© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Another quality that Gene Harris garnered from his role models was an ethos of professionalism, of performance consistency … [Pianist Benny] Green himself observed this about 25 years ago during his first sustained road-time with Harris on a One Hundred Golden Fingers tour in Japan.
"We were doing one-night concerts, and we'd only get to play for maybe 12 minutes each night; barely get a chance to touch the piano or warm up during the day" Green recalls. "My God, every night Gene Harris would play a different piece with the trio, and to say that he rocked the house is an understatement. It was a sermon. Whether he was playing a ballad or a groover, his spirit never, ever let up. I don't know how the man did it. His performance ethic was like nothing else I've ever seen.
"It's essential for a master to know their own limitations and his strengths and I don't think we have any recorded examples of Gene attempting to do something that he could not do well. The music he chose to play, the tempos, the keys and just the feeling that he instilled in his performances, was a homerun every time. He went deep-deep-deep into what he could do well, which was a whole lot. He's known, rightfully, as a blues master, but his ballad playing would give you goosebumps, cause you to tear up.
He understood on a very profound level that music is an emotional transference. It's some kind of spiritual channeling. I think at all times, with the Three Sounds and in later years, he had no inner conflict, intellectually speaking, that led him to subdue elements of the Black Baptist Church experience, where he came from, in favor of more esoteric jazz elements.
There's an art to creating that balance with taste. He knew what he was, what he had to offer, and that's what he gave us. So at the end of the day, when we think of Gene, we're not talking about how fast he could play or how much of an innovator he was, but we all have to say, 'Hallelujah, what a spirit. His music makes me feel like nothing else.' That's no small feat."
- Pianist Benny Green as told to Ted Panken, excerpted from the insert notes to “Groovin’ Hard: Live at The Penthouse 1964-68.
As the decade of the 1950’s drew to a close, Blue Note Records executives Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff went on recording and releasing. Blue Note recorded sixty-eight sessions during 1958-9, not all of them producing results which Lion deemed worthy of release, but still setting an extraordinarily high standard for the label. There were several new names to add to the leadership roster: saxophonists Tina Brooks and Jackie McLean, trombonist Bennie Green, trumpeters Dizzy Reece and Donald Byrd, and pianists Walter Davis and Duke Pearson. But the most important additions to the ranks were two groups.
One was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers which had originally recorded on the label in 1955 and which returned to Blue Note after stints with Columbia, RCA, Bethlehem, and Atlantic
The other was the Three Sounds.
As explained in Richard Cook’s Biography of Blue Note Records: “The piano trio was becoming one of the most popular of jazz units. Small enough to offer the kind of closely focused sound which wouldn't deter listeners who didn't want to try too hard with their jazz, it was still able to carry all the sophistications which a more committed follower expected. At least two figures outside the hard-bop arena - Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner - had won huge audiences with the format, often made up of people who rarely listened to any other kind of jazz (which is why Garner's Concert By the Sea album can still be found in old LP accumulations as a lone example of a jazz album). But besides Garner and Peterson, many younger pianists were following the format to considerable success, and soon every jazz label had at least one such trio on its books, playing what was often a kind of hip cocktail music: Red Garland at Prestige, Ahmad Jamal at Argo, Bill Evans at Riverside (though Evans was perhaps more self-consciously 'artistic', he probably appealed to much the same people who bought the other records).
Blue Note hadn't gone too far in that direction, but when he heard the trio from Washington DC called the Three Sounds, Lion went after that market in a serious way. The group had made a single set for Riverside with Nat Adderley, and when they arrived in New York, Lion signed them and cut some initial sessions on 16 and 28 September 1958, eventually released as Introducing The Three Sounds (BLP 1600). The trio was Gene Harris (piano), Andrew Simpkins (bass) and Bill Dowdy (drums), and that is the group which eventually cut sixteen albums for Blue Note over a ten-year period (only later on were Dowdy and then Simpkins replaced).
Although they had originally featured a saxophonist, it was when Harris took centre stage and began making the most benign and good-hearted improvisations on popular material that the Sounds began to click. Light, bluesy, discreetly swinging - Dowdy was a drummer who believed in gentle persuasion, not bullying or bravado - their music was almost a definition of jazz formula. Harris would state the melody, maybe out of tempo, maybe with his partners there; then take a chorus or two where he gradually built the genteel intensity and fashioned a modest improvisation, probably with some locked-hands touches along the way; then a return to the tune, with a tag at the close. The steady mid-tempo lope was the normal setting, but ballads -where Harris would really arpeggiate the melody line - might follow a funereal beat and double the duration.
As a result, all their records were the same. If you liked one of them, you'd like any one of them, and in one of those curious situations where the law of diminishing returns doesn't seem to apply, the Three Sounds sold consistently well over their Blue Note life. It didn't hurt that Lion released more than twenty singles off the various albums. As smart background music, the Three Sounds were as fine as anybody could wish.
Long after the trio ended, Harris continued as an old-school jazz entertainer, having spent most of his adult life pleasing crowds of one sort or another. The Scottish guitarist Jim Mullen, who toured with him in later years, recalled how it worked:
“Gene used to say that these people have come out to see us, and it's our job to give them a fantastic time. He used to say at the end of the evening, 'If you leave here with a smile on your face, remember that Gene Harris put it there.' I've never seen anyone turn a room of strangers into family that way. We never rehearsed. He'd do this big rubato solo piano introduction with no clue as to what's coming up. Then he'd just start playing and you had to be ready to jump in there. That's how he wanted it.””
The Three Sounds disbanded in 1973. Bassist Andy Simpkins died in 1999 and Gene Harris died a year later in 2000. Bill Dowdy is still with us aged 83.
But thanks to the ever resourceful George Klabin and Zev Feldman and their team at Resonance Records, the story of The Three Sounds lives on with the scheduled release on January 13, 2017 of deluxe CD and digital editions of a never-before-issued album by the group entitled “Groovin’ Hard: Live at The Penthouse 1964-68.
Included with be a 20-page insert booklet with rare photos of the group and essays by producers Klabin and Feldman, Seattle radio personality, Jim Wilke and noted Jazz journalist, Ted Panken.
Antje Hübner of Hubtone PR is handling the public relations for the project and she sent along the following media release about the forthcoming recording.
Los Angeles, December 2, 2016 - Resonance Records is proud to announce the release of Groovin’ Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964 - 1968, a soulful collection of never-before-heard live recordings made over the course of five years during four separate engagements by the legendary Three Sounds featuring Gene Harris at Seattle's long-time local treasure, Charles Puzzo, Sr.'s now late, lamented jazz club, the Penthouse. This album stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best titles in the Three Sounds' illustrious and extensive recorded catalog.
The Three Sounds, led by pianist Gene Harris, was one of the preeminent "soul jazz" piano trios from the mid-'50s through the 1960s. In its heyday, the Three Sounds was one of the top-selling jazz acts in the world with a string of hit records on Blue Note Records between 1958 and 1962; indeed, during that period, no other Blue Note act sold as many records as the Three Sounds. After they left Blue Note, the Three Sounds also made a number of acclaimed, top-selling albums for Verve, Mercury, Limelight and other labels.
In addition to the Three Sounds' own immensely successful albums recorded over the course of their 15 years together, Harris and his mates also collaborated on recordings with many of the foremost figures in jazz of the era such as Lester Young, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine, Johnny Griffin, Anita O'Day, Lou Donaldson and others. The Three Sounds' collective recorded catalogue occupies an important place in the history of recorded jazz.
As a jazz pianist, Gene Harris was not only popular with fans, he was an important influence on a generation of pianists who followed him, such as Monty Alexander, Benny Green and many others. He had monumental technique, but that technique was always put in the service of deep feeling and groove. Monty Alexander notes, "His touch on the piano was crystal clear, immediately bringing up the feeling of blues as well as that cross between church and blues. He was greasy! He brought up soulful emotions." Harris's ever-present groove explains why the Three Sounds have remained relevant into the hip-hop era; a sample of their "Put On Train" was prominently featured in the Beastie Boys song, "What Comes Around" from their album, Paul's Boutique.
Resonance Records' own connection with the Three Sounds goes back to founder George Klabin's childhood. Klabin recounts, "When I was 13 years old I fell in love with modern jazz. One of the very first jazz groups I discovered was the Three Sounds featuring pianist Gene Harris. I purchased many of their records and listened to them over and over, to the point where I could play them in my head. The Three Sounds were my introduction to bluesy, funky style jazz and I have cherished them and collected their recordings ever since."
So it should come as no surprise that Resonance's first forays into discovering and releasing archival recordings were two Gene Harris albums, live recordings made in London after Harris resumed his music career after a short-lived retirement: Live in London (issued in 2001) and Another Night in London (issued in 2006). Those two albums came to be after Gene Harris's widow, Janie, knowing how much George Klabin loved the Three Sounds, sent copies of the tapes to Klabin.
Shortly after the release of Live in London, producers Zev Feldman and George Klabin began exploring in earnest the idea of going deeper into the pursuit of searching out and releasing previously unheard archival material by top jazz artists. Feldman says "It's been so exciting working on these projects with George over the years, and he's certainly made me an even bigger Gene Harris fan than I already was! What's interesting is that this was actually one of the very first projects we talked about when we started on the journey of releasing archival material, and it's taken all these years to bring it to fruition, which is very fulfilling."
In the course of this project Klabin met and befriended Jim Wilke, the Seattle-based jazz radio personality, producer and engineer. Wilke had amassed a large library of tapes by top jazz artists in live performance at the Penthouse during the 60s, recorded during live broadcasts of his KING-FM radio show, Jazz From The Penthouse. Fifty years later Wilke is still active in jazz radio and live recording on location, and estimates he's recorded and produced well over a thousand recordings at clubs, concerts and festivals. When Klabin learned of the existence of this extraordinary Penthouse library, given his affinity for the Three Sounds, his attention was immediately drawn to the several recordings of the group preserved for posterity by Wilke. Klabin determined that the first title Resonance would release from this archive would be this album Groovin' Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964 - 1968.
The material on this album — hand-picked by George Klabin — is made up of jazz standards: ("Bluesette," "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" and "Yours Is My Heart Alone"); soulful treatments of popular tunes of the day ("The Shadow of Your Smile," "Girl Talk" and the theme from "Caesar and Cleopatra"); and the soulful originals, "Blue Genes"; "Rat Down Front" and "The Boogaloo." The repertoire is rounded out by Ray Brown's rousing jazz waltz, "A.M. Blues." Four of the compositions in the album's repertoire have never been released on any other Three Sounds' album: "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Rat Down Front," "Bluesette" and "The Boogaloo."
"Gene Harris was a guy that brought such feeling and emotion to the piano," Feldman says. "He had a groove, and he played for the people. It's really hard not to enjoy what he's doing. There's something very special about him and these recordings illustrate an important part of his legacy."
Resonance is proud to be able to bring this remarkable previously unknown recording to the public. We are particularly pleased to have been able to do so with friendship and support of the Puzzo family and Jim Wilke.
Once again, consistent with its mission to honor the traditions of great American music, Resonance Records has pulled out all the stops in creating this release. The deluxe CD package includes a 20-page book, presented in a beautifully designed digipak by Burton Yount, with rare photos by Francis Wolff, Ray Avery and Howard Lucraft, as well as essays by Resonance producers Zev Feldman and George Klabin, jazz radio personality and recording engineer Jim Wilke, who originally recorded all of the material on the album, and noted author and jazz journalist, Ted Panken, who interviewed pianists Monty Alexander and Benny Green for his essay. The limited-edition, hand-numbered LP pressing on 180-gram black vinyl was released on Record Store Day's Black Friday event on November 25, 2016 and was mastered by the legendary Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering and pressed at Record Technology, Inc. (RTI).
Resonance Records — a multi-GRAMMY® Award-winning label (most recently for John Coltrane's Offering: Live at Temple University tor "Best Album Notes") — prides itself in creating beautifully designed, informative packaging to accompany previously unreleased recordings by the jazz icons who grace Resonance's catalog. Such is the case with The Three Sounds Featuring Gene Harris/Groovin' Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964 - 1968.
Pre-order on iTunes and receive 2 tracks instantly: "Girl Talk" and "Blue Genes" https://itunes.apple.com/us/aibum/groovin-hard-live-at-penthouse/id1175108777
ABOUT THE LABEL - Resonance Records continues to bring archival recordings to light. Headquartered in Beverly Hills, CA, Resonance Records is a division of Rising Jazz Stars, Inc. a California 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation created to discover the next jazz stars and advance the cause of jazz. Current Resonance Artists include Richard Galliano, Polly Gibbons, Tamir Hendelman, Christian Howes and Donald Vega. www.ResonanceRecords.org
The following video features The Three Sounds on the Blue Genes track from the forthcoming CD that was issued on a Resonance Records sampler entitled Jazz Haunts and Magic Vaults.