Blog

THOMAS REESE

Submitted by johnnycase on Fri, 09/18/2015 - 3:51pm

The jazz pianist Thomas Reese was an established artist on the Dallas/Fort Worth music scene when I first met him in late 1966. I'd heard him perform with the Julius Hemphill Quartet, which participated as the intermission band at a concert by the Ornette Coleman Trio. This was my first hearing of alto saxophonist Hemphill, who led his group through a set of standards, played with fire and creative spirit equal to that of the headliner's more adventurous free jazz. Hemphill's bassist Louie Spears was familiar from having heard him with the Red Garland Trio performing at the Arandis in Dallas. The drummer's identity is less certain in my memory, and the sidemen weren't identified during the concert or on the printed program. It was possibly Saul Samuels or Chester Freeman. I would soon leave western swing to pursue my dream of playing jazz, so the opportunity to hear this group was an unexpected treat, added to this unusual Fort Worth booking of Ornette by his sister Trudy Coleman. In hearing the pianist Reese, two things relating to my own musical development were immediately clear: First, I realized immediately that I still had much work, or "woodshedding" to do. Second, I felt that attaining the degree of artistic proficiency I heard in the playing of Thomas Reese was within my grasp, given that I was quite determined to find my way into this exciting genre of music. But I didn't meet him that night, and hadn't yet learned his name. All I knew is that he played really well, with a natural sense of swing, rich left-hand harmonies and an unusual rolling type of rhythmic-melodic invention in his right hand soloing. I'd not heard anyone quite like him, even though he seemed to me very comfortable in sort of a Wynton Kelly bag, for lack of a more precise description. Anyone close in spirit to W.K. was alright in my book!

Within a few months after the Coleman concert, Reese came out to a weekly jazz jam session where I was playing with the Adrian Watts Trio. I'd been hearing Adrian talk about a pianist whom I should hear and get to know. As soon as I saw Reese walk in the door, I recognized him as the pianist I'd heard at the concert. I remember some things about that night so clearly, especially sitting at a table with Reese and how easily we became friends. He was into the hippest of jazz: "Do you have that Booker Little side Out Front?"  Then his response to my affirmative answer: "Yeah man, that's a beautiful side." Within the same conversation, "Yeah I want to hear more of this NEW THING!"  He was referring to the avant garde free jazz movement in New York, inspired by Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. Their adherents included Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Paul Bley, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray, Henry Grimes, Bill Dixon, Carla Bley, Don Pullen, Milford Graves, John Tchcai, Roswell Rudd, Marion Brown and many other adventurous and innovative artists. Sonny Rollins and especially John Coltrane were among the few well-established jazz artists to welcome the free jazz movement. I kept abreast of the New Music (another name for the "New Thing") by mail-ordering recordings that could seldom be found in the retail record stores. My desire to play jazz was not limited to the bop and post bop which I was eager to learn, but also extended to the music of those young musicians rebelling against the expressive limitations they perceived in previous types of jazz. Learning of this same interest in my new friend was most refreshing, because I heretofore hadn't known anyone who shared my taste for avant garde jazz. From this first encounter with Thomas Reese, I felt that we were kindred spirits.  

Thomas became a frequent participant in the Sunday jam at the Escape Club on Fort Worth's West Freeway. It was the only such open session for jazz musicians in Fort Worth at that time. The Flamingo Club on Evans Avenue had a fine organ trio (Hammond B3, guitar and drums) but pianists and bassists were therefore not part of the Flamingo's scene. Reese really needed the chance to keep active and our gig provided that, although he was accustomed to playing with musicians far superior to most of us at our Sunday set. Sometimes, Reese would play Adrian Watts' set of drums, and I would get to play with him. Reese had a happenin' thing on drums, and I felt inspired, never intimidated. The reason I didn't feel intimidated is because already the sense of real friendship was strong and although I truly looked up to him, it was easy to relax in his company.

I invited him to come visit me and check out some of the newest sounds from the avant garde. Reese was receptive to the idea and a series of visits followed, sometimes separated by many months. Typically, he'd call from the bus station downtown. My gigging schedule left my days free, so whenever he called I was on hand to provide his ride. During the course of more than a dozen years, Reese had day jobs, some of which didn't last very long. There was one period, however, when he remained on the same "day hang" for an extended time enabling him to buy a car and to feel more  independent. From his very first visit through all those that came later, it was a rewarding educational experience for me to simply hear his comments on the artists and their music. As a collector of LPs I literally had them in rows, standing propped up against a wall. He'd look through the albums slowly, carefully reading the pertinent info. Sometimes he'd make no comment, but often he did, and the sight of some would earn an exclamation of excitement! It was through this routine that I would gradually learn something about his associations with other jazz players. It was only upon seeing the name in a personnel listing that Reese would acknowledge his ties with heavyweight jazz men. He'd point to a name and begin..." This stud here is a player, I knew him in St. Louis..." He would fill me in on their musical activities and perhaps add some other observations. In addition to his obvious affiliation wih Julius Hemphill, I learned in this manner about his link to Ronald Jackon (later known as Shannon Jackson). Reese held the Charles Tyler LP on which Jackson had recently made his recording debut. Reese referred to Jackson as "Roundhouse", a nickname known only to insiders. On another occasion he became excited when seeing his friend John Hicks listed as pianist on a Sonny Simmons record. We listened to the whole album, much to Reese's obvious enjoyment. The trumpeter Lester Bowie, just then beginning to make a name for himself in conjunction with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, would visit Thomas Reese while in Fort Worth for short periods of time. Reese himself had once played trumpet, and on one Sunday afternoon brought it with him to my house where I recorded us playing the old standard "Blue Moon". The acoustic bass was another instrument he'd played in the past, but it was the piano Reese had settled on, and when he played the piano at my pad, you can believe I listened. He was adept at using spread-out left-hand chord voicings when I relied on close-voiced chords. Hearing him do this encouraged me to start striving for more variety in my playing...all to the good!  I never officially took lessons from Thomas Reese, but he was a mentor to whom I'm indebted. My record collection served as a "lending library" for my friend, and I didn't hesitate to let him take as many LPs home with him as he wished. Often there would be a dozen or more. I never worried about not getting them back, even though I treasured them. Reese always returned all of my records, and always in the same condition as when they left my house.

Long after the Escape Club jazz session had become history, I'd still get to hear Reese play in different contexts. I enjoyed hearing him in a trio setting, especially when in the company of bassist Charles Scott, or his brother Nathaniel. The better the other musicians were, the more uninhibited Reese played. One night he brought Julius Hemphill to my house. It happened to coincide with a time when my brother was at home. Jerry played acoustic bass, I had a snare drum and cymbal for my pacification (and probably the others' irritation!) while Julius wailed on the alto and I heard Thomas playing some of those dark chords I immediately recognized as familiar voicings of pianist/composer Andrew Hill. The best I ever heard Reese play was in the 1970's when he had a regular gig three nights a week at The Recovery Room in Dallas. I think it was structured so that Reese played on Red Garland's nights off. The line-up was Marchel Ivery, tenor saxophone; Thomas Reese, piano; Charles Scott, bass; Walter Winn, drums. It is likely that James Clay frequently sat in with his friend Marchel as they often liked to do the two-tenors thing. I heard Reese with this group and realized I had never before heard him really inspired, with his chops up. Only a steady gig with primo players can bring out this wondrous and energetic free-wheeling creativity. I've said to many musicians, Thomas Reese could not be touched when he was "on". Of the numerous times I heard Reese play in different settings with various musicians, it was indeed only a precious few times that I had the privilege of hearing Reese perform up to his full potential. It was one hell of a natural phenonenom, awe-inspiring to those of us who witnessed a ferocious storm of spontaneous music.

Maybe it's because Fort Worth is like a small town, but Reese and I would happen upon each other quite often. I was playing the Three Stags Club at a hotel called Green Oaks Inn, when I encountered Reese in the hallway on my break. He was headed for a banquet room where he was to play later that night. After my own gig finished, I hung out in the doorway next to the trio, and absorbed more about the Red Garland approach than I'd previously known. The upright piano was a bit out of tune, the room was noisy...and for whatever reason Reese stuck pretty much to the locked-hand style while I was there. The trio had a nice groove, but I don't recall if I knew who the other players were. I believe the bassist was Clayton Mitchell, whom I was yet to meet. I also had gigs playing bass (I had owned a Kay upright since 1964, and began seriously trying to play bass in the late 1960's). On bass I worked with pianist John Pointer's Trio at the Club Malibu. Actually it was the drummer's gig - his name was Monte Gillium. We played other clubs, including Boozie's Lounge, where Reese strolled in one night. He played two or three tunes, at Pointer's invitation. There was another haunt in the black community where Reese and I played regularly on Sundays, with me on bass. The name has left me, and so have the names of places where we played only one time. My bro Jerry was on a few of those gigs with Reese, the club names and dates are now far beyond recall.

At some point Reese was actually with a "commercial" funk-type band. He played electric piano with Six Feet Under, and although I never heard the group, my brother had occasion to hear them and confirmed that it was a good group of the type. I certainly did hear Reese on keyboard at several different night spots. After I had married, Kitty learned of the Bob Stewart Trio playing a gig not far from our home. Again in a hotel club, we went to hear Reese with the trio, and he sounded good on the Fender Rhodes piano. Reese was among my subs at Sardines, where the house piano was a Yamaha grand. I remember him coming by to sit in and when he turned the piano back over to me the impression I had, following what I'd just heard from Reese, was that my playing sounded mechanical and sterile. Another lesson...I resolved to work harder to avoid falling into that trap.

Years later Reese and a lady came by Sardines one night, sat at a table and listened. At break time, he introduced me to Elise Wood, a flute player and friend of John Hicks, who had been booked into the Caravan of Dreams. I implored Reese to play something. Time limitations, however, dictated they couldn't stay very long: Reese and Elise had hurried over to my gig between the two nightly shows at the Caravan of Dreams. Ms. Wood was complimentary of my playing and I was flattered at the thought that they'd actually come to hear me play, being that she was in town with Reese's famous friend, direct from New York City. I recalled how Reese, many years prior to this night, had educated me about John Hicks, who was destined to earn his stellar reputation in the jazz center of the world.

I haven't talked about Reese's demeanor. He was an unusual cat and he was unusually quiet. I'd seen him in white clubs but also in some black clubs where few whites would go. He was much the same, a very reserved..almost shy but thoughtful personality. He had the "slow walk" down! I term it thus and I'd try to match his ultra-slow pace whenever we were walking together to or fro a gig site. I can tell you, his gait was - slow - to the extreme. He had a thin frame, often wore a coat and a groove fedora hat. When Reese was surprised at suddenly seeing an old friend, he had this loose dance-like body movement that seemed to radiate a joyful greeting: "Well look here!!"  With a smile he'd speak, tagging that hip gesture: "aw man, good to see you... how've you been?" Obversely, whenever confronted by a beligerent white man with a racist attitude, he could deflect the antagonism with his quiet but firm adherence to Black Pride. He refused to engage in counterproductive banter.

He could be funny. Some of his expressions were very humorous. Before I started my stint at Sardines restaurant, three other pianists had played that gig. The first was Al Malacara, a fine jazz pianist who was classically trained. Nevertheless, Al had his personal style of playing jazz that avoided the usual tell-tale signs of academia. On my first date with Kitty, I took her to hear him play solo while we had an Italian dinner. Sometime later, I saw Reese and related the experience of hearing Al suddenly go into a very modernistic, advanced musical excursion which left me without a clue regarding whether it was improvised or written or where in the hell it came from, as the harmony was very different. I told Reese: "Al played something that scared me!" Reese chuckled a bit with "oh yeah?" and was obviously amused. He brought up the subject months later. "You remember that time you said Al scared you?  Yeah I heard him doing that too".  Just like me, Reese seemed mystified at what he'd heard. Then he summed it up: "Yeah, man...Al's got some secret shit!"  Later I learned that Al was playing Bartok, then it all made sense to me, and I'm sure to Reese as well.

One unforgettable night for Kitty and me was when a special engagement at the Caravan of Dreams jazz club brought together many alumni from Fort Worth's I.M. Terrell High School, an all-black school during segregated times, known for producing an unusually high number of formidable jazz musicians. On the stage that night, playing together in their hometown as they had not in decades, were Dewey Redman, Ornette Coleman, Prince Lasha, Charles and Nathaniel Scott, Charles Moffett and Thomas Reese. After closing my set at Sardines Ristorante Italiano, I rushed with Kitty downtown to the Caravan where we heard the last set, and caught a very inspired Thomas Reese at the grand piano, not playing it safe with Red Garland chords, but burnin' like nobody's business - true creativity in motion, which is what jazz is all about. Kitty became one of his biggest fans that night. Forever-after, whenever Kitty encountered Thomas Reese, she'd let him know how much she loved his playing. We saw him a few times in the eighties and a couple of times he came to visit in the 1990's. He told me that "Roundhouse" was moving back to Fort Worth. This was exciting news. Ronald Shannon Jackson had made an international name for himself in the decades since that debut recording with Charles Tyler in 1966. Jackson had played in New York with Charles Mingus briefly, then had longer stints with Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor. He made recordings with all three of those titans of free jazz before striking out on his own and forging a successful career with his band, The Decoding Society, which played his original music.

Once relocated in Fort Worth, Shannon Jackson seldom played locally, but practiced routinely and rehearsed with various Fort Worth musicians. His name stature was such that he booked gigs overseas for a substantial fee, thus enabling him to make do with only one or two concerts a year. Reese was part of Jackson's band in the mid-1990's when they played a concert in London and recorded "Shannon's House" for Koch International. The CD has consistently been available since its initial release. Two of the recorded works are by Thomas Reese: Hymn to Mandella and Midnight Sermon. He is heard on keyboards alongside another talented Fort Worth performer/composer, the tenor saxophonist Rachella Parks.

While playing late one night at the relocated Sardines restaurant, my dear friend walked in and up to the bandstand. I eagerly greeted him with a hug, as it had been years since we'd seen each other. Reese was accompanied by another man, whom he introduced to me as "Roundhouse" Shannon Jackson. After my last set came to a close, I sat with them for a long, satisfying conversation. Jackson asked me what had brought me to jazz. I told him it was hearing a record of Wynton Kelly playing a blues called "Old Clothes". Mostly though, I listened to these longtime friends reminisce about jazz in Fort Worth during the 1950's, including a time when Ornette returned home from California and brought Don Cherry with him for a gig.  Reese and Jackson were both in attendance. I had often heard Reese speak about a club called the China Doll, but this evening there were clubs mentioned I'd never heard of before. They recalled famous jazz artists coming through town, playing one club or another in the black community without the white public ever having a clue about the event. No advertising (outside the community) was necessary to fill one of the local joints where jazz was played. Reese recalled how he had reacted the very first time he heard a record by Thelonious Monk: "Man, I understood him right off!" I laughed because it seemed natural that Reese would groove on Monk at a time when many folks found Monk's music bewildering. Reese credited me with having introduced Albert Ayler's music to him, back around the time we first met. Ironically, Ronald Shannon Jackson was destined to become his drummer. We talked about Ayler. Jackson was certain a major biography was to be published within a year. The only one I am aware of (by Jeff Schwartz) had already been published online. The author's acknowledgements include Kitty and John Case because I supplied the author with a French recording of Ayler and Kitty translated the French liner notes into English. Jackson was not happy that the author hadn't tracked him down for a personal interview, but relied on information second hand...an article on Jackson that had appeared in Downbeat. I felt that Jackson had a valid point in saying that a biographer would be better served by talking directly with the people close to the author's subject. On the way out to the parking lot, Jackson chided me for not recognizing him on a previous occasion when he had come to the original Sardines. Perhaps I should have known him because I'd seen Jackson giving testimony at the funeral of James Clay in early 1995. What could I say? I told Jackon the truth: "I'm sorry man I didn't know it was you!"

As a result of this reunion with Thomas Reese, I began calling on him again to sub for me at the "new" Sardines (we'd relocated due to eminent domain having pushed the restaurant out of its original location). He subbed mostly on the solo piano nights, but also at least once with the trio on a weekend. Once when Jerry Case was flying into the area, I took the night off so Kitty and I could pick up my brother at the airport, then drive to the restaurant so the three of us could have dinner and listen to Thomas Reese. It was wonderful hearing him again, and it was some of the best solo playing I'd ever heard him do. He also seemed happy to be back into playing situations such as this restaurant offered. After all, it was indeed a jazz gig.

One winter night, Reese came out to see me, and I was on break when he walked in. We sat at the bar. He told me he'd just learned that he had a terminal illness. My heart sank when I heard his words. He said ever since the doctor gave him the bad news, he'd been "feeling a little queasy". We sat there together, not saying anything for a while until Reese began talking about musicians in his neighborhood and some distant relatives who were musicians. Some were names I was familiar with, others weren't. I was still learning from him, although much of what he said didn't fully register, or not enough to stay with me. After awhile he left, and when I came home to Kitty I had to share the saddest news that we would be losing one of the most soulful spirits among our friends. Rachella Parks and I decided to co-host "A Tribute to Thomas Reese" to be held at Sardines on Sunday, April 18, 2004.

In addition to numerous circulars we distributed to publicize the event, Ken Shimamoto's article in Fort Worth Weekly ("The Show") featured a photo of Reese along with a thoughtful write-up. I will quote the opening paragraph: "When Thomas Reese and Ronald Shannon Jackson were teenagers in the segregated Fort Worth of the 1950's, it was pianist Reese who introduced budding drummer Jackson to jazz in the form of a record by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. By the late 1970's, Reese was playing weekend gigs at the Recovery Room on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas with saxophonist Marchel Ivery and his quartet. It was fast company - Reese would occasionally relinquish the piano bench to Red Garland, a former member of the classic late-50's Miles Davis Quintet - but Reese was equal to the task, a player of deep feeling and impeccable swing."

Shimamoto's article goes on to cite Reese's bout with cancer, which rendered him unable to work and left him struggling to pay for health care. This was definitely a time to pay tribute to this largely unheralded but masterful jazz musician. Word of this event also was broadcast on public radio. Of  course the circular was prominently displayed in windows and elsewhere at Sardines Ristorante Italiano, the most natural choice for a tribute venue. It's safe to say everyone who knew Thomas Reese was willing and able to help spread the word and eager to help in any possible way. Reese was much-loved and respected by everyone who knew him.

The guest of honor arrived with family members several minutes before the slated 5:00 PM starting time. They were seated at a long table close to the bandstand. It's doubtful that any other event in Fort Worth has attracted as many jazz musicians from the neighboring larger city of Dallas, a real indication of the high esteem in which Thomas Reese was held in the North Texas jazz community. On this occasion Dallas and Fort Worth musicians merged in a musical outpouring of love and support. Although Reese did not feel up to playing, the participants included pianists Roger Boykin, Frank Hailey, D.J. Sullivan, John Pointer, Joey Carter, Red Young and myself; bassists Bruce Mendoza, Brandon Nelson, Alex Camp, Kyp Green, Byron Gordon; guitarists Dave Marcus, Clint Strong, Keith Wingate; trombonist Pat Brown; multi-instrumentalist Chris White (trumpet & flute); trumpeter Freddy Jones; violinist Jennifer Bryan; tenor saxophonist (and co-host for this event) Rachella Parks with church musicians; tenor saxophonist Dave Williams; trumpeter Bill Atwood; drummers and percussionists Lamar Favors; Ron Thayer, Jaelun Washington, Daniel Tcheco, Duane Durrett, Don Sowell, Ahmad Medina plus vocalist Carla Norris-Hopkins. One very special moment for Thomas Reese was the presentation of "Father's Verse", a reading by his daughters Dwana Mishun Reese and Twyla Reese-Hornsby. The attendees also included the talented Toby Guynn, who made an audio recording of the entire event and Marjorie Crenshaw, truly Fort Worth's perennial "First Lady of Jazz". Marchel Ivery could not attend but sent a generous donation to assist with medical costs. Many, if not all of those in attendance filled the tip jar with cash and checks presented to Thomas Reese and family at the conclusion of the show around 11:00 PM. Some folks were surprised that Reese had managed to stay for the whole show. He was still strong enough to pose for numerous photos outside the restaurant. Reese expressed deep gratitude to everyone for their love and support.

Thomas Wesley Reese was born July 22, 1937 in Gladewater, Texas. His parents, Amos and Estella Wesley Reese, moved to Fort Worth when Thomas was very young. He attended public elementary school and graduated from I.M. Terrell High School in 1955. Afterward, Reese attended Lincoln University in Missouri. It was during this time Thomas married Faye Perry and they had three children. Reese played music professionally for almost 50 years, eventually becoming known as the "Elder Statesman" of Fort Worth jazz musicians. Thomas Reese passed away February 10, 2005. Survivors include his wife Faye Reese, his son Derek, daughters Twyla Reese Hornsby and her husband James, and Dwana Mishun Reese, two grandchildren and one grandchild. Celebratory Services were held on a wet and dreary Wednesday afternoon, Febuary 16, 2005 at Saint Andrew's United Methodist Church on Missouri Avenue in Fort Worth.  The Officiating Pastor was the Reverend Doctor Luther Henry. Musical performances were by Marjorie Crenshaw ("Come Sunday") and myself ("Someday My Prince Will Come"). Services included heartfelt testimonies from friends and associates. Particularly memorable was the testimony of vocalist Carla Norris-Hopkins. Other musicians paying their respects were John Pointer, Duane Durrett and Ronald Shannon Jackson. David Washington was there to represent both himself and his wife, the tenor saxophnist Rachella Parks, who had been hospitalized. I was left wondering about some things Thomas had told me regarding his interest in Buddhism. His personality, his whole character seemed to harbor the wisdom I associate with that eastern religion. I was in fact under the impression he had become a Buddhist.

As we stood outside the church, Marjorie Crenshaw spoke to me about Thomas, and how she'd known the Reese family since the early 1940's when Thomas was a small child. Every Sunday the Crenshaws, Reeses and numerous other families attended Saint Andrew's United Methodist Church where the funeral had just taken place. Marjorie could remember Thomas playing outside the church building, more interested in the fun of childhood games than in hearing the Sunday sermon. Marjorie's words gave me a deep sense of the continuity of these families, their longevity in terms of community, religion and culture. Burial of Thomas Reese was in the Garden of Paradise at Cedar Hill Memorial Park in Arlington, Texas.

 

                                                                                                                 Select Discography

Shannon Jackson: SHANNON'S HOUSE - Rachella Parks, Thomas Reese, others. Rec. March 19/20, 1996   Koch International  CD  3-7834-2H1

Carla Norris-Hopkins: HELLO, I REMEMBER - Reese on 2 selections w. Alex Camp, Roger Boykin, Andrew Griffith.  Issued 2005  YESIAM   CD

                                                                                                         -----------------------------------------                                                                       

Dewey Redman in Concert with Thomas Reese, James Gilyard, Duane Durrett.  Recorded in Houston, Texas  1995   cassette transferred to CD-R

Thomas Reese Trio with Charles Scott & Larry Reynolds   live recording, date unknown.     archival recording  -     cassette transferred to CD-R

Thomas Reese & Johnny Case: Reese on trumpet at the Case home - probably early 1970's. archival recording -  tape on reel transferred to CD-R                                                                                                                      

 

                                                                                              

 

                                                                                                                      

 

 

 

                                                                         

 

7th Annual James Clay Tribute

Submitted by johnnycase on Mon, 09/07/2015 - 9:50am

Thanks to all the performers and listeners for making this year's event one of the best yet! Since the beginning of this annual event, multi-instrumentalist Roger Boykin of Dallas, Texas has been Master of Ceremonies and primo performer on alto sax, flute and guitar. He's also a fine pianist, but he lets me and Kelly Durbin handle piano duties. As co-founders of the James Clay tribute, Duane Durrett and I appreciate Gracey Tune's enthusiastic help in providing Arts Fifth Avenue (in Fort Worth) as our venue. Regular performers include James Gilyard, bass; Bob Stewart and Duane Durrett, drums; Lou Harlas, bass; Brad Leali, alto sax, with guests James Shannon, guitar; Clyde George, organ; Clint Strong, guitar; Jack Evans, trumpet; Chris McGuire, trumpet and reeds; Tom Burchill, guitar; Harold Bosarge, drums; Fred Sanders, piano; Lynn Seaton, bass; Randy Lee, tenor sax; Buddy Mohmed, bass and vocalists Carla Norris-Hopkins, Sandra Kaye, Cynthia Scott, Tatiana Mayfield and Victor Cager. Some of the talented musicians in attendance this year included Curtis Bradshaw, David Perrine, Raymond George, Rachella Parks and Marjorie Crenshaw, who is a regular attendee. We who perform are honored that members of the Clay family have attended every year, including James' widow Billye Clay of Dallas and their son Randle, who is currently working and residing in Florida. The arts writer Bill Martin and Tom Kellam of the Fort Worth Jazz Archives were present again this year, and Martin told me that our tribute to James Clay is his favorite of such events, because it has the warmest sense of community, and is a heartfelt expression of love by all who knew the lengendary jazz tenor man. We look forward to the 8th annual "Remembering James Clay" at Arts Fifth Avenue in Fort Worth slated for September 2016.    

                                                                                 

                                                                                                              *                *                *                            

                                                                 Compilation CD by Johnny Case honors tenor saxophonist James Clay

                                                                                             H E A V Y    I S    H I S    L E G A C Y

                                                                           In Homage to James Clay who lived from 1935 to 1995                                                                                                                              

1  SONNYMOON FOR TWO  (Sonny Rollins)                                                                                                                                                      

2  ALL BLUES (Miles Davis)  

3  BODY AND SOUL (Green-Heyman-Sour-Eyton)    

4  SOFTLY AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE (Sigmund Romberg)                   

James Clay, tenor sax; Johnny Case, piano; Jim Perkins, amplified bass; Dave Breashears, drums.                                                                                       Recorded live at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth, Texas - November 1988     

 

5  ELEVATION (Gerry Mulligan-Elliott Lawrence)

Johnny Case, piano; Chris Clarke, bass; Mark Lignell, drums.                                                                                                                                                     Recorded live @ J.R.'s Place in Fort Worth, Texas - 1980

 

 6  FIVE WILL GET YOU TEN (Sonny Clark*)

Johnny Case, piano; Duane Durrett, drums; Byron Gordon, bass; Sylvester Jones, tenor sax.                                                                                      Rehearsal for a concert (Jazz by the Boulevard) recorded 2004 at Sardines Ristorante Italiano, Fort Worth, Texas.

 

7  BLUES FOR BROTHER GEORGE JACKSON (Archie Shepp)

Chris White, trumpet; Sylvester Jones, tenor sax; Johnny Case, piano; Byron Gordon, bass; Joey Carter, drums.                                                       Recorded March, 2005.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                          Liner Notes by Johnny Case

                                                                                                            HEAVY IS HIS LEGACY

Decades have passed since the soulful tenor saxophone jazz artistry of James Clay first reached my ear. It was a live set at an after-hours club on Fort Worth's south side. He was what some call a journeyman, his travels through the world of music still revealing jewels found in surprising places. As testimony to this man's greatness, the musicians who heard him in person invariably remember their first hearing of James Clay. Why? Simply said, it's because these attentive listeners knew, by his music, that they were hearing the "real thing". His gift to communicate goes beyond the usual standards of many talented artists. Such direct playing from the heart distinguishes Clay's musical statements and separates his artistry from the often admirable work of his contemporaries. It wasn't for nothing that his nickname was "Heavy". His slender frame embodied a powerful vibrant spirit we can hear from the earliest recorded examples until the last days of his life. Late in his life, I once had the strange impression that a gust of wind could eradicate what had become a frail and fragile existence. Yet upon hearing the huge sound and still-vital expression coming from within his being, I sensed that the music itself was all that remained of James Clay. Soon his music and physical presence would both be gone.

This compilation is a tribute to the great jazzman it was my privilege to know and to perform with on various occasions. The first four selections on this CD are from one such occasion in November of 1988 at the Caravan of Dreams jazz nightclub in Fort Worth, Texas. My friend Duane Durrett, a prominent drummer and jazz educator had asked my trio to perform at a fundraiser for the college where Durrett had long before established an impressive jazz program. Under Duane's direction, the band had performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival with David "Fathead" Newman. At the fundraiser, the Weatherford College Lab Band performed a set prior to the scheduled time for my trio. As a bonus, their band had a special guest soloist for this event, the veteran tenor saxophonist James Clay. Durrett and Clay had long been musical associates, so I was not overly surprised at this additional treat.

When it was time for my trio to go on, I sat down at the Bosendorfer piano which had been brought in for Cecil Taylor, whose Fort Worth engagement had ended the night before. Suddenly, James Clay came walking across the stage toward me. He was wearing a nice suit and he looked great. I'll never forget how humbly he asked: "Would it be okay?" My surprise was surpassed only by my delight that we would perform together again. It had been several years since our last encounter. Neither he nor I knew there would be a recording of our performance. Later I would learn that my young drummer, Dave Breashears, had asked the soundman at the Caravan of Dreams to make a "souvenir" recording of our set. What is most evident on this recording is James Clay's towering spirit. Even a casual listen will reveal several reasons for Clay's stature among his peers. This document also makes clear why the nickname "Heavy" is most appropriate for this thin man of jazz whose true weight resided in his full-bodied tone, the immediacy of his statements, a total musicality projecting great depth with each James Clay performance.

Three additional selections complete this disc. The Johnny Case Trio circa 1980 is heard performing Gerry Mulligan's Elevation, live from J.R.'s Place, a Fort Worth venue that provided this pianist his first full-time jazz gig. We played six nights a week. Bassist Chris Clarke and drummer Mark Lignell were both students at North Texas State University, later known as UNT or the University of North Texas. The school is known world-wide for its jazz program.

The following track, Sonny Clark's Five Will Get You Ten, is from a rehearsal for a 2004 concert at Jazz by the Boulevard, an annual jazz festival in Fort Worth that ended circa 2010. This quartet was co-led by Johnny Case and Duane Durrett, shortly after the CD release of Waiting for the Moment on Sea Breeze Jazz.

* In recent years, there has been speculation that Thelonious Monk, not the credited Sonny Clark, was the true composer of this piece, and that Monk's title for it was Two-Timer. From a purely musical perspective, it could have been written by either composer, so the mystery is likely to remain unsolved.

The closing track is a Case quintet performance of Archie Shepp's homage to black political prisoner George Jackson. The tenor and trumpet front line evokes the familiar jazz atmosphere of those decades when James Clay periodically appeared in national and international venues, yet more frequently graced some obscure clubs throughout his home base of Dallas/Fort Worth. This premier Texas Tenor, who was among the most spontaneous of players, never failed to convey love, passion and truth, regardless of the context or material. What more can any artist give than the eloquent and soulful expression of life's greatest treasures such as we hear in the music of James Earl Clay?

 

                                                                               ----------------------------------------------------------

 

Note: Johnny Case issued this CD-R in 2013 and presented it to the Clay family at the 5th annual "Remembering James Clay" event at Arts Fifth Avenue. HEAVY IS HIS LEGACY is not for sale, but copies were given to attendees who made contributions to tenor saxophonist Rachella Parks' tax-exempt medical research organization, The Sarcoidosis Foundation of Texas. 

 

                                                                     

                                                                

 

 

JERRY CASE - Jazz Guitarist

Submitted by johnnycase on Sun, 03/22/2015 - 10:17pm

Jerry Case is a jazz guitarist unlike any other. I say this not because he is among the relatively few 7-string guitarists, nor does his individuality arise from a radical approach to music or to the instrument. His influences are mostly familiar names, yet when we listen to Case, those influences aren't
obvious. They did play, however, an important role in his musical development.

Speaking as one who witnessed my older brother's progress, he's always been such his own person, whenever he copped musical ideas from others, it amazed me to hear those ideas undergo an immediate re-personification when played by him! The technique, the attack, and Jerry's mind directing his hands' movements caused the "stolen" motif to suddenly bear his personal stamp. Most creative musicians dream of having their own style or sound. Many work hard in hopes of achieving this. Having a unique approach to playing guitar came so naturally to my brother, I believe the persona that is Jerry Case inhabits the music he plays...totally. That's as it should be, yet for many sincere and talented musicians, it remains a goal almost impossible to realize.

Jerry Case was born November 24, 1943 in Washington, D.C.  His parents were transplanted Texans serving the country during World War Two. J.C. Case worked at the Naval Observatory, but near the war's end the Case family returned to Texas. J.C. and Floy Case were musical, so it's no surprise that J.C. gave Jerry his first instruction on guitar when Jerry was ten. Within a few months, father and son were performing together on local radio programs in Paris, Texas. At age eleven, Jerry was teaching guitar to other youngsters. A local newspaper story about the prodigy was picked up by the Associated Press, and subsequently reprinted in various other newspapers. Throughout the late 1950's, Jerry was in demand for backing vocalists, all of whom were a bit older than he. Television appearances and guest spots on the famed Big "D" Jamboree provided the budding young musician with invaluable experience, the solid foundation for the professional musician he was destined to become.

Upon completion of high school, Jerry fulfilled a year-long military obligation as the National Guard was called to active duty because of the Berlin Wall Crisis. He and some buddies began playing dances on their off time. When they returned to civilian life, they continued to play together. This led to an encounter in Lawton, Oklahoma with professional western swing musicians whose playing inspired Jerry to reach the next musical plateau. Jerry accomplished this with apparent ease after guitarist Bobby Davis befriended him and soon had Jerry placed in the band of a Liberty recording artist (Joe Carson). The Carson band and subsequent road gigs allowed Jerry to develop more of the jazz-oriented ideas that had become most appealing to him.

His chordal approach flourished in a pop combo led by vocalist Judy Kaye, and when he later backed Bob Wills ("King of Western Swing"), Jerry's solos registered favorably on the "old man's" face, although Jerry's style was a bit more sophisticated than what one usually hears in this context. A Nashville recording session with Wills in 1966 reveals Jerry's jazz-tinged style as heard in fills behind vocalist Leon Rausch. Also, the Eldon Shamblin-style rhythm guitar playing by Jerry, has the unusual distinction of being true to the source, yet somehow is heard anew in a fresh rendition. This is most apparent on the intro to Big Balls in Cowtown, where the rhythm guitar is very prominent. The session bassist Bob Moore had instructed the engineer: "Hey, bring that rhythm guitar up in the mix, he's playing some good shit!"

It was when Jerry Case was with Bob Wills that he adapted his guitar into a 7-stringed instrument. His inspiration was George Van Epps, whose peerless guitar stylings inspired others to do likewise. Jerry honed his playing skills in the context of jazz-influenced pop groups. He also relished sitting in with the jazz stalwarts in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The veteran jazz musicians included Red Garland, James Clay and Charles Scott. Jerry performed with Hank Crawford and James Clay at a Fort Worth jazz festival held at a black club called The Malibu. During the 1970's, Jerry was a mainstay in the popular Bill Swift 3 + 1 combo, which for several years featured the superb vocalist Drenda Barnett fronting the group.

A series of jazz albums, begun by his younger brother (yours truly) was recorded between 1970 and 1986. Many of these featured Jerry Case. As the LPs were issued, reviews in national jazz magazines and European publications would extol the merits of guitarist Jerry Case. Of the 1975 LP Eclipse, Bob Rusch (Cadence Magazine) described the two side-long performances as "bold, assertive music". A later record, titled Jazz Potpourri, earned this notice from the international publication Jazz Forum: "Although little-known to the world at large, the Case Brothers and their crew sound like a vital addition to the contemporary mainstream." The critic Carl Brauer was specific in bestowing the highest praise: "Particularly memorable are the three solo performances by Jerry Case. He brings to each piece first-rate technique coupled with a keen harmonic sense such that his approach has an original stamp to it."  Brauer concludes his review with this pensive observation: "At a time when the jazz world seems blessed with many highly talented guitarists covering the whole spectrum of musical styles, it would be unfortunate if a musician as singularly talented as Jerry Case was overlooked." Bob Rusch summed up his Cadence review of Jazz Potpourri in concise wording distinctly Ruschian: "He (Jerry Case) is a bitch of a guitarist and this is a bitch of a record..."

The natural follow-up to this record did not come until the mid-1980's. Jerry's Solo Guitar Artistry received accolades from those already familiar with his style and gained a fanatical admirer in jazz guitarist Robert Yelin, who also published a jazz guitar catalog: "This is a magnificent 7-string solo guitar album. Case plays in a contrapuntal style similar to George Van Epps but Case's chords are more modern. Case plays chord melody style with the melody, chords and bass lines all being played at once!! He's incredible! The tunes are all between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 minutes long. Each time around on the same song Case changes the harmony. It's like hearing the same song played by four or five different guitarists! I've never heard anything like that before!! There are 10 tunes on the album and they are all great. GET THIS ALBUM!!   IT'S A TREASURE!!"

Armed with this new release, Jerry Case moved to Los Angeles in mid-1986. He soon met bassist Eugene Wright who loved Jerry's playing and hired him for several "casuals". Ozzie Cadena, formerly affiliated with important jazz record labels Savoy and Prestige, had become a booking agent in L.A. where he booked Jerry for solo guitar and other gigs. Fellow Texan Red Young, organist, arranger and over-all music activist, included Jerry with his own group to play a special birthday party for Natalie Cole in the Capitol Records building. Attendees included Horace Silver and Nina Simone (a guest from France). In short, Jerry Case found general acceptance within the L.A. jazz community soon after his arrival. Eventually, he settled into a home-base gig at Casey's Tavern, but augmented this with a myriad of other jazz gigs ranging from solo, duo, to small groups of three to six players.  The pianist and arranger Bob Hammer, multi-reed masters Irv Cox and John Sitar, bassists Art Davis, Kristin Korb, Jim Bates, pianist/composer Leroy Lovett, trumpeter Stacy Rowles, fellow Texan/guitarist Jimmy Wyble and many other primo musicians are among the performers with whom Jerry Case has made creative music on the west coast.

In addition to the series of albums Jerry Case recorded before leaving Texas, he has since recorded with Alexis Donnelly, the Lee Lovett Orchestra, the Bill Kalmenson Sextet with Jon Nagourney, and he has co-led a trio CD with Jon Nagourney that has Richard Maloof and Eugene Wright alternating on bass.

                                                                                                                 Select Discography

1966 - FROM THE HEART OF TEXAS: Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys     Kapp KL-1506     LP

1970 - THE SOUNDS OF MSA (alternate title - The Moods of Maurice Anderson): Maurice Anderson       MSA  Vol. 2     LP

1973 - PLEASANT DREAMS: John & Jerry Case Quartet/Trio       Dawn DSLP-401    LP

1974 - SERENADE: John & Jerry Case Quartet                  Priority  PRS-403      LP

1975 - BST + 1: Bill Swift Trio featuring Drenda Barnett           BST  no #     LP

1976 - TWO MOODS - John & Jerry Case Sextet                   Priority PRS-405       LP

1977 - SLIM RICHEY'S JAZZ GRASS: Mike "Slim" Richey      Ridge-Runner Records  RRR0009     LP

1978 - JAZZ POTPOURRI - John & Jerry Case Quintet          Priority PRS-406      LP

1986 - SOLO GUITAR ARTISTRY: Jerry Case            Priority PRS-410     LP

1987 - THE BEST OF BOB WILLS: Bob Wills (includes selections reissued from the 1966 Kapp LP)    MCA  MCAD-5917     CD

1998 - ALEXIS DONNELLY SINGS PEGGY LEE: Alexis Donnelly       L & R Records  no #     CD

1999 - ECLECTIC CHRISTMAS: Miss Alexis Donnelly                L & R Records     CD

1999 - SWINGIN' WITH AN ATTITUDE: Lee Lovett Orchestra            WFL Records WFL-10220AB      CD

1999 - THINGS ARE SWINGIN': Miss Alexis Donnelly               L & R Records     CD

2005 - SERENADE: Jerry Case Quartet (CD reissue of Priority LP)            Musicase MSO-3    CD

2005 - NUAGES: Jerry Case (CD reissue of Solo Guitar Artistry with additional solo guitar tracks)    Musicase MSO-7     CD

2008 - FIRST POINT: Bill Kalmenson Sextet with Jon Nagourney          Buffalo Jump Productions   CD

2008 - TEXAS SUNSET SUITE: Jhon Kahsen Quartet with Jerry Case       Musicase  SJA-102     CD

2010 - PERSONALITY: Jon Nagourney / Jerry Case Trio (with Richard Maloof and Eugene Wright)      JNJC01    CD

2012 - JAZZ POTPOURRI: John & Jerry Case Quintet (CD reissue of Priority LP, plus bonus track)      Musicase  no #   CD

to be continued...

                                                                                                                 FOOTNOTES

I've not mentioned the bass playing of Jerry Case. It makes sense that a 7-string guitarist (the added string is a low B, A, or Bb in Jerry's case) "hears" bass lines. Long before he became a 7-string player, Jerry had shown how easily he could play the acoustic bass, swinging and solid, with the choice notes that make all the other instruments sound better! I don't know how he does it, and with such ease. He didn't study bass, although his musicianship must have evolved with his ear absorbing everything about the function of bass as the harmonic and rhythmic foundation to a music group. Whether playing acoustic or electric, he's got the sound and the groove. Quite a number of the recordings in my series made use of his bass playing for the benefit of the other participating musicians, and for the listener who is apt to ask, "Hey man, who's that playin' bass?"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

                                                     OTHER ARTIST PROFILES WILL SOON BEGIN TO APPEAR ON MY BLOG

 

                                                                     Next Artist Profile: THOMAS REESE - pianist and composer

 

Welcome to Johnny Case Music

Submitted by johnnycase on Wed, 02/25/2015 - 11:27am

Welcome to Johnny Case Music, beautifully designed and realized by Jen Schultes. Her imaginative approach and website implementation expertise should be obvious to anyone who explores the numerous features of this site.

I requested that a blog be included which will serve multiple purposes. I am most eager to pay homage to some of the remarkable musicians I have known during my 52 years in the music profession. Many are gone, but the impact of their music is a permanent part of me, and a vital influence in the music I play.

I love all the arts. I have consistently found that the artists who inspire my accolades are quite often not the well-known names. This strangely (or perhaps not strangely) applies to the various realms…music, drama, painting, poetry and literature. I will no doubt use my blog to speak of many such individuals. They are my inspirators.

Kitty and I chose the new website name in acknowledgement of my varied musical interests, although modern jazz is my most treasured creative mode. Please feel free to contact me on this site.

Pages