Between mid-1956 and the end of 1959, pianist Bobby Timmons recorded as a sideman on some of the most critically acclaimed albums of the period. Three songs he composed during this 43-month span became instant jazz hits and standards. In January 1960, he recorded his first album as a leader—This Here Is Bobby Timmons—and its soulful impact is still being felt.
Yet today, Timmons' contribution to jazz—as an accompanist, writer, leader and innovator of a new sound—is vastly overlooked and undervalued.
Where pianist Horace Silver's funk style developed largely from bop, Timmons' funk approach had gospel roots and was heavily church-influenced. There was a rhythmic lyricism to Timmons' powerful playing that was both bluesy and percussive. The strength and pungency of his sound also was distinct and impossible to mimic. Sadly, Timmons' recordings as a trio leader declined as the 1960s wore on—a victim of the economic times and his own bad habits.
This Here Is Bobby Timmons features nine tracks, four of which he wrote—This Here, Moanin', Dat Dere and Joy Ride. Timmons had first recorded Moanin' with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers two years earlier for the album of the same name. This Here was introduced in 1959 on The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco.
Dat Dere had its debut on This Here Is Bobby Timmons. The song received a commercial boost when Cannonball Adderley and Timmons recorded it on Them Dirty Blues (Riverside) in February 1960. Then vocalist Oscar Brown Jr. added lyrics to the song and released it on Sin & Soul...and Then Some (Columbia) later that year.
Yesterday, after giving This Here Is Bobby Timmons about 25 listens, I can say that the album remains as much a soulful jazz classic today as the day it was released. It's a must-own CD for any collection.
In many ways, This Here's backstory is just as powerful as the song itself. Timmons joined the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1959 in advance of its live Riverside recording date at San Francisco's Jazz Workshop. But Cannonball had little to do with recruiting him. According to Chris Sheridan's Dis Here: A Bio-Discography of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley (2000), Cannonball turned to his brother Nat and said, "Tell [bassist] Sam Jones to get the rhythm section together. He'll know who to get."
Assembled quickly, the group didn't have much time to pull together new material before its live recording in October. So when Timmons was asked if he had any new tunes, he produced Dis Here (which ultimately would be changed to This Here). Sheridan picks up the story:
"The paper-thin difference between the failure and success [of the Adderley album] was one tune, which became a smash hit that catapulted the new Cannonball Adderley Quintet into the top flight of the jazz business: Dis Here.
The song's title, according to Adderley, was Timmons' way of referring to his new song: 'Dis here's my new tune.' Said Adderley, 'Dis Here fascinated me. I had never heard a tune like that before. It's a very difficult tune to play...at first we had to force the tune on people and they just wouldn't buy it. But the last week we were in San Francisco, it seemed as if almost magically, some people started asking for it.'
But the full implications of this groundswell did not become clear until the band worked its way back to New York that December. Nat Adderley said that when they opened at the Village Gate, there were huge crowds awaiting them, all wanting to hear the hit...Within twelve months, the new album would sell 80,000 copies and earn the Adderleys a gold disc."
Timmons left Cannonball Adderley in February 1960 to rejoin Art Blakey. According to Sheridan's book, the departure came "amid rumors that he was unhappy about his earnings from Dis Here and that Mr. Blakey had offered him a better pay deal to return."
In January 1960—between the Cannonball Adderley recordings of October 1959 and February 1960—Timmons recorded This Here Is Bobby Timmons. All of the selections on the album are terrific, but for me, Dat Dere is the high point and a piano masterpiece. Taken in march time, the groove is unbelievably strong. It's so infectious that no matter how many times I listen to it, I can't wait to hear the tune again.
My enthusiasm for Dat Dere takes nothing away from This Here, Moanin' and Joy Ride, which are just as spiritual and rousing. But the beauty of this album goes beyond Timmons' originals. The pianist handles other composers' standards with the same level of sophistication and robust execution as his own works.
My Funny Valentine and Come Rain or Come Shine are fast becoming my personal favorite piano versions of these ballads. Match up Timmons' bluesy Come Rain or Come Shine against any Bill Evans version and hear for yourself. They are two different moods, to be sure, but I think you'll agree it's a pretty close call.
After recording This Here Is Bobby Timmons, the pianist recorded six more leadership albums for Riverside and six for Prestige after Riverside went under. He also continued to record as a sideman. But after 1964, Timmons recorded less and less—a victim of declining popular demand for earthy jazz trios, increased pressure to produce This Here-like standards, and battles with a terribly destructive drug habit.
Timmons' sessions continued to dwindle in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His last known date was a live recording of Bag's Groove in 1971. In 1974, after failing health, Timmons died of cirrhosis of the liver. He was only 38.
To quote producer Orrin Keepnews' original liner notes for This Here Is Bobby Timmons: "Bobby's soulful touch can embrace a wide variety of material, and he is capable of a good deal of lyrical tenderness."
Nat Hentoff also smartly summed up Timmons' sound: "Bobby has the capacity to dig in deeply without sounding like a bulldozer. He can convey strong emotion and still float buoyantly."
Hear for yourself what all the fuss was about.
JazzWax tracks: There are several CD versions of This Here is Bobby Timmons available. I recommend the Japanese import for $15.49, which has terrific fidelity. Unfortunately This Here Is Bobby Timmons isn't available at iTunes, but you can buy it here.
Timmons' pre-leadership sideman recordings include Kenny Dorham's album 'Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia, Anthony Ortega's Earth Dance ( which features Art Farmer and Jimmy Cleveland), Hank Mobley's Hank, Sonny Stitt's Personal Appearance, Curtis Fuller's The Opener and Lee Morgan's The Cooker, which is a strong hard bop record with Pepper Adams joining on baritone sax.
Timmons and Blakey also recorded together on the Kenny Burrell album, On View at the Five Spot Cafe. And last but not least, there's Timmons' seminal 1959 date, The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, on which the song This Here was first recorded.
JazzWax video clips: To see what Bobby Timmons looked and sounded like playing Dat Dere during a tour in January 1961 with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, go here.
If you want to get to Timmons right away, slide the video bar past Wayne Shorter's and Lee Morgan's solos to Timmons' playing. After you see Timmons' solo, go back and hear Shorter and Morgan.
Talk about a staggeringly brilliant solo! Timmons runs away with the song. Note the size of his hands and how steeply they arch to maximize his percussive sound.
JazzWax thanks: A special thanks to Tom Lord of The Jazz Discography, who steered me to Chris Sheridan's book. If you're unfamiliar with The Jazz Discography, go here.