Monday, May 21, 2018

Eddie Daniels - Heart of Brazil: A Tribute to Egberto Gismonti [Promo Vi...

"Joe Albany: Portrait of a Legend by Ira Gitler"

© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"It's easy to criticize young people by saying how lucky they are in terms of modern-day communications and information, and how back in 'the day' (a phrase I hate) we had to work harder to get things moving socially, politically, and culturally. But the truth is that even oldsters like myself have pretty much forgotten how different things were in the pre-internet/social media days. When it comes to jazz there were always (and I really mean prior to 1985, so these are really the pre-pre-internet days) walking legends, musicians we knew were still alive but could not locate except through obscure LPs, notices of far-off gigs, and word of mouth.

So for someone like me, who came of age, as a listener, in the late 1960s, there were obscure men and women who lived by both recording and reputation - I spent years trying to locate Allen Eager, wondered about Dodo Marmarosa and Ronnie Singer, and tried to picture players like Joe Albany, who I knew from a few solos on some Aladdin sessions with Lester Young, and some live shots from the Finale with Bird. So when the 'word on the street' said Albany was coming to New York to play at the West End Cafe (circa 1978) I jumped into my car (I was living in New Haven Connecticut by then) and was down there, if not on opening night, than soon after.

To make a long story short, I was not disappointed in his performance, and became friends with Joe soon afterwards; I supervised a recording session for  which he was a sideman, drove him to various gigs (including a memorable one at the Yale Cabaret up in New Haven, for which we sold out the room) and started hanging with  him and his lady-friend Jean Roth at their 57th Street apartment. Things were never dull there; Joe was always arguing with Jean, there was always a lot of very powerful pot, and he always had something interesting to tell or show me (I remember seeing a lead sheet in Monk's handwriting of Ruby My Dear that Monk had given Joe).  One night as we drove along the FDR drive he said to me "I'm going to call my autobiography I Licked Bird's Blood, because we used to shoot up together and when Bird handed me the needle I rubbed the blood off with my finger and licked it clean." That was Joe - "you should try horse tranquilizer. Or really, maybe you shouldn't" he said on that same night. And Jean told me the last time she had seen Joe before their reunion 25 years later in NYC, "he pawned everything in my apartment for drugs and then left town. But Joe was a gentleman - he left me the pawn ticket.""
- Allen Lowe

The Bop Landscape is dotted with pianists who “made the scene” [i.e.: achieved some degree of national recognition] and then, apparently, disappeared. Names like Dodo Marmarosa, Al Haig, George Wallington and Joe Albany among others.Some continued in music while others sequed into other occupations.

When I read this reference in the following article by Ira Gitler to Joe Albany’s meager discography - “One LP for Riverside (The Right Combination, taped in 1957) was the only recorded evidence of the legend since 1946” -  I went to check out my collection.

Much to my surprise there were six CD’s five of which had been issued since The Right Combination [1957]. I have interspersed the CD cover art throughout this piece.

THE USE of the word "legendary" in describing pianist Joe Albany has become such a standard practice in jazz circles during the last 17 years that it has almost taken on the status of a given name.

A talent fleetingly revealed to a small audience through some short solos recorded with Lester Young in 1946 was the start of the legend, although it may have started among musicians a few years before. Jazz has had more than its share of legends — dead and living—and Albany's has been one of the most persistent in the undercurrent of the backwash of the 1940s.

From 1950 he had lived in California, working in small suburban clubs when he did work, but he was totally overlooked in the early part of the decade when the rest of the jazz world discovered the West Coast. One LP for Riverside (The Right Combination, taped in 1957) was the only recorded evidence of the legend since 1946.

The extramusical aspects of the legend were still there, however: descriptions of a weird, strange, far-out guy, substantiated by a photograph in Metronome's 1956 yearbook, showing a wild-eyed, high-pompadoured Albany in the last row of a group picture taken of the participating musicians in a concert at the University of California at Los Angeles in the mid-'40s.

With all this in mind, one can be easily surprised on meeting Albany for the first time. It's difficult to prepare for meeting a legend. Everyone knows they exist only in the confines of their own unverifiable non-history. So when a slim, curly haired (without pompadour), self-effacing man introduces himself as Albany, the effect can be dumfounding.

Immediately one feels a paradox — that he has known Albany a long time, and yet, simultaneously, he is a stranger. The reason perhaps can be found in an attitude of the jazz fraternity that puts people, meeting for the first time, on a more intimate level than is usual. It is also the legend working. The feeling of confronting a stranger is reality.

That first meeting was in New York City's Half Note club last spring. At the second meeting, there were more realities. And the legend began to crumble. Unknown facts were brought to light, and the Joe Albany story took shape.

Born in Atlantic City, N.J., on Jan. 24, 1924, he has two sisters, one a pianist the other an opera singer. Joe was given an accordion as a child. His cousin was an accordion teacher, and so Joe learned the instrument but says he didn't like it particularly at that time. The switch to piano was accomplished in high school.

"There was this gym band," he recalled. "They used to play during lunch hour — and they needed a piano player. They had this Cab Calloway tune, Jim Jam Jumpin’ Jive—they had the 'stock' on it. I took the piano music and learned the left hand."

Albany's first contact with jazz was through records. When he was 15, fellow Atlantic City musicians Bob Kersey and Jay Lischin (a tenor saxophonist later known on the West Coast as Jay Corre) played their records for him.

"I got to listen to Duke Ellington, Hawk's Body and Soul, and the Billie Holidays with Teddy Wilson," he remembered.

Albany's family moved to California when he was 17, but the next year they returned to Atlantic City. It was at this time that Albany played his first professional job — at a strip-tease joint. (Trombonist Willie Dennis also was in the band, according to Albany.)

Then the young pianist returned to California and became a fixture on Los Angeles' Central Ave. jazz scene. He met guitarist Teddy Bunn and worked with singer-drummer Leo Watson. He heard Art Tatum in person for the first time and met Lester Young.

"I remember Pres telling me the chords to Sweet Lorraine—the bridge," Albany said. "I didn't know it at the time. I was going mostly by ear, but it felt good."

Albany married while he was located in Los Angeles, and the couple went to New York City where he worked for a month with trumpeter Max Kaminsky at the Pied Piper. This was still in the '40s. According to the pianist, everything was going along fine "until my father came and yanked me out of town." Joe might have been married, but he was still a minor and had to accede to his father's wishes. But he soon made his escape, back to the ever-beckoning West Coast.

He stayed there about a year, he said, and then he went on the road with Benny Carter's band, the one that also included drummer Max Roach and trombonist J. J. Johnson.

"I got as far as Detroit," Albany said, "and Shadow Wilson got me with Georgie Auld's band. The band folded at the Tune Town Ballroom in St. Louis, and we were left to our own devices. This trumpet player and I made it back to New York."

Back in New York Albany met someone who was to have a profound impact on his conception of music. He describes the meeting as if it were in some way mystical: ". . . and then I saw this guy walking down the street, and I followed him, and I said, 'Who is it?' And he says, 'Charlie Parker.' I had already heard from JJ. and Max about Charlie Parker. So I introduced myself." Albany soon was working with Parker and drummer Stan Levey. The three played Monday nights at the Famous Door around the end of 1944 or the beginning of 1945.

"There was no bass player," Albany said, referring to the Famous Door job. "Baby Laurence used to come in and dance. I had a hard time playing stop-time at that time for Baby."

The pianist rejoined another version of the Auld band in 1945 and again journeyed to — you guessed it — California. In May of that year, he recorded "an eight-bar, Basie-style solo on Stompin' at the Savoy. Stan Levey was with the band then too."

But Albany had his differences with Auld and left the band to join Boyd Raeburn's modernistic crew that included trombonist-arranger Johnny Mandel, tenor saxophonist Al Cohn, and vocalist David Allyn. He was with that band for a five-week period, after which he joined Charlie Parker's quintet at Los Angeles' Club Finale.

The job at the Finale was from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., with an air shot on a local radio station. Albany said that one night on the air "Bird was singing at me like I wasn't comping right, so I did it every which way, and finally I did what I thought was backwards, comping out of time, and I still didn't please him, so I turned around and said, '----you, Bird,' and that was the end. He fired me. We made up after that and laughed about it."

The reconciliation didn't come soon enough, however, for Albany to participate in the Dial record date he had been scheduled to make with Parker, Miles Davis, and Lucky Thompson, the session that produced Ornithology, Yardbird Suite, Moose the Mooche, and A Night in Tunisia. Ross Russell, who produced the recordings, wrote years later, in Jazz Review: "I was always sorry Joe did not make the date. His replacement, Dodo Mamarosa, is a wonderful pianist, but Joe had something special."

Albany also was one of the few, at the time, to have absorbed the essential character of Parker's music. In the telling of the legend, Albany often is referred to as "Bird's second favorite pianist" of that time (Bud Powell is named as No. 1).

"I think I was integrated with Bird's phrasing," he said, "but when I met Bird, my biggest influences had been Pres and Count Basie. Of course, my first piano influence had been Teddy Wilson. Then I heard Tatum. I wanted to go that way but didn't have the chops. I just developed my chops since 1957. Up to then, I was just getting by on my accordion talent."

He tends to pass off his playing on the 1946 Lester Young date for Aladdin as nothing special. He explained that he was "down between styles at the time" but admits that it "did swing, so that was groovy."

Ross Russell said it more poetically perhaps when he wrote, "There's a 12-bar solo on Lester's Bebop Boogie, a light, lacy thing laid on with a sure hand and lots-of-time, behind-the-beat phrasing. On New Lester Leaps In, the piano swings right out with a lyric solo that keeps building to a big convincing rhythmic period."

Albany returned to New York in 1947 and applied for a Local 802 card, but he left town within six months to make a southern tour with a traveling band. This, he said, turned out to be a mistake. Soon he was back in

California, where he remained, except for one short trip back to New York which "turned out badly" — until this year [1963]. Most of the time he lived in Los Angeles.

In the late '40s Albany was one of a group of young West Coast musicians who had been captivated by Charlie Parker in several ways. The others included saxophonists Joe Maini and Herb Geller, trombonist Jimmy Knepper, and pianist Russ Freeman.

"Joe Albany was a great influence," said drummer Roy Hall, who has been a close friend of Albany's since the time Parker introduced the two in the kitchen of Billy Berg's Los Angeles club. "Russ Freeman was playing like Nat Cole until he heard Joe." (Hall added that Freeman's referring to him as being dead in Straight Talk from Russ Freeman in the March 14 Down Beat was greatly exaggerated. The drummer also expressed distress at Freeman's not mentioning Albany in that article.)

Hall accompanied Albany on several cross-country jaunts and has played with him on innumerable occasions, the most recent being at a club in Greenwich Village. The drummer said he feels that Albany's playing is "a timeless thing — so good it's commercial," it's main assets being "independence of hands, inside harmony, and his instinctive knowledge of intervals."

The 1957 Riverside date, with tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh and bassist Bob Whitlock, was an impromptu taping of a rehearsal the pianist had called before the group was to play a gig.

Again, Albany now apologizes for his performance: "It was a jam session. I had never played with Warne before. The engineer, Ralph Garretson, played some drums, but it didn't cook real hard at all, and anything I do I want it to cook."
Despite the leader's feelings about the record, his own contributions certainly are still worth hearing, particularly those on Body and Soul, Angel Eyes, and All the Things You Are. Unfortunately, the album is no longer available [It was reissued as a CD].

THE '50s in California were bleak for Albany. Personal problems picked up in the '40s continued to plague him and prevent him from realizing his potential. Divorced from his first wife, he had married again. When his second wife died, in 1959, he went to San Francisco. He stayed there through 1960, working briefly at the Pink Elephant.

"I didn't have a card there," he said, "and had to pay the traveling tax, and couldn't get started again. I'd written some tunes, and Anita O'Day recorded them." In San Francisco Albany met his present wife, Sheila, a former ad agency copywriter and singer who also writes lyrics. They went back to Los Angeles but earlier this year decided to return to New York, the first time for Albany in 13 years.

"I was vegetating on the West Coast," he explained, "and besides your blood thinning, it seems like your hopes get thinner too — ambitions — desire to play."
In New York he has done a couple of cocktail-lounge jobs, a Monday night at the Five Spot with baritone saxophonist Jay Cameron, and several nights with Charlie Mingus' 10-piece band at the Village Gate.

Some solo-piano tapes he made in June and July support his claim that now "my left hand is a lot fuller, more agile." There are flashes of the Tatumesque, a general similarity to Bud Powell (after all, they both come from Parker), but, above all, it is Joe Albany.

In this day, his playing may seem dated to some of the current hippies, but it is, as Roy Hall said, "timeless."

October 24, 1963

Down Beat

For more insights into Joe and his music, Joe's daughter, A.J. Albany has authored Low Down: Junk, Jazz, and Other Fairy Tales from Childhood which is available from Amazon which also offers the following annotation about the book on its site.

"A. J. Albany's recollection of life with her father, the great jazz pianist Joe Albany, is the story of one girl's unsentimental education. Joe played with the likes of Charles Mingus, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker, but between gigs he slipped into drug-induced obscurity. It was during these times that his daughter knew him best. After her mother disappeared, six-year-old Amy Jo and her charming, troubled father set up housekeeping in a seamy Hollywood hotel. While Joe finished a set in some red-boothed dive, chances were you'd find Amy curled up to sleep on someone's fur coat, clutching a 78 of Louis Armstrong's "Sugar Blues" or, later, a photograph of the man himself, inscribed, "To little Amy Jo, always in love with you--Pops." Wise beyond her years and hip to the unpredictable ways of Old Lady Life at all too early an age, A. J. Albany guides us through the dope and deviance of the late 1960s and early 1970s in Hollywood's shadowy underbelly and beyond. What emerges is a raw, gripping, and surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a young girl trying to survive among the outcasts, misfits, and artists who surrounded her."

"In this beautiful memoir of jazz and junk, loyalty and abandonment, A. J. Albany—the daughter of pianist Joe Albany—writes with such straight-up charm and unsentimental lucidity that she makes her harrowing childhood seem as romantic and thrilling as she remembers it."
—Francine Prose

Also for your consideration is the film Low Down which Jeff Preiss directed:

"Jazz pianist Joe Albany (John Hawkes) and his daughter Amy-Jo (Elle Fanning) battle insurmountable odds in seedy 1970s Los Angeles in this compassionate and compelling story of the unwavering love between a father and a daughter.
Starring:Elle Fanning, John Hawkes, Glenn Close Runtime:1 hour, 54 minutes"

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Al Haig: [1924-1982]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

You really have to mine the Jazz literature to find anything about Al Haig, who was part of a group of the fine, pioneering Bebop pianists that included George Wallington, Joe Albany,and  Dodo Marmorosa.

Unfortunately, they drew little attention during their time in the music and even less so today.

In an effort to help correct this lack of awareness, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be fun to share the references that we dug out about Al and string them together into  the following composite feature.

John Chilton, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

“Haig was among the first jazz pianists to blend the postwar innovations of bop into a consistent, personal style. His exceptional technique, besides allowing him to relax even when improvising at very fast tempos, gave him a flexibility and quickness of response that made him a fine accompanist to soloists as stylistically diverse as Stan Getz and Fats Navarro, though his associations with Gillespie and Charlie Parker were musically the most significant of his career. His many brief solos on recordings led by other musicians during the 1940s show the ability he acquired for concise expression; while unflaggingly inventive, they are usually understated, with sensitive rhythmic and harmonic nuances. Haig's later work is richer in texture and of greater emotional depth.”

Ira Gitler: Jazz Masters of the 40’s.

“Al Haig, the pianist for Parker and Gillespie in their classic quintet of 1945, was superficially like Powell but quite different in his lighter-touch approach. His style was impeccable and quite pianistic, reflecting a very highly developed technique. He was a definite influence on Hank Jones and, through him, on other men, such as Tommy Flanagan. Besides his solo abilities, Haig was an excellent accompanist. One trademark was his "comping" two octaves below his right hand's single solo lines. "At their best Haig's accompaniments, like those of John Lewis, are enhancing commentaries rather than mere backgrounds," Max Harrison wrote in the June, 1960, issue of The Jazz Review.

Haig shone as both soloist and accompanist with Charlie Parker's quintet (1949-1950) and Stan Getz's quartet and quintet. After that he drifted in and out of obscurity, appearing briefly with Chet Baker in 1954 and Gillespie in 1956. By the sixties, he was back in the New York area on a permanent basis, but his musical alliances were with small pop groups that catered to the dancing needs of the society set, from East Side clubs to Southampton and Bermuda.

Haig and Wellington went through a lot of the personal turmoil peculiar to their idiom and era, but when they leveled out, each in his own way, both left jazz.
The same seemed true of Dodo Marmarosa, ….”

Dick Katz, Pianists of the 1940s and 1950s in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz.

“Naturally, Powell had many followers. Among the earliest to master the style was Al Haig, a pianist with a refined technique, who brought a cool, controlled approach to the idiom. Whereas Powell was torrential, Haig played shorter lines with a light touch and cool aplomb. His ballads showed his classical training to good advantage; his pedaling was exemplary. His best work, in the opinion of many, was with Parker, and also on the early records of Stan Getz on the Roost label.”

Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz

“Along with Bud Powell, Haig was among the first and best of the bop pianists., who quickly adapted Parker and Gillespie's melodic and harmonic ingenuity to the pno. His technical expertise made him seem relaxed, even at whirlwind tempos, and his numerous late '405 recs. as sideman for an incredible array of musicians display the sensitivity and prowess that made him so much in demand.”

Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Acknowledged as a master of bebop piano, Haig has nevertheless suffered in comparison to many of his peers through his neglect as a recording artist in later years; he never made a single album for a major label. His work with Parker, Gillespie, Getz and others shows how fine an accompanist and group pianist he was, but his 'name' work is even finer and implies a rare mastery: he was effectively an understated, 'cool' stylist inside the hot medium of bebop. He enjoyed a revival of interest in the 1970s but died before he could reap any great rewards from it….”

Al Haig was deplorably served by records in the earlier part of his career, and as a result he is almost the forgotten man of bebop piano. Yet he was as great a figure as any of the bebop masters. If he denied himself the high passion of Bud Powell's music, he was still a force of eloquence and intensity, and his refined touch lent him a striking individuality within his milieu. The first trio album The Al Haig Trio Esoteric! [Fresh Sound FSR-CD 38 Haig; Bill Crow (b); Lee Abrams (d). 3/54.] originally released on the Esoteric label, is a masterpiece that can stand with any of the work of Powell or Monk. Haig's elegance of touch and line, his virtually perfect delivery, links him with a pianist such as Teddy Wilson rather than with any of his immediate contemporaries, and certainly his delivery … has a kinship with the language of Wilson's generation. Yet his complexity of tone and the occasionally cryptic delivery are unequivocally modern, absolutely of the bop lineage. Voicings and touch have a symmetry and refinement that other boppers, from Powell and Duke Jordan to Joe Albany and Dodo Marmarosa, seldom approached.

Haig went through a burst of recording late in his life and he remained a marvelous musician to the end.

C. Gerald Frazer, New York Times, November 17, 1982 [Obituary]

Al Haig, an early be-bop pianist, died of a heart attack yesterday in his Manhattan home. He was 58 years old. Mr. Haig was a member of the Charlie Parker Quintet, which performed at the Three Deuces on West 52d Street and which is credited with helping to introduce be-bop. The group was made up of Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Tommy Potter and Mr. Haig. He also played the piano on the classic Guild recordings made in 1945 with Mr. Parker, Mr. Gillespie, Curley Russell and Sid Catlett.

In an interview several years ago, Mr. Haig said that he and Tiny Grimes, the guitarist, had been playing at the Spotlight on 52d Street, noted for its numerous jazz clubs, when he first heard Charlie (Bird) Parker's alto saxophone:

''One night, Dizzy and Bird came in with their instruments, unpacked them and swooped up on the stand and started playing 'Shaw Nuff' or some damned thing. I'd been following Dizzy on records, but it was the first time I'd ever heard Bird. I knew they were auditioning me because they were so businesslike. They unpacked their horns like they were machine guns.'' Lean and Delicate Style

Mr. Haig's piano style, lean and delicate, was influenced by Nat (King) Cole, Teddy Wilson and then Bud Powell, one of the creators of bop. The be-bop style originated in the early 40's. Its specific creation, however, has not been authenticated.

''The big mystery is that nobody knows who did what,'' Mr. Haig once said. ''I often thought that it might have been Bud Powell out in the woods with the trumpet player Cootie Williams. Powell was really the creator of the whole thing because his playing was so completely perfect and so highly stylized in that idiom. He outbirded Bird and he outdizzied Dizzy. And here he was playing on a percussive instrument, not a front-line instrument, and at times outdoing any of them.''

During World War II, Mr. Haig, played with Coast Guard bands; later, he worked with Jerry Wald, briefly; Charlie Barnet, Jimmy Dorsey, Stan Getz and Chet Baker. Over the years, he made numerous appearances at cocktail lounges and jazz festivals."

The following video tribute features Al playing "The Way You Look Tonight w with Lee Konitz (as), Richie Kamuca (ts), Conte Candoli (tp), Frank Rosolino (tb), Don Bagley (b), Stan Levey (ds) Album:"Al Haig / Cleff Session 1953" .
Recorded: Hollywood, CA, Jan. 11, 1953

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Basie Plays Hefti (Bonus Track Version)

Workout: The Music of Hank Mobley by Derek Ansell

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved

“A thorough view of the ill-fated and sorely neglected Mobley .... [Ansell's] analysis of the tenorist's recordings, virtually all Blue Note classics, is finely articulated and makes this a recommended read.”
-Will Smith, Jazz Times.

“Through an analysis of his recordings, Ansell argues convincingly for Mobley's importance as a hard bop innovator, as a creative and inventive soloist and as a composer and arranger. Studies like this possibly represent the most fruitful way forward in jazz literature.”
- Chris Yates, Jazz Rag.

“A useful guide to a saxophonist described by Horace Silver as ‘one of the most underrated musicians in jazz.’”
- Peter Vacher, Jazz UK

“[Ansell] succeeds in making the reader go to the music, which as much as anything else is surely the purpose of the book.”
- Nic Jones,

In JazzProfiles’ continuing efforts to shed more light on the career of tenor saxophonist and composer, Hank Mobley [1930-1986], we now come to the only book on him that I’ve been able to find and the fact that there is a book length treatment on him at all seems to be a minor miracle in and of itself.

A major reason for our efforts to help rescue Hank from obscurity can be summed up in the following quotation from Derek Ansell, the author of the biography which is entitled Workout: The Music of Hank Mobley :

“He was one of a relatively short list of great tenor saxophonists; innovative, creative jazz musicians who not only had a distinctive sound but contributed immensely to the development and evolution of the music.”

In order to rectify Mobley’s underrated, overlooked, underappreciated position, Derek extensively examines and details all of Hank’s recordings as both a sideman and as a leader.

One could argue that given the limited primary material on Hank - he sat for one extensive interview with John Litweiler which was published in Downbeat in 1973 - that Derek’s reliance on Hank’s recordings and their liner notes offers a limited perspective on his life and artistry.

But the main benefit of this approach is that it gets the reader back to listening to Hank’s music and, in a sense, back to where Mobley’s true importance lays. To paraphrase the late, Richard Sudhalter: Jazz musicians are their music; the two are one and the same; inseparable.

Derek offers some compelling reasons and possible explanations for Mobley’s diminished position in Jazz circles, as well as, a number of convincing arguments for establishing him as a significant figure in modern Jazz from 1955-1975 in the following Introduction and opening pages to his first chapter.


Hank Mobley was unique. He was much admired by other musicians, many of whom rated him as one of the very greatest modern stylists, and a tenor saxophonist who sold more records than almost anybody else on the Blue Note label. Yet he still managed to attract a lot of flack, at best, from critics and jazz commentators who undervalued his solo strengths and contributions to modern jazz and, at worst, from those who regarded him as obscure and unimportant.

A jazz musician who recorded twenty-five LPs as a leader for one independent record label and more for other companies can hardly be called obscure. Add in numerous sideman appearances in the 1950s and 1960s - far more than most musicians in his sphere, and a face that was well-known from liner photographs and even made the cover shot of The Blue Note Years: The Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff and you have a significant musician. And yet Hank Mobley was consistently underrated, unfavourably compared with some of his more flamboyant contemporaries of the day and never really given his due as a consistently inventive and often innovative tenor sax soloist and a composer of considerable skill and imagination.

Should you wish to know more about the major jazz musicians who made their names in the 1950s and 1960s, you will find plenty of books about John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and other key figures of the bop and hard bop movements of that time, but until now there has not been one about Hank Mobley. Why? The general consensus seems to be that Coltrane, Rollins
and even lesser talents such as Johnny Griffin, possessing hard, edgy tones in the fashion of the day, all tended to overshadow Mobley's quieter approach.

The hard bop sound was certainly used and developed by those musicians and you could hardly ignore the spectacular playing of Rollins and Trane, but it really wasn't that simple, as I attempt to show over the following pages. Partly, of course, it was a question of influences: Rollins from Coleman Hawkins; Trane from IHawk and Lester Young; Stan Getz from Lester Young. Getz is a good example: tremendously popular, he developed a modern, Parker-influenced variation of Young's approach to tenor playing but, because the earlier styles and sound were so well known to jazz aficionados, he was quickly accepted and soon winning polls and filling venues. Hank Mobley, on the other hand, had a light, lyrical sound that was all his own, not like that of anybody who had gone before, even though his style descended directly from Charlie Parker.

Jazz, for all the innovation, excitement and boundary pushing by key musicians over the years has, curiously, always managed to breed ultra-conservative followers. Jazz fans tend to stick to what they know and like and take slowly, if at all, to new ideas and styles. It took a long time for most fans to adjust to the modern jazz of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and even longer for them to accept Thelonious Monk, that iconoclastic genius of modern piano. It took years for the innovations of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Eric Dolphy to become absorbed into the mainstream and many jazz enthusiasts have still not made the final transition. Most jazz critics and writers cannot agree about anything much and fans tend to stick with a particular style and era to the exclusion of all else.

It is true to say that all jazz enthusiasts have a particular favourite jazz era, the one in which they first started to listen to the music. This overrides almost every other consideration for most people. I have yet to meet anyone who is exempt from this rule, myself included. Older people often have a lifelong love of New Orleans jazz that seldom extends beyond the swing era of the 1930s and early 1940s. The big band era is everything to some batches of enthusiasts and they have little time for other jazz periods.

Others, including many prominent critics, embraced the bop revolution of the 1940s, happily congratulating themselves on their powers of understanding, but could never quite come to terms with the minor revolution of the 1960s avant-garde movement. Yet more are totally overwhelmed by the cool music of the West Coast school in California and have little or no time for any other style.

Show me someone who embraces the best of jazz and the greatest musicians from New Orleans to California by way of Chicago and New York City, who can and does enjoy a wide range of jazz by Armstrong, Beiderbecke, Young, Hawkins, Parker, Gillespie, Monk, Coltrane, Rollins, Mobley, Coleman, Dolphy, Taylor (Cecil, that is) and many others, and you will be showing me a real jazz enthusiast, someone who understands the true, ever-changing, ever-developing, constantly evolving nature of this music. But there are precious few of them around.

Hank Mobley was just one of many who missed out on the accolades and the big time and the fame and fortune. Partly, his ultimate, overall failure to make it was his own fault; it happened for many other reasons too. This is his story.”

Chapter 1

Early Messages 1954-55

“Hank Mobley seemed to arrive on the jazz scene in New York City from out of nowhere, with a sound and style all his own. Where others had taken years of preparation, rehearsal and work in various rhythm and blues bands, there was Hank, with little playing experience behind him, fully formed and raring to go. He was one of a relatively short list of great tenor saxophonists; innovative, creative jazz musicians who not only had a distinctive sound but contributed immensely to the development and evolution of the music.

Consider the most important musicians on the tenor saxophone. Coleman I lawkins came along first and made his mark as a distinctive soloist. For many years Hawkins was the major influence and source of inspiration to all jazz musicians who played tenor sax and the most important of them took their lead and general stylistic approach from him. Then, some years later, Lester Young showed that a radically different approach was possible. Many years after that, Sonny Rollins came along with an updated approach to the Hawkins concept and a little while later John Coltrane appeared with a sound and style that were utterly unique. Although his style had roots in what Hawkins and Young had done before, it was completely and utterly new and original. So new and original, in fact, that it took many commentators and people who thought they knew a thing or two about jazz at least ten years to appreciate the man's importance. In the 1960s, briefly, Albert Ayler offered yet another unique voice with a sound and style that were both radical and, in their reliance on old folk strains, fairly conservative.

The odd man out was Hank Mobley. He started to play with big name bands in 1951 when Max Roach hired him but, from then until his premature death in May 1986, he was creative, original, often brilliant, but consistently underrated by observers and critics of the music.

Those are the bare facts. To examine the reasons why he was so important we need to study his music. Fortunately he recorded prolifically: twenty-five alburns as a leader for Blue Note between 1954 and 1970 but, after including other labels such as Prestige, Savoy and Roulette, the total is more like thirty-four. Alfred Lion, the founder of Blue Note Records, recognised the innovative skills and competence of Mobley, who soon became a leader on records. But most of the rest of his career was spent as a sideman in other people's bands and that gives us our first clue to the personality and character of Hank Mobley, the man and the musician.

Mobley was never a forceful or assertive character. We know from other musicians with whom he worked, and from observers of the jazz scene in the 1950$ and 19605, that he was always something of a recluse, going out to work in various combos and orchestras, playing his part and then returning home.

During the intervals at clubs he would disappear out to the car park or street and sit smoking in his car until it was time to play again. Writing his obituary in the September 1986 edition of Jazz Journal, Dave Gelly told of the time he visited the USA in 1963 and heard Hank play at the Five Spot Cafe in a combo with pianist Barry Harris. In conversation with Gelly, the pianist said: 'Don't bother trying to talk to Hank. He doesn't even talk to me. He's sitting out there in his car and he won't come until it's time for the next set.' Harris pointed out of the window and Gelly saw a shadowy figure sitting in an old, beaten-up Buick parked at the kerbside. Like some professional actors who hide behind a part and can bellow out the lines of King Lear or Henry V on-stage and then come off and be almost inarticulate off-stage, Hank could play with the very best jazz musicians on equal terms but once off the bandstand he became quiet, reticent and very introverted.

Gelly’s Jazz Journal obituary also pointed out that Mobley's sound, live, was something to marvel at, especially for those who were sitting close to the bandstand and hearing it direct. Although the recordings for Blue Note engineered by Rudy Van Gelder were very good and he probably produced the closest thing to a natural jazz sound on records, he did have his own idiosyncratic methods, adding a little echo and, as Gelly put it, he 'boosted Mobley's volume in relation to the rest of the band ... In person the sound shrank to a conversational level. It was laconic and somehow beady-eyed, a cool tone for a cool head.'

Van Gelder always jealously guarded the secrets of his methods of recording and the details of the equipment he used, even from fellow-professional recording engineers, so we are unlikely ever to know exactly what was added or subtracted from the natural sound of musicians such as Mobley. We can be sure, however, that the engaging, light blue gauzy sound that we hear on the best recordings was enhanced by the natural balance obtained in good clubs with light amplification; a situation that seems lost beyond recall in these days of massive over-amplified PA sound systems.

If booked to play in a band Mobley would always give his very best but if, as sometimes happened, he was distracted by another soloist, or found on arrival at the gig that another musician that he hadn't known about had been booked alongside him, he would retreat into his shell and play as little as possible, doing just enough to fulfil his obligation to the bandleader but shunning the chance to solo often, if at all.

He was, certainly, reticent and quiet most of the time, living for his music but unwilling, it seems, to take on the responsibilities of leadership. This must account, in part, for some of his early failure to attract attention or to show just how good a soloist he was, for his appearances could be limited by his own reservations and attitude. Early on in life, however, Mobley had decided that he wanted to be a musician.”

Workout: The Music of Hank Mobley by Derek Ansell is available through Parkwest Publications which has been a US distributor of UK publishers since 1983 and which you can visit via this link.  Once there, click on "Northway" for more music titles. You can also purchase through online booksellers.