Frank Strozier: “Fantastic” (1960) Vee-Jay

Frank-Strozier-cover-2000-LJC

Selection 1: Waltz of the Demons (Little)

Selection 2: Runnin’ (Strozier)

Artists:

Booker Little (trumpet) Frank Strozier (alto saxophone) Wynton Kelly (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Jimmy Cobb (drums) recorded at Fine Sound Studios, NYC, December 9, 1959 and Bell Sound Studios, Studio B, NYC, February 3, 1960

Music:

Frank Strozier:

His debut as leader, Frank Strozier at age 22, offers melodic and quick-fire alto to rival the young Sonny Stitt, with a little Jackie Mclean thrown in, all with a debt to Parker, but offering a voice of his own. He is featured in several other Vee-Jay titles around this time with the quirkily named quintet MJT+3 (Modern Jazz Two plus Three) worthy of attention.

Strozier earned brief recognition in a stint with Miles Davis Quintet in 1963, between Mobely and Coleman, but which led to nothing, and he moved  west to play with Chet Baker, Shelley Manne and the Don Ellis big band. In the crowded field of horn players, Strozier lacked the recognition he deserved but his name pops  up in a variety of  excellent settings where his energetic alto pairs finely against tenor or trumpet – Booker Ervin (Exultation!),  Roy Haynes (Cymbalism)  Chet Baker (Baby Breeze) Johnny Griffin (Big Soul Band). He recorded erratically in the ’80s and in the early ’90s left music altogether for teaching, but still with us, currently age 78.

Booker Little:

As much the star here however is Booker Little, who like Strozier, hailed originally from Memphis. Fantastic Frank Strozier is one of Little’s few recordings before his untimely death the following year, 1961 age 23. Little conceded his major influence was Clifford Brown, but that would be true of most of his generation of  trumpet players. Little’s tone is pure, dark and burnished, his improvisations daring and inventive, and his lyricism contained within perfect construction. Connoisseurs of trumpet can contrast the minimalism of Miles with Little’s more please.

Rhythm section:

– courtesy of Miles Davis Quintet: Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. What more can you ask for?

Summary:

The Cook and Morton verdict: “we have long held this record in high esteem and it never fails to deliver.” All credit to Vee-Jay for producing this great record with  young talent Strozier and Little not widely known at the time. Their careers soon terminated or diffused, 1960 captured here remains a fantastic vintage for modern jazz.

 Vinyl:  Vee-Jay 3005 mono

A mono first second pressing (seen below with the “earlier” maroon script label)

161655959527[1]

(Full Guide to Vee-Jay Records jazz recordings and label transitions here)

A very busy run-out which includes a hand-etched date of mastering “8-13-60” (American MMDDYY) something in retrospect one wished all engineers had done, but they were living in the world of today “now” and not one of future record collectors, to whom dates are of more than passing interest.

Frank-Strozier-labels-2000-LJC

Frank-Strozier-back-2000-LJC

Collector’s Corner

All the fault of JoeL and his rave comments on Vee-Jay Records. Chicago, you have a lot to answer for.  I thought I must have this record, my life will be incomplete without it. Ebay drew a blank but the venerable Discogs sourced a local copy which I was forced to snap up before any more LJC readers got wind of it.

Whilst Strozier is a joy to listen to, there seems to me a cognoscenti in jazz – those who attune by preference to trumpet over saxophone or trombone. Whilst I gravitate to the tenor, I feel I am missing something with trumpet, that I need to do more comparative listening to: Gillespie, Navarro, Brown, Dorham, Miles, there is an untapped story here, and I feel a need to write it. Soon.

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30 thoughts on “Frank Strozier: “Fantastic” (1960) Vee-Jay

  1. Just got a gorgeous rainbow deep groove mono copy of this and it sounds unreal. I do like that maroon label though. Anyway, probably wouldn’t have thought to pause when I got to it flipping through the racks this weekend if I didn’t see it here on LJC, so thanks!

  2. my rainbow label Introducing Wayne Shorter, 3006, has a pasted white strip on bottom back cover with name and instrument of all players: anyone knows if is there a cover with printed data?

    • My Paul Chambers “Go” Vee Jay copy also has a pasted strip with the personnel on bottom back cover. Not sure why…it’s a first pressing.

      • my “Go” copy has a pasted acknowledgement: “W. Kelly, Philly J.J. and J. Adderley appear through the courtesy of Riverside records”, so not the whole personnel.

    • My maroon label copy also has the white stripe paste on. Maybe they printed up enough back slicks for the first run that it was cheaper to just continue to paste on the strip than to do a reprint.

  3. whether Strozier is “fantastic” or just a competent craftsman, remains to be seen. A fact is that the unmistakeble merit of this album is the feature of Booker Little. Never enough of Booker. Of course, Max Roach has the merit to first introduce Booker to the community by recording him with his group in June 1958 and then to showcase him at Newport R.I. in early July 1958.
    Frank Strozier was introduced to the record buying public on the 1959 U.A. album “Down Home Reunion” – Young Men from Memphis”, the Young Men being Booker Little, Louis Smith, George Coleman, the Newborn Bros, and as reads the front sleeve:” Introducing Frank Strozier”. (UAL 4029/UAS 5029. Great cover art this one.
    Two unissued tracks (Tibbitt, Just in time, total 17 minutes of music) from the Vee Jay Fantastic Strozier session with Booker appeared on a 1982 Japanese VeeJay album entitled “Kelly’s Memories – Wynton Kelly. VeeJay RJL-6025. Multi-coloured labels!

  4. Absolutely love Frank Strozier and all those Memphis cats. Actually first learned of Stroizer on Woody Shaw’s stone classic 70s Muse album, “Little Red’s Fantasy,” and worked back from there. Strozier’s discography as a leader is a little limited but every one is worth owning. I have this digitally but would love to have a copy of this beaut on wax. Great find. And anything with Booker Little is worth owning.

    Quick question for LJC – I’m sure you’ve addressed it a number of times and the answer is probably obvious, but wondering what you do/use to get such great hi-res pics of your albums on the blog? I’m assuming you have a hi-def scanner or something but regardless, have the fun of this blog, in my opinion, is the beautiful images uploaded with each post. From the front cover to the label and detail of the deadwax – always love looking at closely at the hi-res images. Great work – and again – wondering what the process is. Keep it coming!! PEACE! – B-Figz

  5. Strozier made some beautiful albums in the 60s, including 2 or 3 for Jazzland. Worth looking for and very affordable

  6. Yes more dates in dead wax would make for a better world for we wacky collectors. I’ve seen a fair number of Vee Jay releases with that welcome info. Dates are often found in the dead wax of Elektra Records releases from the late Sixties into the Seventies. During that time the label had stopped issuing Jazz and was almost exclusively recording Rock and Folk. London Records which issued next to no Jazz often carried those ARC dates. Often it’s just the date, with no ARC. So like some of those Vee Jays it could be that same mastering outfit doing it. Or maybe not. ARC was Allentown Record Company. I’ve got a Royal Roost with the same fix. I’ve always been fascinated with this written in wax stuff. Somebody on here knows a lot more about it then me.

  7. The MJT+3 Vee-Jay 3014 -60 with Strozier and Bob Cranshaw is a great record. Little known and highly recommended

  8. LJC: The world definitely needs more Booker Little. the rainbow the first on this? I have a rainbow stereo but thought the solid maroon was the first for some reason. Hope I am wrong.

    • Dave, You’re correct, the solid maroon label is the first. I have a rainbow label that I found 15 years ago but have been looking for the maroon ever since.

      • When doing my research on Vee-jay at no time did I come across a maroon script label of this release. Can’t say it doesn’t exist, but with the two editions of Kelly Great the maroon script was 1000 series – the second black/ rainbow in 3000 series.

        Strozier was first released as VJLP 3005 in 1960.The latest recording date is February 1960 and mastering date August 1960 – puts it at the time the 3000 series adopted the black rainbow rim label.

        What do I know?

        Anybody got a picture of Strozier with maroon label I’ll eat my hat. Honest.

    • Well said re Booker. One of the many reasons I love this record is that it’s top-drawer Booker that is actually affordable. This one and Max Roach plus four On The Chicago Scene are how I get my Booker fix.

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