Dec 10, 2010
In 1960, tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin (1928–2008) rose to new heights of musical mastery with The Big Soul Band (Riverside), his first large–band recording as a leader. This session featured an 11– piece group (with Clark Terry, Pat Patrick, Frank Strozier, and Charlie Persip among the personnel) and a soul–stirring repertoire including the African–American spirituals “Deep River,” “Wade In The Water,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen.”
On December 14 and 15, the Jazz Standard in New York City will celebrate the 50th anniversary of this classic album with an outstanding “Big Soul Band” of their own, performing the album repertoire and featuring contemporary tenor titans Houston Person and Eric Alexander. Visit their website for more information.
At the center of the original album and the revival is pianist/arranger/composer Norman Simmons. Having just celebrated his 81st birthday, he is still going strong. Famous as the accompanist of choice for vocalists like Dakota Staton, Carmen McRae and Joe Williams, he was also the pianist for a number of years for Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis.
Podcast 195 is a conversation with the versatile and venerable Mr. Simmons, concentrating on his memories of writing and recording The Big Soul Band. Click here to hear his remembrances of his many muses, as well as musical selections like:
Johnny Griffin - "Wade in the Water (alt take)" from The Big Soul Band. Griffin was known forboth his speed and for his soulfulness as a tenor saxophonist. This 1960 session matched Griffin with Pat Patrick on alto sax, Charles Davis on bariton sax, Edwin Williams on tenor sax, Clark Terry and Bobby Bryant on trumpet, Matthew Gee and Julian Preister on trombone, Harold Mabern alternating on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and Charlie Persip on drums. Simmons did the arrangements for the song, which he later re-arranged for Ramsey Lewis, who scored a hit with it.
Johnny Griffin - "Mediation" from The Big Soul Band. Simmons also wrote three songs for the album, including this introspective tune. Frank Strozier replaced Patrick on alto, Vicotr Sproles replaced Cranshaw on bass and Bobby Timmons replaced Harold Mabern on piano for this track.
Carmen McRae - "If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)" from Alive!. Simmons claims he learned more from Carment McRae than any other musician with whom he has worked. Here he backs her on a 1965 concert date at New York's Village Gate. The band is rounded out by bassist Paul Breslin, drummer Frank Severino, guitarist Joe Puma, flutist Ray Beckenstein and Jose Mangual on bongos.
Joe Williams - "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" from In Good Company, Whether he was in the Count Basie Band or singing as a solo artist, Williams was a major influence on today's jazz singers, mainly due to his understanding of big-band dynamics and instrumental interplay. At the age of 70 he recorded a portion of this album backed by the Norman Simmons Quartet, and won a Grammy for Best Vocal album. The band includes Simmons on piano, Henry Johnson on guitar, Bob Bagley on bass and Gerryck King on drums.