Saturday, April 22, 2017

Anita O'Day - "High Times, Hard Times"


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





“The legend of Billie Holiday and the huge, vocal presences of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae have tended to overshadow Anita's reputation. She remains, though, one of the toughest, most dramatic and most fiercely swinging of all jazz singers, with a personality like rough-cut diamond. A great survivor, she kept on past her real sell-by date, but energized by a sheer appetite for life and music.”
Richard Cook and Brian Morton, Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“The thing about Anita O'Day is that she always sings jazz. And what makes her singing always jazz is her improvisation. She takes a musician's liberties with phrasing, harmony, and rhythm, and does it all while singing lyrics that still manage to make sense.”
- Dom Cerulli, Jazz author and critic

“Liquor was very much a part of the scene in those days.  [Bandleader and clarinetist] Artie Shaw is credited with having said that Jazz was born in a whiskey barrel, was reared on marijuana and was currently expiring on heroin.”
- Charlie Barnet, saxophonist and bandleader

The “currently expiring” part of Artie Shaw’s chronology is a reference to the scourge of heroin that descended upon Jazz like a plague in the decade or so following the end of the Second World War [1945].

This period is sometimes referred to as the “Bebop Generation,” an era during which alto saxophonist Phil Woods lamented: “A lot of people died for this music.”

Imagine, then, announcing to your parents that you planned to become a “Jazz musician” as I did while coming of age in the music during this era?

The look of shock, disbelief and horror that came over their faces was almost too much to bear especially given how much I loved Jazz.

Imagine, too, what their reaction would have been after reading Anita O’Day’s description of the drug world in her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times [with George Eells]. It’s a good thing she waited until 1981 before she published it, because by then, I was long gone as a player on the Jazz scene.

In her eighty-seven years [1919-2006], Anita’s career had numerous highlights during the 1940s and 1950s, but her self-abusive personal life began to take its toll in the 1960s and she began to fade out of public view.

Ever the fighter, she cleaned up her act and by the mid-1970s she made some sparkling, in-performance recordings set in Japan. “They’ve always loved her in Japan, where Anita’s mix of tough and tender is appealing exotic. They were also fascinated by the detail of her battle with narcotics. Cleaned up and fit, by this stage she is getting a kick out of the music again.”


Richard Cook and Brian Morton preceded these comments with the following review of her two volume Masters of Jazz set [#122 and #157] and her Columbia Legacy CD Let Me Off Uptown [CK 65265]; [Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.]:

“Anita O'Day lived the jazz life. She tells about it in High Times, Hard Times (1983). Asa young woman she worked as a singing waitress and in punishing dance-marathons. And she shot horse [heroin] until her heart began to give out in the 1960s and she was forced to battle her demons cold.

As is immediately obvious from her combative, sharply punctuated scatting and her line in stage patter, O'Day was a fighter. As a 'chirper' with the Gene Krupa band in 1941, she refused to turn out in ball-gown and gloves, and appeared instead in band jacket and short skirt, an unheard-of practice that underlined her instinctive feminism. With Stan Kenton, she gave a humane edge to a sometimes pretentiously modernist repertoire. O'Day's demanding style had few successful imitators, but she is the most immediate source for June Christy and Chris Connor, who followed her into the Kenton band.

These early cuts with the Kenton and Krupa bands are definitive of her desire (one more commonly and erroneously associated with Billie Holiday) to be one of the guys, not so much socially and chemically, as musically. She sings like a horn player, not only when scatting, but also when delivering a song-line straight. Her phrasing has a brassy snap and polish and, even through the acoustic fog that surrounds most of these transfers, her enunciation is exact and focused. The bands were among the most exciting of their day, or ever. Kenton's outfit called for more sheer strength, but the unvarnished vivacity and raw charm of the Krupa tracks are what recommends this material. 'Let Me Off Uptown' is the classic, of course, destined to become shopworn and hackneyed in later years, but right off the mint here. 'Bolero At The Savoy' is a band original, presumably worked up during rehearsals. The Columbia set recaptures the sound with great fidelity and compresses the very best of the material from Anita's two stints with Krupa, though oddly this reissue breaks the chronology to no real purpose, starting with false logic on 'Opus One' from 1945.

The Masters of Jazz sets are pretty complete, not to say exhaustive, and if anyone wants a fuller documentation of Anita's early work in those two packed years before America entered the war, then these are the sets to go for, though we have found the sound rather flat and muffled. Containing more than two hours of music, they should be enough for the most devoted enthusiast.”


In writing the insert notes for Pick Yourself Up With Anita O’Day [Verve 314 517 329-2, Nat Hentoff elaborates on the importance of Anita’s early hits and the role that Norman Granz of Norgran and Verve Records played in her career:

ANITA O'DAY

“Despite not possessing the range of Sarah Vaughan, the scatting ability of Ella Fitzgerald, or the emotional intensity of Billie Holiday, Anita O'Day deserves to be considered with these sublime singers in any discussion of female jazz vocalists. What recommends her? Among other qualities, an easily identifiable sound, a distinctly personal approach to lyrics and rhythms, a natural effervescence that never crosses into the realm of the merely cute, a genuine ability to improvise, and, especially when interpreting a ballad, a sincerity without mawkishness.

O'Day began her recording career more than a half century ago, in early 1941, with Gene Krupa's band for the OKeh label. That year she sang a duet with trumpeter Roy Eldridge that remains the most popular of her numerous recordings, "Let Me Off Uptown". On it, the singers and the band capture an engaging aspect of Harlem street life.

Appealing and enduring though the performance is, it suggests an innocence at odds with the international political situation of the time. When the United States entered World War II (O'Day turned twenty-two eleven days after the attack on Pearl Harbor), life quickly became difficult for Americans. People needed diversions, however, which Krupa and numerous other musicians, including O'Day, helped provide. (Occasionally the hostilities inspired material that entertainers used to bolster listeners. O'Day recorded one such tune with Krupa in 1942, "Fightin' Doug MacArthur". These topical creations are now curiosities, relics from a long-ago era.)

Although "Let Me Off Uptown" was O'Day's first and biggest hit, O'Day recorded other songs which appealed to a large audience, most notably, "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" with Stan Kenton in 1944. But these successes were essentially a prelude to her most mature work, which she produced while under contract for a decade to Norgran and its successor, Verve, beginning in 1952. This music will ultimately form the basis of her reputation. On most of it she projects, accurately, the impression of a master singer totally in control of her not insubstantial material. Further, she performs with sympathetic arrangers (such as Russ Garcia, Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Holman, Johnny Mandel, Billy May, Gary McFarland, and Marty Paich) and major musicians (among them Hank Jones, Barney Kessel, Oscar Peterson, Frank Rosolino, Zoot Sims, and the incomparable Ben Webster).”


“The most familiar image of O'Day is at the Newport Festival in 1958, a set preserved in the movie, Jazz on a Summer's Day. In a spectacular Mack dress and a hat that must have accounted for half the egrets in Louisiana, she resembles one of those subtly ball-breaking heroines in a Truman Capote story. The voice even Ihen is unreliably pitched, but there's no mistaking the inventiveness of Tea For Two' and 'Sweet Georgia Brown'. The woman who sang 'The Boy From Ipanema' with a sarcastic elision of the 'aahhs' was every bit as capable as Betty Carter of turning Tin Pan Alley tat [rubbish, junk] into a feminist statement.”

The 1956 Verve sessions with Bregman's orchestra amount to a survivor's testament, a hard-assed, driving gesture of defiance that is still completely musical. The version of 'Sweet Georgia Brown', which she was to include in the Newport programme, is buoyant and light footed like all the Bregman arrangements, ….” Richard Cook and Brian Morton [Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.].



Friday, April 21, 2017

Wes Montgomery / Wynton Kelly Trio Smokin' in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966)

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


Michael Bloom of Michael Bloom Media Relations is handling the public relations for the latest in Resonance Records continuing series of recently discovered classic recordings by Jazz Masters from halcyon days gone by and he sent along this information about:

Wes Montgomery / Wynton Kelly Trio Smokin' in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966)

Previously unreleased live sets featuring jazz guitar icon Wes Montgomery with piano legend Wynton Kelly’s Trio featuring bassist Ron McClure & drummer Jimmy Cobb Recorded at Seattle’s Prestigious Jazz Club, the Penthouse, on April 14 and 21, 1966


Includes extensive book of liner notes featuring rare photos, essays by guitar icon Pat Metheny, Seattle Times writer Paul de Barros, producer Zev Feldman, original recording engineer Jim Wilke, plus interviews with Jimmy Cobb, NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron and more.


Deluxe Limited Edition LP Released Exclusively for Record Store Day (April 22, 2017)


And Deluxe CD & Digital Editions Available on May 19, 2017


Los Angeles, CA (March 13, 2017)- Resonance Records is proud to announce the release of Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio - Smokin' in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966) captured live at the Penthouse jazz club in Seattle, WA on April 14 and 21, 1966. Smokin' in Seattle marks the third commercially released live album of guitar icon Wes Montgomery with piano legend Wynton Kelly, recorded only seven months after their classic 1965 live album Smokin' at the Half Note, notably referred to by Pat Metheny as "the absolute greatest jazz guitar album ever made." Wynton's dynamic trio features the solid rhythm section of bassist Ron McClure -who took the place of long-time trio bassist Paul Chambers, then joined Charles Lloyd's "classic quartet" with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette following this stint with Wes and Wynton - and the legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb, an NEA Jazz Master most well-known for Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain and Someday My Prince Will Come albums.


Available on May 19, 2017 as a Deluxe CD and digital format, this archival treasure includes an extensive liner note book featuring rare photos by Lee Tanner, Chuck Stewart, Tom Copi, Joe Alpert and others; essays by guitar icon Pat Metheny, Seattle Times writer Paul de Barros, producer Zev Feldman, original recording engineer and Seattle Radio DJ Jim Wilke , and Ron McClure; plus interviews with Jimmy Cobb and NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron.


Located in the heart of Seattle's historic district in Pioneer Square,the Penthouse jazz club was opened in 1962 by Charles Puzzo, Sr., and quickly became a destination for iconic jazz talents such as John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and The Three Sounds to name a few. Well-known radio personality,Jim Wilke, developed a working relationship with this legendary club, which in turn allowed him to air live broadcasts from the club every Thursday night using state-of-the-art equipment of that era. His weekly radio show, Jazz from the Penthouse, aired on Seattle's NPR affiliate, KING FM from 1962 through 1968, and has never been rebroadcast. When executive producer George Klabin learned of these recordings, he couldn't believe his good fortune to come across this thrilling 1960s material of Wes Montgomery with Wynton Kelly.


Producer Zev Feldman says, "The association between Wes Montgomery and Wynton Kelly is a critical part of the Montgomery legacy. Resonance has been releasing only the guitar icon's material from the 1950s thus far, so it's very exciting for us to be moving into Wes's 1960s discography with this incredible addition to the Montgomery canon from a cherished era. It's also the only known recording known of Wes and Ron McClure together, which I think is also cause for celebration. As usual, we've gathered all the rights to make it official and have created a dynamic package worthy of this timeless music."


"The experience of playing with those guys was like being baptized," says Ron McClure in his liner notes essay. "The music was joyous. It was buoyant. It was happy; positive - like they were as people."


By the time the 1966 Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio gig rolled around, Wes was on top of his game. His album Goin' Out of My Head (Verve) had shot up the Billboard R&B charts to No. 12, and within a year, the album would garner a 1967 GRAMMY® Award and sell nearly a million copies. At the ripe age of 43, Wes was at the pinnacle of his career. And just one year later, he would no longer be with us.


Wynton Kelly first collaborated with Wes Montgomery in 1962 with their album Full House (Riverside), also with Jimmy Cobb on drums (McClure joined Wynton Kelly's trio a few years later in 1965, replacing Paul Chambers), followed by the legendary Smokin' at the Half Note . And now we have Smokin' in Seattle, a new chapter in the storied collaboration of these two jazz giants.


Modern day jazz guitar icon Pat Metheny writes, "The news that another example of that band in action had surfaced was headline news for those of us in the hard-core Wes community. The incredible revelations contained in Resonance's previous releases of Wes's early work have been thrilling. This release adds yet another dimension to the almost impossibly brief ten years that Wes was the jazz world's most renowned guitarist, particularly to completists like me who want to hang on to and cherish every note Wes played."


This 10-track album is indeed a "smokin'" musical exchange between Wynton and Wes, swinging with fire-cracker energy. The Wynton Kelly trio opened each set of the 9-night engagement with a couple of tunes before Wes joined them on stage. The album opens with "There Is No Greater Love," an upbeat rendition of Isham Jones's well known jazz standard. Wynton glides through seven choruses filled with his trademark lyrical legato lines, with bluesy twists and turns along the way. His joyous playing is apparent from the start. In an interview with Kenny Baron included in the liner notes, he says, "Wynton was kind of in a class by himself. His touch, his feeling, his sense of time, sense of rhythm… For me it was just very, very unique." Often underappreciated as a player, despite his years with Miles Davis, Wynton remains an iconic figure, for jazz fans and next generation of jazz players.


"It's easy to hear why these two musicians relished playing together. Bluesy, soulful, linear swingers whose solos burst forward with natural, unpretentious vigor...," describes Paul de Barros in his essay. About Wes's spritely tune "Jingles," de Barros adds, "Montgomery comes out the gate loaded for bear, executing a slithering glide up the fretboard that elicits a cry of astonished approval from someone in the crowd." Wes and Wynton's playful banter continues with Wes's compositions "Blues in F" and "West Coast Blues," mixed in with Blue Mitchell's swinging bebop tune "Sir John" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova "O Morro Não Tem Vez." The album finishes the musical journey with Sonny Rollin's "Oleo."

Jimmy Cobb remembers the band fondly, "Wes was a nice guy, man. He was a very comedic kind of guy. Like he would say funny things and do funny things…But he was a sweet guy. Wynton was also a sweet guy. So we all got along together pretty good. And the playing was exceptional for the four of us."


With the support and friendship of the Puzzo family and Jim Wilke, Resonance is proud to bring this remarkable, previously unknown recording to the public, now the second release in a series of Resonance releases recorded at the Penthouse, following the 2016 album, The Three Sounds featuring Gene Harris - Groovin' Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964-1968 .


Previous Wes Montgomery releases on the Resonance label include rare historical discoveries from Wes captured in the 1950's, before his ascension to icon status -Echoes of Indiana Avenue (2012),In the Beginning (2015) and One Night in Indy (2016). The label is thrilled to add Wynton Kelly to their musical library and give him the royal treatment he so deserves.
The limited-edition, hand-numbered LP pressing on 180-gram black vinyl will be released exclusively for Record Store Day's event on April 22, 2017. The LP version has been mastered by the legendary Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering and pressed at Record Technology, Inc. (RTI), and features the same liner note material as the CD version.


Personnel:
Wes Montgomery – guitar*
Wynton Kelly – piano
Ron McClure – bass
Jimmy Cobb – drums

Track Listing:
  • There Is No Greater Love (7:56)
  • Not a Tear (6:29)
  • *Jingles (4:31)
  • *What's New (4:51)
  • *Blues in F (2:44)*
  • Sir John (8:10)
  • If You Could See Me Now (5:54)
  • *West Coast Blues (3:56)
  • *O Morro Não Tem Vez (6:15)
  • *Oleo (2:08)
You can located order information by visiting www.resonancerecords.org.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wes Montgomery - the 1961 Ralph J. Gleason Interview

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


“The middle and most celebrated of the Montgomery brothers was born like the others in Indianapolis. He took to guitar late and only began Ins professional career-in Lionel Hampton's band-when he was 25.  … he developed a style in which thumb-plucked single-note lines were backed with softly strummed octaves and chords. …


Wes Montgomery gave off a sense of effortlessness that is always bad karma in jazz; a little sweat and preferably some pain is almost considered de rigueur. But Montgomery used to loose off solos as if he was sitting on his back porch talking to friends.


He used a homely, thumb-picking technique, rather than a plectrum or the faster finger-picking approach. Stylistically, he copied Charlie Christian's bop and added elements of Django Reinhardt's harmonic conception. It's interesting and ironic that Montgomery's most prominent latter-day disciple, George Benson, should have made almost exactly the same career move, trading off a magnificent improvisational sense against commercial success.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.


“Few jazz musicians have had the rise to professional acclaim that John Leslie (Wes) Montgomery, the guitar-playing member of the Indiana Montgomery family, has had in the last two years.


Up until that time almost unknown to the jazz public outside his native Indianapolis, Montgomery was heralded by Cannonball Adderley, Gunther Schuller and other musicians who heard him and was brought by Adderley to the attention of Orrin Keepnews of Riverside Records, who promptly recorded him. Since that debut (his second, for he had toured with Lionel Hampton for two years in the early '40s), Montgomery has run away with the New Star Guitar category in DownBeat’s International Jazz Critics Poll and today seems a cinch to live up to his billing as the "best thing that has happened to the guitar since Charlie Christian."


For the last year, Wes has worked with his brothers, Buddy (vibes) and Monk (bass), as the Montgomery Brothers. The other two Montgomerys are half the original Mastersounds quartet, which a few years ago won the Critics Poll as Best New Small Group.


Pinned down recently between rehearsals and pool games (shooting pool is his only hobby), Wes discussed guitar players (including himself) with the ease and familiarity born of years of listening:


"I started in 1943, right after I got married. I bought an amplifier and a guitar
around two or three months later. I used to play a tenor guitar, but it wasn't playing you know. I didn't really get down to business until I got the six-string, which was just like starting all over to me.


"I got interested in playing the guitar because of Charlie Christian. Like all other guitar players! There's no way out. I never saw him in my life, but he said so much or the records that I don't care what instrument a cat played, if he didn't understand and didn't feel and really didn't get with the things that Charlie Christian was doing, he was a pretty poor musician—he was so far ahead.


"Before Charlie Christian I liked (Django) Reinhardt and Les Paul and those cats, but it wasn't what you 'd call new. Just guitar. For the exciting new thing, they didn't impress me like that. But Charlie Christian did; I mean, he stood out above all of it to me.


"'Solo Flight' was the first record I heard. Boy, that was too much! I still hear it! He was it for me, and I didn't look at nobody else. I didn't hear nobody else for about a year or so. Couldn't even hear them.

"I'm not really musically inclined. It takes guts, you know! I was 19 and I liked music, but it didn't really inspire me to go into things. But there was a cat living in Indianapolis named Alex Stevens. He played guitar, and he was about the toughest cat I heard around our vicinity, and I tried to get him to show me a few things.


"So, eventually what I did was I took all of Charlie Christian's records, and I listened to them real good. I knew what he was doing on that guitar could be done on the one I had because I had a six-string. So I was just determined I'd do it. I didn't quit. It didn't quite come out like that, but I got pretty good at it, and I took all the solos off the records. I got a job playing just the solos, making money in a club. That's all I did—played Charlie Christian solos and then laid out! Mel Lee—he's the piano player with B.B. King—had the band, and he helped me a lot.


"Then I went on the road with the Brownskin Models and later with Snookum Russell. Ray Brown was on the band at that time. I didn't realize he was playing so much bass until I heard him with Diz!


"Hamp was the only big band I went with, 1948-'50. I didn't use any amplifier at all. He had a lot of things for the sextet, but he never got to record that group.


"I'm so limited. I have a lot of ideas— well, a lot of thoughts—that I'd like to see done with the guitar. With the octaves, that was just a coincidence, going into octaves. It's such a challenge yet, you know, and there's a lot that can be done with it and with chord versions like block chords on piano. But each of these things has a feeling of its own, and it takes so much time to develop all your technique.


"I don't use a pick at all, and that's one of the downfalls, too. In order to get a certain amount of speed, you should use a pick, I think. You don't have to play fast, but being able to play fast can cause you to phrase better. If you had the technique you could phrase better, even if you don't play fast. I think you'd have more control of the instrument.


"I didn't like the sound of a pick. I tried it for, I guess, about two months. I didn't even use my thumb at all. But after two months time, I still couldn't use the pick. So I said, 'Well, which are you going to do?' I liked the tone better with thumb, but I liked the technique with the pick. I couldn't have them both, so I just have to cool.


"I think every instrument should have a certain amount of tone quality within the instrument, but I can't seem to get the right amplifiers and things to get this thing out. I like to hear good phrasing. I'd like to hear a guitar play parts like instead of playing melodic lines, leave that and play chord versions of lines. Now, that's an awful hard thing to do, but it would be different. But I think in those terms, or if a cat could use octaves for a line instead of one note. Give you a double sound with a good tone to it. Should sound pretty good if you got another blending instrument with it.


"Other guitar players? Well, Barney Kessel. I've got to go for that. He's got a lot of feeling and a good conception of chords in a jazz manner. He's still trying to do a lot of things, and he's not just standing still with guitar, just settling for one particular level. He's still going all he can, and that's one thing I appreciate about him. He's trying to phrase, also. He's trying to get away from the guitar phrase and get into horn phrasing.


"And Tal Farlow. Tal Farlow strikes me as different altogether. He doesn't have as much feeling as Barney Kessel to me, but he's got more drive in his playing, and
his technique along with that drive is pretty exciting. He makes it exciting. I think he's got a better conception of modern chords than the average guitar player.


"A lot of guitar players can play modern chords, they can take a solo of modern chords; but they're liable to leave it within the solo range that they're in. They're liable to get away from it and then come back to it, get away from it and come back to it. Tal Farlow usually stays right on it.


"Jimmy Raney is just the opposite from Tal Farlow. They seem like they have the same ideas in mind, the same changes, the same runs, the same kind of feeling. But Jimmy Raney is so smooth. He does it without a mistake, like some cats play piano they couldn't make a mistake if they wanted to. That's the way Jimmy Raney is. He gives it a real soft touch, but the ideas are just like Tal Farlow's to me.


"And then George Henry, a cat I heard in Chicago. He's a playing cat. He asked could he play a tune, and so he gets up there, and that's the first time I ever heard a guitar phrase like Charlie Parker. It was just the solos, the chords and things he used were just like any other cat, you know. And there's another guy from Houston who plays with his thumb.


"And naturally, Reinhardt, he's in a different thing altogether. And Charlie Byrd. You know, I like all guitar players. I like what they play. But to stand out like Charlie Christian. Well, I guess it's just one of those things.


"My aim, I think, is to be able to move from one vein to another without any trouble. If you were going to take a melody line or counterpoint or unison lines with another instrument, do that and then, maybe after a certain point, you drop out completely, and maybe the next time you'll play phrases and chords or something or maybe you'll take octaves. That way you have a lot of variations, if you can control each one of them and still keep feeling it. To me the biggest thing is to keep the feeling within your playing regardless of what you play. Keep a feeling there, and that's hard to do.


"You know, John Coltrane has been sort of a god to me. Seems like, in a way, he didn't get the inspiration out of other musicians. He had it. When you hear a cat do a thing like that, you got to go along with him. I think I heard Coltrane before I really got close to Miles. Miles had a tricky way of playing his horn that I didn't understand as much as I did Coltrane. I really didn't understand what Coltrane was doing, but it was so exciting, the thing that he was doing. Then after I really began to understand Miles, then Miles came up on top.


"Now, this may sound pretty weird— the way I feel when I'm up there playing the way I play doesn't match—but it's like some cats are holding your hands. C'mon, you know, and they'll keep you in there. If you try to keep up to them, they'll lose you, you know. And I like that. I really like that.


"Sometimes I'll do nothing but listen to records. All kinds, over and over. Then, after a while, it breaks and I don't even want to hear them. Nothing. I think it's because at the times I don't want to hear, I've heard so much it's got me confused and I'm so far away from it on my instrument—from the things I've been hearing— that I've got to put it aside and go back to where I am. And try to get out of that hole!


"I was surprised to win the DownBeat thing. I think I was playing more in 1952 than I ever have."”

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Billy Mitchell: 1926-2000 - A Tribute

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


Billy Mitchell’s musical story is a tale of two cities: Kansas City, Missouri where he was born and Detroit, Michigan where he grew up.


What the tenor saxophonist inherited from K.C. and the Motor City can be heard every time he takes a chorus. This inheritance is the roots of the Jazz tradition.


Mention Kansas City and Bennie Moten, Walter Page’s Blue Devils and Count Basie come to mind.


Bill Mitchell was a driving force and major influence during this post WWII Detroit modern jazz explosion.


Incubating in the Detroit of Billy Mitchell’s youth were a number of future great Jazz musicians including the Jones Brothers - Thad, Hank and Elvin - Yusef Lateef, Frank Foster,Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, and Paul Chambers


"I had a band at the Blue Bird," Mitchell recalled in a conversation with Jazz author Bob Blumenthal. "It was a quartet until Thad sat in one night. The next night, he was working with us permanently. We recorded for Dee Gee Records, which was jointly owned by Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Usher. At that time, Terry Pollard was in the band — she was later replaced by Tommy Flanagan — and she played vibes and piano. When she took a vibes solo on the recording session, Thad comped for her on piano. Elvin was in the band at that time, too. In fact, Elvin had never played in a professional band before that."


The Mitchell session is a rare one, having last appeared in the '50s on a Savoy anthology called SWING, NOT SPRING, and the details are obscure. Discographies have given 1948 as its date, though Mitchell confirms that it was more likely done in 1951 or '52.”


Billy was to become best known for his work in the 1950’s and 60’s with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band and The Count Basie Orchestra. He also performed with the Clarke-Boland Big Band in Europe on several occasions.


Mitchell and trombonist Al Grey left Basie in late 1961 and formed the Al Grey/Billy Mitchell Sextet, which won the Downbeat Award for best new jazz band of 1962! This band also officially introduced vibraphone future star Bobby Hutcherson. Barry Kernfeld noted in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz that this “... ensemble, in its use of swinging riffs and bop improvisation, captured in a small group context the essence of Basie’s orchestral approach.


Besides leaving and rejoining Basie's band several times in the 60's, Billy was an important figure on Long Island (his home) and Manhattan in the educational area of jazz; he was mentor and friend to alto saxophonist Charles McPherson and also worked for a time in Los Angeles where he and influenced LA trombonist/composer-arranger Richard Pulin.


With his bright, bouncy, on-the-beat improvisations, Billy has always personified Joyous Jazz to me. Jazz that’s not complicated and swings in a straight-ahead manner. It’s fun to play the music this way and equally as much fun to listen to it without having to reach for it.


Sonny Stitt, Lucky Thompson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons, Arnett Cobb, David “Fathead” Newman, Harold Land, Paul Gonsalves - the list of big-toned bluesy tenor saxophonists is as endless as it is endlessly satisfying.





Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Little [More] Heat from Jimmy Heath - [From the Archives]


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



Over a five year period from 1959-1963, Jimmy Heath recorded six albums for Riverside, all of which have been issued on CD as Original Jazz Classics.  Since Jimmy wasn’t very known by the general public during this period, thanks are once again due to Orrin Keepnews, co-owner of Riverside, who early on in his career, appreciated Heath’s talent and found the resources to make these albums possible.

Orrin’s view of Jimmy’s work is nicely summed up this excerpt from his insert notes to The Thumper [OJCCD-1828, RLP-1160]:

“It should be immediately evident from this LP that Jimmy possesses a large handful of attributes of major jazz value: he has a full, deep, compelling sound and a fertile imagination; his playing really swings; and he is a jazz composer of considerable vigor and freshness. And, although his will undoubtedly be a new name to many, Heath is also a thoroughly experienced musician, who has been associated with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and many other headliners.”

And here are some additional reflections by Orin from the liner notes to Jimmy’s
The Jimmy Heath Orchestra: Really Big! [OJCCD-1799, RLP-1188]on which the Heath brothers are joined by the Adderley brothers, Cannonball and Nat:

“The modern jazz artist who both 'wails' and writes is often an unavoidably split personality: enjoying his playing in the small-group context that is the normal setting for wailing these days, but often longing for the more satisfying complexity of arranged musical colorings and backgrounds that are possible only with more large-scaled bands. On the other hand, he is apt to be aware that big-band efforts can all too easily have a stiffness and formality too far removed from the easy-flowing looseness and free-blowing spirit of the best of small-group jazz.

Facing this basic dilemma, JIMMY HEATH, a man to be reckoned with both as improviser and as writer, has evolved the unique solution that is at the heart of this album. It is a combination that Jimmy describes as "a big band sound with a small-band feeling"—a richly textured musical pattern that manages to retain all the earthy ferment of a swinging quintet or sextet date.

It should be obvious that the fresh, clear-cut style of Heath's arrangements has much to do with the success of this idea. It should also be apparent that Jimmy's earthy, vigorous and emotionally compelling solo sound is ideally suited to the handling of the material he has written.”

Dan Morgenstern, the Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, observed in his notes to On The Trail [OJCCD-1854, RLP-9486]

“Small of frame but large of sound and soul, Jimmy Heath is a musician whose contributions to jazz have been con­sistently impressive since the halcyon days of Bebop, when he was known as "Little Bird" and specialized in the alto sax.
Jimmy made the switch to tenor many years ago, and he has long been his own man, both as an instrumentalist and as an arranger. On this album, his primary role is that of a soloist of uncommon warmth and fluency, but his arranger's sense of balance and proportion also makes itself felt.

Here, there is none of the self-indulgent loquaciousness that mars so many "blowing dates"; each track is made up of meaningful musical statements that hold and sustain the listener's interest.

That interest is heightened, too, by Heath's well-chosen and well-paced material, which adds up to an attractive program, offering a variety of moods and tempos. And no matter what the groove - a pretty ballad or an up-tempo swinger — the music flows and tells a story.”

The following listing and capsulated reviews can be located on page 694 of  The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Edition:

© -Richard Cook & Brian Morton/Penguin Books, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

**** The Thumper Original Jazz Classics OJC 1828
Heath; Nat Adderley (cl); Curtis Fuller (tb); Wynton Kelly (p); Paul Chambers (b); Albert 'Tootle' Heath (d). 9/59.

***(*) Really Big!
Original Jazz Classics OJC 1799 Heath; Clark Terry, Nat Adderley (t); Tom Mclntosh, Dick Berg (tb); Cannonball Adderley, Pat Patrick (sax); Tommy Flanagan, Cedar Walton (p); Percy Heath (b); Albert 'Tootie' Heath (d). 1960.

The middle of the three Heath brothers is perhaps and quite undeservedly now the least known. Jimmy Heath's reputation as a player has been partly overshadowed by his gifts as a composer ('C.T.A.',  'Gemini',  'Gingerbread   Boy')   and  arranger.   The Thumper was his debut recording. Unlike most of his peers, Heath had not hurried into the studio. He was already in his thir­ties and writing with great maturity; the session kicks off with 'For Minors Only', the first of his tunes to achieve near-classic standing. He also includes 'Nice People'. The Riverside compila­tion which bears that name was until recently the ideal introduc­tion to the man who was once known as 'Little Bird' but who later largely abandoned alto saxophone and its associated Parkerisms in favor of a bold, confident tenor style that is immediately dis­tinctive. Now that The Thumper is around again, the compilation album is a little less appealing.


Also well worth looking out for is the big-band set from 1960. Built around the three Heath and the two Adderley brothers, it's a unit with a great deal of personality and presence. Sun Ra's favorite baritonist, Pat Patrick, is in the line-up and contributes fulsomely to the ensembles. Bobby Timmons's 'Dat Dere', 'On Green Dolphin Street' and 'Picture Of Heath' are the outstanding tracks, and Orrin Keepnews's original sound is faithfully pre­served in Phil De Lancie's conservative remastering.

Heath's arrangements often favor deep brass pedestals for the higher horns, which explains his emphasis on trombone and French horn parts. The earliest of these sessions, though, is a rel­atively stripped-down blowing session ('Nice People' and 'Who Needs It') for Nat Adderley, Curtis Fuller and a rhythm section anchored on youngest brother, Albert, who reappears with Percy Heath, the eldest of the three, on the ambitious 1960 'Picture Of Heath'. Like Connie Kay, who was to join Percy in the Modern Jazz Quartet, Albert is an unassuming player, combining Kay's subtlety with the drive of Kenny Clarke (original drummer for the MJQ). More than once in these sessions it's Albert who fuels his brother's better solos.

***(*) The Quota
Original Jazz Classics OJCCD 1871 Heath; Freddie Hubbard (t); Julius Watkins (frhn); Cedar Walton (p); Percy Heath (b); Albert 'Tootie' Heath (d). 4/61. *** On The Trail
Original Jazz Classics OJCCD 1854 Heath; Wynton Kelly (p); Kenny Burrell (g); Paul Chambers (b); Albert 'Tootie' Heath (d). 64.
The Quota perfectly underlines Jimmy's ability to make three contrasting horns sound like a big band, or very nearly. This is a cleverly arranged session, and an agreeably fraternal one, with Percy and Tootie on hand as well. Hubbard was a killer at 23, solo­ing with fire and conviction, but it is Jimmy's own work, on his own title-track and on 'When Sonny Gets Blue', that stands out, arguably some of his best tenor-playing on record.


***On The Trail is less arresting; more of a straight blowing ses­sion, it doesn't play to Jimmy's real strengths and the production seems oddly underpowered, as if everything has been taken down a notch to accommodate Burrell's soft and understated guitar lines. 'All The Things You Are' has some moments of spectacular beauty, as when Jimmy floats across Wynton Kelly's line with a soft restatement of the melody and a tiny fragment of the 'Bird Of Paradise' contra fact patented by Charlie Parker. Good, straightforward jazz, but not a great Jimmy Heath album.

***(*) Triple Threat
Original Jazz Classics OJCCD 1909-2 Heath; Freddie Hubbard (t); Julius Watkins (frhn); Cedar Walton (p); Percy Heath (b); Albert 'Tootie' Heath (d). 1/62.
A dry run for the Heath Brothers project and another object les­son in how to give a relatively small unit an expansive sound. Jimmy takes a couple of numbers with just rhythm and even there manages to suggest a massive structure behind his elegantly linear melody lines. Watkins has an enhanced role and demon­strates once again what an exciting player he can be on an instrument usually consigned to a supportive role.
Jimmy's blues waltz, 'Gemini', is probably better known in the version recorded by Cannonball Adderley, but the little man's own solo statement confirms ownership rights. Hubbard is in quiet form, but already gives notice of what he was capable of.

***(*) Swamp Seed
Original Jazz Classics OJCCD 1904-2 Heath; Donald Byrd (t); Jimmy Buffington, Julius Watkins (frhn); Don Butterfield (tba); Herbie Hancock, Harold Mabern (p); Percy Heath (b); Albert 'Tootie' Heath, Connie Kay (d). 63.
Jimmy's genius as an arranger is evident here, where he manages to make three brass sound like a whole orchestra. With no sup­plemental reeds to support his own muscular lines, Jimmy is the most prominent voice. On 'Six Steps', 'Nutty' and 'D Waltz', he creates solo statements of genuine originality, relying on the sub­tle voicings given to Butterfield, Buffington and Watkins to sup­port his more adventurous harmonic shifts. As 'D Waltz' demonstrates, Jimmy learned a lot from listening to Charlie Parker, but also to the older bandleaders like Lunceford and
Eckstine, who understood how to give relatively simple ideas maxi­mum mileage.”

Lastly, here’s a retrospective of the highlights of Jimmy’s career including the formation of The Heath Brothers band in the 1970’s. It would intermittently continue to function as a working and recording band until the death of bassist Percy Heath in 2005.

It can be found in Kenny Mathieson’s Cookin’:Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65 [Edinburgh: Canongate, 2002, pp. 250-254].

© -Kenny Mathieson/Canongate, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Jimmy Heath started out playing alto saxophone in the style of Charlie Parker, a model he adopted so conscientiously that he was nicknamed 'Little Bird' by his fellow musicians. Partly in an attempt to get away from that rather too close identification, and partly because it offered better job prospects, he turned to tenor saxophone, and found that he genuinely preferred the bigger horn. His name crops up at various points throughout this book, as do those of his two brothers, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert Tootie' Heath. Music is very often a family affair, but not too many families can boast three top class jazz professionals in their ranks (others which do come to mind are the Jones brothers of Detroit, and the more contemporary musical dynasty fathered in New Orleans by pianist Ellis Marsalis, led by Wynton and Branford).

Jimmy Heath was born on 25 October, 1926, in Philadelphia, and is the middle brother of the three (Percy, the eldest, was born on 30 April 1932, in Wilmington, North Carolina, while Albert first saw the light of day on 31 May, 1935, also in Philadelphia). The saxophonist led his own big band in Philly in late 1946, modeled on the bebop big bands of Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie. The personnel included several players who went on to bigger things, including Benny Golson, trombonist Willie Dennis, trumpeter Johnny Coles, and, most famously, John Coltrane. Heath and Coltrane formed a close relationship at this time, often practicing together (Lewis Porter describes some of their routines in John Coltrane: His Life and Music) as well as socializing.

Jimmy and Percy both played with trumpeter Howard McGhee in 1947-48, their first important musical association outside of Phila­delphia. The saxophonist then joined the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra in 1949-50, in which he took the opportunity to further develop his writing and arranging skills. His talent as both player and writer, and his natural affinity for the blues and funk, should have made him a significant contributor to the formative period of hard bop. Instead, his progress throughout the 1950s was impeded by his addiction, acquired in Philadelphia in the summer of 1949, and he spent four years in prison following a conviction in mid-decade, re-emerging on a much-changed jazz scene after being paroled in 1959.

His parole restrictions cost him the chance to tour with Miles Davis, but he set about resurrecting his own career. Heath had cut discs as a sideman, including sides with Gillespie, Miles, J. J. Johnson and Kenny Dorham, but had not recorded an album under his own name until The Thumper, his debut for Riverside on 27 November, 1959. He assembled a sextet for the date, with Nat Adderley on cornet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Albert Heath on drums. The date provided a showcase not only for his strong, inventive tenor playing, which seemed entirely undiminished by his time away, but also for the high quality of his writing and arranging. The session featured five of his own compositions, including the title track and the justly celebrated 'For Minors Only', and also included a pair of emotive but unsentimental ballad readings.


It began a sequence of fine albums for RiversideReally Big took the obvious next step and provided Heath with a larger ensemble on which to exercise his talents as an arranger. Although not a full big band, the ten-piece group on the album - which included Cannonball Adderley on alto and Pat Patrick on baritone saxophone — provided Heath with a fine platform, underpinned by the baritone and the darker brass shadings of Tom Mclntosh's trombone and Dick Berg's French horn (both Percy and Albert were in the rhythm section, with either Tommy Flanagan or Cedar Walton). The session, recorded in June, 1960, is a strong outing, with more powerful original compositions by the saxophonist, including the impressive 'Picture of Heath', alongside a selection of standards and established jazz tunes.

It was the biggest group he used in his Riverside tenure, but in the session for Swamp Seed on 11 March, 1963, he had an eight-piece band at his disposal, this time with his solitary tenor set against a brass section of Donald Byrd on trumpet, both Jim Buffington and Julius Watkins on French horns, and Don Butterfield on tuba, and another varying rhythm section, with either Harold Mabern or Herbie Hancock on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and either Albert Heath or Percy's MJQ band mate Connie Kay on drums. Like Horace Silver, Heath had the knack of making a small group sound like a fuller band, and his immaculately contrived brass voicings here give the feel of a much bigger ensemble than he actually had, and provide a springboard for his richly conceived, exploratory solos on cuts like 'D Waltz' and Thelonious Monk's 'Nutty'.

The dates which produced The Quota, recorded on 14 April, 1961, and Triple Threat, from 4 January, 1962, both featured a sextet, with Heath's tenor accompanied by hotshot young trumpet star Freddie Hubbard and the inevitable French horn, expertly played as ever by Julius Watkins, surely the best-known exponent of the horn in jazz (and one of the few to record as a leader on the instrument, for Blue Note in 1954), and a rhythm section of Cedar Walton and the other two Heath brothers. As with The Thumper, Heath achieves a beautifully balanced blend of subtle ensemble arrangements and a hard swinging, spontaneous blowing feel. Triple Threat contains his own version of 'Gemini', a jazz waltz made famous by Cannonball Adderley, which stands alongside 'For Minors Only', 'C. T. A.' and 'Gingerbread Boy' as his best known tunes.

The smallest group session in his Riverside roster was On The Trail, a quintet date from Spring, 1964, which featured Heath as the only horn in a band with Kenny Burrell on guitar, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Albert Heath on drums. The date has a more open blowing feel than his other Riverside sessions, but their combined weight confirmed his stature as a major - if slightly belated - contributor to hard bop in this comeback period. The session included 'Gingerbread Boy' and a fine reading of 'All The Things You Are*, while the title track was a jazz arrangement of a section from Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, which adopted a 'semi-modal' approach.

Ashley Khan reports in Kind of Blue that the arrangement was originally prepared by Donald Byrd, but a disagreement with Blue Note saw it dropped - Heath picked up on it, and Khan quotes the saxophonist: 'We wanted to experiment with modal pieces, not to the same degree as Miles, completely, like "So What." Not everyone else wanted to take those chances with something new. We weren't Miles Davis, so we said "OK, we'll do a little of that." A lot of the modal pieces we wrote were modal for a while and then they ended on a sequence of chords to get back to a certain point to be more communicative to an audience.'

Perhaps surprisingly in the light of his prominence with the MJQ, Percy Heath showed no inclination to follow his example and make records as a leader, although Albert did get around to leading a session of his own, Kawaida, for Trip Records in 1969, with a band which included Don Cherry, and followed it with Kwanza for Muse in 1973. Jimmy continued to make records throughout the ensuing decades, including sessions for Muse, Verve, Steeple Chase, and a reunion with Orrin Keepnews for his Landmark label, and also became a greatly respected educator.



The three brothers finally officially got together as The Heath Brothers in 1975, recording a number of albums for Strata East, Columbia and Antilles in the late 1970s and early 1980s (sometimes with Jimmy's son, Mtume, on percussion, although Albert was replaced by drummer Akira Tana on some of these records). They flirted a little with a more commercial approach at times, but for the
most part, remained firmly in classic hard bop territory, as refracted  through the prism of Jimmy's individual arrangements. …

Having gone their own way again in the mid-1980s, The Heath Brothers reconvened without any great fanfare in 1997, both as an occasional touring unit and in the studio, where they recorded a couple of fine albums for Concord Jazz, As We Were Saying (1997) and Jazz Family (1998), with Jimmy's stamp firmly on the music. As with his own sessions of the late 1980s and 1990s, the music has plenty to say, and does so with consummate skill, real authority and inventiveness, and a refreshing lack of bluster.”

Jimmy Heath is still a vibrant part of today’s Jazz scene, and in addition to the triple threat of performing as a saxophonist, composing and arranging he has added a fourth quality - Jazz educator.

Jimmy has a website which you can by going here.

The audio track on the following video is Jimmy’s tune The Quota and is taken from the Original Jazz Classic-Riverside CD by the same name [OJCCD-1871-2;RLP 9392].

The cut features Jimmy unique tenor saxophone sound as well as his very distinctive approach to Jazz composition and arranging.

Julius Watkins provides the French Horn solo [not something you hear everyday on a Jazz record].  He is followed by finger-poppin’ solos from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard [2:19 minutes] and pianist Cedar Walton [3:00],who is joined in the rhythm section by Jimmy’s older brother Percy Heath on bass and his younger brother Albert [nicked-named “Tootie”] on drums.

The late guitarist and saloon-keeper Eddie Condon is quoted as having said that the sound coming from the legendary Bix Beiderbecke’s trumpet “Was like a woman saying, “Yes.’”  I wonder what the same woman would have said if she ever heard Freddie Hubbard play trumpet?