Jazz CD Reviews – April 2014

April 28, 2014

The name of this site is JazzMostly, and these two albums offer an explanation of sorts for this choice of title. Neither one is a jazz album, yet both have a lot of appeal to me, a jazz fan.

First up is:

Perry Beekman Bewitched (own label)

New York guitarist-vocalist Perry Beekman has already made clear his love for and affinity with the music of the classic songwriters of yesteryear. An earlier CD, So In Love, featured the songs of Cole Porter; the sub-title of this one makes its focus clear: Perry Beekman Sings And Plays Rodgers And Hart. Performing here with his regular trio partners, pianist Peter Tomlinson and bassist Lou Pappas, takes a relaxed and swinging look at songs that have attracted the attention of practically any popular singer who can be brought to mind, some of them devoting albums albums to them as Perry does here. Additionally, these songs have long been source material for jazz instrumentalists. Among the fifteen songs here are There’s A Small Hotel, Falling In Love With Love, The Lady Is A Tramp, Spring Is Here,Thou Swell and, of course, Bewitched. There are also two instrumental tracks, Have You Met Miss Jones? and Blue Room.bewitched

As is apparent when hearing those last two named songs, the trio swings with elegant ease and all three musicians deliver well-conceived and -performed jazz solos. These qualities appear throughout the album, interspersed around Perry’s vocals. These vocal lines show a different side to Perry’s talent. While his vocal lines reveal his jazz-inflected phrasing, his is a pop-oriented singing style and one that is especially attractive. There is an intriguing presentation of these two sides of Perry Beekman. This comes on It Never Entered My Mind where the song is divided into two separate and distinctive sections; instrumental and solo vocal. Very nice.

Louis Prima Jr Blow (Warrior Records WR 16532)

On this stomping set, trumpeter-vocalist Louis Prima Jr does as his famous father did; he delivers full-frontal, aggressively wailing performances of music that defies the listener not to tap toes, snap fingers and join in the merry-making. Stylistically, this set owes much to Louis Prima Sr, who in his turn drew upon diverse yet compatible musical genres: swing era jump bands, soul, classic R&B, early rock ‘n’ roll. This said, Louis Jr does not rely upon the past; instead, mostly he and his band, named the Witnesses, another nod to his father, perform original material, written by Louis and his musical collaborators here, which unslavishly acknowledges the tradition. The other instrumentalists heard are keyboard player Gregg Fox, guitarist Ryan McKay, bassist Steve Pandis and drummer A.D. Adams, with trumpeter Ted Schumacher and trombonist Phil Clevinger. Key sideman in the band, and like Louis with a lot to measure up to, is saxophonist Marco Palos whose gutsy, take-charge solos have the power and impact similar that which made Sam Butera such an important figure in the original Witnesses. Also heard here is singer Leslie Spencer, whose soulful vocal sound (mostly background but occasionally effectively solo) adds immeasurably to the overall effect, albeit in a manner that is quite different from the way in which Keely Smith’s singing was juxtaposed with the gravelly sound of Louis Sr.blow

Apart from the eight originals (seven by Louis Jr, Palos, McKay and Adams and one by producer Jim Ervin), there is a latterday pop song, Goody Two Shoes, and two from Louis Sr’s repertoire. One of these is Robin Hood, and the other is That’s My Home. On this last-named song, thanks to some in-studio engineering, father and son play trumpet and sing together. This kind of beyond-the-grave duet is risky, but here, thankfully, it works; in part this is because the extrovert nature of both musicians comfortably steers clear of the danger of overt sentimentality.

These two albums are very different from one another; one is smoothly sophisticated thoughtful music that well suits the intimacy of late-night cabaret; the other is often raucous, wild and in-your-face. Although coming from opposite extremes, one similarity suggests itself – to me, at least – and that is that both Perry Beekman and Louis Prima Jr are very probably best seen as well as heard. While seeing them in person is unlikely for most of us, maybe there’s a chance of a DVD? I for one will welcome that.

For more info on these CDs, release dates May and June respectively, go to the artist websites (above) or to the Jazz Promo Services website.

Cootie Williams – Doleful Joy

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.

Melodie Records

Melodie Records

 

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.

Collectables Records

Collectables Records

 

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.cootie-poster 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.

Fresh Sound Records

Fresh Sound Records

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.

 

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