In commemoration of my 50th year as an indie, I hope to post on this blog-site periodic entries to describe content of the various albums in my output as a musician/composer/record producer. These entries do not pertain to my sideman appearances on other musicians' projects, but describe only those for which I personally paid the production costs including musicians, studio time, record pressing and packaging. I always operated with a low budget, hence the stock jackets for a majority of the LPs of the 1970's. The digital reality of today enables me to keep my 20th century productions accessible via CD-Rs. These entries will therefore include current availability data. Reissues and compilations are also among the scheduled titles to be featured herein. The albums described will appear in no particular sequence.
Entry 1: "QUARTET 1970"
2019 marks fifty years since I first used a portion of money saved from my earnings as a working musician to document the music I felt deeply, yet for which there was no public venue available. Inspired by creative musicians who found greater freedom of expression in making self-produced recordings, and more control of resulting revenue from product sales, my decision was to offer the real music with no expectation of financial rewards. Truly, the act of pure creation is its own reward. In the subsequent years along the way, expressions of appreciation from listeners worldwide have given me a calm assurance regarding my youthful resolve and dedication to this chosen path.
It was in the summer of 1969 that I recorded at home, a solo album of totally improvised music on vibraphone. The LP "Vibra-Dream Currents" was issued on the RPC label (Recorded Publications Co.) in the fall of '69. In a separate entry, I will offer descriptive notes on this debut album and cite reviews that appeared in the print media.
The following year I conducted my first studio jazz session. "QUARTET 1970" (available soon on CD-R) presents all its imperfect purity and spontaneous soloing on four originals composed expressly for a recording that would feature brother Jerry Case on guitar and myself on piano. Within three hours on a Saturday summer afternoon, the group I assembled had recorded enough material for a long play album.
There were no false starts, all tunes were first-takes, and the four of us had not previously played together as a unit. The musicians I hired were Charles Scott on acoustic bass (who was then working regularly with Red Garland's trio in Dallas) and Wayland Smajstrla, a highly adept drummer on the Fort Worth music scene.
Nothing from this date was issued immediately as I shopped around the tape and received courteous rejections from various established record labels. I therefore focused on other recording projects (including a 1972 release) until I issued two of the 1970 selections on Side 1 of a 1973 album ("Pleasant Dreams") and another selection comprised Side 1 of the 1974 LP "Contrasts in Jazz". The latter was the first album bearing my Priority label name, chosen to represent the series of recordings, not as a business venture so much as an artistic outlet - totally free of commercial considerations, therefore offering unique documentation of undiluted creativity.
This 2019 CD-R release is the first time all four selections have appeared together on one program. I have no explanation why it's taken me 49 years to do this - but the fact of a 50th anniversary looming ahead seems like reason enough to release the entire session. "QUARTET 1970" by John & Jerry Case represents an unheralded artifact from my obsession to capture spirited improvisation in Fort Worth, where jazz has long played to the appreciative few.
STRANGE DREAM 8:58
BLOODLINE TRACE 11:23
All compositions by John Case (ASCAP) - Copyright 1970
JERRY CASE, 7-string guitar; JOHN CASE, piano; CHARLES SCOTT, acoustic bass; WAYLAND SMAJSTRLA, drums.
Recorded August 29, 1970 at Delta Studios in Fort Worth, Texas. Mick Moody, engineer.
by John Case
The idea of self-produced recordings has been around for many moons. I have actually inherited the notion of independent record production, as the Case family issued two 78 rpm singles on their own distinctive Royal-Tone label in the late 1940's. Unfortunately, this was before the introduction of so-called "unbreakable" records, and careful packaging too often failed to prevent the breakage of discs in shipment. But the serious collectors of early country music know about the two releases by Bill Case and his Melody Boys. I have found one online source which includes photos, audio examples along with other pertinent data relating to those Royal-Tone productions.
During the 1960's when my love for jazz was the driving force in my life, I became aware that a select few of the artists who were inspirations to me sometimes engaged in the venture of self-produced albums. In my own reality, playing dance jobs with various local combos seemed a far cry from the creative music I aspired to play. It was certain that no one would ever provide me the opportunity to create, let alone record, a music that held little or no commercial appeal. With the established examples cited above, combined with a life-long fascination with recorded sound, is it any wonder that I felt an increasing desire and need for self-expression and its realization through this medium? My first attempt, a solo piano album I recorded at home, fell far short of acceptable standards of creative performance. I nevertheless issued a limited pressing which I then withdrew from public exposure after only a few months. I immediately set out to accomplish on vibraharp what I'd just attempted on piano. The results were surprisingly satisfactory, and in late 1969 I issued the album Vibra-Dream Currents. I consider it one of my primary accomplishments, resulting from my desire to create a modest yet unique work of art in the realm of totally improvised music.
The next year I sought to include other musicians in my recording venture, and this meant small group modern jazz. As the recordings attest, I was in the formative stages of my development as a jazz pianist and composer. But these recordings are so clearly "real" and serve not only as valid documentation of the work of the participants, some remarkably fine music resulted. Specifically, one tune which I titled Strange Dream, turned out to be an excellent vehicle for my older brother, the 7-string guitarist Jerry Case. He also excels on the minor blues I've recently re-titled Bloodline Trace and the medium up-tempo Summons. Charles Scott on bass and Wayland Smajstrla on drums adapt well to the music we presented to them at the studio, with no rehearsal whatsoever. I had written out chord changes for Charles, counted off the tempos and the tape caught what came out!
I had chosen Delta Studios for various reasons. On several occasions I had been hired to play piano on demo recordings, usually by aspiring singer-songwriters who wished to have band accompanyment for their vocals. I therefore was familiar with the studio, which was quite spacious and very professional. Of great importance to me was the piano, a recent model Baldwin concert grand. It was kept in tune and I always enjoyed playing the instrument. I knew the studio owner, John Patterson, who was a guitarist and former member of several "name" western bands, including Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. He frequently called on me to play piano on his own gigs, usually pop combo dance jobs on the private club circuit. I felt fortunate that Fort Worth had such a studio as Delta, and I had no need to look elsewhere for the ideal studio for my project.
During the latter part of the 1960's, it had been my pleasure to play an occasional gig with bandleader Ted Norman, an excellent vocalist and tasteful baritone saxophonist. In an earlier era (the one that swung!) he'd worked and recorded with Ray McKinley's Orchestra. My favorite dates with him were at a private country club (usually not my bag) with a quartet that included my brother Jerry Case on acoustic bass and a most compatible drummer previously unknown to us. Wayland Smajstrla had the groove, the chops and the musical taste to transform this society job into a joyful, swinging experience. I recognized the wisdom of the seasoned veteran Ted Norman in assembling this particular group. Everything fit like a glove throughout each night we played. By the summer of 1970 as I sought to record my first jazz date, I consulted Jerry Case and we both felt that Wayland was ideal the project.
When our thoughts turned to bassists, Jerry and I both remembered the great Kerby Stewart, who I believe was on the road with Stan Kenton at this time. At any rate, he wasn't accessible to us. I listened to my brother who strongly recommended someone I didn't know, except by reputation. Charles Scott was working with Red Garland, and although I'd heard Garland on various gigs, the bassists with him had been Louie Spears and Jim Black. Both of these bassists, along with the remarkable Terry Henry, had moved from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Good jazz bassists were scarce. I was told that Charles taught band at Dunbar High School in Fort Worth, and since I had no other way to contact him (I was gigging, hence couldn't catch him with Red Garland), I called DHS as the new school year was soon to start. I left a message which Charles returned in the late afternoon. My self-introduction and offer to hire him for a jazz recording session came to the veteran jazzman from "out of the blue". He nevertheless agreed to my offer and took down the studio address and a designated arrival time for our Saturday afternoon session. Upon learning who would be our bassist for the date, Wayland Smajstrla beamed with excitement, for he'd heard Charles but never before had the opportunity to play with him. I confess I was also excited about the band personnel.
In addition to writing the tunes and chord charts, I corralled Jerry once or twice so we could run through this set of tunes together. It was immediately apparent that he liked, and had an affinity for the medium-tempo Strange Dream. Along with lining up the studio and the players, and making sure I had the funds to pay everyone, this was the extent of preparation. Looking back from my current age of 71, it was sort of a birthday present to myself: The scheduled date was three days after my 23rd birthday. I was the young sprout in the group.