Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Eli “Lucky” Thompson [From the Archives]

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

“Lucky Thompson was a vastly under-acclaimed tenor saxophonist.”
- Doug Ramsey

Eli “Lucky” Thompson was born on June 16, 1924 in ColumbiaSouth Carolina, but grew up in Detroit. From a very young age, Lucky was obsessed by music and long before he owned a horn, he studied instruction books and practiced finger exercises on a broomstick marked with saxophone key patterns. When he acquired his first saxophone at the age of 25, he practiced eight hours a day and within a month he played professionally with neighborhood bands.”
- Joop Visser

“… it seems likely that the cross-pollination of ideas so promi­nent among bebop era saxophonists affected Lucky less than anyone. Stylistically he has always been his own man.”
- Bob Porter

"Like Don Byas, whom he most resembles in tone and in his development of solos, he has a slightly oblique and uneasy stance on bop, cleaving to a kind of accelerated swing idiom with a distinctive 'snap' to his softly enunciated phrases and an advanced harmonic language that occasionally moves into areas of surprising freedom."
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton,  Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“There is the history of the saxophone in Lucky Thompson’s music.”
- David Himmelstein

“Music is the most interesting thing in the world.”
- Lucky Thompson

“You know I lost my interest in music. I had to run from place to place at the mercy of people who manipulated me. I never rejected music; it constitutes a great part of my soul.”
- Lucky Thompson to Mike Hennessey in MusicItalia interview

“Thompson's disappearance from the jazz scene in the 1970's was only the latest (but apparently the last) of a strangely contoured career. A highly philosophical, almost mystical man, he reacted against the values of the music industry and in the end turned his back on it without seeming regret. The beginning was garlanded with promise.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton,  Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

I lived and worked in SeattleWA for a while.

Given the city’s notorious commuter traffic, fortunately for me, it was easy to access my office at the downtown corner of Fourth and Pike Streets as it was a clear shot into town on the Aurora Highway [Hwy 99] from my home in the Green Lake area of the city.

It was a point in my work-life that often found me toiling late at the office.

Because of the manner in which one-way streets configured downtown traffic, I often exited the city along Second Street which is also the home of Tula’s, a great Jazz club that primarily features the work of local Jazz artists.

One rainy night - now there’s a surprise in Seattle! - I had worked so late that I decided to catch a set at the club and treat myself to a dinner of its excellent dolmathes and souvlaki before going home.

Jay Thomas, who plays both superb trumpet and tenor saxophone, was Tula’s headliner.

Besides the great music and tasty Greek food, I also met up that night with a couple of Jazz buddies who lived in the nearby Belltown part of the city [a downtown waterfront neighborhood that overlooks a portion of Elliott Bay].

We shared a bottle of red plonk while thoroughly enjoying the music on offer by Jay’s quartet.

All of us still smoked during those days and, as a result of the club’s ban on partaking of lit nicotine within the walls of its premises, we found ourselves merrily chatting and puffing away outside the club’s entrance during the first intermission.

Thankfully the rain had abated, or a least scaled down to a soft drizzle. While the three of us were standing and smoking by the curbside, we were approached by a street person who asked if he could bum a smoke.

After we obliged him and he had continued on his way, one of my friends asked me if I’d recognized the damp denizen of the night?

I thought I was making a wisecrack when I answered that “… he looked vaguely familiar.” “He should,” remarked one of my friends: “That was Lucky Thompson!”

Obviously, my Belltown buddies had met him before, under similar circumstances.

All of us became very subdued after Lucky left.

Each of us quietly puffed our cigarette which gave us time to adjust to the sense of sadness that had come over us following the sight we had just witnessed.

Needless to say, the evening wasn’t the same after that; no more frivolity and jocularity, only a deep and abiding hurt.

When I returned home with that chance meeting still on my mind, it occurred to that while I had heard Lucky’s tenor saxophone sound with Count Basie’s band [my Dad had some V-Discs by the band with Lucky], on Miles Davis’ famous Walkin’ LP and as part of Stan Kenton’s sterling Cuban Fire album [his solo beginning at around the 4:00 minute mark of the opening track – Fuego Cubano - always touches my heart], most of his recorded music had passed-me-by.

For whatever reasons, I had missed much of Lucky’s discography when he was a force on the Jazz scene, primarily from 1945-1965.

The following day, I decided to put that omission right and I began seeking out Lucky’s recordings which, to my surprise were plentiful, and still readily available.

As is often the case with chance meetings, it was the beginning of a love affair as Lucky’s music was engaging, full of marvelous twists and turns, and alive with an almost effortless swing.

Although it is a later recording in the Thompson canon, one of my first purchases of Lucky’s music under his own name was Tricotism [Impulse/GRP GRD-135].

The insert notes to this CD are by Bob Porter and they contained the following overview and commentary of Thompson’s career which was very helpful to me as a guide for further purchases of Lucky’s music.

If you are like me and not a member of the Lucky cognoscenti, perhaps it can serve a similar purpose for you.

“The career of Eli Thompson (6/16/24), musician, is one of the most enigmatic in all jazz. It is an odyssey involving four cities, two instruments, big bands, small bands, popularity, poverty, stylistic changes, associations with major names, (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton), and long peri­ods of inactivity.

Detroit is his home town. A grad­uate of Cass Tech, Lucky was among a number of remarkably talented saxophonists who were active in the Motor City during the early '40s. Wardell Gray, Teddy Edwards, Yusef Lateef, and Sonny Stitt would lead the list and it seems likely that the cross-pollination of ideas so promi­nent among bebop era saxophonists affected Lucky less than anyone. Stylistically he has always been his own man.

Lucky entered the ranks of pro­fessional musicians when he left Detroit with the Treniers in 1943. An unhappy six months with Lionel Hampton followed, ending in New York. Shortly thereafter Lucky went into the brand new Billy Eckstine Band. The Eckstine association was brief, and Lucky first began to achieve prominence during his year with Count Basic. The war-time Basic band was a fine organization, and Lucky had considerable solo space. The V-Disc of "High Tide" is especially impressive.

Lucky left Basic in late 1945, set­tling in Los Angeles. One of his first gigs in L. A. was as a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Rebop Six. Actually he was the odd man out in a group that featured Milt Jackson, Al Haig, Ray Brown, Stan Levey, and the leader. Lucky was hired because of the erratic habits of the co-star, Charlie Parker. Yet that engagement acted as a springboard for Lucky.

During 1946 and '47 Lucky was the most requested tenorman in the L. A. area. He worked frequently with Boyd Raeburn, but he also made over 100 recordings as a sideman during those years. He had recorded for Excelsior and Down Beat and in 1947 he made four famous sides for RCA, including his masterpiece "Just One More Chance." He won the Esquire New Star award in 1947. In 1948 Lucky migrated across coun­try. New York would be his home for the next eight years.
Lucky worked frequently at the Savoy Ballroom during the early '50s, but the recording slows had set in.

A couple of obscure small label ses­sions were Lucky's only recordings from 1947 to late 1953, when he did a date for Decca. Two dates in 1954 under his own name presaged anoth­er masterpiece: his "Walkin"' solo with Miles Davis.

During the 1950s Lucky was a close associate of light-heavyweight boxing champion, Archie Moore. Moore liked to warm up and work out while Lucky and company pro­vided the music.

Lucky and Milt Jackson have been close associates since their days in Detroit. In 1956, just prior to the recording of the music heard on this CD, Jackson and Thompson record­ed five LPs together, under Milt's name for Savoy and Atlantic.
I suspect that it was no accident that the trio session here included no drummer. If there has been one aspect of Lucky's playing that has been criticized through the years it is his relationship with drummers. The hard swinging sessions of the 1940s and early '50s were giving way to an almost ascetic rhythmic approach. I also suspect that some critics, in writing about the Jimmy Giuffre Three, (which had the iden­tical instrumentation as Lucky's group), may have forgotten these per­formances, which predated Giuffre by 10 months.

Paris in the spring of 1956 was, for Lucky, a period of tremendous activ­ity. He recorded five LPs for various French labels. Also while in France, he sat in with Stan Ken ton. This led to Lucky's participation in one of the most famous Kenton LPs of the' 50s, Cuban Fire. Before returning to France for an extended stay, Lucky worked again with Oscar Pettiford and recorded with him.

Lucky was the first major jazzman since Sidney Bechet to adopt the soprano saxophone. He predated John Coltrane by at least 18 months; but Lucky has never been given any credit for ushering the return to popularity of the straight saxophone. In the mid-'60s Lucky returned to the U.S.A., recording for Prestige and Rivoli. He had been back and forth to Europe several times since and did several interesting LPs for Groove Merchant in the early '70s. He also taught at Dartmouth for a year[1973-74].

When Will Powers interviewed him for Different Drummer, Lucky was completing his academic work and thinking of a new city. This time it might be Toronto or Montreal. Always the drifter, ever the search.

It is not my opinion, but consen­sus, that says the music on these LPs is the finest extended playing that Lucky Thompson has produced on record. As noted earlier, the sessions came at a period where Lucky had been recording frequently. He and Pettiford were a mutual admiration society and the rapport, even inti­macy, they achieve in the trio tracks is nothing short of remarkable.

This is not to take anything away from the quintet sides where Jimmy Cleveland shines so brightly. The presence of Hank Jones reunites a close partnership dating to Detroit days. Yet it is Lucky, with the warmth, the inner feeling, the depth, the mastery that permeates every groove on these LPs.

That this music is able to appear again after years of neglect is cause for celebration. Let's hope that this release is able to shed new light on the talent of Lucky Thompson.”

—Bob Porter, Contributor—Radio Free Jazz1975 (original edited liner notes from Dancing Sunbeam, Imp ASH-9307-2)

A few years after this meeting, I learned that Lucky had passed away in Seattle in 2005.

With everything he had gone through, including apparently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease during the later years of his life, somehow he had luckily [?] managed to live to be 81-years of age.

Here’s a video tribute to Lucky that features him at his beautiful, breathy and majestic sounding best.

The tune is A Lady’s Vanity on which he is accompanied by Hank Jones on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass, and Osie Johnson on drums. It’s from the Tricotism CD.

And if you are looking for a comprehensive discography of Lucky’s recordings, you can’t do better than the one that Noal Cohen has compiled. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Hot Record Society

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

“Back in the mid 1930s, when jazz itself was as young as most of the musicians playing it, a handful of devoted fans banded together to share their love for this music with others. They were all record collectors who believed that jazz was more than just a passing fad and that its performers were more than mere entertainers.”
- Jack Sohmer, JazzTimes
Looking back through old issues of Down Beat, Metronome, Esquire, Melody Maker, The Jazz Review, etc., I’ve always enjoyed the colloquialisms of the times that were associated with different periods of Jazz. Words like “hot,” “jump,” and “killer diller” come to mind; I’m sure that those of you who have been around the music for awhile can add a few other choice words and expressions to this list.

I’m more from the “cool,” “groovy,” “bopin’ and burnin’” parlance - you dig?

Imagine my fascination, then, when Mosaic Records issued one of its superb boxed sets devoted to the Hot Record Society with the emphasis on “Hot.”

I am particularly indebted to Mosaic for the H.R.S. collection because it was my first significant introduction to Sidney Bechet. Although he is only represented on 10 tracks, I was so taken by his performance on China Boy, that I made it a point to add a number of his recordings to my collection.

If you can get past the nanny goat vibrato [something that held me back from a true appreciation of his playing for many years], you’ll find that Sidney is an inspiring and original soloist with technique to spare such that improvisational ideas flow out of his horn rapidly and flawlessly.

I’ve included China Boy as the soundtrack to the video montage that concludes this feature.

Jack Sohmer tells us more about the H.R.S. in the following review which appeared in the DECEMBER 1999 JazzTimes.

The Complete H.R.S. Sessions: Mosaic Records

By Jack Sohmer

“Back in the mid 1930s, when jazz itself was as young as most of the musicians playing it, a handful of devoted fans banded together to share their love for this music with others. They were all record collectors who believed that jazz was more than just a passing fad and that its performers were more than mere entertainers.

Modeled after discographer Charles Delaunay and critic Hugues Panassie's Hot Club of France, the Chicago Rhythm Club, begun in 1935 by Helen Oakley and Squirrel Ashcraft, was the first to produce racially mixed jam sessions, including the first public performance of the Benny Goodman Trio.

Meanwhile, at the same time in New York, Milt Gabler of the Commodore Music Shop and Stephen W. Smith founded the United Hot Clubs of America (U.H.C.A.). Two years later, in 1937, with an advisory board consisting of, among others, John Hammond, Marshall Stearns, Charles Edward Smith, Wilder Hobson, William Russell, Delaunay, Panassie, and Sinclair Traill (later founder of the British magazine Jazz Journal), Steve Smith initiated the Hot Record Society.

While U.H.C.A. specialized in the reissue of long unavailable jazz classics, H.R.S. concentrated on mail order auctions and sales of original jazz and blues 78s. In 1938, when both Columbia and Victor (on its 35-cent subsidiary, Bluebird) began their highly successful series of classic jazz reissues, Gabler and Smith decided to get into the business of making new records, with Commodore becoming the first and most prolific of the independents. (It was soon followed by Blue Note, Keynote, Signature, and dozens of others.)

In 1939, the same year that the influential book Jazzmen was published, Smith, one of its major contributors, opened the H.R.S. Record Shop in midtown Manhattan, where he sold both new and used jazz recordings, and, of course, copies of Jazzmen, The H.R.S. Society Rag, and the few other jazz books and magazines that were then available. The complete Commodore catalog has already been reissued in three mammoth LP sets by Mosaic, and the present collection represents their efforts on behalf of H.R.S.

After the dissolution of H.R.S., many of the sessions appeared on such LP labels as Riverside and Atlantic, as well as a slew of European bootlegs, but these repressings uniformly suffered from distortion, crackle, over modulation, and limited frequency reproduction, thereby making a less than favorable impression on listeners who had never heard the original 78s.

First reissued on muddy sounding, low-fi Riversides, selected titles were later picked up and "stereo-enhanced" for budget-priced marketing in department stores, supermarkets, and drug stores by even less conscientious labels.

Mosaic, however, has corrected all of these technical problems by having such top-rate remastering engineers as Malcolm Addey, Jack Towers, John R.T. Davies, and others go back to the source recordings and start from scratch, so to speak. The result is a reissue set that recaptures the warm, spacious sound of the originals at the same time as virtually eliminating the surface noise that plagued so many shellac recordings in the 1940s.

H.R.S. recorded 124 performances in 25 sessions between August 1938 and September 1947, and this set includes them all, even the eleven alternate takes that Smith never released. Musically, they run the gamut from the classic Chicago cum New Orleans jazz Pee Wee Russell's Rhythmmakers and The Bechet-Spanier Big Four, through small and big band swing, to the burgeoning modern touches of early bop. Russell's eight-piece jam combo with Max Kaminsky, Dickie Wells, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton opens the set with six band tracks, including two alternate takes, and a majestic coupling by the clarinet/piano/drums trio of Pee Wee, James P., and Zutty. This is classic Pee Wee and should not be missed.

On an equal if not superior level of achievement are the ten 1940 tracks, inclusive of two alternates, by a quartet composed of soprano saxist/clarinetist Sidney Bechet, cornetist Muggsy Spanier, guitarist Carmen Mastren, and bassist Wellman Braud, who had also appeared on the Russell session. Using a handful of time-honored classics, Sidney and Muggsy join their ideally contrasted horns, one broad-toned and sweeping and the other concise and pungent, to produce yet one more example of the many textural varieties inherent in chamber jazz.

The next two sessions were also recorded in 1940 and feature stellar personnels under the leadership of Rex Stewart and Jack Teagarden, with featured soloists including Lawrence Brown, Barney Bigard, Ben Webster, and Billy Kyle. The widely esteemed Dave Tough is the drummer on both. As with the two preceding groups, an equally extended commentary could be made about the excellences of those closely related dates. Between them, they only produced eight titles, but they are virtually all winners.

Because of several already well-known factors, no commercial recordings were made by any label between August 1942 and late 1944, so H.R.S. did not resurface until 1945, when Smith recorded two sessions by a big band under the direction of Ellington-influenced guitarist/arranger Brick Fleagle; an excellent combo date by trombonist Sandy Williams featuring trumpeter Joe Thomas, Johnny Hodges, and Harry Carney; and a single coupling by trombonist J.D. Higginbotham with trumpeter Sidney DeParis and altoist Tab Smith. In light of the then common contractual practice-the production of at least four masters per each three-hour recording session-the absence of two titles poses a question as to the fate of these never listed, presumably flawed performances. (Assuming that all eight musicians were paid union scale for the four-tune date, then the cost for the rejected performances, including studio time, had to be assumed by Smith, no insignificant matter for an independent in those days.)

In 1946, with wartime shortages no longer a major problem, Steve Smith went on to record scads of fruitful combo dates, all of which centered around the mainstream jazzmen currently based in New York. The leaders of these invariably well-conceived and rehearsed sessions were arranger/pianist Jimmy Jones, Joe Thomas, Harry Carney, Dicky Wells, Sandy Williams, Buck Clayton (in a softly winging Kansas City-tinged quartet with Pres-like clarinetist Scoville Brown and guitarist Tiny Grimes), Trummy Young, Billy Kyle, Russell Procope, Brick Fleagle (this time with a quintet fronted by Rex Stewart), pianist Billy Taylor, Stewart once again with his own quartet, and bassist Billy Taylor (no relation to the pianist). Outstanding soloists not already mentioned include trumpeters Pee Wee Erwin and Dick Vance, clarinetist Buster Bailey, altomen Lem Davis and George Johnson, and tenormen John Hardee and Budd Johnson, who is especially forward looking on his quartet date with Jimmy Jones.

Mosaic has arranged this set so as to present almost all of the combo dates in chronological sequence, while reserving Brick Fleagle's uncharacteristic big band offerings for the final disc. One price paid for this admirable decision is the inclusion here of Fleagle's quintet date with Rex, but it is an understandable compromise.

Along with Mosaic's customarily complete discographical listings, Dan Morgenstern's well-researched background notes and session-by-session analysis will provide all of the many details of performance that this brief coverage cannot.”

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fried Bananas - Dexter Gordon with Rein de Graaff, Henk Haverhoek and Eric Ineke

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


My first tour with Dexter was in September 1972 with the Rein de Graaff Trio lasting about 6 weeks. It was organized by Wim Wigt and it took us through Holland, Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg and France. I remember that after the concert in Luxembourg, we went back to the hotel in the middle of the night and the hotel was closed. We were ringing the bell and started yelling. Finally somebody opened a window and Dexter started screaming at the guy 'Open up you mo*****f***ers, I am Dexter Gordon and I am THE tenor player'. So after a while we got in and I think we woke up a lot of customers!

A double LP was released from a live concert in The Hague. Sometimes we were using different piano players due to Rein's job in the Philips wholesale business.

I really had to get used to Dexter s laid back phrasing. You had to stay on top of the beat, a great learning experience. His solos had a lot of quotes and he was really stretching out, they were really long. Sometimes it felt like a simplified Trane. He always played Body and Soul in that same medium slow tempo. He always knew the lyrics of the ballads and always recited them in his announcements.”
- Eric Ineke, Eric Ineke: The Ultimate Sideman in Conversation with Dave Liebman

Imagine, if you will, being a young Jazz musician living in Holland, where your primary exposure to the post World War II Jazz scene in America is via recordings or the occasional concert or local club appearance by one of the Jazz musicians you’ve long admired..

Your skills as a player have evolved over a decade or more since you first fell in love with the music as a teenager to the point where you can more than hold your own with other Jazz musicians with whom you perform in The Netherlands.

There’s enough work in the Jazz clubs in Den Haag or in Amsterdam or in Rotterdam, so you get to play Jazz on a regular basis, although more than likely, as is the case with many Jazz musicians who haven’t achieve international acclaim, you probably hold down a day gig to pay the rent and take care of your family.

Maybe if you are a pianist or a bassist or a drummer, you come together often enough to form a tight knit rhythm section and to work fairly regularly as a piano-bass-drums trio.

As you come into your own as a rhythm unit, you begin to notice that you are getting regular calls by promoters or nightclub owners to work with American Jazz musicians who are touring Europe.

With the passage of time, you also notice another trend as a result of a dynamic that the Jazz musician and writer Mike Zwerin described as a time when “Jazz went to Europe to live.”

Pushed out by the burgeoning Rock ‘n Roll and Folk Music phenomenons that swept the youth in the USA of the 1960s,  American Jazz musicians were becoming expatriates and settling in Europe where the music still had a fan base.

So now instead of the occasional gig with the likes of tenor saxophonist Don Byas who settled in France or trumpeter Benny Bailey who settled in Sweden or alto saxophonist Herb Geller who settled in Germany, you become part of their touring band whenever they make it to Holland.

One day you're listening to them on records and the next you’re making a gig with them at Nick’s Cafe in Laren, The Netherlands!

Here’s another variation of this scenario as told by Maxine Gordon, the widow of the iconic tenor saxophonist, Dexter Gordon, as it applies to Dutch Jazz pianist Rein de Graaff, bassist Henk Haverhoek and drummer Eric Ineke.

The story is told as liner notes - no, not insert notes, liner notes on the back of a 12” LP that Gearbox Records issued in 2016 as Dexter Gordon: Fried Bananas - Live 1972 Heemskerk Societiet Progress, Holland [GB 1535] and if you are a fan of Dexter’s music you can find order information at www.gearboxrecords.com.

“Dexter Gordon had been living in Europe since 1962 and had settled in Copenhagen by 1972 when he went on tour with the Dutch rhythm section of Rein de Graaff, piano; Henk Haverhoek, bass and Eric Ineke, drums. When Dexter arrived in London in 1962 to play at Ronnie Scott's Club, he had no plans to remain in Europe as long as he did. As he liked to say, "I came for one gig in London and when I looked up it was 14 years later.”

Dexter eventually settled in Copenhagen. He rode a bicycle, bought a house, got married, had a son Benjie named in honor of Ben Webster and performed for months at a time at Jazzhus Montmartre. But he didn't stay exclusively in Denmark.

He traveled to France, to Germany, to Italy, to Spain, to Portugal, to Luxembourg, to Belgium, to Austria, to Switzerland, to Sweden, to Norway, to Finland and very often to Holland. There was a booking agent in Wageningen, Holland named Wim Wigt who could find a gig for Dexter and his Dutch band in the smallest venues and towns and villages in the country and neighboring countries as well.

Normally when Dexter toured in Europe it was as a solo musician picking up local rhythm sections in each city along the way. But in Holland, he had a "working band". On October 12,1972, Dexter wrote to friends in Copenhagen from Liege, Belgium. He writes: "Dear Folks, this is 'den gamle rejsemusiker' [the old traveling musician] letting the folks back home know that I'm ok and am defending the colors! This tour is quite fantastic; we are traveling through Holland, Germany, Luxembourg, Beige and France! It's six weeks no, seven weeks and I'm getting rich! Anyway, it's very well organized and seems to be a success. For the most part I'm working with the same group... Hope everything is in order. Love, Absalon (Gordonsen)".

In the Netherlands, Wim Wigt managed to find gigs in Hilversum, Leiden, Veendam, Venlo, Zwolle, Den Haag, Heemskerk, Amsterdam, De Woude, Rotterdam, and Eschede. When Dexter would tell people about all the towns he had played in during his time in Holland, they were incredulous. He would tell them that there were jazz lovers in all these places in a country the size of the state of Maryland.

When a band travels together and has meals together and works this often, they get to know each other in a very special way. They know their habits and moods and they learn to play together when they have this rare opportunity to be in such close proximity for these weeks. The music improves every night and with Dexter, we can be sure that he found a way to communicate what he expected from the rhythm section. Dexter had a particular idea of what he wanted to hear and if he wasn't comfortable with the band, he would definitely let them know. Dexter had very kinds words about his "Dutch band", how serious they were about the music and how much they cared about the musicians from the States who came to Europe to play.

Eric Ineke spoke about Dexter in an interview in 2014 in Amsterdam. "With Dexter, I had communication right away. Dexter had a way of telling you things in a very nice way. In the car, when we were driving, he'd say, 'Eric, can you...' He thought that if he told me some things to do in the music, it would get even better.

I remember all of one thing that happened right on stage. It was in Germany and we were playing a ballad. I got out the brushes, but I used to have my brushes a little smaller for fast playing, it was easier than the other way. So I played a ballad. And Dexter was doing this thing with his ear like he couldn't hear me! And he was looking at my brushes, and he said, on stage, 'Eric! Open up those mo****f***ers! (laughter) When Eric Ineke talks about the time with Dexter, he remembers many things Dexter said to him and he smiles at the memories of those days.

In an interview with pianist Rein de Graaff in 2014, he recalled the tour with Dexter fondly and remembered the first time he heard Dexter and the impact it had on him. "I was in the Army and I found out, late at night, at midnight, that Dexter Gordon was on the radio, a live broadcast from Utrecht from a jazz club with a Dutch rhythm section. Everybody was asleep in the barracks so I went in this place where the showers were. I had a little portable radio and I heard him and it was the most unbelievable stuff that I had ever heard. I was always telling people about this radio show. That was 1963 and I said 'I want to play with this man.' About ten years later, I got to go on tour with him. I will never forget that.”

"One day in 1972, Wim Wigt called me and said, 'Do you want to go on tour with Dexter Gordon? It's going to last about three months, not every day, mostly Holland and Belgium and a little bit of Germany near the border, but actually every weekend, maybe one gig in a week, two gigs in the week', but it lasted for two months, and we were playing, playing, playing, playing... We learned a lot from him because he knew all the tools, he knew all the dramatic things about balance, he taught me that it's a balance of sweet and bittersweet, he taught me the lyrics to 'You've Changed'. Most of the time when we played with him, Dexter stayed at my house. My wife and I had been married for maybe two years then. We lived in Veendam. Everybody in the town knew Dexter and he knew them. The kids would say, 'Hi, Dex' when he walked in town.”

The recording of Dexter Gordon with this trio was made on November 3,1972 at Heemskerk Societeit Progress, The Netherlands. The band played two of Dexter's signature compositions, "The Panther" and "Fried Bananas" plus the iconic "Body and Soul". Dexter often said that every tenor player must know "Body and Soul" and he loved to perform it with his own interpretation which was quite a bit different from the Coleman Hawkins classic.

I am sure Dexter would be very pleased to have this recording released for the world to hear his "Dutch band" and know that his time in Europe was enjoyable musically and personally. The fact that he stayed at the home of the pianist and travelled with these marvellous musicians gives us insight into his way of living and being. Dexter loved going to new places and was a world traveler at heart. With his group, he surely was able to see most of The Netherlands and the audiences were so enthusiastic and loved the music. When he returned to the States in 1976, he often talked about all the little towns he had played in and how people treated him with respect and kindness.

We are grateful to Rein, Eric, and Henk for supporting Dexter and remembering him in such a meaningful manner. We are also grateful to Darrel Sheinman for finding this recording and releasing it on his marvellous Gearbox label.

Please visit us at www.dextergordon.org and www.dextergordon.com and support our work for The Dexter Gordon Society to continue the legacy of Dexter.

Thank you - Maxine Gordon”

Mastered by Barrel Sheinman and Caspar Sutton-Jones at Gearbox Records from the original master tapes courtesy of VPRO.

Cut on Haeco Scully lathe with Westrex RA1700 series amps, Westrex 3DIIA cutting head and Telefunken U73B tube limiter; Maselec master control and Decca valve equalisation, monitored on Audio Note equipment.

Photographs courtesy of Erik Ineke

Thanks to Flora Vailenduuk at VPRO

Sleeve design: Alan Foulkes

Copyright 2016 Gearbox Records

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Harry "Sweets" Edison - The Barbara Gardner Interview

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

“Bravo, Barbara!
I want to congratulate Barbara Gardner for the splendid work she's done on articles interviewing jazz vocalists. So far I've read articles about Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Nancy Wilson, and Joe Williams, and all of them were great.

Miss Gardner is a sensitive, engrossing writer, with a beautiful fund of wittiness and charm and humor. I hope in the future, she will continue to write inspiring, warm-hearted articles on vocalists as she has so beautifully done in the past.
Roy E. Lott
St. Louis, Mo.”
- Chords and Discords, January 28, 1965, Down Beat

The following interview appeared in the January 28, 1965 edition of Down Beat and while it does not involve a vocalist, it does involve Barbara’s assured and eloquent way of putting the person she is interviewing at ease which allows for a flowing almost conversational style of interviewing.

It’s always a pleasure to feature Barbara’s work on JazzProfiles most particularly in this case because the editorial staff has wanted to do a piece on Sweets Edison for some time, but couldn’t seem to find a vehicle that would do him justice.

Following Barbara’s interview, you’ll find a video montage that features Harry Edison’s quartet with Arnold Ross on piano, Joe Comfort on bass and Alvin Stoller on drums. The group was formed to work the Tuesday night sessions at The Haig, which for a time, was the busiest Jazz club in Hollywood. The music on the video is from a Pacific Jazz LP entitled ‘Sweets’ at The Haig: The Harry Edison Quartet [PJLP - 4] which was recorded in 1953 on portable Ampex equipment [which accounts for the poor audio quality; you may have to crank up you speakers].

“THE "IN" MAN of the time was the President of the tenor saxophone, Lester  Young.   He  watched and listened to the 21-year-old musician.

"We're going to call you Sweetie-Pie," said the president jokingly to the talented, but young, trumpet player.

In a few months the nickname had been shortened to Sweets, and from that time until now, the given name, Harold Edison, seldom has been heard.

The name Sweets has stuck, as has the purity and clarity of his trumpet tone, unimpaired since the day he joined Young and other leading jazzmen in the Count Basie Band in 1937. The more than 20 years intervening have been marked by a surprisingly even level of acceptance and security. He remained almost without interruption with Basie until the 1950 collapse of the big band. For the-next few years, he toured the country, either as a single or as a star attraction with such performers as bandleader-drummer Buddy Rich and entertainer Josephine Baker.

In 1953 he decided to make a stand on the West Coast. This was a courageous decision, for the West Coast then was riding the crest of the "cool" movement. Modernists and experimentalists were setting the tone, and it was a tribute to Edison's ability as a musician that he, a swing-era trumpeter, was able to survive in this environment.

In fact, he actually prospered and came to enjoy an economically sound footing not easily found in jazz. For the next five years he was the master "soul bearer" of the West Coast. Frank Sinatra never recorded without him. Nelson Riddle's trumpet section swelled with his stinging, swinging horn. The movies Man with the Golden Arm, Pal Joey, Joker Is Wild, House Boat, The Girl Most Likely all boast the steady, lyric trumpet of Sweets Edison on the soundtrack. He was on first call at two of Hollywood's major film studios.

In September, 1958, Edison put the West Coast cushion of financial security and musical acceptance behind him and moved east to resume the unstable, roving life he had led for 15 years — that of a traveling musician.

"I think anybody used to traveling — they get that urge, you know?" he said. "Just want to get on the road — see some of your old friends."

When he formed his own quintet, he found that traveling the nightclub scene was not without change. The first twang of unfamiliarity he heard was in the ever-changing, driving Basie band sound.

"Different band . . .," Edison murmured. "Different band altogether. The band Basie has today is more rehearsed. They don't have the soloists like he had in the old band: Lester Young — the president of the modern style — Hershel Evans, Jo Jones, Buck Clayton — all these guys were the epitome of their profession. There were none greater in those days."

It is interesting that while he makes this statement as unequivocally today as he did in 1958, the personnel of the Basie band has undergone numerous changes in the last six years and more than 75 percent of current Basie-ites have joined the band in the last three years. In singling out individual members, Edison pays special attention to one trumpet player who left the band a few years ago and who has been hailed repeatedly as an Edison disciple.

"I liked Joe Newman with that band," Edison said. "I like him very much. Now, about any influence I might have had on the younger guys. ... I guess Joe Newman plays more like myself than anybody. Of course, we played together for quite some time in Basie's band. He's a good trumpet player. He might use a few things I use, but he's got his own style."

Newman, told of this remark, smiled and shrugged expressively.

"Sweets was a great influence on me musically," Newman admitted. "I listened to him while I was growing up—musically. But now, I just play like myself, I think."

THE TENDENCY to disclaim emulation in music goes perhaps as far back as the tendency to accuse itself. Edison is included. Every leading critic or writer who has attempted to analyze his work has come up with the assertion that in the early days of his career Edison was a Roy Eldridge emulator. Edison has his own thoughts on this:

"I never tried to emulate him. He adapted himself to playing in the high register of his horn — this I never do. I usually play in the bottom register of my horn, which may be poor, but I try."

Eldridge is not listed among his current favorite trumpet players.

"Miles is a good trumpet player," Edison said. "I like him very much. He has a good style — a very relaxed style. I like Dizzy Gillespie, who I think is just — well, he's just marvelous on his horn. And, naturally, Louis Armstrong to me is the daddy of all the trumpet players because if it hadn't been for him, I don't think we'd have known what the trumpet would have been all about."

Edison looks paternally on the younger generation of musicians.

"The younger musicians are not like the older generation, naturally," he said. "Discipline is one thing most of them don't have nowadays. Like anything else—in other areas besides music — the young people don't have that discipline. Even in school, they're not like we used to be. But some people — the worse they act, the more publicity they get. And some others, the better they act, they never get any. So who knows? Who's to say who's right and who's wrong? You never know."

As a successful transitional trumpeter, Edison is sensitive to the various attempts to categorize jazz.

"They keep saying 'mainstream jazz' and 'progressive jazz,' but I think music is music," he declared. "All these names are just new names for music. If it sounds good, and if it is good, then it's just music."

He is not bothered by the various tags and names, and the trend to change the name of the music from jazz to "modern music" or "progressive sounds" has no validity for him.

"I can't find another name for jazz — no more than just good music," he said.

As for his own style, Edison states it simply:

"I like to play on the beat. I like to swing. Anything I play, I like to play at a tempo that's not going to drag people — it's not going to drag myself. I think it should be danceable, and to play something danceable, you have to stomp it off at a dance tempo."

A bit of the subtle Edison wit was discernible in his comment on a critic's remark that he plays occasional cascades of notes.

"Umm . . . 'cascade,' " he mused. "I've never run across that word musically. . . .
But evidently, the writer must have had something in mind. They're always bringing up new words for music, maybe that's a new one. As long as it was favorable, I hope he — whoever wrote it — I hope he enjoyed it."

THE GOOD OL' DAYS bear resplendent memories for Edison, and he still clings tenaciously to thoughts of the period when he was surrounded by undisputed giants of his profession.

"We had more fun then than they do nowadays," he reflected. "Well, it has to do with the taxes. You have to make so much money now to exist. In those days you could make a little money and live like a king. If you made $2 a night, that would last you two or three days. Now, $2 won't even buy you cigarettes for a day."

Did Edison ever actually work for $2 a night? He threw back his head, clapped his hands, and exclaimed:

"Are you kidding? Two dollars a day was big money— that was room rent and food for a week."

While most musicians have preferences in types of music or places to play, Edison regards these preferences only as other whims of the pampered generation.

"If they were playing from 9 to 4," he said, "they would say, 'Certainly would like to get some concerts— get something easy for a change.' Then when they play concerts, they say they are not getting a chance to play. So I just say if you play any place, you're blessed — with so many musicians out of work."

His personal experience with unemployment has been mostly quite brief. He joined forces with singer Joe Williams for a while but then left to drift around New York and points east as a single or a recording artist. Finally, he returned to the West Coast to settle into the same groove he was in before he went east in 1958. He works the studio jobs, some club dates, flits across the country on special assignments for the major labels or studios.

Having spent so much time as a favored musician in an environment conducive to democratic living, Edison has developed a balanced, middle-class attitude toward Jim Crow and its opposite, Crow Jim.

"Well, I really don't like to talk about the race question," he said, his soft, rather gravelly voice dropping. "Because I really don't have any qualms about it at all. I think a person is a person."

Discarding the Crow Jim premise that only Negroes can truly play jazz, he continued:

"God made us all the same — so if one man's got a soul, then why shouldn't another person have one?"

He thought the matter over a second and concluded, "We've [Negroes] had more misery than anybody else, so naturally we play the blues better than anybody.
That's typical race music. That comes from being sad. You have money today — tomorrow you might get put out. That's all in your music."”