Ladies, Gentlemen, and Others, buckle up, we are heading backwards two decades from 1978 to 1957 in our self-charging-hybrid time-machine, Forget 70’s direct disk audio, we are going from Musicians-In-the-Room to Musicians In The Stockroom, Roy DuNann at the controls in Contemporary, LA 1950s offices. It sounds remarkably good, better than it should. Introducing Leroy Vinnegar, he walks! Walk this way…
Selection: Walkin’ (R.Carpenter)
. . .
Walkin’ , written by Miles Davis, the composition royalties were generously credited by Miles to his friend, Richard Carpenter.
Gerald Wilson, trumpet; Teddy Edwards, tenor sax; Victor Feldman, vibraharp; Carl Perkins, piano; Leroy Vinnegar, bass; Tony Bazley, drums. recording engineers Roy Dunnan, Howard Holzer, at Contemporary’s studio, Los Angeles, CA, July 15, September 16, 23, 1957
Leroy’s debut album as leader, age 29, the acknowledged boss of the walking bass. Leroy recorded prolifically on the West Coast jazz scene, everyone’s bassist of choice, most often with artists recording for Contemporary and Pacific Jazz labels. Among his classic early recordings are Dexter Gordon’s Dexter Blows Hot And Cool (1955) Serge Chaloff’s Blue Serge (1956), Stan Getz’s The Steamer (1956), Harold Land’s Harold In The Land Of Jazz (1958) , Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders (1958), the list is long long long. The West Coast answer to Paul Chambers?
Teddy Edwards is an interesting tenor player, whose career was launched mainly off the back of a Dexter Gordon’s title for Dial, The Duel (1947) Periodically, he staged tenor duels and chases, tenor battles being a popular music sport in their day, beats feeding people to lions. He enjoyed a string of Contemporary albums an the early ’60s, some paired with Howard McGhee trumpet, which are a good listen. Leroy Vinnegar figures prominently.
Teddy Edwards remained a fixture in Los Angeles jazz for more than a half-century, and as a result, remained relatively unknown elsewhere, admitting he never felt the urge to move to New York, although doing so would have raised his profile and advanced his career. He is nevertheless a good player, reserves of speed when called for, underappreciated, and one to look out for, reserves of speed are never a bad thing in a tenor player.
Refreshingly of it’s time, 1957, happy, uncomplicated yet skillful play. Leroy retains his supporting role on bass, leading from beneath, with little solo. Walking the bass adds terrific sense of propulsion as the bass moves seamlessly up and down the changing chords without missing a beat.. The tone of an upright bass is unmistakable – rich but dry, and hypnotic, and it swings.
Jazz writer and musician Steven Cerra describes the contribution of walking bass to the ensemble, as energising the other players:
“Laying down a good walking bass was considered de rigeur in order to create the proper “heartbeat of Jazz.” It’s metronomic quality had a driving effect on the rhythm section and they in turn pushed the soloist forward with an unrelenting swing. For the listener, the propulsive walking beat could be almost mesmerizing.”
In the notes to Vinnegar’s follow up album “Leroy Walks Again!”, Leonard Feather offers further thought on the place of time, or timing in jazz:
Time, in the jazz sense, is a term that has always been hard to analyze. Everybody knows what tempo is, and there is no problem in defining meter; but when you are trying to pin down time it has a tendency to keep slipping away from under the microscope.Leroy…keeps a brisk, invigorating four beats to the bar moving in long, horizontal lines, never neglecting the chord structure and managing to give this rhythmic promenade an essentially melodic feeling. The quality that communicates itself most directly and contagiously is his powerful and completely dependable sense of time.
With Vinnegar’s bass a firm foundation, the front line brass play their expected parts. Teddy Edwards turns in some hot tenor playing, as does Gerald Wilson’s trumpet, while the British Artful Dodger Victor Feldman a polished vibe, with Carl Perkins – of the polio-restricted left arm – bouncing hard-bop along. (Biographical note – Perkins was taken out by a drug overdose the following year, age just 29)
The walking bass form was eventually overtaken by a growing freedom from it’s 4:4 / time-keeping role, evolving with changes in the modern jazz vocabulary: a more interactive style of bass, exemplified by Scott LaFaro’s telepathic communication with Bill Evans, the infinite flexibility of Paul Chambers, more free-wheeling input of Charlie Haden’s improvised melodic response to Ornette Coleman’s free forms, and the more intellectual approach of Ron Carter with Miles Davis 2nd Quintet, five interactively independent voices. There are many other stylistc bass forms, but for West Coast 50’s bass players, it was an injunction, Walk, Don’t Run.
On the horizon, the electrification of the instrument for jazz-rock-fusion made way for power bass, calling Jaco Pastorius, and the reinvention of Stanley Clarke. At this point I make an excuse, and leave.
Vinyl: Contemporary Vogue LAC.12136 (1958) UK 1st issue of Contemporary C3542
The remarkable sound quality is a reminder of the skills at Contemporary of Roy Du Nann and Howard Holzer in the mid 1950’s. Du Nann started a studio in an office box-room, with a blanket raised over the drum kit, more primitive than Van Gelder’s Hackensack, but with the right microphones, and post-production mastering.
People then did great things with the most primitive of tools, while today, people with most extraordinary sophisticated tools, produce… very often, no way to describe it otherwise, but, … “rubbish” (compressed, tweaked for earbuds, sonically degraded). Unless you experience this contradiction, personally, you might be forgiven for thinking we are just… nuts, and I wouldn’t blame you. Believe what you want, I know what I hear.
Records towards the end of the ’50s were hostage to the record playing technology of their day – unstable portable record player, and heavyweight tracking arm, and dodgy stylus, all of which effortlessly did so much to damage vinyl. If they survived the following five to ten years, there is a chance that some would get through unscathed, though not many.This record is easy to find in not very good condition. The price seems to rise quite steeply with the condition, and the original US Contemporary more so than my less desirable UK Decca/Contemporary Vogue.
If pictured below was the brand new in 1958 Telefunken Musik Deluxe model, I shudder to think what the older entry model looks like.
It always seemed anomalous to me that such fine recording by engineers likes Van Gelder and Roy Du Nann took place in the 1950s against a backdrop of such primitive play technology. Why the emphasis on audio quality, which few if anyone could hear? In the studio, I guess the engineers were listening to the actual instruments, original tape playback on studio monitors. Out in the field, records were played on machines like this.
No musicians-in-the-room wide-soundstage experience here, the expectation must have been quite different in 1958. You turned the player on, the tonearm dropped, you heard the music, tapped your feet, no-one knew what they were missing. If you jogged the arm, you shrugged, it is what they do.
Our modern experience of yesteryear’s records on today’s equipment is, I think, purely serendipitous, unexpected. I think it is possible simply because the analogue signal written to vinyl is infinitely resolvable, there is always more you can get out of it, depending on your equipment, now we can. No-one thought like that then. Put a man on the moon? Ridiculous. And more importantly, with calculations based not on computer-output, but on the slide rule – analogue calculators.
After listening to so much “more advanced” ’60s and ’70s engineering, never mind recent times, it is a revelation as to what was achieved by our engineering champions with more primitive equipment. Walk backwards to The Future.