Thursday, July 31, 2014

Teddy Wilson: [Still] Elegant, Refined and Swinging [From the Archives]

Here at JazzProfiles, the editorial staff refuses to let the memory of the "old guys" - in today's parlance, "the Jazz Masters," - fade away despite the fact that this is what heroic 5-star General, Douglas MacArthur claimed would be the fate of "Old Soldiers." 

Listening to a bunch of clarinetist Benny Goodman's trio recordings with Teddy Wilson on piano and Gene Krupa on drums still puts a smile on my face, a gleam in my eye and causes my heart to skip a few beats.

Teddy Wilson, one of the true and enduring "Gentlemen of Jazz," was one heckuva piano player who could play pretty or fly and make it all seem so effortless.

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In her essay, Beauty By The Numbers [Smithsonian Magazine, November 2012], Dana MacKenzie argues that the essential requirements for mathematical beauty are simplicity, surprise and depth “ … in the sense that the best theorems contain many layers of meaning and reveal more as you learn about them.” [paraphrase]

Perhaps, the same can be said about the aesthetic beauty of the Jazz piano stylings of Teddy Wilson – he executes them in a simple, straightforward manner, he often astonishes by going to new places in his solos and the more you listen to him the more he reveals about the essence of a song’s structure [i.e.: it’s “theorem,’ if you will].

Teddy Wilson was – noticeably – the first Jazz pianist I ever heard.

I say “noticeably” because the big band recordings that gave me my first taste of Jazz had the occasional piano introduction by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, or Stan Kenton, but the piano in most Swing-era big band Jazz largely functioned as a part of the rhythm section.

Of course, there were some notable exceptions such as Jess Stacey’s extended solo from the Benny Goodman Band’s performance of Sing, Sing, Sing on the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall recording, but, for the most part, the piano player in these bands thumped out four-beats-to-the-bar along with the other members of “the engine house” that powered Swing music.

Listening to recordings of the trio and later the quartet performances that clarinetist Benny Goodman featured as “the-band-within-a-band” from around 1935-1938,  gave me my extended exposure to what author Len Lyons in his book The Great Jazz Pianists has termed “an instrument that has been central to the evolution of Jazz.”

Teddy Wilson was the pianist in Benny first trio and quartet and I was so taken with his approach to Jazz piano that I memorized his solos on Nice Work If You Can Get ItChina Boy, Sweet Lelani, Moonglow, and Nagasaki.

Teddy is rarely discussed today with pianists such as Herbie Hancock. Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner and Brad Melhdau being more in vogue, but when he first came to prominence in the mid-1930s, Teddy was quite an innovator having developed his own style from influences derived from Earl “Fatha” Hines, Art Tatum and Thomas “Fats” Waller.

Teddy is often referenced by “modernists” such as Bud Powell, George Shearing, Nat King Cole and Bill Evans as someone who had a great influence on their playing and they in turn influenced those Jazz pianists who predominate today.

I love listening to all Jazz pianists because as a friend was fond of saying: “When you sit down at a piano, the entire range of music theory and harmony is in front of you in black and white,”

Or, to put it another way: “The piano is the most versatile and autonomous of all the musical instruments. No more perfect tool (…) for expressing music has ever been developed.” [Len Lyons, Ibid].

Fortunately, there has been much written about Teddy that analyzes and discusses his piano style including Loren Schoenberg’s essay for The Complete Verve Recordings of the Teddy Wilson Trio [Mosaic Records MD5-173, Gunther Schuller’s chapter on Teddy in the Swing Era [pp.502-12], an annotated description of his recordings in Richard Cook and Brian Moron, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed., and a marvelous interview that Len Lyons conducted with Teddy which is included in Len’s The Great Jazz Pianists [pp.60-74].

One of my favorite expositions about Teddy is by Dick Katz, the late Jazz pianist and educator, which he prepared as the liner notes to a recording that Columbia Records issued in 1977 entitled Teddy Wilson: Statements and Improvisations, 1934-42.

This double LP was produced in conjunction with The Smithsonian Institute when its Jazz Program was under the direction of the esteemed, Martin Williams.

Thanks to a Canadian internet friend, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles was able to obtain a copy of Dick’s excellent liner notes to Teddy Wilson: Statements and Improvisations, 1934-42 which are particular valuable because of his pellucid comments about Teddy Wilson’s significance in Jazz history and the salient characteristics of his Jazz piano style.

© -Dick Katz/The Smithsonian Institute, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Anyone who has involved him­self with that beguiling, consuming presence called "jazz piano," either as player or listener, probably has his own list of innovators and es­sential contributors. But it seems to me that Teddy Wilson should be .included on anyone's list as one of the most significant artists.

As a jazz pianist myself, and one who was fortunate enough to have been Teddy Wilson's pupil, my re­marks on his work are necessarily somewhat subjective. In any case, it will be best first to establish some historical reference points in order to gain some perspective on his sizable contribution.

We will not deal with the body of ragtime music developed by Scott Joplin, James Scott, Joseph Lamb, and others, but begin with the great keyboard improvisers (rag­time was not an improvisational music). My list goes like this: James P. Johnson; Willie "The Lion" Smith; Fats Waller; Earl Hines; Art Tatum; Teddy Wilson; Count Basic; Duke Ellington; Nat "King" Cole; Erroll Garner; Thelonious Monk; Bud Powell; Bill Evans; McCoy Tyner.

Each of these men added new dimensions and they are the names I hear discussed most among other pianists as key influences.

Of course, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett are names mentioned today, but at this writing it is perhaps too early to assess their impact on the future. Oscar Peterson is also a favorite topic but the jury is still out on whether the content of his playing matches his technical prowess. And there are many other pianists, of course—Hank Jones, Al Haig, Horace Silver—who perform with excellence and have exerted a considerable influence.

Reducing this list to those whose innovations have proven essential, and to those, each of whom have created a whole "school" of play­ing, we get:
James P. Johnson, "the father of stride piano." Earl Hines, the father of horn-like piano concepts and the first true rhythmic virtuoso. Teddy Wilson, the father of elegant, subtly swinging, lyrical playing. Art Tatum, every pianist's father and mother, inasmuch as he covered it all. Count Basie, the father of modern "comping," who also showed us the importance of know­ing what not to play and how to use silence effectively, as did Thelonious Monk later. Bud Powell, the father of "bop" piano and pioneer of the long, across-the-bar-line, single-note melodic line on the piano. Bill Evans, who enriched the standard song with fresh har­monies and voicings and who helped add a new suppleness to the rhythmic line. McCoy Tyner, who seems at this date important be­cause he applied the modal con­cepts of John Coltrane to the piano successfully —i.e., a running, "sheets of sound" right-hand against an insistent, stabbing left-hand accompaniment, using chords often voiced in fourths.

The records in this collection offer examples of Teddy Wilson's work between 1934 and 1942. By 1934, Art Tatum had thoroughly shaken up every musician within earshot, including many outside jazz. Teddy, too, was forever smit­ten by Tatum's genius. Earl Hines, who was then probably the most famous jazz pianist, led a scintil­lating big band and was exerting his monumental influence on most pianists, including the young Teddy Wilson. Count Basie was still plain Bill Basie, and had not yet burst onto the national scene with his innovative rhythm section. Boogie woogie piano was all but unknown except to black patrons in rural and big city gin mills and rent parties and to a few white record collectors. Many were still under the spell of Fats Waller and the stride piano masters. Cecil Taylor was one year old. Herbie Hancock wasn't yet born.

Except for Duke Ellington's work (which, to use a phrase he never applied to himself, was always "beyond category"), piano accom­paniment in the jazz ensemble, large and small, usually took the form of rather relentless, stiff (to today's ears) left-hand-right-hand-left-hand-right-hand "oom-pah" thumping, regardless of tempo. This often resulted in an intense kind of rolling swing—but it be­came a rhythmic box, and was quite limiting to many horn players who were beginning to want a looser, more sensitive background for their improvisations.

String bass technique was (ex­cept for a small few players) far behind that of the other instru­ments in jazz and the bass had mainly a percussive, timekeeping function. It is interesting to con­template what direction the music might have taken if bassist Jimmy Blanton had arrived five or ten years earlier than 1939. For ex­amples of pre-Blanton rhythm sec­tions, listen to early records by the Fletcher Henderson orchestra or by Fats Waller's ebullient little band.

In such a milieu Teddy Wilson shaped a more sophisticated way both to accompany and to solo in the jazz ensemble.

Born in AustinTexasWilson was raised from the age of six in TuskegeeAlabama, where his father was head of the English De­partment at Tuskegee Institute and his mother, chief librarian. He dutifully studied both violin and piano and went on to major in music theory at Talladega College, also in Alabama. Early exposure to classic jazz recordings like Louis Armstrong's West End Blues, Fats Waller's Handful of Keys, and the Bix Beiderbecke-Frankie Trumbauer records had a great impact on him. After moving to Detroit in 1929 and hearing the touring bands there, he made his commitment to be a full-time jazz musician. Early experience with Milton Senior's band took him to Toledo, where he met and came under the awesome spell of Art Tatum about 1930. From 1931 to 1933 he worked in Chicago with several well-(continued inside) known bands, including Louis Armstrong's.

One night in 1933, John Ham­mond, that irrepressible jazz super-fan who became the music's first and most active patron and bene­factor, heard Wilson on a radio broadcast with Clarence Moore's band from the Grand Terrace in ChicagoHammond knew that alto saxophonist and composer-arranger Benny Carter needed a pianist.

He secured Teddy the gig and facili­tated Wilson's subsequent move to New YorkHammond also super­vised an important recording ses­sion with the "Chocolate Dandies" (imagine an all-black jazz group with that name today!) that fea­tured both Carter and Wilson.

Once Teddy was in New York and was widely heard, opportuni­ties to play and record became plentiful. He made records with Red Norvo's group and records ac­companying singer Mildred Bailey, and these did much to attract a wider, well-deserved attention.

It was also Hammond who ar­ranged for Teddy to lead the all-star recording groups that featured Billie Holiday. By now it is almost superfluous to point out how mar­velous and timeless these records are. They used the very best players available, including Lester Young, Ben Webster, Jo Jones, Buck Clay­ton, Roy Eldridge, Johnny Hodges, Benny Goodman, and others. And on them, Wilson achieved a re­corded legacy that is indispensable to anyone who is serious about jazz. Two of these collaborations are happily included in this album— These Foolish Things and More Than You Know—and notice the dates, 1936 and 1939 respectively.

For the larger public, however, the real emergence of Teddy Wilson came with the birth and the impact of the Benny Goodman Trio, and later the Quartet when vibraphonist Lionel Hampton joined. The Trio was informally conceived at a party at Mildred Bailey's apartment in June, 1935, and it seems that fate fortuitously brought together two of the most technically adroit per­formers since Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines collaborated in 1928. Prodded by Gene Krupa's "hot" brushes, Goodman and Wilson took collective improvising to a new level of clarity and precision, and attracted listeners who had previ­ously thought of jazz (quite wrong­ly, to be sure) as a crude and even primitive musical idiom.

Aside from Goodman's obvious virtuosity and keen sense of the jazz pulse, what really made the Trio unique was Wilson's vitaliz­ing and strikingly original concept of contrapuntal harmonic move­ment. He revised the conventional stride left-hand by outlining the harmonic structure of a piece with an uncannily well-placed series of both consecutive and "walking" tenths. This produced many inter­esting voice leadings and meshed beautifully with the work of the soloists. Against this smooth, flow­ing left-hand constant, his right hand in his solos spun out stunning, metrically immaculate, and ex­ceedingly lyric melodies in single-note lines or feather-light octaves. All this with a mellow, pearly touch. As Earl Hines before him had successfully adapted much of Louis Armstrong to the keyboard, so did Teddy absorb the messages of major figures like Benny Carter, Ben Webster, and Roy Eldridge.

And whereas Hines was a musical tightrope walker, Wilson purred along like a finely tuned Rolls Royce with soul, imparting to the listener a sense of security and balance. He was the first authenti­cally cool and controlled—but deeply involved—solo and en­semble pianist. He proved, as did Lester Young, that understatement can swing. But when called upon, Wilson could also generate terrific heat, as his fast, florid, and flag-waving pieces vividly demonstrate.

It is evident that Teddy's interest in "classical" piano and his diligent study and practice of keyboard techniques were an essential part of his development. Like Waller and Tatum, he helped explode the myth that, to be authentic, jazz pianists had to sound self-taught and crude. That he was able to adapt something as foreign as the "pianoforte" methods of Tobias Matthay to jazz verifies Wilson's resourcefulness and dedication to self-improvement.

Teddy, like Art Tatum, brought about a natural amalgam of Euro­pean and Afro-American musical practices. In this regard, Benny Goodman said of playing with him, "What I got out of playing with Teddy was something, in a jazz way, like what I got from playing [Mozart] with the string quartet." Certainly Wilson expressed his ideas with a delicacy and a symme­try otherwise then unheard in jazz. He was years ahead in his skill in sustaining a flowing melodic and harmonic line that perfectly com­plemented the soloist both in en­semble and solo. True, Waller and Tatum (one can't get away from those two) performed with great control and polish. But they com­pletely dominated any situation in which they might have been found, primarily because they were solo­ists who usually sounded best when they played alone.

Teddy's style immediately caught on and captivated pianists every­where. Even Tatum, his idol, incor­porated some Wilson into his own work—for example, the running tenths and some of Teddy's right-hand octave passages —and Wilson is naturally very proud of that fact. Indeed, I believe that Art Tatum's medium-tempo conception and even his approach to ballads was also affected by Teddy's graceful way with the pulse, by his flowing sense of phrase and legato touch. Tatum was a self-contained, one-man orchestra. His impact was rather like the fallout from a huge musical explosion—no one could get close to the center, but every­one was touched. Teddy's methods were more accessible, so long as your left hand could negotiate tenths easily. Thus, Wilson's in­fluence is in some ways just as far-reaching as that of Hines or Tatum.

It is my opinion that the two pianists who came closest to sound­ing like Teddy, both in content and spirit, were the late Sonny White and the Mel Powell of the middle and late 1940s. Clyde Hart was also a pianist who creatively assimilated much of Wilson, particularly the left hand, and was on his way to becoming an important and original piano voice in the burgeoning bop movement at his untimely death. And I am certain that younger pianists like Hank Jones, Al Haig, and Tommy Flanagan, among many others —and, to be quite immodest, myself—owe so very much to the Wilson magic.

The eight years represented here, from 1934 to 1942, span most of the swing era. In 1934 Teddy was un­known except to a few perceptive musicians, and by 1942 he was probably second only to Tatum as the world's most esteemed jazz pianist. Only Count Basic (basically a traditional stride player) en­chanted the public anywhere near as much, mostly because of his deceptive simplicity and ability to imply, both of which he best ex­pressed within his rhythm section of Jo Jones, Walter Page, and Fred­die Greene.

It was only a few short years until Wilson's all-pervading influ­ence finally gave way to the revo­lutionary flights of Bud Powell and the "new" music.

I am fully aware that all styles overlap to some extent, but I believe that there was a strong link between Teddy Wilson and Bud Powell in Nat "King" Cole during his years as a jazz pianist.

[And because] … Cole was a major force in their own stylistic development. He managed to distill the substance of both Hines and Wilson … [in the styles of many contemporary pianists such as Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, George Shearing and Bill Evans] ….”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Brothers and Other Mothers [From the Archives]

® 1976 by Mark Gardner CODA Magazine
© -Steven A. Cerra, Introduction copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Sometimes the World of Jazz and the denizens who populate it remind me of the Argumentation and Debate class that I took during my sophomore year in college.

I had a crush on a girl who was taking the class which was my primary reason for enrolling in it. Little did I know what I was in store for in either case. Fortunately for me, I passed the class and flunked the relationship.

For, as one would imagine, only those with a feisty tendency to argue about anything and everything were drawn to this subject.

Amongst devotees of Jazz are to be found many who hold strong opinions, especially about what Jazz is and what it is not. A special place seems to be reserved for the debate about the role of race in the development of the music, especially as to whether White musicians made any contributions to the music or whether Jazz deserves to be exclusively considered as a Black club to which Whites are occasionally allowed in as guests.

Who influenced whom is also an almost immediate signal for some Jazz fans to engage in an argument and then there’s the perennial, favorite debate – who’s the better player, “Earl or Bubba”?

Perhaps it’s because my introduction to Jazz started in relative isolation by listening to my parents’ Traditional and Swing Era jazz records which I discovered “growing” dust in our basement cellar that I was able to initially avoid some of these pitched battled on Jazz and its many manifestations and aspects.

For example, I had no idea that proponents of these earlier forms of Jazz were often referred to by some as “Moldy Figs” by boppers because of the former’s disdain for the more modern and alternative strains of the music such as bebop, hard bop, progressive jazz, East and West Coast Jazz, Latin Jazz, et al.

And although many of the subsequent years that shaped my interest in the music occurred when I resided in the Los Angeles area with easy access to clubs such as Jazz City, Shelly’s Manne Hole and The Lighthouse Café, I also had no idea about the distinctions and influences associated with the Jazz that was played in these places.

As a 17-year old, I was just overwhelmingly delighted to be allowed to enter Shelly’s club through the back door [err, “The Family Entrance”], not to pay a cover charge, spend .75 cents for a Coca Cola [with a .25 cent tip to the waitress] and to sit three feet away from trumpeter Conte Candoli as he played one fiery solo after another all evening long.

I found out much later that Conte had two influences on his instrument: his brother Pete, an outstanding “lead” trumpet player who was also well-known for the many explosive trumpet solos on Henry Mancini’s scores for the Peter Gunn TV program, and, Dizzy Gillespie, about whom, no more needs to be said.

But none of this meant anything to me at the time – I just loved the way Conte’s exciting solos could “light up the room,” especially when the were preceded by Richie Kamuca’s very “cool” [i.e.: relaxed] tenor saxophone sound.

After a bit, I discerned that the tenor players that I heard most frequently in and around Los Angeles – Richie, Bob Cooper, Dave Pell, Bill Holman and Med Flory [in the Terry Gibbs Big Band], Jimmy Giuffre, Zoot Sims [mostly on records], Wardell Gray [exclusively on records] Bill Perkins, Dave van Kriedt, Bill Trujillo, among others – had a style of phrasing and a sonority on the instrument that were very similar.

I also noticed that Dexter Gordon [whom I first heard in person at the Ivar Theater in Hollywood in the West Coast version of the play - “The Connection”], Harold Land, Curtis Amy, and Teddy Edwards, among others, played differently than the tenor sax players in the first grouping, but that they, too, sounded similar to one another. The guys in this group also had more in common with tenor players that I began to hear on the Blue Note Records that I could occasionally afford to buy [when I could find them!]: like Sonny Rollins, Johnny Griffin, Hank Mobley, and Tina Brooks.

In those early days of my association with Jazz, my musical sensibilities were barely formed. So while I had made these nascent observations about the different styles of tenor saxophonists, I didn’t know who to ask, let alone how to phrase the question, about such differences.

It might also be helpful to keep in mind that I was framing these questions in the late 1950s, a period that might be compared to the Dark Ages in terms of information that was then available in written, let alone in audio-visual form, on the subject of Jazz [which only a tiny minority considered to be an “Art Form” at the time].

Luckily, I stumbled upon some issues of Down Beat magazine and I became a regular reader of what turned out to be a veritable fountain of information on all aspect of Jazz [the noted Jazz writer, Gene Lees, had just become editor].

Paralleling this was the fact that the circle of tenor players that I played with in school dance bands, rehearsal bands and small combos began to multiply – rapidly.

Somehow, through reading the magazine and from anecdotal information gleaned from my cohorts, I became aware that there were two principal tenor saxophonist during the Swing Big Band Era – Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young – and that these two men influenced most of the young tenor saxophonist of the post World War II era.

Needless to say, since we were talking about Jazz, there appeared to be a raging and irreconcilable debate as to who was the better of the two players and which was the greater [more significant] style.

My voyage of self-discovery ultimately took me to the [over-simplified] point of realizing that Coleman Hawkins was the Father of the “Hot School” of tenor playing to which Dexter Gordon, Harold Land, Teddy Edwards and the East Coast hard-boppers belonged while Lester Young was the Daddy of the “Cool School” of tenor saxophonists listed in the first grouping above headed by Richie Kamuca.

I had not gotten to the point of drawing the obvious racial distinction between these groupings [see below].

And so it is that when the editorial staff of JazzProfiles comes upon a writer who is able to lift such debates and discussions above the trite generalizations that I arrived at on my own, it feels grateful to be the recipient of such knowledge and I feel compelled to share it.

Mark Gardner has been a fine writer about Jazz for many years. He is based in England and has authored numerous essays, articles and liner notes on a variety of Jazz-related subjects.

What follows was originally developed by Mark as the liner notes to a double LP that was released by Savoy Records in 1976 [SJL2210]. Entitled Brothers and Other Mothers, it was made up of 31 tracks that were originally issued by the label from 1946-1950.

While the 1976 LP is difficult to find, Mark subsequently published his liner notes to it in four-parts in CODA Magazine and there are presented here with the usual caveat of 
© - copyright protected; all rights reserved.
BROTHERS AND OTHER MOTHERS – (LINER NOTES) Part One® 1976 by Mark Gardner CODA Magazine

"Tides of musical influence are virtually impossible to monitor with complete accuracy. And in jazz, a young music still and one that has always been in a hurry, the problem is even more complex. Names and styles pass rapidly before our eyes and ears with disconcerting speed. This is not the scene for the leisurely, scholarly chronicler who likes ordered, out-and-dried developments, easy to trace.

So if an inquiring spirit poses the question, "Who was the first saxophonist to latch on to what Lester Young was into in the late 1930?" There is only one honest answer, "Who knows?" Influences are absorbed, often unconsciously, at other times deliberately (though perhaps not admitted), frequently quite casually. The process of widespread musical assimilation of new ideas in a constantly shifting artistic area like jazz is remarkably swift. One can notice significant changes, accepted and incorporated into the styles of numerous players, within months, even weeks.

There will always be the imitators, the mimics who can copy in meticulous detail the work of a true creator. But in jazz outright imitation is not as widespread as we may sometimes feel. Indeed, one of the fascinating aspects of the music is to view the innovations and to listen to the myriad ways they are expressed by various jazz practitioners who may not be originators but who do possess individualistic qualities.

There is nothing especially admirable about a musician who switches completely from one style to another which is coming into vogue. But an established player who shows he has been keeping his ears open for new things that he likes, and demonstrates the fact with a particular phrase, a tonal inflection, maybe just the choice of a certain tune, is informing us that he and the music are alive and growing.

The phenomenon of Lester Young's enveloping influence on young saxophone players between 1940 and 1950, and beyond has, perhaps, been over-simplified. The shadow of Pres was cast far beyond the generation of white tenor players who emerged from the wartime big bands, a refuge for many who were either too young or too clever to be drafted. The young, and not-so-young, black players were equally touched by Lester whose conception, let it be noted. penetrated deeply into all corners of jazz and was by no means an exclusive source for reedmen. Trumpeters, pianists. trombonists, singers and drummers all learned invaluable lessons from digging Young gliding out of the Basie section or riming those deceptively nonchalant gems behind Billie.

One can only generalize about how, why, when and where Pres seemed to permeate jazz and help to lead the music from swing into bebop in the most relaxed and logical way. Charlie Parker was on hand to crystallize and extend the direction, and meanwhile Pres went right along his own easy and supple path. His music changed, too, and young guys picked up on those shifts. But, unquestionably, Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, Teddy Edwards. James Moody, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt were just as aware of/and affected by Pres as were their white contemporaries Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Allen Eager, Brew Moore and Herbie Steward. So too were older men like Flip Phillips, Illinois Jacquet, Buddy Tate and Georgie Auld.

Perhaps the key difference between, say Dexter and Getz, was that Gordon had also listened profitably to Hawkins, Webster and Byas, while Stan appeared to be a Pres man and a Dexter Gordon admirer! Ideas were exchanged more readily in those days and to unravel the cross-pollination of musical thought that went on between the guys involved would be impossible now.
But we can examine a goodly slice of recorded evidence, enjoyable clues and pointers and fine music to boot, within the covers of this key reissue. In this set can be heard a superstar in embryo (Stan Getz). a living legend (Allen Eager), two departed legends (Brew Moore, Serge Chaloff), Mr. Swing (Zoot Sims), and the complete musician, composer/arranger/soloist (Al Cohn), They all happened to be saxophonists who came to prominence immediately after the war. Four-Cohn, Getz, Sims and Chaloff-were Brothers in the famous Herman bebop hand. Moore (he never worked with Herman) was a brother by adoption while Eager had been a member of Woody's saxophone section in 1944.

It was out of the big modern bands, short-lived but exciting anachronisms, that so many of the Pres men sprang into the spotlight. Ammons, Stitt, Gray and Budd Johnson were with the Billy Eckstine crew at a crucial period. Others had been with Earl Hines. The Herman orchestra came a little later but it was a haven for young saxophonists. Ammons played with both Eckstine and Herman so he heard it all.

The Second Herd, arguably Woody's best band, played a vital role in the wider spread of the Pres influence via the Four Brothers who were in the first instance Herbie Steward, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Serge Chaloff. Three tenors and a baritone was an unusual line-up hut Woody played safe by hiring altoman Sam Marowitz, and of course the leader often swelled the section to six on alto. Still, it was the three light-toned tenors and the baritone that combined for a new ensemble sound.

In his usual clever way Woody Herman adapted an idea for his own purposes. As early as the beginning of 1946 Gene Roland organized a band with four tenors in the lineup-Al Cohn, Stan Getz, Joe Magro and Louis Otis. In the summer of the following year he revived the idea at a place called Pontrelli's Ballroom, Los Angeles. By then the saxophone personnel comprised Getz, Sims, Steward and Jimmy Giuffre. Ralph Burns heard them and was impressed. He persuaded Woody to go along and listen. Result: Herman put Getz, Sims and Steward on the payroll and replaced Giuffre with Chaloff. The astute leader had bought himself a distinctive feature for the band that was ultimately launched in October 1947. Well, did all those white tenor players sound the same. as Miles Davis once asserted? Not on your life but they did have much in common, not least their respect for Pres. And when several of them played together and traded breaks it could be confusing. As an exercise try pinpointing the soloists on every segment of a Stan Getz date from April 1949 which brought together Getz, Cohn, Eager, Moore and Sims. It is a tough blindfold test.

But honestly it should not be so hard to tell Getz from Cohn in the ordinary way. Or Eager from Moore, who are certainly closer in feeling, than the former pair. Cohn always had a firmer tone than the others. The Getz sound possessed an edge and was less rounded. Eager was, incredibly, into Pres and bebop at the same time. Moore, was an ebullient player who worshipped Young. Sims? He played Zoot with a Young accent.


Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Young himself thought that Paul Quinichette and "maybe Eager" came nearest to his own style. Pres remains an enigma-but then so do Moore and Eager, two highly unconventional characters whose restless lifestyles typified their time. Milton A. Moore Jr. was a wanderer, a born loser, a hero of the beat generation and a brilliant saxophonist. Yes, he once remarked that any tenorman who did not play like Pres was playing wrong-that was the extent of his admiration.

Moore was born in Indianola, Mississippi, on March 26, 1924, and his first musical instrument was a harmonica given to him by his mother as a seventh birthday present. He played in his high school band and at 18 got a job with Fred Ford's dixieland band. He arrived in New York during 1943 and heard what bebop was all about. He would return to New York several times in the late forties to lead his own quartet, work with Claude Thornhill (an unlikely environment), swing his tail off in front of Machito's Afro-Cubans, gig with Gerry Mulligan and Kai Winding at the Royal Roost and Bop City.

Moore was never around one place for too long. He would take off for Memphis or New Orleans, playing all kinds of weird jobs ("I go where the work is"). Around 1953-54 he was on the Greenwich Village scene, a frequent jammer at Bob Reisner's Open Door where other cats playing mostly for kicks and little bread included Thelonious Monk. Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus and Roy Haynes. It was at the Open Door that Bird and Brew once serenaded a piece of chewing gum stuck to the floor. Recently discovered recordings also found Parker and Moore together on 1953 sessions in Montreal, Canada.

One day in the 'fifties Brew casually took off for California. As Moore told it, "Billy Faier had a 1949 Buick and somebody wanted him to drive it out to California and he rode through Washington Square shouting 'anyone for the Coast?' And I was just sitting there on a bench and there wasn't shit shaking in New York so I-said 'hell, yes,' and when we started off there was Rambling Jack Elliot and Woody Guthrie." After Woody heard Brew play at the roadside en route he refused to speak again to the saxophonist.

Guthrie didn't dig jazz. "But we were the only juice heads in the car so Woody would say to Jack or Billy, 'Would you ask Brew if he'd like to split a bottle of port with me, and I'd say, 'You tell Woody that's cool with me.' Then they let me off in L.A. and I took a bus up to San Francisco."

Before that fantastic journey. Brew had worked around with his buddy Tony Fruscella, a beautiful trumpeter who was also over-fond of the juice. Allen Eager was also a regular playing partner of Fruscella's. Brew stayed in Frisco for about five years, played all over town, made a couple of albums under his own name, recorded with Cal Tjader and drank a lot of wine. He was seriously ill in 1959 but recovered and in 1961 moved to Europe and for three years drifted around the Continent. Twice in the 1960's he returned to the States but there was still no shit shaking and nobody bothered to record him properly (a date as a sideman with Ray Nance was the only evidence of the final, unhappy return). His parents were very old and his mother sick. Brew was far from well and didn't look after himself. Friends kept an eye on him and tried to ensure that he ate regularly but Moore was almost past caring.

When he decided to split back to Scandinavia via the Canary Islands where he played at Jimmy Gourley's Half Note Club in Las Palmas, some of his admirers in New York produced a four-page newspaper called "Brew Moore News," in which Brew wrote a touching little verse:

Love I feel, but longing much;
Thy face I see, but cannot touch.
Your presence in heart is good, I know,
but hand in hand-it's greater so

Time was running out for Brew. There was one more album-a great set made at a Stockholm club where Moore really grooved. Then came the news that he had died after falling down a flight of steps in a restaurant. The final irony:

Brew, who had scuffled and scraped for cash almost all his life, had just been left a substantial sum of money, to give him genuine security, by a relative who had died. It happened too late.

Eager was a very different personality but he passed through the same obscurity syndrome. Allen Eager was a suave, cool. sophisticated dude, a big city man from New York (born there on January 10, 1927) who became a jetsetter. Stories about Eager are legion. Some may be myth, others are certainly true. Eager started on clarinet at the age of 13 and three years later-this was the war, remember, and experienced heads in the big bands had been drafted- he joined Bobby Sherwood. Then he worked with Sonny Dunham, Shorty Sherock. Herman, Tommy Dorsey and Johnny Bothwell's small group

Allen was soon deeply involved in the nightly happenings on 52nd Street where a string of clubs offered the new sounds in jazz. The young tenorman, with a devotion to the Lestorian Bible, earned the respect of older players. On a Saturday evening in September 1945 an incredible six-hour show was presented by Monte Kay and Symphony Sid at the Fraternal Clubhouse, which signaled the new musical order to returnees from the European and Pacific theatres of war. Drummer Big Sid Catlett got top billing, but the "Sensational All-Star Orchestra" also included Buck Clayton and Al Killian (trumpets), Trummy Young (trombone), Charley (sic) Parker (alto), Dexter Gordon (tenor), Tony Sciacca (Scott) (clarinet), Al Haig and Billy Taylor (pianos), Len Gaskin and Lloyd Trottman (basses), Tiny Grimes (guitar) and J.C. Heard (drums). Under this impressive list on the posters ran the line, "Introducing Allen Eager on Tenor Sax." 
During this period Eager found himself in some strange contexts, such as a back-up soloist to eccentric bluesman, Wynonie Harris. Eager, needless to say, just played Eager in these circumstances. The following year he was accorded a singular honour by the great Coleman Hawkins on a Hawkins date for R.C.A. Victor. The leader and star gave Eager his head on a Denzil Best number called, appropriately, Allen's Alley; Hawkins himself did not solo. Allen obliged with an excellent solo and Young-like exchanges with altoman Pete Brown. His love of Lester is well illustrated on that title, and the enclosed tracks. Eager once said of Young, "He was the first giant to put down the harshness of Jazz and instead just express pure beauty." That was also Allen's cue and view. As Ira Gitler stated in his book Jazz Masters of the 40's, "Eager, like Gray. was a master at making a meaningful statement in a short period. Also, like Gray, he was a swinger."During much of 1945 Eager and Gray worked together as members of the Tadd Dameron Band at the Royal Roost. The two saxophonists' differing stances on the Young/ Parker innovations made for a fascinating contrast. "Eager was not merely an imitator, however," wrote Gitler. "He had his own interpretation of Pres's style, and already other elements, like Charlie Parker, were changing it more. Whatever he played swung with a happy, light-footed quality and pure toned beauty. His interior time was equal to his fine overall swing. Many a night in the Roost, he had us ready to get up and start dancing along the bar."

If alcohol was Brew Moore's problem, then narcotics were certainly a plague so far as Eager, Getz and Chaloff were concerned. According to Leonard Feather, Eager was "an amusing, well read and highly articulate guy" but there was a Mr. Hyde side to his character which led him into addiction. In the years that followed the forties Eager was frequently out of music. There were times when he followed healthy pursuits like skiing or horseback riding. He took up motor racing and won first prize in the touring-car class at Sebring's sports car races one year.

In 1956 Eager turned up in Paris where critic Alun Morgan met and heard him. Allen's playing fluctuated. Sometimes it had the old brilliance but another night it would be flat and lack lustre, as indeed it is on a gimmicky album, featuring musicians from a number of countries, made that year. Having been particularly impressed by Eager's work in a Paris club on one particular evening, Morgan mentioned this to French pianist Henri Renaud who replied that the critic was very fortunate because Allen normally retired to bed at 9 p.m.!

French writer Michel Delorme, an ardent bebopper, knew nothing of Allen Eager's presence in Paris until he encountered him in a Post Office one afternoon. 'I could not believe my eyes, but we spoke and he seemed a pleasant guy." Morgan assessed him as, "Very cool, rather introspective, highly intelligent and sophisticated. He obviously had private financial means." This is borne out by one of the many popular stories about Eager. It seems that early one morning he crashed in his expensive sports car on one of the riverside roads in Paris. He walked away from the wreck unscathed without a backward glance, as if he were discarding an empty cigarette pack.

® 1976 by Mark Gardner
You would not expect to find a jazz musician's name in a biography of Marion Brando, yet Allen Eager pops up in The Brando I Knew by Carlo Fiore. He was at a party attended by Brando and, typically, the saxophonist refused to come to the telephone when Fiore called up, but, according to the author, Eager "had been a friend for years."

Apart from his playing in Paris, Eager made another attempt at a comeback in 1960 on alto, an instrument he had taken up a few years before. But nothing came of it. Assessed Gitler, "The years away from his horn had made him rusty; moreover, the old fire and fine timing were heard only in fleeting moments-it was a case of his losing something along the way that was difficult to find again."

During the late 1960's Eager was reported as being involved with the "flower people" on the West Coast. He had taken up soprano saxophone and was apparently sitting in with the Mothers of Invention on occasion. Since then the Eager Trail has gone cold. Allen has become a sort of 
Howard Hughes of jazz. Whether by accident or design he has vanished into anonymity, leaving all too few recorded works as examples of his youthful brilliance.

Pictures can sometimes tell the story, and two photographs seem to sum up the change that occurred in Allen Eager. A 1948 shot by Herman Leonard shows him cool, but intense, biting his tenor mouthpiece, shades drawn over his eyes. He is flanked by Miles Davis and Kai Winding, and next to Miles stands a pop-eyed Charlie Parker. You can almost hear the 1948 sounds of the Royal Roost projecting across the years from the monochrome. A much later pic, by Dennis Stock, allows us to see Eager in his New York apartment, carefully nursing an alto, but the instrument seems to be almost an afterthought. The surroundings are stiflingly elegant. Eager's eyes are hooded, his face expressionless, the mouth set. He is a million miles away from the performing art he once typified. It is a sad photograph because Allen Eager, and those who love his playing, are aware of what has been lost.

Stan Getz, the youngest of the five tenor saxophonists celebrated in this edition, was definitely the most precocious. He was a teenage prodigy and for him too much came too soon. Born in Philadelphia on February 2, 1927. Getz started on bass, then switched to bassoon, but when he joined Dick "Stinky" Rogers at 15 he was playing tenor sax. Stan packed away a lot of experience in those early years working with Jack Teagarden, Dale Jones, Bob Chester, a year with Stan Kenton, Randy Brooks, Buddy Morrow, Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. By the time he signed on with Woody Herman, Getz was well known and had recorded under his own name. His acknowledged favorite has always been Lester but, as already noted, he also drew heavily on Dexter Gordon's vocabulary at one point.

For much of 1947 he was in California, blowing with Butch Stone and his own trio at the Swing Club. His solos with Herman, especially on Early Autumn, gained him immediate recognition and he was soon winning music polls. By 1949 he was able to form his own small group and in the early 1950's he had what many listeners regard as his finest band with Al Haig, Jimmy Raney, Teddy Kotick and Tiny Kahn, They called him "The Sound," and he certainly did have a compelling and original tone, much further removed from Pres than Eager or Moore. Getz frequently toured with

Jazz at the Philharmonic in the 1950's and recorded extensively for Norman Granz, but his narcotics addiction nearly ruined a distinguished career. First he was arrested for trying to hold up a drugstore in Seattle, Washington. Then, on a visit to Scandinavia he became seriously ill and did not play for six months. After more concert work he returned to Sweden for a couple of years before going home again.

Getz was once more in the limelight thanks to the bossa nova boom of the early 1960's. His style suited to perfection the gentle rhythms and melodic songs that the Brazilians brought to jazz. And since then Getz has led a series of fine quartets featuring, in the main, young musicians who have gone on to make important contributions to the music. Stan, indeed, has arrived at personal and artistic maturity. If at one stage his work epitomized the so called "cool school," such is no longer the case. He often sounds "heated" these days. But then, as a study of his solos from earlier days on the set will reveal, he always was an emotional player, subtle but expressive. In the realm of swinging, Getz was a rather late developer, particularly when you set his work against that of Moore and Eager. He also tended to play on top of the beat, a point you seldom found Pres at.

It is not hard to understand the reasons for Stan's early fame. His playing had a freshness and romantic quality about it. and Getz really looked the part of the clean cut, All-American boy who had made good. The problems, as so often happens, really started with widespread recognition of his talents.

Al Cohn's achievements, though not lauded to the extent of the Getz contribution, are perhaps more impressive when analysed. Cohn has always been an enormously exciting soloist. A real jazzman who never plays the same solo twice and on successive takes will attack a progression in completely different ways. His records show that he has maintained an enviable level of consistency and craftsmanship, and has continued to grow as an artist. That is also true of his efforts as an arranger and composer and occasional bandleader.Cohn was born in Brooklyn on November 24, 1925 (two years to the day after Serge Chaloff) and cut his teeth on clarinet, an instrument he still uses sometimes. In fact he never actually studied tenor saxophone but picked up his own playing technique. His first job was with Joe Marsala, then came a spell as soloist and arranger with Georgie Auld's Band, followed by jobs with Alvino Rey and Buddy Rich. He replaced Herbie Steward in the Herman Herd and remained from January 1948 to April 1949 yet was not featured on any of Woody's records. Next stop was to a fine Artie Shaw Orchestra where he did cop some solo space. He left music for a couple of years but returned to play with Elliot Lawrence in 1952, Subsequently he did all manner of music jobs, writing for radio and television, making numerous records as soloist and arranger, and often teaming up with old friend Zoot Sims for, club work. He has recently returned to active playing again and sounds as good as ever. Cohn's tone has darkened and got heavier over the years but he still swings a la Lester. Through the years he has hewn close to the broad tenets that shaped his style from the outset. You can always rely on Cohn to make you feel good with his driving, purposeful swing and uncliched ideas.

I hadn't realized just how sonorous Al's tenor tone was until I heard him for the first time in person in the early 1960's. He was playing a battered old horn on which there was not a speck of lacquer to be seen but from this leaden-looking object came a deep-throated sound that was unforgettable.

Al Cohn goes with Zoot Sims like fish and chips, and that brings us to tenorman number five-John Haley Sims who. let it be noted, also plays clarinet and alto sax with the same sense of majestic ease that is apparent in his tenor work. Sims. born at Inglewood. California on October 29, 1925, came up via the bands of Kenny Baker. Bobby Sherwood, Sunny Dunham. Bob Astor, Benny Goodman and Sid Catlett. He was a "brother" from 1947-49 and has often been part of the Benny Goodman sound over the years. He was also featured with Stan Kenton for a time in the 1950's. Sims has recorded prolifically and continues to turn out sparkling L.P.'s to this day. There's never a dull moment on a Zoot Sims record. His fluency is incredible and his tone is yet another variation on the Young approach. Zoot seldom plays badly but listeners have been positively reminded of his enormous ability of late on a series of records made by Norman Granz. He once named his favorites as Sonny Stitt and Al Cohn (Zoot and Al have undoubtedly influenced each other) but the spirit of Pres is still contained in his playing.

Completing the cast of brothers in the present collection is the sixth saxophonist Serge Chaloff. the baritone anchorman of the Herman sax section. Born in Boston in 1923, Chaloflf came from a musical background and he studied piano and clarinet but, like Cohn, was a self-taught saxophonist, originally inspired by Harry Carney and Jack Washington. Chaloff had an incredible technique on the large saxophone, one that was never quite matched by even his distinguished contemporaries Leo Parker and Cecil Payne. Serge worked through the ranks of the Tommy Reynolds, Stinky Rogers, Shep Fields and Boyd Raeburn bands. But after hearing Charlie Parker his ideas were drastically altered, and in the orchestras of Georgie Auld and Jimmy Dorsey he was rapidly identified as a Brothers superior bop soloist, a status that was emphasized when he worked with Herman. After the years with Woody, Serge retreated to Boston and then moved to California. He was another narcotics victim but he actually died of cancer on July 16. 1957. His last recordings exhibit a remarkable control of the horn and. emotionally, they are among some of the most moving performances in jazz. Chaloff was undoubtedly one of a kind and now it seems ludicrous that in the public's mind he came second to Gerry Mulligan. a good player but one who lacked the originality of Chaloff.

Trumpeter Red Rodney (who has recently made a comeback) and that fine trombonist Earl Swope were also members of the Herman Orchestra, and Stan Levey would also work with Woody but later. The three pianists heard on these sessions were all early hoppers. George Wallington worked in Dizzy Gillespie's first bop quintet, while Duke Jordan was a member of Charlie Parker's 1947/48 group and later held the piano chair in the Getz Quintet (guitarist Jimmy Raney was also in that group). The brilliant Tiny Kahn (drums) is a vital part of the Al Cohn and Serge Chaloff dates. Kahn's premature death was another appalling loss. Kahn was a close friend of the third pianist. Gene DiNovi, who remains active in music (at last report he was living in Canada). Gene recalls that the drummer on the Brew Moore date was Jimmy Dee but memory plays tricks and the session sheets definitely list Stan Levey which effectively rules out Roy Haynes who has sometimes been named as being on drums. As for bassists Curley Russell and Tommy Potter, they were choices for numerous recordings at this time. Bob Carter and Jimmy Johnson were competent timekeepers.

In compiling this superb reissue Savoy has taken the opportunity to present much music we have not had the pleasure of hearing before. The four Getz titles, written and arranged by Al Cohn, are all alternate takes. There are fascinating comparisons to be made here between the "new" takes and the originals. Similarly, Savoy has included alternates of three performances by Al Cohn. The Brew Moore Quartet is offered to us complete with additional new takes. These extra performances underline the spontaneous nature of Brew's music and his inventiveness.

As for the Eager sides-the first two studio dates under his own name-these have long been out of print and they have never been presented on a single side previously. On both occasions Allen chose the great Max Roach as his drummer. Ed Finckle served as pianist on the 1946 gathering while Duke Jordan was first choice for the quintet selections which benefit from the ebullient presence of yet another Hermanite, Terry Gibbs. second only to Milt Jackson as a pioneer of modern vibes playing.

Side A really belongs to Cohn. On the three tenors date his arrangements are fine frameworks for the soloists and on Stein's Mood. which is Getz all the way, the scoring for the ensemble is perfect and recalls the atmosphere of Early Autumn. On the other three numbers the main voices of the octet are well featured. The discipline of the three minute recording produced some beautiful miniatures, and a soloist had to compress ideas and be succinct. Listen to how much is packed into Stan Getz’s Along with no fewer than six soloists-Getz, Swope, Cohn. Raney, Sims and Jordan. As already stated, these are all alternate takes, and I would not like to say that any of them is inferior to the originals.

The Cohn quartet items do not betray the fact that this was Al's first session under his own name. He plays with surging confidence and firm authority on his own two originals and Let's Get Away From It All, The blues, Groovin' With Gus (named for Gus Grant), and Al's sprightly Infinity serve to highlight what I mentioned before-that Cohn doesn't repeat himself. All three performances benefit from the astute work of George Wallington who, alas, gave up playing piano in the late 1950's. Incidentally the date for this session is definitely July 29, 1950 and not August 12 as listed in most standard discographies. Another date to set straight is that of the 
Serge Chaloff All Stars meeting which took place on March 5,1947 (and not June or January of that year as certain sources have erroneously guessed). 

Serge Chaloff All Stars meeting which took place on March 5,1947 (and not June or January of that year as certain sources have erroneously guessed). Here we are treated to two inspections apiece of the tunes-Chaloff's Pumpernickel, Serge's Urge and a Bar A Second as well as Tiny Kahn's Gabardine and Serge. The leader was-in exceptional form, playing with commendable ability and invention. Rodney shows the sort of flair that made Parker hire him while Swope again impresses (although his facility had improved by the time he did the things with Getz on Side A). Wallington puts not a hand wrong and his introductions are attractive and apt. The alternate takes, by the way, come first, followed by the originals in each case. Dig Tiny Kahn's resourceful drumming throughout. The Brew Moore selections are a revelation. First we have three takes of Blue Brew (not a blues, but based on Pres' Blue Lester) which get successively faster. All contain prime Moore. Then there are two takes each of Brew Blew and More Brew, and one of the aptly titled No More Brew-as this was the final cut of the session and, naturally, it is a relaxed blues. Brew is heavily into Pres on all the performances. DiNovi produces an interesting pianistic blend of George Wallington and Lennie Tristano. His comping is unorthodox and adventurous and seems to inspire Brew. We can be certain, now, that the proper recording date for these selections was October 22, 1948 - when the recording ban was still officially on! Date aside, this was some of the finest playing that Brew ever committed to wax.

Finally to the engaging and essential early work of Allen Eager, represented by the first eight sides that he made as a leader. The quartet titles are very rare - only one has appeared on 12" L.P. before. Three of the numbers have been issued under different names: Vot's Dot = Static; Booby Hatch = Pogo Stick; Symphony Sid's Idea = Zadah. On the exuberant numbers with Terry Gibbs, Eager is backed by Charlie Parker's rhythm section, and it is smooth sailing all the way in such propulsive company.

If any musical student in the future should dispute the immense and lasting influence of Lester Young on a generation of young white saxophonists, he will find the answers here. But it was how these men absorbed the Pres message, retained their identities and emerged with something of their own - that is the intriguing story of The Brothers And Other Mothers. Those of us digging now will be aware that herein is contained an indispensable and closely related portion of jazz history which, first and foremost, is to be enjoyed . . . then studied."

Mark Gardner

Monday, July 28, 2014

Remembering Eddie Costa [1930-1962]

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In 1962, the promising career of pianist Eddie Costa was cut short by a fatal car crash on the West Side Highway in New York City.

Jazz fans who knew his playing from the halcyon days of modern Jazz from 1945 to 1965 still talk about him, perhaps because of his singular style of playing piano which the noted Jazz critic and author Leonard Feather once described as “ … hard-driving, percussive and marked by an unusual octave-unison approach.”

Today’s Jazz fans who have discovered him in retrospect often express a keen interest in his work, perhaps because of the very uncommon way his piano improvisations are voiced and phrased. It is almost sounds as though Eddie attacks the piano while playing it.

Chris Sheridan, in his insert notes to the CD reissue of Eddie’s first LP, The Eddie Costa Vinnie Burke Trio [Jubilee LP-1025; Fresh Sound FS-129], further elaborates on Eddie’s distinctive manner: “Get Happy is a sharply-edged example of Costa’s predilection for driving inventions played almost below middle C; elsewhere the phrasing is stubbier, like necklaces of recast thematic fragments.”

Chris goes on to say that “Eddie’s style was in fact intriguing for its happy combination of swing-based rhythmic figures with a more ‘modern’ harmonic sense.”

Leonard Feather described Eddie style this way: “a modern approach to ‘barrelhouse piano in which Eddie Costa once more demonstrates the evocative power of the piano’s rumbling lower register.” [paraphrase, sleeve notes to Jazz Mission to Moscow Colpix CP-433]

Jazz author and columnist Burt Korall offered this impression of Eddie’s style in his insert notes to The Eddie Costa Quartet/Guys and Dolls Like Vibes [Coral CRL 57230; Universal Victor Japan MVCJ-19004]:

“An unassuming, quiet, even diffident person, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that there is an aggressive, apparently inexhaustible spilling forth of ideas whenever he plays. Rhythmic thrust nourishes melodic content as he creates long, striking lines that speak well for the organization of his resources, and his ability to remain integrated and flow inventively when soloing at length.”

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be fun to revisit Eddie and his music by examining what has been written about him in the Jazz press, magazines and sleeves notes from his all-too-few recordings in order to post a profile of him on these pages.

Jazz critic and writer Bill Simon observed that “Eddie Costa is the first Jazz musician to win an important poll on two different instruments. The young, still relatively unknown Jazzman was voted New Star on both piano and vibes in the 1957 World’s Critics Poll, conducted by Down Beat. Eddie was born in 1930, joined violinist Joe Venuti at 18, spent two years in Service, and came to the critics’ attention when he clubbed with Tal Farlow in New York. He’s an unusually articulate Jazz voice, eminently resourceful, and he swings hard. Eddie is one of the new Jazz giants.” [insert notes to The Eddie Costa Trio With Rolf Kuhn and Dick Johnson, Mat Mathers and Don Elliot at Newport [Verve MGV-8237].

Also in 1957, and following on the heels of Bill Simon’s words of praise, was this introductory paragraph by Joe Quinn in the liner notes to The Eddie Costa/5 [Mode LP-118], one of the few recordings that Eddie made as a leader:

“The word ‘phenomenon’ as outlined in the dictionary, pertains to an exceptional person, thing or occurrence, and is frequently used in a banal attempt to give class and distinction to an otherwise colorless performer. Generally, the music trade is apathetic to such in accurate semantics, but once in a while they solemnly nod in agreement that some newcomer is fully deserving of such accolades. Eddie Costa, who recently captured the Down Beat International Jazz Critics poll on both vibes and piano, fits this select category.”

In his 1972 JazzJournal essay commemorating the10th anniversary of Eddie’s death, Don Nelson offers a perspective on Eddie significance with this quotation from the Jazz author, Stanley Dance:

“Stanley Dance has compared Eddie Costa to Bix Beiderbecke, Bunny Berigan, Dave Tough and Django Reinhardt in being one of the most talented of white musicians., viz: —
'They each had a genius, a flame, an in-born talent, and that kind of dedication which made them impatient of the ordinary way of living , .. Eddie Costa ought to be remembered as an original jazz musician who died before he was 32, much too soon'.”

In the 1992 insert notes to the V.S.O.P. CD version of the Mode LP, The Eddie Costa/5 [VSOP#7] James Rossi wrote:


“The preparation of these liner notes for one of Eddie Costa's few sessions as a leader consisted of research into old magazine articles and various reference books. As expected, not an abundance of printed material was to be found.Eddie Costa was just beginning to embark on a fruitful career as a multi-instrumentalist when his car careened off New York's West Side Highway on July 26, 1962, killing him at the age of 31. It was a loss felt by many, evidenced by the fact that the greatest wealth of information today concerning Costa comes from a steadfast group of individuals who continue to vehemently support him.

It seem that everyone with a cognizance of jazz dating from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s has attached him or herself to Eddie Costa's music. His truly individual approach to melody filled a void in his listeners which allowed them the luxury of experiencing certain emotions, whether poetic or rambunctious, that no other artist was capable of eliciting.

"Individual" is an oft misused, consistently overused word, however, 100% justifiable when describing Costa's relationship with jazz. Born in the rural coal mining town of Atlas, Pennsylvania, Costa's early musical background developed from his brother Bill's tutelage on piano, followed by lessons from a talented local woman of German extraction. First exposure to jazz came in the form of recordings by Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Goodman. Teddy Wilson, and Art Tatum.
Bill Costa was responsible for Eddie's first professional job in the band of guitarist Frank Victor, with whom Eddie stayed two years playing organ and vibes. When Victor received a call to join violinist Joe Venuti in Chicago, the eighteen year-old Costa was included on the engagement.

Two months later, Eddie rejoined his brother Bill in New York for a steady gig at the Hickory House, playing pop and standards, with a little ja// thrown in for good measure. In the October 31, 1957 issue of DOWNBEAT. Eddie Costa confided to Leonard Feather his feelings about jazz during this early period: "I enjoyed it without fully understanding it and never thought about being a jazz musician. Whether St. Louis won the pennant was more important to me than anything that happened in music." Again Bill Costa proved invaluable to Eddie's musical growth with on-the-job training in the use of harmonic variations to color standard chord changes.

It wasn't until Eddie was drafted in January of 1951 and sent to Japan (and later Korea), with the 40th Division band that he heard his first Bud Powell record. Taken at face value, this may not seem strange. But considering that Powell was already one of the most revered and well-known pianists, idolized by every musician who was fascinated by the bop idiom, it bring! into perspective the manner in which Costa was going about the business of learning jazz at his own pace and in his own manner.

In early 1953, Costa was back in New York, settling into an important job with guitarist Sal Salvador, that produced his first recorded sides on the KENTON PRESENTS series. The fact that he was equally proficient on piano and vibraphone led to an abundance of studio work (it often annoyed Costa that his fellow studio players were shocked that a jazz musician could read so well) and freelancing with Tal Farlow, Kai Winding, Woody Herman, Johnny Smith, the Bob Brookmeyer-Clark Terry Quintet, and with his own trio of bassist Vinnie Burke and drummer Nick Stabulas. At this time Jubilee recorded Costa’s trio and released two records, one with the addition of tenor Mike Cuozzo. Eddie Costa also recorded as a sideman on several important sessions of the day, playing vibes with Bill Evans on "Guys and Dolls Like Vibes" for Coral, and on "Jazz Mission To Moscow" for Colpix, and piano on "The House of Blue Lights" for Dot.

Eddie Costa has never mentioned in interviews who influenced his style. Many musicians were undoubtedly involved, but it is probable that Costa himself never consciously realized who was responsible for the many facets that are in evidence in his unusual approach. By the time of the Leonard Feather DOWNBEAT article and the recording date of the session on this album, Eddie Costa did not even have a record player in his New York apartment.

Mode's recording of the Eddie Costa Quintet, while exhibiting a true group effort, (if this all-star quintet had only had the opportunity to develop into a stable working group!) is indicative of the ceaseless imagination of Eddie Costa. Twisting lines of original melodic beauty, harmonically expansive, with meticulously placed accents that epitomize the evolving bop style were pan of Eddie Costa\s vocabulary. Dramatic use of the middle and lower range of the piano was the Costa trademark. His near refusal to cover the keyboard's upper two octaves shows his eccentricity, possibly a result of his extensive work on the narrower ranged vibraphone.

Writer Barry Ulanov summarized in the August 22, 1957 issue of DOWNBEAT: "[Eddie Costa] is a musician all by himself, a thorough individual, a meditative pianist with a splendidly deliberate style of his own.' One of Costa's unwavering fans relates some thirty-five years later, "You're destined to spend lots of time in used record stores or pouring over record auction lists. Good luck, Costa is worth it."

V.S.O.P’s release of Eddie Costa Quintet will surely prompt the reissue of the remainder of Costa's glorious recorded legacy, inspiring a new generation of listeners who will be touched by his endearing style.”
- JAMES ROZZI, 1992                       V.S.O.P#7CD

In the August 27, 1957 edition of Down Beat, the highly regarded Jazz writer and critic Barry Ulanov wrote of Eddie:

“This is a remarkable time for pianists, no doubt about it. Not since the dear, not so dead days of swing, have there been so many of quality around at once, alive and kicking. And never, in my memory or historical records at least, have there been so many fresh keyboard thinkers around at once, creating new patterns in jazz and developing them.

Particularly remarkable then among a remarkable lot of musicians is the pianist Eddie Costa. He has to be to stand out in such company.

But stand out he does—for me, anyway. And not just because he has the vitality or the intensity, the bravura technique or ready supply of ideas which, singly or as a whole, typify the best of the pianists of this jazz era. No, it's something more he has, on top of these skills, besides these attributes, which I find so absorbing to the ear, so provocative to the mind, and not at all easy to spell out. …

Jazzmen always have been distinguished for their unselfish desire to play with the best, rarely concerned about how much less than the best he might sound playing alongside best.

The "best" are stimulating musicians to blow with, dedicated to the advancement of themselves and their music; ….

It s in his unassuming manner—almost a diffident one—at the piano, in the lack of fuss which attends his playing, solo or in the background: no extravagant gesture, no rolling, writhing, or other means of calling attention to himself. And his music never depends on the obvious crowd-pleasing crowd-teasing devices: no brave, bold display of dynamics, no conspicuous conservatory consumption, although, clearly, he knows his instrument very well.

Costa is a quiet musician, a restrained one, though not a notably icy one of the cool school.

He put his lines together with a deliberateness which demands the listener's attention. One must follow step by step along his thinking way if one wants to hear what goes on in the mind and feelings of this remarkably resourceful musician. That deliberateness, that quiet attention of Eddie's to the music at hand, is what makes him such a pleasant colleague for other musicians ….

His two hands work out striking different patterns now, delicately contrasting textures and accents and volumes. The next step, the logical the inevitable one, will be different measures of time against each other 7/8 or 5/8 against 4/4, or whatever combination makes sense to Edi after sufficient meditation on the meter.
It's not easy to spell out this technique of Costa's, but two of the words I used do add up to something like a summation of his special achievements -  "meditative" and "deliberate." …

Eddie Costa is a musician who is thoroughly individual, a meditative pianist with a splendidly deliberate style of his own.”

A couple of months later in the October 31, 1957 edition of Down Beat, Leonard Feather wrote in article entitled Two Poll Winners: They’re Both Eddie Costa, Who’s Much Surprised By It:”

“It came as something of a shock to Edwin James Costa to learn, three months ago, that the voters in the Down Beat Jazz Critics' poll had elected him this year's new star both on piano and vibes. It was the first time anybody had won simultaneously in two categories.

What made it seem all the more remarkable to Costa himself was that the critics had not had much of a chance to hear him.

"I didn't think anybody had listened to me to that extent," he says, "I haven't made as many records as a lot of other guys. I have no agent, I'm not signed with any booking office, and I don't have a publicity man. I was very surprised, in fact, when I was invited to play at the Newport Jazz festival [1957]."

Sadly, only five years later, Don Nelsen filed this Elergy for Eddie in the September 13, 1962 issue of Down Beat.

“On July 28, a Saturday morning, at  2:45,   pianist-vibist   Eddie Costa was killed when his car overturned on New York’s West Side Highway. He was 31 years old.

Born in Adas, Pa., Costa studied piano but taught himself the vibraharp. His first professional job was with violinist Joe Venuti when he was 18. There followed many jobs with such as Sal Salvador, Tal Farlow, Kaii Winding. Don IElliott, and Woody Herman. His talents extended to nearly every kind of musical expression.

His listeners, however, could have no doubt that he was first and most a jazz musician.

Seldom was one man so well loved. The tears on musicians' faces during the buriall attested to that. The tears also were for the loss of an immense talent.
Following is a touching reminiscence of Costa hy his friend, writer Don Nelsen. If was written shortly after Costa's funeraL

I first realized there was something different about Eddie Costa one night about six years ago. He was playing with Tal Farlow and Vinnie Burke at the Composer, a fine trio room now extinct. I had reviewed the group very favorably a couple of times before, but now I was walking in after putting them down. It seemed to me that, on this particular gig, inspiration was licking. Their music had sounded diffident, as though they really didn't feel like playing.

I entered ill at case, expecting a blast, Prior to that time—and since—my re-
ird tor such critical insolence had been a contemptuous sneer, a sarcastic thank-you, or a threatened punch in the nose. So when I greeted Ed,  I mumbled some self-conscious foolishness about how I had lo call them as I heard them, etc., etc. He laughed and said:

‘Man, you have to write what you have to write, and I have to play what I have to play.’

Immediately, we sat down over a couple of drinks and proceeded to tear apart my review and his playing. There was no animosity. He just wanted to find out what my judgment had been based on, what qualifications I had to make it. His questions were sharp and to the point. I did not resent them. How could I when a man faced me honestly and simply asked why I had said what I had say?

After that, we began seeing each other outside of the clubs because we had things to talk about. We met from time to time and then more frequently to discuss music, sports, his family and mine, his doubts and fears and mine.

Eddie was a fierce sportsmen. He held a season ticket to the New York Giants football game and followed the sports pages constantly. When he could not be at a game, he saw it on television. He was not only a spectator. Softball, football, golf, stickball, bowling saloon shuffleboard - he was always ready to play. And he’d be out to skin you alive every time. He was an eager ball tosser and exchanger of sports notes with the 10-year-old boy next door. When he had some time off, which wasn’t often in the last year or two, he was out in his back yard in Queens throwing the ball around with his 2-year-old son, Robbie.  Once, when my 14-year-old son, Bob, and I dropped over on a Saturday morning with a football, the three of us dashed into the street in front of Eddie’s home.

‘Let’s tire your old man out,’ he yelled to Bob.

‘It won’t be hard,’ Bob yelled back.

And it wasn’t. I pooped out long before they did, but I tried to keep up appearances lest they both find me out. I was the first to quit.

There were wrangles, too, about baseball. Baseball, I once told him, is a bore. All you ever have is two guys playing and the other 16 just standing around or in the dugout.

‘What’re you talkin’ about?’ he asked. He pronounced ‘talkin’’ not ‘tawkin,’ like a native New Yorker, but ‘tockin,’ probably like the rest of his hometown in Atlas, PA.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘when I guy knows the game, the batting averages and the players, and what they can and cannot do, every game is interesting. You can judge what a player is doing against what he should be doing and shouldn’t. And what about the unexpected? There’s a thousand possibilities in each game.’

A couple of days after his death, Ed’s wife, Jeanne, suggested that a fund be established to sponsor a Little League team in his honor, or to buy season passes to football or baseball games for youngsters. It’s a great idea. Ed’s love for sports and children were inextricably combined.

Music, of course, was the force that made him live. I think at time he felt it even more important than his wife and children and, because he had a great love for both, felt very guilty about not spending more time with them or showing his love more.

These were tough times. After an initial flush of success, culminated by the only double new-star victory in Down Beat history (piano and vibes: 1957), he worked only now and then in clubs. He became somewhat embittered.

‘It looks,’ he said, ‘like a new-star award is a kiss of death.’

For the next couple of years, Eddie gigged on with his own trio, a fine but unappreciated group featuring drummer Paul Motian and  bassist Henry Grimes, and as a sideman with groups, Woody Herman's and Gigi Gryce’s among them. During this period he began to gel calls for studio and transcription work, More and more they came as his reputation as a vibraharpist got around.

Eddie's ability to read vibes parts became legend in the studios, where in the last two years his talents were in tremendous demand He used to laugh over this and say, ‘I’ve been reading piano scores since I was 5, To read just one line like this is nothing.’
It might have meant nothing to Ed, but not many musicians could make the changes he could with little or no preparation. One studio musician observed at the funeral parlor that Eddie could come into a date cold and read off the toughest things with ease.

‘Some of the other guys can make it pretty good on reading." he said. "but when it comes to something modern, they drop their sticks. Not Eddie.’

All during the last year. Ed worked extremely hard. He wasn’t at home much. Sometimes he'd work in the studios most of the day and night, getting but a few hours sleep. The price was an ulcer, but he kept on. Occasionally, alter a night date of his. we'd meet at the Hall Note club. Many of those times he was pretty whipped, and I'd tell him to stop pushing so much. '’Besides, you don't even dig the commercial work that much.’

‘Look,’ he'd say, "I've got Jeanne and four kids to support and a house to pay off. I can't quit now."

What he said was true, but it tore at him nonetheless. Ed passionately believed an artist should develop his talent to the full, and he certainly wasn't doing it in the studios.

Yet there uere signs in recent months that he was beginning to realize his great potential. His playing was getting better and better, more than fulfilling the promise of early years. He joined the Bob Brookmeyer-Clark Terry Quintet, and during his first gigs with them at the Half Note and Village Vanguard he really regained confidence in himself as a Jazz musician. Playing in clubs again with guys he respected, and who respected him, brought him out of the artistic doldrums and his critical reception at the First International Jazz Festival in Washington in June was perhaps more enthusiastic than that accorded any other artists.

One thing that has always bugged Ed was to have people think of him primarily as a vibes player rather than as a pianist. He knew he was good on vibes but considered it extremely limited in relation to the piano. The latter was his instrument. It had been ever since his older brother, Bill, another fine musician who Ed idolized, taught him to play when he was barely out of rompers. He believed that he could create infinitely more on piano, and his recent work bears that out.

His playing on the recent released Jazz Mission to Moscow, with some of the Benny Goodman Russian-tour band, is an outstanding example. It so impressed Jack Lewis and his superiors at Colpix Records that a week before the fatal July 28, Lewis asked Ed to do a date with a big band, the tunes to be chosen by Ed, the arrangements to be written by Al Cohn and Manny Albam.

Ed was reluctant at first. He had made too many sessions where the guys in charge told him was they wanted. Lewis offered him a free hand, and Ed, at the urging of Lewis and three of his fellow musicians - Moe Wechsler, Sol Grubin and Bernie Leighton - agreed.

He and Lewis were to get together to pick out the tunes right after Ed and Jeanne returned from a week in Bermuda. It was to be the honeymoon that they never had. What a damned ending.

In the last three months, we discussed a magazine article on the music business itself, on those agents, managers, club owners, artists and repertoire men, and other warm-hearted functionaries whose love for musicians and good music somehow never got in the way of the money. Ed had a lot to say. Because he made it at the studios, he could afford to step on some big toes. He didn’t have to depend on clubs or Jazz records for a living, and he could speak freely.

All that’s gone, along with the slight shrug of the right shoulder as he walked to the bandstand; the carelessly crossed legs as he played; the snort that traveled down through his nose whenever he took off his glasses. All gone, with a talent that could have ripened into greatness, gone with such sudden finality that one wonders whether justice does not consist of one huge universal laugh .

I suppose I will reread these lines in a month or two and tell myself what a sentimental slosh they are.

I don’t care.”