From Loyce Johnson:
"I was touched by what you wrote. It seems that all people want to hear these days are the weird, juicy tidbits, not the way a person really is or was.
"I thoroughly enjoyed those times of just talking with him. On several occasions, someone in an orchestra would recognize him and ask him to "sit in." He was gentle, unassuming, and often embarrassed to be asked to play with an orchestra when most of the kids present may or may not have known who he was. Because to him, he was just another guy in uniform and proud of it!
"We seldom danced. Louie preferred not to, and quite frankly it suited me fine to just sit and talk to him. He once took me to a nightclub where Pearl Bailey [pictured with Bellson] was singing. I could tell he was very impressed with her, and it didn't surprise me that he later married her, although at that time there weren't many mixed marriages. The last time I saw Louie he told me he was shipping out. I wished him well and God bless.
"Many years later, I went with a date to a nightclub in Hollywood where Pearl Bailey was singing and Louie Bellson was in the orchestra behind her. I didn't go back stage. I didn't assume he would remember me. He was a nice person to know... and remember. I'm sorry he passed away. "
From Dori Lieberman in California:
"I read your article on Louie Bellson. You were obviously a fan, and it was an insightful read. I really enjoyed learning about him. Louie and his wife Francine would often go to Cafe Cordiale in Sherman Oaks, CA. Over the past eight years or so I would see them there quite often but I didn't know who they were. Then at the end of last year, the band that was playing acknowledged that Louie and his wife were there. I'm glad I finally found out. Knowing who he was made me so much more appreciative of him. Thank you for your in-depth interviews and writing."
Phil Woods. Following my four-part interview last week with legendary alto saxophonist Phil Woods, I received quite a few e-mails and comments posted by fans. Here's one of the e-mails from Tomas de Utrera of Chicago and Spain:
"The Phil Woods interview is spectacular. I first heard Phil Woods' records when I was 15 years old. I remember that it was at the May Co. department store in Los Angeles, in 1956. Woods was a virtual unknown on the West Coast at the time, and as I passed through the store's record department I saw the album Woodlore on display. For some reason I was drawn to it like a magnet, so I took it into a booth and listened to it, and I was hooked.
"That album has remained my favorite since then, and it is a record I have purchased several times, having moved a lot over the past 50 years. Phil's comments in your interview simply confirm what I have thought for some time."
CD discovery of the week. Several times over the past week I was tricked into thinking the Stein Brothers Quintet's album Quixotic (2008) was from the late 1950s. Listening while writing, I completely forgot which CD I had put on but twice looked up from what I was doing, wondering which Bob Cooper and Herb Geller album was on.
The Stein Brothers truly are remarkable, and this album is a must for anyone who thinks that the 1950s sound has been forgotten.
I was tipped off to these New Jersey brothers by reader John Herr, who sent me a link to a track. Skeptical, I clicked through prepared to dismiss the group as just more of the same (I'm spoiled). Instead, I was floored. Alex Stein [pictured, left] on tenor sax and brother Asher Stein on alto sax may look like young folks, but their souls are mighty old. The pair has been leading bands since early 2001, when they both were undergraduates at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As David Orthmann points out in his fine liner notes: "Evincing a maturity beyond their years, and perhaps owing to their association with bop guru Barry Harris, the brothers play with a conviction that transcends the imitation of primary influences."
And how. They've also done their listening. You can hear the mid-1950s in every track, including the swinging attacks, East Coast hard-bop lines, rich West Coast counterpoint, and advanced phrasing. Most of all, you hear taste (remember that?) and meaningful solos. The Stein Brothers don't cheaply parrot the decade's sound like so many revival groups today. They have fully absorbed and interpreted the approach, which is why this CD is so refreshing.
I do not know Alex and Asher, but I'm guessing they spent many hours after high school stretched out on the floor listening to their dad's extensive LP or CD collection. There's quite a bit of Gerry Mulligan and Al Cohn in their writing and doses of Sonny Stitt and Zoot Sims in their playing. An unpretentious tribute, Quixotic also is free of hokey tags and camp references. The Stein Brothers seem to get that cool isn't about being blatant. It's about doing your thing passionately and being discovered doing it.
Best of all, there isn't a modal scale or music conservatory gimmick to be heard here. The Stein Brothers have enormous respect for space, and they've managed to resist the urge to cram every measure with flurries of notes. If I gave you a blindfold test using this album, you'd be here all night dinging off the names of jazz legends, not these guys. This album is that good.
The Stein Brothers also have great taste in sidemen: Mferghu is on piano, Doug Largent on bass, Joe Blaxx on drums, with guests Duane Eubanks on trumpet and Jonathan Voltzok on trombone. Five of the 12 tracks are Stein originals, and three are by Mferghu—a bop practitioner in the Barry Harris [pictured] mold who also has gorgeous taste. There also are a few smartly chosen standards (Embraceable You, This Time the Dream's on Me and East of the Sun).
For the Stein Brothers to have this much taste at such an early point in their careers is scary—and encouraging. Maybe the good stuff is coming back after all. For more about the Stein Brothers, visit their site here. Quixotic is available on CD here or at iTunes as a download.
Sonny Clark. David Brent Johnson has done it again. The host of WFIU's Night Lights and one of the smoothest on-air jazz hosts recently recorded a terrific show on Sonny Clark, the tasteful hard bop pianist much admired by Bill Evans and other jazz greats. I last wrote about Clark here. David wisely focused on Clark's sweet spot—his late recordings as a leader and sideman. You can dig his show for free here.