This year, I’m celebrating a British Jazz Christmas, complete with a cheesy Christmas jumper, and a glass of sherry.
We’ve seen a vintage jazz vinyl revival here in the UK this year, albeit slow, not quite the pace of Blue Note/Tone Poet releases, though those include many I already have. UMG/Decca have given us a few treats, dare I say, leaning towards big band outings so far, just one small combo, and a compilation double. “Explosion”?
I just want more, so I have made up a post, about a British jazz quartet record from the Sixties, which I would love to have, which I don’t, but I can fake it. Often, I start a post without knowing where it will lead, hopefully somewhere interesting and unexpected. Adjust your calendar to late 1965, join me with Dick Morrissey, and friends.
Selection: Storm Warning! (Harry South)
. . .
A1 Storm Warning! (Harry South) 7:11
A2 What Is There To Say (Yip Harburg, Vernon Duke) 7:46
A3 Come Rain Or Come Shine (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) 7:55
B1 Wind Of Change (Harry South) 4:24
B2 Get Out Of Town, (Cole Porter) 6:53
B3 March On (Dick Morrissey)
Phil Bates, bass; Phil Seamen, drums; Harry South, piano; Dick Morrissey, tenor saxophone, recorded November 22 & 29, 1965.
Harry South, pianist with Dick Morrissey, composer of Storm Warning!, led his own big band, and coincidentally I have his own version of Storm Warning! on vinyl.
Selection 2: Storm Warning! Harry South Big Band
. . .
Personally I find big band scoring uninteresting, but here the solos redeem it. On balance, I’m still with the lean and rhythmic quartet format.
(Harry South continued in Collector’s Corner, Part Two of Three)
Dick Morrissey – short bio
Born in1940 in Horley, Surrey, a satellite town of London’s Gatwick Airport, Dick Morrissey was a self-taught musician. He started work in the jewellery trade but soon turned professional, leading his own quartet at The Marquee Club in1960 and later at the Flamingo Club and for a time played with Michael Garrick, and the Harry South Big Band.
His Quartet featured some of the leading figures in British jazz of the ’60s – Bill Eyden, Colin Barnes, Harry South, Jackie Dougan, Jim Hall (drums), John Burch, Malcolm Cecil, Phil Bates, Phil Seamen, Stan Jones, and Tony Archer
Dick Morrissey’s early records are extremely rare and expensive. Much live material has since surfaced on CD, I hazard not all of studio quality, a legacy of the ubiquitous portable tape recorder. Storm Warning! was allegedly recorded at the West London riverside jazz venue, The Bull’s Head at Barnes. The Bull’s Head Wiki lists it as recorded there live, something repeated elsewhere, however there is some dispute over this. No-one seems to know for sure where it was recorded, or by whom.
Morrissey developed a sound that drew on many influences, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins, and of course our own little giant, Tubby Hayes. What I pick up is his melodic trajectory, unpredictable where accents and rests fall, his urgency of tone, and his surefooted swing. In my book his thinking is a cross between the melodic inventiveness of Hank Mobley and the indefatigable swing of Zoot Sims, and the triple speed bursts of Tubby, without actually sounding like any of them. Derek Ansell, writing in Jazz Journal in 2001, said of Dick Morrissey
“He conveyed an aura of pleasure in the sheer joy of playing the tenor saxophone and easily transmitted his feelings to the audience. Dick had a rich robust sound on the tenor which, combined with considerable powers of invention and an ability to swing easily and naturally made him one of the very best jazz saxophonists in Europe, or anywhere else for that matter.
Morrissey belongs in a small group of vintage great British tenor players which you could fit in the back of a London black cab: Tubby Hayes, Tommy Whittle, Alan Skidmore, Dick Morrissey, room for one more, split the fare. Ronnie Scotts, cabbie, make it snappy. In The Melody Maker Jazz Polls of 1966 and 1967, Morrissey was voted second place, behind Tubby Hayes. Congratulations, your round I believe, Tubby.
In the late 60s, as modern jazz was largely overtaken by more commercial jazz forms, Dick Morrissey teamed up with guitarist Terry Smith to form a jazz-rock oriented band, If, with frequent changes of personnel until the mid Seventies, when Morrissey teamed up with guitarist Jim Mullen, to form the Morrissey-Mullen Band, playing a mixture of jazz fusion and funk. I think I still have a copy of Cape Wrath (1979) in the loft, purchased new. Morrissey returned to a more jazz oriented style in the 80s, unfortunately smooth jazz, sometimes seen in record store bins filed under fusion. (Indebted to posters who filled in gaps in my following of Morrissey’s history)
Among his lesser known musical appearances was the sax on the Love Theme from movie Blade Runner (Vangelis, 1982). Gareth S sent over this picture of Morrissey with John Critchsen at the Alma pub in Deal, Kent.
Morrissey suffered ill health in the 1990s and he fought a long battle with cancer before finally leaving the stage in 2000. A fuller appreciation “Remembering Dick Morrissey” from SaxOnTheWeb.
Storm Warning! is driven by the rhythm section, reminiscent of the Bird Curtis Quintet, and the Paul Gonsalves British combo behind Boom Jackie Boom Chick. It slides into a super-cool bossa kicked by one of our best jazz drummers, Phil Seamen. It has an “urgent swing” whose vital pulse defeats mere toe-tapping swing or repetitive dance music. It has the same British” Four Wheel Drive” as Zoot Simms great extended Love For Sale recorded at Ronnie Scotts, with a great British rhythm section. Seems we excel at back-seat driving.
Vinyl: Mercury 20077 MCL mono.
Label shots poached from Discogs. What is revealing is the spindle wear, significantly more on Side 2, which occurred while playing Side 1, which features the title track.
Jazz paparazzi Harry M gets everywhere. Dick Morrissey, Jazz at the Gatehouse, Highgate, North London, 1967.
Collector’s Corner: Part One – Dick Morrissey
1960-67, reign of the v-neck cardigan, shirt and tie, and a look like the East-end gangsters, Reg and Ronnie Cray. Reg: Don’t like the music? I can fix that for you. Ronnie, pliers please…
Storm Warning! 1966 album on Mercury is Holy Grail territory, a desperately rare title and expensive. There was a licensed edition on vinyl released in 1993. Guess where? Of course, Japan. Nothing released here until the Modern Jazz in Britain compilation with the title track ( I anticipate a reissue. Someday).
If you set your sights on Morrissey’s even more rare previous record “Have You Heard”, there is a copy available, asking an eye-watering £800. The label is 77 Records, founded by Doug Dobell in 1957, named after his jazz record shop at 77 Charing Cross Road in London’s West End.
Collector’s Corner: Part Two – The Harry South Songbook
Pianist/composer/arranger Harry South was an accomplished pianist as well as being “one of the giants of British jazz composition”, found behind the piano on many Tubby Hayes recordings for Tempo.
South’s contribution to British jazz is exceptional although frequently below the horizon. South eventually gave up jazz performing and turned to writing film and TV music scores, best known theme to the 70s TV copshow The Sweeney, the flying squad, before the ultra low emission zone and 20mph limit. Nice noisy cars.
A British enterprise, R&B Records, has produced a series dedicated to 60s British jazz, including this compilation of recordings featuring Harry South, by Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Ross, Dick Morrissey, Joe Harriott, and The Harry South Big Band. A 1964 broadcast put Harry South and Dick Morrissey together in front of the studio microphones, a tune that sounds horribly familiar but I can’t figure out where.
Selection: Minor Incident
. . .
Vinyl: R&B Records RB12
One of a series of LPs later issued as a 4-CD set. Likely a digital transfer, no audiophile pretentions (140gram vinyl) but compiled in mono, anonymous pressing, mischievous text on the label, and clever faux – Blue Note jackets from the series at the foot of the liner notes (liner notes credits include the accomplished tenor player and author Simon Spillett, see Collector’s Corner Part Three)
Other R&B British Jazz recordings 1958 – 67 (CD only)l Reid Miles pastiche covers: left to right, 4059 Kenny Drew, Undercurrent; 4115 Freddie Hubbard, Hub Tones; 1595 Cannonball, Somethin’ Else; Sam Rivers, Inventions and Dimensions; 1573 John Jenkins; and 1598 Bud Powell, Time Waits. Very clever.
Collector’s Corner: Part Three: Simon Spillett
Britain’s leading living tenor saxophone player, fount of British jazz knowledge, articulate writer, and author of the definitive Tubby Hayes biography (The Long Shadow of the Little Giant) , in conversation with British jazz pianist and event producer Terence Collie last year, which includes several live musical excursions.
Simon walks us through the evolving British Jazz Scene, which is the landscape of this post, and his journey through it. I thought it a fitting way to finish this last British Jazz post of 2021. In passing, I learned Simon plays a Selmer Mk VII – reference Clifford Jordan’s live reprise of “John Coltrane” from Glass Bead Games, cryptically titled Night Of The Mk VII. (Muse, 1975)
Which neatly brings jazz full circle back to it’s home, America. We forgive your Independence, you’ll get over it. Start learning to code, or Mandarin.
If you are reading this, Happy Christmas, Mr Spillett,
Most of all, best wishes to the commenters, without whom this blog would be…a lot shorter. Thanks for joining in. More good things to come in 2022. Don’t know about anything else, but jazz on vinyl is here to stay.