Tag Archives: soul jazz

Musical Man of Mystery: Baby Face Willette

Baby Face Willette

Baby Face Willette

With a name more suitable to a gangster from Capone’s Chicago and a frustratingly short biography Baby Face Willette skidded across the face of American popular music for a brief span of time in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I don’t know if there was a pan involved but Baby Face’s career certainly was over in a rapid flash.

The biography begins with his birth in New Orleans, Louisana. Or was it, as some claim, really Little Rock, Arkansas? Both stories have their supporters. Everyone agrees, though, that wherever he entered this world, he was given the grand name of Roosevelt, after, one assumes (but we cannot be sure) of the newly inaugurated President of the USA: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 1933 was the year.

After some time learning how to play the piano in his hometown church the young (and young faced) musician decided to try his luck in the big city. He found himself in New York where he played and recorded with such soul-jazz luminaries as Lou Donaldson (sax) and Grant Green (guitar). He had by now left the piano behind and was fast mastering the Hammond B-3. Like so many other young men and women he idolized Jimmy Smith, probably the greatest B3 player to come out of the US and jazz world.

For whatever reasons after leaving his musical imprint as a sideman and leader on several records he moved to Chicago. Here he seemed to find an audience. He played regular gigs in clubs across the windy city, continuing right up to the early 1970s, when all trace of him disappears. His end, like his beginning, shrouded in uncertainty.

The record we share tonight, Stop and Listen, was recorded in Chicago in 1961 with his friend Grant Green on guitar and the favoured drummer of many B3 players, Ben Dixon on the traps. Baby Face may have been named like a gangster but he played the organ like an angel. His touch is light and dreamy almost delicate; he can swing (listen to the intense drive of Jumpin’ Juniper, with that left hand keeping the beat roiling in the lower register) and importantly knows how to play with others. The sympatico atmosphere he creates with Green and Dixon allows all three to shine and contribute, not just serve him as leader.

This record has been in the vaults for many years and I’ve really loved listening to it over and over in the last few days. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do. And as our musical man of mystery himself did in making it!

Stop And Listen 1

Track Listing:
01 Williow Weep for Me

02 Chances Are Few

03 Jumpin’ Jupiter

04 Stop and Listen

05 At Last

06 Soul Walk

07 Worksong

08 They Can’t Take That Away From Me

BFW

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Hawai’ian Blue: Seawind

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Before heading home for the holidays (Hallelujah Lord!) I’ll share an old favorite, Seawind’s self titled debut from way back in 1976.

Imagine this: a Hawaiian band that could play gritty, Tower of Power-influenced funk one minute and instrumental jazz fusion the next, and often expressed a Christian viewpoint. Seawind really did fit that description, and while such uniqueness would terrify a lot of marketing people, it earned the Hawaiian outfit a small but loyal cult following. Seawind wasn’t nearly as big as it deserved to be, but those who were hip to the band really swore by it. Produced by drummer Harvey Wilson in 1976, Seawind is a superb, highly imaginative debut that thrives on diversity. Singer Pauline Wilson excels on sweaty funk gems like “Make Up Your Mind,” “We Got a Way,” and “You Gotta Be Willing to Lose,” and she is equally expressive on more jazz-oriented offerings such as “The Devil Is a Liar” and “He Loves You” (both of which underscore her Christian beliefs). Meanwhile, Wilson doesn’t do any singing at all on the jazz fusion instrumentals “Roadways” and “Praise.” Although Seawind fared well on quiet storm formats, black radio tended to shy away from the album. And at the same time, Seawind didn’t appeal to jazz purists. But even if Seawind was, from a commercial standpoint, too eclectic for its own good, this LP never sounds unfocused — the band knew exactly what it was doing in 1976. All of Seawind’s albums are worth owning, but this one is arguably its most essential.

(AMG)

Seawind

Track Listing

01 We Got A Way

02 You Gotta Be Willing To Lose It

03 He Loves You

04 The Devil Is A Liar

05 A Love Song_Seawind

06 Make Up Your Mind

07 Praise (Part 1)

08 Roadways (Parts I And II)

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Funky Rising Sun: Jiro Inagaki and Soul Media

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Another slice of Japanese musical sashimi for everyone’s aural pleasure tonight. I’ve just returned from a long and hard couple of weeks of travel, which took in Tokyo, Seoul, Paris, Brussels and now (tomorrow) Singapore!  Feeling pretty wiped out!

I love Jiro Inagaki’s music which is usually referred to or labelled as jazz.  But as this album shows, and the title suggests, jazz for Jiro, is definitely not bebop or post bop.  Rather it is more on the funky, soul jazz, R&B side of the tracks.  He often covers soul standards (Funky Stuff, here) and doesn’t hesitate to draw dance beats, WAR-sounds and lots of brassiness into the equation.

I’ve not been able to dig out much useful information about Mr Inagaki but his name pops up from time to time as a sideman with other Japanese jazz artists and he has enough name recognition in record stores in Tokyo for the shop keepers to point you to a (small) section of his CDs.

Whoever he is, I think he plays the sax with great feel and funk. His band, Soul Media, is pretty capable as well. Quite a big band it sounds like which would probably be even more fun live than on tape.

Nothing wrong at all with this piece of Japanese-jazz-funk-soul.  Grab a geisha and settle down for some groovy moments.

Funky Stuff

Track Listing:

01 Painted Paradise

02 Funky Motion

03 Breeze

04 Scratch

05 Funky Stuff

06 One for Jiroh

07 Gentle Wave

08 Four Up

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Titans Together: Jimmy McGriff and Richard “Groove” Holmes

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I know the saxophone is usually considered the quintessential instrumental voice of jazz. The instrument has become virtually synonymous with the music, like the guitar with the blues or the violin with symphonic music. But for my money the essential jazzy instrument is the electric organ—the Hammond B3 to be precise.

Sure, purists would contend it is not a true jazz instrument at all.  And the style of jazz (soul/acid) it has become so identified with is not ‘true jazz’.  But who really cares about purists in any walk of life.  Fundamentalists, be they religious or musical, are mostly bores.

Invented in Chicago as a means to recreate the sounds of the pipe organ, the Hammond Organ Company’s ‘B3’ model immediately found its audience.  Churches, bands, nightclubs and skating rinks that had limited cash reserves but wanted to create a big sound discovered in the instrument’s double keyboards, valves and pedals an entire universe of sound.  You could play individual notes and chords at the same time, while keeping the rhythm section driving by working the pedals hard. And then you had 9 valves to play with that shaded the notes in different ways depending on how far you pulled them out.  That phrase, ‘pulling out all the stops’? Comes from the masters of the Hammond B3, like Jimmy Smith, who literally rode their instruments to sing.

Jimmy McGriff

Jimmy McGriff

Tonight the spotlight falls on a master and apprentice duo from Philadelphia, the greatest center of organ jazz in the USA. Jimmy McGriff was a musician in the city of brotherly love who played a variety of instruments including drums for bands in the Philly and New Jersey area.  Though he was an able journeyman he held down a day job as a cop in which he achieved some minor notoriety for once issuing a ticket to none other than Miles Davis!

Although the organ has been played by jazz musicians as far back as Fats Waller it was not until another Philadelphia boy named Jimmy Smith came along that those aforementioned Taliban of Jazz Purity, the critics, looked at their shoes, coughed a few times and said, ‘Well, maybe there is something to said about this B3 thing.’  Everyone in Philly was influenced by Jimmy Smith and a lot of them tried to imitate his style.  But there were those who were drawn more to the blues and R&B potential of the 450 lbs. beast.

Richard 'Groove' Holmes

Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes

Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes was one of those. In the late 50s and early 60s he was a regular player in the Philly /Newark clubs and appealed largely to a non-jazz African American audience.  His style was rawer then Smith’s. More urgent and hard-hitting.  More conducive to small sweaty joints then the coffee and wine bars of the jazz crowd.

Holmes once heard the cop McGriff play the organ. A couple of beers and chats was all it took to convince the young man that law enforcement was not the reason why he had been placed on this earth. Rather his destiny could be found the beauty of the electric organ made by Mr Hammond of Chicago. McGriff heeded the advice.  Both men went on to enjoy tremendously prolific (if not exactly financially lucrative) careers of purveyors of the very best soul/acid jazz. While McGriff was embraced eventually by the jazz fold he always saw his style being more bluesy.  Holmes, who kept  playing his organ until his death, continued to find his most appreciative audiences in the cities and clubs where black Americans lived, drank and danced.

The two greats, frequently referred to as Giants of the Organ, made a couple of records together, including this one which virtually races down the tracks like an express train running late.   The album, which is a bit of a legend, pictures Holmes to the left (under McGriff’s name), has some misspellings and according to real organ boffins does not feature the B3 but some other version of the Hammond organ, is simply great.  Pure 1970s funk with jazz and soul overtones, undertones and fleshtones.

Enjoy every moment of it!

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Track Listing:

01 Licks A’ Plenty

02 Out Of Nowhere

03 The Squirrel

04 Finger Lickin’ Good

05 How High The Moon

06 Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

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It Certainly Is!: Grant Green

Grant Green

Grant Green

My favourite jazz guitarist has always been George Benson (sans the singing, except on Breezin’, which is simply one of the most delightful albums on the 1970s) but it is Grant Green that I love listening to more these days.  Green is a guitarist who puts the tune above the technique. Whatever he played seemed not just to swing, but to sing, as well.  And I love soul-jazz which Grant became known for in his latter years.

Often overlooked by jazz critics and snobs, Grant Green, is now building a posthumous reputation as an exceptionally expressive and talented musician.

Green was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He first performed in a professional setting at the age of 12. His influences were Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Jimmy Raney, he first played boogie-woogie before moving on to jazz. His first recordings in St. Louis were with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest for the United label. The drummer in the band was Elvin Jones, later the powerhouse behind John Coltrane. Grant recorded with Elvin again in the early Sixties. Lou Donaldson discovered Grant playing in a bar in St. Louis. After touring together with Donaldson, Grant arrived in New York around 1959-60.

Lou Donaldson introduced Grant to Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records. Lion was so impressed with Grant that rather than testing Grant as a sideman, as was the usual Blue Note practice, Lion arranged for him to record as a group leader first. However, due to a lack of confidence on Green’s part the initial recording session was only released in 2001 as First Session.

Despite the shelving of his first session, Green’s recording relationship with Blue Note was to last, with a few exceptions, throughout the Sixties. From 1961 to 1965, Grant made more appearances on Blue Note LPs, as leader or sideman, than anyone else. Grant’s first issued album as a leader was Grant’s First Stand. This was followed in the same year by Green Street and Grantstand. Grant was named best new star in the Down Beat critics’ poll, in 1962. He often provided support to the other important musicians on Blue Note, including saxophonists Hank Mobley, Ike Quebec, Stanley Turrentine and organist Larry Young.

Sunday Mornin’ , The Latin Bit and Feelin’ the Spirit are all loose concept albums, each taking a musical theme or style: Gospel, Latin and spirituals respectively. Grant always carried off his more commercial dates with artistic success during this period. Idle Moments (1963), featuring Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson, and Solid(1964), are thought of as two of Grant‘s best recordings.

Many of Grant’s recordings were not released during his lifetime. These include McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones (also part of the Solid group) performing on Matador (also recorded in 1964), and several albums with pianist Sonny Clark. In 1966 Grant left Blue Note and recorded for several other labels, including Verve. From 1967 to 1969 Grant was, for the most part, inactive due to personal problems and the effects of heroin addiction. In 1969 Grant returned with a new funk-influenced band. His recordings from this period include the commercially successful Green is Beautiful and the soundtrack to the film The Final Comedown.

Grant left Blue Note again in 1974 and the subsequent recordings he made with other labels divide opinion: some consider Green to have been the ‘Father of Acid Jazz’ (and his late recordings have been sampled by artists including US3A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy), whilst others have dismissed them (reissue producer Michael Cuscuna wrote in the sleeve notes for the album Matador that “During the 1970s [Green] made some pretty lame records”).

Grant spent much of 1978 in hospital and, against the advice of doctors, went back on the road to earn some money. While in New York to play an engagement at George Benson’s Breezin’ Lounge, Grant collapsed in his car of a heart attack in New York City on January 31, 1979. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, and was survived by six children. Since Green‘s demise, his reputation has grown and many compilations of both his earlier (post-bop/straight ahead and soul jazz) and later (funkier/dancefloor jazz) periods, exist. (Wikipedia)

Ain’t It Funky Now! is the third of three thematically organized Grant Green compilations in the Blue Note Original Jam Master Series — all of which focus on his final period recording for the label, between 1969 and 1972. Green was deeply interested in popular Black music in his late period and that is reflected in these seven cuts taken from six different albums. The title track, of course, is the a read of the James Brown classic and also features Blue Mitchell on trumpet and Idris Muhammad on drums, among others. At nearly ten minutes, it’s a deep-stretch groove piece with Green‘s guitar playing gritty and dirty center-stage. Other highlights include “Ease Back,” a Meters cover from Green‘s Carryin’ On outing, and a nasty version of the Isley Brothers‘ “It’s Your Thing,” with Chuck Rainey and Muhammad in the rhythm section. The set closes with a decidedly non-funky yet very soulful cover of the Stylistics‘ “Betcha by Golly Wow” with Wilton Felder on bass, Hall Bobby Porter on congas, and fine soprano and tenor work from Claude Bartee, Jr..  (AMG)

Ain't It Funky Now_ Original Jam Master 1

Track  Listing:

01 Ain’t it Funky Now!

02 Ease Back

03 It’s Your Thing

04 Love on a Two-Way Street

05 Let the Music Take Your Mind

06 I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing

07 Betcha by Golly Wow

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