Thursday, December 28, 2017

Gretsch Drum Night At Birdland

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


Anyone who has been a casual visitor to these pages know that I have a bias toward Jazz drumming, what I think of as the heartbeat of Jazz.

Among the current crop of Jazz drummers, Kenny Washington has long been among my favorites principally because he plays a style of drumming that I also favor - the Philly Joe Jones approach to drumming.

Kenny is a student of the music so much so that he refers to himself as The Jazz Maniac.

Whatever he chooses to call himself, Kenny knows what he talking about, particularly when it comes to Jazz drumming as his following notes to the Roulette LP Gretsch Drum Night At Birdland will attest.

Since he wrote these insert notes to the EMI/Blue Note CD reissue of this LP in 1991, many of the musicians referenced in them have passed away. Oh, and Gretsch is once again making Jazz drum kits.

Kenny’s respect and enthusiasm for the drummers featured on this album are infectious, but considering the iconic status that each of them have assumed in Jazz lore, he’s certainly in good company.

“Imagine being able in see four master drummers at the lop of their games all an one great stage! This all took place April 25. I960, it was billed "Gretsch Night" at the "Jazz: Corner of the World", Birdland. The CD that you are now holding is the only time these percussion personalities ever recorded together. Of course the idea of percussionists playing together is not new: It goes back to the motherland Africa where people played drums for entertainment as well as different kinds of communication. In more modern times, it's interesting to note that throughout the history of Jazz there are not that many recordings of drummers playing together on record. The first recordings that made the public take notice were the 1946 Jazz at the Philharmonic drum battles between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. There were a few studio recordings that came out in the 50s which included such greats as Mel Lewis, Osie Johnson. Charlie Persip, Louis Hayes. Don Lamond and a few others. Although these recordings are good, they didn't do justice to these masters. In fact, they were a bit over arranged, and the record company seemed to boast more about hi-fi sound rather than music. The man really responsible for seeing the possibilities for recording drum ensembles was An Blakey, fusing Latin jazz percussionists with jazz multi-percussionists. These were ideas that were no doubt inspired by Dizzy Gillespie's fascination with Afro-Cuban sounds in the 40s. Art recorded with legendary conga drummer Chano Pozo on a James Moody record date for Blue Note in I948. He also recorded a drum duet with Sabu Martine: on a Horace Silver record date. Blakey recorded no less than six albums with different drum ensembles. It is indeed Art who is the ringleader of the "Gretsch Drum Night" session here.

Without gelling too deep into drum equipment, Gretsch was a drum company who endorsed these percussionists. Owned by Fred Gretsch, this company was the drum set for Jazz drummers. There were other companies to be sure, but none of them had that sound like Gretsch. A lot of top drummers of the day used them. When I was a child of seven. I would read publications such as Downbeat and I would see pictures of Gretsch endorsee's like: Max Roach. Tony Williams. Philly Joe. Elvin and Art. I remember my father getting mad at me because before lie could read the magazine I'd cut out the pictures of my idols and hang them on my wall! Gretsch still exists nowadays but. they have next to no interest in Jazz drummers. They have very few Jazz endorsees if any. Even more of a pity is that they don't make their drums like they used to (it was so good while it lasted).

Putting four drummers on stage together can he a horrific experience. There's always the tendency for drummers to want to outplay each other. Also, it can do a number on your eardrums. On this CD. you'll hear friendly competition done in a musical way.

Art Blakey [1919-1990] was horn in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. He was basically self-taught on the drums, but took a few informal lessons from his idol Chick Webb (if if you listen to early Blakey big band recordings you can hear how he imitated Webb right down to the tuning of the snare drum). He played with one of the pioneers of big band jazz, Fletcher Henderson for about a year. Art then joined the legendary Billy Eckstine band from 1944 until the band’s demise in 1947. Blakey became associated with the bebop movement, recording and performing with such greats as Charlie Parker. Fats Navarro and Dexter Gordon. Blakey organised the Seventeen Messengers, which were scaled down to a octet for a Blue Note record date in 1947. In 1955. Blakey and pianist Horace Silver formed a cooperative as the Jazz Messengers. Front that point until his death, Blakey had many classic Messenger groups and helped to groom musicians for the future of Jazz. I should also point out that An took the Bebop innovations of drummers like Kenny Clarke and Max Roach to another level. With his raw gutsy solos and his hard-driving swing. Blakey changed the role of modern Jazz drummers.

Joseph Rudolph Jones (1923-I985) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He started playing drums and piano at an early age. He got serious about the drums in his late teens, About thai time. Joe became one of the first black streetcar conductors in Philadelphia. He commuted to New York to study with swing drummer Cozy Cole. In 1947, he came to New York permanently working as the house drummer at Cafe Society. He gained experience working with Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron and many others. Around this time he got the name Philly Joe so as not to be confused with veteran Count Basie drummer Jo Jones. A year later, he made his first recordings with the Joe Morris band playing rhythm and blues. Later on he worked with guitarist Tiny Grimes and his Rocking Highlanders, wearing a kilt no less. His best known association was with the classic Miles Davis Quintet from 1955 to 1958. After leaving Davis, he became the most sought after session man, recording for Prestige, Riverside, Blue Note and a host of other labels from the late 50s into the 60s. He lived in Europe from 1969 to 1972. When he returned to Philadelphia, he formed his group Le Grand Prix. In 1981, he formed Dameronia a group put together for the sole purpose of playing the music of pianist-composer, Tadd Dameron. Philly Joe took the best from masters like Max Roach. Sid Catlett, Jo Jones. Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey and made it his own. His playing had everything; technical virtuosity, slickness, humour and most of all he could swing you into bad health.

Charlie Persip (1929) was born in Morristown, New Jersey. He's a master of both big and small band playing. He's best known for his work with Dizzy Gillespie (1953-58), Persip along with a few others helped to dispel the myth among white contractors and producers at that time that black drummers couldn't read music. Charlie has always been a fantastic musician who didn't put up with a lot of nonsense. Punctuality is usually the rule with Persip, but he once overslept for an early morning recording session. When he finally got to the session, the rest of the musicians were rehearsing. The minute he finished setting up.  they put the music in front of him and rolled lite tape. He sight-read the music as if he hail been playing it for a year. The producer couldn't believe what he had just witnessed and later wrote Charlie a letter Mating stating that he had never seen that kind of musicianship in his life, Incidentally, that session was a Bill Potts' The Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess. Persip was much in demand for studio work recording with everyone from Jackie and Roy to Eric Dolphy. These days Charlie is the principal drum instructor for JazzMobile. has his own big band which he calls Persipitation and has even written a very good hook titled "How Not To Play The Drums".

Elvin Ray Jones (1927-) was born in Pontiac. Michigan, the youngest of the illustrious Jones brothers. Elvin began his professional career as the house drummer in saxophonist Billy Mitchell's band at the famed Bluebird Club in Detroit. This engagement gave him a chance to play with all the great jazzmen who came through town. Elvin’s style of drumming met with some resistance from musicians and critics alike. The innovations of Kenny Clarke and Max Roach in the 40s seemed like the logical step from what drummers before them like Jo Jones and Sid Cutlet! were doing. When Elvin came on the scene, he was outrageously different from anything that came before him. His time feel and use of complex polyrhythms were something that had never been done before. I might also point out that he completely revolutionized 3/4 time playing. Elvin would plav over the bar lines putting accents on the (and) of two rather than playing on the downbeat of one. This made his time much smoother and sort of made it float along. Philly Joe wax actually one of Elvin's earliest fans. He knew right from the beginning thai Elvin had something special. He used to send Elvin in on jobs and recordings he couldn't make. The two of them even recorded an album together for Atlantic. The world caught on. and he toured and also recorded with J J Johnson, Barry Harris, Donald Byrd. Harry Edison among others. Elvin joined the Joint Coltrane Quartet in 1960. He was a perfect match for Trane's journey into modality and his open form style of this period. After leaving Coltrane in 1966. he spent a brief time with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Since that time Elvin lias been leading his own groups.

The other musicians on this dale contribute short but strong solos. Tlte frontline consists of an interesting instrumentation of aim trombone.

Sylvester Kyner better known as Sonny Red, hailed from Detroit. At the time of this live session, he had already recorded one album for Blue Note as a leader. Seven months after this recording he was signed to Riverside Records where he made four dales as a leader. He is best known for his recordings as a sideman on Blue Note with his junior high school buddy Donald Byrd. Red was a player who could cover all the bases. He could play gut bucket blues, but had  a strong harmonic conception, played lyrical ballads and was a 'from scratch' improviser. You never knew where he would go next. Red died in 1981.

Charies Greenlea toured and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie's Bebop Band of the 40s. He went on to record with Archie Shepp and played off and on with Philly Joe Jones in the 60s. I first met him in the seventies when he was playing with the C.B.A. (Collective Black Artists) big hand.

Ron Carter was twenty-three at the lime of this recording made and was commuting back and forth from New York in Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where he was in the process of getting his Masters Degree. It's interesting to hear him playing with these drummers. There are very few recordings of Ron playing with Blakey or Philly Joe. It's too had because listening to this CD, you'll hear that they play well together. Persip was instrumental in getting Ron on a lot of studio dates when he first came to the Big Apple. He was also part of Persip's group The Jazz Statesmen. Then as now. Ron is still taking care of serious bass business.

Tommy Flanagan, also a product of Detroit, can fit into any situation. A year before this date, he had recorded the now classic John Coltrane "Giant Steps" session. During this period, he was working and recording with Coleman Hawkins. Art Farmer. Clark Terry and many others. I had the opportunity to work with Tommy's trio for two years. He is truly a joy to play with,

I've sketched out some notes to help the listener to identify the drummers. On Wee Dot and Now's The Time there are only two drummers - Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey. The way to tell them apart is Philly Joe's drums are tuned higher than Blakey's (incidentally Joe is using Persip's drums and cymbals).

Wee Dot is a JJ Johnson composition that Blakey recorded for Blue Note six years earlier live at the same club. It is he who starts with a 8 bar intro and plays through the melody. Philly Joe steps right in accompanying Red for seven choruses. Dig how Joe uses his left hand behind him. Art plays behind Creenlea's short trombone solo and Flanagan's piano choruses . Philly Joe plays the four bar exchanges with the horn as well as the extended drum solo. Art is keeping time on the ride cymbal. The roles then reverse, Joe plays time and Art solos. Check out how Art goes from a whisper to a roar on his solo.

Charlie Parker's Now's The Time starts with a four-bar intro from Philly Joe. You can hear at the ninth bar of the melody how they both punctuate the melody together. Check out how Art plays one of his dynamic press rolls to begin Greenlea's solo. At the third chorus of the solo. Philly Joe steps in with a typical conga beat that he plays between his two toms for almost two choruses. Philly Joe lakes charge during Red's solo. I'm sorry, but there's no one that could swing harder than Philly Joe at that tempo. There's a tape splice right after the fourth chorus of Red's solo that switches us back to Blakey's accompaniment. During Flanagan's solo, you can hear Philly Joe trying in step in musically as if he's saying "May I cut in on this dance?" There's another sudden splice, and there's Philly Joe again showing us how slick he was. Philly Joe plays a full chorus drum solo with backing from Blakey’s ride cymbal. Art's solo reminds us of the Chick Webb influence. Art sure had a big drum sound.

Another drum set is brought out on the stage of Birdland and we hear Art, Elvin and Charlie for the next tune El Sino. Art and Elvin play the theme together. Sonny Red has the first solo backed by Art. Persip accompanies Creenlea's solo. Talking to Persip, he told me that he and Elvin were roommates at the time. He felt that listening and talking to Elvin was a big inspiration for him. It helped to free up his whole rhythmic conception. It's Elvin that plays brushes behind Tommy and Ron's solos. Few people know that Elvin is a master of brushes. The four-bar exchanges start off with Art, Charlie and Elvin in that order. There's a drum interlude right after the last exchange which is a Blakey rhythm phrase played by the three before each of the drum solos. Elvin has the first solo. Persip is next, playing everything sharp and clean. He always had chops io spare. His bass drum work sounds as if he's using two bass drums, although he's only using one. They repeat the interlude once more, and the hums lake it out.

Tune Up is actually the next number but because of time considerations on the conventional LP Roulette decided tn start from the 8-bar drum exchanges. Reissue producer Michael Cuscuna and I were disappointed that there were no extra session reels. We had hoped thai we would be able fix the edlts and restore the music to its original form. What you hear is all that appeared on the original LP. The 8-bar exchanges start with Philly Joe, Charlie and Elvin in that order. The first extended solo is by Philly Joe. Persip takes over with a 6/8 time feeling. Later he shows off his independence by actually playing four different rhythms with each limb. Elvin is the next soloist playing a quasi-free solo. Next the percussionists pull out their brushes starring with Philly Joe. As he's playing you can hear Art egging him on. Philly Joe was a master showman, and you can hear that he had the audience in the palm of his hands. It's too bad there's no film of this performance. Charlie and Elvin both tell their stories with the brushes before the ensemble comes in with the melody of Tune Up.

The session reels say that the last piece is titled A Night In Tunisia. Again because of time considerations they cut all the horn solos. The three percussionists start with intricate Afro-Cuban rhythms. The first soloist is Persip. After the ensemble playing Persip is heard again. Elvin takes another extended solo. The Afro-Cuban rhythms come back before they switch to a 6/8 time feel and then the big finale.

Like saxophones or trumpets, drummers can also play together and he just as musical. The proof is here to hear.”


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