“I’m the kind of person who jumps around when he talks because everything is connected.”

— Wayne Shorter, qtd. in The Washington Post

Sonny Rollins during the recording of A Night at the Village Vanguard. Francis Wolff:Blue Note Records

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of Sonny Rollins‘s legendary recording,
A Night at the Village Vanguard. Writing for NPR, Nate Chinen reached out to several experts and practitioners to discuss the album’s ongoing influence:

Jon Irabagon, who calls A Night at the Village Vanguard ‘a formative album for me,’ gave it a fresh listen this week, and was struck again by its genius. ‘Rollins had one foot completely in the tradition, he was mining these standards, and he was also part of the aliveness — the surging life-quality — of jazz,’ he said. ‘Then it’s the harmonic freedom, the melodic integrity and just the playfulness that he had. It’s not beholden to some kind of codified language. There are so many surprises and twists and turns. You can hear the entire history of jazz on that record, up to that point.’

It would be misleading to imply that Rollins’ heroic performance on A Night at the Village Vanguard is primarily of interest to other saxophonists. ‘It’s a textbook example of what modern jazz improvisation should be,’ the pianist Fred Hersch pronounced in an email. ‘Sonny plays with intelligence, warmth, humor and an expressive technique that seems to know no bounds.’ Hersch, who literally wore out his first copy of the album, advises all his piano students to study it closely, ‘as a means to understanding the subtlety of phrasing and deep connection to rhythm that Sonny, Wilbur [Ware] and Elvin [Jones] display.'”

— Nate Chinen, NPR

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Moanin' (Blue Note, 1958)
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Moanin’ (Blue Note, 1958). Photograph by Francis Wolff, sleeve artwork by Reid Miles.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers recorded Moanin’ for Blue Note Records on October 30, 1958, fifty-nine years ago today. The bandleader, depicted on the record’s front sleeve, was born in Pittsburgh in October 1919; Blakey left school early to work in a coal mine, and then a steel mill, before putting together his first band. In interviews he described himself as an orphan who taught himself everything he needed to know, from how to play piano (without reading music) to the drums.

In 1943, Blakey made his way to New York where he found a place as a drummer with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, and made his debut recording with Billy Eckstine‘s band. After establishing a career throughout the 1940s and ’50s as an accomplished player, including dates with Miles DavisThelonious Monk, and Coleman Hawkins, Blakey joined Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers. (more…)

Grachan Moncur III recorded Some Other Stuff for Blue Note Records on 6 July 1964. When he entered Rudy Van Gelder‘s studio in Englewood Cliffs, he was already an experienced leader and an established trombonist on the avant-garde jazz scene. Before his debut album, Evolution (Blue Note, 1963), which was recorded the day before President John F. Kennedy was shot, he was an established sideman on records by Art BlakeyHerbie Hancock and Jackie McLean.

Grachan Moncur III
Grachan Moncur III

Moncur is known for a “clear-cut style of playing” (Richard Cook) that blends the hard bop of the late 1950s and early 1960s with the emerging free jazz movement. While the standout virtuosity of Evolution has led to a general critical reflect of Some Other Stuff, do not be fooled by the latter’s dismissive title. Moncur assembles a strong lineup that includes saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock (between the recording of Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage), and drummer Anthony Williams. Among the highlights: ‘Gnostic’ is ominous and meditative in a way that recalls the high points of Evolution; ‘Thandiwa’ is an upbeat piece written and performed in a hardbop style; and ‘The Twins’ steals the show with sustained performances from Moncur, Hancock, and Shorter.

 

The avant-garde reedist’s iconic outing for Blue Note Records was recorded on this day in 1964
Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch! (Blue Note, 1964)
Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch! (Blue Note, 1964)

On this day in 1964, Eric Dolphy entered Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to record one of Blue Note Records’ most distinctive and iconic records. Joined by Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Bobby Hutchinson (vibraphone), Richard Davis (bass) and an eighteen-year-old Anthony Williams (drums), Dolphy brought along his alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute for the date.

Out to Lunch! is the culmination of a sequence of recordings that explored the possibilities of avant-garde jazz in the early 1960s, from Dolphy’s first album as leader, Outward Bound (New Jazz, 1960), to Out There (New Jazz, 1960), to his 1961 recordings at the Five Spot and 1962’s Far Cry (New Jazz). Across these works we can hear the artistic development of Dolphy as a restless and inventive talent. Out to Lunch! nods a debt to bebop in its tribute to pianist Thelonious Monk (‘Hat and Beard’), and acknowledges the classical flautist Severino Gazzelloni (‘Gazzelloni’), but while the album negotiates the legacy of bebop and post-bop music it simultaneously reaches towards freer musical forms. (more…)

Part of a sequence of records showing a master improviser at the height of his powers
Sonny Rollins, Newk's Time (Blue Note, 1957)
Sonny Rollins, Newk’s Time (Blue Note, 1959)

In his autobiography, Miles Davis remembers taking a New York cab with Sonny Rollins: “the white cabdriver turned around and looked at Sonny and said, ‘Damn, you’re Don Newcombe!’”, confusing the saxophonist with the Brooklyn Dodgers star pitcher. Davis goes on: “Man, the guy was totally excited. I was amazed, because I hadn’t thought about it before. We put that cabdriver on something terrible. Sonny started talking about what kind of pitches he was going to throw Stan Musial, the great hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals, that evening”. Rollins’ resemblance to the player became the origin of a nickname ‘Newk’, by which he was known by Davis, Charlie Parker, and the wider jazz community.

Newk’s Time, a Blue Note album recorded on this day in 1957, was Rollins’ third album for the label and anticipates his landmark live recording Night at the Village Vanguard that November. (more…)

The alto-saxophonist’s recording for Blue Note documents the tensions inherent in 1960s jazz
Jackie McLean, Destination... Out! (Blue Note, 1964)
Jackie McLean, Destination… Out! (Blue Note, 1964)

On this day in 1963, Jackie McLean stepped into Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack studio to record Destination… Out! for Blue Note Records. The album offers an interesting snapshot of the development of jazz during the early 1960s, where bebop and blues begin to give ground to something altogether different: a ‘new thing’, or new ‘avant-garde’.

The alto saxophonist was raised in a New York neighbourhood frequented by some of the most prominent names in jazz. As a young man, he practiced with the likes of Sonny Rollins, Bud Powell, and even found the chops to play in Miles Davis’ band and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

His style, described by Cook and Morton as “menthol-sharp”, owed more than a small debt to Charlie Parker’s fleet-footed bebop improvisations of the ‘40s, but through his association with Blue Note the musician began to engage with the abstract and exploratory possibilities of free jazz. As such, Destination… Out! moves away from the open accessibility of 1962’s Bluesnik and builds on the progress of what is perhaps McLean’s greatest recording as leader, Let Freedom Ring (1963). (more…)

Revisiting the jazz innovator’s much overlooked minor classic
Ornette Coleman with his saxophone during a rehearsal for The Empty Foxhole, September 1966. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Ornette Coleman with his saxophone during a rehearsal for The Empty Foxhole, September 1966. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Ornette Coleman‘s The Empty Foxhole was recorded at the Van Gelder studio 50 years ago today. It was his first studio recording for the Blue Note label, and the avant-garde composer wastes no time performing trumpet, violin, and his signature alto-saxophone. Longtime collaborator Charlie Haden (who followed this website before he passed away) appears on bass. But the personnel is perhaps most notable for the debut appearance of Coleman’s son, Denardo, on drums: he was just ten years old at the time.

(more…)

The most important sound engineer in jazz history has died, aged 91
If you’ve ever heard a jazz record, chances are you’ve heard the work of Rudy Van Gelder. But you wouldn’t have heard him playing the drums, the piano, the saxophone, or the trumpet (although he had lessons in his youth) – and you wouldn’t have heard him singing into the microphone. That’s because he was the microphone. In a manner of speaking. Born in New Jersey on 2 November 1924, Rudolph (Rudy) Van Gelder became the most prominent sound engineer in American jazz history. He recorded just about every major figure in the canon, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins.

(more…)

bobby-hutcherson-jazz

“Bobby Hutcherson, a vibraphonist whose improvising and composition helped to define modernity for jazz as a whole, has died. He had long struggled with emphysema. He was 75.”

More at NPR.

“I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.” — John Coltrane

Recommended Records

  • A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965)
  • Blue Train (Blue Note, 1958)
  • Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1959)

Read More: John Coltrane: Becoming “a force for good” • A Love Supreme: 51st Anniversary • A Love Supreme: Rare Photographs of John Coltrane • Writing a Life of John Coltrane

cecil-taylor-unit-structures-blue-note-records.jpg

“Unit Structures is both as mathematically complex as its title suggests and as rich in colour and sound as the ensemble proposes, with the orchestrally varied sounds of the two bassists — Grimes a strong, elemental driving force, Silva tonally fugitive and mysterious — while Stevens and McIntyre add other hues and Lyons improvises with and against them.”

The Penguin Guide to Jazz

Listen to the complete album at Blue Note Records.