Benny Bailey: Big Brass (1960) Candid

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Selection: Maud’s Mood

 

Artists

Benny Bailey (trumpet) Julius Watkins (French horn) Phil Woods (alto sax, bass clarinet) Tommy Flanagan (piano) Les Spann (guitar, flute) Buddy Catlett (bass) Art Taylor (drums) Nat Hentoff (supervisor) recorded November 25, 1960 at Nola Penthouse Sound Studios, NYC,  engineer Robert D’Orleans

(With the exceptions of Tommy Flanagan and Art Taylor, the above were all part of the Quincy Jones Orchestra. You will see why this remark is made, later in the post.)

Benny Bailey’s Bio

Benny Bailey, born Ernest Harold Bailey (13 August 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio – 14 April 2005 in Amsterdam). Why “Benny”? Perhaps it sounded more hip than Ernie. I’ll leave out the Wikipedia “born at an early age ..stuff and move on to the meat.

Bailey’s trumpet talent was honed in the big band schools of Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton in the ’40s  and  early ’50s, before moving to Europe on the coat-tails of Hampton. He spent the latter half of the ’50s in  Sweden with Harry Arnold, and in 1959 began touring with the  Quincy Jones Orchestra as part of the ill-fated production of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s blues opera “Free and Easy“.

Benny was  just one of four trumpet players in Quincy Jones Orchestra, but hot on the heels of the last post about another jazz stage play, The Connection, the story is worth a brief digression.

Here is the full line up of the stage show Free and Easy, look at all those names..

quincy-jones-orchestra-free-and-easy

The  title  of the play, “Free and Easy” couldn’t be less apt. With 36 actors in the cast plus costumes, choreographers, and Quincy Jones 17 musicians on the payroll, and hotel bills, it collapsed in financial ruin, and it is not difficult to see why. Further, you can see how a half-dozen musician in The Connection, doubling up as ham actors, made shrewd business sense.

So, how did they get in and out of this mess? By Quincy Jones’s account:

“The plan was simple. (Quincy Jones Orchestra) would tour Europe for several months (with the Show)… return to Broadway to play for a couple of seasons, build our repertoire, do some recording, play occasional dates in and around New York. By then we could be well established and on our own.

When “Free And Easy” collapsed, suddenly, in Paris, we were on our own, at very short notice, and no plan.

Financially disastrous, I had to turn my musicians loose, return to the States and figure out how to get myself out of debt. The dream turned into a nightmare”

Perhaps the Candid session was part of the strategy to get out of debt. It was on a brief return visit to the US in 1960, soon after that foreshortened tour of Europe, that Bailey recorded Big Brass for Candid, with many of Quincy’s players in the studio. Bailey also recorded another title for Candid that year, The Newport Rebels the “alternative” Newport Jazz Festival mounted by a group of disgruntled musicians including now activist Max Roach.

Returning to Europe in 1961, and settling in Cologne, Bailey became a founder member and lead trumpet of the Clarke-Boland Big Band, the international jazz orchestra staffed by US expatriates and European players that defied the law of commercial gravity for over a decade, recording frequently until its dissolution in 1974. He toured with George Gruntz’s Concert Jazz band, and later became a member of the Paris Reunion Band, and was in demand for sessions with various national Radio Orchestras, including my own BBC, a fake news organisation which at that time still had some vestige of good musical taste.

Bailey made his passport work hard , travelling throughout Europe from his Amsterdam base, combined with trips to the US, where he recorded The Upper Manhattan Jazz Society  with Charlie Rouse in 1981, and in the UK with Tony Coe. He remained in demand for club dates and festivals, including a well-received 1991 season at Peter Ind’s Bass Clef in Hoxton in London’s East End.

Bailey may not have been well-known in the US, but was no stranger to my shores.

Music:

Benny always had a distinctive style,” said Willie Smith, saxophonist and fellow member of the Lionel Hampton band. “He can play so high with so much strength, and has such dynamic chops!”  Bailey developed an instantly recognizable mannerism, of dropping two octaves in the space of one note, and makes very extensive use of the fullest range of the horn. “He could swing with the best of them, out-think all-comers and run chord changes in a more spectacular fashion than all bar, say, Dizzy Gillespie”.

Quincy Jones said of Benny Bailey: “His sound is very personal and he completely avoids clichés. Above all, he is thrillingly himself. He is totally uninhibited and will get all kinds of sounds out of his horn to get his message across. He combines fantastic breath control, remarkable range and a flawless technique, and really composes as he plays, so that his solos are not just anthologies of licks.”

“Big Brass” is one of a small number of  titles with Bailey as leader, which All Music awarded 4½ stars. It is not really a big band outing as the title suggests, as there is only one of everything, a septet. There is a good mix of bop, ballad, and blues, never straying too far from the mainstream, and the tender ballad “Alison” (Smith) is a gentle, romantic antidote to some of the faster-paced boppy tracks.

However my pick is the Bailey composition Maud’s Mood, a raunchy blues-march with an eccentric head melody, a great piano-vamp from Flanagan, but which I love particularly for the presence of Phil Woods on bass clarinet, a totally mischievous instrument, poking and prying, harmonies, a Monk-like attitude, and a reminder of its revered prime exponent, Eric Dolphy.

Bailey’s trumpet here is at it’s best, leaping tall buildings in a single stride, glissando, rapid fire punctuated with pause and vibrato, athletic figures, and free fall octave drops, all with the force of a man seeking to be heard among four trumpet players and fourteen brass instruments in total. Art Taylor effortlessly keeps things moving along, while Buddy Catlett, from Quincy Jones, shows he too can “walk”. Great stuff, worth the price of admission alone.

Vinyl: Candid 8011 (US original).

If the music is first-rate, which it is, things in the audio department are not quite as peachy. Despite a promising audio technical note, all the right sounding engineering bollox, Neumann UB 40’s, the Candid doesn’t sound to me as good as it should and I know it could. P45s all round. It sounds a bit stodgy and congested to me.

benny-bailey-big-brass-candid-8011-audio-notes-ljc

Immediately after ripping the selection on Candid, I made the mistake of spinning an original  Blue Note of similar vintage, around 1961, also mono, for a different rip. An unintentional A:B. Oh dear! All I can say is Bob D’Orleans was no Van Gelder when it comes to recording or mastering, or Nola Penthouse Sound Studios was no Englewood Cliffs, and whoever pressed it was no Plastylite. That’s the trouble with Blue Notes: they are so good, that a lot of recordings that sound OK in their own right, you enjoy the music, come across as lesser by comparison.

I put it down to the engineer. Sorry Bob, I know you were doing your best, don’t take it personally (and remember, I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m not an engineer. But at least I’m prepared to pretend). Audacity software gives you a graphical representation of what it is encoding during a rip:

audacityportable1

One of the interesting things about Audacity histograms, in fact probably the only interesting thing, is the best sounding records seem to make the maximum use of the full dynamic and tonal range. Information rich histograms evolve rapidly between minimum and maximum and all points in between.

Benny is extremely loud when he’s going flat-out in solo, dials straight into the red unless gain is tamed. In the mix, the collective of other instruments are subdued, more squashed in the middle a lot, closer to flat-lining. The histograms tell a story, I just wish I knew exactly what it was.

I have eight original Candid titles, some are sonically outstanding, some middle of the road, and some not as strong as they should be. But at least they do not contain recycled vinyl. Mr Weinstock, I’m looking at you.

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benny-bailey-big-brass-candid-8011-back-1920-ljc

Collector’s Corner

There are around fifteen titles of the Kenny Clarke Francy Boland Big Band which feature Benny Bailey, of which I have most, though as much for the presence of Sahib Shihab and our own Ronnie Scott. Some other Benny Bailey albums, few I can recall seeing in the flesh, and none of which I have, are shown below:

benny-bailey-albums2

Worth looking out for, but many of the titles are for numerous obscure European labels, including Metronome, MPS/SABA, Freedom, Enja, Ego, Jazzcraft, TCB, Laika, Gemini, Sonet, Hot House and Steeplechase. Which is one reason, if not the main reason, why Bailey is not as well-known as he should be. Another reason may be that “recognition” is not something he personally sought. Most of his career was spent being one among many, in a big band setting, his fulfilment was perhaps through playing, and a life of constant travel.

Great thing about writing this stuff is that it forces you to learn. Any Benny Bailey  recommendations among these titles or others not included above, are very welcome.

Any of our American friends still wondering exactly where “Europe” is, well Brexit, we’re out of it, no good asking us. I suggest you put a question on Trip Advisor, seems to work for most places. That, or ask Cortana. Lol.

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8 thoughts on “Benny Bailey: Big Brass (1960) Candid

  1. Great record that I haven’t listened to in a few years. It was next on my list until my turntable went down due to a power switch malfunction ( I am very sad right now). I have a Base Italian stereo reissue from the late ’70’s early ’80’s (?) and I’m looking forward to hearing it again soon. A very favorite Benny Bailey sideman date of mine is Eric Dolphy’s Berlin Concerts issued by Inner City records in the ’70’s. I also had the fourtune to see Bailey at the Village Vangaurd in the early ’90’s playing at top form with an added bonus of 3 circular breathing choruses on Night in Tunisia (!!).

  2. Very nice selection. Bailey’s amazing power on trumpet really jumps out of the mix. My attention was caught by the uncommon use (in jazz) of french horn. I suppose it’s an instrument that just couldn’t compete with the force of it’s horn brothers. The only contemporary jazz french horn player I’m familiar with is Tom Varner (surely there are others) who occasionally was used by Steve Lacy while he lived in Europe. Varner has released at least one album with french horn as the lead instrument (Second Communication on the Omni Tone label).

  3. I have a perfect mono copy of this, save for a skip in the last 30 seconds that I cannot resolve for the life of me, and it makes me nuts. Need to upgrade. 😦

  4. Great stuff – meanwhile, my search for an affordable copy of that Soul Eyes record continues. That stuff is fantastic. Also love his Storyville output from the late 70s. Cheers for this and Happy Holidays!

    • there’s a nice Japanese MPS issue (heavy gatefold cover) that sounds crisp and should run you less than $100. That’s what I bought after giving up on a clean OG at a sane price. It’s a good record — not earth-shattering, but good.

  5. A Bailey date not mentioned above, but absolutely stunning, is “How Deep Can You Go?” on EMI Odeon (SWE) from 1976. Personnel include Bernt Rosengren, Red Mitchell, Lars Sjösten, Torbjörn Hultcrantz and Leif Wennerström. It is very hardcore.

  6. Stimulating post, need to learn more about the man and his music. What I do know, he was on my turntable just recently, part of Dutch bandleader Boy Edgar’s big band: Music Is My Mistress, BV Haast, 1975. (including Johnny Griffin, Slide Hampton, Art Taylor…) Bailey’s on at least one other BV Haast LP. (the label of saxophonist and, well… rebel rouser Willem Breuker) Bailey has some buoyant, dynamic solo spots there.

    Of the legends who lived and died in Amsterdam – Chet Baker, Ben Webster, Don Byas – Bailey was perhaps the most level-headed. It wasn’t drugs, drink, or puppy love that prompted him to stay immersed in Amsterdam’s liberal atmosphere. Instead, Bailey once said, frequent flying around the globe was cheapest from Amsterdam! But obviously, like all the other American jazz artists, Bailey will also have appreciated the admiration that he received from the European audience.

  7. Land of Dolls (I have an original) is fantastic, as is the Soul Eyes (reissue, unfortunately). Both are worth picking up.

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