For my 15th birthday my parents took me and my best friend to see some live jazz. I don’t know how they made the selection, but we went to the Village Gate in Greenwich Village to see pianist Ray Bryant open for Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. To say it was life-changing would still be playing it down. I certainly wasn't expecting what I heard.
This was 1959 and there was an undercurrent of gospel music in many of the jazz quintets at that time. So that made an easy aural entrance for me as I already was listening to undiluted gospel music by this time. Before long, I was frequenting New York hot spots like Birdland, The 5 Spot, The Metropole, the Village Vanguard, Slugs, and I had a shortlist of favorite acts I began to follow: Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and, most of all, Maynard Ferguson’s Orchestra from 1960 to 1964. I was the equivalent of a groupie back then. I went to every New York show that band played. I was soon recognized by some of the musicians in the band because of my loyal attendance. I dreamed I could have a band like that and that’s how Blood Sweat & Tears was born in late 1967. Two years after that I actually had a band the same size as Maynard’s and our band toured the whole summer of 1969. There were ex-members of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and even Maynard’s bands in my lineups that summer. It was thrilling. But the basic point I’m making is I was able to take all the jazz I listened to and concoct my own music based on intense, dedicated listening and study. I have left out the most obvious big names in my choices so that I could show you some things you might not have heard.
So don’t think I don’t have scads of LPs by Monk, Miles, Coltrane, Cannonball, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Dave Brubeck, etc. In the interest of my general audience, I edited down the length of each track to just include what grabbed me back then. It was painful to leave so much out, but I was just trying to point out specific sections of long pieces. I apologize in advance to all parties concerned. If you hear something you like, go chase the real version — it will be MUCH better in its entirety. Okay, ‘nuff said, time to listen...
Horn section of the Al Kooper Big Band circa 1969
Back row l-r: Marvin Stamm, Bernie Glow, Ernie Royal, Ray DeSio, Bill Watrous
Front row l-r: Sol Schlinger (blocked by microphone) Joe Farrell, George Young, Seldon Powell
This is from a soundcheck at Brandeis University
Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.
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1. "Baby Please Don't Go" — Mose Allison (2:15)
Mose was one of the first pianists and singers I got into and he certainly had strong doses of blues in his work. This was from his early work on the Prestige label, one of his first albums actually, where the engineer hadn’t noticed that Mose would uncontrollably grunt and groan gutteral sounds while he played his solos. Oscar Peterson and Keith Jarrett also shared this ‘affliction’ with Mose and their recordists soon learned to turn off their vocal mikes when they were soloing, ESPECIALLY in the recording studio. Early on, this engineer did NOT do that and here is the distracting result in the piano solos. I covered this song in 1970 live in concert and it’s on the Rare and Well Done album. Here’s an edited version that I’m sure has traces of the Mose influence in it.
2. "Night Rider" — Stan Getz & Eddie Sauter (2:31)
In 1960 I bought this startling album called Focus by tenor sax player Stan Getz. It has an interesting story behind it. The above-mentioned Eddie was part of a semi-classical aggregation called The Sauter-Finnegan Orchestra and they released original material that was pretty avant garde for those times. So Eddie wrote some original arrangements as vehicles for Stan to improvise over. They did NOT collaborate until the actual recording session. Stan had special music sheets prepared by Eddie that showed the chords and the layout of the arrangement and after one run-through, they recorded Getz immediately, with Stan totally improvising over the orchestra. Each track is totally different and this album still sounds remarkable 52 years later. I wrote a strange song when I was in BS&T while we were recording Child Is Father to the Man and producer John Simon (BS&T, The Band, Taj Mahal, Big Brother & The Holding Co., The Cyrkle, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, etc) played the Eddie Sauter role after I played him my new, strange song ("The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes & Freud") AND the Focus album. He wrote an inspired arrangement for a double string quartet. Here is the result. (John Simon pictured above, circa 1967)
3. "Misty" — Hank Crawford (3:00)
Also in 1960, my ears were lucky enough to hear Hank Crawford’s debut solo album which contained this soulful version of Errol Garner’s classic composition. The album was called More Soul and that is surely what it contained. Hank was best known for being the alto player and arranger in Ray Charles’s band and this album replicates that band MINUS Ray. So there are nine horns and bass and drums. No guitar. No piano. There is no instrument playing chords along with the bass and drums, so the arrangements had to be carefully concocted so you could imagine the correct chords on occasion when the horns weren’t playing them. In addition, I had to this point never heard an alto player cry like Hank could. I became an instant fan of his AND the alto sax. Later in life, I wrote a 1940s-type tune and recorded it on my instrumental album Rekooperation in the early '90s and got Hank to play lead on it. I stood in the booth with tears in my eyes as he wailed away, in my opinion as well as he did on "Misty." Here’s some of THAT, if you’d like.
4. "Go East, Young Man" — Maynard Ferguson Orchestra (3:06)
As I mentioned upstairs, this band was my jazz Beatles. I used to say they could put dents in your shirt at 30 feet. Maynard was known as the ‘high guy’ because he could play higher notes than anyone else and also because he hung heavy with Timothy Leary. He hired a trumpet section that could also play fluently in the upper register and there probably wasn’t a trumpet section in any other band that could play their arrangements because of this. I have many favorite tracks but this gives a good example of what was great about them. The composition is by trombonist/arranger Slide Hampton and solos by Maynard and drummer Rufus ‘Speedy’ Jones, who was always the nicest to me when I used to "hang out with the band." I have included the only recording of my Big Band’s 1969 version of “Hey Jude.” Charlie Calello and I did the arrangement in the style of Ferguson and we used to open each show with this one. This recording was a rehearsal with Al Rogers on drums, and Joe Farrell and George Young soloing on saxes. These were the days, my friends, as the writer of “Hey Jude” used to say. You shoulda seen the look on the guys' faces in BeBop Deluxe when my 15-piece band opened up for them back then.
5. "Black Coffee" — Freddy Cole (2:40)
I always loved this. Freddy was Nat King Cole’s brother and he sang pretty damn well himself. This is my favorite version of this song and the only one I ever liked sung by a man. Chris Connor or Peggy Lee were fave female foot-tappers. My friend photographer Guy Webster's dad wrote the lyric. I called an album of mine Black Coffee but chickened out of covering it because of this version.
6. "It's Only a Paper Moon" — Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (3:25)
I always had a soft spot in my heart for this quintet as they swiped my live jazz cherry on my 15th birthday. They were a mighty band: Wayne Shorter on tenor sax and arrangements, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Bobby Timmons on piano, Jymie Merritt on bass, and the king of the pressed roll and perfect time, Art Blakey on drums. With Shorter or Timmons composing most of the originals they did, they still had time for the old standards, but they always had great arrangements. This was a showcase for trumpeter Lee Morgan, who died young. What a shame too as he routinely turned in performances like this on most tracks.
Lee Morgan — Jazz Trumpet Messenger
7. "Slop" — Charles Mingus (3:17)
I learned an incredible amount about jazz from the Columbia Records albums Mingus Ah-Um and Mingus Dynasty. This is from the latter and features John Handy on sax and Roland Hanna on piano. Mingus plays bass, wrote the arrangement, and hoots and hollers all over this track, egging his sidemen on in their gospel-like journey. Dannie Richmond’s drumming is immortal to me and, generally speaking, he became my favorite jazz drummer. Producer Teo Macero says what you’re thinking at the end.
8. "Filthy McNasty" — Horace Silver Quintet (2:16)
Horace was the Jerry Lee Lewis of jazz back then. He had his slick, wavy Portugese hairstyle combed straight back but when he REALLY started rockin’, it would fall forward and completely cover his face like Jerry Lee and also the late Allen Collins from Skynyrd. He also played damn close to rock and roll solos and wrote a soulful book of songs. Steely Dan appropriated the intro to his "Song For My Father" for “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and I used to play this solo verbatim in blues tunes because I could. His most covered composition remains “Sister Sadie.” This solo, however, was my favorite of all, and a big, big influence on my keyboard playing today.
9. "Back to Blue Some More" — Valerie Carter (4:58)
Now this stands alone. This is as close to purr-fect as it gets for my taste, a very original composition with some great lyrics: The sandwich was tired / The lettuce expired / And business was slow / The waitress was no princess but I held her hand / Just to touch somebody strange / When she gave me back my change. Beautiful chord changes especially in the chorus, full of grandeur and majesty. The arrangement is paralyzingly stunning, sparked by Bill Payne’s (Little Feat) totally tasteful and appropriate keyboard backing that playfully chases Fred Tackett’s guitar fills like two puppies playing endlessly in the backyard on a spring day. And the topper is famed saxist Ernie Watts wiggling in and out with fills that scream with originality and amazing minimalism. Payne is given credit for the awesome arrangement and Valerie, Payne and Lowell George are the listed songwriters. Sometimes I wish folks like that would co-write with me every now and then. Although this was released in 1976, it still influences me today but I am still eons away from matching its total grandeur and originality. I never get tired of listening to this and God bless George Massenburg’s regal engineering and mixing!
10. "Spain" — Return To Forever feat. Chick Corea (4:42)
I felt like Jason, the knife-wielding murderer in all those horror flicks, editing down this nearly ten-minute standard to 4:42 and only including Joe Farrell ‘s flute solo and Chick Corea’s piano solo to magnify what great accompaniment and solo skills he had even back then. I am totally into what is known as ‘comping’ in my line of work, i.e. what you play behind someone's vocal or instrument solo. I have studied comping my whole life and this excerpt shows tremendous ingenuity, motor skills and pure T-A-S-T-E as just another part of Corea’s vast arsenal. One has infinite choices but his decisions are unexpected and that is what makes him original. He urges Farrell’s solo on to complexities I bet Joe didn’t even originally consider. This is the total primer on how comping can and should be done. Chick's solo is non-stop aggressiveness and why shouldn’t it be? I didn’t even mention he wrote the song as well. It didn’t hurt him either to have Stanley Clarke on bass, Lenny White on drums, Airto Moreira on percussion, and Flora Purim on vocals, all along for this Spanish joyride. Perhaps a hunk of manchego cheese and a BIG bowl of paella might make it an even tastier trip! Adios, amigos, until next week!
My Musical Foundations, Part One: Doo-Wop
My Musical Foundations, Part Two: Rockabilly
My Musical Foundations, Part Three: Comparatively Modern Soul Gospel Music
My Musical Foundations, Part Four: R&B