Wednesday, August 16, 2017

OSIE JOHNSON: An Undistinguished Distinctive Drummer

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“In studio work, you’re always under the gun. You’re expected to play the parts right no matter how difficult they are …. It’s a matter of being precise and right, all the time. It’s brain surgery, that’s what it is. And every operation has to be a success. There are no failures – a failure and you’re gone.”
- Alvin Stoller, drummer

Burt Korall, a writer who, among his other significant writings about Jazz, authored two books on Drummin’ Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz, only makes one reference to him when he cites him as “… the gifted drummer, Osie Johnson,” on page 200 of the second volume, The Bebop Years.

There is also a reference to Osie in Gary Giddins’ Vision of Jazz: The First Century where in the context of talking about Bud Powell and the drummers he performed with he notes: “He worked only with the best: Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Art Taylor, Osie Johnson – percussionists who complemented his dynamics, speed, and shifting rhythms.” [p. 321]

Outside of incidental references such as these, you’d be hard-pressed to find any information about Osie other than in the ever-reliable Encyclopedia of Jazz.

The lack of mention of Osie is made even more striking by the fact that this was a drummer who was everywhere, and I mean everywhere apparent, on the New York studio and Jazz scene especially in the 1950s and mid-1960s.

Osie worked with all of the top arrangers –Manny Albam [with whom, he was close friends], Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson, Bob Brookmeyer, Hal McKusick, Al Cohn, Gerry Mulligan, George Russell – the list is endless. The Lord Discography cites Osie’s name as having appeared on 670 recording sessions!

He toured with pianists Earl “Fatha” Hines, Erroll Garner and Dorothy Donegan as well as tenor saxophone legend Coleman Hawkins and clarinetist Tony Scott. Osie, who made his own album as a singer – A Bit of the Blues [RCA CD 74321609832] -  was a favorite of vocalists Carmen McRae and Dinah Washington, both of whom he wrote arrangements for in the 1950s.

Osie had studied theory and harmony in high school in Washington, D.C. and privately, so he knew music and was an excellent reader, both of which may help explain why he was so heavily in demand at recording sessions.

He was the staff drummer for extended periods of time on both the NBC and CBS studio orchestras in New York City and he appeared as a freelance percussionist on a slew of independent TV commercials and radio jingles.

Perhaps, part of the reason for his obscurity was due to the fact that he died in 1966 at the relatively young age of 43 from renal system infections that led to kidney failure.

Fortunately, Georges Paczynski in the second volume of his prize-winning Une Histoire de la Batterie de Jazz has three entire pages devoted to Osie and his style of drumming. Fortunately, that is, for those who read French as the work has not [to my knowledge] been translated into English.

Paczynski includes Osie along with Harold “Doc” West, Rossiere “Shadow” Wilson, Gus Johnson, Gordon “Specs” Powell and Alvin Stoller in his chapter entitled – La fin de l’ère swing - les batteurs charnières.  With charnières translated to mean “hinge” or “pivotal,” the author is grouping Osie among those drummers whom he considers to be among those who made the successful transition from the Swing Era to Bebop.

Many better known Swing Era drummers never did make this transition, among them Davy Tough and Gene Krupa.

To be able to do so was a considerable accomplishment as it required getting out of playing down into the drum kit [think hands on snare and an incessant bass drum beat] and playing up, onto the cymbals using the snare and the bass drum for accents.

Keeping time in this manner involved a total reorientation in the way in which a drummer thought about time.

Drummers like Osie and the other transition drummers in Paczynski’s grouping who accommodated the change in style did so by keeping things simple.

They became, first-and-foremost, timekeepers with a steady ride cymbal beat and an accent here and there.  Nothing complicated requiring the independence and heightened coordination of a Max Roach or a Philly Joe Jones or a Joe Morello.

More drumming to establish a pulse and to keep things moving along. Clean, simple, and staying out of the way; Osie just blended in with the musical environment instead of trying to dominate it – it was a style of drumming that was more felt than heard.

In fact, Osie’s drumming bordered on the indistinct and yet, everyone loved playing with him precisely because as Paczynski explains:

« En fait, il est absolument impossible d'identifier Osie Johnson. A l'inverse d'un musicien qui ne peut investir son jeu trop personnel et « engage » dans tous les contextes musicaux, il est capable de s'adapter avec plus ou moins de bonheur a toute proposition musicale, et est constamment sollicite en tant que tel. »

A very loose translation of which would read:

“In fact, it is absolutely impossible to identify [in the sense of classifying] Osie Johnson. He was the opposite of those who try and interject their personality into the music. Instead, he tried to contentedly fit himself into all musical contexts, and he was sought out by other musicians precisely because of his willingness to do so.”

A number of times in his essay, Paczynski stresses the fact that Osie emphasized drumming “fundamentals” in his playing: a rock solid beat, precision in the placement of accents, a perfect placement of kicks and fills and a clear and uncomplicated sound from both the drums and the cymbals.

Oh, and he was an excellent reader for as Alvin Stoller, Osie’s counterpart as an in demand studio drummer on the West Coast stated: “In studio work, you’re always under the gun. You’re expected to play the parts right no matter how difficult they are …. It’s a matter of being precise and right, all the time. It’s brain surgery, that’s what it is. And every operation has to be a success. There are no failures – a failure and you’re gone.”

More indications of what makes Osie’s style so distinctive can be found in the following question that was put to the online drummer chat group:

What do you all recommend for tuning a 5x14 brass snare to capture a tight, crisp sound with minimal after ring? The snare sound I'm after is similar to the following:

1. Osie Johnson's playing on "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" from Sonny Stitt's Now! (mp3 attached). The first 20 seconds of the track provide a good snapshot of Johnson's crisp snare sound.

In order to achieve that kind of sound, do I need to have

a) both top and bottom heads tuned the same
b) the top head tuned higher/tighter than the bottom head
c) the bottom head tuned higher/tighter than the top head
d) ??

At the moment, I have my Tama 5x14 brass snare tuned with top head close to 90 and bottom head a little over 80, I believe (according to my Drum Dial). I have a standard Remo Coated Ambassador on the batter side.

Thanks in advance for any help anyone can offer!”

An answer to this question might also serve to explain the title of our piece on Osie –An Undistinguished Distinctive Drummer.”

The title is not a Zen koan [an insoluble intellectual problem: think – “What was your true nature before you mother and father conceived you?”]

Osie Johnson was unfortunately undistinguished as a drumming stylist, and yet, his drumming was immediately discernible. He was distinctive without trying to be so.

Most of Osie’s distinctiveness did begin with the sound of his snare drum, which he tightened to within an inch of its "life." How he kept it from tearing in two is beyond me.

So the choice from the chat group options would be – “a) both top and bottom heads tuned the same”  - although a much more complete answer might address everything from the quality and composition of the maple shell that formed Osie’s snare drum to the type of drum heads he used, ad infinitum.

The most instructive portion of the chat group question is the example that was sent along with the annotation - The first 20 seconds of the track provide a good snapshot of Johnson's crisp snare sound.

We have used the very same track - "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" from Sonny Stitt's Now! - in the video below, but we would rephrase the chat group statement to read: The first 20 seconds of the track provide a good snapshot of Osie Johnson's approach to drumming.

For in addition to his distinctively crisp snare sound, this short segment reveals Osie playing time on the hi-hat before switching to the ride cymbal, his gentle but insistent sense of swing and the lightness of his touch which allowed him to fit into the music almost seamlessly.

This is a perfect illustration of the drummer as an accompanist and also the reason why melody and harmony guys loved working with Osie: his drums are not resonating and booming, his accents are not distracting and he isn’t calling attention to himself with complicated drumming figures.

On this track, Osie is a musician among a group of musicians intent on making music and therein lies the key to his success and to his distinctiveness.

Whatever the musical context – piano trio Jazz, small group Jazz or big band Jazz – Osie always sounds just right; he fits in.

And he always nails it, characteristically.

For all of his blending in, I would venture to say that anyone – musician or not – that is familiar with Osie Johnson’s playing would recognize it … “after [listening to] the first 20 seconds” of a recorded track.

Very few drummers have ever been as distinctively undistinguished as Osie Johnson.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Remembering The Mastersounds

Appearing as it did on 5/31/2008, this feature was one of the blog's earliest. And despite the difficulty in navigating the Blogger platform to "leave a comment," this feature has garnered a dozen comments over the years. Who knew that the Mastersounds were as widely popular and highly regarded by the general Jazz public

As was often the case in those "early days," the piece was posted without a video which exemplifies the music under discussion. That has now been corrected with the addition of a not-very-easy-to-find montage of images of the group and its recordings at the conclusion of this profile in the form of a Playlist

It was always been a "tough go to find enough regular work to keep a small Jazz combo with local or regional appeal going."

Given these circumstances, the miracle of The Mastersounds is that they lasted as long as they did and left such a relatively rich recorded legacy.

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The Mastersounds were formed in 1957 and included Charles Frederick “Buddy” Montgomery on vibes, Richie Crabtree on piano, William Howard “Monk” Montgomery on bass [originally a Fender electric bass, but later an upright string bass] and Benny Barth on drums. The Montgomery Brothers were natives of Indianapolis, IN as was their more famous guitar playing brother Wes, who was to join with them on two of their group LPs.

Monk Montgomery developed the idea for the combo while living in Seattle after he got off the road with the Lionel Hampton Big Band in 1956. According to Ralph J. Gleason, a down beat columnist at that time: “Monk, from his experience in Seattle, was convinced a good jazz group would have a chance to work in that city and he was right.”

The Mastersounds opened at Dave’s Blue Room on January 14, 1957 for a successful three month engagement. However, a dearth of work followed prompting the group to pool its meager resources and send Monk Montgomery on a trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles looking for gigs and a recording contract.

Shortly after arriving in San Francisco, Monk Montgomery stopped by The Jazz Showcase, a then newly formed club on venerable Market Street with a unique “soft drink only” policy. Dave Glickman and Ray Gorum, owner and manager of the club, respectively, upon hearing the Mastersounds tapes Monk Montgomery had brought along, booked the group into the room beginning in September, 1957 for an unlimited engagement.

The fairy-tale quality of Monk Montgomery’s California trip was to get even better when he continued his ‘quest’ down to Hollywood. There he met fellow bassist Leroy Vinnegar whose immediate reaction to listening to the Mastersounds demo tapes was to call Dick Bock, president of World Pacific Records. Upon hearing them, Bock signed the group to a contract that would result in six albums being produced for the World Pacific/Pacific Jazz Series until The Mastersounds disbanded as a performing group in December, 1959.

Sadly, none of the Pacific Jazz recorded legacy of the Mastersounds has found its way onto compact disc. Ironically, the group reunited in the recording studios of Fantasy Records on August 10 and November 2, 1960 and the two albums that group made on these dates [Fantasy 3305 and 8862] have been combined and issued as The Mastersounds Fantasy FCD 24770-2. The cover art for this CD is by Ray Avery and is shown as the graphic lead-in to this article.

The CD tray plate annotations offers the following comments about The Mastersounds:

"Because their instrumentation of vibes-piano-bass-drums mirrored that of the contemporaneous Modern Jazz Quartet, one of the finest and most celebrated groups of all time, the Mastersounds may have been somewhat overlooked. Moreover, the Mastersounds best known members, vibist-arranger Charles “Buddy Montgomery [b. 1930] and William “Monk” Montgomery [1921-1982], who pioneered the electric bass in jazz, were the younger and older brothers, respectively, of Wes Montgomery, merely the greatest jazz guitarist of the post-bop era. (The ensemble was completed by drummer Benny Barth who, like the Montgomerys, was from Indianapolis and pianist Richie Crabtree). Still, the West Coast foursome’s coolly soulful, tastefully-arranged approach won them their share of fans, as well as the 1959 Down Beat Critic’s Poll for Best New Group."

At World Pacific, The Mastersounds first LP – Jazz Showcase … Introducing the Mastersounds [PJM-403] incorporated many tunes and arrangements that had become staples of their repertoire during the group’s tenure at the club including a spirited [an oft-requested] version of Bud Powell’s Un Poco Loco, Wes’ Tune by Wes Montgomery, and Dexter’s Deck by tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon. This debut album also offers intriguing Buddy Montgomery arrangements on such standards as Lover, If I Should Lose You, That Old Devil Moon and Spring is Here.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon your point of view, what followed this initial release were three Mastersounds albums on World Pacific which were intended to capitalize on the Jazz-Impressions-of-Broadway-Show craze that swept the country in the late 1950s.

In the span of about two years, Dick Bock was to release The King and I: A Modern Jazz Interpretation by the Mastersounds [PJM-405], Kismet: An Interpretation by the Mastersounds [WP-1243] which included Wes Montgomery, and Flower Drum Song: A Modern Jazz Interpretation by the Mastersounds [WP-1252].

These three LPs were a commercial success for Dick Bock’s label and helped to enhance public awareness of the Mastersounds. Somewhat surprisingly, given the inappropriateness or unwieldiness of much of the material for Jazz treatments, each does contain some interesting music.

The King and I offers intricate arrangements by Buddy Montgomery particularly on Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance; Kismet has a lovely interpretation of Baubles, Bangles and Beads and some fresh ideas on how to syncopate the usually stodgy Stranger in Paradise; Flower Drum Song with tunes such as Love Look Away, Grant Avenue, Chop Suey and I’m Going to Like it Here provide many opportunities to employ pentatonic scales, modal vamps and even a Max-Roach-tympani-mallet extended drum solo by Benny Barth.

It wasn’t until late in 1958 with the issuance of Ballads and Blues [WP 1260] that the Mastersounds returned to its jazz roots.

This album includes a captivating Blues Medley made up of Milt Jackson’s Bluesology, Dizzy’s rarely heard Purple Sounds, and John Lewis’ Fontessa, as well as, first-rate interpretations of Miles’ Solar and Dizzy’s The Champ.

In late 1958 and throughout 1959, the Mastersounds became a frequent fixture at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, while also appearing that year at the Blue Note in Chicago, Birdland in New York and Rhode Island’s Newport Jazz Festival.

With their return to Southern California in 1959 for a stint at Jazzville in Hollywood, Dick Bock picked their April 11th concert at Pasadena Junior College to record an issue their only in-performance recording – The Mastersounds in Concert [WP 1269].

As C.H. Garrigues, jazz critic of The San Francisco Examiner at the time comments in his liner notes for the recording:

“From the opening of ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ through the tongue-in-cheek sentimentality of ‘In a Sentimental Mood,” into the flying carpet of ‘Love for Sale,’ through the thoughtfully lyric development of ‘Two Different Worlds,’ … it would be difficult to find any area of sincere jazz feeling in which they are not at home.”

And, in celebration of their warm reception as artists-in-residence at their beloved North Beach San Francisco bistro, The Jazz Workshop, at the end of 1958, World Pacific released The Mastersounds Play Compositions of Horace Silver at the Jazz Workshop [WP-1282].

With their sensitive interpretations of Horace’s Ecaroh, Enchantment, Nica’s Dream, Doodlin’, [the-all-too-rarely-heard] Moonrays and Buhania, as Richard Bock points out in his liner notes:

“The music of Horace Silver provides a perfect vehicle for the Mastersounds to project their very earthy concept yet sophisticated jazz conception. The group has never been recorded in better form. …

The Mastersounds have reached a jazz maturity that has developed from over three years of playing together. This collection of the music of Horace Silver, one of Jazz’s greatest new composer-arrangers, represents a high point in the Mastersounds’ career.”

For a variety of reasons both personal and professional, the Mastersounds decided to disband as a performing and touring group in 1960, although the fact that they all took up residence in the greater San Francisco area after this decision made it easy for them to regroup later in the year to record the two sessions for Fantasy.

From the standpoint of what might have been, and to my great delight since these are their only recordings in a digital format, the Fantasy recordings made on August 10 and November 2, 1960 which have been combined and issued as The Mastersounds [Fantasy FCD 24770-2] show the group to be in exceptional form both individually and collectively.

The ensemble work is superb, the arrangements are intricately complex, and their improvisations are, to a man, their best on record, especially those of Benny Barth who had developed into a inventive and technically adroit drummer over the 4 year span of the group’s existence.

Unfortunately, the Mastersounds existed during a time when the World of Jazz, unlike today, basked in a surfeit of riches making their superb contributions to the genre all too easy to overlook.

And, with all due respect to Messer’s Jackson, Lewis, Heath and Kay, the Mastersounds during its brief life, were the equal musically, of anything offered by the MJQ with the exception of its longevity which, in and of itself is not always the ultimate standard of judgment.

The problem in any “Age of Excess” is that the star that burns the longest is not necessarily the brightest.

And yet, the existence of the Mastersounds made my formative days in the World of Jazz all the better for having not missed the opportunity to know them and their music.

It is always important to remember those who helped "make you as you go,” thus - a remembrance of the Mastersounds.

[The Jazzprofiles editorial staff wishes to acknowledge Ralph J. Gleason, Russ Wilson, Nat Hentoff, Richard Bock and C.H. Garricules whose Mastersounds liner notes provided much assistance in the factual and interpretive material contained in this feature.]

Monday, August 14, 2017

Duke Jordan: Flight to Europe

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“His style is an amalgam of Art Tatum and Bud Powell, the parts not always cohering with absolute authority. A player of great facility, he may have recorded too much to be absolutely distinctive.”

“There are very many recorded versions of some of the pianist's most successful themes. 'Jordu', in particular, has become a popular repertoire piece. A Jordan theme tends to be brief, tightly melodic rather than just a launching-pad of chords, … “
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th E

“Duke Jordan was a pianist whose work with the saxophonist Charlie Parker endures in the jazz pantheon. Jordan was regarded as one of the great early bebop pianists, the sound that he helped to create in the postwar era was something new, and it remains a cornerstone of jazz.”

“Steve, I had the pleasure of working with Duke Jordan when we were on Stan Getz’s quintet and quartet. We became a quartet, with Kenny Clarke, when Jimmy Raney left.  I was a beginning bassist at the time, and Duke’s playing helped me be a much better player, just by listening to him.  His four bar introductions to tunes were little gems of composition, and sometimes they were so beautiful, we hated to come in for fear of spoiling the mood.  His elegant touch put him in a class with Hank Jones, Al Haig and Ellis Larkins.  His knowledge of harmony and form gave me a lot to work with, and I appreciated every moment we played together.  When Miles Davis trashed his playing in his autobiography, I was terribly offended.  Duke always came to play as well as he knew how, and he certainly knew what he was doing. I was very pleased when, a few years after our time with Getz, he called me to play a few gigs with him when Teddy Kotick, his first choice, was unavailable.  He was a fine person and a fine musician.”
- Bill Crow, bassist

For those of you who are familiar with pianist-composer-bandleader Duke Jordan’s writings, the subtitle of this feature will readily remind you of one of his most famous and often-played compositions - Flight to Jordan.

Besides the play-on-words in the song’s title associated with Duke’s familial name, “Flight” was to have a continuing and important connotation in Duke’s career, as well.

You see, Duke was one of the Jazz musicians that gave impetus to Jazz writer and historian Mike Zwerin’s assertion that “... Jazz went to Europe to live.”

Following some early recordings under his own name in the late 1950s and early 1960s the most famous of which was his one and only recording for Blue Note - Flight to Jordan [1960] - and after scuffling to find music gigs and being forced to drive a cab in Manhattan for a while to make ends meet, Duke made some trips to Europe and eventually moved to Denmark.

There he was to make 24 recordings for Nils Winther’s Steeplechase label from 1973-1985 and to tour and perform through Europe and Japan until his death in 2006.

Duke was an imaginative and gifted pianist who was a regular member of Charlie Parker’s quintet from 1947-48. He also worked with Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt and Stan Getz before performing regularly and recording occasionally in a trio format.

Duke Jordan's career has an odd trajectory. At 25, with an apprenticeship under Coleman Hawkins behind him, he was thrust into the limelight with Charlie Parker and proved himself an able and frequently resourceful accompanist. Thereafter, though, his progress has been curiously elided, wilh long disappearances from the scene. Perhaps as a consequence, he is by far the least well-known of the bebop pianists, surprisingly diffident in performing manner and little given to solo performance, Though he is a fine standards player, he has from time to time preferred to rework a sizeable but tightly organized body of original compositions.

Of Jordan’s two dozen recordings on Steeplechase Richard Cook and Brian Morton have said:

“These have been documented by the Danish Steeplechase label with a thoroughness bordering on redundancy and seemingly quite inconsistent with the pianist's rather marginal reputation ….

What all this amounts to is very difficult to judge. Jordan's annus mirabilis had been and gone. Nils Winther of Steeplechase was a sympathetic and attentive patron, but it must be said that few collectors will want more than two or three of these discs at best, and none of them makes a genuinely pressing demand on the casual listener. This is a vast body of work, with only the most obvious reference-points in the shape of oft-repeated themes and compositions. Doubtless there are aficionados who can speak with authority on the question of their respective merits.”

[N.B. - annus mirabilis literally means “The Wonderful Year” although it is also defined as “several years during which events of major importance are remembered.” It can also be used as a phrase to refer to an artist’s period of peak performance.]

Yet, one wonders after reading the Alun Morgan, Jazz Monthly and the Mark Gardner Jazz Journal articles below about the heart-rendering and gut-wrenching scuffling that Duke had to endure in New York during until his relocation to Europe and his permanent residency in Denmark in 1978 whether Richard Cook and Brian Morton aren’t being a bit too harsh in their assessment of Jordan’s prolific output on Steeplechase.

I remember talking with drummer Ed Thigpen about Duke's relocation to Denmark [Ed also took up residence there] in general and the many recordings he made for Nils Winther's Steeplechase label in particular and Ed cautioned that I had to keep in mind the context of Duke in New York, struggling to find work, driving a taxi to make ends meet and then, going to Europe and all of a sudden being treated with respect as a performing artist and also being accorded a long-standing recording contract.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles is deeply indebted to internet Jazz mates in England and Australia for making possible access to the Mark Gardner and Alun Morgan essays. While I recognize that because of the reliance that Mark Gardner writing in 1967 has on the Morgan piece results in some duplications, I wanted to maintain the integrity of both essays due to their rarity.

Duke Jordan - An Introduction and Discography by Alun Morgan, January, 1957 edition of Jazz Monthly.

“Duke Jordan was born on April-fool-day 1922. It seems that Fate decided to make it a long-term joke, because Jordan's career has been furthered only through his own perseverance and hard work: luck has played only a small part in Duke's musical life. A survey of his past history shows that he has spent a large proportion of his thirty-four years in casual. insecure employment with only occasional regular engagements to break the monotony. The jazz story runs true to form in the respect that the degree of talent possessed by a musician is no measure of his success. If it was then Jordan would be one of the busiest men in Jazz today.

Born in Brooklyn. New York. he earned the name "Duke" at the age of fourteen through his fanatical hero-worship of Duke Ellington via a carefully hoarded collection of Ellington records. He was seventeen when he played in an amateur band which won a prize at the New York World's Fair in 1939: one of his colleagues m this band was trumpeter Jimmy Nottingham. In 1941 Duke joined a sextet led by Clarke Monroe and later worked with the band that Coleman Hawkins fronted at Kelly’s Stables. A year with Al Cooper's Savoy Sultans preceded a return to the New York clubs where he spent some time in Jay Jay Johnson's group.

Guitarist Teddy Walters tillered Jordan a job with his Trio, an innocent-sounding beginning to what was to become one of the most cherished periods of the pianist's life. Charlie Parker was looking for a new pianist and happened to hear Duke play with the Walters Trio. He came over to the piano between sets ughi and offered Jordan a job with his Quintet which resulted in an association which lasted nearly three years. During this period Parker made most of his "Dial" records and it was Duke who was to be heard on piano. His melodic introductions, (always a strong point on any record which features Jordan) and solos tend to be overshadowed by the masterly brilliance of Parker, but their inclusion does much to enhance the value of the records.

At the beginning of 1949 Parker was temporarily out of work and Jordan filled in with an accompanying job in Detroit. When Parker was offered an engagement at the first Salon du Jazz in Paris during May of that year he sent for Duke to rejoin the Quintet. Jordan answered the telegram by returning post-haste 10 New York only to find that in his anxiety not to fail the French concert promoters Parker had already hired pianist Al Haig.

Duke remained in New York and played on a few isolated record sessions. He spent a short time with the rocking Gene Ammons-Sonny Stitt band the following year then, in 1952, he joined Stan Getz’s Quintet. He told pianist Henri Renaud (vide Jazz Hot magazine for June, 1955) that his nine months with Getz were not entirely satisfactory.  "Stan is a difficult man to work with,”  Duke told Henri,  "he rarely let me take a solo and on top of that, Jimmy Raney used to play guitar accompaniment at the same time as I was playing piano". When Jordan mentioned to Getz the problems of feeding piano chords which, at the same time, did not conflict with Raney’s harmonic interpretations, the tenor man informed him that his job was to play piano and that the Quintet leader was Stan Getz.

In the early part of 1954 Renaud looked up Jordan at his home in Brooklyn amd found a business card in the window. "Irvine Jordan, Modern Piano Teacher". Jordan told Henri that he had had no regular engagements since his departure from the Getz Quintet and to provide a living for his wife Sheila and daughter Tracey he had been giving piano lessons at home. Henri was surprised to find a musician of Duke's capabilities was not only reduced to such circumstances but had no prospects of a record date under his own name in the offing. A projected Trio session for "Savoy" had come to nothing. Jordan was immediately interested in Henri's suggestion that he, Renaud and George Wallington should make a three piano LP for "Prestige" using arrangements provided by Renaud.

A search commenced for a recording studio which contained three pianos and the only location which filled the bill was the hall belonging to RCA Victor. On the day of the session the three pianists accompanied by Curley Russell and Art Taylor recorded the first Renaud arrangement when an official of the AFM entered and asked for proof of Renaud's authority to record in America. What had promised to be a helpful gesture to Duke in his hour of need was quashed bv bureaucracy..

Jordan did record a Trio album for Renaud however (Vogue LDE 099) but its release was confined to France and Britain, although it was offered to a number of American record companies. Vogue LDE 099 contains some typically charming Jordan piano and the prototype versions o! three originals, Minor Encamp, Scotch Blue, and Wait and See. Under the later title Jor du a play on the composer's name, Minor Encamp has emerged as one of the best jazz tunes of recent years and the fact that the tune has already been recorded by several prominent groups is an indication of its popularity amongst musicians. Forecast and Flight to Jordan promise to become standard material in the better-class jazz libraries of the future.

Of late Jordan has been working with the Art Farmer and Gigi Gryce Quintet and played on what is undoubtedly the group's best record session (Prestige PRLP 70I7). In the summer of 1956 Duke accompanied trumpeter Rolf Ericsson to Sweden for a season in the country's National Parks. An unpublicised incident cut short the Scandinavian tour for Jordan, baritone saxist Cecil Payne and bass player John Simmons, but not before Ericsson’s Quintet had recorded for the "Metronome" company in Stockholm.

The LP issues from these sessions contain fresh-sounding small group jazz with Jordan playing a major role both as composer and pianist. He creates the atmospheric setting on Flight to Jordan for Ericsson’s best recorded solo and plays extremely well on his own Forecast, Visby Groove Alley and Vaca Flicka (a twelve bar blues).

Duke Jordan has professed a great liking for the work of Thelonious Monk, although his own plasing is less esoteric and more conventionally melodic. His touch is brilliant and definitive, his use of notes economic and the overall effect is one of complete instrumental control at all tempos. He swings prodigiously but in a way which eschews the use of heavily overstressed chordal work and unnecessary displays of technique. As an accompanist it is no exaggeration to say that he comes close to the standard set by one of his idols. Teddy Wilson: his supporting work is full and reliable as exemplified by the four tracks on Signal S 101, the most successful rhythm accompaniment record yet produced.

For the "student participation" side, alto saxist Gigi Gryce, wearing headphones, was placed in a separate cubicle so that although all four musicians could hear each other only the rhythm section was actually recorded. Duke's best record to date is Signal S 102 issued under his own name. The lirst side contains trio versions of Jordan's own Sultry Eve and Forecast as well as a beautiful solo version of Summertime prefaced by a brilliantly conceived introduction.

Duke Jordan. Al Haig, John Lewis and Tadd Dameron form the core of a lamentably small school of modern jazz pianists. They have shown that the piano is more than a mere percussive extension to the contemporary rhythm section. They have in common a love of melody and an extensive knowledge of harmony, qualifications so necessary to the accompanist. It is saddening to find that with the exception of John Lewis (through his work with the Modern Jazz Quartet) none of these pianists has been well represented on record in recent years. The jazz public at large continues its tradition of preferring superficiality and sensationalism to genuine talent. Meanwhile, men like Duke Jordan find that regular, secure employment is still one of life's most evasive necessities.”

[Alun’s Duke Jordan Discography is not reproduced here because the references are too archaic some 60 years later. Most of Duke’s recorded output from 1945 to 1957 can be found by searching under the names of Roy Eldridge, Charlie Parker and Stan Getz for the years in question.]

Mark Gardner, Duke Jordan: Forgotten Pianist? JazzJournal xvi/11, [1963], p. 15

“It’s no secret that Duke Jordan, the pianist who first jumped into the spotlight with Charlie Parker's Quintet of 1947 has been unemployed for long periods under-recorded and generally neglected by the Jazz public at large, save for the recognition accorded him by a handful of perceptive individuals like Alun Morgan and Henri Renaud.

Indeed, were it not for the fact that Jordan composed the frequently-played Jordu, it is doubtful whether his name would be known at all. Aside from an occasional appearance as a sideman on record dates, relatively very little has been heard from Jordan in the last few years. One of my main objectives on visiting New York, therefore, was to seek out, meet and hear Duke, if at all possible. Cecil Payne, one of Duke's close friends and associates, who was acting as my pilot around the hectic Manhattan and Brooklyn scenes, was none too sure of the pianist's whereabouts and had not seen him for several months.

So we were momentarily hung up. Then, one evening, passing by the Metropole Cafe, we had a lucky break. Bassist Franklin Skeet, a bouncing little man in his ochre band jacket, hailed us from the stand .where he was performing with Henry Red Allen's outfit. By way of hand signals, we arranged to call by later in the evening and sure enough, when we returned from Birdland a couple of hours later, "Skeets" was waiting outside the Met. After hearty introductions, we got round to gossiping about various musicians and their situations. "Skeets", an excitable fellow, was literally raving over Duke Jordan whom he had heard playing solo piano at a small club the previous night.

"Duke was something else. He was playing such beautiful things I could have stayed listening all night," reported Franklin. He understood that Duke was playing nightly at a certain 50th Street location. So we were at last on the scent. The following evening Cecil and I headed for the club in question — a place called "Jazzland." Cecil sported Duke taking a between-sets breather in front of the nightspot and we were quickly introduced and soon deep in conversation.

A slightly-built man with a lean face, which bears the marks of the years of pain and frustration he has suffered as an uncompromising artist, Jordan is understandably bitter. He spoke of the Roger Vadim film Les Liasons Dangereuses for which he wrote a beautiful and fitting score, yet received not a penny piece or any credit, the music being credited to a fictitious "J. Marret." Jordan also talked of his troubles with a certain record company, "X", which started business in a blaze of publicity claiming it would treat musicians in a fair manner. To date, the company has failed to give the pianist any royalties whatsoever. So much for the new deal proclaimed by the two directors of label 'X".

Duke said he had not worked steadily for months and had only recently landed the "Jazzland" job where he began by playing on Sunday nights only. But the owner, bless him, had been pleased with Jordan and had decided to hire him for seven nights a week.

"Due to lack of playing, my fingers are pretty stiff and having to play solo, without even bass and drums, means I have to get around the piano a lot more. Already my fingers are loosening up, but if I was with a band the comping would make them stiffer than ever," Duke said.

Although  Jordan's life has been filled with anguish, he has not allowed self-pity or anger to creep into his music. Essentially a melodist, he plays in a dry, sparse manner which embraces a welcomed sense of humour. Seated at the tiny upright piano, without even the benefit of a microphone, he treated the Jazzland audiences to some of the most intense, solo piano it has ever been niv privilege to hear. But, alas, he might as well have been practising in his Brooklyn home for all the impact it made on the club's clientele. The noisy patrons were far too busy drinking, laughing and chatting up the visiting chicks to pay any attention to the lonely pianist, perched on his box-shaped stool. The customers were probably blissfully unaware that they were listening to Jordan, for he had been given no billing outside the dim-lit cabaret.

"It  gets to be a bit of a drag here." Duke explained apologetically. "Some of these chicks come up and try to sing. And most of them are so bad, you know, really out of metre. Still, I have to make bread the best way I can.”

Disillusioned with the continuous scuffle that is New York, he wants to move to European climes. “When I was  last over in Paris, Kenny Clarke took me over to his pad. He seems to be doing pretty well for himself. If I make it to Europe again I won't come back." he affirmed.

Talk of Europe led to Duke to ask if knew what had happened to drummer Al Jones. Receiving a negative reply, he explained that Jones, Jackie McLean, Michael Mattos and himself had toured Europe in 1962 with the Living Theatre's production of The Connection, but at the conclusion of the trip Jones vanished in Belgium and did not return to the States.

Both Cecil Payne and Duke expressed their admiration for Barney Wilen, the young, Paris based tenor saxophonist who made a couple of records with Jordan and Kenny Dorham in Paris four years ago. [These were reissued as CDs on Vogue under Barney’s name]. "I heard that Barney suffered a collapsed lung and is hanging out in Switzerland now. That’s an awful thing to happen to a promising kid of that age,” sympathised Duke, who has experienced more than his share of misfortune. Jordan added that here was a distinct possibility that The Connection would return to Britain next year                  and he was hoping to make the gig. "You know I very much dig Ted Heath's band? I heard them a couple ol times when they came over here.

I mention Jordan’s trio date taped by Henri Renaud when he visited New York nine years ago and Duke replied: "I remember that well, I still have that record at home - it was issued on the Vogue label."

Queried as to the reason why Blue Note never recorded him in a trio setting —Duke cut one quintet album for the company with Stanley Turrentine, Dizzy Reece. Reggie Workman and Art Taylor —he said: "I guess the quintet line-up was pretty fashionable at that time. But I would like to do another trio date sometime."

Jordan collectors will know that his only other trio recording apart from the excellent Vogue set he mentioned, were waxed for the now defunct Signal Record Corporation in 1956. One half of an album was devoted to five selections by Jordan, Percy Heath and Art Blakey. The other side comprised numbers by the trio augmented by Cecil Payne (baritone sax) and Eddie Bert (trombone). But the record, in spite of its exceptional quality, failed to sell, like all the Signal issues. Perhaps the company was too ambitious in expecting a fickle public to accept non-commercial music from horn men of the caliber of Payne, Jordan,  Red Rodney, Gigi Gryce and Thelonious Monk. In   any event, Signal went under and their slim catalogue of half a dozen   outstanding albums was taken over by Savoy, who have since I understand, deleted the Jordan LP.

The Blue Note release, titled Flight to Jordan, is by far the best collection of Jordania available. All six of the compositions stems from the pianist's fertile mind and in this recording his composing abilities are shown to be exceptional. And his own playing and that of his sidemen is equally impressive

On the strength of his work on this session, and from what I heard at Jazzland, he must be ranked with Teddy Wilson, his old idol, as the most melodic pianists that Jazz has yet produced. Of the post-war men, only Al Haig can match him melodically and the two men have much in common. Both shun the cliches and are more concerned with beauty than ugliness. Each worked with Charlie Parker and both have been thrown into obscurity through indifference and the passing fads of the jazz public.

At the time of writing, the pianist is working at the Open End Club on 77th Street, New York and, the first record to be issued in this country under Jordan's name for nine years has just been put out by MGM. Duke leads Charlie Rouse (tenor), Sonny Cohn (trumpet), Eddie Kahn (bass) and Art Taylor (drums) in new interpretations of his film score for Les Liasons Dangereuses and the result is a consistently interesting album. Conn's horn is rather out of context, but the album features exquisite Jordan and powerful Rouse.

Born on April 1st, 1922, Irving Sidney Jordan started his musical career with Steve Pulliam's Manhattan Sextet, which won a prize as an amateur combo at New York's World Fair in 1939. He left the group and went to work in 1941 with Clarke Monroe in the sextet which later performed under Coleman Hawkin's leadership at Kelly's Stable, New York. He spent a year with Al Cooper's famous Savoy Sultans, but it was while he was with guitarist Teddy Walters' Trio at the Three Deuces that Charlie Parker heard him in 1946. In Robert Reisner's book Bird—The Legend of Charlie Parker, Jordan recalled that night in the -2nd Street Club:

"Charlie was seated at a front table, and I heard him say : 'Wow. listen to that guy,' and he was talking about me. Then he came over and asked me if I would like to work for him, and I jumped at the chance." Later, in the same interview, Duke said: "Working with Bird was one of the tremendous experiences. He always came on with a new musical line that would make my hair stand on end. He used to say to me: *lf you do something out of the ordinary between sets, when you come back to play you will have a different thought, and it will come out in your playing.'"

One night, Duke found Bird in front of the Onyx Club lying across a garbage disposal steel box, rolling back and forth. Apparently, Parker was just trying his in-between-sets experience experiments. Jordan also remembered that Miles Davis wanted John Lewis in the Parker Quintet instead of Duke, but Bird silenced him by quietly and firmly saying that he chose the guys and Miles could form his own outfit if anything displeased him. That was all that was heard from Miles. For three years, off and on, Jordan worked steadily with Parker. He is to be found on all the Dial recordings waxed by Bird's group in New York and he was present on one Detroit date for Savoy, as well as some air shots, taken down on a small tape recorded at the Onyx Club early in 1948. His last recorded appearance with Parker, as far as I know, was a Birdland engagement in September, 1952. I possess an acetate on which there are two quartet performances by Bird, Jordan and an unknown bass player and drummer. They are Ornithology and 52nd Street Theme and both include beautiful solos by the saxophonist and pianist. Perhaps these items will be made available to a wider public in due course.

Duke's next job of importance, after a brief spell with Gene Ammons-Sonny Stitt Band, was a nine-month stint with the Stan Getz Quintet. "Stan is a difficult man to work with. He rarely let me take a solo and on top of that, Jimmy Raney used to play guitar accompaniment at the same time as I was playing piano,” Jordan told Henri Renaud in 1954. It seems that when the pianist mentioned the clash between his chords and Raney's, the tenorist informed him that his job was to play piano. In other words: Mind our own business.

After quitting the Getz group. Duke spent four months with Roy Eldrige whose big band he had played in just after the war for a brief period, and apart from a stav with the Art Farmer-Gigi Gryce Quintet, he has since functioned on a freelance basis, being often out of work for months at a time. A Spring visit to Paris in July enabled Jordan to record the soundtrack for a French movie Witness in Town. Kenny Dorham and Barney Wilen also appeared on this soundtrack which was released on a French Fontana LP. These three musicians were also taped at the Lett Bank Club St. Germaine. This record, cut in front of an enthusiastic audience, contains some of Duke's finest work— on his own Jordu and Tadd Dameron's Ladybird he is nothing short of brilliant. His assimilation of aspects of Horace Silver's style enhances, rather than detracts from, his usually more reserved approach.

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Jordan has never recorded a bad solo. His work has always been above accepted standards, no matter what his personal hardship. And it is a tribute to his unswerving belief in his own music that he has not once pandered to popular tastes. His rewards have been few: One can only wish that it will not always be so.

Acknowledgement*: Some of the material used in this article has been drawn from Leonard Feather's New Encyclopaedia Of Jazz; Robert Rentier's Bird-The Legend of Charlie Parker and an article on Jordan by Alun Morgan in the January, 1957, edition of "Jazz Monthly." I would like to express my thanks to all three writers.”

More about Duke and his background is also contained in the following detailed insert notes that the distinguished Jazz writer, critic and historian Leonard Feather wrote for Flight to Jordan [BNST-84046; CDP 7 46824 2]. One of the great things about Leonard’s notes, at least during his early years of writing them, are his descriptions of how tunes are musically structured.

"JORDAN, Duke. Piano. Born Brooklyn, N.Y., 1922. An early bop pianist, a swinging one, still very much part of jazz."

This very brief biography, from Barry Ulanov's A Handbook ol Jazz (Viking Press, 1957), is Duke's only individual mention as far as I have been able to determine, in any American textbook on jazz other than the Encyclopedia of Jazz.

In all the other books you will find either no mention at all, or passing references lumped together with several other names (my own Book of Jazz and John Wilson's Collector's Jozz were guilty in this respect).

Yet  Irving Sydney Jordan, son of Brooklyn, has been paying his dues as a professional musician since shortly before World War II, and those of us who have heard him intermittently during most of the past two decades con hardly be unaware by now that this is no run-of-the-mill musician.

Duke was born of musically inclined but non-professional parents who, when he was eight, placed his musical education in the hands of a private teacher. He continued to study piano until he was 16, playing in the school band at Brooklyn Automotive High. After graduation in 1939 he joined the septet of trombonist Steve Pulliam, a group that included Jimmy Nottingham, now a top studio trumpet man. This combo, appearing in an amateur contest at the New York World's Fair that summer, won a prize and earned the attention of John Hammond, who was impressed by the teen-aged efforts of young Mr. Jordan. The unit stayed together for a year or two, after which Duke entered what was almost certainly the most important formative phase of his career.
Jazz was undergoing a quiet but vital upheaval in 1941.

Around the time when Duke Jordan went to work ot a club called Murrain's, on Seventh Avenue in Harlem, the experiments that were to crystalize in the form of bebop had gotten underway at several uptown clubs. The group in which Duke now worked was led, in effect, by me tenor saxophonist Ray Abrams, but it was under the nominal leadership of Clark Monroe, the veteran night club host who was involved in the operation of a series of clubs, including his own [Monroe’s] Uptown House where Charlie Parker first worked in New York.

Thus, though Duke gained his first experience in jazz through Ihe records of Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum and their contemporaries, he was exposed early to the work of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, as well as to Gillespie and Parker. As I recall it, when bop burst full-fledged on the downtown scene, Duke was one of Ihe very first to play in what was then a revolutionary new style; in fact the only other bop pianists of any note on itie 52nd Street horizon, aside from Powell himself, were Al Haig, Billy Taylor and George Wallington.

For a while Duke played with Coleman Hawkins at Kelly's Stable, in a combo similar to the one that had been organized by Clark Monroe. After this he returned to the uptown front, working for a year with a "jump band" called the Savoy Sultans, which functioned as a part-time house bond ol the late lamented Savoy Ballroom. But it was when he was downtown again, playing in the trio of guitarist Teddy Walters at the Three Deuces, that Charlie Parker was sufficiently impressed by Duke to hire him for his Quintet. Duke worked intermittently for Bird during Ihis period (1946-8), the other members of the group being Miles Davis, Max Roach and Tommy Potter.

"Working with Bird was a fantastic experience," says Duke. "He was such an inspiration and often I heard him play things that were greater than anything he could do in a recording studio. My greatest regret was that I missed a chance to go to Europe with him. Bird had no work at one time, so I look the chance to go to Detroit with Paul Bascomb, and while I was there Bird was invited to France for the first jazz festival. As it turned out, I didn't get another opportunity to visit Europe until 1956, when I went to Sweden with Rolf Ericson."

During the Bird years Duke played for a few months with Roy Eldridge, recording on a big band date with Roy. Later, after leaving Bird, he worked with the Stan Getz combo in 1949. During the 1950s he free-lanced around New York, gigging with Oscar Pettiford, with off-night groups at Birdland, and also spending some time with Gene Ammons' band. In 1958 he was in Europe for a time with Kenny Dorham, Don Byas and Kenny Clarke.

It was about 1954 that Duke began lo develop as a composer. His first and best known original, Jordu, was recorded first by the Max Roach-Clifford Brown quintet soon after. Duke cut it as a sideman with a Julius Watkins group for a ten-inch LP on Blue Note. He has written many attractive lines since then, of which the most successful have been the title tune of this album, already very popular in English jazz circles, and Scotch Blues, which was recorded by Kenny Burrelll (Blue Note 1596}.

This is the first album composed entirely of Duke Jordan compositions. To interpret his work Duke used a carefully selected combo of mutually sympathetic sidemen. Dizzy Reece had already impressed him through the Blue Note LPs under Dizzy's own name; more recently he played a few nights with Dizzy at the Left Bank in midtown Manhattan, in a combo that also included Reggie Workman, the promising young bassist on these sides. Stanley Turrentine, a 26-year-old tenor man from Pittsburgh, worked with Ray Charles and Earl Bostic, but is best known in jazz through his dates in the post couple of years with Max Roach. Arthur Taylor, a 31-year-old New Yorker, has been on many Blue Note scenes with Bud Powell et al.

Flight To Jordan is a minor-mode theme melodically patterned along the lines of the spiritual Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho. The 32-bar chorus has an A-B-A-B pattern. Veteran Jordan fans will recall that Duke recorded it originally for a now-defunct label. The new treatment has a brighter tempo and maintains a consistent groove throughout the solos by Reece, Turrentine and Jordan. The mood established by Turrentine puts to valuable use both his tonal reflection of Coleman Hawkins and his stylistic debt to Sonny Rollins. (He names Hawkins, Rollins and Byas as his favorites and early influences.)

Of Starbrite Duke says, "I noticed that Dizzy has a fine, big sound on slow tunes, so l wrote this with him in mind." Dizzy has the spotlight throughout the first chorus, outlining the simple, pretty, largely diatonic melody. Duke's own solo is gentle, pensive and relaxed, leading logically to a sinuous tenor passage in which Turrentine reveals both the breathiness and the warm, tender quality of a Ben Webster. Dizzy takes over again for the close, displaying his fine sustained tones and well-controlled vibrato all the way to the tasteful unpretentious coda.

Squawkin' was inspired by an incident that occurred one day not far from Duke's home: "I saw a scene on the street in Brooklyn, a cab-driver and some other cats squawking away, and I thought of writing a theme to express the mood." It's a 12-bar blues with Turrentine at his most fluently impressive, and it cooks all the way, with Dizzy muted and Duke playing long, flowing single-note lines.

Deacon Joe, the longest [and, to these ears, the most impressive] track in the album, was also inspired in this manner, when Duke passed by a storefront church in Brooklyn. There is in this performance none of the pseudo-funk, crypto-gospel music of which we have heard so much during the past year. After Duke's two-chorus opening solo we hear the theme expressed as a simple, blues-drenched unison line. Dizzy ot his most lyrical offers a solo that shows the qualities of a truly sensitive musician: simplicity and complexity, direct rhythmic statements and oblique implication, are ingeniously interwoven to produce a performance that ranks among his best on record to bate. Duke, too, shows the depth of his feeling for the blues and even ends the performance with a delightfully basic four-bar tag, complete with a C-13th-Flat-5 final chord.

Si-Joya has no deep significance in its title. Duke confesses that he doesn't know Spanish too well and merely wanted to convey this flavor in the name of the tune, which, as you'd expect, is a Latin-type affair. Opening with slicks-on-cymbal by A. T. it progresses to the exposition of the theme followed by solos from Turrentine, Reece and Jordan. Notice, throughout this track- and for that matter throughout the entire album - the steady and supple support offered by A, T., who has been an intermittent associate of Duke's for some years and was a member of the group in which Duke visited Scandinavia. "I just wanted a really happy feeling for this one," says Duke, and there's no doubt that he achieved his objective.

It is good to find Duke Jordan so well represented by an album thai displays his dual talents as composer and pianist. For those who are reading these notes before deciding whether to embark on the flight to Jordan, may I recommend that you get your passport validated right now.”                      

(Author of The New Encyclopedia of Jazz]

[“Diamond Stud and I Should Care are previously unreleased and complete this session and are added to this CD.” - Michael Cuscuna]