If trumpeter Clifford Brown had a musical doppelgänger, it would probably be Blue Mitchell. Like Brown, Mitchell had a forceful, fleshy trumpet tone and a lyrical sophistication. There was a bouncy beauty and grace to Mitchell's runs and improvisation, but he also could turn up the heat to make a point.
On March 20, 1966, Mitchell performed in Baltimore with alto saxophonist Sonny Red at the city's Crystal Ballroom. The concert was produced by the Left Bank Jazz Society, which had been founded two years earlier by a barge dispatcher and a car dealer, both of whom were jazz fans. The society's performances were family-friendly, with concerts starting at 4 p.m. on Sundays. Upward of 47 jazz performances a year were held, and for the next 20 years many of them were taped by the society's founders. [Photo above of Sonny Red]
At the start of 1966, the society's concerts were held at Baltimore's Madison Club. But a fire early that year forced the weekly performances to move to the Crystal Ballroom and then to the Famous Ballroom, where they remained. One of those taped Crystal Ballroom concerts has been released as Blue Mitchell & Sonny Red: Baltimore 1966 by Uptown Records. Mitchell and Red were backed by John Hicks (p) Gene Taylor (b) and Joe Chambers (d), a strong, competitive rhythm section.
The album is terrific. The sound quality is excellent, the playing robust and the material smart. The pairing of Mitchell and Red was both interesting and odd. Mitchell had a warm, round tone while Red's tended to be hard and pitchy. I've never been a big Sonny Red fan, but his dry, scrappy sound on alto did make for an interesting contrast with Mitchell's more open approach.
The six tracks on the album have never before been released and include a dynamic If I Should Lose You, Jimmy Heath's hard-bop All Members, Mitchell's calypso-soaked Fungi Mama, Kenny Dorham's march-time Blue Spring Variation, I Can't Get Started and A Portrait of Jenny. My only wish is that Red had sat out the last two ballads. [Photo above of Joe Chambers by Francis Wolff]
The year 1966 was a busy one for Mitchell. He recorded on 11 sessions, most of them as a sideman. His two leadership dates were Bring It Home to Me and Boss Horn, both for Blue Note. Mitchell died in 1979 and Red died in 1981. The only surviving member of the rhythm section is Joe Chambers. [Photo above of pianist John Hicks]
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Blue Mitchell & Sonny Red: Baltimore 1966 (Uptown), with liner notes by Bob Blumenthal, here.
JazzWax clip: Here's If I Should Leave You, (15:29), which starts abruptly as the tape recorder seems to have been switched on a bunch of bars late...