Top 50 JAzz Blog

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mute-a-bility (Pt.3) by Steve Provizer

Mute regrets, I've had a few. Like, Why did the great Roy Eldridge start using a harmon mute?

Roy's tone was a pile-driver; epic, a mover of mountains. It vibrated at the highest energies. Just listen to what I think is the ripest performance in the history of swing:

Roy may have used mutes earlier, but in the 1950's, he started using them a lot and it almost reduces his sound to the level of a common mute user. Not quite. He still exudes some power; has some growl, but that only makes it harder to understand-his style doesn't really change with the adoption of the mute. He's still a power player. Roy: why did you begrudge us hearing that beautiful sound full out!!

The muted Roy

Dizzy also began using a mute-at least recording with one-in the 1950's. It makes more sense with Diz. Yes, he had a powerful and beautifully idiosyncratic sound, but he also drew from a wider palette of influences than Roy. He was a slyer player and, of course, there was the Latin influence. Here's Diz playing his composition Con Alma on open horn:

You can hear how he bends notes, dances between phrases and shapes his rhythmic patterns in unusual ways. Also, how he varies the loudness and softness of the solo. It seems very reasonable for him to undertake similar tunes with a harmon mute. Here's a beautiful duet with bass player Chris White:

Now, here are Diz and Roy, side by muted side, in their great 1954 collaboration:

Rare shot of Freddie w. mute
Many great players mostly eschewed mutes. Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Booker Little, Red Rodney and Donald Byrd. As far as I know, Clifford used them not at all. Sweets Edison's use in later life makes sense, given the bendy, inflected style he developed.

If they wanted a change in sound, it seems like the choice of some great players after 1960 was not to use mutes, but to double on fluegelhorn. See: Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Art Farmer, Chet Baker and Woody Shaw. I have a vaguely curmudgeonly take on the fluegelhorn, but we can take that up another time.

I haven't talked much about the cup mute, which was played at one time another by all the swing era players and some boppers (especially Navarro). I will close this session with some cup work by one of our greatest players-Charlie Shavers. A man with a powerhouse delivery and tone, Charlie also shaped individual tones, used a lot of smears, slides and shakes. To me, he adapts his style perfectly to the cup mute and his obligatos behind Billie are sublime.


Anonymous said...

Hi there, Steve --

I think Roy sounded great on the harmon, but he always left the tube/ application in the middle hole (as did Harry James) which gave it a pretty wild, and dirty sound.

Clifford used only the cup mute, like Fats Navarro, and Brownie sounded pretty much like Fats when he was cupped.

I love Dizzy's harmon sound, and I also like very much Don Ellis when he played with the cup.

Steve Provizer said...

Hi Brew-I guess I just don't hear enough of Roy's open horn in the 50's and on. His un-muted sound just gassed me so much. Yea, Brownie and Fats sound nice in a cup but happily, it's not the majority of what you hear from them.

As a trumpet player, I guess I see mutes useful in certain circumstances but they shouldn't be the fall back position.

Anonymous said...

Well, the mute changes your whole playing. But it's only recommended when the rhythm section would leave you enough space, and quietness, so to speak.

I always loved Miles' cup muted sound too; especially at "Solar".

It can be nice when you'd solo, only accompanied by a bass; this is my specialty:

Brew plays the blues in Bb

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, I'm not positive but I believe it was recorded in Chicago on January 28, 1937 and the vocalist was Gladys Palmer. The personnel would be Scoops Carey and Joe Eldridge on altos, Dave Young on tenor, Teddy Cole on piano, John Collins on guitar, Truck Parham on bass and Zutty Singleton on drums.

Roy was one of the few musicians who was able to transform his music from generation to generation. His last session was as a vocalist on May 24, 1985 on "S'Wonderful: Anita O'Day" at a live Carnegie Hall concert and he recorded regularly in the 1970s on Pablo with Zoot Sims, Johnny Griffin, Budd Johnson and many more. He was also a really nice guy in person and always ready to laugh! Roy was one of a Kind! Tom C.

Steve Provizer said...

Thanks, Tom.