Sonny Clark. Sonny's Crib (Blue Note Connoisseur
John Coltrane-tenor saxophone
Sonny Clark- Piano
In 1963 a thirty one year old Sonny Clark died way too early,
another victim of club-land lifestyle and his own appetite for various poisons.
Although around for only a brief time, he managed to contribute to some seminal
Blue Note sessions both under his own name and as a sideman.
His was the rare case of coming onto the scene fully formed.
There was no evolution of style over the years into what would become his own
distinctive voice. Sonny was part of the second great wave of pianists to
emerge in the late fifties (Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans,et al). He shows his
influences, mostly Monk and Horace Silver, the percussiveness of Bud Powell,
but in his hands these are the foundation, the building blocks. A way to steer
towards his own explorations. Even when the influences bubble to the surface,
his is a divergent path. His percussive runs seem more melodic than Monk or Bud
Powell. When backing another player's solos, whereas Horace Silver often opts
for a gospel-dance style comping Sonny goes for a more single note fluidity
during these moments. Yet Sonny's willingness to allow glimpses of influence to
peek through make his own playing all the more compelling, his solos statements
an artistic logic unto themselves.
During his brief career his style and tone did not change.
Whether this was a fidelity to a specific artistic vision or the lack of time
allowed for any type of evolution will remain unknown. He played with a clear
ringing tone, often percussive but
never overly showy or distractingly busy. His was a mix of West
Coast cool-sophistication which allowed for wider range of colorations in his
compositions and arrangements similar to fellow luminaries Sonny Criss and
Charles Mingus of the Central Ave (LA) scene. The West coast cool mixed with
some east coast aggression in his compositions and playing to make for some
forward thinking hard-bop writing and performing in tandem to what Clifford
Brown, J.J Johnson and Jackie McLean were doing. Mere bop formula being
abandoned to create pieces of greater complexities, which did not rely on mere
showmanship of the solos.
Sonny Clark got his start backing clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. At
a very young age he was sent on European tour, doing a large multi- act tour
that was the derigeur for any jazz group(s) with ambition to not be confined to
simply serving residency at
one of either coasts then thriving jazz club scenes. Then too,
there was the added appeal of being given the respect deserving of true artist,
an attitude often lacking in the then still segregated states. He was given a
brief solo spot (doing a version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow before it became
an overly maudlin show piece for other artists). He was the youngest player on
the tour but still managed to be one of the most compelling pianists, showing
some influences but never falling into the simply "sounds like" way of playing.
In 1957 after serving a one year residency at the famous West
coast answer to Birdland The Lighthouse he came east. He was heard in
clubs and picked up by Blue Note's Alfred Lion. His first album, (1957) Dial S
Sonny appeared on more albums under others names than ones
featuring him as a leader. Under his own name only half were released in his
life time (3 of 6). Regardless of whose name is featured first, his voice is
prevalent on all these great and diverse recordings. His most famous
association being featured as part of an informal Blue Note house band with
Butch Warren on bass, Billy Higgins on drums, which was featured on Dexter
Gordon's albums Go and A Swinging affair. These were the two albums Dexter cut
right before his fifteen year self imposed European exile, Go being said to
have been his all time favorite. Until his return, Dexter would continue to
record for Blue Note but using fellow American in Exile pianists such as Bud
Powell and Kenny Drew. For aficionados though, there would never be as much
chemistry or sympathy as what he had received from Sonny's support. The trio
would go on from the Dexter recording sessions, showing up a few weeks later on
Jackie McLean's Blue Note date A Fickle Sonance. Sonny then used this band for
the Blue Note done as leader Leapin and Lopin. There was also another
partnership which bore fruit, shelved by Blue Note for decades, between Sonny
and guitarist Grant Green. (see The Complete Quartets with Grant Green only
What makes for a masterpiece? This album was recorded two weeks
before John Coltrane's only Blue Note date as a leader, Blue Train. It features
same type of three horn line up ( trumpet, tenor sax and trombone) and actually
shares some of same musicians (Curtis Fuller and Paul Chambers). This aside the
albums are vastly different, although both are worthy of continuing to garner
devotes. For me, Coltrane has always placed in my personal top three jazz
pantheon, but title track aside, I prefer Sonny's album more.
It is a combination of naturally flowing interplay between all
the musicians and great material for them to draw from.
The cast here is 'stacked' but unlike some other albums from
this time full of heavy hitters, they do not rely on an albums worth of mere
blowing blues based numbers.
This album finds John Coltrane right in the middle of his sheets
of sound period. He had just finished serving time in Miles band of 1955-1956
which did a marathon recording session of four albums for Prestige/Fantasy
(Steamin, Workin, Cookin and Relaxin). It was from this initial tutorship under
Miles and his own inherent genius his playing and vision would grow more
expansive. This album and the Miles at Newport-58 (Columbia) perhaps best show
the emerging of John Coltrane's lighting in a bottle
which was not fully understood or appreciated by everyone right
away. It would be two years hence that he would participate in bringing to the
fore modal jazz with the Rosetta stone of jazz, Kind Of Blue (Columbia). This
is one of his very last straight out hard-bop dates. The blues would always
figure to some extent in later works but never again so straight ahead. His
tone and playing sound fresh and excited which was not the case on every cut on
certain earlier albums where his vision was in flux.
In the early sixties Donald Byrd shined on Blue Note. It did not
matter whose date it was, his playing was always a thing to be enjoyed. His
tone is bright and his playing has a percussive sharpness which recalls
Clifford Brown and the splatter school, although containing none of the
occasional rawness which could sometimes show through. Like Sonny Clark he
would make some incendiary Blue Notes with Jackie McLean.
Curtis Fuller directly follows in J.J Johnson's footsteps.
Before J.J Johnson a trombone in jazz was allowed to wah-wah or slur, filling
in a band's sonic holes. J.J Johnson was first musician to play his trombone
the way Bird did the alto sax. He opened up a world of possibilities for both
bands and musicians. He was often referred to as bop's intellectual, for his
forward thinking song structure construction and insight and his own personal
playing. Curtis Fuller continuing in this vein would appear again with John
Coltrane a few week's later on Blue Train. His playing fitting in nicely with
the hard-bop idiom but never succumbing to creating a specific formula in song
or solo as sometimes happened in the earlier eras straight ahead bop music.
Paul Chambers would appear alongside John Coltrane many more
times in various bands of Miles Davis and also on many more Blue Note albums.
His style playing was always perfect for the time he spent walking among
giants. Always even, always where you
need it to be. Art Taylor also had been on many Blue Notes.
While not as 'famous' as some of the other drummers these players switched
between, I think that works greatly to this album's advantage. There is none of
that 'look at me' thunder burst that can occasionally pop up in a song and
The CD is remastered and comes with two bonus track, which are
alternate takes standing strong on their own. There are no weak or dead tracks
to be found on this album, something which can not always be said even of the
best jazz albums. The sound is very good throughout. My only bone of contention
is, it would have been nice to have along with the original liner notes
'Another look at' which are new liner notes always included on the Blue Note
Rudy Van Gelder remastered reissues (RVG). The connoisseur series is a limited
edition deal and cost more than the RVG editions, so one would think it is the
least they could do.
While there are no weak tracks, my personal favorites are the
standard Come Rain or Come Shine. It is slow, romantic lament. I have found it
is often harder for a good musician to play slow and soft. For what ever reason
the songs may contain tiny moments of beauty but often sound like what the band
would play while one member is having a smoke or the audience orders more
drinks. Not here though. John Coltrane's solo contains a melancholy regret
which verges on becoming tangible poetry. Donald Byrd's solo entrance maintains
this tension. His tone throughout conjuring up lyrical fragility very few
trumpeters were capable of bringing fourth.
There is also a fantastic cover of German composer Kurt Weil's
Speak Low. It is given a Latin tinge but still manages to convey Kurt Weil's
original intention, a celebration of longing. Curtis Fuller makes a fully
realized bop-like statement in his solo while Donald Byrd's playing remains
bright and clean but is shown in a more aggressive light.
Like a lot of the gifted artist of his time, Sonny was troubled
and gifted. What remains of the man, his artistic legacy is well worth
Freddie Hubbard, The Night of the Cookers (Blue Note
James Spaulding-alto sax/flute
Pete La Roca-drums
Freddie Hubbard was part of the talented post bop wave often
(then) referred to as 'The Young Lions'. Unlike the generation of greats before
them, they were not all of one 'school' and many would continue to evolve
through the ensuing decades.
The emergence of Blue Note Records as a true power in the jazz
world also had a part in shaping the musical community of this time. Blue
Note's policy of paid rehearsals allowed for their artists to concentrate more
on original compositions of greater complexity. The emerging technology also
worked in their favor. The long playing discs were now standard (for all
labels), allowing musicians/composers to fully realize their artistic ideas. In
this climate of exploration and collaboration would be introduced inflections
of modernist chamber music-like pieces and world music flavorings. This was
Blue Note and their stable of artist in the late 50's / early 60's. The close
of the decade would see further explorations with ( in some opinions) artist
going electric and loosing their way. Or, becoming too bogged down in
Freddie Hubbard has a jazz pedigree which is truly impressive.
Where and who he has appeared with, this sizeable body of work, includes many
albums which would be on the aficionado's top ten list.
He got his start with one of trombonist J.J Johnson's groups. He
was also seen early on with Dexter Gordon, in Dexter's first Blue Note album
'Doin' Alright?. His most steady home initially was on the front line of Art
Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Many of the people Freddie worked with early on had
also been in Art Blakey's band, a sort of jazz college they all attended, just
not necessarily at the same time.
Another inherent strength of both Blue Note and, in general the
jazz world at this time was a steady stable of artists who appeared on each
other's albums creating an artistic familiarity greatly to everyone's
advantage. There was an almost tangible connection among these artists
inspiring and borrowing from each other over the course of cross connecting
informal partnerships. During this period Freddie Hubbard was part of the holy
trinity of trumpet greats (Lee Morgan and Donald Byrd sharing this generation's
Personally, the appeal of Freddie Hubbard lay not only in his
chops and tone, but his compositions too. While his peers would occasionally
venture into extended forward thinking pieces, (Donald Byrd A New Perspective,
Lee Morgan Search For the New Land, Hank Mobley Thinking Of Home) his album
often feature multi-horn front lines playing harmonically complex pieces which
combine sophistication with emotion.
His debut album Breaking Point (Blue Note Records) was the first
made after leaving the Jazz Messengers and introduced the important partnership
he would have with flautist/alto sax player James Spaulding. Freddie would go
on to incorporate even larger instrumental lineups into his compositions and
recordings often including James.
During this time, there was a never accurately named jazz
emerging from musicians who had far transcended being just entertainers. It was
traditional jazz instruments now often combining with less obvious ones. They
were playing music which merged their roots of jazz and blues with something
new, a modern chamber type sound far different from the once novel third stream
marriage of classical and jazz. This music also embraced some of the
discordance of the free-jazz movement and some of the harmonically complex
ideas which had been the cornerstone of Europe's 20th century classical
composers. All the while maintaining the exciting air of improvisation, one of
jazz's key ingredients.
Through no fluke, Freddie appeared on a lot of these albums,
enriching them with his own take on this complex, heady amalgam. Both Freddie's
writing and playing really seemed to shine on larger ensemble pieces. John
Coltrane's Ole (1961), perhaps one of jazz's most epic statements, included
him. Ole was a rarer large ensemble effort for John Coltrane, containing his
core 'classic quartet' and also making use of multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy
and added bassist Art Davis. Soon after, Eric Dolphy would recruit Freddie to
play on his own classic 'Out to Lunch' along with Bobby Hutcherson who would
also incorporate Freddie into his band for his first album as leader
Aside from James Spaulding another important musical connection
was made with Herbie Hancock. The 1964 debt album as a leader by Herbie,
Empyrean Isles featured a saxless group, with Freddie achieving a richer sound
by substituting on cornet. The rest of the group was what would become core
ingredients in Miles Davis's immortal free-bop group. The follow up album
Maiden Voyage had the immediate precursor to Miles Davis's free-bop group
including Wayne Shorter's predecessor and short lived member of the band George
Coleman on tenor sax.
In the late 1970's the full free-bop group with Freddie in place
of Miles would tour under the banner of VSOP. All the members of the band had
been voted best at their instrument which is what birthed the name. They would
release two live albums: 'VSOP The Quintet Live' and the only recently
available 'VSOP Live Under The Sky'. The later of which is said to be one of if
not the first direct digital live recording. It was recorded at the Denen
Coliseum in Tokyo and the energy of the 10,000 fans who braved the rain is
Unlike some of his peers Freddie Hubbard was not better or worse
when comparing studio to live performances. He always seems to intuitively know
the best approach for the situation.
The Night Of The Cookers is a two CD RVG edition Blue Note.
Originally it was released as two separate records, using the same graphic,
just in different color for each record. For their multi record live recordings
Blue Note always did this, although Freddie's record was the last to use this
packaging after which the marketing department wanted something to better pull
in the youth-rock market. Even though it is a live recording the sound quality
is excellent. Each CD has only two songs on it, but each song averages about
twenty minutes. It includes the original liner notes and also 'A new look at'
notes which examines the artist and album through the hindsight of history.
The perfect bookend to this set is Freddie Hubbard's Blue
Spirits. Blue Spirits was recorded only two months before this album. It was
made up of three sessions which included changing four horn front lines and
three different pianists (separately).
The songs on this album are complex and what could be considered
Freddie's core group here would be found again on Night of The Cookers with the
addition of Lee Morgan. Some of the same songs are presented on both albums
with different feel but to great effect. Blue Spirit presents an overall
darkness, not the type which could signify an end. It is more an urban
darkness, where beauty and desolation meet. Hearing the same piece from both
settings also allows a fuller appreciation of how perfectly Freddie was able to
marry song structure conception with what he wanted to say in his own solos.
Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard had both been in art Blakey's
Jazz Messengers, usually at different times. Two years before this recording
they had worked together in Jazz Messengers for the Broadway musical Golden Boy
for Colpix and also on the Limelight album Soul finger. While not bad, neither
truly allowed them the opportunity to combine complexity with cutting loose.
What is immediately apparent with Night of the Cookers is that
despite being a live recording containing two titans, it is not mere blowing
contest. Through out the two CDs the entire band sets up long soulful grooves
in lieu of filling in space while waiting their turn to solo. Truly, it is the
interplay among the musicians that make this one of the most compelling
documents of a live band in full flight.
Some stand out moments for me include 'Walkin' which includes a
James Spaulding solo playing over the locked groove of drums and conga. His
tone here transcend hard-bop and verges on the free. Within his solo statement
James Spaulding manages a musical alto summation of all that had happened, from
Bird's bop to Eric Dolphy's free-new thing. On some songs James Spaulding does
switch between alto and flute which I have never been a big fan of, but the
flute is far more a flavoring than a feature.
Breaking Point sounds like a joyous Latin tinged revival
meeting. The piano sets up a pattern which creates a rolling tension for all
the others to call out over.
Within this recording too, is one of the rare times Lee Morgan
tries his hand at mute horn playing, achieving a warm vibrato hum effect
similar to piccolo trumpet sound.
Over all there are no weak links in this band, no moments to
disrupt the tension and joy. All these artists had worked together over the
years and they all wanted to achieve the same thing with their art, which
clearly shows here.
There is a lot of debate about Freddie Hubbard's post Blue Note
years. Too often if a great artist later stumbles, it seemingly detracts from
what initially made their reputation. To some extent art is subjective anyways,
but no matter what a great artist goes onto do, the initial greatness should
not be forgotten. It is this we should treasure, it is this which lasts.
-Maxwell Chandler- Jan '06
Charley Patton, The Definitive (Catfish Records)
On some tracks:
Willie Brown-second guitar
The late 1800s/early 1900s, the term
redneck had drastically different connotation than that which it
carries today. Initially it was a verbal short hand to describe the Irish and
Scottish immigrant farmers down south. After a day in the fields their necks
burnt a lobster red. Like all who joined the great melting pot with dreams and
hopes of something better, they brought their songs to sing with them. Folk
melodies, murder ballads, played with a lot of the instruments which would be
used for the early country music. This mixed with the sung laments of
plantation slaves birthed the blues.
The earliest blues was a complex amalgam of these three
seemingly divergent sources, country, folk and plain song brought over by the
slaves. In the far future practitioners may have more chops, but the
construction and influences would never again be as open minded, nor as
The embodiment of this first great wave of bluesmen was Charlie
Patton. The exact date of his birth is often debated. Given sometimes as April
1887 or 1891. He himself was never sure, the later date being supplied by his
parents for a 1900 census poll. He could not read or write except his name
which he always slowly spelled out loud C-h-a-r-l-i-e. Ironically throughout
his oeuvre it is spelled Charley.
Charlie was descended of mixed blood which included white,
Native American and African American. The oddly pejorative term good
hair (Caucasian-like) was often used to describe him when not talking
about his music.
His family was religious and disapproved of his music and his
casual teachers. The music was referred to as Devils music
and his romance with it often earned him beatings from his father. Eventually,
for whatever reason his father eased up, even buying Charlie a guitar. It was
shortly after this he hit the road never again to return home for any real
length of time.
Charlies main recorded output was the blues, but this was
far more a financial decision on the part of the record company than a personal
artistic choice on Charlies part. It was the same commercial
consideration which largely kept Charlies less blues like pieces from
ever seeing wax.
He did not seem to mind. Often to give an audience their
moneys worth, when performing Charlie would toss and catch his guitar,
play the underside percussively, drum like or when the mood struck him, behind
his head. Considering what was resonating from him, all far from necessary.
Although he never liked to complain, like many artists of his
day (and sadly, in ensuing decades) Charlie was taken advantage of by record
companies. He and other artists would have to commute to Northern cities to
record or in makeshift studios set up in barns or flop houses.
These early bluesmen were pursued by record companies not out
respect for their artistic merits but in hope of creating an African American
record buying (phonographs too) public. With few exceptions this was driving
vision behind these small companies.
Pony Blues was successful, Charlies biggest seller
(Paramount Records). In keeping with the times only the smallest trickle of
money went to him. From his point of view, while never becoming rich, he was
kept in sandwiches, whiskey and smokes. Always happy enough to not have to do
manual labor as often.
Pea Vine Blues used a new gimmick thought up by the record
company. The record was released with a contest. The singer was listed as
The Masked Marvel its cover depicting an illustration which looked
like Charlie donning a Lone Ranger styled mask. Contestants were asked to guess
his identity. The winner received a Paramount Record of their choice. The
contest entry forms accompanied the record all 10,000 sold out. Staggering when
you consider that this was well before the age of mass media or quick
communication. Paramount Records hedged their bets by also doing up 7000 promo
posters and ads in The Chicago Defender, the premier paper for the other side
of segregated America.
The initial pressing quickly sold out creating the market for a
second pressing, a then rarity for such a specialized market.
Interestingly enough, Charlie had recorded (briefly) some
religious hymns under the pseudonym J.J Hadley. Either name was an accepted
answer for the contest.
Charlie was of average height and slight build (135lbs) but some
of his material was musical boasts concerning his prowess and potency. (Charlie
as a proto rapper?). Mostly though, he and other blues forefathers would recite
topical verse over often simple but hypnotic beats. Charlie is believed to be
the first one to use the now standard twelve bar blues pattern.
Initially, before the lexicon of blues standards was born, the
tales in Charlie and his peers songs were intricate, image rich American
gothic. Flannery OConnor meets the juke joint.
In Charlies lyrics, depending upon your point of view, God
or the devil was ever present, not as an incarnation, but as natural
calamities. Floods, the taste of ones mortality, even boweevils. Despite
the commercial considerations of what Charlie recorded, there was always more
than just some woman having done him wrong. Deeper themes whose narrative
complexity still retain their power in this modern age when Charlies way
of life has long since vanished.
Another key appeal of Charlies work was his vocals. The
lyrics were often obscured. The cadence of his voice being used as a second
instrument. There is something about the sound of those simple, yet hypnotic
beats mixing with that voice. It reaches deep down into you, a primal twitch. I
like to listen to this in the dark. You should listen to this in the dark,
listen anywhere desolation and appetite can be poetry.
It was said that Charlie had, had eight wives. At the very least
he had eight roommates. With a hair trigger temper he had fought with all of
When not in jail, sick or recording, this American troubadour
was out living the life he would represent in his art. Reporting on what he saw
and interjecting his own opinions. One of the strongest tracks off of CD #2 is
High Water Everywhere. This was based off of the 1927 Mississippi
flood and its after effects as he witnessed them. It is from the episodic growl
as much as the cabaret theater world of Brecht/Weil that Tom Waits would build
his initial musical foundation off of.
Long time brother in arms Willie Brown spent years observing and
playing with Charlie. From the practical application of this apprenticeship
Willie became a great bluesman in his own right. It was from Willie in the
1920s a teenage Robert Johnson attempted to learn.
With the onslaught of the depression, many small record labels
folded, times were tough all around and Charlie made due the best he could. By
the mid 1930s, Charlie, in his mid forties began to feel the effects of
his lifestyle. A fight one night ended with Charlie having his throat slit and
living to sing about it. Bad woman, good cocaine and strong whiskey with an
endless supply of cigarettes to mark the time in between each.
1934 saw the depression finally beginning to bottom out. People
no longer needed to be tunnel-visioned on how to eat, where to find work. It
would be several more years until it was done with completely. The theory that
affordable distractions will always make money in times of trouble has been
proven again and again.
W.R Calaway of The American Record Corporation wanted to record
Charlie. For what would be Charlies last sessions he tracked the artist
and his wife Bertha Lee who would share vocal duties, down to a Mississippi
jail where they were both serving time for having had one of their knock down
drag outs at a house party. W.R Calaway made bail and brought the pair to New
New York was having one of its bad winters. Charlie was already
frail and sick. Both in lyrical content and in his haunted performance Charlie
seems to have felt the ebb and flow of his mortality.
One of Charlies last recorded songs was 34 Blues, 34 being
slang for go away. Three months after his final sessions while
living on a plantation with another woman Charlie died of a heart condition
brought on by an attack of rheumatic fever. As he lay dying, in delirium, it
was to the reciting of one of the religious hymns he recorded as J.J Hadley he
occupied his last days until death finally took him.
The sound on these three CDs is good, it has been cleaned up,
but not sanitized to the point of loosing its soul in studio artificiality. At
times there is the ambient presence of a 78s hiss. It works, it belongs.
The effect is akin to listening to some of the great prewar Edith Piaf
recordings which contain the same hiss. It furthers the effect of being spoken
to from another time, without ever distracting or lessening the art. So well
does it work, it almost seems as if these two artists, so different, both
incorporate the hiss and technological limitations into their deliveries and
The songs are all presented in chronological order which I
always think is a nice touch. Aside from the aforementioned High Water
Everywhere another personal favorite (CD #2) is Mean Black
Moan which features a trance inducing guitar pattern, with the singing
violin sounding almost like an upper register clarinet all occurring while the
tale is told.
Henry Sims on violin is perfect. He had a touch which managed to
be both raw and subtle. He would go on to work with later day bluesman Muddy
Waters. It offers a glimpse of what might have been if Charlie had had
opportunity for more instrumentation or at least further sympathetic
The packaging is nice. The three CDs are packaged in hard
cardboard sleeves to look like old 78s which are housed in a good looking
little box with an eighteen page informative booklet.
This compares nicely with The Best of Charlie
Patton (1 CD Yazoo). Yazoo was one of foremost revivalist of early
American music chroniclers. This is one CD and not really that much less than
this three CD set.
The crown jewel for any serious collector is Screamin
and Hollerin the Blues:The Worlds of Charley Patton (7 CDs Revenant
Records) This is literally functional art. Designed to look like a large
78s record box, it includes lots of reading material including the long
out of print thesis on Charlie by John Fahey, stickers interviews and other
Charlie related literature. An investment to be sure, but worth it.
It was not until 1980 Charlie was actually induced into The
Blues Foundations hall of fame. In 1990 singer John Fogerty paid for a
proper funerary monument to be erected. Other Mississippi bluesmen are talked
about and sited more often. Charlies stuff, because of its deeply
personal delivery would be far harder to emulate. This is the king. From the
roots of this musical tree would flow far reaching and diverse branches.
Kenny Dorham - Afro Cuban Blue Note
Hank Mobley-tenor Sax
Cecil Payne-baritone sax
Carlos potato Valdes-conga
Kenny Dorham was as talented as his peers, holding his own
against the original wave of bop innovators whom he played alongside night
after night and then going on to add his voice to that of the subsequent
generation of young lions, who expanded upon those first theories. He
maintained a presence among the next generation of musician/artists, working on
various ideas in tandem, creating en-mass a body of work which is still as
exciting and important today as when it was first conceived.
Kenny Dorham had his first steady gig in 1944 after leaving the
army where he was also a prize fighter of reputation, in Russell Jacquets
band. After serving time in several big bands including Lionel Hamptons,
he began to play with the smaller bop ensembles. He had begun to have his
playing noticed with such early appearances as on Billy Eckstines Mister
B and The Boys (1946 Savoy). This initial notice allowed him to cut his teeth
in early small ensembles of Bird and Bud Powell. Most notably during this time,
he replaced Miles Davis in one of Birds combos for several years.
Throughout his career Kenny Dorham liked to surround himself
with familiar musicians, ones with whom he felt a rapport. The drummer Max
Roach shared the band stand with him under Charlie Parkers leadership for
the Royal Roost Sessions (1948 Savoy). Over the space of various record labels
and several decades he and Max would team up, including a time when Kenny would
replace, the then recently deceased, Clifford Brown in the Brown/Roach combo.
During the giddy hey day of early bop, Kenny had been
overshadowed by Fats Navarro. Ensuing years have seen somewhat, a reversal of
fortune. There is no Fats school of playing, but aspects of
Kennys technique are still fueling young horn players.
While time has not completely opaqued his name and contributions
in the same way as that of fellow trumpeter Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham has not
fully received his due. Part of the problem lay in the fact that some of his
best work was produced as a sideman on other peoples dates.
Kenny Dorham did create some now classic albums under his own name, and even as
a sideman, but he never had a steady, long term group of his own with which to
build an audience off of. Regardless of a lack of a permanent group, he did
often appear with the same roster of artists, only the dates
leader being a variance.
The other main handicap to his ascension was that, even though
he did tour and travel early in his career while part of big bands and early
bop-bands, his was never a jazz evangical mission in the same sense as Miles
Davis. Gaining exposure and name recognition through extensive touring. Most of
his jazz life was spent in New York with the occasional foray to the West
Kenny Dorham had two distinct golden periods. The
1950s saw him playing complex hard-bop with its main architects. This
first phase is where Afro Cuban is from.
In the forties Art Blakey had originally created two earlier,
more big band-ish versions of the Jazz Messengers, a septet and a seventeen
piece band. A decade later, he revived the name, with a harder driving sound
and the idea of making it more of a jazz collective.
Pianist Horace Silver had been backing sax player Stan Getz,
Lester Young and Miles Davis. Drummer Art Blakey had been on some of the same
dates and recruited him for the immortal two live discs Night at Birdland
Volumes 1 & 2 (1954 Blue Note) which also featured Lou Donaldson and
Clifford Brown. This was the birth of hard-bop. A genre which built off of bop
but presented new rhythmic and sonic possibilities. This was also the
appearance of the first, short lived new incarnation of The Jazz Messengers.
The group was a collective in as much, they all shared writing chores and who
ever found employment is the name which would be showcased before and the
The second incarnation of the group featured Hank
Mobley on tenor sax and Kenny Dorham on trumpet. Between the two line ups of
the group there was a year of Jazz Messenger inactivity during
which none of the artists remained silent. Horace Silver was doing a residency
at Mintons Playhouse as a result of his appearance on the first 50s
Jazz Messenger discs. Those records opened up new sonic considerations for him
and he enlisted tenor sax player Hank Mobley to continue down the path he
started a year earlier. The second version of The Jazz Messengers appeared on
Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers in full. During this time
they recorded Hank Mobleys first solo album Messages (Blue Note) minus
Kenny, Donald Byrds Transition (Blue Note) and Birds Eye View also
minus Kenny and Kennys own Afro Cuban. Afro Cuban added trombonist J.J
Johnson and baritone sax, conga to the line up. Much like their immediate
Messenger predecessors, there would be two live discs, Live at the Bohemia
(Blue Note) which capture the band at their best. They went on to record an
album for Columbia.
Unfortunately it was felt by the rest of the band that Art
Blakey had short changed them when pay day came. A mass musician migration
ensued. Horace Silver would now mainly lead his own ensemble of which Hank
Mobley was an early charter member. Horace would maganimously allow Art Blakey
to keep the Jazz Messenger moniker. To capitalize on the Jazz Messenger
popularity, the various ex-members would all start groups with similar names,
Kenny leading The Jazz Prophets. Despite the talent of all involved, these
groups were all short lived. Horace Silver having the most success in band
longevity a few years later with the Junior Cook/Blue Mitchell version of his
Afro Cuban is a compelling album. It is not straight out
hard-bop. The ensemble is slightly larger than what would become the standard
hard-bop de-rigor trumpet and sax front line. It is not merely big band either.
The combination of jazz drum kit with the added percussionist give all the
songs a groove that is noticeable but never appears overly urgent. Throughout
the album there is a tropical feel but not all the horns try to play only in a
J.J Johnson had experimented with tropical beats on his own
album The Eminent J.J Johnson Volume 2 (Blue Note), which featured Hank Mobley
and Sabu Martinez on conga. His tone, as always is clean, clear allowing for
greater appreciation of what he plays, as opposed to the slurred lines often
employed by trombonists before J.J.
This is early Hank Mobley and although there are no weak links
on this album, he truly shines. His tone at this point has the warm round
sound. Fully showing his Lester Young influence while not sounding as laconic
Art Blakey is important to jazz, if for no other reason, than
for all the greats who passed through his band over the years. With few
exceptions, the list includes jazzs whos who. Those who
were not directly a Jazz Messenger usually had at least one Messenger in their
band. While I think Art Blakey is a good drummer and I own many Jazz Messenger
records, I am not a big fan of his playing in itself. My main issue is I
sometimes find his rolling thunder approach distracting from both the piece and
other players. Here though, is found a more sedate and nuanced Art Blakey than
is to be heard on other dates.
Horace Silver is found here in his usual funky-percussive best.
In all his albums he would never deviate too far from his established hard-bop
way of playing or composing, but it is all good. He is one of the greats.
All the pieces on the album were written by Kenny except one,
Basheers Dream, which was written by Jazztett member Gigi Gryce. This
song features the baritone sax stating the melody, then the rest of the group
enters. It is refreshing to hear the baritone played with a little more fire
than is wont to be found on the cool West Coast style music that usually
utilized baritone. Like all the other pieces on the album it has an infectious
One of my other favorite tracks is Afrodisia. It seamlessly
mixes a Latin groove with hard-bop sounding solos. When the trumpet solo ends
and the sax solo starts, if you listen you will hear the rhythm shift tempos
several times before the trombone takes over. Simple, yet dramatic.
Lotus Flower is a tropical ballad which manages to conjure up
both Duke Ellington and the musical form Bolero (style not Ravel piece). Kenny
Dorhams tone switches between a soft whisper and brighter sounding solo
This CD collects what had originally been two 10Lps. The
two sessions were similar in feel and there is no jarring effect in hearing
Although I highly recommend this CD, a few bones of contention
for me: This is just a regular CD, it has not received any special remastering.
The sound is not bad, but one can imagine what the Rudy Van Gelder (RVG)
version would offer up to the listener. The original liner notes are reproduced
with a small addendum concerning the last bonus tracks name, the real one
being found after the fact. It would have been nice, considering collectively,
the body of work these artists all went on to do, if we got Another look
which are new, added notes found on all the Blue Note RVG
series. The CD does include two tracks which do not appear on the LP
configuration, but one song has its alternate take right after it as opposed to
putting it after the sequence of original album tracks.
The appeal of Kenny Dorham for me is both his tone and writing.
He could play soft ballads, but it never came across as an affectation. Kenny
could also play hard. What is interesting in his more muscular playing is that
unlike all his peers he never went into the showy-piercing upper registers nor
did he help sow the seeds of what would become the splatter school. Everybody
else could be found in one if not both of these places. Yet Kenny found a third
unused way. This unique grace helped earn him the nick-name Quiet
His writing, from his earliest days was always complex, avoiding
all of the quickly established bop and hard-bop formulas. Low paydays made him
often have to have day jobs in munitions and medical plants and once at a sugar
refinery. He would use his writing skills to ghost write complex charts under
the pseudonym Gill Fuller.
The sixties found Kenny still artistically evolving. This was
his second golden period. Kenny was supportive of the new up and coming younger
generation of players. Count Basie famously, was one of the few musicians not
directly connected to Miles Daviss The Birth Of The Cool (Blue Note) to
realize how important this new thing was. The Count was also aware
of Thelonious Monks genius well before many others. Coleman Hawkins, one
of the holy trinity of the first great tenor sax players (Ben Webster, Lester
Young being the other two) employed Thelonious Monk and also recorded an album
with young Turk Sonny Rollins(Sonny Meets Hawk RCA/Victor 1963). Unlike these
two, Kenny s playing and writing always smoothly integrated well into
what was currently going on. Kenny managed to transcend participating in mere
musical experiment of two different schools/generations.
His short lived Jazz Prophets had many of Blue Notes young
lions. Herbie Hancock, Kenny Burrell and future Jazz Messenger Bobby Timmins
all passed through.
The one person from his short lived group whose career Kenny
would have a profound effect on was the young Joe Henderson. Joe was part of
the second, great holy trio of tenor sax players (Wayne Shorter and John
Coltrane being the other two). Their first recorded partnership was
Kennys Una Mas (Blue Note) which borrowed the tropical leanings of Afro
Cuban, but added an even harder edge. Together they went on to record
Joes Page One (Blue Note) which featured the song Recorda Me by Joe,
written when he was only a teenager and also the now standard Blue Bossa
written by Kenny. McCoy Tyner most famously, of the classic John Coltrane
Quartet, is in the piano chair.
After these albums Joe and Kenny would do In and Out (Blue Note)
which had both Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner from John Coltranes band and
the album Our Thing (Blue Note) which was the debut of composer/pianist Andrew
While nurturing the next wave of jazz greats the sixties found
Kenny serving as a consultant for the Harlem Youth Act which was an anti
poverty program. He also served as a member of the board for the New York
Sadly the end of the decade saw a decline in Kennys
health. 1972 he died of kidney failure.
While he never wildly altered his artistic mission or style
there is a progression which appears throughout his body of work. A subtle
evolution, never enough to alienate fans unable to recognize a new style but
also managing to avoid churning out cookie cutter albums of formulaic jazz.
What better nod to a man of so generous a spirit than to check
out one of his many great albums?
-Maxwell Chandler- March '06
Editor's note: I see
Amazon (UK) have a 24-bit remastered version on Toshiba, ASIN:
Page one of Max's Jazz reviews
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