Top 50 JAzz Blog

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Safety In Numbers-by Steve Provizer

The trigger for this was reading that today is Annie Ross' birthday. As far as I'm concerned (and it's a safe bet no one else is), there has never been a greater female 'parts' singer than Annie. Not just parts, but the vocalese solos she sang with Lambert and Hendricks. Fantastic range, intonation and phrasing. I never saw her live, but her recorded work isn't in the same league. There's a lot of ancillary reasons-inferior accompaniment and repertoire among them, but her voice was her voice and, in the end, she simply stopped compelling attention when she sang on her own. Jazz history is full of people who could arguably be put into that category. Does their work suddenly lose all merit when they step out and take on a heavier career burden? Of course not. But, ironically, their identities as musicians were the result of playing relationships with other, more "leader"-type musicians, or found within the safety of a larger ensemble. Here are some possibilities: A number of people away from Ellington-Webster, Cootie, Hodges, Cat Anderson; Basie people fared a bit better, I think (Did Herschel ever record on his own?); Junior Cook away from Horace Silver; some Mingus guys-Knepper, Curson, Hillyer; did Wynton Kelly ever sound as good as he did with Miles? Art Farmer worked less well without the Jazztet... For each, there's a different set of explanations for why they achieved some kind of synergy with a person or group and why moving away from that, to some degree, seemed to dissipate their musical power. I'm curious to see how the Royal Readership responds to those I've mentioned as well as its suggestions about others who fit this pattern.

13 comments:

Tiny Iota said...

dude, check out wynton on "blues on purpose" from the complete live at the half note. seriously smokin'.

rob chalfen said...

yeah some of Wynton's solo stuff is amazing...

Rhythm Boys sans Bing? Pffff...

Hershel I dont think ever had his own dates but there is some notable sideman stuff with Harry James & Lionel Hampton. Anyway he died too early to know, '39. Easily see him like Ike Quebec leading sessions on Blue Note.

Ellington guys tended to gravitate back because he was such a force, and knew how to write for them, which may have spoiled them somewhat, but not everyone has leader genes. Bird could never stay a sideman but Hodges seemed comfortable. Blakey and Miles rean 'pod' schools where everyone was jettisoned after a while, and usually did well.

DJA said...

Yeah, Wynton Kelly is a poor example. Even his solo on "Green Dolphin Street" from Kelly Blue is superior to any of the versions of that tune he recorded with Miles.

Same goes for Art Farmer, whose 1970s recordings surpass the JazzTet stuff -- which, of course, he co-led, so he wasn't a sideman even then.

Steve Provizer said...

Points taken inre Wynton. But, there's a space in my head that wants to hear him comp and that savors the fact that a Miles or Mobley entrance will be coming up. For me, the interplay among them elevates it beyond what Wynton does in other contexts.

I'm most familiar with 50's Farmer and was working off memory with later work, but will revisit it.

Thanks for the comments.

Steve Provizer said...

We had another vote on Twitter for Farmer away from Jazztet... Also: " Don Cherry w/o Ornette maybe?"

I'd say strictly for trumpet playing-yea. But Cherry changed his direction pretty radically, which moves it into almost an apples-oranges comparison. Love Cherry on "Escalator Over the Hill."

Vague comparable to Cherry's move: Paul Horn's move from West Coast cool to the Taj Mahal.

IanCareyJazz said...

That was me seconding Art's solo stuff--no dig on Jazztet, but "Art" and "Live at the Half Note" are on a whole other level to me, not to mention his 80s bands.

I'm rethinking the Don Cherry suggestion, for the reasons you mentioned--I think I was just thinking about how monumental the Ornette Quartet was to the canon that anything else would pale, but he really did head off into many eclectic dimensions later (as did Ornette), some of which are really great.

Here's a thought: Woody Shaw. His Columbia albums have their fine moments, but to me they don't come close to the staying power of his sideman gigs with Horace, Larry Young, McCoy, Chick Corea, Stanley Cowell, etc.

Steve Provizer said...

Yes, Woody. I basically agree with you, although I admire Woody's attempt to continue to carve out his own compositional space. I also think declining health played a part.

I saw him take on an upstart youthful Wallace Roney in DC in 1979. They played Mr. PC and Woody scorched him. Then, I video taped Woody in 1986 in Cambridge. The difference was painful to see and hear. He just had a lot of health issues that were getting the best of him.

gmoke said...

Saw Annie Ross with Jon Hendricks at the Regatta during the stint they did there years ago. They rocked the joint. I'm looking at some sketches Bill Commerford did of that night right now.

Jon Hendricks sported a bowler for part of the set.

Steve Provizer said...

Hiya gmoke-thanks for your comment. Yea, the LH&R combo is unsurpassed. L and H were great scatters, apart from anything else. Plus, they let the raw edges hang out, even on their recordings. And yea, H. took to the Brit style thing--??

Another member of the peanut gallery writes:
"how about wayne shorter. george benson when he'd become successful enough to chance indulging his own taste. the beatles after break up."

For me, no question about the Beatles.

Shorter was another one of these people whose music changed pretty drastically (How come Lee Morgan never made an lp called "Drastica-lee?). So, it's another apples-oranges thing. However, my own taste runs strongly toward Wayne's work not necessarily as sideman, but as 'co-star.'

As far as Benson goes-well, you guitar players are all bound to go off the rails at some point...

jazzlives said...

There's something subtle going on here: some musicians really don't want to lead a group and feel / sound less comfortable doing so, both on recordings and on the gig. Herschel was himself wherever he turned up, though: he's on a Mildred Bailey session with Buck and Ed Hall, and a Harry James one with Buck, Stacy, Page, and Jo -- and he moans and wails wonderfully on both. The James is 1937; the Mildred 1938. John Hammond was very much a problem but we forgive him much for recording these sessions and more. Cheers!

Steve Provizer said...

Thanks, jazzlives, for the Herschel references...I alternate myself between sideman and leader and yes, there is a pressure one feels as a leader. Audience response, how the rhythm section's doing, is our bar tab gonna wipe out our pay? Will we make the train to the next gig? Not for the nervous. Basie and Ellington had the phlegmatic personality type that probably works best for leaders.

Tom C said...

You’re right. I saw Annie Ross a number of times when she was with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and she was at her best. When she recorded on her own, she didn’t have the same effect. Listen to “A Gasser!”, “Annie Ross Sings A Song of Mulligan” on Pacific Jazz or “Annie Ross Sings A Handful of Songs” on Everest.

I do take issue with Wynton Kelly with Miles. Kelly had 259 recording sessions before his death in 1970 and Wynton was “Mr. Consistency.” He rarely made a bad recording on his own and made bad recordings by other musicians better. I also disagree with you regarding Art Farmer, at least the period before the Jazztet. Go back and listen to the Art Farmer and Gigi Gryce material on Vogue or the Prestige material, such as “Early Art”, “Farmer’s Market”, or “Bennie Green And Art Farmer”. There are also the Blue Note sessions with Sonny Clark, Hank Mobley and Horace Silver. It’s the material after the Jazztet where the quality of his work begins to suffer, and one of the reasons might have been the record companies he had signed up with, such as Untied Artists and others. Hope I’m not out of line?

Tom Curry
Jazz From The Top - Zumix Radio
www.reallypissedoff.com

Steve Provizer said...

Tom-of course, not out of line. I didn't communicate well what I thought about Art. I meant to draw a dividing line-pre and post Jazztet. I agree that the pre- stuff is excellent.