Coming August 22/29 The World Stage Performance Gallery
Pocket Jazz Series Saturday August 22, 7:30pm
The Genius of DUKE PEARSON:Thanks Uncle Duke
Uncle Duke Legacy Band–Bobby WEST pianist/music director, Reggie Carson bassist,Ishmael Hunter drums,Derf Reklaw Flute/sax/percussion, Pat Sligh , Mechelle LaChaux and Jana Wilson Vocals; M.C./Poet:Robert J. Carmack
posted by CHUCK KOTON, Photo Journalist Contributor
“ I was in the learning stage and I was going to jam sessions with guys who became the cats. ”
With an auspicious name like Sonny Fortune, could there be any doubt that this man would find success and fulfillment down whatever path he chose to follow in life. Fortune-ately for jazz lovers, he focused his talent and energy on the saxophone. Fortune’s destiny began at the beguine-ing; he was born at the right time, May 19,1939, and at the right place, Philadelphia. While the City of Brotherly Love has been considered a second-tier jazz city by some, Philly indisputably gave birth to and nurtured a long list of great musicians,many of whom went on to gain wider recognition after moving to New York.
The city’s fertile jazz ground may have first been seeded when bebop genius Dizzy Gillespie moved there from North Carolina in 1935. And those early seeds were surely fruitful and did multiply. John Coltrane’s family moved there(also from North Carolina), putting down roots on the city’s North Side in 1943. A short list of the many great players born there includes the Heath Brothers (Percy,Jimmy and Albert), Benny Golson, McCoy Tyner, Lee Morgan,Pat Martino and, more recently, Christian McBride and Joey De Francesco.
In a city with such a hip and historic jazz scene, Sonny Fortune did not have to go far to explore the music that would become his passion. In fact, he didn’t have to leave North Philly. “The scene was great,” Fortune says.”It [jazz] wasn’t something I had to go seek. The music was prevalent right there in the neighborhood.[Drummer] Sherman Ferguson lived about two blocks from me,and we ended up putting together the first band I played in.[Saxophonist] Odean Pope lived two blocks from me. Hasaan,the pianist, lived there. It was a very vibrant time.”
However, even though Fortune was born into this jazz incubator, he didn’t thrive immediately. He had picked up an alto saxophone but packed it away without making the necessary commitment to master the instrument. So what motivated Fortune to seriously pursue the music? “I had a horn and had become a little discouraged,” Fortune explains,”but at some point…Well, I guess it was my day job. I was working at a corrugated box factory, and it was clear that job was going nowhere. I was always having issues with my boss, trying to get better wages and better working conditions. I decided I had this horn in my closet. I didn’t know about any programs [job training], but I had this horn. It was at this point that I started practicing four hours a day after I got back from work.”
Once Fortune became more proficient, there was no shortage of jam sessions where he could really get a jazz education. “Oh man, there were a lot of cats there,” says Fortune. “Cats from North Philly, South Philly..Germantown guys…I was in the learning stage and I was going to jam sessions with guys who became the “cats”. [Bassist]Reggie Workman, [pianist] Kenny Barron…I had to sit there for the longest time waiting to play a tune I knew. These cats weren’t gonna accommodate me.”
Sonny’s neighbor, Odean Pope, suggested a way he could get more playing time. “I was frustrated,” Fortune continues, “but Pope said I should try and find some guys who were my peers and start a band. So I started a band with Sherman Ferguson and a couple of other guys from the neighborhood.” It was around this point in his development as a musician that Fortune began seriously listening to the music of another Philly saxophonist, John Coltrane, who would become his life-long inspiration. Fortune has admitted that when he first listened to Coltrane’s playing with Miles Davis, he didn’t think Coltrane knew what he was doing. However, after hearing My Favorite Things (Atlantic, 1960) at a friend’s house, he was blown away. He bought the album the next day and Coltrane’s spirit has imbued Fortune’s life and music ever since. Sonny even studied at the legendary Granoff School because “Trane went there.”
After paying his dues and achieving a professional level of proficiency, Fortune packed his bags and his horns and moved to New York City. He had learned all he could in Philadelphia, now he had to put himself to the test and go where all the great musicians lived and worked. In the late 1960s he began playing with the great Cuban conguero, Mongo Santamaria, and, as the band spent a great deal of time in Los Angeles, Sonny briefly relocated to the West Coast. However, the laid back vibe of L.A. was not inspirational enough and he returned to New York, where, after playing with Elvin Jones, Fortune joined the band of one of those great musicians from the old neighborhood in Philly, McCoy Tyner. Although they were somewhat familiar with each other from Philadelphia, years would pass before they became friends. “My ex-wife and I would be sitting on the steps and I’d see him walking in the neighborhood and at dances,” says Fortune, “but I really didn’t get to know him until I played with him at this gig in Chester,Pennsylvania .
During his years with Tyner (1972-74), Fortune established himself as one of the most dynamic sax players on the scene. His playing on several of Tyner’s recordings, including Sahara and Song For My Lady, both released in 1972 on Milestone, already displayed his signature intense, urgent modal sound. After this productive association it was time to move on and up. In two years, Fortune would be touring and recording with the legendary Miles Davis during the trumpeter’s electric fusion years. From his experience with Davis, Fortune “learned the importance of the rhythm section,” a lesson that would serve him well throughout his career.
Many years have passed since Fortune took control of his own destiny and embarked on a journey of musical discovery. Just think, if labor relations had been cool in that Philly box factory,
Sonny Fortune might never have pulled his alto out of the closet. Thank God for that day job!
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Mr. Jones, a fixture of the Coltrane group from late 1960 to early 1966 and for more than three decades the leader of several noteworthy groups of his own, was the first great post-bebop percussionist. Building on the innovations of the jazz modernists Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, who liberated the drum kit from a purely time-keeping function in the 1940’s, he paved the way for a later generation of drummers who dispensed with a steady rhythmic pulse altogether in the interest of greater improvisational freedom. But he never lost that pulse: the beat was always palpable when he played, even as he embellished it with layer upon layer of interlocking polyrhythms.
The critic and historian Leonard Feather explained Mr. Jones’s significance this way: “His main achievement was the creation of what might be called a circle of sound, a continuum in which no beat of the bar was necessarily indicated by any specific accent, yet the overall feeling became a tremendously dynamic and rhythmically important part of the whole group.”
But if the self-taught Mr. Jones had a profound influence on other drummers, not many of them directly emulated his style, at least in part because few had the stamina for it. None of the images that the critics invoked to describe his playing — volcano, thunderstorm, perpetual-motion machine — quite did justice to the strength of his attack, the complexity of his ideas or the originality of his approach.
Elvin Ray Jones was born in Pontiac, Mich., on Sept. 9, 1927. The youngest of 10 children, he was the third Jones brother to become a professional musician, following Hank, a respected jazz pianist who is still active, and Thad, a cornetist, composer, arranger and bandleader, who died in 1986.
He began teaching himself to play drums at 13, but he had lost his heart to the instrument long before then. “I never wanted to play anything else since I was 2,” he told one interviewer. “I would get these wooden spoons from my mother and beat on the pots and pans in the kitchen.”
After spending three years in the Army he joined his brothers as a fixture on the busy Detroit jazz scene of the early 1950’s. As the house drummer at a local nightclub, the Bluebird Inn, he worked with local musicians like Tommy Flanagan and Kenny Burrell as well as visiting jazz stars like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.
In 1956 after briefly touring with the bassist Charles Mingus and the pianist Bud Powell, Mr. Jones moved to New York, where he was soon in great demand as an accompanist. He occasionally sat in with Miles Davis, and he later recalled that Coltrane, who was then Davis’s saxophonist, promised to hire Mr. Jones whenever he formed his own group. In the fall of 1960 Coltrane made good on that promise.
Working with Coltrane, a relentless musical explorer, emboldened Mr. Jones to expand the expressive range of his instrument. “My experience with Coltrane,” he told the writer James Isaacs in 1973, “was that John was a catalyst in my finding the way that drums could be played most musically.” He in turn influenced Coltrane, Mr. Jones’s ferocious rhythms goading Coltrane to ecstatic heights in performance and on recordings like “A Love Supreme” and “Ascension.”
Coltrane’s quartet helped redefine the concept of the jazz combo. Mr. Jones and the other members of the rhythm section, the pianist McCoy Tyner and the bassist Jimmy Garrison, did not accompany Coltrane so much as engage him in an open-ended four-way conversation. Audiences found the group’s intensity galvanizing, and many critics shared their enthusiasm.
But despite its popularity, the group divided the jazz world. John Tynan of Down Beat magazine dismissed its music as “anti-jazz,” and others agreed. Mr. Jones’s drumming, a revelation to some listeners, was dismissed by others as overly busy and distractingly loud.
Mr. Jones left the group in March 1966, shortly after Coltrane, as part of his constant quest for new sounds, began adding musicians. Although he never publicly explained why he left, he was widely believed to have been insulted by Coltrane’s decision to hire a second drummer.
Mr. Jones spent two weeks with Duke Ellington’s big band and briefly worked in Paris before returning to the United States, where he formed a trio with Garrison, who had also recently left Coltrane, and the saxophonist Joe Farrell. That group was short-lived, but Mr. Jones continued to lead small groups for the rest of his life. Over the years many exceptional musicians passed in and out of the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, as the ensemble came to be known in all its various incarnations, and the group performed regularly all over the world and recorded prolifically.
“ The music this band plays recalls the ‘fire music’ Lawrence inhaled during his many years in McCoy Tyner’s band.” Chuck Koton
There ain’t no denyin’ that jazz is best heard “live.” Ideally, the band is playing in a club equipped with quality sound and lighting systems, staffed by experienced people who are respectful of the music (especially bartenders who try to avoid running the drink mixers during bass and piano solos) and managed by someone who not only sees to it that the players are properly introduced but also always reminds the audience to keep the chatter subdued, so as not to disrespect the performers. In such an ideal environment, a hip and enthusiastic audience can interact with inspired jazz musicians to create a truly sublime musical experience. All of these conditions were met at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola when tenor and soprano saxophonist, Azar Lawrence, played four sold out nights at Dizzy’s, occasioned by a CD release party for The Seeker (Sunnyside, 2014), recorded live at the Jazz Standard.
The gig offered visceral and indisputable evidence of the emotional and spiritual power of live jazz. Lawrence, who has been traveling on a personal journey in search of truth and beauty through music since he was a young man, opened his performance (he was joined by the same group who played on the recording, save for veteran trumpet master, Eddie Henderson, who replaced Nicholas Payton for this gig), with an original composition, “Gandhi,” inspired by the legendary Indian seeker of peace and freedom. This modal burner instantly signaled the band’s serious intentions to the audience; this was going to be a “hold on to your hats” wild ride. Lawrence blew a forceful snake charmer riff on tenor before stepping aside to give the rhythm section some space. The heavy, percussive quality of pianist Benito Gonzalez’ playing immediately recalled the sledgehammer left hand of McCoy Tyner, a fundamental influence not only on Gonzalez, but also Lawrence, whose big break in jazz came when he joined Tyner’s band in 1973, and with whom he toured and recorded for six years. Then, Henderson strode to the microphone and blew a minimalist and gentle solo that provided appropriate contrast to the band’s surging power. Then Lawrence returned, blew chorus after breathless chorus, and left everyone in need of a drink. On “One More Time,” a Benito Gonzalez composition, the highlight was, unquestionably, the rhythm section’s 10 minute improvisatory excursion. With a diamond cutter’s finesse, exuberant spirit and a dominatrix’s talent for restraint and unbridled power, these three cats rocked the room. Taking the first solo, Gonzalez, head, torso and hands a blur of motion, nearly ascended off the piano bench as his supple fingers pounded rumbling chords out of the eighty eight keys. Next, long time fixture on the NY scene, bassist Essiet Essiet, not content to merely pluck the strings, put on his own jaw-dropping display of rhythmic prowess by punctuating his beats with dramatic bass slaps. Finally, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts took over. His “Tainness” built up the tempo and intensity slowly, but soon he was “droppin’ bombs” and beatin’ the drums and cymbals as if they were covered with the face of a grade school teacher who’d punished him for tapping on his desk.
All the while, a beatific smile beamed from his sweat-drenched face. Yeah, while these cats were “workin,’ steamin,’ and cookin,’ the audience was finger snappin’ and head boppin’ in spirited unity. The band slowed down the pace with “Rain Ballad,” a stirring plea to the heavens that opened with Watts’ dramatic bass drum mimicking distant thunder, followed by shimmering cymbals that simulated life-giving, falling rain. Then Lawrence, like a rain god, answered the prayer with his lush tenor tone and Dr. Henderson reached into his “medical” bag for a mute, then blew with barely enough air to coax the sweetest sounds from his horn. The cats left no doubt they could jam in a “sweet and lovely” style, too. Next came the title tune, “The Seeker,” a medium tempo compositon by Lawrence that conjured up images of child-like innocence and joy, like the feeling of awe experienced on a first walk through a garden abuzz with the spectacle of life in spring time. Lawrence, on soprano, sounded like the pied piper leading the children on a journey of discovery. Eddie Henderson called on his six decades of experience to blow a solo that employed the trumpet’s entire range of tones from sweet and “midnight blue,” to hot and bright. Behind the horn soloists, Gonzalez, Essiet and the irrepressible Watts drove the rhythm relentlessly.
About Writer –
Chuck Koton has been a jazz lover for 40 years and is currently covering the Los Angeles jazz scene for All About Jazz (AAJ). “I grew up in New York and since high school, I have spent much quality time hangin’ at the Village Vanguard and many other jazz clubs. I’m an educator and jazz photographer, now living in Los Angeles.”
BENEATH THE SPIN Posted by Eric L. Wattree via #blues2jazzguy
I went to Shelly’s Manhole with some older brothers to see Thelonious Monk one night, and I noticed that Monk kept looking over at me as he was playing. It made me nervous because I was under age and I thought he was gonna give me up and tell ’em to kick me out. They already knew me at the clubs around town. I knew damn near every waitress in this city. Sometimes they’d let me stay, and other times they’d kick me out – I never did figure out what made the difference. And they’d never serve me drinks, so I’d have to order something non-alcoholic and bring my own. But I wanted to be accepted as a sophisticated adult more than anything in life, so sometime I’d put the bass in my voice and try to casually order Scotch on the rocks. But the waitress would just look at me sideways like, “You’re lucky I’m letting you stay here, so don’t push it, buddy.” . One or two of the waitresses who’d been around for a while knew my mother when she was working as a greeter at Dynamite Jackson’s, and I think they put the word out on me. So they’d tolerate me, but they just wouldn’t let me be the man who I wanted to be so desperately, because I wasn’t. It’s sort of funny when I look back on it. Had I been sophisticated enough to know what adulthood actually entailed, I would have been more desperate to hold on to those precious years than was I to become an adult. . So I just kept coming back and braving the humiliation, because from the time I was 12 years old I loved everything, and everybody, associated with jazz. I got that gene from my father. As I’ve said many times before, my father thought the only reason the Sun came up was to keep Bird’s reeds warm. I had to fight the preacher at his funeral to have Jackie McLean playing “Love and Hate” in the background. I told the preacher if they don’t have jazz in Heaven, the Pearly Gates would constitute the entrance to Hell for my father. The irony was, when I was done reading the eulogy that I’d written for my father (Blues For Mr. C), with Jackie Playing softly in the background, that very same preacher came up to me and asked me for a copy. . On that particular night, however, after his first set, Monk walked up to me and TOLD me, “Come with me.” He took me back to the musician’s lounge where Nelly was, and asked, “Who does he remind you of?” And she said, “TOOTIE!” – Monk’s son. . He saw me as a young wide-eyed joke, and I was. I was 16 and on a roll (I had just seen John Coltrane a couple of weeks earlier). Monk asked me, “What you know about jazz, boy?” And I started telling him about all the urban legends that I’d heard about him. As he was listening intently to one of my stories he asked me, “Damn! What did I do then!!!?” You have to know how Monk was to know why I look back on that as being so funny, because he was dead serious. He got into the story like I was telling him a story about someone else. I never did find out whether the story was true or not. But When I was done, he told his wife, Nelly, “Shit, he knows more about me than I do,” and they started laughing’ their asses off. . I spent that entire night with them, because I was so young that Nelly was worried that I was gonna be picked up by one of those,”Hollywood perverts.” Monk told Nelly, “Shit,who you should be worried about is (Blank)? ” – his drummer (I’m not gonna give his name because he’s famous and he’s never been outed as gay). But for the rest of the night I sat in the front row next to Nelly, and after the gig I went to their hotel room with them and we grubbed and talked. I told him how I planned on becoming a great saxophone player someday, and I asked him everything I could think of about Bird. I remember him telling me, “Naw, you don’t want to be Bird, unless you like bein’ broke. How much money you got?” I had about five dollars in my pocket. And he said, “Shit, you already richer than Bird was half the time,” and then started laughing’. Nelly said, “Don’t say that, T!” They dropped me off at my mother’s door just as the Sun was coming up. It was a night I will never forget. . After that episode, the OGs made me a celebrity in the hood. I’ve never had that much attention before, or since. I had attracted the interest of THELONIOUS MONK. EVERYBODY wanted to know EVERY detail of what went down, and every detail about Monk that they could get – everybody, including Jimmy, the brilliant dope fiend that my father had hired to teach me to play the saxophone. There are a lot of details that I’ve left out of this story, and I remember every detail like it happened last night, but I do intend to write about it, and every nuance of that great man in the most minute detail in the near future, because it’s of historic significance. People STILL don’t realize how great that man was. You can listen to “Ruby My Dear,” or “Round Midnight,” and they constitute a MASTER’S CLASS on what contemporary music is all about. I could appreciate that even back then. So I thank God that I had the sense to know that I was in the presence of immortality. . I also intend to write about an entire New Years weekend that I spent with Dexter Gordon during the 70s. He grew up two blocks from my mother and they both went to Jefferson High School here in Los Angeles. She graduated; he went on the road with Lionel Hampton at 17 years old. During that weekend Dex made a passing comment regarding how I idolized him that ended up becoming the guiding philosophy of my life – “Learn to become your own hero, because you’re the only one who won’t let you down.” He also told me, “Whenever you hear me play a lick, your very first thought should be about how you could go about playing it better.” He was right, and that was the key to his greatness. Lester Young was his main man, and you could hear Lester in him, but he wasn’t Lester – he was Dexter, and nobody did it better. But he was wrong about one thing. He never did let me down. He blew the lights out until his very last breath. But I’ve taken him at his word, nevertheless, and he became my last hero. That’s turned me into a severe cynic over the years, and that very cynicism has been of tremendous value to me as a writer. I don’t trust the word of nobody, so I start off every piece I write by probing for lies.
posted by Eric L. Wattree via R.J. Carmack #blues2jazzguy
Quincy Jones is one of the last truly GREAT composers and arrangers to come out of jazz, or any other form of music, in quite some time. NOBODY is greater, and no one ever has been. He stands among Ellington, Basie, Mancini, and Gershwin in complete comfort, so we shouldn’t take him for granted, because Quincy is easily among the greatest men who have ever lived, and that’s not meant as hyperbole.
Yes, we already recognize him as a celebrity, but he’s much more than just that. Due to our contemporary philosophy of “de-education” – or the dumbing-down of society – we fail to recognize Quincy’s true statue as an artist, or what he represents to the history of music as a whole. Quincy Jones is not just famous, he’s an icon of the arts of a historic stature, and we should all recognize and honor such greatness within our midst, because there is nothing of more value to humanity than those who have achieved Quincy’s level of excellence, greatness, and accomplishment.
People such as Quincy enhance all of humanity. They serve as living testaments to what man is capable of at his best. Their contributions represent the ultimate political, spiritual, and moral statement of mankind as a whole. They also stand as a constant reminder of what man can, and should be, and of the kind of excellence that we should all strive for.
Thus, this is my tribute to a GREAT man, and a great artist, who has managed to achieve the ultimate in our human endeavor – immortality. (The lyrics were written to be sang by a woman).
. QUINTESSENCE lyrics by ERIC WATTREE
I____ love the sound____ of maestro\Quincy Jones____.
His music____ is so____ divine______.
When I sing____his songs____ I know I can’t____go wrong,
because I’m filled____with the soul____of Quincy Jones______.
Q’s____serenades_____ are always so refined________
The mel-o-dies linger____ on_____.
They sing of love for you____from a guy_______ known
A name____that will always_______ sing for
And then when Phil____ begins to play,
Quin-tes-sence\in his\own____and special way____
he seems to know\ . . . . exactly what the Q had to say.
They sung about jazz and love\ and of \ling___er___ing
and______ blessed the dawn________with this song__
They sung of love\ and when your heart is full,
trem-bl-ing lips\ beneath a mistletoe____
they made my heart____ stand still_______.
So as I sing____ this song____ I know I\Just\ can’t____ go wrong______,
because it flowed____ from the pen ____ of
Maestro, Quincy Jones______.
I____ love the sound____ of maestro\Quincy Jones____.
His music____ is so____ divine______.
When I sing____his songs____ I know I can’t____go wrong,
because I’m filled____with the soul____of Quincy Jones______.
And then when Phil began to play\ Q just let him have____ his own way_____,
and Phil said, \”Maestro\ . . . I just love the sound of this
Then picked up his horn\ and started to
soar________like an angel__________,
and joined____ the immortals____ in fame_____.
Genius like this\ you never see no more____, \kissed
by the Gods\ as they walk through the door;
\A genius where time____stands still___________.
So as I sing___ his song______I know I____
can’t________ go wrong_________,
because I am wrapped\ in the soul_____ of Maestro____ Quincy Jones______.
Beauty is Q’s genre, and
he uses our heartstrings as his ax.
The fabulous Quincy Jones and the great Clark Terry!
INVITATION by Q and Orchestra with sax solo by Phil Woods
About the writer
Eric L. Wattree is a writer, poet, and musician, born in Los Angeles. He’s a columnist for The Los Angeles Sentinel, Black Star News, The Atlanta Post, and a member of the Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists (http://www.spj.org/). He’s also the author of “A Message From the Hood.”
“Some of the greatest minds I’ve ever known held court while sitting on empty milk crates in the parking lots of ghetto liquor stores, while some of the weakest minds I’ve ever known roamed the halls of academia in pursuit of credentials over knowledge.”
posted by Robert J. Carmack #blues2jazzguy Howard McGhee (born: March 6, 1918 in Tulsa, Oklahoma – Died:July 17, 1987 in New York City) was one of the first bebop jazz trumpeters, together with Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro and Idrees Sulieman. He was known for his fast fingers and very high notes. What is generally not known is the influence that he had on younger hard bop trumpeters, together with Fats Navarro.
Howard McGhee was raised in Detroit, Michigan. During his career, he played in bands led by Lionel Hampton, Andy Kirk, Count Basie and Charlie Barnet. He was in a club listening to the radio when he first heard Parker and was one of the early adopters of the new style, a fact that was disapproved by older musicians like Kid Ory. (Thelonious Monk and Howard McGhee, Minton’s Playhouse, ca. September 1947) In 1946–47, some record sessions for the new label Dial were organized at Hollywood with Charlie Parker and the Howard McGhee combo. The first was held on July 29, 1946. The musicians were Charlie Parker (as), Howard McGhee (tp), Jimmy Bunn (p), Bob Kesterson (b), and Roy Porter (d). The titles played were “Max is Making Wax”, “Lover Man”, “The Gypsy” and “Be-bop”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6EhnFlWAFg
posted by Justin Scoville-musician,composer, educator,blogger
CAL MASSEY 1928-1972
Imagine the mid-1960’s in Brooklyn. You are strolling down New York Avenue to St. Gregory’s Church, where a benefit concert is being held to raise funds for a neighborhood playground. You are surprised to see John Coltrane’s Quartet playing A Love Supreme, with the great Rashaan Roland Kirk on the bandstand as guest artist. Not only that, but Thelonious Monk is hanging out in the wings, ready to play a few tunes as well. This is no ordinary charity event. Who could have organized such a performance? Who would have the clout to pull such heavyweight players in for a community benefit? Duke Ellington? Tadd Dameron, perhaps?
Wrong on both counts. You are surprised to see Trane greet a short, somewhat overweight gentleman holding a trumpet who seems to be in charge of the event. Tapping the shoulder of the person next to you, you inquire who Trane is talking to. The incredulous response: “Why, that’s CalMassey. He’s a living legend.”
Fast forward to the present day. Few casual fans of Jazz recognize the name. Sadly ignored by countless Jazz critics,Massey (1928-1972) was revered by the foremost musicians of his day as a genius of composition and a solid trumpeter. John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Archie Shepp, and many others actively performed Massey‘s works. He was a forceful activist for the Black Liberation Movement and was seen as a pillar of his community.
Who was CalMassey? What is his legacy? How can a man simultaneously be ignored by many but held in high regard by such luminaries as John Coltrane and Archie Shepp?
Massey‘s family moved to Philadelphia in his teenage years, where by a chance encounter he earned a spot in Jimmy Heath’s big band trumpet section. This particular group featured an alto saxophone player that immediately captivated Massey: John Coltrane. The two became lifetime friends. Family and friends recall the two talking about music for hours on end.
During the 40’s and 50’s, Massey began to hone his craft as a composer. Under the tutelage of Freddie Webster and constant interaction with the giants of his time (like Miles Davis, Coltrane, and others), Massey distinguished himself as a musical force to be reckoned with.
It was during this period that Massey met Romulus Franceshini, an Italian-American musician and socialist. The two formed an important musical and ideological partnership until Massey‘s passing, with Franceshini often conducting Massey‘s groups.
An Underground Hero
Fred Ho, the late baritone saxophonist and Massey expert, relates that in the early 1960’s, Massey stepped into an elevator with Francis Wolff, co-owner of the iconic Blue Note records. According to Massey‘s wife Charlotte, Massey attempted to speak to Wolff, but Wolff ignored him. Out of frustration, Massey kicked Wolff as he left the elevator. From then on, Massey was effectively blacklisted by Blue Note and other prominent record labels. If true, this would perhaps explain Massey‘s relative obscurity in the Jazz legacy.
Despite his troubles with the music industry, Massey was entering his most creative period. He contributed to Coltrane’s Africa/Brass sessions, notably “The Damned Don’t Cry,” which would become part of his seminal work The Black Liberation Movement Suite. Massey collaborated extensively with the young lion of the time Archie Shepp, whose discography is populated by many Massey originals. Like Massey, Shepp was a musical activist, as illustrated by the acclaimed Attica Bluesalbum and other self-produced recordings.
The Black Liberation Movement Suiteis Massey‘s masterpiece, thrusting him onto the same level as fellow composers and contemporaries Sun Ra and Charles Mingus. It was premiered at the first of a series of benefit concerts for the Black Panthers, but has rarely been performed since the 1970’s. More recently, Fred Ho rerecorded the suite with a large group ensemble, Each movement has a close connection to the B.L.M., with some numbers dedicated to heroes of the Civil Rights movement like Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Massey constantly was battling poor health and succumbed to illness in 1972, beloved by his community and peers, but unknown to many.
If the opinion of a musician’s peers count for anything, then CalMassey certainly deserves to be held in the highest regard, carrying on the tradition of Ellington, Mingus, Hubbard and other geniuses of composition in the Jazz tradition. Critical acclaim does not necessarily equate to artistic greatness, and sometimes an artist’s integrity to his or her beliefs may alienate the recording industry.
Massey took matters into his own hands, either self-producing his albums or performing music directly to his family and community, eschewing profit for artistic greatness. As time goes on, hopefully the Jazz community at large will perform and appreciate Massey‘s works for many years to come.
We haven’t featured a jazz musician for a while and today’s spotlight falls on one of the best, alto saxophonist Sonny Criss. A contemporary of Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker — in fact, he played alongside him in the early years — Criss was an early bloomer musically, but his career reached a sad and abrupt end when he took his own life at just age fifty.
William ‘Sonny’ Criss was a Memphis native who hit the ground running, moving to Los Angeles at age fifteen and working his way into the music business soon after. It was right in the middle of World War II so that might have helped create some openings in bands, but Criss had the talent to make it in any case. He was still in his teens when the war ended and along about then was playing in a band with Parker and other pros, guys…
posted by Justin Scoville – composer/musician/educator
On December 27, 1962, Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) headed into the studio with Jazz Messenger bandmates Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Cedar Walton (piano), and Reggie Workman (bass) to cut “Here to Stay,” a classic Blue Note album which also featured veteran Philly Joe Jones (drums). Overshadowed by “Hubtones” (1962) and “The Body and the Soul” (1963), “Here to Stay” wasn’t released until 1979. It showcases Hubbard’s trumpet and composing chops in his early prime, and is well worth a dedicated listening session.
“Philly Mignon” kicks off the album with Hubbard displaying his virtuosity at lightning speed, prodded onward and upward by Jones’ energetic drum work. “Father and Son” is a Cal Massey original which contrasts the rhythm section’s Latin-tinged groove, anchored by Jones’ work on his tom-toms. Shorter leads the opening statement of the standard “Body and Soul” before giving way to Hubbard’s shimmering, fragile ballad work. “Nostrand and Fulton” is a modal waltz that allows Shorter showcase his unique tenor saxophone sound and phrasing on a spirited solo. Workman and Walton, as on all the other tracks, connect almost telepathically to create a hypnotic background. “Full Moon and Empty Arms” is an obscure standard which is expertly interpreted by the group, and “Assunta,” another Massey original, blends Hubbard’s clarion tone with Shorter’s pensive counter melody.
“Here to Stay” is a beautiful, innovative record with Hubbard and Shorter displaying the chemistry and top form that made their incarnation of the Jazz Messengers so notable in Jazz history.
This post was contributed by Denver-based musician Justin Scoville. He maintains his own website www.thejazzdaddy.com, He contributes actively to Hipster Sanctuary.com and jazz blogs throughout the Denver area.