Chicago Tenor Sax (second installment)
Welcome to the second installment of the loose series featuring some of the jazz and r’n'b tenor saxophonists that played in the clubs of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s.
Although when talking about tenor saxophonists from Chicago one usually thinks of the Lester Young school of playing, relaxed, cool and way behind the beat, this town definitely had more to offer.
Eddie Johnson featured with the Jo Pernell Combo.
Chicago Defender, August 2, 1952.
From Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”.
The late Eddie Johnson (1920–2010) for example cited Lester Young as his greatest influence, yet that is not too obvious if you listen to his records. You can read all about Eddie Johnson at the page dedicated to him at at the Red Saunders Research Foundation by the way. After playing in lesser known bands for a while, Johnson joined Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five in early 1947, staying until the end of the year. In 1951 and 1952 he recorded some sides for Chess Records, before the label began to concentrate on Blues. In 1958 Johnson recorded as a sideman in a large James Moody group, and in 1964 he replaced Paul Gonsalves in the Duke Ellington Orchestra from time to time, when Gonsaves had problems related to substance abuse. After his last session for Chess in 1952, it took almost thirty years before Johnson recorded under his name again – for Chicago based Nessa Records. (he also recorded under his own name for Delmark in 1999).
But here’s Eddie in his younger days. “Twin Rock”, played by Johnson (ts), Claude Jones (p), Johnny Pate (b) and Oliver Coleman (d), was recorded for Chess at the Universal Studios in Chicago on September 12 1952. Billboard had this to say: “Instrumental is carried nicely by Johnson’s sax. It’s pleasant enough and could get some juke action”. So judge for yourself:
The next track I am offering you is special for different reasons. Eugene “Gene” Wright, later bassist with Dave Brubeck’s Quartet, had a nice band called Eugene Wright and his Dukes of Swing for a while in the 1940s. Red Holloway played with the Dukes of Swing as did Yuseef Lateef (at that time still known as Bill Evans). Neither Holloway nor Lateef were on the session from which I am offering you a piece here. But the band’s arranger and pianist who is playing on “Music Goes Round And Round” is none other than Sonny Blount – later known as Sun Ra! Another interesting figure also on this session is trumpeter Hobart Dotson – who later recorded with Sun Ra and with Charlie Mingus (somebody should definitely do an english language Wikipedia entry for Dotson!)
But what about the tenor saxophonist we can hear here? His name is Melvin Scott. That you may never had heard of him before may well be based on the fact that this seems to be his only recorded session. On the Willie Jones page of the Red Saunders Research Foundation, you can find some photos featuring Scott.
“Music Goes Round And Round” was recorded in December 1948 for Aristocrat Records, the forerunner of Chess Records. Billboard wrote: “A jump version of the Riley-Farley japery. It’s old enough – and the times are musically out of joint enough – to come back. Who knows?”
Melvin Scott only has a few bars here before baritonist Van Kelly takes over, but these bars sure are hot:
Part 3 of the second installment comes from a favourite of mine, the unjustly forgotten tenor player John Neely (1930–1994):
Neely’s fluid, light hearted and relaxed phrasing is more typical of the style saxophonists from Chicago are known for. You can hear that well on Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump” as recorded by the band of pianist King Fleming around March 1954. You’ll hear John Neely, King Fleming, bassist Russell Williams and drummer Aubrie Jones. The singing is possibly by the band members except for the female voice who probably is Lorez Alexandria or Ethel Duncan. You can find more information about this session on the King Fleming page of the Red Saunders Research Foundation where there also some photos of John Neely:
There are very few solos known by Neely – and all are great. My friend, the late jazz researcher Otto Flückiger heard Neely when Neely was in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra during its 1961 European tour – and loved his playing right away. It took 36 years before Otto was to hear another John Neely solo again – King Fleming had told Robert Campbell that it was John Neely playing those wonderful lines on Fleming’s Blue Lake outing.
I love this record so much that I had to acquire the red wax 45rpm when it turned up for sale:
But although it looks gorgeous, the 78rpm sounds much better, so I put that one up.
Someday – I hope soon – I will do a posting on Neely, presenting you two solos with the Hampton band which Mario Schneeberger and me recently discovered to be by Neely.And of course watch this space for further installments of the Chicago Tenor Sax series (go here to read and hear the first part)!