Selection: I didn’t Know What Time It Was ( Rogers & Hart)
. . .
Lonnie Hillyer, trumpet; Charles McPherson, alto sax; Barry Harris, piano; Ernie Farrow, bass; Clifford Jarvis, drums; recorded Plaza Sound Studios, NYC, September 28, 1961, recording engineer Ray Fowler, cover photo Kenneth Van Sickle.
Cover photographer: Ken Van Sickle
The Riverside cover photo is quite arresting, I don’t think I have ever seen this album before. No run-of-the-mill artist/product photography, its dysmorphic shape-shifting figures and off-balance forest colours offer a disturbing vision through a painter’s eye. An unlikely choice for a straight ahead jazz album, I figured there must be more to it, I wondered what the story was: photographer Van Sickle recounts:
In 1955 I went to Paris to study painting, thanks to the G.I, Bill. At this point I carried my Leica everywhere, photographing the city and the expatriates and Bohemians that I befriended in that lovely city. One day a painter friend and I were sitting in the Luxembourg Gardens sketching, I showed him the drawing I had just done, he paused a few moments in thought and said (paraphrase) “Frankly I find your art work to be superficial, on the other hand I think your photos are exceptional”. I didn’t need to consider this for long to realize that it was true, and at that point I became a photographer.
I returned to New York City with the idea of making a lot of money as a commercial still photographer so that I could return to live and work in Paris. I worked for four or five years doing pharmaceutical, record cover and magazine photography. I was never really satisfied with the conditions or the results of this work, and the doing of it seemed to impair my ability in fine art photography.”
So, “Fine Art Photography” is the genre, a Leica the paintbrush. A couple of covers credited to Van Sickle – Buffy Saint-Marie and some other obscure folk titles, not great, suggests his own assessment of his commercial output is probably not wrong. He took this much better portrait of Chet in Paris, a sense of time and place instead of just face, a touch of Cartier Bresson, decisive moment.
I recall reading a book on portrait photography, page one advice, so true, never photograph someone smiling at the camera – because that is not who they are. The smile is to hide who they are.
Van Sickle is still with us, having reinvented himself as a Tai Chi Master. Probably not the best use of his prodigious photographic talent, but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Or is that extreme taekwondo?
Other musician’s of Note: Lonnie Hillyer (trumpet)
That name had my head scratching. I recognised it but struggled to place it. According to his 1985 NYT obituary (age 45), Hillyer moved to New York in 1960 and joined Charles Mingus’s group, working there off and on for more than a decade. A disciple of Dizzy, Hillyer’s trumpet is heard alongside Ted Curson’s on Mingus Candid recordings, notably tracks from Reincarnation of a Lovebird (1960) , which also feature fellow Harris Quintet tenor, Charles McPherson. Hillyer is also featured on Mingus at Monterey (1964), My Favorite Quintet (1965) and Let My Children Hear Music (1971)
Altoist Charles McPherson went on to have a long recording career through to the present day, including pieces for the 1988 soundtrack of the film “Bird” (segue, Collectors’s Corner below)
Below the Piano First Division of Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly and T Monk, there are many hundreds of jazz pianists, among them an Upper Second Division, a select band who have managed to find a distinctive voice and style, among which favourites I include Tommy Flanagan, Herbie Hancock (Blue Note), Walter Davis Jr., Cedar Walton, Elmo Hope, Kenny Drew, Ronnie Mathews, McCoy Tyner, Duke Pearson and Freddie Redd. And then all the rest. And of course Sonny Clark.
This is my personal list: you will almost certainly disagree, you will have your own personal list. This is normal.
All-Music’s reviewer speculates the album title “Newer Than New” cocks a snook at the industry obsession with “the latest thing”, as opposed to the timeless nature of bop. This Barry Harris Quintet album is an unashamed reading of the Bop tradition, in which Harris casts himself as Bud Powell, Lonnie Hillyer as Dizzy, Charles McPherson as Parker, bass and drums perhaps Pettiford and Roach. The compositions are either standards, or Harris compositions in the manners of standards. The bop-baton is passed on to the next generation of players.
Harris was the groove of The Sidewinder, but here “Stylistically, Harris is a staunch disciple of hard bop, which is reflected in the horn-like phrasing of his right-hand melodies, complex rhythmic syncopations and dense harmonisation.”
A great insight into Barry Harris as musician and educator is found in this quite lengthy but insightful article written by Ted Panken for Downbeat Magazine, well worth a read: For Barry Harris’ 82nd Birthday, a Downbeat Article From 2000.
Harris distinctive musical insight is into the scales within chords, an inner voice with additional notes which allow greater freedom by movement through scales, not just chords. I may not know much about playing piano, but he’s got me convinced. Harris concludes with thoughts about the science of music and the search for freedom:
There’s a freedom at both ends of the barrel, man. There’s a freedom in anarchy, but there’s another freedom that comes from knowledge. Then there’s another freedom that comes that really is the freedom we seek. That’s what all of us want, is this freedom.
Of his teaching role, Harris notes: “You learn from teaching. I have my students trying to catch up to me, and I insist that they don’t. It really keeps me on my toes, because I ain’t gonna let ’em catch up to me.” Currently age 88, keeping on his toes has proved beneficial: Harris sits just one lap behind recently departed Cecil Taylor.
Vinyl: US Riverside RLP 413
Regular 100mm blue label silver twin reels, deep groove, anonymous US pressing plant, no etchings or stamp, INC on label and cover.
Having never seen this abum before, no indication of an Interdisc European release, all Ebay history sales are from US only, so may never have made it across the pond. It seems somewhat rare – auction history suggests less than dozen copies have ever come to auction. The most it ever sold for was a bit less than $70. Which is strange, because if the vinyl is rare (but not expensive) , the CD is hugely more expensive: on offer through Amazon at between £70 and £114. Huh say-again? For a CD, how much?
We have recently dipped our toes in the water of electric fusion, (mixed metaphor, risk of electric shock!) spiritual jazz, post-bop, and an eclectic collection of modern jazz styles. In this post we rowed back to basics.
If Barry Harris dedicated his 1961 album to the bop tradition, by a strange co-incidence, a slice of Original bop tradition fell into my hands virtually the same week, in the shape of a volume of the 1953 Massey Hall Quintet of The Year performance, on 10″ Vogue. The Harris bop-tribute band reverses back into the real thing: Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie Charles Mingus and Max Roach.
The US 10″ original Debut series looked like this:
The British 10″ design rather lacked the flair of the Debut, but this is what I found:
Though I had seen the UK 10″ volumes before, the condition was rarely up to snuff. However what was even more interesting was to be found glinting in the runout.
Vogue Records was a sub-label of the mighty Decca, and it is normal on Vogue to see the drilled matrix of Decca form, VMGT with matrix number and engineer code, indicating UK re-mastering of the original recording:
But no, not this time. Holy original metal, custom code for Debut, 19 H, in the run-out. Nurse, screens!
When British Vogue pressed the UK 10″ editions, somewhere around 1953 (the fact-checker has the weekend off, someone probably knows the exact year, ) they went to metal from the original US Debut master.
Let’s have a listen to The Bird (or Charlie Chan, apparently, a very skilled imitator) ripping up his Tunisia Overnighter in the company of Giants:
Night In Tune-eesia (Gillespie)
. . .
The recording quality is pretty visceral. There are some surface issues as my Ultrasonic Cleaner can’t cope with 10″ without an adaptor, so it’s a little mucky. But as close as I can get to the Godfathers of Bop on one track. What strikes you is how good these guys were.
It was not to last, very little does, nor probably should it: gotta make way for The New…