“Blue Note Records are designed simply to serve the uncompromising expressions of hot jazz or swing, in general. Any particular style of playing which represents an authentic way of musical feeling is genuine expression. By virtue of its significance in place, time and circumstance, it possesses its own tradition, artistic standards and audience that keeps it alive. Hot jazz, therefore, is expression and communication, a musical and social manifestation, and Blue Note records are concerned with identifying its impulse, not its sensational and commercial adornments.”
Alfred Lion, 1939, Statement of Purpose of Blue Note Records
Following on from Part 1, here are my favourite Blue Note recordings of the period 1957-1958. Of course appreciation of Jazz is very much in the eye (or rather the ear) of the beholder. I do hope you, gentle reader, find them much more than
Recorded in 1957 – Blue Train
Born 1927, John Coltrane first came to notice as a sidesman at age 29 in 1955, formally launched a solo career at 33 in 1960, and was dead at 40. Despite this tragically short life he was among the most important, and most controversial, figures in jazz. Since Coltrane changed his style radically over the course of his career, this has made for much confusion in appreciations of his playing. There remains a critical divide between the adherents of his earlier, more conventional (if still highly imaginative) work and his later, more experimental work. No one, however, questions his almost religious commitment to jazz or doubts his significance in the history of the music.
In 1939 he joined a community band in which he played clarinet and E flat alto horn; he only took up the alto saxophone in his school band. During World War II, his mother, aunt, and cousin moved north to New Jersey to seek work, leaving him with family friends; in 1943, he too headed north, settling in Philadelphia. While taking jobs outside music, he briefly attended the Ornstein School of Music and studied at Granoff Studios. He also began playing in local clubs. In 1945, he was drafted into the navy and stationed in Hawaii. He never saw combat, but he continued to play music and, in fact, made his first recording with a quartet of other sailors on July 1946. He was discharged that summer and returned to Philadelphia. In the autumn he began playing in the Joe Webb Band. In early 1947, he switched to the King Kolax Band. During that year, he switched from alto to tenor saxophone. One account claims that this was as the result of encountering alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and feeling the better-known musician had exhausted the possibilities on the instrument; another says that the switch occurred simply because Coltrane next joined a band led by Eddie Vinson who was an alto player, forcing Coltrane to play tenor. He moved on to Jimmy Heath’s band in mid-1948, staying with the band, until early 1949, when he returned to Philadelphia. He joined a big band there led by Dizzy Gillespie, remaining until the spring of 1951, by which time the band had been trimmed to a septet. On March 1, 1951, he took his first solo on record during a performance of “We Love to Boogie” with Gillespie. It was during this period that Coltrane became a heroin addict, which made him more difficult to employ. He played with various bands, mostly around Philadelphia, during the early ’50s, his next important job coming in the spring of 1954, when Johnny Hodges (temporarily out of the Ellington band), hired him. But he was fired because of his addiction in September 1954. He returned to Philadelphia, where he was playing when he was hired by Miles Davis a year later. This association with was the big break that finally established him as an important jazz musician. Davis, a former drug addict himself, had kicked his habit and gained recognition at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1955, resulting in an opportunity to organize a permanent band, which, in addition to him and Coltrane consisted of pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer “Philly” Joe Jones.
Coltrane tried and failed to kick heroin in the summer of 1956, and in October, Davis fired him, though the trumpeter had relented and taken him back by the end of November. In April 1957, Davis fired him again. This may have given him the impetus finally to kick his drug habit, and freed of the necessity of playing gigs with Davis he began to record even more frequently. On May 31, 1957, he finally made his recording debut as a leader, putting together a pickup band consisting of trumpeter Johnny Spawn, baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab, pianists Mal Waldron and Red Garland. In June 1957, he joined the Thelonious Monk Quartet, & during this period, developed a technique of playing several notes at once, and his solos began to go on longer. His second album to be recorded and released contemporaneously under his name alone was cut in September for Blue Note Records. This was Blue Train featuring trumpeter Lee Morgan trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Kenny Drew and the rhythm section of Chambers and “Philly” Joe Jones.
Coltrane is sometimes described as one of jazz’s most influential musicians, and certainly there are many other artists whose playing is heavily indebted to him. Perhaps more to the point, Coltrane is influential by example, inspiring musicians to experiment, take chances, and devote themselves to their craft. The controversy about his work has never died down, but partially as a result, his name lives on and his recordings continue to remain available and to be reissued frequently. Coltrane died officially of liver cancer at the age of 40 in July 1967. It has been suggested, however that the cause of Coltrane’s last illness was hepatitis, attributable to prolonged heroin abuse.
Recorded in 1957 – Tune Up
Born 1930 & raised in Harlem, Theodore “Sonny” Rollins will go down in history as not only the single most enduring tenor saxophonist of the bebop and hard bop era, but also the greatest contemporary jazz saxophonist of them all. His fluid and harmonically innovative ideas, effortless manner, and easily identifiable and accessible sound have influenced generations of performers, but have also fuelled the notion that mainstream jazz music can & should be widely enjoyed. He picked up his interest in music from an older brother, who motivated him to begin a study of the piano at the age of 9. A switch was made to alto saxophone in his early teens, and a couple of years later the influence of established Harlem player Coleman Hawkins brought about a permanent move to tenor sax. By this time Rollins and several of his peers had been swept up in the emerging bebop movement; a period was spent performing at dances with a high school band, but before long the young saxophonist had achieved a level of skill that allowed him to work alongside the professional musicians that inspired him. In 1948 he found a mentor in the form of pianist Thelonious Monk and within a year was recording as a sidesman for jazz luminaries such as Bud Powell. Soon thereafter, Rollins made the rounds quickly with groups led by Art Blakey, Tadd Dameron, & Chicago drummer Ike Day.
Beginning in the early fifties, Rollins began a number of productive musical associations — most notably as a member of Miles Davis band, with whom he recorded a series of albums which included sessions with Monk and The Modern Jazz Quartet. It was with the latter group that he initiated his career as a bandleader, releasing his first effort Sonny Rollins with the MJQ in 1951. A short hiatus from music was taken in the mid-fifties, during which Rollins signed into rehab in an attempt to resolve some of his drug dependency issues. Upon his return to action in 1955 he began a two year tenure in a quintet with drummer Max Roach while continuing to work with his own group (which also often included Roach). In 1956 Rollins made his biggest move, joining the famous ensemble of Max Roach and Clifford Brown, then formed his own legendary pianoless trio with bassist Wilbur Ware or Donald Bailey and drummer Elvin Jones or Pete La Roca in 1957, doing recorded sessions at the Village Vanguard. Pivotal albums such as Tenor Madness (with John Coltrane), Saxophone Colossus (with longstanding partner Tommy Flanagan), and Way Out West (with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne), and the collaborations with the MJQ, Clark Terry, and Sonny Clark, firmly established Rollins as a bona fide superstar. Approaching the age of 90, Rollins continued to perform encourage & mentor those courageous & confident enough to place themselves at the feet of the master.
Recorded in 1957 – The Kid from Red Bank
Born 1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey, “Count” Basie grew up a very determined man with a shy, evasive smile, and every time he played he seemed to reiterate the importance of epitomising swing within the concept of the blues. One of the music’s great editors, as a pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer, Basie played fewer notes in an evening than some pianists played in a chorus, but he ruled the roost when he wanted to. His solos were terse, understated, but always impeccably timed. He liked to play a few ringing notes and then let them air out over the steady chug of his rhythm section. Sometimes he would hold a single note, listen to the harmony rearrange itself underneath, and then at the last second descend in a clump of chords to the tonic. Basie conducted unobtrusively from the piano, with an occasional enigmatic nod, a bemused glance or a seemingly non committal phrase on the piano. At the end of a piece, he might wave his arms, but that gesture was for the benefit of the audience, not the orchestra. He was a true innovator leading the band for almost 50 years and recording on over 480 albums. Credited for creating the use of the two “split” tenor saxophone, emphasizing the rhythm section, riffing with a big band, using arrangers to broaden their sound, and beautifully layering masterful vocalists. Basie was often recognized for his understated yet captivating style of piano playing and his precise, impeccable musical leadership, earning nine Grammy Awards and made history in 1958 by becoming the first African-American to receive the award.
The Kid From Red Bank” is an excellent example of a big band tune as well as a great showpiece for jazz piano everywhere. This piece with its fast tempo, endless energy, reliable rhythm section and skilled soloist holds you spellbound until the very last note. Basie’s solo shows his excellence as a jazz pianist. Instead of filling up the space with a multitude of notes, Basie makes the empty spaces work for him. He knows exactly how to accent the coming sections his band will play, while also proving that it is his piece. He plays a variety of techniques from stride and syncopation, to glissandi and broken chords. This ability to play not in just one way, but many makes the solo a joy to listen to.
“Count” Basie died of cancer in 1984 at the age of 79
Recorded in 1958 – Moanin’
If jazz were a university, drummer, Art Blakey would be the chair of his own department. A seemingly effortless bandleader, he brought dozens of excellent jazz players to national attention, helping launch countless brilliant solo careers. Blakey started out on the Big Band circuit in the 1930s, before moving to Bebop in the late 1940s and finally forming the Jazz Messengers with Horace Silver in 1954. Starting in 1955, he devoted most of his playing time to that band, which in its three-and-a-half decades featured such genuine stars as Lee Morgan, Jackie McLean, Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, and Wynton Marsalis. Jazz may sound totally free form, and often is, but without the notion of “home,” without the guidance, without the band leader, the exercise is pointless. Blakey, learned this lesson early, growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the steel capital of the world in 1919, who’s music reflected the rhythmic nature of an industrial town that then ran twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. While it might have been expected that Art would have gone off wildly considering his industrial background, he chose to centre a calmness around the structure and lead with his drumming. Hence, we are back to the nature of a leader . Art not only had an ear, he had a vision, and while his music is centred around the core of the drum, he was not afraid, to at times nearly silence his drumming, allowing the bass & piano to take that the place of “home.”
© DJM 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file