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Carmell Jones, trumpet; Curtis Amy, tenor sax; Bobby Hutcherson, vibes; Frank Strazzeri, piano; Jimmy Bond, bass; Frank Butler, drums; recorded at Pacific Jazz Studios, Hollywood, CA, December 10, 1960 (#1 Groovin’ Blue) and January 10, 1961 (tracks #2-5)
West Coast Jazz 1960,introducing a very young Bobby Hutcherson. Only 20, his album debut with Curtis Amy Frank Butler Sextet, three years before his first appearance on Blue Note (1963, Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond). Hutcherson’s first session as leader for Blue Note, The Kicker, followed the same year, but was not released until 1999 – only on CD. The Kicker finally made it to vinyl for the first time last year, as a TP (review to follow)
Curtis Amy recorded for Pacific Jazz often as joint leader. I passed on a couple of his titles with Paul Bryant, as Soul Jazz organ has not been spinning on my turntable for some time, but other combos I am good for, including the current title.
After a handful of albums, Amy disappeared, busy in obscurity, working as a session and studio musician. Not quite obscure, he appeared on numerous rock and pop hits, carved a niche in hot tenor solos for the West Coast rock aristocracy, but remained completely forgotten in the jazz world until 1994, when he was persuaded to go back in the studio and record for the Fresh Sounds label, “Peace for Love” (CD). He finally left the stage in 2002, age 73.
“A good soul-jazz and hard bop tenor and soprano saxophonist,… he had a strong tone and nice, lightly swinging style.” (AllMusic)
After listening to tenor giants all day, Amy is a fresh voice. He has energy, power and speed, rapid-fire twists and turns, a blues flavour, a voice much his own. The collboration between tenor and a drummer produces a rythmic underpinning that swings, and Bobby Hutcherson’s percussive vibraphone adds spice to the groove. Carmel Jones has a good trumpet voice, a little hesitant sometimes, a reminder of the supreme confidence of masters Hubbard, Morgan and Byrd.
Amy’s finest recording was the mythical Katanga!, with relatively unknown trumpeter Bolton Dupree, and the wonderfully melodic and underrated Jack Wilson on piano. A Curtis Amy live version of Katanga! appearing on Frankly Jazz, a half-hour TV program produced in Los Angeles in the early 1960s, hosted by jazz disc jockey Frank Evans. Evans speaks in that 60s slow precise intonation, like he’s narrating an episode of the Twighlight Zone. TV from 1962, Curtis Amy, with the elusive Dupree Bolton, live. Not quite 4k HD but televisions were a little more primitive in 1962.
Katanga is tthe outstanding track, as is Native Land, but there is more…
Each Frankly Jazz show featured one group, so more Curtis and Dupree.
Saved the best news for last — Katanga! is scheduled for Tone Poet release, this coming June:
“June 4th sees the release of Katanga! a Pacific Jazz catalog rarity by saxophonist Curtis Amy and trumpeter Dupree Bolton . The vinyl Tone Poet version of Katanga includes a new Thomas Conrad essay detailing the story behind the album”.
Tone Poet extending beyond Blue Note could be very good news. What next – Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section?
Vinyl: UK Vogue LAE 12287, issue of Pacific Jazz PJ 19
I picked up Groovin’ Blue on a visit to ghost-town Central London, between lockdowns, heartbreaking. I prefer to touch and examine what I am buying first hand, rather than depend on somene elses grading. But pleased to see at least one collectable jazz record in the store, grateful for even scraps.
With overseas reissues, tthe quality of the transfer is the hazzard. Whenever I see the VMGT matrix stamp I know what I’m going to get. UK Decca/Vogue are pretty reliable, maybe not as strong as the original, but pretty good: loud, bright, fresh, lively mono. Not a compressed and rolled off transfer, as happens too often with Pacific Jazz Victor Japan reissues, all of which have been a disappointment.
The Pacific Jazz catalogue was sold to Liberty around 1965, shortly before being joined by Blue Note. Liberty was swallowed up by United Artists, who were in turn absorbed into EMI/Capitol, all consolidated now under parent UMG, who apparently own almost everything, apart from those catalogues owned by Concord (notably, Prestige).
UMG is sympathetic to exploiting their jazz back catalogue, collaborating with audiophile producers, critically, giving trusted access to original tapes. I listened last night to some MM33s, and as good as I thought they were, they sound veiled compared to the latest TPs. which are the ultimate in engineering quality. Something has happened chez Kevin Gray! Not the same as what was produced two or three years ago.
Groovin’ Blue may lack Top Shelf Appeal™, so is likely to remain in the universe of antique mono originals.
The original Pacific Jazz issue:
Disciples of The Evil Silver Disc can may find the complete Pacific Jazz work of Amy on Mosaic Select 7 – Curtis Amy (Mosaic Records) a 3-CD compilation including Katanga! – OOP but it can be found, at a price.
More on Amy and his many appearances on rock and pop hits, such as the sax solo on The Doors, Touch Me ( Youtube below, ) two screengrabs follow.
A visual slice of 1969, no-one in sportswear, but the horn-soloist is permited casual-wear, everyone else in suits. The 1969 difference in generations is of course hair length, luxurious locks.
More on Curtis Amy at Curt’s Jazz Cafe, Unsung Saxophone Masters.
Screengrab above of the tenor soloist during The Doors live performance of Touch Me, which peaked in the charts February 1969, fixes the likely time of the recording (and it is in colour!). I assumed the soloist was Amy, no-one is credited. (UPDATE: consensus, it’s a stand-in miming) I read somewhere Morrison and Manzarek were big jazz fans, and insisted on Amy for a live session.
A scroll through the comments (the ‘Tube has had 8 million views) are illuminating. The recurring theme is Jim Morrison’s looks, and his eyes, comments mainly from the ladies, It is clear what the selling proposition is, rarely the music, and none I saw about the horn solo.
I was not big on The Doors at the time, some iconic songs, everyone knows Riders On The Storm, but viewing the Touch Me video is a reminder of how primitive the pop/rock genre was in comparison the sophistication of jazz, all at the same time, just universes apart. Even the horn solo is just simple R&B, but it paid the rent – quite a few musician’s rent, seeing the size of the ensemble. Strange to find the two genres occupying the same space.
The Doors were another band that chose their name before the ascendancy of the internet and Google. My first Doors search got me lots of living room furniture and accessories.
Colletor’s Corner Part 2
Reader Ted from Arizona contacted me to introduce a post on his own blog,Turning The Tide, on the development of the LP and the rise of Columbia Records. His great uncle Vincent Leibler was one of the inner circle of Columbia engineers behind the development of the long playing record
Also recommended, forthcoming Tone Poet :
May 7, 2021
June 4, 2021
- Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – The Witch Doctor (Blue Note, 1961)
- Curtis Amy & Dupree Bolton – Katanga! (Pacific Jazz, 1963)