Saturday, December 31, 2011

Robert Farnon: An Arranger’s Arranger

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

“[Although a Canadian who spent most of his professional career in England following a posting there during WW II,] Robert Farnon’s influence as an arranger has been strongly felt in the USA. Quincy Jones, Johnny Mandel, Henry Mancini, Marian Evans, Marty Paich and Neal Hefti are some of the top writers who aren’t ashamed to admit occasionally having ‘borrowed’ some of his ideas.”
- David Aides, English writer and music critic

“… I had never heard anything like this. The harmony was exquisite, fresh and adventurous; and if I could not analyze the voice leading I could certainly hear it. It was startling stuff, and I got my hands on as much of it as I could. Forty and more years later, I still have the London LPs I acquired at that time.”
- Gene Lees, Jazz author and critic

“I wanted to enhance the popular song. When I do an arrangement of a popular song, I like to put some thought into it, not just dish it up in two choruses. Make it into a piece of music, a composition, tell a story.”
- Robert Farnon

"I look at Bob as a composer who is an arranger, His mastery of music is almost total. The lines that he writes! His music is extraordinarily linear. Gil Evans wrote that way. The individual parts are wonderful to play. They make incredible sense.

What really attracted me initially were the arrangements. All the arrangers love his harmony. But his harmony is derived from linear writing. The way he would realize these things for orchestra was just extraordinary. And of course we all know about the string writing. Everybody has commented on it.”
- Jeffrey Sultanof, Jazz composer-arranger, educator

As a young boy, I was a big fan of pirate movies.

My Dad was always taking me to see them at The Strand, The Majestic, The RKO Albee, The Loew’s State and other less, palatial theaters in Providence RI, where I grew up.

My all-time favorite buccaneer flick was The Crimson Pirate which starred the incredibly acrobatic, Burt Lancaster.

On more than one occasion, I almost killed myself trying to duplicate some of the Crimson Pirate’s stunts using the roof tops of three-storied, tenement buildings in place of the rigging on the three masts of a barkentine.

Another seafaring adventure film that made a indelible impression on me was Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N. which starred Gregory Peck. The movie was set during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century and Peck’s character was loosely based on Lord Nelson, who commanded the British fleet during a number of its epic battles against the navies of Napoleon and his allies.

But, what struck me most about this film was not the gymnastic gyrations of its hero [Peck was no Lancaster], but rather, the beauty and grandeur of the film’s music.

The film’s score contained music that was the aural counterpart of the many breathtakingly beautiful Technicolor images that made up the film.

The Technicolor Company’s movie film was so densely rich and bright in color that I always wished that I could put a spoon into it to see what would come out. It was the first time I ever felt that way about a film score, too.

I had no idea who composed the music to Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N. until many years later.

Once I learned the film’s score was written by Robert Farnon, it seemed that whenever I encountered his name after that, it was always followed by expressions of deep and abiding admiration.

Gene Lees once observed about Farnon:

“The reverence in which Farnon is held by arrangers and other musicians, not to mention singers, is unlimited. They have long referred to him as the Governor, or just the Guv, and I heard one arranger say in a radio interview, "He is God."

When someone unfamiliar with Farnon's music asked Rob McConnell who he was, Rob said, ‘He is the greatest arranger in the world.’

Andre Previn long ago called Bob ‘the world's greatest string writer.’ Andre told me once that when John (then Johnny) Williams was a young studio pianist in Los Angeles, he asked a question about string writing. Andre gave him a Farnon album, telling him to take it home and listen to it. Late that night, Johnny called him back to ask what the hell Farnon was doing at such-and-such point in one of the tunes. Andre said, ‘I don't know, but if you figure it out, call me back.’”

Johnny Mandel, one of the most brilliant composers and arrangers jazz has produced, said:

"Most of what I know is based on having stolen everything I could from Farnon. I'll say that right off. I've listened to him and tried to approximate what I thought he was doing. He made strings sound like they always should have and never did. Everybody wrote them skinny. He knew how to write them so that it could wrench at you. I'd never heard anybody like him before and I've never heard anybody like him since. We're all pale imitations of him, those of us who are influenced by him."

Another great admirer of Robert Farnon’s work was Marion Evans, a highly regarded studio arranger who was particularly admired for his use of strings in albums by vocalists Steve Lawrence, Edie Gorme and Tony Bennett.

Marion was unapologetic in his admiration [and replication] of Farnon’s approach whose influence he further disseminated as explained in the following excerpt from by Gene Lees in his chapter on Farnon from his book entitled Arranging the Score: Portraits of the Great Arrangers:

“Further disseminating the Farnon influence, Marion founded an informal school for arrangers in his cluttered apartment on West 49th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

Marion denies that it was ever a school, and in any case he refused payment from his students. ‘I'd get drunk and we'd talk about music,’ he said. He imposed two strict disciplines on his students: they had to study thoroughly the composition and harmony books of Percy Goetschius and the records of Bob Farnon. Through that ‘school’ passed Patrick Williams, J.J. Johnson, Torrie Zito, Jack Cortner, and Nick Perito, and you can hear the Farnon influence in the writing of all of them.

Nor was Marion the only arranger to use the Farnon albums as teaching material. "We all used them for that purpose," [noted composer-arranger] Ralph Burns said.”

Marion's evaluation of Farnon: "He just simply is the best," he said.

‘He's a rare combination. Every once in a while, by some biological meeting, some cross-fertilization, we produce an Albert Einstein. We produce somebody who has the talent, the dedication, the training. Farnon had it all. And it was all in one place.

‘Plus, through no fault of his own, he found himself in an incredible position in London, where he was standing in front of a large orchestra every day and writing. You do that for a while and you learn. And that's doing it the hard way.

‘He had that rare combination of everything. He is exceptional by every standard.

I think it's not really kosher to analyze Bob in a highly technical manner. It doesn't begin to touch the depth of his talent. Bob has enormous technique, but his talent far exceeds his technique, and so did Mozart's. And that is precisely what you want. Anyone can learn as much technique as Bob Farnon has by going to music school. But they don't have that extra edge.

‘Mozart didn't write masterpieces all the time. He sat down and kept writing and let it flow. Bob has a lot of that in him. He's fast. He is one of the fastest writers I've ever known. He just does it, and that's it. He doesn't labor over it. When it's good, it's fantastic.’” [excerpts from pp. 63-64]

I guess there was a reason why I was so impressed with Robert Farnon’s music the first time I ever heard it.

And it looks like I was in good company.

To give you a sampling of what’s on offer with Robert Farnon, here is an audio track of his beautifully orchestra theme from the movie Laura followed by an audio track of the music that first introduced me to his music: Lady Barbara’s Theme from Horatio Hornblower, R.N.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bernie Senensky – Jazz Pianist

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

“I could just sit and listen to Bernie Senensky play all day.”

Like the late Bill Evans, so could I.

Bernie was also a favorite of the late alto saxophonist, Art Pepper.

According to Hal Hill, a Canadian broadcaster who booked Art into Bourbon Street in Toronto, CA and paired him when Bernie on piano for a week-long gig:

“I have many happy memories of being asked to pick a rhythm section for Art Pepper for an engagement at the now defunct night club 'Bourbon Street' in Toronto. You can imagine Art's delight at having such an ac­complished pianist to work with, someone who molded his ideas so well with Art's music. That was a week of sheer enjoyment, night after night, set after set.

When Art went on to New York at the end of the gig he phoned me to see if I could get Bernie to join him. Bernie, unfortunately, was not availa­ble due in part to his loyalty to a group he had started to work with on a regular basis in Toronto. Those sessions on Contemporary Records, Live At The Village Vanguard (1972) could have been with Bernie as pianist in­stead of George Cables.”

Bernie’s style just sparkles with a lightness and playfulness that makes his solos so easy and fun to listen to. You don’t have to reach for anything; it’s there.

He composes many of the tunes he records, but here again, as is the case with Lolito’s Theme which forms the audio track for the video feature to Bernie which you can locate at the end of this piece, his music is easily accessible.

Nothing tortuously introverted, but rather, music that becomes the basis for straightforward and melodious solo interpretation and a certain gentleness of expression in the tunes he writes as ballads.  To paraphrase Hal Hill, each tune he writes “… has a richness of detail that allows for the fact that we hear things differently.”

Many of Bernie’s recordings are available in digital formats as CO’s and Mp3 downloads.

Here are some background notes about Bernie’s considerable career in the World of Jazz.

© -  Canadian Jazz Archives, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“BERNARD (BERNIE) SENENSKY (pianist, composer) was born December 31, 1944 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Recognized as one of Canada’s premier jazz artists and one of the foremost jazz accompanists in the world, Senensky’s playing and his music have been featured in jazz festivals internationally. Since 1975, he has released eight albums, two of which were nominated for Juno Awards.

Senensky began playing piano at the age of eight, settling into his interest in jazz when he was 14, studying with Winnipeg jazz eminence Bob Erlendson. He began sitting in with local Winnipeg groups which included guitarist Lenny Breau and bassist Dave Young, eventually taking his considerable talent to Edmonton.

His work leading a house band with the Holiday Inn Hotel chain eventually took him to Toronto where he took up residence in 1968, quickly establishing himself as an accompanist playing for and with a wide variety of visiting musicians including Pepper Adams, Chet Baker, Ed Bickert, Terence Blanchard, Ruby Braff, Randy Brecker, Al Cohn, George Coleman, Buddy DeFranco, Herb Ellis, Art Farmer, Sonny Greenwich, Slide Hampton, Herbie Mann, Frank Morgan, Joe Pass, Art Pepper, Bucky Pizzarelli, Dizzy Reese, Red Rodney, Jack Sheldon, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Lew Tabackin, Clark Terry, Kenny Wheeler, Joe Williams, and Phil Woods.

He has recorded with dozens of the biggest names in the business, played in piano duets with Oscar Peterson and Marian McPartland, and performed with major name bands and ensembles including Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, the Elvin Jones Quartet, and the Herbie Mann/Al Grey All-Star Septet.

He formed his own trio in the early ‘70s, and began occupying the piano chair in The Moe Koffman Quintet in 1979 when the band was the number one small jazz combo in Canada. He had played with Moe on occasion prior to that and “was always impressed with his utter musicality and his complete mastery of the flute, alto, and soprano saxophones”. As part of The Moe Koffman Quintet, Senensky ultimately had the opportunity to contribute many of his own compositions to the band’s repertoire for more than 20 years, and continues to keep the memory and the music of Moe Koffman alive today as leader of his Tribute to Moe Koffman Band."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Carmen McRae – A Grande Dame of Jazz

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

“There's always a tigerish feel to her best vocals - no woman has ever sung in the Jazz idiom with quite such beguiling surliness as McRae.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Carmen McRae is the true grande dame of jazz. Like so many of the best women Jazz singers, including her friends Shirley Horn and the late Sarah Vaughan, Carmen is an accomplished pianist. This means she not only has a feeling for harmony, she has true knowledge of it. Carmen always knows exactly what she is doing.

The term ‘Jazz singer’ is a dubious one, and Sarah Vaughan objected to it. It means many things to many people, including merely a style that entails a cer­tain indefinable jazz feeling. If it means anything specific, it surely denotes some­one who can improvise with the voice. In a well-made song, the intervals of the music bear a significant relationship to the natural inflections of the words, and to alter the melody compromises the mean­ing and diminishes the dramatic effect of the song as a whole. Unfortunately, that is exactly what all too many ‘Jazz singers’ do. Carmen is a spectacular exception. When she changes the melodic intervals, she somehow, mysteriously, deepens the song, increasing the impact of the words.”
- Gene Lees, Jazz writer and critic

“No singer since [Billie] Holiday had been more adept at singing behind the beat than McRae, or more skilled at shifting from an intimate conversational delivery to hard-edged reconfigurations of melody and lyric.”
- Ted Gioia, A History of Jazz

“No singer was more stubbornly verbal than Carmen McRae, who inflected words as though she were giving them a tongue-lashing. McRae was famously outspoken and her songs had a similarly tart ap­peal. You didn't necessarily turn to her for profane insight into the song­writer's art, but you occasionally got it anyway. This is especially true of the numerous [Billie] Holiday tunes she covered.

If Holiday made the word ‘love’ shimmer with unrequited longing, McRae cast it in caustic languor. Consider her 1965 live recording of "No More": Holiday sang the line, ‘you ain't gonna bother me no more no how,’ as if trying to key up her resolve; McRae phrased those words as if she had a gun in her purse.
- Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz [paragraphing modified]

There was noting quite like hearing Carmen McRae sing, especially in-person.

To my ears, she was the epitome of a song stylist, but watching her style a song was a captivating and beguiling experience. I told her once that she was my “witchy woman,” to which she laughingly replied: “Be careful, or I’ll put a spell on you.”

Of course, she knew. She already had.

And it wasn’t only me. Carmen had a way of enchanting anyone who ever caught her in performance.

The reason was simple. She loved singing Jazz and she was good at it. She knew it, the musicians who backed her knew it and we knew it.  And if you were in her presence while she doing her thing, you knew that you were in for the thrill of your life.

What Carmen served up during her performances was akin to a musical feast: phrasing lyrics with meaning and understanding; picking tempos that were always just right; scatting – just enough – while employing the cleverest of harmonies; and just when you thought that you didn’t have room for dessert, she’d offered up a stomping version of “I Cried for You” or “Three Little Words” and leave you screaming for more.

I always sensed a great sadness in Carmen, too. The weightiness and gravity with which she handled certain ballads bespoke of a life with its share of disappointments.

She was nobody’s fool, but few of us go through life without some emotional bumps and bruises and it appeared to me that Carmen had had her share of these, including some personal relationships that didn’t work out.

It was easy to catch the sense of this if you listened closely to her banter between tunes or observed her knowing facial or lyrical expressions when she sang romantic ballads.

Carmen brought the Jazz musician’s life to her music,  a life which was never an easy one, even during the best of times.

I loved seeing her work at a club whether it was at Sugar Hill in San Francisco, or P.J.’s  on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood or at Donte’s Jazz Club in North Hollywood, CA.

Can you imagine a rhythm section made up of Joe Pass on guitar, Jimmy Rowles on piano, Chuck Domanico on bass and Chuck Flores on drums backing Carmen at an intimate Jazz club located only a 10-minute drive from my home?

Welcome to my world in 1972 when Carmen worked a week at Donte’s.

The room was loaded with musicians during her appearance and Carmen was always gracious about visiting with as many of them as possible during the breaks between sets.

With her signature – “Hey baby, what’s happening?” – she come up to your table and there would be hugs and giggles all around.

She was a queen who deserved to be an empress. Those of us who understood this treated her royally and gave her the respect that she merited.

In return, she bestowed upon us a treasure chest filled with rendition after rendition of great vocal Jazz.

Thankfully, much of her gift has been saved on recordings.

While I’m grateful for the recorded legacy of her music, there was nothing quite like watching her weave her special charms into a song while sitting three feet away from her in a Jazz club.

When you were around Carmen, "baby," it was always “happening.”

We put together the following video tribute to her with the help of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD.  It features Carmen singing Let There Be Love accompanied by Norman Simmons on piano, Victor Sproles on bass and Stu Martin on drums.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Future Features on Jazz Profiles

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles is moving as quickly as it can to bring you more about the future features described in the sidebar and asks you to bear with us in this regard as the holidays are upon us.

Thank you for your patience.

Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bob Brookmeyer: A Musician of Humor, Honesty and Humility

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

“Almost the first sounds to be heard on the classic Jazz on a Sum­mer's Day soundtrack are the mellow tones of Bob Brookmeyer's valve trombone interweaving with Jimmy Giuffre's clarinet on The Train And The River. It's a curiously formal sound, almost academic, and initially difficult to place. Valve trombone has a more clipped, drier sound than the slide variety, and Brookmeyer is probably its leading exponent, though Maynard Ferguson, Stu Williamson and Bob Enevoldsen have all made effective use of it.”
- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Getting to the core could well be the Brookmeyer credo. As a jazz soloist and writer, Bob wastes litt­le energy on unnecessary curli­cues and affected sounds for the sake of an artificial eloquence... This is a signpost of basic musi­cal honesty. At the same time, Bob is dedicated to emotion and the investigation of every nuance beneath the surface of a selection. The result of this approach is a forceful personalized trans­mission of the emotional content of the musical material to the listening audience...”
- Burt Korall, Jazz writer and critic

“I've loved Bob's compositions and arrangements and his playing since the moment I first heard his music in the '70s.  It turned my life around.  Bob became a wonderful teacher, mentor and dear friend.  And he was enormously generous to those lucky enough to be his friend.”
- Maria Schneider, Jazz composer-arranger

“Bob has added an amazing amount to Jazz. He was in the thick of the New York scene in the 50s and 60s and even hung out at "The Loft." To the average listener he probably is not that we'll known. But to me he'll remain one of those fundamental sounds [of Jazz].”
- Dr. Ken Koenig, Jazz musician

“Wherever he goes Bob's bound to make further contributions and stir up emotions with his "thinking differently.’”
- Brian Hope, Jazz Fan

“Bob studied at the Kansas City Conservatory and origi­nally played piano; he took up the valve trombone when he was twenty-three, and almost immediately became a major figure in jazz.

Most of Bob's career has been in New York, working with almost every major jazzman there, but most significantly Clark Terry, with whom he co-led a quin­tet. His association with Mulligan contin­ued, and when Mulligan formed his concert band, Brookmeyer played in it along with Zoot Sims, Bill Crow, Mel Lewis, and Clark Terry, and did a great deal of its writing. The band's haunting arrangement of Django Reinhardt's "Manoir de mes reves" is Bob's.

Bob is a classic illustration of the dictum that jazzmen tend to play pretty much as they speak, which is perhaps inevitable in music that is so extensively improvisatory. He is low-key and quietly ironic in speech, and he plays that way.”
- Gene Lees

Bob Brookmeyer was born on December 19, 1929. He died on December 16, 2011, three days before what would have been his 82nd birthday.

I will miss his magnificent musicianship, both as an instrumentalist, he played both valve trombone and piano, and as a composer-arranger.

It seems that Bob has been a part of my Jazz scene ever since I can remember. Although he replaced trumpeter Chet Baker with Gerry Mulligan’s quartet in 1953, I first heard him a few years later on the Emarcy recordings made by Gerry’s sextet.

What a group: Gerry on baritone sax, Bob on valve trombone, joined on the “front line” by trumpeter Jon Eardley and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, with bassist Bill Crow and drummer Dave Bailey cooking along in the rhythm section.

What struck me most about Bob’s playing was its humor. Lighthearted and unexpected phrases just flowed in and out of his solos and he always seemed to swing, effortlessly.

Bob had fun with the music while not taking himself too seriously. I mean, anyone who names an original composition “Jive Hoot” must certainly smile a lot.

Bob knew what he was doing musically, but he never put on any airs about it.

He had great reverence and respect for those who came before him in the Jazz tradition and he even made it a point to “revisit” some of what he referred to as Jazz “traditionalism” in a few of the earliest recordings that he made as a leader.

Another of Bob’s virtues was his honesty and his directness. You never had to guess what he was thinking on subjects that were near-and-dear to his heart. In interview after interview, reading Bob’s stated opinions was akin to being “hit” by both barrels of a shotgun loaded with the truth-according-to-Brookmeyer.

If as Louis Armstrong once said, “Jazz is Who You Are,” then you always knew where Bob stood. Musically, his playing and his compositions radiated with candor and clarity; his big band arrangements, in particular, just sparkled with lucidity and precision. I would imagine that no one performing Bob’s music was ever in doubt as to what he wanted you to play.

Nothing was implied or suggested in his writing; he told you what he wanted you to play. For better or for worse, Bob just put it out there. No wonder he remained such close friends with Gerry Mulligan throughout his life.

As described above in the introductory quotation by Gene Lees, Bob was to work with many of the Jazz greats on the West Coast Jazz scene of the 1950’s and both the New York Jazz and studio worlds of the 1960’s. He returned to California in the 1970’s primarily to work in movie and television composing and did some small group gigging at Jazz festivals and concerts in the USA and abroad throughout the 1980’s.

Upon his return to New York in the 1980’s, Bob would also become “the de facto musical director for the orchestra that Mel Lewis led following the death of Thad Jones.”

In an interview he gave to Scott Yanow, Bob said: “Before my stay in California [1968-1978], I considered myself a player first and a writer second. … In addition to Gerry Mulligan’s writing, my big band arranging was inspired by Bill Finegan, Ralph Burns, Al Cohn, Eddie Sauter, Gil Evans, Bill Holman and George Russell.”

From 1991 up until his death, Bob spent much of his time in Northern Europe exploring new approaches to composing, arranging and orchestrating for some of the resident, larger orchestras in Holland and Germany, including his own New Art Orchestra which was based primarily in Cologne, Germany.

We hope this all-too-brief remembrance will serve in some small measure as our celebration of the musical life of Bob Brookmeyer.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stanley and Oliver

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

I wanted to spend a bit more time with tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine especially after listening to his work with arranger-composer Oliver Nelson on their 1965 Blue Note album entitled Joyride [CDP 7 46100 2]

"Oliver was a wonderful choice to work on this album with me." says Stanley. "I've known him personally for just a couple of years, but I knew of him by reputation, and from his records, for quite a while before that.

"What makes him valuable, among other things, is his consistency. He does a lot of recording, but whoever he happens to be dealing with, you can tell that he has figured out each individual's personal groove, and has written accordingly.

"That's what he did for me. and I couldn't have been happier with the ar­rangements. He did a superb job." [Stanley's quotation is excerpted from Leonard Feather's insert notes].

The tune is Oliver’s original A Kettle of Fish on which Herbie Hancock takes the piano solo and Grady Tate keeps things crackling on drums.

This thing swings so much you might want to be careful about too many sudden moves so as not to hurt yourself while grooving to it.

Just click on the "X" in the upper right-hand corner while viewing the video to close out of the ads, should they appear.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Blue Hour – Stanley Turrentine with The 3 Sounds

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

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles has plans to include more about tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine in a future feature about “the Texas Tenor style.”

“The Texas Tenor style” is defined by Ted Gioia in The History of Jazz as:

“A blues-drenched tenor sax style … characterized by honking’, shoutin’, riffin’, riding high on a single note or barking out a guttural howl.” [p. 341]

In fairness to Stanley, his allegiance to this style of playing tenor saxophone is a much more subtle one and has more to do with tone and phrasing than with the specific characteristics of the style as contained in Ted’s description of it.

No bar walkin’ or jumpin’ in the air and coming down doing the splits for Stanley.

Orrin Keepnews in his insert notes to James Clay’s Double Dose of Soul [Riverside RLP-9349/OJCCD-1790-2] states it this way:

“For Clay becomes the most recent addition to a long tradition of outstanding tenormen from the big state (among them: Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Budd Johnson, most of whom seem to share the same compelling Texas ‘moan’ in their tone).”

[For the record, although Stanley was born in Pittsburgh, PA, I still think of him as a “Texas” Tenorman and include him in this style of playing. His first influence on the horn was Illinois Jacquet].

Jerry Atkins in his magnificent treatment on the subject for The International Association of Jazz Record Collector’s IAJRC Journal [Vol. 33, No.2, Spring 2000] puts it more succinctly when he states:

“What is a Texas Tenor? In the world of Jazz, it’s a saxophonist born in or near the Lone Star State and playing with uniqueness in sound and ideas that many have tried to describe.”

Jerry includes in his essay on Texas Tenormen, Herschel Evans, Buddy Tate, Budd Johnson, Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, Don Wilkerson, Booker Ervin, John Hardee, James Clay, David ‘Fathead” Newman and Michael Ivery.

I first encountered Stanley Turrentine’s work on Blue Hour [Blue Note 24586/7243 5 24586 2 2] on which he is paired with The 3 Sounds [Gene Harris, piano, Andy Simpkins, bass and Bill Dowdy, drums].

We requested copyright permission from Ira Gitler, who prepared the original liner notes for the album when it was released in 1960 and from Michael Cuscuna who prepared its release on CD in 1999.

Following their annotations, you will find a video which contains a an audio track from this classic album.

If the one of the ideals of Jazz artists is the creation of an instantly identifiable sound, than one need to look no farther than Stanley Turrentine as the embodiment of this signature quality.

One note and you know it’s him.

© -  Ira Gitler, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“DO you remember Longfellow's Children's Hour? Well, this is the blue hour and it's not for children. The blue hour is that early morning time when you "reach across the pillow where your baby used to lay" (part of an accurate blues lyric once sung by Rubberlegs Williams) and fail to find her (or him) there. It is when the lonely automobile sounds from the street below, the reflection of the neons and the elongated shadows on the wall, all serve as reminders of the solitary state.

If there is one thing that simultaneously reiterates the painful facts and serves as balm for your bruised soul, it is music. Specifically, the blues are about the most powerful combination of purgative and emollient that there is.

Blues are like the people who create them, products of their environment. The blues in Blue Hour are not the raw, urgent, rural blues. Nevertheless, they are genuinely bluesy even if not cast in the usual 12-bar mold. They are representative of what is commonly known as the "blues ballad," blues or blues-inflected songs with a bridge.

This genre grew popular in the '40s, especially around the large cities. You heard it both in the repertoires of the big bands and the small combos.

Although the blues ballad has mainly been the property of vocalists, many of the melodies are so attractive that our modern jazzmen began to play them during the '50s. The best of this type of song has always contained the warmth of the blues coupled with romantic elements from the "popular" tune. Buddy Johnson's "Since I Fell For You" (sister Ella Johnson made this one especially convincing) is an excellent example.

"Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You" goes back to the 40s when some memorable versions of this Don Redman tune were done by Lips Page and Nat Cole. Old Count Basic fans will remember Jimmy Rushing's original vocal plea of "I Want A Little Girl."

While never thought of as a blues ballad, "Willow Weep For Me," qualifies by its strong blues feeling, even though it approaches the category from another direction than, say, the "Don't Cry Baby" that Jimmy Mitchelle did in the '40s with Erskine Hawkins.

The only 12-bar blues of the set is "Blue Riff" by Gene Harris. The tempo is a bit faster than any of the other slow-grooved selections but it is in the same relaxed mood.

No detailed explanation is needed to tell you about the treatment of these songs here. The simple act of listening will be self-explanatory.

The horn that fills Blue Hour with minutes of azure, cobalt, cerulean, navy, sky and Baby; Baby, is the tenor saxophone of Stanley Turrentine. Although only in his late 20s, Turrentine has a warmth of style associated with the players of an earlier period. His first inspirations were Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas and it is obvious that he learned some valuable lessons from them.

Stan's full-bodied tenor is ideally suited to the material here. Presently with organist Shirley Scott's group, he is perhaps best-known for his work with the Max Roach Quintet during 1959-60. It should be known, however, that he played with Ray Charles in 1952 and Earl Bostic in 1953. Jobs like these were actually long-range preparation for a date such as Blue Hour.

Since Turrentine's first Blue Note LP as a leader (Look Out! BN 4039) and his numerous appearances as a sideman on this label with Horace Parian, Arthur Taylor, etc., he has drawn nothing but high praise from a variety of critics. His direct, honestly emotional playing, embodying elements of the old and the new, pleases a wide scope of listening taste.

The fly, funky threesome known as The Three Sounds is very familiar to Blue Note listeners. In essence, this trio is an export of Benton Harbor, Michigan and a product of Indiana. Pianist Gene Harris and drummer Bill Dowdy were born in the Michigan city. Bassist Andy Simpkins was born in Richmond, Indiana, the state where the group was formed in South Bend in 1956. In addition to their own albums on Blue Note, the Sounds also did a set backing Lou Donaldson.

The wedding of Turrentine and The Three Sounds is the work of an astute matchmaker. Their insinuating, down stylings are a perfect complement to Stan's tenor. If he is the hands of the clock which tells us the blue hour, the Sounds are the inner works with Harris the sweep second hand.

This album has to make you feel good even when you are really brought down. You don't have to shake well before using. Use it freely; its healing powers won't diminish. And if your baby happens to come back and you're feeling all right again, it won't hurt to enjoy Blue Hour together, even at twelve noon.

— IRA GITLER original liner notes”

© -  Michael Cuscuna, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“STANLEY TURRENTINE was a member of Max Roach's quintet and had just made an album of his own for Time Records when he made his first Blue Note appearance on a Dizzy Reece session in April 1960.

Although that session was not issued until 1999 (Dizzy Reece's Comin' On), he clearly made an incredible impression on Blue Note's Alfred Lion, Francis Wolff and Ike Quebec. Three weeks later, he was in the studio with Jimmy Smith making the amazing Midnight Special and Back At The Chicken Shack albums. Two months later, he made the first of many albums of his own for the label (Look Out! with the Horace Parian trio), followed by his first session with The Three Sounds (tracks 4-8 on this CD). That summer, he returned for Blue Note sessions with Horace Parian, Dizzy Reece, Duke Jordan and Art Taylor. The year 1960 closed with a second session with The Three Sounds, which produced the original Blue Hour (Blue Note 84057).

Clearly Turrentine's juicy, soulful tone, rhythmically hip phrasing and wonderful melodic ideas were what Blue Note was all about. And for the next nine years, he
recorded a succession of wonderful dates for the label as a leader and as a sideman. (He would also return when the label was reactivated in 1985.)

Gene Harris, Andrew Simpkins and Bill Dowdy first came together as The Four Sounds (with a succession of tenor saxophonists) in South Bend, Indiana in 1956. Paring down to a trio, they worked around Ohio playing as a trio and supporting traveling artists, toured with Sonny Stitt and then settled in Washington, D.C. where they began to make a name for themselves as a trio.

Horace Silver was among the first to sing their praises and bring them to Blue Note's attention. In September 1958, they came to New York to open for the volcanic Stuff Smith at the Offbeat Club. Impressed by their ability to find and lock in on a groove, Alfred Lion immediately signed them to Blue Note and brought them into the studio to make their first album Introducing The Three Sounds. Nat Adderley also used them that month as the rhythm section on his Branching Out album with Johnny Griffin.

When they returned to town in the next February to make their second album Bottoms Up, Alfred Lion also paired them up with Lou Donaldson for the superb LD + 3 album. When Stanley Turrentine came into the fold in 1960, he became an ideal candidate for the same concept. He had the same range and soul that made The Three Sounds one of the most popular trios of its day.

So on June 29, 1960 the day after the trio cut "Moods" and "Feelin' Good," they returned to the studio to record with Turrentine. According to his session notes, Alfred Lion was worried that Stanley Turrentine sounded better than the trio that day. The date ended after five tunes with a notation that they would use the then-untitled blues, "Where Or When" and "There Is No Greater Love" and finish the album later.

Two days after the trio recorded "Here We Go" and "It Just Got To Be," on December 16, 1960 they reconvened with Stanley. This time, once they hit a groove, the session sailed by effortlessly and yielded more than enough material for an album.

Oscar Pettiford's "Blues In The Closet,' "Just In Time" and a strong alternate take of"Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You" were left in the can.

The album Blue Hour was released and became an instant classic in the canon of both Turrentine and The Three Sounds. The extra material from that session and the first session are what make up the previously unissued second CD on this set.

Although the prolific Three Sounds stayed with Blue Note until June 1962, they had no more encounters with special guests except for a single track with Ike Quebec on which Gene Harris switches to organ (recently issued for the first time on The Lost Sessions). In October of that year, they made two albums for Verve, one of which, oddly enough, was a collaboration with Anita O'Day. In December, the trio began a series of albums for Mercury/Limelight, some of which included orchestral accompaniment.

When they returned to Blue Note in 1966, the drum chair was occupied by Kalil Madi (followed by Donald Bailey, then Carl Burnett). Andy Simpkins left in 1968 and his chair was filled by Henry Franklin. While they continued to add orchestral backing for studio albums, that funky, hard-driving trio sound remained at the core of the group's identity and appeal. Some of their most rewarding sessions in those years were live recordings at the London House (Limelight), the Lighthouse and the It Club (Blue Note).

It would have been great to hear The Three Sounds with Stitt or Gene Ammons or any number of like-minded saxophonists. But at least we have their collaborations with Lou Donaldson and Stanley Turrentine to enjoy and now we have twice as much music from their meetings with Stanley.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Bobby Troup – Stars of Jazz

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

“About Bobby Troup...
He sang as though he had just half a voice. No volume, it was all about confiding. Some­times he croaked out a line, next minute he'd released a word as though he was doubtful about delivering it to the world at large. Bobby Troup never played to the gallery, never went for the big one. Yet, despite - or rather because of - such reluctance, allied to a lemon-twist quality that fell oddly on unaccustomed ears, the man from Harrisburg, PA. still qualified as Mr. Cool, the vocal equivalent of a Paul Desmond alto solo maybe. He sounded like no one else. And no one else has ever sounded like him.”

- Fred Dellar, Mojo Magazine

We wrote about composer, pianist and vocalist Bobby Troup in an earlier feature about him and Julie London which you can locate in the blog archives by going here.

Many of us first “met” Bobby in the 1950s when he hosted the Emmy award wining ABC television series, Stars of Jazz.

Can you imagine - a regular, weekly series on a major television network devoted to Jazz?

It was cool and so was Bobby.

Since it was based in Los Angeles, most of the groups that appeared on the show were associated with was then labeled the “West Coast” school of Jazz.

There are two wonderful books on this subject: Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 and Robert Gordon, Jazz West Coast, The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s.

A number of years ago, The California Institute of Jazz made available to those in attendance at its Spring 1999 4-day festival celebrating West Coast Jazz , a wonderful CD of the music from the Stars of Jazz series.

Ken Poston, the director of the institute, wrote the following in the insert booklet which accompanied the compendium:

“This anthology has been assembled exclusively for JAZZ WEST COAST II, presented by the California Institute for the Preservation of Jazz. All of the material comes from various Bobby Troup Stars of Jazz television broadcasts. Stars of Jazz debuted in the summer of 1956 on KABC, Los Angeles. It was unheard of in the mid 1950s to televise jazz on a regular basis, but because of the dedication of producer Jimmie Baker, program director Pete Robinson and host Bobby Troup the program aired for over two years. It was sponsored by Budweiser and eventually went from a local to network broadcast. The selections on this disc represent the incredible range of artists that were beamed into your living room every night.”

—Ken Poston

Incidentally, Ken’s organization, which now carries the name – The Los Angeles Jazz Institute [LAJI] – continues to sponsor semi-annual, four day festivals, as well as, one-day commemorative events. You can find out more about these programs by visiting Ken’s website.

In addition to the LAJI’s repository of goodies, Ray Avery, the late photographer and Jazz recordings maven, was allowed to photograph the Stars of Jazz.

A compilation of Ray photographs from these shows was published in 1998.

Cynthia T. Sesso, who in her own right is a major authority on Jazz photography, licenses Ray’s work along with the images of a number of other photographers who specialized in Jazz.

Cynthia has been a great friend to JazzProfiles over the years in allowing us to use photographs by her clients on these pages.

You can find out more about Cynthia and her work at her website. She may also have copies of Ray’s book about Stars of Jazz still available for sale.

Her are some excerpts from the book’s introduction regarding how Ray came to be involved with the show and Bobby Troup’s role as contained in an interview that Ray gave to Will Thornbury.

© -  Cynthia T. Sesso/CTSimages, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“…, my photography flowed naturally out of my involvement in my record store. At that time I wasn't well known as a photographer. I just happened to be there and I had an entrée because I was in the record business. Most of the small record companies knew about me because I was carrying their product in my store, they would invite me to record sessions. I was very seldom paid for a session, except if they bought some photos. …

One day a friend of mine asked if I'd seen "Stars Of Jazz" and I said I hadn't, so I checked the newspaper and found out when it was going to be on. I just went down, I think it was the second or third show, and I asked them if I could photograph it. They were very friendly and said yes, of course, just be careful and don't fall over any cords or walk in front of any cameras."

The host for all but two Stars of Jazz episodes was Bobby Troup. He embodied the essence of the show - straightforward, genuine and creative. Perhaps some of the show's viewers from outside the jazz world were pulled in through Troup's accessibility. He wore a crew cut. He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in business and had written many of the nation's favorite songs "Route 66", "Daddy", "Lemon Twist", songs that crossed over from the jazz to the popular charts. In addition to writing songs, he was also an active musician and would perform often on the show.

"Bobby was the perfect man", notes Jimmie Baker. 'There were some people who wanted to have a bigger name, but nobody else could do it. Nobody else had the appeal that Bobby had." Avery adds, "Bobby was a good musician, had written great songs and he could be a great master of ceremonies. That's a combination they couldn't find in anyone else. He spoke really well - he didn't want any of those corny jazz lines in the script, which was good. He was a really good interviewer. He made people feel so comfortable when they were there. And of course they respected him as a musician, many of the sets featured Bobby at the piano."

"All the musicians had so much faith in the presentation of "Stars of Jazz"," Troup says. "They thought it was the best jazz show they'd ever seen. Did you know the story of how "Stars of Jazz" got started? Pete Robinson, Jimmie Baker, and Bob Arbogast were all jazz buffs. I mean they really loved jazz, and there was this executive, Seligman, graduated from Harvard, Phi Beta Kappa, and they were on him constantly to let them do this jazz show. Finally just to get them out of his hair, he said 'OK, I'll give you a studio, a camera, you have to write it, you have to arrange every musician, no more than scale, and I'll give you three weeks to run the show.' The first show was Stan Getz. And they screened quite a few people and for some reason or another they picked me to be the host. I'm sure glad they did. Every night was a highlight, every night. I did the show for scale, it amounted to $60 maybe $70 a night. When we went network I got scale for network, which was more."

Avery adds, "in those days there weren't the camera men that there are today. Now you go to a concert and there's fifty people with cameras, but before, maybe half a dozen of us would show up. Consequently, the photos taken in my early period are the ones that are in demand now because not many people have them."”

Ironically, Seligman, who authorized Stars of Jazz and was very boastful of the program when it won an Emmy Award, never supported the show for a regular timeslot when it went national on ABC.

Despite the critical acclaim it received, the show was cancelled of January, 1959 due to “low ratings.” Seligman was also responsible for ordering that the tapes of the 130 episodes of Stars of Jazz be erased so that they could be reused. After all, each tape cost $400. Of course, what was recorded on them was priceless!

I guess “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad?”

Mercifully, Jimmy Baker of the show’s production team was able to save 35mm’s and 81 of the early kinescopes, all of which now reside for posterity in the UCLA Film Library.

More of the music from the series is available on a commercial RCA CD - Bobby Troup Stars of Jazz [74321433962] - from which we’ve drawn the music for the following tribute.

In his insert notes to the recording, Pete Robinson, one of the show’s producers, wrote the following:

“It has been observed that People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones, and since Bobby Troup's particular glass house is a collective one, consisting of 17- and 24-inch television screens the country over, it is most important that his participation in the realm of jazz be exemplary. It is.

As one playing of the enclosed collection will attest, Mister Troup's qualities of tempo, intonation, taste and interpretation place him in good stead as a jazz singer of considerable merit. Nominations in the Down Beat and Playboy polls add further to his vocal status.

These fans, however, will come as no sur­prise to the initiated. Bobby's work has had more than a little exposure on records. What IS new is the extraordinary group of jazz musicians who here­with are represented in tandem with Troup. Bobby's presence as narrator of ABC-TV's "Stars of Jazz" for the past three years has found him rubbing elbows with players from every corner of jazz. (A total of 714 of them at this writing, for those who find security in statistics.)

It was, then, only a matter of time until an elite group of these jazzmen should come together with Troup for the purpose of recording. When Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Rowles became available to provide arrangements, the time was ripe.”

The audio track on the video is Bobby singing Free and Easy which he co-wrote with Henry Mancini. The trumpet solos are by Pete and Conte Candoli and Jimmy Rowles wrote the arrangement.