Disc One – Hooray for Bill Evans
Vinyl: Session Disc 133; vinyl 127 gm
Disc Two: A Rare Original Bill Evans
Vinyl: Alto Records AL 716; 146gm vinyl
Bill Evans (p) Scott LaFaro (b) Paul Motian (d) recorded live on various dates between March and May, 1960 at Birdland, NYC, by jazz archivist Boris Rose.
Selection: concludes as Autumn Leaves, from Alto AL716 side two listed as March 19th Improvisations. The track listings on both covers and labels are to be taken with a pinch of salt, likewise the recording session dates.
Recorded a year before the holy grail Village Vanguard sessions, an opportunity to hear the definitive Bill Evans Trio with Scott LaFaro on bass, in a live setting, with Evans familiar repertoire. The audience hubbub is a little more obtrusive than on the Village Vanguard recordings, or “authentic” , depending on how you feel about it. This is what you would have heard sitting in Birdland on those nights: piano trio jazz in a natural club setting, not a concert-hall performance, where the audience feels obliged to applaud politely after every solo – or sometimes, mistaking a momentary pause in the solo as the end, some leap to their feet to applaud and wolf-whistle during the solo, embarrassing themselves in front of other more hip members of the audience.
Rose’s tape recorder falls some way short in its capture of piano, warbling with what I believe is called “wow and flutter” though no doubt someone will help me out with the definitive term. The capture of the bass is surprisingly strong, as is Motian, though I guess the balance varies from night to night, depending on where Rose managed to position himself in the club. (Some of his recordings were taken from radio broadcasts)
The vinyl transfer is not at all bad for a “bootleg” and succeeds a lot better than some rock band fanboy efforts I have heard – Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival, as recorded from someone’s back garden somewhere near Southampton. It is also more acceptable listening than those primitive Charlie Parker dance hall recordings, which challenge all but the most determined Parkerologist.
Taken as a whole, an interesting and quite acceptable evening-in with the greatest-ever Bill Evans Trio.
London record shop new arrivals, coyly labelled “Birdland 1960 NYC” on the poly and nothing else. Very hip. Takes a certain amount of courage to buy blind, but my “see it buy it, you won’t see it again” kicked in
A little after-purchase research revealed there is rather more to the story than I understood at the time.
Modern CD editions of the 1960 Birdland Sessions
Not to be outdone, the evil silver disc gets in on the act with these two rival “official” CDs of the “bootleg” Birdland recordings, the first of which does a creditable job of documenting the tracks and recording dates for posterity. The track selections on the CD claim definitive complete recording of the sessions and I assume edited from the best of Rose’s many tapes (see below).
Modern CDs will probably have had the benefit of adjustments in the sound balance, but on tapes already over forty years old. The vinyl of course, is on vinyl. What else? May be someone who has the evil silver disc of these sessions can comment how they stand up to critical listening. Are they less evil?
Boris Rose: archivist of live jazz
A little research lifted the lid on the prolific archivist of live and radio jazz performances, Boris Rose. Rose literally made a career of recording jazz – in the manner of a would-be Rudy Van Gelder but with a “the world is my studio” motif, elevating the status of the “bootleg” to a serious independent jazz label, without payment of royalties. The ever helpful Discogs community identifies ten vinyl editions from the Session Disc “catalogue” (though not my Bill Evans volume)
With many artists already having released a large numbers of studio-quality live recordings at the time, Blakey must have several dozen, you ask why you need more in the form of amateur recordings, but some of these artists are so special and the venues unique, so there are selectively to be welcomed. Boris succeeded in capturing in the raw atmosphere something not unlike a “real” imperfect live experience, the balance of instruments dictated by whichever musician happened to be nearest to his presumably concealed tape recorder. Certainly superior to today’s “life through a shaky phone camera” experience.
(As an aside, why do people try to “capture” performance on a phone? In front of you is the real thing, which is the best it can possibly be, living, live experience, direct emotion and quality beyond the highest hi-end hifi, inviting your total absorption. Instead, hundreds of mostly though not always young people hold up their camera, watching the concert in a viewfinder at eye-level, hoping to capture this magic on a 3-inch screen and a mic designed for phone conversation. May be I’m just getting old, but it seems to me not all technology enhances our experience: some of it just gets in the way of our experience. “Did you enjoy your holiday?” -“I don’t know, I haven’t seen the photos yet”)
More of the story behind Boris’s nocturnal tape recording activities emerges from this interview with Rose’s daughter, Elaine, in the redoubtable Wall Street Journal, which I have taken the liberty of reproducing here:
Wall Street Journal December 4, 2010
Elaine Rose, daughter of famed jazz archivist Boris Rose, holds a portrait of her father in front of a small portion of his many master tape recordings from Birdland and a number of other New York jazz venues.
In a dark basement in a quiet residential neighborhood in the Bronx, a well-known archive of privately recorded live tapes and acetates is gathering dust and waiting for some institution to acquire it. The Boris Rose archive, named for the New Yorker who amassed it, is so capacious, in fact, that no one has even cataloged all of it and Elaine Rose, who has owned it since her father died 10 years ago, can’t even begin to guess how much it’s worth.
“This collection certainly deserves to be in a major institution, such as the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, or Institute of Jazz Studies—intact,” said John Hasse, the curator of American music at the Smithsonian Institution.
The collection contains everything from rare performances by modern jazz legends like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane to swing stars like Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Mr. Rose’s own favorites, like Sidney Bechet and Eddie Condon. Ms. Rose is well aware of the need for finding a permanent repository; the acetates and the tapes are, she said, in delicate condition.
“It needs a home. I just can’t keep it in storage. I’m giving myself a time frame of six months to a year to do something with it,” she said.
Boris Rose (1918-2000) was one of those legendary characters who seem to proliferate in the world of jazz. He was tall, articulate, always very well groomed—and by all accounts an outrageous character. An inveterate prankster, he dreamed up a dizzying array of fake label names (including “Titania,” “Ambrosia,” “Caliban,” “Session Disc,” “Ozone” and “Chazzer Records”), many of which he tried to pass off as European imports. Most of his albums bore an address on the front, such as “A Product of Stockholm, Sweden.” But if you looked closely on the back, it would say something like “Manufactured in Madison, Wisconsin” in much smaller type.
The truth was that Mr. Rose produced them all from his brownstone on East 10th Street. He told me once that he took great delight in confounding collectors and discographers, whom he regarded as the bean counters of jazz.
“I always felt something about jazz,” Mr. Rose said in an undated interview with historian Dan Morgenstern that was taped for German television. “As far back as 1930, I listened to broadcasts from the Cotton Club. I heard Duke, I heard Don Redman, I heard Cab Callaway.”
During his years at City College, Mr. Rose practiced the c-melody saxophone but began to find his calling when he got a job at the MRM Music Shop on Nassau Street.
“As far back as 1940, I purchased a home [disc-cutter] recorder and I began to dub records,” he told Mr. Morgenstern. “For the next few years while I was in the Army, I was able to dub records for collectors who couldn’t find the originals.”
From there, he branched out to recording radio broadcasts and then live bands in clubs. “Getting out of the Army in 1946, I had professional equipment, and began to take down all of these jazz broadcasts,” he explained. “First on 16-inch acetate discs. Later on, when tape came into the picture, I was able to record on tape.”
Mr. Morgenstern remembers Mr. Rose as “a man who never sat down—he was always monitoring three or four tape recorders or disc-cutters at any given time.” For decades, Mr. Rose ran a thriving business, recording jazz wherever he could, then making and selling copies or trading them for rarer material.
He operated from 10th Street, but stored most of his original tapes and acetates in the basement of his house in the Bronx, where he raised his three daughters.
One of Rose’s tape recorders
It’s still fairly well-organized: Discs are mostly in one area; soundtracks are in one set of cabinets; 10-inch reels are in one spot and 7-inch reels in another. 78 RPM discs and LPs are all over the place. A thick layer of dust rests on top of everything, but considering the vastness of the collection, the few tapes I recently took out and examined seemed to be in good shape—though neither tape nor shellac will last forever.
Mr. Rose kept detailed notebooks of almost every recording he made. The trick, though, is to find the tape to match the written entry.
“We won’t know what’s in there—or what shape it’s in—until somebody wants it,” Ms. Rose said.
The centerpiece of the Rose archive is the Birdland Collection: Mr. Rose recorded virtually every band that played this most legendary of jazz joints, either directly off the airwaves or by smuggling a concealed tape recorder into the club.
Over time he amassed a spectacular library of modern jazz from the glory years—the 1950s. His friends found this amazing since he rarely listened to the stuff himself; his own tastes ran to Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory. Still, he documented an entire era of music, the great majority of which hasn’t been heard in 60 years.
Around 1970, Mr. Rose’s business entered a new phase when he began using some of his material for mass-produced LPs that were distributed internationally, generally bearing amateur-looking artwork and misleading information. According to friend and researcher Arthur Zimmerman, Mr. Rose rarely if ever bothered to negotiate with the actual musicians or pay mechanical royalties for the compositions (with the exception of several country albums by Gene Autry, after the singing cowboy’s lawyers got in touch). He sold Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday material to ESP Records, and a famous double-LP set of Parker at Birdland to Columbia Records.
In the end, Mr. Rose released hundreds of albums, under dozens of label names, up through the mid-’80s. When compact discs took over, he gradually lost interest. In the ’90s, he made it known that the archive was for sale, but kept raising the price whenever anybody expressed interest.
“He left it to me so I could have an income,” said Elaine Rose. “His words to me were, ‘Make money with it.’ But it’s a whole different era now.”
Credits:This article was bootlegged from The Wall Street Journal. Boris would no doubt have approved.