by Scott Yanow
Dexter Gordon had quite a life. After gaining experience as a sideman with the Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong and Billy Eckstine big bands, he was the first tenor-saxophonist to play and record bebop. Gordon was the star of many Los Angeles area jam sessions in the mid-to-late 1940s (teaming up with Wardell Gray and Lucky Thompson), was on and off the scene in the 1950s, had his first of three major comebacks in the early 1960s with his Blue Note recordings, enjoyed a very fertile period when he was based in Europe (1963-77), gained a lot of attention during his triumphant return to the U.S, and earned an Academy Award nomination for his acting in Round Midnight. A consistently exciting soloist and a lovable figure, Gordon (who early on was a strong influence on John Coltrane) was popular throughout his life.
Two previously unreleased Dexter Gordon recordings are both quite worthy. Gordon was featured regularly on the radio during his many stints at Copenhagen’s Montmartre and quite a few albums of the broadcasts have been released by the Steeplechase label. However the music on Montmartre 1964 (Storyville), which is drawn from the July 20 and 28, 1964 programs, has not been out before. Gordon is joined by one of favorite rhythm sections: the great pianist Tete Montoliu, 18-year old bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and drummer Alex Riel. Most surprising is “Big Fat Butterfly” which is a medium-tempo exploration of “Poor Butterfly” and contains a joyful and effective Gordon vocal. Other highlights include his original “I Want More,” “Manha de Carnival,” “Misty” and the Sonny Stitt blues “Loose Walk.” Montmartre 1964 is available from www.storyvillerecords.com.
The two-CD set Live In Chateauvallon 1978 (Elemental Music) teams Dexter Gordon with his regular quartet of the late 1970s (pianist George Cables, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Eddie Gladden) which was formed after he had returned to the U.S. Recorded in France at the Chateauvallon Jazz Festival, it contains four very long performances. “Tangerine” (which has solos by each of the musicians) and Horace Silver’s joyful “Strollin’” are over 21 minutes apiece and have excellent tenor solos. “More Than You Know” (which is almost 25 minutes) is taken quite slow as Gordon, after reciting some of the lyrics, plays the verse and then many choruses, putting a lot of feeling into the piece. Cables is particularly inspired during his adventurous solo. Following is a marathon version of Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy.” After Gordon plays for 11 minutes on the medium-tempo blues, the piece (which runs on for nearly 38 minutes) is not even 1/3 completed. Gladden’s drum solo definitely goes on a bit. The program concludes with Gordon’s closing theme, “Long Tall Dexter,” during which he introduces the band.
Live In Chateauvallon 1978, which has an extensive and informative booklet, contains enough strong moments for it to be recommended to Dexter Gordon fans. It is available from www.elemental-music.com.
It all started when author and music historian Jeff Gold bought a large collection of souvenir photographs taken at jazz clubs in the 1940s and ‘50s. The posed shots, which were made by photographers in hopes of selling them directly to the customers as souvenirs (often for $1 apiece), are of music fans and drinkers, both white and black (and sometimes integrated groups), and occasionally also including a performing musician (such as Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker) sitting at the table and smiling with their happy fans.
While Jeff Gold’s background is in rock, he did a lot of research and the result is his attractive book, Sittin’ In: Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s (available from Harper Collins at www.hc.com.). In addition to those never before published photos, Gold includes a lot of memorabilia (handbills, postcards, matchbooks, menus, and other photos) from specific clubs. He has chapters on some of the main cities that had jazz clubs, includes generally rewarding interviews with Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, Dan Morgenstern, Jason Moran, and fashion critic Robin Givhan, and does his best to piece together the story of jazz of the 1930-60 period.
There are faults to the book. The emphasis on New York is understandable but such cities as Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City are given far from a complete treatment, there is no mention of clubs from New Orleans, and the Los Angeles section is rather unfortunate. While the Lighthouse is mentioned in the brief summary of L.A., it is not really covered at all and only Club Alabam, Downbeat, Last Word, Joe Morris’ Plantation Club, Billy Berg’s and the Oasis Club receive a bit of space, while San Francisco is summed up with just the Town Club and Bop City. Clearly the focus in this book had more to do with what is in Gold’s collection than the club’s significance.
Also, there are many minor historical errors found throughout the text. For one example, Gold writes that “The Apollo opened on January 16, 1934 during the height of the swing era.” The swing era did not even begin until 1935. In another spot he says that 52nd Street was beginning to decline in the late 1940s. Truth is, 52nd Street was finished as a jazz center by 1947. Those and other errors could have been cleared up if a jazz historian had been asked to proofread the book.
But on the plus side, Jeff Gold includes a lot of interesting information about the clubs that did make his book such as whether they were integrated or (as with the Cotton Club) not a place that welcomed black customers. And since the photos and memorabilia are fun to see, Sittin’ In is recommended.
The world of country blues in the 1920s and ‘30s ran parallel to the jazz and pop music worlds. After Mamie Smith had an unexpected hit with “Crazy Blues” in 1920 which alerted record labels to the untapped African-American market for blues and jazz records, a blues craze during 1921-24 resulted in a large assortment of female blues and vaudevillian singers getting opportunities to record. Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and Ma Rainey were among the most significant discoveries while many other singers only had a chance to record a handful of titles before slipping away into history. A similar situation occurred after Blind Lemon Jefferson made his first recordings in 1926 but this time the recordings emphasized country blues artists, usually male singers who also played guitar or piano. Country blues was looser than the citified version, with some artists (particularly solo performers) not confining themselves to the same number of bars in a chorus. They might linger longer than expected on a particular chord, or jump ahead a few bars unexpectedly, depending on their thoughts at the moment. It made it more difficult for accompanists (if they had any) to follow them but it also made their music more personal and surprising.
During 1982-88, the Saydisc label from England in their Matchbox Bluesmaster series, released 42 Lps of mostly very rare country blues performances from the 1926-34 period (with two songs from 1950). Rather than samplers, these were reissues of all of the music of a particular artist from a specific period. Since then, the Matchbox albums have become scarce collectors’ items. But happily this year Saydisc is reissuing all 42 albums on seven six-CD sets along with the late Paul Oliver’s informative liner notes. The first two sets were recently released and they contain plenty of treasures for vintage blues collectors.
The music ranges from lowdown blues to folk songs and goodtime music, the type of performances that could be heard in black roadhouses and on street corners in the South. Set 1 consists of Country Blues – The First Generation 1927 (all of the titles by Papa Harvey Hull, Long Cleve Reed and Richard “Rabbit” Brown including “Sinking Of The Titanic”), Buddy Boy Hawkins (1927-29), Bo Weavil Jackson (1926), Ragtime Blues Guitar (Bill Moore, Stephen Tarter, Harry Gay, Bayless Rose and Willie Walker from 1928-30), Peg Leg Howell (1928-29), and Texas Alexander (1927-28 with accompaniment by either guitarist Lonnie Johnson or pianist Eddie Heywood Sr.). Set 2 is actually a bit stronger since it consists of Skip James (1931), Coley Jones & The Dallas String Band (1927-29), Great Harp Players 1927-30 (fascinating early efforts from Richard Sowell, El Watson, Palmer McAbee, Freeman Stowers, Blues Birdhead, and Alfred Lewis), pianist Leroy Carr & guitarist Scrapper Blackwell (their first recordings from 1928), Tommie Bradley & James Cole (1930-32), and Charlie Lincoln (1927-30), but both sets are highly recommended to early blues collectors. It is great to have these priceless performances available again. They are available from www.saydisc.com.
THE JAZZ HERITAGE SERIES
Military jazz orchestras are among the finest big bands in the world since they are able to hire the top musicians, pay them well, and play at prestigious events. The Airmen Of Note is the main jazz big band of the United States Air Force. Founded in 1950, its historic predecessor was Glenn Miller’s Army Air Corps band. At several of their live performances each year since 1990, The Airmen Of Note have been featured in the Jazz Heritage Series, radio programs that spotlight the band plus an invited guest. Each year since at least 2007, a three-CD set consisting of three of the programs has been released for radio stations, reviewers, and interested parties.
The hour-long programs include a few numbers by the swinging modern big band in addition to performances with the guest and an interview by Dick Golden (who knows the music and subjects very well). The featured performer typically is clearly inspired by the top-notch orchestra and often verbally expresses their appreciation. The programs allow one to hear these artists in different settings than usual (since they are not using their working group) and the results are often quite memorable.
The 2014 programs feature Roberta Gambarini, trombonist Andy Martin, and vibraphonist Joe Locke, 2015 has trumpeter Bobby Shew, a tribute to some of the top jazz small groups since 1945, and a “best of” CD that, in addition to repeating a few numbers on these other sets, includes performances from Al Jarreau, Carmen Bradford, Doc Severinsen, Phil Woods, Kurt Elling, and the New York Voices. 2016 features vibraphonist Stefon Harris, the team of trumpeter Marvin Stamm and pianist Bill Mays, and saxophonist Walt Weiskopf. 2017 (trombonist Steve Turre, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, and trumpeter Terell Stafford), 2018 (Nnenna Freelon, drummer Peter Erskine, and trombonist Marshall Gilkes), and 2019 (a particularly strong trio of broadcasts with Cyrille Aimee, pianist Kenny Barron, and Branford Marsalis) all contain many great moments. The 2020 Jazz Heritage Series release is just a single CD (perhaps due to the pandemic) with two songs from the big band and three songs apiece featuring trombonist John Fedchock, bassist Christian McBride, and Randy Brecker.
No matter the year, the Airmen Of Note distinguish themselves throughout these broadcasts, holding their own with the world’s top big bands. For more information about this valuable and enjoyable series, contact www.usafband.af.mil.