Baltimore Jazz (So to Speak)

I didn’t go to two records stores in Baltimore solely to buy jazz CDs. It just kind of happened. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m quite certain the spirit of my late father was at work.

I say this because I bought six of the seven discs you see here on a Sunday. Growing up, Sunday was Jazz Day, as Dad brought the house alive with the sound of jazz records blasting from the family room. It was a tradition I initially ignored, but now proudly carry on both before and since his passing. The Sunday I found myself in the Sound Garden also happened to be Fathers Day. Indeed, subliminal forces were at work.

Still, there was something different about this particular batch of purchases. At first, I picked up CDs from Miles Davis and a couple of other familiar names, knowing I had found a bargain or two. But something stopped me. I could actually hear the little voice asking me, “Why did you come 900 miles to buy the same stuff you buy at home? Get something different, for crying out loud!” I’ve learned to pay attention to the little voice when he speaks to me, as he rarely guides me wrong.

What to buy, then? I was a little lost at first, but Dad’s spirit seemed to move in me once again. He guided me to just where I needed to go. The trick, I decided, was to look into some of the artists Dad loved, but I had yet to invest a great deal of time in. It helped that the Sound Garden has a tremendous jazz section. There was plenty to choose from!

It was Dad who instilled in me a love for Miles Davis. And while I chose not to pick up the two Miles CDs I had in my hand for several minutes, I thought it would be fun to look into the solo efforts of Miles’s sidemen, who were spectacular musicians in their own right. A mission was hatched, and I could move forward.

So here are a couple of thoughts on what I found that Fathers Day, presented in alphabetical order.

Cannonball Adderley (with Bill Evans): Know What I Mean? I have a couple of Cannonball LPs already, as I remember him from his alto saxophone work with Miles and his heavy presence in Dad’s record collection. But I didn’t own any CDs, and this looked like a good place to start. It didn’t hurt that pianist Bill Evans was on the disc, too. Both were part of the legendary Miles album Kind of Blue. That’s all the pedigree I needed. On the whole, the album was a little more sedate than I thought it would be, but it was still very good. Adderley and Evans are augmented with Percy Heath (bass) and Connie Kay (drums), making this a legendary quartet.

Art Blakey: The Jazz Messengers. Like many others, I hold drummer Art Blakey in the highest regard. Over the years, his bands have fostered nearly as many amazing musicians as Miles. There’s no reason NOT to invest in this album. And while I like the material Blakey released on Blue Note in the 1960’s a bit more, this is a solid beginning to a legendary career. This 1956 set included Donald Byrd (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Horace Silver (piano), and Doug Watkins (bass). Blakey is positively dominant behind the kit! It’s little wonder he has been such a major influence in the jazz world.

Sonny Clark: Sonny Clark Trio: I confess: I knew absolutely nothing about pianist Sonny Clark. I’d never heard of him. How that happened is anybody’s guess. What I did know is that he had two killer sidemen rounding out his trio in bassist Paul Chambers and drummer “Philly” Joe Jones, who were both — surprise! — Miles Davis alums. It took about ten seconds for this band to get its hooks in me. They were surprisingly (to me) uptempo. I could almost see lightning shooting out of Clark’s fingertips. The rhythm section not only kept up, but laid waste to the groove as their leader fired away over them. This is a band I really wish I could have seen live.

Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch. This may be one of the most appropriately named albums of all time. This jazz is delightfully weird. It’s wonderfully off-kilter. I can see why Frank Zappa name-checked Dolphy in a song title. They are birds of a feather. In fact, if you listen closely to this tune, I believe you can hear the opening strains of Zappa’s “Inca Roads.” Which just goes to show you that even the greatest of all have influences. I thought Thelonius Monk was out there! Well, Monk opened the door to jazz eccentricity. Dolphy blew it off its hinges. And I love it!

Bill Evans Trio: Explorations. Evans has a remarkably delicate touch, which I fell in love with on Kind of Blue. His Portrait in Jazz LP is a more recent favorite. How could I not want more of that? Explorations was released soon after Portrait, so it’s very much in the same vein. That’s a good thing. Evans has a remarkably lyrical right hand. His chords are on point as well. This is another band I wish I could’ve seen from a couple of feet away, scotch in hand, at a small but classy nightclub.

Bill Frisell: All We Are Saying … It’s fitting that this is the one CD I bought on Saturday at Record and Tape Traders, because the style has ZERO to do with the “classic” jazz I bought at The Sound Garden. That being said, this record is brilliant. Bill Frisell is one of those guitarists I knew about, but hadn’t fully explored yet. On this record, he is exploring and re-interpreting the work of John Lennon and the Beatles. To know me is to know that is something I do NOT take lightly. I always say, “If you’re gonna mess with the Beatles, you’d better know what you’re doing.” Well, Frisell does. And now he will be getting a lot more attention when I go to the record store.

Dexter Gordon: Our Man in Paris. Dexter was one of Dad’s favorites. His tenor sax sound is legendary. He also has great taste in sidemen, as he is joined on this set by the legendary Bud Powell (piano), Pierre Michelot (bass), and Kenny Clarke (drums). Want to know what Jazz Day sounded like in my house? Get yourself a copy of this LP. On Sunday morning at about 10, get yourself a cup of coffee, sit down in your family room (or wherever you like to enjoy music), turn the volume up just a *bit* too loud, and press “play.” This is what the house sounded like! And I do miss watching Dad make it happen.

It would seem Baltimore Jazz is quality jazz. Even as I type these words, I’m thinking about the dozen or so CDs I passed on in order to bring these back to St. Louis with me. Ya know, The Sound Garden has a web site. I think I may have to do a little special ordering.

Thanks for the inspiration, Dad.


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