Ronnie Mathews: Doin' the Thang! - JazzWax

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May 09, 2011


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jeff helgesen

Mathews was a member of Woody Shaw's quintet at the time Dexter Gordon's "Homecoming" was recorded, which is how he came to appear on the record. He's on some uniformly excellent Shaw albums, including "Little Red's Fantasy" and "Live at the Berliner Jazzstage"...

O'Sullivan, "Red"

Quite apart from the fact that he's "my favourite", I do think that there's a large body of work out there to be looked at. Full marks for highlighting "Doin' The Thang!" (also available as a Japanese import, of course), but I'd say that his greatest record is "So Sorry, Please", trio on Nilva records, with Ray Drummond and Alvin Queen, and that the other essential disc is "Roots, Branches and Dances" on BeeHive, with some of the best Frank Foster on record, as well as Ray Drummond and Al Foster.
It's not coincidental that the best stuff is with Ray Drummond: their partnership in that Johnny Griffin quartet of the late '70s into the '80s, first with Keith Copeland and then with the great Kenny Washington, is some of the best jazz of the era. In fact, just one of my own favourite bands of all time. Check this YouTube (and the rest, I believe the whole set is up here) for immediate proof:

GREAT PIANO SOLO by Mr. Mathews that, consummate band pianist that he was (and it is no coincidence that Max, Blakey and Roy Haynes all hired him, as did T.S. Monk Jnr., for an extended period, but check Haynes' "Cracklin'" record with Booker Ervin...)


Charles Davis' gentle approach to the tenor and baritone (and sometimes alto or soprano) may have kept him from becoming a big name. Along with Wess, Heath, and Rollins, one of the few tenor giants from that great era who is still carrying the flame.

O'Sullivan, "Red"

The bassist on this album, and some other important discs of the time is Ediie Kahn. Whatever happened to Eddie Kahn? I've asked around and come up with nothing... Anybody?
(Oh, and I'd further add that the Griffin band must-have record is "The Return of the Griffin", Galaxy, really the record that turned me on to Mathews and has kept me there for life, and another good example is the "Autumn Leaves, Live" that they put out latterly on Verve.

Alan Hill

Thanks for giving Ronnie Matthews his due, Marc. I was lucky enough to hear Ronnie in person with the Johnny Griffin group when it toured Australia in the early 1980s. Happily enough, the TV cameras were on hand for the group's Sydney gig. I recorded the broadcast on tape, and have since dubbed it on to DVD. I'll watch it again tonight.

O'Sullivan, "Red"

Put that on YouTube, Alan Hill - I beeseach you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Win Hinkle

Marc, thanks for recalling the beautiful pianist Ronnie Mathews from the mud that now occupies the space wher my brain should be. Thanks to you I now remember him from the sixties as a pianist to check out further. I never got around to it then but will now. Also will listen to the last record with bassist Ray Drummond who was "inspired" by Bill Evans. The lines of inspiration are indeed long and tangled from the sixties, perhaps in this case, bound together by Freddie. Bari-saxist Charles Davis's solos of quiet character are a find for me which I'll also check out further. Thanks again.

Win Hinkle

Ditto to Red's beseechment to Alan to put that video on YouTube.

O'Sullivan, "Red"

With regard to the "lines of inspiration", I really respond to Marc's likening of Mr. Mathews to Sonny Clark - that really appealed to me. For me, though, Mr. Mathews was always coming so directly from Bud... Bud all the way, the articulation, the time... But then, also, with this most authoritative feel for Monk - yet with such clarity of linear articulation at the same time (as I say, "Bud").

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of 55 More Songs," "Anatomy of a Song," "Rock Concert: An Oral History" and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards.
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