Track selection 1: I’ve got the world on a string (Arlen/ Koehler)
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Track selection 2: Stairway to the Stars (Maineck/Signorelli/Parish)
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Serge Chaloff, baritone sax; Sonny Clark, piano; Leroy Vinnegar, bass; PhillyJoe Jones, drums, recorded Capitol Studios, Hollywood, CA, March 14, 1956
Spending the first part of his career in the 1940’s era of big swing bands, Serge Chaloff featured in Woody Herman’s Second Herd, known as the Four Brothers Band – three tenors: Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Herbie Steward, and Chaloff doing the heavy lifting on baritone. The Second Herd was also known for being a junkie band, losing its trumpeter Sonny Berman to an overdose, age 21. After Herman’s band dissolved Chaloff returned home to Boston, where it took some five years to kick his heroin habit and then embark on his own short recording career.
Chaloff Discography: consists of only
three four albums with Chaloff as leader – Boston Blow Up (1954), Serge & Boots, Fable of Mabel (1955) and Blue Serge (1956). Chaloff”s recording career was cut short in 1957 at the whim of cancer, age 33.
Sonny Clark, also an addict, managed a year shorter lifespan than Chaloff and a similarly short recording career, dead by the age of 32 in 1963. Fellow addict Philly Joe Jones, master of the rim-click groove, present and correct on drums and Leroy Vinnegar, king of the walking bass, who in complete contrast, just kept walking until the ripe old age of 71.
Blue Serge is a masterpiece of precisely executed bop lines and tender renderings of ballads. Chaloff’s effective use of dynamics and vibrato captures the heart of tunes like “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “Stairway to the Stars.” The rapport of the group is impressive for musicians who had not previously worked with Chaloff, and apparently Chaloff decided to have the lights turned low while recording this session, which exudes a distinctly after-hours relaxed ambience.
The Baritone Sax
Chaloff was the first be-bop baritone – Charlie Parker transposed to match the sonority and range of the bigger horn, infused with the blues, at times fast, sweet, swinging, or melodic, though never free.
Compared to the piano and tenor saxophone there were not many masters of the baritone sax: Pepper Adams, Sahib Shihab and Gerry Mulligan is my order of preference, and some lesser players, but it’s a great instrument in anyone’s hands. Think of the opening of “Moanin’ ” (the raucous Mingus one, not the Bobby Timmons tune) and the Mingus Big Band 93’s version on Nostalgia in Times Square (The Evil Silver Disk only) rather than the more anodyne Blues and Roots Mingus original.. Ronnie Cuber’s baritone has big boots. Could any other instrument carry this tune?
The Cuber You tube instantly made me a convert to the instrument. It’s a beast, but Chaloff had it tamed.
Vinyl: Capitol T742 UK 1st pressing by EMI
The cover is one of those 30-second ideas during a Hollywood lunch. Serge… word association … “blue serge”, tailors dummy, add wholesome girlie posing with baritone sax, all bases covered, its a wrap. Freshen your Martini?
The matrix stamp immediately identifies EMI Hayes, Middx. It is stamped but follows the curve of the run-out groove, unlike rival Decca New Malden, which forms a straight line in the centre of the vinyl land. UK pressings of US recordings were usually re-mastered by a UK house engineer from copy of the master tape sent from the US, single track, or at most, two track, in the ’50s. The roster of engineers was matched to styles of music (popular vocal, classical, jazz). The 1st UK issue stands up fairly well to the US original, though from limited experience, the US sounds better.
Another collectible vinyl from the collection of the late Brian Clark.
The subject of an interesting problem of pricing a UK “original” pressing against a US original pressing. Nominally the same music from the same date on the same label, and both rare, one is the original artefact, the other a copy, remastered from a copy tape, in another country. It’s that undefinable troublesome word “original” and how it affects value. I guess this record comes under the oxymoron “fairly unique”.
Update: I see “rival” blogger TimEnjoysRecords has posted an original US copy of Blue Serge. Great minds and all that.
The Capitol second pressing has a black/rainbow rim label, and there are copies on Popsike that claim this 1959 second release is “original”, but we all know, boys and girls, that the original US is the dark maroon, don’t we.