Guitarist Cornell Dupree could very well be the most-recorded and least-known musician in the history of popular music. His nickname was “Mister 2,500,” a reference to the number of recordings he appeared on during his lifetime.
Dupree was born December 19, 1942 in Fort Worth, Texas, which is where he died on May 8, 2011. He originally played saxophone, but in his early teens he switched to guitar. He went on to develop a career just about any musician would envy. While he only released a comparatively few albums under his own name, he was one of the most prolific sidemen to grace a recording studio.
Some of the artists whose recordings he appeared on are Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Paul Simon, Mariah Carey, Miles Davis, Brook Benton (“Rainy Night In Georgia”), Etta James, Ringo Starr (“Ringo The 4th“), Joe Cocker, B.B. King, Buddy Rich, John Lennon, and many, many others.
The Dupree album which is the subject of this week’s article is the 1995 release on Kokopelli Records, “Bop ‘n’ Blues.”
“Bop ‘n’ Blues” features the following outstanding artists:
Cornell Dupree, guitar
Bobby Watson, saxophone
Terrell Stafford, trumpet
Leon Pendarvis, piano & Hammond B3 organ
Ronnie Cuber, baritone sax
Sammy Figueroa, percussion
Chuck Rainey, bass
Ricky Sebastian, drums
The first of nine songs is a funky version of the Eddie Harris classic, “Freedom Jazz Dance,” which opens with pianist Pendarvis setting a quick pace. He is soon joined by the others in a knockout performance you won’t soon forget.
One of the perverse realities of life is that crap seems to drag out forever and the really good stuff just zips right by. “Freedom Jazz Dance” sets that canard on its ear by being absolutely fantastic music and seeming to last much longer than it’s actual four and a half minutes. And that is a good thing.
You can hear “Freedom Jazz Dance” right here:
Next we have Milt Jackson’s 1952 classic, “Bags’ Groove.” This delightful blues caries you along on a cloud, floating high above reality. Or maybe that’s just my sleep apnea, still making life interesting at unexpected times.
Regardless, “Bags’ Groove” is a wonderful song and the guys more than do it justice here. Pendarvis on the B3 organ steps forward (figuratively speaking) about halfway through and gives us a great solo. He is followed by Stafford on trumpet in his best solo of the album.
I suppose there is a reason for it that I would understand if I had a professional musical background, but “Bags’ Groove” is to me vaguely reminiscent of Neal Hefti’s theme for the move and TV series, “The Odd Couple.” Or perhaps I should put that the other way ’round, since “Bag’s Groove” predates “The Odd Couple” by more than a decade.
But I digress. “Bags’ Groove” is followed by “Manteca,” the Afro-Cuban jazz classic written by Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo, Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Fuller. “Manteca” opens with Rainey’s bass and Figueroa’s percussion, and they are soon joined by Dupree and the others. For a song that began as an experiment to introduce Afro-Cuban influences to jazz, “Manteca” has come a long way. The version we are given here is a splendid example and will not leave you bored.
Skipping past “‘Round Midnight” we find ourselves at a medley of “The Hucklebuck/Now’s The Time.” Pendarvis on the B3 opens, followed in short order by the others. Stafford on trumpet takes a nice solo about halfway through. I don’t know the provenance of this one, but it’s a got a great, funky overall sound that I think you’ll like.
The next to last song I have time to tell you about is Richard Carpenter’s composition, “Walkin’.” This one manages to be both mellow and alive at the same time, which is not an easy thing to do. Dupree and Rainey open it, and are quickly joined by the rhythm section. The horns take a break, but aren’t really missed. No one in particular jumps out, other than Dupree himself, whose omnipresent guitar is impeccable.
The album ends with the title track, Dupree’s “Bop ‘n’ Blues.” Dupree and company pull out the stops for this one to give the album a grand, flying ending. The brass section has stepped out to get coffee and donuts (just kidding), but the rest of the guys carry on quite well without them. Pendarvis, this time on the Hammond B3, is a standout, as is drummer Sebastian.
Cornell Dupree was undoubtedly one of the greatest guitar players ever, and I am absolutely convinced that you will find his album “Bop ‘n’ Blues” to be a fantastic addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night.
To find out more about Cornell Dupree and his music, here are a few places to start.
Steve Huey has written a concise bio of Dupree for the allmusic.com web site.
Guitar Player magazine has a nice article about how to play like Dupree did, including a brief bio.
Premier Guitar has a very nice write-up of Dupree in their “Forgotten Heroes” series.
And three major news organizations carried his obituary when he died:
The US version of The Guardian
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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