Tom Harrell: A Quest. Part 1, Fulfilling An Inner Need: The RCA Years, iv

“Time: August, 1998, a brilliant summer day. Scene: An apartment in uptown Manhattan. Windows closed, blinds drawn. Outside and far below, sailboats drift along the Hudson River. Flowers blossom on precious patches of soil along the waterfront. On the streets, peddlers peddle cheap compact discs, watches and hot roasted nuts in little paper bags. Inside, sheltered from it all, the trumpeter Tom Harrell is at work making music.”

Jonathan Eig, liner notes to Paradise

With this sketch Jonathan Eig begins his liner notes to Paradise, Harrell’s next foray into ensemble arrangement. Three years earlier (1998), he says, he had interviewed Harrell in Tom and Angela’s Washington Heights apartment, and from that interview came a classic article (“Like Night and Day”) in the December 1, 1998 edition of the American men’s magazine Esquire. If I ever get to Part 2 of this Trip, I will have more to say about that article. Eig is an amateur trumpeter who in the 90s was writing a lot about jazz. Most people, however, will know him as the author of a definitive biography of Muhammad Ali.

Time’s Mirror, I wrote regarding Harrell’s previous RCA album, was an exercise in pure, traditional big band arranging, with a large brass section, a large woodwind section, plus piano, bass, and drums, without “color” percussion, strings, electronica, or the like. Uncharacteristically for his albums as leader, it had only one Harrell original for the occasion. “The whole production,” I said, “is so calculatedly traditional that I’m tempted to say the innovation lies in its deliberate non-innovation.” None of this is so with Paradise. Its nine compositions are all original. The brass section is … Harrell, the woodwind section is … tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene. The rhythm section is Harrell familiars Xavier Davis on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, and drum duties split again between Leon Parker and Adam Cruz. But the addition of electric guitar, harp, strings, and Café’s percussion on many of the tracks cries out innovation and puts Paradise in the ‘ensemble’ rather than ‘jazz combo’ category. (The recording engineer by the way is again Joe Ferla.)

There is nothing in the end result that is esoteric, though. The titles, as Harrell’s often do, encapsulate verbally his compositional focus on emotions, moods, and Mother Nature: Daybreak, Baroque Steps, Nighttime, Wind Chant, Paradise Spring, Morning Prayer Part 1, Morning Prayer Part 2, Wishing Well, Sunrise. Daybreak, the opener, adds guitar (Freddie Bryant) and harp (Lois Colin) to the quintet. This ensemble lays down the two-part theme (AB/8-8), slowly. Because of its atypicality the harp stands out as a prominent voicing, and its arpeggio caps the slow intro. There is a significant pause, then the theme is repeated (twice) at breakneck speed, as if depicting a morning that goes from drowsy to ‘I’m running late’, and this sets the pace for the solos. An 8-bar ‘C’ passage bridges to each solo, beginning with Harrell’s two choruses on trumpet and single choruses from Bryant’s guitar, Greene’s tenor sax, and Davis’s piano. Thanks to ‘Noteheads’ for the sheet music.

Baroque Steps, as you might guess, introduces us to the strings, namely in this case the pianoless quartet plus two violins (Cenovia Cummins and Belinda Whitney), a viola (Juliet Haffner), and two cellos (Daniel Miller, Jeffrey Szabo). While this resembles the configuration of Classical music’s string quartet, but with the addition of a second cello (Mozart’s string quintets have two violas), Harrell’s intention here is not the academic exercise of combining jazz combo with classical string quartet or quintet. Rather, “I hear strings,” as he tells Eig. And there are no powdered wigs here!, though I guess I can imagine the Mozart portrayed by Tom Hulce in Amadeus as prancing around to Leon Parker’s beat and Harrell’s rich orchestration. Anyway, I am prancing.

Xavier Davis rejoins to lay down the contemplative mood of Nighttime, the strings and harp then joining a saxophone-less quartet with Adam Cruz on drums. (Greene’s tenor sax has a husky color that Harrell employs as he sees fit.) Harrell solos on flugelhorn playing off the strings and harp, followed by Davis and Okegwo. Can I call Cruz’s beat Latin? Anyway, it is a key ingredient. Harrell’s picture-perfect pure flugelhorn takes it out.

A decade earlier Café was a major voice on Harrell’s Passages album on Chesky. His percussion here, Freddie Bryant’s wah wah riffs on electric guitar, and Leon Parker’s drums are the distinctive colors of Wind Chant. Lois Colin’s harp is also in the mix, most prominently (or perhaps only?) in the final bars. Wind Chant begins with a stately theme (chant), and every time I hear it, I cannot shake an almost certainly erroneous association my mind makes with a Gaelic theme familiar to me from some movie that remains on the tip of my tongue. A bass ostinato bridges to Harrell’s solo on trumpet, which begins with what I hear as a solo-section variation on the opening theme (the stately chant invokes the wind, then the wind takes us where it’s going to take us). Harrell’s solo builds in intensity, aided by other voices, in particular Bryant’s wah wah riffs, and that pattern is repeated by Greene and Davis. After the solos, Harrell and Greene play a variation of the solo-section theme in unison, this comes to an end, and you think the track is over. But after a long pause — drama is the key word for this piece — the opening Gaelic-like (to me) chant is repeated, with a pretty harp and rattle ending. Interestingly, when I Google “tom harrell wind chant” I get quite a few hits promising “music plus lyrics” (only to find of course that there are no lyrics.)

Paradise Spring also has a soundtrack feel. Specifically, its opening theme played by just the strings makes my mind go to, forgive me, how Bernard Hermann milks the strings in his score for Psycho. In composition and arrangement Paradise Spring is also very similar to Wind Chant, with its symmetric structure, its use of dramatic pauses, and its solos designed to build in intensity . All the musicians (with Cruz on drums) have a voice on this piece. After the string opening, pause, then enter saxophone and harp along with the rest of the ensemble to repeat the theme. Another pause, then Cruz and Café lay down the rhythmic foundation for the solos: Harrell on trumpet, with energetic accompaniment from the piano and rhythm team and initially the strings; Greene, with some nice jagged comping from Davis; and Bryant on acoustic guitar (although Bryant’s career has been a jazz one, he majored at Yale in classical guitar). Long pause. Saxophone and harp repeat the opening theme.

Morning Prayer Part 1 is written for the two-cello string quintet. In the course of Eig’s 1998 interview in the Harrells’ apartment, Harrell tried out this not-yet-titled piece on his electric keyboard. It is as solemn as the title, the instrumentation, and Eig’s description of the experience suggest. The relatively brief, two-and-a-half-minute Morning Prayer Part 2 contrasts in instrumentation — the strings, harp, and acoustic guitar added to the saxophone-less and piano-less trio (Cruz on drums) — and in its brisk pace. It is all Harrell on flugelhorn, backed up by this ensemble.

Chimes introduce it. The strings play the peaceful and very hummable melody. Harrell’s gentle flugelhorn completes the picture. Like Paradise Spring, Wishing Well is written for the entire ensemble. (Is Spring here a season or a fountain? In my mind there is a water motif. The water is abundant and receptive and accommodates or requires all the musicians.) Greene solos after Harrell (in a minor error he is omitted from the credits). Leon Parker’s beat, like Cruz’s on Nighttime, is an understated but key ingredient.

The listener’s paradisaical experience begins with Daybreak and circles around, like the heavens, to Sunrise. Each is played by the same string-less ensemble with the electric guitar and harp (and in both cases Tom playing trumpet, not flugelhorn). There is no drowsy phase here. The musicians greet the sun’s rise with an exuberant insistence, ritualistic rather than prayerful, heard from the first rays in Xavier Davis’s chords and Leon Parker’s pounding drum set. It is perhaps the most complex of Harrell’s compositions on the album. The solos follow the pattern similar from Wind Chant and Paradise Spring; they begin quietly and then build in intensity. Th solos are by Harrell, Bryant, Greene and, briefly, Lois Colin’s harp — if your attention was drawn to this album only by curiosity about the use of the harp, this would be the track to listen to.

Time’s Mirror and Paradise. Harrell’s metaphysics and religion.


“Danish Piano/ organplayer Martin Schack, performs in different constellations of bands. From bands performing his own original music, to neobop and mainstream jazz on hammond B3. Martin Schack is currently residing in Ribe in Western Jutland (Denmark) and he is teaching at The southern Danish music Concervatory in Esbjerg.”

Home page at schackmusic.com

Denmark and Harrell again (cf. my biographical sketch of Marc Bernstein). As far as I can tell, pianist Martin Schack is primarily known on the local Danish jazz scene, where he is still active. In his liner notes for “Headin’ Home”, Schack says he met the musicians John Ellis (saxophones) and Joshua Ginsburg (bass) during a year’s stay (1998) in New York, and I would hazard the guess that’s how he met Harrell. With the help of a Danish grant, Schack made this album for the Danish record company Storyville, an album featuring seven of his own compositions plus the standard Alone Together. Swedish-born session drummer Niclas Campagnol graduated from the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen in 1996.

photo from album insert

The four numbers with Harrell are Summer Bossa, To Elvin and Cleve, Dedication to Tom Harrell, and the title track Headin’ Home.


So Many Stars

I am sure to JANe Monheit and JANis Siegel it was pure coincidence, if they were even aware of it at all. But these two albums, recorded by these two young female singers some months apart, I feel compelled for my purposes to treat together. Both albums were produced by Joel Dorn (“The Masked Announcer”) and both were recorded at Sear Sound Studio with sound expert Gene Paul. Dorn wrote the liner notes for Come Dream With Me, which was Monheit’s second album for Dorn’s N-Coded label (her debut a year earlier was Never Never Land). Dorn had also produced Siegel’s debut album twenty years earlier (Experiment in White, also recorded by Gene Paul). As producer, Dorn was responsible for lining up the musicians for these two 2001 dates (he says so explicitly in Monheit’s case) — both are anchored by a stellar piano trio — and Tom Harrell was no stranger to Dorn (Dorn produced Don Braden’s Organic album as well as four Leon Parker albums). Ad Dorn knew, what better trumpeter/flugelhornist for vocalists than the lyrical Tom Harrell?

Monheit was born November 3, 1977 and was twenty three when she recorded Dream . She and Dorn used the estimable trio of Kenny Barron (piano), Christian McBride (bass), and Gregory Hutchinson (drums). The trio is supplemented by other musicians on some of the tracks.

Over The Rainbow, Waters of March, So Many Stars, Blame It On My Youth: The selections with Harrell couldn’t be more to my liking. I once put together a list of songs for memorizing intervals. The first two notes of Over The Rainbow of course span an octave. I had to replace that with another song, because every time I hear Over The Rainbow, no matter by whom or in what context, I start to tear up. In this slow-tempo treatment by Monheit and the trio, a fine lyrical solo by Harrell is sandwiched in between.

Though it’s a ridiculous, because hopeless, exercise, I’ve always said if forced to pick my all-time favorite song it would be Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Áquas de Março. Its life-affirming qualities are about as close to a religious experience as I get. Of course I mean the version by Jobim and Regina Elis with Jobim’s Brazilian lyrics, but my library has a popular one with combined Brazilian and English lyrics by Susannah McCorkle (with its bitter irony that it wasn’t life affirming enough) as well as a couple instrumental (piano) versions by Eliane Elias. I don’t hesitate to link you to these versions (here is Monheit’s) despite the implicit invitation to compare, since Dorn in his enthusiasm for Monheit cites Waters of March and Billy Strayhorn’s Something To Live For (mostly known to my knowledge for its performance by Ella Fitzgerald with the Duke Ellington Orchestra) as examples of the twenty-three-year-old’s not shying away from a challenge. Here it is Monheit and the trio again, introduced by a nice thumping bass from McBride, and at one point we hear a choral background. Just when you think they are finished, Harrell and strings join in for a coda. É a lama, é a lama / It’s the mud, it’s the mud: What else can you say?!

I was probably aware at the time of the original version by Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66 of So Many Stars, but it more recently came to my attention when covering opera singer Kathleen Battle’s version with Harrell and being led from that to the divine version by the Divine One, Sarah Vaughan. I like Monheit’s too, which has not only Harrell but a little bit of saxophonist Michael Brecker at the bookends.

I am familiar with most of the American Songbook and probably have known Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman’s 1934 standard Blame It On My Youth — in fact I find it in my library by vocalists Carmen McRae and Eden Atwood and instrumentalists Keith Jarrett and Ken Peplowski (who with his version takes us to school on how to tell a story on the horn, nice) — but Monheit’s sounds fresh to me.

Any number of the songs on this album are amenable to either wit & sass or balladry, and it seems to me Monheit opted strictly for the latter (contrast her and Betty Carter doing Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, for example). Perhaps that is suggested by the title of the album. Once I accepted this (once I agreed to dream with her, that is), I came to like it a lot (not just the Harrell tracks).

Janis Siegel was born July 23, 1952, so she was about forty-nine when she made I Wish You Love. To me, that is young! Anyway, speaking of wit & sass, my instinct is that this kid from Brooklyn and veteran of latter day Tin Pan Alley (she calls it “the Brill Building environment”) would be amused by the juxtaposition with “the new thing” half her age. Siegel started her career as a matter of fact with girl friends who called themselves The Younger Generation (hear her tell it).

I Wish You Love is one of Siegel’s occasional solo albums, while she is best known as one of the vocalists in The Manhattan Transfer. And besides causing me to refresh my memory of songs from The Manhattan Transfer (I like to think I am The Boy From New York City!), I have enjoyed this album. On it she performs with the “nightclub trio” of Cedar Walton (piano), David Williams (bass), and Winard Harper (drums), with some tracks spiced up with vibraphone (Bill Ware) or saxophone (David “Fathead” Newman) or trumpet. The three tracks with Harrell are The Late Late Show, The Masquerade Is Over, and I Wish You Love. Bob Blumenthal recounts in the liner notes that in its genesis this album morphed from one of Brill era ditties into one of songs identified with a female singer, so comparisons are again welcome.

Tom’s muted trumpet introduces The Late Late Show (was the female singer in mind Dakota Staton?). Harrell and, especially effectively, Fathead Newman on both tenor sax and flute play on (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over, which of course invokes Nancy Wilson’s version with Cannonball Adderley (speaking of a self-confident young lady in her mid-twenties). As Blumenthal puts it, you can take Siegel out of The Manhattan Transfer but you can’t completely take The Transfer out of Siegel. My local Philadelphia DJ never lets me forget Gloria Lynn’s I Wish You Love (and I’m not complaining). Here Siegel uses a couple of background vocalists as she starts off her version, before transitioning to a finger poppin’, congas-propelled rendition that is complemented perfectly by an ‘always with swing’ Harrell, who reminds me a little of Roy Eldridge here.

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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