Sunday, December 31, 2017

Billy Eckstine: The Evolution of The First Bebop Big Band

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

“BILLY ECKSTINE, ..., had a modern, swinging band during the mid-forties. He had been singing with Earl Hines for a number of years when one of his fellow bandsmen, Dizzy Gillespie, suggested to Billy that he ought to go out with his own crew.

It was a sensible suggestion, because Billy, an outstandingly handsome man with a great deal of charm, had built up quite a following not merely among musicians, who admired him as a person and as a singer, but also among a segment of the public that followed the jazz-oriented bands.

In the spring of 1944 Billy left the Earl. He took with him the band's chief arranger and tenor saxist, Budd Johnson, who, along with Gillespie, became one of the two musical directors of the new group. So great was the emphasis upon instrumental music and what was then considered to be progressive jazz that Billy's strong, masculine but highly stylized vocals were often subjugated to the playing of some young, budding jazz stars like Charlie and Leo Parker, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Fats Navarro, Howard McGhee, Kenny Dorham, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon. And for a while Eckstine also featured a timid young girl vocalist with a marvelously clear, vibrant voice. To this day Sarah Vaughan still looks back fondly on her association with the band and credits it for much of her musical development.”
- George T. Simon, The Big Bands, 4th Ed.

Within the mere three years of its existence, Billy Eckstine's band at one time or another featured just about every "modernist" on the scene. A tentative listing of the alumni reads like a real "Who's Who of Bebop!”  It is forever to be regretted that this band had so little opportunity to record [in part due to the Musicians’ Union recording ban then in effect] and that Eckstine was rarely able to convince producers (and audiences) that the real quality of his band was its musical potential. More so, of course, than his own vocals, although these are often of the highest quality.

As the story goes, before Gillespie was to really settle in on 52nd Street in the mid-1940’s, he became an important part of the newly formed Billy Eckstine orchestra. Gillespie and bassist Oscar Pettiford had had a falling out, and while Oscar remained at the Onyx (with Joe Guy on trumpet and Johnny Hartzfield on tenor), Dizzy moved across the street to the Yacht Club with Budd Johnson in tow. On the same show with them was their old colleague from the Earl Hines band, Billy Eckstine, billed as X-tine, thanks to his booking agent Billy Shaw.

Eckstine's, or X-tine's, career was not exactly roaring along. It was decided that he head a big band but, at first, he and Shaw argued about the basic philosophy.

Eckstine was committed to the new sounds and convinced Shaw he wanted Gillespie as his musical director and Charlie Parker, working at the time with Carroll Dickerson at the Rhumboogie in Chicago, as the leader of his reeds. In June 1944 the Billy Eckstine band was born.


“It was a whole evolvement of something new, aside from the trite ways of doing things. When I started my band we got bad, bad reports on it. Even the William Morris office, they said, "Why don't you just get a band like in the vein of the Basic band and with good vocals of yourself, and you just sell the band on your vocals and things like that." But they didn't stop to realize that I was already hooked into this thing. If you look at some of the early downbeat write-ups,' Christ, they used to pan hell out of me. They said I kept singing, I was running all over the place and wouldn't sing the melodies, which was just a way of seeking at that particular point—you're hearing things also. Now when we all got together, when the different guys got together, I saw the reason why I wanted to sing—well, now we call it "changes" and because it was new usage.

When we recorded "Cottage for Sale" I ended it on major seventh. We had a guy in the control room named Emile Cote, who was a head of the Pet Milk Singers, as the A&R [laughs] man. When I hit that, he came out and said, "Well, I think we got a good balance on that. Now shall we go back in and do the thing?" I said, "Hey, that was it." "Oh, you're not going to end that on that note." I said, "Well, why not, it's a major seventh." Then he gave me the old cliche about Beethoven or somebody giving a lesson and a kid hit the major seventh and then left, walked off, and he had to run downstairs and resolve it. Well, I said, "I ain't gonna resolve it." Those kind of things during that era, and getting to what you've seen, it was a feeling among a nucleus at that time of younger people, of hearing something else. We didn't knock. You see that's the other thing that was so funny about the guys then. You couldn't find one guy, you take Dizzy, Bird, any of the guys that were in my original band, we never knocked nobody else's music.

My God, my band, when I started, the guy that gave me my music to get started was Basie. I went over here to the Hotel Lincoln and walked in there with Basie, and he said, "I understand you're gonna start a band," and I said, "Yeah, man, I ain't got no music." So he turns around to Henry Snodgrass and told him, "Give him the key." I went back in the back in the music trunk and just took scores of Basie's music to help me be able to play a dance. We didn't have any music. The only things that we had in our vein of things was "A Night in Tunisia" that Diz had written. As we kept doing these one-nighters, we were constantly writing. "Blue 'n Boogie" was a head arrangement. We were constantly just sitting down everywhere we'd go and have a rehearsal and putting things together on these kind of things. Little head arrangements and riffs that Diz started or Bird started. "Good Jelly Blues" and "I Stay In The Mood For You"—Budd Johnson wrote that on the same type of a thing. And the little things I wrote—"I Love The Rhythm In A Riff" and "Blowing The Blues Away," they were just more or less—we were gradually getting our music together, but when we started out we didn't knock anybody's music like that. My God, I don't think there was a time that we ever were anywhere where another band was that all our band, if we were off, was not right there listening to them. It wasn't a knock, of putting their music down in preference for ours. It was just another step, it was another step beyond. I guess, possibly the same thing happened back when Louie took his step past King Oliver, maybe, who knows. I wasn't around to pay any attention to music then, but possibly the same type of thing happened then.

Then another very important thing, too. Our music was more studied. Up until that point, you didn't have the musicianship, other than Ellington, Lunceford, like that, where you had some great schooled musicians up there on that stand. But a lot of the other bands, there were a lot of guys who couldn't read a note, even some of the first Basic band that came East. It was a head-arrangement band. When here we came on, in my band and in Earl's band, all musicians, seasoned musicians. But when we came along these were all new usages of chords, new voicings, the arrangers were hearing things, began to write. And another thing that happened, my band ruined a whole lot of musicians who had been bullshitting before. But everywhere we would go with my band, after it was together about two months, we'd look out into the audience, and the young, the real young, was out there going, "Yeah, man." It was hitting that young; it was the music of the young really, and because the young, a lot of them, were in the war in Europe, the widespread popularity never was acquired, never was achieved.

I'll never forget, though, we used to have more problems with the powers that be, the agents. Christ, that's where I had the problem. They wanted me to sing, and play "One O'Clock Jump"; the things that were famous or something of Glenn Miller's or something of Tommy Dorsey's; in other words, let the band copy other successful things and you sing. That wasn't my idea of what I wanted to do. Shit, if 1 wanted to do that I could have gone with—'cause after I left Earl and went back to 52nd Street, I started getting calls from certain bands, different bands like Kenton. They wanted me to come in the band as a vocalist, but I wouldn't go because I said, "Hell, if I'm gonna break up my own band, what am I gonna go with somebody else for when I couldn't make my own successful? And here's some guys who are gonna try more or less to copy what we're starting, and I'm gonna go with them? No way!"

So it was always a fight, a fight, man. Christ almighty, I'll never forget, they came down to the Riviera in St. Louis. And I was working in there with my band, and the William Morris office sent some schmuck down there to do a report on the band. He came back and said, "There's no love vein in the band." Imagine this guy gonna go dig a swinging band: "there's no love vein in the band." So when Billy Shaw, God rest his soul, whom I loved, when Billy called me—Billy believed in me— and he said, "Hey B, we're getting rapped, and this guy come back here sayin' 'There's no love vein in the band.' " I said, "Well, shit, he didn't check into it. Now me and Dizzy been goin' together for years. There's the love vein" [laughter].

Well you know what he told me to do: "Well, why don't you get a real pretty girl, with a big ass, to sing?" Didn't listen to Sass [Sarah VaughanJ. He's gonna tell me about some chick with a big ass, and here's a girl with the greatest voice that I've ever heard. He never even heard that. Well, that's the kinda shit you went through in those days and on. Man, it just got to the point—I think it discouraged a lot of people. It even carried on over into Diz's band, so Diz's band wasn't successful.

It was musically successful. So was mine. Now it's the "legendary Billy Eckstine band," and some of these same guys that are now calling it a legend rapped the shit out of me. Leonard Feather, he rapped the shit out of me. Every time we'd come in, "the band was out of tune," and the this and the that, and now it's the "legendary Billy Eckstine band."

I don't want this to appear racist, but nevertheless, it's factual. Anything that the black man originates that cannot be copied right away by his white contemporaries is stepped on. It was copied. Shit, Woody Herman, get a load of his things — "Northwest Passage." All those things were nothing but a little bit of the music that we were trying to play. All of those things. All they did was that. Shit, but they got the down beat number one band, yap, yap, yap, all of this kind of shit, but Woody better not have Jit nowhere near where my band was. Nowhere. And I can say it now because it's all over and I don't have to appear egotistical, but he better not have lit anywhere where we were. And that goes for any of them, because let me show you, we would play, and the guys that were in that band will tell you one thing; we played against Jimmie Lunceford at the Brooklyn Armory. Jimmie Lunceford, big star of the thing, and we were the second band. We ate his ass up like it was something good to eat, so much to the point — I'll never forget this, Freddie Webster, God rest his soul, was with Lunceford at the time, and Freddie wrote a letter to a buddy of ours in California, and all he wrote on the letter was, "Did you hear about the battle of jazz?" He says, "Billy Eckstine," no, "B and his band, life; Jimmie Lunceford," in very small letters, "Jimmie Lunceford and us, death" [Laughter]. That's what he wrote on this thing.

Musicians—that's the other thing—young musicians would be around us like this all the time listening, and they knew what we were trying to do. Arrangers started hearing. The technical aspect of the music was grasped first. People who knew something about music right away said, "Hey, this is something else." It's the moldy guys that relied so much on their ear. They didn't have the ear to follow this—it's the same as this Emile Cote that heard this major seventh, he didn't hear that thing resolved where he was waiting for it to resolve. And when I said, "Here's a cottage for sale," and he didn't hear that [sings]. He didn't hear that. All he heard was "da" and he was waiting for "daa."* [*The conventional ending would be the tonic. Eckstine, like many instrumentalists of the time, ended a half step below the tonic.]

That's what he's waiting for. His ear had been indoctrinated into that type of listening. But arrangers jumped on this. You'd be surprised, you know how many free arrangements I used to get? Every town I'd go into, some little young musician who's studying would bring me up an arrangement to play. He is voicing it off of the new voicings, the new thing; nine out of ten of them you couldn't use, but you could see the seeking, trying to, hearing this kind of music which used to inspire us.

And again to get back to the love thing, Diz and Sonny [Stitt], all the different guys will tell you this, that was in the band. We used to get in a town and, man, it was like the bus getting in at twelve o'clock— I wouldn't call rehearsal. The guys would go on to the hall, set up, jam, or Bird would take the reed section, sit and run through things. Just at night, the Booker Washington Hotel, there in St. Louis for Christ sake, when we was working the Riviera, the people used to move out, we'd rehearse four o'clock in the morning. Sit right in the room; the reed section would be there blowing all night. It was a love where everybody was seeking things like that, trying and learning. Sass and myself used to learn things on the piano.

I'll never forget, Diz wrote an arrangement of "East of the Sun" for Sass. We worked out the ending of it [sings]. We'd work out things vocally, because every aspect of music could fit into this. There was a way to do it vocally; there was a way we heard it vocally; a way it was done instrumentally; the way it was done rhythmically: everything had a new concept to it. It wasn't just one trumpet player playing his style which was an innovative thing. Or one saxophone. There was a collective unit of the whole concept. It was the camaraderie in that band. Me and Diz, the other night at the concert,*[*Newport Festival Tribute to Charlie Parker in 1974], we were breaking up laughing at different little things that we used to do in the band.

We still have big laughs, any time we get together—like the other night, Sonny and all of us were up there, and I swear to Christ that you would have thought that some great comic was in. We were breaking up in there laughing, remembering incidents that happened, which then were morbid. Riding these Goddamn Jim Crow cars through the South were these dirty cracker conductors, we all sitting in the aisles and all of this bullshit, in a little car that's got eight seats, and here we getting on there with twenty guys and no room. And now we just sit laughing about it. The different incidents where a guy would say, "Hey, ain't no more room. You all sleep, stay in the baggage car," and we get back in the baggage car and open all the doors, get undressed and lay back there in the baggage car, smelling the hay and shit, traveling. But we can sit back and laugh about these kind of things now. You had to then. You'd have never gotten through it. We said the same statement the other night, Diz and I. You had to make your own fun. You had to make it, 'cause, Christ almighty, this was during the war. We couldn't get a bus because you couldn't get priority then for gasoline.

So the only way, Billy Shaw worked some strings—this was '44—where if I would play for the troops, whenever I would get into the town—if there was an Army camp there—go right out and do a free show for the troops, then they would give me a priority for a bus. But I had to do a certain amount of them every week. Now, if I happened to be booked in such a place where there ain't no Army camps where we are, they look and see that I don't play no Army, they snatched the bus without even telling me. We go out one morning to get the bus, there ain't no bus. Now we got to run and grab all of this crap, look at the train schedule—and there was always an hour, and hour and one-half late, these trains in those days. You know, the troops and things. Jumping on you is the guys with their bass and amplifiers, for the book, and valets getting on these trains with this and what are you gonna do. If you can survive through that, man, you gotta make your own humor. I'm telling you, boy. And arguments, fights with soldiers and these crackers down South, and man you'd get in fights with them all the time. It drove me crazy.

And the guys still stuck it out, 'cause we'd get on the stand at night, regardless of what problem we had during the day, there's our chance to let it out. And, baby, some of the times when we've had the worst problems during the day, we'd get on the stand at night and, man, you never heard a band play like that in your life. We'd be wailing, because now's our chance to relax and do what we want to do. We were just waiting to get to that stand.”

[Sources, Ira Gitler’s Jazz Masters of the 40’s, Bill Kirchner, ed. The Oxford Companion to Jazz, Downbeat, Esquire, Jazz Review, Jazz Monthly and Metronome magazine archives, Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era, George T Simon, The Big Bands, 4th Ed., Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th. Ed, Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, and Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Encyclopedia of Jazz.]

Saturday, December 30, 2017

An Interview with Alan Broadbent by Gordon Jack

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

As many of you know, Gordon Jack is a frequent contributor to the Jazz Journal and a very generous friend to these pages in his allowance of JazzProfiles re-publishings of his excellent writings. He is the author of Fifties Jazz Talk An Oral Retrospective and he developed the Gerry Mulligan discography in Raymond Horricks’ book Gerry Mulligan’s Ark.

The following article was first published in Jazz Journal November 2013.

For more information and subscriptions please visit
© -  Gordon Jack/JazzJournal; copyright protected, all rights reserved., used with permission.

“Two time Grammy Award winner Alan Broadbent is a sophisticated interpreter of the Great American Songbook. The Los Angeles Times has called him, ‘One of the greatest living jazz pianists’ and if his Live At Giannelli Square (Volume 1) had been reviewed in Jazz Journal I would have voted for it as one of the CDs of the year. His imaginative approach to Solar from the album received a Grammy nomination for Best Improvised Solo and among other gems there is a dramatic re-examination of Embraceable You which he calls You and You Alone

We met in April 2012 after his performance at that fine venue the Watermill Jazz Club in Dorking, Surrey which included an informative question and answer session with a large and appreciative audience.

“I studied classical piano at the Royal Trinity College of Music in Auckland, New Zealand and the first jazz concert I attended was in 1961 when I was fourteen. Dave Brubeck’s quartet was in town and I remember being really impressed with Paul Desmond on Tangerine. Of course I bought Time Out and I also went to see the film All Night Long because Dave was in it. He played It’s A Raggy Waltz and in one of the scenes he wore a trench-coat, so I went out and bought one too and wore it to all my gigs. I started to explore some serious stuff- not that Dave isn’t serious – but I discovered Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Bird and all the horn players. Then I heard Lennie’s solo album (The New Tristano) which just blew me away – I loved that music and really studied it which is why I wanted to have lessons with him a few years later.

“I sent an acetate of my recording of Speak Low to Downbeat magazine which is how I won a scholarship to Berklee School of Music for one semester in 1966. I was there until 1969 paying my way after that first semester by working six nights a week in a local club. Charlie Mariano was at the school and he was one of my favourite teachers - he was a great guy. At the time he was into that raga thing and he would sit on the carpet playing his soprano in a small group we had together. Other faculty members were Herb Pomeroy and Ray Santisi.” (A good example of Pomeroy and Santisi’s work as performers can be found on Serge Chaloff’s Boston Blow-Up which also features Boots Mussulli – GJ.)

“The local club in Boston was the Jazz Workshop and being students we could get in for a couple of dollars. I heard all kinds of people there like Bill Evans and Miles and one night Lenny Popkin, a young tenor player sat in with Lee Konitz. I approached Lenny and asked him if I could study with him because Lee had introduced him as a Tristano student. We hit it off and started playing together and it came to a point where he said I should call Tristano. He didn’t seem particularly interested because I was not available for lessons on the days that were convenient to him. Lenny Popkin then contacted Tristano on my behalf and arranged for me to have an audition on a Monday at his home in Flushing, Long Island. He had a little grand piano in his kitchen and he walked around while I played. He was a lovely man and he became a father-figure to me but I was never one of the Tristano-ites – I was more interested in finding my own way.
“I was 19 when I started with him, fresh off the boat and I used to talk to him about the difficulties I was having and he was very sympathetic to me. Some of his students would come up to Boston to see me at my hotel gig which was around the corner from the Jazz Workshop. I was going to Berklee during the day and I worked there every night with George Mraz and Jeff Brillinger. The Tristano-ites wanted to sit in but I was expected to do the ‘hotel’ thing of playing bossa novas and stuff like that so they were pretty disdainful of the material. I remember telling Lennie about how inadequate I felt about their reaction and he said, ‘What the fuck do you care about what they think.’

“Lennie liked his students to practice all the scales with different fingers on the keyboard because when you are improvising, you don’t always know what finger is needed at what time. He also wanted his students to learn famous recorded solos like Lady be Good by Lester Young with Basie in 1936. Initially you had to sing it, paying attention to the vibrato and articulation he used and the way Lester bent a phrase. Then you had to reproduce it on the piano. Somehow it became internalised because that type of concentration opened up your ears and your heart in a linear fashion, whereas pianists tend to think mostly in chords. That was something Nat Cole achieved and Bud too, on his good days.

“One of the best times I had with him was just before I went with Woody Herman although Lennie wasn’t happy about that at all. He took me up to his attic where he had a recording studio with a beautiful Steinway and laying on his couch he said, ‘Play for me’. That was my last lesson playing for an hour while he chuckled and applauded – he was right with me all the time.

“Woody Herman must have been looking for a pianist because Jake Hanna and Nat Pierce had been to Berklee asking around and Herb Pomeroy told them to go and listen to me. School was finishing and I needed a gig so I joined the band. Lennie tried to talk me out of it but I didn’t really have a choice because I would have been thrown out of the country. Woody and his manager Hermie Dressel who had taken over from Abe Turchen sponsored me in getting a Green Card.

“I immediately went out and bought the latest Herman album (Light My Fire) which was very appealing to me but we didn’t play that sort of material on gigs.” (The band played officer’s clubs, country clubs and Elks clubs and as Alan told Gene Lees, ‘My first gig was at an army base in Greensboro, North Carolina… and I was appalled. The drummer was turning the time around and some of the soloists were very weak. Steve Lederer who played second tenor with Woody said, ‘You’ve heard of the Thundering Herd? Well this is the worst you ever heard’ – GJ).

“Sal Nistico wasn’t in the band initially but he came in and out from time to time - he was a great guy and we got along really well. Woody always pigeon-holed him into the extreme up tempo things but every once and a while he would throw him a ballad which Sal loved to play.

“After about six months Tony Klatka, Bill Stapleton and I decided to arrange some Blood Sweat & Tears material which was easily adaptable for the band. One BST chart I did was Smiling Phases and the kids went crazy when we played it because it was the popular music of the time.” (Klatka also did a chart on Proud Mary which had been a big hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival - GJ).

“In 1971 the band recorded an album almost totally devoted to my charts (Brand New Woody) and soon after that I was voted The Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition in Downbeat magazine, which of course didn’t make any difference to my career at all.” (Summing up his time with Herman, Alan told writer Scott Yanow, ‘I loved being part of his band although everything I had learned at Berklee went down the drain because it just didn’t work with Woody’ – GJ).

“I left the band in 1972. I just got off the bus in L.A. because it seemed to be an easy thing to do. I had friends there and I had some fantasy about getting into the film industry. I met Don Ferrara around that time who was teaching at Gary Foster’s studio and also Putter Smith who was introduced to me by Nick Ceroli. I’ve been going out to Putter’s place every week-end for about 30 years to play. He now divides his time between New York and Los Angeles and I will be seeing him in a couple of weeks.

“One of the people who was very kind to me when I first arrived in L.A. was JJ Johnson and I perform his Lament on my ‘Round Midnight CD as a tribute to his memory.

Around 1974 I got together with Irene Kral and we worked together until she died in 1978.

“In 1976 I recorded with Don Menza and Frank Rosolino who was a wonderful guy and we really hit it off. He was one of the greatest trombone players who ever lived but he was playing third trombone in the pit in Las Vegas. Supersax sometimes used him but Conte Candoli got most of their work and anyway you’re talking about $35.00 at Donte’s playing your heart out all night. It’s been that way and always will - even in New York City there’s no money. Somehow we all have to figure out how to make sense of the jazz life.

“I worked quite a bit with Jack Sheldon who was hilarious. He could tell the same joke every night and I would just fall apart.” (One of his regular opening lines on a club booking was, ‘It’s so long since I had sex, I can’t remember who gets tied up!’ He also just happened to be one of the all-time greats as a trumpet and vocal soloist - GJ.)

“I worked a lot with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West over the years and one of our CDs has my string arrangement of Tristano’s Requiem which turned out very well. We were on the soundtrack for Clint Eastwood’s movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil accompanying Alison Krauss who is a real darling.” (She is also a superlative singer and fiddle player in the Bluegrass and Country field with Union Station – GJ). “Clint of course was a friend of Jack Sheldon’s and I remember he once flew Jack and I in his private plane from a golf tournament because Jack had a gig in L.A.

“Charlie, Billy Higgins and I did a one-nighter with Chet Baker at a club called Hop Singh’s in the late ‘80s and it was very special. There were only four people in the audience and one of them was my wife. He was the real thing - playing and singing beautifully. I remember that I was feeling good and each phrase I played I could hear Chet sitting behind listening intently saying, ‘Yeah, man’ and being very encouraging. I was in heaven but he disappeared into the bathroom after the first set and never came out again.

“In 1992 I recorded with Scott Hamilton and strings which is a favourite album of mine. He doesn’t read but we just had to play the arrangement through once for him and he got it - he can go directly to his heart because the notes aren’t in the way.” (In 1998 Alan was part of the small group along with Pete Christlieb and Larry Bunker accompanying Diana Krall on her fifth album – When I Look Into Your Eyes which Billboard nominated as one of the top ten jazz albums of that decade – GJ). “I saw Pete recently and he is thinking of packing everything up and moving to Portland. All the studio work he used to do doesn’t exist anymore and there are just no gigs.

“I’ve already mentioned some influences but I must include Nat Cole who was the bridge between the ornamental approach of Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum to the horn-like, single line bebop style that Bud Powell introduced. The rhythm is in the line itself and not in the left hand. Arrangers who are important to me would include Johnny Mandel, Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Bill Holman.

“As far as free jazz is concerned it can be fine if it is handled by musicians who are aware of form and musical development.  I don’t like meandering music but when Tristano did it with Warne and Lee it was something pretty special. I’m not familiar with much of Ornette Coleman’s music but he is a real composer. His tunes are not just off the cuff dilettante stuff – they’re really musical so I have to respect that.” (At the Watermill Alan performed a well received version of Coleman’s Lonely Woman – GJ). “I listen to a lot of contemporary orchestral composers like John Adams and Elliott Carter - I would rather listen to them because I know there’s an intelligent structure.

“My wife and I had been living in Santa Monica for the past 30 years but we decided to move to New York last year. We have a twelve year old son and he is at that point where he is either going to become a boy-surfer or we can give him some New York culture. When I get back to the States I have one gig booked out in Pennsylvania with Putter Smith but I do have some writing work on hold. I get a joy out of the sound of an orchestra as long as I am given reasonable leeway for how I want to do it”.

Jazz Times has called Alan Broadbent, ‘One of the major keyboard figures today’ but despite being nominated for seven Grammy Awards since 1975 he once told writer Graham Reid, “This is the only profession I know where you can be internationally famous and broke!”


As Leader

Another Time (Trend TRCD-546)

Away From You (Trend TRCD-558)

Live At Maybeck Recital Hall Vol.14 (Concord Jazz  CCD4488)

‘Round Midnight (Artistry Art 7005)

Every Time I Think Of You (Artistry Art 7011)

Live At Giannelli Square Vol. 1 (Chilly Bin Records 35231 82422)

As Sideman

Woody Herman: Brand New (OJCCD 1044-2)

Irene Kral: Where Is Love (Choice CHCD 71012)

Bob Brookmeyer: Olso (Concord Jazz CCD 4312)

Charlie Haden: Quartet West (Verve 831673-2)

Scott Hamilton: With Strings (Concord Jazz CCD-4538-2)

Diana Krall: When I Look Into Your Eyes (GRP 304)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Gretsch Drum Night At Birdland

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

Anyone who has been a casual visitor to these pages know that I have a bias toward Jazz drumming, what I think of as the heartbeat of Jazz.

Among the current crop of Jazz drummers, Kenny Washington has long been among my favorites principally because he plays a style of drumming that I also favor - the Philly Joe Jones approach to drumming.

Kenny is a student of the music so much so that he refers to himself as The Jazz Maniac.

Whatever he chooses to call himself, Kenny knows what he talking about, particularly when it comes to Jazz drumming as his following notes to the Roulette LP Gretsch Drum Night At Birdland will attest.

Since he wrote these insert notes to the EMI/Blue Note CD reissue of this LP in 1991, many of the musicians referenced in them have passed away. Oh, and Gretsch is once again making Jazz drum kits.

Kenny’s respect and enthusiasm for the drummers featured on this album are infectious, but considering the iconic status that each of them have assumed in Jazz lore, he’s certainly in good company.

“Imagine being able in see four master drummers at the lop of their games all an one great stage! This all took place April 25. I960, it was billed "Gretsch Night" at the "Jazz: Corner of the World", Birdland. The CD that you are now holding is the only time these percussion personalities ever recorded together. Of course the idea of percussionists playing together is not new: It goes back to the motherland Africa where people played drums for entertainment as well as different kinds of communication. In more modern times, it's interesting to note that throughout the history of Jazz there are not that many recordings of drummers playing together on record. The first recordings that made the public take notice were the 1946 Jazz at the Philharmonic drum battles between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. There were a few studio recordings that came out in the 50s which included such greats as Mel Lewis, Osie Johnson. Charlie Persip, Louis Hayes. Don Lamond and a few others. Although these recordings are good, they didn't do justice to these masters. In fact, they were a bit over arranged, and the record company seemed to boast more about hi-fi sound rather than music. The man really responsible for seeing the possibilities for recording drum ensembles was An Blakey, fusing Latin jazz percussionists with jazz multi-percussionists. These were ideas that were no doubt inspired by Dizzy Gillespie's fascination with Afro-Cuban sounds in the 40s. Art recorded with legendary conga drummer Chano Pozo on a James Moody record date for Blue Note in I948. He also recorded a drum duet with Sabu Martine: on a Horace Silver record date. Blakey recorded no less than six albums with different drum ensembles. It is indeed Art who is the ringleader of the "Gretsch Drum Night" session here.

Without gelling too deep into drum equipment, Gretsch was a drum company who endorsed these percussionists. Owned by Fred Gretsch, this company was the drum set for Jazz drummers. There were other companies to be sure, but none of them had that sound like Gretsch. A lot of top drummers of the day used them. When I was a child of seven. I would read publications such as Downbeat and I would see pictures of Gretsch endorsee's like: Max Roach. Tony Williams. Philly Joe. Elvin and Art. I remember my father getting mad at me because before lie could read the magazine I'd cut out the pictures of my idols and hang them on my wall! Gretsch still exists nowadays but. they have next to no interest in Jazz drummers. They have very few Jazz endorsees if any. Even more of a pity is that they don't make their drums like they used to (it was so good while it lasted).

Putting four drummers on stage together can he a horrific experience. There's always the tendency for drummers to want to outplay each other. Also, it can do a number on your eardrums. On this CD. you'll hear friendly competition done in a musical way.

Art Blakey [1919-1990] was horn in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. He was basically self-taught on the drums, but took a few informal lessons from his idol Chick Webb (if if you listen to early Blakey big band recordings you can hear how he imitated Webb right down to the tuning of the snare drum). He played with one of the pioneers of big band jazz, Fletcher Henderson for about a year. Art then joined the legendary Billy Eckstine band from 1944 until the band’s demise in 1947. Blakey became associated with the bebop movement, recording and performing with such greats as Charlie Parker. Fats Navarro and Dexter Gordon. Blakey organised the Seventeen Messengers, which were scaled down to a octet for a Blue Note record date in 1947. In 1955. Blakey and pianist Horace Silver formed a cooperative as the Jazz Messengers. Front that point until his death, Blakey had many classic Messenger groups and helped to groom musicians for the future of Jazz. I should also point out that An took the Bebop innovations of drummers like Kenny Clarke and Max Roach to another level. With his raw gutsy solos and his hard-driving swing. Blakey changed the role of modern Jazz drummers.

Joseph Rudolph Jones (1923-I985) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He started playing drums and piano at an early age. He got serious about the drums in his late teens, About thai time. Joe became one of the first black streetcar conductors in Philadelphia. He commuted to New York to study with swing drummer Cozy Cole. In 1947, he came to New York permanently working as the house drummer at Cafe Society. He gained experience working with Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron and many others. Around this time he got the name Philly Joe so as not to be confused with veteran Count Basie drummer Jo Jones. A year later, he made his first recordings with the Joe Morris band playing rhythm and blues. Later on he worked with guitarist Tiny Grimes and his Rocking Highlanders, wearing a kilt no less. His best known association was with the classic Miles Davis Quintet from 1955 to 1958. After leaving Davis, he became the most sought after session man, recording for Prestige, Riverside, Blue Note and a host of other labels from the late 50s into the 60s. He lived in Europe from 1969 to 1972. When he returned to Philadelphia, he formed his group Le Grand Prix. In 1981, he formed Dameronia a group put together for the sole purpose of playing the music of pianist-composer, Tadd Dameron. Philly Joe took the best from masters like Max Roach. Sid Catlett, Jo Jones. Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey and made it his own. His playing had everything; technical virtuosity, slickness, humour and most of all he could swing you into bad health.

Charlie Persip (1929) was born in Morristown, New Jersey. He's a master of both big and small band playing. He's best known for his work with Dizzy Gillespie (1953-58), Persip along with a few others helped to dispel the myth among white contractors and producers at that time that black drummers couldn't read music. Charlie has always been a fantastic musician who didn't put up with a lot of nonsense. Punctuality is usually the rule with Persip, but he once overslept for an early morning recording session. When he finally got to the session, the rest of the musicians were rehearsing. The minute he finished setting up.  they put the music in front of him and rolled lite tape. He sight-read the music as if he hail been playing it for a year. The producer couldn't believe what he had just witnessed and later wrote Charlie a letter Mating stating that he had never seen that kind of musicianship in his life, Incidentally, that session was a Bill Potts' The Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess. Persip was much in demand for studio work recording with everyone from Jackie and Roy to Eric Dolphy. These days Charlie is the principal drum instructor for JazzMobile. has his own big band which he calls Persipitation and has even written a very good hook titled "How Not To Play The Drums".

Elvin Ray Jones (1927-) was born in Pontiac. Michigan, the youngest of the illustrious Jones brothers. Elvin began his professional career as the house drummer in saxophonist Billy Mitchell's band at the famed Bluebird Club in Detroit. This engagement gave him a chance to play with all the great jazzmen who came through town. Elvin’s style of drumming met with some resistance from musicians and critics alike. The innovations of Kenny Clarke and Max Roach in the 40s seemed like the logical step from what drummers before them like Jo Jones and Sid Cutlet! were doing. When Elvin came on the scene, he was outrageously different from anything that came before him. His time feel and use of complex polyrhythms were something that had never been done before. I might also point out that he completely revolutionized 3/4 time playing. Elvin would plav over the bar lines putting accents on the (and) of two rather than playing on the downbeat of one. This made his time much smoother and sort of made it float along. Philly Joe wax actually one of Elvin's earliest fans. He knew right from the beginning thai Elvin had something special. He used to send Elvin in on jobs and recordings he couldn't make. The two of them even recorded an album together for Atlantic. The world caught on. and he toured and also recorded with J J Johnson, Barry Harris, Donald Byrd. Harry Edison among others. Elvin joined the Joint Coltrane Quartet in 1960. He was a perfect match for Trane's journey into modality and his open form style of this period. After leaving Coltrane in 1966. he spent a brief time with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Since that time Elvin lias been leading his own groups.

The other musicians on this dale contribute short but strong solos. Tlte frontline consists of an interesting instrumentation of aim trombone.

Sylvester Kyner better known as Sonny Red, hailed from Detroit. At the time of this live session, he had already recorded one album for Blue Note as a leader. Seven months after this recording he was signed to Riverside Records where he made four dales as a leader. He is best known for his recordings as a sideman on Blue Note with his junior high school buddy Donald Byrd. Red was a player who could cover all the bases. He could play gut bucket blues, but had  a strong harmonic conception, played lyrical ballads and was a 'from scratch' improviser. You never knew where he would go next. Red died in 1981.

Charies Greenlea toured and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie's Bebop Band of the 40s. He went on to record with Archie Shepp and played off and on with Philly Joe Jones in the 60s. I first met him in the seventies when he was playing with the C.B.A. (Collective Black Artists) big hand.

Ron Carter was twenty-three at the lime of this recording made and was commuting back and forth from New York in Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where he was in the process of getting his Masters Degree. It's interesting to hear him playing with these drummers. There are very few recordings of Ron playing with Blakey or Philly Joe. It's too had because listening to this CD, you'll hear that they play well together. Persip was instrumental in getting Ron on a lot of studio dates when he first came to the Big Apple. He was also part of Persip's group The Jazz Statesmen. Then as now. Ron is still taking care of serious bass business.

Tommy Flanagan, also a product of Detroit, can fit into any situation. A year before this date, he had recorded the now classic John Coltrane "Giant Steps" session. During this period, he was working and recording with Coleman Hawkins. Art Farmer. Clark Terry and many others. I had the opportunity to work with Tommy's trio for two years. He is truly a joy to play with,

I've sketched out some notes to help the listener to identify the drummers. On Wee Dot and Now's The Time there are only two drummers - Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey. The way to tell them apart is Philly Joe's drums are tuned higher than Blakey's (incidentally Joe is using Persip's drums and cymbals).

Wee Dot is a JJ Johnson composition that Blakey recorded for Blue Note six years earlier live at the same club. It is he who starts with a 8 bar intro and plays through the melody. Philly Joe steps right in accompanying Red for seven choruses. Dig how Joe uses his left hand behind him. Art plays behind Creenlea's short trombone solo and Flanagan's piano choruses . Philly Joe plays the four bar exchanges with the horn as well as the extended drum solo. Art is keeping time on the ride cymbal. The roles then reverse, Joe plays time and Art solos. Check out how Art goes from a whisper to a roar on his solo.

Charlie Parker's Now's The Time starts with a four-bar intro from Philly Joe. You can hear at the ninth bar of the melody how they both punctuate the melody together. Check out how Art plays one of his dynamic press rolls to begin Greenlea's solo. At the third chorus of the solo. Philly Joe steps in with a typical conga beat that he plays between his two toms for almost two choruses. Philly Joe lakes charge during Red's solo. I'm sorry, but there's no one that could swing harder than Philly Joe at that tempo. There's a tape splice right after the fourth chorus of Red's solo that switches us back to Blakey's accompaniment. During Flanagan's solo, you can hear Philly Joe trying in step in musically as if he's saying "May I cut in on this dance?" There's another sudden splice, and there's Philly Joe again showing us how slick he was. Philly Joe plays a full chorus drum solo with backing from Blakey’s ride cymbal. Art's solo reminds us of the Chick Webb influence. Art sure had a big drum sound.

Another drum set is brought out on the stage of Birdland and we hear Art, Elvin and Charlie for the next tune El Sino. Art and Elvin play the theme together. Sonny Red has the first solo backed by Art. Persip accompanies Creenlea's solo. Talking to Persip, he told me that he and Elvin were roommates at the time. He felt that listening and talking to Elvin was a big inspiration for him. It helped to free up his whole rhythmic conception. It's Elvin that plays brushes behind Tommy and Ron's solos. Few people know that Elvin is a master of brushes. The four-bar exchanges start off with Art, Charlie and Elvin in that order. There's a drum interlude right after the last exchange which is a Blakey rhythm phrase played by the three before each of the drum solos. Elvin has the first solo. Persip is next, playing everything sharp and clean. He always had chops io spare. His bass drum work sounds as if he's using two bass drums, although he's only using one. They repeat the interlude once more, and the hums lake it out.

Tune Up is actually the next number but because of time considerations on the conventional LP Roulette decided tn start from the 8-bar drum exchanges. Reissue producer Michael Cuscuna and I were disappointed that there were no extra session reels. We had hoped thai we would be able fix the edlts and restore the music to its original form. What you hear is all that appeared on the original LP. The 8-bar exchanges start with Philly Joe, Charlie and Elvin in that order. The first extended solo is by Philly Joe. Persip takes over with a 6/8 time feeling. Later he shows off his independence by actually playing four different rhythms with each limb. Elvin is the next soloist playing a quasi-free solo. Next the percussionists pull out their brushes starring with Philly Joe. As he's playing you can hear Art egging him on. Philly Joe was a master showman, and you can hear that he had the audience in the palm of his hands. It's too bad there's no film of this performance. Charlie and Elvin both tell their stories with the brushes before the ensemble comes in with the melody of Tune Up.

The session reels say that the last piece is titled A Night In Tunisia. Again because of time considerations they cut all the horn solos. The three percussionists start with intricate Afro-Cuban rhythms. The first soloist is Persip. After the ensemble playing Persip is heard again. Elvin takes another extended solo. The Afro-Cuban rhythms come back before they switch to a 6/8 time feel and then the big finale.

Like saxophones or trumpets, drummers can also play together and he just as musical. The proof is here to hear.”