A break from the Boogaloo and later ’60s directions, back firmly in the ’50s mainstream when music giants roamed the earth, mono ruled absolutely, and for some, life was but a short, temporary gift.
Selection: Autumn Leaves (Kosma/ Prevert)
. . .
Artists by track:
Behind that illustrious list of names on the cover is not a bebop jazz super-group, but a complex piece of Bill Grauer jiggery pokery, sewing together tracks from various Riverside recording sessions left unfinished due to rising star Ernie Henry’s unanticipated departure. Grauer was never one to let a crisis go to waste. The line up of ’50s jazz alumni is worth a moment’s examination:
Cleo’s Chant (alternate version) :Kenny Dorham (trumpet) Ernie Henry (alto sax) Kenny Drew (piano) Wilbur Ware (bass) Art Taylor (drums) Reeves Sound Studios, NYC, August 30, 1956
Autumn Leaves, Beauty And The Blues , All The Things You Are, Melba’s Tune: Lee Morgan (trumpet) Melba Liston (trombone ) Ernie Henry (alto sax) Benny Golson (tenor sax) Cecil Paine (baritone sax) Wynton Kelly (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums) Reeves Sound Studios, NYC, September 15, 1957
Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are: Ernie Henry (alto sax) Sonny Rollins (tenor sax) Thelonious Monk (piano) Oscar Pettiford (bass) Max Roach (drums) Reeves Sound Studios, NYC, October 9, 1956
Like Someone In Love (alternate take): Ernie Henry (alto sax) Wynton Kelly (piano) Wilbur Ware (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums) Reeves Sound Studios, NYC, September 30, 1957
S’posin’ (alternate take) : Kenny Dorham (trumpet, piano) Ernie Henry (alto sax) Eddie Mathias (bass) G.T. Hogan (drums) NYC, November 13, 1957
Brooklyn-born altoist Ernie Henry started out in the late ’40s scene, earning places with Tad Dameron, Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra and Illinois Jacquet. After a few years in the shadows Henry emerged in 1956 to play alongside Sonny Rollins on Monk’s Brilliant Corners. Thanks to that exposure his musical career was given a big shot in the arm, leading three Riverside LP’s in 1957, a career cut short before the year was out by a heroin overdose, at the age of only 31.
Henry’s discography is short but sweet, his Riverside debut “Presenting” and follow up “Seven Standards and The Blues” sessions contributed tracks to The Last Chorus, and part from an unfinished album with Kenny Dorham, “2 Horns/ 2 Rhythm” and part from an unfinished album featuring Lee Morgan, And that’s it, Henry was gone, life unfinished.
Music: Autumn Leaves.
According to French pianist and jazz writer Philippe Baudoin, “Autumn Leaves” is the most important non-American jazz standard, recorded over 1400 times by mainstream and modern jazz musicians, making it the eighth most recorded tune in the jazz canon.
The piece was a favorite of Miles Davis, who apparently had an affair with Juliette Greco in Paris in 1949, the year she recorded the equivalent French lyric “Les feuilles mortes”, which Baudoin suggests could explain Davis’s attachment to the tune, trust a French writer to opt for the romantic explanation. Miles didn’t seem the romantic kind. A more likely reason is that it has an attractive melody, an unusual minor key chord progression and resolution through verse and chorus, and the chord structure is a perfect foil for improvisation. So much for romance.
The Dead Leaves , not as picturesque as Autumnal ones, but the composition had many fans, some in unlikely quarters:
“As Bond neared the end of the corridor, he could hear a piano swinging a rather sad tune” wrote Ian Fleming in his 1956 novel Diamonds are Forever. “At the door of 350 he knew the music came from behind it. He recognised the tune. It was “Feuilles Mortes”“
The lyric and the tune behind it taps into certain primal themes, perhaps the loss of love, or the arrival of Autumn, the turning of the seasons, or it is just a beautiful tune, take your pick, the listener brings to it their own baggage.
The Cannonball Adderley/ Miles Davis version on BLP 1595 Something Else, recorded in 1958 for Blue Note, delivers it to perfection. Adderley’s alto soars light-fingered over that chordal landscape with ravishing beauty. Ernie Henry’s version here is a more up-tempo vocalese delivery of the song, showcasing his burnished bitter-sweet tone.
Ernie Henry had a distinctive voice which showed considerable, promise unrealised, and you can see parallels with another associate of Max Roach, trumpeter Booker Little, who’s untimely departure in 1961 at the age of 23 likewise left behind just a handful of titles. Tina Brooks (42) could be added on tenor, Scott La Faro (25) on bass, and Sonny Clark (31) on piano, to complete the line up of the Grim Reaper Sextet (vacancy – drums). All that was needed was a contract with Blue Note Records, and the course of modern jazz history could have been quite different. Instead, clean-living longevity, academic tenures and White House invites sedately ran their course, leaving the youngbloods to deliver promise unfulfilled.
I was shocked to be reminded how soon many other of my favourite players joined the Grim Reaper Orchestra, in no particular order: Bobby Timmons (38) Clifford Brown (25) Doug Watkins (27) Eric Dolphy (36) Fats Navarro (26) Grant Green (43) John Coltrane (40) Lee Morgan (33) Paul Chambers (33) Tubby Hayes (38) Wynton Kelly (39) Oscar Pettiford (37) Cannonball Adderley (46) ….bad drugs, bad driving, bad health care, or just bad luck. It’s a reminder,go listen now, while anything lasts.
Vinyl: RLP 12-266 Riverside (1956)
US deep groove original pressing, pre-incorporation “Bill Grauer Productions” on regular 100mm labels, but Bill Grauer Productions Inc. on cover, 553 West 51st St address (Riverside Guide updated Feb. 21, 2018)
Research Craft Co. LA pressing (US and GB patents thick/thin rim groove guard stamp in the run out) On previous form, Riverside used Abbey Mfg.Co. for East Coast pressing, and Research Craft Co. for West Coast.
The patented rim drive was intended to protect record grooves from the operation of an auto-changer, a particularly unnecessary labour-saving device. Etching-ogglers may see a few things of interest, a letter S, a wave type stamp, and a “T 11” hand-etch, absolutely none of which mean anything to me.
I chanced on this copy in an East London store notorious for over-pricing vintage albums imported from Canada, however the prices seem to suit the hipster local demographic, and the new mantra is “availability is king”. You don’t have to buy it, but at least it is there. I was just leaving the store after a purchase when I caught it unexpectedly in the corner of my eye mounted on the wall display top row, and immediately executed a double take.
Um, is that the original Riverside I see up there? Ernie Henry, Last Chorus? You see the Japanese around a lot, and OJC, but I don’t think I have ever seen an original US copy in the flesh before, unusual.
Yes, a Riverside “original”, and in decent condition. As I expected, no bargain, fully priced, though not outrageously so. In the era of the Internet, the bargain has long since become a distant memory. Sentiment kicked in. It’s only money. I’ll take it. Sometimes it’s nice to have an original piece of history. Its price-history is respectable but not trophy territory.
’70s Japanese Victor pressing twenty years later, same track for comparison: Autumn Leaves: Victor Japan 1977 reissue
I quite like the Japanese, but it lacks the sense of jazz history attached to the original. Sometimes, Sentiment is King. You can’t reissue history. Here is a reminder of the “almost original”. I hear an immediacy, freshness, direct engagement, whilst the Japanese sounds more restrained, a little more distant and muffled. Until you put them side by side, you will never know.
Up to you which you prefer. For some, provenance is all, original first… mine is maybe a year or two later, the cover advertising other titles give it away. I would love to pit it against a true first, but I can’t. But no hesitation both early pressings out-perform the Japanese. Your call.
Incidentally, I do recommend “comparative listening”. It is worth listening to different editions of the same title, your own or a friend’s copy, it will open your ears to the differences between editions. They are real, but if you only ever hear one, you will never know.