The West and East labels concerning Jack Lewis’ A&R activity for RCA Victor are a convenient way of summarizing his productions for the label. During his tenure with the label he would frequently fly back to Los Angeles to continue recording West Coast artists for the growing jazz line at RCA Victor. One of his first productions after arriving in New York showcased ensembles on both coasts, East Coast-West Coast Scene, LJM-1020.
Nat Hentoff gave the album four stars in his Down Beat review.
On one side of this 12″ LP, Al Cohn leads a “Charlie’s Tavern” ensemble (musicians who live and work in the New York area). On the other, Shorty Rogers heads a Los Angeles contingent whose members are not identified because of contractual commitments elsewhere. The notes give ample hints, however. My own guesses are: Giuffre, Kessel, Rogers, Sims, Enevoldsen, Counce, Shank, Geller, Bernhart, Manne, and Pete Jolly on piano—(to be honest, I had to check about him because I’m not familiar with his style).
Cohn’s men are Joe Newman, altoists Hal McKusick and Gene Quill, bari-tonist Sol Schlinger, trombonists Billy Byers and Eddie Bert, and a rhythm section of Sanford Gold, Billy Bauer, Milt Hinton, and Osie Johnson, Blowing by all on both sides is pleasurably relaxed and often exciting. Recorded sound is excellent. Back label gives order of solos, and is inaccurate in places in the west coast listing. Geographical irrelevancies aside, this is just fine, swinging modern jazz. (Victor 12″ LP LJM-1020)
Jack Lewis told Dom Cerulli in a Down Beat interview that among his most satisfying sessions were the ones which resulted in albums by Al Cohn, the Natural Seven, Joe Newman, and Freddie Green.
“Man,” he glowed, “we did 25 sides in a row. I had never recorded anyone like Freddie Green. When we were setting up to balance the band and I heard that guitar coming through, I knew it was going to be one of those sessions. I didn’t believe you could get a sound like that out of a guitar. What a swinging session that was.”
Lewis compiled one of the first jazz sampler records. When the announcer for the date appeared with a bad case of laryngitis, Lewis himself announced each selection on the 45-rpm disc, RCA VICTOR JAZZ SAMPLER – FROM HOT TO COOL. Lewis identifies the jazz artist and track title on each of the six tracks on the extended play album that included “Doggin’ Around” from Shorty Rogers Courts the Count, “Let’s Fall in Love” from Barbara Carroll Trio, “Susan Stands Pat” from The Don Elliott Quintet, “10,000 B.C.” from Inside Sauter-Finegan, “Cottontail” from An Evening at the Embers with the Alex Kallao Trio, and “They All Laughed” from The Panic Is On with the Nick Travis Quintet featuring Al Cohn. Lewis’ voice and delivery is monotone, not a voice that would have a career in radio announcing as a dee-jay. The sampler was free, you just needed to send a dime to RCA to cover postage.
Lewis recalled one of his favorite productions during the 1998 interview with Dr. Larry Fisher.
“Did you ever hear the album called The Brothers, with Al Cohn, Bill Perkins and Richie Kamuca on tenor? That’s another one that’s a goodie. Richie Kamuca told me that his major influence in music was playing with Charlie Parker for a week in Philadelphia. Charlie hired him to be a standby in case he didn’t show up. And then he showed up every night! So Richie Kamuca, who was a kid at the time, got to play with him every night. He once told me that it was a major turning point in his life.”
“Al Cohn was writing arrangements the The Brothers. We were in Emile Charlap’s apartment. Emile was already asleep and I was watching a “cowboys and Indians” picture. Al took a break and watched some of the movie with me. He had a drink of whiskey and a drink of coffee, and then he went back to writing. The next day, when it became daylight, we all met at the studio and everybody was nice and fresh except Al – but he outplayed everybody. When we got to the tune that Al was arranging – “Blue Skies” -it had an Indian introduction. I said “Al, where did you come up with this?” He said, “Well, you were watching a picture, man, and I just…” and it was the actual Indian introduction from the picture. Dum, dum dum dum dum, Dum – you know, one of those things. (Hums the beginning of “Blue Skies” followed by an Indian drum beat). He had been trying to figure out how to start the tune and he worked it right in. He was a genius, man, without a doubt. He had such a fertile imagination – he was an incredible writer and then he had this fantastic playing ability.”
Debut and Decca were among record companies releasing albums in the mid 1950s that were labelled as “workshop” or “studio” and “lab” sessions. Jack Lewis joined the fray when he hinted at his plans with Down Beat in August of 1955.
RCA Expands Jazz Program
New York—A major new project entitled “The RCA Victor Jazz Workshop” is now under way under the direction of that company’s jazz A&R man, Jack Lewis.
Details of the plan are shrouded in secrecy, but it is known that the “Workshop” will afford an opportunity for a number of young artists, some already RCA Victor contractees and others newly signed, to indulge in experimental work. There will be groups involving unusual instrumentation. One date already known to have been cut features Al Cohn with four trumpets and rhythm. Bob Brookmeyer is also contributing a number of arrangements and will be heard with at least two different style combos.
Lewis says that the “Workshop” efforts will all be on 12″ LPs and will be released at the rate of one or two a month, in addition to the regular jazz releases.
Additional details of the new series were headlined in a column the following month in Down Beat.
RCA’s Big Jazz Program Well On Way
New York—RCA-Victor is undertaking the most ambitious jazz recording schedule in its history. Jack Lewis, in charge of jazz for the label, recently released further details concerning his plans for the next few months. A key Victor undertaking is a Jazz Workshop series in which a number of leading jazz writer-players will be given complete freedom in choice of instrumentation, personnel, and the range of their writing ideas.
Among the musicians set to head individual Jazz Workshop LPs are Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer, Billy Byers, Manny Albam, Hal Schaefer, and several others. Lewis also is cutting an album by the New York saxophone quartet, consisting of Danny Bank, Hal McKusick, Cohn, and Ray Beckenstein. No rhythm section is used with this unique unit. Lewis is commissioning original compositions for the quartet from prominent jazz writers.
The New York saxophone quartet session never materialized, at least there is no record in the jazz discography literature with the artists mentioned in the Down Beat column. Additional details of Lewis’ plans for the Jazz Workshop series appeared the following March in Down Beat.
Russell Writing For Victor Jazz
New York — Modern jazz writer George Russell, who has not been active in jazz since 1951, is now writing for several forthcoming Victor jazz albums. One project involves an album of his own with a sextet and smaller units. Russell probably will use Hal McKusick, Milt Hinton, Barry Galbraith, Kenny Dorham, pianist Bill Evans, and himself on drums.
Also in the works is a McKusick quartet album for which Russell will write. Included in the latter will be a six-minute suite by Russell titled “John Brown” orginally called “The Day John Brown Was Hanged”
Russell’s last jazz date was a Lee Konitz session for Prestige in 1951 that included Russell’s “Ezz-thetic” and “Odjenar” recently reissued as part of a 12″ Prestige LP called Conception.
The same March issue of Down Beat featured a full page ad for the Jazz Workshop series.
Like any art form, Jazz requires space and the opportunity to grow and search for new avenues of expression. It either finds these avenues and goes forward — or it stands still and dies. There is need today in Jazz for just such space and opportunity. And to meet this need, RCA Victor has undertaken a program bold and unique in modern music. A Jazz Workshop has been established where artists can enjoy the widest latitude in composition, arrangement and performance . . . where new sounds can be tried . . . where different directions can be explored — and all without the necessity of conforming to established modes or patterns. Below are the first recordings made under these exciting, stimulating conditions —forerunners of a new, unhampered kind of music from the RCA Victor Jazz Workshop. Your record dealer invites you to hear them today!
Nat Hentoff gave the Al Cohn album four stars in his Down Beat review.
This is the better though the less ambitious of the first two LPs released in Victor’s Jazz Workshop series, a project instituted by Jack Lewis. Against a background of four brass and rhythm, Al Cohn is heard in some of his best blowing on record, and his full tone and big beat are virilely complemented by Joe Newman, Bart Valve (Thad Jones), Nick Travis, and the alternating horns of Bernie Glow, Joe Wilder, and Phil Sunkel. On several numbers, Travis doubled on valve trombone.
The equally tall rhythm section is composed of Freddie Greene, Osie Johnson, Buddy Jones, and Dick Katz. Newman takes most of the trumpet solos, but there are choruses by the others, too, (including four-trumpet chases on two tracks). There are full solo identifications in Leonard Feather’s exact notes, which should serve as a model to Victor liner writers.
Manny Albam and Cohn arranged six apiece and contributed three agreeable originals each. The writing is just right for this context, clean, uncluttered, swinging. The brass team, as a result, shouts bitingly alongside Al when the mood is up and is appropriately gentler on other tracks. The excellent engineering, as on almost all Victor jazz LPs, is by Ray Hall, who should be given liner credit. Recommended. (Victor 12″ LP LPM-1161)
The Hal Schaefer album did not fare as well receiving a three star review in Down Beat.
On this RCA Victor Jazz Workshop production, pianist-writer Schaefer heads three different units. On one, the band was made up of altoist Hal McKusick, Sam Marowitz, and Fudd Gumjaw (Phil Woods), with Schaefer, Milt Hinton, and Osie Johnson. The second had trombonists Billy Byers, Urbie Green, Freddie Ohms, Chauncey Welsh, and bass trombonist Tommy Mitchell with the same rhythm section. The last combined trumpeters Jimmy Nottingham and Nick Travis; drummers Don Lamond and Ed Shaughnessy; Hinton on bass; Schaefer on harpsichord, an instrument he plays with unattractive heaviness.
There are several stimulating as well as humorous moments in the writing, largely involving the freshly changing textures, with the ballads especially charming. But too much of the scoring is static, and it would have been better to have developed some of the ideas further rather than squeezing 12 tunes into one set (especially a workshop project).
Ingenuity of instrumentation and cleverness of ideas aren’t enough to make for successful, breathing experimentation. A man also must have much to say that is emotionally convincing, and so far Schaefer hasn’t. The musicianship of all involved is excellent. (Victor 12″ LPM 1199)
The next release in the RCA Jazz Workshop series was recorded over three sessions in December of 1955. The favorable review in Down Beat gave the album four and a half stars, the highest yet for the series.
Manny Albam’s contribution to Victor’s Jazz Workshop series, while not as adventurous as a workshop title generally connotes, is musically the best yet released in the project. Each session was made with an octet of two trumpets, two trombones, two saxophones, and two rhythm (no piano). The musicians are Nick Travis, Jimmy Nottingham, Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer, Sol Schlinger, Milt Hinton, Billy Byers, Hal McKusick, Urbie Green, Joe Newman, and Osie Johnson.
Everyone of them is, for the most part, at the wailing top of his form so the solos are of consistent crispness and invention.
Manny did all the writing, and it’s all lubricated for the kind of interweaving swinging performances that build inexorably to generally satisfying climaxes.
Albam, 34, has written for Spivak, Basie, Herman, Kenton, and many recent Victor small combo dates. He also has played baritone and arranged for Auld, Barnet, and Ventura. His first LP under his own name is mainstream small combo jazz with roots in Basie and the Ellington small units. It is a firm mixture of good taste and deceptive simplicity in the writing and charged soloing that takes advantage of the relaxing mobiles that serve as scaffolding. Very good engineering and helpful notes by Leonard Feather. I’d like to hear Manny’s writing at longer length than was allowed him here. (Victor 12″ LPM 1211)
Billy Byers’ workshop album was also recorded over three sessions in December of 1955. Nat Hentoff continued to find favor with the releases in the Jazz Workshop series awarding the album four stars.
The remarkably versatile trombonist-writer, Billy Byers, currently recording and arranging in France for Ray Ventura, handles his Victor Jazz Workshop assignment with characteristic avoidance of the overfamiliar and with much taste. He uses three different groups—three cellos and rhythm section with horns; trombone quartet with alto, trumpet, and rhythm; three horns and rhythm.
The musicians present are Nick Travis and Bernie Glow, Urbie Green, Fred Ohms and Chauncy Welsh, Al Cohn (clarinet, tenor, baritone), Phil Woods (clarinet, alto); Jerry Sanfino (flute, alto); Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson, Moe Wechsler (piano and celeste), vibist Joe Venuto, violinist Gene Orloff, and cellists Alan Schulman, Lucien Schmit, and Bernie Greenhouse.
Billy did all the writing, much of it quite effective and reflecting his feeling for dynamics. The casual, often witty originals are also his, and it’s disappointing once again that a workshop LP (or any other) should cram a dozen tracks into one set. The Funky Music Box, for example, needn’t have been left in such a sketchy form.
The rating would be higher were it not for the four string tracks. Byers does not use strings so that they have any added jazz value, and they only serve to oversweeten the sound. Among the highlights are Cohn’s clarinet on “Chinese Water Torture” (Al should record more on the instrument, including bass clarinet) ; Billy’s warm, flowing trombone all the way; Woods (called Phil Funk here); and the over-all skill of the rest of the men on the date. Had the strings been omitted and had there been more space for Billy to expand fewer songs into more cumulatively building climaxes, this could have been a major LP. As it is, it’s a sound collection, very much worth hearing. (Victor 12″ LPM-1269)
Dom Cerulli interviewed Jack Lewis and Fred Reynolds in the November 14, 1956 issue of Down Beat. At the time Jack Lewis had been transferred to A&R at Vik Records, an RCA Victor subsidiary label. Reynolds was identified as the head of A&R for the RCA Victor jazz program. Nat Hentoff’s five star review of the Hal McKusick Jazz Workshop album notes that he hopes Reynolds will continue the workshop series.
This is the most important of Victor’s Jazz workshop series thus far and the one that most fits the “workshop” connotation. It also demonstrates the musical necessity for Fred Reynolds to continue the workshop, particularly if future sets can be planned with the thoughtfulness, thoroughness — and time—that this received.
For this album, McKusick wisely chose six diversified writers who score from their experience within jazz. The writing credits are: Johnny Mandel (Track 1); Russell (2, 5, 7); Jimmy Giuffre (4, 8, 11); Gil Evans (3, 10); Manny Albam (6), and Al Cohn (9). Russell, Giuffre, and Evans have particularly been among the key workers in providing jazzmen more challenging written contexts within which to blow and grow, and Mandel could be.
All the scores allow breathing space for soloists and ensembles while stimulating both the individual and the group via the tension-challenge of fresh, idiomatic structural material that makes the blowing more meaningful by making it part of a more significant, more interrelated, more durable whole.
I was most moved by Russell, Evans, and Giuffre, particularly by Russell’s extraordinarily evocative, functionally dramatic “John Brown” the longest work in the set. And the one apiece by the other writers were also effective.
The musicianship of all the players is excellent. For McKusick, this is the summit of his jazz achievement to this point as an altoist. Farmer, who can make almost any scene, proves how strong a choice he was for this date. Osie and Milt project the strength and flexibility required for their assignments, and Galbraith is magnificent throughout. The others also contribute importantly.
This program is a reason for pride on the part of everyone involved, including Jack Lewis who set it going but who gets not one mention in the notes. John Wilson’s liner is not up to his standard. The personnel is not completely listed nor clearly given (by omitting Barber, for one example, octets turn into septets). More seriously, Wilson failed to recognize the significance of this LP in the context of contemporary jazz concern for more original form and, as a corollary, does not provide enough actual writing details. Don’t miss this one. It’ll be a subject for study—and enjoyment—for a long time. (N.H.)
The next release in RCA Victor’s Jazz Workshop series was led by John Carisi The three recording sessions in April, May, and June of 1956 were assigned a release number, LPM-1371, but it remained in the vault until 1988 when Executive Producer Steve Backer tapped veteran jazz producer Ed Michel to put together a CD release of sessions from the Jazz Workshop series. Michel was given a free hand to select tracks for the compilation. I asked Ed if he found any alternates from the Jazz Workshop series while producing the album.
“No alternates surfaced. I was motivated by a desire to get the Gil Evans stuff out, and fascinated by the Carisi stuff (the parallel versions under his name and Miles’ Birth of the Cool). Lewis’ Jazz Workshop stuff was a wonderful idea. I have no real data, but have to assume that RCA suits wanted bigger sales numbers. I note that while I was working on BMG reissues, the head of the music division was formerly in charge of refrigerators for GE.”
Behind a Chinese laundry on West 55th Street in New York City was a basement apartment that has become another landmark in jazz history. In the late ’40’s, this was home to Gil Evans and a salon for like-minded innovative souls: Miles Davis, George Russell, John Carisi, Gerry Mulligan, and John Lewis, among others. Just a couple of blocks from the resonance of 52nd Street, this modest dwelling, with little more than a hot-plate, a bed and a piano, served as an exchange floor for a wealth of ideas. These arrangers and players were beginning to steer the “new music” into uncharted territory.
The Miles Davis Nonet became their vehicle. The group’s performing life was brief—a two-week stint at the Royal Roost and a couple of other performances. But the “Birth of the Cool” sides recorded for Capitol in 1949 and 1950 had a profound impact on jazz arranging for small and large ensembles. Those twelve tracks also documented the kind of conceptual shedding that went on at Gil’s place.
Mulligan, who was 20 at the time, and Evans, 35, brainstormed the Nonet’s horn line-up—trumpet, French horn, tuba, trombone, alto and baritone sax. As chief arrangers for Claude Thornhill, this format was their distillation of the lush texture of Thornhill’s unconventional 40’s dance band. His band’s “sound” was noted for its unusual use of French horns, clarinets and tuba, lack of vibrato and impressionist harmonies. The Nonet was designed to express the richness and tonal variety of the Thornhill band within its smaller framework.
Thornhill was a link. Other original young musicians who passed through his ranks—altoist Lee Konitz, guitarist Barry Galbraith and Bill Barber (the man who introduced Lester Young solos to the tuba) were also regulars at Evans’ house. Evans’ scores for Thornhill, which included arrangements of Charlie Parker tunes, were what first attracted the young Miles Davis. The Nonet created a prelude for their later masterpieces, Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain.
The “Birth of the Cool” scores, written by Mulligan, Evans, Carisi and Lewis, departed sharply from 52nd Street’s hot blowing sessions. The arrangements used extended forms, an expanded sense of harmony, and integrated the soloist’s role amid subtly shifting textures. The ideas had roots in Ellington and other orchestral jazz pioneers, in bop’s innovations, and in 20th Century music at large. The charts were assembled with a beauty and deliberation that echoed through ’50’s jazz and beyond.
The Jazz Workshop series, produced by Jack Lewis for RCA in the mid-’50’s, caught a few of those echoes—some generated by the players and arrangers that Thornhill had brought together. This compilation focuses refreshingly on the arrangers. It has selections from Hal McKusick’s and John Carisi’s Jazz Workshop albums, offering overlooked scores by Evans, George Russell and Carisi. It is rounded out by the work of Rod Levitt, a trombonist and commercial arranger who occasionally worked with Evans in the ’60’s. His charts, excerpts from his mid:60’s recordings for RCA, make full use of the experimental ideas that the “Birth of the Cool” crowd had ushered in years before.
When Jack Lewis first approached altoist Hal McKusick about putting together a Jazz Workshop album, Hal’s positive response was immediate. “It was a dream, really. I just wanted to put my favorite arrangers and players together. Gil was extremely important to all of this. I had taken Lee Konitz’ place in Claude’s band in 1949 and that was where I got to know Gil and Gerry. Those rehearsals were really something. Gil would start to rehearse us and then he’d go lie down at the other end of the hall—he’d go into some kind of reclining meditation and let all that sound just sink in.
“Then there was a guy that nobody would touch for some crazy reason, and that was George Russell. I was really excited by his concepts and thought the world ought to hear what he was up to.” (Russell’s own Jazz Workshop recording was released later in 1956 and is now available on CD as 6467-2-RB.)
These are the first recordings of Evans’ “Blues for Pablo” and the high-spirited “Jambangle,” which a year later were sublimely fleshed out on Miles Ahead and Big Stuff! Gil Evans and Ten, featuring Steve Lacy. The pianoless octet that McKusick brought together was no longer revolutionary, but was still unusual. It featured alto and baritone sax, trumpet, trombone, tuba and Galbraith’s guitar often playing a high horn line. Barber’s tuba plays several roles—it bubbles up with the bass, at the bottom of an ensemble line, or adds a surprising counter-melody. Art Farmer and McKusick do sweet justice soloing through the complex form of “Blues for Pablo” and cast a warm glow throughout the witty ensemble passages of “Jambangle.”
“Blues for Pablo” alternates between a Spanish-inflected minor theme and an extended major blues, which swings loosely from a half-time to straight 4/4 and back. “The theme is from a Mexican folksong,” said Evans. “That’s where its personality comes from. Now, the kind of rhythmic changes that tune went through are very common in jazz. But at that time, I remember bringing in a number in 3/4 for that session and someone said, I couldn’t improvise in three—my goodness!'”
George Russell’s “Miss Clara” and “The Day John Brown Was Hanged” are celebrations of figures from Russell’s Southern heritage and, as he put it, are “…reflective of asocial, historical, and ethnic point of view. Miss Clara was my first wife’s grandmother, and she inherited all the legends of the South and the richness of it. She was funny and witty and sarcastic, and on the cutting edge, but had a lot of soul.”
Musically, “Miss Clara” is all of the above. Its opening quirky theme befits the strong personality of a Eudora Welty character. It is stated in staggered entrances by Farmer and Cleveland, followed by Galbraith’s guitar and baritone, with emphatic punctuation by Hinton and Johnson. The rest of the octet joins them in an abstract 6/4 interlude that quickly gathers intensity and leads into a spirited ensemble development. Galbraith’s and McKusick’s solos are entwined by subdued yet propulsive background writing that swells into the final ensemble outburst.
“The Day John Brown Was Hanged” and “Lydian Lullaby” were written for McKusick’s quartet, with added percussive touches by Russell on “John Brown.” These suite-like pieces, as well as “Miss Clara,” exemplify Russell’s then-evolving Lydian harmonic concept and his advanced structural sensibility. The quartet breathes life and clarity into Russell’s complex challenges.
John Carisi started composing seriously during World War II, while stationed with Glenn Miller’s Air Force Band on the Yale campus. “I’d run around and find out who wasn’t going into New York for the weekend and write for whoever was left—whether it was a cello and a French horn, or a piano and a tuba. Two people—we had a band,” he remembers.
“Right after the war, I joined Thornhill’s band and then came the Nonet, which was a culminating point. Gil was really a central figure to us because he was older, and he actually had a card to the music library and used it. He’d bring home scores and records that people didn’t pick up on much then, but are more well known now—like Ravel’s ‘Mother Goose Suite’ or percussion pieces by Stravinsky.”
Here is the original version of “Springsville,” with a decidedly relaxed beat. Its impressionistic layered entrances and winsome theme certainly allured Evans, who added an expanded set of colors and bright tempo for its use a year later as the brilliant opener for Miles Ahead. This rendition of “Israel” (one of the original “Birth of the Cool” sides), unencumbered by tuba and piano, flies a little more freely through the chromaticized changes of this now-classic minor blues.
Barry Galbraith and the band charge through the first edition of the brisk-paced “Barry’s Tune,” written for the gifted guitarist. This exuberant chart gets a lot of harmonic mileage out of Carisi’s octet and shows his flair for writing fluid, well-articulated lines. The arrangement was augmented a few years later by French horn, tuba and piano on Into the Hot, an album made under Evans’ aegis, but featuring scores by Carisi and Cecil Taylor.—Stephanie Stein
The last LP released in the Jazz Workshop series was reviewed by Leonard Feather in Down Beat. It also received a five star rating.
In the latest and most exciting of RCA’s Workshop series, arranger George Russell has managed to prove several points concerning what is sometimes known as “far-out” jazz that may have bothered a number of listening laymen and musicians. First, the music in almost every piece swings just the way conventional jazz swings. Second, true improvisation abounds and there is the sense of organized looseness that one finds in the more tonal jazz combos. Third, the works are neither too long nor overpretentious structurally, as has so frequently been the case with experiments of this kind. Fourth, they have a challenging sense of form without stiffness or overorganization. Fifth, one never has to worry about intonation or any aspect of musicianship or performance; clearly the quality of the personnel and the quantity of rehearsal met the stern demands of Russell’s writing. Sixth, the writing is harmonically venturesome without resorting either to complete atonality or to the Schoenberg mathematics of the juggled twelve-tone row.
It is on this last level that Russell has succeeded completely in lifting his album to a unique status and stature. His writing is based on the “Lydian concept of tonal organization/’ a theory on which he has worked for years, which was heard in his sole track on the Teddy Charles Atlantic LP, and which unfortunately George completely fails to explain here in his well-intentioned but elliptical liner notes.
Obviously nothing as radical as this can be summed up in a sentence, but one of the basic factors is the building of keys by picking the notes in rising fifths; thus the notes in the key of C are C, G, D, A, E, B, and F Sharp. There is a great deal more to it than that, but we’re saving it for a feature story in which George will try to elucidate a little. Suffice it for now that there is a sense of tonality, of the feeling of a certain root in every passage. One of the pieces, “Ezz-Thetic,” because it was written some years ago, is closer to normal tonal jazz than the other tracks. There is a Tristano-like air to the ensemble unisons in this number and to “Knights of the Steamtable.”
The moods are many. “Round Johnny Rondo” swings the most. The ethereal “Ballad of Hix Blewitt” has a simple long-note melody that gives the effect of a distant horizon seen opaquely through a veil. “Fellow Delegates” is the only track on which Russell himself plays, using a set of chromatically tuned drums of California redwood that achieve an odd and attractive garbage-can tone, recalling the Calypso steel drums. “Billy The Kid” packs a mad wallop, especially when Bill Evans spurts out a series of solo breaks as smoothly as a Texas gusher.“The Sad Sergeant” struck me as a little meaningless and pretentious, alone among the dozen tracks; perhaps a week from now it will be my favorite.
Farmer and McKusick acquit themselves superbly; as Hal said, “It was like learning another language,” and they both speak it fluently. Galbraith’s comping is as exciting as his solo work. All three rhythm sections cook; Motian is particularly impressive on “Witch Hunt.” As you’ll have gathered, I dig Mr. Russell as a jazz composer who has found a new path without going off the main jazz route. Such men must be guarded with care and watched with great expectations. (L.F.)
Prior to the arrival of digital technology and the compact disc, George Russell’s Jazz Workshop album was reissued by RCA Victor. The LP’s headline proclaimed – “…One of the most important albums . . .since 1949-1950 . . .” Nat Hentoff in Harper’s Magazine. All of the RCA Jazz Workshop albums experienced new life when they were reissued as compact discs. Ed Michell lamented that that the demise of the series could have been lackluster sales. The series is a prime candidate for a comprehensive reissue with new appraisals by knowledgeable jazz authorities.
Ed Michel selected tracks from Rod Leavitt’s Insight and Solid Ground albums from 1964 and 1965 to round out his examination of the RCA Victor Jazz Workshop series, The Arrangers. Levitt’s albums, to repeat Stephanie Stein’s notes:
“It is rounded out by the work of Rod Levitt, a trombonist and commercial arranger who occasionally worked with Evans in the ’60’s. His charts, excerpts from his mid:60’s recordings for RCA, make full use of the experimental ideas that the “Birth of the Cool” crowd had ushered in years before.”
Rod Levitt’s albums for Riverside and RCA Victor will be examined in the third and concluding post – Jazz Workshop Redux.
Lawrence Kart says
Born in 1942, I remember fondly almost all of those albums — some of them (e.g. the George Russell and the Russell portion of the McKusick) of the utmost importance.
Patrick Hiltenbrand says
excellent articles, very interesting. I like all you do.
James Cimarusti says
The George Russell Jazz Workshop album was also where RCA tried out one of their experiments in the early form of binaural/stereo recording which the company had been working on since late 1953. During the session held on December 21, 1956), two titles, “The Ballad of Hix Blewitt” and a remake of “Concerto for Billy the Kid”, were recorded in the binaural format and show as bonus alternate tracks/takes on the RCA Bluebird CD reissue of the album. (The original version of “Concerto for Billy the Kid” had been recorded at an earlier session on October 17, 1956). [It is unknown if the two other titles recorded on 12/21/56, “The Sad Sargeant” and “Knights of the Steamtable,” exist in the binaural format or if the whole album was planned to be among the first binaural releases for RCA].
I also notice there is a gap on the Johnny Carisi take numbers between “Hips” and “Springsville” on the personnel listing in the article. Were those 7 tracks the only ones to be included on the unreleased LPM-1371? It seems if it could use another session to complete it, if that was the case. Was the album perhaps aborted due to Jack Lewis leaving RCA-even though Fred Reynolds had another session with this group?
James Harrod says
Things we will never know I’m afraid.
Anne Phillips says
Hello James, This is Anne Phillips. I am writing a book, “Survivor of the Music Business” because I am… 87 and still kickin.’ You may have heard of my show “Bending Towards the Light … A Jazz Nativity” or my first album “Born to be Blue” on Roulette. (1959) I just remembered a solo session I did … it must have been before that. It was string quartet, guitar, Joe Cinderella and bass, my husband Bill Phillips. They were with Gil Melle at the time. It was for RCA, at Webster Hall, engineered by Ray Hall and produced by Jack Lewis. I looked up Jack and learned that it was probably going to be part of his Jazz Workshop series. We only did one session and then Jack was replaced. Herman Diaz? And i guess that was the end of that interesting series. Curiously I have a copy of that session.. from tape to cassette to computer! Love to talk. Anne