Billy Mitchell: A Little Juicy (1964) Smash/ Philips UK

Segue from Thad Jones, The Magnificent, tenor Billy Mitchell…enough staring at vinyl etchings, lets get back to the music: billy-mitchell-a-little-juicy-cover-1920-ljc

Selection: Stella by Starlight

Artists

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

Music

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.

Vinyl:

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?

billy-mitchell-smash

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)

brew-mooresahib-shihab-billy-mitchell-look-alike

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.

billy-mitchell-a-little-juicy-labels-2000-ljc

billy-mitchell-a-little-juicy-back-1920-ljc

Collector’s Corner

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.

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8 thoughts on “Billy Mitchell: A Little Juicy (1964) Smash/ Philips UK

  1. I bought my original near mint copy on Smash for $9.99. Its a solid session. I can’t understand what anyone dislikes about Kenny Burrell. He is both a great guitarist and gentleman. I had the pleasure of seeing him in the nineties with his trio, it was a great show. All the jam session he led on Prestige are among my favorites.

  2. If it were not for LJC, it is unlikely that I would have selected this album to give it a spin. I am glad I did, the presence of K.B. which always put me off, is not too disturbing. So there we are with a group of pals which recorded again in 1963, 15 years after their initial recordings ‘for Dee Gee.
    Smash had a list price of $ 3.98, they were to EmArcy what was N.J. to Prestige. Not real budget, as was Status.
    Mine is also a Philips. So I cannot comment on the DG question. Billy’s previous Smash album though , MGS 27027, mono, has deep grooves.

  3. Looking at Discogs entries, is it correct (there are no images) that the stereo was released in 1967, 3 years after the mono pressing? I realize Discogs can be wrong… just wondering…

  4. My father talked fondly of the Jazz clubs in Baltimore. He was there in 1955-1960. He mentioned a lady at one of the clubs who would sing “My Funny Valentine” when she saw him come in to the club. She went on to become a well-known R&B star.

  5. A delight to read, as ever. With Kenny Burrell on guitar this quite clearly merits attention. Although NYC was the centre of the modern jazz scene, Philadelphia and Detroit were home to many great talents (note to self- not sure re Baltimore- must research). Are there any standouts amongst the other tracks or is SBS the only one that’s got the boom (as we say here in South East London)?

    • Jive-talk, yeah.

      All the tracks have their own character, a bit of Latin here, jaunty bop there, lots of different flavours. Mitchell is a bit of a chameleon, leans toward Rollins on some, Getz on others, Gonsalves slurring not far behind. Against the tide, it lacks the dark corners of more avant-leaning works of the time, enthusiastically mainstream.

      Despite its cringe-making title, “Kids Are Pretty People” would be my second pick. Quirky heads tip you into a great romp, raunchy walking bass, bluesy changes, Burrell in sparkling form. Not groundbreaking, but a lot of fun.

    • Though I never had the chance to listen to the record, a Youtube search reveals that Thad used the same opening sequence for the title track as he did on “Illusive”, from The Fabulous Thad Jones (Debut). Great idea, sounds very good indeed.

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