Updated: February 26, 2019
(replacement rip Davis/ Ain’t Necessarily So – Columbia CL1274 Mono Six-Eye)
An LJC first head to head between two arrangers – Bill Potts and Gil Evans – in their treatment of the Gershwin classic Porgy and Bess. We will be pitting King of Cool Miles Davis against the finest jazz musicians of late-Fifties New York.
The Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess was of the first Jazz albums with gatefold cover containing pages of extensive notes and photos from the sessions, published by United Artists as a numbered Limited Edition. Followers of the Evil Silver Disc: (CDP 7 95132 2 Capitol Jazz) should note: The master tapes to this exquisite session have been lost. “To produce this CD, Bill Potts and Jack Towers gathered as many mint copies of this collector’s item as they could find and painstakingly transferred the best pressing of each selection to tape”.
Charlie Shavers, Harry Edison, Bernie Glow, Art Farmer, Markie Makowitz (tp), Bob Brookmeyer (v-tb), Frank Rehak, Earl Swope, Jimmy Cleveland (tb), Rod Levitt (b-tb), Phil Woods, Gene Quill (as), Zoot Sims, Al Cohn (ts), Sol Schlinger (bs), Bill Evans (p), Herbie Powell (g), George Duvivier (b), Charlie Persip (d). Arranged, orchestrated and conducted by Bill Potts, recorded at Webster Hall, New York City, January 13, 14 & 15, 1959, recording engineer: Ray Hall
1. Summertime (Gershwin)
Bill Potts / New York’s Finest / United Artists / Plastylite Solo order: Harry Edison, muted trumpet Al Cohn, tenor sax Zoot Sims, tenor sax
. . .
The classic Gershwin tunes are the same but, mine-gott, ze attitude and spirit is different.
Potts layers and intertwines New York’s Finest jazzmen in a whirlwind of hot brass and even hotter soloists. It is the spirit of Porgy and Bess, the stage show musical. The girls have victory roll fringe, the men shiny shoes, dancing to save their lives. The arrangements are outstanding – you are in a different time zone: Glen Miller, forces sweethearts, throwing every instrument possible at the musical canvas in perfectly choreographed changes of speed and direction.
Where Potts is hot, Gil Evans and Miles are – in complete contrast – cool, pointing a different direction into the Sixties, but still able to turn up the heat when needed. Miles claims the centre stage and it remains resolutely Miles album, where New York’s Finest step in and out of the solo spotlight to dazzle. Both have a lot of interest to offer.
Now shall we talk engineering?
Gil Evan’s/Miles’s performances are all captured in Columbia’s amazing 30th St Studio – Fred Plaut at the helm maybe, sleeve notes too often fail to give due credit to the engineer. Plastylite and Columbia pressings are pretty well matched but I think Columbia’s engineering in this case give them the sonic edge with the large band. The sound is spacious compared with the United Artists effort recorded at NY’s Webster Hall, by engineer Ray Hall which is the big band sounds to me a tad bright and boxed, though the solos are very feisty, cutting well through the ensemble.
Ray Hall was a relatively unknown young engineer at this time with just a few jazz recordings to his credit – Coleman Hawkins, Phineas Newborn, though later he went on to record a lot of Rollins RCA Victor studio albums, and some Bill Evans and Paul Desmond. By the late Sixties he was at the desk recording most of The Monkees albums and was still working in 2012 – a longer career than most he recorded. With the huge investment in the musical production of The Jazz Soul, one might have expected a big name engineer, but it does look like corporate culture at United Artists was show-biz, interest in the people in front of the microphone and not those behind it – a weakness that was never remedied and left a rather lacklustre legacy in of vinyl output.
I am sure both albums would benefit from Stereo edition, but the United Artists tapes were all lost so an unfair contest. And I don’t have the Stereo. First poster to opine it would sound better on a mono cart gets a slap. We know and I know. There are just some logistical matters that make a second cart/arm/TT not possible at Chateau LJC at this time.
Learning Point: Big band is not for everyone. I am not really a big band person either, except perhaps occasionally for Francy Boland /Kenny Clarke (Sahib Shihab!), and Tubby Hayes at a pinch, but the sheer exuberance and energy of this record pushed me along the scale a little towards Big Band sound. That’s the thing with this jazz stuff. It’s a huge genre with thousands of flavours, all available. Each time you decide you don’t like something you shrink your palate. It is a rich man who can take them all in, and enjoy it all.
In terms of contemporary musical taste, Miles classic period has weathered better, and still sounds cool fifty years on, Big Band perhaps less so, with its feet more in the Forties than the Sixties. I expect I am not alone in preferring Davis’s take on Porgy and Bess, but I have always usually gained something from travel outside my usual comfort zone. That applies as much to spiritual Coltrane, cerebral Anthony Braxton, or Duke Ellington (Main Stem!). Good music should have no boundaries, and that applies not just to “hard to listen to” variety.
The Vinyl: United Artists UAL 4032 promo – Plastylite ear – mono – 209gm
The Gatefold: Limited Edition numbered A 246
There are some great pictures of the musicians who played on this production, lift you straight back to 1959, and the text is rich in context, and should be readable full screen at 1800px – but tough on the smart phone viewer.(Who says hand-held devices or even wearable computing is the future? Why, the people selling it to you, of course )
Connoisseurs of coincidence may like this. During an early morning surf of some music sites I follow I came across an enthusiastic review of this unusual album, and I was in awe of the line up, if somewhat underwhelmed by the cover art, which shouts “ignore me!”. I thought no more about it. Later that morning I made my way up town and across the river, deep into the occupied territories of North London. I dropped into a shop I rarely visit, and skimming through its jazz section, what should rise up from the shelf but Bill Potts Jazz Soul of Porgy & Bess – limited edition – numbered A – first batch- audition copy – and good grief, the Plastylite ear in the run-off. Read about it one minute, three hours later, looking at it. Coincidence? Pull the other one. Sometimes this record collecting business is just plain spooky.
Always interested in any views on issues raised in this post. Are you a big-band person? What’s the attraction? Have I got the engineering stuff wrong? I’ve done all the work so far, the floor is yours.
Postscript: CD reissue, following poster Bob’s observation:
How marketing has moved on. Still, its probably more attention-getting than the prissy sentimental folksy UA cover – this embraces the basic principle of modern marketing: sex sells.