Thad Jones: Motor City Scene (1959) United Artists/ HMV France

Selection: No Refill

. . .


Thad Jones, flugelhorn, cornet; Al Grey, trombone; Billy Mitchell, tenor sax; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Elvin Jones, drums. Recorded at Nola Studios, NYC, October 24 & 31, 1959


After recently paddling in the musical waters of the late ’60s and early ’70s, their cultural roots showing, I needed to swim back into the mainstream waters of bop, to be reminded where all this stuff came from. And how good it still is.

Irresistable all-star line-up, swinging hard bop from a tight all-Detroit sextet, masters of the genre. This is straight ahead fare, Thad Jones pure tone flugelhorn and ice-cream cornet blended with trombone and tenor, a feisty three part brass, with Elvin Jones power behind, Paul Chambers towing underneath, while Tommy Flanagan glues everything together, just perfect.

SOAPBOX ALERT! What has this music got to do with Detroit?

These artists needed to move away from Detroit, to New York, to get the opportunities and recognition they deserved. But geographical sentiment seems strong in the jazz. If you are from Philly, or Detroit, that’s apparently important.

As a mere Brit, I have never understood the need to know which town or state a musician originated from. Ian Carr was a great trumpet player, who hailed originally from Newcastle. He’s “from Newcastle”. It adds information, a bit of shared local colour, but nothing of intrinsic value in understanding or describing his ability. The writer reveals their absence of musical vocabulary, but at least they know their geography.  A Newcastle trumpeter. Everyone’s from somewhere, yeah. Over to you, Philly Joe. Kick!

Motor City Scene was later repackaged with another recording of complementary titles line-up led by Donald Byrd  in a 70 minute CD of Motor City – originating music. But we won’t talk about that.  Motown Sound I think I understand, but not Motor City Jazz. However you can educate me, I’m not proud.

Vinyl: FELP 214  La Voix De Son Maitre / Pathe Marconi EMI mono

French reissue of United Artists UAL 4025, my guess probably around the same time as the US issue, 1960. Solid mono presentation, well-articulated full tonal range, no solid-state or digital artefacts, pure craftsmanship in vinyl. Below is the original US issue, United Artists red label (mono):

I have often been disappointed by the US pressings of United Artists at this time. The plain coloured UA label (red mono, turqouise stereo) and the bendy tenor series has some  very poor recording, mastering and pressing compared with the high standards of the Blue Note/ Prestige/ Riverside/ Contemporary specialist  jazz labels.I put this down to the label’s origin primarily as a bulk distribution channel for United Artists film soundtracks, and the absence of a hands-on engineering champion at senior level. Never leave sound quality to the accountants, too many in the industry did.

By 1960, interest in jazz was rising at United Artists, leading to hiring Alan Douglas to run its jazz division. Around late 1959/ early 1960, a clutch of  American jazz recordings, including Motor City Scene,  were  released in France by Pathé Marconi EMI, mostly United Artists recordings, likely a European licensing deal between United Artists and EMI.

As a way around sometimes unsatisfactory United Artists US pressings, I have found higher quality in European pressings. Despite being remastered from copy tape, solid local engineering skills and quality pressing produce good results, often better than original United Artists.

“His Master’s Voice” (HMV) logo features a terrier called Nipper looking into and listening to a wind up disc player. It was used around the world by British music giant EMI. In Europe these include “La voix de son maître,” (France), “La voz de su amo” (Spain), and “La voce del padrone” (Italy), along with many other local language variations in other countries. The French variant below is a label used by EMI’s French vehicle Pathé Marconi EMI.

Brush up your French with the liner notes, unusually for a European reissue, in French. The first track timing is a miss-print, not six seconds: 0’06 but 6’06. ‘oops, mistakes happen, not lost in translation.

Collector’s Corner

Released in 1959 by United Artists but not subsequently reissued on vinyl in the US, – only this dedicated release in France and of course later in the ’70s in  Japan, by both King and Toshiba.

My copy turned up rummaging in a small used vinyl shop in South of France. Hot on the heels of the 10″ Miles Davis Lift To The Scaffold, a little French vinyl portfolio to accompany some excellent white Burgundy and white  Rhone snapped up in the Foire du Vin. Well a couple of bottles. St Péray from the Cuilleron, Villard and Gaillard “Vin de Vienne” boys –  La Viennoise Les Farnands 2018 – 100% Marsanne. . Oh, and another special white, Collioure Blanc Roche d’Hérode, from Famille Gaillard at Malleval, neighbour of Condrieu, king of Northern Rhone. Oh and also some interesting Pouilly Fuissé…

Wine Supermarket wine fairs in France are everywhere second/third week of September, all the big supermarkets join in. There are the cheap-skate bulk offers – buy 4 get 2 free – a few euros a bottle, and there are a very limited number of bottles for the high-end enthusiasts, may be only one box total for the whole of the big Carrefour.

When the local Lidl wine fair opened, there were already a dozen people waiting along side me for the doors to open Then a race towards the wine shelves, catalogue in hand, elbows at the ready. It’s fun in a sort of kid in a sweetshop sort of way. Somewhere among all the unopened boxes behind other boxes I found the box of Viré Clessé I was after. Someone ahead of me slipped a case of six of something into their trolley, good stuff moved fast off the shelves. The queues at the checkout began to lengthen. Then soon after, the wine-buffs gone,  everything returned to “normal”, that is, even longer and even slower-moving queues. French supermarkets across the board  seem reluctant to employ enough staff on the tills, Lidl being one of the worst.

Imagine a Blue Note Fair, boxes of premium original titles, doors open at 08:00 am, collector’s swarm in. Wouldn’t that be fun? Perhaps Utrecht or  Milan,  or some of the big record fairs are like that,

Any record fair collector stories, I have never been to one, are they any good? Is it worth the travel? The floor is yours, we are all ears.



15 thoughts on “Thad Jones: Motor City Scene (1959) United Artists/ HMV France

  1. Detroit in the 40’ and 50’s was a thriving
    jazz centre. Of particular importance are
    the pianists who grew up there: Hank Jones,
    Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan and Roland Hanna.
    They all share a certain lyricism and swing.

    Today a musician’s hometown is less important
    then ever.

    Most of us are scrambling to make a living in music.

    Thanks for the music reviews.

  2. After hearing this I’d be happy with any pressing of it. Love the Detroit scene of that time, all the Savoy Lateefs onwards. Just to join the chorus from a different angle, my US UA Three Blind Mice has a plastylite P to its run out grooves, so unless the mastertapes were awful (and they weren’t) this is vintage Blue Note terroir we are in, non?. If you are still over there and have not tried it yet, get some Faugeres. A small town whose wine is lovely, hardly any need to sell afar, as Southern French people hoover it up by the crate. One of the two best tasting low priced wines I have had.

  3. The list of great musicians that have come Detroit is quite interesting; Yusef Lateef, Milt Jackson, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Roland Hanna, Curtis Fuller, Louis Hayes, Ron Carter, Joe Henderson, and the Jones Brothers Thad, Hank and Elvin.

    The reason for so many jazz greats from Detroit was the public school system in the city. It was once a very innovative system that really focused on a solid music foundation for students.

    There is an excellent new book out from Mark Stryker, an arts writer for the Detroit Free Press, called Jazz From Detroit, that details many of the contributions of these artists and can give you a very good overview of the jazz scene in Detroit then and features some modern performers as well who are still making contributions to jazz today.

    • Nice. I’ll be on the lookout for that book. I’m a Detroit native who grew up with Ed Love on the radio. Took occasional trips to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge and the Attic bar (between punk rock shows, of course).

      There’s also another album of early Detroit-based jazz called…wait for it…The Motor City Scene. This one’s on Bethlehem (BCP 6056). Donald Byrd, Pepper Adams, Paul Chambers, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan and “Hey” Lewis. Definitely one to seek out.

  4. Nice post – I own the japanese version from King Records, with double-sided DG released somewhere in the late 60’s/early 70’s. I am particularly fond of the openig track, but also a bit lukewarm on the rest – I felt his BN output was quite a bit stronger.

    I’m glad you mentioned the – often times – underwhelming quality of original UA pressings. I have (among others) two albums in their original form by UA (Kansas City Revisited by Brookmeyer (mono) and Roy Ayer’s debut (stereo)) that are problematic. They both sound terrible. The Brookmeyer sounds fine on side A, but side two has practically no top end, the cymbals sound as if my stylus wasn’t in the mood to track any faster modulations. The Roy Ayers has the exact same problem and on top of that a strange, intrusive noise (not deriving from scrateches or anything). I’m pretty sure both were pressed from completely worn out stampers and onto low quality vinyl. So UA is on my “red” list.

    Oh, and while we’re at it: I bought the Ayers at a record fair – and decided to give them a pass in the future. They’re over-expensive (as dottore elaborated) and there’s practically no chance that you’ll be able to get your money back even if the record is completely thrashed…

  5. since the 70’s we have a vinyl fair here in Milano, usually three times a year, next October 19-20. it’s NOT a Jazz Fair, Rock’n’roll 95% but…something is gonna show up almost always. there are several problems with this fair, but I think everywhere is the same: 1) prices-what is a record worth? 100, 1000, 3000 (€ or £ or $)? a collector (the buyer) can pay a lot for pristine records, but much less for a VG one. sellers instead, never price their goods depending on conditions, the price is usually the maximum if not over. at the same time you can find a “minor” author, unknown to a non-specialist seller, that is given away for a low price. warning: this is the exception, not the rule.
    2) ignorance: as most sellers are non Jazz-specialists, they do not know the difference in price among various editions, for example a 47West63 NY23 has a big gap with a UA. they don’t know and set prices as the most valuable.
    3) scarcity of jazz records: that 5% is usually optimistic
    1) you, the buyer, can see directly the record, give a reasonable value and make a correct offer.
    2) all prices are negotiable.
    3) a fluke is rare but possible
    4) sometimes, not always, there’s a specialized seller: here prices are never low but quality is very high.
    february 2014: I was almost desperate for not having found one single record when, in the last row I opened my eyes wide. on a single wall there were at least 30 wonderful records, mostly Blue Note.
    I thought: can’t be true, must be Japanese but, approaching, read the prices: or this guy is mad or it’s the best show at this fair since the first edition. no Japanese, no reissues, simply beautiful originals. my eyes were attracted by two: Kenny Dorham Quiet Kenny on New Jazz and Lee Morgan Candy, BN. I could’t buy them both ’cause I hadn’t enough money with me. I concentrated on one and asked for a discount which I obtained.
    I got home with a near mint copy of Blue Note 1590.
    for months I was convinced to have paid too much but now, five years later, I’m glad I did.
    I have many stories about Milano record fair, a brief one.
    at the very first edition I bought a copy of Miles Davis on Fontana, the same edition as Andrew’s.
    later I discovered that the very first issue had no writings, so updated.

  6. My turquoise US stereo original of the session you feature here has excellent audio qualities. I was never disappointed in general by the first 20 or so issues on the UA label.
    Benny Golson and the Philadelphians stand out as a major achievement. The French issued this one with a different sleeve and a series of black and white photos by Leloir, obviously shot during the Messengers’ visit to Paris in Dec. 1958. It should be noted that the French issue has a different playing order of the tunes.
    I for one consider the diversity of the UA red and turquoise series around 1959 very refreshing: Curtis Fuller with Mobley (also issued in France), Randy Weston, Bob Brookmeyer, Paul Quinichette, Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Phil Woods, to name a few. No other jazz label had this open approach.
    The later saxophone label, grey series were a bit trendy. Not as innovative as the first 4000/5000 series.
    I always wondered why the Brookmeyer Bill Evans duets were in the popular 3000 series.

    • I agree with Rudolf: my UA 4000 series, strictly red mono, are excellent in sound: 4007, Art Farmer-Modern Art (with Evans)
      4014, Cecil Taylor-Hard Driving Jazz (with Coltrane)
      4020, Benny Golson-and the Philadelphians (with Lee Morgan)
      4025, Thad Jones-Motor City Scene
      4034, Booker Little-Quartet & Max Roach (with George Coleman)
      4063, Modern Jazz Quartet-Odds Against Tomorrow

  7. Sacre Bleu !! , are you really saying Texas tenors, West Coast cool, Kansas City Swing ,New York Loft jazz etc etc does not matter to the jazz lexicon.?

    • Fair enough, Ian, you have a point in “regional styles” of the jazz oeuvre. Maybe hard bop 1959 is/was a New York style, or East Coast style, but didn’t its players came from all over the country? For example, Cannonball Adderley came from Florida. A Floridian alto? I was just struggling with “Motor City Scene” in describing hard bop. Or just being argumentative..

  8. I have an excellent sounding Japanese Victor Red label Mono pressing. Discogs does not list this pressings age, but i suspect that it is the original Japanese pressing around the time of your French release. gGad to send a photo

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