Category Archives: Latin

Black night

This is one of those weeks where three records get posted alongside each other not because they share some very specific theme or belong, musically- or culturally-speaking, in the same sub-sub-genre.  (Jazz, early rock ‘n’ roll, pop, R&B and country all get represented in one form or another here, and in different proportions.)

Rather, they’re grouped together because they fit that way in my mind.  There is some logic at work here, though, some shared sensibility that was in play in the post-War decades. Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” and Peggy Lee’s “Why Don’t You Do Right” belong somewhere along this axis of atmosphere.  So do Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love” and Etta James’s “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road).” So do countless female versions of “Summertime,” “Black Coffee” and “Fever.”

Nervous and bittersweet, too fast to be torch songs, too relaxed to be barnstormers, this week’s selections are, in the end, all nocturnal anthems of a sort, collectively oozing mood and sensuality.

Cheryl Thompson, Black Night (Deville MKT-1004)1. Cheryl Thompson, Black Night (Deville MKT-1004)
Born in 1944 in Florida, Cheryle Thompson made her way to Las Vegas in 1962 to pursue a singing career.  Initially landing work as a showgirl at the Sahara Hotel and Casino, Thompson soon met singer and bassist Norman Kaye, who, along with his sister, anchored the popular Mary Kaye Trio, one of the early lounge combos supplying the swinging, round-the-clock soundtrack for post-War Las Vegas.

Thompson’s first major exposure came in 1963 and 1964, when she was selected as Miss Las Vegas and Miss Nevada.  At a time in post-War popular culture when pageants represented a more viable launching pad for acting and music careers, Thompson was able to parlay her talents and new-found visibility, along with her connections through now-husband Kaye, into several recording deals.  Among them was the excellent “Don’t Walk Away” (b/w “It’s the End”), a Kaye composition that was released in 1965 on Chicago’s Vee Jay Records and that featured Thompson’s aching, Patsy-Cline-influenced vocals and an effective soul-pop arrangement.

Three more singles followed a year later on Decca Records (and its subsidiary Coral Records).  Cut very much in big-production Nashville countrypolitan mode, these included the modest 1966 hit “The Third Person,” which Thompson co-authored.

“Black Night” is the most obscure of Thompson’s sides.  It seems to have been Thompson’s very first recording, and while it’s tough to pinpoint its exact recording date, it did see release in 1964 (including a U.K. issue).   Most importantly, it’s a terrific record, a wicked intersection of rock ‘n’ roll, atmospheric pop and Nashville-style production values.

The 1960s passed and family life called, and Thompson effectively retired from the music business, joining Kaye in managing their expanding real estate business.  Cheryle Thompson passed away in 2003 in Las Vegas.

Sources: Las Vegas Sun

Honey Sanders, Some Like It Cool (Brighton 777-A)2. Honey Sanders, Some Like It Cool (Brighton 777-A)
Honey Sanders was a singer, actress and entertainer first and a recording artist second.

Born in 1927, Sanders evinced musical talent from an early age, and came up in New York City show business.  And Sanders – some time in the ‘50s for child-rearing notwithstanding – would remain in that world, returning to the stage in the late ‘50s, with various theatre and Broadway appearances over the next decade or two.  (If period accounts are to be trusted, she was sometimes finding roles as the “jolly fat type.”)

Released in 1963 on the obscure New York City-based Brighton Records label, the seldom-heard “Some Like It Cool” and its flipside “(Johnny Guitar) My Restless Lover” were both penned by songwriter, composer and conductor Pembroke Davenport, another Broadway veteran.   “Some Like It Cool,” featuring Sanders’s sultry, coolly understated vocal, is not only one of the more effective recorded turns by a theatre-based vocalist, but – with its jazzy sensibility, tight guitar interplay and some atmospheric bongos pattering through its three minute course – it’s one of the hippest, too.

Sanders would go on in the ’80s to open the Sanders Agency, a theatrical talent agency, in New York and Los Angeles.  She continued in the theatre world as a producer as well, remaining active from the ‘90s onwards before her death in 2003.

“Some Like It Cool” would be Honey Sanders’s only solo recording.

Sources: Variety

Barbara Pittman with Gene Lowery Singers, Handsome Man (Phillips International 3553)3. Barbara Pittman with Gene Lowery Singers, Handsome Man (Phillips International 3553)
Singer Barbara Pittman is best remembered for her handful of excellent 45s recorded for Sam Phillips’s legendary Sun and Phillips International labels between 1956 and 1960.

Pittman was born in 1938 and grew up musically inclined, one of twelve children in a large, poor family from North Memphis.  Unlike many of the white kids who went on to record for the Memphis-based Sun Records, Pittman wasn’t necessarily a country- or gospel-raised singer first – she was drawn early on to big band sounds and blues.

Which isn’t to suggest Pittman couldn’t sing country.  After initially being rebuffed by Sun, Pittman dug in, building her chops with two different Western groups, Clyde Leoppard’s Snearly Ranch Boys and Lash Larue.   With the former group Pittman recorded her first record in 1956, after finally convincing Sam Phillips.  “I Need a Man,” a rare female rock ‘n’ roll release for Sun Records, epitomized the label’s classic aesthetic – all lusty vocals, slapback bass and wild guitar and piano.

Over the next few years a small schedule of Sun 45s ensued, none of them particularly commercially successful.  There would be some missteps (the overwrought “The Eleventh Commandment”), along with some more great rock ‘n’ roll (the Jerry-Lee-Lewis-inspired “I’m Getting Better All the Time”) and several excellent ballads (“No Matter Who’s to Blame,” “Two Young Fools in Love,” “Cold Cold Heart.”)

“Handsome Man,” released in 1960, was Pittman’s fourth and final record for Sam Phillips.  I’m in the minority here but for me it ranks as the most attractive side in Pittman’s discography.  Penned and arranged by the Charlie Rich, still a young Memphis session whiz at this point, “Handsome Man” didn’t draw directly from Sun’s chart-proven country or rock ‘n’ roll style.  It rocked in its own way, but Pittman’s sultry, assertive lead vocal and Rich’s complementary support put its sensibilities somewhere closer to torch-lit clubland.

Pittman moved to California in 1962 and found work there as a session musician and club singer.  While she never enjoyed breakthrough success, she remained committed to a singing career, and, after marrying and moving to Houston, would reestablish herself in the early ‘80s with a set of younger fans of early rock ‘n’ roll.

Barbara Pittman passed away in 2005 at the age of 67.

Sources: Elvis Australia, Rockabilly Hall of Fame

Posted in Country, Jazz Obscura, Latin, R&B/Vocal Groups | 8 Comments

Jazz Exotique

A broader, more inclusive idea of exotica – exotica less as genre and more as creative style – is basically the central motive behind the Exotica Project, and a case I’m constantly building around here as well.

What has in last decade or two coalesced as exotica refers to a too-limited cluster of albums released by major labels (and nationally distributed independent labels) in the ’50s and ’60s.  These are the Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman and Yma Sumac LPs that Middle American audiences bought by the millions in the ’50s and ’60s, along with a set of a few dozen albums by similar artists that catered to the same audiences and that followed, with a few exceptions, the same formula – beautiful, colorful album jackets, faux-Polynesian, -African, -Eastern cocktail jazz and easy-orchestral settings.

In reality, though, exotica drew from a larger pool.  A world of forgotten singers, soloists, bands and orchestras used the basics of exotica – reverberant instrumentation, certain sets of musical motifs, some fanciful idea of other cultures and places – as an imaginative exercise, a platform for expending wild, colorful musical energies.  A wide variety of musical backgrounds, pedigrees and technical ability is represented accordingly, the records themselves reflecting an array of motives and approaches to music.   A lot of this music is very obscure, and only appears on 45.

Much of the most fascinating exotica was made by jazz musicians.  There were many – Herbie Mann, Ahmed Abdul Malik, Art Blakey, Lloyd Miller, to name a few – that made a concerted effort to incorporate indigenous rhythms, instrumentation and modes into their music with some degree of authenticity.  But there were just as many jazz musicians – especially some of the obscure examples charted at the Exotica Project – for whom the Exotic Other was complete fantasy, the relationship to the cultural forms being evoked indirect at best (and disrespectful at worst – a charge generally applicable to much of America’s pop culture).

Exotica as creative force afforded great latitude for taking chances with the music without having to justify it as an experimental and, either way, some of these obscure exotica records can and should be enjoyed as sonorous tone poems, pure, stand-alone reveries and atmospheric, crazy, intensely creative examples of the ways that post-War musicians explored moods, sounds and modes.

This week we look at three jazz exotica favorites.

Mike Baltch Quartet: "Delilah" [Green Dent 1008]1.  Mike Baltch Quartet, Delilah (Green Dent 1008)
From the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area of upstate New York, the Mike Baltch Quartet were a working group, though there’s little evidence of the group in terms of live appearances, or whether any additional recordings were made.

This selection was released in 1961 or ’62, I’d guess.  Of the four musicians noted on the 45’s back sleeve, drummer Mike Baltch, as bandleader, is actually the most obscure of the bunch, with little to be found aside from his listed freelance support work.  Based on his picture at the drums on the sleeve, he appears to be in his late teens or early twenties at the time.

Mike Baltch Quartet: "Delilah" [Green Dent 1008]Better known are the quartet’s pianist John McLean and bassist Mike Flanagan.

McLean, a mainstay in upstate jazz circles, was long associated with saxophone legends J.R. Montrose and Nick Brignola, and, in addition to supporting touring jazz musicians for many years, he led his own groups for many years.  (McLean passed away in 2011.)

Flanagan led his own group as well – Mike Flanagan’s Hot Six – and played bass in the area into the ‘90s with other local jazz combos.  He later operated the Petit Paris restaurant in Albany.

Mike Baltch Quartet: "Delilah" [Green Dent 1008]Saxophonist Bob Cedar was early on fully immersed in the New York City bebop life but had established himself more or less for good in San Francisco by the mid-‘50s, where he continued to play informally, and where he emerged as something of a North Beach character with, alas, bouts of alcoholism and homelessness.  Cedar’s handiwork on “Delilah” likely took place between long-term residencies in San Francisco.  He is clearly heard in full command of his powers.

This record gathered together different types of musicians and personalities, but, of the many ’50s and ’60s jazz treatments of Victor Young’s “Delilah,” it is to my ears not only one of the deepest versions, but also a definitive version.   Released on R&B singer Joe Boatner’s tiny Green Dent label, Baltch and co. conjure, through stark arrangement and ample echo, dim-lit clubland interiors and ancient temptresses to mesmerizing effect.

Orpheus Four: "Caverns" [Orpheus OR-101-B]2.  Orpheus Four, Caverns (Orpheus OR-101-B)
How to describe this gem succinctly?

The Orpheus Four’s story plays out along the arcs of two intertwined Los Angeles-based ’60s Latin jazz groups: the Afro-Latin Soultet and the Afro Blues Quintet.

In addition to sharing a few members, these groups – along with fellow travelers like the Harold Johnson Sextet – shared a sensibility, taking the cool, exotic Latin jazz sound of earlier West Coast maestros like Cal Tjader, Tony Martinez and Bobby Montez and adapting it to slightly hipper soul jazz, Bossa Nova and pop sensibilities.

Another crucial player in the Orpheus Four story is Jack Millman, also known as Johnny Kitchen.  Originally a West Coast-based jazz trumpeter (there were a few bop-oriented albums to his name in the ‘50s), Millman returned, after a brief retirement in the early ’60s, to the business side of the West Coast music industry, pursuing work as a manager and publisher.  Among his charges would be both the Afro Blues Quintet and the Afro-Latin Soultet.

Millman not only helped manage and promote these groups, but he saw to the release of their recordings.  Some of this material found relatively legitimate outlet in its time.¹  And some of this material saw later, questionable budget label reuse, like the Afro Blues Quintet’s Guantanamera (Surrey) and Afro-Blues Today (Crestview) albums.

The most obscure of this latter bunch is the Afro-Soultet’s Afrodesia LP, privately pressed on Banyon Records at some point in the late ’60s or early ’70s.  In true budget label fashion, Afrodesia comes together as an album from a melange of musicians and sessions, and suffers a bit from some obviously overdubbed strings in parts.  Furthermore, one track, “Soul Rockin’,” was simply a retitled Afro-Latin Soultet track, and another, “Afro Revolt,” was lifted from an unrelated jazz group’s session tapes.²

Afrodesia is, not surprisingly, a varied stylistic exercise.  Modish Latin jazz and instrumental boogaloo, breezy ’60s easy-listening, straight ahead bop, Afro-percussion interludes and various “ethnic” accountrements all get space.  There is a mad vibe to it, but, because the styles represented are so much of their time and, on top of that, they just sounded so groovy together, it works.

Which finally brings us to the Orpheus Four.  Both this track and its flipside (“The Shepherd”) were released on the one-off Orpheus label circa 1968, and, significantly, these two sides too would later turn up on the Afrodesia album, retitled as “Le Berber” (in edited form) and “Mozamba,” respectively.

Whether or not the “Alex Garcia” listed on the label, or whether any of the (likely inaccurate and/or pseudonymous) personnel listed on Afrodesia’s back cover – Joseph “Little Joe” DeAguero, (vibes, and formerly of the Afro Blues Quintet), Frank Morris (guitar), Eddie Paris (drums), Johnny Kitchen (AKA Jack Millman, drums), Dean Elliot  (percussion), William Quinn (flute and sax) and Bill Collins (piano) – can be positively stated to have played on “Caverns” is anyone’s guess.

My own suspicion is that “Caverns” was a DeAguero-helmed recording and that its flipside “The Shepherd” was taken from an unreleased-at-the-time Afro-Latin Soultet session.

Either way, “Caverns” is a terrific 45, an otherworldly, wholly unique tone poem, one of those records where, from the first shimmering vibraphone notes onwards, it’s instantly clear that something special is happening.  It’s also a fascinating glimpse into machinations of the city’s local record industry in that time.

To read a more about the Johnny Kitchen saga (which I have greatly reduced here), please check the Ubiquity Records blog, who interviewed Kitchen/Millman for the occasion of the recent Afrodesia reissue.   And pick up the reissue while you’re at it – it’s a highly-recommended artifact.

¹ The Afro Blues Quintet had four LPs on local indie Mira Records.  The Afro-Latin Soultet had two albums on Capitol subsidiary Tower in ’66 and ’67, though their personnel changed entirely between these two LPs.

² The Afro-Soultet’s “Soul Rockin’” had been released earlier as “Afro Breed” on the Afro-Latin Soultet’s Wild! Album from 1966.  Even more curiously, Afrodesia‘s “Afro Revolt” was taken from an earlier session by a similar but entirely unrelated West Coast group, the Jazz Corps.  The track appears as “Chalan Pogo” on the Jazz Corps’s fine album (The Jazz Corps under the direction of Tommy Peltier featuring Roland Kirk), originally released in 1966 on the Pacific Jazz label.

Ross Anderson Chorus and Orch.: "Tam-bu Theme" [Channel 45-7002]3.  Ross Anderson Chorus and Orch., Tam-bu Theme (Channel 45-7002)
Unrelated to jazz  saxophonist and fellow Chicagoan Ross Anderson, the Ross Anderson behind “Tam-bu Theme” was the leader of a working dance orchestra that played in the greater Chicago area during the 1960s.

Every large city had at least one of these groups in its post-War decades.  Though these vestiges of the big band era would never really achieve much in the way of mass currency again, they kept apace with the times with hipper contemporary arrangements and repertoire, even the occasional bop solo.

In Ross Anderson’s case, his several releases demonstrate a polished, competent orchestra that reflected some of the jazzier, Latin-tinged moments of easy maestros like Warren Barker and Les Baxter.  Even by these measures, “Tam-bu Theme” is extraordinary, a dramatic fantasia with deep, sultry atmosphere and great production values, and easily a highlight of Anderson’s discography.

Released in 1961, “Tam-bu Theme” followed Anderson’s debut 45 (“Topaz” b/w “Blues Train”) by several months.  Both were released on Channel Records in 1961.  All of Anderson’s releases – including a 1966 45 (“That Certain Feeling” b/w “Tuff Cat”) and a full-length album (Misty) the following year – seem to have come through his own Channel Records label.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Latin, The Exotica Project | 5 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.

Note: Thanks to artist/discographer Wash from Eighth Avenue, who wrote in with a correction; this 45 does in fact involve the Charles Wright in some capacity.  The Wright-Gerstl publishing credit seen above would be reflected in much of the Charles Wright’s ’60s discography.  Wright’s connection to this recording is still ambiguous, however.  He may have been involved in writing, arranging or playing on it.  Or he may have simply managed to get it published to his name.  Hopefully this mystery will be cleared up in time.

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 in Instrumentals/Surf, Latin | 4 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 in Jazz Obscura, Latin | 3 Comments

Blue Flame: a new mix

I put together a new mix for my Dutch compadre Cortez for the fifth anniversary of his fabulous Club Cortez blog.  You can find it there now.

Club Cortez has been around as long as Office Naps.  Cortez’s tastes in music immediately stuck out from the pack then – believe it or not, there just weren’t that many of us around in 2006 – and, moreover, they still do.   That we share eclecticism and certain stylistic sensibilities – a broad appreciation for musical beauty, for one – doesn’t hurt, of course.  Either way, I hope and fully expect us to be rhapsodizing about music and our latest obscure finds five years from now.

Blue Flame, a new mix

Blue Flame, my new mix over at Club Cortez.

When I delivered the mix over to Cortez, I was feeling a bit abstract, describing it to him this way:

A mix for the bittersweet hours.

Here is mystery and melancholy strewn with chunks of ecstatic, post-War energy: Jazz on a rhythm & blues kick, rock ‘n’ roll on a mambo kick, a palpable sense of clubland’s frayed edges. Put the lights out behind you when you leave.

But I’d say that’s about right.  If you enjoy Office Naps (or the Exotica Project or the Lonely Beat), you’ll dig it, anyway.

Get the mix and playlist at Club Cortez, and do check out what he’s got going on over there.   Thanks to Cortez for inviting me aboard and, again, congratulations.

Posted in Blues, Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf, Jazz Obscura, Latin, Mixes, R&B/Vocal Groups, Rock 'n' roll, Soul, The Exotica Project, The Lonely Beat | 2 Comments

Walt Bolen’s Lion Hunt

A great pleasure to hear recently from keyboardist Walt Bolen, who filled me in on the backstory behind his organ-led R&B exotica instrumental “Lion Hunt” (Pick-A-Hit 101, which I first wrote about at this ancient post), as well as some of his own biography.

Walt Bolen, born in 1948, was raised in the San Fernando Valley, California.  His was a musical family, especially on the side of his mother, Alma Bowser Bolen (who was also related to pioneering bop pianist Bud Powell by marriage).

In addition to a Hammond A-105 organ at home, Bolen would grow up playing organ in the church, as well as participating in the San Fernando school system’s music program.   Bolen attended one of the few high schools in the area with a Hammond console, taking classes there under the supervision of Mrs. Thelma Becky, the school’s choir teacher.

“[I was] looking to gain popularity among my school mates and friends. Music was my way of doing that,” Bolen notes.  It was 1966, Bolen’s senior year at San Fernando High School, when he first wrote “Lion Hunt,” which was partly inspired by Les Baxter’s exotica standard “Quiet Village.”

Walt Bolen, 1966

Walt Bolen, age eighteen, 1966. From a newspaper article, image courtesy of Walt Bolen.

In 1966, Bolen and Adolphus Alsbrook – a veteran jazz bassist and arranger introduced to Bolen through his horn player friend Carl Smith – went into Los Angeles’s legendary Gold Star Studios to record.  There, joined by a drummer, and with charts written by Alsbruck, they used the Hammond organ to lay down the basic tracks for “Lion Hunt.”   Saxophone and guitar parts would be added by session players in turn.

Walter Bolen, Lion Hunt (Part Two) (Pick-A-Hit 101-B)In 1967, Los Angeles record producer and impresario Bobby Sanders released the recording on Pick-A-Hit Records, one of several labels he operated at the time.  Somewhat to Bolen’s surprise, the B-side of the single – “Lion Hunt (Part Two),” that is – was the same recording, only with dubbed-in lion sound effects, an idea that was entirely Alsbrook’s.

Walter Bolen, Lion Hunt (Part Two)(Pick-A-Hit 101B)

Bolen remained in the San Fernando area in the ensuing years, teaching music, playing lounge and club gigs, and making some (unreleased) home recordings. In the early ‘70s, Bolen and his friends Willard and Ernestine Stroud formed the Ar-Que recording company, for whom he released a strong 45 – “Breaking Out” b/w “Peace Chant” – in 1972.

Walt Bolen otherwise remained away from commercially released music until more recent years.  Bolen, who now resides in Antelope Valley, California, remains active in music to this day, returning to his roots and playing organ for his church.  He’s also released a CD of his own inspirational material – The Casting of Pearls – which is available at cdbaby.com or through his facebook page.  Please do check out more of Walt Bolen.

Many thanks to Walt Bolen for contacting me, and for the great conversation and great music.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Latin, R&B/Vocal Groups, The Exotica Project, Updates | 2 Comments

The Middle East after hours, part two

In the first half of the 1960s, when this week’s selections were recorded, exotica hadn’t waned as a commercial or creative force.  And the Arabic world was one peculiar, and significant, branch of the exotica tree.   It was a branch informed by a limited, loose and now-quaint geographic and cultural projection that was fired in turn by pop culture, especially the Middle East of Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, Columbia’s various Sinbad movies, and a million other spy and swashbuckler adventures.

Even the ostensibly “authentic” National Geographic’s post-War construction of the Middle East, while well-intentioned, relayed a certain romantic exoticism.  This is not to suggest that the average American’s knowledge has gotten any less limited.  It’s just that the clichés have changed.  The image of the Arab World of the ‘50s and ‘60s – Hollywood and Madison Avenue’s in particular – was variously opulent, desolate and mysterious, a pleasure palace of sheiks, zaftig belly dancers, hookahs and silk and incense and candles.

Belly Dancer

Nothing but high Orientalist camp this week on Office Naps. Image cropped from cover of the 101 Strings' East of Suez album.

Every single one of these clichés would find its way into popular music in turn.  This was nothing new, obviously: one needn’t look any further than Ravel’s Bolero for musical antecedents.  There were ethnic field recordings and domestic releases of Lebanese and Egyptian pop (see Philips’ and Capitol Records’ International series, for one) to be had, of course, but for the most part the ‘60s proved some sort of musical peak for our cultural approximations of the “Orient,” from Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” at one of the decade to a lot of the faux-Eastern psychedelic rock (which is exotica) at the other.  And every imaginable version of “Caravan,” “Delilah” and the theme from Lawrence of Arabia along the way.  Even the extremely popular belly-dance LPs that nominally contained authentic music were packaged in lurid jackets that invoked every imaginable stereotype.

Most importantly, though, there were many, many glorious and gloriously obscure 45s that exploited the camels-and-caravans fantasy to the nth degree.  (See the Exotica Project for a number of these faux-Eastern gems.)    A fun post this week and a follow-up to this early dispatch as we explore few more of them.  Aqaba!

The Merits, Arabian Jerk (Bandstand USA BA-20165-A)1.  The Merits, Arabian Jerk (Bandstand USA BA-20165-A)
A white group from the Memphis area, little is known about the Merits, and nothing conclusive can be stated about either Wade Tillman (or Tilmon) or Carlton Reynolds, the authors of “Arabian Jerk.”

Bandstand USA was one of several subsidiaries of Goldwax Records, Quinton Claunch and Rudolph “Doc” Russell’s excellent label that, after Stax and Hi Records, did much to advance the region’s R&B and soul talent (including O.V. Wright, James Carr, the Ovations, and Spencer Wiggins, among others) in the mid-‘60s.  Also among the Goldwax discography are some country artist and garage band releases.  But nothing quite like 1965’s “Arabian Jerk,” an inspired, slinky example of organ-fueled casbah hokum if ever there was one.

Its flipside (“Please Please Little Girl”) is an odd thing lying somewhere betwixt garage band and Stax R&B outtake.  This seems to have been the Merits’ only 45.

Jack La Forge, The Cleopatra Kick (Regina R-284)2.  Jack La Forge, The Cleopatra Kick (Regina R-284)
New York City-based pianist, organist, composer and bandleader Jack La Forge was in his time fairly prolific.

Born in 1926, La Forge seems to have been foremost a businessman , though one with obvious inclinations for playing music.   His Regina Records, which he founded and operated, enjoyed a brief but busy run between 1963 and 1965.   Among the Regina discography would be good albums by jazz saxophonist Charlie Mariano, nightclub singer Frances Faye (to whom he’d once been engaged) and obscure singer Sylvia DeSayles (to whom he’d recently become engaged), along with some interesting girl-group, jazz, instrumental and R&B 45s.

But more than anything Regina Records seems to have served as a sort of outlet for La Forge’s own musical penchant – there are at least seven full-length albums of piano-based orchestral pops fare attributed to him (not to mention his first LP – 1962’s Hawaii & I – recorded for Purpletone Records, or his last – 1966’s Hit the Road, Jack – recorded for Audio Fidelity).   These albums have been largely forgotten.  It’s not that the stuff is bad – covers of hip fare like “Hit the Road, Jack” and “Comin’ Home Baby” are fun – it’s just that for the most part there’s none of the studio whiz-bang or stereophonic adventure that rescue this particular brand of easy-listening retread LP.

“The Cleopatra Kick,” from 1963, is the big, mod exception to that.  An original, with an electric harpsichord put to particularly deft use, the thundering arrangements and misterioso atmosphere here are provided in part by the great Don Sebesky, a studio man with his own proud legacy of now-sound-style grooviness.

La Forge died sadly early, stricken by a heart attack in early 1966 at the age of forty.

The Embers and Joe Mack Lackey, Alexandria (Newtime 513B)3.  The Embers and Joe Mack Lackey, Alexandria (Newtime 513B)|
A possibly-Philadelphia-based group who, after writing about them nearly three years ago, remain as elusive as ever.  Its flipside (“Burning Up the Airways”) offers no clues, and I’m still not entirely confident of the connection between this Embers and the Embers of “Peter Gunn Cha Cha” fame, to be honest.  And there may also be a connection to the Embers who backed Pete Bennett on his Booker T. & the MGs-inspired “Fever” from 1961.

Regardless of any tenuous links that can be drawn here, this thumpingly great selection, recorded in 1962, represents something that gets a lot of genuine appreciation around here: the continuous triumph of pop exoticism over authenticity.

Newtime was part of the Newtown family of record labels, which most famously issued some early 45s by Patti Labelle.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf, Jazz Obscura, Latin, Now Sound, The Exotica Project | 1 Comment

Señor Blues

It’s impossible to talk about jazz pianist Horace Silver without regurgitating the same plaudits that, in reality, are entirely accurate.  To begin with, Silver is a consistent and prolific composer with an enviable body of original material to his name.  Moreover, he is one of the giants of post-War bop piano, a sophisticated craftsman and highly influential trendsetter.  The elegant, stylized aspects of blues and gospel music that have infused his playing since the early ’50 subsequently informed the hard bop aesthetic that coalesced later in that decade, many of the musicians who’ve passed through Silver’s combos championing the style in turn.

But if it’s the infectious, earthy tones of compositions like “The Preacher” and “Sister Sadie” for which Silver is best known, it’s the dark, Latin-tinged and exotic side of his discography – compositions like “Song for my Father,” “The Dragon Lady,” “Safari,” “Tokyo Blues,”  “Baghdad Blues” and many others – that have made Silver, for me, a lasting favorite.

The influence of Cape Verdean folk music (Silver’s father came from the Portuguese-speaking Cape Verde islands off the West African coast) on Silver’s exotic strain gets a lot of citation.  In my opinion the extent of that influence is a bit overstated.  If anything, it was Afro-Latin forms – the early Latin bop experiments of Machito, Dizzy Gillespie and Chico O’Farrill, for instance, as well as the pervasiveness of and vogue for popular Latin rhythms like mambo, guaguanco and cha at the time in New York City – that informed Silver’s aesthetic in at least equal measure.

Either way, it’s one of his best-known Latin-derived recordings that gets the spotlight this week.  “Señor Blues” first appeared on Silver’s classic 1956 album Six Pieces of Silver.  It was recorded by some top-flight musicians, all borrowed from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers: trumpeter Donald Byrd, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Louis Hayes.  And, crucially, it was one of Silver’s earliest Latin-inspired compositions.  The hypnotic melody, unusual time signature and perfectly balanced arrangement of “Señor Blues” exemplify everything appealing about Silver’s darker, more exotic proclivities.

Since its original release, “Señor Blues” has been recorded countless times, organically working its way into the Latin jazz repertoire as well.  It has also, perhaps more than any other Silver composition, inspired a fair number of vocal readings over the years.   The lyrics were penned by Silver himself, as far as I can tell, and are simple to the point of cliché, and not a bit ridiculous:

Señor Blues is what they call him
Way down Mexicali way
Señoritas fallin’ for him,
With the hope that he will stay

But somehow the image of the wayfaring lothario works here.  It fits the mysterious atmosphere of the composition beautifully, summoning the night, heartbreak and wild impulses all at once, transporting the listener to other, more tempestuous places.

Jeri Southern, Señor Blues (Capitol F4135)1.  Jeri Southern, Señor Blues (Capitol F4135)
Vocalist Jeri Southern was born Genevieve Hering in 1926 in the tiny northeastern Nebraska town of Royal.

A tremendous musical talent, Southern began classical piano training very early on.  Upon graduating from Notre Dame High School, Southern increasingly gravitated towards pop, and not long thereafter, jazz.  Omaha hotel residencies and World War Two Navy recruiting tours were followed by the inevitable move to the Chicago in the late ‘40s.  As her professional nightclub career gained momentum, it would be her unique singing – a talent that she’d only developed incidentally – that attracted the most attention.

Better club dates followed, and so did regular Chicago radio and television appearances, and so, eventually, did a contract with Decca Records.  Along with some excellent early ‘50s 78 sides for the label, her seven jazz-inflected Decca albums – from 1953’s Warm… Intimate Songs in the Jeri Southern Style to 1958’s Southern Hospitality perhaps best encapsulate Southern’s introspective style.  Southern had a gift for balancing control with naturalistic, almost detached, expressiveness – the result of which is a deep, very attractive sense of melancholy.  In addition to accompanying herself on piano, Southern’s Decca records also showed a notable penchant for unusual song choices – witness “Miss Johnson Phoned Again Today” or the exotic “One Day I Wrote His Name Upon the Sand.”

Jeri Southern

A representative publicity photo of Jeri Southern in the mid-1950s.

Southern’s Decca records proved her most commercially successful, giving her minor hits with “You Better Go Now,” “Joey” and “Fire Down Below.”  Several full-length efforts for Roulette Records in the late ‘50s were also of similarly high quality.

After relocating to Los Angeles in the late ‘50s, this 45-only version of “Señor Blues,” released early in 1959, would inaugurate a short-lived contract with Capitol Records.  And what a version.  With Bob Thompson’s orchestra providing thunderous, dramatic support, Southern is characteristically deadly here, exuding world-weariness and a cool sexuality.

Two full-lengths ensued for Capitol Records – both superlative efforts, again – but Southern, exhausted with the music business’s machinations, famously exited the industry at age thirty-six, in 1962, never to return.  In addition to penning the 1972 book Interpreting Popular Music At The Keyboard, Southern would live out her years as a vocal and piano coach in Hollywood.  She died in in 1991 from complications from pneumonia.

Bill Henderson with the Horace Silver Quintet, Señor Blues (Blue Note 45-1710-A)2.  Bill Henderson with the Horace Silver Quintet, Señor Blues (Blue Note 45-1710-A)
Chicago-born jazz singer Bill Henderson (b. 1926) took to show business at a very tender age, singing and dancing for local city Vaudeville-type theater and radio productions.  Like many of the post-War generation of jazz modernists, he spent time overseas during World War Two, entertaining in Europe as part of an Army Special Services company.  After the war, Henderson returned to Chicago to scuffle, resuming work in the music business in the ‘50s as a vocalist with an early incarnation of Ramsey Lewis’s jazz combo.  Again, like many jazz musicians of his generation, Henderson made his way to New York City, relocating there in 1956.

In 1958, Henderson made his debut recording with this, his very confident reading – and the first vocal original, I believe – of “Señor Blues.”   Along with Henderson’s distinctive baritone voice, it features the support of the Horace Silver Quintet, who are heard here two years after Silver’s original instrumental recording, this time with Silver, Louis Hayes (drums), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Eugene Taylor (bass) and Junior Cook (tenor saxophone).  Released only on 45, it sold fairly well for Blue Note Records, whose 45 discography remained widely popular in the jukebox era of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

This record would be one of several Henderson 45-only releases for Blue Note, and it demonstrates the rich, slightly rasping, blues-tinged croon that was his trademark.

Henderson’s career would be divided between Chicago and the East Coast over the next few years, with a series of solid and versatile bop-oriented albums for the Verve and Vee-Jay labels, dates largely made with different configurations of Chicago-based jazz musicians. (A 1963 Oscar Peterson session was a notable exception).

Bill Henderson

Cover for Bill Henderson's 1961 self-titled album on Vee-Jay Records. Image courtesy of GrooveCollector.com.

After time spent in the ‘60s as a vocalist with the Count Basie Orchestra, then still a touring juggernaut, Henderson settled in Los Angeles in the late ‘60s, where he pursued an acting career.   There were several jazz albums to his name for Los Angeles-based labels, along with some notable guest spots, but Henderson mostly supported himself with voiceover work and parts in television and film in the ‘70s and ‘80s, his recording and performance schedule slowing correspondingly.

Henderson, still currently living in Los Angeles, seems to have dedicated himself anew to his singing in recent years, with some notable East Coast appearances and a live album, 2008’s But Beautiful: Bill Henderson Live at the Vic, featuring the octogenarian vocalist sounding happily limber.

You can keep up with Bill Henderson at his website.

Rose Hardaway, Señor Blues (Decca 9-30893)3.  Rose Hardaway, Señor Blues (Decca 9-30893)
A now-obscure entertainer and vocalist, details about Rose Hardaway are meager at best.

Born in Arkansas in 1931, raised in Chicago, Hardaway’s name was best known in the ‘50s, when she spent periods in Detroit, New York City, London and Paris.  She seems to have carved a role in musical theater – not to mention a place in elite black entertainment circles – from the start.  At least in the early ‘50s, she was noted mostly for her fetching looks and her work in touring entertainment revues – as a risqué shake dancer, namely – the ups and downs of her personal life tracked obsessively by Jet magazine during the decade.

Rose Hardaway

1952 glamour shot of Rose Hardaway. Image courtesy of Vielles_annonces's extraordinary archive of Jet magazine scans.

At some point in the mid-‘50s, Hardaway seems to have begun concentrating more on vocal work, with ensuing appearances in touring shows and various musical productions.  In the late ‘50s, a handful of recordings also appeared.  Released in mid-1959, Hardaway’s “Señor Blues,” a torrid, vampy reading that betrays her theater sensibilities, would be the first, and best, among them.   Another Decca 45 (“That’s What We’re Here For b/w “What You Don’t Know Won’t Hurt You”) would follow, with a full-length album by Hardaway released in 1960 for the New York City-based Latin-oriented label Seeco.

That album – It’s Time for Rose Hardaway – was a solid pop vocal effort.  It would also be her last recording.  There’s little, almost drastically so, about Hardaway’s subsequent whereabouts.   She seems to have been beset by various travails at points in her life, however.  In 1952, she was picked up for drugs (along with pianist Erroll Garner) as well as cited independently as the “other woman” in the divorce proceeding between dancer Teddy Hale and his wife.  And in 1959, she was jailed for some combination of larceny and forgery, though in the short run this seems to have been inconsequential to her recording career.

There are more details, undoubtedly, but for the moment they remain untold, it being hard not to suspect that further personal and legal troubles contributed to her complete disappearance from the limelight.  I would love to know more about Rose Hardaway.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Latin | 3 Comments