of the very few times he ever recorded that tune, believe it or not. His performance sounds to my ears like a studio recording as no crowd is audible and it's a solo spot, but the authorities say it came from the Civic concert stage so I won't quibble. This record, by the way, is another from that cache that was found in an attic by my friend who cleans out houses for a living. That's why it's got the number "58" on it – all those sides were numbered for some reason by their original owner.

The download comes from the original vinyl, as always, and required no cleaning of the sound at all.

Way Out Wardell
Wardell Gray
Crown CLP 5004
Wardell Gray, ts; Errol Garner, p; Irving Ashby, g; George “Red” Callender, b; Jackie Mills, d.
Just Jazz Concert, Civic Auditorium, Pasadena, CA; April 29, 1947

1. Blue Lou

Howard McGhee, tp; Wardell Gray, Vido Musso, tp; Arnold Ross, p; Barney Kessel, g; Harry Babasin, b; Don Lamond, d.
Just Jazz Concert, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA; December 27, 1947

2.  Just You, Just Me

Howard McGhee, tp; Vic Dickenson, tbn; Benny Carter, as; Wardell Gray, ts; Errol Garner, p; Irving Ashby, g; George “Red” Callender or Charles Drayton, b; Jackie Mills, d.
Just Jazz Concert, Civic Auditorium, Pasadena, CA; April 29, 1947

3. One O'Clock Jump

Errol Garner, p.
Just Jazz Concert, Civic Auditorium, Pasadena, CA; April 29, 1947

4. Tenderly

Find it here: https://www.mediafire.com/?ykwwook9nwtp0kg  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Lambert, Avakian and Pennebaker

A life in harmony: Singer Dave Lambert enjoys a moment in the New York sunshine, about a year after making his debut recordings with fellow vocalist Buddy Stewart and trumpeter Red Rodney. William P. Gottlieb photo, from Wikipedia

I belong to a jazz service hosted by the tireless Jim Eigo, and it supplies me with no end of interesting stuff about the music we love. Most recently, Jim sent me a link to a marvelous little film that you may already know about but was news to me. The movie is a fifteen-minute bit of cinema verite called "Audition at RCA," made by a young film maker named D.A. Pennebaker.

We Baby Boomers know Pennebaker as the guy who followed Bob Dylan around England with a Bolex in 1965 and who made the landmark documentary "Monterey Pop" in 1967, but who knew he was a jazz fan? I certainly didn't. Anyway, "Audition" is an intriguing glimpse into 1960s jazz making, with record execs, A&R guys, engineers in suits and obscure jazz musicians who punctuate their sentences with "crazy!" The performers – aside from Messrs. Lambert and Duvivier – are all largely unknown, but they acquit themselves admirably, and watching their interplay as they negotiate the complex lyrics and harmonies is fascinating. The striking Ms. Vonnie is especially charming and Dave himself comes off as a benevolent goateed elf in a stingy-brim fedora. And there's Columbia legend George Avakian, too, one of Black Rock's great champions of jazz.

The film is reposted here from a jazz blog called JazzWax, the creation of Marc Myers. He supplies this commentary on the film, explaining the action and who the players are:

Audition at RCA
By Marc Myers
Steve Sholes and George Avakian
As long-time readers of this blog know, I've been rather obsessed with D.A. Pennebaker's film "Audition at RCA" (also known as "Lambert & Co."), a 15-minute mini-documentary made in the summer of 1964 that features Dave Lambert and his new group of vocalese singers. As the film opens, they meet producer George Avakian outside of RCA's studios before going in to pitch material for an album.

To recap the names of those in the film, that's George walking up just as Lambert and his singers – David Lucas, Leslie Dorsey, Sarah Boatner and Mary Vonnie – emerge from Dave's car. In the recording studio, they were backed by Moe Wechsler on piano, George Duvivier on bass and Gary Chester on drums. 

Ernie Oelrich
The action is this: Avakian meets Dave and the group outside the RCA studios. They then go upstairs to record, where they are accompanied by the trio. Avakian, the engineer and a few A&R men chat in the control room while the session progresses. The singers do several tunes successfully – they've clearly rehearsed them before arriving at the strudio.

A few months ago, as I was writing the liner notes for "Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings" – a box set due on Nov. 11 – I spent time with George chatting about the Davis sessions. I also brought my computer to show him "Audition at RCA," which he hadn't seen in decades. We talked about the audition, and George gave me the names of most of the remaining people in the film:

"At the beginning, it appears as if I had asked Dave to meet me outside and that I was championing the session. In truth, I had found out about the session only an hour or so before and agreed to tag along in case I could be of help.

Sholes, Avakian and Ben Rosner
"The studio looks like RCA Studios at 155 East 24th St., between Lexington and Third. The guy in front of the dials is Ernie Oelrich, a superb engineer.

"The guy to my right is Steve Sholes, the director of RCA's pop department. The guy I'm talking to without a jacket is Ben Rosner, an RCA promotion man. He's probably the one who got Dave the audition, and Steve probably set up the session.

"The musicians were terrific. George Duvivier was an absolute rock in the studio – he knew exactly what to do the first time, perfectly. The same was true about Moe and Gary.

"I'm not sure why the audition didn't result in an album. I think the reason was that Dave didn’t have enough new original material for a full 12-inch LP. At any rate, the decision to do the album would have been Steve's. I was in charge of the overall department but Steve was in charge of pop. I wouldn't have overruled him or stood in the way of what he thought was best."

Tragically, Dave Lambert would be killed a few years after this session, in October of 1966. He had stopped late at night on the Connecticut Turnpike to help a motorist with a flat tire, and both were killed when a passing truck plowed into them. It was a fate similar to that suffered by Buddy Stewart, Dave's original vocal partner.

Since this music blog likes to post rare jazz recordings, here's something from the Gems archive that features the Dave Lambert Singers doing Jimmy Giuffre's "Four Brothers." It was recorded in New York in 1955 for the obscure Avalon label. The participants are Dave, Jon Hendricks, Butch Birdsall and Harry Clark, vocals; they're accompanied by the Teacho Wiltshire Trio. Dig the lyrics on this two-side 78 rpm performance – to quote Moe Weschler, "Crazy!"

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Philadelphia Sound

Instructor Bill Barron offers a few pointers on clarinet technique during a class at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in 1972. By the early '70s, Bill had pretty much left the New York scene and was headed for a successful second career in academe. BCM photo

A blogger friend got in touch and wanted to know if I had a particular album by the late composer, teacher and reed player Bill Barron. When I said I did, he asked that I digitize it and send him a copy. No problem, says I – and then I decided I might as well also post the result for all our visitors here at Gems. Two birds with one stone – or one upload.

Bill Barron has long been one of my favorite tenor players. I first became aware of him when I came across a beat-up copy of his seminal recording "Modern Windows" on Savoy in a thrift shop in Cambridge. His use of dense harmonies and chromatic melodies wrapped in fiercely driving rhythms brought to mind the sonorities of Cecil Taylor or John Coltrane. I suppose that shouldn't have surprised me as Bill played with Cecil (briefly) and was Coltrane's roommate in Philadelphia in the '40s when they were both starting out.

Bill and Ted's excellent adventure in music:
Messers. Curson and Barron in the early '60s.
But though Barron's music sounded out, it also remained in. Bill never went completely free. For half a decade he teamed up with the late trumpeter Ted Curson and experimented in an Ornette mode, always writing and arranging in a forward-thinking fashion. The Curson/Barron quartet made some of the best music of the '60s, though few jazz fans are aware of that today. You only have to sample "Tears for Dolphy" on Freedom and I think you'll agree.

The same year the photo above was taken, Bill Barron recorded the album offered here. He was already devoting much of his time and energy to teaching, and in 1975 received his doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts. Several years later he was chairman of the music school at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. That's where I was fortunate enough to meet him.

Bill was a reserved man, quiet and thoughtful. Though he could be quite humble, he also had a dignity about him that let you know you were in the presence of a master. I saw him perform numerous times on campus and off and he was always superb. His lines were never "pretty" or superficial; he had a distinctive sound that took a little getting used to because it was so sinewy. But once it was in your ear, he never let you down. I think you'll find that to be the case with this record.

"Motivation" is a late recording for the Savoy Records label, done in 1972. It features Bill's younger half-brother, Kenny Barron, on piano along with his good friend, Chris White, on bass. The drummer is Al Hicks. The tunes are all Barron originals, with the exception of "Cosmos," which is by Kenny.

As always, the music in these files comes from the original vinyl. There was no cleaning of the sound required. These are .wav files, so they'll take a while to download.

By the way, my jazz blog friend, Hector, has a very fine site called Quintaesencia. He offers some very nice downloads, and you can brush up on your Spanish when you visit.

Bill Barron Quartet
Savoy 12303

Bill Barron, ts; Kenny Barron, p; Chris White, b; Al Hicks, d.
New York, NY; 1972

1. Motivation
2. Land of Sunshine
3. Blues for R.A.
4. Cosmos (Kenny Barron)
5. Hold Back Tomorrow
6. Mental Vibrations

All composition except 4. by Bill Barron.

Find it here: https://www.mediafire.com/?8vnwc3q1jx0wrae

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Boris Boots Monk

Monk in San Francisco, about to record for Riverside and accompanied by a mirthful Pannonica deKoenigswarter, popsicle and SF Chronicle in hand. Wonder what Monk has just said? William Claxton photo

Here's that bootleg I mentioned a couple of posts ago. A late offering for Monk's (now long-passed) birthday, we'll call it. A friend and visitor saw my reference to the Boris Rose bootleg which gave that earlier Monk posting its title, and he asked if I could upload the recording. Well, the way it works here at Gems is ... your wish is my command. So here 'tis.

The dapper Mr. Rose in his
later years.
But who is Boris Rose, you ask? Long-time collectors know the name because he was one of the original bootleggers of jazz material on a large scale. That was because he was one of the most obsessive documenters of jazz in the history of the music. From the mid-'40s right up until the 1990s, Mr. Rose recorded music and spoken word programs off radio and television broadcasts at an astounding rate. In the late '60s, he began to release some of the more historic tape recordings on his own highly idiosyncratic record labels. By 1969, you couldn't go into a reasonably large record store in any major city without encountering a raft of Rose product. You'd recognize them by their simple line-art, black-and-white covers, oddball titles and sketchy liner notes (when there were any notes at all). The music they contained was often some of the best by some of jazz's greatest artists, but their production quality was iffy, the editing amateurish and the recording info often wrong (sometimes purposefully so).

Needless to say, I collected as many Rose records as I could back in those days, and this Monk release is one of the best of them. There are no real surprises here: Monk is his usual superlative self, and John Ore and Frankie Dunlop keep a lid on things with aplomb. Charlie Rouse, one of the unheralded greats on tenor, takes some wild liberties with the High Priest's melodies while the leader lays out. Too bad he stayed so long buried under Monk's genius. I wonder what Rouse would have done if he'd followed his own muse?

Daughter Elaine Rose with Boris' picture and a sampling
of his massive tape archive. Wall Street Journal photo
A few more words about Boris Rose. The gent died in 2000, leaving his vast archive of tapes, acetates and records in the basement of his house in Brooklyn. I'd always heard he lived in a railroad flat on the Lower East Side that was filled to the ceilings with musty tape boxes, but it was not so. He was a compulsive recordist, but he was also compulsively organized in cataloging and storing his treasures. His holdings were so great that they hadn't even been cataloged by 2010 when his daughters were trying desperately to find someone or some institution to take the collection off their hands. I don't know if they succeeded, but you can read about their efforts here. And here's a quirky video that critic and author Will Friedwald made of his visit to the archive in Brooklyn (I always imagined Friedwald to be a rangy, cowpoke sort of fellow – boy, was I wrong).

Of course, one of the great problems with a collection like the Rose archive is the copyright issue. Who owns the rights to all that recorded material? And if any of it is ever to be released, how will the producers properly compensate the artists and ASCAP, BMI and all the rest? These were niceties that never troubled Boris. He just put stuff out, collected two bucks for each LP and kept recording.

Kind of like what we bloggers do today (except for the two-bucks part).

But whatever the fate of the Rose archives, this is one of its better documents. I've left his clipped starts and stops in so you can savior the full Boris Rose effect. Otherwise, the sound on the record is pretty much just the way it was way back in 1963 when Monk spent a few nights broadcasting from Birdland. Thanks, Boris!

Spastic and Personal 
Thelonious Monk
Alto AL 725
Thelonious Monk, p; Charlie Rouse, ts;
John Ore, b; Frankie Dunlop, d.
March 9, 16, 23, 1963; Birdland, New York, NY

1. Bright Mississippi
2. Epistrophy
3. ‘Round Midnight
4. Sweet and Lovely
5. Evidence

Find it here: https://www.mediafire.com/?tq3tcc37t4k6xhb

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Moody's Gamut

James Moody was one of the first modernists to seriously take up the flute and he proved to be as facile on that instrument as he was on tenor and alto. Bob Parent photo

I picked this record up many years ago in a basement used record shop in Hyde Park when I was living in Chicago. I got it along with a pile of Andrew White's self-produced LPs. Needless to say, I've listened more often to this James Moody effort than to any of those sides by the DC saxophonist.

Mr. Moody's output was prodigious, and this album is just one of scores he produced in the 1960s. But I'm including it here because it's so darn good. Recorded in 1964, it was one of two Moody did for for the independent Sceptor label, the one that featured the immortal Thad Jones. The album unfortunately fell through the critical cracks and disappeared from the label's soul-and-pop catalog after only a few years. But "Running the Gamut" is in the Gems archive and I think it's definitely worth an upload.

Trumpet master Thad Jones during a Blue Note recording
date, about a decade earlier. Francis Wolff photo
James Moody started out playing in Dizzy Gillespie's big band and proved to be such a powerhouse soloist that he soon was recording on his own for Blue Note. A trip to Sweden and an incidental 1949 date with local musicians resulted in a variation on "I'm in the Mood for Love" that became a smash hit when King Pleasure re-recorded it in '52 with lyrics for Prestige. After that, Moody was pretty much pigeon-holed as soloist single, fronting nameless groups for studio dates in a seemingly never-ending quest for a follow-up to "Mood." It was only in the late '50s, after Moody emerged from rehab due to alcoholism, that he began to find his own voice.

This date comes after James' long stint with the Chess/Argo label, and it places him in a post-hard bop, New York-style setting. Thad Jones had just left Basie and was about to launch his monster big band with Mel Lewis, and he's in top form here. Patti Bown is the pianist, and she's another of those journeyman jazz players who recorded frequently and exhibited real ability but never got much notice. I met her once in later years when she was living in the Westbeth Houses on Bethune St. in Manhattan and she was a big woman with an impressive, quiet presence. On "Gamut" she struggles with a sour-sounding piano and eventually comes up the winner. Youngsters Reggie Workman and Tootie Heath round out the section, providing the date with its progressive edge.

Ms. Bown, in a studio shot that was featured on the
cover of the only recording under her own name,
"Patti Bown Plays Big Piano," on Columbia.
Of the tunes, most are boppish, thoroughly modern sounding vehicles with lots of soloing space for the stars. One is entirely different – "If You Grin." A funk vamp, it features Patti Bown on organ, creating a sort of soul drone. To my ears, the tune anticipates what Miles would be doing half a decade later. A vocalist – a "thrush from Philly," as the liner notes put it – adds color to the ballad "Paint the Town Red." Marie Volpe (or Volpee – the record has it both ways) is unknown to me, but she has a nice head voice with a quivering vibrato. She also appeared on Moody's second Scepter release and then dropped out of sight.

The opening selection, "Buster's Last Stand," breaks down at the end, with the band bursting into laughter and Tootie tossing his sticks on the floor (clearly audible). What's so funny? Your guess is as good as mine, but the legendary Chicago DJ Dick Buckley use to claim it was because the band could no longer stand the out-of-tune piano that Bown was comping on. Give a listen and see what you think.

As always, this gem comes straight from the original vinyl and required no cleaning at all.

Running the Gamut
James Moody
Scepter S 525
James Moody, ts, fl, as; Thad Jones, tp; Patti Bown, p;
Reggie Workman, b; Albert Heath, d; Marie Volpe, v*.
August 1, 4, 1964, New York, NY

1. Buster’s Last Stand (Thad Jones)
2. Paint the Town Red
3. Em Prean Shore (Dennis Sandole)
4. Capers (Tom MacIntosh)
5. If You Grin (You’re In)
6. The Wayward Plaint (Dennis Sandole)
7. Figurine (Dennis Sandole)

Find it here: https://www.mediafire.com/?01f5jgsp733liao

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Spastic and Personal

A modest marker for one of the giants of modern music, and his life-long partner, Nellie, and their daughter, Boo-Boo.

Today is the 96th birthday anniversary of Thelonious Sphere Monk, surely one of the most idiosyncratic artists to create aural vibrations in the last century. A few years ago a friend gave me the photo above, taken on a fall day at the Ferncliff Cemetary in Hartsdale, NY. I was cleaning out my desk at work this afternoon and – purely by chance – I came across it. Maybe it wasn't by chance, who knows? Anyway, WKCR is running its annual Monk festival and it is a study in pure genius. You only have to listen to Monk's deconstruction of the blues on "Bag's Groove" from the "Miles Davis and the Jazz Giants" date on Prestige. That's minimalism like Philip Glass never imagined!

The title for this entry, by the way, comes from the name Boris Rose gave to one of his bootlegs, a 1963 broadcast that Monk made from Birdland. I ought to post that one here on Gems one of these days. Meanwhile, keep your corners bright when coming on the Hudson. Bye-ya!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

12 by George

That's Shearing you're hearing ... the quintet in Hollywood, 1952, around the time of the recordings below. From left, Al McKibbon, George, Denzil Best, Dick Garcia (a guess) and Joe Roland. Photo from songbook1.wordpress.com

Call this a guilty-pleasure posting. I've always loved George Shearing's music, even though much of it is – in my unbiased opinion – pop schlock. His stuff on Capitol devolved into spurts of tidy piano interspersed between tedious string arrangements and woo-woo vocal choirs. I have about thirty of his recordings on that label and I never listen to those (how I got them is a long story). But I do listen to the sessions Shearing and the quintet did for MGM. They're something else altogether.

Shearing speaks at the dedication of a new 
wing at the Hadley School in 1968. He'd briefly
attended the institution a decade earlier. At
the time, I was living a 
few blocks away in the
village of Winnetka.
By the time George Shearing got to America from his native England in 1947, he was already considered an accomplished jazz pianist. He'd already recorded for Leonard Feather, and in 1949 his performance of "September in the Rain" on MGM sold nearly a million copies. Whether he got his "locked hands" style of soloing from Lionel Hampton's pianist, Milt Bucker, or whether he thought it up himself is beside the point. Shearing soon became associated with that distinctive sound, and his many, many records for MGM serve up numerous examples of it. They are formulaic, to be sure, with the melody invariably played in unison by piano, guitar and vibes, but the tight ensemble work, light touch and succinct virtuosity convey a kind of jazz urbanity that is unique in the music.

A George Shearing record and cocktails really do seem to go together.

So here's my favorite George Shearing album. It's one of five LPs he issued on MGM, culled mostly from his earlier 78 rpm releases. It's a comfortable mix of romantic pop ballads and bop-oriented originals. The personnel varies a bit, but it's mostly Don Elliott on vibes (also an accomplished mellophone and trumpet player) and Chuck Wayne on guitar. Give a listen, and I think you'll hear why King Pleasure immortalized Shearing in his lyrics to Lester Young's "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid."

As always, these files were dubbed directly from the vinyl with just a little cleaning of the sound. Sorry for the heavy ring wear on the cover, but I was too lazy to Photoshop it out. Note that the order of the tunes is incorrect on the cover but has been fixed below.

Touch of Genius
George Shearing Quintet
MGM E3265
George Shearing, p; Don Elliott, xyl, vbs; Chuck Wayne, g; John Levy, b; Denzil Best, d. New York, NY; February 5, 7, 1951

1. My Silent Love
2. Midnight Mood (Shearing)
3. If You Were the Only Girl in the World
4. Minoration (Johnny Pate)

Marjorie Hyams, vbs, replaces Elliott.
New York, NY; June 28, 1949

5. Nothing but D Best (Denzil Best)

Personnel as above.
New York, NY; July 5, 1950

6. Geneva's Move (Denzil Best)

Personnel, date as 1.

7. I'll Never Smile Again

Personnel as 1.
New York, NY; February 7, 1951

8. They All Laughed

Al McKibbon, b, replaces Levy.
New York, NY; May 16, 1951

9. We'll Be Together Again

Personnel as 1.
New York, NY; February 7, 1951

10. Loose Leaf

Personnel as 1, Marjorie Hyams, vbs, replaces Elliott.
New York, NY; December 12, 1949

11. Carnegie Horizons (Shearing)

Personnel as above.
New York, NY; July 27, 1949

12. Conception (Shearing)

Find it here: https://www.mediafire.com/?7mbp4vxm9fi8zcq

Monday, September 23, 2013

National Holiday

Tenor master class: Coltrane, center, at the recording session for Johnny Griffin's Blue Note album "Blowing Session." Griff is on the left, and rounding out the section is Blue Note regular, Hank Mobley. The date is April 6, 1957. Photo by Francis Wolfe

Happy birthday to John Coltrane, born 87 years ago on this date. The current administration in Washington, DC, has asked the management here at Gems of Jazz to announce that today has officially been declared a national holiday. Everybody is urged to stay home from work and play "Chasin' the Trane" from "Live at the Village Vanguard" as loud as possible!

File (un)Sharing

RapidShare: New and unimproved, right.

Well gang, our pals at the dreaded RapidShare have once again morphed their service into something else, leaving all previous files that had been laboriously uploaded to their server in the unlinked digital dust. If you're interested, you can read a little about their current shenanigans here.

What this means for Gems users is simply this: None of the links on previous posts work. So the Board of Trustees here at Gems (namely, yours truly) has made an executive decision. Gems will relink the last dozen or so posts, so they should be available again soon. If you're interested in some of the older stuff, send us a request and we'll get you the link.

Sorry about all this, but when you use free services like Gems does you're at the mercy of those providing the service. Grrrr!

Update: Take courage, Gems users! All broken Rapidshare links have been repaired (I think). Those that were hosted by Mediafire remain with that file-sharing site. So you should be good to go – until the next time that these sites decide to mess with a good thing, that is.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Marzette the Obscure

From the liner notes to Marzette Watts' other recording, a photo of multiple exposures showing the artist/musician standing in front of one of his paintings, tenor at the ready. Photo from "Marzette Watts and Company," ESP

Long-time visitors to this blog know that as a college student I worked in a Discount Records store in upstate New York. Those were the days when recorded jazz was in serious remission. The heyday of the great independent jazz labels (Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside) had passed and the majors were mostly focusing on mining the huge profits that could be made from "progressive" rock. Things were so bad that the Schwann Catalog listed only one Charlie Parker record in print. I kid you not.

Most record stores in the 1970s had vast
quantities of cut-out records for sale, usually –
as in this photo – at the back of the store.
It was also a time when a dedicated jazz record hunter could find fabulous treasure in the cut-out bins that every record store invariably had. My store had three rows of them filled with remaindered and overstock LPs, most for ninety-nine cents. Among the items offered were dozens of Atlantic jazz LPs – including a large part of the MJQ's discography – plus a few Riverside odds and ends (Barry Harris, Yusef Lateef, Mark Murphy).

We also had the entire BYG Actuel series with Braxton, the AEC, Archie Shepp and Clifford Thornton. Being enamored of the avant garde, I was most interested in those and any other "outre" LPs in our melange of cut-outs. One record caught my eye because of its striking cover. There was only one copy in the bins and it was a bit worse for wear with torn shrink wrap and a partially split cover. It was entitled "Marzette."

We were allowed as Discount Records employees to open any record in the shop for in-store play.I had of cache of sides I liked to listen to while ringing out customers, and I added "Marzette" to them. From the liner notes, I gathered that Marzette Watts was a painter/film maker who also played tenor. He was evidently pals with Bill Dixon, a horn player and composer I knew from his association with Archie Shepp. The music was typical "free jazz" of the period, not terribly together and not very good. Watts was, in my twenty-something judgment, a fairly mediocre saxophonist. I would put the record on when I wanted to drive customers looking for the latest Allman Brothers or Carole King album out of the store.

Even though I didn't think much of "Marzette," I eventually bought if (for all of four bits, at the employee discount) and took it home. It's been on the shelf now for forty years, pretty much unlistened to since those college days. But not long ago I was tootling around the Interwebs and I came across a copy of "Marzette" that had sold at auction for $350. Surprise!

Ms. Waters in her ESP days.
Turns out that Marzette Watts recordings are very desirable on the collectors market. "Marzette" garners top prices in part because it features cult chanteuse Patty Waters on one cut. She offers a breathy interpretation of Ornette's seminal "Lonely Woman," perhaps singing lyrics that she herself wrote. The late Bill Dixon is also present, playing piano on a composition that he wrote called "octobersong," no doubt inspired by the October Revolution that he help to foment several years earlier. And there's another Ornette tune – "Play It Straight" – that Coleman recorded live for Blue Note but has never been released.

On relistening to "Marzette," I'm still not much impressed by Watts' playing or the record. But it does have a nice energy in places and Bobby Fews and J.C. Moses contribute much to whatever coherence the album has. Because it's so unaccountably sought after, I thought I'd post it here so that you Gems fans can decide for yourselves.

Mr. Watts, by the way, studied painting at the Sorbonne in Paris in the early sixties before hooking up with Clifford Thornton and recording his first LP for ESP in 1966. His painter's loft was a hangout for many on the avant garde's front line – Shepp, Don Cherry, Ornette, Cecil Taylor and Pharaoh Sanders among them. In 1968 he recorded "Marzette" for Savoy, at a time when the label had abandoned jazz almost completely and was concentrating on gospel music. As a result, the album sold only a handful of copies and was soon relegated to bargain bins. Like Bill Dixon, Watts later briefly taught at Weslyan in Middletown, CT, presumably in music. Watts eventually quit music altogether and concentrated on art and film making. He died on the West Coast in 1998.

So here's the Marzette Watts Ensemble as produced by Bill Dixon, in all its obscure glory. These files were taken right from the vinyl, of course, with no cleaning of the sound required. Gems has saved you a cool 350 clams!

The Marzette Watts Ensemble
Marzette Watts, ts; George Turner, cnt; Marty Cook, tbn; Frank Kipers, vln; Robert Fews, p; Juny Booth, Steve Tintweiss, Cevera Jehers, b; Tom Berge, J.C. Moses, d; Amy Shaeffer, Patty Waters, v. Bill Dixon, prod.
New York, NY; 1968; Savoy MG-12193

1. octobersong (Dixon)

2. Play It Straight (Coleman)
3. F.L.O.A.R.S.S. ((Watts)
4. Medley (Watts)
5. Lonely Woman (Coleman)
6. Joudpoo (Watts)

Find it here: