October 25, 2016
Alyssa Allgood Out Of The Blue (Jeru Jazz JJR-5-CD)
Among the many new young vocalists who happily label themselves as ‘jazz singers’ are just a few who truly deserve the title. Unquestionably, Alyssa Allgood is one of these few. Based in Chicago, she has gained acclaim locally and has also attracted attention further afield while studying, then working with mentors including Jay Clayton and Madeline Eastman, and taking part in the 2015 Shure Montreaux Jazz Voice Competition. Alyssa’s love of jazz is immediately apparent from her choice of material, which includes Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Hank Mobley’s Watch Me Walk Away (Dig Dis), Sam Rivers’ Beatrice, Joe Chambers Mirrors (all with lyrics by Alyssa), Only A Memory (Ceora) by Lee Morgan and Milton Suggs, Joe Henderson’s If, Horace Silver’s Peace, the Bobby Timmons-Jon Hendricks classic, Moanin’, as well as Noticing The Moment (Moment’s Notice) by John Coltrane, Peter Eldridge and Kim Nazarian. As the album title makes clear, the material and its originators are associated with the classic Blue Note label and that company’s ethos lies at the heart of Alyssa’s work. Indeed, all of the instrumentalists heard here are with the label today. These collaborators are saxophonist Chris Madsen, organist Dan Chase, guitarist Tim Fitzgerald, and drummer Matt Plaskota. All play with skill and the mutual empathy is apparent throughout, in ensemble, supporting the singer, as well as soloing with flair. The arrangements, by Alyssa and Dan, are crafted to allow ample space for inventive vocal and instrumental solos. Alyssa’s singing voice is light and true, she is rhythmically assured and has a clear understanding of the intentions of the originators of the music. As is apparent, most of this music began as instrumental pieces and in some instances Alyssa’s vocals follow the original solo lines. Vocalese is a difficult art, as is scat singing, but Alyssa displays her accomplishment in these areas. Not that these forms of jazz singing are overused; rather, they are blended into a wholly satisfying display of jazz singing. Contemporary in presentation, the blues are never far away; a comment that might also apply to Blue Note Records. Alyssa Allgood is a name to look out for and to remember.
Matthew Kaminski Live At Churchill Grounds (Chicken Coup CCP 7026)
Playing Hammond B3 organ, here Matthew Kaminski leads his quartet through a live date, recorded over two nights in Atlanta. Rounding out the quartet are Will Scruggs, tenor saxophone, Rod Harris Jr, guitar, and Chris Burroughs, drums, all of them playing with the spirit heard in Hammond-led groups of the past. Also featured here is vocalist Kimberly Gordon, who sings on If I Had You, I Love Being Here With You and So Danco Samba. Mixed in with the standards are pop songs, such as the Beach Boys’ Sail On Sailor, and jazz pieces, like Jimmy Smith’s Midnight Special, Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me and It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dream, on both of which Kimberly sings, and Lou Donaldson’s Hot Dog. And then there’s the almost inevitable April In Paris, which started out as a popular song but gravitated into the world of the jazz organist by way of Wild Bill Davis (not forgetting Count Basie), here given a long workout by all five musicians. Throughout this album, the spotlight is mainly on Matthew and his solos are always interesting. So too are those by Will, playing with drive on the swingers and with sensitivity on ballads. A fine example of Rod’s playing comes on Jack McDuff’s A Real Goodun, which closes the album. A very entertaining occasion that swings from start to finish and leaves the listener wanting more. Speaking of which, this is Matthew’s third jazz release, the others being Swingin’ and Taking My Time. A footnote for those with a sporting inclination: Matthew has played organ for eight seasons at the home of the Atlanta Braves and has also released an album in this style.
Rebecca Dumaine Happy Madness (Summit DCD 687)
Singing with obvious delight in the material, here Rebecca Dumaine presents a selection that draws mainly upon the music of earlier times. Among the songs are standards but there a few from more recent times, all of them given a fresh outlook yet their treatment shows her respect. The songs include Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s Like Someone In Love, Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s The More I See You, Marvin Fisher’s Destination Moon, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s I’m Old Fashioned, Joe Bushkin and Joe Devries’s Nobody Else But Me and Cole Porter’s It’s All Right With Me, while the album takes its title from the song by Antonio Carlo Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes (with Gene Lees’ lyrics). Providing admirable support for Rebecca is the Dave Miller Trio, a longtime association. With Dave on piano are Perry Thoorsill, bass, and Bill Belasco, drums (Dave is Rebecca’s father). The trio is augmented on some tracks by guitarist Brad Beauthe and saxophonist Pete Cornell. Relaxed and happy music that is collectively a very pleasing set that will appeal to those who enjoy hearing good songs sung and played well by straightahead jazz performers who clearly admire this music. For details of an earlier album by Rebecca, The Consequence Of You, see my post in late-May 2015.
Joshua Breakstone 88 (Capri 74144-2)
Tributes paid by a jazz artist to others are by no means unusual, but this set from guitarist Joshua Breakstone takes an intriguing approach. One original by Joshua apart, the music heard here is written by jazz pianists and the fact that there is no pianist in the group means that an alternate view is taken of the music. Thus, aspects that might, perhaps, have been unobserved by the many fans of the composers concerned are revealed. Among the composer-pianists featured by Joshua are Cedar Walton, Black, Tadd Dameron, If You Could See Me Now, Lennie Tristano, Lennie’s Pennies, and Mal Waldron, Soul Eyes. Joshua’s collaborators here, collectively named The Cello Quartet, are cellist Mike Richmond, bassist Lisle Atkinson, and drummer Andy Watson. Although Joshua is the principal soloist, all make an important contribution and this is very much a collaborative venture. It is worth noting Joshua’s comment regarding the reason why he has chosen to perform pieces composed for (and at) the piano: “It’s merely the expression of one guitarist’s love and admiration for the instrument and those who happen to play the hell out of it and use it as a vehicle for composition.” Altogether, this a rewarding and entertaining album that will appeal to many.
Mili Bermejo & Dan Greenspan Arte del Duo (Ediciones Pentagrama APCD 707)
The music performed by this duo has an appealing freshness, which is, perhaps, surprising as singer Mili Bermejo and bassist Dan Greenspan have worked together for a quarter century. Mili’s early years saw her move from Buenos Aires to Mexico City to Boston, where she has taught at Berklee College of Music since 1984; Dan started out in New Haven before moving to Boston where he became an in-demand session musician and more recently the couple have settled in New Hampshire. The music heard here ranges widely both stylistically and geographically with a handful of originals by Mili as well as songs by composers from Mexico, Armenia, Argentina, Uruguay and France. Melodically and rhythmically rich, this music is sung and played with emotional intensity and considerable technical expertise and will have widespread appeal.
Al Strong Love Strong Volume 1 (independent)
On his debut album, trumpeter Al Strong displays his technical skill and also his awareness of the paths taken by jazz in recent years. Although a relatively new name on the contemporary jazz scene, he plays with mature confidence. Most of the music played here has been composed by Al and there is an emotional depth to the music, a quality not always present nowadays. There are also some well known themes, including Kenny Barron’s Voyage, Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favorite Things. Joining Al here are several musicians, some of whom also take solos, forming groups of different sizes. Among them are saxophonists Bluford Thompson and James ‘Saxmo’ Gates, keyboard players Ryan Hanseler and Lovell Bradford, and drummers Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons and Iahji Hampden. Contemporary jazz, played with sensitivity and always displaying an awareness of what has gone before.
Richard Sussman The Evolution Suite (Zoho ZM 201614)
For more on Alyssa Allgood, Matthew Kaminski, and Rebecca Dumaine contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music; for Mili Bermejo & Dan Greenspan and Joshua Breakstone contact Braithwaite & Katz ([email protected]); and for Al Strong and Richard Sussman go to Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services site.
Albums by these artists are available at the usual outlets, including Amazon.
April 5, 2016
Darren English Imagine Nation (Hot Shoe HSW 109)
Making his debut as leader here is the exciting young South African trumpet player, Darren English who is now resident in Atlanta, Georgia. Here, Darren and his collaborators perform an interesting mix of standards, including a deeply introspective Body And Soul, classics from the jazz repertoire, a sparkling version of Dizzy Gillespie’s Bebop, as well as four of Darren’s originals. Labels are misleading, but if pressed I would say that it is post-bop mainstream – most importantly it is exhilarating. Three of the originals are part of a suite dedicated to Nelson Mandela, although they are presented separately here. Darren’s trumpet lines are graceful, he states the original melodies with engaging simplicity before moving into thoughtful and often driving improvisations. He is ably supported throughout by the trio of Kenny Banks, Jr., piano, Billy Thornton, bass, and Chris Burroughs, drums. Tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy joins him on three titles; these are two parts of the Mandela suite and Bullet In The Gunn, one of Darren’s originals. Vocalist Carmen Bradford is heard with a very attractive take on Skylark and on a fast What A Little Moonlight Can Do (To You), which also has good solos from bass and drums. Fellow trumpeters Russell Gunn and Joe Grandsen are also on hand, particularly excitingly so on Ray Noble’s Cherokee, which ends the album in fine style. An exceptionally talented and commanding young musician who will undoubtedly have a great future.
Kat Parra Songbook Of The Américas (JazzMa JMR 1005)
Always adventurous yet simultaneously wholly accessible, Kat Parra is a highly talented and very gifted musician. As the album title states, here she sings a selection of songs that draws upon the music of many parts of the continent. Among the songs are jazz pieces, Eddie ‛Cleanhead’ Vinson’s Four and Charlie Parker’s Au Privave, to both of which Kat has supplied lyrics (thus becoming Ever More and Wouldn’t It Be Sweet) and Betty Carter’s Please Do Something; some familiar songs from the popular repertoire, Meredith Willson’s Till There Was You and Bob Merrill’s Mambo Italiano; and songs from Peru, María Landó, Cuba, Viente Años, Argentina, Como La Cigarro and Mexico, Bésame Mucho. In addition to writing lyrics to the music of others, Kat also arranges, along with Aaron Germaine, Murray Low, David Pinto and others. The lyric for Dame La Mano is a poem by Gabriela Mistral, for which Kat has composed the music. All of these songs, familiar and lesser known, are sung with flair and ingenuity, always presenting a personal take but remaining true to the music’s origins. Singing with clarity and subtle drive, Kat turns all of these songs into vibrant demonstrations of her artistic skill. She is joined here by several musicians from the Bay Area, where she is based, among them being pianist Murray Low, trumpeter John Worley, trombonist Wayne Wallace, and bassist Marc van Wageningen. Adding to the atmosphere are Latin percussionists as well as players of flute and bandoneón. Also heard are fellow singers Patti Cathcart (along with guitarist Tuck Andress), María Márquez and Nate Pruitt. Altogether this is a delightful journey, seeing old favorites with new eyes and finding new sights to visit again.
Ehud Asherie Shuffle Along (Blue Heron)
Very much a musician of today, pianist Ehud Asherie has taken an unusual step for his twelfth album in drawing all the music from a barely remembered Broadway musical from the early 1920s. Although the show, Shuffle Along, might be beyond the recall of many, it is in fact important, chiefly because it was the first all-black musical to play on Broadway. All-black because not only was the cast African American, so too were the songwriters. They were lyricist Noble Sissle and composer Eubie Blake. What is especially interesting about the songs is that because they were written as the 1910s rolled into the 20s they are not written in a style that is heavily influenced by jazz although the ‛new’ music is noticeably hovering in the wings. At the time, Blake was only 24 years old, and perhaps because of his youth neither was he overly influenced by those earlier forms of popular music that were being edged aside, although here and there can be heard hints of then contemporary ragtime, a piano style he had mastered. As the lyrics are not heard their true melodic value can be more fully appreciated and it is striking how fresh they sound, especially when played with great sympathy by Ehud. Most famous of all Eubie’s songs is I’m Just Wild About Harry, heard twice, the second occasion being in waltz-time, which allows Ehud to reveal its considerable melodic charm. This is a remarkably durable song, turning up in the early 1950s as the theme song for Harry S Truman’s presidential campaign. Among the other songs, much less often heard, are Everything Reminds Me Of You, Bandana Days and Gypsy Blues. A particularly attractive song is the melodic and reflective Love Will Find A Way, with which Ehud closes the set. Very well played, with technical expertise allied with understanding and warmth and a jazz improvisor’s intelligence, this should appeal to all who love piano music.
Beside the point, I know, but I can’t resist quoting Eubie Blake when interviewed in 1983 on the occasion of what was said to be his 100th birthday (actually his 96th): “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would’ve taken better care of myself.”
Please note that the cover of the copy reviewed differs slightly from that shown above.
Phyllis Blanford Edgewalker (independent)
Having lived for some years in Europe, Phyllis Blanford returned to America around 2000 and since then has established a reputation for heartfelt and soulful performances. Her chosen repertoire draws upon many aspects of popular music. Some of the songs are standards, Night And Day, You Don’t Know What Love Is, Come Rain Or Come Shine, and some from fellow singers, Carmen Lundy’s Blue Woman and Good Morning Kiss, and Abbey Lincoln’s Throw It Away. Phyllis singing style is relaxed, her appreciation and interpretation of the lyrics intense. On this release, the singer is accompanied by a fine selection of jazz instrumentalists, the core trio of Ted Brancato, keyboards, Kenny Davis, bass, Winard Harper, drums, and saxophonist Don Braden, trumpeter James Gibbs, guitarist Vic Juris, trombonists Vincent Gardner and Jason Jackson, percussionist Mayra Casales, and vibraphonist Stefon Harris. An interesting and enjoyable singer who will surely and deservedly be heard much more widely over the coming years.
Danny Green Altered Narratives (OA2 22128)
Although all the music heard here is composed by pianist Danny Green, everything is redolent of the rich history of jazz piano. Danny’s musical career has ranged widely, including grunge rock, ska, Cuban son and especially the music of Brazil. He has brought all of these elements into jazz with seemingly effortless ease, in the process substantially broadening his audience appeal. Danny leads his trio (Justin Grinnell, bass, Julien Cantelm, drums) on a musical journey that draws upon the blues (Chatter From All Sides, I Used To Hate The Blues), as well as classical form (Second Chance, Katabasis, Porcupine Dreams), with other elements from Danny’s eclectic musical background. On those last three named tunes the trio is joined by a string quartet, Antoine Silverman, Max Moston, violins, Chris Cardona, viola, Anja Wood, cello). This very attractive album will appeal to all lovers of jazz piano.
Cristina Braga Whisper (ENJA ENJ 9617-2)
Brazilian harpist/singer Cristina Braga has built an audience far outside her homeland for her notable performances of the music of Brazil. Here, she plays and sings a selection works by composers such as Dorival Caymmi (É Doce Morrer No Mar), João Donato (A Rã) and Baden Powell Samba Triste (with Billy Blanco) and Whisper On A Prelude (Cristina Braga and Alberto Rosenblit). Here she is accompanied by The Modern Samba Quartet (Jesse Sadoc, trumpet, Arthur Dutra, vibraphone, Ricardo Medeiros, bass, Claudio Wilner, percussion, Mauro Martins, drums) and the Brandenburger Symphoniker. There is also a guest appearance by guitarist/singer Dado Villa-Lobos, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendonça’s (Meditation), sung here in the French and English versions (Eddy Marney and Norman Gimbel respectively). Although her vocal range is not wide, Cristina’s sound is gently soothing and suits the material well. Instrumentally, she is a gifted player displaying her talent on Mot D’Amour and especially Canto Triste. This concert was recorded live at the Great Hall of the Brandenburger Theater in Brandenburg.
For more on these artists go to their sites, highlighted above, and to Jazz Promo Services (for Phyllis Blanford, Cristina Braga), Braithwaite & Katz (for Ehud Asherie, Danny Green), and Mouthpiece Music (for Darren English, Kat Parra).
Other informative and entertaining sites to visit:-
And the place to go for albums is Amazon.
June 8, 2015
As the title of a new book makes clear, Dizzy Gillespie is a legend in the world of jazz. Even now, more than twenty years after his death, he still makes news. In part, this is because of the publication of this book, a personal recollection by Dave Usher, and also, importantly if barely believably, the first release of previously unheard music played by him more than four decades ago. Well, not literally unheard, because the content of four albums from Consolidated Artists Productions/Red Anchor Productions comes from an engagement at London’s most famous jazz club back in 1973 and hence those who were lucky enough to be in attendance heard it back then. For most of us, however, it is new; not only that, it is music that is as vital and as immediate as it must have been back then. Gillespie’s quintet had been on tour in Europe for about a month and this was to end with a two-week engagement at Ronnie Scott’s venue in Soho. Supporting the man, who was then being labeled as ‛the world’s greatest trumpet player’ by Ronnie Scott himself, were pianist Mike Longo, guitarist Al Gafa, electric bassist Earl May, and drummer Mickey Roker. In the course of the two weeks at the Frith Street club (extended by a further week with a handshake deal between Gillespie and Scott that gave the visitor a share of the profits) some outstanding music was played. It was decided that it should be recorded and so it was (by Peter Bould), and now we can all share in this magical music.
Dizzy Gillespie Live At Ronnie Scott’s Volumes 1-4 (CAP 1040, 1042, 1043, 1044)
This music extends over four CDs and includes some numbers for which Gillespie was well known: A Night In Tunisia, Birk’s Works, Oop-Pop-A-Da and Manteca. There are also several fine examples of the composing skills of long-serving sideman Longo, among them Sunshine, I Told You So, Alligator, The Truth and Mike’s Samba. At this time, Gafa also wrote extensively for the group’s book although only Behind A Moonbeam is heard here. There are very good solos from Gafa, May, and Roker. Among Gafa’s fluid moments are his contributions to Timet, Olé For The French Gypsies, Mike’s Samba, and I Told You So. May’s solos include Oop-Pop-A-Da and Kush, and here as well as in support, he brings the electric bass much closer to the sound of its acoustic forebear than do most other players of this instrument. Roker also has moments in the spotlight, notably on Manteca, although he primarily provides rock-solid support and throughout displays the skills that brought him the admiration and respect of Gillespie and other leaders. Encouraged by Gillespie, Longo is heard often with extended solos, for example on Sunshine, The Truth (with Gillespie’s spoken introduction in which he takes to task the writer of an ill-informed newspaper review), and The Matrix, the last named being another of the pianist’s compositions. All this said, it is of course the leader who is the ever-sparkling star turn. In his mid-fifties at the time, Gillespie’s inventiveness, imagination, power and command are in evidence with every note he plays and while labels such as that delivered by Scott can be more than a little hyperbolic, it is impossible to make a sensible counter-claim. Brimful of ideas, wit, intelligence, technical brilliance, and unstoppable vitality, Gillespie makes this experience as vibrant and as exhilarating today as it was forty-plus years ago.
The late Alan Plater (prolific playwright, jazz enthusiast, and a regular at Ronnie Scott’s) took the title of one of his radio plays from a remark made by Joe Harriott when he first played with Dizzy Gillespie. During the first few bars Harriott and others were wondering what was so special, but then Gillespie stepped forward and played a solo of such extraordinary brilliance that, as Harriott expressed it, he and the rest of the musicians were left like ‛swallows on the water’. Hearing this music today it’s possible to understand what Joe (and Alan) meant. This is an invaluable record of an outstanding musician, well-packaged and complete with first-rate liner notes by Doug Ramsey and must surely be eagerly sought by many.
Now to the book:
Music Is Forever: Dizzy Gillespie, the Jazz Legend, and Me by Dave Usher with Berl Falbaum (Red Anchor Productions – ISBN 978-0-692-21110-6).
For some, the name of the author will be familiar as he played a significant role in the 1950s in Detroit, producing records by artists including Jackie Wilson and Little Willie John. But before that he was a jazz fan and while still at school he saw and heard Dizzy Gillespie when the trumpeter was a member of Billy Eckstine’s bebop-based big band. He struck up a friendship with Gillespie, one that lasted until Gillespie’s death almost fifty years later. Along the way, Usher formed the Emanon record label, releasing 78s made in Paris by a Kenny Clarke band including Gillespie, later collaborated in the start-up of the trumpeter’s own record company, Dee Gee, and also sometimes traveled with him on international tours. Mainly anecdotal (and given the number of already-published books on Gillespie all the better for that), Usher’s recollections cover in close, personal detail many aspects of Gillespie, among them his religious beliefs, his stand on racial, political and environmental issues, and, of course, matters musical. The latter includes Dave’s accounts of his work as A&R man with Dee Gee and Chess (where, he artists including recorded James Moody and Ahmad Jamal), as well as the many hours of tapes he recorded during Gillespie’s 1956 State Department tour of Brazil. Some of the music from this tour was released on the same label in a 3-volume set in 1999 (and it appears that there is still much to be disseminated). This is an entertaining read and adds color and texture to the portrait all jazz fans have in their minds of a remarkable musician and man.
These albums and the book, which is also available as an eBook (ISBN-978-0-692-21113-3), are available from the usual sources, including, of course, Amazon.
September 15, 2014
I’ll admit it up-front, choosing to write about Jack Purvis is an indulgence. Why? Well, for one thing, he was a remarkably gifted musician. For another, he led an astonishing life. But trying to trace his life is like stumbling blindfold through a minefield. Even his own claims were often misleading, appearing to be wildly imaginative; sometimes they were but to make matters worse, sometimes even the wildest were true. Well, maybe. So the real indulgence is that it is possible to write pretty nearly anything and no one can offer much in the way of contradiction. Purvis’s life was so extraordinary that if it were to be boiled down to a pitch for a biopic, any self-respecting film studio would turn it down because audiences wouldn’t accept it as a true story. What follows contains facts, fiction, speculation – as to which is which, well that’s anybody’s guess.
John Purvis was born in Kokomo, Indiana, on 11 December 1906, to comfortably middle-class parents but the death of his mother when he was only six years old was a damaging blow. He began stealing and was sent to reform school where he discovered music and learned to play trombone and trumpet. He mostly played the latter instrument but during his career he would occasionally be heard on trombone as well as piano and even, reportedly, harp. After reform school, and now in regular school, he played trumpet professionally and an early job was with Hal Denman’s dance band. Other dance band work after finishing school included playing with the Original Kentucky Night Hawks and Whitey Kaufman’s Original Pennsylvanians. In 1927, he married and was soon a father; his daughter, Betty Lou, became a radio DJ and also wrote for Down Beat magazine. So far so good, and all verifiable. Along the way, he had learned to fly, something that would open up highly questionable fields of activity for him in the future. In 1928 he joined George Carhart’s band and went to France. There, he appears to have been involved in illegal activities (petty theft) and had to leave the country in haste. The following year, Purvis’s musical skill brought him to wider attention when he joined the very popular band led by Hal Kemp. He also began recording and over the next couple of years appeared not only with Kemp but also with Smith Ballew, Rube Bloom, the California Ramblers, and he also recorded under his own name, backed by the Hal Kemp rhythm section. Resulting from this session were two sides: Mental Strain At Dawn and Copyin’ Louis.
That last title is significant because Purvis was hugely influenced by Louis Armstrong. Of course, he was far from alone in this; any trumpet player of the time with any interest in playing jazz was guided by the dramatic effect Armstrong was having on the world of music. Records made by Purvis clearly demonstrate the Armstrong-effect, but in his case it is striking how very good he was and that despite the title of that particular recording, Purvis brought his own distinctive ideas to his work. Among other recording sessions of this period is one on which he led an integrated band with J.C. Higginbotham. Around this time he left Kemp for the California Ramblers and he also played with the Dorsey Brothers, with Fred Waring and Charlie Barnet; he also appears to have played as featured trumpet soloist with The New Orleans Symphony Orchestra. Accounts from the time suggest that Purvis was a highly skilled musician, could sight-read the most difficult arrangements and, as is apparent from his records, he was also a gifted and inventive jazz soloist.
All this said, it is also extensively reported that he was unreliable and subject to acute depression. He also appears to have used his ability to pilot aircraft to work at this in Texas, with rumors that he flew in and out of Mexico as a smuggler. A move to California added to his already broad range of abilities; he worked on radio and in film studios as an arranger, composed a work in classical form, Legends Of Haiti, and, as if this were not already enough, he also worked as a chef in San Francisco. Not long after this, he went to New York where he joined another name band, that led by Frankie Froeba, making more records in 1935. He was then briefly with Joe Haymes but then dropped out of sight. There has been speculation of what he was doing at this time, but the next verifiable activity was again illegal; this came in mid-1937 when he was arrested in Texas on robbery charges and ended up doing time in the state pen at Huntsville. While there, music was a saving grace; he led and played piano with a prison band, the Rhythmic Swingsters, which broadcast on WBAP radio. Released on parole in 1940, Purvis promptly broke the conditions and was sent back to prison where he remained until late in 1946. His life from this point on is mostly rumored; he played in some bands, he played on street corners as a busker, he again worked as a chef, a carpenter, a radio repair-man, and he flew in Florida. There are also (obviously unverifiable) reports that somewhere along the way he was a mercenary in South America; and he might also have been a bigamist.
Even in death, in San Francisco on 30 March 1962, Jack Purvis confounded those who like everything neatly cut-and-dried and verified. His death certificate states the cause as ‛fatty degeneration of the liver’ but extensive research by Paul Larsen suggests that he committed suicide by gassing himself. As if this were not enough, insistent, if barely credible, rumors suggested that he was still alive six years later, when he reportedly met and talked with cornet player Jim Goodwin.
All of the foregoing should raise expectations for the recent release of a 3-CD Boxed Set, Jack Purvis 1928-1935 (on Jazz Oracle BDW 8035). It is a delight to report that expectations are fully realized. There are more than seventy sides assembled here, showing Purvis on the recording sessions mentioned above, as well as others with the Boswell Sisters, Adrian Rollini, Lloyd Newton, Nick Lucas, Lee Morse, Dick Robertson, and Seger Ellis. However profligate and undisciplined he might have been in life, on record Jack Purvis was a man of musical substance and this album, with its many hot solos by a noteworthy if largely forgotten trumpeter, is an excellent way in which to live, however vicariously, a little on the wild side of jazz.
December 15, 2013
Inevitably, Cootie Williams is remembered chiefly for his work with Duke Ellington; after all, he spent a total of about 22 years with the band. But there was more to him than that: he made important contributions with other leaders; as a bandleader he hired several sidemen who would themselves make significant marks in the jazz world; and he moved comfortably through swing era music, bebop, post-bop mainstream, and R&B.
Cootie was born Charles Melvin Williams, in Mobile, Alabama, on 10 July 1911. As a small child, he took an early delight in music (family legend has it that too young to talk properly, he burbled ‘cootie, cootie, cootie’ when hearing a band play). He played various instruments in school bands, in particular the trombone and the tuba, but then took up the trumpet on which he was at first self-taught before taking lessons from Charles Lipskin. The young boy’s proficiency was such that he was still in his early teens when he began playing professionally. This was the mid-1920s and among the bands with which he played was that run by the family of Lester Young. Cootie continued to play in territory bands, mainly in the south, including that led by Alonzo Ross, which was fortuitous because early in 1928 this band played in New York. Aware of the opportunities in the city, almost at once Cootie chose to quit the band and in that same summer he recorded with James P. Johnson, following this with brief spells with Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson. Early the following year he was hired by Duke Ellington to replace Bubber Miley.
At first, Cootie’s role in the band required him to play the so-called ‘jungle effects’ originally created by Miley, but his rich open horn sound and his distinctive plunger muted playing quickly became an important part of the palette with which Ellington worked. This, Cootie’s first spell in Ellington’s orchestra, was to last for 11 years. By the time of his last year with the band, 1940, he was one of the most distinctive musicians amidst a group of highly individualistic players. Ellington, ever alert to the qualities of his sidemen, showcased Cootie in a composition with which the trumpeter would be forever inextricably linked. This was Concerto For Cootie, recorded in 1940, which remains a jazz standard to this day although usually under the title by which it became better known after Bob Russell wrote a lyric for it: Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me.
During this spell with Ellington, Cootie’s distinctive playing brought him work outside the band and he made records with other leaders, among them Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson. With the latter, he appeared on sessions accompanying Billie Holiday. He was also leader of one of the small groups drawn from within the Ellington band, the Rug Cutters. When Cootie left Ellington in 1940, an event of sufficient importance in the music world to prompt Raymond Scott to compose When Cootie Left The Duke, it was to join the immensely popular Benny Goodman band, playing in the full band but mainly featured in the sextet. Although not with Goodman for long, this exposure to the big-time was such that Cootie decided to form his own big band.
Formed in 1941, and destined to last through to the decade’s end, Cootie’s band followed the swing era trend, employing several leading musicians of the genre, among them Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson. Significantly, and demonstrating Cootie’s musical open-mindedness, he also had on the band a number of the new young beboppers, notably Bud Powell and Charlie Parker, even if, most of the time, they had to limit their experimentation. That said, Cootie’s acceptance of new sounds led him to record Thelonious Monk’s ’Round Midnight in August 1944. This was urged upon him by Bud Powell and is believed to be the first of the 1,000-plus recordings of this timeless jazz standard.
For all the band’s many qualities, Cootie was not immune to the commercial pressures that were affecting all big bands, and by the end of the decade, he was forced to cut the band down to a small group. There were other pressures, too, and as he would ruefully admit in later years, although he had been a temperate man before becoming a band leader, it was during these years that he became a serious drinker. For all the difficulties, however, Cootie’s band was a very good example of its kind and period; and an important aspect of it was his own playing that never lost its distinctive appeal. Despite the problems surrounding himself and the band, Cootie was ever alert to commercial trends and in particular ventured into R&B. This was in the early 1950s and he led small bands, including leading one for a long engagement at the Savoy Ballroom. He also enjoyed a hit, with (Doin’ The) Gator Tail, a number that featured the honking tenor saxophone of the number’s composer, Willis Jackson.
The late 1950s saw Cootie fitting into the post-bop mainstream with effortless ease, something that is vividly demonstrated on one of the best record dates of the time and genre. This was with a band he co-led with Rex Stewart in 1957 on a session released as The Big Challenge. This recording has seldom been absent from the catalogs, and with excellent playing from the leaders along with Coleman Hawkins, Bud Freeman, Lawrence Brown and Hank Jones, it is not hard to understand why. But despite successes such as this one, work was not easy to find under his own leadership although he did tour Europe as co-leader with Joe Newman.
In 1962, after briefly rejoining Goodman, Cootie was tempted back into the Ellington fold, an event the bandleader rewarded with several features for the trumpeter, among them New Concerto For Cootie, The Shepherd and Portrait Of Louis Armstrong. Cootie remained in the band – visually an apparently doleful presence – until Ellington’s death, staying on when the band was briefly led by Mercer Ellington before bowing out in 1978. He died on 15 September 1985, in New York City.
Throughout his years with Ellington, and on many occasions under his own name, Cootie consistently displayed a vigorous command of his instrument. Whether playing the muted colorful compositions of Ellington, or playing in the full-throated manner that reflected his admiration for Louis Armstrong, the distinctive trumpet playing of Cootie Williams remains one of the lasting joys of jazz,
As usual, the CDs illustrated above can be bought at Amazon, as can many other examples of this fine musician’s work.