Phineas Newborn Jr.: Please Send Me Someone To Love (1969) Contemporary

UPDATE 14/9/20: Harry M photo – Elvin Jones, 1970

Some thoughts on piano jazz and the place of “piano artistry”, launched from another “inessential album”, the music of Phineas Newborn Jr. , who at the time was considered by some critics to be one of the greats. What happened?
Phineas-Newborn-Please-sens-me-someone-to-love-cover-1800-LJC-1Selection: Please Send Me Someone To Love

 

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Artists

Phineas Newborn Jr. ,piano; Ray Brown , bass; Elvin Jones, drums; recorded at Contemporary studios, LA, February 12 & 13, 1969.

Another day, another piano voice, and another fine pianist, but first – pronunciation lessons: Fine-Us, not Fin-e-as. Like it’s Cee-cil , not Cec-il Taylor.

Newborn was a traditional style jazz pianist who fell in and out of critical favour, as the benchmark for piano moved on to other planes.Tagged with the label of “piano artistry”, recorded mostly in solo or trio, Phineas was often saddled with cover art guaranteed to sink anyone’s career. The lady is in love… with the piano leg? The Solo Piano cover (Atlantic,1975) is just…I’m lost for words… who thought this was a good idea? Art Director, my office, now!

It was not all bad news. Phineas got second billing to Roy Haynes on the New Jazz title We Three – cover design by Esmond Edwards,  featuring a giant Paul Chambers.

It gives Newborn a good cover, compensation for that horrid wooden sphinx.

The “We Three” session put Newborn in a stronger line-up, with Roy Haynes providing a rhythmic backbone and Chambers his own artistry. Phineas seems to perform better with the discipline of other front-line players: Sample from “We Three”,  Newborn plays the Ray Bryant composition, Reflection.

.  .  .

This one really swings. Newborn determinedly carrying the Bryant melody, Roy Haynes uncompromisingly lays down the beat; while Chambers lets them fight it out. Exciting, no hotel-lobby and chintz jazz here.

Music

NYT: “During the middle and late 1950’s Newborn was widely regarded as one of the most brilliant pianists in jazz”   Nat Hentoff wrote that “he probably has more command of the piano technically than any of his jazz contemporaries.” Leonard Feather said of him, “In his prime, he was one of the three greatest jazz pianists of all time”,  in the league of  Art Tatum and Bud Powell.

Between 1956 and the early ’60s, Newborn recorded for Atlantic, RCA Victor, Roulette, and Contemporary. It was his time, but… with the passage of time some critics turned on him, began to say his playing “lacked emotional depth and commitment, that it was too facile and flashy”.

His  “dazzling technical proficiency” was perhaps too strong to place him in the role of sideman. He recorded just a few titles in quartet for Contemporary,  with Howard McGhee and Teddy Edwards. The bulk of his work was recorded in trio and solo.

On this Contemporary tile from 1969, Ray Brown makes a valliant effort, counterpoint on the strings, but Elvin Jones sleepy, auto-pilot timekeeping (laid back?) fails to inject interest.

By 1969, perhaps the time of hotel lobby-and-chandeliers piano jazz  had been and gone. Listeners demanded more ensemble complexity, more “emotion”, more diversity of influences, and fusion was knocking on the door. Solo piano virtuosity was no longer enough to carry the day.

LJC home-spun philosophy spot.

One of the down-sides of being really good at something, at which you are doing your very best, is that you have no incentive to change, when change is what is required rather than further improvement.

Through the ’70s Phineas recorded just a handful of trio sessions. He became troubled, encountering mental health problems severe enough to require hospitalisation. A few titles were released only in Japan, but little else, until his final departure in 1989.

Vinyl: Contemporary S7622

Another example of how Contemporary used legacy label design – green gold print – on much later issues.  LKS stamper codes – the stamp of Lester Koenig stamper authenticity.

Phineas-Newborn-Please-send-me-someone-to-love-backcover-1800-LJC-1Collector’s Corner

Just a bit of fun, as I happened to have these two versions ripped. How does Newborn’s technical proficiency deliver a tune like Little Niles, squaring up against the composer’s original version, Randy Weston?

Selection : Phineas Newborn, from the same album: Little Niles,

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Contrast: Original Little Niles, Randy Weston:

.  .  .

 The Randy Weston original benefits from the greater tonal variety of a larger ensemble – better suited to the feisty tune. The trio reduces it to homogenous “piano artistry”, where everything begins to sound the same – piano trio jazz.

Maybe it’s just me, but piano trio rarely hit the spot, apart from few obvious exceptions, and solo piano hardly at all – apart from Monk  – Alone In San Francisco, and Solo Monk – the later of which I seem to have missed posting. Solo Monk, for a future date, when i get back to my hi-fi.  Monk solo is a whole different kettle of guacamole.There must be a few other solo piano outings that stand out of the crowd, though none come immediately to my mind. If you have piano-solo in your mind, throw it in.

Piano jazz  put to rest, for the time being.

UPDATE: Harry M has the picture – Elvin Jones at Jazz Expo 1970

Photo-credit: Harry M

LJC says: thank you readers for all your comments. All sorts of artist suggestions I was not aware of, obviously something people feel passionate about, great!

21 thoughts on “Phineas Newborn Jr.: Please Send Me Someone To Love (1969) Contemporary

  1. Not as familiar of a name but Jessica Williams is wonderful in a trio setting or solo. Mostly a west coast resident, her playing has been hailed by no less than Dave Brubeck and McCoy Tyner. She never released much on vinyl but has a lot of cd’s. Of particular interest is her tributes to Monk, Coltrane and tatum.

  2. In my humble opinion the best Newborn is “A world of piano” on Contemporary . A lot of the pianists coming through the 1950’s were tagged with the “piano master” label ,John Young comes to mind on Argo (USA) . I think styles need always to be related to the time. Not all artists “develop”. or continue to evolve. My piano solo picks are Dollar Brand African Piano on Enja
    Erroll Garner “Afternoon of an elf” on Mercury , Herbie Hancock “Piano” on Japanese Sony. and Bud Powell ” The genius of ” on Clef/Verve. Trio picks are Keith Jarrett ( pre-groan ) Somewhere Before ” on Atlantic ,Oscar Peterson at the London House 5 CD set on Verve ( never got any better than this if you like driving piano trio) Paul Bley Footloose on Savoy and Hancock again with the Japan recordings with Carter and Williams around 1978 on Sony.

  3. I tend to skip piano trio records at the shops. It’s a mix of their commonality and my interest in larger ensembles. I did pick up This Here is Bobby Timmons recently, though, and enjoy it very much. I wouldn’t say it breaks any new ground, but I’m actually glad for it. It’s nice and soulful straight-ahead jazz that evokes the period but isn’t at all dated. Even some Bill Evans trio stuff grates on me when I hear it. Long and noodly bass solos wear me out quickly (though bowed bass solos are what I truly hate; sorry, PC).

    I have a great interest and affection for piano-guitar-bass trios. They were obviously on-trend in the early 50s, probably all following the success of the Nat King Cole trio. Of these, the “three string” trios of Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal were certainly the most successful. Oscar’s stuff is ok, but the music of the original Ahmad Jamal trio fascinates me. It’s dated, yes, and I understand jazz lovers are split on the merits of Ahmad’s music. I am a fan, though. His interplay with bassist Israel Crosby and guitarist Ray Crawford, who has a wonderful and unique style, is worth a listen. Crosby’s felt-not-heard propulsive bass is marvelous.

  4. Piano trio: Evans/La Faro/Motian and later incarnations after La Faro’s death. Also Keith Jarrett’s work with Gary Peacock (who just died earlier this month) and Jack DeJohnette. Jarrett’s solo recordings are absorbing, if you can get past his vocalizations while improvising.

    The Venn diagram overlap between Jarrett fans and Oscar Peterson fans may be small, but it includes me. His work in the ‘50s and early ‘60s with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen is about the perfect marriage of technical virtuosity and small-group swing, IMHO.

  5. Bit afraid I’ll get crucified for this, but I’ll throw in a very warm spot for Abdullah Ibrahim’s (née Dollar Brand) solo Ode to Duke Ellington. I can see where many would consider it near sacrilege to strip out Duke’s ace combos/bands but there’s a hypnotic free-flowing quality to the album that is also common in many Jaki albums. As a rule I pick up anything by either artist I come across regardless of decade.

  6. The complaint I often have with piano trio albums is that they can easily become a solo piano album, as the pianist takes the spotlight and the rhythm section’s contributions become background chatter at best. Randy Weston, as much as I love him, has a couple early trio albums that fall in this category for me. My most loved piano trio albums, not already mentioned here, are: “Money Jungle” (Ellington, Roach, Mingus–there are drawbacks to this album, but the musicians certainly know how to play off/against other), Sun Ra’s “God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be” (it’s not what you might think, worth a listen), Jaki Byard’s “Sunshine of My Soul” and “Here’s Jaki” (great supporting casts, and no Byard album will ever be uninteresting), and pretty much everything Bud Powell recorded in a trio setting. Solo piano is a bit harder for me to crack, but again Jaki Byard rarely disappoints, and Sun Ra’s “Monorails and Satellites” is full of delightful and inspiring moments. Monk’s “Alone in San Francisco” remains the gold standard.

    • I’ll second that Byard recommendation. Pianists who bring out the percussive side of the piano tend to be more interesting in a solo setting. I’d add Dave Burrell and Don Pullen to this list, alongside Taylor and Monk of course. Musa Ancestral Streams by Cowell is another standout.

      • I love both Byard and Pullen but, while their solo stuff is always interesting, they shine the most in a group setting (check out “The Jaki Byard Expierence” with Roland Kirk, and anything by the Adams-Pullen Quartet). Coincidentally both Byard and Pullen mentored a Canadian pianist named DD Jackson, whose playing sometimes sounds very Pullenesque.

  7. Where can I find that article you once wrote about “Getting Magnetised”. Thank you, Thomas Grund

    On Sun, Sep 13, 2020 at 1:13 PM LondonJazzCollector wrote:

    > LondonJazzCollector posted: “Some thoughts on piano jazz and the place of > “piano artistry”, launched from another “inessential album”, the music of > Phineas Newborn Jr. Newborn at the time was considered by some to be one > of the piano greats. What went wrong?Selection: Please Send Me” >

  8. Cannot spin the few solo albums by Monk I have in my collection. My recollection of them is a rather painful search of continuity, Monk often faltering. His lack of technique becomes too obvious.
    I have his 25 cm on Swing and the 2 Riversides. The 1st Riverside has the bonus of a Trane track, also exploring, but still immature.
    Barry Harris did one on Riverside, which I sold recently, although it is better than the Monks.
    Martial Solal did a big band album for Swing and a solo album for Swing too. His style is more fluid and imaginitive. In terms of solo piano give me Walter Gieseking playing Brahms.
    I heard Phineas in concert in 1958, when he was part of a pick up group touring Europe. The highlight being Lee Konitz, Zoot and Red Garland alternating with Phineas.

  9. I’m a big fan of piano trio, solo piano, not so much. It has to have that beat. One recent exception is Geri Allen Flying Toward The Sound (Motema 52) a 2Lp issue more readily available on Cd. This is her tribute to McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Cecil (Cee-cil) Taylor and she shows her full breadth and command of the piano with many exhilarating moments.

  10. Mal Waldron’s solo stuff is unique and well worth a listen, e.g., Signals, Blues for Lady Day. I was going to say that he paints exquisite pictures with his piano playing, but then some people might get the wrong impression…

  11. Andrew:

    Maybe not a Solo piano, but up your alley with this review and a trip that does hit the spot. -Eric

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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