Waxing & musings. A few weeks ago, in response to my post on Bob Willoughby's 1951 photos of tenor saxophonist Big Jay McNeely, reader and writer Alan Kurtz posted a comment claiming that McNeely was not a jazz musician but an R&B tenorman, adding that "R&B was not jazz, and to blur that distinction does a disservice to both genres."
A tad harsh. Though the term "rhythm & blues" dates back to 1948, the genre is hard to categorize and distinguish from jazz in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At the time, there was enormous crossover between jazz, jump-boogie, dirty boogie and R&B. Ultimately, the big difference was dance-ability. But if Big Jay McNeely should not be viewed as jazz, as Alan sternly suggests, the same might be said of Lionel Hampton, Tiny Grimes, Louis Prima, Earl Bostic, Benny Golson, Paul Williams, Illinois Jacquet and many others at this point in time.
If we zoom in on 1951, we learn that the year was a pretty sketchy one. Jazz was feeling its way along on both coasts, and to make ends meet, many musicians shifted between jazz and r&b as well as Latin. Part of the reason for the blurring was the record industry itself, which had confused the marketplace with the introduction of two new record speeds—45-rpm and 33 1/3-rpm. Add to the mix the rise of independent radio stations and BMI's growing influence as a rival to ASCAP, and it's rather hard to definitively categorize anyone with a saxophone as a pure practitioner of one genre or another.
Writer Robert Palmer described early r&b as "urbane, rocking, jazz-based music with a heavy, insistent beat." Sounds about right to me. While Big Jay McNeely certainly plays like an early rock 'n' roller to our ears now, he surely viewed himself at the time as part of jazz's avant-garde—albeit a member of the more theatrical and flamboyant wing.
Tab Smith on the air. Today, DJ Jim Wardrop will feature the music of Tab Smith commemorating the r&b alto saxophonist's 100th birthday. Smith in the late 1930's and early 1940's played with Lucky Millinder and Count Basie. Between 1951 and 1957 he recorded more than 90 sides aimed at the r&b market under his own name. Go here to listen today between 5:30 and 7 p.m. (EDT).
Burton Lane on the air. Today, DJ Sid Gribetz presents a five-hour special radio broadcast on WKCR in New York featuring jazz versions of the songs of composer Burton Lane. Lane was a Gershwin protege and one of the legendary masters of American popular song, most famous for his scores for the Broadway musicals Finian's Rainbow and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. The show on WKCR will air from 2 to 7 p.m. (EDT). Go here to listen live.
Charles McPherson. David Brent Johnson, host of WFIU's Night Lights jazz program, recently recorded a one-hour show on alto saxophonist Charles McPherson. Go here to listen to his podcast. And next Saturday (August 1st), at 11:05 p.m. (EDT) David will host a program on recordings captured at New York's Cafe Bohemia. Go here to listen live. Mark your calendar: On August 8th, David's show is Claude Thornhill: Godfather of Cool, and on August 15th, it's Very Early: Bill Evans.
Herb Snitzer's archive. Photographer Herb Snitzer is looking for a museum, private collector or institution interested in acquiring his complete jazz photography archive that begins in 1958. For contact information, go here.
Ira Gitler on Art Tatum. Recently Bret Primack spoke to legendary jazz writer Ira Gitler about Art Tatum. Interesting insights...
New York's Hotel Astor. Reader Kurt Kolstad sent along a link to photos and historical information on New York's Hotel Astor, where many big bands were captured live on the roof garden via radio remotes. Go here to view.
Bob Keller. Tenor saxophonist Bob Keller sent along a link to a videoclip recorded in Saratoga, N.Y., on July 19, just a few days ago. The clip features Bob (he's on the left) and Lew Del Gatto playing Red Door, the Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan composition on which Dave Frishberg's Zoot Walks In is based...
CD discovery of the week. Charlie Mariano, the Boston alto saxophonist who died in June, recorded two 10-inch LPs for Prestige—one at the tail end of 1951 and the other at the top of 1953. The albums were called Charlie Mariano's Boston All-Stars. The first eight tracks from 1951 featured Joe Gordon (trumpet), Sonny Truitt (trombone), Jim Clark (tenor sax), George Myers (baritone sax), Roy Frazee (piano), Jack Lawlor (bass) and Gene Glennon (drums). The second eight paired Mariano with another team: Herb Pomeroy (trumpet), Dick Twardzik (piano), Bernie Griggs (bass), Jimmy Weiner (drums) and producer Ira Gitler on bells on Barsac. I own both LPs, but I see now that they're available on a single album download at iTunes.
Oddball album cover of the week. Here's another one of those album covers from the 1950s that portray female singers as love toys. Singer Patty McGovern recorded Wednesday's Child in 1956 for Atlantic with quite a big band, featuring Joe Wilder, Jimmy Buffington, Danny Bank, Arnold Fishkind and Osie Johnson. But for some reason, the art director decided to cast her as an urban temptress or streetwalker. I'm hoping the fellow in the alley with her is the album's talented West Coast arranger Tommy Talbert. Otherwise, this cover is really out there. If you want the album on CD, it's here for about $50 used.