Archive for the Don Byas Category

Don Redman’s side men – a vintage amateur review

Posted in Billy Taylor, Don Byas, Don Redman, jazz with tags , , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by crownpropeller

pascoli1Page 1 of an unpublished article by french jazz enthusiast
Daniel Pascoli written in 1947 or 1948. (Click to enlarge)

Swiss jazz promoter Georges E. Mathys – who is now 97 years old! – has send me a precious document. A text handwritten in 1947 by one Daniel Pascoli – a friend of Mathys in his younger days – (see above for the first page). Pascoli like Mathys was a jazz enthusiast.

Here is what Mathys tells me about Daniel Pascoli:
Daniel was a friend. I met him in Paris at the Hot Club de France in Rue Chaptal. He was a doctor – or was he studying medicine? He was a very cultured young man.
With his fiancée he came to Yverdon and with my wife Suze we met for some days in Paris. He was constructing a pavillon at La Varenne – St. Hilaire and I also did construction. Under these circumstances it was not easy to meet. Telephone, letters and the exchanging of records – this unfortunately made up the little time we had together. I regret that.
Daniel passed before he turned thirty.

Both Mathys and his friend Pascoli had been electrified when they witnessed the Don Redman orchestra playing in Switzerland in the autumn of 1946. In fact, Mathys helped to organize the Yverdon concert.

(Click to enlarge)
A double page from Georges Mathys’ scrap book with autographs collected in Yverdon.
From the collection of Georges E. Mathys

At that time no black american jazz orchestra had played in Europe for seven years. Seven years, in which the jazz scene in the USA had witnessed the bebop revolution. Expectations had been high, as the Redman band had some young guys in it and there were rumours that some of them they might be boppers (!) playing a music Europe had mostly only known as a rumour.

Don Byas, probably 1946  in Belgium,
photographer unidentified.
From the Otto Flückiger Collection

As you may know a group of researchers including me have gathered a lot of information about this important tour. If you did not know, it is here (wish I had the time to give it an overhaul): Don Redman’s 1946 European Tour.

Starting in the last weeks of that band’s existence, some small european labels took the opportunity to record some small groups featuring the orchestra’s main soloists sometimes with Redman’s rhythm section, sometimes with some added local guys. There were recordings for Swing and Blue Star in France as well as for dutch Decca. Which brings us back to Pascoli’s text.

In 1947 Daniel Pascoli had tried to gather most recordings Redman’s sidemen did on their own in late 1946 and early 1947 (it seems he was not intereted in Redman’s two white musicians who also recorded for french labels after the band broke up). After having done so, he listened to them intensely, taking notes. It all resulted in a little article that Pascoli wrote though he never managed to get it published…

The following is not a word-for-word translation of the handwritten text (page 1 of which is at the top of this posting, the rest of the scanned article is at the bottom).But I think its essentials are intact. For those among you who speak fluent french: I do not. That is why this text was translated into german by my co-worker Camille Roseau (BIG THANKS!) first and then into english by me (and I am not a native english speaker).

It is funny how much Pascoli’s opinions differ from mine. For me the best thing about this sessions has always been Don Byas  – and how about tenor solos being the “most punishable form of musical masturbation”? Daniel Pascoli was a man with strong opinions!

Beware about the discographical information Pascoli gives. If you are looking for discographical information, do not look here, turn to Don Redman’s 1946 European Tour again. (Later Pascoli’s text will possibly added as an appendix to that page, but I think it deserves the spotlight here.)

Some of the titles are linked to music (maybe more added later), so you can make up your own mind about the thoughts of a young french jazz lover around 1947.

The European Recordings by the solists of the Don Redman Orchestra

[by Daniel Pascoli]
When the Don Redman Orchestra came to Europe last year, some record companies took up the opportunity of these black musicians traveling through – the first after eight years – to entrichen their catalogues. Apart from some amateur recordings and – I believe – some recordings done by Swiss Radio on soft wax [acetetates??], the orchestra did not do any recordings. Only the main soloists were asked to record some sides in Holland and in France. There were five sessions all in all. One in Holland for Decca, two in France for the label Swing and again two in France for young company Blue Star. Unfortunately I do not have much information about the dutch session. All I know is that four sides were recorded by the following musicians:
Peanuts Holland (tp), Tyree Glenn (tb), Don Byas (ts), Billy Taylor (p), Buford Oliver (dm), Jean Boucherty (b) JJ. Tilché (g). (The last two were two french musicians hired by Don Redman that were supposed to complete the band after the french Musicians Unions union in an infamous manoeuvre had arranged that the larger part of the orchestra had to go on a ship back again.)
The titles of the four sides recorded were :

Poor Butterfly (AM 1032)     De D 32.178
Melancholy Baby (AM 1033)     –
Only the first two sides have been released – unfortunately they have not been send to me yet [in fact all four tracks were released].
The first session for Swing was recorded directly after the arrival of the orchestra in Paris. That is why we can hear the orchestra’s regular bassist here.

The exact personnel for these four sides:
SW 232 – Tyree Glenn and his orchestra
Working Eyes (OSW 437)
Peanuts Holland (tp) Tyree Glenn (tb) Don Byas (ts) Billy Taylor (p) Ted Sturgis (b) Buford Oliver (dm)
SW 235 – Don Byas and his Orchestra
Gloria (OSW438)
Don Byas (ts solo) acc pars : Billy Taylor (p) Ted Sturgis (b) Buford Oliver (dm)
SW 235 – Peanut Holland and his Orchestra
Peanut Butter Blues (OSW439)
same as for OSW 437 – Peanut Holland (vo)
SW 235 – Don Byas and his orchestra
The Mohawk Special (OSW 440)
same as for OSW 437, add Hubert Rostaing (as)

To these sides one must add two piano solos, recorded by Billy Taylor at the start of the session:
SW 234 – Billy Taylor (piano solo)
The very thought of you (OSW 435)
Striding down Champs Elysée (OSW 436)

On the second song Taylor was accompanied by Ted Sturgis (b), Buford Oliver (dm).

Of the four sides recorded by the band «Peanut Butter Blues»

seems to be the best. There is Holland’s singing:

Yes I love my baby, better than I do myself
Yes I love my baby, better than I do myself
If I can’t have you baby, I don’t want nobody else

which is excellent. One has to think of Hot Lips Page’s way of singing, and I think it would be very interesting to compare these two musicians who have such a lot in common – although on the other hand there are a lot of differences.
But back to «Peanut Butter Blues»: What is so remarkable about this side – apart from Peanuts Holland’s contribution – is without doubt Billy Taylor’s accompaniment. It is easy-going, effective, well placed, and one senses that Taylor is an incomparable supporter for the soloists. But I will have more opportunity to talk about this excellent pianist, who for me has  been the great revelation of the past year.

«Working Eyes»

is also a very good side, allowing one to study Taylor’s way of accompanying. Tyree Gleen, who for me is a musician whose way of entering into a chorus is exemplary, here gives us a perfect example of his specialty. It is a pity that this musician – an excellent technician by the way – rarely ever gives us really satisfying chorusses. There is always an aftertaste of the nebulous and sentimental – sometimes making us forget the most beautiful timbre a trombone is capable of.

«Mohawk Special» – a composition by Buford Oliver and Ted Sturgis – is solid, but nothing more. Hubert Rostaing (who was added to the band for reasons that are hard to understand, it would have been logical to take Redman, giving him an alias) fulfills his role with honor. At the same time he seems he seems to be very tense – certainly overwhelmed by emotions! The half chorusses of solo bass on this side is no marvel. There is a true abyss opening between honorable accompanist Ted Sturgis and soloists like Jimmy Blanton and Oscar Pettiford. Despite his mediocrity this bassist has the nondescript «american taste» that european specialist try to achieve in vain.

And then there is the fourth side, «Gloria»,

a composition by Byas himself. It is a feature for tenor sax in a slow tempo. It is just the sort of performance that lets me fall asleep – I don’t know why but tenor solos always seem to be the nost punishable sort of musical masturbation to me. Add to that that as soon as a tenor sax solo is recorded in Europe it sounds pappy and weepy (another example would be the solos Coleman Hawkins recorded for Decca between 1935 and 1938). Keep in mind that after all I am not really mad for Don Byas anyway (he is a far cry from Hawkins and has neither Ben Webster’s warmth nor Chu Berry’s fiery swing) and you will understand my low enthusiasm for «Gloria». The ending of this side reminds one of Marcel Mule (from the Quatour Saxophone of Paris).

After this [illegible] our heart is warmed by the two piano solos played by Billy Taylor. They are different from each other but still great (sic!).

«The Very Thought of You» is a strongly rhapsodizing theme, and Billy Taylor does not try the change the character of Ray Noble’s composition. That is why we get a piece of music «à la Debussy», colored by sentiment, whose sensibility is typically black. Like «Numb Fumblin’» by Fats [Waller]. And «Numb Fumblin’» is a marvel.

While «The Very Thought Of You» is a side not to everybody’s liking, the flip, «Stridin’ down Champs Elysée», puts itself into the foreground. I do not hesitate to say, that we are lucky to have such a track that is comparable to «Handful of Keys» by Fats [Waller] or «Child of a Disordered Brain» by Earl Hines. A side like this can not be described, it has to be listened to. So listen to it.

The second session for Swing took place when Don Byas left his engagement at the Cabaret Le Beaulieu. The following tunes were recorded:
SW 241. Don Byas Quartet
: Don Byas (ts), Billy Taylor (p), Jean Boucherty (b), Buford Oliver (dm)
I’m beginning to see the light (OSW 444)
, Body and Soul (OSW 447)
SW 247. Don Byas Quartet
: Same personnel as on OSW 444
Ain’t misbehavin (OSW 446)
SW 247. Buford Oliver (Drum-Solo)
: Same personnel as on OSW 444
Rosetta (OSW 445)

Among these four sides only «Rosetta» is stepping out of the ordinary. There Buford Oliver lets us marvel at his technical perfection, his smoothness and – one could say – his musicality. While hearing this side you are not witnessing an eruption (as there is on Lionel Hampton’s «Jack the Bellboy») but a chaining of events that implies the final character of Hampton’s solo, and is of no lesser interest. [This last sentence is also rather strange in the original text].

Add to that that this side never seems to be long-winded (as is the case with three fourth of all drum solos). So the growing interest of the listener brings Buford Oliver’s great worth to the light.

The three sides that were released as by the Don Byas Quartet are not that fabulous. One hears Byas more than enough there and on realizes that – as Teddy Wilson used to – he records to much and repeats himself very often.

For tenor saxophonists «Body and Soul»

is what evening dress is for mundane meetings: a must. In his recording Byas does not escape that challenge. Unfortunately it seems like Hawkins has exhausted that composition so any musician trying it out is bound to follow Hawkins’ tracks. That is also the case with Byas who presents us with a honorable side, one which unfortunately leaves an impression of a déja entendu [I already heard that].

«Ain’t Misbehaving» and «I’m Beginning to See the Light» let us hear – besides Byas – chorusses by Billy Taylor. The one on «Beginning …»– though it starts in an unpleasantly jumping way – is very good.

BSN-26-AabFrom the collection of Armin Büttner

BSN-26-BabFrom the collection of Armin Büttner

The first series of recordings for Blue Star consists of six sides released as by Tyree Glenn and his orchestra. These are:
B.S.24 Billie’s Bounce (M1873_Part 3564)
B.S.24 Mad Monk (M1869_Part 3560)
B.S.25 The Hour of Parting (M1871_Part 3562)
B.S. 26 Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone (M1870_Part 3561)

Recorded by: Peanut Holland (tp), Tyree Glenn (tb), Don Byas (ts), Hubert Rostaing (as), Billy Taylor (p), J.J. Tilché (g)
Jean Boucherty (b) Buford Oliver (dm)

B.S. 26 I can’t get started (M1872_Part 3563)
Recorded by the same musicians, omit Peanut Holland (tp)

B.S. 25_I surrender dear (M 1874 _Part 3563)
Recorded by: Tyree Glenn (tb), Don Byas, Billy Taylor (p), Jean Boucherty (b), J.J. Tilché (g), Buford Oliver (dm)

Of these six sides the first two which were released as Blue Star 24 are probably the best.
«Billie’s Bounce»

is a really good side. Hubert Rostaing is in splendid form. He plays in a style inspired by Benny Carter which pleasantly surprises this musician’s supporters since the latter often is victim of a sterilizing sellout. The trumpet solo delivered by Peanuts Holland is remarkable in relation to its construction and its conciseness. This solo also gives Buford Oliver the opportunity to show how effectively he is following the soloist. After seeing and hearing Oliver play one is by the way not surprised that Lionel Hampton – with whom Oliver played for a year – predicted a bright future for him

«Mad Monk» suffers from lacking unity and cohesion. The distribution of solos is less good than on the flip side. And someone had the bad idea to place a –  badly recorded – bass solo after a very strong solo by Peanuts Holland. Hubert Rostaing shines much less than in the preceding side and Tyree Glenn plays an unoriented chorus leaving the listener with a painful feeling of instability.
«I Surrender Dear»: Here they had the very good idea to use a clearly higher tempo than one is accustomed to. There are also two outstanding solos. One by Byas, full of drive and reminding of Hawkins at his best. (What is so disturbing about Byas is that he can play brilliantly – when he wants to. But he becomes dry, cold and monotonous when things are not to his liking or when he rather would be somewhere else. And then …!!!) The other remarkable solo is Billy Taylor’s, he obviously really never runs out of inspiration. The trumpet’s entry on this side is also very good.
The flip, «The Hour of Parting»

brings us into territory completely covered by a sentimental modernistic crust. This type of performance, an absolute bore, reminds me of marshmallows sold at fairs. You know the kind on which kind you can pull and pull endlessly …

«I Can’t Get Started» and «Please don’t Talk …» are fair sides, consisting of rather good solos by Byas. There is nothing remarkable about them, except maybe that the first title is a little faster than usual and that the second title is framed by a small, very successful arrangement.
Let us remark here that all arrangements framing the Blue Star recordings were made by Don Byas and – as it should be – conceived «just a few minutes before entering the studio».

The second series of recordings for Blue Star consists of these four sides:
B.S.27. Don Byas (Solo de Tenor Sax)

Laura (ST1898_Part 3619)
Don Byas (ts), Billy Taylor (p), J.J. Tilché (g), Jean Bouchety (b), B.Oliver (dm)

B.S.27. Don Byas and his orchestra
Cement Mixer (ST1899_Part3620)
Same as for ST1898. Add Peanuts Holland (tp, voc)

B.S .28. Don Byas’ Ree Boppers
Red Cross (ST1897_Part3618)
Walking Around (ST1895_Part3616)
Same as for ST1898. Add Peanuts Holland (tp)
B.S .29. Don Byas’ Ree Boppers
Dynamo A (ST1900_Part3612)
How High’s the moon (ST1896_Part3617)
Same as for ST1895

«Laura» is for Don Byas what «Body and Soul» is for Hawins. One has to acknowledge that this composition inspires Byas as much as «Body and Soul» inspired Hawkins. Don Byas has spread his inspiration over two chorusses. The first is dedicated to the theme’s exposition, leaving the original notes nearly unchanged but showing a unique sense for nuances and construction. In the second chorus he lets inspiration drive him, giving us a dreamy embroidery that lets me forget the trumpet solo a little. I do not think that this interpretation is really much superior to the one he already had recorded in America (American Record 1.001). – Don Byas himself prefers the Blue Star version. After all one can say that this one is better recorded technically.

«Cement Mixer»: This way of mixing the cement surely does not have the charm of the version done by its creator, Slim Gaillard. It is outstanding nonetheless. Peanuts Holland’s singing is very stimulating and Byas’ solo following it is maybe the best he recorded in Paris. The rhythm section is remarkable in its cohesion in a way reminding one of Lionel Hampton’s – legendary! – rhythm sections with which Hampton recorded for Victor.

«Red Cross» is a «Mop-Mop»-type piece by Charlie Parker, which here shows the musicians at their best. Everybody jumps into his chorus with a fervor and an enthusiasm that are hard to describe. the last chorus of this side is a three-sided conversation between Byas, Holland and Taylor. Note the beginning of a spoken sentence at the very end of this recording: a good sign indicating the heated atmosphere in the studio, as the recording assistants did not think of waiting until the end of recording before loudly expressing their enthusiasm.

«Walking Around» is a composition by Don Byas, allowing us to hear mainly Byas and Billy Taylor

With «How High the Moon»,

the Blue Star company finally makes its promise come true (you know, «Don Byas REE BOPPERS”). This is indeed the only side colored a little bit by the style that people are polemizing so much about. They are speeding through this tune that has been called the bebop musician’s warhorse. (This is not quite fitting for the rhythm section though, which floats along adequately.) Don Byas’ chorus is outstanding, but Billy Taylor’s solo is the great discovery among pianists younger than thirty.
«Dynamo A», the track finishing this series, allows us to hear Don Byas at his best in abundance. Here Peanuts Holland is playing a badly recorded chorus that is lacking in musicality, I’d really rather hear this musician playing open. When he uses a mute his sound gets thin and has a rattling quality. «Dynamo A» is a tune written by Dizzy Gillespie.

At the end of this exercise I would like to draw the conclusions which – as they say – are mandatory. From a purely materialist [sic!, better would have been «technical»] standpoint one can safely say that the Blue Star recordings are better realized than the ones for Swing. The Swing records are a little to «bright» (Dicky Wells’ and Bill Coleman’s session already suffered from the same problem). The Blue Star recordings sound much more «american»– unfortunately that company’s paste [i.e. pressing material] is very, very bad and can not be compared to the near-perfect paste that Swing uses.

Of all the things recorded, Don Byas’ session for Blue Star is the best. You hear Byas in top form and the absence of Tyree Glenn makes the band very homogenous.

As for the musicians they gave me reason for enthusiasm as well as for desillusion.

Enthusiasm for Billy Taylor – one can regret that he did not record five or six piano solos – and for Buford Oliver who is as good as soloist as he is as accompanist and who can play as well in a small abnd as well as in a large one.
Desillusion about the discovery, that Don Byas is not the second Hakins he was announced to be, but a very lunatic musician, who surely has great worth. But – as mentioned before – I prefer Ben Webster and even Chew (sic!) Berry.
Desillusion also in detecting Tyree Glenn’s penchant for exaggerated sentimentality, maybe withouth this mistake he would have been a great trombonist. (I prefer him playing the vibraphone anyway, an instrument he plays remarkably good.)
Finally desillusion to observe that Peanuts Holland – as most young trumpet players are – is a far, far cry from Louis [Armstrong], from Cootie [Williams] and from Rex [Stewart].

One must not disdain the records these musicians made on the european continent amongst which we find pieces like «Peanut Butter Blues”, «Stridin’ down Champs Elysées”, «Billie’s Bounce”, «Laura”, «Red Cross”, «How High the Moon »and «Dynamo A »recorded in the 1946/1947 season.

[signed] Daniel Pascoli


And here for those interested is the rest of Pascoli’s handwritten article. Fluent speakers of french and english, please do not be to harsh about the translation, I think the essence is there. If you think we understood something completely wrong please let me know.

(Click to enlarge)