Jack Wilson: Easterly Winds (1967) Blue Note/Liberty

Selection: On Children (Wilson)

Artists

Lee Morgan (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto sax) Garnett Brown (trombone) Jack Wilson (piano) Bob Cranshaw (bass) Billy Higgins (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 22, 1967

Artist of note: Jack Wilson

Moving to LA in the early ’60s, the young Jack Wilson worked in and out of the studio for film and television production, and toured with a variety of other jazz artists and big name singers as a jobbing pianist. His recording career kicked off with Atlantic, in The Jack Wilson Quartet Featuring Roy Ayers, with several titles for Atlantic and its subsidiary label Vault, before in the later ’60s, LA-based Liberty Records gave him the leader role for three Blue Note recordings, including Easterly Winds, a title in which referenced his East Coast musical roots.

In the 70’s Wilson made his distinctive trademark playing double keyboard, simultaneous acoustic and electric piano.

Double keyboard had been featured once on record by Bill Evans and for some years by the British pianist Eddie Thompson, who remarked the main problem of double keyboard was that it was pretty uncomfortable to play. He might also have noted the transportation burden, as in “Have two pianos, can’t travel!” and a high attrition rate of roadies with striated hernias.

On earlier albums Wilson teamed with Roy Ayres vibes to complement his piano. He was able to get a similar effect playing two instruments simultaneously – a Mason & Hamlin grand piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano.  He developed the technique of playing chords and melody on the right hand with just the melody on the left, a single line an octave apart on both hands, or chords on both left and right with the tone differentiating the two. You pay for a trio and you get the sound of a quartet.

After his Blue Note engagements, Wilson spent nearly a decade with popular singer Esther Philips – what in the trade is known as earning a living – and playing the New York club and concert scene, returning to the studio only intermittently and after many years, made his last recording in 1993.

Music

Jack Wilson and a Blue Note A-team front-line, rock solid in the engine room, turned out a great Blue Note record.

Wilson was a fine energetic pianist in the manner of perhaps Red Garland, shades of Horace Silver (the piano that smiles) and a touch of Tristano in rapid-fire attack on the keys. He gives lots of space to his “sidemen” with both McLean and Morgan in top form, and the excellent Garnett Brown on trombone, in for Curtis Fuller.

The album feature the commercially essential boogaloo track, Side 1 Track 1, Do It, beehived-girls in shift dresses obligingly rise up from the floor to complete the party scene. But the stand out track in my view is the selection, On Children. Pulsing, driving, bubbling, Higgins punishing the drums, great tune from composer Wilson, and deliciously piquant  sour harmonies from the combination of Lee Morgan’s bright fiery tone, McLean’s acid sharp-tuned alto, and Brown’s rasping brass lower register.

The Jazz charts can keep Grooving with the Soulful Strings. With Easterly Winds, it’s as though the early Sixties had never sailed away. Which of course they had. Forever, but for the power of vinyl.

Vinyl: BNST 8270 Liberty Records Inc.

Liberty new release with the old firm still in the driving seat: photography Francis Wolff, cover design Reid Miles, recording and mastering engineer Rudy Van Gelder, perfect Blue Note pedigree.

Eagle-eye collectors: yes, we have no Van Gelder, Side 2. However the matrix/catalogue number is inscribed by the same hand on each side, hence I deduce the master’s handiwork just the same, having perhaps mislaid the stamp, or popped out for a coffee and danish and plain forgot.

What is even more unusual is that the matrix is etched at the exact self-same clock position on each side. Seems a trivial matter but it’s possibly the first time I’ve seen that happen, out of many hundreds of Blue Notes: (scratches head) perhaps there is some connection between this and the missing stamp?

From the true colour fidelity and perfectly formed ®, I’d say this is an All Disc pressing with Keystone Printed Specialties, Scranton PA, labels.



Collector’s Corner

One of the basic rules of the music business is the need to stand out from the crowd, starting with your name. “Jack Wilson“? Googling  “Jack Wilson” gets about 435,000 results, and the surname “Wilson” yields 65 million results. We even had a Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, never mind a singer called Jackie Wilson.  Perhaps this invisibility in the crowd explains why I knew little of Jack Wilson, despite him having recorded three titles for Blue Note:

Wholesome, cheerful, family oriented covers, sitting uncomfortably next to the junkie nightlife aesthetic of  other jazz record covers on the shelf. A marketing masterstroke, or Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom turning their hand to producing another sure-fire flop? First impressions are all important, and those covers put me off buying any Jack Wilson Blue Notes. It was the presence of the other artists that drew me to Easterly Winds, jazz collector’s instinct overriding the message of the covers.

Liberty were convinced enough to release them, and Easterly Winds made a modest showing in the Billboard jazz chart of March 1968, at number 16 in its first week.

A look at the Jazz Top-selling Twenty is a reminder of the modern jazz scene in 1968, and shifting public taste:

Verve, A&M and Atlantic artists dominating the charts, Wes Montgomery, Herbie Mann and Jimmy Smith the leaders. Grooving With The Soulful Strings 18 weeks in the Jazz  Charts at number 2. Easterly Winds  just ahead of Lalo Schifrin’s Music From Mission Impossible.   Only two entries for Blue Note, and notice the number of titles with the warning  “No Mono“:

The Format War was effectively over, records were being issued in stereo only, mono had been defeated. Of the Jazz Wars, the popular market continued to fragment into evolving sub-genres, of soul-jazz, jazz rock fusion, avant and spiritual jazz, psychedelic and acid jazz, smooth jazz, and eventually, dinner jazz. On that thought I’ll leave you with The Soulful Strings. Aren’t the covers great? I’d buy the record for those covers, it’s all about first impressions.

Anyone own any Soulful Strings albums, this is a safe space, own up and shame the devil. The worst that can happen is that …we fall over laughing at you, is that so bad?

Postscript:

LJC accidentally uncovers an undercover “Soulful Strings” fan club. More Soulful Strings including a truly magical Christmas record,  this years must-give Christmas gift, to anyone you have taken dislike to.
Soulful-Strings-6

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22 thoughts on “Jack Wilson: Easterly Winds (1967) Blue Note/Liberty

  1. Thank you for highlighting this title. I recently picked up a Liberty stereo copy, RVG one side only pressing and EX / VG++ condition. Currently in the “clean then listen” stack. I am looking forward to playing this one !

  2. The soulful strings christmas album is great, even considering the source material, dorothy ashby helps that one along. The other good soulful strings album is the one with Paint It Black, the title escapes me. The christmas album really is good, most reasonable people would intuit otherwise but I swear its better than you’d think.

    • You’ve reminded me that I always meant to get a copy of the “Paint It Back” LP, there wasn’t a British issue and even after 25+ years I’ve not found one in the wild. Those Soulful Strings albums were done when Chess was at the top of it’s game and using excellent writers, producers and musicians, such as Dorothy Ashby, hopefully we’ll be seeing a feature in a future LJC post.

  3. I just checked out Groovin’ With The Soulful Strings Burning Spear on the basis of its mention above, and far from it being an embarrassment, it was much better than most of the organ lps on blue note!
    Thanks for the heads up on this one, I need to check out all the Morgan as sideman when not a Messenger albums, they are the ones I am missing.

  4. Jack Wilson also played piano on the incredible album by Harold Land called The Fox, featuring Dupree Bolton on trumpet.

  5. jack wilson is fabulous. i have the atlantic album you mentioned and also “something personal”. both are highly, highly recommended.

  6. I actually have 2 of the 3 Jack Wilson Blue Notes, they’re not expensive. I have this one, which is good, and “Song For My Daughter”, which fairly forgettable. Strings you see..

  7. Great LP that I had the opportunity to aquire on an original pressing after owning the CD for a while. Easterly winds is his best LP IMO. The Ayers stuff is also worth looking for.

  8. I’m very comfortable admitting to being a longtime owner of a nice British original of “Groovin’ With The Soulful Strings”, worth it for “Burning Spear” alone, as for Jack Wilson, “Easterly Winds” is the one I don’t have, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I played any of his albums, just too much other music I reach for first.

  9. Another swing, swing, swingin’ BN title with a 427 cubic inch V-8 front line, LJC. For an earlier run with a gentler vibe, check out ‘Something Personal’, reminiscent of Herbie’s ‘Happenings’ with Bobby Hutcherson. It even features 2 tracks with Ray Brown on cello!

    • ps around this time Joe Zawinul was also playing grand piano & Fender Rhodes concurrently. What a left hand he had [acoustic]! NB check out the eponymously titled ‘Cannonball Plays Zawinul’.

  10. Thanks for bringing Jack to everyone’s attention . Please do your ears a favor and check out his Habor Freeway 5p.m. And also his rendition of Stolen Moments. Blue Note BLP4251& Vault LP9002. I’ve been diggin’ him for 45 years! Keep swinging Art

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