Top 50 JAzz Blog

Friday, September 28, 2012

Maggie and Fats: Binary Stars

After looking at Fats Navarro, Howard McGhee is a reasonable next post.
Magee with Miles looking on
We'll use his nickname: Maggie. He was about 5 years older than Fats and despite also dealing with addiction, lived a lot longer (1918-1987). They were stylistic brothers and their paths crossed often. They both had the power and range to play lead and could masterfully handle bop chord changes. They were the godfathers of the fiery 1950's lineage of the trumpet; more so than Diz or Miles.

Here's Howard early on, 1942, with Andy Kirk & His Clouds of Joy playing "McGhee Special." It's strong playing, in the bravura swing-to-bop vein.

This 1945 track retains some of the R&B/jump/jive strain that Hampton and others were bringing upfront, but infused with Bird and Diz's new harmonic (and to some extent rhythmic) developments.

Here's Maggie in the well-known 1946 Dial sessions with Bird, right before Bird's breakdown and subsequent relaxation at Camarillo. Listen to Howard's virtuosic technique and mastery of bop.

Here we have the two masters together. There aren't many musical pairings-especially trumpet players- whose styles had such similar vibes. Later on, Morgan and Hubbard come to mind.

Here's Maggie in a Horace Silver context. This is a bit of a hybrid, with West Coast and "Birth of Cool" arranging ideas, "hard bop" intimations and straight bop blowing. Howard has ideas and retains flexibility, but his range is decreased and there's less fire and more cool in his tone.

Maggie did little recording in the 50's and this last track is from a 1955 session. He handles the changes nicely, but stays pretty much in the middle of the horn and throws off fewer sparks.

The Howard McGhee who broke new musical ground was a phenomenon of the 1940's, but when he made his return in the early 1960's, he was still a fluent, able trumpet player and, as this video shows, there were still flashes of fire in his playing (Note how the key of this blues goes up half steps for a bunch of choruses before it settles in to stay).

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