Sonny Clark: Leapin’ and Lopin’ (1961) Toshiba/EMI 1983

Selection 1: Somethin’ Special (Clark): 

.  .  .

Selection 2: Midnight Mambo (Clark) 

.  .  .

Artists

Tommy Turrentine, trumpet; Charlie Rouse, tenor sax, except Ike Quebec (A2); Sonny Clark, piano; Butch Warren, bass; Billy Higgins, drums; recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, November 13, 1961

Artist Fly-over

Tommy Turrentine, a mainstream bop trumpet player and older brother of Stanley, had only one album as leader. He  was content to stay out of the limelight, recording  among others with Max Roach, Horace Parlan, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Lou Donaldson, and of course brother Stanley. He made few appearance after the end of the1960s.

In contrast,  Charlie Rouse, enjoyed a long career until his departure in the late 80s,  principally as the tenor voice of  Monk’s quartet from 1959 to 1970. Along with Monk, Rouse had the unusual honour of having an asteroid officially named after him, 10426 Charlierouse and  for Monk, 11091 Thelonious, joining 10505 Johnnycash and 10828 Tomjones in an unlikely celestial quartet. You may find memorizing these helps in a particularly competitive pub quiz night, or a particularly tricky question, like this one on the British University Challlenge

Of Sonny Clark, an insightful story recounted by writer Sam Stephenson tells of when Clark, driving, was pulled over by police, who asked to see his ID. ” He didn’t have any. He went into the trunk of the car and showed the police one of his records with his picture on the cover.” 

“No jazz pianist was more drenched in minor blues than Clark. Yet he blended his blues with a buoyant, ventilated swing. And to this day, nobody sounds like Sonny Clark.”

Track List

A1. Somethin’ Special (Clark)  6:23
A2. Deep In A Dream,  guest Ike Quebec (De Lange – Van Heusen)  6:47 
A3. Melody For C (Clark)  7:50
B1, Eric Walks (B. Warren)  5:41
B2. Voodoo (Clark)  7:39
B3. Midnight Mambo (T. Turrentine)  7:16

Music

British music writer Richard Williams places Sonny Clark as “a sweet spot between Bud Powell’s probing, restless single-note lines and the swinging, transparently joyful lyricism of Wynton Kelly.”  A well-judged description.

All Music says of Leapin’ and Lopin’: “Sonny Clark’s fifth Blue Note recording as a leader is generally regarded as his best, especially considering he composed three of the six tracks, and they all bear his stamp of originality. What is also evident is that he is shaping the sounds of his quintet rather than dominating the proceedings as he did on previous dates.”

Amazon Reviewer, from Italy (translation): “The start is electrocuted; Somethin’ Special has a rhythm that immediately enters the circle, here everyone has the way to show their flair. Rouse sounds warm and passionate, Turrentine’s solo is very clear and Clark core fluid throughout the song… what a nice way to start a record.”

Amazon Reviewer, from France (translation): “Pianist, composer, arranger with a swing that is both delicate but at the same time solid he really deserves to be listened to, whether as a trio, leader of the straight ahead group or as an accompanist.  Every piano lover has to meet him”

LJC Verdict:

The compositions are mainstream solid bop. Turrentine is a capable player and Rouse is an instantly recognisable distinctive voice. Together, the horns play in unison rather than work through harmonies which might have added more texture, but add a welcome expansion to Clark’s frequent trio outings.  Clark is energetic, rhythmic, and ensures each player has the opportunity to shine, lined up to take their turn in the solo spot, and they do not disappoint.  

Leapin’ and Lopin’ is a worthy rival to Sonny’s classic Cool Struttin’,  which benefits from the similar weight of two horns, Jackie McLean and Art Farmer, and fields Philly Joe in place of Billy Higgins.  Cool Struttin’  has fanatical following in Japan, and price to match, and neither is affordable as a US original. Fortunately pressings from Japan are widely available, and sound comparably better than many others titles. 

Vinyl: Toshiba/EMI BNJ 71010  (BST 84091)

Packed with around 20 minutes of music per side, cut unusually hot for a Japanese pressing, grooves almost to the label.

Not having played this album for some time I was pleasantly surprised by the sonics: solid soundstage, without the top end noticeably cut off and without the too often timid presentation of many Japanese pressings. It still falls short of some of the best I have heard, but quite acceptable. I was also reminded of the quality of Van Gelder’s original recording, which accounts in large measure for the quality of any reissue.

The presentation is much better than I recall from a few years ago, which may well be the result of replacing of my old solid state amp with a custom KT88 valve power amp (vacuum “tubes”), changing mains power cable fuses to rhodium-plated fuses throughout, and a few extras in the power conditioning department: four abzorbers – yes four – each extra one continued to make an improvement, until the fourth made the system blossom . The improvement is so great that I may have to reconsider a few previously firm opinions.

Harry’s Place

Charlie Rouse at Jazz Expo 1969, courtesy of Harry M., our resident jazz paparrazi

Photo-credit © Harry M

Collector’s Corner

Despite having a dozen Clark albums on my shelf, I was surprised to have pointed out had reviewed only one,  the TP My Conception. My lame excuse was the absence of original Blue Note pressings: 1570, 1576, 1579, 1588, and this 4091, all bar one I have are Japanese reissues, and the only US is a UA blue label. (Call yourself a record collector, LJC?). Original Sonny Clark Blue Notes are much sought after and have always been priced way above my house limit.

There about a hundred Japanese pressings in my collection, most all reissues of Blue Note 1500 and early 4000 series, most purchased when I was “in short trousers” as a collector, starting out. After a while, when you score some of the originals, you realise Japanese Blue Note reissues are just a step on the way up the mountain of The Holy Grail. You then also find out that you are not a big game hunter either, and make a judgement based on the music if I want to spend more to upgrade. So this post looks at a very pricey record, and observes some of the collector’s scenery.

Nearly unbelievable, this auction result for Leapin’ and Lopin’  hit over $7,000, more than double the previous high.  44 bids, and the buyer looks solid with 1,357 Feedback score. Crikey!  It’s always possible the winner defaulted payment – auction databases aren’t updated for default.. Ebay sadly stopped publishing the bid history of auctions, which was so educational and such fun to read, and the winner country location, even more interesting.

A massive jump in auction price is usually result of a bidder mistaking which currency they are bidding with (¥ for $), or a “mid-air collision”, where two bidders both place an very high bid to guarantee winning, but expect the actual price to be set much lower by a more realistic second-placed bidder. One bidder gets a nasty surprise.

More sensibly-priced but still steep, last month saw an auction of another mono original copy, a  beautiful near-mint review copy no less, from the collection of Harold L. Keith, writer and editor for the Pittsburgh Courier. 33 bids took it to $1,225  

What is it about Sonny Clark and Japan?

Clark never stepped foot in Japan. His mythic status is from a huge distance, in time and space.

Writer on the New York jazz scene, Sam Stephenson  cites ” according to Soundscan, which began tracking CD sales in 1991, Clark’s 1958 album  Cool Struttin’ outsold in Japan, several Blue Note albums that dwarf Cool Struttin’ in terms of iconography  and sales.  “Cool Struttin’ sold 200,000 copies between 1991 and 2009 — almost 180,000 of those copies in Japan, where it became mysteriously one of the biggest selling jazz albums of all time. Over the same period, Coltrane’s classic 1957 release, Blue Train, sold 545,000 copies in the States and only 147,000 in Japan”.

Novelist Haruki Murakami suggested the original popularity of Cool Struttin’’ in Japan “was not driven by professional critics or by sales, but by youth who didn’t have enough money to buy vinyl records, so they went to the kissas to hear jazz on the house record player. This was a phenomenon particular to Japan” .

Sonny’s tragic life and untimely death also made him an unconventional, forlorn icon. More depth on the highs and lows of Sonny’s life here –

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/01/13/sonny-clark/

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/01/26/sonny-clark-part-ii/

The Long Reissue Trail

Since its first edition in Japan, 1976, Leapin’ and Lopin’ has been reissued in Japan every two to five years, a total of eleven Japanese editions. (Cool Struttin’ has over 100 Discogs entries, compared to just 31 for Leapin’ and Lopin’) My collector eye says cream of the Japanese crop is the 1st Toshiba LNJ series (1976), left , followed by the King release (1981), right.

Music Matters issued a double 45rpm edition in 2008, which gives two of the tracks each a side of their own – a little over 7 minutes of music, before having to make your way back to the turntable, it’s like a musical exercise video: Weightwatchers for jazz-lovers.  But MM do offer a gatefold the usual wonderful Francis Wolf portraits, including one which is the same or just fractionally different from the cover photo

Art Director’s Tea Break

What is striking about Reid Miles cover here is how tightly he dares to crop Wolff’s original photograph. He has sacrificed the piano entirely. The fact Sonny is playing the piano is no longer evident, just the emotion and concentration in his expression, the eyes almost closed, at one with the music.

Wolff’s lighting is dramatic, a theatrical spotlight from above illuminates highlights and casts deep shadows, against a black background. The visual flow is very dynamic – those diagonals again; the eyes placed by the rule of thirds, and the face occupies around two thirds of the cover, as the viewer triangulates between the eyes, nose and mouth.  It’s bold, creative, but creates a problem for typography. 

To avoid having a lot of text over Sonny face, Miles  adopts a right sidebar for the title and artists. The typography follows the musician’s heirarchy: the leader is in largest font, and the only name in white to stand out;  the rest of players with a smaller font, alternate turquoise and vivid yellow/green.

However there is a problem looming, which Miles turns into an opportunity The players names are all roughly the same length except for TURRENTINE, which is twice as long. The usual solution – breaking a long name onto two lines, or shrinking the font size, just draws attention to the problem. Miles decides he must treat all the player’s as equals, same font size, with TURRENTINE occupying the full width of the side bar. Now Miles realises an opportunity to benefit from the shorter names

Each name is set on two lines. Each name is justified, that is, aligned, to the left edge, to an imaginary centre line, or to the right edge, but each name is justified differently. TOMMY TURRENTINE aligns right, CHARLIE ROUSE aligns to the centre. BUTCH WARREN and BILLY HIGGINS then break the pattern, firstname justified right and surname justified left, their layout is uniquely symetrical, but with each artist in a  different colour. SONNY CLARK has a blank space after SONNY but a blank space before CLARK. The title LEAPIN’ and LOPIN’ has two lines justified left and a third oddly justified right. It’s a typographical Hokey-Cokey.

By positioning text in both symetrical and  a non-symetrical form, off-balance, and constantly changing the visual rules from one line of text to the next, Reid has created visual dynamic instability, It is almost as though the text was leaping and loping, an echo of two contradictory motions. 

The final touch  – a blue tint over the portrait to suggest the bluesy style of the music, and the title, also in blue. Reid Miles, the Van Gelder of graphic design. 

Footsteps in the corridor, Art Director’s back from tea, quick, hide!

Audiophile Sonny

Our friends at Music Matters Jazz have issued a  2×45 rpm  edition of Leapin’ and Lopin’, “remastered from the original tapes”, sadly but not unexpectedly Out Of Stock on their website (listed at $124.95)  No indication if this is a new edition or merely a further pressing of the 2008 edition, which was remastered by Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman. There have been so many technical improvements in Kevin’s masters in the last few years, a big advance over those MMs 14 years ago with Steve Hoffman. 

Interestingly, the cover photo of Sonny on the MMJ (below left) has massively restored shadow detail compared with other reissue covers, they have clearly gone back to the original Wolff negatives. It is a better in photographic terms, but whether it is better in graphic design terms is another question. Is it me, or does Sonny now look like he’s taking a nap?

Leapin’ and Lopin’ was most recently reissued in the not well received  Blue Note 75th Anniversary  Series, reportedly from a Bernie Grundman digital master and not the original tapes, and a poor  low-cost pressing.

Land Of The Rising Sonny

Sonny recorded prolifically for Blue Note, and they had much material on the shelf  that went unissued in the US. However the appetite for Sonny in Japan did not go unnoticed. As the spiritual home of Sonny Clark, King Records and EMI/Toshiba released  four Sonny Clark  Blue Note albums, as Japan-only titles My Conception achieved Tone Poet status this year, and the other three above are on my shelf and overdue for a ride on turntable. The outlook is definitely Sonny.

On The Horizon

Dial S For Sonny TP is on its way, this Blue Note Classic Vinyl Edition is, unusually,  mono. 1570 is listed as only issued in mono, recorded July 21, 1957, a few months after Van Gelder began experimenting with two track recording simultaneous to full track. All editions released to date have been mono, so it’s likely the two-track was not running that day.

All-analog, mastered by Kevin Gray from the original master tapes, and pressed on 180g vinyl at Optimal. Release late originally June but rolled back to July, a  sextet, and more Mobley! This one’s a winner.

LJC

 

13 thoughts on “Sonny Clark: Leapin’ and Lopin’ (1961) Toshiba/EMI 1983

  1. I recall seeing that Leapin’ And Lopin’ $7,300.00 sale. Didn’t follow the auction, which for American collectors must have been like watching a nail biting Super Bowl, or whatever the equivalent British football championship is called. But it was shocking enough to see it on Popsike or wherever I saw it. 7000+ – that could make some of us not say that we have certain records.

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    • Replying to myself and for the sake of safety I’m “Anonymous.” I got a beautiful M- Mono review copy of this off of Discogs back in 2016 for $333.00. Not saying this to boast, we all get lucky sometimes. That price for mine versus the top priced one above really shows that record collecting can potentially lead to similar mental injuries one might get from playing football.

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  2. Great reading, as always. I’ve learned so much since I discovered this blog.
    I have most of Sonny’s albums in one form or another, and I think this is probably my favorite. I can’t wait for this to get the Kevin Gray treatment, as I only have it on Evil Silver Disc at the moment. However, I feel you have given short shrift to Tommy Turrentine (“capable”). Every time I hear him, I am impressed by the fullness and clarity of his sound. Beautiful player. I wish he would have recorded more. The albums with Horace Parlan and both Turrentine brothers (whether under Stanley’s name or Parlan’s) are especially good. Comparing the Blue Notes with the recordings they made with Max Roach provides some interesting contrasts, both sonically and artistically.

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  3. Thanks for posting this! I especially liked the discourse about the cover design. Looking forward to Sonny Clark weeks at LJC 🙂
    As you I am excited about Dial S for Sonny. I never owned a copy of that one, but Mobley with Art Farmer and Curtis Fuller in the frontline should be a winner.

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  4. Do I get the impression from your 5 line L JC verdict that the music is secondary to all the wonderful facts in the rest of the column or am I totally “Out to lunch” (to quote another famous Blue Note): I for one am far more interested in your opinion than Amazon subscribers

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  5. Allow me a little appreciation, friend Andrew. According to Blue Note, the release of the “Dial for Sonny” Blue Note Classic Vinyl Series has been pushed back to July 15. For the rest, his words and reflections, once again, wonderful.

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    • It’s on record Reid was not a jazz fan, but he was a consumate professional graphic designer. Most jazz fans couldn’t design a cover for love nor money, and usually not the producer’s girlfriend who fancied themselves as a designer. Reid understood the brief, or more likely figured out what the brief should be, and delivered it with elegant solutions Deconstructing his designs has been education, though too late for my early aspirations in the field. Unfortunately I was better at other things. Typography is a form of speech, as I think is jazz.

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  6. Reid Miles was notorious for slicing and cropping (some say butchering) Wolff’s images.
    They say Wolff was not amused. As a photographer i could agree, but in the end a picture is used in a context, it should do the job, and Reid Miles knew exactly how to use imagery in a square format of 12″ combined with typo graphics, it still looks modern compared to savoy, verve,prestige, atlantic etc. ( they have their own beauty i agree).
    If you would change one inch on his covers, it will not have the same power. You can see that for example on Liberty reissues, where they added more typo.
    Other extreme cropping on wolff’s pictures he did for example on Soul Station (4031) and No Room for Squares (4149) (Mobley) where he would use only a third or even a fifth of the original photo.
    On the other hand, on Sonny clark’s famous Cool Struttin” (1588) cover he used the whole negative of Wolff’s picture. There exists a contact sheet of the whole film Wolff used (12 images), and you can see there was just one that was perfect. The legs of the lady on that cover are from Wolff’s wife Ruth.
    These (and many more) examples of Wolff’s pictures/contact-sheets, and Miles designs can be found in the book: Blue Note by Richard Havers, 2014 and – Blue Note, The Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff, by Charlie Lourie, 2000.

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  7. Thanks, LJC, for posting this review!

    Sonny Clark is definitely one of my favorite pianists from this era. He had an incredible touch, articulation, and sense of swing, and penned some great original tunes as well. I find him much more consistent than Bud Powell. It’s a real shame that he died so young. Who knows what else he could have created for the world?

    Aside from My Conception (Tone Poet), I haven’t purchased any of the other audiophile Sonny Clark reissues but have instead sought out the UA mono reissues and Liberty pressings. I have the UA mono for Dial S for Sonny and Sonny’s Crib, which I found online from a dealer in Japan without breaking the bank. Both are very clean and sound excellent to my ears, although I have never owned the originals for comparison. The stereo Liberty (I have the one with black and light blue label) for Cool Struttin’ also sounds great if you don’t have the funds to buy an original.

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  8. He changed to valves ????? It’s a old word for tubes, but what on earth are Rhodium fuses? I know what fuses are. I spent my entire “regular” working life in electronics. Waiting to hear back…

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    • Furutech T-13A Rhodium Plated Pure Silver 13A UK Fuse High End Audio Audiophile.

      The Japanese Furutech 13A fuse features a glass body specially tuned for resonance control, pure silver conductor wire precisely calibrated for its rated capacity, and rhodium plated pure copper end caps for increased protection from wear and corrosion. One of the best UK fuses (not) available, it brings considerable improvement to sound in a high end audio system, probably makes no difference to less fine-tuned system, judging from when I first tried them out a few years ago. Furutech have since ceased production of these fuses consequently making them highly sought after.

      I believe “valves” is the British form, “tubes” is the American, but in this day and age, anything goes. I’ll settle for the more technically accurate “Vacuum Tubes”

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