Supersonic (part three) : The Performances ©JCMarion


To get to know where the influences of Rhythm & Blues came from, the best test is to hear the music. My own personal opinions as to the best of the "Supersonic Years" are the following ten recorded performances that range in time from 1944-1952. These songs are not listed in strict chronological order, but in a way that the importance and influences of each can be presented.

JATP Blues - recorded in the spring of 1946, this recording is unique in its opening as various musicians are heard just noodling around until pianist Ken Kersey starts a medium tempo jump riff and is joined by Buddy Rich on drums (who as legend has it, was just a spectator in the audience and subbed for the scheduled drummer who did not show), Irving Ashby on guitar and Billy Hadnott's walking bass. The horns jump in led by Lester Young, but as soon as Coleman Hawkins joins in on the unison sax melody, the crowd gets into it immediately. This session had one of the great killer front lines in jazz history-Hawkins, Pres, Bird, Buck Clayton, and the overlooked Willie Smith. Charlie Parker leads off, and as usual in this context of a swing to bop jam session, he soars while the others try to figure him out. Swingmaster Clayton follows with a well constructed solo. The stage is now set for one of the greatest stylists ever-Lester Young. The light airy tone that is so identifiable leads into a melodic solo. At the beginning of the third chorus comes a special moment : Young begins with a one note "ride" sequence that literally brings the crowd to its feet with a great roar of excitement. This one spontaneous reaction speaks volumes about the search by the new post war generation for their own musical identity. Willie Smith follows on alto, and then it is the turn of Coleman Hawkins. Listening to his solo will give the listener the chance to compare the two titans of the tenor. They stand as if at a crossroads for all who follow : Young and his "cool" style that launched the modern jazz era and his closest practitioners (Stan Getz, Paul Quininchette, Buddy Collette, etc.) and the "hot" sound of Hawkins heavy on grit and fire and his adherents who became the first wave of R & B (Red Prysock, Hal Singer, Al Sears, Sam Taylor, etc.). The final solo spot also is an indicator of the relationship of this style to the beginnings of rock. Irving Ashby, on electric guitar, delivers bluesy choruses and gives a hint of the sound of what was to come a decade later as a leading session guitarist in L.A.(I remember him for the original version of "Movin' and Groovin'" covered by Duane Eddy). The rideout features thunderous drumming by Buddy Rich.

Blues (parts one and two) - The opener upper for the age of Supersonic, this tune was recently listed in the New Book of Rock Lists (ed. by Dave Marsh) as the earliest entry in the category of those having legitimate claim to be the very first rock and roll record. Featured were two musicians who would attain enormous fame and fortune in the world of mainstream pop music of the early fifties-guitarist Les Paul and pianist (and vocalist) Nat Cole. Paul and Cole, joined by bassist Johnny Miller and drummer Lee Young, lay down a driving infectious beat with Cole taking a few choruses on piano. Tenor man Jack McVea leads off the horns with a driving solo. Bopper McVea would have a big hit record, his version of "Open The Door Richard" in 1947. Young modernist J.J. Johnson follows on trombone with his mellow but hot style. Next up is Illinois Jacquet, and on that night in July of 1944 a defining moment in the history of the development of R & B music and all that followed is created. Jacquet's solo has to be the wellspring from which all R & B tenor sax breaks derived. It is a wild and unpredictable ride ranging from fog horn bottoms to shreiking and squealing blasts that leave the audience (and some of the musicians) stunned. You can hear Les Paul's on mike reactions to Jacquet's riffs, and these choruses sum up the attitudes of the fanatic adherents to this style and the time-the war was winding down, the end was in sight, and the young generation was looking for their identifiable sound. On that night the first blast of the new face of American music was heard.

Blues For Norman - From the summer of 1946, this performance kicks off with some comping by Arnold Ross on piano which leads into another stellar solo by trumpeter Howard McGhee which further solidifies his stature as one of the greatest bop hornmen ever, stepping out from Dizzy's shadow. Lester Young follows, and that incredible tone and inventive phrasing make you pay attention as always. The two altos are next-first Willie Smith and then Bird, and the comparisons are obvious. Without denigrating the talent of Willie, it just shows how far ahead Charlie Parker was both musically and intellectually from all others in the field. JATP stalwarts Billy Hadnott on bass and Lee Young on drums round out the very capable rhythm section that provides the solid tempo for the soloists. The final spot belongs to Al Killian, a dimly remembered trumpeter whose specialty shown here to good advantage, was the high register assault which he does justice to.

Bellboy Blues - This mid 1945 jump tune ssstarts off with the horns stating the melody line which has a bit of an odd "Dixieland" sound to it. Any relationship to that earlier style of jazz is destroyes as soon as Flip Phillips blasts into the opening solo. What really packs a punch is the repeated accent riffs played by Trummy Young which really propels Phillips into one of the great solos in all of Supersonic. The crowd gets into it midway through the turn and it seems to inspire Phillips to greater pyrotechnics. Besides Trummy, on stage that night was Buck Clayton on trumpet and the everpresent Willie Smith on alto. Ken Kersey is the wonderful pianist, Buddy Rich on drums, and Benny Fonville this time takes the duties on the acoustic bass for this tune which, despite its frantic tempo and blasting riffs, keeps under control (though at times just barely) from beginning to end.

One O'Clock Jump - The old swing era warhorse is given the Supersonic treatment in this jam session from one of Gene Norman's "Just Jazz" get together's at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in April of 1948. The lead soloist is one of the great "lost" performers of the post war years, Wardell Gray. The name was known to me only by lyrics on a couple of Annie Ross "vocalese" records ("Farmer's Market" and of course, "Twisted"), but I soon discovered all those years ago what a great talent Gray was. His tenor sax sound is certainly steeped in the Lester Young mold, and he produced inventive and tuneful solos. Arnold Ross is once again at the piano, and he proves my theory that he never played a less than super into or solo. Wardell steps up and delivers big time, with a great solo on the well known jump tune, at first cool, then hot, and back again. Howard McGhee is again clean and crisp on the attack and is a perfect complement to Gray. Vic Dickenson a veteran trombone man, tales a nice swinging turn on the slide which makes you wonder why he was not more well regarded by casual listeners. Irving Ashby on the electric guitar continues to impress (including Gray caught by the recording mike) with another fine blues steeped solo. Red Callendar is on bass and big band vet Don Lamond is on drums to anchor the closing choruses. McGhee is on top as the swinging final ride verses build to a great climax. As the guys take their bows, an exuberant Wardell is heard shouting "great job" to all the players. Great job indeed !

Just Me Just You - Another Wardell Gray led session with the addition of Vido Musso on tenor, Benny carter on alto, and Barney Kessel on guitar. Gray delivers another fine mellow solo on his sax with fine backup by the combo of McGhee and Dickenson as a one two brass boost. Vido Musso offers listeners to compare his sound with that of Gray, much as the earlier "JATP Blues invited comparisons between Young and Hawkins.This tune offers a rare opportunity to hear long time jazzman Carter in a free wheeling jam setting. The rhythm section of Kessel, Callender, and Ross, are tremendous in keeping the pace on this pop tune from the thirties. Don Lamond gets a chance to throw some rimshots our way and Gray leads the fadeout. The tragic loss of Gray in the early 1950s robbed the music world of someone who was capable of memorable performances and great all around musicianship. (For a true tour-de-force by Gray, listen to "Blue Lou" from this same session. Not a true Supersonic tune, this one is a one man showcasing of the talents of the tenor man.)

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