Disc Discussion
Remember the old Blindfold Tests? How most of the people used to get everything wrong? Read on...you'll be amazed.

Session conducted by Les Tomkins 

Chico Hamilton, Gabor Szabo and Albert Stinson of the Chico Hamilton Quartet

The following blindfold test was carried out in 1964
but time would hardly change the opinions expressed here.
They could well have been uttered today - or even tomorrow.

Jazz lives on!

“Two Degrees East. Three Degrees West” Paul Desmond and Friends (Paul Desmond—alto, Jim Hall guitar. Percy Heath—bass. Connie Kay—drums;). Composed by John Lewis. Warner Bros.

Stinson: There’s been so many recordings of this—“Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West”, that I don’t know which one it is. (To Chico.) Is that the one you were on?

Hamilton: No, it’s not.

Szabo: It’s Jim Hall and Paul Desmond. They did just one album together, except for the one with the strings. I don’t know who this rhythm section is.

Stinson: I think it’s Connie Kay. The bass player sounds beautiful—it might be Percy Heath. Or maybe Gene Wright.

Szabo: Jim Hall sure gets a beautiful feeling.

Stinson: Everybody seems to be so relaxed.

Hamilton: I’m afraid I like the original better—the one I did with Bill Perkins, Jimmy Hall, John and Percy. Maybe it’s because we’ve been working as a quartet for the last couple of years and of course, our thing is entirely different from this. But, personally, this just didn’t do anything to me. It seemed very shallow. Just four musicians playing—all of them are good, you know, but I don’t think there were any brilliant moments or anything on that. I don’t know who the drummer was.

 Tomkins: You took the original at a rather less restrained tempo —than that, I believe.

Hamilton: If I recall, it was very similar, timewise. It was just a line that John Lewis had. When we made the tune, John just said: “Here’s a line. Here’s an idea.” We just took it from there —and it turned out the way it did. It’s a good little theme.

Szabo: That’s why it’s so au fait to do these things. This album probably had a purpose, if you’re in a particular mood. Four beautiful musicians get together and ,they play beautiful music. But I don’t know on what basis to judge it. Jim Hall got a little fire into it. I always enjoy listening to Jim or Paul.

Jim Hall is closer to me—not because he’s a guitar player—but just musically. If you’re a musician and you know the musicians who are on ,the record, it’s very hard to say anything about it, except that it was very well played, and you enjoyed it.

Hamilton: You’d have to ask them what purpose they had in mind.

Stinson: They probably just wanted to play the blues.

“Night Talk” The Directions in Jazz Unit directed by Nil1 Le Sage (Johnny Scott—flute/alto, Bob Burns alto/clarinet, Ronnie Ross—baritone, Bill Le Sagevibes/piano, Spike Heatley—bass, Tony Carr —drums, Freddie Alexander, Maurice Westerby, Francis Gabarro. William De Mont—‘cellos). ’ Composed by Bill Le Sage. From “Directions In Jazz”. Philips.

Szabo: Who’s this on flute, Albert? Do you know?

Stinson: No, I don’t. I think the baritone player might have been Sahib Shihab. He’s the only person I thought I recognised. It’s a very funny kind of band—a weird sound. There’s an instrument being bowed back there! isn’t there?

Hamilton: What are they using—‘cellos?

Szabo: Bass unison with ‘cellos, I think.

Stinson: About two ‘cellos, maybe. It’s funny.

Szabo: It’s probably recorded in Europe.

Stinson: Yes, that’s where Sahib is.

Szabo: At least, whoever wrote the arrangement was European, wasn’t he? Because it was a little bit synthetic.

Hamilton: Nothing was happening, really.

Szabo: No, I think there was a lot happening, but I found it very repulsive. I felt like they were blowing some regular swing licks, and just put a bunch of strings to play some synthetic chords behind them, that had nothing to do with the whole thing. It seems to me that strings are so precious that anybody would have to have a good reason for using them.

Hamilton: No idea who it was. For a big band, this reminded me of an old, old–time–style arrangement of an old, old–time tune called “White Heat”.

Tomkins: How about the solos on it?

Hamilton: Were there any?

Stinson: Yes, there was an alto, then baritone, flute, vibes and bass.

Hamilton: It just goes to show you. I can’t remember.

Stinson: The flute player was definitely a saxophone player, whoever he was, because it sounded like he would do a lot better playing saxophone. The baritone solo sounded better than most. And the bass solo was very good.

Hamilton: Now—who was it? (Details given here.)

Stinson: Oh—it didn’t sound like Ronnie Ross.

Szabo: It was a more aggressive style on baritone ,than I heard from him before.

Stinson: Yes, really. He always sounded very weak and effete before—just like Gerry Mulligan.

Szabo: I wasn’t judging the musicians as much as the whole conception. It was falling into all kinds of categories—every little section. I don’t think the strings, the solos and the tune had anything to do with each other.

Hamilton: Do you happen to know how the fellows themselves that made this record feel about it?

Tomkins: Yes——they have all said they were very happy about the session.

Hamilton: All right, then—that’s where it is.

Tomkins: Bill Le Sage’s idea was to try and incorporate the four ‘cellos effectively into a jazz context.

Szabo: And that’s exactly what I found repulsive. I don’t think you should do that. You wouldn’t do the opposite, would you, and incorporate Miles’s group into Beethoven’s symphonies—and have them play in that style? That’s what happened there. The ‘cellos were trying to phrase like saxophones. I couldn’t take it.

Stinson: It was more effective to me, I guess. Because I didn’t even know it was strings for a while. I just though: the band sounded strange.

Hamilton: Ronnie Ross, eh? Didn’t he play baritone on that Johnny Dankworth record, “Three Blind Mice”—where he sounds like Gerry Mulligan.

Stinson: Do you remember that? You know, that was the first record I ever heard in my whole life.

Hamilton: And didn’t he do that thing with John Lewis? “European Windows”, wasn’t it?

“Nuttin’ Out Jones” Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison Sextet (Sonny Simmons—English horn/ alto Prince Lasha—flute, Charles Da&—baritone, McCoy Tynerpiano, Jimmy Garrison—bass, Elvin Jones—drums). Composed by Prince Lasha. From “Illumination”. Impulse.

Hamilton: Elvin on drums? Yes, it’s Old Thunder! Maybe you should have started with this one.

Szabo: That’s Sonny Simmons, isn’t it? It sounds like him.

Stinsoo: Yes, it is. I though it sounded like a clarinet when I first heard it, but it turned out to be an English horn.

Szabo: Only in spots—like now—it sounds like a clarinet. When he gets that metallic sound.

Stinson: There’s a track you would like even better, where Charles Davis has a baritone solo.

Hamilton: This sounds like a Monk tune, doesn’t it?

Stinson: I think all the tunes are originals by everybody on the record.

Szabo: Well, that put me in a little better mood.

Hamilton: It made me want to move, you know. It was exciting—the freedom of it.

And I think Old Thunder—this guy is ridiculous. He plays so much. It’s just ridiculous that someone could play this much —and the fact that he knows what he’s doing. I’m saying that strictly in a complimentary sense. Elvin Jones is fantastic. I don’t know how it would be to play with him, if I played another instrument—but I get a beautiful feeling from him. And if you’re going to play, you might as well be an individual. No sense in trying to play like somebody else. There’s only one drummer in the band, although everybody else keeps time. So you might as well play yourself—if you’ve got the courage of your convictions. This is the only way music’s going to advance, and players are going to become profound in their thinking and feeling.

Szabo: I think Coltrane was the one who allowed him to open up, and go into this direction. Because I heard Elvin before he went with Coltrane. He sounded like an awful good drummer, but he never had this so–called style that he has now. And he’s so at home in this vein. I thought that on this whole record the musicians felt the same way.

Hamilton: Yes, they were very compatible—very much in sympathy with one another.

Szabo: Which is the way it’s supposed to be. It’s not enough to be a good musician —you have to make people feel something, too. I really enjoyed that. It was so good to hear—to find that I could identify with what was going on. I heard a flute on it —was it Prince Lasha? Well, I don’t like him, but he didn’t solo, anyway. I like Sonny Simmons very much. Was it McCoy Tyner on piano? He plays so little on it. In other words, it was ‘Trane’s rhythm section.

Hamilton: I like Elvin’s playing very much. I like anybody who’s original—or as close to being original as possible.

Szabo: And they have that drive. The recording industry has become so big in the past 15 years—pouring out albums day after day. There’s so much music on the market, that I really don’t think there’s any sense in making an album just for music’s sake. The only thing you can offer to an audience nowadays is to give them that extra bonus of making them feel good, feel bad, feel excited, but reacting some way—instead of just saying: “That was pretty” or “They played well”. You have to make them emote—and they definitely do that on this record. There weren’t musical rules shattered, or anything like that, but then—who cares? I’m not just for something new. I’m for something that make me move—whether it be Louis Armstrong or Ornette Coleman.

Stinson: I’d like to put in a word for Jimmy Garrison. Nobody ever talks about him—and they should. But you can never hear him, where Elvin is—and it’s a drag, because he sounds so good. He really has his own, personal thing.

“Prelude No. 20 in A minor” The Baroque Jazz Ensemble (Lew Gluckin—trumpet, John Murtaugh—tenor, Dave Carey—vibes, Barry Galbraith—guitar, John Beal —bass, Maurice Mark—drums). Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Arranged by Lew Gluckin. From “Hits From 1722”. Polydor.

Hamilton: 1 would have liked to have stayed in that groove, as opposed to this. I want that same kind of feeling—since you play two similar tempos, back to back. I don’t think you should put musicians, or music, on a competitive basis.

Szabo: I think there is such a thing as an absolute truth. Compared to what you played before this just feels like being back to school—like they’re running up and down their little scales. It just sounds very scholastic to me. You know that they’re playing jazz, and keeping to whatever rules there may be—and it just doesn’t have that beautiful, spiritual freedom that music should have. I feel like they’re executing an assignment—which I don’t like to hear when I listen to music. They’re all very good musicians. It could be many, many different people.

Stinson: The way they execute it sounds more European. The trumpet player sounded like he would like to be Donald Byrd.

Szabo: Yes, I think it is European. The conception is kind of stiff. And the tune itself is like a shallow imitation of the real thing.

Stinson: Yes, they’re doing a fugue.

Tomkins: Would you say this is not really jazz material?

Szabo: No, it’s jazz material played by people who don’t have the basic feeling for it. In other words. on the surface it sounds like a jazz tune.

Stinson: They problably hadn’t played it very often, either. It didn’t sound like they’d played the chart more than about once or twice.

Tomkins: As far as the instrumentation is concerned, this is a jazz group. They were playing on the framework of a Bach prelude.

Hamilton: What makes you think that they were a jazz group?

Tomkins: Well, they were trying to get jazz out of it, anyway.

Hamilton: Yes, well—you’re getting into a great big thing. It was a waste, really. Like —it would be nice for jazz musicians to play Bach—but leave it the way that he would really feel it. One time years ago I recall they made a great big thing out of the fact that Sarah Vaughan had recorded “The Lord’s Prayer”. She sang it beautifully. Yet people wanted to say that she had no right—because she was a jazz singer. That doesn’t make any difference, but you know how people are! So why didn’t they try to play it like Bach played it. They would have been interesting.

Stinson: The voices doing it—the Swingle Singers—they were excellent, I thought.

Tomkins: They were doing it literally. The idea of this record was to use Bach themes as vehicles for improvisation.

Szabo: That’s probably what I’m in opposition to. Classical music isn’t like jazz music. It was meant to be interpreted the way the composer wrote it.

Hamilton: I agree with Gabor wholeheartedly. This is what I was trying to say.

Szabo: He wrote it down precisely, and if you just obey the dynamics and everything in the music, you will achieve the feeling that he intended it to have. You shouldn’t fool around with the emotions of Classical music, and try to put your own meanings to it—because there was meaning put in it to begin with. Jazz is different—you have a certain little melody or tune, and it’s up to you what you’re going to do with it. Bach had an idea when he wrote it—and I’m sure it wasn’t what we just heard.

Hamilton: They’re only making it a little harder for other good records.

Stinson: There’s some cats who could play Bach to death, if they felt like it. But they don’t, because there’s more important things happening.

“Linstead Market” Ernest Ran& Trio (Ernest Ranglin—guitar, Malcolm Cecil—bass, Allan Ganley—drums). From “Wranglin “. Island.

Szabo: It sounds like Barney Kessel, but I don’t think it is. When he starts blowing, I can tell!

Stinson: Yes, when he gets soulful.

Szabo: Oh yes—that’s him. It’s Barney. It comes out—in spots. Sounds like one of those Pollwinners’ records, but I don’t think it’s Ray Brown.

Stinson: No, it’s not Ray Brown. Hey, this is a funny guitar player. He’s been doing some interesting, funny little weird things.

Szabo: That was really un—Barney—like. I think it’s him, though.

Stinson: I’m really enjoying this bass player. The tempo isn’t very relaxed, though.

Hamilton: That wouldn’t be Howard Roberts, would it?

Szabo: That’s possible. He plays faster than Barney sometimes.

Hamilton: They’re In the same bag, once in I can’t tell them apart.

Szabo: ‘You must tell me—is that Barney? It isn’t? Damn—that’s funny. I was positive it was him. And it’s not Howard, is it? No? Now I’m really messed up. Oh—I know who this is, then. I’m sure I know. I don’t know the name but he’s a West Indian guitar player, isn’t? he? He lived here, and he lust moved away. That’s What’s his name?

Tomkins: Ernest Ranglin.

Szabo: Yes, because I heard a tape of him, and he sounded very much like Barney. I mean technique—his hands were faster. And in certain spots he does things that are more like a gypsy guitar player—like Django—which Barney doesn’t ever do. That’s why I was a bit sceptical about him. Now I have to divide my opinions. Since I can’t escape the fact that I am a guitar player, I have to say that I think he’s a very good player. But there was a lack of direction, musically, that I would have an objection about. It was just a “Blow, man” type of thing. He played the tune with all his might, and he got everything he knew into it. Guitar players are so hung up with just the technique that, once they get control of the instrument to a certain degree, that’s as far as they will go. On all other horns, we have some definite musical personalities, but on guitar almost everybody sounds alike. Except for the greats—Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt.

Since them, if I was ever to have favourites on guitar, It would boil down to two people —Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery. They are the only two who play music, besides playing the instrument well. Naturally, there are a few others I respect as far as command and control goes, but that doesn’t mean that I would buy their albums to listen to as music.

Stinson: It seemed as if they were playing a calypso tune on that. Which can be a lot of fun—you can get into a nice groove doing it. But the rhythm section wasn’t very relaxed, actually, during the guitar solo —not as much as they should have been. However, I certainly liked the sound that the bass player got. Very much. And his all—round time feeling, generally, was very good, I thought. Except there were just a few nervous spots in there, which you wouldn’t have, if you really wanted to relax into playing a calypso. Who was the bass player, anyway? Malcolm Cecil? Oh, I know him very well. Yes—he is a good bass player. He’s a nice cat too.

Hamilton: I didn’t even notice the drummer. Sorry, Allan! He was just doing what he was supposed to do. But they were going to go along, regardless of whether he played or not. So he didn’t start anything or stop anything, I don’t know whether he could have added any more or not, because I don’t know how he plays. Maybe he was taking his best shot. He might have been playing his can off. I didn’t notice it, that’s all.

Szabo: But the conception was so cliche, that it would have been impossible to do anything individualistic. There was no piano, I noticed, and guitar players are so happy that they can play the tune at all, especially without accompaniment, that it becomes strained, rushed and tense. With all Barney’s recordings, he always has that tenseness. Guitar is a difficult instrument to play alone. So, on this, everybody had to play the straightest kind of music they could possibly think of.

Hamilton: What could the drummer have done? Probably a whole lot of things, if he had been Roy Haynes or Max Roach. But he wasn’t, and he probably did the best he could.

Szabo: There are two types of musicians—the artists and the champions. The champion is the one who runs away with the trophy. He shows everything he can do on the instrument, and I really think that’s not fair to music at all. There’s more to music that just to show your facility. In fact, having facility is a prerequisite—and you shouldn’t cash in on it.

“Thermo” Freddie Hubbard trumpet with Orchestra (Philly Joe Jones—drums).  Composed by Freddie Hubbard. Arranged by Wayne Shorter. From “The Body And The Soul Of Freddie Hubbard”. Impulse.

Stinson: Freddie Hubbard. He’s a pretty talented cat. He sure gets some funny sounds out of the trumpet.

Hamilton: Yes, that’s Freddie. That’s a favourite little phrase of his. I don’t know who’s on drums, but obviously he’s doing as well as he can with that band. This band maybe only rehearsed two or three times before they went into the studio to do the date. If you play an arrangement over a period of time you hear more and more. On the playback, he probably heard where he could have added something.

Tomkins: But it must make a difference, according to the calibre of the drummer, what he can do, even the first time round.

Hamilton: Well—I don’t know.

Stinson: Some cats just go ahead and play.

Hamilton: That’s right. As a matter of fact, man, I’ve been playing Lena Horne’s music for the last few weeks—and the other night was the first time I played one of ‘em right. One that’s been hanging me up—as far as what the chart said. After I played it right, this didn’t make the band sound any better. Actually, I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as writing a drum part. The only way to try and feel the people around you is to be guided by impulse. You can’t always get a conception of the feeling by reading a drum chart. If you’re trying to read the music, you miss everything else that’s going on. All I try to do myself is to listen as much as I possibly can to what the band is doing.

I feel that same way about my instrument as Gabor and Albert feel about theirs. How musical is the drummer? You know—there’s a lot of music in drums. The wonderful thing about playing music is the fact that there’s no set time that you can have a brilliant moment. This can happen anywhere and at any time. But if you surround yourself with people that you become familiar with, and that you dig and believe in, it’s more likely to happen than not.

Copyright © 1964 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.