Disc Discussion

Session conducted by Les Tomkins

Bill Russo and Johnny Dankworth 

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!

"In A Mellow Tone"
Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington (Louis Armstrong; trumpet; Trummy Young, trombone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Duke Ellington, piano; Mort Herbert, bass; Danny Barcelona, drums) - Columbia.

Dankworth: I can't say that I know what that record is. It's quite obviously very strongly Ellingtonian. It's an Ellington tune. At the risk of sticking my neck out—I usually find I'm wrong on these things—it sounds more like people imitating Ellingtonians than Ellingtonians themselves. I'm quite sure it isn't Duke Ellington playing the piano. The clarinet player was particularly like Barney Bigard. It's not the sort of jazz that I particularly go overboard for, although I find that sort of free-blowing approach quite pleasant at times when I'm in the mood for it.
Russo: At first I thought it was Duke.
Dankworth: I did, too, at the very beginning.
Russo: It was rushing just a little bit, and that made me think it could be Duke. Then I decided it could easily not be Duke. It sounded like Louis to me. In fact, it sounded like Louis' group. You mentioned Barney Bigard. I was fairly certain it was him. But it had an Ellington flavour. It's very interesting. For me it has all the virtues and defects of old-fashioned jazz.
The defects are where people split notes and don't carry their solos through as well as Lester Young would. But the virtues are that the solos are at least short-you don't have to listen for 20 years to a solo. It has a nice, pleasant quality about it and some of the note relationships are really great-in the idiom of Louis or Roy Eldridge. On the whole, I enjoyed it very much.
Tomkins: How did you like the trombone solo?
Russo: It was nice. It could have been Teagarden or the other guy who played before Bill Harris. What's his name, now? He played in Boston a lot—not Trummy Young—the fellow who made all those records in the '40's, a lot of them with Count Basie's band.
Dankworth: Oh—Dickie Wells.
Russo: No, not him—the other guy.
Dankworth: Well, I wouldn't even hazard a guess at the trombone player, but I wouldn't think it was anybody in the Teagarden class myself.
Russo: No, it didn't sound as good as Teagarden can play, but it was roughly in that idiom. It was a guy of that general age. He'd be about 50 now. It was he whose style Bill Harris used a lot of—that very slippery stuff. He did the Kansas City Seven with Lester Young, Buck Clayton and those people.
Dankworth: Benny Morton? Or surely Dicki Wells did the Kansas City Seven,
Russo: No, he didn't, as a matter of fact, It was Vic Dickenson. That's it.
Dankworth: I haven't ruled out the possibility that it's an English band, but I'm not saying any more. Who the hell is it?
Tomkins: In fact—Duke Ellington.
Russo: And Louis?
Tomkins: Yes, it was the session on which they joined forces.
Russo: Who was the trombonist?
Tomkins: It was Trummy Young.
Russo: Well, it wasn't a good Trummy solo.
Russo: Was it Duke's bass player?
Tomkins: No, it was all Louis' group except for Duke.
Dankworth: I'd like to know whether, in fact, that was Duke all the way through. It sounded so much like Duke in the introduction, but when he was comping behind it didn't sound the slightest bit like him. And I thought I heard an edit between the two.

Gerald Wilson Orchestra (featuring Richard 'Groove' Holmes- organ, Carmell Jones-trumpet, Joe Maini-alto). Composed by Gerald Wilson. From "You Better Believe It " Fontana

Russo: The organ sounded marvellous at the beginning, but during the solo passages it was absolutely dreadful-one of the worst things I've heard in my life. It was very over-written, with no economy, no sense of repose. The tempo was too fast. You couldn't hear the notes or the harmonies. There were too many fall-offs and shakes and sforzandos.
The trumpet solo was in the style that is prevalent nowadays—too much tongue inside the mouthpiece, a lot of missed notes and very little sense of continuity. The alto solo was absolutely out of the question. The brass and the trombones were used in a corny big-band style that is sort of a combination of Count Basie, Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Kenton, using the worst elements of each.
The basic melody was a "Jordu" type of thing. When you take a bar of quavers, then a held note and the rhythm section goes Dah-dah, like Gospel style—it's all done to be in style. Everybody who has no taste but listens to what everybody else says about music will take to it enormously. I think it's just the worst aspect of the modern world. I haven't the slightest idea who it is.
Dankworth: I don't feel quite as strongly about it as Bill does, in either direction. I'm not going to try and guess who it is. I think the organ, played in a certain way, has a place in jazz. Anything played well enough has.
Russo: Was that played well, though?
Dankworth: Well, it was hard to tell through all that whether it was played well or not. I was going to say the only way I can tolerate listening to it is by itself or with a very small group. An organ has so much power and so much variety of sound within itself that it's not giving it half a chance to put it with 75 other combinations of sound. That didn't seem to enhance either the organ or the big band to me.
Tomkins: I think the idea was not to have the organ so much as a solo voice, but to try and write it in with the band.
Dankworth: Yes, but I think it's a basic tactical mistake to do that. I wouldn't say anything against the musicians concerned, because it was probably an A. and R. man who thought of the idea. They're not usually known for their brilliant musical taste.
Tomkins: It was recorded in Hollywood and was the work of an arranger you may have heard of named Gerald Wilson.
Russo: I would say he's highly overrated. They say Stan Kenton is pretentious, but Stan never did anything that pretentious, really, at his worst.
Tomkins: You would describe that as pretentious music, would you?
Russo: Yes, very pretentious. I mean, striking a pose and pretending to be some- thing modem. It's all pinched to begin with.
Dankworth: Well, it's sort of high fashion- the way that sort of music goes. It changes its character every couple of years and everybody's got to get the latest lick in when it comes out. And like high fashion—two or three people start it and two or three million follow it. This happens to jazz, for better or worse—mainly for worse.

"O Amor E A Rosa"
Lalo Schifrin Group (Lalo Schifrin, piano, Leo Wright-alto, Christopher White-bass, Rudy Collins-drums, Jose Paulo-pandeiro, Jack Del Rio-cabacal.
From "Bossa Nova-New Brazilian Jazz", Audio Fidelity.

Dankworth: I don't know whether I'm feeling in a bad mood or something, but I find it very hard to get excited about that in any shape or form. It strikes me as indicative of the stage that so many jazz musicians have reached at the moment. They don't really know how to carry their music a step further. All they can think is to add some L.A. or Bossa Nova rhythm—and do exactly the same thing all over again.
The alto player is one of the hundreds of alto players who did Charlie Parker a disservice by taking everything he ever played and playing it another hundred thousand times afterwards until it even sounds stale when you hear Charlie Parker do it now. The pianist was doing something which is much better done on a wind instrument—playing a solo single-note line all the way through. I never heard him play the piano once. Maybe he's a good pianist, but you wouldn't know from that.
The whole thing struck me as something made to order for the recording studio. It was a very angular, uninspired sort of tune where you could guess what was coming a couple of bars before.
Russo: I feel the same way. The tune was very Byzantine, a succession of two-bar phrases drawn out like a graph. And it's so funny. Jazz is supposed to be so free and so expressive, yet so many of the jazz tunes have this absolutely boyish, undeveloped quality. They'll have a 16-bar phrase twice, then a bridge and anybody knows what's going to happen after that-the same 16-bar phrase again.
Similarly I found the alto solo a bad imitation of Charlie Parker. For example, he used up his highest note in about the tenth bar and then he had no place to go. The pianist, towards the end of his solo, when he was out of ideas reverted to some Bebop lick. Then that phrase at the beginning, 'Da-d-da, da-d-da', was lovely in "Salt Peanuts", but that was twenty full years ago. Why don't we develop this music somehow? The bass player was very competent—the few bars that we heard.
Tomkins: It was one of this current spate of Bossa Nova albums. It was Lalo Schifrin.
Dankworth: Was it, really? Well, I expected better things from him.
Russo: So did I. As I did from Gerald Wilson—who I've never heard before either.
Dankworth: Being kind, we can only assume that you haven't played us the best available examples of either of them.
Tomkins: I would say they were fairly representative tracks. The altoist was Leo Wright—another Gillespie-ite. I think he can do better than he did there.
Russo: Schifrin played the piano? Who was the bassist?
Tomkins: The sleeve gives him as Christopher White.
Russo: It's incredible. I avoid hearing a lot of these things for a long time.
Dankworth: Jazz has always been a terribly wasteful thing. From bygone eras we only remember the 78 singles that we like and throw away all those we don't like. Maybe the standard was higher—I don't know.
Russo: Twenty years ago at least there were about five or ten different styles. You had the Count Basie style, the Duke Ellington style, the bebop style, the Tristano style, the Stan Getz style, the trad style. There was a variety. Now they seem to be all cast in the same mould—and, surprisingly enough, all in the name of freedom. That's what I find so tedious. They all say "We've got to be free—our way."
Tomkins: Do you think the Bossa Nova idea is going to add any scope?
Russo: I think it can be very sweet, very pretty. Not this particular record though.
Dankworth: No predictions.

"Nice 'N' Easy (Twist)"
Si Zentner and his Orchestra. From "Up A Lazy River", Liberty.

Russo: A marvellous trombone player. Sounded like Urbie Green. I didn't like the rest of it very much. The use of rock & roll didn't offend me. That can be nice. But again, it's over-written—everything is going on at the same time. It's rather naive. If a young boy came into your rehearsal with that you'd think: "Well, that's very sweet of you".
Dankworth: I found it such a conglomeration of different styles that it almost constituted a style of its own. Rather amazing.
Russo: That's true.
Dankworth: There were so many different things. Every four or five bars it sort of changed its approach altogether.
Russo: The rhythm and the ensemble—yes.
Dankworth: Yet the whole mixture added up to something I would recognise immediately if I heard it again. I'm sure I'd recognise another arrangement by that same guy. I don't know whether I particularly like it, but I'm sure it's recognisable as it is. Probably the balancer did them a great disservice. In ordinary perspective the drums wouldn't have been anything like that loud in the studio. At the end of the first chorus where those counter things were coming in they could have been quite nice and weaving. As they were, they were all coming at you at once and it really sounded a bit raw there. I have no idea what it is—but at least it's different. It's not the same old ultra-efficient, funky, big-band sound.
Russo: It sounded like New Yorkers to me. I think it was an A. and R. man's idea again.
Dankworth: Probably, yes.
Tomkins: It's been commercially successful because of this idea of getting a Twist beat into the big band. The arrangements have been used quite a bit by dance musicians. It was Si Zentner.
Russo: Was he the trombonist? That was a marvellous solo. What a sound with those Cs and Ds.
Dankworth: The tune was something Sinatra's done, wasn't it? I've heard that before.
Russo: Who wrote the arrangement?
Tomkins: As far as I know, he does his own arranging. The sleeve note rather implies that.
Russo: (looking at sleeve illustration) I don't think he does. He doesn't look like a person who writes music, does he?
Dankworth: I can't see the ink on his fingers. That isn't manuscript paper sticking out of his top pocket, is it?
Russo: No, he looks too happy. He looks as though he sleeps nights.

"One O'clock Jump"
Bruce Turner Jump Band (Bruce Turner-alto, John Chilton-trumpet, Pete Strange-trombone, Colin Bates-piano, Jim Bray--bass, John Armitage-drums). From "Hot Jazz, Cool Beer", Decca.

Dankworth: Pleasantly inconsequential. I couldn't really think of anything bad to say about it. The players play all right. Once again, it doesn't go on so long that it bores you. The solos are all of a reasonable length. The whole thing is such a bare-faced replica of the old Basie band's version of "One O'clock Jump" that obviously nobody's trying to pull the wool over your eyes about it. I would call that jazz Muzak.
Russo: I rather liked it. Again, old-time jazz may be very inconsequential, but it isn't as offensive to me as some of today's jazz. I either like very new, imaginative jazz or stuff before the last ten years. It sounded like Willie Smith on alto. The piano player sounded like an older man, somebody in his 40s or 50s. The trombone is hard to guess. The trumpet player, especially when he played his harmon mute solo, I liked enormously. It could very well have been Harry James. I thought it was a lot of fun. Not terribly serious, nice feel—and at least honest and not pretentious.
Tomkins: I think it can be said that the musicians on that genuinely enjoy playing that kind of jazz.
Russo: Yes, I thought so.
Dankworth: I would think so, too.
Tomkins: It was British, actually.
Russo: It was?
Dankworth: Well then, the alto player was either Bruce Turner or Tony Coe. It couldn't have been anybody else.
Tomkins: It was Bruce.
Russo: The drums were too loud, as is typical of most recording nowadays. Nice, but I thought too loud.
Dankworth: Oh, that was Bruce Turner's Jump Band, was it? It was augmented, though. There were four front line in that, weren't there?
Tomkins: No, only three, although they seemed to get a bigger sound than the band really was.
Dankworth: Yes, I'll say I liked it.
Tomkins: It's happy and unpretentious.
Dankworth: And aren't we all?

"Destination Moon"
Dinah Washington (With orchestra conducted by Fred Norman). From "Dinah '62," Columbia.

Russo: At first it sounded like Gladys Palmer to me—you know, the new singer—Gloria Lynne. I worked with her at Birdland. It's effervescent, enthusiastic singing. I don't like to hear all these songs reduced to the blues. That's a little sad to take a song like "Cheek To Cheek" or "All The Things You Are" and make it sound like "I Got Rhythm." And the organ, of course, was thrown in again—our age's desire to become religious, bring Church into jazz.
Dankworth: It was Dinah Washington, wasn't it? I didn't see anything outstanding in the big-band backing. There were a couple of pinches from 1949 Dizzy Gillespie.
Russo: Yes, the same kind of thing as Sarah's backgrounds. You remember those things that her husband used to write for her?
Dankworth: About the same era.
Russo: The same approach, too.
Dankworth: I like Dinah Washington. She overdoes everything fantastically, but I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.

Copyright © 1964 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved