One of the least-known Gil Evans albums and among his most interesting is Jamaica Jazz. Produced by Creed Taylor when he was at ABC Paramount, Jamaica Jazz was recorded in November and December 1957—between Evans' Gil Evans and Ten (Prestige) and New Bottle, Old Wine (World Pacific).
The November session: Don Elliott (tp,mellophone,vib) Frank Rehak (tb) Jimmy Buffington, Willie Ruff (fhr) Hal McKusick (fl,as,b-cl) Dave Kurtzer (bassoon) Paul Chambers (b) Art Taylor (d) and Candido Camero (cga).
The December session: Don Elliott (tp,mellophone,marimba,bgo) Don Ashworth, Phil Bodner, Romeo Penque (fl,oboe,eng-hrn) Al Klink (b-cl,ts) Barry Galbraith (g) Ernie Furtado (b) Art Taylor (d) and Candido Camero (cga). [Pictured above: Don Elliott]
The music was based on songs from Jamaica, a musical by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. Set on a small island off the coast of Jamaica, the musical depicts an island community trying to keep from being overrun by American commercial interests. Harburg was blacklisted in Hollywood at the time.
The musical was written for Harry Belafonte, who pulled out at the last minute due to illness, and Lena Horne took his place as the lead. The show opened October 31, 1957, and the cast included Horne, Ricardo Montalbán, Ossie Davis and Alvin Ailey as the principal dancer. The show picked up seven Tony nominations and closed on on April 11, 1959 after 558 performances. [Photo above of Ricardo Montalbán and Lena Horne by Friedman-Abeles]
The album was a showcase for multi-instrumentalist Elliott—who is featured playing trumpet, mellophone, marimba, vibes and bongos. Evans had a field day. His arranging leans commercial—a rarity for Evans—but each chart is beautifully crafted and there isn't a dull measure to be found. [Photo of Josephine Premice and Ossie Davis by Friedman-Abeles]
If Jamaica Jazz has a relative, it would be the Evans-arranged Miles Ahead (Miles +19) from six months earlier. It's also great to hear Hal McKusick on flute on the November session: Coconut Sweet, Little Biscuit and What Good Does It Do?
JazzWax tracks: I found this rare gem at Amazon as a download for $6.99. While the samples are in mono, the downloaded tracks are in stereo. Go here.
Or for $8.99, you get Don Elliott's Jamaica Jazz and A Musical Offering (1956), arranged by Quincy Jones and featuring Don Elliott (tp,mellophone,vib) Herbie Mann (ts,fl) Al Cohn (ts,bar) Joe Puma (g) Vinnie Burke (b) and Osie Johnson (d) with Quincy Jones (arr). Sol Schlinger (bar) replaces Cohn on six tracks. Go here.
JazzWax clip: Here's What Good Does It Do?, from the November '57 session...