More hidden treasures. You wait ages for a Dolo Coker post, then two come along at once. Marc Myers pipped me to the post with his JazzWax post on Coker just a couple of weeks ago, here, describing Coker as “an insider’s jazz pianist…a confident, gentle player who could play tough and pretty.” My interest in this recording was captured not so much by Coker, as by the ensemble lined up for this recording. As the post was already in preparation any way, you get a a second helping of Dolo.
Blue Mitchell (trumpet, flugelhorn) Art Pepper (alto, tenor sax) Dolo Coker (piano) Leroy Vinnegar (bass) Frank Butler (drums) recorded Los Angeles, CA, December 27, 1976, recording engineer Arne Frager, mixing engineer Paul Goodman.
Look at the calibre of the (ahem) sidemen – Art Pepper and Blue Mitchell, and in the rhythm section, Leroy Vinnegar and Frank Butler. It is the leader who was probably the least known. Dolo Coker, recording here the second of his four albums for Xanadu at the ripe old age of 49, two days after Christmas (or whatever euphemism people are required to use nowadays).
On California Hard Pepper records two tracks on tenor – one of his a few instances instead of his usual alto. Perhaps that was related to the previous day’s Xanadu session, with Harold Land on tenor. Or possibly Pepper had pawned his alto to meet an urgent cash transaction requirement, and took a loan of Land’s tenor in order to play on this session. Whichever, it is a delight to hear Pepper’s tenor voice – not the sweet pirhouettes and figures transposed to a lower register, but earthy, hard driving bop, a whole new Pepper.
Mitchell’s full fat tone on trumpet and flugelhorn renders the harmonies to perfection. Dolo bounces along for all he is worth, supported by one of the West Coast’s supreme rhythm sections, Vinnegar and FB. The whole session cooks, not to be overlooked because it is mid ’70s and an undervalued label – it is freshly minted in the grand tradition.
Coker’s earlier career found him in a variety of rhythm sections, including Sonny Stitt (37 minutes and 48 seconds with) , Sonny Criss (Crisscraft), Art Pepper (Intensity) and Dexter Gordon (The Resurgence of) Gordon and Coker were also paired on stage in the West Coast version of Jack Gelber’s play The Connection (other versions including Freddie Redd /Howard McGhee/ Jackie McLean/ Tina Brooks made it to disc, plus I believe couple of Dexter tracks on Blue Note’s Dexter Calling)
Whence “Dolo“? Proper name Charles, perhaps he didn’t take to being called Charlie Coker. His nickname is apparently a “diminutive taken from from a regional dance he liked to perform as a child”. Warming to this idea, I’ve decided I wish now to be known as “The Hokey-cokey Jazz Collector“
Dolo Coker left the stage for the last time, seven years later in 1983, attributed to cancer at the age of only 53. His passion for teaching piano is continued in the form of the Dolo Coker Jazz Scholarship Foundation, which benefits high school and college students.
NYT Review described Coker’s piano thus –
Like most of the other musicians who matured during the be-bop era, he learned as much from earlier players (particularly, in Mr. Coker’s case, Art Tatum) as he did from his contemporaries.Mr. Coker’s thorough but never rambling dissections of standards and originals were decorated with Tatumesque flourishes, and even with touches of stride playing. But he carefully and lovingly shaped each of his pieces, giving them balance, clarity and internal coherence.
I yield to someone who knows piano well enough to tease out his stylistic roots.
Vinyl: Xanadu 142
It’s hard to imagine a less inviting piece of cover art. Xanadu’s Silver Series are (un)distinguished by their silver covers. A great music producer, but the standard of Don Schlitten’s photography falls some way short of Francis Wolff.
Cover art direction: imaginary scene, NY studio photoshoot
Dolo: How do you see it? How about me and a piano like those Blue Notes?
DS: Hell, we got no piano here, Dolo, no. I got an idea. Rest your head on your hand and make like you are thinking great thoughts, you know, like The Thinker, that Gaugin sculpture.
Dolo: Smile for the camera, Don?
DS: No, Miles never smiles, Mingus never smiles, you are a serious artist, try to look …thoughtful. Oh and keep an eye on my car out of the window will ya, watch for the cops, I’m parked on a yellow line.
Dolo: Cops, Don!
DS: Damn, gotta run, I’ll make do with the one shot in the can. I think the expression is “bored” but it’ll have to do.
Unlike their covers, Xanadu Silver Series are generally very good pressings, and California Hard is no exception. To quote myself, “the stereo staging on Xanadu is excellent, and the dynamic range strong throughout the spectrum, with punchy tuneful bass through to the sibulance of symbols”(LJC Guide to Xanadu label). The Xanadu Gold Series of historically important recordings I have sometimes found less satisfactory due to original recording limitations.
No indication of pressing plant or studio, merely a very faint pin-etched catalogue number. Label area bears a large shallow soup-bowl depression, presumable some sort of groove-gard design die to offset autochanger damage.
Thumbing through a store rack of mostly uninspiring jazz titles, this one jumped out at me due to the line up. Previous encounters with Schlitten’s Xanadu record label had always been very satisfactory, apart from one rare but poorly recorded Ronnie Cuber album. With a price barely in double figures, you have nothing to lose, and the payback can be quite high. The seller also had another Xanadu, an Al Cohn title which similarly came up trumps, all in all, an interesting pair.
Checkpoint: would you have recognised the tenor player if you hadn’t been told? Own up. Any Xanadu recommendations, have your say.
The Hokey-cokey JazzCollector