Buddy de Franco: A Bass Oddity


Selection: Cousin Mary (Coltrane) – Buddy deFranco


A Coltrane composition which appears on his Giant Steps album. What a great opportunity to set out how the master approached it. Mono, naturally, Decca New Malden pressing on London American (crimson silver label). Gosh I had forgotten how good this is.

Selection: Cousin Mary (Coltrane) – John Coltrane, recorded May 1959 (corrected).


Anyway, back to Buddy deFranco and the woodwind section


Freddy Hill or Lee Morgan (trumpet) Curtis Fuller (trombone) Buddy DeFranco (clarinet, bass clarinet) Victor Feldman (piano, vibraphone) Victor Sproles (bass) Art Blakey (drums) recorded Hollywood, CA, December 1 & 3, 1964

The stellar line up first caught my attention. How come all these guys were in Hollywood in the run up to Christmas 1964? Who knew?

Bonus Track: Rain Dance (with Lee Morgan):


A very Blue-Note-ish composition credited to Victor Feldman, the man who famously turned down the offer to join Miles second quintet, a place thankfully taken by Herbie Hancock, history might have turned out differently.

Second bonus track: Straight No Chaser (Monk)


At least Victor Feldman swings it his own way, leaving the iconic lead tune to Buddy, who plays it deftly note for note. No-one can out-Monk Monk, so why try?


What first  caught my attention was the impeccable list of journeymen – Blakey, Lee Morgan (brief appearance on two tracks) , Curtis Fuller, with Victor Sproles walking mightily tall on the bass. Everybody swings, puts in enjoyable feel-good performance

Listening recently to Ken McIntyre/ Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Guiffre, and now Buddy deFranco, I confess there is something strangely affecting about the clarinet – or bass clarinet – swung as a jazz instrument- its’ plaintive and  strangled upper register, like the artist is really having to fight the instrument to get it up to those notes,  those bottom octave with their woody tones so unlike the angry rasp of its brass relative, the constrained linearity of its melodic lines, presumably it lacks the valve-box-of-tricks of the saxophone. Yet it swings mightily on its own measured way.

Hearing deFranco for the first time, you are immediately reminded how innovative Eric Dolphy was at about the same time, having died just six months before this Buddy deFranco recording was made.


Original US title: Vee-Jay VJLP 2506  Leonard Feather’s Encyclopaedia of Jazz Volume 2 Blues Bag. Not the catchiest of titles, likely to have the record flying off the shelf,


UK distributors, President Records Limited, London gave the UK release something a little shorter, Blues Bag. But still failed to mention even in passing the calibre of the “sidemen”, some of New York’s finest, with British émigré Victor Feldman thrown in. Clearly no-one at Joy or President felt confident enough to write any liner notes, or willing to pay someone else to.



Collectors Corner

Sometimes your ears need a fresh sound, a break from the omni-present saxophone quartet or quintet. Different instrument requires a different approach, delivers a different presentation, plays to different strengths. I always associated the woodwind instruments with the New Orleans jazz heritage, so its good to hear it stretching out in a different setting. There’s more mileage in this yet.

The postman  just delivered the 1992 ECM double Guiffre 3, 1961,  with Bley and Swallow. More interesting changes.

Record label-wise, I am entirely unable to disassemble the relationship between Vee Jay, Joy ’60s (US NY label), President Records Limited, London (we don’t have a President. You do. Apparently) and where Leonard Feather fits in. And who Buddy deFranco was. Or is. So many questions. Nice recording, nice pressing, nice music, that’s what matters. Answers can wait.


26 thoughts on “Buddy de Franco: A Bass Oddity

  1. Re: “I am entirely unable to disassemble the relationship between Vee Jay, Joy ’60s (US NY label), President Records Limited, London […] and where Leonard Feather fits in.”

    UK President (est. 1966) was the local record label of the London music publisher Edward Kassner Music (est. 1944), whose eponymous owner had already founded the President (est. 1956) and Seville (est. 1959) labels in the US.

    US Joy (est. 1958), together with Select (est. 1962), were the local labels of the New York music publisher Santly-Joy (est. 1929), which handled Bing Crosby’s publishing interests among other things. Joy and Select folded when Santly-Joy was sold to the larger publisher Aberbach in 1966, and President picked up the UK rights to the catalogue, which had previously been with Pye.

    Vee-Jay (est. 1953) too had folded in 1966, and the catalogue ended up in the hands of former Vee-Jay executive Randy Wood in Los Angeles, whose Mira Productions had several labels of its own (Mira, Mirwood, Surrey, Crestview, Onacrest). President got the UK rights to all the Wood material; Vee-Jay had lastly been with Fontana prior to its bankruptcy, as had the Wood labels for that matter.

    In 1968, UK President launched a new budget label, and revived the Joy name for this purpose, apparently with permission, although only a tiny proportion of the material released came from US Joy. Thus this November 1970 release of a former Vee-Jay LP on Joy.

    Leonard Feather published his book “The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties” in 1966, and to tie in with it, there were two LPs on Vee-Jay (2501 and 2506), one on the short-lived post-Vee-Jay stopgap label Exodus (6003) and one on Verve (! – 8677). Feather’s earlier “The Encyclopedia of Jazz” from 1955 had already been accompanied by a series of four LPs on US Decca (and UK Brunswick).

    I hope that this clears matters up somewhat!


  2. Buddy DeFranco on bass clarinet is an entirely new experience for me. I only knew his late-forties work as a pioneer of “modern” jazz clarinet (including those two knock-out Metronome All Stars titles, “Victory Ball” and “Overtime”, with Bird and Miles and Tristano), and a handful of excellent Verve recordings with Lionel Hampton.
    I really enjoyed listening to the tracks presented here, plus the few ones on Youtube. A very interesting album, beautifully recorded.


    • is it a coincidence that most, if not all, clarinetists are italo-americans? de Franco, Antonio Sciacca (aka Tony Scott), Giuffre, John Laporta are names which spring to my mind.
      I did the wrong thing apparently in ditching the Blues Bag album (unplayed) because of its mediocre presentation. The “nor fish, not meat” aspect of it made it an easy victim during one of my periodic cleansing operations.
      Dolphy opened my ears to the potential of the bass clarinet in jazz. This being said, the first time I heard jazz on the instrument is on Bill Perkins’ World Pacific LP “Just Friends” with Art Pepper and Richie Kamuca. Jepsen mentions “Bill Perkins tenor sax”, but not bass clarinet and flute which he plays too on this album.


      • Italian-American clarinetists indeed seem to abound in one specific period (early modern jazz, cool, 1950’s), but other jazz clarinet players came from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. Just take Alphonse Picou, Johnny Dodds, Edmond Hall, Barney Bigard, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Hamilton, Mezz Mezzrow, Frank Teschemacher, Pee Wee Russell, Buster Bailey…


          • Of course, of course. But none of the musicians I mentioned played “Trad” (what an ugly word!). They were all avant-garde in their own day. Much more so than some esteemed hard boppers who played some tired blues theme at the beginning and end of each piece, and that was all the compositional sophistication they were able to offer.


  3. I can’t think of many sounds that are as gruffly exciting as the bass clarinet swung hard. There’s something about it — I think it’s because it always sounds as if it might at any minute get out of control. Dolphin — but of course; but also the great Rudi Mahall, who sort of takes Eric’s role on the recent Alexander Von Schlippenbach CD on Intakt, SO LONG, ERIC!

    In fact the only slightly more alien sound is Anthony Braxton’s contra-bassoon.

    As regards the Giuffre record on ECM, what I love about the Giuffre/Swallow/Bley trio is that they are the European chamber counterpart to the Americana of the Jimmy Giuffre 3. Both sensibilities are equally beautiful in Giuffre’s hands.


  4. If you want to check out more fine music by Buddy DeFranco, i suggest the recordings released as “Mr. Clarinet” from 1953. Great boppish bluesy tunes with early Art Blakey and Kenny Drew. DeFranco was matchingly called “Charlie Parker of the Clarinet”, i’ve read.


    • “Mr. Clarinet” MG N-1069 is a great record! That was first issued with a different cover as “The Buddy DeFranco Quarted” MG N-1026 (with few different songs). I dig the bluesy “Buddy’s blues” (Parker’s Mood).
      Those Norgran Quartet recording are all superb: “Artistry of Buddy DeFranco” MGN-1012, “Jazz Tones” MG N-1068, “In A Mellow Mood” MG N-1079. The first Quatet had Kenny Drew, Art Blakey and Milt Hinton. The second line up was Sonny Clark, Bobby White and Gene Wright. Playing, arrangements and recordings as good as it gets. I really like the feel of these recordings from 1953-4.

      DeFranco/Sonny Clark Mosaic box is also highly recommended.


  5. your postman brought the ECM Giuffre trio from 1961. Good news. I have the two Verve albums (vinyl) and two German concerts ( Stuttgart and Bremen- November 7, resp. 23, 1961), released in 1992 and 1993 on CD by the Swiss Hat Hut label. Is your ECM vinyl or CD? and where/when were they recorded? In Germany I presume.


    • Remastered by ECM in Germany 1992, on 2×33 vinyl.

      It is one of the first records I have encountered where an ensemble has no drummer. It is taking some getting used to, not just the missing rhythmic cues, but particularly as the tonal range is entirely missing the sibilants in the upper register that cymbals provide. It sounds like those records where the top end has been rolled off to supress tape hiss, one of my bête noire’s. It sounds a bit like a digital transfer onto vinyl.

      I think I need to work at it. I have never liked ECM, I find their vinyl sound “sterile” and lacking vitality, a natural candidate for CD. May be that’s just me. (ECM fans, take aim, wait for it, both barrels…)


      • I presume it is ECM 1438/39 issued in 1992.It is a reissue of “Fusion” and “Thesis” both rec. 1961 in NY for Verve.Sound quality is far better than the originals.Congratulations!


      • For a more contemporary feel from the bass clarinet, check out David Murray’s “Ballads for Bass Clarinet”, DIW-880. Unfortunately, I think it’s available only on CD.

        I can understand your opinion of ECM recordings – they are certainly a world apart from early issue Blue Note mono! But I wouldn’t give up on the label too soon. Find a copy of Sam Rivers “Contrasts”, ECM 1162, just reissued last year on vinyl. I fell for the ECM sound in the early ’70’s. Amazingly quiet vinyl, very consistent recording quality. Maybe I just noticed the difference between the ECM sound and the typical junk released during that period.


      • So, for me, no reason to worry: I have the Verves and that does it. Regarding drummer-less jazz groups, Giuffre explored the idea since the mid-fifties. He made four drummer-less albums for Atlantic which are more folksy and less abstract than Thesis and Fusion. Preceding the latter two he did some drummer-less trios for Verve too, more in the Atlantic vein. Whereas Thesis and Fusion feature a piano, the others feature a guitar (Jim Hall) and bass or trombone. The trombonist (Bob Brookmeyer) plays piano too.
        I am afraid you still have some gaps to fill, Andrew.
        (My personal favourite is “The Four Brothers sound” on Atlantic. Jimmy in multi-track recording, on tenor only, Jim Hall on guitar and Bob Brookmeyer on piano only.)


        • Fear not, the Guiffre 3 collection is expanding. Now includes two Jim Hall titles, just added the impossibly apostrophe’d Trav’llin’ Light with Bob Brookmeyer.

          Tempo and rhythm are so fundamental to jazz it is fascinating how these ensembles work around it. Listening to the 1961 double (blog shortly) you hear everyone keeping to time, but taking out the drummer puts the rhythmic accent of piano and bass into sharp relief. The beat is emphasised in its absence, Swallow sometimes strums the bass strings, in the same way Hall sometimes did on guitar, to underscore the missing tempo.

          As Mingus reportedly said, “we all know where the beat is, no need to play it”, but still he had the drummer present. Here, there is none. Interesting, more to be said on this.


          • It is fascinating indeed to note how they proceed. The Hat Hut CD’s offer live music from two concerts in West Germany, and also on stage, the musicians are performing truthfully within their new conception. . You may also wish to explore the Giuffre Four, “Tangents in Jazz”, on Capitol. There is a drummer, but the beat is non-pulsating, implicit. A great listening experience. With the Blue Note craze still very much alive, albums like these are available for ridiculously low prices.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s