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Sunday Music: Trumpet Voluntary, by Wiggia

Saturday, March 25, 2017 23:22
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The first of what would be considered modern jazz recordings featuring a lead trumpet would be during the period ‘49 to ‘51 and featured Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. The Davis album Morpheus, Whispering Down was his first of many for the Prestige label and only his second as leader, the beginning of a long influential career.

The Trumpet or Cornet was always the front line instrument in early jazz and ditto here in the early days of modern jazz, not so much nowadays with the saxophone more prominent in most groups.

For a start we have the wonderful soft lyrical style of Fats Navarro, this is a ‘47 version of a tune he was always associated with:

Fats was a pioneer of the be bop style and after a touring start to his career where he learned the ropes he settled in NY. His career was short as was his life despite success with many big bands, becoming a life long friend with Mingus and playing with Charlie Parker amongst others. Given poor health, TB, a weight problem and the inevitable drug addiction of that period of time he died in 1950 at the age of 27.

Much longer lived and a flag waver for jazz of all kinds world wide was one of the other founders of be bop Dizzy Gillespie, his puff cheeks and 45 degree trumpet horn became a trade mark that was instantly recognised everywhere plus a personality that meant he was in much demand.

His style was not an easy one to emulate and few did but his influence was enormous both on the trumpet and be bop. Davis, Navarro, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown right up to the modern day were all influenced by Dizzy who himself took much from Roy Eldridge and then over layered it with his own harmonic complexity. Born in 1917 he went on to have a sixty year playing career, he saw it all and played with all during his life; a true jazz great.

This recording of A Night in Tunisia is as good a showcase of his skills as any available on download sites. The tune, a Gillespie composition, was written by him whilst with the Earl Hines band in ‘42. Around that time he had this to say about the evolution of modern jazz….

Gillespie said of the Hines band, “People talk about the Hines band being ‘the incubator of bop’ and the leading exponents of that music ended up in the Hines band. But people also have the erroneous impression that the music was new. It was not. The music evolved from what went before. It was the same basic music. The difference was in how you got from here to here to here … naturally each age has got its own shit”.

Miles Davis along with Gillespie could occupy several pages on their own and I may come back to a better tribute to them later if demand requires. Davis epitomises “cool jazz” from his earliest work; that easily recognisable style was instantly recognised whether live or on record over a five decade period. He embarked on several changes of direction during those years including flirting with rock and funk fusion, African rhythms and electronic technology. Much of his later work had a rather dubious connection to jazz and many stalwarts of the genre deserted him, yet his fusion album Bitches Brew was a huge commercial success as was much of his rock tinged music and certainly brought him more universal appeal and income.

You can make your own mind up about those later years, but regardless he remains one of the pillars of be bop and a great innovator as well as a superb trumpeter.

His early years are somewhat fragmented so as this is not a Miles bio I will skip through his early fifties period when he played Europe and France in particular as many black musicians did, being relieved of the racism back home they often stayed, and his association with the actress Juliette Greco whom after he split from her he blamed for his subsequent depression and four years of heroin addiction .

Back in the states ‘56 saw the release of the album “Birth of the Cool” and cool jazz was launched, a style he would successfully be associated with for some years.

At the same time in those early to mid fifties several albums of importance were released on Prestige and later Blue Note that firmly put him in the vanguard of hard bop. Using slower tempos and a less radical approach it was his first step away from cool jazz as well as be bop.

Here is an early Miles playing a masterful version of So What. From the opening chorus it could only be one musician. This was tremendous trumpet playing and what all jazz lovers wanted to hear from Miles.

And this from ‘64 On Green Dolphin Street with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Cobb on drums and Bill Evans on piano, not a bad line up !

I will return to Miles at a later date.

Clifford Brown “Brownie” was another with a short life in music and on planet Earth: he died in ‘56 at the age of 25 after a car accident yet still left a legacy of four years of recording and a lot of influence to many who followed including Donald Byrd, Booker Little, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and more lately Arturo Sandoval. His composition Daahoud became a jazz standard.

Daahoud is here performed in ‘54 by “Brownie” and the Max Roach quintet.

Lee Morgan achieved fame through his album “Sidewinder” a sort of cross over album, a theme he toyed with and indulged in for some time but he went back to Art Blakey where he is fondly remembered as one of the stars of the Jazz Messengers at that time. He is another who left this mortal coil far too young at the age of 33, not drugs this time, though he was an addict, he died of his injuries when his long term girlfriend shot him at Slugs Saloon where he was playing and he bled to death as the ambulance could not get there in time owing to adverse weather conditions!


Freddie Hubbard is another from that era that found fame and recognition after joining Blakey’s Messengers in ‘61 replacing Lee Morgan. He left Blakey in ‘66 and started to form his own groups and developed his own sound, distancing himself from Morgan and Clifford Brown, and he was a sideman on several very important albums during the sixties.

His early seventies albums, Red Clay brought him commercial success and acclaim but his later seventies albums were slated for their commercialism. This is a 1970 recording from the album Straight Life, Mr Clean with a stellar line up shown in the credits.

Whatever one does when putting something like this together it is as said before inevitable that many just as worthy are left out, many will be featured in further episodes with groups bands etc so will not be totally forgotten, but the likes of Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Donald Byrd, Don Cherry etc etc should be here but space does not permit.

However one or two others I will include to bring the section more up to date. Tom Harrell is one of my personal favourites: born in ‘46 makes him positively adolescent in the general scheme of those on here yet has been around some time, he started playing trumpet at eight and joined Kenton after studying at Stanford University and receiving a degree in music composition. He toured with Kenton that year, ‘69 and joined Woody Herman for the following year and then Horace Silvers quintet from 73 – 77 during which time he made five albums with them. He joined or played with various bands until he joined Phil Woods in ‘83 through to ‘87. He made seven albums with Woods and many others with various groups and a few as leader in his own right but it was after leaving Woods that his own groups came to the fore.

His latter years have shown his skill as an arranger composer more and more and many ventures outside the strictly jazz only world have involved chamber music and ensembles with classical tones, and as an arranger Harrell works in many different genres including classical. Naturally I prefer the earlier jazz work and this more current number, Miles Davis’s Milestones in 2011:

Many who know of modern jazz will wonder why I have not finished with Wynton Marsalis or Arturo Sandoval.

The latter is not in my HO truly a jazz trumpeter despite his incredible technique; I have been, and I may be wrong, but I never heard anything I could truly say fits in with my view of what jazz is. Probably my loss but there you go.

As for Marsalis, he is another who has run the full gamut of genres but much of his work does not again fit in with what you could really ascribe to being jazz. He certainly did in his earlier days but very little of that is available on video. However he can’t be really left out as he is one of today’s leading lights in music – education, arranging and everything else, so I did find a video that in all honesty is only a bit part for Wynton but gives a wonderful excuse for showing the Jazz Messengers and Art Blakey at Antibes in 1980 with Wynton on trumpet in another reincarnation of the Messengers line up:

Say, Dr . “J” – Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers in Antibes (France) from Wynton Marsalis on Vimeo.

I show a personal bias with Marsalis, a wonderful technician who can play in almost any genre, and does, plus his teaching and arranging skills. He has it all, yet for me rarely holds my interest, why I cannot explain, it is just the way it is. Anyway, not to be hasty and upset his legions I include a final item by him, the piece and personnel are in the credits:


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