By Dee Dee McNeil

I was expectant and excited when I heard that Harold Land, our beloved Los Angeles-based, tenor saxophone icon, will be part of a new project. A record company that calls itself Reel to Real Recordings launched in 2017. Its mission is to unearth important and previously unreleased jazz performances. Their focus is on important archival and legendary artists. Already in line to become recordings are concerts by Cannonball Adderley, Etta Jones, Johnny Griffin, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and George Coleman’s Quintet.

Harold Land’s project was released this summer. Reel to Real Recordings unearthed Land’s amazing concerts performed in Seattle. They were recorded at the Penthouse jazz club way back in 1962 through 1965. This album is called “Westward Bound!” It’s part of a planned series of historic music releases, under the direction of Cory Weeds and Zev Feldman, partners of the Reel to Reel label.

Engineer, Jim Wilke, has preserved some of Harold Land’s best work, during ‘live’ performances with three different bands. One quintet is inclusive of the Montgomery Brothers, Buddy on piano and Monk on bass, along with drummer Jimmy Lovelace, Kansas City trumpeter, Carmell Jones, and Harold Land as bandleader. This music was honed from a weekly broadcast on KING-FM radio over half a century ago. I agree with Zev Feldman, co-president of Resonance Records and a partner in Reel to Reall Recordings when he said:

“I feel that these recordings of Harold Land are special and need to be heard. Land was one of the purveyors of West Coast jazz, whom I feel is an under-recognized genius who doesn’t get discussed enough,” Feldman praised the tenor saxophone master.

On the opening number, “Vindetta,” Carmell Jones on trumpet and Harold land on tenor sax come straight out the gate like Santa Anita race horses. After working so long with trumpet genius, Clifford Brown, it’s no wonder that on some of these concert performances, Harold Land has included a trumpeter in his group. This original composition by Harold swings hard. Bassist, Monk Montgomery, is powerful beneath the excitement, walking his upright bass and holding the rhythm in place along with Jimmy Lovelace on drums. Pianist Buddy Montgomery is tasty and creative as his fingers skip along the piano keys.

Born December 18, 1928, Harold de Vance Land was a native of Houston, Texas but his family relocated to San Diego, California when he was in the first grade. He got a late start on his instrument, deciding to pursue the tenor saxophone at age sixteen. His gift on the instrument was immediately noticeable. Just five years later, he landed a record deal with the Harold Land All-Stars for Savoy Records. According to journalist, Jim Trageser, the record offer was the result of Harold playing with trumpeter, Fro Brigham’s band. When the band was offered a record deal, Brigham pushed Harold Land’s name to the forefront as their bandleader.* He was only twenty-one years old.

Note: Reference: *On-line San Diego Troubador/July 2021

Sometime between 1954 and 1955, Harold Land moved to Los Angeles. That’s where his talent was noticed by a young trumpeter making a big commotion on the bebop scene; the iconic Clifford Brown.

Thus, was born the Brown-Roach collaboration and band. The band members were as close as brothers and Harold even relocated to Philadelphia to live with the group’s pianist, Richie Powell (brother of Bud Powell). However, Harold Land grew homesick and perhaps was concerned about his then pregnant wife, so he returned to Los Angeles. Consequently, he was replaced by Sonny Rollins.

That move to Los Angeles could have saved Harold Land’s life. Just a year after he returned to L. A., a horrific car crash killed Clifford Brown, Richie Powell and Richie’s wife. In 1956, on a rain-slick Pennsylvania Turnpike, while driving to a gig in Chicago, the three suffered a deadly accident. One of the few, if only known taping of trumpet prodigy Clifford Brown, was from an appearance on the Detroit-based Soupy Sales Show. The band is behind the curtain with Clifford out front and interviewed briefly by Soupy after his performance.

Harold Land has a warm, buttery sound on his saxophone. He and Carmell Jones worked together regularly on sessions for Pacific Jazz Records. It’s good to hear their camaraderie on this “Westward Bound” release from Reel to Real. On “Beep Durple” (a take-off of the popular jazz tune, Deep Purple) Carmell Jones penned this original composition. Drummer, Jimmy Lovelace, propels this bebop tune forward on his trap drums and Monk Montgomery sticks with him like Velcro, pumping his walking bass vigorously.

This historic album is made up of various bands and concerts that Harold Land performed in Seattle. The tune “My Romance” issues in a new quartet made up of Hampton Hawes on piano and Los Angeles based drummer, Mel Lee. Montgomery remains the bassist and this lovely ballad unfolds with Hampton Hawes performing an ear-catching introduction on piano. The group continues on the Hawes composition, “Triplin’ the Groove.” This song brings us back to the wonderful blues roots that Harold Land grew from, blossoming into a bright and beautiful flower on his tenor sax.

When bass man, Curtis Counce invited Land to join his band, Harold said yes and worked with them between 1956 and 1958. In January of 1958, Harold Land recorded as a bandleader for Contemporary Records an album called, “Harold in the Land of Jazz.” At that time, he was working with Leroy Vinegar on bass, Frank Butler on drums, Carl Perkins on piano and Rolf Ericson on trumpet. The album cover featured the legendary Watts Towers looming behind Harold playing his tenor sax.

“The Fox” was released in 1959 and is one of Land’s stellar recordings. You clearly hear his hard-bop prowess sparkling on these albums. In 1959, he recorded “Grooveyard” on Contemporary Records and in 1960, for Jazzland Records he made the “Eastward Ho! Harold land in New York with Kenny Dorham” album.

Harold also worked with the Shorty Rogers’ Giants in 1961. All through the 1960s, Harold Land was in demand as a studio session musician. He also worked regularly with Red Mitchell throughout 1961 and 1962. Some of you may remember it was Red Mitchell who helped to advance Ornette Coleman’s early jazz career. As Harold Land’s reputation grew, he answered a number of calls to work with A-list jazz musicians. He co-led a band with Bobby Hutcherson from 1969 to 1971.

One of my favorite albums by Harold Land is “A Lazy Afternoon” released in 1995, conducted and arranged by the great Ray Ellis with our beloved Bill Henderson (Kamon) on piano as part of Land’s specialized rhythm section. These beautiful ballads, (made famous by Billie Holiday) showed the softer, more romantic side of Harold Land.

You can really hear how Harold Land was influenced by John Coltrane on his arrangement of “Invitation” recorded in Germany during a live performance with his “All Stars” group at the Subway Jazz Club in Cologne. His band is stuffed with legendary talent including L.A.’s own, Billy Higgins on drums, Cedar Walton on piano and Buster Williams brilliant on bass.

The final tunes, on this re-discovered “Westward Bound!” project, were recorded with John Houston on piano and the explosive Philly Joe Jones on drums. Monk Montgomery is still on bass and this quartet was recorded on August 5 of 1965 at the Penthouse jazz club. You hear Land’s breathy tenderness on his tenor as he explores “Who Can I Turn To?” Every cut on this album is an individual masterpiece and celebrates the talent and mastery of Harold Land Sr.

Land was a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined the UCLA Jazz Studies Program as a lecturer in 1996 to teach Instrumental Jazz Combo.

“Harold Land was one of the major contributors in the history of the jazz saxophone,” said jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, founder and director of the UCLA Jazz Studies Program.

Harold Land left this Earth in July of 2001 after suffering a terminal stroke. This historic album continues to sing his legacy.

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