It probably will surprise no one to hear me say that tenor saxophone legend Houston Person is one of my all-time favorite musicians. He has been delighting jazz lovers since the early 1960’s, both as a sideman and a solo artist.
Person was born November 10, 1934 in Newberry, South Carolina. He studied music in the early 1950’s, then during a stint in the army he found himself playing with a number of musicians who, like he, would go on to notable careers in jazz: Eddie Harris, Don Menza, Cedar Walton, and others.
At one time or another he has performed with Richard “Groove” Holmes, Johnny Hammond, Junior Mance, Etta Jones, Ron Carter, Melvin Sparks, and others.
Person has released quite a few albums over the years, and there are more than one in my personal collection that I intend to write about here. The one I want to talk about this week was his sixth recording as a leader, the 1969 release “Goodness!”
The personnel for this one were:
Houston Person, tenor saxophone
Sonny Phillips, organ
Billy Butler, guitar
Bob Bushnell*, fender bass
Frankie Jones, drums
Buddy Caldwell, conga
*Irreverent note: I was surprised to see this name in the credits for this album. I have a very good friend with the same name who is, as far as I know, not related.
“Goodness!” opens with a funky number written by Gloria Coleman (a jazz organist who had an all-too-brief career in the 1960’s) called “Hey Driver!” that features both Person and drummer Jones on an equally funky opening bit of vocal. This is a lively song that aptly sets the pace for the rest of the album.
When Person and Jones stop vocalizing and pick up their instruments, the song really takes off into blues territory. When we get close to the end, things have come full circle and the guys are back with their little vocalizing to the end. It sounds funky, and it is, but it works.
Here is Person and the guys performing “Hey Driver!”:
The title track, “Goodness” (without the exclamation mark, for some reason), is next. This one was written by Houston and opens with Bushnell’s bass and Jones on the drums. They are soon joined by Phillips, and then Person steps up and gives us a remarkable performance. This song runs about nine and a half minutes and before it’s over, everyone has had their time to shine.
“Brother H” is up next. This is another Person original, and it flies right out of the starting gate. This is one of those songs that in a live setting would have the audience on their feet immediately. It just makes you want to move! Butler’s guitar really stands out on this one, and Bushnell provides superb backing with that big-ass bass. When Phillips and his organ take over, you’d swear the song was written for them.
The next song we hear is a beast rarely found in jazz in that it’s both popular with jazz audiences and accessible to non-jazz lovers. I’m talking about Paul Mitchell’s modern classic, “Hard Times.” This song is by turns plaintive and happy-go-lucky. It is, in a word, pretty well perfect. This version runs a little over six minutes, long enough for us to get a good taste of genius.
“Jamilah” from organist Phillips is the penultimate song on the album. The name itself means “smart, beautiful girl” in Arabic. (It was also the title of the album Person released earlier the same year, just prior to “Goodness!”)
I’m telling you that because, to me at least, there is nothing about the song that would lead you intuitively to guess that. Whether “Jamilah” the song is smart or not is open to debate, but there is no question about its beauty. This is probably the second-most mellow song on the album.
The most mellow? That would be the closing number, “Close Your Eyes” from Chuck Willis, the 1950’s R&B star whose life tragically ended at age 30 from peritonitis. For this one everyone dials it down, and I mean way down low, to the point that what had been a happy, joyous album ends with a whimper rather than a bang.
That ending is, in my opinion, the weakest point in an otherwise exceptional album. At a running time of 37 minutes, even Rudy VanGelder would have been hard-pressed to squeeze one more song, an upbeat one, onto the original vinyl LP. However, when the album was remastered digitally in 1994, it’s a shame the folks at Fantasy Studios did not dig a little farter into the vault and add at least one unreleased track to give this dynamic album the ending it deserves.
Despite those misgivings, I am certain that you will find “Goodness!” from the one and only Houston Person to be a magnificent, if slightly flawed, addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
The folks at allaboutjazz.com have a nice interview with Person from 2004 that you can read here.
Concord Music Group has a page devoted to Person here.
Legendary jazz writer Nat Hentoff wrote an extensive article about Person titled “Protector Of The Soulful Journey” that was published on December 7, 2010 in, of all places, The Wall Street Journal.
Be forewarned that going to www.houstonperson.com will land on his Myspace page, not a regular web site. Some features will be unavailable unless you sign in using a Myspace account. The bio there is a word-for-word copy of Scott Yanow’s surprisingly short piece from allmusic.com.
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Copyright © 2013 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.