Legendary jazz producer Orrin Keepnews started his career in the jazz music industry as a writer. A graduate of Columbia University in NYC, he wrote for the publication The Record Changer, writing the first national profile of then little-known pianist and composer Thelonious Monk.Continue reading Orrin Keepnews and the Keepnews Collection
In 1959, when In San Francisco was recorded, Cannonball Adderley was riding very high, having reformed his quintet with brother Nat following a stint with Miles Davis (performing on the classic Kind of Blue sessions) and the release of his classic ’58 album Somethin’ Else.
Orrin Keepnews decided to record Adderley’s group live at a small club in San Francisco, the Jazz Workshop. The recording process was a challenge, partly because of the speed needed to set up and record the date properly and partly because of the challenge of recording in a small, packed, noisy club atmosphere. Shortly before this, Keepnews had been recording sessions with guitar phenom Wes Montgomery, who Julian and Nat Adderley had discovered playing in an Indianapolis club, and a scant three months later he would record Nat Adderley’s classic album Work Song, featuring Montgomery.
Work Song also featured the same rhythm section heard on this live outing—Bobby Timmons at the piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums. They are solid on the studio set, but on this live recording, they are propulsive and full of energy that seems to bounce off the walls. Add to that Cannonball’s alto sax, darting here and there, uniting bebop and funky blues-drenched music in a manner that came to be known as ‘soul jazz’, and Nat Adderley’s acerbic, punchy cornet work that is consistently underrated by most listeners today, and you have a performance that is simply essential to any jazz lover’s music collection.
In San Francisco set the standard for live jazz recordings done in clubs, making no attempt to cut out audience sounds and leaving in Adderley’s comments between songs in. This was a wise choice, because Adderley had the ability to educate his audiences about his audience without talking down to them, and the sheer pleasure that he took in playing music comes across loud and clear. This approach to live recording was continued on both subsequent Riverside releases such as Sextet In New York and later work for Capitol like the classic Mercy Mercy Mercy.
Adderley and company showed up loaded for bear on this date, and the performances are nothing short of fantastic. Cannonball was the alto saxophonist who took the bop language of the instrument, as invented by Charlie Parker, and applied it to a funky, blues-drenched music that was first known as hard bop and then evolved into soul jazz. Nat Adderley is one of the great overlooked trumpet talents from this time period, and his playing here demonstrates why he was so valuable to his brother’s small combos. Bobby Timmons is smokin’, particularly on his solos on “Spontaneous Combustion” and Oscar Pettiford’s full speed ahead masterpiece “Bohemia After Dark.”
There are two alternate takes here, of “This Here” and “You Got It!”, both of which are as strong as the version originally included on the album and both of which demonstrate the inventiveness and originality of this essential group. No jazz collection worthy of the name will be lacking Cannonball Adderley’s In San Francisco, and for those who don’t yet have it, now is the time to pick it up, as the newly remastered recording sounds fantastic.
Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers was one of the longest-running, self-renewing ensembles in the history of jazz music. Beginning (sort of) in 1955 with the group Horace Silver, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Doug Watkins, and Blakey, the group remained an ever-changing quintet until 1961, at which time the sextet heard on Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ Caravan came into being.
The addition of a third horn brought new textures to the group’s sound and new complexity to its arrangements. Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, and Wayne Shorter were all considered strong rising stars at the time of this album’s recording (1962). Shorter, as the only holdover from Blakey’s previous edition of the Messengers, was the de facto musical director and had become a composer of some note as well. In a short time, he would leave Blakey to become part of Miles Davis’ second great quintet, but as of the recording of this album, he was already a force to be reckoned with.
So impressive was this band, that Blakey himself is not nearly as strongly at the fore as on some previous recordings. Of course, Blakey was a great drummer precisely because he could make himself felt even when the listener might not be overly aware of hearing him, but there seems to be a sense that he let these new kids drive, content to provide a bit of direction here and there, perhaps enjoying the band’s momentum as much as we, as listeners, do. That’s not to say that Blakey lacks force here when needed. His opening drum riffs set the scene on “Caravan” and drive the piece forward as surely as a camel driver urging his charge through a desert sandstorm.
Shorter and Hubbard contribute pieces to the recording, and both distinguish themselves well in this regard. Shorter’s pieces include “Sweet ‘n’ Sour,” a jazz waltz that is a study in contrast, and “This Is for Albert,” a harmonically interesting piece that is dedicated to Bud Powell. Hubbard contributes the minor-key “Thermo,” an energetic piece that points the way towards the young trumpet phenom’s reputation as ‘the new Miles.’ Hubbard’s playing also bears some comparison to Davis, although his clear push into the instrument’s upper register on his interpretation of “Skylark” is rather unlike Miles. Though Fuller was actively writing for the band at this time, none of his compositions are feature here. He acquits himself well, though, on his feature ballad, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” with his warm tone and all-round beautiful playing.
It’s pretty pointless to compare the various editions of the Jazz Messengers, a group that continued to exist in various forms and with various musicians until 1990, but one doesn’t have to look far to see that this edition of the band was something special. In a discography full of great albums with nary a poor or commonplace one among them, Art Blakey’s Caravan is a standout—which is high praise indeed.
Tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath’s second Riverside album, Really Big! is truly a gem, and for many it will be a previously undiscovered one. The personnel here is, as Keepnews mentions in his new set of liner notes, highly significant. Certainly, it was a feather in the cap of Keepnews and Riverside to be able to field a group that included Heath and his brothers, Percy (bass) and Albert (drums) as well as Clark Terry, Nat Adderley, Tom McIntosh, Dick Berg, Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, Pat Patrick and, on separate tracks, Cedar Walton and Tommy Flanagan. But it also speaks to the tremendous respect that Jimmy Heath has always commanded from fellow musicians.
It might not sound like a radical idea now to record Jimmy Heath with a ten piece orchestra playing mostly his own compositions and arrangements, but back in 1960, when this recording was made, jazz was the purview of the small group—generally sextet or smaller. Count Basie was still leading a successful big band, as was Duke Ellington. A number of other stalwarts from the big band era were still playing and recording, but the milieu generally belonged to small ensembles. But the larger ensemble never really died out, even if it did go underground for awhile.
Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and a few other stalwarts continued to record and tour with their large bands, and talented arranger/composers like Charles Mingus, Thad Jones, Gil Evans, and others found ways to combine the power of the big ensemble sound with the excitement of the smaller, improvisational combo.
The opener, “Big P” is a tribute to brother Percy, and he introduces the track, getting it off to a swinging start. Heath’s tenor work on this album serves to remind what an excellent player he has always been. “Old Fashioned Fun” is a similarly swinging tune, with trombonist McInstosh and Flanagan soloing as well as Heath. With three saxes, two trumpets, trombone and French horn, Heath is able to make the group sound similar to a big band of eighteen pieces. Admittedly, there may be slightly less ‘punch’ at times, but the shadings and nuances are often filled in by the listener’s ear, a trick well-learned by Mingus and clearly by Heath as well.
Cannonball and Nat Adderley played on some really interesting albums featuring arrangements for bigger groups, including a couple by Gil Evans, at this time. Most listeners likely think of Adderley as a small group player and as a soloist, but he’s able to fit well into a sax section also. He does some great soloing as well, though, particularly on the Heath original “Nails” and the arrangement of “Green Dolphin Street.”
The mood is swinging throughout, although Heath does offer the gorgeous ballad tribute to his wife, “Mona’s Mood.” Really Big! is a Jimmy Heath album I was not familiar with, but it will certainly remain a favorite listen for years to come. I had the pleasure of seeing Jimmy Heath perform a few years ago at the Chicago Jazz Festival, and I was struck by the way his playing seemed both natural and yet well-thought-out at the same time. So it is with Really Big!, an album that delights on both an emotional and intellectual level.
Power to the People is a typical high-quality Joe Henderson affair. It’s a well-known truism that Joe Henderson was, for years, one of the most consistently underrated tenor saxophonists on the jazz scene. True, he was known and discussed, but never seemed to be placed in the company of greats like Coltrane and Rollins.
Similarly to Dexter Gordon (who he was greatly influenced by), Henderson was well-respected in jazz circles but didn’t have a mainstream breakthrough until much later in his career. In Henderson’s case, it was the 1992 recording Lush Life. However, there is ample recorded evidence of Henderson’s vitality throughout his long career, with distinct phases. From 1963-68, Henderson appeared on somewhere around thirty albums for Blue Note. While many of these were as a leader, he was a sideman on some heavy projects, including Horace Silver’s Song for My Father, Herbie Hancock’s Prisoner, and Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch.
In 1970 Henderson signed with Orrin Keepnews’ fledgling Milestone label, where he became an equally prolific leader and sideman. His Milestone recordings rank among Joe Henderson’s best and most interesting work, with the newly reissued Power to the People of particular interest due to its stellar supporting cast: Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, and trumpeter Mike Lawrence on two tracks. With the exception of Carter’s “Opus One-Point-Five” and the standard “Lazy Afternoon,” all the compositions here are Henderson’s.
Power to the People leads off with “Black Narcissus,” one of Henderson’s best-loved compositions. In the album’s original liner notes Alan Heinman marvels: “Dig on ‘Black Narcissus,’ for instance, where Joe floats like a butterfly with a tone so airy he might in spots be blowing alto. That a man could participate in the moods of both ‘Power to the People’ and ‘Black Narcissus’ is not astonishing; that he can be wholly convincing in both worlds and others besides, is.”
Amazingly, Henderson eschews neither Coltrane nor Rollins (what tenor player could?), but he occupies a territory somewhere between the two, which is wholly his own. Similarly, his take on soul and rock-influenced jazz here is different than most of what was being labeled ‘fusion’ at the time. Even though the rhythm section is all-electric on this track, the interaction between the players is really no different from any post-bop jazz small group recording.
Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, both former members of Miles Davis’ second great quintet and veterans of Davis’ transition from straight jazz to electric rock/funk-oriented music provide a solid basis for Henderson and the largely unknown Lawrence (on two tracks), while drummer Jack DeJohnette (who also worked with Davis on the seminal Bitches Brew) is, as always, near-perfect.
For fans of modern jazz, Power to the People is something of an undiscovered classic, offering a fine performance that endures repeated listening from one of the music’s most creative and often under-recognized improvisers.
Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington was designed to get people who thought of Monk and his music as ‘difficult’ and ‘weird’ (and there were already plenty of them in 1955), to give him a listen from a different perspective. Many years and recordings later, we are perhaps more used to listening to and thinking of Monk as a pianist of considerable talent, although I would argue that there are still far too many who consider him to be a somewhat limited pianist. This 24-bit remastered reissue of a unique and stunning album from the Monk discography should go a long way towards fixing that perception.
Monk seems very relaxed and affable at the keyboard here, swinging fiercely and demonstrating an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz piano styles. Accompanied by bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Kenny Clarke, he moves with ease through Ellington’s compositions. His work is spare, devoid of unnecessary ornamentation, but there are flashes of technical ebullience and the typical Monk humor. While he’s very lyrical on most of this album, he does find some harmonically interesting ways of dressing up some of the familiar compositions—two examples being “Mood Indigo” and “Caravan.”
Keepnews and his partner, Bill Grauer, wanted to get people to hear Monk as a pianist and as a jazz musician whose place in the long line of jazz history was clear from listening to him play. They felt that, in order to do this, it would be best to present him, initially, in a trio setting, with no horns and no original compositions. Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington and its followup, The Unique Thelonious Monk certainly gave Keepnews valuable experience in working and dealing with a musician as unique as Monk, and by the time Brilliant Corners, Monk’s third Riverside release, was recorded, the relationship (which proved to be a long one) was already on solid ground.
No period in Monk’s recorded history was more amazing and showed greater development than his time with Riverside. By comparison, his work for Blue Note is a mere warm-up, and his Columbia years, while often rewarding, have the feel of an established musician honing his work to obtain the best possible performances to bequeath to future generations. Thelonious Monk Play Duke Ellington, then, stands as one of Monk’s (admittedly many) best recordings, and its latest incarnation in the Keepnews Collection ensures that it will continue to be heard by an avid and interested audience in the digital age.