Alvin “Red” Tyler was one of the most accomplished saxophone players you probably never heard of. His horn can be heard on dozens of albums bearing the names Dr. John, Fats Domino, Aaron Neville, Little Richard, Lloyd Price, and many others. But when it comes to albums of his own, he recorded barely a handful.
Tyler was born in New Orleans on December 2, 1925. As a boy his musical interests were more about listening rather than playing, and it wasn’t until he was in the Navy during WWII that he began playing the baritone saxophone.
Over the years Tyler played with a great many musicians, mainly in the R&B genre because it paid better than jazz. But jazz was his first love, and the Tyler album I’m going to tell you about this time around is decidedly jazz.
The Tyler album we’re looking at this week is “Graciously”, which was released in 1987, just one year before Tyler died.
The personnel are:
Alvin “Red” Tyler, tenor sax
Clyde Kerr Jr., trumpet, flugelhorn, tambourine
Steve Masakowski, guitar
James Singleton, bass
David Torkanowsky, piano
Johnny Vidacovich, drums
Like Tyler himself, this group is not nearly as well known as they deserve to be. I do know that Clyde Kerr Jr. was the son of one of Tyler’s music instructors. The others are known mainly in the New Orleans area.
The first track, “Count ‘Em”, is also the first of no less than eight Tyler compositions on this album. “Count ‘Em” is a quick, lighthearted song that gets the set off to a nice start. Tyler’s tenor sax has a warm, welcoming feel to it, as does Masakowski’s guitar when Tyler hands the lead over to him. Torkanowsky on the piano takes his turn at showing us how delightfully happy this song is before the whole group comes back in for the finish.
“Cutie Pie”, another Tyler piece, is likewise an upbeat, happy song that seems to dare you to try to be unhappy while listening to it. The opening soars, and when Kerr and his trumpet take the first solo it’s a thing of beauty. He is followed by Masakowski on guitar, then Tyler takes the lead and almost mesmerizes the listener.
The title track is up next. “Graciously” is a bit more mellow than the first two songs, but still manages to maintain that friendly, open, “sunny-skies-are-here” feel. The song runs just under seven minutes, and there is not an unhappy note to be heard.
Here is “Graciously” on YouTube:
The Johnny Burke-Jimmy VanHeusen standard, “Here’s That Rainy Day” is, of course, much quieter. Tyler really takes the spotlight on this one, with the rest of the group fading into the background.
“Here’s That Rainy Day” could be Oregon’s state song, and would probably be more popular than “Oregon My Oregon”. 😉
“If My Shoes Hold Out”, “Greystoke”, and “Like So Many Others” return to the lighthearted, upbeat format of the opening songs.
Despite his status as a virtual unknown in the world of jazz, Alvin “Red” Tyler is an outstanding tenor saxophone player. I think you’ll find that he and his New Orleans friends will make an excellent addition to your personal playlist for a Saturday, or any other, night!
You can learn more about Alvin “Red” Tyler by reading Sharon Witmer’s bio of him on the allmusic.com web site, right here.
Someone writing under the name “The Scotsman” has written a nice piece about him on the JazzHouse.org web site, and you can read that one here.
And Ed Kopp reviews Tyler’s last release, “Simply Red”, here.
At least some of Tyler’s music, under his own name or others’, is available on amazon.com, and may be available elsewhere also.