Selection: Stella by Starlight
Thad Jones (trumpet) Billy Mitchell (tenor sax) Richard Wyands (piano) Kenny Burrell (guitar) Herman Wright (bass) Oliver Jackson (drums) A&R Recording Studio, NYC, August 1 & 6, 1963
Hard-swinging tenor Billy Mitchell in one of his few titles as leader at this time, in a quintet lineup, trumpet, tenor, guitar and piano over a rhythm section which permits a lot of varied textures, pairings and solo space. Mitchell soon returned to big band settings, while Thad went off to a long collaboration with drummer Mel Lewis
All-music official review:
“Great overlooked album by this fantastic tenor talent from Detroit. Although often lost in other people’s groups, Billy is excellent here, and lays down some great solos with a lot of imagination and fire.”
Selection – Stella By Starlight – a popular jazz standard, with landmark recordings by everyone from Charlie Parker with strings to Miles Davis on Jazz Track, and embellished with lyrics for Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and Ela and many others.
Lyrics, should you want to sing along, seem surprisingly lame given the strong word-picture quality of the title, but that’s showbiz for you, imagine the sleepless nights of the lyricist commissioned to put words to a classic tune:
The song a robin sings,
Through years of endless springs,
The murmur of a brook at evening tides.
That ripples through a nook where two lovers hide.
That great symphonic theme,
That’s Stella by starlight,
And not a dream…
Sing and Spring, tide and hide, brook and nook, mines a pint of Stella, fellas…..on second thoughts, lets stick to the music version.
Thad’s firm clear voice hails straight from his “Magnificent” period. The rendition of this classic is graced with big impassioned solo from Mitchell, burning up the horn. Richard Wyands on piano has been compared with Red Garland: romantic block-chord melodies and elegant single note runs. Wyands is paired with his regular touring partner, Kenny Burrell, on guitar.
This album is something of an oddity, unassuming, but not without charm, and an enjoyable break from more compelling artists and labels. Especially, Kind of Blue.
Black label UK pressing on Philips BL7666 UK release of Mercury/ Smash MGS 27042. Lots of out-of-focus microphones on the cover, U42’s?
Released in US on Smash Records, a label created by Mercury Records in 1961 to release material outside its focus at the time on pop and orchestral music. After Philips bought Mercury and established Fontana for international music, Smash became a country label with odds and sods mixed in.
The cover pose of Mitchell reminds me of the appearance of Sahib Shihab on the cover of Brew Moore in Europe album (a fine record)
Sahib peering out from the undergrowth behind his baritone, behind his co-players: a playful design device light years away from the intimate studio portraits of Francis Wolff.
A rare though not well known and not especially sought after title, the Smash original can fetch up to $200, and the Philips somewhat less, on account of being “foreign” ie where I’m from. Strange thing is, I remember the auction as being rather fierce.