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.
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Selection 2: Senorita Eula
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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”
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)
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.
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?
Postscript: Ike-Quebecistas seem heavy on the ground!