Tom Harrell: A Quest. Part 1, Chemistry and Recognition ii (horns)

<continuation of previous post>


“Writing on music is much like dancing on architecture.”

Frank Zappa, as cited by Bruno Anastasi

Ha as Musical Reactant

I have not systematically done the math, but it seems to me Harrell’s activity as accompanist, guest, featured guest, and partner on the (predominantly studio) recordings of others peaked at an almost frenzied pace in these years. Consulting KG (again, that is Klaus Gottwald’s comprehensive Harrell discography), I count eleven recording sessions in addition to Passages in 1991, eight sessions in 1992, nine sessions in addition to Upswing in 1993, eight sessions in 1994, and seven sessions in 1995. It’s called the gig economy.

To check out these sessions, I arranged my Trip predominantly by instrumental element, as follows:

  • Ts – tenor saxophone; As – alto saxophone; Cl – clarinet
  • Tr – trumpet; Fh – flugelhorn; Fl – flumpet (that’s not a typo – stay tuned); Tb – trombone
  • G – guitar; Pi – piano; Bs – bass; Dm – drums; Or – organ; Vi – vibraphone
  • Vo – voice
  • in some cases, larger organic compounds

(Regrettably, the baritone saxophone, one of my favorite mixtures from earlier in Harrell’s career [Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams, Gary Smulyan] is not represented, to my knowledge, in this period. Trombone, another favorite from the past [Bob Brookmeyer], is only sparsely represented via other sidemen.)

I begin with the tenor saxophone. While the tenor is arguably the most ubiquitous sound in jazz, it is not homogeneous. Among Harrell recordings of this period I have encountered a remarkable variety of flavors.


Ha + Ts

Certainly the two most prominent tenor saxophonists in Harrell’s orbit during this period, in terms both of their own name recognition and of the frequency with which they played with Harrell, were Joe Lovano and Don Braden. But there were quite a few others. And although I did not travel strictly chronologically, I will begin with two albums Harrell appeared on in November 1990, just two months after the final recording with Phil Woods (Real Life). While quite different, both albums are, as it happens, a celebration of the jazz scene in Manhattan.

The Muppets Take Manhattan

Frank Griffith

Frank Griffith lived in New York City from 1980 to 1995, thereafter in London and currently in Liverpool. He recorded his debut album, The Suspect, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side for the Scottish label Hep Jazz Productions (Hep Records). The album was produced by Griffith’s Manhattan School of Music classmate, French-Algerian-born jazz man Franck Amsallem.

By now Tom Harrell was a precious commodity, and in the awkward English of their respective liner notes, Griffith and Amsallem, then both 30-ish, look up to him with reverence.

“Keeping the best for last, I first want to mention how many times I’ve made the trip to Manhattan (most of us live in Brooklyn) just to get knocked out by Tom Harrell’s awesome musical ability. Tom is one of the most respected musicians in the milieu, and what a special treat it was for all of us to work with him on this date.”

Franck Amsallem

“Tom Harrell, one of today’s premier trumpeters and composers is largely responsible for inspiring and exploiting [whatever that means] the the [sic] other players efforts. Our thanks for the music herein are largely due to him.”

“Most of us live in Brooklyn.” Hence the opening track, Brookland. Griffith wrote most of the pieces on the album. His credits include a great deal of composing and arranging, and in the liner notes he says most of the pieces on the album were originally conceived of for a larger ensemble. I can hear that now that he points it out. I dig the Brooklyn-Manhattan theme, because I was commuting myself into Manhattan at that time, because my son and his family currently live in Brooklyn, and because Griffith and I both got Bachelor’s degrees from City College of New York. Griffith says Brookland is based on the 26-note atonal tone row Bob Brookmeyer used to compose ABC Blues (if you want to refresh your memory on that composition, here it is along with a wonderful pictorial history of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra). Amsallem had studied with, and Harrell of course had played and recorded with Brookmeyer.

Harrell is actually on only four tracks (Chris Rogers, son of the then recently deceased salsa trombonist Barry Rogers, plays trumpet on the others): the cookin’ Brookland, Griffith’s jazz waltz Afterthoughts, Jerome Kern’s ballad Old Folks Who Live on the Hill, and Griffith’s minor blues The Suspect. The mixture includes John Hart on guitar (we have already heard and will hear many more concentrated mixtures of Harrell and guitar), Joel Weiskopf on piano, James Genus on bass, and Billy Drummond on drums.

Ralph Lalama

In Ralph Lalama’s last semester at Youngstown, Ohio State University in 1975, Thad Jones appeared there as a guest, liked Lalama’s playing, and encouraged him to come to New York. Lalama promptly did so and to this day is a fixture of the Manhattan jazz scene as player and educator. Prior to this, his first album (for Criss Cross) as leader, he had appeared on records with pianist Alan Simon’s Quartet in 1984 and on Criss Cross’s Presenting Michael Weiss in 1986. (Hear him tell it.)

Three days after the Frank Griffith session, Harrell went into the studio with Ralph Lalama to record Feelin’ and Dealin’, Lalama’s debut album as leader. Besides Harrell, Lalama’s “Manhattan All Stars” consisted of pianist Barry Harris (who was on one previous Criss Cross album) and Criss Cross regulars Peter Washington and Kenny Washington. On the one hand, Harrell always made himself available for Gerry Teekens’s year-end recording trips to the States. At the same time, I think it is highly likely Harrell and Lalama knew one another from their respective associations with the Mel Lewis Orchestra and Monday nights at the Village Vanguard.

The session with Griffith three days earlier had been compositional in nature. By contrast, Feelin’ and Dealin’ is, well, feelin’ and dealin’, that is, straight-ahead combo jazz drawing mostly from a repertory of jazz pieces written by jazz artists, but also two originals by Lalama. One of those originals is Theme for Mel, Lalama’s solemn tribute to Lewis, who had passed away the prior February. As Lora Rosner’s liner notes observe, Kenny Washington’s mallets and floor tom in the theme evoke the spirit of Lewis. Needless to say all the musicians play with intense feeling. Theme for Mel is the #5 track, and it is followed by Lalama’s second original, Microwave Blues. Here’s the story, as recounted by Rosner: Not long before this particular recording session, Lalama had broken up a dispute between two musicians by telling them to “just put it in the microwave, and forget it!” Lalama grew up on the outskirts of the Steel City (Pittsburgh) and says his greatest love besides music is sports. He just looks and sounds to me like someone you’d want on your side in a fight! And I really dig his muscular tenor playing. I’m hearing a little Gene Ammons on this number. Though this is Lalama’s debut as leader, his chops are well-honed, and he is already an excellent improviser.

Speaking of muscular tenor playing, one of the pieces is Sonny Rollins’s Paradox (1956). Another is Hank Mobley’s Third Time Around (1965). These take me right back to the time I fell in love with jazz at the end of high school, when two early favorites were Sonny Rollins’s Now’s the Time and Hank Mobley’s No Room for Squares . (With greater perspective, I have also come to believe Mobley is underappreciated as a writer, and Third Time Around is a good example.) I can’t say I was ever tempted to cut my hair into a Sonny Rollins mohawk, but man how I wanted to don some shades and have a cigarette dangling out of my mouth like Mobley! Another favorite LP was Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas with Joe Henderson (1963 on Blue Note) ; I was not aware of Dorham’s Short Story from the same year on SteepleChase, played by the All Stars here. At college I worked in a record store for a boss who loved Sonny Clark (the classic Cool Struttin’ with Art Farmer and Jackie McClean) and Elmo Hope, whose So Nice kicks off Lalama’s album and whose career will have invoked, for Lalama, Harold Land, and for Harrell, Clifford Brown. The last card dealt by Feelin’ and Dealin’ is trumpeter “Little” Benny Harris’s classic bebop number Crazeology, best known as recorded by Bird and Miles.

The chemistry here is not just between the individual All Stars but between the past and present. Rollins, Mobley, Henderson, Land → Lalama; Miles, Brownie, Dorham → Harrell. And of course Elmo Hope → Barry Harris. Oh yeah!

Lest I forget, the All Stars also do a wonderful rendition of Thad Jones’s Evol Deklaw Ni (first recorded by Ben Webster and Joe Zawinul in 1963). I’m not going to tell you what that means, because there is no room for squares here!


Three very different brews

Harrell participated comfortably and effectively in virtually all styles of jazz. For example — and for my purposes, I am fine with the superficial labels here:

  • TsSteve Grossman + Ha → a John Coltrane/Sonny Rollins Tenor Madness sound
  • TsDavid Sánchez + Ha → a Latin Jazz sound
  • TsKen Peplowski and ClKen Peplowski + Ha → a Traditional/Swing sound

Le Taureau: Steve Grossman

Steve Grossman 1951-2020

“Saxophonist for Miles Davis and Elvin Jones in the ’70s, an American expat by the ’80s, he won praise from his peers but lived an enigmatic life”

August 2020 JazzTimes obit by Michael J. West

“Sombre et puissant, comme un taureau pénétrant dans l’arène , il esquive parfois ses amis musiciens comme s’ils étaint des matadors.” — Michel Petrucciani, liner notes.

Petrucciani also reminds that Grossman was born in Brooklyn, and he (Petrucciani) invokes the almost mythical image of Sonny Rollins practicing on the Manhattan Bridge that separates Brooklyn from Manhattan. Certainly someone hearing Grossman’s muscular tenor in a blindfold contest might reasonably think she was listening to Rollins. And then of course there is the inevitable influence of Coltrane, Grossman’s coming to fame at a very young age playing (soprano) with Miles in the latter’s Bitches Brew period, and playing tenor in the Elvin Jones Quartet beginning in 1971.

Time To Smile with Jones, plus Cecil McBee on bass, Willy Pickens on piano, and Harrell on three of the eight tracks, was recorded by the expat in New York in February 1993 for the French label Disques Dreyfus, mixed in Paris in October, and released in 1994. The opening track, with Harrell, is Grossman’s 415 Central Park West. The title of course (though not the mood) invokes Coltrane’s Central Park West. 415cpw.com lists Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, and Max Roach & Abbey Lincoln among others as “famous residents” of this mid-Manhattan landmark. Listening to Elvin Jones in those first eight bars, I indeed feel transported back to Coltrane-land. Harrell takes the lead solo, as he does again on Grossman’s boppish Extemporaneous. The album’s title track is Freddie Redd’s infectious Time to Smile from Redd’s score for The Connection, first laid down on one of my favorite Jackie McLean albums (though technically it is Redd’s album).

On the back of the CD booklet a thanks is given to Angela Harrell (and to Grossman’s brother Myles Grossman), indicating the role Angela is already playing in the management of Tom’s career.

It is a special pleasure to hear Grossman and Jones. In fact the first couple times I listened to it, I almost wished it were just the quartet throughout. I believe my mind was harking back to the unchallenged role of the saxophone in so many of Coltrane and Rollins’s recordings (think of Sonny and Elvin at the Vanguard, for example). But Grossman wanted another horn on some of the tracks, and while I can’t say it adds any unique chemistry to the session, Harrell’s playing is of course flawless.

Puerto Rico ⇌ Nueva York: David Sánchez

“According to Webster and Velázquez, the word means partir, empezar a caminar, going away, the beginning of a voyage … A rather ironic but poignant title for this debut release by saxophonist David Sánchez, who began his musical journey some time ago. A journey which has taken this young Puerto Rican saxophonist around the world, performing on stages with, and gaining the respect and attention of, musical giants like Eddie Palmieri, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, and Dizzy Gillespie.”

Alfredo Cruz (host of The Latin Cruise on WGBO), liner notes

The Departure, recorded November 1993, was the first of seven intelligently and handsomely produced albums Sánchez did for Columbia Records between 1994 and 2004. (The producer for The Departure was Bobby Watson, whom we saw earlier as Harrell’s bandmate in the New York Jazz Giants in the summer of 1992.) In his liner notes, Alfredo Cruz describes how the impressively self-assured twenty-five-year-old Sánchez, Dizzy Gillespie’s last protégé, carries forward the special cross-pollination of American jazz and Afro-Caribbean rhythms pioneered by Diz.

Harrell has the lead solo on the album opener, Ebony, Sánchez’s compositional tribute to Art Blakey. Thereafter, though, he only appears on two other tracks, Danilo Perez’s Santander and Sánchez’s Nina’s Mood. (Besides Ebony and Nina’s Mood, Sánchez wrote the title track as well as three innovative little 45-second-ish pieces called Interlude #1, Interlude #2, and Postlude.) Santander is an especially pretty tune. For my purposes, I wish it had been written by the trumpeter! Besides Sánchez and Harrell, the personnel on these three tracks include Perez (piano), whom of course Harrell knew well from his own Chesky albums, Peter Washington (bass), another Harrell intimate, and drummer Leon Parker, for whose own albums Harrell will guest several years later.

In addition to the Harrell tracks, there is great stuff on this album. The non-Harrell tracks get the full Afro-Caribbean effect by having Latin fixture Andy Gonzalez on bass and Milton Cardona on percussion. Sánchez is brilliant across a wide spectrum of moods. His playing on the ballad I’ll Be Around is full of feeling; on The Departure, full of “screaming urgency” (Cruz); punchy and playful on Danilo Perez’s Latin-infectious You Got It Diz; and “stylistically symbiotic”‘ (Cruz) on the mambo-era hit Caro De Payoso.

: Ken Peplowski

It’s A Lonesome Old Town, recorded January 3, 1995, was one of a long string of recordings clarinetist and saxophonist Ken Peplowski recorded for Concord Jazz. It is pure fun, a delightful mixture of chemistry within chemistry.

This album is a wonderful mix of selections — standards, Brazil & Jobim, Sonny Stitt, the Beatles, originals by Harrell and Peplowski –, instrumentation and musicians (including of course Peplowski on both clarinet and tenor) — a core group, with Charlie Byrd, Tom Harrell, and Marian McPartland added as special guests –, and arrangements that cater to the particular players.

Harrell is on three tracks. He takes the opening solo on the album opener, his own composition More Than Ever (straightforward AABA + short tag), followed by Peplowski on clarinet — Peplowski says Harrell wrote the song with the clarinet in mind –, then Howard Alden on guitar and Allen Farnham on piano, followed by a lengthy series of exchanges.

For the next Harrell number we move down the track list to #9 for Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s wonderfully titled Last Night When We Were Young. “Last night when we were young / Love was a star / A song unsung / Life was so new / So real, so right / Ages ago last night”: Dan Morgenstern in his liner notes says that, like Lester Young (and I would add Dexter Gordon), Peplowski believes that an instrumentalist should know and think about the words of the songs he plays. Alden’s guitar and Peplowski’s breathy tenor together and unaccompanied sing the first stanza; Harrell’s trumpet, joined by the rhythm section, the second; Peplowski has the bridge, and Peplowski and Harrell together the final eight. Harrell solos first, then Marian McParland — how wonderful to hear her! –, then Peplowski (whose tenor playing sounds to me in fact like that of a clarinetist) and Peplowski and Harrell together, with a nice flourish from Tom to cap it off.

The third and final track with Harrell is Sonny Stitt’s The Eternal Triangle, immortalized, of course, by Stitt, Sonny Rollins, and Dizzy Gillespie in 1957/59. I’ll be lazy and just quote Morgenstern: “This is a rouser; the tempo’s way up, and stuff happens all along. The texture keeps changing, from Farnham’s crisp solo (fine bass under him); Ken’s tenor backed by Dawson only; Alden and Cohen, and Harrell dueting with Dawson, who then goes for himself.”

As I reported earlier, Dan Morgenstern, in his liner notes for both the Sun Dance (1987) and the Lonely Eyes (1989) albums with George Robert, had commented on Harrell’s somewhat under-the-radar status, despite his years with Phil Woods. Here we are at the start of 1995, and Morgenstern once again feels compelled to say, “he is someone who should have a far bigger name than he does.”


The Netherlands Connection

I have already written about and will have still more to report about Harrell’s many recordings with Gerry Teekens and Criss Cross. I have also written about my belated discovery, thanks to Dutch recording engineer Max Bolleman’s memoir Sounds, that Dizzy Gillespie Meets Phil Woods Quintet was recorded at Bolleman’s Monster studio for Wim Wigt’s Dutch label Timeless. So it does not surprise me to find other Harrell connections with the Netherlands.

A Criss Cross flyer from one of my vinyls showing their new releases from the Fall of 1988. I have already written about Mike LeDonne’s ‘Bout Time with Tom Harrell. We will hear Benny Green later with Don Braden and Tom Harrell. Mixed Bag is alto saxophonist Jim Snidero’s debut album with Criss Cross as leader, with Brian Lynch on trumpet; later we will hear Snidero with Harrell, on another label. Workout! is the first of three Greg Marvin albums with Harrell.

Greg Marvin

Greg Marvin is an enigma.

He came on to the jazz scene strong, from seemingly nowhere, to make two critically well-received albums that he self-produced on a label of his own creation (HI-HAT Records): The Greg Marvin Quartet (1986), and I’ll Get By (1986-1987). Self-producing was no small feat. He lined up A-list musicians (Hank Jones, George Mraz, Akira Tana, Billy Higgins, Mel Lewis), the recordings were engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, and the liner notes were written by no less than Nat Hentoff and Dan Morgenstern, respectively. Timeless Records issued a later release of I’ll Get By that combined the material from the two HI-HAT LPs minus two tracks from The Greg Marvin Quartet (Bongo Bop and Breakdown in Mid-Summer).

(We all come from somewhere, of course. Marvin, born 1956, was from Ardsley, a lovely village in Westchester County, NY, just north of Yonkers (the name comes from the patroon Adriaen van der Donck, the Jonkheer or young (jong) gentleman (heer)) and the Bronx, near one of the most beautiful stretches of the Hudson River. In this same period I gazed out the window at the Hudson many a morning commuting by train to work in the city, passing through Ardsley and a few stops later Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx — here is Henry Hudson atop a column in Spuyten Duyvil , to give you a flavor of the Dutch heritage of Marvin’s youth.)

Marvin and Susan Chen, the pianist on The Greg Marvin Quartet, had each studied with saxophonist Wayne Marsh and pianist Lennie Tristano (Marvin after several years of playing in Seattle, and Chen after growing up around St. Louis, where she was making waves as a classical pianist phenom before hearing Lester Young and switching to jazz). Their sound on The Greg Marvin Quartet, the three Marvin compositions on that album (in addition to the first track, Tristano’s own 317 East 32nd), and the mutual dedications in the liner notes all demonstrate this influence … an influence that Marvin by the time of I’ll Get By was anxious to put in perspective, lest it become an unshakeable typecasting, as he explained to Morgenstern. There have been so many discoveries during my Trip through Harrell-land, and one of them has been learning about and hearing these albums, which are excellent. But on to the collaboration with Harrell.

According to Morgenstern’s liner notes on I’ll Get By, Marvin claimed to be exhausted from the problems of having self-produced two albums. That should have been solved by making his next record with a well-established label, namely, Criss Cross. Criss Cross catalog number 1037, Workout!, was recorded in New York in January 1988. It was the first of three consecutive recordings with Tom Harrell. Aside from the music, however, things did not work out well. Max Bolleman (who was not the engineer on this recording) tells me he can only recall that “there were some difficulties” between Marvin and Gerry Teekens. So evidently some sort of arrangement, formal or de facto, was made, because on Marvin’s website the album appears as catalog number CD 1088 on a new label of Marvin’s creation, Planet X Records, and the album in turn was “disappeared” from the Criss Cross catalog.

Marvin chose the Dutch label Timeless for his next recording with Harrell, Taking Off!, in November 1989. Henry Hudson seems to have cast a spell over Marvin, because at about this time he also permanently transplanted himself to Amsterdam. Finally, in February 1993, he made his last recording, this time for his Planet X label, Wake-Up Call!. A Google search finds a few more traces of him. A European jazz calendar has a Greg Marvin Quartet appearing at the Scheldejazz festival in the Netherlands on March 5, 1996. Jazz’halo.be, a Belgian jazz magazine and promoter, says Greg Marvin and three Dutch musicians, including Holland’s favorite jazz drummer, John Engels, played at two Belgian venues, the De Werf arts center in Bruges and the Ferme Madelonne club in Gouvy, as part of the Jazz’halo festival in September, 1998. And then he disappeared. In the words of a Dutch acquaintance Max Bolleman asked on my behalf, “maar na 1998 is hij van de radar verdwenen.”

From the radar screen, but fortunately not from the planet (this one or Planet X). My discographer friend Klaus connected me to his friend Jeroen de Valk, a Dutch bassist and writer, who has written biographies of Chet Baker and Dutch drummer John Engels. Jeroen kindly gave me the phone number of Engels. John and his wife Liz were exceedingly cordial, and Liz went out of her way to help me. She ended up finding an Amsterdam-area phone number for Marvin, called and talked to him, and the next thing you know, I am on the phone with Marvin myself. He told me he felt he had “said what [he] had to say on a single instrument” and had turned his attention to composing, which he is still doing, and to raising a family.

That is the history, and now to the music.

“Greg’s first European release” (Mark Gardner’s liner notes), this album was recorded for Criss Cross and used Criss Cross veterans Tom Harrell, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist George Mraz (who was the bassist on The Greg Marvin Quartet and I’ll Get By), and drummer Kenny Washington.

Side A begins with Marvin’s boppish blues composition Zip, followed by the ballad Everything I Have Is Yours and Count Basie’s Dickie’s Dream. Marvin has his own sound on the tenor, and he confidently takes all the lead solos. On Everything I Have Is Yours, Mark Gardner points out that Burton Lane’s melody is never played as such; each player beginning with Marvin simply plays the changes, each gorgeously. Marvin and Harrell play off each other nicely at the end. (If you need your memory refreshed about the song, as I did, here it is by one of my favorite crooners). Dickie’s Dream has a nice touch: After the individual solos, Marvin and Harrell play in unison, note for note, Lester Young’s original solo from 1939. Bop, ballad, Basie — nice.

Side B gives us Lee Konitz’s “fiendishly clever” (Gardner) Subconsious-Lee (this time Kenny Barron solos first, then Marvin, Harrell, and Mraz-Washington exchanges), the Billie Holiday-affiliated standard Lover Man, and Marvin’s Gentle Giant, his tribute to Wayne Marsh, who passed away at the end of 1987. (The LP stays strictly within the time limits of vinyl and delivers exactly 49 minutes of music.) Lover Man has another one of the subtle touches in arrangement that give the album some understated color in addition to its overall swing. In interweaving voices, Marvin and Harrell plus Mraz play the first two A sections and are joined by Barron’s piano and Washington’s drums for the bridge and final A section. Barron and the Mraz take the only solos. Then Greg and Tom “counterpoint their way to the close” (Gardner). Marsh died of a heart attack onstage at the Los Angeles club Donte’s in the middle of playing the tune Out of Nowhere, and Marvin’s uptempo Gentle Giant is based on that song. Marvin and Harrell play the theme in unison. Marvin solos for three choruses and spills over into a fourth before Harrell takes over. After solos by Barron and Mraz, Marvin and Harrell play two choruses together before restating the theme. This is a fine recording of straight-down-the-middle jazz. Harrell makes a big difference, and Marvin and Harrell are clearly simpatico.

“I initially found it difficult to listen to Greg’s playing because he doesn’t sound like anyone else.”

Paul Evoskevich, review of Taking Off! in Saxophone Journal

“The key ingredient in Taking Off!‘s extraordinary chemistry is Greg’s synergetic relationship with the equally gifted Tom Harrell.”

Dr. Chuck Berg, liner notes

Marvin waited almost two years before making his next record, returning to the Van Gelder studios and making Taking Off! for Timeless. Besides Harrell (flugelhorn exclusively), Marvin brought in three musicians he had met on the West Coast, George Cables on piano, Eric Von Essen on bass, and Sherman Ferguson on drums. (Von Essen relocated to Sweden in 1993, where he was professor of jazz studies at the Swerigefinska Folkhogskolan until passing away prematurely in 1997.) For some additional color he was looking for, he added Joe Locke’s vibraphone for some of the tracks.

And that color is what we first hear. Ferguson and Locke play the first of four 8-bar segments that comprise the theme of 7 West (the address of Harrell’s Upper West Side apartment). Dr. Chuck Berg (liner notes): “an ingeniously devised harmonic twister”; Marvin: “a chord progression of my own as opposed to being a reharmonization of a standard.” Solos by Marvin, Cables, Harrell, Locke, and Ferguson. The theme is restated before the unit goes into an unexpected and two-minute-long collective improv to end it.

Under Saturn is a ballad composed over a 24-bar structure “with a written melody stretched over the first 12-bar section” (Berg) that is again harmonically adventurous. Marvin: “It’s a pretty unusual progression. It doesn’t telegraph its punches, so you just have to learn it.” The theme and first full-chorus solo are all Marvin’s, before Harrell, Cables, and Von Essen each follow with a 12-bar stretch, before Marvin takes it out again, with a nice vibes-piano-bowed bass tag at the end. All lovely.

Unlike 7 West, some of the songs are, according to Marvin’s explanations in the liner notes, based on the chord changes of standards. So the title track for example is based on the changes in Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are. Marvin plays the first eight bars of his composition unaccompanied, is joined by a separate voicing for Harrell in the second, by the piano and rhythm in the third, and so an extended statement of the theme ensues, leading finally to the (only) solo by Cables. Then exchanges between Mraz and Washington, followed by a dialog between Marvin and Harrell. Marvin’s arrangement and Chuck Berg’s commentary on it invite comparison to the more formulaic treatment of All The Things You Are by Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz on Tristano (1956).

And so on the uptempo Night Life (You Stepped Out of a Dream) — this and Taking Off! were first takes and, Marvin says, probably his favorite performances from the date; the dialogs between Marvin and Harrell are in lieu of solos and are magnificent –; Love Song (Embraceable You), a vehicle to display Marvin’s ballad artistry that also has a nice piano trio section and Von Essen solo (Harrell sits this one out); the swinging Devil’s Dream (I’ll Remember April), first recorded by Marvin on I’ll Get By — Joe Locke is back on this one, with solos by Marvin, Locke, Harrell, and Cables; and the album-closing Last Call (Just Friends, and a melodic fragment from I’ll Get By), with solos by Marvin and friends Cables, Harrell, a vocalizing Locke, and Von Essen, plus exchanges by all with Ferguson. Prior to Last Call, the band plays the one non-Marvin piece on the album, Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow’s My Old Flame, or a part thereof (“I take the first phase of the melody, then Tommy takes the second. But that’s the extent of the original melody that we use.”). The boys play it feelingly. (Any performance of My Old Flame is an automatic association for me with the monumental Concord album of that name by Stan Getz, appearing just nine years earlier at the Keystone Corner.)

It was well over three years before Marvin returned to the studio (Skyline Studios in Manhattan, to be precise), and the sessions were spread out between August 1993 and February 1994. The result, the CD Wake-Up Call!, was for his own Planet X label. Tom Harrell and George Mraz are back, this time with James Williams on piano and Lewis Nash on drums.

The first track on the album, Hypnopompic Drift, tells me a number of things:

  1. It is only 1:23 long. The album consists of an unusually large number of mostly relatively brief pieces by Marvin, fourteen to be exact. (Compare its 62:22 of music with Workout!‘s 49:00. And I will admit right here that the album is a little long for me. But no complaints. It just means the conditions must be right for me to listen to it in its entirety … and the album doesn’t make sense if not listened to in its entirety.)
  2. The title, combined with Marvin’s somewhat menacing look on the album cover, tells me he has a sly if not wicked humor.
  3. It is an unaccompanied duet for Marvin and Harrell. The album is very much about the chemistry between these two .
  4. It is an unstructured, free improvisation, as are four other pieces on the album (2/12 Reflection, Way Station, At The River’s Edge, Planet X). “We change keys when we want to, rather than when we have to” (as quoted in the liner notes, again by Dr. Berg).
  5. Immediately I notice that Marvin’s tone is drier, darker than before. This is due in part, Berg explains, to Marvin’s use of a hand-crafted wooden mouthpiece.

The theme of the title track consists of a long sequence of 8-bar chases between Marvin and Harrell. One-and-a-half minutes in the two horns hand over to solos by Williams, Mraz, and Nash before resuming the chase. “B” Street Reveries is an extended counterpoint between Marvin and Harrell accompanied only by Mraz. Frequent Flyer is another Marvin – Harrell chase that gives over eventually to solos by Williams and Mraz. 2/12 Reflection, like Hypnopompic Drift, is a brief (1:12), freely-improvised, unaccompanied Marvin – Harrell duet. The theme of Thursday, the lengthiest piece on the album, is arranged again with Harrell and Marvin playing counterpoint, before being played by the full quintet once Williams joins in. And once again the only solos are Williams and Mraz. Williams is great. He was also great on Harrell’s Sail Away session. See also below on Joe Lovano’s Village Rhythm album. The South-Bohemian-born George Mraz is also terrific, and he left a distinctive mark on all the Marvin albums except Taking Off!.

It is Mraz’s bass that introduces, underpins, and brilliantly solos on another Marvin-Harrell-Mraz trio, Way Station. In turn it is Nash’s drums that kick off the brief, fast-paced Moonshot, again a quintet offering after a deferred entrance by Williams. At The River’s Edge is an extended Marvin – Harrell duet.

“Greg’s contemplative At The River’s Edge provides a perfect example [of Marvin’s statement about the free duets on this album and the “level of presence” in Lester Young’s solos that was fascinating him at this time and that he was going for here]. [Marvin’s tenor and Harrell’s flugelhorn] trace themes at once cerebral and emotionally intense … It’s [a work] demonstrating the extraordinary empathy of two of contemporary music’s most consistently creative and soulful players.”

Dr. Chuck Berg, liner notes

The cookbook for In The Pines says, start out with the horns, then add the rhythm, and then Williams. Solos by Williams, Mraz, and Nash — in other words, if you don’t get it by now, the only solos on the album in the conventional sense are by the piano, bass, and drums. Walk Out, introduced by a single bass note from Mraz, is a sequence of segments separated by pauses for the Marvin-Harrell-Mraz trio. It has a nifty walking-bass swing segment at the end (is that “walking out”?). Spirit of ’56 is also the quintet swinging, with a solo by Williams plus Mraz-Nash exchanges. The album closes with Harrell and Marvin briefly exploring Planet X, then the full ensemble briefly and jubilantly swinging again on Jubilation.

That’s it. These five albums are the entire recorded oeuvre of Marvin. They had it all: swing, individuality, emotion, intelligence and, with respect to Harrell, a real appreciation and ability to make him a vital part of the chemistry and not just an additional horn. Marvin was to play local gigs with Dutch musicians for another four or five years, before deciding he had “said what he had to say on a single instrument.”

Gijs Hendriks

Harrell and American bassist Anthony Cox guest with a large ensemble of mostly Dutch musicians, including drummer John Engels, led by saxophonist Gijs Hendriks in a live club performance in Utrecht (December 22, 1995) celebrating his 40th year in the business. According to the Dutch-language article on Hendriks in Wikipedia, Hendriks got his professional start in 1955 playing at a club in Frankfurt am Main for American G.I.s.

Had I been there, I’m sure I would have had a ball, especially if everyone was wearing shirts as colorful as Hendriks’s (in December no less!). I admit, though, that detached from the live setting it took me several hearings to warm up to the compositions and arrangements (which I assume are all Hendriks’s). But I did. Harrell is on four of the six tracks. On the title track, Stompin’ On, after the ensemble lays down the jaunty AABA theme (Hendriks on soprano), a Cox bass solo kicks it off, followed by an ensemble interlude, then solos by Harrell, Hendriks on tenor, and American pianist Frank Stagnitta (Syracuse, New York-born Stagnitta lived in Holland from 1985 to 2000, teaching at Konenlijk Conservatory in The Hague and performing at European jazz festivals). Then exchanges between Harrell and Hendriks on soprano. Engels keeps everyone hoppin’ (or, if you prefer, stompin’).

There are two intros to Son Montuna. (It is spelled thus on the album, though I have to believe it should be Son Montuno, a well-defined genre and structure of Cuban music. Whoever assembled the credits in the liner notes did a sloppy job, including misspelling of names.). First, there is a solemn and brief passage (I count three seven-beat, pause-separated phrases) played by what sounds to me like an entire woodwind section. The credits list Hendriks as playing tenor, soprano, and baritone, so I am assuming he is the baritone here. The credits also list Peter Peuker on alto sax and the Italian Daniele d’Agaro on tenor sax and clarinet, but supposedly not on this track. I think that is another mistake. In any case, secondly there is an absolutely masterful unaccompanied bass passage by Cox that for me is the highlight of the evening. Then, after these two intros, the entire ensemble plays the joyous theme, and to my ears the Cuban feel really comes out in Stagnitta’s piano at the start of Harrell’s solo (which by the way gets an especially enthusiastic applause). Stagnitta solos, incorporating shifting rhythms, and then Hendriks on soprano, occasionally over the brass — the ensemble includes Dutch trombonist Ilja Reijngoud and tuba player Tjeerd Oostendorp.

Just A Ballad has lyrical solos by Harrell, Stagnitta (who in his solo picks up the pace halfway through — discovering Stagnitta has been another pleasure for me from this album), and Cox, before the floor is handed over to Hendriks (on tenor) for an extended unaccompanied extemporization. (Minor note: The ensemble also includes Dutch guitarist Gijs Tra. One of the few places I can make him out is on the closing notes here, as the ensemble gently brings the ballad to a close.) Harrell is out on Sun, but if you like the tuba in jazz (as I do), hear the intro by the unusual combination of flute and tuba. Is it Hendriks on the flute? The credits don’t list anyone on flute.

It’s tutti playing the intro to Bes Bounce. The theme merges into a hip Harrell solo, joined by the band in its final measures, then Stagnitta and so forth (including nice work by my new friend John Engels).

All in all, Harrell does not sound to me at his strongest that December 1995 evening, but no complaints (and the audience certainly had none). While I included this album under the Ha + Ts formula because of Hendriks, Hendriks, first of all, plays multiple instruments, and secondly, in any case, the real chemistry is Ha + Groovy International Ensemble + Celebration and Live Fun.

The Cleanup Hitters

Joe Lovano

It is good to travel forward to a year ago, from Utrecht back to home turf, New York City, to find Harrell and Anthony Cox together at the Village Vanguard. Namely, the first (March 24, 1994) of the two Joe Lovano quartet performances from the Vanguard put out by Blue Note as the two-CD Joe Lovano Quartets: Live at the Village Vanguard.

Joe Lovano is so integral to Harrell’s career in the 80s and 90s that it is worthwhile reviewing the history of their recorded performances prior to Quartets. Even before recording together, their careers had certain parallels. Harrell is six years Lovano’s senior (born in 1952). Both studied music in college, Harrell at Stanford and Lovano at Berklee College of Music. Both did formative stints in the Woody Herman band, both then moved to NYC (Lovano was raised in Cleveland, Ohio). Both did their major-label debut albums as leader in 1985, Harrell Moon Alley for Criss Cross, Lovano Tones, Shapes & Colors for the Italian independent label Soul Note (for this label, see further below).

In the early 80s, prior to Harrell joining Phil Woods, Lovano and Harrell were bandmates in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. (Besides the previously documented album Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra Live At The Village Vanguard: Featuring the Music of Bob Brookmeyer, there is a video of a live performance by the Jazz Orchestra at the Smithsonian, but I have not been able to locate it.) At the end of the 80s they were also bandmates in the Charlie Haden – Carla Bley Liberation Music Orchestra (as previously documented for the LMO albums Montreal Tapes and Dream Keeper).

What came as a surprise to me, Lovano and Harrell’s first appearance together on records goes back to 1981. They were both “living and free-lancing in New York,” and they were invited to come to Boston to play on pianist Tom McKinley and bassist Ed Schuller’s album Life Cycle, produced by “third stream” figure Gunther Schuller (father of Ed).

musicians’ curricula vitae on back of album

“[Tom McKinley] is probably best known as a prolific ‘classical’ composer … What is less known — and this debut recording for McKinley hopes to rectify this inapt perception — is that, as his biography shows, he is also an outstanding jazz pianist and composer.”

Gunther Schuller, “A Producer’s Note”

The two horns on Ed Schuller’s title track are Lovano (tenor) and trombonist Gary Valente, on McKinley’s Silver Lovano and Harrell (Side A tracks 1 and 2 respectively). On Silver there are solos by McKinley, Harrell (Martin Williams’s liner notes: “Is there anything [Harrell] can’t do with ease? Could he do anything without sensitivity?”), Lovano, and Billy Hart (drums). Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned and McKinley’s Three Flowers are played as a piano trio and Schuller’s Zoology as a quartet with Lovano on alto sax, so the only other track with Harrell (and Lovano on tenor, though the album jacket mistakenly says soprano) is McKinley’s Walk at the start of Side B. McKinley’s intro initially suggests, as Martin Williams notes, “a kind of atonal ‘classical’ piece” (contemporary classical being McKinley’s bag, and a whiff of “third-stream” in the air), but then Schuller and Hart come in with a funk-rock beat, and Harrell and Lovano’s unison entry a few measures later seals the funk deal, revealing in retrospect that McKinley’s intro was “funk-jazz” all along. Clever. Harrell, Lovano, and McKinley solo. This funk stop during my Trip was worth the price of the vinyl.


In October 1989, Lovano and Harrell played together on pianist Allen Farnham’s 5th House, and later, in December 1993, on bassist Steve Swallow’s Real Book. I will be reporting on these further down the road, when I visit the formulas Ha + Pi and Ha + Bs respectively.


The first album Lovano and Harrell did together with one or the other as leader was the June, 1988 studio recording for Soul Note, Joe Lovano Quintet: Village Rhythm, with Kenny Werner on piano, Marc Johnson on bass, and Paul Motian on drums. There followed Harrell’s Sail Away and Form on Contemporary and Passages, A Night of Chesky Jazz, and Upswing on Chesky, all of which we have chronicled.

“The title selection Village Rhythm is a consolidation of Lovano’s harvesting experiences around our global village. ‘Not only the New York village jazz scene but the collection of feelings and rhythms from my recent tours — Israel and Turkey for instance — all village kind of pieces and cultures,’ says Lovano. ‘I write a lot on tours and some tunes on this album were begun and completed on the road.’ (The cover photo is a Nigerian village taken by Joe Lovano.)”

Herb Wong, liner notes

I confess I initially found this village concept a little loosey-goosey. What brought me around was my fond remembrance of Caroline Biggica Sbarra, my late mother-in-law. On the back of the CD insert Lovano dedicates the album to the (Sicilian) Lovano and Verzi clans. He does not explicitly tie this to his village concept, but I can easily conjure up Sicilian villages in my mind’s eye, because Barbara’s mother’s family are the Perrinos from Corleone on the maternal side, the Biggicas from Lercara Friddi (province of Palermo) on the paternal side, and to boot, the father Antonino Biggica’s mother was from the village of Sinatra (as deduced by the family, since her maiden name was Sinatra). As an aside, Soul Note was not an obscure label. This Italian indie with its affiliated imprint Black Saint won the Down Beat Critics Poll for best record label for six subsequent years beginning in 1984. Village Rhythm was recorded in Manhattan but mastered in Milan.

The music, with or without sharing with Lovano the mental association of villages, comes out of the starting gate swinging with the title track. Next Lovano plays his mournful Birds of Springtime Gone By, without Harrell here, but later with Harrell on the Quartets album we are working up to. We are back to swinging with Dewey Said, a “bow to Miles [Dewey] Davis and Dewey Redman.” High ℃, Harrell really burns it up, and dynamite Motian here and chemistry between Motian and Marc Johnson. Alternating tempos on another piece without Harrell, Lovano and Motian’s brushes take us back to ballad time, or at least a free-form piece played slowly, the title Chelsea Rendez-vous referring to Lovano’s loft and hangout place in Chelsea (Manhattan).

Lovano also dedicates Village Rhythm specifically to the memory of his father, Tony “Big T” Lovano. Big T was a saxophone fixture in Cleveland, and he taught Joe not just the saxophone but about the life of a musician. The next several tracks comprise that dedication. Variations on a Theme is another slow-tempo free-form piece, a solo vehicle for Lovano with overdubbing of cymbals and gongs collected on his world travels. Lovano is on soprano sax on His Dreams, soloing following Harrell, Werner, and Johnson. Next comes “T” Was To Me, divided into a Part I: Celebration of Life Everlasting, and a Part II: Theme. Celebration is solo Lovano again with percussive overdubbing. Theme is based on a poem called ‘”T” Was To Me’ by Lovano’s friend Ron Smith, whose text is contained in the CD insert (it is in turn the theme on which the preceding Variations on a Theme is based). Theme “is a scored out song with Marc’s part written and Paul just plays with me, following the score.” The Quintet with Harrell returns with the walking-bass, finger-snapping Sleepy Giant to conclude the dedication to Big T.

Charlie Mingus’s Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love is a Lovano – Werner duo, dedicated by Lovano to Woody Herman and to Herman’s oft-played rendition of this song with reserved solo slot for tenor saxophonist Frank Tiberi (here with both Lovano and Tiberi in the Herd, and here played years later at the Village Vanguard by the Paul Motian Trio with Lovano and Bill Frisell). Spirit of the Night is associated with two other villages (according to Herb Wong’s liner notes): It was written by Lovano while touring in Paris, and it evokes a New Orleans mood — I would not have thought of that without Wong saying so, but now that he mentions it I can hear the New Orleans feel in the wonderfully arranged play between Lovano’s soprano sax (think Sidney Bechet) and Harrell, echoed further on by the play between Johnson’s bass and Motian’s New Orleans-ish beat. Lots of villages, and that brings us to the Village!


As in the Village Vanguard set of March 24, 1994.

The chemistry in this live and hip environment between these two horn elements with this history together, and with the excellent support of Anthony Cox and Billy Hart, is especially interesting. First, no piano. Second, at times it can really almost be regarded as representative of the venerable tradition of piano-less trio performances (think Sonny Rollins or JD Allen these days), with Lovano and Harrell alternating as the horn. Except that a major attraction is Harrell and Lovano seamlessly playing off each other. (The format also brings to my mind Sonny Rollins’s East Broadway Run Down with Freddie Hubbard, but that album is really sui generis.) The group plays relaxed and free. In the order the numbers appear on disc (the selections are culled from three sets that evening, the last evening of a four-night booking):

I don’t know whether it is in recognition of the song (to my knowledge it first appeared two years earlier on Lovano’s 1992 album From the Soul), or it is encouragement for the start of a set, or what … but as soon as Anthony Cox lays down the bass line and is joined by Billy Hart’s cymbal on Lovano’s Fort Worth, the audience cheers. Cox goes into the song’s one-note base pattern as Lovano and Harrell join in, in non-unison voicings, with the song’s simple 4-bar, repeated and modulated motif. I’ve already got chills down my spine. Lovano’s solo begins 2:00 in, and a half-minute later Cox and Hart shift into more of a quasi-swing pattern. Lovano ends his solo repeating the main motif and withdrawing with a scrunching of his horn (Ted Panken in the liner notes calls it a “multiphonic burst”), and Harrell picks right up on that. After Harrell’s solo Lovano takes another mini solo — the format is also very free — and then the horns take it out together, with a grand climax.

Harrell and Lovano play the theme mostly in unison before Lovano’s opening solo on Birds Of Springtimes Gone By in 2/4 (also played on Village Rhythm — see above). (The lead sheet has it as 2/4. Panken refers to its “12/8 treatment.” ??) Lovano here seems to me not so much playing to the audience as in deep dialog with himself. Both soloists (Lovano and Harrell) are also in dialog with Billy Hart.

It’s all Lovano introducing and soloing first on Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin’s I Can’t Get Started. Harrell takes over and then Anthony Cox. “I’ve flown around the world in a plane / I’ve settled revolutions in Spain ….” Then Lovano and Harrell harmonize on the theme and then Lovano takes it out with a flourish.

Fort Worth in particular has a bit of an Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry feel to it, and that becomes explicit with Lovano’s obviously intentionally Colemanesque Uprising. Coleman + Cherry + Haden + Blackwell → Lovano + Harrell + Cox + Hart. It absolutely works.

In what I take as a kind of counterintuitive show of respect to Harrell, it is Lovano instead of Harrell that states the theme of Sail Away, lovingly, on soprano sax, both at the beginning and at the end. Still, Harrell’s solo is, in Panken’s words, “ravishing.” This version of Sail Away is one of Noah Baerman’s top ten Harrell tracks.

I have given up trying to find any information about Emil Boyd or about his strange composition, Blues Not To Lose — not that I don’t like it. Cox gets the opening solo before going to a walking base to accompany Harrell. Inspecting Cox’s discography confirms my suspicion that I was not familiar with him prior to hearing this album (and later the Gijs Hendriks celebration in Utrecht), and the discovery is indeed rewarding. Interesting handoff to Lovano, again on soprano sax. The ’94 quartet portion of the 2 CDer ends with Lovano’s Song and Dance.

I first tried listening to this album in the car while driving. It didn’t work. The original performance was in an intimate setting, and maximum appreciation requires listening to it in an intimate setting. And it is a great opportunity to hear Harrell in a freer setting.

“Known for his exquisite improvising in ‘harmonic-type music with piano or larger groups,’ [I don’t know whom Panken is quoting here] Harrell plays with extraordinary force in the freer setting, spontaneously co-composing arrangements with his horn-mate on every song, conjuring poised melodic sequences on every solo.”

Ted Panken, liner notes

What that guy said. The ’95 quartet, with Mulgrew Miller, Christian McBride, and Lewis Nash, is excellent straight-ahead jazz that I can easily dig while driving my car, but for me by comparison not quite as interesting.

Don Braden

Don Braden was yet another young musician who impressed Gerry Teekens and so was given a chance by Criss Cross to shine as a leader and, as was so often the case, with the support of Tom Harrell. When the opportunity came, Braden was already well prepared.

Braden is an interesting character. A creative writer or astute sociologist could do wonders contrasting him with the typical (or stereotypical) young Afro-American jazz cat of the 30s, 40s, or even 1950s. As a kid, born in Cincinnati and raised across the river in Louisville, Kentucky, he grew up mostly on pop and soul music, but he also got into and excelled in jazz (on the tenor saxophone) in high school. So naturally he then went to … Harvard! There he played in the Harvard Jazz Combo Initiative, but he majored in engineering and computer programming. Several years in, he made his career choice and opted for the often hard life of a musician, but at the same time became a suburban New Jersey family man and homeowner who extols healthy living, goal-setting, smart money management, and the gospel of common sense (hear him tell it — this interview has a revealing segment about Freddie Hubbard, but unfortunately he is never asked about Harrell).

On a break from college, Braden went to NYC. There he met and played with the drummer Winard Harper as well as organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. From there the opportunities cascaded, often through Braden’s own initiative. Through the Harper connection (Harper was her drummer) he played with singer Betty Carter (Braden has a prominent part on Carter’s Grammy-winning Look What I Got! album). Wynton Marsalis heard him with Carter (Braden also cold-called Marsalis) and brought him on. He played with others, OTB (Out of the Blue) and Roy Haynes, for example, and then toured internationally with the Tony Williams Quintet (with trumpeter Wallace Roney – here). Finally, between 1989 and 1991, the year of his 1991 Criss Cross debut, he played with the Freddie Hubbard Quintet (here).

Criss Cross

For the debut Criss Cross album, The Time is Now, Braden used his bandmates from the Hubbard Quintet, Benny Green on the piano, Carl Allen on drums, and a young Christian McBride on bass. Gerry Teekens suggested Tom Harrell. The aesthetic Braden was going after, according to Lora Rosner’s liner notes, was Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil.

As illustrated, Braden was ready. Hence his justifiably self-confident and proclamatory title track and album opener, The Time is Now (obviously also a titular reshuffling of the jazz standard Now is the Time), with straight-ahead solos by Braden, Harrell, and Green. Braden plays with two alternating tempos and “time feels” in his arrangement of the classic (since Sonny Rollins’s trio version at the Vanguard) Softly as in a Morning Sunrise. Green’s opening solo is to the slower tempo, Harrell’s the faster, and Braden’s both. Tom’s flugelhorn, Green, and Braden solo in that order on Braden’s pretty composition in 3/4 time, Three of a Kind.

A ballad is de rigueur for a debut, and Braden and Green do a nice job on the standard Everything Happens to Me (Harrell sits this one out). Rosner in her liner notes is on the hunt for influences. She has already invoked Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson and for this one is reminded of Coltrane’s Ballads album (and Benny Green reminds her of Cedar Walton). Braden doesn’t seem to mind, though, because for this one he himself recalls Ben Webster.

And speaking of hunting, The Hunter “is basically a blues with the vibe of watching, waiting, stalking” (Braden). He elucidates the imagery with reference to the changing key and time signatures (it’s in 5/4, but “in a jungle of 3/4 sections”). Matt Dennis and Tom Adair’s Will You Still Be Mine gets played at breakneck speed, Harrell leading off, with a nice pianoless solo by Braden as well as Braden-Harrell exchanges. Adair’s lyrics, we read, “deal with the passing of time and the deterioration of romance in an urban environment,” and, it goes on, the tempo “mirrors the challenges and adversity that love and steadfastness are faced with in the song’s lyric.” To me that’s a lot to lay on this old chestnut! Herbie Hancock’s lovely, slow, funky Butterfly (from his 1974 Thrust album) gets an acoustic treatment here. Rosner says the rhythmic feel — nice work Carl Allen — comes from Freddie Hubbard’s Little Sunflower (in fact trumpeter Harrell gets the lead solo here), and hey, Hubbard’s Little Sunflower is in my Horn of Pretty playlist! Nice. Finally, Braden and/or Teekens wanted a blues. Carl Allen suggested Jackie McLean’s Condition Blue (from Capuchin Swing , with Blue Mitchell on trumpet), Harrell transcribed it, and the chemistry is high ℃! (On this one, according to Rosner, besides a bow to Joe Henderson, Braden lets slip a few Stanley Turrentineisms.)

I have yet to hear a Criss Cross album I haven’t liked … a lot.

The Time is Now was recorded January 2, 1991. At the end of the year (December 21), Criss Cross and Braden brought the same musicians back to the studio, with the significant addition of trombonist Steve Turre, to make Wish List. The addition of a trombone and the orchestrating possibilities it opens up call to mind The Phil Woods Quintet + One: Flash, where the “+ One” was Hal Crook’s trombone. Max Bolleman crossed the ocean with Teekens and was the recording engineer for both of these Braden albums. (For The Time is Now, Harrell appeared courtesy of Contemporary Records, by the end of the year for Wish List courtesy of Chesky Records.)

The selections for Wish List are a combination of Braden originals — Father Time, Mr. C.M.B., Just the Facts, and Wish List — and standards — When You Wish Upon a Star, Rodgers & Hart’s Falling in Love with Love, Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady — plus McCoy Tyner’s Search for Peace.

The free-form beginning and finale of Braden’s Father Time, the album opener, telegraphs that Braden is going to stretch out some more with his arrangements on this second Criss Cross date. For Jiminy Cricket’s When You Wish Upon A Star — ok, the music is by Ned Washington, the words by Leigh Harline, but for someone my age, and I would guess for Harrell, the song evokes a lot of Disney childhood memories … For When You Wish Upon A Star Braden arranges the melody by alternating between waltz time (3/4) and swing time (4/4), each horn playing a section (Harrell, Turre, Braden, then the three harmonizing), and then the soloists play entirely in one time signature or the other (in order, Harrell 4/4, Braden 3/4, Green 3/4, Turre 4/4). Both brass horns sit out Braden’s swinging rendition of Falling in Love with Love.

Braden’s Mr. C.M.B. has John Coltrane’s Mr. P.C. (from Giant Steps) in mind. I like to think I would have known that from the title and the opening bars, but anyway a Mary Dean tells us so in the liner notes (no further affiliation is given, and I don’t know who she is). Once again there is alternating between 4/4 and 3/4 in the theme and solos (mostly based on 4/4 except for Braden’s). Unlike Paul Chambers on the Coltrane side, Mr. Christian McBride gets a solo!

It’s just the quartet again for Sophisticated Lady (without naming Max Bolleman, Dean says “The recording engineer got a beautiful sound, especially on the saxophone, during this first and only take”) and for McCoy Tyner’s ballad Search for Peace (the album closer on the classic The Real McCoy).

Braden’s Just The Facts is the kind of concise (12-bar blues) vehicle for hard blowing you would expect from the title, and neither Turre nor Harrell nor Braden nor Green disappoint. The title track and album closer, thematically echoing When You Wish Upon A Star, is a gently swinging 3/4 piece, nicely arranged to feature Braden but take advantage of the three horns.

As I said, musically and professionally Braden was well prepared for his leadership role on these albums. He does a good job composing and arranging, so with that plus the A-list musicians plus the quality to be expected from a Max Bolleman and Gerry Teekens production, the overall excellence of these two albums is not a surprise. Harrell as always is never less than outstanding, but that is also true of all the musicians here.

The Hammond B3: Ha + Ts + Or

Braden did this organ-tenor session for Epic’s new jazz label, Epicure, at Joel Dorn’s request. Dorn had mind an organ/tenor thing (insubstantial “party” music to its detractors). Braden respected the tradition — after all, he broke onto the NYC scene playing in Harlem joints with Lonnie Smith and others — and he prepared diligently. The sound he says he was going for: “party-with-intelligence.”

I knew Braden was into healthy living — his website even gives advice to musicians about how to eat healthy and exercise while on the road. So it was a relief when I added Organic to my Apple music library, gave it a listen, and realized it was a celebration of the tradition of organ/tenor jazz and not of organic food! (In fact the ribs I associate in my imagination with the typical soul food organ-tenor joint was probably not the greatest for your cholesterol!) The Hammond B3: For me it all began with Jimmy Smith and Stanley Turrentine’s Back at the Chicken Shack, one of my very first jazz albums. Gene Ammons with Jack McDuff and Johnny Hammond Smith. My “Big 3” on Prestige: Jack McDuff’s The Honeydripper, Richard Groove Holmes’s Misty, Charles Earland’s More Today Than Yesterday. Listening to Johnny Hodges and Wild Bill Davis on Daddy-O Daylie’s radio show in Chicago. The thrill on hearing for the first time Larry Young’s Unity, with Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw. Modern incarnations such as the James Carter Organ Trio and Greg Lewis doing Monk. The Hammond B3: Don’t get me started!

“The dates were fun, the music went down easily, and for me it was nice to work with old friends like Jack McDuff and Fathead [Newman], new friends like Leon Parker and Winard Harper and the guys Don brought to the session, Tom Harrell, Russell Malone [guitar] and Cecil Brooks III [drums]. ‘Organic’ is the result. Enjoy it, because this is the last time you’ll hear Don in this context. Did I mention that Mr. Braden majored in computer science at Harvard?” [The organist on most of the tracks is Larry Goldings.]

Joel Dorn, liner notes

For this Hammond B3 fan the whole album is a delightful concoction, but to stick to the purpose of my Trip, Harrell is on three tracks, Braden’s originals Brighter Days, Twister, and Plain Ol’ Blues. Brighter Days is solidly in the organ-tenor groove, but it is a jazz composition, and though both Braden’s and Harrell’s solos are undergirded by Larry Goldings’s Hammond, they have a traditional jazz play-the-changes aspect. Harrell’s solo in particular — and you can detect it from his very first notes — has that “economy of line,” “sustained flow through,” “always processing ahead and behind” quality I wrote about way back at the beginning of this Trip. Twister, Braden says, epitomizes the party-with-intelligence sound he was going for — it is essentially a shuffle (he continues) with a funky melody and a chord progression that gyrates through several tonal centers (“soloing on this one challenged us all!”). It reflects “my desire to make the listening experience more interesting and enjoyable for everyone … through compositional sophistication.” No wonder he and Harrell are simpatico. Appropriately then, Harrell gets the first solo (on flugelhorn). We get to the final track on the album. The sound engineer does a fade-in, making me feel like I’ve arrived at the club a little after the set began. The band is collectively moaning the blues (no solos), in fact the Plain Ol’ Blues. The waitress comes over, and I put in my order for scotch and ribs. All is good in the world.

(Note: One of the tracks Harrell is not on is percussionist Leon Parker’s Belief. A year or so later Harrell will play Belief with Parker on Parker’s album of the same name, which we will get to when we visit Ha + Dm.)

You’ve Got Your George, I’ve Got My Joris: Mons Records, Ha + Ts + Bs

I have told how the Swiss alto saxophonist George Robert came to New York City, befriended Phil Woods and Tom Harrell, and with Harrell formed the George Robert – Tom Harrell Quintet. A similar European-American pairing happened with Dutch bassist Joris Teepe, who, according to his website, is “the first jazz musician from The Netherlands to be able to make it in New York.” There he met Braden, and the next thing you know (September, 1993), he records Joris Teepe – Don Braden Quintet: Pay As You Earn in a Manhattan studio for the independent German label Mons Records (founded by Thilo Berg in 1991). Besides Harrell, they brought in Carl Allen (Braden’s drummer on his Criss Cross sides) and, on piano, Cyrus Chestnut, with whom Harrell had already played on albums we will visit later. Teepe contributes five originals, including the title track, Braden two, plus they play Miles Davis’s Nardis, Horace Silver’s Strollin’, and Jerome Kern’s Yesterdays. Veteran bassist Peter Washington does Teepe the honor of contributing liner notes. Washington was instrumental in getting Teepe a scholarship and introducing him around New York, as Teepe explains in his own notes. There Teepe also explains the meaning of pay as you earn, which, he reasons, could just as easily be earn as you pay. “Both P.A.Y.E. and E.A.Y.P. are referring to the life jazz musicians live in New York. Most of them came to New York, left their easier life and moved to this big dirty city, with lots of crime, traffic problems, bad air and small apartments with roaches.” I’ll match anyone’s tales of NYC cockroaches with my summer of 1969 in the Lower East Side!

Harrell is on six of the ten tracks. For my purposes, the highlight is Harrell’s performance on Teepe’s ballad The Left Side (though if you are going for speed, try the following track, Braden’s Windswept).

It is always interesting to get a fellow musician’s characterization of another musician’s style. Peter Washington has this to say about Harrell: “A Tom Harrell solo — concise, literate, self-referential, lyrical at any tempo and containing layers of emotion — can have the effect of a poem, and can, like a poem, leave the listener to ponder its meaning for some time afterward.” Not sure what he means by “self-referential,” but intriguing.

Two-plus years later (November, 1995) Teepe and Braden did another session for Mons (this time at a studio in Brooklyn). This time it was in Teepe’s name and from his perspective at the ‘bottom’ of the band: Bottom Line. For the ‘top’ of the band, besides Braden, Carl Allen, and Harrell again (“And who else could I ask but Tom Harrell to fill the trumpet chair? Tom and Don have developed a sound together …”), he brought in Darrell Grant on piano. (Grant had had his Criss Cross debut as leader in late 1993 on an album whose name, Black Art, was suggested by Max Bolleman. In ‘Sounds’ Bolleman tells the story of that session, with some frank talk about race.) Trombonist Noah Bless is added (though not as a soloist) on Amsterdam Avenue, Teepe’s homage to the Amsterdam ⇌ New Amsterdam connection, to his residence on the Upper West Side (I presume), and to the nervous energy of the cockroach-infested Apple (for nervous, check out Harrell’s solo!).

The purpose of the album is to explore the role of the bass in different combinations (in the bloated prose of Herb Wong’s liner notes, to “focus on the pivotal role of the bass in terms of the ambient impact of the instrument on the communion and alchemy between the outstanding band members”). Harrell is only one of the combinations, so besides Amsterdam Avenue, Harrell only appears on Bennie Golson’s Whisper Not (arranged by Teepe to feature what he calls “the Carl Allen shuffle”), Teepe’s The End of the Tunnel, and Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. The latter is done briefly and is cleverly arranged by Teepe as a bass + horns trio (think of the same with George Mraz, Harrell, and Greg Marvin on the latter’s Wake-Up Call! album). Harrell and Braden harmonize while Teepe plays the A sections — the bass this time is ‘on top’ if you will — and Harrell and Braden split the bridge, with a short solo then by Teepe. Lest I forget to say it, these two Mons albums have been a pleasant introduction for me to another fine bass player.

For albums, the Apple Music Catalog I use affixes a star to the most frequently downloaded tracks. I normally pay no attention, but it happens that the three tracks they “*” for this album are my favorites. These are Teepe’s Lion’s Love, for the nice ballad work by Braden (soprano) and Grant; the excellent trio work by Braden, Teepe, and Allen on Drew Pearson’s Jeannine; and Teepe’s title track, played as a quartet sans Harrell. But nice alchemy all around.

Braden and Teepe continue to work together, as in this 2020 live performance in the Netherlands.

Harrell appears on Bottom Line courtesy of RCA-Victor. Stay tuned.


Ha + As

Harrell has of course also played with alto saxophonists. One of them was named Phil Woods. Perhaps you have heard of him? (Another was George Robert.) In my jazz world I feel a little sorry for alto saxophonists, because they must compete for my esteem with the incredibly unique and dominant sounds of my “Big 3,” Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, and Ornette Coleman, happily augmented to my “Big 7” by adding Phil Woods, Johnny Hodges, Jackie McClean, and Paul Desmond, and to a “Big 8” these days by adding Rudresh Mahanthappa. But here are four worthy ones from this period of ~1990 – 1995.


Furio Romano

A search on the Splasc(H) Records site for Furio Romano

I guess Harrell was touring Europe in the fall of 1991, because over three days in September at the (Giancarlo) Barigozzi Studio in Milan he was the featured guest with the Furio Romano Quintet for their album Inside Out on the Italian Splasc(H) label. The CD insert has credits (see below) but no liner notes. Prior to this Trip through Harrell-land I knew absolutely nothing about the Italian jazz scene — its musicians, studios, labels. But I am learning. Besides Italian artists, an impressive list of American jazz names have recorded in the Barigozzi studio. And I am getting more familiar with the labels. I have already reported on appearances by Phil Woods, Tom Harrell, and Chet Baker on the Italian label Discography in the late 80s. I had also noted that the first Phil Woods – Tom Harrell album, Integrity, was on the Italian label RED Records. See above for Joe Lovano’s album Village Rhythm on the Italian Black Saint/Soul Note label.

The Italian alto saxophonist Furio Romano is an enigma.

Yes, that is what I said about Greg Marvin, and Romano seems to be the enigmatic counterpart on the alto saxophone. Mostly what people seem to know of him are two outstanding 1990 and 1991 Furio Romano Quintet albums on the Splasc(H) label, Danza Delle Streghe (Dance of the Witches) and Inside Out.

“Personaggio misteriosissimo [Furio Romano], almeno stando all’attuale, assoluta assenza di informazioni sul suo conto: in rete non c’è davvero nulla, eppure ha pubblicato almeno un paio di capolavori consecutivi nel biennio 1990/1991, peraltro per un’etichetta ben distribuita come la Splasc(H).”

Bruno Anastasi (here)

“In rete non c’è davvero nulla.” For the record, while it is true that I too can find not a single crumb of biography, publicity, or self-promotion for Romano, I do see that he was active well into the twenty-first century in modernist and academic formats. In ~2001 – 2003 if not earlier he was a member of the Mitteleuropa Ensemble, for whom he wrote a piece called Il taumaturgo (The Miracle Worker) about the Slovenian poet Srečko Kosovel, available on CD and performed at a multimedia “Literary Concert” in Bergamo in 2003. In 2006 he played one of the twelve “dialogs” with Roberto Favilla jr’s piano (Unusual Mind — see the Oi Dialogoi recording returned by the search of the Splasc(H) catalog above). In 2012 he played in a saxophone quartet (the Ensemble Laboratorio del Conservatorio di Como) that performed Marco Molteni’s piece Mobile Uploads. Nevertheless, an Italian pianist and an Italian jazz journalist I have been put in touch with have “hardly” and “never” heard of him, respectively, so he remains a personaggio misteriosissimo.

So now to the music. This entry in my Trip report is under the formula Ha + As, but the chemistry here is really something more unique. Bruno Anastasi nails down an association many jazz fans, as I did, will make right out of the starting gate when hearing these two albums. The Quintet, besides Romano’s alto sax, consists of a rhythm section (on bass, Piero Di Rienzo on Danza Delle Streghe and Roberto Della Grotta on Inside Out, Massimo Pintori drums) plus a trombone (and sometimes tuba) (Rudy Migliardi), plus vibes (Donato Scolese). As Anastasi notes, in instrumentation and in the in-and-out style of composition, arrangement, and vibe (no pun intended), the sound is eerily like Jackie McClean’s One Step Beyond and Destination … Out!, with Grachan Moncur III on trombone and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, and Grachan Moncur’s Evolution with the same aggregation, but with the addition of trumpeter Lee Morgan to make a sextet (Evolution adds “il ‘divo’ Lee Morgan” and Inside Out “il fenomeno Tom Harrell”), a sound that is reprised on a brilliant series of albums by the Dave Holland Quintet on ECM, with Robin Eubanks on trombone and Steve Nelson on vibes (and Chris Potter on saxophones). I must make another unplanned side trip to revisit those albums! But with respect to the formula Ha + As, Romano also reveals himself on these two albums to be a very good alto saxophonist.

In Greg Marvin’s case, I thoroughly enjoyed and profited from listening to The Greg Marvin Quartet and I’ll Get By LPs that preceded his recordings with Harrell. Likewise, I thoroughly enjoyed Danza Delle Streghe, but for my purposes will limit my reporting to the collaboration with Harrell.

An opening sustained note played in unison by trumpet and vibes … a four-note phrase from the trombone — the unique chemistry is immediately established … a long collectively improvised introduction … a bass interlude … finally 2:47 in, the gloriously smile-inducing theme of Monk’s Epistrophy … Harrell’s wonderful opening solo (then Scolese, Romano, Migliardi) … a return to collectively improvised free-form playing to close — Brilliant!, and the pattern is established.

A five-note phrase on the vibes effectively bookends Romano’s Assenza (Absence). As there so often is, there is something especially beautiful to my ears about the opening phrase of Harrell’s solo on this dirge-like piece (perhaps Romano had in mind the mournful quality of the Jackie McClean/Grachan Moncur albums, in particular Moncur’s Love and Hate?). Romano’s Ah Gia’, which borrows the title Oh yeah of Mingus’s album on Atlantic and which sounds very Mingusesque, begins with a slow introduction (lead voice Harrell) that temporarily carries forth the mood of Assenza, but then it switches and brings us to a walking-bass, finger-snapping, playful place. Check out how Migliardi picks up the entire closing phrase of Harrell’s (opening) solo. So while we are at it, why not some actual Mingus?! Another collectively improvised intro, New Orleans-style — Della Grotta bowing, Migliardi playing tuba, Scolese switching to marimba — takes us 2:14 in to the equally smile-inducing theme of Jelly Roll. (For prolonged introductions, the brilliant sax-tuba duet intro to Mingus’s Goodbye Pork Pie-Hat on Danza Delle Streghe sets the record at 5:14.)

Romano’s atmospheric Iter has yet another extended introduction, this time the three horns playing off each other sans vibes or rhythm. These latter join in at 3:17 — Pintori plays a slow march-like beat that befits the song’s title — and Harrell solos first (4:10), followed by Romano. The final track, Romano’s Inside Out, follows the same general pattern. The main theme shifts between a rock and a jazz swing beat. Everyone solos, Harrell first.

Danza Delle Streghe is a wonderful album. Harrell the “fuoriclasse” adds a special sauce to Inside Out.

“Furio Romano recluta il fenomeno Tom Harrell (tromba/flicorno) al fine di aggiungere una voce “morbida” al tessuto strumentale [morbida means “soft” — I wonder what he means by that? Intriguing.]. Il collettivo acquisisce spessore senza perdere immediatezza e si esalta sull’assorta malinconia di Assenza, sul garrulo swing di Ah Già, sulle cangianti atmosfere di Iter. In effetti, come accade anche nello sport, la presenza del fuoriclasse galvanizza l’intera squadra: gli incredibili assoli di Harrell obbligano ciascun solista a superarsi per tenere il passo dell’ospite eccellente.”

Bruno Anastasi, ibid.

Jim Snidero

Jim Snidero, twelve years Harrell’s junior, grew up outside of Washington, DC, attended the jazz program at the University of North Texas playing in their famous One O’Clock Lab Band, and in 1981, at age 23, … moved to NYC, of course! His immediate appearance on three albums with Brother Jack McDuff launched a prolific, successful, and still active career both as performer, including a decades-long stint with Toshiko Akiyoshi’s Jazz Orchestra where I probably saw him, and as educator, primarily at The New School in Manhattan. Between 1984 and 1990 he did six albums as leader, including two for Criss Cross, frequently recording with trumpeter & flugelhornist Brian Lynch. In October 1991 he recorded with another trumpeter & flugelhornist named Tom Harrell, making Urban Tales for the short-lived (1989-1992, according to a knowledgeable Amazon reviewer) German “square discs”label, along with Marc Copeland on piano, Jeff Hirshfield on drums, and the ubiquitous Peter Washington on bass. The Wikipedia article on Snidero states that he played with Harrell from 1989 to 1992. If that is the case, this album is the only documentation of that. Of course Harrell did a lot of gigs and touring not captured on wax. [Update: And indeed, thanks to Jim Snidero for pointing me to a video clip on his website of he and Tom playing Sail Away on a tour in Holland in 1990.]

The CD contains no liner notes, so the only story is that told by the music itself and by the highs and lows of urban living evoked by most of the song titles, all composed by Snidero. I find the overall feeling low-key. I was playing the album at lunch one day when Barbara walked in and asked, “Who is that? It perfectly captures my mood today.” The song was Oblique Street, which happens to be one of two tracks, along with the equally melancholic Alone in a Crowd, on which Harrell sits out. Midnight Dreams is also subdued and pretty. Games is pleasant and has a leisurely tempo; it is not, in Barbara’s words, “bad ass” enough for big city games we can think of. Confrontation has a dissonant quality and rhythm befitting its title, but it is not violent. I do not know what the CP in CP View stands for. Probably not Charlie Parker or the view from 52nd Street, and certainly not the view from the eighth floor of Colgate-Palmolive on Park Avenue, where I worked for ten years. I believe it’s the only number where Harrell solos first. Ishtar, the closer, is presumably the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war. It is the one straightforwardly uptempo number on the album. Does it signify that love and war are experienced in extreme proportions in the big city?

My only criticism of this album — I’ve certainly been listening to it enough — is that it has a certain rinse-repeat quality to it. There is nothing adventurous about the arrangements (minor exceptions: Urban Tales and Confrontation), and no uniquely memorable chemistry between Harrell and Snidero. But it is a welcome opportunity to get to hear some Snidero.

Charles McPherson

Veteran bebopper Charles McPherson, some seven years Tom Harrell’s senior, did something unusual: He moved AWAY from NYC! Well, actually, having grown up in Detroit and cut his teeth playing with the likes of Barry Harris (his mentor), Pepper Adams, and Elvin Jones, he did move to New York when he was 21. There, inter alia, he played for years with Charlie Mingus and cut many records as leader, first on Prestige (beginning with Bebop Revisited! in 1965) and then other labels. But in 1978, immediately after participating in Mingus’s last recording session, he headed to San Diego to tend to his ailing mother, and he lives there to this day. And talk about long-delayed recognition. JazzTimes readers in 2020 voted him as #1 Artist of the Year and voted his Jazz Dance Suites as the year’s best New Release (McPherson wrote it for the San Diego Ballet, for whom his daughter Camille is a ballerina). There are two random things I am especially fond of McPherson for: He and Barry Harris and trumpeter Bill Hardman played some great jazz on my man the godfather of vocalese Eddie Jefferson’s 1969 Come Along With Me, and McPherson along with Barry Harris and others recreated Charlie Parker’s music for my man and McPherson’s West Coast fellow citizen Clint Eastwood’s 1988 valiant but flawed biopic ‘Bird.’

In January 1994, McPherson recorded First Flight Out for Arabesque Recordings. Like Snidero’s Urban Tales CD, there are no liner notes. I mean, except for the track titles, nothing. No writing credits, no personnel. Nothing. (Besides Harrell, it has Michael Weiss on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums.) In any case, it is hardly in reality McPherson’s first flight out, just check out for example Jefferson’s Come Along With Me: “Come along with me into mystery / We will all explore the moon / And we won’t be back if our fuel holds out / We’ll go sailing right into space … .” The launch vehicle here is flawless, McPherson’s fast 12-bar straight-ahead Lynn’s Grins. Two more McPherson originals, the Latin Lizabeth and Blues for Chuck, confirm for ground control that the physics and chemistry are functioning just right.

The remainder of the album consists of three Mingus numbers, Nostalgia In Times Square (featuring Peter Washington; Harrell and McPherson sound great together), the always emotional Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (Prez > Mingus > McPherson is a fine lineage; Washington uses the bow on his solo), and Portrait (movingly played by McPherson and Harris — Harrell is out on the sentimental sequence Portrait, McPherson’s Karen, and My Funny Valentine); an uptempo version of Monk’s Well, You Needn’t; an old chestnut, Deep Night (how old? see here; it is nostalgically introduced here by a muted Harrell before McPherson turns up the burner); plus two more McPherson originals, a catchy 7th Dimension and First Flight Out. Undoubtedly Joel Chriss was responsible for bringing in Tom Harrell for this session — see below. The results are inspired. Harrell’s tone sounds really sharp throughout. First Flight Out is the album closer, is in standard AABA form, and is is a barn burner that would have done Bird and Diz proud — the fuel held out.

[July 2021 Update: Since writing this, I have had the pleasure of corresponding with Charles McPherson, but more specifically with his wife Lynn. I wish I had realized who the Lynn was in Lynn’s Grins! Lynn offers a couple corrections. When Charles flew out to San Diego, his mother was not “ailing” (my mistake: looking back at a Michael J. West piece in JazzTimes I was getting my information from, I see West simply said “elderly mother”), in fact the trip had more to do with Charles’s own health. Also, she wanted to emphasize that Charles always picked his own personnel, that “Danny” Chriss was the A&R guy for First Flight Out, and that Joel Chriss had nothing to do with it. Evidently the McPhersons’ experience with the business side of Arabesque Records wasn’t all that happy, and they were annoyed at hearing that Arabesque had reissued the recording with no liner notes, since they are certain the album originally had some. To my knowledge, First Flight Out is the only studio recording with McPherson and Harrell together, but almost two decades later Tom played with Charles in some live performances of Charles’s Sweet Synergy Suite, one of the three suites represented on the Jazz Dance Suites album (Terell Stafford is the trumpeter on that CD). Here are Charles and Tom playing Sweet Synergy Suite‘s lovely ballad Nightfall, co-written by Charles and Lynn, at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival, and this page from Charles’s website has photos and an audio clip of the two playing the same number at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola (Jazz at Lincoln Center).]

Thomas Chapin

Harrell had recorded First Flight Out with the veteran bebopper McPherson for Arabesque Recordings in January 1994. In August he was back in the studio for another Arabesque session with another alto saxophonist, this time the younger generation’s Thomas Chapin. Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, Chapin named his album You Don’t Know Me. Like Ray Charles, Chapin was not at all hesitant to try his hand at seemingly diametrically opposed styles of music. Born in Connecticut (1957) and having studied with Jackie McClean and Paul Jeffrey at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Connecticut in the late 1970s (in addition to getting a BA from Rutgers), Chapin cut his teeth touring with Lionel Hampton from 1981 to 1986, serving both as lead saxophonist and musical director. From that world of big band swing and a couple years with Chico Hamilton, he became part of the New York City scene, especially the “downtown” / Knitting Factory scene, making amazingly diverse music with, for example, tango artists and poets (he also made a lovely Brazilian album with his group Spirits Rebellious (1988)); banging out avant-garde jazz-rock with Machine Gun, a group he co-founded with guitarist Robert Musso; and playing in multiple settings and styles with The Thomas Chapin Trio (Mario Pavone, Mike Sarin). You can get a good luck at him here, and for the whole story, see his sister-in-law’s moving documentary ‘Night Bird Song: The Incandescent Life of Thomas Chapin.’

In 1992 Arabesque Recordings started a jazz line, and New York booking agent Joel Chriss served as the A&R man along with his brother Daniel. Chriss was Tom Harrell’s agent at this time. Chriss’s goal with the Arabesque line was to feature contemporary post-bebop-style jazz, as he explains in ‘Incandescent’. So First Flight Out with McPherson and Harrell, a Chapin album titled I’ve Got Your Number, and now the Chapin album You Don’t Know Me with Harrell. In Chapin’s case, these two albums were also a reminder, as Chriss says, of Chapin’s more pure jazz roots going back to Jackie McClean and Lionel Hampton. For You Don’t Know Me, besides Harrell, Chapin uses pianist Peter Madsen, bassist Kiyoto Fujiwara (with whom Chapin had toured in Japan), and drummer Reggie Nicholson.

Chapin was quite the world traveler, both as musician and explorer. Back from a trip to South Africa and Namibia, he wrote the first five pieces for You Don’t Know Me as “Safari Notebook” sketches: Izzit? (equivalent to “Really?” in South-African patois, according to Howard Mandel’s liner notes — yes, finally, an alto saxophone album with liner notes! — the chemistry between Chapin and Harrell is immediately obvious); Kaokoland (Chapin was a multi-instrumentalist inspired by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and he uses the flute here for the theme and the alto for his solo); Kunene (an especially rhythmic piece kicked off by Nicholson’s drums and led in the soloing by pianist Madsen sounding to me sometimes like McCoy Tyner, sometimes like Les McCann); Opuwo; and Namibian Sunset (Chapin is all flute on this one). Chapin advises that Safari Notebook is impressionistic, not programmatic, and it swings.

“To the multi-dimensional musicians with whom I’ve had the good fortune to share the stage and studio in creating a wide spectrum of music — thank you Peter, Kiyoti, Reggie and Tom (our special guest).”

Thomas Chapin, liner notes

It is the quartet minus special guest Harrell on the remaining three tracks, Kura Kura (an early Chapin composition that means “dizzy” in Japanese; Chapin dedicates it to Kirk and plays the mezzo-soprano sax); Gordon Jenkins’s Goodbye (with explicit reference to Cannonball and Bill Evans’s treatment on Know What I Mean?; it is a good vehicle for hearing Chapin’s tonal and expressionistic range in the jazz idiom); and a bluesy, beautiful performance of You Don’t Know Me.

The world was getting to know Thomas Chapin, but sadly his blossoming career was cut short by leukemia at age 40, in 1998. (My high school classmate and acquaintance Steve Goodman, an equally delightful genius in another musical genre, and an equally wonderful human being, also died from leukemia at age 36. It hurts.)


The History of the Jazz Trumpet

We have heard Harrell a few times before teamed up with another trumpeter, notably his excellent 1979 Look To The Sky duo with John McNeal, his memorable pairing in a Dutch studio in 1986 with the seventy-year-old Dizzy Gillespie (Dizzy Gillespie Meets Phil Woods Quintet), and his juxtaposition in 1992 with Gillespie-protégé Jon Faddis in the New York Jazz Giants. Here are two more.


John Swana

Philadelphia trumpeter John Swana’s debut album on Criss Cross was Introducing John Swana, recorded in late December 1990. A year later, when Swana was almost 30, he made John Swana & Friends, and there were many more albums to come on Criss Cross. You can see just from looking at the album cover that chemistry is the point.

I moved from New York to Philadelphia in 1995, and when I checked out the local jazz scene I quickly came to know that the main man on tenor sax was Larry McKenna (along with Bootsie Barnes) and the go-to trumpeter was John Swana. I have seen Swana several times at Chris’ Jazz Cafe and elsewhere.

John Swana & Friends is excellent straight-ahead fare, Criss Cross-style. According to Mark Gardner’s liner notes, Harrell did all the arranging for the sextet numbers, which comprise five of the eight tracks. Indeed the voicing of the three horns on Sonny Rollins’s Oleo, the album opener (Billy Pierce is the tenor saxophonist), sounded unusual to me, and this is confirmed by Gardner’s notes. John and Tom play back-to-back solos and then the inevitable trumpet chases. Like John McNeal on the aforementioned Look To The Sky album, Swana’s sound on the trumpet comes from the same Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham lineage as Harrell, and the two have a very similar style. Especially as propelled by Billy Drummond’s drums — Harrell had played with Drummond on Frank Griffith’s The Suspect (above) and will be seen the following summer playing with Mulgrew Miller as part of the New York Giants of Jazz (as previously reported) — the band sizzles on Oleo and similarly on Straight, No Chaser and Oscar Pettiford’s bop number The Pendulum at Falcon’s Lair. The sextet also plays Harrell’s Latin-flavored Before You (from the Open Air album), with John and Tom on flugelhorn, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Out Of My Dreams from Oklahoma!, with another unusual voicing in the theme as pointed out again by Gardner. And then there are three ballads: It’s all Tom (on flugelhorn) on Darn That Dream (Gardner: “an exquisite platform for Tom’s controlled flugel” — agreed!); all John on I Didn’t Know What Time It Was; and all Billy Pierce on You Don’t Know What Love Is.

Around 2010 John was diagnosed with a benign tumor behind his ear that messed with his embouchure and has prevented his playing the trumpet ever since, a real tragedy. He has dealt with the situation though and become an active performer and educator playing the Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI). Kudos!

Art Farmer

In his liner notes to the January 1994 recording Art Farmer Meets Tom Harrell: The Company I Keep, veteran jazz author and lyricist Gene Lees gives a condensed history of the successive generations of jazz trumpeters: Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Farmer, Tom Harrell … and, I would add, John Swana. At the time of this recording, Farmer was sixty-six years old, Harrell forty-eight. Farmer and Harrell were both graduates of the University of Horace Silver.

“I heard about Tom Harrell long before I actually heard him, because seemingly all the musicians were talking about him, this remarkable player who not only had tremendous technique but tremendous musicality as well … So it struck me as particularly significant that an artist — a, dare I say? flumpetist? — of Art’s stature, wanted to record with [Harrell]. That will tell you what musicians think of Tom Harrell.”

Gene Lees, liner notes

Lees also charts Farmer’s migration from trumpet to flugelhorn and finally to a hybrid of the two, built for him by a Dave Monette and called the flumpet. (A few years ago I had a good opportunity to brush up on Farmer, in his trumpet & flugelhorn days, listening to all the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet albums with Curtis Fuller while researching the history of the jazz trombone.) On The Company I Keep Farmer plays flumpet exclusively. The company Farmer keeps, besides Harrell, are Ron Blake on tenor and soprano sax, Geoff Keezer on (quite forcefully played) piano, Kenny Davis on (also quite forcefully played) bass, and Carl Allen on drums (Allen was the drummer with Harrell in the New York Giants of Jazz).

Contrary to my expectations, this album, another one from Arabesque Records, is not one of standards. Harrell wrote and arranged Sunshine in the Rain, one of his characteristically paradoxical titles, and Beside Myself, of which Lees says, “a title with a certain sense of irony if you know Tom’s dry sense of humor.” The young Geoff Keezer, who had been part of the Art Farmer Quartet since 1990, wrote and arranged Song of the Canopy and arranged Ellington’s TGTT (“Too Good to Title”), from the Second Sacred Concert. TGTT is vocalized without words on the Ellington recording, and it is worth listening to that before this version. Kenny Davis wrote and arranged the ballad Beyond and the straight ahead Who Knows, which features his initial bass solo. Farmer moved to Europe in 1968 and settled in Vienna, and his Viennese friend Fritz Pauer wrote and arranged Santana (which really rocks) and arranged Turn Out the Stars, a Bill Evans composition which Gene Lees had lyricized (“Turn out the stars, turn out the stars / Let eternal darkness hide me, if I can’t have you beside me / Put out their fires, their endless splendour / Only reminds me of your tenderness …”). For this song I again enjoyed refreshing my memory by listening to Tierney Sutton, Karrin Allyson, and Jane Monheit. The music on Art Farmer Meets Tom Harrell: The Company I Keep is uniformly thoughtful and enjoyable. The mix of flumpet and Harrell’s trumpet and flugelhorn is of course intriguing, and it has been fun trying to distinguish them (the timbres are sufficiently distinct to make this not that hard, actually).

Art Farmer passed away in 1999.

<The ‘chemistry’ continues with guitar and piano in the next post.>

Published by Randy Gibbons

I am retired. I have several strong interests, in particular classical studies (Greek and Latin); a lifelong passion for music, especially jazz; and more recently, dabbling in philosophy. For more information about me, click on About Me.

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