Welcome back! I hope you had a happy and safe holiday (or holidays, as the case may be).
I enjoyed two long weekends in a row, which for me is a rare treat. With my long-awaited retirement from the day job coming up in about four and a half years, I have begun to look at these short breaks as “retirement rehearsals.” 🙂
Now that those holidays are more-or-less out of the way, it is time to get back down to the business at hand, namely, great jazz.
The album I have chosen to kick off 2016 with is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest jazz albums ever put together.
It is so good that, rather than listen to it on my perfectly good Logitech X140 external computer speakers for this review, I dusted off my Sennheiser headphones and plugged them in.
The album I’m referring to is called “Four Jazz Legends Live At Newport 1960,” and it features sets from the following bands:
Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band
Gerry Mulligan, baritone sax
Gene Allen, baritone sax
Jim Reider, tenor sax
Gene Quill, alto sax
Dick Meldonian, alto sax
Don Ferrara, trumpet
Phil Sunkel, trumpet
Nick Travis, trumpet
Bob Brookmeyer, trombone
Wayne Andre, trombone
Alan Ralph, trombone
Bill Takas, bass
Mel Lewis, drums
Unless you have spent the last 55 years living like a hermit, off in the wilderness with no electricity, no phone, no newspaper, no internet, and no music, you probably recognize at least one or two names in that group. (In case I have to say it, yes, sarcasm mode was just switched on.)
Such are the reputations of the principal players (and more than one of the sidemen) that their names are widely known even outside the world of jazz.
You may be tempted to think that with a lineup like this, what could go wrong? And you would be right! “Four Jazz Legends Live At Newport 1960” gives us a total of ten songs, running a bit over 66 minutes. As we work our way down the set list, you will see (or rather, hear) that there is not a clinker in the bunch.
The first group we are treated to is the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, including brother Nat on trumpet & flugelhorn. Nat is no stranger to readers of this blog, having had albums reviewed here twice so far: JFASN #108 and five months later on JFASN #121. Ironically, Cannonball, the more famous brother, is only now making his first appearance here.
This two-song set opens with one of Nat’s most popular compositions, “Work Song,” which is followed by “Stay On It” from the fertile minds of Dizzy Gillespie and Tad Dameron. (One can’t help but wonder what the comparison would have been like had Gillespie chosen to include “Stay On It” in his set also. What a closer that would have made for the evening: Both ensembles knocking out the same song together in a true battle of the bands!)
To say “Work Song” swings would, of course, be an understatement. It has long been one of the more popular songs in the jazz cannon, and not without reason. The version we are treated to here does not disappoint.
“Stay On It,” which I don’t believe I heard before I bought this album, is hardly what I would call book-reading music either! Hayes, Harris and Jones drive the group on and on at a feverish pace. Towards the end, Hayes in particular overpowers the rest, leading up to a high-reaching ending that certainly brought an appreciative response from the crowd.
Next up we get three songs from Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band. This set runs over 18 minutes, vying with Gillespie’s as the longest set on the album.
The set opens with Mulligan’s popular composition, “Walkin’ Shoes.” This one has a nice big sound to it, provided no doubt courtesy of Mulligan’s twelve piece band. The problem with writing about a group that large, with multiple people playing the same instruments, it’s difficult to know who it is you are hearing at any given time. Many albums list the order of play in their liner notes, but alas this is not one of them. Regardless, the music was a collaborative effort at the time, and 55 years later it has lost none of it’s allure.
“Walkin’ Shoes” is followed by a Fats Waller classic, “Sweet And Slow.” The pace is somewhat more restrained, but a little mellowness at the right time can be a good thing, and “Sweet And Slow” is a fine example of that.
Mulligan and company close out their set with a song Art Farmer wrote for the group a couple of years previously, “Blueport.” This opens as a medium-tempo blues piece (duh) but it doesn’t stay that way long. The pace steadily increases, and you can hear the audience shouting their approval as the guys plow forward. “Blueport” has been popular with audiences ever since the ink was barely dry on the sheet music when Farmer wrote it, and the performance we are treated to here will show you why.
As a possibly interesting (and possibly not interesting) side note, I bought this album just a short time before the powers-that-be at KMHD pulled the plug on my show and replaced it with one that had been created by the station’s program director. Consequently, “Bluesport” is the only song from this album that I had the pleasure of playing on “Saturday Night Jazz” before the program’s untimely demise.
As apropos of nothing in particular, I feel compelled to mention that at precisely four minutes and twelve seconds in, someone (Mulligan?) can be heard saying “Knock knock,” as if he’s pulling the oldest joke in the world on someone.
I am, as usual, running out of time, so I am going to have to do some on-the-run editing on the rest of the album.
The Oscar Peterson Trio opens their set with a traditional piece called “Billy Boy.” I do not know the provenance of the song, but I have to tell you, it rocks! “Billy Boy” is followed by a Ray Bryant song, “Cubana Chant.” Like most of the other songs before it, this one is a real mover that will soon have you nodding your head, tapping your feet, tapping a pencil on your desk, or doing whatever little thing you do that irritates your spouse/co-workers/soon to be ex-friends/perfect strangers on public transportation whenever you hear a song you really like.
Going from a big band to a trio might seem like a bit of culture shock, but these three guys know how to fill a space with sound. Which is a good trick when you’re talking about a live performance in an outdoor venue! Heh.
We now come to the final set of the evening, and as the old saying goes, last is definitely not least in this case. The Dizzy Gillespie Quintet takes over the stage for the final 20+ minutes of the album and gives us three knockout performances.
Their first offering is a song Gillespie wrote for his wife, the eponymous “Lorraine.” This one is a nice Latin-tinged piece that gets us off to a mellow start, allowing the listener a few moments to recharge their emotional batteries after the epic performance that preceded them.
“Lorraine” is followed by another Gillespie original, “Norm’s Norm.” I don’t know for sure who “Norm” is, although I would suspect it was Norman Granz, of whom NPR says, “As a concert promoter and record producer, he has no equal in the history of popular music.” Granz also was instrumental in ending the racial segregation of audiences and even musicians which was rampant at the time.
This performance in July, 1960 was the premier presentation of “Norm’s Norm,” and the audience ate it up. I think you will too.
Gillespie’s set (and the album) comes to a satisfying close with a familiar masterpiece, “A Night In Tunisia.” Gillespie was an old pro even in 1960, and he knew all the musical buttons to hit to maximize the audience’s pleasure.
This music sat unreleased for 34 years. Even though it was recorded in the summer of 1960, the album did not see the light of day until 1994.
Sometimes when you see a figure like that, you have to wonder if maybe there was a reason why it never was released. Is there a horrible technical glitch halfway through a classic song? Or was someone’s playing not quite up to par that night, and no one wants to hear a then living-legend “blow it?”
I won’t name any names, but I have in my possession an album from an artist whom I deeply admire and whose music I have loved since he and the band he had at the time first became popular in the 1960’s. The album title makes reference to “un-released gems.” Let me tell you, not everything that was not released is an “un-released gem” and that album is the proof!
In this case, however, the answer to both of those questions is, no. There is no flaw that makes the music unlistenable.
I may be mistaken in what I am about to say, and if so please correct me, but I believe the only reason this music sat hidden away for three and a half decades is simple, old-fashioned, short-sightedness on the part of whomever had the opportunity to release it in 1960 and decided not to.
The good news is, it was released finally, and I have to tell you that I truly believe that “Four Jazz Legends Live At Newport 1960” will not only make an outstanding addition to your personal playlist for a Saturday (or any other) night, it may well be the first one you set to “replay” mode.
To learn more about some of the wonderful artists who made this fabulous music possible, click the links at the top of the article.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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