The frayed edges

The post-War decades were golden times for the torch-y, late-night jazz vocal.

Swing-style jazz retained some of its earlier mainstream popularity but, by the late ’40s and ’50s, big bands were shrinking, their relevancy plateauing.   Out of practical necessity, and certainly in terms of its cultural currency, smaller-group jazz, especially bop, was ascendant.

The modern, jazz-inflected vocal ballad would achieve some sort of apotheosis in this time.  As the locus of jazz moved away from ballrooms and halls to clubs and lounges, smaller groups and more intimate settings prevailed, engendering the popular image, if not reality, of aworld-weary singer captivating dimly-lit club-goers.

Interestingly, as audiences for jazz were becoming more select, the best-selling representatives of jazz, modern or otherwise, became its vocalists.  Musicians steeped in jazz – Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day, Billy Eckstine, Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald, June Christy, etc. – sold albums by the million.  So did singers like Julie London, Nat “King” Cole, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, who brought subtle jazz sensibilities, if not jazz pedigrees (especially in Cole’s case) to their performances.

Crucially, too, recording technology had improved enough by the ’50s to effectively capture the sensitivity of vocal performances on the long-playing album format, most of all its quiet ballad performances.  Superlative examples like Helen Carr’s Down in the Depths of the 90th Floor, Johnny Hartman’s Songs From the Heart, Chris Connor’s Sings Ballads of the Sad Cafe and Mel Torme’s It’s a Blue World were hushed expositions of atmosphere and stylized loneliness.  They sounded great on hi-fidelity stereos.   So did Peggy Lee’s Dream Street, Nat “King” Cole’s Love is the Thing, Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, Jeri Southern’s Coffee, Cigarettes & Memories and all of Julie London’s early small-group releases – releases that, incidentally, sold very, very well.

And so the working reality of smaller, quieter supporting groups, the vogue for torch-y jazz ballads and the affordances of modern recording technology that, made, in turn, these captured performances a rewarding experience for at-home listeners guaranteed that lot of jazz and jazz-inspired vocalists cut records in the ’50s and ’60s.  Together they loosely form a fascinating, often obscure, discography of LPs and 45s.

Female vocalists are unequivocally more closely associated with the form, and a future post is planned for them.  This week, however, I survey a few of the most haunting examples from the men.

Babs Gonzales, Lonely One (Prestige 45-204B)1.  Babs Gonzales, Lonely One (Prestige 45-204B)
A true original, Babs Gonzales led a fascinating, colorful life, working, in addition to myriad odd jobs, as singer, lyricist and composer, bandleader, poet, manager and active proponent of jazz and jazz culture.  However, if it’s hard to pin down exactly what Babs Gonzales was, it’s because he was first and foremost a personality – a scenester, a tireless self-mythologizer and authentically colorful character.

Born Lee Brown in 1919, Babs grew up in Newark, New Jersey.  Early on he showed an aptitude for music, growing up playing drums and piano and singing in local clubs barely out of his teens.  He had a gift for adopting personae, too, reinventing himself as Gonzales while living in Hollywood, where he famously worked as Errol Flynn’s chauffeur.

Babs Gonzales

The inimitable Babs Gonzales, shown here with group in the mid-to-late '40s. Image courtesy of William P. Gottlieb via Wikimedia Commons

Gonzales returned and inserted himself into the jazz and creative world of post-War New York City, working and living there – singing, writing, recording, collaborating, hustling, generally presiding – on-and-off, with some obligatory spells in Europe, until his passing in 1980.  His wide-ranging exploits are better-documented elsewhere (see I Paid My Dues, a wildly entertaining biography).  But it’s worth noting here a bit more about his contributions as a recording artist, especially those as a singer.

Of particular note are Babs’s early recordings, where he focused the most on his singing.  (As ‘50s wore on, his releases tended to feature his distinct spoken-word musings – a separate, better-known chapter of his story.)  Babs Gonzales was not only one of the first jazz singers to effectively embrace bop, but he was a pioneer of vocalese, a post-War extension of scat improvisation that used words, rather than nonsense syllables, sung as bop jazz solos, a technique later made more famous by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

His most important 78 sides were recorded between the mid-‘40s and the early ‘50s, during which time he sang with top-tier beboppers – including James Moody’s orchestra and Babs’s own group, Three Bips & a Bop – and released some of his best-known compositions, including “Oop-Pa-A-Da,” recorded by Dizzy Gillespie in 1947.

While prolific – a dizzying number of records were made for major labels and tiny independents alike – there is some truth to the consensus that his singing was limited, and that there was a whiff of novelty hanging about his recordings.  But Gonzales also wrote some very serious, very dark songs like “Weird Lullaby,” “Prelude to a Nightmare” and “Lullaby of the Doomed,” all of which received terrific instrumental treatment in the hands of jazz heavyweights like Wynton Kelly, Art Pepper and Bennie Green.

Atmospheric and stunningly beautiful, “Lonely One” belongs among those as well. Recorded with an unknown trio for the great Prestige Records in a comparatively late 1961, Babs brings such harrowing, effective feeling that one wishes for more like this, but, sadly, this would be among of his last “serious” recordings as a jazz singer.

Oscar Lindsay, Blue Prelude (ABB – 489)2.  Oscar Lindsay, Blue Prelude (ABB – 489)
Born in 1923 or 1924, singer Oscar Lindsay was a founding member of early black harmony group the Four Shades of Rhythm, who began gigging in their home city of Cleveland during World War Two.  A vocalist, drummer – Lindsay played the now rarely-seen cocktail drums – and mainstay of the group, Lindsay persisted through several personnel turnovers, a half-dozen 45s and 78s, long club residencies in Chicago (the group’s second home) and national tours.

After one final 45 release in 1960, the Four Shades of Rhythm dissolved.   Like popular precursors the Ink Spots, the Four Shades of Rhythm had played their own instruments, and, while not a jazz group per se, they could and did swing.  Like the Cats and the Fiddle, for example, or Slim and Slam (Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart), they also sang in jazz-inflected settings, adding popular jazz numbers like “Robbin’s Nest” and “Ghost of a Chance” to their repertory of ballads, uptempo numbers and instrumentals.

So it is less unlikely than it first might seem that, after the Four Shades of Rhythm ended, Lindsay would further explore jazz.  Based and working in Chicago, he released a few solo recordings in the early ‘60s, among them The Sophisticated Sounds Of Oscar Lindsay, an obscure and interesting album of jazz and pop balladry, supported by Chicago jazz pianist John Young and his group.

Which brings us to this selection, a version of Gordon Jenkins’s beautiful, despairing late-night ballad “Blue Prelude,” that, I believe, is again supported by John Young and group.   Of the era’s well-known versions, including Peggy Lee’s and Judy Garland’s, this version owes perhaps the most to the doom-y atmosphere of Nina Simone’s 1959 treatment.  Even by Simone’s standards, however, Lindsay’s is intense, a nocturne built of syrup-slow tempo, deep sensitivity and Lindsay’s wistful intonation.

This seems to have been Lindsay’s last commercial release as a leader, though apparently he still sang with groups into the early 1980s.

Oscar Lindsay passed away in the mid-‘90s.

Sources: Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks, Red Saunders Research Foundation.

Burnie Peacock Quartet (Vocal by Harry Reed), “Jewell” (Burnie's Label BL-218)3.  Burnie Peacock Quartet (Vocal by Harry Reed), “Jewell” (Burnie’s Label BL-218)
Burnie, or Bernie, Peacock was an alto saxophonist and working jazz musician whose recorded legacy spanned the better part of two decades and whose career was spent largely, and largely anonymously, in the trenches of jazz and R&B session and ensemble support work.

Likely born in the late teens or early ’20s, Peacock came up playing music in Detroit and, like many younger journeyman musicians of the ‘40s, could move capably between swing and bop.  In the late ‘30s Peacock played briefly with the Jimmy Raschel band, an important incubator for modern jazz players in Detroit.  After his return from military service, Peacock passed through the ranks of several regrouped, streamlined versions of popular pre-War orchestras, including those of Don Redman, Lucky Millinder and Cab Calloway.

Contrary to popular history, the lines between bop, swing jazz and R&B were frequently blurred in the early ’50s, and, not unlike many professional musicians of the era who identified first as jazz musicians, Peacock – who spent a lot of time in New York City during this time – not only contributed to early ‘50s R&B-oriented sessions (by top sellers like Annisteen Allen, Bull Moose Jackson and Ruth Brown) but also led a handful of instrumental 78 sides clearly intended for the R&B market.

Those early solo sides document a sing-song-y tone, somewhat in the popular style of Earl Bostic, that hasn’t necessarily worn as well with time.   A decade later (after time spent in Korea, again for the military), though, when this recording was made, his tone had clearly mellowed.

From 1962, “Jewell,” the only 45 released on this label, is moonlit mellowness personified, mood music of the highest, most atmospheric order.  Sadly and quite surprisingly, vocalist Harry Reed, who here demonstrates his capabilities as a jazz vocalist to great effect, remains a total mystery.

Peacock was working again in the Detroit area at this point.  He would spend the next five or six years recording occasionally as a supporting musician for Motown Records as part of their large pool of studio talent, including hits for the Miracles and the Marvelettes, but he seems to have drifted into obscurity after that.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Jazz Obscura | 2 Comments

Surf’s Latin tinge

I’ve written a number of posts that dissect rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals, that, more specifically, document my fascination with the way this strand of music treated certain motifs, phenomena, and themes, summoning them as dramatically, as physically, as visually as possible.

It was a slightly different matter with the Latin themes prevalent in post-War rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals, though, starting with fun early hits like the Champs’ “Tequila” (and dozens of lesser-known soundalikes), the Fireballs’ “Vaquero” and the Ventures’ “Perfidia,” and culminating in sleek, elegant rockets like the Astronauts’ “Baja” and the Sentinals’ “Latin’ia.”

Surf's Latin tinge

A closer look at post-War surf music's Latin tinge this week.

The music didn’t merely seek to conjure fanciful, romantic Pan-American imagery – the offshore breezes, the conquistadores and dark-eyed maidens, the liquor-soaked revelry, the jungles and snowcapped mountains, the bullfights, etc. – though that was certainly a large part of it.  Nor was it just that many of young groups who contributed to the new surf form were comprised partially or wholly of Mexican-American musicians (not surprising given southern California’s shifting post-War demographics), though this again did inform the music in subtle ways, and is worth an essay unto itself.

Mostly it was just that Latin music was so well suited to adaptation by the instrumental rock ‘n’ roll form from the start, most particularly the “exotic” atmosphere and Fender guitars, deep reverb and crashing drums that characterized much early surf music.   And it wasn’t just Ernesto Lecuona’s sweeping Latin works – “Siboney”, “Malagueña” and “The Breeze And I” (“Andalucía”) – either.  From the Pharos’ “Pintor” and the Surfmen’s “El Toro” to the Tornadoes’ “Malagueña” and Dick Dale’s “Spanish Kiss,” anything from a stately Cuban bolero to a Flamenco riff or hopped-up border-town mambo might get the surf guitar treatment.

The rock ‘n’ roll instrumental would never again be quite so colorful.

Charles Wright and the Malibus, Runky (Titanic 5003-2)1.  Charles Wright and the Malibus, Runky (Titanic 5003-2)
Released in the summer of ’62 on the short-lived southern California Titanic label, this appears to be the only release by Charles Wright and Malibus.

Biographical details are limited, but the story of the group is likely connected to two personalities: Tony Hilder, a Los Angeles music promoter, and Bruce Morgan, a studio engineer and one of the song’s co-authors.

Tony Hilder had been a promoter, producer and operator in the Los Angeles music scene since the ‘50s.  Quick to recognize the nascent popularity of instrumental surf music in the early ‘60s, he coordinated studio sessions for a stable of local groups (including the Revels, the Sentinals, the New Dimensions, Bob Vaught & the Renegaids and the Rhythm Kings, among others), hustling, in turn, still-hot master recordings out to various local labels for release.   Hilder also tended to have his stable of groups record compositions that he owned licensing rights to.  So songs like “Vesuvius,” “Church Key,” “Intoxica” and, yes, “Latin’ia” (which, true to form, is the flipside of this 45) tended to get disproportionate exposure.

Bruce Morgan, one of “Runky’s” co-authors, was an engineer and songwriter who worked frequently with Tony Hilder in the early ‘60s.  Morgan remains best known for his role in some very early Beach Boys-related sessions, but he recorded many other young groups in that time.  His own frequently-recorded compositions “Exotic” and “Luau” (which was also cut by the Beach Boys) share something of “Runky”’s Latin sensibilities.

Personnel is unknown here, but it seems highly plausible that some Hilder/Morgan regulars are playing, though nothing else in their discography has the quite the same swagger or grinding gutbucket guitar as “Runky.”

This is unrelated to the Charles Wright of Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band fame.

The Torquays, Escondido (Gee Gee Cee 8163-A)2.  The Torquays, Escondido (Gee Gee Cee 8163-A)
The Torquays, from San Jose, consisted of brothers Raul, Pete and David Martinez on guitars and bass along with Jim Sierra on drums.

“Escondido,” named for a remote surfing spot on Mexico’s Oaxacan coastline, was recorded and released in a comparatively late 1964, though unreleased demo versions of both “Escondido” and “Surfer’s Cry,” its terrific flipside, were recorded at a slightly earlier date for eccentric Hollywood producer and songwriter Gary Paxton.

This selection seems to have been produced and released independently of Paxton’s auspices.  “Escondido” clearly owes something to the sweep of “Siboney” (and numerous Lecuona themes) as well as to the haunting melodicism of early classics like Gamblers’ “Moon Dawg” and Astronauts’ “Baja.”  A particularly streamlined demonstration of how some of early surf music’s general aesthetics, its stately atmosphere and its propulsive feel, suited Latin-inspired themes.

This was the only release on the tiny Gee Gee Cee label and, sadly, the only recorded output from the Torquays.

Thanks to Reverb Central and Ace Records’ Beach Party: Garpax Surf ‘N’ Drag for the information.

Calvin Cool, El Tecolote (CRC Charter CR-7)3.  Calvin Cool, El Tecolote (CRC Charter CR-7)
From a 1963 session put together by West Coast jazz-trumpeter-turned-studio-arranger Shorty Rogers comes this sterling gem.

This selection also appears on Calvin Cool’s Surfer’s Beat LP, released on CRC Charter (a webst coast subsidiary for MGM Records in the early ‘60s).

“El Tecolote” is easily the standout track on Surfer’s Beat, an album of otherwise uninspired sax-and-organ-dominated instrumental fare.  A studio-led cash-in to its core, and only nominally a Shorty Rogers product, Surfer’s Beat is likely the handiwork of the ubiquitous Wrecking Crew, a loose collective of Los Angeles-based studio professionals heard on thousands of the era’s hipper commercial pop, rock ‘n’ roll, soundtrack and R&B sessions.   (The surf music phenomenon was heavily exploited by the record industry – major and independent labels alike.)

It is almost certain the guitarist Jerry Cole providing the lead on “El Tecolote.”    Cole, a one-time member of the Champs, quickly distinguished himself as a session guitarist, even by the era’s standards incredibly prolific, moonlighting on hundreds of sessions, many of them surf-oriented, with a number of successful guitar instrumental albums to his own name as well (and many more released pseudonymously).  Likely supported by some combination of frequent associates like Leon Russell, Steve Douglas, Hal Blaine, Tom Tedesco or Larry Knectel, “El Tecolote” brims with wicked, forboding atmosphere, borrowing, like “Runky,” a bit of Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village” opening riff for good measure along the way.  It is a highlight of Wrecking-Crew-made surf, and one of Cole’s finest moments.

Jerry Cole passed away in 2008.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Instrumentals/Surf, Latin | 4 Comments

Get rhythm, part 2

Even by the early ‘70s, when Ace Tone Rhythm Aces and Maestro Rhythm Kings and Seeburg Select-a-Rhythms had achieved the limits of their popular use in rock and R&B music (see Bee Gees, Sly Stone, Lowell George, Timmy Thomas, et al.), the rhythm machine remained almost strictly a curiosity to the mainstream market, a demure electronic anomaly occasionally heard pattering away in the background.

If major-label artists and producers found the idea of their use beyond demo takes or studio rehearsals laughable, perhaps somehow offensive, the attractiveness for me of early rhythm machine records stems not just from their distinct sound (which I find charming), but also from their fundamental modesty.  One wasn’t necessarily aiming for the stars when a rhythm machine was used but – whether for their novel sound or out of necessity, or both – the artists behind these selections used them without any equivocation.

There are many other great, obscure examples of the instrument’s use on local and privately-pressed 45s and LPs from the ’60s and ’70s – from gospel and country to lounge-pop and wildly experimental rock.  I group these particular 45s together, however, not because they’re the clearest demonstrations of rhythms machines in use, but because there’s something unusual, if not psychedelic, about all of them.  Deliberately or not, the programmed rhythms of these machines help to add just another layer of peculiar atmosphere.

This is the second post about the early use of rhythm machines.

 Jupiter’s Children, This Is All I Ask (Triple O Records 000-228)1.  Jupiters’ Children, This Is All I Ask (Triple O Records 000-228)
There was much psychedelic weirdness in Michigan in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  There were large cities there and, in the post-War decades at least, burgeoning, still-relatively-affluent suburbs.  The concentrations of middle-to-upper-class white kids there were the same type who, in a sort of logical extension of the mid-’60s garage band phenomenon, tended to create a lot of psychedelic weirdness later on.

Jupiters’ Children’s fantastic “This Is All I Ask” is a Detroit-area record from 1970.  The noisy production, haunting background vocals and bassline drone make for a strange record for certain, but its deeply melodic sensibilities are somewhat unusual, even by the standards of all that was “strange” about locally-produced psychedelia for the period.  Everything is kept restrained in an era of meandering jams and over-the-top vocals.

The Carnes listed in the song’s credits is Preston Carnes, who most likely sings on this.  Carnes was a local singer and musician who released a few rock’n’roll-oriented 45s in the early ‘60s.  Carnes also operated the Astra Records label, with some fine local R&B and instrumental rock ’n’ roll 45s to its credit in the early ‘60s.

In late ’66 or ‘67, operating under the sobriquet Preston, he released “This World is Closing In On Me” b/w “Waterfalls,” a brilliant and (again) wholly unique record of unique and early Michigan psychedelia, first released on the Sound Patterns label.  (“Waterfalls” can be heard on this old Office Naps mix.)

This record is also worth seeking out for the equally brilliant, wigged-out flipside, “Check Yourself (Superman’s Got Blisters).”

6 7/8, Ski-Daddle (Dot 45-16877)2.  6 7/8, Ski-Daddle (Dot 45-16877)
Best known, perhaps unjustly, for top sellers like Pat Boone and Lawrence Welk, the Los Angeles-based Dot Records, in terms of its 45 catalog, proved a fascinating and adventurous label at its peak between the late ‘50s and mid-‘60s.  In addition to its own roster of artists under contract, the label would often lease masters from independent producers, artists and studios nationwide for release.  And so a lot of wild and excellent instrumental, surf, rock ‘n’ roll, country, R&B and garage band 45 releases subsequently received some national distribution.

1966’s “Ski-Daddle” was the only recording made by 6 7/8.  6 7/8 seems to have served as a vehicle for the New York City-based pop songwriter Tony Romeo, heard here at the outset of his career in the industry.   Among other  ‘60s and ‘70s pop songs and collaborations, Romeo would pen hits for the Cowsills (“Indian Lake”), Lou Christie (“I’m Gonna Make You Mine”), the Brooklyn Bridge (“Welcome Me Love”) and David Cassidy and the Partridge Family (“I Think I Love You”).   Romeo would also sporadically release 45s and LPs under his own name in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, competent, but largely straight-laced, pop.

Romeo’s pop pedigree only makes this unclassifiable gem that much more unusual.  The group seems likely to have been comprised of professional studio musicians.  Something about this record makes me think it might have started out as a demo recording intended for auditioning the song, too, but that it proved marketable, or at least peculiar, enough for Dot Records to give it a shot at release in 1966.

After 6 7/8, Tony Romeo formed the group Trout with Cassandra Morgan and Tony’s brother Frank Romeo.  They released an orchestrated pop album in 1968 that stands out as one of Romeo’s stronger collaborations.  “Ski-Daddle,” in fact, is redolent of the sound of Trout’s folk-rock vocal harmonies – enough that it seems reasonable to suppose that 6 7/8 included Cassandra Morgan and Frank Romeo as well.

But “Ski-Daddle” is its own beast, either way.  The folk-y harmonies, nearly indecipherable lyrics, shimmering organ line and great masses of echo imbue “Ski-Daddle” with a lost, otherworldly feeling.    “Ski-Daddle” must be one of the earliest examples of the rhythm machine’s use on a commercial release.  Certainly it’s one of the strangest.

Tony Romeo passed away in 1995.

The Common People, Here, There, and Everywhere (United of flbl&g 2318-8)3.  The Common People, Here, There, and Everywhere (United of flbl&g 2318-8)
The Common People were a band formed in 1968 in Grand Rapids, Michigan (another locus of a lot of terrific ’60s rock ‘n’ roll).   Best known as a live attraction, the Common People toured the upper Midwest (and greater United States) extensively in the late ’60s and ’70s.

The vocalist here is one Lynn Nowicki, who is also familiar to ’60s rock  ‘n’ roll enthusiasts and collectors as the singer and leader of Lyn & the Invaders, an early (and comparatively rare) female-led rock ‘n’ roll group who released the brilliant “Boy is Gone” in 1966.   (There was also a slightly different recording of “Boy is Gone” released – under the name the Incredible Invaders – a bit later.)

Early versions of the Common People would include some the Invaders’ former members, but this recording is something of an anomaly, sounding little like the Invaders’ oeuvre or the Common People’s club-and-festival-friendly brand of ’70s rock ‘n’ roll.

Released on the band’s own label, likely in the early ’70s, this is one of the more unusual and effective treatments of the Lennon-McCartney staple.   Nowicki’s haunting vocals are run through a Leslie amp or tremolo unit, with only an acoustic guitar and the fragile pinging of a rhythm machine for accompaniment.   A study in otherworldly sensitivity. (The flipside, incidentally, is a good but less unorthodox late-’60s-sounding folk-rock version of “Love of the Common People.”)

Check out the West Mich Music Hysterical Society and Grand Rapids Rocks for pages (and photos) dedicated to the Common People, Lynn Nowicki and Lyn & the Invaders.   I’ve tried contacting some of the original members of the Common People, and with luck hope to provide some more details.

Duke, Runaway Girl (Joy MWX-391)4.  [BONUS TRACK]   Duke, Runaway Girl (Joy MWX-391)
Each of this week’s selections are from different points, stylistically, but the sensibilities of “Runaway Girl” puts its orbit much further out than the others.  Again, like all the selections, there is a curiously psychedelic, lo-fi flavor running through “Runaway Girl” – especially its introduction and ending – but, stylistically, it belongs clearly in the ‘70s.

Certainly the R. Dukett credited was Duke himself, but there’s little else in the way of leads on this 45.  Joy Records was likely from the upper Midwest, probably Illinois, with no relation to the Joy Records based in the late ‘60s in Detroit or the Joy Records operated out of New York City in the early ‘60s.

Its flipside is a fun, lounge-y instrumental version of “Malaguena,” but does nothing to dispel the mystery of Duke and this 45.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Garage Bands, Psychedelic/Pop | 7 Comments

Update: Mouse Bonati

It was my pleasure recently to speak with Gina Bonati, daughter of the great post-War saxophonist Joseph “Mouse” Bonati,” one of the pioneers of bebop in New Orleans in the 1950s.  I first covered Mouse back in this post on bebop from out-of-the-way cities.  With details provided in the meantime by Gina, Ronda Bonati (Mouse’s first wife and Gina’s mother) along with other members of the Bonati family, I’m delighted to now present more in the way of reliable information.  For some context, I’ve also included a short introduction about post-War jazz in New Orleans.

Post-War jazz in New Orleans

The most popular jazz in post-War New Orleans was ostensibly a revivalist affair – Pete Fountain and the Dukes of Dixieland sold millions of records with their Dixieland and traditional jazz retreads.  While concurrently proving itself one of the nation’s great, vital R&B powerhouses, New Orleans’s glory years at the leading edge of jazz were decades gone by the time of bebop’s ascendance in the ‘40s.

Despite the city’s general apathy about this new, modern permutation of jazz (a generalization fairly leveled at any city not among Great Migration destination points), New Orleans did have its bop devotees, many of whom were convening in the late ‘40s and ‘50s to jam at French Quarter nightclubs and strip joints.  Places like Louis Prima’s 500 Club, the Gunga Den and the Sho’Bar employed these young enthusiasts as pit musicians, and served as primary loci for the after-hours sessions where the form took root in the city.  Some of these young musicians would shortly light out for points north (Bill Evans, Vern Fournier, Mundell Lowe) and west (Joe Pass, Brew Moore, Frank Strazerri, Ed Blackwell, Earl Palmer).  Others, like Ellis Marsalis, Al Belletto, Bill Huntington and Mike Serpas stuck around New Orleans for longer, or for good.

Amongst the latter, saxophonist Joseph “Mouse” Bonati would be one of the earliest and most visible champions of bop.  Little, unfortunately, in the way of New Orleans bebop was recorded in its time, but Mouse Bonati figures prominently in discussions about modern jazz in New Orleans.

Joseph “Mouse” Bonati

Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1930, Joseph “Mouse” Bonati was the youngest of five musically- and artistically-inclined brothers and sisters: Ralph, Roy, Anne and Al.  His father died when Joe was six months old; Joe’s eldest brother Ralph, fourteen years old at the time, would in particular help out with his upbringing.  (Incidentally, there are two different family stories about the “Mouse” sobriquet.   One has it that it was coined by an artist friend of the family who, while drawing a family portrait, made special note of the youngest Bonati’s appearance.   The second version was that it was born, as a vision, during one of Mouse’s own drug-induced reveries.)

The young Joe, evincing the family’s musical and artistic talents, played the violin, receiving the standard classical-oriented musical education of the era.  In the late ’40s, barely out of his teens, playing saxophone and enamored of both jazz and – like so many other young musicians – of Charlie Parker, Mouse Bonati moved to New Orleans.

In New Orleans, Mouse would meet Ronda Adler through mutual friend Larry Borenstein (founder of Preservation Hall).  Adler – a young jazz enthusiast who’d worked previously as a cigarette girl at the storied Birdland jazz club – was then en route to Mexico from New York City, but stayed on in New Orleans, eventually marrying Mouse, with daughter Gina born in 1957 and son Chris in 1959.   With Ronda working at the Court of Two Sisters, Mouse, continuing to hone his Bird-influenced style, would pursue the musical life in the colorful clubs of New Orleans.   A multi-instrumentalist – he also played piano, flute and clarinet – Bonati would become a well-known presence in the New Orleans jazz community.

Mouse Bonati, Back (Patio MJ-1)Mouse Bonati, Back (Patio MJ-1)

Mouse Bonati’s New Orleans sides – all released by the tiny Patio Records – represent some of the earliest bebop recorded in the city.  Recorded in a single sitting in 1957, the Patio sessions yielded four tracks under Mouse’s aegis.  Supported by compadres Benny Clement (trumpet), Jimmy Johnson (bass), Chick Power (tenor saxophone), Edward Frank (piano) and Earl Palmer (drums), these recordings would be released sequentially on two 45s – “Back” backed with “One Blind Mouse” (Patio MJ-1) followed by “Mouse’s House” backed with “What a Difference a Day Made” (Patio MJ-2).  They show the altoist in full Charlie Parker mode.

That same year would also see the release of the lone LP on Patio Records, an album of New Orleans bebop entitled New Sounds From New Orleans.  Put together by friend and fellow musician Jack Martin, the album was divided between the Jack Martin Octet’s “Jazz Suite de Camera” on one side (which features Bonati playing in a supporting role) and Mouse Bonati’s music – his four 45 recordings, along with a strange multi-tracked tape experiment entitled “Improvisations” – on the other.

As the ‘50s wore on, recorded music began to displace the musicians working in the Bourbon Street clubs.   Local gigs became harder to find, and, like many musicians and artists, Mouse’s own life and personal relationships were getting more complicated. Around 1960, not long after these recordings were made, Mouse relocated to Las Vegas, and the ensuing years would form something of the next chapter in his life as a working musician.  Though no further commercial recordings would be released in this time, the relative security of resort gigs – the lifeblood of many jazz musicians in those years – kept Mouse active as a professional musician.

Mouse’s residencies as a jazz soloist and section musician would take him from Lake Tahoe in mid-‘60s (at Harrod’s Resort) to the Bahamas in the late ‘60s (at Paradise Island), then back to Lake Tahoe around 1970.  His longest-term residency would follow upon settling in Las Vegas, where he lived from 1972 onwards, with a steady residency at the Lido show at Caesar’s, along with jazz gigs at venues like the Tropicana Ballroom and Dusty’s Playland.

Mouse Bonati was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx in the early ‘80s, sadly making playing impossible in his final years.  His a life spent in the jazz world, devoted to music. Joseph “Mouse” Bonati passed away in 1983.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Jazz Obscura, Updates | 6 Comments

The Cave

This week, both a Halloween-themed post and an iteration of a familiar Office Naps theme: Namely, the ways in which certain phenomena – natural, geographical, supernatural, technological, etc. – get played out in entertaining, cinematic ways in pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll and pop.  (See also: The Desert, The Sea, The Desert Island, Space, etc.)

So The Cave, then.  Not only is there something very evocative about this week’s selections, but they intersect gracefully with what was then going on in ’50s Hollywood B-movies.  Everything from Eegah (1962) and Night of the Blood Beast (1958) to Beast of Haunted Cave (1959) and Invisible Invaders (1959) – naming just a few – situated the cave as some locus of action.  The cave was the lair, the labyrinth, opaque darkness, the den of horrors.

Beast of Haunted Cave

The cave as another rock 'n' roll archetype this week. Image from Monte Hellman's 1959 movie Beast From Haunted Cave. Image courtesy of the indispensible Bad Movies.

A discussion of the psychological symbolism of the cave I leave to others.  If it made for a good filming location or dramatic cinematic motif then, somewhere, somehow, there was a 45 that appropriated it, and, suffice it to say, the cave was no different.  The concept of the haunted cave or underground alien hideout was, in fact, not only peculiarly well-suited to post-War paranoia but also to rock ‘n’ roll in general, the instrumental form then a proven chart commodity, the crucial, heavy use of echo redolent of subterranean acoustics.

As the teenaged market for rock ‘n’ roll novelties expanded to include various odd – and, in the case of these selections, spooky – themes and concepts, the cave would receive some fascinating, strangely effective treatments in turn.

Gary “Spider” Webb, The Cave (Part I) (Bamboo 504)1.  Gary “Spider” Webb, The Cave (Part I) (Bamboo 504)
Drummer Gary Webb is perhaps best known to rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts for his participation in the Hollywood Argyles; Webb was part of the hastily assembled crew of musicians that toured on the chart strength of the 1960 R&B-ish novelty hit “Alley-Oop.”  (The “real” Hollywood Argyles were a handful Los Angeles R&B and pop session musicians studio put together by Hollywood producer and character Gary Paxton for what was an informal studio lark.)

Prior to his involvement with the Argyles, Webb was enlisted overseas in the Navy for several years, where he’d played drums in the Jumpin’ Jacks, a service group.  After his return to the states, and just prior to his involvement with Hollywood Argyles, Webb was signed to the Los Angeles-based independent Donna Records in early 1960, cutting “Drum City” (a swinging instrumental somewhat in the style of Sandy Nelson) for the label a few months later.

Gary “Spider” Webb, The Cave (Part II) (Bamboo 504)2.  Gary “Spider” Webb, The Cave (Part II) (Bamboo 504)
“The Cave,” released in April of 1961, was the second, and last, of Gary Webb’s releases as a group leader.  Certainly “The Cave” is much headier, atmospheric stuff than the average novelty churned by the Los Angeles independent labels of the era.  “The Cave” also borrows much from the murky, menacing production and strange character voices of Bobby Christian and the Allen Sisters’ 1958 horror opus “The Spider & the Fly,” adding tremolo guitar, lunatic jungle drums and heaps of teen psychosexual drama in the process.

During much of the ‘60s, Gary Webb played in the supporting band for flamboyant Los Angeles club fixture, singer Troy Walker, but, after that, there’s unfortunately little else to be found about him.

Chuck Holden, The Cave (Unique 358)3.  Chuck Holden, The Cave (Unique 358)
The Charles Holden Orchestra was a supper-club affair with a long residency as the house orchestra at Manhattan’s chic El Morocco nightclub in the 1950s and ‘60s.   Holden’s sole album, 1957’s Dancing at the El Morocco, consisted of stolid arrangements of numbers like “Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” “Putting on the Ritz,” and “That Old Black Magic” – about as polite as it got.

Likewise, Unique Records, a New York City-based record label that operated in the ‘50s, had a discography essentially dedicated to releases by hotel orchestras, cabaret singers and aging entertainers.  Few concessions were made at Unique Records to rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, jazz or contemporary music of any kind; it was a strange, staid relic of a bygone era.

Charles Holden & His Orchestra, Dancing at the El Morocco

Charles Holden’s 1957 LP, Dancing at the El Morocco. Nothing could be further from “The Cave.” Image courtesy of bsnpubs.

I belabor this not because “The Cave” is just an extraordinary record, but because the psychic distance between everything about its conservative pedigree on one hand and its effect in reality on the other is quite jarring.

Released in 1956, there is, even today, nothing conservative about “The Cave.”  Its indecipherable moans, its unearthly piano string runs, its peculiar zither chords: the effect is somewhere between haunted house and Avant-Garde theater piece.  Nothing, really, could prepare one for this record.   It might have been marketed as a sort of novelty, I suppose, but no trace of humor or fun lightens “The Cave”’s dreary atmosphere.  Not a particularly easy record to listen to, but certainly effective.

Richie Allen, Cave Man (Imperial 5872)4.  Richie Allen, Cave Man (Imperial 5872)
A solo-and-session-guitarist-turned-producer with a strong trademark sound, Richie Allen’s is a somewhat old-school profile, and a very Southern Californian one at that, especially in the context of the post-War pop music business.  A future Office Naps post will be dedicated entirely to some of his early recordings but, in the meantime, here’s “Cave Man,” an instrumental he released in 1962.

Born Richard Allen Podolor (and best known as Richie Podolor) in 1940 in California, Allen showed prodigious musical talents as well as a knack – starting with his instrumental support for singer Bonnie Guitar on her haunting “Dark Moon,” a 1957 hit – for negotiating the music industry.

Allen also recorded early on as a leader, including 1958’s “I Love You Girl (And I Need You So),” a good Buddy Holly-influenced rocker.  But it’s Allen’s very first 45 as a solo artist, 1958’s “Samoa,” that’s particularly significant.  An atmospheric instrumental with elegant, minor-key riffs, “Samoa” would, in a moment, not only anticipate the moodier instrumental surf music spectrum, but would also anticipate the aesthetic of Allen’s ‘60s oeuvre as both a solo guitarist and producer.  (Allen would also re-record “Samoa” several times in these early years.)

Allen stayed busy in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, composing songs, playing live (as part of the Pets), forging further connections with Los Angeles studios and cutting many sessions, including, mostly famously, a series of Sandy Nelson’s hit rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals like “Teen Beat” and “Let There Be Drums.”  With demand for his talents as a session guitarist, solo recording opportunities arose, culminating in three instrumental guitar LPs – Stranger from Durango, The Rising Surf and the early compilation Surfer’s Slide – all released by Imperial Records between 1961 and 1963.

Like many of the era’s studio-created guitar instrumental albums, these tended to be a bit generic – the surf-themed LPs only nominally sounded like surf music – but the best moments – like “The Rising Surf,” “Haunted Guitar” and “Stranger from Durango” – nonetheless demonstrated Allen’s stately, booming guitar riffs to great effect.   Among these moments is also “Cave Man,” released in September of 1962.   Moody, if not spooky, and with a great Spagetti Western flavor, it is the logical extension of Allen’s “Samoa” sound.

Allen continued to avail himself of studio opportunities, forming a fruitful relationship with producer Gary Usher, then doing much to capitalize on the surf craze, with notable session contributions for various Usher vehicles like the Devons, the Hondells and the Super Stocks in 1963 and 1964.

There were other exciting recordings made as a guitarist, among them the Ghoul’s surf-monster exploitation LP Dracula’s Deuce and 1966’s epic 45 version of “Stranger from Durango.”  But Allen’s engineering handiwork for groups like the Monkees and Electric Prunes began to supersede his role as an instrumentalist as the ‘60s wore on.  Even so, Allen’s tastes occasionally surfaced in fascinating ways – a clear line can be drawn, for instance, between Allen’s majestic psychedelic instrumentals for the Chocolate Watchband (“Expo 2000” and “Dark Side of the Mushroom”) and his “Samoa.”

In the late ‘60s, Allen found still greater success working as a producer, most famously for Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf, with big hits (including “Joy to the World” and “Born to be Wild”) for both.   Work with other heavyweights – including Iron Butterfuly, Black Oak Arkansas, Phil Seymour and Dillards – would follow in the coming decades, an entirely different chapter better documented elsewhere.

Thanks to Black Cat Rockabilly for some of the Richie Allen/Podolor information.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf | 3 Comments

La misère

This week’s three selections represent one particular dimension of the ’60s garage band phenomenon, one that doesn’t get much attention from collectors.

These are laments.  And they tended to take shape – in the form’s most effective examples, at least – in a discrete set of aural motifs.  That sound is one of the reasons I love this type of plaint so much: Tempos are slow, almost glacial, vocals are doleful, resolute in their despair, extra instrumentation (e.g., guitar solos)  is minimal and the levels of echo, as if to compensate, are cavernous.   The sound can be quite striking.

Moreover, in their unsparing detail of emotional vicissitude – related, always, to girl troubles – these selections dig beyond the mere pathos of the average minor-key ballad into something more desperate and anti-social.

There was little chart precedent for this sort of very raw emotion.  And these – not only is there something almost defiantly non-commercial about them, but, because this stuff was produced on such a limited, local basis, they’re sort of like using your high school yearbook profile to detail your various romantic travails.   And that is the other reason I love this odd corner of teenage rock ‘n’ roll so much.  There is great poignancy in the real, if over-the-top, vulnerability here.

Fantastic Dee-Jays, This Love of Ours (Sherry TR-Series Teen Sound 196)1.  Fantastic Dee-Jays, This Love of Ours (Sherry TR-Series Teen Sound 196)
An excellent mid-‘60s rock ‘n’ roll group popular in the Pittsburgh area, the Fantastic Dee-Jays recorded prolifically in their time before evolving into that rawest of all ‘60s garage bands, the Swamp Rats.

Formed in 1964 in McKeesport, south of Pittsburgh, the Fantastic Dee-Jays consisted at the start of teenagers Dick Newton (guitar and vocals), Tom Junecko (drums) and Denny Nicholson (guitar and vocals).  Discovered early on by popular local WMCK DJ (and producer, promoter and club and label operator) Terry Lee, the Fantastic Dee-Jays would, with Lee as manager, establish themselves as a major attraction in Pittsburgh’s vibrant teen dance circuit.

“This Love of Ours,” recorded in 1965 and released on Terry Lee’s own Sherry Records imprint, was the group’s first release.  An original composition, it digs deep on all fronts, pushing into stark emotional territory with a dramatic vocal, its effect increased – even as the words become somewhat difficult to understand – by its slow tempo and the extraordinary echo.  “This Love of Ours” is the absolute archetype for this type of sound.    (Its flipside, sadly, is a fairly dry reading of the guitar instrumental classic “Apache.” )

At this point it must be noted out that the Fantastic Dee-Jays were driven by two electric guitars and drums but no bass, an almost unheard-of configuration in its time – or ever, really.   While “This Love of Ours” didn’t necessarily fit into the logic of the group’s discography – which was similarly original but more Merseybeat-oriented – all of their recorded output had an aesthetic that was instantly identifiable, a sound driven by almost experimental masses of jangle – best heard on their roaring 1966 version of the Golliwogs’ “Fight Fire.”  Nor was it just the Dee-Jays pushing sonic boundaries.  Terry Lee’s penchant for echo – which he applied liberally to his own broadcasts – worked its way into the Dee-Jays’ recordings, which, in turn, he helped produce in the WMCK studios.

Still, if would-be impresario Lee made for a somewhat unorthodox match, it all somehow worked, at least for a year or two.  The Fantastic Dee-Jays proved popular, charting locally with their “Love Is Tuff” 45, opening for the Rolling Stones in 1966 as well as releasing a rare full-length LP, a costly investment, even with Lee’s patronage, in the era’s singles-driven marketplace for rock ‘n’ roll.

After five terrific 45s and one album, the Fantastic Dee-Jays disbanded in 1966.  Drummer Bob Hocko, who had replaced Junecko as drummer that same year, would continue with Dick Newton – again, under Terry Lee’s aegis – in the Swamp Rats, a volatile group who recorded some intense punk 45s in next year-and-a-half before they too dissolved.

The Stairway to the Stars, Cry (Brite-Star 17910)2.  The Stairway to the Stars, Cry (Brite-Star 17910)
From 1966, and likely from eastern Ohio, little can be stated conclusively about the Stairway to the Stars or Messrs. Sollosi and Benard, except that this 45’s origins lie along some of the more fascinating margins of the commercial record industry.

Brite-Star Records, run by one Tex Clark, was a mysterious, though not atypical, label operation that worked through its “offices” in Newbury, Ohio (east of Cleveland) and Nashville.  Largely in operation during the ‘60s, its discography includes a couple of weird records by fading country stars like Little Jimmy Dickens and Red Simpson, but it otherwise seemed to function as an outlet for aspiring musicians and songwriters who paid the label in exchange for some nominal promotion and distribution and, in some cases, for handling pressing and studio time.  Given both the general obscurity of Brite records (as well as releases on Roy, Brite, Bryte – all labels affiliated with Tex Clark) and some vague sense of unscrupulousness about the labels, it seems unlikely that they ever did much to sell actual 45s.

It makes sense, then, that Rite Record Productions pressed this record.  Based in Cincinnati, Rite Records was one of the better-known post-War custom-pressing plants.  The company would inexpensively produce small batches of 45s and LPs for various artists (who often included school and church groups along with aspiring singers and groups) and entrepreneurial spirits who approached them with tapes and demo recordings.

In both cases, low barriers to entry were assumed.  But, among the dozens of artless country singers and church group warblers, a lot of terrific and incredibly obscure music would see release on Rite-pressed labels such as Brite-Star.

“Cry” was most certainly among those.   Here the tempo is peppier and arrangement a bit more structured, but the booming echo and general levels of despair – the baleful spoken word interlude really enhancing the drama – again have a very strong effect.

This selection’s flipside is “Dry Run,” an excellent surf-style instrumental with hints of early psychedelia and lots of fuzz guitar.  A fantastic record.

Thanks to both Song Poem Music and 45 RPM Records for the information.

The Jades, Till I Die (Ector DAS-101)3.  The Jades, Till I Die (Ector DAS-101)
A popular local draw on the Fort Worth teen music circuit, the Jades – originally vocalist and guitarist Gary Carpenter, bassist Ronnie Brown, keyboardist Jack Henry, guitarist Larry Earp and drummer Alvin McCool – first came together in 1964 as high school students in the surrounding Haltom City and Richland Hills areas.

The Jades’ live reputation – in short time they’d be winning battles-of-the-bands, touring the state and opening locally for the likes of the Byrds and the Hollies – is perhaps more representative than their body of recorded work, which suffers in retrospect only because their three 45s were largely comprised of cover versions.  (Like many popular local rock ‘n’ roll groups in the mid-to-late ‘60s, the Jades focused on a crowd-pleasing live repertoire rather than original compositions.)

Released in 1965, “Till I Die” is the flipside to their first 45, the better-known “I’m All Right,” a raw, energetic reading of the Rolling Stones song that, in the Jades’ hands, performed well on hipper local radio stations like KFJZ.

“Till I Die,” written and sung by guitarist Larry Earp, is wholly uncharacteristic of the Jades’ oeuvre, and I can’t imagine it saw much live performance.  The dirge-like tremolo guitar, Earp’s rough-but-heartfelt vocals and, perhaps most of all, the lyric, with its profoundly macabre final verse, are all teenage lament de rigueur, though.

Two more Jades 45s – spirited versions of British Invasion-style R&B, mainly – would follow over the next year, including their third and perhaps best 45, a tough 1966 version of Them’s “Little Girl.”

Despite their considerable live reputation, the band – like many other groups who formed as teenagers – began to lose members as the ‘60s wore on.  Lead singer Gary Carpenter was the only original member by the time the group split in the early ‘70s, with only Carpenter and Jack Henry remaining involved in the professional music world.

Be sure to check out Norton’s Fort Worth Teen Scene series (which includes several Jades tracks), a brilliant document of the mid-‘60s suburban garage band phenomenon.  Also check Gary Carpenter’s website for some wonderful early photos of the Jades.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Garage Bands | 6 Comments

Prestige Records and Latin jazz

There were other significant New York City-based independent record labels – Riverside, Savoy, Atlantic, Clef/Norgran/Verve – that recorded modern jazz in the post-War decades, but, Blue Note aside, few would be so closely associated with the music as Prestige Records.

Few would release jazz with such alacrity, for that matter.  I should be clear: The discography at Prestige Records – formed in 1949 by twenty-year-old jazz fan Bob Weinstock – is one of post-War jazz’s most important and essential, with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and other heavyweights recording unimpeachable masterpieces for the label.

But the Prestige model, which operated on a dizzyingly prolific schedule, occasionally at the expense of quality and fidelity, would essentially remain the same over its twenty-two-year history.  Product quality was improving by the mid-‘50s, but Weinstock would remain legendarily insistent on using single, unrehearsed takes and for encouraging unstructured (and cost-saving) jams; i.e., “blowing sessions.”

Such variables captured a certain spontaneity, certainly, but Prestige’s mentality was, especially early on, something of a carryover from the pre-LP, singles-market years immediately after World War Two.  Jazz in that decade was an era of 78s, radio and jukebox markets and the occasional crossover hit on the R&B or pop charts.  Prestige Records had an eye attuned to commercial markets from the start, perhaps more than any other jazz-oriented label in its day, with many bop singles issued, a handful of them – including sides by King Pleasure (“Moody’s Mood for Love,” 1952), Stan Getz (“Four and One More,” 1949), Sonny Stitt (“All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm,” 1949) and Annie Ross (“Twisted,” 1952) – achieving some modest chart success.

Which brings us to Latin jazz, or cubop, as it was tagged early on, the hybrid form then coalescing around thrilling, seminal experiments by Dizzy Gillespie, Machito and Chico O’Farrill.  Unlike Norman Granz, another entrepreneur and early champion of both modern and Latin jazz, Weinstock never envisioned a program of Latin jazz for his young Prestige label.   Rather, Latin jazz, which early on found some traction amongst jazz fans, and which also supplied the broader mass demand for the then-ascendant mambo, was just another logical crossover market to accommodate.

Beginning in 1951 with Joe Holiday’s “Mambo Holiday” and Sonny Rollins’s “Mambo Bounce,” many of Prestige’s ‘50s artists – Red Garland, Sonny Stitt, Billy Taylor, James Moody, Shirley Scott, Gene Ammons, to name a few – recorded Afro-Latin-inspired singles and, a few years later, whole albums.  Prestige would continue to release Latin-inspired jazz tracks and albums until the label’s sale to Fantasy Records in the early ‘70s, including some some some crucial releases in the ’60s by Juan Amalbert’s Latin Jazz Quintet, Montego Joe and Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers.

This week, however, we set the clocks back the early ‘50s for some of the earliest, and best, Latin-oriented sides from the Prestige stable.

Juan Tirado’s Mambo Band, Farmer’s Market Mambo (El Baile Del Campesino) (Prestige 912-X45)1.  Juan Tirado’s Mambo Band, Farmer’s Market Mambo (El Baile Del Campesino) (Prestige 912-X45)
Bandleader and timbalero Juan Tirado’s “Farmer’s Market Mambo” is several things.

It is the first Prestige Latin jazz session to be headed by a Latino musician.  Recorded and released in late 1954, the 45 is also the latest, chronologically speaking, of this week’s selections.

Finally, it is among the most obscure of the early Prestige jazz releases.  Despite the historical interest in Prestige’s jazz discography, information about Tirado and his Prestige session is scarce.   What can be gathered comes mostly from contemporary accounts in trade magazines like Billboard and later discographies that compiled Prestige session rosters.

This selection is Tirado’s impeccable version of trumpeter Art Farmer’s “Farmer’s Market” (which, incidentally, Farmer had first recorded with tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray for Prestige Records in 1952).   According to Michael Fitzgerald’s jazzdiscography, the session – which featured Don Elliott on vibraphone, Hector Romero on piano, John Drernak on bass, Frankie Colon on bongos and Eleuterio Frasquera on conga drum – produced one other 45 (“Shake It Easy” b/w “Cha Cheando”) for the label.  (Which, I should note, I would very much like to hear.)

There is one other confirmed Juan Tirado 45 – “Dorothea” b/w “Cha Cha Cha No. 1” – recorded for New York City-based indie label Derby Records, again from late 1954 or early 1955, and presumably in a similar style.  Tirado himself seems to have vanished, at least as a recording artist, from the music world by the early ‘60s.

Billy Taylor, Early Morning Mambo (Prestige PrEP 1327, cover)2.  Billy Taylor, Early Morning Mambo (Prestige PrEP 1327)
The standard line about Billy Taylor is that his importance as a pianist (and composer) was overshadowed by his role as an educator and spokesman for jazz.  Certainly this is true to a extent – Taylor’s radio and television appearances brought him to a whole new audience.  But it would be accurate to say that, well into the late ‘60s, Billy Taylor was one of jazz’s best-selling, if not most visible, pianists, a fact hardly worth sneezing at.

Taylor was born in 1921 in Greenville, North Carolina, grew up smitten with music in Washington, D.C. and received a degree in music from Virginia State College in the early ‘40s.   Moving to jazz hub New York City in the mid-‘40s, Taylor’s involvement in the jazz scene was, from his arrival, nothing if not democratic, playing with young modernists like Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie as well as swing-era luminaries like Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge and Jo Jones – without necessarily aligning himself stylistically or philosophically with either particular cohort.

Early gigs with Cuban-born percussionist Candido and Machito’s director Mario Bauza proved significant in engendering Taylor’s interests in Latin music.  An early ‘50s residency at New York City’s legendary Birdland club would follow, as would Taylor’s first recordings as a trio leader, these professional advances culminating in several Latin-oriented sessions for Prestige Records in ’53 and ’54.  These sessions would be issued in turn in various formats over the next few years.

Billy Taylor, Early Morning Mambo (Prestige PrEP 1327)“Early Morning Mambo” was recorded in 1953 – still early in Taylor’s recording career – and features, in addition to a beautiful solo by Taylor, bassist Earl May, drummer Charlie Smith, and Latin percussionists Chico Guerrero, Jose Mangual and Ubaldo Nieto on bongo and conga drums.  (The latter two percussionists were part of Machito’s rhythm section.)

This wouldn’t be the last time Taylor played Latin jazz (see Billy Taylor Trio Featuring Candido and Taylor Made Piano), though, in ensuing decades, the style would never again be as well represented in his oeuvre.

He never stopped performing or composing, but Taylor was, by the late ‘60s, assuming a greater role as a jazz educator and emissary, profiling jazz artists on the CBS series Sunday Morning, earning his doctorate, leading the orchestra on the David Frost Show and directing the Jazz Alive radio program.

After this long, fruitful career in service to music, Billy Taylor passed away in New York City in December, 2010 at age 89.

Joe Holiday, Mambo Holiday (Pt. 1) (Prestige 45-772)3.  Joe Holiday, Mambo Holiday (Pt. 1) (Prestige 45-772)
Cool-toned tenor saxophonist Joe Holiday was born Joseph Befumo into a musically-inclined family in 1925.  Born in Sicily, Italy, but raised in the New York City area from an early age, Holiday was a jazz modernist who, like many of his post-War cohort, made occasional forays into Latin music and R&B-oriented territory.

Holiday was barely out of his teens when he began leading small jazz groups in the Newark area in the mid-‘40s.  He debuted with two jukebox jazz singles on the excellent Federal Records label in 1951, but Holiday’s greatest success as a jazz musician – at least in terms of units sold – came for Prestige Records that same year with “This is Happiness,” a Latin-infused instrumental with solid bop leanings.

Joe Holiday, Mambo Holiday (Pt. 2) (Prestige 45-772)4.  Joe Holiday, Mambo Holiday (Pt. 2) (Prestige 45-772)
Like his label-mate Billy Taylor (with whom he recorded in 1953, incidentally), Holiday recorded both bop and Latin-tinged jazz for Prestige Records.  A dozen excellent singles largely in this vein – a few were in larger-group settings – followed quickly over the next three years.

“Mambo Holiday” was the second of these.  A spare,  laid-back Holiday composition, it was recorded in New York City in late 1951, with accompaniment provided by bassist Clarence Johnson, drummer Milton Hayes (presumably on timbales here), bongo player Nick DeLuca and keyboardist Jordin Fordin.

Holiday was one of many talented jazz musicians about whom it can fairly be said: he didn’t record as much as he should have.  After his spell at Prestige, Holiday’s sole full-length LP, Holiday for Jazz, was released in the 1957 on Decca Records.  Though now fairly obscure, it was a great modern jazz date, an anomaly in the catalog of that normally staid major label.

But Holiday seems to have retired from the world of professional music by the ‘70s.  His last recording date was a session supporting the young jazz organist Larry Young in 1960.

Joe Holiday currently lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and remains active, to this day, as a musician and friend of the arts.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Jazz Obscura, Latin | 3 Comments

Hang tight + radio

I’m pulling together the threads for the next few posts.   Should be back in a week.

Also, for anyone who cares, my radio show Lost Frequencies is now 9-11pm (rather than 9pm-midnight).  The decrease was for no other reason than my own sanity.   Expect commensurate increase in coherent sentences and overall programming quality.

Thanks as always go to the brilliant KRTS-Marfa Public Radio for having me, and for letting me do what I do, free of rules, bounds and playlists, every week.

KRTS streams.  You can and should tune in to hear me.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Personal natter | 2 Comments