Saxophonist Clifford Jordan was born September 2, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois. He died March 27, 1993 in New York City. He started playing tenor sax at age 14 (one source says he was only 13) and, according to Feather & Gitler in “The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz”, he went to high school with fellow future jazz luminary Johnny Griffin and others. He played his first gig at age 16.
This eventually led to a career that included stints playing alongside some of the greatest names in jazz, including Max Roach, Sonny Stitt, Kenny Dorham, Charlie Mingus, Cedar Walton, J.J. Johnson, Art Farmer, and many others.
In 1969, Jordan and his family moved to Belgium for a year to take advantage of the surge in interest jazz was then generating in Europe. The following year, they returned to the States. Jordan made one more trip to Europe a few years later.
Jordan appeared on over 100 recordings during his lifetime. I’m sorry to say that I have only two of them in my personal collection. I played selections from one of them on Saturday Night Jazz; the other album I acquired after leaving KMHD.
(This was one of several jazz CD’s given to me a couple of years ago by pianist Beverly Ritz. You may recall that she was the subject of JFASN #40 just a few weeks ago. I already knew of Jordan, but several of the disks she sent featured artists I had not heard of yet. There are at least two more of them that will be appearing here before too long. Many thanks, Beverly!)
It is this second album that I have decided to write about today. That would be the 1987 hard bop release, “Live At Ethell’s”, recorded in Baltimore on October 16-18, 1987.
The personnel for this live gig were:
Clifford Jordan, tenor sax
Kevin O’Connell, piano
Ed Howard, bass
Vernel Fournier, drums
“Live At Ethell’s” consists of eight songs, of which two were written by Jordan and one was co-written by him with pianist Barry Harris.
Up first is “Cal Massey”, an homage to the late composer and trumpeter that was penned by pianist Stanley Cowell. This one bops hard right out of the starting gate. One after another the guys take turns with their solos, and the intensity just doesn’t let up.
One of Benny Carter’s compositions, “Summer Serenade” is next. This beautiful ballad is a nice change of pace after the wild opener. At just under ten minutes, one might wish for a little less mellow, but the song is unquestionably a classic, and the audience seems to have appreciated it.
I was unable to find any videos online featuring the musicians from this album, so I settled for this wonderful live appearance featuring Clifford Jordan and the incomparable Art Farmer performing “Summer Serenade” on a TV program, possibly in the 1980’s.
Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” follows. According to the liner notes, this marks Jordan’s first recorded vocal. As you listen, keep in mind that the mic he is singing into was meant to record a saxophone, not the human voice. After about a minute and a half of this, Jordan picks up the sax and the remaining seven plus minutes of the song is performed the way everyone had expected. It was hardly a Grammy-winning performance, but the audience clearly enjoyed it, even if the recording engineer didn’t.
“Lush Life” is, of course, another ballad, albeit a more lively one than “”Summer Serenade”, and the boys more than do it justice. Solos are properly applauded, and you can tell that, once the unexpected beginning was out of the way, they were all having fun with it.
The temptation to sing again was too great for Jordan to resist, and at almost the eight minute part, Jordan-the-vocalist once again elbows aside Jordan-the-saxophonist and finishes to song. Listen for an exuberant “Yeow!” from Jordan seconds before the end. (Actually, it would be hard to miss it!)
“‘Round Midnight” is up next, beginning with Jordan coaxing the familiar opening notes with restrained energy. This composition has got to be one of the most beautiful songs ever written, and I truly love the group’s execution of this arrangement.
Now we get to the two Jordan originals, beginning with “Blues In Advance”. This one puts you immediately in mind of some down home Nawlins blues, which I suppose is what it is. J Blowin’ the blues is always a crowd-pleaser, and this one is no exception.
The next Jordan composition bears the intriguing title, “Little Boy For So Long… Little Boy, But Not For Long”. The liner notes don’t even mention this one, nor was I able to find any reference to it (except download links) online, so we are left to our own assumptions as to what the song is meant to be about.
My guesses? It could be about a child who died and who will thus remain a boy forever in the memories of those who loved him. Or I suppose it could be about the fact that true boyhood is all too fleeting, destined to be destroyed by the inevitable changes wrought by puberty. We’ll probably never know the truth, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that my guesses are off the mark.
Regardless of the meaning, this song gets off to a brisk start and continues that way. Fournier takes a solo on the drums about six and a half minutes in, but unlike so many drum solos, it doesn’t last long enough to become grating. In the end, the song winds down and so does Jordan, and then it’s gone.
“Arapaho” was written by Jordan and Harris. It opens with Fournier on the drums apparently imitating Native American drums, but that soon gives way as Jordan jumps in, and out, and in again. Eventually the whole group joins in on what becomes a very lively tune. There is a drum solo beginning about six and a half minutes in, and it does run for a bit over two minutes before Jordan steps forward again.
Here is one more video for you. Not that there is any real video, just a static shot of the Clifford Jordan album cover that the song “Ju-Ba” is from while the song plays. And what a song it is! As I look at who the “sidemen” are on this one, and listen to the music, I think I’m going to have to go looking for a copy for my collection.
The last song is the classic “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. The audience loved this one, so much so that, according to the liner notes, the guys used it as the break piece for each set for the rest of the gig. It’s easy to see why, when you have a perennially popular song performed by a small group of inspired innovators whose enthusiasm makes it impossible to not see that they obviously love what they’re doing.
Smiles and happiness are contagious, and I predict you will experience both as you listen to this album. And I am absolutely certain that you will find “Live At Ethell’s” to be a wonderful addition to your personal playlist for a Saturday, or any other night!
You can learn more about Clifford Jordan and his music by checking out his web site here. You can also check out a short bio of Jordan on The Hardbop Homepage web site. His music is available for purchase or legal download at all the usual places.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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