THE JAZZ WORD

All that's jazz... and more

If you love Ellington then you will love Ellingtonia ’56; even if Ellington is not your thing there is no denying the great music to be heard on this album of Ellington alumni headed by Johnny Hodges. Side 1 of the original album feature a cut down band, while the second side is the full-blowing Ellington orchestra, minus the Duke – just check out Duke’s Jam with the fill blowing sax sec ion of Paul Gonsalves, Russell Procope, Harry Carney and of course Hodges himself.

The album is everything you would expect from Johnny Hodges whose eloquent alto saxophone oozes elegance and sophistication.  Naturally it swings like mad and if you have any doubts as to how hard then just listen to ‘The Happy One’. Texas Blues on side one is a one take 12 minute jam, it’s Billy Strayhorn at the piano, and like everything else on the album sounds just as fresh and vibrant today as when it was first recorded. On the original Verve LP it says on the cover, ‘Under the personal supervision of Norman Granz’. You just know he would have loved being in the studio when they recorded this, it’s as close a having Ellington on the JATP as he ever got. It was recorded over two days in January 1956 – wouldn’t you have loved to have been there?

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Don Creswell March 6th at 7:17pm

Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster - I could listen to them forever! Just listened to the Verve CD set of recordings; wonderful stuff.

Blue Note Records first recording session was on 6 January 1939 with Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. Two months later and the first ever Blue Note records were ready to be released on 3 March 1939.

The initial Blue Note 78-rpm releases were different from what most other companies were dong at the time. Instead of the usual ten-inch discs, Blue Note’s founder Alfred Lion decided to allow the pianists to play for longer, pressing his first releases as twelve-inch records – normally reserved for classical artists.  According to Lion, “Ten-inch records were so short. People could do maybe two or three choruses and the record was over. I always figured, my gosh, those guys need more room to stretch out.”

On BN 1 were two slow blues tunes, ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Solitude’ that were takes 11 and 12 performed by Lewis. BN2 consisted of two numbers by Ammons with a quicker tempo, ‘Boogie Woogie Stomp’ and ‘Boogie Woogie Blues’. With no real distribution in place, Lion offered these records by mail order, priced at $1.50 each, which was double the standard retail price for a ten-inch record. Lion pressed just twenty-five of each disc – hardly an ambitious release schedule. But it was the start of the most famous record label devoted to jazz.

Artist Martin Craig designed the label for Blue Note’s first 78-rpm issues. His brief was short and sweet: “Make me a nice label, something modern.” Apart from a problem with the initial print run of the labels that turned the white element of the black-and-white design a pinky-red tone??, Craig’s design was both striking and modern.

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According to Anita O’Day “Pick Yourself Up and Anita Sings The Most please me artistically because the preparation was careful and the musicians class A.” And who are we to argue?

Anita Sings The Most was recorded in January 1957 at Universal Studios in Chicago and features ten standards given the unique O’Day treatment. She demonstrates why she was so popular as a singer, despite her difficulties brought about by drugs and an upbringing that would have floored many. This album has the added advantage of some inspired playing by Oscar Peterson and Herb Ellis; they bring so much the material and allow O’Day to take off on her vocal flights of fancy.

In her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times – a must-read if you love jazz – O’Day claimed the sessions were hurried because she was anxious not to run up unnecessary overtime costs in the studio in case it affected her recouping against her $100,000 advance that Verve had given her. The album does not suffer from this; it was standard to record an album in a day in the 1950s. The cover artwork leaves much to be desired, but the passing of time has not diminished her achievements at Verve; despite the fact that O’Day was bitter at her treatment from her label’s owner Norman Granz who she claimed favoured Ella… not an unreasonable assertion.

For us her best, especially ‘Tenderly and ‘Love Me Or Leave Me’, but what about you?

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Blue Note Records Press Release on Thelonious Monk (1947)

“Actually found the person who was responsible for this whole movement – and we have had the privilege of being the first to put his radical and unorthodox ideas on wax – is an unusual and mysterious character with the more unusual name of Thelonious Monk. Among musicians, Thelonious name is treated with respect and awe, for he is a strange person whose pianistics continue to baffle all who hear him.”

photo by William Gottlieb (Library of Congress) taken in 1947 at Minton’s Playhouse, New York City

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Duke Ellington and his Orchestra in 1930

Nearing the end of his time at the Cotton Club and beginning to feature in movies. The saxophone section features Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges and Barney Bigard (left to right). On the drums is Sonny Greer who stayed with Duke from his early days as the Washingtonians until 1950.

Check out our playlist http://open.spotify.com/user/thejazzlabels/playlist/0tp27LrRyEBU96elLgxklu

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The first advert is just four months after the first JATP concert that took place at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles in July 1944. As the tours became more successful they spread to Europe where the later programmes and adverts originate from. By 1960 Norman Granz had sold Verve Records and moved to Europe where he continued to mount gigs and tours under the JATP banner.

1944 (USA)

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1946 (USA)

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1947 (USA)

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1951 (USA)

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1954 (Germany)

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1958 (UK)

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1959 (UK)

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Midge C March 8th at 12:15am

Anyone fortunate enough to attend these concerts were so lucky. It's incredible to see all of the A+ musicians who participated. Unfortunately I was too young & still in high school in the 50s. However, I have some old vinyl records from Jazz at the Phil. Old 78s & not in very good condition today.

jazzlabels March 12th at 11:48am

Like you we're sorry we missed them, but glad that so many were recorded.

The Story of GRP Records

1st March, 2014
posted in: History

Jazz labels provide a compelling history. In the beginning there was Black Swan Records, ARC Records, OKeh, Paramount and a whole host of labels that took jazz, blues and country artists, as well as just about any other performer who the early music moguls thought might make some money, into the studio to cut records. Jazz became popular with music consumers, and companies that would eventually become major labels – Columbia, RCA, Decca – began recording Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Goodman, who were as much pop stars as jazz artists. In the post war era there was a shift towards other more definable genres, and soon more focused jazz record labels came along, often run by jazz enthusiasts to cater to new emerging jazz audiences around the world.

Norman Granz, whose “Jazz at the Philharmonic” series began in 1944, started Clef Records soon afterwards; laterhe formed Norgran and then in 1956 he started Verve Records, a name that is synonymous with all that’s great in jazz. There were many other labels run by committed individuals who loved jazz and the musicians that played it, among the greatest is Blue Note that Alfred Lion started in 1939, there’s also Prestige that started in 1949; Riverside, in 1953; Impulse!, in 1960; and CTI in 1967. All had production values that were of the highest standard and all of them reflected the kind of jazz their founders liked.

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Thirty two years ago two men who were steeped in the jazz tradition started their own label – GRP Records. But their history goes back to 1976 when Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen formed Grusin/Rosen Productions. It was during this early period that the two partners started producing records for new young jazz artists, including Earl Klugh, Noel Pointer, Lee Ritenour and Patti Austin. Eventually with industry icon Clive Davis they started a label, Arista/GRP, which launched the careers for new cutting-edge, crossover artists Dave Valentin and Angela Bofill, and gave birth to their first major hit in 1980 with artist Tom Browne’s “Funkin’ For Jamaica (N.Y.),” which topped the American R&B and jazz charts and was a hit around the world.

It was a far cry from how Dave and Larry first got to know one another. “In the early 1960s Dave and I started out as musicians for singer Andy Williams,” Rosen said. “I was the drummer and Dave was the pianist/conductor. But we loved jazz and we’d play Dave’s arrangement of Miles Davis’s ‘Milestones’ as Andy would go on and off the stage.

“When we left Andy in the mid to late 1960s, Dave moved to Los Angeles to start writing music for films and records, and I stayed in New York and built a recording studio in my home. In 1972 I started working on the album Rashida with singer/songwriter Jon Lucien. After securing a multi-record production deal with RCA Records and cutting the tracks and vocals, I needed an arranger to complete the first record, so naturally I called Dave and we created our first production together. That was the big bang moment.”

From making records for others the logical step was to make records under their own name, but true to their love of quality Larry and Dave had their own way of doing things. Dave is clear that the vision for GRP Records was Larry’s. “I never had a vision of owning a record company, that was all down to Larry,” Grusin said. “It was only once we started working with our artists and the music that we began to get something of a vision for a GRP label.”

But as is so often the case the vision was not necessarily defined – it was a logical progression. “We were so busy working on our productions, that we blocked out studios for weeks at a time, and we put together what was effectively our own house band,” Rosen said. “Soon enough we got to the point where we had developed a unique sound, plus so many projects were coming in that our own label was inevitable.”

It was a record label built on a sound principle – quite literally. Although mainly a drummer, Larry was always drawn to the recording process. “As a drummer on recordings I found myself gravitating towards the control room to watch how things were done,” he said. “When I built my own studio I was fascinated by the sonics, the placement of microphones and I experimented to make things sound as good as they could be. We would spend long hours working on demos and then when we got into the studio, usually Studio B at Electric Lady or A&R Studios in New York City, Dave had the music together and we recorded things that were already well formulated.”

But, according to Dave, there was a special ingredient that made their recordings work so well. “Nobody had used sound on jazz records like Larry did. He used reverb, echo and delays not usually associated with the genre; it was techniques that were normally associated with pop and R&B.”

Larry eloquently describes this use of the studio in a way that neatly sums up what is at the heart of every GRP record. “It was so different from the early days of recording, when it was all about capturing a moment in the studio, it was like snapping a photo of what happened in a club the night before,” he said. “Whereas what we were doing was using multi-tracking and every conceivable piece of technology that allowed us to be more like painters. Dave’s playing, composing and arranging skill, and the production side became a very creative medium.” For Dave, the sonics brought another benefit. “People couldn’t believe how good our LPs sounded and hi-fi stores started to use our records as test recordings, which helped our music to be introduced to a whole new market.”

“We saw ourselves in the tradition of the labels that came before,” Rosen added. “CTI and ECM were very involved with the sonics and packaging of their recordings and that’s what Dave and I thought about. These labels served as an inspiration for us.”

The image of the label was all-important and it was something that Grusin and Rosen recognized from the outset. “Since we were among the first to apply digital technology in the recording studio, we were recording and storing all our masters in the digital domain, which enabled us to be the first to widely market jazz on compact discs,” Rosen said.  When the CD was launched in the U.S. we were ready and we lead the way, GRP was the place to be,” he continued. “It was brand marketing, because as a jazz label you could not compete with mainstream hit artists and major record labels without having a strong identity. It was early on that we came up with the marketing slogan ‘The Digital Master Company,’ because it said everything we were doing – the quality of our recordings, the technology we employed, the look and most of all the music.”

Soon other artists joined the digital revolution. “We got my friend Lee Ritenour on the label and also my brother, Don Grusin,” Dave said. “Then Chick Corea joined the label, and through Chick we got some of the folks who played with his band to record albums for us, Dave Weckl, John Patitucci and Eric Marienthal. Then came Gary Burton, Diane Schuur, Patti Austin, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker…the label was taking off like a rocket.”

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In another nod to jazz’s rich heritage Grusin and Rosen put together The GRP All-Star Big Band. “It was bringing our GRP artists together to play for people all around the world,” Rosen said. “It was in the tradition of Jazz at the Philharmonic. Norman Granz was one of the greatest, a man who understood so much of what the music was all about. He was the precursor of what we did.” And just like their illustrious forebears Dave is convinced of one thing: “All the people we used on the GRP Big Band project, all stars in their own right, all understood ensemble playing. To go out and play live with this band was phenomenal. I used to think, ‘This must be what Basie feels like every night.’ Of course it was great music, but above all else it was great fun. Solo players like Arturo Sandoval, Tom Scott, Randy Brecker and Bob Mintzer were just brilliant live, but the studio players who worked with us added so much.”

Soon enough Dave and Larry got to work with some of those they admired so much. According to Dave, “I loved bebop and whenever I had the chance I pushed for the jazz side of the fusion.” Larry added, “Working with Dizzy Gillespie was like working with one of my all time heroes. Bringing him together with young players like Kenny Kirkland and Branford Marsalis was a dream. Although I found it the hardest thing in the world to give Dizzy direction in the studio, but he made it so easy for me – a real dream to work with. Gerry Mulligan was another monumental player and to go back to recreate his work with Gil Evans and Miles Davis on Re-Birth Of The Cool was a thrill.”

It is a cliché to say that the list of artists reads like a who’s who of jazz in recent years, but it’s true. Besides those mentioned there’s George Benson, Yellow Jackets, B.B. King, Larry Carlton, Kevin Eubanks, Ramsey Lewis, Eddie Daniels, David Benoit, Tom Scott, George Howard, the Rippingtons, and Diana Krall. All have helped to define modern jazz and all have helped to define the sound of GRP.

 Check out our GRP playlist here

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Jeremy February 28th at 10:43pm

I've only recently discovered Ms. London and her awesome talent. I esp love the trio/quartet sound and the swing of her band. I may have missed it, but I think you should have included her version of FLY ME TO THE MOON. No other version comes close, in my opinion!

Jeremy February 28th at 10:46pm

Hah! Spoke to soon about FLY ME TO THE MOON. Glad its on the list!

You've never heard of Willie Bobo?

Born this day in 1934 Willie grew up in Spanish Harlem with his father, a folk-guitarist from Puerto Rico, William Correa taught himself to play the bongos at age fourteen, going on to play with Machito and New York City’s Latin bands including Pérez Prado. Mary Lou Williams gave Correa the nickname ‘Bobo’ when they recorded together in 1951. Bobo studied with Mongo Santamaría, before playing with Tito Puente’s band for four years from when he was nineteen. He recorded with George Shearing in 1955 before working with Cal Tjader and Herbie Mann. In 1959 he worked again with Santamaría, on material including the album, Mongo (1959).
The first time he recorded For Verve was in 1959 as a member of the Bob Brookmeyer Septet; other sessions followed during the first half of the 1960s and he made some albums as a group leader before making his first album for Verve, Spanish Grease, in 1965. A year later he had a small hit on the Billboard chart with “Sunshine Superman”, and other singles like “Spanish Grease” and “Fried Neck Bones And Some Home Fries” attested to his originality. In 1968 he recorded the album Evil Ways, named for the song that Santana would record on their debut album Santana (1969).
Bobo played on countless sessions, recording with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley, Chico Hamilton and Sonny Stitt. Moving to Los Angeles in 1969, Bobo led jazz and Latin jazz combos, and in 1971 he appeared with Santana in the concert ‘Soul To Soul, Live from Ghana’. Just three months before his death from cancer, Bobo reunited with Santamaria for the first time in fifteen years at the 1983 Playboy Jazz Festival.
Bobo seemed to enjoy playing pop and R&B, just as much as he did jazz. His love for the timbales and congas made him a thoroughly entertaining performer, and while not blessed with the best of voices it did not stop him from singing too.

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Rick Ransom February 28th at 11:27pm

[0ol Post indeed ..I have 13 LP's of his as leader albums and gee as a sideman somewhere around 50 sessions that I know of ~ oldhippierick

jazzlabels March 1st at 7:33am

Rick, good to hear you're with us. Sad to say too many people have not got into Willie B. We may have encouraged some with our post.