Don Wilkerson: Elder Don (1962) Blue Note

Blue Note produced some extremely long-lived music, sounding as fresh today as sixty years ago. They show-cased talent that has rarely if ever been surpassed. However some music hasn’t worn well. This could be one, you can probably think of others, you may have others.

There are good reasons not to be a “Blue Note completist”. Let’s gingerly enter the potentially contentious territory of the Blue Notes that have not endured. Could be controversial!

Enter Blue Note Room 101.

Selection 1: Scrappy

.  .  .

Selection 2: Senorita Eula

.  .  .

Artists

Don Wilkerson, tenor saxophone;  John Acea, piano;  Grant Green, guitar; Lloyd Trotman, bass;  Willie Bobo, drums; recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, May 3, 1962

Ray Charles’s saxophonist in the mid-Fifties, Wilkerson was a Texas tenor in the South West tradition – bluesy, tex-mex R&B/Soul-Jazz, with an easy swing.  After a debut album for Riverside, Wilkerson signed to Blue Note for three albums – Elder Don (4121), following Preach Brother (4107) followed by Shoutin’ (4145) .

All-Music say: “Unfortunately, none of his records were very successful, and Wilkerson didn’t record any further Blue Notes as a leader. He remained in Houston for most of his life and passed away in 1986

One artist on the Wilkerson album, Willie Bobo, had more success, rated as one of the best Latin percussionists of his time, riding the late ’50’s mambo craze, latin and afro-cuban jazz.

A relentless swinger on the congas and timbales, Bobo found his way on to numerous Blue Note sessions, including Grant Green’s The Latin Bit (Grant, that cover, oh dear...), Ike Quebec’s Soul Samba, both records I have turned down, and Herbie Hancock’s Inventions And Dimensions – an altogether  more interesting outing, and great cover, (which I am very pleased to own)

Music: Don Wilkerson

Wilkerson never really gets into a groove, pushes no boundaries, remains formulaic, predictable, and  short on new ideas. Some describe his playing as hard-driving – I can’t help but hear the backing band of B B King or Ray Charles, with a backing horn thrust into the limelight. I should add that B.B. King’s Live At The Regal, Chicago, ranks as one of the best blues recordings ever. I’ve been playing it since 1964, and it never fails to excite. Wilkerson opens for Grant Green, who appears, but fails to save the day.

Vinyl: BLP 4121 – Plastylite, NY labels, mono, Van Gelder, looks like the original  real deal, Great Reid Miles typography cover, but not enough to save it from Blue Note Room 101.

Collector’s Corner

It is always nice to praise a record which you think is exceptionally good. I can think of dozens of Blue Notes that fit that bill. Even those not in the top league, there is often some redeeming feature, track or artist, if you look for it, look for what is good. Especially if you can call the album/artist “under-appreciated”. It’s nice to be nice, everyone’s happy.  But.  .  .

This post found me thinking about the Blue Note albums I haven’t bought, avoided buying, narrowly-escaped buying or regret buying. They say when standing in a hole, stop digging. I like to think of it as therapy, or more like, exorcism. It’s a personal thing, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and this is an opinion site.

Blue Note titles which seem musically of less interest? There are some on my list. The danger is of course that someone’s list may include someone else’s favourites. It happens, but perhaps, if had read more critical opinion when I started out, I might have added fewer of those to my shelf.

Alfred Lion must have thought enough of Wilkerson to issue not one but three titles.  Texas tenor is one Blue Note genre which doesn’t hit the spot for me. May be it has some merit I have overlooked, you are welcome to change my mind.

Other Blue Note Artists on my Room 101 nix-list: to Don Wilkerson add Stanley Turrentine, who I find much too predictable; Ike Quebec – Ben Webster meets Coleman Hawkins, might as well listen to the originals; Hammond soul-jazz outings of Big John Patton, Freddie Roach and Jimmy Smith; bland-on-the-run The Three Sounds; Soul Samba; and finally, new-thing Cecil Taylor and (shocked!) Ornette Coleman.

It’s not like it is a long list. Well, not very long, still leaves 90% of the Blue Note catalogue in the A-List.

Do you have a nix-list of Blue Note artists, titles or genres?  I realise this might depress their Discogs sales and value. Not to say they were “bad records” in their day, but have not worn well with time, or in your opinion, were just not very good. Is there is any consensus, or dissent? Anyone rise to the challenge?

LJC

Postscript: Ike-Quebecistas seem heavy on the ground!

I think I have all three above  in some form or other, including one original without cover. We will have to see where this leads.

 

47 thoughts on “Don Wilkerson: Elder Don (1962) Blue Note

  1. I actually quite like this album, but agreed may not be as complex and multilayered as some of the top BN’s. But not all music needs to be cerebral and Don Wilkerson provided plenty of ‘ol good time chops’ and ‘groove’ to compensate for any technical virtuosity. I guess in guitar terms it would be like comparing Clapton and say Joe Satriani. Satriani is def the more gifted and technical of the two, but on the fun and engaging factor, gimme Clapton all day long. Maybe a silly and slightly odd analogy but seems to work for me.

    To me the most available and most formulaic BN artist was Jimmy Smith. None of his albums is particularly bad , but in the main they remain very formulaic, unchanged and repetitive. Have a couple of these and you don’t need many more of his. Course completists and collectors will vehemently disagree but from a musical stand point its difficult to argue differently…..

  2. Its blasphemy to put Quebec in there. “Quick Ike! Get out while you can!” IMO Quebec’s records (Quebecords?) are some of the finest on the label – Blue and Sentimental is luscious. There are some supposed stinkers on the label though… Freddie Roach All That’s Good (it’s still fun), Dodo Greene My Hour of Need and Donald Byrd (shock! gasp!) Tryin’ to Get Home all come in for schtick.

  3. “B.B. King’s Live At The Regal, Chicago, ranks as one of the best blues recordings ever. I’ve been playing it since 1964”. This is an advanced taste in music for a small child, no?

    • 1964, true, not long out of short trousers. Thinking about it, maybe I bought it a couple of years after release, perhaps 1966, about when I bought my first electric guitar. Around this time I first saw John Mayall’s Blues Band at Wardour Street’s Marquee Club, with recently deceased Peter Green as lead guitarist. An incendiary experience.

      As I have written elsewhere, I arrived at modern jazz somewhat late in the day, after exhausting just about every genre. However the jazz vibe remains strong in this one.

  4. If a player reached the level of recording for Blue Note, or one of the other top jazz labels, it’s likely that they had achieved a high level of technical proficiency, had a great deal of “talent” and that their work would appeal to some portion of the public. Whether you or I or the guy next door liked their records or not is mostly a matter of “taste,” although we can certainly pinpoint and discuss differences in skill, artistry and abilities to communicate. I recently listened to an interview with Sonny Rollins (Sonny Rollins Remembers Dizzy and Grover, YouTube) and Sonny says that Grover Washington “was a great, a gifted musician…a great player…” Who would have thought Grover was one of Sonny’s favorites?

  5. There were a couple of odd Blue Notes in the golden age – the Leo Parker albums (I know one wasn’t released at the time) and Bennie Green’s “Walkin’ and Talkin'”

    I happen to own (and enjoy) all 3, but I always wondered about the sidemen on these dates – most of them definitely not drawn from the usual BN sidemen rosters.

  6. Wow ! big can of worms opened here, some great comments . I agree that Wilkerson’s Riverside recording shows the mans talent much better , produced by Cannonball Adderley it should . One tip , buy the original pressing , some of the re-press releases are rubbish. I also agree on Big John Patton , Let ’em roll is a great album. For Jimmy Smith try Crazy Baby and Plays Fats Waller , some great grooves on those . Some of the lesser lights in the Blue Note Canon to me are –Duke Pearson Profile and Tender Moments ,Donald Byrd I’m trying to get home, Hubbard/Morgan Night at the Cookers ,Paul Chambers Bass on top, ,most of the Dexter Gordons and the Curtis Fullers. ,Ornette’s Empty Foxhole . Finally can I put a word in for Stan the Man , try the later release called Another Story with Thad Jones ,a beautiful album

  7. OMG! do I dare to say it loud in this blue note church? Is there a way to write in very small letters?

    psst.. I don’t care much for Hank Mobley and also I never listen to McClean because i don’t like his tone 🥵

  8. I generally rate albums on a “buy it, stream it, avoid it” scale. I’d probably put Wilkerson on the “stream it” side – not essential but a nice background choice once in a while. Ike Quebec might be on the same level just when I want to hear Sonny Clark – I actually sold my one Quebec album, the one that re-released as a Tone Poet, because it just ended up boring me. Jimmy Smith is definitely on my “avoid it” side as far as his BN output. A little Jimmy goes a long way, ime, and I prefer a couple of his Verve albums for when I do feel like an organ hit.

    I’d be curious if there were sales data for the BN catalog. It would be interesting to see how much the Three Tenors, Jimmy Smith etc carried the other artists in the portfolio.

  9. I am grateful that Blue Note released a fair number of mediocre albums (and a handful of outright dogs). Barely anything else is affordable in the shops anymore. Jimmy Smith records are often available and I may buy one or not depending on price. I leave The 3 Sounds alone. Stanley Turrentine I like. As for outright misses, I think George Braith should be mentioned. I have had his album ‘Extension’ for many years and have never been inspired to give it a second listen. Betting on the second guy to do Roland Kirk’s shtick was an odd choice by the label. I picked up Solomon Ilori’s sole Blue Note release fairly recently and actually like it. Like Sabu, though (which I don’t own on vinyl), I don’t think of it as a jazz album.
    What I find when it comes to original Blue Notes is that Horace Silver records always offer the best music-to-price value.

  10. Just my five cents: „The Texas Twister“ is a whole different Wilkerson – at least to me. Don‘t ditch that one too fast.

  11. I particularly like Stanley Turrentine’s Look Out and Up At Minton’s 1 & 2 on Blue Note and he and his brother were stellar members of the Max Roach group that recorded on Mercury, with many good examples of his playing. I like some organ and find Big John Patton more subtle and melodic than most. Jimmy Smith made so many records that you can find examples to strengthen any side of an argument. On the positive side, I recommend the track Sweet Georgia Brown from At The Club Baby Grand Volume 1. It has “incredible” power and swing. I’m happy to see that you have decided not everything on Blue Note is great. It seems that you have heard quite a bit of the catalog by now and can make that judgement. I am an old fart and have been listening for many years. It’s a struggle to keep my opinions from hardening into dogma, so it’s always good to reexamine them.

    • Yes, big shout out to BIG John Patton! He knew how to pick his sidemen, too. “Oh Baby” with Harold Vick & “Let ‘Em Roll” with Bobby Hutcherson are fantastic! Please join the Big John Patton High Rollers: sign here and a membership card will be on the way.
      And let’s not forget that records by Don Wilkerson, Jimmy Smith and the Three Sounds probably kept the label going when the more advanced stuff we now cherish did not sell so much back in the day. Not that I want to listen them. Just sayin 🙂

      • Yes Patton has a good “groove” – very effective..Some very good repeat licks which helped to form a major influence for the beat boom of the mid sixties .Take some Patton , Markays and Booker T licks and add the spinning Lesley cabinet to the Hammond B3 and you have it

        I particularly like “Along Came John” – great track

  12. I reckon you should give Ike Quebec another listen . He has a bluesier sound than either Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins and most of his LPs are terrific .

    • I feared with this post I would be roughed up by the Cecil Taylor Apppreciation Society (membership in single figures, but quick to take offense). Instead, I’ve been ambushed by the Ike Quebecistas.

      I need to go listen some more and re-evaluate – it is long while since I played them -might even be a future post in it. 26 comments is good traction, keep the thoughts coming in, no need to wear a mask while typing.

  13. I don’t own this record; these I think are the only two tracks I’ve ever heard. Based on them alone, I’d say this could have been a solid Grant Green record, sans saxophone.

  14. I enjoy Ike Quebec and Stanley Turrentine well enough, and Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, although for different reasons. I agree the 3 Sounds are bland, and there is probably a reason why I don’t own any Jimmy Smith- although I’m tempted by the sessions with Tina Brooks on them just because I love his playing.

  15. Nothing earth-shaking about Mr. Wilkerson but I like his lilting tone which actually does not fit the stereotypical “Texan Tenor” bill. And I like this kind of unpretentious entertaining music. Different strokes for different folks. Big fan of soul and organ jazz, except the roller rink Hammond sound.

    I love the avant-leaning department of BN. But Don Cherry – Symphony For Improvisers… Man, that kind of noise drives Sonic Youth into quarantine.

    Furthermore I think the Horace Parlan records are overrated and I can do without the jazz MOR of Gene Harris & The Three Sounds. Parlan is much better with Mingus and both pianists made their best work later on in their careers, Gene Harris proving on of the ultimate blues pianists in jazz.

  16. Agree re Wilkerson. I was excited to find a nice copy of Preach Brother years ago, listened to it twice, and then promptly sold it. Decent soul session, just not of interest to me.

    I’m not a big fan of the Hammond organ, and the early Jimmy Smiths are particularly difficult listens. Very “loud church organ” sound and I find unappealing.

    Also agree re: the 3 Sounds. Perfectly fine, just not especially interesting to me. Although I’m partial to Blue Hour with the lights low and a nice glass of wine in hand.

  17. I really feel like this Wilkerson gets more hate than other Blue Notes but in context it isn’t a bad soul album at all. Plus a big part of the Wilkerson hate is that people think his tone is hokey or something but that was just his tone. If ones dislikes Wilkerson for his tone or his choice to play some rip roaring soul music then so be it but for what it is the album is great. And this type of music was Wilkerson’s background from the beginning. I think it’s also looked upon more unfavorably because soul music in general wasn’t a big focus at Blue Note. One could even argue they steered away from it for the most part. This album and Wilkerson’s Preach Brother! are both great soul albums. Wilkerson’s tone is unique and much different than most other soul tenor men. I think this album if looked at in context would not be viewed unfavorably.

    • Whoa, “hate ” is an emotion. I don’t “hate” Don, I just think he was not a very interesting tenor player or leader, and I said why. I respect any opinion to the contrary, even if I don’t share it.

      • Yeah I should have clarified that. The ‘strongly disfavor’ opinions come from others across the internet. Sorry about that didn’t, mean to make it seem like that was your feeling about this session. I do think others feel pretty strongly about this session not being worth owning on vinyl.

  18. A bad Blue Note record ? Say it ain’t so ! Well if this doesn’t cause the earth to stop spinning nothing will ! Thanks for being brave and saying what many have felt for many years. For me personally , any B.N. Which pretends to cost more than than the price $25 is a reflection on “the price of collecting” without the issue of musical appreciation. You’ll find on the floor digging in the $2 crates.

  19. The first ones which come to my mind are the all-drums albums, genre “Orgy in rhythm”, very often even in two volumes. There are at least five in the catalogue.
    I have had all three Wilkerson albums. They are gone since a long time. At best they can be qualified as pretty and entertaining.

      • Yup, SS is gorgeous. Ike was lighter on his feet than a lot of the other big tenor men but the ‘pretty’ playing he was so good at was balanced with a rock solid sense of time-before and after the beat. Love Ben W and Coleman but in some ways love Ike even more because he’s under-heard and under-appreciated.

        • I also like Ike Quebec soul samba 🙂
          Speaking of orgy in rhythm, just picked up a beautiful NY USA mono copy of vol. 1 for $20. An interesting record, certainly not the typical blue note

  20. Thanks for the bit about your 101-room nix-list. I agree on organ jazz. For me, I want to hear an actual bass player, not a keyboardist’s feet. My unpopular choice for Mr. Lucky There-At-The-Right-Time is Jackie McLean. He was always sharp, and would repeat ideas within the context of a solo. When Dolphy goes sharp, it’s beautiful, McLean, not so much. Great sessions, though!

    • Jimmy Smith’s album ‘Bashin’ – the unpredictable Jimmy Smith’ is quite good, although on Verve and not BN. There are fine arrangements for big band by Oliver Nelson and it even has a regular bass played by George Duvivier – apart from the bells, the very first instrument heard on side 1, which I guess emphasizes the unusual setup of organ and double bass.

    • I have informed the proper jazz authorities about your thought-crime on McLean. You should expect some light questioning. 🙂
      Well, actually, he does get rather good help from his choice of accompanists.

  21. Good post.

    .Its refreshing to have an objectivity check now and again.Also ,the more music you listen to the more your influences and taste can change over time.Not every Blue Note album is a masterpiece,although across the total output, they set the bar pretty high.

    Given your comment on Jimmy Smith,I recently bought a copy of A New Star a New Sound , Jimmy Smiths first album .I think it’s a Blue Note 1966 reissue of the 50s album.

    Although I like the cover art and it’s historically important (or it would be if it was the 50s one)I have to be honest with myself, I can’t see myself playing it too often.

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