Archive for Aristocrat Records

Chicago Tenor Sax (second installment)

Posted in 78 rpm, Chicago Tenor Sax, Eddie Johnson, Gene Wright, jazz, John Neely, Johnny (Johnnie) Pate, King Fleming, Sun Ra with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2013 by crownpropeller

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.

defender_aug_2_52

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!)

defender_dec_18_48From Chicago Defender, December 18, 1948. Wonder who is who?

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):

hamP_with_neelyJohn Neely (right) with Lionel Hamton, at Kunsthaus Luzern,
March 1, 1961. From concert review in “Luzerner Neue Nachrichten”

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:

fleming_1_o_clockFrom the Crown Propeller Collection

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)!

Enjoy!

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Chicago Tenor Sax (first installment)

Posted in 78 rpm, Chicago Tenor Sax, Gene Ammons, Leon Washington, R'n'B, Schoolboy Porter with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2013 by crownpropeller

jug_1950Gene Ammons around 1950. Photographer unknown.

Up to the late 1950s you could usually tell where a tenor saxophone player may come from geographically. This goes especially for tenorists from Chicago, where the dominant way of playing was very relaxed and way behind the beat. The most famous exponent of this school  who was also widely known outside of Chicago was of course Gene Ammons. But in the 1940s and 1950s this town had a whole lot of great or at least  very interesting tenor saxophonists – some of which are well known, some more or less obscure. Not all of them are members of the Lester Young school though: Von Freeman, Dick Davis, Sax Mallard, Claude McLin, Eddie Johnson, John Neely, Johnny Griffin, Clifford Jordan, Tom Archia – and the list goes on.

If I start to listen to tenor players from Chicago,I might end up  doing so for days. So I decided to let my readers in on the fun and present in a loose series some of the best jazz and r’n’b tenor saxophonists that played in the clubs of the Windy City in the 1940s and 1950s. I will try to use original 78 rpms for this purpose, but this probably will not work in very case, as there are some things of which I only have bad tape copies or the like.

The first installment of this series has to start of with Gene Ammons, of course. “Hey Mr. Freddy”on Aristocrat 8001 was recorded in February 1949 by group that included Ammons, singer and pianist Christine Chatman, Leo Blevins on guitar, bassist Lowell pointer and legendary drummer Ike Day. It was for the first time reissued in 2003 on a CD by the french company Classics, all the previous compilers of Ammon’s output for Aristocrat/Chess had overlooked this track.

Not really from Chicago, but from close enough Gary Indiana comes John “Schoolboy” Porter (born in 1926). Porter recorded for Chicago based Chance Records from 1950 to 1952. Then he appeared – as guitarist! – on a Roosevelt Sykes session for United, also in 1952. After that he opted for a career in the military. Porter has an interesting sound, most of his records pair jukebox groovers with sentimental ballads as was usual during these days. “Kayron”, recorded in 1950, was a fine piece of bop from Chicago with – I think – a really great solo by Schoolboy (search for it on youtube, someone has put it up). On the shuffling “Schoolboy’s Boogie” which was recorded in September 1950, Porter is accompanied by pianist Jesse Hart (who also sang, but not on this track), bassist Walter Broyle and drummer Carl Scott.

If you want to know more about John “Schoolboy” Porter, you should check the Chance Records page at the Red Saunders Research Foundation. On the other hand if you know anything about what Porter is doing nowadays, it would be nice if you would let me know.

Now for today’s third featured Chicago tenor man. After having recorded with Earl Hines in the mid 1930s saxophonist Leon Washington joined drummer Red Saunders’ house band at Chicago’s famed Club De Lisa in 1937, staying with Red until the late 1950s.

delisaSmiling Ladies at the Club DeLisa, unknown date.
From the Crown Propeller Archive (click to enlarge)

Leon Washington isa  totally overlooked saxophonist. Red Saunder’s band is mostly interesting not for Washington’s solos but for the fact that Sun Ra wrote arrangements for it. Understandably so, since the Saunders orchestra was essentially a show band and Leon rarely had an opportunity to shine. Elaborate boppish playing was not asked for in between singer’s verses.

In 1954 and 1955 Washington and McKinley Easton, Saunders’ baritone man, did some work for the very small Theron label. You can read all about Theron on the Theron page of the Red Saunders Research Foundation. On “Forward Blow” which was recorded in 1954, Easton and Washington show what they could do if let loose

Watch this space for further installments of this series!