Selection: A Night in Tunisia (Gillespie)
Dexter Gordon (tenor sax) Bud Powell (piano) Pierre Michelot (bass) Kenny Clarke (drums) recorded CBS Studios, Paris, France, May 23, 1963, engineer Claude Ermelin, mastered by Van Gelder, and released in November 1963.
Artist of Note: Bud Powell, piano!
Powell left New York for Paris in 1959, where American jazz artists found a congenial expatriate community, and decent espresso. Right, Powell pictured at Club St Germain, Paris, with Kenny Clarke (drums) and native Parisian Pierre Michelot (bass), Clark Terry and Barney Wilen on brass.
Holy Cow, someone get me a ticket!
1960 The Three Bosses – Powell, Michelot and Clarke– played a year-long residency at the Blue Note Club, Paris, the longest period of continuous employment in Powell’s career. The club’s ten-year life, 1958-68, saw concerts by Chet Baker, Donald Byrd, Sonny Criss, Ervin Booker, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Giuffre, Gerry Mulligan, Art Farmer, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Jimmy Smith, Elvin Jones, Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, Sahib Shihab, Lucky Thompson, Nathan Davis, Mal Waldron, Ben Webster, and Cannonball Adderley. To name but a few.
Make that a season ticket!
Having allegedly downed a customer’s drink when they weren’t looking, Powell was fired, or so the story goes. Concert bookings still flowed, taking him to Switzerland, Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm. Back in Paris, at the time of this Gordon session, Powell made as many recording dates in four months as he had since his arrival in Paris four years previously. However from here on Powell went into a spiral of decline from which he never emerged, ending in his death in 1966, age 41.
There seem to be two fixed points in jazz criticism which come up whenever that artist’s name is mentioned: Sonny Stitt is Charlie Parker’s shadow (oh no he isn’t/ oh yes he is), and the later Bud Powell, as a shadow of his earlier self. I’m not sure it helps you appreciate the good in either. Everything has an upside, its a physical fact. All-Music gives a more generous account of Bud’s contribution to Our Man In Paris: “His playing is a tad more laid-back here, but is nonetheless full of the brilliant harmonic asides and incendiary single-note runs he is legendary for.” Well said that man.
Our Man In Paris was Dexter’s first Blue Note message from France. John Fordham described it as “a tenor-sax tour de force from a key figure bridging bebop and its swing predecessor.” Dexter’s notes are hard and precise, in elongated runs. At times I find him too controlled, too sure-footed and laid back, I crave more risk-taking, dangerous sorties, but here Dexter gives one of the strongest of all his performances. Blistering climaxes, terrific attack, especially in the standard Night in Tunisia, with its quirky oscillating opening, Woody Woodpecker-like intro; a stop-start Gillespie tune that nevertheless offers the perfect platform from which to launch incendiary solo flight, as it did Charlie Parker’s break. It’s all in the tension and release.
I like to think Powell’s presence helped spur Dexter on – how could it not? All the tracks are jazz standards, chosen for Bud’s familiarity with the material, as Bud’s appearance was apparently a last-minute substitute for Kenny Drew. That familiarity also encouraged Dexter in exploring fresh directions in those familiar melodies, weaving in a masterly flow of quotations, Long Tall at his most Rollinesque.
Snap Poll! We haven’t had a poll since the last one. Which are your favourite Dexter Blue Notes? I say, whichever I am playing at the time. We need a poll, popular vote carries the day, your three favourite Dexters. Reminder:
Eight candidates, you are allowed to nominate three, poll closes in one week, no ID required, no leaks, no hacking, no recounts, and no tears if you disagree with the result. Go ahead, make your play.
Vinyl: Blue Note BLP 4146
Mono, ear, VAN GELDER, and WOC – writing on cover!
A different sort of DG, “Dexter Gordon”, that autograph on the cover (1) – is it genuine? Take a moment to compare. No. 2 is his drivers license signature, which presumably must be genuine. The remaining three autographs are also on record covers. On all except 5, the ascending stroke of T in Dexter is as tall as the first letter D or taller, and the upper half of the x is bigger than the lower half. I reckon 1 is genuine, as are 3 and 4, if anything, 5 is a fake, though it’s hard to tell. If you were planning to fake an autograph, you might take the trouble to copy an authentic autograph, but before the days of the internet, how would you find one?
I have seen obviously fake Coltrane and Miles Davis autographs a few times on covers, but Dexter? Ask yourself, would you have the courage to “spoil” the front cover of a beautiful and expensive Blue Note with some big crappy-looking “forgery”? I figure the only person who would write on the cover of this album is Dexter himself, nothing to lose.
Plastylite and Van Gelder, though not recorded by Rudy, who it seems rarely if ever travelled to record outside the US. The recording was mastered by Van Gelder from tapes recorded by a young French engineer, Claude Ermelin, at CBS Studios, Paris. It was one of Emerlin’s first professional recordings. He later went on to record a wide spectrum of music for a wide range of French labels, including much chanson Francais, a couple of ’80s titles of the inimitable Jean Michel Jarre, but had no special jazz credentials at that time. Perhaps no one thought anything about it, the focus was on the artists, the engineering was a studio function simply taken for granted.
The audio recording quality has come in for a bit of stick from a few commenters on Amazon, those purchasing recent Audio CD, and some “vinyl” new reissues bought via Amazon. An RVG Remastered CD buyer says: “Dexter’s tenor still sounds compressed, compartmentalized, and even grating (so, normal for a CD), and Bud’s piano still carries that trace of distortion“. To which one brave soul fires back: “I still have the original recording (in mono!), and have always found the sound quality excellent – what I call a true jazz sound, with nothing softened or rounded off.” Which is also my experience. Can’t say I have noticed anything amiss, nothing intrusive.
No First Pressing Fundamentalist woes either. Readers may recall the controversy over Kenny Drew Undercurrent, as The Bard himself might have said: DG, or not DG, that is the question.
Cohen initially declared the first pressing should be deep groove. By the time this record was pressed in 1963, non-DG dies had been in use at Plastylite for nearly two years . Records turned up with DG one side or the other, no DG, or both DG at random. Whenever there was a stamper change, a different die permutation might occur. First off the second stamper is less desirable? When do you stop the “first pressing”? Friday?
Both DG and non-DG copies of Our Man in Paris are found on NY labels. Cohen has since revised his view, stating that everything after 4060 with all other correct markings but without DG is an “original issue”. Which is lucky, as a “preview copy” has come to light, which has good provenance, and like mine is not deep groove, and has a correct accompanying inner sleeve. I believe the seller’s name is familiar: bill-sf
Van Gelder mastered original vinyl, mono, big sticky-out ears, cracking sound, it’s all good.
It took several years patiently following auctions of Our Man In Paris before one came affordably into my sights, of all places, on the wall of a London store. “Hey, I wanna discount, someone’s written on the cover!” I said. A robust discussion followed as to the veracity of the autograph , and more important, did it add or subtract value? Charlie Parker on Yardbird Suite, Dial, right, may be, but Dexter?
World-weary record store counter staff see a lot of records with faked autographs. And people who bring in “autographed” records to sell with high expectations – signed by Dexter! We agreed to ignore the authenticity issue of the signature, priced it out.
Autograph-hunters were a common phenomenon in the ’60s and ’70s, as indeed were autograph fakers, and groupies (who perhaps had something more energetic than an autograph in mind) Venues were smaller, stars were still fairly accessible to fans, not surrounded by bodyguards and whisked away in limos to the after-gig party. Often you could go up to chat to them if you felt so inclined, or buy them a drink during the intermission. Most importantly, people often carried a pen in their pocket, and record cover is physical and can be signed.
Today, they ask for a joint selfie to upload to Instagram to impress their friends, to go with their unwatchable hand-held 1½ hour phone-video of the concert: time better spent enjoying the concert for real.
Back to the vinyl: the high-end auction prices for Dexter in Paris took me by surprise.
Top 25 auction prices in the $300-$700 range, and by my rough calculation only six of the top twenty five auctions mention DG in the headline description, and, more importantly, none of them are autographed by Dexter himself.
Dexter in Paris, 1964. Hi Dex, I’m a big fan from England. No, not New England, the old one. Can I have your autograph? I’ve got your new Blue Note “Our Man In Paris” with me, brought it all the way from England. Here, I’ve got a pen. No, it’s not about me, why not just “Sincerely, Dext… “
Don’t forget to vote for your favourite Dexter Blue Notes. It’s free (unlike Blue Notes!). Check back often to see how your favourites are doing.
There’s one that got away. Unissued recordings curated by Mr Cuscuna in the twilight of the United Artists years, 1962 sessions including LT with dream-team rhythm section, and Sonny Clark, among others. Looks a great catch, why haven’t I got this?