Fri, 10 December 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.
Direct download: Podcast_195-_A_Conversation_with_Norman_Simmons.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:00am EDT
Thu, 9 December 2010
Saxophonist, flutist and composer James Moody died on December 9,2010 at his home in the San Diego area. He was 85 years old. Moody had been suffering from pancreatic cancer and had recently chosen to decline treatment by radiation or chemotherapy.
Moody, who preferred to be called by his last name, was born in Savannah, Georgia on March 26, 1925. It is little known that Moody was born partially deaf. As a result when he was young and unable to hear the teacher, he was labelled mentally deficient and ordered to attend a school for the mentally disabled. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to Newark, New Jersey, where he attended public school. Eventually, his hearing problem was diagnosed and he was sent to the Bruce Street School for the Deaf He later attended Arts High in Newark, N.J.
His uncle gave him an alto sax when he was 16. After hearing Buddy Tate and Don Byas perform with the Count Basie Band at the Adams Theater in Newark, New Jersey, Moody switched to the tenor saxophone. He was just 18 years old when he was drafted into the Air Force in 1943 during World War II. Unable to play with the white Air Force band, Moody played in an unofficial Negro Air Force band for three years. He was disturbed by the segregation that was prevalent in the military service at that time. Incredibly, he met Dizzy Gillespie while in the Air Force, as Gillespie came through for a performance on the base. After he got out of the service, in 1946, he joined the recently formed Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, one of the most important jazz groups at that time.
In 1949 Moody moved to Europe, and in Sweden that year he recorded his tour de force of improvisation on the Jimmy McHugh Tin Pan Alley tune "I'm in the Mood for Love" (which can be heard on James Moody & His Swedish Crowns on the Dragon label). Back in the States, pioneering vocalese artist Eddie Jefferson penned lyrics to Moody's exact solo on that tune and dubbed it "Moody's Mood for Love."
Meanwhile, an unknown singer named Clarence Beeks-aka King Pleasure-heard Jefferson sing his vocalese version of Moody's masterpiece at the Cotton Club in Cincinnati. Beeks promptly committed the performance and song to memory-the lyrics, phrasing and all of the nuances. In November 1951, Beeks sang Jefferson's signature vocalese offering at the Apollo Theater Amateur Hour, winning first prize along with a contract to record the tune for Prestige. The 1952 release of King Pleasure's debut recording, "Moody's Mood for Love," became an instant hit, to the utter surprise of Moody, who found himself an "overnight sensation" when he returned to the States that same year. He became a fixture in festival concert circles, and in demand as both a bandleader and a sideman for the rest of his life.
On March 26, 1995, a 70th birthday celebration for Moody, hosted by Bill Cosby, was held at New York's Blue Note club. Telarc recorded the show and released it as Moody's Party: Live at the Blue Note. He followed that up with two tribute recordings for Warner Bros.: 1996's Sinatra tribute Young at Heart (Click here for the title track)and 1997's Moody Plays Mancini.
He made several recordings during the last decade of his life, including Homage, Moody 4A and Moody 4B, the latter two for IPO. Moody 4B was recently nominated for a Grammy award.